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

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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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 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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Parsnip and Celeriac Soup with Fried Beet Matchsticks (plus Giveaway)

Parsnip Celeriac Soup: PaleoSpirit.com

Just down the street from our home lies a lovely, family-owned Christmas Tree farm. In spite of this, we have opted for an artificial tree the last few years primarily because of my son’s tree allergies. But, I will admit, another factor is the artificial tree is “pre-lit”. Yes, the convenience trumped the natural beauty of the real thing – at least until now. This year we decided to take a chance with the allergies and opt for the full cut-your-own-Christmas-Tree experience.

Tree Farm

Nathaniel found a “little tree”.

Little Tree

His little tree reminded us of Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree.  We ultimately chose a larger tree and the boys took turns (with close supervision!) cutting it down.

Help with cuttingcutting

The tree farm is close enough we could walk home with our tree.

G carries tree-2

We really had fun with cutting our own Christmas tree. It looks and smells great and I’m pretty sure we will be tossing out the artificial tree and going natural from now on.

The experience reminded me of a poem by e.e. cummings I memorized for seventh grade English class:

little tree by e.e. cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

Christmas tree

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Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde) and a Giveaway

This post is SO long overdue.

There is an explanation for my seeming fall into slackerdom. Did you know I have a full-time job with a two hour per day (minimum) commute?! (A total of over 420 miles per week driving – thank God for my hybrid!). Oh yes, and a husband…and a couple of kids… and a house and, and…. Then there’s the ole perfectionism which prevents me from posting until I labor over everything for a good while.

Being able to be a full-time blogger would be great and, who knows, maybe one day that will happen. But, alas, blogging is not going to replace my current day job anytime soon. In the meantime, if I’m going to post more often I’ll need to get more efficient with recipe testing and photo editing and be a little less perfectionistic about it all.

This Roasted Tomatillo Salsa is really easy and packs a punch depending on how spicy you want to make it. Roasting the veggies adds to the depth of flavor and is similar to the Roasted Tomatillo Peach Salsa from a few weeks ago. I used it to make Paleo Chicken Enchiladas Verdes which is yet another post in my queue that I am hoping to finish soon!

Paleo Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)

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Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe and How to Roast a Whole Pumpkin

It’s the time of year of all things pumpkin! I am jumping on the bandwagon big time with instructions on roasting a whole pumpkin and a recipe for a paleo pumpkin spice latte.

Our CSA has recently been offering THE most gorgeous pumpkins. Our farmer,Sara, explained that “Cheese” Pumpkins (presumably because they look like a big wheel of cheese?) are especially great for baking. The last few visits to farm have yielded a few of these pumpkins – now what to do with them?

How to Roast a Whole Pumpkin

Having never cooked a pumpkin before, I took to Facebook to ask the folks if they roast their pumpkins whole or cut them up. Almost everyone advised me to cut it up first so it would cook faster and “more evenly”. But I was feeling very lazy and I don’t know about you but I HATE trying to cut pumpkins or butternut squash. I always feel like I am going to stab myself or cut off a finger. So I decided to gamble and just cook the thing whole. It was a risk because no matter where I searched online the only whole-pumpkin-cooking references I found were for much smaller sugar pumpkins. But my process ended up working out beautifully and I wanted to share it in case anyone else has a larger pumpkin they want to cook.

How to Roast a Whole Pumpkin

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F  
  2. Wash the pumpkin thoroughly
  3. Place the pumpkin in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate its sizePaleo Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe
  4. Rub some oil into the skin of the pumpkin – this will help keep it from burning
  5. Pour two to three cups of water into the bottom of the pan
  6. Place the pan with the pumpkin into the oven and roast for 90 minutes – keep your eyes on it towards the end to ensure there is not a lot of scorching happening
  7. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the pumpkin to cool off (it will continue cooking) for at least 30 minutes but longer if necessary to ensure it is cool enough to handle

*My pumpkin weighed approximately 10 pounds and was about 14-16 inches wide. So you may need to adjust the time depending on the size of your pumpkin

Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe

  1. Once the roasted whole pumpkin is adequately cooled, cut it in half and remove the seeds and fibers (save the seeds for roasted pumpkin seeds and throw out the rest).
  2. Cut off the skin and use a food processor (or high speed blender) to puree the pumpkin until smooth. You will have to do this in several batches.
  3. Put the pumpkin puree into containers and refrigerate or freeze for future use

I roasted my whole cheese pumpkin on a Saturday when I was just hanging around the house anyway. So taking the extra time to cook was not an issue and it was nice not to have to battle with cutting it up prior to cooking. The pumpkin yielded approximately 10 cups of pumpkin puree! -two of these large mason jars and then about half of another one.

paleo pumpkin spice latte

The puree was nicely sweet and very smooth and I could not get over the color. Look at the orange. The screen does not do it justice.

paleo pumpkin spice latte

Once I had enough pumpkin puree to feed a small army, I was on the lookout for great paleo pumpkin recipes. Coincidentally, I came across several after downloading the Harvest Your Health Bundle Sale a few days ago. One of the first recipes that caught my attention was one for paleo pumpkin spice lattes.

Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Lattes are a favorite this time of year and Starbucks seems to have cornered the market. I admit to being a fan of Starbucks and my usual drink there is a Grande Americano with Heavy Cream (no sugar). When the fall season arrives, indulging in a Pumpkin Spice Latte a time or two is on the agenda. But, honestly, the way pumpkin spice lattes are served at Starbucks is just WAY too sweet for me. Typically, I ordered the latte with only one pump of syrup which always makes me question the wisdom of paying a premium for something and then eliminating the premium ingredients! Sigh. So I REALLY just need to make these at home and making them dairy-free would be ideal.

I found a recipe in the bundle from the book “A Paleo Pumpkin Thanksgiving”. by George Bryant. This recipe for Paleo Pumpkin Spice Lattes is easy to make, dairy-free, has a more prominent pumpkin flavor (it uses puree!) and you can adjust the sweetness to your own taste. (recipe used with permission from George, photo is my own) Continue reading

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Paleo Tortillas

Paleo Tortillas | PaleoSpirit.com

You can take the girl out of Texas but you can’t take Texas out of the girl. I grew up eating Mexican and Tex-Mex food. But after living in New Jersey for many years I have had to learn to live without some of my favorite foods. It’s just not the same around here no matter what some people say. I’m almost always disappointed when attempting to find decent Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. And of course having celiac disease and following the paleo diet does place limits on what I can enjoy anyway. In spite of that, I still consider myself a connoisseur of tortillas. So let’s get one thing straight when it comes to this paleo tortillas recipe. Those of us who are well-acquainted with the taste AND texture of flour and corn tortillas will be tough customers. There’s just no way grain-free tortillas will be exactly the same as “regular” tortillas. But with this recipe my goal was to create something that would not taste TOO eggy, not be too much like a crêpe and would be pliable – able to hold a filling without breaking.

double tortillas cropped

The recipe uses eggs but not nearly as many as some other recipes I have seen. There’s just enough yolk to help them hold together but not enough that it overpowers the flavor. The coconut flour gives it some body but not enough to impart a coconut flavor – something I would find unpleasant in a tortilla. The flax meal helps replace some of the eggs and is one reason the paleo tortillas are flexible. The tapioca flour is a terrific alternative to wheat flours. I have used it before in my Paleo Dinner Rolls recipe and really like the true “bread-like” texture it provides.

Once you get the technique down for making them, paleo tortillas are fairly quick and easy. We have eaten these right after cooking and we have also stored the tortillas in a big zip-lock in the fridge for later use. They stayed flexible after reheating and did not break when they were used to make chicken enchiladas.

Paleo Tortillas Recipe

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