Baking Up a Bond and Banana Muffins

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By Aubrey Wilson—the talented Hope College Communications student and intern!

My dad is a man of many average dad talents - grilling, driving a boat, mowing the lawn. But baking is one of his hidden talents. Outside our home, he is known for being a man of few words. Inside the four walls of our home, he is known for his spur of the moment kitchen take over. Picture this, our family of five lounging in the living room and watching TV. He abruptly stands up, heads to the kitchen, opens every cabinet possible, pulls up a recipe online, and within seconds our kitchen has transformed into the episode of “Top Chef”. 

His specialties range from banana bread to protein balls. His flavor depends upon the day. But what does not change is the bond my dad has baked up. Through his periodic kitchen endeavors, a lot more than just food has been made. The walls of our kitchen watched my siblings and I’s “I only want chicken tenders” phase grow into “Filet mignon please”. The walls watched as my dad came home after his weeks away on business trips. I would sit next to the stove as he boiled the fresh lobster he picked up in Maine. To count the number of people who have sat on those counters awaiting the baked goods to be done would be in impossible task. Those people (including my family, closest friends, and I) have cried to the point of laughing and laughed to the point of crying while sitting on those counters. Our kitchen counters have served my brothers “Blue’s Clues” birthday cake as well as his high school graduation dessert bar. 

The love I have experienced, witnessed, and cherished in that kitchen will carry with me no matter what house I am in and no matter who I am with. So here’s my challenge to you: next time you are baking/cooking something up, notice the kitchen. Take note of the people in it. Remember the conversations. Foster the time the food is in the oven because it allows for more conversation. But don’t leave them in too long… :) 

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There’s good news if you’d like to clean up your nutrition and maintain your hidden talent like Aubrey’s dad or begin to embrace the kitchen as a connecting place. Living a healthy lifestyle does not mean giving up baking, rather, swapping old school, processed and refined sugar laden recipes for as close to whole food ingredients as possible, whenever possible.

Baking is a detailed chemical process that cannot be messed with. As cookbook author and Food Network star, Alton Brown, shared in his book I’m Just Here for More Food, “Standard everyday cooking is relatively forgiving. Baking is rarely so. In fact, baked goods are a great deal like cars: You can change the wheel covers, put in new mats, and change out the stereo, but if you’re going to mess around under the hood, you’d better know what you’re doing or you may wind up taking the bus.”

Banana muffins are no exception so when on the quest to clean up recipes and add-in nutrition, precise details cannot be dismissed! It’s best to stick to preexisting baking recipes and only swap similar ingredients like chocolate chips for nuts and seeds or yogurt for coconut milk yogurt, for example. This banana muffin recipe is a tweak of a vegan recipe passed along many years ago. The muffins are gluten free, diary free and can be egg free and nut free if you choose! They qualify to be justified as the fruit and whole grain portion of a balanced plate and are an awesome lunchbox staple and pre workout fuel! Don’t forget to find the potato masher before getting started!

Staple Banana Muffins

By Audrey Byker Health Coach

-Makes 24-30 standard muffins

6 average sized ripe bananas, mashed(not extra large)

1 cup coconut sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted

2 tsp pure almond extract(omit for nut free)

2 tsp sea salt

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

3 cups oat flour

1 cup chocolate chips, diary free

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare muffin tin with regular muffin liners. 

Add bananas, sugar and eggs to large bowl and mash with potato masher until combined.  Add coconut oil and mix again.  Add all remaining dry ingredients and fold together just until combined. Dish batter into muffin liners 3/4 of the way full(two small cookie dough scoops work great).  Bake in preheated oven for 18-20  min or until center is set. Eat as soon as cooled or store in airtight container up to 6 days at room temperature.

Spring Soup and Bone Broth - Part 2!

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Homemade bone broth is just plain good. It’s also one of the most popular food inquiries from clients, friends, family, followers, fans, class participants...Parents.  The moment cold weather hits us midwesterners, messages and texts come blasting in like the polar vortex in January:

“Audrey, what the easiest way to make bone broth?”

I’d like to take a moment to sort out every reader into two separate categories:

  1. Have made bone broth

  2. Have not made bone broth

If you fall under category #1, scroll ahead to this week’s tasty white bean and sausage potato soup recipe--ideally to utilize your homemade bone broth and improve your healthy culinary skills! Temps are slowly climbing yet cold still lingering along with illnesses: Gut health is always needing more TLC.  I promised to share more about bone broth, but can’t help but want to move forward with an exciting new recipe along with it…

If you have not made bone broth you fall under category #2--Should you choose to finally take the raw, whole chicken plunge, I’m here to reassure you it’s really quite simple! The trauma is more than made up for with the juicy, flavorful meat and healing broth.  While preparing it can be high in disgust, it’s low on time and takes care of itself once the oven temp is reached and timer set. Over the past four years I’ve written two blog posts and one recipe ebook explaining the simplest way in detail. Check it out and plan on reading the recipe first, writing the grocery list second, then committing to some kitchen time.  Similar to all healthy habit changes, practice makes perfect. It takes practice to get it exactly how you prefer it. And I am cheering for you! For additional support in increasing your culinary skills, here is a helpful checklist:

Kitchen tools needed:

-Dutch oven, crock pot or instant pot(must have a lid)

-Large food storage container if chicken will not be consumed immediately

-Large fine mesh strainer

-Large bowl

-Large mason jars with lids

-Large food funnel

Bone Broth:

See previous blog post - Gut Healing Chicken Soup and Bone Broth

There’s something about creamy soups. The temptation to indulge in a diary based soup left me years a go after discovering diary=sick. However, warm, creamy, and filling comfort food will never get old and does not have to contain dairy to taste incredible!  This soup is awesome with a spoonful of cashew sour cream (I like this one) stirred in, yet also good on it’s own. I like to add a splash of apple cider vinegar just before serving to boost the flavor a bit and improve digestion and gut health. Smashing some of the beans and potatoes with a potato masher creates the thick and creamy affect my taste buds crave the most.  When it comes to texture, it passed the 3-selective-eaters and one diary-addict test in my home! While bacon, sausage, ground pork, leftover pork tenderloin or even chopped up pork chops would work well in this soup, no pork at all is an equally tasty option for the meat or penny-less striving for great health! Chicken breakfast sausage would also not disappoint.

In an effort to ease the pain and discomfort of adding in new cooking skills for better health, here are the kitchen tools needed for this soup(more on skills yet to come. Stay connected!).

Kitchen Tools needed:

-Stock pot

-Cutting board

-Potato peeler

-Potato masher

-Fine mesh strainer

-Chef’s knife

-Favorite apron (optional but strongly suggested)

You matter to me so whether you are a #1, #2 or anything in-between, you are worth the extra effort it takes to look and feel amazing. In most circumstances, healthy sustainability requires time logged in the kitchen. Why not start by swapping french fries for potato while indulging in this soup?

White Bean and Sausage Potato Soup:

By Audrey Byker Health Coach

For the Protein Fat and Flavor

1 lb. Pork (optional, preservative and added junk free)

3 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced

2 sprigs of fresh Rosemary leaves, stemmed and minced or 1/2 Tbls. dried

1 pinch of Marjoram seasoning(optional)

4+ cups Broth

Sea salt to taste (a lot)

1 tsp white pepper

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

For the Veggies and Carbs

1 med. onion, chopped

1 16oz jar white beans

3 Lbs. Russet Potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces

3 cups Kale leaves, stemmed and chopped

In a large stockpot with a lid, add meat and onion. Sautés on med-high until fragrant and translucent about 5 min. Add sea salt, pepper, garlic, and marjoram. Saute 2 min. more then add all remaining ingredients except for kale. Add lid. Bring pot to a boil and turn to a simmer for 20 min. or until potatoes are cooked through. Add kale for the last few minutes to soften. Salt to taste.

Chili Pasta Skillet

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Every morning I walk out of our bedroom, turn my head and peek outside at the pond to foster a positive mindset and begin the day with the uplifting sense of wellbeing nature always offers. Yesterday marked the start of Thanksgiving week which makes it hard to believe there is already a layer of ice shimmering across the pond’s surface today! Considering I grew up in Michigan, this should be no surprise—the weather has always been mysterious. When I think of the fall season, freezing temps are the first thing to come to mind along with this overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the warm things: Sweaters, blankets, heat, a home, socks, shoes, boots, roasted veggies, soups and stews, and absolutely, yes, venison chili!

Calling all venison lovers!

Hunting, then the sharing of meat with loved ones, appears to be a primal instinct acted on by the masses in Autumn and Winter throughout the midwest. Here in Michigan, the majority of families have at least one member who enjoys it as a hobby. My heart is too sensitive to think beyond the cooking, but I’m grateful for my family and friends who invest far more time and energy into hunting deer than I do creating: Any animal raised in it’s natural habitat is a healthier option when comparing to a mass produced, factory farmed one.

Also, a major selling point? I never paid a dime for venison! My hunters are begging to give it away.

While I will never enjoy looking at photos of huge racks or sleeping in a room plastered with hides and mounts, I will always enjoy the eating of the meat. My body says meat is a must for the grounding, calming, warming, strong and lean results it offers. This is not the case for everyone—we are all unique—but given it is for me, the majority of the recipes I create include meat while also striving to fill 1/2 the plate or bowl with veggies and plants.

This Chili Pasta Skillet is my families’ favorite way to eat venison. When food comes straight from nature it connects me in the same way gazing at the sunset, watching snowfall or taking a deep breath of winter’s crisp air can.

I’m warning you, if you make this, do not plan on having leftovers and always double for a crowd! And if hunting or all things carnivorous are not for you, you’ll equally love this recipe.

Chili Pasta Skillet:

By Audrey Byker Health Coach

-30 min. meal

-serves 4-6

For the protein fat and flavor

1 pound ground venison(omit for vegan or swap for ground meat of choice)

1 Tbls. ghee(avocado oil for vegan)

4 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder(or granulated garlic or 1 clove garlic, minced)

For the veggies and carbs

3/4 cup onion, chopped

1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped

14 1/2oz. diced tomatoes w/juice

16oz. can kidney beans, rinsed

8oz. canned tomato sauce

1/2 cup gluten free rotini pasta

1 Tbls. raw honey or pure maple syrup

sea salt and pepper to taste

Chicken broth or water as needed to keep the pasta moist


In a large skillet(with a lid) on med-high heat add ghee, venison, onion and  red pepper.  Saute until venison is beginning to brown then add chili and garlic powders. Saute 2 minutes more then add remaining ingredients. Turn heat to high to bring to a boil. Add broth or water to coat the pasta(amount varies).  Add lid and turn heat to low. Simmer for 20 min.

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Audrey Byker is a skilled and experienced Health Coach in West Michigan. She specializes in supporting busy people on their wellness journey through one-on-one coaching which can take place in person at her private office, in home or virtually from anywhere in the world. If you are looking for guidance and support to improve your health and quality of life, click here to set up a free consult today! She accepts HSA/FSA as payment!