I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I’m out and about as I find they’re often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there’s only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I’m tentative on muffins. But not these. We’ve been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping — quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare.
I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine’s post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don’t remember the last time a Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I remember when Sam and I were first dating long distance, and occasions or holidays would feel like a hurdle: I’d so wish we could be together and fell into the trap of constantly thinking towards the next birthday or the next Valentine’s Day and assuring myself it’d be different the following year — envisioning the grand places where we might celebrate (if we were in San Francisco maybe at Zuni to share the famous chicken and a few oysters; if in Seattle, perhaps Spinasse for a plate of that simple, buttery pasta). The funny thing: now that that period in our lives is over, I think much less eagerly towards grand dates or sweeping gestures, and look forward to the smaller dates and moments. Sam asked last night if we should think about going out to dinner on Saturday and we both glanced at each other with the same look in our eye: I hope the other says no; let’s stay in.
This is not to say that we don’t love going out because we love trying new cafes around town and visiting our favorite neighborhood spot, but there’s something almost more special about planning the quieter moments — figuring out what kind of pancakes we’ll make and how to balance the coffee on the bed without spilling it, making homemade whipped cream, catching up on the week.
I have a quote taped to the computer in my office at Marge; it’s an Annie Dillard quote that reads “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s possible I’ve shared this quote here before, but I can’t remember and maybe it’s a good one to revisit regardless. Instead of inspirational photos of people and places, this alone serves as a good reminder when I start to feel overwhelmed by all of the Bigger Things in life (success of a business, taxes, celebrating holidays and occasions). While fancy dates and dinners are nice, it’s really the everyday meals (and occasional breakfast in bed) that comprise most of our life — and when focusing too much on the grand and fancy, you lose sight of most of the really good stuff. Like muffins in bed. I hope you have some this weekend, solo or joined by someone you love.
Megan’s Note: I know the ingredient list for these muffins looks long, but a handful are spices alone and I imagine a few are things you already have in your pantry. I know some of you are hesitant about coconut oil, but it really is so wonderful in these muffins; it has a sweet fragrance that adds so much. If you don’t have it or would rather not use it, I imagine that butter would work just fine as well. I haven’t tested these with butter, but I can’t think of any clear reason why they’d be negatively affected (if you try it, let me know!) The one thing to remember about the oil: do make sure it isn’t very hot when adding it to the wet ingredients as you don’t want to curdle your yogurt and milk — I let mine cool to almost room temperature while still making sure it’s in its liquid state.
My best advice for these muffins is not to be conservative with the crumble topping; as the muffin tops spread in the oven you’re going to wish you had more of it, so feel free to really layer and even lightly press it onto each.
For Crumble Topping:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the two flours, oats, sugar, baking powder and baking soda, spices and salt.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, yogurt, milk, coconut oil and vanilla extract. Fold in orange zest, apple, carrots, raisins and walnuts.
Scoop batter into 12 paper-lined muffin tins, filling each almost to the top. Spoon crumble filling on top.
Bake for 25-27 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown around the edges and feel firm to the touch, even in the center. Let cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Muffins will keep for 2 days if stored covered at room temperature.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.