Happy Thanksgiving

carrot slaw Recipe and then a few thoughts for ya’ today.

OK.  So first a recipe (and yes, I’ve posted it before.  Get off my back!  This is a reminder for you, K?)  Rather than the dish of warm, cooked carrots that I have personally never been a fan of :(, consider this gorgeous, carrot slaw as an alternative!  Not only will it be gobble-gobbled up in a jiffy, it can be prepared one or two days in advance.  In fact, it tastes better when prepared in advance.  So, like, you might want to prepare it in advance.  I’m just sayin’.

Michelle’s Carrot Slaw


  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound grated carrots, or 1-1/3 pounds carrots, peeled and grated (if you wash them well, don’t have to peel)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, from one orange (or a splash of orange juice)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • a little bundle of green onion, white and green parts, diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • dash of salt
  • dash of pepper


Bake walnuts at 350 for about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.  Throw remaining ingredients into a bowl and toss it up a bit.  This salad will keep well in the fridge for a few days, but don’t add the walnuts until you’re ready to eat.

And now for those thoughts I mentioned.  I L-O-V-E Thanksgiving.  Since food, family and friends are my favorite things in the whole universe, this coming Thursday is tailor made for moi. No shopping for gifts, decorations can be minimal or maximal, depending on your mood, and then you just gather with a bunch of people you love (or have to tolerate for a few hours, whatever) and eat delicious food.  OK.  Yes.  And drink wine.  Ahhh….

My recipe for Thanksgiving sanity is as follows: Welcome to everyone who wants to join us + it’s potluck so what are you gonna bring? + eat around 2:00 so there’s time to really enjoy the meal, take a walk or relax before dessert later in the day + do something un-American and really savor the day.  Take some time to talk, at least for a moment, to everyone at the gathering.  Don’t worry about stuff at work that still needs to get done and for heaven’s sake don’t worry about Black Friday.  Shut the world out, if you can, for that one afternoon and make like Jim Morrison, man… reeee-laxxx…

A note on my pot-luck notion.  I take pot-lucks very seriously.  There will be 35 people at my house (Please don’t rain!  Please!  Please!  Please!) this year for Thanksgiving and there ain’t no way I’m making all the food.  And why should I?  My grandma always said, “If you want to make someone feel like family, they have to contribute something.”  I’m making the turkey and this carrot slaw.  My guests are bringing dressing, potatoes, multiple vegetables, sweet potatoes, wine, pies, everything we need, really, for this to work.  I don’t just assign ornamental after-thoughts like dinner rolls to my guests (now the guy who’s bringing dinner rolls is scratching his head… It’s OK.  He’s bringing other things too.)  On Thursday ALL my guests are family and I’m counting on them to not blow it.  I’m not worried.  They always rise to the occasion.  That’s what loving families do.

Final words: save your turkey carcass!  My family’s post-Thanksgiving tradition is turkey tortilla soup… which I will not be thinking about yet on Thursday.


Quinoa Love

Couscous w cumin Pronounced “Keen-wah” (I’ve heard a few variations…!)

I have been loving my quinoa situation recently.  Quinoa seeds are referred to as “grains” (even on the package!) which pretty ridiculous.  They are technically a seed.

With one child gluten free, a house full of hungry people who, like, wanna eat three meals a day plus snacks (what the?) and a mama who doesn’t like to reach for prepackaged junk on a regular basis, salads like this have become a necessary staple.  For example, when my 6 year old son eats snacks like many kids his age eat a full meal, I gotta be prepared.  I just don’t like to see him motoring through an entire sleeve of crackers. “Yes my love.  You can have a few crackers.  But first eat this bowl of something actually healthy if you don’t mind.  Thanks!” (and then, when you’re done and feel full you may forget about the crackers which is fine too…)

Quinoa is a very malleable ingredient, and likes to take on the flavors of whatever else you put with it.  It is high in protein, and tastes super yummy if you ask me.  I created this recipe after finding a few quinoa salad options online.

Michelle’s Cumin Quinoa Salad

Ingredients: 2 cups quinoa, 3 1/2 cups chicken or veg. broth, 1/2 chopped onion, 1 can drained black beans, 1 cup of corn, 1/2 bunch chopped cilantro, 1-3 tbsp. cumin, juice of 1-2 fresh limes, 4 or so tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Cook onion with a little olive oil until onions turn translucent (5 mins or so.)  Then toss in quinoa and stir with onions for a few minutes before adding broth.  Then follow package instructions but modify the liquid quantity (they always call for 2 parts water per 1 part quinoa but this will be mushy.)  After quinoa chills add the other ingredients.  Serve with tortilla chips if you like.  Oh!  We sometimes add fresh avocado too… delish!

Tips:  If you make a large amount, just add the avocado when served or it will turn brown and you will make a bad face when you see it later.  Some of the ingredient quantities are broad, above.  This is because it really can vary depending on how much juice you get from a lime or how much you like cumin.  I love the cumin/lime combo, so I go heavy on it.  But you do what you like and I won’t judge.

Final tip: My kids don’t all love this salad.  They like it OK, but it’s not really offered as an—ahem–option.  When they’re hungry (and eyeing the crackers they really want or whatever) they are motivated.  If you are still scratching your head as to how to get your kids to eat something like this, I can recommend a really great workshop…

Better Broth–and that’s not all…

better brothOK.  Yes.  This looks gross.  But it’s not. I mean it won’t be when I’m done with it.

I recently posted a great way to make your own broth with the bones of whatever animal you just served for dinner.  You may or may not recall that one of my dilemmas was that I liked to cook the bones for a long time, but didn’t like leaving it on my stove top for multiple hours as it was using energy and I couldn’t leave it.

Well, I’m not sure why I couldn’t come up with this on my own, but–earth to Michelle–use a crock pot!  And then, go ahead and cook those bones for about 24 hours ( bring to a boil then reduce to low) after adding a couple of teaspoons of cider vinegar and whatever other seasonings you like.  The cider vinegar helps to pull all the nutrients (including calcium) out of the bones.  When done and chilled your broth will be a bit gelatinous (this is good!) and all the fat will rise to the top so you may grossly and easily skim it off.

I have had a few epiphanies over the past week as my commitment to solve Josie’s not-horrible-but-still-persistent eczema problem.  I’ve taken her off gluten which is a bit pricey but in a modern metropolitan area not all that hard as there are tons of gluten free breads, crackers, pastas and more.  No more little dabs of prescription chemicals  and petroleum based products on my daughter’s skin please!  They are not working and I have hated them for too long!

One thing led to another and through my hunt for creative diet options I also began exploring natural skin products.  Long story short (is it already too late for that?) I have since made my own deodorant (I know, right. What the …?) and laundry detergent.  Then (it gets better) I traded some of my elderberry syrup to Didi who made me her homemade hand soap and body butter.  How crazy awesome is that!?

I am so proud of my wild west apothecary trading post that I’m considering making some of these all-natural-chemical-free better-for-my-family-my-pocket-book-and-the-environment  products, after having tested them on my family (wouldn’t dream of using animals!) for sale to, well, anyone who would want to purchase them.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller…?

How did I get from bone broth to hand soap?  It’s just been that kind of week…  Stay tuned folks.  I’m not done yet!

p.s. Thank you Kate Doubler (aka: realfoodrn) for starting me on this journey!

p.s. #2 Lesson learned today: grating one bar of natural soap to make laundry detergent is a lot harder than you think.  Next time grab the food processor.

Fruit on the go!

fruit snack So let’s close the week with a great tip for storing cut up apples.  K?  K!

If possible, put some fresh oranges on top of your apples.  The acid in the citrus will help keep the apples from turning so brown.  There.  Done.

Not quite.  Does anyone else find it disturbing that schools, nowadays, insists on “prepacked” food items rather than allowing fresh foods prepared at home?  I’ve seen kids at the after school program at my kids’ school who, rather than grab a fresh apple from the box, are handed their “sliced apples wrapped in cellophane which have been–I have no doubt–sprayed with a bleach solution or something similar to keep them from going off.”  Mmmm….!  Tasty chemicals with the added bonus of more trash for the landfill! 🙂

Why isn’t the bleach solution (or whatever they’ve used) listed on the packaging?  It’s because the lobbyists have found a loophole in the USDA regulations.  Since the treatment is part of the “process” and not an “ingredient” it does not have to be named.  Same applies to those weird like “bunny love” carrots that come in a bag.

Hate to be Debby-downer at the end of the week, but apparently I needed to get this off my chest.  There.  Done.  This time for the day.

Have a FRESH weekend everyone!

Texas Caviar

Texas caviar OK.  So seriously: how beautiful is this salad!?

I LOVE this photo.  Texas caviar, as it is called, has been around for a while.  I’ve had it before .  Actually my friend Shandy makes a mean one and she sent me the recipe but I couldn’t find the dang thing so I got on line and found multiple methods of creating this delicious, nutritious, gorgeous–and VEGAN– salad.

I’ll get Shandy’s recipe one of these days but it actually helped to look around in blog-recipe-land because it quickly became clear to me that there are so many variations of this delight, I am pretty much always assured to have something on hand that will work.  Whew!  What a relief as I really liked it and look forward to making it again.  Rhea, my 9 year old gobbled her bowl of Texas Caviar right up.  Josie and Gray were not as excited but with the right motivation rose to the occasion.  (I served this with some tortilla chips on the side and let them scoop some of the salad up–I tell ya: we have so much fun at our house!)

Michelle’s Texas Caviar

Ingredients: 1 cup of shelled and cooked edamame, 1 cup cooked corn, 1 can black beans drained, one can pinto beans drained and rinsed, 1 diced bell pepper, 1/4 cup diced red onion (I soaked mine in ice water for 5 minutes to take the “bite” out), juice of one fresh lime (ream that little guy and get every last drop out!), 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1-2 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp. cumin, dash of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: mix it up and eat it!

Tips: The key to the flavor situation is the lime juice and cumin.  LOVE that combo.  Depending on how much juice you get from your lime–and then how much flavor that juice has–you may need more or less vinegar.

Other ingredients that I could have also added include, but are certainly not limited to: cucumber, jicama, tomatoes, diced carrots–heck the list goes on and one.  I will try to get some jicama in there next time as it seems like it’d soak up all those flavors real nice.

Acknowledgement: pretty much every recipe for Texas Caviar that I found that was actually made by what appeared to be a real Texan contained black eyed peas.  Being a Minnesota transplant currently residing in Pasadena, CA, I, uh, didn’t have those on hand… sorry!  Go Lone Star State!

Michelle’s Marvelous Medicine!

elderberry syrup

OK.  So this fall I’m taking the cold and flu bull by the horns (I’m not sure if that analogy works but I’m going with it anyway.)

The Calva-Despards got pummeled at the end of last year’s season of sickness and although there are no guarantees with any preventions, remedies or prayers, one can still try one’s best.

So, we got flu shots for the first time in years, I’m still praying and I’m taking some time to look at homeopathic preventative and treatment measures to what is sure to ail at least one of us one of these days.

Enter: Elderberry Syrup.  My girlfriend, Lisa, checks in with this really cool blog called Real Food RN.  Kate is an RN and mother who, in her search for methods of maintaining health and healing, has begun a wise and wonderful journey into the past.  She looks into what she terms “granola mama” methods of creating everything from cold and flu remedies to homemade deodorant.  Kate is an RN and works in a traditional hospital, she despises chemicals of every kind.

I like Kate.  OK, I don’t really know her except from her super cool blog and pretty photos.  But I like the approach of someone who looks at the big picture, studies multiple sides of things, and then draws logical, reasonable conclusions.

There are other women who taut similar messages to Kate’s.  However, when someone doesn’t brush her hair, criticizes omnivore practices and people who don’t nurse their kiddos till they are in kindergarten it’s just a teensy bit harder for me to jump on board.  Kate is smart and balanced.  Plus she clearly brushes her hair so I will go with Kate for now.

Back to Michelle.  I made  elderberry syrup yesterday and my family will be partaking in a daily dose of this stuff for the next several months.  So will Lisa’s family and my mom and dad.  The syrup is tasty (although I don’t think we’ll be putting it on pancakes as Kate suggests) and was actually super easy to make.  Don’t let the long list of steps, below, intimidate you.  It’s a bit like describing how to tie one’s shoes. (I’ve been referring to “one” a lot today.  I’m not sure why.)

Elderberry Syrup

Ingredients: 2/3 cup black elderberries (or 1/3 cup dried berries reconstituted–I could only find dried ones, btw), 3 1/2 cups water, 2 tbsp. fresh or dried ginger shredded or sliced (no need to peel), 1 tsp. cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp. cloves or clove powder and 1 cup raw honey.

Directions: Soak 1/3 cup dried elderberries in 3 1/2 cups water over night.  Then put berries and liquid + everything except the honey into a pot.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 mins. to an hour so the the liquid reduces to about half.  Let stand and cool until it’s still warm but not super hot.  Strain all liquid from the stuff you’ve boiled and collect in a bowl.   You may now toss your berries and spices as they have given their lives for your health.  Thanks guys.  Slowly stir in the raw honey into the remaining liquid.  Put into a cute bottle or recycled jar, store in fridge and there you go.

Dosage: For cold and flu prevention: 1 tsp. for a child and 1 tbsp. for an adult, daily.  If one (there I go again) gets a nasty bug, increase dosage to once every 2-3 hours.

Tips: (some from Lisa who, being the test kitchen by default, clued me in after she made a few mistakes–thanks, Lis!)Raw honey comes in different forms.  Make sure you get yours in a liquid form that pours easily.  It’s important that the hot mixture not be so hot as to destroy the healthy properties of the raw honey.  Also, when you add the honey as your last step,  pour it in slowly while stirring so it doesn’t just drop in as a giant clump.

Cloves are strong.  Lisa’s first batch turned out really clovey, so I cut back but I think mine could use a bit more (I like cloves!)  Will have to dial that in.

If you’re wondering where in the world to get elderberries or why you should be consuming any of these ingredients at all, I seriously recommend checking out Kate’s Elderberry Syrup recipe where everything is explained in simple terms and in an organized fashion.

Here’s to everyone’s good health this winter!

Brownsugar Oatmeal Cookies

oatmeal cookie crumbles What you see here is basically Jennie Craig’s worst nightmare.  No joke.

I was feeling a little blue yesterday so I decided to take a page out of Weight Watcher’s Therapy packet and bake.  (That was another joke in case you didn’t realize.)

What is the better antidote to despair: alcohol or cookies?  For a 9:00 am remedy I think I made the better choice.

I hopped onto the Pioneer Woman’s blog as I knew Ree wouldn’t let me down.  My friends, Ree did not let me down.

As a Midwestern born girl and as someone who is theoretically opposed to baking, rather than bake cookies I schlopped all the dough onto my cookie sheet with a high lip and baked bars.  Usually I just add a little time and keep checking back (to me this is more palatable than scooping little balls onto multiple sheets, repeat, repeat, repeat…)  I’m not sure why, but I think these bars took about 45 minutes to finally finish.  I reset that timer for 5 more minutes so many times I lost count…

I like bars also because they can be cut into small little rectangles that I freeze and place into my three kiddo’s echo-friendly containers for lunch at school.  Healthy foods are the foundation of my meal planning, yes.  But everyone wants a little something sweet after their veggies and I like to be able to control the ingredients.  “Breaking the rules” is part of living a balanced life and this way I can use real foods!

So, it’s up to you, follow the Pioneer Woman’s making instructions for cookies (predictable) or go crazy and make bars (for who knows how long) like me.  Either way please be careful.  The crumbs you see in my hand, above, are the only morsels I’m allowing myself to eat (today.)  The rest of the bars are frozen and out of sight.  Dangerous I tell ‘ya.

Pioneer Woman Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients: 1 cup salted butter (softened), 2 cups packed dark brown sugar, 2 tsp. vanilla, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups flower, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 3 cups old fashioned oats

Michelle’s Directions: Preheat oven to 350.  Throw everything in a bowl and mix. Place balls onto cookie sheet for 12 0r so minutes if you want cookies.  Put the whole lot on the sheet and bake for, uh… a 45 minutes…? if you want delectable bars.

Ree’s Directions: check out the Pioneer Woman blog.  She takes her baking more seriously than I (everyone does) and follows a more methodical step-by-step type situation.  If you’re more like Ree we can still be friends!

Personal message to Ree which she’ll never even see: Thanks girlfriend!  I needed that!

Coocoo for Couscous!

couscous w pomegranite How, exactly, do you spell “Coocoo” anyway?

Never mind.  Today’s post is in honor of the fabulosa Meal Planning 101 workshop I taught two nights ago in my cozy living room.  Together with Ana, Jackie, Denise and Rebecca (hi mamas!) a productive evening of learning, laughing and–of course–eating was had!

I found this recipe online (and then modified it, what a shock) when I realized I had a half of a pomegranate that I needed to use up.  This fruit is beautiful and grows literally in many So-Cal folks’ backyards, although mine was purchased from the farmers market.  Takes a little work to get these glorious seeds freed from their fruit-home, but if you ask my girls, it’s tooootally worth it.

Michelle’s Citrus Couscous Salad

Ingredients: 1 cup couscous, veg or chicken stock, several fresh mint leaves, 2 fresh oranges, fresh pomegranate seeds (about a 1/2 cup if you can swing it), 1-2 tbsp. white wine vinegar, 1-2 tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Prepare couscous according to package directions.  You don’t have to use stock, but I like it better than water.  When done, add diced mint (start with a little), pomegranate seeds, vinegar and olive oil.  Squeeze your oranges and get some ‘a that juice in there (can use regular OJ too.)  The original recipe called for one orange, and maybe mine were a little bland but I needed two to get that sweet zing that I was wantin’.  Also add the vinegar and oil carefully.  You’d be surprised how much vinegars can vary so it’s better to hit with just one tbsp. and then add more if you need it.  There’s no going back if you add too much.  Serve chilled/room temp.

What I like about this salad: It’s so pretty!  Also it was easy-tasty-healthy, which, if you know me at all, are my three favorite food adjectives.   The I didn’t use as much mint as the original recipe suggested.  I like fresh mint, but it can be overpowering if one is not careful.  Oh.  The original recipe also called for green onion, which I didn’t have.  I had planned to add a bit of chopped white or red onion, but decided it wasn’t needed.  I promised my workshop girlfriends that I’d post this for them as they were my officially samplers two nights ago.  Thanks ladies!

Check me out on Hometown Pasadena till next Tuesday if you’re in the mood for more online recipe-a-la-MIchelle fun.  And I mean really, who couldn’t use a little more of that?

En honor de Dia de los Muertos: que tengan muy buenas memorias de todos que ya han pasado.