I used to be a member of the Really Spontaneous Theater Company, an extraordinarily talented group of improv actors with whom I’ve acted very silly in front of paying customers for a number of years. We started working together in New York in the mid-80s and formed our current group after Dan and I moved to Los Angeles in 1997. We’ve done a lot of great shows during our time together, but the one that stands out the most for me is RockuMockumentary, an improvised musical parody of VH-1’s Behind the Music. We all played multiple characters and we all had to improvise music and dialogue not only as our characters but as certain celebrities. Some people, my good friend and fellow castmate Jim Meskimen in particular, excel at impersonating others. This is not a talent I possess. But, everyone else was doing it, so I had to step up to the plate.
There was a section in the middle of the show where a bunch of celebrities talk about how the fictitious band that the show is based on has affected each celeb’s life. The only celebrity I could even come close to impersonating was Martha Stewart, who I characterized as a lock-jawed stiff who overpronounced her consonants. The one thing I had in my favor was that the show ran during the time Martha was in the slammer. I cannot even begin to calculate the mileage I got from having my Martha use street slang to discuss her tats, bitches and various pieces of homemade weaponry she now prided herself in creating. Martha always brought down the house. I knew it had nothing to do with my impersonation and everything to do with Martha’s plight.
One night toward the end of the show’s run, I was feeling pretty tapped out with regard to what new kinds of jailhouse high jinks Martha could be involved with. Since I had been doing improv for a very long time, I learned that the best stuff came out when I didn’t think too much. That night turned out to be a revelation. When it was Martha’s turn to talk about the band, I started out by recounting the batch of pear-ginger muffins I had whipped up in my latrine the previous evening, inspired by the fake band’s newest CD. Not only did the audience howl for what seemed like five minutes, but it got me thinking that I could probably whip these up myself in the kitchen. So here they are.
I have nothing but respect for Martha, and the fact that her plight inspired so much laughter―and good muffins―is just another feather in her cap as far as I’m concerned. For reals, yo.
Thank You Martha Muffins
Makes a dozen muffins
Using firm pears makes all the difference here. When I was chopping them, I was thinking, Crap, I’m gonna have to make another batch because these pears are too hard. Not so! The pears had great flavor and texture in the muffins. I switched out applesauce for eggs because I wanted to add to the pear flavor, and I liked the taste much better than when I used eggs. This recipe can easily walk on the vegan side by substituting soy yogurt for the sour cream and Earth Balance or another nondairy margarine for the butter. If you go with Earth Balance, I’d use less salt, especially in the crumb topping, because I find Earth Balance a bit salty.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup almond meal
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup sour cream
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups peeled, chopped pears (2 ripe but firm pears)
1. To make the topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl and, with clean hands, work through until mixture resembles crumbs. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a muffin pan by lining with baking cups or lightly greasing and flouring. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger and cinnamon.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, applesauce, sour cream, almond milk, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix together. Gently stir in the pears.
4. Spoon batter into muffin pan until each cup is ¾ full. Sprinkle each muffin with crumb topping. Bake 23-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool about 10 minutes in the pan before transferring to rack. Leave them alone for at least 30 minutes before diving in; let cool completely before transferring to a container. I recommend eating these within 2 days.