Intuitive Eating: A Brief Introduction

Welcome to the world of intuitive eating — aka the anti-diet.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Consult your health professional if you have specific health concerns.)

What is intuitive eating?

Essentially, intuitive eating is the concept of eating according to what your body needs. It involves tuning in to hunger cues, understanding cravings (for sugars, protein, etc.) and not imposing limitations what is “good” and “bad” to consume.

“Intuitive eating is a philosophy of eating that makes you the expert of your body and its hunger signals.”

–Healthline

According to Healthline, “Intuitive eating is a philosophy of eating that makes you the expert of your body and its hunger signals.” This is what makes it the anti-diet; instead of restricting consumption, forcing over-consumption of certain foods, or abruptly cutting nutrients like carbs out of your diet completely, intuitive eating focuses on feeding your body what it really needs.

Of course, that concept is inherent in its name. Intuitive eating is all about listening to your intuition, trusting that your body will send you the correct signals for what it lacks, learning to understand those signals and eat accordingly.

For those regimented in the diet mindset of strict control and calorie counting, intuitive eating may seem like a radical, and at times dangerous, concept. There are many initial fears, mostly surrounding binge eating, like “If I want a cookie and I let myself have one, what if I eat the whole bag of cookies?” Those fears are valid, and often perpetuated by past participation in harsh restrictive dieting.

a table full of food and people eating

However, with intuitive eating, sometimes binging on a specific food is part of the initial journey. Once you (and your body) start to get used to the ability to eat what you want, when you want it, the desire to binge large amounts of a certain foods decrease. Instead of being in a constant state of “need more while I can have it,” you ease into a feeling of security and confidence. That when you want a cookie, indeed you can have it, and you’ll know when enough is enough without feeling the urge to consume as many cookies as possible while it’s “allowed”.

The flip side of intuitive eating, not only eating when you want to, is also stopping when you are full. The pressure to “finish your plate” is set aside, and listening to your body becomes paramount. What you don’t eat now, you can always save and eat later. Contrary to popular belief, nothing detrimental will happen if you don’t finish your food in one sitting.

What is intuitive eating like?

In order to tell you best what intuitive eating is really like, we’ll need to get personal. I became an intuitive eater after years of being caught in the restrictive dieting cycle.

At my worst restrictive eating, I consumed about half the daily recommended calorie count for my age and height. I was skinny, but in no way healthy. (Therein lies a crucial difference that often gets lost in a culture where being thin is held as an ideal of beauty. Thin does not always signify health, and having fat on your body does not make you bad, ugly, or unworthy.)

Eventually, I realized that my health was more important, and that choice enabled me to put my physical, mental, and emotional health first. I gave up the dieting and stopped denying my body. I read about intuitive eating and finally resigned to the fact that maybe what my body needed was to be a bit bigger, to have more fat and more muscle.

girl eating mousse

Realizing this was freeing. I started listening to my body. Sometimes that meant I wanted rice and a fried egg for breakfast. Sometimes I wanted a giant plate of roasted vegetables. And yes, many times I indulged in the french fries I craved, or ate half a papaya in one sitting. I also went through a bout with ice cream, until I realized sugar was a migraine trigger for me (more on that another time). And when its time for pasta, I eat as much as I want.

When my car tells me the gas tank is low, I fill it. It’s the same for my body. Food is fuel. It doesn’t matter if I’ve “earned” the food. I’m fortunate enough to be food secure, and so when I’m hungry, I eat.

Maybe intuitive eating is strange, and maybe it seems strange because its different than what we’re lead to believe is “normal”. Either way, it was (and still is) working for me. I weigh more now than I used to, but I’m also the healthiest I’ve been in my adult life. Most importantly, I’m comfortable in my own skin.


As unbelievable as it may be, I started craving “healthy” foods. Vegetables, fruits. My desire for greasy, salty, overtly sugary foods decreased. The more natural foods I eat, the better I feel, and the more I want them. Not because they are “good,” but because my energy is improved, my mind is clear, and I’m actually motivated to get moving (a big feat for me).

This may be the greatest irony of intuitive eating. When given absolute freedom to choose what to consume, it’s natural foods my body wants the most. Of course, I still eat fried foods, and still love my tater tots, but eating “clean” all the time isn’t the goal. It’s the fact that I’m free to choose, and this time I choose natural foods because I know how they effect my body, the positive effects they have on my overall health. It’s not a chore to eat healthy. It’s a privilege.

Now, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know what will work best for you. I can’t say that intuitive eating is the best path or not. All I can share is my experience. For me, this philosophy of listening to my body has enabled a healing process in my relationship with food, increased my enjoyment of it, and ultimately, freed my mind from thinking that handful of chips I just ate ruined my daily calorie count.

bowl of healthy oatmeal cereal

How do I start my intuitive eating journey?

First, let’s make an important distinction, best articulated by Healthline’s “A Quick Guide to Intuitive Eating.”

“To eat intuitively, you may need to relearn how to trust your body. To do that, you need to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger:

  • Physical hunger. This biological urge tells you to replenish nutrients. It builds gradually and has different signals, such as a growling stomach, fatigue, or irritability. It’s satisfied when you eat any food.
  • Emotional hunger. This is driven by emotional need. Sadness, loneliness, and boredom are some of the feelings that can create cravings for food, often comfort foods. Eating then causes guilt and self-hatred.”

Let’s break this down. First, learning how to trust your body. Dieting essentially consists of us telling ourselves “No.” We train ourselves to ignore our bodies signals, instead force feeding it whatever the diet tells us we’re supposed to eat.

Intuitive eating requires listening to our bodies signals. After years of suppressing them, practice is needed to listen successfully. It will take trial and error. The more you practice, the easier it will become. However, intuitive eating is not something that happens overnight. It’s a journey, but one that is incredibly rewarding.

Second, the distinction between physical and emotional hunger. Emotional eating is what drives us to consume a pint of ice cream when we’re sad, or an entire family size bag of potato chips when we’re stressed. Intuitive eating does not condone emotional eating. Instead, it supports listening to your emotions as intently as you listen to your physical hunger. Acknowledging and honoring emotions, participating in self-affirming activities and prioritizing emotional self-care are all ways to retrain the body from satiating emotions with food to using intentional action to recognize and move through “big feelings.”

Now, we’ve just moved from the realm of physical hunger, dieting, and physical appearance to the much deeper under-layers of emotional well-being and how our emotions affect or reflect our relationship with food. This is a big leap. It’s not one that everyone is comfortable taking. For support in this journey, I’ve included a short list of resources at the end of the post.

Though it may seem like extra work, and it is, the effort is worth it. This may be seen as radical self-care, but in an era of social turmoil and global health crises, I’d argue that being radical in our self-care is exactly what we need. For it is only through taking care of ourselves that we can best take care of others. Extending kindness and understanding inward may be radical, but radical kindness, that is, compassion, is the heart of humanity, and we could all use more of that in our lives.

Intuitive eating resources

Tricia Parido of Turning Leaves Wellness Coaching provides great one-on-one support for your food journey. She’s an expert (literally a Master Coach) whose personal experience with disordered eating makes her an incredible resource on your journey to health and healing with food.

The Healthline article “A Quick Guide to Intuitive Eating,” which includes a list of the ten main principles of intuitive eating, and a short reading list to learn more. While diving more into the philosophy behind intuitive eating is important, remember that your journey should be personal. If you encounter a principle that doesn’t sit right with you, adapt it, make it your own and move forward. This is the anti-diet, after all.

Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S literally wrote the book on intuitive eating. Visit her website to read her blog, schedule counseling or learn more about professional training. She also has a helpful list of resources available for free.https://www.evelyntribole.com/

What are your thoughts on intuitive eating? Let me know in the comments below!

The Unknown Mexican Chef

Sometimes in life, you meet a taco that changes you forever. One Sunday, in the parking lot of a country market, I met that taco. This is our story.

me and my taco
Just a girl and her taco.

On the Central Coast, there is a chef who simply goes by the name “The Unknown Mexican Chef.” Though primarily a private chef and caterer, once a week on Sunday mornings, he runs a popup taco stand outside the Los Berros Country Market. This is where I found the taco of my dreams.

At 10:45 am, 15 minutes before the stand opened, a line was forming. Grill’s burning hot, giant pots of beans and taco consume bubbling on the outdoor stove top. The scent, euphoric. For these are the tacos of legend. The Queso Taco.

queso taco combo plate with rice and beans
The tacos in question.

The Queso Taco is exactly as it sounds. Copious amounts of cheese are applied directly to the surface of the tortilla, which is then slowly melted before ~the flip~. Now, the cheese meets the surface of the hot flat top, searing to a crisp crunchy coating around the exterior of the taco.

Incidentally, I can’t eat cheese. My body just doesn’t tolerate it. So I ordered my Queso Tacos “sin queso” (without cheese). The result? Still totally, utterly delicious.

This, I’m sure, is because of the filling. Choose from carne asada, chile colorado (chicken), birria (pork), or al pastor (pork). My default is always al pastor, and this one one of the most delicious al pastor tacos I’ve ever had.

Thick chunks of pineapple provide a light sweetness to offset the rich pork, bites of onion and cilantro, the heat of the smoky chipotle salsa and a dash of acid from the squeeze of fresh lime. A perfect bite.

queso taco number 2 with beans and rice
Glorious Queso Tacos

I’ve tried countless tacos in my life, many off a taco truck on the streets of LA. This taco reminded me of those –authentic, delicious, made with love — but it gave me something more.

A container of consume (like a thin, saucey dip) in which to dunk my perfect taco. These tacos require a level of detail, the passion in which you can taste in each bite.

Too on the menu is a giant quesadilla. No, it’s not a cheeky name. It’s quite literally a GIANT quesadilla. Filled with your choice of meat, rice, beans, cilantro, and onion, it’s reminiscent of a burrito, flattened into a rotunda of tastiness.

giant quesadilla
The giant quesadilla

Finally, the pozole. Oh, pozole. Pork, hominy, that luscious broth. Top it off with some onions, cilantro and a spot of fresh cabbage. Like the tacos, and giant quesadillas, this pozole is worth writing home about.

pozole
Pozole topped with onions, cilantro, cabbage and a dollop of sour cream (not Daisy).

In this life full of turbulence, of tragedy and uncertainty, we must gather joy wherever we find it. I found joy in these tacos. This perfectly messy, dynamic, thoughtfully constructed food.

With food this good, The Unknown Mexican Chef is destined to become well-known before too long. Perhaps, someday, we’ll call him the Master Mexican Chef instead. These magical tacos, each made to order, are deserving of such recognition and appreciation.

If you’re on Instagram, give the Unknown Mexican Chef a follow. There I learned he is a man who cares passionately about his work, family, faith, and those glorious, glorious tacos.


You can find the Unknown Mexican Chef at Los Berros Country Market in Arroyo Grande on Sundays at 11 am. Check his Instagram page for more information about private parties and catering.

brown potato

Eat Seasonally: Winter

Winter may be the season of staying indoors, but it’s still rife with delicious fruits and vegetables. Check out this quick guide to winter produce, complete with recipes to get you started.

Why eat seasonally?

Eating seasonally provides quite a few benefits. For one, since the season is optimal for these fruits and vegetables, they’ll likely have better flavor than when out of season. Better quality produce means better flavor, making them even easier to enjoy.

If you have a local farmers market, look for the winter produce listed here. Purchasing locally grown seasonal produce is more eco-friendly. Why? Out of season produce found in supermarkets is often shipped in from other countries, meaning more emissions. Locally grown means it travelled much less, and you’re likely to get more ripe, fresher produce as well.

Winter season runs from December 21 – March 20.

What’s fruits are in season for Winter?

Citrus may be the most popular winter fruit. They’re able to endure the chilling frost of winter better than other fruits. Pineapple may be the most surprising winter fruit. It’s season begins at the tail end of winter (in March) and continues throughout the spring and summer months. Pears are a winter favorite, though their peak season is short. Get them while you can!

sliced avocado fruit on a banana leaf

Avocado – January to March

yellow banana fruits

Banana – Year-round

slice grapefruit

Grapefruit – January to August

sliced kiwi fruits

Kiwifruit – November to January

food healthy nature water

Meyer Lemons – November to March

composition of sliced bright tropical fruits

Orange – Fall to Spring

pexels-photo-175767.jpeg

Pears – August to December

pineapple underwater fruit water

Pineapple – March to July

What vegetables are in season for Winter?

Root vegetables and hearty leafy greens are the most popular winter vegetables. Parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas may not be everyone’s first choice, but with the right recipe they transform to delectable side dishes, luscious soups, or even tasty seasoned fries. Winter squash are heartier than summer squash, with thicker skins and firmer flesh, able to endure the winter frost. Look for Kabocha, Acorn, Buttercup, Butternut or Delicata squash at your local farmer’s market.

food water summer texture

Cabbage – Fall to Spring

Celery – April to December

red flower bud on green leaves

Swiss Chard – December to March

Collard Greens – December to March

food healthy wood leaf

Kale – November to March

Onion – September to March

Parsnip – September to June

potatoes

New Potatoes – Late Winter; Russet Potatoes – Year-Round

Rutabaga – October to March

Turnip – October to March

Winter Squash – Butternut, Acorn, Kabocha, Delicata

Winter Produce Recipes

Here’s five recipes using winter produce to get started.

Kale Chickpea Pasta by Edible Ink

Harness the power of kale and chickpeas in this 30 minute pasta recipe. Great for a nutrient-packed, quick weeknight dinner. This is kale done right; sautéed in a cast iron skillet with garlic and spices.

Cinnamon Maple Roasted Kabocha Squash by Eating Bird Food

Kabocha squash (also called Japanese pumpkin) may be my personal favorite squash. It’s easily roasted, with a great firm texture and only mild sweetness. It can be easily transformed into a soup, curry, or roasted with cinnamon and maple, like in this recipe!

Parsnip Chips

The right combination of spices can turn any vegetable into a tasty masterpiece. Which is exactly what happens in this Parsnip Chips recipe by Chef Aarti Sequeira.

Ultimate Banana Bread by Edible Ink

Banana bread is a tried and true classic. This twist on classic banana bread results in a light cake-like loaf, perfect for a comforting dessert or sweet breakfast.

Orange Espresso Cupcakes

Marbled cupcakes are always sure to impress! This recipe uses winter oranges and a dash of espresso for a fun and refreshing cupcake.


What’s your favorite winter produce recipe? Tried any of the recipes listed in this post? Let us know in the comments below!

Biscotti : A Christmas Tradition

The story of a beloved Christmas tradition, the love of family, and one very special cookie.


The scent always lingers. It permeates the fabric of the pillows on the couch, fills every crevice in the cabinets, clings to the air, sitting heavy on each atom. It’s unmistakable, unforgettable. Sweet, a bit like licorice. And for me, completely and wholly synonymous with Christmastime. It’s not gingerbread, or eggnog. It’s biscotti.

Every year at Christmas my grandfather, Papa, and my grandmother, Nana, dedicated a weekend to baking batches on batches of biscotti for the family. But perhaps, the story doesn’t start there. It starts decades earlier when Papa bought an Italian bakery in Southern California.

There, he learned how to make everything. Cookies, pastries, even wedding cakes. He’d spend hours sitting at the kitchen table practicing his piping techniques to get it just right. And it was there, at Masielo’s Bakery, that Papa learned how to make biscotti.

Eventually, the bakery was sold and new businesses bought — a lodge in Tahoe, a used furniture store. But the biscotti remained. The cookies, traditional, the recipe top secret, became like another member of our family. Paying homage to Nana and Papa’s Sicilian heritage, the product of Papa’s hard work and dedication, to be passed down from generation to generation.

Biscotti could be described as the exact opposite of an American cookie. They are hard, crunchy, packed with whole almonds and the bittersweetness of anise. Traditionally, biscotti are dipped in wine. I learned to dip them in a glass of milk, and eventually, at breakfast with a cup of coffee.

There’s an art to eating biscotti, and the key is the dipping. Biscotti are not a cookie of many ingredients. The biscotti Papa made, the biscotti Nana taught me how to make after he passed, consist mainly of whipped eggs, sugar and flour. Baked twice, they can become as hard and crunchy as a piece of overdone toast. And that’s exactly the way they should be.

See, the dunking is the secret. Once the biscotti hits that glass of milk, that cup of coffee, all those lovely air pockets fill with liquid and the cookie softens on impact. That’s how you must eat them, when they are at their peak.

Perhaps what was always so magical about Papa’s biscotti was that they came around only once a year. The process is involved, it’s time-consuming and made ever the more special as an annual Christmas treat. I’ve never known Christmas without biscotti. So when Papa passed, I knew the tradition must carry on. The prospect of a Christmas without Papa, without his joy and his light, was dim.

And, I suppose, that’s how I came to be the biscotti baker. For as you may have guessed, the biscotti are not just a cookie to us. They’re a symbol of our family, our tradition, and the love that Papa shared with us. Making biscotti is not something you do for fun. It’s something you do out of love.

So with Nana as my director, I learned how to make them. I tried and failed and tried again. I learned how 10 degrees difference in the oven affected the cookies, the temperature of the eggs, the amount of anise. With the chicken-scratch short hand of Papa’s recipes and Nana as my official taste-tester, I learned. I felt under-qualified for the responsibility. But somehow, I felt Papa cheering me on, guiding my hands and I knew I must persist.

Making biscotti is messy business.

Yes, I may have cried over a batch of cookies. Whether it was the fact that the cookies came out wrong, or more that I missed Papa, I can’t say. Grief will do that. I pushed on.

Until I presented a batch of biscotti one day to Nana, who sat down to test it with her omnipresent cup of coffee and she said, with a smile, “This is just like Papa’s.” In that moment, it was all worth it. The tradition of the biscotti would not fade, Papa’s legacy would continue, and I vowed to myself, every year to make these not only for my family, but for him.

We all have our own holiday traditions. And while we enjoy the fruits of our labor (with a glass of wine, milk or cup of coffee) who we really do it for is the people we love. From my family to yours, I wish you Buon Natale, a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year.

Nana and Papa on their 50th wedding anniversary, celebrating with a cake Papa made and decorated.

Best Netflix Shows about Food

Unlike Food Network cooking shows, Netflix food shows tend toward travel and story-telling. In these shows we learn not only about new foods, but we learn of the culture behind them and the people that make them. Here’s a list of the best shows on Netflix that center around food (in no particular order).

Somebody Feed Phil

Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal travels the world, meeting so many wonderful people along the way. Phil is delightful to watch, his childlike enthusiasm for food, flavor and life always bring joy when watching this show. Many food shows are hosted by Chefs, who know exactly what food is presented to them. Phil has an extremely relatable quality — he’s just a guy who likes to eat, not a professionally trained Chef. While we can’t get out an explore the world, we can watch Phil navigate different countries, cultures and meet new people with unending joy and optimism.

The heart of a city lies with its people, its community. How they connect, gather, communicate. What they value, what traditions have withstood the test of time, of trial and trauma. Somebody Feed Phil dives headfirst into the community, often sharing the missions of local non-profit organizations, connecting with the city’s future generations and allowing us to discover the heart of each place travelled.

Somehow, this show, that focuses on one man traveling the world, trying different foods, restores faith. Through forging connections with the people of each city, their lives, their stories, Somebody Feed Phil reminds us all that no matter how different our lives may seem, we are all people, who, at the end of the day, care about putting forth the best for ourselves, our families and our communities. In his exceedingly lovable way, Phil connects us to places we may never visit and the people who call those places home.

Chef’s Table

This is high class food, served in restaurants that book a year in advance, with Michelin stars and James Beard awards. This is food reinvented. This is the peak of food as art. And though high class technique and fine dining run through the vein of these restaurants, where the show never compromises is in its soul.

Each episode centers around one chef, picking deep into their life, their backstory, what motivates them, their triumphs and their failures.Here we truly are allowed a window into what drives these chefs to be the best of the best, the arduous hours that reaching that height requires. True, some may say this show borders on idolization of these chefs. And perhaps it does. But that quality is what makes this show so fascinating, so captivating. The depth of exploration into each of these chef’s lives, we find incredible stories of perseverance, innovation and even the elusive, teetering on the edge of insanity quality found in inventors and experimenters of a bygone era. Everything about Chef’s Table, the production quality, music, cinematography make this show spell-bounding and enriching. Chef’s Table is not a show you watch, it’s a show you experience.

Subsequent off-shoots of Chef’s Table focus on chefs that are peak in their industries: pastry and BBQ. Both iterations maintain the integrity of the original series, focusing on the best of the best, providing a rare inside look into the minds of the greatest culinary creators of our day.

The Chef Show

LA chef Roy Choi and producer, writer, director Jon Favreau team up to cook a variety of different dishes. Having worked together on the film, Chef, Choi and Favreau take on friendly teacher and student roles, Choi patiently teaching Favreau not only how to make the dishes, but the processes behind how the dish is made. In this show, we all live vicariously through Favreau, whose so eager to learn everything from casual master chef Roy Choi. Plus, they go hang out with Christina Tosi, Wolfgang Puck, etc. It’s fantastic.

Roy Choi can be called the pioneer of the modern food truck. He started his truck Kogi BBQ Taco Truck in downtown LA. He was one of the first to utilize social media (thank you Twitter) to post the food truck’s location around Los Angeles. Hungry followers could see where the truck was at immediately, and would flock to it. He now owns 6 restaurants and has published a fascinating autobiography/cookbook hybrid LA Son. Roy Choi is a true LA original, combining the delicious power of Mexican street food with his Korean heritage. One of my favorite qualities about Roy Choi though, is how patient and humble he is in the kitchen.

Chef Show possesses an inherently playful nature, lacking the formality of fine dining while holding up the standards of making, quite simply, really good food. From oysters to the pinnacle of grilled cheese, Choi and Favreau present a new kind of cooking show. One thats centered around friendship and culinary discovery.

Street Food: Asia & Street Food: Latin America

While they are two separate shows, Street Food: Asia and Street Food: Latin America center around the same central them (you guessed it): street food. Embracing the region’s cultural backbone, this show hones in on street food vendors, many of whom have never been formally trained as chef, but instead are dedicated to carrying on the traditions of their culture by serving traditional street food every day of the year.

This is the food of the people. And the street vendors who survive are the ones who make the food that people most connect to and love mot deeply, enough to come back day after day for the same delicious dish. For the adventurous traveler, seeking out and trying traditional street food is a quintessential part of any journey. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, and it’s the product of the organic culinary landscape that surrounds it — no imports, no tricks, just decades upon decades of tradition, handed down through generations. The Street Food shows give us unique insight into how these street foods are made and the hard-working, dedicated, passionate hands that make them.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Based on Samin Nosrat’s book of the same title, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a limited series, only a mere four episodes that explores the building blocks of any good dish. While the show itself is brief, its value is irreplaceable. Nosrat is at once incredibly knowledgable and infinitely teachable, allowing us to learn from her own deep breadth of experience while simultaneously discovering new culinary territory right alongside her.

The premise behind the book, and the theme of the show, is that when you can master these four elements (salt, fat, acid and heat) you can utilize them in a balance to make anything delicious, with or without a recipe. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is the culmination of decades of experience, and provides a philosophy on how to approach any dish in the kitchen. Going above and beyond a typical cooking tutorial show, Nosrat sets out to educate us on the role that certain foods play in your cooking, what happens when they interact in the right environments and how food can transform by your method of preparation. Overall, it’s an incredible inside look on how the mind of a chef works, and how to understand food beyond following a cut-and-dry recipe.

I respect why the show was only four episodes–it’s concise, following the structure of her book–but I am left wanting more. Though another Netflix show isn’t in the cards at this time, Nosrat is currently producing a podcast called Home Cooking, set to teach us everyday folk how to cook at home.

Why We Carve Pumpkins and What To Do With Your Extra Pumpkin | Lifestyle

It’s a Halloween Pumpkin Palooza!

Ah yes, the season of ghastly ghouls and wicked haunts. There’s something quite spectacular in kicking off the holiday season with the eerie, the ominous and all things spooky. But where did Halloween traditions begin? Why do we carve pumpkins every year? Today, we will investigate!

Plus, we’ll cover some ideas of what to do with your leftover pumpkin, including those ooey gooey pumpkin guts!

A collection of carved pumpkins
Some pumpkins we’ve carved over the years. It’s my favorite Halloween activity!

Where did Jack O’ Lanterns originate?

The myth of the Jack O’ Lantern has its roots in Irish folklore, with the tale of Stingy Jack. Jack was so stingy and so mischievous he got the Devil himself jealous! In a maniacal duel to prove who was more devious, Jack or the Devil, Jack dug himself in too deep. In attempting to out-trick the Devil, Jack made the Devil promise never to take his soul.

As a result, when Stingy Jack finally passed away, he was cast out from both heaven and refused from hell. The gloating Devil gave Jack a hollowed out turnip with an ember inside to light his way, “marking him a denizen of the netherworld.” All of Jack’s tricks found him destined to haunt the earth for eternity, with only a carved out turnip lamp to guide his trek through infinite darkness.

Yes, I said turnip. Pumpkins were not a common crop in Ireland, and so, as the original story goes, The Devil gave Jack a turnip. When settlers came to America, they found the pumpkin (which is actually a fruit, not a vegetable) a much better vessel to carve and light from within, as a means of keeping the spirit of Stingy Jack away from their homes.

The name Jack O’ Lantern is really a shortened version of “Jack of the Lantern” a reference to Stingy Jack’s dismal fate to wander the earth, undead, illuminated only by a glowing root vegetable.

For the full tale of Stingy Jack, check out this animated folk song!

What To Do with Leftover Pumpkin

This article from The Atlantic takes a deep-dive into exactly what happens to our pumpkins after we’re finished with our Halloween fun. According to the article, “every year, more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkin get tossed out and left to rot in America’s landfills.” That’s about the same weight as 5,000 blue whales! That’s a lot of wasted pumpkin, and waste that can be prevented!

Food waste is one of the top contributors of harmful emissions. What we carve on our pumpkin, in the tradition of Stingy Jack, is just as important as what happens to our pumpkin in the end. Here are some ideas to put your Jack O Lantern scraps to good use.

Save and roast your pumpkin seeds

Roasted pumpkin seeds are a delicious snack! Simply set aside the seeds as you’re carving pumpkins to roast them later.

Here’s an easy recipe to follow to make your own pumpkin seeds at home from scratch. Eat roasted pumpkin seeds by themselves, on salad or sprinkled over your favorite fall soup!

Make pumpkin puree

Instead of using canned pumpkin to make all your favorite fall recipes (and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving) try making your own pumpkin puree out of your Jack O Lantern guts!

This post shows you how to easily make pumpkin puree, and provides additional ideas on how to efficiently use your Halloween pumpkins.

Plant those pumpkin guts

You know what I’m talking about! When you cut the “lid” off your pumpkin and begin scraping out all the stringy insides, with seeds wrapped precariously throughout. The easiest way to deal with them? Dig a shallow hole in your garden and plant them!

No need to rinse the stringy insides off the seeds, simply scoop and plop right into the ground. The insides of the pumpkin will naturally decompose into the dirt, providing extra nutrients for your seeds to start growing. Cover gently with a layer of dirt and water regularly to start your very own pumpkin patch.

photo of field full of pumpkins
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Compost your pumpkin

If your pumpkin has turned and is no longer fit for consumption, the best solution is compost! It’s a simple, eco-friendly way to turn your waste into nutrient-rich garden dirt. Chop your pumpkin up into smaller pieces to speed up the compost process.

To learn more about composting, check out my article on starting a Zero Waste Kitchen.

photo of a family carving pumpkins
So many pumpkin guts to compost!

What’s your favorite Halloween tradition or folktale? How do you plan on using your pumpkin scraps this year? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Halloween!

pile of assorted varieties of vegetables

4 Reasons to Eat More Plant-Based (Even if You Still Eat Meat) | Lifestyle

We all know eating your veggies is good for you. Let’s focus on some other reasons to incorporate more plant-based foods and meals into your life, even if you aren’t giving up meat.

I’ve always been fascinated with plant-based cooking. Since I’m lactose intolerant, and therefore don’t eat dairy, I often use vegan recipes as a way to satisfy my cheesy, creamy cravings.

Even if you aren’t all about going meatless, eating more plant-based foods and the occasional plant-based meals bring plenty of benefits. Here are just a few.

A baby oak tree in a beam of sunlight.
We love plants!

1. It’s affordable

Let’s be real. What’s more affordable: fresh produce, bulk grains and some canned beans or fresh meat? Despite what you might see at a local restaurant (for some reason, vegan dishes always seem to be pricey) buying raw ingredients and preparing a meal at home is more affordable when the emphasis is on plants, grains and legumes as opposed to meat.

Here’s a quick and easy recipe I used to make chickpea salad for lunch. I eat it on a piece of toasted bread, with some extra mayo (can easily do vegan mayo, if you’d like) and some leafy greens.

  • 2 cups chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 3 tablespoons mayo of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon mustard of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish (optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped bell peppers
  • 1 tsp of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and chili powder
  • Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Drain and rinse chickpeas. Use a pastry cutter or potato masher to smash in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste.

That’s it! Seriously!

How easy is that? It takes five minutes, and I use it as a quick and easy lunch while I’m working during the week. It’s full of protein (thanks chickpeas) and veggies. It’s an easy swap to make — instead of tuna, chicken or egg, use chickpeas!

2. It’s better for the environment

Believe it or not, eating more plant-based helps the environment. Here’s one example, a comparison of the resources used to produce dairy milk verses popular plant-based milk alternatives. By far, dairy milk produces more emissions, uses more land and more water than any of the plant-based milk alternatives.

It’s not hard to tell — animals take more resources to raise than plants. By eating less meat, and being selective about where and how you obtain that meat, you can help support a more economical food cycle.

To further optimize your plant-based eating, consider starting a compost pile. Particularly useful if you have a garden, compost is a great way to eliminate waste. Read more about how compost helps you and the environment in my post “Zero Waste Kitchen”.

3. It’s delicious – despite what some people say

All that said, plant-based dishes CAN be and ARE delicious. There are a multitude of ways to learn to cook vegetables in delicious ways. Some of my favorite real-life inspiration comes from a restaurant in my area called Industrial Eats. They can take a humble vegetable and elevate it into a dish unto itself, not a mere side.

Perhaps that’s the key — we must treat plants like the stars that they are, instead of an obligatory side dish “for our health.” YES vegetables are good for you, but that doesn’t mean they have to taste bad! It’s okay to enjoy a vegetable dish, to fancy it up.

A plant-based dish from Industrial Eats. Vadouvan, cashews, spinach, cauliflower.

It’s time to break the association of a vegetable as simply being a tasteless item you eat for the sake of health. Where’s the fun, the enjoyment in that? Vegetables can (and often are) as delicious as any other dish you can have. Though make no mistake — I’m not suggesting you throw out all your dry pasta and replace it with spaghetti squash. It’s about integrating vegetables into your meals, so maybe adding some extra eggplant, zuchinni, mushrooms or tomatoes to your pasta instead. Or, enjoy your pasta exactly as you’d like it, with a tasty roasted vegetable dish on the side.

4. Plant-based is a great practice in mindful eating

Strengthen your immune system, fill your body with essential minerals, vitamins and nutrients without spending hundreds of dollars on fancy powders, shakes and diets. Diet culture will try to tell you that you need to purchase special products to be healthy. That’s not true. Unless specifically directed by a doctor or dietitian to follow a certain diet, and include/exclude certain foods, eating more plant-based is only going to help, not harm, you.

Of course, we know that everyone is different. That’s good! This is not about being extreme or exclusive. It’s about being concious about what you’re consuming, how you’re consuming it and what it took to produce it.

Grocery shopping can be a dissociative experience. We don’t see the months that went into growing that head of cauliflower, all we see are dozens of individually wrapped heads of cauliflower in the produce section. Just like we don’t see the slaughterhouse, all we see is the ruby red steaks. Being mindful of our food, where it comes from, and how that process ultimately effects what we put in our body requires a conscious effort. Though I believe, it’s one that begets a deeper appreciation for the farm workers who are out 6 days a week, in rain, heat and falling ash (I’m in California, ok) to put food on our tables.

How to get started eating more plant-based

Sometimes the best way to make a lasting change is to start slowly. Adding more vegetables to your meals, making them the centerpiece instead of meat, is one simple change. Here are some other ways.

Infographic by Edible Ink. Information Source Harvard Health

Vegan blogs that will change your cooking and your life

Here are four of my favorite vegan guides to get started incorporating more plant-based eating into your life. Cooking vegan dishes will broaden your knowledge of cooking, ingredients, flavors and how to make the most out of what you have. Take a look at each of their websites. I’ve highlighted a dish from each that looked particularly appealing!

A Virtual Vegan — Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

So many delicious comfort food recipes. Inventive and tasty. Also see these Sweet Potato Biscuits.

It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken — Stuffed Acorn Squash

My go-to source for plant-based cheeses. The mac-n-cheese powder is a staple for me!

variety of vegetables
Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

Vegan Richa — Cajun Spiced Black Bean Quinoa Burger

I’m a big fan of a good veggie burger. See also this Za’atar Spiced Chickpea burger!

burger on blue ceramic plate
Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com

Cookie and Kate — Veggie Sesame Noodles

A vegetarian blog that produces lots of great plant-based recipes as well. Check out this Layered Panzanella, to eat your veggies and your bread too!

close up photo of cooked pasta
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Plant-based cooking requires a wide knowledge of ingredients and creativity in the kitchen. Cooking plant-based limits what you can use but it also expands your abilities, making you use the most of what you have in new ways. You may surprise yourself with what you can create when your options change from what you are accustomed to!

How do you feel about eating plant-based? What did you learn today? Let me know in the comments below!

What is Meal Prep and Why Should You Consider It? | Lifestyle

If you’ve been following me on Instagram for a while, I’m sure you’ve seen examples of some meal preps we prepare during the weekends. Meal prep is growing in popularity as a method of saving money on going out, maintaining a healthy diet, or just being able to enjoy a home-cooked meal without actually having to cook the entire meal every night.

The intention of this article to shed some light on two things:

1. What is Meal Prep.

2. Why it’s appealing.

It’s Meal Prep 101!

If you aren’t into it, I promise I won’t be upset.

One of the reasons I advocate meal prep is because you can make it be whatever you want/need it to be.

Do what works for you — but don’t be afraid to try something new!

(And if what works for you is to not meal prep at all, skip this post and check out my recipe page or local dining reviews instead!)

So let’s get into it. What is meal prep, really?

THE SHORT VERSION

Meal prep is preparing your meals ahead, storing them safely in the fridge and simply reheating them before consuming. If you prepare your meals ahead of time, or even the majority of your meal, you are meal prepping!

You can prepare a weekday’s worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners ahead of time. It can be the same meal every day for five days, or a variety.

THE LONG VERSION

Here’s an example menu, three meals a day for five days.

M-F BREAKFAST

Bacon and Egg Cups

M-F LUNCH

Orange Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice

M-F DINNER

Spinach & Kale Salad

These are all items I’ve made and prepped for the week. I chose them because they contain ingredients and flavors that I enjoy, and because they are ~relatively~ easy to make in large batches.

Alternatively, meal prep can look like cooking a batch of chicken breast and ground beef and utilizing the cooked meat to create a variety of meals throughout the week. Meal prepping this way saves cooking time and allows you to throw together delicious, homemade meals in minutes.

An example (using cooked chicken breast and ground beef for two meals a day for three days):

DAY 1

Lunch: Chicken Salad Sandwich

Dinner: Beef Burrito Bowl

DAY 2

Lunch: Beef Street Tacos

Dinner: Grilled Chicken Caesar

DAY 3

Lunch: Hamburger Lettuce Wraps

Dinner: Chicken, Roasted Potatoes and Cheesy Broccoli

You can swap any ingredients out for meal prep. Instead of a big batch of ground beef, maybe you do a big batch of fried tofu! It’s 100% customizable. Start small and see how it goes, or jump in with both feet like we did!

What does meal prep look like in my life?

My husband and I work full-time. We have commitments on the majority of weeknights, and like to get out into the community going to local restaurants and events. Needless to say, our weekdays don’t allow much time for making dinner after work, or prepping lunches for the next day. Generally, we pack as much into our weekends as possible, because we want to enjoy our time off! Saturday mornings, we wake up, have a nice cup of coffee, read the Bible then get right into meal prep. This is what works for us. We like being able to prepare for the week ahead first thing Saturday morning, and have the rest of the weekend to simply enjoy living life!

You DO NOT have to meal prep that way. The most important part of meal prep is finding what works for YOU. Otherwise, you won’t be consistent about it. Whether that means carving out a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, or prepping for only three days at a time, find what works for you and run with it.

CONFESSION: When we first started meal prepping, I hated it. It was frustrating and difficult to plan out a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner and make it all in our tiny kitchen. Being newlywed, I wanted nothing more than to lay on the couch and Netflix after months of wedding planning!

Despite my discontent, I increasingly appreciated being able to come home from work and have dinner ready, just needing to be reheated before eating. I didn’t have a mound of dishes in the sink, only our meal prep containers and plates to rinse and throw in the dishwasher.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Don’t you get tired of having the same thing every day?

A: The honest answer is… sometimes! When we make something I don’t like that much, or that didn’t turn out as I had expected, it gets tiresome to eat it day after day.

But when we make dishes I truly enjoy eating, that are filling and tasty and cooked to my preference, I do not tire of eating it throughout the week. Make no mistake — I greatly look forward to the weekends, but I’d much prefer eating the same dinner five days a week without the stress of whipping up a healthy meal after a full work day. Chicken Enchiladas and the Lemon Miso Pork with Coconut Curry Vegetables were two meal preps I 100% looked forward to eating every single day. As I said before, it’s imperative to find what works for you and to start with flavors and dishes you already know you love!

Q: Can you ever eat out? Aren’t you committed to eating what you prep?

A: Yes you can eat out and no, you aren’t obligated to eat what you prep for every meal. The flexibility of your meal prep depends on your own personal preference. I’d rather make meals for the week and have that option. When plans change, or the opportunity arises to eat out, or with friends/family, it is simple enough to put the planned, prepped meal into the freezer to eat at a later date. By doing this, you’ll eventually build up enough meals to eat for a week without prepping! Believe me, it happens faster than you’d think.

Q: Does all of your prep really keep for five days?

A: It depends. Some ingredients hold up much better than others. An easy way to think about it: any food that would hold up to a trip to the beach, or a picnic is a great candidate for meal prep. There are also ways to preserve your food, like dressing salads only right before you eat them. Foods that, once cooked, get mushy or undesirable in a day are not recommended for meal prep — my number one example: zucchini! Additionally, if you are concerned about the freshness of your food, you can prep for three days a time only, instead of the full five. Ultimately, start small to learn what you are comfortable with. We’ve prepped this way for over a year and have never had issues with food going bad. There were some things that just weren’t tasty after a day, but those were experimental and things we won’t do again. Okay, so it was the one time I tried making roasted radishes. The internet made it look tasty but I do not recommend. Ever.

That leads to the next main question…

Why Meal Prep?

Have complete control over what ingredients go into the food you are eating.

Whether it is for a weight-loss diet, for overall healthy body function, or for food sensitivities (for me, it’s no diary). Meal prep affords you the opportunity to know exactly what is going into your food, and to modify as you desire. You get meals catered to your tastes and necessities without the labor of preparing the meal from start to finish every time you are hungry!

Meal time convenience.

With your meals already prepared, no thought is required when meal time comes. Heat up your meal (or not, if its a no-reheat meal like salad or a fun bento box) and you are ready to eat. By having a homemade, prepared option, you’re less likely to eat out, grab fast food, or even substitute a granola bar for dinner (no shame intended, but you are worth more than a granola bar!).

Saves money.

Buying groceries in bulk and preparing your own food undoubtedly saves you money, particularly if you shop what’s on sale and in season in the grocery store. Saving money on weekday cooking means more funds for weekend fun! Personally, I’d rather save during the week and go somewhere special on the weekends. Or stash the money we’ve saved for a vacation! (Italy, anyone?)

Less dishes throughout the week/on days with prepped meals.

Need I say more? Typically, I deep clean my kitchen once a week, after we’ve completed prep. All it needs is simple maintenance throughout the week to stay clean and organized!

Improve your cooking skills.

Tackle basics you’ve been wanting to learn or branch out and try something new! Additionally, meal prep will improve your budgeting and planning skills, a completely unanticipated but warmly welcomed side effect of meal prep I discovered a few months into it!

100% customizable.

It’s YOUR meal prep… make what you want to eat! Whether it’s low carb, vegan, high protein, all greens, you name it, you can prep it. There are some incredible resources available to assist with your meal prepping journey. You can choose to have meal plans created for you to follow, use a meal-planning service like Blue Apron, or do it all on your own. It’s up to YOU.

Intrigued by meal prep or have other questions? Please feel free to contact me! I’d love your input on this article series. Next, I’ll be covering the basics for planning meal prep.

Until then, I recommend starting with something simple and versatile, like my Spring Harvest Rice recipe. It’s great to have in the fridge throughout the week as a starting point for a healthy, satisfying lunch or dinner. Good luck with prep, and as always… Enjoy!

La Bodega – Pismo Beach, CA | Restaurant Review

La Bodega, (meaning The Cellar in Spanish) is a tapas restaurant & wine bar located in downtown Pismo Beach.

On a sunny summer Thursday night, the wait at well-known Giuseppe’s is 45 minutes long. Stroll down the block and across the street to La Bodega, an oft overlooked gem, hiding in plain sight.

La Bodega is fairly new to Price Street in Pismo, celebrating their one year anniversary this past April. The vibrant restaurant is frequented by faithful locals and curious tourists alike. Talented live musicians draw a crowd every Wednesday from 6-9 pm and Sunday from 4-7 pm.

Most recently, we visited on a Thursday around 6:30 pm, and it was relatively quiet, a few tables occupied and no more. Throughout the night, the place filled up as couples and friends alike wandered in for some delicious small bites and cocktails.

La Bodega’s menu changes monthly, highlighting local and seasonal produce. As a local foodie, I greatly support this monthly menu change, as it means I can come back time and time again and try something new!

The plates are small, as tapas should be. The lighter portions are intended to be slowly enjoyed between sips of your favorite wine, cocktail, or house special White Sangria. However, the ratio of each component placed on the dish is simply impeccable.

Take for example, the Layers of Dungeness crab cakes. The cakes stand tall, and are packed to the gills (pun intended) with fresh, flaky crab. They sit atop a bed of fire cracker slaw. There is just enough crab and slaw on the plate to eat together in every bite, and the perfect amount of sweet honey ginger sauce on the plate to drizzle on top. Nothing is leftover, and no bite must go without one component of the dish as a whole. This, my friends, is no small feat. Of course, it is up to you to eat with intention the perfect plate set before you.

The empanadas (your choice of beef or vegetarian) are a constant on the menu, and a classic in Spanish cuisine. As a first time visitor, start there.

Next, you’ll find an array of small protein-driven bites. On the July menu, we tried the Pork Tenderloin Bites, wrapped in Bacon served with a Cherry Port Reduction. With the feel of a five-star entree, sweet halved cherries adorn the juicy pork accompanied by fried polenta and the fresh crunch of green beans. Each bite so balanced it borders on the edge of bliss.

Order a signature flatbread, like July’s “Fig and Pig”, featuring Fresh Black Mission Figs, decadent chunks of prosciutto and a creamy, dreamy, goat cheese spotted bechamel base.

La Bodega is a tapas bar, one of high caliber, and to that end they succeed exceptionally well. A playful, unique menu full of quality ingredients, an extensive drink list and live music to entertain. However, dessert typically falls short of the standard the tapas plates set. It is a high standard indeed.

The tapas of La Bodega are playfully executed and wonderfully balanced with a flair for the experimental. Whether its in a drizzle of honey with a swirl of balsamic vinegar or the perfectly fried basil leaf atop a bed of burrata and warm grilled peach. Each plate is executed with utmost quality, crafted with a calculated consideration for each facet of the palate.

La Bodega has undoubtedly found its place in Pismo Beach — casual enough to stroll in from a day at the beach, comfortable enough to frequent with friends, and intimate enough to visit on date night. The atmosphere is as warm and inviting as the owners themselves, who make it a point to visit each table to ask -genuinely- about the food and your evening. They make you feel welcomed, and individually cared for. It is clear that La Bodega is a product of care and passion for quality. In that, they succeed exceptionally well.

La Bodega + 790 Price St + Pismo Beach + 93449 + 805.595.5400 + labodegapismo.com

Chocolate Cake with Strawberry-Mascarpone Filling | Baking

Some moments in life deserve a special celebration.

And every celebration deserves cake!

I made this decadent chocolate cake, adorned in pastel floral accents for Nana’s birthday.

Nana loves chocolate, and this cake was the perfect combination of rich chocolate and light, fluffy cake.

Pastel gel food coloring gives the piped rosettes their bright yet gentle hues. Using three different piping tips creates visual interest between each color. The sprinkles are Wilton brand, picked up at Michael’s Craft Store, and placed meticulously onto the buttercream with tweezers.

Below, I’ve included each step of the cake:

  1. The Chocolate Cake
  2. Mascarpone Strawberry filling
  3. Buttercream
  4. Assembly & Decoration

The Cake

Chocolate Cake

A decadent, delicious chocolate cake. This recipe yields 3 eight inch cakes, meant to make a tall layered birthday cake.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Servings 3 8 inch cakes

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup greek yogurt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (substitute: your preferred milk + 3/4 tsp cream of tartar)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cup fresh brewed espresso or strong coffee
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tb vanilla extract
  • 3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tb baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Prepare three 8 inch cake pans. Grease the inside of each pan by evenly coating them with butter. Use a paper towel to wipe up any excess butter. Sift ¼ cup cocoa powder into a separate bowl. Sprinkle the sifted cocoa powder on the buttered surface, turning the pan upside down over parchment paper to tap out any excess. This process helps the cake release from the pan more easily.
  • If you are using buttermilk, skip this step. If not, mix your preferred milk (regular, oat or almond works) with ¾ teaspoon of cream of tartar. Whisk to combine and let set.
  • In a medium-bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
  • In a separate large bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs, buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute prepared in Step 2), vegetable oil, vanilla extract and coffee/espresso. Make sure the coffee/espresso is cool to the touch before combining it with the rest of the dry ingredients.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Using a hand mixer, combine the ingredients well for about one minute. Be mindful not to overmix.
  • Distribute the batter evenly between the three pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350° F. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
  • Rest the cakes for 10 minutes. Then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cook completely.

The Filling

The cake was baked in three 8″ cake pans (as per recipe instruction) and filled with a Mascarpone Strawberry filling (as per my affinity for Italian cheeses). This recipe I adapted from a Real Simple Article.

Mascarpone Strawberry Filling

A light and well-balanced filling for the cake. Mascarpone balances out the sweetness of the cake's buttercream. Fresh strawberries work best!
Prep Time 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 4 tb unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
  • 8 oz cream cheese (full fat preferred).
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese (I recommend Trader Joe's brand).
  • 1 ½ cup powdered sugar.
  • ½ container of fresh strawberries
  • 2-3 tb granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Instructions
 

  • Pull the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge. Let it sit out on the counter while you prep the strawberries.
  • Remove the strawberry stems and cut into quarters. I used about a half container of strawberries. ~Leftovers are great to eat by themselves so no worries if you cut too many!~
  • Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of granulated sugar over the strawberries and toss to coat. Let sit for 7-10 minutes until juices are coming out and the strawberries are softened. This process is called macerating — using sugar to break down the fruit.
  • Mash strawberries with the back of a fork. You don’t want any big chunks but some small ones are okay. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer and large bowl, whip butter and cream cheese until fluffy.
  • Switch to low speed, add powdered sugar, mascarpone, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the macerated strawberries and add to mixture. Mix until just combined.

Notes

Recipe adapted from a Real Simple Article.
Keyword mascarpone, mascarpone stawberry filling, strawberry

White Vanilla Buttercream

White Vanilla Buttercream

I used a crumb coat of white vanilla buttercream modified from the Preppy Kitchen recipe, as noted here.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ lb powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ cup unsalted butter (3 standard sticks), softened to room temp.
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
 

  • Beat butter until soft and fluffy.
  • Incorporate powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until combined before adding more.
  • Once all powdered sugar is mixed into butter, add salt and vanilla extract.
  • Add the whipping cream in a slow steady stream with the mixer still on.

Notes

When making buttercream, it is imperative to scrape the sides of the mixer consistently, as this helps to incorporate everything evenly. Particularly if you have a mixer like mine, with a deep bowl, it is important to scrape the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in evenly.
Keyword buttercream

The Decor

Cake Assembly

As far as timing goes, I baked the cake on Saturday, trimmed it and filled it with the Mascarpone filling. Then I added a crumb coat to seal in the freshness of the cake and to give myself a smooth base for decorating.

For more information about how to crumb coat a cake, check out this King Arthur Flour article.

The cake stayed in the fridge until Sunday morning, after making a second batch of buttercream (just in case) and preparing my colors. I decorated on Sunday and left in the fridge until the party Sunday night.

This kept extremely well in the fridge and the buttercream holds up after sitting on the counter for a few hours. I removed the cake from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving.

For all those roses…

To decorate, I used the watercolor technique around the entire cake; created by adding splotches of colored frosting and smoothing out against the white frosting. This served as my background for the piped rosettes. I began with the largest rosettes first, then filled in with smaller.

For the top of the cake, it’s important to divide the large rosettes evenly before filling in with smaller piping. Pipe the rosettes as if you are cutting the cake in half each time, instead of attempting to go in a circle. Pipe one rosette, then turn the cake around and pipe the next on the opposite side of the cake. Pipe the next in between these two rosettes, and continue until all are piped.

For a visual tutorial, check out this video by Wilton.

It’s an extremely fun technique that requires one hand motion. Practice on a sheet of parchment before decorating your cake! Once you feel comfortable with the rosette piping motion, start decorating your cake.

Piping for practice on parchment (say that three times fast) is also a great way to see how your piping tips look before using them on the cake.

The techniques used to create this cake were completely doable and I truly enjoyed putting it together. It takes patience and time, but it can be done!

* * * * * * * *

THE BIRTHDAY GIRL

On a Personal Note

Technique aside, what truly makes a cake like this worth a weekend of work is the people with whom you share it.

That look in their eye when you walk into a room holding a cake like this is simply priceless! That sheer excitement is the most magical part of food, when you bring a smile to the people who partake. That moment, that joy, is really what it’s all about. To be quite cheesy, those moments truly show that yes, food is an act of love.

For me it was a privilege to bring that moment to Nana, and to share this delicious dessert with my family.

Happy Birthday Nana.