Crockpot Pinto Beans (And this Coach’s Wife’s Back to School Woes)

“It’s so stupid. It’s laundry…why are we fighting about laundry and yard work? I mean seriously, let’s just wear dirty clothes and hire a lawn man. It’s not worth it.”

Last week was not good. It was a long, hard, hanging on by a thread in every way possible kind of way of week. The kind of week that drives you to a tearful angry clash over laundry … and yard work … because everything feels overwhelming … and because, as I told my mom in a pity party email, “I suck at everything this week–mothering, marriage, career.”

This is what the transition to football widow looks like in our home every year. It’s a big ugly awful transition from having our husband/daddy home 24-7 to him working seven days a week….long late hours several of those days. I dread it with every fiber in me…and then it somehow is even worse than I anticipated it would be. Jared assures me it gets better, I’m telling myself I always adjust and survive. I’m hoping that’s true again…though I’ve never had a toddler, a book deadline, and a new book release all in one football season. At least I won’t suffer of boredom like I did back in our newlywed days….that’s for sure.

Aside from the real possibilities of wearing dirty clothes and hiring a lawn man, I need a better vision for this season. So I’m working on this. Not a plan so much as a shift in attitude, in focus, a survivors guide of sorts. I’m jotting down some sanity savers for the school year. It’s Wednesday afternoon and so far, I have yet to melt down this week. Maybe they are working.

  • Pray. Often. Quietly. Out loud. Whenever I think I need Jared. Because really, I probably actually need Jesus.
  • Go Away. I’m going to try and getaway for a writing weekend once a month. I’m calling in Grandparents and friends and getting away to do my bulk of writing in short intense weekend spurts, because that’s how my mind works best.
  • Wake Up Early. I am NOT a morning person, but now that I have a toddler who, bless his adorable heart, drains every ounce of energy from me by his 8:00pm bedtime, I’m no longer a night person either. So I’m trying to wake up early to be with God, my thoughts, and my writing…and coffee, probably lots of coffee. I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling on this one!
  • Plan/shop for meals every two weeks. I will go major grocery shopping every other Sunday night while Jared is home with Jackson, so I know what is for dinner every night….and I can do the big shopping alone (the only way I enjoy this chore).
  • Double and freeze meals as often as I cook (when possible). I’ve been cooking big and filling up my freezer this week and it feels so good to have pizza, falafel, bean burritos, pinto beans, cupcakes, extra chopped veggies and fruits, and Jackson’s morning oatmeal all ready when I need something quick.   
  • Apply to start a home group. This seems kind of counter intuitive…but our current group meets on Thursday nights and we can’t make it because of football and bedtimes, so we are going to try and start one every other Sunday afternoon, because we need people to invest in, because we don’t want to get lost in our little world that revolves around ourselves and football.
  • Stay involved in MOPS, because these women are my girls…they are in the trenches of motherhood with me and they understand me and will pray for me when I ask them to and make me laugh when I think I’m going to fall apart. I stepped down from my steering team role, which was sad and hard, but the right choice. And now, for this season, I will let MOPS do what it does best, minister to my often overwhelmed mother heart…and equip me to be a better mom. Better Moms Make a Better World. 
  • Dig in the dirt. I’m going to devote time to dig in the dirt with Jackson, to go on slow picking up sticks and rocks along the way walks, build things with him on his workbench…without looking at my phone or quickly checking to see what email just popped in my inbox. Focused time with him, so his cup will be full when I do need to focus on something else.
  • Savor nap time. I have a child that sleeps during the day. That’s awesome. It will end at some point…and until it does…oh I will savor that time, from the sweet snuggles while we read and rock to the quiet time to write, reflect, and decompress from busy mornings while he’s sleeping.
  • Declare evenings stress-free. At about 5:00pm, my ability to handle stress goes way down. I might just declare a daily dance party in the kitchen at 5:00 to signal that the day is over and the stress free night has begun. Think I can convince a two-year old to go along with this?

I talked with some other coach’s wives at a coach’s cookout this week. One reminded me that the season is not very long, really just three to four months. Another whose husband was in the military before this gave me a little perspective about what it really feels like for your husband to be away while you’re raising young kids. Any other wisdom from coach’s wives, writer mamas, work-at-home moms? What are you doing to try and stay sane this fall? 🙂

On a really rough day, cooking these Spinach & Mushroom Mole Enchiladas and Roasted Butternut Squash Enchiladas (not pictured) with Jackson was the bright spot, the only time in a full day that all was well in our wold, the two of us cooking side by side happy to be doing something we both love together. (Then came the epic awful, rocking him for an hour and half because that's all that was left in me, awful night.)

On a really rough day, cooking these Spinach & Mushroom Mole Enchiladas and Roasted Butternut Squash Enchiladas (not pictured) with Jackson was the bright spot, the only time in a full day that all was well in our wold, the two of us cooking side by side happy to be doing something we both love together. (Then came the epic awful, rocking him for an hour and half starting at 6:30 because that’s all that was left in me, evening.)

As part of my meal plan last week, which believe it or not, made the week go WAAAAAY smoother than it could have gone, I made a huge pot of crockpot pinto beans. We ate them with Mushroom & Spinach Mole Enchiladas one night and Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas another night. (I will share this recipe next time I make them. Let me just tell you, they were fantastic and I will be making them again…but I did not have the energy for the extra food blogging steps this time. Sorry!) Then I made several bean burritos to freeze for back up meals or quick lunches, and still I froze some extra pintos to reheat for future meals. I always forget how long the crockpot actually takes…they call it a slow cooker for a reason, but it’s worth the wait. Just plan ahead!

Crockpot Pinto Beans

Crockpot Pinto Beans

Makes 5-6 quarts

2 pounds dried pinto beans, sorted and rinsed and soaked*
2 onions, quartered
6 cloves, garlic (gently smashed and peels removed)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
approx 10 cups water
2-4 teaspoons salt

Equipment: 6-quart or larger crockpot (halve recipe for smaller crockpots), strainer

*Cover beans with lots of water. Let sit overnight at room temperature and rinse or follow package instructions for the quick soak method.

Beans after they've soaked overnight. Looking pretty and plump.

Beans after they’ve soaked overnight. Looking pretty and plump.

Put soaked beans in your crockpot. Pour water over the top until they are covered about an inch (to your thumb knuckle).

I don't know where I learned this trick, but it's how I do most of my dried beans. Just add water until it reaches my thumb knuckle when the tip of my thumb is touching the top of the beans.

I don’t know where I learned this trick, but it’s how I do most of my dried beans. Just add water until it reaches my thumb knuckle when the tip of my thumb is touching the top of the beans.

Add onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika. Stir.

Everything except the salt goes into the crockpot (salt makes your beans tough).

Everything except the salt goes into the crockpot (salt makes your beans tough).

Cover crockpot. Put on high. (My crockpot doesn’t seem to get very hot, even on high, so I cooked mine on high the whole time.) If you notice the liquid bubbling, lower your crockpot to medium. (If you do this in the morning before work, put it on high while you are getting ready, then lower it to medium or low while you are at work. Crank it back up when you get home if they aren’t done.)

Cook for five hours, or until the beans are cooked through. Add two teaspoons of salt, tilt lid to let some of the liquid evaporate, and cook for one more hour. Add more salt if needed. I used four teaspoons in ours.

You can eat them just like this or make refried beans.

“Refried” Beans

Scoop beans, onions & garlic with a slotted spoon into a food processor, process until desired consistency, adding cooking liquid as needed. If you plan on freezing or reheating, add a little extra liquid because they thicken each time you reheat them. (You can also do this in a big pan on medium low heat with a little oil and just mash them until they are the desired consistency.)

Perfect job for a motor-lovin' helper.

Perfect job for a motor-lovin’ helper.

To freeze refried beans: Put cooled leftovers into glass jars or ziptop bags and freeze.

Ready to reheat or freeze.

Ready to reheat or freeze.

Defrost overnight in the fridge (or in a bowl of luke warm water), pour into a pan and heat on the stove top to desired temperature or consistency.

Frozen burritos

At about $2 a burrito for store-bought organic frozen burritos, this saves you tons of money. These 8 burritos here cost just a few dollars.

At about $2 a burrito for store-bought organic frozen burritos, this saves you tons of money. These 8 burritos here cost just a few dollars.

Scoop beans into a warm tortilla. Fold into a burrito with seam side down on a cookie sheet. Repeat. Freeze on the cookie sheet. Wrap each frozen burrito in saran wrap or sandwich baggies. To reheat, remove from plastic wrap, wrap in a paper towel, reheat in microwave for 60 seconds on each side until heated through (2-3 minutes).

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Banana Nut Soft Serve [Two Ingredients, Dairy-Free, Sugar Free]

Banana Nut Soft Serve

Jackson is 22 months old now and at that stage where he’s learning new words every day and starting to string together words to make phrases and sentences like these:

“Hoo Hoo” (Whoohoo whith his hands thrown in the air.)

“Cool man” (I don’t know where he picked up this phrase, but it’s super cute.)

“Yayyy, I did it!” (Even if he didn’t actually do whatever IT is, he celebrates every little effort with such enthusiasm. It’s contagious.)

“Leeeeeet’s GO!” (That combined with “Run momma” is turning him into a little personal trainer!)

“Yes.” (Finally, he is saying “yes,” instead of always “no,” in the most adorably assertive and confident way.)

Of course, with this precious phase, also comes the less than adorable phrases, like “Chur turn” (Your turn…which actually means my turn. And it’s always “chur turn”) and “Miiiine!”

My favorite phrase of late, though, is “Tank choo ma ma.” He emphasizes each syllable and I can tell he really has to work to say it. It’s a sweet labor of love and it’s reserved for his truly most satisfying moments of deep gratitude, like when I served him chocolate “ice cream” made of bananas and cocoa for a morning snack last week. “Choc! Tank choo ma ma!”

This idea for banana soft serve has been circulating for years. It’s not new, but I’ve turned a few people toward it this week with my Instagram picture of Jackson enjoying his morning ice cream treat and thought maybe some of our readers have yet to try it as well. The basic recipe is just frozen bananas processed in a blender. It’s magical! The bananas just whip right into a thick creamy soft serve that is delicious on it’s own. You can make all sorts of flavors: chocolate peanut butter, strawberry banana, cinnamon and sugar…wherever your taste buds take you. This version is one of my favorites. You can use peanut butter instead of peanuts, but I really love the texture and flavor from the whole peanuts.

Ready in under five minutes, it makes the perfect healthy summer snack, or even breakfast. You’ll earn some serious cool mom or dad points putting a bowl of this in front of your kids first thing in the morning!

Banana Nut Soft Serve

Serves 2


2 frozen bananas, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons peanuts (I used organic unsalted)
sprinkle of sea salt (unless peanuts are salted)


Put ingredients in a food processor and blend, stopping and scraping the sides as needed until it turns to the texture of a thick soft serve ice cream. Then stop. You don’t want to over blend or it will have more of a melty soft serve texture (not bad, but not as good either).

Peanut Banana Ice Cream

For this portion size, I use the smallest bowl on my food processor so I don’t have to stop and scrape the sides as often.  (It will be very loud at first, that’s okay, just be prepared.)

Serve immediately with a few extra peanuts and another sprinkle of sea salt on top for some extra crunch. I’ve heard this does not refreeze well, though I’ve never had any left to try. 🙂 You can buy yourself a little time keeping it chilled in the freezer, but it’s best to serve right away.

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Have you made Banana Soft Serve?

What are your favorite flavor combinations?

What are your favorite toddler phrases and phases?

We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook Thumbnail

A little book update:

Zondervan, our publisher, has been so supportive of our book (coming out August 6). We’re having such a great publishing experience! They just decided to do an audio version of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook and invited my mom and I to record it. One of us will be recording in the studio most of the week, each of us having two 5-7 hour days in studio. Prayers for good health appreciated. The following week I’m heading to Colorado (with Jackson in tow) to join mom for a photo shoot for a major Christian publication. We’re so grateful for all the encouragement and support we’ve received…and for our fabulous readers at the blog.

We also got all of the endorsements in for the book. Wow! We are floored by the generosity of our fellow authors. Click on the picture of the book above to read the endorsements and find lots of knew authors to friend and follow.

Simple Lentil Soup

Simple Lentil Soup

Last week Jackson and I flew to Colorado to stay at my mom’s for a few days. It was one of the best visits we’ve had there. Jackson adores his Nonny and Poppy and he’s finally big enough to really play with his big cousin George, whom he thinks hung the moon. Jackson asks for George every day. Every single day. So we watch a lot of videos to hold him over between visits. And George is so good and patient with his little cousin.

The day we flew in, May 1, it snowed and snowed and snowed all day. Not your typical spring visit, but we made the best of it. It’s not every year you see snow in May.

Cousins George and Jackson, buddies for life.

Cousins George and Jackson, buddies for life.

No time like snow time to learn to ride a bike.

No time like snow time to learn to ride a bike.

This Texas boy has never seen this much snow. He loved it.

This Texas boy has never seen this much snow. He loved it.

The next day, we had pictures scheduled for the book. The sun came out, the snow mostly melted and we were able to get some great shots thanks to our fabulous photographer Molly McMillan. This one will be used for the back cover.


Because one of us is usually behind the camera, I don’t have many pictures of me and my mom. These pictures are one of the many blessings that have come from doing this blog and book together.

After the photo shoot, we were pretty wiped out…and hungry! We both declared we were retiring from our one-day modeling career. Way too much work and not enough food!

With my sister-in-law Julie heading back to the house with the boys and Greg (mom’s husband) on his way home, we quickly transitioned from top models to cooks in the kitchen. Mom was going to run to the grocery store to get fixins for Messy Greek Sandwiches and Reubens and I’d get started on some kind of soup to go along. I rummaged through her pantry and held up a bag of lentils, “How about lentil soup?” “Perfect! I’ve had those lentils for months and wasn’t sure what to do with them,” she admitted. “Oh it’s so easy,” I told her. “It takes no time to get started and will be finished simmering by the time you’re back from the store.”  Mom headed to the grocery store and I got started chopping onions and carrots. By the time Julie walked in with Jackson and George, I had the soup covered and simmering, happy to step out of my author/foodie hat and into mommy and auntie role again.

Mom came home from the store and said the house smelled just like her Nonny’s, my great grandmother’s, kitchen. I didn’t know her well, but I’ve heard story after story of her in the kitchen. She was quite the cook. One of my favorite pictures of her is one of her standing in her old 1950s kitchen with a yellow apron tied around her neck. Something about recreating the comforting tastes and smells from her kitchen makes me feel connected to her. I can imagine her cooking up a simple soup like this to feed her nine children on their very tight budget.

What foods and smells bring back childhood memories for you?


Simple Lentil Soup

Makes 3.5 quarts

1/2 cup onion (~1 small or 1/4 big onion), diced
4 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
Olive oil (enough to coat pan)
1 lb lentils, sorted for rocks and rinsed
8 cups veggie broth (2 quarts)
1 32 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
2 teaspoons steak seasoning
Salt to taste (may not need if broth has salt)


In a large pot, sauté onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil (or 1/2 cup of broth for a no fat version) with a pinch of salt until softened. Add lentils and tomatoes and broth. Cover and bring to boil. Uncover and lower to a simmer. Cover and simmer on med low for 20-30 min until lentils are cooked through. Season with steak seasoning and salt if needed.

I served this with crackers, roasted brussel sprouts, and smoky garlicky collard greens. It was husband and toddler approved.

Notes: I’ve found the type of pan and burner I use causes cook times to vary a lot. My heavy duty pans cook much quicker on my flat top stove than my old cheapies that don’t have that nice heavy flat bottoms…so cooking times may vary. It took closer to 45 minutes to cook on my mom’s gas stove top, but I think I may have left the pot uncovered there. If your pots tend to heat up slowly, give yourself some extra time.

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Tofu Scramble Tacos

(Rachel, the daughter)

Jared, Jackson and I went to the Texas State Veggie Fair this weekend. I’m a terrible blogger and didn’t take any pictures of my food. I blame my hungry toddler. We scoped out all the food trucks and booths and contemplated fresh squeezed juice or mac-n-cheese and a barbeque sandwich, but our eyes kept venturing to the long line behind the Corn Dogs and Fried Cinnamon Rolls. When in Rome, right? What’s a fair without fried food? I stood in the 20 minute line while Jared took Jackson to play on the playground.

Finally, I returned to my boys juggling two corn dogs, a fried cinnamon roll and a handcrafted root beer. We sat on the lawn and indulged. If you’re having trouble imagining how good it was, here’s Jackson’s face after his first bite of fried fair food.

“Fried food, where have you been all my life!?!”

I think this picture says it all. Yum.

That deep fried cinnamon roll was worth every glorious calorie, but as soon as I got home, I whipped up a big kale salad for dinner. My body felt like it was shutting down from all the grease, sugar, and processed fake-meat products I had consumed.  Sometimes you just have to give your body what it wants and then deal with the consequences.

For months after going vegan, I continued to crave eggs. I couldn’t get them off my mind. One night, after a wedding with nothing vegan on the menu, we went with some friends to a bar with a midnight breakfast burrito buffet. I was so hungry and finally caved and ate an egg and potato breakfast burrito. My stomach was in knots for two days, proving wrong the myth that if we are craving something our body must need it.

Lucky for me, I finally discovered a breakfast burrito that satisfied my craving for eggs without sacrificing my vegan diet or my stomach lining.  Tofu scramble looks and feels just like pale scrambled eggs and with a little seasoning tastes eerily similar. Jared has been nagging me to make this all week. It’s truly crave-worthy. If you’re curious about tofu or have had bad experiences with it before, try out tofu scramble.

Tofu Scramble Tacos make a hearty savory vegan breakfast or an easy weeknight dinner.

Tofu Scramble Tacos

Serves 4


2-4 T. Olive Oil
2 small red potatoes, diced (or any veggies of your your choice — onions, bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini…)
1 clove of garlic, minced or chopped
1/2 c. frozen corn
1/2 block of tofu
1 t. salt (divided)
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. onion powder
2 c. baby spinach
8 tortillas (I really like the new Artisan Corn & Whole Wheat Blend by Mission)
16 oz Black Beans
1 avocado, sliced or diced (optional garnish)
salsa (optional garnish)
cilantro (optional garnish)

I used potatoes, spinach, corn, and garlic, but you can easily modify this to whatever veggies or greens you have on hand — bell peppers, poblano peppers, onions, broccoli, carrots, summer squash, zucchini, kale, swiss chard, and collard greens would all be delicious.


Heat oil in a non-stick skillet, use enough to generously coat the bottom of the pan. Pan-fry potatoes (or any other veggies) with 1/2 t of salt on medium heat until they are tender, stirring often.  I covered the potatoes to help them cook quicker, other veggies may not need to be covered though. Bring heat down and add the garlic. Stir continuously to keep garlic from burning.

As soon as the garlic is translucent, crumble the tofu into the pan (just squish it up in your hands and break into little crumbles). Add smoked paprika, onion powder, pepper, and remaining salt. Return heat to medium and stir and cook for about five minutes. Add corn and cook until corn is heated through ( a few more minutes). Stir in the spinach and cook until just wilted.

Tofu scramble has a texture really similar to scrambled eggs. With the right seasoning, you can hardly tell the difference.

Serve in tortillas with black beans, avocados, cilantro, and salsa.

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Nut Butter Banana Hemp Shake (Vegan, High-Protein, Kid-Friendly)

When your kid begs you for a drink of your high-protein, high-fiber shake full of essential aminos and omegas, you call it quits on your food blog photo shoot and hand over the shake.

(Rachel, the daughter)

I just wrote a long boring post about how exhausting this week has been. Then I hit delete. #boringsnoring #toughenup #writersblock #speakinginhashtagsiswayeasierthanwritingblogsandbooks

I think Instagram and Twitter are ruining my ability to write in full sentences. I mean, do you really need a full explanation when a hashtag and a picture say it all?

#badidea #meltdownonaisletwo #tinycartsarethedevil

#lifewithatoddler #enoughsaid

#joy #bubbles #lovehim

In the spirit of quick and easy, here’s a recipe that has saved me on many an exhausted morning or afternoon this week. High in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, it’s the perfect breakfast or post-park snack for adults and little ones.

#simple #healthy #kid-friendly #10gramsofprotein #6gramsoffiber

Nut Butter Banana Hemp Shake

Makes one 1-cup serving


1 banana (Frozen or thawed)
2 T. nut butter (Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Sunflower Seed Butter, or mix of any combination)
1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk (or your preferred milk)
1/2 T. hemp seeds
1/2 c. ice


Blend first four ingredients together for 60 seconds. Add ice and blend until ice chunks are gone. That’s it. Enjoy!

Almond milk + nut butter + banana + hemp seed = #mynewfavshake

I did some quick pen and paper calculations on the one I made today (not pictured). I used half sunflower seed butter and half organic peanut butter. It had about 19 grams of fat, 300 calories, 10 grams of protein, and 6.5 grams of fiber. Remember the fat comes from seeds and nuts, which are good healthy fats.

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Raspberry Mocha Pudding

Rasberry Mocha Pudding, a seriously energizing snack.

Rachel, the daughter

I used to be organized. My house used to be clean. I used to be prompt. I loved those things about me. I was that girl, that girl that appeared to have her life together.

Motherhood is humbling. I’ll leave it at that, without describing the current condition of my home.

This morning was Jackson’s first day of Mother’s Day Out. Last week at Meet the Teacher the teachers gave me a big cut out construction fish with, I’m sure, instructions on what to do with it.

At 11:00pm last night, just as my head finally hit the pillow, I remembered something about family photos for the fish. I think he needs pictures so they can decorate the fish, I thought. Of course, I’ve yet to print a single one of the 2,000 (I wish I was exaggerating) photos I’ve taken since Jackson was born. So I crawled out of bed and ordered some from a 24 hour Walgreens and set my alarm 20 minutes earlier so I could pick them up in the morning. I was so proud of myself for remembering the instructions and for pulling it off, even if I by the skin of my teeth. And though slightly late, we weren’t the last ones to arrive. I’ll take it.

I walked in and bumped into a friend whose daughter is in Jackson’s class. She was holding her daughter’s fish and it was the most beautifully decorated construction paper fish I’d ever seen. It had her daughter’s name in cute little die cut patterned letters, glitter, and a perfectly placed collage of their family’s recent professional photos.

We were supposed to decorate the fish?, I sighed. I thought the kids were going to decorate them! 

I didn’t pull it off. I wasn’t the mom who had it all together. On the first day of “school,” Jackson had a sad blank fish.

Fortunately, he’s one and had no idea he was that kid with that mom.

Later, I got a text from his teacher that said “Good eater! He has done sooo well this morning! Perfect child. :)”  And when I picked him up the teachers commented at how delicious his lunch looked. I may not be the craftiest mom or the most prompt mom, but I’m raising a good eater! He ate up most of his spinach, bean, and avocado rice pilaf and all of his grapes, and most of his coconut yogurt sprinkled with hemp seeds. He was happy and played well and didn’t cry when I left. He even took a nap on his big boy mat.

Maybe I’m not failing, maybe my priorities have just shifted with motherhood.

But you better believe he’ll have a pimped out fish to bring to school on Thursday morning.

After Mother’s Day Out, Jackson stood at the counter in his FunPod stool and munched on Super Green puffs, while I whipped up this deceptively healthy afternoon pick-me-up for myself. If I still worked at an office, I would totally pack this as my afternoon snack for that slump when you just need a little something to nibble on and a gentle jolt of energy to get through the rest of the day.

When you don’t have time for coffee and breakfast (or a snack)…

Raspberry Mocha Pudding


  • 1 container of So Delicious Chocolate Cultured Coconut Milk (or chocolate pudding)
  • Slightly less than 1 T. of instant coffee
  • 3/4 cup organic raspberries (divided)
  • Coconut milk (I used canned coconut milk, but I think any creamer would work — half and half, whipping cream, regular coconut or almond milk)
  • Chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts)

Chocolate Coconut Yogurt, Nuvia Instant Coffee, Organic Raspberries


Blend the chocolate yogurt or pudding and instant coffee. Add 1/2 c. rasberries, pulse for a few seconds. With a spoon, stir in remaining raspberries, cream to taste, and top with  chopped nuts (not pictured.)

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Powerhouse Chocolate Pudding Pie

This treat is sweet and creamy and crunchy and chocolately and HEALTHY. Not just healthy for a dessert or healthy-ish. Every ingredient is nutritious. You could eat it for breakfast or feed it to your kids for breakfast. They’ll think you are the coolest mom, and you will be (for reasons they’ll understand when they are 30).

(Rachel, the daughter)

There’s this cake my mom used to make. You’ve probably had a version of it. It has a shortbread crust, a layer of chocolate pudding and whipped cream topping, and maybe a sweetened cream cheese layer too. In some circles it’s known as “Better Than Sex in a Pan.” I’ve never had sex in a pan, so I can’t attest to that, but I do remember sitting on a bar stool at the kitchen island eating it strait out of the pan and being very satisfied.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had it (the dessert, that is), but I’ve been craving that shortbread crust and chocolate pudding combination for the last few weeks and trying to think of a healthy vegan version. Yesterday, I saw a recipe for chocolate chia pudding on the Engine 2 Diet’s Facebook page. They had frozen it into “fudgsicles.” Clever. Immediately, I was reminded of my favorite crust that I use in my frozen No Bake Apricot Bars. Made out of cashews and oats, it is rich and buttery like a shortbread cookie. It would be perfect for a cold puddin’ pie.

Chia seeds are like a nutritional powerhouse and they have virtually no taste. I put a tablespoon in my oatmeal and my smoothies. They basically offer all the nutrition of flax seeds, except they don’t have to be ground for our body to absorb the nutrients and they don’t have a strong taste like I find flax often does. The seeds absorb liquid and become gel-like, which is how they turn almond milk into “pudding.”

Chia Seeds

Jackson devoured the pudding and the frozen bar I gave him. I used dates to sweeten it, so I had absolutely no reason to feel guilty for giving my one-year old this dessert. In fact, it’s good for him. He needs the healthy fats from the cashews, coconut oil, and coconut milk; the fiber and protein from the oats; the omegas from the chia seeds; and the heart and skin protection from the flavonoids in cocoa powder (a super food for toddlers).

My little puddin’ pie. Why do boys always get the long eyelashes?

Oh, and I assure you, I don’t post a recipe I don’t love…so you know I loved it just as much as Mr. Long Lashes up there did.

Served frozen (as shown here) or refrigerated (as shown at the top of the post).

Powerhouse Chocolate Pudding Pie

Inspired by FatFree Vegan and Oh She Glows (two of my favorite vegan bloggers)

(NOTE: Plan ahead for this recipe. The pudding must sit for at least an hour and up to overnight.)


  • 1 c. nondairy unsweetened milk
  • 3 T. full fat coconut milk (from a can)*
  • 3 dates, pitted and chopped (soak in a little warm water if they are tough or your blender isn’t very strong)
  • 2  t. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 3 T. chia seeds


  • 3/4 c. whole cashews (raw, toasted, roasted – whatever you have)
  • 3/4 c. regular oats (for Gluten-free, use GF oats)
  • 1/4 t. kosher salt (omit if cashews are salted)
  • 3  medgool dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/8 cup coconut oil, melted

Optional Toppings

Kitchen Gadgets

  • Blender
  • Food processor

Pudding Ingredients



In a blender, combine the first five pudding ingredients. Pour into a tupperware bowl with a lid and add chia seeds. Use a whisk or fork to stir in chia seeds. Stir every five minutes or so until all the chia seeds have started to swell a little and turn light grey. Cover and store in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour, overnight is best. Stir it every so often if you can. You are looking for the seeds to lose all of their crunch and absorb the liquid until it looks like pudding.

The chia seeds immediately start to thicken the almond milk mixture. This is after stirring a couple of times.


Spray an 8×8 pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a food processor, process cashews, salt, and oats until a fine crumble forms. Add dates and process until crumbly again. Add coconut oil and process until sticky. Press into pan to form a crust. Freeze for five minutes to harden or until the pudding is ready.

My favorite crust for no-bake desserts.

Pour the pudding over the crust and either refrigerate or freeze. Either way is delicious. The refrigerated version is a little crumblier and I’m assuming only keeps for a day or two. I loved it with a few sliced bananas on top. The frozen version comes out in nice bars and if kept covered tightly should keep for a few weeks.

(Update: After two batches and several taste tests, I decided I prefer it refrigerated rather than frozen. Both are good, but the refrigerated version reminds me of chocolate cream pie…mmmm.)

*Freeze leftover coconut milk in an ice cube tray. You can add it to smoothies, oatmeal, or make coconut covered cherries with it later.

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Vegan Cajun Red Beans & Rice

Red Beans and Rice, a humble, healthy, easy dish, high in protein, fiber, and iron–a perfectly satisfying meatless meal.

(Rachel, the daughter)

I used to be a firm believer that I needed a little meat, or at the least some cheese or an egg, at every meal to keep from getting the shakes and a headache. I’m sometimes still surprised that this wasn’t actually true. I obviously still need protein, but it turns out, my body happily accepts plant-based protein, like from legumes, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and occasional unprocessed soy (like organic tofu or edamame).

For most of my young adult life I battled headaches almost daily. Recently, it dawned on me that I very rarely get headaches now, like maybe once every two to three months. I wonder if my old diet high in animal protein could have actually been causing it, rather than helping it. Hmmm… I don’t know. But you know what else dawned on me? I don’t have my old built-in excuse for getting out of certain activities anymore.

“Sorry, I have a headache,” can get you out of watching a loud shoot-em-up-bang-em-up boy movie, cooking dinner, going to your husband’s work banquet, paying the bills, and well, you can probably think of a laundry list of other things.

Because I genuinely did have a headache so often, I could pretty much throw it out there on any given day and it was believable. Who was to say just how severe my headache was? Now, I would probably have to put on a bit of a production to sell that excuse. I might have to throw myself on the bed with a damp towel over my head and moan and groan for awhile, stay off my computer (read: facebook), and go to bed early. It’s really more trouble than it’s worth.

Thank goodness, there’s always the go-to “Sorry, I’m so tired” excuse. Who’s going to question that from the mother of a baby?

This recipe for cajun red beans and rice, very high in plant-based protein (and fiber and iron!), is truly easy enough that you won’t need to come up with an excuse to get out of cooking dinner. It only takes about 10 minutes to make, but does need a couple of hours to simmer. With almost 20 grams of protein, 30% of your daily iron needs, 16 grams of fiber, and only 3 grams of fat, you might even feel energetic enough that you want to tackle that laundry list of to-dos.

Rachel’s Vegan Cajun Red Beans & Rice

Serves 6


1 T. olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves (I used 1 very large clove)
2 jalapeno or serrano peppers
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped (could sub dry parsley)
2 t. smoked paprika
3 dashes liquid smoke
2 t. salt-free cajun seasoning (if yours has salt, add this at the end–salt can make beans tough)
1/2 t. brown sugar
1 lb dried kidney beans, sorted and rinsed (no pre-soak required*)
8 c. water
2 t. salt (use 1/2 smoked salt if you have it)
1 t. pepper
1/4 t. cayenne (optional–adds spice)

1 1/4 c. brown Rice & 3/4 c. wild rice, cooked per package instructions or in a rice maker**


In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium heat, add onions, garlic, peppers (whole), and saute until onions are soft. Add parsley, smoked paprika, liquid smoke, cajun seasoning, and brown sugar. Stir for one minute. Add kidney beans, stir. Add water, stir, cover, bring to low boil, then reduce heat to med-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until kidney beans are cooked through. You can remove the lid for the last 15 minutes or so to thicken up the juices if you like. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne if desired. (I removed some beans for the little one before adding the cayenne.)

Slow Cooker: Saute onions, garlic, peppers, parsley and spices in a skillet as above. (You can do this the night before and just keep in the refrigerator until morning.) Put onion spice mixture, kidney beans, and hot water to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. When you get home or the beans are cooked to your liking, season with salt, tilt the lid open and turn crockpot to high heat to let some of the liquid evaporate while you get the rest of dinner ready.

Serve over cooked rice.

*No presoak is required, though it could shorten your cooking time if you do. Some beans can be difficult to digest without a presoak and rinse. I’ve eaten two bowls today and have had no, ahem…flatulence or difficulty digesting. More than you wanted to know, right?!

**I combine the wild and brown rice together and cook in the rice maker with a little extra water and about a teaspoon of olive oil. Comes out perfect every time.

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Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa

Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa

Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa brings a nice touch of color, a punch of flavor, and a boost of nutrition to any meal.

This week I made a plan, a very purposeful plan. I decided that if I really wanted to make room in my life for God, fitness, writing, cooking, my husband, and my son, then I needed to live every day intentionally. Sunday morning I made charts and printed off calendars and posted them on the refrigerator door. I was even planning on attempting to skip my beloved morning coffee. I’d just take Jackson for a brisk walk instead.

As life goes, after church Sunday evening Jackson started running his first ever fever and was up most of the night. Then Monday morning at 7:50 am, my door bell rang. I hurried out of my pjs and into a t-shirt and sweats and threw my wild morning curls into a bun. I carried Jackson, still in his pjs, with me to the door, and we were greeted by a girl in her young 20s who looked like her morning routine had closely resembled mine, except she’d thrown on some scrubs instead of sweats.

“I’m here to give you your physical for the life insurance policy,” she said.

My husband had attempted to postpone this appointment, since he realized last minute he couldn’t be there. Apparently they didn’t get the memo. So there I was left alone to answer 4,000 questions about what disease I may or may not have contracted, pee in a cup (I wonder how many times can I talk about peeing on our food blog!), and have my blood drawn as I tried to keep Jackson entertained and contained.

The visit couldn’t have been less pleasant or less awkward. Taking my blood took two tries, leaving one arm bruised and still sore three days later. Apparently, you don’t need any social skills, hygiene, or experience with needles to be an in-home nurse for this company.

My actual plan for the day had included creating a menu for the week and going grocery shopping. With a feverish baby and one immobile arm, I decided productivity was going to have to wait. Which meant whipping up something for dinner out of a few staples in the kitchen. I usually have a block of tofu (I’m not crazy for tofu, so it’s always waiting for me as I get down to the last of my groceries), some sort of veggies left in the crisper, a jar of roasted red peppers, and a box of pre-rinsed quinoa (pronounced keen-wah).

So I made Everything Tofu (tofu coated in sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion flakes, and garlic powder) topped with a chive Tofutti cream cheese sauce, a simple side of steamed broccoli, and my latest go-to side dish, roasted red pepper quinoa. It’s so easy and with my rice maker it basically cooks itself while I get the rest of dinner made.

The tofu was actually pretty good, but a lot of work. I would have been just as happy with a whole plate of this quinoa and a little broccoli. I immediately regretted not making more (so I’ve doubled the recipe for you guys!)

Tuesday, after another rough night with Jackson, I woke to a clogged milk duct along with a side of fever. Thankfully, we were back to our healthy selves by Wednesday. There is nothing like feeling sick and sleep deprived to make me thankful for a decent night’s rest and my good health. Maybe I’ll even get back to my plan tomorrow, but I may have lost my willpower to forgo coffee. Have any of you successfully quit coffee? Was it really hard?  Did you feel better without it?

Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa

Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa

Serves 4


1 cup onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 T. olive oil

2 cups quinoa (rinsed if the package doesn’t say it’s already pre-rinsed)

3 1/2 cups of water

1/2 cup of juice from a jar of roasted red peppers

1 t. salt

1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped


With a Rice Maker:

In a skillet, saute onions in the olive oil until soft, add the garlic and saute a few minutes longer. Transfer the onions and garlic and any remaining oil into the rice maker, add the quinoa, water, salt, and red pepper juice and cover and start the rice cooker. When the rice maker goes off, add in the chopped roasted red peppers.

Note: If your rice maker has a tendency to stick, add about a teaspoon of extra oil & stir the ingredients before cooking.

Without a Rice Maker:

In a medium sauce pan, saute onions in the olive oil until soft, add the garlic and saute a few minutes longer. Add the quinoa, water, red pepper juice, & salt to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until all the liquid is absorbed (about 15-20 minutes). When the rice maker goes off, add in the chopped roasted red pepper

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Sesame Broccoli Slaw

Today, a new mom friend asked when she would ever feel like herself again after quitting her job and becoming a mother full time. At first I chuckled and thought about saying, “I think it will be about 30 years from now!” Then I recalled there was a moment after Jackson was born, when I first felt like my old self again.

He was about three months old and Jared and I were desperate for a night to ourselves. Money was tight, though, now that I wasn’t working and bills for the two day hospital visit were piling up. The amount we owed to doctors was growing faster than Jackson was! Despite our empty bank account, we called the grandparents and asked if they could watch Jackson for the evening. They happily obliged.

We couldn’t afford to go out to eat, but with the few groceries we had on hand and a little creativity I planned to turn our patio into the finest bistro in town. (The competition isn’t too steep in Small Town, Texas!) Before we dropped Jackson off, Jared and I prepped all the food, cleaned the house, hid all the baby gear away, and set up a table on the back patio. I got dolled up, putting on a dress and heels for the first time in months, thrilled to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes.

When we returned to our home “bistro,”  all was ready for wining and dining. It was a perfect fall evening with just the slightest chill in the air. A bowl of delicious homemade vegetable soup and a bottle of Pinot Noir kept us plenty warm while we chatted the night away.

I remember stopping mid-sentence and saying to Jared, “We are talking, like really talking, and I’m actually able to focus on what we are saying!” The newborn haze had lifted for at least an evening and I felt like my old self again. I’d forgotten how much I loved spending the day in the kitchen, and evenings together, with the first love in my life. It was in that moment I realized though motherhood will forever change me, and in ways I’m really grateful for, I still need to make room in my life for the things that inspire and energize me. I’ll be a better mother for it.

One of my favorite creations from our romantic evening was an Asian-inspired Sesame Broccoli Slaw I served as our appetizer salad. It was crunchy, tangy, sweet, and easy to make ahead so it was waiting for us when we arrived at The Back Porch Bistro.

Sesame Broccoli Slaw

Serves 2 as a side salad or appetizer, probably up to 4 as a side dish.


2 cups Broccoli, thinly sliced into ribbons
2 cups Carrots, thinly sliced into ribbons
4 tbs Rice Vinegar
2 tbs Olive Oil
2 tbs Organic Sugar
2 tbs Sesame Seeds
1 tsp Sesame Oil
1 tsp Salt


Slice the broccoli and carrots into ribbons as thin as you can. (A vegetable peeler works great to “cut” the carrots really thin. Just start about half way up the carrot and peel, peel, peel lovely little ribbons. Then start over with the upper half of the carrot.) In a bowl, add all of the ingredients and toss. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors mingle and the carrots and broccoli soften up. Can be served chilled or at room temperature.

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The Title: Sesame Broccoli Slaw
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