Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

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Speed Round Recipe #1: Sourdough sandwich bread


A few years ago, when the kids watched The Incredibles for the first time, our big boy (then, perhaps 6 years old) fell off the couch, convulsing with delighted laughter at that moment when Dash hits the water and finds he’s moving far too fast to sink, skimming across the water on his lightning feet.

Somehow, seems we’re doing our best Dash impersonation around here these days.

Literally. They are running and running and running. These kids inherited their father’s speed, which is fortunate for them.

I. do. not. run.

But I’m dashing in different ways, for reasons I don’t fully understand: All three kids go to school all day five days a week, and yet I seem busier than ever. Sure, I have a full-time job and a house to run (which means that I constantly pick up and stash away the flotsam and jetsam generated by three dashing children and a handy–but badly disorganized–husband), but what do I really have to show for myself at the end of each day?

A couple dozen graded English assignments. A few marginally well-maintained potted plants. Flooring that is mostly free of grit and stickiness. And a well-fed family.

Not a lot of long, meandering blog posts to accompany that well-fed family, though. (Try not to be too sad.) So here goes…A speed round with two recipes I use all the time, two recipes whose whereabouts and adjustments always require more cognitive dexterity than I really want to give them when I’m cooking at the end of a oddly dashing day. (Lately, I just google my own recipes when I’m cooking. Because I trust myself so much. What a world!)

Sourdough Sandwich Bread (adapted from thekitchn’s Beginner Sourdough Sandwich Loaf)


2 cups sourdough starter, moderately soupy

1 cup lukewarm water

1/4 cup vegetable oil (or melted butter)

2 tablespoons sugar

4-4 1/2 cups flour (less if using some whole wheat, which I often do)

1 tsp. yeast

1 tablespoon kosher salt

  1. Mix together the sourdough culture, water, and oil in stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  2. Add the 3 1/2 cups of flour, the sugar, yeast, and salt. Mix with the dough hook, adding more flour if necessary–it will need more flour if you’ve used some whole wheat or if your sourdough starter was thinner than mine–to form a fairly firm dough. It’s fine if it’s slightly sticky, but it should be a ball. Keep the mixer running for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Dump out the dough and coat the bowl with some butter or oil. (No need to wash it first.) Let the dough rise, loosely covered, on the countertop of your reasonably warm kitchen until doubled in bulk. This seems to take about 2 or 3 hours in my kitchen. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it again briefly to deflate it. Divide it in two balls and place the two balls into two buttered loaf pans. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Allow it to rise in the pans, loosely covered, for another 60-90 minutes, until it nearly rises to meet the top of the pans.
  6. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slash the tops of the loaves with a super-sharp knife and place them into the preheated oven along with a pan containing about 1/2 cup of water. (This will turn into steam and help your oven give you lovely moist bread.)
  7. After 10 minutes of baking, reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Bread is baked fully when the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees, so check it with a meat thermometer, if you have one sitting around.
  8. Serious bakers would tell you to allow the loaves to cool fully before you cut them, but, honestly, bread is so much better when it’s warm and steamy…why not cut it while it’s still able to melt your salted butter. You can cool it before you turn it into sandwiches for lunchboxes or toast for breakfast, but go ahead and eat some warm with melted butter for dinner.

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Green Salsa (and Summer 2016 Retrospetive)

I’m tempted to say that nothing in the whole world can out-summer green salsa. I mean, it all but glows with green–the green of midwestern Julys, of knee-high cornfields or slim beans hanging in tender clusters. And yet I’m not sure it deserves the title outright. Also in the running…

Beach vacations with indefatigable children…

Evening ice cream outings…

(Yes, in fact, my husband is holding himself horizontal to the ground at the ice cream stand, just to be a show-off, and there’s something summery about that, too–the man who refuses to leave his glory days behind.)

Sparklers in the back yard…

(Possibly the most entertaining mosquito repellent ever!)



(My college girlfriends and I escaped to the beach to celebrate our collective 40th birthdays…and I’m still recovering from the sleep debt I acquired. Straight-up summer stuff, that.)

Home improvement projects…


(If you aren’t a teacher or aren’t married to a teacher,  you won’t know this, but home improvement projects are synonymous with summer for teachers everywhere. My hunky hubby built this bookshelf/fireplace wall from scratch this summer. Seriously, this was just a big old naked wall 3 months ago. Yes, it still needs painting, but painting is best done in the fall, when the windows can be flung open. Plus, we ran out of time.)

UPDATE: This is what it looks like now. I’m pretty pleased with myself for marrying a man who knows how to do this. Can you tell?


Golden skin on carelessly pretty kids…

(‘Nuff said.)

But no summer lasts forever, and ours ended the first week of August, when all three kids and their daddy went back to school.


Even more than most Augusts, this one signified a shift: my little guy entered the ranks of full-day kindergarten, officially ejecting his (unexpectedly teary-eyed) mother from the land of stay-at-home-moms of preschoolers. The last time I didn’t have a preschooler, I was thirty. Nothing summery about that fact. Graduations should never occur during the brutal heat of August, and yet mine did. If I knew who to complain to about that, I’d already have written them a blistering letter.

It’s undeniable: summer is slipping away from us, tucked into backpacks or laced up in new shoes. As long as it takes the blazing heat with it and leaves me the green salsa, I’m good until pumpkin bread season kicks in…

Green Salsa (usually called Salsa Verde, but I’m not that fancy)


8 oz. fresh tomatillos

1 poblano pepper

1 jalapeno pepper

3 garlic cloves

3 scallions

1/3 cup cilantro (more or less)

1-2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. cumin

salt to taste

  1. Remove the husks and stems from your tomatillos. Rinse them and quarter them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Wash your chile peppers and remove their stems. Cut into strips. Peel your garlic cloves and roughly chop your green onions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  3. Toss the prepared tomatillos, chiles, whole garlic cloves, and chopped onions with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the cumin and oregano, and a generous pinch of salt on a baking sheet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. Adjust the oven rack so that it is about 6 inches from the broiler. Then broil the vegetables until they are brown and smell wonderfully toasty. They should also be limp. You may or may not need to stir them part of the way through. A bit of charring is okay…maybe even preferable.

5. Dump the broiled veggies (with any accumulated juices) into a chopper or blender, along with the fresh cilantro, ~1 tablespoon lime juice and another tablespoon of olive oil. Whizz it up until smooth and almost creamy looking.

6. Add salt and additional lime juice to taste, and serve with tortilla chips or chicken tacos or fajitas or just any old thing that you’d usually serve with salsa.

Summer it up.

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Smoky Corn Chowder with Okra

When you’re a little girl, no fairytale, no Disney movie, no Seventeen magazine article ever tells you this: You should always marry a man who will know what to do when a baby possum climbs into your dryer vent during the night–producing mysterious skittery noises that awaken you intermittently– and then, in the morning, finds his way into the guts of the dryer itself.

Every permutation of Prince Charming–even the more nuanced ones from the famously “enlightened” recent Disney films–and every boy-band dreamboat ever plastered across a magazine cover would have been utterly flummoxed.

My husband, on the other hand, on the first day of his summer vacation, simply suited up and headed into the laundry room dressed for battle. At the time, we assumed the noises were coming from an AWOL chipmunk who had wandered off from the rodent army in our neighborhood. (As our older son has pointed out, the chipmunks are handy to have because they keep all the owls and the hawks around here well-fed. So there’s that. But we trap and re-home them nevertheless.)

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Some time after my husband shut the door behind him–and with minimal screaming, even when the beast lumbered from the back of the dryer, far larger and more nocturnal looking than any chipmunk–he emerged with this strangely cute critter in a cage and all of his fingers intact:


The kids named him Possumy because they are terrible namers.


The kids were delighted, of course, probably because they were not the ones who then had to return to the scene to remove the residue that a terrified possum in the dryer vent/dryer inevitably leaves behind. Fortunately, that’s another quality I so sagely/accidentally put on my list of husband requirements: the willingness to do what has to be done. Even when it’s gross. Even when it requires the use of a mask and eye protection and a makeshift possum-poo swabber. Even when it’s meant to be the first day of a well-earned summer vacation.

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If you’re thinking he’s got the raw end of the deal here…Well, okay, that’s true. While he wrangled a stinky and possibly (though probably not) rabid marsupial in the laundry room, I wrangled not one, but three very cute, carefree children who, to be honest, wanted nothing except to zoom crazily around the backyard unimpeded. It was outrageously difficult work.

Here they are, on their final morning of third grade, first grade, and pre-K:

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Many men, at the end of such a day, a day on which they defended their very homes (their very laundry rooms, for Pete’s sake!) against the incursion of the wild, would want nothing less than a nice piece of grilled meat to celebrate their victory. But my husband, always quixotic, requested a bowl of soup. Summery soup. And so I gave him this:


soup in pot

No, those aren’t black beans. Guess again…

It’s the perfect meal for a day when it feels like it ought to be summer but the corn has barely begun to peek through the dirt in the fields and you can forget about tomatoes or okra that haven’t come from at least a thousand miles away. All of the summertime ingredients herein are frozen ones or canned ones, but you won’t be able to tell.

There are a fair number of moving parts here, but it’s worth dirtying two baking sheets and the blender, and it really doesn’t take too long. After all, when you’re creating a fraudulent summer in a pot, what are a few dirty pans?


2-3 dried ancho chiles

1 cup fire-roasted canned tomatoes

1 small onion, diced

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lb. frozen okra

1 lb. frozen sweet corn (the “fancy” frozen corn…the $2 bag)

1/4 cup half-and-half or heavy cream


fresh cilantro

  1. Tear the chiles into pieces with your hands and place them in a heat-proof bowl. Cover with 2 cups boiling water and allow to soak until softened. (About 30 minutes.)


    Ancho chiles soaking…Oddly beautiful, right?

  2. While the chiles are soaking, place the frozen corn and frozen okra on separate rimmed baking sheets. To each sheet, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and stir to coat. Salt generously. Then place the pans in a 500-degree oven until the veggies brown and begin to char in spots. This will take several minutes. You may need to stir once during the process.
  3. Once the chiles are softened and the vegetables are char-roasted, pull out your blender. Drain your chiles and add them to the blender along with the tomatoes, onion, and 1 cup of broth. Blend until fairly smooth.
  4. Melt the butter in a large soup pot and then add the chile-tomato mixture, stirring frequently, for about five minutes. It will reduce and darken slightly.
  5. Meanwhile, to your empty blender, add about 1/2 of the roasted corn and 1 cup of stock. Blend it until it looks like the creamed corn of yesteryear. Then add this mixture to the pot.


    The yin and the yang of ancho-tomato and corn purees in the moment before they mingle.

  6. Combine the two purees and the remaining stock, stirring well. Add salt to taste.
  7. Just before serving, add the roasted okra and remaining roasted corn to the pot along with 1/4 cup of half-and-half.

I served ours with some nice Mexican rice on top because I wanted to make it a little more substantial for the younger members of our household, but it’s also good unadulterated with a side of cornbreadfinished dish





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Tomato-Basil Bread (Panera-style)


Warning: This is a (long, rambling) story about my family in the spring of 2016. My future self will enjoy it, as will my husband, my mom and maybe some other people who like us well enough. If you’re just here for the bread recipe, please, feel free skip to the bottom.

My husband has resolved to teach our boys to be boys by teaching them how to taunt each other…and us. If you know my husband, you’re probably thinking Seriously? He doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. And it’s true that he is, generally, pretty soft-hearted and generous–not the taunting type–but his sense of humor tends toward the antagonistic. I know: I’m a lucky woman.

His current schtick involves saying to our younger son, “You sure are a little sucker” or “I see a wimpy sucker,” to which Little Guy replies, “No, you’re the wimpy sucker around here. I’m a tough guy!” An assertion which he follows up by ramming his substantial cranium into his father’s thighs while roaring like a furious swamp dragon…or something.

Hunky Hubby has also taught this same sweet, big-eyed, sensitive boy to tease his siblings by saying, “You loooove <insert the most hated thing here>!” as in “You looove omega-3 pills!” or “You loooove raw onions!” or “You loooove long division!”

He’s a quick study: If taunting is his lightsaber, then the force is strong in this one…and Darth Vader is a dead man walking.

To his father, Little Guy now intones: “Daddy loooves making decisions!” or “Daddy loooves it when people get hurt!” or “Daddy loooves it when we wake up super early!”

But even I am not spared…at least not entirely. His favorite way to taunt me is to chant, “Mommy looooves things dropping on her nice clean floor!”

And here, I am forced to admit that a big part of his comedic genius derives from his keen sensitivity to those around him. He sees us all clearly, and he uses his insights against us!

He’s so right: I do “loooove” dirty floors. I don’t know when this happened to me. I was never a fussy housekeeper. I never even aspired to be a fussy housekeeper. I’ve often said that, when it comes to keeping house, I am satisfied with a C+ (whereas in most aspects of parenting, I aim for a solid B-). And yet, over the last ten years, I’ve slowly but steadily discovered a great many things I cannot abide–glitter, sprinkles (a.k.a. “sticky glitter”), powdered donuts, pixie stix (WHY??), play-doh, and magic goo, just to name a few–and most share a pair of traits: It’s as though they are, more than other substances, vulnerable to the effects of gravity and, simultaneously, highly adhesive. So, once they find their way from the table to the floor (which happens almost instantly), they easily burrow into the cracks between the floorboards and/or, chigger-like, hitch rides on the bare feet and ankles of the children, turning up on the upholstered furniture or in the fibers of the rug.

I would like to be very zen about the whole thing and think, “Well, someday my floors will be sparkly and un-sticky and I’ll miss these grabby little hands and hungry little mouths and all the mess surrounding them,” but that would require more wisdom than I can muster.

So, it’s really saying something that I have not yet added one particular item to the verboten list: streusel topping. I mean, it really belongs on the list. It should probably even top the list. It’s greasy and sticky and crumbly. It hits the floor, wanders off, and leaves a trail behind it. And yet I keep it around.

At least once every couple of weekends, I am persuaded to prepare big, beautiful blueberry muffins with lemony streusel on top. And, yes, it winds up everywhere, and I spend the next several hours sweeping it up and swearing that from now on I will force them to eat the muffins outdoors on the picnic table, even when it rains, and even when it snows. And then I make the darn things again a couple weeks later and, of course, allow everyone to shred them inside the house. They’re good enough that I have self-induced amnesia regarding their crumbly mess.  Probably, right here, I should tell you how to make them, but, sorry: that’s not where I’m heading. Because streusel is too good to limit it to blueberry muffins–or even to sweet treats. Obviously.

As Panera knows, streusel is even good on top of otherwise savory baked goods, like their tomato-basil bread. (Tonight, my older son invented a new word for the flavor of this bread: “swicy.” Feel free to hashtag it. This word may go viral.) I don’t know if you know this bread: It’s what the folks at Panera use to make their mediterranean veggie sandwiches. It’s really wonderful stuff. I’ve tried a couple of knock-off recipes that I found online, and they were very meh. I don’t think they had enough sugar or fat in them. That Panera bread is tender and sweet–and it didn’t get that way without some sugar and fat.

So the other day, I had half a can of tomato paste sitting around, and I found myself thinking–maybe because this has been the coolest, rainiest May I can remember– how lovely it would be to have some nice loaves of bread puffing up in a warm oven, and the need to use the tomato paste converged with the need to bake and suddenly I realized this: If I used my favorite cinnamon-swirl bread recipe but added tomato paste and basil puree instead of all the cinnamon and sugar and then topped it with a little (or big) smear of streusel, I might just have a tender, savory, sweet loaf of bread that would be very like the bread I love on my favorite Panera sandwich.

I am not going to declare that I’ve cracked the original recipe or that I’ve improved upon it or that you’ll never need to go to Panera again. But I will say that baking your own has some fringe benefits: the smell of the dough rising (yeasty, sweet, basily), the smell of the bread baking (warm, toasty, buttery), and the experience of slicing a piece and eating it when it’s still warm, smeared with salty butter (adjectives fail me).  If you make this recipe, in any case, I promise it will be worth the discursive, winding tale of taunting and crumbling that has led you to here.

Sweet Tomato-Basil Bread


1/2 cup water

1/2 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large eggs

5 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons basil puree or prepared pesto

2 teaspoons yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup sugar

3 3/4 cups flour + ~2 tablespoons for flouring surface

Streusel topping

1 tablespoon room-temperature butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoons brown sugar

pinch of coarse salt


  1. Melt your butter on the stovetop and then add the milk, water, tomato paste, and basil puree (or prepared pesto). Mix and heat until warm to the touch but not hot. (You should be able to submerge your fingertip in it comfortably.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of your stand mixer (fitted with a dough hook), combine 3 1/4 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Mix together just to combine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  3. Whisk in the eggs with the warmed liquid ingredients in the pan. Then add the whole dark, lovely mixture into the dry ingredients in your mixer bowl.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. Slowly crank up your stand mixer to beat the dough until it holds together and looks homogenous. Slow the mixer and add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, a little at a time, just until it forms a loose, sticky ball.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Let the dough rise in a warm spot for 2-4 hours, until doubled. It will smooth out and become more elastic during this time.



  6. Turn it out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes, just until the dough feels smooth and un-sticky. (My mom has always said that bread dough will tell you when it has had enough because it will develop a smooth, powdery skin. Some kinds of bread–the ones that don’t include fat–need a sticky, wet dough in order to produce a moist, chewy center when they are baked. But this one is like the bread my mom has always made insofar as it has plenty of sugar and fat in it. So follow Mom’s advice: Knead it until it’s not sticky. Shoot for the thin, powdery skin. It will still be moist and lovely inside. I promise.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  7. Divide it into two parts and place the parts into two lightly buttered loaf pans. Cover the pans loosely with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel and allow it to rise for another 60-90 minutes.
  8. Just before baking, use a fork to mix together the streusel ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle the streusel over the unbaked bread dough.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  9. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and the interior temperature reaches 200 degrees.
  10. Allow to cool very slightly before slicing. Then go ahead: butter it. Why the heck not? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Have your broom at the ready: the streusel, like all good streusel, will shatter into a million pieces as soon as you look at it…but it’ll be worth it. Sheesh.

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Roasted Carrot Ribbons


Gah. My kids are getting big. Or, maybe not “big”–as I predicted many years ago, my husband and I have produced very tiny little people–but old(er). Nine, seven, and five. No longer babies. Each one inching a little further into full-blown selfhood every day.

Here’s proof:

  1. Our big boy has begun to talk about who “like-likes” him and who “like-likes” other people. He declared last week that if Draven really like-likes Grace he should definitely stop doing everything he can think of to annoy her. “That,” he said, “is not a good way to get a girl to like-like you back.” If he can keep ahold of that insight for just a few more years, he’ll be the heartthrob he’s cut out to be. Seriously, these brown eyes are designed to break hearts.


2.  A couple of months ago, my daughter broke her arm while riding her scooter. I still remember breaking my arm when I was about her age. I even remember the sound of the saw they used to remove my grungy plaster cast. No doubt this realization sounds banal, but my mind keeps coming back to it: I was myself then, when I broke my arm, more than 30 years ago. I was making use of the very same assortment of axons and dendrites and synapses that I use today. And that means…she’s herself, too. Someday, her daughter will break an arm and she’ll remember this:

broken arm

And maybe even she’ll remember “the filling of” her own run-in with the rotary saw:


3. Our little guy is playing tee ball…and looking great doing it!

Little Marlin

This sport involves three of his favorite activities: running in circles, whacking things as hard as he can, and kicking around pea gravel.

On a slightly different note, yesterday afternoon, while my boys were outside playing, I noticed they were no longer digging in the backyard. I walked out front to look for them and saw that they were crouching side by side on the front steps, facing the street. “What you guys doing?” I asked. (I honestly don’t think I’d ever seen my boys sitting still unless they were strapped down, eating, and/or staring at a screen.)

“Talking,” our big boy said, seriously.

“Yeah, talking,” our little boy echoed.

“About what?” I asked.

“Oh,” said the older one, “about what would hurt more: tiger teeth or cactus spines.”

Older but still young, I guess. And I love it.

But the good news is this: Little Guy seems finally to be growing into vegetables…now and then…in certain forms.

This particular recipe knocked his socks off the first time I made it. The second time I made it, I used half carrots and half beets, turning the entire dish a gorgeous garnet color: I wanted to wear it, but Little Guy did not want to eat it.

Tonight, I went back  to the original vision. There is nothing fancy here. No expensive ingredients. No unusual equipment. Just this: Carrots, onions, olive oil, salt. A peeler. A cookie sheet. A smokin’ hot oven. And a little bit of elbow grease. Watch this…

Roasted Carrot Ribbons

1 pound of carrots

1/2 sweet onion

1-2 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Peel your carrots…And then keep going. Turn the carrots into ribbons, rotating them as you work them with the peeler.

You will wind up with a huge bowl of carrots, a sinkful of vegetable waste, and some weird little nubby parts that you can’t quite ribbonize, unless you know some trick I don’t know. This takes some time, but it is a good task to do while hovering in a meditative trance or while listening to All Things Considered and the maniacal sounds of your growing-older children running crazily in the backyard.


2. Slice half an onion very thinly, into half moons, and add them to the bowl of carrot ribbons.


3. Toss with olive oil and then spread onto a cookie sheet. Then sprinkle generously with coarse salt.

4. Pop into a your blazing-hot oven. Stir them every couple of minutes until the carrots are tender and beginning to caramelize. Add salt to taste and serve.


Tonight, we ate ours as a part of a Friday afternoon picnic with grilled pizzas. They were even tasty on paper plates!


Then off to tee ball practice…

It’s a tough life, being the mother of three old(ish) kids, but somebody’s gotta do it.



Pure-Madness Yeast Muffins



If I live to be a hundred, my tongue will always remember the feeling of the concave metal spokes of the beaters on the electric hand mixer my mom used to make cookies when I was little. I don’t remember what the mixer looked like–maybe avocado green?–but I do remember the unalloyed pleasure of licking the blend of butter and sugar and flour and eggs from along the beaters’ sharpish ridges. No worries about raw eggs, much less refined sugar or saturated fat or, least of all, gluten. The tiny traces of cookie batter that I would lick from those beaters sublimated into pure joy in my little-girl mouth. I had earned it, with all my sitting patiently on the countertop without tipping off the edge and avoiding getting my fingers tangled up in the beaters while they whizzed around and I purloined little licks from the belly of the bowl. Simply making cookie dough seemed to take forever, and the dough, once it included the dry ingredients, seemed so stiff I marveled that my mother must be stronger than she looked to maneuver that electric mixer with just one hand.

Maybe I’ve gone wrong somewhere along the way because my own children don’t have much passion for cookies, and I doubt they’ll have the same sensory memories of perching on the countertop and stealing tastes from the edges of the bowl. I’m not sure whether to blame the stand mixer (which steals all the glory for ingredient transformation) or my vanity (which discourages me from baking as much I should for optimal memory-making), but my kids don’t go crazy for cookie dough the way I once did.  In fact, they don’t seem to care much about any kind of baked goodies–except for bread.

Before I launch into a recipe for yeast muffins that will blow your mind, a gratuitous tangent (not unrelated):

For my littlest guy’s birthday each year, I bake him a carrot cake because he won’t eat the cake anyway, so I may as well bake something the grown-ups like. Here he is, a couple weeks ago, turning five:

If he looks worried, it’s probably because he’s afraid he’ll be forced to eat a bite of cake along with his frosting.

Now, back to the yeast muffins…

My mom has always made rolls, which my older son describes as “creamy and buttery,” and the first time I made this recipe, he asked if these were Nana’s rolls. Sometimes she does make her rolls in a muffin tin, so he could be forgiven for confusing their looks. But it’s also true that this child, as I’ve often said, is a walking sensory antenna. Smells, tastes, and textures all hit him loud and clear.  And these muffins, still steaming from the oven, said to him, “Yeasty, buttery, creamy, yummy.” So he thought, “Nana’s rolls.” And he really wasn’t far off–at least not in effect.


“Nana” with her only granddaughter. (Happy birthday, Mom.)

So is this a muffin or is it a roll? Is it a quick bread or a yeast bread? And can it really be both? I just don’t know. But that’s why I’m saying these will blow your mind. I mean, wow. They’re what you can make when you suddenly think a bit of bread would be just the thing with that pot of soup you have simmering or that you could really use a little yeasty indulgence with your dinner salad in order not to feel deprived. They whip up as quickly as a batch of muffins, but straight from the oven, they look, smell, and taste exactly like a yeast bread. We’ve started calling them ruffins, in honor of their hybrid nature (because we obviously couldn’t call them “molls.” Duh.)

Years and years ago, I wrote down a version of this recipe which I found on Allrecipes (I think). It was called “Spoon Muffins,” but that never seemed right to me. I know spoonbread, people, and these have nothing to do with that. But the recipe has mutated so much anyway that it’s now a different thing entirely, and the orange paper is all scribbly with corrections, translucent with drips of butter, and crusty with dabs of batter.  That’s a good sign of a well-loved recipe. But, seriously, try not to drip on your screen.

Pure-Madness Muffins (“Ruffins”)



1 tsp. yeast

1 cup room temperature water

2 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

6 tablespoons butter, melted + more butter, unmelted, for serving

2 tablespoons sugar

cinnamon-sugar (optional)

frozen blueberries (optional)


  1. Mix the yeast with the water in a liquid measuring cup. Let the yeast wake up for a minute, while you get the other things ready.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. (I have a theory–which I’m afraid to test–that the baking powder is completely unnecessary. Somebody who doesn’t mind throwing away a batch of flat muffins should try it out.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  3. Add the melted butter (slightly cooled, or you’ll kill the yeast) to the water-yeast mixture and then whisk in the egg and sugar.
  4. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry and give them a good swift mixing with a wooden spoon. The goal here is to develop a little bit of the gluten so you get that lovely, pull-apart, chewiness in your bread.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Then scoop equal portions into a muffin tin that you have sprayed with cooking spray.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  6. If you have 30 minutes to spare, cover them with plastic wrap and pop the pan in a warm spot to let the batter rise a bit. If you don’t have time to spare, don’t sweat it. They’ll rise in the oven anyway.
  7. If you want to, just before baking, poke about 10 blueberries (thawed, if they were frozen) into some or all of your muffins and then sprinkle the berry ones with cinnamon-sugar. I’ve been adding them to about half of them and leaving the other half unadulterated.  That way we have rolls to accompany our dinner and muffins for dessert!
  8. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until puffy and golden.
  9. I serve these with cinnamon-sugar butter (like they have at Texas Roadhouse…but better.)

    When they are straight from the oven, they will taste like rolls. If you leave them overnight or let them cool completely, their texture and flavor will be more muffiny. I like mine rolly. You do what you like.


In honor of evolving traditions, have a ruffin, would you?