“Hey! (Brownie) Batter, Batter, Batter!”*

“Ok, guys. Before you taste these, I need you all to know that these are special brownies,” I announced with enthusiasm to the room of conservative Marines and their sweet, wholesome wives.

Silence shrouded the kitchen as my words were met with looks of surprise and outright horror.

“Oh, holy cow!” I thought to myself as the dire implication of the term “special brownies” suddenly sunk in.

“I mean… they’re only special because they’re made with sweet potato and black beans! What I meant to say was….they’re, they’re…they’re unique brownies! It’s a recipe from my new cookbook. There’s only half a cup of brown sugar in the whole batch!” I added in hurried desperation.

Luckily for me, the sickening silence of perceived disdain was overcome by the sound of laughter and exclamations of “Oh, Liz.”

I laughed along and sighed with relief while proceeding to pour myself a rather large glass of Chardonnay.

“Dodged that bullet,” I said to myself. “Now we’ll just have to see how these unique brownies actually go over after dinner.”

As the sun disappeared behind the arid Escondido mountains, we feasted on delicious chicken, veggies, and baked potatoes, painstakingly prepared on a smoker by our gracious hosts.

The night air was cool, so we gathered around the fire, casually sipping our drinks and polishing off our second helpings of food while discovering the many hopes, fears, and dreams that we all share as young military couples. It was truly a lovely evening.

Eventually the conversation came to a natural lull, and it was clear that dessert was in order. The pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that one couple brought were undoubtedly a hit. (My husband even confessed to shoving one in his mouth while loading up his plate with dinner and more pumpkin cookies.)

So how did my brownies fare? Well, everyone ate one and assured me they were good. But I had my doubts–What if they were just saying that to be polite? What if the brownies were disgusting, and everyone secretly disposed of them in their napkins while I wasn’t looking?

I remained uneasy, but fortunately my fears were assuaged towards the end of the night when one of the guys popped a brownie in his mouth and declared, “Mmm these are really good!”

“Even with the black beans and sweet potato?” I inquired skeptically.

“I didn’t even know there was anything besides chocolate in them,” he replied.

Apparently he had been outside manning the smoker during the whole “special brownie” debacle and had missed the whole thing.

Well, there you have it. The brownies were indeed special.

And now that we have that long-winded backstory out of the way, here is the recipe for the “Better Brownies” (with a few of my own adjustments) adapted from Daphne Oz’s fabulous new cookbook, “The Happy Cook”: (a link to her recipe can also be found here: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/recipe/brownies-daphne-oz-42256544.)

“Better Brownies” Recipe

Ingredients:

  1. 1 15 oz can of black beans (or 1/2 cup of black bean flour)
  2. 1 large sweet potato
  3. 2 large eggs
  4. 2 tablespoons melted butter
  5. 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1/3 cup hot coffee
  8. 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  9. 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  10. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  11. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  12. a sprinkling of powdered sugar (my own addition)

 

brownie-ingredients
All of the ingredients plus our mini cactus and my Perrier/pineapple juice/lime juice concoction to give the photo some zest.

Directions:

  1. Begin by draining and rinsing a 15 oz can of black beans. (I like to use a fine mesh fruit strainer for this.)
  2. Puree the beans in a food processor or blender. (I decided to go with the food processor since I received one as a wedding present, but had previously been too intimated by its many parts to use it. Turns out is very easy to assemble and to use. To puree the beans, simply hold down the “pulse” button for approximately four second intervals until the beans have a “hummus-like” consistency. Intermittently scrape down the sides of the processor with a spatula if the beans are sticking to it.)
  3. Next, thoroughly wash a large sweet potato and poke a few holes into it with a fork. Heat the sweet potato in the microwave for 7-8 minutes.
  4. Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Spoon out 1 cup of the soft sweet potato flesh and whisk it together in a large bowl with the eggs, melted butter, vanilla, and brown sugar.
  6. In a small bowl, carefully pour the hot coffee over the chocolate chips and stir. (This will make your mouth water, and you will be tempted to eat this delicious mocha mixture straight from the bowl. Lucky for you and for the sake of the recipe, the mixture is hot, and you might burn yourself if you try to eat it–trust me.)
  7. In a separate bowl, gently stir together a 1/2 cup of the black bean puree with the unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, and kosher salt.
  8. Add the heavenly mocha blend and bean mixture to the sweet potato concoction. Stir to combine.
  9. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch brownie pan and pour the brownie batter evenly into the pan. (Daphne uses a mini muffin tin, but I couldn’t find mine for the life of me.)
  10. Bake brownies for approximately 12-13 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs on it. (If using the mini muffin tin, Daphne recommends cooking the brownies for approximately 8 minutes.)
  11. Remove brownies from the oven and allow them to rest in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Optional: Sprinkle brownies with powdered sugar and mini chocolate chips if desired.

 

finished-brownies
The brownies straight out of the oven. I added the powdered sugar and mini chocolate chips once the brownies had cooled completely, but that photo didn’t turn out so well…

 

Oz, Daphne. “Better Brownies.” The Happy Cook: 125 Recipes for Eating Every Day Like It’s the Weekend. New York: Harper Collins, 2016. 282-283. Print.

 

*For the record, I know that the title “Hey! (Brownie) Batter, Batter, Batter!”  must be confusing since my post has nothing to do with baseball. However, I could not for the life of me come up with a title other than something along the lines of “Special Brownies”. (And I mean, I’d just learned my lesson of misleading people by accidentally misusing that term, and I wasn’t about to do it again.) So since this post was finished during the final inning of Game 7 of the World Series, I decided to go with a play on the phrase “Hey batter, batter, batter!” as a shout-out to the all of the diehard baseball fans in my apartment complex whose cries of joy made me smile while writing.

 

Oh Happy Day

“Ding!”

I winced as my head swiveled to the side and craned unnaturally to read the message flashing across my phone.

“Shoot!” I thought as the notification evaporated away, disappearing before I could pull the soapy gloves off my fingers.

Luckily, my momentary frustration was quickly replaced with excitement as I opened the email and read, “Oh happy day, you had a parcel delivered.”

“Oh happy day, indeed!” I squealed as I bounded down the stairs and into the package room.

My hardcover copy of Daphne Oz‘s brand new cookbook, “The Happy Cook,” had finally arrived.

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I know this probably all sounds rather dramatic. In fact, I don’t even really like cooking all that much, so I don’t know why I was so thrilled by this purchase. Regardless, I spent the rest of the evening carefully reading through Daphne’s introduction, pausing only to relay passages aloud to my patient husband who sat next to me on the couch watching football and to my mother, whom I had on speakerphone.

“I just adore her attitude toward cooking, eating, and life in general!” I exclaimed as I flipped through the mouth-watering recipes and delightful photographs. “It’s so refreshing to find someone who cooks mostly balanced, nourishing food but who also uses enough of the good stuff to make the food flavorful. On top of that, she fully supports that there are times to indulge in ooey-gooey treats, and she includes those kinds of recipes too. Daph is my girl!”

Yes, I called her “Daph.” And yes, unfortunately I used the term “my girl.” I don’t know where either of those phrases came from, but perhaps I said them because I feel like I sort of know Daphne. Back in 2006 during my freshman year of college, my mother actually gifted me a copy of Daphne Oz’s first book “The Dorm Room Diet,” and I easily related to her struggle. Dealing with the stresses of college life while attempting  to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regime, and self-care routine (and to have some fun with friends, of course!) could feel overwhelming at times. However, Daphne’s ability to find ways to balance these different aspects of life allowed her to grow and flourish during her college experience. Looking back, I am extremely grateful to her because reading her story and following her helpful tips inspired me to do the same.

Ten years later, with the release of “The Happy Cook,” Daphne Oz (who is now married with two adorable children, the author of three successful books, and a co-host of ABC’s television show The Chew) is once again teaching me how to live a happy, balanced lifestyle as I navigate being a newlywed in my late twenties. I cannot wait to devour the rest of her cookbook, and I’ll be sure to write about my future cooking adventures with “Daph” in my blog (and hey, now that it’s been a decade, I think she and I can be on a nickname basis by now, right?)

 

 

 

 

 

“Life as Liz Knows It” Explained

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Thanks for checking out my “Life as Liz Knows It” blog. My name is Liz Stouffer, but I’ll gladly respond to any of the following: Lizzie, Lizbeth, Lizard, Toozer, Toozie, Ms./Señorita Tooze, Mrs. Stouffer (as of December 2015), or my favorite alias, lovingly bestowed upon me by my three-year-old niece Charlotte: “Auntie Yiz”.

Four years ago I began my career teaching middle school Spanish in Texas. It was there that I met and fell in love with my husband, Jay. We married last winter in Maryland and are currently stationed in beautiful San Diego, California.

This past year has served as a powerful period of exploration, reflection, and personal growth. I pursued my lifelong interests in health and wellness by becoming a NASM certified personal trainer and health coach specialist, and I recently completed a certificate in Positive Psychology from the Whole Being Institute. I am beyond grateful to all of my teachers and mentors from these courses, and I would like to use this blog as a place to further meditate on and experiment with the things I have learned.

I hope that that through writing I’ll be able to make meaningful connections between fitness, nutrition, and Positive Psychology to help me live my best life. This is especially important to me for this upcoming year since my husband will be going on his first deployment to the Middle East in roughly one month.

My goal is for Jay and I to thrive as a couple instead of simply survive this deployment, and I’m confident that a combination of nourishing food, joyful movement and play, and a healthy dose of perspective and humor will help us accomplish this mission. (And if what I write happens to help someone else going through a similar situation, well then that would be a nice bonus!)

I’ll be writing about my favorite simple, nutritious, and delicious recipes, tips to make exercise both effective and enjoyable (okay, bearable), and other scientifically backed ways to increase levels of well-being and happiness. Please join me on my journey!

 

Punctuated by Fear

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My name is Liz Stouffer, and this is my first ever blog post. To be truthful, the idea of sharing my writing terrifies me. Naturally, I am afraid that my thoughts will be judged by others. However, there are two things that scare me even more– commas and semicolons. I often just guess where they need to be placed, or I insert “–” to avoid using them in the first place (see previous sentence).

I fear that I will be judged by my former classmates, teachers, and colleagues for my misuse of “simple” punctuation that I should have learned years ago.”Didn’t she attend a prestigious boarding school, receive a BA from a well-respected liberal arts college, attain a MA from a top language school, and then teach at a prominent K-12 school in Texas? How on earth did she get by without ever mastering commas and semicolons?”

That’s a good question, imaginary “judgy” people residing in my brain. I don’t know how this happened either. Honestly, I think it probably occurred because I missed so much elementary school due to a combination of severe test anxiety and a bad bout of Giardia.

I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter all that much anyhow. Simply because using commas and semicolons makes me uneasy doesn’t mean I have nothing worthy to share through writing. Besides, being fortunate enough to receive such an incredible education means that I have gifted friends (on speed dial) who naturally know how to weave commas and semicolons into sentences with grace and ease.

So here’s my plan for future blog posts:

Step 1: Write what I feel called to write and forget about misusing commas and semicolons.

Step 2: Attempt to ignore the “judgy” people in my head. As my wise sister Sydney pointed out to me recently, “These people in your imagination are just awful, Liz.” Indeed, she is right. These fictional critics in my brain are probably thinking far worse things about my writing than the people I fear will judge me in the real world. (Because let’s face it, most people have more important things going on in their lives than to worry about whether or not Liz Stouffer left out a comma!)

Step 3: After writing, try to look up comma and semicolon rules to see if I used them correctly, or if I could have added them to make my writing stronger.

Step 4: Learn one or two new punctuation rules and suddenly feel like a grammar goddess!

Step 5: Continue to scroll down the English language usage website and begin to feel perplexed and frustrated by the overwhelming and seemingly contradictory comma and semicolon rules.

Step 5: Consult grammar genius friend and ask for her help.

Step 6: Shower said friend with gratitude and praise while continuing to be in awe of her wisdom.

Step 7: Get back to writing.

Step 8: This time welcome my grammar mistakes and “get giddy” about making them.

Step 9: Realize that these small failures ultimately signify that I am succeeding because, in the end, a post full of errors means that at least I am writing. For me, a page devoid of flaws and mistakes would itself be a failure because that would mean I had left it blank.

Step 10. Happy dance around the apartment to 70’s Disco music.

Do it all again tomorrow (or maybe next week– baby steps, people!)