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The Story of the Plonk (or A Concurrence of Serendipitous Events)

This is the time of year that I find myself struggling a little. I know well that sugar is not kind to my skin, but in the post-holiday weeks I find myself in a sort of sugar withdrawal, gently trying to coax myself off the white stuff with dates and raisins and the like.

I also recently had to go up to the Kaiser Permanente office in Riverside County for a health screening one morning. After waiting fifty minutes past my appointment time and being appropriately poked and prodded (I know, it was poetic justice.), I found myself hungry, running late for my next appointment at my office in Encinitas, and in a state of no-tea-this-morning caffeine withdrawal. I stopped at the tiny coffee stand next to the KP pharmacy, and along with my soy latte I picked up something vaguely muffin-like that was labeled The Original Plonk. Now many baked goods that call themselves muffins are simply cake masquerading as breakfast food, but this was a muffin with intention. Barely sweet and packed with whole oats, nuts, and dried fruit, it served very well as an early lunch, and it was just the thing to quiet the carbohydrate cravings yodeling in my brain.

Then one rainy San Diegan night I needed of a bit of cheering up, so I decided to recreate The Plonk. An internet search for "plonk recipe" yielded nothing, leading me to think that the word is proprietary (or at least made up). Not to be deterred, I searched "heavy muffin with oatmeal" instead and came up with this as the closest idea. I puttered over to the pantry to start planning my substitutions, not only to vegan-ize it and because I didn't want to go to the grocery store in the rain, but also because I never could leave a recipe alone. Double the cinnamon, whole wheat flour instead of all purpose flour, substitute figs for dates, and so on, until I rooted out a container of almond-cashew vegan cream that had been a little gift a few months ago from a lovely patient who wanted me to try it. I had been hoarding it to thicken a soup at some point, but I had the sudden inspiration to use it to replace all the liquid and the fat in the recipe (the buttermilk plus the butter). I added a tablespoon of vinegar to account for the acid in the buttermilk and forged ahead.

The result was a serendipitous success. The batter was so dense that it made an almost audible "plonk" when I scooped it into the muffin tin (hence the name, no doubt), but after baking the crumb was still soft and moist, not dry and crumbly like so many other healthy muffins. These aren't going to last long around the office, and I'm already plotting my next rendition: replacing the figs with crystallized ginger root and the cinnamon with dried powdered ginger....

Dry ingredients
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried figs, chopped

Wet ingredients
1/2 cup honey*
1 and 1/2 cups almond-cashew cream
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp of ground flax seeds plus 3 tbsp of water

Absolutely first, put the ground flax in a small bowl and then add the water on top. Whisk well with a fork and then put it in the refrigerator while you measure and mix everything else. This is essential to making vegan "eggs" from flax. The time and the cold let it develop a gooey texture that simulates what an egg is supposed to do in baking--bind stuff together.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray a 12 cup muffin tin with a bit of oil.

Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix the wet ingredients in another. Then dump the dry into the wet and give it 10 stirs with a big spoon and then stop. Seriously, it doesn't matter if there are still some tiny dry bits of flour. If you overstir muffin batter, particularly vegan muffin batter, it gets really tough and elastic from the gluten.

Plonk the batter into 12 muffin cups and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

*I used honey from my parents place in Mississippi because that was what was in my pantry, but to make these truly vegan, use agave nectar or maple syrup. In fact, I think maple syrup might be good in the upcoming ginger rendition....

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