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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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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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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Roasted Tomatillo Peach Salsa with Pan-Fried Halibut

Pan-Fried Halibut with Roasted Tomatillo Peach Salsa | Paleo Spirit

The peach kick continues with this recipe for Roasted Tomatillo Peach Salsa. Tomatillo salsa, also known as salsa verde, contains roasted or otherwise cooked tomatillos.

Tomatillos - PaleoSpirit.com

In spite of growing up in Texas where tomatillos were plentiful, I do not recall ever eating a fresh one. I feel a little lied to! No one told me tomatillos are delicious raw. Our CSA grows them so this was the first year we had several gorgeous, green gems lying around just calling out to be turned into salsa….or eaten fresh?

cut tomatillo

The salsa is the best I have ever made and I am a bit of a salsa snob. The combination of roasted and fresh flavors is delicious and the smooth and chunky texture makes it perfect as a dip or a relish to go on meat dishes.

Roasted Tomatillo Peach Salsa

We made the salsa on a weekend that included a bit of outdoor fun. The nearby Delaware Water Gap area is a gorgeous place that is only a bit more than an hour west of New York City. The funny thing is I read the “Paleo Indians” along with the Lenape tribe used to roam these hills. How appropriate! We frolicked in the river that included a few mossy rocks from which we jumped into the cool waters of the deep pool.

Lea at waterfall

Later we hiked up the mountain and enjoyed the beautiful views. I love this photo of my oldest son, Benjamin, because just a couple of days after our hike he told me of his intention to become a Christian. His faith and courage are inspiring and I’m so proud of his decision.

On Mt Tammany

Ben told us he is ready to be baptized but said he wants it to be private (not in front of the entire church) and he does not want anyone to get “mushy”. Good luck with that last part, Ben. :-)

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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.

GeeseIMG_1965

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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Easy Paleo Recipe: Sausage and Kale Sauté

Paleo Sausage and Kale Saute

Today’s recipe for Sausage and Kale Sauté comes after a bit of a hiatus. Regular posting is a little tough lately because my job is very busy and my commute is just as long as ever. But G’s commute just got a LOT shorter. Yay! He is no longer schlepping into New York City everyday on the train. Now that he works much closer to home our lives are already easier. Whew! This new recipe is a great one for when he makes dinner: fast and easy and perfect for a weeknight dinner. It’s also great to make ahead and take to the office for lunch.

The Dr. Oz Show

Before we get to the recipe I want to share an interesting happening. Have you heard of Dr. Oz? I’m sure many of you have. He’s a successful cardiologist and popular author and TV host. Well, one of his producers has been recruiting people for an upcoming episode featuring the Paleo Diet. They reached out to me with a few questions on my Paleo success story. The only problem is the questions focus a lot on total weight loss. The request was for “before” and “after” photos, total weight loss, size before and size after, etc… They also asked about medical condition symptom reversal but the focus of the show seems to be mainly about weight loss. My paleo success is primarily a health story. I don’t really have a remarkable “before” picture. So I submitted my “after” photo and told my Paleo story and we shall see if they are still interested.

On the Paleo Spirit Facebook page I posed the following question,

“Aren’t the health benefits of Paleo just as important as dramatic weight loss?”

Here are a few of the answers I received:

“More so, imo, because not everyone who is overweight has medical issues.” – Danica

“And not everyone with medical issues is overweight…” – Michelle

“I went Paleo to help an autoimmune disease. The weight loss was a wonderful side effect.”Kelly

Absolutely!!!! I believe they can be (and in my case are) interrelated. Having Multiple Sclerosis, Irritable Bowel, and being overweight, I am living proof of the multiple benefits of choosing to live a Paleo lifestyle. I was super sick and terribly weak and those were my motivators, for sure. Now, fourteen months and 45 pounds later, my MS symptoms are almost non existent and I have not had one digestive flare up. So as far as I’m concerned, the health benefits are the driving force, with weight loss being the (grain free, refined sugar free) icing on the cake!!! – Michele

It will be a few days before I find out if they will have me on the Dr. Oz Show. Even if I am not one of the selected guests, my hope is they will focus primarily on the health benefits of Paleo with the weight loss aspects featured as just another great side effect. No matter what happens, only good can come from the word about Paleo getting out to the masses.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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Paleo Mini Meatloaves

Paleo Mini Meatloaves

Few things are as beautiful as a field or forest with freshly fallen snow. Wintertime in our neck of the woods is sometimes a Currier and Ives painting come to life. It is a time for Holidays, for celebrations with family and friends, for warm blankets, cozy fireplaces and of course, for feasts. Put simply, wintertime is the comfy season. So why not spend the comfy season with some delicious, comfort-foods? Meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food in my opinion. It’s not fancy but it warms you up and makes you feel satisfied.

I’m always on the lookout for a good meatloaf recipe. But the trouble is most of them contain bread crumbs, powdered soup mixes or prepared sauce ingredients that I do not want to eat. The alternative was to come up with my own recipe containing only healthful ingredients. I had some trouble making full-sized meatloaves because they never seemed to hold their shape. The solution was to make meatloaf in muffin tins.

The recipe I bring you today is for paleo mini meatloaves. You could call them paleo meatloaf cupcakes if you prefer. Whatever you call them, these little meaty muffins are sure to be a hit with your family – including finicky children.

I performed the solemn duty of meatloaf tester. It was a tough job but someone had to do it.

paleo meatloaf

The little morsels definitely passed muster. They reheat well which makes them great to take to work for lunch. These paleo meatloaves are so chock full of vegetables they make a meal in and of themselves. If you have picky children this might be a mechanism for getting some veggies into them without hearing objections.

Here’s how I make them. Continue reading

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Slow-Cooker Beef Brisket: Easy Paleo Recipe

Paleo Beef Brisket

This recipe for slow-cooker beef brisket was inspired by a dish served in my office cafeteria recently. After going back to work full-time a few months ago I have had to contend with the decision to eat the food there or not. The cafeteria is beautiful and has a lot of variety. Some of the dishes, like their beef brisket with peppers, are delicious. But I have taken to referring to the cafeteria as “Gluten City”. There is bread or wheat flour or soy in some form or other in just about everything. I usually opt for the salad bar but even the grilled chicken there is suspect because it has a coating on it. There are many days when I have a reaction to something eaten in the cafeteria even when it is a rather plain salad from the salad bar!

In addition to not grasping the importance of labeling foods for people with sensitivities, this particular office cafeteria has fallen victim to the notion that “fat free” or “low fat” is always optimal. Other than olive oil at the salad bar, there is not a lot of healthy fat to be found – not even nuts or yogurt with more than 0% fat content. I have recently noticed the “light cream” option with the coffee has changed to Half-and-Half. They think they are doing everyone a favor with these low-fat, high carb offerings.

Taking my lunch to work has become a new priority for me. I need things that can be cooked in advance in larger quantities and packed up for lunch the following day. This slow-cooker beef brisket recipe fits that bill. It’s really easy and can be thrown together in the morning before work.

Do you like my sign?

Take it or leave it

We found this in a store recently and it took about two seconds to realize we had to have it. I bet you could find it online if you wanted it in your kitchen. It sort of sets a tone for our family, if you know what I mean.

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