Top 10 Ways to Make your Paleo Transition Easier

I get a lot of questions- through email, friends, and sometimes random strangers on the street asking me all sorts of things about Paleo. (Really!! It is the weirdest thing to be recognized by strangers.) The most common question is what to expect when you first go Paleo, which I’ve detailed in this post here, but the second most common question is people asking how they can make the transition easier for themselves. So here goes, my Top 10 Ways to Make Your Paleo Transition Easier, in blog post format:

1. Educate Yourself...

  • One of the worst mistakes I have seen is people deciding to try out the Paleo diet without any real background information about the lifestyle change. There is a lot to tackle here, but the first is really understanding that Paleo is not just a diet; it’s a lifestyle change in its most basic form. Nothing is worse than deciding impulsively that you are going to eliminate some of your favorite foods and dietary staples without knowing why. I have seen this many times, especially since celebrities, like Megan Fox, Jessica Biel, and Matthew McConaughey known for their sex-appeal openly started admitting that they went Paleo.
  • Before starting, do your homework, and ask yourself lots of questions:  What can you eat? What can’t you eat? Why? How is the Paleo diet different from other diets? What are the mechanisms of the diet and how does it benefit your physiology? Are there any health conditions you may have that could interfere with the diet? Are there medical contraindications? Are there conditions that the diet may help remediate? What is the difference between a Paleo diet and a primal-based diet? Why do some people on Paleo eat white rice and potatoes but others don’t? What’s the difference between grain-free and gluten-free? Why does it even matter?
  • What are the agricultural politics surrounding food production, food policy, GMOs, and bills passed through Congress?  Who were the silent corporate sponsors of the FDA’s food pyramid and food plate? Who funded the research for the “Heart Healthy” diet?
  • All these questions, and more, are incredibly important. Not only does it give you a basis for making this change in your life, but the more information you know, the more likely you are to stick to your initial commitment.

2. ...and then Educate Others

  • I can’t tell you how many times I have been at a party or gathering and someone has made a snide comment about gluten and fad diets or Paleo, cavemen, and loincloths. (P.S. It wasn’t funny the first time.)
  • I’ve realized that people often guise curiosity with poor humor. They will often deflect your lifestyle change because they don’t want you to judge their life. That’s fine, I get it, but I have also realized that providing education to those around you results in increased understanding: you’re not just doing this because it’s a fad, you are trying your hardest to make a positive change in your own life. If anything, providing education will at least bring some acceptance to your choice to go against the status quo, a hard task for anything, diet or not.

3. Do It for the Right Reasons (your health)

  • Often, people start down the Paleo path to lose weight. (Myself included!) However, if you are truly just doing this for weight loss, there are many, many different ways to do so, which are easier and less expensive. 
  • If you choose to follow a diet to boost your health, increase vitality, be around longer for your family, or help with some chronic health condition, then you are approaching this Paleo lifestyle change from an angle that makes it easier to stick to it. Improved health and quality of life is a much better motivator then fitting into those skinny jeans, and will win every time when you rationalize.

4. Get a support system in place

  • You can’t transition to Paleo alone. You will need someone to talk to, if only to vent, commiserate, or empathize with. I highly suggest trying out Paleo with a friend or your partner. Not only will you be able to talk to someone going through the same thing, but you can hold one another accountable.
  • If having someone in person isn’t an option, I highly suggest participating in some primal forums. It will give you a place to voice your feelings, questions, and journey.

5. Prep your kitchen

  • Having a diet with a room (your kitchen) full of things you can’t eat is absurd. Talk about setting yourself up for failure! Throw away or donate the foods you can no longer eat. Stock your fridge or pantry with healthy, compliant options that you like. Nothing is worse than trying to conquer a new diet and forcing yourself to eat foods you never really cared for. Don’t like broccoli? No problem! Go for the veggies you actually like, and get rid of that idea that you need to eat all the things you hate. There’s no time for that.

6. Prep your food

  • One or two days before you make the big switch, do some food prep. Trust me, when you are ravenous and exhausted after the dreaded “Paleo flu” the last thing you will want to do is prepare food. Having something you only need to reheat will make a world of difference, and will make you more apt to stick to the change.

7. Make an initial commitment, create better goals

  • Setting ambiguous goals like: “I will lose 50 pounds” or “I will be happier at work” never work. Why? Because there isn’t any accountability, and these goals simply aren’t measurable. Better goals would be: “I will lose 1 lb./week in 2015 to be 50 pounds lighter within one year”, or “I will schedule a meeting with my boss to discuss a promotion within the next 3 months”. These goals are measurable, and thus, naturally attainable.
  • Likewise, the same concept goes for Paleo. Instead of saying “I will go on the Paleo diet”, try “I will follow a Paleo lifestyle for one month”. Setting an initial commitment of one month is much less daunting than committing to a lifetime of giving up the foods you love. Stick to it for a period of time you are comfortable with, then take the time to reflect upon what worked, what didn’t work, and what to do moving forward.

8. Don’t go hungry

  • What’s the best way to ruin your diet? Starve yourself for so long that the mere whiff of an open bag of Doritos prompts you to go on an all-night binge.Eating real food had led me to some of the most delicious meals I have ever had, and always fills me up so much to where I don’t even give those Doritos a second thought.
  • However, to get there, you need to get over the initial Paleo hump, and allow your body to become more stable and adjusted. Your cravings and headaches will eventually go away, but always make sure you feel satiated. Fill up on healthy, real foods. Nothing is worse than going hungry for days in world where food is literally around every corner.

9. Don’t have a black and white approach

  • This little tidbit can be generalized to so many areas in life. The world is not black and white. Just because you had that bagel 2 weeks into your “perfect” diet, and you were doing so good, does not mean that you might as well throw in the towel, and go get a baker’s dozen from around the corner. It doesn’t mean that all is lost. We live in a sea of grey, so get over it and don’t use that one slip-up to feel that all is lost. You are not failure.

10.Get rid of your deprivation mindset

  • This one is hard. Following a primal lifestyle means that you can’t have grains, can’t have dairy, can’t have alcohol, can’t have sugar, can’t have gluten, can’t have bread, can’t have cake, can’t have French fries, can’t have cheese, can’t have wine, can’t have hot dogs. Can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t. This is all true, but that doesn’t mean that Paleo cake, Paleo bread, or even a cold glass of vanilla almond milk is out of the question. There are so many foods you can have, it just takes more effort to get there.
  • Focus on the things you can have: more energy, decreased acne, increased mental clarity, increased productivity, better focus, better sleep, weight-loss, avoidance of lifestyle diseases, increased vitality, fitting into your favorite pair of jeans. The things you can have far outweigh the things you can’t, no matter how you look at it. 

The Daily 5

I thought I would try a new thing here on South of Vanilla: The Daily 5. Now, I don't plan on doing this everyday, which begs the question of whether or not I should really have the word "daily" in the title. Ahh, well, semantics.

I get questions all the time from people wondering what things have helped me be paleo, what helps me stay on track, and what are the things I just can't live without. Simply stated, there are many things that help me get through the day, and many of these things change according to the actual day.

Maybe you see where I am going with this.

Or maybe not.

But here are the 5 things I am using today that help staying on the paleo track a little easier:

South of Vanilla's Daily 5, 1-19-2015

1. The Day Designer: No, this product was not intended for those following the paleo diet. However, it was intended for those that are the letmewriteeverythingdownandmakelists type of people. It is also intended for those that run small businesses, bloggers, high achievers, those that have specific goals, and people are just really busy. I've been open in talking about how following a primal lifestyle takes a lot more time- in terms of planning, shopping, and food preparation. I also run this blog (obviously), work full time, pick up PRN shifts, and travel about 2-3 times on average during each month. I have a boyfriend who I live with and an active social life. Busy is an understatement, so I really rely on this planner for a lot. I schedule the things I need to get done, plan out my days, and make lots of lists for every area in my life I am trying to manage. It even comes with worksheets that help you create goals, visions, and plans of action to help you achieve all that is possible in the areas of anything from personal finance to careers to strategic brand planning. The price tag for this one is expensive but so incredibly worth it.


2. Myrrhaculous Face Oil: I know, I've talked about Fat Face Skin Care before. A few times. And even hosted a coupon code for all my readers. I just love this company, and their products cleared up all the acne I had been struggling with for years. I wish I would have cut the chemicals from my body and beauty products ages ago.


3. Dehydrator: I use my dehydrator to make healthy snacks, which are both raw and primal friendly. My favorite, after the almost 3 years I have now had my dehydrator, are still kale chips. The dehydrator I have is on the lower end of the price spectrum, but it has suited me just fine all along. Love this gadget.


4. A really cool water bottle: I'm not the best at drinking water- I constantly have to remind myself to take sips during the day. Why? I'm not sure. That part in my brain that regulates adequate hydration must be damaged, I'm convinced of it. What does make me more attentive to water? Really cool looking water bottles. I currently love this one, and it is quite possibly the most simple biohacking experiment ever, the equivalent to "ooo look, something shiny!, to make me pay attention to something important.


5. Dry Shampoo: I do Crossfit and hot yoga, which, as you probably guessed, makes me sweat a lot. I dont have time to wash and dry and style my hair after every workout, which is where dry shampoo comes in. Not only does it keep hair smelling great and clean your hair without washing, but also it adds hair-commercial worthy volume. I've tried a lot of brands, but my favorite are Lushs No Drought Dry Shampoo and Kloranes Gentle Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk.   




What do you guys use to get yourself through your days??


Top 10 Faileos of 2014

I talk a lot about how great my food is. I mean, obviously, I'm not going to post a recipe and say how deplorable it is and how you should never ever attempt to make it. That would be absurd.

But what I haven't ever talked about is how many times I have failed trying to create recipes and meals and blog posts that just never turned out. I think of all of my blog posts, I have had maybe 5 recipes that turned out great the first time I made them. Every other recipe I had to make twice, sometimes three or four or five times. And those numbers alone mean that there are a whole lot of mess-ups and failures that I haven't shared, a whole lot of failed paleo dishes, which I would now like to introduce as "faileos".

In excitement for the upcoming new year, I thought it would be nice to have a good laugh and talk about all the things that have gone wrong on South of Vanilla over the past year, all the things that had brought me to tears of frustration in the moment, but now are providing an abundance of tears of laughter. Because really, what was I thinking with some of these?? I still don't know.


10. I was really excited when one I day I found this super cool, barely been used waffle iron at Goodwill. Immediately upon seeing it, I dreamt of all the things I could make in a waffle iron: paleo cornbread! brownies! cakes! waffle bread! How has anyone ever existed without the genius invention of waffle bread?? The possibilities were endless. But first, I needed to start things off slowly with creating a basic recipe for just plain waffles. It didn't work out so well:

Yeah. Never ever coming soon to a paleo blog near you!

9. Last New Years eve, my best friends and I were throwing ourselves a NYE party for ourselves the only way we knew how: with movies, music, dancing, glitter, chalkboard paint, a photobooth, liberal amounts of alcohol, and lots and lots of food. Being the self-righteous person that I am, I decided to show my friends that great tasting paleo desserts were definitely possible:

Yeah, I showed them.

To make matters worse, we were stuck with these things for days after, since the 2014 Chicago snowpocalypse and the polar vortex snowed us all in.

8. I had this brilliant idea that I was going to show the world that brussels sprouts were nothing to fear! I was going to write this post about how sometimes getting yourself to love vegetables is just about you prepare them.

So I literally spent almost a an hour and a half peeling back each layer of each little leaf of each tiny brussels spout while watching Frozen, naturally. (Winter vegetable, winter movie. It made sense in my head.) This brussels sprouts idea of mine, I thought, was so brilliant. I was going to call them brips. As in brussels sprout chips. I was going to take the world by storm! They were going to be the new kale chips!

 

I never tried this recipe again. And then soon after, I found out that Nom Nom Paleo pretty much did the same thing but 500 times better. And did it successfully.

7. Remember those carrot fries that got a whole lot of attention when I first posted them, and then again right around Thanksgiving?

They weren't always the recipe that they've evolved to be:

6. Back when I was living and working in DC, I found this amazing book. I stumbled upon it one day, without an owner, begging to be read. Of all things, it was a cookbook dated to the mid 1800s, containing recipes and cuisine specific to Virginia. I really felt like I had stumbled upon a treasure. I was like Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince wading through margin notes and shortcuts and cooking brilliance; suddenly I had access to all these amazing recipes, many of which were naturally paleo. I was going to use this book and spread it's power. Not only was I going to share the secrets of these forgotten recipes, but I was going to show how this was yet another instance of how our ancestors, though not that long ago, were following a primal diet.

So I found this perfect recipe, this great recipe that I think really embodied the mood of this whole situation. The recipe I decided upon was a fermented peach recipe. It only contained 5 ingredients, was naturally paleo, and was fermented! It was perfect. I followed all the cryptic steps, written in old language I didn't necessarily understand, and took all these fabulous pictures:



And then those fermented peaches just turned into straight up moldy, foul smelling, truly disgusting peaches. I didn't even snap a picture of the mold, because getting close to the moldy blobs was really, truly, too much too handle.

And just like that, My Half-Blood Princess dreams were ruined.

5. One time, I was convinced that I was going to make my own paleo whipped cream from real cream. Granted, this recipe wouldn't have been completely paleo because it had cream, but I was willing to look past that.

And then my cream turned into butter. But not just any butter! Butter with coconut sugar and vanilla...which sounded salvageable- it could be a dessert butter! And then I tried it and it was so awful. Firstly because it splattered all over my kitchen, second because it was watery, and lastly because I accidentally used an alcohol based vanilla. So my whipped cream tasted just like watery alcohol butter. Yep.

And did I mention that I made this mistake not once, but twice- the second time being with frosting???


4. Back in late winter and early spring while I was training for my half marathon, I went through these insane stages where I would just crave carbs. I knew it was because I was training so much, and my body really needed it, but dreams of pasta and bread rolls and pizza dough dancing like sugarplums in my dreams was just too much to handle. So I decided that I was going to make my own paleo linguine. I decided to make pasta the traditional way but with paleo ingredients: the art of rolling and cutting and chilling and drying would not be lost on me. I was culinary! I am not below paying homage to the great pasta making gods.

After I chilled and rolled and cut, for 48 hours, I turned my apartment into a pasta-drying factory:


Everything was turning out great, and I had even started writing the blog post in my head. This recipe was going to revolutionize the paleo diet!

And then I started cooking the pasta. Somehow all the eggs I had used to form the dough, started to boil up from the pasta to the top of the water in the pot, to form kind of a frothy, eggy foamy broth. The pasta turned from a nice tan color to a squeamish gray color, and then started to fall apart in the pot. BUT I STILL TRIED TO EAT THEM. So I smothered them in sauce, took a bite, and immediately wished I hadn't.



So long homemade, paleo pasta. Its Cappello's for me from here on out.

3. Four words: homemade paleo girlscout cookies.

Two words: epic faileo.

2. Remember those paleo soft-shell tacos? They were delicious. There is also a reason why the soft-shell of the tacos were not my own....

1. I went through this marshmallow-making obsession back when I was trying to perfect the recipes for my Paleo Pumpkin-Spice Marshmallows and my Paleo Peppermint Mocha Marshmallows. These two took quite a long time to figure out, and back in the original post, I shared that I broke two bowls while doing so. How did I do this? The first time, I somehow forgot to lock my kitchen aid bowl into the twist lock base, turned the mixer on high, and the proceeded to watch the bowl fly across the room, land with a crash, and dent the tile floor that we had literally just laid a week prior:

While waiting for my replacement bowl to come in the mail, I decided that I NEEDED to try this recipe again, and the only way I could do it, was to use the Kitchen Aid because it was powerful enough. In complete ignorance of the past Kitchenaidgate fiasco, I found another similar bowl, set it on top of the lock base, and turned the mixer on low to test it out. Everything seemed fine! The bowl was staying in place even though it wasn't designed for the mixer. So I turned it up high and then WALKED AWAY.

I'm an idiot. Bowl number two: gone, crashed, and shattered, but not before spreading a full cup of melted honey across every possible surface of the kitchen.


So there we have it: the best of 2014.

 

Have a joyous and very Happy New Years 2015! 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Thai Red Curry and Sea Salt Roasted Chestnuts

I've discovered that chestnuts are an ancestral type of food. Why is that? Because our ancestors wrote and sang songs about them.

Ha! Get it? I'm hilarious.

I originally intended to post this recipe before Thanksgiving, so you all could have it to serve to your families for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or perhaps both, but then the holiday travel season got the best of me. Oh no, don't get me wrong, I made these chestnuts before Thanksgiving, took all the photos, and then.... well, I decided to go to Crossfit and take a really long hot shower and straighten my hair the night I was supposed to write this blog post. Sorry, friends....but at least you'll be getting this one in adequate time for winter holiday cooking. Maybe. If you're like me and leave cooking up to the last minute. #procrastinationforever

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While developing this recipe, I realized that most people had never eaten chestnuts. When I was looking for them in several grocery stores, one person even asked "what are you going to do with chestnuts?", to which I wanted to reply "roast them on an open fire with Jack Frost nipping at my nose", but that seemed a tad bit too snarky to a complete stranger. So I very nicely replied "roast them and eat them!". I thought that answer was obvious, but this stranger had a perplexed look on his face as in he never really thought to eat chestnuts.

I also realized that there are actually specialty tools for roasting chestnuts. Serious. There are chestnut knives and chestnut pans and chestnut....hair dye? Ok, maybe the hair dye isn't so much for eating, but I've discovered that chestnuts are actually the color and vibrancy of Kate Middleton's coveted hair. (See, she knows.)

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I don't eat chestnuts often: they're a lot of work to peel and can be pricey. I was only able to find chestnuts near me at an organic specialty market for $10/pound, and after doing some research online, that seems to be the status quo for organic pricing; I unfortunately couldn't find any price point data for any "big box" grocery stores.

Despite the price, I really think that everyone should try roasting their own chestnuts at least once. They're incredibly festive and taste wonderfully warm and nutty just out of the pan. The roasting is quite easy, but the hard part comes with having the patience to diligently cut the chestnuts open before roasting, and then to peel back the hot, but still firm, shell to try to get the nut out whole. I like chestnuts plain with a little salt, but I also like them with a little spice, which is the recipe I've provided for you below.

When I first set out to try to roast these chestnuts, I decided that I was going to invent a new way to roast them.... and I quickly failed. I knew that if you did not cut open the shells of chestnuts before, they were likely to explode. I decided that I was going to do an experiment to see how long it took a chestnut to explode and at what temperature, so I threw one in the oven to test. It was going to be my own foodie version of Myth Busters, but then I got scared and removed it before it was even in the oven for a full 5 minutes. Whomp whomp. Next, I decided to roast them in olive oil on the stove top, but that produced so much smoke that I immediately had to open all the windows and doors to air things out before I got a surprised visit from the fire department. After that, I decided that perhaps I could actually roast them in the fire in my fireplace, but after doing some research, I realized there was a high probability of losing both my pan and the chestnuts at the same time. Take it my advice: roasting in the oven is the easiest, safest way.

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This recipe uses a red Thai curry seasoning, which I found at a specialty spice shop, but you could easily create your own blend, or use whatever curry you had on hand. I think that the spice and flavor or the curry combined with a little sea salt against the warm, nutty flavor of the chestnut is a real winner; it is almost like Asian spiced peanuts, but of course, a bit more festive for this holiday season.


Thai Red Curry and Sea Salt Roasted Chestnuts

  • 1 lb. whole chestnuts
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. Thai red curry blend*
  • 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. While oven is preheating, take a very sharp knife and very carefully slice an X in each chestnut shell, being careful not to puncture the actual nut. If you cut the nut inside the shell, the chestnut will crumble as you try to peel it from its shell after roasting. Cutting an X allows the heat to escape and ensures that you do not have little chestnut-bombs going off in your oven. Cutting these Xs can be difficult since the chestnut shell is extremely hard, but I found that the easiest way is finding the flattest side of the chestnut and then cutting one diagonal line downward and away from you, and then rotating the chestnut again to ensure that you never cut upward. (Which is a recipe for disaster when you are handling a sharp knife.)
  3. In a large cast iron pan or baking sheet, place each chestnut X side up, making sure that each chestnut has a little space to itself.
  4. Place the chestnuts in the oven, and let roast for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, remove the chestnuts from the oven, and let cool until they can be handled without burning your fingers, but not completely cool. They should still be warm.
  6. Peel the chestnuts from their shell by firmly tugging back on the corners of the Xs , which should have opened slightly during roasting.
  7. Discard the chestnut shells and place the nuts in a medium sized bowl.
  8. After all nuts have been shelled and are in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and gently stir to coat.
  9. Add salt and curry, gently toss until chestnuts are evenly coated with spices.
  10. Serve immediately.

*The Thai red curry blend I used contained black pepper, paprika, cumin, onion, garlic, coriander, lemongrass, cilantro, chili flakes, and ginger.




Southwest Adventures and Peppermint Mocha Marshmallows

In the beginning of December, two of my coworkers, a fellow SLP and a PT doctoral student, dragged me to Carlsbad Caverns in the Southeast portion of New Mexico. Perhaps “dragged” isn’t necessarily the appropriate term, but they definitely needed to cajole me to wake up at 7am on a Sunday to drive 3 ½ hours each way the morning after our open bar work holiday party.

One of the factors in my decision to move to the NM was to be able to explore a quadrant of the country that I haven’t seen much of. After moving, I started off my explorations strong, but then quickly faded as work piled on more tasks and the holiday season set in. In the end, I was really glad they convinced me to go to the caverns.

Carlsbad was amazing: it is the western hemisphere’s largest cave, and its largest room is about 4,000 feet long by 625 feet wide. There are actually two known caverns within the cave: an upper cavern open to the public, and a lower cavern that has been preserved for research and is only available to scientists by permit. They are still discovering offshoots and rooms with the cavern, which was first estimated to discovered in 1898. (Although it is still not known if Native Americans knew about the cave sooner.) My favorite recent discovery story is that of the Halloween Cavern, which was discovered accidentially by a balloon on Halloween, therefore inspiring it’s name.

No worries, we actually did not touch any of the cave in this picture. (Its one of those optical illusion pictures.)

No worries, we actually did not touch any of the cave in this picture. (Its one of those optical illusion pictures.)

I’ve explored several caverns throughout my life before, but Carlsbad was by far the best. It is the most decorated cavern I’ve been to, meaning that there are stalagmites and stalagtites galore; there are dots of water pools, rock windows with views of smaller rooms, pockets illuminated like passageways, and even a whimsical area called Fairyland. Venturing into Carlsbad is like entering a different world. While touring the cavern my friends and I were trying to create descriptions to describe the sights: “the Middle East”, “The Moon”, “a fossiled coral reef”, were all thrown out but quickly abandoned simply because there just are no adequate words.

Since we went in winter, there weren’t any crowds, which turned out to be eerie. To enter the cave, you can either take the elevator down or walk the winding path that slowly descends into the natural mouth of the cave, switching back and winding through and around boulders and growths and moss-covered rocks. The day we went, we chose to walk down, and since we were one of the few groups of people there, our voices echoed as the three of us descended into the quickly engulfing darkness. If not for the lights along the path, it was evident that we would have been in complete and total darkness within 3 minutes of entering the cave.

The natural mouth of the caverns from above.

The natural mouth of the caverns from above.


The natural mouth of the cave, but this time, looking up from total darkness. 

The natural mouth of the cave, but this time, looking up from total darkness. 


The entrance of the cave is a natural mouth, meaning that the ground naturally opened up into an entrance, or in summer, a grand exit. It is estimated that Carslbad Caverns is home to an estimated hald a million bats, and at dusk in summer, they exit in flocks through the natural mouth, creating clouds of flying creatues swirling and dipping through the sky on their way to hunt. I’ve linked a video of this here from a user on YouTube so you can see this magnificnent show; unfortunately the bats had already migrated to warmer Mexican locales by the time of our winter visit, so I did not see the bat show first hand. I’ve already decided, however, that I will be back to see the nightly mass exodus when the bats return to their home in spring.

The caverns, amazingly, keep a stable 57 degrees year round. My fellow SLP, Alexa, told me that in summer, the caves are refreshingly cool: the cave’s placement within the Guadalupe mountain ranges on the border of southeast New Mexico and rural Texas, in the middle of a vast stretch between the middle of nothing, desert, and borderlands, creates soaring and dry temperatures in summer. Alexa explained that visiting the caves in summer is like a little cool oasis, and the constant humidity of 90% underground is refreshing. Even when we visited in winter, the humidity in the air felt cool and comforting: after living in the desert, suddenly stepping into a room of sorts with moisture in the air is novel and refreshing.

Our timing to visit the caves was incredibly appropriate. As much as I love working with kids, trying to gather their attention and cultivate growth during the time period after Thanksgiving and before winter break is incredibly grappling, difficult, and taxing. Those few weeks between each holiday are really exhausting, and I’m sure everyone can relate. In the past, I have plowed through the holidays with constant stream of coffee and a candy induced sugar high, but I’ve since realized that that is not sustainable for long. Instead of creating burnout that takes weeks of solitude and relaxation to recover from, I’ve decided to boycott that entirely. No more gathering willpower to muscle through our self-induced periods of stress and anxiety; its just not a way to live. This holiday season, and hopefully for every one after, I’ve decided to make time to take breaks, to explore to recharge, just like I did in Carlsbad Caverns, and to take time for the activities that I really, truly enjoy engaging in.

I challenge you all, this holiday season, to take the time to do whatever is you need to do for yourself: whether that is reading a book, taking a road trip, or spending all day in the kitchen decorating holiday cookies. Recharging is important, and necessary for a well-cultivated, enjoyable, and productive life.

So what will I be doing in the coming weeks to recharge? Dreaming of Carlsbad Caverns, mapping the rest of my Southwest adventures, and curling up with a good book and a mug of these holiday-inspired Peppermint Marshmallows. (I just can’t get enough!)

Happy Holidays.



Paleo Peppermint-Mocha Marshmallows

  • 3.5 oz. high quality, dark chocolate
  • 1 cup water, divided
  • 3 tbsp. powdered beef gelatin
  • 3 tbsp. instant coffee granules
  • ¾ tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup coconut sugar
  • Tapioca Starch, for dusting
  • In a large bowl, mix all powdered beef gelatin with ½ cup water. Let set for at least 10 minutes to soften.
  1. In an 8x8 baking pan, line with parchment paper. Dust bottoms and sides with a small amount of tapioca starch. Set aside.
  2. In a saucepan, combine remaining water, vanilla, peppermint extract, coffee granules, and coconut sugar. Stir and then bring to a medium simmer, then immediately reduce heat so mixture has only occasional bubbles. Let heat for approximately 10 minutes longer, until mixture is thoroughly heated and all coconut sugar has dissolved. Mixture will be a dark amber color.
  3. Add ¼ saucepan mixture to bowl with softened gelatin. Turn on mixer and beat on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add second ¼ of saucepan mixture and continue to beat on medium-high heat. Repeat process until all saucepan mixture is used.
  4. Once all of saucepan mixture has been added into the mixer bowl, increase mixer to high speed (setting #8 on a Kitchenaid stand mixer) and beat for about 3 minutes, then on highest speed (Setting #10 on a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer) for about 4-5 minutes more. Marshmallows will be done when they have the viscosity of marshmallow fluff. Be careful not to over mix, as they will become too springy and difficult to handle.
  5. Using a spatula, pour the marshmallows into your prepared baking pan and gently shake until they are level. Dust the top once more with tapioca starch, and then place another strip of parchment paper over the top of the marshmallows for evenness and protection.
  6. Store pan of marshmallows in a cool, dry spot for approximately 4-6 hours, or even overnight, to let set.
  7. Once set, remove top strip of parchment paper, and lift marshmallows out of pan by pulling out the parchment paper. Cut marshmallows into evenly sized squares.
  8. In a small bowl, melt chocolate in the microwave in 10 second intervals, stirring in between to avoid scalding or burning. (You could also use a double boiler to melt the chocolate, if that is your preference.) 










Better than Pizza…salad?

Better than Pizza…salad?

Yep, I just said that.

Did I just say that? Better than pizza salad? I definitely did. Just said it.

Because its true. One night, Christopher and I were having a cleanoutthefridgenight, which is essentially a night where we eat all the random stuff in our fridge before it goes bad, when we had this salad.

Ok, so no, the salad just didn’t appear, but I did throw it together in about 5 minutes with leftovers we had in the fridge and some dried spices from the pantry. And then, I set a bowl of it down in between a plate of pickles and some reheated pizza….and well, the rest is history.

Although to be truthful, I suppose this salad could have been called “Better than Pickles Salad”, but that just didn’t seem as catchy.

So here we are, after we both chose to eat a salad instead of pizza…which I never really saw coming. No warning. I suppose we will all be better prepared the next time this happens.

This post, I’m assuming, is also well timed, as we probably are all reallllly sick of cooking elaborate meals at very stressfully placed holidays during the year…or maybe I’m the one that’s sick of cooking.

Not that I don’t love the holidays, I think my love for holidays and the changing seasons has been very well documented at this point. Its just that Thanksgiving’s strategic placement near the end of the semester, at the start of severe weather flight delays, and less than a month from Christmas, which is less than 2 weeks away from New Years is just crazy-making. I vote to space these holidays a little bit better. Not only would there be less stress, but if we moved some of these to summer, we wouldn't have to worry about the nor'easters that always seem to cancel 5 million flights right before or after Christmas. Don't even get me started on my Christmas break last year where I was stranded in Chicago during the polar vortex. The. Worst. Ever. There were no down coats big enough for that excursion. 

So here we have it, a really impressive salad that you can make within 5 minutes, without cooking, that will impress your family and friends. It is a perfect way to use leftover chicken or turkey. (I told you this recipe was aptly timed.) It also doesn’t matter what types of salad greens you have- they all taste great. As of posting this, I have had this salad with romaine, arugula, kale, and bok choy. It is now glaringly apparent that I’ve had this salad about 10 times since its first creation.

I should note that Vegenaise isn’t exactly paleo; although far better than conventional mayonnaise, it contains safflower oil. Safflower is an industrial oil, although it has been noted that of all the industrial seed oils, this is probably the best choice as long as it is extracted without chemical or heat. Soy-free Vegenaise, however, does not contain grains, gluten, or dairy, so you’re safe there. For a truly Paleo option, I recommend making your own mayonnaise to substitute, however, this would increase the time to make the salad from 5 minutes to possibly 15. And really, You Only Live Once.  So Eat That Vegenaise.

YOLOSETV.

Or maybe we should just stick to YOLO.

And then make this salad.



Better than pizza….salad?

Makes 3 large salads, or several small salads

  • 8 cups of your favorite salad greens
  • 1 cup of Soy-free Vegenaise, divided
  • 2 cups leftover shredded chicken or turkey
  • ½ cup red grapes  
  • 2 medium sized celery stalks
  • ¼ cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)
  • 1 ½ tbsp. dried dill
  • 1 tsp. dried onion powder
  • 1 tsp. dried garlic powder
  1. Slice grapes in half lengthwise and dice celery stalks finely.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, mix leftover chicken or turkey with ¾ cup of the Soy-free Vegenaise, diced celery, halved grapes, chopped hazelnuts, dried dill, onion powder, and garlic powder. Stir until well incorporated.
  3. Add Vegenaise /poultry mixture to salad greens. Stir to incorporate, and add remaining ¼ cup Vegannaise slowly to thoroughly coat all greens. Serve immediately.*

*If you want to make this in advance, hold off on adding the Vegenaise mixture to the salad greens until just before serving to ensure that the greens remains crisp.  





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.