I recently got The September Issue from Netflix–the documentary about Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. It was fascinating on many levels but the thing that struck me the most was how unhappy she seemed. We all know how immensely driven and talented she is, but when she spoke of what her other siblings do for a living and what they think of her work, her eyes would gloss over and she’d become distant. When she spoke of her own work at the magazine, Anna mentioned that it often made her angry and agitated–that she’d know when to throw in the towel when she started getting angrier and angrier throughout the day. I don’t know about you, but I may just settle for quiet, small-scale contentment rather than feeling that way day in and day out.
So then I was running yesterday, and I started to think about a quote from the film Alice and Wonderland. In short, Alice hesitates to help the Mad Hatter in his resistance against the Red Queen. The Mad Hatter is disappointed, noting “You used to be much more muchier…you’ve lost your muchness.” I smiled during this scene and continue to think about it. What does this even mean? What is this muchness? A state, a passion, a spark, a sense of wonder or confidence or fearlessness or comfort with the hear and now. I don’t know. Now perhaps the larger question at hand is what does all of this have to do with Vogue and with blackberry cornmeal muffins for breakfast?
I think Anna Wintour was realizing throughout the film that she’d perhaps started to lose her muchness. It was a sad thing to watch onscreen, and I’m sure you’ve all witnessed it with real folks in real life. It looks like a dimming, a deflation, or a constant hesitation. I’ve seen it in nursing homes, with marriages that have gone on far too long, or with students who have resigned to be the dumb kid or the one who will never actually get into college. Now these muffins won’t turn any of those situations around. They’re not quite that good. But they’ll help you maintain just a little chunk of your muchness, I assure you. They’ll give you something to look forward to in the morning whether you’re taking on the work commute, finishing up your taxes, or slugging through a never-ending to-do list. I can’t guarantee a state, a passion, a spark, a sense of wonder or confidence or fearlessness or comfort with the hear and now. But I do hope that you’re experiencing at least one of those things right now or that, at the very least, you’re taking stock of your muchness–of where you are currently and where you want to be. I know that I am.
The great thing about these muffins is that they’re quick. Like fifteen minutes quick. You literally mix the wet and dry ingredients together, throw the muffins in the oven, and have a warm tray of goodness sitting in front of you in no time. The recipe is a huge amalgamation of similar muffins I’ve made since living in Boulder, CO. many years ago. They’ve evolved since then and today I use a mix of whole wheat and white flour, low-fat yogurt, and agave instead of too much sugar. The berries get warm and gooey in the oven, so do plan on having at least one right out of the oven with a little butter. They freeze beautifully as well.
If you plan on using frozen blackberries, just be sure to toss with 1 tablespoon of flour before adding to the batter — this will help prevent them from sinking straight to the bottom of the muffin and staining the batter.
Preheat the oven to 375 F, and grease two muffin pans.
Whisk together the first six ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together the yogurt, oil, agave syrup, vanilla and eggs in a separate bowl. Fold wet ingredients into dry mixture with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until combined. Gently fold in berries.
Fill muffin cups to the top and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate pans and bake 10-12 minutes longer or until muffins are slightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. Cool muffins in pans for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.