I carved a pumpkin at my Dad’s house on Halloween night. Yes, trick-or-treaters were arriving as we were slicing away. Better late than never. And pumpkin. I heard some ladies talking at the gym this week that they were “all pumpkin-ed out” (this was after the debate concerning the appropriate time to start applying to get your daughter into summer equestrian camp. Apparently it’s quite competitive. These women are losing sleep over this). I’ve actually started to turn down my ipod at the gym; the conversations I overhear are serious fodder for future writing projects. You couldn’t make this stuff up. But back to pumpkin. I, for one, am not all “pumpkin-ed out.” In fact, this is the first time I’ve broken out the pumpkin this fall, and I’m sensing a trend here. I missed the boat on the sour cherries in late summer and never got around to canning tomatoes. And man the peaches were good this year in California–should’ve made jam. But enough with the “should haves.” I’m not letting pumpkin slip through my grip. And I’m sharing these lightly spiced, super moist fall muffins with you today. Better late than never.
This recipe is from my bakery crush, Flour Bakery in Boston. I wrote about their oatmeal cookies last week on The Kitchn and last year when I visited Boston, I snapped a few photos. Flour is the ultimate feel-good bakery. We’d often go when it was freezing out and we needed a distraction from medieval literature and lectures on literary theory. Joanne’s banana bread and double chocolate cookies are the best distraction a girl could ask for. A funny thing I’ve been noticing lately is that I’ve started developing major bakery crushes on bakeries I haven’t even been to. I could make a long list of little bakeshops I’ve fallen in love with after visiting once (or 27 times), but this is different. These are spots I’ve been introduced to online or have heard about through friends. And like any good, fierce crush I can’t stop thinking about them.
- I’m actually quite obsessed with a little baksehop I stumbled across online called Violet. The shop is in East London, and is run by Claire Ptak who used to do pastry at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Their website is lovely and really gives a true sense of this place and the aesthetic. It seems as though Claire’s successfully created a sweet little neighborhood spot that would feel much like stopping into your best friend’s kitchen for a slice of cake in the late afternoon.
- Then there’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. These two gals bake pie. And savory treats and breakfast pastries. They have a big communal table and serve locally brewed beer in the evening. And people come from late morning into the night to eat, sit, chat.
- Floriole. I think I first learned of this Chicago bakery from Lottie + Doof (he is a Chicago boy, after all). I’ve since stalked their daily specials online and fallen in love. Their menu is simple but virtually perfect and the space inside is sweet as can be.
- Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneos: I’m ashamed that this little spot in the Dogpatch is in my neck of the woods and I’ve never been. I’ve heard only amazing things about the couple who built out the space from scratch. While technically not really a bakery I suppose, they do make virtually everything from scratch and in addition to their ice creams, they apparently do a fabulous fudgesicle and people trek to the little-bit-out-of-the-way neighborhood for their homemade cones.
Do you have any bakery crushes? I’m visiting NYC in a few weeks, actually, so if you have any spots you love there, I’d love to hear about them!
…And now onto muffins!
The addition of pastry flour here makes this muffin a smidge lighter and fluffier than the one at Flour. If you don’t have pastry flour at home, go ahead and use all all-purpose flour. I also amped up the spice profile after making them once and wishing there was a little more oomph of fall in each muffin. Feel free to top them with pecans instead of pumpkin seeds if you prefer.
Adapted from: Flour by Joanne Chang
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with muffin papers.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture is nice and light. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
On low speed, add the eggs on at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the orange juice and pumpkin on low speed until combined–don’t worry if the batter looks a little curdled. It’ll firm right up. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves until well mixed. Dump the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and fold carefully with a spatula or spoon until the dry and wet ingredients are well combined. Don’t overmix here: you’re just joining the wet and dry ingredients. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, dividing it evenly and filling the cups to the rim. Sprinkle the tops with pumpkin seeds or pecans.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown on top and spring back when pressed in the middle. Let cool and then place on a wire rack for an additional 20 minutes.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)