By Fred Dickey
Originally published December 31, 2012
Being averse to public scorn and ridicule, I decline to ask people to do what I regularly fail at myself. Thus, you’ve never heard me speak of New Year’s resolutions. If you were to convert my successes into a batting average, I’d be shipped to the low minors.
However, this year I offer you a Resolution Lite that even I can uphold. It starts where a reputation does not precede me — the kitchen …
If my mother could fly across time and drop in today and then be told I’d taken up baking, she’d say, “Good. Now maybe he’ll stop hanging out in that pool hall.” Or, with the faux-fear of her generation, “You don’t suppose he’s …?”
My encounter with the oven, however, was neither a life-changing event nor a morality play. It arose from a realization of being duped by commercial bakers who claim to promote health, but who actually just want to promote profits.
Of late, I had become concerned that this frail vessel I occupy might start to fail me if I didn’t stop failing it. So, I was one day delighted to see mini-muffins on the store shelf that advertised to be “fat free.” OK, I thought, this could be a bold step forward on my journey to age 100.
I bought the muffins and they were tasty, no doubt, but one morning I glanced at the label and saw that each contained 14 grams of sugar. And they weren’t even full size.
Refined sugar! Probably the most unhealthy food in our diet, and here I was stuffing that toxicity into my mouth every morning and feeling virtuous about doing it. As George W. Bush once said with trademark eloquence, “Fool me once — ah, uh, don’t be fooled again.”
I thought maybe I could do better. I couldn’t do much worse. Somewhere out there was a healthy muffin awaiting its herald. But first, a disclosure: You would not want me preparing your Sunday dinner, nor even your midnight snack. However, I knew enough to go to that fount of all knowledge: Google.
Although the Internet is full of crackpot politics, it sort of redeems itself with a lot of good recipes and nutrition ideas. And as with the politics, if they leave a bitter aftertaste, disregard them. I found an idea here and a tip there until I was able to piece together a recipe.
The cornerstone of my idealized muffin was to substitute a zero-calorie sweetener for sugar and to load it with nutrients. I realize all manner of purists will cry in alarm at even the mention of sweeteners, because they oppose any food that doesn’t make you grimace. (I’d like to see those dour fussbudgets try to feed breakfast to a 12-year-old.) However, there is no evidence of sweeteners being harmful; certainly not like sugar, that pied piper for diabetes.
I also wanted to make the muffin a complete breakfast, or close enough to keep the Pop-Tarts at bay.
To my delight, I discovered that baking is easy, at least in its simplest form. If you can follow Mapquest directions in your car, you can follow a recipe. And if you get temporarily lost, you can always pull over to the curb.
The goal became to create a muffin so tasty and healthy that kids would contentedly breakfast on them and push aside that expensive box of Cap’n Crunch, or whatever tooth-rotting concoction now flies off the shelf.
The recipe I developed is packed with so much good stuff that it even avoids being fluffy and light like those commercial varieties. (Let me tell you why the store-bought ones are that way: About all they offer are bleached flour, fat, sugar and a test-tube full of artificial flavor.) Because my muffin was denser, my wife said it seems to be a hybrid of muffin and granola, so why not call it “Muffinola”? So, never hesitant to steal an idea, I did.
Have I succeeded? Well, kids like them, neighbors like them and my wife’s friends all wanted the recipe, and they know that the path to her good graces does not go through flattering me.
3 eggs or egg beaters
3 mashed bananas
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped nuts: walnuts, almonds or pecans
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp nutmeg
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1½ cups oatmeal
1 tablespoon agave sweetener
1 cup sugar substitute (sweetener)
1¼ cup or a 15-ounce can, drained, of main ingredient (see column note)
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Will make about 18 muffins.
•For the main ingredient, I’ve used pumpkin, blueberries, cherries, carrots, apples, Mandarin oranges, raspberries, mango or pineapple. Some ingredients are fresh, some frozen, some canned. All are good for you.
•Any of the common baking sweeteners will work. I’ve used sucralose in its various brand names and baking Splenda.
•I don’t top them with frosting, because that would mean using sug. Haven’t we covered that?
•To keep raisins from clumping, put them on a cookie sheet and bake at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes. (I’ve found that raisins bought in bulk are less likely to bind than the packaged kind.)
•I normally make three muffinola batches and freeze until needed.
•Agave is a natural sweetener without the bad properties of refined sugar. If your kids want it sweeter, add a second tablespoon of agave.
•Spray paper muffin cups lightly with Pam to minimize sticking.
•For chopping, I use that miracle of the modern kitchen — the Slap Chop.
•If you find refrigerated muffinolas a bit hard, microwave them for 15 to 20 seconds.
A muffinola or two for breakfast will allow you to start the day feeling morally uplifted, put a spring in your step and make your boss think you love your job. Your children will have their sweet tooth satisfied and also have a tummy full of good stuff. If a child doesn’t like the muffinola, well, you’ve got a problem child there; probably needs counseling. Likewise for your husband, although you’ve already told him that.
Enjoy, and have a happy and healthy New Year.
Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at [email protected]
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