One February at school, I wrote an essay describing my disgust at the bourgeois institution of Valentine’s Day and the banality of the traditional gifts given. In retrospect, it was probably a reflection of my own self esteem issues (as one friend remarked a few years out of school, ‘thank goodness you’ve finally grown into your teeth!’) and my certainty that I would never be pretty enough to get a Valentine.
This was highlighted by the flower exchange between the all-girls school I went to and the local all-boys school. Every February 14th, we were subjected to the anticipation of sitting in class while sixthformers walked round delivering roses to our classmates, watching as the bundle diminished, followed by the false bravado of ‘I don’t even like red roses’ and ‘it’s disgusting, thinking they need a boyfriend, have they never heard of feminism??’.
If there is one way of fasttracking teenager girls into Bridget-Jones-style fears of succumbing to spinsterhood, dying fat and alone, or being found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians, it’s forcing them to spend a day every year watching the early bloomers parading around carrying flowers, with only canteen food for comfort.
Despite what you might think from this explanation of my romantically bitter youth, I have had some truly lovely Valentine’s Days; a little part of me has softened to the idea, and is even excited to see what surprises my boyfriend comes up with this year (the phrase that sends a shiver of fear into every man’s heart!).
When it comes to baking sweets for my sweet, I fall down at the first word. My lovely boyfriend is not the biggest fan of desserts. Whenever we go out for dinner, he always opts for a starter rather than a pudding, and if he is tempted by afters he always orders the cheeseboard.
Instead of making an overly sweet cupcake, coated in icing and sprinkled with sugar hearts, I recreated our favourite coffeeshop snack, the blueberry muffin. Like a lot of couples, many of our first dates were spent sunk into worn sofas, getting to know each other over mass-produced cappuccinos and mochas.
Our first Starbucks visit together was the branch at UCI; I was soaking up caffeine to combat my jet lag, and Dan was drinking water like it was going out of fashion to relieve a hangover. Despite the less-than-desirable circumstances of our meeting, it left a lasting impression: for me, of this sweet, funny guy, who was a great listener; for him, there is just a gap in his memory from an extended booze black out. Typical.
It’s not the hurriedly made beverages, the crowded atmosphere or the sticky tables, that makes going out for coffee such a treat, compared to making a drink at home, it’s the hanging out without distractions – there’s no TV or computer, no odd jobs to do and as an added bonus no washing-up afterwards!
These muffins are a lot less sugary than their commercial cousins, as they rely heavily on blueberries for sweetness. What they lack in saccharine comfort, they make up for with a light moist sponge. While they might not be suitable for those with a sweet tooth, they are perfect for those who like a good pudding but are not a fan of the overly rich.
Moist Blueberry Muffins
375g plain flour
1tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125ml plain yoghurt
200g cream cheese
1 1/2 cups of blueberries
1tsp grated lemon peel
1tsp of flour (for the blueberries)
Preheat the oven to 190C, and line the muffin tins with cases.
Mix together the dry ingredients and put to one side.
Cream together sugar and butter, when fluffy add 1tbsp of the dry ingredients.
Mix in the eggs one at a time, making sure the first is completely mixed in before mixing in the second. Add the lemon peel.
Beat in half of the flour, than add the yoghurt.
Mix in half of the remaining dry ingredients, followed by half the cream cheese, then add the end of the flour, and the end of the cream cheese (there’s no good way of writing that!)
Coat the blueberries in the tbsp of flour (this will stop them from sinking) and then fold into the batter.
Divide into the cases, and bake for 25-30 minutes.