I drove to Nashville last month to visit friends for a weekend. I’ve been up and back dozens of times since we moved down here three years ago, but this was my first time taking the backroads instead of the interstate for the first half of the drive. I had a meeting on the north side of Tuscaloosa County after work the day I was leaving, and when I punched my destination into the Garmin it said to head north on highway 43 instead of going back to the main interstate, 20/59. So I did.
For a while, it was wonderful. There weren’t many other cars, and I gleefully realized I was bypassing all of the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham rush hour traffic. I drove by a little cotton field and homes with Halloween and fall decorations on the front porches, set back off the roads behind sweeping lawns. Once in a while, the speed limit slowed as the highway went through the middle of a tiny downtown area. I caught glimpses of rolling hills covered in beautiful fall foliage as far as the eye could see. Every now and then there was a dilapidated barn or shed that was somehow picturesque. I munched on some baby carrots, listened to NPR, and enjoyed the peace, quiet, and early evening sunshine surrounding me.
But then. I reached Corridor X, which is the future site of Interstate 22 in northwest Alabama. Oddly, there is no interstate connecting Memphis with Birmingham, and the construction of 22 is meant to remedy that situation. It is in progress, but not finished yet. So around Jasper, my Garmin told me to turn left, but there was nothing on my left but mile after mile of a short, gray, cement wall separating me from oncoming traffic. The device tried to recalculate, but just kept coming up with one fake direction after another, until it thought I was completely off the grid in the middle of the black screen, though in actuality I was still driving 60 miles an hour on a large, paved highway, heading who knows where.
All of the sudden the roads, sounds, and trees that had been my traveling companions seemed cold, dark, threatening, and like the middle of nowhere. I tried to figure out if my husband knew this part of the state well enough to guide me over the phone or interpret an internet map if I called him. I drove a few miles to the next exit, got off, and came to a stop on the shoulder under an overpass. Thank goodness my iPhone hadn’t run out of batteries yet and had a signal, so I was able to pull up a not-quite-accurate map and attempt to backtrack and right myself. I drove several more miles in possibly-the-right-direction (still off the grid according to the Garmin), and eventually came to an intersection with a blindingly well-lit gas station (thank goodness, I was getting low on that too), where I asked an Auburn fan if I was headed toward Interstate 65 north. “Yes ma’am,” she said in a kind, helpful, understanding voice, either not noticing or not concerned with the Alabama football tag on the front of my car. “Just stay on this road for another, oh, 30 or 40 miles and you’ll come right to it.”
She was right, and my Garmin got back on track soon after. (Mental note: update the maps before next road trip.) I hit I65 around Cullman, and arrived in Nashville only about a half-hour later than I’d planned. My friend Kimberly was waiting with welcoming porch lights, chilled sparking water, whole grain pita crisps, plenty of girl talk, and a cloud-like guest bed in her new house. Phew! I loved the backroads for their scenery and lack of traffic, but next time I’ll make sure I have an up-to-date, printed map and a car charger for my cell phone.
I don’t have pictures of Nashville for you today, though you can bet there will be a future post here on the city I used to call home. Instead, the baking trend continued around here, so today I am sharing these perfect-for-autumn pumpkin gingerbread muffins, as well as ginger peach corn muffins, a take on one of my favorite teas and one last half-hearted hurrah for the peaches still lingering around Chilton County country. Both recipes are from the BabyCakes cookbook that Kimberly surprised me with a couple of years ago for my birthday. It was one of those fantastic presents that I would have bought for myself if I would have come across it, but somehow this gem remained hidden from me on Amazon.
I don’t bake incredibly often, but when I do the BabyCakes’ collection fits my aspirations nicely: vegan, gluten-free, health-conscious, and using only unrefined sweeteners. The author seems to really know what she is talking about, and the book is easy and enjoyable to read, with glossy pages and large photographs. There are about 50 recipes in all, divided between chapters on muffins, scones and biscuits, teacakes, cookies and brownies, cupcakes and frostings, cakes and crumbles, pies and cobblers, and drinks. I believe all of the treats were developed to be served in the author’s bakery, BabyCakes NYC.
The pumpkin gingerbread muffins (adapted from a teacake recipe) turned out perfectly shaped and soft, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and balanced, somewhat delicate flavor. The roasted peaches were delicious, and I appreciated the spicy, fruity twist on typical cornbread. If you feel like finding this book at your local library or bookstore, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! Erin McKenna also has a second cookbook out now that I haven’t seen myself yet: BabyCakes Covers the Classics.