A few weeks ago, Leah came to visit.
It wasn’t long after we moved back in from the Great Flood Recovery Project. Boxes abounded. Stuff was missing. Everything was askew. Not the ideal time for house guest, but Leah isn’t a house guest. She’s my sister, except she’s my cousin — but in my heart, she’s my sister.
One thing the Great Flood taught me is how much I’ve changed in the past decade or so of my life. I used to thrive on chaos and thirst for change. During college and early adulthood, I can’t tell you how many times I moved, changed jobs, changed majors, changed everything. I still have that visceral need to have lots of balls in the air, but I require a heck of a lot more order and predictability than I did back then.
When The Boy was The Baby and had just learned to crawl, it took him 0.002 seconds to find those little padded foamy cushion thingys on the inside corners of our kitchen cabinets. He plucked them from their highly functional placements, and then he ate them.
Now, had he been a second or third child, I can easily see how this might be regarded with some level of tolerance. Or overlooked with a little humor, even: Oh honey, let the boy have his fun and ingest inedible objects. They’re clearly not a choking hazard! But being a first-born to
two left-brained dorks — err, one left-brained dork and an actually very cool engineer/entrepreneur who knows pretty much everything about almost everything — this was not to be.
The Baby was informed that he was heretofore NOT to ingest any more of those foamy cushion thingys. I swear he looked me in the eye with defiance as he plucked the next one and popped it into his mouth like a Tic Tac.
Apparently babies don’t really observe authoritative mandates, even from those upon whom they are 100% dependent. Huh.
So, all the foam cushion thingys were removed, much to my chagrin. Chagrin for two reasons: 1) I’m not big on removing each and every little thing that might tempt a kid, because I generally think children can and should learn their boundaries, and 2) the members of my household, present company included, apparently enjoy slamming cabinet doors. SCHLAP! I jumped a little every time it happened. So. Annoying.
Fast forward two years, and one of the The Boy’s favorite pastimes is opening cabinet doors and seeing how hard he can slam them. And dang if he doesn’t wear that same look of defiance when he does it.
One recent day, he and I were out running errands. On a whim, I made an unannounced stop.
Mommy, are we going to the Orange Store?
Yes, Baby, we’re going to the Orange Store. It’s called Home Depot.
MAMA! I toleyoo, don’t call me Baby!
If you’d like to say that with nice words, I might listen.
Mama, don’t call me Baby.
(This is my life now.)
So, we marched into the Orange Store, located the Padded Foamy Cushion Thingy section, and we bought replacements. I have to admit, I got a little excited.
We went home and both had a little treat. The Boy climbed into his chair at the kitchen table and had his way with a popsicle, and I went around my kitchen, sticking Padded Foamy Cushion Thingys any- and everywhere they might belong. Then I test-slammed some cabinet doors, and reveled in the fact that the SCHLAP! had been downgraded to a dull thud.
I swear, my heart skipped a beat.
It skipped a beat because I had the presence of mind to run an unscheduled errand that I’ve been meaning to get to for months. It skipped a beat because I had the time to devote to such a menial-yet-meaningful task. It skipped a beat because it was a sign that maybe — just maybe! — life was getting back to normal. Hell, my heart skipped a beat. It had been a while.
But Leah visited before all that order had been restored. And in her perfectly wonderful sister-cousin way, she said, “Laura, this is the messiest I’ve ever seen your house. And I like it.”
She and I somehow managed to spend hours together that we didn’t have during that short weekend trip. It was wonderful, actually.
Somewhere along the way she passed by my fruit bowl, which was full of peaches. Her back was to me, and I knew before she turned what she would say.
Oh, Lawwra. (She’s one of the few people in my life who pronounce my name correctly.) Do you remember those muffins?!
I smiled, because I knew it was coming. She mentions them any time we are both in the proximity of peaches or muffins.
Oh yes, I said, I remember.
A couple of weeks later, I shipped her a baker’s dozen of those peach muffins, the ones she loves so much. They weren’t as good as the time she ate them fresh from my oven, but no matter. I remember, my gesture said. And I get you. Thank you for loving me.
Friends, I’m sure someone you love lives farther away than you’d like. Maybe a special kid you know is away at college for the first time. Maybe you have a Leah who lives a couple of hundred miles away. Maybe you have a neighbor who could use a pick-me-up.
And maybe you’ve thought about dropping them a note in the mail.
Maybe you should drop them some muffins, too.
The guy manning the FedEx desk kind of flipped out over my Food of Love package. I placed before him two zippered plastic bags full of muffins, lined with paper towels.
Can you box these up and send them to someone for me?, I asked.
Wait, did you make these?!, came the reply.
Yes I did, actually.
Do I smell cinnamon?
Yes. And vanilla bean.
Wow, someone really special must be on the receiving end of THIS.
Why yes. Yes, she is. How much do I owe you?
The first time I made these years ago, it was for no better reason than to test a good-lookin’ recipe. Leah was in dental school nearby, and dropped in to say hello. Not having a better use for a couple of dozen muffins, I gave them to her to share at the dental office where she was working. And now, they are the stuff of legend.
from Martha Stewart Living, June 2002
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/4 cups fruit and/or nuts, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or peaches
Streusel (see separate recipe below)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a standard muffin tin. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, combine butter, vanilla bean scrapings, sugar, milk, and egg; whisk to combine. Fold butter mixture and fruit into flour mixture; use no more than ten strokes.
Spoon 1/4 cup batter into each prepared cup; press 2 tablespoons streusel on top of each. Bake until tops are golden, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool in pan 15 to 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 12 standard muffins
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix with your fingers until mixture is moist and crumbly.
Yield: enough for 12 standard muffins