A hummus (made easy) for every taste

I’m partnering with Bush Brothers for this post, but all the opinions are mine. Good thing for Bush’s, because I loved this stuff!

Hummus Made Easy_R

I never met a hummus I didn’t like. I’m sure there’s one out there somewhere, but I just haven’t found it.

One of my favorite things on earth – garlic – is one of the key ingredients, so you’d think I would be an old pro at making hummus. I had never tried until recently, though. Why?

Tahini.

I live in a small town. Who would imagine I could find tahini just by browsing the aisles of my local supermarket? Not me!

Lucky for me (and you), Bush’s has a workaround for that:

Hummus Made Easy!

YOU HAD ME AT GARLIC

With any of the three varieties of Bush’s Hummus Made Easy® – Classic, Roasted Red Pepper and Southwest Black Bean (all found in the bean section at Walmart) – you can fancy it up or party down with it, and all you have to do is open a can of beans, add a packet of the Hummus mix and puree them until smooth. All the ingredients (tahini – and garlic – included) are right there in the foil pouch ($1.97 at my Walmart).

I experimented with all three flavors and came up with some creative ways to prepare and serve, but the point is that Bush’s has made it super-duper easy … and delicious!

Confession: I was tempted to add a little extra garlic to each, but that’s because I have a screw loose when it comes to garlic. One of my favorite mottos is, “There’s no such thing as too much garlic.” My husband disagrees, and most normal people would enjoy the Bush’s products just fine with no added garlic.

I got so inspired with this product, I talked my mom into making a silent movie with me. Check it out:

The first Hummus Made Easy flavor I tried was the Classic. All it took was a can of Bush’s garbanzo beans (some people call ’em chickpeas) and a pouch of the Classic. But then I got a creative (OK, I stole the idea from Bush’s website) and added a couple of tablespoons of blue cheese. Well, my friends, that put an already delicious batch of hummus over the top.

The best part? The natural ingredients, with no preservatives. (The only thing I would’ve left out if making these dips from scratch is the sugar; I don’t find it necessary.)

I served it (who am I kidding – I didn’t’ serve it; I stood at the sink and snarfed it down) with vegetables: fresh asparagus spears (blanched) cucumbers, celery and carrots. I can’t think of a crunchy vegetable that wouldn’t go well with it. But I also bought a package of pita pockets, cut them into wedges, brushed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with garlic and sea salt, then baked them until crisp.

HummusMadeEasyWithPitaChipsReeDish_goodI couldn’t stop there, so I whipped out my Pioneer Woman cookbooks and found a couple of yummy recipes to try with the Southwest Black Bean Hummus Made Easy.

With the Chipotle Chicken Chili, I made a few modifications. You can find Ree’s version here, but this is where we differed:

  • I left out the beer. (I was supposed to substitute an equal amount of broth, but I forgot and it was still great. In fact, my husband likes his soups and chilies thick, so it was a win. If you like yours less thick, add 12 ounces of liquid, such as chicken broth, or don’t drain the canned beans.)
  • I toned down the spices because Bush’s Southwest Black Bean hummus mix is spicy, and my mom doesn’t like really spicy foods. I used less chili powder and only one chipotle pepper.
  • I left out the masa harina. (No need for the extra carbs to thicken the chili; I pureed one can of the beans rather than leaving them whole – in effect, I was using the hummus as an ingredient – and that thickened things up nicely.)
  • I used Greek yogurt, rather than sour cream. I’ve been doing that for years (it’s healthier).

So I’m presenting you with my own version of the chili, but click the link above if you want to view The Pioneer Woman’s original recipe. (By the way, most of the dishes in my photos here and on social media are Pioneer Woman’s, and you can buy those beautiful pieces at Walmart, too; that is not the focus of this post, however.)

Chipotle Chicken Chili made with Bush’s Hummus Made Easy

Chipotle Chicken Chili made with Bush’s Hummus Made Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 whole onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
  • 12 ounces of chicken broth or other liquid (or leave it out if you like chili thick)
  • 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1-3 whole chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
  • 14-ounce can black beans, pureed with Bush’s Southwest Black Bean Hummus Made Easy
  • 14-ounce can pinto beans, drained
  • 14-ounce can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Greek yogurt, for serving
  • Grated sharp Cheddar cheese, for serving
  • Cilantro (another one of my all-time faves), for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat, then add onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until onions soften. Add chicken, and cook until lightly browned. Add 3/4 of the chicken broth or other liquid (if using), reserving the rest, then cook for a couple of minutes to reduce.
  2. Add tomatoes, chipotles, beans (including pureed), chili powder, cumin and salt. Stir to combine, then cover pot and cook 1 hour.
  3. Serve with Greek yogurt, cheese and cilantro.
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Update since I first published this post: I took all three versions of Bush’s Hummus Made Easy® (just bowls of hummus with plates of veggies and pita chips) to my church small-group meeting, and even those who “don’t like hummus” positively raved over the dips – all three varieties! One guy even made a point to tell me to pass along that he typically will not eat hummus but loved these dishes.

You can find some of Bush’s creative recipes and inspiration here.

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Project stirs up sour-happy memories

I’m an ambassador for my friend Sarah’s Project STIR, in which she’s telling families’ stories through their beloved recipes. See the description at the bottom of this post.

PickleQuotePamPickleJars1My Nanny’s homemade pickles were so sought-after, she limited her grandkids to one quart jar of them a day.

I’m talking about the grandkids who lived on either side of her: Keith, Judy, Dan, Mike and Penny. Not me, not my brother (we lived in California), not most of Nanny’s 15 grandkids – just the lucky five who lived on either side of her and Papa in their little rock house on Hilltop Road in Cave City, Arkansas.

PapaNannyWedding1927
Clay and Ila (Brewer) Taylor on their wedding day in Cave City, Arkansas, 1927.

The rest of us lived in other towns (or states) and only got the pickles during visits. I imagine we ate more than a quart when the herd converged on Nanny’s kitchen, though. (Would she have been able to stop us?)

Nanny looks a little surprised to be photographed in her kitchen in 1955. The picture was taken before most of her grandkids were born, but this is where most of us remember her.

My grandparents squeezed a lot of kids (seven), grandkids, spouses and great-grands into their little kitchen/dining room – on Sunday afternoons, on special holidays … heck, just any time we were able to get together. It was a loud, delicious holy mess of people and homemade food. Somehow, we all found a place to sit and eat: at the dining table, in the living room, on the back porch, on the front porch swing or the steps. In the hot months, we’d be out in the yard, especially when watermelons were in season (someday I’ll tell you about Cave City watermelons.)

NineOfNannyPapasGrandkids1968
Eating Cave City watermelons at Nanny and Papa’s, summer 1968. Clockwise from front left: Pam Taylor Hill, Billy Taylor, Mike Mullen, Kathy Taylor Skinner, Judy Mullen Walling, Penny Mullen Snyder, Danny Watson, Jimmy (“JT”) Taylor (my brother), Robin Taylor Vanness. Not pictured: Keith Watson, Suzy Taylor Oakley and the four cousins yet to be born (Teri Taylor, Chris Taylor, Tanya Taylor Harmon and April Taylor Burton).

Only recently, when my cousin Penny created a Facebook page in honor of our grandparents, did I find out just how special it was living year-round next to Clay and Ila Taylor.

My brother and I visited every summer with our parents, until we moved to Arkansas, and then we were there most Sunday afternoons. We have a cousin who’s still in Arizona, and most of the rest have been scattered around Arkansas all their lives.

But those five … those five lived the country life that harried urbanites only dream of nowadays.

Specific to the pickles, though … here’s what Judy said:

“Nanny would can pickles in quart Mason jars every summer. Dan, Mike, Penny and I would start begging for them before the jars would even seal. Then, after we wore her down and so we would have pickles through the winter and next spring, she would limit us to eating only 1 quart a day! She must have canned 100 quarts or more each summer! We had to help can them, too, but it was really not much work for us kids.”

Her sister Penny’s story is slightly different:

“Picking the cucumbers was not fun because they were down on the ground under the leaves. We had to wake up by 7 to pick the garden, but then we could go back to bed. Worst part was the dew was still on the plants and it made you so itchy. Nanny had two giant galvanized tubs and we washed all the veggies in one tub and transferred to the second tub for final wash. Of course the tubs were filled with that awesome water they had [from their well].

“We sat up the washing stations out beside the pump house under the big trees. Nanny always handled the cutting of them because we couldn’t even touch her knives. No matter what veggie she was working on, Nanny would tape up her right thumb with white medical tape to prevent cuts.”

PickleJarsKettle
“Nanny always kept a tea kettle of water hot on the stove,” Penny said. “This is one of her kettles and some of the canning jars. Notice the lines in the glass on the sides and the jars are squared on the corners. Nanny’s jars are probably 65 years old. I have some ball jars about 25 years old that were my canning jars. They have the lines but the corners are rounded.”

Nanny had been canning food for so long (“She never wasted anything,” my mom said) that she had developed a system. Penny still remembers some of those rituals:

“Nanny was really particular about her jars. She sterilized them in the big white wash pans on the stove. I still have some of her old jars. I can always tell them from others because they have lines going down the side. …

“I can just picture Nanny right now wiping down the tops of the jars with her rags that were bleached the whitest of white. She wanted all the salt and alum off the top so the flat and ring would seal properly. Then the entire jar was wiped down with a different rag.

“The cucumbers were always cut, only by Nanny, in one quarter spears or [halves].”

I certainly loved those pickles, but I didn’t know until recently just how many of us salivated – and puckered – over them.

“I still feel my jaws pull a little at the mention of those salty sour pickles,” cousin Pam said.

I know the feeling.

I don’t remember Pam ever drinking the juice, although she apparently did when I wasn’t looking: “Who didn’t love drinking pickle juice!?! Still pucker at the thought.” (Apparently one cousin did not get the pickle-loving gene: Teri said she would rather eat a spider.) But Pam’s sister, Robin, and I would practically race each other to the jar to see who could drain it first.

Pam and Robin’s mom also made awesome pickles, even though she once said hers weren’t as good as Nanny’s. I beg to differ. It’s been a lot of years since I had one of Aunt Donna’s pickles, but I remember that they were really, really good.

Sure, they weren’t Nanny’s legendary pickles. But they were good.

My mom must have been intimidated because, even though she has Nanny’s recipe, which looks well-loved on the sheet of lavender notebook paper below, neither of us can recall her ever making them. (It’s probably a good thing: Her handwritten version is missing an ingredient: alum.)

NannysPickleRecipeMom
Mom has a lot of recipes without titles, but we know this one for sure.

Nanny’s great-grandson David had no such qualms about the recipe. He thought everyone should be able to make his Nanny Taylor’s pickles. He loved them so much he shared them in the church cookbook one year.

His mom, Penny, said:

“Mount View ladies auxiliary decided to make a cookbook and sell them to raise money. Everyone in the church was asked to submit their favorite recipes. I asked the kids about it, and David chose as his favorite ‘Nanny’s Pickles.’ He was so proud! I have always loved church cookbooks because they contain ‘tried and true’ recipes usually handed down. Nanny’s pickle recipe sure has been passed down and has stood the test of time.”

NannysPicklesMtViewCookbookI was thinking about trying to make Nanny’s pickles, but then Penny’s next comment intimidated me a little bit:

“My kids always loved any kind of pickle, especially David. Our mother was able to replicate Nanny’s recipe so the grandkids could eat ‘Nanny’s pickles’ they heard about all their lives. After Nanny had her illness and was in [the nursing home], she would come to Mother’s house most weekends. One time I got the bright idea to make the pickles recipe. Of course Nanny told me every step. These pickles weren’t even half as good as Nanny’s or Mother’s. But the kids loved them and drank the juice like it was soda.”

And then there were Aunt Bee’s pickles. Remember, no one had the guts to tell her they were awful. 🙂

But Project STIR is all about family memories and heirloom recipes. Maybe it’s time my mom and I got over our pickle-making phobia and got together for a batch.

Pass the Mason jars, please.

ProjectSTIR-websiteABOUT SARAH’S PROJECT:

Project STIR is a series of documentary films launched on Kickstarter. The films will follow Abuelitas, Nans and Mamaws passing down heirloom recipes in kitchens around the globe, including countries such as Panama, New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia and England – and United States, of course. Click here to learn more about how to be involved, or simply follow along on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

And I can’t let you leave without mentioning that Sarah has partnered with The Pack Shack, a very worthy organization that feeds those in need (with the help of folks like you and me). Click here to see what I wrote about The Pack Shack recently. (It includes a fun video.)

Follow me on Twitter @OakleySuzyT.

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Preserving family memories through Project STIR

ProjectSTIR-websiteI was going to use this video (below) in Monday’s post, but as I got to thinking about it, I realized that it’s just too wonderful to force it to share space with my own family’s story. I also want to honor my family by spotlighting it solo. Hence, separate posts.

Maybe I’ve just grown super-sentimental as the years have gone by, but my friend Sarah’s new Project STIR has really served to stir things up for me emotionally. It has helped me connect in new ways with my cousins (online) and to reconnect with some of the memories of my family through recipes and food stories.

As an ambassador for Sarah’s project, I get to tell my own story, but before that I want you to watch her first video, which she has been using to promote her project. Then Monday I’ll share with you my Nanny’s pickle recipe, some photos and some of my family’s happy memories. (I sure wish I had a video of my Nanny that I could share with you, and I can assure you that if she were alive today, I would totally have her on camera making her strawberry cake … or her white beans … or her pickles.)

Please watch Sarah’s four-minute video, read the Project STIR description below and come back Monday for my story. (My post will go live at midnight tonight. If you subscribe to Suzy & Spice updates, you will receive an email whenever there’s a new post. See sidebar at right.)

ABOUT SARAH’S PROJECT:

Project STIR is a series of documentary films launched on Kickstarter. The films will follow Abuelitas, Nans and Mamaws passing down heirloom recipes in kitchens around the globe, including countries such as Panama, New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia and England. Click here to learn more about how to be involved. 

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Dort’s Vegetable Beef Soup

vegetable beef soup
Slow cooker, can you hurry it up??? We’re hungry!

One of the great things about my mom is that she has always gone out of her way to give her kids everything we needed and much of what we wanted (within reason). (I guess that’s a mom’s job, right?)

One of those ways is with food. Of course she baked whatever birthday dinner and cake we asked for. When I was younger, she always made spaghetti for my birthday, with her own special twist — she added a package of chili seasoning and made it spicy and Mexicany. For many years, I thought that was how spaghetti was supposed to taste!

And she always makes me a chocolate cake — from scratch, not from a boxed mix.

Love you, Mom!

Mom practicing her supermodel pose. (Coalinga, Calif., June 2006)

She’s older now and doesn’t cook as much since Dad died, and I don’t eat so much pasta, so we haven’t done the birthday spaghetti in a while. Also, my day falls on or near Thanksgiving, so my birthday dinner is likely to include turkey leftovers and apple or pecan pie. (I can totally deal with a pecan pie as a chocolate cake replacement!)

Let me just give you the bottom line: Everything my mom cooks is delicious.

Probably because the main ingredient is love. (Sorry, I’m not trying to be corny; it’s just true. She’s my mom!)

And because she doesn’t cook as often as she used to, when she does it’s something special.

Recently I got a hankerin’ for her vegetable soup, and her version is always better than mine. So, what did she do? She made a big ol’ pot of it for me. (Yes, for Bruce, too. I shared.)

Until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t realized that the reason I like her version so much is that she uses tomato juice as the liquid base, whereas I’ve always used broth (chicken, beef or veggie). Also, when I shop for the ingredients, I buy generic tomato juice with as little added sugar as I can find. Not mom. She insists on Campbell’s (no, I’m not paid to say that).

“I’m telling you, it’s the best tomato juice,” Mom says. 🙂

She may insist on a particular brand of tomato juice, but the vegetables are adaptable to your preferences and what’s in season. The last time she made it, Mom used all fresh veggies (from our local farmers market) except for the frozen corn. She often uses the frozen mix that has broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, but not this time. She also forgot to buy potatoes, so the most recent pot didn’t include them. We decided we like it just fine without those, though. In fact, I think this was the best pot of veggie soup she’s ever made.

Play with the ingredients until you and your family like it, or, if you crave variety, make it a different way every time! If you’re vegetarian, I suppose you could use beans or tofu instead of the beef, but we’ve never made it that way. (Sorry, we’re carnivores.)

Some notes:

  • This isn’t seasoned a lot (just salt, garlic powder and a bit of black pepper), so if you’re expecting something exotic (like Mexican spaghetti), you won’t get it here. This is plain ol’ comfort food, and it’s delicious just the way it is. Bonus: It’s nutritious!
  • Amounts are approximate. This isn’t so much a recipe as it is an ingredient list.
  • My mom’s name is Dorothy, and her nickname is Dort. Hence the recipe’s name.
  • I’m trying a new recipe plugin that gives you a printer-friendly option. Please let me know how you like it or if you’d like to see more info; I’m not using all its features here.

All right, your mouth must be watering by now, so let’s get this recipe rolling.

Dort’s Vegetable Beef Soup

This recipe will feed a bunch of hungry people. If you live alone or have a small family and don't like a lot of leftovers, it's perfect for freezing for another day when you don't feel like cooking.

Ingredients

  • • 2 pounds ground round
  • • 1 large onion, chopped
  • • 1½ quarts tomato juice
  • • 3-4 medium yellow squash, sliced
  • • ½ pound okra, sliced
  • • 16-ounce bag frozen whole-kernel corn
  • • 1 small head cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • • Garlic powder, to taste
  • • Salt, to taste
  • • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS:
  • • Red potatoes, cubed
  • • Frozen vegetable medley (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots)
  • • Green beans

Instructions

  1. Crumble ground round in skillet. Add onion, and cook until meat is browned. Drain, then add garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  2. Transfer to large soup pot, and add tomato juice and vegetables.
  3. Cover and cook on low heat 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.
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Reflection and direction

MessyCloset071815
This chick has a lot of running shoes, no? (But you should see her husband’s collection!)

Today I want to share a couple of neat things that have been happening and a couple of teasers about things to come, all mooshed in together.

I almost called this the Weekly Wrap-up, but I don’t think it would be fair to you because the info is mostly about what I’m going to do coming up.

Here are the highlights:

LET’S GET ORGANIZED

As I wrote last week on my other blog, To Well With You, I read an awesome book that’s the kick in the fanny I’ve been needing to get to work in earnest, with laser focus, on the clutter in my house. It was one of those “10 things you need to know about me” revelations that I don’t like to admit. I’ll write a book review this weekend — I promise — that will include before-and-after pictures, but the one above is a teaser. It’s my pitiful closet exactly seven days ago. By the end of that day, my closet was awesome and I’ll share that photo with you when I review the book.

In the spirit of reflection and direction, though, I’ll say that the book has caused me to think about why I can’t seem to get rid of stuff, and it has sent me on the path to permanent change in that area — a very positive direction that’s long overdue.

But why am I telling you this now? I have to save some of it for the book review, right?

Besides, it’s time to go tackle my dresser and the two bookcases that flank it. They are piled with stuff, mostly books and magazines. That’s today’s laser-focus project.

FARMERS MARKET SERIES

The farmers market series I put on hold seems to be back on.

It turns out, through a miscommunication, the Batesville-area farmers never received my questionnaire, and thus I didn’t have enough information to write about each of them. But now we’re getting the momentum back; next Saturday you’ll get to meet Garden Girl, and we’ll go from there.

A RECIPE YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS

I’m going to share my mom’s totally awesome vegetable soup, which she cooks up for us occasionally, but first I want to shop for a good blog plug-in that will allow for printer-friendly recipes. I tend not to print anything I don’t have to (saving trees and ink), but I do like to save online recipes in a printer-friendly format so that they’re easy to follow from my laptop or iPad.

I’ll keep you posted. You won’t want to miss this recipe; the ingredients can be adapted to your particular tastes and whatever veggies are seasonal. (But the most delicious ingredient? My mom makes it for me whenever I ask, just because she loves me. 🙂 )

Until next time, here’s hoping you have an awesome weekend!

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Suzy’s Coffee Protein Smoothie

CoffeeQuoteLettermanWhen we lived in North Little Rock, I used to indulge occasionally in a delicious coffee drink from a tiny little smoothie hut less than a mile from my house.

The first time I drove up to the window, I looked at the overwhelmingly large menu and asked for a recommendation. The clerk said his favorite was Java the Nut.

Clever name, so I asked him to elaborate.

Coffee, frozen yogurt, banana, peanut butter and (wait for it) nonfat milk.

Well, there you go. Can’t be all bad if it contains nonfat milk, right?

Let’s talk about fat for a moment. I’ve been doing research for about 18 months on fat (the good kinds) and sugar (pretty bad).

The right kind of fat is actually good for us — our bodies need it. Sugar, in every instance I can think of, is bad. Sugar = inflammation, blood-sugar spikes, cravings, carb addiction, conversion to body fat, weight gain … not good.

I could give you a list of books and other resources, but I’ll save that for later, except for this post from one of my faves, Dietitian Cassie. (And, yes, I put butter in my coffee.)

Today’s post is not about winning you over to fat or getting you to eliminate sugar from your diet … except that if I could get you to start thinking about all the processed foods with added sugar — and just maybe get you to make a few small changes (natural peanut butter, for instance) — I would consider that a small victory for today.

For right now, I’m going to give you a recipe that I’ve modified from one at The Lean Green Bean, which offers a version with regular milk or even a nondairy beverage.

Their version contains three ingredients: coffee, milk and protein powder.
Here’s my variation, which I made up after my run this morning. (Did you know that eating protein within 30 minutes of exercise is good for your muscles?)

I’m giving it to you straight — the way I prepared mine this morning — but you can vary it to your tastes and comfort level with fat. 🙂

Suzy’s Coffee Protein Smoothie
(With a nod to Tropical Smoothie’s Java the Nut)

The Lean Green Bean version, referred to as a “shake,” calls for coffee ice cubes, but I keep my brewed coffee in the fridge (I hate to waste), so I simply used my ice-cold coffee rather than going to the trouble to make (and wait for) ice cubes.

  • 5-10 ounces brewed coffee, cold (or 5-10 coffee ice cubes)
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream or full-fat milk
  • 1 scoop of high-quality whey protein powder*
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 tablespoon natural, organic peanut butter (no sugar added)

I used my Magic Bullet and whizzed the liquids and the protein powder first, then I tasted it before adding the banana and the peanut butter. (I kept having to add more coffee so it would actually taste like a coffee drink.)

Once the protein powder was well incorporated, I sliced the banana into the container, added the peanut butter and processed until smooth, probably about 30 seconds.

*I used Dr. Mercola’s Pure Power Protein in vanilla — also comes in chocolate, banana and strawberry.

So … make it and tell me what you think!

Do you have a favorite smoothie recipe? Please share in the comments.

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Double Chocolate Banana Bread

DoubleChocolateBananaBread2
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

DoubleChocolateBananaBread_baked_cropped
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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Seen, heard and liked (or loved)

December has been a month of busyness, but not of the Christmas variety, exactly.

Last weekend we shot the commercial for Baptist Health. That took several hours Friday and most of Saturday. We froze our frannies off in the windy 30s on Saturday by the White River. But it was SO MUCH FUN, and I do plan to write more about it. (Didn’t get much in the way of photos, though.) We had several wardrobe changes because they plan to run the campaign throughout the next two years (starting with the Super Bowl), so even though it was shot in December, it is supposed to depict several seasons.

This weekend was our alternate date for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay. Sure, it happens at Christmastime, but it’s more indirectly related to Christmas than the typical holiday festivities – shopping, cookie baking, gift-giving – unless you consider that our half-marathon elves (race co-founder Sara and her helper elf, Becky) shop for the families that benefit from the race proceeds. And then the gifts are given to families chosen by a tenderhearted woman at a local agency.

We postponed the race on its original date (Dec. 7) because of ice storms. Makeup date: Dec. 21. Again, dangerous weather intervened. We got up this morning and decided that the threat of lightning and the flash flood warnings made it too risky – so we called, texted, emailed and Facebooked all those who had preregistered, telling them we would try again next year.

It was a huge disappointment, but we raised a good amount of money for needy families (entry to the race is free, but we encourage donations and most people do give).

Disappointing, but also, for the Oakleys, a day of much-needed rest. After we had contacted everyone and Bruce put a sign on the church door for any potential race-day registrants, it was under the electric blanket for Pepper and me and onto the sofa for Bruce and Salsa. After rest time we went to Mom’s to watch Hallmark Christmas movies (even Bruce likes them), and we veg’d for several hours.

Back home again, and I want to write about deep and thought-provoking topics, but the best I can come up with tonight is a roundup of some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to in the past week or so. I’ve been planning to do this regularly – these favorite-pick posts – but we’ve been half-marathoning and Christmas-partying and otherwise running ourselves ragged for several weeks. (Can I tell you I skipped a free yoga class Thursday night at our church because of race planning? That’s some kind of irony.)

So, without further delay, here are some randomly ordered but thoughtfully collected links for you to ponder:

First up, you’ll be thankful that I condensed what was going to be an entire post about the pitfalls of Christmas spending (I tend to get preachy) to a mere reference to some wise words from my favorite debt-proof-living guru, Mary Hunt. Read about Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe – good advice for any time of year.

And while we’re getting introspective about our habits and thought processes, here’s a little C.S. Lewis to get you thinking. From a letter on “the slow process of being more in Christ; and on doing one’s duty, especially the duty to enjoy.”

I get an email each morning with a C.S. Lewis reading excerpted from his books, letters, essays and other writings. To subscribe, visit Bible Gateway by clicking here.

I have long loved the books and sermons of Chuck Swindoll. So when my friend and fellow runner Betsy forwarded this link to me with a reference to Olympian Wilma Rudolph, I took notice. (When I was in high school, I wrote a book report on Ms. Rudolph. I wasn’t a runner then, so all I can remember about the book was that her story was inspirational.) As soon as I listened to the sermon, “What’s Necessary for Victory?” I logged onto the Independence County Library’s website and looked up the books on this woman; I plan to check one out soon. The entire sermon on Christian victory is good, but if you want to skip ahead to Wilma’s story, start at 9:30 minutes.

Next up – because it’s the perfect season for recipes and inspiring food stories – a couple of shout-outs to my friends.

I’ve linked to Alison’s blog a few times over the years, but today I was catching up and read a reposted story about her sister’s new-ish restaurant outside Chicago. I’ve long known that Anna was an awesome baker and cook, but now she is celebrating a year as a restaurateur with her husband, Bob. They opened in December 2012, and you’ll have to read Alison’s description of the cafe and her sister. And if I’m ever in Glen Ellyn, Ill., I’m making a point to stop in at Blackberry Market.

One more food-related link: A friend tagged me in a Facebook post this morning, and I clicked through to discover a conversation about a food blog, and then a reference to my childhood friend Liz’s very own food blog – a site I immediately clicked to and which I love! Light and fresh recipes made from the heart – who could resist? (Plus, I’m a little jealous of how great it looks, especially the food photos, which I’m terrible at.) I love food blogs, but the bonus here is that this one is by someone I know; that makes it extra-special. So come delight with me at Elsie’s Kitchen 101 (read the About section to find out where it got its name).

This list barely scratches the surface of the interesting things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching, but I think it’s enough for now. Except this one last link.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to leave you with a schedule of the aforementioned Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (they’re showing all December long!). Go ahead and watch a few. I won’t tell.

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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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Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes

This morning, someone at church asked me about our Thanksgiving plans, and naturally our conversation turned to food (I’m sure I was the one to bring it up). She was intrigued by my talk of “hash brown casserole,” and I told her I’d publish the recipe here.

Several years ago the recipe for Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes came into our family. We don’t have an Aunt Pearl, and no one really knows who the heck she is or was. But, boy, do we love her potato casserole! It’s a treat to make this because we reserve it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has become my job to make it because I’ll be the one with the biggest serving on my plate (turkey? who needs turkey?), and I’m the one who would complain the loudest if this dish wasn’t on the table. (And being the designated maker of this dish, I can make as much as I want and save some aside in my own fridge – who’s gonna know?)

We’re probably going to eat our main Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant this year, but do you think I’m going to miss an opportunity to make these potatoes? Well, do you? (I didn’t think so.)

So here it is, Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. And for anyone looking for the nutritional content of this dish, just forget it. Even if we knew, we wouldn’t burden you with that here. It’s Thanksgiving – a time of year we forget we’re supposed to be sensible about food!

I’m giving you the recipe 1) below and 2) as a downloadable PDF. There are two identical recipes on the PDF (I hate to waste paper, so there’s one for you and one to share.) To download the PDF, click the link below, then click the icon; it will download to your computer.

Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes

2 12-oz. bags hash browns, thawed
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
16 oz. sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks melted butter (divided use)
2 cups crushed corn flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In large casserole dish, mix first 6 ingredients (hash browns through salt) with 1 stick of butter. Sprinkle with corn flakes and drizzle with 2nd stick of butter. Bake for 1 hour.

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