Story and photos by Mark Richard
“Once a task has once begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”
— Mamaw Faye
Jenny Lavender lives by the words of her grandmother every day.
Portsmouth resident Lavender serves as manager of volunteer services and guild coordinator at Southern Ohio Medical Center and is known to bring food in to her volunteers on a regular basis. In fact, she takes the time to home deliver goods to a former volunteer.
“I love to cook,” Lavender said. “I always have, and now my children and grandchildren have picked up on it and they love to cook.”
She said she brought the children into the kitchen at an early age, first teaching them about what different utensils are used for. Then, she would gradually work up to cooking different dishes.
Cooking is something she learned from her grandmother. She said she remembers her grandmother having a full meal on the table three times a day. No sandwiches in Grandma’s house.
“She would have pork chops and fried potatoes for breakfast and do it all over again for lunch and dinner,” she said.
Lavender has taken that home cooking tradition to heart.
“I’m not a fast food person. I think food makes people happy,” she said.
Lavender sets a menu for her home at the beginning of each week. She said she always buys extra ingredients knowing she will bake something to take to the hospital or elsewhere. Baking is her favorite thing to do in the kitchen. Muffins are her specialty.
When her granddaughter was running for homecoming queen, she needed a fundraising project. The two decided to take orders for and bake cupcakes.
Lavender will take an existing recipe and “tweak it” just a bit and make it her own. Such as her blueberry muffins: She has increased baking time and always adds icing.
“I always put icing on top of my muffins. You taste with your eyes first,” she said.
She said when she is “experimenting,” her husband — John of 32 years — is her taste tester.
“I always let him try it first,” she said. “If he gives the approval, I will let other people try it.”
An “old fashioned” cook, she enjoys the basic necessities in the kitchen — a hand whisk instead of a mixer, for instance. But she likes to try new things. She said a hobby is watching Food Network and HGTV.
When Lavender is not in the kitchen or at her job at the hospital, she is probably filming another episode of “Positively Portsmouth,” which airs on The Zone. She interviews guests throughout the community about things happening in and around Portsmouth. And yes, she always has a sweet treat to give to her guests.
“I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember. I want people to be fed,” Lavender said with her trademark smile. “I like feeding people. I just think it means a lot to people.”
Blueberry White Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 cups flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Streusel Topping (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange paper liners for 18 muffins. Combine flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir in milk, egg, vanilla and butter. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of white chocolate chips and blueberries. Mix until combined.
Spoon into prepared tins, filling almost full. Sprinkle with Streusel Topping.
Bake for 22-25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool slightly. Place remaining chips in a small, heavy duty resealable plastic food storage bag. Microwave on medium power for 30 seconds and knead. Microwave at additional 10-15 second intervals, kneading until smooth. Cut tiny corner from bag; squeeze to drizzle over muffins. Serve warm.
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
Combine sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Before adding chips and blueberries to the batter, place them in a medium bowl and sprinkle them with flour, ensuring both ingredients are coated well. This will keep the white chocolate chips and blueberries from falling to the bottom of the muffin when baking.
If you have large muffin tins, you may want to double this recipe. With a jumbo tin, this recipe will only yield 6 muffins. When using the larger muffin tins, Lavender suggests using vegetable oil cooking spray generously on the tins instead of muffin liners.