We’ve had a lucky January week. The weather has been generously mild—mild enough for us to take a family walk down to the creek this weekend.
|Viv singing on my back as we walk to the creek|
Regardless of the bonus week, it is January which means the stretch has begun, the long stretch of grey that is the Midwest winter. It’s a penetrating grey, a grey that makes one feel grey, an infinite grey that makes June seem as though it will never arrive. Without a serious effort to keep sunshine within, one becomes part of the grey.
It certainly won’t be the Superbowl or the Oscars that ignites my inner sunshine this season, although Joan Rivers’ commentary on the red carpet outfits will provide some momentary ironic warmth. Rather than my usual existential crisis that spans these months, I’ve decided to start a few projects, of course. For one, it’s time to lose the beer gut I’ve accumulated from an endless parade of Scottish Ales, stouts, porters, and other craft beers that ended up being our autumn project. And just to make it interesting, we’ve started a biggest loser contest of sorts in our household. Nick and I are very competitive so this should make for a sporting winter dynamic on the manor.
Now that the garden is officially retired for the season, it’s time to really crack into the food we put by. Given that I need all the help I can get in winning any competition against my winning husband, I’m starting with the frozen shredded zucchini for some high fiber, low-calorie zucchini bran muffins. They’re a great breakfast and satisfying snack. I've been using this basic muffin recipe (listed at the end of this post) for years and adapting it to taste or whatever ingredients I have on hand.
|zucchini bran muffin|
They don’t look like traditional muffins because of the low gluten content, but using all-purpose or whole wheat flour or a combination of the two will provide a more shapely muffin. It also adds more calories for a more shapely figure. The lack of gluten prevents a regular muffin top on these snacks and also helps in losing the muffin top that is now regularly appearing over my jeans. This is definitely not the muffin one makes if in search for the most delicious muffin on the planet, but if that’s the given quest, one wouldn’t make a zucchini muffin at all. It’s a perfect diet food though: high in fiber, extra dose of vegetable, low sugar, but still hearty and satisfying so it feels like you’ve eaten something, unlike all those puffy, airy, commercial diet foods. They are great spiced with a few teaspoons of cinnamon as well. I leave out the cinnamon because I eat them with a tablespoon of peanut butter for some protein. Cinnamon and peanut butter just don't compliment each other in my book.
The frozen zucchini was also put to good use in a savory, black bean soup this week. The ingredient list is simple: one cup of dried black beans, stock, carrot, celery, zucchini, pepperoncini, salt pepper.
|black bean soup with shredded chicken|
It’s a very low calorie soup (a little over 100 calories per bowl). The excellent flavor is chiefly due to the turkey stock that was made from several leftover bones from the amazing smoked turkeys we get locally from Hollyhock Hill Farms. The creamy texture is the result of pureeing several batches of the cooked beans in a food processor and returning it to the pot instead of adding cream and its inherent caloric content. Diced carrots and celery add flavor and nutrition.
This was exactly the type of meal I had in mind when I was putting zucchini through the food mill back in July and August. After defrosting the bag of zucchini, I put it in a mesh strainer with some sea salt and press out the water. Removing the moisture ensures that it doesn’t impart a squashy flavor in the dish. The zucchini is a great filler: it adds texture, fiber, nutrition and takes on the good flavors of the smoky stock. We like it spicy so I added two to three tablespoons of ground pepperoncini. That’s my ingredient of choice for the right spiciness for our family, but a few teaspoons of cayenne would work nicely too.
These are far from my greatest culinary creations, but they are appropriate for the first week in January when it’s time to show a little restraint at the dining room table. After all, it is the resolution-making time of year. I will happpily show some restraint because very few things make me feel more warm and sunshiney than fitting in size 4 skinny jeans. Ok, fitting in the jeans while enjoying a prosciutto-topped, traditional brick-oven pizza and a fantastic glass of wine would be better. But for now, best to just focus on the jeans and zucchini.
Zucchini Bran Muffin Recipe
2.25 cups grain (I've used many combinations of bran, flax, meal and flour. These contain .5 cups of whole oats, oat bran, wheat bran, whole wheat flour, and .25 cups almond meal)
2 Tbsp fat (I've used all the standard oils and fats in this basic muffin recipe. Virgin coconut oil is my favorite.)
.25 cups sugar (These are not sweet, which keeps calores low. If I need them a little sweeter, I garnish with honey. One could double the sugar for an extra 30 calories per serving)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk (Any liquid works--almond milk, coconut milk, prune juice, apple juice. I think the fat in the milk keeps them more moist though)
1/2-1 cup shredded zucchini, moisture removed (I've also used pureed bananas, pureed pumpkin, and shredded apple--this is a mix and match diet muffin recipe)
Combine ingredients, spoon equal amounts into greased or lined 6-muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Yields six large muffins at about 250 calories each.