HOW TO SOOTHE A SAVAGE BEAST
I am a great reader of 19th century English literature, an avid fan of Austen and Dickens, Trollope and Thackeray, and Tea Time plays a large role in the daily life of both the young and old, rich and poor. Afternoon (Low Tea) or evening (High Tea), the table was laden with what good things could be afforded, cakes and ham, crumpets and scones, cream and jam or simply bread and butter. Whether at the Great Manor House or a simple workingman’s hovel, there was much pomp and ritual surrounding the preparation of the tea, much made of the laying of the table and the “choice morsels” given pride of place on the table and offered to the head of the household or the guest; this was one meal that was rarely missed. And from all that has been written in the fiction of the time, it was surely a treat that could soothe the most cantankerous of curmudgeons, tame the severest of the severe, warm the heart of even an old grouch.
My mother, as has been said before (and I say it again, much to her chagrin, even though she will agree with every word) was no June Cleaver, waiting at home for us to slam in the house after a long, hard day at school with a tall glass of cold milk and a slice of layer cake. She worked and did volunteer work, joined clubs and bowled. She never really liked to cook and, once we were old enough, often left it to us. Snacks were taken willy nilly, packaged cookies, toasted Poptarts, ice cream or Ding Dongs, this was Sixties eating at its most profound! I needed no set times, no formal settings, no great gatherings, no special baked goods. Lunch segued into snack segued into dinner with no clear, defined lines (I eat all the time), and comfort was guaranteed. Fights between siblings and bad grades forgotten, discontented soreheads pacified.
When I moved to France and married a Frenchman, I discovered that the Old Continent organized their day around specific mealtimes much as did, and still do, the British, and afternoon Tea Time in Great Britain or Le Quatre-Heures in France was de rigueur. The family gathers around the table at precisely 4 o’clock, the time so far etched into the daily schedule that snack time, the afternoon break, is now referred to as “The Four O’Clock”. Much simpler than the English version, it is a quick cup of coffee and a few sweets, cookies or a slice of lunchtime’s leftover dessert, a break in the working day to combat the afternoon coup de pompe (that afternoon lag or sleepiness that hits you just around this time). Visiting in-laws and friends, I had to learn restraint and patience. No dashing into the kitchen to grab a slice of this or a handful of that; I waited until it was time, pulling out coffee cups and saucers, specially prepared treats, the loaf cake or quick bread I had brought along as a gift. I must admit that it was a nice break, the shared moment and cozy chat with friends, the appreciation of the good things offered and the time spent together.
I have been known to snap and bark like a rabid dog if I miss a meal, or go all grumpy if the restaurant I am brought to looks lousy or a meal is delayed or if the cupboard is bare as mealtime approaches. I do think that food, the right food, has the means of calming “the savage breast” and making us, if not quite docile, at least putty in the right person’s hands. Who among us does not find solace and comfort in food? I am rarely severe as is Mr. O’Callaghan, I don’t ruffle easily or often, but when the spouse growls or the sons wail or spew venom, I tend to find refuge in the kitchen, baking, cooking and eating. I have grown to believe in the mollifying effect of food, anger quelled, tempers soothed. Warm, fresh muffins eaten straight out of the oven are indeed enough to make one happy. If something goes against the grain, sit down at the table, slather butter over the small, sweet bread, add a dollop of cream or your favorite jelly or even a slice of sharp cheese and all is well again.
This is what I have decided to bring to the table for this month’s Bread Baking Day. BBD #20, a bread baking event created by Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte (aka kochtopf), is hosted this month by Rachel of Tangerine’s Kitchen and Rachel has chosen Multigrain Breads as this month’s challenge. I decided to go quick this month, what with hubby on vacation and our move looming heavily on the horizon, and I found the perfect recipe in my much-loved The Vegetarian Epicure book two by Anna Thomas. I followed her recipe, simply folding in a heaping teaspoon of sesame seeds to the batter and sprinkling more on top. I had expected a much plainer, almost savory muffin, yet I was so pleasantly surprise when I bit into a tender, airy, almost cake-like muffin, just sweet enough to be eaten as a snack with jelly, yet perfect to be served alongside a main course and the perfect foil for something spicy like chili.
MULTIGRAIN HONEY MUFFINS
¾ cup (90 g) wholewheat flour
¾ cup (125 g) yellow corn meal (I used semolina for Polenta)
½ cup (50 g) rye flour
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (45 g) rolled oats
1 ½ cups (375 ml) milk
1 large egg
¼ cup (62 ½ ml) vegetable oil
¼ cup (85 g) honey
2 Tbs light sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Butter or line with paper cups a 12-cup muffin tin.
In a large mixing bowl, sift or stir together the wheat flour, corn meal, rye flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the rolled oats and a heaping teaspoon of sesame seeds.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, oil and honey.
Stir the two mixtures together vigorously until well blended.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Sprinkle a generous amount of sesame seeds on top of each muffin.
Bake for 20 minutes until risen, golden and set in the center.
Remove from the oven and remove the muffins from the tins onto a cooling rack. Best eaten fresh, warm or room temperature. If you have leftover, gently reheat them in an oven or slice and toast before eating.
“And the muffin is quite hot,” said Fanny, stooping down to a tray which stood before the peat fire, holding the muffin dish. ”But perhaps you’d like a morsel of buttered toast; say the word, uncle, and I’ll make it in a brace of seconds.”
“In course she will,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer: “and happy, too, av you’ll only say that you have a fancy, Father Bernard.”
But Father Bernard would not own to any such fancy. The muffin, he said, was quite to his liking, and so was the tea; and from the manner in which he disposed of these delicacies, even Mrs. Townsend might have admitted that this assertion was true, though she was wont to express her belief that nothing but lies could, by any possibility, fall from his mouth.
- Castle Richmond by Anthony Trollope