Taste of Gaslamp Quarter 2018: Recap

We love to attend Taste Of events throughout San Diego, with a little group of our friends, and those friends’ friends and plus-ones. One of our favorite events is Taste of Adams Ave, so in the past we haven’t attended Taste of Gaslamp, as it is always held the week prior. This year we decided to go hard-core and attend both! Our small OG friend group attended today’s Taste of Gaslamp, and next week a large group will attend Taste of Adams Avenue, so expect another recap next week.

There are only a few bloggers in San Diego who write regular recaps from Taste Of Events, so although my photos are quickly and awkwardly snapped in mostly-bad lighting while pushing a stroller and carrying a sleeping human on my back in an Ergo, I thought I would post some of our favorite stops. I also posted these photos on my Instagram for local eats, @grannywordsmithapples , so be sure to follow me there as well.

The Deets:

Taste of Gaslamp Quarter is held the 3rd Saturday in June (the 16th this year), and this year was the 24th Annual feast. Tickets were $35 for General Admission ($45 day of, but tickets were sold out by this morning), and we elected not to purchase an extra VIP package which offered more drinks, an after-party, and six additional larger-portion supplementary tastings. Tasting began at 1:00 PM and went until 4:00 PM, which was plenty of time to visit most of the restaurants. Parking was held a block away, at 6th & Parkade in one of our favorite parking structures downtown, and was an easy in and out; we ended up paying only $4 to park for the whole event ($1/hour) and they had plenty of staff onsite to help with check-in, which went quickly and smoothly.

The Good:

The Taste of Gaslamp seemed well-organized and the restaurants were all ready to go at the start of the event (we’ve encountered otherwise at some other Taste of Events). We rarely experienced stalls in the lines or had to wait for restaurants to make new batches of food.

The Bad:

Tickets came with tickets for 5, 5-ounce pours of beer, but the drinkers in our group were disappointed that the Beer Garden completely ran out of three of the five complimentary beer types by 2:30 pm (the event started at 1 PM), and then temporarily ran out of even the available beers, although the beer garden did ultimately offer them tequila shots to help make up for it.

The Bites:

We didn’t quite make it to every stop, but we hit 23 of the 26 locations – which was a valiant effort – and we were generally pleased with all of the offerings by restaurants. (We really enjoyed the event and we will definitely be back; I really enjoyed that the organizers published a menu the night before, which was something I hadn’t seen before at other Taste Of events in San Diego, and really was a nice touch!

Gaslamp BBQ

Taste: Smoky pulled pork with just the right amount of faintly sweet bbq sauce, topped with coleslaw with a light, fresh dressing. The meat was tender, juicy, and hot: a great bite.

The Smoking Gun

Taste: House-made chili, topped with scallions, sour cream, and crushed Fritos chips. The meats were house-smoked and the chili was super flavorful; a friend in our group commented that although she usually is not a fan of chili, she really liked it. The restaurant ambiance was bright and the staff were super friendly and engaging.

Circo’s Pizzeria and Beerhouse

Taste: A slice of pizza (Cheese, Buffalo Chicken, and Supreme). This was one of my favorite bites of the day. The buffalo chicken had a fantastic crust, just the right amount of spice, and was very flavorful. I’ve always driven by Circo’s, but haven’t stopped; I will definitely be back. San Diego can be an overwhelming food scene, and I think that overall one of my favorite things about the Taste Of events is that they’ve introduced me to numerous places, especially small places, I never would have thought to try otherwise. (It’s worth noting that they gave really generous samples — I’ve been to other Taste Of events where pizza places gave a 2″ square of pizza, and ain’t nobody got time for that. With pizza this good, it was great to have more than a bite.)

Inka’s Bar and Grill

Taste: Ceviche, papa rellena (stuffed potatoes), and arroz con marsicos (chicken and rice dish). There were three tastes at this stop, and although the staff graciously offered that guests were welcomed to try one of each, we decided to limit ourselves by each selecting something different. I had the chicken and rice dish, which seemed to be a fusion take on fried rice, as it included veggies, rice, chicken, and scrambled eggs. It was a generous serving and the rice was flavorful. My husband said that the potato dish was served cold, which was unique and interesting.

(Don’t mind the fork mark — The Mister didn’t realize I wanted to snap a photo of his sample!)

The Melting Pot

It was a real blast from the past to walk into a Melting Pot; I hadn’t been to a Melting Pot for ten years, and it was just as I remembered it. I’m avoiding sugar so I didn’t partake at this stop, but everyone else seemed to enjoy the strawberries with chocolate, cheesecake cubes, and marshmallows dusted in graham crackers. The plate put me in mind of a deconstructed s’more.

Analog Bar

It was a bit of a maze to get to the eating area at Analog Bar, but the brussels sprouts they served, with balsamic glaze and bacon, were truly delicious. They were also cooked perfectly, and one of my top-five bites throughout the day.

Gaslamp Fish House (formerly Spike Africa)

Taste: Fried Calamari with sweet chili sauce; salted butterscotch pudding. I am not usually a fan of calamari, but it was nice and not chewy or rubber-band-ey, and I was pleasantly surprised. The serving of pudding was so generous that those in our party who aren’t avoiding sweets, couldn’t finish the whole portion, but they said it was nice.


Taste: Jambalaya, Mac and Cheese. This photo cracks me up, because I was taking a photo of the jambalaya as held by a friend, while my husband reached in front of the camera for his mac and cheese. She said the jambalaya was great, and the restaurant seemed to have a nice menu and an open, fresh format (some folks in our party said they would like to go back, just based on the vibes); I think the mac and cheese unfortunately suffered from a surprisingly (and delightfully!) chilly Saturday, as it wasn’t quite hot, and I am partial to piping-hot mac.

Tin Roof

Taste: Chicken & Waffles Bits. This was one of the more unique bites of the day; served in a cup, it had cubed waffles, tiny salty fried chicken bites, bacon, and just the lightest drizzling of maple syrup. It was really good! (Worth noting: they had live music starting at 2:00 PM, definitely a perk!)

Whiskey Girl

Taste: Citrus Braised Carnitas Tacos with avocado-lime crema, pickled onions and cotija cheese with micro-greens. This taco was definitely a winner. I loved the flavors, and the tacos were assembled freshly in front of us, which I thought was a really nice touch. I have never been to Whiskey Girl before, and probably wouldn’t have considered going in, but the tacos made me want to go back. The staff was so friendly, and even the security guard, who re-carded everyone before they went in, joked and made the waiting/line process better.

Florent Restaurant & Lounge

Taste: Sesame Crusted Ahi Tostadas with Hoisin Aioli, pickled ginger, sweet soy, and micro cilantro. Our party liked these little bites, and they were one of the more sophisticated bites of the day. The staff seemed to really put care into the assembly of each.

American Junkie

Taste: Crispy Rock Shrimp: lightly breaded with sweet aji amarillo chili sauce. I had never heard of American Junkie before, and I just loved the interior of the restaurant! I’m glad that Taste of Gaslamp Quarter introduced me to the restaurant, and it seemed to have such a cool vibe. I’m sure we will be back! The shrimp was a nice little bite, and the shrimp was tender and well-cooked; the sauce had just the right amount of sweetness and spice.

Henry’s Pub

Taste: Chef Carlos’ Fish Tacos – lightly fried Alaskan cod in warm flour tortilla with shredded romaine lettuce, avocado, pico, and yogurt lime sauce. I am a sucker for fish tacos, and this one was generously-sized, with toppings that really complimented the cod. They even included little lime slices on the side – which our daughter loved.


Taste: House made tuna salad on a bagel crostini with fresh avocado, lemon, jalapeno and micro cilantro. We’ve been to Barleymash a number of times, because they have the best Mac and Cheese I’ve had around San Diego. (Seriously, you need to order the Brussels Heaven mac they serve, piled with fried brussels sprouts, balsamic jeager glaze, and crispy bacon.) We had no idea that they had a downstairs area, where they had a live musician just for this event – a nice surprise – and an extra tasting of Golden Ale by Ballast Point, served in the world’s tiniest Red Solo Cup. Our group thought the bite was fresh and a departure from what we have previously enjoyed at Barleymash.


Taste: Fish n Chips with house caper tarter sauce. Little Love really enjoyed the French fries, and the breading on the fish was more of a panko-based crust (vs. a beer batter), and was interesting. I despise mayonnaise with my whole soul so I didn’t partake in the tartar sauce, but my daughter kept hollering, “Dip, dip!” so I’m pretty sure she thought it was great.

The Field Irish Pub

Taste: Corned Beef Mac & Cheese. We had several subpar mac and cheeses at Taste of Gaslamp Quarter, but this one was decent – after just a sprinkle of salt we snagged from a nearby table, it was flavorful and good. The Mister loved the atmosphere and remarked about the ambiance and Irish feel – he would love to go back and sample the rest of the menu!

Havana 1920

Taste: Media Noche Cuban Sandwich: slow roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on a sweet roll. This little bite was so amazing, and I gobbled up the sandwich so quickly that I forgot to take a photo, so I went back for a photo of the whole display. Everyone around us seemed to enjoy the Cuban sandwich as much as we did – seemed like a crowd favorite!

Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers

Taste: Mac and cheese. Note: this location was also supposed to offer sliders, but when we arrived at around 3pm, they were only serving mac and cheese. I wanted to like it, but it was, “meh,” at best, and none of our party made it through their sample. The mac may have suffered from cooler temps outside, but it did pretty legitimately taste of just coolish noodles and Velveeta.

Union Kitchen & Tap

Taste: Crawfish Beignets. I expected to like these, and I did. They had just a hint of sweetness that complimented the crawfish nicely, and a dipping sauce. They were seasoned strongly in the best way, and although not deliciously piping hot, they were inoffensively warm, and I thought the bite was perfect and made me wanting more, even though this was one of the last stops we made and we were already stuffed.

Café Sevilla

Taste: Paella Valenciana: mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, prawns, chicken, and grilled sausage. Tortilla Espanola: potato tart, garlic and goat cheese. Datiles Rellenos: medjool dates, cabrales blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon. Tasters had three options, and we all chose the dates because they looked so fantastic. I think it was late in the day, because the dates we got were missing blue cheese, and really suffered for it. The tastes would have been perfectly balanced if the blue cheese was present, but unfortunately without a filling, they just felt really rich and sweet.

Burger Lounge

When we visited after 3:00 pm (the event started at 1:00 PM), the Burger Lounge had run out of its featured sample (grass fed beef sliders) but they were offering house fries. As a joke, someone in our party said, “What, you guys are giving us fries but there’s no ranch dressing?!” Another person in the party added that she likes mustard with her fries. Although the comments were totally in jest, the restaurant staff immediately rustled up ranch and mustard samples for our friends! It was such a nice touch, and so even though we didn’t get sliders, the customer service really made the fries all that much better! (pc: @hannah_moenyan).

Jolt’n Joe’s

Taste: Meatball Sandwiches. Note: the published menu said that this location would be offering, “Awesome Fries,” which I was looking forward to, but we were served Meatball Sandwiches. The tasting was up a flight of steep stairs, through a dark hallway and into a large, vastly empty upstairs carpeted area which gave me a bit of a Stranger Danger feel, but the meatball sandwiches were fine, and the bread-to-meat ratio was okay.

Patron’s Corner

Taste: Cochinita Pibil Boroles I really enjoyed this bite (and as a side note, the place offered a vegetarian version of the dish, which was nice) but several folks in our party were a bit skeeved out by food being set out on a platter without tongs, as people were all grabbing it with their fingers. I am not a germophobe and the food looked so beautiful that I didn’t really care if it had been lightly brushed by someone’s fingertips as they were reaching for a nearby bite. It was a corn sope with slow-roasted pork and toppings; quite good.

Meze Greek Fusion

Taste: Chicken Souvlaki (kabob) tzatziki sauce and pita bread. Our party got the last tastes offered by Meze before they ran out of food, and it was also our last bite of the day. The tzatziki sauce was tart and sour in a good way, and had a lot of dill, which was a highlight. The staff also poured generous cups of icy cold water and offered them to us with our food, which was refreshing. The staff seemed especially friendly, even at the end of a very long day, which made a good impression on me.

Overall, a great Taste of Gaslamp Quarter, and I think we will be back next year! The weather was just perfect, and if the beer garden situation had worked itself out better, I think the event really would have been perfectly executed. Since I was in exile from the Beer Garden due to the tiny human on my back, I asked my good friend @hannah_moenyan to send over a few of the photos she took at the Beer Garden, and she graciously agreed that I could include them in this post:

We had a great time, and the lines were never more than five minutes long – and more like 1-2 minutes, most places, which made it feel relaxed and easy to carry on conversations with friends.

Be sure to check back next week for my recap of Taste of Adams Ave, upcoming on June 24! It will be a guest post with my good friend, @journeyscript.


Low Carb Caramel Pecan Toasted Coconut Shortbread Bars

My mother was a June Cleaver and my younger sister a Martha Stewart, and together these forces of feminine formidability ushered me into adulthood as less-than-confident when it came to my baking, cooking, and entertaining skills. As an angsty teen, I wrote a journal entry which declared superlatively that I was more afraid of pleasing a future spouse in the kitchen than I was afraid of pleasing a future spouse in bed, because although the anthem for both might have been “practice makes perfect,” inelegant practice was infinitely more tolerable, and longer endured, in one case as opposed to the other.

As an introvert –an ISFJ at that – and a planner, whose love language is Microsoft Excel, I started a preemptive battle plan in the form of a comprehensive spreadsheet, titled, “Meal Planning: Year One.” Throughout my early 20s, I squirreled away every decent-looking recipe I found, and in time brought forth a complicated meal plan which paired breakfasts with complimentary lunches, dinners, and desserts, all in a sort of acceptability matrix; hot, complicated, time-consuming lunches were paired with easy, bright, vegetal dinners; or vice-versa; sweet breakfasts were never opposite rich desserts; weekends were regarded as open season for leftovers. The first year’s spreadsheet turned into a second, and a third, and so on, until I had an assemblage of thousands of recipes in careful succession, just waiting for an occasion when I would be called upon to cook an inaugural meal for a lawfully wedded spouse. Saved on a flash drive attached to my car keys, my spreadsheet became tantamount to a security object. I was organized and prepared!

Upon my eventual marriage, however, my poor spreadsheet never came into use. It might as well have been a neglected DARPA project, because for all of the investment of time and all of the zeal which went into its preparation, “Meal Planning: Years One Through Five,” was rendered inapplicable because:

  • The angsty teenaged Nicole had not anticipated that after all, when you love to do something, the talent to do it sometimes comes naturally. As it turns out, I did not need a lot of practice to be a good cook – when dinnertime approached I transmogrified happily into an instinctual creature, throwing things together in pinches and pints, shopping the ads for sales and somehow knowing exactly what meal belonged to each day.
  • My particular spouse admired all of my food offerings, without exception, and never saw my early attempts as practice, but as perfection. (Whether or not my journal should have predicted that I would possess equal instinctual talent in other areas, I cannot testify: you’ll have to ask my husband.) In a world where I had always been my own greatest critic, I was completely blindsided to be married to my greatest cheerleader. The first hundred, or maybe thousand, meals I made for him (and at least two meals per week to this day), were accompanied by an interrogation, always beginning with, “What’s wrong with it?” (“Nothing?”) “But what should be done differently?” (“Nothing?”) “Well, is it too salty?” (“I don’t think so?”) “Babe! You’re being difficult here – I’m trying to ask for constructive feedback!” (“I don’t know what to say. It’s delicious? I wouldn’t change anything? You’re the chef—you know it tastes good.”)
  • Meal planning itself accounted for nearly half of my joy in the kitchen, and I had no will to give it up. Perusing Pinterest is the introvert’s recharge, and something about savoring the research process – matching meals with moods, comparing fifteen similar recipes into a hybrid and ultimately following the composite only loosely—made cooking all the more relaxing. Michael has asked me at least two hundred and fifty six thousand times, “Why are you meal planning? I thought you were just doing that a few days ago? I thought you had 16,540 pins on your meal boards on Pinterest?”

Most importantly, the spreadsheet was never in regular use because:

  • In the days of its creation, I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining an ounce, including elaborate stacks of pancakes with homemade syrup and brown-sugar charred bacon; elegant freshly-baked goat cheese focaccias with pasta for lunch; comforting orzo with lemon zest and breaded spinach-stuffed chicken for dinner; and barely-baked cookie sundaes piled with ice creams and sundry toppings. I could plow through every item on that spreadsheet, a veritable Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, effortlessly and without any consequence. Not so much these days – in pre-middle-age, with a baby and a desk job. My PCOS, and sluggish metabolism, and generally uncooperative body type conspire together against me, and if I ate all of the gorgeous and beautiful things on my spreadsheet, I would weigh as much as my car.

I’ve been trying to outsmart my adversarial body, by cooking low-carb, and when I do, I can tell that I am more focused, sprightly, and confident. Unfortunately, I am also “hangry” nearly all of the time, and when my coworkers bring donuts and cookies to the office, and when I am alone on the weekend and I just want some dang fettuccine alfredo, it is almost impossible to maintain my composure. All of my meal ideas seem to forsake me and I often approach dinnertime in a complete flusterment, wrestling between the desire to make beautiful, comforting food – and the desire to be healthy and to reunite myself with my girlish figure.

This week I restarted the spreadsheet, ten years after its inception, with a tab after “Year Five,” that reads, “Low-Carb.”

So much has changed about my life in those ten years: I have a husband, a baby, a career, a new hometown. But in the end, I guess I am still the same girl who once whipped together a five-year meal plan to assuage her own fears of marriage and adulthood, and who is comforted by plans and consistency and Microsoft Excel and the quiet rejuvenation of looking ahead.

The first recipe in my new spreadsheet tab is this one. These low carb treats make me feel like I can actually survive life without ice-cream and donuts. I made some modifications to several online recipes to come up with something that suited my dessert interests; they are just 1 net carb each, and taste convincingly of soft caramel sauce and shortbread crust. The base is buttery and soft; the filling appears loose when made but hardens quickly in the fridge; the pecans and coconut are toasty and rich. I know that I’ll repeat this recipe again and again!

My husband says that this is the best low carb dessert I have ever made….and I agree with him!

Low Carb Caramel Pecan Toasted Coconut Shortbread Bars

1g net carbs, GF, SF, LCHF, Atkins, ,ON A Keto, Low Carb, 18 servings

2.5 c. Superfine Almond Flour

1 stick (½ c.) plus 2 tbs. butter, melted

½ tsp. nutmeg

4 TBS sugar substitute (I used this sweetener ratio from Joy Filled Eats, purchased using the ingredients from Amazon on her affiliate links)

Preheat oven to 325*.

Mix dry ingredients first, then add melted butter. Line a 9×13 pan (or equivalent size) with a silicone baking mat, or parchment paper; bake 15 mins until golden.

Meanwhile, in a large, non-stick pan (the larger the pan, the faster it will cook), combine over medium heat:

1 ¾ sticks salted butter (reserve remaining ¼ stick of butter)

1 c. heavy cream

1.5 c. sugar substitute (link above to Joy Filled Eats ratio)

Stir occasionally, and let reduce at a medium boil, until the mixture is dark brown/golden. This will take a long time – be patient! It took me at least 15 minutes. I stirred fairly frequently with a silicone spatula.

When it’s dark and carmelley (shush your face, carmelly isn’t a word but it should be!) remove from the heat and immediately add:

1 TBS vanilla

¼ stick butter (previously reserved)

Stir until combined, then add:

1.5 c. each coconut and chopped pecans (toasted at 400 degrees for 4-6 mins, optional)

Pour over crust; sprinkle with ¾ c. lily’s chocolate chips (stevia-sweetened).

After 15 minutes or so, swirl in the chocolate chips to make chocolate swirls.

Cover and chill for a minimum of 12 hours, to allow the flavors to blend – if you eat prior to the 12 hours, you may feel a cooling effect from the sugar alcohols, so please resist the temptation to dig in early!

Cut into 36 squares.

Store in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 18
Per Serving
Calories 264
Total Fat 26.1g
Saturated Fat 14.7g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 60mg
Sodium 139mg
Potassium 18mg
Total Carb 15.8g
Dietary Fiber 0.8g
Sugars 0.4g
Carbs from Sugar Alcohols (Erythritol, Stevia, Xylitol blend): 14g
Net Carbs: 1
Protein 1.5g
Vitamin A 23% · Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1% · Iron 1%

Instant Pot Gyros with Low Carb Pita Bread and Tzatziki Sauce

Our first “place” wasn’t a place at all: it was a rented bedroom in a house with 5 other adults who were also renting rooms. The San Diego housing market, let me assure you, is not for the faint of heart. The Mister was working nights and weekends, so we tried to respectfully tiptoe around the house at night when we were awake, and slept during daylight hours while the rest of the house seemed intent on making as much noise as possible:

   a retired gentleman inexplicably obsessed with daily TV marathons of ghost-hunting shows,

   a coworker of my husband’s who somehow made his daily macaroni and cheese loudly (??) usually wearing only boxer shorts,

   a nurse and her on-again-off-again boyfriend who rented separate rooms in the house and shouted most of their private consternations at one another from their neutral Switzerland, the hallway directly outside our bedroom door.

The self-appointed matriarch of the house, the fifth tenant, was the worst. She was somewhat of a legitimized squatter: her son owned the home from a different state, and she conveniently conned him into withdrawing his requests for rent by reminding him of how she once birthed him, regularly demanded that his father feed him (she did not cook) during his formative years, and actively tolerated his long-term girlfriend. She accused us with tears of spying on her and recording her conversations for the IRS, through our wireless router; she goaded her posse of Chihuahuas into yapping incessantly at us, and praised them for guarding the house thoroughly, as though we were intruders; she routinely stopped the dishwasher halfway through its cleaning cycle and put all of my dishes away half-cleaned and murky, saying that they’d “been in there long enough – water isn’t cheap!” Once, on my way to drop The Mister off at work in the wee hours, I saw her wandering down the street, wearing only a bathrobe, stark white and wafting ominously in her wake.

She knocked on the door on a regular morning and unceremoniously announced that her uncle needed a place to stay, and that we had twelve days to vacate the premises. She had not notified her son of this decision, but her word was final, and accordingly our days were spent scouring craigslist and visiting shifty apartment complexes and counting our pennies. I found out that after we left, men in white coats came to the house and took her away, for – among other things – misuse of prescription medication, and to this day I am tentatively waiting for her lawyer to show up, asking for the illegal surveillances of her I obtained from the antenna on my WiFi router.

Our second place was a darling apartment, perfect in every way, located in the parking lot with a strip mall, dotted with little restaurants and dollar stores and liquor stores in a sort of cozy semicircle. It was Sketchville, USA. The rooms were spacious and we made so, so many memories there—I still miss it!—but you don’t move into an apartment in a strip mall if you can afford to eat out, so although we were surrounded on every side by local mom-and-pop eateries, we made it through the doors of only very few.

One of the restaurants was called AVOs (no apostrophe), with a simple and tempting sign out front: “1 GYRO: $5, 2 GYROS $7.50.” I wandered in there one day and found that it was an order-at-the-counter format, with two outdoors plastic tables set up in the corner as a sort of ersatz waiting area. A large, scowling gentleman did not look up from his iPad, which was playing a loud, boisterous soap opera in what I assume was Greek, and a smiling, petite woman left his side to make my order, by herself. She worked slowly, and no one else came in during my visit – in fact, it did not seem as though anyone else was ever there, in the three years we stayed. The gyros were heavenly. The fries were hot and crispy, and I wanted to go back every day until I had gobbled my way through the entire menu, but I only went back three more times while we lived there, and each time I could not quite bring myself to order anything other than those wonderful gyros. Each of those times, the proprietor was sitting there watching the exact show—occasionally he hollered something at his wife, louder than even the raucous soap opera— and every time my meal was lovingly prepared by a silent and evidently hardworking woman who had only one order in her queue.

A month after we left our second place, AVOs closed down, and the last time I was over in our old neighborhood, I saw that a Pho place was opened in its stead. It made me sad, and it made me crave those gyros. I started a Pinterest search, to see if I could replicate the much-loved dish into something a bit healthier and more consistent with our goals to eat healthfully, and came up with this recipe for Low Carb “Gyros” which taste surprisingly like the “real thing,” and make me quite nostalgic. While making our Low Carb Ham and Cheese Hot Pockets with Hatch Chiles, I made a second batch of the dough at the same time, and simply divided up the dough between both projects, so I only had to mix up dough once, and only had to heat the oven once.

I used my favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot, but you can easily adapt this recipe to simply cook the meat in a pan.

Gyros with Low Carb Pita Bread and Tzatziki Sauce

Serves 6

Turn on Instant Pot to saute, and add:

½ c. olive oil

1 ½ lbs beef round, sliced as thinly as you can (about 1/8” strips)

Brown meat for 3 minutes, then add 1/3 c. water or beef broth, and switch the Instant Pot to 30 minutes, on Manual. It will take about 10 minutes to pressurize, 30 minutes to cook, then unplug and allow a 10-minute Natural Pressure Release (NPR).

Concurrently, make the dough:

In the microwave (stirring every 90 seconds) or over double-boiler, melt:

1.5 c. low-moisture part-skim mozzarella, shredded

½ c. cheddar cheese, shredded

8 oz. cream cheese

Once melted thoroughly and stringy/soft, add:

1.5 c. almond flour

1 TBS coconut flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. each: salt, pepper, and xantham gum (optional)

Spices as you wish (I used some nutmeg, and some “Everything But the Bagel” spice—you can use whatever you wish.)

When dough is thoroughly mixed, add in 1 egg, and “knead” with your hands. I find that hands work much better than a spoon for this job.

Cut dough into 6 pieces, then roll pieces into a ball with your hand. Roll out dough between two sheets of parchment paper, into approximately 6” circles.

Arrange oven-save glasses (I used 12 oz) on a cookie sheet, and drape with parchment paper and dough. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 375 and cook another 9 minutes, until golden brown and sturdy, although still pliable.

Open the instant pot, and use a slotted spoon to put the beef into a pan without the cooking juices. Add 2 TBS no-salt greek seasoning and allow the meat to crisp up (about 3 minutes on high).

Chop up ½ c. each thinly sliced red onion and thinly sliced cucumber, and mix with ½ tsp of salt, and 1 TBS of dried dill weed (more or less is fine, depending on your taste) and 1 c. plain greek yogurt. This will be your Tzatziki Sauce. 

Serve meat in low carb “pita” bread, topped with tzatziki sauce.

Makes 6 gyros. Each gyro is 7.3 net carbs.

Nutrition Facts

Servings: 6

Per Serving

% Daily Value*

Calories 699


Total Fat 59.7g


Saturated Fat 14.6g


Trans Fat 0g


Cholesterol 86mg


Sodium 600mg


Potassium 251mg


Total Carb 10.1g


Dietary Fiber 2.3g


Sugars 2.8g


Protein 32.3g


Vitamin A 15% · Vitamin C 2%

Calcium 27% · Iron 8%

Recipe analyzed by VeryWell

And, just a little shower door art from our last day in out first place, hastily drawn and treasured.

Low Carb Ham and Cheese “Hot Pockets” with Hatch Chiles

I’ve been in search of non-eggy low carb breakfast foods because I am trying to be healthy but I hate, truly hate, eggs. When well-meaning internet sources suggest what they claim will be “non-eggy!!!11” breakfast foods, they need to just shut their evil faces, because those dang low carb pancakes ALWAYS taste like eggs.

But these! Ham and cheese “Hot Pockets.”

 They’re glorious! I searched Pinterest for a few days and combined recipes and techniques from several sources to come up with a recipe that works for me. I’ve made several batches now, and keep them in the fridge so The Mister and I can quickly grab and reheat for 60 seconds on our way to work. They taste remarkably like “real” Hot Pockets, and one batch makes 6, or I double it to make 10. They last perfectly in the fridge and I finally have a breakfast food that I can make ahead so that I don’t feel like reaching for a bad food option as I rush out the door in the mornings.

Best of all, they don’t taste a bit like eggs, even to my hyper-vigilant egg-hating self.


In a glass bowl, microwave for 2 minutes:

8 ounces cream cheese

1 ½ c. shredded mozzarella

½ c. shredded cheddar


In a separate bowl, mix together:

1.5 c. almond flour

1 TBS coconut flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp each: salt, cracked pepper and xantham gum

Dash freshly ground nutmeg (optional) 

Add dry ingredients to melted cheeses, stir thoroughly; add 1 egg and mix thoroughly (I “knead” it with my hands for a few moments).

Divide dough half, and each of those halves into 6 equal pieces (12 total pieces). Roll pieces into balls, then put between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out to be very thin, but not translucent. Transfer 6 pieces to a lined baking sheet—these will be the bottom of the Hot Pockets; roll out the other 6 pieces to be the tops.


Place filling onto bottom pieces; I used 3 c. chopped ham (cold on my first batch; in subsequent batches I have cooked the ham down to reduce moisture and it is MUCH better), 3 TBS roasted hatch chiles, divided between the 6 pockets, and then a slice of cheese for each. You could use any fillings you want.

Place the top pieces of dough, and crimp sides and edges so that there are no gaps.


Bake at 400 for 23 minutes (may be different based on elevation) or until golden brown. To store, wait until they are completely cooled so there is no condensation, then I store in individual plastic bags so I can always open the fridge, grab, and reheat.

 Best made with a little kitchen helper! 


Buffalo Chicken Pasta

While attempting to help one another fall in love with one another, my husband and I were bound by the strictures and preambles of courtship, a practice we will never impose upon our own children whereby relationships are effectively chaperoned from start to finish and dictated by the lady’s parents. We were legitimized by adulthood—I, for instance, was twenty five and one-third years old, and he was into his thirties—and in good standing among God and man, but tradition is a funny thing and our romance ended up being a haltingly awkward affair, decidedly unromantic, and if we had not both possessed great faith and uncommon optimism, and if we had not been absolutely a match made in heaven, I am confident we would never have emerged unscathed. I remember that The Mister drove up to my hometown, taking time off from his job, to help my father work on a remodel project for a rental property I owned. I was not encouraged (and from what I recall not permitted) to join them as my father ostensibly interviewed my now-husband to determine his eligibility as a suitor. We’d previously met fewer than 3 times, and so the whole matter was rife with clumsiness and was about as ungainly as a romance could be; I was so nervous and aflutter and my stomach was a gulch.


I made lunches for them each of the days, tortured by silence throughout the mornings as my dad wasn’t much on regular status updates, and as my boyfriend?—courtship partner?—handsome stranger?—had been instructed not to speak with me too frequently so as not to sully up the pieces of my heart and whatnot. On my own lunch break from work – one hour, no grace for tardiness—I drove home, reheated the lunches I’d prepared for them the night before, and hurried over to the site of my investment property, where the three of us visited a few moments in a cluster. In between sneaking quiet, bashful glances at me without saying much of anything, The Mister wolfed down bites of this Buffalo Chicken Pasta with respectful admiration and, I assume, first realized that cooking was my way of showing love.


I never make this dish without thinking of that day: sitting on a weather-roughened picnic bench, in Spring, two feet apart (“Leave room for Jesus!” I said, softly, because it was so terribly awkward, and we all laughed), eating from little red round oven mugs, twisting our napkins nervously in our laps. Whenever I am assembling the recipe I remember the way that, in spite of everything, my heart raced and my hands trembled and I knew, already, that he was the one.


Buffalo Chicken Pasta


In sauce pan heat,

2 ¼ c. shredded chicken (you can use canned if you want, which would be 2 (9.75) oz. cans)

¾ c. hot sauce (I use Frank’s buffalo wing sauce; some people use Texas Pete sauce)

1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles

2 blocks cream cheese

1 c. sour cream

1 ranch seasoning packet (powder)

¾ c. shredded cheddar


Refrigerate overnight if at all possible; the flavors develop. Before serving, gently reheat, and add 16 oz. cooked, drained pasta (I use gemelli, orchiette, or capavelli). Serve immediately or, if desired, place in a casserole pan and sprinkle with ¾ cup more cheddar, and broil until cheese is browned and bubbly.


Alternate Serving Preparation: Serve without pasta for a Buffalo Chicken Dip, preferably with scoopable corn chips. Make this for the super bowl and you will be eternally adored.

One Bowl Key Lime Tarts

One of the last really important things I did before leaving my hometown to marry my husband was to throw a baby shower for my decade-long bestie. I cut up pages from Winnie The Pooh books to make the invitations, and I labored over Asian chicken salad with toasted almonds and crunchy noodles, and these key lime tarts, which have been a signature recipe of mine ever since. They look like they took days to make; they taste bright and fresh and tangy, and they’re perfect for a spring baby shower.


One Bowl Key Lime Tarts


In a large bowl, microwave 2 ½ sticks of butter until melted. Add a box of graham cracker crumbs (you can crush your own, but for ease, I just buy the box from Honey Maid), reserving 2/3 cup of crumbs, and 1 c. sugar.


Fill 48 (it may make more) mini muffin papers 1/3 full. You can use a mini muffin pan (and put the papers in that) if you want, but I never do since there are so many; I just spread them out on a few cookie sheets (make sure they’re not touching because they’ll spread out a little when they’re baking).


In the (now empty) bowl, mix ¾ c. lime juice (I just use the cheap stuff but you can use key lime juice if you want!), 3 cans of sweetened condensed milk, and ½ c. sour cream. Let it sit about 5 minutes to get a little thick (the acid in the lime juice will thicken the sour cream). Optionally, you can add the zest of a lime.


Fill the mini muffin papers almost all of the way full. Bake at 375 for about 15-18 minutes (really depends on your oven!) until the key lime layer has a few bubbles on the outside, as if it is going to boil. Take them out of the oven, and let cool completely.


In the bowl (empty again!), beat 2 (8oz) tubs whipped cream cheese, and 1 pint heavy whipping cream (with a beater) until stiff peaks form. Add 1 c. sugar. Pipe or spread over the cooling tarts – pile it high! Sprinkle with remaining crumbs.


I put them all on a big cookie sheet, cover them, and freeze until I’m ready to serve. Freezing helps the flavors to meld nicely. Serve chilled.

Apple Crisp

When you’re homeschooled, you have more friends who live far away than friends who live close by, so it did not feel strange to me that some of our closest friends lived hours away. We reunited quarterly or less, and were during our travels inseparable, then retreated back to our respective corners of the world. We rented three hotel rooms and divided them between sixteen of us at homeschooling conferences; we vacationed together at June Lake, where I got heatstroke and violently puked throughout most of the night; they came to our house for an event organized by me, “Camp Hearn,” planned to contain games, activities and sundry friendship-building games; instead, their whole family got a violent stomach flu and could not leave for long enough to drive home, so they stayed in our house – sprawled out in the living room, and in tents on the back lawn, and on couches – puking for the better part of 48 hours. As the ersatz hostess I stayed up the whole time, tending to the weak, and earned myself the nickname, which unfortunately followed me many years thereafter, “Clara Barfton.”


The mother of their family served foods that were healthy beyond description (whole-grain freshly-baked breads without salt, formidable piles of freshly-harvested vegetables which were gnawed on between meals by the children, lean turkey burgers cooked beyond well done, and giant skillets of scrambled eggs) which in addition to being healthy somehow all tasted just a bit too healthy. Half a lifetime afterwards, I am sure I would now appreciate the spread immensely, but then I was on vacation! And I just wanted Cheetos and pizza.

But then dessert arrived, and everything was right in the world. This crisp was warm, comforting, fragrant. We would take turns at the apple peeler, cranking the shaft and watching our little siblings gobble up the peels as fast as they could be unraveled; we’d mix up triple or quadruple recipes of the topping and the smell would carry me through the evening.

It mixes up in a few minutes; the proportions are more suggestions than anything else, and it’s almost impossible to ruin. Served hot from the oven, it is the best kind of rustic end to the day; served with ice-cream, it is luxurious and comforting. Double or triple or quadruple it for everyone you love.


Apple Crisp


Spread evenly in 8” square pan:

4 c. sliced, pared apples;

¼ c. water;

½ c. sugar.


With pastry blender (or two forks) mix until crumbly:

1 c. white sugar;

¾ c. flour;

1/3 c. soft butter;

1 tsp. cinnamon (or more);

¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg (optional);

½ tsp. salt.


Spread crumb mixture over apples, gently.

Bake uncovered, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

Fettuccine Verde

When I was a young teen, we attended a Home Church, which was mostly a courtesy title. There were a few hymns, masterfully accomplished in four-part harmony by the twelve children of the host and hostess; there was a –sermon? Could you call it a sermon? It was mostly a few words of admonition and grace, administered by the host (who assembled his remarks weekly in spite of a full workweek and after tending his dozen offspring), then the whole thing came mercifully to a close because the real edification came afterwards, when ladies would unplug their crockpots and reveal formidable trays of casseroles and sheets of cookies, and a teenaged girl would come in with a fresh bucket of goat’s milk (blech!), and we would spend the next four or six hours gathered around wherever a table could be found, or in a breakfast nook, or on a couch, talking about life and faith and love, going back for another plate every few hours, until nightfall.

My favorite recipe in the usual rotation was this recipe for fettuccine alfredo with green vegetables, and in the years since I have never changed anything about it, except sometimes to omit the eggplant and spinach. It is everything comfort food ought to be, and the perfect accompaniment to fellowship.


Fettuccini Verde


Cook and drain:

16 oz. fettuccini

Add 1 T. olive oil;



In a separate pan, melt ½  c. butter and 1 TBS white flour until golden brown; add 1 bunch of green onions, sliced; 4 cloves garlic, minced. Saute 3-4 minutes.


Add: 8 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained.

Optional: Add 1 eggplant, peeled and cubed (I never do!)


Add 3 c. half and half; bring to healthy simmer. Add: ½ tsp. garlic salt; ¼ tsp. pepper; ¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg.

Pour mixture over noodles; toss gently with ¾ lb cheese (I use a mixture of grated Romano, Parmesan, Monterey Jack or any combination thereof).

Serve immediately.

White Chili

I believed that I would be married at 18, based on vague assurances promulgated within my circles that good homeschooled girls were always snapped up off the market as soon as they were of legal age, and so when 19 rolled around and I was utterly single, it was a bafflement to my soul. I shipped myself off to a paramilitary disaster relief program in Texas, run by the homeschool group in which I was raised.

Now, don’t get me wrong for one minute: I wasn’t going through the program myself – even if women had been accepted into the program, my stamina and level of interest in the outdoors have always been unremarkable. No, I was a, “Staff Girl,” – an unpaid utility player – who cleaned toilets and made beds, and worked in hospitality, and cleaned floors, and threw receptions, and cooked in a vast, metallic kitchen.

The program had a reputation for being Good Husband Country, and I think everybody was hoping that I would come back with a romantic prospect or two, and accordingly I found myself in a very awkward non-relationship with an equally-young fledgling, Ross, who had the potential to be handsome once he grew up, and with whom I corresponded in mostly homeschooler-esque ways: smiles in hallways, watching my feet significantly whenever he came into a room, and—well, little else, aside from a flood of sincere prayers to the Almighty that He would arrange for us a courtship. Thank God it did not happen, because Ross morphed into a real player (a concept foreign to me) and apparently silent, broody types were just what the homeschooled girls of the world needed to make themselves feel special, so I wasn’t as exclusive as I thought.


This recipe for White Chili was one of the great comforts of my time in Texas. It isn’t just good because it’s nostalgic – I’ve won chili contests with it on more than one occasion – but it is especially good because it’s nostalgic, and because every time I make it, I remember those days, of being young, and idealistic, and grownup, and not at all grownup. I remember eating this hearty soup when I was nursing my crush on poor son-of-a-gun Ross, and again when I was nursing my broken heart, and someday when my daughter tells me about her first romantical devastation, I might just hand her a bowl of it and ask her to tell me the story.


White Chili

Saute in Saucepan:

1 lb chicken breast, cut & cubed;

1 med. onion, chopped;

1 ½ tsp garlic powder


Add: 2 (15 oz) cans great northern beans (drained and rinsed);

1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth;

1 (7 oz) can chopped green chiles;

1 tsp salt;

1 tsp oregano;

1 tsp cumin;

½ tsp black pepper;

¼ tsp cayenne.


Cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. (Ideally, stop at this stage and refrigerate for 12 hours or more; the flavors really intensify overnight.)


Add: 1 c. sour cream; ½ c. heavy cream or half & half. Heat but do not let boil.

Serve immediately.