A fascinating book club question

At a book club a month or so ago, a reader asked me if I’m more like my protagonist Sheriff Lily or her ally Marvena in responding to adversity.

I thought that was a fascinating question.

I said something along the lines that I’m a little bit of both (of course; I created them, after all!), but tend to me more like Lily, who pushed down her feelings at first, while making a plan for what she can do to solve the problem at hand. Then she gets busy and works hard. Eventually, usually when she’s weary from all that work, she confronts her feelings. Marvena’s emotions are always a bit raw and close to the surface, and she’s more likely to express them first, and then get to work.

Finishing Kinship Book 3… in the Midst of a Pandemic

A few weeks ago, I finished the draft of the THIRD Kinship Series novel. (Hurrah!) Usually, after I complete a major milestone like that, I allow a week myself or so of relaxing: sleeping in, binging Netflix, goofing off.

But as I emailed in that draft, COVID-19 was already upon us. It sounds like a term from a futuristic dystopian film, doesn’t it? Except we all know exactly what I’m referring to, and it’s here, and it’s now.

As I turned it in, I was already practicing social distancing and staying at home. Now, it’s an order for Ohioans, and for many states and countries.

Instead of relaxing with my usual go-to’s, I got busy. Truth be told, I’m not an organized person by nature, though I prefer an organized environment, so I turned my attention to mucking out my office and cleaning up cabinets and such.

I also bought ‘just in case’ groceries. (Not toilet paper, so I haven’t added to the great toilet paper panic of 2020!) I bought canned vegetables, fruits and meats to augment the fresh items I already have (and made a note to NOT skip home canning this coming fall, as I did last fall), and the few home-canned veggies I have on the shelf… just in case, for some reason, we wouldn’t be able to get to the grocery. I promise I didn’t buy a ton—our household is just my husband and myself, and our younger daughter, who is temporarily with us as her law school (like all colleges in Ohio) has moved to an online model, and all of us agreed it was better for the three of us to shelter-in-place together.

I also tried to buy dry milk… just in case, but alas, it was sold out.

I shrugged. That’s all right, I thought. I’m worrying too much, I told myself. Of course we, or at least one of us, would be able to get to the grocery for basics like milk and eggs.

A Baking Cabinet Discovery

In the following days, as the news grew more and more grim, I forgot about my wish for powdered milk. I needed a break from the news, and besides, I still hadn’t gotten around to cleaning and straightening the baking cabinet. I could do that, and then bake my family some muffins.

Guess what I discovered at the back of the baking cabinet?

A bag of powdered milk, good through 2021.

I was so happy, I yelped out loud! I didn’t even remember buying this, and I’m not sure why I bought it months ago. Maybe to make hot chocolate mix?

In the next moment—tired and no longer to hold back my emotions, just like Lily—I broke down and got teary-eyed.

Suddenly, the why of being happy over finding a random bag of powdered milk felt overwhelming.

We’re all in the midst of an unprecedented, surreal experience. The notion of running a routine errand, or asking someone in my household to do so—hey, pick up some milk while you’re out!—suddenly seems a fraught request. Emotions bounce around like ping pong balls in our minds—fear, sorrow, fear, anger, fear, shock, fear…

I chastised myself (so Lily-like!) over misting up. For pity’s sake, I told myself. Health workers and law enforcement workers and delivery drivers and so many others are putting their own health on the line, and people are losing income or jobs, and others are sick or mourning lost loved ones—and I’m sheltering at home, still able to do my job as usual, and I’m getting teary-eyed over the symbolism of a bag of powdered milk?

Sheesh.

But here’s the thing. We each need to give ourselves the grace to feel our ping-ponging emotions in the moment. Be gentle with ourselves, rather than judgmental, and with others as well. Allow ourselves to experience whatever we’re feeling from moment-to-moment. It’s great to be grateful. But you don’t have to feel that all the time. It’s human to be scared, but after you’ve recognized that emotion, perhaps see if there’s a way not to dwell in that emotion. And it’s fine to have moments of happiness, even over finding a bag of powdered milk that you normally would not give a second thought.

All we can do is process what’s going on around us as best we can, with as much humanity as we can—for ourselves and others.

So, I pulled it together, gave myself a little grace, and made muffins. And yeah, I used half reconstituted powdered milk and half regular milk, and they turned out just fine.

So this month, instead of a pie of the month, I’m sharing my favorite muffin recipe.

This is an unusual time, after all. And I love this muffin recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind The Craft of Everyday Cooking,” by Michael Ruhlman, because it is so incredibly flexible. Flexibility is something we also need now—in our schedules, our work lives, how we connect, and in our patience with ourselves.

Sooner or later, we’ll get back to regular things like pie. For now… muffins.

Basic Quick Bread/Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces flour
  • 4 ounces sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I use ½ teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 8 ounces milk
  • 4 ounces eggs (2 large eggs)
  • 4 ounces butter (1 stick), melted

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
  3. In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients.
  4. Whisk the dry into the wet, just enough to combine.
  5. If you’re adding chocolate chips or blueberries, do so now. (Stir in about a cup of any add-in you like.)
  6. Pour the batter into greased muffin tins, or a loaf pan. Bake for about 30 minutes for muffins, 50 minutes for a loaf. (Test by inserting a paring knife in center of loaf or muffin and checking that it comes out clean.)

Other favorite variations:

  • Apple-Cinnamon: brown sugar instead of white, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a cup of diced Granny Smith apple.
  • Banana muffins: brown the butter (or use brown sugar instead of white), reduce milk to 6 ounces, and add a cup of mashed bananas—about 2 bananas. This is what I made, and in half I also added chocolate chips; to the other half, walnuts.
  • Corn muffins: replace ¾ of the flour with cornmeal. You can also add in up to a cup of drained corn, some diced jalapenos, and/or some shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Lemon poppy seed: add lemon juice and zest of one lemon, and a tablespoon or so of poppy seeds.
  • Cranberry orange—add dry cranberries, and replace ¼ of the milk with orange juice. If your juice is from an orange (rather than from a jar of juice), zest the orange and add that in, too!