Easy Homemade Marinara

Homemade marinara has always intimidated me. While it’s so easy to buy pre-made sauce at the store, if you look at the ingredients list, the jars are often full of sugar and preservatives.  When we took a cooking class in Italy a few years ago, I discovered that making my own sauce is not nearly as difficult or time-consuming as I thought it would be.

This is not the recipe we learned how to make in Tuscany, but a variation I created one day while trying to use up some extra veggies I had in the fridge.  This version gives the opportunity to add more flavor and some sweetness by using vegetables in the sauce.  Since it all ends up pureed, this is an easy way to serve your unsuspecting kids more veggies.  I love that it makes an easy, all-in-one-dish meal.


  • two 16-oz cans of organic tomato sauce
  • 1 organic zucchini
  • 1 organic red bell pepper (seeds & core removed)
  • 2-3 organic carrots (peeled)
  • 1/2 yellow onion (peeled)
  • 6 cloves of garlic (peeled)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 5-6 leaves of fresh basil


  1. Roughly chop the veggies, onion and garlic.
  2. Add the veggies to a deep pot with the olive oil and cook over medium-low temperature until soft.  This usually takes around 15 minutes; the smaller your veggie pieces, the faster they will soften.
  3. Add the tomato sauce.
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree the veggies into the sauce.
  5. Add the salt and crushed red pepper to taste and let simmer on low until you are ready to serve.
  6. When you remove from heat, add some chopped fresh basil.
  7. Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with fresh mozzarella or Parmesan cheese.

To add some protein, make it a ragu / bolognese by adding cooked Italian sausage to the sauce.  I also love to add in even more veggies at this point by mixing in some chopped kale or spinach that I have sauteed with shallots.


Baby Led Weaning

Now that my baby is almost a year old, we’ve got nearly 6 months of solids food eating underway.  It has been such a fun experience watching her explore food.  She is an incredible eater compared to most kids her age and I am thankful she is always willing to try new foods.

When I was pregnant, I read the book Bringing Up Bébé (highly recommend!) that shares bits of wisdom from French parenting. One of the main topics in the book was about kids’ eating and it really struck a cord with me. The idea is this: Kids Eat What Parents Eat.  It involves eating mostly real food, eating a variety of food – including lots of colorful vegetables, tasting new items, having a healthy relationship with eating habits, and eating together as a family.  When we were getting close to starting solids with my daughter, I started to research more about how to implement this practically and discovered Baby Led Weaning (BLW).

(FYI: Weaning in this case simply means the introduction of solids, and not weaning from breastmilk.) BLW takes into practice the whole idea above in a safe way for little babies as they are learning how to eat.  Babies have been eating what their parents ate for thousands of years- far before we had blenders to make purees or little baby spoons. Many nations around the world follow the BLW way naturally.

We have loved the BLW process and I’m now a huge advocate of how it works to create a healthy little eater.  My mom and husband were very skeptical at first, but now they are believers in the process too! Here are the benefits I have seen so far:

  • Family Meals: Sharing food together as a family and in community are important to me.  Developing this habit early was a big goal for me.  The biggest benefit practically is that baby sees you eating and mimics you- both being willing to eat what you eat and copying the way you eat (chewing, bite sizes, using utensils).  This also begins to teach a baby how to behave at a dinner table -I think has already had a positive effect on our ability to eat in public without causing a scene and actually getting to eat our own meals.
  • Confidence & Independence: Giving my daughter the ability to learn how to eat has given her confidence in trying new foods and starting to be self-sufficient.  It also gives me a much-needed break as I don’t always have to sit there spoon feeding her.
  • Safety- Chewing Before Swallowing: When babies start with purees, they are used to getting a large amount of food in their mouth and swallowing.  When they start solids from there, food often must be cut very tiny so they do not choke.  BLW teaches babies how to chew before swallowing. It also teaches how much is appropriate to bite off of an item and how much will fit in their mouth. Since babies have a stronger gag reflex when they are younger, it is the perfect time to teach this skill- I have seen my daughter fill her mouth and start to gag, learning to spit it out and try again rather than forcing it down and choking.
  • Developing Tastes: Have you tasted baby food? It’s bland and disgusting. It doesn’t taste good to us, so why would a baby want to eat it? Babies are born with a full set of 10,000+ taste buds and are just as eager to enjoy their meals as we are.  There is no reason to stay away from various flavors or spices.  My daughter can eat food just as spicy as I like it and she prefers her food to be well-seasoned.  She loves chili, Tex-Mex and BBQ!
  • Learning by Touch/Senses: We all know that babies learn by putting things in their mouth.  They explore the whole world this way.  As I put various items from our meals on her tray, she gets the chance to touch everything- the different textures and sizes- and develop her grasp. She also gets to experience the smells and colors of her food much better than she would through a puree.  Babies are drawn to color (as we see in their toys) and this translates to the food they eat as well- often, my daughter will choose the orange sweet potato or green bean or red beet over white bread.
  • Convenience: I don’t have time to make homemade purees.  When we go out, she just eats whatever I order. And at home, she eats whatever I cook.  I’m not making special meals for her or accommodations. It’s simply easier on me.

Does this sound like something you would be interested in trying with your baby?  I know that getting started with something so different to the norm can be overwhelming, but here’s a little intro on what helped me the most:

Resources: I recommend reading either of the following BLW books:

I also joined the Baby Led Weaning for Beginners Facebook group to see helpful pictures and videos, answers to questions and tons of tips.  I started following it about 2 months before we started and it was more helpful than anything!

When to Start: No sooner than when baby is 6 months of age, can sit unassisted, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, and has an interest in food.

Safety: Choking risk is the number one reason I hear that people are afraid to try BLW.  As I mentioned above, BLW does not increase choking risk. The key thing is to learn the difference between gagging and choking.  Gagging is a reaction that helps prevent choking and teaching them how not to choke- letting them work it out and learn.  Watching videos on the Facebook group and knowing the signs for gagging vs. choking are important.  As always, it is important to know child CPR as a parent, and that knowledge should help you be more confident when your baby eats.  An easy way to distinguish: If they are loud & red, let them go ahead. If they are silent & blue, they need help from you.

In general, baby should be eating what you are eating, with a few health/safety exceptions…

  • Don’t offer whole nuts or popcorn or peanut butter on a spoon- items that can easily stick to/in their throat.
  • Quarter (lengthwise) round foods to avoid lodging in the windpipe: blueberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, sausage, string cheese, carrots.
  • Season generously but limit the salt/sodium. Since your babies kidneys aren’t fully developed, too much sodium can cause them harm.  This is another good reason to avoid processed food.

No teeth? No problem.  My daughter did not have teeth when we started.  She still would mimic my chewing and those jaws + saliva are powerful at breaking down foods to swallow. You would be amazed at how she learned to pull at a strip of meat with her gums and chomp on it a few minutes before swallowing. This girl loved steak even before she had teeth.

Food Before One Is Just For Fun: For the first couple of months, my daughter really did not eat a lot.  She would taste and chew and explore, but would swallow very little. And that is perfectly normal and okay.  Breast milk or formula is still a baby’s main source of nutrition before the age of one.

BLW How to CutCutting to Size: There is no need to cut foods into tiny pieces.  In fact, you want foods to be more finger-sized so they are easier for young babies to pick up and hold.  Having large pieces also helps them learn to bite off an appropriate amount. Cutting little grooves in slippery items like banana and avocado is also helpful to keep their grip. Here is a great picture to use as an example when you are preparing food for your little:

What do you think? Is this something you would try with your baby?  Have you tried it and loved it (or hated it)?  I would love to hear from you!

Gluten-Free Baby Shower

This weekend I hosted a baby shower for a friend who is allergic to gluten. We wanted her to be able to eat everything at her own shower without worry, so we created a completely gluten-free spread for the event.

Emily's Shower

In case you are hosting for a bride or mama with this same allergy, I thought I would share the menu we put together.  While it certainly wasn’t sugar-free, we had plenty of healthier options to choose from. Plus, it was all super easy to put together so you won’t be in the kitchen prepping all day.

Chicken & Waffle Skewers – My friend thought up this brilliant, easy idea – find gluten-free chicken tenders and gluten-free waffles in the frozen food section. Toast them in the oven then cut into bite-sized pieces and alternate on a mini skewer or toothpick.  Serve with hot syrup or honey.

Veggies & Hummus

Fruit & Dip – For a healthier alternative to the classic cream cheese + marshmallow fluff dip, mix 2 cups vanilla yogurt with 1/2 cup honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Serve with your favorite fresh fruit.

Gluten-Free Mini Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – found in the baked goods section at Whole Foods

and a beautiful “Naked” Cake!

Gluten Free Naked CakeI’m usually not a fan of baking because I don’t have the patience to follow recipes, but this cake was super easy! I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix and prepared according to the directions, baking in 2 9-inch diameter cake pans. I used coconut oil instead of toxic vegetable oil. The cake was super moist and didn’t taste at all gluten-free.

Once the cake cooled, I pulled them out of the pans and placed in the freezer for 30-45 minutes – this makes the cake easier to cut and frost. In the meantime, I made some buttercream frosting. I used this recipe because it calls only for butter and no shortening. I added about double the milk and double the vanilla it called for to make it a bit creamier and more spreadable.

When I pulled the cakes out of the freezer, I cut each in half so that I could have 4 cake layers.  Then, I spread frosting in between each layer. Once I had all four layers stacked, I ran my knife around the outside to smooth out the edges a bit, without covering the cake completely, giving it that “naked” effect.

Drink BarFor drinks, we had yummy sparkling Italian sodas for the mama to drink, served in champagne glasses. And for the guests who weren’t pregnant, we had some local Peach & Grapefruit Deep Eddy Vodka(not gluten-free) to add – if you haven’t tried these yet, they are super delicious!

Happy Hosting!

Lemon Cream Pasta

I can’t believe it has been over a year since our trip to Europe.  I so miss the days of walking everywhere, drinking wine & cappuccinos and eating ALL the pasta.  My favorite part of the trip was a 5-hour private cooking class in Lucca, Italy – check out my brother’s travel blog for all the yummy details!  When I am craving comfort food, my new go-to is the lemon cream sauce we learned to prepare.  It’s light and perfect for summer. Today, I’m sharing it prepared two ways.  The flavors in both of these recipes will blow you away… they certainly don’t taste healthy. Plus, both of these recipes can be made in 30 minutes, so it’s perfect for a quick weeknight dinner.

For the Lemon Cream sauce…

Simmer the zest of 1 lemon in a tablespoon of butter or coconut oil for one minute on low heat.

Then add 4 tablespoons of bone broth (or white wine).  I always have bone broth on hand and try to use it as much as possible… it’s a super-food that helps with digestion, supports our immune system, remineralizes our teeth, and is vital for our connective tissues (ligaments, joints).  Simmer for another minute.

Next, add 1 cup of organic heavy cream, the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of sea salt (I use pink Himalayan salt). Bring to a low boil, whisking frequently, to reduce the cream.  After 10 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit – it will continue to thicken as it cools. While the sauce is sitting, you can make the pasta.

Veggie Noodles with Italian Sausage

For a completely grain-free version, you can make “noodles” from squash & zucchini.  I use this julienne peeler to make the veggie strings, but of course you can use a spiralizer if you’re fancy.  Then, saute the “noodles” in a bit of olive/coconut oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes just until they are soft. Season with salt and toss with the warm sauce.

Complete the meal by topping with sliced organic Italian chicken sausage for some protein.

Veggie Noodles with Lemon Cream Sauce

Einkorn Pasta with Kale & Pancetta 

Despite the fact that so many people are having problems with the gluten in modern wheat today, not all gluten is actually bad.  Societies have eaten wheat for the centuries and been entirely healthy… even Jesus broke bread!  Over the years, wheat has been hybridized to increase crop yield and is now high in they type of gluten to which most of us are intolerant.  There is an ancient version of wheat that remains unhybridized and contains a completely different, more digestible version of gluten.  This is the traditional wheat that our ancestors ate and were nourished by.  Many with gluten allergies & intolerances are even able to eat Einkorn wheat without reaction. Read more here.

Anytime I want to enjoy real pasta, I make Einkorn pasta. I buy mine at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers and it’s prepared just like any other pasta.

To complete this meal, I saute sliced pancetta (or turkey bacon) and kale, then toss with the pasta and lemon cream sauce.

Einkorn with Kale and Pancetta

Happy cooking!

A Health Challenge: My Goals

Auld Lang SyneWe are almost halfway through January and I wanted to check in… how are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions?   I’ll be honest, I’ve failed already.  But, I’m not giving up quite yet!  

I recently organized a health challenge for my office and have also decided to participate.  The challenge runs 12 weeks and started yesterday.  The competition is based off of body fat percentage loss since that is a good indicator of both fitness and health and more accurate than BMI.  Plus, you can see your percentage loss, weight loss and inches loss at the end, which is so encouraging.  Y’all, my current body fat percentage puts me in the “overweight” range… I have got to get back in that healthy range! I’ve known for awhile what I should be eating and doing to get my body healthy, I just haven’t had the self control to do it. As I sat down last night to think through my goals and make a plan, I knew that many of you also have some health resolutions this year and might want to see what I’m doing.  If you haven’t made a resolution yet – it’s not too late!  Here are the five things I am focusing on for this challenge, why they are important and some simple action steps to follow if you are interested in adapting them yourself:

  1. Increase Nutrients – With all the packaged and processed foods in our restaurants and grocery stores, we are no longer getting the nutrients our bodies are starved for.  We have essentially become malnourished as a culture.  The blog 100 Days of Real Food has some great meal plans and recipes to avoid processed food.  I will be focusing on eating real food with real health value to my body.  I will aim for 5+ servings of vegetables per day and a high protein, high fat diet to keep me full and give my body energy instead of relying on cheap carbs to do so.  Basically, I’ll just be eating lots of freshorganic produce and protein.
  2. Eat Clean – It is important to eliminate the toxins in our environment and foods that are causing harm to our bodies.  In order for the nutrients we eat to work effectively to help our body, we need to make sure we are not poisoning it at the same time.  I always look for these on food labels when grocery shopping or on a restaurant menu:
    Pesticide-Free (Produce)
    Cage-Free (Eggs)
    Free-Range (Chicken)
    Grass-Fed (Beef)
    Wild-Caught (Fish)
  3. Eliminate Inflammatory Foods – While losing weight/inches/fat would be great, my main goal is health.  I want to get my hormones balanced, be pain-free and increase my immune function.  My adrenal levels are currently way high, which is inhibiting all of those things and causing me to gain weight.  Eek! The only way to fix it is to change my diet: I will be avoiding grains & cheap carbs, soy (as always!), sugar (except for a couple of special occasions & some dark chocolate here and there) and vegetable oil (I use coconut oil instead… and no, it doesn’t taste like coconut).
  4. Drink More Water – A couple of months ago, I read the book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water and learned so much about how dehydrated I am (I plan to write a review about the book soon!).  Drinking lots of water has tons of benefits, including losing weight & detoxifying the body.  Per the book’s recommendation, my goal will be to drink at least 64 oz of water per day, plus an extra 16 oz for any coffee or tea I drink since those beverages work to dehydrate us.  Also, less alcohol… red wine is healthy, right?
  5. Get Moving – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hate exercising.  I can commit to eating well all day, but commitments to exercise always fail.  Recently, I watched an interesting documentary about exercise and I really want to put the routine into practice.  It will only take 3 minutes a week… surely I can.  I’m going skiing soon and my trip to Europe this Spring will entail lots of walking, so I need to be in shape. I woke up this morning and worked out for the first time in years, so I’m off to a great start. Please, ask me next time you see me and hold me accountable!

Writing those out makes it seem a little less daunting than it did yesterday.  Instead of focusing on what I can’t have, I’m going to focus on all the yummy foods that I can eat…. here’s to bacon, avocados, raw cheese, BBQ, sushi, colorful salads, nuts, fresh juice, sweet potato fries, fried okra, dark chocolate, and (in case you forgot) bacon.  Cheers!  *Water glasses clink*

Who else wants to join me?  What are your goals?