Versatile Vegetable Soup

            “Soup is a lot like a family.  Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it need time to simmer to reach full flavor.”—Marge Kennedy


“A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.”—Abraham Maslow


As the weather in southeastern Ohio this weekend played a mash-up mix of rain, snow, bitter winds, and plummeting temperatures, my mind churned with thoughts of ways to warm my icy fingers and toes. I drifted back to a conversation John, my husband, and I had regarding the ways in which his parents and my grandparents made their vegetable soup.  As we swapped stories, we realized how similarly his parents and my grandparent “saved” for one their favorite wintertime go-to meals.




Both pairs had large, white plastic tubs with red lettering, about 5 gallons in size, that once held some sort of meat previously purchased at a local meat market.  Once emptied of its contents, the tub was scrubbed clean and repurposed as the “vegetable soup” container. Then, throughout the year, but especially in the summer and early fall when fresh garden vegetables were abundant, they saved left over vegetable from meals in this tub.  Uneaten bits of green beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, and so forth, would be scraped from pots at the end of meals and into the tub.  This container, which resided in their freezer, was gradually filled from week to week.  Once full, there was typically another scoured-clean-container-in-waiting, ready to be filled as well!

Large white tub, only as I recall my grandmother’s, her containers had red handles and worn off red lettering reflective of the former contents.


During winter months, my grandmother, often cooked up large chuck roast covered with carrots, potatoes, and onions. Once this meal was eaten, as best I recall, the leftovers from it were often the base of her vegetable soup. She’d cut up the meat and any left over vegetables into bite size chunks, open up a couple of cans of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup along with a can of Veg-all, and put those into her large pressure cooker.  Next, she’d add water.  Finally, out came the white, filled-to-the-brim-tub with all those frozen leftover vegetables; and, while I’ll never know how she determined the “right” amount, she scooped an undetermined quantity of vegetables from tub and into the pot until her cook’s eye told the soup contained the right amount of those former garden gems.


                     360 degrees of memories Grandmother’s kitchen of long ago . .  .

                     Top to bottom left:  My baby sister, Rachel, in caught-off guard as I photograph her serving our Papaw; our middle-sister, Traci, uses the ever-present dirt-buster, to pick up crumbs after dinner; my cousin, Clifton, sneaking in the fridge; and on right side, my cousin, Michelle and me seated in the corner of Grandmother’s kitchen at the kid’s table with the ever present, white-painted, wooden high chair used for all nine of Grandmother’s grandkids!


I can still recall the way that little gadget on the top of the pot bobbled, hopped, and danced around on cloud of angry steam.  Soon, aromas of comfort emanated throughout her cozy home.  The ice that had formed on the inside of the single-paned kitchen windows was slowly transformed into condensation drops worthy of childhood finger drawings.

Though not exactly the same, this is similar to the often used pressure cooker of my grandmother’s.


To be honest, as a youngster, vegetable beef soup was not my favorite meal.  In fact, I found the meat impossibly chewy, and in my spoiled child mind, it seemed to expand the more I chewed.  Plus, I was not a hug fan of all those vegetables mixed together. However, later, when I lived with my grandparents in my early adult years, I came to love my Grandmother’s vegetable soup, but I still attempted to furtively avoid the meat as I ladled out my serving of soup!  Then, in true family tradition, I’d break up a handful of saltines into the soup before chowing down!  Oh, how I wish I could have just one more bowl of that soup and tell Grandmother how much I loved it and appreciated her loving planning and frugality . . . There’s something to be said about the skills of those who survived the Great Depression and truly knew how to not waste anything, and could thrive within their resources.


Grandmother’s vegetable soup often started with left over chuck roast and any remaining vegetables. Ugh! Never my favorite as an ungrateful child.


While I am still not a big meat eater, John is, so when creating this recipe, I tried to create a versatile blend to make both of us happy.  Sometimes, I make a huge pot of this, but pick around the chicken—just as I once picked around Grandmother’s beef in her vegetable soup.  Other times, I drag out both the large Crockpot and my mini-Crockpot.  In the larger pot, I make a version with the chicken thighs, but without the beans and potato. While in the smaller pot, I make a version with all ingredients, but no meat.  This allows John to have a lower carb variety of this healthy soup while still allowing me a hearty plant based version. Plus, both variations are naturally gluten-free.  (Sigh, sadly, saltines crumbled into soup are NOT gluten-free, and I no longer add them to my soup due to celiac disease.)


                    Cooked with chicken in a 6-quart crock-pot for John, and without chicken cooked on stovetop (or mini-crock pot) and stowed away in a 2-quart glass dish.  There’s several meals with of food here!  And, it can be frozen!


If cold weather is chilling you to the bone, set up this soup in the morning or on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon; and, you’ll be noshing on warm, home-cooked comfort by dinner.  In fact, you can even throw all of your ingredients in your Crockpot-insert the night prior, and stow it away in your fridge overnight.  In the morning, simply add it to cooking base, select your setting, and dinner will be ready after work.  Additionally, while I do not yet have an Instant Pot, I am told this handy kitchen tool will allow you to prepare this soup in less than hour!  Wow!

                     Served, sadly without crackers, for me.


Served with plenty of saltines for John!


Play with the ingredients of this recipe—add more of some ingredients, and/or remove the any ingredients that do not suit your tastes or dietary needs. Make this recipe work for you and yours, as it is versatile.  Then, drop me a line and let me know how it went.  I’d love to hear about your variation!


Play with these ingredients.  (I forgot to include the russet potato in these photos.)  You do NOT have to use them all.  Pick the ones you like, and double up if desired! It’s your soup, your way, to meet your dietary needs!


From our home to yours, John and I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!

Versatile Vegetable Soup

 Serves: 6-8 generous servings (Depending upon serving size.)


1-2 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (optional)

1 ½ teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 russet or sweet potato, chopped (optional)

1 ½ cup chopped carrots

2 cups broccoli florets (Can substitute equivalent amount of favorite green vegetable, such as green beans, spinach, kale, peas)

1 zucchini, chopped

1 yellow squash, chopped

1 large can (28 oz) pureed tomatoes

1 can (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes

2 cans (14.5 oz) cannellini or garbanzo beans (optional)

4 cups of broth—either chicken or vegetable, depending upon preference

1-2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon red pepper

2 bay leaves

1-2 cups additional water


To Make:

First, prep vegetables that need chopped and set-aside.

Next, in large pot, over medium heat, add oil if using, or spray pot with nonstick cooking spray.

If using chicken, arrange meat all along the bottom of pot and place garlic on top of it.

If NOT using meat, place garlic on the bottom of pot.

Next, add in onion, celery, potato (if using), carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and squash.

Pour in both cans of tomatoes, beans (if using), and broth.

Gently stir in, avoiding the chicken layer if using meat; sea salt, Italian seasoning, black pepper, and red pepper

Add additional water until desired soup consistency is reached.

Gently place bay leaves on top

Cover and allow to simmer (gently bubble) 60-90 minutes, or longer, until chicken, if using, is cooked through, and vegetables have reached desired level of softness.

If using Instapot or Crockpot, be sure appliance has an 8-quart capacity, and follow manufacturer’s suggested cooking time.

Remove bay leaves before serving.


Tastes even better reheated!

Can be stored in refrigerator for up to a week or stored in freezer for up to a month.





Gluten-Free Seafood Pasta with Zucchini Noodles

           “Nothing is better than going home to family and eating good food and relaxing.”—Irina Shayk

           “I’m not a chef.  But I’m passionate about food—the traditional of it, cooking it, and sharing it.”—Zac Posen


           This past August, John and I were dinner guests of Amy and Keith VanHorn in Bethany, WV, while visiting our daughter, Madelyn, at Bethany College.  While we were there, Amy and Keith shared dinner with Maddie, a few of her college friends as well as John and me. One of the dishes they served was zucchini noodles prepared simply in what I believe was olive oil, perhaps a bit of butter, salt and pepper. John, who is not necessarily, a big zucchini lover, to my great surprise, loved that dish and suggested that we begin to incorporate zucchini in recipes at home.  Fine by me! I love all veggies, and I am all about discovering and/or creating new ways to prepare them!


gray stainless steel sauce pan and green cucumber illustration
Photo by Toa Heftiba Şinca on


           As I began to mull over various way to incorporate those zucchini noodles, I was reminded of one of Maddie and John’s favorite dishes, Fettuccini Alfredo.  While I enjoy making it from scratch. It is full of fat, and takes a bit of time. I began to wonder, however, if there was a way I could make a lighter, more calorie friendly version of this family favorite that would include zucchini noodles. Hmm . . .

           Another thought came to me as well.  What about a favorite seafood stew, taught to me by our friends, Vincent and Gisele Theriault from New Brunswick, Canada?  This seafood dish is cooked in a Rose-style sauce and served over white rice. Vincent and Gisele once made this recipe for our family by combining one jar of red pasta sauce with one jar of Alfredo pasta sauce.  Then, they stirred in leftover freshly caught crab and lobster meat from a meal they had shared with us the night before. It was such a tasty way to use seafood, that it is a recipe I have made on occasion at home—only substituting canned crab, baby shrimp, and clams in lieu of fresh fish.


Vincent, Gisele, and Bijou Theriault of Janeville (summer) and Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.


           One night, John, seemingly reading my mind, said, “You know, Steph, I bet those zucchini noodles would be good with Alfredo Sauce over them.”  As I pondered what he said, the idea began to form that I could create a dish similar to that of Theriault’s seafood stew, but instead of serving it over rice, I could incorporate our favorite gluten free, high fiber pasta and zucchini noodles.  It would be the best of both worlds—a lower fat variation of Fettuccini Alfredo and Theirault’s hearty seafood stew.

           The recipe I share with you today, is one I have made several times with a few variations. I have made it with nothing but two jars of reduced fat Alfredo sauce.  I have also made the Theriault-rose variation with both a jar of reduced fat Alfredo sauce along with a jar of rich red pasta sauce. Additionally, I have used a number of combinations of seafood, but I feel certain it would be just as good without seafood.


           Some of the ingredients to gather for making this recipe.


           Finally, another tasty variation of this recipe that John and I have created with the leftovers is to pour the uneaten portion of pasta and sauce into a prepared casserole dish.  Then coat foil with nonstick cooking spray, before covering the leftovers, and storing in refrigerator. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Next, remove foil long enough to add desired toppings, such as shredded cheese, gluten free breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, and/or bacon bits. Then, recover with same foil and bake 20-25 minutes until sauce begins to bubble.  Finally, remove foil and continue baking for an additional 10-15 minutes until top begins to brown.


           Take any leftovers, place in prepared casserole dish, and top with your favorite shredded cheese, nutritional yeast, gluten-free bread crumbs, bacon bit, and/or so forth.


           This is a great recipe to make on a busy work night because it can be thrown together quickly; and, if you are only serving 2-3 people, you should have enough leftovers for another meal! Likewise, if you are feeding a family of 4-6, you will have plenty of servings for everyone, with a leftover dish or two for lunch packing.

           From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!


          Cooks up in one pot, pasta and all!  Makes for easy clean-up and a tasty, quick dinner!


Gluten Free Seafood Pasta with Zucchini Noodles

Serves 6-8 (Leftovers are great baked in a casserole dish and topped with optional toppings; such as, parmesan cheese, other shredded cheeses, bacon bits, nutritional yeast, and/or gluten-free bread crumbs)

Can also be made vegan or vegetarian.

2  (12-ounce) packages of zucchini noodles (We like Green Giant frozen bags.)

1 (8-ounce) package favorite gluten free pasta (We like POW lentil pasta or Banza Chickpea Pasta.)

Your favorite style of seafood, enough for 6-8 servings, examples include: lump crabmeat or claw meat, clams, baby shrimp, imitation flaked crab meat, lobster, etc . . . (Obviously, if preparing this as a vegan or vegetarian recipe, you would leave out seafood.)

2 jars of favorite pasta sauce (We like Bertolli Reduced Fat Alfredo Sauce and/or Muir Glen Organic Portabella Mushroom Pasta Sauce.)

½ cup favorite clear broth, such as vegetable broth or chicken bone broth

½ cup water

¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese (nutritional yeast could be substituted for vegan version)

1-tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

½ teaspoon Bragg’s liquid aminos (Can substitute salt)

Use the following seasonings to taste:

–Italian Seasoning

–Onion Powder

–Red pepper flakes

–Black pepper

To Make:

Coat large pot with nonstick cooking spray and place pot on medium heat.

Empty contents of both pasta sauces into pot.

Fill one empty sauce jar with ½ cup clear broth, cover tightly with original lid, shake well, and empty into pot.

Fill other jar with ½ cup water, cover tightly with original lid, shake well, and empty into pot.

Stir in uncooked pasta noodles.

Meanwhile, follow microwave directions for heating/thawing zucchini noodles, one package at a time. (I typically reduce cooking time by 2-3 minutes.  I just want zucchini slightly warmed.)

Drain water from zucchini package before stirring into pot.

Once both packages of zucchini noodles have been added to sauce and pasta, stir well, and continue simmering over medium heat, checking to ensure nothing is sticking to bottom of pot.  If, at any time, sticking begins to occur, gradually reduce heat, but try to maintain a simmer.

Begin to stir in desired seafood.

Next, stir in parmesan cheese (and/or nutritional yeast if using)

Finally, stir in seasonings. (If I had to guess, I would say I use ½ or more teaspoon of both Italian seasoning and onion powder; and ¼ or more teaspoons of black pepper and red pepper flakes.)

Stir well and continue simmering for 10, or more, minutes until pasta is al dente.

Reduce heat to low and cover.  Allow dish to rest in pot for 10, or more, minutes.

Serve warm.


Apple Nachos

           “And when crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart:

           Your seeds shall live in my body,

           And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart,

           And your fragrance shall be my breath,

           And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”—Khalil Gibran


close up of fruits hanging on tree
Photo by Pixabay on


           “Mrs. Hill, do you think there are any bad kinds of apples?”

           I look at the earnest sixth grader who spoke these words. He was not speaking metaphorically.  He was crunching on an apple during the delegated “snack time” of the school day. In reality, it is part of my third Reading/Language Arts class of the day.  During this class period, students have permission to bring a snack with them to class and eat it. Although work typically continues, I do give students about 3-5 minutes to talk while eating their snack.

           Recently, the inquiring student had been bringing an apple to class nearly every day.   They were beautiful, succulent looking orbs full of vibrant reds, yellows, and greens that he would thoughtfully bite, then chew as if tasting a rare delicacy.  He clearly did not believe in the traditional practice of bringing an apple to his teacher as he made the noshing of each apple look scrumptiously special. Thus, I decided it was high time I partake of one of autumn’s favorite fruits!



           Fuji, Gala, Crispin, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Jazz, Ambrosia, and Cripps Pink, to name several of my personal favorites, are full of nutritional benefits—even in the age of low-carb, Keto, and Paleo! Apples contain quercetin, catechin, phloridzin, and chlorogenic acid—four beneficial antioxidants.  These ingredients combat free radicals, help stave off oxidative stress as well as aid in the fight against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Additionally, regular consumption of apples can promote bone health, weight management, pulmonary function, and gastrointestinal protection. If that weren’t enough, apples, as part of a whole food diet, can combat both diabetes and asthma!  That said, in order to get the maximum benefits of apples, it is important to eat the whole fruit, including the skin. No wonder there is the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

           Last weekend, my daughter, Madelyn, a student at Bethany College, and her friend, Gigs, came home to visit during a short, four-day fall break.  When I asked her what sorts of foods to stock up, one of her first request was apples—enough to have some to take back with her to school!

           “The kind they serve in the ‘caf’ are never good!” she added.


Maddie and her friend, Gigs, at our home on Fall break.


             I understood. While her school does have a nice cafeteria, the apples they offer students are typically Red Delicious and Granny Smith.  While there was once a time in my youth in which Red Delicious were quite yummy, over the past few years it has been my experience that Red Delicious are often now mushy and mealy.  Furthermore, although I absolutely love the tart, crisp, tang of a Granny Smith, I understand, they are not for everyone. Therefore, I had no problem honoring this request to pick up Fuji, Cripps Pink, or Honeycrisp apples—her favorite variations.  In fact, I must have bought more than the girls wanted because even though they took several back to school with them, they still left me with five! Hmm . . .

           I recalled over winter break, coming up with a unique breakfast idea for Maddie—apple nachos.  As I recalled, she greatly enjoyed them, and said I should definitely make the recipe for myself sometime; however, I never did get around to it.  Therefore, when I came home from work on the day Maddie and Gigs returned to Bethany and spied the apples in fruit bin of our refrigerator, I knew what I wanted to do with at least one of those apples—make nachos!


Apple nachos I made for Maddie over winter break.


         When I made my original variation for Maddie, I slightly thinned out peanut butter with water in a bowl, added the mixture to a baggie, cut off one corner, and squeezed it over sliced Fuji apples—a variety usually available year-round.  Then, I sprinkled both raisins and mini-chocolate chips on top. Whereas, when I made apple nachos for myself, I mixed powdered peanut butter with water, but I, sadly got it a bit too thin, although it still tasted good! Then, I topped my nachos with mini-chocolate chips, dried cranberries and hemp hearts.  


Apple nachos I made for myself. Even though I accidentally added too much water to the powdered peanut butter, they were still tasty!


           Apple nachos are such a simple, and easy to individualize recipe.   Any favorite apple variety can be sliced and arranged on a plate. The “sauce” can be made of cream cheese, yogurt, caramel, all types of nut butters, and even maple syrup. Additional toppings can include, but are not limited to all varieties of nuts and seeds; chocolate, peanut butter or butterscotch chips; coconut flakes, dates, figs, raisins and other dried fruits; as well as any number of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom.  


           Any way you slice up this recipe, it is sure to be a winning meal or snack!  However, do keep in mind that apples are part of the “Dirty Dozen” produce items that are heavily sprayed with pesticides. Therefore, it is worth buying organic, or, even better, purchasing from a local farmer/market.

           From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!


apple business fruit local
Photo by Erik Scheel on


Apple Nachos

Makes one serving

1 apple, any variety, sliced thinly

1-2 tablespoons of favorite nut butter, powdered peanut butter, cream cheese, yogurt, caramel and so forth

1/2-2 tablespoons of water, depending upon how thin you prefer your sauce

Optional stir-ins to sauce:  ½ -1 teaspoon vanilla or other favorite extract, maple syrup, honey

1-2 tablespoons of as many optional toppings as desired, such as: chocolate, peanut butter, or butterscotch chips; favorite candy pieces; favorite dried fruit; favorite chopped nuts/seeds

A sprinkling of favorite spice


Arrange thinly sliced apples on plate.

In small bowl, mix nut butter, powdered peanut butter, cream cheese, yogurt, or caramel with water (and/or extract, if desired), ½ teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

Pour mixture into Ziploc baggie and cut off one corner.

Squirt “sauce” mixture over sliced apples.

Sprinkle with desire toppings.

Serve immediately.



Western Salad

            “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”—Lewis Grizzard


“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”—Brian O’Driscoll


It is fresh garden tomato season!  As a child, I never ate tomatoes—or much of any other vegetable for that matter.  (Of course, I love vegetables now!) Nonetheless, I have many fond memories surrounding tomatoes.  To begin, both of my grandparents and my Dad grew tomato plants.  They babied, coddled, and cared for those plants as if they were precious and rare gems.  At the time, I could not understand why. Now, I have a MUCH greater appreciation for their actions.


orange tomato
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When that first tomato arrived on the vine and was ultimately picked, I watched with wonder, as one of the grown-ups in my life would slice the red globe with care.  Next, the tomato would be arranged in a fanned-out circular fashion on a small, plate and carefully salted.


“Salt brings the sweetness out, Stethie,” my Grandmother Helen would explain to me.


top view photography of sliced tomatoes
Photo by on


During dinner, depending upon if I was eating dinner with my grandparents or at home, I would observe the adults in my life eating freshly sliced tomato alongside whatever else we were eating.  Oh, to-be-sure, there were plenty of grilled hamburgers and BLT sandwiches served when the tomatoes began ripening, but I never stopped being astonished at the fact that most influential adults in my life ate plain tomato slices with salt only.


Later, my Aunt Patty, from the faraway land of Denton, TX, introduced our family to a new tradition–Western Salad.  This was such a simple recipe that really brought out the tang, zest, and sweetness of a freshly picked garden tomato. It was actually one of the first ways I learned to eat tomato.  Western salad became a HUGE hit in our family.  It was sure to be served at most summer gatherings even when Aunt Patty, my Uncle Ralph, and their kids (my cool cousins) were not in town. To this day, John, my husband, and I, still nosh on Western Salad throughout the hot months of the year. It is now our summer tradition—going well with steak, grilled chicken, hamburgers, and so forth.



Of course, like all family recipes, they change and evolve through time.  Therefore, I am not sure if the recipe I share with you is the exact same recipe that Aunt Patty made all those years ago, but it adheres to the basic ingredients as best I recall.  What I love about this recipe is that it lends itself to modification to fit most any dietary/lifestyle needs.  Don’t like or want beans, leave them out.  Don’t like or need chips, leave them out.  Want to add in grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp, go right ahead.  A good recipe lends itself to modification—and this is a great one—at least to John and me!


From my home to yours, I wish you happy, HEALTHY, and homemade fun!




Aunt Patty’s Famous Western Salad

 Serves 4-6, depending upon size of lettuce and portion of serving


 1 head lettuce (Check that it feel solids and heavy.)

1 large tomato, diced (A freshly grown garden tomato tastes best.)

1 can of Bush’s Vegetarian beans (Feel free to leave beans out if they do not adhere to your dietary needs or you do not like them.)

¼- ½ Catalina or Red French dressing (can be reduced-fat or fat-free)

1-cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (can be reduced-fat or fat-free)

Fritos, or any other corn based chip to taste—we love chili cheese flavor  (This can be omitted based on dietary needs.)

Optional add-ins: diced green pepper, diced purple or other sweet onion, and/or chopped red cabbage


Chop or tear entire head of lettuce into large salad bowl.

Dice large garden tomato and add to salad bowl.

Slightly drain beans, if using—do not rinse and add to salad.

If using any other additional vegetables, chop/dice and add those.

Gently stir-in Catalina or Red French dressing, a little at a time, until you get the desired amount. Vegetables should be lightly coated, but not drenched.

Top with shredded cheese.

Serve immediately, and top with desired amount Fritos.









Protein Waffle

           “You should eat a waffle!  You can’t be sad if you eat a waffle!”—Lauren Myracle

           “We need to remember what’s important in life:  friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work, it doesn’t matter.  But work is third.”  Amy Poehler


cherries daisies flowers food
Photo by Brigitte Tohm on

           I smelled them before I saw them.  

           Yum. What is that delicious smell?  I couldn’t help but wonder as I stepped out of my bedroom and walked toward the kitchen.

           I had been at one end of the house getting dressed and ready for the day.  I had not yet eaten breakfast and the sweet smell emanating from the kitchen made my mouth water and stomach rumble.   As I continued down the hall and closer to the kitchen, the freshly baked scent became even stronger.

           “Dang, something smells good in here!”  I declared as I entered the kitchen.

           My daughter, Maddie, turned her head and smiled at me.  She was standing at the kitchen counter. In front of her, steaming away, was her mini-Dash waffle maker.  Beside the mini-waffle maker was a plate stacked with several waffles of varying colors.


The mini-Dash waffle maker


           “Wow! You’ve been busy.  Tell me what you’ve made here.”  


           I said this with marvel and admiration in my voice, as it had only been a few weeks since we ordered the waffle maker at Maddie’s request.  When it first arrived, she was a bit apprehensive about how to use it. I talked her through the basics, and set her free to experiment. As with all new skills, there was a bit of a trial and error period. However, now, it was clear, she was the master of the mini-dash.

           “This stack is chocolate chip, this is brownie, this is blueberry, and this is strawberry,” Maddie explained pointing to each one.  “Want to try one?”




           As good as they smelled, she did not have to twist my arm.  Then, she served me strawberry and blueberry flavored waffles.  Boy, did they smell heavenly!


           When I was a kid, I wanted syrup in every single square of a waffle, but the aroma was so divine that I decided to try them just as they were.  Since they had been made in a mini-Dash waffle maker, they were about the size of a large cookie, so I ate it like I was eating a cookie as I sipped my morning coffee.

           “Oh my goodness, Madd, are these ever good! Tell me how you made them.”


Some of the ingredients for protein waffles.


           As I listened to Maddie explain how to make the waffles, I felt a sudden rush of motherly pride and a profusion of love. While she had often helped me out in the kitchen, she had not spent much time in the kitchen by herself experimenting with cooking.  Her life throughout high school had been busy, filled with her devotion to studying and sports’ teams.



           Then, this past school year, she entered Bethany College, throwing herself heart and soul into her classes and studies. The pressure she put on herself was enormous; and while she ended the year with a 4.0, it came at a cost to her physical and mental health.  Maddie came home in May both physically and mentally spent. Her weight was up, her energy was low, and I often saw her sitting and staring straight ahead.


adult blur books close up
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           As a mom, I couldn’t help but worry about her, but I knew I could not do as I used to do when she was a young girl—hold her in my lap, smother her with kisses and reassurances.  Rather, I had to learn to hold space for her—not an easy thing to learn to do as a parent when you see your child suffering.

           Without going into too much detail, a family member reached out to Maddie.  This person was also going through a difficult time and had also put on stress-related weight.  The family member said they wanted to take charge of their health and were considering the Optimal Weight 5 & 1 plan—a system devoted to optimal health and wellness, not just weight loss.  


balance business cobblestone conceptual
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           Long story, longer, Maddie and this family member decided to join forces with a health coach and begin taking small steps towards improving their energy levels and habits as well as mental and physical well-being.  Additionally, Maddie and the other person checked in with their respective doctors. Together, they have been supporting one another; and, as a result, Maddie is beginning to explore the kitchen more. Protein waffles are just one example of the healthful goodies she has learned to create.




           Who doesn’t love waffles? I thought as I sat there mindfully chewing through each tasty bite of the waffles Maddie shared with me.  I never dreamed I could eat a waffle without syrup, but when one tastes this good, it simply doesn’t need a thing.  That said, I have watched Maddie drizzle a little sugar free syrup on her waffles; or, sometimes, she squirts it with a bit of spray butter.  Maddie tends to make these waffles in batches and store each serving in sandwich baggies or reusable containers and reheat them for breakfast or takes them in her lunch. Waffles for lunch?  Sounds good to me!




           In addition to eating these plain, I also like to take one tablespoon of powdered peanut butter and thin it down with about a tablespoon and a half of water, then drizzle that over the top of chocolate and vanilla flavored waffles.  Sometimes, if I want a bit more of a splurge, I will grab about 15 or so mini-semi-sweet chocolate chips and sprinkle over the top—but that’s the rare case. Most of the times, I follow Maddie’s example. I make my mini-waffles ahead of time.  Store them in individual serving bags or containers, and eat them plain any time of the day I need a grab and go meal.




           Now that Maddie is cooking, I am eager to share all that I am learning from her with you, Dear Reader!  While I enjoy the treat of dining out, I most love made-from-the-heart-home-made meals. And, I love sharing that home-cooked joy with others!

           From my home to yours, I wish you happy, HEALTHY, and homemade meals.


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           Final note: In addition to learning to take charge of her own food preparation, Maddie has also begun to practice yoga regularly; she has increased energy; she now possesses the skills to eat out with friends AND make healthy food choices; she is focusing on organizing her bed room and helping her dad and me organize our house; and as I write this, she has also just so happened to have lost 13.4 pounds and over 10 inches in five weeks!  Plus, her sparkling eyes and infectious smile are back! And that’s not all; she is now a Health Coach and paying forward the journey of health with others!




Protein Waffles  **If following the Optimal Weight 5 & 1 Plan, see recipe below

1 serving of your favorite protein powder

Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt

1-tablespoon light cream cheese

2-tablespoons egg whites or egg-replacement

1-3 tablespoons of water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or other flavor extract for that matter)

1-package of stevia or other favorite sweetener

Coat waffle maker with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray.

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

In a bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT water, including any optional ingredient you wish to add.

Then, gradually add, 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until you get the consistency of a thick batter.  You do not want this to be thin and runny.

If using a round waffle maker, spread all batter onto waffle maker and cook according to waffle-maker’s directions.

If using mini-Dash, pour 1/3 to ½ batter into waffle pan. (It may take a few trial and error practice sessions to figure out the right amount.)

Then, cook according to directions.  (We have found with a mini-Dash waffle maker, each waffle takes about 3 or so minutes to fully cook.)

Serve warm; or allow to cool, and store in fridge for later usage.  

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

Makes one serving.

**Optimal Weight 5 & 1 Recipe for Protein Waffle (Approved by Nutrition Support)

Choose 1 fueling  (Some of Maddie’s favorite fuelings to use are Decadent Double Chocolate Brownie, Sweet Blueberry Biscuit, Chewy Chocolate Cookie, Golden Chocolate Chip Pancake, and Wild Strawberry Shake.  I also personally love all of the chocolate shakes, Creamy Vanilla Shake, and Velvety Hot Chocolate.)

Once you have decided on the fueling to use, decide if you want one thick waffle or two thinner waffles.

For one thick waffle:

1-tablespoon egg white  

1-3 tablespoons of water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract = ½ condiment

1 package of stevia = 1 condiment

Coat waffle maker with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray.

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

In a bowl, combine your favorite fueling with egg white and any optional add-in.

Then, gradually, add water, one tablespoon at a time.  Stirring after each addition until you get a thick (NOT RUNNY) batter.

Spread all batter onto waffle maker, and cook according to waffle-maker’s directions. (We have found with a mini-Dash waffle maker, each waffle takes about 3 or so minutes to fully cook.)

Serve warm; or allow to cool, and store in fridge for later usage.  

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

For two thinner waffles:

1 tablespoon light cream cheese = 1 condiment

1-2 tablespoons egg whites  

2-3 tablespoons water

Optional add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract = ½ condiment

1 package of stevia = 1 condiment

Coat waffle maker with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray.

Plug-in waffle maker and allow to heat.

In a bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT water, including any optional ingredient you wish to add.

Then, gradually add, 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until you get the consistency of a thick batter.  You do not want this to be thin and runny.

If using a round waffle maker, spread all batter onto waffle maker and cook according to waffle-maker’s directions.

If using mini-Dash, pour 1/3 to ½ batter into waffle pan. (It may take a few trial and error practice sessions to figure out the right amount.)

Then, cook according to directions.  (We have found with a mini-Dash waffle maker, each waffle takes about 3 or so minutes to fully cook.)

Serve warm or allow to cool, and store in fridge for later usage.  

Stays good in fridge for several days.  

Remember, on the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, you can have up to 3 condiments per day.

*For more information regarding the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, send message here, or send a private Facebook message my daughter, Maddie Hill or me.





Cauliflower Protein Smoothie

“I really am a smoothie person. I love making a morning smoothie and then will drink some coffee and will not eat at all before lunch.” –Gwyneth Paltrow


Whether you like to drink your protein from a to-go cup or serve it in a bowl, there’s no denying the popularity of smoothies.  Smoothies are a great way to start your day on the right nutritional path. You can get a serving of protein, healthy fat, fresh fruit, and/or vegetables all in one convenient, portable, and most of all, tasty meal.  In fact, you can even add in your favorite coffee or tea for a jolt of caffeine if desired!


           You can even toss in your favorite morning beverage as a liquid to this smoothie recipe!


           While many proponents of daily smoothie-consumption encourage making the smoothie first thing in the morning and consuming it immediately, I typically make mine the night before, and store it in the refrigerator overnight.  Ok, so maybe after 8-12 hours of sitting in the fridge, my smoothie’s nutritional value is slightly reduced; it still has MUCH more nourishment than those ready-to-go bottles and cans found on grocery and convenience store shelves.  Plus, I know what I make has far less sugar, and does not contain any extra additives that might cramp or bloat my belly.


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             I have experimented with adding several different vegetables to my smoothie: from spinach to Swiss chard, romaine lettuce to kale, and all other leafy greens in between.  However, my most often repeated go-to vegetable is frozen riced cauliflower. I know, it sounds odd at first, but it blends well and makes a smoothie extra creamy. Like a blank canvas, all other flavors override the taste of cauliflower, making it the perfect veggie add-in.


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          Adding in cauliflower to my daily smoothie adds significant nutritional value.  To begin, cauliflower is not only full of fiber which keeps me feeling fuller longer, but it also contains fancy sounding compounds–glucoraphanin, sulforaphane, glucosinolate, glucobrassicin, and gluconasturtiin—that when combined with cauliflower’s naturally occurring fiber–help promote digestion, detoxification, and nutrient absorption.  



You don’t see any cauliflower here, and neither will you taste it; however, you will reap all of its nutritional benefits!


           Cauliflower is also abundant in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory elements.  It’s loaded with vitamins C and K as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Humble cauliflower is also chock-full of selenium, phosphorus, and calcium—which can boost your immune system.  Plus, not only does it look like a brain, but it can boost brain function as it also contains choline, a vital nutrient for brain development.


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           I could go on and on about the nutritional and health benefits of cauliflower; but, bottom line, my smoothie recipe taste great!!! It possesses the creamy texture I crave, and by the time my workday begins, I’ve already consumed one serving of vegetables, protein, and healthy fat to power my way through the morning!  Personally, I like to make it with less liquid and eat it as a smoothie bowl because it feels as if I am eating pudding for breakfast! That said, I’ve certainly been known to blend it up with coffee and drink it on the way to work!


From a handful of ingredients, I can make myself either a delicious smoothie or smoothie bowl.


           Regardless of whether you drink this, or eat it with a spoon, it is worth the effort to make this powerhouse meal!  And, hey, who says you have to have it for breakfast? You can consume this any time of the day you want the convenience of nutrition in a cup! Plus, this recipe can be modified to fit any nutritional program especially if you are following the **Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan.  It is gluten free, and can be made vegan or vegetarian if desired. What’s not to love about that kind of versatility?

           From my home to yours, I wish healthy, happy, homemade meals . . .even if they’re to go!


These are all optional nutritional boost add-ins if needed in your diet.


A great gluten-free and plant based (vegan) protein powder that is pocket friendly and widely available at many local store.


Cauliflower Smoothie

**If following Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, see below!

Makes one smoothie or bowl


½ to 1 ½ -cup water, coffee, tea, or favorite milk/milk substitute (Use less for bowl, more for smoothie)

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt

1-packet favorite sweetener (I use Stevia.)

1 serving of your favorite protein

1½-teaspoon to 1-tablespoon chia seed, ground flaxseed, or hemp seed (Use only chia seed if making bowl for thickness.)

1-tablespoon cocoa or cacao powder (Optional)

½ – 1-cup frozen riced cauliflower  (I use ¾ cup or 85 grams.) (Can also use same amount of spinach, but will give smoothie a green tint.)

Optional:  Add in ½- ¾-cup of favorite frozen fruit for added sweetness and even more vitamins and fiber, such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, and so forth.

Other optional nutritional boosts:  1 scoop of collagen, 1 scoop of greens powder, 1 scoop of glutamine (especially when consuming within an hour or so of working out), mct or coconut oil and/or ghee.


          Once you add in half of the total amount of liquid to your blender cup, then add in the ingredients in the order listed.



Pour ½ the amount of desired liquid to bottom of 1 serving blender cup.

Add rest of ingredients in the order listed.

Pour rest of liquid on top.

Attach to blender and blend well—usually 60-90 seconds works on my Ninja.

Serve immediately, or store until next morning.  (I especially like to make this the night before, pour it into a bowl or cup, and refrigerate overnight for a quick grab and go breakfast.  If making a smoothie bowl, it is especially nice to top with freshly sliced fruit and/or sprinkle with your favorite nut pieces. Additionally, if you’re not opposed to consuming dairy, consider topping your bowl with a dollop of whipping cream.)

**Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan:

If you are like my daughter, Madelyn, a *Health Coach who follows the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, but you struggle to get in your “greens” because you are new to vegetables or not a big fan, then adding cauliflower to recipes if a fantastic way to painlessly get in that nutritious, and essential green.  We add in riced cauliflower to many of her recipes which I will continue to share in the future.  (As of the writing of this blog, Madelyn has lost a total of 11 pounds and 11 inches in three weeks!)

For this smoothie recipe, plan for the following:

Combine your favorite fueling (Shake or smoothie works best here)

Each 1/2 cup of riced cup of cauliflower = 1 green  (Remember, you need 3 per day!)

Then, the following optional additions fit in your plan this way:  (Of course, you do not need to add in any of the options, just pick one or two that you best suit you!)

1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract = 1/2 condiment

1 teaspoon cocoa powder= 1 condiment

1 packet stevia = 1 condiment

1/2 teaspoon chia seed = 1 condiment

1 teaspoon flax seed = 1 healthy fat serving

1 serving of whipped topping = 1 condiment

Remember, on the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, you can have up to 3 condiments per day and 2 healthy fats per day.

*For more information regarding the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, send message here, or send a private Facebook message my daughter, Maddie Hill or me.







Gluten free Chocolate Chip cookies

            “If you can’t change the world with chocolate chip cookies, how can you change the world?”—Pat Murphy


            “Number one, I absolutely love making chocolate chip cookies. I mean, it’s fun. It’s exciting. Beyond the fact that I love making them, I love eating them.”—Debbi Fields


“Mom, when are you making chocolate chip cookies? I want to help you,” stated my daughter, Madelyn, with a smile.


Certainly, Maddie does like helping me bake chocolate chip cookies, but I think she has an ulterior motive. To begin, there are the bags of chocolate chips. We like to mix both mini-chocolate chips with regular sized chips. Thus, both bags must be opened, measured out, and mixed together before adding them to the dough. Which means, of course, a quality control taste or two, or ten!


Then, there is the cookie dough. Ooey, gooey cookie dough filled with, yes, that’s right, chocolate chips. Now, I know what you may be thinking. I should not allow my child to eat unbaked cookie dough filled with raw eggs, right? I have certainly considered the danger; however, my mom allowed me to eat cookie dough, and I am well into my fifth decade of life! Furthermore, Maddie has been sampling cookie dough ever since she’s been old enough to help me. Neither of us has ever become sick afterwards. I mean, it’s not like we sit down and eat the whole bowl.  That said, I certainly understand if you choose not to eat raw cookie dough!
I grew up in a house where I ate nothing but homemade desserts. Store bought desserts were no-nos—at least until I was old enough to date a guy who worked for Keebler, but that is a different story entirely! I am not saying that my mom made dessert every day, but we did have made-from-scratch cakes, cookies, and sometimes pies at least one time per week.  


Once I was old enough to help my mom in the kitchen, you bet I volunteered. Why? Samples—that’s why! Sure, I could say it was because I loved to spend time with my mom, but sadly, that usually wasn’t my motive. A growling belly was all the motivation I needed!  Mom was always generous to allow me “lick” the beater or scrape the mixing bowl once finished, a.k.a., getting in her way!


It was a different time period too. I grew up eating three meals per day—not grazing all day long. Snacks were not heard of until I was in high school; and even then, it was only when my parents weren’t home. (My siblings and I would sneak in those after-school snacks before they arrived home from work whenever possible.) The idea, which we often heard was, “Don’t spoil your appetite”; or, “Don’t spoil your dinner.” Still, if left to supervise ourselves after school, we were certainly known to grab a spoonful of peanut butter or a slice of lunch meat/cheese.


Likewise, Mom did not cook separate food for picky eaters at meals. Either you ate what she prepared, or you’d eat at the next meal. Her philosophy was that none of us were going to starve over one missed meal. Sometimes, I think many of our kids today would benefit from this attitude, but again, that’s another story for another day.


Back to baking with Maddie . . . Since my mom allowed me to sample while she cooked, including eating that much maligned cookie dough, it was only natural that I permitted my daughter to do the same. In addition to saving the mixing beater for my daughter to “lick,” we also enjoy tasting the cookies right off the baking pan!


The traditional recipe that I follow, calls for cooling the cookies on the pan for two-three minutes before removing. Maddie and I have learned to respect this rule, otherwise the cookies fall apart. Then, we remove all of the cookies carefully and gently with a metal spatula and place on racks to cool. (We have learned to cover the cooling rack with paper towels for quicker clean-up.) After that, watch out! We have to sample at least one, or three, warm! Mmmm, this is when these cookies are best! Therefore, when serving these cookies, do not be afraid to warm them slightly before eating. It brings out the flavor of the butter and makes the chocolate melty.



Finally, yes, this recipe is full of shortening, butter, sugar, and white flour. I get that these are NOT the healthiest ingredients—and, if you’re vegan,  these are clearly not vegan. I offer no apologies; however, I do NOT make this recipe as part of my everyday diet. These cookies are made for special occasions, and likewise, fully savored and enjoyed!!! In my opinion, life is about balance. I eat a healthy, plant-based diet the vast majority of the year, so why not splurge from time to time. And, if I am going to splurge, I want real, quality ingredients.


I think my mom had it right. Save desserts for special occasions and make them yourself. And, take time to share the experience with your kid, spouse, or friend. By baking with another loved one, you add the secret ingredient that can enhance any cooking experiences . . .love.


From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade food!



Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies


3 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour, (Reduce the flour if you prefer a crispier cookie.) & (I prefer Cup4Cup brand)

1-teaspoon baking soda

1-teaspoon salt

1 stick butter, softened

½ cup shortening

¾ cup packed dark brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups chocolate chip (I prefer semi-sweet.)

Optional: 1 cup chopped nuts


Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

In large mixing bowl with mixer, cream together butter, shortening, and both sugars until fluffy.

Add in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in vanilla extract until creamy.

Gradually mix in flour mixture until well blended and thick.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake 9-11 minutes or until golden, but NOT dark, brown.

Allow cooling on cookie pan for 2-3 minutes BEFORE gently removing with spatula onto wire racks to cool completely.

Once thoroughly cooled, store in airtight container.


Low-carb, gluten-free pumpkin risotto

“I will defend pumpkin until the day I die. It’s delicious. It’s healthy. I don’t understand the backlash. How did pumpkin become this embarrassing thing to love, but bacon is still the cool flavor to add to everything? I don’t have anything against bacon; just don’t come after pumpkin like it’s a crime to love an American staple.”—Anna Kendrick, Scrappy Little Nobody




Personally, I agree with the above passage. I, too, love pumpkin and eat it year-round! Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin pie, oh my! It is a versatile food worth eating year ‘round—especially since canned pumpkin is always available. Plus, I love pumpkin seeds too, but that is another story for another recipe!




Another versatile food I have fallen in love with is riced cauliflower. It is like a white canvas. It can be seasoned and combined in a multitude of ways. From smoothies to salads, from Asian-inspired stir-fries to Tex-Mex influences, and from hearty bowl-based dishes to plated mashed sides, riced cauliflower is one of the most versatile foods with which I cook! This recipe takes its versatility in a new and exciting direction—at least to me!




I like making this recipe ahead, and then packing it my workday lunch. It makes for a warm, cozy meal that makes lunchtime seem a bit more special than my usual cold salad and/or veggie sticks. I also like to make this ahead, and then eat it for breakfast! Yep, you read that right, breakfast. Why not start my day with vegetables. If I can add riced cauliflower to my smoothie, why not eat pumpkin risotto for breakfast?




Finally, this dish can also serve as a tasty side-dish for any meat-based meal. Serve it along side your favorite grilled fish, chicken or steak—add salad, and yummo! Additionally, it makes a great addition to a bowl—if you like creating bowl meals as I do—this is a perfect base to a jam-packed nutritional bowl! In fact, one night, I used it as a base and simply added stuffed mushroom on top. It was amazing!



From my home to yours, I wish you happy, healthy, and homemade meals.


Low Carb, Gluten-free Pumpkin Risotto


2 tablespoons olive oil (If you prefer cooking oil-free, use equivalent amount of favorite broth.)

¼ cup diced onion

Salt & pepper to taste

1-teaspoon paprika

12-ounce bag riced cauliflower

¼ cup favorite type broth

½ cup pureed pumpkin (or butternut squash)

¼ cup Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast if want vegan version)

¼ cup fresh chopped parsley or frozen peas—if desired for color contrast


In a large saucepan on medium heat, add olive oil, onion, salt, pepper, and paprika.

Stir until onion has softened and become translucent.

Stir in cauliflower until thoroughly combined.

Gently pour in broth, stir, and cover with lid.

Allow to simmer (gently bubble) 10-15 minutes. (You may need to stir occasionally to ensure cauliflower is not sticking to bottom of pan.)

Stir in pumpkin (or butternut squash) puree.

Then add Parmesan (or nutritional yeast).

Continue stirring and cooking until cauliflower is soft and mixture is thick like warm pudding.

Stir in parsley or peas if desired as well as more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve warm.


Makes 2-4 side servings (depending upon how big serving), or one huge meal-bowl!

Hearty Black Bean Soup

            “Writing is a lot like making soup. My subconscious cooks the idea, but I have to sit down at the computer to pour it out.”—Robin Wells


Are you kidding me? It was week filled with single digit temperatures. In spite of the fact we were burning a fire in our wood-burning stove and our thermostat was set of 62F degrees, the heater was still kicking on. Of course, much of that had to do with the fact that we have a long ranch-style house, so the heat was unable to warm the entire length of our house. Brrr . . .


Below freezing weather calls for a hearty soup to warm the soul!


It seemed like a perfect week for soup! Black bean soup to be specific. Soup is not something we make year round. In fact, I go months without making it. However, nothing tastes better or seems to make the house feel warmer, than homemade soup cooking in the Crockpot!


Nothing like the smell of homemade soup simmering in a Crockpot . . . .


I used to make black bean soup from dried beans, but as a multi-tasker when it comes to the various roles/jobs I juggle, time often slips away from me quickly. Therefore, I opt for healthy short cuts when I can. Thus, using rinsed canned beans works just as well for me when it comes to using beans in soups and chili.


Drained and rinsed canned black beans & Mexi-corn.


This recipe is one of my favorites. It is a combination of several recipes I’ve tried over the years. All that past trial and error with black bean soup variations have informed the recipe-creation found below. It is beautiful combination of colors, flavors, and textures. Even my daughter, who is a very picky eater, likes this recipe because it is so similar to black bean chili.




You can serve this soup straight up in a bowl. It makes a super, or should I say, “souper,” dip into which to sink warm tortillas. However, it is also good to use when making nachos. In fact, this is my daughter’s favorite way in which to eat it. Additionally, you could use drained spoonfuls of it to create burritos, tacos, or enchiladas. Specifically, I have used leftovers of this soup to create a baked enchilada casserole. For cornbread lovers, this soup is great ladled over a crumbled up square, or two, of cornbread.




Regardless of how you serve it, this black bean soup is, well, “souper” delicious! (Once again, I could not resist the chance to be punny!) It is versatile enough, so that whether or not you are serving a large family, or just cooking for two, the leftovers won’t go to waste. Plus, it freezes a well—another bonus! Additionally, it makes a great meatless meal for Lent, Meatless Monday, or any other time you would like to take a break from meat, but still want a hearty meal. Try this recipe out any time you want your body and soul warmed!



From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade meals.


Hearty Black Bean Soup


2-tablespoon olive oil (Can be made oil free and instead sauté vegetables in 2-tablespoons of broth.)

1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)

3 large cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

2 large bell peppers, preferably 1 green plus 1 of another color

1 stalk of celery, chopped

1 medium carrot, sliced

2 tablespoons chili powder

1-tablespoon ground cumin

1-tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon red pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetable broth

4 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained

1 can (15 ounce) Mexican or whole kernel corn

1 can (14.5 ounce) tomatoes

2 cups frozen chopped spinach

Lime wedges


Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat.

Sauté onion, celery, carrots, and garlic for 5 minutes or until soft and onion translucent.

Stir in seasonings and cook for another minute or so.

Stir in broth, 2 cans of beans, and corn. Allow to simmer.

Meanwhile, in food processor or blender, process 2 cans of beans and tomatoes until smooth.

Stir into soup in mixture.

Stir in spinach.

Stir to boiling, reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for 15 minutes; or, transfer soup into Crockpot and allow to simmer for several hours on low.

Makes 8 generous servings.

Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over soup once dished.

Leftover can be frozen for later dinners.


Gluten-free Blueberry Buckle

            “Advice from a blueberry: Be well-rounded. Soak up the sun. Find beauty in small things. Live a fruitful life. Be a good pick. It’s OK to be a little blue. Make sweet memories!”—Ilan Shamir


“Mom, why do you only make Blueberry Buckle for Christmas Brunch or when we have overnight company? Why can’t you make it more often . . .like when I come home this weekend?”


I was talking with my daughter, Madelyn, on the phone. She was coming home for a long weekend break from college this past fall. Her point was valid, I conceded, I did save Blueberry Buckle for special occasions. In the end, I agreed to make it this delectable breakfast treat more often, including the weekend when she came home.


My husband, John, and I first discovered Blueberry Buckle in the early nineties when we frequently traveled to Staunton, VA, either as a weekend getaway, or as overnight stop on the way to or from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In Staunton, we most often stayed in a bed and breakfast called, The Kenwood, and owned by the late Ed and Liz Kennedy.


Ed and Liz were complimentary pair. Ed, as best I recall, was scientist who retired from Corning. He was widely traveled, well read, and collector of nonfiction magazines such as the Smithsonian, American Heritage, and National Geographic to name a few. Happy to talk about nearly any given subject or offer advice for nearby historical sites, hiking trails, or scenic sites, Ed played the perfect gregarious host.


Meanwhile, Liz, a retired nurse who spent her life working in inner-city Boston hospitals, was more reserved. She was happy to remain behind the scenes cooking breakfast, knitting, or watching baseball. That said, John and I visited their B & B so often, that over the years, Liz warmed to John and me, and often talked with us as much as Ed.


It was Liz who gave me this recipe for Blueberry Buckle. She preferred baking recipes like Blueberry Buckle that could be made ahead, cut into individual servings, and frozen. Then, she could take the amount needed the night before to thaw, and warm them in the morning. She served often served blueberry buckle with some form of protein, a fresh bowl of seasonal mixed fruit, and the customers’ choices of juices, coffees, and/or teas.


I feel privileged to have this recipe because it was Liz’s policy to not share her recipes with customers at least not when they first began their business—and, we were their very first customers (but that is a different story for another day.) In fact, because we were frequent guests of their establishment, Liz would often come out after breakfast, sit down with us, and would talk for hours if we let her.


We enjoyed knowing Ed and Liz. We considered them friends. They were special people, and I think of them each time I make this recipe. Sharing recipes, such as this, is one of the reasons we love to travel—getting to know people from different geographic locations and experiencing “their” foods that we would have otherwise never before experienced.


While the recipe I share with you is mostly true to Liz’s original version, I have made a few minor adjustments. First, and most obvious, I replaced regular all-purpose flour with a gluten-free version. If you do not need a gluten-free version, then by all means, use your favorite flour. Additionally, Liz did not use orange extract—it is a “trick” I learned from other recipes with blueberries. Thus, feel free to leave it out or replace it with another favorite extract. (I have even read Blueberry Buckle recipes that use lemon zest instead of any extract.) Finally, feel to use other types of berries, shredded apples, or even rhubarb in place of blueberries—you may then want to play with various additions to the cake batter, such as cinnamon, vanilla extract, etc.


From my home to yours, I wish you an abundance of happy, healthy, and homemade meals. . . and a vacation adventure filled with wonderful people and new foods to try!


P.S. You don’t have to save this recipe for overnight guests or once-per-year events. Just ask my daughter!





Gluten-Free Blueberry Buckle


Cake ingredients:

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup shortening (or plant –derived replacement)

1 egg (or equivalent egg replacement)

½ cup favorite milk

½ teaspoon orange extract

2 cups gluten-free all purpose baking flour (I prefer cup-4-cup brand.)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)


Topping ingredients:

½ cup sugar

1/3-cup gluten free flour

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup soft butter (or equal plant-based equivalent)



Begin by measuring and setting aside ¼ cup butter (or plant based replacement) to allow it to soften.

Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

Prepare 9 x 9 square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or coconut oil.

Begin with cake ingredients by thoroughly mixing ¾ cup sugar, shortening, and egg.

Stir in milk and orange extract.

In separate bowl, blend together gluten-free flour, baking powder, and salt.

Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

Carefully blend in blueberries.   (If using frozen blueberries, you can gently shake them in a zip lock bag with a bit of flour to prevent, or at least reduce, the batter turning purple.)


Spread batter into pan.


Reusing now empty dry ingredient bowl, (no sense dirtying another bowl) stir together dry topping ingredients: ½ sugar, 1/3 gluten free flour, and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon.


Once dry ingredient well mixed, stir in butter with fork, mashing and blending until soft crumbly topping forms.


Sprinkle the topping over batter.


Bake 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean. (Please note, if using frozen blueberries, you do not need to thaw; however, the buckle may take a bit longer to bake.)

Serves 9, but recipe can be doubled as I frequently do this.

Further, once cut into squares, it’s great to freeze ahead for quick morning reheats.



Two types of gluten-free flour that I have used.