April 2020. Dave and I live rurally. Just us, our dog Jake, housecat, and the barn cats. But there are the birds who visit our feeders. And the deer that graze at dawn and dusk just south of our house. The coyotes lurking. And the porcupines that stop by some nights, usually about midnight. But we keep the glass between us, so there’s no danger of breaking our social distancing compact. It’s good to see them clambering into our deck chairs, or picking up spilled birdseed, singing some incomprehensible versions of 1960s ballads to each other. They will doubtless stop coming by once we start spending our evenings outdoors, but I like that they feel at home enough to occupy our chairs in our absence.
All those animals notwithstanding, it sometimes it feels like we are far from the madding crowd – a good thing – and other times, the crowds seem to jostle right up our long driveway and make themselves comfy too. That jostle is life right now. Even though we are under pandemic lockdown, even though we are used to spending most days with just the two of us, the ghosts of thousands of Covid-19 victims from around the globe feel too close for comfort. I don’t fear them. But I am not ready to join them, and I want them to rest more peacefully.
It’s been awhile, this isolation. We are praying, as everyone is, for wellness on the planet, a flattening of the curve, a drop in infections, for no more deaths, for a resumption of life as it was. But life will never be the same. This virus has made sure of that.
So what do we do?
We comfort one another. We go about our lives as best we can. We practice kindness and calm. Comfort includes cooking. Many of us have bursting pantries, stockpiles of groceries to stave off the threat of illness. Feed yourself. Feed your family. Cook food you love. Pour the wine. Steep the tea, make the coffee. Bake your favourite chocolate and ginger coffeecake, your best braises, all the beloved recipes that are marked up with spatters of love in your cookbook or indelibly imprinted on your memory. Make extra. If you can do so safely, drop some off – but honouring social distancing, and no contact! – to the porches of friends and neighbours, to elders who are shut-ins, to friends who don’t cook as much as you or who don’t have a bursting pantry. Feed people. And as you bake or braise or broil, remember that stirring the pot with love is another way to flatten that curve. It’s love that is going to get us through. Not panic. Not hoarding. Not bullying or pointing fingers.
So spread around some love. My favourite breakfast right now as spring tiptoes toward us is a muffin that is endlessly adaptable.
This recipe began as a cake, my beloved auntie’s favourite carrot cake that she made for her family’s and friends’ birthdays in and around the Bay area of California. It is one scrumptious cake, loaded with butter, nuts and coconut, topped with cream cheese icing. The kind of cake that makes a baker’s name as a baker. Then I took a few liberties with it to make it less cake-y. Less butter, less sugar, swapping some of the all- purpose flour for whole wheat.
These days I use barley flour mixed with spelt flour, but it’s just fine made with wheat flour. Paper liners for your muffin cups are advisable when using barley flour, because the muffins are crumbly. I sometime add an extra egg to help with the cohesion, but you don’t have to.
These muffins freeze well, and can be dressed up with cream cheese icing if you want them to masquerade as dessert one late evening as you watch another solo round of Netflix. Be well. Be calm. Be kind. Be good to each other. First we eat. Then we heal the planet.
dee’s Morning Muffins
Take on changing this recipe to suit your own preference. Like blueberries best? Use them instead of cranberries and chopped dates.
2 large eggs
½ cup melted butter or vegetable oil
½ cup brown sugar
3 cups coarsely grated carrot, apple or pear
1 ½ cups milk, orange juice, buttermilk or alternate milk
3 cups flour (a mix of barley, spelt, wheat, or any one)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped dried dates
Set the oven at 375 F. Line muffin cups with parchment liners.
Mix together the wet ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in all the dry ingredients and mix gently with a large spatula. Spoon into muffin cups. Bake for 22 minutes. Best served warm with butter and company.