For the past few summers, The Child and I have been tormented by unwanted guests. Not the rats that occasionally move into the crawl space, silent and unseen. Not the moles, which are visually destructive, but silent, and at least provide some marginal comic relief, in the form of neighbors doing Bill Murray In Caddyshack impressions.
The bees, on the other hand, we can hear, and they’re loud: They buzz aggressively on the other side of my office wall, and The Child’s bedroom wall.
Last summer, I hired a bee guy, who couldn’t locate them easily, but based on an inspection of the outside of the house, informed me that my noisy neighbors were “probably” mud daubers. They are tiny and harmless wasps, he said. Probably coming in through the vent screens. I suggest you wait until winter, when they go dormant, and replace the screens.
He took my check and was on his way.
With winter almost over – at least in Seattle – my thoughts turned to Spring, and I called my handyman, who stopped by and inspected the crawl space next to my office, and the one next to The Child’s room, and then the attic area; he found nothing. He moved his ladder outside, and climbed onto the garage roof, and inspected the wall. Eventually he climbed down, and said he’d found two warped siding boards: The gaps are how the bees were getting in, he said. Your screens are fine.
Then he handed me his phone, to show me the pictures he’d taken of the furnace vent, specifically, the holes that had rusted out of it. He went into the attic again, and came back with more pictures: more rusty holes. I stare at the pictures like the inadequately knowledgeable homeowner I am.
Those holes will vent carbon monoxide into your attic, he tells me.
I listened to the sound of the mud dauber wasps in my wall all summer, several years in a row, and they frightened me, but could never have hurt me. It would seem I owe them a debt of gratitude, since they led to the discovery of a very real danger that I could have neither seen nor heard. I am grateful to the wasps, as I stand on a ladder, trying to help the handyman loosen rusted pieces of vent pipe. I am grateful to the wasps as I make a note on the grocery list to replace the batteries in the smoke detectors, including the one that kept going off, with no obvious cause, a year or so ago.
I am grateful to the wasps as the handyman nails down the siding, closing off their entrance to my wall.
When the handyman leaves, I lock the back gate after him, and notice that my rhubarb is coming in, and not just a little. I’m absurdly happy: The sun is shining, The Child and I aren’t going to die in our sleep, and there will be rhubarb, soon. Spring is coming; it’s almost here.
There isn’t much in the way of in-season produce that I actually want to eat at the stores, but late last summer I received a small bag of Oregon hazelnuts as a gift, and thought that now would be a good time to use them. I wanted cookies and cakes but since I also had yet another mushy banana to use up – just one this time – I chose a recipe from the Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook that included hazelnuts, a ripe banana, and other things I already had on hand: carrots, molasses. The ingredient list sounded like a healthy way to start a day, and the name – Rocket Muffins – suggested they’d kick-start me with energy.
One thing I didn’t have on hand was whole wheat flour, and since I was feeling kind of lazy, and thus in need of a muffin to kick-start my energy level, I swapped in some dark rye flour to see what would happen. The original recipe also calls for adding a dollop of jam to the top of each muffin during baking, which I skipped entirely, figuring I’d rather add whatever flavor jam I felt like eating at the time I ate each muffin.
I don’t know how these are supposed to taste, and to be honest, when they first came out of the oven, they reminded me of the supposedly healthy “bread” that was the bane of my 1970s school lunches. A liberal dose of melting salted butter did not help matters much.
I set the muffins aside, but vowed I would finish them – all of them – no matter how much jam it took.
The next morning, I was running late, so I grabbed one of the muffins, and ate it at my desk as I began work: No jam, no butter.
It was stupendous.
It’s hard to appreciate a muffin that isn’t sweet, when muffins, for the most part these days, are simply small cakes pretending to be muffins. But when you stop expecting something to be sweet, and when there is no sweetness to overwhelm the flavors, well, you can really taste them. The delicious crunchy, nutty hazelnut was shown off superbly by the earthy rye and molasses; the buttermilk probably accounts for the muffins’ ethereal lightness.
They don’t need jam or butter or to be toasted or anything, except to be eaten.
And the best part: The Child doesn’t like them, so I get them all to myself.
- ¾ cup hazelnuts, toasted, chopped
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- ¾ cup dark rye flour
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1½ cup rolled oats
- 3 medium carrots, grated
- 1 small, ripe banana, mashed or pureed
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup molasses
- ½ cup buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 350F. Spread hazelnuts out on a baking sheet and roast until they're golden brown and fragrant (about 15 minutes). Cool slightly and remove the skins by rubbing nuts together in a clean dish towel. Chop coarsely and set aside.
- Whisk the flours, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the oats, nuts, and carrots; toss together with a spoon or your hands until the carrots are well coated with flour.
- In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the banana, oil, molasses, and buttermilk until thoroughly combined.
- Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture, stirring with a fork until the batter just starts to come together.
- Spoon the batter into a paper liners in a muffin tin, filling the cups to the top. Bake until the muffins are deep brown and spring back when pressed lightly with a finger, 15-20 minutes. Cool on racks.