February 7, 2011 at 6:00 am
Many years ago when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up, I met Don Vaughan. He was the photographer for our campus newspaper, and I had sort of accidentally started working for the paper, which turned out to be exactly what I needed to be doing.
Don called me to set up a time to take a photo, and we hit it off right away. We became fast friends, travelling to newspapers conventions and taking on campus administrators.
Don is the type of person who is always there when you need him — he helped me get my first “real” newspaper job, and once, helped me figure out how to fix a flat tire over the phone. He took pictures at my wedding as a gift to me, and it is one of the best presents I have ever received to be able to flip through that book of captured moments.
He and his wife Stephanie remain great friends to this day, although we don’t see each other often. But sometimes I feel like we are all sort of living parallel lives. Don is the one of the few people I know who happily spends as much time in the kitchen as I do. And during he summer, Don and Steph grow a garden that breaks my heart a little because I can’t actually curl up and sleep in it all season.
(While our garden gets overgrown with weeds, and infested with bugs and mutant zuchinni, their garden gives them really cool and interesting food like peppers I only hear about on cooking shows.)
Don and Stephanie have truly embraced the locavore movement in their Minnesota town, buying meat, eggs, dairy products, produce and even wine from farmers, growers and vintners they know.
Don’s Facebook status updates often say something like: Taking it easy tonight, so I am making a pizza with homemade whole wheat crust, local cheese from a cow I milked, vegetables we grew in the backyard, and sausage from a pig named Trevor who had a really good life until he was peacefully euthanized.
(That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it always makes me smile to see how much Don and Steph really care about their food and where it comes from.)
Stephanie says since adapting to this local diet several years ago, they are both healthier.
Suffice it to say, when I thought about starting this muffin series, I thought of the Facebook updates from Don about hearty and interesting healthy muffins that he whips up when not bringing the couple’s therapy dogs to a local prison. Really.
What follows is a quick interview with Don and his recipe for Morning Glory Muffins. It feels so funny after all these years to be interviewing him when way back in college we were always on the same side of the table, taking on the man.
Who knew all these years later we’d be comparing muffin recipes and tomato harvests? I guess it just goes to show that true friendships, like people, are always evolving:
TVNT: So Don — let’s talk muffins. How often to you bake a batch? What do you look for in a recipe?
Don: I bake muffins about once a week. Very rarely do I look for recipes. I have a base recipe that I use and then substitute ingredients based on what we have in the house and/or what sounds good.
TVNT: You mentioned starting with a whole wheat flour and flax base — why is it important to you to use those kinds of ingredients? Do you have a general cooking philosophy?
Don: We try to eat healthy and feel that whole wheat is a better choice than white flour. As for the flax, it’s a way to cut down on fat in the muffins and add another healthy ingredient. I also like what flax usually does to a recipe (heartier texture, rustic appeal).
TVNT: What has been your craziest muffin experiment?
Don: I can’t think of one off hand, but it was probably one that I just started throwing anything and everything in it. I am known for “throwing together” some strange combinations in the kitchen. I have had a couple muffins that just didn’t come together how I wanted them to. As a result, I cut them into chunks, placed in a bowl, added milk and “POOF” – homemade cereal!
TVNT: Any tips or tricks you want to share about baking, or mixing, or anything muffin-related?
Don: Make what sounds good and don’t be afraid to try something new. We all make things that don’t turn out so well. But, one mistake might lead to another really good idea. Think outside the muffin!
TVNT: Bonus question: Blueberry or cranberry?
Don: Cranberry. At least right now. However, friends of ours own a winery and always say that we are moody drinkers. Which is true – also about food. I don’t like having the same thing over and over. We are very seasonal on what we eat. Thus, ask me this a little ways down the road and I might answer blueberry.
Morning Glory Muffins
This is based on Earthbound Farm’s recipe. Here is a link to check out the original if you would like to take a peek.
Just to let you know, I hardly ever follow a recipe. I might use one as a base, but that is about it. I also don’t believe in exact measuring. Just a heads-up!
About 1 1/4 cups sweetener
(Usually some type of raw sugar – turbinado is what I currently have on hand. I will sometimes substitute one or a combo of the following as well: honey, agave nectar, maple syrup – just not plain white sugar. Muffin shown are approximately1 cup sugar and approx. 1/4 honey)
Approx. 2 1/4 cups or 2 BIG cups whole wheat flour
1 BIG tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
A GOOD 1/2 cup or so shredded coconut
Basically a cup of chopped dates
1 BIG apple, peeled and grated (I used a honeycrisp, a MN favorite; it was developed in MN)
1 8-oz can crushed pineapple, not drained
About 2 cups grated carrots
Healthy 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (use any nut you like; pecans work well, too)
3 eggs (I happened to use local, farm-fresh jumbos from down the road)
1 cup vegetable oil is called for (Your choice here, but I will usually cut the oil in half and then add 1 1/2 cups of flax. Adjust to your preference.)
At least 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste; I like the paste WAY more than extract.)
If you wanna, I will usually sprinkle some wheat germ in when I mix the dry stuff.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Sift or whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and flax (if used) into a large bowl. Add the coconut, dates, apple, pineapple, carrots and nuts; stir to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the oil and vanilla (add any liquid sweetener here). Pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients and blend well. Depending on the amount of flax used, a liquid might need to be added to slightly smooth out the batter. I will use whatever milk I have on had at the time (whole milk Lactaid, almond milk or soy milk). Soy milk tonight! The batter should be moist but not runny.
Spoon the batter into muffin tins lined with muffin cups, filling each to the almost to brim. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool muffins in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
Note: I did small and large muffins. The small were done around the 35 minute area. The larger took about an hour.
Don Vaughan is a photojournalist/photographer by trade. However, working with dogs takes up most of his time these days. Stephanie and Don own a Japanese mastiff that has been a therapy dog for more than 8 years. They are currently training their other dog, a Saint Bernard that they rescued, for therapy work as well. Besides working with their therapy dog, they teach a therapy dog prep class and are heavily involved with giant breed rescue.
On the food front, Don really enjoys the creation of the meal. Besides seafood, they buy all of their meat (beef, bison, chicken, pork, lamb) from local farmers and believe in grass-fed. On the veggie front, they plant a fairly large garden that provides fresh produce for them and many friends, family and neighbors.
They feel lucky to have a year-round farmers market near their home in southeast Minnesota.
*All photos in this post were taken by Don.*
To see last week’s Muffin-Up Monday recipe, click here.