Easy Summer Gazpacho (eat those tomatoes before they’re gone)

To cope with summer coming to an end, I make the effort to eat as much summer produce as I possibly can. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, corn, peaches, melon, and whatever else comes my way. One of my favorite ways to do this is to make homemade gazpacho. I didn’t always love gazpacho, some I tasted were too tomato-saucey. However, once you make it yourself, you will realize that it is basically sunshine in a bowl. And it couldn’t be easier.

Below is my basic recipe, but the quantities and ratio of vegetables is entirely flexible. I encourage you to experiment with different vegetables and even add fruit. Gazpacho is an ideal way to use up what’s fresh and at hand. Add some avocado toast, and you’ve got the perfect lunch.


Easy Summer Gazpacho

Makes 4 servings

• 3 tomatoes
• 2 cucumbers, peeled
• 1 bell pepper
• 1/2 jalapeno
• 1/2 small onion
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 cup ice cold water
• 1 tbsp chopped herbs (basil, cilantro, oregano)
• salt and pepper to taste
• dash of hot sauce

• blender

1. Roughly chop all vegetables and peel the garlic.
2. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, garlic, vinegar, oil, and water to blender.
3. Puree until well-combined but not completely smooth, about 30 seconds.
4. Add herbs, salt, pepper, and hot sauce to blender. Puree again until gazpacho reaches the desired consistency, about 10 – 30 seconds.

Serve immediately, or store covered in fridge for up to one day.

Non-Dairy Milk: A Guide to the Options

There’s been a lot of talk about milks these days. Cow’s milk, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, oat milk. You name it, they’re milking it. This presents a lot of options, and a lot of controversy over how to make the healthiest choice.

The meaning of “healthy” can be subjective. Dairy milk is at the top when it comes to natural protein, calcium and vitamin D. If I could drink organic cow’s milk without feeling sick, I most certainly would. But for me, and others who choose not to drink dairy milk due to allergies, upset stomach, veganism or anything else, there are excellent alternatives I am grateful to have.

Non-Dairy Milk: You’ve Got Options, and They’re Not All Bad

Each of the options have pros and cons, so it’s important to be fully aware of what you’re purchasing (as always). Soy milk is condemned for its GMO contents, and almond milk for its preservatives. Dairy milk has its problems as well, with growth hormone being given to cows. By staying informed and carefully reading labels you can avoid these issues. Once you learn about the options, pick the one (or two, or three) that’s best for you.

Soy Milk
High in protein and smooth tasting, soy milk was once the most popular non-dairy milk option. With 8 grams of protein, soy milk has as much as dairy, but it does lack calcium and vitamin D. They are also even in calories (about 130 per cup), though soy milk has less saturated fat. However, soy is now being approached cautiously due to speculation of possible negative effects of naturally occurring hormones. Soy is also notoriously associated with GMOs, with upwards of 94% of the soybeans in the United States genetically modified (yikes). However, GMOs are easily avoided by purchasing organic or non-GMO labeled soy milk.

Recommended Brand: Westsoy Organic Unsweetened

Almond Milk
Almond milk is increasingly popular and widely available. It is much lower in calories than dairy or soy, with about 40 per cup, and is high in vitamin D and E. Lately, it has being marketed as a healthier option than soy and dairy, causing a problem with negative associations (as seen in the recent clickbait titled article that was hard to miss although misleading and narrow-minded). Organic almond milk is certainly good for you, but with very little protein (1 gram), almond milk being “healthier” is a debatable claim. Almond milk often comes in a carton with a long shelf life, which is super convenient but usually means added preservatives. For this reason, label reading is extremely important for almond milk. Look for organic, unsweetened, and watch for potentially harmful additives, including carrageenan. Fresh, homemade almond milk is most delicious and guaranteed to be preservative-free.

Recommended Brands: Wegmans Organic Unsweetened, Whole Foods Organic Unsweetened

Coconut Milk
Coconut milk, sold in a can or carton, is tasty but has a distinct and noticeable coconut flavor. It is low in protein, but is a key substitute for people with nut or soy allergies. It has high saturated fat content, therefore is higher in calories. The coconut oil craze touts these fats as hugely beneficial, but the jury is still out on whether it is in fact harmful or helpful. Cartons present the same preservative concerns as almond milk, although I have yet to find one without carrageenan. Overall, be aware of additives and look for unsweetened and organic options.

Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is a neutral tasting allergen-free option. It is higher in omegas than other non-dairy milks, but also higher in fat and does not offer significant protein. Also sold in cartons, watch for added preservatives.

Rice Milk
Rice milk is another allergen-free option with a mildly sweet flavor. It is relatively high in sugar, making it best used to make desserts or a quick horchata rather than a daily milk alternative. Again, watch for additives in cartons.

With so many options, my solution has been to keep several dairy alternatives in the house at all times. I vary what I use based on my nutritional or taste preference, or what I am using the milk for. How do you decide?

Quinoa: You’re Probably Cooking It Wrong

Quinoa is nothing new. It’s been in vogue for years now and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. You have probably heard that it’s a complete protein, and maybe even know that it’s not actually a grain, but a seed. There’s a solid list of reasons why quinoa has become so popular, from nutritional benefits to versatility and taste.

I’ve been cooking quinoa for quite some time now, and for too long it never turned out as good as I hoped. Too soft or mushy despite my careful attention to follow the instructions on the package exactly. I tried cooking it for 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, and it still didn’t seem right. What was I doing wrong?

My answer came when I found this article on CNN’s Eatocracy: “We regret to inform you that you’ve been cooking quinoa incorrectly.” Yes I had been! Chances are, you are too.

There’s a couple secrets you need to learn to take your quinoa to the next level:

1. Use half as much water as the recipe calls for.

Yes, really. Halve the amount of water. Most recipes call for 2 cups of water per 1 cup of quinoa, but the 1-to-1 ration actually yields better results. Eatocracy explains:

“When quinoa first started getting popular, there was variability in the product; it wasn’t always fully dried. So importers decided that a 2-to-1 ratio of water to quinoa—when cooked using the absorption method—would be a safe recommendation. This was disseminated as the tried-and-true ratio, but in our testings we found we could cut it in half, seeing as most of the quinoa you can buy today is evenly dried.”

2. Dry-toast the quinoa before cooking.

Add quinoa to the pan – without any oil – and toast it before cooking. Toast quinoa over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes prior to adding any water to bring out a delicious, nutty flavor and prevent bitterness.

Follow the recipe below for the right proportions and technique to ensure your quinoa is top-notch.

Basic Quinoa

Serves 4

• 1 cup quinoa
• 1 cup water (or broth)
• 1/2 tsp salt

1. Rinse quinoa.
2. Toast quinoa in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, until fragrant and begins to pop, about 5 minutes.
3. Add water (or broth) and salt, and bring to a simmer.
4. Cover pan and turn the heat down to low, simmering until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 18-20 minutes.
5. Remove the pan from heat and let sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes.
6. Fluff quinoa with fork and serve!

This most basic quinoa recipe serves as a great base to build on. Stir in olive oil, herbs, sauteed onions and garlic once the quinoa is finished cooking. Or, let cool, add fresh chopped veggies and dress with a little vinaigrette.

Summer Berry Pavlova (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

It’s not too often I go into full baking mode. Usually for me, baking means something quick, easy, and with enough healthy substitutions that it barely slides as a dessert. There are a few times a year I go all-in, break out elaborate recipes, and cut no corners. Making this Summer Berry Pavlova was one of those times.

Summer Berry Pavlova (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

A meringue dessert, pavlova is naturally gluten-free and easy to adapt to be dairy-free. Even better, it’s a recipe where no one will mind, or even notice. Honestly, it’s that good. The pavlova I made disappeared in just a few minutes. While it’s not too difficult to make, it is a little time consuming. However, with fresh summer berries at their peak, you have enough of a reason to go ahead and whip up this treat.

Summer Berry Pavlova (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)
adapted from Epicurious.

Makes 8 servings

For Meringue:
• Earth Balance or other non-dairy shortening (for greasing pan)
• Powdered sugar (for dusting pan)
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
• 1 1/2 tbsp corn starch
• 1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
• 2 tsp white vinegar
• 6 egg whites
For Berries:
• 1 1/2 pounds of mixed berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries)
• 2 tbsp granulated sugar
For Cream:
• 1 can of regular coconut milk (refrigerated overnight)
• 1 tsp vanilla extract

• 3 8-inch cake pans
• parchment paper

1. Preheat oven to 275º F. Grease the pans with shortening and dust with powdered sugar. Shake off any excess. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper.
2. Mix white sugar, brown sugar, and cornstarch in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, stir together vanilla and vinegar. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat egg whites using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks, about 5 minutes.
5. Increase the speed to medium-high and add the sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar mixture has been added, continue to beat for one minute.
6. Add the vinegar mixture and beat at high speed until the meringue holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.
7. Distribute the meringue evenly into the three pans, smoothing out the tops with a spatula. Bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until they form a crisp and dry crust on top.
8. Once finished baking, turn off the oven and prop open the door slightly using a wooden spoon. Leave the meringues inside the oven to cool for 1 hour.
9. Once cool, remove the meringues from the oven and use a knife to loosen from the sides of the cake pans. Carefully turn meringues over onto a plate and out of the pans. Peel off the parchment paper, and then flip back right side up.

Summer Berry Pavlova (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

Prepare berries:
1. Wash berries and combine in large bowl (quarter and remove stems if using strawberries). Toss with sugar and let sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour.

Prepare cream:
1. Turn the coconut milk can upside down and open. Pour off all the coconut water sitting on top, and reserve for another use (smoothies!).
2. Scoop out the thick coconut cream left in the can into a large bowl. Add vanilla extract.
3. Beat coconut cream on high using an electric beater until it becomes light and airy, resembling whipped cream, 3-5 minutes.

Assemble dessert:
1. To assemble the pavlova, stack meringue on a serving plate, followed by one third of the whipped cream and topped with one third of the berries. Repeat with two remaining layers of meringue, cream, and fruit.

Eat immediately after assembling, and don’t count on leftovers.

Half-Sour, Whole-Delicious Refrigerator Pickles

It’s pickle season my friends. Cucumbers are abundant at farmer’s markets and just begging to be brined.

Cucumbers ready to pickle

I’ve always loved pickles. I have this vivid childhood memory of going to a flea market in Florida with my grandparents that had a pickle stand. Not just a pickle stand, but a “Pickle on a Stick” stand. Barrels and barrels of different types of pickles, served up on a stick, the ever so convenient snack. What an idea. I’m still waiting for the “Pickle on a Stick” idea to catch on. For now, I make my own pickles at home.

Half-sour are my favorite pickles to make. They’re crunchy, garlicky, and hold on to that fresh cucumber flavor. I almost always make refrigerator pickles (rather than canning) because it’s quick, easy, and they’re ready in a week. Refrigerator pickles don’t last as long as canned and should be eaten within a month, but that’s never a problem in my house.

Half-Sour Refrigerator Pickles

Makes as many pickles as you can stuff into a quart-sized jar (about 10)

• 4 cups of water
• 1/8 cup of kosher salt (not sea salt)
• 8-12 small cucumbers (Gherkins or Kirbys)
• 3 cloves of garlic
• 1 tbsp fresh dill, or 1 tsp of dried dill
• 1 tsp coriander seed

• quart-sized glass jar with air-tight lid

1. In a small saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
2. Remove water from heat and add salt, stir until dissolved.
3. Wash cucumbers. Leaving them whole, put cucumbers into a very clean glass jar. You can pack them in fairly tightly.

Half-Sour, Whole-Delicious Refrigerator Pickles

4. Peel and lightly smash the garlic cloves with a knife. Add to the jar, along with the dill and coriander.
5. Pour hot salt water into the jar, making sure that all cucumbers are submerged. You may have extra water, that’s okay. Seal jar with the lid.
6. Let the jar come to room temperature, and then move into the fridge. Your pickles will be ready to eat after a week, and will keep in the fridge for up to a month!

Kombucha: An Introduction

I couldn’t go too long without writing about kombucha. It’s one of my favorite things to make, drink, and share. Effervescent, sweet, and tangy, Kombucha is fermented tea. It has been around for hundreds of years (at least), and fallen in and out of fashion here in the US.

Kombucha is claimed to help with digestion, detoxification, treat arthritis, and boost your immune system. While the jury is still out on some of these benefits, kombucha is at the least a tasty, highly probiotic drink, known to be filled with gut-healing bacteria. Personally, I find it to be a great pick-me-up, sometimes replacing coffee. My boyfriend has said it cures his headaches. But above all else, I drink kombucha because it is delicious.

bottlesFresh bottled booch

I don’t remember the first time I tried kombucha, but after that first sip, I never went back. It’s both tart and sweet, with a deep fruit-like flavor. The scent is reminiscent of apple cider vinegar, which can be a deterrent for some. The first kombucha I had was GT’s, which is widely available and often blended with fruit juice. It’s a great starter kombucha. Unfortunately, the stuff is expensive, so once I was hooked it didn’t take long to think about making my own. Turns out, it’s remarkably easy, and there is no shortage of online resources to support you along the way.

Before brewing kombucha, you need to learn about the SCOBY. A SCOBY is a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s rubbery, slimy, and generally unattractive, but this culture is responsible for making all the good stuff happen. In just a few days, the SCOBY will turn sugary tea into fizzy, beloved booch.There’s a few ways to get your hands on one. If you happen to know a fellow kombucha brewer, they are likely to have an extra on hand. Every time you make a batch, the SCOBY produces a second baby SCOBY that can be used separately. If you can’t get one from a friend, it’s just as easy to get a good one at a local home brewing store or online. Cultures for Health is a trusted online shop, but you’ll find tons more on Amazon. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can make your own, though I don’t have any experience doing so myself.

scoby-closeMy odd-looking current SCOBY, a smaller mature one with a larger young one attached

Want to get started? Below is my tried and true recipe for basic kombucha.

Basic Kombucha

Makes 1 Gallon

• 14 cups of water
• 8 teabags or 4 tbsp of organic green or black tea (no flavored teas)
• 1 cup of organic sugar
• 1-2 cups of starter tea (reserved from another batch of kombucha or wherever you got your SCOBY from)

• a large glass container with an open top (at least 1 gallon)
• a wooden or other non-metallic spoon (contact with metal will damage the SCOBY)
• a non-metallic strainer
• cheesecloth or a paper towel, and a rubber band

1. Bring 6 cups of the water to a boil, then remove from heat. Add the tea and let steep for 4 minutes. Then remove the tea and add the cup of sugar, stirring until it is fully dissolved. Add the remaining 8 cups of water to help bring the tea to room temperature.

2. Once the tea is at room temperature, pour it into your glass container (it is important not to be warmer to prevent damaging your SCOBY). Then add both your SCOBY and starter tea to the container.

3. Cover the top of the container with the cheesecloth or paper towel and secure with a rubber band. Your tea is now ready to ferment! Find a place for it that will remain at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. The fermentation process can take anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks. The longer it ferments, the less sweet and more sour the kombucha becomes. I’ve found that 7-9 days is my sweet spot, but feel free to taste your kombucha along the way to figure out when it’s just right for you!

Brewing and straining

4. Once you like how your kombucha tastes, you are ready to move from fermentation to bottling. Remove the SCOBY with your non-metallic spoon along with 1-2 cups of the kombucha. You can start another batch of kombucha with this right away or store in a closed jar in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

5. Pour the kombucha from your container into smaller, air-tight containers using your non-metallic strainer to filter out any of the slimy yeast that formed in the process. It’s safe to drink, but not necessarily enjoyable. Make sure to leave at least an inch of room at the top of the jar for air, to prevent your bottles of carbonated booch from exploding.

At this point, the kombucha is technically finished. However, I ALWAYS do a second fermentation to make my booch more bubbly.

6. For second fermentation, seal the containers and leave out at room temperature for another 24-48 hours, then move to the fridge. Do not leave out of the fridge for more than a few days, because again, all that carbonation could cause the containers to burst.

Second fermentation is also your chance to add fruit juice to make flavored kombucha. I’ll have recipes coming soon, but in the meantime I suggest exploring Phickle, my favorite blog. There are some fantastic recipes, including this seasonal Cherry Kombucha.

Phickle’s cherry kombucha

I hope you enjoy the kombucha adventure as much as I do. If you run into any questions, leave a note for me in the comments, I would love to chat and help out.

Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler (Best Cocktail Ever)

Each year for the Fourth of July, we have a party with family and friends at my boyfriend’s parent’s summer house. On a river in New Jersey, it’s one of our favorite places to be.


We cook up quite a feast, the local seafood and farmstands give us a lot to work with. I usually end up with the duty of making cocktails for the crowd. Naturally, I want a drink that makes the most of the delicious produce the summer has to offer. I’ve done sangria and mojitos, which are all good, but last year I really found a winner. This Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler recipe was incredible. Made from a base of fresh watermelon and cucumber, it requires a little bit of work but is totally worth it.


Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler
Adapted from Martha Stewart.

Makes 4 Cocktails

• 5 cups of seedless watermelon (I used one small watermelon)
• 1 large english cucumber
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
• 2 tbsps honey
• 2/3 cup vodka (rum and tequila would work great as well)

• Blender
• Fine-Mesh Sieve (you can opt not to use a sieve, the drink will just be thicker)

1. Cut the watermelon into chunks, or scoop out using a metal spoon. Put watermelon in blender and puree until liquified into juice. Pour the watermelon juice through the sieve into a large bowl or serving container. Use a spatula or back of a spoon to push down on pulp to squeeze out all the juice.

2. Peel the cucumber and cut into large chunks. Puree cucumber in blender until liquified. Add the pureed cucumber juice through the sieve to the watermelon juice in the bowl/container.

3. In a small bowl, mix the lime juice and honey. Stir the mixture into the watermelon-cucumber juice, then add the vodka or other liquor of your choice.

4. Taste and adjust sweetness if needed. Split into four glasses and serve with ice.



Farms That Deliver: Joining a CSA

This spring, I signed up for my first CSA.

It’s something I’ve had my eye on for a while. Excited to share the news, I found many friends asking exactly what a CSA was. CSA stands for community-supported agriculture, a local system of agriculture and food distribution. What exactly does that mean? You pay up-front to receive a weekly (or bi-weekly) deliveries of produce for the length of the growing season, and in doing so, make a commitment to directly support one or more local farms. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership between farms and their surrounding community. Farms are guaranteed to sell a certain amount of food, and we get a variety of fresh, seasonal, and local produce dropped off each week.

My first CSA share. Watercress, beets, collards, tomatoes, and some killer cremini mushrooms inside that paper bag.

A CSA here in Philly runs from $15 to $30 a week, but varies a lot depending on the size of the share you get (say, fruits and vegetables for two people, or for a family of four). Pick-up locations are all over the city: restaurants, shops, cafes, even people’s houses. I was thrilled to find out my neighborhood coffee shop had become a pick-up spot, and couldn’t resist signing up.

I highly suggest a CSA to anyone who is interested. Try it out for a season and see how weekly produce works for you. Even consider splitting a share with a friend.

A couple I would recommend currently have sign-ups open for the summer:

Philly Foodworks 
Small Share: $395 Annually ($17.95 Weekly)
Large Share: $625 Annually ($28.40 Weekly)
This is my CSA, and I love it. Philly Foodworks offers some unique features that I haven’t seen before. They have three different types of memberships: farmer’s choice, mixed, or your choice. I have the “your choice” option, which means each week I can shop for items via an online market. Distribute your money how you wish, spend different amounts each week and have the option to skip a week when you’re away. The selection of fruits and vegetables changes weekly, based on what’s in peak season. A partnership of several local farmers and vendors, Philly Foodworks also offers eggs, cheese, breads, jams, and more.

Greensgrow Farms
Half Share:  $448 Annually ($34.46 Weekly)
Full Share:  $800 Annually ($33.33 Week)
Greensgrow Farms is a urban farming project and nonprofit initiative in Philadelphia. Their mission focuses on the practice of sustainable entrepreneurial urban agriculture. Greensgrow harvests crops on site and purchases from other trusted farms located all within 150 miles of the city. Each week’s robust share contains fruit, vegetables, and a choice of protein (eggs, yogurt, tofu). Some weeks include cheese, fresh pasta, or even beer.

csaGo ahead, “taste the difference.”

Have you been a part of a CSA, what was your experience? Any recommendations?

Where It All Starts

I never thought I would start a blog. I thought I didn’t enjoy writing. Turns out, I wasn’t writing about the right things. There’s a difference between interests and passions, something I’ve come to understand better recently. The idea is that if you pursue your passions – in writing, in work, in life – things are easier and more enjoyable. Well, it’s true.

I’m writing to help create and contribute to the community of creative recipe modifiers, green smoothie proponents, farmer’s market devotees, and fermentation enthusiasts. I want to cultivate open-mindedness and understanding of seemingly odd health habits. I want to make a healthier lifestyle attainable and enjoyable for anyone who’s intrigued. I want to share my thoughts and experiences with those who are listening, learning, and sharing their own.

A little background about myself – I grew up a rather typical American kid. Sandwiches, pizza, ice cream – I wasn’t a picky eater and I never had to give much thought to what I ate. Just before my 19th birthday, my health took a dramatic turn for the worse and then I couldn’t eat anything without experiencing intense pain and discomfort. I saw many local doctors, but my condition worsened until I was all but bedridden. I became a patient at the Mayo Clinic, and was able to improve to point where I could return to school and normal activities. But unfortunately, after this initial improvement, my progress stopped. Although my symptoms were more manageable, I did not have a single day or meal that wasn’t accompanied with pain.

At this time, I put a sharp focus on what I was eating. In the process, I learned a tremendous amount about nutrition – my eyes had been opened. I hadn’t found a cure-all, but had been convinced that the right diet and lifestyle changes will help you feel better physically, mentally, short-term and long-term. Healthy eating is particularly addicting. The more you do, the more you want to learn, and the more you learn, the more motivated you become.

This past year has been a major turning point for me. I’m feeling the best I have since my symptoms began six years ago. With the help of a truly insightful doctor, I’ve discovered I have allergies to dairy and gluten, as well as high levels of lead. For me, eliminating both gluten and dairy has been the trick, only one or the other, and I’m still a mess. It’s worth it – the transformation has been remarkable. I’ve got double the energy I used to, and I’m off prescriptions that before I could not bear a day without.

But that’s just my story. While gluten and dairy are common triggers, there are still plenty of people who can eat eat yogurt and drink beer every day and feel just fine (I live with one!). People should adopt the healthy habits that work best for their body and their life, the answer is not the same for everyone. I’m always going to be exploring and experimenting with ways to eat and live well. Sharing my experiences, I hope to inspire others, help them feel their best, and have a damn good time doing it. After all, it is my passion.