Pumpkin Muffins

These pumpkin cake muffins are made with just two ingredients, a box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin puree.

Over the years, my culinary journey has changed as my lifestyle has. Growing up, I was a sous chef in my mom’s kitchen, learning and following her directions. As a graduate student living in Boston with my still-close friend, Donna, we forayed to the Haymarket for our produce, fish and cheese, and the local supermarket. We didn’t have much money, and many nights dinner was a box of mac and cheese, which at 25 cents a box was the precursor for today’s college staple of ramen noodles.

After I graduated, I moved back home for a few years and Mom once again provided me with the beloved meals of my childhood. Believing that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” — particularly the man who would be my husband — I perfected dishes like fettuccine Alfredo, coquilles Saint-Jacques and quiche. The quiche was a risk, at the time there was a popular self-help book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” Fortunately, my real man did eat quiche.

Wedding ring on my finger, I entered a new phase — comfort food for the working man and his also-working wife. I turned to many of my mom’s recipes that had served her so well throughout her long marriage.

And then we were three, and my culinary path took a path into the kid-friendly zone. Sloppy Joes, homemade chicken tenders and mac and cheese and breakfast-for-dinner became part of our dinner repertoire. And then, just like that, my son was off to college and we were back to dining à deux. Only we were older now, with some health issues, and dishes like the Alfredo were a rare treat. Simple meals of meat, chicken or fish, rice or a baked potato, and steamed veggies became our norm.

And then, again just like that, I became a widow and my son moved across the state. I found myself living alone and cooking only for me. I stuck to the mostly healthy meals with occasional forays to get takeout food, which wasn’t always the healthiest food around.

Eight months ago, I retired from my full-time job with the intention of spending more time cooking better for myself. True confession — I’m in what I call a “retirement funk” – it seems like too much effort to cook for one and if I do, I eat the dish several times. And, where I once baked things and brought them into the newsroom, I now have a full dessert that I swear I won’t eat more than a serving or two — and end up eating anyway.

I’ll also admit I have gotten lazy. Many of the recipes I now turn to are the ones that can be easily made — and easily frozen. Two of my recent favs are a two-ingredient pumpkin cake that I found in my recipe box and a four-ingredient coconut macaroon that came from my daughter-in-law’s mother. I make the pumpkin cake in cupcake tins and call them muffins!

TWO-INGREDIENT PUMPKIN CAKE

INGREDIENTS

One 15.25-ounce box spice cake mix

One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

Optional: Chocolate or butterscotch chips

DIRECTIONS

Mix together one can of pumpkin with one cake mix — spice or carrot flavored. Add the chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, if desired. Place in a greased 9-by-9-inch pan, bread pan or muffin tins (makes about 12). Bake according to the temperatures and times on the back of the cake mix. If desired, serve the baked cake with whipped cream or ice cream. Frosting or a simple drizzled glaze is also good.

COCONUT MACAROONS

Makes 20

INGREDIENTS

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

One 14-ounce bag sweetened coconut flakes

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Optional: chocolate chips, for dipping or drizzling

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Blend all of the ingredients together and drop by the teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet.

Bake until the edges are lightly brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. If desired, melt chocolate chips and dip bottom of cooled cookies or drizzle over the top.