Double Chocolate Banana Bread

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Double Chocolate Banana Bread just going into the oven.

Did you know that there will be chocolate in heaven? I have it from a reliable source. (Well, I know it must be somewhere in the Good Book. I don’t have the exact scripture reference handy, but just trust me – it’s in there.)

I logged onto Pinterest today to look for a recipe to take to small group Sunday afternoon. I had planned to make these Coconut Almond Muffins from my friend Tara’s blog but lacked a couple of ingredients and didn’t want to go to the store. (I’m going to try the muffin recipe soon, though.)

On Pinterest, I stumbled across the Smitten Kitchen’s page and, because I hadn’t visited the SK in forever, I browsed. I used to love the SK website – the beautiful photos, the step-by-step recipes, the witty writing – so I lingered for a few minutes. And then I stumbled upon …

… oh, my, dare I say it?

[Cue the music of the angels…]

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

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This is the pan with the nuts. Those white lumps are white chocolate chips. I had a few left in the freezer and decided to finish them off.

My friends, when I can combine two of my favorite things – chocolate and bananas – I need look no further. The angels are tuning up.

This recipe lured me from my typical low-carb, high-protein search because, well, who can resist banana bread with DOUBLE CHOCOLATE in the title?

By the time I needed to start making the recipe, I was tired and just wanted to call it a day, but I decided to put a movie in the VCR and spin back the clock a decade or three to put myself in a good mood.

Yep, one of my favorite movies, Broadcast News, kept me motivated, repeating most of the lines and laughing out loud while I mashed bananas, cracked eggs, measured liquids and sifted dry ingredients. Finally, the “bread” (aka manna from heaven) was in the oven, the movie’s final credits were rolling, and I couldn’t wait to slice a warm piece of this chocolate heavenly mess and let my eyes roll to the back of my head.

I started writing this post before I even took the loaves out of the oven. How could I gush about the recipe before I’d even tasted it? Three reasons:

  1. It’s from the Smitten Kitchen.
  2. The aroma was wafting over here from the oven, and it smelled GOOD.
  3. It’s from the Smitten Kitchen.

As a longtime fan of the Smitten Kitchen, reasons 1 and 3 were enough for me. But now that I have tasted its marvelousness and texted my husband this message: “I just took two loaves of Double Chocolate Banana Bread out of the oven. Holy crap, it’s good,” I can assure you that I’ll be rewarding him with a slice as soon as he gets home from the state track meet. I made two loaves – plenty for small group tomorrow.

I know you wish you were a member of my small group, but you’ll just have to make this recipe for yourself. If you’re a baker, you’ll have everything you need in your cupboard, fridge or freezer. (Note: I doubled the recipe and added walnuts to one of the pans; nuts are not in the original recipe.)

Make it, and let me know how you did. Then we’ll both hear angels singing.

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Suzy & Spice, 6 years and counting

Six years ago last week, Suzy & Spice was born. It was a tentative venture into the blogging world, and I was nervous as I compared myself to friends who blogged. (I still tend to do that, although my confidence in my writing and storytelling has grown.)

This afternoon I have a cake in the oven that makes me reminisce about that first blog post, so I thought I’d hang out on memory lane for a few minutes while I share it with you. Here it is, the inaugural Suzy & Spice post:

Arsenic and Old Spice

(P.S. I am not noted for my gorgeous food photography – I try, but I usually miss; besides, my blog host seems to have done something odd with the size and shape of the cookie photo.)

But I can’t leave you with an archive and nothing else. Here’s the cake I’m about to take out of the oven. I hope they like it at small group this evening:

Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Citrus Glaze

I usually make it with my pan that makes miniature bundt cakes, but today I’m pressed for time (nap time, that is). Today it’s a big bundt cake. I hope you enjoy it!

Suzy & Spice trivia: The name of my blog was supposed to be temporary. Those cookies took a long time to whip up, so I thought of something quick and slapped it on there until I had time to think of something better. It turned out to be one of those things – you know, good intentions with no follow-through. I did try to think of something new, but by the time I realized I wasn’t that creative, the name had stuck. Where did it come from? 1) The spice cookies I was making that night and 2) our dogs, Salsa and Pepper. We call them The Spice Dogs.

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A simple Christmas

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NASB

Christmases in the Oakley house are pretty simple. I would characterize them as more sentimental than material, and for that I’m grateful. Being “poor” in worldly wealth (but not in spirit) has its advantages!

These are some of the things that have allowed me to feel abundantly blessed this Christmas:

SHOPPING

Heavenly Treasures global market at our church. I bought gifts for all the women on the Taylor side of our family (immediately family, that is). All the proceeds go to small-business owners (which may simply mean one artisan struggling to feed her family somewhere in Cambodia, Vietnam or another area where poverty is the norm). Blessings: 1) We bought these gifts for a fraction of what we would have paid in stores; 2) they are handcrafted; 3) most of all, we helped someone who’s hurting in another part of the world.

I also took advantage of a clearance sale online and bought seven copies of a book I read years ago – a book I wish I could give to every woman I know: $5 apiece, one for each woman in the Taylor-Oakley clan.

My stepson, Courtney, who lives in Oklahoma, was blessed recently with a promotion and a good raise, and because one of my main missions in life is to help people be good stewards of their God-given blessings, instead of buying him a gift he doesn’t necessarily need, or writing him a check like we often do at Christmastime, we put money into his savings account at the bank where I work.

When I turned 50 last month, Bruce pooled his money with birthday money from my mom, and he took me to the jewelry store. (This is the type of splurge I rarely indulge in, but I figured a half-century was a special enough occasion.) He helped me pick out a beautiful opal ring. I’ve always loved opal, and this ring is so special to me.

So because we splurged at birthday time, we kept it simple for Christmas, although keeping it simple has always been our norm. We have such abundant blessings throughout the year, we don’t buy much for each other at Christmastime. We also have our anniversary coming up next week, so Bruce suggested we combine the occasions and buy a house gift for ourselves. We really don’t know what that might be, but while we were shopping Saturday for my brother and his stepson, we ran across a DVD copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Bruce is a mixture of realist and sentimentalist, and often the sentimental side wins – he loves the idealism of this movie, and so do I, although I fall closer to the realist side of the fence. And we both love old movies and the great Jimmy Stewart.) So here’s a recap of our conversation in the store when I picked up the movie:

Me: “Do we have this on DVD?”
Bruce: “I don’t think we have it on DVD or anything else.”
Me: “Household gift. Ten dollars.”
Bruce: “Great.”

End of conversation. End of Christmas shopping for Bruzy. Simple.

This type of Christmas spirit allows me to breathe during the holidays, because I hate shopping. It’s a little easier at Christmas because then I’m shopping for others, but I still would rather sit near a sunny window with a good book than fight the crowds at the shopping center.

MUSIC

I could listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. Oh, what am I saying – I do listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. You might hear “Tennessee Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven” or “Welcome to our World” in my car during the blazing heat of July. To me, these songs and albums are timeless and always a breath of fresh air. Each album is better than the last, and she includes some incredibly beautiful pieces in the mix. The last album, “A Christmas to Remember,” is especially full of pieces that cause me to stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving), close my eyes and savor every note. I also tend to wear out my Christmas albums by: Collin Raye, Andrea Bocelli, The Carpenters, and John Denver & the Muppets. Heck, even the classically trained Bocelli sings with Miss Piggy on his album. My favorite Christmas song? “Oh Holy Night,” especially Martina McBride’s beautiful rendition. Bruce’s favorite? “Silent Night” – and John and the Muppets do a pretty good job of that, singing it first in German (the language it was written in), then English. Bocelli sings it in three languages.

MOVIES/TV SPECIALS

Since we canceled our satellite service in August, I didn’t get to watch wall-to-wall Food Network like I love to do between October and December, and I didn’t get to OD on the sappy movies on Hallmark Channel, but we still have the good ol’ standbys on VHS (taped from TV in the mid-1980s) and a few on DVD. Another challenge this year: Bruce and I had about four weeks to pull together the White River Christmas Half-Marathon & Relay (long story), and my only Christmas-special “viewing” would fall more into the category of background noise. Nevertheless, I got to listen to these as I did my half-marathon work or cooked for family: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown (I love Linus’ soliloquy on “what Christmas is all about”), and my favorite, the Grinch (another lesson on the true meaning of Christmas, plus it rhymes!). I also had these movies in the VCR: “Christmas in Connecticut” (my favorite Christmas movie, but only the Barbara Stanwyck version) and “White Christmas” – “snow, snow, snow, snow!” I think I even listened to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” early in the season. Oh, I almost forgot: I did get to sit and watch an entire movie, start to finish, when Bruce and I spent Dec. 23 with Mom watching the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” (The 1994 version isn’t quite as good as the original, but the cute little girl and the beautiful scenery [and wardrobe] make up for it.) Movies I didn’t get to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” (There’s still time, right?)

FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)

Our two fur-babies are … well, my babies. I have a stepson, but I never gave birth to children of my own, and Salsa and Pepper warm my heart every day, even 30 seconds after they’ve infuriated me by wetting the carpet, barking incessantly or begging for snacks. We call our girls The Spice Dogs, and when I created this blog in 2007, they were part of the inspiration for the name (I was also baking spice cookies that evening). They’re good help around the kitchen, too: When I drop a bit of food while chopping, mincing or mixing, they rush to help me clean it up.

FAMILY (HUMAN)

I’m writing this on Christmas morning, 10 a.m. (savoring a steamy and wonderful cup of coffee with my favorite flavored creamer). We’ve spoken to some family members by phone today but haven’t gathered for the big celebration yet. We’ll go to Mom’s later for a feast of food and fellowship (more on the food below). I look forward to seeing those I rarely see throughout the year because of busyness, physical distance or, dare I say, apathy (on my part as much as anyone’s).

Bruce has been sick the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out why this cold/sinus junk has caused me more worry than other recent minor ailments. And why I might have seemed to overreact yesterday when he wanted to run a longer distance than I thought he should. Could it be that we’re “overdue” for a Crohn’s flare-up? The average for Crohn’s patients is 5 years, and his latest flare-up started in 2007 (and I did not marry an “average” guy!). I realize that it’s insane to worry – God has us covered. I suppose it’s just an opportunity to flex my trust muscles; after all, He is the Great Physician.

On Christmas Eve, Bruce got an opportunity to be the social guy that he is. We started with an afternoon run with some dear friends, the Tuckers; a family member, Bill, from out of town whom we had never had the opportunity to run with before; an awesome running buddy, Rita – who is growing to be a great running partner for me because, even though she’s a lot faster, she is sweetly willing to hang back with me, the slow one. She and I have had some great conversations, and she’s really fun (yesterday, we conspired to pretend we ran up a crazy hill when we saw Bruce and Shane – and I swear it was her idea! Unfortunately, we topped the hill and the guys hadn’t paid a bit of attention to us!).

I should have a separate category called Family (Running), because our running family is really precious to us. No space today to count all the ways, but in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll mention the great run last Tuesday night before our Roadrunners club Christmas party. Again, the speedsters took off without Slow Suzy, but Rita stayed behind with me. (She has a good heart.) On another note, I loved being able to attend a Christmas party in my sweaty leggings, running shirt and sports watch. (That’s just the way we roll!) This was only three days after my work Christmas party, which was beautiful and wonderful (except for the slightly inebriated Santa), but for which I made a most unfortunate choice of shoes, one of which had to come off before the party was over because my left foot was killing me!

But back to the main topic: Family (Human). After our run, I rushed to get clean and start the pecan pies, which needed to be out of the oven by 4:45 so we could attend the Christmas Eve service at Mom’s church. This church service has become a bit of a tradition for Bruce and me, starting even before we moved here in 2010. West Baptist always has a beautiful Christmas Eve service (which could also fall under the Music category). As I was whipping up the filling for the pies, I realized that someone had put the vanilla extract bottle into the cupboard with about three drops of extract remaining. (Seriously, who would do that?) Mom – on speed dial – to the rescue. Fortunately she’s less than a mile away. I sent Bruce over there, told him not to stop by our church to make sure the bathrooms were clean (part of his job), not to pass Go, not to collect $200. Just get back here with the vanilla. And he did.

The pies? Well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I had to leave them in the oven (turned off) and put them back on to bake after all the evening’s festivities. I’m still not sure they’re quite right. But I’m also pretty sure no one will leave the table hungry this afternoon, pecan pies or no.

But wait! There’s more! (Isn’t there always?)

After the service at West, we went to my Aunt Pat’s across the street from our house. Her son-in-law, the aforementioned Bill (running buddy from out of town), had requested a family get-together in the spirit of the old days (the old days of our family, that is). Aunt Pat’s relatives from both sides gathered in her kitchen, which is only cramped when lots of relatives visit. Strange, she noted, we have all this space in the rest of the house, but everyone congregates in the kitchen and dining room. Not strange to me at all – Aunt Pat makes some of the best holiday treats west of the Mississippi. Can you say peanut butter fudge?

And then … we left that party to go to our church, Fellowship Bible Church in the old Landers Theater on Main Street. Whereas the West Baptist celebration was bright, colorful and upbeat, the Fellowship service was quiet, candlelit and reverent. Both services were full of beautiful music, and each was unique and meaningful in its own way. Each service fed my spirit and focused light on the One whose birth we celebrate, and whose Light takes away the darkness.

The Oakleys ended the evening together quietly – mama in her kerchief (OK, a red plaid flannel PJ shirt) and papa in his cap (his ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt), with one of the fur-children nestled under her bed down the hall and the other one begging for belly rubs. Both two-legged Oakleys spent the next hour reading, growing sleepy and sipping … okay, people, I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t sipping a picture-perfect mug of steamy hot chocolate. I was indulging in a 10 p.m. glass of diet Coke, which I rarely drink after 3 p.m. And Bruce was sipping apple juice or water or something.

Now back to our fantasy.

FOOD

Three things I almost insist on having at Thanksgiving and Christmas are pecan pie, Cranberry Salad (made with red gelatin, apples, oranges, pineapple and pecans) and Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. (As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have an Aunt Pearl and have no idea who she is, but we loooove her hash-brown casserole!) And because I’m the one who has a strong need for these three dishes, I’ve become the designated maker of them. How else am I going to be sure it happens? The pies … we’ll see. (Dec. 29 update: Let’s just call them “pie soup” and be done with it.) The cranberry stuff is ready, and the potatoes will go into the oven soon.

I also have a year-round craving to bake, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often anymore, so the holidays are when I get to indulge in that. Even when I’m tired, baking sweet treats, breads, even pizza dough, makes me very, very happy.

And then there are the dirty dishes. But since this is a post about counting blessings, being with family and remembering our Savior’s birth, we’ll skip over that part.

Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)

Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast? Yeah, me, too.

REMEMBRANCES

My dad died 15 years ago this week. Every Dec. 23, I think about the day he died. That was a day full of pain and sadness, but knowing that my dad knew Jesus makes it so much easier. Even on that day, we had a measure of indescribable peace knowing he was no longer in pain (the pain my brother and I had known him to have our entire lives) and he is with Jesus now. Dad had told a relative just that morning that he was ready to go and was not afraid to die. None of us knew then that this would be his last day on earth. But we have the hope that surpasses all human ability to understand, and that’s because we know the Savior he rests with now.

Dad died 11 days before my wedding. In the ICU, when we weren’t sure whether he could hear us or not, as I held his hand I told him he needed to stick around and give me away next week, that I wasn’t ready to let go of him. But the Father had other plans, and Dad was gone within a couple of hours. That’s OK. My plans aren’t necessarily God’s plans, and His ways are not always my ways. He is sovereign, He is wise and He is, above all, GOOD. He takes care of us, even when we don’t always like how He goes about it. But even amid the not-liking, we had blessings: My Uncle Charles and Aunt Pat, who had just arrived at their daughter Kathy’s house in South Carolina when they got the news of Dad’s death in the evening, turned right around the next morning and drove back to Arkansas. They were here in time for his funeral. Now, that’s family.

God has blessed me with good family, good friends, a good job, an abundance of physical comforts (too much sometimes) and an ever-increasing awareness of just how good He really is. I thank Him for everyone He has put into my life, whether it’s to teach me, to reach me or just to bless me with caring and warmth.

As we celebrate His incarnate presence on the earth, may each of you feel His love, remember His sacrifice and give your life to Him.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

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The wait is over – but not the weight

It’s time to get back to blogging.

(I know you’ve been on the edge of your chair in anticipation of my next post. You can relax. Here it is.)

I’ve missed writing, but, to be honest, even though my class has been over for three weeks, my brain hasn’t caught up yet. I’m still mentally and physically tired.

So today I’m just going to tell you my weight (haven’t done that in months) and consider this my leap back into the blogosphere.

Yesterday I weighed 178, but this morning I weighed 178.5.

We’re in a Biggest Loser competition again at work. Week 1 was really good for me. I lost about 7.5 pounds. I say “about” because before the first weigh-in I had eaten breakfast, and before the second weigh-in I hadn’t. Not eating before a weigh-in is my typical practice. I usually visit McDonald’s on those mornings, take my breakfast to work, weigh-in, then eat.

In the past it was on Indulge Fridays, but this group decided to weigh in on Mondays, so I changed my splurge day to Indulge Monday. I weigh in and then eat what I want the rest of the day – within reason.

But yesterday, after having some lightheadedness Thursday and Bruce suggesting I might be low on iron, I decided that was an excuse for a drive-through hamburger. I hadn’t had one in so long I had forgotten what I was missing. Truth is, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to. That’s a good thing – means I won’t be tempted to do it very often. What I really wanted was a good ribeye steak, but I didn’t see how I could get one on a quick lunch break. So I drove through Wendy’s and indulged.

Now that that’s over, I’m mostly back on track. This morning after our two-mile race we walked over to the local grocery and got an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit. Then I had chicken for lunch – a great recipe I’ll post soon – and a vegan brownie.

So here I am rambling on and on when I said I was just gonna post my weight. But you knew I couldn’t stop there. When I talk about my “journey to fitness,” I get wordy. You know I do that, but you still love me, right? You love Suzy & Spice so much you’re willing to put up with my rambling! Thanks. I appreciate it.

The wait is over. But not the weight.

Stay tuned for more rambles.

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Holy cow! I’m in chocolate heaven!

I’ve been OD’ing on chocolate this weekend.

On Food Network, that is. I can’t say that I’ve indulged in much of the actual substance lately (yeah, chocolate is a substance for me – but not a controlled substance, if you know what I mean, so I have to be careful how much I keep around the house).

Because Valentine’s Day is just a couple of days away, my favorite TV network has been spreading it on thick. Many of my favorite Food Net stars have episodes this weekend dedicated to gooey, dark, wonderful, sweet (and even savory!) bits of chocolate perfection. And since my household recently upgraded to DVR service, I can watch these shows in less time because I can skip the commercials!

But who am I kidding? I have spent just as much time watching them without the commercials because I keep rewinding through the good parts. The many, many good and gooey parts …

Am I beginning to sound obsessed? Well … maybe just a little. (Any chocoholic should understand.)

Tonight, during Alton Brown’s special, Good Eats: Turn on the Dark, I nearly got up from my chair (where I ostensibly was working on our taxes), whipped out my stand mixer and started pulling out the butter and cocoa powder. But I didn’t.

I am trying to lose weight, after all.

That’s why I was so excited when my sweet friend – or should I say my sweets-loving friend – Betsy gave me her recipe for vegan brownies, along with all the ingredients to make them. No baking required.

Betsy had offered me one of these brownies a couple of months ago, on the drive back from Hot Springs (where she won some running awards). It was love at first bite – not only because they tasted good but because they were made with such good-for-you ingredients. So I made them last weekend and took one to work with me every day. I emailed Betsy and told her they got me through a very stressful week (big deadline at work, plus my mom was in the hospital).

I know what you’re thinking: “Vegan brownies? I don’t think so.”

That is, if you even know what vegan means. A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is a vegetarian on steroids (OK, not literally; that would defeat the purpose). A vegan not only doesn’t eat animals (or, as Mr. Rogers would say, “anything that had a mother”), he or she doesn’t eat products that come from animals – meaning no eggs or dairy. Some (all?) vegans will not wear clothing or use other products that came from animals.

I’m sure some vegan foods are not as delicious as the typical American would like for them to be, but I believe that many non-vegans (like me) would enjoy these brownies; heck, some of you may even be as enthusiastic as I am about them. Give them a try. You don’t even have to turn on your oven (but you will have to clean your food processor).

Note 1: Betsy brought me certain ingredients that I’m quite sure she bought in Little Rock; I’ve never seen pure stevia extract at a store in Batesville (you can buy the less-intense kind at just about any store here, though), and I’m thinkin’ cacao nibs would be on that list, too. But you can improvise or make a shopping list for your next trip to the big city.

Note 2: I found that these weren’t very thick in my 8×8-inch pan, so I made a second batch and spread them a little thicker. Feel free to experiment; the original thickness may be just fine for you.

Give these a chance, and let me know what you think.

Vegan Brownies

(All ingredients preferably organic, but you can substitute where necessary.)

1 cup walnuts
8 large OR 12 medium-size pitted dates (about 1 cup)
5 tablespoons cacao powder
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 packet pure stevia extract (powder)
pinch salt
1-2 tablespoons cacao nibs (for sprinkling on top)

In food processor, grind walnuts into a “flour” (until it’s fine but grainy). Add dates and grind until mixture is relatively smooth (it will still be grainy).

Add remaining ingredients and mix in processor until well blended. Spread in ungreased 8×8-inch pan. Press cacao nibs on top.

Store in refrigerator.

If we hadn’t eaten all the brownies I were a really good photographer, I would have a great picture of this wonderful dish. But I am not, and I do not. Use your imagination. Or just make the brownies. Then you’ll know why there are none left. And if you make them and don’t like them, just drop them by the Oakley house; we’ll be happy to solve that problem for ya.

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Sweet Potato Waffles

Waffle lovers, try this recipe by my favorite Food Network chef, Alton Brown.

I made these a couple of Saturdays ago just for the sake of trying a new recipe (you know how much I love to do that!), and they were yummy for my tummy. Bruce liked them, too, although he is not one to rave about such simple pleasures as a breakfast waffle.

I like that the recipe uses sweet potatoes, which are so good for you. You can’t really taste the sweet potatoes – they simply give regular ol’ waffles an extra depth of flavor.

Of course I’ve modified it just a bit, as I often do.

Sweet Potato Waffles

1½ cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour OR 1½ cups all-purpose and ½ cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup milk
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup melted butter
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
Vegetable spray, for waffle iron

Cooking the potatoes Alton’s way: Put cubed sweet potatoes in a steamer basket. Place the basket in a large pot of simmering water that is no closer than 2 inches from the bottom of steamer. Allow potatoes to steam for 20 minutes or until fork tender. Mash cooked potatoes and set aside.

Cooking the potatoes, Suzy’s version: Cook sweet potatoes in a pot of water until tender (the way you normally cook them – you can even microwave them). Mash and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In another bowl, combine sweet potatoes, milk, brown sugar, butter and grated orange rind. Stir this mixture into flour mixture, and thoroughly combine.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually fold egg whites into batter, 1/3 at a time. The batter will be thick (mine wasn’t that thick, but they turned out fine). Pour batter onto a preheated, oiled waffle iron, and cook until lightly browned, about 5-6 minutes. (Makes 8 waffles.)

Serve with butter and maple syrup. YUM!

After you make these, which are perfect for a holiday brunch, let me know how you and your family liked them.

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Basic pizza dough (with cheese!)

I dug out my yummy pizza dough recipe this morning.

I thought I had posted it here last year, but when I did a search (after spending 15 minutes trying to find the Search widget and putting it back on my home page – it’s at the top left), I discovered that I had not shared this great recipe with you.

Don’t you think it’s about time I started sharing recipes again? I’m constantly on the prowl for good ones. And, be honest, don’t you simply exist for the day you see a new recipe on my blog?

I had been buying chef Shane’s homemade crust from the Argenta farmers market on Saturday mornings, but some days he didn’t make the crust (too many other great baked goods to prepare), some days I got there after they sold out, and I finally realized I don’t have to go to the CAFM every single Saturday morning.

Shane’s pizza crust is awesome, but why not make my own, especially when I have such a yummy recipe? (OK, yes, it’s easier to buy someone else’s crust, but that takes all the fun out of baking!)

So here you go, a basic pizza crust with cheese inside! Later I’ll post the chicken fajita pizza recipe that I created last year. I need to modify the recipe a bit before I post it (I think I left some ingredients off the scrap of paper I composed it on!).

Basic Pizza Dough

1 tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for kneading dough OR
¾ cup whole-wheat flour, ¼ cup bread flour and 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix yeast and lukewarm water in small bowl. Let sit 5-10 minutes. The yeast will dissolve and become foamy.

Put flour, salt, sugar, Parmesan and garlic powder into bowl of food processor. Pulse a few times to mix.

Mix dissolved yeast mixture with 1 cup lukewarm water. Turn on food processor. Pour water and yeast into food processor through hole in top. Let machine run until dough makes a ball. If dough is too sticky to make a ball, add a little more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it forms a ball. Take dough out of processor and knead on floured countertop until dough is very smooth.

Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into medium bowl and swirl it around until bowl is coated. Place dough ball into bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place about 1 hour. Dough should double in size.

Remove plastic wrap from bowl. Using your fist, press all air out of dough. Dough is now ready to roll out and prepare according to pizza recipe. (NOTE: You can wrap dough in plastic wrap and keep it refrigerated 1 to 2 hours before making pizza.)

Preheat oven to 425° F. Grease pan with olive oil. Spread dough in pan, and prick with fork. Spread light layer of olive oil over dough, and sprinkle with oregano (for chicken fajita pizza, skip this step). Bake 10 minutes.

Remove dough from oven, cover with toppings and bake another 10-15 minutes, until dough is done and cheese is melted.

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Random thoughts 09/12/09

I got e-mail from my cousin Teri tonight, and she mentioned that she still checks my blog for news occasionally. I’m surprised anyone still checks, because I haven’t been posting much lately, mainly because I don’t have a lot of time to devote to one particular subject.

I’ve had a lot of ideas but none that could be summed up briefly in a post that wouldn’t put you to sleep. So tonight I’m just going to share snippets of what’s been going on in and around me lately:

  • My good friend Lynn’s husband, Doug, died this week. He was only 41 and left behind a wonderful wife and two kids, Doug and Jake. They’re still in shock; pray for them. (Lynn’s mom died last year, so this must be doubly devastating for her.) Lynn and Doug would have celebrated 19 years of marriage next month. Bruce and I had only just met Doug six months ago, when Jacob was in the state spelling bee (he took 7th place). Bruce had met Lynn only once – at Dad’s funeral in 1997. But when we got together for lunch after the spelling bee, we all hit it off, especially Bruce and the kids. The boys are very smart, and it was obvious their dad was very proud of them.
  • Two couples from my church family lost sons this week. One died in a car wreck, and I’m not sure about the other, as that family had begun attending Fellowship in Little Rock and I had lost track of them. Losing a child comes with its own special kind of pain – pain that I can’t even imagine. Pray for the Holaways and the Carltons. Another friend from church lost a sister. Pray for the Palmers.
  • My high school typing teacher, Mrs. Seibert, died this morning. She was a unique character and well loved by her students. If you were on her good side on a particular day, you were a “dumplin’,” but if you messed up you were a “donkey.” No matter which name she called you, you knew it was a term of endearment. I can still hear the way she said it, in that throaty voice with a Southern twang. Click here to read a tale one former BHS student told about Mrs. Seibert last year. (You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find his March 12, 2008, post.)
  • We had to pony up $2,100 on car repairs this week, and the guy who fixed it recommended another repair that will cost at least a few hundred more. ARRGH! On the bright side, this was the first major repair we’ve had to have done on this car, which is eight years old (we’ve owned it for three). And a repair bill sure beats monthly car payments.
  • I haven’t posted about this because life was too hectic at the time, but I started working on a second degree this summer. My hope is to get a bachelor’s degree, or at least an associate’s, in business (so I can find a job in Batesville and we can be near my mom, brother and lots of other family). I took Accounting I at the local community college, and I enrolled in Accounting II but had to withdraw the first week of classes because …
  • In early August I started experiencing some heart problems related to my October 2008 diagnosis of mitral valve prolapse. They strapped a bunch of electrodes on me for 24 hours of EKG monitoring, but that didn’t tell them enough, so now I have a monitor that I keep with me for 30 days and record any “event” that I deem significant. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you consider that they charged me more than $900 for it the minute it was in my possession), I stopped having the major pounding episodes within 24 hours of getting the 30-day monitor. I still have a couple of weeks to go, but the worries have stopped. All my “episodes” the past two weeks have been mild – no worse than the usual ones I’ve been having for a long time. I think most of the recent symptoms were stress related, partly because …
  • Bruce has been fighting a urinary tract infection and prostatitis for the past couple of months. We spent a few hours in the ER on July 3 (because it was a Friday before a holiday weekend and all his doctors’ offices were closed) after his temperature hit 103. He’s been taking antibiotics and another new drug (new to us) ever since. He’s been having to give blood and urine samples every couple of weeks.
  • One of Bruce’s maintenance meds, Cimzia, may soon become a thing of the past for us. We had been getting it at no charge because after he lost his job our income plummeted and we were considered a charity case. Now that he has started drawing Social Security, the drug company may drop us from the program. But even though our income has gone up a bit, we won’t be able to afford the once-a-month injections, which cost $1,800 (yes, $1,800 for one shot in the stomach once a month!).

I guess that’s enough depressing news. What’s something cheerful I can tell you? Um …

  • I’ve been baking again. That makes me happy! 🙂 (I have to tell you, I feel a little guilty about the happy thoughts, in light of all the sad news around me this week.)
  • Bruce’s birthday is Tuesday (9/15). He’ll be 50! Mom, J.T. and I pitched in and got him a 12-string guitar. He’d been wanting one for a long time, and we gave it to him early. He’s been so happy playing that thing; he has played it just about every day since he got it. And I found the perfect T-shirt to go with it. It has a little stick man playing the guitar and smiling hugely, and it says “Life is good.” The shirt came in just one color: green, which is Bruce’s fave. And the skinny little stick man looks just like him!
  • On the recommendation of my cousin Pam, I checked out a great book from the library: “Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces.” It’s the sequel to “Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens.” It has made me start thinking about growing plants (both flowers and vegetables) that I’ve never grown before. I went to the local garden center first thing this morning and just walked around and took notes, then I went to the library and checked out some gardening encyclopedias and I came home and started doing some Internet research. Oh, but before that I bought a couple of pretty pots and a couple of new mums. I bought a pretty little pot and a little bronze-colored mum for the kitchen, and it looks so sweet in there, because …
  • We got new kitchen counter tops this summer. Yes, after 10 years of looking at those 1972 green counter tops that we had been planning to replace ever since we bought the house, we finally had the money to do it, because …
  • We refinanced the mortgage and used a little bit of the equity to make a few home improvements. We not only replaced the counter tops, we bought paint. Bruce is painting the kitchen cabinets white (before-and-after photos to come, but not until it’s all finished and beautiful), and we painted the laundry room, because …
  • We got new linoleum downstairs in the laundry room, spare bathroom and hallway. Maybe I’ll post before-and-after pictures of the laundry room when I’m not so tired. It looks great down there, too. The old flooring was also from 1972 (gold and dirty). The laundry room was yellow, and now it’s blue (my favorite color) and white, and it looks so clean and bright. I replaced the really old curtains with a nice, crisp white pair. I love it!
  • Our women’s group at church is starting a new Beth Moore Bible study on Monday. I’m so excited, because it’s about my favorite book of the Bible: Esther. The last Beth Moore study I got to participate in was on Daniel, and it was awesome! I can’t wait to dive into “Esther: It’s Tough Being a Woman.”

And that is where I’m going to end this post – on a happy, positive note. Because, despite all the hard things that have happened this year, I know I can still put my trust in the One who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

God is good.

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Maple almond-butter cookies

also your first look at my new countertops!
Have a cookie and a smile.

Friends, baking with healthy ingredients can be a delicious way to satisfy your sweet tooth, I am here to tell you.

You may be skeptical of the recipe I’m about to give you, but try it before you rush to judgment. Ever since I ran across it on the blog I discovered recently (while trying to find a description of Sucanat, an ingredient mentioned occasionally in Clean Eating magazine), I had been dying to bake these almond-butter cookies sweetened with maple syrup. Today I finally had the opportunity.

Not a stick o’ butter, a teaspoon of refined sugar or even a drop of egg is included in these cookies. And, trust me, after seeing the movie Julie & Julia a couple of days ago  (and watching Kate & Leopold on TV that night), “rich, creamery buttah” was on my mind!

But these cookies are a healthy alternative to the baked goods I usually make. I am not quite of the Paula Deen and Julia Child variety (“You can never have too much butter”), but I definitely like the stuff.

So I was happily surprised when Bruce and I sampled the first cookie a few minutes after I pulled them out of the oven.

And, just so you know, I’m adding Sweet & Natural to my blogroll at right.

The blog is right up my alley. In fact, it’s the blog I had imagined I might someday write, if I had the time (and money) to experiment as much as the author does with different ingredients and recipes. I have long wanted to come up with a way to turn my love for baking into something healthy.

I bake because it gives me a sense of “home and hearth” (and, frankly, because I like the accolades I get when someone tastes my sweet confections), but all too often my recipes are laden with unhealthy ingredients, simply because it’s easier to find those recipes.

But I am no longer willing to settle for that for my family or for myself. We all (except Bruce) could stand to lose a few pounds and clean up our eating habits. And, as Ashley of Sweet & Natural has proved, you don’t have to trade taste for healthy.

I have a heart condition that the doctor says he doesn’t think is caused by overweight, but who really knows? There’s no clear-cut cause for mitral valve prolapse that I’ve been able to discover.

And because I’m 30-40 pounds overweight (I know, I know, I don’t look that heavy, but my height disguises some of it) and have been having more noticeable palpitations and shortness of breath lately, it’s time to stop dabbling in healthy eating and get serious. Being overweight puts extra strain on my delicate little heart valve.

Last week I wore a portable EKG monitor for 24 hours, and I will get the results in a few days. Even if the doc doesn’t report any serious concerns, it’s still time to quit messing around and cut out the unhealthy fats and sugars. It’s a process that will take some time, some retraining of taste buds and a lot of commitment – but it’s well worth the journey.

Friends, even if you don’t have any health issues and you don’t feel the need to “clean up” your eating, try these cookies. It will be worth your time – and the effort it takes to find the ingredients you may not keep in your pantry routinely (natural almond butter, real maple syrup, whole wheat flour).

I have made a couple of tiny modifications, but I don’t think the author would mind. See her original recipe here.

Maple Almond Butter Cookies

1/2 cup natural almond butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine almond butter, maple syrup, canola oil and almond extract until well blended.  In a separate bowl, mix together pastry flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, along with chopped almonds, and stir until just combined.  Let sit for 5 minutes.

Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls, flatten to about 1/3 inch and place onto cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes.  Makes 18 cookies.

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Random thoughts

My fans (all three of you people who read my blog) have been admonishing me to publish something. I haven’t posted in a while, but not for lack of wanting to. I’ve just been extremely laz — err, busy.

So, while I wait for my mom’s tax return to finish printing, I’ll grace you with some of the fascinating things I have been doing, thinking or saying lately:

  • After two weeks of working on it in spurts, I have finally finished Mom’s tax return. No, you cannot borrow money from her. Because she helped her children so much last year, there is nothing left to loan. Thanks, Mom. We owe you.
  • I chopped off my fingernails the other day to get better at the little game on my new cell phone that I am obsessed with (the game, not the phone), and it didn’t make one bit of difference. Even with nails cut to the nub, I am still pitiful at batting a little ball with a paddle at a bunch of electronic bricks.
  • I make up little songs, sometimes to amuse Bruce, sometimes to amuse myself. Frequently these little ditties are about the dogs. Almost all of them are about what I happen to be doing at the time I sing them. If Bruce isn’t amused, he doesn’t let me know it. He makes up random funny songs, too. We’re weird together.
  • I would love to be in a musical. Like South Pacific, The Music Man, Oklahoma! or my favorite, Camelot. Or how about The Sound of Music II: Suzl, the Forgotten von Trapp? I would be great in that! Not that I can sing.
  • Although Saturday night was an exception (I went to bed at 7:30), I have been staying up until nearly 10:30 lately! (I don’t think I’ve adjusted to daylight saving time yet.) Still, unless you’re my mother, my brother or my husband, or you’re bleeding from both eyes, don’t call me after 9 p.m., even on weekends. I will be mad at you.
  • It’s spring! And I pulled weeds this weekend (both days). And when I got tired of pulling the little suckers, there were still a BUNCH of them left. Today after I got tired and decided not to pull any more weeds, two neighbor boys rode their bikes up to my driveway and asked me if I had any work for them. Now I’m $10 poorer, but my rose bed looks a lot better. They want to come and mow the lawn in a few days. I think I’ll let them. (Note to self: Restock the Popsicle stash.)
  • I LOVE seeing kids take some initiative and get out and earn some money instead of sitting on their bee-hinds in front of the TV or a computer.
  • The dogs finally got baths today. This hadn’t happened since (don’t tell anyone) November. Salsa didn’t like it, but she didn’t bite me once!
  • My friend Lynn, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago (yikes, it’s been nearly three months!), is going to share the Basket-A-Month with me this year. Next weekend is the pickup. SPRING VEGETABLES! FARM-FRESH EGGS, HOMEMADE PASTA! SOURDOUGH BREAD! I’M YELLING BECAUSE I’M DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY!!!!! And Lynn said she’d bring me some of her asparagus and a couple of good recipes. Double happiness!
  • Baseball season is almost upon us, and I’m thinking of Travelers and sunshine. And hot dogs, which absolutely must be consumed at baseball games, no matter what.
  • I’m reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which I started reading in college but never finished. My favorite journalism professor recommended it, although it was not required reading. I didn’t do a lot of extracurricular reading in college. I was too busy with the school newspaper and reading for classes. But I’m enjoying this book once again, and I’m determined to finish it this time.
  • I have new flip-flops. They’re black. Well, they’re sort of brown now, because of the weed-pulling.
  • I’m supposed to be making a blackberry-jam cake for my neighbor, who’s going to pay me for it, but she didn’t give me a deadline and I keep putting it off. It’s the pressure. She had one at a friend’s out of town, and it was to-die-for delicious, and I’ve had to Google to find a recipe that seems to approximate what she had. So, pressure. Which makes me procrastinate.
  • More pressure: My church is doing a 25th-anniversary cookbook, and I’m supposed to provide a recipe for my “signature” dish, and I can’t decide whether to share my recipe for carrot cake, which I make money from, or be selfish and keep it to myself. My other cake recipe that gets rave reviews is from Paula Deen, and I want to make sure we won’t be violating any copyrights before I share it. It’s called White Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Filling. It’s lick-the-bottom-of-the-pan good. I don’t think I’ve shared photos of it that I took when I was making business cards year before last. So let’s end this on a happy foodnote:

white_chocolate_cake1

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