Sunday, 23 November 2014

Muffins and brownies

In September last year, I fell head over heels in love. The object of my affection was brown, gooey and delicious. It was located in Foxcroft and Ginger, a cafe in Berwick Street in Soho, which is quite grim at the best of times and is even more grim now that the whole street has been dug up and surrounded by fences. I highly recommend the place, by the way; it has lovely decor and downstairs some quite comfy seating options. 

My love is a chocolate brownie, or, as it is described by them, a chocolate truffle brownie, whatever that is. I genuinely think that no matter what might go on to happen in my life, this brownie will be the love of my life.

But, curiously enough, I haven't had this brownie all that often. Of course, in October last year, I ran off to Hamburg, but I've been back in London almost three months. If I really loved this brownie, surely I would have had more of them in this time?

Today I went back again to renew my vows, so to speak. And it was as wonderful as ever. But it got me thinking. There are some pleasures you repeat again and again; some pleasures you make routine. Routine has a bad name, but the fact that something is routine doesn't mean it's not incredible every single time you do it.

I can think of two pleasures in my life that to me did become "routine". Both of them are muffins: namely, the blueberry muffins at Caffe Nero and the chocolate muffins at the shitty uni cafe underneath my workplace in Hamburg. As a matter of full disclosure I have had a fling with another brownie, the ones they have at Harris and Hoole, but they sort of fell between the Foxcroft and Ginger brownie and these muffins, so lets just keep the muffin/brownie distinction as a matter of rhetoric.

When I was at Oxford I spent an inordinate number of hours in Caffe Nero, mainly studying but when not studying, digging into these blueberry muffins. I know it's not cool these days to recommend a chain for anything at all, but you really must have one or many of these muffins. They're so soft and yet tough enough that they don't crumble immediately. They are delicious. They don't taste artificial but they don't take purely like fruit: the muffin and the blueberry are perfectly at one.

My Hamburg routine muffin was less perfect but no less addictive. It just have been the fact that after work there's nothing better than just curling up with a coffee and pastry and relaxing. Admittedly the coffee in this place was disgusting, but that didn't stop me going back again and again for the chocolate muffins. Again, the texture was spectacular. There was a time towards the end of my stay in Hamburg when I realised my muffin consumption was getting out of hand, and I stopped for a while, before crawling back to UniPark in shame.

What made the muffins different from the brownies? Of course muffins are normally softer and more palatable than brownies, but this isn't always the case: the Foxcroft brownie is exceptionally soft, while the Hamburg muffin was often on the tough side.

I don't think it's anything innate in the distinction between a muffin and a brownie that means that one became an addiction and the other was reserved for a very rare treat.

I think there must someone out there addicted to brownies. But I don't think it would be because their palate is more suited to brownies than muffins. After all, as I have expressed at length, I really really like brownies. But it must just be the situations in which those brownie addicts consumed them.

The blueberry muffin from the Caffe Nero in Oxford Blackwells represents a bittersweet moment in my life. I was the most focused I'd ever been in my life, studying for my Finals. I was at my most intellectual, and relaxing in the greatest bookshop in the world, and it was great. Everyone goes a little crazy during Finals, but I'm glad I channelled my craziness into some glorious muffins.

The Hamburg muffin has less of a history, which might be why it doesn't haunt me in the same way. But still, in my less occupied moments adjusting to life in a foreign country, it was good to have one thing certain in my life.

Whereas, the Foxcroft and Ginger brownie was most certainly transient; after all, I was about to leave London. It also wasn't my own. I didn't discover it by chance; it was recommended to me. And somehow that also matters. My favourite place right now is a coffee shop called The Attendant in the rather dull area near Great Portland Street, and I think it is my favourite place because I found it and I went there and I discovered how fantastic the coffee was. (The question of coffee is quite separate from the muffin/brownie debate, of course.)

Anyway, I think that the lesson I just want to draw is that you can't judge the quality of anything in isolation. Yeah, I love brownies. But no brownie can exist in isolation. And I think it's the fact that I have had consistently emotionally resonant experiences with muffins that would make me choose a muffin over a brownie any day of the week. Often in life people tell you have to choose between quick pleasures and long term pleasures. But that's not right. I won't stop getting excited by the blueberry muffin at Caffe Nero. It won't stop being incredible (unless they change their recipe or something). Basically, yes, I can have my cake and eat it.

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