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.

pumpkin ginger bran muffins

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I’ve just made it past the halfway point of my last fall term in nutrition grad school. I’ve been working with clients in clinic these past few weeks, experiencing all that I’ve learned in the last couple years come together in practice, and enjoying it so incredibly much. Getting to the clinical work has reinforced why I’ve spent so much of my energy on this career shift endeavor when I get to sit with someone and offer even a little bit of individualized support.

In addition to nutritional recommendations, I also give interventions that address balance from a whole systems perspective which is in line with the integrative and holistic approach to my program. This often means I try to emphasize stress reduction and relaxation practices. On the closer to home front, I’ve been trying to take some of my own advice and incorporate downtime each day for relaxing my system, an intention I constantly struggle with. Inevitably I often forego the rest I need and end up in the kitchen instead. My only excuse is it’s pumpkin season– and I find baking quite restorative!

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Since it is pumpkin and winter squash season, The Recipe Redux theme this month is Fresh from the Pumpkin Patch. We’ve had a string of mostly gorgeous days so far but once this fall season finally and truly sunk in, I began cooking lots of very autumn appropriate Ayurvedic recipes from Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind. Nutritionally, the recipes are helping rebalance my system after a rough end-of-summer transition. The first portion of the book is all about the Sattvic lifestyle in Ayurveda–a way of life I’ve been gleaning more from as time goes on and I notice how I fare better with less stimulating foods, practices, and experiences.

These muffins are a deviation from a recipe in the cookbook. If you’re a runner and a fan of the Run Fast Eat Slow superhero muffins, they’re also quite similar, but I’ve upped the emphasis on using walnuts and chia since they both are rich in omega 3’s which are an essential fatty acid that most of us need more of.

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Pumpkin Ginger Bran Muffins, makes 4 large muffins or 6 regular size
Even though I adapted these fairly dramatically, they do stay true to their ayurvedic roots. They are delicious as is but there are also many variations depending on what you’ve got on hand:
1) instead of ground walnuts, use almond flour 2) instead of bran, use 3/4 cup oatmeal 3) instead of pumpkin, use 1/2 cup applesauce and 1 medium chopped apple or other fruit and flavor combos. 4) instead of coconut sugar use pure maple syrup or honey

1 Tbs. ground chia seeds
3 Tbs. water
3/4 cup / 60 g raw walnuts, ground
1/2 cup / 50 g oat bran
1/4 cup / 20 g oatmeal
1/4 cup / 30 g coconut sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of ground black pepper
2 Tbs. / 25 g coconut oil, melted
1 cup / 220 g pumpkin, pureed or mashed
1 Tbs. / 3 g minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup raisins
1/4-1/2 cup water or nut milk, as needed.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with baking cups or oil and flour them.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground chia seeds and water. Let this stand for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the ground walnuts, oat bran and oats, salt, turmeric, baking soda, and baking powder.
  • Add the coconut sugar, pumpkin puree, and coconut oil to the chia seed mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in the ginger and the raisins.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until it just comes together. If the batter seems a touch dry, add water or nut milk just until it becomes a touch looser, but only add up to 1/2 cup, as they won’t need much. This step largely depends on how much moisture content your pumpkin puree has in it.
  • Divide into the muffin cups and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

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getaway run + picnic muffins and a few good things

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When the weather turns nice and the days grow longer, I start to get real antsy feet and a desire to go adventuring on the weekends. One of my favorite things is to plan weekend “getaway run + picnics” with William, which often include a long trail run adventure out of town, followed by a post run laugh-stretch session, and then a picnic complete with picnic basket, real plates and silverware, and a post-feast laze in the grass. The juxtaposition between a dirty trail run and a much fancier presented post-run meal makes these occasions feel particularly special. They are the ultimate one-day treat and if I’m lucky, we incorporate many such weekends over the long-day season.

When it comes to the food, I often don’t plan much ahead and throw together something quick from the fridge since really, anything we’re okay with eating at room temperature can be picnic food. One time last year, however, I came up with the idea to make savory muffins for one of these adventures and they went down a real treat. I’ve made them a few more times since and found the ingredients to be fairly interchangeable, but the novelty of a special post-adventure savory muffin has yet to wear off.

 

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On the other hand, on weekends when we’re not adventuring, or on the weekend mornings when I plan to be especially indulgent for hours before venturing out, I love to clear out my inbox, read all the things online and off, journal, and generally laze about with tea in hand. With a whole new getway run and picnic season ahead of us, and longer mornings to indulge in the sun’s early glow, I’m leaving you the option to either make these muffins and go for an adventure, or settle in to a cozy morning of reading/inspiration. Or perhaps you’ll plan, like me, to do both!

  1. Since I love all things reading, books, libraries and lists, I recently created a recommended reading area on the blog to share all my favorite cookbooks, nutrition and related topics reads, and a few others.
  2. Speaking of cookbooks, I’ve been a little obsessed lately with the Banana and Cacao Granola from David and Luise’s latest cookbook. I put my own personal spin on it with toasted local hazelnuts, puffed rice, and other seeds, and find it it simply outstanding.
  3. If you haven’t discovered or read Gena’s Weekend Reading posts over on The Full Helping, I highly recommend. While she routinely shares articles and recipes she’s enjoying, I like Gena’s weekly commentary the most, where she shares about her own journey years beyond initial eating disorder recovery, but still adapting through life’s trials of depression, anxiety, relationships, and simply being human.
  4. Relatedly, one of my favorite recipes inspired one of Gena’s, which she shared about in her new cookbook, Power Plates. By now, I’ve cooked my way through a substantial amount of the book’s recipes and can’t recommend it enough!
  5. Rather than create a long list of all the good things I’ve enjoyed reading online, I’ve been creating a pinterest board for the last year and more, which is also a fun way to put it all up visually. Check it out, if you’re interested in more.
  6. Lastly, I found the news about how much gluten those that follow a strict gluten-free diet are actually ingesting really interesting and not at all surprising, given my own ongoing phases where I have glutened-symptoms almost every time I eat food prepared outside my home. Now, I can’t wait for what to do about this problem and how to best ‘live normally’ despite these obstacles. Fortunately, progress continues to be made in the realm of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity research!

 

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savory getaway run + picnic muffins, makes 6 jumbo size muffins
The vegetables in these can be easily changed up depending on what you have, but I find that adding just a little sweet apple really rounds out the savory flavors.

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 large apple, diced
1 large bunch kale, diced
3/4 cup cooked white beans
9 Tbs. aquafaba or 3 flax eggs
1 Tbs. coconut oil
1 Tbs. honey
3/4-1 cup / 180-240 ml non-dairy milk
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 cups / 210 grams chickpea flour
1 tsp. mustard powder or 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC ), oil a jumbo 6-hole muffin tin or line with paper cup liners.
  • Heat a little oil of your choice in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, black pepper, and 1/2 tsp. salt and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Then, add the apple and the kale and sauté until the apple is just barely beginning to soften and the kale has wilted. Remove from the heat and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.
  • In a food processor or blender, puree the cooked beans until they form a smooth paste. You might need to add a little water to them. Once pureed, they should measure out to about a 1/2 cup. Add them along with the other liquids to a small bowl and then set aside.
  • In another medium mixing bowl, measure out and mix the flour, baking powder, and remaining spices.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and using a spatula, start folding them together, along with the onion, kale, and apple. Mix just until combined.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.
  • Remove the muffins from the oven and set aside to cool slightly in their pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • They will keep for a few days if stored in an airtight container either at room temperature or in the fridge, and they also freeze well.

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