Tangy Brazilian Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Spinach Salad with {and a special giveaway!}


Spices make the dish, I am totally convinced.

When I first made the big leap and eliminated all artificial ingredients back in 2008, I noticed a huge difference between conventional dried herbs, spices, and rubs than their natural counterparts. 

Most spices, sadly, have fillers and MSG (though maybe not by that name) in their mixes. Lots of spices and dried herbs are irradiated, meaning that, in summary, the packaging process removes a lot of the health-boosting properties these spices have while inadvertently adding some free radicals. The whole spice industry isn't the best situation; you really do need to be conscious and know where your spices come from. If not, you could ruin your pricey grass-fed steak with chemicals.

High-quality spices are expensive, I will totally admit that. However, like I said before, they definitely make the dish, and good spices make a big difference, which is why I support smaller spice companies that come out with quality products; Samboroso is one of those companies.

For total transparency, I am an ambassador for Samboroso, which means I receive product in exchange for posting about them. However, I want to make it abundantly clear that I will never post anything about any product, within this post or in the future, that I do not believe in or back 100%. I hope you trust me on this one.

With that out of the way, Samboroso's spices are truly high quality. Samboroso is a family-owned company, and although not paleo, they have similar view and ideals when it comes to food. These spices are Brazilian, which I sadly am not super well versed in, but honestly their spices are hands-down amazing and so full of flavor. I am really obsessed and have been using them on everything from salads to steak to veggies.

Today, I have a special gift for you all today: a giveaway with Samboroso. One lucky winner will get a spice blend all to themselves, which is perfect because I also have a recipe to go along with it. See below for a rafflecopter giveaway, you know the drill.

Today's recipe is a super quick and easy shrimp and spinach salad with a little Lemon-Garlic Samboroso twist. Its a little tangy, a little spicy, and packs a whole lot of flavor. Enjoy!

Tangy Brazilian Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Spinach Salad

Serves 2 as an entree

  • 16 oz. shrimp
  • 2 tbsp. high quality, grass-fed butter
  • 1/8 cup Shiitake mushrooms, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2-cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp. Samboroso Lemon-Garlic Rub
  • 2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or more, if preferred)
  • 5 cups spinach
  1. In a large saucepan, melt butter on medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and shallot. Sauté until shallots are translucent.
  2. Reduce heat, add lemon juice, olive oil, and wine and let simmer on low until liquid reduces by about 2/3 volume, about 10 minutes.
  3. While liquid is reducing, wash and dry spinach and place into serving bowls.
  4. Increase heat to medium-high. Add in Lemon-Garlic rub, crushed red pepper, and shrimp, stirring to ensure that spices are well incorporated and shrimp are coated. Let shrimp cook for about 5 minutes while stirring, being careful to not overcook.
  5. Remove from heat immediately and pour shrimp and liquid over spinach.
  6. Let spinach wilt slightly and enjoy.


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. 

Back to Basics

I’m really hot.

And dehydrated. Which really doesn’t help things.

My now former job, which you can read about here, for many reasons, was incredibly stressful and hectic. Some days were so busy that I would leave my apartment at 8am and get home at 7pm, accumulate 5 miles of walking during the day, wouldn’t have time to eat more than a few bites of lunch, and would only be able to sneak sips of water here and there. I would drink a couple glasses of water after work, but be so exhausted that I wouldn’t have much time before going to bed to adequately hydrate myself. I would wake up the next morning, have coffee, not drink enough water, and then continue this cycle day after day. It got so bad that at one point I had to make an ER visit due to dehydration that started to affect my kidneys. Holy kidney beans, batman.

After this, I really had to step back and reflect as to why I wasn’t hydrating enough. Yes, I was crazy busy at work, but I have been insanely busy since my senior year of high school, and I never, ever neglected to drink water.  That’s when I realized that I was simply just bored of drinking water. I was bored of the taste, I was bored of feeling restricted; After all, I cut out all fruit juices, sweet teas, and sodas from my diet. Looking back, I probably should have predicted that this would happen. People who follow a Paleo diet have a lot of things that they can’t consume, but now that the primal movement is gaining more steam, there are many new sunstitutes for grains, refined sugar, and even dairy. But drinks? Nope. Nada. Water, coffee, tea, coconut water, and kombucha is all there pretty much is, my friends. So that’s when I made a conscious effort to flavor my water, and change it up every couple of days.

But then I moved to the desert.

And in the desert I need to up my water intake even more because 15 minutes in the sun now feels like 2 hours in the sun..

So let’s get back to the basics here. We all need water. And now that I’m making a conscious effort to drink even more water, I’ve decided to share some fun flavored water recipes. They are incredibly easy, tasty, and make drinking water much more enjoyable. Plus, they’re gorgeous to look at and make for great accents to the table during meals and entertaining. Here are some of my favorite combinations, but the possibilities are really endless here.

Infused Water, 9 Ways

Each recipes makes approximately 4 liters of flavored water

Citrus mint

  • 2 lemons, sliced into wedges
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges
  • ¼-½ grapefruit, sliced into wedges
  • 1 bunch of mint sprigs  


  • 1 bunch of basil

Chocolate Mint

  • 1 bunch of chocolate mint


  • 2 lemons, sliced into wedges
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges


  • ¼ cup raspberries, washed
  • ½ orange, sliced into wedges


  • ½ cup strawberries, washed and sliced with stem removed
  • ¼ cup raspberries
  • ¼ cup blueberries


  • ¼ cup sliced pineapple
  • ¼ cup sliced watermelon


  • 1 rind from a lemon
  • 2 sprigs whole lavender

Rosemary Lavender

  • 2 large sprigs whole rosemary
  • ½ rind from a lemon
  • ½ rind from an orange
  1. Take 1 liter of water and add chosen herbs or fruit.
  2. Chill in refirdgerator and let infuse for at least 2 hours.
  3. Serve over ice.
  4. Fruit can be reused up to 4 times (Approximately 4 cumulative liters) before water starts to lose flavor. 

I Wish it Was Called Asparagi

C is for cookie. 

Spring is for asparagus.

Ok, maybe not, but if I had to choose a star vegetable to represent spring, asparagus would be it. In my opinion, asparagus tastes extraordinarily better in spring, when it is in season. So much so, that I rarely eat it any other time of year. Personally, I prefer the skinner asparagus (I never understood why it wasn’t called asparaguses, or better yet….Asparagi. Asparagi.), because I think they’re less stringy and more tender. Another fun fact?  White asparagus is the same as the typical green asparagus, but exposed to less sunlight while growing, which causes the white appearance. (Thanks for the in-service, Whole Foods!) What about purple asparagus, you ask? I’m not sure. Purple asparagus looks like octopus tentacles to me. Weeiirrd. I’ll stick to green asparagi, thank you very much.

As many of you readers may (or may not) recall, my Dad sent me a care package of goodies from his garden in California, which included Meyer Lemons. I’ve been using them creatively (aka putting them in everything and seeing what tastes good. Check out these lemon bars here) This time, I used them in the asparagus, and served a rooftop dinner to my cousin while we enjoyed my city rooftop and the lovely views. My cousin is not Paleo, but he pretends to entertain the ideas of the Paleo lifestyle choice, and he’s always been more than complimentary of my cooking.

Of course, asparagus wasn’t the main dish for this rooftop meal (Stay tuned for a chimichurri marinated steak), but they were pretty good and made a great presentation. (Plus, I’m all for easy dishes when entertaining.)  Also fun for entertaining? Alcohol. (I know, not Paleo….at all. But sometimes you just have to live a little.) My friend who I went on the Dogfishhead Brewery trip with just started her own blog all about food and pairing. She’s insanely talented, and has fancy certifications in both the wine and the beer world. If you’re entertaining and want to create drink pairings that go along with your menu, check out her blog here

Oven-Roasted Lemon Asparagus

Serves 3

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, plus lemon slices for garnish
  • ½ tsp. powdered garlic
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Dash of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Wash and trim the bottoms of the asparagus
  3. Place in baking dish, drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over asparagus.
  4. Sprinkle garlic powder, salt, and ground pepper over asparagus. Toss asparagus slightly to ensure that all stems are evenly covered with juice, oil, and spices.
  5. Place lemon slices on or around asparagus for decoration (This is optional.)
  6. Place in oven and bake for about 12 minutes. Watch carefully because asparagus can become overcooked easily. Asparagus is done when a fork can be inserted without much effort, but stalks are not soggy. (Skinnier asparagus= less baking time, thicker asparagus= longer baking time)

I've Got Sunshine...

…ooonnn a rainy daayy.

I’ve been singing this song to myself all day. All day through 7 hours of jury duty, all day through the torrential downpour dropped upon DC, and all day through the 20 degree temperature drop that immediately propelled us back into winter.

Today, during my jury duty lunch break, I thought it was good fortune that the rain had stopped and the skies were starting to clear. I decided to be healthy and go on a walk. (A walk! Of course, that’s what healthy people do when they have a few minutes to spare. They go on walks…and stuff.)  About halfway through my lunch break, those once semi-clear skies suddenly filled again with gray clouds and such strong wind gusts that I was somehow standing in the middle of a busy DC street with my sunshine yellow umbrella turned inside out being pelted with the largest rain drops I’ve ever seen.  I was soaked head to toe for all the world to see.

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You know, sunshine. I’ve got it.

But really, I do, because, with exception to today, spring has finally sprung, the days are getting longer, and last week my Dad sent me a cooking care package from California that included lemons and rosemary grown from his backyard:

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I’ve been obsessed with the lemons ever since. Lemon tea, lemon infused water, lemon peel baths, and lemon facial scrubs (post coming soon!). Naturally, I decided to make some Paleo lemon bars. These homegrown lemons are just so good, and are a perfect spring treat.

Paleo Lemon Bars

Makes 20 lemon squares

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Note: adapted from Taylor Made it Paleo’s Recipe: http://taylormadeitpaleo.com/2013/08/16/lemon-bars/


  • ½ cup lightly salted almonds
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tbsp. raw honey
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • ½ tsp. baking powder


  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. cashew flour
  • 3 tbsp. coconut flour
  • 1 ½ tbsp. lemon zest
  1. Grind salted almonds in a food processor into they have turned into almond butter.
  2. Add the rest of the crust ingredients to the food processor and process until crumbly.
  3. Spray 13x9 inch pan with olive oil or coconut oil spray. Spread crust mixture evenly into pan.
  4. Bake crust for 10 minutes at 350.
  5. While the crust is baking, mix filling ingredients in a food processor.
  6. Pour filling over crust and continue to bake for about 15 minutes.
  7. Once the filling for the bars is firm but still a bit wobbly, remove from oven and let cool to set.
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