Work had been miserable for us both on Friday; serious food was called for. I pan-grilled a steak, made a batch of macaroni and cheese, and steamed some asparagus. She added sea salt and chopped pecans to a batch of dark chocolate caramel brownies, and tried not to be too disappointed that the peaches she was hoping to turn into jam had been waiting too long and were more mush than fruit. We sat at the table like grownups and relaxed into a weekend that would be far more full of activity than either of us expected. (She relaxed more than she planned to, falling asleep on the couch before the brownies were cool.)
Fortified by a breakfast brownie, we started a gardening project first thing in the morning. This was about cleaning up, not planting. The forsythia on the hillside had overgrown, big branches of a fallen tree had become ensnarled in it, and the ivy that was supposed to be ground cover at the bottom of the hillside was tangled in everything, along with tendrils of some other weed that was the only thing really thriving. I took breaks for two church services, but she kept at it, sending me texts periodically asking that I bring home more leaf-and-lawn bags.
Dainty food was not going to cut it. Scrambled eggs with peppers and cornbread for lunch. Chicken and dumplings for dinner. Kahlua milkshakes for dessert, while we cheered on our friends who performed in the PBS telecast of Sweeney Todd. (Dumplings, yes; meat pies, no.)
While I started Sunday’s massathon, she climbed back onto the hillside; she was accompanied by our neighbor, and I joined the two of them between masses 4 & 5. By the end of the weekend, there was plenty of space for the ivy to do its thing, just the right amount of forsythia for the space, three Prius-loads of filled-to-the-brim leaf bags bound for the city’s lawn-waste site, and the satisfaction of a job well done and without injury.
We ordered takeout from a terrific and very authentic Mexican restaurant: soft corn tacos filled with steak and pork, pickled onion, and cilantro; chicken flautas; rice studded with bits of pea and carrot; creamy, rich refried beans. (Too much food for dinner, to be sure; we’re both having leftovers for lunch, and the guacamole and chips will be a post-theatre snack tonight.)
I preheated the oven while we ate, and with the energy conserved by ordering dinner, I gathered ingredients and she mixed a batch of cranberry-orange muffins for this week’s breakfasts. They’re not exactly the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook recipe; it turns out she improvises, too (and then carefully notates how well things work).
Cranberry Orange Muffins
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prep your muffin tin for 12 average-sized muffins.
- Zest a large orange; reserve the zest in a small bowl and then squeeze every last drop of juice into a measuring cup. Pour enough cranberry juice cocktail into the cup to bring the total volume up liquid up to 2/3 of a cup. Add 1/4 of a cup of cooking oil to that measuring cup, and stir well to combine. Set aside.
- In a large bowl combine 1-3/4 cups flour, a scant 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt. stir to combine, then make a well in the center. Set aside.
- In another small bowl (or the cup used to measure the flour), beat an egg. Pour the beaten egg and combined liquid into the well of the flour, and stir to combine. Continue stirring, scraping the bowl as necessary, until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Fold in one cup of whole frozen cranberries (or thoroughly chilled fresh ones) and a sprinkling of slivered almonds.
- Scoop the batter into the muffin tins. Remember the reserved zest and sprinkle a few pieces on the tops of each muffin, giving a quick stir with a small spoon to cover them with batter.
- Bake until the tops are golden and the tiniest bit of brown starts to show at the edges, approximately 22 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool for twenty minutes, then remove the muffins from the cups and allow them to cool completely. Enjoy with butter or clotted cream.
We finished Sunday evening with a mini-marathon of 1950s TV game shows, confident that we would be well fed and cooking-panic-free all week, and recognition that–although there is always more to do–we’d accomplished quite a bit. Like untangling weeds from ivy, making a home takes time.