Bear with me. One more morning habit that needed shifting:
I’m not the baker in our house, generally speaking, but on a weekend morning in the fall and winter, mixing a batch of hearty muffins is one of my favorite rituals. I love the whole process. The two bowls, the easy measurements, the mixing together of the wet and the dry, the spooning of the fluffy batter into tins. I love watching the muffins puff up in the oven and fall again once taken out. Mostly, I like eating them (and watching other people eat them, too). We brought a platter of steaming muffins to a Pre-K playdate this weekend and the kids cleared the plate in a matter of minutes.
Until recently, we were still using the same muffin tray that James and I have had for the past ten years or so. It was one that we’d bought inexpensively, no doubt on a weekend afternoon when we were young but felt grown-up and realized that we’d need to outfit our first apartment with things like muffin trays if we were going to survive cohabitation. Like most muffin trays on the market, ours was coated with the ubiquitous nonstick coating called Teflon, which made it easy to bake muffins that would pop easily out of the pan—no liners required.
The truth is, I’ve been avoiding nonstick pans for years, but I’ve been a little blurry about why. As a kid, I remember my parents scolding us about scratching the surface of nonstick pans. In my first apartment after college, I accidentally let the water boil out of a Teflon-coated sauce pan and the resulting fumes were so headache-inducing that I’d thrown out the pan altogether. Somewhere along the line I read something about carcinogens and decided to stick to mostly cast iron and stainless steel instead. Still, until recently, the muffin pan remained in pretty regular use in our house. It couldn’t be so bad, I guess I figured.
This fall, my sister Cait has been working on the screening campaign for a new film about Teflon called The Devil We Know. The film follows the DuPont Corporation’s coverup of the adverse effects of Teflon. For decades, DuPont used a chemical called C-8, part of a class of chemicals called PFOAs, despite knowing that it caused cancer in animals. The chemical has been used in nonstick kitchenware, food packaging, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant carpeting, and dental floss. It was dumped into waterways and sold for decades after first learning that it wasn’t safe for humans. It’s a sobering account of corporate irresponsibility and government complicity. Most guttingly, my own recent switch to cast iron muffin pans notwithstanding, it’s a chemical you can’t really avoid, even if you want to. Today, the known carcinogens are present in the bloodstream of more than 99 percent of Americans and in bodies of water across the globe.
I won’t pretend it’s an uplifting film. (It’s devastating.) But at the start of muffin season, it was a good reminder to take stock of our apartment and our habits. I took the film’s 7-day Chemical Detox Challenge to refresh our household commitment to a nontoxic environment. (And I said goodbye to the Teflon muffin tray for good.) More than anything, in the lead up to the midterm elections, the film was a reminder that it takes more than individual efforts to make a difference. Let’s get folks in charge who are committed to keeping the most vulnerable among us—and the planet we live on—safe and healthy.
For the curious:
If you’re curious about what else might be lurking in your kitchen, you can sign up for the 7-Day Chemical Detox Challenge.
We now have two cast-iron muffin pans from Lodge (vintage cast iron muffin pans also abound, but they can be pricey online). After a tiny bit of trial and error, we’ve gotten them to turn out delightful, perfectly sized muffins without any hassle. The trick for us? Make sure you give them enough time to cool before gently loosening them with a knife and popping them out of the tins.
If you’re less of a muffin enthusiast, but still concerned about your cookware, we rely on cast iron skillets for our daily cooking. We love our mini Lodge skillets, our Crane enameled cast iron casserole, and our 10-inch Field Company cast iron skillet. (The Field Company skillet is my new favorite—lighter than other cast iron skillets, easy to hold, and smooth-bottomed.)
The muffins shown here are from a beloved recipe of Jessica’s at Sugarhouse Workshop. They’re banana muffins made in part with oat flour, but most of the time, I just stir in roughly chopped quick oats instead. Light and fluffy but hearty enough that they don’t leave you hungry.
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