Toasty Summer

Ah, summer… when this Scottish gal turns a bit less pasty, nothing feels better than reading in the pool, and the beach hair makes its comeback…

But this summer has turned toasty in more ways than one! As a runner, I’ve been waking up early to beat the relentless Arizona heat. I love my morning runs, but am miserable if I don’t remember to refuel properly. Without a healthy balance of rich carbohydrates, my head feels all swimmy (and not a good kind of swimming!) and without protein and healthy fats I cannot power through a run or recover afterwards. And trust me, running during the Arizona summer- even in the wee hours- takes a lot out of you!

Honestly, even just existing in the Arizona summer can be draining. But a simple solution to the fatigue of toasty weather is to- well- make more toast!

Avocado toast is a huge hit nowadays, but unlike La Croix (which to me just tastes like the fizzling memory of lemonade), this is a fad I can get behind! Today, I got creative with this simple and versatile snack/meal, creating what might be the ideal avocado toast to power through whatever your summer might bring:

Ingredients: 

  • One avocado
  • Goat cheese
  • One tomato
  • Vinegar (I used a lime-flavored one)
  • Olive Oil (I opted for bacon-flavored, courtesy of the Olive Mill in Queen Creek, AZ)
  • Hearty bread (Dave’s Killer Bread is excellent)

Directions: 

  1. Toast bread (Who’d have ever thought?!)
  2. Peel and pit avocado,
  3. Mash avocado in a small bowl with a drizzle of oil and vinegar (to taste- I probably used half a tablespoon of each), mash until mostly smooth with smaller chunks
  4. Spread avocado mash on toast (should have enough for four small slices of bread)
  5. Sprinkle toast with goat cheese
  6. Top each piece with a slice of tomato
  7. Sprinkle black seed on top (or salt/pepper) to add a little zing of flavor
  8. Enjoy and feel like a health-conscious millennial, ready to take on whatever the day may bring you (which might just be another helping of toast)

 

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Melanie’s Lemon-Berry Muffins

It seems that every year around the beginning of summer I reread or at least skim parts of Gone with the Wind. I even venture to take the 959-page tome into the pool, to the horror of bookworm friends who doubt my ability to keep from dropping it into the water. (Seriously, people, I am an expert. Any girl who can ride a bike or swim laps while reading can easily sit still on a floaty without turning Gone with the Wind into Drowned in the Water.)

Anyways, because of this annual revisit to Georgia through the words of Margaret Mitchell, I have come to associate GWtW with the start of summer. You know what else I associate with summer? Baking. Having been away at college where the closest thing to baking was microwaving a cookie in the caf, I have a lot of recipes to catch up on. That said, upon finishing GWtW, it seemed fitting to mourn Scarlett’s fate and to celebrate the beginning of summer with a yummy treat. Plus, I had a ginormous carton of strawberries that were going to go bad. So, I found a recipe and – as usual- did not follow it,  instead creating a delicious and actually rather healthy summer snack. In the interest of relating this recipe to literature, I shall call them “Melanie’s Lemon-Berry Muffins.” They are as sweet as Melanie with their strawberry savor and as sassy as Scarlett with their lemon twang, making them perfect for afternoon tea or a neighborhood barbecue. (Boom. I can relate anything to a book if I try hard enough. Convincing, right? 😉 )

So here’s the recipe! Enjoy!

Melanie’s Lemon-Berry Muffins

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  1. Gather your ingredients: 
    • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup cane sugar
    • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
    • 2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1 egg
    • 3/4 cup milk
    • 1 cup pureed bananas (about 2 bananas)
    • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • 1 tsp. lemon zest (I just guessed- I have no idea how much made it into the bowl but it does not matter that much)
    • 5-7 drops lemon essential oil (I use Young Living, but any is fine)
    • 2 cups chopped strawberries
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line cupcake pans
  3. Combine flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and mix.
  4. Whisk egg, milk, bananas, lemon juice, and vanilla together in a smaller bowl.
  5. Pour liquid ingredients into flour mix and stir thoroughly
  6. Fold in lemon zest and strawberries
  7. Spoon into baking cups and bake for 19-21 minutes
  8. Enjoy while reading Gone with the Wind 😉

*This yields approximately 20-24 muffins depending on how full you want them.

Cookie-ception Cookies

Fresh out of the oven and smelling like some heavenly combination of Christmas, Willy Wonka's factory, and grandma's kitchen.

Fresh out of the oven and smelling like some heavenly combination of Christmas, Willy Wonka’s factory, and grandma’s kitchen.

One of my friends who knows more about movies than I do informed me that “Inception” does not actually refer to having one thing within itself but rather having a story begin at the end (or something like that) and that my cookies more accurately could be compared to nesting dolls, with one thing holding a smaller version of that same thing. However, “Nesting Doll Cookies” does not have the same ring to it as “Cookie-ception Cookies” does. In fact, “Nesting Doll Cookies” sound absolutely disgusting. I toyed around with calling this recipe “Procrastination Cookies” since I invented it rather than finishing my AP Literature essay, but as I found out this week that my teacher reads my blog, I figured it would be wiser not to give this post such a self-incriminating title. (To my teacher: If you are reading this, I promise that I will complete my essay and also bring you a cookie.)

Anyway, enough rambling. These are the most guiltily, scrumptiously delicious cookies I have ever made, and I’m not just saying that because they were produced by a recipe of my own devising. They combine two of my favorite dessert flavors: Speculoos Cookie Butter (or Biscoff if you prefer, but I will readily admit my brand loyalty to Speculoos and Trader Joe’s) and, of course, chocolate, plus a not-so-secret ingredient that makes them light and fluffy.

Note: I doubled the recipe, but this makes a ridiculous amount of cookies (more than 4 dozen depending on how you scoop them) so consider halving it. Of course, the more dough you make, the less you can bake, and the more you get to eat raw!

Prep time: 20-30 minutes

Ingredients:

You cannot bottle happiness, but apparently you can package it in a jar...

You cannot bottle happiness, but apparently you can package it in a jar…

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 heaping cup creamy Cookie Butter (make sure it really is heaping) 
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 cup dry pudding mix (just vanilla)
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (preferably semi-sweet)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Cream together the softened butter and Cookie Butter
  3. Add sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla; cream with the butter and Cookie Butter
  4. Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pudding mix
  5. Beat the dry mixture into the creamed mixture
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips
  7. Bake balls of dough on ungreased baking sheet for 10-12 minutes
  8. Let cookies residual bake out of the oven until they can be removed from the baking sheet; in the meantime, eat some dough. Or maybe a lot of dough.
  9. Eat cookies.
Need I say anything? Just look at that yumminess.

Need I say anything? Just look at that yumminess.

I hope you enjoy this recipe! I know I did;  making and then baking this recipe was a fantastic way to unwind after a looooooong week of exams and concerts, so I definitely encourage any other busy reader to reverse “stressed” to get “desserts” with Cookie-ception Cookies.

On Senioritis (and also brownies)

Upon entering this year, I thought that I was prepared to face that dread combination of restlessness, fatigue, and frustration that has been plaguing high school seniors since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of secondary education). I was wrong and realize now, having forsaken productivity for a few hours to breathe for the first time since winter break, that senioritis is worse than I could ever have predicted.

Granted, I am not ditching school, I still do my homework, and remain relatively active. However, I cannot shake off that feeling of restless tension that I know everyone else in the class of 2015 is feeling. But there is hope! Not to sound like some radio-show therapist, but recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

So what causes senioritis? In a word, EVERYTHING. We are caught in a hormonal limbo between adulthood and childhood. We are expected to go out and get jobs, apply for college, plan for a future, and yet also told to enjoy our teenage years as children before we have to enter the “real world” post-graduation. Is it any wonder that we are stressed? We are caught between two worlds: we look at the kids at our schools and wonder if we ever could have been that small, while at the same time we have no idea how to handle the world that we are about to be plunged into.

And yet, we are longing for that plunge; we can’t wait to get out of high school because, as scary as the future may be, it is better than this awkward limbo. That said, the only definite cure for senioritis is a high school diploma.

This cure will be administered soon enough, but we have a hectic two months ahead of us first and must find temporary remedies to keep us sane until that glorious day: graduation.

So, here are five ways to ease your symptoms of senioritis while you count down the days until May 21st.

1. Be a Kid

Like I said, we are caught in a limbo between childhood and adulthood, but the good thing about this limbo is that it is okay to be a kid still! Sometimes you need to just forget your future planning for a little while and play tag at a park, break out some coloring books, or rewatch old Disney movies. I know that even five minutes of swinging on the swings at the park by my house made me feel much better!

My friends and I went for a picnic and threw water balloons at each other. You are never too old to play at the park!

My friends and I went for a picnic and threw water balloons at each other. You are never too old to play at the park!

2. Make Something

Creativity has a way of refocusing our minds and also has the added benefit of being productive without being stressful. I personally enjoy painting and composing and although I rarely finish anything, it calms me to put my mind to a single task rather than the bazillion obligations of senior year. Even just singing a song at the top of your voice or typing up a rambling blog post (guilty…) can do wonders.

Pinterest fails are still creative...maybe...

Pinterest fails are still creative…maybe…

3. Treat Yourself!

If ever there was a time for chocolate, this is it. Emotions are at a constant high and stress is at a dangerous level, so allow yourself to enjoy a favorite treat or, even better, try a new one! I have been living off of Starbucks (Grande coconut milk latte: thank you Chris the Latte Boy!) and froyo, but today decided to mix it up and throw together an original brownie recipe. To put it simply, it is HEAVENLY and took only about 15 minutes to throw together, plus the awesome fact that it include tons of antioxidants due to the coconut oil! I will include the recipe at the bottom of this post. 🙂

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4. Spend Time with Friends

This seems like an obvious one, but in the business of this time of year, it is easy to forget to include socializing in your packed schedule, and waving at your friend from across the classroom during second hour does not count as socializing. So whether it means getting together to study, going out to cry over ice cream together, or even just talking on the phone for a bit, make time to reach out to your pals. And (I know this will sound blasphemous) sometimes an afternoon at the mall with your best friend is worth more in the long run than a day of cramming. (Disclaimer: a day of studying with your best friend might be better than both…#nerdlife)

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5. Keep this in Perspective

Yes, senioritis stinks. It is no fun for anyone. Goodness, even my teachers seem ready to collapse! (My AP Lit. teacher made us cookies today to cheer us, and herself, up…thanks Mrs. Plunk!) However, as difficult as this is, it too shall pass. In a few months, you probably won’t even remember all of the frustrations of this year. Maybe you’ll even look back on high school with- dare I say it?- fondness. A friend of mine recently shared a Bible verse with me that has been extremely encouraging as I face each day:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us

an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  

-2 Corinthians 4:17

Soon you will no longer be a senior. You will hold your diploma in your hand and once more be a freshman, a newbie to the world of college and adulthood. Your senioritis will be cured and your future stretched out before you. In the meantime, play, laugh, eat, and most of all, enjoy these next two months.

Senioritis Salvation Brownies: “It’s like graduation in your mouth!” 

Update: I just tried one (or four...) and they are the best from-scratch brownies I have ever had!

Update: I just tried one (or four…) and they are the best from-scratch brownies I have ever had!

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup coconut oil (Full of healthy fats and antioxidants, so clearly this is health food!)

2/3 cup cocoa powder

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips (any kind, but I used milk chocolate)

 Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (For all of you studying for AP Chemistry, this is degrees Fahrenheit, not Kelvin or Celsius.)

2. Mix coconut oil, eggs, flour, and sugar together in a medium bowl. Coconut oil may be clumpy, but will become liquid quickly with heat. I put the bowl in the oven for about two minutes to soften it and that seemed to work just fine.

3. Add salt, baking powder, cocoa, vanilla and chocolate chips. Mix well and pour into an 8×8 inch pan. Optional: keep half of the batter to eat. If you do, be warned that your brownies may be thinner than you expected, but I assure you that (risk of salmonella aside), this is worth it; the batter was downright delectable!

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes. I recommend checking on them at 30 minutes and letting them continue to bake for additional time if the top is still super squishy. (I’ve been watching a lot of Cupcake Wars lately, so I can verify that this is the proper baking technique…)

5. Let sit until they can be cleanly cut.

6. Sneak a bite of the edges every time you walk by the kitchen and maybe share some actual brownies with your fellow seniors.

Bon appetit! And good luck on the rest of your year!

Mashed Bananas and Middlemarch

Fun fact: Middlemarch was originally published as eight serial volumes, not a single novel.

Fun fact: Middlemarch was originally published as eight serial volumes, not a single novel.

I first picked up Middlemarch in a bookstore because the author’s name was unfamiliar and therefore intriguing. “George Eliot?” I wondered aloud.  “I’ve never read anything by him before.”

“Her,” my mom corrected, listening into my thoughts. “George Eliot was a woman.”

Of course then I had to read it. Being a girl with a boy’s name (“Ryanne” is pronounced “Ryan”, which may shock some acquaintances who still cannot seem to remember that), I was excited to find an author who shared my unusual name situation. Turns out, upon checking out Middlemarch and reading the introduction, Miss George’s name was actually MaryAnne, but she used a masculine name in order to escape discrimination as a female author with strong convictions and, in my opinion, wonderfully biting sarcasm.

Anyway, despite the rolling eyes of my friends and the puzzled expression on my teacher’s face, (apparently not many students choose 19th century British literature for light reading…weird) I dove undaunted into the provincial town of Middlemarch, where I met a character who I relate to so strongly that I confused my life with hers at times and was given an eye-opening look into the complexity of relationships, especially within marriages. I anticipate analyzing this topic and the themes associated with it later, but for now I just want to savor the story and the resonance of its beautifully-flawed characters.

So how do mashed bananas fit in with this?  They don’t, but I’m going to exercise my rhetorical skills and tie them in anyway.

Whenever I find myself in the midst of a large project- for instance, finishing a 794-page novel that may or may not start with an “M” and be written by a woman with a man’s name – I tend to despair of ever finishing said task and feel the need to complete some smaller project as encouragement. I also feel the need to eat chocolate. As I was pondering how to satisfy both of these needs, I remembered the squishy bananas in the kitchen and figured that 9:00 at night was as good a time as any to make some banana bread, infused with chocolate of course, to fuel me through the final chapters of Middlemarch. It turned out delicious, although I mostly ate the batter.

So, here you are! Ryanne’s Unofficial-Middlemarch-Mashed-Banana-Coconut-Chocolate-Ooey-Gooey Banana Bread recipe, or, another yummy banana bread recipe with some extra yum. (Titles are not my strong suit.)

This isn't actually my bread...we ate it all before I remembered to take a selfie with it. (Did I just say "selfie"? NO!!!) Anyway, this looks close enough.

This isn’t actually my bread…we ate it all before I remembered to take a selfie with it. (Did I just say “selfie”? NO!!!) Anyway, this looks close enough.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup coconut oil
4 large, very ripe bananas
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 granulated sugar
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
Optional: 1 cup combined shredded coconut and chocolate chips/chunks (I used dark chocolate, but all chocolate is good)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 and grease two loaf pans

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugars, vanilla, eggs, bananas and coconut oil and beat until creamy and smooth.

Add flour and baking powder and beat at low speed for about a minute, until you have a creamy batter. Stir in your coconut.

Pour into greased loaf pan. Do not fill all the way to the top because the bread will raise slightly. (plus, then you have an excuse to save batter to eat raw)

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to one hour. Insert a tooth pick into the center of the bread and if it comes out clean, your bread is done.

 

Enjoy with a good book! After all, C.S. Lewis said, ‘Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.’

The Best Lemon Bars- with Young Living Essential Lemon Oil

In the middle of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I began to despair of first, the human condition, and second, ever actually finishing the deceptively-short book. I clearly needed a break- and some food as I had been reading for hours- so I decided to try my hand at a new recipe for lemon bars. After all, what is more cheerful than a nice, tart, lemon bar? And, even better, what is more in contrast to the “brooding gloom” of Conrad’s novella?

Anyway, I found this recipe and it seemed simple enough even for me, the girl who fearlessly plunges into centuries-old satires but somehow could not figure out whether “cook uncovered” meant to leave the lid off or not. Even more exciting, this recipe uses essential oils! I have recently been using Young Living’s oils for everything from headaches to moodiness to a broken arm and so I was anxious to see what magic they could work in the kitchen.

I was not disappointed! Not only was this easy to follow, they were so delicious that I have pretty much been eating them for dinner the past couple of nights and several people have asked for the recipe. Here it is and Bon appetit! 🙂

Ingredients:
Crust
• 1 cup soft butter
• 1/2 cup powdered sugar
• Dash of salt
• 2 cups of flour

Filling
• 4 eggs beaten
• 1/4 cup flour
• 2 cups sugar
• 20 drops Young Living Lemon Essential Oil

Directions:
1. Combine all of the crust ingredients and mix well.
2. Press into a 9×13 inch pan.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
4. For the filling, combine flour & sugar.
5. Mix in beaten eggs and lemon essential oil,
6. Pour into the slightly cooled crust.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
8. Let cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
(Store in refrigerator to maintain density.)