best blueberry muffins + books that save

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For as long as I could remember, books have always been a part of my life. I had the sort of childhood that was a photograph worth shredding; I was alone for most summers, and I spent them on my fire escape reading. While squirrels and birds ravaged the trees outside my window, I sat on the hot grates of a fire escape with a pile of books. Books were my companion and teacher, and you’d be hard pressed to find me–this small girl–without her bookbag packed to the gills, as my pop would say, with books. I started reading at 3, earlier than most, and I never looked back. I read anything I could get my hands on, and I remember that I always exceeded the limit of books one could borrow from the library. When I was small, I was consumed by stories of rich girls and their finery–their fresh water pearls and Fiat cars–where a great tragedy was being alone on a Friday night. Possibly this was a result of my steady diet of John Hughes films, but I felt transported. I felt as if I could close my eyes I’d wake to be somewhere other than where I was. Books gave me freedom, even if the freedom was defined as the confined space in my head.

Eleanor & Park
Eleanor & Park

For most of my childhood, I lived in my head. I jettisoned to exotic locales and feigned sleep in a house divided by two floors. I dreamed of stairs! Of taking them two by two! In this world, my imagination was rich and vivid, and I wove elaborate stories about my life as a result of having read so many books. Having been left alone so much, these books were a constant companion, a friend who would never abandon or leave, but they also served as ammunition for the dozens and dozens of stories and poems I wrote longhand. Books felt safe and they allowed me the freedom to interpret and understand the world in which I lived in and make sense of it through prose.

I guess you can say that my writing has always been a way for me to work things out.

This weekend was not what I intended. I planned to rest, write, work-out, spend time with my friends before starting a major project come Monday, but instead I felt anxious, uneasy, nervous–my father’s health concerns me and I’ve done everything I can to push him to see a doctor, but it’s not as if I’m physically living with him and nagging him on a daily basis {which is the only thing that seems to work}. He doesn’t yet see the magnitude of his impairment, and his clipped responses and fucking pride in hiding his illness, even while I know he’s in extreme, constant pain, is killing me. Right now I know he’s angry with me because I’ve contacted his family in Ireland and have also teamed up with his boss to push him to see a doctor. I hate being in this place, feeling his cold silence, even if I know what I’ve done is the right thing to do.

As a result I shifted gears and started reading a book I’d purchased on a whim–based on a line I’d read somewhere on the internet–Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. E&P is the sort of book that crawls deep into the recesses of your heart and sets up shop there. It’s funny, endearing, smart, tender without being sentimental. Reading the love story of two misfits in the 80s made me smile when it was impossible to think that I could. I fell in love with the characters, and felt a sort of kinship with Eleanor because I understood, and was empathetic toward, her life.

You can’t know how much I needed this book this weekend. I feel a sort of unrest about tomorrow and the days that follow, but right now I feel OKAY. Right now I feel sane enough to bake my favorite {FAVORITE!} dessert: THE BLUEBERRY MUFFIN.

Because muffins make me happy.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated, with significant modifications to the topping {i.e. I used a crumble topping from another recipe}
For the crumble topping
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups cake flour

For the muffins
2 cups (about 10 oz) fresh blueberries
1 1/8 cups sugar (8 oz) plus 1 tsp
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
2 large eggs, at room temp
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
First, make the crumb. In a large bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon and salt. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir until fully incorporated. Stir in the cake flour until a smooth dough forms and set the bowl aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 F with a rack in the upper third. Spray your muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine 1 cup of the blueberries along with 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, mashing the berries with a spoon and stirring frequently. Continue cooking until the berries break down and the mixture has a thick jam-like consistency; the volume should be reduced to about 1/4 cup. Transfer to a small bowl and cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. In another large bowl, whisk the remaining 1 1/8 cups of sugar and the eggs together until pale yellow and thick. Whisk in the butter and oil until combined. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and whisk to incorporate fully. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture along with the remaining 1 cup of blueberries. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold until the dry ingredients are just moistened – the batter will be lumpy, that’s fine. Don’t overmix.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared wells of the muffin pan – each well should be completely full. Add one teaspoon of the blueberry jam to the center of each well of batter. Use a skewer to gently swirl the jam into the batter. Sprinkle the muffins with the crumble mixture.

Bake for 17 to 19 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are golden and they spring back when gently pressed. Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack and let the muffins cool for 5 minutes before removing them to cool completely.

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13 thoughts on “best blueberry muffins + books that save

  1. These look heavenly. I have Eleanor + Park; and haven’t started it yet. So happy to hear that you loved it. Also, I’m sorry about what you’re going through your dad – scary. Sending you hugs + thinking of you! xx

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  2. Stubborn dads are the worst..esp when it concerns their health. My Dad is healthy right now but I’ve had to bully him into many doctor appts. It’s not fun. I hope your Dad goes to the doctor and gets better. You can endure the stony silence if the end result is a pain free Dad.

    I completely relate on the reading. I was the same way when I was a kid (my parents used to ground me by taking my books. Horrible!). It’s still my favorite escape and my #1 hobby. I can’t wait to read e&p.

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  3. I’ve had the sample of Eleanor & Park sitting on my Kindle for over a year and just started reading it again thanks to your lovely post. It is such a intoxicatingly sweet read. Sending you lots of love and good thoughts about your Dad. I’ve been through a fair share of hardship on the parent/health front so can definitely relate. xx

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  4. Oh, the latest phase of life – being the parent’s parent. There is no manual for this, though there should be. Muffins heal – and here’s a little peace and strength sent both your ways. xo

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  5. First I am so happy to have found your blog, I love your honesty. Second, I looooved Eleonor and Park,I even cried a little at the end, such a sweet read. For now I’ll just look at these yummy muffins, I can’t have any right now :/

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  6. These look amazing! You mention sprinkling the muffin batter with the “lemon sugar,” but that’s not anywhere in the rest of the recipe – I assume you just meant to sprinkle the batter with the crumble mix, but I wanted to make sure (mainly because the idea of sprinkling blueberry muffins with lemon sugar sounds great!). Thanks!

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