About Lea

I worship the Creator...but His creation is pretty awesome too.

A March Snow and a Recipe: Seared Scallops with Strawberry Relish

Snowy Cows | photo by Lea Valle

This is the year I finally learned to love winter.

In Texas the seasons are: almost summer, summer, still summer and Christmas. So my first winter spent in the northeast U.S., those many years ago, was a shock to my system mixed with wonder and joy at the novelty of the abundant snow. That year the winter weather lingered long into spring leaving me feeling, novelty or not, I might have made a mistake in venturing out of the familiarity and warmth of the south.

Snowy Trees | Photo by Lea Valle

But subsequent winters were far milder. Sometimes, much to my surprise, I found myself disappointed there was not MORE snow. It was a creeping, unconscious adaptation to a climate with four distinct seasons – winter not the least among them.

Snowy Willow | Photo by Lea Valle

This year the winter seems never-ending. The roads have potholes, the school vacation days are quickly disappearing from the calendar and the longing for spring grows stronger every day. But no amount of complaining will change the inevitable coming of winter snow. And this year I finally have learned to accept and embrace it. Shh, don’t tell anyone, but when others bemoan the next storm, I am quietly rooting on the snowfall.

Snowy Fence | Photo by Lea Valle

In spite of the inevitable inconveniences of the season, there is strange comfort in the quiet, forced sequester at home while the snow envelopes the world around us. I look forward to the quiet drives around town drinking in the peaceful landscape blanketed in newly fallen snow. I relish visits to the neighboring cows who seem only mildly perturbed at the cold, strange white matter covering them and their home fields. Even the time sitting at my desk peering out at the peaceful falling of new snow is a time to appreciate, rather than curse, the essence of winter in all its glory.

Cow with Sign double

The cleanup and annoyances that are all a part of the onslaught will come later. But for a while I resolve to be like a child in awe of the proverbial “winter wonderland.”

Boy with Snow | Photo by Lea Valle

Taking in the world made new, camouflaged as a cloud.

Snowy River | Photo by Lea Valle

So if you find yourself in the dead of winter lamenting the snow, take a moment to reflect. Because if you have even a hint of the mind of a poet, you might agree that newly fallen snow, covering the old, is not only beautiful but a sermon itself on the beauty of repentance.

A March Snow Poem with Photo

Seared Scallops with Strawberry Relish Continue reading

Book Review and Giveaway: Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans

NomNom Paleo Book NOM NOM PALEO: Food for Humans

By Michelle Tam & Henry Fong

I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book for several months. Michelle Tam and her husband Henry Fong have created a unique guide to eating and living Paleo that’s both comprehensive in scale and very fun to read.

As a fan of Michelle’s blog Nom Nom Paleo, I have enjoyed and admired her recipes for quite some time. Beyond the fact that both of us are food bloggers and live a “paleo lifestyle”, Michelle and I share a couple of other connections. We are both working moms of two boys. And while Michelle is a registered Hospital Pharmacist, I have spent most of my business career in the pharmaceutical industry that produces those medicines she likes to say she “deals.”

NomNom Paleo Drug DealerThough my Finance background does not exactly inform my food writing, Michelle’s keen knowledge of biochemistry and her nutrition education, give her a deep understanding of the science of nutrition and how what we eat affects our bodies. This knowledge really shows in Nom Nom Paleo Food for Humans. However, don’t let that turn you off if you are not into science, because that portion of the book is written in a way that is easy to understand and – dare I say – digest? For example:

“Processed foods are almost always made with cheap, unpronounceable, terrible-for-you additives like artificial dyes, trans fats (a.k.a. hydrogenated oils), chemical preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup. Stay away.”

In addition to a brief, concise background on nutritional advice, Michelle also includes an up-front section about her life, what led her to discover paleo, and how that impacts her daily interactions with friends and co-workers who are seeking to understand what this “paleo” craze is all about.

NomNom Paleo Food for HumansAnd did I mention the cartoons? Yes! Cartoons! Like their website of the same name, Nom Nom Paleo is full of them! In between his day job as an attorney, Henry Fong somehow manages to find time to be a computer illustrator. All of the cartoons found throughout the book are his creations, and they include adorable avatars of Michelle, Henry, and their two boys Owen and Ollie. (In addition to serving as Master Cartoonist, the multi-talented Henry is also the principal photographer of Nom Nom Paleo.)

Now…onto the food! There are a LOT of amazing recipes in this book. As the book cover says, there are“Over 100 Nomtastic Recipes!” Each one has 1-2 pages devoted to it and includes an up-front synopsis of what makes it special, as well as great food photography.  The recipes cover the basic meal categories and range from simple and delicious to the more elaborate “wow-your-friends” dishes.

Some dishes of note:

  • Watermelon Gazpacho
  • Uova in Purgatorio (Eggs in Purgatory)
  • Spicy Coconut Shrimp
  • Asian Cauliflower Fried Rice
  • Chinese Egg Foo Young
  • Slow-Roasted Duck Legs
  • Eggplant “Ricotta” Stacks
  • and much, much more…

With so many delicious-looking recipes from which to choose, we were not sure which ones to try first. Eventually we settled on two: Vietnamese Lettuce Cups (one of the many Asian-inspired recipes), and Cowboy Chili (It’s the Texan in me; I couldn’t resist!). The lettuce cups recipe was easy to follow, perfect for a weeknight meal, and hit just the right note of spice. Even our boys, who often eschew anything wrapped in lettuce (especially if it’s a hamburger-bun substitute) really liked this. It was tangy, but not too spicy for them. For those who prefer more intense heat, you can add some Paleo Sriracha (found on page 42, and referenced in the recipe.)

The Cowboy Chili was a bit more labor intensive, but definitely worth it. As a native Texan (have I mentioned I’m from Texas?), I’m choosy about my chili, and this recipe does not disappoint. I give major props to Michelle for understanding that real chili does NOT contain beans. That’s a heresy in my homeland of Texas and goes beyond anything to do with a “legume-free” paleo diet mandate. If it has beans then it is really beef and bean soup, not chili. So if you appreciate the real deal then you will appreciate Michelle’s Cowboy Chili. The result was a rich, meaty chili with a perfectly thick sauce and a nice accent of…chocolate. Yes, chocolate! Seemingly an odd choice for a traditionally spicy dish. But if you are familiar with “mole” (mo-lay) then you understand this is a well-appreciated, traditional flavor combination. The unsweetened chocolate added an extra, unexpected flavor that captured and enhanced the spicy ingredients like ancho chili. As someone who likes food with a decent amount of heat I felt the need to add some cayenne pepper for more of a kick. But that is a personal preference and can be adjusted at the end of the cooking process based on taste.

NomNom Paleo Cowboy Chili copy

As quintessential “foodies”, Michelle and Henry have developed recipes that respect the traditional while adding creative and innovative aspects to their recipes. Overall, a big Thumbs-Up for Nom Nom Paleo Food For Humans. This book has something for everyone, from Paleo newbies to experienced, immersed devotees. Note to newbies: Don’t let the size of Nom Nom Paleo (275 pages) or the textbook feel of the up-front sections intimidate you. You don’t have to be a science-nerd to understand the whats, whys, and hows of Paleo to appreciate this book; Michelle and Henry have written it for everyone.

And now…just for fun, and in appreciation of Henry’s great cartoons, we are providing a quick and easy cartoon review (drawn by my own husband and cartoon devotee, Gavin). Enjoy! Continue reading

Paleo Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Cashew Cream Frosting

Paleo Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Cashew Cream Frosting | Paleo Spirit

“Love is a verb”, someone once said. Then again, maybe I read it somewhere. It would be nice to remember exactly because it impacted me greatly. This in spite of the fact the same concept has been shouting up at me from the pages of scripture practically all my life.

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

Maybe I resisted the idea because it implies and involves work and perseverance and not just roses and chocolate and love songs. Or maybe the idea of love as a verb, as an action, was drowned out by a popular culture which so glorifies romantic love – love that is mostly about feelings.  Our culture loves romantic love. It loves the idea of love. But true love is sacrificial – it includes a cost. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much a romantic as anyone. It’s just that over time you come to realize real love is not that warm, fuzzy feeling you have at the beginning of a relationship. Real love is action, it’s doing and helping and trying long after those romantic feelings have faded a bit. 

Dozen Roses | Photo by Lea Valle

Real love includes showing those we care about that we value and cherish them. But rather than being cynical about Valentine’s Day and the commercialism around it I choose to embrace it in all its red, chocolate, roses and poems glory! But in embracing it also recognizing the importance of balancing the warm fuzzies with the reminder to celebrate true, enduring love that transcends fleeting emotion. So let us enjoy the day and the small reminder to celebrate those we love and the importance of romance in helping true love flourish and survive!

e.e. cummings poem | Paleo Spirit

We need chocolate with our roses…

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Creamy Paleo Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Creamy Paleo Chicken Enchiladas Verdes | Paleo Spirit

For anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance the term “creamy” can be a little depressing. We long for those smooth sauces that add a luxurious texture and rich flavor to our food. Fortunately, “necessity is the mother of invention” and that is true in the case of “Cashew Sour Cream“. Turning soaked, raw cashews into substitutes for dairy products is a technique often used by vegan chefs in creating dairy-free dishes. But for those of us with dairy allergies/intolerance we can take advantage of this trick to create our own unique recipes. (See my recipe for How to Make Raw Cashew Cream)

Creamy Paleo Chicken Enchiladas Verdes | Paleo Spirit #dairyfree #paleo

Creamy Paleo Chicken Enchiladas Verdes are made with grain-free tortillas filled with seasoned, shredded chicken and topped with a combination of tomatillo salsa verde and “Cashew Sour Cream”. The resulting dish captures the essence of classic Chicken Enchiladas Verdes without the grains and dairy. The spiciness will depend in large measure upon the salsa you use – whether it be my homemade version or a jarred variety. The paleo tortillas lend a more “crepe-like” texture to the dish than standard tortillas. But I think you will agree creamy chicken-filled crepes are pretty delectable and should satisfy your craving for creamy chicken enchiladas quite well.

Creamy Paleo Chicken Enchiladas Verdes Continue reading

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Paleo Super Bowl Recipes

Paleo Super Bowl Recipes | @paleospiritThe biggest party of the year is about to begin! That’s right…it’s almost time for Super Bowl XLVIII! (And BTW, the game is going to be played right here in New Jersey, NOT New York…but I digress.)

In less than 50 years, the Super Bowl has become a genuine and huge American tradition. It’s estimated that more than 110 million people will tune in to watch this year’s game – a new record! And what’s the best way to celebrate an American tradition? Throw a party, of course! Nothing goes together better than great football and copious amounts of food and adult beverages…unless, of course, you’re eating Paleo.

We’ve all been there, at one time or another…surrounded by hors d’oeuvres, finger food, main courses, desserts and drinks…and we can’t touch much, if any, of it! Instead, we reach into our bags and pull out a bag of kale chips or a Larabar as everyone else stares with pity…while stuffing their faces.

This doesn’t have to happen! Whether you’re rooting for the Broncos or the Seahawks, there’s no reason you can’t make great tasting, healthy paleo food for a Super Bowl party. That’s why we’ve provided a few recipes of our own, as well as links to other great Paleo recipes that are all excellent choices for Super Bowl Sunday. Enjoy!!!

Paleo Super Bowl Recipes Continue reading

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Review and Giveaway: “Cooking with Coconut Oil” and a Recipe

CoconutcoverIn spite of its demonization in years past, coconut oil is actually a health food. Elizabeth Nyland, the woman behind the popular blog Guilty Kitchen understands this very well. In her new cookbook “COOKING WITH COCONUT OIL: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Recipes for Good Living” Elizabeth explains how finding out “fats are good for you” was a turning point in her relationship with food. 

Elizabeth has done her research on not only the health benefits of coconut oil but has put it to delicious use in the recipes in her new cookbook. As the proud owner of this beautiful book I can tell you it is chock full of delicious, healthful, approachable recipes. One of the things I really love about “Cooking with Coconut Oil”  is each recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photograph.

Coconut Oil cookbook photos-2

Inside “COOKING WITH COCONUT OIL: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Recipes for Good Living” you will find more than 75 mouthwatering, paleo, gluten-free, grain-free coconut oil and coconut flour recipes. As an extra bonus you will find:

  • Details on the health benefits of coconut oil
  • An overview of key ingredients
  • High level explanation of paleo as well as tips and tricks

Personally, this is my current favorite cookbook to share with loved ones just starting (or curious about) the paleo diet. It provides basic information on paleo as well as recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, treats and baked goods. It’s just enough without being overwhelming or intimidating.

Coconut Oil cookbook photos-3

One of my favorite recipes from the book is “Dark Chocolate Cherry Muffins”. I featured them in a recent post about Ovenart Bakeware. It was my guinea pig recipe with the silicone muffin cups. They were rich, delicious and easy. The coconut flour meant they were relatively low-carb and filled me up and kept me satisfied for hours.

Another recipe we tried was the “Pan-Fried Pork Chops with Apple Compote”. Gavin was the cook for that one and he did a masterful job (if he does say so himself). The pork chops were delectable. In fact, they were so mouthwatering I actually choked on a piece of the pork because I was eating it entirely too quickly. This entailed a trip to the emergency room! Yes, seriously. In my defense, I have a condition known as “Eosinophilic Esophagitis” which, according to my gastroenterologist, makes me more susceptible to choking – more on that in a future post. But suffice it to say, the pork chops, paired with a savory and sweet apple compote, were delicious and simple yet elegant. (NOTE: the pork chops will not induce choking in a normal human being who is not scarfing their food.)

Pan-Fried Pork Chops with Apple Compote Continue reading

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OvenArt Bakeware Review and Giveaway

OvenArt Bakeware Giveaway | PaleoSpirit.comOne of the most popular recipes here at Paleo Spirit is “Basic Paleo Egg Muffins“. Even though I generally do not have a lot of trouble removing the muffins from the metal muffin tins, I know others have. And when food sticks to muffin tins it can be a real pain to clean. But there is a solution…

OvenArt Bakeware

The makers of OvenArt Bakeware sent me some samples and asked if I would give them a whirl with a few paleo recipes and report back with results. OvenArt Bakeware makes quality silicone bakeware and, unlike many silicone bakeware manufacturers, they opt for the highest grade silicone available and use no filler material in their products. This results in great bakeware with nonstick properties that last! One of my concerns with standard metal bakeware, is the fact it is often treated with non-stick coatings containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a labeled a toxic carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Not so with this 100% silicone bakeware that is durable and easy to clean.

The first recipe I tried was the paleo egg muffins in the OvenArt Silicone Bakeware – Muffin Pan / Cupcake Pan – 12 Cup Muffin Tin*

OvenArt Bakeware Giveaway | PaleoSpirit.com

The results were terrific. In spite of the manufacturer’s recommendation to oil the pan slightly, I decided to experiment with adding NO oil whatsoever to see how the muffin pan would handle it. Even without any oil added to the pan the muffins came out with complete ease. There was almost no cleanup!

OvenArt Bakeware Review and Giveaway

One of the tough things when cooking with coconut flour is losing some of the food when muffins or cupcakes stick to paper liners. In reviewing the cookbook “Cooking With Coconut Oil: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Recipes for Good Living”* by Elizabeth Nyland I tried the Double Chocolate Cherry Muffins recipe. I decided this would be a great test for the OvenArt Bakeware Muffin/Cupcake Cups*. Happily the results were similar to what I experienced with the egg muffins – no sticking whatsoever. The muffins literally just popped right out of the cups with no mess. And they looked pretty too.

OvenArt Bakeware cupcake cups

I can honestly say I will never make egg muffins again without this bakeware. They would also be great for making Paleo Mini Meatloaves or Blueberry MuffinsCleanup is MUCH easier than with standard muffin tins. And if you are making a recipe without a ton of fat it becomes even more important to have a pan that keeps food from sticking. 

IMPORTANT GIVEAWAY INFO Continue reading

Barbecue Chicken Pizza and a Day in the Fort Worth Stockyards

BBQ Chicken Pizza: Paleo Spirit

Pizza has not been in my life for the last three years. And for the most part I am fine with that. But every now and then I crave pizza, and without a more healthful alternative I am liable to fall off the wagon and go for something really detrimental to my health. So…when I made the paleo pizza crust recipe and it turned out perfect (IMHO) I knew Barbecue Chicken Pizza had to be on the agenda.

BBQ Chicken Pizza | Paleo Spirit

Have you ever had BBQ Chicken Pizza? If not, you really should try it…and soon (or at least after you are done with your “strictly paleo plan” or Whole30, if you are doing that right now). I first became acquainted with this dish while in college at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. The restaurant that served this pizza was a popular destination when you wanted to impress your date. I seem to recall being less impressed with my date than with the BBQ chicken pizza. Sorry.

Fort Worth Fun

Speaking of Texas, this past Christmas holiday our family made the journey from New Jersey back to my Texas home. It was the first time we have been there for Christmas in years. We took the opportunity to not only visit family but take a side trip to Fort Worth. My Maryland-born husband wanted the full “Cow Town” experience so we took in a few sights in the Stockyards area of the city.

Fort Worth photography by Lea Valle

We shopped for boots at M.L. Leddy’s (could not afford them!) and got in touch with our Texas heritage.

Photography by Lea Valle

We took in Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show featuring trick roping, trick riding, trick shooting, a bull whip act, Indian Ceremonial dance and cowboy songs – a full historical experience of the original show from the turn of the 20th century. We also marveled at the longhorn cattle.

Forth Worth photography by Lea ValleCowboys | photography by Lea Valle

In fact, we were so enchanted by the longhorn cattle, Nathaniel even had his photograph taken atop one of those hefty beasts. To the right, in the photo below, is my mother as a young girl with a longhorn in Galveston, TX.  I had no idea this was a Texas family tradition.

LR Nat and Nonna with longhorn

Billy Bob’s Texas

It was New Year’s Eve Day when we visited Fort Worth and it dawned on us we would be remiss if we did not check out nearby Billy Bob’s Texas. Billy Bob’s is the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk” and sits within walking distance to all the sites in the Stockyards. We mosied over there in the early evening – before the crowds arrived – to play some pool and just take in the sites and sounds.

Playin' Pool at Billy Bob's | photography by Lea Valle

Billy Bob's Pool Party | photography by Lea Valle

We finished the evening with gigantic steaks at the famous Cattlemen’s Steak House before welcoming the New Year from the comfort of our hotel room.

Our trip to Texas was wonderful mainly for the time with family and friends we have longed to see. Just being back in that friendly state warmed our hearts and made us wish we had more time to take it all in. For now we will have to be satisfied with small reminders.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza Continue reading

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Easy Paleo Pizza Crust Recipe (Dairy-Free)

Paleo Pizza Crust: from @PaleoSpirit #paleo #dairyfree

There are several paleo pizza crust recipes out in the blogosphere these days. The recipe I am sharing today is the result of the desire for a nut-free, dairy-free, grain-free pizza crust that is easy to make and does not require a yeast dough. I’m a bit lazy like that. This recipe also does not use cauliflower or any vegetables. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Those versions of paleo pizza crust are great (tasty, low carb, great nutrition)- just more work than I am willing to put forth at times.

This paleo pizza crust recipe is based on my recipe for dinner rolls. The ingredients are the same but the proportions are slightly different. The result is a thin crust (between 12-14 inches) that will get about as crispy as you like it depending on how long you precook the crust.

Here’s how I make it. Continue reading

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Healthy Habits for Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit

Happy New Year!

PaleoSpirit.com

2014 is already upon us, and all I can say is…WHAT happened to 2013? Wow, that went fast! Is it just me, or does time really seem to go by faster when you get older? I remember as a child that the lead-up to Christmas Day and all the excitement and anticipation seemed like an eternity, but now it goes by in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden, “Poof!” It’s a new year!

Of course, what would a New Year be without a resolution? If you’re like me, you probably view the New Year’s resolution with equal parts conviction (because this year, you’re REALLY going to do it!) and dread (because you know how hard it can be to live up to as time goes by). But take heart, because you CAN do it. You can take control of your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Is it going to be easy? Probably not…but then, what worthy goal is ever easy to achieve?

There is so much focus on diet and exercise at the beginning of a new year. Not as much attention is paid to the emotional and spiritual well-being. But there are habits we can cultivate that will help us become more well-rounded individuals, healthy in mind, body, soul and spirit. Today I am sharing the Ten Habits for a Well-Rounded Person (referenced in the Healthy, Happy, and Free post) and which I’ll summarize below:

10 Healthy Habits for Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit Continue reading