The Inexact Science of Business, Life + Pumpkin Muffins

When I bake, I typically use a recipe (or two) as a framework, but the actual mixing of the ingredients is usually more of an inexact science.  For the last few years, trying to eat and cook clean has led to a fair amount of substitution and modification – mostly through trial and error – to figure out what combinations do or don’t work.

It’s a lot like life and business (the business of life?); systems and framework are critical to the foundation, but the rest is somewhat of an inexact science – an art if you’re lucky – that either blends into something amazing, or something that warms your garbage.

I’ve been thinking about it all lately as I try to navigate the ebbs and flows of the different businesses, my day job, and all things life.  So, today, I decided to dive into the metaphorical, and fulfill a few of my core desires in the moment: pumpkin chocolate chip muffins and kitchen therapy.

Without naming names, there’s a coffee shop in town (cough:: Mudhouse) that in the fall makes amazing pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.  I became addicted years ago when Mudhouse was the only real local coffee game in town, and I would buy them in pairs like a little muffin hoarder out of fear that they’d run out the next morning before I got there.  Over the last few years the debut date of the pumpkin muffin has been more and more delayed –probably for the best, since eating sugar-laden muffins two-by-two is not consistent with any of my life goals.  Regardless, I still think about them every fall as the weather turns crisp and just like the stroke of midnight, everything turns into a pumpkin.

So today I pulled up this recipe from paleOMG and decided to fall in love with a muffin that I can have a reasonably stable relationship with.

fuel swat grow: paleOMG pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

Of course I had to make some modifications; in part due to ingredient preferences and availability, and in part due to my inability to painstakingly measure anything out exactly — that’s the art part for me; the outlet and liberation from following all the rules.

Modification #1: Date Paste subbed in to replace Maple Syrup.

fuel sweat grow: raw date paste

My main objective when cooking/eating clean is to eliminate most processed sugar, and leverage the flavor and sweetness of the natural sugars.  There are a number of different replacements out there, but dates are usually my go-to and were at top of mind this week after our friend Lisa geeked out over date paste to make what looked like some pretty amazing waffles this weekend.  Here’s a pretty basic and easy walk through from the chalkboard to get your sweet on without delay.

fuel sweat grow: date paste sugar supplementfuel sweat grow: date paste sugar supplement

Once I had the paste set and ready to go, it was out with the maple syrup and back to the muffins.

fuel sweat grow: paleo pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

I ‘followed’ most of the rest of the instructions, pretty loosely, substituting in ‘pumpkin spice’ to replace the majority of the spices (except for cinnamon), eye balling most of the measurements, and multiplying the recipe by 2 (or maybe 2.5…who knows).

fuel sweat grow: paleo pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

Yeah, I went a little rogue, but we all survived, and 10 minutes later it was all in the oven ready to prove whether or not my ‘art’ of mixing works, or not.

fuel sweat grow: paleOMG paleo pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

While I waited for the moment of truth, I checked back in with the recipe and blog to get a good vision of what they ‘should’ look like, you know, if my muffin babies were ever going to be brunch models.

fuel sweat grow: paleOMG paleo pumpkin muffinsSince I pretty much just used the recipe as a suggested guide for basic structure and context, I wasn’t counting on my muffins being anywhere near as photogenic as the ones in the recipe, but I don’t think they’re half bad (if I do say so myself).

fuel sweat grow: paleo pumpkin muffins paleOMG Maybe I’m just having a proud parent moment, but outside of looking appealing enough, they also happen to taste AMAZING. I’m sure they’re not perfect, but I’m just saying, if they’re wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

[Disclaimer: if you’ve never had anything made with coconut flour before, the texture will likely seem odd at first, but once the taste sinks in, and you’ve had your first one, you’ll never turn back.  Just don’t freak out because it’s all in your head.]

They also apparently smelled pretty good, because this little diva begged incessantly before giving up to watch the rest of Harry Potter, in a full on pout, alone with her chipmunk.

fuel sweat grow: bug says pout

So, in short, I think what these pumpkin muffins are representing today is the reality life requires flexibility and modification.  There’s no one way to do anything, but if the basic systems aren’t there and the foundation is weak, it doesn’t really matter how you modify the rest.  It’s metaphorical, sure, but I really think there’s something to it.  The trick is having the patience to stay focused and committed to that core structure so that the modifications can just strengthen the goal.  I guess bells and whistles are nothing without wind.

And if that’s wrong, well, I gave it a reasonable shot, and whether the outcome is perfect or not, hopefully the modified version will still be tasty in it’s own right.

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Prepping for the Week + The Whole 30 Challenge

There are some weekends that stand out from the rest, and this weekend was one of them.  Fall is in full swing in Charlottesville, and things in MADville are getting crazier by the day.  A full social, sweat, and food recap of the weekend is in order, but I need to take a day or two to get myself in order and honestly just recover from what feels like a week of constantly being on the go.

While this week is another over-full week of work and life (in a good way), the most exciting for me is a client-driven restart on the food front.  Some of our clients signed themselves up for the Whole 30 challenge from Whole 9 and are starting tomorrow.  Hearing this was awesome not just because I have a group to motivate and recipe share with me, but also because it’s such a huge part of the lifestyle and health change we continue to love seeing slowly take over this community.

Since I was out for most of the weekend and didn’t have a kitchen at my disposal to prep meals, I’m a little behind, but I’ve committed to getting my life together tomorrow to walk (or eat, really) side by side with this group as they start this 30 day push.  That being said, here are a few of my favorite / must-have ingredients, recipes, and just generally amazing food to lead off week 1.

fuel sweat grow: Whole 30 Grocery list

STANDARD Grocery List:

– Chicken (skinless, boneless, thighs or breasts)
– ground beef (or turkey / chicken)
– applegate farms chicken sausage
– yellow & purple onion
– zucchini / yellow squash
– red/orange/yellow bell peppers
– mushrooms
– cauliflower (2 heads – I ❤ it)
– celery
– carrots
– spaghetti squash
– avocados (MANY)
– asparagus
– (local) Keswick Gourmet Marinara Sauce (the only one WF sells that does not  have added sugars…and it’s local, so that’s a bonus)
– kale
– romaine
– cucumbers
– broccoli slaw (only at Trader Joe’s)
– blueberries
– green apples (usually 6, but if i’m making the streusel recipe about a dozen+)
– bananas
– strawberries
– lemons / limes
– almond butter
– coconut oil (for cooking)
– olive oil (for salads only)
– coconut milk (light)
– eggs (I buy 2-3 dozen at a time….but I’m also usually feeding Dar)
– plantain chips (only at Trader Joes — NOT to be confused with banana chips)
– almonds (whole and slivered)
– sunflower seeds
– fresh ground almond butter (if it’s not ground fresh, check the ingredients to ensure it’s just almonds and doesn’t have added sugar or chemicals)
This isn’t totally exhaustive, but for the most part every recipe that I make that is an ‘everyday’ recipe includes these ingredients.  Every once in a while I’ll really branch out, but only if I’m making a new/special recipe.  These staple items will still be stocked in the fridge.   The MOST important part of staying sane during the first week or two as you quit sugar and adapt back to real food is to HAVE food available.  This is not a starvation diet — you NEED to eat, so make sure you have good clean food available and prepped to keep your energy up and balanced.
fuel sweat grow: grocery list and meal prep
The easiest thing to do is to make a big dinner on Sunday night (or any night really) with several sides and spend some extra time chopping things up (like zucchini or celery, etc) to have ready for cooking or snacks.  I’ll usually roast a spaghetti squash or two on Sunday while I have time so it’s ready in the fridge for quick meal assembly since my week nights (and days) are usually much tighter on time.
Here are a few favorite meals that can all be made with the food on the grocery list above, and save amazingly well (read: amazing leftovers and quick grab-and-go options).
  • [Lunch / Dinner] Thai Chicken Stir-Fry is probably my favorite rainy-day or winter meal, but it’s still awesome in the summer with cauliflower rice OR over spaghetti squash. There are no exact measurements, but the feedback we’ve come up with is that adding a little more coconut milk for a thinner sauce is better than a really thick one.
  • [Lunch / Dinner] Spaghetti Squash Bolognese.  It keeps AMAZINGLY well as leftovers, so this is a great one to make in excess and pack up for lunches during the week.
So, to our Whole 30 first-timers getting ready to give up all of their ‘favorite foods’ tomorrow…. congratulations, you’re about to know what it feels like to be fueled with the best stuff on earth – REAL food.  It will change your life.
For other general ideas, search salads, vitamix (for smoothies) or dinner, or check out the eats or fuel categories on the blog.