Halloween Pumpkin Chili

Halloween is THIS SATURDAY! For those of you who don’t know, Halloween is my FAVORITE of holidays. What is there not to love? Dressing up, delicious foods, bonfires, crunchy leaves, candy, caramel apples, pumpkins, hot apple cider, and a bit of magic–Halloween has it all.

This year, the holiday is going to be even more special because I am hosting a Harry Potter Party this Wednesday at my library. Three hours, fifty kids, Hogwarts classes, and Muggle Quidditch. Talk about magical! I have tried to plan everything so the kids literally feel like they are living the book (and, secretly, so I can feel like I’m living the book, too 🙂 ) Wish me luck, everyone!

When I haven’t been thinking about Harry Potter, I’ve been celebrating! Shane’s 28th birthday was this past week, and we had an amazing day hiking through Seven Mile Creek State Park and enjoying games and good food with people we love. Here’s to another year of love, adventures, laughter, and magic!

Happy Birthday, Hobbit Man!

The other highlight of the week was going to the Spring Grove Public Library for an author talk. I had a FABULOUS time. The library itself is cozy, welcoming, and warm–but that was nothing compared to the people. I have been fortunate to meet some truly wonderful people while on the road with Seven Stones, and this trip was extra special because I was able to connect to a cousin I’ve never met before!

Shane, me, and Sue!

It was such a pleasure to meet my cousin Sue, spend time with her, and make a family connection that will last the rest of my life. Thank you to everyone who came out to meet me, support my writing, and tell me they were fans of my book! Did you hear that? I HAVE FANS! *Happy Dance!* I can’t wait to go back to Spring Grove for another event!

Reading an excerpt from SEVEN STONES

Reading an excerpt from SEVEN STONES

After such an exciting week, I was ready for a lazy Sunday afternoon cuddled on the couch with a bowl of chili with Shane and a romantic movie. Instead, we helped some friends move into their new house. But I DID get my chili! And this isn’t your ordinary bowl of chili. Oh, no. It is the best chili around: PUMPKIN CHILI!

I think I may have mentioned before that pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors. This fall, I’ve been processing pie pumpkins at a rate of about one a week. I scoop out the seeds to toast, then roast and puree the sweet pumpkin “meat” to bake into breads, muffins, and even put into main dishes like my pumpkin chili.

I love simple, delicious food. This pumpkin chili recipe delivers amazing taste, nutrition, and is comforting and warming—perfect for those chilly fall nights. To top it all off, this recipe couldn’t be simpler: just dump all the ingredients in the slow cooker and walk away! Most of the work you have to do is chopping: how easy is that? You can throw everything together on Monday and have homemade chili for the rest of the week. As a bonus, the orange of the pumpkin and black beans make a festive Halloween dinner!

Julia’s Scary Good Pumpkin Chili

Serve up a scary good Halloween feast!

Serve up a scary good Halloween feast!


1 can (15.9 ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups diced tomatoes

2 cups pumpkin puree (or 1 15 oz. can)

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup lentils

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Onion, minced

1 green bell pepper, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp cumin

1 Tbsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp Sucanat or other granulated sweetener

Dash nutmeg

Salt & pepper, to taste


Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker. Turn on “low” and cook for 6-8 hours (if in a hurry, crank on “high” and let cook for 3-5 hours).

That’s it! Top with grated cheese (non-dairy or dairy) or any other chili toppings you like. DEVOUR!

Happy Monday!


Upcoming Author Events!

Mankato bison!

Mankato bison!

What a wonderful weekend! We had friends visiting as a kind of pre-birthday celebration for Shane and had SUCH an amazing time. Aside from all the food (my favorite pumpkin muffin recipe will be posted soon!), the best part was the bison reserve at the Mineopa State Park. You might remember when I posted about Shane and my picnic at Mineopa Falls. As if this park had to get any cooler, it now has a herd of about ten bison!

I hear Mankato bison love Seven Stones...

I hear Mankato bison love Seven Stones…

We found out that bison used to be found in just about every one of the lower 48 states. Because of westward expansion and the mass killings in the 1800s to make way for the railroad, these truly amazing creatures were almost wiped out. This past year, the Mineopa State Park reintroduced a herd of bison to the Mankato area. How cool is that?! They opened up the reserve for public view this month, so of course we had to go!

So close!

So close!

Seriously, this was an incredible experience. Seeing the bison up close was breathtaking! I am so grateful for the conservation efforts that brought us such a fantastic opportunity.

And of course, we stopped at the falls!

And of course, we stopped at the falls!

Speaking of fantastic opportunities, I’m going back on tour this month! If you missed out on my summer book tour, now is your chance to hear me talk about my book and go home with a signed copy of Seven Stones! Here is a list of events I have going on so far. My publicist is hard at work booking more dates, so stay tuned (and feel free to contact her if you’d like me to come to your book club/library/bookstore!)

Saturday, October 24th: 1:00-2:00pm

Saturday, October 31st: 9-3:30pm

Wednesday, November 4th: 5:30-6:30pm

Monday, November 16th: 12:00-1:00pm


Happy Monday!


Librarian Heaven & Healthy Game Day Nachos

MLA 2015

MLA 2015

I’m back from the 2015 Minnesota Library Association Annual Conference inspired and excited! Ever since my first MLA conference last year, I couldn’t WAIT to go again. MLA is a wonderful chance to network, get new ideas, gain a fresh perspective, and gain insight on the future of libraries. For a library nerd like me, it was heaven! It was awesome!

After the library conference, Shane and I got to spend the whole weekend together! We went to the Linnaeus Arboretum at the Gustavus Adolphus campus. It was gorgeous. Because of the freakishly warm weather we’ve been having in Minnesota, the fall colors are only just starting to change.

Hooray, fall!

Hooray, fall!

We hiked through the woods and prairie and enjoyed the first of autumn’s reds, golds, and oranges.



Then, of course, we have Sunday. Packer Day. For this week’s game, Shane and I threw together a healthy taco dip and made homemade nachos to go with it.
Don't you love my '70s orange Tupperware? ;)

Don’t you love my ’70s orange Tupperware? 😉

The dip used up some leftover quinoa, kale, and cheese we had in the fridge, was so easy to put together, and is a healthier, delicious alternative to traditional nachos. We use avocados instead of sour cream (I LOVE avocados) to give the dip the same creaminess with the addition of healthy fats. The best part is that this dip is SO versatile–just use whatever is either in your fridge or sounds good at the time. You’ll have a hit!


Thinking that homemade nachos are too difficult to try? Think again! All I did was cut a bunch of left over tortillas and pitas into wedges, spritzed a bit of oil on them, and baked them for 10 minutes. That’s it! Homemade nachos with amazing taco dip? Now that’s a touchdown!

Mmmm...chips. So easy. So good.

Mmmm…chips. So easy. So good.

Julia’s Touchdown Taco Dip

For the Dip:

1 can of vegetarian refried beans

3 avocados

1 Tbsp lime juice

1 tomato, diced

1 cup of quinoa, rinsed and cooked

1 cup of greens (I used kale)

Salsa, to taste (I tend to use a whole jar, but I could literally drink salsa)

Cheese, to taste

For the Chips:

1 package of corn tortillas

cooking spray or oil spritzer

salt, to taste

Here’s What You Do:

Get a large container with a lid and begin layering your taco dip. I usually put refried beans on the bottom layer. Mash up the avocados with the lime juice and layer on top of the beans. Next, I sprinkle to tomatoes on top of the avocado. Then, spoon the quinoa over the tomatoes. I recommend sprinkling a bit of cumin in with your quinoa to give it a bit of spice. Finally, layer the kale and cheese on the very top. Done!

For the chips: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the tortillas into equal wedges. Spritz the wedges with cooking spray or olive oil and salt to taste. Bake for 5-6 minutes. Take the wedges out of the oven and flip with tongs. Bake for another 5 minutes. They are ready for dip!

My healthier nachos are a victory for your taste buds and your body. Best of all, the leftovers will make you feel like it’s game day all week long! 🙂

Happy Monday! 

What’s your favorite game day snack?



Gluten-Free, Healthy Black Bean Brownies

It’s brownie time!

So, last week happened. Boy, did it ever. Sorry I went AWOL for a while–I had my first 3-hour Early Out event at the library, my family came for a visit, and there was a huge project I had to get done for grad school. Writing? None for this week. It is really getting to me, but I don’t know what else I can do. I hope to have some time today and find little bits of time during the week to work on the next chapter–wish me luck!

My first Early Out event was a success! The theme was Target Practice. I set up stations where the kids could make marshmallow shooters, pencil crossbows, pom poppers, ninja stars, and paper airplanes. After a snack break, I taught them how to make a catapult. To top it all off, we had a championship to see which project worked the best (the kids introduced themselves, their projects, and why they liked it best). The best part? We ended with a toilet paper launcher! It was a leaf blower with a paint roller duct taped to the end. I slid the toilet paper onto the paint roller and cranked the leaf blower on high. It. Was. AWESOME! My next Early Out event? HARRY POTTER PARTY!!!! Oh, yes. It will be magical.

To celebrate Shane’s mom, dad, and gram’s visit, we made a big dinner and had black bean brownies for dessert. This was a big test for my black bean brownies and they were a SMASH hit! Decadent, moist, and oh-so-chocolatey, you won’t believe these bad boys are actually really good for you. The chocolate chips are optional, but the avocado frosting is not. Trust me, no one will know these brownies are healthy unless you tell them. A-MAZ-ING!

These brownies are loaded with fiber, protein, healthy fats, and s an added bonus, these brownies are totally gluten-free! I didn’t even realize it at first, but there is absolutely no flour in the recipe. Healthy, easy, delicious–what more could you want? 🙂

Julia’s Best Ever Black Bean Brownies

Ooey, gooey deliciousness

1 15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 eggs

3 Tbsp coconut oil

1 cup cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup Sucanat or other granulated sweetener of your choice

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 baking dish
  3. Add ingredients to a food processor or blender (besides walnuts or chocolate chips) and puree – about 3 minutes – scraping down sides as needed. You want it pretty smooth.
  4. Lick the spatula (not optional).
  5. Once the batter is smooth, add the walnuts and chocolate chips (optional). Pulse a few times to break those bits of yum a bit.
  6. Pour all that goodness into your prepared 8 x 8 pan.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are dry and crackly, and the edges start to pull away from the sides. I found mine took closer to 25.
  8. Remove from oven. While they are cooling, make your avocado frosting (recipe here).
  9. Smother that beautiful frosting over the top and DEVOUR! The five of us ate the whole pan in one sitting. It was a proud day to be a Lee!

My Sunday has been wonderful. Shane and I got to go on a hike through Rasmussen Woods, and later we’re going to make Sweet Potato Stuffed Mushrooms to munch on during the Packer game. A pretty awesome Sunday!

Suggested Pairing

A big mug of Cookies n’ Cream coffee (found it at my local coffee shop. Totally obsessed)

Happy Week, Everyone!