Passions and Berries

Saturday, April 27, 2013

   Hello, weekend. I love you.

   I read a lovely article the other day about the difference between having passion in your life and being passionate about your 9 to 5 job. We are fortunate to be living during a time in which finding your true passion in life and following it to a fulfilling and successful career is advertised as an achievable and admirable goal. While I don't dispute this, I think the message can be a bit of a double edged sword.

   I very much believe that most passions- writing, cooking, helping others, etc- can be turned into lucrative careers. But I also don't think it is a terrible thing if you chose a job that doesn't necessarily speak to your heart and soul on a daily basis. There was a time in my life when I was torn between medical school and culinary school, two careers that in many ways are polar opposites. The intensely creative part of me craved the endless combinations and possibilities that the kitchen offered. On the other hand, I had the tools and the ambition to become a doctor. Some of my family members were of the opinion that if you have the ability to do such a thing, you should. But one of the questions I often ask myself, especially since that major fork in my life, is this: just because you can, does it mean you should? Sometimes the answer is no.

   In the end, I put away my applications to culinary school and bought my first stethoscope. Now that all is said and done, I'm actually really happy that I didn't try to make one of my favorite hobbies into a career. I have the luxury of coming home at the end of the day and unwinding in front of the stove. My cookbooks, recipes and feelings about nutrition and flavors are all my own and I don't have to worry about what the world or my customers think of them. My pots and knives are a sanctuary from the demands of making my way in this world and I really love that.

   Steve and I both often talk about what it means to find your true calling in life and how exactly one deals with the occasionally frustrating and mindless tasks most work environments require. I liked the way the article distills such a discussion down to the simple fact that it is perfectly okay if your job sometimes just isn't the bees knees. It's your job plus everything else, in balance and perspective, that matters.

   I have come to love the analytical nature of my work. In a weird way, it's as though it serves as a catalyst for the other more creative parts of my life. It is a true relationship of yin and yang and I'm glad I happened upon it.

    I don't bake very much anymore, but this weekend the itch for a solid, just-this-side-of-sweet breakfast muffin hit me. I have been trying to think of a good way to use the slightly past their prime strawberries from our CSA this week (strawberry season is drawing to a close here in the south) when I stumbled across a recipe for roasted strawberry muffins. Roasting the berries sounds odd but it not only helps bring out the liquid- thereby making it easier to bake with this high water content fruit- it also concentrates and deepens their flavor. It perked the berries up in exactly the way I was looking for.

   These muffins are sweet enough to please but not so much that it feels like dessert. The cornmeal and whole wheat flour lend a sturdiness to them that is really delightful. Each piece of strawberry is like a berry jam explosion in your mouth and the lemon makes it all bright and fun with a hint of tang.

Corny Lemon Strawberry Muffins
Adapted from Annie's Eats.

1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered (if large, they may need to be cut into 8ths- make the pieces about 1/2 inch)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup greek yogurt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
zest of 1/2 and organic lemon
Milk, if needed (almond or cow's)

   Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of tinfoil. Spread the strawberries over the tinfoil and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon sugar. Fold the tin foil up to create a little open topped 'basket' for the berries (this will prevent the juices from running all over the sheet) and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the now softened berries and their juices in a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Allow to drain and cool.
   Meanwhile, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Line your muffin tins with cupcake liners (this makes either 16 regular sized muffins or 12 regular sized and 12 mini muffins). In a medium sized bowl, sift the flours, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder together. In another larger bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs and vanilla extract until smooth. Whisk in butter and lemon zest. Whisk in 1/3 cup drained juice from the strawberries (if you don't have enough juice, add in milk to make up the difference). Fold in dry ingredients until just incorporated. Fold in berries.
   Fill muffins tins nearly to the tops of the liners. Bake the mini muffins for 15 minutes and the regular sized muffins for 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks.
   Makes 16 regular muffins or 12 regular and 12 mini muffins.

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