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Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #12 and Strawberry Mug Cake

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These mug cakes are the stuff!

Why didn’t they think of that when I was a kid? Would have had a different one every day! But then, they didn’t have microwave ovens back then. Did they have mugs? I don’t know–can’t remember.

But they’ve got microwaves and mugs now, that’s for sure. And these mug cakes are the stuff–quick, easy, minimal clean-up, near infinite variety.

This week we are featuring a Strawberry Mug Cake. There are still some local fresh strawberries, depending on where you live. But one of the great recent inventions (to go along with microwaves and mugs) are year-round fresh strawberries readily available in any grocery store. So while this Strawberry Mug Cake may seem like the ideal late-spring afternoon or evening treat, it’s ready and waiting any time of the year. Just pick up some fresh strawberries and give it a try.

Now let me go call my brother and ask if he remembers if we had mugs when we were kids.

berry mug cake

Strawberry Mug Cake

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

2 heaping Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2-3 large strawberries, hulled and finely diced

In a small bowl, stir together the butter and sugar until ingredients are well mixed. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat all of the ingredients together. Slowly stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt, until just mixed into the batter. Fold in the diced strawberries.

Spray a 12-ounce mug with cooking spray.* Spoon the batter into the prepared mug. Microwave the cake on high for 60 seconds. Check the cake for done-ness. Continue to microwave the cake on high in 15 second increments, until the cake is done and no longer raw in the center. (It took my cake about 75 seconds.)

Remove the cake from the microwave and allow to cool slightly. Enjoy warm, straight out of the mug. For an extra decadent treat, drizzle the cake with chocolate syrup, vanilla glaze, or add a scoop of ice cream on top.

Makes 1 mug cake.

*Use a 12-ounce mug or larger for this cake. The cake doubles in size when it bakes, so don’t make the mistake of using a smaller mug and having a mess to clean up!

berry microwave mug cake

{Adapted from Averie Cooks}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #12, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #12, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #11 and Banana Berry Smoothie

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Okay, call us patriotic–and (sometimes) healthy!

Last week, a few days before Memorial Day, we posted a Frosted Sugar Cookie Bar recipe and dressed those cookie bars up with some red and blue frosting to go along with the “white” cookie. Red, white, and blue–get it? But maybe this cookie bar isn’t the healthiest snack in the universe.

Now this week, a few days after the holiday, we’re still in a patriotic mood with our Banana Berry Smoothie. Only this week we’re adding healthy to our mix of flag-waving colors. Healthy is patriotic, right–as long as it tastes good! And this smoothie tastes good and looks so delicious in the glass and is cool and refreshing.

So take some red berries–strawberries are great this time of year and still in season–and mix in some white banana and yogurt then add a few blue blueberries and whirl it all together and you have this healthy and patriotic smoothie, a delicious farewell to the holiday just past or a great anticipation of the holiday to come in just a little over a month.

Or enjoy it anytime–a refreshing and healthy snack in a patriotic theme!

banana berry smoothie

Banana Berry Smoothie

1 banana, previously peeled, sliced, and frozen

1 cup mixed berries, fresh or frozen

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-2 teaspoons honey

Add all of the ingredients to a blender in the order listed. Blend on high for 30 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust as necessary; add more honey for a sweeter smoothie, add more milk for a thinner smoothie, or add a handful of ice for a thicker smoothie. Enjoy immediately.

Makes 1 smoothie.

*If you use vanilla Greek yogurt, you can omit the vanilla extract and honey.

berry banana smoothie

{Adapted from Food Network Kitchen}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #11, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #11, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #9 and Pineapple Macadamia Nut Muffins

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There are lots of fruit and nut combinations we know about and love.

Many of us were raised on the pairing of bananas and walnuts in banana-nut bread. Apples and pecans mix nicely in many fall desserts. And some of us have discovered the delicate balance between cherries and almonds.

But maybe my favorite fruit-nut combination for its mix of unlikely flavors that somehow manage to be simultaneously exotic and homey is that of pineapple and macadamia nuts.

And that mix is perfectly displayed in this week’s Pineapple Macadamia Nut Muffins. On first hearing of this combination (if you haven’t been lucky enough to try it already) you might think it a little too radical to try on less adventurous taste buds (read: kids and meat-and-potatoes reactionaries). But just don’t tell them what they’re called. Let those unadventurous souls try them, then smile to yourself when they ask for more.

Or the heck with sharing. Keep them all for yourself (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack–they’re perfect anytime of day), enjoying every minute of this newly discovered match made in Heaven.

pineapple nut muffins

Pineapple Macadamia Nut Muffins

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces crushed pineapple with juice (1/2 can)

3 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place 8 paper liners in a muffin pan, and set aside.

To make the muffins, add the egg and egg yolk to a mixing bowl and beat lightly. Add the sugar and beat until incorporated and the eggs turn a light yellow. Add the milk, vanilla, pineapple, pineapple juice, and melted butter and mix all of the ingredients together until well combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing until just combined. Fold in most of the chopped macadamia nuts into the batter, reserving about 2 tablespoons.

Divide the batter between the 8 muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining macadamia nuts on top of each muffin. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until the muffins start to turn a golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool in the pan. Serve the muffins warm or at room temperature. Store the muffins in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes 8 muffins.

pineapple mac muffins

{Adapted from Southern Food}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #9, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #9, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #8 and Homemade Chocolate Strawberries

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Life is best found in simplicity, or at least it should be.

Sometimes that’s a hard truth to remember as we run around doing twenty different things at once and not able to keep track of all we’ve got going on let alone appreciate and absorb some of the simple pleasures associated with those tasks.

So, in pursuit of, or with a nod towards, such simple pleasures, this week’s Homemade Chocolate Strawberries couldn’t be much simpler: fresh strawberries, melting chocolate, done.

And the pleasure gained from this dessert is not merely in its simplicity. There are few things better suited to being coated in chocolate than a ripe strawberry. And there are few combinations of flavors more satisfying and elemental than that of a sweet and juicy strawberry mixed with the earthy richness of chocolate.

So dial your life back a few notches, and partake of this simple two-ingredient dessert. And then look around and be grateful for all your blessings.

in memory of Cathy

chocolate covered starwberries

Homemade Chocolate Strawberries

4-6 strawberries, washed and thoroughly dried 

3 ounces chocolate melting wafers*

sprinkles, optional

Melt the chocolate according to package directions. Hold one strawberry by its stem over the melted chocolate. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over top of the strawberry until the fruit is completely covered. Place the strawberry on a plate lined with wax paper. Add sprinkles, if desired. Once all of the strawberries are coated, place them in the refrigerator for 10 minutes, or until hardened. Store strawberries in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Makes 4 chocolate strawberries.

*For best results, please use chocolate specifically designed for making candy. Brands such as Candiquik and Ghirardelli Melting Chocolate should be readily available at your local grocery store or Target. I would not suggest using regular baking chocolate, chocolate chips, or any other form of chocolate.

choc covered strawberry

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #8, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #8, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #7 and Yogurt Fruit Dip

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So you come home from work or school or running errands and you’re starving. It’s too late for lunch but way too early for dinner. You go rooting around the cupboards and the fridge for something to eat, and if you’re lucky you find a few crackers or maybe some fruit in the back of the veggie drawer at the bottom of the fridge. And you wolf down those tidbits like a bear just come out of hibernation.

And in the aftermath of that snack, you look at yourself in the hall mirror and think two things–one, that was not a very graceful way to satisfy your late afternoon hunger; and two, you’re still hungry because a couple dry crackers or a few grapes by themselves just doesn’t cut the craving.

But wait–Reading and Recipes to the Rescue (R&R to the R!).

This week’s Yogurt Fruit Dip takes just a few minutes to mix together and can be stored in a covered container in the fridge, waiting there to jazz up any afternoon snack.

And just like that, you are no longer wolfing unsatisfying tidbits like a wild child but are now eating flavor-enhanced tea-time fare like the landed gentry on one of those cable-t.v. mini-series. Next thing you know, you’ll be ordering a sterling tea set and booking a butler.

Nah. Bag of pretzels and this Yogurt Dip will do just fine.

fruit dip

Yogurt Fruit Dip

8 ounces plain Greek yogurt*

2 ounces whipped cream or Cool Whip

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

a pinch of salt

In a small mixing bowl, mix the yogurt, whipped cream, and vanilla. To another bowl, whisk the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt, ensuring there are no lumps. Stir this mixture into the yogurt until well incorporated. Refrigerate the dip for at least 30 minutes. Serve chilled, with fruit, graham crackers, pretzels, or other dippers.

Makes about 1 cup.

*Greek yogurt is preferred. You can substitute regular yogurt, but the dip will not be as thick.

vanilla fruit dip

{Adapted from Layers of Happiness}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #7, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #7, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #6 and Mini Lemon Berry Cheesecakes

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Give me an “S.” Give me a “P.” Give me an “R.”

I’m not going to waste your time or mine finishing the word, but I trust you get the idea. It’s spring!!! And I feel like cheering about it.

O.K. So you’re probably thinking–Get a life. It’s been spring for over a month.

Yes, that’s true. But until the fresh berries start showing up at the farmer’s markets, it’s not really spring. And just this week, the pick-your-own strawberry farm down the road opened its gates–earliest opening on record!

So it’s spring! Give me an “S.” Give me a “P.”

How ’bout give me a recipe?

O.K. Try this out for size–Mini Lemon Berry Cheesecakes. Doesn’t that just cry out for spring (and summer)? Lemon! Fresh berries! The cool richness of cheesecake! The baker, who lives a little farther north than this writer, used blueberries for this batch. But fresh-picked strawberries would work just as well. And they’ll be coming your way soon, because it’s spring!

Give me an “S.” Give me a “P.”  .  .  .

Hey, don’t throw your shoe at me. I’m not some howling dog!

mini lemon cheesecakes

Mini Lemon Berry Cheesecakes

For the crust:

4 honey graham cracker sheets

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

2 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg, room temperature

1 large lemon, juiced

For the topping:

6 Tablespoons berry jam* 

1/2 cup fresh berries*

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard muffin tin with 9 paper liners, and set aside.

Add the graham cracker sheets to a food processor and process until they are fine crumbs. Add the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and melted butter, and process until ingredients come together. Divide the mixture between the 9 paper liners, pressing and packing the mixture into the bottom of each liner.

Next, make the filling by adding the cream cheese and granulated sugar to a mixing bowl. Using a handheld mixer, beat the ingredients on high until smooth. Add the flour, salt, vanilla, egg, and lemon juice to the mixture, and beat until all ingredients are well incorporated.

Divide the batter between the 9 paper liners. Bake the cheesecakes in your preheated oven for 25-27 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden brown and the centers are just set. Allow the cheesecakes to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Once the cheesecakes are cooled, the centers will have sunk slightly, leaving room for the fruit topping. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave the berry jam on high for 10-15 seconds, or until warmed. Mix the fresh blueberries into the jam. Spoon this mixture on top of each cheesecake. Return the cheesecakes to your refrigerator until ready to serve.

Makes 9 mini cheesecakes.

*Any berry jam or berries will do. I used blackberry jam and fresh blueberries, but any variety of berry jam and berries will work. The possibilities are endless!

mini lemon berry cheesecakes

{Adapted from Chelsea’s Messy Apron}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #6, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #6, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #1 and Fresh Strawberry Ricotta Muffins

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So it’s SPRING!!!–three days now, as I write this. What’s your resolution?

It has always struck me as odd that we make resolutions in early January, in the depths of winter and still hungover from too much holiday good cheer (sometimes way too much holiday good cheer, if you know what I mean). Yeah, it’s a new calendar year and that might seem a good occasion for resolutions. But everything else about the timing is awful. What kind of resolutions can you make in the middle of winter and hungover? To eat less, drink less, and maybe hibernate for the next three months? What kind of resolutions are those?

But the first week of spring–now that’s a time for resolutions: warmer weather, longer days, flowers budding or in bloom, green reappearing after nothing but brown for the last six months. Ahh, give me spring and hope and optimism.

And resolutions. At Reading and Recipes our springtime resolutions are to start serializing a new novel and give you still more fun and easy and (maybe sometimes) healthy recipes for desserts or snacks to eat while reading or listening to the serial.

To fulfill the first resolution, we’re starting a novel called Before the Mellowing Year. The title comes from a poem by John Milton. And the story is about Zach and Allison Sandstrom, newlyweds embarking on a new life in the mid-1970s, adventures both outward and inward turned as they explore the vast world around them and the even more perilous worlds within.

To fulfill the second resolution, this week’s recipe is Fresh Strawberry Ricotta Muffins, an easy to make and bake muffin that is both healthy (as desserts go–hey, our nickname is “Sweets and Stories”) and unique in its flavors and texture (dense and rich).

So join us as we dive into spring, resolutions and all; and check back weekly to see how we’re doing with these resolutions!

strawberry ricotta muffins

Fresh Strawberry Ricotta Muffins

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg white

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons ricotta cheese*

1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

3-4 medium strawberries, hulled and finely diced

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with 6 paper liners, and set aside.

Add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until mixture becomes light and fluffy. Beat in the egg white and vanilla until the egg white is fully incorporated into the batter. Stir in the ricotta. Be sure to scrape the sides of the mixing bowl. Slowly mix in the flour, baking powder, and salt, until just combined; do not over mix the batter! Fold in the diced strawberry pieces.

Divide the batter between the 6 paper liners, filling each about half full. Bake in preheated oven for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Makes 6 muffins.

*If you don’t have this on hand, you can use plain Greek yogurt or sour cream in place of the ricotta.

fresh strawberry ricotta muffins

{Adapted from Life, Love, and Sugar}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #1, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #1, text © Jeffrey Anderson