Tomato sauce from scratch.

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Cold soaking October rainstorms bring out the best and the worst in all of us.

They tend to bring out the fact that I need to make more tomato sauce in me!

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I know what you’re thinking, why go making tomato sauce when we live in a thoroughly modern society where there’s many brands of fine tomato sauce by the jar? First off, it’s probably the most convenient route – especially when the kids have school, after school activities, church activities and I must agree that some jarred varieties like Rao’s and Neuman’s Own are pretty good. Cooking out of a jar is hardly cooking most people will say but the former will counter that as they just don’t have the time. And hey, when I’m married with children, I often wondered where I would find the time.  But that’s why I like to not retire some of the ways I prepare meals in the kitchen.

We are starting to assemble our wedding registry lists. This probably should be the easiest thing on the list – like creating a gigantic wishlist. Remember the Sears Christmas catalog? It’s not. Everything I’m finding about planning a wedding with thought and consideration is time consuming. As it should be – I mean, we’re getting ready to cultivate a life together and life doesn’t fall together easily and without even the slightest bit of effort.

Much like tomato sauce.

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In order to have sauce like this, you just have to put in a wee bit of effort. Plus time and patience, yanno?

This is a basic sauce recipe. Once you get the basics down, you can add meat (turkey goes great for the omnivores) or roast vegetables and of course turn up the volume with a splash of your favorite wine. All you need is a saucepan, a pound of farm fresh tomatoes and three to four hours.  Start by covering the pot with extra virgin olive oil and add 3 cloves of fresh garlic and 1 medium yellow minced onion.Wait for it to slightly brown.

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You’ll need to wash your tomatoes and slice them. Squeeze juice out. Add to pot. What’s all that in the top right?  What you’re going to combine your tomatoes with – and that’s tomato paste, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano and red pepper flakes. No measurements?!   I eyeball it but that’s me. For preciseness, a tsp of each should be fine.

Cover the pot and allow to simmer on low for three hours stirring every 15 minutes. If sauce is too thick or it is beginning to burn, add a splash of water.

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And then you’ll have this!  Enjoy and then freeze for leftovers!

Engagement Announcement!

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”

We had a terrific time at the beach. There was plenty of sand beneath the toes and laying out poolside and by the sea enough to catch a tan to summer sales at the outlets to boardwalk glee to an engagement where my eyes lit up brighter than the ferris wheel lights on the pier. Say what? Yes, I’m engaged. Robert asked me to be his wife during our last night on the boardwalk.

Funny enough, I’ve never imagined myself engaged to be married but that isn’t to say I didn’t want to. I moreso feared if I would be good enough but it takes a lot to make a good wife. It’s been one year and six months since the prior engagement which is long in Orthodoxy to be dating each other. However, during that timeframe, we’ve spent time getting to know each other and had our share of challenges. We also both haven’t been in a relationship for awhile and have regained a comfort with our old selves and being single that there were times where it felt weird and there were times where it felt so right.  There were times where prayer seemed so hard or impossible or scheduling our dates around church – but that’s where I suggested to Robert that we start reading On Marriage and Family Life by St John Chrysostom. I had an Amazon gift card and I feel it was one of the good purchases next to some other helpful resources to help me in my career.

St John Chrysostom has preached ancient writings on how to cultivate a pure, wholesome marriage together which can be helpful in modern society today. Throughout wedding planning, I’m going to discuss a few of our favorite viewpoints in this blog from time to time. But first, I’m going to share with you the story on how we met and what led up to the night of the proposal.

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The author with her fiance

I’ve been Orthodox my whole life. Needless to say, I didn’t feel grounded in my faith nor did I feel like the typical Orthodox until I met him. It seems strange to say and almost makes me feel like a fraud to my faith but I have to be honest. I just went to church with my mom and grandma on Sundays but I wasn’t so devout that I would know about attending feast days or the importance of taking fast days seriously or spiritual retreats or literature. It just wasn’t important to me even though at the same time, finding someone in my faith (or even better, was Orthodox) was important to me.  I wanted to always be spiritually grounded and if I had children someday, I wanted them to be Bible-based.  However, despite wanting to be spiritually grounded, I wasn’t grounded in my faith. However, being Orthodox means more than just going to church and I found that out from a *dun dun dun* convert no less named Robert.

It was November 2012. I was on the verge of signing a lease to an apartment an hour and half away in Lancaster. I loved visiting Lancaster County: the farmers markets, the arts and culture and just the overall vibe. Things were pretty dull for me back home but I loved my visits to Lancaster that hey, why might as well live there?  And Robert was on the verge of joining the monastery. If it weren’t for one Sunday in November, we probably would have never crossed paths. I still wonder how things would have turned out for either of us but at the same time, I don’t like to think that way because we wouldn’t have met each other.

He travels for work daily and the particular weekend we met happened to be a busy one. He was passing through my home parish on a work morning and needed a parish to go to to church at. We first met each other after church and shared casual conversation. I spent the near entire time wondering if I sounded right because here we go, a really nice guy that happened to be single that just didn’t want to talk about church all of the time. We exchanged email addresses, began emailing each other which quickly escalated itself in a two hour long phone call (one of a few) and set up our first date in a few weeks.

I was a little nervous. Sure, we had some nice conversations but I wondered what things would be like or how much we would have in common or if we would end up talking about church all of the time. Surprisingly, Robert has been super kind and patient with me and throughout our differences, we’ve found a lot that we relate in each other. Speaking of differences, as we’ve started getting to know each other, it felt easier to focus on the differences between each other at the time. As much as I liked people, I was painfully shy and bookish and he was loud and outspoken. I was also a progressive that read the Sunday Times weekly but somehow I fell for the loud and outspoken man that proudly displayed Alex Jones bumper stickers on the back of his car. He was a little different than the typical humble Orthodox but I was taken aback by his relaxed vibe and sense of humor that got me to open up my shell. He also was falling for someone he probably swore he never would fall for, a liberal (they’re not all the same, right?) But after we grew to know each other by cultivating honesty and trust, we’ve realized our differences (no matter how petty) didn’t really matter so much.

This is because Robert helped me discover who I really am and helped me break some walls that I holding up myself. And while we do attend a lot of church, what is behind it is a man who made me gain a true comfort with who I am as an individual and yet there are instances where we are alike. We joke around often and share everything. We pray and go to church together, discussing the epistle/gospel readings after liturgy on Sundays. And the only true fight we ever had was over who will save the other in a life or death situation. He usually goes above and beyond for others even when it isn’t expected and would do anything to make me happy. And when we feel stressed or off kilter, one of us is usually calm enough to remind the other about whom is in the middle of our relationship and that’s Christ. Finding someone to love is to love them as Christ would which led to a confession during our last night on the boardwalk. So… that’s Bob, Bobby or Robert (doesn’t matter)… we have become each other’s best friends and our betrothal and crowning is on October 24, 2015!

Restaurant Review: Joe’s Mediterranean Grill


As much as I enjoy dining out, I don’t usually like to brag about what or where I eat even though some meals can certainly be exceptional or memorable. If you have a memory about a particular place, you would log into online reviewing sites like UrbanSpoon or Yelp, right? But here’s the thing – I really don’t think that online reviewing sites give you the whole picture that a well written review can. I feel that it is very easy to look at flaws just because you saw what one angry reviewer said or one person created an account to rant when why couldn’t they go to the manager?  Opinions do mean something – and on Yelp, if you’re particularly witty or exceptional in your area or city, it earns you “Elite” status. This means you have to write many, many reviews to get that kind of status – but what if writing some of those reviews weren’t fair or personal in the way a well written review on a blog or a newspaper might be? What if it becomes too popular for the wrong reasons? What if you don’t eat out often enough? Whatever happened to learning how to cook? Whatever happened to that rainbow of produce that you’ve scoured from the farmers market that afternoon? Are ya just going to let those beautiful veggies rot in your crisper? (Sometimes, I’m guilty as charged on that one too.)

That’s why I’ll stick to posting my restaurant reviews online. I don’t eat out often. And whenever I do, it’s with Robert or I want to try something new or I just stick with reliable or ask a friend.  It isn’t that I would like to eat out more but I feel if you have a good product or know good people, you’ll want to keep going back and supporting that dad who is working to put his son through school. With that said, I don’t qualify to be posting restaurant reviews because I thought you had to be a “foodie” to do that but I would like to put a kind word in for all of those exceptional experiences I have. I wish I can always support places like this but I know that it isn’t a possibility. It’s like.. but you can’t dine out often because you need money for other things, you live too far away, you only have one stomach and things in life happens (you move out of the area, for instance) – so what will become of your old favorite place? Who will keep supporting them?  That’s where I feel where a  well-crafted written restaurant review can be necessary.


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Joe’s Mediterranean Grill

131 Jordan Rd, Somers Point, NJ 08244 · (609) 927-4637 – 10AM to 1oPM daily (Eat in, Carry Out, Delivery)

Hanging out on vacation at the beach works up an appetite. However, you might be sick and tired of living on boardwalk pizza and fries and you really wish there was a slightly more intimate option in the area that you could spend the money. I encourage you to save your money and step off the boardwalk now.  About a mile and a half from the Route 52 Causeway Bridge is Joe’s, a restaurant and sub shop owned by an amicable and delightful Greek Orthodox family. If you don’t have the time or ordering to go, there’s a small casual carryout area where some of the local staff are filling their bellies on break. If you do have time, go to the left where you’ll find a small formal seating area.

The relaxing ambiance and delightful service will make you stay awhile and order an appetizer. Robert and I usually have a hard time picking one because he loves onion rings like I love mozzarella sticks. At Joe’s, we can have the best of both worlds and order a snack basket where we can get mozzarella sticks and onion rings as well as poppers for a reasonable $5.75 on their extensive menu that seems to focus on Mediterranean cuisine. For entrees, he selected a steak Stromboli and as a pesce, I selected a tomato and mozzarella salad.  Juicy heirloom New Jersey tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and basil made up my salad and his Stromboli looked like the bootleg of Italy and made for some tasty leftovers come the work week next week. They have salads, one veggie sub and two pasta options that can be vegetarian or easily made vegan by not requesting cheese. We’ve both agreed that it is a reasonable place to get the meal with decent portions where we didn’t feel hungry or overcharged for what was made for us. It’s too bad that we live too far to become regulars but maybe you live nearby, will be vacationing nearby as well and you’ll see this restaurant review and consider Joe’s?

PS Orthodox friends, the baklava is fabulous as usual.

Just soaking up the essence of summer (salt water, sand and delicious baklava),



How to Adjust To a New Dietary Regimen Around People


Adjusting to a new dietary regimen is hard and unfortunately, not many people still don’t understand what vegans eat or what to avoid when eating gluten-free or what it even all is or worse why they can’t eat your cooking. There’s a reason why they can’t eat your cooking – it might not be because their snobs but because of a medical reason or because of animal cruelty or the environment or they are simply health conscious. And still, many people don’t understand this even with the literature out there in bookstores and online.  And when people don’t understand, it can be socially isolating in a way.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Orthodox Christians aren’t primarily plant-based – they enjoy meat. In fact, they yuck it up. Not I. I was never a big fan of meat. And it took an absorbance of our fasting periods (we have four major ones throughout the year) to make me realize that I could probably do this year around.  I felt amazing eating concentrating on eating more beans, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables that why should I stop? I was intrigued, aside from watching videos on animal cruelty due to factory farming and general health but those are my reasons and a whole other separate topic. I will admit it has been a gradual adjustment for me. I have been a pescetarian for three years.

I’m still adjusting around family members and friends – especially when I don’t see them as often. I would say the three qualities that has helped for a smooth adjustment was patience, kindness and sometimes the ability to educate without coming off as condescending or just preachy.

How to help with your adjustment

Regardless of whether you’re the lone Orthodox in your family or trying to adjust to a new regimen entirely, try these tips:


Northern Berks Vegan Potluck in Berks County, PA gathers for their  annual Thanksgiving meal.

  • Join or host a potluck! One way that helped me adjust was that I was invited to a vegan potluck when I was shopping at one of my favorite health markets. Although I wasn’t vegan, I realized later when I joined the group and got to know the members, I didn’t have to be as long as I didn’t preach or make myself seem better compared to the other members. They were a small group of like-minded plant-based enthusiasts. If you have a group of like-minded friends nearby, perhaps one way of getting together and sharing laughter is by starting a casual potluck luncheon at someone’s house or rent a small intimate setting. If there’s like-minded people at your church, talk to your priest or parish council president about the idea at your church.
  • Introduce your regimen slowly to friends and family Although there’s a wealth of information out there via blogs and Facebook groups, taking it all in can seem overwhelming and confusing when you try to explain it to family members or a friend. Make the mention to your family and a close friend (in person or on the phone, preferably) about your new regimen and briefly state why that is. When they ask to cook for you, tell them your favorite dish (or something easier if it’s complicated) and graciously accept what they serve you. Just because we have a new regimen doesn’t mean we have control of how others cook especially for us.
  • Don’t become preachy Although you may feel awesome on your new regimen, not everyone is going to agree with you – and that should be okay. To misunderstand this means that you may come off as potentially obnoxious or annoying and potentially lose friends.
  • Don’t expect your significant other to commit too even though you think they could really, really benefit in some way. We all have choices but bottom line… we should all keep our eyes on our own plate.

Finally. A veggie burger that isn’t crummy. (Vegan, Gluten-Free)


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Is there another word to describe the beginning of August than…. bittersweet? It is almost hard to describe the beginning of August as it is to plan a menu for a kosher cookout. However if you have a big or expanding family, chances are your menu isn’t limited to just the standard hamburger, hot dog and macaroni salad with fountain soda products fare. What do you eat if you’re vegan? Or gluten-free? Or both? Or fasting? Just not go and miss out? What if this was one of your weekend off in awhile?  These questions do come up at family functions, company functions and vacations and yet they shouldn’t really be questions. The answer should be as easy as flipping a patty on a grill.

This is why this veggie burger recipe is for you – and it certainly doesn’t skip out on the nutrition. The main star is beets combined with brown rice, beans and steel cut oats. It’s packed with fiber, protein and iron and you won’t look like a weirdo from far away from eating it… unless you know, you’re dining with the burger elites. I say, if there was such a group – they might consider adding this veggie burger to their list. It would win an award on it’s own – and don’t be so surprised if it gets a nod from even a carnivore on this.


Cheers to summer!




Health Benefits of Veggie Burger

  • The main star of this veggie burger contains farmers market red beets which are a rich source of Vitamin C and phytonutrients which provide antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support.
  • Organic black beans also make up the “glue” that holds the patty together. Black beans are rich in protein and fiber.
  • Another component of this veggie burger is brown rice (alternatively, you can use pure quinoa if making a gluten-free version. Not ALL types of quinoa are gluten-free, however. You can also try barley or spelt.). Brown rice is rich in fiber, manganese which derives energy from protein and carbohydrates (helps with weight loss) and selenium which is an antioxidant that can repair DNA.
  • The last main component that holds this veggie burger together are steel cut oats which are rich in fiber and protein.
  • This veggie burger is flavored with spices such as thyme which can be very helpful for immunity and detoxification support. Thyme is an anti-septic, anti-viral, anti-rheumatic, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal.
  • Another spice in this burger is cumin. Cumin is diabetic-friendly and aids digestion.
  • The last spice in this burger is rosemary. Rosemary aids digestion.

As you can see, there’s little excuse to not try this delicious burger if not for the outstanding health benefits alone!


Veggie Burger

This burger might be time consuming to make but it makes up to twelve to fourteen patties (or more if you double the ingredients) and can freeze up to a month.

Serves 4

Adapted from Northstar Café in Ohio

Ingredients: 3 large farmers market beets, 1/2 cup brown rice (uncooked), 1 medium yellow onion (diced small), 3-4 cloves garlic (minced), 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup steel cut oats, 1/2 cup organic black beans, 1 tbsp. coconut oil, 2 tbsp brown mustard, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, sea salt and black pepper, organic spinach, heirloom tomato (sliced one each for as many as you’re serving), ciabatta bun (toasted) or Ezekiel sandwich bun (toasted), daiya cheese (optional)

Heat oven. Wrap beets loosely in foil and roast for one hour. Meanwhile, cook rice and cook beyond al dente or so they are a little overcooked. This should take 35-40 minutes. Drain rice. Heat coconut oil in pan. Add onions and a pinch of salt and saute until softened and slightly browned. Cook garlic for 30 seconds. Pour in vinegar and scrape up sticky crust in pan. Cook until vinegar has evaporated.

Ground up oats in food processor or blender. Empty and set aside in bowl. Process beans using 8-10 pulse setting in blender. Scrape skin off of beets. Grate peeled beets and transfer to a strainer. Press and squeeze gratings to remove as much liquid as possible. You’ll have beet juice – which can be reserved if you intend on using it for another purpose in the future.


Transfer squeezed beets, cooked rice and sautéed onions to bowl with the beans. Sprinkle coconut oil, mustard, herbs over top. Mix. Add sea salt and pepper. Add oats and mix until incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. When ready to cook, shape into patties and cook in coconut oil 2 mins on each side. If adding in cheese (use daiya cheese), add in last minute of cooking. Serve on lightly toasted ciabatta bun or Ezekiel buns (vegan) topped with spinach and one heirloom tomato slice.




Stocking a Pantry: Cooking Oils



Once you learn the basics of cooking, you’ll want to prep your kitchen with at least some of the basic essentials to prepare some simple and delicious meals for your family. It seems you can’t do much of anything without lard or butter. It’s like primer for your pan – only hardly another uses lard anymore and you’ll rarely see me cook with margarine or real buttuh on my blog. I know, I know – I’m boring you already. Bye bye, have a good day. But as I am taking you and your families health into consideration, I think you’ll thank me. Maybe not now. But someday.

Photo Credit


There are two essential cooking oils that everyone needs: a good cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and a neutral based oil such as raw organic coconut oil. If you’ll be doing a lot of cooking, you’ll want to change how you look at extra-virgin olive oil. Think of extra-virgin olive oil (or EVOO) as you would when you go to select a wine. Quality extra virgin EVOO you want to look for is cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil or choose one that looks good to you on the top rack. A quality olive oil can serve as a condiment for drizzling over fish, meat, steamed vegetables or for bread.

If you mostly do healthy cooking anyway, stick with raw organic coconut oil. Raw organic coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides, which are fatty acids that transport themselves from our digestive tracts to the liver providing longer-lasting energy and promote weight loss. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid which can kill microbes like bacteria, fungi and viruses.


What about cooking sprays? Cooking sprays tend to be cheaper than the two and contain less calories than butter and oil (which have 100 to 120 calories per tablespoon) but are not good for those with soy allergies or if you’re avoiding soy as many cooking sprays contain soy lecithin. So, it’s fine in moderation but the key is getting nutrients as much as possible into your diet which is why it is best to stick with olive oil or coconut oil.


Vegan Gluten-Free All Satisfying and Delicious French Toast



I have always been a bit of a planner.  I always liked having a routine so the idea of preparing familiar items and meals for breakfast keep the flow of the morning smooth, quick and predictable. But I’ve been told time and time again that sometimes things won’t go always as I expect them to. And sometimes – when that happens, what if I’m craving pancakes or French toast on a fast day? Should I really be thinking of making French toast on a work fast day and do I have time for this? Yes and yes.

Occasionally (okay, all of the time), I get cravings for non-fasting foods on fast days. The same meal does get rather vanilla and when I’m married and begin to cook for two, I want to cook a nice breakfast for my husband that is invokes thought and taste. Lately, I’ve been craving French toast. The key ingredient to French toast is bread, milk and eggs. At first, it doesn’t seem possible but as more and more vegan and gluten-free products get added to supermarkets and health food stores near you, it is possible. The secret ingredient is chia seeds (those that are sensitive to chia can try flax), gluten-free bread and your favorite kind of plant-based milk. Top with fresh fruit and nuts and prepare to glide through your day smoothly and effortlessly.


Rise and shine!




PS Today (July 25th) marks the Dormition of Saint Anna, mother of the Theotokos. Saint Anna is invoked for conceiving children, and for difficult childbirth.


Vegan Gluten Free French Toast Topped with Strawberries and Almonds


Health Benefits

  • Chia seeds contain 9.6 grams of fiber which can help reduce the risk of constipation, heart disease, cholesterol, obesity and help keep blood sugar levels under control for diabetics.
  • I suggested a gluten-free bread (such as Ezekiel bread) because this bread is made with sprouted grains and no added sugars unlike many other loaves of bread (even whole wheat!)
  • Almond milk is lower in fat and calories than cow’s milk which makes it great for those watching their cholesterol. One cup contains 90 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.
  • Almonds are rich in tryptophan rich which is great for improving learning and memory.
  • Strawberries are a rich source of Vitamin C.



Ingredients –

4 slices of gluten-free bread, toasted

1/4 cup of chia (or flax) seeds, ground

1/2 cup of almond milk (or other plant-based milk)

1 tsp of real maple syrup

1 tsp of cinnamon

a dash of sea salt

a pat and a dab of Earth Balance buttery spread


1. Process seeds. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for bread. Whisk until thoroughly combined and refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes. Remove. Heat up butter in skillet. Drench both sides of bread in for a few seconds and fry up until browned on both sides.

2. Top with strawberries and almonds.