Spring Soups to Warm Your Soul

Spring has sprung! Well, on the calendar at least. Mother nature may or may not have gotten the memo. Rainy, cold days plus a desire to stay on track for a healthy summer bod call for healthy comfort food. Enter, soup.

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Annie’s Pick: Caldo Verde aka Portuguese Green Soup

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Don’t be fooled, this is no watery kale snooze. When I was younger, we were stationed in the Azores islands for a few years and this is one of the recipes we brought home. This is a hearty potato-leek soup with added linguisa and winter greens. It’s made to warm you from the inside out when Atlantic Ocean hurricanes come howling across the island and it. is. amazing. It’s also pretty dang healthy if you get good quality sausage, but we won’t dwell on that.

Tip on leeks: Slice before you wash, throw into a bowl of water, swish around and then let sit so the dirt settles, scoop the leeks off the top of the water into a colander, voila! Clean leeks.

  • Linguisa or other spicy sausage, to make non-spicy can use sweet Italian, cut into coins. If thick casing, remove.
  • Olive oil
  • 1 leek sliced and washed
  • 4 Cups Chicken Broth (bone broth is great)
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and grated
  • 1 Bunch Kale shredded into 1/2 – 1 inch strips, thick stems removed
  • Salt and pepper, optional apple cider vinegar and hot sauce

Heat Dutch Oven or other heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Sauté sausage in olive oil until browned, remove and set aside. Add leeks, season with salt and pepper and sauté in rendered fat until soft and beginning to be translucent, then remove and set aside. Add broth to hot oil and use wooden spoon to deglaze all the browned bits. Bring broth to a boil. Add Bay leaves. When boiling, add potato and cook about 10 minutes or until very soft. Add kale and cook 10 more minutes at a simmer. Stir in reserved sausage and leeks. Add salt and pepper to taste. If thinner consistency is desired, can add more broth or a splash of apple cider vinegar. If you want extra spice, add a splash of hot sauce on top. Serve piping hot with garlic toast.

Christiana’s Pick: Vegetarian Bisque

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This soup is creamy, rich, and all of the things a bisque means to me, somehow achieved through the magic combination of roasted vegetables, broth, cream, and (you guessed it) wine. I’ve recently pumped up this soup with added protein by sautéing tofu in an herb-butter sauce that is nothing short of divine. This soup is our go-to comfort food for its hearty nutrition and incredible flexibility. You can really use almost any combination of vegetables here, (basically whatever is left in your fridge) centered around the staple, a sweet butternut squash. And since all the veggies are blended, chopping doesn’t have to be fine or precise. You can also roast all of the vegetables hours (or days) in advance and blend & warm on the day of serving. Easy, peasy, veggie squeezy. 🙂

Tip on Butternut squash:  To easily prep this beastly gourd, simply halve lengthwise and remove seeds. Smother in olive oil, herbs (like herbs de provence), salt, and fresh ground pepper, and roast at 400 until fragrant and lightly browned, about 50 minutes. No hacking and chopping required. Line pan with foil for easy clean-up.

  • 1/2 large butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • Roasting vegetables such as:
    • 1 red pepper
    • 1 zucchini
    • 2 potatoes
    • 1/2 bunch of cauliflower
    • 2-3 carrots
    • 1 onion
    • 1 head of garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2 package of tofu, cubed
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 bunch of fresh rosemary and thyme stems (or another dried herb blend such as herbs de Provence, if fresh are unavailable)
  • 3-4 tbsp olive (or other desired) oil for pan and drizzling
  • a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Optional garnishes: a dollop of greek yogurt, fresh herbs, or for the carnivores in your life, crumbled Italian sausage.


Coat a roasting pan or cookie sheet with olive oil and preheat oven to 400 F. Place desired roughly chopped roasting vegetables on prepared pan and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs. (I don’t bother chopping the herbs at all, the leaves will crumble easily after roasting.) Halve and core butternut squash, smother with olive oil and herbs.IMG_9877 2

Roast vegetables in preheated oven for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. (Do not flip butternut squash.) While vegetables roast, heat dutch oven or preferred soup pot over medium-high heat and add butter, herbs and tofu. Sautee until tofu is lightly browned, 5-7 minutes.

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Transfer sauteed tofu and any herb-butter remaining in the pot into a blender or food processor, and reserve the pan. (I have found our vitamix works best.) When vegetables have roasted, allow them to cool and crush roasted herb leaves into your mixer, removing stems. Scoop cooled butternut squash into the blender, discarding the skin. Add half and half, vegetable broth, white wine, and crushed red pepper (if desired) to the mixer, and blend with lid insert removed and dishtowel over hole in lid until creamy, adding more liquid as necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the creamy soup back into the dutch oven and warm. Serve hot with your choice of garnish and of course, my homemade herbed bread. Voila!

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Kristy’s Pick: …Flu Fighter Chicken and CousCous Stew

This soup is adapted from a recipe that my neighbor sent to our family when I had a nasty case of a “Flu-Like” virus that had me couch ridden for almost 10 days. This savory, flavor and nutrient dense soup had me back in action before I could say “hand me another tissue”

  • 2-3 TBSP Olive oil
  • 1 Red onion Diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 inch grated ginger root
  • 2 Sprigs Thyme
  • 1 TBSP Turmeric
  • 1 TBSP Kosher Salt
  • 1 TBSP Black Pepper
  • 1 TBSP Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 TBSP Morroccan Spice mix
  • 12 oz bone broth
  • 1 Sweet Potato diced
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, pulled
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower cut in half and sliced into florets
  • 1 cup Large Pearl CousCous
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 bunch kale, torn, large stems removed
  • 1 cup Coconut Milk
  • Cilantro (for garnish)
In a pan over medium heat, add cooking oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add garlic and ginger a cook for one more minute or until fragrant. Add all spices except bay leaf to pan and stir for one minute on medium heat.  Remove pan from heat.
In a crock pot on low, add broth, chicken, couscous, all vegetables (except Kale), bay leaf, salt, pepper and cook on low for 8 hours.
After 8 hours, lift slow cooker lid and stir in kale and coconut milk. Serve with cilantro garnish.


group of vegetables near stainless steel cooking bowl
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Warm wishes to you and yours!

Save Our Water Series Volume 3: Filtering out Fluoride

As a mother, I want to ensure that, as much as possible, what my children ingest leads to their best possible health. I am grateful to be part of a community that is knowledgeable about healthy food, sustainable farming practices, and responsible waste practices. I am also hopeful that soon we can go even farther and follow in the footsteps of some countries that are banning GMO foods and many other know toxins from their food markets altogether. But, with all this progress, I’ve still yet to hear much talk amongst mothering groups about what, for me, is a giant elephant in the room.

What about the safety of our drinking water?

Photo of Painting by Lead Saulnier: The Painting Maniac

It’s fairly common knowledge that water in most American cities is treated with fluoride, chlorine, and other chemicals to keep it “safe.” The Environmental Protection Agency has been in charge of the safety of our water since 1978 (1). Today, the United States has some of the safest water supplies in the world in terms of preventing outbreaks of disease (1). But, let’s take a closer look at what we are adding to our water, and what that means for those of us ingesting it.

Water Processing

So what is really done to “keep our water safe?”  The details become very chem-heavy so, for brevity’s sake, I’ll sum up what is done in most city-treated water (aka not well water).  When water is collected, a chemical is added that has an extra positive ion. That ion bonds with dirt to form sediment that has a higher density (makes it heavier) than the water and can be filtered out via gravity. Then, we add another chemical, usually chlorine (Um…like bleach? Yup….like bleach) to kill any bacteria or parasites that may be lurking. While the idea of drinking bleach water is a little alarming, we also don’t get cholera outbreaks, so that’s good. THEN, we add fluoride, a mineral that exists in nature and is considered safe in small doses.

woman drinking water

The good news there, folks, is that fluoride is a great tooth enamel strengthener, decreasing cavities by up to 25%. The CDC touts water fluoridation as one of the 10 “great public health achievements of the 20th century” due to its “contribution to the large decline in cavities in the United States since the 1960s”. However, they, in the same beat, go on to say that “cavities are still one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood.” They also review all the ways you can get the benefits of fluoride if you don’t live in an area with fluoridated water, like, ahem, brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste that you then spit out. (2)

The Trouble with Fluoride

In 2014, the well respected medical journal, Lancet Neurology published this review of Neurobehavioral effects of developmental toxicity which was completed in a joint endeavor with the National Institutes of Health. They had previously warned about 6 toxins in a 2006 review. In this update, they add six additional developmental neurotoxicants to the list: manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers …..(3).<record scratch>

Hold up, I’m all for the prevention of cavities, but did you say… NEUROTOXICANTS??? 

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Yups. Yes, they did. The scientists concluded that,

Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency.
Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence. (3)

According to this study published in The Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives in 2012, researchers found that children tested in areas where water fluoride is higher have “significantly lower IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas.” (4)

The National Academies Press published this review by the National Research Counsel (NRC) on Fluoride in drinking water in which they discuss research in both human and animal models showing:

  1. Fluoride has a direct effect on the brain’s areas involved in memory. “Recently, the number of receptors for acetylcholine has been found to be reduced in regions of the brain thought to be most important for mental stability and for adequate retrieval of memories.”
  2. Fluoride exposure decreases lipids and phospholipids (which coat the brain cells), phosphohydrolases and phospholipase D, and protein content of the brain. These substances are responsible for neurotransmission, regulation of sugars that the brain uses for energy potentially impairing function.
  3. Fluoride exposure also increases free radicals in the brain (nasty substances that go around damaging cells) in several ways. “These changes have a bearing on the possibility that fluorides act to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

The NRC completed this large scale review in 2006. There was also a Harvard review article published in 2012 in which the author of the study, Philippe Grandjean, concludes, ““Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain”. (6)


But the controversial debate that remains is this: Is preventing cavities worth the mass administration to over 70% of the population with a known neurotoxin (7)? After all, the lethal dose is said to be 5-10G for an adult and 16mg/kg body weight for children (7). The dose in the water is much below that, but the IQ study referenced above strongly suggests a dose-response. Meaning, a lower dose has less negative effect than a higher dose, but still has an effect. The CDC and other large organizations think that small negative effect is worth it.

Not to go totally Erin Brockovich over here, but… I. Ain’t. Buyin’. It. While the CDC celebrates that fluoride was great in the 1960’s, I’m gonna go ahead and ask that someone raise the bar to today’s standards.  I mean, in the 1960’s, cigarettes were also advertised by that same era of physicians. Cigarettes?!

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Photo credit: Cigarettes.Stanford.edu

 It turns out that the original dogma proposed in the 1940s and 1950s that fluoride had to be ingested in childhood to strengthen teeth before they erupt was mistaken. This 2004 review in the journal Caries Research concluded that topical fluoride (like the one you get at the dentist office) is a safer and more effective method than ingesting fluoridated water (8). Other factors also play a large role in cavity risk such as what bacteria grow in your mother’s mouth (9). This 2017 study in Frontiers of Pediatrics concluded that,

The major contributing factors for the for the high prevalence of ECC are improper feeding practices, familial socioeconomic background, lack of parental education, and lack of access to dental care (10).

The final argument proposed is that many people can’t afford to take their children to the dentist for fluoride varnishing or maintain satisfactory dental care at home due to socioeconomic factors. I would argue that it seems like it would be a good idea to ask the parents of those children whether they are more worried about cavities or the increased risk of neurological toxicity before mass public action is taken like fluoridating the whole cities-worth of water.

Sup, Erin Brockovich….Photo Credit Take Part

While I am picking on fluoride here, the second overarching point is the introduction of more and more chemicals via pesticide and herbicide treatments of irresponsible industrial farming into our water system (See: Volume Two of Save Our Water Series for more on that). While treatment plants do their best to filter and treat it, we have to decide if that is a risk we are willing to take with the information we have gathered about the amounts of these chemicals that exist our food, water sources, and the quality of the air that we breathe.

What to do

Even if it is deemed “safe”, I cannot help but cringe when I’m thirsty and take a sip of water fountain water, or watch my kids drink a mouthful that smells like the pool at the YMCA (you know what I’m talking about). But there’s a simple solution!

If you have city water, there are filtration systems that can be used in your home for ingesting: cooking or drinking. The one I most commonly recommend is the Berkey Water Filtration System. This has fluoride filters, chlorine filters, and the test results of the filters efficacy are posted on the website. One of these filters is good for a family of two to four to provide clean, chemical free, drinking and cooking water for a span of 12,000 gallons. We have been filtering our family’s water this way for nearly 7 years.

1917041.jpgOne of the ways to filter water that has made a buzz in health food stores is reverse osmosis water.  The concept here, is the process takes water with bigger molecules in it, i.e. saltwater or water treated with chemical molecules, and pushes it through a membrane that only fits the water through and not the other molecules.  It’ll filter out any added minerals or heavy metals in your water as well, such as mercury.

Additional options from Pure Water Freedom include a variety of filters that directly hook to your kitchen sink and/or refrigerator, along with reverse osmosis systems. Take a look!

So I have to ask again… should our health goals should be prioritizing a small improvement in prevention of cavities versus the brain health of the citizens?  Just because it isn’t close to the lethal dose, doesn’t mean the dosage in our water supply isn’t still dangerous. Particularly for smaller bodies.

If you’re as passionate about this as my husband and I tend to be, another proactive thing you can do is contact your local state Representative. Voicing our concerns for public health may take a lot of noise, but hopefully the squeaky wheels will get the grease eventually.

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Photo Credit Quick Base Blog
The decision to filter out your water is categorically just that, YOUR decision. If you are drinking city water, however, the decisions are being made FOR YOU, and it was my goal of this post to make you an informed consumer. Choose wisely what you want to do, my friends….but remember that it is your right to be fully informed when you make said choice.



Kristy is a wife, mother of 2 children, one with no cavities and one with 6 (where were you on that one fluoride?)





(1) CDC Drinking Water FAQ https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/
(2)CDC Flouridation Information page https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/basics/index.htm
(3) Philippe Grandjean, Philip J Landrigan. Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity. Lancet Neurol 2014; 13: 330–38.
(4) Choi AL1Sun GZhang YGrandjean P.Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: a systematic review and meta-analysis.  2012 Oct;120(10):1362-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104912. Epub 2012 Jul 20.
(6) Dwyer, Marge. Impact of fluoride on neurological development in children. Harvard School of Public Health. July 25, 2012
(7)  Hrefna Palsdottir, MS. Fluoride: Good or Bad? Healthline. August 17, 2016
(8) Hellwig E1Lennon AM. Systemic versus topical fluoride 2014 Mar;93(3):238-44. doi: 10.1177/0022034513517713. Epub 2013 Dec 19.
(9) Chaffee BW1Gansky SAWeintraub JAFeatherstone JDRamos-Gomez FJ. Maternal oral bacterial levels predict early childhood caries development.
(10) Anil S1Anand PS2. Early Childhood Caries: Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Prevention.  2017 Jul 18;5:157. doi: 10.3389/fped.2017.00157. eCollection 2017.

Green Smoothie Wednesday

Yep, you read that correctly. GREEN Smoothies! Cue all kids (and arguably a large percentage of adults) tuning OUT. But stick with me. We all know that eating our greens is important for health and fitness reasons, and today we are blending up the original green superfood, spinach.

green leaves in white ceramic bowl

Packed with calcium, iron, and vitamins, spinach has boasted major staying power through diet fads and gleaned nutritional street cred from modern nutritionists to legends like Popeye himself.

The calcium in spinach can help strengthen your bones to fight against injury, and vitamins A and C, fiber, folic acid, and other nutrients fight against colon and breast cancers. Spinach also helps to lower damaging protein levels in the blood and can protect against high blood pressure and heart disease.*

Basically, spinach has nutritional benefits for all ages and all stages of life. The good news is there are much more fun ways to get your daily spinach in than a bowl full of salad every day of the week. (And whose children would ever do this BTW?!) Enter – the green smoothie. Delicious smoothies sneakily stocked with spinach.

In our opinion, there’s no better way to keep healthy eating rolling through the new year than incorporating smoothies into your regular routine.  The great thing about using spinach in smoothies is that it actually has a very mild taste so it blends well with other ingredients. So, whether you are new to the pursuit of your daily greens, or a regular green-juice goddess, we’ve compiled a list of our Real as a M*ther all-time favorite green smoothies that are packed with nutrient-rich spinach and actually taste really good.

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Nut-Butter Banana (and Spinach! Just don’t say that out loud) Smoothie

  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup organic no sugar added nut butter of your choice (almond, peanut, and cashew butter all taste great)
  • 2 bananas
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (optional – omit to keep dairy free)
  • 1 cup milk of your choice (we typically use whole milk for our kids, but also love almond and coconut milk dairy-free options)
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: vanilla protein powder, chia seeds

Makes 2 large or 4 small smoothies.

vegetarian juice on table

Green & Glowing At-Home Smoothie

Whenever we take our kids to Whole Foods, (which as you may know if you have ever taken 3 or more children to Whole Foods, is a frantic 2-hour endeavor with a $500 minimum) we all end up at the smoothie bar to fill up on one of their delicious Green and Glowing smoothies. When we are not at the store (hallelujah), we make this knock-off version at home.

  • 1 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1 cup frozen mango
  • 1/2 cup frozen peach
  • 1/4 cup dried unsweetened coconut
  • 1 -2 cups milk of choice (adjust for preferred thickness)
  • 1/4 cup flax seed
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: vanilla protein powder, collagen peptides (for the grown-ups “glowing” skin)


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Greens-on-the-Go Smoothie

We love this smoothie for the flexibility of its ingredients (basically whatever we have in the freezer actually works), the ease with which we can throw it together on-the-go (which is pretty much constantly – we have ten kids between us, remember?), and for the fact that it tastes vaguely like the most nutritious PB&J you’ve ever had.

  • 1.5-2 cups spinach
  • 1 tbsp nut butter of choice
  • 2/3 – 1 cup milk of choice
  • 1 handful of oats
  • 1.5-2 cups berries of choice
  • 1 shot of maple syrup
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: A shot of maple syrup to sweeten it up for the kids, a 1/4 cup or more of yogurt for a creamier smoothie, and coconut oil for extra good fats and coconutty flavor.

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Chocolate Crush Smoothie

Ok, so this recipe doesn’t involve eating any candy. Womp, womp. Sorry folks, this is a green smoothie post, after all. But, the nutrition-packed ingredients of this creamy smoothie give it a chocolatey, nutty, flavor that is almost as good as having candy for breakfast (or lunch for that matter – this is Kristy’s fave weekday lunch) and always keeps us coming back for more.

  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • 2 frozen bananas
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups spinach (or 1 cup kale)
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 avocado
  • Optional add-ins: Anti-oxidant boost (Kristy uses Nerium’s Youth Factor Superfood Powder), coconut oil or flakes

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So Fresh and So Green Smoothie

This smoothie is a super-refreshing pick-me-up any time of the day. We love it particularly while dreaming of warm tropical days, or while recovering from an afternoon of chasing our kids around the house. The superpowers of spinach and mint combine to make this almost, just almost a better green alternative to coffee. TBD.

  • 1.5-2 cups spinach
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup frozen mango
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 2 tbsp – 1/4 cup mint
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: vanilla protein powder, coconut flakes, chia seeds

green dessert

That’s a wrap on green smoothie Wednesday! Don’t forget any of these smoothies can be made into delicious smoothie bowls by decreasing the amount of liquid, and topping with nuts, fruit, and/or granola. Now, let’s see if Popeye was right about all this spinach. Watch out, 2019!


Cheers, and Happy (green) New Year from all of us at Real As A M*ther! Moms to 10 kids, doctor, lawyer, doula/massage therapist, financial planner, and green smoothie makers.




Sources: * 4 Incredible Health Benefits of Eating Spinach by Melanie Rolland, @ guidedoc.superfooods

Holiday Baking Hacks

“Twas the night before the holiday party and all through the fridge, not a stick of butter could be found, not even a smidge…with the children in bed and the dog in her crate, I’m wondering if Amazon delivers this late… “


man in santa claus costume
“No butter?!?!” It would be nice if the big man delivered late night baking essentials too…

The week of last-minute-everything

It’s the last week before Christmas, y’all. The final countdown. The week that in our home is unofficially known as “the week of last-minute-everything.” Between the perpetually forgotten stocking stuffers, out-of-stock toys, procrastinated holiday cards, cookie exchanges, white elephants, and school holiday performances; the office, classroom, and social holiday parties that often tend to occur during this same chaotic week have a tendency to sneak right up on me. Which is bad enough when you can’t find your ugly sweater, but even worse when you realize you’re on the hook to bring holiday treats for two dozen preschoolers and are plum out of a key ingredient.

We all wish we could bake cakes out of rainbows and smiles, but in reality, we need butter. and sugar. and eggs. And sometimes… we run out. So, here are a few ways to save yourself if you come up in a bind in the kitchen.

Favorite “Baking Hack” substitutions

Here are some of my favorite ways to get the job done when a run to the store is just not going to happen.

  • Heavy cream – for every 1 cup of heavy cream, substitute 3/4 c. whole milk and 1/3 c. butter. Melt butter and mix into milk.
  • Eggs – Substitute 1 tbsp cornstarch whisked together with 3 tbsp water, whisked together, per egg.  I use this substitute all. the. time. It’s great in a pinch, but also for saving eggs for brunch, for when that one vegan relative comes over, or even for cookie dough you know the kids will be sneaking. (No raw egg to worry about here!)person peeling the egg
  • Baking powder and Baking Soda – Contrary to popular belief, you can substitute baking soda for baking powder, and vice versa. ON ONE CONDITION. The substitution is NOT ALWAYS EQUAL. Baking soda is much more powerful than baking powder and contains an acid. Read carefully!
    • Baking Powder: Substitute 1/2 tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice for every 1 tsp baking powder needed.
    • Baking Soda: You may substitute baking powder for baking soda at a 3:1 ratio. So simply use three times the amount of baking powder as you would baking soda.
  • Sugar – Both honey and maple syrup (or a combination of both!) are good sugar substitutes in baking. Use 3/4 cup honey or syrup per every cup of sugar needed. Color will be darker if you’re subbing for white sugar here. (Note: Some recipes suggest reducing liquid and adding 1/4 extra tsp. of baking soda for each cup of sugar replaced. I haven’t done this, but you may notice less of a difference in texture with these adjustments)
  • Vanilla – Equal amounts of maple syrup, slightly less almond extract, or (something I always have in the fridge) vanilla almond or soy milk. When cooking for adults you can also spring for a boozy dessert by equally substituting any dark liquor like bourbon, rum or brandy.yellow pastry on white powder on brown wooden table
  • Butter – You have a few great options here.
    • Greek yogurt: For every 1 cup of butter required, substitute 1/2 cup of greek yogurt.
    • Coconut Oil: Substitute in equal amounts, but note that taste can be noticeable (I think this can be a bonus, but non-coconut lovers should proceed with caution). A combination of coconut oil and greek yogurt is also fantastic!
    • Applesauce: For every 1 cup of butter, substitute 1/2 cup of applesauce.
    • Avocado: Substitute equally.
  • Shortening – Coconut oil is the same texture and subs really nicely here. It will give your baked goods a coconutty flavor, as noted above, so not the choice for you if you don’t want that. You can also substitute butter (if you’re not out!) at equal parts plus two tablespoons per cup. But expect a softer dough if you’re making roll-out dough for cookie-cutting. making gingerbread cookies christmas cookie cutters

If it’s healthier holiday treats you’re after, some quick (and sneaky) ways to make seasonal sweets less sinful are to:

  1. Reduce sugar. You can do this without being skewered at the cookie exchange by adding extra vanilla and/or cinnamon if applicable. You can also cut up to 1/4 cup of sugar from most sweet bread and muffin recipes simply by sprinkling a teaspoon or two of sugar on top before baking.
  2. Choose healthy fats. Butter, coconut oil, avocado, and whole milk yogurt are all good fats that top hydrogenated shortening, vegetable or canola oils in our kitchen any day.
  3. Add fiber. You can easily add fiber to bread and muffins by reducing flour and adding flax, wheat germ, chia seeds, and/or oats in its place.  These substitutions not only add fiber but naturally cut calories and boost other nutritional benefits too.
  4. Add protein. You can squeeze protein into bread and muffins (and even cakes!) by adding a scoop or two of your favorite vanilla or unflavored protein powder. Chia seeds are a nice addition to some baked goods as well.

Turns out you can have your holiday cake (and cookies and muffins) and eat it too.  Now that’s some joy definitely worth spreading.

happiness is a piece of cake close up photography

fullsizeoutput_658Christiana is a Navy wife and mother of 3, attorney and former realtor, world traveler, home renovator and decorator, yogi, fitness enthusiast, and amateur late-night holiday baker. (Photo credit: Tara Liebeck Photography)

Rainbow Cake for Dummies

Disclaimer: I am not an advanced baker. There are 7000 other posts on how to do a rainbow cake or a rainbow unicorn cake or an animated dancing rainbow unicorn cake on the internet if you’re beyond this level. However, if you’re more on the cake-from-a-box-with-simple-frosting kinda gal and want to take it one little notch up, this post is for YOU! It’s fairly detailed with tips and tricks since I needed them at one point or another.

My oldest was due on December 24th and through some crazy antics I managed to get myself into labor a few days early so she wouldn’t be an actual Christmas baby. However, her birthday still falls within the time that allllll the Christmas decorations, songs and festiveness are in full effect. This makes me endeavor to have an extra-special NON-HOLIDAY related birthday celebration for her to calm my inner mom-guilt. The last couple of celebrations, I bought fancy cakes for her out of laziness but this year we’re on a more strict budget so I decided to DIY it up.

Now, I may not be a fancy baker but I am SUPER picky about how my desserts taste. I let her pick the flavor of cake and frosting. She boldly and without hesitation declared she needed chocolate cake and rainbow frosting (anyone else try to do light colored frosting on chocolate cake before and gotten that lovely cookies-and-cream crumb look? Luckily I’ve already made that mistake and knew how to problem solve but I knew it would be a tedious process to say the least). I tried to convince her that funfetti frosting is sort-of-rainbowish, but she didn’t buy it. Here’s how I pulled it off!

Step 1: Cake

I got chocolate cake mix – my homemade cakes turn out delicious but flat despite years of problem solving so I made like Elsa and Let It Go. I love the Trader Joes one. I always, always make the cakes with melted butter. They taste a million times better and vegetable oil is realllllllly bad for you. Yes worse than butter. You can also use coconut oil if you can’t do dairy. I made a double batch the day before, baked them in 3 pans instead of 4 to have tall layers and let them cool completely – this is KEY STRATEGY #1. The chocolate cake will fall apart into your frosting if it’s not alllllll the way cool and set. Also put the butter out to soften overnight for frosting.


Step 2: Frosting

I’ve played around with lots of different frostings but in the end my all time favorite is a classic buttercream. Make more than you think you need because you do not want to have to skimp! If you forgot to soften butter, you can microwave on 10% or lowest power for 30 second intervals until soft. DO NOT get impatient with this. 10%. 30 second intervals. Trust me.

Simple Buttercream (for a double batch)

  • 1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter (go organic if you can), softened
  • tiny pinch salt
  • 4-6 C or one bag powdered sugar
  • 2-4 Tbs milk (option to use lemon juice, liquor or other flavored liquid if desired, can sub in 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract in as well)
  • Optional: food coloring

Cream butter in mixer for 1-2 minutes until lightened. Scrape down bowl. Sprinkle salt around and sift in 1 C sugar at a time. Beat slowly until incorporated then faster until homogenous. Add in 1 Tbs liquid at a time if the frosting starts to get too stiff. Alternate with sugar until sweetness and texture is as desired. Will take at least 4 Cups.

Step 3: Color

I planned out my rainbow to be pastel based on the food coloring we had. I needed a big bunch of purple for the top and purple for between the layers since that was her favorite color and then less of each other color for the sides.

  • Purple: I separated out about 2/3 of the white frosting and added the purple dye (or use pink/red + blue) a few drops at a time, scraping down and beating in frequent alternations until the right color got there. Don’t over-beat your frosting or it will separate.
  • I then divided up the remaining 2/3 white frosting into 5 roughly even portions and did the same process to make pink (or you could do red), orange, yellow, green and blue. Place each color into one corner of it’s own plastic baggie and set aside. I did this with the children. I had 0 teaspoons of patience left at the end of this process so sent them away with their dad for step 4.
  • If it’s really hot in your kitchen, your frosting might be too soft – refrigerate for 15 minute intervals until it spreads like soft butter.

Step 4: Assembly

  1. Check your alignment: Since I overfilled the cake pans (I’m gonna call it on purpose…), one of them was lop sided so I sliced it off flat.
  2. Put down a TBS of whatever frosting you have the most of in the middle of your chosen cake plate and place first layer of cake crumblier side down – for me this was the cut side. Use strips of wax paper to protect the edges of your plate. Cutting strips of wax paper can be a good task for a 4-7 year old kid.
  3. Get a tall glass or shallow wide bowl of very warm water and set aside your frosting-wiping rag
  4. Put some large dollops of frosting around the middle on top of the cake. If your frosting spreads easily, spread with short strokes from middle of cake out to edges. If it’s sticky or stiff at all, warm your metal spreader in the water, dry off and then spread. Spread right to the edge, but not over the side.
  5. Place second layer on top and repeat step 4 for the top of cake
  6. Start the sides with the bottom color. Use toothpicks to mark out where each color goes if it helps you. I just eyeballed it. Cut about 1cm off the corner of the baggie with your first frosting color. Squeeze in a line around the bottom with one hand as you spin the cake plate with the other. Don’t worry about it being perfect, just get a line on there. Repeat going up the side with the other colors. Go back at the end and fill in any larger gaps with the appropriate color.
  7. Take your frosting utensil, warm in the warm water, wipe clean and again, using one hand while the other spins the plate, run it vertically around the side of the cake to smooth and smoosh the colors together. Smooth the top into a corner. 

  8. Add sprinkles if you feel extra-fancy and VOILA!

Chill the cake until ready to serve. Let warm to room temperature about an hour before enjoying. Cut with warm knife for optimal aesthetically pleasing slices.



Dr. Annie is an experienced family doctor, pretty-ok baker and mom of 2 with 1 more coming very soon in California.

Strong Women Series: Lauren Greeno on Setting The Perfect Turkey Day Table

I’m beyond pleased to feature this fantastic new mama, one of my college besties, Lauren Greeno, on this #WCW. After years planning galas for the rich and famous, she has decided to create her own event production business to get more flexibility to be with her insanely adorable little dude. Who better to give us some inspiration for setting that Thanksgiving table than this fab WAHM?? Here she is! -xoxo, Annie

Hi, I’m Lauren, mama to this little guy

and founder of an up and coming event production company (my other baby!) In all fairness, my baby boy is the inspiration behind starting my own company. I wanted to spend more time with him while also doing what I love. Now that he’s on a more predictable sleep schedule, I can devote some of his precious nap time to creating my own business and with a little help from Annie, I’m bringing you some holiday hosting inspiration from our home to yours.

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving (isn’t it everyone’s?!) So here is a little a peek into how I’ll be setting up my dinner table for Thanksgiving (including some kid friendly tips) that you can adopt for your upcoming Thanksgiving and/or Friendsgiving festivities.​​


My inspiration for this tablescape is all things fall, from autumnal leaves, pumpkins and gourds, to cranberries and warm colors like gold and bronze. First things first, I layout my place mats to not only plan for the number of guests attending, but also to have a clear placement for my centerpiece which, in this case, happens to be quite detailed but easy to put together. I love these place mats because they’re intricate with great texture, pop against my concrete table, and although they are gold, are quite neutral and can be used all year round with numerous color schemes.  

After laying out my place mats which took up the most real estate on my table, I started on my center piece. Remember, centerpieces don’t have to be just flowers or a decorative piece. I love to have numerous elements that add a cozy and fun feel to my events and dinners. I start by hand placing the leaves. Since LA doesn’t exactly have a “true” fall, I purchased a set of leaves to get started.  

​If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where the leaves have changed colors, feel free to pick your own leaves and utilize them as decoration either on the table itself but scattering and arranging the various color leaves, in a large vase or as place cards by writing guests names on them and placing them on the plate.  

Next, it’s time to start layering on your centerpiece. I purchased these cute mini pumpkins and gourds from Trader Joes.

When I was at the pumpkin patch with my son in October picking out our Halloween pumpkins, I was looking around for mini gourds to pull double duty for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, but didn’t have much luck finding small enough ones. This would be a great way to recycle pumpkins from Halloween that aren’t decorated or carved, so try to purchase them all together or look for a great after Halloween sale. You can get creative on placement of the pumpkins and gourds, spread them out, lean smaller ones against larger ones, have some colorful bunches as well as some white pumpkins that give you different dimensions against the colorful leaves on the table.

The next step is to layer on fun, decorative pieces. I started with this bowl set that comes in two sizes. I am utilizing the larger bowl to house some dried cranberries, and the smaller one to add various heights. You can even add some sparkle by adding a gold beaded necklace to it that adds some fun and flare to the table.

I started working on each place setting by setting down glasses and plates to make sure I had enough room for the basic dinner necessities before adding more elements onto the centerpiece.

I love a beautiful charger, but I don’t think I know more than one young adult that has them… so I don’t use them often. And now, as a mom who will end up doing dishes, I definitely am not using them this year. You can create a beautiful table without them and utilize the dishes you have, especially when your main focus is the centerpiece and unique plates. So, I used my everyday dinner plates, topped them with the ever popular thankful plates (that are also on sale – yes!) and used my fancier cloth napkins that are similar to place mats, are gold, but neutral enough to use for numerous color schemes and go really well with the grey of the table.

I purchased two types of napkin rings: a leaf ring (that I ultimately felt clashed with my leaf motif in the centerpiece), and a set of gold napkin rings that added some texture, volume and much needed sparkle to the table.

Now for the fun stuff! Flooooowers! I first layout where I want to put my floral arrangements. On this table, I am using four square, gold vases and two clear circular vases of the same height from my personal vase collection. Keep in mind, if socializing and conversation are going to be a large part of your entertaining plans, make sure vases, floral arrangements and candles are a bit lower to ensure people can see and speak across the table to one another. I added clear votives, but larger cylinders or vases with dried cranberries poured around candles can also work well to add a decorative flare.

You can purchase flowers already bundled into a bouquet and cut them to size or buy individual flower sets and create your own, as I did.

My flower haul from Whole Foods – a mix of individual types of flowers and two premade bouquets

Both are great and fairly easy to do. For the clear vases, a few tips and tricks to make sure your arrangement looks as beautiful on top as the stems do in the vase:

  • Build and arrange your florals in your hand, outside of the vase first (unless you’re taping off sections on the vase for flowers as seen on professional floral arrangements). But have a few flowers and/or leaves left over to add once you’re done in case you need to add any fillers to gaps and holes in your arrangement.
  • Once you’re happy with your arrangement, tie or rubber band the stems to keep them in place.
  • Make sure your stems are arranged in a fanned out pattern so they look good in the vase. Another alternative is to purchase large leaves to wrap inside of the vase so you don’t see your stems at all.
  • Measure your arrangement and cut stems at an angle to fit into your vase. Cut stems one at a time (I know it’s tempting to cut a bunch at one time, but the stems look better cut individually and not hacked as you’re trying to saw through alot of stems).
  • Cut off the rubber band or tie before setting them in water. I like my flower tops to be right on top of the vase, but you can always add height by keeping your stems a little longer.
  • Add those left over flowers or leaves to fill any holes and gaps you may have and enjoy!

The last step is lighting the candles – I do so about an hour before guest arrive so the wax has some time to melt, channel the dripping candelabras from Beauty and Beast. Add wine, and you’re celebrating!

And if you have little ones in attendance, here are some great ways to make their table as fun and festive as the grown-ups table!

Kid friendly ideas:

  • I love these turkey place mats because they are festive and fun. You can personalize them and use them as seating assignments by using wine markers to add guest’s names. If the kiddos are a little older, you can leave these markers on the table as an opportunity to write down what they are thankful for (and thankfully for the adults, they wash off easily!)
  • Another place card option – these little turkey place cards that are super cute and can be used for either the kids or the adult table.
  • And to keep those kiddos entertained while food is finishing up, these DIY turkey masks come in a pack of 8, easy to assemble, and you can purchase additional fun decorative elements like feathers, felt balls, etc. to add to the fun.

Now that you have a beautiful table, all that is left is family, friends and most importantly, the food! Happy entertaining!



Favorite Real Thanksgiving Recipes

Now that the candy-comas of Halloween are behind us, let’s look ahead to the real reason to get excited for the Holidays…….FOOD! In case you are as surprised at how fast November is flying as we are, Thanksgiving is THIS THURSDAY! While everyone is gearing up with their elastic waistbands and carving knives for what will hopefully be a wonderful day of fun, food, family, and football, we are excited to share some of our favorite Thanksgiving Day Recipes to spice up your menu this year! Don’t forget – maternity pants make excellent “maturkey” pants – break those suckers out and enjoy.


The Best Brines for the Main Event

Let’s start with the basics. Nothing will up-level your turkey easier than doing a little brine-action. Here are two of our all-time favorites. Bon Appetit’s simple and stunning dry salt brine for the modern chef, and a classic wet brine recipe from Alton Brown for the traditionalist.

Image 11-19-18 at 13.55

Dry-Rubbed Roast Turkey, Christiana

This recipe IS the picture-perfect roast turkey you’ve been looking for (your whole life). It cooks to a perfect crisp brown on the outside and remains juicy and flavorful on the inside. The best part is you don’t have to run out for any special ingredients. You can cook this with literally just the salt and sugar brine come up a winner. The glaze adds a delicious complexity of flavors as well. We also stuff the cavity with lemon and a bundle of whatever fresh herbs we have on hand.


  • ½ cup Diamond Crystal or ¼ cup plus 1½ tsp. Morton kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 12–14-lb. turkey, neck reserved for gravy, giblets discarded, patted dry
  • 12 Tbsp. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 2×1″ strips orange zest

To Make:

  1. Mix salt and brown sugar together in a medium bowl using your fingers until incorporated. Place turkey on a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle dry brine all over outside and inside of the turkey, and nudging some into crevices. You won’t need all of the dry brine, but it’s good to have extra since some of it will end up on the baking sheet as you season the turkey. Chill turkey, uncovered, at least 12 hours and up to 2 days. We load a large cooler with LOTS of ice. DO NOT let it get warm or you’ll be remembered as the grinch who food-poisoned the family.
  2. Remove turkey from wire rack and rinse baking sheet and rack if needed (turkey will most likely release some liquid onto pan). Line baking sheet with 3 layers of foil and set rack back inside. Place turkey, breast side up, on rack and tuck wings underneath. Let turkey sit at room temperature 2–3 hours.
  3. Place an oven rack in middle of oven; preheat to 450°. Using your fingers, loosen skin on breast. Work 4 Tbsp. butter under skin, spreading evenly over both breasts. Smear outside of turkey with another 4 Tbsp. butter.
  4. Roast turkey, rotating pan halfway through, until skin is mostly golden brown all over, about 30 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, cook vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, garlic, orange zest, and remaining 4 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbling and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to lowest setting and keep glaze warm.

  6. Reduce oven temperature to 300° and continue to roast turkey, brushing with glaze every 30 minutes and adding more water by ½-cupfuls as needed to maintain some liquid in baking sheet, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of breast near the neck registers 150° (don’t worry; the temperature will continue to climb while the bird rests), 65–85 minutes longer. Skin should be deep golden brown, shiny, and crisp. Transfer turkey to a cutting board and let rest at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before carving.

Recipe by Andy Baraghani

chicken close up dish food

Traditional Turkey Brine, Kristy


  • 1 gallon vegetable broth, homemade or canned. I prefer to use homemade or
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, light or dark
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped

To Make:

Combine the broth, salt, sugar, peppercorns, allspice, and ginger in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate the brine. I usually like to add a little herb bundle combination such as Rosemary, Thyme, and Spicy Oregano to the broth. You can also add some dry white wine to replace the sugar!

Place a 14-16lb turkey in a brining bag or large plastic bag. Make sure the entire thawed bird is immersed in liquid and brine for 24 hours.

This liquid also makes for an AWESOME basting fluid as the bird cooks. You can rinse the bird and then cook any way you wish – bag it, baste it, or grill it. Add more wine as needed to keep volume of basting liquid up. Super flavorful and very easy!

Fave Sides

Turkey tends to get all the spotlight on Thanksgiving, but let’s be honest, your dinner is nothing without some stellar sides. Here are a few of our time-tested favorites from stuffing to veggies (yes you can eat them on holidays!) and beyond.

CornBread and Sausage Stuffing, Kristy

fc67sm002-04-main.jpgPhoto credit: Fine Cooking.com

This recipe is so savory and sweet at the same time, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it! I get this recipe straight from Fine Cooking Magazine’s killer Spicy Thanksgiving Feast Menu.

I typically make the cornbread from scratch and leave it out to dry up overnight for that very perfect consistency to create moist, yet not MUSHY stuffing.


  • 3/4 lb sweet Italian Sausage (w/out casing), cut into chunks
  • 3-4 Tbs. rendered bacon fat or butter
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery, including leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped red and green bell pepper (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Basic Cornbread crumbled (feel free to use a mix!)
  • 1 cup chopped scallion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Turkey stock or homemade or low-salt chicken broth as needed
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)

I am a big fan of this recipe, so I typically double the batch in order to have some cook outside the turkey as well.

To Make:

Up to 3 days before: Prep cornbread and leave out overnight to dry out. Crumble up. Store until ready.

In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add enough rendered bacon fat or butter to the pan to get about 5 Tbs. total fat. Add the onion, celery, peppers, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, and salt. Cook briefly until the onion is softened. I will pour about 1/4 cup of white wine in the pan here and scrape up any browned bits in the pan. Combine in a large bowl with the crumbled cornbread, scallions, parsley, chives, and pepper. Toss to combine. 

(If cooking in a turkey, put the stuffing in the bird just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the bird to 160º to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer. If the bird is done before the stuffing is, take the bird out of the oven, spoon the stuffing into a casserole dish, and continue to bake it while the turkey rests.)

If baking some or all of the stuffing in a casserole, pour a cup or two of stock over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the bird. If you want to be “extra” pick up some turkey wings in addition to your bird and place over the top to drip juices into it. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking. I usually add some pads of butter here as well, for some extra flavor as the top is roasting.

Simple Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Christiana

green round vegetables

Feel like you need some greens to balance out all that turkey and stuffing? Us too, us too. But let’s be real, with all the activity in the kitchen, we like to keep our veggies easy-peasy on Thanksgiving Day. Luckily, harnessing the delicious, nutty flavor of Brussels sprouts requires very little effort. Even better, if you prep and slice the sprouts ahead of time, this dish can be in and out of the oven in 35-45 minutes, which also happens to be the perfect amount of time for your turkey to rest before serving. Boom-shakalaka.


  • 1 package or about 1.5 lbs Brussels sprouts
  • 1 tsp or more good kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp or more fresh ground black pepper
  • 3-4 tbsp oil of your choice (use bacon grease if you have it!)

To Make:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim and halve Brussels sprouts, pulling off any loose or browning leaves.
  2. Prepare a sheet pan with oil of your choice and spread Brussel Sprouts evenly in a single layer. Toss with remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast for 35-45 minutes until outer leaves are crispy and golden to medium brown.
  4. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot!

Sweet Potatoes In Orange Cups (Plus Cocktail), Annie

potatoes cutting board wooden cooking
Photo by Ela Haney on Pexels.com

These are a bit labor intensive so usually one I bring if I’m not the host. They transport well and are impressive and reliably delicious! You’ll end up with a whole bunch of orange innards that you can utilize to make a fantastic light pre-dinner cocktail or mimosas for morning after. Makes 8 servings, modified from recipe by Emeril Lagasse.


  • 3 lbs – about 7 large sweet potatoes (orange for traditional, white/Japanese if you wanna be fancy)
  • 4 large oranges
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (or 1/2 C coconut oil for dairy-free)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice (reserve the rest for cocktail)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (or 1/2 cup coconut cream for dairy-free)
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

To Make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let rest until just cool enough to handle.
  2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Make the orange cups by cutting the oranges in half around equator and scooping out the pulp, leaving only the shell. Set aside.
  3. Peel the potatoes and put into a large bowl. Discard the skins and any tough, stringy fibers. Add the butter, and with an electric mixer, beat out the lumps. Add the 1/4 C sugar, eggs, orange juice, heavy cream, and brandy, and mix until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and mix well. Re-season with salt, more sugar or more spice to taste.
  4. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into the orange cups, mounding and smoothing the top. Bake until puffed and slightly golden, about 20 minutes. For an indulgent, fun “traditional” spin, top with mini-marshmallows and broil or torch to brown.

The Grand Finale

Perfect Pie Crust, Annie

person holding knife and fork cutting slice of pie on brown wooden table
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

To me, Thanksgiving means homemade pie. I mean, after all the gratitude, etc… of course. I could happily do the whole holiday without a turkey, mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce altogether. Know that if you come to my house with a store-bought pie on this special day, you will be turned away at the door. jk. I’m not that crazy. I will throw that sh*t straight in the trash when you’re not looking though.

Having grown up in a home with amazing cooks who didn’t really do any baking, I went through a LOT of trial and error learning to make pie, and specifically pie crust. SO easy to mess up and end up with a gooey or dry crumbly mess. SO hard to get reliable, flaky, pretty results. It wasn’t until America’s Test Kitchen went and got super nerdy on the process that I found a perfect recipe that is ultra-easy AND reliable. It is not healthy, like, at all. If that’s your goal, skip pie. Here it is. Works with any filling you desire. Go forth and be thankful. Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.

Ingredients (makes 1 crust):

  • 1 1/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour – DIVIDED to 3/4 C and 1/2 C (VERY IMPORTANT)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • 6 TBS cold, unsalted butter cut up into ~8 pieces
  • 1/4 C cold vegetable shortening, cut up
  • 2 TBS cold vodka or 1.5 TBS vodka and 1/2 TBS alcohol based vanilla extract
  • 2 TBS ice-cold water
  • Optional (spices, citrus zest…)

To Make:

  1. Process 3/4 C of the flour (NOT ALL OF IT), salt, sugar and spices if using in food processor a few times till mixed
  2. Open lid, sprinkle butter and shortening around the top. Close, process ~ 10 seconds until it resembles cottage cheese. Open up, scrape down sides.
  3. Add remaining 1/2 C flour and pulse until evenly distributed and dough is broken up. Usually 4-6 pulses. Empty into a cool dry bowl.
  4. Sprinkle water + vodka over the top and fold in with rubber spatula until dough is tacky and sticks together.
  5. Flatten into 4″ disc onto piece of saran wrap or wax paper and refrigerate AT LEAST 45 minutes.
  6. Take out, let come to temperature and roll out on some more flour to desired size. Put in pan and trim – enjoy bites of boozy dough from the edges 😉

The Lazy Gal’s Dessert, Margo

Image result for oreo trifle

This dessert is 100% easy and 100% delicious. It’s my go-to and is always a hit!


  • Oreos – 1 package, crushed (this part is fun for kids – throw ’em in a double layer of gallon baggies and let them go to town smashing them)
  • 1 boxes Chocolate pudding mix, prepared as directed
  • 1 tub Cool whip or other whipped cream

To Make:

  1. Layer as follows: 1/2 crushed Oreos, 1/2 pudding, 1/2 whipped cream, 1/2 pudding, 1/2 whipped cream, 1/2 Oreos into trifle bowl or whatever you got that’s glass to show off the layers.
  2. Chill. Serve.

The Bevs

Orange Cardamom Sparkling Cocktail, Annie

For the rest of the orange juice from above or fresh squeezed orange juice from whatever else… adapted from this recipe by the awesome Gabriella. 

sliced lemons

Vanilla-Cardamom Simple syrup: bring 3/4 C granulated sugar, 1 C water, large pinch ground cardamom or a few cracked cardamom pods and a split vanilla bean just to a boil then take off heat until cool.

Cocktail: Shake 1 part cooled syrup + 2 parts fresh orange juice with ice. Pour into champagne glass, top with 2 parts dry sparking wine such as Brut or Blanc de Noirs. Garnish with orange slice if desired.

Wine, Margo


I may not be known for my cooking, but my company and my ability to bring beverages is unparalleled!


  • White wine
  • Red wine
  • Rose wine

To Make:

  1. Open bottles
  2. Pour in glasses
  3. Enjoy food, drink, and conversation with wonderful people. Ignore the rest.



Christiana, Kristy, Annie, and Margo – who are all grateful for YOU!