Lemon Poppy Seed Blueberry Muffins

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As I’ve gotten old and settled down (watch out for any Back-In-My-Day diatribes, kids), I’ve come to appreciate Sundays. They’re days that we clean our apartment, plan our meals for the week ahead, go grocery shopping, and tackle any big cooking projects. Sunday is also the day most likely to see a fancy breakfast coming out of our kitchen. Sundays are quiet days, they’re productive days, and, in some ways, they’re my favorite day of the week (assuming I can hold at bay the thoughts about the weekend ending and all of that).

This Sunday I decided to make lemon poppy seed blueberry muffins. I’ve made (and love) lemon poppy seed muffins before, and adding some sweet blueberries to the tangy batter seemed like a risk worth taking. It was.

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Recipe adapted from BrownEyedBaker:

Yield: 12 muffins

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Bake Time: 18 to 20 minutes

Ingredients:

2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
6 ounces of blueberries

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups.

2. In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of lemon strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and melted butter together until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – a few lumps are better than over mixing the batter. Fold in the poppy seeds and blueberries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffins cups.

3. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.

The muffins are dense and not too sweet. Perfect for a grey Sunday or weekday-morning treat, and a great way to use the blueberries you might have overpurchased in a fit of Spring! Now! ecstasy.

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Almost in Central Park

Saturday morning, I woke up with nothing to do until seeing The Hunger Games (reaction summary: guh! in a good way!) at 2 pm. I didn’t feel like cleaning or anything responsible like that, and E was heading to campus for some dumb thing, so I ended up going into Manhattan with grand plans of going to the Central Park Zoo to take pictures without an impatient spouse in tow, but I gave up after fifteen minutes of standing in a very slow-moving line to buy tickets while unsupervised toddlers wandered around me. Instead, I wandered around the perimeter of Central Park, bought some bowls at Crate & Barrel, and loitered on the patio by the 5th Avenue Apple Store. At least the weather was nice.

At the southeast corner of the park, near the entrance to the zoo, The Strand sets up a whole slew of books for sale. With Borders out of business and a Kindle (which I love) in my purse, I’ve found that the amount of time I spend idly browsing books has gone way down, and I’ve been feeling a little lost as to what to read next. Today, as I picked through piles of new and used books in the spring sunshine, I was reminded of how wonderful it can be to have a physical experience of shopping — whether for books, clothes, or other items. To see the designs of the covers, smell the pages as I flipped through them, and run my fingers down the spines as I turned the books over to read the back was a wonderful experience, and much more inspiring than clicking through a list on Amazon. In a digital age, it’s easy to forget how important the tactile can be.

Spring is Springing!

The warm weather finally feels like it’s going to stick around this time, probably because it’s coupled with longer days, magnolia blossoms, and an explosion of spring flowers at the greenmarket I stroll through on my way to work. Yesterday, I had nonstop meetings all day long, so I only managed to sneak outside for about 5 minutes to grab lunch, but it was really hard to convince myself to go back inside, let me tell you. On my way to the subway at the close of business, I stopped to enjoy the park for a few minutes, and snapped the above photo. When the forecast for the rest of the workweek looks like this:

And the weather takes an abrupt turn for the less-good on Saturday, I feel like we should all get a free pass to play hooky for one day. Or I should at least be able to work remotely from the park, no? Right under that tree, with my sunglasses and laptop…

Czeching Off Saint Patrick’s Day

Saturday was, as most people know, St. Patrick’s Day. Nowadays, most people use the day as an excuse to “pretend they are Irish,” which apparently means wearing green and drinking beer. I do those 2 things many times throughout the year, but on St. Patrick’s Day I tend to have more company.

Since we moved to New York nearly 3 years ago, St. Patrick’s Day has also taken on its own tradition for E, myself, and our local friends: it has become the official start of beer garden season! We live around the corner from New York City’s only remaining old beer garden (The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden), and it is our go-to spot in the warmer months (and one of the few ways we can get Manhattan- and Brooklynites to come out to Queens). Two years ago, E and I went for dinner and a drink at the beer garden on a weekday St. Paddy’s day, since it was the first day it was really warm enough to stay outside – in the sun, mind you. Last year, I went with some friends on a much chillier St. Patrick’s Day, and we toughed it out in the outdoor beer garden for a couple of hours. Typically, it’s the first day of beer garden season before a short hiatus while the weather catches up with our wishes, but this year? This year that whole non-winter New York has been having allowed us to hang out in the beer garden all day.

The beer garden is a giant walled-in courtyard full of picnic tables, gravel, a stage and dance floor, and waiters and waitresses carrying pitchers of beer and trays of Czech food (except this weekend, when they also had corned beef and cabbage). Games are okay as long as you don’t get crazy, and a deck of cards is an awesome way to pass the time and make friends during leisurely afternoons of knocking back a few beers. The tables are communal, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have at least one conversation with your neighbors. This weekend, we played cards with people around us, faced off in empty-pitcher-stacking competitions with nearby tables, and taught the other folks at our table to play Thumper.

Before 9 pm, the beer garden is billed as a “restaurant,” so kids under 21 can come in with their families. On warm summer days, there are toddlers playing, parents eating kielbasa, and twenty-somethings nursing buzzes. It’s a very friendly environment (Also, Let’s Go Whalers!).

Depending on the day, there are bands or DJs (or, during the annual Czech and Slovak festival, choirs of schoolchildren singing national anthems), and dancing is encouraged. Despite my own lack of coordination and sloppy dance floor culminating in a fall and skinned knee for me during an LMFAO song, we had a really great time. I can’t wait for summer to set in, when I will peer pressure E to stop studying for the bar exam and come hang out with me at the beer garden. We’ll catch some rays, enjoy some Eastern European brews, and chat with old guys with accents and beer bellies. It will be awesome, like always.

There are few things I’ll miss about NYC if and when we leave, but the beer garden is definitely one of the biggies.

An Early Spring at the Bronx Zoo

E was on spring break last week, so instead of going to campus to read cases and apply for jobs, he did it from the comfort of our living room. There was a vacation pileup in my department at work, so I could only manage to sneak out for a day mid-week. Luckily, that day was the last of the 70-degree early spring days we had, and E and I took advantage of the weather by heading up to the Bronx Zoo. I had never been before, somehow, and I was eager to join the mostly-local crowd (lots of kids in school uniforms with their backpacks and parents) on the unseasonably mild afternoon.

 

 

I admit that I was disappointed by the zoo. I think that my high expectations, the fact that it was, actually, really early in the season for zoo-going, and my inability to avoid checking my work email account conspired to dampen the experience. There were several large exhibits closed, and many of the exhibits that were listed as open were mysteriously empty of animals. The infrastructure was pretty run down, and nearly all of the snack stands, sundry shops, and other amenities aside from the main cafe and gift shop were closed. And, in contrast to the Central Park Zoo, which I think has done a wonderful job updating its exhibits while respecting the historic architecture and infrastructure, the old animal houses at the Bronx Zoo were full of tiny, dark, labyrinthine habitats where bored animals paced or slept. Truth be told, we didn’t spend any time in the Congo exhibit, which is lauded as an exemplary zoo exhibit (but there were no animals out, and it was crowded, so we left).  And everything smelled awful.

I love visiting zoos and learning about animals that I will probably never see in their natural environs. I know the challenges and criticisms of the institutions, and I think a lot of those issues were visible at Bronx Zoo. Many of today’s [American] zoos are evolutions of a form devised several hundred years ago, one that didn’t really work for the animals or the patrons. If we could divorce the zoo from its original forms, and imagine something totally new with all the knowledge we have of animals, conservation, and user experience today, what would that zoo look like?

It probably wouldn’t look like the Bronx Zoo.

Veggie-Pot-Pi-Day-Dinner

I took the day off yesterday, and about 3/4 of the way through our day of leisurely adventuring, I looked at my work email and saw several different office-wide emails alerting people to the existence of different pies in the kitchen for Pi Day. In my head, I still think it’s basically March 1st (SERIOUSLY, THOUGH, HOW IS IT THE 15TH?!), so I sort of, kind of, totally, absolutely forgot about Pi Day. But really? Who doesn’t like an excuse to eat pie? Cyborgs and zombies, that’s who.

So, we decided to try our hand at making a vegetarian pot pie for dinner. We’ve done several versions of vegetarian shepherd’s and pot pies, usually with lackluster results. I’ve found it’s pretty tricky to vegetarian-ize standard, classic, meaty favorites, like pot pie or meatloaf, but we figured there was no better day to give it another shot. A quick Google search turned up this recipe, which we used with some adaptations.

We used a 9 inch pie plate instead of an 11 x 7 dish, so we sort of guessed at how much to reduce quantities of all the ingredients to fit our pie. Because it was a last-minute idea and we still had to go hang out in the beer garden for a while before we wanted to cook dinner (priorities!), we took a bunch of shortcuts: namely, store-bought crust, and a box each of frozen mixed veggies (corn, green beans, lima beans, peas, carrots) and of cauliflower florets. We also added more garlic than the recipe calls for, because we like to ward off vampires and coworkers just by emitting garlic through our skin.

Other modifications made based on the comments on the recipe. We only used a cup and a half of vegetable broth, and we used 4 tablespoons of cornstarch instead of 2. Probably could have stood to increase the broth or cut the cornstarch a bit, but it was moist and delicious without making the crust soggy. I was skeptical of the soy sauce, but I have to say that this was the best vegetarian pot pie I’ve had. It definitely satisfied the craving for pot pie without using any fake meat or such things.

So, ultimately, our last-minute Pi Day celebration was a success! And now I need to go wrap up the leftovers before we slowly pick away at the remaining pie until it’s gone…

Photos From the First Warm(ish) Weekend of 2012

E and I had a weekend that was the best kind of busy.

It started with a much rowdier Friday night than we are used to.

And we finally found a vintage buffet to cut a hole in the back of and use as a TV stand.

We visited friends in Connecticut for cosmic bowling.

And brought the sunshine in with some lovely flowers.

Warm weather means summer bedding and happy kitties.

And changing the clocks gave us daylight lingering on until almost 7 pm!

After losing much of Saturday to sleeping off a late night at the bar, Sunday was amazingly productive. We made chocolate chip banana pancakes for breakfast, worked on the TV stand swap-out mentioned above, cleaned the entire apartment, went for a walk that turned into an impromptu half hour soaking up the sun over some brews at the beer garden, made a pan of amazing almost-vegan baked mac and cheese, and watched a movie in the evening. As I get old and settle down a bit, I appreciate Sundays more and more as a day to shake the dust out of my life, check things off the ol’ to-do list, and take care of all the little tasks that help us gather our reserves for the week ahead. A productive, happy Sunday seems to soften the blow of Monday morning just a bit.

A very small bit.