After hours in the kitchen fixing dinner, indulging in a leisurely family meal, and assisting the clean-up crew, the table, floor, and counters are finally shipshape. My husband has shuffled off to bed and our teenage son, Jesse, has long since retreated to his room to study. I should finish planning for school tomorrow, but instead, I wander back into the kitchen. It’s
9 p.m. The house is silent, and I know I should keep it that way. But I also know Jesse will be up for hours, and I have so few opportunities to connect with my taciturn teen.
I hesitate, and then reach in a drawer for a thick cookbook. I flip to a well-worn page, admonishing myself for even considering it. But five minutes later, the counter is cluttered with mixing bowls, measuring cups, flour, and sugar.
“You’ll regret this,” I mutter as I turn on the oven and begin to measure dry ingredients. Soon my whisk is clattering in a steel bowl and I wonder if my husband can hear the racket. I’m relieved when I’m finished clanging and can stir liquids in a large glass measuring cup – much quieter. Melodious, even.
Next comes chopping. I measure cranberries and pour them onto a cutting board. What a mountain! I pull out a large knife and soon I’m thundering in the nighttime silence. Cranberries roll all over the counter and onto the floor. Rats. I set up roadblocks using knives and my stomach. I keep chopping. Berries continue to roll. Ugh. This is not going to be quick. For a moment I consider getting out the blender. No, ours sounds like the Indianapolis 500. I keep chopping, wondering if I’m staining my shirt as berries bounce off my belly blockade. Finally I finish.
I dump all but the last two ingredients into one bowl, then swirl in the melted butter. I fold in the cranberries, turning the batter magenta.
I plop dollops of batter into muffin tins, sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar, then rain down sliced almonds. Into the oven they go.
Trying not to rattle and clank, I stack dishes in the sink. In 10 minutes, warmth and a luscious aroma permeate the house. Oh, no – will this rouse my exhausted spouse? I listen, but all is silent. For another 10 minutes I whip through some schoolwork. Then – bing! – the timer sounds. I hurry over, whip open the oven, and behold: perfect rows of golden-topped, glistening muffins, bursting with bright, ballooned-up cranberries.
Before I can unload the muffins onto cooling racks, a door opens and I hear footsteps on the stairs. Hubby? No. It’s Jesse, my 6-foot-tall eating machine. He plods into the kitchen, stretches, and then plops onto a bench.
“Care for a muffin?” I ask casually, as if homemade muffins, fresh from the oven at 10 p.m. on a school night, are no big deal.
“Sure,” Jesse mumbles, just as casually.
I grab a saucer, load it with two muffins, and slip it in front of him.
I slide into my seat with a muffin for myself, but I ignore it while I surreptitiously watch Jesse. He chews, then stops, and starts chewing again – slowly. I can see the groan of pleasure that wants to escape from his lips, but he says nothing.
I take a bite of my own muffin: Scrumptious! I can’t contain myself. “How do you like them?” I ask off-handedly. I nibble my muffin and swallow. I have to wait for a reply.
“Good,” Jesse says, with only a slight rise in tone.
I take another bite. “Mmmm,” I say. I’m prodding for more of a response, but I don’t get one.
Jesse finishes his muffins and stands, rubbing what I suspect is a satisfied stomach.
“Heading to bed?” I ask.
“Yeah. Soon.” Then he gives me a hug. It’s brief, but not a one-armed, press-of-a-shoulder-in-passing hug. He bear hugs me. Two arms. Then he lets go.
“Goodnight, Jesse. Sleep tight.”
“Night,” he mumbles, and heads upstairs.
I watch him go. And I smile – supremely satisfied.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups chopped cranberries
Turbinado sugar (for topping)
Sliced almonds (for topping)
PREPARATION: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate, medium bowl, mix together milk, eggs, and vanilla. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and combine. Stir in melted butter. Fold in chopped cranberries.
Line muffin tins with paper baking cups. Fill cups 2/3rds full of batter. Sprinkle tops with turbinado sugar and sliced almonds. Bake 25 minutes or until tops are golden. Remove from pans. Serve warm.
Yield: 18 muffins