Dispatch from the GreenBerry Tree House: Blueberry Almond Muffins


Michael bulleted in from the backyard to report the good news. “I just saw a rainbow skink!”

“Wow!” I said as I turned down the volume on Rhoda. Michael’s eyes were wide as quarters and his mouth was hanging open like a man stung with bright, new enthusiasm, or the comic strip character Cathy when she finds surprise chocolate in her house.

“It’s beautiful!” Michael said. “Have you ever seen a skink?” He of course already knew the answer, so he didn’t bother waiting for me to provide it. “It looks like a long snake and it moves really fast! I saw it just dart under the woodpile!”

My “boyfriend instincts” told me, “Be excited!”  So I was.  But my “Orange County city-boy” instincts were throwing up red flags. They spelled out their concerns in a memo and delivered the talking points to my brain.

Attention Gary Green:

Point A: A “skink” sounds like the marriage of the words “stink” and skank,” neither of which you should be around.
Point B: Anything that can be described as having a body of a snake, yet not be a snake either needs to be in a Sinbad movie or stomped out with a boot heel.
Point C: It “darted.” Things that dart do so because they want to kill you.
Point D: It lives under a woodpile. That’s the brown fort-like structure in the corner you pretend doesn’t exist because you’re afraid of splinters and knee dirt.
Point E: We, your Orange County city-boy instincts have never steered you wrong. We’ve kept you away from things you should have no part of, like overnight camping using the best camper accessories, rock-climbing, bungee jumping, Burning Man, corn mazes, and peeing inside an Andy Gump portable restroom. So trust us when we say… there is no missing piece in the puzzle of your life that reads “Get to Know a Skink!”

Michael doesn’t have “Orange County city-boy” instincts even if he used to go camping a lot with his favorite tent from Survival Cooking. Michael has “Georgia country boy” instincts. When he tells me stories of his childhood, they usually involve something he and his siblings found slithering in their backyard and brought into the house to make into a pet. When I hear these stories, I always imagine Michael as a nine year old, wearing overalls and a homemade alfalfa hat with a large pail of freshly caught fish swinging in his little hand.

The skink wasn’t the first yard-dwelling creature that’s made him happy since we’ve move into the Tree House. I’ve already received whirling reports about lizards, centipedes, bats, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, red-tailed hawks, and something he swore was just a bee, but to me looked more like a giant shit nugget with wings. It was Michael who wanted a house with a big yard. The only items I was really keen on were climate control and a room where I could hang my framed photos with 1970s game show celebrities. See me with Marcia Wallace! See me with Wink Martindale! I don’t know why anyone would get so excited over a rainbow skink. But to be fair, no one else understands why I get so excited about Charo.

For the last five years I lived on the top floor of an apartment building in the heart of Hollywood where the only time I got close to nature was when My Cat from Hell was on the TV. Now we suddenly have a house with a great big yard. A yard with cactus and pointy rocks, giant snails and a woodpile. And it’s not even a private woodpile. We have to share it with the skink.

Now Michael is back outside laying down mulch. It’s nearly ninety degrees in the valley today and he’s been out there for two hours. Before this, he lived in a Hollywood apartment too, with not even a balcony.  Plus his one-time next-door neighbor went on to become a convicted arsonist. He’s waited ten years to have a yard again. The mulch he’s putting down is fiery red and its color bang-zooms against the green leaves of all the plants I can’t name and the white rocks he’s formed into a path that will lead right up to the garden bench arriving this Saturday. He’s making our yard beautiful. That makes me happy. And not just because it makes Michael happy, though that’s a big part of it. I’ll have to remember to tell him that, but I can’t do it right now. I have to watch Betty White on Match Game.

Here’s the backyard on the day we were first shown the property by the realtor (2013)
And here is what Michael has done with it so far! (2013)

Blueberry Almond Muffins
Adapted from a recipe found at Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen

For the muffins:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • ¾ cup finely chopped almonds

For the cinnamon crumb topping:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

To Make Crumb Topping: Mix together the 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with a fork or your fingers until butter is incorporated and set aside.

To Make Muffins: Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and beat to incorporate. Add enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Add in lemon juice. Fold in your blueberries and the almonds. Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full or right to the top. Sprinkle with crumb topping mixture just before baking.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.

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4 thoughts on “Dispatch from the GreenBerry Tree House: Blueberry Almond Muffins

  • September 4, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Gary, Love your new house and what Michael is doing to the yard. Never heard of a skink, but David has been up close and personal with some ugly biting caterpillars in our area. Plus the bear that keeps strewing our garbage all over the road. Your take on the muffins sound wonderful.

  • September 4, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thanks Penny! Skinks are not pretty. No, I haven’t actually seen ours, but I looked them up. Some of them have blue tongues. I might be sick. Glad you like the muffins. Oh, can you get a picture of the bear?

  • September 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I agree with Penny, I love your new house and Michael has done a great job with the patio. I’ve never heard of a skink and I can assure you I would not have gone out to look at it either. However, I will say that I think you would be safe if a Georgia boy said you would be. They are wise about the outdoors and creatures. I happen to know ’cause I’m a southern girl.

    Blueberries make the best muffins. I’m sure your kitchen must have smelled wonderful.

  • September 12, 2013 at 4:19 am

    I have no idea what a skink is but my NYC-city-girl instincts are agreeing with yours. Run. And take these muffins with you.

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