Christmas Favorite: Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread

It's pear season! This recipe has become one of our favorites for winter and the Christmas season. We first made it a few years ago with our Cooking Club when we had a "Green Christmas" cooking theme. When I start seeing pears at the market, I start craving Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread. The fun part about this dessert is that it incorporates a classic gingerbread cake with a flavorful twist of pears drenched in butter. Top the slices with Cinnamon whipped cream and you have an elegant dessert for any holiday party!

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread

1 1/2 cup unsalted organic butter, softened
1 1/2 cup organic brown sugar
4 large Bosc pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 large cage-free eggs
1/2 cup organic dark molasses
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (a pinch)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup boiling water

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1/2 pint whipping cream
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Using a non-stick skillet, melt 1/2 cup of butter. Stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar and stir until sugar melts. Add pear slices and cook, stirring occassionally until pears begin to slightly soften (about 5 minutes).
3. Arrange the pears (with all their juices and butter) in an even layer over the bottom of an 9x13 baking dish/cake pan.
4. In a mixing bowl, beat together remaining 1 cup butter with 1 cup brown sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
5. Add the eggs and molasses and beat into mixture.
6. Add flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Beat until fully incorporated. Do not overmix. Turn on mixer and slowly pour in 2/3 cup hot water into the batter and blend until incorporated and batter is smooth.
7. Spoon the batter over the pears in the dish. Bake until springy to touch (approximated 35-40 minutes).
8. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes on a rack.
9. While the cake is cooling, beat whipping cream. Add 1 tablespoon organic sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
10. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate (or invert individual slices with a spatula). Cut into squares and serve warm topped with cinnamon whipped cream.

Serves 10-12.


Recipe of the Week: Double Chocolate Almond Brownies

I have a hankering for chocolate all the time, but especially when I'm pregnant. Now that I'm in my second trimester I've got some of my cooking mojo back. The fun part is all these ingredients were in my pantry. My friend just had a C-section the other day so I'm bringing these babies to the hospital for her. Move over hospital food. Try these brownies with a healthy twist!

-1 cup organic butter
-4 cage-free eggs
-3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (could use squares of unsweetened chocolate and skip the oil)
-4 tablespoons olive oil
-1 cup organic sugar
-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
-2 teaspoons ground flaxseed

-1/2 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
-1/2 cup sliced almonds (could use walnuts, pecans or even dried cranberries)


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare an 8x8 square pan with parchment paper or greasing with olive oil.
3. Melt butter and add to a large bowl.
4. Add cocoa powder, olive oil.
5. Whisk in eggs one at a time.
6. Add sugar, flour and baking powder.
7. Stir in flaxseed.
8. Pour into prepared pan. Smooth top of batter.
9. Sprinkle chocolate chips and almonds on top.
10. Bake approximately 20 minutes or until top of brownies is springy to the touch.


Recipe of the Week: Three-seed Whole Wheat Honey Bread {in the breadmaker}

For my birthday, my mom gifted me a gently-used breadmaker that she scored at a silent auction. I love homemade bread - and even more the smell of it baking. That said, this pregnant mama of two doesn't have much energy these days for mixing, kneading, waiting for rising and monitoring bread in the oven. The breadmaker is an awesome time saver and great inspiration to make homemade bread every week. The following is a recipe for a whole wheat bread that can be used for sandwiches or just eaten with butter or jam for breakfast and snacks. My friend Anne shared her recipe with me and I modified it.

Do you have a breadmaker? What are some of your fave recipes to make in the breadmaker? Ideas welcome.

Three-seed Whole Wheat Honey Sandwich Bread


-1 1/2 cups warm water (80 degrees)
-3 tablespoons olive oil
-1/3 cup honey
-2 teaspoons sea salt
-4 cups whole wheat flour (I like Bob's Red Mill or Trader Joe's brand)
-2 teaspoon yeast
-2 tablespoons flaxseed, ground
-2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
-2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1. Add water, oil and honey to the bottom of your breadmaker.
2. Sift flour to make bread lighter and add salt on top.
3. Create a well in the center and add yeast. Be careful not to dig well as deep as the liquids
4. Set breadmaker for whole wheat setting. (I also select light for mine but every breadmader is different.)
5. Add seeds when the breadmaker beeps for add-ins. (I've also just added the seeds from the beginning if I knew I was going to be gone.)


Celebrating Holy Week: Easter Menu Ideas

This week marks the most important holiday for Christians - Easter. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Holidays in our family mean a time for fellowship around the table and lots of food traditions. I can remember as a little girl how we always filled our house with friends and family for the Easter season. My favorite foods included Grandma Sara's homemade Easter bread and our own chocolate-covered eggs made with delectable fillings like peanut butter or mint.

This year we will be celebrating Easter with a supper at my mother-in-law's house. She will prepare the lamb Armenian style for us and I'm sure we will enjoy her famous Armenian Rice Pilaf. Since I'm not working on the main menu, I thought I'd take this opportunity to review some of my fave recipes to help you plan yours. Maybe you will happen upon one that will appeal to your family this season.

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!

Brunch ideas:
Breakfast Enchiladas - This is a fun recipe to make breakfast fancy with a Mexican kick. We even serve up these egg and bean enchiladas for dinner sometimes.
Farmer's Market Egg & Sausage Casserole - Spring has sprung at the local farmer's markets. Don't miss the chance to incoporate organic, in-season veggies in your family brunch.
Carrot Tea Party Muffins - If you're joining a family brunch and want something easy to pack into a festive basket, try out these fun muffins. They can easily be made a day ahead.
Cranberry-lemon Scones with Lemon Whipped Cream - My girls love to help me make these homemade scones. Make an Easter morning brunch into a fancy English tea party with a special touch like these scones.
Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese, Bosc Pears and Poppy Seed Vinaigrette - This salad is low maintenance but will wow guests and add something more hearty to your brunch menu.
Strawberry Dutch Baby - You can use any kind of fruit on this Dutch puffy pancake. Since strawberries are in season in our neck of the woods, we will be heading down to the local stand.

Maple-Pecan Chicken Wonton Cups - This fun appetizer is bite-sized (well, maybe two) and eaters of all ages love the combination of savory chicken salad and wonton crunch. Great to bring to a party.
Zucchini Flat Breads - Simple ingredients transform into an elegant appetizer or a perfect accompaniment to soup or salad.
Warm Italiano Spread - Serve up this delectable spread on crackers or homemade bread.
Egg salad sandwiches three different ways - Wondering what in the world to do with all those hard-boiled eggs? Why not make them into appetizers for your family. Here are three unique recipes for egg salad. Cut them into tea sandwiches or use an Easter-shaped cookie cutter to make them more festive on the plate.

Spring mains:
Italian Chicken with Strawberry Salsa - I wait all year for the strawberries so I can make this strawberry salsa over chicken. It's also great over lamb or fish. Experiment!
Italian Wedding Soup - This soup is a great starter for an Easter feast or make it your main and serve it with hearty appetizers. Kids and adults love the meatballs.
Chicken Cacciatore - This is one of our favorite "company" mains. The colorful peppers and tender chicken will be a treat for your guests.
Maple-Apricot-Glazed Salmon - Ready to move the cooking outside. Fire up the grill and try out these easy salmon recipe. If you don't have the cedar planks, don't fret. It's still yummy without that more expensive touch.

Fancy Beverages:
Strawberry-mint Lemonade - I love to get out our fancy wine glasses and serve up this spring-inspired virgin beverage. It's colorful and speaks spring.

Easter desserts:
Carrot Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting - You can use this recipe in two round pans and create a bunny cake like we did above. The kids can have fun decorating with natural candies (check out Trader Joe's or Whole Foods) or even chocolate chips.
Chai Cheesecake - This is one of my fave cheesecakes because it combines warm spices with a light cheesecake. It's a fun twist on a traditional dessert. Move over, Cheesecake Factory!
Chocolate-Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches - If you want to make something fun the whole family can enjoy, try making these homemade ice cream sandwiches. You can make them Saturday afternoon and they will be frozen and ready for Easter Sunday Supper.


Recipe of the Week: Broccoli & Garlic White Pizza

I often hear people say, "Oh, you guys are healthy you probably don't eat pizza." Wrong. We love pizza at our house! But we never order pizza and rarely eat it out because we love rolling our own dough and making up creative toppings.

I've found that pizza is one of the best meals to get kids involved in the cooking as well as the eating. If you haven't got the time to mix up your own dough, there are some great ready-made doughs available at Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy in whole wheat varieties. If there's pizza, there's always a party at our house. I can hear my little girls scraping chairs across the kitchen floor and pulling up to the counter to help mama. Meilani loves rolling out the dough. Giada loves adding toppings - or rather, eating toppings - while we prepare our pies.

Pizza is also an opportunity to get kids involved in selecting and trying new veggies. If they get to "decorate" their own personal pizzas with colorful toppings, they just might try eating them. We discovered a new fave pizza by using what we had in the pantry: milk, garlic, broccoli and canned black olives. The result was this Broccoli & Garlic White Pizza.

My friend Amy also just made us a fun "Mexican Pizza" by cooking black beans until they were mushy, then spreading them on pizza dough and melting cheddar cheese on top. Then she chopped up lettuce and tomatoes and onions and threw them on top when the pizza came out of the oven. Yummilicious!

Honey-Whole Wheat Pizza Crust


-1 package yeast or 2 tablespoons yeast (Make sure your yeast is fresh.)

-1 cup warm water

-1 tablespoon organic sugar or honey

-1 tablespoon salt

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-3 cups whole wheat flour

-2 1/4 cups unbromated, unbleached white flour (I like Trader Joe's brand.)

-1 cup cold water (filtered is best)
1. Proof the yeast: Add yeast to 1 cup warm water. Be careful not to get the water too hot. (Temperature should be 110-115 degrees if you want to be precise.) Wait about five minutes until yeast begins to bubble up in water.
2. Use KitchenAid or other high-powered mixer with dough hook attachment. Add yeast/water mixture, honey, salt, olive oil, flours and cold water. Mix together on low speed.
3. Increase spead and knead dough in mixer for 8-10 minutes. Dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl and look smooth.
4. Divide into 3 balls of dough. Store in Ziplock bags in the refrigerator (for up to 1 week) or in freezer.

Simple Garlic White Sauce


-1/4 cup butter

-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/4 cup flour

-1 1/2 cups milk

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated or shredded

1. Melt butter in small saucepan. Saute garlic.
2. Add flour and whisk together.
3. Allow to bubble and cook 3-4 minutes.
4. Add milk and whisk over medium heat until sauce thickens.
5. Stir in parmesan cheese and cook 3-4 more minutes.
6. Spoon over pizza.

Broccoli & Garlic White Pizza


-1 recipe pizza dough (see above)
-1 recipe white sauce (see above)
-2 cups mozarella cheese, shredded
-1 head of broccoli, chopped
-1 can black olives, sliced
-whole garlic cloves (if desired)
-1 teaspoon fennel seed

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven to heat up.
2. Roll out pizza dough on to pizza pan or transfer to the pizza stone.
3. Top with white sauce.
4. Sprinkle with shredded mozarella cheese.
5. Top with broccoli and black olives. (You may add extra garlic cloves here if you really want that garlic flavor.)
6. Sprinkle with fennel seed.
7. Bake approximately 15 minutes until cheese bubbles and crust in golden brown.


Celebrate St. Patty's Day with a Twist: Shamrock shake gets a new whirl

Happy St. Patrick's Day, friends! At the Gilmore house, a new holiday means a new challenge to find healthy ways to celebrate and have fun. With the help of my little shamrocks, I just created a Minty Shamrock Shake (Move over, McD's) and tried out Irish Soda Bread with healthy twists. Yummy! You could always go digging in your refrigerator or browsing at your farmer's market for green fruits and veggies. Try sliced kiwi, limes, green peppers, asparagus, cucumbers - even apples!

We know it may sound weird but spring is the time for sweet peas so why not utilize their natural color? They have a light flavor but do not dominate a smoothie so your kids probably won't even notice. And the good news is, you don't have to use those yucky dyes to make your food green. If you're gun shy, try a tablespoon first just to get a little color. Just be a sneaky chef and leave a comment so we can hear if your little leprachauns liked it.

Minty Shamrock Shake

-3 cups raw whole milk (or your fave type of milk)

-1 tray of ice cubes

-1/2 teaspoon organic peppermint extract (depends on how minty you like it!)

-3 tablespoons honey (or organic sugar, if you prefer)

-1/4 cup frozen organic sweet peas

1. Whirl these ingredients in your blender until smooth.

2. Serve with a straw.

I found several recipes for Irish Soda Bread and decided to create my own. A special thanks to Maura Marmo and Peggy O'Brien-Bremer from my elementary school on the South Side of Chicago, who inspired me with their bread recipes. I've never used caraway seeds before but they are a fun addition that give this bread a distinct flavor. I would serve this up for breakfast, lunch or a dinner appetizer.

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread


-3 cups whole wheat flour

-2/3 cup organic evaporated cane juice (sugar)

-1 tablespoon baking powder

-1 teaspoon baking soda

-2 beaten eggs

-1 1/2 cups buttermilk

-2 tablespoons organic butter, melted

-1 cup raisins

-1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan or mini loaves.

2. Sift flour into bowl. Add sugar, baking powder and baking soda.

2. Beat eggs. Add milk and butter. Blend into dry ingredients until batter is incorporated and moist.

3. Add raisins.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour or until golden brown on top.

6. Cool, slice and serve with butter.

Here are more St. Patty's Day healthy recipes from one of my fave online sources, Eating Well Magazine.

*This post was pulled from the Health-full archives.


Recipe of the Week: Creamy Wild Rice Soup with Rosemary Focaccia Bread

A few weekends ago we went to visit our friends the VanderMeulens. In addition to taking us to a fabulous Gouda Cheese Farm, Jen also made us a memorable Sunday supper with this hearty wild rice soup. My hubby who is always spewing health and nutrition tidbits started rattling off some of the benefits of wild rice. If you've been reading our blog for any length of time we are crazy about celebrating food created by God that helps our bodies better than any medicine.

Did you know wild rice really isn't rice at all?  Sounds weird but it's actually long-grain marsh grass seed. Wild rice is packed with nutrients and protein. It's especially high in zinc, which is vital for healthy skin, cell growth, sexual and reproductive function, a strong immune system, and blood sugar regulation.

Truth be told, I've been searching out ways to incorporate "wild rice." So far I've only been able to use it in a Thanksgiving Stuffing recipe by Bobby Flay that  has become tradition at our house. I was grateful for Jen's recipe, which I tweaked a little bit to make it my own. The inspiring part about this soup is that it is thick, stick-to-your-insides hearty. It's perfect for those cold winter months but could be served up anytime of the year. I added sausage to my version because I happened to have a package of my favorite Trader Joe's Mango Chicken Sausage in the fridge. (Also, my dad, Mr. Carnivore himself, was coming to dinner so I thought this was an even better way to lure him to love wild rice.) You could choose to make it vegetarian or add the meat.

I am my Italian mother's daughter and I do believe every great meal needs to be accompanied by really amazing bread. I've been tweaking this focaccia bread recipe over the last several months - trying out different flours, playing with yeast and herbs. Let's be real: yeast is finicky and bread making can be tough. I've discovered that if my yeast/warm water/flour mixture doesn't literally bubble over the glass cup within 10 minutes than the yeast is not in good condition. It's worth throwing it out and starting over. Slowly but surely I'm starting to get the hang of it. There is something truly magical about watching the yeast bubble, adding the ingredients, kneading it (or putting my Kitchenaid to the hard work), letting it rise and bake. The rich smell of bread just permeates the house.

My hubby's secret dream is that we would buy a bread mill and grind our own flour and bake our sandwich bread every week. However, we don't have the moolah for a mill or a bread machine and I'm not quite there. I tell him to make a Trader Joe's run. In the meantime though, I will make an occasional loaf and this is my go-to recipe for company or family.

Creamy Wild Rice & Sausage Soup

-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 yellow pepper, chopped
-1 red or orange pepper, chopped
-1 large onion, chopped
-1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped
-1 cup celery (about 3 stalks), chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon dried thyme
-1 teaspoon chili powder
-2 teaspoons sea salt
-1 bay leaf
-8 cups chicken broth or water
-1 cup wild rice
-1/4 cup organic butter
-1/4 cup flour
-2 cups whole milk
-1 package Trader Joe's Mango Chicken Sausage (or other pre-cooked sausage of your choice)
-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional if you want to kick it up a notch)

1. In a large soup pot, heat oil. Chop vegetables.
2. Sweat peppers, onions, carrots, celery and garlic in the pot for about 10 minutes.
3. Add spices: thyme, chili powder, sea salt, bay leaf. 
4. Add chicken broth or water and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Add rice and simmer on low, covered for 45 minutes.
6. In a separate sauce pan, melt butter and stir in flour. Whisk together 3-4 minutes until a paste forms. Add milk. Allow to bubble cooking until it thickens.
7. Add roux or flour mixture to large soup pot. Cook additional 10 minutes until soup is thick and creamy.
8. Cut up sausage into bite-sized chunks. Stir into soup.
9. Add red pepper flakes to taste.

Makes 10 servings.

Rosemary Focaccia Bread

-1 package or 2 tablespoons yeast
-4 cups flour, divided (I prefer all purpose, unbleached, unbromated like Bob's Red Mill or Trader Joe's brand; could use 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour if you want to do a mix)
-1/2 cup lukewarm water

-1 cup water
-3 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
-2 tablespoons organic sugar or honey
-1 tablespoon rosemary sprigs
-1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil + 2 tablespoons extra for brushing

1. Mix together yeast, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup lukewarm water in a bowl or glass measuring cup. Be careful not to get water to hot or it will kill the yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes until the mixture begins to bubble up.
2. Meanwhile, measure 3 1/2 cups flour, sea salt and sugar into a large bowl. (If using a Kitchenaid mixture, attach dough hook.)
3. Pour olive oil and yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Add additional cup of water. Stir together. 
4. Knead for approximately 10 minutes or until dough is smooth. Add flour if it appears sticky.
5. Cover in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
6. Position a rack on the bottom third of your oven and place a pizza stone on the rack. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
7. Punch down the dough and turn out onto a floured surface. Roll out into a large circle about 1-inch thick. Place on top of pizza stone. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle rosemary on top along with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.
8. Bake on the stone until golden and crisp approximately 15-20 minutes.


Recipe of the Week: Cauliflower Potato Cheese Soup

This past weekend we piled our girls in the car and headed north to visit three different families of friends. One of our excursions included the Oakdale Gouda Cheese Farm with the VanderMeulens. This place is the real deal with delectable cheeses handmade by Dutch immigrants. We came home with a 2-pound glorious wheel of basil gouda cheese.

My kids are cheese monsters. They would eat cheese all day long if I let them. I'm not sure if it's their Italian blood or if mama has modeled that one for them. That said, we are careful about too much cheese intake. We regard it as a special treat at our house for cost and health reasons.

I learned a good lesson during The New Year's Pantry Challenge that sometimes making the cheese a garnish is a great way to save money and show off the "special" ingredient. My Potato-Corn Chowder employs the same technique. I love easy soups when the weather is cold and you need something hearty to warm your insides.

This cauliflower soup was inspired by the beautiful heads of cauliflower at our local market, and, of course, the wheel of gouda cheese. Bon Appetit!

Cauliflower Potato Cheese Soup

-2 tablespoons olive oil
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 small head of cauliflower, chopped
-6 small potatoes
-2 carrots, chopped
-4 cups water or chicken stock
-1 tablespoon dried or fresh parsley, chopped
-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-1/2 teaspoon celery seed
-1/8 teaspoon pepper flakes, optional
-2 tablespoons flour
-2 cups milk or cream
-1 cup gouda cheese, shredded (You might use another hard cheese like parmesan.)
-4-5 stalks green onions, chopped for garnish

1. Add oil to a large stock pot. When oil is heated add, garlic and stir until fragrant.
2. Saute or sweat the cauliflower, potatoes and carrots in the oil until they are slightly brown and tender.
3. Add the water or chicken stock.
4. Add spices: parsley, sea salt, black pepper, celery seed, red pepper flakes.
5. Allow to simmer about 20 minutes until vegetables are very soft. Meanwhile, mix flour and milk in a separate measuring cup or bowl.
6. Add milk and flour mixture to soup. Continue cooking for about 10 more minutes until soup begins to thicken.
7. Serve in bowls with cheese grated on top as garnish. Another colorful garnish would be chopped green onions.


Thoughts on Fitness: Time to up the intensity

By Ericlee Gilmore

The longer I am in the fitness industry, the more I realize that we have been doing fitness all wrong. I was raised with an attitude to work hard always. For me that included fitness too. If my heart was not racing, and if everything in my body was not screaming "stop" then I knew I could work harder. CrossFit has helped me realize that true fitness is not just strength or endurance.

I have been doing CrossFit since 2009 and I have been coaching it for one year. True fitness is the ability to do more work over a broad domain in the shortest amount of time. True fitness is not debateable because there is always a winner. It could be just body weight exercises like push-ups, squats, and pull-ups. Or it could be lifting weights like cleans or a medicine ball. Or it could be combination of body weight exercises, lifting weights, and metabolic conditioning. That is when you put it all together. Those are the workouts that hurt the most.

I think the problem we have is that we are not intense when it comes to exercise. Working hard means intensity. We are intense in our jobs, in the education of our children, in our personal rights and freedoms, even in our driving, but when it comes to fitness and exercise we aim for the lowest standard. Walking is a great start if you have never exercised in your life. You must move on from there.

Running is great too but running for a long period of time is not intense. Try sprinting 100-meters ten times in a row with a two-minute rest between each one. The key word here is sprint. That is an all out effort. So make fitness an all out effort. Make it intense! It might be just 5 minutes and that is okay. Whatever you do work at it with all your heart and I guarantee you will see results.

One last thing. Please remember that fitness does not stand alone. In the kingdom of wellness there is a king which is fitness and a queen which is nutrition. If you forget either one then your "kingdom" will fall apart. I just heard from a well-known strength and conditioning specialist that the best advice to give someone in America is called the "table push-away." Eat less and exercise more. I will leave you with that.


Recipe of the Week: Carrot Tea Party Muffins

My girls (and the little boy I babysit) are into the "tea party phase." Today I decided to make up a new mini-muffin recipe using what we had on hand. Meilani had her friend Mia over and all four of the little ones put on aprons. Don't get me wrong: flour was flyin' and grubby hands were reaching in the batter but the result was this yummy (and healthy) new muffin recipe. Don't forget the flaxseed to give them some good omega-3s! We made these in our mini-muffin tins and they were perfect tea party fare. You could even frost them with cream cheese and honey blended for an extra special flair.

1 large egg
2 tablespoons organic butter, softened
1 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 cups oats, uncooked
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaxseed, ground
1/2 cup honey (or organic raw sugar)
2 cups carrots, shredded (could substitute zucchini or apples)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Blend together egg, butter, milk and yogurt.
3. Add dry ingredients: oats, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and flaxseed.
4. Mix in honey/sugar, carrots, raisins and chocolate chips.
5. Grease muffin tins with olive oil spray. Use an ice cream scoop to scoop batter into tins. Bake 15-20 minutes or until muffins are golden brown on top and springy to the touch.

Makes 2 dozen mini-muffins or 1 dozen large muffins.


New Year's Pantry Challenge: A Conclusion or a New Beginning?

I survived. Actually, I knew I would survive because I've done this before. It's kind of like attempting a 10k or a half marathon when I know I've completed them before. I continue to run those races because I know it's good for my body. I love the challenge and the discipline of training for a race. I treasure the comradery of running with friends or my husband. I feel inspired with a goal in mind. There was no doubt I would survive the pantry challenge this time around but I wanted to press myself toward thankfulness. I wanted to reject the temptation to get lazy about food, to complain about living off less. My spirit needed to be buoyed up by the bounty of community and creativity.

These few weeks have bonded me together with old friends and new friends. I'm blessed by so many who have shared meals with us. We have pooled our resources and learned from each other. I'm thankful for our Life Group that shares a meal every other week. Right now I'm taking the fococcia bread out of the oven and putting in the Butternut Squash Lasagna to serve to them tonight. I'm celebrating this bit of abundance. I'm grateful for times of sharing in community.

I've thought a lot about this guy Leo from our church who just moved into his first apartment after being homeless for 3 years. He's a veteran who has been on the streets. Our abundance, a meager bag of leftovers, graced his cupboards this week. My dad delivered it to Leo after our Pantry Party early in this challenge. I felt blessed that we could share with someone else in need. I like the idea of donating money or goods to a food pantry our soup kitchen but it doesn't get personal until you get involved with a real person. Really, couldn't we all do a little more? Some of our friends are raising money to feed babies in Ethiopia through Samaritan's Purse. That cause is personal to them since their son is adopted from Ethiopia. I know I need to get brave and actually invite Leo to dinner. What would happen if he joined hands around the table with my kids, my husband, my parents? What about you? Maybe you need to get brave and search out a cause, offer a meal to a friend who needs a break, serve up soup to a neighbor you've never met.

This week I've also been reminded why I love cooking. There's a quiet, creative space in cooking for me. As a busy mama of two and auntie for one or two more children who are frequently at my side, I seldom find solitude at my house. I choose quieting tasks like knitting or cooking to find space to breathe. I know that cooking brings me closer to praying. I was reading Ann Voskamp's "A Holy Experience" blog today and she pressed that part of my soul that needed reminding that "Housework is really being about the work of God — praying, serving, praising. And in these domestic chapels, God, The Very Person of Peace, offers Himself to the congregants." When I'm methodically peeling and chopping a butternut squash or adding spices to a sauce or kneading dough and watching it rise and bubble, I ponder the day. I pour out my failures, my worries, my struggles. A little elbow grease, a little flour on the hands, helps me wade through the dirtiness of a day to the other side where God whispers peace that passes understanding to my soul.

I have to admit I was giddy this weekend, knowing that I had a trip to the farmer's market and grocery store ahead of me. I started making my list in my head and scratching meal plans on paper. I believe there is a kind of worship in feeding my family healthy and delicious foods. Don't hear what I'm not saying. I didn't say I worship food. I worship God by honoring this temple he gave me. I fill up the temple with whole, healing foods.

When we got to the farmer's market in Ontario near my brother's house, my girls and I gravitated toward the berries. These morsels were pricey in the dead of winter but spending money on berries is worth it to me. I'd rather spend my weight in organic berries than fork out cash on medicine. We build berries into our budget especially during these winter cold and flu months. We lovingly call berries the superheroes of the food world. They are ripe with antioxidants for fighting off the bad guys. There's nothing that pleases a foodie mama's soul more than to see my two little girls with berry-stained lips and fingers.

I feel grateful that I have the choice to fill up my pantry. These next few weeks I still have a limited budget but I know I am choosing to line the cupboards and refrigerator shelves with good food. I am thankful for my husband's hours coaching at the gym this month. I am thankful for this season of waiting as our family prepares to move to Haiti and reach out to many there who are hungry.

I want this New Year's Pantry Challenge to truly be a new beginning as we learn more about what it means to live simply, to eat whole foods and to share our abundance. When I'm tempted to whine, I will whisper prayers on behalf of the hungry here in Fresno and in Haiti and around the world.

"For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness." - Psalm 107:9

What did you learn these last two weeks?


New Year's Pantry Challenge, Small Bites offer Big Flavor, Day 12

Today's Menu:

Meyer Lemon & Cranberry Scones with Lemon whipped cream
Fruit Smoothie

Leftover Chicken Curry Masala
Leftover Wheat Berry Salad
Kids: Grilled cheese sandwiches
Hard-boiled eggs
Sliced apples

Spiced Popcorn

Red Lentil & Squash Soup
Sourdough Toast with Salmon Salad

Today I surveyed my cupboards and refrigerator hunting for something unique. Now that we're nearing the end of the second week without grocery shopping for wants or cravings I find myself digging deep for that spirit of creativity and challenge. Why do a Pantry Challenge if I'm not willing to press in when the shelves look bare?

Ok, I should clarify, nothing around here looks bare. Who am I kidding? Isn't that the lesson of this kind of "grocery shopping fast." We in America live in complete abundance every day. And even when I deprive myself a little. Even when I discipline myself not to give in to convenience and excess I'm still really sitting right here in the middle of it. I've got grocery stores and restaurants and fast food havens practically in my backyard. The farmer's markets in California's Central Valley are pregnant with ripe fruits and vegetables and it's January for crying out loud. We truly live in the land of plenty.

My lesson for today's Pantry Challenge is remembering the beauty of small bites. The Spanish have it down; they serve up delectable small bites aka "tapas" all the time. I *love* tapas. I love the idea of a small, artful plate before me. I adore the idea of eating slowly, contemplating each bite. When I was a swinging single girl I had room for small bites. I could afford the time. Now I'm a busy mama constantly fighting the clock, the incessant requests, the turned-up noses, the thrown-down food, the dietary needs of others. I seldom get a chance to breathe between bites. Today I'm reminded that if we stop to savor, we can find beauty in quality over quantity.

I found this Lemon-Cranberry Scone recipe and tweaked it with my kids in mind. I found a bag of cranberries from Thanksgiving. (Seriously, they were still good!) I dug out some lemons shared from a neighbor's tree. Meilani and I got out a small flower cookie cutter and had fun making something simple look sweet and fancy. The babies devoured them. (Ok, they licked the lemon whipped cream off and asked for more.) We all were surprised at the beauty in simple ingredients - butter, organic sugar, whole wheat flour, meyer lemons.

Cranberry-Lemon Scones with Lemon Whipped Cream

-2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (from about 3 lemons; preferably Meyer)
-1 teaspoon lemon juice
-2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
-1/3 cup organic raw sugar plus 3 tablespoons additional if using fresh cranberries
-1 tablespoon baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
-1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
-1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped coarse
-1 large egg
-1 large egg yolk
-1 cup organic heavy cream

Lemon Whipped Cream:
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-1 cup organic heavy cream
-1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup or organic sugar

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Chop cranberries and zest lemons. Reserve zested lemon for juice later.
3. In a large bowl add flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Add eggs and lemon juice.
5. Cut butter into cubes and add to mixture. Stir in cranberres and lemon zest.
6. Use a pastry blender or fork to mix until dough comes together.  Gather in a ball.
7. Dust a cutting board with flour. Press the ball into a 9" round. Use a small cookie cutter or glass to cut out mini scones.
8. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
9. Bake approximately 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.
10. Meanwhile, beat cream, adding agave syrup and lemon juice. When soft peaks form, stop beating.
11. Remove scones from oven. Cool on a plate and serve with a small bowl of the lemon cream for dipping.


New Year's Pantry Challenge, A Spicy Adventure, Day 10

Today's Menu:

Free Chik-Fil-A Egg & Cheese Biscuit

Potato-corn Chowder
Sliced apples & kiwis
Hard-boiled eggs


Curry Chicken Masala with Cauliflower
Basmati Rice
Yogurt-covered raisins

As I've been digging through my "pantry" this week, I discovered I have a mountain of spices. Since it's a challenge to use what's in my pantry, I had to reach back into my memory and cookbooks to try some recipes from long ago. More than five years ago, my friend Anjali was visiting. She took me to a local Indian grocery store and introduced me to the world of Indian spices. Anjali also showed me that buying these spices in bulk from these little markets is much cheaper than hunting them down at the traditional grocery store. They also have "spice mixes" for traditional dishes like Tandoori Chicken or Curry Masala. This saves time in mixing a bunch of spices and their mix often tastes more authentic.

My all-time fave Indian dish is Chicken Masala, which has a creamy tomato sauce and tastes divine served over basmati rice. I wanted to try to find a way to simplify this dish, make it child-friendly (not too spicy) and use what I found in my pantry. We also wanted to use up some fresh cauliflower we scored at the farmer's market. I recognize you all might not have these specific spices in your pantry but the lesson for today was rediscovering spices and recipes from my past. My 2-year-old was signing and saying, "More, more" for this chicken. I had to keep filling up her plate.

Easy Curry Chicken Masala with Cauliflower

-1 cup plain yogurt
-1 tablespoons curry masala spice mix (*available and many Indian grocery stores)

-3 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

-1 large yellow onion, chopped
-2 tablespoons butter
-1 large head of cauliflower, chopped into large florets
-1 teaspoon turmeric
-1 small 6-oz. can of organic tomato paste
-1 pint whipping cream

1. Stir together yogurt and spice mix in a bowl. Add chicken pieces and lemon juice. Set in refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes.
2. Saute onions in butter in a large skillet.
3. Add chicken and marinade to skillet.
4. Add cauliflower and saute additional 10 minutes.
5. When chicken and cauliflower are cooked, stir in turmeric, tomato paste and whipping cream. Bring to boil.
6.  Reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally until sauce thickens.

Serve over basmati rice or with Indian naan (flatbread).

*This mix includes coriander, cumin, chilies, turmeric, black pepper, salt, dry ginger, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, caraway, garlic powder, onion powder. (I have a lot - so come borrow mine if you want to try this out!)

Serves 6.


New Year's Pantry Challenge, Beef Strogonoff Made Simple: Fancy doesn't have to be extravagant, Day 9

Today's Menu:

Granola and milk
Trader Joe's Peanut Butter and Crackers

Potato-Corn Chowder
Cornbread Muffins
Kiwi slices
Cupcakes (made by Amy)

Hard-boiled eggs

Butter Lettuce Salad with raisins, pumpkin seeds and feta cheese
Beef Strogonoff
Brown Rice
Chocolate Truffle Peppermint Cookies

People have the misconception that a "fancy" meal has to be expensive to make. I would like to argue today that a special meal doesn't have to cost the big bucks. I learned this from my friend Brandy who makes Beef Strogonoff with ground beef. According to my "Children's World Cookbook," Beef Strogonoff originates in Russia. This delicious recipe was created in the 1700s for Count Alexander Strogonoff. The recipe uses expensive steak like fillet or rump steak. But it doesn't have to be expensive.

A good meal doesn't have to take all day to make either. Don't get me wrong; I love intense cooking. I savor our Christmas Day tradition of rolling homemade raviolis or the occasional inspiration I get to make homemade Wonton Soup. These meals are fancy and time intensive. We all know that just isn't a reality every day of the week. I like to look for meals with an ethnic flair that are different, healthy and take a reasonable amount of time to make on a busy weeknight. Beef Strogonoff can be one of those quick meals. This Russian inspiration great for a quick comfort food for your family or decadent enough for company. I used what I had in the pantry for this version.

Beef Strogonoff

2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 pound grass-fed organic ground beef
2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons sherry (or some other sweet wine)
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt

1. Saute onions in butter until translucent. Add the mushrooms to the pan.
2. Stir in dijon mustard.
3. Add ground beef and cook until brown.
4. Sprinkle flour on top of beef. Do not stir but let cook for 2-3 minutes.Then stir in with beef-onion mixture.
5. Add milk and sherry to skillet and gently stir. Lower heat when sauce begins to bubble and thicken.
6. Add black pepper, paprika and salt. (I didn't have it but you can add 1/2 cup sour cream at this point to make the sauce more creamy. You can also add milk or cream back into the sauce to adjust if it seems to thick.)

Serve over rice or egg noodle pasta.


New Year's Pantry Challenge, The name of the game is flexibility, Day 8

Today's Menu:

Fruit Smoothie (Persimmon, Orange Juice, Raw Milk, Kiwi, Flaxseed)
Leftover french toast
Scrambled eggs

Wheat Berry Salad
Sliced Apple
Sourdough Toast
Hard-boiled Eggs


Sweet Potato Fries
Sourdough Toast with Marinara & Ricotta Cheese
Sliced Oranges
Chocolate Truffle Peppermint Cookies

It's kind of funny that I wrote about my Meal Plan yesterday because today I already rearranged my plan. I guess that's why it's important to have wiggle room; life happens. Tonight I had my Writer's Group, which meets once a month. Our family was invited to a Monday Night Football party as well. I sent Ericlee and the girls to the football fiesta with Sweet Potato Fries (since they were to bring finger foods to share). Meanwhile, I ditched my plan to make Potato-Cheese Soup and opted for a simple sandwich with leftover marinara sauce and ricotta cheese I had in the fridge. This afforded me some extra time to work on my writing and bake some cookies for the ladies in my group. (Yeah, I know Christmas is over but my tree is still up and I needed one last hurrah.)

I decided to work on the Potato-Cheese Soup tonight before bed so it would be ready for lunch tomorrow when our friends the Toslands are coming over. The winter months are a perfect time for experimenting with soups and chilis; they also make great leftover for lunches throughout the week. I scored a bag of potatoes at Fresh & Easy a few weeks ago for 33 cents. Yep, you read that right. I'm all about the deal.

I have a fabulous recipe for Potato Cheese Soup that my friend gave me years ago. It's something like what they serve at Marie Callender's restaurant. As I looked over the recipe, I realized I didn't have the chicken broth it called for, and I didn't want to use the 16 oz. of cheese it required. (My girls are little mice and I have to ration out my cheese this week.) I decided it was time to make my own Potato Soup Recipe with the ingredients in the pantry. A creamy, chowder-like soup sounded like the perfect comfort food for a cold winter's afternoon.

If you're the type who likes to follow a recipe line by line, here you go. Otherwise, you can review the basic idea and use what's in your pantry or winter garden. I can imagine leeks or chopped kale or even sweet potatoes adding something interesting to this recipe. Unfortunately, I didn't have any of those. I chose to make the cheese my soup's garnish so I didn't have to use up expensive cheese but still got that comfort-food-melty-goodness on top. (My girls were fooled.) Enjoy the journey.

Potato-Corn Chowder

-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 large yellow onion, sliced
-6 cups or about 3 lbs. russet potatoes, cubed
-1 purple carrot, chopped
-1 orange carrot, chopped
-1 teaspoon paprika
-2 teaspoons salt
-1 teaspoon black pepper
-1 teaspoon celery seed
-2 tablespoons dried parsley
-3 cups water
-4 cups milk
-4 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
-1 15-oz. can corn or 2 cups fresh or frozen corn

1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated

1. Saute onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil.
2. Add potatoes and carrots. Sweat in pot about 15 minutes.
3. When vegetables are tender, add water and spices (paprika, salt, pepper, celery seed, parsley).
4. Bring to a boil.
5. Meanwhile, stir together flour and milk. Add to soup pot and boil 5 minutes.
6. Lower heat and simmer until liquid thickens. Add corn.
7. Serve with garnishes sprinkled on top.


New Year's Pantry Challenge, Meal Planning for the new week, Day 7

This week's dinner plans:

Pad Thai Noodles with Broccoli, Carrot and Green peppers
Sliced oranges

Wheat Berry Salad
Potato-Cheese Soup
Cornbread Muffins
Persimmon Cookies

Beef Strogonoff
Brown Rice

Indian-spiced Chicken with Apricot Chutney
Basmati Rice

Veggie Pizza

Salmon Salad
Rosemary Biscuits
Lemon Bars

Meal Planning is an important part of my week. My philosophy is if you plan ahead then you are less likely to get in a pinch or get lazy and opt for takeout food. I'm flexible. I know things come up throughout our week. That's why I make dinner plans with wiggle room if I need to change my mind partway through the week.

I try to plan on the weekends for the week to come so I can go to our Saturday farmer's market, which always promises fresh food and great deals. Since we're doing the New Year's Pantry Challenge, I'm going to forego my usual trip the grocery store on Sunday evening. My hubby and I decided we wanted to save by eating out of the pantry but we were not going to sacrifice on our organic fruits and veggies or our weekly supply of raw milk. We know these are critical to good health and fighting off all the winter cold and flu germs. If it were summer time, I might be braver to live out of the garden but my garden has zilch right now so we headed for the market. (Sadly, I didn't get any lettuce or other winter veggies planted this year since we are selling our house.)

I started this week's meal plan by checking out the fridge, freezer and pantry. Then I got out my go-to recipe binder and a few cookbooks that have special sections for winter vegetable entrees. I also starting perusing this blog and others like Eatingwell.com and the Epicurious iPhone app for winter-inspired meals. AllRecipes.com is also a great resource for figuring out how to use random ingredients. You can use their search tool to add ingredients or put in ingredients you don't have/like.

After I had compiled the grocery list, we prepared for the market. My hubby and oldest daughter volunteered to go on the treasure hunt this week. First stop: Organic Farmer's Market on Barstow and First in Fresno in front of Kristina's Market grocery store. Second stop: Vineyard Farmer's Market on Shaw and Blackstone Avenues at the NW corner.

Here's what they got:
-2 half gallons raw whole milk
-1 bunch purple and orange carrots
-1 head cabbage
-1 head butter lettuce
-1 large bunch green onions
-10 apples
-1 quart fresh-squeezed raw orange juice

They ended up spending $35 total and that will be our "food spending" for this week. Total score! I will add that we have a $20 certificate (LivingSocial coupon that we paid $10 for last month) in our arsenal for more fresh fruits, veggies and eggs. Technically, we're spending $45 this week until Friday. We'll see how it goes!

What are your tricks for getting fresh fruits and veggies into your diet during winter months? We would love to hear your ideas.


New Year's Pantry Challenge: Make leftovers an Event, Day 5

Today's Menu:
Waffles with Strawberry Jelly & Honey

Leftover Fried Rice
Leftover Mashed Potatoes


Falafel sandwiches on Naan bread (which I found in the freezer yesterday)
Garlic-yogurt sauce

Friday is Fun Day in the Gilmore house. That means I try to put on my creative mama hat and think up fun outings and ways to spend quality time with my girls. Today I also learned a very important lesson about leftovers: They taste so much better when you make them an event.

This morning the sun was hiding in our neck of the woods but there was plenty of fun inside. We set the table like a tea party - complete with Giada's new Magic Tea Party Set from Christmas - and had a par-tay! I toasted yesterday's leftover waffles, got out the honey and surveyed the condiments. Strawberry jam sounded very tea partyish so we got that out too. I poured some milk as our English-style "tea" and we had fun dipping our "tea cakes" and licking honey off our fingers. Mama even licked the honey jar - much to my girls squealing delight. (Take that, Pooh Bear!) This meal would even be fun for lunch or dinner, which may even add to the novelty of it all.

Tonight's meal was Falafel sandwiches, which is another one of my "Budget Bites" or cheap meals to make on the fly. They are little patties made out of chickpeas that are wonderful with hummus and a garlic-yogurt sauce. I think the traditional way to make them is to deep fry them, which creates a crispy outer shell. I prefer to saute in olive oil. My friend Leslie like to bake them and she says they turn out very good. Ericlee will always request these if I let him choose dinner. Get the kids involved and make it an event.


New Year's Pantry Challenge, Sharing Abundance, Day 4

Today's Menu:
Fruit Smoothie
Waffles with honey

Apple slices


Taco Soup (Made by Forest)
Honey Cornbread Muffins with Butter
Chocolate-dipped Peanut Butter Cookies (Made by Cori)

Today's highlight was the opportunity to share our abundance with others and live in community. For those of you who have been following along, you know that Monday we had a Pantry Party. Four friends showed up with extras from their own pantries and we all traded items and brainstormed new recipes. We also put together a bag of "abundance" to share with someone in need. The original plan was to donate this to our church pantry. I actually found out about a more tangible need through my dad. My dad volunteers with a program at our church called Celebrate Recovery. He told me about one of the veterans he works with who has been homeless for a while and is just getting his first apartment. My dad happily delivered the extra food to his friend. Other people from our church have been collecting furniture and kitchen items for this man.

Tonight we had dinner with our Life Group. Four of us couples from church have been meeting for dinner every other week for almost seven years now. Not only is it a great chance to encourage each other in our faith journeys,  as parents and in our marriages, but it's also an opportunity to share in community. For this meal, our friends the Benedicts hosted and made a crockpot full of Taco Soup. I brought corn bread muffins. My friend Cori brought oranges fresh from her tree and made peanut butter cookies dipped in chocolate. I didn't have all the ingredients for those different parts of the meal but when we pooled our resources we had quite a feast!


New Year's Pantry Challenge: Cleaning out the Freezer, Day 3

Today's Menu:
Hard-Boiled Eggs
Leftover Fried Rice
Fruit Smoothie

Pita sandwiches with Ground Beef-Cabbage-Onion mixture (aka leftover wonton filling from last night but don't tell my kids)
Almond Butter & Strawberry Jelly Sandwich (Ericlee made this to take to work.)

Apple slices
Banana-Oatmeal Power Cookies

Sole with Sherry Sauce
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Collard Greens
Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Butter

Today's dinner was created out of what I dug out of the freezer and what we had on hand. We actually don't have too large of a freezer but it is easy to lose things way in the back after a while. Every so often I need to take inventory on what is in there and force myself to use it.

I made it a treasure hunt and I discovered I have a lot of different types of beans (that's where I store my beans), a bag of amaranth (suggestions welcome!), wheat berries, some frozen bags of basil from our garden, all the fixings for our homemade Peanut Butter Coconut Granola, frozen cranberries that we can use for smoothies. And then I happened upon the Sole fish. I had two packages that I got on sale a few weeks ago at Fresh & Easy. I like to buy off their sale shelves once in a while. What I can't use right away I freeze. We only buy "Wild Caught" fish because it's healthier than "farm-raised." I frequently use Salmon or Mahi Mahi sold at Trader Joe's. Mind you I don't have any "regular" recipes for Sole so I decided I needed to experiment.

I also had a bag of collard greens and a bag of brussel sprouts passed on from another friend's pantry. These are two veggies I also do not have much experience. Time to dive in. I read through several fish recipes and perused several recipes on my favorite http://www.eatingwell.com/ for brussel sprouts. There had to be a way to make those things edible and appealing!

I decided to saute the Sole in butter because as Julia Child says, "With enough butter, anything is good." I also created a sauce by deglazing the pan with Sherry, which was also randomly in our pantry. The result was yummy and both my kids were fighting over the last pieces. The same sauce went over the sauteed brussel sprouts with a squeeze of fresh lemon. If I had walnuts, I would have made this recipe, but I didn't so I had to wing it.

My dad, who claims to hate brussel sprouts, asked for a second helping of the "delicious little cabbages." My hubby scarfed the collard greens, which were similarly sauteed in olive oil and chopped fresh garlic.

What are your favorite ways to cook fish? What about collard greens? Brussel sprouts? I'm always open to suggestions, especially when that's what's in the pantry.


New Year's Pantry Challenge: Getting creative with condiments, Day 2

Today's Menu:

Breakfast -
Fruit and Veggie Smoothie
Peanut Butter Coconut Granola cereal and raw milk

Lunch -
Pita bread with Hummus Egg Salad
Sliced apples

Snacks -
Oranges & Trader Os

Dinner -
Wonton Soup
Chicken Fried Rice (with brown rice, eggs, green beans, carrots, onions
Chocolate Banana Coconut Power Cookies and Candy Cane Joe Joe's Ice Cream

Today I had to be creative and resourceful with the new items in my pantry and the leftovers in my fridge. That, I suppose, is what the New Year's Pantry Challenge is really all about: creativity. And I'm sure as the days go on I'm going to be required to be more and more creative. I do know from experience that this is how new recipes are born.

One area I had to be creative was in making our egg salad for lunch. We are all out of our favorite Trader Joe's mayonnaise. I've taken the pledge not to set foot in a grocery store until next Friday so I had to make do. I suppose I could have made mayonnaise (any good recipes out there?) but I didn't have time today. I was watching two other boys besides my two girls and feeding my raging-metabolism hubby. I had to think fast. I decided to substitute hummus (which I made from scratch the other night) for mayo and *voila* a new lunch creation was born. The hummus was a bit thicker than traditional mayonnaise but it did the trick. My hubby was the most excited about this one.

What's hummus?

It's a spread often used in Mediterranean food made out of garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas). Hummus uses garlic and tahini (sesame butter) and tastes great on pita bread or chips. I love hummus because it's cheap to make - you can buy a few cups of dried garbanzo beans in bulk for less than a dollar. I also love hummus because it's full of protein and it helps serve my need to dip. Are you a dipper? I'm a dipper. Love to dip chips, sandwiches, pretzels, you name it. And I've passed on the need to dip to my kids. Now I know it's a condiment and a dip all rolled into one. Give it a whirl!

Tonight we had our friends, the Fords, over for dinner. I promised Matt I would make wonton soup - his all-time fave. Unfortunately or fortunately we got a call to show our house (which is for sale) just hours before dinner. That meant I had to clean the place instead of prepping dinner. The Fords still wanted to come and happily decided to help us make dinner. I was reminded that the process of cooking with friends is even more fun that setting out a perfectly-plated meal.

Matt and Bev and their kiddos, Bethany and Josiah, showed up with some veggies to add to our meal. We made a fried rice dish to go with the soup using their fresh carrots and green beans mixed with chopped cabbage, egg and onions I had in the fridge. Bev helped me roll wontons. I didn't have all the usual ingredients to stuff wontons but we improvised. I used collard greens, cabbage and onions with ground beef I had leftover from last night's Manicotti. Surprisingly, we had extra wonton filling left in the end. That is sure to be a creative challenge for one of tomorrow's meals...

For dessert, we each savored a small scoop of Candy Cane Joe Joe's Ice cream and homemade Chocolate Banana Power cookies. This was a little hit of sweet at the end of the meal with a healthy twist. And the picky kiddos had no clue I was sneaking flaxseed, coconut and fruit into their dessert.


-2 cups dried garbanzo beans, soaked in water overnight and boiled for approximately 30 minutes until soft
-2 garlic cloves
-2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed butter often found near the peanut butter)
-1/4 cup lemon juice
-1/2 teaspoon paprika
-1 teaspoon sea salt
-1/2 teaspoon cumin
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Throw all the ingredients into your blender or food processor except olive oil. Blend. Add water if necessary.
2. Stir in olive oil.
3. Taste and season according to your desire.

Hummus Egg Salad

-6 hardboiled eggs, chopped
-1 cup hummus
-1 teaspoon oregano
-1 teaspoon sea salt

1. Mix ingredients.
2. Spread on bread for a sandwich.


New Year's Pantry Challenge: Hosting a Pantry Party, Day 1

Today's Menu:

Breakfast -
Smoothie (persimmon, banana, cranberries, pineapple juice, raw milk)
Veggie Egg Scramble (with collard greens and onions)

Lunch -
Leftover Southwestern Bean & Barley Soup
Whole Wheat Quesadillas

Apple slices

Dinner -
Salad with
Stuffed Manicotti
Garlic Bread

Today was the first official day of cooking through our New Year's Pantry Challenge. The first day is always a fun day in my mind. I'm flush with the thrill of the challenge, surveying my goods and feeling like it's all manageable. Today was especially ripe with inspiration because I hosted the Pantry Party with some of my friends. I invited people to survey their own pantries, make a list of items they would like to use creatively, and pack a few things to share with others at the party. I wasn't sure how the whole thing would go over.

 Susan (who joined me for the last Pantry Challenge), Mary, Carrie and Forest showed up. We were all surprised by the abundance of food there was to share. My 4-year-old Meilani right away started lining up all the goods on a table and we had our own "Trading Grocery Store." We had fun perusing each other's pantry leftovers. Would you like Chai Tea? Would you use Pad Thai Noodles? How about some Organic White Wine Vinegar? Do you need more oats or lemons?

Mary really cleaned out her pantry - even donating Ziplock bags and toiletries - because she is having her hubby build her a new organizer for her pantry space. That benefitted all of us. We even had an extra bag of groceries that we plan to share with our church's food pantry. These items will be given out to people in the community who are in need.

I got out my favorite recipe binder and my binder of Cooking Club faves to share with our friends. We all dove into my cookbook collection and even searched out some new options online. Susan brought her planned month of meals to inspire us. Forest had a great cookbook to share as well. As a group we brainstormed how to use certain items like lentils, sweet potatoes and apricots that different people had in abundance. Can't wait to taste Carrie's Apricot Chutney using frozen apricots she got from a friend's tree.

In the end, I think we all solidified a week of planned dinners, gathered some new recipes and went home with a bag full of "new groceries." I was pretty stoked about pita bread, Trader Joe's barbecue sauce and a bowl full of lemons and tangerines. Talk about living in community! Today I was struck anew by the abundance we all have in our pantries. I know our finances are limited this month but we truly do have so many resources, especially if we share with other families.

For today's meals, I was able to use ingredients I had bought earlier to bless two other families. Our friends, Troy and Allison, just had a baby and my mom just had surgery. I made one of my favorite "Meals for Company," which is Stuffed Manicotti. I generally make this meal with a Tomato-Meat Sauce but this time I made it a Marinara Sauce. This saves a little money on extra meat and it's really not necessary since there's already meat and cheese in the filling along with spinach. Both of these sauces are great for making in batches and freezing. I was able to give an extra container of sauce to my friends for their fridge and freeze one of my own. I can use Marinara for pizzas at lunch or over pasta for a dinner on a different day.

What's in your pantry? What ingredients do you have that you need to use up? How were you inspired to use what you have or trade with others? Please share your stories.


January Resolve: Great Pantry Challenge, Part 2

The beginning of a new year is the natural time for resolutions. The time for creating goals. The time for assessing and reviewing and reorganizing. Our family likes to use this time of year to reflect on the past and make new plans for the future.

We started our healthy living journey and this blog in January 2008. How far we have traveled in these past three years in terms of what we eat and how we live a "health-full" life! It's been all about baby steps for us but those baby steps add up over months and years. (That's exciting to think about!) We've been able to save money and spend less time sick and going to the doctor's office.

This year we're taking on some new baby steps to continue the journey. Our big goal is to try and eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day and continue exercising regularly (3 or more times a week). We also desire to experiment more with gardening and eating more raw fruits and vegetables.

To start off, we're pressing the reset button so to speak on our pantry. Some of you might remember we did the Great Pantry Challenge in October 2009. This was a fun way to embrace the very real challenge ahead of us - to live off the abundance we already had instead of buying excess. The best part was - we survived and we learned some amazing lessons in the process. We also came away with some new favorite recipes. We're hoping for the same this time around.

For the last week, many in Fresno have been consumed by Walmart's "Fighting Hunger Together" contest. I thought it was a cool contest. I clicked "Like" several dozen times on my Facebook account in an effort to help Fresno win the $1 million. That contest also got me thinking: what if we all put our heads together and creatively worked as a team to feed the hungry in Fresno? What if we each gave a few extra dollars to a local homeless shelter each month? What if once a year or once a quarter or once a month we each surveyed the excess in our own pantries and donated it to a local food bank? What if we just ate what we have in our pantries for an extra week and the money we saved was available to bless someone else? What if?

Looking ahead, we know for our family that January is going to be a tight month financially. We also have in mind the goal on the horizon, which is to move to Haiti to serve among the people there for a year. We want to continue to challenge ourselves to live simply, but allowing good food and community to be our medicine.

Our goals:
1. To save money in the month of January, while still maintaining a healthy diet.
2. To think about ways to use, recycle and share food and recipes with our community of friends.
3. To challenge our family and others to brainstorm creative ways to feed the hungry in Fresno.

The following is what our family is taking on for the next few weeks. We invite you to join us. You feel free to make your own plans, your own rules. Maybe you want to take on one of these plans. Maybe you want to tweak it to fit your needs, your lifestyle. The challenge is all yours. We're not here to be the pantry police; we just love to share with friends.

Our plans:
1. To avoid grocery shopping starting today and continuing through Jan. 14 (approximately 2 weeks). The exception for our family will be to buy our regular 1 gallon of raw milk, 1 flat of eggs, fruits and vegetables at our local farmer's market. We still believe these items need to be fresh and local.
2. To host a Pantry Party at our house where friends can swap pantry items, extra produce and brainstorm meal plans together. (Monday, January 3 - let us know if you're interested.)
3. To donate unused pantry items to a local food bank.
4. To share at least one meal with a homeless person in Fresno or volunteer at one of Fresno's shelters.

Check back in. We plan to share our recipes, our meal plans and our lessons learned. We invite you to share yours.
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