Tonight my heart is with the city of Christchurch. My heart intertwined with the nation of New Zealand at the age of four, when my family of six transplanted our lives there, and though my connections are mostly sewn to the North Island, friends who moved to the South Island hosted my sister, mum, and me when we visited last year. Our longest extension of time on the South Island was with these friends in Christchurch, and my sister and I nudged each other and sighed together in knowing ways throughout our time there. We had work visas that would allow us an additional eight months in the country if we chose, and it was easy to imagine ourselves spending those months in this city. It was grey and drizzly like the northwest corner of America we know so well, and it has the historical spires that remind us of beloved England. Additionally, it is thoroughly Kiwi, and that's the best part.
As my thoughts and prayers turn toward Christchurch's communities and the effects of the devastating earthquake upon its nation, I have a somewhat relevant recipe to share. Ironically, I have been planning to share this recipe all weekend, though I wonder if the descriptor "relevant" would in fact more appropriately be "trivial". We all must eat, but an elaborate recipe at a time when some families are simply grateful to not have any empty seats around their tables? And what of those people who must face the gaping hole of a missing mother, father, brother, or baby?
Food alone cannot heal, and its solace is only temporary, but I am reminded of the connectedness it still brings. I love this quote by M.F.K. Fisher I read in Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef recently:
It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it; and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied; and it is all one.
Tonight I write of savory muffins, an unusual concept to many Americans but well handled and abundantly enjoyed by Kiwis and Aussies alike.
I have been quite swamped with sweet baked goods recently, so when my apples were going mealy and soft even a claufoutis or an apple galette did not sound quite right. I loved the apple and gruyere muffins I had made in December but remembered a different recipe I had been wanting to try and decided to adapt it.
These muffins ended up being a lot of fun to create. Working with what I already had in the kitchen, I tweaked the recipe with a French flair of aromatic brie and gentle lavender. The batter was truly the most gorgeous muffin batter I have ever worked with, and its flavors carried right through in a melding hearty way, as I hoped. These are dense muffins chock full of flavor and color that leave the senses satisfied and stomach nourished. I found their most pleasing pairing in a bowl of classic celery soup.
Frequently, when I mention celery soup, I am met with skeptical or outright disgusted responses. Who would turn the common celery stalk into the star of a soup recipe? Apparently someone was daring enough to do this, and my mom was wise enough to follow their lead, making this a favorite meal at the family dinner table. It naturally earned a place in our compilation of family recipes that each child now keeps in his or her adult kitchen. Creamy, rich, and warming, the celery is thickened by silky potatoes and enhanced by a dash of fresh nutmeg.
One of my Christchurch-dwelling friends asked for this soup recipe earlier in the week when I mentioned it on Facebook. I dedicate my blog post to these friends and all New Zealanders who may be considering the basic needs of food, security, and love from new perspectives now. Perspectives temporarily shocked. Perspectives that are forever shifted. They are not alone.
Roasted Apple and Brie Muffins
Adapted from 101Cookbooks (adapted from Martha Goes Green)
Striving for a heartier muffin, I knew I wanted to replace a reasonable amount of the flour with a whole grain type. I used whole wheat pastry flour and found the batter a bit dense and dry, which is where the additional tablespoons of milk came in. You may omit this addition by your own discretion, especially if using entirely all purpose flour.
Makes 12 muffins
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups apple, 1/2-inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour + 1 cup all purpose flour
1 large handful salad greens
1 tablespoon dried lavender
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, toasted
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup Brie cheese, roughly cubed
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
2 large eggs
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons whole milk (see recipe)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 12-hole muffin tin with butter. Set aside.
Spread chopped apples onto single layer of rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss and stir, and bake 15 minutes or until tender and browning. Set aside to cool.
Transfer two-thirds of apples to large mixing bowl, adding salad greens, lavender, pumpkin seeds, Reggiano, two-thirds of brie, and mustard. Gently fold.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and milk together and add to apple mix. Sift flour and baking powder onto mixture. Top with salt and generous dose of freshly ground black pepper and fold together until all ingredients are just incorporated.
Spoon mixture in prepared muffin pan, filling each hole three-quarters full. Top each muffin with remaining apple bits and brie cubes. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until tops are barely golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for a couple minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
Delicious eaten while still warm. Perfectly revived a day later dunked into a hot soup like the one below.
"Our Favorite" Celery Soup
Used with permission of my mother, Rachael Jewel Bates
1 large bunch celery
1 medium potato, diced
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground anise
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh)
5 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
Taking celery, cut off and discard its root end and then wash thoroughly. Chop celery coarsely (including celery leaves on stalks - now would be the time to reserve some leaves for garnish if you like). Set aside. Peel and dice potato.
In a heavy saucepan, heat butter. Saute chopped onion and garlic until onion is softened. Stir in nutmeg, anise, and thyme, and cook for one minute.
Add chopped celery, toss to coat with butter and saute for three minutes. Add water, salt, and diced potato and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until celery and potato are soft.
Next, puree in blender or food processor. Serve immediately or gently reheat if necessary. Garnish each serving with celery leaf clusters.