Tag Archives: Muffin

Lumberjack and Lumberjane

A continuance of Poking a Wood Fire (see earlier post).

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

The other day I stumbled across some pictures of our first wedding anniversary when Dave and I were camping at the much missed Highpoint State Park in New Jersey (best campsites ever… and a really good winery call Westfall Winery nearby too).  The weather was so miserable that most of the other reserved sites were vacant and the park rangers looked pityingly at us whenever they drove by.  We, however, were having an amazing time and didn’t even notice the bad weather.  Dave and I had just come back from a field season in Turkey, had both lost ridiculous amounts of weight from a combination of hard work and dysentery, and were simply reveling in being on vacation… for our anniversary… in weather that was not topping 140º Fahrenheit.  After the sizzling, dry plains; the wet, dripping woodlands seemed miraculous.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

What also seemed miraculous was Dave’s ability to start a fire in that wet pond of a fire pit.  While looking at the pictures from this trip and with fire-starting on my mind, I remembered that Dave had made a sort of Jenga-like construction of kindling, had filled it full of newspaper, then lit it.  Once that initial fire was established, he put logs around it and the resulting fire was amazing.  I’ve since used a variation of that as my “new” fire method, and so far so good.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

Fire pit or bog?

Fire pit or bog?

Back on Vancouver Island and on the road to fire mastery, I turned my sight to our non-existent wood pile.  It is daunting to think how much wood goes into keeping a fire going, especially when you try to extrapolate that out to cover the unknown quantity of our winter.  For weeks I have been watching industrious neighbors and friends gather and split immense piles of fire wood, filling sheds from stem to stern with neat stacks.  Now I was also noticing how BIG these sheds are, and I was starting to think that we could be on the brink of trouble.  This woodchuck needed to start chucking wood, and fast.

Luckily our Farmer-Landlord was thinking similar thoughts, and approached Dave about heading up to The Mountain to gather firewood.  I don’t know which mountain.  I don’t know where this mountain is.  But you can hear the capitalization when people speak of it.  Farmer-Landlord sent Dave off to buy a wood gathering permit, and $20 later they had plans in place for the following weekend to drive to The Mountain to get wood.  Whatever that meant.

We weren’t really sure what to expect from Dave’s wood-finding mission, or how to prepare him for it.  What was it going to be like?  What equipment beyond closed toe shoes and gloves did he need to bring?  What exactly did one “do” to gather enough wood for an entire winter season?  My anthropologist friends will understand this, but the expedition was also starting to have a bit of a “hunter-gatherer” feeling to it.  Dave was leaving our home site to hunt and bring home wood, while I was staying around the home to gather… I don’t know… something fabulous I’m sure.

Then the day for the wood hunting expedition came; cold and misty.  Dave left with Farmer-Landlord in a beat-up old pickup truck with trailer attached.  On the way up The Mountain an elk sauntered across the road in front of them, the first sighting of such a beastie by either one.  Then they came to the timber yard, and it was like nothing either one of us had expected.  Dave’s cell phone photography showed a place that looked oddly like the messy playroom of a giant toddler.  Massive tangled mounds of the better parts of trees were piled around the clearing.  Dave and Farmer-Landlord started pulling logs out of the piles, chain sawing them into smaller pieces (ranging from ready for the fireplace to person-sized) and filling up the truck bed and trailer.  Once both truck and trailer were filled, they headed back down The Mountain, getting back to the farm midafternoon after a long day of hard labor.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

A closer look at the timber pile.

A closer look at the timber pile.

This will keep us warm all winter... right?

This will keep us warm all winter… right?

In the meantime, back on the ranch… or in our case farm… Little Man and I had our own travails.  My lovely little toddler boy was stung in the face by a yellow jacket, initiating what I’m sure is the first of many medical panics of my parenting life.  That is a story for another time, but when Dave and Farmer-Landlord pulled into the yard I had just gotten my swollen-faced angel baby to sleep for his nap.  I was a mess.

Arriving like triumphant hunters, Dave and Farmer-Landlord dismounted from their trusty steed and posed in front of their bounty.  I was impressed, but still distracted by the sting and hadn’t had a chance to tell Dave of what happened since The Mountain was well out of cell range.  Farmer-Landlord misinterpreted my lack of praise and chastised me for not being more glorifying of my MAN.  He had hunted.  He had brought back fire wood.  I was not being as adoring as befitted a gatherer.  I stuttered out something not quite as idolising as Farmer-Landlord thought appropriate, applauding them both on the success of their hunt.  Farmer-Landlord rolled his eyes and looked pityingly at Dave who was finding all of this quite amusing.

The next few minutes were filled with me explaining what happened to Little Man, and then there was a flurry of logs being tossed through the air into piles bordering our property.  I pitched in as much as my bright pink gardening gloves would let me, and surprisingly missed being drilled in the head with the flying pieces of wood.  We now had enough fire wood to (hopefully) last us the winter… we just needed to chain saw most of it into smaller pieces and then split it all.  This was going to take some time…

The saga of the wood splitting will have to wait for another post, but in the meantime I knew that we would need snacks.  Power for the muscles, and comfort for the hunter-gatherer-wood splitter soul.  These Zucchini Oat Muffins have been a huge hit with Little Man’s buddies at play dates.  The last play date when I served these muffins at snack time, one of his little friends informed me that these were delicious and much better than the previous ones I had made, which happened to be quinoa muffins.  With the toddler vote strongly in my pocket, and with Dave attempting to snatch these muffins off of the cooling rack, these are some seriously delicious muffins.

Zucchini Oat Muffins

I am often trying to make baked goods a bit healthier so that I can feel better about feeding them to my toddler… and to myself, of course.  That is how I came up with these muffins in the first place, since most green things are on Little Man’s “persona non grata” list.  These, however, he gobbles up, and will try to snag from his friends’ plates if they are not vigilant.  The batch photographed here was made with the last summer zucchini from the farmers’ market (sigh…).  I had been told by someone wise (my brother) that you could freeze grated zucchini to use in future baked goods, so I gave that a shot here.  I grated the whole zucchini, put half into the batter and half into a plastic baggie in the freezer.  I haven’t used my frozen zucchini booty yet, but will let you know how the experiment works.


1 c. flour

1c. whole wheat flour

1 c. rolled oats (not instant)

½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3 large eggs

¼ c. canola oil

½ c. plain yogurt (fat free is fine, just use good quality)

¼ c. milk (same as for yogurt)

2 c. grated zucchini


  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Prepare a muffin pan with papers, or you can grease the pan.
  2. In a large bowl combine the flours, oats, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Dry ingredients

Dry ingredients

With the oats

With the oats

3.   In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt and milk.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

4.   Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir to combine.  Add the zucchini to the mix and combine gently.  Do not over mix the batter or you will toughen your muffins.  Not good.

Combining the two

Combining the dry and wet ingredients.

Adding the zucchini into the batter

Adding the zucchini into the batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

5.   Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.  Test your muffins with a tooth pick to make sure they are cooked through.  If the tooth pick comes out wet, give them another couple of minutes in the oven.  Let the muffins cool in the pan on a rack for about 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan to the rack and cool.  They can be served warm.  Enjoy!

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

If you can believe it, I was so focused on getting the muffins out for Little Man’s buddies at the play date… I forgot to take pictures of the final product.  I’ll be making them again soon, though, and will update the post with the final glorious picture of golden brown deliciousness.  Until then… just use your imagination.  🙂

Click here for a printable version of Zucchini Oat Muffins.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.


A Season of Blackberries

OK, so it’s possible that I might have gone a little overboard with the blackberry love recently.  It’s hard not to on the island.  On Vancouver Island in August it is a common occurrence to see cars pulled over on the side of the highway, not because they are broken down or in need of assistance, but because people are out there picking blackberries.  Then you start to see people with ladders on the sidewalks to get to the higher branches, people buried in bushes at the back of supermarkets, people with berry buckets everywhere.  Once you can recognize what the bushes look like, you realize that the parts of the island that are not covered with forest are instead covered with blackberry bushes.  The bushes line the highways and roads, the train tracks, they pop up next to telephone poles, they grow beside bus stops, and they are all over Vancouver Island University campus.


I started jealously watching specific areas around town where I’d spotted the bushes, waiting for when the locals had decided that the berries were ready.  Then I would pounce… literally if I had to.  It wasn’t until after the family reunion that I started noticing people’s cars on the side of the road with people embedded and ensnared in the bushes greedily picking berries.  Then it took some time for us to be able to coordinate our schedules when all three of us could be out there harvesting.  While Little Man was willing, he is not actually much help picking blackberries… or picking anything for that matter.  When he has “helped” Mommy pick tomatoes in the farm garden he tends to use the precious fruit like a hard thrown bocce ball.  I have to move fast to get the fruit from his little hands into my basket.  And that is without the extra bonus of all the blackberry thorns.  So on each of our forays to pick berries Dave’s primary task has been keeping Little Man out of the road, out of the bushes and more or less out of trouble.  For Dave’s efforts he has been rewarded with blackberry scones, muffins, and yes, a blackberry cocktail.  I’m sharing the blackberry muffin recipe at the end of this post.  For the other two, you’ll just have to keep posted.  🙂


For our own harvesting, we first tried a spot along the road that takes us down into town.  The area is largely forest, but there is a little turn around area and I’d seen cars and berry pickers there in the past.  While we made a pretty good haul that day, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped since the people I had spied earlier did a good job of clearing out the berries.  Our next attempt was right outside of Dave’s building at VIU.  These bushes were full of gorgeous, bursting ripe blackberries.  So Dave chased Little Man who was chasing the bunnies, and I picked berries as fast as I could.  Blackberry harvesting is not without hazard, the bushes snagged my jeans, my sleeves and my hair.  I would bury myself deep into a particularly nice area of the bushes counting on my clothing to protect me (more or less) from the thorns, just to find that I couldn’t get out again.  But any scratches, and there were quite a few, were well worth it.


I have to admit that not only do I love picking and eating blackberries, but with every freezer bag I put away I feel like that’s also money in the bank.  Each bag that I freeze for future use is one more bag of berries that I don’t have to buy at the store, and as I mentioned above I use berries in everything from salads to pancakes to baked goods to drinks.  Did I mention that I love blackberries?  Normally this time of year would find me scowling at the stacks of beautiful fresh blackberries in the stores, priced at a level that was hard to justify in our grocery budget.  This year it found me ensnared in bushes, and I am still finding thorns in my jeans.  If you also find yourself in a place where blackberries do not grow wild (and free of cost) but still want to try out the muffin recipe below, please substitute the blackberries with any berry that you do have access to, frozen or fresh.  Blueberries or raspberries would be great in these muffins.  Speaking of blueberries, I’ve been told that they are just now coming into season here…

A couple notes about blackberry picking safety:

  • First, although the berries grow incredibly well along the train tracks, NEVER pick berries there.  Not only is it dangerous with the trains using the tracks, but the tracks are routinely sprayed with herbicide to keep plants from growing there.  That means that the berry bushes have been sprayed too.  Not good eats.
  • Second, although it is tempting, never pick berries low to the ground.  There are animals out and about that like to mark their territory.  Just imagine the height of a neighborhood dog’s hind quarters and remember that urine soaked berries are to be avoided.

Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins


1 ¾ c. whole wheat flour

¾ c. rolled oats (not quick cooking)

½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 tbsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 c. milk

1/3 c. plain yogurt

1 tbsp. canola oil

2 eggs

1 c. blackberries or other berry, frozen or fresh


Preheat the oven to 400º.  Line a muffin pan with papers or lightly oil it.

In a large bowl stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl whisk together the milk, yogurt, oil and eggs until well combined.  I tend to use good quality skim milk and fat free yogurt here.  The yogurt adds a richness to the muffins, and replaces the oil that would otherwise be required.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients combined.

The dry ingredients combined.

The wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients combined.

The wet ingredients combined.

 Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just long enough to combine.  You do not want to over mix the batter since that results in tough muffins.  This batter will look a bit more wet than muffin batter usually does.  Don’t worry, it’s supposed to.  Let the batter sit for 20 minutes.  This will let the oats hydrate, soaking up some of the extra liquid.

Everything combined.  It will look too wet until after it has rested for 20 minutes.  My sushi timer is set, now the waiting begins.

Everything combined. It will look too wet until after it has rested for 20 minutes. My sushi timer is set, now the waiting begins.

 After the 20 minutes of resting, add the berries to the mixture and gently fold together.  Divide the batter amongst the muffin cups, and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until they are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (except for any blackberry juices it might encounter).

After the batter has rested, add in the berries.  Now you are ready to go.

After the batter has rested, add in the berries. Now you are ready to go.

Tasty batter in the pan...

Tasty batter in the pan…

Tasty muffins out of the oven...

Tasty muffins out of the oven…

 Let the muffins rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then remove them to a rack to cool completely.  Enjoy!

Cooling muffins on the rack.  This is when Little Man realizes a treat is coming.

Cooling muffins on the rack. This is when Little Man realizes a treat is coming.

Little Man in the background asking "'Nack time?"

Little Man in the background asking “‘Nack time?”

 Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

The Sheep Are Out…

Close up of Mallow blossoms near our home.

Close up of Mallow blossoms near our home.

“The sheep are out…”

“No, Dad, they are in their pen, it just looks like they are out.”

“No, the sheep are out…”

We had lived on the farm for three days and our farmer landlords were away on a long-planned vacation, having left before we had arrived.  Now, as we were just sitting down to the first dinner with my in-laws in our new home…  the sheep were out.

 Let me begin by stating that Dave and I are NOT farmers.  In fact, we haven’t even proven to be successful gardeners yet.  We moved to Vancouver Island with our toddler son for a new job and happened to stumble on this fantastic rental property smack in the middle of a small organic farm.  Awesome!  But now the main residents of the farm were “going on walk aboot” and we had to figure out how to get them back into their picturesque setting.

 Dave and his Dad ran down to tend to the sheep, while I called the previous renter and stared incredulously over my wine glass across our unfinished deck at the scene below.  To say that our deck is “unfinished” is to put it kindly.  Our deck does not exist.  In fact, the glass French doors that will eventually open out to the deck currently open out to a grand drop of about 15 feet down to the dirt below.  An old bannister with flaking white paint has been nailed outside of the doors to forestall anyone visiting the deck before it is actually in place.  This means that Dave’s Mom, our toddler son and I had an amazing double-glass door view from our table to the scene unfolding below.

 There were probably only 10 sheep that had gotten out, but they are robust, large sheep not the soft little lambs of the cartoons.  Dave and his Dad were being remarkably successful in herding the sheep back towards their pen as they surged in waves around the backyard.  That is to say that they were being remarkably successful until the farm dog came to “help,” and in a burst of joy scattered the sheep across the property.  Once the dog was separated from the sheep, the men were able to corral them and head back to dinner.

 For some people, the idea of running out of the dining room to corral sheep may not seem like such a herculean venture.  Why make such a fuss?  Those people have never met Dave or me.

 Dave and I are both city kids, born and raised in large West Coast metropolises.  We have spent a number of years living in the Midwest and I had studied farm politics, but we’d never ventured to the actual farm side of food production.  Now we had moved our family of three halfway across the continent, across national borders, to an island where I knew how to do nothing.  Literally.  I can’t figure out the temperature (Celsius), the speed or distance to anything (kilometers), or how to use their debit card machines (Interac).  It’s not pretty.  Anyone who thinks that Canada and the States are the same, should move across a border and see just how similar things are.  They aren’t.  Similarly, teaching university classes, writing dissertations and researching academic articles do not quite prepare you for the “real world” of sheep wrangling before your dinner gets cold.

 Yet despite the dog’s best efforts to scatter the sheep to the winds, Dave and his Dad managed to get the sheep contained and return to their dinners unscathed.  Dave’s Mom was concerned that their dinners were cold; our son was simply concerned that someone keeps filling his little plate; and the men looked a bit dazed.  In my mind, however, a slightly cooled dinner would only last in our memories for a few moments; the story of this evening would live in the family forever.

 The next morning I was feeling the need for “home,” and following the advice of real estate agents to make your house smell inviting, I baked up a batch of these Banana Chocolate muffins.  I’ve adapted the recipe a bit, but the original comes from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home.  I may not be a domestic goddess, but her food makes me feel homey.  And our son, who was a total trooper through the entire move, had just lost all of his friends, his parks, his familiar jaunts.  Most of his toys were still packed, and he kept asking where we were.  These muffins are one of his favorite things, and I wanted to see that little chocolate smeared smile.

 Later that evening, once Dave’s folks had taken the ferry to the mainland (our son thinks his grandparents just might be “fairies” going to the Mainland from Neverland Island), Dave and I sat on the little arbor bench next to the driveway.  We were looking out over the pasturage lined with trees, sipping two well-deserved frosty beverages after our day of unpacking an endless stream of boxes, when the sheep started bleating from their stalls and we started laughing.  The sheep were most definitely not out this time, but our new home promises to be an interesting adventure.

Banana Chocolate Muffins

Makes 1 dozen awesome muffins

These are my son’s favorite muffins.  He thinks he’s getting a real treat, and doesn’t realize all the good things packed into these great little packages.  My best experiences with this recipe are when I use four (and sometimes up to six) over-ripe bananas that I’ve stored in the freezer.  When bananas are just about too far gone, I chuck them into the freezer to use later for muffins like these.  Just put the frozen bananas on a plate in a single layer in the microwave for about 20 seconds or so to soften them up.  You can also pull them out of the freezer the night before you want to make them and thaw them on the counter, but I’m never that well-organized.

4 very ripe bananas

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup plain yogurt (I use fat free, but full fat is fine too)

2 eggs

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup good quality dark chocolate chips (optional… if you don’t like awesome)

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400ºF and line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl mash the bananas, leaving them a little coarse.  Mix in the oil, yogurt, eggs and sugar.

In a medium bowl mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda.  Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, being careful to not over mix the batter.  Gently fold in the chocolate and walnuts if using.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan.

 Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  Let the muffins rest briefly in the pan and then cool them on a wire rack.

Chocolate Banana Muffin batter

Chocolate Banana Muffin batter

Filling the muffin tins

Filling the muffin tins

My “new to me” oven runs a bit hot, so these are almost over done, but the extra-doneness just makes them taste extra-chocolatey.

A satisfied customer... who wants "more muffins please."

 Banana Chocolate Muffins Card

Click on the above link for a pdf version of the recipe that can be printed.