Thursday, November 29, 2012


Well, here at Chateau VanderKlok our halls our decked, our tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung by the fireplace flue, presents are safely tucked away from nondiscriminatory 2-year-old hands, and Christmas music is on nearly 24/7. It is clear to most that this my favorite time of year. I love the jolly-ness of it all. The cheer. The lights, the stories, the glitz and the glam. And the food. I LOVE the food.

Risotto tops the list as one of my favorite snowy-day, holiday treats. It's thick and creamy and comforting and warm. If you haven't tried it I urge you to give it a chance. If you have, well than here is my gift to you!  

May you find ways to make this time of season extra special and completely indulge in the beauty of it all. 

Adapted from Rachel Ray Magazine / Oct 2012 Issue / pg. 108

3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium - large carrots, finely chopped
2 large [or 4 small] cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
1 T. turmeric
pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
1/4 c. cooking wine
1 c. pumpkin or winter squash puree
4 c. vegetable broth

In a medium saucepan warm oil. Carefully add chopped vegetables and saute until onions become translucent, approximately 7 - 10 minutes. Add turmeric and nutmeg and stir for 1 minute. Add arborio rice to the pot and saute, stirring constantly, for an additional 3 - 5 minutes. Pour in cooking wine. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has almost completely evaporated. Add pumpkin or squash puree and stir. Pour in vegetable broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently until each cup of liquid has evaporated [liquid should evaporate prior to adding the next cup]. Mixture should be soft and creamy when done. Add more liquid if necessary.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I'm not one for promoting much on my blog [yup, the lack of ads is VERY intentional] but there is always a time for exceptions. This is one. I was asked to be a guest blogger for Venio, a free personalized healthy meal planning app [go ahead my fellow West Michigan Dutch, do the "free" dance]. The app provides each participant a meal plan, recipes, and the nutritional information for each of those recipes.

The really exciting part, outside of being a guest blogger [check out the post here!], is that they are using a number of the recipes you find here on Return to the Garden to broaden their allergy-friendly recipe bank. Pretty cool, huh?!

I encourage you to check out Venio, especially if the idea of eating healthfully seems unmanageable amidst your crazy schedule, handful of kids, college dorm, the sofa, or [fill in the blank].

Check out my post on habits [you had to know it would come up sometime], specifically how to be successful in making and keeping them. 

May you find ways to make this holiday season a healthy one and maybe sneak in a few new habits along the way. 


Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Today my girls decided not to sleep. At all. Translation, in mamma world that means "today my girls decided to torture me". Okay, it wasn't that bad - the baby did sleep for three ten-minute increments. I'm not sure which is worse: no sleep or constant interruption. Almost any mom [or dad!] of young children will tell you that nap times are the holy grail of parenthood, the ultimate prize after a hard morning of "again!", and "moooommmm!", and "more food!", and "go pee! GO PEE!", and "uh oh", and "bad choice", and timeout, and diaper changing, and more diaper changing, and did I mention diaper changing?

Does it surprise anyone that the energy meter was at an all time low come 3 o'clock? There's no song proclaiming it's 3 o'clock somewhere for a reason. With babe in one arm and toddler in the other I headed to the kitchen [more like wearily dragged myself there in utter defeat] willing it to provide me sustenance and a second wind and maybe some magic knock-out potion for the squirmy sisters. Turns out it provided all of the above. Baby Calm Tincture - thank you. Super Herb Smoothie Blend - thank you too.

If you are looking to pump up your morning smoothie, cereal, or after noon snack, I highly recommend this herbal smoothie blend. My theory is this: get as many nutrients in first thing in the morning that way if the rest of the day is less than admirable [or pure chaos] at least you got a good start. The great thing about the smoothie recipe below is it serves at least 4 which means you've got a great snack for later in the day. You can also give this to your kids [my 2-year-old loves it] which is always an added bonus. It's my go-to when my daughter asks for "more food! more food!".

May it bring you a burst of energy, inspiration and the will to keep going on days that can be summed up with "don't ask".

SPECIAL SAFETY NOTE: Of course all of these herbs are considered safe for the general population, including children and nursing mamas [many are considered common foods around the world], however if you are pregnant please eliminate turmeric, orange peel, fennel seed, and cinnamon. Fennel is generally safe in small amounts [for example, when added to dried beans during cooking] however it should be avoided in concentrated or larger amounts. Cinnamon is safe for culinary use as well but should be avoided in larger amounts. To be on the safe side here, it's best to just remove both from the recipe. If you have any special health conditions or are taking medication of any kind, please talk over the use of herbs with your health care provider as some herbs may interfere with medication or antagonize an existing condition. Of course, most importantly, listen to your body. If you experience any negative side effects [like nausea, vomiting, headaches, hives, or other skin rashes] discontinue use. You can work through the herbs individually to see how each affects your body and eliminate the necessary ones after that.


I give much of the credit for this recipe to Erin at Bulk Herb Store [you will also find the many benefits of each herb listed here as well]. If you don't have the time / energy to make this mix, please check out Erin's blend! You can find almost all of these herbs at Bulk Herb Store and Mountain Rose Herbs. If you are in the Grand Rapids area check out Global Infusion's bulk herb selection.

If you can't find the powder form of some of these herbs you can easily grind them in a herb / spice grinder or a coffee grinder specifically used for herbs. I recommend not mixing your herbs with your coffee grinder unless you want coffee flavored herbs!

Of course, mix and match with what you have or can get a hold of. All of these are optional, the more the better, but all are great to incorporate into your diet.

One part* EACH of the following:

Burdock Root Powder
Beet Root Powder
Marshmallow Root Powder
Alfalfa Powder
Ground Oatstraw [eliminate if you are allergic to oats]

3/4 part* EACH of the following:

Dandelion Leaf Powder
Lemon Balm
Ground Fennel Seed
Ground Chamomile Flower
Ground Red Raspberry Leaf

1/2 part* EACH of the following:

Spinach Powder
Echinacea Root or Leaf Powder
Spirulina Powder
Nutritional Yeast Powder
Hawthorn Berries
Eleuthero Root [Ginseng]
Turmeric Root Powder
Ground Cinnamon
Ground Orange Peel
Ground Lemon Peel

1/4 part* EACH of the following:

St. John's Wort Powder

Serves 4

Disclaimer: In general I try to use as many local foods as possible. However in this recipe I do use a banana, avocado, and orange when they are in season [where grown] as I try to pack in much needed calories while breastfeeding my daughter. Throughout the summer months I substitute a small - medium zucchini for the avocado, eliminate the banana and orange, and throw in some pitted cherries and raspberries. You can also add more greens [like stinging nettle, broccoli, green beans, cucumber or peas], use pineapple in lieu of the orange, and add a carrot or two. This of course changes the flavor a little but that is the beauty of smoothies, they are super flexible!

1 banana [frozen, optional]
1 avocado [optional]
1 c. blueberries, frozen
1 c. strawberries, frozen
A large handful of greens [like sprouts, spinach, or kale - stems removed]
1 orange, peeled
1/2 c. cooked oatmeal with amaranth and ground flaxseeds** or 1/2 c. raw oats + 1/4 c. ground flaxseeds [optional, will make a really thick smoothie]
1 T. local, raw honey
3 - 4 T. Super Herb Smoothie Blend
1 - 2 c. homemade hemp milk [or non-dairy milk of choice]
16 - 18 oz. pure coconut water or regular purified water
handful of ice cubes [optional]

* A "part" is an easy way to measure herbs. Rather than dictating 1 T., 1 tsp., etc. a part allows you to use any form of measurement as long as it is consistent throughout the entire recipe. For example, if you use 1 T. of each herb under "1 Part" you need to use that same measurement throughout [3/4 T., 1/2 T., 1/4 T.]. If you have a kitchen scale, I like to use ounces with this recipe. 

** I like using cooked oats [essentially leftover breakfast!] for this recipe so the smoothie doesn't get gel-like if I store it in the refrigerator. To make, cook raw oats and amaranth [1 part oats + 1/2 part amaranth to 3 parts water] and then mix in a few tablespoons of ground flaxseeds.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Call me crazy but I don't really get into Halloween. Of course the kids are cute all dressed up in their costumes and there is an undeniable excitement in the air but, to be honest, I completely forgot this holiday dropped in last night! Bah humbug [oops, wrong holiday, but you get the picture]. Since I have become a parent I have really begun to think critically about what my girls take part in and how it affects their health. In doing so, this may mean sacrificing a holiday or two. However, the beauty of having young ones is that they may not even realize they're missing out and my husband and I have the chance to define what each holiday looks like for them. Maybe whatever we decide will be their normal and a bucket full of 5 years worth of candy [generally eaten within a week] will seem really odd [hopefully insane] to them.

Okay, I'm really not as grumpy as I may sound. I, probably more than most, look for any excuse to celebrate, well anything. Valentine's Day - call it a Hallmark Holiday, I still love it [pun completely intended]! President's Day - well I don't know him personally but sure, I'm up for that. National Give Up Your Should's Day [I'm not joking on this one] - yes please! Use Your Common Sense Day [Nov. 4] - does this mean throw a party?! And of course World Vegan Day [today!]. There are plenty more out there [you can find them here if you feel you need a reason to celebrate].

My theory on celebration is, why not?! The days are filled with enough mundane tasks to keep me plenty dulled down. I guess I think if I don't celebrate at least one thing each day then what is the alternative? A day filled with have tos, need tos, don't want tos, and "just one more thing". Oh yeah, and "MOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!!" If I don't celebrate, or at least look for one good thing, I become a lifeless being operating on cruise who just gets up to repeat the day before. Boring!

I have no idea how I got on that subject.

Anyway, in honor of World Vegan Day and National Give Up Your Should's Day, here are some yummy pumpkin muffins to ring in a new month and give you a little something special to enjoy on a day that could just be like any other. But, now it's not.

May you celebrate today in big ways and small. Cheers!


1 3/4 c. quinoa flour [I like using freshly ground]
3/4 c. sorghum flour
1/2 c. rice bran [you could also use freshly ground oat flour]
1 tsp. ground chia or flax seeds
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt

2 c. pumpkin puree
3/4 c. grapeseed or sunflower seed oil
1/2 c. honey or maple syrup
2 T. blackstrap molasses
2 tsp. real vanilla extract
2 tsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Optional Crumble Topping:

1 c. oats or lightly ground nuts [walnuts or hazelnuts taste great]
2 T. honey or maple syrup
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a large mix bowl, stir together dry ingredients [except for the spices]. Set aside. Place wet ingredients and spices in a blender. Blend on medium to high until mixture is very smooth [appx. 1 minute].

Pour wet mix over dry mix and blend well using a hand or stand mixer. Make sure all the dry mix in incorporated.

If you choose to do the topping, mix topping ingredients in a separate bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line muffin tin with silicone or paper muffin cups. Using a 1/3 cup measure cup, scoop out mix into each muffin cup. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes. The tops will begin to crack and brown. Insert knife or toothpick into one of the muffins and remove gently. If  it comes out clean, the muffins are done. If not, continue to bake in 5 minute increments.

Allow the muffins to cool for 10 minutes. Enjoy warm or store in refrigerator or freezer.

Enjoy with a pumpkin shake!