The other day, I missed my bus stop on the way to work. I realized at just the last second at the stop after mine, so I ended up two stops down the line from where I needed to be. I had been reading. Clearly I’m as distracted by books now as I was as a little girl. I was frustrated for one long moment, then decided to buy myself a cup of coffee and enjoy the half mile walk to work. Once I had piping hot coffee to wrap my hands around, I got over it. The morning was bright and clear and cold, and an old woman smiled at me as I walked down the street. I looked at houses I’d not had time to inspect before and stopped worrying about how to best maximize my time. It was the loveliest walk I’d been on in a while.
Sometimes as I’m driving across the Bay Bridge toward San Francisco, when I’ve flown (or inched) through the Treasure Island tunnel and emerged on the city’s side, my breath catches at the sight of the wide horizon stretched out across the water. Boats silhouetted in the bright morning light, clouds that look like they’ve been painted on by a brush, water sparkling brilliantly at the place where the ocean meets the sky. I crack open my window to catch the scent of the ocean. And on at least one morning last week, I wasn’t alone. Despite weather deemed entirely too cold by most San Franciscans, I saw hands reaching out of two cars in front of mine, other souls eager to feel the wind rippling through their fingers and smell the salty reminder of their smallness.
With its holiday parties, Christmas trees, twinkle lights and celebratory feasts, December wins me over every time. I’m a celebrator—naturally, yes, but also by choice. I tend toward stress and seriousness. I like to work. I feel acutely the pain and weariness of others, the sharp edges of the world. Sometimes I need a good kick in the pants to remember to ring bells and be joyful.
And that’s what we’re in the midst of: a time to celebrate, a disruption to our calendars. I love the bustle of shoppers admiring otherwise ignored stocking stuffers in the corner of a store, the children meticulously (or not) decorating gingerbread houses, the pricey Christmas cakes and bûches de Noël and other holiday treats popping up in my favorite bakeries. It’s charming and enchanting—the fresh air we all need to fill our lungs.
The college semester I spent living in Spain began only a day or two before El Día de los Reyes, a celebration more weighty than Christmas for most Spaniards. I was still jet lagged that night as I went out with my host mom to buy a few pieces of kings’ cake. In mine, I found the small porcelain king figurine—still tucked in a box in my closet today. The huge parade that marked the culmination of the evening is a blur in my mind: the waving kings, the glimmering lights on the boats moored on the Mediterranean, the little ones out past bedtime, perched on their parents’ shoulders and chattering excitedly about the arrival of the kings. My first time in Europe, I was overwhelmed in the best of ways. My mind raced to catch up with the language and my surroundings and this celebration so unfamiliar and fantastic. I had no choice but to jump in.
And that’s what I hope for in this season. That we might catch the fresh air we’re seeking, welcome the breaks in our busy routines, feel overwhelmed in the best of ways at this magical, temporal, breathtaking celebration swirling around us—which is, at its heart, simply a remarking on and remembering of the goodness that’s been here all along.
Whole Grain Cranberry & Chocolate Muffins
These muffins were born out of my desire for a simple, whole grain baked good with festive spices, the tangy pop of cranberries and chocolate for a bit of extra, celebratory sweetness. I love them warm, when the cranberries are juicy and the chocolate melting, alongside a cup of coffee. They are also great at room temperature and will freeze well.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus additional for the pan
3/4 cup oat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup mascobado cane sugar (substitute natural cane sugar or light brown sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup yogurt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup (about 1 3/4 ounces) chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan with butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, yogurt and maple syrup. Pour the wet mixture over the dry, stirring until just combined. Toss in the cranberries and chocolate and mix until incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. It will barely reach the top edges of the cups.
Bake for about 18 minutes, until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for several minutes, then lift the muffins out of the tin and allow to cool further.