Monthly Archives: September, 2013

A Meditation on Human Nature and Easy Nachos for One

Yes, we will eventually get to this:

nachos for one homemade tortilla chips

But first I need to rant a little about this:

phone from this site:http://freeiphones.co/

In my math class the other day, our teacher asked if we all had graphing calculators. I was a member of a majority of students who had not invested in this expensive piece of machinery. My teacher said it was totally all right not to have a graphing calculator; all we had to do was use our smartphones to visit a graphing-calculator website.

This is not the first time I have had a teacher assume every student in the class has a smartphone. In my history class one time, the teacher had told us to research and record some facts about a certain time period in history. The textbook, as is to be expected, was extraordinarily information-poor. There were about 5 facts about the historical time period, and students needed more like 20 facts. So the teacher instructed the class to take out their phones and research said time period.

First of all, we’re not even “supposed” to have our phones out in the classroom. Secondly, people need to come to terms with the fact that, strange as it may seem, NOT EVERYONE HAS A SMARTPHONE!!!!

I am one of the few, oft-forgotten folk out there who go through life without a smartphone. And no, I am not one of those “poor, deprived children” whose parents won’t “let me” get a flashy phone with internet access. My dad is constantly receiving phones to review due to his involvement in the newspaper business, and some of his older phones have been offered to me as hand-me-downs. I suppose I will have to get a phone at some point. But I’ve been putting it off as long as I can.

Don’t get me wrong, all the cool features of smartphones are appealing to me. I love how people can personalize their phone cases in so many different styles. It would be great to have internet access whenever I desperately need to know 20 facts about the 1920s ASAP! And it sure would be nice to scan the app-thingy on the back of the Frosted Flakes box and find out how I can earn my tiger stripes 🙂

With that said, I still balk at the idea of becoming a smartphone owner. Why? The only good reason I can fathom is because I’m not interested in becoming a zombie slave. I see people of all ages walking around staring at their phone screen instead of the path ahead of them. I have numerous times been interrupted in the middle of a conversation with someone because they were consumed by a sudden irresistible urge to check their phone. It’s almost as if these people are possessed, slaves to some greater power that will, if not served promptly and well, retaliate with unimaginable punishment. But in my philosophy, this is not a new development. It dates back to a time WAY before smartphones were ever dreamed of. This “greater power” is nothing digital, merely the inherent human need for companionship.

When we lived in caves and hunted down mammoths for food, our need for companionship may have manifested itself in the form of living together with one’s family, huddling close together on the most frigid nights of the Ice Age. Fast forward to the Victorian Era, when women were distraught if they did not receive a letter from their beaus every week or so, and tea parties were held every so often for ever-so-fun discussions of ballroom dancing and watercress sandwiches. Fifty or sixty years ago, parents complained that their teenage children were constantly tying up the phone lines, chatting with friends for hours each afternoon. Nowadays, many of us can’t stand to be away from our smartphones for five minutes straight. Every time the device bleeps with a new text, that text is a baby about to fall in a vat of boiling water and it is urgent that we get our fingers on the keys as fast as possible to reply. Otherwise an innocent child risks terrible injury. That innocent child lives in our social insecurities, which exist now just as they did in the Victorian age, when a proper lady dared not burp at a tea party or who knew what would become of her social standing?

I’m no psychiatrist, but it sure looks to me like the general public is so afraid of being “uncool,” it has pushed all other aspects of life aside to attend to fleeting social moments via the smartphone. I imagine it was a ripple effect: since a few individuals decided to make texting their first priority, imagining others were doing the same, others were forced to do the same to fit in with that original crowd. And all their friends needed to stay in the loop, so they got smartphones, and their own contacts followed, etcetera. Now millions of phone owners live under the illusion that there is no life out there for them unless they are constantly on call to respond to text messages. This extends to all the social networking sites people access with their phones’ useful internet capabilities: you don’t have a life unless you follow all the other cool people on a billion different sites which constantly fluctuate in and out of popularity.

But who is the true owner – the human, or the phone? It depends on the strength of the individual’s will. These phones do have great power, and can take over about half the humans they encounter with their magical shimmering screen and bleating text message notifications. But there is hope yet for the human species. Some individuals have demonstrated great power and “domesticated” their wild phones. The bleats can be silenced while the human is not in the mood to deal with the neediness of his zombie slave brethren. Those with great willpower can tear their eyes away from the screen, regardless of its hypnotizing appeal. I have seen a few individuals choose not to let their phones take over their lives, and I know they will be the ones to carry on our species while the hypnotized ones serve their masters on Planet Cellphonia. I hope I will prove to be strong like these fearless leaders. I hope when I finally conform and get a cell phone, I will be able to refrain from pulling it out during a test or a funeral. And I hope that someday, those poor possessed ones will regain their independence. Personally, I would never revoke my friendship with someone due to a slight delay in their response time to my texts.

What does this whole rant about human nature and cell phones have to do with nachos? Ummm…I did make myself a bowl of healthy nachos last weekend. And I did not whip out my cell phone and start texting while I was eating these. They got my complete, undivided attention.

These nachos are healthy because the tortilla chips are baked, not fried in fat. I made them myself, out of blue corn and flaxseed tortillas for an interesting and healthy alternative to traditional, fattening chips. I added Amy’s brand refried beans, which are made with all natural ingredients as opposed to many other canned beans with all these additives and yucky stuff. What with the beans and cheese, these nachos are a god source of protein. I added a bit of avocado for healthy fats and deliciousness! The red pepper I used was a bit spicy, so feel free to use a little less.

Overall, I was definitely pleased with this easy, healthy nacho recipe. I recommend it to those who only want a controlled serving of nachos, or are trying to eat healthy and not miss out on old favorites! Enjoy.

Easy Nachos for One

tortilla chips made using guide from simplyrecipes.com

easy homemade nachos single serving

Ingredients:

  • 2 personal-sized tortillas (I used Mission brand blue corn and flaxseed blend tortillas)
  • 1/4 cup Amy’s vegetarian refried beans
  • 1/4 cup shredded Mexican cheese
  • 1/8 of an avocado, chopped
  • 1 small red pepper, chopped

Directions:

To make tortilla chips: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Spray a cookie sheet generously with nonstick spray. Rip tortillas to chip-sized pieces (the smaller they are the crispier they will get!)

Spread tortilla pieces across the prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 minutes. Then remove from the oven, turn the chips over, and bake for another minute or two.

To make nachos: Warm up refried beans in microwave for 20 seconds. Place tortilla chips in a bowl. Top with the warmed beans, cheese, avocado and pepper. Microwave until cheese is melted.

Enjoy!

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A Festive Fall Cake

orange ginger spice cake with brown sugar white chocolate glaze

Today I attended an end-of-summer beach clean-up. It’s really exhausting work, trudging across miles of monotonous white sand, bending over every few steps to snag a cigarette butt or little morsel of plastic. At one point, I was crouched down on the wet sand, poring through a clump of sea vegetation to remove a few little bits of trash, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. A blond woman in a pink sweater stood over me. She said, “I know you’re working really hard, but if you just look over there…” we stood up and I followed the line of her finger to view the glittering blue sea. Just beyond the boogie boarders floating close to shore, a smooth, dark lump emerged out of the surf, followed by more. Atop each sleek lump was a noble dorsal fin. “Awesome,” I said. Real wild dolphins, right near the shore, greeting us beach-goers. Now that is what makes beach clean-ups worthwhile. I want to preserve the habitat of such amazing creatures as dolphins. And I really want people to stop leaving cigarette butts at the beach! Please?

Summer has got to be my favorite season of the year. Needless to say, it is officially over. Days are getting shorter and yada yada yada… ugh, I can’t stand the cold, bitter time of year that is coming! With that said, autumn does have a few redeeming qualities. For one, there are a few fun holidays. For another, it’s time to break out the cozy autumn recipes!

I’ve had this mission to make some kind of ginger cake ever since my mom described how she used to love going to a certain bakery and ordering their amazing gingerbread cake. If my mom can speak so adoringly about a dessert that wasn’t even chocolate, it must be really good.

I haven’t baked much with ginger before, but I decided to try out this awesome fall spice in a yummy breakfast cake. Not only is ginger flavorful, it is packed with a number of surprising heath benefits! Ginger has been known since ancient times to be soothing to the intestinal tract. New research suggests it also provides some of the benefits of antioxidants, and can fight inflammation. The other spices in this cake are nutritious as well. Cinnamon can help prevent blood vessel clotting, and can help the digestive system. It also provides important nutrients such as iron, potassium, and calcium. Cloves contain many of the same health benefits of ginger and cinnamon including the digestive aid and the antioxidant properties.

orange ginger cake white chocolate cinnamon brown sugar glaze

The orange flavor goes well with spices like ginger. I dreamed of an orange-ginger cake with a thick white chocolate frosting on top, sprinkled with colorful dried fruits to create a festive feast for the eyes and the palate.

As it turned out, the frosting became more like glaze, and the brown sugar flavor is what stood out, more than the white chocolate. But I find the glaze is a really delicious, light finish to the satisfying orange spiced cake. I don’t know how much the cake I made tastes like my mom’s remembered gingerbread, but personally I like it. It’s sophisticated, tasty and earthy.

So why not make this glorious, healthy cake, and enjoy the good parts of fall? Get the full recipe here.

brown sugar-white chocolate glazed orange ginger spiced cake

Sources: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=72

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/cinnamon-spice.html

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/cloves.html

Not For Squirrels

As a rule, I am a nature lover. I dream of traveling to the Sahara to see the zebras and lions (maybe not both at once). While I’m here in my own neighborhood, I enjoy catching glimpses of the thriving animal community that co-exists with us humans. For example, recently I managed to get these shots of a hummingbird outside an obscure window in my kitchen:

hummingbird through window

a hummingbird through window

I know they’re not the best pictures ever of a hummingbird, but pretty good considering I’ve NEVER once even come close to capturing a hummingbird on camera. It’s like the gorgeous birds can sense when I’m about to take out my camera. And just like celebrities, they are loath to have their picture taken by the paparazzi.

Some animals are frankly not as cute and appealing as a hummingbird. For example: insects. If I’m ever out in the middle of the Sahara observing the silent lion stalking his prey, preparing for the kill, I will crouch behind the tall grass, mesmerized. If at that moment a spider or mosquito should happen to find itself on my skin, that will be the point at which I’ll start screaming like a little girl.

Insects are pests, with which it can be hard to co-exist. Another animal that can be pesky are squirrels. I know, I know, they’re all cute and cuddly-looking, but underneath that clever little furry disguise is a calculating little brain and a strong determination to conquer all who do not immediately bend at the will of the fluffy rascal.

I’m sure at some point you’ve been in a zoo or someplace, just walking around in the sun minding your own business and munching on popcorn. Wait – this is a health site, so let’s say your indulgence of choice at the zoo was a baggie of glazed almonds. So you walk along, looking at the sea otters and tapirs and crunching on your sugar-coated almonds, when a little ball of adorable honey-colored fluff crosses your path. It’s a squirrel, so naturally you and everyone around you goes “awww,” and he takes advantage of your weakness by gazing up at you with big, shiny eyes. He seems to be begging you for just a taste of your glazed almonds. And who could resist such a cute creature? He must be desperate to approach a human so boldly. So what do you do but reward him with a handful of glazed almonds, placed on the ground in front of him. He snatches them up gratefully in his adorable little paws and scampers towards the nearest tree.

Most people would forget about the squirrel at this point, and go on with their zoo excursion. After seeing the hippos and popping a few more almonds in your mouth, the same squirrel you encountered previously runs down a tree trunk to meet you. You are really hungry and don’t feel like handing over any more of your almonds. So you say, “see you around, little fella,” and begin walking past him. But he continues running around your feet, obstructing your path, chattering noisily and looking at you so expectantly that you feel forced to drop a couple almonds for him.

Now there is a chorus of chattering from the trees. You survey the deserted zooscape to find you are surrounded by squirrels. They’re everywhere: in the trees, on the ground, running across the cage fences to approach you, no fear or manners. The little guy you fed liked your service, so he invited all his buddies to your restaurant. Oh well, you sigh to yourself. I guess I’ll just fork over the rest of my over-priced almonds. But there aren’t enough almonds in the baggie to feed the hundreds upon hundreds of squirrels that now surround you, climbing over one another, trying to push towards you first. There is no choice but to surrender the bag of almonds and run for your life.

And what will happen to the squirrels when they have squabbled over and consumed the last glazed almond? They will hunt you down and make you buy them a million bags of glazed almonds.

vegan almond vanilla mini loaf with berries

Okay, so maybe squirrels aren’t that that bad. They aren’t demons, for heaven’s sake. But they can get aggressive when they get used to being fed by humans. I’ve seen numerous people feeding squirrels in parks, zoos, etcetera. And I’ve also had squirrels come right up to me and try to intimidate me into feeding them. Just a couple days ago I was eating some peanut butter chocolate granola in my backyard, and a squirrel sat on the fence and looked at me with an expression of cold calculation… how much of a softie is this human? Will it hand over the peanuts? I didn’t, but the whole time the squirrel kept creeping closer and staring at me…

A few days later I saw a squirrel – possibly the same individual – outside my kitchen window. It came very close to the window and looked at me with that same determined expression of conquest, of demand on his face. He munched an acorn, staring intensely at me as if to demand more. I’m not one of those people who’s paranoid about squirrels…at least, I never have been, but if they continue to invade my property I may have to get a restraining order.

Seriously, the moral of this story = animals are awesome, but don’t feed them. Especially not wild squirrels.

vegan vanilla almond berry mini loaf

I made these vegan vanilla berry mini loaves a few days ago. They turned out great! The vanilla flavor is present but not overbearing, and the berries provide a lovely succulent tartness. For added texture and nutrition, I topped the mini loaves with sliced almonds. But those nutty squirrels will just have to watch through the window as I devour all the almonds myself. I wish them luck in their travels to find their own acorn tree. But I do draw a certain line between being close to nature, and being TOO close. And when nature is mooching off my baking, it’s time to establish clearer boundaries.

I assume at least 99% of individuals reading this are human. If you are a squirrel and make your living off of other peoples’ food, I apologize for any offense I have caused you. Whatever species you are, I encourage you to make these vanilla berry almond loaves. They will please both your taste buds and your body! (Assuming you are a species that can eat almonds.)

Berries are always a great addition to recipes, as they are a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and other nutrients, they are also low-calorie (they’re mostly water) and therefore a perfect burst of flavor with no sin in any recipe. Almonds are a good source of fiber, as well as healthy fats that help the body function properly. Does vanilla have any health benefits? I suppose not, but it sure does put some sweet flavor into every moist bite of these whole grain mini loaves. Did I mention they are also vegan-friendly? Really, there’s no reason not to preheat your oven and enjoy a baked treat with summer berries while you still can! (Unless, of course, you’re squirreling away a stash for winter.)

Click here for the full recipe: Vegan Very Berry Vanilla Almond Mini Loaves

“Samoa Cookie” Baked Donuts

Samoa

1. Country. Country encompassing the Western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It became independent from New Zealand in 1962.

2. Noun. a circular Girl Scout Cookie made with sweet coconut, silky caramel, and a copious amount of hardened chocolate.

When I first tasted a Samoa cookie, the only definition of “Samoa” I knew was definition #2. And from that first sinfully delicious bite ever so many years ago, the line between the word “Samoa” and the delectable cookie has been burned into my mind. When I found out much later the term “Samoa” was first used to describe a set of islands in the Pacific ocean, it made sense to me. Why wouldn’t the Girl Scouts name their best cookie after a paradise island? The ring shape of the cookie also makes some more sense in this context: the little circle space in the center is surrounded by cookie, just as an island is surrounded by the sea.

Am I over-analyzing the name of a type of Girl Scout Cookie? Sorry, my brain must still be stuck on  my AP English homework. Back to cookies…

The unique circular shape of the Samoa cookie is what inspired me to make these donuts. I thought I’d make donuts that would mirror Samoa cookies both in shape and flavor. Except my donuts would be healthier, with whole grains and less sugar. And I mostly succeeded in my venture.

These donuts were quite good. The batter baked up soft and not too sweet, but the coconut flakes I added provided the perfect burst of sweetness. What truly made these donuts was the chocolate fudge sauce on top. I got the idea from Kitchen Cici, who posted a wonderfully simple recipe for two-ingredient chocolate fudge sauce. I bumped up the ingredient count to 5 for my version, but it was still so much easier than most recipes out there with all the outlandish, unhealthy ingredients. On the donuts, the fudge sauce adds chocolatey decadence for a total melt-in-your-mouth effect.

baked donuts "Samoa Cookie" flavored with chocolate fudge sauce

My only qualm about these donuts was that they weren’t caramel-y enough. I put quite a bit of caramel sauce in the batter, but the flavor just didn’t really come out in the finished product. If anyone out there knows a way I could have made the caramel flavor stronger, please tell me!

So do these donuts match up to their cookie inspirations? Well, they have the coconut, they have the chocolate… maybe just a little tiny negligible hint of caramel…two out of three isn’t too bad! After all, they have the chocolate. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

Oh! And we mustn’t forget about the health factor. 100% Whole wheat flour and coconut are good sources of fiber. There is quite a bit of caramel syrup in the recipe, which is basically just sugar, so I guess these donuts have more sugar than some other things I’ve baked in the past. If anyone out there knows of a sugar-free caramel that doesn’t taste like chemicals, I’d seriously like to hear about it.

Overall, these are great donuts. I totally recommend baking them, as a cheaper alternative to a luxury cruise in the South Pacific. (Okay, one is no replacement for the other, but at least while one sits around at home lamenting the impossibility of a paradise vacation anytime soon, it is nice for one to have a donut while lamenting!)

Samoa picture island

“Samoa Cookie” Baked Donuts

makes 6 regular sized donuts

fudge sauce based on this recipe from Kitchen Cici

baked "Samoa Cookie" donut with chocolate fudge sauce

Ingredients:

for donuts

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • splash cinnamon
  • 5 tbls + 1 tsp King’s Cupboard Cream Caramel Sauce (found at Whole Foods Market)
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk (just what we happened to have in the house, probably other types of milk would work just as well)
  • 1 1/2 tbls Egg Beaters egg substitute
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 tbls sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 tbls semi-sweet chocolate chips

for fudge sauce

  • 2 tbls semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbl 2% milk (or try another type of milk)
  • 1 tsp King’s Cupboard Cream Caramel Sauce
  • 1 tsp Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch of cinnamon

Directions:

For donuts: Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Spray a Wilton donut pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Toss this mixture.

Add caramel sauce, milk, Egg Beaters, and vanilla. Mix well.

Stir in coconut flakes and chocolate chips.

Use a spoon to distribute batter among the 6 cavities of the donut pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 8-13 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

For Fudge Sauce: Fill a saucepan with one inch of water. Place a bowl on top of the saucepan with the fudge sauce ingredients inside the bowl. Turn the saucepan onto medium-low heat. Stir the ingredients in the bowl constantly until they are completely melted.

When donuts have cooled, spread the fudge sauce over each one.

Enjoy these donuts warm, with the hot fudge sauce flowing down your throat like a tropical river – mmm…

baked donut "Samoa Cookie" flavored with chocolate fudge sauce and coconut

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Sources: definition of Samoa from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samoa

photo of Samoa from http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/american-samoa-national-park/

Apple Honey Cinnamon Rolls

apple honey cinnamon rolls

Next week is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. (Literally “head of the year” in Hebrew.) As I little kid, I didn’t even know about the secular new year celebrated in January. It’s always made sense to me that the year should start in September, as that is when school starts. Or maybe it should start in March or April, when the first signs of new life appear in the Spring. But this is when the Jewish New year was set in ancient times, maybe because it corresponded with some important part of seasonal farming?

Now, this holiday always causes some difficulties for my brother and me because we have to miss a day of school to attend services, and then return to a crazy amount of make-up work and missed education (in some classes. In others I already know I won’t miss anything special…) But the nice thing about this holiday is also the very thing that’s a drag about it – I have to miss school, but hey: I GET TO MISS SCHOOL!

One of the most prevalent aspects of Jewish life is that pretty much every Jewish holiday is accompanied by quirky food traditions. One of the main food traditions for Rosh Hashana is apples dipped in honey. This is supposed to represent a sweet new year. (To me it nearly always represents a bowl of Red Delicious apple slices being pushed at me – no, thank you!) Another big theme of Rosh Hashana is circles and roundness – I think this is because each year has a beginning and an end, and the end is met directly by the beginning of the next year. Time never truly ends. It’s almost like the ancient Mayan calendar that progresses in a circle. Anyway, these circles are manifested in the traditional Rosh Hashana challah bread, which is shaped like a swirl instead of the usual braided shape for year-round challah.

I baked both of these Rosh Hashana traditions into a special treat: apple honey cinnamon rolls! They are sweet, gushing with rich filling and complete with delicious apple chunks. Granny Smith apples, that is! (I guess I’ll just have a sour new year. Somehow, Red Delicious just aren’t all that delicious to me.) The only thing that could have brought these cinnamon rolls a smidgeon closer to perfection would be pecans. That would have been the perfect addition, but I didn’t think of it until after they were baked! Oh, well, there’s always next year.

Enjoy these splendid cinnamon rolls, and I wish you a happy year!

Apple Honey Cinnamon Rolls

adapted from this recipe from Feed Me, Seymour

makes 12 medium rolls

apple and honey cinnamon roll

Ingredients:

for dough

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (+ a bit more for flouring your work surface)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbls honey
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter, softened (I just microwaved for 30 seconds or so)

for filling

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbl cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3/4 of one Granny Smith apple, chopped into chunks (the smaller and flatter the chunks, the easier it will be to roll up the dough)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with greased aluminum foil (I didn’t do this and ended up with a very messy cookie sheet!)

To make filling: In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and honey. Set aside.

To make dough: In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix. Add honey and softened peanut butter. Slowly pour in coconut milk. Mix just until combined, but be careful not to over mix. Mixture will be soft and a bit wet.

Shape dough into two balls of equal size. Place them side by side on a floured surface (I just floured my cookie sheet and baked the rolls on that.) Now, flatten out the balls to form two rectangles.

Put it all together: Spread filling evenly over each of the rectangles, avoiding the very edges if possible (the filling is very gooey and will migrate!) Sprinkle apple chunks over filling.

Roll up each rectangle from the short side. This is the hardest part since apples keep tearing holes in the dough and filling wants to just ooze out and make everything into a big mess. The rolls may get so messy they don’t even resemble rolls anymore, but I urge you to just roll with it! Mine looked horrible and got all flat when I baked them, but the taste and texture turned out awesome!

Cut/pull off pieces of the rolls about 1/2 inch thick to form the basic shapes of cinnamon rolls…sort of… it won’t be perfect, but just get it so the filling is more or less inside the dough in each roll-ish shape and throw it in the oven.

Bake in preheated oven for about 8 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve warm and drizzled with a touch of honey. Mmmm… this tastes like a pretty sweet new year to me!

cinnamon apple honey roll

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Ici tout est bizarre !

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KITCHEN CICI

Food Innovator, Clean Eater, Recipe Sharer. My kitchen is small but mighty.