November 21, 2003

I baked blueberry muffins last night. I also baked corn muffins on Wednesday morning - I appear to be on a muffin kick. Recipes are at the bottom of this entry.

As I was walking the hound and the baby this morning I thought about the muffin-making process. I like to bake. I have liked to bake ever since, when I was in 7th grade or so, Mom decided that while she did not have time to bake pie for me, she did have time to find me some recipes so I could make them myself. I started with grandmother's lard-based pie crust and a family friend's lime chiffon pie. The first one was OK, the third one was very good indeed, and I have been a baker ever since.

The more I bake, the easier it is to do. Scooping and leveling flour is slow the first time you do it, faster the fourth time. Beating muffin/brownie/chemical bread batter together in a few short deft strokes is a lot easier after you have done it a few times. The first time I had to beat egg whites and then fold them into batter it took me a long time, and I checked Julia Child three times to see if I did it right. These days I think nothing of grabbing the blender and separating eggs so that the waffles will be lighter.

I don't make many pies any more; I am watching my saturated fat intake because of the cholesterol, and both the lard crust that I used to make and the butter crust that I shifted to about 10 years ago will break my fat budget. (The lard crust is flakier, the butter crust is tastier.) I do bake a lot of bread and, when I remember how easy they are, I bake muffins.

Muffins are: 5 to 10 minutes of prep, all of which can be done while the oven heats; 15 to 20 minutes of baking; 5 minutes of cleanup, most of which can be done while the muffins are baking. They are quick and easy.

Or rather, they are quick and easy if you have all the ingredients handy. Because I like to bake, I keep a fully stocked baking cupboard. I rarely find a recipe that calls for something that I do not have, and when I do I usually happen to have a substitute handy. Preparation means that baking becomes a whim, an instant gratification, rather than a project or a bother.

There are other things in life that are easy to do if you have the tools and supplies handy, and are a bother otherwise. When I putter around the house I always have to go to the home store once or thrice to get parts, get tools, and get supplies. Home maintenance is a bother. At some point, it will go from being a bother to being a chore. This pattern is not limited to mechanical things; it also applies to life skills from being able to use a hammer to having practice performing other tasks.

I am teaching my students how to write. Most of them have improved their writing over the course of the semester. Similarly, I am using this blog to give myself extra practice at writing - I still need to get better at short, fluid, effortless prose. We learn by doing.

We also build up stock of emotional tools, personal communication tools. I think of this because Lilith and Rupert have been talking about communication within relationships. Read the comments on Lilith's page. We learn phrases and bits of grammar just as we learn how to beat an egg or wield a hammer. With experience we figure out which phrases best convey which emotions. Every long-term couple has a phrase or three that they use to indicate, for example, a desire for sex. For us it is a simple "Hey baby, what'cha doin'?" In a long term relationship, we figure out when to hint and when to hit our partner with the metaphorical two-by-four.

I found myself trying to inventory life tools. What are the interpersonal equivalents of a jar of powdered buttermilk in the cupboard, or the skill of beating egg whites to a soft peak without using sugar, salt, or vinegar? I am not sure. I might make a list as a study break while I read rough drafts today.

The last few paragraphs were either very deep or very banal. Rather than decide which, I will leave you with the blueberry muffins I improvised last night. This is a lower fat recipe. I happened to have all the parts on hand. Adopt it to your kitchen.

blueberry Muffins, by Red Ted
10 minutes prep
20 minutes cook
my muffin tray makes 12 medium muffins.

1 cup AP flour, scooped and leveled
1 cup cake flour, scooped and leveled, plus one heaping tablespoon cake flour.
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda (crumble it in your palm to get rid of the lumps)
pinch salt (1/4 tsp?)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp powdered buttermilk


1 egg
about 1/4 cup non-fat yoghurt (I glopped with a spoon twice and said good enough.)
about 2 tbsp oil (again, I measured by eye. I use olive oil.)

1 cup skim milk
1 cup frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 425
combine dries in a large bowl, stir them together with a whisk
combine wets in a small bowl, beat the egg, oil, and yoghurt together

spray a muffin tray with non-stick spray coating

Add wets to dries
add milk to dries
mix together in a few short, deft strokes
when almost combined, add blueberries
finish mixing - remember that if you develop the gluten the muffins will be tough, so easy does it.

pour batter in to muffin tray.
use a spoon to steal from the large and fill the low until they are all about even
bake for 15 to 18 minutes

remove muffins from the tin immediately, cool on a rack.
Once they are cool enough to eat, they are ready to eat. (Unlike bread which should breathe for an hour before cutting)

Posted by Red Ted at November 21, 2003 09:04 AM | TrackBack