A Good Excuse to Bake, and Cassava Flour Miracle Muffins

I bake when winter’s cold seeps through every nook and cranny, barging inside when it’s not welcome. Spring feels far away on days like these, so I cope by baking blueberry muffins. They brighten the day and remind me that harsh, hard seasons eventually fade into warmer, more welcoming ones, and this season will too.

Winter reminds me of hard days when kitchen life turned upside down. My outlook was bleak. The promise of good food felt elusive, even laughable–nothing like it was in my childhood. Back then the kitchen beckoned, I answered its call out of curiosity, not necessity. I was lucky enough to have parents who indulged my desire to explore to my heart’s content (God bless them). Lots of good stuff came out of those early experiments.

Oh, there were plenty of flops, too, but even the worst of them didn’t deter me from getting back into that kitchen the next day. Trial and error has been part of the process for as long as I can remember. Every miserable failure fueled my drive to get back behind the stove and try, try again. This recipe is the result of that resolve.

Of all the challenges this unconventional kitchen life handed me, baking without grains was the trickiest. Gluten free baking was tough enough, but at least that still uses grains. Learning how to use alternative flours (almond, arrowroot, coconut, tapioca, potato) is like learning a different language. Nuance gets lost in translation, complicating the exchange. Discovering cassava flour was like meeting a good interpreter who makes meaning out of the mess.

Miracles don’t make sense, exactly, but they do have meaning. These muffins are naturally grain/gluten free and accommodate for all the top allergens. (They contain egg, but work beautifully with an egg replacer.). The basic recipe is plain on purpose: it can be dressed up on a whim with all sorts of flavors and textures. Feel like lemon poppy seed? Use this recipe. Curious about cranberry orange? Use this recipe. Craving chocolate chip? Use this recipe. It’s endlessly adaptable.

Today we made blueberry lemon because citrus helps lift our moods in the middle of a dreary day. It reminds us brighter days of spring really will come again and prompts us to watch the miracle unfold.

Until it does, we’ll be keeping warm by baking batch after batch of these muffins. I hope you do too!


When Nice Isn’t Enough, and Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Emery and I spent a lot of time together these days. It’s nice, but it’s not enough.

On school days I scurry through the morning like a frantic squirrel, gathering up bits of this and that and packing things away for later, scooting my pups out the door while Emery perches himself at the window wondering when everyone will get home again. He barely eats a bite of breakfast until after we circle back from school drop off to our own make-shift classroom at home, and even then, staying on schedule distracts him from satisfying his stomach, and he ends up grumpy as we work our way through morning.

Snacks help. So do small breaks to get outside and wiggle. But most of the time Emery doesn’t even want to do that–he’d rather snuggle up close to me and read an entire Magic Tree House book from cover to cover in one sitting, or sit at the table alongside me and work on math games for the bulk of the morning. The laundry sits, as do the dirty dishes. And forget about my cup of morning tea and or a hot shower or any of the projects I thought I would be working on this month–things clearly didn’t turn out the way I thought they would this season.

I know I’m not alone in this. Change charged in uninvited everywhere, and most of us are doing everything we can to make the best of it. We’re saying yes to everything we possibly can to comfort and encourage, not coddle or indulge. It’s a fine line between the two, of course. Sometimes phonics looks more like snuggling on the couch and sounding out words than sitting at the table staring at worksheets. Morning math lessons sometimes happen while I’m making muffins or when we’re sitting in carline at the end of the day.

Like so many of you, I am thankful for the extra time I have with my boy, and most days I remind myself this time is a gift. So I pray for flexibility in my heart to embrace this season despite its disappointments, but still. It’s hard.

It’s hard because for as much as I used to toy with the idea of homeschool life, this isn’t what I imagined. Like, at all. My imagination conjured up images of all three of the Goobies home together all day long, happily learning alongside each other in an at-home school room straight from a Pottery Barn catalog, dressed in corduroy jumpers and leather shoes. We’d romp through piles of fallen leaves in the morning, throwing schedules out the window because learning together out there in the real world would be a treat, not a nuisance. Then we’d huddle back inside for hot chocolate and recite state capitals while munching on chocolate chip cookies. No one would ever be lonesome because there would always be someone to play with. The kids would get bad tempered sometimes, sure–but they’d never by themselves, like Emery is. How many other children are enduring these endless string of empty days looking out the window, waiting for something to change?

2020 taught us many things: how to be flexible, how to give grace, how to adapt and adjust and choose joy anyway. It also taught us the value of togetherness from the abrupt absence of it. Visiting through glass–while nice–isn’t good enough. Waving at people six feet away isn’t good enough. Staying away altogether because of what could happen if you get too close isn’t good enough for establishing friendships or maintaining relationships with the people we need in our lives. Nice things aren’t the best things.

I know we’ve all got to make sacrifices this week, this season, this year. I get that and I’m on board with doing our part to make things work for everyone. But the harder truth is this: I also want the best for my boy, and so much alone-ness isn’t the best.

After a turbulent couple of days last week, Emery fell into bed, emotionally exhausted. He clutched my neck and held on tight, unwilling to let me go. My mama heart should have swooned, but the thought of all the broken moments that left him crying and asking questions I simply couldn’t answer nagged my protective heart. The weight of loneliness settled in as I remembered the hurt in his voice: “Why did they have to go? How come I can’t go too? Where did daddy go? When will he come back? How come the girls get to do that and I don’t? Why do I have to stay here? I don’t want to stay here.”

I know there will be a day when these moments will be a memory. The dragged out days of Kindergarten homeschool will fade into a time I wish I could return to, just like the hard and hazy first years of parenthood did. The sting of this season will wane as time ambles on, but for now, it hurts. I hug him back tight and memorize the way he breathes, and he whispers something into the dark of the room: “I would be delighted if you made pumpkin muffins with cinnamon sugar for breakfast tomorrow.”

I smiled, laughing a little as I hugged him tight and replied, “I would be delighted to make some for you.”

I’m not sure what I expected him to say, but it most certainly was not that. Hadn’t he had enough mommy and muffin mornings? But I realized there is comfort in the familiar, and when we ache, we look for something to cling to that calms us down and consoles us, steadying us for what comes next. Mornings, muffins and me–those are his constants these days. I can’t solve the world’s problems. Muffins can’t do that either, but they can smooth out rumpled feelings for a little while at least. Making them is one small act of love I can do right here behind the glass, despite the darkness swirling just outside the panes. Baking them won’t change much outside, but perhaps they’ll change something on the inside a little. After all, when love charges into the darkness, it changes things.

It might not be enough, but it’s a start. And since we’ve got to start somewhere, muffins are a delicious place as any. These gluten free Pumpkin Spice Muffins are top 14 free when you use an egg replacement. They’re warm, comforting, and flexible–just like we’re all trying to be these days–and a beautiful reminder that good things are right here in front of us when we slow down enough to see them.