Lest you think we're unbearably wholesome, know this: our wi-fi went down, late Sunday. Our DVD player, a few days before that. Even our oven—My stalwart! My workhorse! My brownie bread savior for sudden snow days!—died an unglorious death, Saturday. (Stink of gas. Big loud BOOM! Not my month for appliances.)
And then, as predicted, our first day back after break? Cancelled.
Also, our second.
Something about seriously sub-zero temperatures.
So there we were, on consecutive day # I-can't-even-remember-save-that-it-was-in-the-WAY-high-teens, of break. Home. Alone. Together. We had Time To Fill, people.
We'd just driven Mamo to the airport, Monday morning, which taught us a few things. First, that there would be a huge sucking sound in our days, absent the world's best poem-reader and paper-doll-snipper. Second, that there would be no playing outside, despite the two "snow" days ahead. (When car doors remain frozen firmly shut after an hour of engine-running, it seems a safe bet eyelids might follow suit.) And third, that when temps with wind chill hit forty-below, one oughtn't clean one's car windows.
On the freeway.
In my defense, I'd only half-depressed the wiper fluid button when I thought wait! no! stop STOP STOPPPPP!!!
Then spent the rest of the drive arching and craning, trying to see around the blue insta-ice on my windshield. (You didn't think wipers would work when entire doors wouldn't budge, did you?) Apparently, my wiper-fluid button is very sensitive.
Anyway, that was at eight a.m., when it was still 11°.
By nine, it was 5°.
It wasn't done dropping.
Clearly, we had to do something. And since staring contests come with intrinsic limits, and bouncing off walls only gets you so far, we improvised. Madly. Most of last week.
Peanut butter pine cones seemed a fair place to start, since we couldn't make it ten minutes outside, and the birds were somehow supposed to survive the day. We make them most winters, and often as not, the birds fly right by, never really looking twice. By last week's end? The entire batch was reduced to ragged yarn, blowing in the wind. All seeds, peanut butter, even pine cones: vanished.
(And in their place? The most excellent bird track cacaphony.)
Puzzles were done, and done, ad infiinitum. 'Tis the age, or the season, or both. (Love it.)
Pigs already painted were painted, again. New stripes over old. Fresh dots on dried. And then, when no surface seemed untouched, underbellies were discovered, tables crawled under, and porcine belly buttons, lovingly detailed. (Cabin fever, thy name is painted pig bellies.)
Games were played and played some more. Cars stuck in traffic, penguins on ice, frogs on lilypads, then we really got crazy. Shook things up, went hog wild, put penguins on *chortle* <gasp> LILY PADS!! (Really. It was funny. Truly, we were desperate. Also? It wasn't even lunch time. On Monday.
(The alternative was the epic Pokémon game being played by two boys, upstairs. I like Pokémon. Especially in card form. But eight hours is seven hours too many for me.)
Honestly, it all sort of blurs after that, which is probably best for the both of us. I remember slurping soup by the pot. Piles of pancakes, buttered and inhaled. Countless cups of cocoa, gulped. Books, everywhere. Epic block towns, built and colonized.
And those missing electronics? Not missed for a second. Not missed for a second by me, anyway. (And here, in this lovely little digital ivory tower? My opinion's The Opinion. At least the only one that counts. Which, come to think of it, must be why I like it here. And why yes, that is hypocrisy oozing out the screen.) Still, it's a wonder, the ease that sidles in, when the ordinary alternatives skedaddle off the table.
I did miss the oven, though. A lot. In that way that one does when it disappears. Ordinarily, I might go a whole week without using it. (Okay, half a week.) [(Fine, two days.)] But tell me it's gone and my mind goes blank, fairly certain we'll starve by dinner. I racked my brain, scavenged my cookbooks, and turned up... one vintage Frederick and Nelson tag, ca. 1940's Seattle. (Frangos, anyone?).
We managed. (See pancakes-soup-cocoa, above.) But the minute the repairman installed a new ignitor (which, it turns out, helps turn all that seeping gas into—get this—a flame!), I was measuring flour and yeast for bread. And not long after, I was mashing bananas, bound for these, our beloved banana muffins.
I first spied these whole wheat banana chocolate chip muffins in Amanda's lovely space, a year or so ago. I'm not sure what possessed me to make them, as my people are not muffin people. And not for lack of trying. I've made blueberry muffins with cake-tender crumbs, and raspberry muffins flecked with white chocolate, and melting oat muffins cobbled with streusel, and nada, zip, no takers, nuh-huh. And though I don't begin to understand—starch! sugar!! butter!!! what's not to love?!—I've stopped asking why. And stopped making muffins.
What's more, despite years of effort on my part, auditioning batch after better batch of banana bread, they pass on every (often chocolate-laden) loaf. Weird. Inexplicable. And true. And hardly a whole wheat banana muffin's target audience.
But bake them I did, and bake them I have, at least two dozen times, since. They're that kind of muffin, a singular muffin, a holy-moly, bet-you-can't-eat-just-one muffin. Like so much of what's best and brightest to eat, these hardly strike a pose (Let's give it up for brown-on-brown!). Never mind the cover. These are all content. They're gently sweet, with brown sugar and honey, plus three of your most dire bananas, well-mashed. There's a round warmth from fresh nutmeg, undetectable except when absent, and a rich depth from the whole wheat flour that I cannot get enough of.
Many versions of these call for half white and half wheat, and I've tried them this way, and every which way, besides. All white. White wheat. White and whole. All whole wheat. We are hands-down fans of the latter camp. The whole wheat flour here is no concession, but just the opposite, all nubbly, nutty strength. The ample banana and modest splash of oil makes these moister than most other muffins I've met. Indeed, unlike so many muffins, which go sawdusty-dry by day's end, I've loved these as much on Day Three as Day One. The one or two times they've made it that long. I'm very solid about Day Two.
Did I mention the chocolate? There's enough chocolate. We upped it a bit, from a shy two-thirds cup, to a heaving whole one. It's a good change. I highly recommend it. Almost as much as I do a knob of butter, slipped between two steaming halves. My kids like these just fine, as is, ideally alongside a cold glass of milk. I totally support that.
But on my own? A plain muffin plus milk seems almost unbearably wholesome. Particularly when it goes down so nicely with a puddle of butter on the side.
This makes either 12 large muffins, or 15 moderate ones. Frankly, they fit better as fifteen, but frankly, I often don't wish to wash two tins. Know that if you squeeze the batch into one 12-cup tin, some edges will bump, though only a bit, which in my calculus is often a fine trade for one fewer pan at clean-up. If you're bringing a batch to work, you may want to go the two-pan route, and guarantee perfect edges.
Thoughts on fats: I prefer oil to butter in muffins, finding it delivers a more tender crumb. I usually use vegetable oil, but like coconut oil, as well; its flavor gets along well with banana. Also? If you choose coconut, and leave a muffin in the car in mid-winter, and come back to its cold hard self the next morning? It will not only still be excellent, but taste faintly of almond joy, in muffin form. Yes.
1/2 cup vegetable oil, or coconut oil or salted butter (1 stick), melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 generous teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups ripe bananas, well mashed (about 3 large bananas)
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 heaping cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter or oil a 12-cup muffin tin (or two), or line with muffin papers.
Mash bananas in a medium bowl, then stir in honey and eggs. Add vegetable oil (or melted coconut oil, or butter), brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Add flour gradually, in 1/2 cup tips, stirring with a spatula, just until it disappears. Continue until all flour is incorporated. Add chocolate chips, and stir just to combine.
Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins (I like an ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup dry measure for this), then bake for 21-24 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle of a muffin bears tender crumbs. (Begin checking at 21 minutes. Timing will depend in part on muffin size.)
Remove from oven, and let cool in pan, 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to finish cooling. Fresh from the oven, these are divine. Two days out, they remain admirable. If you're the toasted and buttered muffin type, these are excellent candidates.