Upon completing college, I was ambivalent of what to do next. After four years of living 3000+ miles from my family, returning home was paramount; engaging in something food-related followed close behind; and staying away from formal education--for the time being--was essential.
What followed for the next few years was what some might call dabbling, but what I characterize as experimenting (thankfully, my parents were behind me). And in the midst of my adventures, culinary and otherwise, I reconnected with a high school friend, Joe.
It was an easy reunion. I had a mad crush on Joe (he was two years my senior in high school), and the passing years made him more charming and kind than ever. He invited me to lunch. I mustered the reserve to resist pouncing on him on the spot, and (immediately) agreed.
These days, Joe is a public defender, but back then, he was waiting tables at the Hidden City Cafe in Point Richmond, so the "date" was really just me meeting him at the end of his lunchtime shift. Despite growing up in the SF bay area, I had never been to Point Richmond, a mere 15 minutes away by highway. It had been pretty seedy in the 70s and 80s, but it was being reclaimed by young families and entrepreneurs, including Hidden City's owner, Shelley, and another fledgling company: Pixar.
If you've watched a Pixar flick or two, Hidden City may be ringing a bell. That's because there's an animated image of the cafe at the beginning of many of their movies, and it was also featured in the trailer for the Wall-E movie. So when I was heading to meet Joe at Hidden City, he was busy serving a bunch of guys who sat scribbling drawings on the tables and, according to Joe, all harbored crushes (equal to mine for Joe) for the beautiful proprietor, Shelley.
But back to that date, and the real reason for this post: the food. Pixar may have given Shelley worldwide recognition with an animated icon, but she didn't need it then or now: it is world-class food with home-style sensibility. Moreover, Shelley was prescient in serving up local, seasonal fare long before it was ever in vogue.
I know exactly what I ate on that date. Joe seemed flustered when I showed up (I have a feeling he thought I wouldn't), but quickly overcame it by delivering a plate of food: a perfectly dressed plate of mesclun greens and a grilled chicken salad with housemade aioli (with plenty of garlic) on a crusty baguette. I had expected lunch, not love, but the latter is what I got.
And the best was yet to come. Joe had saved a muffin for me to take home, one of his favorites, and soon to be mine, too: Shelley's millet muffins. It was my first taste of millet, but was crazy about it on first nibble (during the car ride; there was no way it was going to last until later). Crunchy like nuts, but lighter and toastier, they were the perfect foil to the tender muffin batter.
Joe and I are still friends, but I haven't been back to the Hidden City Cafe in many years. Yet when I picked up a bag of millet at the health food store the other week, the first thing I thought of was Shelley and those muffins, and that, in the midst of my post-college searching, she helped point me in the right direction with her remarkable cooking and quiet, yet profound, philosophy of food.
And those incredible muffins.
Above is millet in it's raw form, piled on my countertop. It is rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B6, and folacin and offers calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. And one half cup (cooked) serving has 11 grams of portein. It's also cheap. You can buy it bags (e.g., ArrowHead), or get a super-bargain by buying it in bulk at health food and natural grocery stores.
Banana-Toasted Millet Muffins (a mini-tribute to Shelley at the Hidden City Cafe)
1 cup millet
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 2 very large bananas)
1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 14 regular size muffin cups with paper liners.
Spread the millet out on a cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes. Every three or four minutes, take the pan out and give it a careful shake (not too hard, or you'll have millet all over your oven and floor--yes, I'm speaking from experience); this will ensure that every kernel of millet gets toasted. Set aside to cool.
Whisk the flours, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl with a whisk.
Beat the sugar, brown sugar, and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 1 minute). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the banana, yogurt, and vanilla, beating until blended. Add flour mixture and millet, beating at low speed just until moist. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
Bake 15-18 minutes until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove muffins from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.
Makes 14 muffins.
Nutrition per Serving (1 muffin):Calories 188; Fat 4.8g (poly 0.9g, mono 1.5g, sat 2.4g); Protein 3.5g; Fiber: 2.6g; Cholesterol 40mg; Carbohydrate 35g.