Happy Easter to those of you celebrating today! Things are chugging along as usual for me today: mostly work, a little time with my Mom, and dinner with a friend later tonight.
I’ve never been very attached to the Easter holiday, but I do think that it’s a nice time to take the idea of resurrection to heart, and celebrate new beginnings. In the last year or so, my mom has had a little rebirth of her own when it comes to health and self care. Along with some help from yours truly, she joined a gym (to which she is impressively committed), reduced her dairy consumption to a very few items, and started to be more mindful of how many animal proteins she’s consuming. The results are terrific so far: she’s slimmer, her cholesterol has gone down, and she feels more energetic and active. Hooray!
As we all know, transitioning into healthier habits is a long journey, with many stops, diversions, distractions, and steps back along the way. Lately, my mom has mentioned that she feels as though she’s plateaued in her healthy eating efforts, and fallen back into some bad habits. Of course that’s fine, I said, and natural. But let’s figure out what the pitfalls are, and how we can improve further.
When I was counseling clients, I realized quickly that there’s often a gap between how people perceive their habits, and the habits themselves. Most of my clients were quick to assure me that they didn’t eat processed food or junk food, but when I’d visit apartments for cooking demos, or even peer into peoples’ food diaries, I’d start to see white flour, sugar, and processed stuff popping up, little by little: the box of Pepperidge Farm here, the fluorescent sports drink there. The giant muffins recently consumed at a corporate meeting, the Kool Whip lurking in the back of the fridge. That kind of thing.
Now, I’m a huge believer that what we do most of the time outweighs the splurges or special occasions we indulge in some of the time. But I also like to challenge my friends, readers, and family to do their very best, and sometimes this means taking a close look at less-than-ideal habits, and slowly starting to replace those habits for good with more wholesome ones. Until recently, my mom seemed to think she had cleaned up nearly all of her habits, but over the weekend, she also confessed to a few “occasional” habits that have become more than occasional. This include store-bought baked goods (which I’ll talk about today), and too much dependence on oils and added fats in her cooking. We’ll talk about the latter tomorrow (don’t worry, I’m still as pro-healthy fats as usual—but discernment is key!).
Back to baked goods! As you all know, my skills as a baker have blossomed only in the last few years. I’ve quickly found, however, that there is simply no surer way into peoples’ hearts—and no better way to encourage them toward veganism—than through healthy baked goods. My mom has said outright that she needs some sweets and quickbreads in her life as an occasional treat; I’ve told her that it’s fine, as long as she can get used to the taste of muffins and cakes that are made with whole grain flours and far less sugar than is conventional in baking. She’s open to it. And since she’s also on a dried apricot kick right now, I decided to merge her two favorite baked goods—muffins and scones—into these adorable little apricot almond “scuffins” yesterday. What a nice way to greet Easter morning today!
I think of these as scuffins because they’re denser and more crumbly than typical muffins are. This was intentional, and I used almond meal in place of some of the flour for that very reason. They’re also far, far less sweet than you may be used to; I think this is one of the recipe’s strengths, but you can modify the agave to be 1/2 cup if you need to (right now it’s 5 tbsp agave, or 4 tbsp + 1 tsp stevia if you want to limit the sugar further). The nice thing about baking with less sugar is that your tastes will adjust over time to prefer less sweet quickbreads; I absolutely guarantee this! And a little fresh fruit along with your muffin will also help you to sweeten up the meal as a whole.
Other fun features of the scuffins:
- The flour my Mom had on hand was an all-purpose, gluten free mix (probably from a recent visit of mine—I’m ever in new GF recipes to give my GF readers!), so the muffins are GF—this means you can serve them to friends with gluten allergies! You may, however, use spelt or WW pastry flour instead.
- Almond flour means more protein and healthy fat, which helps to keep you fuller, longer.
- Limited oil is used (2 tbsp), which means more of the fat in this recipe comes from nuts, which have been shown to have positive effects on heart health and cholesterol. Using avocado or coconut oil will ensure that the fats used are safe for high temperature cooking.
- Dried apricots add natural sweetness and fiber.
All good stuff!
And the taste is lovely, which is most important of all.
Gluten Free, Vegan Apricot Almond Muffins (or Scuffins)
2 cups GF flour
1 cup almond flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup almond milk
1 tbsp flax + 1/4 cup warm water, whisked together
1/2 cup applesauce
1/3 cup agave OR 1/4 cup agave + 1 tsp stevia (you can use more of either sweetener if you need to)
2 tbsp coconut oil (melted)
1 cup chopped, dried apricots (organic if possible!)
12 almonds (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with coconut oil spray (or another spray of choice).
2) Whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond milk, flax + water, applesauce, agave, and coconut oil. Add wet ingredients to dry, and mix till all is incorporated. Add apricots, and mix again.
4) Pour mixture into a 12-muffin tin (or 2 six muffin tins) and garnish each with an almond.
3) Bake muffins for about 20 min, or until golden, and a toothpick emerges clean. Enjoy with a little fruit, all natural, all-fruit jam, or nut butter, if you wish!
My mother really enjoyed these muffins. She said “they’re delicious!”, paused, and then said, “they could be a tiny bit sweeter.” I said I knew they could, but maybe eating them with berries or other fruit in the morning would do the trick.
When I walked into the kitchen this morning and found mom eating breakfast, I noticed that she had served herself a muffin and a half, along with a bit of sliced banana and some fresh blueberries. When I asked her if the sweetness thing was still an issue, she paused and said, “nope!”
It’s great how tiny changes—eating a muffin that contains less refined sweetener along with some fresh berries, for instance—can make a huge difference. Hope you try these muffins, and enjoy them, soon!