Jason, his Mom, Louise, and I spent 5 wonderful days in the Berkshires. Of course, some real snow would be nice, but after we came to terms with the mini-spring in the middle of January (can you believe the temperatures hit 55F!), we had a great time. We even got to ski for couple of hours with whatever snow was left on the ground, and became addicted to snowshoeing, which works in any snow conditions.
I loved Becket, MA – the town (or lack there of) where we were renting a house. The whole town consisted of a post office, a convenience store, and a cross-country skiing farm. No cute tourist shops, no restaurants, no cafes, no traffic lights, and no people. The closest real town was 30 minutes away. Luckily, we came prepared with 5 bags of food.
This was a perfect time for all those winter comfort foods that became my family’s favorites over the years: bluefish with crispy potatoes (I substituted celery root for half of potatoes this time and it was even better), beef stew with apricots and prunes (judging by the number of Mmmm's, this was everyone's favorite), butternut squash and hazelnut lasagne that I found on epicurious.com years ago, the world’s greatest French toast made with Iggy’s raisin walnut bread, and blinchiki (Russian crêpes) filled with farmer’s cheese.
There were some experiments as well, and although they were all in the area of baking (not my forte), I have no disasters to report, and quite a few successes. Thanks to the Seasonal Cook’s recipe, I finally baked a great banana bread (to be a subject of a post in the near future). Chocolate Bread Pudding with Sour Cherries (a recipe from Perdix restaurant in Boston via “The Way We Cook” book) was excellent, if a bit outrageous with 2 cups of cream, 1 cup of half and half, and close to a stick of butter.
I always feel like I make a bad impression on Louise, who is a nutritionist, because my special occasion dishes are not exactly the healthiest (and whenever she visits is of course a special occasion :) But she is an absolute sweetheart and tolerates all that cream and butter heroically without even a trace of rebuke. Besides being a nutritionist, Louise is also an amazing baker (that’s where Jason gets his baking gene), and I have to admit that not even 2 cups of cream and a stick of butter could make anything I baked come close to her Flax Carrot Apple Muffins – the greatest baking discovery of this trip. These lumpy looking things make an overly healthy impression at first glance, but take a bite and you are hooked. Chunky, moist, and barely sweet, these muffins are to a carrot cake as an elegant Pinot Noir is to an over-oaked Cabernet. Whenever we’d get back from a hike, I’d curl up by the fire and grab one with tea, savoring its dark earthy richness and the crunch of walnuts. Louise says it’s just a good recipe, but I think it’s her magic touch.
Louise’s Flax Carrot Apple Muffins
(adopted from the muffin recipe on the back of Bob’s Red Mill flaxseed meal)
1 1/2 cup unbleached white flour (fluffed, scooped, and leveled)
3/4 cup flaxseed meal (scooped and leveled)
3/4 cup oat bran
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup carrots, shredded
2 apples, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup milk (skim is fine)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter or spray a 12 cup muffin pan (regular size – about 1/2 cup each).
- Mix together flour, flaxseed meal, oat bran, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.
- Stir in carrots, apples, raisins, and nuts.
- Combine milk, beaten eggs, and vanilla.
- Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are moistened (just until the flour streaks are gone – do not over mix).
- Fill the cups with batter almost to the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tester comes out clean when inserted in the center of a muffin.
Muffins can be baked up to 3 days in advance, cooled, and stored in an airtight container or a plastic bag.