Steph’s Super Immunity Smoothie

“Ms. Hill, is that a green smoothie?”

Due to COVID restrictions, the school for which I work offers early drop off for students in order to stagger their arrival times; therefore, students begin entering my classroom at 7:30 am.  Until 8:05, students in my middle school homeroom class gradually fill the room while I am typically setting up Google Classroom and other platforms that we use throughout the school day.  Meanwhile, the students use this time to finish homework, study, read, or quietly chat with friends.  

While going about my morning tasks as students arrive, I typically drink a homemade smoothie.  I had not realized any of the students had noticed my habit until a few weeks ago when one of the earliest arrivals asked the question above.  When I confirmed her question, she followed it up with another.

“Why do you drink that?  Is it like a protein drink?”

I briefly explained the whole food ingredients, including leafy greens and fruit, and how otherwise I don’t make time for breakfast; she nodded in understanding.  Then the same student explained that one of her friends also drinks green smoothies, but that she, the student talking to me, never gets up early enough to make one.  At this point, another classmate came in, and the inquisitive girl’s attention was drawn away.

I used to feel the same way driven by authors who touted that smoothies must be blended and consumed within an hour of being made or vital nutrients would be lost.  Then again, I used to feel guilty for even consuming smoothies due to other authorities who insisted that all food must be chewed.  Eventually, I tossed both views aside and found my own nutritional middle ground that works best for me. 

Smoothies, made with whole food ingredients that I control, are my nutritional bombshells.  They may not work for others, but they work for me.  These breakfast cocktails are loaded with a serving of dark leafy greens (or riced cauliflower), a serving of fruit, and whatever nuts, seeds, and/or protein I choose to add–depending upon what nutritional need I want to address.  I think of them as a blended breakfast salad.

Last month I began to wonder if I couldn’t freeze smoothies in order to make them in advance, and still keep them fresh.  With a quick bit of research, I found several valid websites that shared the ins and outs of this technique!  Therefore, this past month I began freezing my smoothies.  On Sunday afternoons, I gathered all of my ingredients and blended enough smoothies for the upcoming week.  I put one in the refrigerator for Monday morning and the rest were stowed away in the freezer. Then, each morning, as I packed for work, I grabbed in one thawed smoothie from the fridge, and took another one down from the freezer to thaw for the next work day. As one who loves to food prep for the week ahead, this was a dream come true!

According to several manufacturing websites, when freezing smoothies, wide mouthed glass jars, like canning jars, work well.  Be sure to leave a gap at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.  Smoothies can safely remain frozen for up to three months and still retain their nutritional value.  When ready to use, simply take one out of the freezer the day/evening before, and allow it to thaw overnight.  

“All berries and their juices—including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, acai berries, goji berries, elderberries, and strawberries—are superfoods.”–Joel Fuhrman

Reading through my list of ingredients, keep in mind that I am a petite, older woman whose calories and nutritional needs are on the lower end.  Additionally, I do not have one of the top of the line blenders, like a Vitamix or Blendtec.  Therefore, if you are larger and/or younger, and have a top-notch blender, feel free to double any of the ingredients according to your nutritional needs or taste preferences. (Personally, if my blender could handle it, I’d add a full cup of both fruits instead of ½ cup of each!)

“Indian gooseberry (amla powder) may promote heart health, provide anti-aging effects, improve immune function, and reduce heartburn severity and cancer risk.”–SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

I call this recipe my super immunity smoothie because every ingredient serves multiple nutritional purposes. Dark leafy greens, amla powder, and spices are important for heart/vascular health and anti-inflammatory properties.  Aloe gel is excellent for digestive/gut health, skin, and maintains blood sugar levels. Walnuts and flaxseeds are healthy sources of omega-3 fatty acids which are good for heart health and cholesterol regulation. Berries and other fruits are full of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins.  Additionally, many of the ingredients are loaded with Vitamin C,  improve brain function, lower one’s risk for cancer, and boost the immune system.  Plus, the recipe is versatile when it comes to swapping out choices of fresh or frozen fruits and greens, nuts/seeds, and spices.  Change up the amounts, swap out the ingredients, and even add your protein powder if desired!

These bright green smoothies were made with riced cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, pineapple and so forth which given them their bright green color as I stow them away in the freezer!

“Dark leafy greens have been shown to help the endothelial lining of your blood vessels, cutting inflammation, and helping blood cells to glide through your arteries.”–Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it, if you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast, then make your own whole-food smoothie.  You can control the contents, you can make them ahead of the time needed, there are no unpronounceable additives/chemicals, and no added ingredients that you don’t want or aren’t good for your body.  Best of all, you can make them in batches, freeze them, and have portable punch of nutrition at the ready.  Homemade green smoothies check all the boxes for nutritional well-being.  Even on the most hectic, crazy days, you can start your day with a smoothie and know that if everything else goes wrong, at least one step towards your well-being was accomplished!

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, vibrant, and nutrition filled mornings!

Notice these smoothies, stowed away in the freezer, are darker due to the fact that they were made with kale, spinach, mixed berries, cherries, and so forth. They still taste fabulous when they are thawed!

Steph’s Super Immunity Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 ¼  cups of favorite liquid ( I typically use water, but if you can afford the calories, pomegranate, blueberry, or cherry juice makes this recipe super sweet and full of antioxidants.)

2 cups of favorite leafy greens (I typically combine kale and spinach, but any dark leafy green works!)

¼ cup aloe gel (preferably from inner fillet)

1-2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1-2 tablespoons flax seeds (Can use chia, hemp or combination thereof.)

1-2 tablespoon alma, if you have it (powdered Indian gooseberries)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon matcha, contents of a cut-open green tea bag, or other favorite greens powder

1 ½ inch fresh or ½ teaspoon powdered turmeric, ginger, or both

¼ teaspoon black pepper (Activates turmeric, but feel free to leave out if you don’t like its taste.)

1 medjool date (Optional addition for sweetness, fiber, and other nutritional benefits.)

½-1 cup strawberries or other favorite berry/berry combination mix

½-1 cup pineapple or fruit of choice!

½-1 banana (I keep these cut up and frozen. You could also replace it with ½ an avocado.) 

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (I keep sliced lemons on hand and toss in a couple of slices since the pith is full of fiber and vitamin C.)

Dash of salt. (I use ground pink himalyan.)

Add liquid, aloe gel, and greens first; then, blend well. (Blending greens and liquid first works well for less pricey blenders, but may not be necessary if you own a top of the line model.)

Add the rest of the ingredients in the blender in the order listed, and blend until smooth.

Divide between glasses.

Can be drunk immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to two days, or freeze for up to 3 months in a jar with a wide mouth–be sure to leave some empty space at top to allow for expansion.   

Makes 1 extra large serving or nearly fills 2, 16-ounce bell jar size servings.

Shamrock Green Smoothie

“No matter when you start, a diet that is focused on plant foods will help you work toward the prevention of many illnesses and feeling better overall”–Julia Zumpano, RD, LD

Diet choices have long been debated.  From Adkins to Keto, 7-Day Rotation to Whole 30, Paleo to Low Carb, Mediterranean to Pritikin, and all variations in between, regardless of the varying diet trends, there’s no denying that fruits and vegetables are nutritionally sound food choices for promoting health. Experts may argue about which fruits and vegetables are the so-called better choices, but most will agree that eating unadulterated food from the ground is more nutritionally sound than eating chemically enhanced processed foods.

In fact, when going through the research, numerous medical clinics, cancer centers, and disease prevention sites recommend Americans increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.  It makes sense too.  All those different colors offer a wide array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory properties that cannot be found naturally in processed food.  

“Eating healthy food fills your body with energy and nutrients. Imagine your cells smiling back at you and saying: “Thank you!”.” – Karen Salmansohn

Think about it.  Fruits and vegetables don’t need a label that says, “Vitamin-D enriched” or “Fortified with 12 essential vitamins and minerals.”  They don’t need it because they naturally contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals–depending upon which plant you choose to consume.  This is why, “eating the rainbow,” is an often quoted expression.  If you eat a wide variety of colorful plants throughout your day and week, Mother Nature, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our Creator, provides all the nutrition your body needs for healthy functioning and vitality. 

Like many, since March of 2020, I have become increasingly more focused on what I eat.  Keeping my immune system running high, and my inflammation low, seems more important than ever in the era of living in a global pandemic.  While I’ve been a plant based eater for nearly ten years, I find myself more attentive to daily consuming dark leafy greens and/or cruciferous vegetables as part of my desire to remain healthy and avoid COVID.  While I recognize that eating well isn’t the only protective act I need to do when dealing with a highly contagious virus, these vegetables have long been established as possessing cancer and disease preventive properties, reducing oxidative stress, and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Additionally, they increase bone health, protect eye health, and boost the immune system.  Plus, their varying shades of green are chock full of fiber and a wide array of vitamins and minerals.  

Photo by Toni Cuenca on Pexels.com

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”–Thomas Ediso

Below is a green smoothie recipe I drank throughout most of March that features leafy greens and cruciferous.  After such an extraordinary winter with snows, ice, and then flooding, drinking a bright green smoothie felt like a personal manifestation of spring. Furthermore, since March was also the month in which I was wrapping up 12-weeks of training for the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon, this smoothie felt like extra-nutritional insurance for remaining healthy and ready to run. 

I like to think of smoothies as a blended breakfast salad.  When made fresh at home, I am the controller of ingredients, calories, fiber, and nutrition.  I keep my smoothies whole food and plant based food based in order to start my day off on the right foot–especially since I would otherwise, at least during the work week, skip breakfast.  While I often add healthy fats in the form of nuts or seeds to smoothies, I personally do not with this one, but you could.  Instead, I tend to add a teaspoon of greens powder for an extra boost of concentrated green goodness, and sometimes matcha (ground green tea) if I feel I need a boost of energy and focus.   This smoothie fuels my morning and keeps me full until lunch.  The flavor is bright and tangy, and it’s super refreshing to drink.  

Here few other tidbits and factoids I have learned while refining my smoothies techniques:

*  Put greens and liquid in the blender first and blend well, this is especially important, if, like me, you don’t have a top-of-the-line blender.

* Spinach is always the sweetest greens, which is why I often blend it with other greens such as kale and swiss chard.

* Riced cauliflower, fresh or frozen, works well as a “green” since it’s cruciferous and makes smoothies extra smooth and creamy.

* Lightly peel/cut away any citrus fruit, leaving part of the pith (the white part).  It is high in fiber, vitamin C, flavonoids–which boost the immune system–and it is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.

* Ginger and turmeric are both known for their immune boosting properties, reducing inflammation, and decreasing chronic pain.  Fresh ginger and tumeric–both are roots–offer the most benefits, but ground versions are still beneficial.  Therefore, I tend to add both spices to not only nearly all of my smoothies, but also incorporate them throughout the day.

I hope you’ll give this vibrant green smoothie a try. It is an easy way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.  Plus, you’ll start your day fueled with the power of green!

From my home to your, I wish you health, vibrancy, and vitality.  Be well, and, if you do give this, or any of my other smoothie recipes a try,  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shamrock Marathon Green Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup of your favorite greens, fresh or frozen, feel free to combine 2 different ones (think spinach, kale, 

½ to 1 apple, quartered (I use granny smith apple.)

1 lemon, peeled, quartered & seeds removed 

1 mini cucumber or ½ large cucumber, quartered

1 stalk celery, quartered

1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger or 1” fresh piece

¼ teaspoon turmeric or ¼” fresh piece of turmeric 

Dash of salt

Optional add-ins: 1 teaspoon greens powder and/or matcha powder, 1 tablespoon hemp, chia, or flaxseeds, and/or 1 scoop favorite protein powder 

Makes 1 generous serving

Steph’s Chocolate Cherry Berry Smoothie

“Every time that you eat or drink you are either feeding the disease or fighting it.–Heather Morgan, MS, NLC

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Were you ever made to sit at the dinner table until you ate every pea on your plate?  Those wrinkled, collapsing orbs of dull green were, well, gross, at least to my kid’s immature taste buds.  Sometimes those dull greenish spheroids might get a color splash of orange from cubed or sliced carrots just as mushy and often congealed with some sort of cooking fat–margarine, bacon grease, or other unknown fatty substance.  

Based upon personal, but juvenile, experience, there are limited ways to move and rearrange those overcooked peas before they devolve into some sort of smushy, mashed concoction sure to ignite the gag reflex if sniffed long enough. Sometimes, I would hold my breath, quickly insert a forkful into my mouth, then coyly spit it out in my napkin while pretending to wipe my mouth.  Unfortunately, those paper napkins could only absorb so much, and alas, there still remained a glob of uneaten goopy green mash on my plate.  

It was a duel in epic proportions–me or the pea pulp.  One of us was going down in the end.  Ready. Aim. Fire . . .the hum of the refrigerator filtered through the air.  Through screened windows, neighborhood children could be heard playing in the little cul-de-sac in which I lived.  Sadly, there I sat, an outlaw, imprisoned at the avocado green kitchen table, unwaveringly staring down the enemy of mounded up, wearisome putrid peas.  Tick, tock went the kitchen clock . . .

Photo by Ann Nekr on Pexels.com

Okay, in fairness to my parents, they were young, wanted me to eat healthfully, and strongly desired that I not be so dang-gum finicky.  As a parent, I now understand their viewpoint.  Plus, in defense of the poor peas, they were merely being served in the manner in which most Americans were consuming them in the 1970s–canned vegetables flavored with some form of fat and salt.  

Flashforward to present day, and I love vegetables!  Of course, we have a wide variety from which to choose, including fresh carrots and peas (Snow or sugar snap peas with baby carrots and hummus anyone?).  Between the produce aisle and the freezer aisle, I load my cart weekly with a rainbow of goodness that also includes plenty of fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, mindful of the importance of dark leafy greens and berries.  In fact, one of my favorite acronyms for prioritizing the types of fruits and vegetables upon which to put greater emphasis, in order to assure the highest nutrition-to-calorie ratio, is GBOMBS, which comes from Dr. Joel Fuhrman. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 “Leafy greens have more nutrition per calorie than any other food.”–Ornish Lifestyle Medicine 

GBOMBS stands for: greens, beans (legumes), onions (and garlic), mushrooms, berries (and pomegranate), and seeds.  According to Dr. Fuhrman, while all vegetables and fruits are good for you, GBOMBS are the top six cancer preventing foods that should have the greatest emphasis when planning daily meals.  Numerous well-known, health-orientated platforms and personalities likewise encourage the consumption of GBOMBS including Silver Sneakers,  Blue Zones, Ornish Lifestyle, Joan Lunden, and Dr. Oz to name a few.  In addition to warding against cancer, these foods have also been proven to boost the immune system, prevent chronic disease, increase longevity, decrease mental decline, reduce heart disease and blood pressure, and due to their vibrant colors, are chock full of antioxidants while offering a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.  Plus, these foods are high in fiber–need I preach about the value of fiber?

“Smoothies that blend whole fruits and vegetables without additional sweeteners and are served in appropriate portions may be helpful for some people to consume more of these foods, but should not replace eating them in their whole form. It is best to prepare smoothies at home so that you can control the type and amount of ingredients added to ensure calorie control and optimal nutrients.”–Harvard School of Public Health 

With this in mind, I share with you one of my favorite GBOMBS smoothie variations.  While I know that eating one’s food is preferred to drinking one’s calories for a wide variety of reasons, I personally find sound nutritional value in whole-food-plant-based smoothies that I make at home.  I am especially fond of consuming them in the morning when my stomach is not feeling so great and/or I’m rushed for time.  These smoothies allow me to start my day off with a blast of nutrition.  Furthermore, I also drink smoothies as a useful part of my half-marathon training regime as a, a-hem, “mature” returning runner (jogger, crawler, whatever you want to call it!) as the weekly mileage increases. 

Like all of my smoothie recipes, think of this one as a scaffolding.  Feel free to add, delete, reduce, and adjust any and all ingredients to best accommodate your nutritional and caloric needs.  Although I do not feel the need to supplement my smoothies with protein powder, it is certainly a possible addition to the recipe.  I prefer to make these smoothies ahead of time–such as the night before I will drink one, and save the second one for the following day.  Some nutritionists state there is a small bit of nutritional breakdown that occurs when making smoothies ahead of time, but in my mind, if it saves me time and effort–it’s worth the minor loss.

“Berries and pomegranates have the highest nutrient-to-calorie ratio of all fruits, and they protect against cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and dementia.”–VegKitchen.com

Fortify your body’s well-being with a whole food plant based smoothie.  Notice how easy it is to feel like a nutritional bombshell at the beginning of your day.  Plus, you can move through your day knowing that whatever ever else comes your way, you took time to give your heart, cells, and overall health a bit of nutritional TLC.  Best of all, nutrition never tasted so good!

From my home to yours, I wish you heartfelt, healthy, and homemade goodness!

Steph’s Chocolate Cherry Berry Smoothie

Ingredients:

½ cup favorite milk (I use plant based milk.)

2 cups chopped spinach (Can use frozen chopped spinach.)

1 ripe banana (I buy ahead of time and keep frozen once ripe.)

¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 tablespoon flax seed (Can substitute chia or hemp seeds.)

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric (Optional, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, and I add it to my food throughout the day.)

1 cup frozen cherry berry medley (Can use fresh cherries mixed with favorite berries.)

½ pomegranate or cherry juice

Dash of salt (I use ground pink himalyan.)

Optional: Add favorite 2 teaspoons of favorite sweetener if desired, such as pure maple syrup and/or favorite protein powder

Place in a blender in the order listed and blend until smooth.

Divide between glasses.

Can be drunk immediately or stored for later use in the fridge.  If saving for later use, be sure to shake well before consuming.

Makes 2 servings.

Steph’s Blues Busting Chocolate Green Smoothie

“If you have a chronic disease — such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, (arthritis, cancer, dementia) or back or joint pain — exercise can have important health benefits.”— “Exercise and chronic disease: Get the Facts,” Mayo Clinic Staff

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

COVID has taken away many so-called practices and habits that were once societal norms.  I think it is fair to say that many of us, from time to time, have felt weighed down, a bit angry, and even bereaved over the loss of the “way things used to be.”  In fact, now that we’ve begun traveling down this new road of living, I suspect there may be many things that will never return.  However, on the positive side, there are a few things that have evolved from this swift shifting of life.

One such personal benefit began during the quarantine period of 2020 as I reflected on my own health.  As I recently shared in other pieces, I have a genetic predisposition to colon cancer and heart disease.  Therefore, in an attempt to boost my immune system against these two inherited threats as well as COVID, I began to dial in my focus on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise and plant based eating, while still continuing some strength/flexibility/mindfulness practices.  None of these attempts have been perfect, but they do provide a sense of personal empowerment–a worthwhile feeling in a world that often feels out of control.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Of particular focus for me was a renewed desire for out-of-doors exercise; however, the ever-present battle with two bulging discs and an extra vertebrae was/is a never-ending reality.  Therefore, towards the middle of May 2020, I began researching ways to strengthen my back and core muscles while simultaneously gradually working my way from walking to running in order to increase my cardiovascular fitness level. While there is nothing wrong with walking–in fact, I love it, and I honestly believe it is one of the safest and best forms of exercise–there is something about the heart pumping vigor of running that leaves me, well, breathless!

All kidding aside, I do not want to give the illusion that I run fast.  Speed is not, per se, part of my goal; instead, I focus on increased endurance.  In particular, I put greater emphasis on my resting heart rate.  The lower my resting heart rate, the better I sleep, and the less stress affects me–especially at bed time.  

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Therefore, without belaboring the point, I found a program for strengthening the back and core called, the Mckenzie Method.  Using some of the exercises from this back method and combining them with exercises from my time spent in physical therapy and practicing yoga, I cobbled together my own DIY daily back/core care routine.  Additionally, while researching this method, I ran across (See what I did there?) a book/training entitled, Run Your Butt Off, about which I have previously written.  This running program offers a plan to help a walker go from walking for 30 minutes, to running for the same length of time in 12 weeks (or however many weeks you decide to take it).  

Since completing the Run Your Butt Off plan, I have continued running 3-4 times per week. On the days that I run, I sleep much better–even if I don’t have the time to sleep long.  Even more exciting is that I have signed up to run a virtual half marathon.  Due to this, I have put greater emphasis on personal nutrition for the purposes of reducing inflammation and fostering recovery as the running mileage increases each week.

“Choosing plants will help all your body’s systems work the best they can.”–Heather Alexander, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center

One way I am doing this is by continuing to eat plant-based.  While plant based eating does not have to mean that you will completely forgo meat and dairy, it does mean that those foods are dramatically reduced.  However, my personal choice, other than my occasional indulgence of black bean nachos, I choose not to consume meat and dairy products.  Additionally, I have (once again) committed to breakfast smoothies during this time period rather than skipping breakfast.  These smoothies are whole food, plant based powerhouses with no added sugar.  Every ingredient contained within them is full of fiber and a solid source of nutrition.  

I know that many people are opposed to drinking calories, and I understand abiding by that rule. However, I simply do not have time to commit to a sit-down breakfast, plus my stomach is often a queasy mess in the mornings.  A premade smoothie that I make ahead of time is a portable package of sound nutrition that my stomach can tolerate a couple of hours after rising.  They fuel me through my morning, and by lunch, I find I am not, per se, ravenously hungry.  

Additionally, by the time I head for my after-work runs, even if I am mentally exhausted, once I force myself to my running destination, I have plenty of fuel in the tank to complete the run.  Afterwards, I ALWAYS feel better, and even if everything else about the day seemed like it went wrong, at least I did two positive things for myself: fed my body good nutrition and exercised.  In my book, that’s a win. COVID changes be danged.

What follows below is one of my newest smoothie creations. (I’ve got a few more recipes I’m refining!)  No matter how frazzled, frustrated, or dissatisfied I may feel with external situations, this recipe has a way of mentally picking me up with its bright flavors and hint of chocolatey goodness.  Feel free to play around with and/or change the ingredients and/or the amounts to meet your personal dietary needs and taste preference.  Additionally, serve it up in a nice glass or even canning jar, and don’t be ashamed if using a straw (I use metal, reusable straw.) to slurp up all of the goodness at the bottom of the glass!  

From my home to yours, I wish you much happiness, health, and harmony even during these challenging times.  

Steph’s Blues Busting Chocolate Green Smoothie

Ingredients:

½ cup favorite milk or water (I use plant based milk.)

1 cup (75 grams) chopped romaine lettuce

1/2 ripe banana (I buy them ahead of time and freeze once ripe.)

2 tablespoons flax seed (Can use hemp or chia seeds.)

**2-4 tablespoons of Dutched cocoa powder, depending upon how chocolatey you want it.

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder

1 ½  cup (45 grams frozen; 85 grams fresh) chopped spinach 

1  cup blueberries (Can use frozen.)

½ cup cherry, pomegranate, or pomegranate/cherry juice

Dash of salt (I use a twist of ground pink himalyan.)

Optional: Add 1-2 teaspoons of favorite sweetener if desired, such as pure maple syrup, molasses, or honey (I do NOT add any sweetener, but I know others prefer a sweeter smoothie.)

Place in a blender in the order listed and blend until smooth.

Divide between two glasses.

Can be served immediately or stored for later use in the fridge.

Makes 2 servings.

**If you are not a fan of chocolate, you can skip the cocoa powder altogether.  However, you may want to consider adding, at the very least, 1 tablespoons of it.  Cocoa powder has numerous health and nutritional benefits.  

Beer Bread: A Christmas Tradition

The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” —M.F.K. Fisher

Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”–James Beard

It is a family tradition spanning over three to four decades.  I am not sure if I started baking it in my 20s or 30s, but baking beer bread for Christmas, and other special events, has been, and continues to be, a long-held Hill household custom.  From where the recipe came, I am not certain; however, I suspect I found it in the owner’s manual/recipe guide of the very first bread machine I ever owned.

Not long after John, my husband of over thirty years, and I were married, my grandparents gave us a bread machine as a Christmas gift.  It was an Oster, white in color, and it was highly popular in the late 80s.  In fact, even up until last Christmas (2019), I was still using this same Oster to help me bake bread.  

The original recipe card onto which I wrote the recipe is stained, tattered, and torn from decades of use.

This former bread making machine, for which I used to knead and rise bread dough–the loaves were baked in the oven rather than the machine–faithfully helped me bake beer bread every single Christmas after its original receipt.  When my daughter was still school age, I baked loaves for her teachers at Christmas.  Even now, I will still bake extra loaves at Christmas to give away. 

Christmas after Christmas, I go through pounds of flour, yeast, and of course, copious bottles of beer.  Typically, during the two weeks leading up to Christmas, the aroma of freshly baked bread seems to emanate from every pore of our house.  A week or two leading up to Christmas, my kitchen is typically covered with a fine dusting of flour, and a measuring glass filled beer often sits at the back of the counter in order to come to room temperature before mixing the dough.

Dough finished rising in the bread machine.

Unfortunately, by last Christmas, this antique machine was bouncing across the counter, vibrating the entire length, in an exerted effort to mix and knead the dough.  After each batch, I would find feathery grains of black metal beneath the machine as if it were sacrificing its own blood in order to continue to help me produce bread.  I knew I “kneaded” to gently close its lid and carry it to its final resting place, but saying goodbye is never easy–especially to one that has faithfully served our family, Christmas after Christmas, and one special event after another.  To add further grief, it was a gift from my grandparents–setting this machine on its final rest cycle would feel as if I was breaking an unspoken contract with them.  (Although we still have the white Toastmaster toaster they gave us as a wedding present in 1989.)

Dough dropped into prepared loaf pan and ready for the oven.

However, by New Years Day of 2020, another day in which I typically make beer bread, it was clear, the little Oster could go on no more.  It was like an appliance doctor had steathfully snuck into the house and gently sent my loyal kitchen companion to its eternal reward. I am certain, if there is an appliance heaven, that good ol’ Oster is walking the streets of homemade bread alongside other trusted tools of the trade.

While I now have a new bread machine, the kitchen doesn’t quite look or sound the same when it is operating. It appears to be the strong, silent type that likes to work without drawing attention to itself.  Black in color, oblong in shape, it is the complete opposite of its predecessor.  While the former appliance, if set to bake dough, formed bread in the shape of a chubby stove pipe chimney; however, the newer machine, were I to actually use the baking function, will bake bread that is fashioned in the traditional shape and length, but is still rather tall. Nonetheless, it does perform the necessary functions of mixing, kneading, and rising the dough–ready to dump into a prepared bread pan and bake in the oven.

The owner’s manual for the sleak, new bread machine.

The recipe that I share can be varied slightly, but certain ingredients must go into the mix in order to bake and taste properly.  To begin, I have used a wide variety of natural sweeteners including sugar (as originally called for), molasses, honey, agave, as well as real maple and date syrups.  If choosing a liquid sweetener, it will influence the color of the crust as well as the dough.  Additionally, I have played with a variety of types of flour, including whole wheat, and I have even added ½ cup of wheat germ, but I have found that using bread flour works best.  Furthermore, I prefer to use jar yeast that is specifically designed for bread machines.

Regarding the beer, I have used both high end beer and bargain beer over the years.  It really doesn’t matter.  However, what I do find is that the darker the beer, the richer the flavor–but only for the most discerning of taste buds.  Most won’t notice the difference between light or dark beer.  Also, if you don’t typically drink beer, you can buy single cans of beer.

Another tip I have learned over the years is to cool and store the loaf in an airtight plastic bag or container before slicing it.  The reason I make this suggestion is because if you slice it while it is still warm, the bread is not firm enough and tends to collapse in on itself.  Additionally, crumbs from the crust go everywhere.  However, if you allow it to properly cool, and then store it for several hours in an airtight container, it will slice nicely for those social media worthy pictures.

Beautiful, freshly baked bread just out of the oven.

As a final tip, it should be noted that you may need to adjust the amounts of each ingredient and/or order in which the ingredients go into your machine, depending upon your machine’s requirements.  This is where the owner’s manual of your own machine comes in handy–to help you tweak and adjust amounts as needed.  (I know my new machine’s manual has several pages of tips for successful baking and recipe adjustments.)  

Furthermore, it should also be noted that I have only used this recipe in a bread machine.  I put the ingredients in the machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer and allow the machine to take care of the mixing, kneading, and rising.  Once through the rising process, I place dough in a prepared loaf pan and bake.  Sadly, this recipe is NOT gluten-free; and therefore, I now choose to not consume it–even at Christmas. It was a recipe I discovered years before I knew I had celiac disease.  Therefore, I bake only for the consumption of loved ones and friends to enjoy.

For those of you with bread machines sitting around waiting to be used, I hope you will enjoy this recipe.  It fills the house with an irresistible, aromatic scent, and tastes wonderful toasted, at room temperature, or slightly warmed.  Use it for breakfast, sandwiches, snacks, or even toast it for homemade croutons.  I hope that this recipe will bring your family as much joy as it has mine over the years.

From my home to yours, I wish you happy, homemade, and heavenly baked goods for the holidays!

Slice it, butter it, slather it with your favorite topping, and enjoy every yeasty bite!

Beer Bread

Ingredients:

⅓ warm water

1 cup beer (room temperature & flat)

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar (or other natural sweetener)

3 cups bread flour

1 yeast package or 2 ¼ teaspoons yeast

Directions:

Place all ingredients in the bread machine according to manufacturer directions, making any adjustments needed to amounts as per manufacturer directions.

Set machine for dough setting if baking in oven; otherwise, set for white bread setting.

Once dough is nearly finished with its cycle, preheat oven to 375 degrees if baking in the oven.

If baking in the oven, remove dough from the pan once dough has gone through the entire dough setting cycle, and place dough in lightly greased loaf pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Store in an airtight container or sealed storage bag.

Stays fresh, when properly stored in an airtight container at room temperature, for over a week.

Bake up a new holiday tradition:  beer bread!
Oh, there’s nothing like the aroma of freshly baked bread.

Cranberry-pumpkin Muffins (Gluten-free and plant-based)

Historically, the health-promoting properties of cranberries have been based on folkloric remedies, which have existed for centuries. The healthy giving properties of this fruit were recognized by Native American Indians, and early New England sailors are said to have eaten the vitamin C-rich wild cranberries to prevent scurvy.”–Massachusetts Cranberries website

Cranberries are one of just three fruits native to the United States.”–The Humble Gardener website

Photo by Irita Antonevica on Pexels.com

I couldn’t help but notice all of the ongoing fresh cranberry offerings and deals that have been found lately in the local grocery stores; therefore, I purchased a 12 ounce bag for myself.  Those inviting, bright crimson berries have often reminded me of mini Christmas baubles hanging from an evergreen branch.  Curiosity began to get the best of me, and I decided that I needed to learn more about these tiny ruby orbs.  Afterall, a fruit full of that much color had to have some redeeming qualities, and boy-oh-boy do they ever!

One of the first facts I noticed was that numerous medical and nutritional-based websites consider cranberries to be a so-called, “super-food,” due to their overall nutritional benefits.  Part of this designation is due to cranberries’ high levels of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant, that give cranberries their bright red color. (I knew that bright red color was important!) In addition to being consumed in its various forms as part of the treatment for and prevention of  UTIs, research has also linked cranberries to improving the function of the immune system as well as decreasing blood pressure. Additionally, there are several promising studies indicating cranberries may be helpful in slowing down the growth of cancer cells, particularly in certain types of tumorous growths.

Stir in fresh cranberries to your favorite fruit salad.

Several websites describe cranberries’ high levels of polyphenols may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Studies have also found that consuming cranberries, as part of a whole-foods healthy diet, regularly promotes the health of gums and teeth.  Cranberries are also believed to decrease inflammation associated with both chronic disease and aging, and these tiny powerhouse fruits offer numerous benefits to one’s gut health and microbiota. Additionally, the naturally low-sugar, high fiber berries possess anti-inflammatory properties.  Plus, like other berries, cranberries are high antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

Cranberries are typically in season and widely available throughout the fall and into the early winter months.  They can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two months, and frozen for several more months for later consumption.  When choosing fresh cranberries, look for smooth skin that is firm to the touch and unwrinkled.  

Fresh, ripe cranberries have smooth, unwrinkled skin, and are said to bounce like a basketball.

Of course, cranberries are typically part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, however, they are quite a versatile food that can be used in a wide array of recipes.  Add them to oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salads, and even dark, leafy green salads.  Cook them down into a sauce on the stove with some maple syrup, honey, or sugar, add a bit of cinnamon, and perhaps the zest or juice of an orange or a drop of orange extract.  Use this sauce as a condiment for toast, sandwiches, oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, or even in muffins.  Stir in fresh, or dried, cranberries into muffins, cakes, breads, and even cookie recipes.  The ways in which to use cranberries are only as endless as your imagination. 

Below is a recipe I created based upon one I found in an old Betty Crocker cookbook.  Betty Crocker cookbooks have been a mainstay for the members of my family, a tradition handed down to me and my siblings from both my mother and grandmother as Betty Crocker recipes are fairly easy to follow/create and typically use simple ingredients.  This recipe I adjusted to make it both gluten free and plant-based.  I added a few extras to it in order to, as my Grandmother Helen used to say, “doctor it up.”

Gently fold in cranberries into the batter, careful not to overstir the batter so that the muffins do not turn out “tough.”

Both my daughter and husband tried these plump muffins of goodness, despite the fact that they do not, per se, like cranberries.  To their surprise, they both really liked this recipe.  It is moist, but springy–like a good muffin should be.  The sparkling sugar adds a thin crusting effect to the muffin tops.  Plus, a large portion of the berries burst open into the batter during the baking process creating a just the right amount of tang and sweet.  Enjoy these muffins slightly cooled, but still warm, from the oven or warmed over in the microwave.  Share the goodness of these muffins, chock full of healthful benefits, with someone you love, and be sure to store the uneaten muffins in an airtight container or bag in the fridge or freeze them for quick morning or a snack time reheat on the run.

From my home to yours, I wish you homemade, happy, and healthy meals.

Use an ice cream scoop to help divide the batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.
White sparkling sugar, sprinkled on top, creates a nice crust to muffin tops.
Cool muffins on a wire rack.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups (I use a gluten-free variation.)

¾ cup sugar (Can use a sugar substitute, such as Swerve.) 

3 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounce) of pure pumpkin

½ teaspoon orange extract 

½ cup apple sauce (Can substitute ½ cup oil if preferred.)

2 eggs or “flegg” equivalent (2 tablespoons ground flax seed + 5 tablespoons water, allow to sit in the fridge for 5-10 minutes.)

2 cups cranberries

½ chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

White sparkling sugar (If you do not have this on-hand, simply use regular sugar.)

Directions:

**Note: if using egg replacement, “flegg,” please make first and set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Line muffin tins with parchment paper or lightly grease.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Stir in pumpkin, orange extract, apple sauce, and eggs. Until just mixed–careful not to over mix.  Gently fold in cranberries and nuts if using. 

Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, divide batter evenly among muffin cups and sprinkle with sugar.  Before sprinkling with sugar, you can also top with a few cranberries, a bit of pumpkin seeds, or a bit of oats.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow muffins to cool on a rack.  Serve warm. 

Makes 12 muffins that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Serve slightly cooled, but still warm from the oven.

(Almost) One-bowl Gluten pumpkin muffins with optional add-ins

“Oh my gourdness, it autumn!”–as seen on Country Living 

“Let’s give them pumpkin to talk about!” as seen on Elite Daily

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

On October sixth, I wrote about when life hands you bad tasting, bitter ingredients turn them into a sweet slice of cake.  In response to that piece, a reader named Bonnie, sent me an email asking for the made-from-scratch pumpkin cake recipe to which I referred in the article.  When I read her email, I was touched by the fact, someone beside my parents and husband read my column!  Furthermore, I felt fortunate that she would take time out of her busy schedule to send me an email.  Then, I was gourd-smacked.  I didn’t have a recipe to share with her. Oh my gourdness! 

I didn’t have the guts (gourd it?) to tell her that when I wrote the original piece, I based my so-called recipe on my knowledge of ingredients of recipes for other cakes, muffins, as well as pumpkin pie.  The closest I ever came to baking a pumpkin cake was actually pumpkin muffins for Maddie, my daughter.  It soon became one of her favorite fall recipes which was made from a spice cake mix and blueberries.  Still, I couldn’t go(urd) breaking Bonnie’s heart.  She asked for a recipe.  I had to harvest something.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

In the meantime, Maddie, who now lives at home, attends Marshall University as an art major, and works at La Famiglia at the MU student center, was showing me photos of the latest chalk art she had completed promoting the restaurant’s pumpkin cannoli’s.  In fact, her store manager had recently made one for Maddie to taste, and Maddie described in great detail how gourd the pumpkin cannoli tasted.  Maddie further added that she told her manager that the manager should try my pumpkin blueberry muffins. 

Maddie’s chalkboard art for La Famiglia at Marshall University Student Center

Hmm. . . I needed to patch some Zs on this thought.  After a good night’s rest, a new idea vined through my mind.  Why not create my own made-from-patch recipe for pumpkin blueberry muffins that could also double as a 9 x 13 cake if one desired?  I patched together some gourd research and soon enough, a new recipe was born, or should I say, carved.

Of course, I had to bake up a trail patch to taste.  Since I have celiac disease and should not eat wheat, I went with a gluten-free variation.  However, it should be noted that any all-purpose flour will work here just as well.  Additionally, I am not big on using a lot of oil in my food, mostly because it tends to create reflux which I prefer to avoid.   That said, you can always replace the applesauce with oil or melted butter if you prefer baking with a bit of fat.  Plus, with a variety of potential stir-ins, this recipe serves as a Jack-of- all-lanterns as there are many ways in which you could carve it up. 

This is the Jack-of-all-lanterns cake/muffin recipe. Pick your additions and stir up some gourdness!

Whether you are craving something a little sweet, or someone has asked you, “What’s cooking gourd-looking?”  Your answer can come straight from the vine!  Scoop out a bit of time to bake, and let the gourd times roll! Wishing you all of the pumpkin gourdness of fall!  

From my pumpkin patch to yours, I wish you happy, homemade, and hauntingly gourd pumpkin treats!  

P.S. Thank you, Bonnie, for your gourd inspiration.  Your email was the pumpkin of my pie, and it added spice to my life!

(Almost) One bowl Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins (or cake) with optional add-ins

Ingredients:

1egg or “flegg” (1 tablespoons ground flaxseed + 2 ½ tablespoons of water stir together and allow to sit for 15 minutes)

2 cups all purpose flour or oat flour  (I used oat flour to keep it gluten-free, but you could also use any gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup brown sugar (Can substitute with other sugar or sugar replacement.)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounce) pure pumpkin 

½ cup unsweetened applesauce (Can also use oil or melted butter if preferred.)

½  cup milk (I like to use plant based, but any milk is fine.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder (I love vanilla powder for a more rich, vanilla taste.)

Optional stir ins: blueberries, cranberries, raisins, craisins, walnuts, even chocolate or white-chocolate chips

White sparkling sugar or cinnamon-sugar

Directions:

If  making a “flegg,” mix first and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare 12 muffin tins by lining with paper, oil, or nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients until flour and spices are well blended.

Stir in egg (or flegg), pumpkin, applesauce, milk and vanilla until just combined without over-mixing.

If using an add-in, gently fold into batter.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups.

Sprinkle muffin tops with white sparkling sugar or cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow muffins to cool on wire racks before serving

Can also pour batter into a prepared  9 x 13 pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  If choosing this variation, allow the cake to cool, and then frost if desired.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator or can freeze for up to a month.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

“When there is cake, there is hope.  And there is always cake.”–Dean Koontz

“My idea of baking is buying a ready made cake mix and throwing in an egg.”–Cilla Black

By the time you read this, Dear Reader, I will be celebrating another year of life.  Honestly, the way 2020 is going, I am almost afraid to celebrate, but I am throwing caution to the wind.  By golly, in spite of everything that is upside down in this world, I am going to celebrate another year of life.  I am going to smile, eat a ridiculously calorie laden meal or two, drink a bit of good wine, and dang it, I am eating cake!  Of course, it has to be gluten-free due to my celiac disease, but I will eat cake–chocolate cake to be precise because chocolate is my favorite!

Sure, 2020 has been a train-wreck of a year in many ways, but fall is in the air.  Even though winter is around the corner, there is something about autumn weather that makes me feel hopeful–hopeful for better days ahead.  Call me crazy, but I gotta believe that life has to take a turn for the better . . .at least that is my birthday wish.

In addition to feeling hopeful, I feel grateful–grateful for my health, my family, my friends and loved ones, my home–flaws and all–and my job.  I wake up every day in a warm bed, and as I step out of it, I am able to turn on hot water for a shower.  Food is stored in both my refrigerator and cabinets–not to mention the fact our water is drinkable.  My job, with all of its challenges, is still providing a paycheck that allows me to celebrate my birthday in the manner in which previously I described.  Therefore, in spite of all the negatives 2020 has to offer, there are still numerous things for which to be grateful this year.

To add to my list of items for which I am grateful, I would have to include an unexpected email that I received from registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie Ferrari, with Fresh Communications.  Thanks to Stephanie, and the kind (or should I say, sweet) people at Swerve, I was thrown a “swerve” ball during the summer months when the Swerve team sent a care package of products to my house.  Thanks to their generosity, I have been blessed with the opportunity to play and create with a few of their products including their chocolate cake mix, which is featured in this month’s recipe.  

As previously mentioned, I do have celiac disease, so I cannot eat products containing wheat, rye, or barley.  Furthermore, birthday celebration aside, I do try to eat in a fairly healthy manner that works best for me.  Due to an incredibly sensitive stomach/digestive system, it’s taken me years to figure out how to best eat for my body. However, I also recognize that what works for me may not work for others.  Thus, when I create recipes, I try to create choices in order to adapt to a variety of tastes/needs/preferences.  Personally, I prefer to eat plant-based, forgoing dairy, eggs, and meat products most of the time.  Therefore, you will see that reflected in this recipe, but I also list other options if that’s not your cup of tea, or slice of cake, as the case may be.  

I based this recipe upon one I found on the Swerve website.  This is because since it wasn’t my official birthday, I wanted to keep the recipe fairly “clean,” and save the calorie-laden splurge for the actual big day.  This is where Swerve products check all the boxes for me.  Therefore, the recipe is not only gluten and grain free, but it is also a fairly low carb treat.  In fact, there isn’t one ingredient that leads me to feel guilty or over-indulgent.  The leftovers store well, and it is my experience that they tend to become more moist and chewy after being stored in an airtight container for a day or two.  Therefore, I can have my cake and eat it too–for several days in a row if I want–rather than saving cake for a once per year special eating occasion!

Whether you’re looking for a way to brighten a bad day, wanting to indulge without completely blowing your calories, or simply in the mood for chocolate, give this recipe a try. Within less than an hour, your house will be redolent with the aroma of chocolate cake baking, and your taste buds will be dancing with the delightful taste of warm, gooey chocolate.  Think of it as a small manifestation of making lemonade, or in this case, cake, out of the lemon of a year.

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade treats.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

Ingredients:

1 box chocolate cake mix (I use Swerve brand.  Also, feel free to use Vanilla cake mix if preferred.)

½ cup applesauce or melted butter at room temperature (I use applesauce to keep it plant-based.)

1 large egg, or “flegg”, at room temperature (Recipe for flegg is below.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder

½ cup oats or your favorite chopped nuts (I use Nature’s Path organic gluten-free oats.)

½ cup chocolate chips or other candy bits, i.e. peanut butter, white chocolate, and so forth (I use Enjoy Life allergy-free brand.)

Optional: White sparkling sugar

Directions:

Set out egg to come to room temperature, or if replacing egg, make your “flegg” before beginning any other steps. (Recipe below)

Likewise, if using melted butter instead of applesauce, melt first and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare a square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, coconut oil, or line with parchment paper.

In large bowl, add cake mix and using fork gently break up any clumps

Stir in applesauce (or butter), egg (or flegg), and vanilla extract until well combined.

Gently fold in oats and chocolate chips until well combined.

Press mixture into pan.

If desired, sprinkle with white sparkling sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are golden, and the top is puffy.

Allow to cool before cutting into 16 squares.

Store any uneaten bars in an airtight container.

Leftover bars are especially tasty when warmed slightly in the microwave topped off with a dollop of whipped topping, if desired.

*“Flegg” egg replacement recipe:

1 tablespoons flaxseed (Chia seed works too.) 

3 tablespoons of water. 

Mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes before mixing batter.

Indulgent Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars aka “Brookies”

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”–Walt Whitman

Remember the rhyme that went something like this . . . 

“Rain, rain go away. 

Come again another day. 

Little Sally (Insert any name.) wants to play.  

Rain, rain go away.” 

Well, I’ve rewritten it.

2020, go away.

Don’t come back another day.

Little Stephie (Insert any name.) wants to play.

2020, please go away.

Photo by Evie Shaffer on Pexels.com

Let’s face it, folks, 2020 has been a challenging year for the entire world on so many levels.  It seems to me that just when I think it can’t get any worse, it can, and it does!  Sometimes I feel like we’re living in the Old Testament days alongside Job.  Okay, okay, that is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. However, it does feel, at times, that there is a dark and menacing cloud hovering over the edges of life that will not dissipate.

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

“All you need is love.  But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”–Charles M. Schulz

Therefore, trumpet trill please, I present you with a newly created recipe idea . . . Light, triumphing over darkness.  Sweetness overcoming bitterness.  All symbolically baked up into  one luscious, (fairly) guilt-free indulgence. . . or, so I thought it was a new idea.  (Insert daughter popping my bubble here.)

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

My daughter, Madelyn, introduced me to the name of my so-called creation when I shared with her my, “exciting new recipe idea.”

“Uhm, Mom.  You know that’s not a new thing, right?  Mixing brownie and chocolate chip cookie dough is not new–not even close.  Look it up.  It’s called a “brookie.”

Since when?  I never heard of it.  

“Brookie.  Really?  It’s a thing?  I didn’t first create it?”

“No, Mom, you didn’t.”

Cue the pom-pom shaking teenager from a long-ago video-vine, with which Maddie used to tease me as the unknown teen looked straight into the viewer’s eyes and stated, “You ain’t special.”

“Huh, I guess I am not so clever after all.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

Nonetheless, even if I am not as special or as innovative as I thought,  I will still share my recipe for the so-called “brookies” with you, courtesy of the kind people at Swerve. 

Early into the start of 2020, my brother, Scott, and I were talking via phone when he asked me if I had heard of a new sweetening product called Swerve.  At the time, he described it as the sweetener that he was using to regularly make lemonade in order to remain low-carb.  He added that it did not upset his digestive system as other sweeteners tend to do.  Since I also have an extremely sensitive stomach too, I was definitely interested in giving the product a try.

This was early in the pandemic when there were numerous shortages, especially in the baking aisles of grocery stores.  I was fortunate enough on my next shopping trip to pick up what appeared to be the last package of Swerve in-stock.  Trying it first in my green tea, I found I liked the taste–not possessing that fake chemical after-taste–nor was it overly sweet.  Plus, it did not upset my stomach.

In a later discussion with Scott, he shared with me that he had successfully baked cupcakes using the Swerve confectioner sugar replacement.  Whaaat???  He remained impressed with the product.  Hmm . . .

That’s when I decided to give Swerve a try in my raspberry muffin creation that I shared last month both.  It baked up well, tasted great, and did not seem to affect the texture.  Best of all,  I still did not experience any negative gastrointestinal side effects!  However, when I shopped at my supermarket the following week, they were completely wiped out of all Swerve products. 

Much to my surprise that is when the good people at Swerve reached out to me, asking if I’d like to try out more of their products.  Little did I know how many products this company makes!  Wow!  All of the products they shared were gluten-free and grain-free–which especially works for me.  Additionally, according to their packaging, Swerve products are Keto/low-carb friendly, low-glycemic, diabetes friendly, tummy friendly, natural, zero added sugar, and all natural, “born and raised in New Orleans.”  Plus, I can remain plant-based when I bake with them by merely tweaking a few ingredients as you will see below. 

Additionally, while my first batch of “brookies” was baking, I discovered the Swerve company has an amazing website chock full of support, advice, recipes, and ideas.  Sure enough, as my so-called original recipe continued baking, I learned that they already had a “brookie” recipe on-line.  Maddie was right, I was indeed NOT special.  Cue the sigh and slumping shoulders as the spotlight fades into darkness on my so-called bright idea.  

Even if not as original as I once thought, I will still share my “brookie” variation with you.  I especially recommend this recipe when you feel a little dark and down, or not-so-special.  Simply the smell alone is enough to lift the spirits!  However, it’s the ooey-gooey texture and the combination of two different tastes that is, well, enlightening–reminding the taster that even in the midst of a challenging and dark moment, life can still have its light, sweet moments.

“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.”–Ernestine Ulmer

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade, and not-so-original sweet treats!

P.S.  A big shout out of thanks and gratitude to Stephanie Ferrari at FRESH Communications and the Swerve team for inspiring this not-so-original recipe!

Indulgent Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars aka “Brookies”

Ingredients:

1 package brownie mix (I used Swerve Sweets Brownie Mix.)

2 large eggs (I used a plant based replacement that I affectionately refer to as a “flegg” but it’s probably not original either!  See recipe below.)

½ cup oil (I used applesauce.)

½ cup water

1 + 2  tablespoons vanilla extract or powder (I used Organic Gold Vanilla powder.)

Optional add-in:  ½ cup chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life 100% dark chocolate Morsels.)

1 package chocolate chip cookie mix (I used Swerve Sweets Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix.)

3 tablespoons milk, dairy or plant-based

3 tablespoons melted butter (or plant-based equivalent, i.e. applesauce)

Optional add in:  ½ cup favorite nut pieces or oats (I used gluten free oats.)

Directions:

If replacing eggs, make your “flegg” before beginning any other steps. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a square baking dish by lining it with parchment paper, or coating it with nonstick cooking spray.  (I used a 9 x 9 pan.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs with oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and water.

Add in brownie mix, and if desired, stir in chocolate chips and mix until combined.

Spread brownie batter over the bottom of the baking dish.

In another medium bowl, mix together milk and 2 tablespoons vanilla.

Stir in chocolate chip cookie mix, and if desired, add in nuts or oats.

Add in melted butter and mix until combined.

Gently spread chocolate chip batter over brownie batter. 

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry and the edges are set. Cover with foil about half-way through baking time (around the 20-25 minute mark) so that the top won’t get too brown.

Allow to cool.

Makes 12-16 servings.

Store in an airtight container.

“Flegg” egg replacement recipe:

2 tablespoons flaxseed (Chia seed works too.) 

6 tablespoons of water. 

Mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes before mixing batter.

Light, Lucious, Lemon Raspberry Muffins and Buckle–with a life lesson on the side

“Imagine a world, in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to a friend.”–Gerda Weissmann Klein

“The tiny seed knew that in order to grow it needed to be dropped in dirt, covered in darkness, and struggle to reach the light.” — Sandra Kring

June sunlight hammered my backside, creating a rivulet of sweat that ran from my hairline, down my neck, and along the bumps of my spine, pooling at the elastic waistband of my athletic shorts.  Spikes of dry grass clawed at my shins and calves, while briars needled my forearms.  With single-minded focus, I picked the ruby jewels of fruit, one at a time, and slipped them into the bowl as my fingers became brightly tinged with the stain of my efforts.  One month later, a similar scene unfolded, only this time my digits were blotched a deep shade of purple.

Berry picking–full of heat, thorns, and insects.  Strongly influenced by weather with some seasons offering higher yields of succulent delight, and other years producing little fruit that are often smaller and less juicy.  This once per year event can provide a tasty selection of cakes, pies, muffins, salads, and even vinegars or wines; and yet, each tiny tender fruit is celebratory enough to pop, one at a time, onto the tongue allowing taste buds to relish the lush, acidic saccharinity. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As I picked berries this summer, it was a contemplative practice that was part focus, with a bit of melancholy, and part determination, sweat, and even irritation–reminding me of the similarities of berry-picking to life.  Many, if not most, memorable life moments require sustained efforts involving work, goal-setting, striving, and set-backs.  Depending upon what is produced by one’s endeavors, typically frames whether or not one continues down the same path/plan, or chooses to adjust plans accordingly.  Similarly, seasonal berry offerings may not be particularly juicy some years, much less tasty on its own merit; however, when these berries are collectively combined alongside other ingredients in a recipe, the product produced is often a delicious delight–even if it was not what was originally planned.

Likewise, dealing with the bramble, the bugs, the itchy ivy and grasses, the pollen, the heat and humidity, and so forth, may fill the berry-picker with dread even before beginning; and then, one commenced into action, the very act of picking may feel nearly intolerable.  Nonetheless, the goal of sweet, tangy fruit impels one to persevere in spite of the struggles and irritations.  In fact, even the journey to becoming a fruit producing plant is never easy.  It requires that a seed be buried in dirt, dwelling in darkness for some time while laying down roots until ready to slog through the sod, breaking the surface.  Even then, the tiny plant must learn to endure all types of weather while simultaneously stretching and extending towards the light before becoming a fruit producing plant.  The same is true for humans.

Picking berries is an annual reminder for me that we all must experience the dark, the muck, and the mire in order to strengthen our ability to break through the soil of our despairs.  Nevertheless, like the berry bramble, we cannot produce fruit without first developing roots, and then being taught to stretch towards the light in order to grow.  Even then, we will still develop thorny parts of ourselves and experience the sting of insects, the heat and cold, as well as life’s seasonal winds.  There will be choking weeds and other setbacks (much like many of us are experiencing now).  Nevertheless, it is during those very times we must be like the berry plant and keep growing, fixing our eyes upon the heavens, because eventually our efforts will produce fruit.  And when those periods of berry-picking occur, we must share our harvest with others and savor the sweet juiciness of the moment because like the weather, life offers continuous change–never standing still for long.

As seen on Instagram @ Postiviteenergyalways

As the Creator divined, there is no light without dark, no happiness without sadness, no rest without work, no pleasure without pain, and no berries without pitfalls and pests.  Make the most of good days, for they are the berries, the very sweetness, of life.  Imprint those memories into your soul, as one does setting aside berries in the freezer, so when the weeds of life threaten and clouds seem ready to burst, you can retrieve those frozen memories, and be reminded that this too will pass.  The light that is within and around you will help, once more, enjoy another season of berry-picking. 

As seen on Instagram at postiveenergyalways.

From my home to yours, I wish you a freezer full of good memories and berries! Here are a couple of recipes to enjoy . . .

*Raspberry Lemon Muffins

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon flaxseed + 3 tablespoons of water (Can substitute with one large egg.)

Zest from one lemon

1 cup + 2 tablespoons flour (I use gluten free flour.)

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats* (I use certified gluten-free oats.)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

⅔ cup sugar (I used Swerve brand sugar replacement.)

⅓ cup melted butter (I used plant-based replacement.)

¾ milk (I used a plant based version.)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

*2 cups raspberries or blackberries (Fresh are best, but frozen will work, but may require a bit longer baking time.)

White sparkling sugar (Optional)

Directions:

In a small bowl, add both flaxseed and water.  Gently stir and place in the refrigerator for later use.

Zest one lemon, and set aside for later use.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line 12 muffin tins with a parchment paper. 

In a small bowl, place raspberries and sprinkle with 2 tablespoon of flour. Toss gently until all raspberries are evenly coated.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

If possible, use a stand mixing bowl to whisk together lemon zest with sugar for two minutes until light and fluffy.

Mix melted butter, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract into lemon/sugar mixture.

Stir in dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Gently fold in flour coated raspberries into batter.

Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.

Sprinkle with white sparkling sugar if desired.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until muffins are golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins. 

Allow muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn upside down on the cooling rack, and immediately right them on the rack for proper cooling.

Muffins can be stored at room temperature; however, since there is fresh fruit in them, I prefer to store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator once completely cooled.  They can also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Serve warm or cold.  They are delicious plain or served with butter, honey, agave, or other favorite topping.

Bonus Recipe:

*Raspberry Buckle

Ingredients for Buckle –the cake part:

¾ cup sugar 

¼ cup soft shortening 

1 egg 

½ cup milk 

Zest from one lemon

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or powder

2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

*2 cups raspberries or blackberries (Fresh are best, but frozen will work, but may require a bit longer baking time.)

Ingredients for topping:

½ sugar

⅓ cup flour

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Directions:

Zest lemon, and set aside.

Mix together ingredients for topping, and set aside.

Place raspberries in a bowl, gently sprinkle and coat with 2 tablespoons of flour, and set aside.

Prepare 9” x 9” baking pan with nonstick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a mixer, mix together sugar, shortening, and egg.  

Stir in milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, blend together dry ingredients.

Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined.

By hand, gently fold-in in raspberries.

Carefully spread into the prepared baking pan.

Spread topping over all of the batter.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Allow to cool 10-20 minutes before serving warm.

Once cooled, stored in the refrigerator.

Leftovers can also be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Makes 9 servings.

As seen on Instagram @ lauriereasons.