Like many other villagers plagued by hurricane worries last weekend, I turned to food. I stocked up on peanut butter, crackers, and tuna fish from the IGA in case the power went out. I bought enough pretzels at the Beverage Store to last until the Super Bowl. I’ll confess that I was tempted to eat a bag of chocolate chips after watching too many hours of the Weather Channel’s pre-storm coverage.
Ultimately, I calmed my nerves with muffins made with winter squash. This seasonal vegetable is full of B vitamins and tryptophan, which have been linked to the body’s management of stress. In addition to the short-term mood-boosting benefit, there is long-term benefit to eating winter squash regularly. It is rich in carotenoids and other disease-fighting anti-oxidants. Although winter squash is up to 90 percent starch, its particular starches are the helpful, insulin-regulating kind.
Baking something healthy and delicious is in itself a stress-reducing activity. The methodical acts of measuring and mixing have a calming effect. The aroma of vanilla, eggs, sugar, and spices has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety. Even washing and drying dishes can be therapeutic if the job is small and your water pump is working.
I ate one of my muffins when it was still warm from the oven. The instant sensory gratification temporarily obliterated the sound of the wind shrieking through the shrubs. I was lucky—the water never reached my house, no trees were uprooted from my portion of the sidewalk. When my power did go out, I had muffins in reserve. And when the power was restored in just 48 hours, I was so grateful to the hardworking LIPA repairmen that I wished I could bake a fresh batch just for them.
Winter Squash Muffins
Makes 6 muffins
Most varieties of winter squash, including butternut, delicata, and sweet dumpling will work in this recipe. Avoid stringy varieties like spaghetti squash. Look for blemish- and mold-free specimens with hard, glossy rinds. They will keep on the countertop for a day or two and for up to six weeks in a cool, dry place in your basement or garage. You can use leftover mashed squash, or roast some squash specifically for baking. One small squash (about 1 ½ pounds) will yield a little over a cup. To roast, halve and seed your squash, brush the cut sides with a little vegetable oil, place on a foil-lined baking sheet, and roast in a 425 degree oven until very soft. Roasting time will depend on the size of your squash. Let it cool, mash it with a fork to break up any lumps, and you are ready to bake
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 large egg
1 cup roasted, mashed, and cooled winter squash
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup walnut pieces, toasted and chopped
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 6-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ginger in a small bowl.
3. Whisk together butter, sugar, maple syrup, egg, squash and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir flour mixture into squash mixture until just combined. Stir in the walnuts.
4. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Let muffins cool in pan for 5 minutes, invert onto a wire rack, and then turn right side up on rack to cool completely.