By Liz Krieger
If I learned anything during this week’s time in the kitchen, it’s that you sometimes have to make do with what you have. This lesson came about when I spent three days with my husband’s family at their weekend home in the woods. It’s a lovely, secluded spot—leafy, towering trees, tweeting birds, and the sounds of a nearby rushing stream. The house, however beautifully situated, is also a bit run-down (read: ants of all sizes coming through unplugged crevices and swarming any food item you leave out for more than three minutes), and the kitchen, while fully-stocked, is a bit rough around the edges and rather dated (read: expired condiments abound; the jar of sugar is nearly rock-solid; and there’s a limited cache of cookware and cutlery).
Early on Saturday afternoon I decided I wanted to make a batch of banana-nut muffins. Although muffins have gotten a bad rap amidst the carb-phobia of last decade, I know a way to make them better! Take away the artery-clogging trans fats that are in so many of those pre-wrapped deli softballs or in bakery muffins, add in an extra dose of whole-grain flour as well as other heart-healthier ingredients such as omega-3-fortified vegetable oil and eggs from the Smart Balance brand, and the result is a filling, satisfying alternative. Oh, another bonus: I know my husband would devour them, especially once I told him they were healthier! He’s a sucker for anything in a muffin wrapper or cupcake tin. And if nothing else, they seemed pretty dummy-proof—and, I, being the dummy, did NOT want to fall on my flour-streaked face in front of my mother- and father-in-law!
The first hitch: I asked my mother-in-law if she had a muffin tin. No dice. Since their cabin is a weekend house, it’s not really stocked as robustly as a “normal” kitchen. All she had was a medium-sized glass Pyrex. While I could have driven back to the store, it was just too far to venture out again. So, I’d have to ad-lib and make a banana-nut ‘muffin loaf’ of sorts—which just meant I’d have to adjust the cooking time, and my expectations.
The second snafu: The house is not air-conditioned and unbeknownst to me, the oven is off-limits until “later” in the day during the summer, to keep things cool. So sayeth my mother-in–law. And one does not argue with one’s mother-in-law! So, I had to cool my heels until given the green light. (She first asked if I could perhaps make my muffins in the toaster oven; while that very well may be possible, there’s no way I could ad-lib that much! To me, toasters simply toast. I am not up to varsity-level toaster-oven usage.)
The final fright: While the actual prep and mixing process was unremarkable—hooray!!— testing the doneness of the bread got a bit tricky. After maybe five extra minutes than the recipe suggested, I went to test the bread—which, if you ask me, looked more like a pan of extremely pale-faced brownies than a bread-muffin hybrid. I dug through the drawers until I found a metal shish-kabob skewer, and was about to plunge it into the center when I spied…two big black ants skittering along the metal shaft. Eek! Skewer down! Ants squashed! Breath exhaled. Composure regained!
In the end, after the ant “disposal” and scouring of the skewer, the poker came out clean and I set the bread on the counter to cool—covered with several layers of tin foil to thwart any similar entomological invaders. When my sweets-loving husband wandered in a while later, he wondered when I was going to frost it. “No, really. No frosting?” But I insisted it would be adequately decadent without any added sugar or butter cream—and it wouldn’t leave him feeling guilty later. The proof was in the polishing off: I cut it into long, skinny slices as an after dinner treat for the whole family, and it was gone by the next day, after breakfast.
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