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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 #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 #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


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #25 and Mini Strawberry Glazed Pies

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Kind of silly being nostalgic for spring with Labor Day weekend staring you in the face. This is the end of summer, or close to it. If you want to get nostalgic about a season, how about summer?

But no–this week at Reading and Recipes we’re looking all the way back to May: spring flowers blooming, leaves just starting to come out on the trees, and fresh strawberries in the fields waiting to be picked. These Mini Strawberry Glazed Pies are the essence of spring with their intense strawberry flavor in a compact single-serve packet. Just add a dollop of whipped cream and impress the heck out of your guests.

Or keep them all for yourself and make your tummy happy. I mean, we do have a long weekend staring us in the face. There’s one pie for Friday, one for Saturday, one for Sunday, and one for Monday. And who cares if it’s the traditional end of summer. With a bite of this pie in your mouth, it’s springtime year-round!

Happy Labor Day!

strawberry glazed pies

Mini Strawberry Glazed Pies

2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 pat unsalted butter

1 package mini graham cracker crusts (6 total)

mini strawberry glazed pies

To a large saucepan, add 1 cup strawberry slices, granulated sugar, cornstarch, and water. Mash the strawberries with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Heat ingredients over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to boil. Boil for a minute before removing from heat. Add butter and stir until completely melted. Set mixture aside to cool for 30 minutes.

Arrange mini crusts on a cookie sheet. Divide remaining cup of sliced strawberries between crusts. Pour cooled strawberry glaze over fresh strawberries. Serve pies immediately, with a dollop of whipped cream. Cover and store any remaining pies in the refrigerator.

Makes 6 mini pies.

strawberry glazed pie

{Family recipe}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #25 of “Two Sisters Times Two”.

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #25, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #25, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #15 and Strawberry Mousse

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Sometimes I feel yanked between two outlooks.

One minute I’m looking forward to the future, getting excited about upcoming events and plans and opportunities; the next minute I’m looking back fondly at the past, wondering where the time has gone. Last week our No-bake S’more Bars had summer written all over them, an excited look-ahead to the season just underway–the beach, the pool, camping out, hiking.

Now this week, with our Strawberry Mousse–using fresh strawberries, the signature fruit of spring–I find myself wondering where spring has gone. What happened to all those flowers, the cool nights, being able to sit out in the sun without browning like a piece of toast?

This Strawberry Mousse will make you nostalgic for the season just past, for those fresh hand-picked berries now all but gone from the farmer’s market. The good news is that fresh strawberries are available in the summer, and this mousse is both easy and refreshing, and doesn’t require any cooking or heating up the kitchen.

So give it a try to help you cool off on these hot summer days even as you think fondly of the cool spring just past, gone till next year.

And while you’re caught up in this mild wave of nostalgia, check out Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #15. The four women are looking backward with both regret and fond memories even as they contemplate an uncertain future filled with both hope and fear.

strawberry fluffStrawberry Mousse

1/2 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced*

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice or orange juice

2 cups whipped cream or Cool Whip**

strawberry mousse

Add the strawberries to a bowl, along with the granulated sugar, vanilla, and lemon or orange juice. Cover and allow to marinate until juices form, or about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make whipped cream or ensure that Cool Whip is at room temperature.

Add the strawberries and their juices to a food processor. Puree until smooth. Gently fold the pureed strawberries into the whipped cream. Divide into serving cups, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours. When ready to serve, garnish with a strawberry and lemon or orange peel.

Makes 2 servings.

*This will be about 1 heaping cup of sliced strawberries.

**To make your own whipped cream, beat 1 cup whipping cream to soft peaks. Slowly add 1 Tablespoon of powdered sugar. Continue to beat until powdered sugar is incorporated into the whipped cream.

strawberry mousse dessert

{Adapted from Big Girl, Small Kitchen}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #15 of “Two Sisters Times Two”.

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #15, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #15, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #9 and Buttermilk Strawberry Shortcakes

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There are only a handful of American dessert staples, and most of them have found their way onto Reading and Recipes–chocolate-chip cookies, brownies, banana pudding, apple pie.

But the American dessert staple for early spring has to be Strawberry Shortcake. During strawberry season when I was growing up, my mom would make a large buttermilk biscuit in a cake pan, slice it in half horizontally, layer in the strawberries fresh-picked from the garden on the lower half, put the other half of the biscuit on top, put a large bowl of fresh-whipped cream (ladled off the top of the unhomogenized whole milk) alongside, and turn us kids loose on that delight. And she would do this daily for what seemed weeks on end! It wasn’t the tidiest dessert to serve or eat, but then kids don’t care about that sort of thing!

So in homage to that childhood memory, and in recognition of the start of the traditional strawberry season (quietly forgetting that strawberries are now available year-round), we’re posting Buttermilk Strawberry Shortcakes as this week’s recipe. The biscuits are single-serving size, and thus neater and easier to serve and store; but the flavor and smell and colors of this spring staple are every bit as enticing as those cake-sized mountains of springtime joy from yesteryear.

So make your own fond memories now with these Buttermilk Strawberry Shortcakes from Reading and Recipes!

strawberry shortcakesButtermilk Strawberry Shortcakes

1/2 cup all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

3 Tablespoons buttermilk*

1 1/4 cups sliced fresh strawberries

4 teaspoons strawberry jam (optional)

whipped cream**

deconstructed strawberry shortcake

In a small bowl, combine sliced fresh strawberries and 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When ready to make shortcakes, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar, and salt to a food processor. Pulse until dry ingredients are combined. Add the chilled butter to the food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Add the buttermilk to the food processor and pulse until the dough is moistened.

Divide the dough into two. Place biscuits on a nonstick cookie sheet. Brush each biscuit with a little bit of buttermilk and sprinkle with remaining teaspoon of granulated sugar. Bake shortcakes for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown.

When ready to serve, split the warm biscuits in half. Spread 1 teaspoon of jam onto each half. Top bottom half of the shortcake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Place other half of shortcake on top. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 shortcakes.

*Buttermilk is highly recommended, but you can use regular milk or dairy-free milk if you do not have buttermilk on hand.

**Feel free to use whipped cream out of a can or Cool Whip. If you want to make homemade whipped cream, beat 1/4 cup whipping cream until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

strawberry shortcakeClick below to listen to or read Serial #9 of “Two Sisters Times Two”.

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #9, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #9, text © Jeffrey Anderson