Exploring Blissful Plant Sprays with Baume Des Anges

Nearly a year ago, at a friend’s 40th birthday party, I had the chance to sample some amazing herbal extracts by a company called Baume Des Anges. My friend Matt (who works with the company’s founder in France) carefully emptied the contents of a small black bag onto the breakfast table, sharing tiny glass bottles of aromatic liquid.Baume des Anges

They came in all sorts of flavors and could be sprayed directly onto food for added herbal essence. Basil, celery, cilantro, and lavender were the ones I liked best, so Matt gave me a bottle of the cilantro to use at home in my kitchen. I could immediately understand the appeal of these perpetually fresh-tasting culinary sprays. How convenient to always have the full flavor of fresh-picked cilantro or lavender just sitting on the shelf! They solve two common problems that home cooks tend to have:

  1. Half-used fresh herbs going bad in the refrigerator
  2. Flavorless dried herbs that are devoid of all nutritional value (and sometimes even moldy!) taking up space in the pantry

As a home gardener who has lots of fresh herbs in the yard, I find it really difficult to grow cilantro and basil. They both bolt so quickly that I can barely use them before they’re gone. And dried basil and cilantro might as well be sawdust, as far as my taste buds are concerned, so these little bottles were pretty impressive.

Baume Des Anges

A Chance Trip to France

When the opportunity arose for me to go to Paris in June, I decided to make the most of it by extending my trip through the rest of the week and visiting the French countryside. My friend Matt, who is still living there, offered to organize a visit to the Baume Des Anges farm, where I’d spend the day with the founder, Laurent Dreyfus-Schmidt. The plan was for me to tour his beautiful property, learn about the plants and the extraction process, and enjoy the spectacular views of Provence. After using the cilantro in my cooking and loving how easy and convenient it was, I realized what an exciting opportunity it would be to learn more about these products and the process of making them.

Baumes Des Anges

Baume Des Anges Farm

Nestled in the countryside of Provence, overlooking the cave from which the company name is derived, the Baume Des Anges property is nothing short of breath-taking. The views at the edge of the property are spectacular, overlooking the Rhône and the many narrow bridges stretching across it. From the edge of the cliffs, farmland stretches as far as the eye can see, with patches of solid purple marking the iconic lavender farms for which the region is known.

Baumes Des AngesLaurent rebuilt his farm and lab at the base of an ancient water source, which trickles into his basement in the spring when the water is flowing from the mountains above. He’s set up a home lab where he blends his pure plant essences with organic sunflower oil and mineral water to make Blissful Plant Sprays. He is growing a number of culinary herbs, flowers, and trees on his farm, and gave me a tour of the property, which ended at a beautiful limestone cave hidden in a grove of oak trees. It was clear that this was a special spot for Laurent.

I even got to meet his adorable pup L, who’s trained to sniff out truffles on the property — pretty sweet dog trick!! (I don’t think Laurent was very impressed when I shared that Dexter’s best trick is putting her head on my shoulder on command.) 

Baumes Des Anges

The farm is irrigated using well water that Laurent collects in the freshwater pools on his property (one is shown above), contributing yet another natural, unadulterated ingredient into these amazingly pure and thoughtfully designed products. Laurent’s farm is one of just twelve farms (all organic or GLOBALG.A.P. certified) that provide the resources for the Baume Des Anges operation, including the farm that provides fresh-pressed organic sunflower oil for every batch of the Blissful Plant line for home cooks. I learned on my trip that the oil is pressed on-demand, leaving zero chance for rancidity or premature oxidation. 

The ‘Better than Fresh’ Process

Baume Des Anges utilizes an extraction facility that Laurent designed and built himself, just off site from the farm. His proprietary, dry, cold extraction process transforms 2.5 cubic meters of fresh herbs per batch into tiny amounts of highly concentrated Baumes Des Angesessence, retaining the complex aromas and flavors of every plant that runs through the system.

Now, I have to admit, the first time I ever earned a grade lower than a B in school, it was in chemistry class my junior year. This fact, combined with Laurent’s thick French accent (I know zero French), made for a somewhat painstaking attempt on Laurent’s part to explain the process to me. The patience he displayed should probably qualify him for sainthood. But I’m pretty sure I got it all down correctly.

Here’s what I learned from my chemistry lesson:

In order to properly extract the essence from the herbs without damaging the plant, two things need to be precisely calibrated:

  • Pressure (needs to be low)
  • Temperature (needs to be 167° F)

Laurent has built vacuum pumps into his extraction system in order to accomplish this precision. Competing companies extract essences at temperatures at or above 212° F, which Laurent believes harms some of the valuable botanical properties.

You can read more about the process from seed to bottle here

Professional Grade vs. Home Chef

I was surprised to learn that the Blissful Plant line for home cooks (the cilantro I’d been using at home) is actually significantly diluted when compared to the liquid that comes out of the dry steam extractor. Laurent explained that he only sells the pure extracts to professionals. These pure essences draw the attention of world famous chefs like Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in the Napa Valley wine country and Per Se in NYC. These are just two among the 150 Michelin-starred restaurants using Laurent’s pure essences all over the world.

The Blissful line flavors are intense, but only 1% of what’s in the bottle is the pure extract. The rest is organic sunflower oil, pressed to order, and locally sourced mineral water. When you try the home chef line, you’ll understand why I was so surprised that they were diluted at all. The flavor is amazing with just a spray or two per person.

And it’s not just professional chefs who use these essences. Top of the line perfumers like Chanel, Guerlain, and Burberry source lavender essence from Laurent, which just goes to show you how fancy this stuff really is!

Baume des Anges

I was lucky enough to walk away from this unique experience with a professional-grade bottle of Basil Essence, which Laurent recommended diluting by adding 7 drops to an entire liter of EVOO! Pretty powerful stuff! I have used it to infuse basil flavor into steak, homemade salad dressing, and roasted chicken, and I’ve loved the finished product every time. 

You can check out their full line of products and recipes on their website. In the meantime, I’ll keep using my cilantro and basil extracts in salad dressings, marinades, and as finishing touches on both protein and veggie dishes.

Cook-Ahead Meal: Italian Turkey Meatball Recipe

turkey meatball recipe

It’s been a while since I shared a recipe, and this Italian turkey meatball recipe has been on the docket for literally months at this point. It actually took me a while to dig up the pictures I took. Life has been BANANAS lately in the way of making time for CWB, which makes me simultaneously sad for the blog but excited for all the things that are happening in life outside of this project. I hope you haven’t forgotten about me in my infrequent posting lately! I hope to get back to at least weekly posting now that I’ve gotten a better handle on my routine. Now, on with the show!

turkey meatball recipe

Kitchen Hack: Cook-Ahead Recipes

Speaking of life being bananas, making time to cook every night has become increasingly challenging, so in an effort to continue to eat at home (and at a decent hour) while still getting everything else done, I’ve started making bigger pots of food and eating them for many meals — including lunch the next day. This is not a new concept by any stretch, but sometimes it’s hard to actually carry out in the CWB household. Sometimes, we plan to eat the same thing for a couple of nights and then we gobble it all up at once (not a great plan for me, zero consequences for the tapeworm I live with). 

Still other times, I intend to make enough food to eat for a few nights and then freeze the rest for next week, but then I forget about it and it goes bad in the fridge. And I really REALLY hate wasting food. Not good.

All this is to say that making meatballs can be the answer to a lot of these problems. So today’s kitchen hack is really just MEATBALLS. I mean, obviously this can apply to lots of different foods, but meatballs are SUCH an easy thing to make and freeze, and they’re small enough that they’ll cool while you’re eating dinner and be ready for the freezer by the time you’re done (no forgetting about them!) In fact, if you feel as strongly as I do about having a few meals for now and a few for the freezer, you might even double this recipe (depending on how many people you’re feeding at home). 

turkey meatball recipe

Cook-Ahead Italian Turkey Meatball Recipe

This recipe fed us for a night or two, me for lunch a few days, and we even invited a couple of friends over for dinner and finished them off with them. Depending on how hungry you are, 2 or 3 will do the trick.

Each time we ate them, we did something different — that’s the beauty of a really tasty meatball. It isn’t limited to just pasta and tomato sauce. It can work as a meat dish all its own with whatever sides you want; it belongs in Italian Wedding Soup (or any broth-based soup); it can sit on a bed of greens for a salad; you can even eat one with your eggs and greens in the morning. They’re a lot more versatile than you think. And the dirty dishes for this project include 1 cutting board, 1 chef’s knife, 1 cookie sheet, and 1 bowl. That’s it. 


Cook-Ahead Italian Turkey Meatballs
Yields 18
Write a review
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
45 min
  1. 2 lbs turkey (1/2 light, 1/2 dark)
  2. 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  3. 1 large egg
  4. 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (stems removed)
  5. 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
  6. 1/2 tsp REAL salt
  7. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  8. 1/4 tsp red pepper flake
  9. 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
  10. avocado oil for greasing the pan
  1. preheat oven to 375
  2. add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix gently by hand
  3. form meat balls about 1.5 inches in diameter (slightly bigger than a golf ball) and place them about 1/5 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet
  4. bake for 15 minutes
  1. makes 18 to 20 meatballs
  2. great for freezing for later
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

Sweet and Savory Spaghetti Squash Waffles [RECIPE]

Today’s spaghetti squash waffles recipe was born out of a need to use an incredible surplus of spaghetti squash, which landed in my kitchen after my first experiment with a grocery delivery service. It’s the kind of service where you go online and select your items and then someone goes to the grocery store of your choice and shops for you. I had never done this before. It was fun going through the online list of items and picking out the foods I wanted delivered. It took surprisingly longer than I thought it would, but most definitely less time than going to the store myself would have. So I was excited at this new-found extra time I’d have because of this convenient service …

Womp Womp 

While I won’t say that I was entirely satisfied with the service (or that it’s worth the up-charge on every item, the tip for the shopper, AND the delivery fee), I will say that it was definitely a learning experience as far as “being specific” is concerned. There are elements of grocery shopping that you take for granted when you do it for yourself — things you don’t necessarily think about, because they’re inherent to you and your family. You know what you’re shopping for. You know how many people you’re shopping for, and how quickly these people will eat the food you buy/cook.

I have two people in my household, and I added one spaghetti squash to the list. When I saw my bags of groceries sitting on my doorstep, I was shocked to see that one of the grocery bags was almost entirely filled with one.gigantic.spaghetti squash. It was literally the biggest spaghetti squash I’ve ever seen. As an aside, I also ordered a few root veggies, thinking I’d do a nice roasted root side for dinner one day that week. I ordered one parsnip as part of that combo, and got the saddest, tiniest little parsnip I’ve ever seen. Here’s a size comparison:

sweet and savory spaghetti squash waffles

Anyway, this post wasn’t meant to be a bashing of home-shopping services. I know many people find them useful. And if it weren’t for this incredibly sized spaghetti squash, I never would have thought to come up with this kitchen hack or recipe. So there’s a silver lining, per usual.

Leftovers + Waffle Iron = New Creative Meal! It works for a lot more than just squash. In fact, I saw some pretty cool ideas right after Thanksgiving using leftover cornbread stuffing, veggies, and all kinds of other goodies. Start experimenting!

Size Matters

Apparently, in the world of spaghetti squash, size really does matter. I baked this thing using my favorite, super simple method for making winter squash. Stick it in the oven whole. I’ve done this many times with many different types of winter squash, and spaghetti squash in particular has come out great in the past. I could use a fork to fluff out the “spaghetti” strands and top it with my favorite paleo sauces. This time, with this gargantuan, the fluff yielded big chunks rather than “spaghetti.” I thought maybe I hadn’t cooked it long enough, but the flesh was definitely cooked.

Still as delicious as any other spaghetti squash would be, I decided to get creative with my chunky squash, as I knew we’d be eating it for days. And these beautiful waffles were born!

Sweet and Savory Spaghetti Squash Waffles

I have slight variations on this waffle to make one sweet and one savory. Neither has a particularly strong leaning either way, but one is perfect for savory toppings (like avocado, some homemade salad dressing or even as the bottom of an open-faced sandwich), while the other is better suited for a sweeter topping like almond butter and bananas, pumpkin butter, or maple syrup and butter. Basically all butters!

All the other ingredients are the same. 
sweet and savory spaghetti squash waffles

sweet and savory spaghetti squash waffles

A Word on Maca Powder

I’ve added maca powder to this recipe for my own personal reasons, not because it adds much in the way of flavor to these recipes. But I wanted to include it here, because I thought it’d be a good chance to tell you about this awesome super food.

“What are my personal reasons?” you might be wondering. I’ve been feeling somewhat drained lately, and I’m concerned that my adrenals are taking a hit from all the work I’m doing (three jobs right now). As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’ve also recently decided to go off of birth control after 11+ years of use, and as a result, I’m experiencing some wonky hormonal side-effects. 

While I don’t think I’ve reached the point of full-on adrenal fatigue, I’d like to prevent it before I get there, so I’m taking precautions. If you’re unfamiliar with adrenal fatigue and are curious to learn more, this is a great place to start for some basic info and links to more in-depth explanations. I haven’t yet been tested, but I’ve been super burnt out and exhausted lately, so I’d like to get ahead of my energy to avoid hitting the bottom.

After all, this blog is all about self-care, so I sure as heck better be taking care of myself, right?! My course of action so far has been to supplement with maca powder and another potent adaptogen formula (affiliate link) every day, and I can say with certainty that I’ve noticed a positive difference in my energy levels and ability to focus. I’ll share more about adaptogens in a future post. 

What’s Maca Powder?

sweet and savory spaghetti squash waffles

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Straight from WebMD: “Maca is a plant that grows in central Peru in the high plateaus of the Andes mountains. It has been cultivated as a vegetable crop in Peru for at least 3000 years. Maca is a relative of the radish and has an odor similar to butterscotch. Its root is used to make medicine. 

Maca is used for “tired blood” (anemia); chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS); and enhancing energy, stamina, athletic performance, memory, and fertility. Women use maca for female hormone imbalance, menstrual problems, and symptoms of menopause. Maca is also used for weak bones (osteoporosis), depression, stomach cancer, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, erectile dysfunction (ED), to arouse sexual desire, and to boost the immune system.”

I’ve used maca on and off for years but this is the first time I’ve included it in a consistent daily routine. An occasional teaspoon added to a smoothie here and there never yielded any noticeable changes, but daily use has benefited me these last few weeks. The caveat, of course, is that I didn’t go about my change very scientifically. Desperate to feel better, I added my adaptogen formula and the maca at the same time, so I can’t say for sure if my better state of health is due to one, the other, or both. I plan to keep using the maca when the adaptogen formula runs out and see how I feel after a few weeks. On with the recipe!

  —> Pin this Recipe <—

Sweet and Savory Spaghetti Squash Waffles
Yields 6
Season one way for sweet and one way for savory, and use these waffles for any meal of the day! This recipe yields 6 regular, square waffles.
Write a review
Prep Time
6 min
Prep Time
6 min
  1. 6 eggs
  2. 1.5 cups cooked spaghetti squash
  3. 1/2 cup almond meal
  4. 3 tbs coconut flour
  5. 1/2 tsp salt
  6. 1/4 tsp baking soda
  7. OPTIONAL: 2 tsp maca powder
  8. For savory waffles: 1 tsp lemon pepper
  9. For sweet waffles: 1 tsp cinnamon
  10. Avocado spray for the waffle iron
  1. Heat your waffle iron before you start mixing
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well-incorporated
  3. Spray waffle iron with avocado spray
  4. Pour mixture over waffle iron
  5. Cook in waffle iron until browned and crispy (or less crispy if that's how you like them!)
  1. I included the time to cook the spaghetti squash in the "cook time" area above. If you've already cooked and scooped the spaghetti squash, this recipe takes only as long as it takes you to mix the ingredients and cook in the waffle iron. These waffles keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days and can be reheated in the oven when you're ready to use them.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/


Guide to a Healthy Thanksgiving: Eat This Not That

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I get to spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen making food I almost never eat at any other time of year — something I’ve already started preparing for, even though it’s not until next week. As most “Friendsgivings” go, we’re doing ours potluck-style this year, and I’m making my three favorites: green beans, sweet potatoes, and pecan pie. The rest is up to my friends to put together — and it’ll be a well-deserved treat after spending Thanksgiving morning climbing at Smith Rock! (Never been there before, can’t wait!)

Maintain Don’t Gain

I always tell my coaching clients that this time of year is about maintaining and not gaining. It’s rough to keep strict weight loss in full focus around the holidays, so the goal shifts to maintenance until January. This is true for other health goals as well — dietary restrictions can be difficult to follow when glutenous, dairy-filled, white sugar-laden treats are on every surface at holiday parties. My personal strategy is to do what I’ve done this year (and in years past): to claim my three favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal so that I can know exactly how they’re being prepared and eat them with abandon (or at least controlled abandon. Is that an oxymoron?)

My strategy works for me, because I can take or leave some of the other traditional foods on the Thanksgiving table. I don’t care about stuffing or mashed potatoes for example. I could also take or leave the cranberry sauce. But I know that’s not everyone, so for those who want something from every casserole dish on their plates this Thanksgiving, I’ve prepared a guide with suggestions for helping you stay on track. It’s intended to offer you some low(er) carb, low(er) sugar options richer in phytonutrients and mindful of at least some of the common dietary restrictions. The idea is to keep the healthy substitutions delicious so that you’re satisfied and not wishing you’d just splurged on the real thing.

I’ll start with my favorite way to prepare Thanksgiving sweet potatoes and then share a few suggestions with you from CWB and around the interwebs that will work as healthy substitutes. As far as the Turkey goes, the best thing you can do is get rid of the skin if it’s not an organic bird. And save the bones so you can make some turkey bone broth!

Rosie’s Sweet Potatoes

Thanksgiving Eat this not thatMy sweet potato recipe is modified from the version my mom makes every year — which I LOVE — chalk-full of butter, heavy cream, and loads of brown sugar. I’m able to accomplish pretty much the exact same thing using substitutions that are a little friendlier to those avoiding lactose and milk proteins. I also sub out the brown sugar for maple syrup and coconut sugar so that you still get the sweet and the crunch but you also get some fiber and micronutrients too. The essence of my mom is still there though, so I’ll still call them Rosie’s Sweets.

Whether you’re talking about the original recipe or my slightly healthier modified version, both of these recipes blow the marshmallow-topped canned sweet potato casserole out of the water. Maybe I’m biased because I grew up with my mom’s masterpiece, but the typical sweet potato mush doesn’t compare in my book. Here’s how you do it — no measuring required: 

  • Roast your sweet potatoes in the skin for an hour or so
  • Remove the skin (or don’t) while they’re still warm
  • Cut into bite-sized chunks and fill the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish
  • Sprinkle cinnamon and a pinch of salt
  • Cover with handfuls of pecan halves or pieces
  • Scoop teaspoon sized dollops of ghee or coconut oil and place them every two or three inches across the dish
  • Drizzle maple syrup and coconut sugar gently over the whole surface of the baking dish 
  • Pour coconut milk over the top (no more than a cup or so)
  • Bake on 375 until sizzling and brown (about 15 minutes)

Eat This Not That for Thanksgiving

Parsnip Mash vs Mashed Potatoes

Thanksgiving Eat this not thatParsnips are among the more underrated roots in the vegetable kingdom. They’re often skipped over for the seemingly more exciting potato or carrot. (They look like white or yellow carrots.) But guess what. Parsnips are awesome, and if you’re avoiding nightshades, they make a delicious substitute for mashed potatoes on the Thanksgiving table. They also have lower net carbs (if you’re counting) and tons of folic acid, calcium, and fiber. The fiber will keep you full for longer and will prevent the insulin spike that comes with peeled white potatoes. I happened to have just posted a perfect parsnip mash recipe this week — skin and all! Check it out and add it to your Thanksgiving lineup. 

Cauliflower Gravy vs Traditional White Flour Gravy

Thanksgiving Eat this not thatWere you wondering why I didn’t suggest a cauliflower mash instead of potatoes up above? It’s not that I don’t love mashed cauliflower, it’s just that I don’t want to tell you to replace your whole Thanksgiving meal with 50 shades of cauliflower. By all means, if you love cauliflower mash, go for it, I just wanted to give you some variety and suggest something you might not have tried before. AND, I wanted to leave room for this cauliflower gravy from The Paleo Mom. I personally cannot wait to try this.

Right now, the only cauliflower we have in the house is purple. I’ll keep you posted should I decide to make purple gravy. Although I haven’t created my own cauliflower gravy recipe, I knew in my gut that a good one must exist, because this nutritious veggie works great in sauces and soups as a substitute for cream. If you’re curious, you can check out my Cauli-Freddo Sauce recipe and prepare for your taste buds to thank you.  

Italian Green Bean Casserole vs traditional green bean casserole

Thanksgiving Eat this not thatThis substitution is not just a matter of health, it’s a matter of flavor and yum factor. Put these two dishes side by side, and I dare you to choose the one with the cream of mushroom soup in it topped with those weird fried onion that come out of a can.

But the health concern is most certainly part of the equation as well. The sodium alone in the cream of mushroom is cause for concern, not to mention the high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, ultra-pasturized powdered milk solids, and the who-knows-what-else is in that can. Add on top of that the rancid oils used to fry those canned onions, coupled with whatever is added to them to keep them crispy … just seems like a digestive/wellness nightmare to me.

Around this time last year, I shared how to make healthy, delicious gluten-free breadcrumbs for this very dish — the Italian Green Bean Casserole. My mom has been making this my whole life (in fact, back in the day when I only ate beige food, this dish became an exception), and I’ve created a more nutritious, gluten-free version by swapping out some ingredients and making these Italian breadcrumbs. One thing I do to control the sodium is control the beans. I’ve found delicious success with both steamed fresh beans and no-salt-added canned beans. And I always use freshly grated cheese. Deeeelicious!

Grain-free paleo stuffing vs the boxed stuff

Thanksgiving Eat this not thatAs I said before, I could take or leave cornbread stuffing, but when I came across this grain-free recipe at PaleoPorn, I decided a) that it needed to go on the list and b) that I needed to try it as soon as possible. I love this recipe because it could almost be a meal on its own. You could scoop this stuffing onto a bed of greens and have yourself a feast of a salad! It’s not only gluten-free but grain-free, for those who are avoiding grains all together. It’s chock full of veggies, healthy fats, and there’s even some sausage in there to really get the flavor going and the protein count up.

This stuffing works great for those of us who don’t care much about the turkey in our turkey dinner (guilty), and is a creative take on something that’s usually just another carb-y, white dollop on the Thanksgiving plate. Even if you can’t stick with it exactly, shoot for real food ingredients in this year’s stuffing and add in as many fresh herbs as you can to pack a powerful flavor and nutrition punch.

As for the traditional alternative: whether we’re talking about the boxed stuff or stuffing made from scratch, we’re looking at a bready mix of refined flours and white sugar. Might as well save the sugar for dessert and enjoy something that won’t send your blood sugar through the roof before you even get to the dessert table.

Fresh Cranberry Sauce vs the canned stuff

Thanksgiving Eat this not thatI feel like for this substitution, a picture is worth a thousand words. But for the sake of consistency, I’ll point out that this amazing-looking homemade cranberry sauce from Two Healthy Kitchens kicks it up a notch (to say the least). It’s not just a sugar bomb like the canned stuff is. It features whole fruits and nuts to slow some of that sugar down, and it involves zero cooking, so it saves you time too. You can also customize the texture with your food processor — leave it chunky or smooth it out. Up to you! 

To really drive the point home, I looked up the ingredients in the most popular canned cranberry sauce (the kind that remains the shape of the can when it comes out). And guess the ingredients. Guess! Cranberries, high fructose corn syrup, water, corn syrup. That’s it. Side by side with the rich flavors and textures of THK’s recipe (or so many other gorgeous homemade recipes), there’s really no comparison. And again, this one is raw, so one less pot for you to clean!

Pumpkin vs Pumpkin Pie Mix

Thanksgiving Eat this not that

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There’s virtually no way around dessert on Thanksgiving. And that’s fine. It’s one of the best parts of the holiday! I personally consider the sweet potato recipe I just shared to be one of the desserts of the day, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more. For some reason, there’s always room for dessert no matter what else has gone down the gullet — especially on Thanksgiving. Here’s the trick for pumpkin pie: mix the pumpkin yourself. Instead of getting the can that says “Pumpkin Pie Mix,” opt for the box of plain pumpkin (affiliate link) and add in your own sweets and spices. This way, you can control what KIND of sugar goes in and HOW MUCH. Plus, you’ll avoid the BPA from the can. You can even add in extra cinnamon, which has been shown to improve insulin response (might as well throw it in).

More Dessert Advice

Pick your FAVORITES for the holiday season, and enjoy them, guilt-free. Be judicious this time of year when the barrage of sweets is endless, so that when you do choose something sweet, you can be sure that it’s worth it. If there are five different kinds of pie, pick your favorite one or two and do half-slices, rather than trying them all. If lemon meringue isn’t your favorite, leave it for someone else and make every bite count. Just make sure you leave some pecan pie for me. After all, our goal is to live a sweet, rich life — the sweet has to come from somewhere!

Eat This not That Infographic

Here’s a visual guide of everything we just discussed. Click here to download a PDF for reference

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.

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)


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Fruit Too Ripe to Eat? Make a Simple Skillet Dessert! [RECIPE]

Ever since I moved to the Bay Area and discovered the joys of a super fresh nectarine right off the tree, a sweetness I’d never tasted in a nectarine before, I became obsessed with stone fruit fresh from the local growers. I love summer in general, but the fact that it’s also stone fruit season takes it to a whole new level. The road to our most traveled climbing destination (Yosemite) is lined with local growers selling their fresh produce, so I always insist we stop and stock up on the way home. We even have a few neighbors growing apricots, plumbs, and nectarines, and sometimes on a walk with Dexter, I snag a few from the trees. Fresh, delicious, sweet nectarines might be the best thing on earth.

nectarine skillet dessert

The First Fruit of the Season

When I saw the first beautiful white and yellow nectarines of the season at our local grocery store a few weeks ago, I bought a few. I usually like to sample before I buy (hence my preference for the little stands and farmers’ markets), so I didn’t go crazy and just got a few to kick off the season. I couldn’t wait to get home and sink my teeth into the first nectarines of the season. Unfortunately, I got distracted and promptly packed them into the fruit drawer in our refrigerator and forgot about them.


A couple of weeks later, I remembered that I hadn’t eaten them and pulled out slightly wrinkly nectarines. They weren’t moldy, and they did still have a nice sweet flavor, but I didn’t want to eat them plain like that all sad and wrinkly. And so another version of the “Single Guy” dessert was born. 

I chopped up those wrinkly nectarines, grabbed some blueberries, and tossed them into a heated skillet with a little coconut oil and started cooking. A little bit of this and a little bit of that, and suddenly I had two desserts ready to go for my husband and me! Easy as pie (or a two-person mini pie without the crust). 

nectarine skillet dessert

The Kitchen Hack of the day is this: Don’t waste the forgotten fruit!

Breathe some life back into it by turning it into a skillet dessert! As I’ve mentioned before, you can really do a lot for dessert with a skillet and some fresh (or not so fresh) fruit. Get creative and don’t waste that fruit just because it’s a little past its prime. (Just make sure there’s no mold or rot.)

Nectarine and Blueberry Skillet Dessert
Serves 2
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Prep Time
2 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
7 min
Prep Time
2 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
7 min
  1. 2 ripe nectarines or peaches, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  2. Handful of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  3. 2 tsp coconut oil (CWB Favorite Pick)
  4. Zest from 1/2 a lemon
  5. 8 crushed macadamia nuts
  6. 1 tsp maple syrup
  7. Refrigerated coconut milk (cold so that it's thick and scoop-able) (CWB Favorite Pick)
  8. Pinch of salt
  1. Heat a sauce pan and add coconut oil and fruit
  2. Cook the fruit on medium heat until it softens and the blueberries start releasing color, stirring to ensure that nothing sticks or burns
  3. Add crushed nuts, maple syrup, and a pinch of salt
  4. Stir everything to incorporate well
  5. Once you plate the fruit (I use small ramekins), add a scoop of cold coconut milk for topping (if your coconut milk isn't solid, just stir it in -- it will still be delicious!)
  6. Serve warm
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link (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. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.


A Rolled Lunch: Paleo Burritos and Easy Lunch Ideas

There aren’t a ton of great lunch options in the neighborhood where I work, so I tend to make my lunch on most days. Buying lunch out at a restaurant every day can get both expensive and unhealthy pretty quickly, so I tend to keep it pretty reined in. Making my lunch also allots me my full lunch hour to relax outside (although I’ll admit that lately I’ve been holed up inside all day long — starting Monday, that changes! It’s been beautiful out!) 

Today’s post is sort of a mash-up of lunch suggestions I’ve been wanting to put together into a post for a good long while. These suggestions are meant for portability, lunch on the go, or a quick and easy snack to make in your tiny office kitchen without the need for actual kitchen appliances. I also love these suggestions for picnic fare if you’re tossing your lunch into a backpack and going on a hike. The possibilities are endless, so I’m going to give you a jumping off point and then send you on your way to concoct your own, personalized rolled lunches!

paleo burrito ameri-maki - a rolled lunch

A Rolled Lunch

There are endless combinations of ingredients that can be rolled into a nice, neat, tasty rolled lunch — I like the freedom of throwing things together, but I understand that some people need specifics, so that’s what we’re doing here today. We’ll start with the wrapper options and then move into fillings. And then, as usual, I’ll encourage you to be creative and try whatever suits your fancy.

The Paleo Burrito

For me, the wrapper sort of sets the tone for the meal. Not all wrappers can accommodate all fillings. It might be more accurate to call my paleo burrito a “paleo wrap,” but you can honestly make it as Mexican as you want for a truly burrito-y experience. For a burrito or classic-style wrap, I like to use Paleo Wraps (affiliate link), which are made out of coconut flour and only impart a very subtle coconut flavor into your rolled lunch. I love them because they’re sturdy and you can really pack a lot into them. They’re also pretty tasty and low in sugar. All good things! 

paleo wraps

The Collard Wrap

This wrapper is exactly what you think it is. Collard greens are perfect for a rolled meal, because they are wide, flat leaves sturdy enough to hold the ingredients inside and flexible enough not to crack. I find that since collard greens have a little bit of a bitter flavor, the stuffing should have some pretty strong flavors of its own. My favorite thing to wrap in a collard green leaf is a chicken salad made with a good strong dijon mustard and dill pickles. So good!

paleo burrito ameri-maki - a rolled lunch

The Ameri-Maki

I lovingly call the nori-wrapped lunch an “Ameri-maki.” Maki is the Japanese name for rolled sushi, and since I can put whatever I want in my maki-style lunch (including the chicken salad I just mentioned above), I can invent a name for it too! This is the nori I use (affiliate link). Nori does have a decently strong “ocean” flavor, so consider that when selecting your stuffing.


The Stuffing

To simplify the stuffing suggestions, I made a handy-dandy chart for you. These are just suggestions, most of which I’ve had in all three wrappers at one time or another, so don’t hesitate to switch up ingredients or wrappers based on what’s in your pantry or fridge at any given time. Simply take one ingredient from each column and roll ’em up! (Use as many different veggies as you want, I’m just trying to keep it simple for you!) I left out grain options here to remind you that there are plenty of awesome grain-free lunch choices; but if you aren’t trying to eliminate grains, feel free to add a bit of quinoa or black rice into your rolled lunch if you so desire.

The Paleo Wraps are probably the most accommodating wrapper, because they have the mildest flavor, but the collard and nori bring something exciting to the table too. They also bring more phytonutrients, because they are vegetables, each with its own unique nutrient profile. 

paleo burrito ameri-maki - a rolled lunchYour Turn

A rolled lunch has as many possibilities as a salad would — from greens, veggies, and toppings to dressings, sauces, and spreads; it all goes in! Get creative and make your own rolled lunch. And I want to hear about it! 

What do you like to have for lunch? Ever considered a rolled lunch? Any stuffing ingredients I’m forgetting that are must-adds? 

Let me know in the comments below!

Pesto Green Beans with Shrimp [RECIPE VIDEO]

It’s hard to believe, but the beans in this dish started out purple. I’m calling it a green bean dish because it’s much easier to find green beans than purple ones, but I feel compelled to tell you that these beans started out purple! I’d seen online that purple beans do turn green when you cook them, but I think some part of me was in denial until I saw it for myself. 

pesto recipe green beans with shrimp

Gardening and Eating for Optimum Health

After reading Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson (affiliate link), I decided that this year’s garden would have as many purple, red, and blue items as possible in it. Red and purple plants possess a markedly high potency of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant shown to promote ‘anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity control, and diabetes alleviation.’ This year in the garden, we have multiple types of red lettuce, purple pole beans, and red and purple carrots. We also have strawberries, beets, and blueberries, which fall into this category as well. We’ve already committed a bit of real estate to our globe artichoke plant and our green okra, but purple artichokes and okra might be on the list for future seasons if we can find a place to put them. The more the better!pesto recipe green beans with shrimp

Pesto-Making [VIDEO] 

A while back I promise that you’d be the first to know if I ever got around to making a how-to video for quick and easy pesto at home, and I finally did! I used the simple formula laid out in this video to make the pesto I included in the recipe below. I hope you enjoy it and try some creative combinations in your own kitchen to make truly unique and flavorful pesto of your own! This recipe included fresh basil and carrot tops (from purple carrots) straight from the garden, so it falls right in line with our goal of eating for optimum health.


Pesto Green Beans with Shrimp
Serves 3
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Cook Time
20 min
Cook Time
20 min
  1. 3 cups green beans
  2. 1 red onion
  3. 18 raw shrimp (deveined and peeled)
  4. 4 tbs pesto
  5. 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
  6. Salt to taste (this is the herb salt I use in the video)
  7. Optional: dash of red pepper flake
  1. Blanch the beans in about 1 inch of water, save the water
  2. Add 1/2 the water to a shallow skillet and heat to a simmer
  3. Add 1 whole sliced red onion and cook until the water evaporates
  4. Once the onions are cooked through and the water has evaporated, add shrimp
  5. Cook shrimp until about 1/2 way done and add in the beans (you can toss the rest of the water
  6. Season with lemon pepper, good salt, and an optional touch of red pepper flake
  7. Turn off the heat when the shrimp are done
  8. Stir in 3 tbsp fresh pesto
  9. Serve hot with a side of sweet roasted potatoes or another whole food starch
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link (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. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Brined Citrus Kale Salad [RECIPE]

Kale has spent a lot of time in the lime light over the last few years. Hailed as a “superfood,” a magical smoothie ingredient, a new salad green, and the answer to all of life’s problems, kale really has a lot to live up to!

Random fact: Before the surge of good press for kale in 2012/13, the largest purchaser of kale was Pizza Hut — it was used to cover the ice as garish at the salad bar (source).

To be honest, sometimes I get sick of kale. We grow a TON of it in our garden, partly because it’s easy to grow, and partly because I like to have a variety to choose from — we have lacinato kale, purple curly kale, green curly kale, and last year we had red Russian kale. I bet you didn’t know there were that many varieties of kale — or maybe you did, because it’s all the rage! Having a constant supply of multiple kale choices for just over 2 years at this point has sort of chipped away at my desire to eat it all the time. 

brined kale salad

I still sneak it into smoothies and braise it with the drippings of animal parts from time to time, but I haven’t wanted to eat a nice kale salad for a little while. That doesn’t mean I haven’t eaten them, just that it wasn’t really my first choice of things to eat. As much as I caution against falling into cooking ruts, sometimes I find myself making the same old kale salad just because it’s tried and true — and we have kale coming out of our ears.

I was feeling creative the other day when I came across a big bin of grapefruit at the grocery store and decided it was time to try out a new kale salad recipe.

Secret but Vital Step

I remember when I first brought a bunch of kale from the garden home to Texas (yes I brought it on the plane) and encouraged my mom to make a kale salad. She was not interested in eating raw kale. She said she’d make the salad, but after I left, she confessed she’d just cooked it because she was scared to eat it raw. I totally get it. Raw kale is rough, takes a lot of energy to chew, can sometimes be a little scratchy on the throat going down, and can be a lot for the gut to break down. But the secret step that makes a kale salad truly delicious is a quick brine and massage. It breaks down some of the fiber, brings out the natural flavors of the plant, and makes kale a bit easier for the gut to handle.brined kale salad

Kitchen Hack: Brining and Massaging the Kale

After I wash, de-rib, and chop or tear my kale leaves, I always brine the kale. This little secret is the difference between a good kale salad and a great one. If you’ve ever had a great kale salad at a restaurant — one where the kale isn’t too hard or sharp, where it seems slightly wilted, yet still raw — it’s probably because the chef brined the kale. Here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Sprinkle about 1 tsp of good salt (like this) over the bowl of prepared kale leaves (I’m thinking a full bunch from the store — you’d be surprised how much this stuff will shrink down)

Step 2: Using clean hands, start squeezing the kale leaves and kneading them like dough so that the salt really penetrates the leaves. It should take no more than 2 minutes for you to notice the changes in the leaves (You’ll notice that some liquid will start accumulating at the bottom of the bowl, and the leaves will start to with and shrink down a bit)

Step 3: Once the leaves are wilted and softened, taste one to see how salty it is. If it’s just right, you can start constructing the rest of the salad. If it’s too salty, give the greens a quick rinse and a run through the salad spinner to get rid of excess salt before you put the rest of the salad together. 

Simple as that! Kale salads are a great vehicle for a salty/sweet combo like parmesan cheese and peaches, and I almost always include nuts or seeds as well. Goat cheese, dried cherries, and pecans also make for a great kale salad. I love a salad like this with a nice piece of wild salmon or even a great cut of pastured pork. The recipe I’m about to share with you was born out of a desire to stretch the kale salad to incorporate the bittersweet of grapefruit. If you’re a newbie to this art, experiment with ingredients you know you love. Have fun with it!

Brined Citrus Kale Salad
Serves 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
  1. 1 bunch dino (aka lacinato) kale (any type works, this one requires the least massaging)
  2. 1 tsp REAL salt (CWB Favorite Pick)
  3. Juice of 1 grapefruit
  4. 2 tbs EVOO (CWB Favorite Pick)
  5. 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  6. 3 radishes, thinly sliced
  7. 4 scallions, chopped
  8. OPTIONAL: 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  1. Massage and brine the kale using the instructions above, draining off and rinsing only if necessary after tasting
  2. Add the pecans, the radishes, and the scallions to the greens
  3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk grapefruit juice and EVOO
  4. Toss into salad until fully incorporated
  5. Top with cheese if desired
Cultivated Wellbeing http://www.tonisicola.com/

FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link (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. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

3 Mistakes to Avoid in the Kitchen: Cooking 101

Sometimes we need more than just a good idea to make something awesome in the kitchen. Simple skills like grilling, sautéing, braising, and roasting can go a long way if you know what you’re doing. But if you don’t, or you rely on techniques you perceive to be “healthier” or “easier” (read STEAMING!), you run the risk of eating a bland dinner, ruining a bunch of food, or worst of all, turning yourself (or your children) off of healthy ingredients like vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Execution is everything.

This simple list provides you not only with mistakes to avoid but also with alternatives to try that will help you create a delicious meal that you and your family can enjoy with minimal effort. It’s a list designed to pull you out of a cooking rut and encourage new innovations in your home kitchen.
3 Mistakes to Avoid in the Kitchen

3 Mistakes to Avoid in the Kitchen

Today, we’re getting down to a few basic mistakes novice cooks make in the kitchen. Avoid these things and follow my guidelines of what to do instead, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the food you cook, saving a few extra bucks, and eating more nutritious meals. 

MISTAKE #1. Boiling or steaming the life out of your veggies

mistakes to avoid in the kitchen

image sourced through Creative Commons by Björn Appel

When I work with people around eating well and incorporating more vegetables into their diets, I’m always surprised to hear how many people boil and steam their vegetables to death. Nutrients in these vital foods can be both water-soluble and heat-sensitive, and when you do this, you sometimes throw the best part of the vegetable out with the water. Boiling and steaming is also not that tasty, which disincentivizes a person new to veggies from eating them.
What to do instead:
A new habit has to be enjoyable for people to stick with it. Roasting vegetables is the way to go for maximum nutrient retention and maximum flavor.

MISTAKE #2. Under-salting/salting too late when braising meat

mistakes to avoid in the kitchen

image sourced through Creative Commons by FiveRings

Braising might seem like a complicated task for a novice cook, but I can assure you that it’s actually pretty hard to mess up. You can throw just about anything into the braising liquid (wine, water, broth, orange juice, milk, beer, brandy … ), add some veggies, and you’re off to a great start. Braising makes a cheap* cut of meat tender, flavorful, and delicious. 

*cheap is referring to the cut, of the meat, not the way the animal was raised — I’m not advocating for industrial, factory-farmed “cheap” meat. Cheap cuts are the ones that don’t turn into tender, juicy steaks — think shanks, shoulders, necks, and thighs. The cheap cuts are the parts of the body the animal actually uses to roam around and live life — muscles that become thick, strong, and sinewy. A good braise can transform them into something tender and awesome. Get the idea?
The one catch is salt. Under-salting creates a disappointing finished product that you spent a lot of time making. Salting too late in the process can draw out the liquid and create a dry piece of meat, even though it’s cooked in liquid.
What to do instead:
When you plan to braise a large cut of meat, it’s important to salt it adequately at least 24 hours in advance (if not 48 to 72) and keep it in the refrigerator as the salt sinks in. Coat a thin layer across all surfaces of the meat, and don’t be shy about it. If you don’t have 24 hours, just skip the salt while cooking, and salt to taste on your plate as needed. Feel free to add dry or fresh chopped herbs and spices to this as well, but don’t skimp on the salt. You want more than you might think. 

MISTAKE #3. Adding in fresh herbs too soon

mistakes to avoid in the kitchen

Flickr image sourced through Creative Commons by Follow

Because my focus is on health and wellness, I tend to emphasize the importance of maximizing phytonutrients in the diet. Micronutrients can make or break a healthy lifestyle, sometimes even more than macronutrients, due to their healing and protective properties in the body. Some hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage can be added from start to finish throughout the cooking process for various layers of flavor in a dish. More delicate but nutrient-dense herbs like cilantro, parsley, oregano, or tarragon (just to name a few) don’t really do much for a dish if we put them in too early. Adding herbs like these to the fire more than about 30 minutes from the dish’s completion sacrifices both flavor and many of the healthy properties found in them.

What to do instead:
I always recommend adding in delicate fresh herbs about 20 minutes before you turn off the heat and then adding even more to the finished dish to maximize nutrient-density and flavor.Doing it this way might also encourage you to use more fresh herbs per dish. I know some people buy a pack of cilantro, use three sprigs, and the rest rots in the fridge. Avoiding waste is an added bonus to this tip.

Go Forth and Conquer!

I started with this short, simple list to share with you today, but there’s a good chance you’ll see another post just like this of simple kitchen tips to help improve your home cooking experience. I chose these three things to share with you today, because they involve cooking techniques like roasting and braising that I really want you to try at home with confidence.

For me personally, as I began learning more complex tasks in the kitchen, I realized the things that scared me were really just scary because they were new and unknown. I was afraid of the oven for a good long time, because I couldn’t see what was going on in there, and I was sure I’d burn everything. Now my oven is my best culinary friend. I prefer most vegetables prepared in the oven to those prepared in a pan, and the same goes for most meats. It’s all about trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised at the results! As far as the mistakes I mentioned here go, it’s not just a matter of flavor, but a matter of nutrition as well. These tips will bring more nutrients to your body as well as more flavor to your pleasure centers! Go forth and conquer armed with new knowledge of your powers in the kitchen!

Lamb-stuffed Whole Roasted Acorn Squash [Recipe] [Kitchen Hack]

As you might know from previous posts, I love a good winter squash recipe. My best friend in high school had a gourmet chef for a mother, and she would make butternut squash soup with sage and heavy cream — I’d sneak seconds out of the fridge when I’d go over there for dinner. And my first memory of biting into a winter squash was life changing — roasted acorn squash topped with a sesame soy glaze at a locally sourced restaurant in Austin, TX sometime in the early 2000’s. I was hooked.

While I loved these starchy veggies, I found them unwieldy and downright frightening to prepare myself. I’ll admit to buying the pre-cut, pre-peeled butternut squash at Whole Foods in the produce section and paying an arm and a leg to have someone else risk their fingertips to cut that thing apart for me. They roll all over the place!lamb-stuffed whole roasted acorn squash recipe

Life-Changing Kitchen Hack: Roasting a Whole Squash

A few weeks back, I learned an amazing trick to save time AND my fingers, and guarantee excellence each and every time I make winter squash. And that trick is to do NOTHING to it before sticking it in the oven. Nothing. Turn on the oven, stick it in whole, let it roast from the inside; and then slice it open, scoop the seeds, and do as you please. It’s amazing! And today’s recipe will feature an acorn squash roasted like this. It’s literally the easiest way to cook winter squash while avoiding the emergency room! 

Time-Saving Tip

Roasting this way is also a great way to multi-task in the kitchen — or even prepare extra for the rest of the week. Depending on how many squashes you’re cooking (yes, that’s a plural form of squash, I just looked it up), the time in the oven will shift slightly, but this is a set-it-and-forget-it way of preparing a base for your dinner. Tossing a squash in the oven gives you time to focus on the rest of your meal. And if you’re preparing for the whole week, why not mix it up? Throw a spaghetti squash in there too and get the base for this recipe started for later in the week.

For this dish, I started some ground lamb and cabbage going on a skillet while my squash did it’s thing in the oven. If you’re shooting for a vegetarian dinner, you could work up some quinoa and veggies, or make it super easy by pulling out a BPA-free can of veggie chili (affiliate link) for the easiest healthy dinner on earth. Or you could stick with my recipe below. lamb-stuffed whole roasted acorn squash recipe

Lamb-Stuffed Roasted Acorn Squash
Serves 4
Makes 4 very generous servings -- unless you're really hungry, prepare for some leftovers for lunch tomorrow!
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  1. 2 whole acorn squash (small to medium in size)
  2. 1.5 lbs ground lamb
  3. 1/2 a red cabbage, chopped
  4. 1 red bell pepper, diced
  5. 1 cloves fresh garlic, chopped or pressed
  6. 4 tbs fresh rosemary
  7. 1 tbs fresh sage
  8. 2 tsp REAL salt + more (CWB Favorite Pick)
  9. Black pepper
  1. Roast 2 whole acorn squash on 400 for 40 minutes, let sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing to avoid a steam burn
  2. While the squash is in the oven, start browning ground lamb on a hot skillet
  3. When the meat's about halfway cooked, sprinkle in 2 tsp salt and add chopped red cabbage and bell pepper
  4. When the meat's about 3/4 of the way browned with 1/4 still red and uncooked, stir in garlic, sage and 1/2 the rosemary.
  5. There should be lots of juices sizzling and bubbling at this point, and the cabbage should be pretty close to done.
  6. Once it's all cooked, add 2 more tbs fresh rosemary and cook for another 5-7 minutes
  7. Slice the top off the acorn squash and cut them in half
  8. Scoop out the innards and seeds, saving the seeds for toasting later
  9. Sprinkle all 4 halves with salt and black pepper
  10. Plate the squash and fill each center with the ground lamb cabbage mixture
Optional but Awesome Toppings
  1. cashew cream
  2. OR
  3. Greek yogurt
  4. OR
  5. sour cream
  6. AND
  7. fresh sprouts
  8. AND
  9. raw sunflower seeds
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. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

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

Sicola-Style Roasted Tomato Puttanesca Recipe

I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking this is a “Sicola family recipe” — it’s not. In fact, it’s my take on a recipe a friend shared with Loren over Facebook a few weeks back. I loved the idea of roasting tomatoes in the oven instead of making a stove top sauce like I usually do, so I took the nuts and bolts of that recipe and tweaked it to fit my fancy. I’ve never been great at following recipes to a T anyway; in the end, it always becomes my own concoction. This roasted tomato sauce is no exception.

What makes it Sicola-Style?

1) It’s easy; 2) it’s basically measuring-cup-free; 3) it’s flexible (if you don’t like something in it, just trade it for something that suits you!); 4) it’s nutrient-dense (anchovies=omega 3, tomato peels= extra lycopene); 5) it’s chalk-full of rich, sweet flavor — just like this blog — and last but not least, 6) you don’t have to peel the tomatoes! Sweet relief + extra phytonutrients! What could go wrong? I’m starting the tradition right now, and for years to come generations of Sicolas will make this sauce and sing its praises! I know you will too when you try it at home. Tonight we enjoyed it with zucchini noodles, Sicilian sausage, and fresh basil. A healthy twist on my pasta-loving Sicilian family roots! 

roasted tomato sauce puttanesca

What Kind of Tomatoes to Use?

I used giant red heirlooms and cherry tomatoes from my backyard tomato jungle, but I’ve seen similar recipes using Romas or San Marzanos. At the end of the day, if you start with a good tomato, your sauce will be good. Don’t use gross pink flavorless conventional beefsteaks and you won’t get gross watery flavorless sauce. It’s that simple. In my book, you start with good organic ingredients and you’ll get good results. Don’t skimp on quality and your taste buds and body will thank you. If you need help picking your tomatoes, here are a few tips:

  • The deeper the red color (both inside and out), the better. If you’re having doubts, get a produce employee to cut one open for you before you buy. 
  • You want only a little give when you gently squeeze the fruit, but some give is important. If a tomato is too firm, it’s probably not quite ripe, which means it was super green when it was picked and probably tastes like nothing (another reason to ask to peek inside one!)
  • You want a tomato you like — try a few varieties if you’re not sure what you like best. Certainly the flavor will change and be enhanced as you cook and add seasonings, but if you don’t like the raw materials, you’re less likely to like the finished product.
  • If you can get your tomatoes from a local farmers’ market, you’re almost guaranteeing that they were sun-ripened and recently picked, which means rich, deep flavor. Opt for the farmers’ market if you can!

Kitchen Hack: Tomatoes lose their flavor and nutritional value rapidly when refrigerated. Buy your tomatoes the same week you plan to use them and store them on your counter, not in the fridge. You’ll get more flavor and more lycopene, an antioxidant important for eye health and prevalent in tomatoes. In fact, the lycopene increases when you cook and is more bioavailable when fat is added, so this sauce does the trick — cooked in olive oil to guarantee a healthy dose of lycopene in every serving!

Let’s Get Started!


Your Shopping list*:

  • 3 lbs fresh organic tomatoes
  • Organic olive oil
  • 1 can black olives, coarsely chopped (a Sicola family favorite!)
  • 1 small jar capers
  • 1 small jar anchovies fillets in olive oil
  • fresh oregano (or your favorite fresh herbs — other options are rosemary, marjoram, thyme, or some combo)
  • cracked red pepper
  • REAL salt

*I’m giving you a shopping list instead of an ingredients list because you will not use the whole can of olives or jars of capers and sardines. My leftover olives are long gone (in my belly) but the capers and sardines will store in the fridge for a very long time.


  • 2 large cookie sheets
  • Blender
  • Jars for freezing/storing (leave about 1.5 inches at the top of each jar you plan to freeze to avoid sadness and broken glass disaster in your freezer)


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 while you prep your cookie sheets and ‘maters
  2. Coat the cookie sheets with a thin layer of olive oil
  3. Cut the tomatoes in half if small, into quarters if large, and line the cookie sheets
  4. Generously drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt over tomatoes
  5. Roast at 400F for about 25 minutes, then reduce the heat to 225F and cook for another hour
  6. Remove from the oven and evenly distribute about 1/2 the can of olives, a couple spoonfuls of capers, and about 10 chopped anchovies over the two sheets of tomatoes
  7. Add about 5 sprigs of fresh oregano — simply strip the leaves from the stems, no need to chop
  8. Sprinkle cracked red pepper to your desired spice level (start small, you can always add more at the end!)
  9. Replace sheets in the oven and cook another hour or so
  10. Remove from the oven and add all contents to blender
  11. Add about 5 more sprigs of oregano
  12. Pulse lightly for a thick, chunky sauce or puree for a smoother texture
  13. Store in jars in the refrigerator for up to one week. Freeze what you don’t eat to save for a rainy day!


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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