Birthdays (though I enjoy them immensely) are decidedly bad for the waistline. Especially since Ian's and my birthdays are only two days apart and not too far from Halloween. We tend to overdo our indulgence in sweets, making full-sized cakes for just the two of us, giving ourselves permission to eat spoonfuls of leftover frosting and as many mellowcreme pumpkins as we can handle. Sweets, and cooking vessels and books to help with their preparation, are a popular gift. This year I received a lovely madeleine pan (which I am more than excited to put to good use), Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess (basically a baking book with more deliciously sinful treats than you can imagine, along with entertaining tips), and Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything (part memoir, part cookbook). These amazing, delicious things, along with a large bag of mellowcreme pumpkins and several non-food-related gifts (all lovely and well-appreciated--thanks to the givers!). Our birthdays are really that first step down the slippery slope of the holiday season. Birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas...and then the self-disgust and weight-loss resolutions of January.
Of course, I know I don't have to be eating that whole time. I often impose (or try to impose) dietary restrictions on myself in the interim between such holidays. After the birthday cake and candy is gone, be good until Halloween (if there is indeed a gap between them). Low-calorie soup all through November until Thanksgiving day. Christmas cookies only at social events. These are well-meant, but rarely followed through. Sometimes I'll try to be "good" by using I Can't Believe It's Not Butter baking sticks and Splenda in my baked goods. But I know all that chemicalized food is just as bad, if not worse for me, than the high-calorie stuff. It's just bad for me in a different way. I like to justify fall treats by saying, "It's got apples (or pumpkin or pears) in it! Vitamin C!". But let's face it. If I said that to a personal trainer, they'd knock me out. I know it. I think the problem is, I just don't care. Or--not enough, anyway.
The fact is, there are just too many wonderful treats to be had this time of year. And with the cold weather setting in, our bodies crave extra fat. Comfort food. Hot, hearty food. Warm, gooey pear tarts and hot apple pie. One of my favorites are my special Apple Cider Muffins--much healthier than the "muffins" you'll get at your local coffee house that should rightly be called "cupcakes"--they're light and moist and yes, they contain lots of Vitamin C (unless that bakes out--I've never been clear on such things).
Laura's Special Apple Cider Muffins
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 packets dry apple cider mix
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup honey
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup plain applesauce (no sugar or spices added)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup nonfat milk
*Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
*Line cups of a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.
*Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, apple cider mix, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl. Create a well in the center of the mixture using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup. Set aside.
*Mix honey, egg, applesauce, oil, and milk in a medium mixing bowl. *Pour wet ingredients all at once into center of dry ingredients. Whisk together. Batter will be slightly lumpy.
*Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full.
*Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffins comes out clean.
Makes 12 muffins.
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