Hearty and Healthy Grain Bowls

I have a love-hate relationship with January. You know this. It’s always a little sad to take down the holiday decorations and embrace what feels like a bare and empty house. The inevitable January foggy inversion moves through the Valley enveloping us in a thick blanket of gray slop.

But there is a flip side and it’s a lovely one: a brand-new year. Twelve months full of possibility ahead. A new planner (oh yes, I still use a paper planner…as well as my phone…but I just can’t give up the paper calendar), and an opportunity to tweak and adjust my life. I don’t know why I need January to come around to reevaluate, but there’s just something about the new year that energizes and invigorates me.

And I’m sure you know where this is going: with a new year comes a renewed commitment to healthy, local, real food whenever possible. Lunch tends to be my trickiest meal because as a work-from-home/stay-at-home mom, it’s all too easy to eat the crusts off my preschooler’s peanut butter sandwiches and snack the afternoon away. By the time I get to late afternoon, I’m tired, cranky and trying to decide whether I want a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

Enter the grain bowl. It’s the perfect nutrient dense meal and easy to swap ingredients in and out to use what you have. Even better, you can make most of the elements ahead of time and store them in your refrigerator for easy and quick lunches (or dinners) all week. I’ve got two versions for you, using many of the same ingredients, but as you’ll see, a few minor changes and you have a completely new meal.

The formula is pretty basic: grains, greens, vegetables and a protein. I made an easy dressing in my blender full of bright and tasty herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Then I dug through my refrigerator and started pulling out vegetables and ‘toppings’ that looked yummy. I don’t have specific quantities for this recipe, but I’ll share my methods for preparing the bowls.

Grain Bowl with a Herb and Lemon Dressing (makes 2 large or 4 small servings)

• 3 cups brown rice, cooked

• 4 cups kale, washed and shredded

• 1 large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

• ½ head cauliflower, cut into florets

• 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets

• 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

• 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese

• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• Juice of ½ lemon (or lime)

• Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Start by cooking your brown rice. My recommendation is always to swap water for vegetable or chicken stock for more flavor, but there’s no wrong way to do it. Chop up the sweet potato, cauliflower and broccoli and spread the vegetables evenly on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, turning the vegetables at least once so they cook evenly.

Pull the vegetables from the oven when the broccoli and cauliflower are brown and crispy on the edges and the sweet potatoes are soft. In a medium bowl, toss the shredded kale with one tablespoon olive oil and the juice of half a lemon (or lime). To build your grain bowl, spoon rice into a bowl, layer with kale, roasted vegetables and top with the herb and lemon dressing (see recipe below). Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and goat cheese and a liberal shake of kosher salt and black pepper. Feel free to add or swap in chopped nuts, dried cranberries or a different kind of cheese to your bowl. Whatever sounds good and you have on hand is sure to be tasty!

Grain Bowl with Spicy Chicken, Black Beans and Herb Lemon Dressing

• 3 cups brown rice, cooked

• 4 cups kale, washed and shredded

• 2 chicken breasts

• 1 cup salsa

• 1 14 ounce can organic black beans, drained and rinsed

• 4 cups kale, washed and shredded

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• Juice of half a lemon (or lime)

• 2 radishes, thinly sliced

• 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

• Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Cook your rice (or microwave a bag of frozen rice) and set aside once it’s cooked. In a crockpot or instant pot cook chicken in salsa. You could also buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, shred it and toss it in salsa.

When the chicken is finished cooking, use two forks to shred the meat. Stir the black beans into the shredded chicken. In a medium bowl toss kale with tablespoon of oil and lemon juice. To build your bowl, start with the cooked rice. Add the chicken and black bean mixture and shredded kale. Garnish with sliced radish and cherry tomatoes. Top the bowl with a drizzle of herb lemon dressing (about two tablespoons, but use as much or as little as you like).

Herb and Lemon Dressing

• 1 bunch cilantro, stems cut off

• 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems cut off

• 1 clove garlic

• 1 cup olive oil

• Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 limes)

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

• Salt and pepper

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend for 1 minute. Add a splash of water or olive oil if dressing is too thick. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

The Very Best Fudge Brownies


Do you listen to audio books? I’m listening to Exit West right now. I walk around the house with my phone in my pocket, listening to the book while I go about my day. It’s weird and awesome at the same time. I find I’m not as absorbed into the story as I would be if I was physically reading a book but I really like listening to the author’s voice and being able to fold laundry or make lunch or just in general multi-task at the same time.

I started the month with noble ideas of cutting out all refined sugar from my family’s diet for the month. And we did pretty good for a couple weeks. Last week, a new Yakima Magazine was published and the recipes I wrote in November were suddenly calling to me. Namely these decadent fudge brownies sprinkled with coarse salt.

I stumbled across a brownie recipe on Pinterest a couple years ago. Over time I’ve tweaked the recipe, adding instant espresso powder and vanilla to get it just right for me. The result is a rich, dense, deeply chocolate brownie with a crackly top and a soft fudgy interior. If you like a more cake-like brownie, you could always increase the flour by 1/3 cup.

I make these brownies for friends with a new baby or if I know someone is going through a hard time. I know we aren’t supposed to attach emotion to food, but if anything was going to cheer you up or help you through a rough patch, these brownies would do it. They literally take 5 minutes to prep and are just as easy as throwing a box mix together. The only difference is they taste 100 times better and you’ll never make a box mix again.


Fudge Brownies with Coarse Salt

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • ¾ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line the bottom of an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar, cocoa powder, instant coffee and salt over low heat. Stir until butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. When the mixture is warm but not hot stir in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, stirring constantly until the batter looks thick and shiny. Add the flour and continue stirring for another full minute. Spread batter evenly into the lined pan. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the center of the batter is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Sprinkle with coarse pink Himalayan salt and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. If you can’t find coarse salt, Maldon sea salt will work well too. You just need a coarse grain salt.

Spicy Tomato and Cashew Whole Wheat Pasta

We took the plunge this year and bought season passes to White Pass Ski Area. Growing up in Spokane, Washington, many of my childhood memories surround being tossed into our lumbering old suburban for early morning treks to Schweitzer Mountain or Lookout Pass, both a solid two plus hour drive from where I grew up.

With White Pass just an hour away, I remind my children every time they complain in the car just how good they have it. And other than some minor car-whining, we are having a blast. All three kids love to ski and it is probably one of the highlights of my parenting journey so far to spend the day skiing as a family. Our five-year-old is probably the most enthusiastic and it has been such a joy to watch her take off.

And the best thing about coming home after a long day of skiing? An easy, fast and super-hearty meal everyone will gobble right up. Just like everyone else in January, I’m working hard to make good healthy meal choices for myself and my family this year. I’m looking for ways to add more vegetables to my children’s plates and reminding myself to reach for fresh, whole foods whenever possible.

This big pot of whole wheat pasta smothered in a creamy spicy tomato sauce checks all the boxes. The creaminess comes from blending cashews into the sauce. You don’t taste the nuts, but the resulting sauce is velvety smooth and deliciously decadent. Roasted cauliflower mixes in with the pasta and is almost undetectable by picky children while they unknowingly get a good dose of vitamin c and k. Whole wheat pasta is full of fiber and a better choice than regular pasta, but a gluten free or lentil pasta would work just fine in the recipe too. Most importantly, this recipe is super flexible and easy to adapt to your specific tastes. If you don’t like spice, skip the red pepper flakes. Want a completely vegetarian dish? Skip the bacon. Have a few other vegetables you need to clean out of the crisper? Roast them with the cauliflower.

Spicy Tomato Cashew Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower

• 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

• 3 cloves garlic, finely diced

• 3 pieces center-cut bacon, diced

• 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• 1 25-ounce jar marinara sauce (look for one with low sugar)

• 1 cup roasted cashews

• ½ cup water

• 1 head cauliflower, chopped into small florets

• 1 box whole wheat pasta

• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 1 teaspoon dried basil

• Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Start by setting a big pot of heavily salted water to boil. When the water boils, cook the pasta to package instructions (usually about 8 minutes). When the pasta is finished cooking, drain the noodles and set aside.

In a blender, combine the cashews, water and jar of tomato sauce. Blend until completely smooth. Depending on the strength of your blender, this may take a couple minutes. Just keep going until the sauce is nice and smooth.

Layer the cauliflower evenly on a sheet pan. Drizzle with one tablespoon olive oil, making sure the vegetables are evenly coated and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables in a 425-degree oven for about 20 minutes until the cauliflower is golden brown. Don’t forget to turn the vegetables at least once halfway through the cooking time, so they brown evenly on all sides.

In a sauté pan, cook the onion, garlic and bacon in the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or until the bacon is cooked through and the onion is translucent. Salt and pepper the mixture. Turn the heat to low and stir in the tomato cashew sauce. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and dried basil.

Combine the pasta, roasted cauliflower and sauce in a big bowl (or the pot you cooked the pasta in). Mix well, taste and add salt and pepper or more red pepper flakes if needed. Serve immediately. Leftovers will store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

*A sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese or parmesan cheese over the pasta is a lovely addition if you happen to have some.

Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

Happy New Year friends. That’s how I think of you when I sit down to write in this little corner. I feel like I’m having a conversation with my friends, sharing a few thoughts, a little bit of my life and a recipe I think you might like.

I had a little existential crisis towards the end of the year. Ok, maybe that’s a tiny bit dramatic, but I received some tough feedback on a couple recipes I posted. They didn’t work well for a few people because the recipes were hard to understand.

All of a sudden I felt like I had nothing to offer, nothing to say, and the very real truth that I’m just* a home cook hit me hard. I have zero training. I am NOT an expert…actually I’m about as far away from ‘expert’ as possible. I’m just a mom who loves to putter in the kitchen.

I spent the last couple weeks thinking hard about why I keep coming back to this space. And I finally decided that regardless of outcome, whether people visit me here in this space or not, I’m going to keep at it. This blog holds me accountable to doing two things I love and need in my life: cooking and writing. I get to be creative, I get to try new things, I get to be a little bit brave. So I decided I’m going to keep at it and even more, those would be my new year resolutions this year.

As much as I’m not much of a resolution-type person, this new year somehow feels different. I’m eager for a fresh start. While last year was good (really good in fact), it was also an unbelievably hard year. And the sadness and challenges I was going through hung around me like a dark cloud for months. But finally, the past is fading and as this new year ushers in, I feel ready and excited. I want to keep cooking. Learning. Practicing being brave. All of it.

Alright, enough rambling. How about a recipe? These blueberry buttermilk muffins are super easy to throw together and taste heavenly. Although full disclosure: even though I’ve made this recipe dozens of times, yesterday I misread the instructions and only added one teaspoon of baking powder. The muffins were dense and didn’t have the lovely domed top I was going for. I realized my mistake and grudgingly started over again. I’m starting the year nice and humble, practicing laughing at myself, forcing myself to try again, even when I don’t want to.

Who knew a batch of muffins could bring on such deep thoughts? Sheesh. I’m chalking it up to the new year. I’m sure by next week I’ll be back to lamenting over the crazy shenanigans my kids are up to and how much I hate the gray cold winter weather.

Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins (recipe adapted from A Homemade Kitchen)

  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (preferably NOT non-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen blueberries (raspberries, blackberries or cherries work great too)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners or spray liberally with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk eggs until well incorporated. Stir in sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, yogurt and vanilla. Mix well.

Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just barely combined. Stir in the frozen berries to the batter. Don’t be surprised if the berries turn the batter a little purple.

Use a large spoon or ice cream scoop to fill the muffin tins. Fill the tins right up to the top. You are going for a tall domed muffin. Sprinkle each muffin with raw sugar for a little crunch on the lid of the muffin. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack. Allow the muffins to finish cooling upside down.


Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts

We gathered with a few friends over the weekend in what we decided was our first annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party. I proudly donned a fuzzy bright-red sweater with a picture of a cat in a Santa hat. The sweater said Meowy Christmas and my boys insisted on taking my picture holding our two cats.

The party wasn’t even really a party, just good friends getting together a little last minute, mostly impromptu. We all wore our ugly sweaters, laughing at what we came up with to wear, talking about upcoming holiday plans, who was staying in town, who was making a trek somewhere to visit family. We shared a meal and played a few games, laughing until tears streamed out of our eyes and our sides hurt. It was the simplest night but that holiday spirit, which can feel a little elusive sometimes in the rush and busyness of the season, was right there. It felt good to pause our busy lives for an evening and just be. We shared good food, we made a few memories, we connected with people we love and care about. Isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about?

I love making a few homemade treats to give as gifts during the holiday season. Even better if said treat can pull double duty as an appetizer or dessert for a holiday gathering. These sweet and spicy rosemary infused nuts check all the boxes. You can make a big batch and divide them into little jars for the perfect little gift for a hostess, teacher or the mailman. Or you can use that same big batch and fill bowls as an easy snack or appetizer for a football party or holiday gathering.

I stumbled across Ina Garten’s Chipotle and Rosemary Spiced Nuts a few years ago when looking for recipes for a party. I made a batch and watched as the bowl disappeared in a matter of minutes. I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years to make it more my own. To keep things simple and easy, I buy mixed nuts from Costco but you can go to your local grocery store and buy whichever nuts you like from the bulk bins. For this recipe I used cashews, pecans, almonds and pistachios.

Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nut

  • 6-7 cups mixed whole nuts (I recommend cashews, pecans, almonds, walnuts and shelled pistachios)
  • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne powder
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or spray liberally with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine mixed nuts with the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, cayenne powder and rosemary. Toss to coat the nuts evenly, then spread evenly on the sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little more kosher salt (about 1 teaspoon). Mix well with the spatula, setting aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool. Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.

To give as a gift, fill small glass jars with nut mixture. Seal with a lid and tie a festive ribbon around the jar.

Orange Almond and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

Woah…didn’t quite mean to take an almost month long break. Life you know? I’ve got a couple recipes to get caught up on and then next week I’ll get back on schedule (in theory).

Happy Saturday friends. No snow here but we’re headed out to find some in a bit.

We have an annual tradition the weekend after Thanksgiving to drive up towards White Pass in search of a Christmas Tree. We buy the $5 tag from the Ace Hardware in Naches, fill a thermos with hot chocolate and bundle the kids up from head to toe. We’ve been doing this every year for close to 10 years, driving deep into the forest past Clear Lake, to our special spot, bumping along a rutted-out forest service road.

When we finally get to our spot, the kids and dogs spill out of the car, usually fussing over a missing glove or cold feet but the fresh air and wide-open space takes over and within seconds they are whooping and hollering, running in and out of trees insisting each one they see is the ‘perfect’ tree.

Once negotiations have been made and a tree is agreed upon, we cut it down and load everyone back up to head home. It’s a tradition we all look forward to and I love to look back at photos from over the years, seeing my children as babies, bundled up in snowsuits, toddling tentatively through the snow. These days they lead the charge, darting up and over logs, throwing snowballs, making passionate pleas as to which tree should be chosen.

As much as going out in search of our Christmas tree is a tradition, so is laughing over the inevitable ‘Charlie Brown’ status of our wild tree. This year’s tree is no exception, full of big holes between the branches and one side a bit lackluster in branches. Somehow every year, the tree looks pristine in the mountains and always surprises us once it’s in the house. It’s all part of the charm and fun (I hope). I laugh thinking about what stories my kids will tell someday.

Once the tree is up, holiday prep goes into full swing around my house. And number one priority (ok not really, but it’s one of my favorites) is making lots and lots of cookies. This week’s shortbread cookie is adapted from Martha Stewart. I took the liberty of adapting the recipe a little bit, but that’s the beauty of shortbread, it’s a blank slate for whatever kind of flavors you want to add. Candied ginger and lemon zest would be lovely, as would classic vanilla. Dried cranberries and white chocolate is another house favorite. Play around and see what you come up with, you can’t go wrong.

Orange, Almond and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

  • 2 sticks unsalted room temperature butter
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest (about 1 orange)
  • ¾ cup slivered almonds
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons half and half

Make the dough: In a mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar, almond extract, vanilla extract and salt until smooth. With mixer on low speed, add flour and orange zest; mix just until a dough forms. With a wooden spoon, rubber spatula, or your hands, gently mix in almonds.

Freeze the dough: in between two pieces of waxed paper, form dough into a flat rectangle about 12 inches in diameter or until the dough is about ¼ inch thick. Put the cookie dough in the freezer for 30 minutes (or the refrigerator for at least an hour) before baking.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from freezer. You have two options to create cookies. Use a sharp knife and cut dough into small even squares OR use a cookie cutter to make shapes out of the dough. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake until edges just begin to turn golden, about 15-20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet; transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.

In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips and half and half in 30 second intervals. After each 30 seconds, stir the chocolate vigorously until the chocolate is just melted. Dip the cookies halfway in the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to harden completely before storing.

Apple Breakfast Cake

A happiest Thanksgiving to you and yours. It’s a great honor and pleasure to share a few words and a recipe with you here each week. As I sit down to write this article, I am near the fireplace watching the flames bounce and pop. One of my children is drawing at the kitchen table, occasionally calling to me to spell out words. I’m sure we’ll be treated to a story at dinner later. The other two are playing with our rambunctious kitten, intermittently squabbling yet remaining together, passing the kitten back and forth lost in their imaginary game. My husband is tending the fire, hopping up to putter around the house, never one to sit for long. Dinner is cooking in the oven, a roast cooked with onions and carrots, lots of garlic and a big glug of red wine. If the meat tastes half as good as the house smells, we’ll be in good shape.

Let me be honest though, my home and life are rarely this idyllic. We have hardships and stress. We worry; sometimes we argue. I think we can all relate that way a little bit. Life can be really hard sometimes. But tonight is a good night, and it seems right on this Thanksgiving holiday to pause a moment in gratitude.

I think even in the chaos and challenging times, when we look around at our surroundings, we can be delighted by the many good things we find. I’m grateful for a warm house and dinner in the oven. For happy children and a family to call my own. For a few moments to jot down a few words, to share the food and connections that bring us to the table over and over again.

And the weekend is just getting started. We have a houseful of guests with a trek up to the mountains planned, football to watch, leftovers to eat and maybe a hike or two to try and balance out all those leftovers.

This week’s recipe is an apple breakfast cake. It’s a quick one-bowl cake that you can swap for any fruit you like. I used Autumn Glory apples, a new varietal growing here in the Yakima Valley. With a firm crunchy texture and a subtle cinnamon flavor, they were the perfect apple to use for this recipe. If you can’t find Autumn Glory apples; honeycrisp, golden delicious or Braeburn all work well too. Perfect for breakfast with a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt or a drizzle of Copper Pot Carmel sauce never hurt and takes it from breakfast to dessert.

Apple Breakfast Cake

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 teaspoons baking powder

• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

• ½ teaspoon cinnamon

• ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• 2 large eggs

• 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

• 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

• 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

• 1 cup chopped and peeled apple

• 18-20 thinly sliced pieces of apple to top the cake

• Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter and flour a 10-inch cast iron skillet, if you don’t have one, you can use a cake pan.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and butter.  Whisk in the vanilla and almond extract.

Add the buttermilk mixture all at once to the dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined and no lumps remain. Fold the chopped apples into the batter. Spoon batter into the prepared pan.  Arrange the apple slices on top the cake is a single layer.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool to room temperature before slicing to serve. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.