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Sweet Spring Hibiscus Lemonade and Cherry Nectarine Masa Muffins

You've heard the saying "Life is but a bowl of cherries." Yeah. Full of tiny sweet things...but everyone has a hard pit. Pretty accurate, I guess. But for me life has been a bit more like a bowl of lemons...and I don't like lemonade - either the kind you drink in a glass or the excuse of sound offered as "music" by that cheap tramp they call Beyonce. But I digress...

Fruits are coming in season here in California and there are lots of lovely things you can make with these things. Yesterday I picked up some dried hibiscus flowers, dried nectarines, and fresh cherries while I was out and about. At home I already had a ton of lemons from our lemon tree I needed to wash and begin to process. I love cherries. AND I love hibiscus. I frequently use hibiscus to blend in the tea I drink each morning and any time I visit a Mexican restaurant I get a hibiscus agua fresca if they have them. Hibiscus is tangy and tart and full of vitamin C. It's also good for balancing your blood pressure if you have such issues. But I just like the lovely flavor and intense color.

When I was at the mercado I also picked up some hoja santa, cal and whole maize. The woman at the counter asked me if I was making tamales. I had considered it. They had the banana leaves too...but I'm not. I've never made the cheery variety before and I've never worked with banana leaves. I got the maize and cal to try my hand at making homemade tortillas sometime in the near future. But I did have some already ground masa harina at home and she gave me the inspiration to make some masa cherry muffins. And there was so much hibiscus in the bag I bought I thought I'd use some to make hibiscus lemonade. I don't particularly like regular lemonade. Normally I just use my lemons for cooking and salad dressing. So, I came home and got to work.

Making the hibiscus drink is easy. I just put two cups of dried hibiscus flowers in a pot with about a gallon of water and sugar (to taste). It takes quite a bit of sugar to counter the tang of hibiscus and lemon. I used 2.5 cups of powdered sugar. I use powdered sugar because it dissolves more readily. Just be sure if you use powdered sugar that it does not contain corn starch. The corn starch will make the beverage cloudy and thicken when heating. I boiled the hibiscus and sugar in the water for about 20 minutes while I juiced 20 lemons. I strained out any pulp from the lemon juice being sure to press all the juice from the pulp. Then I strained the hibiscus flowers out of the syrupy hibiscus tea and added it to the lemon juice. I tasted it to be sure it had enough sugar and added a little more water. But I still left the wine colored beverage a little on the concentrated side so I could use it to make mixed drinks, salad dressing, or add it in small amounts to flavor carbonated water.

The muffins were pretty easy too. I started by turning my oven on to preheat to 425. Then I began pitting and halving a little over two cups of fresh cherries. I diced 4 dried nectarine halves and added them to the cherries and set them aside. In a mixing bowl I combined some ghee, two eggs, some sour cream, milk, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder. I don't measure, so I don't know how much of everything I use. It's kinda by muscle memory. I just know how it should look and feel. Once the first round of ingredients was well combined I started to add the masa harina until it was a little thicker than cake-batter. Then I added a dash of St. Germaine and the fruit and filled a greased muffin pan with the batter. I baked them for 45 minutes at 425. They came out tender, sweet, and lovely...just like my bum used to be when I was younger. ANYWAY... the muffins are inspired by traditional Mexican sweet tamales and are made this time of year when the first cherries are picked for the season. My muffins are baked, but tamales are steamed. It gives the masa a different texture...more like a dense sponge cake. If you try this out I hope you enjoy.

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