I've picked up tennis again. Slowly, haltingly.
It was Colin's idea to start playing, then our son Alex joined in, and now the three of us play on weekends while Andrew runs the nearby track or reads a book in the sun.
I was never a competitive player, but as a teenager I played a respectable game; I was good. Not excellent, not great, but better than you might think if you'd known me back then. Happily, I've still got technique, a nice swing. Sadly, I'm now lazy. I'm trying harder the more we play, though. I'm striving to hustle.
My favorite part isn't what you'd expect. It should be the outdoors, the time with my family, but I think it's something else. It's the sound I hear when I slam the ball right in that magical spot on the strings, dead center or maybe a touch below, when I know, just by hearing that ping, that the shot will be good, that it'll land where I intend. I wait for that moment, that sound. When it happens, I hear potential, and that drives me to keep playing, keep improving, even when I'm lazy, or I miss, or I tip the racket up too much and overshoot the baseline by a good foot and a half.
Though I love that sound, the ping isn't everything. Plenty of shots go in even if I hit them too low on the racket or too far to the left. I can compensate with my body and the shot sometimes still lands. It's like in basketball, which I also played as a kid: the all-net swish sounds the best, is the most satisfying, but you still get your points even if you bank the shot off the backboard or the ball swirls the rim before dropping in the hoop. The ping is the apex, but it's not the whole mountain.
It's not just tennis, or basketball, or sports in general where we seek this moment. We aim for the sweet spot in all that we do. In work, in art, we lean towards that ping, reaching, stretching, sometimes contorting painfully to get what we're after.
Cause when we do land the shot, when we hear that clear, perfect sound, that gorgeous, resonant, clarion ping, everything seems so good, so right, if just for a beat, if just for a single, fleeting moment.
Recipe for Pumpkin Muffins with pepita sugar
Yogurt, almond meal, and coconut oil join up in these supremely tender muffins. The shimmery topping is perfectly sweet, thanks to grinding some sugar with a handful of salted pepitas. I added a cup of whole wheat pastry flour to the batter to underpin the nutty flavors, but the overall impact -- of pumpkin, of spice, of coconut, of almond -- is delicate and well-balanced, more purring kitten than roaring lion.
Makes 12 muffins
For the muffins:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (lightly packed) almond meal
3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup melted coconut oil (measure after melting)
1/4 cup whole milk, or a touch more
1 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar
For the topping:
1/4 cup salted pepitas
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the center. Fit a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Make the muffins. Into a large bowl, sift the two flours, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the almond meal and give everything a good fluff with your largest whisk. Make a well. Add the pumpkin, yogurt, coconut oil, eggs, milk, almond extract, and sugar. Whisk the ingredients in the center of the bowl, then slowly begin combining them with the dry ingredients. Swap the whisk for a large silicone spatula or wooden spoon to finish beating the ingredients, making sure no floury pockets hide at the bottom of the bowl. (The batter should be quite thick, but you can splash in a teaspoon or two of extra milk if needed.) Divide evenly among the muffin liners, filling each cup to the top. Bake 22-24 minutes, until the caps are nicely browned and crisp in spots and a skewer comes out clean.
Meanwhile, making the topping. In a spice grinder, combine the pepitas and sugar and grind until powdery. Transfer to a small bowl. Place the 3 tablespoons liquid coconut oil in a second small bowl.
Dip and cool. When the muffins are ready, transfer them to a rack. Working with one muffin at a time while they're still warm, invert each muffin, dipping first in coconut oil and then in the pepita sugar. (Swirl as you dip to coat the entire muffin cap.) Return to the rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining muffins. Store leftover muffins in foil, and split and toast the following day.