Low-Fat, Low-Calorie Raisin Bran Muffins

A variation of a Martha Stewart recipe.

This summer, after cleaning out my RV for the last time, I found myself with an unopened box of raisin bran cereal. I like raisin bran, but there are other cereals I like better. So I searched for a way to use up the cereal and remembered how I used to occasionally make raisin bran muffins. So I went in search of a good recipe that called for the ingredients I had on hand. I found this one on MarthaStewart.com.

I made them with just one substitution: I didn’t have whole wheat flour so I used just unbleached flour. They came out amazing: moist and tender. I stored the leftover muffins in the fridge and reheated them one at a time with a 30-second zap in my microwave.

Of course, the big drawback to the recipe is also what makes it moist: it contains oil, which is high in fat (duh) and also high in calories. Although the folks at MarthaStewart.com seem to think this is a “low-fat” recipe, it could be better. I decided to try again with a substitution that could make it better: using unsweetened applesauce instead of oil.

This isn’t something I dreamed up. I’d read it in other places and figured this recipe would give me a good opportunity to try it. Here’s my version of the recipe — not only did it come out great, but it’s about 80 calories less per muffin than the Martha version. Like the other version, this makes 6 largish muffins.


  • Nutritional Info
    Nutritional information with the ingredients here. As you might expect, it’s pretty high in fiber.

    1 1/2 cups raisin bran. I used Kellogs, but you can use any brand. If you can get it without sugar-coated raisins (ick), go for it.

  • 3/4 cup 2% milk. You could probably substitute fat-free milk for even less fat and a lower calorie count.
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour. If I had whole wheat flour — it’s on my shopping list now — I’d do 1/2 cup of each.
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar. You could probably reduce the amount of sugar if you wanted to since the unsweetened applesauce is still sweeter than oil. That would further reduce the calorie count.
  • 1/4 cup sauce unsweetened applesauce. If you use sweetened applesauce, you might be able to completely omit the brown sugar. I don’t know; I haven’t tried it. I don’t buy sweetened applesauce.


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 6-cup muffin tin.
  2. In medium bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir applesauce, egg, and sugar into cereal mixture and mix well.
  4. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine remaining ingredients. Fold into cereal mixture.
  5. Raisin Bran Muffin
    One of the drawbacks of substituting applesauce for oil is that the muffin sticks to the paper liner. The next time I make this, I’ll put the batter in the individual lightly oiled tin cups.

    Divide batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

  6. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack. Store in a sealed container in refrigerator.

If you do make this, let me know what you think. I’m also interested in any substitution ideas you might have.

Mushrooms in the North Cascades, Day 3: Cooking and Heading Home

Cooking with Kent.

The weather finally broke on Sunday morning. Although I love the sound of the rain more than the average person — a side-effect of being a desert dweller for so long — it was nice to not hear it that morning. I dressed, packed my bags, and made the hike down to the parking lot to stow them in my car.

Morning Sun Through Autumn TreesAfter nearly 40 hours of rain, it was a real pleasure to see the early morning sun shining through the trees, casting long shadows across the wooded trail.

As I walked to the Dining Hall for my morning coffee and a bit more time on that puzzle, low clouds lingered over the area. But by the time we’d finished breakfast, it had cleared considerably. I grabbed my camera and went for a walk on one of the short trails that wound through the woods alongside the lake right outside the Dining Hall. When the clouds parted over Pyramid Peak, I could see that there had been snow in the higher elevations — possibly the first snow of the season.

Pyramid Peak in Clouds
Although you can hardly see it in this shot, Pyramid Peak had a generous dusting of snow.

The Cooking Class

Culinary Setup
Kent’s cooking class setup.

Back in a small utility kitchen off the Dining Hall, Kent, the Learning Center chef, was preparing for the culinary part of the course. He’d set up a table and some chairs and gathered ingredients.

Mushroom Galette
Kent’s mushroom galette was not only delicious, but it had an incredibly flaky crust.

Chanterelle Mushrooms
Store-bought chanterelle mushrooms. Kent used them fresh, but also had some dried and powdered mushrooms for the sauce recipe.

Soon we were all gathered together again, watching, listening, and taking notes as he prepared several dishes featuring mushrooms: fresh mushroom pickles, a mushroom galette (pictured), mushroom sauce over pan fried pork tenderloin, mushroom risotto, and mushroom bruschetta. For most of these dishes, he used chanterelle mushrooms, although at least one recipe included a mix. While chanterelles can be found locally, the ones he used were store-bought because (1) it’s illegal to gather mushrooms in a national park (which is where we were) and (2) NCI rules require all ingredients to be obtained through suppliers to limit liability. (It would not have been nice if we were all poisoned because he picked the wrong mushrooms.) His presentation was a lot like watching a cooking show with the added bonuses of being able to ask questions and sample the food. By the time it was over, it was lunchtime but we were all too full to eat in the Dining Hall.

The Trip Home

Fall Color at the NCELC
I took one last shot from the parking lot as I left the Learning Center. It was a really beautiful day.

The course pretty much broke up after that. I’d already packed up my room and loaded my car so I said goodbye to Lee. The other two women in the course were going to try looking for mushrooms on the Rainy Lake trail on the way home and I was hoping to join them. But first I wanted to try photographing some of the reflections in Gorge Lake from the road farther west. So I took off that way, hoping to catch up with them on the road.

Unfortunately, the light wasn’t quite right for the shot I’d imagined. I turned around and headed east on the North Cascades Highway, making tracks. The road was pretty much dry and traffic was light and my Honda is no slug but despite my speed I was unable to catch up with them. And when I got to the Rainy Lake trailhead, it was absolutely packed, with cars stretched out the entrance road onto the main highway. (The longer and more popular Maple Pass Loop trail shares the parking lot.) I drove in optimistically and did find a parking spot, but I didn’t find my classmates. I was a bit disappointed, but not exactly shattered. I decided to do the hike to Rainy Lake again. Maybe I’d meet up with them along the way. Either way, I’d try to get the reflection shots I’d tried to get on Friday.

I didn’t meet up with them, although there were a few more people on the trail. The lake was glassy smooth but clouds had moved in. Still, I got a decent shot of the lake with reflections. Seems like I’ll have to keep trying to get it just right.

Rainy Lake Reflection
With the clouds gone, I could see the fresh snow atop the peaks around Rainy Lake. Can you see both waterfalls in this shot?

I only made one more stop on the way home: Washington Pass. The weather was turning cloudy again and the sky was gray. But there were quite a few people at the pass. I followed the short trail up to the overlook and gazed out at the rocky peaks covered with fresh snow. The yellow leaves or needles of aspen or larch (or both) trimmed the scenery like Bob Ross brushstrokes. Finding myself alone at the overlook for a few minutes, I composed an odd shot of a reflection in a puddle. (Seriously: I can’t get enough reflections in my photographs.)

Washington Pass At Washington Pass
Two shots from the Washington Pass overlook. It’s a shame it had turned into such a cloudy day.

Then it was back on the road, top down, headscarf on. I stopped for gas in Winthrop and kept going. The fall color was in full swing in the Methow Valley and it was a joy to drive through it.

After a stop to visit a friend in Chelan, I made my way home. I pulled into the driveway at about 8 PM. I had a lot of work to do around the house before catching the 5:40 AM flight to Seattle and Anchorage the next morning.

But that’s another story.

Summing Up

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. It was was great to be in such a beautiful place, surrounded by interesting, intelligent, and thoughtful people who are in tune with the environment and actually care.

It was also great to be “off the grid” for a few days — I had no cell phone coverage and minimal Internet access. I got a chance to keep up my journal and start some “mindfulness” exercises to help me focus on what’s around me. I need more experiences like this. I really look forward to next season when I can attend base camp there — hopefully with better weather — and get more hiking in.

As for mushroom hunting — well, I already made two forays into the forrest with friends since then, one successful and one not. I’m planning another mushroom hunt later this week and will report here about how I do.

Mushrooms in the North Cascades, Day 2: The Mushroom Hunt

Hunting for mushrooms on a very rainy day.

I was in the Dining Hall for coffee by 6:30 AM. Later, when breakfast was served at the buffet line, I was joined by a few classmates. Because we’d be going out into the field later that day, we made sandwiches and packed them up in bags to go.

Then it was back to the classroom for a discussion of what we’d be doing out in the field. The idea was to collect as many varieties of mushrooms as we could. Later, when we returned to the classroom, we’d try to identify them using a key Lee had for us.

Or course, it was still raining. The Learning Center staff brought out a bin of orange rain coats and rain pants. I took a pair of rain pants. I’d already snagged two plastic bread bags from the sandwich bar to put over my socks and under my hiking shoes. I was determined to keep my body warm and dry.

Mushrooms on a Tree

More Mushrooms

Puffy Mushrooms

Beefy Mushrooms

Rock Hard Mushroom
Here are some of the mushrooms I picked, in their natural habitat.

We headed down to the parking lot and loaded into a big van. Our mushroom hunt would be outside the town of Marblemount, a 45-minute drive. One of the NCI staff members — Derek, I think? — drove. We parked outside the gates for a seasonally closed campground, got out with our buckets, and, after another briefing by Lee, headed down the closed road. We would meet again at the van at 12:30.

I don’t think I’ve ever purposely walked in such a hard rain. It poured. I was warm and snug inside my raincoat and the bright orange rain pants and was really proud of my foresight to put those plastic bags over my socks. I probably would have frozen to death without them. I walked down the road, wandering into the thick, green undergrowth on either side, photographing and picking all kinds of mushrooms. Occasionally, I’d meet up with one of my classmates and spend a few minutes exploring with him or her. It was fun — believe it or not — despite the rain. The hour flew by quickly. When I checked my watch, I was very surprised to see that it was already 12:30. While my companion at the moment continued down the road, I headed back.

Some of my classmates were already there. The others straggled in. Soon we were almost all there. Almost. The one person who was missing was Derek — the guy with the keys for the locked van.

Long story short: time ticked by and Derek did not appear. We managed to flag down a car, which used its horn to try to signal Derek to return. No joy. Lee finally climbed on board for a ride back to Marblemount where there was either phone service or a phone. The rest of us stood out in the rain, speculating on what could have happened to Derek and how a search and rescue might work. The woods were too dense for us to look for him anywhere off the road and the remaining NCI staffer with us didn’t want us out of his sight. But at 2 PM, we saw an orange slicker and rain pants heading up the road, carrying a basket of mushrooms. It was Derek and he’d simply gotten lost. He’d been gone a full 2-1/2 hours.

We were so happy to see him that we didn’t give him the grief he probably deserved. (We did tease him for the rest of the weekend.) He let us into the van and we made a mad dash for our packed lunches. We ate on the way back to Marblemount, where we found Lee and canceled our rescue request with the folks at the Learning Center.

Moss on a Metal Post
You know a place gets a lot of rain when moss can grow like this on a metal post four feet off the ground.

Meanwhile, I was quite wet, even under my raincoat. The wetness had found its way under my arms and seeped in at the seams for my sleeves. As a result, the underside of my shirt’s arms were soaked. (How weird is that?)

Back at the Learning Center, we went back to the dorms for hot showers and a change of clothes. It felt good to be in warm, dry clothes again. Unfortunately, I’d only brought one pair of shoes and they were absolutely soaked through. So I wore my slippers when we gathered in the classroom a while later, being careful to avoid puddles to keep them dry.

In the classroom, we laid out our finds on big sheets of white paper. I thought I had a good variety until I saw what my classmates had brought back. One of them had even managed to find a few pounds of chanterelles — a highly prized edible mushroom.

My Mushrooms
Here are the mushrooms I found.

Tiny Mushroom
I might have won the prize for tiniest mushroom brought back. I’ve included my pen point for scale.

We walked around looking at each other’s finds. Then we worked with a key Lee had to try to identify the mushroom groups. A key is basically a decision tree in table format. You find the first identifying feature — in this case, spore color, which Lee provided — and then check other features down the appropriate column(s) to find a match for gills, stems, attachments, habitat, and textures. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the key, mostly because you need to do a spore print to get spore color to use it, but I’m no expert (and likely never will be) and I assume it was pretty typical.

After running through a few identification exercises, the group broke up and went back to the dorm for wine. I stayed behind, mostly because I didn’t think my slippers would survive with the extra walk to the dorms and back. Instead, I went down to the Dining Hall and got comfortable with a cup of hot tea and my journal. Someone had started a jigsaw puzzle and left it abandoned on a table and I worked on that for a while.

Mushroom Dessert
No mushrooms were harmed in the preparation of this dessert.

When the group came back, it was dinner time. Although I don’t remember the main course, I’ll never forget the dessert: a chocolate and meringue treat designed to look like a log covered with mushrooms. It was very tasty!

Afterwards, it was back to the classroom for more identification practice. We were at it until after 9 PM again. Then back to my room where I slept like a log.

Mushrooms in the North Cascades, Day 1: Getting Started

A great drive up, despite the rain, and an introduction to the Learning Center, course, and fellow students.

The weekend-long course started on Friday, October 9. I got an early start, planning to make a leisurely drive on the scenic route and do some hiking along the way.

The Drive Up

Although I’d originally considered making the 170-mile trip to Diablo Lake by motorcycle, reality struck in the form of autumn weather at higher elevations. I was always a fair-weather motorcyclist and don’t like riding when temperatures dip below 50. Add rain in the forecast and it made a lot more sense to take a car.

So I took my Honda S2000. After packing a bag, loading up the car, and dropping off Penny at boarding for a week — I had two back-to-back trips and Penny would miss both of them — I fueled up and got the car washed. Then I headed north on the east side of the Columbia River with the top up so it could dry after the drip through the car wash.

It was a pretty day with filtered sunlight and calm winds. The leaves were just beginning to turn in the Wenatchee area and the reflections of trees on the glassy surface of the river were gorgeous. I looked half-heartedly for a place to stop for a photo, but didn’t find any. In hindsight, I think Lincoln Rock State Park would have been perfect.

I crossed the river at Beebe bridge near Chelan and continued up the west side. The water was no longer glassy; it had become choppy in a light breeze. The clouds were building, too. I made the turn at Pateros to begin my drive up the Methow River Valley. There were more trees turning color here; autumn was in full swing.

I stopped at Twisp for lunch at about 11:30. I almost always stop at Twisp when I’m in the area. This time, I went to the Glover Street Market, sat at the counter, and had the Forbidden Rice Bowl with chicken and tofu. Very tasty. Afterwards, I stopped in at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery for some baked goods to munch on during the weekend.

And for those of you who are wondering, downtown Twisp is fine after the wildfires. Apparently most of the fire damage is up in the hills outside of town.

I put the top down, covered my head with a scarf in an attempt to keep my long hair under control in the wind, and continued on my way. Route 20 continues north past Winthrop and Mazama — where I usually spend Christmas cross-country skiing these days — and then begins winding into the North Cascades mountains. The weather worsened, the clouds dropped lower. Rain was imminent.

By the time I reached the turn off for the Washington Pass Overlook, it was raining. I pulled in, parked, and put the top up. I debated with myself about hiking up to the overlook and decided not to. I wanted to hike at Rainy Lake and couldn’t see getting wet twice. So I pulled out and continued on my way.

The Rainy Lake trailhead wasn’t far, but it was still raining when I got there. I got the feeling that it would be raining a lot that weekend. (It’s a funny thing about rain: I love it when I’m home — where it seldom rains — but don’t like it when I’m traveling.) If I wasn’t willing to hike in the rain, I suspected I wouldn’t get much hiking in that weekend. So I parked, put on my rain jacket, and headed down the trail.

Creek Near Rainy Lake
One of the two creeks I crossed on a bridge on the way to Rainy Lake. This creek does not feed the lake.

There was some fall color along the way, but not much.

I photographed a lot of mushrooms along the trail. I’ll say what you’re thinking: this looks like a pile of poop.

This was my second hike at Rainy Lake. The first was on the way home from my camping trip in August. It’s an extremely easy one-mile trail — paved, for Pete’s sake! — and it winds through the woods, over a few bridges with bubbling creeks beneath them, ending up at an overlook for a small lake fed by glacial runoff that cascades down the cliffs in waterfalls. My goal that rainy afternoon was to get photographs of the fall colors reflecting in the lake’s glassy surface. But I made several stops along the way to photography the many kinds of mushrooms I spotted — after all, I was going to a mushroom class and thought I’d start observing before I arrived — as well as the creeks and fall color.

At the lake, low clouds, raindrops, and scant fall color made the scene a bit disappointing. But I took a few shots anyway, including a panorama. I also began creating what I call “video notes” — using my phone’s video feature to record video images, sound, and my voice narrating what I see, hear, and smell. These are not for publication — they’re personal memory aids. I plan to collect them and refer to them when writing about places in the future. I shot one at the lake and along the trail on the way back.

Rainy Lake Panorama
Rainy Lake on a rainy day. The scene was a bit disappointing.

Two women with a big dog joined me a while later. We chatted for a while and I took a photo of them with their camera. Then I headed back down the trail to my car, taking more photos of mushrooms along the way. You can see the photos and a summary of the hike on the Gaia GPS website; I uploaded it the next day when I got a access to the Internet.

Back at the car, I stripped off my wet rain jacket and got in. I continued west on the North Cascades Highway toward my destination. Little by little, I began to see more autumn color. I don’t think it had much to do with climate — I think it was related to the type of vegetation. I don’t know much about the local trees, but apparently yellow is the predominant autumn color. Back east, we had a lot more red and orange. I did stop at one bunch of trees to get a photo of my little red car in front of them. I really like the contrast here.

Honda S2000
My 2003 Honda S2000, which I’ve owned since new. It only has 60,000 miles on it and is my favorite car. It’s a sweet little ride.

Boardwalk Trail
Boardwalk trail at Happy Creek.

It wasn’t long until I got to Ross Lake. There are lots of hiking trails around there, but I wanted one that was quick and easy. It was that kind of day. I wound up at the Happy Creek Forest Walk and Falls Trail, which is another very easy trail. This one had a lot of boardwalk through the forest with more interpretive signs and benches. I like the fact that the park services create trails like this to make nature accessible not only to handicapped folks but to families with small kids.

What interested me the most about this trail was the 1.2 mile hike to the falls beyond the easy part. I started along the trail, not even minding the rain coming down on me, eager to see Happy Creek Falls. But when the trail wound close to the road and paralleled it, it lost its charm. Rainy Lake’s trail is within hearing distance of the road for about 2/3 of its length and I was tired of listening to cars and trucks roll by. On a nicer day, I might have stuck with it, but in the rain I simply wasn’t interested. So I turned back and returned to the car, snapping photos along the way.

Happy Creek
Happy Creek.

At that point, I was pretty much tired of hiking in the rain. So I headed to my destination with only a few stops along the way:

  • Diablo Lake with Clouds
    Diablo Lake on a cloudy, rainy day. Compare it to this shot of nearly the same view, taken in August.

    Diablo Lake overlook, where I shot a few images of the lake with the low clouds.

  • Colonial Creek Campground, where I’d camped in August. I wanted to see how the reflections were in the lake there and was very surprised to see that the lake level had come down so far that there was no lake at the campground.
  • Newhalem General Store, where I wanted to pick up a book about the Skagit River dam projects. That’s also where I checked voicemail, returned a call from a friend, and sent a few last-minute texts. I knew my phone wouldn’t work at the Learning Center.

Orientation and Introductions

It was about four when I crossed the Diablo Dam and drove up to the Learning Center. I checked in and brought my scant luggage — just two small bags — up to my room. I was in the Fir Lodge, which is where all the Mushroom Course attendees would be staying, in a room that overlooked the whole Learning Center. I’d booked a single room but the rooms are all the same: they accommodate up to four people in two bunk beds. I’d have the room all to myself for the weekend. The lodge was set up like a dorm, with separate mens and ladies bathrooms down the hall. The bedroom doors did not lock — which I admit was kind of weird at first — but there were lockable cupboards in the closets for people who worried about valuables. I didn’t worry.

My Dorm Room
I had this dorm-style room all to myself.

North Cascades Learning Center Classroom
Our classroom at the North Cascades Learning Center.

After taking my car down to the lakeside parking lot — there’s no parking up at the Learning Center — and hiking back, I took it easy for a while, snacking on one of the treats I’d bought at the bakery in Twisp. Then I joined my fellow classmates for an orientation meeting in the classroom we’d be using. It was in a nearby building and featured a long table with chairs on both sides. We were introduced to Lee, who’d lead the course, and several employees of NCI (North Cascades Institute). And we introduced ourselves. There were three women attendees, including me, all from the east side of the cascades, and two men, both from the west side. It soon became apparent that I had the least mushroom knowledge — the others already had experience gathering mushrooms for culinary and/or medicinal use. Lee started us off with an introduction to mushrooms, including a good explanation of what they are: the fruit of a fungus. (Sounds tasty, no?) And it should probably come as no surprise that most mushrooms are not edible — some are downright poisonous and can kill you.

Dinner was in the Dining Hall. The Learning Center prides itself on healthy meals using local sources whenever possible. I honestly can’t remember what we had. (Maybe I was tired.) I do remember it being good and having plenty of it. There was a berry cobbler for desert with fresh whipped cream. (Figures I’d remember that.) The Dining Hall was full; not only was our course being held that weekend, but there was also a watercolor painting course and what’s referred to as “Base Camp” — a sort of free-form educational experience that includes overnight stays and meals.

A nice place to relax in the evening, sheltered from the rain. I was too tired.

Then it was back to the classroom for a mushroom slide show. Lee used photos she’d taken over the years to illustrate different mushroom features that are used to identify them: gills, caps, rings, etc. I didn’t realize how many different kinds of mushrooms there are — although I’d begun getting an idea after all the photos I took that afternoon on my rainy hikes. I admit that I was nodding off in the darkened classroom. I think Lee saw that. When she brought the lights up, she let us go for the night. It was 9:30 PM, very dark, and still raining.

Mushrooms in the North Cascades, Introduction

A weekend in the North Cascades with a purpose.

Back at the beginning of August, I went camping in the North Cascades National Park with Kirk, the guy I’d been dating since late June. Along the way, we stopped briefly at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, one of only two places with lodging in the park. (The other is Ross Lake Resort, which we hiked to.)

North Cascades Learning Center Office
The main office and shop at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake.

Later, when I got home, I looked up the organization on the Web. I was interested in staying there, mostly as a comfortable base for exploring the area. But I discovered their Learning Center programs for adults and realized that might be a more interesting way to spend time there. After a long summer stuck around home for work it would be nice to get out, meet new people, and learn something new.

I chose the “Mushrooms and Culinary Ventures course.” Here’s the description:

Autumn rains draw foragers from near and far to comb the forest floor in search of an abundant feast of fungi. Chanterelles, bear’s tooth, oyster and lobster mushrooms — you’ll find these tasty fall delicacies right here in the Wild Nearby.

Join us at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center during peak mushroom season to learn about our local fungi and how to incorporate them into delectable dishes.

Naturalist and amateur mycologist Lee Whitford will provide a general overview of fungus, including a foray into the woods where we’ll learn basic identification skills, ethical harvesting and guidelines for consuming these local edibles.

Upon returning, Learning Center Chef Kent Yoder will lead our group in a cooking lesson on preparing our wild harvest as well as lead a discussion about food’s critical role within a sustainable lifestyle.

When you’re not foraging, feel free to soak up the views of Pyramid and Colonial Peaks, linger on the shores of Diablo Lake, find a book to curl up with in the Wild Ginger Library and rest in comfort at night in our guest lodges.

Tuition includes two nights stay in our guest lodges and six delicious, healthy and locally sourced meals.

I have to say that I am intrigued about the idea of foraging for food. This might be related to my gleaning forays in picked cherry and apple orchards each harvest season. Or the fact that various berries — blackberries, thimble berries, and raspberries — are widely available on trails where I hike throughout the area. Or the availability of wild asparagus and other edibles nearby.

Because one of my hiking friends is an amateur mycologist, I already knew that edible mushrooms were widely available in the forests near my home. The way I saw it, this course would give me enough information to safely forage for mushrooms. I signed up.

The rest of the posts in this series cover my trip and what I learned, with plenty of photos to illustration what a great trip this was. Keep reading.