Creamy Polenta Ragu {Vegan and Gluten-Free}

Polenta RaguI have these neighbors. We will call them Wilfredo and Valentina, because those are their actual names. Cool, right? Well, they ARE cool and totally live up to those epic names. They moved in downstairs about eight months ago from New Jersey and we have become close friends. So close, in fact, that my two year old son, E, feels totally comfortable opening their front door and walking right in to say hello at any hour of the day.  (Yeah, we’re working on the whole concept of knocking.)

Wilfredo and Valentina are both avid athletes. It’s not uncommon to see them sprinting up and down the steep hill in front of our building, or doing interval training in the parking lot at dawn. And rain or shine, Wilfredo is running his heart out, getting ready to run UltraMarathon races,  and Valentina is probably completing a 50 mile bike ride as part of her triathlon training before heading off to work.  They have a serious love for activity, the outdoors, and competition.

They’re also VEGAN.

Now, we eat many animal products in our house. We eat plenty of veggies and fruits, too. But we are decidedly not vegan.

Our tribe here has expanded to enfold Wilfredo and Valentina into our hearts. We want to fully integrate them into our little community and become a safe place for these New Jersey transplants.

But here’s the thing: I love them. I love them BIG. They love my kid fiercely and he loves them fiercely right back. My love language is food. So, in order to share our table with them, I’ve been experimenting with dishes outside of my normal food repertoire.

But here’s another thing: Every single person in our tribe has special food things. E takes the (gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, carrot-free) cake because of his FPIES, but he certainly is not the only one who needs special food. But nobody has excluded animal products entirely from their diets.

Until now.

So, when the tribe decided to do a vegan brunch a few weeks ago, I accepted this challenge with great excitement.  Because even though you will never see me sprinting up and down the hill for funsies, I do love a good challenge.  And if the challenge translates to a little food love, then even better.

Everyone can technically eat corn, including E. I typically try to avoid it, but it doesn’t make me feel like wheat does. I also wanted to do a homestyle dish that was still healthy and everyone could enjoy.  I began to dream about casseroles, baked dishes, and rich, flavorful sauces.

Creamy, hot polenta dishes started filling my mind. It’s easy to veganize polenta. So, I scoured the internet looking for recipe ideas. I hit a wall when I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for and started getting frustrated.

Then I remembered that I can cook. DUH.

I started extracting favorite elements from dishes that looked great. Easy enough. Then I got to work.

I discovered that making the polenta first and baking it for a bit gave it the perfect texture. Scoring it, and then topping it with a simple tomato and veggie mixture and putting it in the oven to bake longer made mouth magic.

I brought my finished polenta dish before our tribe. I know I can count on them to give me their honest feedback. They tasted. They went back for seconds. They lamented when it was over, especially Wilfredo and Valentina. Luckily, I made an extra dish of it just for them, and walked it downstairs after brunch was done. They were stoked.

This dish is the classic, simple-food-done-right, love-in-a-Pyrex pan taste of comfort every person needs in their life. Probably right now.

You can make your own variations by using what you have on hand. THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE VEGAN. But then again, you can’t share it with your awesome vegan neighbors if it’s not. So, prepare wisely.

Ingredients for Polenta:

  • 2 cups dry polenta
  • 4 cups unsweetened, unflavored hemp milk (or regular milk)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • ½ cup Nutiva Shortening, or butter
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt

Ingredients for Ragu:

  • 1 jar crushed tomatoes
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bunch spinach or chard, chopped
  • 1-2 zucchini, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 leaves fresh basil, or 1 Tbsp dried
  • 4 leaves fresh sage, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, or 1 Tbsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Directions for Polenta:

  1. Cook polenta according to instructions on package, subbing water for milk. Add additional water to thin it out. It should be a smooth, creamy texture, and easy to stir.
  2. Pour polenta into a large, greased casserole dish. Bake on 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven, and score with a sharp knife into 1-2 inch squares, but do not remove from the dish.

Instructions for Ragu:

(Note: This is great to start while the polenta bakes in the oven.)

  1. Saute onion and garlic in oil, then add herbs, tomatoes, zucchini and sauce. Bring to a low boil.
  2. Remove from heat, and stir in spinach or chard.
  3. Pour over polenta, and bake for 30 additional minutes, or until mixture is bubbling.
  4. Serve and eat immediately, or store for leftovers.

This freezes okay, but stays good in the refrigerator for a week. But the thing is, I don’t think it will last that long. This is comfort food at it’s very best.

Hug a vegan,

Are you interested in learning more about vegan eating and running?  Visit Wilfredo’s blog over at Eat, Run and Done.



Aioli Grilled Asparagus {Dairy Free}


Summer is almost over in the Pacific Northwest.  The uncharacteristically hot weather has been replaced with overcast skies, cooler temperatures and a sprinkling of rain.  Summer lovers are eeking out every ray of sunshine and late-afternoon warmth in preparation for a rainy autumn and winter ahead.

As for me, I’m eeking out every opportunity to utilize the grill before we are driven indoors.  I like the rain.  I like the cooler temps and deep greens and blues of the rainy season.  But I miss my grill.

I attempted many new recipes this summer, with many new ingredients.  Because cooking with fire is FUN.  Asparagus has been a favorite go-to for a summer veggie, and my new favorite asparagus recipe is simple, impressive, unusual and freaking tasty. All it takes is a bunch of asparagus, a little mayo and dijon mustard, fresh rosemary, cracked pepper, and you guessed it, a hot grill.

Don’t let a fancy words like “asparagus” and “aioli” fool you.  Asparagus is full of important vitamins that naturally boost energy and immunity. And as for aioli? It’s just mayonnaise with something added to alter the flavor profile.  For this recipe, I used mayonnaise in place of oil and it turned out superbly. It adds a complex flavor and richness that oil misses.  I am sure this will work in the oven, as well.  But, you know. Summer.


  • 1 lb of asparagus, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp dijon or stone ground mustard
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt


  1. Combine all ingredients, except asparagus, in a small mixing bow. Call this “aioli”.
  2. Coat asparagus in aioli mixture.
  3. Place asparagus on hot grill and cook until asparagus is slightly tender, and the outer skin crisps up a bit.
  4. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top, and serve immediately.

If asparagus is your dish, you will fall in love with it and impress your friends and family at your Labor Day gathering this weekend.  Or at the very least, give them stinky pee.

I hope your Labor Day is filled with love,

Garden Vegetable Frittata

FrittataQuarterViewI need to intentionally out myself here.

I am burned out with cooking. And a large part of my mission in life is cooking. Changing the conversation around food, around bodies, around babies and single people and periods and sex and family and allergies and wholeness and therapy and kombucha and…ALL OF IT.

I just have one small problem.

I want to flame my tiny pink kitchen down to the ground. Ignight it. Light it up and watch it burn down in a blaze of glory, a la Bon Jovi. (I will gladly let you film this spectacle as I stand in the middle of the flames wearing nothing but my mom jeans and an old leather vest that belonged to my grandma in the 1990s with my son’s pink ukulele strapped to my back in exchange for a lifetime of free Chipotle.)

Then I want to walk away, and never look back. 

This isn’t about food. This isn’t about my outdated micro kitchen. This isn’t even about my mission.

This is about self-care.

Last week, I started doing the thing where I eat trail mix for breakfast with a cup of coffee. Then I eat the same thing for lunch. I might grab a handful of cherry tomatoes or eat some cucumber slices off my son’s plate during lunch and start congratulating myself for making vegetables a “priority”. By the time dinner rolls around, I’m ravenous, have a terrible case of the bitchies and lose my words, so I groan and cry and end up laying on my bed in complete despair when I should be making dinner for my family. That is the moment when I want to douse my kitchen in gasoline, light it up with my Namaste candle and run away.

The trail mix is a bad sign, my friends. It means I’m giving up. I HATE GIVING UP. But sometimes I hate the process of not giving up more. It feels good to pretend I can’t cook. It feels like a whole lotta relief to plan to cook dinner and then say “eff it” at the last minute and orderThai takeout instead. It’s like a shot of heroin or the feeling you get when you cancel plans last minute because you want to stay home and watch Netflix in yoga pants and you have a legit, last-minute reason to do it.

Don’t get me wrong.  These food hacks are totally okay. We all hit our max, and sometimes we live at our max for extended periods of time without much relief.  There are seasons. I get it. I’ve been there.

But this isn’t it.

This is abandoning my commitment to taking care of myself.  So, now that the world knows what that looks like, here’s what maintaining my commitment to taking care of myself looks like.

(Note: It might look differently for you, so no judgment here.  Pound that trail (mix).)

  1. Hot breakfast.
  2. The end.

I don’t eat many grains because, with the exception of rice and sometimes oats, they really tear my stomach up.  Plus, I FEEL better when I eat a protein and veggie heavy breakfast during the rest of the day. I like the feeling of something warm in my belly, too. It reminds me that my body is served best when I care for it in small ways.  Plus, I don’t have to fight the trail mix bitchies.

What prep looks like in my tiny pink kitchen.
What prep looks like in my tiny pink kitchen.

Here is my plan of action: Fritatta. I make one large fritatta, portion it out into individual servings, and heat it up in the toaster oven while I get ready in the mornings.  This is all it takes to make me nice.  Well, this and a cup or seven of coffee.

This simple, humble little egg dish is great.  You can make a million different variations of it, but here is my absolute favorite. The fact that I can go outside and gather many of these ingredients from my garden is a total bonus.


  • 12 eggs
  • 1 cup cheese (I prefer parmesan or asiago)
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 lb of browned sausage or cooked bacon, crumbled (I prefer mild Italian sausage, but you can skip meat altogether to make this vegetarian.)
  • 1 medium onion, sauteed
  • 12 oz chopped broccoli
  • 2 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes or 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large bunch of swiss chard or spinach, roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbsp of fresh herbs of your choice, or 1 Tbsp dried herbs. (I use rosemary, basil, and thyme from the garden)
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (if not using sausage)


  1. Whisk together eggs, milk, herbs, salt, and pepper.  Mix in shredded cheese.
  2. Add protein and veggies, and mix thoroughly.
  3. In a large, greased baking dish, bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until the middle is cooked all the way through.
  4. Remove from oven and serve immediately.  Cut into individual portions and reheat in the oven or toaster oven for 12 minutes at 350 degrees.


My individual frittata portions are hanging out in my fridge, ready to be heated and eaten all week long. I blasted Bon Jovi’s greatest hits while prepping and cooking and cleaning up the kitchen to make this all a little more tolerable.  But I digress. I WILL TAKE CARE OF MYSELF THIS WEEK.  I hope you can, too.

Call Me Young Gun,






Mediterranean Tabbouleh {Gluten-Free}

This is a big day for me, friends. This is our first (of many) guest recipe posts.  It looks like this little blog is growing up fast!

Having tasted several of Kileah and Micah’s dishes, I can personally vouch for the delectable awesomeness of everything they make.  Plus, they call themselves hobbits and love all things Scottish (and apparently Middle Eastern).  All four of their tiny hobbit children are funny, sweet, curious, spirited and full of energy. Read on to see what they feed their brood, and fall in love with their version of GF Mediterranean fare.  

From Kileah:

My husband and I love good food.

We have a special food-shaped hole in our hearts labled Middle Eastern Food. In our most recent quest to make sure we live to 100 and not die on the couch watching our favourite Firefly and Arrow re-runs (gluten free brownie points for those of you who’ve watched all of the Firefly episodes!!!), we have been focusing on:

  • how much we eat
  • what we eat
  • the quality of our ingredients
  • it passes the “7-year-old test”

Because we have four small hobbits who also like to eat, if we prepare food that they don’t like…well…let’s just say we have a Shire Situation on our parenting hands.

Ok, back to food! So here’s our take on a quick and easy summer Tabbouleh. If you’ve never eaten tabbouleh, (insert sad hobbit face), it’s a middle-eastern salad chocked full of fresh summer tomatoes and herbs and the itsy bitsy teensy pasta. Normally, traditional couscous is made from wheat, but we prefer using a good brown-rice version of this tiny pasta and it’s just as fantastic! The brown rice couscous enhances the flavor and texture of the dish and leaves us feeling satisfied without the heavy feeling of traditional wheat pasts.


(editor’s note:  You can get the gluten-free couscous at or whole foods, etc.)


  • 2 c. water
  • 2 T. ghee
  • ¼ c. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ c. brown rice couscous
  •  2 c. chopped heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • ½ .c. organic mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ c. crumbled feta cheese
  • ¾ c. roasted/sliced almonds
  • kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste


  1. Bring water and ghee to a boil in a small pot, add in couscous and lemon juice, turn down heat to simmer for 5 minutes, then remove pan from heat.
  2. Add tomatoes, cilantro, mint, shallot, feta and sliced almonds together in a large bowl.
  3. Fluff couscous with a fork and add to the tomato/herb mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste
  4. Cover and chill in fridge until ready to eat. If you can wait that long.
  5. Live Long and Prosper!

May the Couscous Be With You!

-The McIlvains

Creamy Avocado Zoodles {Paleo Vegan Raw}

My friend, Feather, is hilarious.  She’s also kind of a genius.

We met when our babies were still safe little blueberries, growing fast in our bellies.  I offered Feather my drink tickets at my husband’s office Christmas party.  She declined, telling me she was pregnant.  Then I got (too) excited and exclaimed “Me, too!” and thus a friendship was born. And then our babies were born shortly after.

Our kids, E and Rosebud, were born exactly one week apart and Feather and I have been able to support and love each other on every part of this parenting journey.  We are often grateful that our babies conspired to bring us together, because everyone knows babies are magic and can totally do that.  E and Rosebud knew we would need each other.  They were right.  Because Magic.

One day, when our babies were about 6 months old, Feather texted me about a new product she had purchased called the “Vegetti”.  We giggled and turned into 14 year-olds immediately, and then spent an afternoon volleying inappropriate jokes back and forth between diaper changes and bottle feedings.  Because new moms need lots of distraction and laughter, even if it involves bathroom humor.  Maybe especially if it does.

Of course, I had to buy a Vegetti immediately. The Vegetti is a vegetable spiralizer and uses fresh vegetables, like carrots and zucchini, to make noodles.  I experimented and played with it, and came up with a really yummy dish (and several more jokes) that satisfied me for several hours. It also provided a big boost of healthy fat and nutrient dense veggies, which I desperately needed.  It was a fast, healthy lunch, and with a handful of cashews or some uncured ham, it was a complete meal for me.


*If you don’t have a spiralizer or don’t want to invest in one, you can use a carrot peeler and make wider noodles. It will work just as well, and create a slightly different texture.  You can also add some shredded parmesan to add depth and a hint of buttery flavor.

  • 1 large zucchini, spiralized, shredded or peeled
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 8-10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 3-4 leaves of fresh basil, chopped or ribboned
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • sea salt and pepper


  1. Put noodles and basil in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Mash avocado, adding salt and pepper and lemon juice.
  3. Add mashed avocado to the zucchini, and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add tomatoes and stir until they are coated in avocado and well incorporated.
  5. Serve immediately with fresh cracked pepper and a little extra basil on top.

Feather and I are still making jokes, supporting each other in the middle of our crazy times, and raising our babies together.  We even had a mommy getaway last year and Cannon Beach gave us this amazing moment because it somehow knew we needed it. Or maybe our babies knew we needed it and arranged it with their Baby Magic. Who knows?  But we definitely loved our wine and beach sunset. Kind of like you will love the zoodles.


Vegging and Vegetti-ing,