Vegan Pasta with Lemon Caper Creamy Sauce, Asparagus & Peas


I decided to set myself a challenge last night and ‘veganize’ a entree called pasta with lemon cream sauce, asparagus and peas (click here for the original version) so those wanting to follow a plant centered diet, could see how how to transform a cream based item.

The first, and most obvious, hurdle was to make a cream sauce without dairy. Enter the humble and adaptable cashew. Soaked for a few hours, or overnight in water, the nut becomes soft. Once in this state, it can be placed in a blender and  blended until the consistency is very cream-like. You can soak the nuts when you think about it, drain and store in the fridge in a closed container for a day or two until you are ready to cook.

I always look for ways to boost the flavor layers when I am cooking so, this adaptation adds onions, white wine, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, non-dairy yogurt, Herbamare, nutmeg, capers, fresh basil and a great balsamic vinegar drizzle to the original version. The best balsamic vinegar I have found at it’s price point is the Barrel-aged Balsamic from Wine Country Kitchens Napa Valley. It is thick and sweet and there is nothing it fails to improve. Lower on the acid side with a complex flavor profile that makes you stop what you are doing and really notice what you’re eating. This stuff is so good, it spoils you. Better than wine as a hostess gift but so nice you hate to hand it over.

Another trick to making things creamy with little to no oil or fat and without dairy, is mustard. Mustard seed contains 20-30% protein that assists in thickening. This trick is useful when making salad dressings that don’t separate as the mustard works as an emulsifier. My favorite mustard is Gray Poupon and I must not be the only one as the folks at proclaim it the winner for Dijon in their taste test. It brightens flavors and lowers the amount of salt needed so, if you don’t regularly cook with mustard, salt lightly and taste as you cook to properly adjust the seasoning.

This recipe calls for Herbamare which, among it’s other ingredients, includes sea salt. If you are omitting this item, slightly more salt may be needed. Although on the expensive side, a container easily lasts me 9-12 months and I use it several times a week. This blend of celery, leek, watercress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and kelp brings a savory taste to whatever it touches. A favorite for soups, dressings and pasta dishes at our house.

So here is my vegan version. Serves 4 as an entree or 6 as a side dish:


1/2 lb. penne pasta

3/4 cup soaked raw unsalted cashews

1 cup water or vegetable stock

1/2 cup diced onion (I normally like red onions for the sweeter taste and better nutritional profile, but they will lend a slightly pink cast to the final sauce. If that would bother you, yellow onions might be preferred here)

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tbs. non-dairy butter like Earth Balance

1/4 cup white wine

2 tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 tbs. non-dairy yogurt

1/4 tsp. Herbamare seasoning

3 tsp. lemon zest

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 bunch asparagus washed and cut into 1 inch segments from the tip to about 2 inches from the end of each stalk

1 cup frozen peas

1 rounded tbs. capers

salt and pepper to taste

2 tbs. finely chopped fresh basil

2 tsp. lemon zest for finishing

balsamic vinegar to taste

Begin by cooking your pasta in salted water according to package directions. Half way through the cooking time, add the peas and asparagus. Work on the sauce while the pasta is cooking.


Drain and return pasta, peas and asparagus to the warm empty pot when the full pasta cooking time has elapsed.

For the sauce, into a saute pan or skillet, place the non-dairy butter, white wine, onions and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions over low to medium heat until tender but not browned. Add the garlic and cook until the wine has largely evaporated. The onions and garlic should look moist but not be wet.

When the onions and garlic are done, put them into a blender with the soaked cashews, water or vegetable stock, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, mustard, non-dairy yogurt, pinch of salt and pepper, Herbamare, 3 tsp. of lemon zest and 1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated if you can). Blend on high until all smooth and creamy. In my Vitamix, this is about 1 minute but your blender may vary. Once fully blended, pour over the pasta and vegetable mix and stir to combine. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Put the heat back on the pot and heat on low to medium for about 2 mins. until everything is piping hot.

To serve, spoon the mix into a hot bowl, sprinkle the top of each serving with the rest of the lemon zest and basil and then finish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar.




Searching For Sleep

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 30% of folks have trouble sleeping. Not getting enough sleep can impair our cognition and function as much as being drunk, age us prematurely (shortening those precious teleomeres faster than needed), make us fat, impair our glucose metabolism and overall, reduce a thirty year old to the cognitive function of your average eighty year old. Is that what you want out of life?

If you have trouble sleeping, here are some ‘sleep hygiene’ steps that may help:

1. Keep a routine. No matter how tempting it is to stay up late on weekends and sleep in over holidays, resist the urge. Your brain appreciates routine and will respond by letting you feel sleepy on schedule.

2. Keep it dark. We make the sleep hormone melatonin when it is dark. Even a night light or illuminated clock can lower your levels. Falling asleep watching TV or with a light on can lessen sleep quality. Room darkening shades or drapes can help as will pointing clocks away from your face while you sleep. If you get up in the middle of the night, try not to expose your eyes to light. Some find a red night light or red light flashlight for those nocturnal bathroom trips to be helpful  in being able to get back to sleep.

Restrict computer and TV use at night. For at least an hour before bed, no screen time. Lit screens have blue light that signals your brain to wake up. If you just must work late, check out This free program uses your computer clock to start lowering the blue light component of your screen as your bedtime approaches.

3. No stimulants. Limit coffee, tea and soda to the morning or at least to no later than lunch.  Chocolate and some medications may all disrupt sleep. Check with your prescriber about medications and limit the chocolate to early in the day.

4. Exercise. 30 mins. of exercise a day is the recommendation and, since it can be stimulating, should occur early in the day.

5. Warmth and comfort. Warm herbal tea, a hot shower and soft bed clothes all help put your brain into the right mood for sleep. Research shows most find the best room temperature for a sound slumber is 65 deg. F.  A mattress you find comfortable is a worthy investment. Experts say the structure of the mattress can require replacement after about 10 yrs. If your not sleeping as well as you used to, maybe it’s time for a new one.

6. Quiet before bed. Spend the hour before bed doing something quiet and restful. Read a book, listen to music, knit or draw.

7. Eat early. Eating within an hour or two of bed will stimulate digestion which can make you more alert. Pass on the late night snack and your sleep and waistline may improve.

8. No alcohol. Although the immediate effects of alcohol can make you feel drowsy, a few hours after the drink, it acts like a stimulant,, thus making it hard to stay asleep.

9. Sips and Scents. Drinking some camomile tea as you get ready for bed can induce a sleepy state as can spritzing your pillow with some essential oil of lavender. I use rubbing alcohol in a clean empty spray bottle mixed with 10-20 drops of lavender oil and spray the pillows as I make the bed in the morning. When the scent dissipates in 2 or 3 days, spray again.

10. Don’t go to bed stressed. Easier said than done, I know. What they say about not going to bed angry is true. If you can’t talk out your problems, journal them or write a letter (you don’t need to send it) to whomever or whatever is the cause of your stress. If all else fails, find something that makes you laugh. Playing with a pet or reading a funny book can bring the stress hormone cortisol down and allow sleep to win.

Sleep can be elusive and it may take all of the tricks mentioned plus help from your healthcare provider to get what you need. I would love to see our national dialogue on sleep change from bragging about how little sleep you can function on to shared empathy and support for those plagued by insomnia. Making sleep a health priority is in all of our best interests.


Mason Jar Salad Tricks

I have rediscovered my love of the Mason Jar. Growing up, we had hundreds of these in the pantry holding a rainbow of bounty from the garden harvest. Our kitchen also displayed the tell-tale peeling wallpaper seams of the avid home canner. Something about these jars says comfort and preparation for life’s unknowns to my brain. So, I have been joyfully reestablishing my jar-girl relationship and have found so many ways these inexpensive jars can help me and the planet.

As a storage option, Mason Jars rock. Uniform in size, reusable, hard to break and made of glass that does not leach plastic or metals into your food, they are my storage go-to. I pack all dry goods into these jars and have no more trouble with pantry pests. It is easy to see how much you have, so inventory control is easier. Here is a shot of my set up at home. As you can see, I ran out of jars and some things are still in bags, but I am gaining on them!



Once you start having fun with Mason Jars, it’s hard to stop. I started using them for my green smoothies. Over at fellow blogger Cheryl’s site, I found her directions for putting straw holes into the lids and onto my husband’s ‘honey-do’ list that job went.

Then came the jar salad problem. These jars should be perfect for taking your salad with you when you travel or go to work but, if you put the dressing on when you pack the salad, it can get soggy by the time you want to eat. I like crunchy bits (granola, nuts, seeds etc.) on my salads and they are best added right before eating. I found the Cuppow but, it is plastic and $7.99 each. That’s when I discovered that the tea strainer from a Bodum style teapot fits a narrow mouth jar opening and a ceramic tea strainer I happened to have fit the wide mouth opening perfectly.


Layering the salad dressing in the bottom, the harder vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers on that, then adding the lettuce at the top, allows the tea strainer full of crunchy stuff to fit right at the top without interfering with the lid function and keeps dressing off leaves effectively. When ready to eat, remove the strainer, dump out the salad into a dish and pour on the crunch!


If you don’t like your dressing to touch the salad, put it in a small jar like this recycled pimento jar and throw it in with the greens. Assemble the salad when you are ready to eat. Have fun with your jars and send me your ideas!


Vegan Creamy Cracked Pepper Parmesan Dressing


Although I love my plant based way of eating, sometimes I miss a good, creamy dressing. With that in mind, I am always surprised at how well cashews can fill in for dairy. Pureed into soups, they bring a creamy mouth feel to a tomato bisque or cream of anything soup. A family favorite is any flavor of cashew based ice cream from the Vitamix. Yes, I will post about those in the future because you have to taste it to believe how good they are.

I am a happy student of the Rouxbe Cooking School which, IMHO, is the best instructional cooking site on the web. Their cashew sour cream recipe is the base for this dressing and a helpful condiment to have around. Spread onto sandwich bread, used as a base for a vegetable dip or dolloped onto your enchiladas, it is as versatile as it is tasty. Here is the Rouxbe recipe for the sour cream that you will need to make before proceeding with my dressing recipe.

Cashew Sour Cream

1 cup raw cashews
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2-3/4 cup water, or as needed
1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste

Place the cashews into a bowl and cover with water. Let soak for a few hours, or overnight.

To make the sour cream, drain and rinse the cashews. Next, blend together the cashews, water, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, until you reach a really smooth consistency.
Add more water until you reach the desired thickness. For instance, for more of a cream-like consistency, add more water until you reach a thinner, but still smooth, consistency.
Note: This is where a high-speed food processor is worth the investment. The higher the power, the smoother the outcome. Scrape the sides and continue to pulse until smooth. If needed, add a bit more water until you reach the desired consistency.
Use as you would any other flavorful sour cream.

For a more neutral flavored cashew cream, omit the lemon juice and apple cider from the recipe.

So now that you have the sour cream… onto the dressing.

This makes enough for 1-2 servings.

Vegan Creamy Cracked Pepper Parmesan Dressing

1 tbsp. cashew sour cream
1 tsp. almond milk (or coconut, soy milk etc.)
2 tsp. nutritional yeast
2 tsp. almond or coconut yogurt
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
salt to taste- roughly a small pinch

*1/4 tsp agave nectar (optional)

Put all ingredients into a small jar and shake vigorously. The dressing can be used immediately, but tastes even better if allowed to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Depending on your personal taste, and the kind of pepper used, the dressing can benefit from a small (1/2 tsp) amount of agave sweetener to balance any bitterness that can sometimes develop from the seasonings. Keeps for several days.

Why everyone needs resistance training

Don’t get me wrong, cardio is important. A simple walk each day will improve your health more than seems reasonable with such little effort. But for maximizing your health, preventing injury and slowing the age related sarcopenia (muscle loss) that happens to us after we turn 30, there is no way around resistance training. It is estimated that we loose .5% to 1% of our muscle mass each year after 40. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, the loss ends up with fat gain even if your diet stays the same.

So what’s the best way to gain muscle mass? I am a big believer in training that uses the whole body and focuses on function. Your regime should make everyday tasks easier and safer. If you have good biceps but strain your lower back lifting groceries, what’s the point? I like things that are simple, portable and excuse resistant. Enter the TRX training system. This simple looking set of suspension straps can hang over a door or be affixed to any overhead sturdy object can deliver an impressive workout.

The TRX system I have been using for the past 7 months is the Force model that comes with an app detailing an intense training program you follow for a 12 week full body conditioning program. The app is easy to use, includes built in timers for each exercise, has detailed videos to show you how to perform the movements and allows users to check off a box after the workout is done to keep track of your progress. The TRX straps are well made, sturdy and easy to use. Each exercise works the whole body against it’s own weight. You can vary the intensity of moves by where you position your body thus making it approachable for beginners and seasoned athletes alike. As a certified fitness coach, I was skeptical a set of straps could push me hard enough. The fact that our deployed Navy Seals use this equipment to maintain mission readiness during deployment should have been my first clue I was in for it. The first two weeks were a world of pain, I must admit. Getting through the a$% kicking of those early days was, by far, the toughest part. After that, the muscle toning and gains were amazing.

I have a scale that can monitor muscle mass that I use with my clients. In the first 8 weeks, I gained 5% muscle mass, toned everything and found pulling my compound bow, lifting 40 lb. pellet bags for the stove and life in general, easier. At $199 to $274, the initial investment is on the higher end but, IMHO, completely worth the transformative power. They often run sales that are worth waiting for. Clicking here will take you to the TRX site so you can learn more: TRX system

The Rip system they have developed is on my ‘to-try’ list so when I have a chance to experience that, I will post an update. Securing the TRX to an overhead anchor point allows for maximum use of the equipment as some exercises, like ‘the hinge’ require you to be able to move directly under the fixation site. Although TRX has some great workouts you can buy from them, this system has devoted followers on youtube that have recorded routines suitable for all levels of fitness.

For those who have a smartphone/tablet and just a few mins.- check out Sworkit. This free app for iphone and android allows users with any amount of time (5 mins. to unlimited) to customize a workout and target specific muscle zones. I use this while traveling or if I have a few mins. at either end of a work break to get my heart rate up. The workout options even include yoga so- something for everyone:
Sworkit app


Lastly, in the no excuses, yes-you-do-have-time-to-take-care-of-yourself vein- surf over to the 30 day squat challenge.
Form here is key to injury prevention. Ensure your toes are pointed straight ahead, have a counter top or solid object nearby you can hold for support if needed and feel the burn. A great activity to do while brushing your teeth. True, this focuses solely on lower body strength but sometimes you just have to get started somewhere.



For the love of garlic


There are few things in cooking that garlic doesn’t improve. Just the smell makes me hungry. Beyond it’s taste, this bulb improves the immune system, increases exercise tolerance and, due to it’s active compound allicin, may help us battle the effects of aging more gracefully. With all this to love, the only thing I don’t like is mincing it. Thus, I am lead to love the Chef’n Garlic Zoom. This little contraption quickly and safely minces garlic without the smelly hands and is easy to clean. It will chop 2-3 cloves at a time which is good for most of my recipes. A uni-tasker  has to earn it’s space in my kitchen and this one makes the grade.

A tip- after chopping garlic, wait 5-10 mins. before cooking to allow the greatest amount of the health giving enzymes (developed upon cutting or chewing the clove) to become available. Remove any green sprouts as they impart a bitter flavor.

Our local produce market is fond of selling it’s wares in ridiculously large bags at wholesale cost. If you don’t have several friends to split the bounty with, you need to get creative to use the excess. If several pounds of garlic windfall happens to you, try roasting some. Cut off the top of the intact bulb, place in a ceramic dish and cover with another dish or plate. Tuck it in the oven at 350 deg. F while you are cooking something else and in 45-60 mins. remove. Once it has cooled, you can squeeze the sweet, nutty garlic paste from the individual cloves and spread it on bread, stir it into soups or mix it into pasta or salads. While this cooking method lessens the enzyme benefits, it is a no-fat flavor enhancer worth experiencing.

I am glad you found your way here


Hi, my name is Sylvia and this blog is for folks interested in food (plant centered nutrition), cooking, health and fitness.  I hope you share my curiosity for new ideas and better methods for maximizing the enjoyment of life. It seems everyday I find something that makes me say, ‘Wow. That’s brilliant’ or ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ Those ah-ha moments and my experiences are what I offer to you. Other folks are inspiring and I hope to pay some of the wisdom forward and add to it. Life is a journey and one made better by the sharing.

So maybe you’re wondering who I am? A homeschooling mother, wife, passionate cook and food scientist, nurse practitioner, certified fitness coach and gardener, for starters.  A lifelong learner and autodidact I hope. I help my patients to integrate a healthy lifestyle into their days so they need to see the doctor less. My goal is to promote education as your apple a day and make it fun 🙂

As with anything, your mileage may vary. This blog will share what works for me, but each person is unique. The information here is not meant to take the place of advice from your health care team. Discuss your situation with providers that know you personally but always keep growing and learning. You are the only expert in you.