Pumpkinseed, Date, and Tahini Bars

DSC_0807 It’s been quite a while so this is going to be a looooong post….about pumpkinseed, date, and tahini bars.  About Transitions lenses.  About motherhood.  Let’s start with transitions.

Transitions…I’ve had a few.

Three years ago I lived by myself in a historic home in downtown Grand Rapids.  I worked from home and spackled, sanded, and painted my house in the evenings.  I took my dog for a walk nearly every night and would stop to watch live music downtown.  I did yoga four to five times per week – once I even did thirty classes in thirty days for a challenge.  I posted on this blog every week.  Yup.  Every week.

That feels like a lifetime ago.  In what feels like the blink of an eye, my whole world has forever changed.  I recently did five yoga classes…in seven weeks.  It was a small victory. Parenting, nursing, and working full time doing research for a footwear company has changed the every moment and the every day.  For one, I’ve had a real reality check in the kitchen.  Like packing my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for the entire work week on Sundays so I can eat well throughout the week.  Like steaming, baking, and pureeing everything I can think of so my little one can enjoy healthy and diverse solid foods and learn to love food like I do (puh-lease do not turn out to be a picky eater…I will crumble).  Like burning the rice syrup while making these granola bars because he crawled out of the room (how did he get so fast???).  Like nearly burning the granola bars because I left them in for two extra minutes.


Now put away your tiny violin.  I’m not telling you a sob story.  Most of everything has been so positive.  My son brings more happiness to me than I could have ever imagined.  I get to see the world from his perspective and finally have someone else in the house who completely gets my humor (he giggles when I pretend to smell his feet and say peeeeeuw!).  And like everything else, this stage is a transition, a phase that won’t last forever.  So I’ll just do my best, and keep on trucking.


But I digress.  I wanted to talk about Transitions for another reason.  The good folks at Transition Lenses asked me to try out a pair of glasses.  Don’t mind if I do, I said, I’ll try anything once.  I have to admit that the first image that crossed my mind was Cindy Knoebel.  Seventh grade.  Small glasses not much larger than swim goggles.  Looking like she wore her sunglasses inside for ten minutes after first hour started.  It didn’t really seem like my thing.  Now, keep in mind that I was not exactly hip.  I wore ugly-with-a-capital-U non-Transition lenses.  Non-shading and non-transitioning from ugly.  And keep in mind that Cindy Knoebel turned out to be prom queen and married the prom king.  Maybe she was onto something.  Anyhow, I gave them a shot and I have to say…I was pleasantly surprised.  The tinting changes much more quickly than in the past.  I was asked to choose from several shading options.  And was able to add all the fancy stuff like anti-glare and a blue-screen filter to protect my eyes from the many hours in front of the computer screens at work.  I also ran into two very cool people at an outdoor music festival this weekend wearing Transition lenses.  Seems like it may be the cool people wearing them after all.


Well finally, let’s get back to what this blog is all about.  Food.  These granola bars from Cooking Light are my snacks for the week.  On principle, I don’t buy snack bars because I know I can make them myself (but never do).  They were so easy to make (they require about 10 minutes of dedicated attention), very easily adaptable, and very healthy to boot.  I made this version, adding almonds, chia seeds, and some dried cherries to it.  Let me know if you try these…and especially let me know if you come up with fun adaptations for the recipe!

For this and many other DIY healthy snack bar ideas, head to Cooking Light’s DIY Snack Bar slideshow.

Pumpkinseed, Date, and Tahini Bars


  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups puffed barley cereal (I couldn't find any so used puffed millet)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup prechopped dates
  • 1/3 cup toasted pumpkinseed kernels
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons toasted uncooked quinoa (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine tahini, syrup, olive oil, vanilla, and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until bubbly. Alternatively, you can heat this on the stove but you must stir constantly and watch carefully so as not to burn the brown rice syrup mixture.
  2. Combine cereal, oats, dates, and pumpkinseed kernels in a medium bowl.
  3. Pour tahini mixture over barley mixture; toss well to coat.
  4. Press into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with quinoa (if using), pressing to adhere.
  5. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until set. Cool completely in dish.


Honeyed Ricotta Toasts With Cherry Plum Compote


Oh be still my heart!  We are in the midst of Michigan fruit season, my favorite food season of them all.  Strawberries just exited the farmer’s market stage left.  That is, other than in the Upper Peninsula, where the U-Pick strawberry season at Ostanek’s Strawberry Farm just started on July 4.  Call 906-446-3050 to hear a detailed voice message from the owner regarding the status of strawberries – updated at 8:30 pm each day…a lovely personal touch that makes me think fondly of the U.P.  Here in downstate Michigan, blueberries are in full swing and the cherries are in their last week.  This recipe makes good use of cherries in a very crowd pleasing way in the form of an appetizer.  It went over well at our annual potluck with friends at Portage Lake this weekend.

If you are looking for more recipes on how to use up your cherries, check out Cooking Light’s list of cherry recipes here.

Try these toasts with peaches or pears when in season.  Or try them savory with salted ricotta, cherry tomatoes, and basil.


Honeyed Ricotta Toasts With Cherry Plum Compote


  • 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
  • dash of salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of honey
  • Seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod
  • About 20 cherries
  • 1 plum
  • 5 or 6 mint leaves, shredded finely
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, optional
  • Honey for serving


    To Make Ricotta:
  1. Heat milk and salt on medium in a thick bottomed saucepan until it gets to a just-boiling state. Stir frequently to avoid burning the milk on the bottom of the pan. Once the milk begins to bubble slightly, remove from heat. Add lemon juice; stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Pour mixture into a colander lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Let drain for 5 minutes.
  3. If you want thicker ricotta, simply allow to drain longer. The longer you drain, the more dense it will be.
  4. Scrape inside of half of a vanilla bean into ricotta. Stir honey into ricotta. Set aside.
  5. You can make ricotta ahead. Just cover and chill up to 3 days.
  6. To Make Compote:
  7. Pit cherries and slice in half. Slice plums thinly into half moons.
  8. Heat nonstick skillet on medium-high and add cherries and plums to pan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the cherries and plums are caramelized slightly. Remove from heat.
  9. To Assemble Toasts:
  10. Cut baguette into 1/2 inch slices on the bias and grill or toast lightly.
  11. Spread 1-2 tablespoons of ricotta onto each toast.
  12. Top with 1 tablespoon of cherry-plum compote.
  13. Top with a sprinkle of shredded mint leaves and lemon zest (optional).
  14. Drizzle with honey and serve.

Roasted Beet Hummus With Walnuts and Goat Cheese


An old Ukranian proverb forewarns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”  As a big beet fan, I’d like to think that a tale that begins with a beet will end with deliciousness.

My cooking style has changed considerably since my baby boy arrived in November.  Meals are simple, quick, freezable, and lunch-packable.  Sundays are filled with food prep to make the work-and-baby-filled weeks a little easier.  This Sunday I prepped muesli for breakfasts, grains, tofu, and greens for lunches, and snacks for the whole week.  As a nursing mom, I need to make sure I’m eating small, healthy snacks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon and hummus is a clear winner.  Hummus is packed with protein and fiber, easy to make, and endlessly versatile (spread on crackers or in a sandwich, use as a dip with carrot sticks or sugar snap peas or put a dollop on a grain salad).  Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with a basic hummus recipe but last month’s Cooking Light magazine inspired me to get a little crazy with my hummus and the results were great. Continue reading

Winter Salad With Roasted Citrus and Avocado


Happy New Year!  I just got done filing almost a year’s worth of paperwork (ahem…I sheepishly admit that last year’s resolution to stay on top of my filing didn’t stick for more than a couple of months….sigh…what do you do?).  I feel accomplished and proud for the moment.  That feeling will last only briefly, until the baby cries, , my hair stays wet, the laundry that needs folding piles up at the end of the bed, and I realize that I haven’t eaten in six hours.  As I stand over the counter scraping avocado out of the shell with a cracker while bouncing just so to quiet the little one, I’m sure the elation of my paperwork success will feel like a distant memory.  But hey, I’ll take it while I can get it. Continue reading

#BakeItForward With Chewy Molasses Cookies


One of my favorite things about the holidays is the spirit of generosity that emerges.  Though I wish the spirit was so strong all year round, I’m happy to see it wash over so many at this time of year.  It’s fun to read stories of generosity and good cheer.  In the tiny town of Lowell, just down the road, a police officer got to play Santa for several unsuspecting motorists (check it out here).  My employer, Meijer, also played Santa this year, footing the bill for one shopper in each of their 213 stores (see the heartwarming video here).

In the spirit of generosity and good food, Cooking Light Magazine had the great idea this holiday season to “Bake it Forward,” making one batch of cookies, cakes, muffins, or bars to keep (yay!) and one to give away.  The best recipes are those that can easily be doubled or tripled, like the chewy molasses cookies I made this week.   Continue reading

Turkey Posole With Toasted Guajillo Pepper Salsa


Ummm….hi.  It’s been a while.  A looong while.  In August I thought I was going to get back in the swing of blogging and it just never happened.  It’s not that I haven’t been cooking…but while I was pregnant my priorities shifted.  First, the focus shifted to just getting food in my mouth, not pausing to take a photo and write a recipe.  As I neared the end of my pregnancy, my focus shifted to making large batches of soups, stews, and easy-to-freeze dishes like manicotti to get me through the early weeks of motherhood.  We were also in the midst of frantically working on a major home project…the baby’s room.  What started with a simple home improvement project (putting down new flooring and painting the walls) ended up turning into a major project, replacing windows, tearing the room down to the studs, and working on the roof.

photo 5

My work life became very busy as I worked toward having a couple of months off of leave.  And when it came down to it, my blog fell by the wayside.  After all, the most important thing I had to cook was this little guy.  River Wilder Nelson was born four weeks ago and my life has become consumed with feeding, diapering, and staring at my sweet baby.  Can you blame me?


I’m just now getting my bearings enough to consider blogging again.  Let’s hope this time it sticks…

As a way to cope with all of the busyness and life changes, I have become a very practical cook in recent months.  This recipe I’m about to share is about as practical as it gets.  It is my take on one of Cooking Light’s most popular dishes, Toasted Guajillo and Pork Posole.  It’s a great way to use up Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and can easily be adapted if you have leftover pork or chicken.  It’s a refreshing change after eating turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes until they come out of your ears.  Not to mention, it’s very budget friendly and healthy to boot.

I flavor my posole with toasted guajillo salsa, which has been a staple in my house for the last several months.  It is SO good.  We use it as a flavor booster in soups, as a salsa with chips, on top of tacos and enchiladas, and with my baked eggs with kale and mushroom skillet on weekend mornings.  It freezes well so I make a double batch.  I’m even thinking about giving it away at Christmas with a jar of tomatillo salsa (red and green for Christmas!).  So I highly recommend you make a batch and use some of it in this posole.  If you aren’t into making some of this salsa, see my note at the bottom of the recipe for another way to use chiles in this recipe.

Treat this like chili when thinking choosing your toppings.  I like radishes, cilantro, sour cream, and avocado on mine.  Crumbled tortilla chips are also a nice addition.  Whatever you like!  I hope you enjoy.  It’s good to be back!


Turkey Posole With Guajillo Peppers; adapted from Cooking Light Magazine


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 pound leftover turkey, chicken, or pork, cut or torn in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 tbsp toasted guajillo chili salsa (recipe here) or see note below
  • 1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • 1 (29-ounce) can hominy, rinsed and drained


  1. Add oil to dutch oven/large soup pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion to pot and stir frequently for five minutes, until onions and garlic are softened and lightly browned.
  2. Add half of the broth, cumin, cloves, salt, and pepper.
  3. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, pour contents into a blender and blend until smooth, then pour back into the pot.
  4. Add remaining chicken stock and water.
  5. Add guajillo chili salsa and 1 tablespoon adobo sauce; reserve the chipotle chiles from can and remaining sauce for another use (I freeze mine in small quantities).
  6. Stir in hominy and turkey, chicken, or pork.
  7. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. *Note: If you don't feel up for making a batch of guajillo chili salsa, you can use the following method:  put 3 chiles on a baking sheet, bake at 400° for 4 minutes or until dark. Cool; remove stems and seeds.  Place in a blender with 1 cup of liquid from soup pot and puree.  Add to soup.

Watermelon and Cucumber Salad With Feta and Arugula

photo 1

Happy Labor Day Weekend!  It’s been a while, folks.  And I’m sorry for that.  But let me explain.  In the last three months we have bought a house, sold a house, become a married couple, gone to Alaska on a honeymoon, and started to tackle a lifetime of projects on the 1870 farmhouse we moved to.  And through it all, my belly has grown bigger and bigger (and along with it my emotions) as we prepare for the arrival of our first little one at the beginning of November.  If I tried to take on anything else, I think you could just assume I’ve gone clinically insane.

And through it all, meals must be made and eaten, day in and day out.  In fact, I’ve eaten a lot more and a lot more frequently as the months of pregnancy pass.  But have I been stopping to snap photos, write recipes, and post about it?  Not so much.  When you have to eat every couple of hours, planning for, preparing, and packing food can start to feel like a chore rather than a passion.

Every once in a while though, I come across a dish that just hits all the cravings just right.  This dish is one of them.  Juicy watermelon, tangy feta, cooling cucumber, and peppery arugula drizzled with lime, honey, and vinegar.  Sounds weird, right?  Trust me on this one, take hold of the last bits of summer, and enjoy this salad.

If you are looking for last minute inspiration for salads to add to your Labor Day picnics, check out Cooking Light Magazine’s List of Great Summer Salads.  In addition to their own version of watermelon and cucumber salad, you’ll find 35 other beautiful, simple salads to fill your picnic table and lighten your barbecue.

Ahhhh…it’s good to be back.

photo 2

Watermelon and Cucumber Salad With Feta and Arugula


  • 1/3 small seedless watermelon (about 6-8 cups), cut into ½ to 1 inch cubes
  • 2 small Kirby, English, or other small cucumber with tender skin
  • A few handfuls of arugula
  • ¼ cup of basil, rolled up and sliced into skinny shreds
  • A few pinches of coarse sea salt
  • Juice of one lime
  • 8 ounces of feta cheese, divided
  • 2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)


  1. Add cubed watermelon to a large bowl and gently mix in all ingredients through lime juice. Gently toss with half of the feta and crumble the rest on top.
  2. If adding white balsamic vinegar and honey, mix the two together with a fork or tiny whisk before drizzling on salad.
  3. Serve immediately! This salad, like many salads, do not hold up well overnight in the fridge.


Fresh Strawberry Shortcakes With Whipped Yogurt Cream

Strawberry Shortcakes

Happy Mother’s Day!  This year has special meaning to me, as it is the first year that I am a mother!  So yes, there you have it.  Just one of the many reasons I’ve been a little quiet on my blog lately.  We have a LOT of amazing stuff going on. 2014 is THE year, I tell you. In the next month and a half we are buying a farm house on two and a half acres, selling our beautiful old city house, getting married, and going on a honeymoon to Alaska.  The cream on top of it all was finding out I was pregnant!  So yes, we are going to have a little shortcake come November.

Continue reading

Roasted Baby Beets With Creamy Goat Cheese Dip


Happy spring….errrrr….whatever it is.  Today is March 25 and we had whiteout conditions for parts of the day.  Nevertheless, I have some faith, due to thirty two years of walking this earth, that one day soon the sun will shine, the snow will melt, the crocuses and daffodils will force their way through the thawing ground, and it will be spring at last. Continue reading

A Story of Cooking, Carving, and Love

I cook.

Drew carves.

I asked Drew to make some spoons for me to use in the kitchen. The end result is a story of love, craft, and the heart warming meals that come from our handmade life.

To order Drew’s spoons, spatulas, salad tossers, tasting spoons, and other beautiful wood work, head to his Etsy site, The Hearth and Spoon.

Endless thanks to Dan Socie for his beautiful video work.  xo