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some days just require improvising

August 1st, 2010 | 4 Comments »

As I write this, my boy is somewhere on the road between our home and the Southeastern USA, traveling across four states with his student leadership group from our church for a week-long missions trip to an impoverished area in the southern part of West Virginia. The road trip will take two days before they arrive at their destination.

My boy has been away before, so this is nothing new, this being gone for a week at a time. He’s been spending part of the past 8 summers away, and he always enjoys it. He has to; he was never given the luxury of having a choice in the matter. Being an only child, he was pushed away from my side by necessity. I couldn’t hover, I couldn’t at all. He had to learn to play by himself, read by himself, entertain himself and sleep by himself. And he didn’t have the advantage of siblings to soften any landing that occurred in his life. He was the baby bird on the limb, Mama coaxing him out of the nest at a tender young age and for the most part, he’s done well with those landings. He’s comfortable being away from me, and this is a good thing. Because I know that when he’s ready to fly and really spreads his wings, that he will soar mightily. And I am thrilled and excited to see where this missions trip will take him, in his walk with his Faith, and in his life. He’s had it good, this boy of mine. A dose of reality that life isn’t always kind, that homes aren’t always luxurious and comfortable and that a meager way of life happens to even the kindest people. We all need that perspective shift sometimes to keep us grounded and real.

When I dropped him off with his group and drove off, I expected some jubilation. I expected a slight sigh of relief for a quiet house and no chauffeur duties in the week ahead, meals planned for Mike and I and no one texting me to bring home ice cream as I am getting off work. What I got was something completely unexpected. I was wracked with worry. Because for now, until the team lands at their final destination, I have no clue what’s happening and I have to put an enormous amount of faith in the process. He is in good hands, the team leaders are amazing adults, with soft hearts and strong spirits. He will be safe with them. But there is a long, long and open road that they are on, one that isn’t always so friendly. Or protective. Two vans, one large trailer, and a laughing, wonderful group of incredible young men and women all in high spirits for the adventure that awaits. The thought of anything disastrous happening to them haunts me. And surprises me too. I didn’t expect this feeling, but I don’t doubt it’s validity. That’s my boy. It’s a piece of my heart on that road between here and the South. If I wasn’t worried just a little, that in itself would be worrisome. So I trust, and I remember to breathe. And to pray for them all. Especially those behind the wheel.

And so the expected excitement of sending him off and a week with my spouse has been replaced with this Mama’s heart, and a need to comfort myself. With an abundance of fresh blueberries on hand, a warm muffin seemed perfect. But like this unexpected shift in my day, my favorite recipe was lacking in one very important ingredient and for a moment I actually felt like I had no energy to punt and see what happened. Most of my recipes are sort of like Hail Mary passes, or the punt that will win the game. I close my eyes, do what needs to get done and hope for the best. It’s like craving lemonade when faced with oranges, or planning the trip of a lifetime only to get diverted to a different destination.

Or like this particular morning, wanting bran muffins with fresh blueberries, and ending up with something more like oatmeal. It’s reaching for dried cherries to add some flavor, and dumping what was left of some crushed almonds into the batter to use them up. It meant adding some yogurt to regular milk to create a buttermilk-like tang. More importantly, it meant drowning out the recurring voice in my head that left me lost and empty. The task of making a simple muffin, with necessary improvising, took away the worry. And the result was both peace of mind, with a side of oh-so-very-delicious.

Kate’s Blueberry Bran Muffins

Heat oven to 425°. Prepare muffins tins with cooking spray, or liners.

Mix together in a large bowl:

1-1/2 c. All Bran Cereal
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. maple syrup

Allow mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes, until softened.

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

3/4 c. unbleached AP flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt

When bran mixture is soft, gently stir in the flour mixture only until just incorporated. At this point, add a cup of frozen blueberries and gently fold them in. Scoop into prepared muffin pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to wire cooling rack.

KATE’S NOTES: If you don’t have All Bran cereal on hand, you can use all oatmeal in the first step. Another option to use would be a commercial multi-grain hot cereal mix like Bobs Red Mill 7-Grain or 10-Grain for the All-Bran. I’ve done this both ways and the results are always delicious. The ground flaxseed is my addition. Leave it out if you don’t have it on hand. And you can use all white flour, or all wheat flour for these if you wish.

To sub for buttermilk, you can use the lemon juice/vinegar option (1 t. either juice or vinegar per 1 c. liquid, stir together then allow to sit for 10 minutes to curdle) or you can mix about 1/3 c. of plain or vanilla yogurt into 1-1/2 c. of plain milk, or even soy milk. I use soy milk, and love how the added yogurt gives it some extra moisture.

Some dried fruit is a nice addition to these; you can use apricots, cherries, figs, dates or prunes. Mince about a 1/2 c. of your preferred fruit and add it to the cereal mixture in the first step. The soaking in buttermilk softens it greatly, and it almost melts in the oven leaving tiny, tangy sweet pockets in your muffins. And adding in 1/3 to 1/2 c. of your choice of chopped nuts also makes for a fine addition.

Can a food item be too healthy?

November 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

The FDA is pretty darn good at sounding the alarm over foods that one shouldn’t eat, or maybe not in excess. They’re just as good at recanting that advice after a year or so, more research and maybe some hand deep in their back pocket, but do they ever go the opposite direction? Can a food item be so stuffed with good ingredients, a high health quotient and incredible good taste that it’s possibly too good for you? Would the mighty FDA ever come at us like a pack of angry Chihuahuas for bypassing the french fry in favor of whole grains and fruit?

Eh, I think not. But this muffin might come a wee bit close to inducing a good health coma, if that is indeed possible.

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Muffins are one of my favorite snack items to make. There is so much that can be done to your basic muffin that I could spend from now until next November making a different variety each week and likely never run out of options. They tend to have a split personality though; as much as everyone wants to believe that eating a muffin is healthier, most of them sold in stores or coffee shops aren’t any better for you than eating a cookie or a croissant. And they’re HUGE, usually. Much too huge, and come on….who eats only half of those monsters? Uh, huh. That’s what I thought.

These basic whole grain muffins are one of my favorite recipes to play with, and they’re loaded with healthy ingredients. With their good hearty texture, they’re wonderful for any eating need from morning coffee to a late night indulgence and they adapt to any kind of extra I can dream up to mix into the batter. I’ve made them with zucchini, chopped pears and pecans, banana, blueberries and here in this version with apples. They freeze beautifully too, as any good muffin should.

Whole Grain Muffins
by Kate

1 ½ c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 T. butter, melted
¼ c. oil
¼ c. real maple syrup
1-1/2 c. All-Bran cereal
½ c. packaged 7-Grain cereal (like Bob’s Red Mill; 5-Grain or 10-Grain is fine too)
3 T. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. AP flour (can sub Whole wheat flour for half, if desired)
2 T. ground flaxseed
¼ c. brown sugar
1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda
¼ t. salt.

Heat oven to 375°. Line muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, butter, oil and maple syrup. Stir in All Bran cereal, oats and the 7-Grain cereal. Let stand for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend in the wet ingredients and fold together until just combined. Scoop into muffins tins to 2/3 full and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched. Cool on wire rack for about 10-15 minutes, then remove muffins from pan to cool completely.

Added ingredients– 1 c. blueberries, frozen (do not thaw) or fresh; 1 c. chopped pear like a D’Anjou or Bosc; 1-2 mashed ripe bananas, 1/2 c. of any nut you prefer; 1 c. shredded zucchini; 1 medium apple, cored and chopped or shredded (or about a half cup of chunky applesauce), 1/2 c. coconut (delicious with banana and pecans)  The possibilities are endless for what you put in these!!

And yes! Pumpkin, sweet potato or even squash is an option too, but check out this recipe for a delicious muffin idea with those ingredients.

Wordless Wednesday

April 22nd, 2009 | 2 Comments »


Banana Bran Muffins

Mix in bowl until blended:
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 T. butter, melted
1/3 c. unsweetened applesauce

Add in 1 1/2 c. All Bran cereal and 1/2 c. whole oats; stir to combine. Allow to sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mash two ripe bananas on a plate and set aside.

In separate bowl, sift together:
3/4 c. AP flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 T. ground flax seed

Gently stir the bananas into the milk/bran mixture. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and fold gently to incorporate. Do not overmix. Scoop into muffin tins lined with paper cups (or sprayed) and bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are springy. Cool on wire rack.

Regular milk, or soy milk can be subbed for buttermilk. To make buttermilk (or sour milk) mix one teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice per cup of regular milk. Stir to combine and allow to sit until curdled. Plain or vanilla yogurt can also be used- stir about 1 cup of yogurt with half a cup of water.

This recipe is wonderful with frozen or fresh blueberries. Toss one cup of fresh washed berries with a tablespoon of flour to keep them from sinking. For using frozen blueberries, gently fold them in, undrained and unrinsed, after you incorporate the wet and dry ingredients. Lemon zest is particularly nice with a blueberry addition; use about a teaspoon or two, with an additional 2 tablespoons of juice as well. Shredded apples also make a nice fruit substitution. Core and shred about two small tart apples and add to wet ingredients. You can stir in a half cup of extra applesauce with the wet ingredients, or even use apple butter (same proportion)  for more flavor.