Your Paleo Cinco de Mayo Fiesta (Ole!)

Heeeyy, friends. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but between myself and Care to Pair, we’ve been a little Mexican Food crazy. (But is this ever a bad thing? No. Nope. Of course not.) Oh, and guess what? Its just 2 days away from Cinco de Mayo, which means that now you have everything you need to plan a Paleo Cinco de Mayo fiesta WITH ALCOHOL. Nicely timed, huh? This is going to be theeee best fiesta. Thanks Dani!

I’m going to keep this post short, so you guys can get to your fiesta planning, but these past couple weeks, Care to Pair and I have given you:


Delish. Oh, and of course, South of Vanilla has some other Paleo Mexican recipes in the archives that weren’t posted in the past couple weeks, are definitely fiesta-worthy:

You see? Now you have Mexican drinks, main courses, and a dessert all in one place. (Oh, and don’t forget you also have breakfast, lunch, and dinner if your fiesta is going to be an all day thing. No shame. You fiesta-it-up.)

The only thing you need now is a piñata. Happy Cinco de Mayo!


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Tomato Soup Sky: a sign from above

Guys. The night I made this recipe, I received a sign.

Like, a sign from above. Literally.

I was making this soup, when I saw this orangey-red light from outside my window. I stepped outside, and saw the best winter sunset so far in New Mexico. And it was THE EXACT SAME COLOR AS THE SOUP I WAS MAKING. That’s right. Tomato soup sky. A sign from above. Yep.

This was such a change for me, I mean actually having gorgeous weather past October and having sunsets instead of watching the light start to disappear at 3:30 is a huge deal. Spending my childhood in Chicago means that I am used to the darkness and the cold. Bitter cold, snowy cold, blustering cold, bone-chilling cold- I think there are just a many words to say “cold” in the Chicago vernacular as there is to say “snow” in the Inuit cultures.

After childhood, I went to college in Iowa, where it was, surprisingly, even colder. Even more, I spent many weekends traversing over into the Dakotas, on road trips and adventures, where I discovered that it was even colder. As in colder than Iowa and Chicago. Perhaps combined. I spent a spring break in college on a farm in central South Dakota, and it was by far the coldest spring temperatures I had ever seen.  (On the other hand, summers were temperate and blissful.)

One of my takeaways from these trips into the tundra were the foods served. Fresh greens in winter were scarce, even in grocery stores. Fruits were more common, but they were often not very flavorful, presumably from the long journey that the fruits had to go through to even get to that often forgotten corner of the country.

Meals served were often heavy, hot, and filling: dumplings, liver and onions, potatoes galore, pot roasts, steaks, and soups.

Oh, the soups.

There’s a reason why our grandmother’s ate so many homemade soups in their time: if made from bones, they are packed with nutrients that ward of viruses, which typically come knocking as the temperatures start to drop. Soups are a way to incorporate tougher vegetables that survive throughout the winter months: parsnips, potatoes, carrots, yams. And of course, soups are warm, which everyone agrees is both comforting and soothing in those dark, wintery days.

One of the greatest soups I have ever had came from a woman in South Dakota who created this recipe all on her own.  It is hot a bubbly and frothy and pure goodness in a bowl. It’s a tomato soup, which sounds boring and wimpy, but this homemade tomato soup packs so much richness and flavor that it really should be in its own category. The original recipe called for 4 cups of heavy whipping cream (!!!), flour, and a multitude of other ingredients that just aren’t paleo. For this post, I’ve modified the original recipe to make it dairy free and primal friendly, but have still kept the integrity of the rich flavors. I’ve also added my own flair to the recipe, a flair that is definitely influenced by my most recent Southwest, warm-winter, adventure. If jalapenos aren’t your thing, just omit them. You can also omit the swirl, especially if you just want a classic tomato soup recipe.  You’ll still get a full-bodied soup, but without that spicy, South of Vanilla twist.


Paleo Jalapeno Tomato Soup with Sundried Tomato-Avocado Cream Swirl

For the soup:

  • 6 cups fresh, whole tomatoes
  • ½ large white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 roughly chopped jalapenos, plus additional for garnish (or more to taste) (Optional)
  • 6 tbsp. grass-fed, organic, unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold)
  • 6 1/3 cups unsweetened original flavored almond mild, divided
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. garlic salt
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • Salt to taste

For the swirl:

  • ¼ cup Sundried Tomatoes
  • 1 Avocado
  • ½ cup unsweetened, unflavored Almond Milk

For the soup:

  1. Remove skins from tomatoes by slicing an X on the bottom of each fruit, then placing in a large pot and covering all tomatoes with water.
  2. Bring tomatoes in water to a boil for about 6 minutes. Once skin starts to peel back from tomatoes, drain water from pot.
  3. Let tomatoes cool completely before peeling off skins. Discard skins, and place peeled tomatoes back in pot. Peeled tomatoes should be soft at this point and slightly cooked.
  4. In your pot with peeled tomatoes, add butter, garlic, onion, and jalapenos. Sauté on medium-high heat until garlic and onions are fragrant and onions are translucent.
  5. Add 1/3 cup of almond milk to tomato mixture, and let simmer until almost all the liquid is gone.
  6. Remove from heat, and spoon tomato mixture into a blender. Be very careful not to burn yourself, as this blending process emits a large amount of steam. You may have to blend in two separate batches depending on your size of blender. Blend until smooth.
  7. Place blended tomato mixture back into the pot, but reserve 1 cup of the mixture. Place this 1 cup of the tomato mixture in a separate large bowl.
  8. In your separate large bowl with 1 cup of the tomato mixture, add the tapioca flour and baking soda. Whisk until frothy and all the tapioca flour has been absorbed. It may take awhile for the tapioca flour to absorb completely, and it is important to keep whisking, as the flour can easily clump.
  9. Add tomato mixture with the flour and baking soda back into the large pot with the rest of the blended tomato mixture.
  10. Add 4 cups of the almond mild, and heat of medium-low. The soup should never come to a boil, it should just bubble. Stir often to ensure that the soup does not stick to the bottom of the pot, about 15 minutes.
  11. Once the soup is bubbling, add remaining 2 cups of almond milk, turmeric, cumin, black pepper, garlic salt, and paprika. Stir in spices, and heat on medium heat for about 15 more minutes.  Scrape up any burned pieces from the bottom of the pot; this will add a richer flavor.
  12. Serve immediately, or garnish with swirl or jalapenos. (Optional)

For the swirl: 

  1. Combine all ingredients into a blender. Blend on high until smooth. (There still may be small pieces of sundried tomatoes.)
  2. With a spoon swirl in the cream 1 tbsp. at a time until you have desired swirl. 






Paleo Crack Donuts

Happy New Year! I know everyone is working hard away on those eat-less-exercise-more resolutions, but I wanted to take a brief intermission to share some things with you....

I'm pretty sure that almost all of us have heard about that study citing that oreos are more addicting than crack to rats. I cant even imagine the litigation that must be going on right now by Nabisco.  

Honestly, if you're reading this blog, you're probably more health conscious than most, and weren't even surprised. After all, there is a reason why you can easily inhale a whole row of oreos without flinching, while eating a whole tub of paleo cookies is actually a challenge. Why? Because paleo cookies are full of things like metabolism boosting fat (grass-fed butter, coconut oil) and proteins (almond flour, cashew flour, eggs).

Like I said, no one was surprised about the crackoreo discovery. However, what I was surprised about was that other foods weren't tested. Like fruit loops or cocoa pebbles or reese's or donuts

...Because let's be real, we all know that I especially have a donut addiction. Specifically to fried cake donuts. I absolutely love love love a great cup of coffee, but a donut topped with sprinkles WITH a cup of coffee? To me, that tastes like what heaven would taste like, if heaven had a taste. Are donuts paleo?  Nope, definitely not. Do I have them from time to time? Yep. And its pure pleasure for about 10 seconds (because I inhale them) and then I feel sick for 5 hours after. I hang onto this feeling long enough to keep myself away, or until I get tempted by those sprinkles again. Then I have another donuts and the vicious cycle continues.

Donuts. Just like crack.

I've made several paleo donut recipes, like the one here. I've also made others from likeminded paleo bloggers that are delicious, but not exactly the fried, flaky, frosting-toppped, sweet donuts that we are all so enamored with. I've found that all the paleo donuts I have tried are dense and cake-like, which makes sense because they're cake-donuts after all, but they just don't have the same texture as conventional donuts.

Until now.

Well, kind of. Since they are still paleo, they will not be quite the same as the traditional donut I have now so eloquently painted a picture of in your head, but they do have a lighter, springier, texture that is the closest I have come to an actual donut. They are indeed fried, so not the best option, in my opinion, but so much better than anything you could buy for a $1 morning special.


Paleo Sugar and Butter Glazed Mini Donuts

Makes 12 mini donuts (or 6 regular sized donuts)

For Donuts:

  • 3/4 Cup Tapioca Starch, divided
  • 1/4 Cup Coconut Flour, plus extra for thickening
  • 1/4 Cup water
  • 1 package yeast
  • 1/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • About 1 Cup coconut oil for frying

For Glaze:

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted, grass-fed, organic butter (I use Kerrygold)
  • 4 tbsp. coconut sugar

To make donuts:

  1. Heat 1/4 cup water to approximately 100 degrees. Add yeast and let sit for about 10 minutes until water is frothy.
  2. While yeast is activating, in a large bowl, beat egg. Add vanilla and stir.
  3. Add in 1/2 cup of the tapioca starch and coconut flour to the egg and vanilla mixture and stir thoroughly until incorporated.
  4. Add activated yeast and water to the batter and stir until well incorporated.
  5. Heat the raw honey until it has melted and add to the batter.
  6. Add in remaining 1/4 cup tapioca starch slowly, stirring after each addition.
  7. At this point, your batter should be slightly sticky but not runny. If it is runny, add additional coconut flour 1 tsp. at a time, stirring after each addition, until batter has thickened.
  8. Once batter is thick but sticky, place a towel over the large bowl with the batter and set aside for about 30 minutes in a warm place to let rise. Batter should rise, but not quite double.
  9. Once dough has risen, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll into a ball, then flatten and roll into long tubes about 1 1/2 inches thick. Connect the end of each donut tube by pressing the edges together and creating a circle. Set aside.
  10. Once all your donuts have been formed, pour coconut oil into a large frying pan on heat on medium heat. Oil should cover about 2/3 of each donuts. Fry donuts 3 at a time, for 3 minutes, until a light brown, and then flip over to brown other side.
  11. Place donuts on a paper towel lined plate to cool before glazing.
  12. Repeat steps 10-11 until you have fried all your donuts. Add more coconut oil if necessary for frying.

To make glaze:

  1. Melt Butter.
  2. Dip donuts into melted butter and set aside.
  3. Sprinkle each donut with about 1 tsp. of coconut sugar.

*These donuts are best when enjoyed immediately, while they are still warm, but not hot. I recommend eating them within 48 hours, as they start to harden after that.  





Sunday Snaps, 01-04-2015

Happy first Sunday of the year! It has been quite the month, hasn’t it? (I also now do realize the irony of “Sunday Snaps”: this doesn’t seem to be a weekly thing at all. More like monthly. Ah well, better luck next time.)

Its been a whirlwind guys. I suppose the holidays always are, but this year seemed to go really fast. Now I have the post-holiday blues, mostly because Christmas isn’t for pretty much a whole year minus 1 week, and it won’t be appropriate to wear all glitter errythang until next New Year’s Eve. Life is hard sometimes.

This Christmas was low-key, which was exactly what Christopher and I needed after a stressful and crazy busy fall. We figured out that since September, either one or both of us had been traveling or having guests stay with us almost every other weekend and sometimes back to back weekends. Also a perk of a New Mexico Christmas? Shooting guns. And biscochos. And Ponchoclaus. (He had a donkey. With a reindeer antler headband.) Nope, not a joke, and yep, a New Mexican staycation was just what we needed:

Old town Mesilla on Christmas Eve

Old town Mesilla on Christmas Eve




Ponchoclaus is real. 

Ponchoclaus is real. 



Can't stop eating

Can't stop eating

And it has been full of gorgeous scenery, especially the past couple weeks:





A friend just told me that eggs are actually considered protein/meat and not dairy. Whatt???? Mind blown. I mean, it makes sense, it does. Its not like an egg is made of cheese and milk or anything, but then why is it always found in the dairy section?? And why hasn’t anyone informed me of this? I’ve gone almost 27 years thinking eggs were dairy. Step it up, world. I’ve lived in ignorance for far too long.

I’ve really noticed the prices of food going up the past few months. Admittedly, healthy eating, and especially following a paleo diet, is always more expensive than conventional diets, but really. Is it just here in the southwest? Anyone have insight on this one? I am baffled.

I am currently obsessed with my new Christmas gift acquisitions, which include a blanket scarf and a pair of Hunter boots. I think they're super cute, but Christopher has been looking at me quizzically and asking why I am insistent upon wearing a blanket around me neck and bright red rain boots in the desert. Men. They will never understand. 

Many in the paleosphere are doing a Whole 30 this month, which is admittedly a great idea following holiday eating. Currently, I feel like this:

I thought about doing a Whole 30 as well, except I’m going to D.C. soon, where I will inevitably eat 10 Georgetown Cupcakes and drink approximately 12 moscow mules, so I’m holding off. Until then, I’ll be continuing to indulge in these wonderful paleo treats I recently posted:

Paleo, dairy-free caramel hot-chocolate with homemade marshmallows

Paleo, dairy-free caramel hot-chocolate with homemade marshmallows


Paleo hot chocolate bar

Paleo hot chocolate bar


Paleoish Kombucha Gin Ricky

Paleoish Kombucha Gin Ricky


Non-dairy chocolate "ice cream" with peppermint-mocha marshmallow swirl

Non-dairy chocolate "ice cream" with peppermint-mocha marshmallow swirl


After I’m back from my D.C. weekend, I’ll be strict paleo…at least until the next sprinkled pastry comes along. But really, I’ve even working on some detox-ready, paleo-friendly recipes. I can’t wait to share, but here’s a sneak peak:



Clearly, this photo is appropriate right now. Except I have been diligent about doing Hot Yoga lately, which I feel detoxes my body, but I really have no scientific evidence to back that one up. I just like sweating. It makes me feel good. And the showers after a long sweat are epic. I also like wearing my lululemon yoga pants for doing actual yoga, and not my normal lululemon routine of drinking coffee while browsing through instagram.

Today is my last day of break before returning to work, and I am so sad. My days of lounging and doing nothing are over. During break, Christopher has figured out a gentle way to tell me to go find something else to do and not bother him while he watches football. Very subtle:

 

Happy New Year! I hope 2015 brings you lots of happiness and health!

 

P.S: If you haven’t seen my Top 10 Faileos of 2014, go check it out here. You’ll get a good laugh:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Starting 2015 with a bang: a better hangover

Guys. I'm a genius. 

Ok, maybe I shouldn't take the credit for this one, because I didn't create this recipe, but can I take the credit for asking someone else to mix alcohol with kombucha? Before I go into the glorious details, let me give you a little background on this drink's creator....

Dani, from Care to Pair, and I met freshman year in high school. Several middle schools in our suburban Chicago school-district funneled into our 2,000+ student high school. The people I had grown up with since 1st grade were diluted within the crowds by strange faces and other kids who had grown up along side me all my life, but of course without my knowledge. It was eerie. 

Dani was in my French class, in my gym class, and was also with me in band, which meant that not only was our nerd status indefinitely cemented, but we were bound to run into each other. By our first week of high-school, we figure out we saw each other several times a day, and by the end of the first month, we were fast friends. 

Dani and I our sophomore year homecoming, circa 2001. Dani is on the far left, and I'm on the right. Pretty sure we opted to hold hands with our dates like that all on our own. Awwwkkkwaaard. 

Dani and I our sophomore year homecoming, circa 2001. Dani is on the far left, and I'm on the right. Pretty sure we opted to hold hands with our dates like that all on our own. Awwwkkkwaaard. 

Now, Dani lives in Vegas, and she pretty much knows everyone and does everything in the beverage industry there, which is quite an accomplishment considering the whole world goes to Vegas to consume... beverages. 

Care to Pair is a blog that goes into details about wine and beer pairings, and had great insight into how flavors of meals can be drawn out by the right drink. Her most recent post, which went over everything Champagne related, was probably one of my favorites. Especially because popping bottles is something we can all get behind. popopopopopop. Ok, I'll stop now. 

Dani continues to be my go-to for anything cocktail, wine, and beer related. Although alcohol is not paleo, by any means, I do indulge in drinks semi-regularly. Life is just too short. Dani is also the one who taught me how to enjoy beer, and she's the one I went with on a VIP tour of Dogfishhead back in February. For this blog, I actually went to Dani with the idea of making a Kombucha cocktail. I have tons of the tea from brewing it myself, and I'm pretty sure everyone, paleo or not, wants a healthy, flavorful mixer for cocktails. 

Dani and I more recently: October 2014 at the Hoover Dam.

Dani and I more recently: October 2014 at the Hoover Dam.

This recipe is posted here, obviously, but also has been posted today over at Dani's own blog, Care to Pair. I'll leave the details of cocktail describing up to her, because I pretty much have no clue what I'm talking about. Serious. I can, however, talk about the kombucha.... because you know, booches are my thang

The kombucha used for this cocktail is a raspberry flavor, but any fruity flavor will do. Strawberry is currently my favorite kombucha flavor of the month, but use whatever you have on hand. If you're buying kombucha, try GT's Trilogy flavor.  (And to catch you up, the steps for making home brewed kombucha can be found here.)

Dani, and her fiance Andrew, hit a home run with this one. This cocktail is fizzy and flavorful, and perfect for a paleoish New Years. Down a few too many of these, and maybe your hangover will be a tad better than ones in years past. Can you guys let me know about that one? K, thanks. ;) (Also, one of my go-tos for ensuring a better hangover, or none at all, when I've had one too many is popping a couple coconut charcoal pills before bed and the next morning. My favorite brand is this one here, but I've also seen them carried at local drug stores. Of course, check with your doctor before taking any of these.)

Happy New Year! I hope your 2015 brings lots of joy, good health, and excellent eats!


Raspberry Kombucha Gin Rickey

  • 2 oz gin (any type)
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • Raspberry Kombucha (or any fruity flavor will do)
  • basil sprig (for garnish)
  1. Fill cocktail shaker with Ice. Pour gin, lime juice, and simple syrup into shaker and shake thoroughly.
  2. Strain all ingredients into an ice-filled high-ball glass.
  3. Top off with Kombucha and garnish with a sprig of basil.

Merry Christmas and a Special Sweet Holiday Treat!

Merry Christmas!

Down here in New Mexico, I've pretty much given up on any hope of White Christmas this year. I guess thats what I get for picking up one day and suddenly moving to the southwest.

I actually don't know what to do with myself. I've never had a Christmas without snow or cold weather (my whole life has been in Chicago, Iowa, or D.C.) except for the one year my family was in Costa Rica for the holidays. With the exclusion of that year spent in Central America, even when we travel, the cold weather seems to follow us. In 2010, we spent Christmas in South Beach, where there were lows around the 60s that sent Miami residents running to buy parkas and sent my grandma and I to lounge on the beach in our swimsuits.

So here I am, basking in the southwest sunshine in a bit of a confused haze. The past couple weeks, I've been celebrating Christmas the only way I know how: by listening to Christmas music, decorating the tree, watching Love Actually, drinking paleo hot chocolate, and lighting lots of fires in the fireplace, subsequently making my house really really hot.

There's one other thing though.

I've been eating a lot of ice cream, since temperatures aren't in the teens like I'm used to. Ice cream in December? So much better than Ice cream in July. Out with the old Christmas sugar cookies, in with the new..... ice cream.

Happy Holidays everyone!


Paleo Chocolate "Ice Cream" with Peppermint Mocha Marshmallow Swirl

  • 1 recipe of your favorite chocolate ice cream recipe (I like this one…because its mine ;) )
  • ¾ cup peppermint-mocha marshmallow fluff *
  1. Follow directions to make ice cream according to your recipe.
  2. Once ice cream mixture is ready, place in your ice cream maker and churn to your manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Watch churning ice cream slowly, and as ice cream starts to harden, add your marshmallow fluff in ¼ cup increments as mixer is still turning.
  4. Once ice cream is finished churning, scoop out and place in an airtight container.
  5. Put ice cream in freezer and let harden for about 2-3 more hours, at least, before eat.

*Marshmallow fluff is derived from making the peppermint-mocha marshmallow recipe, and instead of letting the fluff set (to turn into marshmallows), use the fluff immediately to mix into this ice cream recipe.








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.) 










Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte with Chocolate-Dunked Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows <3

After I made this drink and shot the photos of this drink, I couldn't stop staring at them. It was love at first sight. And sight. And sight. And....

Before I was Paleo, especially in college, I was an avid fan of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. I even worked at Starbucks for 3 years, and in that time, I learned to love every drink, but especially the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I was working at Starbucks from 2006-2009, which is when the PSL really started picking up steam. Even back then, my coworkers and I all saw the signs that this was going drink was going to have a cult-like following. While working at Starbucks in college, I often would pick up the shifts that no one wanted: the 4am open, the 11pm close. I was in college, had endless energy, needed the money, and never really adjusted back to a "regular" sleep schedule.

During these frequent clopens, I would often just stay up, because it didn't make much sense to me to go home and sleep for maybe 2 hours before I would have to be wide awake and perky; after all, there was literally an endless supply of coffee at work.

Our first indication at Starbucks that the PSL was going to be scarily huge was when on the first day of the PSL season. At 4am, there was a line of cars wanting their first PSL of the season....and we didn't open until 4:30. Meaning that several people woke up sometime before 4am to make sure they were the first ones to get their PSL fix. No big deal, you crazies. No. Big. Deal.

I eventually tired of the iconic Starbucks PSL: the high sugar content and 20-ingredient list eventually started to wreak havoc on my stomach. However, I still do crave the pumpkiny drink from time to time. On another note, have you thought about the fact that pumpkin is a squash? Which means that the PSL is essentially Squash Coffee. Perfection in a glass. Mmmmmhmmmmm.

There are 100 Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte's out there, but I really wanted to make my own variation on this iconic drink, and I'm pretty sure I did just that. Instead of milk, I used a combination of both almond milk and coconut cream. This combination ensures that this PSL doesn't taste too "coconutty", as coconut milk drinks can often be, and the almond milk also has a thinner consistency which is important for ensuring that this drink is not pudding-like since it does use real pumpkin puree for flavoring.

The real kicker of this drink? Its topped with melted chocolate and Chocolate-Dunked Pumpkin Spiced Marshmallows. Yep. Its pretty great, so make sure to drink up these last days of fall. (Ha! Pun in.ten.ded.)


Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte with Chocolate-Dunked Pumpkin Spiced Marshmallows

Serves 2

  1. Combine coconut cream, unsweetened almond milk, pumpkin puree, vanilla extract and pumpkin spice in a large saucepan and heat on medium heat until bubbly and all ingredients are well incorporated. Make sure to watch closely and stir to ensure that the mixture does not become scalded.
  2. In a small bowl, melt chocolate. (I use the microwave by watching closely and stopping every 10 seconds, but the correct way to do it is by using a double boiler.)
  3. Once chocolate it melted, dip two mugs, upside down, in the chocolate to rim the edges of the cups with the melted dark chocolate. Dust with pumpkin spice, then set the mugs aside.
  4. Brew coffee, and then pour coffee into a blender.
  5. Once thoroughly heated, carefully pour the saucepan contents into the same blender with the coffee. Blend on high for 2 minutes.
  6. Pour your pumpkin spice lattes into your prepared mugs, and top with pumpkin spiced marshmallows.




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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.