Berry Bran Muffins and what to cook right now

A somewhat humorous discussion amongst some of the current and past students of my nutrition program last week was “What is Eleonora cooking right now?” Eleonora is my former cooking lab instructor, since we were required to take a few cooking courses during the program to really cement our ‘food as medicine’ approach to clinical nutrition practice.

While I consider myself an experienced cook, I never expected to learn a ton from these courses, but a day before that conversation emerged about Eleonora, a conversation with my childhood best friend brought realization that those simple courses cemented several cooking foundations that were otherwise learned haphazardly over time, or not at all.  

In that conversation with my friend, which not surprisingly went on as she was cooking dinner and subsequently asking for advice on the right temperature and amount of oil for roasting vegetables, she asked if I’d heard of a popular cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat. I explained that I was indeed familiar, but haven’t actually picked up the book. We learned those concepts in cooking lab, I explained.

What I got most from that conversation, however, wasn’t that I’ve picked up some culinary school concepts over time, or that I should give myself a pat on the shoulder, but that the conversation was so normal. Having not had a real conversation in months and going long stretches with much less since my friend’s life work is in ministry and she’s been abroad for most of the last decade, the ebbs and flows and even pauses to wait for another discussion on the other end of the line to begin and end were exactly as they would be between us—at any point in the last twenty and more years we’ve been close friends.

That maybe is a benefit to slowing down a little. We both all of a sudden were available for a conversation that as the years go, grows greater distance between each one.

The other thing, one of the students actually knew the answer to What is Eleonora Cooking?, since they were doing raw food lab last week. Eleonora is making and eating lots of sprouts. You know, just about the healthiest, most nutritious food on the planet.


When I was in her classes, I both loved and feared Eleonora. She has a brusque way about her, a heavy accent, and though you wouldn’t guess it, she was also a former Olympian. I suspect in some sort of track and field or gymnastics discipline, though I never did get that answer.

So in the midst of a global pandemic, my former Olympian-now nutritionist and cooking instructor is teaching the newest round of students about the benefits and how-tos of growing and eating sprouts. And my long-time friend and minister is not doing her work in visiting and being with people, but sewing masks and cooking roasted vegetables. And though many of us are attempting to keep some semblance of normalcy, we’re definitely not in normal times.

Instead of following in Eleonora’s food-steps and providing a guide on sprouts, or the best pot of beans, or the finer details on making gluten-free sourdough, today I offer you Berry Bran Muffins (but yes, I’m otherwise making and eating all three of those nutritious, gut-health and therefore immune boosting foods.)

Muffins are basically my go-to semi-nutritious baked good to make and experiment with, and though I know it’s common practice to eat them at breakfast, I much prefer them as dessert.

Because we all need as much cheer as possible right now, whether it’s in making something warm and delicious in the kitchen, finding funny videos, books, or movies to be entertained by, or in another creative project. I am lucky and grateful enough to still have a semi-normal routine –as much as one can in self-imposed isolation or quarantine or whatever you may call it when the wisest thing to do is to avoid everywhere except the open road or trail or neighborhood walkabout.

And I understand if where you’re located doesn’t quite have all the ingredients for these stocked on the shelf—or you’re not going back to the store for a while. That’s the thing about cooking, baking, and muffins in particular. The adventurous, creative part is in improvising when the way forward is not exactly as the recipe goes.

And yes, that’s a metaphor for life. I encourage you to have faith in yourself and the process.

Other things that held me up and gave me faith this week:
– A reminder of the Proverb of the Chinese Farmer
– The ever wise insight from Julie Piatt on taking care in the time of Coronavirus
The two words that will guide you (mine are faith and nature – which maybe explains a lot of what I share here and how I work)
This book I’m reading during the season of Lent along with daily reflections by Matthew Kelly
– Rebecca Altman’s Surrender + Magic mini-course (of meditations and finding peace)
– running, my normal routine and as if my scheduled April race is still happening as planned

Berry Bran Muffins, makes 6 standard size muffins
If using a store bought gluten-free flour mix, the one I’ve found most similar to mine is the Krusteaz Gluten-Free Flour. If using that or others, it is best to measure by weight, and omit xanthan gum from the recipe if your flour mix contains it. As much as possible, I avoid adding xanthan gum unless I believe a recipe really needs it–and after much testing, this one does because the batter is heavy on flavorful, but juicy berries.

1/2 cup / 50 g oat bran
1/2 cup / 120 mL non-dairy milk
2 Tbs. molasses
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup / 120 g gluten-free flour mix
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbs. / 28 g coconut oil
1/4 cup / 50 g sugar
3 Tbs. aquafaba (liquid from cooked or canned garbanzo beans) or 1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (choose your berry of choice or use a mix)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 180 degrees C., and prepare a standard six-cup muffin pan by wiping with oil and dusting with flour or using paper muffin liners.
  2. Stir the oat bran, milk, molasses, and vanilla together in a small bowl until combined. Then allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a smaller bowl, combine the dry ingredients including the flour, soda and baking powder, and spices. Set this bowl aside also.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl, stir and mix together the coconut oil and sugar until it is light and fluffy. This may take 3 to 5 minutes. Then add in the aquafaba or as an alternative, the egg. Mix well.
  5. Now add the flours, bran and milk mixture, and vinegar to the creamed sugar. Mix this just until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  6. Gently fold in the berries. If using frozen, you don’t need to pre-thaw them. Using a large scoop or spoon, divide the batter between the muffin cups. Bake until they become golden and a toothpick in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes.
  7. Cool the muffins in the pan for about 5 minutes, then flip onto a wire rack and cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Beet + Seed Loaf Cake

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I had an instance last weekend that after some consideration, seemed like a metaphor for life right now. I had been planning a creative cake project for William’s birthday and in retrospect I planned the more creative aspects of it, but not so much the logistics of size and weight, how many layers can actually stack before it’s too much. That sort of thing.

After a few hours of baking, as assembly got underway, the cake began breaking apart before me, each layer collapsing in to the next as their weight was too much. In panic, I *tossed* the whole thing in the freezer, hoping it would chill quickly enough to stop the destruction.

 

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And then like the cake, I completely melted down. William who really didn’t care whether he had cake or not, tried to reassure me, but the damn cake falling apart was in that moment an abject failure on my part after toiling away for hours and planning and looking forward to it for weeks.

So I took a break, made some tea and ate a snack because sometimes a blood sugar boost and tea actually is the best remedy before going on.

A little more resolve in my system, and I found a way to salvage two of the four layers, effectively putting the cake back in adequate proportion territory, and still plenty enough for a birthday.

 

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For the artistic frosting finale, I realized the downsizing really put a hamper on how the color scheme / paint-like effect of the frosting was going to end up and at the end, William laughed at the looks of my finished result, although ‘it doesn’t look bad, really‘ were the words that came from him, and ‘just different than what you were going for.’

 

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Different than what I was going for are probably words that describe most things for me. There’s that river again, which I cannot push. Trust and go with the flow. Again.

And maybe believe in yourself and know that you / I / we can make good come from every challenge.

 

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Back to the birthday cake and it turned out tasting, if not looking, perfect. Almond poppy seed layers from this base recipe, cream cheese frosting, and a few splashes of color from mostly natural food dyes, which was part of the project.

What all that has to do with today’s recipe, I’m not entirely sure. Other than we like poppy seeds in this house. And raisins. And cake, in various forms. Occasionally.

Fittingly though, I first made this beet + seed loaf cake, a major spin-off from Nigel Slater’s popular original, for a Mad Hatter Tea Party at work last spring. The party was for our volunteers and since most of them are retired master gardeners who also love earthy flavors and garden-inspired things, the cake was quickly gobbled up with approval. The tweaks I gave the original involve substantially less sugar and some more wholesome flours and it’s safe to say this is more of a breakfast or snack loaf, rather than a sugar rush in a slice.

 

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Beet + Seed Loaf Cake, makes 1 9×5 or 8×4-inch loaf
The flours can be changed here, depending on what’s on hand. Instead of chickpea, sorghum or millet are great substitutes. I used ground flax seeds here instead of eggs, but an earlier version of this made with 2 eggs instead also resulted well. 

2 Tbs. ground flax seeds
6 Tbs. water

100 grams / 1 cup chickpea flour
70 grams  / a scant 1/2 cup brown rice flour
25 grams / ¼ cup arrowroot flour
½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup coconut oil
½ cup applesauce
70 grams / 3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
150-170g / 5-6 oz. raw beet, shredded coarsely
juice of half a lemon
½ cup raisins
½ cup mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
4 tsp. poppy seeds, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Line a loaf pan with baking parchment. A 9×5 will yield a larger, more compact loaf, and a slightly smaller pan will yield slices that are taller.
  • In a small bowl, combine the flax and water and then set aside for a few minutes.
  • Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the vanilla, coconut oil, applesauce, and brown rice syrup. Stir in the flax meal.
  • Grate the beetroot coarsely and fold into the mixture, then add the lemon juice, raisins, mixed seeds, and 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Then stir in the flour mixture.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pan, smooth the top, and then sprinkle over the remaining 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Bake for 50-55 minutes and test with a toothpick to see if done. The cake should be moist inside but not sticky.
  • Leave the loaf to cool for a good 20 minutes before turning out of its pan on to a  cooling rack.

Sourdough Pizza! {gluten + dairy-free}

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Every summer I have a meal that’s on repeat, usually as a way to use what’s coming in fast from the garden or otherwise to appease my cravings. Last summer that was kitchari and a green soup/sourdough pairing, the summer before that was zucchini noodles and pesto, and this summer it is this sourdough pizza with roasted vegetables. I’ve been making this pizza on the weekly for months and am not about to grow tired of it.

 

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If you’ve ever tried gluten-free pizza out on the town, you’ll likely know the experience is regularly disappointing and the ingredient list is fairly terrible. I’ve almost entirely given it up, especially too since there are very few establishments where cross-contamination is not a huge issue. (I once worked in a bakery. When working with flours, gluten is everywhere.) What I like about this recipe is that it’s super easy, takes only minimal planning ahead, is truly bready and delicious, allows me to feed my sourdough starter regularly without making way more bread than I can eat or throwing it out, and the sourdough fermentation allows for better mineral and vitamin absorption from the flours, leading to overall happier digestion and long-term health.

Prior to a few years ago, pizza was my long-time favorite food, and still is William’s, and this crust satisfies his discerning pizza palate enough that it actually qualifies as pizza, whereas most gluten and dairy free versions do not. Our favorite way to top this lately, in addition to the roasted vegetables and our house red sauce, is to slide a fried egg on top, but I deviated here and listed my topping ideas and recipes below.

 

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Sourdough Pizza Crust {gf + vegan}, makes 1 medium pizza, enough for about 3 people
This is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s sourdough recipe, which uses wheat flour. If you’re not gluten-free, the recipe should still work in the same quantities by swapping out the flour types. 

120g sourdough starter (50:50 buckwheat flour:water)
100 g hot tap water
150 g all-purpose gluten free flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ tsp. yeast

  • If any liquid has collected on top of your refrigerated starter, stir it back in. Spoon 120 grams starter into a mixing bowl. Note: Then feed the remainder of your starter.
  • Add the hot water, flour, salt, and yeast. Mix to combine. It will at first be fairly wet. Cover the bowl and allow to rise until it’s just about doubled in size. This will take about 2 to 4 hours. The time it takes to rise depends on when you last fed the starter; a starter that’s been fed rather recently will react to the addition of flour and water more quickly than one that’s been neglected for a while. For a faster rise, place the dough somewhere warm (or increase the yeast). To slow it down, put it somewhere cool.
  • When the dough is risen, but still fairly wet, pour it out onto a pizza stone or pan and shape it into a flattened disk. Sprinkle the dough with a small amount of flour and then with a rolling pin that also has been lightly floured, gently roll the dough towards the edge of the pan; when it starts to shrink back, let it rest again, for about 15 minutes. Finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pan. Cover the pan, and let the dough rise until it’s as thick as you like, or, if you’re impatient, beginning topping as it is.
  • Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Turn the edges of the dough over to give it a traditional crust, or if you forget as I did above, it will still turn out just great.
  • Top with your preferred sauce and toppings, and bake for 15-16 minutes, or until the toppings are as done as you like, and the bottom is cooked through.

My current favorite toppings:
Our house pizza/tomato sauce
Sophie’s Cashew Mozzarella
Tempeh Sausage
Seasonal Roasted Vegetables
A fried egg for each serving