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The Muffin Lady returns

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

"It is the little things that matter the most; the preparation of a homemade meal, a hot bowl of soup or a warm cookie that the ones you love will remember, laugh over and cherish for all time"

-Randi Lee Levin, "Sharing Mountain Recipes"

The little tin recipe box that read "This is for Randi, no one else," stuffed with one part 1940s magazine clippings and two parts grandmother’s secret cinnamon strudel cake and potato salad instructions, can now be found in Dolly’s Bookstore.

The treasured heirloom, provides the backbone for Randi Lee Levin’s second cookbook, "Sharing Mountain Recipes: The Muffin Lady’s Everyday Favorites," a 300-page rolodex of hand-me-down, home-made, everyday foods plucked from the kitchen drawers of Levin’s family and friends.

"The box is not very large, but I swear it’s bottomless I’m still digging out recipes," she confesses.

Levin, nicknamed "the Muffin Lady" by Evergreen, Colorado’s post office, received worldwide recognition for her first book, "Baking at High Altitude: The Muffin Lady’s Old Fashioned Recipes" when it received Gourmand World Cookbook Awards’ "Best First Cookbook in the World" for 2004.

Like her initial foray into cooking for a living, and her arrival on the cookbook scene, Levin took a neighbor’s advice to heart, she says. Though haute cuisine is booming, Levin observed that for home cooking, people swap recipes that require minimal preparation and please a crowd.

"There’s a whole big new culinary-organic world that is developing Asian and Mediterranean dishes, but when you ask everyday people, they want everyday food," she explained. "Not many culinary professionals make meatloaf."

"In the book, I provide dishes inspired by sometimes 100-year-old recipes and I update them a little," she continued. "Some of these recipes you have no idea how many neighbors asked me for them."

Grandmother Gert, the woman responsible for teaching Levin to bake before she could speak, she says, bequeathed the treasure trove of family treats and penned the personal note two days before her 93rd birthday.

"It wasn’t like she sat there and taught me how to cook I learned from watching and helping," she explained. "I used to climb up on my grandmother’s drawer pulls and help her that’s how I learned."

Gert was born on Valentine’s Day, 1900, says Levin, so when she hosts a discussion and book signing at Dolly’s this Thursday, it will be an anniversary of sorts.

Seven corrected recipes are included in "Sharing Mountain Recipes," and Levin prefaces her recipes with her self-taught tips for high-altitude baking and cooking perfection, including:

1.All cooked and baked products will take longer too cook. This can be anywhere from an extra minute for scrambled eggs, five minutes more for muffins, to more than an hour for roasts.

2. Add an extra one to two tablespoons per cup liquid called for.

3. Though many books state that when baking at high altitude you should increase the oven temperature by approximately 25-degrees Fahrenheit, she does not.

"If you raise the temperature, yes, the product will work, but if you wait all day to serve it, it will taste a day old," Levin warns. "If you raise the temperature all you’re really doing is drying the food out, because you’re just raising the dry heat."

Raised in Philadelphia, Levin went to college in Colorado which is where she learned using trial and error, how to adjust family recipes. By cooking chocolate chip cookies, she says she earned her keep.

But later, when she got a job teaching at-risk youth, and earned her rent otherwise, baking and cooking for friends and family only. Then, in 1991, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

"At the time, I lived in a 680-foot shack and my neighbor helped me to take care of my kids," she recalls. "I’d pay her with cookies and she suggested I market them."

Levin soon became known as "The Muffin Lady," peddling her baked goods throughout Evergreen, and then selling them at cafes and health food stores like Wild Oats.

"I’m single," she explains. "I went to my grandmother’s tin box which I had inherited and I found some muffin recipes, made the high-altitude adjustments, made them up, cut them up and threw them in a basket every day and the town just loved it.

The Muffin Lady says she had to write another book because "food is made to be shared."

"Love and food become associated from the very moment we’re born," she says. "As we grow up, families meet and there’s always food. It’s an offering of love, it’s an offering of friendship and it’s an offering of part of yourself."

Dolly’s Bookstore is located at 510 Main Street. "The Muffin Lady" Randi Lee Levin is scheduled to speak about her new book, "Sharing Mountain Recipes" on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 2:30 p.m. For more information, call Dolly’s at 649-8062.


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