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Sunflower Oatmeal Bread

My husband loves sandwiches made on sunflower bread at a local diner. When we discovered the owner ships the bread all the way from New York to North Carolina (therefore justifying the extra charge for the sunflower sandwiches), I thought, “Couldn’t they just make their own, save shipping and serve fresher slices?” With only a little time online, I found a delicious recipe that might not be exactly like its New York counterpart, but this bread receives rave reviews at our house.

Here’s the recipe:
1 1/4 C warm water
1 package dry yeast
pinch sugar
1 1/4 C warm buttermilk
1/4 Cup honey
2 T molasses
2 T melted butter
1 1/3 C whole-wheat flour
1 C regular rolled oats
3/4 C sunflower seeds
1 egg, beaten (and divided)
2 t salt
5 cups plain flour (approximately)

In a medium, non-metal mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar. Let mixture stand for five to ten minutes while you mix together the buttermilk, honey, molasses, and butter. (When I warm the buttermilk in a two-cup measuring cup in the microwave, I add the butter to save a step. Then I add the honey and molasses.)

In another bowl,combine the whole-wheat flour, oats, seeds, and salt. Pour in about half of the egg. You’ll use the rest of the egg later.) Combine the buttermilk, yeast, and flour mixtures. Mix with an electric mixer at medium for three minutes.

Add several cups of the plain flour, and then move dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and elastic–about five minutes.

Cover the dough with a lint-free towel, and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours. Its size should have almost doubled.

Punch down the dough, shape into three equal, round loaves. Place loaves onto greased baking sheets. (I use baking stones.) Cover and let rise again for about thirty minutes. Brush the tops with the remaining egg.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty to thirty-five minutes. Cool on cooling racks before serving.

The whole process takes around three hours and uses several kitchen tools, but the bread is wonderful and worth all the bother. It’s not too sweet even with the honey and molasses, so it’s perfect for savory sandwiches. I like it toasted with peanut butter and blueberries for breakfast or with a smear of lemon ginger jam.

If you can’t use all the bread at once, freeze one or two loaves.

Try this bread. You’ll be happy you did!



My go-to recipe especially for the fall is one I found in the Three Rivers Cookbook Volume I. It’s called Burger Bundles, and it is one of the most requested dishes in our house. I’m making it today, in fact. Quinn loves it so much that he wrote about his love of Burger Bundles for one of his college application essays last year. Really. The original recipe is wonderful, but I’ve adapted it to fit a busy lifestyle.

Here’s my take on Burger Bundles.
1   pound ground beef (I use the 93/7 lean version.)
1   12-ounce can evaporated milk, divided (I use skim.)
1 – 1 1/2 cup Pepperidge Farm Stuffing
1   can condensed cream of mushroom soup ( I use the Healthy Choice one.)

Mix 6 ounces of milk with ground beef. Add the stuffing mix. Shape the beef into meatballs and place in a 8×11, sprayed casserole dish. Mix 6 ounces of milk with the mushroom soup and pour over the meatballs.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

This dish makes house smell wonderful and feel warm and toasty, a perfect dish for ravenous teenagers after soccer practice. For that reason, I always double this recipe.


Recipe for a Care Package

My mother-in-law used to say a parent is a parent “from the womb to the tomb.” I’ve had time to contemplate those words as my house is changing into an empty nest. I’m still a mother, but now I’m mothering from a distance most days.

This past week I’ve heard, “Please pray for boxing.,” “I can’t figure out if I should…,(fill in the blank),”Please pray for a friend,” “Please read over my essay. It’s due Friday,” “The banana bread was delicious. Please send more.”

So. I haven’t lost my job. It’s just changing. Moving forward. A good thing.

Here’s a recipe that leaves my crowd begging for more.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

3 ripe bananas , mashed                                  2 cups all purpose flour
*1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce               1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar                                                        1 teaspoon dissolved in 4-5 tablespoons boiling water
2 eggs, slightly beaten                                       3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Combine bananas, applesauce, and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs, lemon juice, soda and water, chocolate chips, and flour. Stir only until blended. Pour batter into a **bread pan lined with sprayed, wax paper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, until the top springs back when pressed.

*A full fat recipe would call for 1/2 cup butter.
**I use four mini loaf pans so that I can mail separate breads to different colleges!

Vanilla Catastrophe

I like to think of myself not exactly as a foodie but as someone who is really interested in cooking. I enjoy cooking for people. I read cookbooks like novels. I’ve collected dozens of cookbooks. Some rarely get used, and that’s okay. Having them on my kitchen shelves comforts me—until it’s time to dust. Only during that annual event do I weakly contemplate donating a few of the less interesting ones.

So last year when I discovered homemade vanilla extract, I knew I wanted to bake with my own vanilla. In October, I ordered a kit that included everything but the vodka. When the clear bottle and five vanilla beans arrived in my mailbox, I was ready with the full bottle of vodka that had moved with us from Charlotte to Pittsburgh to Smithfield over a period of twenty-four years.

I split the beans, stuffed them into the bottle, and poured in about eight ounces of vodka. I closed the rubber stopper and pushed the wire holder in place to seal in the goodness. Every few days, I’d gaze at the brew, shake it a few times, and dream of the delicious cookies we’d make with this real vanilla created with my own hands.

Finally, in early December, we were ready to make our twelve different kinds of Christmas cookies, and the bottle of amber colored liquid stood ready in the pantry. I’d carefully measure the desired amount needed for a recipe, and at the end of the baking session, I’d pour in more vodka. I trusted that I’d never run out of vanilla again. Perpetual vanilla.

I’m sure I didn’t imagine that the cookies tasted better this year than ever before. I enjoyed the compliments. I enjoyed my mother’s appropriate surprise and pride as she examined the bottle, and I felt a little tingle when she exclaimed, “Our people used to make their own vanilla! Granny Lane’s sister used to.” She would be my great-great aunt. Cool.

And then—this morning.

I baked a strawberry cheesecake for my sons. I baked a Swedish Nut Cake for a Bible study. I’d just replenished the bottle with three teaspoons of vodka and was pushing the wire clamp back down to seal it, when the unthinkable happened.

The bottle slipped from my hands and shattered all over my granite counter top. I froze. Visions of all the goodies I’d thought about baking this year evaporated as the precious liquid dotted with tiny flakes of real vanilla beans spread over the counter’s edge and dripped onto my floor. Several minutes passed before I could move. In fact, my husband, recognizing my shock, started cleaning the mess first.

The upside to this fiasco is that I have some twenty-four-year-old vodka left and the beans, too. When Kevin returns with a new bottle, I can start all over again.

Oh, and my kitchen smells wonderful.

FYI-my homemade vanilla extract infusion kit came from

Granny Aggie’s Apple and Orange Cake

My paternal grandmother always hosted Christmas Eve supper for our family. She cooked for days in preparation of that meal. I’m sure we had the usual turkey, dressing, and all the sides, but what I remember most are the desserts. Granny Aggie made sure everyone had his or her favorite on that night.

She made chocolate pies, butterscotch pies, lemon pies, and pecan pies. There might have been an egg custard on one of the countertops, too. She baked a chocolate cake, a caramel cake, a coconut cake—all for five adults and five children.

The dessert bounty was enormous and delicious, but the cake my daddy and uncle looked for was her apple and orange cake. It had been my grandfather’s favorite Christmas cake, and his sons followed in his footsteps.

No one else in the family really cared for the light brown cake with tiny flecks of red apple skin dotting the surface. Who would when creamy chocolate or caramel icing dripped from multiple layers just a cake stand or two down the line?

I’m not sure how this cake came to be the Christmas cuisine highlight of the Toler men. Maybe it had something to do with having oranges only in winter, and they were special because most everything else on the table was either from our garden or from our pastures. Who knows? All I know is that the apple and orange cake is a Christmas tradition in our family, and last night at our Christmas Eve Eve celebration, the first dessert Quinn asked for was a piece of my mother’s apple and orange cake. The tradition is safe for another generation.

Just in case you’re interested here’s my grandmother’s recipe. I’ve searched for on-line recipes, but none that pop up are our cake, so maybe it really is Granny Aggie’s Apple and Orange Cake.

4 Red Delicious apples, grated—The year I made this cake when my mother was recovering from open heart surgery, I used two Granny Smith apples in place of two red apples. The red and green flecks looked festive, but Granny used only red.

4 medium-sized oranges, grated—I know from reading recipes and watching cooking shows that you’re supposed to grate only the orange rind and leave out the white pith, but that’s not how Granny did it. To be accurate, start grating and don’t stop till you get to your fingertips.

*Unfortunately, a food processor doesn’t yield the perfect consistency of grated fruit that a box grater does. Make sure you’ve had adequate sustenance or someone to tag team you before you start. Grating eight pieces of fruit is a workout.

Mix the grated fruit with about one cup of sugar. Use this mixture to ice yellow cake layers. Prepare this cake a day earlier than you want to serve it and store in the refrigerator.

Good luck with the grating!

Candy Cane Cookies

Another popular cookie of ours at Christmas is the Candy Cane Cookie. This recipe also makes a small amount of cookies, so we always make two batches.

¾ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Red food coloring

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat well. Stir in the peppermint and vanilla extracts. Gradually mix in the flour. Divide the dough in half. Color one half with the red food coloring; leave the other half plain.

Roll out a tablespoon of red dough and a tablespoon of plain until they are each 6 to 8 inches long. Twist them into a candy cane. Repeat for the rest of the dough. Bake in a 375-degree oven on an ungreased cookie sheet for 8 to 10 minutes or until set but not brown. This recipe makes about 25 candy canes.

*I use less dough for each cookie and make them smaller and to yield more cookies. Smaller cookies mean you can sample more from the cookie tray!

Magic Middles Cookie Recipe

We love to bake at our house: cheese cakes, banana chocolate chip bread, pecan pie, pumpkin pie (made with Hubbard squash), apple pie, Kentucky Derby pie, sour dough bread plain or with brown sugar and cinnamon or with cheese or with chocolate chips, blueberry cobbler, lemon blueberry pound cake, and cookies, cookies, cookies. For the next few weeks, I’ll share some of our special cookie recipes.

One of our Christmas traditions, in fact, is baking several different kinds of cookies—at least twelve—and sharing cookie trays with our neighbors. Magic Middles is one of our favorite cookie. They look like chocolate cookies until you bite into them. The middle is filled with peanut butter. Here’s the recipe:

Magic Middles
Cookie dough– Filling–
1 1/2 C plain flour 3/4 C peanut butter
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa 3/4 C powdered sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C butter/margarine
1 t vanilla
1/4 C peanut butter
1 egg

In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda; blend well. In a large bowl beat sugar, brown, sugar, margarine, and 1/4 peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Stir in flour mixture until blended; set aside. In a small bowl, combine filling ingredients; blend well. Roll into 30 1-inch balls for 30 cookies.

For each cookie, shape with floured hands about 1 tablespoonful of dough around 1 peanut butter ball, covering completely. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Bake in a 375-degree oven 7 to 9 minutes or until set and slightly cracked. Cool on wire racks.

The above recipe is the original one, but I usually make smaller balls to make more cookies. Sometimes I run out of the peanut butter filling and have chocolate dough left over, so I make some plain chocolate cookies. They’re good, too. I’ve never doubled the recipe, but we always have to make a second batch so that we have some to eat and some to share.

Try this recipe, pour a glass of milk, and enjoy!