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Celt's Garden - Gingerbread and Apple Muffins

Time to fire up the sprouter. If you don't have a sprouter, Terra Organica sells a set of three cheerfully colored plastic lids for a widemouth canning jar, with holes of different sizes for alfalfa seed through soy beans. A tad pricey, but after fooling around with scraps of screening and rusting lids, I found it a worthy use of hydrocarbons. The nifty lids also make it easy to wash off the outer skins of the seeds. Sprouts do best in non-chlorinated water. I keep a jug of water sitting on the counter to boil off the chlorine for my houseplants. Mung and soybean sprouts are a winter staple in Korea.

You might want to lay in some fresh beans to have around in the winter. The bulk bins at our fine retailers are a good source. The turnover is generally higher in the bulk bins than the packages on the shelves. As for the expensive little packages of seeds for sprouting, try some seed out of the bulk bins first, and see if the results are good enough. The dedicated sprouting seeds presumably have a tested germ rate, but this is probably immaterial. I also liked the way that the sprouter lids store compactly, with no need for a dedicated device.

The smell of baking goodies in winter hits us right in the old brain, inducing an instant sense of well being. If someone in your household is going out in the cold, to work, unstick the car and go places, or just do battle with algebra, bake something before they come back. Then everything is all right, even algebra. Gingerbread is particularly good for this.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and put the tea kettle on. Butter and flour a baking pan, shape immaterial, but deep enough to hold about three quarts (a 9 x 9 x 2 inch pan is 162 cubic inches. You knew that algebra would come in handy somewhere.) First, rub the inside of the pan evenly with butter. Then, take a heaping tablespoon of flour and sprinkle it over the pan. Shake it around to cover all the butter. This is your mold release.

The organized will use separate bowls to mix the liquid and dry ingredients, perhaps sifting the flour with the leavening for maximum fluffiness. As this resembles work, I seldom bother.

Put 1/2 cup butter in a deep bowl.
Pour 1 cup of really hot or boiling water over it. Careful with the hot water: put the measuring cup down on the counter and pour into it, just like the nice wait staff refilling your coffee. Then pour the hot water over the butter.
Mash up the butter as it softens.
Add 1/2 cup molasses and a 1/2 cup sugar or honey. I like to use good strong dark organic molasses and raw sugar, but lighten it up if you find the taste too powerful.
When the liquid ingredients are cooled to just warm, beat in an egg. If your mix is still over 112 degrees F, the egg will start to set in long strings as you stir it. Ignore this. It tastes the same.

Add 2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, half and half kamut and unbleached flour (really good) or any combination of your favorite flours, and stir until there are no lumps of unhydrated flour.
Stir in 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a tablespoon of ground ginger. That's all you need for gingerbread, but you can add more flavors: a dash of ground nutmeg and allspice is really good, or a small handful of raisins or chopped nuts.
Now for the leavening. That's the trick to one bowl and no sifting: add the leavening just before it goes in the pan and pop it right in the oven. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon baking soda over the batter, give it a good stir and scrape it out into your prepared pan. Bake about 1 hour, or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.

Recipe freely adapted from a stained and dog eared page of the 1973 Joy of Cooking.

Apple Muffins

Those apples you felt compelled to glean from the tree might be getting a little shriveled, sitting in your kitchen. Here's a way to recycle them and bring cheer as well, what's not to like?

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel, trim and cut apples into pieces about 1/2 inch on a side until you have roughly 2 cups of pieces.
Makes 18 muffins or 12 muffins and a small cake. Line muffin cups with cupcake liners, butter and flour a small baking dish for the overflow. You can also butter and flour each muffin cup, but I find that this resembles work.

In a deep bowl, combine 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, or your favorite, with 2 teaspoons baking powder. Take the time to rub any lumps of baking powder between your fingers. Baking powder clumps in the humidity.
Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
Now for the wet ingredients: 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1 egg, 1 cup milk, yogurt, buttermilk or whey. Give it a good stir, just until you can't recognize the ingredients in the batter, fold in your apple bits and fill your muffin cups and baking pan.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

You astutely observe that this basic muffin recipe is adaptable to banana nut (2 mashed very ripe bananas plus 1/4 cup chopped walnuts), raisin spice (1/2 cup raisins, 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and allspice), or canned fruit (1 cup drained and chopped apricots or pineapple.) Just adjust the amount of cinnamon to your liking.

News flash: F.H. King's classic "Farmers of Forty Centuries" is out in a facsimile edition, published by Cornell University Library and reasonably priced. This edition has the pictures. The text by itself is widely available, even as a free download, but a photo essay without the photos is hardly worth reading.

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