Cabin Fever Relievers

Okay, 40 degrees and rainy doesn’t fix it. It’s been November for months and it looks like it’s going to keep right on BEING November right through February. Only thing for it is to work hard at getting the garden orders together, then go in the kitchen and bake something – like maybe bran muffins.

Let me start by confessing that up until a couple of weeks ago, I had not eaten a bran muffin for – I dunno – 20 years. Then my friend M., who prides herself on her bran muffins, gave us a whole plateful. VERY tasty. And very conveniently filling : have one of these mothers for breakfast and you’re all set until lunch. They were toasty tasting without being toasted, chock full of raisins, and reminiscent of gingerbread in their overtones of molasses.

Almost perfect, in other words, except for being just slightly sweeter than my ideal, and a bit less wheaty.

Reason suggests the way to deal with this is to ask for the recipe, then modify . We are not talking about fancy pastry here; muffins are among the most forgiving baked goods in all creation. You can almost always cut back some on sugar without destroying the crumb, and getting a stronger grain flavor is often as simple as upping the salt.

But no, that would be too… well, anyway, I started fooling around with recipes. Go to your cookbook collection and look up a few – turns out they call for differing amounts of every major ingredient: flour, bran, sugar, eggs, fat, you name it. Yield varies too: 8 muffins, 10 muffins, 9 muffins. For reasons that are probably related to the non-divisibility of eggs, there are very few recipes for 6 muffins or 12 muffins, numbers that are, as you may have noticed, favorites with makers of muffin pans.

I have every expectation that version 4 – coming up shortly – will finally produce my ideal bran muffin, and getting there has been half the fun. It will be posted here when it’s ready, so you can start playing too.

On the garden front, a few less-common catalogs:
Baker Creek Heirloom seeds: One of my favorites for the food garden. You have to read between the lines – the descriptions are sort of like olive grading, where giant is the smallest and they aren’t actually large until you get to super colossal. And Baker Creek is in Missouri, so they do much better with things like melons and eggplants than Northerners are likely to. But THAT at least they’re forthright about. The prices are fair. The service is good. And the selection is splendid: about 80 kinds of winter squash, really a lot of whacky eggplants, stuff like that.

Select seeds antique flowers: The name says it all, and although it IS mostly seeds, this is also a good place to get small plants of unusual tender things like blue-flowered thunbergia, a fancy ( and alas rather fussy) relative of good old black eyed Susan vine.

Arrowhead Alpines: This guy is a master of that esoteric artform: the fabulously cranky plant catalog. It’s all text, no drawings or photos. No common names. There are no climate zones. Pot sizes are hinted at but not always given and not guaranteed. You pays yer money – which tends to be quite a lot of it, especially after you add in the shipping – and you gets what they have to send you. The kicker of course is that what they have to send you is all sorts of rare treats, grown by genuine plant nuts who really love their metier.


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