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“The gas station chocolate muffin is all I need.” Photo credit: Ari LeVaux

Good riddance, Hostess with the least-ess

—Ari LeVaux

As we all know, Hostess is in bankruptcy. And a lot of people are really upset about the loss of certain iconic brands of crappy baked goods filled with fake whip cream. Not me. The gas station chocolate muffin is all I need.

I call them gas station muffins, because I most often encounter them on the way to the bathroom after filling my tank. I eat them religiously, washed down with coffee, to help keep me awake during long drives, and they haven't let me down yet. But gas stations aren't the only place you'll find gas station muffins. You can find them just about anywhere junk food is sold.

Unlike the Hostess CupCake, the gas station chocolate muffin is not affiliated with any one company. In fact it's often the only thing for sale at the gas station that's unique. While candy, drink, chip or other snack brands remain the same from place to place, it seems that each chocolate muffin maker is different, as if each town has its own chocolate-muffin bakery, or there is some extensive network of store-brand chocolate cupcake distributors that operates below my radar.

Whatever the true structure of the chocolate muffin cosmos, at least it contains a shred of truth-in-advertising. My ongoing side-by-side trials suggest that gas station chocolate muffins billed as "double chocolate" do indeed contain more chocolate than muffins called "chocolate" or even "chocolate chocolate."

A recent survey of gas station muffins within a two-mile radius of my house turned up three different brands: Deli Fresh and Brownie Bakers both make Double Chocolate muffins, and Bon Appetit makes a "chocolate chocolate muffin," which literally pales in comparison to the other two, looking more like pumpkin pumpkin and tasting like blueberry coffee cake with added chocolate.

What we're looking for, in addition to a deep ebony color, are the characteristics that one would expect to accompany that color-namely deep nothing-but-chocolate flavor with chocolate chunks. The ideal muffin's density and concentration of chunks add up to a formidable snack commensurate with the largest cup of cheap coffee the gas station has to offer.

Being a muffin, not a cupcake, the gas station chocolate muffin is devoid of frosting, but the better examples come with an artfully soggy cap, the consistency of which mimics frosting. Beneath that gooey cap, the interior should be relatively solid and dry, yet somehow remain moist and supple. This is achieved with the help of a long list of unpronounceable ingredients.   Sugar, being the most recognizable of these, might be the muffin's healthiest ingredient, too.

I like to accompany my gas station chocolate muffins with black coffee, even though I normally take cream and sugar. The muffin, masticated with sipped coffee into a homogeneous slurry, becomes the ideal combination of flavor and buzz that will last until your car's gas tank is empty again.

With these chocolate muffins so readily available, there's no need to mourn the Hostess CupCake. The gas station variety may not have frosting or Cool-Whip-like filling, but it's bigger, beefier, and better. And hopefully it has chocolate chips.

You can mourn the demise of the Twinkie, if you must, in that no similar substitute is widely available. I've never understood what was likeable about Twinkies, so I won't be missing them. But if ever there were a junk pastry whose loss is truly worth mourning, that would be the personal-size pecan pies that have quietly all but disappeared from our nation's gas stations and convenience stores. Like gas station chocolate muffins, these pecan pies came in a variety of brands, though Bama was the dominant player in the market. Alas, in recent years supplies of personal pecan pies have mostly dried up. No more solid disk of corn syrup-cradled flaky crust that had shattered long before you opened it. The crushed pecans that give pecan pie its character have become so expensive that Bama has downsized its distribution of personal pecan pies to the company's core geographic regions: Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. If you're gassing up outside of those states, you're going to have to stick with chocolate muffins.

And that's probably for the best. While those pies disappeared in two or three bites, gas station chocolate muffins are built to withstand the deepest of munchies.

Hostess will be missed for nostalgic reasons, not because it offered anything of true value. And now that it's out of the way-and with the worthy personal pecan pie tragically following it toward oblivion-perhaps the humble, anonymous gas station chocolate muffin will finally get the attention and respect it deserves.

Ari LeVaux lives in Placitas, where he writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column. Follow him on Twitter at @arilevaux. Find more stories at:

Comment sought on Las Conchas Reforestation Project

Lawrence M. Lujan

The public is being invited to comment on a proposal to reforest approximately 1,800 to 2,510 acres of national forest system lands that were burned during the 2011 Las Conchas Fire on the Jemez and Española Ranger Districts of the Santa Fe National Forest.

The purpose of this project is to reestablish forest cover to areas severely damaged by the Las Conchas fire. This spring, approximately 425,000 ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir seedlings will be planted on 1,800 to 2,510 acres of land within the Las Conchas Fire perimeter located in the Jemez Mountains west and southwest of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Most of the project area is located on the Jemez Ranger District and a small portion, less than ten percent, on the Española Ranger District. The trees will be planted with hand tools. Ponderosa pine will be planted at 222 trees per acre and Douglas-fir at 302 trees per acre.

This project is categorically excluded from documentation in an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement. Areas more prone to regrowth with easy access were chosen for this project. Additional environmental analysis will occur in the future as we continue to assess the burned area for more reforestation opportunities.

Future benefits of this project include: restoring natural hydrological functions, prevention of soil erosion, improved recreational experiences, enhanced scenic vistas, sequestration of carbon, improved air quality, restoration of wildlife habitat specifically the Jemez Mountain Salamander, and provide a source of woody biomass.

Copies of the proposed action and additional information can be obtained from the Jemez Ranger District, P.O. Box 150 State Road 4, Jemez Springs, NM 87025; Espanola Ranger District, 1710 N. Riverside Drive, Española, NM 87532; or Santa Fe National Forest Headquarters Office, 11 Forest Lane Santa Fe, NM 87508. This information can also be found online at:

Those who are interested or affected by the project proposal are encouraged to submit their comments, concerns, and suggestions. Only those who comment or otherwise express interest in the proposed action during the comment period will be eligible to appeal the final decision. The thirty-day comment period begins with the publication of the legal notice in the Albuquerque Journal, expected to begin on Saturday, November 24 and end Monday, December 24.

Written comments must be submitted to: Santa Fe National Forest ATTN: Ken Reese, 11 Forest Lane, Santa Fe, NM 87508.

Jean DiGregory

Jean DiGregory

Range Cafés kick off sweet-as-pie fundraiser to help breast cancer research

For the fourth consecutive year, Matt DiGregory’s three Range Café locations are making the fight against cancer as easy as pie.

Until December 31, customers or businesses that purchase a holiday pie through any of the three Range Café locations can be proud as one dollar of their purchase price donates directly to the American Cancer Society.

The campaign, explains Range Café owner Matt DiGregory, has special significance to he and his family. “My three brothers and I lost our mom, long-time Bernalillo resident Jean DiGregory, to breast cancer a few years ago. As a family, and as business owners in this community, we’re committed to taking an active role in the fight against cancer.

“My mom was famous for her bright red cowboy boots. They inspired us to create the red boot-themed campaign last year. Even as our customers are preparing to spend important holidays with their loved ones, we hope they remember those families impacted by cancer.”

The Range Cafés, already famous for their home-made pies, are offering seven varieties—a mix of both traditional holiday favorites and New Mexican-inspired favorites like Apple Green Chile with Piñon Streusel—that can be pre-ordered and picked up at the Bernalillo, Menaul, or Wyoming locations. Customers are asked to order by December 5 for Hanukkah and by December 21 for Christmas.

Orders may be placed by visiting or calling any location; Bernalillo at 867-1700, Menaul at  888-1660, or Wyoming at 293-2633.

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