Hey, y’all. I’m trying to bake around workmen in my kitchen and I’ve got way to much on my mind. My cousin’s wife underwent her second surgery this morning continuing her battle with cancer. Prayers, please. Also, I learned earlier today that a dear, dear friend from our first college days suffered a major heart attack and is having major bypass and open heart surgery. Both fabulous women are too young and healthy for this. So I bake. I listen to comfort music which, today, is Puerto Rican salsa, bomba and plena. My mind wanders as I murmur the lyrics to the song streaming, one of my favorite songs ever, “En Mi Viejo San Juan”, In My Old San Juan. It’s a terribly sad song but fits my mood. I reassure myself with drifting thoughts of old neighbors who lived on my grandparent’s street close to the University of Puerto Rico. Sonia, who lives catty-corner across the street, and hosted us for finger sandwiches and champagne. Those were lovely afternoons spent in her gorgeous Spanish style villa laughing, gossiping and sharing our plans for the future. Dona Angelita and Don Juan Orta lived next door to us and had Cynthia and me over for dinner often. They were okay but the person in their household I adored was Tata, the housekeeper who was more like a servant considering the way they treated her. I loved Tata!
She told me a story of a typical idyllic Caribbean morning which found her sweeping the Orta’s back courtyard, birds were singing and lemon yellow alamandas were in full bloom, rambling up the back wall of the cottage where she lived… she was lost in her thoughts. Out of the blue she heard a small but happy voice from above singing and calling out, “Hiiiiii! Hiiiiii! Hiiiii!”. Tata looked up to the second floor of our house and told me she saw two fat little hands stuck out of the window waving madly at her. It was me. In my crib. And that’s when we fell in love. She was the sweetest thing. She always made certain I was included when all the little girls played fairies and witches. When serving at the table, Tata always took care not to put any beans on my rice…just sauce and the only way I would eat them. Her hugs were strong but gentle and I liked it when she sat down and allowed me to climb in her lap. Today that gives me quiet comfort. It’ll all be okay. Everything will work out. Joy comes in the morning.
This is a super easy breakfast cake that is truly forgiving. Fresh or frozen blueberries may be used. If y’all haven’t tried Costco brand frozen blueberries you’re in for a treat. They’re harvested in Canada and they’re just like the blueberries you find in Maine… small, juicy nuggets bursting with fresh flavor.
How many times is a kindness extended to you and a grateful “thank you!” just isn’t quite enough? I don’t know about you but it happens to me quite often. From your manicurist who graciously fits you in for that emergency mani when she clearly doesn’t have the time to the seamstress at your dry cleaner who will have your LBD back to you altered and pressed in time for the funeral your weight gain didn’t take into consideration. These acts of generosity are evident time and again in my day-to-day life and in the lives of my loved ones. My 93-year-old father has a whole support group who work at Publix and make the quality of his life much better from engaging him in conversation to helping him choose the most nutritious almond milk. Kesha and David can’t replace my mother but their attentions make him feel valued and respected. I can certainly tip the skycap who didn’t charge me when my suitcase was four pounds over last week but I don’t have the money to do that for someone I deal with on a weekly basis. That’s when I put together a pretty bag of goodies. Here in Boston a certain dental office bent over backwards to take care of us during a little “cosmetic” emergency. I wanted to say thank you not only to the dentist who saved the day but also to his staff who got us in ASAP and treated us with the utmost warmth and concern. I thought most definitely wine for the kind doctor and how about a sweet treat for the wonderful ladies at the front desk? Our apartment is fabulous but I am really limited as to cooking and baking tools. I brought my knives and sharpener from home and picked up a few essentials on Newbury Street…bowls, spatulas etc. I always set aside an empty wine bottle in the kitchen in the event I need a rolling-pin. But I don’t have a food processor or hand mixer. I decided on biscotti since I don’t need any special equipment, they’re easy to prepare and travel well. Dunk them in coffee or vin santo. Grab one for breakfast or a snack on the fly. This recipe produces a firm biscotti but not one that will break a tooth. They seem a bit soft when taken out of the oven for the final cooling but will harden sufficiently by the time they’re completely cool. Enjoy them and thank you!
1 tablespoon dried EDIBLE lavender flowers, rough chop optional
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
8 ounces white chocolate
In a large bowl combine lemon zest and juice, sugar, butter, lemon and vanilla extracts and eggs. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
In a separate bowl mix flour, lavender, baking powder and salt.
Add flour mixture to lemon-egg mixture and mix until all ingredients are combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut dough into equal halves and spray a little non-stick pan spray on hands to keep dough from sticking.
Form dough into rectangular logs measuring roughly 11 X 4 X 1. Smooth tops and sides.
Bake 25 minutes and cool on racks for 10-15 minutes.
With a bread knife or serrated knife cut logs on the diagonal about 1 1/2″ thick.
Reduce heat to 325°, place cookies cut side up back on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 5 minutes.
Turn over cookies baking the other cut side 5 more minutes.
Cool on wire racks. Cookies will seem soft when just out of oven but will firm up as they cool.
Melt white chocolate over double boiler. When chocolate has almost but not quite melted completely drizzle over cookies or dip in one end of each cookie. Or dip one cut side. Place on parchment paper to set. If white chocolate cools and thickens while working with it place back in double boiler and stir until warm and easy to work with.
Growing up our mornings were blissfully uneventful. Monday through Friday Mama would wake us up by throwing open the curtains then at the same time grabbing my big toe and Cynthia’s while singing a voz alto, “Good morning! Good morning! The sun is shining! Good morning!”. We would both grumble and try to bury ourselves deeper into our beds. Knowing the possibility of any bonus slumber to be impossible we would climb out of our beds and get dressed for school. Breakfast awaited. Satisfying but predictable our places would be set by Mama every morning. Her Royal Danish silver on a neatly folded paper napkin would flank our Royal Doulton Bunnykins bowls, each filled with a scant cup of Cheerios. Mama would be close by with a pitcher of cold milk. On our Bunnykins plates would be one of the following: an orange, and apple or a banana. Our egg cups were always empty.:( Weekends, however, were different. Weekends held the promise of flavor. Soft boiled eggs were often an end of the week reward. And we always held on to the hope that maybe, just maybe, our whole wheat toast wouldn’t be charred and blackened all the way through. Teeth thoroughly brushed, hair neatly pulled back in pony tails, little white tennis dresses on, she’d give us each a dime. For a Coke; the word we used for all carbonated beverages. The freshly swept tennis courts awaited. And these were her parting words, “Now I want you girls to have good lessons and pay attention. Both of you are to play several matches so you can move ahead on the ladder. I love you! Fly your banner high!” That last part, about the “banner” was ALWAYS directed to me. She meant make us proud, keep the family name honorable…BEHAVE! Jeepers! What did she think I was going to do? I was 9 for crying out loud! Anyway, off we’d go on our bikes pedaling down Las Olas with our rackets in our baskets and our dimes safely tucked in our socks. After a good four or five hours of CONSTANT exercise we would run into each other at the Coke machine. Cynthia and I would dig around in our shoes to find our treasured dimes. A cold, sugary elixir called “Sprite” was about to come hurtling out of the machine into our hot, tired, little hands. That Coke machine at the tennis courts was one of the best…ever! Why? Because nine times out of ten your beautiful, emerald-green bottle had ice in it!! Sweet, frozen shards of Sprite slowly sliding down our throats seemed like paradise, nirvana, absolute heaven on earth. We never had sugar! We’d sip on our drinks each chatting and gossiping with our friends on the wooden benches outside the snack room. As morning had advanced into noon we disbanded, some girls picked up by their mothers, others swung their legs over their bikes to make their trek back home. Let me tell you that 3 1/2 mile ride home was sometimes agonizing!! Our legs were heavy as lead after all that running and although our hands were calloused from playing so much we could always feel a little blister throbbing its way to the surface. Year after year we stuck to this routine…it’s what we did back then because that’s what our parents told us he had to do. As time marched on those dimes were replaced by quarters. The bikes were replaced by cars. We still had Cheerios, tho. And tennis lessons. Then one weekend morning Mama came in our room singing as always, yanking our toes and irritating us beyond belief. We were older, teenagers, less tolerant and probably borderline rude. “Mama!! Stop it! Do you HAVE to sing! Jeeze! Stop!” And so she did. She looked at us long and hard and said, “Fine. You won’t hear it again.” And guess what? We didn’t. From then on we still got our Cheerios and fruit. We still got our quarters. And she still woke us up. But she would only pop her head into our room and in a soft voice say, “Girls. Time to get up.” Now in the very advanced stages of Parkinson’s Mama hasn’t spoken in a very long time. I would do just about anything to hear her beautiful, happy voice….just about anything.
These muffins are magnificent! The addition of lemon zest makes them uber lemony and against the sweet crunch of the crumble topping? I’ve not had better. They’re super easy to prepare and quick also. The batter is quite stiff so resist the temptation of over working the dough. It’s fine if there are still some floury patches even after adding the berries. Wonderful hot out of the oven they are even better the next day!
LEMONY BLUEBERRY MUFFINS
yield: one dozen
1 tablespoon butter, cold
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 1/2-2 lemons, I like a lot
a pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup nonfat Greek yoghurt
juice of 2 lemons
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 heaping cups blueberry muffins
Preheat oven to 400°.
In a small bowl mix all topping ingredients together with a fork so that butter is incorporated and topping is crumbly. Taste it, ohmygosh it’s so good! and set aside in refrigerator.
Coat muffin pan with non stick spray or line with paper baking cups.
Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
In a different bowl combine the yoghurt, lemon juice, egg, lemon zest, extract and canola oil. Mix well.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and by hand mix until barely combined.
Add the blueberries and carefully incorporate trying not to overwork the dough. It’s just fine if you have dry, floury areas. It’s supposed to be a very stiff dough.
Spoon into the prepared muffin pan, high into the tins.
Sprinkle well with the cold topping mix and bake for 20-23 minutes or until tester comes out clean.