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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Birthday Dinner, Part V and Mini Pineapple Upside-down Cakes

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Upside-down cake–that phrase might describe our lives at certain challenging moments. It certainly describes Becca’s situation in Part V of Birthday Dinner. The return of Latonya and her immediate disappearance with her son have left Becca’s plans to help Jonah in disarray, and time is running out on her options. She’s not sure if those plans, or her hopes for Jonah, will ever get turned right-side up again.

These mini pineapple upside-down cakes are a different matter entirely. They may get assembled and go into the oven upside-down, but we know they’ll come out right-side up–just before they end up in our mouths! The mix of flavors–caramel, vanilla cake, pineapple, and cherry–and colors and textures may seem a jumble (like our lives sometimes), but this mixture turns out perfect–delicious, unique, and even beautiful on the plate!

So give this recipe a try, and hope that the upside-down jumbles that inevitably afflict our lives all turn out so well–and that Becca finds her way through her challenges, for her sake and Jonah’s!


Mini Pineapple Upside-down Cakes

1 egg

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons pineapple juice (from canned pineapple rings or chunks)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1 can of pineapple rings or chunks

6 maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a regular size muffin pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

To make the cake batter, add the egg, granulated sugar, pineapple juice, and vanilla extract to a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixture on high for one minute, or until ingredients are well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the egg mixture. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until everything is incorporated. Set aside.


In a small pot, add the butter and brown sugar. Put over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted. Continue to stir ingredients together over heat until brown sugar is mixed into butter.

Divide the brown sugar/butter mixture between six muffin cups in the prepared muffin pan. Next, add pineapple pieces around the border and one maraschino cherry in the middle. Top the fruit with the cake batter.


Bake the mini cakes for 18-20 minutes, or when the cake turns golden brown and toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around each cake. Place a wire rack on top of the cakes and a cookie sheet underneath the cakes. Quickly flip the cakes so that the wire rack is on the bottom and is sitting on top of the cookie sheet to catch the extra juices. Let cool. Serve warm or room temperature.

Makes 6 mini cakes.


{Adapted from Big Mama’s Home Kitchen}

Birthday Dinner cover

Birthday Dinner, Part V, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Birthday Dinner, Part V, text © Jeffrey Anderson

To download the entire novel in the format of your choosing for $1.99 (and provide support for my writing), go to


Birthday Dinner, Part IV and Southern Banana Pudding

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What is it about the South and banana pudding? I don’t know if it’s a tradition that goes back centuries or decades, but it’s firmly established now. Go to any picnic, church dinner, or country restaurant in this otherwise diverse region, and you’ll almost certainly find banana pudding among the desserts. It is the dessert of the South. (Sorry pecan pie and chocolate pie and sweet potato pie–but don’t worry, we’ll give you a try on down the road!)

So when Zach and Becca volunteered to make Sunday dinner for Jonah and Mrs. Brackett, they had some flexibility of choice for the main course (well, O.K., fried chicken had to be in there somewhere). But the dessert was a given.

And now you have a chance to enjoy this standard of the South with this quick and easy banana pudding recipe for two (or one–banana pudding is great for breakfast!). Whether banana pudding runs in your veins or this is your first try, you’ll love this recipe so much you’ll think about packing up and moving here (unless you’re here already, in which case–congratulations!).

And you’ll even get to eat it–which is more than Zach and Becca can say. But you’ll have to read or listen to the story to find out why they missed out on their banana pudding!

banana pudding

Southern Banana Pudding

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

dash of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

3/4 cup milk*

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large, ripe banana, sliced

18-24 vanilla wafers

*Use dairy milk only. Soy, almond, or other milk varieties will not set up properly. You can also use a combination of milk and cream for a thicker, creamier pudding.

banana pudding

In a medium saucepan, add the granulated sugar and egg. Whisk ingredients together until combined. To the egg mixture, add the salt, cornstarch, and milk; mix everything together. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking the ingredients together constantly. Continue to stir ingredients until the mixture comes to a boil; boil for one minute, stirring constantly, and then remove from heat. Add the vanilla extract to the pudding mixture. Allow to cool slightly.

banana pudding bite

In two serving cups, layer three or four vanilla wafers on the bottom. Top the vanilla wafers with a thin layer of pudding. Top the pudding with a few slices of banana. Repeat layers until ingredients are used, ending with pudding on top. Cover the pudding and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. When ready to eat, crumble a few vanilla wafers and sprinkle on top of the pudding. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Now to find out what happens to Zach and Becca’s banana pudding . . .

Birthday Dinner cover

Birthday Dinner, Part IV, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Birthday Dinner, Part IV, text © Jeffrey Anderson

To download the entire novel in the format of your choosing for $1.99 (and provide support for my writing), go to


Birthday Dinner, Part III and XXL Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookie

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Peanut butter–it’s a staple, isn’t it? If not, it should be–take its place there on the pantry shelf with flour and sugar, eggs and butter. In fact, peanut butter is even better than those staples as it’s a complete meal all by itself, with sugar and oil, protein and carbohydrates. How many of us have thrown together a lunch for work or school by smearing some peanut butter between two slices of bread and shoving the sandwich into a plastic bag and running out the door? Peanut butter–it’s a staple, isn’t it?

Well, this recipe kicks that staple up a notch–or two or three. This king (or queen) sized peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie combines all the good stuff of peanut butter with the perfect complement (and indulgence) of chocolate, to give you something that tastes down to earth (like all those peanut butter sandwiches during lunch break) but also launches you into the stratosphere–a staple with an attitude. It might just make you wish you could replace all those sandwiches with one of these cookies–now that would be a lunch break!

Zach and Becca have been brought back down to earth in their new setting, are finding fresh challenges and rewards in life outside of college. Then they discover Jonah, an at-risk eight-year-old African-American boy. And in their desire to improve Jonah’s life and chances, they discover new meaning and purpose for their lives and relationship. Suddenly, everything matters so much more. And their old lives and relationship, which had seemed more than adequate, pale in comparison to these new aspirations. But can they meet the challenge they’ve set before them, or will it all come crashing down?

Check out Birthday Dinner, Part III to see for yourself (and come back next week to get more of their story)!

  bite of cookie

XXL Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookie

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

2 Tablespoons Jif creamy peanut butter*

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

2 Tablespoons egg substitute (or crack one egg, beat it, and use 2 Tbsp)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of  salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks

*Feel free to use your favorite kind of peanut butter. Just make sure to use a brand that does not require you to stir it in order to mix the oils and peanuts–this kind of peanut butter will be too thin for this particular recipe.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

prebaked cookie

{So much cookie dough!}

In a mixing bowl, add the butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Stir ingredients together until well combined. Add the egg and the vanilla extract, and mix until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt to the peanut butter mixture and slowly mix in the dry ingredients, careful not to over mix the dough. Fold in the chocolate chunks.

baked cookie

Scoop the entire mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet. Pile the cookie dough so that it is slightly taller in the middle (this makes the cookie extra thick and chewy). Put the cookie in a preheated oven and bake for 14-16 minutes, or until it is starting to turn golden brown. Remove the cookie from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

bits of cookie

{End result: A thick, chewy cookie that is slightly under-cooked in the center. Perfection!}

{Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction}

Birthday Dinner cover

Birthday Dinner, Part III, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Birthday Dinner, Part III, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Birthday Dinner, Part II and Apple Crisp

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Sometimes you have to come back down to earth.

The transition from the rich extravagance of cheesecake to the humble wholesomeness of apple crisp may seem a challenge. It’s not easy coming back to the real world after such pampering.

But think again. The apples and the oatmeal are good for you in ways too numerous to count. The blend of tartness and sweetness is just perfect. And the smell of the baking apples mixed with just a touch of cinnamon will remind you of grandma’s kitchen and all the love and security and warmth you received there. And just like that, you will have forgotten all that extravagance and high life. What cheesecake?

Zach and Becca undergo a similar tricky transition in Part II of Birthday Dinner. In an instant, they’re lifted from their lavish feast to the far leaner fare of jobs and daily life–and an unexpected mission for Becca that quickly involves Zach as well. Yet, within these new rigors, they find a different kind of feast, with new possibilities of sustenance and reward–if they’re strong enough to meet the fresh challenges placed before them.

apple crisp

Apple Crisp

1 large apple, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces*

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons oats (regular or quick cooking)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

*I used a Pink Lady apple. These are by far my favorite variety because they are firm and crisp with both sweet and tart flavors. Feel free to use your favorite kind, but I highly recommend Pink Lady apples or any other firm apple.


{Pretty Pink Lady apples!}

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a ramekin or bowl with cooking spray.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, oats, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and stir until ingredients are combined.


Place the apple pieces in the prepared ramekin; top with crumb mixture.

Place the ramekin on a cookie sheet and put in the oven. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the apples are soft and the crumb mixture is crunchy and golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before eating.

bite of apple crisp

{First scrumptious bite}

And here’s the second installment of the novel:

Birthday Dinner cover

Birthday Dinner, Part II, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Birthday Dinner, Part II, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Birthday Dinner, Part I and Mini Cheesecakes

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CHEESECAKE–the very word has come to suggest extravagance and luxury.

And with good reason–the dense and rich mixture of cream cheese and eggs and vanilla set in a complementary graham-cracker crust makes one feel pampered and special, not to mention sated and full: just like being treated to a fancy restaurant.

But with the following quick and easy mini-cheesecake recipe, you can have that feeling of extravagance and pampering right in your own home, in your own kitchen. So give it a try–you’ve earned the treat!

And while you’re at it, check out the first part of the novel Birthday Dinner. Becca is treating Zach to a birthday dinner at a very fancy restaurant, one that in fact offers several types of cheesecake for dessert (though dessert comes in Part II–have to come back next week). So while you’re treating yourself to mini-cheesecakes, listen (or read) about Becca treating Zach to a very special meal that might not end exactly how it starts out (but that part comes later too.)

single cheesecake

Mini Cheesecakes

6 pre-made mini graham cracker crusts *

6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 egg

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

prebaked cheesecakes

{Cheesecakes before they are baked}

Add the cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla to a mixing bowl. Mix ingredients together with an electric mixer until they are well blended and very smooth.

baked cheesecakes

{Cheesecakes after they are baked}

Divide the batter between the pre-made crusts. Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until cheesecakes are set and no longer giggle in the middle when moved. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before putting them in the refrigerator. Refrigerate the cheesecakes for 1-2 hours, or until chilled. Serve plain, with fruit, hot fudge, caramel drizzle, or other toppings.

chocolate drizzle cheesecake

{With hot fudge drizzled on top-talk about delicious!}

*You can also make this recipe using vanilla wafer cookies. To do this, line a muffin pan with four aluminum foil liners. Place one vanilla wafer at the bottom of each liner, flat side down. Make the cheesecake batter as instructed and then divide it among the four liners. Bake for 15 minutes.

inside of cheesecake

{Recipe adapted from Dessert for Two}

And here’s the first installment of the novel:

Birthday Dinner cover

Birthday Dinner, Part I, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Birthday Dinner, Part I, text © Jeffrey Anderson