what not to do at starbucks + lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins

lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.com

I am a fool.

Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness and didn’t pay it forward?

Over the weekend, I treated myself to the drive-thru Starbucks. Love the drive-thru. The line of cars was a mile long and I willfully waited because I craved a good cup of coffee. However, I couldn’t help but notice the woman in front of me. She was staring me down in her rear view mirror. Like, really staring me down. No, I didn’t shower. And yes, my hair always looks this way. What’s the problem lady?

I had no clue what was about to happen next…

lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.com

She PAID for me! What? Crazy lady paid for my coffee! I was shocked.

Then I froze.

Convinced this was a hoax, the girl at the window assured me that “This happens more often that you think…” (read: now it’s your turn to reciprocate).

But I freaked out.

And fled the scene!

Why didn’t I pay for the person behind me? Didn’t I hear about the 11 hour pay-it-forward chain at the drive-thru in Florida last month? Well, no. I didn’t. Apparently I live in a cave where contact with the outside world is non-existent because I hide inside and take pictures of food all day.

Lame excuse.

I’m just like customer #379 who broke the Floridian chain.

lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.comlemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.com

Sad and confused I returned back to my cave, riddled with guilt. Hot coffee in tow. It’s not that I didn’t want to pay-it-forward. My perception was seemingly paralyzed. Even more embarrassing, I only had $2 which covers just about nothing at Starbucks except for a regular coffee with half & half. That’s my jam.

So, the following day I went back to the drive-thru. I had a plan. I patiently waited on line; I stared down the vehicle behind me. When I got to the window, I popped my head out like a giraffe and paid for the unsuspecting Honda Pilot. I did it! Pay-it-forward success.

lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.comlemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.com

That’s the back story behind these muffins.

The initial plan for Saturday morning was to bake something. It was a toss up between traditional lemon poppy seed or regular corn muffins. I took a chance and combined the two. The zest and juice of 1 lemon brightened the flavor, while crunchy poppy seeds echoed the texture of the cornmeal. They’re made with buttermilk too which makes them soft and fluffy.

I’m always looking for new ways to get creative with cornmeal.



lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.comlemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.com

So, what’s the life lesson?

Being a human is awkward.

I felt like a fool for not reciprocating. Of course I wanted to do the right thing but it just didn’t happen. Hence my redemption. My sincere redemption. I baked to channel my guilt. I discovered something new. Perfection is flawed, and without fools like myself we would have nothing to learn from.

Perhaps customer #379 should read this and put it back into the system, don’t you think?

lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 12
  • 1½ c. flour
  • ½ c. cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. poppy seeds
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of fine grain sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅓ c. oil
  • ⅔ c. sugar
  • ¾ c. buttermilk
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper cups.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients; flour, cornmeal, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another bowl mix together the wet ingredients; eggs, oil, sugar, buttermilk and the zest and juice of a lemon. Whisk well to combine.
  4. Gently combine the dry and wet ingredients.
  5. Spoon the batter into your muffin cups, about ¾ full. You should be able to get 10-12 muffins.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.
  7. Cool inside the tin and then transfer to a wire rack.




lemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.comlemon poppy seed cornmeal muffins | theclevercarrot.com


  1. says

    HAH. i love this post. being a human is totally awkward. random acts of kindness are so wonderful, but then you have to think about how to react next and it can get weird, totally weird. and being alone with muffins and a camera all day is so comfortable, no?! i feel you, girl. beautiful muffins :)

    • Emilie says

      Thanks Molly! Right? Awkward is my middle name. Before posting, anyone I told this story to said the same thing ‘You paid for the guy behind you right?’ and I felt like such an idiot. Because as you know, I fled the scene! It felt good to go back and pay it forward :)

    • Emilie says

      Hi Julie! I have to say, it’s a lot easier to look back now and laugh at myself because at the time I felt like such a fool! And everyone else thought so too. Ah well, you live and you learn. Thanks so much for your sweet words! :)

  2. says

    Haha, loved this Emilie! This being human thing is awkward for sure ;-) — I could absolutely see myself doing the same thing — freezing and then feeling horrible about it … you rectified beautifully — you did it!! And these muffins look delightful. Lemon and poppy seed is just one of those timeless life pleasure combinations ♡.

    • Emilie says

      Thank you Kelly. I always feel better when others share the same awkwardness as it makes you feel more human you know? Putting it back in the system felt incredibly satisfying. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Surprising a complete stranger made my day. I hope it made hers too!
      I appreciate your sweet compliments- lemon anything is always good in my book. Timeless indeed! xx

  3. says

    Stunning, stunning! I love these photos. And adding cornmeal to lemon poppyseed? Genius. Must make! The pay it forward thing at Starbucks is definitely a thing! My friend does it all the time. Glad you got in on that good will!

    • Emilie says

      Hi Dana! See? Even your friend knows what to do at Starbucks! That’s how much of an idiot I am! How do I not hear about these things? I told you I lived in a cave… Now, I will be the pay-it-forward queen ;)
      The combo of lemon and cornmeal is unexpected, yet lovely. The acidy from the lemon & buttermilk make them super soft and tender. Enjoy! x

  4. says

    What a funny story! A few years back our church had a “Random Acts of Kindness” Novemember where we tried to unexpectedly bless people. In addition to the pay it forward at Starbucks, one of the things we did was head to a neighborhood with rakes and brooms, and then ask people if we could rake their leaves and clean up their yards. You should have seen some of their faces! Some graciously thanked us and said yes. Others shut their door in our faces. The really fun ones were when no one was home and we cleaned their yard anyway. Imagine their surprise when they returned!

    • Emilie says

      Wow! How wonderful Andrea! I’ve never heard of anything like this. Funny how people react to such things, you know? I love that fact that you (and your crew) cleaned up some of the yards with no one home! I can’t even imagine their faces. Acts of kindness like this really bring people together and make us seem more human. Love it. Thank you for sharing :)

  5. says

    Oh Em, I don’t think you should ever feel guilty! Whilst I think pay it forward is a nice concept, you spend your life being generous to the rest of the world, I reckon you should just accept the occasional bonus – the universe has its own way of balancing things up in the end.. :) And snap girlfriend, I made poppyseed lemon cake on the weekend! :)

    • Emilie says

      I know! But I can’t help it! It’s the Italian guilt… And I’m not surprised that we baked the same thing over the weekend. Not one bit ;)

  6. Ruby88 says

    This post made me laugh my head off! yes, humans are awkward and how funny like non-humans we freeze like a deer in headlights. For a minute I thought you were going to give that Starbucks person some lemon poppy muffins!

  7. says

    Being a human is awkward, that could be my mantra, thanks for putting it into words for me! I love your whole story, adorable AND I love ALL things corn and lemons and since my daughter has been begging me to make lemon poppy seed muffins for oh, I don’t know how long…this recipe sounds perfect! Off to bake up a batch right now.

  8. says

    Totally understand how you feel, you were caught so unawares. You made up for it beautifully, I would have reacted in exactly the same way. The muffins look so light and fresh with a beautiful combination of flavours and as always love your photos Emilie. :)

  9. says

    Haha! I love that story and this could totally happen to me. I’m guessing it’s because you don’t have a “script” for these kind of situations and you often question your initial reaction afterwards. At least, that’s what happens to me.
    Also: how pretty are these muffins! Pretty and so much better than the Starbucks ones;)

    • Emilie says

      Yes! Life unscripted, that’s for sure. And then you have all the time in the world to look back and criticize yourself! Life is a work in progress… then we can stuff out face with muffins ;) Thanks Denise! xx

  10. says

    This was so down to earth and refreshing to read Emilie! it made me laugh! It’s honestly not a bad thing at all – the fact that you felt so bad AND then went back the next day shows that your intention was 100% there- you just needed to be given the opportunity to inhale + act on it! It’s not your fault that you didn’t know – at all! If anything it makes me feel better for all the awkward crap that I somehow manage to do. You are only one person in a world full of yet more imperfect humans. And hey, you got a good story out of it ;)

    • Emilie says

      You are so sweet. Sometmes it’s hard to separate yourself from a situation while you’re actually in the situation (clearly demonstrated by my fleeing the scene!) but the feeling of giving back always wins. Whether it’s immediate or down the line it’s all good. :)

  11. says

    Ha! Totally, we are awkward, strange creatures indeed. One minute impulsive, next minute indecisive and full of (baking) guilt and regret :) Hats off to you Emilie for paying it forward, albeit at a later moment, but full of thought and wisdom in your action. Now… drive through Starbucks? We lost many of our Starbucks in Australia years ago… it just didn’t take off. (and certainly didn’t have drive thru’s). I don’t know why, because we LOVE our coffee down under. Trivia for the day.. did you the know the ‘flat white’ coffee was an Aussie invention? True story :)
    BTW, stand out muffins. Love lemon/poppyseed combo. Right up there with orange/poppyseed combo. Ahhh decisions.

  12. Amy P says

    Hahaha! I used to work at Starbucks (mainly drive-thru in the early mornings) and yeah, pay-it-forward happened occasionally. I never resented the person who stopped the chain though; you never know if the person behind you ordered one drink or ten for the office!! Safer just to say you’ll buy *a* drink for the car behind you rather than pay for their whole order. Still a nice surprise; less commitment ;)

    Also, “like a giraffe” made me laugh out loud for real. As a short person, my whole upper body tends to pop out like a gopher.

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