Tag: Healthy recipes


Comfort Food & Cozy Nights: Baked Macaroni and Cheese

As I write this, the temperature outside is dipping 40 degrees below zero. Yup, you read that right: it is -40 with the wind chill. If I tried to go anywhere, my Tauntaun would freeze before I got to the first marker.

Luckily, I do NOT have to go outside. In fact, I am in the middle of enjoying a 3-day weekend in which I plan to write a significant deal. Keyword being PLAN. Sadly, I’ve planned on writing since the last semester ended. Then holiday travel happened, along with a funeral, New Years’, a 3-hour Minecraft party, among other big projects. For one reason or another, life has found excuses for me not to have my butt in my favorite chair and doing what I love to do best: writing.

I’m hoping that this long weekend changes all that, because I have a lot of work to do. One good thing about taking a break from a manuscript is the ability to come back to it with fresh eyes. The bad thing about that is I always find something to change. In this case, I’m going to undertake a major rewrite. Come to think of it, knowing that I have a humungous rewrite is probably one of the reasons why I haven’t started yet. It is intimidating. The sequel is so much more difficult for me to write than the original story was. Plus, I was only working part-time at Caribou back in 2011 (and not in graduate school), so I could devote hours a day to writing.

Enough excuses though, I’m going to get words to the page! Before I go and do that, I want to share one of my favorite winter staples: Baked Mac and Cheese. For those of you who do not know me well, you may not know that I have an cheese obsession rivaled only by chocolate. I’m from Wisconsin, a cheesehead through and through. So, when I tell you this is the BEST Mac and Cheese you’ll ever eat, I know what I’m talking about. Put that box down and back away from that packet of processed dehydrated cheese powder! This is the real deal.

The ingredients are super simple: macaroni, milk, cheese, and mix-ins of your choice. That’s it. If you can boil noodles, you can make this delectable dinner. Meat eater? Add chicken. Want some veggie power? I love diced tomatoes or fresh broccoli in mine. Vegan? Go ahead and break the rules. Eat the cheese. I won’t tell.

One final note: if you are scrolling through the recipe and are distressed to find there are no breadcrumbs, fear not! Feel free to sprinkle some on the top if that’s your thing. I don’t like the crunchy bits on my melty goodness, so I leave them off.

This recipe is the epitome of adjustable. The measurements I’m listing are only the loosest of guidelines, as I’ve made mac and cheese so many times that I just eyeball everything. Personalize it however you want and enjoy an ooey-gooey, homemade bowl of comfort. You’ll never reach for that boxed stuff ever again.

Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese = Happiness

Mac and Cheese = Happiness

1 lb elbow macaroni or rotini (I love to use veggie pasta, but you use whatever floats your macaroni boat)

1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated (I grate my own cheese. It is much tastier than that pre-shredded stuff)

1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated

A few handfuls of a third cheese to sprinkle on top (this is totally optional. I like to use a sweet maple cheddar or apple jack. Just think about it.)

2 cups broccoli florets, diced (optional)

1 Tbsp garlic salt

A few splashes of milk (probably 1/4 cup)

Pizza Seasoning, to taste (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and prepare the noodles according to the package.

2. While the macaroni is doing its thing, mix the grated cheeses together with the garlic salt and pizza seasonings. You probably should shove a handful of this mixture in your mouth. You know, just to make sure it tastes good and all that.

3. Once the noodles are drained, slosh them into a large bowl. Mix the cheese with the noodles (saving a bit to sprinkle on later). Getting all melty? Good. Add the milk slowly, until the cheese turns into a velvety smooth glop (thicker than a sauce, but still smooth and delicious. That’s what a glop is).

4. Add the broccoli florets (or whatever other mix-ins you are adding). Mix well and transfer to a large glass baking dish.

5. Smooth the macaroni and cheese into the pan and sprinkle some extra cheese, garlic salt, and herbs on top. Pop in the oven and bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until everything is all bubbly and you just can’t wait to eat it anymore.


Suggested Pairing

Your favorite fuzzy socks and a good book. Right now, I’m reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library--a whimsical, clever book in the vein of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s giving me all kinds of ideas for future library programs… 🙂

Combines libraries and games - my two favorite things!

Combines libraries and games – my two favorite things!

Happy Sunday!


Homemade Breakfast Cereal

My life for the past few weeks

Almost there. One class is completely done. Discussions are wrapped up. It is finals week, people! I have one last HUGE project to finish and I am FREE (for a whole month).

The struggle is real. The struggle I’m referring to, of course, is not allowing myself to become distracted by the internet. Like, for example, writing a blog post when you’re supposed to be working on your 20 page paper. Just a random example. But while I’m here, let’s talk about some cool stuff that’s been going on!

In between projects, papers, and finals, I’ve managed to have a lot of fun! Seven Stones was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award for Young People’s Literature–a dream come true!!! We’ll find out on January 30th if I make it to become a finalist! Keep your fingers crossed EXTRA tight!

Another great honor was being asked to be a member of the Multicultural Children’s Book Day Advisory Board. HOW COOL IS THAT?! The group is currently reviewing multicultural books to promote, and Seven Stones is one of them! I can’t wait to share the review. Stay tuned!!

We’ve also decorated for the holidays (nothing gets Shane happier than decorating a tree or setting up his Christmas village. Yes. It is HIS village and he is VERY proud of it), cheered on our Packers, and I’ve had so many cool things going on at the library it is hard to pick a favorite! This Wednesday is my big, 3-hour Star Wars: The Force Awakens party for 50+ kids, so wish me luck! I’ll definitely post pictures!

Before I scurry off to do more homework, I want to share a quick recipe: Homemade Breakfast Cereal. I love breakfast. I’ve never been the biggest fan of boxed cereals, however, because I never feel like they fill me up. Often, they are way too sugary and not very nutritious. During finals week, it is more important than ever that I get a good breakfast that will keep my brain fueled throughout the whole day. Enter, buckwheat.

Such a superfood, it should have a cape

Technically, it isn’t a cereal. Cereals are grains like oats, wheat, and barley. The main ingredient in this homemade breakfast cereal is buckwheat, which is a crazy nutritious seed that acts like a grain. It is packed full of protein and as a bonus is gluten-free! The best part of this buckwheat cereal is the taste: real maple, cinnamon, and vanilla combine to create a breakfast that is out of this world. Plus, while it is baking your entire apartment smells like Christmas! That’s what I call a win-win.

Make sure to plan ahead with this recipe, because it takes about 4 hours between the soaking and baking. I made a double-batch yesterday to last the whole week. I started baking in the morning, worked on my paper, went for a hike in the woods with Shane, and when we got back the cereal was done! Super easy, super delicious!

I got the recipe from one of my favorite food channels on YouTube called “Raw. Vegan. Not Gross.” The recipe below is simply a double of the original. To watch the how-to video (and for more tasty inspiration), click here!

Julia’s Favorite Cereal of POWER!


Delicious toasted cereal imbued with holiday spirit!

4 cups buckwheat groats, soaked in water for 1 hour
1 c maple syrup
4 t cinnamon
2 t salt
1/4 t stevia

1. Soak buckwheat groats for at least one hour, then rinse (soaking will get rid of starchiness and soften those groats up a bit)
2. Combine all remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl an mix like you mean it!
3. Spread on two baking sheets and let bake in oven at 200 degrees for 2-3 hours, rotating the pans and mixing groats around half-way through. At 2 hours, check your groats. They dry? Yes, take out of oven and let cool. No? Stick them back in until dry.
4. Crumble apart any large chunks of cereal. Pour into bowl. Pour any type of milk over the top. DEVOUR!

Happy Finals Week!


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!


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?



Caramel Apple Scones


I ate all my scones before I could get a good picture, but they looked just like these ones from oneingredientchef.com 🙂

I love the autumn. Crunchy leaves. That wonderful chill in the air. Scarves, sweaters, Halloween (my FAVORITE holiday). And the food. Oh, lordy, the food. In my opinion, it just doesn’t get better than the flavors of fall and those sweet-spiced treats you just can’t get enough of.

Like these caramel apple scones, for example.

You heard me right: caramel. apple. scones. The ooey-gooey-ness of caramel meets the sweet-tart of apple, and it’s all wrapped up in a fluffy scone. Can it get any better? YES! Because this recipe is ENTIRELY FREE OF REFINED SUGARS.

Wait, wait. A caramel sauce that’s free of refined sugars? But, how?! Surely, there must be some trick! You are right to be wary, but let me assure you that this is the real deal. Let me introduce you to my secret weapon: dates.


If you’ve never had a date before, you need to go to the store and buy a bag. Right now. In fact, you need to buy two because you will immediately want to make this caramel sauce. Dates are a sweet, succulent dried fruit that are essentially nature’s caramel. They are ooey. They are gooey. And they are the main ingredient in this homemade, no-cook caramel sauce.

Now, let’s talk about these scones. I usually dive head-first into pumpkin baking, but this year I wanted to explore the other flavors of fall as well (never fear, I’ll be posting a plethora a of pumpkin recipes before too long. Did I mention pumpkin is my favorite flavor EVER?). I adore caramel apples and look forward to them every year. However, the “caramel” you buy at the store–whether individually wrapped in plastic or in those white tubs–has a lot of questionable ingredients and is laced with scary chemicals. On the other hand, making a homemade caramel sauce is a PAIN (at least in my mind). I don’t have a candy thermometer, so I thought my caramel days were over.

Then, I met dates and my life changed forever.

*Cue romantic music*

I discovered that if you soak dates and throw them in a food processor (or blender) with some vanilla, milk, and salt it becomes INSTANT CARAMEL SAUCE. It really does taste like traditional caramel, and yes it is FANTASTIC to dip apples in. I’ve been snacking on caramel apples all week, and feel good about it because I’m essentially getting two servings of fruit instead of tons of artificial ingredients and empty calories.

My recipe tester (aka, Shane) is a notorious scone-hater, but he has been raving about my caramel apple scones. They taste like heavenly dessert, but are healthy enough to eat for breakfast. Now that’s what I call a win-win.

Julia’s Caramel Apple Scones


2 small-medium apples, coarsely grated

2 cups white whole wheat flour + enough to dust work surface and hands

½ cup Sucanat

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 Tbsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground ginger

pinch salt, optional and to taste

½ cup coconut oil, cold

1 large egg

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Caramel Sauce

1 cup Medjool dates (they’re the most caramelly), soaked (note: make sure your dates are pitted! You can buy most with the pits already removed)

¼ tsp sea salt, or more to taste

1 tsp lemon juice

¼ cup milk, plus more to add for texture

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp coconut oil

For the Scones:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
  2. Grate the apples using the coarsest blade of a box grater and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, add 2 cups flour, Sucanat, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, optional salt, and whisk to combine.
  4. Add the coconut oil, and with a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter in. I smoosh the butter with forks and when it’s the size of large marbles, I use my hands and knead it in. It will feel like semi-wet, cool sand. Some larger pea-sized butter clumps are okay.
  5. Add the egg, yogurt, vanilla, to the apples and whisk together
  6. Pour wet mixture over dry, and fold until just combined. That’s enough. Good job. The dough will be wet and soggy. You want that.
  7. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons flour over a clean work surface and lightly coat hands.
  8. Turn dough out onto surface and shape it into a 8-inch round, approximately. Dough is very moist, wet, sticky, and tacky, but if it’s being too stubborn or too wet to come together, sprinkle with flour 1 tablespoon at a time until you get it to come together and into a round.
  9. With a large knife (coating the knife in flour helps), slice the round into 8 equal-sized wedges.
  10. Using a flat spatula or pie turner, carefully transfer wedges (aka, curse and yell as the scones stick to the work surface) to prepared baking sheet spaced at least 2-inches apart. Do not crowd because scones puff and spread while baking. Bake for about 20 to 24 minutes, or until scones are very lightly golden and cooked through. Because they’re baking in quite a hot oven, watch them closely starting after about 15 minutes to ensure the bottoms aren’t getting too browned.
  11. While the scones cool, make the sauce!

For the Sauce:

Drain water from the soaking dates. Dump all the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend. Add more milk. Blend some more. Add more milk. Blend again. Blend until you get the creamy, delicious texture you want for your caramel sauce. Lick the spatula. Heck, lick the blender. I won’t judge. Okay, you’re done.

Slather the warm apple scones with the date caramel sauce and enter to autumnal baking heaven!

Suggested Pairing

A mug of pumpkin coffee and a winding trail through fall foliage

Happy Monday!



Friday Favorites: Wrapping Up June

This week has been bursting with gorgeous summer weather and beautiful sunshine. I have to admit: summer used to be my least favorite time of the year. I just don’t like being hot, and summers in Southeast Wisconsin are hot, sticky, and humid. Living in northern Minnesota, however, you learn to appreciate warmth. Honestly, you learn to appreciate positive temperatures–however short a time they last. Up here, the summer temperature hangs around the upper seventies and the daylight stretches past 10pm. I’ve been reveling in the sunshine–and so has my garden! Besides the lovely weather, here are a few other things that have made my Friday Favorites list this week!

Thai Crunch Salad

Recipe adapted and picture from Once Upon a Chef

Warm weather makes me crave refreshing foods and cool, fresh produce. This Thai Crunch Salad recipe combines a whole bunch of power veggies with a kickin’ peanut sauce. The result is an amazing salad you can’t stop eating–and one that so good for you that you don’t have to!

The original recipe called for Napa cabbage, but I just substituted with whatever I had on hand. Here’s what I tossed into my salad–mix and match with whatever you have and start munching!

For the Salad

1 green cabbage, diced

1 cucumber, sliced thin

6-7 carrots, diced

A bunch of chives (from my CSA), chopped

1 bell pepper, diced

For protein, I also added Ginger-Sesame baked tofu (recipe from Thug Kitchen cookbook)

For the Thai Peanut Dressing

1/4 cup peanut butter

2 Tablespoons rice vinegar (I had white wine vinegar, so that’s what I used and it worked just fine)

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice, from one lime

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use tamari)

4 Tablespoons honey

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1-inch square piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

A bunch of fresh cilantro (half for the sauce, half to sprinkle on top of the salad)

Blend all ingredients for the dressing in a blender. Then, chop all the veggies. Pour the dressing over the veggies. Add tofu or other protein, if desired. DEVOUR! 🙂

Next Stop: Book World in Baxter!

Book World, here I come!

The Seven Stones Book Tour’s next stop is at Book World in Baxter. I’ll be signing books from 11-2pm on Saturday, and am just so excited! I LOVE touring with my book. It is literally a dream come true and part of me still doesn’t believe it’s real, even though I’ve been at a different book store every weekend in June!

July is going to be even BUSIER! After a short break for the 4th of July holiday, I’ll be traveling almost non-stop. Here’s what’s going on in July:

Thanks to Krista at Blue Cottage Agency for making it happen! I hope to see you all at my author events. 🙂

Reader Photos!

Thanks for taking me on vacation, Jenn!

Thanks for taking Seven Stones on vacation, Jenn!

People have been uploading pictures of their copies of Seven Stones to social media! THANK YOU! I love getting these pictures and messages about how much you are enjoying my story. Social media is a wonderful way to get people interested in and talking about Seven Stones. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the pictures, comments, and reviews that have been posted! Want to tell people what you think of Seven Stones? Go to Goodreads, Amazon, or LibraryThing to post your review! I’ll also copy your review on my website for the world to see. You’ll be famous. 🙂

Love it!!!

Love it!!!

Book of the Week: Anne of Avonlea

I did not grow up reading Anne of Green Gables like so many other little girls. I was too busy reading all the Star Wars and Dear America books I could get my grubby mitts on, and I scoffed at poor Anne.

I only picked up a copy for the book club I was leading last year–and instantly fell in love. Anne Shirley is the type of girl I would have loved to be friends with. She is feisty, smart, and has the same luck for getting into trouble that I do. I’ve been hesitant to read the sequels because I figured nothing could compare with Green Gables. So far, Anne of Avonlea has delivered in the same delightful ways the first novel did. If you’ve never picked up one of L.M. Montgomery’s classic books, I highly recommend doing so! Anne is a perfect summertime read.

Word Count

784 words this week. What a stinker. After being sick last week, I found myself running around like crazy trying to do all sorts of catch-up work. When I finally had down time, I was flighty and distracted. I have the ideas in my head, I just couldn’t tackle them on the page this week. My goal for next week remains the same: I WILL hit 3,000 words.

Happy Friday!


Feel Better Food: Italian Wedding Soup with a Twist

I’ve been hit. I write this post from my couch, where I have set up residency during the nastiest flu bug I’ve had in a while. It all started on Sunday–luckily, the day AFTER my book signing at Caribou on Saturday. I rested all day Sunday and Monday, and by Monday evening I had a ravenous appetite. After not eating food for two days, I whipped up a batch of my all-time favorite comfort soups: Italian Wedding. I had a good-sized bowl, and thought myself cured.


After being at work approximately 1.5 hours on Tuesday, I had to call it quits. While my stomach is undeniably better, the dizziness, headaches, and uhhh gastronomical distress, that’s set in has really knocked me off my feet. So, here I lay, with a bottle of water and ginger ale.

But all is not lost. I have a wonderful boss who came in to give me the day to rest, and I’m confident that I will be well before the Author Festival at Beagle & Wolf Books and Bindery ,this Saturday. Hopefully, I’ll write about how fabulous I’m feeling in my Friday post. For now, I will leave you with my recipe for the ultimate Italian Wedding Feel Better Soup.

The twist? It is entirely vegan and 100% delicious. I got this recipe from the AMAZING Thug Kitchen Cookbook (which is one of my new favorites). Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck (yup, that is the real name), is full of delicious and irreverent recipes aimed at helping people eat real, healthy food. And it is also full of swearing (you’ve been warned), which makes for one amusing and unusual cookbook. I laughed throughout the whole thing–and then proceeded to make some of the best food EVER.

I love Thug Kitchen’s Wedding Soup even more than the traditional version, and make it almost on a weekly basis because it is so satisfying, healthy, comes together super fast, and is chock full of goodness. Though you may be intimidated by the sound of “White Bean Balls,” trust me, they are freakin’ delicious. One of the best soup recipes I’ve tried from one of the best cookbooks I’ve seen! Seriously, if you like this recipe, you’ve got to check out the rest of the book!

Thug Kitchen’s Wedding Soup with White Bean Balls & Kale

For the White Bean Balls:

Cooking spray

1 large yellow onion, divided (1/4 c. + the rest)

3 c. cooked white beans (2 – 15 oz. cans)

½ c. whole wheat bread crumbs

3 cloves garlic, pressed

¼ c. nutritional yeast or flour

2 T. olive oil

1 T. soy sauce or tamari

2 tsp. all-purpose no-salt seasoning blend (I used Penzey’s Tuscan Blend)

1 tsp. each: dried thyme, basil, and oregano

½ tsp. lemon zest (I used a splash of lemon juice instead because that’s what I had on hand)

For the Soup:

1 tsp. olive oil

The rest of that chopped onion

2 carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 c. small dried pasta, such as orzo (in a pinch, I’ve used barley, coucous—whatever you have)

9 c. vegetable broth

1 T. fresh lemon juice (from ½ the lemon you zested, above)

4 cups chopped kale or other dark leafy greens

¼ tsp. each sea salt & freshly ground pepper

¼ c. chopped fresh basil or parsley

To make the white bean balls: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl, mash the white beans until they form a paste (I used a potato masher for this). Try not to leave too many unmashed beans – really get in there and mash ’em! Stir in the rest of the ingredients: ¼ c. chopped onion, white beans, bread crumbs, garlic, nutritional yeast or flour, olive oil, soy sauce or tamari, dried spices, and lemon zest. You might need to use your hands to mix it all together. Don’t act like you’re too good to touch bean paste. Form the bean mixture into golf-ball-sized balls using your hands and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops with a little more cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes, pulling the tray out and turning the balls at the 15 minute mark to get both sides nice and goldeny-brown.

 To make the soup: While the bean balls are cooking, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the rest of the chopped onion (minus that ¼ c. you used for the bean balls), carrots, and celery. Cook and stir for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown and caramelize. Add the garlic and the pasta and cook for about a minute more. Gently pour in the broth and let it all simmer together for about 10-15 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Fold in the lemon juice, greens, salt & pepper, and fresh basil.

To assemble the dish: Place 3-4 bean balls in the bottom of a single-serving soup bowl. Gently ladle the soup over the bean balls. Enjoy the best Italian Wedding Soup you’ve ever had!!

Happy Wednesday! I’m going to go take a nap…


Friday Favorites: Mother’s Day Lavender Lemon Tea Cake

Although I’ll be far away from my mom this Mother’s Day, I wanted to send her a big blog hug. My mom and I have always been really close. I’m able to talk to her about anything, she’s there whenever I need her, and she’s one of my biggest cheerleaders. As a kid, my mom would encourage us to dream big and her support helps me believe that I can accomplish anything. She was the very first person to read my roughest draft of what would someday become Seven Stones. Though I was only a high school student at the time, my mom treated my writing seriously and made me feel like a real author before I ever was one. It was her love and faith in me that’s gotten me where I am today, and I can’t thank her enough.

My mom at her prom in 1974

My mom at her prom in 1974

Most importantly to a book worm like me, my mom not only taught me how to read, she taught me to love to read. An avid reader, she let my reading run rampant and never told me I wasn’t allowed to read this or shouldn’t read that. We’d spend hours just reading together, eating snacks, and talking about books.

At the book release party!

At the book release party!

My mom also taught me to love food. As a stay-at-home mother of five children, she had the daunting task of feeding her small army on a pretty small budget. I loved being in the kitchen while she cooked homemade meals and baked cookies for our lunches. Helping my mom in the kitchen stirring sauces, peeling potatoes, and cutting vegetables were some of my favorite chores. Those times with my mom made me into the food lover you see before you, so what better tribute than a delicious homemade treat?

If you want to wow your mom this Mother’s Day (or any day), this Lemon-Lavender Tea Cake will definitely do the trick! If you are intimidated by cooking with lavender, I am here to tell you to fear not! The lemon-lavender combination is refreshing and springy, and the glaze is out of this WORLD! Best of all, you get to give your mom (or yourself) a treat without refined sugars, oils, and is made with wholefood goodness. She’ll be so proud.

Lemon-Lavender Tea Cake

1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup plain organic yogurt

1 cup Sucanat (or other granulated sweetener of your choice)

3 extra-large eggs

2 teaspoons grated organic lemon zest

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup organic cold-pressed sunflower or olive oil

*Note: You could try substituting applesauce for the oil, but I’m not sure what that would do to the texture. Feel free to experiment!*


1/3 cup lemon juice (squeeze that lemon you used for zest)

1/3 cup Sucanat

2 tsp lavender buds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 5 ½ by 9 inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup Sucanat, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla.

Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  With a rubber spatula, fold the sunflower oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center of the loaf pan comes out clean. After it’s cooled for about 10 minutes, remove cake from pan and put it on a baking sheet because this next part is going to get MESSY in the most delicious way possible.

MEANWHILE: While the cake is baking, heat the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup Sucanat and 2 tsp lavender buds in a small pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside for about 20 minutes (so if you make this while the cake is still baking, it will be perfect!).

I like to leave the lavender buds in the glaze, but you can also strain them out after 20 minutes if you prefer. Pour the warm glaze over the warm cake and let it soak in all that goodness.

Cut into slices, if you have willpower. If not, eat half the cake while no one is looking.

Pairing Suggestion:

A pot of Earl Grey Tea, your mom, and a whole afternoon to enjoy

Happy Mother’s Day!