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Thursday, 11 September 2014 06:32

A visit from the muffin elf

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One of the things I like best about my house is the way it looks at night.

Once all the inside lights are off, and the definite shapes of daytime are muted by what I like to think is mostly moonlight, but is actually mostly light pollution from the city outside, everything looks softened.
The edges of furniture (such as the antique writing desk I bludgeoned my hip on last week) no longer seem so sharp.
Dust on the un-Swiffered surfaces disappears into shadows.
And the dirty dishes next to the sink in the kitchen seem somehow reduced by at least half.
Lately, owing to a series of nights underscored by sleep that either refuses to come, or does but then steals away again like a laughing thief, I’ve been getting to know my after-hours home.
It’s a little like one of my recurring dreams, where I find an extra room I didn’t know we had.
In the day, because my office is in the most high-traffic and distracting corner of the house, it never quite feels like my own. And because the second half of my work often gets in the way of supper, and adds to the day’s washing up, I’m reminded of Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
Tonight, in the twilit space of my work triangle, the kitchen is my own, and to further the illusion, I no longer acknowledge the dishes by the sink.
Instead, I open the fridge and find a bowl of caramelized pears that were a recent pancake topping. On the counter is our locally-made French butter dish, with just enough soft butter inside for spreading on warm muffins. And I have an idea.
A set of new mixing bowls (nesting plastic ones in Granny Smith green and cranberry red colours), with rubber-seal bottoms, don’t make a sound when I set them on the counter. And because I know where most things are without looking, I gather ingredients and mix without additional light, whisking egg and buttermilk (whose best before date is better off unknown), together with vegetable oil and vanilla.
Dipping into the kitchen’s canister of bench flour, I have just enough without having to drag the bin from our pantry: an awkward corner closet that was originally meant to hold a broom.
Into the batter, I fold the pears. I divide the batter between a new set of square muffin molds fitted with paper liners. I lick the spatula and set the pan into the preheated oven.
In the meanwhile, I don’t do the dishes.
 I don’t wipe or tidy away things that bother me in the day.
And so when I pull a stool up to the kitchen island, I lay my head on my folded arms, which are dusted with flour and lightly spackled with egg and batter, and fall asleep.
I nearly let the muffins over bake.But when I wake to a second oven timer, they’re perfectly done, and in minutes I have them slipped out of the pan and cooling on a rack
“Happy Breakfast from the Muffin Elf,” I write on a blank recipe card, knowing the muffins will be the source of a little confusion.
“Washed the dishes and enjoyed the muffins.
“Don't tell my wife, but your muffins are better than hers.”

Caramelized Pear Muffins
4 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed, plus more for sprinkling
3/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp flaked kosher salt

Add brown sugar and cinnamon into a non-stick skillet over high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until the sugar begins to melt. Add pears and toss gently (constantly at first, and then occasionally) until about halfway cooked. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then, using a rubber spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Gently fold in pears.
Divide batter between 15-16 paper-lined muffin cups (or 12 muffins and a mini loaf). Sprinkle tops with a little brown sugar. Bake in a 375F oven for 20-25 minutes, until a tester inserted into the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Place pan on a wire rack to cool 5-10 minutes before removing muffins from pan to finish cooling.


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