Homemade Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

I’m officially well into my new life of “funemployment,” and the first recipe I’m going to share is nothing short of a celebration. That’s right folks, it’s chocolate time. You may have noticed an increase in references to #sibo on the old IG account lately, but in case you haven’t, I’ve had a recent, unfortunate diagnosis of SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), which has rendered my food choices quite limited as of late. (I could use this space to rant about the medical insurance racket and how insanely long it’s taking me to get the antibiotic I need, but I’ll spare you the details.) One of the interesting things about the SIBO diet is that you can have raw honey and certain fruits, but no other sugar whatsoever. I’ll get more into SIBO in a separate post, but I just couldn’t wait to share this recipe.

Because I am absolutely addicted to chocolate, and because most store-bought chocolates are not sweetened with honey, I’ve taken matters into my own hands. Join me for the next few minutes on my chocolate making adventure, and then venture out on your own chocolate journey and let me know how it goes!

I’ve tried a few different things so far, but the one I’m most excited to share is the Almond Butter Cups. Like most things on CWB, this is simply a chocolate roadmap with one example of how it could end. You have the power to make your chocolate dreams come true — I’m just here to help. 🙂 

chocolate almond butter cups

Recipe Lab: Refrigerator Chocolate

You might recall that I experimented with some freezer chocolate back at Christmastime. (Side note, I just realized this was TWO Christmases ago — 2016 was the fastest year of my life, by FAR. Anyone else feel me on this?) Anyway, in the spirit of homemade holiday gifts and attempting to include some healthy sweets in our holiday celebrations, I made Paleo-ish Peppermint Bark. The main ingredients were coconut oil, raw cacao powder, and maple syrup. It turned out great, but it absolutely HAD to stay in the freezer or it would become a big melty mess. And since I can’t include my favorite sweetener for the time being (maple syrup), I’m moving forward from here with raw honey. 

To avoid the melty mess this time, I decided to experiment with raw cacao butter to achieve a more stable finished product. And guess what … it was the right choice. I have successfully upgraded my chocolate-making skills from freezer chocolate to refrigerator chocolate!

Is this chocolate raw?

The ingredients in my refrigerator chocolate are raw, but I did melt everything on the stove. I read a bit about raw chocolate and learned that the hottest temps allowable for raw chocolate to remain raw are between 118 and 120F. I didn’t use a double boiler or check the temperature, but I’d imagine that if you did those things and kept the temps in range, you could make exactly what I made and be able to call it raw chocolate.

The Chocolate Journey

Since my main chocolate-making experience was in making the peppermint bark for the holidays, I decided to stick to that in round one of my chocolatey adventure. More bark. But instead of going for the peppermint variety, I kept it simple, sprinkling raw cacao nibs and pumpkin seeds on top and calling it a day. It turned out pretty great actually.

homemade chocolate barkRound 2: Almond Butter Cups

In round 2, I decided to get more creative. I’d bought a few silicone molds a while back, and most of them had just been collecting dust in my cabinet. The only ones I’d used were these adorable little hearts when I experimented with homemade lotion bars (I think it was also that crafty Christmas back in 2015). So I pulled out the mold that looked like peanut butter cups and went to work on my version of almond butter cups. This was a delicious decision and turned out to be the inspiration for today’s post.

chocolate almond butter cups

The Almond Butter Cup Filling

The filling consists of equal parts raw almond butter to raw honey, stirred aggressively with a fork. Very simple and delicious. In my first attempt at almond butter cups, I used about a dime-sized ball of filling, which made for a high chocolate-to-filling ratio. They were delicious, but I knew I wanted more almond butter in every bite. I went to work again, this time using these really cute flower molds that were much deeper (so they could fit more filling). 

chocolate almond butter cups

chocolate almond butter cups

I love how these turned out, but as you might see from the pictures, some of the filling snuck out of the sides, so they aren’t quite perfect to look at. Considering that they taste amazing, and that I’m a novice at this whole chocolate-making endeavor, I’m still giving myself an A for effort and believe that I’ve earned bragging rights as a wannabe chocolatier. (I’m sure real chocolatiers are rolling their eyes at this simpleton, but I do what I want.)

What will I come up with next?

Also featured in one of these pictures are my first attempts at a “peppermint patty.” I didn’t love how they turned out, so I’m going to go back to the drawing board before I share that recipe with you. I already have an idea of how I’ll improve these for the next round. I’m also going to try my hand at an “Almond Joy”-style bite-size morsel. So stay tuned for both of those. And if you decide that you want to beat me to the punch in figuring those two out, please be my guest and let me know about it! I’d be happy to share your version with everyone!

Chocolate Almond Butter Cups (Sweetened with Honey)
Chocolate prepared with all raw ingredients, sweetened with raw honey for those with food restrictions (especially those related to SIBO)
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  1. 1/2 cup coconut oil
  2. 1/3 cup raw cacao butter (or 5 cubes of the Big Tree Farms brand)
  3. 3/4 cup raw raw cacao powder
  4. 2 tbs raw honey
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  6. pinch of salt
  7. OPTIONAL: raw maca powder
  8. OPTIONAL: raw cacao nibs and coarse sea salt for topping
  9. FOR THE FILLING: If using shallow, buttercup-like molds, 2 tbs raw honey + 2 tbs raw almond butter. If using deeper molds, 3 tbs raw honey + 3 tbs raw almond butter (I used creamy)
  1. in a small saucepan, melt the raw cacao butter on very low heat (optional to use a double boiler to avoid scorching)
  2. once it starts to become liquid, add in the coconut oil
  3. turn off the fire when both oils are fully liquified
  4. whisk in raw cacao powder, raw honey, vanilla, salt, and maca until the chocolate liquid is completely uniform
  5. place your mold onto a rigid surface (like a cutting board or cookie sheet) for easy transport
  6. pour a thin layer of chocolate into the bottom of each mold
  7. freeze for 10 minutes
  8. immediately thoroughly mix the honey and almond butter in a small mixing bowl and freeze for the remaining few minutes until it's time to take out the chocolate
  9. remove the molds and filling from the freezer
  10. using a small spoon and clean fingers, form a ball of filling to place inside each mold (for shallower molds, you want a dime-size ball. For the deeper molds, about a silver dollar-size ball.)
  11. once you've distributed the filling, give the remaining chocolate a good stir with the whisk before spooning out the rest of it to fill the molds
  12. If your filling is visible, use a spoon to gently press it down and hide it under the chocolate
  13. (Optional to sprinkle the nib and sea salt toppings at this time)
  14. freeze for another 20 minutes (or overnight)
  15. pop your chocolates out of their molds and store in a non-porous covered container in the refrigerator
  1. You can use this same chocolate recipe without the filling to make chocolate bark, chocolate bars, or even dipping chocolate.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.

Homemade Gift Ideas: Paleo(ish) Peppermint Bark

And, as promised, I’m sharing this absolutely delicious, rich, Paleo(ish) Peppermint Bark today. I say “ish” because there are candy canes in it. And candy canes, as far as I can tell, do not fall into the paleo diet. This recipe, however, is worth the minor cheat (if you’re a strict paleo eater, which I’m not), as the vast majority of what you’ll be biting into is pure, healthy, whole food decadence. I think you’ll love it. Everyone I’ve shared it with so far loves it, and I’ll be giving away 5 more boxes of it this afternoon. Crossing my fingers that it will be as big a hit today as it has been this last week.

As for packaging and decorating, I found these cute little glass boxes at a Japanese store called DAISO (it’s kind of like a dollar store) for $1.50 each. They’re microwave safe glass containers, and of course I busted out the paint pens again to make them festive for the season. You really can make awesome gifts on the cheap if you know where to look! And the contents inside are far from skimpy — believe me, this is a sweet, rich treat!

homemade paleo peppermint bark

For more ideas on homemade gifts for the holidays, check out my homemade flourless rum balls, my homemade garlic herb salt, my homemade foot scrub, and my homemade lotion bars and hand salve. You’ll love them all! And just in time — one weekend left to get it all done guys!

Special Chocolate Care

I’ll be honest, this chocolate is somewhat high-maintenance. It needs to stay in the fridge or freezer, because coconut oil, while mostly solid at room temperature, is in no way hard like chocolate should be at room temperature. And coconut oil is the main ingredient. In chocolate you buy at the store, cacao butter is the main ingredient, and while using cacao butter was originally part of my plan (I have a big block if it at home and everything!), I chickened out on using it when I read that the temperature had to be monitored more closely during the heating and cooling process than it did with the coconut oil (read: SHORT CUT) chocolate that I ended up making. I’m fine with the special needs of this chocolate. It forces me to pick a piece and walk away from the refrigerator, which is a good thing for me when it comes to peppermint bark (it’s one of my favorite holiday things!).

But I do plan to experiment with the cacao butter after the holidays when I have more time for trial and error. This way, I can figure it out and perfect it in time to make a shelf-stable version next year. Then again, Christmas isn’t the only time for chocolate eating, so maybe chocolate-making will become a regular thing for me. After all, I am stocking up on silicone molds. My next chocolate project to tackle will be some sort of nut butter chocolate. I haven’t quite worked out how I want to do it, but the wheels are turning, so I’ll keep you posted!

Paleo(ish) Peppermint Bark

homemade paleo peppermint bark homemade gift idea

Paleo(ish) Peppermint Bark
This is my take on the traditional peppermint bark. There's no white chocolate in this one, but that's ok. It's an almost-paleo treat that you can feel good about indulging in!
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Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
  1. 1 cup organic unsweetened cocoa powder or raw cacao powder (CWB Favorite Pick)
  2. 1 cup organic extra virgin coconut oil (CWB Favorite Pick)
  3. 8 tbs pure maple syrup
  4. 2 tsp vanilla extract
  5. 3 tsp peppermint oil (CWB Favorite Pick)
  6. 4 standard candy canes
  1. Melt coconut oil on the stove in a saucepan until completely melted
  2. Add in the cocoa/cacao and stir or whisk until it's fully mixed into a homogeneous liquid
  3. Turn off the heat and add the other three ingredients
  4. Pour about 1/4 inch thick into a cookie sheet or a silicone tray like this one
  5. On a non-breakable surface, unwrap the candy canes and crush them. (I used the bottom of a thick glass cup and crushed them on a cutting board) You can decide how big you want the pieces to be
  6. Place the tray in the refrigerator for at least one hour
  7. When the bark is completely solid, remove tray from the refrigerator
  8. If using a hard, non-pliable cookie sheet, turn the tray upside down on a cutting board and bang on the back of it to release the bark. You might need to use a thin spatula to get underneath it to release it
  9. If using a silicone tray, simply peel it back and either break or cut the pieces as desired
  10. Store in the fridge or freezer
Adapted from AllRecipes
Adapted from AllRecipes
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links (CWB Favorite Picks), which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.


Homemade Gift Ideas: Lotion Bars and Hand Salve

I promised I’d follow up my previous post with more great suggestions for homemade gift ideas. This post will be pretty short and pretty sweet. Today we’re making homemade lotion bars and hand salve. All with natural ingredients and super easy to do. Cleaning up is probably the most time-consuming part, and I even have a solution for that! I’m sharing these two together, because one sort of came out of making the other. I’m going to attempt to do the math for you in the event that you want to make just one or the other, but it’s actually not a big deal to do some trial and error here until you get it exactly how you want it. That’s the beauty of DIY fun! 

homemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion bars

Silicone Molds – get some!

A while back, I bought some silicone ice trays, and Amazon suggested some other silicone molds I might like. With a vague notion that one day I might want to make chocolates or something like that, I went ahead and bought a sheet of heart-shaped molds. And then the tray sat in my cupboard for about 2 years, untouched. When I decided that this year would be the Year of the Homemade Gift, I knew that that tray would come in handy!

You don’t HAVE to have silicone molds to make the lotion bars, but they sure do make it a lot easier, because they’re flexible and non-stick. If you don’t have them and don’t have time to order them before Christmas, you could get creative with some parchment paper and a baking dish. You can actually cut these bars to size, so if you’re ok with a less precise look, you could do one big sheet and then cut the bars yourself. Maybe a really sharp cookie cutter would work? Don’t quote me on that one. I haven’t tried it, but I know cutting it with a good knife would do the trick. If you are interested in getting some molds though, I’ve collected my favorites and shared them below. Check them out! I’m actually adding some of these to my cart right now for future projects. I love those bugs! (although I kind of wish there was one with just lady bugs …)

Click on the image you like to add it to your Amazon shopping cart. It will contribute a few cents to CWB and provide inspiration for your next crafty project. 🙂 

   homemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion barshomemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion barshomemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion bars

  homemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion barshomemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion barshomemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion bars


Ok, now let’s get started.

Homemade Lotion Bars

My recipe for lotion bars came straight from the master of homemade everything, the Wellness Mama. She seems to have a recipe for everything under the sun when it comes to DIY body care, cleaning products, make up, and even random things like foam rollers and self-tanner. First, I’ll share her link to Homemade Lotion Bars so you can see how simple it is, and then I’ll explain how the recipe ended up making both lotion bars and hand salve.

homemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion bars

Lotion Bars: Here’s what I did.

I used the Wellness Mama’s proportions of coconut oil, beeswax, and shea butter (1 cup each), and heated them in a large  glass jar on the stove (at least 3 cups in size). To do that, I placed the jar into a pot of water and boiled the water while the jar sat inside.

Note: I ended up transferring the liquid to a large measuring cup, as it was much easier to control the pour into the molds because of the little spout on the measuring cup. Next time I’ll start with the measuring cup. It might make sense to have a dedicated “crafting” measuring cup for this so that you don’t have to clean it up much. Here’s a good one from Pyrex.

Once everything was liquified (the beeswax took by far the longest to liquify), I turned off the fire and added in the contents of 3 vitamin E gel caps and about 40 drops of lavender essential oil (this is the one I used). If I did it again, I’d double the lavender, because they aren’t quite as fragrant as I want them to be.

Then I went to pour the liquid into my molds and soon realized that I had a lot more liquid than I did molds. I had 28 molds, but they’re pretty small. I ended up with about 1 cup left over. Not wanting to waste it, I decided to but it back on the fire and add another full cup of coconut oil.homemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion bars

Homemade Hand Salve

And that’s when my hand salve was born. I heated the ingredients until the coconut oil was melted, added the oil from 3 more vitamin E gel caps, and about 20 drops of peppermint oil. For simplicity, and in case you want to make JUST the hand salve sometime, here’s an estimate of the ingredients. Of course, you can choose whatever fragrance you want. These quantities yielded 9 two-oz tins of hand salve.

  • 1 and 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup shea butter
  • 1/3 cup beeswax
  • the oil from 3 vitamin E gel caps
  • 20 drops lavender oil
  • 20 drops peppermint oil (I used this one)

I happened to have these lovely tins on hand, so I poured in the hand salve experiment and hoped for the best. Once everything cooled, Loren and I tried both the lotion bars and the hand salve. And both came up winners

homemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion bars

Because I didn’t think far enough ahead to order labels for my projects, I did the next best thing. I drew pictures on the tins in paint pen. It’s just about the easiest way to personalize a gift. I grabbed a red one and a green one and made some cute little Christmas pictures and called it a day. You can be as creative as you want with this step! I considered glue and glitter but then remembered that these were likely to end up inside the purses of women I love. And I realized that the thought of getting glitter in my purses would make the opposite of “merry and bright” so I went with paint pens.

I hope you give one or some of these a try! 

In case you missed it, yesterday’s post walks you through a simple recipe for Homemade Foot Scrub/Salt Scrub. Check it out and let me know if you decide to try any of these!

homemade gift ideas: homemade hand salve homemade lotion bars

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links (CWB Favorite Picks), which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.


Homemade Gift Ideas: Salt Scrub/Foot Scrub

For the CWB household, this year was the year of the homemade gift. Loren and I exchanged homemade gifts for our anniversary, and I also decided that I wanted to do a Crafty Christmas. It would not only save me a few bucks, it would also push me to learn a few new tricks for making things at home. My thought was to do a sort of “Spa Gift Set” for the ladies in my life: a sugar or salt scrub, some sort of lotion, cream, or salve, and maybe a lip balm. I wasn’t sure what I’d end up with. And for the men, I planned do some culinary gifts. 

Homemade Gift Ideas

I scoured the internet for simple homemade gift ideas, but I also had a few great eBooks fall right into my lap with this year’s Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle. (Here’s one of them.) Today I’m going to share a How-To for one of the gifts I’ve made, and my overly ambitious goal is to do some extra blogging this week and next to get all of my ideas out to you before Christmas. That way you can have ideas for those last few people on your list! Crossing my fingers that I can do it! I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!     fingers crossed homemade gift ideas

Homemade Culinary Gifts

For the culinary gifts, I had one success and one failure. I started in the kitchen with a garlic herb salt that I shared with you a while back. And boy oh boy did that turn out great! I’ve already gone through 3 jars of it in my house since I shared that recipe, and I’ve actually already given a few as well. All rave reviews so far! But then there was the other gift I was planning to go along with it. Infused olive oil. That project was a total fail. I was so proud of myself, thinking that if I did them far in advance, they’d be perfectly infused by the holidays. I made 10 bottles with various combinations of fresh herbs and tucked them away to do their magic. Last week I pulled them out and at least half of them were cloudy with mold! It was so sad. I’m hoping that I can crack the code on this and share what I learn with you after Christmas, but this was a big disappointment — and a big waste of olive oil. I guess we live and we learn!

I ended up making a homemade paleo(-ish) peppermint bark instead, and I’ll share that recipe with you on Friday. Not exactly a “culinary gift” but it’s edible and quite delicious, so I think we’re good here. For now, here’s a picture of it.

homemade gift idea: paleo peppermint bark

Homemade Salt Scrub

I always love using a good salt scrub. Sugar works too, but there’s something refreshing to me about that ocean-like feeling of using a salt scrub in the warm shower, especially in the winter when going to the ocean is the farthest thing from my mind. The oil used in scrubs like this also provides an added layer of moisture for our skin, a nice touch when we’re in dry, heated indoor environments all day.

Using that book I linked above, (here it is again) along with the tons of available recipes and suggestions online for how to make a homemade salt scrub, I ended up with a combination of ingredients that I liked best. I wanted something that smelled good, but also served a purpose, specifically for achy feet: pain relief — hence the addition of the Aches and Pains oil.

Because I was making gifts, I made a big batch and ended up with just over 10 small-ish jars of foot scrub (jars that I’d estimate hold 6-7 oz each). Feel free to shrink or grow the recipe to fit your needs.

As a side note, I got these cute little jars for $1 each at Target, and the tops have a black chalkboard sticker on them. I wrote “Foot Scrub” on them with chalk — super cute!

homemade gift idea: salt scrub foot scrub

Peppermint Salt Scrub/Foot Scrub

Ingredients:homemade gift idea: salt scrub

(All links above are affiliate links — add one, some, or all to your amazon shopping cart and shop like normal. Your entire purchase will help me keep CWB going at no extra charge to you! Thanks in advance!)


  1. Mix the dry ingredients  in a large mixing bowl so that they’re well incorporated
  2. Add the grape seed oil and essential oils
  3. Stir together until the mixture is homogenous
  4. Jar and label your scrub

I chose to infuse my scrubs with peppermint oil for two reasons. One, because it’s an invigorating aroma that wakes you up and excites the senses in a morning shower. Two, because I associate peppermint with the Christmas season. There are tons of other great combinations you could use to make a salt scrub/foot scrub that appeals to you if peppermint isn’t your thing. Basically any essential oil should work, but here are a few fun combinations:

  • Lemon essential oil + fresh lemon zest
  • Lavender essential oil + dried chamomile and/or lavender
  • Rose geranium essential oil + dried hibiscus

homemade gift idea: foot scrub

Up next, I’ll share the two other body care gifts I made — a lotion bar and a hand salve. The lotion bar recipe was pretty big, so I ended up tweaking what was left of it and making the hand salve. Not exactly the best way to share a recipe, but that’s what I did, and it turned out great, so that’s how I’ll share it. : ) I hope you guys are excited about all of these homemade gifts! I know I am.

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links (CWB Favorite Picks), which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.

Homemade Garlic Herb Salt [VIDEO]

Call me crazy, but I’ve decided that this year is the year of handmade gifts. I’m doing culinary gifts, body care gifts, and possibly even a few others that I haven’t quite ironed out yet. I’m excited to share ALL of them with you as I complete them, and today will be the first one of the bunch. 

homemade garlic herb salt recipe

Before we get started, I have to give credit where credit is due. I decided to try this homemade garlic herb salt concoction after listening to a Splendid Table episode that featured one of the Tuscan variety. While today I’ll feature some of the herbs Sally Schneider shares in her recipe, the personalization of this herb salt is as endless as the spices in your fridge or in your garden. You can really run wild with the possibilities. 


The most fascinating thing about this herb salt concoction is the proportions. I know, it already doesn’t sound that fascinating. But seriously, you really don’t use a lot of salt when making this salt. You use a ton of garlic and as much as three times as many fresh herbs as salt in whatever amount you choose to make. You pack loads of flavor into this mixture without relying on the salt too terribly much — great if you’re watching your salt intake or trying to add more herbs and spices into your diet.
homemade garlic herb salt recipe

If you don’t often listen to Splendid Table (which you definitely should check out!), one of the things I love about it is that the guests (and the host) often promote what I like to call intuitive cooking. They encourage people to add ingredients to taste, a little of this, a little of that, using rough estimates and finding the right combination on your own. I find that style of cooking extremely empowering. It’s always been the way I’ve cooked (and the way my mom does), and making these herb salts was a pretty similar experience. I just tried to stick to the 3 to 1 proportion.

For those who really need a recipe though, there’s a great one right on the Splendid Table episode page. (linked under the video)


Check out Splendid Table


Handmade Gift Ideas for the Gift-Giving Season and Beyond

I made a deal with myself that I was not going to let this holiday season sneak up on me again. I was going to get everything done far in advance and sit back while everyone else scrambles. Last year, I’d wanted to do all homemade gifts for Christmas, and I failed miserably (well, I did get some yummy flourless rum balls made for my coworkers, I’ll give myself that). But I didn’t give myself enough time to research or actually make any of the things I wanted to give to my family. Since I’d already bought a few little jars to play with some recipes, I decided to at least try making a hand creme, just for 3 people that I knew wouldn’t be upset if it was terrible. And because it was rushed and I didn’t know what I was doing, it ended up being a little too waxy — and kind of weird.

Not what I wanted.

Full disclosure: I’m terrible at giving gifts on time. Christmas is the one exception — well, sometimes Loren gets some late Christmas gifts — but for the most part, because I am traveling to see my family in Texas, I have to get all those gifts together before we head down there. In general, because I want to get the perfect thing, I put it off and put it off until, alas, the gift is late. It’s a bad habit I’m trying to break. (Sorry, friends I owe wedding presents!)

handmade gift ideas homemade gift ideas

click here to get my flourless rum ball recipe!

‘Tis Not Yet the Season!

I know it seems too early to talk about this — and it kind of is, we haven’t even started with the pumpkins yet — but I made a deal with myself people! I am NOT going to fall behind! I’ve been gathering ideas and recipes and containers and all kinds of goodies for this year’s gift-giving extravaganza, and I’ve even started making stuff already. So far, I’ve stuck to shelf-stable culinary gifts — which by the way, I cannot WAIT to share with you in some upcoming posts — but I’d also like to try my hand at some decent homemade body care products this year.

And that’s where this beautiful little number comes in!

A Sonoma Garden’s Simple Handcrafted Body Care

handmade gift ideas

This beautiful eBook, created by Kendra from A Sonoma Garden, features recipes for everything from lotions to lip balms, and the best part is that they’re simple! Part of my problem last winter was that when I did a cursory search for homemade hand creme online, the formulas I found called for all sorts of expensive ingredients that sort of defeated the purpose of making a homemade gift.

Of course, I want my homemade gifts to come from the heart and be something that people will love and appreciate that I took the time to make myself. BUT I don’t want to spend twice as much as I would have if I’d just gone out and bought a version of what I was making them. That seems silly. Kendra’s formulas and recipes feature ingredients that are easy to find and don’t cost an arm and a leg. And she encourages experimentation, which you know I love! I usually call it “intuitive cooking” but in this case, I guess it’s “intuitive mixing.” Either way, I’ve already bookmarked the items I’m adding to my crafting list for this winter’s gift-giving season, and thanks to the bonus gifts in this year’s Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle, I already have three essential oils to to use in my handcrafted gifts! This bundle offer is now over. If you’d like to be informed of the next time an offer this good comes around, fill out this super short form and I’ll be sure to let you know! (They happen at least once a year)

handmade gift ideas homemade gift ideas

This Year’s Bonuses

“What’s this you say about free essential oils?” (Surely that’s what you’re asking.) That’s right! Plant Therapy is giving away their three favorite oils to everyone who purchases this year’s bundle. Quite a few of this year’s bonus gifts are physical items that will be mailed to your home, including these three bottles of pure essential oils. (and one of my bonuses is too if you fill out this form to let me know you ordered!) This bundle offer is now over. If you’d like to be informed of the next time an offer this good comes around, fill out this super short form and I’ll be sure to let you know! (They happen at least once a year)

Here are all of the amazing sponsors for this year’s bundle!

Natural Home in the Ultimate Bundle

Kendra’s Simple Handcrafted Body Care is just one of many amazing eBooks included in a section of the Healthy Living bundle called Natural Home, which features 9 other resources, including Detox Your Home by Katie the Wellness Mama. These two books alone are worth nearly as much as the cost of entire bundle of 90+ resources on healthy living and holistic health. In fact, the whole bundle is worth $1900, and until 11:59pm EST tonight, it can be yours for a whopping 97% off. This offer isn’t just a steal, it’s access to resources that can help you give your home and your health a makeover.

If you’ve been curious about the best natural replacements for the toxic cleaners under your kitchen sink and in your bathroom cabinet, or if you’re curious about handmade gift ideas like I was, this is the bundle for you.

Allergy Free

If you feel stifled by food sensitivities and want new ideas that cater to your special diet, this is the bundle for you.

Essential Oils

If you’ve been wanting to explore the power of aromatherapy and the healing potential of essential oils, this is the bundle for you.

Fitness and Weight Loss

If you’re short on motivation to kick your activity up a notch and lose a few inches off your waistline, this bundle is just the thing to spring you into action.

Healthy Kids

If you’re thinking about having kids and you want to prepare yourself, your home, and your body for your new family member, this is the bundle for you.


If you’re like me and you fantasize about one day raising chickens and canning all your garden spoils, or you’re curious about starting an organic garden from scratch, this is the bundle for you.

Natural Remedies

If you don’t like taking over the counter meds and want to try more natural home remedies for colds, flus, aches, and pains — and even some chronic conditions — this is the bundle for you.


If you’ve been curious about the Paleo diet but have had trouble sifting through all the recipe websites and media hype, this is the bundle for you.

Real Food

If you want a crash course in traditional eating (cheese making, fermenting foods and beverages) or are simply looking for strategies for eating more of a whole foods diet, this is the bundle for you. 

Time’s Running Out

This bundle offer is now over. If you’d like to be informed of the next time an offer this good comes around, fill out this super short form and I’ll be sure to let you know! (They happen at least once a year)

I think I made my point. But seriously, there really isn’t much time left to cash in on bundle pricing. You have until midnight tonight to make it happen, and I’d really hate to see you miss out on such a killer deal. I’ve already started perusing the resources in this bundle, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

The beautiful thing is though, if you aren’t as excited as I am about your bundle once you get it, there’s a 30 day money back guarantee. I know it seems rushed (we do this sale for just one week, and today’s the last day), but that’s kind of the whole deal. The authors in this bundle (including me!) agree to put their (our) eBooks and eCourses together for just a short time. We do this to get these amazing resources out to as many people as possible within this little window so that everybody wins! 

Go have a look at it and see what you think. You won’t regret it!

Pesto-Making 101: The Formula for Greatness

I’ve been putting off sharing a pesto recipe forever, thinking that I’d do it in the form of a video as part of my “Why Make Your Own” video series (of which there are exactly two videos so far! Videos take a long time to put together!) It’s been too long, and I don’t see a video happening any time soon, so I’m just gonna go ahead and share this pesto recipe. Well, it’s more of a formula for many recipes. Pesto is less of an exact science and more of a follow your taste buds type of endeavor. And if I get around to making that video, you’ll be the first to know. 

vegan pesto recipe

The Basics

Traditional pesto is made with basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese. You can find it prepared at most grocery stores refrigerated alongside specialty cheeses and other imported items, and it can range in price from $4 to $10 a container. It’s a great addition to pasta dishes, as a substitute for tomato sauce on pizza, and even as a quick sauce for chicken or fish. Unfortunately, some of the versions you’ll find in your grocer’s refrigerator will substitute cheaper commercial oils for the olive oil, use low-quality cheese, or add cream to disguise less-than-fresh ingredients. 

Make Your Own Pesto

Quality is the number one reason to make any food or condiment yourself. In the same way making your own salad dressing reduces your chances of consuming hidden sugars and highly processed commercial oils, making your own pesto ensures that you have total control over the quality of ingredients in the food you eat. 

Another exciting reason to make your own pesto is the creativity it allows with the ingredients you use. You don’t often see arugula pistachio or kale walnut pesto in the grocery stores. The possibilities are endless when you’re making your own, and with a few simple guidelines, you can easily create your very own personalized version of pesto based on what you have in your refrigerator at any given time. It’s also fun to play with the consistency — if you have a great blender like the NutriBullet Rx (affiliate link), you can add a bit more oil, possibly a few tablespoons of water too, and make a saucier pesto that would go great on veggie spaghetti.

vegan pesto recipe

Homemade Pesto Recipe Guidelines:

  • Use high-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or avocado oil (or a combination of both) (affiliate links)
  • Use raw, unsalted nuts or seeds — if you can find sprouted or sprout them yourself, even better
  • Use fresh organic herbs or greens (or a combination of both)
  • Never forget the lemon juice and garlic!
  • Use high-quality salt like REAL salt, Himalayan salt, or Celtic sea salt

Recipe Combination Suggestions — the possibilities are ENDLESS!

I like to make my pesto vegan at home so that I can decide with each meal whether or not I want to have dairy. This way if I’m avoiding it or serving someone who’s avoiding it, the pesto is still an option. These are some of my favorite combinations. You might be surprised at what you come up with yourself!

  • Arugula pistachio pesto

  • Carrot top, basil and sunflower seed pesto

  • Kale, basil and walnut pesto

  • Parsley and macadamia nut pesto

  • Cilantro and walnut pesto – try using lime for this one to add a more Mexican “zing” to it — might even toss in a tiny bit of jalapeno, depending on how spicy you like it

Fresh pesto like this will keep in the refrigerator for a decent amount of time — about a week — before you need to freeze it. Acid from the lemon or lime along with the antimicrobial properties of garlic will keep it fresh, but it will stay the nice pretty green color if you top it off with a bit more oil to prevent the herbs from oxidizing. 

vegan pesto recipe


One of the mistakes I repeatedly made in my first few runs of making pesto long ago was to use WAY too much garlic. Sure, it tasted great but it had everyone who ate it breathing fire for days. For about a cup of pesto, you want ONE clove of garlic. Start there. You can always add, but you can’t take away. The following proportions should yield about a cup, give or take.

  • 1 1/2 cups greens/herbs
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup nuts or seeds
  • 1/2 cup EVOO
  • juice from 1 large lemon or 1 limes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • OPTIONAL: black pepper or cracked red pepper

So that’s it! Give it a try, and let me know how it goes for you! Making your own condiments — especially pesto — can really be rewarding and fun. Enjoy it! Have fun with the combinations, and just go for it. 

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Pickles Gone Wild: Wild Fermentation and the Good Bugs

wild picklesI’m excited to share this super simple wild pickles recipe with you! And I’ll say up front that although my recipe calls for green tomatoes, this formula works with cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, and just about anything else you might be curious to try pickling. The fermentation time will vary based on what you’re pickling and whether or not you cut it up or pickle it whole, but start with this framework and you’ll have yourself some effervescently sour pickled veggies in no time. Eat a few bites at every meal to encourage healthy digestion.

What are Wild Pickles?

wild picklesWhat we’re making here is not the homemade version of what you can find in the grocery store aisles. These pickles are usually sterilized and, for lack of a better word, dead. While the internet is teeming with “refrigerator” pickle recipes that include vinegar as part of the pickling liquid, these are not true pickles in the purest sense of the word. True pickles are done with a wild ferment. They are a live food packed with living bacteria that do the souring instead of all that vinegar. And they’re awesome for your digestion and your wellbeing.

How do the bacteria get into the jar?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Bacteria are in the empty jar in your cabinet right now. And they’re on the cucumbers growing in your garden. and they’re on the dill weed, the jalapeno, in your spice  rack … you get the point. Give the bacteria that live among us the proper environment to turn something good into something great, and they’ll be up for the task. All you need is some salt water, something to pickle, and some spices to make them delicious, and let the wild bacteria do the rest!

What’s the Difference? Why Wild?

On Tuesday in part 1 of my Why Gut Health Matters series, we talked about your gut as your body’s Gate Keeper. We covered quite a bit in that post, but one of the things we touched on was the important role gut bacteria play in the integrity of the gut lining, and therefore our health in general. Ensuring that we have a healthy ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut is an integral step toward having a healthy gut lining and preventing leaky gut.  

Before we go further though, a little vocabulary speed round is in order.

All of these words refer to the microscopic bugs that live in your intestinal tract, primarily in the colon. I’ll use them interchangeably for the most part:

  • gut bacteria
  • microbiota
  • probiotic (refers to the good ones only)
  • microbiome (refers to the whole ecosystem)

So what else do probiotics do?

  1. Probiotics play a vital role in strengthening our immune system. In fact, anywhere from 65 to 90% of our immune system lives in our gut in the form of epithelial cells (villi), which are fed by … drumroll please … probiotics. These bugs keep us well!
  2. Probiotics protect us from harmful bacteria. They take up space in our bowel that might otherwise be filled with harmful bacteria, which cause disease, create gas and bloating, promote inflammation, make us crave sugar and junk food, and can even negatively affect our mood, resilience, and cognition. They also release substances (including lactic acid) that inhibit the growth of the bad guys, preventing them from taking over and wreaking havoc on our health. 
  3. Probiotics produce bioavailable vitamins from the foods we eat. Without beneficial bacteria in our gut, we would have no access to the B Complex (biotin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folic acid, and B12). We would also be deficient in vitamin K, because the bugs down there actually synthesize it from our food.
  4. Probiotics reduce cortisol, (a stress hormone) and increase GABA (a relaxing chemical), therefore positively affecting mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and reducing stress. Reducing cortisol also improves insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for folks at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

Let’s get to the Pickles

wild picklesThe instructions included in this recipe are for the green cherry tomatoes I pulled from my garden when the weather was cooling down but the vines were still full. They were very fresh when they were pickled. 

I recognize that green cherry tomatoes might not be the easiest thing to find on a whim, so if you make your pickles using larger tomatoes or cucumbers and you plan to slice them up, make sure they’re SUPER FRESH, and start checking them after 24 hours. One tip I’ve read but haven’t tried is to give your cucumbers an ice water bath before starting the process. Leave them in ice water for an hour or so before getting them into the jars to freshen them up and ensure crisp and crunch in the final product. (Adding grape or blackberry leaves will do that too, but why not do both just to make sure? Who wants a mushy pickle? No one.)

If you plan to keep your cucumbers, green tomatoes, or peppers whole, wait to check them until day 6 or 7. It takes the whole veggies a while longer to pickle all the way through than the slices. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you leave whole pickles to ferment for up to two weeks; but again — check them. No one wants a mushy pickle.  In the meantime, check out this cool video on how to chop a bunch of cherry tomatoes super quickly!


Wild Pickled Green Tomatoes
This recipe works with all sorts of veggies, so be creative!
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  1. One 1500 mL (6 cup) jar
  2. 2 lbs green cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
  3. 2 tbs sea salt
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 jalapeno (I used 1/2 the seeds, but how spicy is up to you)
  6. 10 sprigs fresh dill
  7. 5 cloves garlic sliced in half
  8. 1 tbs black pepper corns
  9. 1/2 tbs whole coriander seeds
  10. 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  11. 1 tbs mustard seeds
  12. OPTIONAL: grape leaves or blackberry leaves (this ingredient is as source of tannins, which is intended to promote crispness -- more useful when pickling cucumbers)
  1. Slice the green tomatoes in half (for full-sized tomatoes, quarter them instead of halving them)
  2. Pack the jar tightly with all the tomatoes leaving at least two inches of space at the top of the jar
  3. Add all other ingredients on top of tomatoes
  4. Dissolve salt in 2 cups warm water in a separate container
  5. Pour salt water over all ingredients into the jar
  6. Fill the jar with the remaining 4 cups of water leaving no less than 1 inch at the top for gas and ensuring that the veggies are completely submerged in the liquid -- this is important. If you need to put something heavy on top to weigh down the veggies waiting to be pickled, do it.
  7. Seal tightly and leave on the counter at room temperature for 3 to 5 days (check at 24 hours for sliced cucumbers)
  8. You want the tomatoes to be firm but pickled all the way through (not mushy). When they are to your liking, refrigerate them and they will keep indefinitely
  1. BE CAREFUL when you open the jar for the first time. Gas can build up and create some effervescence as the bacteria do their thing.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

How to Make and Store Your Own Fresh Sweet Potato Puree

Happy New Year! 

It’s been a wonderful, relatively relaxing holiday season. I took a little break from the computer the last few days to rest my hand and my mind, and it’s been quite revitalizing. I’m happy to share that my new service offerings are getting some attention from interested readers, and that this year is already promising to be an exciting ride! If you’re on the fence about starting a wellness program with me, consider the free intro call to get an idea of what I do and how I might be able to help you achieve your goals, and we can take it from there. Simply send me a message from the Contact Me page to inquire, and I’ll get right back to you. 

Sweet Potato Puree

In this, my first post of 2015, I’m going to share a very simple set of instructions for creating an ingredient that often comes in a can — Sweet Potato Puree. I like making sweet potato puree myself, because I’m avoiding the BPA from the cans, and I’m also controlling how long it cooks and what varieties of sweet potatoes I use. (You’d be surprised at how many you can find!) It also just tastes better fresh, as most things do.

The most common use of sweet potato puree is probably to make pie around the holidays, but there are really quite a few delicious things you can do with this simple raw ingredient. This week and next, I’ll share an absolutely decadent Sweet Potato Soup and a simply delicious Sweet Potato Pound Cake, but those two examples are just the beginning. Sweet potato puree works great in smoothies, baking, gluten-free pancakes, and in casseroles. It works as a thickener in some recipes, and it’s even delicious as a snack mixed with Greek yogurt, chopped pecans, and a touch of maple syrup. Try it! It’s delicious. 

You Say Potato, I Say… 

Before we go any further, let’s clear up the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. It’s commonly thought that the root with bright orange flesh eaten around the holidays is called a yam. It’s not. It’s a sweet potato. Yes, a yam is a type of sweet potato, but very few true yams are sold in the US, according to the sweet potato experts over at North Carolina Sweet Potatoes. They get into the nitty gritty, so feel free to check out all the differences between a yam and a sweet potato there. An important distinction is that eating a raw sweet potato is perfectly harmless while eating a raw yam is bad news. 

I’m only going into this because I’ve been wrong about it in the past and was once again second-guessing my sweet potato taxonomy as I was preparing this entry. So there it is. In truth, this distinction in name doesn’t really matter all that much here in the US unless someone tries to correct you, in which case you can refer them to this post and tell them to shut their sweet potato pie hole. Aren’t you glad we cleared this up? I know I yam. 

homemade sweet potato puree

Roasting the Sweet Potatoes

The cooking step for making this puree could go a few different ways. The easiest way is to rinse the whole sweet potato, poke a few holes in it, wrap it in foil, and bake it for at least an hour. Then simply scrape the meat out, discard the skin, and pound out as I’ll show you in a moment.

Because my potatoes were peeled for a recipe that didn’t end up happening, I was left with 2 giant peeled potatoes that would have been a mess to bake skinless. This is why I roasted. As a side note, I thought it might take less time to roast this way, but in the end, it didn’t really. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Chop two large peeled sweet potatoes into equal-sized chunks
  3. Fill two loaf pans or one small deep pan (not a cookie sheet) with the chunks 
  4. Rinse and drain, then add in about an inch of water in each pan
  5. Scoop small amounts of coconut oil out of the jar with a spoon and place them evenly along the top of the potatoes
  6. Place in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes
  7. Remove the pans from the oven and stir, making sure the potatoes that were on the top are now on the bottom and vice versa to avoid any of them drying out 
  8. Check the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing is getting brown or burnt. If so, add a bit more water to the bottom.
  9. Place back in the oven and roast for another 30 minutes 
  10. Potatoes are done when a fork easily mashes the pieces

homemade sweet potato puree


For some reason, I wanted to complete this project without using my stove. But more importantly, my main goal was to end up with pure sweet potatoes, not watered-down mush that would be hard to store. The desire to skip the stove and not end up with a “baby food” consistency eliminated the immersion blender and brought out the kitchen mallet! The following instructions are the next steps whether you bake the potatoes whole or roast them in cubes. The puree should keep in your fridge for up to 3 months.

  1. Once the potatoes have cooled to room temperature, transfer them to a gallon sized freezer bag (I only needed one for 2 giant sweet potatoes, but just make sure you have enough room to work; otherwise split it into two bags)
  2. Zip the bag up leaving just about an inch or two of the bag open to allow for air to escape
  3. Using the flat side of a kitchen mallet, hammer out the potatoes until they become one smooth consistency
  4. If you’d like to portion out the potatoes into 1 cup servings, do so with smaller freezer bags, otherwise it works to freeze it all together
  5. Label with the date and freeze in the flattened state for a quick defrost when you’re ready to use it

NEXT UP: Sweet Potato Soup

Get excited for this decadent, warming soup that’s sweet all on its own. I didn’t add even a drop of maple syrup, and I couldn’t believe my taste buds! See you Friday!home made sweet potato puree

Flourless Rum Balls – A Healthy Holiday Treat [Recipe]

Holiday  Rumballs (1)Can you tell based on recent posts that I love the holiday season? 

I don’t mean the over-commercialized, Black Friday (and now starting to be Thursday too!), tree-up-after-Halloween holiday season, I just mean the joy and cheer of this time of year. I love that people feel more motivated to do charity around the holidays; I love that food drives get ramped up, that people volunteer to wrap donated gifts for those in need, and I love the general feelings of nostalgia for the magic of Christmas.

I used to hate holiday music, and now I have my own playlist for it on Spotify and have saved an album that my mom plays on repeat this time of year. I have tortured Loren into loving it, and we listen to it while we decorate the house each year. I love the ritual of going to get the tree; I love making and putting up decorations; I love thinking of creative holiday gifts, and I LOVE hosting a fancy holiday party. I don’t know why I love getting dressed up this time of year, but it’s just fun, and it makes me happy so I’m telling you about it! 

Tradition + Healthy = Happy

This recipe is a healthy take on an old holiday favorite, at least it’s a favorite in my family. At every family party, you will find a plate with rum balls, Italian fig cookies, pignoli (a naturally gluten-free DELICIOUS cookie!), sesame cookies, and some with colorful sprinkles on them. I used to devour the rum balls as a kid, thinking I was doing something sneaky because they had rum in them. Tsk tsk…

flourless rum balls holiday

For these little nuggets of joy, I’ve combined the taste of home with a popular vegan energy ball recipe to create a gluten-free, no-bake, flourless rum ball. And I forgot to mention, they’re absolutely decadent. This year, I’ve dressed them up in cute little packages to give to friends and coworkers, but they’re also perfect for your big holiday bash. Might as well have a few healthy things on the finger food table. (Check out my Holiday Chicken Salad-stuffed Cucumber Cups for another healthy finger food!) 


Healthy Holiday Rum Balls
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  1. 3 cups pecans
  2. 3 cups dates
  3. 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs
  4. 1/3 cup rum
  5. 5 tsp raw cacao powder
  6. brown sugar
  7. extra raw cacao powder
  8. powdered sugar
  1. In a food processor, process pecans into small pieces before adding the dates and cacao nibs
  2. Add in the cacao powder and the rum
  3. Process until all ingredients are incorporated and you have a mostly homogenous consistency
  4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to firm up for rolling
  5. Roll into 1.5 inch balls
  6. Combine equal parts powdered sugar and cacao into a small bowl
  7. Pour a few tbs brown sugar into another bowl
  8. Roll 1/2 the balls through the brown sugar and the other 1/2 through the powdered sugar/cacao combo
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

Foraging for Holiday Cheer – Decorating with Nature and Found Objects

This year marks the third holiday season that we’re in our new little house. We moved in November two years ago, so the holiday cheer was relatively muted due to our need to acquire furniture and other more vital household items. We did not skip the wreath, however, and ever since then in the tradition of our first year in our first home, I’ve been creatively “foraging” holiday decorations to create more cheer on the cheap. In this post I’ll share two simple steps to forage for holiday cheer, and then I’ll share some examples of how I’ve used my foraged goodies.

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

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Step 1: Ask Your Friendly Christmas Tree Vendor

Step one in saving money on holiday decorations takes place with your local Christmas tree vendor. Simply ask for scraps. It’s pretty common for a Christmas tree to have a few low-hanging branches at the bottom of the tree that need to be snipped before it comes into your home. Your Christmas tree vendor is not dying to keep those branches. In fact, there are often piles of them hiding around the corners of those candy cane-striped tents. The folks working there will be happy for you to take some off their hands. I always err on the side of too much so I don’t have to go back — I’d say to take 6 or 7 fanned-out branches of evergreen. You’ll be surprised at how handy they are.

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

I love Christmas tree hunting every year!

Step 2: Keep Your Eyes Open and Good Scissors Handy

The level of difficulty in this step will vary based on the location from which you’re reading this. I happen to live in the Bay Area where plants that create beautiful red berries this time of year abound. I learned this foraging trick from my mom. When we were kids, she would scout out red berry bushes in and around our neighborhood, gather up some branches, and use them for Christmas decorations. The ones she found dried really beautifully on solid branches, so she was able to use them year after year. The ones I’ve found aren’t quite that nice, but they’re so easy to access that I don’t mind getting new ones each year. 

You can also scavenge pine cones (watch out for sap and bugs!), whole unshelled nuts like walnuts, pecans, and almonds, sprigs of rosemary, holly, and even mistletoe in some areas. All of these things can serve as pretty accents to create holiday cheer in your home. 

Be creative with this step!

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a BudgetFor example, I have a teeny tiny pomegranate bush outside that makes the littlest pomegranates you’ve ever seen. They really aren’t worth eating (maybe they will be in like 5 years), so I use them in my decorations this time of year.  Another example: I tend to do my shopping at discount places like TJMaxx and Ross, and this year (no lie!) I saw a branch spray-painted in silver on sale for $19.99. That’s not a joke. If you want a silver branch, go get yourself some spray paint and make your own! 

You can “forage” things inside your house too, or collect some “found” objects to repurpose into holiday decor. This year I’m using cute boxes from a gift we got last year, stacking them up with a nice bow, and voilà! More decorations. I’m also filling bowls that sit on tables in my house year-round with those unshelled nuts I mentioned before. I don’t know why that look is “festive,” but it totally works if you use everything creatively. (examples shown below)

4 Ways to Use Your Foraged Goodies

1. Make Your Own Wreath

Last year, I shared a step-by-step instructional post on how to make a holiday wreath. This year, I used the same wreath “skeleton,” the same pine cones (for the third year in a row), fir branches, and berries. You can find these wire wreath backings at most craft stores if you don’t have one leftover from years past. I found a nice spool of holiday ribbon with wire in it for the bow at a discount store for $5 and added that cute touch this year. You can learn how to make a holiday bow of your own at the end of this post. Check out my cute gif of this year’s process!

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

2. Spruce up Side Tables and End Tables

It’s amazing what a few little holiday accents here and there will do to your day-to-day home decor. I have strategically placed fir branches and red berries between bowls and added votive candles for a holiday glow. 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

I’ve also used the fir and berries to accent the few store-bought decorations I have. I have these beautiful glass trees and some fun candle holders with silver place mats that I use in a few places around the house this time of year. The little touch of nature really takes these festive pieces to the next level.

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

3. Add the Berries to Your Tree

I also learned this trick from my mom. She’s basically Martha Stewart when it comes to decorating for any occasion, creatively pooling resources and ideas from whenever she can. She’s not the most tech-savvy, so this involves a file folder with magazine clippings instead of an Etsy page, but it works for her. For the last few years, she’s been using pheasant pelts (that my dad hunted — don’t forget, I’m from Texas) as part of the holiday decor. Sounds crazy, but it’s really cool looking and makes for a very unique tree. Anyway, back to the berries. If you get long enough branches of berries, you can just set them in there like I have in the pictures below. 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

4. Make Something New!

I had some larger fir branches left over after making my wreath along with some of the snipped off smaller branches, so I decided to make one more decoration for my mailbox. It’s a super simple bundle with a nice festive bow. I started with a few larger branches and a few smaller ones, a few berries, and the ribbon. I tied the larger twigs together first, then some of the smaller ones toward the middle of the larger ones to fill in any holes at the top. Then I covered the twine with more branches tied to the bottom, tied the berries in front of that, and went to work on the bow. 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

click image for a larger view


For the Bow

I promised I’d give you a step-by-step on the bow. It seems easy, but some people have a hard time getting the bow straight — the wire sewn into the ribbon on each side helps keep things straight and perky. Be careful that the ribbon is straight where the knot in the bow comes together. That’s a good way to make sure it’s a nice, neat bow — and it’s also a good way to tell which side’s the front and which side’s the back — the twisty part of the knot should go in the back while the loopy part (shown on the left) should go in the front. Thread the bottoms through the knot in opposite directions to make a bow with 4 loops, 2 on each side. Make sure you thread the twine through the back (twisty) side of the bow before you affix it to the bundle. (shown in the small picture on the left above the mail box.) 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

click image for a larger view

Your turn! 

What have you used to decorate this season? Anything found or foraged? Any great deals you’ve found a your local discount store? Anything fun you’ve repurposed for this holiday season?

Please share your ideas below, and don’t forget to show me on Instagram with the #dailywellbeing hashtag!

Homemade Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs (Sprouted!)

It can be a major challenge to keep up holiday food traditions if you have dietary restrictions. Most of those nostalgic family recipes include bread, dairy, eggs, flour, sugar, and all sorts of other ingredients that likely fall on some ‘no-no’ lists among us.

The Breadcrumb

A major ingredient this time of year for savory dishes is breadcrumbs. For some reason, the holidays call for casseroles — maybe because we’re feeding the masses — and breadcrumbs just come with the territory. They act as a food extender and ingredient binder, and they create that warm, full, holiday feeling we all crave when the weather cools off.

In my Sicilian-American family, the two major breadcrumb-stuffed-dishes I’ve come to expect every holiday season are green bean casserole and stuffed artichokes. While I wouldn’t go anywhere near a stuffed artichoke as a kid, that green bean casserole had my name written all over it. My mom has been making the same green bean casserole my entire life, and as a very picky eater, this was one of the few dishes that included anything green whatsoever that I would eat — and I LOVED it. It just doesn’t feel like the holidays without it, even though I’ll eat other green foods now. 🙂 

My mom’s green beans are not your typical french cut canned beans smothered in cream of mushroom and a can of fried onions. No ma’am. This is a southern Italian twist on a standard middle-of-America dish. It includes Italian breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan and Romano cheese, seasoned salt, garlic and onion powder, and olive oil. That’s it. Layer cooked or canned whole green beans and everything I just mentioned in a baking dish and bake on 350F for 20-25 minutes. It’s a super simple and always delicious recipe, but it doesn’t quite fit into my gluten-free lifestyle anymore.

There’s just no way to make this dish happen without good Italian breadcrumbs. 

I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving away from home for almost 10 years now, but that has simply meant that I have been making these green beans myself for about that long. Of course, going home at Christmas means getting to eat them straight from the source, but since transitioning to a gluten-free diet 6 years ago, the whole “mom’s green beans” topic has been a dicey one. I’ve tried gluten-free store-bought breadcrumbs; I’ve tried grinding up gluten-free croutons; I’ve tried making my own with various types of bread and varying levels of success.


Perfection + Bonus Nutritionsprouted gluten-free breadcrumbs recipe

This year, I not only perfected my gluten-free breadcrumbs recipe, I added in some bonus nutrition by using sprouted-seed bread.The gluten-free products you see in most grocery stores are typically made with high-glycemic, low-nutrient flours like potato starch, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, and corn starch. These ingredients are typically highly processed, bleached white, and very finely ground into something completely devoid of nutritional value. They are not the stuff of health by any stretch, and most people attempting or maintaining a gluten-free diet are in fact doing it for their health. So why not start with nice, healthy breadcrumbs to top those holiday dishes we’ve all grown to love?

Why Sprouting?

Grindstone Bakery created the wonderful bread I use in this recipe out of sprouted seeds. Quinoa and millet are considered “pseudo-grains” because they’re technically in the seed family. They are sprouted and coarsely ground before being made into this nourishing bread. The act of sprouting seeds, grains, and beans is the act of changing a seed into a small plant.

This is significant for a couple of reasons:

  1. Antinutrients like phytic acid, which prevent the breakdown and absorption of proteins are neutralized
  2. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are made more bioavailable to our bodies by sprouting
  3. Sprouted seeds, grains, and seeds are alkalizing to the body while their inert counterparts are acid-forming
  4. Sprouting creates a more easily digested protein source by breaking down the proteins into simple amino acids
  5. Enzymes are produced during the sprouting process that aid in overall digestive function

The end result is an actively healthy ingredient to add to your holiday casserole dishes — an ingredient you can feel good about eating, sharing, and enjoying. It might even make for a nice holiday gift if you tie a pretty ribbon around the top of the jar! (For more info on sprouting, check out this post from The Nourishing Gourmet.)

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Sprouted Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are traditionally made with stale bread. If you have time for that, great, but you could also be risking moldy bread. This recipe toasts the bread to get it nice and firm before processing. Make as much or as little of this combination as you need. I filled a 12 oz mason jar with this recipe and used slightly less than half of it for one round of green beans. Freeze or refrigerate what you don't use.
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  1. Half a loaf of sprouted grain bread, sliced and then cut in half
  2. 3 tbs fresh rosemary
  3. 2 tbs fresh thyme
  4. 3 tbs fresh oregano
  5. 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Toast the bread in the oven at 375 for 10 minutes on each side
  2. Let cool completely on a cooling wrack
  3. In a food processor, process cooled toasted bread, the fresh herbs, and the salt
  4. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge or freezer for up to 3 months
  1. I used fresh herbs from my garden and pulled off 5 or 6 stalks of each for this recipe. The tbs measurements are estimates, but err on the side of more, not less.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

Coconut Oil – Your Natural Goo Gone! [Remove Adhesive Residue]

coconut oil uses natural goo gone

3 pitches up on Cathedral Peak

This revolutionary new use for coconut oil will not fail to amaze you! I have shocked and awed a few of my climber buddies who have now incorporated coconut oil into their camping supplies just for the post-climbing clean up! I’ve been meaning to create a video for this for months, but finally after a trip to Tuolumne Meadows to climb Cathedral Peak, I’m excited to finally have video proof of this coconut oil magic trick!

The Backstory: Coconut Oil as Face Wash

coconut oil uses natural goo gone

A couple of coconut-converted climbers taping up for an adventure!

I hate being cold. I mean I really hate it. Being cold while camping might be my least favorite thing ever. Unfortunately those two things happen in tandem a lot when you’re a rock climber. When I go camping (especially in the cold), my typical facial care tends to go out the window. There’s just no way I’m going to pour cold water onto my cold hands and splash it onto my cold face to wash it at the campground. It’s just not gonna happen. I also secretly revel in being dirty out in the woods for a few days at a time. There’s something about sleeping outside that makes taking a shower or washing my face feel silly. So, instead I bring a wash cloth and a small jar of coconut oil with me. I scoop out some oil, rub it on my face, and wipe it off with a clean wash cloth. Coconut oil is not only a great makeup remover, it also works wonderfully as a gentle cleanser, leaving your face clean and soft just like a cream cleanser would.

A good long while ago, after a full day of climbing, I started my coconut oil routine on my face back at camp. My hands were covered in black adhesive residue from my freshly removed tape gloves. After I covered my face in coconut oil, I rubbed what was left into the backs of my hands, and VOILA! The black “gunk” from my tape gloves came right off! I couldn’t believe how easily it fell away from my skin, so I brought my jar of oil to Loren and asked him to try it. Once again, the tape gunk came right off! I’d discovered a natural Goo Gone made with one ingredient! Coconut oil. Is there anything this stuff can’t do??

coconut oil uses natural goo gonecoconut oil uses natural goo gone

sunset at the top of Cathedral Peak

–>check out this awesome coconut resource from Root and Sprouts! <–

Coconut Oil – Your New Gunk Remover

If you’re a climber and you use tape gloves to climb crack, you MUST try this!

If you occasionally use band-aids to protect the backs of your heals in certain less-than-comfortable shoes and end up with black marks from the adhesive, you MUST try this!

If you have kids who are always covered in band-aids, and you find yourself scrubbing them down to remove the black band-aid gunk, you MUST try this!


Don’t believe me? See for yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you never miss a video!

What’s So Great About Kombucha? (Recipe)

kombucha recipe

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the wonderful bottled kombucha beverages lined up in the refrigerators at your local health foods store. The most popular and reputable brand (in my opinion) is G.T.’s SYNERGY. They have all kinds of flavors: strawberry, blueberry, cranberry, mango, citrus, ginger, etc. You can also get them with chia seeds or with green juice; you name it, they probably make it. They’re great. I love them!

The catch is that they cost almost $4 a pop, and for a good long while I was drinking about 3 bottles a week. When I realized how much money I was spending on the stuff I knew I had to find a more affordable way to feed my habit.

Don’t get me wrong, kombucha is not an indulgence; it’s a health food. It’s a REAL health food, not a “health food.” It’s not the type of “health food” that makes nutritional claims on the front of the package and loads in hidden sugars and commercial oils behind your back. It’s extremely beneficial with tons to offer you in the way of digestive and immune function.

Over the years I’ve known a few folks who make their own kombucha, but it always seemed like too much work. When I realized the $$ I was spending and that two good friends had starters I could get for free, I decided I might as well try it. Turns out that it’s a breeze to make, and I’m excited to share the recipe for my kombucha concoctions with you today!

First Things First: What IS Kombucha?

kombucha recipeKombucha is simply a fermented tea. With the help of a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), strongly brewed tea and sugar are transformed into this healing, nourishing beverage over the course of a 7 to 12 day fermentation process. The customized flavoring comes in a second short (2-3 day) ferment, where you can add in fruits, juices, herbs, and spices to make the drink your own, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

Kombucha originated in Asia and spread to Russia and Germany in the early 1900’s and is touted as a cure-all in many folk medicine traditions. While I’m not going to claim that it’s a “cure-all,” I will say that it has a rich variety of probiotics and enzymes that aid in digestion and help strengthen the immune system. As you know from my post on the importance of gut health, I believe that healing your gut is the answer to a wide range of health problems, so you can draw your own conclusions about what kombucha might do for your body and mind. 

OK, it’s Good for Me. What Else?

kombucha recipe

image sourced through Creative Commons author: Uporabnik:Gap

It’s DELICIOUS! Some people are grossed out by their first encounter with kombucha because it has a slightly vinegary aroma when you open the bottle. I was hesitant at first too, but now I’m totally addicted! Once you get past your preconception that kombucha is a hippy-dippy weirdo vinegar drink, you’ll realize that this sweet, fizzy beverage is an absolutely perfect replacement for all those sugary drinks!

Why Kombucha > Soda

      1. It has between 2 and 10 grams of sugar per serving (10g on the high side with some SYNERGY flavors like mango, and I think it’s because they actually add some non-fermented juice into at the end) instead of the 40 to 50g in a can of soda or the toxic fake sugar in a diet one. Even fruit juice can’t compete
      2. It is naturally sweet and fizzy for those of us who need some carbonation in our lives and hate mineral water
      3. It is actively nourishing and healing rather than actively destructive to our health
      4. It contributes to gut health rather than gut dysbiosis.
      5. It comes in all kinds of delicious fruit flavors, and if you make your own, the possibilities are endless!

Alright, I’m Convinced. Let’s See that Kombucha Recipe 


    •  1 SCOBY
    • 1 tea pot or regular pot for boiling water
    • 1 large glass storage jar (size can vary based on how much you want to make — I use a large cookie jar I found at TJ Maxx), large rubber bands (like 2 or 3)
    • paper towels
    • plain black tea (preferably organic)
    • unbleached cane sugar (preferably organic)
    • Jars/bottles

kombucha recipe


1. Finding a SCOBY (kombucha starter)

Finding a starter might be the most challenging part of the process. You can get one from a friend or order one from a reputable source online, but if you’re willing to TRULY start from scratch, you can also grown your own from the little blob you sometimes find at the bottom of a store-bought kombucha beverage. Here’s a great resource for instructions on how to mature that little blob into your very own adult “mother” SCOBY.

2. Brew the tea

Start out using plain, unflavored black or green tea (I mostly use black). You can either use loose or tea bags, but I think the bags are simpler and easier to clean up. Brew a strong, full pot with 6 to 8 tea bags and let it steep for 10 minutes or so. Transfer into the clean glass storage jar. Depending how big you want your batch to be, consider brewing another pot with the same tea bags and add that to the jar as well. 

3. Add the sugar

While the tea is still hot, stir in 2 cups of sugar (yes, it’s a lot, but don’t worry— your SCOBY will eat it) and let it completely dissolve into the tea.

4. Add the SCOBY and cover

Once your sweetened tea has reached room temperature, add in the SCOBY. Using 3 or 4 paper towels, cover the mouth of the jar and secure them in place with the rubber bands. This step is important. You don’t want to seal off the jar, because the SCOBY needs to breathe, but you want a pretty tight barrier to prevent any intruders. I’ve heard horror stories of folks who’ve used cheese cloth, allowing tiny flies to come lay eggs on their SCOBY. When it was time to ferment, they found maggots. GROSS!

5. Store and wait

Find a nice dark place for your tea that doesn’t get too cold. I use a kitchen cabinet. The warmer the room, the more quickly the SCOBY will eat the sugar, which is why I gave that range of 7-12 days. Make sure you make note of the day you start your ferment and when you should check it. That way you don’t forget about it and get a nice bucket of vinegar. I was lucky enough to find a jar with a tiny chalk board right on it. Love it! Feel free to check it at 7 days if you like your house particularly warm. If you’ve ever tasted kombucha, you’ll know when it’s ready. If you let it go too long, you’ve made yourself some kombucha vinegar. When it’s time to bottle your ‘buch, leave about 2 cups in with your SCOBY so it doesn’t go hungry between batches. At that point, you can either start your next one or wait up to a couple of weeks to start the next one, still storing it in the cabinet.

And how about those flavors? 

To flavor your kombucha, you want to do a much shorter second ferment (2-3 days). I’ll tell you the way I do it with the amount I make (just shy of a gallon), which requires jars AND bottles, but you can do it however it makes sense to you. I find this way the easiest and the easiest to clean up.


    •  6 clean jars with air tight lids (I use these exact jars – affiliate link)
    • 6 clean bottles (I use empty SYNERGY bottles, which are 16 oz (480 mL)
    • Your favorite flavoring ingredients: fruit, ginger, herbs, honey
    • Raisins
    • Small mesh strainer of some kind
    • Something with which to label the bottles (I use yellow tape and a Sharpie)

kombucha recipe


1. Start with your flavors — THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART! (besides drinking it)

Line up your jars and add in whatever flavor strikes your fancy. This is fun, because you can make as many flavors as you have jars and ingredients. Here are my favorites (assume about 1/2 cup for the fruit — fresh or frozen both work great — and about 1/2 a lemon’s worth of juice; one sprig of an herb is enough for the flavor)

    • strawberry2014-09-20 15.24.38
    • strawberry lime (tastes like a margarita!)
    • strawberry mint lime
    • strawberry basil
    • blueberry
    • blackberry
    • raspberry
    • any combination of the above berries
    • pineapple
    • pineapple sage
    • nectarine/peach
    • nectarine/peach basil
    • ginger, lemon, and 1 tbs honey
    • rosemary lemon and 1 tbs honey
    • green apple honey basil

2. Add in the secret fizz

I don’t know why this works, but if you throw 2 or 3 raisins into your second ferment, it helps the drinks get fizzier. This step is entirely optional. 

3. Pour, seal, store

Fill each jar with your fermented tea leaving about 1 inch of space at the top for gas. Seal the jars tightly and store them back in that dark place for 2 to 3 more days.

4. Bottle it

Transfer the flavored drinks into your clean bottles using a mesh strainer to keep all the solids out. Compost your solids and seal the bottles. Now it’s time to put them in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor.


**Special Note: After doing this a few times, you’ll notice that your SCOBY is growing. It’s actually reproducing, and you’ll be able to see the various layers right there in your jar. You can either share those with friends interested in brewing their own ‘buch or you can add them to your compost for gardening. I have cut mine up and put them straight into the dirt in addition to blending them up and mixing them in. 

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