Creamy Kale Pesto Sauce Recipe Vegan Paleo Plant-Based


My food goal right ought to be simple: eat real food, eat more vegetables, self-diagnose food sensitivities causing problems in my body. In addition, I want that real food to taste good, and eventually, I want it to taste so good, I can serve it to normal people who don’t eat strange things like me.

This recipe falls in the five or six things I’m cooking these days, which meets all those qualifications.

I begin with homemade almond milk. Store-bought almond milk has questionable ingredients, no fat or protein, and I’m reacting to various pre-made ingredients. I make my almond milk with raw almonds and purified water. It’s easy, quick, and about 100 times more delicious than store-bought.

Next comes the pesto sauce (from Pinch of Yum). Note: I only use 1 Tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice, not the entire fruit as the recipe calls for. This recipe has held up well for me, with many variations. In place of the kale, I’ve subbed basil, cilantro, parsley, spinach, in place of kale. In place of almonds, I’ve subbed pine nuts, walnuts, and I have a hankering to attempt it with pepitas.  I also usually set aside some of the pesto to spread over cauliflower pizza crust!

Lastly, I make the creamy pesto sauce like this:

1 cup almond milk
1 Tbsp thickener of choice (sweet rice flour, cornstarch, arrowroot powder, etc.)

Cook over low / medium heat until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup pesto.

To keep it plant-based, serve over top of roasted vegetables, cooked spaghetti squash, or spiralized vegetable noodles (Shown in the photo is my favorite mix of zucchini, summer squash, and onion, sauteed in olive oil, along with baked spaghetti squash, for a nice variety of texture and flavor).

Oh, and a tip on cooking the spaghetti squash. Stab several holes in it with a sharp knife. Set it on a baking sheet. Cook at 400 degrees for around one hour, or until you can easily smoosh it with your hand (using a hot pad). Easy PEASY.


Recipe – Homemade Almond Milk and Homemade Gluten Free Vegan Sweet Bread using Leftover Almond Pulp (Banana, Pear, Apple, or Pumpkin Bread)

Homemade Almond Milk and Almond Pulp Banana Pumpkin Bread Recipe


A few years ago, I made almond milk. It was watery and tasteless. A few months ago, I went to a workshop on homemade nut milks.  They made it just like I had, with two differences: 1) they used expensive, powerful blenders 2) they used a “nut bag” to strain the almonds (instead of cheesecloth). That was it. Why was their almond milk so much better?

Now that I have one of those expensive, powerful blenders, and have made almond milk again, I have a few conclusions. Primarily, the better results come from heat. The ultra powerful blenders heat their contents with friction (they don’t have a heating element). Fat dissolves in heat. Without an expensive blender, you are blending without heat. Instead of thick creamy almond milk, you have water and almond grit. My conclusion: add heat from a different source. Second, straining with the correct tool (nut bag or hops bag) gets any grittiness out. Third, a bit of salt and sweetener go a long way to flavoring the resulting creamy milk.

If you don’t have a fancy blender, you can still do this. Bgin with hot water when blending, and blend for a longer time.

Finally, humor me, and use purified water. Tap water contains flouride, chlorine, and a host of minerals that you don’t need to be ingesting – not to mention it tastes terrible. Since your almond milk is just water and almonds blended together, the nasty taste of tap water is going to make your almond milk taste terrible too. If you want the milk to taste nice like store-bought almond milk, use purified water. We have an APEC reverse osmosis system we bought off Amazon and it gives us fantastic purified water for a reasonable price.




1 cup raw almonds
4 cups purified water

Soak almonds in water overnight on counter top (room temperature).

In morning, dump old water. 
Rinse twice in fresh water (preferably purified).

Into your blender, add

4 cups purified water (new water, not the soaking water)
Soaked almonds

Blend in high powered blender such as Vitamix or Blendtec for 3 minutes. 

For a standard blender, before adding to the mixer, get the 4 cups water hot. Blend 6 minutes.

If desired, flavor with the following before blending (or your choice of sweetener). I make plain almond milk for smoothies, ice cream, and cooking (like mac and cheese), and flavored/sweetened for drinking or eating with cereal.

1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp agave
1/2 tsp vanilla

Use a “nut bag” (Amazon), or “hops bag” from a Home Brewing store near you. They cost about $4. Cheesecloth is what I used on my first attempt. I don’t recommend it. It was not as easy or effective as the nut / hops bags.

Strain milk through hops bag, squeezing with your hands.

Result is about 4 cups milk and 1 cup almond pulp. 

Homemade almond milk lasts 2-5 days depending on refrigeration temperature and freshness of almonds (helps to store the almonds in freezer if you have space). Make only what you can use in a short period of time. Homemade almond milk does not freeze well. 

Leftover almond pulp DOES freeze well. Thaw completely before using at a later time. Refrigerate if you plan to use it within the next few days.

Almond milk and leftover almond pulp

I tried several recipes using leftover almond pulp. It is NOT almond flour, or almond meal, and cannot be used as such in recipes.

Most recipes for leftover almond pulp have you turn it into almond flour by baking or dehydrating the pulp, then puree it in the blender to make flour. This is way too much effort, and too much energy consumption for me. 

I wanted an easy recipe that I could make as often as I make the milk, with minimal mess. It needed to be quick, simple, and have every-day ingredients. It needed to be fast to make and fast to clean up from, because I’m a busy mom. Preferably it needed to be cheap to make. It needed to use the fewest number of measuring spoons / cups as possible.

We are on a tight budget, and almonds are expensive. We are gluten free, and GF bread is expensive. I wanted to use the almond pulp to reduce the quantity (and thus cost) of GF bread we purchase. This recipe has done the trick!

I make almond milk about twice a week. I bake almond pulp bread once or twice a week, either one loaf at the same time as I make milk, or two loaves, using one fresh batch of pulp and one frozen or refrigerated batch of pulp.

This recipe calls for Gluten Free flour. Use your normal household choice of GF flour mix. If it contains leavening ingredients and xantham or guar gum, omit those from this recipe. If it’s just flour (like a mix of brown rice / tapioca / potato / sorghum), that is what I have used. I tried a couple different homemade GF flour mixtures with this recipe, and they all came out fine.


– Single Batch – 

1 c    almond pulp (leftover from making almond milk)
1 c    gluten free flour
1 c    soft fruit, crushed (ripe banana, applesauce, pears, pumpkin puree, berries, etc.)
1/2 c sugar (increase to 3/4 c or 1 c if using pumpkin since it’s not naturally sweet)
1 tsp  baking soda
1 tsp  baking powder
1 tsp  xanthan gum
1 tsp  cinnamon (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs (for vegan, use “flax eggs” 3 Tbsp water 1 Tbsp ground flax meal, for each 1 egg)
1/3 c  oil (canola oil, butter, shortening, earth balance, etc. your choice)

Throw it all in a big bowl and stir until combined. Pour into loaf pan (no need to grease pan). Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit, for 70 minutes. 

To make with regular flour (not gluten free), omit xanthan gum and baking powder, and alter baking soda to 1 1/2 tsp.


– Double Batch –

2 c    almond pulp (leftover from making almond milk)
2 c    gluten free flour (your choice of mixture. check ingredients. if it contains leavening ingredients and xantham or guar gum, omit those from this recipe. if it’s just flour, like a mix of brown rice / tapioca / potato / sorghum starch, etc., that is what I have used)
2 c    soft fruit (ripe banana, applesauce, ripe pears, pumpkin puree, crushed berries, etc.)
1 c sugar (increase to 1.5 or 2 c if using pumpkin since the other fruits are naturally sweet)
2 tsp  baking soda
2 tsp  baking powder
2 tsp  xanthan gum
2 tsp  cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp salt
4 eggs (for vegan, use “flax eggs” 3 Tbsp water 1 Tbsp ground flax meal, for each 1 egg)
2/3 c  oil (canola oil, butter, shortening, earth balance, etc. your choice)

Throw it all in a big bowl and stir until combined. Pour into loaf pan (no need to grease pan). Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit, for 70 minutes.

To make with regular flour (not gluten free), omit xanthan gum and baking powder, and alter baking soda to 3 tsp.

Zillman’s Cucumber Yogurt Summer Salad Recipe

Several years ago, we participated in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). You pay up-front a flat sum of money, then over the course of several months, receive a weekly basket / bag of veggies the farmer has raised. It allows the farmer to have initial capital with which to grow his crops, rather than buying at a farmer’s market, where the farmer has to pay in advance to raise his crops, then only receives revenue upon harvest and sale.

I prefer farmer’s markets, simply because I get to choose the items I want, and the quantity. However, it’s also fun to just get an unknown basket each week, because it makes you creative in using items you might otherwise not purchase, or purchase less of.

When our CSA farmers were delivering massive quantities of cucumber each week that summer, they also sent along this recipe on index cards. I will forever be grateful, as it is hands-down the best way I’ve ever eaten cucumbers (which otherwise taste to me like I would imagine grass tastes).  The recipe card credits the recipe to Leroy and Sharon Zillman.  I don’t know who they are, but if I ever meet them, I will hug and squeeze them in gratitude for this recipe.

The only modification our family has done to the recipe is to reduce the dill weed from 2 Tbsp to 2 tsp.  It is fabulous.

Farmer’s market cucumbers (shown in photo), are about half the size of grocery store cukes.  If you don’t have cukes that size, and are using grocery store cukes, you only need one or perhaps one and a bit of a second grocery store cuke, for the recipe, since they are twice as large as what is used for the original recipe.  You don’t want to overwhelm the sauce with too much cuke, since they can get watery. You want the flavor and availability of the sauce to be substantial.

2-3 cucumbers, farmer’s market size, or 1 grocery store cuke
2 Tbsp chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp vinegar
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt, preferably full fat
2 tsp dill weed (or up to 2 Tbsp to taste)

Peel cukes and slice thinly, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.  Chop onion.

In a smallish bowl or tupperware, combine sauce ingredients.  Add onion and sliced cucumber.  Stir until well mixed.  Store in fridge and marinate over night (I’ve eaten them as soon as three hours later when I couldn’t stand to wait).  Keep chilled.

I can eat the volume this recipe makes, all by myself, in about 2-3 days.  I like to snack on them at lunch time, while I’m preparing the rest of the lunch meal.  They are light, cool, refreshing, and have the absolute perfect summer flavor.  The dressing mixture also makes a fabulous summer salad dressing!

These are also kid-approved in our house!

| Filed under cooking and recipes

Potty Training Day One

I guess he’s ready. That’s what today told me.
I had prepared by:
1. Cleaning out his little potty in our bathroom that seems to accumulate dust and hair.
2. Making “candy” I could feel happy about giving him as reward (info later in post).
3. Putting a bin of books next to the potty.
4. Moving the bathroom rug to a spot cozy enough for his feet to rest, and my body to sit on for the better part of the day reading books and waiting.
5. Placing a timer in the bathroom to be set every thirty minutes to “try.”
6. Rolling up the living room area rug so the house would be concrete floors only, for easy accident clean up.
7. Reading three different potty training books over the weekend. All very different perspectives; I gleaned bits and pieces from each one.
8. Making sure my schedule was completely clear this week, so we could stay home all week and focus on this task.
What I did NOT do:
1. Buy pull ups or underwear.  I decided to just wait to see how the first few days went.  I’ve heard from several friends that the best potty training method is to spend a dedicated week working on it, and to have the toddler naked from the waist down.  This makes frequent potty visits easy, and makes them very, very aware of any accidents they have.
We have cloth diapered Jax since he was born, so he is used to the feeling of soft, cotton fabric against his skin (we use prefolds, not the moisture wicking fancy diapers).  It means he is also used to the feeling of wet, smushy cotton against his skin.  I felt that underwear would just feel the exact same to him as his cotton diapers, and wouldn’t “tell” his brain that something was different and he needed to pay attention.
Plus I’m not planning to take him out of the house this week.  If things go well, I will figure out if I want to use disposable or cloth pull ups, or underwear, or whatnot.  That part is still a bit overwhelming.
When we woke up this morning, I let him know I was going to help him learn how to use the potty today. He seemed nonchalant.  I reiterated this idea several times over the morning while we ate breakfast and tidied up the house.
Prior to today, we’ve been reading potty books for a couple months now.. We have spent time talking about how he will grow up and learn to use the potty, and practicing sitting on his little plastic potty in our bathroom (usually when I’m going using the toilet he will sit on his potty with his clothes on).  
However, he also knows that when he grows up, he will learn to drive a car and use sharp knives, and as a firstborn without older siblings to model for him, he seemed prepared to wait until we let him know the time was right for either one.  I felt that without some prompting, he might not realize that the time for peeing in the toilet was coming along much sooner than driving a car.
After breakfast I took off his diaper and put him in just a tee-shirt.  I let him know he wouldn’t wear a diaper or shorts today, so he could learn to use the potty. At my suggestion, he willingly went over to try.  Shortly after he sat down, he started crying that he didn’t want to. I thought perhaps it was the newness and suddenness, since he is a person who likes clear expectations and accomplish-able tasks.
So I busted out the reward concept. I told him if he put his pee or poopy in the toilet, I would give him candy.
That was an instant motivator, and for the next hour he pretty much refused to get off the potty because he was determined to get candy! (A rare treat around here).
I tried suggesting he take little breaks and try again later, but the minute he got up, he would go back in to try again to get candy. He seemed a bit discouraged.  Then my mother in law texted me to give him lots of water. Eureka.
I filled up a sippy cup with juice (Odwalla carrot and blueberry apple which is squeezed fruit and pulp), and another sippy with herbal tea that Jax loves. After downing a good amount of each, about thirty minutes later he went! I was using the toilet at the same time, and reading him books. He announced that he went pee, and he had!  Two bits of homemade candy and he was a happy camper.
“You can have more when you put more pee or poopy in your potty!”
The second time he was successful, he was sitting at the table to eat, then told me he needed to pee. He got down from the table, ran to the bathroom, and peed in the potty again.
He spent all morning visiting the potty of his own accord, saying he needed to pee. I would guess he sat on the potty perhaps every 10-15 minutes without any prompting (though I was prepared to do so).  I had set the timer a few times, but each time he had already visited the potty several more times than the timer indicated, so I stopped using it.
Before nap time, he had peed in the potty six times and had zero accidents. The last four pees were without any help from me at all. He just kept trying, and when he was successful, he came running to tell me and get his candy.
All that focusing must have worn him out because he took a three hour nap, and of course his diaper was wet after naps. (I have zero expectations in the sleeping dry area until he masters awake dry first).
After that long nap, Daddy came home. Daddy is way too much fun these days, so Jax had one pee accident on an upholstered chair, and a second pee accident in the bath (no surprise there).  Then he went to bed, so Daddy didn’t get to see him go in the potty, and we didn’t have any successes following nap time.  Considering how well the morning went, I at least feel certain that he’s ready, and we’re on the right track.
He didn’t poop all day, in any location.  He’s in bed now, and I’m curious to see if he will poop during the night (which he otherwise hasn’t done for over a year), or first thing in the morning, or what will happen.  This is a kid who usually poops 2-4 times per day, and is never constipated.  I feel certain he didn’t poop today because he hasn’t figured out how to do it in the potty, not because he didn’t need to go.  In fact, I bet several of the times he would say he needed to pee, and would try, but not go, was his body wanting to poop.
Update: He woke at 10:30 pm tonight with a poopy diaper. It took him a long time to fall asleep tonight, likely because of his lengthy nap, so I imagine he pooped while he was trying to fall alseep.  He’s clean, and back to sleep again now. Hopefully no more poopy tonight!
I feel pretty upbeat about how today went. I had prepared myself for accidents all day long, and perhaps one successful pee in the potty.  Having made as much quick progress as he did, tells me he is physically and developmentally ready.  Now the two of us just have to figure this out together!
The candy I made him is from the lovely book “From Scratch” by Shaye Elliott.  It’s a cookbook for “whole foods”, which I would describe as a way of cooking that is truly from “scratch.”  She doesn’t have a recipe asking for salsa on top of something, and she even has recipes for things like homemade mayonnaise.  I get frustrated by just how much “food” sold in the grocery store seems to have more artificial ingredients than it does actual food.  I also know that Jax already eats a lot of fruit and dried fruit, so rewarding him with raisins wasn’t going to be an adequate motivation.  In the recipe book, Shaye says a friend of hers developed this recipe when potty training her toddler, and it seemed like a great idea to me.
The recipe is simple and located online here:
– Butter (organic, free range if possible) – saturated animal fats from healthy animal sources have actually been shown in recent years to be necessary for physical and dental health, especially in children
– Cinnamon (I get my spices from Mountain Rose Herbs online, as they are organic, fair trade, and about 25% of grocery store prices).
– Honey (I use local, raw, unfiltered honey)
The recipe has you blend it up, put it in a pastry or ziploc bag, cut the corner, squeeze into little “buttons” on parchment paper, then freeze.  Once frozen, it was easy to scrape them into a glass jar and store it in the freezer (bonus, Jax can’t reach it there).  I gave him two candies each time he peed in the potty, and plan to give him three or four for poopy in the potty.
I haven’t tried to think about having to stop with the candy once he’s got the hang of it. I will just take one parenting challenge at a time, thank you!  Potty training is big enough right now.
The books I read are the following:
1. Let’s Get This Potty Started  review (written by a child psychologist, my favorite)
2. That’s How I Roll review (very brief, perhaps a fifteen minute read, my least favorite)
3. The No-Cry Potty Training Solution review (by the same lady who wrote the No-Cry Sleep Solution, which I found very helpful when Jax was tiny)
1. This book was my favorite, because the parenting advice I’ve found most helpful so far, is essentially developmental insight or psychological explanations for a child’s stage or behavior.  Every child is different, which we hear all the time.  But this means that you could read one hundred pieces of specific “do this, this way” advice, and perhaps one or two might “work” for your child.  I’ve found that if I can understand what his basic development need is, or what is “behind” his behavior, I am able to discover with a unique solution to address that need, rather than addressing the behavior.  God in my life helps so much too, because I truly believe that of my best parenting solutions have been something I heard God whisper to me to try.
The book talks about basic toddler personality types, and how to help channel those in regard to potty training. It does not suggest any particular method or “how to”, and also emphasizes that kids are physically/emotionally/mentally “ready” at different times, and if they aren’t ready, you just aren’t going to have much success, so better to try again in a few months.  She talks about how this takes time, and the “do it in one day” methods tend to fail.
The book doesn’t have the greatest reviews on Amazon, my guess being that people wanted something more “how to.”  For me, it was perfect.
2. This was my least favorite.  She has a very clear cut “how to” and reiterates that parents who attempt her method and fail, have left out one of her steps. She says you can’t leave any of them out, or you will fail. She also tries to be funny, but I didn’t find her funny.
Here’s her method in a nutshell:
– Take toddler to store and let them pick out super cool undies, any kind they like. Also get plain white boring undies.
– Tell toddler today is the day, and don’t change your mind about it, or go back, ever, this is the no going back day from this day forward, no matter what happens.
– That same day, take away toddler’s sippy cup and move them to a normal cup, even if they still spill their cup all the time, because if they just “sip” on their sippy cup all day, they won’t quickly fill their bladder up like they would with a normal cup, which will prevent their bladder from getting full and making them need to go potty.
– Buy the seat that goes on the normal potty, not a potty chair, because you don’t want to have to clean the potty chair.
– Buy M&Ms or candy of your choice. Give them one candy for “trying” (sitting on the potty), two candies for pee, and three candies for poop.  Also have a “big” toy item ready to give them after a few days of good success.
– Put their cool undies on. Take them to the potty every 30-60 minutes. Encourage them to drink water. When they have an accident, throw away the cool undies that got dirty, and put the plain white undies on. Explain the cool undies can’t be cleaned and they have to learn to keep them clean or they will be thrown out.  It is okay if this makes the toddler cry because you want them to have motivation to keep the cool undies clean.
– Stick with it. First day expect 10-12 accidents, and maybe one success. Second day expect 4-6 accidents and several successes. By day three, toddler should be having 1-2 accidents per day and everything else success.
– Your kid will be potty trained with a week or two at the most.
There were just too many things that grated on me (besides the forced humor).  Some kids might be intimidated by the big potty, and want a little potty, and that’s okay.  I also felt that sitting on the big potty while Jax sat on his little potty was helpful to him.
No matter what I do, Jax always spills a normal cup within three minutes of getting it, no matter how exciting the contents of the cup are.  He also only drinks water or fluid when he is really thirsty, then he drinks a LOT all at once.  So I don’t see a reason to take away his sippy cup (which is really a stainless water bottle with a straw, not a true sippy).  I also don’t see a reason to make too many big changes to a toddler all at once.  If they are at all attached to their sippy, as many toddlers are, I wouldn’t want to make that huge change at the same time I was making another huge change (potty training).
I can’t lie to my kids. I don’t like using “stuff” or throwing away their stuff, as a method of “training.” It seems more like threats or punishment, which isn’t generally advised for potty training.  I also think that peeing in undies would be a big physical awakening to a kid who’s used disposable diapers, but no change at all for a kid who’s been in cloth.
Finally, some kids just aren’t going to be ready when the parents think they are, or want them to be.  So the instruction to stick with it and never go back just isn’t reasonable.  If the kid is really struggling and you are having all sorts of resistance, it’s better for everyone to just stop and wait a few months to try again.  There are developmental issues affecting the capability of the child to toilet train, just like their capability to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, and anything else a parent might want (or not want!) their child to accomplish.
3. Pantley’s book is broken down in a “quick” section and a longer section.  You can read the quick section and not read anything else, unless you have a particular area of struggle you want a bit more detailed advice about.  Reading both sections feels incredibly redundant, as there are identical sentences and paragraphs, some of them just fleshed out a bit more with an anecdote, joke, or tiny bit more detail.
She seems to take a middle ground approach. She gives some ideas of different ways to try things, emphasizes pausing if the child doesn’t respond well, and emphasizing it can take time not to try to rush or pressure the child.  She has a combination of how-to’s, but not as specific as book #2; and some developmental insight, though not as thorough or helpful as book #1.  She also says it might be helpful to clear your schedule for a week or several days in a row, to focus on it, and that works for some kids who are developmentally ready.
Surprisingly, none of them even mention the idea of partial nudity (waist down) as being a method that works for many toddlers and parents.
They all agree not to punish accidents or other unwanted potty behavior.  They all agree that nighttime and nap-time dryness is a physical and physiological development that cannot be rushed or altered.  They all take the tack that you just have to wait and one day the kid will do it, and it should happen before age six, but commonly does not happen until age four or five, years after the child is day trained.
My sister, and other friends I’ve known, have spent a bit of time with a three or four year old, to help them night train (especially boys who sleep heavily).  When the parents go to bed (maybe 10 or 11 or 12 at night), they wake the boy and take him potty. They also set an alarm for somewhere around 2/3/4 am to take the child potty again.  My sisters have both been able to night-train their four year olds using this method.  So while it’s not necessary to expect a two-year old to be dry through the night, it may also not be necessary to just “wait and see” until a child is six, for them to figure it out on their own.
I’m proud of Jax, and I’m also at peace knowing that I’m not pushing him for something he’s not ready for. He showed me today that he is ready, so now we just get to walk this journey together, however long it takes him.  In the mean time, I’ll keep making butter buttons.

Ranch Dressing Recipe – Gluten Free with Yogurt

In our home, we don’t have to be dairy-free, but the dairy items we can tolerate are limited.  Yogurt is one we consume in near-massive quantities.  I substitute it for sour cream, and even cream cheese, in many recipes.  My favorite is Brown Cow Cream Top plain.  It is pasteurized, but not homogenized, which means the lovely cream floats to the top, and you can eat it off the top (yum!) or stir it back into the container for serving.  It is a bit on the runny side, so I also use Greek whole milk yogurt for cooking and substitutions. I haven’t found a Greek yogurt brand that is easily available and non-homogenized (probably Whole Foods sells one, but I rarely go there).

Salad is one of those things we really should be eating daily. I’ve gotten out of the habit, because I’m a bit tired of salad dressing, which is pretty much what makes salad edible.  Salad dressings are one of the grocery store foods that are loaded with more unnecessary ingredients than real food.  The other day I tried finding Catalina dressing (which we love to eat with Taco Salad) that doesn’t have food coloring. I finally found one lone bottle of organic French dressing up on the top shelf.  It was Central Market brand, had only food ingredients, and tasted great. Win.

Ranch dressing is one I always felt guilty about eating, because it just has so many unpleasant ingredients, including buttermilk dairy.  I checked out a bunch of vegan recipes and some yogurt ranch recipes, and finally made my own blend.  It turned out fantastic.  I ate it with raw carrots and raw bell pepper – yum.  I also ate it with homemade french fries and onion rings, which was also fantastic.  I have yet to try it with pizza, ha.  And it’s primarily yogurt, so I’m never gonna feel guilty about eating it again.

My recipe uses Greek yogurt, which yields a thick and creamy sauce suitable for dipping.  For a more runny sauce better for pouring on top of salads, use full fat yogurt that isn’t Greek, or even Bulgarian yogurt, which is even more runny.

Anyway, here’s my tweaked recipe for Homemade Yogurt-Based Gluten Free Ranch Dressing.

1/2 cup Greek whole milk yogurt (not low fat or fat free)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp dill
1 tsp garlic powder (or granulated is fine too)
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)

Dump all ingredients into a glass jar and whisk with a fork until blended.

| Filed under cooking and recipes, gluten free

Tilapia Verde Recipe

Tilapia is one of my favorite foods simply because it is so quick to take from freezer to plate when I have forgotten to think about dinner in advance. I can stick the shrink wrapped filets in a bowl of water, and they are defrosted by the time I’ve finished throwing side dishes together. A quick pat dry and skillet fry, and protein is served.
It is also one of the very few fish or seafood dishes I can get my husband to swallow, as long as it is seasoned heavily enough to disguise any lingering fish flavor.
I’ve been stuck in a tilapia rut of olive oil, garlic, salt, capers, lemon juice, and sometimes a sprinkle of cornstarch or arrowroot powder to crisp it. A quick search on All Recipes inspired me to create what might become my next tilapia rut.
Tilapia fillets, thawed in water if needed
Olive oil
Chili powder
Garlic (fresh or granulated)
Salsa verde (I like Herdez since it has simple ingredients, is gluten and dairy free, and contains no additives or preservatives)
Greek yogurt, plain, full fat
In a large saucepan, grill fish in olive oil. While cooking, season with garlic, chili powder, and salt. I seasoned one side rather generously as tilapia seems to absorb flavor and salt and needs quite a bit.
When cooked, serve with a heaping dollop of salsa verde and Greek yogurt (tastes like sour cream but easier for your body to digest and includes lovely good bacteria).
I served the tilapia with homemade pinto beans, coconut basmati rice, and butternut squash. 
Pictured is Jax’s plate. He would prefer if the only thing on his plate was a heap of butternut squash, but he ate almost everything served, minus the salsa.
I’ve also discovered by “too spicy”, he means, “I don’t like it.” Haha.
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Pickled Beets Recipe using Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar

Jax is crazy for pickled beets. He doesn’t get this from either Benjamin (who despises the taste of vinegar in pretty much anything) or myself (who had beets on my list of the very few foods I really have never come to enjoy).  My mom likes them on salad, and introduced Jax to them.
It got to the point where he could eat about 1/3 to 1/2 jar of store-bought pickled red beets in one sitting. In case you were wondering, yes this does make for a messy two year old, and very interesting looking diapers a few hours later.
Beets are prolific at our winter farmer’s markets, and they are cheap – $5 for two giant bunches which is about 5-6 beets per bunch, plus you get the lovely greens with the root.  
Cooking for my family is something I enjoy, and also something is meaningful to me.  It is an investment in the tastebud pleasure and lifetime health of my loved ones.  It can also be a creative outlet to me, similarly as writing, photography, music, and other hobbies are for me.
Processing food is what we do to eat food. When we cook it, we process it.  When we can it or bake it or saute it, we cook it.  I prefer to do as much of my own processing as I can.  That limits the number of “extra” ingredients in the food that we don’t need, or are questionable.  It also means there are more nutrients in the food, because the time between processing and consuming is shorter.  We still eat many processed foods in our home (considering we buy packaged bread, cheese, mayonnaise, etc., etc.).  I certainly don’t have the time or desire to make from scratch every single item on our table.  I try to make changes where I feel an urge to, or happen to be particularly disgusted with what has happened to the food when it was processed for me.
Canned beets aren’t that terrible in the ingredient list.  The one ingredient I wasn’t too keen about was the high fructose corn syrup.  Not a big deal if you eat a beet here or there.  But if my two year old was going to consume an entire jar of beets in just a few days, I wanted to see if I could do it myself.  Not to mention that I could also make it significantly cheaper (since a small jar of beets is about $2.50), and possibly better tasting, and made from local organic beet root.
I started with a recipe from All (where I go for basic recipes).  They called for white vinegar, which I was out of.  So I substituted Braggs raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar.  Oh. My. Word. These beets will convert non-beet lovers, I’m sure of it!  It was incredibly easy. And to make more beets later, all you have to do is cook the beets themselves.  Keep the  pickling”juice” that was in your jar, and reuse it.  I’ve been using my quart-size jar of the pickling juice for months now.
I have tried boiling the beets, and roasting them in the oven. Roasting took forever (like two hours), and they got mushy instead of soft but crisp like they do boiling.  I pre-slice them thinly before boiling, and it took about 20 minutes of boiling, give or take.
Here’s my recipe:
4-6 farmers market beets (if you use store bought beets, they are 2-3 times the size of locally grown beets, so you would only need one or two)
Slice the beets.  Put in a saucepan and just barely cover with water.  Boil, covered, until tender, approximately 20 minutes.  Retain water from boiling.
In another saucepan, make the pickling juice.
1/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup Braggs unfiltered raw apple cider vinegar (much better taste than the filtered ACV)
1/2 tsp sea salt (can use regular salt, but supposedly sea salt or pickling salt is used for pickling since it is clear once dissolved, making your pickling juice nice and clear instead of cloudy)
1/2 cup lovely nutrient-filled water used to boil your beets
Bring this mixture to a boil, then remove from heat.
Put the beets in glass jars (doesn’t have to be quart canning jars, whatever glass jars you have on hand is fine).  Pour the brine (pretty red juice stuff you boiled) into the jars to cover the beets.
1 whole red onion, thinly sliced
5-10 whole cloves (not garlic cloves, the fragrant spice clove that reminds one of the holidays)
Add the onion and the cloves to the jars. The recipe I used asked for 2 tsp whole cloves – I used much less because I was nervous it would be too strong.  You can use more or adjust to taste.
After 48 hours, these were ready to eat and FANTASTIC.
As I mentioned, we eat the beets and keep the jar of brine afterward – I just keep adding more boiled beets as we get low.  I’ve been using my original brine for about 3-4 months now.
I have also added boiled eggs into the mixture, however, I learned the hard way to put them in a separate jar with separate brine. The eggs will spoil in a couple weeks, whereas the beets and onions will keep a LONG time, so it’s best to keep them separated, to keep the eggs from spoiling the beets if you forget to eat them.
We have eaten beets every single day this week at lunch, Jax and I.  He loves them so much, after he eats the beets from his little bowl, he literally drinks the brine pooled in the bottom of the bowl, and licks it clean.  I haven’t seen him do this with any other food, even dessert!  Crazy kid!
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How to Save and Use Wilted Farmers Market Lettuce or Greens

I can’t take any credit for this trick, since my lovely friend Kristin Pike taught it to me back when I stayed on her farm.
You can use it for regular lettuce, spinach, or other greens as well, not just those that come from the farmer’s market. The thing about farmer’s market veggies, is I feel so awful if they go to waste.  They are priced a bit higher than those from the grocery store, so a waste is a greater financial loss, plus they are just so wonderful and delicious that I feel terrible for having been too busy to get around to cooking or using them.
My experience with farmer’s market greens, such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, beet greens, and the like, is they actually last about twice as long as anything at the grocery store.  Because we are a small family of three, we don’t go through greens very quickly.  A head of lettuce or box of spinach often spoils at least 25% or more before we even get through it.  The local markets sell smaller quantities, and since the greens are fresher, they last longer.  Most of my farmer’s market greens will last two weeks or almost two weeks before beginning to spoil even a bit.
At a local market, you are buying greens either the day they were picked, or the day after they were picked. Greens lose most of their nutrients with a few days of picking, so the stuff from the grocery store, that has taken days to get washed/packaged/delivered/on the shelves, is never as fresh or nutrient-rich as something local and fresher. The grocery store greens that are in bags or boxes are even older than the ones loose or in heads, because the packaging adds additional delay to getting them from farm to shelf.  
Not to mention that you usually eat greens directly, and often without cooking – making any pesticides that were sprayed on them directly ingested.  Our local farmers market greens are no-spray (apparently “no-spray” is the code word, perhaps because “toxic pesticide” sounds not nearly as terrible as “spray?”).
Anyway, the point here is not to wax poetic about toxins, but to discuss how you perk up and redeem wilted lettuce or greens in your fridge that you would like to save.
First, get rid of any really squishy brown stuff. We’re not trying to save what has actually spoiled; just what is wilted and soft / soggy, rather than crisp and crunchy.
If it is farmers market, you want to wait to wash the greens until you are ready to eat them.  Rinsing them in advance of eating makes them spoil more quickly.  Makes you wonder what is the deal with all the water spraying over the veggies in the grocery store (ahem soapbox again).  (We do not eat all organic in my house, and we still eat processed foods.  I am slowly fixing things I feel are within reason to fix, and greens has been one I’ve changed, so this is all I know for now).
There you go.
If that fails, old greens other that lettuce can be used in a yummy quiche, or sauteed with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, or added to fruit and yogurt smoothies.  I have made fantastic quiche with beet greens, have had delicious sauteed swiss chard, and made a ton of smoothies with kale.  Jax adores smoothies, so it is a fabulous way to get the superfood kale into him, since chewing up that stuff raw or cooked is hard for a toddler.
Longer soaking  of the lettuce is better. So maybe 15-30 minutes soaking while you cook up the rest of the meal is fantastic.  But even 5-10 minutes will help immensely.  A longer soak will get them nicely crisp and crunchy.  A short soak will un-wilt them, but won’t restore as much crunch.
In my photos, I had what made about three heaping servings of salad, filled up with enough water to cover, and a handful of ice thrown in.  No particular method to the madness, just some water and some ice.
I swirled it around periodically to be sure any dirt was rinsed off.
Jax helped me tear it into pieces, and he operated the spinner to get all the water off (best invention ever for salad lovers, worth every penny (about $10), and worth the cabinet-space hogging).  And there you go, lovely salad.
Jax loves that lettuce spinner, and happily spins our salad dry several times a week.
He’s getting where he can really help me with something I need extra hands for – like holding open the refrigerator door while I put in a heavy pot with two hands, or holding a swinging-cabinet-door open while I reach into the back of the cabinet for something (where otherwise the door would have swung down on the back of my head).
He loves it when I say, “Thank you Jax! You are such a big helper to Mommy!”  
I incorporate him into many, many of my household tasks.  So far the only one I really have to keep him out of is folding laundry.  He loves to put clothes in the basket (helpful for carrying the dirty stuff over to the laundry room), or dump clothes out of the basket (helpful in several stages of laundry but not the folding part).  He helps me transport and sort the laundry, put soap in, move clothes from washer to dryer, or dryer to basket, and he even walks across the house with giant heaps of clothes in his arms as we carry dirty clothes from our bedroom to the laundry room.  But if he helps fold, he either wants to throw piles of folded things in the baskets (unfolding them) or dump baskets of folded laundry out (unfolding them).
So there you go.  Happy crisp lettuce and a happy helpful toddler.  It was a good day.

DIY No Cook Gluten Free Playdough Recipe

It has been so cold (for Texas) for so long (for Texas).  It’s the longest, coldest winter here that I can remember.  Since late December, it’s been in the 30-50 range almost constantly. We’ve had perhaps a total of five days where part of the day was around 60, but then it goes right back to being cold again.  We’re used to something more like 2-4 days at a time of that kind of cold, then 2-4 days of something warmer, or a pattern similar to that. I can’t believe how many days I’ve told Jax we can’t play outside because it’s just too cold today.  I know that Northerners will scoff at me, but I’ve lived my life in either Southern California, Phoenix, Arizona, and San Antonio, Texas, with a five-year college stint in Tulsa, Oklahoma (where it actually did snow and ice).  I’m a Southern girl and I’m a wimp about the cold.

We’ve been playing puzzles, coloring, building with blocks, playing with trains, reading books, and any other oddball activities I can think up to keep him entertained and let his brain learn something new.  He is a voracious learner, and I can sometimes see these wheels spinning where he just needs something to do that will give his brain or body something to work on. He starts bouncing off the walls, dumping things out and breaking things in this crazy whirl of energy that is just trying to find a creative outlet.  So I try to give him creative AND productive outlets before something messy or destructive occurs.

So today Jax and I made gluten free playdough.

This is the recipe I tried.

The bad news is I neglected to read the complete instructions and didn’t realize until it was too late that you are supposed to COOK it.  It didn’t occur to me that you would need to cook it since it calls for hot water.  If a recipe calls for hot water, heating up the water should be all the cooking that is required (not for yeast bread, duh, but anyway).  Otherwise the instructions should call for cold water, and heating it on the stove would be the first piece of instruction, because after it’s hot you add the other things into the pan.  But that’s a criticism of the way the recipe is written, not whether or not it is a functional recipe if made properly.

The good news is that it works even without cooking; you just have to adjust the proportions.

It calls for white rice flour, but I used organic brown rice flour because that’s all I had in the house.  Too bad because that makes for some pricey playdough.  It also gives the dough a beige hue that the white rice flour would not have.

I also tried turning some uncooked rice into rice flour in my Cuisinart food processor, and that was a total fail.  It made an awful noise that Jax finally had enough of and told me he was scared, and I let it run for probably 5 minutes straight with next to zero results.  And the food processor got really hot and started smelling funny which isn’t a good sign.

I didn’t measure, but I probably ended up with something like the following.

1 cup white rice flour
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup salt
1 cup hot water (I boiled it in a tea kettle, then added a bit of room temp water to bring it below scalding)
1 tsp canola oil
1 Tbsp cream of tartar

I gradually kneaded the flour ingredients, and probably added another Tbsp or two of cornstarch until it was the right consistency.

We were also out of food coloring, so I used my mom’s old cake-decorating frosting colors. They are water base, so it worked just fine.  It takes a bit of kneading to work the dye into the dough, but it’s part of the fun.

Jax played with it for probably an hour, which might be a record for playing with one thing without stopping, other than if he is outside.  So I would call that a win.  I was playing with him part of the time and cooking dinner part of the time, while he stood at a chair by the counter to play up on the counter near me.

I only made two colors – blue and green, so if they got mixed we would still have a pleasant color.  I gave him toothpicks to stab into it, and buttons to press into the sides to make wheels for things.  I shaped a few things for him to play with – a whale, a hat for his little people, a bulldozer, a train, a car.  The vehicles slid across the counter better when I pressed some toothpics flat under their base.  Otherwise they would get stuck on the counter and he was frustrated.  The buttons also became rocks for the bulldozer to push around, and the toothpicks ended up harpooning the whale.

We had fun together.  I’m so grateful for days like these.

Side note, the upper left corner of the photo is my apron.  My mom made Jax and I coordinating aprons to wear when we cook.  We love them.

Chef in Training


He’s been helping me cook since he was eighteen months.

My mom recently made us these coordinating aprons.  Benjamin has one too.  Now I need several more for his birthday since he helps me cook almost every day, and one doesn’t stay clean long enough. It’s the easiest way to entertain him when I’m cooking – to let him help.  It usually means a bit more of a mess to clean up, but it’s a whole lot more fun.

Plus he taste-tests EVERYTHING unless I warn him it’s spicy/hot/raw (most of the time he listens to me, after a few awakening experiences taught him Mommy knows her stuff).  As long as it’s not going to hurt him, I let him try it.  He’s even eaten spoonfuls of the spice mixture we were concocting, and dubbed it “Wummy!” (yummy). His other favorite adjective for food is “Good!” with this adorable bouncing nod of his head.

But his opinion may not be entirely trustworthy. After all, this is the kid who begs for vitamins (adult ones that taste gross; not sugary gummy kid ones, for example, flaxseed oil capsules and lemon fish oil capsules, that he chews up and swallows and regularly asks for), and “drops” – various herbal and homeopathic drops from our naturopath that we use to treat various ailments.  I have an arsenal of them, and there’s usually something I can give him.  They pretty much taste like bitter earth and alcohol (preservative used in small amounts, not dangerous levels for him).  I haven’t the first clue why he likes them so much.  He’s had them to treat large and small issues since he was a few days old, so I guess he’s used to it. But they still taste gross. I always cheer for him when he takes them, and act like it’s some great thing, so perhaps he’s still believing my demeanor and not the flavor in his mouth.

And yet I might set a delectable cooked meal in front of him, and he refuses it on sight, or takes a bite and says “all done.”

Several months ago, when our (now deceased) chickens were still alive and had laid their first (and only) three eggs before the weather got cold and they stopped laying, I made chocolate chip cookies, and let him eat the dough from the spoon and bottom of the bowl.  Salmonella is a product of factory-processing of eggs, not intrinsic to the eggs themselves, so if you know where your eggs are from (your backyard or a friend’s backyard), they’re safe to eat raw.  He was in heaven. We recently ran across the video of him eating the raw cookie dough (I pretty much never give him dessert), and he has this huge grin on his face.

In these photos though, he’s grinning after eating something equally delightful like raw onion.

Or perhaps it was the frozen peas.  He eats peas like it’s candy.

When he wants to help me cook, he yells, “Chair!!!! Mommy, chair, please!!!” (and he can say the “L” sound – I caught him practicing with his little tongue sticking out of his mouth “puh-lllllleeee-zee”).  This means that I am to bring a chair from the dining table over to the kitchen island for him to stand near me and cook / sample / help.

We have so much fun together.

| Filed under cooking and recipes, jax reilly