Muffin Mondays: Kristen’s Raisin Bran Muffins

For this Christmas week, I’m grateful to have a post from my friend Kristen, of Birthing Beautiful Ideas. On her blog, you’ll find spirited musings about breastfeeding, feminism and philosophy. Her blog is foodie-friendly, too: Kristen loves eating, sharing, and the occasional tryst with an elusive, erotic lobster tail.

When my husband, Tim, and I were expecting our first child, we lived far away from our respective families.  We were a day’s travel from their warm and inviting homes, from impromptu morning coffees and family dinners and holiday celebrations, and (in the forefront of our minds as our son’s birth approached) from the very people whose parenting we hoped to emulate.

Wanting to have our family a bit closer as we began a family of our own, we invited both of our mothers to stay with us for the first two weeks following the birth of our son:

Tim’s mom, the night owl, to help us on what we anticipated would be many sleepless nights of newborn care.

And my mother, the inimitable cook, to help us ensure that we didn’t collapse into a life of take-out meals and boxed food and cold cereal as we adjusted to parenthood.

Thanks to her, we dined on crab cakes and roasted chicken and gargantuan green salads and cheeses and fresh fruit and chocolate cake in the days after our baby was born.  She would bring our meals to our bedroom if I was nursing our son.  She would set a magnificent dining room table that made me forget that I was still in my pajamas at six in the evening.

And each morning, she would fill a tray with coffee, tea, juice, and two scrumptious muffins and set it outside our bedroom door.

These muffins were her “famous” raisin bran muffins.  Warm, slightly crunchy, cinnamonly mild, and chock full of tangy cranberries in those first wintry days of our son’s infancy.

The first two weeks of my son’s life passed with tender moments and insomnia and many delicious meals, and it was soon time for my mother to return to her own home.  (But not before she stocked our freezer with over a dozen meals!)

Before she left, she made sure to whisper in my ear that “the muffin batter makes nearly five to six dozen muffins, so there should be enough batter in the fridge for you and Tim to have muffins for at least the next three or four weeks.”

During those next few weeks, after many sleepless nights, on the days when Tim and I could barely muster up enough energy to pour milk over our cold cereal, it didn’t take that much more effort to scoop some batter into our muffin tray and bake a couple of delicious additions to our morning meal.

And it made Mom feel not so far away after all.

Kristen of Birthing Beautiful

Raisin Bran Muffins

Makes 5 to 6 dozen

4 eggs

1 qt. buttermilk

1 cup oil

5 cups flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 (15 oz.) box Raisin Bran cereal

2 T cinnamon

1 1/2 cups coconut

1 cup chopped pecans

1-2 cups seasonal berries or fruit (e.g. blueberries in summer, cranberries in winter, etc.)

  1. Mix together eggs, buttermilk, and oil until well-blended. Add flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Mix well.
  2. Stir in salt, cereal, cinnamon, coconut, and pecans. Refrigerate mix for 24 hours in an airtight container.  (Batter may be stored in refrigerator up to six weeks.)
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line muffin tin with paper muffin cups. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Add desired berries (blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, etc.) to each individual muffin, making sure to push some of the berries into the batter.
  4. Sprinkle muffin tops with sugar and cinnamon before baking. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Muffin Mondays: Meghan’s Sweet Potato Bran Muffins

For this week’s Muffin Monday, I’m happy to introduce someone very special to me. Meet my cousin, friend, and fellow wordsmith, Meghan J. Ward, of Banff, Alberta. Megan is a freelancer writer on health and wellness, mountain culture, and outdoor sports.  She writes and reflects over at The Campsite and brings her spirited observations today to the topic of food.


I have always been a “dive in head first” kind of person. I rarely read directions and choose instead to figure things out as I go along. However, two things have made me think I might want to do otherwise: Baking and IKEA. After recently moving and putting together an army of IKEA furniture, I learned the hard way that taking apart a chest of drawers with that Star Trek looking wrench is much harder than doing it right the first time using the instructions. My baking exploits in the past have been slightly disastrous too, so today I challenged myself for this muffin post to actually follow a recipe.

This meant delving into the unknown corners of my grocery store here in Banff. Living in a National Park, I wondered if certain ingredients simply would not be available. I also wondered if I’d spend more than my university tuition buying the ingredients for my muffins at the ridiculously inflated prices of this tourist town.

I did.

I chose to use a muffin recipe from Eat, Shrink & Be Merry!by the Podleski sisters. Janet and Greta brought me through my university years and they could do it again. The recipe I chose, wittily titled A Bran New World, aptly described my venture into the unknowns of muffin making.

Soon after getting home with my loot of food, I realized this baking thing would still be improvised no matter how much I wanted to follow the directions. I didn’t have a mixing bowl big enough, and had to settle for using Tupperware and a giant wok instead. The sweet potato I had purchased was soft and mushy on one side, so I performed emergency surgery on it. I nearly blinded myself making orange zest. I had forgotten to buy allspice. I didn’t own a whisk or an apron. Turns out I really was just a wanna-be Muffin Maker.

I did some things just like the pros. I spilled muffin mix on my recipe book, which gave it the “well-used and well-loved” look even Martha Stewart would be proud of. I also remembered to preheat my oven (this is a big step for me!) OK, that’s about all that I did so professionally, but in the end, I didn’t miss a step, and those darn muffin cups looked so happy full of gooey, bran flakey, muffin mix!

As I placed the muffin pan in the oven, I recited my cooking mantra just for good measure, which goes like this: ‘Don’t burn them, don’t burn them, don’t burn them!’ I am notorious for burning things, usually because I am multi-tasking while I bake. Not today! Other than taking a few pics along the way, I stuck to baking until those muffins were in, and out of, the oven.

My new kitchen filled with the smell of a job well done. I didn’t have a toothpick to check if they were done cooking, though, so I had to leap forward in faith and take them out before I burned them into oblivion. My little colony of Bran Muffins were almost ready for the ultimate test: my mouth.

Was it worth my small fortune to make my batch of muffins? Absolutely. And while it’s already Winter in The Rockies, the sweet potato, dried currants, and cinnamon of this batch would also make it perfect for Fall. They warmed my happy soul, and warmed my new apartment with the love that only orange zest and cinnamon have to offer.

Now I know that if I can conquer A Bran New World, I can conquer anything.

A Bran New World

makes 12 regular muffins

1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium potato)

1 cup buttermilk (I substituted plain yogurt)

½ cup packed brown sugar

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 tsp grated orange zest

4 cups Bran Flakes cereal

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup dried currants

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used pecans)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp each ground nutmeg and ground allspice

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚ F. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sweet potato, buttermilk, brown sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and orange zest. Add Bran Flakes and mix well.
  3. In another large bowl, combine flour, currants, nuts, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and allspice. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are moistened. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 17 or 18 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan and cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve warm.

from Eat, Shrink & Be Merry! Great-Tasting Food That Won’t Go from Your Lips to Your Hips!by Janet and Greta Podleski

Muffin Mondays: Kris’s No-Bake Chocolate Chip Bran Muffins

This week, Kris from Married to Chocolate brings her special chocolatey touch to mornings. Kris also specializes in l0w-maintenance: these muffins are almost no-bake, and come together as fast as you’ll eat them.

I’m a serious believer in dessert emergencies–when you gotta have something sweet, stat. As in, right now. As in, yesterday.

I’m also a serious believer in no-bake desserts. I started No-Bake Mondays on Married to Chocolate because I wanted my desserts fast, cheap, and easy. But the real story why I got into no-baking is because I was oven-less for a year and I had to be creative (that, and I’m a lazy baker).

This insanely easy Chocolate Chip Bran Muffin recipe is not entirely no-bake; you need a microwave to make them. Still. Sticking them in a microwave for one and a half minutes beats waiting half an hour to bake them in the oven, don’t you think? So if you’re anything like me and you have the patience of a five-year-old when it comes to desserts, this recipe is for YOU.

I made these for the first time today and they turned out great! I’ve never made muffins before, let alone microwave muffins. Nervous, I stood watching the muffin tray turn in the microwave with my fingers crossed saying, “please rise, please rise, please, please.” And they did!

More than that, the muffins came out ridiculously moist, dense, and not the least bit airy. They’re made with bran so they have a light, whole grain taste to them that’s awesome with chocolate. I topped the muffins with chocolate chips right out of the microwave so the chocolate was melting as I ate them— ayayay. YUM.

A few tips:

You can also make this a regular oven. Preheat at 350 and bake for 25-30 minutes and do the whole toothpick test. I made a bunch with white chocolate chips and cranberry. They were awesome. If you don’t use up all the batter, you can keep it in the freezer for up to four weeks.

Chocolate Chip Bran Muffins

makes 18

1 cup boiling water

2 cups All Bran cereal

1 cup Bran Flakes cereal

2 cups buttermilk

2 eggs, beaten

½ cup vegetable oil

2 ½ cup flour

2 ½ tsp baking soda

½ cup chocolate chips

1 and ½ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

walnuts (optional)

  1. In a large bowl, pour boiling water over cereal. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and mix well (leave some chocolate chips to top with).
  2. Line a plastic muffin tray with paper liners. Spoon batter in 4/5 of the way.
  3. “Bake” in microwave for one minute and a half. Garnish with chocolate chips and walnuts.
  4. Ta-dah! Muffins in 15 minutes–including prep time. Enjoy!

Muffin Mondays: Kim’s Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Muffins

This week on Muffin Mondays, Kim touches on one of the reasons I love muffins so much. When she calls her creation “a bit healthier than your standard brownie,” she shows how muffins balance health and indulgence. At first glance, these may not appear to be the “healthiest” muffins out there. Compared to your average commercial calorie-whopper, however, they are full of wholesome ingredients, and high in protein too. Make them small for help with self-control and reap the delicious rewards! -Jen

Hello everyone, I’m Kim and I have a little food blog called the Ungourmet. I’m such a fan of muffins that I was ecstatic when Jen asked me to be a part of her series, Muffin Mondays.

I started my blog back in February of this year and I’ve been having a lot of fun cooking up a storm (and driving my family crazy with my experimentation!) One of my favorite things to do in my kitchen is bake muffins.

These Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter muffins remind me of a brownie, but with the whole grains and whole wheat flour they are a bit healthier than your standard brownie. They are packed with much yumminess and were a huge hit at my house. I hope you will love them too!

Thanks again Jen for inviting me to be a part of the fun.

Kim from the

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Muffins

by theUngourmet

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/3 cup oil

1 large egg

1/3 cup peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

¼ cup powdered unsweetened cocoa

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

½ cup roasted chopped hazelnuts

¼ cup chopped Spanish peanuts

½ cup dark chocolate chips

½ cup peanut butter chips

  1. Soak the oats in the buttermilk for about 15 minutes. Briefly stir in the oil, egg, peanut butter, and vanilla. Add the remaining ingredients and stir just until combined.
  2. Fill muffin cups evenly with batter (I was able to get 16 muffins out of this mix) and place into a 375 degree oven for 16-18 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Muffin Mondays: Emily’s Spiced Carrot-Date Muffins with Cashews

Happy Monday readers! I’m Emily Cobb, author of art and lifestyle blog “emily’s eye.” It is quite the honor to be your Muffin Monday contributor for I must admit: I am not a professional baker or cook.

I love food though, and have been working in the restaurant industry for seven years so I’m not completely clueless. As an artist, I love combining the flavors of various ingredients as if they are paint on a canvas. When grocery shopping I’ll buy ingredients that interest me rather than having a specific recipe in mind. So when it comes time to cook or bake I become a pantry scavenger and will select items that I feel may mesh well. My goal is for the ingredients to accentuate each others’ best qualities without overwhelming.

Sometimes I come up with kitchen gems . . . sometimes I get laughable flops. The element of surprise when experimenting sure keeps things interesting.

Clearly the creative process is what I really love about cooking – well, the eating part is pretty awesome too. That said, lets talk muffins . . .

For today’s recipe: a medley of medjool dates, cashews, coconut, orange, fresh ginger and cardamom put a funky twist on the typical carrot-nut muffin rut. The spice combination makes these muffins downright mysterious while the dates, like nature’s caramel, add a serious dose of sweetness.

Warning: these muffins may be treading on carrot cake territory. . . not that there’s anything wrong with having dessert for breakfast. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to start your day. (Even if it is at the crack-of-noon, as is typically the case with me.)

As a true American my personal motto is “Go Big or Go Home:” I use a jumbo size muffin tin. This recipe will yield a dozen sensibly sized muffins or 6 big boys.

In closing, big kudos to Jen for creating the opportunity for local (and familial) foodie collaboration. Way to bring people together through baked goods. Viva Muffin Mondays!

Emily of

Emily’s Spiced Carrot-Date Muffins with Cashews

The Dry:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup coarse bran (miller’s bran)

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup coconut flakes (plus a bit extra to garnish)

3 tsp baking powder

1½ tsp ground cardamom

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground clove

½ tsp salt

The Wet:

2 eggs

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup yogurt (plain or vanilla)

4 tbsp softened butter

The Delicious:

3/4 cup shredded carrot

½ cup chopped (& pitted) medjool dates

1/3 cup chopped cashews

2 tbsp shredded fresh ginger (for the best flavor use fresh, otherwise, substitute ½ ground ginger)

1½ tbsp orange zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 400, and use a food processor to shred carrots and a little nub of skinned fresh ginger. Prep the rest of the items by hand and combine each set of ingredients (the dry, the wet, and the delicious) in 3 separate bowls with the dry in the largest bowl (all the ingredients will end up here.)
  2. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Then fold and stir the two forces together until everything is just moistened.
  3. Fold in the remaining ingredients (the delicious). The consistency should be lumpy and moist – do not over work! Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin, and sprinkle the remaining coconut flakes on top of each muffin.
  4. Depending on the tin size and/or the oven the muffins need anywhere between 20-30 minutes to bake. Do the clean toothpick test every 5 minutes after 20 minutes of oven time have passed to determine when they’re done. Like most pastries these muffins are excellent when served warm or reheated in the toaster oven. Enjoy!

Muffin Mondays: Jessie Bea’s Vegan Apple Muffins

Hello, fresh cracked pepper readers! Jen sweetly asked me to write a post for her new series, Muffin Mondays. I’m Jessie Bea from Jessie Bea Eats, and here’s my contribution:

Autumn in upstate New York is one of the biggest reasons why I’ve lived here for most of my life. Sure, Syracuse winters are pretty tough, but I like snow, outdoor winter activities, and hot cocoa, so it really isn’t a problem for me. And sure, we might get 30 °F weather in October sometimes, but the leaves are pretty, the apples ripe for picking, and hot mulled cider is one of the best things in the world, if you ask me. It all evens out.

That being said, I have many pounds of handpicked apples from Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in Lafayette, N.Y. to use up. This recipe for Autumn Apple Muffins is a great way to have a quick, seasonal and healthy breakfast treat. The recipe makes 6 muffins, which is perfect for those of us living alone. I hate wasting baked goods when I make too much! Another bonus of making this recipe is that most 6 cup muffin tins fit inside my toaster oven, which makes these take even less time.

Jessie from Jessie Bea Eats

Jessie from Jessie Bea Eats

Autumn Apple Muffins

makes 6 muffins

Preheat (toaster or regular) oven to 375 degrees.

Dry Ingredients:
¾ cup flour (either all purpose or whole wheat pastry, or a combination of both)
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients:
½ cup apple cider or apple juice
3 Tbsp canola oil
½ capful vanilla extract
¾ cup apple, finely diced (I used Jonagold)
sliced almonds (optional)


Stir together dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Combine wet ingredients, except for the apple, in a measuring cup. Add wet to dry and mix until just combined. Fold in apples.

Divide batter evenly between 6 muffin cups (either greased, or with muffin liners), top with a few sliced almonds. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Let cool slightly, then enjoy!

Muffin Mondays: Mom’s Pumpkin Quinoa Muffins

This post begins a fall series on that best-loved of breakfast foods: the muffin. In all its varieties, the muffin captures special moments in the guise of the commonplace.

I am honored to present this inaugural guest post by my mother, Sheri Ward, whose solution to one of life’s transitions inspired the idea to devote my Mondays to muffins. I’ve invited some of my favorite bloggers and writers to share their most muffin-esque words and recipes, which I will dutifully post on Mondays throughout the coming weeks.

So if your mornings are lacking luster on these chilly days, check back often for new reasons to mix up a muffin or two.

Hello readers, this is Jen’s Mom writing. As I was thinking of how to begin my first (and hopefully not last!) guest post here on my daughter Jen’s food blog, I thought what better way to begin than this?

With the word “Mom” comes many things … gifts that have been lovingly passed down through generations of mothers before me, gifts that I have endeavored to pass on to my own children. For my love of cooking, and especially baking, comes from my own mother, and hers before that, and hers before that. It seems we all just can’t bake enough! It is almost a sacred thing to the women of our family: the dreaming and planning, then the creation of some warm and wondrous treat. And then of course the best part, the tasting — usually with a mug of freshly brewed coffee. We women have been known to curl up in bed with a favorite cookbook or food magazine, in search of another new recipe.

My husband Don and I recently embarked on a new stage of life: We are now “empty nesters” On the one hand it’s a lovely time of life, with a quieter household and a time of re-discovering each other. But after almost 30 years of baking and cooking for a family of 5, I found myself somewhat lost in this new chapter. Who would I bake for now? Yes, we both still enjoy fresh cookies, but a dozen muffins for two people? It was a real dilemma!

And then it came to me. I would start a muffin club with my Mom and sister Judi, also a recent empty nester. Every Monday morning we’d take turns baking a dozen muffins or scones, and deliver four of them to the others, keeping 4 for ourselves. And so, the “Monday Morning Marvelous Muffin Club” was born.

We are blessed to live within three miles of each other so this has made it somewhat easier. What a delightful treat is has been to open the door into my garage on Monday morning to find a basket of warm muffins waiting. We are all loving it.

Fall always draws me to the fragrant spiciness of all things pumpkin: pie, scones, and of course, muffins. And so it was that the first recipe I baked for our Monday Morning Muffin Club was Pumpkin Quinoa muffins, a new and healthy twist on what is no doubt a favorite with many of you. Quinoa, an ancient grain, is a comlete protein and gives these muffins a nice texture and a slightly nutty taste. The addition of pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, adds just the right amount of crunch.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, and that maybe I’ve inspired you to start your own muffin club with one or two close friends. Happy baking!

~Sheri Ward

Sheri and Jen

Pumpkin Quinoa Muffins

makes 12 large muffins

In a large bowl combine:

1 ½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup raisins
¾ cup cooked and drained quinoa (best made the day before, the grains fluffed with a fork).

Combine in another bowl:

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
¾ cup buttermilk or kefir
4 Tbsp melted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract


Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just incorporated. Spoon into muffin pan lined with paper liners or buttered. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar, and bake at 400 for 25 minutes (until nicely browned and passes the toothpick test). Let rest 5 min, then remove to a rack to cool.

Hi…I’m Jen’s Mom. As I was thinking of how to begin my first (and
hopefully not last!) guest post on my daughter Jen’s food blog,
freshcrackedpepper, I thought what better way to begin than this? For with
the word “Mom” comes many things….gifts that have been lovingly passed
down through generations of mothers before me, gifts that I have endeavored
to pass on to my own children. For my love of cooking, and especially
baking, comes from my own mother, and hers before that… and hers before
that. It seems we all just can’t bake enough! It is almost a sacred thing to
the women of our family…first the dreaming and planning, then the creation
of some warm and wondrous treat, and of course the best part…the
tasting…usually with a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee. In our
family, we women have all been known to curl up in bed at night with a
favorite cookbook or new food magazine, in search of yet another new
recipe…we enjoy this more than most novels!My husband Don and I recently embarked on a new stage of life…we are now
“empty nesters”! While it is a lovely time of life, with a (much!)quieter
household and a time of re-discovering each other, after almost 30 years of
baking and cooking for a family of 5, I found myself somewhat lost in this
new chapter of life. Who could I bake for now? Yes, we both still enjoy
fresh cookies and baking, but a dozen muffins for 2 people? I was in a real
dilemna! And then one day it came to me….I would start a muffin club with
my Mom and my sister Judi,also a recent empty nester! Early every Monday
morning, we’d each take turns baking a dozen muffins (or scones) and deliver
4 piping hot muffins to each other, keeping 4 for ourselves. We are blessed
to live within 3 miles of each other so this would make it easy. And so the
“Monday Morning Marvelous Muffin Club” was born! And what a delightful
surprise and treat is has been to open the door into my garage early every
Monday morning and find a basket of fresh warm muffins waiting for me on my
freezer! And it is so nice to bake one week, then have a surprise waiting
for me the next 2 weeks. We are all loving it!


The season of fall always draws me to the fragrant spiciness of all things
pumpkin….pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, and of course pumpkin muffins. And
so it was that the first recipe I baked for our Monday morning muffin club
was Pumpkin Quinoa muffins, a new and healthy twist on what is no doubt a
favorite with many of you. Quinoa, an ancient grain, is a comlete protein
and gives these muffins a nice texture and a slightly nutty taste. The
addition of pepitos, which are pumpkin seeds, also adds a nice crunch.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, and that you are inspired to start your own
muffin club with one or two close friends…enjoy!!

Happy baking!
Sheri Ward

I Can and I Did: Chunky Farmer’s Market Salsa

I passed a food milestone yesterday. A friend of my mother’s came through town last week bearing an armload of a gift: my mother’s old hot water canner. (Basically, a big black speckled pot with a metal rack inside.)

My late-summer dreams of salsas, jams, and chutneys are inching ever closer. Yesterday, with a little help from Central New York farmers, I canned for the first time.

With a few weeks of research under my belt and the fear of botulism clinging fiercely to my hope, I set out to making a batch of salsa worthy of chips and tostadas. The great stuff at the stores is well over 5$, and the cheaper stuff is barely a dressed-up ketchup. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.

I scoured the internet for recipes, finally settling on one from  I wanted chunks of tomato and good fresh peppers, and despite the recipe writer’s disdain for spelling and grammar, this one seemed to fit the bill.

A lazy hour at the farmer’s market outfitted me perfectly for my first adventure in jars: a flat of pint jars for $10, an assortment of peppers for $4, and tomatoes to last a lifetime for $9.

Equipped with my bounty, my canner, and some 80’s music, I proceeded to make six and a half pints of salsa in an afternoon. We polished off the half pint with some locally-made tortilla chips, feeling like good slow-foodies with every crunchy bite. The only adjustments I’ll make next time will be to add a little more heat; it turns out those little Serrano peppers weren’t as hot as they felt on my fingertips!

The next day I checked the jars and each one of them had sealed properly. My salsa not only tasted great, but it would keep for months without crowding my fridge.

Continue reading

Homemade Energy Bars V: Shot Blocks Redux

One of my favorite authors once wrote “how we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s one of those observations so plain it pricks you. Nothing terribly complicated or profound, but as true as the sun’s heat in July.

On a bike ride the other day, I saw it printed on the Unitarian Universalists’ church lawn sign. (Am I the only one who’s noticed that the more liberal the church, the better the church sign quotes?)

This week, I got my days back. And true to Annie Dillard’s sentiment, my life. It came suddenly, with the absence of 9 am starts, ominous deadlines, and open jaws of expectation. It came, bringing hours to write and cook and clean and shop for groceries.  It came with empty hours too, heavy with shoulds and if-onlys.

And so here I find myself in that precarious place between the fullness of life and its opposite. This past year has been manic, and looking back I’m sometimes surprised I survived. But rather than rolling gently off that year, I’ve crashed abruptly into this week.

This week — with its scaled-back workout schedule, pressing humidity, and loose ends — is like an irritating old friend. You love her but sometimes you just don’t know what to do with her.

Besides being void of routine, this week has also brought the dreaded taper, that bittersweet period before a big race when triathletes attempt to do something foreign to their very existence: rest. For most, this comes about as naturally as speaking Czech.

But with the advice of my tri friends ringing loudly in my ears (“5% undertrained is better than 3% overtrained”), I’m hanging out with my food processor instead of my running shoes. I decided it was time to bring you another snack packed with energy and natural goodness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of Clif shot blocks and GU gel as the next endurance athlete. But I also take pride in turning the earth’s bounty into sport fuel. Minus the citric acid, “natural flavor,” sunflower oil, and carnauba wax.

So here’s a humbler kind of shot block, one that looks suspiciously like a Christmas goodie. The chocolately goodness comes from minimally processed cocoa powder, delivered a shot of not only good-for-you flavanols, but magnesium and zinc too. And we all know how great almonds are for us.

And so going back to my opening quote, I guess I spent part of my day conjuring up good and healthy things. My life, I hope, will follow suit.

Continue reading

Road Food Part 5: Fool’s Gold

In Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, young Winfield gets mocked for thinking fool’s gold the real thing.

Having been on the road for 6 weeks, I’ve come to a similar conclusion about restaurant food: pretty as it is, in the long run it leaves me dissatisfied.

I didn’t get sick of gourmet right away. First, there was a glorious honeymoon filled with goat cheese, reduction sauces and amuse bouches. So before I sing a love song to simple food, here’s an ode to the most memorable meals I’ve eaten here in the rocky state of Colorado.

Take the Sicilian Castillo olives I tried at Eat! restaurant in Edwards. These little jewels took the term “olive green” and gave it a shot of tequila. A rich, bright jade, their meaty firm flesh dissolved into an almost lime-like linger.

Followed by a white bean puree-goat cheese-artichoke-tomato panini and a simple salad, the meal warranted a photo or two.

Over in Beaver Creek, the slogan “not exactly roughing it” came through loud and clear at Rimini gelato. Rimini, a town in Italy, is the center of the gelato world, and I’d be happy making this place the center of mine.

And then there’s Terra Bistro, who despite my cravings for simple home cooking, still has a corner of my heart.

On visit number one, the delivery of baked kale chips turned up the corners of my leaf-loving lips. Light as paper and shimmering slightly with olive oil, you can munch these in guiltless quantities without destroying your appetite.

On July 4th I stopped in just to see if they’d sell me a container to nibble on, and left with a box on the house. A mountain creek and an hour of solitude were the perfect companions.

As for the mains, on our first visit I wandered from my usual veggie fare and ordered the Amish-grown organic beef. Thin-sliced rare hangar steak came perched atop a blue cheese crostini, sharing the plate with an heirloom-boston lettuce salad drizzled in a thick molasses-balsamic glaze.

There was the the sesame-crusted salmon with carrot-tandoori tomato sauce at Paradigms in Eagle, and all the wholesome organic lunches at (the appropriately named) Eco Goddess over in Carbondale. The lake trout crusted in thin slices of baby potato at Kelly Likken in Vail was expertly crafted, and the halibut with grapefruit butter at Dish a morsel of perfection.

So what’s my complaint then, surrounded by all this wonderful food? How could someone like me, whose love for good food borders on obsession, turn down a great meal on someone else’s tab?

The choices have grown too cumbersome. I’ve become impatient through all the sitting and waiting. The disappointments are draining me, and the thrills remaining seem thin. I am ready for trips to the market, chopping, mixing, and knowing what I am putting into my body. I want to feel the slippery flesh of a mango, tear papery leaves of basil, and squish dough under my palms once again.

It’s been fun. The pampering, the service, the delight at new things. But I’m ready to go home.