Daily Archives: August 2, 2007

Empty Hands

Empty Hands

I’ve been double timing on you for the last two weeks or so, you know, writing more than one recipe each day. Today we’re leaving for vacation, to Maine to visit my husband’s parents and friends up the coast. When I wrote the rules, I had this week in mind; I knew I’d need a full week out of the kitchen at some point, so I said I could write ahead. And when I’m gone, you’ll get your daily dose: starting tomorrow, ten days of tomatoes. Save the recipes for the days when eating them off the plant has lost its allure.

All this, at (insert monster truck rally voice) EIGHT (eighteighteight) MILLIGRAMS (amsamsams) PREDNISONE (oneoneone).

Yes, it was my summer goal, and I’ve been here for ten days, waking up each morning, wondering if I’ll still feel as good as I have been. And I have been feeling good, more or less. My hands have been hurting some (you may have noticed I’ve been using the food processor more), and I’m a bit more tender in other joints, but in general, my spoon count is way up from this spring.

But no rest for the weary – I’ll start cutting back on the meth when we get back. I know I have to keep decreasing until I hit a bottom limit, a place where my body says “um, thank you, but we’ll be needing that.” I’m not looking forward to it, but at least I’m still looking for it.

I have been good, though, these last few weeks. The sun must help. Energy has outweighed fatigue on my little internal scale almost every day. After Saturday’s fun, I was all tuckered out, but lying low these last few days, sleeping well, and treading gently in my skin have payed off. And now, vacation.

The part of packing I hate most is the drug count – making sure I have enough of everything to last 10 days, plus a few extra, in case we get stuck somewhere. It makes me feel old, and unnecessarily drug-dependent. Last year, on our way to Hawaii, I realized halfway to Logan Airport that I’d forgotten all my medications. Panic. We scurried off the bus at the next stop, taxied 45 minutes home, then took a last-minute taxi from Woods Hole to Boston, skating through security just in time.

The expense was annoying; the only long-haul taxi available that night was a circa-1970 Cadillac limousine. But the part that really bothered me, the part that grated, the part that scratched at the inside of my brain for the days to follow, was that we couldn’t go on without them. They’re not a favorite t-shirt, convenient but nonessential. Not like sunscreen, which you could surely skip once or twice, if you had to. I need them. I’ve cultivated an addiction, intentionally, on doctors’ orders, and it makes me crazy, adding pills to my relatively short list of true needs, like rocks in a backpack.

I have forgotten to take them before. For most of them, that’s inconsequential, but I know the life-numbing headache and nausea that accompanies an unanticipated prednisone withdrawal: not fun. So I worry constantly about forgetting.

Luckily, on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to forget how much foreign shit I’m putting into my body. It doesn’t seem like so much. This is my morning stuff:

(And for those of you who say you can’t swallow pills: I can now swallow this little pile in three gulps, thankyouverymuch. Practice makes perfect.)

Morning dose

But when I’m packing, and ten mornings’ worth comes together en masse along with the nighttime and weekly stuff, I cringe. It doesn’t all fit into my two cupped hands, not with the supplements all pre-packaged, the way I buy them to avoid opening six additional bottles each morning and night:

10 Days' worth

Maybe I could make my own version of that exhibit in [which British gallery is that?]. Or a Seder plate, filled with medicines instead of religious foods. They do all carry separate meanings, these pills, based on where I was when I started them, how they’ve changed my days, how annoying they are to procure, etc. Someday I’ll write a pill poem, but not this morning. This morning I feel like flushing them down the toilet and eating a cupcake to celebrate.

But oh, that there might be a day that starts with empty hands.

Anyway. It’s going to be a real vacation – at least, it’s supposed to be – and I already have a list. It goes like this, in no particular order:

Coffee. East coast coffee. (Did I tell you Tito ordered from a Starbucks a few weeks ago, when we were all slightly tipsy after dinner? This is news, for a longtime Starbucks hater. Just walked into the store himself. I waited outside chatting with someone and didn’t even realize it had happened until the next day. He’s so sneaky.)
Harry Potter.
Whiffle Ball.

Pretty good, huh?

Live again in a bit over a week.


Filed under commentary, recipe


The star muffin

Frank, the friend who designed the photos page for my new website (which, yes, still needs more photos), made an interesting remark the other night while he was sitting, toiling away at his code, where I am now, writing recipes.

He said, it’s amazing that those of us whose livelihoods depend on skills not everyone has – which are, presumably, skills we use regularly – continue to be impressed when our skills serve us well. Like when a program transfers successfully from one web software to another, in his case, or in my case, when I take a crack at a relatively unknown recipe and it works.

My most recent challenge involved chocolate and a sourdough starter. Johnny from Woods Hole emailed me on Tuesday night with an emergency request. He’d been assigned the role of muffin bringer for Amy’s birthday, see, and as much as he knows Amy loves her healthy food, he was really convinced that chocolate cupcakes would be more appropriate for their 8 a.m. post-dog walk birthday party than hippie-dippie crunchy oat bran muffins. So, clever guy that he is, he asked for a recipe for chocolate “muffins.”

Johnny, “chocolate muffins” is a very transparent euphemism for “cupcakes.”

So I decided to make chocolate cupcakes. To please Johnny, I’d deprive them of frosting, so they’d actually look a little like muffins, and to please Amy, whose happiness was really the one most at stake here, it being her birthday and all, I’d make them with the sourdough starter she sent me last winter, using a recipe for chocolate cake I remembered seeing on the back of one of the recipe pages she sent along with it. This second detail would also be fun for Johnny, who loves a challenge. He’d need to somehow smuggle a cup of sourdough starter out of Amy’s fridge without her knowledge. (How did you do it?)

Only, after I turned on the oven and decided chocolate muffins it would be, I noticed that the recipe was for two cakes, and used shortening, not enough chocolate, water instead of something more flavorful, and entirely too much sugar for my taste. Plus, most of the instructions were lopped off of the bottom of the page entirely, which meant that I’d be creating a recipe based on basically just a measurement for flour, eggs, sourdough starter, and additional leaveners. But I’m a trained professional, right? So what if I’ve never baked a cake with a sourdough starter?

And guess what? It worked (which, as you might remember, isn’t always the case). They’re delicious.

Today, my pride swells. I got skills. (For Amy’s sake, I can only hope Johnny’s turned out as well.)

What a good note to leave on.

Three choc muffs 1

Recipe for Sourdough Chocolate-Walnut Muffins
Recipe 214 of 365

When our friend Amy sent me a sourdough starter, she also sent an old-fashioned recipe booklet with ideas that extended well beyond the cursory sourdough biscuits and breads. A mutual friend asked for a chocolate muffin recipe for Amy’s birthday, and it seemed appropriate to come up with an adaptation of the sourdough chocolate cake recipe I’d noticed in the booklet. But when I opened it up to start cooking, it turned out that the instructions (as well as part of the ingredients list) had been lopped off the page . . .but alas, a little creativity goes a long way.

Enjoy these plain (they’re best hot), or let cool and top with your favorite frosting.

You will need a cup of sourdough starter for this recipe – it makes the muffins taste a tiny bit tangy, as though they’ve been made with sour cream.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 22 muffins

Butter or spray vegetable oil for greasing muffin tins, or muffin liners
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sourdough starter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line 2 trays of muffins tins, and set aside.

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda, and salt together in a medium bowl, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to blend between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Add the starter and the vanilla and mix to blend. (The batter may look a little lumpy; that’s okay.)

With the mixer on low, add half the dry ingredients, then the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl again, if necessary. Increase speed to medium and pour the melted chocolate into the batter as it mixes, whipping until completely incorporated.

Fill the muffin cups with 1/4 cup batter each (you should get not quite two full pans of muffins), sprinkle the tops with a heavy layer of the walnuts, and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the muffins top to bottom and back to front a little more than halfway through baking. Muffins are done when puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.

Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to racks to cool completely. (Always cool before frosting.) Muffins may be cooled and stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

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Filed under Cakes, kitchen adventure, recipe