All Before 8am – Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

Somewhere back in my 30s, I think I spent idyllic mornings before heading off to work where I would sit and sip a cup of coffee in silence and maybe leaf through a book, magazine or newspaper.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t recognize that “pre-child” era for the paradise that it actually was.  Yet every year, with the arrival of summer, I cling to some deeply repressed notion of a smooth, peaceful and easy morning since we “don’t have school or anything else to hurry off to”.  And every year, about a week into summer I realize what a hopeless romantic loser I am for even believing in “smooth”, “peaceful”  or “easy”.

In case you can’t relate to what I’m describing here, let me give you a run down of a common pre-8am landscape in our little slice of the earth.  That is correct, all of this -and more- occurs prior to 8 o’clock in the morning; approximately only 60 – 90 minutes after 8 small feet hit the floor to welcome a glorious new day.

10 – Hand soap smeared on a wooden nightstand because “I was decowating it”.  This particular day it was hand soap, but you can feel free to sub in toothpaste, Mom’s expensive moisturizer, calamine lotion, butt cream, or any other gooey substance that is supposed to stay in the bathroom.

9 – Apple core dropped in the toilet because the potty was closer than the trash. (OK – this isn’t a regular occurrence, but the fact that it even happened once kind of makes you wonder.)

8 – All out tantrum because “I wanted to po my own ceweal.”

7 – Wet pull-up left in the middle of the kitchen floor. When are they going to make them so that they can absorb the pee and dispose of themselves?

6 – Reader on page 360 of the book you just got her (that was supposed to last all week) and completely oblivious to the ensuing morning chaos.  I should never have talked to her so much as an infant; then maybe she wouldn’t have become such a voracious bookworm.

5 – Breakfast sweetly made for younger siblings (she calls it the Hot Cocoa Cafe), but the kitchen not so sweetly hiding the remnants of said breakfast (aka – crap all over my kitchen!)

4 – Question “What are we going to do today?” already uttered at least 57 times.  Answer: NOTHING.  But they still keep asking as if the question can change the course of their future.

3 – Dragon, lion, and other “animal of the week” pictures already littering the dining room table that was clean last night when I went to bed.  Darn FuntoDraw with Mei Yu videos on YouTube.  She should have named it FuntoKillTrees with the amount of paper these children plow through.

2 – Animal hospital, complete with a gazillion bandaged stuffed animals, set up and completely blocking my front door.  Here’s hoping the fire marshall won’t visit today.

1 – The words Mom, Mama, Mother, and MacoCheena (don’t ask) uttered, shouted, whined, screamed, whispered, and repeated in varying tones, pitches and cadences at least 700 times (or so it seems).

Picture painted now?  Good.  So how is your summer going so far?  And yes, it’s often on days that start like this that I retreat into my mixing bowls and measuring spoons just to take a moment.  On this particular day, I tackled Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes with some home grown sugar pumpkins from the garden.  I figured everything else is so wacky, why not bake with pumpkin in early July.

I started by roasting up one of the cute little guys.

roasted pumpkin

I then scooped out the yummy filling and mashed with a potato masher.

roasted pumpkin puree

I mixed together the dry ingredients of flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, and salt.  Then I mashed together sugar and butter until they were well combined.

pumpkin pie cupcakes

To that mixture, I added an egg white, my mashed pumpkin, some milk, and a bit of vanilla.  Then I added in the dry ingredients and mixed it all up until smooth.

pumpkin pie cupcakes

I used mini cupcake papers and a tin and filled each one.  I baked them about 12 minutes.  While they were baking, I mixed together some powdered sugar, cream cheese, and butter.  After the cupcakes cooled, I frosted them and Voila.

pumpkin pie cucpakes

Please note that no specific children were identified in this post.  There are really no behaviors in and of themselves that are horrific, atypical childlike behaviors.  It’s simply the gestalt of it all compacted into a 60 minute time period that drives this mother to her oven.

Here’s the complete recipe for Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes.



Fish Fest – And I’m Not Talking About A Big Christian Rock Concert

Something new has been a brewin’ here in my kitchen and I confess that it’s kind of a mind blower.  I have been diving into “clean eating”, and I must say, I am loving it!

I have always been about healthy and real, but the “clean” thing I just didn’t get.  Not being one to follow the crowd, I resisted the whole fad.  I downright dismissed it as something that didn’t / wouldn’t fit with my food philosophy.  I know, right, who in their right mind has a food philosophy?!  For me, it’s really more of a gut take on food and strongly held beliefs about its place in my life from the pure pleasure of taste to the abstract notion of socializing around a good table.  I am also an adamant resister of deprivation; and I perceived the whole “clean eating” trend as all about legalistic deprivation.

So here is where I do the HUGE shout out to Francesca Gadaleta Giessmann and The Nourishing Seed.  I met the lovely Francesca because our small people play water polo together.  She invited me to her Spring Detox and it was at that moment that “clean eating” took on a whole new meaning to me.  I GOT it.  And the greatest thing is that she makes “clean” fun, delicious, and without deprivation.  Let me just repeat that last tidbit – there is no deprivation.

As I have been exploring the great recipes found in Francesca’s Spring Detox Guide, I have also been having a ball assessing some of my own new recipes and determining their “cleanliness”.  Ha – I love that expression; just makes me think like Lysol and Clorox and not kale and halibut.

Rather than my one recipe show that you usually get with each post, I give you a trio of fish recipes that are sure to please any clean eater.  On the docket we have African Adobo Rubbed Tuna Steaks, Slow Baked Salmon with Lemon & Thyme, and Moroccan Halibut.

The African Adobo Rubbed Tuna Steaks have three main elements:  the adobo rubbed tuna, a bed of English hothouse cucumbers, and a topping of avocado salsa.  I started the adobo (a fancy name for spice rub) by mixing together a slew of spices.


I put the rub aside and set to work on the salsa.  I diced 2 avocado, chopped some scallions and minced some garlic.


I then chopped up a couple of roasted red peppers and added them to the avocado mixture.


I whisked together some fresh OJ, fresh lime juices, and some olive oil and seasoned that with salt and pepper.  I poured that over the avocado mixture and set aside in the fridge.

For the cucumbers, I whisked together some champagne vinegar and a tad of sugar (yikes, I know, but it was only a tad).  Then I thinly sliced the cukes and tossed them in the vinaigrette.  I let them stand for at least 15 minutes allowing the flavors to blend.

Back to the tuna, I rubbed the steaks with the adobo very generously.


I heated a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet until it was smoking and then added the tuna steaks – cooking only about a minute per side for a nice medium rare steak.

I plated it all up by first putting down a bed of cucumbers, the sliced tuna steak to the side and then the avocado salsa to top it all off.


On to our number two contender in the FishFest lineup – Slow Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme.  This recipe is so easy it’s ridiculous, but you would never guess that from how tasty it is.

I started by lining a cooking sheet with foil and preheating my oven to 275 degrees. I brushed the foil with a little olive oil and placed the salmon filets on top.  Then I mixed a little more olive oil, some chopped fresh thyme, and some freshly grated lemon zest.  I spread the thyme – lemon mixture over the salmon fillets and then seasoned with salt and pepper.


I let that stand for about 10 minutes for the flavors to permeate the salmon and then baked about 17 minutes.

I served this up with some polenta topped with steamed spinach and goat cheese and some roasted carrots.


Last up on our roster is the Moroccan Halibut.  This one, like the salmon, is so easy and yet so flavorful.

I started by just sprinkling both sides of the halibut with salt and pepper.  Then I generously sprinkled the fish with cayenne pepper and cinnamon.


I then heated a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large skillet, added the halibut, and sauteed until golden and opaque in center; about 4 – 5 minutes per side.


I served this one up with swiss chard (a great recipe from The Nourishing Seed) and roasted carrots (yes, we love our roasted carrots ’round here).


So there you have it – – – a trio of super tasty, super easy, and super healthy fish recipes.  Just think, you can serve up some fish for the next three weeks without having to scour through oodles and oodles of recipes.  Oh, and you can casually tell your friends, “Yep, I’m eating clean.” (WINK)

Here are the complete recipes:

Adobo Rubbed Tuna Steaks

Slow Baked Salmon with Lemon & Thyme

Moroccan Halibut

~ all recipes adapted from Epicurious





An Award – and it’s for me, not one of my small people!

liebsterI would like to thank the Academy . . .  Ummm, I mean, Wow, a big thanks to Legend in My Own Lunchbox for nominating me for a Liebster Award.  I’m so thrilled and thankful for the recognition.  If you had caught me on the day I got the news from Lizzie, “giddy” would have been the adjective of choice, but I’ve since calmed down and settled on the ever so distinguished descriptors of “thrilled” and “thankful”.  It has also been a lot of fun seeing the rise in my Aussi audience since Lizzie and her Legend blog are in Australia.

So what exactly is the Leibster? It’s an award for smaller blogs of less than 200 followers, to point people to little-known spots of coolness on the web.  There are a few rules attached to the nomination so here goes…


  • Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award.
  • Answer 11 questions the blogger gives you.
  • Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 11 blogs you think are worthy of the award (but they must have less than 200 followers).
  • Let the bloggers know you nominated them.
  • Give them 11 questions to answer.


  1. What inspired you to start a blog? – I just started blogging on a whim as a way to give creative expression to my cooking adventures.  It was also a little “me space”  that I didn’t have to share with anyone else in my little family.
  2. What is the last book you read? – Sadly, that would be Johnny Tremain which I read along with my girls for their language arts lesson.
  3. Who is your favorite written character? – Madame Bovary.
  4. Chinese or Mexican? – Definitely Mexican.
  5. What is the #1 thing on your bucket list? – Make time to make a bucket list.
  6. Why do you live where you do? – You just can’t beat the California sunshine.  Although I would gladly adopt a lifestyle of wintering in CA,  autumning in Vermont, summering in France, and springing in CO.
  7. What do you want to be when you grow up? – A bed and breakfast owner and author.
  8. Beach or bush (aka surf or turf, country or coastal)? – Coastal.  An ironic answer from the woman who hates sand, but I always have been a person of great paradox.
  9. What is your favorite song of all time? – It Is Well With My Soul
  10. Hot or Cold?  Hot.  I really can not stomach cold soup or lukewarm meals.
  11. Are you left or right handed? Right handed.


1. I am the “baby” of 7 kids.

2. If I could, I would move to India in a heartbeat.

3. I am anal about being on time.

4. My husband’s French accent is cute (unless we’re arguing and then it’s just plain annoying).

5. My kids all have names that “work” in French and in English.  Loosely translated, that means my mother-in-law can pronounce them without too much effort.

6. I don’t sweat.

7. To this day, my Dad will tell people I went to Penn State rather than UPenn . . .ummm, significant difference there, Dad.

8. I don’t hoard, except when it comes to random sweet things created by my offspring.

9. If I could recreate myself, I would live in the 1920s.

10. If I could bottle one thing, it would be the smell of my kids when they climb in bed with me.

11. I am easily annoyed by “over talkers”

THE 11 BLOGS I HAVE NOMINATED (and yes, they are all foodie blogs):

1. Real Fit, Real Food Mom

2. Loving Life Naturally

3. Gather and Graze

4. Elemental Wellness

5. Sprinkled with Health

6. Vegan Martha

7. Peachy Clean Eats

8. Girl Eats Greens

9. Healthy Living Healthy Us

10. Kitchen Bound

11. The Finished Plate


1. What is your favorite place to vacation?

2. Philosophy on technology?

3. Introvert or extrovert?

4. What colors / theme is your home decorated in?

5. What does your ideal Saturday look like?

6. Any favorite charities?

7. Last time you went outside your comfort zone?

8. Meat or veggies?

9. Greatest fear?

10. Greatest frustration with society?

11. Reason you have answered the first 10 questions?


So that’s it on the award front.  Thanks again to Legend in My Own Lunchbox!  No recipe today, but I have a doozey ready for your next visit.



A Definite First – Collard Greens Burritos

I love a challenge.  Last week that challenge came in the form of COLLARD GREENS which appeared in my weekly produce box. What?!  I admit I had to take a step back on that one.

Googling efforts produced a good chuckle anyway.  My favorite entry was titled “Do white people eat collard greens?”  Though racist and not the kind of question I would think of popping off with, I have to admit that it made me think.  This white person had never eaten collard greens.  I started to wonder why.  Well first off, my culinary exposure sprouts from two distinct geographic locations: Ohio and France.  Enough said – I don’t think I need to go into any deeper explanation on that one.  Secondly, collard greens just aren’t jumping up and down in the produce aisles I frequent squeaking out “pick me, pick me!”  And finally, my usual online haunts, like Epicurious, aren’t regularly featuring collard greens as the latest, hippest food in town.  So there you have it.  As a result of these three little factors, this white person had never eaten collard greens.  Bummer for me.

So after deciding that I wouldn’t be fixing up any chitlins, hog jowl, ham hocks or pigs feet to accompany my collard greens, I set out to find a recipe that that would allow me to use my beautiful greens AND keep the cooking style in line with what we usually eat.  After all, the collard green is considered one of the world’s healthiest veggies and I didn’t want to pass up its health benefits just because I wasn’t going to be frying them up in pork fat.

I came up with a lovely idea of burritos using the collard greens in place of the tortilla and off we went.

I started by removing the stems from the collard greens.  Each green will make two separate wraps.  After the stems were removed. I placed the greens in boiling water for about 4 minutes.   Then I pulled them out and transferred to ice water.

In a large skillet, I sautéed up some onion and bell pepper.  I think I may have tossed a small chili in there too for some extra heat.


Once those were nice and golden, I added in some brown rice and 3/4 of a can of diced tomatoes.  I also tossed in some chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and a smidge of cayenne.


I mixed that up well, and started to spread about 1/2 c. of the mixture into each collard green half.


I rolled each leaf up and then lined them in a 9×13″ baking pan.  I scattered some Mexican cheese blend over the top and then the remaining diced tomatoes.  Into the oven it went at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes – just long enough to make sure everything was piping hot.


So there you go . . . who knew incorporating collard greens into a weeknight staple could be so easy!


Here is the complete recipe for Collard Greens Burritos.

Want to explore more collard greens recipes?  Take a peek.

A REAL Checkup – Spicy Lentil Tacos

So it’s time to check in again and see how “real” I’ve been keeping things.  I believe the last time we did this little self check-up was back in June.  Can you believe I have stuck with this blog thing for almost SIX months now?  I can’t.

So back in June I felt good overall about the meals we were eating, but didn’t give myself such a great grade on the snacks front or in the dessert arena.

Summer brought some interesting snack experimentation.  If you joined me for any of those posts, we tried Carrot Protein Breakfast Bars, Apple Peach Fruit Leathers, Cranberry Pistachio Energy Bites, Baked Oatmeal Bars, and a few others.  Some of these I’ve added to my reappearing snack repertoire.  My other big decision?  I just quit buying the stuff I would turn to when we needed to grab something on-the-go.  And you know what?  If you don’t have it, you can’t grab it.  Ha!  How profound is that?!  Seriously though, I found that if I don’t buy it, they’ll just grab something else that we DO have (meaning a fruit, a veggie, some nuts, cheese, or a yogurt).

I wish I could say we had improved on the dessert front, but NOPE!  Baking is just too fun.  And during the summer we turned that notch way up.  In fact, just tonight I dished up a number that I can’t wait to tell you about.  But I’ll have to save that for another post.  Just think . . . grapes and cake.  Ok – enough said.

So our snacking habits have taken a step forward and let’s just say our dessert dilemma remains status quo.  If you remember back in July, I was all about advocating the baby step approach.  I even (at the risk of sounding bossy . . .. pfffff, I’ve tried to deny that accusation my whole life) gave 5 suggested steps you could take toward eating a more “real” diet.

I figured since no one sent me any threatening e-mails after those suggestions, that as we enter into the fall, I would go out on a limb and give a few more suggestions.  So here goes.

1) Buy what you will eat for the next 5-7 days (specifically stuff that will go bad after that time window) and nothing more.  Don’t shop again until you are literally out of food.  Real food, because it is actually real, will go bad.  Stuff you can stock up on (with a few exceptions, of course) is generally not real food.  Try to adopt this cycle of shop, consume, shop again.  Try to ditch the cycle of shop, store up, consume a little, shop some more, consume, store up, etc.

2) Consider a CSA program.  I recently decided to get a weekly delivery from Abundant Harvest Organics.  I can’t tell you how much I LOVE it.  First of all, it totally accomplishes what I suggested in #1 above.  Our little box arrives and I know exactly what I have to make my meals out of for the next 5 – 7 days.  It can also expose you to new fruits and veggies you may not be friends with yet, and expand your recipe and meal options.

3) The post-it plan.  Research says it takes about 21 days to acquire a habit.  Take 21 post-it notes and number them 1 – 21.  Display them (in a line) in a prominent place in your kitchen.  Start with a specific meal.  I would recommend dinner.  For every evening that you eat a dinner of real food, pull a post-it from your line, starting with the number 1.  By the time you remove post-it number 21, you may be surprised at how much more real your meals have become.

So go ahead and give these a whirl.  I’ll check back in around winter time to see how things are moving along – baby  step by baby step.  In the meantime, let me introduce you to some Spicy Lentil Tacos.  Good for you, fast, and easy peasy lemon squeezey.

I started by sauteeing up some onion with some olive oil, garlic, and salt.  I rinsed my lentils (green ones in this case because I was out of brown) and drained them.  Then I added them to the onion sautee mixture along with a packet of taco seasoning.  I like the Trader Joe’s taco seasoning, although it tends on the spicy side.  If you have little mouths that are sensitive to spice  to feed, I would recommend only using half a packet.

Lentil tacos - 2

I let that mixture cook for about a minute just to blend the flavors and then I added in some veggie broth.

Lentil tacos - 3

I covered things and turned down my heat to simmer.  I simmered until the liquid was mostly absorbed – about 30 minutes.

Lentil tacos - 4

I set everything out “taco buffet” style (shells, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, cilantro, lime, salsa & rice), and let the troops have at it.  As usual, they loved assembling their own deal and hence, not a complaint around the table.

Lentil tacos - 9

Interested in knowing more about my friend, the lentil?  This site is bursting with helpful info.

Here’s the complete recipe for Spicy Lentil Tacos, adapted from Epicurious.

And finally, some other good lentil recipes for your perusing pleasure:

The Sugar Abyss, Culture & Taste – Moroccan Tagine

This past week, I was looking back over previous posts.  I started asking myself whether I was still “on target” with blogging about REAL food or had I really digressed and started rambling about how much I love to cook and eat.  I did a little self refresher on what I was even calling REAL food.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • foods that are a product of nature rather than industry (no foodlike substances, if you will)
  • mainly fruits and veggies
  • whole grains
  • dairy ( in its pure, unprocessed, unsweetened form – read, no fru-fru yogurts or whacky cheese deals)
  • fish or shellfish (not that poultry and meat can’t be real, but it’s just that I’ve chosen to tend more in the vegetarian direction)

real iconAs a way of checking myself, I browsed through past recipes and decided that I would tag each REAL food recipe with this little icon, if in fact, it fit my REAL parameters.

What I found was that we do a pretty good job keeping things real around the dinner table.  At dessert time, not so much.  And boy, does this girl like her desserts.  If I’m not making a dessert pretty regularly, I’m sure to be keeping my freezer stocked with ice cream.  As I contemplated the overall food scheme in our house, it seemed really obvious that we had met the enemy and the enemy was sugar!  Breakfasts are overall good for us, lunches are usually modified versions of our dinners, and dinners – well, you’ve got a blog’s-eye view into those right here.  But the desserts, the “treats”, and the yum-yums are waaaaaaayyyyyyy out of line with our “real”ity.  So what to do?

I started perusing some other real food blogs (a great link right here, if you’re interested) and checking out their take on sugar.  I admit my inclination was to declare war on the sweet stuff, announce it to the troops here in the house, and then drill out our rules and strategy around the dinner table (for those that don’t know me personally, I’m just that kind of Mom, fortunately or unfortunately – you can make the call). I checked out the Sugar Control Detox Program.  I started looking into healthy alternatives to sugar.  I was on a hunt to make sense of things.  But the more I explored, the more confusing things got.  One site recommended agave as a sugar substitute.  Then another outed the agave and claimed that it was worse than high fructose corn syrup.

Finally, in the midst of all this reeling over the question of sugar, I returned to the center of my overarching food philosophy.  I am as much about the experience of food and the pleasure of eating as the nutritional value of what we consume.  I believe eating is a beautiful pillar of culture.  When I gather my family around our table, I am reminding them of who we are and what our traditions are.  When I set the table with a table cloth (even though the last thing I need is another thing to wash amidst my mountains of laundry) and a proper place setting, and we take our time to eat, I am reminding them of the place food fills in our heritage and home.  Remember – thanks to the Hubs, we are half French around here.  We are half wine sippin’, cheese eatin’, paté spreadin’, chocolate lovin’ beret wearers.  And historically, our French half, with all of their indulgences, don’t struggle with obesity like our American counterpart, don’t have comparable heart disease statistics, don’t sweat their cholesterol levels like us, and on and on goes the list.

So I have decided to not wage my war on sugar – not yet anyway.  Of course I’ll remain vigilant about not <purchasing> products high in sugar content. But I’ll embrace our “Frenchness” and continue allegiance to taste, smell, and texture over calories, fat, and carbs. I’ll keep baking my own desserts, in moderation, and we’ll keep sipping our wine and eating our fruit.  We will change the ice cream habit.  It was getting out of hand anyway. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.  And as we keep trying to keep things real, I’ll share more recipes with you, like this one for Moroccan Tagine.

Here’s the entire starting line up:


As with so many of our real recipes, it’s about chopping, chopping, and more chopping.  So off we went with the red pepper and zucchini.  Followed by the onion, potatoes, carrots, eggplant, garlic, mushrooms, and parsley.


I sauteed up the onion and garlic a bit and then added in a cinnamon stick.   I added in all the other veggies except for the mushrooms which I sauteed in a separate pan.  I added some cumin and coriander to the mixture of vegetables and then sauteed a little longer.

In the food processor I made my own tomato puree.  I added that along with the garbanzo beans and a little sugar (no, it wasn’t maple syrup, it wasn’t honey, it wasn’t agave, it was straight up, good old, white sugar) to the mixture.


I added the mushrooms in as well, and then covered it all and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

I made some Israeli couscous to accompany the tagine and served it up.  Pretty simple, relatively quick, and quite flavorful.


Interested in the recipe for Moroccan Tagine?  You can get it here.

You may also want to check out the site Veggie Zest where I first found this wonderful recipe.