September 25, 2012

Mighty Maple Banana Muffins and the Monday Morning Terror

I've never claimed to be a brave person. As a matter of fact, I'm a total wuss. But if you asked me what the one thing is that I'm more terrified of than anything else, I wouldn't even hesitate with the answer. Because it's spiders.

I have severe arachnophobia. I can feel confident diagnosing myself like that because a) I have a degree in psychology and can recognize signs of a severe phobia and b) because I have a paralyzing and debilitating fear of spiders.

In psychology, a phobia is defined as an intense and mostly irrational fear. Phobias like arachnophobia are called specific phobias because they center around a specific and definable thing. Arachnophobia is the most common specific phobia, though let me tell you, that doesn't make me feel any better.

I don't know why I have this fear of spiders, and I don't mind telling you that it is completely irrational. I've never gotten a spider bite or had a specifically traumatizing experience with them. In fact, when I was little and in Girl Scout camp, I used to swallow down my fear around the Daddy Long-Legs when all the other little girls would scream, somehow realizing that someone needed to be a rational human being. I figured, the less scared I acted every time I encountered them, the less scared I would feel. And that should have worked since exposure is the best treatment for a phobia (although to be fair, Daddy Long-Legs aren't the most spidery and while I don't particularly like them, they don't inspire the same kind of fear as their creepy crawly cousins).

Why am I sharing this? Because yesterday I almost died, and a spider was to blame.
I was driving to work, minding my own business, singing along to some Queen, and I feel something brush against my arm. I think it's just a piece of my hair, so I go to wipe it away, and I turn my head to look as I do so.

It's a spider. A big one. About half an inch long. And white. Dangling on his web just over my arm.

I don't think that I have to tell you that I jumped. And probably swerved. And let lose a stream of curses that would make a sailor blush. I somehow managed to keep my car on the road. The thing was dangling on its web right by my window, and I somehow had the presence of mind to think to open the window and hope it would get sucked out by the wind. But it managed to find its way to safety by the time that thought occurred to me. Then I figured that I would pull over into the next parking lot and kill it dead, because I knew that there was no way I could drive all the way to work with a spider scurrying around my head. I'd get into an accident.

The spider must have sensed my plans for assassination, because he decided right then would be a great time to hang out on my steering wheel. You know, in my direct line of sight, where my hands are. Despite the fact that the next parking lot was mere yards away, I knew I'd never make it, and if it crawled onto my hands, I might have a heart attack, if not I'd probably flip the Silver Dragon over, and if I didn't die then, I'd be trapped in a wreck with a spider crawling over my face. So I reached over, grabbed my book-- a nice, big trade paperback, about 600 pages-- and whacked at the spider.

When I took the book away, the spider was gone, and I convinced myself that if I looked at the floor of the car, I'd find his smushed little spider corpse. Except at the next light I looked, and I didn't see it. I wanted to go home right then and switch cars with someone, but I was running late as it was, and the other receptionist had called out sick. So I spent the world's most harrowing car ride that morning driving to work. My arm hair was standing on end. I kept feeling phantom creepy-crawlies that I would swear was the spider crawling up my pants. My muscles were so tense that they twitched. And I could swear that I kept feeling something brush against my toes, and I yelled at myself because, really, why would I wear peep toes at the end of September? Who does that?
When I finally made it home, I needed the solace of muffins. These muffins. These soft, peanut buttery muffins with banana and maple syrup. These muffins don't judge me. They don't laugh at my terror. The don't mock me. They just sit there, all soft and comforting, saying, "It's all right. We understand. We will fill your belly with love." And they do. In fact, they fill my belly with so much love, that I never want to stop at just one. I eat one and then I immediately start craving a second one. Seriously, I think about eating them all day long. I'm surprised that I don't start dreaming about them.

I used Mighty Maple peanut butter in these, and I really love the intense peanut butter flavor it provides. Although, truth: I made these with a full cup of peanut butter, and the peanut butter flavor was a little too intense when they were fresh. It mellowed out some the next day, but I dialed back the peanut butter in the recipe for you. Also, these are egg-free and can easily be made vegan by using a dairy-free spread in place of the butter.
And there's actually some closure to my story of terror. This morning I get into the car, and I'm still on high alert for the spider that was never found. And the audacious little sucker decides it's going to try the same thing, dangling off its web right by my window. I was prepared for it this time, and while I still jumped and cursed, I managed to get the window open, and this time it did get sucked out, and I am far too pleased with myself for defeating the spider. I just pray that it didn't have friends.

Mighty Maple Banana Muffins {Printable Version}

Yield: 16 muffins

2 cups flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¾ cup unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 bananas, mashed
¾ cup Mighty Maple peanut butter*
1/3 cup maple syrup
1½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until smooth. Add the bananas, peanut butter, maple syrup, and vanilla, and beat until everything is fully incorporated. Fold in the flour mixture, and mix it in completely. Fill a muffin tin most of the way with batter, and bake for 20-22 minutes until the tops are firm and lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack.

Tip: I topped these with prepared crisp mix, but you can top them with a streusel, quick oats, or even granola if you’d like. Or leave the tops plain.

*If you’re using regular peanut butter, add ¼ tsp. maple flavoring.

Recipe by Kim