On Hope + Gingerbread Spiced Pecan Oatmeal

February 16th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink


Thick, wet snow is falling in sheets outside the cafe window. Outside the glass people are cringing beneath their thin knit hats. The sleet is no match for their attire. Who knew this day would bring such an oppressive hand?

Inside I catch a wiff of brown sugared butter pastry and it mingles with a toasty Mexican Chiapas. My brew has grown lukewarm and acidic, lingering on my tongue, it sours the sides.

But the baker replenishing the spiced donuts and flaky croissants lends a glimmer of hope. A new, fresh cup is on the horizon. If only we just reach for it.

This weather makes me like a hibernating bear. Lazy. Time to get that warm cuppa and hold it to my cheek.

Gingerbread Oatmeal

In the meantime, there is oatmeal to be made at home. The other day this warm gingerbread spiced pecan oatmeal concoction kept the winter chill away and I hope it does for you too, barring braving the wintry winds to your local cafe. Spicy, nutty, chewy, crisp with a hint of maple, this oatmeal embodies a mother’s warmth. Topped off with some creamy milk and made with quick oats, it is instant gratification.

I was given the gingerbread spices by Raw Spice Bar, a subscription based spice company. If you are looking to “spice” up your life with a little surprise, this box is totally affordable ($6 a month) and includes 3 full spice packet blends and accompanying recipes for the culinary challenged. You know, those times you need a little push into the kitchen.

Yes, I know about that too.

Raw Spice Box December

Pecan Gingerbread Spiced Oatmeal

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 1 minute

6 minutes

Serves: 2 servings

1/2 cup


  • 1 cup rolled quick oats
  • 4 Tbsp chopped roasted pecans
  • 2 tsp gingerbread spice mix (or mix 2 Tbsp cinnamon, 2 Tbsp allspice, 2 Tbsp ginger, 1 tsp nutmeg, pinch of clove)
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup + more for drizzling on top
  • Milk of choice


  1. In a kettle heat up a few cups of hot water to boiling.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the oats, half of the pecans, salt and the spices.
  3. When the tea kettle whistles, take water off of the stove.
  4. Divide oats between two bowls or keep it in one if you wish.
  5. Add enough water to wet the oats and just cover.
  6. Let sit for a minute to absorb the water, stirring once.
  7. Stir in the 2 Tbsp of maple syrup.
  8. Top with the rest of the pecans and as much maple syrup as you wish.

Enjoy and stay warm. Love, S

On Love + Cognac Soaked Cherries in Yogurt

February 12th, 2016 § 1 comment § permalink


This was one of my original posts in 2012 but is making a comeback with updates for your Valentine’s planning.

right from the start/you were a thief you stole my heart/and I/your willing victim -pink/nate ruess

It is fruitless for a Catholic to speak of love and the heart without ultimately needing to refer to the Sacred Heart. I mean, if you want to find a soul with perfect purity, it isn’t going to be your fellow human. No, I am not a pessimist, quite the contrary.

Catholics love our devotions to saints but even moreso to certain attributes of Jesus. The Holy Face, Sacred Blood, Jesus the Child are but a few of the many attributes one can relate to and take on as a specific devotion. For some reason, a blood red heart pierced to the core, burning with an inconsumable love and dripping with blood is one resonates within my soul more than any. Pessimist, no, but I might be weird.


No surprises here I am sure.

It wasn’t until I started photographing these cherries I picked up on a whim in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, that I realized they look strikingly like a heart when sliced in half.

I had never seen this simple yet profound beauty in a cherry until I was faced with pitting a pound of these totally out of season blood red bing cherries just because I need some red in my life. The orange and vanilla complement the cherry and give it a bit of depth that elevates simple yogurt to a sweet and creamy dessert.

This dessert, brimming with symbolism is perfect for the upcoming holiday of love. Cognac soaked cherries are a nice and light adult version of a parfait. Share it with the one who stole your heart.





Cognac Soaked Cherries with Yogurt

Prep Time: 20 minutes

20 minutes

Serves: 3-4 servings


  • 1 pound organic Bing cherries, reserving 4-6 for decoration
  • 5 Tbsp Gran Marnier, cognac or liquor of choice
  • 4 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 Tbsp organic cane sugar
  • whole milk yogurt
  • one vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out and reserved


  1. Mix yogurt and vanilla bean seeds. Set in refrigerator.
  2. Wash and rinse the cherries. Remove stems. Using a small paring knife, make a slice going all around each cherry. Twist and pull off one side, placing in bowl with cognac, vanilla and sugar. With a finger nail or small knife, pop out pit, twisting as you go.
  3. Toss gently until covered.
  4. Place in refrigerator for 2-3 hours until sugar has dissolved and cherries have given off a light syrup.
  5. Layer cherries, yogurt, cherries, yogurt and pop a cherry on top just for kicks. If you wish to make this a breakfast treat, omit the cognac and add more vanilla and some freshly squeezed OJ to macerate (soak).



P.S. For the over 21, kiddos.

On Love & Chocolate + Dark Chocolate Beet Bon Bons

February 8th, 2016 § 7 comments § permalink

Originally published in 2012, the recipe is still wonderful and updated just for my readers. Enjoy! 

For a blog which espouses love, you would think I would be all over Valentine’s Day.

While I certainly do not shun the holiday, it has degenerated into a reason for singles and couples alike to forget the blessings they have been given and yearn for something they do not have.


Whereas the day can be a beautiful chance to TELL someone of your affection, it is often warped into a day where people come to EXPECT affection perfection.  As a society, we have the habit of turning the day into an expectation of what kind of love we will RECEIVE, rather than a chance to GIVE voluminously.

May we so love as never to have occasion to repent of our love!

-Henry David Thoreau

H.D. Thoreau is onto something when he hints at loving SO BIG that we should never have to worry about having held back love.  Now knowing we are humans, and imperfect at that, this may be only theoretically possible.  However, why not try……..my challenge to you to recapture the meaning in this season of love!

How can we do this? Well, to practice this self-giving love:  do something covert and anonymous.  This is the best way to practice self-giving. Send a family who you know is struggling some groceries.  Shovel the sidewalk and driveway of a neighbor, or better yet, a random house you drive by.  Pay for the persons’ coffee behind you…and run!  Leave a coffee shop giftcard/note in one of the library cubbies at the local library.  You get the vibe.

Ok now, are you looking for a sweet treat?  Try this “covertly healthy” pink coconut/chocolate treat.  Give someone (as well as yourself) the gift of luxurious sweetness wrapped around a healthy core.  These dark chocolate beet bon bons are genius. I wish I had thought of them myself. They are like a healthy mounds bar you can pop in your mouth. I PROMISE noone will ever know your secret. Unless you tell. 😉

Start with some beautiful organic beets.


Shred them into a bowl.


Add some shredded coconut and some gorgeous local honey.


Roll into beautiful magenta balls.  Pause and admire them.


Cover them in dark, decadent chocolate.
Marvel at their uncanny ability to look like chocolate rocks. 


hidden heart of mine/enrobed in a crackling shell/yielding to soft



Dark Chocolate Beet Bon Bons (adapted from Fig and Fauna)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

35 minutes

Serves: Depending on size, around 12 bon bons


  • 1-2 raw beets, grated into about 1/2 a cup
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded
  • 2 Tbsp raw, local honey
  • 1 Tbsp unrefined coconut oil + 1 Tbsp to melt w/chocolate
  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli squares)


  1. Grate the beets until you have 1/2 cup. Depending on size, this may take 1 or 2 medium beets or 1 large. 
  2. In a bowl, mix together the beets, coconut, honey and melted coconut oil. Form balls and place on some parchment paper. Place in refrigerator until ready to cover in chocolate.
  3. In a double boiler or small pan over boiling water, slowly melt chocolate and coconut oil. 
  4. When melted and fluid, remove chocolate and slowly pour chocolate over the balls, swirling them around until covered. 
  5. Let them sit until hardened, placing in fridge to quicken (15-20 min)
  6. Share with someone you love.  Eat some as well. This healthy and delicious treats (which do not taste like beets!) will keep a few days in the refrigerator.

On Love & Silence + Dark Chocolate Almond Buckwheat Cake

January 28th, 2016 § 1 comment § permalink


“The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.”

– St. John Climacus

We live in such a noisy world. Even if we retreat to the silence of the countryside our electronic devices follow us in all of their constant chatter of the world. If we are lucky enough to silence these devices, the mind is a rumbling with worries, concerns, to-do’s and desires.

Learning to love solitude of the world is not hard for me. Time alone has always been a great need of mine and one I deemed necessary for survival. Introvert, much? Solitude is easy, but silence is more of a challenge. After a few good years of studying the Desert Fathers I have come to some wonderful information, it is possible to silence the soul.

It isn’t easy and when I perfect it I will get back to you but I can say one thing, for the moments that I can taste that sweet, sweet contemplative silence where “I” become naught and my soul shuts up….well, it rocks.

What does silence mean? It means you are not as easily overstimulated. It means 30 teenagers can be running around and you are not ready to pull out your hair, in fact you see joy in the craziness. It means loud beeping toys, screaming babies and conversations that surround your work become mere background or when lucky, become unnoticed. It means you see joy in all and God in everything. It is a worthy life goal and one certainly worth fighting for day in and day out even when it seems impossible.

Days that require solitude still exist and when I am lucky to carve that out, they deserve this cake. Spending the day of love alone? Trust me, there can be found love in solitude but even more love in silence. This cake can help you on your way.

This cake is decadent in its rich chocolate interior and deep nutty flavor. Each bite makes me feel like I am happily contented with my cake sitting on the forest floor amidst soft moss & rustling leaves feeling small and quiet amidst towering trees lost in a great woods.



This dark chocolate almond buckwheat cake pairs well with a dark coffee or a nice cup of black tea with milk. It needs a drink that draws out its deep tobacco & wood undertones that come from the buckwheat & dark chocolate yet temper its rich sweetness.

I hope you find love this holiday, whether it comes in giving to others, sharing it with your love or in loving silence. Love comes in many forms. Sometimes, that is dark chocolate almond buckwheat cake.


Dark Chocolate Almond Buckwheat Cake

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Serves: around 8 decadent servings

Dark Chocolate Almond Buckwheat Cake


  • 7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 4.5 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate (I enjoy Valhrona for special occasions)
  • 4 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated or blond cane sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (1.5 ounces) buckwheat flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) fine almond meal, sifted
  • Confectioner's sugar to dust
  • Raspberry jam to serve


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 9 inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Butter the inside sides of the pan.
  3. Over a double boiler or very gently, melt the chocolate and the butter until silky. At end stir in salt and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. Beat egg yolks with sugar until creamed and fluffy.
  5. Stir in buckwheat and almond flour with a spatula until incorporated. Fold in chocolate mixture until well mixed.
  6. Beat egg whites until light, fluffy and forming soft peaks. Gently fold in egg whites being careful not to deflate the mixture. This will give the cake a nice bit of loft and lightness.
  7. Pour into lined pan and bake around 25 minutes or until a chopstick comes out clean and dry.
  8. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve with raspberry jam.

Adapted from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from La Tartine Gourmand: Recipes for an Inspired Life




Seeking Blossoms of Joy in Winter + Tom Kha Soup

January 11th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Tom Kha Soup with Shrimpt

Real joy is a strange thing. It is one that whispers, it does not scream. It often exists in the most unlikely of circumstances where one would least expect it to pop up. Why? It does not depend on circumstance, or place, or things or people. Yet it exists. Not alone or in solitude, but one that intertwines its fingers with an otherwordly partner. It reaches beyond this earthly dimension in a way that truly is indescribable other than it is soft and quiet.

This new year needs a recipe that is delightful in a way that does not scream. One that cleanses and delights but is easily made. A milk soup. With just water and coconut milk as the base, this flavorful Thai soup, Tom Kha (loosely translates to: cooked galangal), dances in your mouth but is ridiculously simple. It includes the addition of coconut milk which differentiates it from Tom Yum soup. The soup can and often is made Tom Kha Gai by adding thinly sliced chicken but I went with shrimp because, well, I am increasingly eating less meat. Especially on Friday.

Tom Kha Soup

From top clockwise: Lime, Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves, Thai Chilis, Dried Galangal, Dried Lemongrass Stalks

In Thailand, most recipes for Tom Kha soup typically include coconut milk, galangal root, kaffir lime leaveslemongrass stalks, Thai chili peppers, fresh cilantro (sometimes dill), straw mushrooms (or sometimes other mushrooms), a meat such as chicken or shrimp, fish sauce, and lime juice. Sometimes a fried chili paste is added on top. Don’t let the newness of these ingredients put you off. They all add to the nuanced flavor of the soup. If you wish to learn more about them, I added links to check them out individually.

This was not my first rodeo with Tom Kha soup so I was thrilled this time around because my dried Thai ingredients were given to me in one little beautiful pouch by my friends at Try the World. Their newest box from Thailand creates refreshingly healthy and simple recipes. Not having to hunt them down at the local ethnic grocer and coming together with my pantry staples just adds to the joy of this recipe!

Clockwise from top: Green Curry Paste, Taro Chips, Tom Yum spices ( perfect for Tom Kha soup), jaspberry rice

Clockwise from top: Green Curry Paste, Taro Chips, Tom Yum spices ( perfect for Tom Kha soup), jaspberry rice

If you want to make this extra simple, you can purchase the dried spices for Tom Kha online here (sold as Tom Yum which is the soup without coconut milk) in a convenient packet and throw this soup together in a heartbeat. Conversely you can order the spices with a Try the World box or order them separately from the box in their world shop. If you are feeling kind of antsy, you can seek them out fresh at your local Asian store one blustery and oppressive cabin fever day. Having a spicy, comforting simple dish that is a basic in a hot sweaty country across the ocean is often just what you need to get past that seasonal affective disorder that weighs so heavily on people from these parts.

Either way, I wish for the spices of Thailand and the elegant simplicity of Tom Kha soup will bring a spark of sunshine and joy to your wintry day!

Tom Kha Soup


Thai Tom Kha Soup

Thai Tom Kha Coconut Soup

Tom Kha Soup (Thai boiled galangal with coconut milk)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

25 minutes

Serves: 4 servings as a soup or as a curry with rice


  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 13.5 oz can of coconut milk
  • 8 slices of galangal, dried or fresh
  • 10-15 birds eye chili
  • 1 long stalk of lemongrass, cut into 2 inch long pieces
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 1/2 cups of sliced button mushrooms (or for authenticity, straw mushrooms)
  • 16 medium to large raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 4 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 limes for juice
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro to garnish (optional)


  1. Begin by bringing the water, galangal, chili, lemongrass, and kaffir lime to boil.
  2. Reduce to a simmer and add coconut milk. Continue to cook for a few more minutes to infuse the coconut milk with the spices.
  3. Add in the mushrooms and shrimp and cook until shrimp is no longer translucent and is a milky white color.
  4. Stir in fish sauce.
  5. Ladle into bowls and add squeeze half a lime into each bowl and garnish with cilantro.
  6. Serve immediately. (Hint) Sometimes the soup is served over rice as more of a curry sauce. A cup of cooked rice per person make a full meal.

Love, Sheila

A Carefully Curated Christmas Companion — Gift Guide

November 15th, 2015 § 3 comments § permalink

Nativity Scene. Location: A church in Recife, Brazil. Delft tile from Dutch colonization.

I cave. This year I am starting my shopping early. If I can do this before the rest of the world goes crazy, there will be time to rekindle hope and joy and engage further than usual in the magic of the season.   Lighting the Advent candles, praying at the foot of the nativity, seven fishes at Christmas Eve and marking the doors at Epiphany. All these are a few of the interesting rituals that lay ahead all through Feb. 2nd.

This also means I get to keep it all up well past our consumer time table…until Candelmas.  It sure does rock being Catholic. In addition to extra time for nights lit with sparkling fairy lights and rituals that bring a rhythm and mystical quality to each day that lies ahead.

Because most of us will be giving gifts this season for one reason or another, I offer you a few great gift options in this thoughtfully collected gift guide curated from companies who I have a particular affinity for with solid products (many of which I own, so I can attest to that) and/or really support their ethos.

Hope you find this gift guide useful! Enjoy the holiday season!

Stockering Stuffers for the Crunchy Hipster

1.  Reusable Grocery Bags.  Washable. Stuffable.  Lightweight.  Holds insane amounts of groceries and anything else. This has become my indispensable bag of choice. Stuff these in their stockings and feel eco-tastic. 😉41bNxcn-2nL._AA160_

2.  A gift of love!  Homemade Vanilla or Elderberry Tincture make wonderful homemade gifts. I am eternally grateful to the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse for the fabric and ribbon. Not only are these gifts practical but pretty!

3. Eco-Snack Bags.  Itzy-Ritzy Snack Happens Reusable Bags are still my staple. If someone in your life is looking to cut down on their plastic Ziploc consumption, these work really well and don’t leak! Use it for trail mix, fruit, crackers, dog kibble or even bathing suits and wet clothes. These rock.719Dwi3E4FL._SX522_

4. A great moisturizer.  This one is a current fave. Thick, rich, decadent, organic and full of skin-loving ingredients, Honeyskin, is a perfect winter moisturizer that comes in 3 sizes to stuff in your stockings! It really works on that cracked, rough winter skin and pairs well if you use a retinol to keep your skin from rebelling. Gift to a friend with dry or itchy winter skin. Or everyone.

5.  Lip Balm.  The talented Moirin 81dQ+YvpYIL._SX522_of Bridget’s Apothecary  makes the most moisturizing lip balm and many other products and they are all natural to boot. Her research is thorough and she really cares educating her clients and in crafting the small batch products in her line51omykLMiVL. I also like Burt’s Bees Superfruit Lip Balm. They have a fruity smell and light tint that reminds me of the Lipsmackers that I had as a kid but without all the chemicals. Everyone can use a balm.

6. A Traveler’s Lifesaver.  Do you have thighs that rub together when you walk? Well I do. Enter Body Glide, for Her. Made for athletes who experience chafing, this little tube, gifted to me by my sister, saved me so much grief while walking all day in a skirt in the hot, sweaty sun in Turkey. Stuff them in all the stockings you know!  The athlete, or traveler in your life will thank you for it.


7. A Nice Herbal Tea.  Tea is nice in the wintertime because it is very therapeutic and is easy to whip up. My all time favorite herbal tea brand is Yogi. A friend introduced me to their Egyptian Licorice Tea and it is a fantastic sleep aid/stress reliever. Their Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut can actually be drunk without a sweetener if you wish to have a healthy dessert tea. A great gift for the tea lover.


 For the Fashionista

1. Styled-to-you Clothes Delivered to Your Doorstep.  If you have someone in your life who loves fashion and is way to busy to buy it for themselves or hates shopping but needs some new clothes, try gifting Stitchfix.

You can buy a Giftcard or just fill out the Stitch Fix Style Profile and their personal stylists will handpick a “Fix” of five clothing items and accessories unique to your taste, budget and lifestyle. Why do I like this? It is in the comfort of your own home! Simply buy what you like and return the rest. The styling fee is applied to your purchase if you keep even one thing so it seems pretty worth it considering the time you save avoiding hectic holiday stores (especially with kids in tow!)
I am doing this right now because I am just too exhausted to shop and loving it! Great gift to yourself too. :)

2. Pretty Jewelry.  The talented Shannon Gianoni creates gorgeous and unique Swarovskb106i jewelry over at Saya Papaya. Her attention to detail is impeccable and I love that part of her proceeds go to Animal Friends in Pittsburgh. If you are in the area, she also sells her jewelry at Wear Woof, the resale boutique whose proceeds benefit animal rescue. If you know someone that loves Sabika, this jewelry will be loved with its unique twist and high quality. Her jewelry is so feminine and pretty and makes great bridesmaids gifts too.

For the Coffee Lover

1. Vintage-Style Coffee Grinder.  Do you wonder how you might make fresh ground coffee when the zombie apocalypse comes and there might not be electricity? Then you just may fall in love with this Coffee Mill. I use it almost every day for fresh ground coffee in my french press. French presses rule for the coffee lover. Forget all that “pourover” nonesense! 😉 Gift this to the coffee guru who has everything.


2. Artisan Coffee.  If you need coffee with that, I have recently been enjoying a few different brands. The first is the Pittsburgh artisan roaster, Zeke’s Coffee. They roast their beans with air instead of the usual drum barrel and this reduces the acidity, which makes for a very nice cup. Check them out if you are visiting the area.

Commonplace Coffee and La Prima are classics in my book. Both are reliable and with talented baristas who can pull a silky espresso with a beautiful crema. Try the Papau New Guinea and the Rachel Carson Blend, respectively or visit if in Pittsburgh.

If you would like to gift a coffee subscription, Driftaway Coffee is a current fave. I am recieving a monthly coffee that is balanced, with deep and fruity notes that sit well on the palate. Great for when you get too lazy to go out.

3.  A French Press.  Having just promoted my devious consumption of coffee, there is no way better to have your coffee than with a French Press and there is no way better to have your coffee than with the Bodum Chambord.61DFW0RJVxL._SL1500_ If you know a coffee newbie and want to impress them with your taste, this is the way to brew! Smooth, smooth body and with a clean but full flavor.

4. Programmable Coffee Maker, that still makes good coffee. If you just can’t bring yourself to cut the electric coffee pot cord, I have been tempted to purchase a Cuisinart DCC-3200 Perfect Temp81ugZ2peAgL._SL1500_ 14-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker, Stainless Steel.  It gets rave reviews even from coffee critics and is programmable for when you are too tired to even boil coffee. Admit it. You know it happens. Buy it for your “family.”

For the Exhausted Foodie

1. A Dutch Oven.  The Le Creuset Dutch Oven in Cherry Red (or any other stunning color) is STILL my favorite piece of cookware. It never leaves the top of my stove. It is gorgeous, can be used to cook anything and is pretty darn easy to clean. I gave away most of my other pans since you don’t need many more than this. Easy to use, easy to clean. Win. They will love it for generations to come.


2. The Lazy Persons Everything Pot. The Instapot rocks. Who knew there was something better than just a slow cooker?

Why is this my favorite electric appliance? 6 in 1 action. I use it for all my stocks 81CTqbfQtfL._SL1500_now, simmering soups as well as a rice cooker. If you think that you or your giftee istoo busy to cook, this will make it, well….a thousand times easier.

3. Healthy Snacks to Your Door.  I recommend trying or gifting a subscription to Love With Food if you like to have healthy snacks around but don’t know whete to start. What a great company! You can snack smart and DO GOOD. They are a monthly snack box subscription service that helps you discover the best organic or all-natural snacks delivered to your door starting at $7.99/month. They also have Gluten-Free boxes!

As if that is not helpful enough to fill the pantry, for every box sent, a meal is donated to feed hungry children in America. To date, They have donated more than 400,000 meals. Healthy and helpful. A good company.

4.  Ready to Cook Fresh Meals. Do you have someone in your life who could use a break? Someone who recently had a baby? A friend at their wits end? Throwing in the towel on your health is not good at times like these but making it easier to prepare healthy meals. Hello Fresh sends perfectly portioned ingredients along with a recipe so you can throw together a delicious meal without grocery shopping or planning. We all have times this kind of gift would be cherished.

Devour a tasty meal, not your precious time with HelloFresh! Get fresh ingredients & tasty recipes

 5. International Food without having to get on a plane if you send someone a box from Try the World. I am a big fan of these specially curated gourmet boxes. Each beautifully wrapped box come nestled together with a variety of snacks, desserts and meal ingredients that will make you feel you are in another country.

Along with the food comes a world playlist of songs to bring you inspiration and some culinary and historical background on the ingredients. You can eat the food right out of the box (as I do quite frequently) or use one of their carefully developed recipes to craft your own authentic travel experience. Try the World sent me their holiday box to try out and as you can see, it is quite special. A soft and chewy Pannetone from a small producer, Acai sauce great for my morning smothies, crisp and spicy ginger snaps, a smooth Israeli olive oil for salads, a wake-me-up Yerba Mate, soft and decadent dark chocolate truffles to savor and some pistachio creme for holiday cake making all came in this month’s box. Enjoy gifting a real winner here!

Inside the Try the World Box for December

For the Book Nerd

1. An E-Reader.  Having a dedicated e-reader like the Kindle is one gift the book nerd in your life will appreciate.
fs-ki._V325838716_It also saves trees and backaches from carrying so many books. Oh, and it helps to prevent distraction. It is meant for reading, not surfing so you can’t get caught up as easy checking Facebook while you are trying to read like a Smartphone.

2. A Rechargeable Booklight. Could be that I am getting older or that I like to live in the dark, but a booklight has been sounding like a great idea. This one comes highly recommended for its localized bright light and that it is rechargeable. It is inexpensive, too so you can gift a few.


Buon Natale to all! I hope this helps you get started!



Budget Friendly Mediterranean White Bean Salad + Bread and Salt

November 8th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Tuscan White Beans + Bread and Salt Bread

As I sit and write, my gaze wanders up and down the paperback fiction shelf of my local library; Les Miserables, To Kill a Mockingbird, Kiss and Tell, Burned. The story of humanity is often such a tragic one. What sadness that what we let rule our lives are often the little things that torture us until we yield; The Have’s and Have Nots, Watch Your Back, Killer Angels.

Sometimes I have to intentionally remind myself to stop, breathe and pay attention to the good that we have in our midst. It is too easy to perseverate on the evil, the uncomfortable, the hate that permeates our senses.

Etta James “At Last” being belted out with a bit of staccato, recognizing the egg-dart and burnished copper frieze that decorates the Carnegie’s roof, long cream wool socks that keep my legs warm in the autumn chill, lightly sweet coffee sipped out of a bottle “snuck” in, The Princess Bridethese are good.

Now that is a funny one, The Princess Bride. Iconic. And quite nice a change from the painful titles that line the chocolate colored, slowly peeling shelf. Sometimes, just sometimes, there is a bit of humor in this crazy world and that movie captures the inane comedy that love can often be. Sometimes too, there is magic…The Lord of the Rings.


Yesterday was good too. I was able to take a long walk down to Bread and Salt Bakery, where I was able to snag myself a loaf of their beautiful Pane Casareccio with its subtle tang and crisp exterior that gives way to its chewy insides. Now that Rick has been discovered by Mark Bittman in his last Eat column for the New York Times, I may have to fight the masses to get my daily bread, but it will make it all the more worth it when I have fought my way in! Congrats Rick.

Because a bread that is so good on its own deserves a pairing just as simple and delicious, I turned to my pantry to whip up this whip-quick white bean salad for lunch. Inspired by a white bean salad recipe from the American Cancer Society that I left the farmer’s market with, it is healthy, frugal and really, really good. It doesn’t photograph as well as the bread but hey, if it tastes good, who cares!

Find joy where you can today.  It really is everywhere you look if you just choose it.

Tuscan White Beans 2 + Bread and Salt Bread

Mediterranean White Bean Salad

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 minutes

17 minutes

about six 1 cup servings


  • 2 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped finely
  • 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar (red or white wine would work too)
  • 4 cups small white beans such as northern or cannellini, cooked
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled sheep milk feta
  • 1/2 cup of parsley, chopped roughly
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a small skillet saute chopped garlic with 2 Tbsp of olive oil until sizzling, about 1 minute.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar.
  3. Roughly mash about 1/4 of the beans just a bit until soft.
  4. In a large bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, feta, onion and parsley. Stir until combined.
  5. Add garlic, oil and vinegar mixture.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Refrigerate until cool or serve warm.

“Walking” the Camino de Santiago + Empanada Galicia de Atun

October 25th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

camino de santiago

About a month ago, I came across a post of a couple who was currently walking the Camino de Santiago across the northernmost part of Spain. It piqued a long lost excitement. The “Way of Saint James,” as it is translated into, is a pilgrimage usually taken on foot. It roughly traverses 500 miles if trekked by the most popular route, the Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Walking on average 14-16 miles per day, this voyage should take you about 30 to 35 days.

That is a heck of a long walk. Yet it is something that has appealed to me nonetheless since I completed the book “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coehlo. Forget the fact that I don’t even like to cross the street in the rain, there is still something enticing about pushing yourself beyond what you ever thought yourself capable of and that being grounded of course in an old Catholic tradition. Repent for your life’s sins while getting fit? I know that probably isn’t the point but this is what came to mind as a double bonus.

Exciting as it sounded, it brought back an aching memory. It was some years ago I picked up that book, and it was while traversing down one of the more challenging and narrow paths in my life. I was seeking something and that something kept coming into my grasp and then falling short. In all honesty I had no idea what that something was at the time, and there were a million missteps, broken bones and bruises along the way. It is only now that I can look back and see what it was that I truly needed to find.

Though I don’t feel it is quite the opportune time to take on the actual physical camino, God has strange ways giving you a bit of a push down the metaphorical path you need to be on. So as I day dream about someday taking that old Spanish road, I shall continue on beating the same path.

Empanada galicia

A teaser of what is to come at the end of this post.

One of the most appealing parts to me of the Camino, as a contrast to just taking a long hike, is the idea of walking the path alone, but yet it is not taken completely alone. Most seasons you find yourself trekking with many persons. In addition to your fellow peregrino, the people of Spain are known to reach out to those who make the journey, offering kindness, a bed and often food. It just makes it all the more special there are people who care about you making it and support their fellow pilgrims along the way.

So it was rather coincidental that while researching the Camino, the kind people at Try the World contacted me and offered me a free box to try out and the opportunity to develop a recipe for their blog. Coincidence? I think not.

Try the World Spain Box

The box.

Try the World Spain Box

The unboxing.

Try the World Spain Box

The dolce. Orange turron candy (such a kickback to my Italian upbringing!), orange blossom jelly and cider filled tea cakes.

Try the World Spain Box

The savory. Hot smoked paprika, Spanish olive oil, fancy tuna, tomato sauce w/garlic and olive oil.

Try the World is a subscription service that curates and sends a bi-monthly box of foods and ingredients centered around a selected country. I have been excited to try this company for awhile as I often get the travel bug but don’t have the funds to commit to a full on vacation. This is great for people like this!

The ingredients were really nice. I enjoyed the sweet treats with some cafe con leche (in the Spanish tradition) while playing a few of their song recommendations included on the traditional Spanish music playlist. The turron was certainly a favorite as a softer version is eaten every holiday by our Italian family. Orange is also my favorite turron flavor. Nostalgia got me here!

The savory ingredients I decided to put to good use in a recipe that has its roots along the pilgrim’s journey, originating in the region of Galicia. This is the empanada.

The empanada, most say, had its beginnings here in Spain. The original idea was for a large pie to be sliced, wrapped up, tucked away and eaten while on the road or working on the farm as a quick and filling lunch. Thus, it does not look like its partner, the hand pie empanada more common in the Caribbean and South America. Even more uniquely, this pie is made with tuna, or closer to the interior, pork.

Try the World was kind enough to include a nice Spanish tuna so I picked up a few more (after eating a bit straight up) and went for it. The filling is my creation and its authenticity validated by at least one Spanish expat but lets be real; there are as many versions of this recipe as there are families in Spain.

I did get crazy on the crust and instead of using the oil from the filling in an olive oil crust I went to the easiest, flakiest empanada crust I know of, a cream cheese crust. This was adapted from Three Guys from Miami and introduced to me by a culinary friend. It is great if you want to do this in a delicious way without the usual pie crust stress.

If you want a really tasty shortcut, just cool down the filling for an easy tuna salad and serve as a tapa on crusty bread.

I hope you enjoy this authentic yet inspired dish that you can take on the road wherever your camino will take you. Buon Camino, Peregrino!

Empanada filling - step 1

Peppers and onions melting into the Spanish olive oil.

Empanada Crust

Rolled out crust.

Empanada Filling

Filling the pie with savory goodness.

Empanada Filling up-close

Empanada Galicia before being baked

Reading to be brushed with egg and popped in the oven.

Empanada Galicia - baked

Golden and toasty.

Empanada to-go!

Empanada. It satisfies.

Empanada Galicia de Atun

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 45 minutes

6 slices


  • 8 oz of cream cheese
  • 8 Tbsp of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg, whisked with a little water
  • Filling
  • 1/8 cup of Oleum Hispania or any extra-virgin Spanish olive oil
  • 1 large or two small onions, chopped
  • 1 cup of chopped sweet red pepper
  • 12 oz of Espinaler white tuna or a good tuna in oil
  • 1 cup of El Navarrico Salsa Tumaca con ajo or crushed tomatoes(previously cooked with a tsp of olive oil and a clove of chopped garlic)
  • 1 crushed anchovy
  • 15 large green olives stuffed with pimiento, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 tsp of El Avion paprika, or any mild paprika
  • pinch of saffron, already soaked in a TBSP of hot water
  • A few cranks of black pepper
  • sea salt to taste


    Prepare dough (may be prepared the day before and let to rest in the refrigerator):
  1. Cream butter and cream cheese in a mixer until incorporated well.
  2. Sift flour. Add salt, sugar and baking powder. Stir to combine.
  3. Add flour to butter and cream cheese mixture.
  4. Using a light touch, combine until flour mixture is well incorporated and everything comes together in one nice ball. Wrap in plastic wrap or a towel, making sure to keep airtight and let rest for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
  5. Prepare filling:
  6. Heat the oil in a saute pan. When hot, add onions and cook a few minutes until they begin to soften.
  7. Add peppers and continue to saute until soft.
  8. Stir in the tuna, anchovy, tomatoes, olives, paprika and saffron. Continue to saute until combined, about 3 minutes.
  9. Prepare Empanadas:
  10. Preheat oven to 350.
  11. Flour your work surface. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll one piece out into a large circle, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Keep it as close to 1/8th as possible. Too thick a crust will come out doughy.You will have a bit extra to make some dessert empanadas if you wish but better safe than sorry. Lay the dough over a nine inch pie pan. Press gently into sides and trim off the extra with kitchen shears or a sharp knife.
  12. Spread filling evenly in pie pan, using a slotted spoon to remove extra water.
  13. Roll out the second piece, flouring as needed and lay over the pie pan.
  14. Trim edges to fit and roll the bottom over the top of the pie, tucking and closing seams as you go.
  15. Lightly brush the top with egg. Slice the center with an x to vent the steam.
  16. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes or until top is lightly browned.
  17. Wait until the pie is cool to slice into pieces. Wrap extras in parchment paper. Slices are best served at room temperature.



Reaching Out to Fall + Chocolate Banana Gluten-Free Muffins

October 20th, 2015 § 3 comments § permalink

I am a summer girl, through and through.  I legitimately enjoy the mild fall weather and change of colors but it is the heat of summer that speaks to that part of me that feels it should have been born in Rome. Or Brazil. How does a girl that was born in flip-flops and flowing summer dresses cope with the new regiments of fall? Well, she has to reach out to it. I hold my body back, tensing my muscles and holding my breathe until I am ready to pop and just FEEL the cold, biting wind. It is horrible at times but that pain can be mitigated with spicy, moist, comforting sweets.

Almond Flour Muffins

The above muffin is perfect for autumn: nutty, hearty, sweet & soft. The banana adds moistness & the chocolate some sheer silky decadence. These are chocolate banana gluten-free muffins everyone will love as they began from the humble beginnings of searching for a hearty muffin with more protein and not the sheer need of a gluten-free product. As a lovely consequence, my gluten-intolerant and celiac friends, this also works for you!

In addition to meeting the above fall requirements, this compact little muffin can be eaten while running out the door and bumbling down the steps, tucked into lunch bags for those you love, taken on a crisp autumn walk or eaten with a glass of creamy raw milk for an after-dinner treat.

From working with nut meals I have learned through much trial and error that whole nut meal with the skins makes a heartier muffin. Conversely, a blanched nut meal usually comes out a bit more delicate.  Brands vary in grind as well.  If you grind your own, you obviously have control.  At this point, I do not have a food processor as it really kills my minimalist jive so I buy pre-packaged meal, choosing courseness based on my desire for a finer or heartier muffin.

Oh and yes, yes, yes! Store your leftover almond nut meal in the fridge or freezer.  Nuts go rancid, especially after being ground. It has hardly ever happened to me, but then again, I am over cautious from the start. I also store my flour in the fridge thanks to some advice from my great-aunt Dorthy.

Well, enjoy, relax and breathe in the change of seasons. There is a lot to love about fall (right?) and this treat is one of them.

All tucked in and snuggly.

Adapted from a recipe at Honest Fare

Chocolate Banana Gluten-Free Muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 12 muffins


  • 2 1/4 cups of almond meal or almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, or a mix of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and clove in diminishing proportions adding up to 1 tsp
  • 3 medium bananas + another for slicing on top
  • 2 pastured eggs
  • 1/4 cup raw honey
  • 3 Tbsp cane sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or roughly chopped chocolate
  • Coconut oil, light olive or butter for greasing (I prefer coconut for its flavor.)


  1. Preheat your oven to 300.  Grease your muffin pan.
  2. Sift together, or mix well with a fork(if you are lazy like me), the dry ingredients: almond meal, baking powder, salt, spices.
  3. Using an electric mixer or a really fast hand, whisk together bananas, eggs and honey/sugar until fluffy.
  4. Fold in dry ingredients.
  5. Fill a muffin pan with batter. Fill most of way as they will not rise too much.Tuck about 4 chocolate chips in each muffin.  Just a little goes a long way in this muffin.
  6. If you slice bananas and place on top now they will look like the picture below.  You may wish to wait until they have cooked halfway and then they will appear more like the above picture.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick (or chopstick) comes out clean.  These WILL cook a bit while cooling.  Go easy on them.

Enjoy with some kefired vanilla coconut cream as I did with these (see first pic). Alternatively, if you are feeling crazy, make a batch substituting hazelnut meal and more ginger as I did just above and below.

I couldn’t have planned this whimsical humor!



On orchards, God and poetry

October 17th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

Cherry Blossoms. (Image source: Wikipedia)

(This is an updated post inspired by my previous writing in July of 2012. I hope you enjoy it!)

Back in 2012, I attended a workshop on orcharding that was given by the holistic orchard genius Michael Phillips.  Throughout the course of the day, I fastidiously scrawled pages and pages of notes until my hands ached and cramped.  

Anyone leaving this course was given a wealth of knowledge on orchard health, insect balance, holistic disease management, pollination and even grafting!  Though my hopes of using and experimenting with holistic orcharding will have to wait until I own a decent plot of land, his message reached to the depths of my heart. Michael Phillips was never just talking about orchards. He spoke with reverence of the tress and the land with such a fervor that made you certain beyond a doubt that he was also speaking of humans.

One of the thoughts that stuck with me from his discussion reaches far beyond just orcharding into the spiritual realm.

“Trees don’t actually heal…they compartmentalize.”

This quote strikes a chord in that it reminds me of the manner in which most humans deal with their wounds.  Branches will die off when they must so that needed energy does not get diverted to wounded areas. So too like humans. It is much more difficult for us to fully heal, instead, we rather cover our wounds with laughter, joking, distancing and silence.   Sometimes we even run to make sure we cut ourselves off from our pain and do not have to go through the work of healing. Whereas this sort of defense mechanism may work for the tree, ’tis better for humans to reach towards healing and let go of facades, of our masks.

Man has long had an intimate connection with trees.  The themes in Phillip’s talk reminded me of the underpinnings in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore.  He wrote a plethora of literature that embodied that ethereal connection between nature, God and humanity.   These are the final two stanzas of a poem he wrote in 1926  honoring the annual tree-planting festival in Santiniketan, India (north of Calcutta/Kolkata) that do a nice job emulating that which Phillips spoke of.

In Praise of Trees (Brikhsa Bandana)

O profound,
Silent tree, by restraining valour
With patience, you revealed creative
Power in its peaceful form. Thus we come
To your shade to learn the art of peace,
To hear the word of silence; weighed down
With anxiety, we come to rest
In you tranquil blue-green shade, to take
Into our souls life rich, life ever
Juvenescent , life true to earth, life
Omni-victorious. I am certain
My thoughts have borne me to your essence

Where the same fire as the sun’s ritual
Fire of creation quietly assumes
In your cool green form. O sun-drinker,
The fire with which – by milking hundreds
Of centuries of days sunlight –
You have filled your core, man has received
As your gift, making him world-mighty,
Greatly honoured, rival to the gods:
His shining strength, kindled by your flame,
Is the wonder of the universe
As it cuts through daunting obstacles.

Man, whose life is in you, who is soothed
By your cool shade, strengthened by your power.
Adorned by your garland –O tree, friend
Of man, dazed by your leafy flutesong
I speak today for him as I make
This verse-homage ,
As I dedicate this offering
To you.

I believe this poem speaks beautifully of the tree as a protective and nurturing parent, one who deserves the utmost respect and reverence.

Tagore’s line “O profound/Silent tree, by restraining valour/With patience, you revealed creative/Power in its peaceful form” illuminates a similar thread that is present in Phillip’s talk.  He says, “A tree is unlike a plant. It takes time and patience to fruit.”

So true that though a plant grows quickly and dies just as it comes, a tree both takes time to build strength, to blossom, to fruit and with care, continues to sustain for many, many years.  This “creative power” is not just found in physical nourishment, but in emotional nourishment as well.

The bible also speaks of trees quite often. For example, Psalm 1:3:

“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.”

God wishes for us to be firmly planted and secure in him. When we are secure, our leaves will not be susceptible to disease nor our roots quick to rot and our fruit will be sweet and firm. In more plain terms, we will be able to more fully help the sick, the helpless and those in great need. God will use us to provide a shelter from the storm to those in need. Not of our own accord will this occur but by growing firm in the love which lasts we will be able to gift a surer, firmer, truer love than that of which we could do on our own.

All that from a tree????

Have you ever had a moment where you know instinctually that God spoke to you through the natural world?

Can you describe a moment where what you experienced in nature had an impossibly human connection, making an indelible impression upon you?

Please do share!


Relevant resources:

The Heart of God: Prayers of Rabindranath Tagore

The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way

The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist

The Herbalist’s Way: The Art and Practice of Healing with Plant Medicines (Chelsea Green)



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