The Magic of Bran Muffins

I usually keep things around here pretty light, but I’ve recently had a few conversations with friends about the state of our food system and the changes they want to make to their diets to get healthier. I jump for joy any time someone wants to talk to me about this, as it’s a topic that is close to my heart and one I could go on and on about when given the chance. I’ve never been a pusher of what I believe, but instead take a more relaxed approach and when asked for help or my opinion, I give it. I am not a nutritionist or claiming to be an expert, but when I became a vegetarian (now over 10 years ago), I felt a need to read up on what exactly I was supposed to eat and through the years this has probably lead me to learning more about food than the average person.

One friend stated how overwhelmed and bad she felt about the way she was feeding her family, after reading through another food blog and seeing that everything she thought she knew knew about food was wrong. This broke my heart and we talked about it for awhile, but I took a step back and reflected on this. realized that I would never want people to come to my blog and see all the healthy looking food and be turned off; either by the fact that they think they can’t afford or spend the time it takes to cook this way, or that it just doesn’t seem realistic to eat so healthy all the time.

Blogs in general, are really great at making things look perfect and easy all the time. The fact is, what I share on this blog is exactly how my husband and I eat when at home, but just like many of you are making a transition into cooking with more whole grains and fresh produce, it took us time as well. Really only in the past 3 years or so has my cooking and baking been solely based on this way of thinking. My idea for having a blog was to share recipes, not make people feel hopeless about their own diets. I hope to encourage and promote how tasty this way of cooking really can be and adjust, as we did, over time. In no way do we eat perfectly all the time, my mom keeps a stash of M&M’s for my dad, but every time we visit I head straight for them and I definitely do my fair share of over indulging at times, but it really all boils down to the food I feel good about eating the majority of the time.

I don’t believe there is a perfect way of eating that includes everyone. We each have different bodies that need different amounts of different nutrients, but I think we can all agree that ramping up on fresh produce and whole grains (or whole gluten free “grains”), while giving packaged food the boot is generally a good start.

Most of what we eat comes from our the farmers market, our own garden, and the bulk bins. We eat really well and surprisingly to some, really cheaply. I used to be embarrassed that I made our bread from scratch, but when we first started our business we couldn’t exactly afford the good stuff at the rate we went through it. Not wanting to compromise, I set out to bake it myself. After all, most really good bread is only 3-4 ingredients and now I actually prefer the bread I make to what can be bought. It does take time on my part to plan ahead and prepare things, but when I way the pros and cons of whether I should place some dried beans in a bowl to soak overnight vs. scroll through facebook one more time, the beans always win. It also should be stated that we do not yet have kids, this may change our eating routine, I have no idea, I’ll work that out when the time comes.

This doesn’t mean if we go out to eat or eat at someone else’s place that we don’t eat! Eating with other people is something we love to do and I would never turn down a home cooked meal or make someone else feel uncomfortable. Obviously if there is meat at the table I pass, but other than that, I’m usually game. If it has mega cheese, which my tummy can rarely take much of, I still serve myself a small portion. I do this not because I’m feeling deprived (not by any means!), but because someone took the time to make this and invited us into their home and share what they love to cook. When we go out of town or on vacation of course our eating habits change a bit as well. We don’t stop at fast food restaurants though, when in a pinch or the middle of nowhere, we’ll stop at a grocery store for an apple and granola bar way before heading for the drive through.

We eat this way because it makes us feel really good. Both of us rarely get sick, its been well over a year now for each of us since we had so much as a small cold and that was through our most stressful and busy holiday season yet. We both sleep through the night and have lots of energy. I used to get really bad stomach aches, which I soon found out was due to dairy. This lead me to eating a mostly vegan diet the majority of the time and why every recipe on this blog uses non-dairy milks in place of cow’s milk. I do eat the occasional yogurt, which doesn’t seem to bother me too much, and when I really crave it or it’s served to me I will eat cheese and suffer the consequences later. It’s funny how many people say to me “but how can you go without cheese and ice cream!?” What’s funny is that we all have habits and after getting over that first initial hump, it gets easy. I never feel the need for either of those things and when Jared and I got married, one of the best gifts was our ice cream maker. Now we can have endless variations of dairy-free ice cream without dropping $5 on a small container that usually has ingredients I don’t want to ingest anyways. Even Jared notices that when he’s been served full cream ice cream, his stomach gets upset. Most people, myself included, don’t realize the pains their bodies are experiencing because they’re so used to it. I want only to encourage people to take their health seriously, while also eating deliciously; it can be done.

My body and taste buds have had time to develop to this way of eating. Whole wheat bread will always taste way better to me than the white stuff. Because we don’t eat a lot of packaged food my sense for salty and sweet things is way more heightened than it used to be, which is many times why I suggest “salting to taste” because it can really vary from one person to the next. Yes, baking with whole grain flours can produce more dense results then most are used to, but I’ll take that any day, not only for the extra nutritional value, but for the fact that with so many options out there, I’m able to experience so many new flavors.

In an effort to an even healthier way of baking, I’ve been thinking about and experimenting a lot lately with alternative sweeteners. Things like honey, maple syrup, dried and fresh fruit purees, and brown rice syrup. I’ve shared a few recipes on the blog already that use these ingredients, like my mint chip ice cream, lemon almond coconut ice cream sandwiches, and chocolate black bean truffles each turning out better than the last, but I really want to explore this avenue more. It’s like a mini challenge for me of sorts and one with tasty results.

So I thought about my never ending love for bran muffins (yes, I’ve always loved these, even if it seems to be the elderly ladies breakfast of choice. I love prunes too, if that says anything about me). Most of the ones I’ve had from local bakeries or coffee shops are way too sweet for me, like they’re trying to hide the perfect subtle nutty sweetness that the bran already gives the muffin. I thought about how dates would be the perfect companion to my bran muffin and decided to start there. Dates are super sweet and when pureed produce a really great wet sugar base. I’ve used chia seeds in place of eggs and yogurt and coconut oil provide the muffin with a little fat and a moist crumb. I’m playing with the idea that non-dairy milk mixed with a bit of apple cider vinegar could replace the yogurt for a vegan version and I’ll update this post if I try it. The muffins came out perfectly moist with a slightly crunchy exterior and sweetness just to my liking.

Bran Muffins / makes 9 muffins

I think fresh strawberries or raspberries would bake into these nicely. Chop them up and toss in about a cup if you have some.

1 cup packed dates, pitted
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup wheat bran
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375F and line 9 muffin cups with paper muffin cups.

Place the dates and about half the water in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the dates start to form a puree and all the big pieces have broken down. Add the rest of the water, chia seeds, yogurt, and oil and blend until a smooth puree. Don’t worry too much if it’s not super smooth.

In a large bowl combine the wheat bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour the date mixture into the dry and stir just until everything is wet. Fill each muffin cup to the top of the liner and bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Store tightly covered for several days or wrap well and freeze.