Whenever we return from a long vacation, it's always a chore to go through all of the mail that has accumulated in our absence. I usually forget to stop the mail service in time, which I'm sure makes me very popular with the mail carrier as she attempts to stuff every last Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma catalog into the small rectangular space. I'm not sure that it's really necessary for these companies to send me a new product listing every four days, but their marketing teams seem to think otherwise.
This time around, the mound of mail was especially large. In addition to the last-minute pre-Christmas and the early-bird post-Christmas sales junk, we had stacks of bills, holiday cards, reminders from the dentist, and of course my huge pile of January magazine issues (my New Year's resolution to cut back on subscriptions hadn't yet begun.)
Note to magazine editors: "New Year, New You!" is no longer original or catchy. Time to come up with a new slogan.
Because I have several new books lined up, all of which I am very eager to read, I made an effort to motor through all of these issues in just a few evenings. One night, Eric glanced over at me as I skimmed Self magazine and asked, "What's that magazine about?"
"Girl stuff", I replied, figuring that would be a sufficient explanation.
Brief pause. "What, like pillow fights?", he said. (He wasn't kidding.)
And there you have it, my friends. A real glance into the psyche of the red-blooded American male. Yes Eric. This is Self magazine's annual pillow fight issue. Now go back to Mars. It took me an extra hour to get to sleep that night, just because I kept giggling.
While there wasn't much magazine reporting on pillow fights (shocking, I know), there was of course plenty on the obligatory common theme of eating healthy and getting fit for the new year. Here is what I ascertained from my reading: Quinoa is apparently the new couscous. White tea is the new green tea. Acai is the new pomegranate, although pomegranate is still acceptable with the culinarily hip. It's hard to keep up.
One of the articles that I found discussed making homemade nut butters, which could replace peanut butter in most of your recipes. Nuts like almonds and walnuts have been shown to possess multiple nutritional benefits, and they will also add unique flavors to your cookies, muffins, and smoothies. The process of making the nut butters (recipe below) is fairly simple, and the result has a very fresh roasted and all-natural taste. I decided to experiment with an almond butter banana nut muffin, hoping that the pureed banana would keep the muffins nice and moist. The muffins turned out to be quite yummy---a bit on the dense side, but flavorful and sweet. The almond flavor comes through more on the second day, so feel free to make these in advance. Here are a few extra tips for making these nutritiously nutty muffins:
- Not a fan of almonds? Try hazelnut, walnut, pecan, cashew, or peanut butter. Simply replace the almonds in the almond butter recipe with your nut of choice, and do the same for the muffin recipe.
- If you want to add some extra flavor and texture to the recipe, mix in chocolate chips, dried cranberries, figs, dates, or golden raisins.
- The almond butter keeps best tightly covered and refrigerated.
- These muffins actually taste better (in my opinion) on the day after they are baked. The flavors develop a little bit more, especially the almond butter flavor. Store the muffins in an airtight container or in a zip-top plastic bag.
- The muffins also freeze very well, which makes for great portion control. Take a muffin out of the freezer an hour before you plan to enjoy it (or the night before.) You can also rewarm the muffins directly from the freezer. Place it in the oven during the preheating cycle for 350F degrees, and it should be ready when the oven reaches 350!
Almond Butter Banana-Nut Muffins
Makes 24 muffins or 2 large loaves
4 large ripe bananas
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond butter (recipe follows)
1/3 cup safflower or canola oil
4 large eggs
1/3 cup golden brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners (or spray two large loaf pans with nonstick baking spray.) Place the bananas in the work bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.
In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and the salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond butter with the oil at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat the mixture at medium speed for 2 minutes, and then beat in the brown sugar, honey, and the vanilla extract.
With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the banana puree, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Do not over-mix. Mix in the toasted almonds.
Divide the batter almond the muffin cups, filling just over halfway. Bake until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 17-20 minutes. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 1 3/4 cups
2 cups blanched whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons honey
2-3 tablespoons safflower or canola oil
In the work bowl of a food processor, process the almonds with the salt until finely ground. Add the honey and 2 tablespoons of the oil and process until the mixture is creamy, adding more oil if necessary.