Tag Archives: blueberry

Red, White, and FOOD!

Here are some Willow Bird recipes that are perfect for your 4th of July celebration! If I had to tell you just one thing you have to make in order to fully enjoy all the fireworks and summer heat, it’d be the Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers. Everything else is delicious, too, but I’m craving one of those tender, thin, salty, juicy, tangy burgers right this second! And it doesn’t get much cuter than the printable fry pouches and checkered trays.


Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers with Easy Fries (and cute pouch/tray printables!)


Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles



Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies


Deconstructed Pizza Bites


Pretzel Dogs


Red Berry Pie


Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade


Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade

Stay tuned later this week for a cute party banner that you can make with minimal effort and about $8. I made the whole thing while watching America’s Got Talent, so it obviously doesn’t take much concentration, either! Happy eating!

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Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies

It happens every year. Early in the springtime, the Sunday comes when I find a neon card tucked inside of my church bulletin, scrounge around in my purse for a pen, and scrawl out some contact information. I drop the card in the jar in the lobby on my way out. I wait for the email telling me where to come for training, inevitably miss training, go to the makeup training. Finally, it’s the first night of Vacation Bible School. I try to find some fun earrings to wear (for some reason, fun earrings have always struck me as a key tool in childcare), and head over to the church.

Last year there was a ranch theme, so every night was spent air-lassoing imaginary animals, tipping our imaginary cowperson hats, conducting chili tastings (I couldn’t make this stuff up), playing with ranch paraphernalia foreign to many of those city kids, and hearing stories about Jesus.

I took great delight in dancing and singing wholeheartedly during worship while all of my third grade charges stared, trying to decide whether I was cool or embarrassing. No comment on their verdict. But we all had a lot of fun.

One of the boys last year (I’ll call him John) stood out to me from the first night. He was subdued, and his freckled face wore the same blank expression no matter what the activity. He seemed guarded, like he had already reached the stage where he wasn’t sure if it was still cool to have fun.

In music class, though, he was different. The music teacher (I’ll call him Mr. Maestro) had a wry sense of humor that John responded to right away. As a result, John would chirrup witty responses to Mr. Maestro’s questions and call out periodically in class. The interruptions were sometimes too frequent, and I could tell by the edge in Mr. Maestro’s voice that he thought John was a bit of a troublemaker. I knew John was actually very sweet, but I wasn’t concerned, since Mr. Maestro was never unfair, just firm.

As an aside, trying not to peg students as “the troublemaker” or “the clown” or “the slacker” is a constant, noble effort of good teachers everywhere. Kids are so dynamic, and most of them truly want to please the adults around them; for this reason, it’s vital to continually give them a fresh slate and the opportunity to remake themselves. That doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle.

On the very last day in music class, Mr. Maestro made a lovely point about helping others. In response, John began enthusiastically, “I sometimes help my mom!” Before he could continue, Mr. Maestro responded, “Oh, do you? That’s nice,” to cut him off at the pass and get on with the lesson. Something turned over in my heart as I watched John disappointedly release the breath with which he had hoped to tell his story.

Before you judge Mr. Maestro too harshly, please think back to a time when you’ve been interrupted repeatedly by a child eager to tell a story. It can be taxing. Some days in my own class, I feel like 75% of my job is shutting down off-topic story telling. Some of those stories were about So-and-so’s sister who ate half a gluestick, but some of them were probably truly charming, edifying additions to our class. We just don’t always have the time. I just don’t always have the energy. We’re all human.

Nevertheless that night, seeing John’s crestfallen face and remembering the emphasis in VBS training on listening to every child, I was determined to do something.

Back downstairs at worship at the end of the night, I was worried John would have long since forgotten his story. I screamed over the din of about a bajillion hyper children and the ecstatic worship music, “John, what was that you were saying about helping your mom?”

The way his face immediately lit up touched my heart; sure enough, this was a special story to him. He explained that his mom was sick and very tired, and so he sometimes swept the floor or did the dishes. With childlike sincerity, he revealed that he was glad he got to serve her.

I could tell he was thankful to share his story, but I was beyond thankful to hear it. It was a moment when God reminded me again (He does so often) that my job is to love Him with all of my heart, mind, and soul, and to love others just as much as I love myself.

Vacation Bible School started up again this week, and while John isn’t in my class this year, I do have more than 20 fourth graders to lead. And you’d better believe I’m doing a ton of listening! So far I’ve heard about video games, making homemade ice cream, a dying grandfather, a new baby sister, and baseball. What serious, funny, sad, crazy, and important things they have to say!

So, in honor of all of those sweet little ones, here are some sweet little pies! I loved my Aunt Pat’s Strawberry Cream Pie so much that I decided to make it in miniature — and in blueberry! These little pies are bright, fresh, and creamy in addition to being adorable finger foods. They’re an especially great first step for a home cook who’s nervous about rolling out a pie crust, since there’s no rolling involved. Happy summer!

Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies


Recipe by: Adapted from my Aunt Pat’s Strawberry Cream Pie recipe
Yields: about 56 mini pies

Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold shortening or lard
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water

Cream Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups of diced fresh strawberries (or about 1.5 cups blueberries)

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup fresh strawberries (or blueberries)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:
Note on timing: To make the preparation of these mini pies even more manageable, I prepared and baked the pie shells a day in advance. I then made the cream filling, diced the berries, and made my glaze on the day I was planning to serve them. They really benefit from at least a few hours in the fridge before serving.

Make the crust dough: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Take about 1/4 of the dough out of the fridge at a time. Pinch off walnut-sized balls. Place a ball in each well of an ungreased mini-muffin pan. Using your fingers, work the dough up the sides of each well. Use a fork to “dock” the bottom and sides of the dough –poke holes in it so that it doesn’t puff up too much as it bakes. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool the mini pie shells in the pan for 5 minutes or so before gently removing them (you can use a table knife to help you lever them out) to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Make cream filling: While the crust bakes, prepare your cream filling. Prepare an ice water bath in a bowl big enough to accommodate your saucepan. Mix sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook until thickened, still stirring constantly. Spoon out about 1/4 cup of your hot mixture and gradually drizzle it into your beaten egg, whisking constantly. This will temper the egg so that when you add it back into the hot mixture, it won’t cook. Add the egg into the hot mixture, continuing to stir constantly. Bring this just to boiling.

Set the saucepan in the ice water bath and stir it periodically as it cools. Once cool enough, chill the mixture in the refrigerator. During this time, whip the cream and vanilla together to stiff peaks. Take the chilled mixture from the fridge and beat it to break it up. Stir in about 1/3 of the cream to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest of the cream until well combined. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble the pies: Using a piping bag (or a ziplock with the corner cut off), pipe cream into each pie shell. Top with diced strawberries or blueberries. Chill these while you make your glaze.

Make the glaze: Crush 1 cup of strawberries (or blueberries) and cook with water in a saucepan over medium-high heat for two minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard the pulp. Add the juice back to the saucepan over medium-high heat and gradually stir in sugar and cornstarch. Cook until thickened. If you want, you can tint this glaze with food coloring to desired hue, but mine was plenty bright enough! Cool the glaze slightly, and then spoon over the top of your mini pies. Chill pies for at least a few hours for best results.

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Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid

So much dust. Shuffling papers, flying markers, scuffling footsteps. The crush of boxes being broken down, the shrill hum of students’ voices. As chairs were stacked and debris was cleared, the classroom started to look foreign. There was an alien quality to the space (cleanness, maybe? emptiness?) that made us all feel like we didn’t quite belong there anymore.

And we didn’t, really. It was the last, abbreviated week of school. The kids had one foot out the door, and the other was probably kicking someone under the table.

The teachers out there will give me an amen when I say that during those last few days, you fight a losing battle for your students’ attention. My middle schoolers and I work until the last minute — reflecting on how their writing has grown over the course of the year, finishing up our last novel — but there’s always a current of near-hysteria that runs through the classroom at the end of the year. I start to feel like I’m trying to hold back a tidal wave with a beach towel. At any given moment, they’re about to lose their little minds entirely and start surfing on the tables.

When I realize we’ve reached this point, the turning of the tide of sanity, I start pining for summer myself. Up until then, everything is a flurry of urgent business: grading projects, writing emails, blogging, creating curriculum. There’s barely a second to let the idea of vacation sink in. But finally, staring into a dozen sets of half-crazed student eyeballs, I see the bright summer sunshine at the end of the tunnel.

This year, I had the presence of mind to make a summer to-do list. It includes all of the mundane tasks I neglected while being a teacher 24/7 during the school year: clean under the bed, clean out the closet, reorganize the bookshelf. It contains resolutions reminiscent of New Year’s: join the Y, start exercising regularly, figure out summer meal plan. It contains techy bloggy things: move to self-hosting, spruce up Willow Bird Baking.

But something’s missing.

Know how I know? I recently re-read my Raspberry Almond Braid post from over a year ago as I was preparing to create this Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid.

When I wrote that post of yesteryear, I was on spring break and gushy about how much I loved the freedom. I listed 20 things I was enjoying, including things like running through the grass, playing fetch with Byrd, and reading. Oh, yeah. Things that are totally absent from what I’ve come to realize is my summer chore list.

Don’t worry, I’m going to fix it.

In fact, it’s only been summer vacation for one day now, but I’ve already read a book: the first of the Hunger Games series my students have been recommending to me. I’ve already done a mini craft project (a card for a friend that turned out wonky but hopefully lovable). I’ve already baked something. I’ve already taken a nap. So far, so good!

Apart from helping me realize the error of my summer ways, this Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid was also the perfect restful recipe: though the process is as simple as can be, the result looks and tastes phenomenal. The flaky, tender almond pastry surrounds a cream cheese filling in addition to the blueberry preserves, making this one of my new favorite things to eat. It’ll definitely get a heart on the WBB Recipe Index.

You have to make it as soon as you can — and then hopefully you can find the time for a summer nap in a lawn chair somewhere.

What are your family’s summertime plans?

Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid



Recipe by: Adapted from Luna Cafe
Yields: 10-12 1-in. slivers of braid, or about 4 servings

Dough and Filling Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces best quality cream cheese
1/2 cup milk, minus 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup blueberry preserves (or your favorite preserves)

Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients:
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Icing Ingrdients:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds (optional)

Directions:
Make the cream cheese filling. In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the 8 ounces of room temperature cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy and smooth. Set aside while you make your braid.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the cream cheese and butter into the flour mixture and pulse to cut the fat into the flour (about 6 pulses). Add the milk and almond extract and blend into a loose dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead VERY LIGHTLY for 4-5 strokes. (NOTE: This is the step at which you can ruin the braid. If you overwork the dough, the pastry will be tough. Just gather the dough together and don’t worry about making it smooth. It will still look a little rough. That’s perfect.)

Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll the dough to an 8- by 12-inch rectangle. Turn dough out onto a lightly greased baking sheet and remove the waxed paper. Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds. Spread preserves down the middle third of the dough and spread a thick line of the cream cheese mixture on either side of the preserves (still remaining in the middle third of the dough — try to keep your filling about ½ inch from the mark on both sides.)

Make 2¾-inch slight diagonal cuts at 1-inch intervals on each the long sides (see photos below). Do not cut into the center jam-filled area. Fold strips, first one from one side and then one from the other side in a rotating fashion, over the filling. It will now resemble a braid. Bake in a 425° oven for 12-15 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly browned.

In a small glass measuring cup with a pouring spout, combine the sugar, milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Drizzle over the top of the braid. If desired, sprinkle on the toasted sliced almonds while the icing is still wet. Serve warm.

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Lemon Berry Crumble Breakup Bars

This is a hard story to write — hard enough that it’s taken me almost two months to even attempt it. I still feel raw about it, and I still don’t know how to address the situation head-on. So I’ll just muddle through it the best way I can.

On November 28, Mike and I broke up. It was a cold day, and I dropped him off at the train station so he could head back to Raleigh. Watching him close the door and walk into the station was like watching a movie, except that it wasn’t fiction. I knew we were about to travel a rocky road, but there was no way to switch off the television, no credits to roll — just the aftermath to clean up as best we could.

4,237 days (or 11 years, 7 months, and 5 days) earlier, I had just turned 15 years old. I was sitting in my room, looking out the window, and talking to Mike on the phone. He had something to ask me, but was obviously nervous: “If I were to ask you . . . something . . . what would you say?”

I helped him get to the point. Yes, I want to be your girlfriend. I couldn’t have imagined at that moment where the next 12 years would take us. Who knows when they’re 15 that they’re embarking on something monumental?

Over the years, our relationship brought us trials, for sure.

It also brought me through high school. Sometimes I’d leave school and drive straight to his apartment to watch Star Trek and eat Hamburger Helper (my early attempts at “cooking for him”).

It took me to college, coming home to see him every weekend. It took me off to the coast to study marine zoogeography for a semester — I remember the strain of distance, calling every night on my newly acquired cell phone, and his visit out to Atlantic Beach to see me.

Our relationship saw me through my first teaching job, a tumultuous experience for me. In the first hopeful, idealistic days before I began, he came and painted every single one of my lab tables a deep green to cover the graffiti. Later in the year, when my administration decided to switch my classroom and everything went wrong, my clean tables were mixed in with others and his hard work was lost. He was still there, though, helping me pack up boxes and carry them down the hallway to my new room.

The relationship also saw me through my year as a research technician and, finally, to my position at Woodlawn, the wonderful school where I now teach.

It saw Mike through college at UNCC. He rocketed through in 3 years with nearly perfect grades. It also saw him move his life three hours north to a new city this past fall to begin graduate school at NC State. It saw us through celebrations, new beginnings, and difficult endings. I wouldn’t trade a single day.

These Berry Crumble Bars were actually made at the very tail end of summer and are one of the only dishes I ever photographed at Mike’s apartment in Raleigh. I brought them up to share with him and my little brother, who is an undergraduate at NC State. The bars are buttery, crumbly, slightly lemony, and bright — almost cobbleresque, and perfect with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

The original recipe used only blueberries, but throwing in other berries or even combining berries is an easy way to create multiple varieties of crumble bars; I settled on blueberry and raspberry. Mike and I probably ate a billion of them over the course of my visit. I had a way of encouraging him to have dessert after every meal. I’m sure you’re not surprised.

So what do you say at the end of a story about a breakup? I think in this case, thank you. Thank you, Mike, for being who you are, and for 12 wonderful years. Thank you, God, for the promise that all things are working together for good for me (Romans 8:28). Thank you, friends and family and lovely readers, for your support during a rough time. Here’s to weathering loss and embracing the future — and to dessert!

Lemon Berry Crumble Breakup Bars



Recipe by: Adapted from My Baking Addiction
Yields: 9 raspberry bars and 9 blueberry bars

Ingredients:
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a separate, small bowl, beat together the egg, lemon juice, and vanilla. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, cut the butter and egg mixture into the flour to form a crumbly dough. Press half of dough evenly into prepared pan.

In two additional bowls, mix together 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch. Gently mix blueberries into one bowl and raspberries into the other. Sprinkle berries evenly over pressed dough — I did half the pan with blueberries and half with raspberries, but you could alternate or even mix the berries if you’d rather. Crumble the rest of the dough over top of the berries. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until slightly brown. Cool completely (and even chilling a little helps to ensure they’ll hold together) before cutting into squares. These bars are fun because you can have two different flavors (blueberry and raspberry) or cut your bars such that you have a combination of both berries.

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Blueberry Stuffed French Toast Bowls

This is a two-post kind of day, y’all. You don’t mind, do you?

Good. Because this recipe involves some of my favorite things: French toast, blueberries, and cream cheese. Oh my goodness, I love cream cheese.

Nature’s Pride bread is an official sponsor of the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival this year, and as such, they issued a challenge to Featured Publishers to create a recipe using their products. I want to go to San Francisco as much as anyone, so I decided to give it a go. I pondered and brainstormed and debated and considered until, finally, I decided that I couldn’t think of a creative recipe and I gave up.

What? Don’t look at me like that! I was planning a ginormous dinner party, after all; cut me some slack!

It bothered me, though. When I was picking up supplies for the dinner party, I stuck some marshmallow cream and peanut butter in my basket, thinking perhaps I’d make a chocolate-covered fluffernutter. It still didn’t seem original enough, however, and in the shower this morning before church, I had almost convinced myself to give up again — when it hit me.

I’d already thought of and rejected stuffed French toast because sandwich bread is sliced too thin to cut open and stuff. Someone did it last year with two slices of bread, but I wouldn’t want to replicate something that had been that’d already been done.

Sometime between shampooing and conditioning, I realized that I could bake French toast into sweet little breakfast cups and fill them instead of stuffing them. They’d be topped with fresh berries with some maple syrup on the side for drizzling or dipping. Suddenly, a breakfast star was born.

There were still some obstacles — like how to create the French toast cups. In my first attempt, I dipped the bread into the custard and placed it uncooked into the muffin tin. I can’t really even describe the outcome, but they were something like soggy, bulbous custard balloons. Not San Francisco-worthy.

But my second attempt? Save me a seat on the trolley, because they were amazing! In this version, I cooked my French toast completely before cooling it and baking it into French toast cups. I then filled it with the sweetened cream cheese filling and berries to finish the dish.

Here’s hoping I win a trip to San Francisco to schmooze with some of my food blog faves, and that YOU make some stuffed French Toast Bowls immediately! Mike just polished off the last one for dessert, and if his reaction is any indication, you won’t regret it.

Blueberry Stuffed French Toast Bowls



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, with inspiration from Alton Brown
Yield: 8 bowls, or about 4 servings

Ingredients:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons honey, microwaved for 20 seconds (but not while still IN THE BEAR, y’all!)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 slices day-old or stale sandwich bread (I used Nature’s Pride Honey Wheat Bread)
4 tablespoons butter
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons sugar
blueberries
maple syrup, for serving

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In medium bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, honey, cinnamon, and salt (this step can be done the night before and refrigerated). When you’re ready to cook your French toast, pour this mixture into a cake pan or pie dish.

Prepare your bread: remove crusts and roll with a rolling pin to slightly flatten. Dip the bread into your custard mixture for about 8-10 seconds on each side before carefully removing it with a spatula to a cooling rack over a sheet pan. Allow excess moisture to drain off of the slices for 1-2 minutes.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a skillet. Put 2 slides of bread at a time into the pan to toast gently to golden brown (about 2-3 minutes per side). Remove the French toast to a cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat with all slices of bread.

While French toast cools, make your stuffing mixture by combining cream cheese and sugar into a bowl and mixing until fluffy. (When I tasted this at first, it was grainy, but then the sugar seemed to dissolve. I was going to suggest using confectioners’ sugar instead, but since the graininess was completely gone when we ate it, I don’t think there’s a need). Set aside.

Take each piece of cooled French toast and gently tuck into the well of a greased muffin tin, forming a bowl. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, watching carefully. Pull them out of the oven and allow the bowls to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Remove them to cool on a cooling rack (the first time I did this, they started to fall apart because I pulled them out of the oven too soon, so I baked them a little longer and they were perfect). Once cool, fill them with the cream cheese mixture, top with berries, and serve with maple syrup for dipping.

Note: As part of Foodbuzz’s Tastemaker program, I received a coupon for a free package of Nature’s Pride Bread. But, um, actually I left it in my mailbox, so I bought this loaf with my own money. So I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Except that I may snag the coupon now and use it for another loaf to make hummus sandwiches. Ahem.

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48 Homemade Breakfast Cereals

I like variety. Sure, sometimes during the week I can get on a kick and eat the same thing every night for dinner (hellooo, lima beans, I’m lookin’ at you), but I also really appreciate mixing it up every now and then.

That’s why a few months ago when I decided I wanted some breakfast cereal, I went to the store and bought about 8 different boxes of the stuff. Each morning needed to have its own flavor — as long as the nutrition facts were acceptable. What? Don’t look at me like that. Sure, I may be the same girl who posted the Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake, but I do try to eat reasonably during the week!

The store-bought cereal was okay. At least, I thought it was okay at the time. But then something happened — I had one of those thunderous BIG IDEAS.

It all started when I was perusing one of my favorite blogs, Not So Humble Pie, and saw her (you’re not going to believe it) S’mores Candy Bar. I know. Insane.

The premise of her post was that she didn’t understand the excitement over this new company that makes customizable candy bars, since it’s so easy to make them at home. Having been excited about the customizable candy bar company, I felt admonished. And inspired.

Because even more than I had been excited about customizable candy bars, I was excited about customizable cereal. There’s this company on the web (I won’t link to them, since I’m about to tell you it’s silly to pay for their product) that allows you to choose all the ingredients you want in your own personal box of cereal — and even lets you pick a name for your new creation! Too fun!

BUT. I realized when I read Mrs. Humble’s candy bar post that it didn’t make any sense to pay for one kind of customized cereal (that was just like going to the grocery store), or even for eight kinds of customized cereal . . . what would really make sense is to make your own fully customizable cereal buffet — one that would allow you to have a different flavor every day if you wanted to!

A dream was born. I scrounged up recipes for homemade granola and nutty bran flakes (I’ll gush about these in a minute). And as if to emphasize that making homemade cereal was indeed my destiny, the folks at Oh! Nuts emailed to ask if I’d like to review some of their products. Uh, YES, NUT PEOPLE, YOU READ MY MIND. Pounds of nuts and dried fruits later, I was in the cereal-makin’ biz.

If you’re about to post a comment calling me a hippie for making my own bran flakes, hold it right there. This recipe is super easy, super cool, and super rewarding. You feel like a superhero (who makes their own cereal?! I MAKE MY OWN CEREAL! I AM CEREAL WOMAN!), you know exactly what healthy ingredients went into said cereal, and — this is the best part — you have bran flakes that don’t taste like a cardboard box. Every time I opened the jar they were stored in, I got a whiff of delicious nuttiness. They had texture! They had taste! Yes!

The granola is the flavor that really carries the cereal, though. I chose a Double Coconut Granola from Opera Girl Cooks that I’d heard a ton about. Once it cooled, it lived up to the hype — buttery, slightly sweet, coconutty, with a hint of salt to really amp it up.

Once you’ve made some flakes and granola, the fun starts. Possible add-ins are endless: dried fruits, fresh fruits, toasted nuts (do make sure to toast them — MUCH more flavor), seeds, chocolate chips, peanut butter or cinnamon chips, candy, marshmallows . . . be creative! Add a little, add a lot.

My favorite bowl was a straight-up combination of all my options: bran flakes, double coconut granola, dried cherries, dried blueberries, cinnamon pecans, and toasted walnuts. If you have just 2 dried fruits and two nut options along with your flakes and granola, you’ll have 48 possible breakfast cereal varieties — that’s a lot of options!

The Oh! Nuts products were a success in terms of taste — the blueberries had a pronounced, wonderful blueberry flavor, and the cinnamon pecans were so addictive that I almost ate my stash before I got my cereal made! The sour cherries did have an odd, slightly fishy flavor (I know, weird), but I still enjoyed eating them. Maybe a flavor compound of the cherries came out that isn’t as pronounced when they’re not dried?

To be honest, including the price of shipping, I probably wouldn’t spend the extra money to buy regular nuts or fruit from Oh! Nuts, but would just head to the grocery store. That being said, for specialty items or rare nuts/fruits/candies, they’re the place to go. The selection is huge, and the products are high quality.

If you, like me, love a big ol’ bowl of hearty, nutty, earthy, crunchy, chewy, flavorful, delicious breakfast cereal — and one that can change with whatever mood you’re in — I hope you’ll make your own personal cereal buffet! Or perhaps fix a cereal buffet in pretty jars as a gift for a friend. Even better, have a breakfast party: set up a cereal buffet for family and friends where each person can make their own cereal combination, perhaps supplemented with juice and muffins on the side. Have fun!

Oh, by the way, I did have to branch out a little in homage to my original inspiration. How about some S’mores Cereal?

Below you’ll find the recipes for granola and nutty bran flakes. I even included nutritional info so you can make healthy breakfast choices! Round up some of your favorite add-ins and place all the components in separate jars for storage. Enjoy!

Homemade Nutty Bran Flakes



Recipe by: Adapted from Mr. Breakfast
Yields: about 3-4 servings (NOTE: Feel free to double this recipe! I wish I had.)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup bran
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup almond flour (or other finely ground nuts)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and add milk and water. Stir to mix well. The resulting mixture will be a very wet “dough” (so wet, you can hardly call it a dough). Cut two sheets of parchment paper to fit two baking sheets, and set one sheet of parchment paper on the counter where you’ll be rolling — you won’t be able to transfer it without this!

Glop half of the “dough” out onto the sheet of parchment paper and flatten it by hand. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the dough and “roll” it out (your rolling pin will almost just be smooshing it out into place) EXTREMELY THIN, almost transparent in some places. It will look like a giant bran flake — super fun!

Remove the plastic wrap and transfer the parchment carefully to a baking sheet. Cook for 10 minutes, but check often after just 5, because such a thin dough can easily burn. You’re looking for a thin, leathery cracker that is crunchy at the edges. When it’s done, remove it and allow it to cool completely. While it cools, repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

After both giant bran flakes have finished their first bake, reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. Tear the first, cooled bran flake into regular bran flake-sized pieces (about 3/4 of an inch), spreading them out on the parchment-covered baking sheet.

Bake at the reduced temperature for 20 minutes, flipping and stirring the flakes around every 5 minutes. Repeat process with the second cooled, giant bran flake. Then allow all bran flakes to cool completely. Store well in a sealed container for up to two weeks.

Nutritional Info: Serving size: about 1/4 of total yield Calories: 146.3, Fat: 5g, Sodium: 185mg, Carbs: 24.5g, Fiber: 6g, Sugars: 8g, Protein: 5.5g


Now that I’ve shared my favorites with you, I’m anxious to know: What sort of breakfast cereal would you make for yourself? Piña colada cereal with toasted coconut and dried pineapple? Cherry crumble cereal with dried cherries and cinnamon granola? A luscious combo of dates, coconut, and chocolate chips?

Double Coconut Granola



Recipe by: Adapted from Opera Girl Cooks
Yields: 3 cups of granola (NOTE: Double if you’d like more for snacking, because you’re gonna love this stuff)

Ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats
1 scant cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup clover honey
1/6 cup virgin coconut oil (half of a 1/3 cup measure)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I used almond because I was out of vanilla)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
optional: I toasted another 1/2 cup of sweetened shredded coconut to add in for sweetness, but that was before I’d tasted the cooled batch. It’s probably unnecessary.

Directions:
Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Combine oats and shredded coconut in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook honey, coconut oil, vanilla, and salt until just simmering.

Pour honey mixture over the oat mixture, stirring well with a wooden spoon until fully combined. Spread this mixture out over a large sheet pan, place in oven, and bake for 10 minutes before stirring the granola. Repeat 10 minute baking time, followed by stirring, until granola is well-toasted (takes about 4 cycles, or about 40 minutes).

Cool the granola on the baking sheet, stirring occasionally. When cooled, you can store granola in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or at room temperature for two.

Nutritional Info: Serving size: 70 grams (about 1/2 cup) Calories: 233, Fat: 12g, Sodium: 122mg, Carbs: 32g, Fiber: 4g, Sugars: 8g, Protein: 4.5g (NOTE: I’d use half a serving if I were combining the granola with bran flakes in my cereal)

Other delicious breakfast ideas floating around the internet right now: Beer Waffles with Cinnamon Cardamom Apples, S’mores Oatmeal, Oatmeal Pancakes, Pecan Sticky Buns, and of course, from yours truly, Carrot Cake Waffles.

Note: I received the above mentioned products from Oh! Nuts free of charge for review.

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Blueberry Walnut Bread

I’m responsible for little Byrd’s post-knee-surgery physical therapy. For the first week, it involved icing her knees, which she wasn’t thrilled about. But since then it’s involved warm compresses, massages, and gentle exercises. Essentially, my dog is getting the spa treatment. My roommate can’t hold back her laughter when she walks in on me caressing Byrd’s little shaved-bare-bottom.

Today I thought I’d mix it up a little bit. My post-surgery info said that Byrd might enjoy light swimming to exercise her knees. The bath tub looked like the perfect size; she’s only 8 pounds, after all. Maybe she’d love it.

Reality check: Byrd does not love swimming. She is terrified of swimming. The bathtub is not the perfect size. Her thrashing requires at least a lake-sized body of water, and preferably an ocean. After about 10 minutes of trying in vain to convince her that swimming was a jolly pastime that she was bred for, for goodness’ sake, my bathroom, my nightgown, my dog, and my spirits were all soaked.

Both of us ended up on the balcony, soaking wet, shivering, and snuggling for warmth and reassurance. I needed reassurance that I wasn’t the worst mother ever. She needed reassurance that she was, indeed, on dry land and not drowning.

Pups can be wonderful for reassurance, comfort, warmth . . . they love you even when you’ve just tossed them in a bathtub (disclaimer: there was no actual tossing involved, and I held onto her the whole time, despite what her sheer panic might imply). Another amazing summer comfort (and one that I sure wish I still had on hand after that bathtub fiasco) is a hearty fruit-n-nut quickbread. Fruity quickbreads are a favorite of mine when slathered with butter or maybe even torn up over a bowl of fresh oatmeal. Mmm, banana nut bread, delicious pumpkin bread, or in this case . . . blueberry bread!

I made this bread awhile back for a bake sale, but kept a slice to enjoy myself. I accidentally underbaked one loaf (and secretly enjoyed the doughy gooeyness), but once perfectly baked, the bread has a fantastic, moist crumb. It’s full of plump blueberries, nuts, and oats. It inspired me so much, I wrote a poem (what, you don’t write sonnets about your food?):

Blueberry Bramble

Bush awkward, lopsided with purple fruit –
Bountiful harvest sprung from tired roots.
Rapt is the quiet bird who nestles thus
beneath the branches, feathers plush and fluffed,
beak sky-stained with the blood of nature’s yield,
breast full of warm air drawn from o’er the field
in which I lie with you now, and we too
consume, until aching, handfuls of blue.
Later half the basket will find its way,
indoors and in the fading light of day,
into batter, the oven, between teeth,
I’ll steal your crumbs for my oatmeal, a thief
willing to be caught, bird in a briar,
hands bright blue, stained now, and throat on fire.

Karly at Buns In My Oven has posted a healthier version of this bread that substitutes some apple sauce and lowers the sugar, if you’re interested! I went all out for maximum enjoyment. Serve this in a bowl with a splash of cream or ice cream for a lovely, fresh summer dessert, or bake up a loaf for breakfast!

Blueberry Walnut Bread



Recipe by: Adapted from Betty Crocker
Yields: one loaf

Ingredients:
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed and drained)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease bottom only of 8- or 9-inch loaf pan.
2. In large bowl, mix brown sugar, milk, oil and eggs with spoon. Stir in remaining ingredients except blueberries and nuts; beat 30 seconds. Fold in blueberries and nuts. Pour into pan. Sprinkle with additional oats if desired.
3. Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (NOTE: this took about 55 minutes or even a little longer for me). Cool 10 minutes. Loosen sides of loaf from pan; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.


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