Gingerbread Peach Muffins

peachy gingerbread muffins (gluten free, vegan)

I’ve never really been able to say with any amount of conviction that I have a favorite fruit. My preferences seem to go something like this: In the fall, I really love crisp apples and fresh plums. During the spring, I get excited for the beginning of fresh strawberry season. When fresh citrus is being grown down in Florida during the winter, I love juicy oranges and grapefruit. Throughout the summer, I can’t get enough blueberries, raspberries and cherries. And later in the summer, my kitchen counter is overloaded with fresh peaches and nectarines.

Fruit can be an amazing and perplexing thing. I’ve marveled at how much better an apple can taste when in season — crisp and sweet, versus mealy and flavorless in the off-season. Blueberries can be plump and flavorful during their peak, while most of the year they are small and sour. And then there are peaches. You rarely notice them year-round, as they tend to be an overpriced luxury that is not quite worth the expense. They never have that distinct, sweet and juicy peach flavor….until late summer, when they certainly do.

I’ve been obsessing a bit over peaches and nectarines lately. With prices low and abundance high, I can’t help but stock up on amounts that are probably excessive given that there are only two people (and one dog who does not like peaches — one of the few fruits he eschews!) living in our house. Nevertheless, I somehow seem to manage our haul by enjoying peaches and nectarines in every capacity — on oatmeal, in smoothies, as a snack, and in baked goods.

gingerbread peach muffins (gluten free, vegan)

I’m not sure what gave me the idea to combine the sweetness of peaches with the spiciness of gingerbread. Perhaps because I know that ginger and peaches tend to work well together, I thought, why not add some more spices into the equation? I also find that, while delicious, peaches also tend to have a more mild flavor that can balance nicely with something spicier on the palate.

With these muffins, I find that the peach keeps these muffins moist and flavorful, while balancing the spiciness of the gingerbread base. They make a great breakfast muffin or even dessert option and can be kept at room temperature, covered, for a few days. I imagine they would also freeze fairly well, and then can be re-heated to eat. I tested this recipe on Gennaro and my parents and these muffins were met with all-positive reviews. My mom actually claimed that these were “one of the best muffins I’ve ever had!” though I would take this endorsement for what it’s worth — my mom says the same thing about pretty much everything she really likes. At any rate, I hope you enjoy these as much as my family and I did!

Final note: while I did use oil in this recipe — even though I have drastically cut back on oil in my cooking and baking — the entire recipe calls for only two tablespoons. This adds up to about 1/2 teaspoon oil per muffin, or about 20 added fat calories per muffin from oil — making these a relatively low-fat option.

Gingerbread-Peach Muffins:

Yield: 12 Muffins

Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups oat flour, loosely packed*
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup raw coconut crystals (or coconut palm sugar)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Wet Ingredients:
1 cup unsweetened dairy-free milk*
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing muffin tins

Plus: 1 heaping cup diced fresh peaches (about 1 large peach)

*Note: I used Arrowhead Mills Oat Flour. However, this brand is not certified gluten-free. If you’re highly sensitive, have Celiac disease, or are worried about cross-contamination with gluten, please look for certified gluten-free oat flour, such as this one from Bob’s Red Mill

**I tagged these as soy-free and nut-free, but obviously the use of soy or nut milk will negate either of these tags. That said, I used unsweetened soy milk, though almost any dairy-free milk could work, including coconut, almond or hemp milk. Play around and see which you like best. 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either gently grease 12 muffin tins with olive oil, using your hands or a paper towel,  or line each muffin tin with baking cups.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add wet ingredients to a separate bowl and whisk. Slowly add to dry ingredients and whisk together until combined.

4. Fold in peaches until well-distributed.

5. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter into each pre-greased/lined muffin tin. Place on the middle rack of your pre-heated oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until muffins are browned on top and bounce back when pressed.

6. Let cool for about 10-15 mintues before gently removing each muffin. I like to use a butter knife to go around the edges and make sure nothing is sticking to the sides, then I’ll gently loosen the bottom and  lift the muffin from the top. Let cool on a wire rack until ready to eat.

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Fat-Free Berry Oat Crisp

berry oat crisp (fat free)

As I mentioned, I am trying to significantly cut down oil in my diet. I thought it would be really difficult, but I’m surprised at how little it’s missed. Who knew that sweating onions in veggie broth or white wine would yield the same delicious base as fatty olive-oil does for soups? Who knew that you can make a delicious stir-fry with just some simple tamari and/or white wine? Makes me wonder why I was adding unnecessary fat and calories for so many years…

I went a step further with this delicious berry crisp and made it completely fat-free. It’s a healthy summer option that is both light and comforting. I brought this as a dessert to share at a party over the weekend, where there were multiple chocolate cakes, brownies and pies of the non-vegan, gluten-filled variety. I expected this crisp to perhaps get lost in the shuffle — or underwhelm in light of so many sugar-heavy, non-vegan, fat-filled sweet treats. Instead, I got compliments from those who knew I had brought it — and the ultimate compliment from someone who didn’t, as I overheard her telling everyone at her table that “the berry cobbler is out of this world”. Of course, I ran back to the dessert table to double-check that there were no other berry cobblers there. Thankfully, there weren’t, giving me the confidence I needed to share this recipe with all of you.

This recipe is truly simple to make. In fact, if I have some berries on hand, I might throw together a modified single-serving version to satisfy any lingering sweet tooth I may have after dinner. The lemon juice makes the filling slightly tart, so if you have an especially strong sweet tooth you may want to replace it with orange juice or water.

fresh berries

Fat-Free Berry Oat Crisp:

Yield: about 8- 10 servings

2 pints blueberries

1 pint raspberries

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 packets stevia

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder

2 cups gluten-free oats

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add berries, lemon juice, stevia and arrowroot to a 7×11″ baking dish (or 2 qt. baking dish of any diameter). Stir gently until berries are coated.

3. In a separate bowl, add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Pour evenly over berries and spread gently with back of a spoon.

4. Bake crisp in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until fruit is bubbling and top is golden-brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Avocado-Lime Tart and Updates

Hello there! Long time no talk. When I last posted, there was still snow on the ground. It’s 81 degrees in Michigan today. So, you get the point.

Since my last post, a lot has happened. Gennaro and I finally found a house and moved out of my parents’ house. We searched, we found, we went into contract. And then about a month later, the house was ours. That’s the good news.

Then, there’s the other part of the story. The part I debated about posting for fear of, I don’t know…calling too much attention to myself? Being whiny? Making too big of a deal out of something that might seem like nothing to a lot of people?

Those thoughts all ran through my head. But then there was another side of me. The side that thought maybe someone could benefit from my story. So, here it is:

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you may remember me posting a few times about chronic muscle spasms and stiff necks. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for the last few years, and something I had carelessly attributed to stress from law school, as it was certainly a new and unwelcome phenomenon for me. Not that I didn’t deal with it in every way I thought I could — yoga, heat therapy, massages, acupuncture, muscle rubs, countless chiropractic visits and even the occasional muscle relaxer were just a few of my go-to remedies. These have been a staple in my life for the last three years.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may also know that early last year, I left New York to move back to Michigan for work. Between then and our recent move into a new home, Gennaro and I were living with my parents. While being in your late twenties and moving back in with your parents is certainly not always an ideal situation, in my case, it had its benefits. For one thing, my mom noticed that I seemed fatigued and “out of it” a lot, and insisted that I see a doctor about it. She also insisted that my neck pain and muscle spasms were somehow related. Of course, my natural inclination as a child was to ignore her and insist I was fine. But that only lasted for so long before the idea of finally getting to the bottom of whatever was going on with me became too enticing. So I began seeing a wonderful doctor in Michigan who specializes in chronic disease.

Initial testing revealed less-than-surprising results: chronic candidiasis (I had known this was an issue for me), Epstein Barr, HV6, etc. If you’ve suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia in your lifetime, you’ve probably tested positive for some of these as well. But then my doctor asked me if I had tested positive for Lyme before, because there was a Western Blot strain that came back positive.

In fact, I had. Same Western Blot, about two years ago in New York. My primary care doctor there had ordered it because of complaints of fatigue back then, too. But when they told me I had an “equivocal” (i.e. “maybe positive”) test, I was told it was really nothing to worry about for the time being and that I should just wait to see how I feel. I was told, instead, that I might just be “depressed.” No follow-up testing was ordered. Naturally, I was suspicious and concerned. So I followed-up with an infectious disease specialist, who basically told me, in as nice of a way as you can say this, that I was wasting his time and he had really sick patients to deal with (alright, he didn’t sue those exact words, but his were surprisingly close). He appeased me, though, by ordering a follow-up test, which came back negative (I now know that this was a much less sensitive test and can often yield negative results even when someone is infected with Lyme). Plus, even though I had been in areas where Ticks were present, I did not develop the typical “bullseye rash” (which I now know is not always present), so I had nothing to worry about. OK, I thought. And I went on with my life without giving it a second thought.

Until it happened again. This time, I thought, it can’t be just a coincidence, right? So my doctor recommended that in addition to testing for other tick-borne diseases, that I send out my lab work to California to a facility for an IGENEX test and (hopefully) definitive results. That test came back clearly positive.

Now would be a good time to point out that there is a rift in the medical community about which tests should be used and whether the IGENEX testing  (or any testing, for that matter) is reliable. I’m also aware that a lot of people who are suspicious that they have Lyme get an  eye-roll from conventional medical doctors, and are instead offered a possible alternative cause of their symptoms. Like, for example, my “depression,” for which I was prescribed Wellbutrin (which I never took because I knew I was not depressed). A great documentary called Under Our Skin really exposes this controversy and casts a much-needed light on such practices.

Anyways, in addition to the positive IGENEX test, I also tested positive for a number of other tick-borne diseases — Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia and Rickettsia, to name a few.

Suddenly, with all of this new information, things started making sense to me. Like why, two years ago, I felt like I was on my death bed with what turned out to be a nasty parasite called Cryptosporidiosis. My research on this parasite revealed that individuals with healthy immune systems can contract it and fight it off fairly easily, while others with HIV or AIDS (or Lyme, it turns out!) will have symptoms. And symptoms I had. Like, worst case of food poisoning you could ever imagine symptoms. Like, 94 degree temperature shortly followed by 102 degree temperature symptoms (that is not a joke). So, yeah. Apparently my immune system was not the healthiest.

I promise I am trying to get to the point here. But I also think it’s important that I be somewhat vocal about the fact that I went to countless doctors with my symptoms and was, basically, shrugged off. And even though I had classic Lyme symptoms (stiff necks, muscle pain, fatigue) and an equivocal test, I was told I was just depressed. So imagine my relief when I found a doctor who not only believed me and aggressively tested me, but who also is willing to aggressively treat me for what is actually wrong.

Unfortunately, the problem with aggressive treatment is the fact that it can be long and hard on your body. Since beginning antibiotics, I’ve experienced waves of nausea, chills, vomiting, fatigue and an increase in my muscle pains. This, I’m told, is the reaction to the toxins dying off and being released into your system. I’m not a fan. But it’s worth it because I know I need to get better. And while I try to get better, I need to remind myself to take it easy and not feel guilty about not responding to emails, comments, voicemails, etc. (I still feel guilty, but I’m working on it). I need to remind myself that even though there are still boxes piled up in our new home, there’s no timeline for getting everything done. I need to remind myself to leave work early when I need to, because otherwise I will just make myself worse.

Finally, I need to remind myself that even though I haven’t posted in three months, it’s not the end of the world! The blog can wait, as much as I love it so. Hopefully, it won’t have to wait too long.

But in the meantime, I did manage to make a dessert for our family Easter gathering last weekend. This avocado-lime pie turned out to be quite the hit. No one even guessed it was made with avocado. Plus, the lemon and lime juice kept it from discoloring, even though I made this two days ahead of time. The kiwi is optional, but I think it made for a nice presentation. You can make this in a traditional tart pan or in a springform pan as I did. Or if you’re looking to cut down on calories, carbs and sugar, simply make the filling and eat it as a pudding. It is very good on its own as well! I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Avocado-Lime Tart:

Crust:

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup raw coconut crystals

2/3 cup soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread

½ teaspoon sea salt

Filling:

2 ripe hass avocados (room temperature)

1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed

½ cup fresh lime juice

zest of one lime

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid stevia

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional:

2 medium kiwis, thinly sliced and patted dry with a paper towel to remove excess water

Directions:

1. For crust: combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until loose crumbles form. Press into a 9″ springform pan or tart pan, using the bottom of a measuring cup to even out the bottom. If using a tart pan, use fingers to push crust to edges and to even out the edges as well. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

2. For filling: combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender (I used the Vitamix) and blend on high until very smooth.

3. Transfer filling to completely cooled crust. Let chill in refrigerator for a few hours. If desired, top with sliced kiwi. This recipe can chill for up to two days in the refrigerator if covered directly with cling wrap.

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