On Tuesday, our friends Judy and Paul came over for muffins, tea, and talk. We discussed many things but one topic was the movie The Big Short, which is about the 2008 financial crisis and the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble. This utterly engaging and creative movie is now available on DVD, and I think it should be required viewing for everyone over sixteen. Make that fifteen.
Only a few people saw the financial crisis coming, and some of these people are profiled in the movie. However, a few years before the fall, some of us could see that housing prices had become so high that average folks simply could not afford them. And despite the drop in prices that came about after the Great Recession, houses are still too expensive for many people.
A couple of years ago, I remember walking with my daughter in her South Portland neighborhood, and we passed a cute little Cape that was for sale.
“I checked on the price,” Shannon said, “and it’s going for $250, 000.”
“Son of a biscuit!” I said, or something to that effect. The house was sweet and well cared for. It was also what I would call a “bread and butter” house, an average little home perfect for a family just starting out. Nice but modest and nothing special. Certainly not special enough to warrant such a high price.
“How can average people afford such prices?” I asked.
“They can’t,” Shannon replied. “That’s why so many people rent. Or, they buy homes farther away and commute to their jobs.”
But even in Gorham, a town outside Portland, a modest but well-kept home with three bedrooms starts at $200,000. (In central Maine, where I live, it’s about $150,000.) Now, I realize that for other parts of the country, these prices might sound like chump change, but consider who Maine’s largest employer is: Hannaford Supermarket. Certainly, some people at the top make a good salary, but most of the people working for Hannaford don’t make a living wage. Most of them aren’t even technically working full time and therefore don’t receive benefits.
And rents aren’t exactly cheap, either. This means that in Maine, as well as in much of the rest of the country, housing prices or rent prices are a real burden for a significant part of the population. I’m not clever enough to come up with a solution, but do we really want a society where average wages cannot buy an average house? Or rent a decent apartment? (Throw in the cost of education and transportation, and no wonder you have a restive populace.)
This is a weighty topic. A good thing, then, on Tuesday, that we had apple muffins on Tuesday to sweeten the conversation. These muffins have a nut-crumb topping that would be good on almost any muffin, say, blueberry or pumpkin or banana.
Apple Muffins with a Nut-Crumb Topping
Adapted from a Betty Crocker recipe
For the muffins:
- 2 cups of flour
- 3 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1/4 cup of vegetable oil or melted butter, cooled slightly
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 egg
- 1 apple, peeled and grated
For the topping:
- 1/3 cup of brown sugar, packed
- 1/3 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease the muffin tin. This recipe will make either 12 regular sized muffins or 6 large muffins.
- In a small bowl, mix the topping—the brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon.
- In another small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
- In a large bowl, beat the egg. Add the milk and the oil or butter. Mix well. Add the grated apple and sugar. Mix again.
- Add the flour mixture, stirring only until the batter is mixed.
- Divide the dough among the muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with some of the crumb-nut topping.
- Bake for 20 or 25 minutes or until the tops are brown.
- Let the muffins rest in the tin on a rack for five minutes before popping them out.
- Enjoy with a bit of butter, which, for this Franco-American, improves many, many things.