Listening to people complain about the weather is so annoying, unless they've survived a tsunami, earthquake or tornado. This past week in New York has been like living inside a blast furnace, but what do we expect? It’s hot time summer in the city. And since you are reading this on a computer chances are there is an air conditioner in your vicinity, so let’s have a little perspective. You know how they always report on the historic record breaking temps on the weather forecast? “Today in 1918 it was 104 in Central Park!” I can’t imagine how women in high collars, petticoats, and boots managed without a/c. My grandmother (below left) had the right to gripe and I am so grateful it’s not 1918.
With the big July 4th weekend coming up the goal for most city dwellers is to get out of town. Let the official start of house guest season begin. Actually, I call it House Guest Syndrome because I hate being a guest almost as much as I hate being a host. I feel terrible saying that because I have lovely friends who have attempted to open their homes to me summer after summer and I have always politely refused. Yes, just as I’m lucky to be living in the era of electric air cooling I am also lucky to have parents with digs outside of the asphalt jungle who don’t seem to mind the degree to which I enjoy their hospitality. But having a beautiful place to go where I am totally comfortable isn’t the only reason why I turn down my potential hosts. Being a guest fills me with angst.
Let’s start with the morning. (I won’t touch the whole small children who wake up at 6:30am thing because I’d rather not lose any friends). Because I don’t want to be one of those lazy bones who lolls in bed while the rest of the house has already eaten breakfast, gone to the flea market, and run five miles I wind up waking up way before anyone else does and I spend the early morning hours waiting to hear the house stir. And now we come to coffee. I only drink one cup a day but I want that cup to be really strong and really good. And be ready within five minutes of my waking. I can’t begin to tell you how bad the coffee is in most homes other than mine. So now, with no sleep and my sub-par morning cup of joe, I’m supposed to be cheerful and entertaining, all the while sharing a bathroom with the other house guest (s) whose intimate habits I am now exposed to. This is not good at all and I haven’t even gotten to the compulsion I have to be super helpful, as if I’m earning my keep. I don’t stop doing dishes, running to the store, baking, and walking the dog I don’t like. By the time I get back home I need another weekend to relax.
But House Guest Syndrome works both ways. Not that I have my own weekend house to which I can welcome guests but my parents often encourage me to invite people to their place which I never do. I have a friend, we’ll call her Jane, who is incredibly comfortable inviting her pals to her family’s beach house—she inherited the hospitality gene as her parents couldn’t have been warmer or more welcoming back in the days when I actually accepted their gracious invitations. Before she was married with children Jane communicated her “mi casa es su casa” policy by living her usual weekend life and taking off to play tennis for hours, chatting on the beach in her special chair, and disappearing on her bike to make sure she didn’t miss out on any village news or happenings. Some people might have thought she was being rude but it was the exact opposite. She was communicating her ease with having me there and letting me know I was free to do as I pleased. The only time her house guest policy backfired was when she was too hospitable to someone she didn’t know that well and left the newbie’s objectionable behavior (leaving half sipped cups of tea scattered about the house, complaining of the cold when it was 80 degrees, and generally being a morose hot-house flower) to yours truly.
I envy the ease with which some people can handle interlopers in their personal space but have enough self-awareness to know it’s not how I roll. I seem to think that my guests will be struck mute and unable to express themselves so I need to stress over their every need. I end up feeling it’s up to me to figure out whether they are doing what they want to be doing or whether they’re hungry and if they’re hungry then I have to serve lunch when I wasn’t really planning to for at least another hour and which I have little interest in in the first place since it is my least favorite meal. Or I have to worry that they’re not amused by the adorable antics of my nieces (then they don’t deserve to be my friend and certainly don’t deserve a weekend away). Anyway, it is just too fraught.
In the meantime, most people are not like me and may find themselves hosting or being hosted this coming holiday weekend. On the occasions that my parents do invite those friends whom I consider to also be my friends I try to make something to leave out for breakfast (along with the pre-programmed pot of very strong coffee set to start dripping at 8:30am). These muffins are perfect for July 4th because…they’re red, white and blue! If you're an early bird, you can mix the dry ingredients ahead of time and whip them up first thing in the morning. Bursting with berries and brightened with lemon they are light and fruity and sure to make your guests feel at home. No matter how unwanted they really are. Kidding, I’m sure you like them a lot.
House Guest Syndrome Berry Muffins
Adapted from Art Smith, Oprah.com
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2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Zest of one large lemon
2 large eggs
2 cups mixed fresh berries (a combination of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries).
Preheat oven to 400°F. Fill a standard 12 cup muffin pan with paper muffin liners and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt to combine and make a well in the center. In a spouted measuring cup, whisk the milk, butter, zest, and eggs thoroughly. Pour into the well. Stir until just blended. Carefully fold in the berries and do not over-mix. Using 1/4 cup (standard) ice cream scoop portion out one scoop per muffin cup, filling about 3/4 full.Bake on center rack of oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins and serve warm (the best) or cool on a wire rack (good too).
Yield: 12 muffins