Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rye Cornmeal Muffin With Thyme

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,

Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

 --Hamlet, V.1

 I'm sorry, Hamlet, but I loved Ophelia. Or rather, I identified with her in high school, more so than any of Shakespeare's other heroines.

 I couldn't believe a man would ever die for the love of me, like Romeo did for Juliet.  And although I liked Lady Macbeth's breast-beating and hand-wringing I never really identified with her ambition.  I wouldn't ask a man to kill so I could have power by proxy. I could also never understand how surprised and guilty she was after killing Duncan.  I identified more with Macbeth--reluctant, afraid of his dark impulses, but wise enough to comprehend that once you become a monster there is no going back.

But Ophelia, I 'got,' instinctively.  Depressive, neurotic, insecure yet defiant.  Desperately in love with a tormented man she barely knew because she identified with him and he could express aloud all of the pain and inadequacy she felt inside. My other friends who dug Shakespeare called her a wimp.  A wimp to suffer within because of the injustices of the world?  If that was the case, then Hamlet was a wimp, not the 'most intelligent character ever created' as he is often called.

Unfortunately, given the limited imaginations of casting directors, I was never blonde and willowy enough to embody Ophelia.  Instead, I played her again and again in my head, reading Ophelia's mad scene for the umpteenth time in my room.  Didn't people understand the PROFOUND TRUTHS she was trying to communicate when she was singing obscene songs, throwing flowers, and quoting strangely prophetic bits of folk wisdom? They say the owl was a baker's/ daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not/what we may be.  

In short, Ophelia was Gaga before Gaga was a word.

Ophelia's rosemary, pansies, fennel, columbines, and rue which she uses to 'speak' to others in her elaborate pageant of madness aren't so unusual I suppose--there is a reason that women and their potential to engage in alchemy with spices have always been feared--in sorcery and in cooking, as well as in Ophelia's mad scene.

With the cook's eye, looking at Ophelia's herbs and flowers, I used to wonder why she neglected thyme, the natural mate of rosemary.  Thyme would seem very appropriate, given that the Egyptians used it for embalming and thyme was often used to line coffins, to give the dead person courage in the next life.  But it is the spice of courage--fair maidens would give it to knights before battle--and Ophelia had no knight to whom she could give thyme, no one who loved and trusted her completely, and to go to her own death clutching it would be very bitter and false indeed.

In my own mad desire to throw something together with what was in my baking storage area, I noticed that I still had a bag of rye flour I used for an earlier quick bread, and a great deal of fresh thyme--more than I could use, even if I roasted a chicken a night for a month.  The savory muffin that was the result worked out so well,and got such rave reviews, I am posting it.  The flavor of the rye and cornmeal is accented with the thyme.  The muffins are particularly nice fresh from the oven, but they can also be toasted and buttered.  I think they would make a fantastic stuffing for mushrooms, chicken, or turkey as well. If you really want to go crazy.

Rye Cornmeal Muffin With Thyme

1 cup cornmeal (I used white, but yellow would work as well)
1 cup rye flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 cup Greek yogurt (I used the full fat kind. You can also use dairy or non-dairy milk and omit the water)
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (a fragrant olive oil would work well, but I used vegetable oil)
1 beaten, large egg
2 tablespoons fresh, crumbled thyme

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 8-12 muffin tins.
2. Sift the cornmeal, rye flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
3. Combine the yogurt, water, oil, and egg.
4. Spoon the dry mixture into the wet, fold in the thyme.
5. Pour into the muffin tins.  Bake for approximately 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick can be extracted clean.  Cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.


  1. Wow, I haven't thought that hard about Shakespeare in years. For me the problem with Shakespeare now is that there is no one to talk about it with. Even if I made the effort to read it all again the only discourse I would get out of it would be in my head :). As a result, I have no intelligent remark regarding your analaysis, though I loved reading it; especially on her lack of thyme. This is something that definitely didn't come up in highschool or university.
    The muffins look really good, mild flavoured (I assume) savoury muffins like this are terrfic because they have so many applications. They can be paired with sweet or butter for breakfast, and with chillis, or stews or pastas for dinner. It's like a more versatile cornbread :). Love it! :).

  2. @Adam--I admit, I am a total Shakespeare dork. Even from a 'history' perspective, the uses of herbs are pretty interesting though. It's funny how when I am baking, I only think in terms of 'too much, too little' or sometimes 'too expensive' but people in ancient times took them very seriously for their medicinal and symbolic properties--and went all over the world in search of them.

    Savory muffins are pretty awesome, and I've noticed that even people who aren't into standard baked goods often like them, because they are so versatile!

  3. I was an English major in college and even got an A in my Shakespeare class. Yet the only thing I can think of with respect to Hamlet is when the castaways staged a production of it on Gilligan's Island and the Skipper sang, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be! Do not forget! Stay out of debt!" This is only one of the many ways in which I am a disgrace.

  4. @flurrious--I didn't know you were an English major, but judging from your blog, I'm not surprised! I've seen "Hamlet" performed a number of times (and go to see Shakespeare performed whenever I can swing it, time-wise, and money-wise) so that is why it is so 'fresh' to me, I suppose. It is one of my (many) obsessions.

    I watched "Gilligan's Island" as a kid all of the time, but don't remember that episode. I always used to identify with Mary Ann because she looked like she was my age (like, 3 or 4) with her braids and I had a huge crush on the Professor. Kind of like Betty versus Veronica, I've always heard that if you identified with (or desired, if you are a man) Mary Ann versus Ginger, you can learn a great deal about your character. The "Questionable Pop Icon Personality Test."

  5. I was also a philosophy major. An English degree didn't seem useless enough.

    But my main reason for commenting again is that I also remembered that there was an episode of Happy Days where they staged a production of Hamlet starring Fonzie, who uttered the immortal line, "To be or not to be. Can you dig it?"

  6. @flurrious -- hahahha :) I majored in English and minored in Philosophy myself :).

    Though I stand by my favourite professor's statement when he said: If you can decode and understand Shakespeare and Hemingway, there isn't any thing you can't learn or understand.

    I also tell people that coding a website is no different than writing an essay. Then they look at me weird and walk away slowly :).

  7. @flurrious & Adam--this is like a 'useless major support group' because I studied English and RELIGION (from an academic, philosophical perspective).

    I actually find Shakespeare very easy to understand, but that is because I acted in several Shakespearean plays. Shakespeare intended his plays to be performed live, rather than read, and actually if you see the plays performed by people who know how to interpret, speak, and breathe the verse correctly, it all 'makes sense.' (I'm not saying I was one of those people, but when I lived in England, I was kind of a RSC 'groupie').

    I love the "Happy Days" Hamlet idea! I wonder how many other 70s sitcoms had their own take on Hamlet.

    Oh, and @Adam--I can TOTALLY see how writing code is its own language. Like writing a sonnet...