Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Favorite Muffin

The title of this post was the name of a local bakery and luncheonette that has long since gone out of business, much to the dismay of muffin aficionados in this neck of the woods. It was a bakery that not only specialized in muffins, but produced muffins with the most delicious and original combination of flavors, and in a startling array of varieties. Also, the muffins were the size of your head, so you always had leftovers.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Building on the guilty pleasure theme, I tend to view muffins as a rare breakfast treat and don't make them all that often. Last winter when we were snowed in I made a batch of lemon raspberry muffins, which were delicious. But it had been a while since I made my favorites. Since I think cooler weather is a nice time to bake and an even better time to experiment with the fall flavors that compliment these breakfast-cupcakes so well, here is one of my favorite easy-to-make muffins to share with you.

Lemon Cheesecake Muffins

cheese topping:

3 ounces cream cheese (room temp)

2 T sugar (divided)

1/2 tsp. vanilla abstract


2 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup sugar

2 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup milk

2 large egg whites
(lightly beaten) or 1 whole egg (lightly beaten)
2 T canola oil

1 and 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

Topping: In a small bowl, stir together cream cheese, 1 T of sugar, and vanilla until blended. Set aside.

Muffins: In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl stir together milk, egg whites, oil, lemon peel, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, and stir just to combine. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Top each muffin with a rounded teaspoon of cheese topping, divided evenly. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar evenly over tops of muffins. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

muffins going in...

Remove muffin pans to wire rack and cool for five minutes before removing muffins from pan. Make it extra nice by eating it warm with pumpkin or apple butter. When the butter blends into the warm cream cheese topping, it's an extra treat!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

We all have them. It took me a while to figure out what a guilty pleasure is, since it was hard for me to understand why you would keep doing something that made you feel guilty, and how in the world would you gain any pleasure from it? Wouldn't the pleasure be eclipsed by the guilt? Then, one day back in my college days, a friend spotted one of my guilty pleasures and innocently pulled it out of my open book bag. As I flushed in embarrassment and struggled for an excuse, I was finally able to figure out the paradox of the guilty pleasure. I couldn't say it wasn't mine, nor that it was a mistake. Yet, it wasn't exactly a classic work of literature either. I had borrowed it and was thoroughly enjoying...well, never mind. But here are a few guilty pleasures that I'm willing to share...

Chances are, if you did not grow up within a few hours of Philadelphia, you have no idea what these are. But for the rest of us, oh, is there a finer commercial baked good that elicits simultaneous memories of childhood and pangs of sweetness on your tongue? These are a rare treat for me. Maybe only two per year are eaten, the result of harried trips to the convenience store, but that's only because they make me feel so guilty. I imagine these may be a guilty pleasure shared by some of my readers. They certainly are for my friends and family who have moved away from the area. When I plan a trip to see family who have relocated far and wide, I know to bring along Tastykakes. My other, more accessible, guilty pleasure along these lines are Reese's Pieces. Again, a rare treat because they're so good they make me feel bad!

Shabby-anything. When I was a little girl, my neighbor friend's light and airy bedroom with painted white furniture and puffy floral bedding was the envy of my little girl eyes. Canopy beds and well-worn but timeless stripes and eyelet were a feminine decorating feast. Oh and did I mention the shaggy rugs so deep and plush you could wander through them like a meadow? Such a contrast to the dark, oppressive wood furnishing that my parents thought sensible and classic, the cold, hard wood floors. Someone save me! Fast forward thirty years and you can guess what still draws my eye. The lovely (and popular) array of light painted wood items, floral drapes, folded-quilts-in-every-corner sensibility that Rachel Ashwell so cleverly marketed. This brings me to my next guilty pleasure: fabric. Especially quilting fabric. This is only a guilty pleasure because I can never seem to use up my stash and new fabric seems to be acquired at an even rate as the old is used up. If i could just once use up all my fabric, it would be a pleasure and I wouldn't have to feel guilty standing in line with a bolt of fabric. Which I try to have a coupon for because my other guilty pleasure is...

Couponing and bargain-hunting. How can you feel guilty about something that saves you money? I find bargain hunting to be so much fun that I can't believe it's guiltless. While this is not a habit that is over the top (I won't get items that we don't use just because they are free) it does become an enjoyable game. My thrift genes run deep, and my desire to make do with less has turned the mundanenes of clipping coupons into a strategic mission as exciting as a spy thriller. Something this fun must be guilty.

The occasional trip to Whole Foods. If you don't live near a Whole Foods, then you don't know what you are missing. For the rest of us, the question of could we ever live without access to a Whole Foods is a dilemma to deal with whenever we consider relocating. For the one or two times out of the year that you require an obscure ingredient, health food item, or organic food option, WF is a reliable source. It's also expensive. Which is why you steer clear of it most of the time.

Finally, reading late into the night. This is an especially guilty pleasure when you need to be up in the morning. But it is incredibly satisfying.

Go ahead. I dare you to share a guilty pleasure! ;-)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pumpkin Project

I made a deal with myself that I was not going to get involved with any big pumpkin projects this year, and I fulfilled my end of the bargain by doing a small one instead. One of my favorite farm stands had a beautiful truck load of pie pumpkins (smoother skin, deeper orange color, a little sweeter than regular ones) so I bought two small pumpkins and donated a couple hours to them.

What I coveted most was the seeds. I love pumpkin seeds, especially sprinkled on salads or toasted with a little salt and seasoning. Last year when I went to buy some at the grocery store, I discovered that all of the pumpkin seeds were imported from China. This was the case at all of the stores I visited. What? You mean we don't produce any pumpkin seeds here? I'll never understand food politics. Anyway, pumpkin seeds are so good (and good for you) that it was worth the effort to harvest them.

After separating the seeds from the stringy pulp, I spread them on my favorite magnum cookie sheet lined with foil that I sprayed with non-stick oil. Then, with a little seasoning salt and garlic powder, the seeds were roasted in the oven at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes, turning them every ten minutes. Oh, did they smell good! Just how autumn should smell, like wood and smokey leaves, and apple goody in the oven.

These two small-ish pumpkins didn't give me a lot of seeds, but if you want to make it a family project and get many hand involved, you could harvest a decent amount.

Pumpkin seeds are versatile and can be done as a sweet as well as savory. About 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon for four cups of seeds, with a tiny bit of salt to accentuate the sweetness of the cinnamon, is all you need.

And don't worry about the rest of the pumpkin, it didn't go to waste! It's processed and in the freezer. We'll be eating some of it for "breakfast supper" when I make...

Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar

1. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt, stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.

2. Heat a lightly pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot with syrup or powdered sugar.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Random Acts of Seasonal Beauty

These violas are a testament to the truth that even in October, the garden center is still a dangerous place for me to be, even if only stopping to buy a couple bags of dirt. Who knew I would be confronted with flats full of one of my favorite little flowers?

As I've mentioned here previously, we live along a well-traveled and busy road. This makes for noise, some unusual encounters, and a whole lot of litter. Sometimes people break down and need our help, and once when I was not at home a man stopped in wanting to talk about our garden and how we got a certain flower to grow, and the poor soul was stuck talking to the Mister, who is the carpenter and not the gardener. I hoped the man would come back so I could have a nice garden chat, but he didn't.

Anyway, the other day I was taking my life in my hands by planting bulbs out by the roadside as an occasional car flew past exceeding not just the speed limit, but the speed of light. As I tossed an empty cigarette pack out of the way (
could someone enlighten me on how people come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to toss trash out of their car windows?) a rather pessimistic thought came to mind. That thought was, why bother? Even though I enjoy daffodils with a passion, is it really worth it to plant little clumps at the edge of our driveway where they will catch the fast food wrappers from unappreciative souls? Isn't there something more substantial I could be doing? But then I thought of how so many women possess this wonderful trait that God has given each of us which motivates us to create small acts of beauty. It's the reason why I will visit my single-lady cousin and find a delicate antique tea cup on her counter containing a pleasing flower arrangement, while my widowed uncle thinks a half-burnt candle and empty mug on top of a weathered hunting magazine is just fine to look at every day. When I drive down the road and see the lovely clumps of flowers around lamp posts and mail boxes, it's likely they were planted by another woman who appreciates small touches of prettiness. The quilt hanging on the wall in our church entrance way? Created and hung there by women, no doubt. Like tiny little violets persevering in the cooler months, our smallest moments of artistry are a tribute to the Master Artist, and give everyone who sees them a message that we care. Even about the seemingly small things.

This is not to say that men don't care about small acts of beauty, they just create them differently. Like when a man walking along our road saw the Mister bringing in the mail and asked him for a lighter. The Mister didn't have a lighter, but he did offer the unemployed man some work. A random act of beauty of a different variety.

Planting bulbs in the fall always helps instill me with a little hope for the future. Winter is but for a season, and new life will spring from these bulbs (catch the pun?) months from now when after a winter of stark gray I'll be itching for something colorful and fragrant.

Morning glories on the trellis


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