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

 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.


3. Books!  There is so much fantastic young adult literature out there that the teens or adults in your life would love. Some of my/my students’ current faves that would be worth buying and keeping for kids and adults alike are:

The Kane Chronicles and Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan. (middle school)

The Giver by Lois Lowry (middle)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (middle/high)

jpegMockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (elementary/middle)

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth (high school)

The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner (middle)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Set by Jeff Kinney (elementary/middle)

The Complete Harry Potter Collection by J.K. Rowling (elementary and up)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein (middle and up)

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)



Paprika Green Bean Saute + A Practical Turkish Cookbook

October 14th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

L1050666I grew up hating vegetables. Not that I couldn’t appreciate a crisp romaine salad with Nona’s perfectly balanced oil and vinegar dressing or a fresh from the dirt tomato and cucumber salad. However, outside of salad, it wasn’t happening. Maybe the trauma dates back to boiled brussel sprouts (sorry, Dad) or the frozen peas on tuna fish and peas on toast (popular 70’s dish in my family…you didn’t miss much).

We will try to forget the few years in high school/college I spent as an avid animal rights vegetarian when to avoid eating meat I would order a McDonald’s hamburger without the hamburger. I would really have called myself a carbetarian and with that came a really poor immune system. Well, when you don’t like vegetables, you really make quite a terrible vegetarian.

Food.Somewhere along the way, things began to slowly (read…slooowwwllly) change. Where I really began to appreciate a good vegetable was when I began to be introduced to foods of other ethnicities besides my own.

Coming from Erie, Pennsylvania, USA this was anything not Italian, German or Polish.

Upon moving to Pittsburgh, a place where diverse ethnic groups were beginning to thrive, it was so cool to taste vegetables that had some real flavor. These weren’t bland, boiled sprouts! Thai and Indian curries, dips and dishes from all over Asia sprinkled in a sunset of tumeric, sumac and paprikas. Finally.

So as you can see, this past summer spent in Turkey was thrilling in so many ways and surprisingly exciting due to some delicious vegetables

Our group spent one hot and languid afternoon at the restaurant of a brilliant home cook who to me has got to be the mother of vegetable magic. The restaurant of Bizim Ev Hanimeli located in Selcuk, Turkey (located near the ancient city of Ephesus) would be worth the trip to Turkey alone. All of her dishes on the buffet were sublime and for one of the few times in my life, I passed up cheese and meat for vegetable-based dishes. Sure there were lamb and bechemel casseroles, baked fish, perfectly spiced kefta, lamb and beef stuffed peppers/eggplant and silky beans. Yet the one dish I kept going back for was the sauteed green beans. Yep, didn’t expect that one. Green beans.



SaladIf any of these dishes intrigue you, these recipes as well as some sweet stories can be found in her delightful cookbook filled with homestyle and traditional Turkish cuisine from the home of the Mercan family and served everyday at their restaurant. The woman you see below, Hatice Mercan, is the magic cook. Her daughter, Cansu Tucker, had the brilliant idea to pass on her mother’s recipes via her cookbook, My Mother’s Kitchen: Homemade Turkish Cooking.

My Mother's Kitchen: Homemade Turkish Cooking

Hatice Mercan, recipe master of the Turkish Cookbook, "My Mother's Kitchen."

Me with Hatice Mercan, recipe master of the Turkish Cookbook, “My Mother’s Kitchen.”

One of the most delightful recipes I have been able to try since being home is that simple dish that elevates the green bean to a dish worthy of a main course, or at least a brilliant side dish that any meat eater would give pause to. It yields the silkiest, most flavorful bean I have ever tasted. Try out the dish and let me know what you think. If you end up getting her cookbook (it would not be a waste of shelf space, I can tell you that), let me know what you try.

This recipe is slightly adapted from the Sauteed Green Beans in the book. And please note you teally should chop them finer than I did in the pictures. The beans can carmelize better. I get antsy when I am hungry.

Afiyet olsun!

L1060201 L1060207 L1060210 L1060213

Paprika Green Bean Saute (Taze Fasulye Kavurmasi)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

35 minutes

Serves: 4-6 side servings

Paprika Green Bean Saute (Taze Fasulye Kavurmasi)


  • 1 lb. fresh green beans (french are ok too)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 fresh slicing tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp cane sugar
  • 3 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp sweet red paprika


  1. Wash the green beans well. Chop off the tips. Chop the beans very thin (even thinner than above, really) and mix with the salt. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Saute the onions and paprika in the olive oil until soft. Chop the tomatoes coarsely. Add one tomato. Saute about 5 minutes. Add in the chopped beans, the second tomato and the sugar. Saute until very soft.

L1060214 Turkish green bean saute; paprika green beansLove,


Savoring the Last of the Tomatoes: Homemade Pizza Margherita

September 20th, 2015 § 8 comments § permalink

The last of the tomatoes leave me wanting but ‘oh so ready’ for the fruits of a fall harvest.  End of summer tomatoes around here are a bit tart but still carry a lingering taste of the summer sun.  These do, however, need a bit of a coaxing before their flavor pops.  Fall tomatoes can be used in a quick mid-week pizza when nothing seems to be going right and the body craves some carbo-comfort.  Enjoy and savor while they last.

pizza margherita

The recipe is simple as it needs to be. Pizza Margherita is about ingredients, not fancy style.

I used the classic and easy “No Knead” pizza dough from Jim Lahey. It is my current standard. It is thin and crispy with just enough chewiness to satiate my need for a good crust.  The only adaptations I make are to add a tablespoon of honey to add a nice sweetness in the background and perhaps a splash of wine or hot pepper juice.  Oh yes, I pre-cook it at 500 for a few minutes (10-15 min) to firm it up so it is not undercooked in my little apartment oven.  If you have an old oven as I do, this is muy importante. This dough is nice to make on a Sunday (perhaps a double batch if you have a fam to feed) and stick in the fridge in a bowl or plastic baggie to pull out what you need at night during the week.

This might enable a week-long pizza fest in your home.  Not that I would know about that, really.

Homemade Pizza Margherita

Roast a few tomatoes in the oven at 350 for a half an hour or so with a few cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of salt, a few sprigs of thyme and a good dousing with your favorite olive oil.

Turn up the oven to 500 and get it up there good!

Lay out a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. No, it is not as authentic as using a stone.  I deal.

Take tomatoes and garlic out of the oven and smash them all over your pre-baked pizza crust.

pizza, getting the tomatoes

Dust with some romano cheese, hot pepper seeds if you like the heat (yes!), and some shredded cheese. I use a mozzarella/provolone mix.


Slide the goodness in the oven at 500 until the top is bubbling but not browned.


Snuggle up on your couch. Eat.  Need I say more?



Turkish Mezze and a Shepherd’s Salad

August 16th, 2015 § 4 comments § permalink

Cold MezzeI love a good mezze! Or antipasto as Italians call it. And Shepherd’s Salad? Perfect for summertime.

Why Americans have not adopted the idea of mezze is one I shall rue until the day I die. Mezze, coming from the Turkish meze “taste, flavour, snack, relish”, borrowed from the Persian مزه (mazze “taste, snack” < mazīdan “to taste”)(Wikipedia, “mezze”) is a series of cold and/or hot dishes that precede a meal in Turkey or sometimes serve as a meal or snack in themselves.

In short, you get all the flavors in one meal. Never boring!

Long lunches where cheerful colors greet you with a bright hello and whose flavors are as varied as the conversations that flow into the languid afternoon are truly the authentic Turkish delight. Your palate rejoices at the visitation of so many little foods that it is hard to image eating just a tub of hummus and pita chips without the bitter bite of olive or briny feta cutting through the nutty but sweet tahini. Foods complement each other when eaten in tandem and the Turks have mastered this interplay.


Summer salad of cucumber, tomato, onion and purslane dressed in olive oil and lemon. It is great to see purslane, often considered just a weed around here, used in salad.


Cold and hot mezze in a buffet. Note the liberal use of yogurt and fresh vegetables.

A mezze in Turkey would often include ezme (hot pepper compote, often with walnuts), any variety of beyaz peynir (white cheeses), haydari or cacik (yogurt dips), dolma (stuffed grape leaves with rice and spices), olives, lentil kofte (cold lentil balls), pickled vegetables, shredded vegetable salads, cold seafood or sliced tomato. These were the most common but then there are hot mezze which is a whole other post. It was such a fresh and delicious way to start a meal. In most cases, if food hadn’t been already coming, it would have been enough as it was. Ahhhh.


Some different types of olives from around Turkey.

grilled peppers and tomatoes

Mezze can include warm dishes such as grilled peppers and tomatoes though they may also be served aside grilled meats.

Turkish Shepard's Salad

My homemade cold mezze platter: Yogurt sprinkled with sumac, shepherd ‘s salad with sheep’s feta, refrigerator pickles, green olives, hummus and pita chips.

Today I would like to introduced to you the Shepherd’s Salad. Most often served after the mezze in sit down restaurants, we often ate it with the little bites of food. At home, it seems to fit right in with our idea of eating a side salad but can also accompany small bites as well. Shepard’s Salad at the barebones minimum was served to us as chopped cucumber and tomato and then oil and vinegar were given as a dressing. Outside of that it may include onion, green peppers, parsley, mint and sometimes white cheese such as feta crumbled in. I am speculating that if I was a shepard out in the pasture I would chop up whatever I had and eat it which is most likely the idea behind this salad. Ohh, I got a tomato and cucumber, cool, let’s grab this wild onion and little tasty herbs I see growing in the field too! Boom, salad for a shepherd.

So here is my favorite version. It is simple but flavorful. This summer I have eaten in more days than not since returning from Turkey. The best kind of tomato for this salad is not a fancy, juicy heirloom for the most part. Save that for the caprese. We are looking for a meaty one. This is where your everyday garden variety round red tomato works best. Roma or paste tomatoes are ok, too. Cucumbers such as persians or english seedless are best since the skins are thinner and there is more flesh and is less seedy as well. It is also a great base if you need to feed a crowd. The other day I wanted to stretch what I had for a few days (end of the month broke) so I tossed it with a few cups of whole wheat couscous and it was still good.

I really hope you enjoy my little piece of Turkey. If you find yourself really into Turkish cuisine you should check out the Turkish Cultural Foundation’s food site. It is extremely comprehensive.

Shepard's Salad

Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2 if eaten as a nice sized meal, 4-6 as a side

Turkish Shepherd’s Salad


  • 2 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of diced seedless or persian cucumber
  • 1/2 cup of crumbled sheep milk feta (Valbreso Feta is exquisite and well priced at any Middle Eastern store-better than on Amazon.)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp sumac (great price on Amazon if you don't have a Middle Eastern or Indian store around)
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (I am using a kalamata olive oil from Trader Joe's right now that is perfect with this salad)
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • salt to taste


  1. Gently toss the tomatoes, cucumber and herbs with the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar. Add sumac and salt to taste. Crumble in feta cheese and serve immediately. The salad can be refrigerated and will last a few days alright covered.

It is nice served with Pita bread. When isn't something better with carbs?



Wanderings in Turkey: A Travel Blog

August 4th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

Anzac, Gallipoli, Turkey

Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation. -Rumi

I was kind of tickled that Rumi as so many of the Desert Fathers seem to agree with my blogging style. Best not to clog the internet pipes with my chatter unless there is something to share, no? 😉

So, where have I been?? Well, I recently had the blessing of spending two weeks traveling across Turkey with the Turkish Cultural Foundation who funded a trip for a group of teachers to learn and come back and share all of the beauty of the country not only to our students but whomever we can. Since I am so lucky to be reaching all of you, I am so glad you can travel virtually with me.

Let me tell you, Turkey blew me away! It was nothing I expected but everything I hoped it would be. Stunning topography met generous people all in a place that is a walking Unesco World Heritage Site. Crazy! The amount of ancient civilizations, Greek, Roman, Byzantine ruins and Ottoman architecture in this one country was insane.

The food? Just wait. I have a more than a few recipes to share with you that are healthy, delicious and simple to make. They will transport you there in just a few minutes in some cases! But, heck, if Turkey remains a stable country, there is no doubt that their already large tourism industry will grow steadily (And the good and bad that go along with that.) and you will want to be a part of that. Maybe you can share with me!

What is to come? In the spirit of Turkish food, I will keep the first few simple, Shepard’s Salad, some discussion on yogurt, a few syrup soaked desserts and a recipe for green beans that will transform how you think of this simple legume.

I imagine in the future there will be more as Turkish spices are slowly becoming part of my culinary repertoire but since it is summer we are keeping it simple and fresh.

Today I will leave you with a visual and informative trip to a few of the most beautiful sites in this stunning country. Welcome to Turkey, a travel blog for the next few weeks. This week we will revisit Turkey through their food and learn to make the ubiquitous and delicious Shepard’s Salad.




Shrouded on the Holy Road, Ephesus

Shrouded in, Ephesus, Turkey. Note, I did not cover for Islamic modesty reasons as in a mosque but ancient Christians as well as some modern Catholics still veil at mass and in holy places. If not on the stone of the footsteps of Mary and the Apostles, where??? :)

Kusadasi, Turkey

Some of the group relaxing in Kusadasi, Turkey. To the right the Aegean Sea sparkles at sunset but there is beauty right here to see. What kind and inspirational teachers I had the pleasure to be around!

Cat on pIllar, Ephesus

Cat on pillar, Ephesus, Turkey. Cats and dogs are typically tagged, given vaccines and set lose to live among the people. It is not as common to see animals, especially dogs, in homes but they are well loved.

Tower of Galata in reflection of hotel restaurant

Tower of Galata in the Romanesque style, built by the Genoese, in the reflection of the hotel restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey.

Cistern, Istanbul

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey. There used to be a Basilica on this spot. Then that got torn down. the pillars you see here were taken from other classical era buildings. This brilliant structure was used to store water that came in from the aqueducts outside the city. They are gorgeous and it always amazing me how intelligent and invention this was! Now it is holding water due to leaking.

House of Mary

Statue of Mary, Meryem Ana Evi (House of Mary), outside of Ephesus near Şirince, Turkey. The bible traces the last days of Mary to those of St. John the Apostle which historically were in Ephesus where the grave of St. John lies. The specific whereabouts of her house were revealed in a dream to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, a Roman Catholic visionary and nun. Being that it is a private revelation, the Church does not negate nor accept this but it is a popular site for pilgrimage.

Cora Church Mosaics in Dome

Mosaic of the Christos (Christ) in the dome of The Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, Istanbul. Istanbul is not only home to the Hagia Sophia which is world renowned but this stunning Byzantine church. Once a church, then a mosque, now a museum.

Topkapi Palace with view of Bosphorus Strait

One thing the Ottoman empire was not was monastic. The opulence of Topkapi Palace and the view were striking. Serving as the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years, it houses a few harem rooms (ahem), gardens and a large kitchen building where a myriad of delicacies including Sherbert drinks were made for the royalty and their guests. This shot overlooks the geographically important Bosphorus strait where today freight ships are always moving through. It was and is a major route for trade.

Hagia Sophia from the street, Istanbul

Street view of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. The Hagia Sophia (or Holy Wisdom/St. Sophia) was once a Byzantine church, then a mosque and now a museum. It was and perhaps still is one of the monuments that stirs the souls of people from many religions.


Here we have the Caravanserai Sultanhani at Askaray from the medieval Seljuk times.These were ancient motels for groups traveling with their goods across Turkey. You can tie up your camel, have a bite to eat and share stories with the other travelers. Pretty cool, huh. They also kept you safe from raiders with their high walls. The last stop in Turkey on the silk road was Bursa and today you can find a caravanserai turned into a large and beautiful silk market. You can curse me but I bought a cashmere scarf there.


Just another hill, huh? Well, that is what you are supposed to think. At the tippy top you see a window or doorway looking over the land. These are the homes and churches in the Göreme Valley in the Cappadocia region. This region is full of tufa which is a soft volcanic stone that is easy (er) to carve into. This, coupled with the Jenga like stone structures make it the perfect place for monastic hermits to find respite from the world. Over 300 little chapels/churches and tiny homes can be found all over the region.  Need a secret hideaway? You may have to fight me for one. ;)

Pammukkale, Turkey

These natural “snow” covered rocks are actually formed by the calcium rich thermal waters at Pammukkale. The waters bubble up and stream their soothing waters all over the park, leaving deposits that shimmer in the sun as well as pockets of water that make for lovely wading pools. Originally, the waters were a holiday destination dating back to Roman times, now, hotels stud the area where people can bath in the medicinal water and smother their aching muscles with the mineral rich mud.

Central Anatolia

Many people in the Central Anatolian interior have their own cows and sheep to make milk and cheese. This area is also the “bread basket” of Turkey.


Eight underground stories of homes, wineries, stables and stores make up the city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia. Around 20,000 people lived, prayed and breathed (uhhhhh) in this slightly claustrophobic area. I guess if I was being persecuted for my Christian faith and needed to go underground I could make it work too. Right?

Eye over Cappadocia

The Turkish nazar or boncuğu is found everywhere in Turkey. Thought to ward off the evil eye or bad thoughts from people, it is a very popular amulet that some take more seriously than others. This tree overlooks Göreme valley and sits outside some stores where one can purchase their fill of protective amulets.

Turkish rug

Yeah. I am a sucker. I bought a rug in Turkey. We all were treated to a tour where we saw silk spun, weavers hand tie their knots and were promised the women were paid fair wages. Then they came with the tea, the wine, the raki and the skilled salesmen started throwing out gorgeous rugs before us like a visual cornucopia. Think I can afford a real silk rug? Wrong. This one is wool on cotton and is still my biggest splurge to date. I am happy. :)


The Best From-Scratch Tomato Marinara & How to Blanch a Fresh Tomato

June 16th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

-An excerpt from Canticle of Brother Sun, St. Francis of Assisi

Man do I love Francis of Assisi. His passion and insight into nature touches us all, regardless of religion. With summer rolling forward and school over for the moment, it is time to embrace the fruits of sister mother earth that sustain us, in their purest, because we can.

It is difficult to want to cook inside right now, layering flavor upon flavor, slaving over a hot stove not because the bounty is not inspiring nor the flavors fascinating, but because on their own or barely dressed the fruits of summer are so very perfect. In this part of my world, the flavors of the fruits of the earth explode on the tongue in a passionate dance. Tomatoes are coming and when they do, you have a mission. Eat them in their simplest form with me!

If I am not eating a tomato sliced in half liberally sprinkled with some sea salt, there are some nice and easy ways to highlight the bright flavors of this delightful fruit that are worth the time.

Last summer I used some nice Amish reds and canned tomato soup with a delicious (though technically not canning approved…so I won’t taunt you much more) heirloom recipe from a coworker that was creamy and delicious.

Every summer I go crazy for Tomato and Mozzarella di Bufala Caprese Salad made with hearty beefsteaks and fresh Mozzarella di Bufala or cream-filled Burrata from Pennsylvania Macaroni in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Oh to die for!

Extra plum tomatoes make for a beautiful Creamy Fire Roasted Tomato Soup served with a thick and generous cut of chewy, crusty rustic bread from Bread & Salt.

And if you find yourself with some extra, you can roast some nice cherry tomatoes. This way they are perfect to smother all over a pizza crust or toss with a nice linguine. They also freeze nicely in a ziploc bag, air squeezed out and doused in a green and vibrant olive oil. This I do every year to enjoy the fresh taste the year round.

Now one recipe I do use the tomato for year round is pasta sauce. I have tried and developed many sauces over years, including my families’ own heritage recipe and must say that this sauce, if used with whole plum tomatoes, fresh or fresh-canned, is one of the best and seriously sublime. Silky, fresh flavors are best served with a wider noodle, sprinkled with some Pecorino Romano cheese for a touch of salt and brine and a wedge of focaccia to sop us any leftover juices. You won’t want to leave any behind, trust me.

In keeping with the heart of the canticle of Francis of Assisi let us respect the sustainability of the tomato and the laws that nature puts in place to guard our overconsumption and if we can, let us use homegrown or farmer’s market tomatoes for this project. They are the best tasting and the most likely to have been grown using a respect for nature in mind.

This truly is the best from-scratch tomato marinara sauce I have every developed and it stems from its lack of development. Enjoy!



The Best From-Scratch Tomato Marinara & How to Blanch a Fresh Tomato

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: Makes about a little over a quart of finished sauce

The Best From-Scratch Tomato Marinara & How to Blanch a Fresh Tomato


  • 1 28 ounce can of whole plum tomatoes in their juices or 10-12 (about 2 pounds) freshly blanched plum tomatoes (see instructions below), skins removed
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 3 sprigs of thyme or about 2 tsp
  • 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp of a nice bright and verdant extra virgin olive oil
  • sea or kosher salt to taste
  • a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes to dress if you wish
  • 12 oz box of whole wheat linguini or pasta of choice


  1. Sift through your tomatoes. Make sure that there are no hard bits. Chop off ends where the tomato was attached to the vine. Place tomatoes, juices and onion in blender. Puree until they form a nice crushed consistency, relatively smooth with consistently sized pieces throughout.
  2. In a small dutch oven or large saucepan, add butter, oil and thyme. Heat thyme with butter until sizzling.
  3. Add tomato and onion mixture. Heat over medium until warmed through, or about 10 minutes.
  4. Add a 1/4 tsp salt. Keep adding salt, 1/4 a tsp at a time until the flavors of the tomato burst. Salt can really make the difference, bringing out the flavor of the tomato so don't skip this part. I can add anywhere from 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp depending on the tomato and how much cheese I wish to add. This is something you really want to develop a taste for.
  5. In a larger pan, bring about 8 quarts of water and a pinch of salt to a rolling boil. Add pasta and cook according to the time on the box.
  6. Drain pasta and add to sauce in pan. Toss. Serve in bowls with cheese and red pepper seeds (optional). I like it hot.
  7. How to blanch your tomatoes - Assemble your tomatoes. Wash them to make sure they are free of dirt and mud. Score the skin of each tomato by making an "x" on the end of the tip of the plum tomato (the end that was not connected to the vine).
  8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  9. Add tomatoes to the pot of boiling water and keep in for about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
  10. Take out one by one and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Remove one at a time and peel. The skins should come off relatively easy now.
  11. Place peeled tomatoes in another bowl to wait to be used in this delicious recipe. They may be refrigerated for a few days or frozen this way.