Writer Fuel – Pumpkin Muffins Edition

Writer Fuel – Pumpkin Muffins Edition

Do you know what every writer needs? Food. And while I’m all for sitting down with a spoonful of Nutella, sometimes what’s really (really) needed for those long writing sessions is something fresh out of the oven.

I’m way, way more likely to stick to my word goal if I have some delicious, home-made sustenance.

I know there are tons of pumpkin muffin recipes out there, but these are perfect. And I know that because I’ve made them almost once a week since the first of September, tweaking the batches until they came out totally, absolutely perfect. Perfect, I say.

They are soft, with a nice firm crust, plenty of pumpkin flavor, Maple syrup, and chai-inspired spices. These are all-out, gourmet, top-shelf pumpkin muffins. Plus, they are super quick to make.

As if that wasn’t enough, they’re also pretty healthy. These delicious little guys have it all.

pumpkin-muffins
I can smell them now. Mmmm.

Do you want to know what the key is to really fabulous muffins? It’s not super precise measuring, although that helps. It’s not some fancy pan. With muffins, the secret is all in how you stir.

I know this, because it’s what my grandma taught me. And my grandma could make an incredible muffin. It didn’t matter if it was from a box mix or from scratch, her muffins were perfect. Because she knew how to stir them.

First of all, the wet and the dry ingredients have to be combined in separate bowls. Don’t skip this step. All the flour, spices, and baking soda/powder to one side; all the milk, eggs, wet sweeteners, and oils to the other side. You want those ingredients combined before you put everything together.

Don’t skip it. Don’t make my grandma mad.

Then, the wet and the dry go together, but carefully. I don’t even really stir them. I use more of a folding action to get them combined. And then, before you think it’s mixed, stop folding. I leave a few hunks and lumps of flour in the batter. Most of the time those lumps bake out. Very occasionally I’ll get a little bit of flour in a muffin, but it’s totally worth the incredibly soft texture.

As long as you are careful with your stirring, you will have an incredibly soft muffin. Promise.

Now that you’ve tolerated my lecture on proper muffin stirring, here is the recipe for my Maple Spiced Pumpkin Muffin.

pumpkin-muffins-2
Writer fuel at it’s very best.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup neutral-flavored oil (like safflower or canola)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup milk (you may not need it all, depending on how moist the pumpkin puree is)
  • pumpkin seeds (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or line a 12-muffin pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: both flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Then add the pumpkin, oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. (save the last wet ingredient, milk, for later) Mix well.

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk to the wet ingredients. As in, add in half the flour mixture, then half the milk, stir together. Then add in the last half of the flour mixture and the last half of the milk, and stir together. Remember to fold gently, and don’t overmix. You may not need all the milk, depending on how moist the pumpkin puree is. I find different brands are, well, different. You want your batter to be pretty thick for these muffins.

Using a large spoon, or if you are very fancy, an ice cream scoop, fill your muffin pan. Each divot should be about 3/4 full. I’m a rebel, though, so I usually go a little higher.

If you are very fancy, you can sprinkle on some pumpkin seeds.

Put them in the oven and bake for twenty minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let them cool about five minutes, and then pop them out of the pan onto a cooling rack. I use a fork to loosen around the edge. Grandma always went with a butter knife, and she was really careful not to scrape the bottom of the tin.

Enjoy!

Alternate Options

Bonus! I also make these muffins with chocolate chips. When I do, I reduce the maple syrup to 1/2 cup, add a little more milk, and stir in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to the batter. This is my husband’s favorite way to have a pumpkin muffin.

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The Writer’s Audacity

The Writer’s Audacity

I have been having one of those days. You know, the kind where last night’s problems run over into the morning, and you stumble into the day craving coffee and an opportunity to swap your life for someone, anyone else’s.

It started last night when I found out I needed to scrape my resume together to apply for a really cool opportunity to get some certifications, so that maybe I could get a real job someday. It turned out that I don’t have a resume anymore. Somewhere in one of the six moves we’ve had during the last five years (not an exaggeration, I’ve counted, we have really, actually moved that much) I lost my printed copy, and it got wiped off my computer hard drive. Poof. Resume gone.

I’ve done a really brilliant job holding onto the syllabi from every single English class I took in college, though. All my essays, too. And of course, I sat and read one or two of those essays, and I just could not believe how really, genuinely great the writing was. Which made me wonder: “What happened? The words, they don’t work like that anymore! How is this possible? I was a better writer eight years ago than I am now.”

So, naturally, I compounded the problem of scrapping together a resume out of thin air with one of those really dastardly thought-recordings. “You’re writing sucks. You’ve wasted the last eight years writing really crappy novels, while simultaneously being a lackluster parent, get a job you bum!”

Not exactly conducive to a positive outlook on a challenging situation, I know.

Then both kids were up at night, one with an ear ache and the other with this lingering cold, and by the time I dragged myself out of bed this morning  I was entrenched in a grump-fest.

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Time for coffee.

That was before the toddler pitched himself headfirst off a chair, the preschooler woke up still crying about her ear, and I missed the deadline for that certification opportunity by three whole minutes. Serious drama, all before nine AM.

Wondering where the cheery message is in all this? Hang on, I’m getting there.

While lying awake last night I churned up some pretty interesting novel ideas, and mentally hashed out some scenes for my next project. I scribbled them down this morning over my oatmeal. While the toddler napped, I worked on my revision. Because come hell or high water, I’m a writer. Even in the midst of despair over my writing career, I write.

It just keeps coming back, no matter how grumpy I get about it. No matter how crunched I am for time, no matter how crappy I think my writing is, no matter how many rejection letters I get, or how many other hobbies I try, I just can’t stop telling stories.

I had this thought, at some point last night, that I was like some lonely wolf howling into the night, way out in the wilderness where no one would ever hear me. And I was in the mood to linger over how sad and pathetic that was. After a while feeling sorry for myself, I came to my senses, and the bad-ass within said, “Fine. Know what you need to do? Howl as loud as you can until someone hears you.”

I’d have laughed if I weren’t trying to rock Little Dude back to sleep at the time. Because of course, if there’s one thing required of writers, it’s persistence. After the excitement of the first few chapters, the novel-writer must persist through the tangly knots of the story until she finds the end. When the first draft is done, revisions follow. Then careful editing. And if the ambitions are grander than passing a story around to family and friends, query letters must be written, agents researched, rejections weathered. I hear that it doesn’t get easier from there, either.

In the face of all that, a writer must cultivate a slightly crazed, single-minded drive to carry on. To brew the coffee, boot up the laptop, congratulate those who gain representation and book deals, console those who aren’t there yet, and write, write, write. I have no choice but to keep throwing myself into the fray, seeking critiques, adding to my pile of rejections.

The thing I cling to (now that I’m thinking reasonably, probably not so much last night in the midst of my whine-fest) is that my writing can get better. Right now, I slide writing into my life in twenty-minute slices, and my focus is on so many other things. The essays I wrote in college were given full and complete attention that I don’t have right now. Someday, though, I’ll have that kind of time again. And the best thing is, when that happens I will have learned some really valuable things. I’ve never been so focused or determined. College me could never have been so single-minded in pursuit of this goal.

In fact, college me just sat around waiting for novel ideas to fall in her lap! Hah! Guess what, college me, that doesn’t happen. As Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

So yes, maybe I’m sitting here with a manuscript that was cobbled together in little segments,no resume, and some slightly rusty writing skills. But I’m also sitting here with greater wisdom than I’ve ever had before, a burning determination to get my writing published, and a willingness to learn everything I can to get there.

brilliant-grass-frond-summer-2016
Morning comes, and it sure is beautiful.

It’s okay to feel down, and to doubt. It’s okay to wonder, “Will I really ever get there? Is anyone else ever going to care about these characters I made, these stories I’ve told?” I’m pretty sure everyone has days when they are absolutely convinced that they’re the least awesome person on the face of the planet. Where you prove yourself is in your ability to persevere. To look your own dark doubts in the face, and write anyway.

This is what makes a writer.