October Daily 5

Happy Halloween! I am using the holiday today as an excuse to binge eat some of my favorite paleo candy. Chocolate for breakfast on Halloween? Totally acceptable.

Fall is flying by, and I've rounded up some of my favorite from the past month. Enjoy! (Recent past Daily 5 posts: July, August, September)

1. The Blanket Scarf

2014 was the year of the blanket scarf, and it has definitely made its mark again in 2015. The upside to a trend 2 years in a row? More colors at lower prices, like this gorgeous blue version of the now autumnal-staple. 


2. The Pumpkin Cocotte 

I know last month I mentioned my favorite cast iron dutch oven, but I just couldn't resist sharing this cast-iron pumpkin cocotte with you all. Stab is another quality brand that I adore, and this pumpkin dish pretty much epitomizes everyone's fall pumpkin spice obsession. It comes in all sizes, but I am definitely enamored with the mini, ceramic, version. So cute!


3. The Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is the thing I didn't even know was missing from my life until it arrived all bright and shiny one evening as a surprise from CK. Alexa, the device's software, is cloud-based, meaning it is evolving all the time. She is pretty good at playing my music upon voice command, telling me the traffic on my morning commute, updating me with the weather, and informing me of upcoming events on my schedule. She can even do quick Wikipedia searches and answer the really important questions like: "What should I eat for breakfast?", "Who's your daddy?", and "Do you wannnnna build a snnooowmmman?". Seriously.


4. The Travel Coffee Mug

The whole world is obsessed with Kate Spade, and as even colder weather approaches, we need something to keep our hot chocolate and tea nice and toasty. #goldstripeserrything


5. The Utility Knife

Knives are singlehandedly the most important tools you will ever have in the kitchen. Knives can be as expensive as you want them to be, but, I think its important to think of quality over quantity. For years, I have survived, and even started this food blog, with 3 knives in my tool-belt: a utility knife, a paring knife, and a chef's knife. This knife here is a Shun utility knife, which I personally think is one of the best. Plus, Amazon has them on special frequently, so make sure to watch out for sales.


The meaning behind South of Vanilla and an easy Thanksgiving Recipe You Won't Be able to Resist

Over the years, I’ve gotten several questions of where and how I learned how to cook, and the answers usually tend to surprise people.

First, my mom is a terrible cook. I mean that in the nicest way possible, and she is the first to admit it, which is why I don’t feel quite so bad announcing this statement to the general public. She just really is. She never liked cooking, and she never found joy in it the way so many others do. Now, there are a few dishes that she gets right, mainly the one I am sharing with you today, but for the most part, cooking just isn’t her thing.

What my mom is fantastic at, however, is baking. I learned how to bake from her, and I grew up alongside her on weekends baking everything from chocolate chip cookies to blueberry muffins to marshmallow-topped brownies. We baked so much that baking for me became natural, and by the time I was 10, I didn’t need to measure ingredients. I could eyeball the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon, a half-cup and a quarter cup. I knew when something was done baking, not by the timer, but by the type of smell coming from the oven. My mom used, without fail, more vanilla than what any recipe called for, and we went through bottles of vanilla so rapidly, that we often bought 3 bottles at a time from the grocery store. Vanilla was such an important part of my memories from learning to bake, that it became rooted in the title of the blog: South of Vanilla.

In a stark contrast, my dad was an incredible cook. I learned how to cook both through my paternal grandmother and my dad. My dad grew up with his mom in the kitchen, which is how he learned many of the things he knows today. To this day, my Grandma, who has sadly now passed, and my dad are two of the best cooks I know; the two of them have prepared some of the best meals I have ever had, which says quite a lot considering my extensive traveling and my healthy appetite for frequenting restaurants. My Grandmother grew up in the south, and her cooking reflected that sweet southern charm. She made grits like no one else I knew, and her meals were exquisite works of art that took hours to prepare. She wasn’t afraid of butter, and it was through her that I learned that a properly placed tablespoon of bacon fat could transform a whole dish. During my visits with her in Georgia, I would often watch her cook and try to figure out what the magic was behind her meals. A whole lot of it was love, but she was truly a very talented cook that took great joy and serenity through those hours in the kitchen. I would like to say that I get that same peace through her.  I credit my love and ability to cook to my dad and grandma: their southern style of cooking influenced the first part of my blog title: South of Vanilla.

In wasn’t until college when I realized that all of those hours spent watching my dad and my grandma in the kitchen had somehow, by osmosis perhaps, stuck with me. In high school I habitually burned anything from toast to mac and cheese, but I like to think that I just never really cared that much, as is the story with so many teenagers. There was a moment, while in college at Iowa, where my roommate was sick, so I made her homemade chicken and rice soup with homemade chicken stock. I had saved the carcass and bones from a chicken, and when asked how I did this, how I knew to do this, and which recipe I followed, I realized that my answer of “I don’t know, I just knew”, was atypical; most young adults away from home for the first time know nothing about cooking from scratch.

My mom, however, was able to cook several dishes extraordinarily well. This recipe that I share with you now is a twist on her original recipe: I’ve modified it to make it paleo, and have also added star anise, which I think is a nice seasonal flavor that is widely underutilized. I hope you make this recipe with love, and think of my family while you serve it to yours on this Thanksgiving.


Paleo Lemon-Anise Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce

  • ¾ cup freshly pressed orange juice
  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • ¼ cup raw honey
  • Zest from 1 large lemon
  • 3-4 star anises
  • 1/3 cup water
  1. In a large pan, combine orange juice, cranberries, honey, lemon zest, and star anise. Turn on high heat until mixture is slightly bubbling, then after 4 minutes while stirring frequently, reduce to low heat and let simmer.
  2. Let mixture simmer for about 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, and watching to ensure that cranberry sauce does not burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.
  3. When most of the thin liquid is no longer visible in the cranberry sauce, when the sauce is thick (after about 30 minutes), add water and stir.
  4. Continue to simmer for about 20 more minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool. Sauce will jelly as it cools.
  6. Remove all star anise from sauce before serving.
  7. Serve or store in an airtight container int he fridge. 






Not ready for pumpkin spice to end...

Its cold.

Like, really cold. And yes, I realize I am saying this as a Chicago girl who is now living in a climate where the average temperature in winter is 50 degrees, but its been getting down to 25 degrees overnight and in the early morning here. Which is chilly, but then our heater broke….

…which means that it is probably 40 degrees in the house in the morning. As one of my coworkers would say, “When it pours, it rains”. Or in this case, maybe snow.

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Trying to wake up for early morning Crossfit workouts when it is 40 degrees inside the house is really hard. Really really hard. I’ve started walking around the house with a down comforter wrapped around me, kind of like a red-headed big foot lookalike, while guzzling coffee before the air temperatures make my brew cold. At that point, since I’m all wrapped up in a blanket, drinking coffee, I naturally start reading the news and browsing on Pinterest and going through articles on Flipboard; I’ve realized that those moments in the morning are sometimes the only time during the day where my mind isn’t running a million miles a minute trying to catch up with all the things I have to do. Its blissful, those calm morning moments, even if they are cold.

I will say, however, that this cold weather is really making the holiday season seem more imminent. I realize that the holidays have been imminent for awhile, but now it finally seems appropriate to see Thanksgiving displays and Christmas lights at the stores and on my neighbor’s houses. Its also made me realize that its time to start saying goodbye to fall, even though I realize that these plummeting temperatures around most of the U.S. has made fall seem like forever ago, and that winter started early this year.

To celebrate fall, I vote we try to enjoy pumpkin spice at least a few more times before Thanksgiving comes and goes. After all, I think everyone knows that Black Friday indicates the start of the winter holiday season, and after that, its goodbye pumpkin spice and hello peppermint. (Not that I’m complaining!)  Now, I give you one more pumpkin spice recipe that definitely deserves a little sliver in your pumpkin loving heart, and would make a great addition to the dessert table at Thanksgiving or alongside a nice steaming cup of tea or coffee during these chilly mornings.


Paleo Chocolate Swirled Pumpkin Banana Bread

Makes 8 servings

For the pumpkin bread:

  • 15 oz  pumpkin puree
  • 3 tbsp. primal friendly pumpkin spice
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp. grass-fed butter, melted
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/s tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Nonstick coconut oil or olive oil spray

For the Chocolate swirl:

  • 2 tbsp. grassfed butter
  • ½ cup high quality, dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp. raw honey
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat pumpkin puree, eggs, butter, coconut sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add pumpkin spice and continue to mix.
  2. Add in almond butter slowly, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
  3. Add coconut flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
  4. Grease a bread pan with nonstick spray, and add batter to the pan.
  5. Make chocolate swirl by combining honey, chocolate, and butter in a small bowl and microwaving in 10 second intervals until chocolate has melted. Stir to ensure that everything is mixed together.
  6. Pour chocolate swirl on top of pumpkin bread batter in bread pan.
  7. With a knife, swirl batter with chocolate swirl.
  8. Place bread in oven on middle rack and bake for about 75 minutes.
  9. Bread is done when fragrant a a toothpick comes clean.


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I guess I missed the memo...

Ok, so its October. I know this because despite my 24/7 access to virtual calendars on my iBook, my work computer, my ipad AND my iPhone (Whhhyyyyy?) I woke up on October 1st with a flood of emails to my inbox bombarding me with recipes for pumpkin flavored everything. EVERYTHING. Not only the typical pumpkin bread and pumpkin cupcakes, but pumpkin pasta, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin waffles. Pump. Kin. Everything. I guess I missed the mandatory pumpkin email I was supposed to send to you guys on Octobereve. Whoops, sorry guys. I’ll work on it for next year.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of pumpkin. Pumpkin season seems to epitomize fall, just as mint chocolate and candy canes summarize the Christmas season. However, as I am in my second fall of following a primal diet, pumpkin spiced foods just don’t have the same allure as they once had. Although delicious, I’ve found that lots of the store bought bases for pumpkin spice either have a lot of added sugars, or, in the liquid form, high fructose corn syrup. Thanks, but no thanks, pumpkin season.

For all of my fellow pumpkin-loving fans, I’ve decided to post the basics of any pumpkin recipe: pumpkin spice. In stores this is usually called “pumpkin pie spice”, but you can easily make it on your own for a fraction of the cost and an unbelievably higher quality.

It is my opinion that, just like buying shoes, the quality of spices is paramount to the integrity and overall product of the dish. (You know how those $400 Frye boots makes your $20 jeans look more expensive and tailored? The same concept applies here.) Just like there is a huge difference between the taste of fresh garlic and garlic powder, the difference between high quality spices and low quality spices has a vast difference in your meal, not to mention a lower probability that your dried spices contain things like mold and insect parts. Seriously.

There are a lot of really great spice stores out there, but one of my favorites, from as far back as the late 90s when I was learning how to cook in the kitchen with my dad, is The Spice House in Old Town, Chicago. Not in the Chicago area? No worries, they ship from their website. 

Another one of my favorites is the Spice and Tea Exchange in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Not only are the spices fantastic smelling, but their teas are excellent, and after you buy something from them, you can head straight to a walk on the beach. It’s a win-win.

Of course, high quality everything is the best for making this pumpkin spice blend, but if you had to choose, its best to go with high quality cinnamon and allspice. Cinnamon because it is the bulk of this blend, and allspice because it has a lot of dynamic flavors; I think these flavors of this ground berry that are lost within the cheaper varieties of the spice. (Bet you didn’t know that allspice was a berry, huh?) Anyway, once you have all your fabulous spices, this pumpkin spice blend is easy to put together. It will take under 5 minutes, will last a good while, and takes any plain pumpkin dish to a pumpkin spiced dish. You. Are. Welcome.


Primal-Friendly Pumpkin Spice Blend

  •  2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¾ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¾ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¾ tsp. ground allspice
  1. Combine all spices into a glass container or old, clean spice jar and shake. Spices should be well mixed.
  2. Store in in a cool, dry, place.


Sunday Snaps, 9-7-14

Can you believe that its “fall”? I am using fall in parentheses because although NCAA and NFL games are officially underway, it is still in the triple digits in New Mexico. Tall boots are quite possibly my most favorite thing to wear, and it looks like I won’t be breaking into those for awhile. My friend from grad school, Emily, and I used to count down the days until we could wear boots, and we declared it a rule that we couldn’t wear them until it dropped below 70 degrees for the daytime high. At this rate, I won’t be wearing boots until December. Emily is now living in Minnesota, so she probably broke out her boots in July. I’ll have to call her to verify.

Emily and I in our favorite boots, road tripping to Atlanta. 

Emily and I in our favorite boots, road tripping to Atlanta. 

It has been so hot lately, that Christopher and I decided to wake up early yesterday to go on a morning hike and beat the heat. (You’ve already seen these pictures if you follow me on Instagram.) We woke up as it was raining, and so the effect we had was hiking throughout the cloud at a mild elevation at Dripping Springs:


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Gorgeous. It reminded me of my visit to New Zealand in 2005.

We’ve also been doing lots of other hikes in the area, and they have been breathtakingly gorgeous. Here are some shots from Picacho Peak:

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The start of fall also means that I started my new job as a school SLP, after switching from a medically based position. (I’ll be sure to post more on this later!) I think every fellow SLP will find this, ridiculously true, meme hilarious:

The end of summer and the start of fall means some of the best produce. Spaghetti squash, acorn squash, tomatoes, okra, and apples:

Remember how I moved 6 weeks ago? Well, I’m still unpacking. I’ve done most of it, but between starting a job, setting up events, cooking paleo meals, and starting some house updates, I’ve gotten a little sidetracked. Moving. Is. The. Worst. A good thing, however, about moving, is getting to sort through things again and really determine what to keep and what to part with. I clearly did not part with any of my costume jewelry, but I thoroughly enjoyed trying to organize them all:

Have I mentioned the AMAZING artwork here? (I am so far from the Smithsonian.)

I scored this super cute apron at a Salsa Fest I went to 2 weeks ago from a clothing line called Seven Sisters. The owner of the little shop, is so incredibly nice, and I loved everything she had for sale. Anthropologie, watch out: 


Remember that chalkboard I keep around to post motivating quotes and phrases? If not, here’s a reminder:

Well, that chalkboard has been compromised. Downside of living with a boy:

I tried the Cinnamon Chocolate Swirl Banana Bread from PaleOMG’s cookbook, and it is amazing. I highly suggest making it. It didn’t last long, and I will probably make another 2 loaves this week. Also, cinnamon is a fantastic fall flavor.

To finish, I leave you with this thought I’ve been ruminating over lots:


Happy Sunday and have an enjoyable start of the week!