Five Good Things {No. 4}

tumblr_nnmruoqq4H1qzc79io2_500·Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of my literary heroes, is now a paper doll. She will be living in my office as soon as I refill my printer. And I really do mean hero; I quoted an entire Millay sonnet in my high school yearbook, because I have always been that particular kind of pretentious. (I stand by the decision.)

tumblr_nnm124MzDe1rvy3ulo1_500·Mechanica got an elusive Kirkus star!  I cried and tweeted about it–both, probably, too much. I’ve been working on the book since 2009, so six years of doubt and heartache and worry have gone into it, and . . . I know reviews are subjective and all of that, but hearing about this one was a big affirming moment. The review might spoil the ending a small bit, so watch out for that!

·In more good book news, Barnes & Noble’s teen blog chose Tides to represent New Hampshire in their YA tour of the East Coast. (I super want to read Witch Child now.)

Roasted-Blueberry-Balsamic-Goats-Cheese-Ice-Cream-4-622x900·The summer issue of Parabola just came out, and you’ll find my essay “Fallen Angel” inside. It’s about my Inishmore handfasting, Jane Eyre, Nutcracker angels, and being a bride. It’s my favorite piece that I’ve published in Parabola so far, so I hope you’ll read it!

·Roasted blueberry balsamic goat cheese ice cream. Oh, hello. I must make you. I’ve got the cheese (and the goats). If only I had an ice cream maker.

Recipe: Mango Almond Muffins

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There are a few things I couldn’t live in rural Ireland without. High speed internet is definitely first on the list, but then there’s: a good library system (the tiny local branch has a surprisingly good YA shelf, and the librarian is always offering to order things for me . . . I think I’m just about the only adult who regularly checks out books there), decent coffee, and several friends who’ve lived both here and in America. That ‘outlander’ feeling never quite goes away . . . and no, I’m not talking about this Outlander feeling. Tragically.

And then there’s food. I hit maximum potato saturation some time ago, and I would have gone absolutely mad by now if I didn’t have access to my trusty spice rack and a few specialty shops around Galway.

Before I had a car, I could usually only go food shopping in a tiny local rural market, and their flavorings on offer were salt, pepper, “mixed herbs,” and “mixed spice.” I realize that there is a whole epic history of reasons why Irish food tends to be so unadorned, and I have gone on my share of rants about how the potato famine was actually genocide, but . . . I was still sad about the lack of spices. As soon as I got my car, you can bet I stocked up.

To be fair, there are plenty of natural and specialty food shops within even a ten-mile radius of our rural cottage, and even more in Galway City itself. Ireland is basically a big green cornucopia of amazing fresh produce and some of the best meat and dairy in the world, too, so I really have nothing to complain about.

But whenever I bring home blue cheese or cardamom pods or some non-native fruit, Horseman still laughs at me fondly, because why do I need all this weird stuff? He’s always appreciative of my cooking, but food is essentially just fuel to him. I kind of envy that, in a way–a combination of no food issues and the highly physical work of training horses means that my husband is ridiculously fit in a way that I, writer and emotional eater extraordinaire, will never be.

But on the other hand, good food is a sensual joy for me, one that I don’t think he experiences in the same way. I wouldn’t want to give that up, not even for a six-pack of my very own.

I think.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I baked muffins the other day. Even though they’re fairly basic and hardly exotic by most people’s standards, they’re really, really good. So good that I want you to make them, too, and I’m posting the recipe here.

Enjoy.

MANGO ALMOND MUFFINS

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Perfect Blueberry Muffins)

5 tablespoons butter, softened (I used Dairygold, the best butter in the world)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
1/4 cup whey (or buttermilk, but I always have whey left over from cheesemaking)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoon (7 grams or 1/4 ounce) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 fresh mango, diced

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well, then yogurt and whey. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add half of this mixture to batter. Mix until combined. Pour remaining dry ingredients into batter and mix just until the flour disappears. Gently fold in mango. Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full and dust each with a little more almond meal. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out mostly clean (there may be mango juice). Let cool on a wire rack, except don’t do that. Eat them warm.

 

Sugaring Primroses

I want to be a village witch.

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Like, a (mostly) benevolent, indeterminately aged woman who lives in a quirky cottage where there are always weird bundles of things drying in the kitchen, who spends a lot of time prowling the hedgerows for wild herbs. Who dresses a bit like a mori girl or Baba Yaga. Who may or may not have a private back room used for magic (or writing, or magical writings).

Happily, that’s pretty much me right now, except for the aspirational fashion. Today I’m a village witch dressed in muddy rain boots, worn-out jeans and my “Kiss Me, I’m A Lyons” t-shirt.

Oh well.

10574224_983832240200_3621566522745670471_nWhen I was eleven, I read a book about natural skincare products and spent the next year attempting to make my own bubble baths, lotions, and powders. For one of my first projects, I took the petals off of the roses from a wilting dance recital bouquet and submerged them in sweet almond oil in an empty spaghetti sauce jar, screwed on the top, and hid them in the back of the bathroom closet. The book assured me that in a few weeks I’d have rose oil, and I figured the parts about sterilizing the jar and using only organic flowers were, you know, optional. Rose oil sounded like magic potion, and that was enough for my baby-witch heart.

Of course, being eleven, I promptly forgot about the jar. Many months later,  my mother found it while rummaging through the shelves for ipecac to rescue one of the dogs. What she found was rank and festering, limp brown petals nesting in layers of gray mold and globby oil. It popped like soda when she opened the jar and unleashed a truly foul stench into the air. She probably could have fed the dog my rose oil instead of ipecac and yielded similar results.

Mom forbade me from doing any further ‘experiments’ outside of her supervision. But supervised potion-making was not nearly so satisfying, and I eventually gave up experimenting altogether.

tumblr_nkdk9txmhH1rvy3ulo1_500Now, though, I live in a stove-heated cottage along Ireland’s wild Atlantic way, and the urge towards hedgerow witchery has come back to me. That does include actually paying attention to Old Irish holidays and rituals and other quietly Pagan and Druidic things, which I hope to write about as I learn more about them.

tumblr_nmamwuImn41rvy3ulo1_500Mostly, though, my witchy practices involve gathering edibles: sorrel, strawberry leaves, and elderflowers this time of year, field mushrooms (which I am so neurotically careful about) and strawberries in the summer, and hazelnuts, elderberries, rose hips, and sloes in the abundant fall. Goat’s milk soap, cheese, and caramel sauce are my most common potions, because each of my goats can produce nearly two liters even when they’re only milked once a day, and I don’t want a drop of it to go to waste.

My latest village witch endeavor, though, would really have delighted my child self: sugared primroses. Doesn’t that sound like something on which a good witch or a fairy queen would feast?

Well. Let me tell you something.

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First I gathered the individual flowers from within a half-mile radius of my house, which was appropriately charming and fairylike, even if my hands started to freeze when the late afternoon turned suddenly and uncomfortably cold as it slipped toward evening.

1551613_10100159775949570_1322217410860763494_nAs soon as I got home, I beat egg whites (from my own hens, Flora and Elfine, for that thorough cottage aesthetic experience) and poured caster sugar into a bowl. I shook my primroses carefully to dislodge any creepy crawlies; washing would wilt the delicate petals. I picked up a small, flat paintbrush and a teaspoon.

Then I spent four hours painting each flower, front and back, with egg, dipping it carefully in caster sugar, and using the teaspoon to pour tiny streams of sugar onto any surface the brush-and-dip had missed. I placed each flower painstakingly onto the wire rack that I had purchased especially for this occasion.

Finally, the flowers had to dry in an oven, set to the lowest possible temperature and cracked open, for an indeterminate amount of time; just “until thoroughly dried.” In this foggy, cool, densely humid place, that meant the primroses in the middle of the rack caramelized while the ones on the edges were still damp with egg white.

But fine. Whatever. They were sugared flowers, and wasn’t that just magically delightful? And hadn’t the recipe claimed they were breathtakingly delicious, that in fact you couldn’t make them with small children around because they’d gobble them all up in a flash?

tumblr_nn5k1z7NL61rvy3ulo1_500Well. If your definition of “breathtakingly delicious” is raw-tasting sugar and egg white glued to tissue paper, then, OK. But that is literally what they tasted like: thin paper dipped in egg and sugar and allowed to dry.

Which is, basically, what they are. I know, I know.

I actually liked the burnt, caramelized ones better, because at least they tasted of something. (In fact, as I write this I am munching on a few of them, and they’re . . . fine. The way thin, grainy caramel paper is fine. But clearly I’m still eating them, so, you know, make your own choices.)

Still, I have to say that they were terribly underwhelming, and far too fiddly and involved. This game was not worth its candle.

My recommendation, should you wish to feast on wildflowers (and who doesn’t?), is to gather your primroses and sweet violets, but keep them fresh and toss them in a salad. A plate of mild, fresh, colorful flowers, drizzled with the simplest lemon-and-oil vinaigrette: now that’s the feast for this village witch.

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And the best thing about primroses and violets is this: the more you pick, the more they bloom. That seems like magic to me.

(Photos from my Instagram feed.)