Pizza Guilt and Sweet Potatoes

October swirled into a series of miscalculations. Junky chocolate candies landed in my hands when kids asked for donations on Boston Common—raising money for their choir? Summer camp? Soccer team? No one was quite sure; I started taking a daily B-12 vitamin, and then realized that one pill was 8,333% the necessary daily value. (It’s still not clear to me how this is possible); Then, at Wellfleet’s Oyster Fest, I listened to young, bearded fishermen shout, “We shuck ’em, you suck ’em,” opted for “No thanks,” and wandered over to the last stand in the lunch tent to order a taco: the loneliest food item at a seafood festival. In this crazed crowd of a world, I’m not always so sure what is going on.

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Back in Boston, finding vegan food is hardly a challenge. (Although I work at a salad restaurant, so that might have something to do with it.) But it’s the pizza that arrives at 1 a.m. after a few glasses of cheap wine and some blackberry rum that proves the problem. This is college, and cheesey food becomes a habit; it’s student-reflex to reach for that familiar floppy isosceles triangle when the still-warm cardboard box, splattered with grease stains, stores more than enough to go around. I ate every bite of the too-chewy crust before realizing that I can most definitely live life without another taste of Domino’s or Papa John’s. The satisfaction is immediate, then melts away.

But hey, as a product of a private catholic education, I know the rules to rule breaking. Sins can be repaid in the form of detentions, mumbled church hymns pass for actual “liturgical participation,” and 40 days of Lent are only a suggestion. There’s no reason to hold regrets as long as you pretend you’re repenting. We all make mistakes, friends. It’s a new day.

***

On my way to work on Tuesday mornings, farm trucks unload produce and meats to sell at the Copley Farmer’s Market. On the sidewalk of Dartmouth Street, an old, dirty-pawed boarder collie wanders around in circles, waiting for his parents to finish unloading dozens of crates of gourds, squash, and potatoes. He’s uninterested in city people, and more eager for the car ride home. Let’s hit up his stand and put this beautiful produce to work in breakfast-form.

A couple of months back, I wrote a story for the beautiful, independently published food journal, Remedy Quarterly. Issue 19, Share, just came out last month. Along with an essay about working and eating on my aunt’s farm, I included a new recipe for sweet potato muffins. Fresh ginger, apple sauce, and sunflower seeds are involved in this soft, sweet situation. Sure, you can bake this breakfast bread in loaf-pan form, but I’d argue that pocket-sized is better. Stuff them in your coat so you can eat them on-the-go. Slip a bite to a dusty farm dog on your way to work; no one’s looking.

I’ve repeated the recipe below, but you can find the original printing in Remedy Quarterly, available for order online and in independent bookshops.

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Sweet Potato Ginger Muffins

What you need:

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and grated (or 2 cups grated sweet potato)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh, finely grated ginger
  • 1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup unsalted sunflower kernels

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two muffin tins. In a medium bowl, mix together the grated sweet potato, fresh ginger, applesauce, oil, and vanilla. Stir-in the flours, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add two 1 ½ tablespoon scoops (or 3 Tbsp) to each muffin liner. Sprinkle each with sunflower kernels for a satisfying crunch atop soft, sweet breakfast bread. Bake for 18-20 minutes, and let cool for the fresh flavors to settle in.

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