Gratitude: Baked at 350 & Wrapped in a Brown Paper Bag

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 “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.”

– William Arthur Ward 

This is one of my favorite quotes.  Like ever.  And since I’m seriously dead over this pumpkin bread and Thanksgiving is around the corner, I figured we all might as well bake a few loaves and use them as a means to give thanks.  We all know someone that we could do a better job of appreciating, whether it’s a co-worker, a gardner, a neighbor, or a teacher.  This bread is as simple as it is delicious. It’s an old southern recipe from a dear Savannah debutante, tried and true for generations.   Wrapped in a recycled brown paper bag and tied with twine, it’s a perfect no-fuss way to express gratitude.

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In a medium bowl, use a fork to mix together 3 1/2 cups of flour, 3 cups of sugar, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon allspice.

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In a large bowl, mix together 1 can pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix) 2/3 cup water, 4 eggs, and 1 cup of vegetable oil.


Mix with a hand mixer until smooth.

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Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet (in batches).

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You will end up with a smooth batter that looks something like this:

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Pour evenly into 2 loaf pans and bake at 350 for an hour and 15 minutes.

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Pull from oven and let cool.  If possible, save for the next day so the spices can settle.

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Wrap bread in aluminum foil and get a brown paper bag from the recycling bin.  You’ll need tape and scissors too.

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Cut the bag and flatten it (writing facing up).


Place the aluminum wrapped loaf in the center of the paper and wrap it as you would a gift.FullSizeRender (20)

Tie with twine and a few fallen leaves (I had to hike a few miles to find some, but even in sunny So Cal I pulled it off).

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If you’re feeling really grateful, include a bottle of wine or Prosecco.

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Willing Fall During Indian Summer

I am SO. OVER. IT.

Seriously California, if I wanted humidity and heat I would have moved to Florida (and at least wouldn’t pay income tax, not to mention I’d be closer to my beloved family).  The fact that we are in the second half of October and I can’t even look at a pair of jeans without sweating actually makes me angry.  Don’t even get me started on the new sweaters and boots sitting in my closet, tags on, snuggled in their boxes, unworn and unnecessary.  I really can’t.  Instead I reach for one of the same three maxi dresses I’ve been wearing all summer; the only ones that don’t actually touch my skin.  No matter how many times I’ve cleaned them, they still have the faint lingering scent of sunscreen, which is really the anthesis of true fall fragrance.

Normally by this time of year my house is covered with gourds and pumpkins and accents of orange and brown.  This year it just feels wrong to put a pumpkin on a table, much less an outdoor stoop, where it will likely rot in the sun long before Halloween.

Last week, out of desperation (and perhaps hope), I bought a scented candle at Bath & Body Works, called Leaves. We’ve taken to lighting it every night when the sun goes down and my husband I both agree that it provides a comforting, albeit pathetic, mental shift that perhaps the seasons are changing after all.

But nothing really says fall like the smell of a pot roast slow-cooking all day. As my husband commented, “It’s like fall air freshener!”  It takes all of 5 minutes of work (and then 8 hours of cooking) and your house will smell amazing, whether it’s 90 degrees or 30 degrees. And arguably the best part is that you don’t have to make your house hotter by turning on an oven.

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You’ll need a 2 to 2.5 pound roast, some red potatoes,  carrots, an onion, thyme, bay leaves, beef broth, salt, pepper, and a little red wine (but only if you have a bottle opened, which we always do).

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Slice an onion into long pieces and divide in two parts.

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Peel the knotty parts off the potatoes and scrub them.

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Put half of onions, potatoes, and pre-peeled and cut baby carrots at the bottom of the slow cooker.   Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few sprigs of thyme and bay leaves.  This will create a “bed” for the meat to rest on.

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Rinse the roast and then lay the cut of meat on top of “bed” of veggies. Cover with the remaining onion, potato, and carrots.  Garnish with a few sprigs of thyme and bay leaves.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and maybe some onion and/or garlic powder.

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Add 1-2 cans of beef broth (roast should be about 3/4 covered) and a 1/4 of red wine.

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Cover and simmer on high for about 8 hours, or until tender.

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The roast should easily fall apart with a fork.

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I served with roasted brussel sprouts, but a side isn’t even necessary.  And there you have it:  fall.  No big deal.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Kind of a true story:  My sister and her husband had my parents over for dinner the other night.  The next day I talked to my mom and she was literally raving about the chicken dish they served.  I know my mom would argue otherwise, but trust me, it’s kind of not that often (like, ever) that my mom compliments her children’s cooking, much less raves about it.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s glad we cook, she’s especially grateful when we cook for her, but at the end of the day she could always have done it better.  And we don’t disagree.

Obviously I needed this recipe immediately if not sooner.  I was actually kind of annoyed that this was the first I was hearing of it. Our family sibling code mandates that you share good recipes, especially ones that impress our Swedish, gourmet mother.  So I called my sister and asked what the eff was up with this chicken.

“Oh…that,” she said, “I can’t tell you.”  [Followed by maniacal laughter.]

Now that I’ve finally gotten it out of her (nothing wrong with blackmailing an older sister), I know why she was so reluctant to share.  She could have spent many more years blissfully serving this dish, purporting to have slaved away in the kitchen after working all day while my mom thinks to herself, “I don’t know how she does it????”   Well guess what, I do.

So, that’s not exactly how it went down, but it definitely makes for a better story and what do you care?  I’m sharing the damn recipe with you, aren’t I?

You’ll only need a few ingredients.  To be specific, four:  2 lbs chicken breasts, 1 packet taco seasoning, 1 packet ranch dressing, 1 can diced tomatoes.


Who knew ranch dressing was still legal?


Rinse chicken breasts and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.


Cover with a packet of taco seasoning.


Dump a can of diced tomatoes on top.


Sprinkle the ranch. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours (if you want to expedite, cook on high for 5-6 hours).


The chicken will be so tender and flavorful it will literally fall apart with a fork.


Serve it with whatever you like.   We decided on tacos, but it would be excellent with rice and beans or on a salad.  I could literally eat it in a bowl by itself, like cereal.  It’s insanely flavorful and delicious.


Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 packet taco seasoning

1 packet ranch dressing

1 can diced tomates

Put all in a slow cooker and simmer for 8-10 hours on low (5-6 on high).  Serve in tacos or with rice and beans or over a salad.


Red, White, & Blueberries

Alright ya’ll, we’re going from trashy to classy in 15 minutes or less…southern style.  The Fourth of July is all about independence and living the American Dream, right?  No need to be shackled to your kitchen when there are burgers to grill and cocktails to be had!

You just need about $10 and some good serving pieces.  This is pretty much a perfect of example of presentation-is-everything.  We’re about to take this:


To this:


No big deal.


Wash the berries and slice the strawberries.


Mix thawed cool whip with a few splashes of vanilla.


Slice the angel food cake.


Place the cake in a bowl with a pretty napkin.


You can cover the cake before serving so it won’t get stale and will stay moist (I know, I hate that word too).



What?  NBD.

Pecan Crusted Chicken

If you are looking for an easy, healthy weeknight dinner (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), look no further.  The prep for this dish takes 10 minutes max even with the usual distractions (i.e. pulling the 1/4 measuring cup from the dishwasher and begrudingly hand-washing it, scraping the hardened honey from the bottom of the jar,  and hitting “record” on Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, etc.  Wait, did I just type that?).


Get out your Panko breadcrumbs (regular breadcrumbs will work just fine too), the pecans (irrelevant side note:  I prefer working with some that have already been slightly chopped because they’re less messy and easier on my stage 5 OCD, but of course whole ones will work too, the caveat being that you will absolutely find pecan pieces in random nooks of your kitchen for days to come), and the fresh parsley.


Start by finely chopping the fresh parsley.  You’ll need about 4 teaspoons give or take.


Then, chop the pecans into small, fine pieces.


With a fork, loosely mix 1/4 cup pecans, 1/4 cup Panko, and 4 teaspoons fresh parsley in a shallow dish.


Get out the dijon mustard and the honey.


In another shallow bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons dijon mustard with 2 tablespoons honey.


Pull chicken breasts from packaging and rinse under water and set aside.


Sprinkle the parsley/pecan mixture with a few pinches salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper and then dredge each chicken breast first through the honey mustard, heavily coating both sides, and then through the pecan mixture, firmly pressing into chicken until it is completely coated.


Place in a nonstick baking dish and cook on 400 for about 25-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and the pecans are starting to brown.  Your house should be smelling pretty damn good by now, especially for a Tuesday night.


Remove chicken breasts from oven and serve with whatever sounds good.  We opted for couscous and steamed broccolini, which I sprinkled with parmesan for presentation purposes.   Vegetarian?  No prob.  I gottcha.  Substitute chicken for salmon, though you’ll likely need to reduce the cook time by 10 minutes.  Don’t eat fish?  Skip this post and treat yourself to peonies.  See previous post for deats, to my delight they’re still in season, at least in So Cal.


Pecan Crusted Chicken:

3 tablespoons dijon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/4 finely chopped pecans

4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

Cayenne pepper

2 organic chicken breasts

In a shallow bowl, whisk together dijon mustard and honey. In another shallow bowl, mix Panko breadcrumbs, pecans, and parsley with a fork. Wash chicken breasts and dredge first through the honey mustard, heavily coating both sides, and then through the pecan mixture, firmly pressing into chicken until it is completely coated. Repeat with second breast. Place both breasts in a nonstick baking dish. Bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and the pecans are toasted on the outside.

4-Ingredient Hummus

Okay, fine.  It’s 6 ingredients, but anyone who is reading this blog likely has salt and water on hand and 4 sounds so much simpler, so let’s just roll with that.

I’d like to give a little shout out to my mama this Mother’s Day by sharing one of her oldest, easiest recipes.  I cannot recall a day in my childhood where my mom didn’t express her love to her three children by whipping up a meal or snack for us. They were not always complicated recipes, but they were consistently delicious and we never, ever doubted what her priorities were. If I am half as good a mother, my kids will indeed be very lucky.

In the spirit of being true to my mother, I’m going to give you some unsolicited advice here:  make this hummus.  Like, now.

It’s all too easy these days to buy pre-made hummus at the grocery store, scoop it in a bowl, and serve it with pre-cut carrots and pita chips.  I’m not judging anyone who does this.  Really, I’m not (right, mom? we don’t judge).  I’m just saying, try this recipe and you’ll see what you’ve been missing.  It’s arguably even easier to make this than getting that plastic wrap off of the store-bought hummus.


You’ll simply need a lemon, a can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), tahini, garlic, and salt.  Tahini is sold at most grocery stores and will keep for ages in your refrigerator.


Drain and rinse 1 can of garbanzo beans.


Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon (1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons of cold water).


Blend beans, lemon juice (+ 2 tablespoons cold water), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 minced garlic clove, and 4 tablespoons tahini until smooth.


In the meantime, pull apart, wash, and dry endive leaves.


Serve with sliced radishes, cucumbers, and endive leaves. Alternatively, pre-cut carrots and pita chips (again, no judgment).



Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, step moms, and moms-to-be out there.  It’s sometimes a thankless job but just think, if you’re lucky enough you’ll have a daughter write a blog post about your hummus one day.  NBD.

Margareta’s Hummus:

1 can of garbanzo beans drained

4 tablespoons of tahini

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)

2 TB cold water

1 garlic clove, minced

Puree in blender. Serve with sliced cucumbers, radishes, and endive leaves.



An Easter Side Dish: Healthy(ish) Cauliflower Souffle

When I think of Easter, there are many traditional dishes that come to mind. I gravitate towards light and fresh, as in roasted lamb with rosemary and honey, asparagus served with lemon, mint, and feta…perhaps some red new potatoes with parsley and sea salt.  I do not necessarily think of cauliflower.  At all.   But let’s trust.  For a minute at least, hear me out.

You need to make this.  Like, yesterday.  It is so easy, so light, so fresh. It’s a great companion to any dish and with this recipe you won’t need an EKG any time soon.  I literally convinced my stepsons it was mac and cheese.  Just saying...

Buy a large head of cauliflower.


Wash and cut into 1-inch pieces


Fill a pot with an inch or so of water and bring to a boil. Add cauliflower and steam, covered, for about 5 minutes, or until cauliflower can be easily pierced with a fork.  When finished, drain and set aside.

In the meantime, prepare 1/4 butter and 1/4 cup flour.


Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat and when it’s just starting to brown, add the flour. Stir together. Reduce heat to low and slowly stir in one cup of milk, whisking until thick.


Add salt and cayenne pepper.  Stir in one cup of cheese (mozzarella, parmesan, cheddar- it does not matter- I have tried them all with equal success).


Remove from heat.  Stir in 3/4 egg whites (or 4 eggs).


Gently add cauliflower.


Pour into a dish and bake at 300 for an hour and 15 minutes.


Check your pulse.  Make sure you’re still breathing.


YUP…alive…life is that good and that easy.  NBD.

Cauliflower Souffle

1 large cauliflower, but into small, 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 cup fat-free milk

1 tsp salt

A few dashes of cayenne pepper

8 oz shredded cheese (mozzarella or parmesan recommended, but any will do)

3/4 cup egg whites (or 4 eggs)

Steam cauliflower until it can be pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside. In a pot, melt butter over medium heat and add flour. Gradually add the milk, whisking often, until thick.  Add salt and cayenne pepper.  Stir in cheese until melted.  Remove pot from heat. Slowly stir in egg whites.  Gently mix in cauliflower.  Pour into a dish and bake at 300 for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Edible Easter Nests

Yesterday was officially the first day of spring and Easter is only two weeks from Sunday.  In other words, what better time to share one of my favorite spring traditions, edible bird nests?  They are so unbelievably NBD and serve many purposes all-in-one, including hostess gift, name card holder, table decor, and dessert (just to name a few).  I love me some efficiency-eeeeeeeee.

With only 4 ingredients, they require little effort or expense.  Seriously, if you can make Rice Krispies treats, you can make these.

Oh, these lil’ ole things?  The only problem being that they’re almost too cute to eat.


My Mom’s Swedish Easter Bird Nests

1/4 cup butter

10 oz. marshmallows

5 cups crumbled Shredded Wheat

A  dash of cinnamon

Melt 1/4 cup of butter on low heat in a large pot.  Pour in 10 oz. regular marshmallows and slowly melt together.  Sprinkle mixture with a dash of cinnamon.  Add 5 cups shredded wheat that has been crushed and pulled apart to look like little “sticks.” Stir and remove from heat.  Let it cool for a few minutes.  If it’s too hot it will not only burn your hands, but will be too sticky to be malleable.  Form into small little “nests” and place on a plate.  Fill with jellybeans or Cadbury milk chocolate mini eggs.


No big deal, right?


Happy Spring!  Stay tuned for table ideas and simple recipes.




15-Minute, 100 Calorie Banana Oat Cakes

Okay people, here’s the deal: these are so easy to make that it’s almost embarrassing and they serve as a delicious, healthy snack or breakfast companion. Chased down with a Greek yogurt on your way to a morning workout?  Stop.  I can’t.   At only 100 calories and loaded with protein and fiber, what is there to talk about?

Except for the Vitamix blender.

I actually have a lot to say about this.  When my husband and I got married a little over a year ago I really, really wanted to register for a Vitamix blender (in addition to registering for a golf cart and a safari in Africa, also vetoed), but he told me that in no world we live in together will a $700 blender ever be a part of our reality.  For those of you who know my generous husband, this is actually kind of funny.  He has been known to spend a lot more on things that are a lot less practical (anyone who has seen or, more likely, heard his car will know this to be true).  But being the expert online researcher that he is, true to form he found a blender that was reviewed every bit as well as the Vitamix, at fraction of the cost, and that’s the one I used for this recipe. Still, while I found it worked well, if I must be honest here (and I must), I also found myself wondering if the Vitamix would have worked even better.  I know this sounds ridiculous. I am totally the girl wearing fake UGGs and resenting every second of it.

But let’s do this, Vitamix…or not.


You are going to need a large, ripe banana, 1 tablespoon flax seed, 1 cup of rolled oats, 1/4 cup vanilla almond milk ( I accidentally bought regular so added a few dashes of vanilla extract), a heap of almond butter,  and a dash of kosher salt and cinnamon each.  Reminder, I am not scared of generic brands and damn it Trader Joe’s needs to sponsor me.


Blend all ingredients well.  I actually tried to double the recipe (the original only makes about six oat cakes) and I don’t think I would do that again- my blender seemed sad and mad.  The Vitamix might have embraced the challenge with more gusto.  Regardless, it’s easy enough to just do it twice in a row.


Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet in dollops with parchment paper and bake at 375 for about 10-15 minutes, until they start to brown very lightly on top.


Serve with a dash of butter or jam.  YUM.


I’d like to thank my bestie, Kathryn Delaney, and her sister, Jess, for sharing this recipe with me.

Banana Oat Cakes:

1 cup rolled oats

1 large ripe banana

1 TBS flax seed

1 heaping spoon almond butter

1/4 cup-ish (give or take) vanilla almond milk

1 dash cinnamon

1 dash kosher salt

Optional: Nuts or berries

Process in a substantial blender. Scoop onto parchment paper lined baking sheet (this should make about six oat cakes) and bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Serve with a little butter or jam.  NBD.


Heart Sandwiches

Dust off that heart-shaped cookie cutter and let’s put it to good use this week.  Don’t own one? No worries, you can’t throw a stone without finding a store that sells them for no more than $2 (Michael’s, Williams- Sonoma, Target, Sur La Table, Bed Bath & Beyond, to name a few).  With Valentine’s Day around the corner, what better way to express yourself than with these adorable, yummy sandwiches (made with lots of love, of course)?

Prepare the sandwich as you always would, business as usual.  When you’re finished assembling, firmly press the cookie cutter into the center (using a pairing knife, if necessary, to separate any stubborn edges).







It’s no big deal.