When the world was younger and so were we, we headed for the hills. Mountains, actually. It was summer and the Green Mountain State beckoned. My husband and I loaded up children and bags of luggage into our beleaguered minivan and made the trip from southern New Jersey to Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont. Eight hours. Five kids.
We knew we had to get creative. There are just so many cows you can point to or license plates from distant states to ooh and aah over. We had our requisite CDs in those pre-playlist days: Linda Ronstadt, and the soundtrack from the musical Hair (admittedly not a prudent choice for young impressionable ears, but so terrific). We hit pay dirt when we discovered that you could plug a little TV/VCR contraption into the cigarette lighter and play movies. The Princess Bride and City Slickers came along for the ride amid shouts of “I can’t see! Get your stupid head out of the way!” The trip was still long but we spiced things up. It was not just about the destination but about the journey, too.
Our finest moments in life are when we add texture and nuance to everyday activities. We take the mundane and infuse it with zest. We reject that “same old, same old” mentality and find a fresh approach.
And so, consider the humble muffin. A plain utilitarian muffin will fill you up and even make you smile. But how much more enticing if you add cherries or chocolate chips? If you gave it texture with nuts and raisins or zip with a dusting of cinnamon? And why stop there? Creamy bananas, plump blueberries, even chopped carrots can find their way into the mix. Or if you crave savory, try sautéed onions and olives, cheese, roasted garlic and herbs. Unlike when creating pie crusts and layer cakes, muffin bakers can play loose with those annoyingly precise measurements. So empty your fruit bowls and vegetable bins, unleash your creativity, and behold! That single-serve morsel is transformed, bountiful, and abundant.
Make it your own … “As you wish!”
Muffins Your Way
Start with a basic muffin recipe, like the one below, adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, a classic if there ever was one. This recipe yields 12 muffins.
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners or spray well. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Place butter in a measuring cup and melt in the microwave, about 30 seconds. Add the milk to the measuring cup (fill to the 1 1/4 cup line to accommodate the melted butter) then add the egg. Beat the entire mixture lightly until the egg is incorporated. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until the flour is absorbed, being careful not to overmix. The batter will be lumpy. Spoon batter into the tins, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way up. Bake 20 minutes.
For blueberry or cranberry muffins, increase the sugar to 1/2 cup, and toss 1/2 cup of the flour with 1 cup of berries (setting the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour aside) so the berries don’t all sink to the bottom of the batter. Mix the rest of the ingredients to form a batter, then add the flour-dusted berries to the mixed batter. Use fresh or frozen berries. No need to thaw beforehand.
For more fiber, replace 1/2 cup of flour with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.
Chopped nuts and dried cherries or raisins can be mixed in the batter. Add about 1/2 cup of each. Before baking, sprinkle the tops with more chopped nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Or spice it up: Add 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or ground cloves into the batter.
Mash a banana and mix it in with the wet ingredients. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until incorporated. Throw in 1 cup mini chocolate chips. Bake a bit longer, 22 to 25 minutes.