The definitive and delicious baked good of a strange era.
Welcome to a new newsletter.
I’m trying not to overthink it (ha!) but I imagine this letter will be broadly concerned with having a good day, and the ideas, people, recipes, art, books, songs, shows, products, and so on that are helping to make it happen during somewhat strange times. I discovered I was pregnant in February 2020, so between early parenthood and the pandemic slog it’s been a couple years of euphoric highs and sludgy lows intertwined with weird sleep and sweatpants. (These are great, btw.)
If something is particularly working for you—or not—please reply and let me know! I’m always here for thoughts, requests, recommendations, musings, questions, etc.
On today’s docket is a recipe that has defined this era for me—one that is more about sustaining than entertaining. What began as essential nourishment while breastfeeding has become a go-to snack, occasional meal replacement, road-trip fuel, and even breakfast for baby Lua in its mini-muffin form. You are always safe from a hangry meltdown with a Tupperware of survival muffins.
I don’t know exactly how old Lua was when my friend Dana came to visit. But it was before any of us were vaccinated, so visits were novel and rare. Dana had a baby a year before me, and within a few minutes of arrival she showed me a little stand on the back of our baby monitor, and how to adjust the height of the stroller handle. Pro tips!
But the indelible mark Dana left on life with Lua was her introduction of these muffins. She declared the ones she brought that day were drier than usual because she used oat flour instead of almond flour. They were deep orange, thanks to canned pumpkin—instead of the recipe’s called-for sweet potato—and I think they had some nuts in them … again, not called for in the original recipe. They were spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and studded with chocolate chips.
Survival muffins showed me how new mothers are supported and sustained by other mothers and how very flexible we, and our recipes‚ can be. (As long as our blood sugar doesn’t plummet!) We sat on the patio with a pot of tea and ate them with butter.
Dana left the rest of the muffins with me and for the next few days and nights I grabbed one from a Tupperware on the counter, between Lua’s meals and my own—sometimes in the middle of the night before returning to bed. Made mostly of almonds—both almond flour and almond butter—survival muffins are packed with protein and fat. I guess the paleo appeal makes sense during the semi-primitive stage of newborn care: the round-the-clock waking, sleeping, pooping, cleaning, feeding, soothing.
Could a box of protein bars serve the same purpose? Yes, but no. Part of the muffins’ appeal is the feeling that you, the caregiver, are being cared for too. Tearing a wrapper from a Luna bar with one’s teeth is not the same as prying a cover off a container, releasing a whisper of cinnamon, and biting into something soft but hearty, with abundant chocolate chips. When made with almond flour, survival muffins need nothing else, and can be easily eaten with one hand. They’re not particularly beautiful, but that’s not the point.
Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or an actual picky baby, survival muffins could serve your purposes. They’re beyond adaptable.
In Lua’s early months of breastfeeding, she developed a gut sensitivity that made me eliminate a great many categories from my generally unrestricted diet: first dairy and soy, then eggs, then wheat. It took a brutal toll on my everyday diet, with the exception of my go-to muffins. Instead of eggs, I stirred a few tablespoons of ground flax seeds into water to create “flax eggs,” an eggy-textured goop that binds baking ingredients—an old trick for vegan bakers. (Not me!) When I didn’t have almond butter, I used peanut butter. The flavor was more aggressive, but the muffins no less satisfying. When the CSA brought sweet potatoes, I used those instead of pumpkin. When a few bananas turned brown on the counter, I used them instead of pumpkin or sweet potato, and added cardamom to the spices. This was one of my favorite batches.
For the first four months of Lua’s life, my mom was with us nearly every day, and would replenish the muffins when they ran out. When I recently sent the recipe to a pregnant friend on the east coast—gluten-intolerant, nauseous, and in need of nutrition—her mom made hers too. In our house, making the muffins often meant first filling a bowl with the dry ingredients—almond flour, spices, baking soda, our proprietary addition of chia, flax, and sometimes brewer’s yeast—before mixing the almond butter, maple syrup, eggs (or flax eggs), vanilla, and pumpkin (or sweet potato, or mashed banana, or all three), then adding the nuts and chocolate chips (double the original recipe) and scooping the batter into lined muffin pans. You can spray the muffin tins if you don’t have liners, they’ll just take a couple minutes longer to clean later.
Mixing the dry ingredients first is not essential to the recipe, but rather a practical way to break up the process in case you get called away mid-muffin-making. I recently let a covered bowl of dry ingredients sit for a full 24 hours before I came back to my baking. But if you’ve got a solid block of time, just dump it all in the same bowl. Adaptable!
Survival muffins are for everyone: vegans, ketos, paleos, hangries, PMS-stricken, pregnant, breastfeeding parents, kids, grandparents, etc. They’re just a nice way to take care of ourselves and each other. Recipe below and here.
Let me know how it goes and have a good day!
Survival Muffins, adapted from Erin Lives Whole
For 2 dozen
2 cups canned pumpkin and/or mashed banana and/or cooked sweet potato
1 cup almond butter
*3 tbsp flaxseed stirred with 6 tbsp water
½ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups (288 grams) almond flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp brewer’s yeast (if breastfeeding)
2 tbsp chia
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom (optional, yummy if you’re using banana - can sub for nutmeg)
1 cup chocolate chips + more for topping if you feel like it!
1/2 cup nuts optional (bananas/pecans/cardamom were a tasty variation)
*What vegan bakers call “flax eggs” — when I temporarily had to eliminate eggs from my diet I used all flax eggs, but now I use half real eggs, half flax eggs for Omega-3s. Also I accidentally used HALF as many eggs in my last batch (two real, one flax) and they were still good, sooo… don’t overthink it!
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a muffin tin with liners or non-stick spray. In a small bowl, stir together dry ingredients: almond flour, baking soda, salt, spices, chia, and brewer’s yeast if using.
In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin/banana, almond butter, eggs, maple syrup and vanilla.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until combined.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full.
Bake about 20 minutes or until a sharp knife comes out clean when inserted.
Leave to sit about 10 minutes and then cool on a wire rack. I store mine in the refrigerator and pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds if I’m really going for it. They freeze well too.