Close up of Mallow blossoms near our home.
“The sheep are out…”
“No, Dad, they are in their pen, it just looks like they are out.”
“No, the sheep are out…”
We had lived on the farm for three days and our farmer landlords were away on a long-planned vacation, having left before we had arrived. Now, as we were just sitting down to the first dinner with my in-laws in our new home… the sheep were out.
Let me begin by stating that Dave and I are NOT farmers. In fact, we haven’t even proven to be successful gardeners yet. We moved to Vancouver Island with our toddler son for a new job and happened to stumble on this fantastic rental property smack in the middle of a small organic farm. Awesome! But now the main residents of the farm were “going on walk aboot” and we had to figure out how to get them back into their picturesque setting.
Dave and his Dad ran down to tend to the sheep, while I called the previous renter and stared incredulously over my wine glass across our unfinished deck at the scene below. To say that our deck is “unfinished” is to put it kindly. Our deck does not exist. In fact, the glass French doors that will eventually open out to the deck currently open out to a grand drop of about 15 feet down to the dirt below. An old bannister with flaking white paint has been nailed outside of the doors to forestall anyone visiting the deck before it is actually in place. This means that Dave’s Mom, our toddler son and I had an amazing double-glass door view from our table to the scene unfolding below.
There were probably only 10 sheep that had gotten out, but they are robust, large sheep not the soft little lambs of the cartoons. Dave and his Dad were being remarkably successful in herding the sheep back towards their pen as they surged in waves around the backyard. That is to say that they were being remarkably successful until the farm dog came to “help,” and in a burst of joy scattered the sheep across the property. Once the dog was separated from the sheep, the men were able to corral them and head back to dinner.
For some people, the idea of running out of the dining room to corral sheep may not seem like such a herculean venture. Why make such a fuss? Those people have never met Dave or me.
Dave and I are both city kids, born and raised in large West Coast metropolises. We have spent a number of years living in the Midwest and I had studied farm politics, but we’d never ventured to the actual farm side of food production. Now we had moved our family of three halfway across the continent, across national borders, to an island where I knew how to do nothing. Literally. I can’t figure out the temperature (Celsius), the speed or distance to anything (kilometers), or how to use their debit card machines (Interac). It’s not pretty. Anyone who thinks that Canada and the States are the same, should move across a border and see just how similar things are. They aren’t. Similarly, teaching university classes, writing dissertations and researching academic articles do not quite prepare you for the “real world” of sheep wrangling before your dinner gets cold.
Yet despite the dog’s best efforts to scatter the sheep to the winds, Dave and his Dad managed to get the sheep contained and return to their dinners unscathed. Dave’s Mom was concerned that their dinners were cold; our son was simply concerned that someone keeps filling his little plate; and the men looked a bit dazed. In my mind, however, a slightly cooled dinner would only last in our memories for a few moments; the story of this evening would live in the family forever.
The next morning I was feeling the need for “home,” and following the advice of real estate agents to make your house smell inviting, I baked up a batch of these Banana Chocolate muffins. I’ve adapted the recipe a bit, but the original comes from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home. I may not be a domestic goddess, but her food makes me feel homey. And our son, who was a total trooper through the entire move, had just lost all of his friends, his parks, his familiar jaunts. Most of his toys were still packed, and he kept asking where we were. These muffins are one of his favorite things, and I wanted to see that little chocolate smeared smile.
Later that evening, once Dave’s folks had taken the ferry to the mainland (our son thinks his grandparents just might be “fairies” going to the Mainland from Neverland Island), Dave and I sat on the little arbor bench next to the driveway. We were looking out over the pasturage lined with trees, sipping two well-deserved frosty beverages after our day of unpacking an endless stream of boxes, when the sheep started bleating from their stalls and we started laughing. The sheep were most definitely not out this time, but our new home promises to be an interesting adventure.
Banana Chocolate Muffins
Makes 1 dozen awesome muffins
These are my son’s favorite muffins. He thinks he’s getting a real treat, and doesn’t realize all the good things packed into these great little packages. My best experiences with this recipe are when I use four (and sometimes up to six) over-ripe bananas that I’ve stored in the freezer. When bananas are just about too far gone, I chuck them into the freezer to use later for muffins like these. Just put the frozen bananas on a plate in a single layer in the microwave for about 20 seconds or so to soften them up. You can also pull them out of the freezer the night before you want to make them and thaw them on the counter, but I’m never that well-organized.
4 very ripe bananas
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup plain yogurt (I use fat free, but full fat is fine too)
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup good quality dark chocolate chips (optional… if you don’t like awesome)
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 400ºF and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
In a large bowl mash the bananas, leaving them a little coarse. Mix in the oil, yogurt, eggs and sugar.
In a medium bowl mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, being careful to not over mix the batter. Gently fold in the chocolate and walnuts if using. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Let the muffins rest briefly in the pan and then cool them on a wire rack.
Chocolate Banana Muffin batter
Filling the muffin tins
My “new to me” oven runs a bit hot, so these are almost over done, but the extra-doneness just makes them taste extra-chocolatey.
Banana Chocolate Muffins Card
Click on the above link for a pdf version of the recipe that can be printed.