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

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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 . . .

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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. 

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 “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

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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.

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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.  

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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.

Berry Beneficial Acai Smoothie

“Take care of your body.  It’s the only place you have to live.”–Jim Rohn

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”–Ann Wigmore

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

With the warm, humid weather of summer making its way into the Tri-State area, I find myself craving smoothies again.  Since quarantine, I have once more fallen into the habit of not eating anything until lunchtime.  Sure, my stomach complains at times, but not enough to motivate me to pause for breakfast. As I have shared previously, I hop on and off the breakfast train–going for weeks at a time eating breakfast regularly, and then falling off that habit for weeks again.  Craving smoothies is a sure sign that it is time to hop back on that proverbial train.

However, I tend to have a sensitive stomach that has only become more sensitive with age.  I learned that I have to, unfortunately, limit my coffee intake in the early morning hours.  In fact, I typically down 16 or so ounces of water first thing in the morning before touching a coffee cup.  Additionally, I am sometimes downright nauseated in the morning, and the thought of food, even my favorite oatmeal, doesn’t even sound appealing.  (Yes, I am one of those people who loves oatmeal.)  Thus, I have learned that if I wait until lunch time, my queeziness will subside, and I am usually ready to eat.

I know some research states that one should “eat like a king” at breakfast and ensure the consumption of 30 grams of protein first thing in the morning, but those researchers don’t have my stomach and are often hocking their own protein product.  Still, I do recognize, especially as I age, the benefits of consuming quality, nutritious food at each meal–whether it’s two, or three, meals per day–for longterm preventative health care.  Additionally, there is some scientific data suggesting that making healthful choices in the morning typically leads to more positive choices as the day progresses.  Therefore, if my stomach can handle it, why not have a nutritious breakfast smoothie later in the morning, especially if exercising outdoors in hot, humid weather?

I know, I know, many diet experts warn about the dangers of drinking your calories, rather than chewing them.  Furthermore, other diet experts caution against all of the calorie laden ingredients that can be easily added to a smoothie.  However, I would argue that a properly prepared smoothie–one chock full of whole food ingredients based upon your unique dietary and caloric needs–can be a nutritious, healthy choice, especially if you have a sensitive stomach like mine.  One of those whole food ingredients is acai.

In fact, it’s impossible not to notice the proliferation of acai products, pronounced, ah-sigh-ee, in restaurants, grocery stories, and health food markets. From smoothies to smoothie bowls, from flavored yogurt to juice refreshers (think Starbucks), from flavored protein bars to pill/supplements, and from dark chocolate bars to infused margaritas, acai seems to currently have sweetheart status in the health community.  Although acai is generally referred to as a berry, it is technically a drupe, also known as stonefruit, like cherries, plums, olives, and peaches, and it is popularly lauded for its numerous health benefits.  

Based upon my reading though, there seems to be a general consensus to group the acai with berries. Furthermore, acai tends to have a short shelf life as it only grows on palm trees in Central and South America; and thus, it is most often available in three forms: frozen fruit puree, freeze dried powder, or pressed juice.  As a self-proclaimed foodie, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to give acai a try by purchasing a small bag of the freeze dried powder.

To be clear, I do not believe that acai is the panacea of health that many supplement companies try to convince consumers; however, acai does offer many health benefits similar to most dark fruits and berries. Acai possesses high levels of antioxidants (even higher than blueberries and cranberries), essential fatty acids, fiber, and are nutrient dense. Still, like any one single food, acai is not the magical key to health; however, when consumed as part of a larger diet based on wide array of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables, acai is a wonderful addition.  

One word of caution though, many frozen fruit purees, juices, and other acai-flavored products are loaded with added sugar and/or other ingredients a health-conscious consumer may not want.  Therefore, if, like me, you want to reap the nutritional benefits without the junk, the freeze dried form of acai seems to have the greatest amount of fiber, essential fats, and health-boosting plant compounds.  

Below is the recipe-scaffolding that I created using acai freeze dried powder.  Do you have to use acai?  NO!  Instead, replace the acai with ½ cup of another fruit; or, if you want to stick with the drupe (stonefruit) family, add in cherries, Indian gooseberries, or slices of nectarines, peaches, and/or mangoes. Feel free to play with this recipe.  There is never an obligation, in my opinion, to follow recipes exactly as created.  Think of this recipe as a springboard of ideas for creating your own variation of this summer-time smoothie.  Want to make it a smoothie bowl? Then, fill a bowl with this smoothie and top it off with slices of fruit and the crunchy goodness of nuts, seeds, granola, and/or oats.  Summer is the time to have fun in the kitchen; and, yes, it can still be nutritious!  After all, one positive choice leads to the next!  

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals or smoothies! 

P.S. If you do find another variation that gets your taste buds excited, please share it with me by emailing me or tagging me on Instagram or Facebook!  I’d love to see what you create!

Here’s to your health! Cheers!

Berry Beneficial Acai Smoothie

Makes 1 serving, but can be doubled, tripled as needed.

Base Ingredients:

½ + ½ cup favorite smoothie beverage (water, milk, plant milk, kefir, coconut water)

½ to 1 cup of frozen or fresh berries (Pick your favorite! Frozen fruit leads to a thicker smoothie.)

½  cup frozen, plain–no other added ingredients–riced cauliflower (I know, it sounds weird, but it’s a wonderful thickener, and it’s a great way to sneak veggies into your day without tasting it!)

½ banana, frozen or fresh (Remember, the more frozen ingredients, the thicker the smoothie.)

**If wishing to use protein powder, see note below, and add in here.

1 ½  – 3 tsp acai powder (depending upon the amount you want)

½ tsp vanilla extract

*Dash of sea salt and any other optional add-ins suggested below

*Optional add-ins:

**1-2 scoop(s) of favorite protein powder (This is an optional addition.  I make this smoothie with and without protein.  However, I found that even using a tablespoon of my favorite plant-based protein powder gives the smoothie a more rounded flavor and thickens the smoothie a tad bit more.)

1-2 tablespoons of favorite nuts or seed (Think walnuts, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and etc.)

1-2 tablespoons of favorite nut butter

¼ to ⅓ cup oats (As a thickening agent, and another boost of nutrition, especially if you need the extra calories.)

In a blender, or blender cup, add ½ cup of your favorite smoothie liquid. 

Next, add it fruit(s) and plain riced cauliflower 

Add in banana, cut into chunks. 

Add in all other ingredients as well as any optional add-ins

Finally, top it all off with another ½ cup of preferred liquid.

Blend until smooth.

Best if served immediately, but can be stored in fridge for later use.

Note:  Can add more or less liquid to adjust to desired consistency.

Mmm, drink in that refreshing fruit and veg!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other varieties have anthocyanins that can help reverse some loss of balance and memory associated with aging.”–David H. Murdock

 

“Strawberries!  Fruit from the heart.”–Anthony T. Hincks

 

img_1657
Slice the sugar soaked rhubarb and place into a mixing bowl.

 

Long ago, in a far away land . . .

 

Oh, wait, it only seems like that.  

 

When I was a very young girl, my dad kept a small vegetable garden for a few years. While it didn’t seem to last for many years as our family grew, I was young enough to be fascinated with its order. I recall watching Dad as he planted and staked tomatoes then surrounded them by marigolds.  He explained to me that those unique smelling flowers would protect the tomatoes from pests.

 

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Halve the larger strawberries before adding all of the strawberries to the bowl with the rhubarb.

 

One year, I was especially interested in a new plant he was going to grow. Rhubarb.  I had never heard of this plant, and wondered about it as Dad described it as fruit that looked like red celery.  At the time, I was well-acquainted with celery from the holiday “relish trays” my grandmothers and mom made that contained both peanut butter and pimento cheese stuffed celery.  While I never liked the celery, (although I love it now) I would lick the peanut butter off, sneak over to a trash can, and furtively toss the celery!  Dad explained that rhubarb was sour (He may have said tart, but my small mind translated it as sour.) and needed sugar added to it, but that it made good crisps, pies, or cobbler.  I liked desserts, so it sounded like a good food to me!

 

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Combine the fruit mixture ingredients and pour into a prepared square baking dish.

 

I was saddened to learn that we could not eat rhubarb that first year, but instead I would have to wait another year before I could taste it as the plant needed to mature and become established. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much more about Dad’s rhubarb growing beyond one fading memory of Dad bringing a small batch of rhubarb into the house near the end of the school year–so it must have been early to mid-May.  I recall my childlike wonder with its appearance, and my eagerness to eat the pie Mom was going to bake up.

 

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Spread fruit evenly in baking dish.

 

In addition to following Dad around when he was working, I also loved hanging out with my mom in the kitchen.  I am sure I drove her nearly crazy with my incessant chatter and seeming desire to help.  However, my intentions to help were not always pure as I ultimately hoped to taste whatever it was she was making–especially if she was baking!

 

 

Unfortunately, I do not remember much about “helping” mom as she prepared to bake that rhubarb pie. One part that does stand out was the amount of sugar mom added to the bowl.  She explained that rhubarb pie required more sugar than most fruit pies because of its tartness.  That did not seem like a bad thing to me, but as a mom who often tried to limit our sugar intake–and, let’s be honest, with four kids, who would want them all sugared up–she wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of me eating that much sugar.  Still, my dad had fond memories of rhubarb pie and was eager to eat it despite my mom’s mutterings in opposition. 

 

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Spread oat/flour mixture gently over fruit.

 

I have another faded recollection of sitting in our avocado green dine-in kitchen and eagerly awaiting a piece of rhubarb pie.  

 

Did I want ice cream on it?

 

You betcha, I did.  

 

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You will know when the crisp is done because the fruit will be bubbling and the topping will be golden brown.

 

My younger brother did not want to try it at all–he was a bit more picky about what he ate, and our middle sister was a baby/toddler age–still in a high chair, so she did not get any either. (I don’t think our youngest sister had yet been born.)  I sat with my unbreakable Corelle bowl, and took in the vanilla ice cream as it melted over the pie into all those cracks and crevices.  Beyond that, I don’t remember much more than I feel I must have liked it because to this day, I still have positive feelings about rhubarb.

 

 

When I recently saw rhubarb in a local store, along with plenty of red, ripe strawberries, I realized both fruits were in season.  It then occurred to me that recipes often combine the two ingredients for a fresh, plant based treat.  Therefore, I decided it was high time to research and play with rhubarb in honor of Dad’s rhubarb growing and Mom’s pie baking.  Both fruits are in season now through the first half of June, so it’s the perfect time to give this recipe a try!  This is a much lighter dessert than that pie of my childhood, but it earned a tasty stamp of approval from my daughter and husband as well as my taste buds. Let me know what you think.

 

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You’ll know that it’s done when the topping is golden crisp, fruit is bubbling & it looks jammy.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals and/or treats–as the case may be!

 

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients

For filling:

3 cups strawberries, halved if large

3 cups of sliced rhubarb

¼ teaspoon orange extract 

⅓ cup strawberry jam  

2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch (or can substitute 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)

For topping:

1 cup rolled oats (I use gluten-free.)

½  cup sliced almonds or almond meal, or ½ more oats (I chose more oats, but I think almonds would be delightful!)

¼ cup all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten free flour

3 tablespoon softened butter (plant-based if desired) or other vegetable/coconut oil

4 tablespoon maple syrup (Can use date syrup, honey, or agave, if preferred.)

2 medjool dates chopped, optional (Just for a bit extra sweetness if desired.  Can also use 2 teaspoons of date syrup.)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

 

Directions:

Place stalks of rhubarb in a glass with 1-2 tablespoons sugar (maple syrup, honey or agave) in ¼ -½ cup water and allow it to soak overnight, but really 2-4 hours will do it!

When ready to bake:

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Lightly coat a square baking dish (8 x 8, 9 x9 or similar dimensions) with nonstick cooking spray or with a light coating of coconut, vegetable oil, or butter.

Slice presoaked rhubarb, and add to a small mixing bowl.

Halve strawberries, if needed, and add to rhubarb.

Add orange extract, strawberry jam, and arrowroot (or cornstarch) to fruit and gently stir.

Spread fruit mixture into prepared baking dish.

In a separate larger bowl, stir together oats, almonds (if using) and flour.

Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in rest of ingredients, until mixture becomes course and crumbly.

Gently spread oat mixture over fruit.

Place in the oven and allow to bake for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crisp and golden brown.

Serve warm as is or with your favorite topping such as ice cream or whipped topping.

Store leftovers for up to a week in the fridge, or can freeze for up to a month.

Enjoy leftovers gently warmed.  

Makes not only a great dessert or snack, but is also a delicious breakfast!

Makes 6 generous servings, or 9 smaller servings.