Roasted Banana Muffins

I am a creature of routine, embracing my daily schedules as if they were written in stone. Routine builds structure in my life, surrounding me in the familiar. Routine provides a way to form good habits and to keep them. Routine eases the burden of making decisions, something I find paralyzing on the most difficult of days. While I love (and need) routine, the schedule has grown stifling in the last year. My weekdays blur together in a stream of repetitiveness—I eat the same breakfast each morning; I settle in front of the television at the same time each evening; I fill my fridge with the same foods week after week. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In the past year, I have been working towards building spontaneity into the routine (the irony in this arrangement is certainly not lost on me. By definition, spontaneity fits in no schedule). My routine is filled with so many self-imposed rules (no going out on school nights, no eating past 8 pm, no staying up late on the weekend) that I feel like I'm smothering myself with monotony. I know the rules are there to benefit me, but some days I wonder how I've written myself to a single script. On a given day, the players may be interchanged, the infections of voice may be different, but the words fail to change. 

It's the spirit behind spontaneity that interests me, the freedom to break from routine and do something unanticipated. Last year I separated from routine only a handful of times. Once, while signing up for a six week woodworking course (of which I have two handsome Adirondack chairs to show for my efforts), and another when booking last minute plane tickets to Montana. It was exhilarating to "break the rules," to allow myself the power to leave the familiar, if only for a few hours at a time.

With a new year upon us, I am trying to set myself up for a year where routines have more room to bend without fear of breaking. I signed up for a month long community education pottery class to bring me joy (even if I am terrible when it comes to clay), I attend yoga class twice a week to clear my head, and I have plans to see a movie on a Tuesday, when seats are cheap and I have school the next day.

The new year feels like permission to start over—to leave the past in the past and start with the slate clean. My intention this year is to be open, open towards new ideas, unexpected plans, and a break in the daily routine. What are your intentions for the new year?

Dark spotted, fragrant bananas are ideal for baking, adding bold flavor to banana muffinsbanana bread, and banana cake. The problem with banana desserts is that when the desire to bake with bananas arrives, the bananas are not the right ripeness. Instead of waiting a few more days for the bananas to ripen, the bananas can be roasted in the oven to bring out the bright, familiar flavor. With extra vanilla extract and a sprinkling of chopped chocolate, these Roasted Banana Muffins are a simple treat for breakfast or afternoon snack.

One Year Ago: Coconut Matcha Chia Pudding
Two Years Ago: Coconut Almond Quinoa 
Three Years Ago: Almond Date Banana Smoothie 
Four Years Ago:  Chocolate (Dairy-Free) Ice Cream, Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal, & Raspberry White Chocolate Scones
Five Years Ago: Peppermint Hot Chocolate, Green Tea Coconut Ice Cream, & Chocolate Lavender Cupcakes
Six Years Ago: Banana Cinnamon Muffins, Vanilla Pear Milk, Cranberry Chocolate Muffins, & Salted Caramels

Roasted Banana Muffins

Yields 6 large or 12 standard muffins

3 medium-large bananas
2/3 cup (133 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (80 mL) vegetable oil
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) milk
2 ounces (60 grams) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Banana slices, for garnish
Chocolate shavings, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Place unpeeled bananas on a foil covered baking pan and roast for 20-25 minutes, depending on ripeness of the bananas. Remove the banana from the peels and mash. Set aside and let cool for several minutes.

Keep the oven running. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar and oil. Whisk in the egg, vanilla, and mashed bananas until combined. Slowly add the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until smooth. Stir in the milk and chopped chocolate.

Fill muffin liners 3/4 full. If desired, place two thin banana slices on top of the muffin batter and sprinkle with chocolate shavings for garnish. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Maple Glazed Pumpkin Scones

I opened my first can of pumpkin earlier this week. This annual event may be arriving too late in the season for some (especially you, PSL lovers), but the pumpkin and spices are finally starting to feel right for me. After a rough start to the season, I am focused back on the present, living moment by moment in the ups and downs of daily life.

The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year, supporting short-sleeved shirts instead of winter jackets, and long walks on paved park paths instead of treks through ankle-deep snow drifts. While I would normally be snuggling up on the couch and settling in for the long, cold months, I have been out and about instead, enjoying the respite from winter and enjoying the extended autumn warmth. I may be late to the pumpkin party this year, but I believe it's better to show up late than to never arrive. 

During the holiday season, I like to keep a few scones in the freezer for unexpected moments—when a guest drops by without warning or an unforeseen event pops up on the calendar. The scones can be frozen once shaped and sugar sprinkled. When the unexpected moment arrives, remove the scones from the freezer and bake in a preheated oven. The frozen scones may take a minute or two longer in the oven to bake, but the finished pastries make the wait worthwhile.

I suggest making a double batch: half to eat now and half to freeze for later. There is plenty of scone love to go around.

Maple Glazed Pumpkin Scones deliver classic autumn flavors in a warm, tender pastry for breakfast or an afternoon snack. The pumpkin scones are spiced and sweetened with brown sugar. Before baking, the scones are sprinkled with raw sugar to give the top of the scones a nice crunch. The maple glaze is optional, but it adds an extra level of sweetness and dimension of flavor which finishes off the scones just right.

One Year Ago: Caramel Apple Crumble Pie, & Rosemary Olive Bread
Two Years Ago: Maple Syrup Cake, & Pumpkin Pie (Dairy Free)
Three Years Ago: Butternut Squash Biscuits, Apple Crisp, & Pumpkin Spiced Doughnuts
Four Years Ago: Pumpkin Rolls, Butternut Squash Cake, Baked Apples, Filled Molasses Cookies, & Marbled Squash Bread
Five Years Ago: Grandma's Applesauce, Honey Cinnamon Chickpeas, Caramel Apple Tart, & Banana Espresso Muffins
Six Years Ago: Apple Chips, Fresh Ginger Pear Cake, Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal, & Raspberry Vanilla Bean Creme Brulée

Maple Glazed Pumpkin Scones

Yields 8 scones

Pumpkin Scone
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, cubed
1/2 cup (126 grams) canned pumpkin (or pumpkin purée)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream, plus extra for brushing
Raw sugar (turbinado or demerara sugar) for sprinkling, optional

Maple Glaze
1/2 cup (55 grams) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon milk

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, spices, and salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender (or your hands) until mixture resembles coarse sand. Set aside.

In a small bowl, beat together canned pumpkin, egg, vanilla, and heavy cream. Pour over the scone batter and lightly mix until the dough comes together. The dough will be relatively sticky.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using floured hands, form the dough into a circle and flatten it until it is about 1-inch thick. Using a sharp knife dipped in flour, cut 8 equal pie wedges. Transfer scones to a baking sheet using a flat spatula dipped in flour. Place in freezer for 1/2 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

Brush top of scones with heavy cream and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

To make the glaze, stir together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, and milk. If too thick, add additional milk by the 1/2 teaspoon until the glaze drizzles in a continuous stream off the edge of a spoon. Drizzle glaze over cooled scones and allow glaze to set for 15 minutes before serving.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

The past few weeks have been a haze of grading papers, tough conversations, and long walks beneath autumn streaked trees. I was at the doctor's office recently and received discouraging news, the words painting a picture of a long road ahead. I am fine right now—healthy, even—but it might not be that way forever.

We all are faced with the unknown that is our future. None of us know how much time we have left. It is something that we all grapple with, in some way or another, at some point in our lives. It is easier for us to push aside the unknown as a problem for another day. We make plans when the future is not promised: this is our paradox. There are too many variables in the future, too many unknowns, too many directions the story could go. The unpredictable nature of the future is what allows us the freedom to distance ourselves from it. 

It feels different, though, when you are given a glimpse of that future. When you know, with some semblance of certainty, what type of elements that future will hold. Instead of feeling like a source of relief, the knowledge becomes a chain. I feel shackled to a fate I did not imagine for myself, but now carries my name. The chain is still new to me, which is why it weighs so heavily on my mind right now. I know the significance will fade over time, as all things do. Soon this knowledge will be absorbed into the narrative of my life; it will become just another part of me. 

At the moment, I am in the middle of the adjustment period, coming to terms with what has changed and what has not. My day-to-day life is identical, but I now see the world with a new pair of eyes. I have had the tough conversations—with myself, with the man I have been dating for six years. I have confronted the idea of the family I imagined for myself through this altered lens. I don't have all the answers to the difficult questions life has posed. I am not sure the questions even have answers. 

I have spent some time in the kitchen lately, using baking as an outlet for equal parts thought and distraction. With my attention elsewhere, the cakes and cookies emerge from the oven inedible. The recipes are scattered, as I skip over important steps and fumble over ingredient amounts. Fortunately, it is the methodical, scripted process that I need right now—the swift leveling of a cup of flour, the tension of stirring a thick batter with a wooden spoon—and not the finished product. 

I wondered whether I should share this here, whether I should keep my thoughts and feelings to myself and tell you a happy story about walking beneath autumn streaked trees instead of the reality of the tough conversations. But then I reminded myself these two stories are intertwined: a cause and effect, a circular chain of events that has evolved from the last few weeks. Writing is a source of therapy, the release of feeling into words, a way to share the joy and pain of our lives.

A few days ago, I pulled a pan of these sweet, cinnamon-scented muffins from the oven. When I took my first bite, I was surprised to find I had created something truly delightful. After weeks of tossing pan after pan into the bin, it felt wonderful—a tremendous relief—that something had come out of the oven right. I would like to believe these muffins represent more than the sum of their parts, that in some way they speak for a positive change in me. 

May these muffins represent only joy for you, dear friends. Enjoy.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins are a simple breakfast staple scented with warm spices. Diced apples are sautéed in butter and sugar until softened. The apples are folded into a spiced batter, topped with a thin apple slice, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar before baking. The exposed apple slice turns chewy, like a dried apple, which contrasts nicely against the tender crumb of the muffin. Serve for breakfast or an afternoon snack alongside a hot cup of coffee or tea.  

One Year Ago: Carrot Almond Muffins, Pear Almond Tart, & Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake
Two Years Ago: Boiled Cider, Pumpkin Molasses Bread, Vegan Caramel, & Rustic Apple Tart
Three Years Ago: Vanilla Bean Malt Cake, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread, Apple Cinnamon Pancakes, & Classic Apple Pie
Four Years Ago: Pumpkin Espresso Bread, Triple Coconut Cookies, Pumpkin Waffles, Apple Cinnamon Scones, & Pear Crisp
Five Years Ago: Pumpkin Granola, Pumpkin Spice Latte, Red Wine Chocolate Cake, & Apple Cinnamon Cake
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes, Butternut Squash Custard, Pumpkin Bread Pudding, & Apple Almond Tart

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Yields 6 large or 12 standard sized muffin

Apple Muffins
1/4 cup (50 grams) melted butter, divided
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons boiled cider, optional
2 medium apples (170 grams), peeled and diced
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (177 ml) milk

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Thinly cut apple slices, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a frying pan, combine 1 tablespoon butter, granulated sugar, boiled cider, and diced apples. Sautée over medium heat until apples have softened, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside.

For the apple muffins, stir the remaining melted butter and brown sugar until uniform in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the egg and vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients (cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, salt, all-purpose flour) alternatively with the milk and stir until smooth. Stir in the sautéed apples. Set aside.

For the cinnamon sugar topping, stir together the sugar and cinnamon  in a small bowl. Set aside.

Divide batter evenly between liners, filling each approximately 3/4 full of batter. Top each with a thinly cut apple slice. Sprinkle evenly with cinnamon sugar topping. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.