Nicci Morris

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Mmm… Chocolate Chunk Banana Muffins

In Food, Recipes on March 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm

My family loves my Chocolate Chunk Banana Muffins and they never miss the eggs or the dairy. I don’t think you will either when you dive into these golden, tender morsels of deliciousness. The bananas make them beyond moist and the oats lend an addictive element of chewiness. The rich, complex flavor of dark chocolate adds a subtle and unexpected layer of sophistication. They’re perfect for any occasion or (the way I prefer them) no occasion at all.

Chocolate Chunk Banana Muffins

1 1/4 cups flour

1 cup oats (I use The Silver Palate Oatmeal, Thick and Rough)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup vanilla almond milk, unsweetened

1/3 cup vegan margarine, melted (I use soy-free Earth Balance)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (anything over 70 percent is non-dairy)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or liners.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda.

In another medium bowl, whisk together bananas, almond milk, Earth Balance and vanilla. Combine with the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate.

Fill each cup of muffin tin 2/3 of the way with your batter. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins. Enjoy!



Silence: Golden or deafening? Decide for yourself

In Lifestyle, Spirituality on March 12, 2011 at 12:53 am

Someone I know spends about 50 percent (if not more) of her waking hours on the telephone. When she’s not on the phone, she has the television on, at obscene volume levels. When she’s not not watching television (that’s not a typo, by the way… more often than not she doesn’t watch the show that is on), the radio or a CD is blaring. Based on my perspective and what I know about her, I believe this is a subconscious way for her to avoid uncomfortable issues and personal demons.

Over the years, she has shared with me tales of physical, verbal and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents and her siblings. She tells the same stories over and over, and she speaks about them in a way that lets me know the things she experienced continue to define her. An occasional armchair psychologist, I’ve analyzed what she’s told me over the years and it seems that instead of using her experiences — from her childhood and from more recent years — to motivate her, she is mired in them. Rather than sharing her stories to encourage and inspire, she recounts them, usually verbatim, in what seem to be petitions for pity or to upstage others when they go through tough times. Perhaps you also know someone who is always more upset, more hurt, more ill, more in need, etc… than everyone else. They can’t seem to resist the urge to one-up other people.

This person I know has a record playing in her head. She has rehearsed and memorized the negative lyrics. She knows the discordance by heart. Rather than pen a new verse and figure out how to create an internal melody, she fills her days with external noise.

I challenge you to create moments of silence in your life if you don’t already. If you are not familiar with this, you might find it is “too quiet,” or that you are uncomfortable with the lack of buzz around you. Fight your way through the initial discomfort and the racing thoughts. I promise it will pass as you give in to the lack of sound. Even if it just for the 20 minutes you spend getting dressed in the morning or the 40 minutes it takes you to commute to or from work, work to create intentional quiet in your life. Allow your thoughts, emotions and spirit to do what they may in those precious pockets of nothingness. Dismiss the low-energy buzz of chaos and usher in an environment that allows you to discover and connect with your divine and empowered self. Doing so lets your inner rudder, rather than outside influences, keep you on the path to your purpose.

Resist the urge to fill your days with noisy distractions that keep you bogged down by past of present hurts. God, peace, answers, healing, understanding, growth and so much more flourish in silence. See how silence can shift from deafening to defining.

Give quiet a go and be amazed by the powerful things you hear.


Life (and cooking) is all about trial, error…

In Food, Recipes on March 11, 2011 at 2:34 am

It must be a great day if I break out the measuring cups...

My cookbook will be a beautiful combination of plant-based recipes, beautiful photography and useful information. But before I can present the finished product to you, I have to test recipes. Argh… I cook and I write, therefore I test. It’s lots of work, but it is a true labor of love. I relish the chance to blend familiar and unique flavor and texture combinations. My goal is always the same: to prepare food that makes the people eating it furrow their brows, nod and mumble. All at the same time. Raised or furrowed brows signal pleasure. The nods affirms that, yes, this is one of the best things ever. And the mumbling? Well, that just means the food is so good that Miss Manners’ advice is out the window. Cooking is fun, exciting, a bit unpredictable, and I’m great at it.

Baking, on the other hand, ranks right up there with physics for me. I get it, but I don’t get it all the time. Far more exacting and about l,000 times less forgiving than cooking, baking simply is not natural for me. I almost always forget something. Or I inadvertently grab the baking soda when I really want baking powder. Cooking is an art, but baking is a science. Although I am accomplished in some realms of science (shout out to cellular biology, anatomy and chemistry…), I am far more comfortable doing something artsy and free-flowing my way to deliciousness.

So on days when I decide to pull out my measuring cups, teaspoons and preheat the oven, I’m in pretty good darn mood. Today was one of those days. I went to bed last night with a recipe idea on my mind: Vegan Grapefruit Muffins. I turned over, nuzzled into my pillow and thought, “It just… might… work…”  before I drifted off to sleep.

I went to work on the idea today. I’ve had good luck with vegan baking in the past, so I was hopeful. I started by sectioning juicy, ruby red Texas grapefruit.

I put my dry mixture together, combining whole wheat pastry flour, unbleached all-purpose flour, oats, brown sugar, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.

For the wet, I used vanilla extract, vanilla almond milk and melted soy-free Earth Balance.

With a gentle hand, I folded the wet ingredients into the dry mixture. I tasted the batter and it was divine. I had to exercise control just to keep from snacking on it. I was elated! My vision was coming together… I could almost see the perfect little muffins that were in my near future. I popped the muffin tin into the oven and waited.

This is what I got:

In a word? Awful! Hahahaha!

I did my best to salvage what I could. It ended up looking like an exotic, citrusy twist on bread pudding. It was ugly, but “belicious” (as my 2-year-old niece would say, meaning delicious) all the same.

Why am I sharing my failure with you? I wouldn’t want to take advice from someone who never made a mistake. So just as I share some of the fabulous recipes I create for my cookbook, I will also post about the occasional flop. Afterall, cooking (and baking) is just like life. There is no progress without some setbacks.

Here’s to licking the bowl any damn way, regardless of what life throws at you…


Gratitude is the path to zen

In Lifestyle, Love/Relationships on March 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm

It is easy to exude positive energy and to seem balanced when times are good and all is well. But how do you deal with stress? Do you withdraw? Do you become angry and lash out at others? How you react to stress indicates what drives you. Consider a piece of fruit. If you juice it, you will only and always get the juice of that fruit. It doesn’t matter if you use a commercial juicer, a handheld juicer or a mortar and pestle. It is imperative that we pay careful attention to what is inside of us. This ensures that no matter what happens in our lives and no matter what comes or goes, we can remain steadfast in our positive energy and receive the blessings and lessons that fill our lives.

How do we achieve this? Two things in particular have been saving graces in my life: Meditation and gratitude. I consider them grounding elements and they have allowed me to be introspective, steadfast and compassionate.

I have been on a path to inner peace and enlightenment for as long as I can remember. I experienced many things in my childhood that muddied my mind, body and spirit and made it difficult for me to find balance in anything. A sensitive person by nature, my true self and spirit were tainted by events early in my life that left wounds that have only begun to heal in the past two years. Abandonment, sexual and physical abuse from relatives, and other painful events had misshapen the girl I was meant to be and that eventually deformed the woman I was. For many years I carried with me more than any child, teen or woman should have to bear. Like millions of other people who endure abuse as a child, I faced each day and formed every relationship with an undercurrent of fear. Fear of abandonment. Fear of being abused again, in one way or another. As a result, I subsisted on surface relationships and instincts that pushed me to lace-up my shoes and run at the first sign of discomfort. Although Nicci the Child had no recourse, no protection and could not fend for herself, Nicci the Adult was mad as hell and she was never going to allow anyone to get close enough to hurt her again. Sometimes I look at pictures of me between the ages of 5 and 30 and I hardly recognize that little girl… that teenager… that shell of a woman. Those are my dead years. Many survivors of abuse can identify such a period in their lives.

What I discovered is there is no life without risk of pain. In 2009, I faced a decision between life and death. I could continue to subsist and move through this world as someone who sees without seeing and breathes without living, or I could dig deep into myself, do the work required and be whole again.

I chose life.

I meditated, prayed and fasted for much of that year. Battling a physical health issue and incredible emotional stress, I took a leave of absence from work and never returned to that office. I ended my marriage to someone I thought I would be with for the rest of my days. I lost the home we bought together. I dropped about 15 pounds. I stopped going out and talked openly only to my sister and a few close friends. It was a physical, emotional and spiritual sloughing off of everything and it was the most painful year of my life. Beyond that, it was necessary, and through it all, I had gratitude for so many things.

I was grateful for the small savings I had that allowed me to buy fruits, vegetables, grains and good olive oil and salt.

I was grateful for the cool nights that summer which allowed me to save money on air conditioning.

I was grateful for the time when my friends came to my house, long after the cable was off, and just sat with me while we listened to music and I prepared a simple dinner.

I was grateful for the mother bird who built that nest right outside my front door that spring. The sound and sight of that process (from start to first flight) reminded me of the size and scale of life.

I was grateful for my amazing father who helped me financially and made sure I was able to pay off and insure my car when I was on the verge of losing that, too. I was grateful that he never once questioned me or made me feel bad about being in need and to this day has never uttered a word about it.

I was grateful for my sister and her husband who made me laugh when I didn’t remember how to smile.

I was grateful for my nephew who came into the world in August of that year. His first cry reminded me of how precious breath is, and with his warm little body in my arms and his head cradled against my neck, he felt like promise and possibility.

In 2009, I had the least I have ever had from a material perspective, but I was rich in all of the ways that mattered. I surrendered to the loss, the pain and the hurt and centered myself and truly focused on what it means to be what I was made to be. Today I no longer want for any material thing and that has nothing to do with my household income and everything to do with my heart and spirit being whole. I don’t necessarily believe you have to go through times of hardship in order to find your purpose and to settle into yourself, but such tests are inevitable and there will be more for me as there will be for you.

My prayer is that you will have a mind of meditation and heart of gratitude and be prepared for whatever comes or goes in your life… That, I believe, is the path to peace. That is the path to zen.