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

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Healthy Habits for Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit

Happy New Year!


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

Mexican Hot Chocolate (Mexican Mocha) Mix

Mexican Hot Chocolate Mix

We returned home from our Texas Christmas vacation just in time for a big blizzard. It served as our welcome back to the East Coast and gave us fleeting culture shock. After a night of blowing snow and frigid temperatures, offices and schools were closed. Many folks took advantage of the opportunity to go sledding on neighboring, snowy hills.

Sledders: Lea Valle

The frigid temperatures did not deter me from making a quick trip to one of my favorite locations to enjoy the natural beauty of the winter in its full glory just before the setting of the sun.

Snowy Bench: Lea ValleSnowy Sycamores: Lea Valle

There’s something magical and almost otherworldly about a snowy day. The lightposts of neighboring Natirar always remind me of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia”. It’s almost as if a faun (or Aslan perhaps?) is just around the corner.

Lightpost: by Lea Valle

Upon returning home I spied my youngest peeking out of his snow fort. Such rosy cheeks. He could use a hot chocolate. Actually, so could I!

nat snow LR

Mexican Hot Chocolate and Mexican Mocha Mix

The morning after the blizzard hit, my husband bundled up and headed out to shovel the driveway and clean off the cars. While he was outside I decided to surprise him with a Hot Mexican Mocha. He had one first during our trip to Texas when we had the good fortune to meet Jenni Hulet (from the wonderful blog The Urban Poser).

Lea Valle and Jenni Hulet

Lea and Jenni

We met Jenni and her family (husband Ben and boys Linus and Oscar) on our way out of Dallas and got to spend a while chatting about all things food, faith, blogging and photography. Our boys showed up in Doctor Who t-shirts (kismet!) and talked of Minecraft and Sonic Screwdrivers (Dr. Who reference for you uninitiated). Clearly we all had a lot in common. So nice to meet you, Jenni and family!

The Mexican Mocha in Dallas inspired our desire to create our own at home. The drink mix can also be used to make Mexican Hot Chocolate which is a spicy take on the classic hot chocolate with flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne. It’s sure to wake you up in the morning – especially when combined with coffee of a Mexican Mocha. After a day playing or working out in the cold it will warm you and stimulate your senses.

The great thing about this recipe is it can be made in advance and stored for when you need it. Just add hot liquid like coconut milk or almond milk (for a dairy-free Mexican Hot Chocolate) or strong coffee (for Mexican Hot Mocha). As long as we are getting our measuring cups and spoons dirty we might as well make enough for a few drinks, right?

Mexican Hot Chocolate (Mexican Mocha) Drink Mix Recipe:: PaleoSpirit.com

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Paleo Spirit in Brooklyn: Botanic Garden, Fatty ‘Cue and OddFellows

Brooklyn Bridge

It’s been decided. Brooklyn is where I want to live.

Of course, I also want to live in Costa Rica, Tuscany and New Zealand. Well, then there’s Hawaii, Sardinia and Austin. Okay, so maybe I’m a little fickle when it comes to places I have visited or wish to visit. But seriously, Brooklyn does have its charms. Having lived in the New York City area for many years it is a bit of a travesty we had never visited Brooklyn. So one Saturday in August we ventured to Brooklyn to take in a few sites and enjoy some tasty (hopefully paleo-friendly food). We tackled the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a couple of establishments serving cutting edge, high-quality eats: Fatty ‘Cue and OddFellows Ice Cream Co.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The gardens were recommended by an artist friend, Graydon Parrish, who lived in Brooklyn during his early art-school days. He knows I like flowers and did not steer me wrong because the gardens are absolutely stunning.

The BBG has a lot of educational sections for kids. I love how it provides an area for city kids to learn a lot about gardening and just have plain old fun interacting with nature.

Boys playing with watercompostingNat gardening

The flowers in the garden are amazing, astounding, astonishing!

Wisdom in a flowerBotanic Garden triple sign #2Sunflowers

Butterflies and flowers #2Butterfly and flowers

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden left us spellbound with all the natural beauty from the ponds with lilies to the Shakespeare Garden, Japanese garden, Gingko Tree Alley and more.

Botanic Garden Collage #1

Asian garden double #2

Fatty ‘Cue Restaurant

After our visit to the gardens we ventured to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for dinner at Fatty ‘Cue. Continue reading

How to Bake Bacon in the Oven

What do bacon and flowers have in common? Well, nothing, really. But before I show how to bake bacon in the oven I just have to share what is blooming in my garden this week. Last week was lilacs and now we have some purple iris. We have lived in our house for thirteen years and I have divided and moved the iris several times over the years. Now we have dozens and dozens of these purple and blue flowers all over.

Iris are exquisite.


iris closeup

We also have some False Blue Indigo behind the garage overlooking the vegetable garden.

False Blue Indigo

And the Columbine have emerged and bloom proudly in the shady part of the back yard.


Along with our flowers are three raised beds where we planted a square foot garden. The strawberries are in their own free form part of one bed. I spied some fruit forming under the bright green leaves. So exciting!


Strawberries in hands

Total non-sequitur alert!

How To Bake Bacon In the Oven

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Healthy Homemade French Dressing (American Style)

Paleo French Dressing

Weekends have been so perfect lately I can’t really complain about the last two days of rain. The only downside is this is the exact week the lilacs are blooming in our backyard. Every year I look forward to the days when I can sit on the back patio and drink in the intoxicating fragrance of the lilacs. But I’ve either been at work or it has been raining. Fortunately, before the rain started, there was time on Friday night to enjoy the flowers while decompressing from the busy week. And by Sunday afternoon the rain had stopped which allowed me to make up for lost time by capturing a few shots of these beauties in full bloom.

These are just two of our mature Palabin lilac bushes.

Backyard lilacs

Palabins have cute little heart-shaped leaves.

Lilacs and heart leaf

We planted them several years ago and every year they are more beautiful than the year before. I found a poem about lilacs planted by a mother and it makes me wonder if my boys will ever come back to this house years from now and think about how we planted and enjoyed the lilacs.

Here’s an excerpt. (You can find the rest at the link.)

The Lilacs Mother Planted

by Ed Blair

Oh, sweet and fragrant lilac, the one she loved so
Thy fragrance brings to memory sad thoughts I
cannot tell;
Sweet lullabies of childhood sung at the evening
By mother clasping closely the one she loved the
A voice that gently whispered sweet words of
love to me,
A face so kind and gentle, a heart with love so free;
Still yet my heart throbs feel them, still yet I see
them there,
When lilacs that she planted with fragrance fill
the air.

Wet Lilacs

The rain drops are actually rather flattering don’t you think?

lilacs after rain

While taking pictures of the rain soaked lilacs I noticed the chives also blooming on the back patio.

wet chives

Who knew chives could be so beautiful!?

wet chives 2

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Paleo Quiche with Spaghetti Squash Crust

Weekends around here are super busy now that Lacrosse season is upon us. Tennis is the sport I always envisioned my boys playing. They’ve had some lessons and seem to enjoy it and I will admit to having spent time imagining them as high school tennis stars. I reasoned that tennis is sensible because it not only works for school sports but it’s something that can be played well into adulthood. But while my boys may opt to continue tennis lessons at some point, Lacrosse has now come into the picture and my husband G couldn’t be happier. G grew up in Baltimore where Lacrosse is a major sport (unlike my home in Texas where Football reigns supreme). He started playing Lacrosse when he was a very young boy, played Lacrosse for The University of Massachusetts and went on to become a Lacrosse coach at a boys school in Manchester, England for a year. So, you see, our sons will play Lacrosse, it is fated to be. 

I just wish Benjamin would remember to tie his shoes!

Ben running at Lacrosse

Both brothers seem to be taking a liking to the game. Tennis anyone?…anyone?

Ben and Nat at Lacrosse

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous lately which is great considering all of the outdoor activities we have going on. After Saturday’s Lacrosse tournament I spent a little time admiring more of the natural spring beauty in our yard. Ginkgo tree with new leaves, tulips, rhododendron…dandelion (well, at least it’s pretty when you look closely).

hipstamatic flowers 4-2

Sunday was another busy day with church in the morning and an afternoon of fishing with the Cub Scouts…

paleo quiche

Nathaniel looks at bridge

Nathaniel caught a fish and managed to earn his fishing belt loop in the process. He was very proud.

Nathaniel with fish

While working hard at fishing, we spied a few Canadian geese keeping their goslings very close while patrolling a part of the lake.


Square foot gardening

After fishing we had a little time to work on our garden before it was time to make dinner. So far we’ve cleaned up our three 4′ x 10′ raised beds and amended the soil. This year we’ve decided to try “square foot gardening” (SFG) which is the practice of planning and creating small but intensively planted gardens. The idea is to maximize the yield by being super efficient with space. You follow guidelines for how much space and resources each plant needs to grow. For example, guidelines say you can get 16 radishes in one square foot while tomatoes should be planted one per square foot. This method also helps with weed control and can improve results of companion planting. In preparation for SFG we divided the beds into square feet plots. I’m sure we’ll post more through the season but here’s how it looked when we started two weeks ago.

square foot gardeningsquare foot gardening

We worked in our garden for a while before turning our attention to dinner. We were ready for something easy, hearty and healthy. Inspiration came from a photo I saw recently on Pinterest of a quiche with a spaghetti squash crust. I came up with a dish that adds grass-fed beef seasoned with chili powder and other “Tex Mex” spices combined with eggs and a few other veggies on a “crust” made of spaghetti squash. We also dubbed it “Taco Pie” because it sounded much more fun to my kids than the formal “paleo quiche with spaghetti squash crust.” (Funny how they respond to things based on the name!) The result is a grain-free, gluten-free, meaty quiche that works as a one-dish meal. My whole family loved it and I hope you will too.

Paleo Quiche with Spaghetti Squash Crust

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Mango and Mandarin Orange Paleo Cheesecake Tart

Paleo Cheesecake Tart

There is almost nothing better in spring than taking walks to enjoy the first flowers of the season. The emergence of daffodils always signals for me that winter is truly over and all the wonderful weather months of the year are yet to come. William Wordsworth also appreciated daffodils, writing a masterpiece of a poem dedicated to these symbols of rebirth. The poet not only exulted in the sight of the daffodils but realized his indulgence in such displays of natural beauty carried over to more mundane times when they would “flash upon” his “inward eye”. More reason to make time to appreciate beauty as a way to enrich your life and sustain your health.


by Williams Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.yellow daffodils

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
Hipstamatic daffodils 4x6
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
Single daffodil
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Mango and Mandarin Orange Paleo Cheesecake Tart

Daffodils* blooming is also the time of year when fresher flavors are in order. Following on the heels of the Paleo Key Lime Pie I share this recipe for a frozen paleo cheesecake tart that also incorporates the refreshing flavor of citrus. This no-bake, grain-free paleo dessert contains a dairy-free “cheesecake” layer of mandarin orange flavored cashew cream topped with a puree of mangos and mandarin orange juice.

Paleo Cheesecake Tart

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Celebrating National Poetry Month with a Contest

Happy National Poetry Month!

Since 1996, in the United States, April has been dedicated as a month to celebrate poetry. The purpose is to highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets and introduce more Americans to the pleasures of poetry. April seems an appropriate time for National Poetry Month given the concentration of poems related to spring. It’s also a time I long for every year when the landscape starts bursting into life after a long, cold winter. The joys of gardening are just around the corner as are long walks in neighboring arboretums and nature preserves.

A fine example of a springtime poem is by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who seems to capture the essence of the earliest of this season:

Longfellow Poem

American poet Robert Frost wrote another favorite, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. It speaks to that precious and fleeting time when the earth erupts with newness. The poem has a pessimistic tone referencing the fall of man in Eden. The lesson seems to be there is so much potential early in life (as in spring) but it can become corrupted. It reminds me to enjoy the time I have with my young boys because, like the early spring, it will be gone in the blink of an eye. I must do everything I can to not only appreciate this time with them but raise them in such a way as to give them a better chance at remaining uncorrupted by the world –  so that they may “stay gold” if you will.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Where I live in the Northeast United States, April is the time of year when this particular shade of green is apparent “but only so an hour”. I look forward to it every year.

landscape springwaterfall springThe uniqueness of the early spring is also the inspiration for a CONTEST!

If you are a horticulturist, backyard gardener or simply a lover of nature, I have a contest for you! Well, this is not a contest to win a Le Creuset pot or something else of significant value. It’s just something fun with a little reward for one lucky person who is able to identify the common name for a few plants. All but one of these photos were taken on my own property within the last two weeks. Some will be very easy to identify and at least two will take more advanced skills. You can leave your guesses in the comments section and I will select one winner to receive this copy of “The Gardener” Comic book-like plantable seed paper. I bought this one in New York City in the fall and would love to share it to celebrate the season. Continue reading

A Dose of Easter Beauty


by Joyce Kilmer

The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
And sings.

Easter Day

by Oscar Wilde

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
‘Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest.
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.’
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