(Super Quick and Easy) Thai-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup

Thai chicken noodle soup. Have dinner on the table in less than half an hour!

I spend way too much time in the kitchen.

For reasons I don’t fully understand myself, I’m addicted to recipes that have way too many fancy ingredients and way too many steps. I can’t help myself. It’s a problem. I hate how much time I spend in my kitchen, but I just can’t stop.

What many people might consider comfort food, I tend to find boring. No casseroles or pasta for me. I’m always hankering for something exotic, with lots of different textures and aromas and spices.

This is one of those unique recipes that feels really fancy and exotic but only takes a few minutes to whip up. It only has a few ingredients, and most of them can be found in your pantry/fridge/freezer at any given time. (Or at least, they are in mine. I always have homemade chicken broth, coconut milk, and fish sauce on hand.)

It’s also very nourishing, made with simple, wholesome ingredients. It’s loaded with good fats, vitamins and minerals. It’s filling, too.

I adore the balance of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavours of Thai cuisine. This recipe takes the basic template of boring chicken noodle soup and bumps it up to *spectacular.*

It features a rich, savoury broth turned magical with dreamy, creamy coconut milk. The fish sauce creates depth by adding sumptuous umami flavour. You can adjust the heat to your liking with red pepper flakes.

thai fish sauceMmmm… umami.

It will taste like you simmered it on the stove for hours. You can serve it to your guests and they will all be impressed. Or just toss it t0gether for your family on a random weeknight.

Go make this delicious soup! It will be ready in less than 30 minutes.

Disclaimer: I am not even close to being Thai. I have not even been to Thailand. So I apologize to actual Thai cooks who are probably rolling their eyes at my attempt to imitate their rich cuisine. Thank you for your wonderful gift of fish sauce to the world.

Recipe: Thai-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup

thai chicken noodle soup


  • 8 oz rice stick noodles (about 225g, or half a package)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts, rinsed (optional)


First, soften the noodles. You don’t want to actually cook them, because they will quickly turn to mush in the hot soup. Just place them in a heat-safe bowl with hot water from the tap, to soak while you make the rest of the soup. Set aside.

rice stick noodles soaking

Meanwhile, melt coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add chicken stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer.

Add chicken and let it gently poach in the simmering broth, about 5 minutes. (Poaching gives you much more tender chicken than sauteeing, and is ideal for soups. #protip)

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and/or more red pepper.

At this point, your noodles should be flexible and soft, but not cooked. A little firmer than al dente. Drain the water. The noodles will finish cooking in the hot broth in your individual bowls, kind of like how the beef in Vietnamese pho cooks in your bowl.

To serve: Place a serving of noodles in each bowl, add desired amount of bean sprouts (if using), then ladle hot soup over it. Give the noodles a minute to finish cooking. Sprinkle generously with cilantro. Add another dash of red pepper flakes if you’re that kind of person.

Listen to your kid complain, “I hate it! It’s horrible! I thought you were making pad Thai!” and then eat it anyway.

Tada! Dinner on the table in less than half an hour.



Delightful Sparkling Apple Cider Vinegar Water

Delightful Sparkling Apple Cider Vinegar WaterI’m sure you’re all heard of the health benefits of raw apple cider vinegar, some of which are anecdotal, some backed by science.

Raw apple cider vinegar contains potassium, amino acids, and antioxidants, which are good for overall health. It contains acetic acid which can help kill pathogens, including bacteria, making it beneficial when you’re sick. Some studies suggest apple cider vinegar may help with weight loss; it may help with type 2 diabetes; and some say it might even help prevent cancer. (This article explores these claims in more detail). While there isn’t a lot of really hard evidence proving the benefits of apple cider vinegar (which is unsurprising, since there’s little money to be made in it), it certainly can’t hurt to incorporate it into your diet.

The trouble is, it tastes awful. Anyone else agree? I can’t stand the stuff. I don’t even like adding it to my salad dressing. It’s just not tasty AT ALL.

I’ve heard people say they just force themselves to swallow a tablespoonful every morning, maybe with some honey to make it more palatable. I admire their self-discipline. They probably also go for long runs or do Crossfit every morning, too.

I just know that I would never keep that up long-term.

For me, an activity has to be inherently pleasurable for me to make it a habit. I will never keep up an exercise regime if I don’t enjoy it. (Running is out. Yoga and dancing? Okay.) I will never keep up with supplements if they’re gross. (That’s why fermented cod liver oil quickly fizzled out. Yech.)

So I’m delighted to say I have found a way to take apple cider that’s actually enjoyable. I love this recipe! I look forward to mixing up a glass to go with my dinner, or even sipping on a glass for a mid-afternoon energy boost. And it’s SO SO SIMPLE! Just two extra ingredients (three if you want to be fancy).

I first came across this recipe sweetened with stevia, but I’ve heard mixed reports on whether or not this sweetener is actually good for you. I don’t care for the aftertaste, either. So I substituted it with maple syrup, which was an immediate winner.

Somehow, the sparkling water and maple syrup completely transform the apple cider vinegar. The beverage has a nice, light zing that is complemented by a touch of sweetness and happy little bubbles. With a spritz of lemon juice, it’s reminiscent of Sprite. (From what I remember. It’s been many years.)

If you’re currently addicted to soda, you probably won’t find this a perfect substitute. But if you already eat fairly healthily and have cut back on your sugar intake, I think you’ll enjoy this fizzy, lightly sweetened beverage. It feels fancy, even though it’s inexpensive and takes a couple of seconds to put together. And it feels good knowing it’s (probably) good for you.

So please. No more choking down straight-up ACV for the health benefits. That’s just cruel. Take a moment to make it sparkle.

Sparkling apple cider vinegar

Delightful Sparkling Apple Cider Vinegar Water

  • 1 Tbsp raw, organic apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • ice
  • 1 cup (or so) carbonated water*
  • spritz of lemon or lime juice (optional)

Pour ACV and maple syrup into a glass; top with carbonated water (putting it in the glass in this order stirs it up for you a bit). Add ice and citrus juice as desired. Stir and enjoy!

*I just use a no-name carbonated water from my local grocery store. No need to blow money on name-brand water.

5 Reasons I Choose to Spend More Money on Groceries

5 Reasons I Choose to Spend More Money on Groceries

On the whole, our family probably spends less money on food than many North American families do, since I’m able to cook most things from scratch (mayonnaise, granola, yogurt, bread, etc), we grow some of our own food, and we almost never eat out.

But I spend quite a bit more money on certain items than a lot of families (especially other lower-income families) do. And I do this voluntarily. Often, when deciding between two products, I’ll actually go with the more expensive one, which makes some folks gasp.

“Ten dollars for four liters of milk?!” [That’s about a gallon for you Americans.]

“Seven dollars for a little baggie of salt?!”

“Three dollars for a chocolate bar?!”

Yup, I’ve heard them all. They can’t believe I’d willingly spend double to triple the amount on what seems, to them, to be essentially the same product.


There are a number of reasons I do this, which I will outline below.

But I first wanted to explain that for me, the way I spend money is an expression of my theology. It’s one of the ways I “do ministry.”

Most Christians believe strongly in the importance of giving money to the poor. Most Evangelicals accept the idea that at least ten percent of one’s income should go towards Kingdom-building endeavors.

This isn’t so different. The way I choose to buy my groceries is my attempt to help feed and clothe the poor, as Jesus commands, in a way that may be as effective as – possibly even more effective than – donating money in the traditional sense. I am choosing to spend a portion of my earnings on bettering the lives of other humans and non-human animals.

Moreover, I try to keep in mind that we North Americans still only spend a tiny fraction of our incomes on food compared to people of other nations.  While Americans, on average, spend only 6-10% of their incomes on food, Algerians, for example, spend almost 44% of their incomes on food (source). I don’t think it’s unreasonable, then, to be willing to spend a little extra to ensure that my food is ethically acquired.

Here are some reasons why I choose to spend more money on groceries.

1. I don’t think I’m actually spending more in the long run.

I believe it’s actually more economical to invest in high-quality (whole, local, organic) food, because it results in improved health for me and my family. That means less money we have to spend on drugs, dentistry, vitamin supplements, and the like. (As Canadians, we don’t personally pay for doctor and hospital visits, but we reduce the amount of taxpayer money that has to be spent on our health problems). As 11-year-old Birke Baehr puts it, “We can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital.” I choose to pay the farmer.

We also save money because quality food fills you up better and longer. A hard-boiled free-range egg and a banana will go a lot further and give me a lot more energy than a coffee and donut, which will just leave me needing to refuel again soon (not to mention make me feel like crap and make me work less effectively). When my food is nutrient-dense, I require a lot less of it.roadside stand

2. When it comes to animal products, I often pay more to ensure they’ve been raised humanely.

When I can, I try to buy meat, eggs, and milk from animals that have lived their lives on the pasture, not in cramped, dirty cages or stalls. (When they’re not available, I try to avoid these foods altogether. We eat a lot of beans around here).

I believe that God cares deeply for his animals and He grieves to see them treated cruelly. I don’t want to participate in the brutality characteristic of factory farms.

It costs a lot more to raise animals on an open farm, so I have to be willing to pay more if I want to see animals treated well.

3. When it comes to things like sugar, cocoa, and tomatoes – foods that are frequently produced using slave labour, or bought at unfair prices – I choose to pay a premium for fair-trade certification, to ensure that farmers and harvesters have been paid a fair price.

A lot of what we buy is so cheap in North America because people were exploited in the process of getting it here.

As I mentioned above, we North Americans spend way less on food than people all over the world. The reason is because we’re practically stealing it from those people.

If we wealthy suburbanites were all willing to pay a little more for our food, we could help ensure that farmers get paid what their crops are worth.

4. I buy organic not only for our own health, but also to ensure the land remains healthy for future generations, and so workers don’t have to be exposed to harmful chemicals.

Pesticides are dangerous for everyone involved, not just us consumers. And they’re damaging our soil, water and air. Again, I’m willing to pay more money for food that is safely and sustainably grown and so no one has to suffer.

5. I sometimes pay more for local produce.

Last June, in a weird twist of logic, I discovered in the grocery store that the strawberries grown here in Ontario cost more than the ones shipped in from California — that is, from the opposite coast of a different country! For the few weeks that strawberries were in season, I faithfully picked up a pint of Ontario strawberries and paid the extra dollar for the ones that didn’t take gallons of fossil fuels to get to me. This was just a small way I felt I could help reduce pollution.

So these are just a few reasons that spending more money on groceries is part of my peculiar lifestyle.

Am I forgetting anything?

How about you? What factors influence the way you shop?

*An earlier version of this post appeared April 10, 2012.*

Images courtesy of Anca Mosoiu and Sharon Drummond.

Healthy Vanilla Pumpkin Smoothie

healthy vanilla pumpkin smoothie

I fell in love with pumpkin last year when I bought a couple of beautiful heirloom pumpkins for decoration. The elegant Rouge Vif d’Etampes and the whimsical grey Jarrehdale pumpkin looked amazing on my front porch throughout the fall. I took them inside when it started to freeze; and finally in December, when they’d enjoyed much admiration for their stunning appearance, I hacked them up, roasted them, and pureed them.

Prior to then, I didn’t have much experience baking with pumpkin and the commercial pumpkin products I’d tried hadn’t impressed me all that much. Now I found myself with an abundance of puree on my hands and I started to experiment.

Turned out I LOVED me some pumpkin. And those lovely decorative pumpkins ended up having sweeter, thicker, and smoother flesh than the traditional pie pumpkins I’d tried earlier. I used the puree mostly in muffins, breads, and risotto; but I loved it all so much I was eager to try it in different recipes as well. Pumpkin ice cream? Pumpkin cheesecake?!

This year I planted the seeds of those two pumpkins and ended up with a whole pile of their handsome offspring. Now it’s pumpkin every day!

One of my favourite creations so far is this pumpkin smoothie. I love it as a mid-afternoon snack. It was inspired by a recipe I saw on Pinterest from The Pioneer Woman, but that recipe called for canned pie filling and vanilla yogurt. Since I make my own pumpkin puree and yogurt, I knew I needed to deconstruct that recipe. Plus, I was pretty sure her recipe had more sugar and additives than I wanted. I was looking for a healthier, more frugal option. And so this smoothie was born. (If you are the kind of person who buys vanilla yogurt and canned pie filling, by all means, go ahead and try Pioneer Woman’s recipe).

It’s delicious and nutritious! The pumpkin provides lots of nutrients, like beta-carotene (an antioxidant), vitamin C, and potassium. The yogurt provides beneficial probiotics. We’ve got healthy fats, protein, and fiber going on here, making it good and filling. I sweeten mine with maple syrup — no refined sugars over here!

I personally find that the tang from the yogurt pairs perfectly with the pumpkin and the spice. The vanilla makes it extra-luxurious. And maple tastes great in every beverage, in my opinion.

Before you try this recipe, you have to freeze your pumpkin puree in ice cube trays. (Like, the night before.) That helps make it creamy. And if you don’t have your own pumpkin spice blend, I have a recipe for that at the bottom.

Healthy Vanilla Pumpkin Smoothie Recipe

Serves 1

  • 3 cubes frozen pumpkin puree (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (cow’s milk or coconut milk are both delectable)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice (recipe below)
  • 2-3 Tbsp maple syrup (I’m happy with 2; some might prefer sweeter)
  • sprinkle of cinnamon (optional)

Blend everything together in a blender (I use my Magic Bullet). Make sure to do it good and long to make sure all the pumpkin gets blended in. Pour into a glass and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired. Enjoy!

And if you need it:

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice

Blend together and store in a sealed container.  It’s ready to join in on your pumpkin adventures!

Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing

Chickpea chocolate cake

So . . . I’m pretty sure “chickpea” and “beet” are not two words you typically see in a birthday cake recipe. But what makes this recipe so interesting is that it looks and tastes like a totally normal chocolate birthday cake!

I baked this cake for Lydia’s third birthday this last weekend, and no one could tell there was anything unusual going on. In fact, our guests raved about how moist and chocolatey it was, and asked for the recipe. It’s dense but springy and rich. It’s a little less sweet than conventional or store-bought cakes, but that was intentional — I usually find birthday cake WAY too sweet, and I didn’t want to serve a really sugary dessert to our tiny guests.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking for a cake recipe that was somewhat nutritious, not too sugary, and didn’t contain artificial food dyes, which can make children (and adults) cray-cray. This one fit the bill perfectly.

Update 2017: I have now made this cake four years in a row, and it’s been a hit every time. I’ve learned how to frost a cake better, and have tried other colours. You’ll see photos from several cakes here, starting with my first attempt.

birthday cake

A Note About the Cake:

The recipe originates from Nigella.com and is full of odd ingredients. I’ve made it many times over the years and have always been happy with it. I’ve doubled it here to make it a double-layer cake.

This cake happens to be grain-free and gluten-free (if you use the right ingredients), even though we don’t generally eat gluten-free. I just think we typically eat too many grains in general, so it’s always advantageous to cut back when we can. Thanks to the chick peas and eggs, it’s quite high in protein.

It works out really well for a double-layer cake because it has a flat top — they stack on top of one another beautifully.

If you just want a single-layer cake for a casual gathering, halve the recipe, add a handful of chocolate chips, and serve with homemade maple-sweetened whipped cream. Decadence without damaging your body.

A Note About the Icing:

I got this recipe from Joy the Baker, but I cut the sugar in half. It was still PLENTY sweet. And I boiled the beet rather than roasting it, since I only needed one. The beet flavour doesn’t come through at all — just the lovely magenta colour. Who needs FD&C Red No. 40, anyway?

On the the recipe!

birthday cake slice

Chickpea Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cans chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), or 4 cups home-cooked
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (or pineapple)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar (or other granulated sugar)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with cut circles of parchment paper to make sure your cakes come out nice and easy. Preheat oven to 350.

Blend the chick peas and 4 of the eggs in a large blender or food processor until smooth. Then mix in all the rest of the ingredients until well blended. (They may not all fit in your blender at once. You may need to transfer to your mixer bowl and beat it with your mixer, after the beans are blended smooth.) Batter will be very runny, but don’t fret — it’ll fluff up like magic when you bake it.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Meanwhile, wash your food processor, because you’ll need it for your icing.

Beet Cream Cheese Icing

  • 1 small beet
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (preferably corn-free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds of one vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp milk

Wash and trim the beet, and boil in a small pot of water until you can easily pierce it with a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, peel it and grate it with a microplaner or the finest grating plane on a box grater. Measure out 2-3 Tbsp for the icing; eat or discard the rest.

Meanwhile, add butter, cream cheese and icing sugar to the bowl of your food processor, and blend until smooth. Stop and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Add vanilla, lemon juice, and salt, and blend it in.

Next, you want to colour your icing by blending in your grated beet. I find the best way to do this is to first blend it into a small amount of your icing separately, then add it back. Remove a few tablespoons of your prepared icing into a small blender/food processor/coffee grinder (I use my Magic Bullet), along with the shredded beet and milk. Blend until smooth, and you have a deep, rich magenta icing. Then add it back to the rest of your icing and blend until mixed.

Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

Updated to add: for a fancier cake with more decoration, make 1 1/2 batches of icing. You can then colour the extra icing a different colour, and use it to pipe on decorations of your choice.

(For the pictured cake, I made 1 1/2 batches of icing and coloured all of it with the beet, but then removed some and added some natural blue spirulina powder to make purple. Get creative! I’ll add some photos of other cakes I’ve done with other natural colours at the bottom of the post.)

chick pea chocolate cake with beet cream cheese icing - grain-free birthday cake with natural color

Assembling the Cake:

Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting and spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with more frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake until evenly covered.

If you’ve made extra icing in another colour, pipe it on with a cake decorating kit.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, to make the cake easier to slice.

chick pea chocolate cake with beet cream cheese icing

For her fifth birthday, my daughter requested a green and blue cake, so I did 1 1/2 batches of the icing, without the beet. For the blue, I used blue spirulina powder. For the green, I added a tsp of turmeric. You can’t taste either. (I was still learning how to frost a cake, though, so the execution isn’t fantastic. The kids were still impressed.)

grain-free cake with natural colours


Mexican Skillet and Rice: Dinner on the Table in 30 Minutes or Less!

Mexican Skillet and Rice: super-quick dinner in less than 30 minutes!

I have gotten myself in the habit of always only cooking elaborate dinners every night. I typically spend 2-3 hours working on dinner every night, with cleanup and everything. That’s way too much time in the kitchen every day when I have so many other projects I’d like to be working on. I do find it fun and satisfying, and our food is pretty fantastic (if I do say so myself) as a result; but sometimes, I’d like to give myself a break. Without resorting to junk food.

Part of the reason I spend so much time in the kitchen is my desire to make everything from scratch. That takes longer than opening up a can of this and mixing it with a box of that. USUALLY.

But real food can be quick, too. I just have to remind myself of this fact every once in a while.

Lately, I’m interested in building up a repertoire of super-quick and easy (but still wholesome) dinners for hectic days when I don’t have time for elaborate ones. I don’t have a lot of these types of recipes, to be honest.

But this recipe for Mexican Skillet fits the bill perfectly and has been a staple my whole life. Honest. I’ve been making it since I was ten years old.

Back then, we used minute rice and bouillon cubes for flavour. (In fact, the recipe originates from the back of an Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice box, circa 1992). We topped it with chopped iceberg lettuce and orange Kraft cheddar (Cheese should not be orange, you guys. It’s made out of milk. When did you last see orange milk.) Over the years I’ve adapted it for a more real foods diet, but it’s still simple, quick, and delicious. Better lettuce, better cheese, no powdered flavours, and real rice make this a winner.

The next time you have to whip together a quick dinner in less than half an hour, try this one out. You don’t even have to have the beef defrosted ahead of time — just throw the meat right in your skillet, frozen, with a bit of water; put on the lid and let it simmer until it’s ready to brown. It’ll only add another 10 minutes to your total cooking time. I did this the other day and still had time to tidy the kitchen before calling the family in to eat.

Mexican Skillet. Dinner in 30 minutes

Mexican Skillet and Rice

  • 1 cup uncooked rice (I like basmati)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 quart jar canned tomatoes, diced or whole (I use home-canned)
  • 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • chopped romaine lettuce (or other favourite. We’ve used arugula and spinach in a pinch)
  • grated cheddar cheese (preferably raw organic)

To start, get the rice cooking. I usually use basmati because it cooks up so quickly (20 minutes or less), but you can use your  favourite long-grain rice (including brown) — just adjust water and cooking time as needed. For basmati, add rice and 1 1/2 cups water to a small pot over high heat. Cook until it starts to bubble; then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender.

Meanwhile, brown ground beef with chopped onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, salt and chili powder. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Add cooked rice. Taste and adjust flavouring.

You’re done! Serve with lettuce and cheddar.




6 Tips For Getting Green Salads on the Table More Often

6 tips to help get you and your family eating more green salads

Growing up, I always thought I wasn’t much of a salad person.

But that’s because my idea of what constituted a salad was very limited and sad.

The only salad I’d ever encountered was that of the Kraft variety — gluey bottled dressing drizzled over iceberg lettuce, wedges of watery greenhouse tomatoes, and slices of cucumbers, sprinkled with solid blocks called croutons. As far as I knew, there were five types of salad in the world: Ranch, French, Italian, Caesar, and Thousand Islands. All of them were pretty meh.

Even when I got older and started experimenting with other flavours from the bottled dressing aisle — creamy poppyseed, sweet onion, raspberry vinaigrette — I found myself terribly dissatisfied. Everything tasted flat and plastic-y. They would sit in my fridge door for literally years before I’d finally toss them.

And honestly, if that’s all there was to salad, I wasn’t missing out on much nutritionally. Iceberg lettuce and imported or hydroponically-grown vegetables are almost useless to the body, and bottled dressing is mostly just preservatives. No thanks.

In my later twenties, when I started getting serious about food, I finally discovered the glorious variety and spectacular flavours of real green salads. Garden-fresh romaine, spinach, mesclun, arugula, kale, and broccoli; tossed with zippy creamy dressings or sweet and zingy vinaigrettes. Salads topped with tangy fruit, crispy nuts, grilled meats, fresh herbs, and crumbled cheeses. They were packed with vitamins, protein, probiotics, and intrigue. They could even be a complete meal!

broccoli salad

But they were a lot of work. Composing a salad with hand-shredded leaves, homemade dressing, toasted nuts, and some kind of fruit took a lot of planning and hands-on time. It was too much effort for a side dish when I was already cooking the main dish from scratch. So salads were still pretty rare in our house, even though we loved them and they were so good for us.

Until I discovered that having a few key ingredients on hand at all times made me salad-ready anytime the passion for something crisp and cool took over.

See, the problem is that the main ingredient in most salads — greens — are terribly perishable. They don’t last long once you pick them and or/take them home from the market. So the key to seizing the salady moment is making sure you always have all the other ingredients handy when you get your hands on some fresh, crispy greens.

Here’s what I do and what I recommend, so that you always have the necessary elements on hand to make delicious, fresh, homemade salads all through salad season. (I’m just going to point out that winter is not green salad season here in Canada. I don’t eat green salads in winter, unless you count cole slaw. Although I sure do long for them!!)

So here are my tips for getting salad on your table on a more regular basis:

Experiment with different homemade salad recipes until you find some that you love.

If you’re not a big salad eater already, keep trying new ones until you hit on a favourite. It took me a long time to find ours. Even try kinds that you think you don’t like due to early exposure to the Kraft version.  I always thought I hated Greek salad until I tasted homemade Greek salad. Not even the same category!!

They’re a ton of work at first but persevere until you find a few your family loves. There is hardly anything more nutritious and refreshing you can serve your family. And they will get easier once you are comfortable preparing all the other parts.

Once you have these figured out, you can start prepping big batches of dressing and other toppings so you can throw together a quick salad at meal times without hassle.

The toppings I list below are the elements of our favourite salads. Yours might be a little different.

green salad

Make big(ger) batches of a few favourite dressings to keep on hand.

Ours are Caesar, sweet balsamic vinaigrette, and more recently, Greek. Homemade dressings can be a pain to mix up last-minute, but if you make them ahead of time you’ll be so grateful when you’re scrambling for a last-minute side dish. I like to keep our fridge stocked with these throughout the spring and summer so that they’re always handy.

I also find it essential to always have my fridge stocked with a batch of homemade mayo. With a bit of vinegar and other flavours or spices, homemade mayo can quickly be transformed into some of the most delicious creamy salad dressings you’ve ever tasted.

Toast batches of nuts.

Most salads benefit from a crunchy element. Nuts usually fit the bill perfectly, especially with sweet dressings.

And all nuts benefit from some toasting. It makes them crispier and enhances their flavour. But you don’t want to be toasting nuts while you’re also preparing the rest of your dinner. If you’re like me, you’ll burn them 75% of the time.

So here’s what I do.

My favourite nut is slices or slivered almonds; chopped pecans also make a terrific change.

I do about a cup or two at a time, which will last for quite a few salads.

Just pour your nuts into a dry large pan, and heat them over medium heat. DON’T LEAVE THE STOVE. Attend to them, stirring gently but continuously, until they’re a light golden colour. Remove from stove to cool, and store in an airtight container. (I like to keep them in a small mason jar.)

They’re ready to sprinkle onto a salad at a moment’s notice.

Keep your pantry stocked with nonperishable fruit.

I adore fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, sliced apple, etc) on my salads. But I don’t always have fresh fruit on hand. (Canada, remember? We only have fresh fruit available five months out of the year). Dried and canned fruit are a wonderful, convenient substitute when fresh isn’t available.

I find we eat salad much more often when I keep canned mandarin slices, canned pineapple, and dried cranberries on hand. They are a delightful addition to leafy salads!

Keep your fridge stocked with feta, fresh Parmesan and/or other cheeses.

Feta cheese is another ingredient I try to keep on hand during salad season. It really zips up an otherwise boring salad, and takes little effort to crumble on top of your greens (or tomatoes or cucumbers.) If you don’t care for feta, you might prefer goat cheese or even Parmesan. Just a suggestion.

Our Favourite Salads

To get you inspired, here are our favourite salad varieties that use combinations of the above ingredients:

  • Fruity: mixed sweet greens (lettuces, baby spinach, field greens, etc), sweet balsamic vinaigrette, fresh cilantro leaves, toasted almonds, and any fruit (fresh berries, dried cranberries, mandarin slices, pineapple chunks, etc)
  • Greek: romaine lettuce, sliced cucumbers, garden-fresh tomatoes, Greek dressing, crumbled feta. (For a small batch of dressing: 6 Tbsp olive oil, 1.5 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 pressed garlic gloves, 1 tsp oregano)

What are your favourite salads? I could always use some more ideas!

Tempura Dandelions: Adventures in Beginner Foraging

Tempura Dandelions (Battered and deep-fried!)

(Note: I realize this post might be coming a little late at the end of May. Most of the dandelions in my area have just turned to white fluff. Bummer! But I figured if I didn’t share this now, I never would! If you live in the northern states/provinces, maybe you still have a chance to grab some yellow dandies and try this unique treat. If not, pin for next year!)

I’ve always loved the idea of foraging. Eating for free from the wild. Enjoying nourishing foods that others might overlook or consider “weeds.” I get giddy when I come across a fruit-heavy black raspberry bush or mulberry tree in the woods, just standing there. Waiting for me to pluck its warm, juicy fruit from the branch and enjoy. It just seems so magical and slightly sacred.

But I’ve always assumed foraging was mostly too complicated for me. I figured it was generally too time-consuming, what with the hunting and gathering. I thought it would involve more study than I have to offer right now, getting to know unfamiliar plant names and methods of preparation.

So I was thrilled when I discovered a recipe for tempura (i.e.battered and deep-fried) dandelions. I know dandelions! And I know where to find them! The recipe is quite simple and uses all familiar ingredients.

I knew that dandelions were good for you, but I find the leaves and stems way too bitter. I’d never thought to use the flowers! This sounded perfect.

And upon further research, I was blown to discover just how incredibly nutritious they are! Their Latin name, Taraxacum officinale, translates roughly as “basic remedy,” as dandelion was once a valued medicinal plant that was cultivated as a general cure-all, especially for liver and kidney care. In fact, dandelions didn’t start out as weeds in North America: they were brought across the ocean as a valuable medicinal plant. Crazy, right? Dandelions are high in iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Why exactly do we consider them our lawn’s nemesis? They’re more valuable than our grass!

Anyway, I decided I had to give them a try. I invited Lydia to join me in gathering some dandelions from our yard (we don’t use sprays or fertilizers on our lawn, so I knew it was safe.) There’s a nice area between our yard and the field next to us where we could gather a nice crop. Of course she loved this part of the activity.

Picking dandelions . . . to EAT! Tutorial for tempura dandelions

Dandelions for making tempura dandies

And the final results were absolutely delicious! I think I ate about 20 dandelions in one sitting, as soon as they cooled. Lydia liked them all right; Ben loved them paired with my smoky paprika and cumin aoili.

Here’s the recipe if you want to make your own:

Tempura Dandelions

Adapted from The Rhythm of the Family by Amanda Blake Soule and Stephen Soule.

Note: this batter needs to be very, very thin. Watery, even. It just needs to barely coat the flowers with the thinnest possible film of batter. This will help keep the beautiful dandelion shape and give you a nice, crisp crust while the inside quickly softens.

I’ve also read (here) that if you want to reduce the bitter flavour, pull off the bracts (the little downward pointy leaf-like things at the base of the flower head, where the stem attaches). I went ahead and did this, just to make sure our first attempt was as tasty as possible. It’s a little time-consuming, though. You may choose to skip it.


  • Bowl of dandelion heads
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup ice-cold water, plus more as needed
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Plenty of heat-stable fat for frying (I used a combo of lard and tallow; you could try coconut oil)


Begin by rinsing the dandelion heads. I ran mine through my salad spinner as well, though it’s not too important. They’ll look a little soggy and unappetizing at this point, but they’ll return to their original pretty shape when they’re fried.

In a small pot, begin to heat/melt your fat over medium-high heat — you want it to be between 1-2 inches deep.

In a small bowl, combine flour and cornstarch. In a second, larger bowl, beat egg until frothy, then add the ice water, vinegar, and salt, and beat some more. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined (you don’t want to overmix). If needed, add some more ice water until batter is thin and very watery.

Take your bowl of batter and your bowl of dandelions to your stove. Your fat should be nice and hot by now. Sprinkle a pinch of flour into the fat to test — if it immediately fizzes up, you’re ready.

Begin to dip the flower heads into the batter, one at a time, letting the watery batter drip off for a moment before  dropping them carefully in the hot fat, petal-side down. Once they’re golden, turn them over with tongs to fry the other side.

Frying tempura dandelions

When both sides are golden, remove dandies with tongs to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Continue dipping and frying dandelions in batches until they’re all done.

Serve alone or with your favourite mayo dip. Yum!

tempura dandelions

Tempura dandelions

Have you eaten dandelions or other “weeds”? How did you prepare them? Did you like them?

Disclosure: contains affiliate links.

Super-Easy, Best-Ever Homemade Mayo

Best-Ever Super-Easy Homemade Mayo

I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’m kind of a mayo ninja.

It comes from having tried and mastered every recipe out there. From Julia Child’s classic hand-whisked 3-yolk mayo, to a lacto-fermented version using whey strained from yogurt, to the simplest version using one room-temperature whole egg in a food processor. I’ve used almost every kind of oil (from coconut to EVOO — to which I say blech) and all manner of vinegars (to which I say too complicated.)

Eventually, I managed to combine the best of all these recipes to find the ultimate perfect (and ridiculously-easy) mayo recipe. In my humble opinion.

Even in the midst of first-trimester yuckiness, when I couldn’t bear to make dinner for a month and opening the fridge was an exercise in self-torture, I still managed to whip up a batch of my awesome homemade mayo.

It’s one of those things where the homemade version is SO AMAZING and the store-bought alternative SO AWFUL (mostly in terms of gross ingredients) that you just can’t go back once you’ve tasted the real thing. And it’s easy to boot!

If you have never tried homemade mayonnaise, you have not begun living. The stuff you buy in the store WISHES it was a mere imitation of the real thing. It is a mere shadow, an echo, a whisper of what beauty emerges when you emulsify oil with egg and lemon.

And once you’ve mastered homemade mayo, you’ve opened yourself up to an entire universe of incredible, gourmet dips, sauces and dressings:

  • If you add a couple of spices, you get this spectacular smoky paprika cumin aoli which tastes amazing with homemade sweet potato fries
  • Combined with creme fraiche, garlic, and a blend of herbs, you get delicious, good-for-you ranch dressing that will get your kiddos dipping fresh veggies to their (and your) heart’s content

And the list goes on! It’s great in tuna, macaroni, or Waldorf salad; it’s wonderful on sandwiches; it tastes divine on hard-boiled eggs . . . I can’t stop eating this mayo!

Homemade mayo on hard-boiled egg. Yum!(So obviously I’m not the best food photographer in the world. But believe me when I say this hard-boiled egg smothered in homemade mayo was one of the best things I ate all week.)

The best thing of all, I think, is the fact that you don’t have to feel guilty slathering your sandwiches in this delectable spread. It’s made with healthy ingredients and good fats, so you can enjoy it without regret!

Okay, I know my recipe has some sugar in it, and I know that sugar is evil. You can totally omit it. But to me, that tiny bit of sugar is the difference between “good” and “out-of-this-world.” Your call. Either way, at least it’s not Miracle Whip.

A Few Notes and Tips:

  • My one caveat is that you must use quality eggs from a source you know and trust, since they will remain raw. Fresh from a farm is ideal. I only use eggs from my parents’ chickens, which are free to roam and graze all day. I would be hesitant to use any old store-bought eggs, since I have no way of knowing whether the birds were healthy. I would not want to risk salmonella poisoning!
  • Lots of recipes require you to use yolks only, and many of them. I used to do this. I never knew what to do with the whites, and it made my mayo an unappetizing yellow. Turns out, I actually get lovelier, fluffier mayo if I use one whole egg. It’s cheaper and easier, too. Who knew.
  • While I’ve heard people say they had success with a blender or stick blender, I find the process is MUCH MUCH easier and more reliable with a food processor. (I use and love my Ninja). [UPDATE: I have since tried it with a stick blender, and I will never go back. It’s unbelievably easy. I will include the instructions below.]

All that being said, let’s move on to the mayonnaise-making!

Homemade mayo - simple and super-tasty!

Simple, Scrumptious Homemade Mayo

Makes about 1 1/4 cups
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh is vastly superior, but bottled works too)
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup neutral-tasting oil (I usually use “light” olive oil, but have also liked cold-pressed sunflower oil and avocado oil. Do NOT use extra-virgin olive oil, because it’s disgusting in this.)

Now, you are much more likely to have success if you bring your egg and lemon juice to room temperature. You could let them sit on the counter for three hours, but usually when I want mayo, I want it RIGHT NOW.

So here’s what you do: crack your egg and pour your lemon juice into a small glass. Fill a bigger bowl with hot tap water, and immerse the cup in the water (without getting any water into the cup — the way some people warm up a baby bottle) for a few minutes until the contents have warmed to room temperature.

[UPDATE: STICK BLENDER METHOD. As I mentioned above, I have since found it even easier with an immersion blender. Warm your egg yolk and lemon juice as above in a wide-mouth pint jar (or similar container). Then throw in the rest of the ingredients. Stick your blender in there, turn it on, and watch as the ingredients magically turn into mayo in less than a minute!!]

Food processor method: Pour the warmed egg mixture into your food processor and blend for a few seconds, just to get it mixed.

Add the mustard powder, salt, and sugar, and blend a few seconds longer.

Now comes the slightly tricky part. You need to add the oil S-L-O-W-L-Y while the blade is running. Have your oil ready in the measuring cup to make pouring easy. Turn on the machine, and start to drizzle in the oil — the thinnest stream you can possibly manage. Keep it running, and continue to pour — again, s-l-o-w-l-y, until the oil is gone. Be amazed as the oily, messy contents of your food processor gradually and magically begin to turn white and creamy (emulsification, baby!). But don’t get hasty. Keep drizzling. This process will take you a couple of minutes, but it will be SO WORTH IT.

And you’re done! Scrape all that creamy deliciousness into a glass container with a rubber spatula and start slathering!

A Word on Storage:

I’m told homemade mayo can be kept in the fridge for a week or so, though I’ve gone longer. If you want to preserve it to last longer, you can try this method of lacto-fermentation, if you’re the kind of person who has whey hanging around in your fridge. (Just add a Tbsp liquid whey along with the lemon juice; then after it’s made, let it sit on the counter for 7 hours before refrigerating). I’ve done this dozens of times, but it adds a few steps, and lately I don’t need mine to last that long. It goes quickly when you start using it in all your dressings and dips!

Best-Ever Homemade Mayo (super-easy!)

Fried Beef Liver with Bacon, Mushroom and Sage: A.K.A. The Liver Recipe That Will Convert The Die-Hard Liver Hater


Fried Beef Liver with Bacon, Mushroom and Sage: A.K.A. The Liver Recipe That Will Convert The Die-Hard Liver HaterLiver.

Any Traditional Foods/Weston A. Price groupie worth her weight in raw pastured butter knows how incomparably valuable the stuff is. It’s practically nutritional gold. Organ meats are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to humans, and for that reason have been considered sacred to many traditional cultures. It’s especially wonderful for pregnant women or couples trying to conceive, as it’s packed with beneficial nutrients for growing babies (like folate, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, D, B6 and B12. It’s also a great source of protein, and contains riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, copper and selenium. In other words: it’s pretty friggin’ amazing.)

Liver is also a frugal choice — it’s usually quite inexpensive. And being able to use the whole beast reduces waste.

Just too bad it tastes so darn awful.

Or does it?

My Conversion from Liver Hater to Enthusiast

I have never like beef liver.

Now I am not a picky eater. I will eat just about anything. Exotic, spicy, sour, bitter, fermented . . . I just love food. Vegetables, seafood, meat, grains, dairy, all of it. Thai, Mexican, Lebanese, Greek, Italian . . . YUM. All different textures, all different flavours. You’d be hard-pressed to find something I wouldn’t eat. And I love trying new things and experimenting in the kitchen.

And I’m not particularly squeamish, either — I can eat other organ meats just fine. I’m actually quite fond of chicken liver, and I grew up fighting my siblings for chicken hearts and stomachs.

But I’ve just never cared for beef liver. I just couldn’t get past that bitter, metallic flavour and stringy texture.

My mom used to make a stew with liver, tomatoes, and corn, and I always wanted to cry when I heard it was for dinner. It was torture having to eat that stuff.

But I know how good it is for me. And I have access to more pastured beef liver than anyone could dream of wanting:  my parents raise their own beef cattle, and every year we get half a beef. It typically comes with a package or two of liver (as well as soup bones, tongue, and kidney, if we ask for it.)

This last year, I ended up with EIGHT packages of liver. Holy smokes!

But what to do with the stuff to make it edible?

I tried for years to like it, to no avail.

Until I tried (Not Your Average) Liver and Onions from Edible Aria.

This recipe changed my life.

Not only could I stomach it; I loved it! It was delicious!

Liver and Onions Frying

My husband and two-year-old daughter agree. I have made this dish three times in the last year or so, and each time we have all happily cleared our plates and gone for seconds. I could not believe this was the same thing I had hated for so many years.

The original recipe is rather vague in its quantities and instructions, so I thought I’d offer a more precise and thorough version (with minor tweaks).

If you eat it with an open mind, I think you will be amazed. Unless you don’t like mushrooms or bacon, in which case I can’t help you.


It is my opinion that every ingredient in this recipe is essential to making it delicious. But especially the sage, bacon (LOTS of bacon), fresh parsley (it MUST be fresh), and mushrooms. You just need them.

Also: In the past I have rinsed my sliced liver with water and then soaked it in a small amount of milk for about half an hour. Legend has it that this gets rid of the strong organ-y flavour. I thought it was really effective — it came out really mild-tasting. But then this last time I skipped the soaking, and couldn’t really tell the difference. But if you really want to avoid the strong flavour, you can always try it. It can’t hurt. Just be sure to drain it and dry well with paper towel after so it will fry well.

Also be sure to remove as much of the outer membrane as possible. As you slice, you generally can peel it off. It helps eliminate any funky texture.

Liver and Onions Ingredients

Beef Liver with Bacon, Mushrooms and Sage

Serves 6-8


  • 1 pkg liver (about 1 ½ lb), sliced
  • 1 cup flour (any kind)
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 pkg bacon, roughly chopped (about 12 oz)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 8oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped (or a tsp of dried)
  • Small bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Lard or tallow as needed


Mix salt, flour, and pepper in a large plate; set aside. (You will be dredging the liver in this, but you don’t want to do it too early.)

Fry bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add onion to pan and continue to cook in bacon fat until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon (just add it to the cooked bacon you’ve set aside).

Add butter to the hot pan and combine with the remaining bacon fat. Add mushrooms and sauté until they begin to crisp on the edges. (Add lard or tallow as needed). Remove from pan.

Meanwhile, lightly dredge liver in flour mixture.

Make sure that the skillet is still good and hot, then add strips of floured liver and fry in batches until crispy. When it’s all fried, add everything back to pan along with sage and parsley. Cook until liver is cooked through.

Sprinkle with a little more parsley and be amazed that this fantastic dish contains more nutrients than you can count on your fingers.

Fried Beef Liver With Bacon, Mushrooms and Sage, AKA The Liver Recipe that will Convert the Die-Hard Liver Hater

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