The apple muffins I made tasted “off.” I’d spent long minutes hunting up muffin tins and paper baking cups. (I seldom bake.) I have had plenty of baking failures because I’ve only guessed at amounts, so this time I measured the flour, sunflower seeds, baking soda, orange rind, oil, and molasses. Finally, I laboriously diced apples and added them along with raisins. When my husband and I sat down at our kitchen table with the warm muffins, I felt confident until I took that first bite.
“I measured this time,” I said defensively.
I didn’t mention that I hadn’t added “juice from 1 orange” and had substituted “scant 2 cups buttermilk or sour milk” with just regular milk and that I had skipped the wheat bran since I had no clue what it even was. Still, I couldn’t believe those substitutions or losses were causing the “dirty socks” taste.
“Hmmm.” We each took another bite. “Maybe jam or honey would help.”
Honey did help a little, and we managed to finish our muffins, but throughout the day, I kept thinking about them and wondering what had happened. Sure, a baking disaster isn’t a huge deal, but still, it’s frustrating when you spend time on something and your plans don’t work out. Not one to waste food, I served the apple muffins for dessert that night. I’d warmed them up and set the honey on the table. We each tentatively took a bite.
“It’s the sunflower seeds,” my husband finally said. “When did you buy them?”
I dug the package out of the cupboard. It had been opened before today so it probably had been a month or two ago. Or three or four. I sampled a small handful. Stale. I sat down wearily and thought about all of the other little frustrations this month was sure to bring.
I’ll think I’ve found the perfect Christmas gift until I realize I picked out the wrong size or color or the recipient already has one. I’ll think how much fun it will be to have a fresh Christmas tree, measure for one, and discover I forgot to allow for the tree stand, or needles will begin falling off, or the stand will get knocked over splattering pitchy water on the carpet.
Frustrations are sure to build up. What do we do? Shut down? Escape? Gag down the damn muffin and move on?
A crow sounds in the distance. I perk up.
I have a long history with my neighborhood crows and can identify several of their twenty-some calls. Nearly every morning at daybreak, I hear their wake-up-and-greet-the-day call. I occasionally hear their frustrated I-just-wasted-my-time-and-didn’t-get-any-muffins call. (They surely have their frustrating moments too.) And when I bring them out treats such as peanuts in the shell, I can identify their soft thank-you call.
They also have a pay attention; danger lurks alarm call that has brought me hurrying out the door. My crows let me know that a fox had killed several of my pet ducks and was about to finish the last two until my running towards the pen scared it away.
I enjoy taking care of the crows and realize they won’t care that the sunflower seeds are stale. I carry the plate out the back door toward the top of the woodpile Caw-caw-caw, I call, to let them I have a treat.
Caw-caw-caw, one mimics back.
“Enjoy,” I say, placing the muffins on the tray. As I back away to give them space, I no longer begrudge my time or effort. One woman’s loss is another crow’s gain.
Email me if you want a copy of the Apple Bran Muffin recipe, which I suspect will be delicious with fresh sunflower seeds. I may try it myself again. The neighborhood will know if I do. The crows will be circling overhead.