On Cooking for Others
Saturday Round-Up

Ina Garten's Blueberry Bran Muffins

Bran muffins

It's 6:50 am. Max has been gone for over half an hour already, off on his daily commute that lasts nearly two hours each way. Hugo's still sleeping, thank goodness; the hallway from our bedroom to the living room goes directly past his bedroom and for many months (let's call it a year?), the slightest noise from the floorboards at 5:30 am, when Max would try to creep down the hallway soundlessly, would wake him up. But for a few weeks now, Hugo's been sleeping until 6:30 or 7:00, every day. I'm almost afraid to put it down in writing.

I had another sleepless night; I've been struggling with a mean case of insomnia for the past several months. I've never been a good sleeper, but this is different - on most nights since early this summer I haven't slept more than a few hours, if that. It feels like most nights I just lie awake and wait for morning to come. I've had this before and I know it will pass and I also know that I'm not taking great care of myself at the moment and that I'm eaten up with stress and that it's all pretty normal, but still, you know, at 3:00 in the morning, after you've lain awake quietly since going to bed at 10:00, it's a little frustrating.

Anyway, I crept down the hallway myself just now and made myself a cup of tea and turned the oven on to defrost a couple of Ina Garten's blueberry bran muffins that I made a while ago (muffins made with wheat bran that I later abandoned in the cupboards and which turned out to have been the vector for a recent infestation of moths in our kitchen, shudder) and stashed in the freezer for mornings like this one, when I'm so tired that it hurts to have my eyes open.

A few minutes of quiet, a few moments to myself when I'm not the mother or the wife or the freelance writer/editor/whatever. Part of me just wants to sit in a chair with a cup of tea in my hands, close my eyes and breathe until I feel some calm, real peace, steal over me. The other part of me is already off to the races: Hugo's breakfast, folding the laundry, the manuscript I'm copy-editing, a blog post for this neglected, beloved place, the grocery list for later, for tomorrow, and next week, the doctors' bills, the raw chicken sitting in the fridge, the column for Bazaar, the shoot next week. And then there's everything else that's taken a back seat lately, a low hum of reproach running underneath all the to-do lists and anxiety: exercise, friends, answering emails, vacuuming, you know the drill.

But we got away by ourselves to Vienna last weekend. We left Hugo with three of his grandparents and flew to Vienna to see friends and eat incredible food (every single meal was good, can you believe it?) and just be together for a little while without our mommy-papa hats on. It was lovely, of course, and funny and nice and sometimes I really miss our old life and I think it's important to admit it without telling myself that I'm a terrible, no-good mother for thinking it, because even though I love that little boy so much, of course I do, sometimes I just want someone else to be in charge.

Thank you so much for all your interesting, thoughtful comments on my last post. I loved reading them. It was one of those times when I wished I could have gathered you all in my house and fed you deviled eggs and cheese puffs and just talked, late into the night, about all of this stuff. You are all lovely people, you really are.

The sky's turning light now and the muffins smell good and the tea in my cup has already lost its first curl of steam. I'm feeling better, too, a little more awake, a little more ready to face the day and my to-do lists and that useless, silly, stubborn undercurrent of anxiety about everything and nothing. It's going to be a long day and a busy weekend and a gnarly work week awaits me again next week, so I don't know when I'll be back here, but I hope it's soon, even if it's just for a little update like this one.

I hope you know that I'm not complaining, not about anything on my plate (well, except for maybe the insomnia and also my husband's commute) - it's just that putting it down in words sometimes helps it feel more manageable, less all-consuming and overwhelming. Things are good: there is work, after all, and a happy, healthy child and a nice husband, daycare that's a 5-minute walk away, grandparents who are there to help out, weekends away. I am counting my blessings. I am also very tired.

By the way, Hugo helped me make these muffins, whisking the batter, sneaking blueberries, asking a million questions, only half of of which I understood. And last night, he pushed his chair up against the counter and watched me make dinner: frozen cod slipped into a panful of tomato sauce, brown rice in the rice cooker, steamed zucchini. ("Kini, mama? Kini?" I dress them with olive oil, salt and snipped basil leaves and he gobbles them before even touching anything else.) It was one of those perfect moments when being a mother felt good and natural and full.

Happy Friday, you all. xo

Ina Garten's Blueberry Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
These are very nice, very simple yogurt-based muffins that freeze and defrost well. The original recipe uses twice as much honey and sugar, but I like the less-sweet version below. Tastes less like cake and more like breakfast. I also added half an apple, diced very finely, to the batter, but just because it was lying around and I didn't want to waste it. It adds a little more moisture and a few more pockets of sweet-sour flavor.

Vegetable oil
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 ounces Greek yogurt (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups wheat bran
1½ cups fresh blueberries (8 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of a muffin pan with vegetable oil and line it with 12 paper liners.

Stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, ½ cup vegetable oil, honey, eggs, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon, just until incorporated. Gently stir in the wheat bran until incorporated. Add the blueberries and stir until evenly distributed.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups. Bake for 22 to 30 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature. Fully cooled, they can be frozen for several months.

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