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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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.

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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!!!

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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.)

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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.

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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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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 Christmas Menu and Christmas in NYC

Bryant Park Christmas Tree

New York City is a magical place at Christmas time. This was not the first year I have ventured in from the ‘burbs to partake of the festive atmosphere.

*Static Noises*

STOP!

Ben-time.

Mwahahahahahahaha! My mom was going to write about her paleo Christmas recipes but I have taken her computer hostage to write about MY day in NYC. I write this on an airplane, with a dying macbook pro, my mom is looking over my shoulder at the progress window as we back up the whole computer onto a hard drive. I am super tech savvy, so I helped her use it even though it is meant for Microsoft Windows machines. SO there. Ha!

Oh, you wan’t me to stay on-topic? Where do I start? Well… I’ll break our day up into small segments, (in chronological order) that have titles that sum-up the segment.

Enjoy!

Boys with Empire State Building

  • Take the train, he said. It will be fun, he said.

The first memorable part of my day was waiting for the train to arrive at the station. Because NJ transit is pretty much the worst commuter train ever, we literally had about 45 minutes in delays. Fun! :|

  • Omnamnomnomnomamnomnom-munch-munchnomnomnomnomnomnom. Nom.

Bareburger. Yum. Best burgers. Ever. Not sure if I get the bear theme, but you know, BURGERS! By the time we got there we were pretty tired out from walking for such a long time, so I was ready for some epic omnom time. The food was ready almost immediately after we ordered, which was awesome, because it usually takes longer based on past experiences. Gluten-free bun + bison patty + bacon = heaven in a burger.  I’m completely serious. It was delicious. My mouth waters at the thought of such deliciousness.

  • Hat

I got a new hat. I guess you could say that I am a “smurf.” See photo below!

  • WhoahAhhhhhhh!

We went Ice skating next, which was a nightmare at first but got better as I got the hang of skating, Nathaniel, on the other hand, never quite got it, but he had fun regardless of his skill level. We both fell over like 700 million times, and the zamboni took like 300 years, but like I said, we had fun. Afterwards we got hot chocolate which tasted SOOOOO good.


Boys at Bryant Park Rink-2

  • OOOOOH! AHHHHH!

We walked to the Rockefeller tree afterwards. It was pretty amazing but then we realized that it lined up with angelic statues, when you looked at it from a certain angle it was absolutely stunning. It was quite literally breathtaking. The amount of work that must have gone into making it look like that is crazy if you think about it. The Saks 5th avenue show ON THE SIDE of the building was pretty incredible too.

  • The ride home

Of course, not everything can be perfect. That’s why our day unfortunately ended with my worst experience I’ve ever had on a train, ever. It was a double-decker train, but it was packed. We didn’t get a seat until much later in the train ride, but that was almost immediately before we got off the train, so it didn’t really help. Whatever, the day as a whole was great, so it made up for the bad train ride.

Radio City Music Hall

Now my mom will take it from here. Bye!

Lea’s Paleo Christmas Menu Continue reading

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Paleo Cranberry Bliss Bars

Paleo Cranberry Bliss Bars: Paleo Spirit

It started snowing early on Saturday morning, far earlier than expected. The flakes were the big, fluffy kind you see when the air temperature is not terribly frigid. We were inclined to stay inside and enjoy the view from our warm home. But, unfortunately, we were out of coffee and there was grocery shopping to be done. So, I grabbed my husband, Gavin, and we trekked to the store to stock up on supplies. In a state like New Jersey where snow is no stranger you would think people would know not to panic-buy. But judging by the bustling grocery store, that is not the case.

Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars

paleo cranberry bliss bars

After deftly battling the crowds, and stocking up on necessities, we ventured to Starbucks for a pound of their Christmas Blend coffee. I am no stranger to Starbucks and may have mentioned before my penchant for the Grande Americano with Heavy Whipping Cream. But each time I’ve been in the store in recent weeks the seasonally available Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar has been sweetly calling my name. I resist. In fact, having celiac disease means there’s really no way I even seriously entertain the notion of eating one of these beauties. It’s sad, actually.

Paleo Cranberry Bliss Bars: Paleo Spirit

But I got a bright idea! I would have Gavin eat one and describe, in detail, what he tasted so I could make a gluten-free, paleo-friendly version of the Cranberry Bliss Bars. And that is exactly what we did. He ate it a little too quickly if you ask me. And in fact I got a little snippy telling him to slow down, that the ONLY reason he was eating it was because he was on a mission – a mission of mercy to those of us longing for, yes, CRAVING, one of these things!

Paleo Cranberry Bliss Bars: PaleoSpirit.com

At that point all I heard was, “cream cheese…lemon…ginger…*garble* some kind of chunky white stuff, oh, that’s probably white chocolate..boy, that was good!” And with that, the cranberry bliss bar was history. Gee, thanks for that in-depth analysis, honey.

Paleo Cranberry Bliss Bars: PaleoSpirit.com

So let’s go for it. This recipe for Paleo Cranberry Bliss Bars is gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free and (mostly) free of refined sugars. The dried cranberries will almost certainly contain sugar. So if you are just absolutely opposed to it then this recipe is not for you. But compared to the original recipe, and most other treats you will be offered this holiday season, this recipe has far less sugar and still manages to be moist and delicious.

Paleo Cranberry Bliss Bars: Copycat Starbucks Recipe Continue reading

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