A dense mist rose from the curving river adjacent to the road as I drove into the heart of Cardigan, Maryland, my recently adopted home. Despite my best efforts, I was running late. I squeezed the steering wheel. Today was the debut of my new restaurant, the Day Lily Café. I’m Rosalie Hart and opening this café was a dream realized.
The paint was barely dry on the ochre-tinted walls that glowed in the sun like a Tuscan hillside and I prayed we were ready for prime time. I had spent endless days and weeks designing the space and experimenting with recipes and menus. Today’s breakfast special:
Mini cinnamon muffin and coffee appetizer
Omelet with Applewood smoked cheddar, scallions and fresh oregano
Cantaloupe wedge topped with blueberries and crème fraiche
Thick slice of seven grain bread slathered with butter
And the best potato cake, if I do say so myself, your mouth will ever encounter
I scrolled through my contacts on my hands free phone menu, careful to keep my eye on a pair of cyclists weaving along the road in front of me, and clicked on Glenn’s number.
“Rosalie, where are you? People are already reading the menu outside.”
“I’m on my way,” I said. “Have you started the coffee?”
“Of course,” Glenn said and I felt instantly soothed by his calm, confident tone. He was my path to Zen.
“There are a couple of bikers in the road in front of me. They must think we Eastern Shore folk have nothing better to do.”
“Careful,” Glenn said. “You’re starting to sound like a native. And I think they prefer the term cyclists.”
“Has Custer put in the first batch of muffins?”
“The aroma of that cinnamon is making me salivate.”
“Thank you, Glenn. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“No need to find out. All right, dear. Crystal is setting the tables. She’s doing some fancy thing with the napkins. It looks pretty good. Be safe and remember to share the road.”
I ended the call and exhaled a deep breath in an attempt to calm my nerves. Glenn, who at the age of seventy-two was able to keep orders in his head, soothe ruffled feathers, and pour a cup of West African blend without spilling a drop, was my best friend.
It had been almost two years since I learned my husband of over twenty years was having an affair. Unable to bear it, I escaped to the large farm and very old house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland my Aunt Charlotte had bequeathed to me that I had heretofore, chosen to ignore.
Lost and feeling as alien as ET, I had rattled around the house for weeks wondering how I would reinvent myself. But everything changed when I discovered the body of a young coed in the marsh grasses of the Cardigan River. When the sheriff ruled her drowning an accident and closed the case, I wasn’t convinced. With Glenn’s help, we solved the mystery and I discovered a resiliency I never knew I possessed.
My road to recovery began with finding a yellowed index card of Aunt Charlotte’s seven grain bread recipe. The kneading and aromas triggered my love of cooking. For me, cooking was my way to nurture others and baking that bread reignited my passions and unlocked the door to living again.
I stared at the cyclists, willing them to turn. That was a lot of spandex. A little too much information for my taste. One of them pointed to a farm house. The other wobbled as he turned to look at it. I eased off the accelerator. At least the fog was lifting. A lazy flock of Canada Geese flew in a low V over the river—their out of sync honks piercing the quiet. Enjoy this moment, Rosalie, I thought. And I did.
Little did I know that just as the café were opening, Doris Bird, who had helped me out of a pickle more than once, would appear in the doorway asking me to help clear her younger sister of murder charges. The husband had been shot in the chest and the sheriff was certain she was guilty. What I didn’t know at the time was he would stop at nothing to prove it.
These muffins were inspired by my favorite breakfast as a child: buttered toast topped with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.
2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted and cooled unsalted butter
1 cup organic milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted unsalted butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
Makes 12 large muffins.
Preheat oven to 325º
Grease a muffin tin with cooking spray or line with paper cups.
Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk wet ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Spoon batter into muffin cups and bake for 15 - 20 minutes until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let stand 5 - 10 minutes. Remove from tin. Meanwhile prepare the topping. Melt the remaining 1/4 stick of butter. Whisk together cinnamon and sugar. When muffins are cool, brush the tops with a generous amount of butter. I believe the word slather is appropriate. Dip tops in the sugar/cinnamon mix. Sprinkle remaining mix over muffins. Test kitchen feedback says the more topping, the better the muffin, so really pack it on.