Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nutmeg Muffins

When the Gourmet.com cookbook club announced their March pick, I was pleased. I've had Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book since it was first published, the year my oldest daughter was born. That means it's been a constant in my childrens' lives. An evolving constant.
Perhaps you can tell I'm a fan--take a look at my copy's binding.

Pavel and I had just moved from California to Oregon to start our adult life with baby Grace, just 5 weeks old. The book helped bridge that move, as it held unexpected connections to both places. Recipes for pancakes served at Bridge Creek Restaurant in Berkeley--a place where Pavel and I had occasionally eaten before we married--were included in the book. And John Hudspeth, the man responsible for them, was from Oregon. Marion Cunningham of course had connections with Oregon--she had taught for years at James Beard's cooking school in Gearhart. Seeing the recipes that crossed state borders back and forth was a comfort to me. Maybe I wasn't moving so far from home.

I've cooked a lot of things in the book, and over the years our favorites have changed. My copy falls open to a few. Cunningham's raised waffles are the best--light and crisp. For a while I liked to make the dried fruit cream scones--they were quick to pull together, and nicely adaptable to whatever odds and ends of fruit I had. Both of these recipes (and a few others)are available online at Gourmet, if you register.

Every Halloween I follow her recipe for raised doughnuts--it's become a tradition that the kids won't let me quit (and I wouldn't want to anyway). I've been known to turn to the book even when I make oatmeal, for proportions, or good ideas like toasting the oats before cooking. And every winter I mean to try meal-and-ale (oatmeal cooked with ale, molasses, and whiskey), mentioned in passing in the oatmeal section. Maybe this will be the year?

I went through a stage my kids loved, when I decided a glass of milk and one or two 'Mother's Cookies' made a fairly reasonable breakfast. Who decided that a factory produced granola bar was an okay breakfast substitute, but serving a cookie made with love, oats, raisins, and cornflakes for breakfast suggested irresponsible parenting?

The kids are nearly grown now, and our breakfasts have fallen into a routine. But every once in a while, one of us will pull The Breakfast Book down from the shelf, and let it fall open to our very favorite recipe: 'Last Word in Nutmeg Muffins'.

Cunningham's nutmeg muffins are delicate and fragrant, but you better eat them right away; they don't hold well. For years, dividing a dozen muffins was tricky business. Since we have three kids, there were always two muffins left over. How to choose who should get them? As the kids have grown and gone off on (and come back from) various adventures, the muffins have always been the bright side to the empty place at the table. We miss our kids when they're away, but at least a dozen is evenly (though perhaps a bit gluttonously) divisible by 4 or 3!

This weekend, after seeing Gourmet's story, I realized it had been a while since we'd had nutmeg muffins. While they baked, Pavel made some coffee and roused Simon. Franny found a jar of black currant preserves in our pantry, thanks to my mother--who grew the currants and made the jam. We already had an open jar of blood orange marmalade, courtesy of my mother-in-law, who grew the oranges and made the marmalade. Can you tell how very lucky we are?

I'm only a little ashamed to tell you we each ate three.

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