If You Give Your Love a Muffin

This article was featured in Real Woman on February 12, 2015.

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The idea of Valentine’s Day makes me blanch. We all love love, but some of us are perplexed by the popularity of a national holiday that leaves singles bitter, promotes the exchange of tacky gifts, and encourages children to trade “statements of love.” I, for one, resent the pressure on couples, young and old, to indulge in prix fixe meals that they would not otherwise stomach.

I feel so strongly about it that when my older son was 3, I took a stand. His preschool teachers told parents to pack a dozen personalized valentines to give out on the Day of Love. Like most 3-year-olds, my child could not yet write his name, so the task was clearly intended for the parents to transliterate scribbles on cards.

I did not enjoy the homework assignment, nor did I appreciate the expectation placed on my preschooler to send so-called-love-notes to children who could not yet read.

So I complained.

The director of the preschool rescinded the “assignment,” and the mothers went wild with disapproval. The Chicago moms had no clue that I was the culprit (until now).

Regardless of that year’s freedom from insincere Hallmark greetings, I’m still baffled by how second nature it is for today’s youth to swap cheesy Sponge Bob and Spider-Man valentines and for grown men to scurry off to grab the remnants of red roses at the grocery store. I do wonder what I’m missing.

But since it feels cynical to shut out the best thing we humans do on Earth (love), I share this recipe, for Valentine’s Day, straight from my heart.

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Cream Cheese Chocolate Muffins (makes 18)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Filling
1 cup (8oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips (or 1 cup chocolate chips and 1 cup peanut butter chips)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin cups with cooking spray, or line with paper liners.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Mix well.
3. For the filling: In a separate mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, egg, salt, and chocolate chips. Mix well.
4. Use an ice cream scoop to spoon batter into muffin cups until half full.
5. Top each muffin cup with 2 Tbsp of filling.
6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
7. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to place on a wire cooling rack.

* Pair these muffins with a bottle of wine for a true Valentine’s Day

 

 

 

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Strawberry Lemonade Muffins With The Inspiration Baked Right In

This article was featured in Real Woman on December 3, 2014.

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Brrrr, it’s cold outside, baby. Warm up with the summery goodness of these tasty treats, which will heat you up from the inside out.

At about the 18-month mark, my first-born son, Michael seemed to have a non-verbal revelation that manifested like this:I’m no baby! Stop feeding me like one. (And by the way, Mom, I don’t need you. P.S. I hate baby spoons!) I was shocked (and shattered) when he pushed the baby food away for the first time.

Once I got over the initial rejection, I had my own kind of revelation: Get a grip, your little boy is growing up—you’ll have to adjust. With a knot in my stomach and banana mush in my hair, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was going to feed him.

As if that first declaration of independence wasn’t enough of a bombshell, one Tuesday morning, Michael woke up at 4:30 a.m. (with a huge grin). The next day, he did it again. I kept telling myself it was a phase, as I continued to scoop him out of his crib every day at that pre-dawn hour. I hate that time of day. Did I mention that I was already sleep deprived?

At the time, we were living in downtown Chicago in abnormally frigid temperatures. My husband drove our car to work every day, so my mode of transportation was the stroller. So, at 4:30 a.m., there we sat in our pajamas—Michael and I—trapped, in a pool of board books, foam letters, blocks, and maracas. There are only so many times you can read “Good Night Moon.”

And then I discovered something that worked. Baking muffins became our new game. We bonded. We shared. Michael delighted in watching the muffins grow, not to mention eating the finished product. And 4:30 a.m. became more fun for me, for my little alarm clock—for us.

Lesson learned. When given a lemon, make lemonade….or lemonade muffins.

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Strawberry Lemonade Muffins (makes 12)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup whole milk
3 Tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 2 large lemons (about 2 Tbsp)
1 cup strawberries, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease muffin pan with cooking spray or line it with paper liners.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
3. In a separate mixing bowl, mix butter, eggs, vanilla, and milk.
4. Pour wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. Stir.
5. Fold in the lemon juice and lemon zest.
6. Spoon batter into greased muffin pan, filling each muffin cup about 2/3 full.
7. Sprinkle tops of muffins with chopped strawberries. Prod into batter.
8. Bake for 4 minutes at 400 (this helps muffins to rise), then turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for another 16 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
9. Allow muffins to cool in the muffin pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Stop Force Feeding Your Kids And Start Muffinizing

This article was featured in Real Woman on November 13, 2014.

Instead of battling with your kids to get them to eat healthier foods, try baking them into their diet, muffin style. You (and the kids) will love the results.

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I discovered the hard way that kids can be utterly maddening—inscrutable—when you’re trying to force fruits and veggies and other generally healthy foods into their diet. So I changed gears a few years ago—instead of trying to move the immovable object or stop the irresistible force, I baked my way into getting nutritious foods into my children.

Basically, I muffinized. (Muffinize (verb): to cook (something, such as broccoli and cheese in a muffin pan). If your kids roll their eyes over the same-old turkey burgers, turn the burgers into muffins.

Nutrition
Muffinizing pumps in nutritious foods without announcing health or sacrificing taste. Carrot muffins contain vitamin A (carrots) and anti-oxidants (walnuts). Quiche muffins are full of (loathed) vegetables but I have yet to find my son picking spinach from his. Chocolate ricotta muffins are full of protein. Spinach ricotta frittata derives protein from the eggs and ricotta cheese. Dinner is complete with a Thai turkey meatloaf or cheeseburger muffin. Dessert is full of healthy fat from the avocado in a chocolate avocado muffin.

Happiness
To encourage the child to eat healthy food, one must be mindful that the work of childhood is play. And it’s not just about the taste. Muffinizing food makes eating fun, especially for kids. A crunchy top adds interest to the multi-textured macaroni and cheese muffin. The tired PB&J sandwich comes alive in a peanut butter muffin with a surprise jelly center. The melted cheese “icing” on a pizza muffin is more alluring than the standard slice. And it’s easy. No straw required. No utensils necessary. Hardly a napkin needed.

Permission to eat with hands is liberating, and not only for kids but also for grown-ups who divvy muffins while driving from school to soccer practice. A handheld frittata muffin is a lot easier to manage than a dripping tuna melt.

Taste
Yum. ‘Nough said.

For nutritious muffin recipes, go to www.MuffinMama.org.

The Ultimate Comfort Food: French Toast

This article was featured in Swirls and Spice on October 21, 2014.

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To kick off the pumpkin season, the food world seems to be baking with orange-hued vegetables like carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes. Culinary creators are enhancing dishes with seasonal spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.

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These fall tastes bring memories of home and hearth so much so that there is no doubt about the level of comfort in the autumn-inspired muffin. Variations include pumpkin cream cheese, carrot cake, sweet potato, and honey corn.

However, when I think of Autumn and its ultimate comfort food, I think of French toast. It’s a breakfast classic. Often served with maple syrup or jelly. Sometimes finished with melted butter and salt.

My grandmother, whom I remember making breakfast in her hot pink bathrobe and slippers, would serve French toast dusted with powdered sugar. The following recipe takes me back to her. It’s a muffin that’s light and fine. Its taste is French toast. Its texture, more delicate.

Both toppings below are equally delicious. The first is a cinnamon and sugar glaze, and the second combines the traditional tastes associated with French toast: drizzled maple syrup and powdered sugar. As on French toast, apply the topping by drizzling. Or, dip each muffin into a puddle of maple syrup and a mound of powdered sugar or cinnamon-sugar mixture.

For more nutritious fall muffin recipes, go to www.MuffinMama.org

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French Toast Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or allspice)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup dairy milk (or coconut milk* for dairy-free)
  • 1/3 cup butter or coconut oil, melted

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Grease muffin cups with cooking spray or line with paper muffin liners.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together egg, milk, and melted butter.
4. Add egg mixture to flour mixture; stir until just moistened (batter may be lumpy).
5. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
7. Top each muffin with one of the two coatings (recipes below) and serve warm.

*Note: For dairy free muffins with coconut milk, you may need to add about 2 tablespoons more liquid, such as water.

Topping 1: Cinnamon Sugar Coating

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter or coconut oil, melted

1. In a bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar.
2. In a separate bowl, melt butter.
3. Dip tops of finished muffins in the melted butter, and then in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Topping 2: Maple Sugar Coating

  • maple syrup
  • confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for dusting

1. With a toothpick, poke a few holes in muffin tops.
2. Spoon over a good quality maple syrup.
3. Sprinkle powdered sugar on tops.

Healthy, Easy Snacks For Fall

This article was featured in SMRT Parenting on October 21, 2014.

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With the arrival of Autumn, the crisp, cool air brings pumpkin-flavored everything and the end of watermelons and barbeques. Suddenly, lazy days of summer are replaced by schooldays and hectic schedules full of carpooling, sporting events, and extracurricular activities. There is a new kind of strain on the family as everyone is feeling rushed.

The Stash
Come Fall, sit-down meals become fantasy and the snack stash becomes reality. Busy Moms at the wheel are handing out breakfast, lunch and dinner from stashes on passenger seats. There are baggies of pretzels waiting in purses for opportune moments. Babysitters and grandparents are armed, ready to hand out raisins to younger siblings confined to observation decks at gymnastics meets.

But snacks are not just a way to give sustenance. By giving snacks, parents hope to nurture and give comfort. Even so, many agree that empty-calorie choices are more tempting and readily available (and also more embarrassing to be seen with in public!).

The Quest
Thus, parents are on the lookout for that protein-packed, portable, kid-friendly food that is healthy, but tasty, and does not require slaving in the kitchen.

Found it.

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The Muffin is the all-in-one meal, simple to prepare, design, and eat. The muffin is delicious and healthful, not to mention, wholesome enough to ease any guilt over the sacrificed family meals of summer.

The Alternative Snack Stash
From my experience, having a stash of homemade muffins in the freezer, waiting to be toted to soccer practice, feels a million times better than the alternative bag/bar/box of empty carbs.

You don’t have to be Betty Crocker. Just whip up the ingredients and plop them into a bowl. Twenty minutes later, you are not only a “homemaker,” but your kitchen smells fabulous.

The muffin of today is the casserole of yesteryear and lessens the load of busy Moms everywhere who can rest assured that their kids are munching on nutrition. Choose from pumpkin cream cheese, turkey meatloaf, sweet potato, or corn dog muffins. There’s no more casually handing out fast foods! Instead, you have a chicken potpie muffin for the back of the minivan.

The Possibilities are Endless
If you like a certain food, muffinize. And while you’re at it, make it healthy!

Muffinize [muh-fin-ahyz] (v.) to make a muffin out of
If you don’t like banana, choose another fruit. If you don’t have raspberries, add blueberries. If you want fiber, bake with oats or bran. There is whole wheat, if you bake organic. If your child is allergic to nuts, leave them out. If you like pizza and tuna melts but don’t want the mess, start muffinizing!

Portability
Muffins fit neatly into little hands and perfectly into the on-the-go lifestyle of grownups. Freeze a batch over the weekend and you’re a microwave minute from breakfast during the week. Now, you’ve got a mess-free package that won’t ruin the upholstery. You’ve got a protein-packed pocket to eat anywhere, including the sidelines of older brother’s karate tournament.

A Fun Way to Enjoy Familiar Foods
Muffinizing inspires us to rejuvenate tired foods. The crunchy top of a multi-textured macaroni and cheese muffin urges the child to enjoy a new pasta experience. The tired PB & J sandwich comes alive in a peanut butter muffin with a surprise jelly center. Carrot muffins are loaded with nutrients from carrots, pineapple, and walnuts. Crustless quiche muffins are full of (loathed) vegetables but I have yet to find my son picking spinach from his. Use the abundance of Fall to make muffins from pumpkin and sweet potatoes. Sprinkle dried cranberries into turkey meatloaf muffins for Thanksgiving dinner. Express yourself by thinking of new, different, tasty combinations.

Muffins bring smiles. In the car or as a gift, muffins are the epitome of snacks. A platter of muffins makes a unique impression, and eating muffins…goes without saying (yum).

For nutritious Fall muffin recipes, go to www.MuffinMama.org.

My Muffin Obsession

Ok folks, here’s how it all started…

My muffin obsession began the morning my first-born son entered tumultuous toddlerhood. On this particular morning, my little Michael obstinately rejected a spoon of banana puree, pushing my hand away like an angry teenager.

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I realized that I would have to find some kind of portable, protein-packed nourishment that would delight, occupy, and ward off tantrums. I needed a fun food that Michael could feed himself…found it…

The Muffin.

And so it began. As I whipped up batches in less than ten minutes and served muffins 20 minutes after, I knew that I had discovered a gold mine. These muffins were my solution – a global solution – for any mother who’s pressed for time and agonises over weekly meal planning. Did I mention clean-up consists of washing two mixing bowls and some utensils?

As I stocked our freezer with mini meals, I relished the joy of hosting thematic playdates with muffins that brought smiles to children and made adults feel like kids again.

A few weeks into my obsession with muffin making, after devouring four mac and cheese muffins, my husband expressed some concern. I believe his exact words were, “I’m afraid we’re going to be eating only muffins for the rest of our lives.” Hmmm.

My mantra became: “a muffin for all moments.” Michael was gobbling up French toast muffins for breakfast, cheeseburger muffins for lunch, and Thai turkey meatloaf muffins for dinner. For snacks, he happily munched on cheesy broccoli corn muffins or peanut butter and jelly muffins.

When my younger son, Joey, approached 18 months, I experienced yet another round of toddling tantrums and muffin fever. Now, after several years of muffin-making, playdates, and hunger-inspired tantrums, I’ve decided to start this blog to share my tried and true recipes. I hope I can provide some solace and sustenance. Enjoy!

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