Archive | June 2013

Garden Adventures Season 1 Episode 1

Our new house includes a really nice vegetable garden area, complete with a fence, raised beds, and 4 water spigots.  Given the timing of our purchase, I had already written off gardening for this year.  We are pretty much swamped with the moving bit and its already well into the growing season here in the deep South.  But, shortly after we took ownership I realized that the previous owners had already done a smidgen of work this year.  Either that or their plants from last year have re-seeded themselves.  I have no idea which it was, primarily because I have NO IDEA about gardening in general.  Like zero.  None.

And so begins a new season in my life which is sure to be fraught with excitement and adventure  – growing a vegetable garden.

That initial survey of the garden has left me inwardly panicking.  Now I have more mouths to feed, meanwhile I don’t know even know what half of them area, much less what care they need.  Also don’t know where my blue jeans are, much less where the garden tools are.  In the 4 weeks I’ve own it, the garden has already gone from kinda messy to nearly disastrous Jumanji jungle.  Panic! We need to get a weed eater in there, stat.

To keep the panic feeling under control, I’m telling myself that I invested nothing in these plants and therefore lose nothing when they die off.  Keep it simple.  Next year will be awesome and any produce for this year is just icing on the proverbial cake.  So that brings us to Garden Goal #1 for this year:  Keep things under control.  Don’t let the weeds and vines win.


Now, about the vines.  Guess what the #1 crop under production at the Johnson Nature Center is?  Poison Iiiii-vvvvv-y-y-y-yyyy. {Sing like the song folks.}  Also, guess who is ridiculously allergic.  ME! Right here.  On ownership day 3(?) I yanked a little one out some monkey grass by the front door, was immediately notified of what it was, immediately washed, and still ended up in the dr’s office 4 days later to get a steroid shot.  Because one eye was swollen completely shut.

I’d show a picture but uhm no.

You know what?  I can now spot poison ivy and its poisonous cousins from a mile away.  You would think it would look ominous and nasty, but it doesn’t.  In fact its kind of pretty and totally harmless looking.  Let me remind you of the old adage “Leaves of three, let it be.”  This is the truth.  Nothing complicated.  No matter what the shape of the leaves or plant are, if it has leaves clumped in groups of 3, keep your distance.

poison_ivyExhibit A.

The stuff is everywhere here.  In the flower beds, on the trees, covering the ground in the woods.  Thankfully, I haven’t spotted it in the actual garden yet.  Garden Goal #2: Don’t get poison ivy again.  I think once is enough per year.

Poison ivy aside, there were still many plants I couldn’t identify.  So, I did the only thing someone of my generation knows to do in these situations: I posted a whole album of unidentified plant photos on Facebook and begged for assistance from real gardeners.  It was a success – almost everything was identified.  So let me share what the old homeplace has in production right now:

  • Blueberries – tons!
  • Figs – there will be tons in a few weeks
  • Pears – a few
  • Apples – a few
  • Peaches – like 4 or 5
  • Garlic – pulled up ~20 to dry out.
  • Tomatoes – fruit is looking kinda small for this time of year.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower – totally annihilated by a pest of some sort before I even identified them.  That’s okay though, broccoli is gross.
  • Green beans – the beans got too big and tasted nasty.
  • Asparagus – already gone to “fern”
  • Herbs: rosemary, bay

cauliflower_failCauliflower fail.

We have two blueberry bushes that have been going gangbusters for a couple of weeks, and I’m stocking my freezer and several other folks’ freezers as well.  And THAT is what I want to do a lot more of in the future.  Be that lady that forces my excessive zucchinis on people.  That brings us to Goal #3:  Can something.  You know, in a mason jar.  Fig preserves, blueberry jam, anything.  I am going to need canning skills next year for my awesome garden, so I might as well practice now.

This concludes Episode 1.1 of my garden melodrama.  3 simple goals, nothing too lofty, but still lots to learn.  Now I’m off to look for a class to take or a “gardener for rent” program or perhaps a “gardening for dummies” book.

Reflections on the Amazon


I think I’ve written and re-written this blog a hundred times in my head already and I’m thinking that even once I hit “publish” I’ll be re-writing it for a while to come.  Part of the difficulty is that there are so many directions I could go on this.  There’s the “travelogue” version that tells you what I did and saw.  Then there’s the “introspective” version that tells you how what I did and saw made me feel and think.  Or the third version that tells you the stories of those I met.  I think for now, I’m rolling with the first of these that focuses on the facts.  I’ll probably share stories and thoughts later on…when I can formulate it all into something sensible.

The Amazon is one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been.  We flew into Manaus on Sunday, (see map below to get your bearings) and then hopped on the Discovery boat which would be our home base until last Friday evening.  We had quite a full boat…12 of us traveled from the States with Justice & Mercy Amazon and then once in Brazil we added 1 jungle guide, 2 translators, 2 cooks and 3 crew members for a grand total of 20 folks on board!  Fortunately, our team all got along well and the open air boat prevented things from feeling crowded.  We slept in hammocks strung up on the upper deck (see the “Gear” section below for a rundown on my rig) and each night I fell asleep feeling like I was a baby being rocked by the gentle rolling of the boat on the water and woke up to the sunrise….well, actually I woke up each morning to Mary Katharine shaking me to wake me up…I slept so hard each night!

I swiped this map from the Lonely Planet website....they are my favorite Travel Guide source and also publish an excellent Brazilian Portuguese language guide.

I swiped this map from the Lonely Planet website….they are my favorite Travel Guide source and also publish an excellent Brazilian Portuguese language guide.

The "Discovery" boat.  Home sweet boat for most of our journey.

The “Discovery” boat. Home sweet boat for most of our journey.

Our daily schedule went something like this:

  • Wake up about 6:00 AM
  • Team meeting/devotional on the boat
  • Visit a village: short worship service, home visits, crafts with kids, sports with older kids
  • Get back on boat and drive to another village while eating lunch/napping/breaktime
  • Visit second village of the day: same worship service, etc. activities.
  • Back on the boat for dinner/travel near next village (so we’d wake up already near the first village of the morning)
  • Team meeting or nighttime activity or free time
  • Go to bed between 9:00-11:00

The ministry aspect of the trip was challenging for me.  I found it overwhelming to absorb the many different faces of poverty and assess how to serve those in need in a short term setting.  Especially when short-term means about two hours, and every conversation you have has to go through a translator.  But I know we gathered lots of useful information on how we can serve in the future: basic needs that can be met such as food, school supplies, education or repairs to buildings.  Many stories also emerged of individuals that have overcome great odds and those who are still facing seemingly insurmountable situations, and relationships were established.

One of the most exciting parts for me was getting to connect with people over music.  None of the villages we visited had ever seen a violin in real life and they seemed to really enjoy it.  At one village, the ladies had lots of questions about how the violin worked and at another village I got to spend time with a group of musicians: a guitarist and several singers who lead worship at the church services they hold 3 times a week.  We talked about everything from how to not be nervous “on stage” to what it means to worship versus just being good at your instrument.  On a sightseeing tour of Manaus on the last day I even ran into a fellow in the square outside the opera house named Victor who was playing the violin along to a boombox of accomaniment tracks.  Even though I don’t speak Portuguese, he picked up on the word “Bach” in my initial question and what resulted was a slightly out-of-tune, but nonetheless fun, rendition of  “Air on the G String” (arranged from J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major)…proof once again, that music is the universal language.

Me with the worship team from one of the villages.  So proud of what these young people have taught themselves.

Me with the worship team from one of the villages. So proud of what these young people have taught themselves.

Busking on the street with Victor, the wandering violinist, outside the opera house in Manaus.

Busking on the street with Victor, the wandering violinist, outside the opera house in Manaus.

We also got to see some of the sights the Amazon has to offer along the way.  The pink river dolphins were everywhere although I never captured a good photo of them (but you can see what they look like here), and we saw some of the grey river dolphins as well.  We also saw several sloths, parrots and other exotic birds, and a few monkeys in the wild.  I even fed one monkey a treat after some kids cornered him in the principal’s office of the village school.  One afternoon we went piranha fishing and although I didn’t catch anything, my team pulled in 5 small black piranha.  (I kept waiting for Jeremy Wade to pop up somewhere and share a commentary on my poor fishing techniques…instead Jeneson our river guide laughed at me and muttered in Portuguese as he re-baited my hook for the umpeenth time.)  We also went “cayman hunting” one night….no worries, no cayman were harmed or killed during this adventure…but we did see lots of the crocodile-cousins and even got to hold one of the baby ones.  I also enjoyed the chickens that ran rampant in every village.  No two seemed to look alike, and none of them really looked like chickens we have in the US.


Me feeding treats to the spider monkey after the principal banished the children from his office.


One of the more bizarre chickens I saw on our trip.

I know I’ll post again about my trip so I’m going to wrap it up here for now.  I’m so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity, and thankful to be safely home as well.  The Lord is gracious for sure.


For those of you interested in what I brought….here’s the rundown.  I had done some extensive hammock research before I went and decided to purchase my own hammock and mosquito net rig to bring with me instead of using the hammocks and nets provided.  This proved to be an excellent decision and I would highly recommend all the products I purchased for anyone interested in hammock camping in the States, or making a similar Amazonian adventure.  I am an REI member, and they carry all of these products, but I also have Amazon Prime, and they carry everything as well…usually significantly cheaper.

  • ENO (Eagle’s Nest Outfitters brand) Double Nest Hammock  (Mine is the Navy/Royal color.  I’d recommend this over the single nest because it’s so roomy…and the DoubleNest Deluxe apparently has an uncomfortable seam down the middle.)
  • ENO Atlas Hammock Straps (Fork out the extra cash for the Atlas straps….and avoid the Slap Strap and Slap Strap Pro like the plague.  I had read this online so many times, and after watching others hang their hammocks, I realized firsthand how awesome the Atlas straps are.)
  • ENO Guardian Bug Net (again…after seeing the other mosquito nets, I realized how great this one was…especially if you’re in an area where Malaria is an issue.)
  • ENO Possum Pocket (I hung this from my atlas straps via this Black Diamond Carabiner at night to hold things such as my journal, Malaria pills, and flashlight that I wanted closeby…and then it transformed into the perfect mini day-pack to tote my camera, sunglasses, bug spray and a small Bible when we visited the villages.  Plus, my hammock, bug net, and atlas straps all fit inside at once so I can use it to store my hammock rig all together when I’m home.)
  • Cocoon Microfiber Mummy Liner (The packing list suggested a “light sheet or blanket” but I didn’t have room for anything that heavy or large in my suitcase so I opted for this sleeping bag liner and LOVED it.  It was enough to keep the breeze from being too chilly, was easy to slip in and out of in the hammock, lightweight to pack, and best of all…machine washable upon returning home.  A must for camping no matter if you’re sleeping in a hammock, or the more traditional sleeping-bag-and-tent sort of setup.)
  • Jeep Duffel Bag (I know it’s not part of my hammock rig, but I used this suitcase (in the black/blue color) for my trip and was really pleased with it.  I have a Victorinox Swiss Army suitcase that I love that I usually use for trips, but since I had to live out of my suitcase and couldn’t unpack, I found the six exterior pockets on the Jeep bag vital to staying organized this trip.)
  • Yamaha Violin Gig Bag (This was the hardest thing to find….probably because no violinist in their right mind wants a soft-side case for their acoustic instrument (this case was intended for use with an electric violin)…except me.  I would never recommend putting an instrument of any value in this case as it doesn’t offer much protection, however I have a $30 garage-sale violin that I take with me when I travel overseas and this case was perfect as it was lightweight, waterproof and had backpack straps and easy access pouches…all essentials when playing violin in the Amazon jungle.  Even still, I carried it on all my flights.  It would have been obliterated if it had been checked luggage.)

My hammock and mosquito net.

Hammock City.  All our hammocks and mosquito nets in a row.

Hammock City. All our hammocks and mosquito nets in a row.

Old Friends

Greetings from deep inside the Atlanta airport! Don’t be confused, this is Mary-Hall. Presumably Bethany has made it to Brazil because there hasn’t been another peep out of her since that last blog post. Spending an evening in an airport is as rare for me as it is common for her, and I’m being careful to enjoy the novelty of my situation (almost 12 hrs in, delay after delay after delay). I’m not even on business travel. I’m all alone and this was a personal trip.

I spent the last couple of days with three of my dearest friends. We all started boarding school in the 11th grade, and we’ve been close ever since. Surviving a nerdy boarding school is the quintessential bonding experience I guess, because the bonds have stuck.

Here we are partying like its 1999… ‘Cuz it was.


These ladies have been with me through thick and thin, up and down and back around. Breakups, bachelorette parties, cross country moves, countless camping trips and tubes of raw cookie dough.

Now we’re all 30 years old {and fabulous duh}. Two live outside the US, with foreign husbands and visa issues and jobs and kids in the mix. So suffice it to say that getting all four together in one spot was basically a minor miracle and the improbability wasn’t lost on anyone.

So what do you do when you’re thrown back together with your closest friends that you never ever see? Talk, eat, talk, get pedicures, talk, take a local boat tour, eat junk food, look at old photos, stay up too late, and then hug and drop each other off at airports, and pretend like we could do it all again in two weeks… when it could easily be two years before we see the foreign-based ones again.


We spent some time making predictions about where we’d each be I 5 years. For the first time in my life, my answer is already fairly defined. Not too much fortune telling required. We plan to be right in the same spot unless something unexpected happens. How strange and novel to be “settling down”.


Old friends are so uniquely qualified to remind you who you are, where you’ve come from, how you’ve changed, and how you haven’t. That is priceless feedback to get.

And with that, at long last, I am boarding my final flight to Mississippi.
ETA 12:15am.

Brazil Bound…almost

Today I left for Brazil. Thanks to mechanical issues with not one but two planes, I did not arrive in Brazil. That won’t happen until tomorrow. But I did make it as far as Miami, Florida, so that’s better than nothing. I guess.

I’ve been longing for an opportunity to sail down the Amazon river on a boat since 2005 when a friend at the hospital where I worked did just that and made the mistake of showing his photos to me. I totally took the bait way back then, and the hook was set last fall when I started hearing my boss Kelly Minter talk about her trips there. I’ve been praying for an opportunity to go and then two months ago this trip came together and I was able to join in.

I’m not entirely sure what is going to happen. I know we’ll be doing crafts with kids. And our nurse, Cassie, will be doing some mini mobile clinics. And Kelly and I have our guitar and violin in tow for some jungle worship action. We will be sleeping in hammocks. Beyond that, I’m rolling with the punches.

And boy, were there some punches today. Flight delays resulting in missed connections and I’m writing this from my hotel room in Miami where American Airlines put us up for the night and bought us (most of our) dinner.

The team is an amazing group and I’m already so excited to serve alongside them. Everyone has something unique to bring to the table and they are all just really fun folks to be with. I cannot think of a better group to be navigating travel delays with.

While I know I’ll have amazing stories and photos for you all, unlike my trips to Mexico, Kenya and India, I’m going to be going off-grid on this one. I didn’t even bring my laptop and I’m blogging via my iPhone ap tonight. However, there will be some updating of the JMI twitter feed and Facebook account in case you want to see how the trip is going. You can check those out by visiting the following links:


Twitter: (@JMInternational)

There’s been so much going on this week too that I’ve not even had time to tell you all about. Keith went to Kenya and returned home, the chickens are still not quite one big happy family with Beverly Clucky, my mom came to town and we organized the house, hiked, and went toy the zoo and then I shopped for camping gear for the Brazil trip with my good friends Alexis and Jason who just happened to be in town and just happen to be outdoor gear junkies. (The sentence “you should buy that…this Swede that we met when we were hiking in Patagonia recommended it” actually came out of their mouths whilst shopping). Whew. So much.

So if you pray, I’d be grateful for you to include the following things in your prayers. And if you don’t pray, but would like to make an exception and pray for these things I would be even more humbled.

*Safety for the group as we travel.
*That each of us would find ways to use our unique giftings to make this trip a success.
*That there would be ample opportunities to serve the people we encounter by treating them with dignity and kindness and meeting physical needs where we can.
*That information gained on this trip will help shape the future of the work being done in the Amazon.
*For the families and friends (and awesome house-sitters!!) we leave behind.

Mary-Hall will keep you entertained with a few blogs up her sleeve this week and ill give you a full report when I return.

Grace and peace.

Meet “Beverly Clucky”

Wednesday, the Yellow Barn Poultry Co. had it’s first loss.  Poor Gertrude holds a dear place in our hearts and we hope that we were able to make her five weeks with us comfortable and happy….and we think that she felt right at home here until that fateful morning when she went to live in the big chicken coop in the sky. And of course we have the portrait of Gertrude that Mary-Hall painted to remember her by.

Saturday, the Yellow Barn Poultry Co. got a new girl.  She’s the cutest little 7 week old Buff Orpington pullet you’ve ever seen.  And she totally thinks I’m her Momma and snuggles up to me any time I go out to visit her.  And to be honest, I kind of AM her momma right now, as she’s not in the coop with our other three girls yet. But before I get into all that, you may be wondering how we arrived at her name.

"Hellooooooo, world!"  Beverly Clucky leans in for her close-up.

“Hellooooooo, world!” Beverly Clucky leans in for her close-up.

I wanted to keep the female authors theme going with the new chicken name and came up with a list of lady writers that I admire.  Keith, on the other hand was rooting for something a little more chicken-appropriate and easier to remember.  So, after lots of thought, I came up with what I consider to be a home-run compromise.  Gertrude had been named after Gertrude Chandler Warner, author of my very favorite children’s series, The Boxcar Children, so it only seemed right to name our new friend after  Beverly Cleary, the author of the “Ramona Quimby” series, another childhood favorite of mine.  Inspired by my hairdresser who named her cat “Catsy Cline,” after famed singer “Patsy Cline” (perhaps the kitty had a penchant for going walking after midnight? womp womp.) I opted to go with “Beverly Clucky”…paying tribute not only to the writer, but bringing in some “foul” humor as well.


Another shot of Beverly on the way to her new home. This time of course, she’s being all coy.

The past 48 hours have been a crash course in poultry husbandry for sure.  I’d seen briefly in one of the many chicken books I’ve read in the past few months that introducing a new chicken to the flock should be done carefully, but I didn’t think to do much research until after I brought Beverly home.  And yikes.  I kind of broke every rule in the book.  Here’s a list of wisdom compiled from several different blogs, websites and books.

Tips for Adding a New Hen to the Flock

  • Always introduce at least two new chickens, not a lone chicken…that way if they get picked on by the existing flock, they have a friend to back them up.
  • Always quarentine a new bird for at least 30 days before letting them even breathe the same air as your existing flock, to prevent transfer of disease, many of which are airborne.
  • Never introduce a juvenile bird into the flock.  If it still “tweets” like a baby, it’s not ready for the flock.
  • Always introduce your new birds to your existing birds on neutral territory, and when it comes time to put the new bird into the coop, do so at night while all the birds are asleep.  They don’t seem to mind the newcomer as much if they wake up together.

Here’s what I did.  I went and purchased a single, 7 week old pullet (my existing hens are now 13, 16, and 18 weeks old) and brought her home where I immediately marched her into the backyard in the middle of the day and brought her in the coop to meet the other chickens.  Fortunately, I was smart enough to keep watchful hands on her.  Jane complained loudly the minute she laid eyes on the new baby and scurried around the coop-yard chattering her displeasure at the top of her little chicken lungs.  Sylvia on the other hand went straight for Beverly’s neck without a sound…fortunately I was still holding her and scooped her out of the coop to safety.  I set up a pen next to the coop for Beverly so the chickens could all see each other without interacting for the rest of the day, and then secured Beverly and her temporary pen in the shed for the night so she’d be safe from rain and predators.  Then I spent about 4 hours on the internet reading up on how to introduce a new bird to the flock.

They may look innocent, but this little trio did not show the new girl any love at first sight.

L to R: Jane, Sylvia & Louisa.  They may look innocent, but this little trio did not show the new girl any love at first sight.

"Who me? Scare the little chicky?  Never." - Jane the loud talker while silent Sylvia stalks around in the background.

“Who me? Scare the little chicky? Never.” – Jane the loud talker while silent Sylvia stalks around in the background.

After going through several rounds of feeling discouraged and then hopeful and back and forth, I’ve decided to take a sort of abbreviated approach to the “integration” plans that I found online because none of them really fit my circumstances.

Bringing Home Beverly: Plan of Action

  • Even though we brought our chickens home at different times, they all came from the same hatchery.  Everyone seems healthy so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
  • Even though Beverly Clucky is only 7 weeks old and thus 6-11 weeks younger than the others, none of the others are really considered mature hens yet.  No one is laying eggs.  And even though they are the “established flock” we’ve only had them 5 weeks.
  • Most folks online had large flocks.  We’ve only got a total of 4 chickens we’re talking about here.
  • Most folks had a rooster.  We don’t.  At least, ohmygoodnessIhopewedon’t.  I’m having some questions about Sylvia. Hoping she doesn’t turn out to be a “Sylvester” instead.

I spent today organizing the shed and Beverly hung out in her little pen and tweeted at me for the morning, and then in the afternoon I moved her back out to “socialize” with the big girls from a safe distance.  There was lots less chatter than yesterday, and Beverly seemed like she really wanted to be in the coop…she kept running back and forth looking for a way in.  And when I moved her back into the shed at dusk (the weather forecast for tonight was terrible as were the storms that came through so she needed to be somewhere weather-proof), both she and the “big girls” seemed a little sad to be separated.


All snuggled up on Mama’s lap. Her little fluffy butt kills me! Such a cutie pie!

My next move (hopefully tomorrow?) is to put Beverly and her food and water in a large dog kennel and put the whole thing in the coop so they are all together  but separated.  I’m hoping all this goes well and I can get some “neutral ground hangouts” set up for Tuesday or Wednesday of this week with a nighttime “while you were sleeping” introduction Thursday night.  But I’m not going to push it.  I want my new little girl to be safe and happy and my big girls to behave.

SoThereYouHaveIt.  A crash course in chicken-keeping and way too many chicken pictures all in one post.  As for EggWatch2013….sadly none of our girls have started blessing us with any tasty bounty as of yet.  I’m thinking Jane should be gifting us with something in the next 2 weeks or so.  Hopefully she’ll hold it in until I get back from Brazil.  And now, this Mama hen is off to her roost for the night.  Gotta get up with the chickens…..

Anyone have any tips for adding a new hen that they would like to share?  I’d love some input!

Nite-nite time....all snuggly roosting on top of the dog kennel that she calls home right now, enclosed in a pen, inside the shed.

Nite-nite time….all snuggly roosting on top of the dog kennel that she calls home right now, enclosed in a pen, inside the shed.

Surprise Chicken Portraits

Well, this surprise/blog post is either incredibly well timed, or incredibly poorly timed.  I’m not sure which one… fingers crossed.

Let’s backup.  As you all know, Bethany recently built a chicken coop and got her first four chickens.  We’re all waiting with baited breath for the first eggs, are we not?  I wanted to make her a little chicken coop warming gift, and I took my inspiration from a collage Bethany made and even had as her facebook header photo for a short time:

The Ladies of the Yellow Barn Poultry Co.

I thought it would be kinda fun and kinda hilarious to convert those photos to miniature portraits of the lovely lady chickens in oils.  Michael’s sells 4″-square canvases for $3 each, and I had all the other stuff in my craft bin.  I used basically the same process as the Homemade Paint By Number, except instead of a projector I just used tracing paper to transfer the photo outlines to the canvas.  Here is the final product:


Hope you like them, B!  (You should get them in the mail today.)

Now about that timing issue.  Per social media updates, it seems that the chicken Gertrude actually passed on to chicken heaven just yesterday.   The paintings were already in the mail though, so fingers crossed Bethany is happy to get them and doesn’t burst into tears on the spot.  Ugh.

We’ll miss you Gertrude.  I think her painting is on the far left, based on a different photo.  Guess its appropriate that she’s sort of washed out and heavenly.

One final note:  Sorry about Sylvia the black chicken.  Ransom did that one.  (kidding)  I learned that its VERY hard to paint something that’s so black and not make it look like a kindergarten art project.  Someday maybe I’ll redo her one day.  It didn’t help that her photo was also kinda unfortunate looking, because she is younger than the other 3.  Basically, the other three chickens got lovely Senior Portraits, while Sylvia is stuck with an awkward junior high yearbook photo.

Paleo / Whole30 Balsamic Vinaigrette

Another bandwagon, folks! About 2 weeks ago I started a {slightly watered down} Whole30 experiment – a challenge to eat only healthy, whole foods for 30 days. The “approved” foods list is very similar to the Paleo diet that Bethany has spoken so highly of in recent months.

The rules of my Whole 30:

  • No chemicals
  • No preservatives
  • No dairy
  • No starches – rice, beans, potatoes, pasta
  • No flour
  • No soy
  • No sugar or artificial sweeteners

Now let me disclaim a minute: technically, all the approved foods (fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts) should be organic, free range, and grain-fed only. Psssh. They don’t sell that stuff where we’re moving so why bother now? And I have had at least 2 prohibited items in the last two weeks. Rules are meant to be broken.

BUT but but.

I have tackled several new Paleo friendly recipes. So far they are really really good. Did you know that spinach can go in ANYTHING? meatballs, tacos, whatever. You won’t even notice it.  I have eaten countless grilled chicken salads happily while others eat french fries. I skipped banana pudding at a family get together. My energy level is noticeably higher, especially right when I wake up. I haven’t had that gnawing awful hungry feeling in two whole weeks. And I don’t even miss the sweets. Really!

All that to say, try this Whole30 Balsamic Vinaigrette. It’s good no matter what diet you’re on and it doesn’t have a single sketchy ingredient.

Make it in a mason jar for bonus granola/Pinterest points.


And in 16 more days, I’ll probably resume eating chocolate {life’s too short} but I’ll definitely keep some of these new recipes and maybe lay off the pop tarts for breakfast.

Paleo Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup red onion, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix it all up and enjoy.  I recommend it on a baby spinach salad with chicken and chopped strawberries, and a bunch of other veggies.

Chicken Tikka Masala

When Keith and I were in India last March, we purchased some spices at the open air in Kolkata…spices that have sat in their tidy little packages in our spice rack ever since.  We’ve been meaning to use them, but we just haven’t had the time until yesterday when we had a rare Saturday when we were both in town and we decided that a little Tikka Masala was in order.  I did a little recipe search on the internet and found several…but went with one from (that apparently was also published in the Chicago Tribune on 4/17/02.)


“Chikin” spices from the market in Kolkata.

After we whipped up the marinade, I decided to get started on the sauce while we waited for the flavors to soak into the chicken.  I cut some fresh cilantro from my herb garden and chopped it into little pieces for the garnish.  Next, I took great care to dice the jalapeno into tiny pieces.  Let’s pause for a moment shall we?  Here at we like to pass along, to you, dear readers, any wisdom we pick up along the way so you can learn from our mistakes.  So.  With that in mind, I would be remiss if I neglected to tell you a little story about jalapenos.  And how one should ALWAYS wear gloves when cutting jalapenos.  And how I maybe, possibly, per chance didn’t know this as last night was the first time I’ve ever diced a jalapeno.  If you’re friends with my husband on Facebook or Instagram, you probably know where this is going.

I diced the jalapeno.  I washed my hands with soap and water.  I casually rubbed my nose with my fingers as my allergies have been acting up.  I.  Got. Jalapeno. Oil. In. My. Nose.

I cannot adequately describe to you the  excruciating pain I experienced.  Imagine the worst sunburn you’ve ever had.  Now imagine it in your nostril.  Yeah.  It was that bad.  Fortunately, husband is pretty speedy on the draw when it comes to Googling, and before I knew it he’d found the apparent only cure…sticking your entire nose in a bowl of milk.  (Seriously…what did we DO before Google?)  It took about 10 minutes (and the addition of milk-soaked cotton balls stuffed in my nostrils while the rest of my head still rested in a large bowl of milk) for the searing burning to subside…and my sinuses were quite clean the rest of the evening.  The moral of the story, dear readers, is “Always wear gloves when cutting jalapenos.”


Face down in a bowl of milk. Too bad you can’t see the milk-logged cotton balls in my nose. Misery, thy name is jalepeno-oil-rubbed-sinuses.

So.  Now.  Back to the recipe.  I’ve posted it below (as always) with my notes in green.  (Or you can view the original recipe by clicking through the link at the top of the page.)  It was fantastic.  Easy to follow.  It takes about 2 hours total to make….30 minutes prep time, 1 hour to marinate, 30 minutes to cook.  While I’m sure it wasn’t “hot” by Indian standards, the recipe for sure had some heat.  Keith thought it landed at “perfect” on the spicy-o-meter….I probably could have taken it down one notch and still been happy with the flavor…but I just ate mine with a healthy portion of store bought naan (an Indian bread similar to pita bread or chapati) and the bread cut the temperature.  (The recipe calls for 1 jalapeno…..I’d suggest 1/2 a jalapeno for a milder flavor and 1.5 jalapenos for an authentic Indian level ultra hot.)  And to whet your appetite…I’ve included a few photos.

Garlic, butter and the now infamous jalapeno simmering on the stovetop!

Garlic, butter and the now infamous jalapeno simmering on the stove top!

Chicken skewers hot off the grill and ready to go in the sauce!

Chicken skewers hot off the grill and ready to go in the sauce!

Simmering on the stove.   Mmmmmm.

Simmering on the stove. Mmmmmm.

Served on top of thai rice, garnished with fresh cilantro and a side of naan.  One of my favorite home-made meals to date.

Served on top of thai rice, garnished with fresh cilantro and a side of naan. One of my favorite home-made meals to date.

Chicken Tikka Masala

1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken, cut in 1 inch cubes
approx 6 bamboo skewers (6-inch)

1 cup plain yogurt     [Note: I used plain old plain yogurt.  Not Greek, not lowfat, just straight up yogurt.]
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground red pepper
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 piece minced ginger (1-inchinch” long)


1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander     [Note: I left out the coriander because I didn’t want to make a grocery run.]
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala  [Note:I used the spices I bought which I’m *pretty sure* are  garam masala.  I’d suggest finding a local international grocery to purchase yours, or  the recipe suggests that you can make your own or that McCormick brand spices makes a version available in most grocery stores.]
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


1) Cut chicken breasts into one inch cubes and mix together marinade.
2) Put cubes of chicken in marinade and marinate (in the refrigerator) for an hour or so.
3) Discard marinade.
4) For sauce, melt butter on medium heat.
5) Add garlic & jalapeno; cook 1 minute.
6) Stir in coriander, cumin, paprika, garam masala & salt.
7) Stir in tomato sauce.
8 )Simmer 15 minutes.
9) Stir in cream; simmer to thicken- about 5 minutes.
10) Grill or broil chicken, turning occasionally, to cook through- about 8 minutes. [we grilled on our outdoor grill]
11) Remove chicken from skewers; add to sauce.
12) Simmer 5 minutes.
13) Garnish with cilantro Serve with basmati rice, naan or pita bread.


Also, in case you haven’t noticed, we now have a “Recipe File” at the top right-hand corner of the blog where we’ve categorized all our tasty concoctions so you can find the perfect recipe easily, no matter what you’re looking for.

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