Today, on Christmas Eve, I got a craving for The Last Word in Nutmeg Muffins, so I scanned my kitchen bookshelves for one of my greatest treasures, The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. It was published in 1987, a lifetime ago–I bought it before I married Bill–but Cunningham’s recipes are timeless.
As I took the tattered and food-stained volume down from the shelf, I turned to Claire who was standing in the kitchen. “When I die, make sure one of you gets this book. Don’t let it go into the estate sale.”
Claire looked askance and slightly horrified. Who could blame her?
I tried to explain. “I have all of Marion Cunningham’s books, but I think this one is her best. She taught me how to cook.” Claire still looked at me as if I had two heads. She’s the youngest child of four. She doesn’t remember a time when I couldn’t cook.
“It’s because of Marion Cunningham that we use whole nutmegs. Let’s make her nutmeg muffins.”
At the mention of the nutmegs, Claire finally nodded with understanding. She pulled a spice jar out of the cabinet, and taking off the lid, sniffed the nutmegs and smiled.
Claire tossed me two nutmegs, and I grated one and a half into a bowl that already held flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. As I performed these familiar steps, I thought about Cunningham’s struggles with agoraphobia and later, Alzheimer’s Disease. As someone who also struggled with anxiety in my forties, I now recognize a fellow survivor in her calm words. While I’m a huge fan of Julia Child, it was Cunningham who really taught me the important steps to cooking. Plus, her recipes are easier. Ask anyone who’s made Child’s boeuf bourguignon. I make it often because it’s my kid’s favorite stew, but let’s be real. Making boeuf bourguignon is a multi-level, time consuming process.
Contrast that recipe with Cunningham’s cheery preview of the best nutmeg muffins you’ll ever eat.
Fragrant, creamy-crumbed nutmeg muffins, the best of their kind, but you must grate one and a half whole little nutmegs to make these perfect creations. Although whole nutmegs feel like rocks, they are rather soft and easy to grate. The flavor of freshly grated nutmeg is incomparable. These muffins taste good with fruit, or butter, or all by themselves.
If I still haven’t convinced you, read The Amateur Gourmet’s estimation of this magical little book.
I made my muffins with King Arthur Gluten Free Multi Purpose Flour, my current favorite. Since they have butter, I used ghee, i.e., clarified butter. Clarified butter doesn’t have that nasty casein which gives me so much trouble.
I spooned the thick batter into a heart-shaped muffin tin and placed it the oven for twenty minutes. Soon our house was filled with the scent of fresh nutmeg baking. Is there any scent more Christmasy than that?
I don’t think so.
Maybe I’ll just buy all of my children a copy of The Breakfast Book. It would make a great Christmas present idea for next year. Sssh, don’t tell them.
Merry Christmas Everyone.