Subtly Shifting | Pumpkin Bran Muffins

When I was growing up, one knew it was fall because the smell of citrus grew thick in the air.  And that might be a stretch.  Halloween was just HalloweenThere were no falling leaves, no spook of bare branches that looked like bony hands in the night.  Verdant palm trees swayed in the humid air, maybe a black lizard would cross your path.  Now, Thanksgiving.  I've been running my mind in circles all morning trying to grab hold of a memory.  I know we had it because I come from a family of tradition, and more importantly, a family who likes to cook.  But cozy sweaters and roasted birds and golden light do not come to mind.  I'm vaguely recalling that after Thanksgiving dinner we'd take a walk - to the lodge pool in my grandparent's neighborhood, for a swim.  Winter was a thing.  It was marked by a drop in temperature in the ocean and swimming pools, and a great abundance of roadside citrus stands, but not much else.  To me, spring, summer, and fall were just the hot months. 

As one who practices in many forms trying to stay present and not wanting anymore than I have right in this moment, it is this one thing that constantly makes me upset with myself.  After living the last eighteen years of my life in a jigsaw puzzle of Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, and Colorado, why can't I feel as if the West has finally adopted me?  Of course in some ways I do know why.  I resist.  My soul and bones are buried in white sand.  My heartbeat turns from rhythmic to wild when I drop down into the ocean between the waves.  Pelicans, ibis, herons.  Hibiscus, orchids, bougainvillaea.  My childhood through early adulthood in Florida, and the time I spent living on an island in Belize in my mid-twenties, charged me in such a positively forceful way.  Like shells and driftwood, there is a shape to my life in these places, and the same is so for islands I have only visited briefly.  Stark and tangible, I feel the most awake.

But something is subtly shifting inside of me.  These days, as I sit on my porch and watch the leaves slowly swirl to the ground around me, I feel a softening.  The natural beauty of fall should be enough as it is.  But then there is flavor: apple, pear, butternut squash, pumpkin.  Roasting, the slow transition from grilling to braising and sipping warm things during the almost cold morning hours, and to wrap the evening around our shoulders and sip wine and darker ales.  These things are still exotics to me, things to be truly, truly savored.  And then there's this tapping into something much deeper as I get older.  The realization that time does indeed pass quickly.  There is the exquisite color - the appreciation - and then the slow falling of the leaves, the softening of the ground, and we know in a hollow sadness that nothing lasts forever.  That what we have right now, and where we are right now, is everything.  Something is shaping me here, too.

I dream of living back in Florida, just steps from white sand beaches and the warm water, almost daily.  But then I trail the falling leaf, pull my family tighter against my chest, pull together a pumpkin muffin batter and swoon over the aroma as it all comes together in the oven.  Then I wonder - but how could I live without fall?

Pumpkin Bran Muffins

I recently had a pumpkin bran muffin at a local bakery and immediately left there to come home and figure out a way to replicate the deliciousness I had just eaten.  I looked at my tried and true bran muffin recipe and then read a few pumpkin bran recipes to settle on this recipe that I'm sharing.  I loved how they turned out.  Not perfect like the one I had at the bakery, but darn close.  

1 c. whole-wheat flour
3/4 c. wheat bran (I use Bob's Red Mill)
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin (you can use the whole can if you like them extra moist)
2/3 c. milk
1/4 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
Demerara sugar (or any coarse sugar) for dusting before baking

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Either line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners or coat with baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, wheat bran, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin, milk, canola oil, vanilla, and lemon juice.

Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients, being mindful not to over stir.  Using a 1/3 measuring cup, drop scoops of batter into prepared muffin tin.   Dust each muffin with a crunchy sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out dry.

Store in an airtight container for up to three days.


And Begin Again

Theo is our early riser.  Every morning he is up before any of us.  He is quiet and self sufficient and seems to enjoy this time to himself.  He is always in one of two places when I come to him in the mornings.  Upstairs, hunched over in a swath of east-facing sunlight, building with Legos.  Downstairs on the couch, curled up in a blanket, the low din of a cartoon and soft light surrounding him.  This morning, however, I was the first one up.  I looked for Theo and found him sound asleep still, in a pile of soft sheet and quilt.  Unusual.

I finally had to wake him up.  He wrapped around me and I carried him down the stairs, instantly drawing memories of carrying him when he was no bigger than a sack of flour; a small monkey; a big monkey - always the most beautiful weight perched on my hip.  Palpate the mama-notch on the outer part of the pelvis where the head of the femur rests in the hip joint, where you've been reshaped.  Just above there. You will feel it.

The next thirty minutes were a hot mess.  I listened from downstairs and bit my lip, my hands wrapped around my just made hot cup of espresso and steamed milk, trying to find prayer.  Eric was rushing Theo, maddening him.  Theo was resisting.  When I couldn't take anymore of the battle, I walked upstairs to find Theo standing in the middle of his room in his underwear.  The curtains still hadn't been drawn.  It was dark and rivers of tears ran down his face and arms.  They needed to be in the car six minutes ago.  Eric gave me a dirty look as I wrapped my arms around Theo, and I'm sure I gave him the same look back.  We do this too much: take bad care of each other when we're stressed, in the moment. And we stress our kids when the line of respect and following direction is blurred.  None of which I am proud of.

I held Theo's body and he let me as I wondered if he was not feeling well or if it was just a case of oversleeping and a rushed start when a slow start was needed.  And then in one breathless sentence he sobbed into my chest.  Sometimes I just can't do this I don't want to get up eat breakfast drink a glass of milk brush my teeth and comb my hair get dressed drink more milk go to school all day I'm always being rushed it's too much.

I listened and agreed with him because he's absolutely right.  There is nothing more or less to it, especially when you are seven.  A part of me wanted to say, stay home today because I feel the stale air right now too.  Because as we came downstairs this morning with you in my arms, I saw us in the mirror and my heart lurched right back to when you were so little and we went on walks to the sand park and I kissed your scraped knee and fed you cheddar bunnies in little plastic dishes.  I miss you.  Every day.

I helped him dress.  We found his second favorite pair of socks.  He was still crying.  We went downstairs and gathered his things.  He let me kiss his combed hair instead of the usual when he turns his head to the side and tilts it slightly up so I can kiss his cheek, safely keeping his hair in place.  He let me hug him just a little bit longer than usual. 

I watched him walk away.  A heavy emptiness filled me and weighed me down.  Inside, where moments ago I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and filled water bottles, the emotional dust lingered.  I began cleaning the kitchen.  I scrubbed last nights pots and pans and saw Eric's dirty look again.  I muttered and cussed.  I cleaned my espresso machine.  Filled it with filtered water and fresh grounds for a new cup.  And then, over the kitchen sink, with a jackhammer blasting the street just outside of the open kitchen window, fitting, I surrendered. 

This is where we restart.  As my yoga teacher would say, this is where we soften the heart. 


She'd never thought before...

“She’d never thought before how strange a cornfield can look so late in the year, all the stalks dead where they stand. The country had always just been work waiting to be done. Now she saw the dim shine of sunlight on the leaves, and how the stalks were all bent one way, the tops of them. The wind had bent them and then left them rigid, with their old tattered leaves hanging off them. But it was as if they had all heard one sound and they all knew what it meant, or were afraid they did, and every one of them waited to hear it again, to be sure, every one of them still with waiting. She said, ‘It don’t mean nothing,’ speaking to the child. ‘It’s the wind.’ ”

-Marilynne Robinson, Lila.