I might’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks trying to get these pumpkin muffins right. Before Oliver was born it would’ve been the better part of a single morning, with a good cup of coffee in hand. Uninterrupted time at home — the kind of time I need to weigh ingredients, take recipe notes and photograph ingredients — is pretty scarce these days. I often cook and bake in the evenings to prep for future meals, but obviously for the blog I like to snap a few photos to show you and that’s pretty hard to do at 10 pm. The upside is that I tested these muffins a few times to get them just right and did lots of futzing and experimenting with ingredients. In my mind, they’re the perfect pumpkin muffin: not too sweet, whole grain, fragrant and warmly-spiced.
I’ve lately been thinking about trying to carve out time to feel more creative in the kitchen. We do a lot of cooking, but it’s generally quite dutiful, purposeful and specific: bake some squash for dinner and bang out a simple tomato sauce, for instance. While you’re at it, puree a little baby food. But the days of languishing in the kitchen feel a bit far off, at least for now. Sam shared an article with me by Kim Brooks called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom: Is Parenthood the Enemy of Creative Work? When I saw the title I sighed, refusing to believe the headline, although more and more these days realizing I may just be a living example of it.
In her article, Brooks explores the effect that domestic life has on creative work and the conflict that arises between being a parent and being a writer or artist (or creator of any kind). She says, “The idea that writers, artists, inspired and creative people make bad spouses, parents, homemakers, partners is nothing new. It’s a trope that has served the (usually male) writers of the canon well… although it’s easy to dismiss such pronouncements for their obvious misogyny, women writers, too, have often struggled with domestic obligation.” The down and dirty of it, she says, is that “the point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal as a parent.”
You need those long stretches of time to sit and daydream and watch the curtains flap in the breeze — to think some unsettling thoughts that may (or may not) just drive you towards your next creative project. But if you do that long enough, whose going to feed the baby and clean the kitchen counter?
I kept thinking to myself while reading, ‘so what’s the solution?’ I want to write another book eventually. I have projects I’m excited about starting. My sewing machine is gathering dust. I want to stare at some damn curtains flapping in the breeze. A few of the women in Brooks’ piece ended up re-jiggering their focus a bit, still creating but the subject was different. Maybe approaching creative projects in a new way than they did before. For me, the key is managing expectations. It would be too hard to run a granola business, work on a food writing career and have hours in the week to tackle creative projects — all while raising and loving on one small Oliver. Something’s got to give.
I’m currently ghostwriting a cookbook for someone else, which is wonderful because I still get the satisfaction of seeing a project come together from start to finish, but I’m not generating the creative juices behind the book (the recipe concepts). And frankly, I’m not sure I could pull off my own cookbook right now. I conquer specific tasks really efficiently, but finding the spaciousness in my day (and my mind) to sit down to brainstorm and just let my mind wander — all the necessary building blocks of creating something new — just isn’t a currently reality. And for now that’s just fine. And for later, a little more of this (thanks to my friend Nicole Gulotta for pointing me to it), please:
Getting it Right
Lying in front of the house all
afternoon, trying to write a poem.
Waking up under the stars.
These pumpkin muffins are based on the Pear Hazelnut-Oat muffins from my cookbook which have long been a fall favorite around our house. I decided to try them with 100% spelt four to amp up the nutrition a bit, but as always, if you’d like to use all-purpose flour instead, by all means go at it. I think these would be great with whole wheat pastry flour or kamut flour, too. The streusel is unapologetically buttery, fragrant and has nutty bits of pepitas strewn throughout. I could eat it all on its own. The muffins came out of the oven nicely domed and made the house smell like October. I cut one in half and took it on my early evening walk with Oliver — thinking about that Jack Gilbert poem and waking up under the stars, but simultaneously feeling quite happy to be out on a walk with my boy.
These spelt pumpkin muffins are not too sweet and delicately spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. I use ground pepitas in the muffin batter itself, and then a generous hand with that buttery pepita streusel on top. If you’re using canned pumpkin, you’ll end up with a little extra and I’ve been using it up in pancake batter on the weekends or smoothies during the week. While I did use buttermilk in this recipe, I have a hunch whole milk or your favorite nut milk will work just fine, too.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin (or line with papers)
Make the streusel: Combine the muscovado sugar with pepitas, oats, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add the butter and, using your fingertips, press the butter into the dry ingredients and mix together until the streusel comes together when squeezed. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, ground pepitas, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Set aside.
In another mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugar. Fold in pumpkin puree. Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Fold in the flour mixture gently, being careful not to overmix.
Fill the muffin cups nearly to the top and sprinkle generously with streusel topping. Put the muffins in the oven and bake until the tops are golden brown and feel firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing muffins from the tin. Serve warm or room temperature. Muffins will keep for 3 days in an airtight container.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.