Failure Muffins (featuring Zucchini, Maple Syrup, Walnut and Cheese Muffins)

I cut the sharp Irish cheddar into precise little cubes while standing with all my weight on my right leg.  “These are going to be the greatest muffins anyone has ever tasted in their whole life” I thought to myself.  I felt grounded and sure of myself for the first time in a while.   Thank god for baking.  It stimulates a confidence that I often can’t access otherwise.

Over a month ago I popped my left leg out of my hip socket – a recurring issue for me, but one that I had ignored until now.   Almost 30 years ago I was hit by a car.  I broke my left femur, shattered my pelvis, and have experienced pain on my left side ever since. Shannon suggested I go talk to someone about it – get some actual tests done- to see if there was anything I could do to NOT experience pain all the time.

You know, it hadn’t occurred to me that this was even a possibility.

I am daunted by the medical world.  I feel paranoid they are going to tell me I’m more crazy than sick and send me off undone and unsure of what’s really true. Diagnostic words just bounce off of me – even when I repeat them back to the doc, they don’t stay in my head. An empowered Alison will march into the doctor’s office demanding answers, only to be turned into a retarded cripple as soon as the doctor starts speaking.

This time, however, my pain had grown larger than my intimidation so off to the doc I went.  X-rays found nothing, but an MRI revealed a sizeable tear in my left labrum.  Eureka!  Something’s actually wrong!  The doctor recommended I find a physical therapist to work with for a couple of weeks, wrote me a script for some lame pain killers and said there was a possibility of surgery but “we’ll see” about what to do next.  I’m sure that’s what she said, but of course as soon as I hung up my phone I forgot her exact words and my panic returned.  It’s so embarrassing to feel powerless and stupid – on top of the fatigue of chronic pain.

My kitchen timer started to beep, letting me know my most-amazing-muffins-ever were ready for sampling.  I scooped a warm one out of the tin onto a paper towel and blew on it before popping it into my mouth.  I was apprehensively on my way out the door for my second physical therapy appointment.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  “Ugggghhhhh.  These muffins suck.”

40 minutes later, I was focusing on my physical therapist’s voice.  He is a round Greek man who grew up throughout Europe and speaks many languages.  He talks about his family and his childhood a lot.  I find him very comforting.  I was lying on a bed in one of his examination rooms with electric stimulating pulse pads on four points of my left hip and thigh when he started to talk about my orthopedist.  “I do not think surgery will be necessary!”  I felt my chest tighten.  “What you will do is come here to me for another couple of months 2 or 3 times a week and all the pain will be gone!”

I was too overwhelmed to argue.  Too embarrassed to reveal how much I wanted the surgery because the pain had become so unmanageable.  I was hurt that he would try to sell me more sessions when I thought I could trust him.  I hobbled home, almost in tears, more confused than ever, and collapsed onto our couch.  And then my phone rang.  It was my orthopedist.  She wanted to see how I was feeling.  I told her the pain had definitely not gotten any better and she said “I think it’s time for surgery.” A date was set in the new year.  Something definite.  Something certain.

My shoulders released.  My stomach unclenched. My short breaths became long and calm.  I picked a muffin up off the table and tasted it.  “You know, these aren’t half bad…”

I love that food is contextual.  What stimulates your taste buds in one atmosphere will taste like poison in another.  These muffins were a total failure amidst a morning of uncertainty and desperation, but by the afternoon my perspective had changed so drastically that they tasted delicious.  They are not the most-amazing-muffins-I’ve-ever-made-ever but they’re not the worst either.  I call them “Failure Muffins” because it helps remind me that even when I fail, I still manage to kick a little ass.

Failure Muffins

(also known as zucchinimaple syrup, walnut and cheese muffins)

Zucchini, maple syrup, walnut and cheese muffins
Zucchini, maple syrup, walnut and cheese muffins


  • ½ cup walnut oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cup zucchini grated
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ¾ cup white cheddar cheese, cubed


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease a muffin tin.
  3. Blend the walnut oil, milk, egg, vanilla and maple syrup together in a large bowl.  Stir together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another bowl.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and grated zucchini into the wet ingredients alternately until blended.
  5. Stir in nuts and cheese cubes.
  6. Spoon batter into muffin cups approximately ¾ full and bake for 20-25 minutes or until light brown and firm to the touch.

9 thoughts on “Failure Muffins (featuring Zucchini, Maple Syrup, Walnut and Cheese Muffins)”

  • @ mark – Thanks for the words of encouragement on the weird brilliant muffins (which is absolutely what I was going for) and the chronic pain. I’ll be posting through my recovery and beyond. Welcome to the blog!

  • Ok the cheese in the muffins sounds a little weird or maybe brilliant… but as your title implies probably more on the weird side. However, I do understand your frustration with chronic pain; i too suffer the ailments of back pain. And I applaud you for choosing such an unforgiving career in the food business. I copt out long ago as a cook and decided to go take the easy route in becoming a doctor. That being said, knowing all the clinical jargan does not make the pain or confusion go away, you just understand how dismal your situation really is sometimes. I am glad to hear that your pain is a relatively easy fix. Please keep me posted on your road to recovery:)

  • I love to read your words… beacause I can ‘hear’ your voice, like you are tailing to me. you are such a gift to this world, my angel. but, you have always freaked me out with that ‘ I love the hospital & surgery’ oddity. I guess opposites attract. and muffins are so healing….<3

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