< on a kick >

It seems I'm on a bit of a chia seed kick lately. But honestly, I just use them a lot, and love finding new and exciting ways to eat them. This past week at my grocery store, blackberries were on super sale, so I bought several crates and froze a bunch, ate a bunch, and set the rest aside for jam. My husband thinks freezer jam is the sustenance of life, so whenever berries are cheap, I buy as much as I can and make several batches. But it's not something I really love to do for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's kind of a messy, big project. Sure, it's easy, but blackberries in particular stain anything they touch, and crushing them squirts juice all over the place. If you use a food processor (my preferred method) and make as large of a batch as I do, you have a lot of scraping and measuring to do. And all of that to add a bunch of refined sugar and pectin to an otherwise idealistically healthy food. Just never settled quite right with me. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE it. And we use it on everything. But knowing how fast my family goes through this stuff, I wanted to try an alternative. And chia seeds were my magical answer. With chia seeds, you don't have to use any added pectin, and guess what! No refined sugar. No sugar at all, if the berries you are using are plenty sweet. Unfortunately, blackberries are a little less predictable than, say, the perfect batch of Summer strawberries freshly picked from a u-pick farm. (Unless you live in glorious Oregon where they grow wild and are luscious, sweet, juicy little morsels without the slightest hint of bitterness ... not the case for store bought ones. Especially store bought ones in the middle of February) So I did use some honey. And loved it. Jam made with 3 super health foods and no other ingredients? I can live with that. And you know what else is awesome? You can totally freeze it just like any other freezer jam. Thaws like nothing happened.

Go ahead and research the health benefits of blackberries, honey, and I've already told you about chia seeds. I think you'll agree that this is a great way to go. Maybe along side a few jars of traditional freezer jam:)

Chia seed blackberry jam
makes about 4 cups
4 (ish) cups blackberries (or any other berry you want to use), gently washed and dried
2 tablespoons chia seeds
small pinch of fine sea salt, optional
honey or any sweetener of choice to taste, optional

  1. Place all of your blackberries and salt (if using) into the bowl of the food processor or a high speed blender and pulse a few times. Add the chia seeds and sweetener to taste. Let the machine run for a few seconds until the desired consistency is reached. Distribute the jam into clean, freezer-safe containers (if planning to freeze), and let rest in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight. (this allows the chia seeds to combine and gel with the liquid from the blackberries and get the right jammy consistency) At this point you can freeze them. Thaw completely before using.

< sweet way to wake up >

Happy Valentine's day, friends! I had these grand plans to make a special breakfast full of heart-shaped hand pies and and a creamy, pink smoothie for breakfast today, but our car started having problems and my sweetie had to take it in to the shop early before heading to school, so our morning plans were cut short. So I think the hand pies will have to wait until tomorrow. Instead, we had one of our favorite usual breakfasts: Chia seed pudding. And not just any chia seed pudding, but a creamy coconut pudding.

The texture is more like the coconut milk tapioca "pudding" I grew up eating. Or use less liquid, and it'll be more like American tapioca pudding. Yum, right? Adding coconut has it's health benefits, too. Coconuts are high in fiber, vitamins C, E, and a bunch of the B's, magnesium (which most Americans are deficient in), and phospherus. The coconut milk doesn't have the fiber, so topping it with coconut is not only nice for your palate, the rest of your body will thank you for it, too.

So go ahead and make some coconut chia pudding and eat dessert for breakfast and feel good knowing you're doing some good for your body.

Coconut Chia Seed pudding with fruit
serves 6-8
I know this is a really large portion. We always have a little left over for a snack later in the day. I used to make half of this, and my kids were always asking for more. So if it works better for you, by all means halve this recipe. And use the rest of the coconut milk in curry for dinner, maybe? Or a smoothie! Yum!
1 can coconut milk*
enough almond milk (or other milk you want to use) to make 5 cups of liquid in combination with the coconut milk
2/3 cups chia seeds
raw honey or pure maple syrup to taste
coconut flakes to sprinkle on top (optional)
chopped fruit*

*notes: for the coconut milk, make sure you buy coconut milk, not cream of coconut. And don't go light on this. The fat in coconut milk is mostly lauric acid, which "is converted in the body into a highly beneficial compound called monolaurin, an antiviral and antibacterial that destroys a wide variety of disease causing organisms." So feel good about the fat you're eating. I don't believe in low fat anyway.
And today I served it with strawberries in the shape of hearts, but usually we like to eat it with fresh pineapple or oranges. But really, I think most fruit would be good in this. Ripe peaches in the middle peach season! Can you imagine?

  1. In a large container (I use a half-gallon mason jar, but you can easily do 2 quart sized jars), combine the coconut milk, almond milk, chia seeds, and sweetener. If using a jar, put the lid on the shake until well combined. If using a bowl, stir until well combined. For the first 20 minutes, you'll want to give it another shake or stir a few times until it's thickened enough for the seeds to be evenly distributed and suspended in the liquid. Otherwise, you'll have a huge, extra thick clump on the bottom and a thin liquid on top. Once the seeds are suspended, it's ready for the fridge. Stick it in the fridge overnight, or at least 4 hours. Serve with fresh fruit and coconut flakes (and an extra drizzle of honey if you like it extra sweet).

< winter blues breakfast >

We've had a long Winter here in central Illinois. The never ending sub-zero temperatures, the snow, the wind. It's hard to get out of my warm and cozy bed sometimes. Especially to get up and make breakfast for my hungry little monsters because, well, we live in an old house. And the kitchen is the biggest room in the house. Awesome, right? Yes, except there's only one teeny tiny vent in that biggest room in the house, and that vent seems to be the last on the route for the warm air because the air coming out of it doesn't feel as warm as in other rooms. Could be my imagination, but I don't think it is. I usually have to add extra layers to go in there.

So on those bitter cold mornings, I have to have a plan to keep us warm. Some mornings that's making muffins or German pancakes just so I have an excuse to turn on the oven. But more likely is a hot bowl of oatmeal or multi-grain porridge. My kids love it, and I've learned to appreciate it. And it's a good heat you up from the inside, stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast.

See, I didn't grow up on sweet porridges. I grew up on savory breakfasts. I still don't like donuts or any other extremely sweet food first thing in the morning. I like my eggs and toast and hashbrowns or miso soup and rice and vegetables. But I have a serious sweet tooth husband who is the master pancake maker (mainly because early in our marriage he realized that if he wanted his beloved sweet pancakes for breakfast, he would have to learn to make them himself--and learn he did. They really are the best pancakes ever), and 3 little kids who have a little bit of both of us in them. And oatmeal is our happy compromise. It's nutritious and dense and hearty and can be customized however you want. I eat mine savory sometimes, while everyone else eats their sweet. And other times I join in on the fun.

But sorry to say, I still don't like your standard rolled oats porridge. It's a little too gluey for my palate. Maybe it's the foreigner in me. Yes, let's blame it on that. But I do really like steel cut oats. It has a sturdier mouthfeel that is so much more pleasing to me. But who wants to stand over a stove, stirring for over 30 minutes just for a your usual weekday morning meal? As I've mentioned before, I'm not a morning person. So my answer would definitely be: not me. And I know there are a lot of slow-cooker methods out there for overnight oats, but the ones I've tried all end up with crusty edges that you can't use or more complicated water baths and such. If any of you have experienced the frustrations that I have, hopefully this method will help. And you know the awesome part? If you have leftovers, pop them in the fridge and reheat when you want to eat them. They don't get gluey-er, they just get creamier.

So here is the basic overnight oatmeal recipe and a multi-grain porridge variation for you to try. You'll never go back.

Stove top overnight steel cut oatmeal (and multi-grain porridge variation)
makes about 6 servings (depending on how much you consider to be 1 serving)
adapted from the kitchn's overnight steel cut oats
2 cups steel cut oats
6 cups water
large pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (omit if serving savory)

  1. In a medium or large sauce pan, heat the water, oats, and salt over high heat. Once it reaches a boil, turn off the heat, put the lid on it, and let it sit over night. Reheat in the morning. You may need to add milk or water to loosen it up depending on desired thickness. Top with your favorite oatmeal toppings.
Multi-grain porridge variation:
1 cup steel cut oats
1/3 cup mixed whole grain or brown rice, rinsed thoroughly
1/3 cup millet
1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
6 cups water
large pinch of salt

Follow the instructions above for the standard steel cut oats.

< most important meal of the day >

When I was in high school, I attended and early morning scripture study class. I had to get up at 5 am and had to leave the house by 5:45. And somehow my mom woke up every morning when I did, and while I was in the shower, she managed to get a hot breakfast ready for me. It was usually a bowl of rice with a Japanese style omelet, and a bowl of miso soup. Or sometimes a fried egg, some vegetables, and toast. Whatever it was, I think I kind of took it for granted because that's just what Japanese moms do. They show their love through the food they make. And I think a part of me has adapted that, thank goodness, but I also think I'm a little more laid back (translated: lazy) than most Japanese moms, and I also have a very kind and understanding husband who lets his sometimes sleep-deprived and exhausted, not-a-morning-person wife sleep in. And for mornings like that, I need to have quick things prepared for him to grab and go in the pantry.

Cereal, you ask? Go ahead and roll your eyes at me because I don't buy cold cereal like most people, but instead I make my own. But let me defend myself here before you all think I'm some sort of pretentious snob. Yes, I try to avoid processed foods. And yes, I try to use more whole, nutritious foods. But that's not news to anybody, right? And guess what? It's just cheaper to make it yourself. And it's not a whole lot of work. Stir the ingredients together, toss it on a baking sheet, put it in the oven, set the timer, and walk away. Then pull it out of the oven, let it cool, put it in an airtight container to use all week. Not bad, right? Hands on time, maybe 10 minutes. Maybe. We all have 10 minutes, don't we? And I feel good about what I'm feeding my family, which is the best part. So give it a shot, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Homemade cold cereal
Makes about 8 cups of cereal
adapted from whole living's recipe for toasted muesli by Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille
boiling water (enough to cover millet)
1/2 cup millet
2 cups rolled oats (make sure and get certified gluten-free oats if it needs to be gluten-free)
1 cup almonds (or any other nut or seed of choice) chopped small
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract or scrape out 1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar, (optional, see note)
2 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 oz (or however much or little you want) freeze dried strawberries (see note)

note: the brown sugar isn't a must. The cane sugar helps to encourage the dry ingredients to "clump" together. If you omit it, the resulting cereal will have a looser consistency. I prefer the clumps, but it's a matter of personal preference, really. Also, you can replace the strawberries with any freeze-dried or dried fruit, or even chocolate chips for a more decadent treat. Totally customizable.

  1. In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the millet and let sit for 30 minutes to soften.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the millet in a fine mesh strainer. In a large bowl, combine the millet, oats, almonds (or other nuts or seeds), flax seeds, coconut flakes, and vanilla.
  3. In a small sauce pan, heat the honey, salt, coconut oil, and brown sugar until melted and sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour over the oat mixture and stir well to combine.
  4. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and pat down so that it's an even, thin layer. Place in the oven, tossing once, until golden brown. 20-30 minutes. Let col completely.
  5. Once cooled, add the freeze dried strawberries, and place in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

< Find something you're passionate about >

Hi friends. I hope you've missed me half as much as I've missed being on here. It's really hard for me to articulate the reason for my very long absence, but let me just sum it up by saying I've been going through a lot of changes and research and honestly, a lack of inspiration. I'm not exactly sure where it all began or how I found myself in it. But during my new "self-discovery" (for lack of a better term), I came across a quote from the wise and charming Julia Child:

"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it."

And it occurred to me that even our passions deserve care and attention and ... well, work. And I think I've been riding on my passion to create it's own creativity and inspiration instead of working hard for it sometimes. And this last year or so I've been working hard. In a different way. I've been in my kitchen rediscovering what food means to me. I don't think my philosophy has changed, except that I feel it with greater strength. Each meal I prepare means more to me because I put more thought into it.

You know that magical friendship where you might not talk to each other for months or even years and when you finally pick up the phone or go out to lunch, you can pick up right where you left off? Let's be those friends. I'm back. And we're still besties:)

One of the big changes our family has gone through in the past year is that we eat a lot less meat. We're not vegetarians by any stretch of the imagination, and if I claimed to be, I think I would be insulting the discipline and life choices of the admirable people who choose to live their lives that way. But we do eat a lot less meat. And the meat we do eat, we avoid (or have eliminated as much as we can control) CAFO meats. And the produce we eat is mostly organic. So when you read my recipes just know that I'm using free-range meats and mostly organic produce, and of course you don't have to. I won't write it in my recipes unless it could comprise the integrity of the dish. And it's probably no surprise to anyone that a person like myself that feels so strongly about knowing what's in my food and therefore cooks mostly from scratch would make that change. I don't tell you this to get on a soapbox or to belittle anyone else's choices. It's just me being transparent. I think the more I research health, the more I realize that there's no umbrella magical answer for health. We all need to find our own path to optimum health. For some that's the choice to eat a completely plant-based diet, for some a paleo diet, for some gluten-free, for some dairy-free, soy-free, whole grains, from scratch, growing a home garden, and the list goes on. But I think the one thing we can all agree on is that we need to be eating more vegetables. So let's start there, shall we?

I have a good friend, Jill, who is a vegetarian. She is one of those people that is real and down to earth, but is so on top of life. And she gets that she can't do everything, but she does everything she can with her whole heart. And she's a foodie. So we can sit and talk food and health for hours and run out of time. And since meeting Jill, I've been on a quest to invent a vegetarian Bolognese sauce. It's one of my absolute favorite things, a real comfort food for me. But coming up with a meat-free version that is just as hearty and rich in umami flavors is hard to accomplish. But I came across a post from a favorite food blogger of mine that explains how to make vegetarian "ground meat" using tofu and I decided to give it a shot. And it's pretty much changed my life. As long as you season it well with aromatics and umami packed foods like mushrooms, you'd be surprised how much you won't miss the meat. You won't even notice. I tested it on a couple of manly men including my husband yesterday, and they had no clue and raved about it. I think that says it all. So if you're joining the Meatless Monday movement, or if you just want some variation, give it a try. Just keep in mind because of freezing and thawing time for the tofu, this will take a couple of days of not-hands-on time.

Meatless Bolognese Sauce
makes enough for 1 9x13 lasagne or 1 lb of pasta plus lots of leftovers for a rainy day
updated 3.1.2014: I just made this for the hundredth time for dinner and discovered a couple of minor adjustments that helped develop even richer flavor. I added that in this color.

1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
2 stalks of celery, cleaned and cut into large pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz cremini mushrooms
4 oz shiitake mushrooms
3 28oz cans whole, peeled tomatoes
1 14oz package firm or extra firm organic or Non-GMO verified* tofu
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of basil, separated
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter, separated
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, separated
depending on the tomatoes you use, you may need some honey to taste (if you stick with San Marzano tomatoes, which I recommend, you most likely won't need to sweeten your sauce, but some canned tomatoes are very tart)

*soybeans are one of the most commonly genetically modified foods on the market, so it's best to stick with organic or non-GMO verified products.
  1. 3 days before you plan to make the sauce, place your tofu (still in the package) in the freezer and let freeze completely. 24 or so hours before you plan to use it, pull the tofu out of the freezer and let thaw completely in the refrigerator. Once completely thawed, place a colander in a clean sink, and while holding the block of tofu in between your two flat hands (in order to maintain the shape), press gently under cool, running water. The more you rinse, the more of the "soybean" smell you'll get out, so rinse and squeeze several times. Once you've sufficiently rinsed the tofu, squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible, crumble into little pieces, and let rest in the colander to drain some more while preparing the other ingredients.
  2. Place onion, carrot, and celery in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chopped very fine. You may need to scrape down the sides a few times.
  3. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 1 tablespoon each of the butter and olive oil over medium heat until butter is barely melted. Add the chopped vegetables, season lightly with salt, and sauté until liquid begins to release. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates. 
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the mushrooms. Using a damp paper towel, thoroughly wipe the mushrooms clean. (Don't immerse mushrooms in water. Mushrooms are like sponges, and they will get water-logged, which will result in slimy mushrooms) Remove the stems, chop into medium pieces, then pulse in the food processor until chopped medium-fine. You don't want the mushrooms to turn into a paste, so just pulse a few times until it resembles the rubber on a running track. (nice image for food, huh? Sorry, I couldn't come up with something more appetizing that would describe it quite right)
  5. Once the liquid has evaporated from the mirepoix, you want to keep an eye on it, stirring frequently. The vegetables will start to stick together and get some nice color. Keep stirring and scraping up browned bits off of the bottom of the pot, until a nice, dark brown.
  6. Add the mushrooms and garlic and stir frequently. It will also release a lot of liquid so stir occasionally until the liquid has evaporated. Remove the mushroom-mirepoix mixture from the pan. Add the remaining butter and olive oil, add the crumbled tofu and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Continue to stir, breaking up big clumps of tofu, until the tofu gets some color. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the mushroom mixture back to the pot and stir to combine.
  7. Pour the tomatoes and their juices into a large bowl and carefully crush with clean hands until large pieces are broken up. Add to the pot. Stir to combine. Pick off the basil leaves and tear into smaller pieces Add the thyme, bay leaf, and half of the basil. Let simmer for 1~2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the remaining basil leaves and honey, if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste, serve with hot pasta.