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Raisin Questions

Now, I don’t about where you live, but up here in Exile, Oregon, winter seems to have lost the last of its attitude and most of its punch. Oh, I guess it might still have one or two parting shots left to go, but it’s basically a has-been on the seasonal circuit. By now, winter is all bluff and no content – just one season waiting to surrender its post to the next.

Trouble is, spring is having none of it.

See, unlike the more glorious types of spring you’ll find in other parts of the country, our spring has never been much of a precocious upstart. No, you won’t catch our spring jumping in with the silly exuberance of some springs. Ours is more the edgy, moody type – intense one minute, indifferent the next. It prefers ‘maybe’ to mayhem, and it makes no sudden moves. Yes, it’s a tepid sort who sidles in and out like it can’t quite make up its mind, loitering with a little moue of resentment until summer shows up to take over the shift – all of which contributes to the ambiance of ambivalence that Exile is known for.

And yet for all spring’s lack of enthusiasm, there are tangible signs that it’s lurking in the vicinity. To begin with, there is the ant.

Now, I’m not talking about the thick, black ribbons of armored raiders that come marching in lockstep along the kitchen baseboard. Those will be by later, rest assured.

No, for now, all I’m talking about is the lone opportunist riding in on six legs and a hunch, just to see what’s cookin’ on the range. He may not be the harbinger of spring you were hoping for, but he’s the kind of harbinger you get in Exile. Yep, you know he’s up to something, but with his don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-lost routine, he doesn’t really look like the kind of dangerous outlaw you need to handle right away.

Yes, the ant is really more of a vague disappointment than an out-and-out tragedy – kind of like raisins.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering how we went from ants to raisins in the span of a single sentence. Easy – I just changed the subject. See, I wanted to talk about raisins in the first place, but you got me started on ants. So I just steered us back with the kind of awkward segue that is evidence of a public school education. Now don’t distract me again, or you won’t get your recipe.

So, like I was saying. In my opinion, raisins, like the ant, are really just a mild inconvenience as opposed to an all-out disaster. They’re not inedible, just forgettable.

Oh sure, I’ve been thoroughly disgusted by raisins a time or two. Like when I’ve discovered them masquerading as chocolate chips in cookies, or when they’ve shown up unannounced in cinnamon rolls or carrot cake.

For the most part, though, the raisin is just your average, dependable Mr. Nice Guy: soft, sweet, bland, predictable. Go ahead, admit it: you don’t love him, you just like him as a friend. He’s your mother’s choice – a safe date. I mean, you’re probably vaguely disappointed when he shows up, but he isn’t memorable enough to actually hate.

Well I don’t know about you, but I hate that.

Most people, however, seem to simply accept that raisins are part of the landscape – except in certain cases, of course, where they feel they’re required by constitutional law.

Like in bran muffins, for instance. Now I understand that raisins do serve a purpose here. For one thing, they break up the vast, bland plains of branniness so your saliva glands don’t become convinced that life is all work and no play.

But my question is, why not throw in cranberries, apricots, figs, chopped prunes, apples, or dried sour cherries instead? And what about adding walnuts, almonds, pecans, or heaven forbid, pistachios to the terrain – is that a crime too? Do we really want raisins, or have we just come to expect raisins? Because there’s a big difference. I mean, what good are all these options if we continue to believe that we have no choice? Is the concept of free will just an absurd abstraction under the constraints of breakfast, or something?

I think not. I think it’s high time we pwn our freedom, and we can begin by reclaiming the sorry bran muffin from its drab role as a digestive supplement. Dress it up, trick it out, make it dangerously good. Heck, don’t just sit there letting me and my recipe tell you what to do – throw some chocolate chips into the mix if it satisfies your soul.

Just don’t tell your mother I said you could do that. She’d kill me.

Wilma’s Morning Upstart Apricot-Walnut Bran Muffins

My apricots can take your Mr. Nice Guy raisins any day. So don’t cross them.

1 ½ cups wheat bran

1 cup buttermilk (or 4 tablespoons dried buttermilk powder plus 1 cup water)

⅔ cup dark brown sugar

⅓ cup vegetable oil (I use light olive oil or sunflower oil)

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole wheat flour (or an equal amount of all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup apricots chopped into raisin-sized pieces (or any dried fruit – even the ubiquitous raisin, if you absolutely must)

½ cup chopped walnuts (or any other kind of nut)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and prepare 12-muffin pan by lining with paper muffin cups (preferred) or by greasing.
  2. Stir bran and buttermilk together and set aside for at 10 minutes, or so.
  3. Combine whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, chopped apricots, and chopped walnuts.
  4. Add brown sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla to buttermilk-bran mixture, mixing until smooth.
  5. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir until just incorporated.
  6. Divide batter between muffin wells, filling to top or slightly above. HINT: An ice cream scoop is useful for this purpose.
  7. Bake 15-23 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Allow muffins to cool before removing from pan, especially if not using muffing papers. Good served warm with butter, or halved and toasted. These freeze well, so make a bunch.

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Rachel Laudan

A Historian's Take on Food and Food Politics

in vita esse

To be alive. Dispatches from the surface of the planet.

Kicking and Screaming into the Kitchen

and other thoughts on eating, cooking, living, loving, writing from an ex-circus sideshow performer turned elephant advocate and author