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.



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,






Garden Tomatoes with Burrata Cheese

TomatoFinalMy garden is flourishing.  In fact, it’s not just flourishing, it’s growing enough food to feed a small army.  We are happy to share everything this mutant garden produces, except the tomatoes.

Have you ever tasted a super-ripe garden tomato that is one day away from turning to mush?

If your answer is no, you have not lived, my friend.
Perfection in a garden-grown tomato. No white, no chewy places, just super ripe goodness bursting with flavor.

After visiting one of my favorite Portland haunts with two of my favorite ladies and our husbands, I was inspired to find the biggest, ripest tomatoes and make a simple salad with quality ingredients.  Because flavorful, satisfying food doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  It just has to taste good.

I’ve been a fan of the traditional tomato mozzarella salad for many years.  Who doesn’t love mild, slightly creamy fresh cheese paired with the bright acidic flavor of a ripe tomato with a touch of basil?

(Okay, if you hate tomatoes or cheese, this is admittedly not the recipe for you.)

For the rest of the tomato loving world, this recipe will change the way you eat your tomato mozzarella salad.  In fact, you might never go back to store-bought tomatoes or mozzarella again after tasting this.

Burrata is a shell of fresh mozzarella, stuffed with cream and cheese curds.  It’s creamy, decadent, silky smooth, and provides the perfect accompaniment to those sweet, ripe tomatoes.

There are six ingredients to this and it takes roughly seven minutes to prepare.  But it is so impressive and addictive, I have a hunch you can get that prep time down to five minutes.  I will say this, though.  The quality of the ingredients is in direct correlation to the fantastic taste factor.  Without the quality ingredients I’ll list below, you will take this dish from a 10 to a 5.  So, if you want to do your tomatoes justice, spring for the ingredients.  You  won’t regret it.

I intentionally did not filter or tweak the colors in any of the pictures because I want you to see how beautiful and ripe these tomatoes are. It’s possible.


  • 2 large, very ripe tomatoes from the farmer’s market or your garden. (Deep red, people. No orangey red.) Pick ones that are on the cusp of being too ripe.  You can also ripen them in a window sill for a day or two.
  • 1 ball of fresh burrata cheese (I found mine at Whole foods.)
  • 3-4 leaves of fresh basil, torn or roughly chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp organic olive oil
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • kosher-style sea salt


  1. Remove burrata from refrigerator, drain water, and set aside.
  2. Slice whole tomatoes one inch thick.
  3. Arrange tomato slices on a platter and top with basil, fresh cracked pepper, and salt.
  4. Place burrata in the center of the tomato slices. Lightly drizzle entire plate with organic olive oil.
  5. Serve and devour immediately.
  6. My husband and I ate this for dinner the other night.  Just this.  Nothing else.  Because we are adults who love good food and also don’t like expending energy on a 95 degree day unless we have to.

Toematoe Tomahhtoe,



Grilled Summer Salad

I’m all about inventive grilling.  I often slather a little oil on whatever food I have on hand and then throw it on the barbeque.  Mango, bananas, bacon, whatever.

So, why not salad?

Romaine lettuce provides lots of crunch, and holds up well over the flames.  The charred green onion is a throwback to one of my favorite traditional Guatemalan dishes, and adds depth, sweetness, and a little spice.  Top with tomatoes and Goddess dressing, and you have one of the best salads ever.  Of all time.

Also, if you’re looking to impress folks at a cook out or win over a friend or family member to Team Salad, this is The dish. It’s simple, surprising and full of flavor.

Don’t have a grill?  No problem!  Use a stove-top grill pan instead.


  • 2 hearts of romaine, sliced length-wise
  • 4 campari tomatoes, chopped (trust me, they’re worth the money!)
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • olive oil spray
  • dried Italian herbs
  • dressing of your choice, though I prefer something creamy like organic Goddess dressing with extra white wine vinegar for some pucker


  1. Mist romaine halves and whole green onions with olive oil.
  2. Place romaine halves flat side down on the grill, and allow to char a bit.  Flip over and allow the rounded sides of the romaine to wilt and brown up.
  3. While lettuce is grilling and wilting, char green onions on the grill.
  4. When lettuce is charred and wilted, remove from grill and sprinkle with herbs, salt, pepper, dressing. Top with green onions and tomatoes.

Prepare to have a new favorite summertime dish!  You’ll need a fork and knife for this salad and it is well worth it.  Even veggie-hating littles will love this.

What lights your fire?

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