When it comes to cooking, Eileen Mullin knows easy is good.
And when it come to cooking food for her family, she knows easy and good for you is even better.
That's why Mullin's recipe for gluten-free banana pumpkin muffins are a staple in her house.
She started making them for her son, Frank, 13, who is gluten-intolerant, but the whole family has come to appreciate the muffins' good taste and health benefits.
"We have found that following a gluten-free and dairy-free regimen has been beneficial to his health - and ours," the 47-year-old Linwood mother of two said.
Mullin didn't start out as the kind of woman who would make special baked goods for her children's lunches.
She was born in Hilltown Township, Pa., but her family moved to Brigantine when her father - a carpenter - came to Atlantic City for work at the start of the casino era.
Originally trained as an accountant, Mullin also got work in the casino industry. At that point in her life, she was more comfortable crunching numbers in an office than cooking in a kitchen, she said.
"I was more of a career person - but then I got into being a mom," said Mullin, who now works as a math teacher at St. Vincent DePaul Regional Middle School in Mays Landing. Mullin and her husband, Bob, a systems manager for Broadridge Financial in New York, first had their daughter Kaitlyn, now 14 and a freshman at Mainland Regional High School. Then came Frank, who is now a sixth grader at Belhaven Middle School.
With Frank's birth, food suddenly became a much-thought about topic in Mullins' home. Frank was diagnosed with autism. He also suffered from food intolerances, his mom said.
"My son had digestive trouble from the day he was born," Mullin said. It was so bad, that by the time he was 5 the boy had already undergone a colonoscopy and had a polyp removed, she said.
Watching Frank's diet also became an important part of dealing with his autism.
As part of his treatment, the family embarked on a series of steps intended to purge heavy metals from the boy's body. But this required Eileen and Bob Mullin to keep a close eye on their son's diet.
"When you are ridding your bodies of the heavy metals, your digestive system is sensitive," she said. "Because of that, we had been very rigid with diet - almost vegan - everything organic."
Frank's gluten-intolerance also affected his behavior. His mother found removing gluten and dairy products from his diet helped.
"We did find that following a gluten-free diet made all that better, and when that is better, he definitely behaved better. (The intolerance) created a whole layer of problems, are they connected yeah, is it a direct connection, no," she said.
Putting her son on a special diet meant the rest of the family had to alter their eating habits, too.
"It was a big adjustment for all of us. When one person has an issue, it affects everyone," Mullin said. "Friday night pizza night is not something we would do."
Knowing her son needed to eat gluten-free set Mullin in search of foods to feed him. A decade ago, there was not much awareness about gluten-related problems, or alternatives for people who suffered from them.
Luckily, a good friend from high school was a pastry chef working for Susanna Foo in Philadelphia.
She was baking with nongluten flours and she was familiar with a vegan bakery in New York called Babycakes NYC. The bakery had recently been featured in a food magazine that published some of its recipes. Mullins saw a muffin recipe and set out to adapt it for her family.
"I tweaked the recipes to meet my needs." Mullin said. "I added the pumpkin and the flax seed. I used juices instead of soy milk."
"They are easy to make. I can make a batch and freeze them. When I throw them in his lunchbox I know he has something good to eat," she said.
The rest of the family likes the muffins, but because the gluten-free ingredients are so expensive, most are saved for Frank.
"We are a little more relaxed now. We are not as strict as we were," she said. "We like the muffins, but we try to make sure we save the good stuff for Frank."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
(Gluten-free and vegetarian)
•2 cups Bob's Red Mill gluten-free, all-purpose baking flour
•1/4 cup ground flaxseed (optional)
•2 teaspoons baking soda
•2 teaspoons baking powder
•2 teaspoons cinnamon
•1 teaspoon xanthan gum
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•3 overripe bananas (mashed or whipped)
•1 15-ounce can pumpkin
•1 cup canola oil
•1 cup agave nectar
•2/3 cup unsweetened soy milk (other non-dairy such as rice milk, apple juice, or cranberry juice work well)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil muffin tin.
Whisk to combine flour, flaxseed, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, xanthan gum and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, bananas, oil, agave nectar, and soy milk. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 25 minutes.
Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes before turning it out.
This recipe can be used to prepare bread instead of muffins by using a loaf pan and adjusting the baking time to approximately 40 minutes. You can also add raisins, cranberries or blueberries to the batter.
Important to note
When purchasing ingredients and preparing the recipe you need to keep in mind the sensitivity level of the intended recipient to gluten. If the person who is going to eat the muffins is celiac, allergic or highly sensitive to gluten you will need to verify a few things.
• All dry and wet ingredients are gluten-free.
• All surfaces, bowls, utensils and items used to prepare and bake the muffins has been cleaned and is free of gluten. Cross-contamination can occur when gluten-free items are prepared in an environment where other food items are prepared.
Note: Some people who follow a gluten-free regimen do so because of a digestive intolerance or find it contributes to the severity of other physical conditions. In this case, the inclusion of some gluten in the preparation will not cause immediate harm.
I adapted this recipe from one published by Erin McKenna in Food and Wine. Erin is the owner of BabyCakes NYC, a purveyor of gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan delights.