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My initial, snarkier title to this story was, “Stop whining about your life: get off your ass and do something about how miserable you are.” But I didn’t want to turn anyone off or put a damper on someone’s never-ending pity party. At least not until they read a sentence or two. After all, there is dessert at the end.

cherry crunchobblerumble

So after three weeks of writing this post, I deleted almost every word.

cherry pie filling in jars

Spoon pie filling into jars

I reminded myself that it’s really none of my business when someone who was in complete control of their own destiny acts as if someone else controlled their misery—as if they were a puppet on a rusty barbed wire. Instead of being judgmental and sad for a person who has so many regrets in life, I decided to spit my bitter pill across the kitchen, reflect on my own life, and just be thankful.

cake mix in jars

Sprinkle dry cake mix on top of filling

Thankful that after all the mistakes I’ve made, and as the smoke lingers from the unfortunate and life-changing things that I’ve dealt with, I have faith that I am right where I need to be. After all, the things I’ve done right outweigh any of my misjudgments.

melted butter on cake mix

Drizzle melted butter onto cake mix

Take if from someone who’s made some really awful choices and had to bust their ass to get through college as a single mom in their late 20s because of my own decisions and actions in my teens and 20s—success doesn’t come easy.

Successful people work hard and I can guarantee they have been so sleep deprived that they wear their shirt inside out and backwards in public, been stressed to their limits, been so frustrated they want to throw in the wet towel that’s weighing them down, have made tough and heartbreaking decisions which have led to unstoppable tears, sacrificed financial prosperity just to stay close to family, and persevered through many other sacrifices and harsh battles that only the few people closest to them know anything about.

baked cherry jars

Bake until golden brown

The happiness of life and loving family and friends prevail, and that alone is victory.

cherry crunchobblerumble

The “poor me I didn’t get to live my life like I wanted” story has gotten old. And I take my own advice. When I find myself complaining about the same thing time and time again, there comes a point where I need to take action or shut up.

Is your picnic basket old and cracked and you think it isn’t strong enough to carry something sweet? I bet it’s vintage and there are a hundred stories behind its tattered appearance. Cherish those stories of picnics, family reunions, lake days, and road trips taken. Strengthen it with a block of wood and get to your picnic. If it just doesn’t work anymore, toss dessert into a paper bag and get on with your life.

(Read “Do not call it pie, it’s cherry crunchobblerumble” to find out how it got its name.)

Cherry Crunchobblerumble in 4-ounce jars

30-ounce can cherry pie filling

1-1/2 cups dry yellow cake mix

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  1. Heat oven to 350°.
  2. Lightly grease eight, 4-ounce canning jars and set on a baking sheet.
  3. Evenly divide and spoon pie filling into jars.
  4. Sprinkle dry cake mix on top of filling, leaving approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch open at the top.
  5. With a spoon, lightly sprinkle the melted butter over the dry cake mix, until all the dry mix has butter on it. You can spread it a little with the spoon.
  6. Bake at 350° for 20-23 minutes, or just until the tops are light golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool completely before you put the lids on.
  8. Leave the covered jars at room temperature for a day or two, or stick them in the refrigerator.

Sweet and snarky wishes with no regrets,

Staci

Hannah graduates from SDSU in a couple of weeks and it was her last day working in our group. Sticking with tradition, we had a food day—no nuts, no peanut butter. Hannah loves chocolate and deep dark chocolate cheesecake with honey ganache is irrefutably the most decadent chocolate dessert I make. And eat.

Perhaps it was the cool air breezing through the kitchen window when I opened the oven door, or maybe I overbeat the batter like a cheesecake novice that I am not.

deepest darkest chocolate cheesecake

But no matter what it was, the crack in my cheesecake made the perfect cranny for the ganache to nestle into like a silk scarf tucked into a cashmere coat.

ganache in cheesecake crack

Candid iPhone picture while slicing the cheesecake

I’m hoping I can make the same mistake again. And again. And again.

deepest darkest chocolate cheesecake

Deepest Darkest Chocolate Cheesecake with Honey Ganache is on foodnetwork.com. I’ve used the recipe since 2013 when I shared it in Save the bees, make chocolate cheesecake with honey ganache. I use the ganache recipe for a lot of my desserts because I like to use locally-harvested honey instead of corn syrup.

Don’t be afraid to add the coffee to the filling and to the ganache. Just like in Is that coffee in your cookie or just intensified chocolate, coffee simply deepens the flavor of the chocolate.

Sweet mistake wishes,

Staci

“Judy! This one’s not done,” squawked the old guy as he handed the sparkly donut back into the kitchen. As he shuffled back to his buddies at the community table, I heard, “There’re three women in there and they still can’t get it right.”

Meanwhile back in the kitchen, the conversation about a common Midwest funeral sandwich meat spread made of roast beef (sometimes ham), relish, and mayo led to me saying, “It’s not like you wish someone to die, but you look forward to funeral meat.”

cinnamon sugar donuts

Although I live just a few dusty miles outside of this teensy town (population less than 200), this was my first time attending early morning community coffee at the Verdi Township Hall. We were at supper the night before and Grandma Judy, aka Country Grandma (also the Queen of Gravy), said she was making donuts at community coffee in Verdi in the morning. Her grandson (my nephew) Garritt and I agreed we needed to check it out. I mean, how often does an itty bitty town serve community donut holes?

Verdi Minnesota Township Hall

Like any small town, the ladies in the kitchen had been watching out the window and already had the lowdown on Garritt and me when we walked in the door. They saw him drive up and pull away because Judy and I weren’t there yet. Then I pulled up and sat in my car waiting for Garritt. Judy pulled up and went inside to start the morning’s treats. When Garritt came back, we went inside together. If Verdi had a newspaper, I’m guessing our visit would have made the front page.

Verdi Township old school

I’m not sure of the time details but it sounds like community coffee is available every weekday morning at the Township Hall, which also serves as the School Museum and the Community Center. The building was a schoolhouse back in the day and then it later served as the superintendent’s house.

Judy making donuts

You can grab a cup of coffee from the lady in the kitchen and sit on a vintage school chair (from the deteriorating [closed] brick public school across the street [pictured below]) at one of two round tables. Judy’s son, Will, was in one of the last classes to graduate from the Verdi school.

Former Verdi, Minnesota Public School

Former Verdi, Minnesota Public School

The donuts are a special occasion but people take turns bringing treats each day. There’s a bowl on the table to drop your one-dollar bill to cover the cost of the coffee. And don’t fret if you forget your reading glasses—a community pair dangles from the magazine rack on the wall.

Judy making fried donuts

The lively conversation included a lady talking about excellent meat they sell at a locker in the Belview and Seaforth area, Judy’s addition of shredded carrots to ham and bean soup, and gossip about who owns a certain property in Verdi and some land for sale in nearby Lake Benton.

donut in cinnamon and sugar

It’s good that Garritt and I went to morning donuts because we found out how easy they are to make at home. (Recipe below)

serving donuts

Sure, the warm donuts, hot coffee, sparkly sugar, and old-timer conversation were worth going out early on a cold Minnesota morning. But the real emotion and meaning behind this day was about the blessing of Grandma Judy’s life. Can you feel the happiness radiating from Judy and Garritt in their picture? Judy has NEVER liked having her picture taken (as-in she doesn’t even allow them).

Judy has been a rock and a super special person to her only child’s family (Will, Heidi, Cody, Garritt, and Trav) and to me and my younger sister, Kalli. But Judy had a life-threatening health scare last year that we didn’t think her body, or her deficient will to live, would pull her through. She endured a lot but God let us keep her here with us. She is out doing things and enjoying the free spirit she has again, sharing her sprightly sense of humor wherever she goes. The true blessing is that God breathed beautiful life back into Judy—she can finally feel and believe how much people love her. Prayers answered.

Garritt and Judy

Verdi Township Hall Cinnamon Sugar Donuts

1 tube refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough

1/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

vegetable oil or canola oil

  1. Stir cinnamon and sugar together in a small bowl.
  2. Cut each biscuit into three pieces. Roll each piece into a little ball if you want them to be round.
  3. Heat oil to 350 degrees. You can either use a heavy dutch oven or deep saucepan, or like Judy does, a small deep fryer.
  4. In small batches, drop each ball into the hot oil. Fry until light golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon.
  5. Roll the fried balls in the cinnamon and sugar and place on paper towels.

Sparkly morning blessings,

Staci

I gave Jason a choice for his belated birthday dessert—Key lime cheesecake with Patrón sauce or Key lime pie. He chose Key lime pie, but specified he wanted one with pretzel crust.

Key lime pie with pretzel crust

Heck if I’ve ever written down my recipe so it always takes me a while to figure out how to make it again. And then I worry that it’s not as good as last time.

Key lime pie

When it was done, I put the pie in the refrigerator and texted Jason that it would be ready to eat when he and Camden got back to our house that night. The next morning I noticed that there were only two pieces gone. Worried that the pie didn’t turn out, I questioned Jason like a cop busting up an underage party. The interrogation was unwarranted though, as he assured me they liked the pie but it was too sweet to eat huge slices at midnight.

Key lime pie

Crisis averted. So that I have the recipe for his next February birthday, here’s the recipe for our favorite Key lime pie—best savored one slice at a time.

For a lighter dessert perfect for Easter Sunday, make summer breeze lime pie from Midwest Living.

Key lime pie 

Crust

1-1/2 cups pretzel crumbs (approximately 4 cups pretzels)

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup butter, melted

Filling

2 cans (14 ounces each) sweetened condensed milk

6 egg yolks

1/2 cup Key lime juice

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Key lime or lime zest

Whipped cream for topping, if desired

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine pretzel crumbs, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until combined. (Or mix crust ingredients in a bowl.)
  3. Lightly spray 9-inch pie plate. Drop the crust mix into the pan and firmly pat down evenly with the bottom of a measuring cup or the palm of your hand.
  4. Bake crust 7 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
  5. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, pour in the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, Key lime juice, and vanilla extract. Beat on medium-high until mixed well.
  6. Stir in lime zest.
  7. Pour filling into crust.
  8. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or just until set.
  9. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.
  10. Keep leftovers in refrigerator up to 4 days.

Sweet and sour birthday wishes,

Staci

If my best friend Darya hadn’t been killed by her husband when she was 22, we would have celebrated her 44th birthday last month. She was Lutheran. My Grandpa Elroy died quite a few years ago. He was Baptist. My sisters and I grew up with the teachings and influence of a Protestant church. They both belong to different churches now.

monster cookie bars

 

I’ve spent the past 14 years attending Mass and holy celebrations with Jason and his family. Last fall I decided to convert. This Easter I will be baptized into the Catholic Christian church. As I’ve been attending Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes, I’ve been thinking about what happens to us when we die. Of course, I want to spend my eternal life in heaven with my family and friends, no matter their Christian religion. I want to be in the presence of Darya’s spirit again. I want to eat hard butterscotch candy with my grandpa. I want to hang out with my kids and my sisters. If we get to kiss in heaven, I want to kiss Jason each heavenly morning. So however we need to live our lives on earth to get to heaven, let’s be there together.

monster cookie bars

What does that have to do with a big batch of monster cookie bars? It was my turn for treat night at RCIA the week of Darya’s birthday. People loved these, especially Father Andrew. I gave him an extra one to take home. It was a compliment that people came back for seconds.

Cookie dough balls ready for freezer

Read about how I got this recipe and how I freeze cookie dough balls in Your IT guy knows how to make monster cookie bars and strips.

Monster cookies and bars

2 sticks softened butter

2-1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

2 cups white sugar

2 cups brown sugar

4 teaspoons baking soda

6 eggs

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla

9 cups quick-cooking oats

2-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups plain M&M’s

Heat oven to 350°. Prepare pans. If you want to use all your cookie dough at once, you can make one 13×9 pan of bars (baking time takes about 20-25 minutes) and at least two dozen large cookies (baking time takes about 12-16 minutes). Or, you can make two 13×9 pans of bars. Or if you only want cookies, you can make at least six dozen enormous cookies, a few more dozen if you make smaller cookies.

  1. In large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream softened butter and peanut butter together.
  2. Add white sugar and brown sugar, beating until well combined.
  3. Add baking soda.
  4. Add eggs and beat well.
  5. Pour in corn syrup and vanilla. Continue mixing until everything is incorporated well.
  6. At this point, you should be able to add at least a few cups of the oats and still use your mixer. But once the dough gets too heavy, stop using the mixer and continue adding oats stirring the batter with a wooden spoon. Use your sexy arm muscles.
  7. Stir in the M&M’s and chocolate chips.

If you are making bars, spread half of the dough into a 13×9-inch pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until nice and golden brown. If you take the pan out before they turn golden brown, the middle will not be done.

For cookies, baking time depends on how large you make them. Place on cookie sheet. Using the back of a spoon, gently push down the dough a little bit so that they spread out instead of baking in one mound. Bake at 350° for 12-16 minutes, or until golden brown. I like to sprinkle just a tiny bit of pink Himalayan salt or sea salt on mine when they come out of the oven.

Sweet heavenly wishes,

Staci

Baking isn’t a sure thing. I’ve heard it’s a science but since I’m not an exact measurer and English was my best subject, my talents lie more in unpretentious, candid culinary storytelling and sharing goods from my kitchen when they turn out to be delicious.

Enter banana bread. Other than the rare few who don’t like anything baked with brown bananas, people will generally accept the offering of a fat slice of tender chocolate chip banana bread.

chocolate chip banana bread

If you’re on the baking end, banana bread recipes are typically easy-going and tolerant of even the most novice bakers. But somehow I found a way to bake a deep, doughy sinkhole in my most recent loaf. The problem wasn’t the recipe.

chocolate chip banana bread

I tried to be too fancy by placing thin slices of bananas down the center of the loaf before sliding it into the oven. Why? Because one of my favorite muffins, banana chocolate chip, from Kowalski’s Markets has a few crunchy bananas baked on top and I wanted it to be like that. But I think the mushy rows of bananas on top wouldn’t really bake—I even turned the broiler on at the end! I finally had to take the bread out of the oven because the top was getting too brown.

I think I tried doing this once with banana chips but I can’t remember how it turned out. Maybe I need to wait until the bread is half or three-quarters baked and then toss banana chips on top. Or perhaps a baker from Kowalski’s Markets will tell me their secret.

chocolate chip banana bread

To top off my fiasco, I was planning to share the bread with my sisters that day so I needed it to cool down quickly. After the bread cooled for an hour or so, I stuck it in the fridge and next thing I know, there was a cavernous sinkhole down the center. The upside of this story is that this recipe is a keeper (if you don’t add mushy banana slices to the top). It is magnificently tender and chocolatey.

I only slightly adapted the recipe from one of my go-to recipe and entertaining blogs Reluctant Entertainer. My additions to Sandy’s Sour Cream Banana Bread include a cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom, and using white and brown sugar.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

1 cup mashed overripe (brown or spotted) bananas, about 3 bananas

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Heat oven to 350° and grease a 9-inch loaf pan or line with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy (about 4 minutes).
  3. Beat in eggs.
  4. Stir in bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Beat on medium-low until incorporated.
  5. In a separate medium bowl stir together flour, cinnamon, cardamom, soda, and salt.
  6. Gradually and slowly beat in the flour mixture in three batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each, but be gentle—overbeating the batter will create a tough banana bread. It’s fine to see some flecks of flour still.
  7. Fold in chocolate chips.
  8. Bake at 350° for 50-55 minutes or until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean (or with only melted chocolate).
  9. Cool 15 minutes then remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Store at room temperature in airtight container up to four days.

Sweet, sinking wishes,

Staci

Why didn’t it even cross my mind? All hockey season long I see signs posted on entrance doors of rinks everywhere: “No outside food or drinks allowed.” My hockey mom mojo was out the window as Sunday I was just a cheer aunt with peanut butter cream cheese brownies and chewy cocoa peanut butter chip cookies to share with my family.

Cocoa Peanut Butter Chip Cookies | Random Sweetness Baking

When we stopped at the arena doors so the security guards could check our bags, I thought they were checking for guns and knives.

Katera Wildfire Cheer

But as soon as she spotted the unconcealed plastic bottle of water in the side pocket of my camera bag, the guard informed me that no outside food or drinks were allowed in the arena. I thought she was talking about my overstuffed canvas bag of chocolate and peanut butter treats but she didn’t even notice. She kept her eyes on me until I ditched my water but I made it through with the bag full of cookies and brownies to share with my family.

Hailee

But I was mortified when I was driving home. I took a bite of cookie and the sugar consistency was like gasping in a mouthful of sand after too many cocktails on the beach during spring break. I’ve made these cookies a lot since the time they disappeared before Christmas supper in 2013 and they’ve never been like that.

cream cheese peanut butter brownies

I went to bed thinking about it and woke up in the morning knowing exactly what went wrong. The recipe calls for 1¼ cups of softened butter and for some reason I forgot one whole stick of butter! I guess that’s what I get for unintentionally smuggling goodies into the cheer competition.

Chewy Cocoa Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

2 cups sugar

1-1/4 cups butter (2 and a half sticks), softened

2 eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

10-ounce package (1-2/3 cups) peanut butter chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat sugar and softened butter until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Stir together and then gradually add to butter mixture; beating until well combined. Stir in peanut butter chips until distributed evenly into the cookie dough.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9 to 10 minutes. Do not over-bake. The cookies will not look like they are done but they will puff up a little when baking and then they’ll drop when they are cooling. They are soft with a little crunch around the edges.

Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes and then move them to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

Sweet buttery wishes,

Staci

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