I clearly remember the last time that I got the recommended full eight hours of sleep. It was in October, 2000, and Eric and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland. No, I'm not kidding. It has been that long. I had just finished my first term at business school, during which time I probably slept a total of eight hours and lost about 12 pounds from stress (The Business School Diet! Learn how impossible statistics problems and constant cold calling can have you back into your skinny jeans in just 6 weeks!)
Since we were full-time students, we didn't have much money for the purpose of travel, but we had found a really good deal on a Virgin Atlantic flight to Heathrow, and Eric's friend was doing a semester of Law School in London, so we had a cheap place to stay. Cheap, but crowded. I never was able to figure out exactly how many people were living in that flat, but it seemed like every time that I walked down the hall I saw someone new. They were probably wondering if I lived there too. Thankfully, we left before anyone asked us for rent.
So, between the red-eye flight from Washington D.C., when a toddler decided to use the space in front of us as his own personal jungle gym, and the flat, where someone was always up watching the snooker on the telly, I wasn't catching many much-needed z's. Unfortunately, this meant that I stumbled my first few days through foggy London in an equally foggy trance. I know that we saw some wonderful, historic landmarks. I'm certain of this. I just don't remember any of them.
On our fourth day, realizing that the drizzle had no intention of stopping and that London was not the best place for those on a budget, we decided to take a train up to Edinburgh, Scotland. Armed with my trusty DK travel guide, we selected lodging. We also picked the train station that was least compatible with our lodging, hiking halfway across town with our bags in tow (any hope of being mistaken for a local was long gone at this point.) We finally checked in during the late afternoon. The best thing about our room was that it had these really thick drapes that blocked out any light from the outside. After an early supper, the last thing that I remember before falling asleep is Eric being completely engrossed in the snooker match on T.V. Snooker seemed like it was always on T.V. in the U.K., no matter where we were.
The next morning, I almost didn't believe my eyes when I awoke to a clock that said 11 a.m. Wait. Do they tell time differently in Scotland? Is 11 really, like 6 or something? There's no way that I slept for 15 hours. Turns out, I did. And I felt great. Who would've thought that I needed to travel all the way to Scotland to get a good night's sleep?
After my sleeping marathon, I was famished, and I really wanted a big Scottish breakfast. That is, I wanted a big Scottish breakfast Julie-style: hold the haggis and black pudding, and bring on the stuff that I sort of recognize. Even though the hotel was finishing up breakfast service, I think that I looked desperate and hungry enough for them to take pity on us. To be honest, they could have probably served us Spaghetti-os, and I would have thought that it was the best meal ever, but we really did have a delicious, and hearty meal (those Scots love their carbs.) One of the breads that we were served was just like the English muffins that I had been eating for years, complete with nooks and crannies, but it was denser, made with oats, seeds, and wheat. I could tell that they were freshly made and toasted on the griddle. Mmmmmmmm. I could have easily put away half a dozen, smeared with creamy butter and preserves. And I might have. I don't recall.
Flipping through a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living, I found an English muffin recipe that resembled the ones that we had in Edinburgh. Not only did it remind me that I need to go back to Edinburgh, because I am due for another good night's sleep, but it reminded me how much I loved those muffins. As always, I made a few changes to Martha's recipe, but I was still happy with the results. Eric used them for English muffin pizzas last night and declared that they "tasted much better than normal English muffins." If that's not an endorsement, then I don't know what is. Here are a few extra tips for making these marvelous multigrain muffins:
- The muffins can be stored at room temperature, sealed in plastic bags, for up to two days, or you can freeze them, tightly wrapped, for up to two weeks.
- You can easily play around with the flavors of these muffins. Add some coarsely chopped raising or cranberries to the dough, or mix in some cinnamon. You could also add some chopped nuts or seeds.
- Wheat germ may be substituted for wheat bran. The caraway seeds may be omitted or replaced with another type of seed.
- For the rising process, I find that placing the bowl in a warm oven creates an ideal environment. Heat the oven for just a few minutes and then turn it off just before placing the bowl inside.
Whole Grain English Muffins
Makes about 12
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (one ¼-ounce package)
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 ¾ cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup wheat bran
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ cup well shaken buttermilk
Oil for coating the bowl
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast, honey, butter, and warm water; stir to mix. Allow the yeast mixture to rest for 5 minutes or until it is foamy.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, whole wheat flour, oats, wheat bran, flax seeds, salt, and caraway seeds. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the yeast mixer and mix on low speed until combined.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes. Lightly oil the inner surface of a large bowl with oil and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle the parchment with cornmeal. Roll the dough out into a ½-inch thick circle. Using a 2 ½ or 3-inch round cutter, cut out circles of the dough and place them on the baking sheets, spaced 1 ½ inches apart. Re-roll dough scraps and cut out more circles. Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and allow the circles to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 20 minutes, until puffy.
Heat a large dry skillet over low heat. Working in batches, cook the rounds of dough until they are golden brown and dry, about 7 minutes per side. Let the muffins cool, and then split and toast.