Saturday, December 4, 2010

Muffin of the Week, Luminaria Nights, and Other Things of Beauty

First things first: this was breakfast, and it was very good. Well, actually it was brunch, since we didn't sit down to it until 11:30, which justifies it being fairly hearty since I hope it will hold us over till an early dinner. The muffins are Mollie Katzen's Carrot and Currant Muffins; the recipe is available on her website at:

In the book she says it makes 8-10 muffins though on the site it says 12. Guess it depends on how full you fill the cups; I got 9. They're quite good, but I like them somewhat less than some of the others I've posted; they don't quite have the intensity of flavor that I crave. But they're better than most you could buy, and certainly a nice way to chip away at the over-abundance of carrots resulting from buying a 5# bag a while back (because it was such a good deal).
Maybe my lack of enthusiasm stems from too much carrot cake. At the University of Arizona every catered event features carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. It's a very rich, dense cake, and I liked it very much the first couple of years - maybe even the first five years. Then I started just eating some of the frosting - I guess I'm a frosting person in that ongoing debate over which is best, cake or frosting. Now, after 18 years at U of A, I shudder at the sight of what used to seem like a treat (of course that doesn't mean I might not still have a taste, just to see if it's improved, of course).
Joe'd been craving bacon and while I was at the dentist yesterday morning (for a broken tooth which, oddly, didn't hurt at all, and that was good because I had to wait two days since the dentist was out of town) he went hunting for it in the freezer and couldn't find it (I'd been shifting things around and it was behind the vodka).
A few words about bacon: I know it's not the healthiest food but we only have it once every week or two, and then only "good" bacon. I grew up on the stuff that comes in plastic packages, Oscar Mayer and his ilk, but I haven't bought it in years. Now we buy only the nice thick bacon from the butcher's case, which goes on sale frequently and freezes beautifully. It's soooo much better and leaner and tastier, especially (I think) the kind with pepper on it. Most markets carry it; we shop at, Sunflower and (less often) Albertson's, good thick bacon at a reasonable price, often less than the stuff in plastic. To freeze it, I separate it into 2-slice units (enough for us each to have 1 slice with an ordinary breakfast) and lay out a fairly long sheet of waxed paper, then I fold up the waxed paper like an accordion, with 2 slices of bacon in each fold, separated from the next 2 slices by a layer of waxed paper (I hope I'm making that clear) so that it's easy to take out just 2 (or 4 or 6 or however many you want) at a time. Then I wrap it all up again in the butcher's paper and put a rubber band or two around it. Usually I cut the slices in half crosswise to cook them so I can use a smaller pan; they thaw very fast at low heat and are easy to separate in just a few minutes.
As I said, the bacon I buy seems leaner than what I grew up on, so it doesn't render out as much fat, but if there is melted bacon grease I save it in a jar for other cooking. I read once that if dinner isn't ready when a man comes home he can be pacified by the smell of onions frying, if you think to put them on the stove in time. With Joe, at least, that would work even better if they were frying in bacon grease. However, many of us aren't in that kind of traditional situation, even if we have partners - Joe and I take the bus home from work together and he's as likely to cook dinner as I am. But it's a nice idea.

This is the big Christmas tree at the entrance to the Tucson Botanical Garden, where last night was the first of the annual Luminaria Nights (continuing tonight and Sunday night, 5-8 p.m.). The pathways are lit by traditional luminarias, with various musical groups performing in different areas. At one point there were bell ringers in the indoor hall, an accordionist near the conservatory, a bluegrass group farther on, Irish dancers in the xeriscape gardens, and a choir in the large pavilion. The performers changed at 6:30 and on our way out we sat for a while in the indoor hall listening to a wonderful string quartet - one of the nicest parts of that was how happy all the players looked! - especially the violist, a young Austrian woman.
There's something magical about the gardens at night in candlelight.
In spite of the crowds and the music (and the food vendors, so it's good to come hungry!), there's a kind of peaceful hush that seems so appropriate to the season, and such a nice corrective to all the commercial craziness that otherwise accompanies it. When you come to the gardens at any season, time seems to slow down, so that it's okay to just sit and enjoy listening to the birds and otherwise being surrounded by things of nature. Even what's mechanical and manmade contributes to relaxation, like the lovely little model railroad in its "Old West" setting (which was hard to photograph last night, but I'm posting these pictures anyway):
And now, after yesterday's busyness, today I'm at home, relaxing, cooking, blogging, puttering...with my beautiful friend and familiar Sophie. You probably can't read it, but the title of the book lying next to her is Mirror, Mirror on the Wall - I'm quite sure Sophie's mirror tells her every day that she is indeed the fairest of them all.

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