Monday, March 18, 2013


Saturday morning, I tried the trick of warming vanilla extract in the oven to give our condo a welcoming scent for visiting house hunters. It's two tablespoons of vanilla extract in a mug, warmed in the oven at 300 degrees for 30-60 minutes. The results were so-so, in my opinion.

Sunday morning, I came to my senses and perfumed the house with something much more inviting.

Classic blueberry muffins
From Cook's Illustrated

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries, preferably wild

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl until combined. Whisk egg in second medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add sugar and whisk vigorously until thick and homogenous, about 30 seconds; add melted butter in 2 or 3 steps, whisking to combine after each addition. Add sour cream in 2 steps, whisking just to combine.

Add frozen berries to dry ingredients and gently toss to combine. Add sour cream mixture and fold with rubber spatula until batter comes together and berries are evenly distributed, 25 to 30 seconds (small spots of flour may remain and batter will be thick). Do not overmix.

Use ice cream scoop or large spoon to drop batter into greased muffin tin. Bake until light golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time. Invert muffins onto wire rack, stand muffins upright, and cool 5 minutes.

In the afternoon, we drove north with our sights set on a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Jossie fell asleep as we neared the garden, so we traveled farther north instead. We ended up in Lake Bluff, a sleepy (and wealthy) village along the shores of Lake Michigan.  Jack's first school friend - Charlie - and his family had moved to Lake Bluff in the past few months, and I regretted not having their contact information to reach out to them for a last-minute visit.

Jeremy and I love the cafe Wisma, which also has a location nearby his office downtown, so we stopped in for a cup of coffee. If you're ever there, try the butternut squash soup - not a touch of dairy in it but yet so heavenly and creamy.

So - lo and behold - as Jeremy and I are oogling the prepared food and wine selection, Jack looks out the window and nonchalantly says, "Hey...there's Charlie." I wave frantically at Charlie's mom to get her attention and they bound into the little shop. Lots of big reuniting ensues with hugs and laughter. Jossie and Charlie's little brother, both 2, escape us and start making mischief, running their chubby hands against the hanging wine glasses; the glasses twinkle like wind chimes.

Charlie's mom invites us back to their house so the kids can play. We head out together. The kids wreak havoc while the parents drink wine; the waning afternoon sun spills through the windows as we talk.

A writer I admire talks about the "daily surprise." I like the idea of that - opening yourself up to an element of surprise each day. It's liberating, really.

And this was truly ours - our surprising luck in running into dear friends. No telling news yet on any pending sales of our blueberry-scented condo, but if all of our luck had to be expended on this happy reunion and the accompanying good memories this St. Patrick's Day, I'll take it.

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