Sunday, April 5, 2020

Corona Coping 101: My Dry Farm WINE + Dining at Home Plate


I love everything about it. 

Red, white, sparkling... I do not discriminate. 
I love cooking with wine.
I love pairing good food with wine.
I love drinking wine.

However, about a year ago, due to headaches (no matter how little I drank), I had to stop drinking red wine. The switch to white wine was fine, but the lovely elixir had a tendency to go down faster than I can throw a fastball. I started wondering about all the sugar and alcohol amount I was consuming. 


A healthy bit.

And then I found Dry Farm Wines. For those of you who have come over to my house in the past year, you know I have a hard time drinking anything else. In fact, I have been known to be that "wine snob" who brings a bottle over to drink at your house. #sorrynotsorry

Today, with immune health being high up on the collective mind, plus being stuck inside/socially distant, it's definitely time to share why I'm such a weirdo about my wine. (Plus I'm linking you to my rad lasagna recipe at the very end... so you have read lol. Or just scroll down cheater.)

My passion for real food + gut health is well known. I've been talking on & on about our microbiome-brain connection since the start of this lovely blog in 2012. I can't help but smile + sip nowadays - I never thought it was possible to build a stronger gut through wine, but now I know how powerful a probiotic it can be.

No way 

you say.

Yes way 

I say.

Natural wine is a beautiful thing.

Simply, it’s when a wine is made with organic grapes and native yeast. Nothing is added, nothing is removed. No human intervention.

Wine = A probiotic like kimchi or kombucha.

That means natural wine is alive in the bottle, full of beneficial bacteria and antioxidants. It hasn’t been filtered or chemically altered in any way.

From a taste perspective, this vitality makes each bottle of natural wine a unique experience. Leave the same bottle open on your counter overnight and you’ll wake up to a whole new wine.

But the beauty of living wine goes beyond taste. All those yeasts, bacteria, and colorful compounds that make natural wine delicious also help you live a healthier life. The secret lies in your gut bacteria.

What’s so important about your gut?

Right now, as you’re reading this, trillions of bacteria are thriving in your gut. These little companions outnumber your own cells 10-1; You’re actually more bacteria than you are human. Feeding the good bacteria in your gut can give you some glorious health benefits: staying lean, feeling happy, and even being more social.

For example…

  • Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium that’s naturally in the soil around you, significantly increased happiness in lung cancer patients who took it as a probiotic.
  • A diverse gut biome can boost tryptophan. Tryptophan turns into serotonin, the brain chemical that enhances mood. No surprise that a balanced gut can reverse depression and anxiety.
  • Diverse gut bacteria can also increase your metabolism, and even affect social skills.

In short, your gut bacteria regulates your health. It helps you look and feel more vibrant. We need to strengthen our immunity now more than ever.

So, how does wine enhance it?


Natural wine is alive, which means it’s rich with precious bacteria and compounds that strengthen your microbiome. To name a few …
  • Polyphenols, the antioxidants that give red wine its color, feed good gut bacteria. They also remove harmful bacteria to make room for the new ones to grow. Two superb sources of polyphenols in your diet are red wine and coffee.
  • Flavanols and wine aroma compounds protect brain cells from dying in people who drink moderate red wine daily, and ward off Alzheimer’s Disease in mice.
  • Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skins, makes mice leaner by fostering a balanced gut. You may have heard of resveratrol; it gets a lot of attention in the news, but the reality is most red wines have nearly undetectable amounts of it. Wines that have the most are Malbec, Pinot Noir, Petite Syrah, and St. Laurent.
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a wild yeast that gives wine a spicy, fruity flavor. But it’s good for more than taste: S. cerevisiae also increases absorption of zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron through your intestinal wall. Commercial wine is sterilized to get rid of most native yeast, but you’ll find an abundance of S. cerevisiae in natural wine.
  • Probiotic bacteria also form in wine while it ferments. Commercial wines are filtered to get rid of nearly all bacteria and sediment, but natural wine keeps those beneficial bacteria in. Among them is Pediococcus pentosaceus, a bacterium that attaches to your intestinal wall and protects it from pathogens like E. coli. Wine also contains lactic acid bacteria that have similar probiotic benefits as fermented foods like kimchi and miso, and unique wine probiotics that decrease gut inflammation in mice.
Can wine damage your gut?

It can, although the harmful compounds are either far lower or entirely absent in natural wine.
  • Sugar can feed the harmful yeast Candida and other pathogens in your gut. Sugar hurts gut bacterial balance and decreases brain function in mice, too. Stick to “dry” wines that are left to fully ferment; they have less than 3g/L of sugar, which tastes crisp and won’t cause bloating.
  • Alcohol is a toxin for your gut, too. It increases gut permeability (leaky gut), which can cause gut inflammation. Try to find lower alcohol wines — less than 12.5% ABV — to avoid negative effects.
  • Acetaldehyde is a fermentation byproduct that increases intestinal permeability and makes you feel hungover. During the final steps of fermentation, though, yeasts use up acetaldehyde as fuel, and bacteria break it down. Natural wines typically have far less acetaldehyde because they’re unfiltered and ferment without human intervention.
How to get the healthiest wine for your gut bacteria:

The short answer is to get real wine, grown in accordance with nature.
  • Organic grapes. Grapes grown organically (without pesticides) have more polyphenols and antioxidants than conventional grapes do. Grapevines produce antioxidants as a natural way to protect against microbes and pests. Organic vines aren’t artificially protected by chemical sprays, which means they produce many more antioxidants to survive.
  • Natural wines. Commercial processing techniques, like extreme filtration, damage or remove many of the good compounds in wine. Manufacturers often replace them with artificial coloring and lab-created yeast strains.
  • Low sulfites. Sulfites kill bacteria to stabilize a wine. The lower the sulfites, the more alive a wine remains. You can see the difference under a microscope — low-sulfite wine is vibrant with a diverse spectrum of wild bacteria and yeast.
  • Sugar-free, low-alcohol wine. Sugar and alcohol are the two biggest toxins in wine. Try to find the driest, lowest alcohol wines possible.
So there you have it. By drinking moderate amounts of natural wine, you can help keep the companions in your gut healthy and happy.

In turn, they’ll take good care of you.

The top 3 reasons why my gut-brain is a happier corona-camper drinking Dry Farm Wines:
1. Every bottle of wine is lab tested to ensure it is:
  • Sugar Free (< 1g/L)
  • Lower Sulfites (< 75ppm)
  • Lower Alcohol (< 12.5%)
2. Every bottle of wine is also:
  • Grown Organically/Biodynamically
  • Low Carb-Friendly
  • Dry Farmed/Irrigation Free
  • Fermented with 100% Wild, Native Yeast
  • Handcrafted/Small Batch
  • Old World International Natural Wines
  • Paleo & Keto-Friendly
  • Free of Industrial Additives
  • Grown From Older Vines
3. Dry Farm Wines offer a 100% happiness promise on every selection. They are so confident in the quality of their wines, that they will never make me or you pay for a wine we don’t love. They will replace any bottle, no questions asked. I promise. 

If you'd like to learn more, here is the link to the Dry Farm Wines YouTube Channel.

Without further ado, I am honored to announce my partnership with this amazing family owned company. If you are a wino like myself and are looking to buy + drink better wine, here is my gift to YOU, dear mullies reader:

By clicking to my unique link, (or any of the links throughout this blog post), you'll get a BONUS bottle of wine added to your order for just 1 penny. 

You're welcome. I love you too. 

Keep cooking & drinking ON from my home plate to yours!!


to the mullies we go... 

PS - As promised and pictured, here is my famous soffritto lasagna recipe... still cooking it the same circa 2016! Cheers to friendship + family tables no matter how far apart we are from our chimmies!!! Stay healthy everyone!!!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Chef Ann Foundation - Parent Advocacy in School Food

I almost forgot how to get back on my blog...
It's been awhile my dear mullies, and it's sure GOOD to be typing and sharing here again today!

My latest blog is up today on the Chef Ann Foundation website! It's all about real school food parent advocacy + the powerful impact of our District 76 Wellness Team.

One Parent's Journey Towards Better School Food

I must catch ya'll up to the recipes and pics from November + December's D76 Chef's Tasting Table in the lunchroom! The above pics are from our most recent Holiday tasting and below is the tasting we held right before Thanksgiving. Keep scrolling for the yummy recipes which I have included at the end!

Apple Carrot Slaw with Starfruit and Scallions

3 c (2lbs shredding carrots) from Prairie Wind Family Farms
3 sliced honey crisp apples
1/4 c honey mustard
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Using a food processor, shred carrots with the medium grater. Switch out the blade and slice the apples thinly. In a medium bowl, whisk honey mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. In a large bowl, mix shredded carrots, sliced apples, and dressing until well mix. Garnish with sliced scallions and thinly sliced starfruit.

(*Recipe was x6 for 350 student & staff tastings)

Chocolate Black Bean Hummus + Fresh Fruit Dippers

1 can black beans, drained and liquid reserved. (Eden Organic brand is my favorite as the beans are already pressure cooked, which helps digestion).
4 Tbsp pure maple syrup
4 Tbsp raw cacao
1/2 tsp salt

In a food processor or high speed blender, mix all ingredients until smooth (stop and scrape the sides a few times). Add reserved liquid to thin to desired consistency. Favorite dippers = Strawberries, apples, kiwis, bananas, and oranges.
Optional: Add a few heaping Tbsp's of dark chocolate almond butter - YUM! Also, cannellini beans are my second favorite bean to use.

(*Recipe was x18 for 350 student & staff tastings)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Chef's Tasting Table 2019 | Citrus Bonanza + A Cara Cara Jam Jar Dressing

This was the 2nd annual Citrus Chef's Tasting Table and I'm already looking forward to our 3rd next year. It's a BIG in-season fan favorite for all.

Pictured from the top:
Pummelo's (the large yellow grapefruits)

I visited both Diamond Lake and West Oak back to back this week; Without a doubt, we have 750+ citrus lovers in our district!

Now that we have their attention, get your eaters to think outside of the orange-wedge-box and make your own jam jar salad dressing! You can thank me later for helping you to get your kids to eat their greens.

A Cara Cara Jam Jar Dressing

1-2 Cara Cara oranges juiced (about 1/4 cup. And type of orange will work here!)
2 Tbsp vinegar (any kind you have on hand - Apple cider vinegar, White vinegar, Red/White Wine vinegar, Balsamic vinegar all works)
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp iodized or sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove minced (optional)

Place all ingredients in a mason jam jar. Put the lid on and shake vigorously (a great job for kids!) until it's all mixed up. Enjoy on your favorite greens (my kids LOVE Gotham Greens), plus it would be delicious on fish too! Store in the refrigerator. 

To the mullies we go...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chef's Tasting Table 2019 | Chocolate Avocado Pudding with a Quick Blueberry Syrup

Everyone at Jewel thinks I'm nuts.
I think I am.

We are still recovering from this massive avocado processing we did before break. Thank you to the moon and back Steve Juracka (Assoc Superintendent & Wellness Chair), Julie Marchese (school nurse and wellness committee) and my amazing Mom Brenda (retired kindergarten teacher and best sous chef ever) for helping me scoop, process and fill up endless cups in the lunchroom! This food education day could not have been pulled off without YOU ALL! πŸ€›πŸ»πŸ‘ŠπŸ»πŸ€œπŸ»

I forgot to take pictures of the finished tasting cups. Bleh. 

So, to wet your whistles, here are some pictures of the day before in the Mundelein High School Transition Center where the participants did an incredible job "plating" their chocolate pudding and garnishes.

We had mixed reactions πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘ŒπŸ»πŸ‘ŽπŸ» which always means we are on track for stretching these students’ taste buds and food bravery. I especially love when staff ask me for the recipe!

Chocolate Avocado Pudding + Quick Blueberry Syrup
2 🍌’s
4 πŸ₯‘’s
1/2 c raw cacao
1/2 maple syrup (add more maple syrup to taste if needed for your eaters) 
1 c milk of choice (I used organic rice milk for allergy awareness)
1 T pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Blend everything until smooth in food processor. Ideally, chill in the refrigerator before enjoying with your favorite toppings.

I gotta tell you the story behind how the blueberry syrup came to be. 

I originally went to Prairie Wind Family Farm to pick up cranberries. With my sunglasses still on, I walked into the barn and looked in the coolers, but couldn’t find them and then decided to look in the freezer. There they were!

They weren't cranberries. 
They were blueberries.

Thankfully, Jen let me keep them. And what a perfect switch up it turned out to be! 

Previously frozen fruit is PERFECT to make a quick syrup (heating on the stove will render a thicker, more intensely flavored syrup) and so that’s just what we did together at the D120 Transition Center + West Oak.

Here’s how you can make it too and it’s super fun to make with kids!

Quick Blueberry Syrup

2 c thawed, previously frozen blueberries 
2-3 Tbsp honey
pinch of salt

In a bowl, muddle together (I used a potato masher) the 2 cups of thawed blueberries with some honey and a pinch of salt. Smoosh the berries until all the pulp and juice is released. Pour the blueberry liquid through a fine mesh strainer and into a new bowl. Spoon this gorgeous liquid over anything your heart desires... vanilla ice cream anyone?

To the Mullies we go...

Monday, November 19, 2018

Chef's Tasting Table 2019 | Pumpkin Butter + Jicima + Pears

Watcha making for your Thanksgiving Table?

How bout something super simple, tasty, versatile and your kids can make it?

Please welcome pumpkin butter to your world - I've never made so much in my life.

You can find pumpkin butter recipes all over the "interweb" and I chose this simple recipe from Half Baked Harvest as my go-to for our food education fun this Fall season; Thank you for the constant cooking inspiration Tiegan Gerard, your food blog is AMAZEBALLS. 

slightly lowered the pumpkin spice amount and here is what I scooped up for our November school lunch tasting in the lunch room. 

The best part =  kids can make it themselves!

Pumpkin Butter

1 14-16oz can/box of organic pumpkin puree
1/2 c pure maple syrup
1/3 c organic apple cider
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp iodized salt

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and serve as a dip, spread, oatmeal mix in, yogurt parfait...  

or your own pumpkin spice latte!


The kids loved the tasting and many had NEVER tried jicima ("yambean") before. I brought an uncut, whole jicima so the students could see how weird and brown it looks on the outside and identify it in the grocery during future shopping trips. 

Big thanks to Produce Manager Bob at our local Maple St Jewel for coordinating the massive jicima order and to Chef Myra for cutting them all up for us!! 

I am so thankful to the Diamond Lake School District Administration and Wellness Committee for sharing a passion for food education. It's been a dream to spear head this school lunch room tasting program every month, and I'm simply having a ball brainstorming new "bite sized" initiatives with the committee which are making such a difference in our #d76diamonds community.  

How did we get started? 

4 years ago, I helped the school district apply for the The Chef Ann Foundation Project Produce Grant which was the spark behind our "Chef's Tasting Table."

And speaking of sparks...

Link over to their website and be inspired by how the foundation works tirelessly to inspire and empower school districts to reform school food. 

I am so very honored and excited to celebrate this incredible 10 year milestone with them: 

Thank you thank you thank you Chef Ann Foundation for leading American school food reform!

It all starts at home plate.

To the Mullies we go...

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Taco Tuesday Grape Salsa + Wild Orange Anything Dip

September was a BIG month for spreading food education and gorgeous food love in the schools! 

As a member of the Diamond Lake District 76 Wellness Committee, we wanted to do something special for the teachers to kick off the school year. 

Our committee cooked up this first round of "Lunch and Learns" where I visited each school's teachers' lounge (Fairhaven, Diamond Lake, and West Oak School) and treated the staff to some delicious recipes. 

We had such relaxed, fun conversation together around all things, mostly food! 

I made a "Wild Orange Anything Dip" and a "Grape Salsa" which I served alongside as much produce as possible from Prairie Wind Family Farms. Whenever possible, I partner with local farmers like Jen and Jeff Miller because every dollar goes back directly to their farm which improves Lake County's economic, social and environmental sustainability. I was able to find all pantry ingredients at Jewel & Target.

Wild Orange “Anything” Dip
Inspired by Sarah Britton's Tangerine Tahini Dip (My New Roots)

8 oz Almond Butter (or any seed/nut butter of choice)
1-2 knobs ginger minced (a heaping Tbsp or so)
8 tsp pure maple syrup
8 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp coconut aminos (or tamari or soy sauce)
sprinkle of cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp sea salt
14 drops Wild Orange dōTerra essential oil (or use the zest and juice from 1-2 of your favorite fresh oranges!)
1/2+ c of any type of milk to thin out (I used macadamia nut milk)
1 tsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp local bee pollen 

Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl and enjoy with your favorite vege and/or fruit! Store in the refrigerator and add into your lunch for the week. Garnish with black sesame seeds and local bee pollen for more lick-the-bowl goodness.

Keep hanging with me for the grape salsa recipe... 

As the Compass Hiking and Yoga Retreats Chef, this month also marked the launch of our Compass Outreach Program! I am thrilled to announce our partnership with Mundelein High School District 120 Transition Center. As a proud alumni of Mundelein High School and current resident in the community, it's an honor to be joining the participants and staff every month this school year.

We had a ball making the grape salsa together. Along with basic knife safety & cutting skills (like the "cat claw"), we discussed the different ingredients and the versatility of grape salsa; Whether you make it to trick out your Taco Tuesday, eat it alone, put it on on chicken, pour it over fish or add it to anything else you can dream up, it's a "food hero" dish for sure.

A Taco Tuesday Grape Salsa
Inspired by Sarah Britton's "Cleansing Grape Salsa" (My New Roots)

1 lb mixed grapes (we mixed red, green and concord varieties)
1 small serrano pepper (deseeded and minced)
1 bunch fresh chives minced
1/2 c (about 1 big handful) fresh cilantro chopped
1-2 knobs fresh ginger peeled & minced
4-5 radishes minced
2-3 limes juiced (plus zest from one lime or 3-4 drops of dōTerra lime essential oil)
1 Tbsp Thrive algae oil or extra virgin olive oil
Ionized salt or sea salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

It all starts at hOMe plate!

To the mullies we go...