Friday, September 9, 2011

CHOCOLATE BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

EATING : MY AMERICAN EXPERIENCE


I always put on a few pounds whenever I come back home to visit. Donuts and hamburgers with everything on it (not to mention the fries), milkshakes and pizza; no matter how I try and stick to the salads, fresh fruit and good sense, the pull of the foods I grew up on is too strong for me. My self-restraint melts away in front of each diner, my self-control stays out in the parking lot, withering in the scalding Florida sun as I stroll the aisles of my favorite supermarket and the constant, endless parade of restaurant menus scream out to me, grab me by the arms and shake all reason straight out of my head, luring me with the fried, the barbecued and the cheesy. And the fun of being 16 again holds too great a charm, popping out to a favorite haunt with friends, sitting over baskets of goodies, sipping soda or beer and giggling over old times. But as the jeans get a tad snugger, the zipper that much harder to pull closed, I scold myself for my gluttony, that evil little voice whispers in my ear reminding me how I will feel when I return to France and I try and muster up the courage to shake my head no and wave away the next temptation.

But this trip home, I decided to leave my guilt packed up in my suitcase and indulge! A weekend in New Orleans netted incredible beignets, dense yet airy and oh-so chewy, hidden under an abundance of snowy powdered sugar; pralines and turtles nibbled while on a stroll through the French Quarter; perfect macarons and chocolates at Sucré; fried oyster po’boys prepared by Pierre Maspero’s for an IFBC meal. The traditional Mocha Frappuccino shared with my mom once home on the range and platters of ribs slathered with thick, tangy, spicy sauce and served up with loads of fried potatoes and a cool, crunchy dill pickle, a meal best eaten with at least one of my sons, arrived hard and fast practically straight from the airport. Yes, I have always been a glutton, food my Achille’s Heel, and each time I step out of the airport into the sultry heat of a Florida summer evening a wave of nostalgia sweeps over me, bringing me back to the best place of my youth: food.


You can never go home again, the old saying goes. Yet they also say that every time we return home, we each become the child we were again. The truth lies somewhere in between, at least where I am concerned. I feel older, wiser, foreign, somehow. I never really felt like I fit in here. Surrounded by schoolmates blossoming into tanned, leggy young women, their straight, shiny blond hair flowing down their backs, fluttering in the breeze, pretty, confident and popular I was the eternal pal, the Plain Jane, the ugly duckling; there were lots of hallway “hellos”, yet no party invitations, lots of friends but never part of a group, just one step outside. I also realized that I felt I just didn’t have that much in common with many of these people, never enjoyed the Beach Bunny lifestyle, didn’t feel really at home where I was. I felt marooned. And I yearned for more, something unconventional, something extraordinary. So I packed up and left, returning only occasionally, each visit home from a world more foreign and distant. I truly became a different person, a new woman. I grew and changed, learned new languages and habits, adapted to a new way of life and found a world where I felt comfortable, myself. Yet I kept one part of my American life close within reach, the foods I loved and grew up on. Comforting when I feel too far from my family, familiar when the world around me feels strange and alien.

So when I get to Florida and settle into my old bedroom, something clicks in and the cravings wrap around me like an old sweater, promising me comfort and love like a favorite doll. Food and TV and shopping, the trilogy of what bonds me to my mom, is a fatal attraction, an enticement that I have no control over because it is irrevocably linked to home. From the moment we drive over the bridge, the dark water of the Indian River bobbing lazily below my feet, and the ocean rushes forward, waves crashing up onto the beach appearing on the horizon, the hunger wiggles up and bites me, settling in. And doesn’t leave until each and every wild, fried, sugary craving is satisfied.


And part of that experience of home is reliving my youth… but better. As I now sit with old friends become new over beers and glasses of wine, all the talk of parties and surfing, parties and school events, pranks and parties just flies over my head. I smile and nod and admit that I never attended, never partied or hung out at the beach, never drove up Tropical Trail late at night or crashed at this one’s house or the other. They stare goggle-eyed and tease me and ask how I ever got through those years. Well, honestly, I guess I stayed at home curled up with a good book and ate. But each trip back, I make up for missed opportunities, live adventures I didn’t the first time around, and happily I find friends to pull me into that magic circle and relive our teen years again. But only better. I went to my very first high school football game last Friday night. Sure, make fun of me if you will but the truth must be told. It seems to be almost un-American not to have attended at least one football game while in high school, but it apparently escaped me. No gang of friends to hang out with, not much of school spirit where sports were concerned, I avoided the rah-rah’s and the cheers, feeling less than foxy in front of the oh-so hot pom pom girls, and just was not that interested. But my friend Terri and her husband Fred picked me up and brought me to the game, which we watched from the sidelines (not the bleachers) like the VIPs that we are. The heat eased in the elegant, lazy warm ocean breeze and we wandered around the track that circled the field back and forth, went and ogled the pizza and hot dogs being sold from rickety tents and metal folding tables, the corner of the playing field the most crowded.


Fascinated by the whole American eating thing, the myths and the realities, the traditions and the shocking eatables I read about from afar, all that I wanted to capture and write about, as the smells of frying and grilling waft up and around me, tickling my nostrils and my fancy and urging me to eat, I decided to take photos of the foods that typified this culture, all that crossed my path. Outdoor festival and fair food in my city of Nantes has similarities with this American experience, yet the grilled, spicy merguez sausages stuffed in a chunk of baguette and slathered with mustard followed by cones of fried, sugared churros are balanced out with crêpes hot off the griddle, platters of succulent raw oysters and steaming bowls of marinated mussels. Not so here… as I casually walked up behind this stranger and kindly asked him if I could snap a picture of his hot dog (only to be scolded and laughed at by a shocked Terri), as people lined up for boxes of pizza and ice cream treats, a delightful and surprising announcement boomed over the loudspeaker exciting me and titillating my curiosity more than my tastebuds: right after the game, fried oreos would be sold from a special food booth in the church parking lot across the street right after the game. Whoopie! Who would ever have thought that I would come even remotely close, find myself face to face with any one of these incredible, uniquely American battered and deep-fried foods that I have been reading so much about with shock, amazement, amusement and, need I add, disgust?

Terri and I impatiently waited for the end of the game and immediately ran across the street like two high school girls looking for a hot party with hot surfer guys. The smell reached us as we made our way across the dark parking lot, the bright glare of the overhead streetlamps creating brilliant circles of blinding sunlight on the black tar. We pressed into the crowd pushing towards the folding tables lined with frosty sodas and bottles of water. Red tickets clutched in our hands, we watched as the hot, sizzling breaded snacks were lifted out of the bubbling oil and nestled into white paper napkins one by one. We waved two tickets and nodded as the church lady held up two and we walked out of that parking lot, back towards the car staring with disbelief at our treasures, afraid, truly afraid to be the first to take a bite. After taking photos in the dark, we dared the other to be the first, laughing at ourselves and at our own fear. Then finally, finally, we both bit into this culinary curiosity at once, chewed slowly, savored, and finally, eyes closed in pleasure, admitted that, in fat, they were pretty tasty. And as I relished the experience, as I wondered that I was eating and enjoying this fried oreo, I thought to myself with a smirk on my lips: “What’s next? Fried butter?”

I baked for my mom. She buys muffins from the supermarket bakery, blueberry or chocolate chip, and eats one every morning for breakfast. And have I told you that she has an enormous sweet tooth, one that may shock and surprise anyone who sees her frail body and bird-like eating habits. And chocolate is at the top of her list. So when she bought me a small cookbook of Cupcakes & Muffins I selected the perfect morning treat to bake for her: Chocolate Blueberry Muffins. And perfect they were, light and delicate, tender and just moist with the pop of sweet blueberries in every bite. Just the way mom loves her muffins.


CHOCOLATE BLUEBERRY MUFFINS
From Cornerstones’ Cupcakes & Muffins, slightly altered

1 ¾ cups (220 g) flour
4 tsp baking powder
Heaping ¼ cup (30 + g) unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1 large (American extra-large) egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup (60 ml) vegetable/canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup (about 125 g) fresh or frozen blueberries

1/2 cup (95 g) semisweet chocolate chips, optional
¼ tsp ground cinnamon, optional

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake papers.

Sift the flour, backing powder and cocoa together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar. Stir in either the chocolate chips or ground cinnamon if using. I added neither. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

Whisk together the milk, oil, egg and vanilla then pour into the well. Blend well then fold in the whole blueberries.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 lined muffin cups. Use a soup ladle to make it easier and cleaner.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until puffed and set and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffin tins from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the tins and allowing to cool completely.

32 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

It is always very difficult to have you usual eating habits when you are not at home. I see thzat when we visit my boyfriend's parents. Impossible to not indulge.

Those muffins are so beautiful! I'd love to eat one or two with a cup of coffee.

Cheers,

Rosa

thelittleloaf said...

What a gorgeous foodie trip and wander down memory lane...I could almost taste the food you describe :-) I love the idea of those muffins - so many people make and eat chocolate or blueberry, so why not combine the two? I love blueberries dipped in melted chocolate, so this seems like a logical, and yummy, extension :-)

Unknown said...

Small but significant typo:
1 3/4 cups flour is about 220g,
not 22g

Jamie said...

@Unknown - Oh thank you! I sometimes make a boo boo and am glad when a reader points it out so I can correct it!

Laurel said...

Thanks for this wonderful recipe and thanks for the post. It is very difficult to choose between indulging and refraining when around old friends and family. Eating is what reminds us of our past and the wonderful times we had together! A dilemma most foodies struggle with, I am sure!

Priya said...

Love this wonderful foodie trip, muffins looks super fabulous..

Barbara Bakes said...

Some of those fried foods can be scary lol. I had a fried PB&J at the fair a couple of years ago. So sweet of your mom to buy you a cookbook and so nice of you to bake for her delicious muffins.

Heavenly Housewife said...

When ever i am on vacation, I gain tons of weight, and I return home all bloated and cranky LOL. Looks like you got to eat some amazing stuff. I'm still jealous of t hose bignets!
*kisses* HH

Lora said...

I can relate to this beautiful post. It was always both a food and an old memories journey for me every time I hopped between continents...and always gaining weight stateside. I just love that you made those beautiful muffins for your mom. So sweet.

Junglefrog said...

Isn't it interesting how food and our memories are locked together? Some habits are also hard to break it appears...
I'm fascinated too by those fried oreos! Fried oreos... I mean, whoever comes up with ideas like that??

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

I'm just back from being in my home country for 2 months so you can just imagine! Bravo for eating deep-fried Oreos, you are a braver woman than I am. I listened to the Food Programme recently where people in Scotland were eating deep-fried battered pizza...so yes it can get worse!
How lovely to be able to spoil your Mum with these delicious muffins. Such an enjoyable read as always.

Mary said...

I love to walk with you through the past. You know how to spin a yarn and you tell your stories beautifully. Your mother could not help but love your muffins. I'm sure she found them to be a real treat. Have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary

Barbara said...

I think I'd like to try the deep fried Oreos. It's interesting to have 2 places to call home.I love being back home in Australia permanently, and yet somedays I will unwittingly refer to New Zealand when talking about home.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

Your story made me suddenly crave home. Though the home I grew up in is now sold to a faceless stranger, the one thing that is an ever present pull that I can never escape when just thinking about the small town I grew up in just outside of St. Louis is Steak and Shake. An old fashioned drive in/car hop kind of place that was integral to our town. Families and kids loved it but everyone knew...Friday night was relegated to high school kids!

Embodied in that memory is not just what my mind still considers the best burger ever with cheese, pickles and Thousand Island dressing but the memories of football games and friends and heading there to 'hang out' even on nights without any special occasion. Including the night my brother chose to do a 'wheelie' in his spiffed up 55 Chevy Hot Rod and I had to pretend I didn't know him!

Ah...memories. Funny how food does that isn't it Jamie?

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

This reminds me so much of how important it is to get to Steak and Shake while there.

A high school tradition on Friday night...the experience and the burgers still never fail to deliver.

Funny how food and memories are so thoroughly connected isn't it?

El said...

Traveling changes my eating habits too. Comfort food definitely becomes important. It was so sweet of you to make these muffins for your mom. They look great!

Anh said...

such a nice post! But the part you baked for mom is especially sweet xoox

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

No, you can't "really" go home can you. How nice that you baked for your mom. It must have been a special treat for her.

I smiled at what you ate when you were home. We serve too much food here in the states compared to France and what a shame too.
Sam

Lana said...

I was chuckling while reading your post, patting a not so friendly new roll that miraculously appeared in my middle. I can always come home again and again, as I stubbornly refuse to accept the changes that happened in my absence. And the food is the most secure anchor of all, making sure to bring us back with warp speed and let us pretend we are kids again.
Beautifully written post, Jamie! I spend a lot of time with my mom these days - I don't remember a period in my life when I devoted so much time to her, always finding something else and someone else, taking her for granted.
Enjoy the time with your mom, and make her muffins every morning:)

Nicole said...

Chocolate and blueberries how decadent! What an amazing home-coming.

Aparna E. said...

I am guilty of indulging when I go home or visit any family member. But moderation is key! By the way, beignets sounds AMAZING right now. You can't resist!! The muffins look and sound delicious :)

Elra's cooking and baking said...

Love this blueberry muffins, chocolate addition of course is always welcome.

Laura House said...

I am a newly wed, and I have only made chocolate muffins but I think if I add blueberry as in your recipe my husband will be so happy!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

I'm laughing at the fried butter statement. The last time I went to the fair my husband and I tried to play the lets see how many different types of foods they've managed to fry game and trust me the numbers are way too high! I'm always intrigued by all the offerings, my curious nature gets the best of me sometimes, but end up regretting it when it hits my stomach!

Nuts about food said...

It felt really familiar reading this post. Being American but not feeling 100% American. Being a little European but feeling American when in Europe. Craving the foods from my American childhood (although I realize I didn't really eat it that much as a child) and putting on pounds whenever I land on US soil. I had to laugh when you wrote about the deep fried Oreo: I am horrified when I see them on TV but I know they are probably delicious. The fact that you wrote in fat instead of infact was so appropriate. I'm not sure if it was meant or just a typo, but if it was the latter, it was perfectly placed. Touchè!

The Blonde Duck said...

Popped in to say hi! Delicious!

Julia @Mélanger said...

I have had such different eating styles when living in different places around the world. And no amount of time changes my habits here in Australia. Funny really?

Love the look of these muffins. I've never combined chocolate and blueberry? Shame on me!

Cake Duchess said...

Have you ever tried a deep fried snickers? or pickle? Now that is something you won't find back in Francia;)
I love that you wrote in fat (read the comment before mine)!!Lol It is appropos, no?
I'm sure your mom really enjoyed you being here and baking those gorgeous muffins. xxoo

Jeanne said...

People often mock American food, but I have to say, lot if it is just so damn TASTY!! Who can resist a 'dog with everything? Or a po'boy?! We won't even start on pulled pork...! Loved this trip down culinary memory lane - and loved that you had deep-fried Oreos! I made deep-fried Mars bars once (a Scottish idea, apparently) and although you felt dirty just eating them, there was something a little bit compelling...!

Jeanne said...

People often mock American food, but I have to say, lot if it is just so damn TASTY!! Who can resist a 'dog with everything? Or a po'boy?! We won't even start on pulled pork...! Loved this trip down culinary memory lane - and loved that you had deep-fried Oreos! I made deep-fried Mars bars once (a Scottish idea, apparently) and although you felt dirty just eating them, there was something a little bit compelling...!

WiseMóna said...

I think that food will always evoke memories. When we lived in America we ate some of the finest food we have ever eaten. Now, back in Ireland, I am rediscovering all the foods I loved from my childhood and they are getting an American twist. I love this recipe. I think the kids will devour it......and lick their fingers for weeks.

WiseMóna said...

And I even have a few blueberries left on our bush outside!

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