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Banana Wraps, Granola and Chocolate Chips

What some people won’t do to get their kids off to a school on time!  Today started with a TV spot on WHAS-11.  A tweet from Rachel Platt ended the segment where you can see some of the breakfast ideas for kids on their first day back to school.

Back to school breakfasts are very much like weekday dinners, in that you surely must have your pantry stocked in order to pull them off with grace and speed.  Take the Banana Wrap.  Not an original idea by any means, but one worth visiting if the concept is new to your family.   A child of primary school age can certainly make their own Banana Wrap along with yogurt and granola.  And, they will love the idea of holding the banana in a wrapper and enjoying it like, well, a monkey. Maybe we should call them Monkey Wraps!

Ideas for your breakfast pantry – they’re not just for kids.

Peanut, almond or sunflower butter

Whole Grain Wraps/Tortillas – great for lunches too.

Fresh whole fruit

Bananas – when too ripe to eat, slice and freeze for smoothies.  Frozen bananas make the thickest, richest tasting smoothies

Granola – home made is best or visit a Farmers’ Market near you for a great, local selection from Full Heart Farms

Milk, Soy or Almond Milk


Dried Fruits, peanuts, sunflower seeds and chocolate chips for trail mix

Whole Grain Breads, Pita – keep in the freezer to prolong life

Salad greens – yep, salad greens – if your kids eat salads, breakfast is a great time to add in more veggies to their diets.  Stuff a salad into a pita and add some fresh minced strawberries or peaches and skip the dressing.

Yogurt, skim milk or almond milk for smoothies

Banana Wraps

For each wrap, you will need:

  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 whole grain tortilla
  • 2 Tbls peanut butter, soy butter or sunflower seed butter
  • 1 Tbls or so chocolate chips, dried fruits, etc.

Place the tortilla on a cutting board and spread with the nut butter.  sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Lay the banana on the tortilla and wrap it up.  Cut in half, if desired.



Soup from Leftovers

I love soup.  And, despite the fact that it is upwards of 80 degrees outside, I’ve just finished a small pot of Creamy Broccoli Soup.  The Broccoli was leftover from a dinner late last week.  There’s probably only enough for two more bowls full, but I felt good about using up something that might eventually made it to the compost pile.

Imagine the renditions of this pureed vegetable soup…  Asparagus, cauliflower, lima bean, potato or maybe even corn.  Yes, corn, that will be my next attempt; with a bit of spicy salsa as a garnish.

The secret to using very little cream, yet producing a rich tasting pureed soup is to use only enough stock or broth to cover the vegetables.  Too much liquid will result in thin, watery soup.

Creamy Broccoli Soup

  • 2 Tbls olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1/2 cup minced celery
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 cups cooked, leftover broccoli (or another vegetable)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • Pinch of dried tarragon
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

In a 2-3 quart saucepan, saute the onion and celery in 2 Tbls olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables have softened.  Add the garlic, broccoli, broth and tarragon.  Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Add the cream and puree.  I find it best to tilt the pan, and keep the head of the blender underneath the surface of the soup.  Garnish with a bit of cheese or a crispy crouton.


My Morning Muffin

Can the perfect muffin make a difference in how your day goes?  Well, so far today, I believe that it can.  Groggy with sleep, I finally got out of bed at 8:30, jarred by Brie’s barking. Already an hour and 1/2 behind my schedule, I stumbled into the kitchen and eyed the muffins I baked yesterday.  Things were looking up.  Figured, if I was going to enjoy a muffin, I might as well have some coffee.  If you give a mouse a cookie…

Taking a bite of the muffin while waiting on the coffee was my only mistake today (so far).  The muffin was gone before the water got hot.  The coffee was good on its own too.  Now fully awake, I began opening windows and doors.  Beautiful day.  Birds are tweeting, chipmunks are chipping, the sunshine and breeze in perfect harmony.  All because of a perfect muffin.  Life is so in balance.  These muffins will make your day too.

I began a new experiment a few months ago with the purchase of a bag of Trader Joe’s White Whole Wheat Flour.  I am a baking snob.  I will always be a baking snob.  I have intermittently played with whole wheat flour in cookies and used a partial measure of it in muffins and quick breads over time. I never would have thought that a Whole Wheat flour could replace my standard, unbleached, all purpose flour.  This flour pretty much does just that.  I’ve been using it (WWW) in cookies, muffins, breads and even pizza crust.  Convinced, that’s me.

Don’t get me wrong, WWW won’t be in my angel food cake recipe, nor will I use it next week when I bake my husband’s German Chocolate Birthday cake.  But, day to day, we’ve made a commitment to use whole grains, so that’s what I do.

The other surprise ingredients in my muffin recipe are pumpkin, coconut oil, flax seed meal, golden flax seeds and natural sugar.  You’ll find most of these ingredients at either Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. 

Don’t you just hate it when someone tells you to go shopping before you can even begin to prepare a recipe? These are great ingredients that you can use over and over, and have a long shelf life.  Maybe you’ll love these muffins enough to bake them multiple times.  Spread the love to your neighbors and friends.

Whole Grain Pumpkin – Chocolate Chip Muffins

Makes about 30 standard size muffins

Whisk together:

  • 3 3/4 cups WWW (White Whole Wheat Flour)
  • 3/4 cup whole oats
  • 1/2 cup flax seed meal
  • 2 Tablespoons + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • finely grated zest from 2 oranges (thoroughly wash before grating)

Cream with an electric mixer:

  • 2 cups natural sugar (substitute granulated sugar, if you like)
  • 6 oz coconut oil* (sub canola or olive oil)
  • 1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter

Add to creamed mixture:

  • 6 whole eggs
  • Juice from the 2 oranges
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

Once the eggs, juice and pumpkin are thoroughly mixed in, use a wooden spoon or spatula to gently mix in the combined dry ingredients. Add:

  • 2 cups chocolate chips

Set the oven at 350 degrees.  Use paper liners for 30 muffins.  Scoop the batter into the cups.

Make a crumb topping by mixing:

  • 1/2 cup WWW flour
  • 1/3 cup natural sugar
  • 2 Tbls flax seeds
  • 1 Tbls melted butter or oil

Sprinkle the crumb topping over the muffin batter, then bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the center springs back when lightly touched.

*Coconut oil – while the central point of this post is to highlight the versatility of the WWW, coconut oil has become an indispensable item in my pantry.  It has successfully replaced solid shortening in my pie crust, and is the only oil that I will pop corn with.  Thanks to Pam Jones, CHHC, for indoctrinating me into the coconut oil hall of praise. 




Pasta Puttenesca

The fragrance of a simmering puttenesca sauce is told to have lured many to the tables.  Stories are varied, but I like the one where ‘Ladies of the Evening’, when looking for a new customer, would simmer this pasta sauce and the wafting aromas would lead men into their arms.

All I know is that this is one of my absolute favorite recipes.  It’s wholesome, spicy and very satisfying.  Like most homespun recipes, if you ask 10 cooks how to make it, each version you received would be a bit different.  Experiment with your own pantry items and your personal tastes to perfect your version!

Please search this blog for the Marinara recipe, or use your favorite sauce.

Pasta Puttenesca

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup olive tapenade or chopped black and green olives
  • 1 Tbls anchovy paste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 or more cloves of fresh garlic, smashed and minced
  • 4 cups cooked whole wheat pasta
  • 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid from pasta
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • fresh basil for garnish

In a wide saute pan, heat the olive gently, then add the anchovy paste, olives, red pepper flake and garlic.  Stir and watch closely so as not to burn the mixture.  When sizzling, add the marinara sauce, and heat to a simmer.  Allow flavors to marry for about 3-4 minutes.  Toss in the cooked pasta and enough of the reserved liquid to just loosen up the sauce and pasta.  The pasta should be evenly coated, but not swimming in the sauce.  Taste for addition of salt, pepper or more red pepper flakes.  Garnish with lots of fresh basil.


Summer Fresh Salad

The only green left in the refrigerator last night was some baby arugula; not unlucky for me since it’s one of my absolute favs.  Not so good for Tony, a bit too strong for him.  I convinced him that I could tame the flavor of the arugula with something sweet (fresh corn and fennel) and some fat (olive oil and avocado).

While Tony was heating up the grill for a pizza experiment, I sliced the veggies and pulled the salad together. I pulled the first fennel bulb from my garden.  It was still relatively small compared to those found in the grocery stores, but just the right size for feeding salad to four.  Earlier this spring, I found a pot of Florence Fennel at a garden center grown for the herb garden.  There must have been 50 baby plants in that one pot!  I took the pot home, separated the plants and filled two 4 ft. beds with fennel plants.  After cutting the stems and fronds away from the bulb, I plunked them into a flower arrangement with purple stock.  Don’t you love it when all the parts of something grown in your own backyard get to be used?

This time of year, salads can take on a much different look and taste than those of early spring.  I’ve often thought how unfair it was to have tomatoes and lettuces ripen at such different times of year.  I’m still pulling some arugula out of my garden, and dreaming of August 15th to be able to plant lettuces again.

Great tomatoes are just around the corner, but probably not from my back yard.  The squirrels and chipmunks seem to take a bite out of each ‘almost ready’ tomato we have.  I am ever optimistic though and continue to plant them each year.  So, I’ll continue to frequent the farmers’ markets for the perfect tomato.

Summer Fresh Salad

  • 4 cups fresh baby arugula
  • 1/2 cup or more very thinly sliced red bell pepper
  • 1 small fennel bulb (about 2″ wide) very thinly sliced
  •  1/4 cup or less thinly sliced red onion
  • kernels removed from 1 ear of fresh, raw corn
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • toasted walnuts or pine nuts
  • 3 Tbls olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Place the arugula and the remaining vegetables in a large bowl, keeping the avocado and walnuts separate for now.

In another smaller bowl, whisk the oil, mustard and honey together. Pour over the veggies and toss.  Add the avocado and nuts and toss again.  Serve immediately.


Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’

Christmas Eve, and I’m in my usual pre-party panic.  Guests arriving in just a few hours and my lengthy list of to-do desserts is dwindling into what I think I can accomplish is the remaining time.  Mama’s Little Baby (aka Lauren) to the rescue, coming home a bit early from her Christmas stops is just in time to put together a batch of Shortbread Cookies for me.

I immediately begin to relax, knowing that my accomplished sous chef is in charge of the cookies. (So relaxed, in fact, I begin singing the Shortbread song…) It’s not that I had a specific recipe in mind for the shortbread cookies, but surely I could lay my hands on one in my  wide array of cookbooks.  I tried three books before I found something that I thought would work.  King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion was my guide as I thumbed through multiple recipes to land on one that we could adapt for this evening.

So, the dessert selection wasn’t too shabby.  Not exactly what I had in mind when I designed the menu of two cakes, three cookies, candies, etc.  But Oatmeal cookie wedges, Chocolate Cake with Orange Butter cream and Chocolate Ganache, Truffles, and these Shortbread Cookies seem to be enough to satisfy everyone.

I rarely get a chance to bake enough cookies during the holidays and January is usually when I try to make up for that.  Since Christmas, we have already managed to bake up a batch of Martha Stewart’s Outrageous Chocolate Cookies, but I still  need some Thumbprints with blackberry jam and Coconut Macaroons.    These shortbreads will be a repeat performer, and I hope you’ll like them too.

What makes a shortbread cookie ‘shortbread’?  Well, it’s the fat content.  High fat content, such as in biscuits, pie crust and shortbread cookies, ‘shortens’ the gluten strands and prevents the item from getting tough or chewy.

What makes a shortbread cookie an easy, last minute choice for a baker in a rush?  Simple, always on hand ingredients – nothing fancy or peculiar.  If you don’t have the coarse ground sugar on hand, just use granulated sugar, colored sanding sugar, or skip this step.  The cookies are improved by the extra crunch of the coarse sugar, but it’s really not a necessity.  These cookies would be great to cut into ‘fingers’ and use as dippers into chocolate fondue – decadent!

Christmas Eve Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 generous teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups (10 ounces)unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbls (or more) coarse Bourbon Vanilla Sugar (Demerara Sugar or Sugar in the Raw are  good substitutes)

Heat oven to 300 degrees.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter, granulated sugar and vanilla.  While the butter and sugar are mixing, whisk the flour and salt together in a separate bowl.  Once the sugar and butter are fluffy, mix in the flour and salt until thoroughly combined.

Press the mixture into an 8″ square baking pan or a 9″ round cake pan.  Since the air that has been whipped into the cookie dough will provide space for steam to help ‘rise’ these cookies, handle the dough minimally and gently press into the pan.   Sprinkle generously with the coarse sugar, and press the sugar down lightly, helping it adhere to the dough.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, the center will be puffed and the edges golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.

Using a bench knife or other flat blade, cut the shortbreads into squares or wedges and allow to cool completely in the pan.


How to plan an excellent Italian adventure!

I never watched the Griswold’s version of a European Vacation.  In fact, other travel films like ‘If this is Tuesday…’ haven’t been in my selection either.  My travel abroad had previously been limited to one trip, albeit a 4 month adventure, to an English speaking country.  That was 26 years ago.  You might say that I was overdue.  Tony and I hadn’t vacationed in over 5 years, so, yeah, we were overdue!

I’d also never traveled with a group other than my family.  I was unprepared and a bit anxious about what could happen in Italy, for 8 days,  with a large group whose happiness and satisfaction I was taking responsibility for.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  They weren’t making me responsible, it was just me.  My desire to make people happy.  Little did I know that my peeps would blossom into full fledged swans of travel.

I should have known, I guess.  Every pre-tour get together grew more raucous and fun.  Looking back now I can see that we were forming the perfect Italian family.  Multiple and simultaneous conversations, everyone speaking at a pitch sure to be heard.  Lots of laughter, lots of wine, hugs, kisses and concern for each other.

Oh, and food, we ate plenty before we left for Italy.  And it was good, no doubt.  But no meal could have prepared us for what lay before us in Italy.  We drank a bit of wine, too. Yeah, right!  We didn’t foresee  the Italian free flowing river of wine that our group consumed while in Italy.  So, I was thinking how could I begin to tell the tale of our travel – the sites, the food, the people and the drink.  Where would I begin?

In writing classes over the years, one of the most impressive concepts that I learned was this: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. That being said, I feel I should start out with a summary, filling in the details over time.

My overall experience in Italy was beyond belief, beyond words and well beyond expectations.  We managed to pull off an extraordinary trip filled with extraordinary people, sites, food and drink.  Inspirational, really.  I am inspired to cook, shop, eat and drink Italy.  So much so that the focus of my cooking classes over the next few months will be as much Italian based as possible.  I’m even going to do an Italian Thanksgiving class.  But what about you?  What about my readers ?  Either the ones who traveled with us, or those that didn’t.  What would you like to know?

I have put together my thoughts on what it takes to have an awe inspiring Italian trip, and I thought that I would share these thoughts with you.  If you are planning a trip to Italy, perhaps these points may lead you to have a better trip.  If you’ve been to Italy, they might remind you of pleasantries you have already experienced.  Those of you who have no interest have already hit the red X button in the top, right hand corner.  Arrivederci!

So, hear we go.  Mary’s top 10, sure fire ways to put together an Italian trip that will leave you breathless!

Number 1 – Choose a hardworking, dedicated Travel Agent who has contacts in Italy and is not afraid to make the phone calls and emails necessary to get you the perfect trip.  Our trip was honed to perfection over the course of months of meetings, conversations and arrangements with my travel agent.  Kathy Collins did a dynamic job of keeping up with all the details and communicating tirelessly with our Italian contacts.  Kathy’s email is .


Number 2 – Insist on a native speaking tour director for your travel throughout Italy.  If you are fortunate enough to have one with personality, charm, a sense of humor and wit, so much the better.  Young, single and good looking – Score!





Number 3 – Balance your trip with a variety of topics.  My focus was food and wine, but Kathy and Giuseppe were seasoned enough not to make the trip linear.  We had a wide range of food, wine, winery tours, cooking classes, world class meals and other ‘real’ Italian experiences.  Sprinkled with history, culture, art and the antic dotes of real Italian life made the trip diverse and appealing to everyone.

Number 4 – Select a group of fun, like minded travel mates.  Our group was a perfect blend of wonderful, beautiful (inside and out) women and “thoughtful, intelligent” men.  These were words  we heard in toasts on one of our last gatherings in Italy.  We really couldn’t have been any more fortunate for the group members!  Everyone was fabulous and added their own particular facet to our experience.  Without their interest and faith in our team, our trip wouldn’t have become a reality.

Our Group at Castello de Verranzzano

Number 5 – Get to know your travel mates.  We did this by scheduling an event every month for the 8 months leading up to departure.  Travelers were very comfortable with each other, mingling and mixing throughout the tour.  I believe everyone felt included and cared for.

Number 6 – Have a support system in place.  My brother and his fiance offered their condo to do two of the events which helped to change things up and give people a chance to see another  part of town.  Bob and Julie, as far more experienced travelers than I, offered great advice on travel, packing, money, electronic devices, etc.  Julie even took everyone’s picture and put together a cheat sheet to make face/name connections a breeze. Our travel group began making plans for follow up parties at their homes before our third day in Italy.  (Steve and Doris & David and Karen – I can’t wait to get started!)

Number 7 – Ask the experts for help.  One of my goals was to learn as much and share as much about Italy BEFORE we left as I could make possible.  Getting my traveling buddies things they needed was important too.  My mother, Jackie, put our group in touch with her employer, Taylor Trunk, for luggage wisdom and discounts.  Blu Italian Grille was host to an early Italian meal.  Gemelli Wines and Spirits gave us an education on Tuscan and Umbrian wines.  We savored gelato at Gelato Gilberto in Norton Commons.  Add a style show with packable clothes from JockeyPerson2Person, jewelry from Sara Simpson Designs and accessories from Bliss Gallery and Gifts, and you’ve got the makings of nearly a year of activities.  If you are lucky enough to have a member in the group that makes home-brew Limoncello – (Bring it on Betty!) take full advantage!

A meandering street in Orvieto

Number 8 – Get ready to walk.  No matter where you go in Italy, you are going to walk.  Bring comfortable shoes and lots of Aleve (or drug of choice).  The streets are sure to be either uphill or down.  I’m sure we walked 2-5 miles per day.  It was worth every step.  At every corner in every small town, the vistas were marvelous.




Number 9 – Take a good camera.  My only regret!  I should have invested in or borrowed a camera.  Mine just didn’t take the range of pictures that I would have loved to have kept.  Fortunately, there were 28 others on the trip with cameras and we have vowed to share.  I’d estimate that we took at least 10,000 pictures in total and I won’t be surprised if the total were double!

Number 10 – Come back home just long enough to make enough money to go back again, and again.  We’re already planning another trip.  Let me know if you’d like to join us.