Category Archives: Just for Fun

Hacks for Lazy Bakers, Plus Bonus Non-Muffin Recipe

Hacks for Lazy Bakers, Plus Bonus Non-Muffin Recipe

One of the reasons I specialize in muffins is that they’re super easy… and I’m lazy. Mix wet ingredients, mix dry ingredients, combine, bake. But there are ways to make the process even easier. I hate doing dishes, so I’m always looking for ways to cut down on cleanup. Here are some simple tricks for making things easier.

  • If the recipe calls for melted butter, melt it in the bowl you’ll end up using for the wet ingredients, rather than a separate container. I have a Pyrex mixing bowl that’s great for this.
  • When possible, pour the bowl of dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients, not the other way around. The wet ingredient bowl needs to be washed regardless, but if you keep the dry bowl dry, you can get away with a simple rinse.
  • Use a scale to measure ingredients, so you can pour things directly into the bowl instead of dirtying a bunch of measuring cups. I have a slip of paper in an interior cabinet that lists the weights for common ingredients. 1 cup of flour =  5 ounces, 1 cup of sugar = 7 ounces, etc.
  • Use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients–better than dirtying a sifter, plus you can then use that same whisk on the wet ingredients.
  • Use baking cups in your muffin tins rather than cooking spray. Obvious, but effective!

This week’s recipe is not a muffin, but Congo Bars, one of our favorite bar cookies (and the most deliciously simple raw cookie dough you can imagine). We ate them last night at our family dessert. Recipe comes from the cookbook of Cafe Beaujolais, a beautiful little place in Mendocino, California.


2/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 lb. (not a typo) brown sugar
3 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (6 oz) chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional in the Dana house)

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix together butter, brown sugar, and eggs in a larger bowl. Pour dry ingredients into wet and mix well. Add chocolate chips. Spoon into a greased 13 x 9 pan and pat it out. Bake at 325 degrees for 25-35 minutes. It will be golden brown on top but still soft.

Serve warm–microwaved from room temperature if necessary.

It All Started with Christmas Music

I created my first blog for 12 years ago today. It’s long since abandoned–The Blue Room is blog #3 for me–but I still remember the first post: a taxonomy of Christmas music to blow off steam during the height of Clergy Superbowl stress. I think about three people read it, all with the last name McKibben.

So much has changed in me… and in the Internet. Blogs aren’t what they used to be, although I’m grateful people stop by here to read what I have to say.

In honor of that silly first post about Christmas music, I share this graphic that came across Facebook last week, created (I think) by John Shouse and shared by my friend Cathy Boyd. Brilliant!

a taxonomy of christmas music

a taxonomy of christmas music

Merry Christmas!

And Happy New Year!
…It’ll be even happier if you sign up to receive Gate of the Year, a free workbook/playbook to help you do a review of 2015 and set intentions and visions for 2016. Learn more here. Sign up here.

This Week’s “Muffin”: Applesauce Spice Cake


This week I put muffin in quotes because I actually made this as a bundt cake, but it would work perfectly well as muffins. Just bake for less time.

This cake was a central feature of our Wednesday family dessert as well as a lovely quiet conversation over tea with a friend on my back deck. No frills, but tasty and super easy!

I’d credit the source but I don’t know where I got this one.


1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup oil
7/8 cup brown sugar

1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup chopped nuts and/or raisins, optional (I omitted)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bundt pan or muffin cups.
  2. Mix applesauce, brown sugar and oil in medium bowl.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry, mix well.
  5. Pour into pan and bake 40 minutes (cake) or 15-20 minutes (muffins).
  6. Cool on a cooling rack.

Muffin of the Week: Easy Cranberry, for the #RagnarDC Steeple Chasers

A sign my daughter made for last year's Ragnar Relay team.

A sign my daughter made for last year’s Ragnar Relay team.

EDIT: I wrote this post early in the week, then spent the morning before Ragnar monitoring weather reports. As of this update, our team is still a go, but the muffins didn’t get made. So let’s call these muffins Hurricane Joaquin muffins instead.

It’s Ragnar Relay week here in the nation’s capital, and as this post goes live, our team, the Steeple Chasers, is somewhere in Maryland, making the long and hilarious 200-mile running trek from Cumberland to DC. You can read about last year’s Steeple Chasers adventure here.

Despite my injury, I’m staying on as driver and general merry-maker. And muffin provider. This week I went with something simple, with no weird ingredients that might be tough on runners’ tummies. I also made mini-muffins so people can pop a little one in their mouth if they need a quick burst of energy.

EASY CRANBERRY MUFFINS — adapted from Eating on a Dime

  • 2 cups Flour
  • ¾ cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • ¾ cup Orange Juice
  • ⅓ cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 cup chopped Cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Coat muffin pan with cooking spray. (12 regular sized muffins or 24ish mini muffins)
  3. Mix together flour, brown sugar and baking powder. Set aside.
  4. Beat together eggs. orange juice and oil.
  5. Add wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moistened.
  6. Fold in cranberries.
  7. Spoon into prepared muffin pan.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. Cool on a wire rack.


When You Can’t Have Family Dinner… Plus the Muffin of the Week

It has one of the highest impacts of anything we do as families… and it becomes harder and harder the older the kids get.

It’s dinner as a family.

Study after study talks about the benefits of a family dinner. It’s important physically, emotionally, spiritually, even mentally–according to this article, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read aloud to. As someone whose job used to involve a lot of evening meetings, and now involves travel a couple of times a month, family dinner is a challenge. But it’s also a cherished value for us. It may not be leisurely or gourmet quality, but I’d say we pull it off four or five times a week.

That average just got a lot harder. On Mondays, our kids have choir rehearsals. It’s a single program, but they’re in three different choirs that all start and end at different times. It’s not close enough to our house to drop off and pick up, so we’ve been MacGyvering our way through it with sack dinners, the occasional GoPicnic, and bringing homework along while we wait in what is thankfully a very comfortable space to hang out for three hours.

Wednesday is our other challenge–piano night. We were able to keep all of the kids with the same beloved piano teacher we had before we moved, but the lessons are one after the other during the dinner hour. So again we’re doing the sack dinner thing. I drop the kids off and go somewhere nearby to do some writing, then pick them up when they’re done.


For the last two weeks we’ve tried a new practice. If we can’t have dinner together, we can at least have dessert together. Monday is too hectic to do anything and we get home too late. So on Wednesdays when the kids and I get home, Robert has the table set for something simple: last week it was ice cream, this week it was these pumpkin gingerbread muffins with whipped cream and Trader Joe’s lemon curd.

We use the fancy dessert plates (because it’s no extra effort) and do our customary dinnertime check-in of most favorite and least favorite parts of the day. It’s been a great way to end our day.

…Ok, this week someone had a meltdown and left the table in a huff. That happens too.

What do you do to make family meals or other special times happen in the midst of your busy life?


adapted from Simply Recipes


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced candied or fresh ginger (optional)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 Tbsp water


1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare 12 muffin cups or a loaf pan with cooking spray.

2 In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

3 In another bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the pumpkin purée, melted butter, sugar, molasses, fresh or candied ginger, eggs, and water.

4 Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir only until incorporated.

5 Place the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes (loaf) or 15-20 minutes (muffins), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then gently run a knife around the edge and remove from pan(s). Let cool on a rack for 30 minutes or longer.