After moving up from Atlanta and moving in with David and me, Sharon and Anthony finally found the perfect apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. For nearly four months we had lived together in as much harmony as a family of four, a dog, a cat (and baby Dashiell, Maggy, and Andy as regulars) can manage. Finally the time had come for Sharon and Anthony to make their new home.
Friday morning they headed to Bridgeport to load the contents of their storage unit onto a truck. En route to Queens they dropped off a couple of bookcases for David to paint—one “Flashy Sapphire,” the other “Cerulean Blue”—and then headed into the city to start unpacking.
David’s plan was to paint the bookcases on Friday, second coat them on Saturday, and then we’d deliver the gleaming shelving units on Sunday afternoon.
“Do you need anything else?” I asked as they finished the last of their coffee and packaged up the Spanish potato and egg torta Anthony had made to sustain them in the exhausting days ahead.
Anthony slowly shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“In fact when you drop off those book cases this Sunday,” Sharon added, “we’re cooking for you!”
“Are you sure?” I questioned. “I usually bring a casserole to people on moving day.”
“We’ll be fine, Mom. Really.”
All Friday afternoon and Saturday David worked with purpose as he prepared the bookcases and a coffee table for Sharon and Anthony’s new home. With the two of them out of the house, I kept busy tidying up, but as I cleaned out closets and repurposed their room, I longed to cook for them.
Late Saturday afternoon as I was sipping a cup of tea and playing a quick game of solitaire I got a little SOS. “Can you bring brunch/lunch tomorrow?” Sharon texted. “Remember we don’t have a microwave or a dishwasher!” I responded with a single word—”Sure!”
With a rotisserie chicken and a head of cabbage as inspiration I set out to make familiar fall favorites– a pot of rich, spicy chicken chili and a bowl of creamy confetti slaw, but on that crisp autumn day I was itching to create something new. The meal begged for cornbread, and when pumpkin entered my mind I actually believed for a second I had come up with something original. Unfortunately, Google confirmed—not a chance!
Developing the recipe was easy. My favorite cornbread recipe in “Perfect Recipes For Having People Over” calls for a can of creamed corn. By subbing a can of pumpkin for the corn and adding a little pumpkin pie spice, it only took one try for me to get it right.
On Sunday David and I loaded the two brilliant blue book cases into the U-Haul van we had rented for the day. In between us sat the pot of chili and a basket of treats for the housewarming party.
Sharon and Anthony had described the wonderfully diverse neighborhoods that make up Jackson Heights, but as we crossed the Whitestone Bridge and drove past Citi Field, we wondered what kind of community had drawn our kids.
As we neared their apartment building the streets started to clog. In the distance I could hear a high school band and caught a glimpse of Latina majorettes parading down the street. A sympathetic traffic cop slid the barricade aside and let us pass with our load. We parked and each did our part to haul it into the well-kept tobacco-hued brick building. “Good bones this building’s got,” I commented. They had indeed found a good home. A one-bedroom, but with extra-large, high-ceilinged rooms and a couple roomy alcoves, one for their overflowing kitchen, another perfect for a little bar.
Anthony and Sharon had indeed done well and as we sat for that late Sunday lunch, we knew this was the first of many beautiful meals around another family table.
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal, divided
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) melted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Set corn stick pans or a 12-cup muffin tin (each cup with ½ cup capacity) in oven to heat while making batter.
- Heat pumpkin puree in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in 1 cup of the cornmeal to make a very thick pasty mush. Remove from heat and whisk in buttermilk, then eggs, and finally butter.
- Mix remaining 1 cup of cornmeal with flour, sugar, spice, baking powder, salt, and soda in a medium bowl. Pour wet ingredients into dry; stir until just combined.
- Remove muffin tin from oven, spray lightly with vegetable cooking spray or brush with bacon drippings (see note above). Divide batter evenly among the sticks or cups. (If making muffins, a spring-action ice cream scoop works well). Bake until sticks or muffins are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Turn sticks or muffins onto a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve.