Random Recipe: Baked Pumpkin Spice Balls

I am on a roll with pumpkin everything. Whether it is fall or I am just nesting I do not think I have tried so many different pumpkin recipes in a season. The leaves are falling (we have crazy amounts that continue to come down). The temperature has changed, and somehow I still cannot believe summer is over and we are heading into November! In any case, these little baked bundles of pumpkin with cinnamon + sugar are yummy, easy to make, and even easier to pop into your mouth!

Baked Pumpkin Spice Balls

Note: Use the topping at your own risk. We also made a batch that had chocolate chips in it.

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoons ground cloves
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup canned plain pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup low-fat milk

For Topping
1/2 stick of unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven 350°F. Spray each cup in a 24-cup mini muffin tin with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and spices (through cloves). In a separate, large bowl whisk together oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, pumpkin and milk until smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While the muffins bake, melt butter in one bowl and combine granulated sugar and cinnamon in another bowl. Remove muffins from oven and cool for a few minutes. Dip each muffin in melted butter, then roll in cinnamon sugar to coat.

White chocolate vs. dark/milk chocolate

Sometimes we take things for granted. You think something is part of something else and then when you really dig in you find out that is not the case. What did I take for granted?

Chocolate.

Yes, it is true. In a conversation with someone recently the topic came up about the difference between milk/dark chocolate and white chocolate. I had never thought about it. They all have the name of chocolate, but are they really all chocolate? The person I was talking with said no. White chocolate is not at all like milk or dark chocolate.

Regardless of the truth, I can see there being different chocolate camps. I ebb and flow with my allegiance. I go through phases where all I want is white chocolate (especially around Christmas, as there is something yummy about candy canes with white chocolate). At other times, I am a dark chocolate fan, and for some reason feel like the higher cacao factor makes it healthier for me (maybe true)? In last place would be milk chocolate, unless you are talking about the chips in my chocolate chip cookies.

So what is the truth? From what I have researched, white chocolate has cocoa butter in it, where as milk and dark chocolate is made from cocoa plant. An excerpt from Diffen (a website that compares things) states:

“Dark chocolate and white chocolate both contain cocoa butter and are eaten as dessert or used in confectionery. Chocolate is derived from the bean of the cocao (cocoa) plant which breaks down in to chocolate liquor (the ground or melted state of the nib of the bean), cocoa butter (the fat component) and cocoa powder (the non-fat part of the cocoa bean ground into a powder). Dark chocolate is produced by adding cocoa butter to sugar and cocoa powder. Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate does not contain any milk solids. White chocolate contains only cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids and no chocolate liquor or cocoa powder. So technically, white chocolate is not really chocolate at all.”

Did you learn something new or am I just slow to the game on chocolate?

Sugar, layaway, and freedom as a kid

My mom did not drink Tab (that I can remember). Tab was too expensive. My mom drank Faygo. The cheap woman’s soda. A bottle was about 10 cents. She could purchase more bottles if she purchased Faygo. Besides, it was basically carbonated sugar-water of sorts. With such high amounts of sugar, why would it matter what it tasted like? As someone who no longer drinks soda, I can only imagine what my future kids will think of me. Hardcore? Mean? Boring? I will not let them drink that syrupy substance that has so much sugar they will bounce off the walls. Hell no. I have gone from being a child who hated her vegetables, to being a hardcore vegetable addict. Not only for the taste, but for the nutrition. Probably more for the nutrition and what that means for my health and energy.

I think we had Kool-Aid, but from what I can remember, it was “fake.” Some other knockoff brand. From what I can remember it still tasted fine. Again, it was just drinking sugar-water. Along with those frozen Fla-Vor-Ice quasi popsicles. They were basically sugar-water. No wonder we loved them. Sugar was few and far between in our house!

I really doubt my mom worried too much about us. She was too busy (when I was really young — before she got sick) trying to make sure we were fed, and that she made it to one of her many jobs on time. If she was not working, she was planning many months in advance how to get us Christmas presents via the longest ever layaway plan. This was before credit cards were so common and that is how you eventually owned products. She was the queen of figuring that out. Going each week to a list of grocery stores to get the best deal, and to a few other stores (such as Target) to pay that week’s installment of layaway. Her Friday nights were a scavenger hunt of sorts from store to store in order to get the best sales and purchase price. Sometimes she had us in tow. It was exhausting. These days we go to different stores not for the deals, but because of the assortment. You know those items that you can only get at Trader Joe’s!

In the summer she spent her spare moments not figuring out her layaway plans, but taking care of our vegetable and flower gardens. While I will never know, I think it was her favorite time of year. She was working with her hands, out in the sun, and most likely it was therapeutic for her. Any of her other waking hours were spent helping us with homework, and giving whatever time was left to her church. Thus why this line resonated with me from this Today.com Parenting blog:

“She said get the hell outside, and we did. We made up games and rode our bikes and choreographed dance routines and drank out of the hose when we got thirsty. I swear, my mom did not know where we actually were half the time.”

We did just the same. I do not remember telling her where I was going or what I was doing. I never really got into too much trouble. I was either on my paper route, riding around, at a friend’s or neighbor’s house, or snuggled somewhere with a book. Harmless. Today I bet life and freedom is not so easy to come by. Thank you, Mom, for the freedom.

Exercise, Veggies, and Writing

Three things that are constants in my life on an almost daily basis are: exercise, vegetables, and writing. An odd amalgamation of things, but all critical for a bit of balance and inspiration in my life. You might wonder how these three have anything remotely in common. Their only commonality is that they ground me. On the days when I have the opportunity to run, eat a good amount of vegetables, and take the time to write, life just feels better. It may not mean that I have had an amazing day. Lots of shit could have happened, but these three stable aspects of my life help me to get through the shitty days and make the good days even better. Call me crazy, but it is true.

The ironic thing is that all three require discipline and none of them happened for me overnight. Consistent exercise was a gradual habit that happened over many years. My craving to run each day is the euphoria of pushing myself to the limits, having an hour that is just for myself, and the feeling at the end of a run when I am dripping in sweat and knowing I got through it. There is nothing else in my life that gives me that feeling and my day does not feel complete without my run.

How I feel when I run matters and, often, I can tell that if I feel horrible while running it has to do with some crap I ate earlier in the day. I am usually an evening/after work runner, so what I had for lunch and any snacks or junk food I ingest during the day matters. Which is why I have become a fanatic of eating vegetables. I have them in my green smoothie in the morning (usually spinach, kale, carrots), a salad for lunch, then for dinner, a vegetable, protein, and brown rice. Some sort of yummy concoction, but there is always a vegetable go with it. How far I have come from trying to get away with no vegetables as a kid and little to none in high school and college. Why have I become such an addict? I can now tell the difference in my body when I do not have these natural nutrients. More sugar + less vegetables and my body shuts down earlier in the day. More sugar = more exhausted. Since I know this about myself I do all I can to eat my veggies.

Writing. The final aspect to balance in my life. I write five blog posts each week and used to write in a journal too. My journal writing has waned in the past few months. It felt like work and I was not inspired to do it so I stopped. I know I will pick it up again, as that has been the ebb and flow of my life. There have been times when I needed to write, and write, and write to figure out my thoughts and unravel my world. Writing random olio keeps my mind open and aware. When you know that you are going to write a blog five days in a row you look at the world differently. It makes me more creative, have more wonder, and investigate the world.

What is not to love about my three life disciplines? A random olio of balance that is the core of who I am today.

No Sugar For A Year?

Can you imagine a year with no sugar? I cannot. Not that I have a sugar tooth, because I do not. I crave and want salt all day long. That does not mean, however, that I do not have sugar all the time. I will tell you why.

I just finished reading: “Year of No Sugar” by Eve Schaub. An interesting read. Schaub decides to have her and her family go an entire year and not eat sugar. The thing is – sugar is in everything. Of course desserts, breads, and sweets, but also ketchup, sauces, and mayonnaise. Literally everything has some amount of sugar. Even if the ingredient list does not say sugar, companies have found ways to break down the ingredient list into fructose, glucose, etc to make sure it’s not the top ingredient because it is broken into three smaller ingredients. Clever, but dishonest too. Schaub and her family are not 100% hardcore. She has two kids and so over the course of a year they decide that they will have one “sugar-filled” dessert a month and if it is your birthday month you get to select the dessert.

After many months on their adventure, and digging into a monthly “sugar-filled” dessert, Schaub states:

“But now what struck me perhaps most of all was the fact that when I would give in and have something that I wanted, or thought I wanted, or somebody else thought I should want, often it failed to be enjoyable at all. This was newly noticeable–a disconnect between what my brain thought I’d enjoy and what my body actually did enjoy.” page 256

Interesting, is it not? What we think we want is not always what our body wants and what we think we want does not always taste good. I think that is true for a lot of bad foods, bad relationships, and bad jobs. Sometimes we are just good at telling ourselves what we think we want, and maybe it is not at all what we need, or what is good for us.

Yesterday at work I opened a bag of mixed fun size candy bars from Costco. Of course because of just reading Schaub’s book I was very curious about the sugar amounts. You’ll have to click the photo to be able to read the packaging, but in order to truly know how many grams of sugar was in each serving size you have to take the number of candy bars per serving size and divide it by total number of sugar calories.

So the Milky Way has the most calories at 2 bars per serving size, for a total of 20g, which means 10g if you eat one bar, and Nestle Crunch being the best for you at 22g for 4 mini candy bars, so 5.5g if you just have one. GROSS – all that sugar! But they sure do not make it easy to figure out the true number of grams of sugar.

I love how Schaub ends “Year of No Sugar” with such an appropriate quote:

“We save actual sugar for the ‘worth it’ stuff, stuff that is truly meaningful–for birthdays, at special occasions, that wonderful piece of chocolate after a meal. Who knows? Maybe a perfect, shining piece of Napoleon will one day come my way. If it does, I don’t want to be sated with Cocoa Puffs and Snapple–I want to be ready.” page 272

That is how I roll. Make the best of the sugar you have each day. Make it count. Be ready for the good stuff. The homemade cupcakes and damn good desserts. Do not give away your sugar allotment for crappy, processed, shitty food. Hold out for things that matter.