Autumn Glory + Cherry-Vanilla Muffins

There's a crispness in the air, the smell of green chile roasting at the local markets, a curl-up-under-the-blankets chill in the morning air, gleaming beams of golden light streaming in the sunlit morning windows, and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta just four days away. That means that autumn is officially and fully upon us. Even better yet, 'tis the season for decadent, autumnal muffins.

Today is my rest day, which means that I woke up with an hour-long gap in my morning. After making a delicious smoked salmon and veggie potato hash for breakfast, my morning felt essentially devoid of production. I promised my dad I'd cut the grass and vacuum the pool (I refuse to relent on my pool activities with the cooler weather!), but that felt a little too...sullying...after I'd scraped the last bits of salmon off my plate and read through the August edition of Better Homes and Gardens by 8:30 in the morning. What with an additional hour to my day and the aura of autumn absorbing into my bones (cue the I feel it in my fingers....song from Love, Actually), I knew it was prime time to try out the perfect muffin recipe I'd stumbled upon in the latest copy of Better Nutrition the other night.

As I was whipping up my batch of delectable muffins, I realized I've spent the better majority of the four hours I'd been awake cooking...first breakfast (which did nothing to stunt my devotion to smoked salmon), then a couple mugs of lemon balm tea for my dad and I (Dad is playing hooky from work today what with a cold; and fun fact: lemon balm does a world of good for your immune system! So drink up, because it's got zero calories and innumerable benefits for the body, including stress reduction & immune strengthening), followed by a nice carafe of French press piñon roasted coffee (for the New Mexican in me). Add on the muffins (and now pinto beans that are on the stove as I type away...), and you've got 90% of my morning activities accounted for: kitchen time! What I also realized is the peace that comes with my solo time in the kitchen. I've found that the more time I spend making my own food from scratch, the more I find peace of mind in the kitchen, even if that means putting together a crock pot casserole at 10pm on a Sunday night. There's something oddly cathartic about dicing bell peppers...maybe it's just a personal thing, but it's such a relaxing time! (I hereby give you permission to call me a kitchen nerd.)

There is certainly truth in the phrase "eat to live; don't live to eat," but I must propose a caveat to the opposite: while I acknowledge it is unhealthy to focus too much attention upon counting calories, obsessing over weight, etc., when spending intentional time in the kitchen, investing in a healthier diet, it is not necessarily bad in and of itself. I spend a ludicrous amount of time cooking because I not only find enjoyment in the process, but also because I know that by doing so I am investing in a healthy life for myself. When my body is happy with the nutrients I give it, well, my body is happy! And I feel like I can conquer the world. Funny how eating clean can not only give you an increase in physical happiness, but also mental peace. This is why I endorse whole food as the ultimate medicine.

In true autumn spirit, I must add my newfound appreciation for the season. Back when I was living in Albuquerque as a child and teenager, I didn't think much of fall. Summer was the ultimate season because no school, pool parties, and loads of free time (although I think I'm blocking out the daily chores I was assigned). Because I spent the better part of my four years of college in SoCal (land of the uniseason aka summer all the time, except those few weeks where it's in the 60s and we wear Uggs and coats, but then it climbs back up to 90 in January) and hardly paid attention to the seasons in Switzerland probably due to my fascination with the places I was traveling, I haven't fully experienced autumn until now. And what I've come to realize is that, perhaps this is my favorite season. The crisp air; golden tones; unique fall smells; balloons floating, as if suspended in full appreciation of the serenity of morning chill; sweaters (YESSSSS!!!!!!!!!); and pumpkin everything because, yes, I am as basic as basic gets. And the word autumn itself elicits sentiments of grandeur and poetic tenderness reminiscent of days spent jumping into gigantic leaf piles and scavenging for the biggest pumpkin in the patch. Now, unencumbered by the schoolwork and essays of my previous years as a student, I can appreciate the season for its beauty, and not be caught up in the overwhelming tasks of my prior schooldays.

But enough of my reminiscing...let's get to the heart of this post, and the reason why I began writing to begin with! Cherry-vanilla muffins!

The Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups almond flour
  • 1/4 cup ground chia (or flax) seeds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature; if vegan or egg-free, use either chia or flax eggs (1 tbsp of ground seeds + 3 tbsp water & let sit in the fridge for 15 minutes until the mixture has an egg-like texture)
  • 1/4 cup almond or cashew milk (I used cashew, and recommend homemade milk, as it is fresh and has no unnecessary preservatives)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries

The Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease 12-cup muffin tin with coconut or almond oil, or line with paper muffin liners or squares of parchment. If using flax/chia eggs, mix the grounds with water and let sit in the refrigerator while mixing the dry ingredients.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine almond flour, chia/flax seeds, coconut sugar, baking powder, pistachios, and salt. Stir to mix.

  3. Crack eggs into separate bowl. Using hand or standing mixer, beat eggs until light and frothy, about 2 minutes. Turn speed to low, and beat in nut milk and vanilla. Using spatula, fold dry ingredients into the mixture. Fold in cherries.

    1. If using chia/flax eggs, whip the egg-like substance for about 1 minute, until thickened and homogenized. Continue with the milk and cherries

  4. Spoon the mixture into prepared muffin tins, filling each about halfway. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and let cool completely. If using paper liners, muffins can be turned out of the pan while slightly warm. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  • I spent quite a while painstakingly removing the shells and skins from the pistachios; if you are impatient or not about spending 30 minutes de-shelling the nuts, I would suggest buying pre-shelled and skinned pistachios. It will save your fingers from some rough prying!

Now that you've made your first batch of autumn muffins, I prescribe a leisurely hour to soak in the wonder autumn has to offer and munch on one (or even two) of these muffins. They're so good, I might have to make a couple more batches in the next few days...or take them into work to avoid eating them all myself!

Bon appétit!

XOXO,
Leigh


This recipe is adapted from Better Nutrition Magazine October 2015 issue.