Day 617 of quarantining and I’m starting to like it, y’all. Seriously. It look to me as though quite a few of us have kind of fallen into a pleasant little routine. And while some days feel like they will never, ever end and we’re living in a relentless and eternal routine, there have been several surprises, some pleasant and others not so pleasant. For instance, one night, a week or so ago, the three of us, Jimmy, James and I, were each winding down in our own individual ways. It was about 10 o’clock and I was in bed and the lights were out. Jimmy was down in the study reading and James was in his room, in his bed, also reading. Without warning, out of somewhere in the big, black night, came a whopping, monster of a crash, so powerful I not only heard it but I felt it. It was as if the world’s largest palm frond thundered to the ground. Florida people will understand. Only this was infinitely deeper in sound. Out of curiosity I got out of bed, turned on the pool lights and looked out to see just what had fallen. Nothing. I saw nothing. Just then Jimmy came flying up from the study and exclaimed, “Was that really loud? That was really loud!” with James right behind him yelling the same words. We each went in different directions, peering out into the inky darkness to see what had happened. Jimmy won the hunt at that point, when he declared, “Ohmygosh! Over here! The tree went down! ” And sure enough, it had. The 35 year-old schefflera tree in our courtyard had toppled over and, thank God, had done no damage. Well, okay, the grill was busted up and Jimmy ordered another but, truly, that’s nothing compared to the damage it could have done to our neighbor’s house or ours. I had my handyman come and cut it up so that’s been taken care of. And yesterday the massive stump was ground out. Now there’s a vast, empty area waiting to be filled. And until I DO fill the space, I see way too much of the fence and the house next door. Not fun. But count your blessings, Alicia. On the other hand, we had a wonderful surprise the end of last week. James graduated with his master’s degree this past Friday after two years of classes while working full-time and was quite disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to walk after his graduation ceremony had been re-scheduled for December. He was tired after a long week of conference and video calls, cranky and basically in a funk. All day long he was grouchy and cantankerous. James’ girlfriend, Carolina, had been texting me through the day keeping me updated on a surprise delivery she had for him… something “was coming”. Late afternoon we cracked open a bottle of champs and toasted him but by 6 o’clock I felt I couldn’t wait any longer… I had to get dinner going. Shrimp and grits was on the menu and I was using my full blown, no shortcuts recipe. Jimmy had retired to check e-mails, James was on another conference call and I began sauteing bacon for the shrimp while my grits bubbled and gurgled away. From the corner of my eye I saw movement in the courtyard. Huh. Must be the delivery. I looked out through the kitchen door and goodness gracious! A full blown, real deal mariachi band stood in the courtyard, in complete regalia, from gigantic sombreros to pantalones de charros, horseman/cowboy pants, studded all down the sides with silver buttons. I gave the mariachi with the horn the “hang on one second sign” and ran to get James. “You need to get to the courtyard right now and I suggest you take your champagne!” I said as I ran to get Jimmy. Out we poured into the courtyard, even our 16 year old dog joined us, struggling to manage the two steps down. Y’all. Our personal concert was glorious!
All the songs my mother sang to us growing up were played along with some newer tunes like “Tequila!’. Neighbors spilled out into the street and our yard, laughing and dancing. We sang, we danced, we were delighted. What a gift from Carolina. She is a treasure. And, yes, I burned dinner. I had turned off the grits so they were fine but the bacon was charred beyond recognition. That’s okay. What a night! Well worth a culinary re-do. I like this quarantining. I take pleasure from being so close to my family, my home, my neighbors. I’ve had a couple of months with James living back at home with us and it’s been wonderful. Clearly, I don’t know what the future holds for us but I don’t think I’ll have the luxury of his exclusive company again so I choose to look at this time as a gift from God. Soon enough I’ll have my mani/pedis done. My hair will be trimmed and a few highlights thrown back in. I’ll be dressing up and meeting my besties for lunch and a bit of shopping. That’s right around the corner. But this special time with my boy is significant and extra special. It is making lemonade with the lemons life gave me. It is my silver lining. And I give thanks.
These little muffins are pure citrus sunshine. They are pretty low in fat and sugar and are just the ticket with a cup coffee or tea for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Really the only thing to keep in mind when preparing is not to over mix the batter. I literally count the number of passes I make through the bowl when mixing the wet with the dry and the magic number for me is no more than 15. This will leave your batter with countless lumps and pockets of loose flour but I promise the muffins will work their way to perfection in the oven and will come out of the oven faultless. Somehow the lumps and dry flour fade away to nothing. It’s hard to leave the batter as is because our natural inclination is to stir until smooth and pretty. However, over mixing will yield a tough, dense muffin which will lead to disappointment. Fight the urge! A glaze may be drizzled over the muffins after baking but I don’t think they need it. A light sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar is all it needs and even that is unnecessary but it does look pretty. Two large navel oranges will give you all the juice and zest needed for the recipe and will leave you with a little extra leftover fruit. I call that my baker’s treat. Enjoy.
Florida Orange Muffins
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- grated zest of 1 1/2 navel oranges
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pre-heat oven to 350°. Lightly cover muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large bowl mix together well flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
- In a separate smaller bowl mix orange zest, eggs, milk, orange juice, canola oil and vanilla until all are mixed well.
- Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in egg mixture. Stir to just combine. The batter will be lumpy and still have pockets of dry flour. That’s okay. They’ll work their way out.
- Divide batter evenly in muffin tin and bake for 23-25 minutes or until edges of muffins are golden and pulling away from sides of tin.
- Cool on rack for 5 minutes then remove from baking tin and cool muffins directly on rack.
- When completely cool muffins may be stored in an airtight container lined with a paper towel on the bottom.