Asian inspired peanut-y sesame ginger pasta salad


You don’t need this recipe for pasta salad. That is, one of many brilliant aspects of salad is the versatile, no-brainer assembly. You can put just about anything you like in them, your pasta can be gluten-free or not, and in fact you don’t even actually need pasta. But I need to share this peanut sauce with you.


It can be almond sauce, if you’d prefer. Probably even sun-butter. One day, I swear I’m going to play around with a variation using tahini, only I’m afraid said “variation” will really be a tahini dressing that, while yummy, isn’t so much riff as departure.

This peanut sauce, though. I first made it when I was creating this salad for Ancient Harvest two years ago, and since I use it all the time. It works in wraps, in spring rolls, as dressing, with stir-fries and noodle bowls. It’s the glue that brings it all, whatever “it” is, together.


My brain has been throwing that phrase back at me a lot lately (about the glue). Recently I’ve been expanding my writing work in a fulfilling, productive way that still allows the greatest flexibility I could hope for, maximizing time with the not-so-Little Monkey. Just enough to remind me in those woebegone moments flung from who knows where, I’m still me and I can grow and be resilient as simply me. Because so much of what’s best in life right now is dependent on one very important center outside of myself. 

Lately, beyond  the narrow, scheduled borders of work, workouts, and the tornado fillers of rushing around the house in a mad dash of chores, most of my hours are spent in a playful in-between place of play that can be idle and exhausting, vibrant and trying. Often this play includes a special crew:


Monk/Lil’ Monk/Monkey,  Charlie, Fuzzy Charlie, Rackanooey (not sure how to spell), and the Croc…these stuffed toys are a bundle of fun. They were “The Buddies”, then “The Boys”, sometimes “The Girls”, and this week they’re “The Guys”. I love the way “The Guys” are fun-loving, and wonderfully engaged in exploring problem-solving with role play. We navigate countless topics and fears with them. They also love to sing and dance. Sometimes in the process my head starts to pound with the achy knowledge of the to-do list in the background. But I’m sooo going to miss these days. 

Sometimes I remember that I used to and still love doing plenty of different things, all by myself. Always I realize, I wouldn’t be spending so much of my life this way as just me, by choice: sitting on the floor negotiating what the reaction should be to a line of stuffed animals taking it in turns to do a poo poo on the carpet. Usually, “Dr. Felix” ruthlessly administers powerful shots to each poor creature. Often “Chef Felix” takes over concocting remedies of plastic vegetable soup (unfortunately, sometimes this turns out to be contaminated with throw-up).  Whatever the outcome, Felix is the key. He’s the glue that holds it all together. He turns plastic into magic and frustration into fun. 

Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand on my own two feet in whatever new life is around the corner as my Little Monkey needs my physical presence less and less. These days, I tear myself up with fear about everything, mostly how I’ll know how to handle the world and how it will receive my aging self. Then the sunlight shines on the still plump apple cheek and everything feels better again. I can tell myself, the dishes may take different forms; there will still be peanut sauce.

Asian sesame ginger pasta salad
Serves 6
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Prep Time
20 min
Prep Time
20 min
  1. 1 pound pasta (I like Ancient Harvest's gluten- free black bean & quinoa elbows, and regular pasta, any shape)
  2. 1/4 cup natural creamy peanut or almond butter
  3. 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  4. 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  5. 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy or tamari sauce
  6. 1 tablespoon lime juice
  7. 1 tablespoon honey (maple syrup for vegan)
  8. 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  9. 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  10. 2 carrots, grated or cut julienne
  11. 1 English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced
  12. 4 cups baby spinach, washed
  13. Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
  2. Using a whisk or fork, combine peanut or almond butter, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, honey and ginger in a small bowl and mix until smooth.
  3. In a large bowl, toss pasta, sauce, and vegetables. Garnish with sesame seeds to serve, slightly warm or chilled.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen

Spelt and whole wheat pumpkin bread (vegan, naturally sweetened)

Today was chilly, gray, and dismal for October. The kind of weather that can be dreary on the one hand, but something of a relief on the other, a cue to breathe deeply, move more slowly, and decompress. What’s dull outdoors is countered by warm and cheery indoor bustle. It’s perfect, when you can make it happen, for crafts, books, board games and baking…or in this case, writing about baking. Because this comforting, aromatic, just-right spiced and lightly naturally sweetened pumpkin bread was actually baked over a week ago, on a sunny afternoon, for my friend Kristin’s birthday. Only I haven’t had time to post the recipe, and today reminded me of how yummy it is.

showing-monkey-the-sightsWe’ve had a theme going on recently of Lost and Found. One momentous instance and near crisis–this weekend we nearly lost Lil’ Monk, also known as Monkey (a favorite stuffed toy monkey, lest there be any doubt) at a local pumpkin patch. Monkey is the star among a rousing group of loyal buddies, affectionately known as “the boys” and sometimes “the girls”. They cook with us every morning and visit Dr. Felix every afternoon, where they are ruthlessly subjected to fierce shots. Sunday afternoon, we had plans for something of a pumpkin patch tour around town, and  at a new pumpkin patch number 2 we realized somehow Lil’ Monk had been left behind. Horrors! Really! “I canna believe it,” Little Chef kept murmuring to us and himself, shaking his head and eyeing the ground sadly. It goes without saying we tore back to the pumpkin patch, where we found some lovely person had perched Lil’ Monk safely in view in the parking lot. Relief can be exhilarating.

But, back to this bread. New work and play schedules mean we’re getting the most out of our moments but with little wiggle room to spare. While I haven’t had as much creativity for the moment as I’d like exploring new recipe ideas, there’s been delicious inspiration in digging up old recipes and recipe concepts and fitting them to the way we’re eating today. But it comes to pumpkin bread–I couldn’t believe something I love (pretty much all things pumpkin) could be so lacking in the go-to favorites department. I think once I had a pumpkin recipe that was a solid standby, but it was probably loaded with sugar and for whatever reason has been discarded. I so need to update so many recipes listed on this blog, but there are too many involved in that task to create a real action plan for just now. At least I could happily take action with satisfaction in finally getting go-to pumpkin bread/muffins down.


Pumpkin wows me with how comforting and versatile it is. How little sweetener, or indeed added ingredients, is required to concoct something yummy and wholesome too. For this recipe I used a mix of sprouted spelt flour and sprouted whole wheat flour, but I’m sure all whole wheat, or a gluten-free blend, would work beautifully, too. I tested both vegan and the egg-inclusive versions on Dave and a friend; Dave pronounced the vegan “even better”, and friend proclaimed a tie. Fun part is testing for yourself, switching everything up, swapping in…and hopefully letting me know how it goes! Happy pumpkin-ing. 🙂

Spelt and whole wheat pumpkin bread
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  1. 1 cup spelt flour (I used One Degree Organics sprouted spelt)
  2. 1 cup whole wheat flour (I used One Degree Organics sprouted whole wheat)
  3. 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (pumpkin only)
  4. 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (or create your own mix of ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)
  5. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  6. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  7. ⅓ cup dark maple syrup
  8. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  9. ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  10. ¼ cup coconut oil (melted) or olive oil
  11. ¼ cup orange juice
  12. 2 flax eggs (2.5 tablespoons flax meal in 5 tablespoons water) or 2 eggs for non vegan
  13. Optional: chocolate chips, raisins, walnuts, dried cranberries
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F and coat a loaf tin with cooking spray.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the flour, spices, baking powder and baking soda.
  3. Stir in the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, applesauce, maple syrup, orange juice and vanilla.
  4. Pour into loaf tin. Bake approximately 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen

Vegan chickpea brownies (gluten-free, naturally sweetened)

So it’s kind of obvious I’ve been on a dangerously delicious kick with “healthy considering it’s [X]” but not exactly light experiments. If only you knew just how many of those experiments have only been posted thus far in my mind, the little wisps of anxiety behind the “dangerous” part would totally make sense. Once again I have a stack of kitchen fun worth sharing, but my time available for writing has been largely deadline-oriented (in a really good way, just not for posting). But this recipe…these vegan, gluten free, lower sugar brownies naturally sweetened with maple syrup and coconut sugar: they’ve been begging to be shared for literally week…and they are soooo good! Tonight, in a quiet frenzy of power cleaning the bathroom after Little Chef went to sleep, it occurred to me that too many days had already flown by since promising to post the recipe “soon”. I thought, even if I ended up simply slapping up the blogger’s equivalent of a post-it note and ingredients list, it would be a worthy task, tonight, and so here you go…
I’ve experimented with quiet a few variations on brownies over the years since we’ve cut out dairy, and while many have been amazingly good, nothing has come so close as these to that Dunkin Hines-from-the-box brownie that, let’s face it, is pretty enticing if only in a throwback sort of way. These, though. They are just so yummy, batter and baked, and the texture is very convincing, too, despite the absence of refined sugar and use of natural sweeteners. 
It hadn’t really crossed my mind to make brownies, for months upon months, when my friend and former teaching teammate (from…a decade ago, already?!) Tracy texted asking about vegan brownie options for her beautiful inside-and-out,  and recently turned vegan, daughter Tori’s birthday. I met Tori when she was turning 8 years old. Now she’s newly 18, and so lovely, compassionate, and wise. She is the kind of person I wish I had had the maturity, strength and confidence to be at her age.  Of course, I had to launch into a fury of enthusiasm for exploring vegan browniedom. For Tori. (I don’t think Tracy regretted consulting with me, but on the same token I’m pretty sure she hadn’t anticipated quite what she was in for.) In other words, I made and ate and gave away scrumptious brownies for a greater cause than the fact that I have recently remembered that I do in fact like brownies, very much. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy these too. 🙂
Chickpea flour brownies (gluten-free, vegan, naturally sweetened)
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  1. 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  2. 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (dark is best)
  3. 1/4 cup natural, unsalted almond butter
  4. 2 Tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  5. 3/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
  6. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  7. 1/2 cup chickpea/garbanzo flour
  8. 1/3 cup vegan chocolate or dark chocolate chips
  9. 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk the coconut oil, maple syrup, almond butter, and applesauce together until smooth and caramel-like.
  2. Whisk in cocoa powder and flour 1/4 cup at a time. Add baking soda.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
  4. Pour into an 8 inch square pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 325 F for 20-25 minutes.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen

Fall (or any) fruits crisp



This is both are-post and update, but mostly the latter. When I first posted it, it was as a plum (or any fruits) crisp.  Everyone has a favorite crisp recipe, and this is mine. I love it for for the flavorful versatility and simplicity. But even favorites need to evolve, and I haven’t made this recipe as originally posted for years. I’ve switched sweeteners and cut back on overall amounts, for one thing. I also typically make the gluten-free version with chickpea flour (Anyone want to play predictions with when I’ll tire with chickpea flour? Unless some nutritionally explosive news comes out that paints garbanzo beans in a dramatically negative light, I’m thinking maybe never.)

fitty-cuttingOne thing I really, really love about this crisp is how fail-safe and fun it is. It’s perfect for using just about any blend of overripe fruits, and joyously perfect to create with kids, not least because there are infinite ways to adapt to any level. In fact, next week my Plot to Plate (now Kids Create Healthy Plates) teammate Melissa and I will be whipping up take-and-bake personal versions with our after school enrichment cooking group, and in preparation I made some with my budding 3-year old chef this evening.

For our class next week, we’ll be tasting a variety of fall fruits, reflecting on texture, taste, and compatibility. We’ll make thoughtful comparisons: fresh and processed versions, and “processed from the kitchen versus from a box. We’ll delve into the definition of “fruits”, according to botanists, chefs, and eaters. We’ll spend time on hand-washing and cutting skills. And then the best part, when we play. Because with a recipe like this, you really can play. No matter what you throw in, or how large, ungainly, or shredded the pieces, you’re in for sweet, fragrant, warm cinnamon deliciousness when you pull the ultimate concoction from the oven. You can sort, compare, follow the recipe, tie in measurement, and afford to be lax on quantities, too. Tasting and experimenting as creative healthy kitchen scientists.

Fall (or any) fruits crisp
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  1. roughly 8 cups sliced fall or other seasonal fruits (apples, plums, peaches, pears, and nectarines strawberries and rhubarb, peaches and blueberries)
  2. 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup for vegan option
  3. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  4. Optional pinch each of ground nutmeg and ginger
  5. Cooking spray
  6. 1 cup rolled oats
  7. 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  8. 2/3 cup whole wheat or garbanzo flour
  9. ¼ cup cup olive oil
  1. Combine fruit, sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl; let stand 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°.
  3. Spoon fruit mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.
  4. Combine oats and flour in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, stirring until crumbly.
  5. Sprinkle oat mixture over fruit and bake 30-40 minutes.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen

Lighter blueberry baked French toast casserole


This dish could be made gluten-free I’m sure, with the right, hearty gluten-free bread. It could work nicely vegan, if you’re happy with egg substitute. And it could definitely be considered “healthy”–quotes probably needed–or more aptly, “healthier”, as long as the context is in relation to the original model. I haven’t yet made this fitting any but the third criteria, but I have to share the recipe, because I can’t help but say so, this dish is delish. And really, it is much, much lighter than one might expect it to be. Fewer eggs, sweetened with gooey honey, and significantly less overall sweetener  than is standard. 

I know I’m making a blanket assumption here, but we all have those things that may not fit into our general philosophy about something, but which get a sentimental pass…don’t we? For me for instance, all kinds of Chinese food. Hand me a plate of dim sum and as long as it’s (mostly) meatless, I am apt to consciously choose not to question a rich, sloppy, greasy bite. Because, so many things. My mom, trips to Chinatown growing up, the splendor of the reds and golds, the dragon scales, and the stimulating buzz of clicking chopsticks and carts overflowing with steaming wares gently colliding. Love, loyalty, and probably a dash of guilt.

This baked French toast casserole…it isn’t the type of thing I usually make for breakfast. It was such a fun opportunity to create for Madhava , and their fabulous Cinnamon Brown Sugar honey made cutting sweetener back to 1/2 cup for the filling, 9 X 13 inch pan a piece of cake. Two cups of almond or other milk, 6 eggs, a loaf of crusty sourdough bread, cinnamon and blueberries combined blissfully to immediately become a go-to company breakfast/brunch. Something that envelops you with warmth and sweetness, and also happens to be so incredibly easy to prepare! Easy to cut bread up and combine in a pan with whisked eggs, milk, honey and vanilla the night before. Twenty minutes max. Easy to cover with blueberries and sprinkle with pecans, then bake, the next morning. Easy, and delicious, and one pan goes a long way.

When I made this, I was so reminded of a strikingly similar brunch dish my mom makes that I felt somewhat chagrined to share and reveal it had been a ‘work project’ when my parents visited recently. Love, loyalty, and a little guilt again, I guess.  Yet when it appeared at the kitchen table she exclaimed, “Ooh, this looks nice, what is it?” Which reminded me of a time in Taiwan, when I prepared a lunch of “Chinese food” (I thought) for a group of friends and my family, visiting from the States. While eating, I overheard Chinese friends asking each other, “Have you ever had American food before?” 

It’s funny, how the mind frames moments.  How we search for the beloved and familiar in ways that may not outwardly make sense, or pack a whole bunch of meaning into one nostalgic bite. It’s all down to point of view. But whatever your perspective, chances are good it needn’t be very tough to modify this dish into a go-to company brunch for you, too. 🙂


Baked cinnamon blueberry French toast casserole
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
  1. 1 (16 ouce) loaf  crusty sourdough bread, cut into cubes
  2. 6 eggs
  3. 2 cups almond milk
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. ½ cup Madhava Organic Cinnamon Brown Sugar Honey, plus extra for serving (or use regular honey plus 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  6. 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and drained
  7. ⅓ cup chopped pecans, toasted
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. 2. Prepare a 9 X 13-inch baking pan with a light coating of butter or cooking spray.  Evenly distribute cubed bread in a pan.
  3. 3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs, almond milk, honey and vanilla. Pour over bread, turning cubes to evenly coat.
  4. 4. Cover tightly and store in the fridge several hours or overnight.
  5. 5. Sprinkle blueberries and pecans over egg mixture.
  6. 6. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until set and just crisped on the top. Slice and drizzle with additional honey to serve.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen

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