Cooking in Edgar County’s Ruth Patchett’s favorite team, the Fighting Illini, may not be in this year’s tourney, but there’s plenty of orange and blue available when they do return to the Big Dance. (Special to The Prairie Press)

It's time for the tourney

For the past several years I have been privileged to exercise with a great group of women mostly from Indiana. We love to work out together and we especially love to talk. We have shared many joys and sorrows and truly care about one another. Much of our talk is about food. There are a number of great cooks in the group and we like sharing recipes almost as much as eating out together. Some of my Hoosier friends know that on occasion I write for The Prairie Press and I thought it would be fun to get snack recipes from them as March Madness approaches.

The NCAA basketball tourney is rapidly approaching — I can hardly wait. I am such a college basketball fan and the NCAA tournament is my favorite sports time of the year. Some people are crazy about the Super Bowl and some love the World Series. For me there is nothing better than the NCAA basketball tournament. Even if my Fighting Illini are not participating in the tournament it is always fun to watch and fill and out a bracket.

Maybe in actuality I have become a Hoosier by osmosis from being around all these Indiana friends and did not know it. Everyone knows that Indiana and basketball are tied together and if you research Hoosier basketball it makes for a most interesting read. The 1986 movie Hoosier starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper is well worth watching more than once as it really gives you a sense of how Hoosiers love their basketball. James Naismith, credited with being basketball's inventor, wrote in 1925 about Indiana's passion for basketball when he visited an Indiana basketball state finals game along with 15,000 screaming fans and said, that while basketball was invented in Massachusetts, "basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport." Hoosiers have a traditional love for basketball similar to that of Texans for football and Minnesotans for ice hockey.

Bette, our exercise leader, great cook, and octogenarian gave me her version of Vegetable Pizza. It is a delicious and healthy snack as Bette has more GO than two people half her age.

Pat is someone really fun to exercise with and her stories about her husband Frank are great. I was hoping she could get me some advice from Frank about how to pick my bracket. She said he meticulously studies the sports section but Pat in her usual candor said "I don't care about the basketball teams, let's talk about food." We abandoned basketball and she gave me this cheeseball recipe.

Any gathering is better when you invite Theresa, another exercise friend. She could be a stand up comedian and knows more games to play and how to involve everyone in a group. Theresa shared one of her easy party food recipes. This is her Mexican Dip.

Just layer on a large serving platter in the following order — 8 ounces cream cheese softened, followed by salsa spread on top of cream cheese. Top with chopped mild green, yellow, and red peppers. Add sliced olives, jalapenos, and diced tomatoes then sprinkle mozzarella and cheddar over everything. Serve with tortilla chips.

Sue is someone who joined our group about two years and fits right in as she is also a great cook. She is a former teacher and so of course used her creativity when she knew I was seeking snacks for March Madnewss. I love the name she gave for her popcorn recipe.

Having all these snack ideas get ready to enjoy the games. I asked my Hoosier friends predictions on how Purdue would do this year, No one wanted to say, but all hoped they did well.

It is always fun to see a Big Ten school make it to the Elite Eight or Final Four. Of course, never count out Michigan State or Ohio State.

Two things I can guarantee about the games, I will not have the best bracket even though my first round games are good. The second round is what messes me up. My son and son-in-law have beaten me for years in bracket competition. I have to pay off by baking chocolate chip cookies, buying lunch, or making a Dutch apple pie.

Another guarantee is when a game is very close I will go to the kitchen — not because my favorite snacks there — but because I am such a chicken when the game is very close. You could say I am a stress eater as I really get into basketball and sometimes it is too hard to watch.

If you have that problem put your favorite snacks in another room and when the game gets too close for comfort enjoy these Hoosier snack recipes.

The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944