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.



Roasted Beef Bone Broth

imageWe make and consume a ton of bone broth in my house, especially during the winter. This food trend is not new. In fact, it’s part of a traditional, centuries old diet.

Bone broth lines your gut with a protective layer of healing collagen, it is packed with protein and minerals, and restores skin elasticity over time. It is excellent for your hair and nails, too. For about $1.00 a quart, you can make your own at home.

  • My favorite go-to recipe uses roasted, grass-fed beef knuckles and leg bones, lightly roasted onion, carrots, celery and just a touch of garlic.

Did I mention that it makes itself? After roasting the bones and veggies, you throw it all in a low temperature crockpot, cover it in water and walk away for two days.


  • 1-2 lbs of grassfed leg and knuckle bones
  • 2 organic carrots, broken in half
  • 3 organic celery stalks, cut in half
  • 1 small organic onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves fresh organic garlic
  • 3 Tbsp olive or avocado oil
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Coat bones and veggies in oil.
  3. Place in glass baking dish or roasting pan.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, but do not let the ingredients char. Your broth will taste terrible.
  5. Remove from oven and transfer immediately to crockpot and cover with water and add apple cider vinegar.
  6. Cook on low for 12-48 hours.
  7. Strain out veggies and bones. If you want super clear broth, do a second strain through unbleached cheese cloth.
  8. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.




Perfect Chicken Soup

PerfectChickenSoupLiving in the Pacific Northwest, the weather goes from very dry during the summer to very VERY wet during the winter.  And that transition is usually during two weeks we call “Fall”.  The leaves change overnight and are on the ground two days later.  Then it rains for months.

I’m not one of those people who hates the rain.  In fact, I enjoy the rain.  I find that I’m actually most productive on a rainy day because I’m more contemplative, and tend to dig in a little deeper to whatever I’m doing.  When the sun is out, I want to be out with it, so summer isn’t exactly my best season to get stuff done.  But there’s something soul-settling about the first big rain of the winter.  The accompanying darkness?  That’s a different matter altogether.  I hate the 4pm sunset time and needing lights on all day long.  But that’s another post.

As soon as the rain begins, my desire to make soup appears out of nowhere.  Colds, flus and other seasonal ailments also appear out of nowhere, and there is nothing more nourishing, healing, and comforting to me than soup.  So, be prepared.  You’re gonna see more than one soup here this winter.

The key to successful chicken soup is keeping the flavors clean, layered, and full of nourishing ingredients.  If you can afford an organic, free-range chicken, be sure to get one!  If not, you’ll still get tons of great flavor and health benefits, so don’t let it stop you.

I’m also sharing my secret ingredients.  But you have to promise not to tell.  Here they are: Roasted garlic, fresh lemon, and apple cider vinegar.  All of these ingredients provide a big immunity boost and add layers of flavor. The sweet, pungent flavor of the roasted garlic is delightful, and the acidity from the lemon and ACV make the whole soup bright and light on your tongue.

Perfect Chicken Soup

1 whole organic chicken
2 quarts organic, free-range chicken broth
3-4 carrots, chopped
I bunch of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 bulb garlic, roasted and crushed
3 Tbsp fresh grated ginger (optional)
3 Tbsp ACV
Juice of one large lemon
2-3 quarts of organic chicken stock
Chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)
1 zucchini, shredded (optional)
1 pkg brown rice pasta (optional)

1) In a large stockpot, cover whole chicken with water, plus a couple of inches.  Add a tablespoon of ACV, the bottom, core, and top leafy part of the celery and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 40-60 minutes until chicken is cooked.
2) Remove chicken from stockpot and allow to cool. Strain cooking liquid, and add chopped veggies and cook until tender.
3) Add pasta and cook until al dente.
4) Debone and shred chicken and add to stock after veggies are cooked.
5) Add lemon juice, ACV and extra chicken stock. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with cilantro/parsley, zucchini, and serve.

Kombucha Christmas Cosmo

kombucha cocktail

(I REE-HEALLY wanted to title this Combucha Christmas Cosmo.  But I refrained.  I just told you about it instead.)

Okay.  It’s The Holidays.  You’re shopping, playing, fluttering, or flapping wildly around like a flamingo on fire like I am, and trying to attend to all of your joyous holiday festivities.  It is EXHAUSTING. And fun.  And…exhausting.

It can also be stressful, especially when you’re keeping up with little people with food allergies, or big people with poor boundaries.  I have some thoughts for how to navigate those here.  But I digress.

I enjoy most of the celebration and commotion, and anticipate typical holiday flavors.  Also, I try my best to sneak extra nutrition into my holiday indulgences because it makes me feel slightly better about imbibing.  This is my favorite Christmas cocktail.  It has Grade B organic maple syrup and Kombucha.  Have you ever had Kombucha?  It’s tart. Its tasty. It’s alive. Kombucha is loaded with great healthy gut bacteria that eat yeast and sugar and bring flora into balance.  It’s like eating a bowl of yogurt but better. It boosts your immune system, improves digestion, and gives a little burst of energy. So, why not make a cocktail with it?  Right? Right.

My husband is our kombucha brewmaster, so we often have our own kombucha in a variety of flavors.  But because he works full time, he often forgets to keep up with it.  We like GT Kombucha Synergy brand just as much as our home brew, and use it as our default in this recipe.

Oh, and in case you aren’t a kombucha fan, you can use regular cranberry juice.  Your Cosmo will be sadder for it, though.  You can also substitute sparkling tonic water and orange juice in lieu of the vodka and Cointreau if you’re alcohol-free.


Christmas Kombucha Cosmo (Yields 3 servings)


1 cup of good quality vodka
1/2 cup of Cointreau
1 cup Cranberry Cosmos by GT Kombucha
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp Grade B organic maple syrup
1 tsp fresh ginger juice (if you’re feeling extra industrious)


1) Mix everything together with a spoon in a small pitcher.
2) Drink and [maybe] share with others.
3) Feel festive and fancy.

See? Wild flamingo is TAMED. Mostly.

See? Wild, flaming flamingo tamed.  Mostly.  Except for THAT HAIR.

Feel Better Broth

Photo of Feel Better BrothA couple of years ago, we visited friends and family in Texas over the holidays. I worked in a doctor’s office at the time and had managed to escape getting sick before our trip. I was so proud of myself for taking all the extra precautions to stay healthy because I really wanted to enjoy my time with the people I love the most in the world.

Did I mention I was also pregnant? Because I was. I had extra incentive to stay healthy because pregnant Carrie + air travel + sickness = misery. I was fine the day we traveled, but my immune system couldn’t hack the long plane ride and day of travel, plus the shockingly sunny warmth of Houston in December. I woke up the on Christmas Eve and felt retched. Stuffy head, chills, cough, and lethargy. I wanted to feel better fast. I looked longingly at the fresh cinnamon rolls coming out of oven, knowing sugar would suppress my immune system even more. I made a cup of tea instead and tried not to let the pregnancy/sickie/holiday blues overwhelm me. I decided I would try to restore some of my health through good, clean eating and be glad to be with my family. My sickness would NOT get the best of me.

I dug through my mother-in-law’s pantry, looking for something to help me feel better. After foraging for a few minutes, I found ingredients for a soothing remedy comprised of free-range chicken broth, garlic, green onion, lemon juice, and parsley.  It took 10 minutes to make, and I was able to sip it all day long. I perked up quickly, my head cleared, and I started to feel human again.

During the holiday season, we always stock up on homeopathic remedies, kombucha, Tulsi lemon-ginger tea, and detoxifying baths.  We also keep ingredients on hand to make a batch of the Feel Better Broth, because it is so delicious and fortifying. Chicken broth is excellent for the immune system.  There’s a reason why chicken soup is popular for colds.  It’s a scientific fact that chicken soup boosts immunity.  Green onion has been used to fight colds in Japan for centuries.  Garlic is a natural anti-microbial/bacterial and cleans out the liver.  Parsley is a natural detoxifier.  Lemon juice draws impurities out of the lymphatic system where cold and flu germs like to hang out and keep you sick.  It’s the first thing I make for friends or family who get the flu and they always feel better after a mug of it.

Food is medicine.  This broth is delightful, comforting, and soothing, and warm.  You’ll feel better, I promise.


1 quart free range chicken or bone broth
  • 1-3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
  • 2 green onions, chopped (including white stem)
1 small lemon
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


  1. Bring broth, garlic, and white stems of green onion to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until garlic is soft.
  3. Add fresh lemon juice to taste.
  4. Put some fresh parsley and green onion in bottom of mug or bowl and pour broth over it.  (This method keeps it the greens fresh and optimal for consumption.)
  5. Drink up!  Keep it warming on the stove and put a lid on it.  Drink it all day.  Feel better.