Tailgating: Crispy Treats & Caramel Corn Remix

caramel corn - sugar free and vegan

Well, while the weather is still warm it’s pretty hard to deny that fall has arrived. Network TV shows are slowly making their way back into the primetime lineup, the days are getting just a bit shorter, and there is a noticeable chill in the air at night.  But what the arrival of fall really means to me is that football season has arrived, and my weekends will consumed with football for the foreseeable future.

Since moving back to Michigan, Gennaro and I have had season tickets for football at the Big House. We met and fell in love as students at Michigan (albeit a few years apart grade-wise) and got married in Ann Arbor. So heading back there has a special significance outside of the fact that we’re returning to our alma matter. And for these reasons and many more, Michigan football Saturdays and all of their surrounding traditions have carved out a special place in my heart.

caramel corn remix

Since we normally spend our time before games as guests at other people’s tailgates, I thought that for this past weekend’s game against Notre Dame — which had an 8 p.m. kickoff and thus a long day of tailgating prior — I would actually contribute something of my own making, rather than just buying pre-packaged food or drinks to share. Not to mention I love an opportunity to make and share vegan-friendly tailgating treats.

I decided to make some well-loved sweets that have been popular among varying taste buds in the past: caramel corn and coconut-almond rice crispy treats. However, I made some (successful) changes to both recipes that I wanted to share here.

While I usually get lots of compliments whenever I bring my rice crispy treats anywhere, the one problem with them is that they do tend to fall apart a bit when left unrefrigerated for long periods of time. Keeping in mind that this recipe would have to survive a day of tailgating in warm weather, I made the following changes to adapt to a tailgating setting (as well as some other minor new touches). Here’s my Rice Crispy Treat Remix (original recipe here):

  • I used a full cup of almond butter instead of half a cup, just to help things stick together a bit more
  • I used a tip from my mom and used Eastwind no salt creamy almond butter, which just seems to have a really nice, sticky texture for making these stay together really well.
  • I toasted the coconut in a dry skillet until golden and fragrant before adding to the mixture, for added flavor.
  • I tasted for sweetness and added just a tiny bit more coconut nectar to balance out the almond butter.

vegan, sugar-free, gluten free rice crispies

As far as the caramel corn goes, when I originally made the recipe it was intended to be an anti-candida diet friendly sweet, as it is sweetened with very low glycemic yacon syrup and zero calorie stevia. However, I’ve found that yacon can be difficult to find, even at many health food stores, and is quite expensive for a small bottle. Stevia, on the other hand, varies in taste and sweetness between brands, making it imperative that only one brand be used in my recipe, as any others would render it way too sweet.

My mom (again — ah, what would I do without my mother?) told me that she likes to use my original recipe and substitute coconut nectar for the yacon syrup and forego any stevia. I decided to follow her lead, while making some other changes as well. Here’s my Caramel Corn Remix (see previous recipe for reference): 

  • I used coconut nectar instead of yacon in my updated recipe, but basically doubled the coconut nectar to about 1 1/4 cups (versus much less yacon syrup previously) and spread it out over about 10 cups of popcorn (as opposed to about 16 cups in the original recipe). You can add more coconut nectar to taste for a sweeter, well-coated mixture.
  • I opted out of using any stevia.
  • I used about 1/3 cup of buttery spread, which was a bit more than in the original recipe (especially considering I spread it over less popped popcorn).
  • I used whole raw almonds in place of the pecan pieces (though any nut, including cashews or walnuts could be used).
  • I baked the caramel corn at 275 degrees instead of 250, as my mom did say that it took her longer to get the recipe crunchy using the coconut nectar. Just watch it carefully and toss it often to make sure nothing gets too browned.
  • After the caramel corn had cooled slightly after cooking, I added fruit sweetened dried cranberries for a tart and sweet finish.
  • I made sure the caramel corn was completely cool before packaging up for the tailgate (just an added tip).

So, how did everything turn out? Well, unfortunately my efforts proved superfluous and there was SO MUCH food to be had at every tailgate. However, those who did try my contributions gave thumbs-up! And Gennaro ate the entirety of the leftover caramel corn at about 2:30 in the morning, which was when we actually returned home from Ann Arbor following Saturday’s night game. As I told one of my fellow Wolverine friends the next day: next year, I’m going to wear a t-shirt I saw someone else sporting that says “I’m too old for night games”, because that’s how I felt after Saturday. But something tells by next year I’ll be just as excited to spend a day in Ann Arbor, tailgating with old friends and snacking on vegan treats (contrary to popular belief, the two are not mutually exclusive!). Go Blue!


No, those aren’t overalls. It’s an apron I was temporarily wearing while pretending to know how to mix drinks. Thankfully, no one asked for one, or they may have been sorely disappointed. And yes, I am wearing shorts underneath! The scene was much less scandalous than this looks…



Sweet Potato-Chocolate Pudding

sweet potato chocolate puddingThis pudding reminds me of a mix between a chocolate pudding and the filling of a sweet potato pie. If that sounds strange to you, let me assure you that it’s surprisingly delicious in some inexplicable way. I first got the idea to do a sweet potato pudding at a seminar I went to at the NAVS Vegetarian Summerfest. I can’t remember how that version was prepared, or whether or not chocolate was added. But over the weekend, I had two large sweet potatoes/yams sitting on my counter and was antsy to get creative. This delicious sweet potato-chocolate fusion pudding was the result.

Since it’s made with really healthy ingredients — whole, plant-based foods with no added oils — this pudding makes not only a guilt-free dessert, but can also be eaten as a healthy snack or even as part of your breakfast. Since I still have to take a number of pills and supplements as part of my ongoing Lyme-related treatment, I do need to eat something in addition to my morning green smoothie that is a bit more substantial to coat my stomach. On the other hand, I try to keep my breakfasts very clean and plant-based, and try to avoid processed or heavy breakfasts that are going to make me feel sluggish in the morning. A sweet potato-based pudding like this one makes a perfect compromise between getting enough substance while still eating very clean.

Not to mention you’re filling your body with amazing vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients while getting your chocolate fix! This pudding will keep you full and fueled while keeping you from craving more processed and unhealthy sweets.

A few notes on this recipe:

  • This is one of those recipes that would be best in a high powered blender such as Vitamix. However, if using a standard blender or even food processor, I think this could work if the chia seeds were replaced with ground chia powder. I have not used this product but have been seeing it recently in stores and imagine it would have the same “thickening” properties as whole chia seeds. So, if anyone wants to experiment with that option, please leave a comment and let me know how it works out!
  • I used stevia in this recipe to keep the sugar content down, but since there is no baking science involved here, I imagine one could play around with different sweeteners. Though more liquid-y sweeteners might make this less “pudding” textured.
  • This recipe refrigerates very well — in fact, the flavors get better after about a day.
  • To cook my sweet potatoes, I used two large yams/sweet potatoes (I can never remember the difference) and placed them on a foil-line baking sheet. I baked for about 45-50 minutes in a 400 degree oven, turning once and piercing with a fork after about 30 minutes. Once they cooled a bit, I removed the skins and mashed in a large glass bowl. This yielded almost exactly 3 cups of cooked sweet potato once mashed (plus a tiny bit extra for Woodley). I would definitely recommend fresh sweet potato over canned for this recipe.
  • Shaved chocolate pieces on top (as seen in the photo) are entirely optional but very delicious.
  • I designate the brand of stevia used in this recipe because, with stevia in particular, I find that different brands yield drastically different levels of sweetness. Plus, I find NuNaturals to be not as bitter as other liquid stevias. Again, I am sure a variety of sweeteners would work well here, but I would use caution in terms of how much you add just to be safe.

Sweet Potato-Chocolate Pudding:

Serves: about 4


3 cups cooked mashed sweet potato (skins removed)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon NuNaturals clear liquid stevia (plus 5-10 more drops to taste)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground clove


1. Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender such as Vitamix and blend well, until very smooth. Taste for sweetness and add more stevia  to liking.

2. Scrape out ingredients into a glass bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 2-3 hours, before serving.


Chocolate Coconut Clusters

chocolate coconut clusters (vegan, gluten-free, oil free)

This recipe was derived out of a total craving-meets-empty fridge situation. What do you do when you want an after dinner sweet, but when the sweetest thing in your cupboard is a bag of freeze dried raspberries? Well, you raid the freezer, cupboards and pantry, throw something together that resembles something “normal” people would call dessert, and hope it works.

And, thankfully, it did!

Since making these last Saturday, I’ve been snacking on them throughout the week. They’re like a somewhat healthy marriage between a coconut macaroon and a chocolate truffle. They’re just sweet enough — not too sweet. Just crunchy enough from the coconut. Just soft enough with the addition of some chopped dates. And in keeping with my recent trend on this blog, they’re oil-free.

I frequently receive questions about substitutions and omissions — especially in dessert recipes. While I can’t usually speak to most of them unless I’ve tried it myself, I will say that I STRONGLY feel that the dates, in this recipe, are non-negotiable. No, these won’t fall apart or cook weird without them. So as far as baking goes, they’re not essential. But taste and texture-wise, for me, they make this recipe really special. The dates make these both chewy and sweet — I don’t think these would have been nearly as good without them. On the other hand, I ran out of vanilla extract so I didn’t use any here. But I’m sure a teaspoon or two would work well mixed in with the wet ingredients.

Finally, I found these to be great slightly cooled out of the oven, but they also kept at room temperature for about 24 hours and I refrigerated the remaining ones for 3-4 days and they kept fine, if a bit different texturally from the room temperature ones.

Hope you enjoy as much as I did — and don’t forget the dates!!

Chocolate Coconut Clusters:

Yield: 17-18 Clusters


1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup brown rice flour

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup coconut nectar

1 tablespoon sesame tahini

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped dates (I used Deglet Noor)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add dry ingredients (cocoa powder through salt) to a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (applesauce through tahini) and add to dry ingredients. Mix until combined. Fold in chopped dates and nuts until well distributed throughout.

3. Roll pieces of “dough” (will be slightly more wet than a typical cookie dough) into golf-ball sized pieces (about 2 tablespoons each) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until bottoms are just browned. Remove and let cool slightly before eating.



Fat-Free Berry Oat Crisp

berry oat crisp (fat free)

As I mentioned, I am trying to significantly cut down oil in my diet. I thought it would be really difficult, but I’m surprised at how little it’s missed. Who knew that sweating onions in veggie broth or white wine would yield the same delicious base as fatty olive-oil does for soups? Who knew that you can make a delicious stir-fry with just some simple tamari and/or white wine? Makes me wonder why I was adding unnecessary fat and calories for so many years…

I went a step further with this delicious berry crisp and made it completely fat-free. It’s a healthy summer option that is both light and comforting. I brought this as a dessert to share at a party over the weekend, where there were multiple chocolate cakes, brownies and pies of the non-vegan, gluten-filled variety. I expected this crisp to perhaps get lost in the shuffle — or underwhelm in light of so many sugar-heavy, non-vegan, fat-filled sweet treats. Instead, I got compliments from those who knew I had brought it — and the ultimate compliment from someone who didn’t, as I overheard her telling everyone at her table that “the berry cobbler is out of this world”. Of course, I ran back to the dessert table to double-check that there were no other berry cobblers there. Thankfully, there weren’t, giving me the confidence I needed to share this recipe with all of you.

This recipe is truly simple to make. In fact, if I have some berries on hand, I might throw together a modified single-serving version to satisfy any lingering sweet tooth I may have after dinner. The lemon juice makes the filling slightly tart, so if you have an especially strong sweet tooth you may want to replace it with orange juice or water.

fresh berries

Fat-Free Berry Oat Crisp:

Yield: about 8- 10 servings

2 pints blueberries

1 pint raspberries

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 packets stevia

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder

2 cups gluten-free oats

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add berries, lemon juice, stevia and arrowroot to a 7×11″ baking dish (or 2 qt. baking dish of any diameter). Stir gently until berries are coated.

3. In a separate bowl, add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Pour evenly over berries and spread gently with back of a spoon.

4. Bake crisp in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until fruit is bubbling and top is golden-brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

chocolate chunk banana bread top viewI consider chef Chloe Coscarelli to be a culinary genius. I’ve posted before about my love of her first cookbook (all vegan!), Chloe’s Kitchen, which is quickly becoming one of those beloved cookbooks of mine — joining the ranks of the other tattered, torn and food-splattered but frequently used books in my collection. I love her recipes because she has a knack for not only making things taste amazing, but making them super simple and un-daunting, which is a daunting task in itself! And while many (but certainly not all) of her recipes call for gluten-containing ingredients, they can easily be adapted to be gluten-free. In fact, she has a section in the front of her book all about gluten-free substitutions. Personally, I’ve made many of her recipes substituting gluten-free ingredients, including her baked macaroni (which I made with quinoa and corn mini shell noodles and brown rice flour for the roux), with stellar results.

But Chloe is perhaps most famous for her dessert recipes (she won Cupcake Wars on Food Network, and was the first all-vegan chef to do so), many of which I have sadly not had the chance to make because of the sugar factor (she indicates in her book that many of her dessert recipes can be made with gluten-free flours). I’ve found that it’s one thing to substitute gluten-free flours, but things get really tricky when you start messing with the sugar.

As many of you may know if you’ve been following this site for awhile, I avoid refined sugars due to a history of candida albicans and health problems which can be exacerbated by sugar intake. In fact, I believe that consuming refined sugars, while probably OK in moderation, can wreak havoc on anyone’s health when done to excess. With candida, I must be even more careful, especially after being on antibiotics for over a year. I went through a period of not eating any fruit or sugar, then slowly adding back non-refined, low glycemic sweeteners on occasion. Otherwise, I use stevia if I need a sweetener. I have also been advised to avoid fructose due to Lyme, which is why you will notice that agave nectar, while a staple of my baking in the past, is no longer used in my recipes. I tend to have the same attitude toward agave as I do toward regular sugar — fine in moderation, but problematic in excess, or even if consumed daily. However, these sweeteners can be especially problematic for people with health issues such as candida or Lyme, and should therefore be avoided.

For these reasons, Chloe’s desserts have both tempted and haunted me since I’ve had her book. Not to mention the fact that she has a new dessert book out, Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, which I have purposely not bought knowing it will just taunt me to no end.

chocolate chunk banana bread side view

Don’t worry – no one took a bite out of that second piece. I just made the age-old mistake of cutting too soon and that piece crumbled off as a result.

This weekend, I finally succumbed to my temptations and decided to tackle and modify a Chloe dessert recipe using a gluten-free flour and a sugar substitute. While I don’t even bake with unrefined sugar substitutes much anymore, I figured if I was going to bake something, it might as well be very, very good. In the end, I went with her Chocolate Chip Banana Cake recipe, which is on her website. Now, if any of you are also vegan, gluten-free and trying to avoid refined sugars, you’ll know that finding chocolate chips that meet your dietary requirements is completely impossible. They just don’t exist. So I usually try to avoid recipes calling for them, or use something else such as nuts or dried fruit — which sometimes (OK, probably most of the time) just doesn’t hit the spot in the way gooey chocolate does.

The reason I decided to go with a recipe calling for chocolate chips, however, is that I recently discovered what I imagine is a somewhat new product from the brand Coconut Secret, their Peruvian Crunch chocolate bar. It is simply dark chocolate, coconut and organic coconut crystals (dried coconut nectar). And it is TO. DIE. FOR. I almost felt like it was a waste of such an amazing chocolate bar to chop it up and mix it with other things. In fact, few recipes would actually justify such an act. But I felt that chocolate chunk banana bread had to be one of those recipes. And it was totally worth it.

photo (4)

Originally posted to my Instagram feed, @bversical

I made some other changes to Chloe’s original recipe in addition to my flour and sugar substitutions. Many of the changes were based on what I had on hand. I used olive oil instead of canola oil (I don’t ever have the latter on hand) and unsweetened almond milk in place of canned coconut milk (same thing — I always have almond milk on hand, almost never canned coconut milk). I also decreased the amount of chocolate chunks because I wanted to keep it to only one bar — otherwise, it could start getting ridiculously pricey just to make banana bread. I also omitted the salt, just to experiment for those trying to watch their salt intake whether it would make a difference. It was still amazingly tasty and flavorful. Though it would be interesting if someone did a taste-test to compare the salted and non-salted versions side-by-side. Finally, I had run out of ground ginger so omitted that from the recipe, and it was still extremely flavorful and well-spiced. I could also easily see this recipe being good with shredded coconut (it’s already in the chocolate bar, so it adds a nice flavor punch), chopped walnuts, or even some orange zest if you’re feeling super adventurous.

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread:
Adapted from the amazing Chloe Coscarelli’s recipe for Chocolate Chip Banana Cake at Chefchloe.com

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 cup coconut crystals/coconut palm sugar

1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)

1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (almond or coconut milk to be soy-free, soy or rice milk will make it nut-free)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for greasing pan

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, I had just run out)

1 chocolate bar such as Coconut Secret Peruvian Crunch, chopped (yields about 1/2 cup)


1. Lightly grease a 5×10″ loaf pan with olive oil. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, xanthan gum, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda and spices.

3. In a separate bowl, gently whisk together mashed banana, oil, milk, vinegar and vanilla extract. Slowly add to dry ingredients and whisk until just combined, being careful not to overmix.

4. Fold in chocolate chunks. Pour batter into pre-greased load pan and bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (no wet batter). Remove from oven an let sit for about 1/2 hour. Then remove from loaf pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.




Superfood Sweet Potato Cookies

I don’t tend to use the term “superfood” loosely. In fact, I don’t tend to use the term often, as I feel that most fresh plant-based foods could be considered “superfoods” depending on the context. However, its use in this particular description is mainly to alert readers to the intent of this recipe, which was not to create the most “like a real cookie” recipe possible, but rather to make something sweet and satisfying while also supplying loads of health benefits.

I know I’ve mentioned quite often at this point that I’m very loyal to nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, whose latest book, Beauty Detox Foods, has inspired me to incorporate even more “beauty foods” into my diet, particularly healthy fats such as chia and walnuts (which I had eaten and used, but which were not necessarily a staple until I discovered Ms. Snyder’s books).* I also added, of course, the very versatile sweet potato. I have used sweet potato in scones and muffins on this site previously, but have never used it to create a intentionally nutritionally dense dessert as I did here.

*Side note: I swear I am not paid to promote this woman, but with all the promotion I do to family and friends, I am hoping she will just gratuitously send me a check soon…

As you can probably see, these cookies are loaded with whole grains, nuts and seeds. They’re therefore filling and make a great snack, not just a dessert. I also find that they’re best warm out of the oven, though they can be eaten at room temperature or even chilled. If you’re looking for a more traditional oatmeal-like cookie, I would suggest my Quinoa Cookies, which are always a huge hit even with non-vegan, gluten-eating folk.* These, however, are not necessarily your “traditional” cookie, but tasty and worthy of a try nonetheless — especially if you’re looking to give yourself some health benefits while eating your cookie, too. Or something like that.

*And for more gluten-free dessert ideas, check out my blogging buddy Shirley’s site, All Gluten-Free Desserts. Shirley is an amazing resource for all you Celiacs and gluten-intolerant out there. She features an array of recipes on her dessert site, including many that are vegan. She featured my avocado-lime tart about a month ago. I will definitely be visiting her site often  when looking for some dessert inspiration and ideas. 

Yield: About 18 cookies

Superfood Sweet Potato Cookies:

Like I said, I found these cookies to be best when eaten warm  out of the oven, or within a few hours of making. That said, I made them for a long weekend in Northern Michigan and my family enjoyed them over several days, and ate them without complaint!

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus more for greasing baking sheet

a pinch of sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1 cup of cooked sweet potato, skins removed, mashed (about one medium sweet potato)

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 packets of Sweetleaf Stevia*


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with coconut oil.

2. Mix dry ingredients: oats, flour, coconut, chia seeds, walnuts, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add coconut oil and mix in until crumbles form.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour into dry mixture and stir until everything is mixed well.

4. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough, roll with palms, and place on baking sheet, a few inches apart. Flatten dough individually with palms.

5. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown on the bottom (may need to check). Repeat from step 4 if necessary with remaining dough.

* Another brand may yield different results in sweetness, so be sure to adjust accordingly


Avocado-Lime Tart and Updates

Hello there! Long time no talk. When I last posted, there was still snow on the ground. It’s 81 degrees in Michigan today. So, you get the point.

Since my last post, a lot has happened. Gennaro and I finally found a house and moved out of my parents’ house. We searched, we found, we went into contract. And then about a month later, the house was ours. That’s the good news.

Then, there’s the other part of the story. The part I debated about posting for fear of, I don’t know…calling too much attention to myself? Being whiny? Making too big of a deal out of something that might seem like nothing to a lot of people?

Those thoughts all ran through my head. But then there was another side of me. The side that thought maybe someone could benefit from my story. So, here it is:

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you may remember me posting a few times about chronic muscle spasms and stiff necks. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for the last few years, and something I had carelessly attributed to stress from law school, as it was certainly a new and unwelcome phenomenon for me. Not that I didn’t deal with it in every way I thought I could — yoga, heat therapy, massages, acupuncture, muscle rubs, countless chiropractic visits and even the occasional muscle relaxer were just a few of my go-to remedies. These have been a staple in my life for the last three years.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may also know that early last year, I left New York to move back to Michigan for work. Between then and our recent move into a new home, Gennaro and I were living with my parents. While being in your late twenties and moving back in with your parents is certainly not always an ideal situation, in my case, it had its benefits. For one thing, my mom noticed that I seemed fatigued and “out of it” a lot, and insisted that I see a doctor about it. She also insisted that my neck pain and muscle spasms were somehow related. Of course, my natural inclination as a child was to ignore her and insist I was fine. But that only lasted for so long before the idea of finally getting to the bottom of whatever was going on with me became too enticing. So I began seeing a wonderful doctor in Michigan who specializes in chronic disease.

Initial testing revealed less-than-surprising results: chronic candidiasis (I had known this was an issue for me), Epstein Barr, HV6, etc. If you’ve suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia in your lifetime, you’ve probably tested positive for some of these as well. But then my doctor asked me if I had tested positive for Lyme before, because there was a Western Blot strain that came back positive.

In fact, I had. Same Western Blot, about two years ago in New York. My primary care doctor there had ordered it because of complaints of fatigue back then, too. But when they told me I had an “equivocal” (i.e. “maybe positive”) test, I was told it was really nothing to worry about for the time being and that I should just wait to see how I feel. I was told, instead, that I might just be “depressed.” No follow-up testing was ordered. Naturally, I was suspicious and concerned. So I followed-up with an infectious disease specialist, who basically told me, in as nice of a way as you can say this, that I was wasting his time and he had really sick patients to deal with (alright, he didn’t sue those exact words, but his were surprisingly close). He appeased me, though, by ordering a follow-up test, which came back negative (I now know that this was a much less sensitive test and can often yield negative results even when someone is infected with Lyme). Plus, even though I had been in areas where Ticks were present, I did not develop the typical “bullseye rash” (which I now know is not always present), so I had nothing to worry about. OK, I thought. And I went on with my life without giving it a second thought.

Until it happened again. This time, I thought, it can’t be just a coincidence, right? So my doctor recommended that in addition to testing for other tick-borne diseases, that I send out my lab work to California to a facility for an IGENEX test and (hopefully) definitive results. That test came back clearly positive.

Now would be a good time to point out that there is a rift in the medical community about which tests should be used and whether the IGENEX testing  (or any testing, for that matter) is reliable. I’m also aware that a lot of people who are suspicious that they have Lyme get an  eye-roll from conventional medical doctors, and are instead offered a possible alternative cause of their symptoms. Like, for example, my “depression,” for which I was prescribed Wellbutrin (which I never took because I knew I was not depressed). A great documentary called Under Our Skin really exposes this controversy and casts a much-needed light on such practices.

Anyways, in addition to the positive IGENEX test, I also tested positive for a number of other tick-borne diseases — Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia and Rickettsia, to name a few.

Suddenly, with all of this new information, things started making sense to me. Like why, two years ago, I felt like I was on my death bed with what turned out to be a nasty parasite called Cryptosporidiosis. My research on this parasite revealed that individuals with healthy immune systems can contract it and fight it off fairly easily, while others with HIV or AIDS (or Lyme, it turns out!) will have symptoms. And symptoms I had. Like, worst case of food poisoning you could ever imagine symptoms. Like, 94 degree temperature shortly followed by 102 degree temperature symptoms (that is not a joke). So, yeah. Apparently my immune system was not the healthiest.

I promise I am trying to get to the point here. But I also think it’s important that I be somewhat vocal about the fact that I went to countless doctors with my symptoms and was, basically, shrugged off. And even though I had classic Lyme symptoms (stiff necks, muscle pain, fatigue) and an equivocal test, I was told I was just depressed. So imagine my relief when I found a doctor who not only believed me and aggressively tested me, but who also is willing to aggressively treat me for what is actually wrong.

Unfortunately, the problem with aggressive treatment is the fact that it can be long and hard on your body. Since beginning antibiotics, I’ve experienced waves of nausea, chills, vomiting, fatigue and an increase in my muscle pains. This, I’m told, is the reaction to the toxins dying off and being released into your system. I’m not a fan. But it’s worth it because I know I need to get better. And while I try to get better, I need to remind myself to take it easy and not feel guilty about not responding to emails, comments, voicemails, etc. (I still feel guilty, but I’m working on it). I need to remind myself that even though there are still boxes piled up in our new home, there’s no timeline for getting everything done. I need to remind myself to leave work early when I need to, because otherwise I will just make myself worse.

Finally, I need to remind myself that even though I haven’t posted in three months, it’s not the end of the world! The blog can wait, as much as I love it so. Hopefully, it won’t have to wait too long.

But in the meantime, I did manage to make a dessert for our family Easter gathering last weekend. This avocado-lime pie turned out to be quite the hit. No one even guessed it was made with avocado. Plus, the lemon and lime juice kept it from discoloring, even though I made this two days ahead of time. The kiwi is optional, but I think it made for a nice presentation. You can make this in a traditional tart pan or in a springform pan as I did. Or if you’re looking to cut down on calories, carbs and sugar, simply make the filling and eat it as a pudding. It is very good on its own as well! I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Avocado-Lime Tart:


1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup raw coconut crystals

2/3 cup soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread

½ teaspoon sea salt


2 ripe hass avocados (room temperature)

1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed

½ cup fresh lime juice

zest of one lime

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid stevia

½ teaspoon vanilla extract


2 medium kiwis, thinly sliced and patted dry with a paper towel to remove excess water


1. For crust: combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until loose crumbles form. Press into a 9″ springform pan or tart pan, using the bottom of a measuring cup to even out the bottom. If using a tart pan, use fingers to push crust to edges and to even out the edges as well. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

2. For filling: combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender (I used the Vitamix) and blend on high until very smooth.

3. Transfer filling to completely cooled crust. Let chill in refrigerator for a few hours. If desired, top with sliced kiwi. This recipe can chill for up to two days in the refrigerator if covered directly with cling wrap.


Fudgy Black Bean Brownies

I know I said I would lay off the brownie recipes for awhile.  Well, I lied.

I am choosing this recipe to be my inaugural submission over at Ricki’s Blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs for her Wellness Weekend. I always get such amazing ideas and find new blogs though her Wellness Weekend but have not submitted anything of my own. Mostly because….I always forget! I am ending that trend today.

Yield: approximately 12 brownies


1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup hot water

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1/4 cup coconut oil (liquefied)

2 packets stevia

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 medium banana (no brown spots)

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon instant coffee or coffee substitute

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons coconut flour



1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a high-powered blender, blend together black beans, hot water, vanilla extract, coconut nectar, coconut oil, stevia and banana.

3. Add remaining ingredients and blend until just combined, stirring if necessary.Pour batter into a pre-greased 8×8″ pan. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40minutes, or until middle bounces back when pressed. Brownies will harden more as they cool. Allow to cool nearly completely before cutting.


No-Recipe Stuffed Pumpkin

First, let me apologize (once again) for being, like, the worst blogger in history. The past four weeks have been incredibly busy at work, which has inevitably invaded my weekends and wreaked havoc on my social and blogging life (if this hadn’t already been thoroughly accomplished by the fact that we are still living with my parents). Then, I was sick. Then, there were weddings. Lots and lots of October-November weddings, in fact. All of which have contributed to my silence and absence from this forum.

Luckily, I have a mom who loves to cook and eats that way I do. I certainly haven’t been lacking in the dinner department. And thanks to my mom’s creative juices, this delicious and simple stuffed pumpkin non-recipe recipe was born. I can promise you that this deliciously fall aroma will permeate your home and provide a fitting backdrop for holiday gatherings.

Here are some other pumpkin-themed recipes to get you in the spirit this season:

pumpkin blondies

pumpkin ice cream pie

bran and flax pumpkin muffins

chewy gooey pumpkin bars


1 medium pie pumpkin

a few tablespoons liquid sweetener (i.e. agave, coconut nectar)

2 medium apples, cored and chopped

a few tablespoons of currants

a sprinkle of nutmeg

a sprinkle of cinnamon

a sprinkle of ground cloves

1-2 packets stevia, optional


1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Core pumpkin and scoop out insides. Rub inside with liquid sweetener. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients, adjusting spices and sweetness to taste. Stuff pumpkin high with apple mixture. Place in a deep baking dish and cover.

3. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 2-2 1/2 hours, or until pumpkin is very soft (use a fork to test for doneness). Serve slices of pumpkin topped with apples and juice. Serve as a dessert or a holiday side.


Mom’s Apple Crisp

Before I get any further into this post, let me just establish something very important here: when I showed my mom the picture I took of her apple crisp (which we had nearly devoured in its entirety the night before, leaving me with very little to work with picture-wise), she said “What??? That doesn’t do it justice.” Gee, thanks, Mom.

Unfortunately, she’s right. One of the problems was, in fact, the lack of an untouched dish to work with from the beginning. The other problem is that, frankly, I am still pretty much a trial-and-error person when it comes to camera settings (white balance, focus) and pretty much a minimalist when it comes to props and “set design.” This is fine, of course, by some standards. But when you’re trying to highlight the greatest apple crisp recipe ever created (gluten-free or not, vegan or not, sugar-free or not), I’m not sure any picture would quite do it justice. And I can say that, of course, without bragging because I had nothing to do with this recipe other than partake in eating way too much of it. And it’s not just me. My mom brought this dish to a potluck recently and found it was completely gone while a table full of chocolate cakes and gooey cookies and other sweet treats remained.

My mom adapted this recipe form the Betty Crocker Apple Crisp. She doubled the recipe to serve a crowd. I’d advise, though, that if you’re serving any more than 4 people, definitely make the double recipe. Otherwise, you can halve it and make what the recipe calls for, which supposedly serves 6. But I’m calling Betty’s bluff.

Apple Crisp:
Adapted to be gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook

8 cups tart apples (about 7-8 medium apples), peeled and sliced

1 packet stevia (optional)

1/2 cups currants (optional)

1 1/4 cup raw coconut crystals (packed)

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 cup gluten-free oats

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup Earth Balance buttery spread


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Grease a large baking rectangular or round quart baking dish. Place apples in bottom of pan. If apples are very tart, sprinkle with stevia. Sprinkle with currants.

3. Mix remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Sprinkle over apples and currants. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown and sides are bubbling. Serve warm.