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.
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.