Last week, B and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. And, for the third year in a row, we had a special dinner at Chez Panisse. I think I might say this every year, but I really believe that this was the best dinner we've had there. It was as though all of my springtime favorites were combined in one delicious meal! (Also, the company was very nice.)
Can you read the menu? I'll tell you about the most delicious parts, which were the beginning and the end. We started with a fritto misto of artichokes and asparagus. Wow. Just wow. Who knew that Alice and her chefs knew how to fry so well? The spicy arugula salad and the aioli on the plate cut any heaviness from the fried vegetables. Everything in the middle was delicious too, but we ended with a tartlet filled with strawberry-rhubarb ice cream, and topped with a truly lovely meringue. The "Happy Anniversary" banner you see in the picture adorned our dessert plates. Needless to say, not a speck of food was left on our plates at the end of each course.
Our three years of marriage are only part of the seven years that B and I have been together, and we know each other pretty darn well by now. There was a time when we didn't, however hard that is for us to imagine now. B did not entirely understand my devotion to the culinary arts when we met (though, for the record, I was not nearly as good a cook back then). As I've probably told you before, he described me as being "from scratch" in the kitchen. When we met, I was in medical school, living in an apartment on my own. B, on the other hand, was living and working as a consultant in San Diego, but technically working out of his company's office in San Francisco. This state of affairs meant that he had a per diem allowance, and ate out three meals a day! I preferred (and still prefer, when feasible) to cook three meals a day.
So, one morning when B and I did not know each other very well, I was casting about in the kitchen trying to find something to make for breakfast. I came across some blueberries in the freezer, and asked B how he would feel about having blueberry muffins for breakfast. He agreed that they sounded good. And then, after looking around the kitchen a little more, I reneged on the offer. Why?
We had no lemons to make lemon zest!
Lemon zest is a critical part of the following blueberry muffin recipe. Let's just say that in those few crucial minutes that morning long ago, B had fallen in love with the idea of blueberry muffins for breakfast, and did not entirely understand how lemon zest could be so crucial to their success. And, because B didn't know me very well, he wanted me to still make the muffins without the lemon zest. This did not happen. Though I don't remember what we ended up having to eat that morning, it was NOT blueberry muffins.
I guess I also don't entirely understand why the lemon zest is essential (other than that blueberries and lemons pair beautifully together), but it is. The lemon zest and sugar mixture that tops each muffin becomes a crunchy-sweet component to each bite. The muffins are studded with berries, ensuring fruit in every mouthful. As I alluded to, frozen blueberries work just as well as fresh. There is no need to defrost; however, you must be very careful to mix only as much as needed to fold the frozen berries in, because otherwise you'll end up with batter of an unappetizing gray shade.
Since there's only a half-stick of butter for 12 muffins, I feel no compunction about having mine with a pat on top of each slice, but health-conscious B prefers them plain.
I told B I was going to write about the lemon zest story, and he laughed. I've worked my kitchen magic over the years, and now he understands how important the lemon zest is. Hopefully you'll understand too. Here's to many more zest-filled years together! Enjoy.
From the Sacramento Bee sometime in the 1970s
Makes: 12 muffins
Time: 15 minutes active, 45 minutes total
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen)
Preheat the oven to 375, and line 12 muffins cups with muffin liners. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, combine egg, milk, and melted butter. With several quick motions, mix wet ingredients into dry. Fold in blueberries. Drop batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle tops evenly with lemon sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm.