Just to give you an idea of what my personal fitness regimen is like these days:
Today I took one of my first post-pregnancy walks (beyond wandering aimlessly around the grocery store, trying to remember what I’m there for besides milk and coffee beans). Rounding a corner, I saw a woman running at a good clip, looking confident and fit. I flashed her the thumbs up. Not for her form, or fly Lululemon ensemble, mind you. No, the first thought I had when I saw that chick running was, “Dang, I wish I had a pelvic floor like that.”
So at three weeks after birth, we’re dealing in small moves to get back into shape over here, inside and out, in both the exercise and nutrition departments. While I didn’t go all J.Simps on my pregnancy weight gain, nothing can really prepare you for, um, the state of things after you give birth. Let’s just say I won’t be doing a post-baby HOW I GOT THIN! photo session for US Weekly at six weeks post-partum. Getting back into a routine takes time in the real world. I’m trying to be patient with myself about that bit, even though I’m dying to get back into my non-stretchy clothes. And getting a few easy baking recipes into the arsenal that also happen to be what I call Halfsies Healthy really helps things along.
Okay, so there are biscuits, and then there are BISCUITS. Namely, these biscuits. Let’s call it a biscuit recipe that changed my mind about a few things. That major, these biscuits. And I’m managing to tell you all about them just in time for Thanksgiving side dishing. Glorious!
What do you MEAN it’s nearly mid-November?! This absolutely cannot be. No, no, no; I simply won’t allow it.
From the above sentence, you might gather one of the following:
1. Little C has just gotten into movies with Julie Andrews, which means I am now into movies with Julie Andrews.
2. The recent time change has rendered me totally incapable of knowing what hour or what day it is. Like, more than usual.
3. I am now officially at work on book number two (whee!) and have a calendar full of deadlines (gah!), not to mention that I think I’m gaining weight by absorbing butter and sugar through my skin from all the recipe testing for this one. That’s a thing, right?
Well, whichever of the above options you chose, you would be correct. Mary Poppins is indeed in the regular rotation. I’m getting less sleep than usual and Little C is enjoying way more Julie Andrews than she should be because I’m trying to pull a manuscript out of the madness. We are busy, but we are happy, and we’re all desperately in need of a big pot of soup and some Apple, Cheddar, and Whole Wheat Scones this weekend. I’ll make extra for you, because I’ll wager to bet we’re all in the same boat, zooming towards the New Year, trying to tie up all sorts of loose ends. I-yi-yi. Sweet cracker sandwich, let’s all have wine with said scones while we’re at it, yes?
This recipe began as so many wonderful things do. Which is to say the sort of partial sentences that the husband dreads hearing when I’m in the kitchen. It usually goes like this:
Now, in all fairness to the husband, sometimes these mad scientist moments don’t turn out so well for any of us. Such as when the recipe itself is a failure in the technical sense, not rising or baking properly and generally just causing a whole lot of dirty dishes and frustration for no payoff. And of course I get all mopey and difficult to live with after said failures. Like, even more difficult to live with than usual. Big time difficult. Pretend you are shocked at this news.
Other times, things start out promising, and then the result is less than palatable, which of course needs to be confirmed by the husband. Like, oh, say, Guinness Marshmallows. I know, I know. Just. Listen. There was dark cocoa and gingersnaps involved too so I thought it might end up all complex and edgy and interesting. Which it was, for a few hours. But as the marshmallow cured, however, the whole thing strangely began to taste a lot like the smell of certain Maltese taxicabs I’d ridden in during my summer semester abroad. In short, wholly undelicious. That’s what I get for trying to be edgy and interesting, I suppose.
But this time, I was destined to get it right. Bananas, peanut butter and chocolate. There’s no way this could not go well. Right? So basically I married some techniques from a few favorite recipes to arrive at this unbeatably moist, tender, flavorful banana bread-chocolate cake combo. And of course, chocolate chips. Because, duh. Obvi.
Really, what’s better than putting a carb-y, breakfast-y baked good in your face first thing in the morning? I mean, never mind that you might feel like you’re walking in mud for the rest of the day if you start things out with jelly doughnut–I’m talking more about instant gratification here. Because a croissant and coffee for breakfast? Glorious. But one morning pastry I tend to pass over, never even pausing to consider it, is the humble scone. I’ve always sort of thought scones were just a big snore.
Anyway, the topic of my conversation with my agent was moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and in short order she told me that I might want to “lose some pounds”. As I took in that advice, I continued to snack on the horrible scone. A few beats later the well-meaning agent said, “That’s a huge scone.” And that was the end of my relationship with scones.
Until now. Now I know what to look for in scones. Also, how to interpret advice. So there’s that.
1. You should memorize all the songs from Free to Be You and Me, preferably by watching it over and over on an old VHS tape checked out from the library.
2. It is never okay for a professor to offer to give you a massage. Even if it’s your Theater professor.
3. Sometimes you need to embrace the crazy and just go for it–it could turn out to be really great. Like combining ice cream and flour and making cake out of it. Seriously!
Important, Oprah-esque Life Lessons aside, I am excited to share this totally kitschy recipe for Ice Cream Muffins with you guys. It’s another winner from my recipe scavenging at Gramma’s house back in June, and definitely one of the wackier ones I came across. Since finding it, I’ve discovered that there are several versions out there, some which literally are just ice cream mixed with flour and then baked. This recipe I’m sharing with you has the extra help of a bit of oil and an egg, which I imagine makes for a better flavor, texture and mouthfeel in the finished product than just ice cream and flour alone.
Another thing that will really make these crazy little muffin-cupcake hybrids the best they can possibly be is to use a really great ice cream, the more high-end, the better. I’d look for something that doesn’t have more ingredients than it needs to, not much beyond cream, milk, sugar and eggs. The cheaper the ice cream, the more air it will have incorporated into it (not to mention creepy stabilizers, gums and preservatives) and since we’re measuring by volume and not weight here, you want to make sure you have enough dairy and sugar in the mix with the flour for the best texture and taste. You’re already rocking the boat here with the amount of crazy in the recipe–set yourself up for success with the best ingredients you can get your hands on.
The finished product is a delight–lightly sweetened, great vanilla flavor, totally versatile. I understand that we’re sort of teetering on the edge of Sandra Lee territory with this one, but I was so pleasantly surprised and basically humored by the entire experience of this recipe that I think I’ll take a tablescape for the team and share it with you anyway. Enjoy!
Ice Cream Muffins
Adapted from an old strip of newsprint from an unknown Midwestern publication
The better quality ice cream you choose, the better your results here. Note that this recipe calls for self-rising flour–it will not work with any other flour. I imagine other flavors of ice cream can be substituted. These can have a crazy rise, so keep the muffin cups only about 1/2 full of batter.
2 cups premium vanilla ice cream, very soft
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the ice cream and flour until smooth. Beat in the egg, oil and vanilla until well-blended. Divide the batter equally among the muffin tins, each about 1/2 full. Bake until the muffins are risen, lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Do the internets need another banana bread recipe? Probably not. But are we the sort of friends where I can’t help but tell you about a new one I tried and had to smack the counter, because hot damn, it’s some seriously good banana bread? Definitely.
Before I get into the whats and wheres of the banana bread of which I speak, I think we should talk about a few things. First, what’s your very favorite banana bread recipe, and from where and who did it come? What’s in it–nuts, no nuts, chocolate chips or various whimsy? Is it so moist it’s almost cake-like, or a bit drier, the kind that begs to be toasted and spread with butter? Do share, my friends.
Because for me, my so-quintessential-I-need-to-capitalize-it Banana Bread is a super moist, dense loaf, free of nuts and other frippery, and a recipe of Mrs. Patsy LaMonica, a dear old family friend who laughs loud, loves big and calls you “girlfriend” within ten minutes of meeting you. She, and her amazing Banana Bread, are really something. I should tell you about that specific recipe some time. But for now, I’m telling you about a banana bread recipe that is seriously a close second, tastes freakishly close to my favorite Banana Bread (although, psst, it’s even simpler to throw together), and the only reason that it’s not in first place is because it doesn’t involve Patsy.
But it does involve the America’s Test Kitchen geniuses, who I’ve dreamily droned on about again and again on this site. These people are always so right on, it kind of makes me tear up a little. And their wacky ways of arriving at perfection never cease to amaze, or at the very least amuse. Even with the simplest, most classic recipes, the ATKers find a way to have you using a technique or ingredient that makes you look over you shoulder to see if anyone’s watching you because it all just seems so crazy. But in this case, their usual bending-over-backwards feats of fancy give way to a pretty straightforward, easy recipe, the only commandments being to mash the bananas by hand to avoid a puree, and using very speckled (nearly black) bananas. There’s also a good dose of plain yogurt to add tang and moisture.
And to me, the lack of fussiness here is a good thing, because the beauty of banana bread, whatever the recipe, is that it’s such a perfectly homey, familiar thing. Anytime is the right time for banana bread, but I tend to think that God invented it on the same day he created soup and rainy Sundays, because it’s seriously the best at those sort of moments. That’s deep, people.
America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread
Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
If you’re a walnuts-in-banana-bread sort of person, add about 1 1/4 cups, toasted and chopped, to the batter.
Makes 1 8-inch loaf
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Adjust a rack to the lower middle position of the oven and preheat it to350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, stir together the bananas, yogurt, eggs, melted butter and vanilla, blending well.
Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry, just to blend–do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 50-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out and let cool completely on a wire rack.
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