Why Muffins Are Good for a Laugh

And pancakes suggest spontaneity, says a family-focused cookbook

by Beth Goulart Monson | Updated 02 Mar 2016 at 8:01 AM

A new cookbook does something rather compelling: It links specific recipes with specific virtues.

Sound nuts? Consider that apple pie can correlate to gratitude. Eggplant parmesan can be linked to curiosity.

Elinor Allcott Griffith, author of “The Virtues of Cooking: Recipes & Stories to Uplift Family Through Food,” says that preparing and sharing food can be used to build character in our kids — which isn’t to say it has to be serious every second of the day, either. She prescribes muffins for humor and pancakes for spontaneity, for example.

“There is so much fun stuff that parents can do to bring the added value of virtue into their family lives,” she told LifeZette. “It can be a great tool to strengthen families.”

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New cookbook offers a fresh way of viewing family fare.

A former magazine editor in New York, Griffith intersperses recipes with stories from her own family and charming sketches by her late father, a university art professor. The resulting volume is a warm, entertaining read that shares ideas for parents on making mealtime nourishing to the soul as well as the body.

“Framing your day in a very positive way helps set the tone for everything that follows,” said Griffith, whose own two children are grown.

Here are more details.

Question: What are your thoughts on the state of the nightly dinner in American families today, as opposed to when you were growing up?

Answer: Today there’s a lot more emphasis on food, and fun around food, through all the cooking shows on television. When I was growing up, it was Julia Child. That was it. There’s a visibility about the importance of good food today that wasn’t as evident when I was a kid. I think there was more time then. There were fewer intrusions through video games and all these other things that parents have to contend with today. So hats off to them.

Question: What do you tell the parent who is too busy, who feels overwhelmed by the idea of cooking dinner?

Cooking Tip: If given a chance, empathy can produce unexpected results. Healing a lonely soul is a start. The kids can chop vegetables for a potato leek soup and surprise someone in need with an offer for lunch.

Answer: I have a couple of make-ahead things that I really like. Spicy chicken enciladas. They can be frozen. This sense of  abundance can come when you’ve got a couple of dishes in your freezer that can come out. Or you can save half.

Question: If reading and following a recipe seems too difficult, with kids yelling and dogs barking, what do you counsel?

Potato Leek Comfort Soup
  • 1 bunch leeks (3 to 4 in all)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 4 medium Yukon gold potatoes
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • In a 6-quart saucepan, sauté the leeks and onions in butter, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and dice carrots and potatoes; put in a bowl of cold water to prevent discoloration. When onion-leek mixture is golden, add carrots, potatoes, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil before simmering for 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Use an electric emulsifier to purée soup; if desired, add cream. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Reheat before serving. Serves 6. 
Source: The Virtue of Cooking

Answer: I was just thinking of the pancakes, for instance. There’s no reason you can’t pick up a mix and throw in some eggs and some water and get going. Then, later on, you’ve got the idea there in place — then you can use an actual recipe and follow that.

Or soups. I think about my mom and how she loved this idea that you don’t have many dishes. She was a very busy person. Everything goes into that one pot, basically. And it doesn’t matter, in a way. You get the general idea. It’s like jazz. You do your own thing. If the kids are screaming, if you forget to put the carrots in, that’s okay. You see it in a thousand variations of potato-leek soup. Some of it is that sense of not beating up on yourself. It’s fine. It’s okay.

Question: Where should a family start?

Answer: One recipe I really love is the morning glory muffins. The recipe ends up making so many muffins, you can freeze them. Or freeze half and give the rest away. They’re great for breakfast or tucked into a lunch box, or have them as snacks late in the afternoon.

Question: Why not just buy them at the store?

Answer: I have no problem with shortcuts. One of my recipes, on honesty, involves using a cake mix. If that’s what works and get things going, go for it. Buy the muffins. This is not just about eating around the table — it’s the activity. You can have fun with it and send them sliding down the table or lobbing through the air. Whether they’re made or store-bought, the idea of humor as a way to frame the idea is really, really important.

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