Anti-planning for planners (and muffins)

I’m a planner. Like a google-map-the-fastest-way-to-the-grocery-store planner. A make-a-list-of-weekend-tasks-in-rank-order planner.

I used to write the agenda for January 1st on my classroom whiteboard before I left for Christmas break (no joke). 

Here’s the thing about taking a big, unfathomable leap into the unknown: you can’t make a plan. I’ve had to learn this by doing. People have told me I need to write a business plan, set a calendar, make monthly goals. What they don’t know is: if i have to make a plan for this new Life Changing Undertaking, I’ll crumple up into an overwhelmed little ball and succumb to a slow painful death of inaction (or something slightly less dramatic).

Rather than make a detailed plan, I’ve found the best way to write a new post is to drive my car somewhere. I’ve been blessed with a great misfortune of being struck by creative genius seemingly only when I'm operating a moving vehicle (or sometimes in the shower). This, as you might imagine, is not the most conducive time to write and “Ugh, Siri. That’s not what I said!” has become a regular part of my vocabulary. The best time to write is when I have no plan for what or when I’m going to write. 

So to all the planners out there, let me encourage you to adopt the anti-plan. Plan only your next move. Like chess. (Maybe you’re supposed to plan ahead in chess, I don’t know? Whenever I do my opponent seems to foil my strategy…) Be willing to let go of knowing ten steps down the road; something will work out. Today I made a plan to make a business card for another project. When I realized I needed a website to put on the business card, suddenly I had my next step. Lots of adages try to stress this point - ‘baby steps’, ‘one step at a time’, ‘cross that bridge when you come to it’ -  but somehow I feel like I have a fresh lease on this secret truth of life. My favorite saying (that I may have just made up) is: not forever, just for now. Forget sustainability (in your life, not in the earth. The earth needs your green efforts. Compost!). Get out of your own way and just let things happen, not according to your plan. Go bake some muffins (we'll get there in a minute...)

This is part of why I like cooking - it’s one part of my life where I don’t use a plan.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not, if you’ve learned to follow my side tangents), this brings me to cookbooks. I love cookbooks, but only because I get to break the rules. I love the pictures, the ingredient combos, the pretty graphics. But I approach recipes as suggestions rather than commandments. Cookbooks are like paint by number - sure you can make something if you follow the directions, but what’s the fun in that? For me, cooking (and even baking) is fun when it’s experimental, improvisational, or - as a friend described my cooking today - ‘imperfectly impressive.’

And now we venture into the dangerous territory of muffins. I’m not sure I’ve ever made the same muffin twice. I sort of have a muffin ‘method’, but not so much a recipe.

(I feel like putting recipes at the end of the post is like tucking the sale rack into the back of the store: you have to wade through all the promoted content before getting to what you really came for. So I appreciate you buying the full-priced merchandise thus far…)

Muffins need a few basic ingredients: flour to give them substance, something (baking powder usually) to make them rise, something to hold them together (I use egg and oil), and something to make them taste good. Beyond that I sort of just throw in whatever I have around.

I have this mission to try to make muffins a health food (instead of a carb and sugar bomb) because I love them so. Fruit and veggies and nuts find their way into my muffins on a regular basis. Some muffins are just a codename for cupcake, but I try to make a muffin that I can eat for breakfast without crashing from a sugar high around recess time (whoops! I guess I don't calculate things by school hours anymore). Each time I dive into a muffin project the result is different. Usually they are good. Often they are delicious. Occasionally they are better suited as chicken food. 

So, go on, make some unplanned muffins. What’s the worst that could happen?

Unplanned Muffins

Note: this makes a half batch - around 6-8 - muffins. I prefer to keep the batches small in case I’m not thrilled with the results. 

The basics:

Dry:

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Wet:

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/4 cup oil (olive or coconut for me)

1/4 cup milk/juice/yogurt if batter needs thinning

Up to 1/4 cup sweetener (I prefer honey or maple syrup to sugar)

I usually supplement the dry ingredients with almond flour (protein instead of starch), wheat bran, blue corn flour, or other whole grain or protein-y dry products.

I supplement the wet with mashed banana, grated apple, grated carrot, sweet potato puree, yogurt, etc. 

Add ins: sliced almonds, chopped pecans, candied ginger, cacao nibs, raisins, dried cranberries, shredded coconut

Add spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, ground ginger… the options are endless!

Good combos:

Pear-ginger

Sweet potato - almond - cacao

Banana - pecan - coconut

Apple - carrot - almond - raisin

 

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Place muffin liners in tray and spray to coat with olive oil or baking spray

3. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl

4. Mix wet ingredients and combine into dry

5. Fill muffin liners to rim and bake until done (15-25 min)

6. Eat