This isn’t a post about moms. The ones who wake in the middle of the night at your slightest cough or gasp from a nightmare. The ones who schlep from one end of town to another, to the next town, and back again, for figure skating lessons, violin lessons, piano lessons, general shenanigans. The ones who give in and get you a cat when you’re six years old, have you jumping around your living room with your brother at the thought of bringing home a tiny grey kitten-friend. The ones who hold your hand as you wade through life’s murky waters, are okay with a phone call in the middle of the day while they’re at work just because you’re bored or lonely or wondering what to do about a weird burn. The ones who teach you “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” The ones who are there for you, every single moment of every single day, without you ever having to ask, because being a mom means being completely selfless.
No, this isn’t about that. My mom hates coconut, and I did not plan very well this week. This weekend I’m making my mom key lime pie, but this post is really about Coconut Banana Nut Muffins. After all, Mom did teach me to listen to my body and eat the things I crave.
There was a time in my life when every penny I saved went towards traveling around the country — and the world — to attend major figure skating competitions. Specifically, to cheer on the great Michelle Kwan and revel in her strength and the beauty she would always, without fail, create on the ice. Her movement, her emotion, her attention to every detail. We fed off of her performances in wild exultation, and she fed off of us with explosions of power and joy beaming straight out of her heart. In retrospect, it sounds insane. But if I said I regretted any of it I’d be a lying fool. The energy, the nervous excitement, the camaraderie. Ten years ago, Michelle competed in what would end up being her last National Championships, fighting her way to the top once again, for the eighth year in a row, to match the iconic Maribel Vinson Owen in claiming a record nine national titles. Ten years ago today, in Portland, Oregon, she skated to Ravel’s Bolero in a stunning gold dress, her last long program on National Championship ice, and I was there for the ride.
So you’re wondering, what on earth does this have to do with maple oat scones? This post just seems like an excuse to reminisce and be happy and sad all at once — happy because I was there and it was incredible; sad because, without truly realizing it at the time, a hip injury was slowly eating away at her ability to compete and would take her out of the 2006 Nationals, and then, maybe even more heartbreakingly, out of the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. But that week in Portland, 10 years ago, a freak ice storm wreaked havoc on the city’s streets and sidewalks and made getting to early morning practice sessions difficult and slow — and there was no way we were going to miss any of Michelle’s practice sessions. We had to leave our hotels earlier than usual, missing out on leisurely breakfasts and necessitating brief daily runs into one of the Starbucks along the way. I skipped the coffee and bought tea, as was my custom then, and discovered their maple oat scones. Continue reading →
When I sprint around the track during a speed workout, or towards the finish line of a race, I imagine that I look like Meb Keflezighi, or Deena Kastor, or Kara Goucher at their best in the long stretch of a marathon. Feet barely whipping the ground as they cycle behind me, propelling me forward in a controlled fall. In truth, even when I’m sprinting I probably look like the brave masses chugging along up the tortuously subtle hill of Fifth Avenue in the 23rd mile of the New York City Marathon, quads burning, feet shuffling. Or hopefully somewhere in between. When I set out to make cookies, too, I often imagine them to be spectacular, show-stopping. But sometimes the humble truth of the rest of the pack, the tens of thousands only gunning for personal victory in the form of a finish after 26.2 miles, is even more heart-warming, more inspiring. These apple oatmeal cookies are like that: kind of imperfect, they’re spectacular because they have heart.
When I decided to make these, I wanted them to taste like the tops of the oatmeal blueberry banana muffins: pops of sweet flavor set off by cinnamon, nuts, and salt. I’d made apple oatmeal cookies before, but only once or twice, always wanting to be impressed but never fully satisfied. There are so many oatmeal cookies out there that are just sweet. There’s nothing more to them, despite the teaspoons of cinnamon added. And here’s one thing we should discuss: removing sugar isn’t always the answer. Remember now that while sugar is usually your main sweetener, it also is an ingredient that helps set the consistency of your baked goods, just as eggs and flour and fats do. That’s not to say that absurd amounts of sugar in a cookie or cake shouldn’t be questioned. Often they should. But sometimes the answer is the other white, granulated item in the pantry: salt.
On Sunday I had the honor of meeting the amazing Joy Wilson of joythebaker.com, who was in New York to promote her new book, Homemade Decadence. Filled with simple and elegant recipes, with a twist on the nostalgic, it’s a masterpiece of sweet. That’s sort of a lot of what Joy the Baker is, really, on her site, in her recipes, and in person. Disarmingly funny, she wants us all to eat, to enjoy. The best way to do that, without being directly in her kitchen? Make her recipes. I’d be fooling you all if I didn’t say that Joy was a huge inspiration for me when I started this blog. Her food and her writing are, unequivocally, her. There is no high-brow or low-brow. It’s just fabulous deliciousness that can be created equally by all.
Before heading to The Brooklyn Kitchen for the event, I had been keen on working on a pumpkin recipe for the ImaginariYUM. ‘Tis the season, after all. Last year, Joy posted a recipe for pumpkin pecan scones with brown butter glaze. This was during the time that I was convinced that my fella, Ray, hated scones — they’re too dry, too crumbly, he’d tell me. I had even saved him some of my nutella scone from Dean and Deluca three years ago, believing that he would fall over himself with glee when he tasted the glorious swirls of his favorite condiment embedded in such a tender crumb. I was wrong. So I kept the pumpkin scone recipe from my repertoire, but bookmarked it just the same. And since my love of scones hasn’t abated, I would have to make him love them, too. Over these last several years I’ve started wearing him down, creating scones with a more moist interior to please his palate. He’s started to ooh and ahh. After meeting Joy, I knew that the time was ripe for pumpkin scones. Continue reading →