“I am one of those who has no trouble imagining the sentient lives of trees, of their leaves in some fashion communicating or of the massy trunks and heavy branches knowing it is I who have come, as I always come, each morning, to walk beneath them, glad to be alive and glad to be there.”
Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems

Mid-February has finally arrived. For months I have been browsing seed catalogs and dreaming of a lush green vegetable garden. Last summer I had many requests for cucumbers and my grandmother Hilda’s pickle recipe, so this year I will be growing extra cucumbers and dill. Though, to me, tomatoes are the shining jewel of summer. There is nothing that even compares to that first bite of a garden tomato, still warm from the sun!

Whether you are a novice or veteran gardener, here is your reminder to start your seeds in the house now. This time of year I take advantage of every window sill and put out a table in our mudroom for trays of seeds. I start my annual flowers (zinnia, marigolds, cosmos, morning glories, petunias, and four-o-clocks) along with broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and tomatoes (everything else gets started in the ground). 

You can tell that I am dreaming of summer with this recipe share. Trust me, you are going to want to add tomatoes and basil to your garden when you taste this mouth-watering dish. Incidentally, basil and tomatoes are wonderful companion crops and thrive when planted together. Therefore, it makes sense that they are so delicious when combined. Nature knows what it is doing! 

I grow a wide variety of tomatoes, but the past few years I have grown Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes (which I used in this recipe). It is an heirloom variety and gets its name from its deep color and sweet and complex taste. My husband John is not a fan of fresh tomatoes (he prefers them in sauces or sun-dried) and he will even eat a few Chocolate Cherries fresh off the vine. I like to harvest them when they are still slightly green and a tad bit sour. I sprinkle on a little pink Himalayan salt and I am a happy woman!

Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes, oh my!

While this chicken can be grilled (and finished later with the caprese toppings) I like to brown it first in a pan and then finish in the oven so the juices soak into the bed of vegetables. If you are not a fan of poultry, you can substitute steak or fish. If you are vegetarian a large portabella mushroom cap makes a delightful substitute. For the starchy carb watchers, you can replace the potatoes with cauliflower, broccoli, or even Brussels sprouts. Olives also make a great addition to this dish.


*4 pieces of chicken (I used boneless chicken breast, but if you prefer dark meat use thighs)
*3-4 cups of chopped Yukon Gold Potatoes (I prefer yellow potatoes because I don’t have to peel them and they are soft and buttery)
*3-4 cups of fresh Green Beans
*1 cup of fresh chopped basil
*1 cup of mozzarella cheese (I used fresh mozzarella which can be found in most deli sections of the supermarket. You can also use shredded or sliced, or a combination)
*1 cup of fresh tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes)
*I cup of mushrooms
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*2 Tablespoons of butter
*Tablespoon of minced garlic
*Tablespoon of chopped onion
*4 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
*1 Tablespoon of lemon

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a baking dish drizzle the potatoes and beans with olive oil and salt and pepper. Start roasting the vegetables (approximately 15 minutes). When the 15 minutes are up, set aside.

While the vegetables roast, season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Add 1 Tablespoon of the oil to a pan and brown the chicken (5 minutes per side at medium heat). Once the chicken is browned, add to the top of the roasted vegetables.
In the pan that you browned the chicken, add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms until soft. Add the balsamic vinegar and simmer until slightly reduced. Add the lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for a minute.

Top the chicken with the cheese, basil, tomatoes.. Pour the balsamic reduction over the chicken and bake for 20 minutes (until chicken is no longer pink in the middle). Serve and enjoy!

While this chicken would make a romantic feast for Valentine’s Day, it is so good you may want to be selfish and keep the leftovers for yourself. However, one thing you do not want to forget is to add tomato, basil, and green bean seeds to your shopping list. While there have been rumors of a seed shortage, there appears to be a plentiful supply in local shopping venues. If you do not have a large area to garden, tomatoes and basil do well in pots.

I wish you well as we enter the final stages of winter and get ready for spring gardening.  Make sure that you get outside to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us and eat your vegetables!

Raw Zucchini Noodles with Lemon Basil Pesto


Raw Zucchini Noodles with Lemon Basil Pesto by Produce with Amy

“…we opened
two halves
of a miracle,
congealed acid
from the hemispheres
of a star,
the most intense liqueur
of nature,
unique, vivid,
-Pablo Neruda Ode to a Lemon

If you are like me, the mere thought of both lemon and basil can make your mouth water. Coming in second to taste – is their fragrance. I have always been enamored with the scent of basil and in the summer I make sure to plant many packets of basil seeds in my container garden. I have always said that I could bathe in water perfumed with the bruised leaves of basil (and maybe I have).

Pesto by Produce with Amy

Pesto is one of my favorite flavors and I love to freeze it for a taste of summer when the temperatures outside plunge and I need a mood enhancer. Trust me, pesto has the power to transport one to a beautiful July afternoon.

The pesto recipe that I am sharing today is not a traditional pesto recipe since it does not incorporate pine nuts or parmesan cheese. While I love the addition of pine nuts,

I buy raw nuts in the bulk section of our local co-op. However, I also purchase raw nuts from Target.

I buy raw nuts in the bulk section of our local co-op. However, I also purchase raw nuts from Target.

I did not have them on hand and most of my recipes are assembled by what is in the house. Since raw nuts are one of my protein and pantry staples – I used a raw nut mix that I purchase at Target. Our local food co-op has an incredible selection of raw nuts in the bulk section but they are currently out of my price range. The nuts provide a protein boost and I love the smooth and buttery flavor they give the pesto (trust me…you will not miss the cheese).

I bought a Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer last summer and I knew that I would love raw zucchini noodles. For years I have enjoyed making summer salads out of thinly sliced zucchini (shingled and layered on a plate) and sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil, leeks or onion, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. It was a technique that I had learned from the Food Network after watching Tyler Florence make a similar salad. He explained that you should let the zucchini sit so the acids in the lemon juice soften and “cook” the squash.

The spiralizer makes easy work of processing the zucchini and I suggest letting the salad rest at least an hour before eating. It does taste better the longer the ingredients marry so it is the perfect dish to make for a gathering.

When I made this recipe last week my husband and I ate the zucchini noodles as they are pictured but normally I add in extra produce. Some of my favorite additions are tomatoes (fresh or sun-dried), colored bell peppers,  spinach, mushrooms, olives, and even roasted or boiled red or Yukon gold potatoes (the potatoes are incredible when they are folded into the cold zucchini noodles when they are still hot. When they are warm the potatoes really absorb the pesto).



  • 3 small zucchini spiralized
  • Fresh basil (approximately 1 cup…loosely packed. I used a combination of sweet basil and lemon basil that I have in my garden)
  • 1/4 cup of raw nuts 
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh chives (optional. In the summer since I have chives in my garden I add them to everything)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon (if you are using bottled lemon juice – 1/4 – 1/2 cup depending on how tart you like the pesto)
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (I do not add the oil to my pesto but instead add oil to the top of the dish before serving for portion control)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Add the basil, nuts, garlic, chives, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper to a blender and blend until smooth.

I added approximately 3/4 of the pesto to the spiralized zucchini and let it sit for a couple hours in the refrigerator. I let the bowl sit out for 20-30 minutes before serving since I like this dish closer to room temperature. The remaining pesto I will use for dinner this week.

Raw Zucchini Noodles with Pesto


Pin the zucchini HERE.

These raw zucchini noodles with pesto would make a great layer for a jar salad and they make a great salad bed (in place of or with greens) or as an accompaniment to your favorite grilled items. I love to top mine with a giant grilled portabella mushroom cap or vegetable kebobs.

Raw Zucchini Pesto Noodles

If you are interested in other zucchini noodle recipes make sure you check out my Zucchini Noodle Soup.

Scarlet Salads in a Jar with Cherry Chipotle VinaigretteI also love to spiralize raw beets to use in salads, check out my Scarlet Salad recipe.

Please make sure to stop by my Facebook Page and give it a “like” and sign up for email updates of my posts. Follow me on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.

I hope that you enjoy this simple pesto recipe and I would love to hear back from you if you try it. In the next couple days be on the lookout for my favorite cold savory green soup recipe and shortly I will be sharing printable recipes and a shopping list for an August Green Smoothie Challenge. I thought that a green smoothie a day would be a great way to celebrate summer fruit and produce  and I hope that you will join me!




Citrus Berry Slaw Jarred Salad with Strawberry Basil Balsamic Dressing

Citrus Berry Slaw Jarred Salad  with Strawberry Basil Balsamic DressingWhen baking, follow directions. When cooking, go by your own taste.
 – Laiko Bahrs

Today has been a mellow day in the kitchen. Normally my Sunday routine is to engage in a cooking marathon, but since I have been tackling cabin fever by cooking, our freezer is stocked with individual homemade frozen meals, soup, chili, and I still have a few Mason jar salads in the refrigerator. It has been nice to have a relaxing Sunday.

I did roast a chicken and make homemade bread for Mike’s lunch. While some who embrace a plant-based meal plan may take issue with this, I must say that I have to honor my husband’s food choices. I was a meat-eater when we met and I cannot ask him to change because I have altered what I eat. As a Weight Watcher leader I hear this complaint often from my members. When we decide to follow the Weight Watchers program it does not mean that all of our loved ones do the same. Of course, we hope that our healthy lifestyle choices impact their lives but we all must make our own choices. Ultimately, we are the only ones who control what we consume (even when there are tempting foods in the house).

Mike is a healthy eater (he loves fruit and vegetables) and he will eat many meat-free meals. His lunches are important to me because I like to take care of him like he takes care of me (he does the majority of cleaning, maintains our house and our vehicles, and is always going out of his way to make my life easier). He started a new career in July and this meant having to make a switch in his lunches. Before he could take leftovers or even jarred salads (he may not admit this now 😉 ) but with his current job he does not have access to a microwave and only has time for a sandwich (he does also bring raw nuts, fresh fruit, a granola bar and Greek yogurt). However, sometimes he comes home with his lunch fully intact because he worked through lunch.

I promise you that I did try. I tried to convince Mike that peanut butter or hummus makes a satisfying sandwich filling. Yet, he gave me that look. So I agreed…only after trying to seduce him with the prospect of peanut butter AND banana. I realized that I was not going to win and decided that instead of feeding him store-bought lunch meat or deli meat packed with nitrates, that I would roast a chicken each week and make sandwiches and soup along with homemade bread. I admit that I have zero experience with baking but after finding a couple of slices of bread that were stuck in the back of the refrigerator after a couple of weeks (without a speck of mold) I decided this week to make my own. I am sure my homemade bread adventures will spur future blog posts.

In the meantime I have a new jarred salad recipe to share. My latest obsession in my salads is cabbage. I love its heartiness and the way it holds up longer than lettuce in salads. I think that the Citrus Berry Slaw that I have created would work well on its own and could be made with any berry and your choice of ingredients. This salad reminds me of summer and in the heart of winter that is a good thing. While the groundhog may have predicted this weekend that there will be six more weeks of winter ~ in Michigan we know what that means!
Strawberry Basil Balsamic Dressing by Produce with Amy


  • 1 cup of strawberries (I used frozen)
  • 1 orange (juice and zest)
  • 1/8 cup of aged balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup of white balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup of basil
  • 1/8-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I often leave the oil out of salad dressing and add 2 teaspoons to each jar for portion control)
  • 1 Tablespoon onion
  • 1 clove garlic


strawberry slawI layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason Jars:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons of Strawberry Basil Balsamic Dressing
  • 2 colored bell peppers (cut in chunks)
  • Radish (sliced)
  • ¼ cup of white beans
  • 1 quart of halved cherry tomatoes
  • Cauliflower (one head)
  • ¾-1  cup of Citrus Slaw (recipe below)


Citrus Berry Slaw Ingredients

  • 2 cups of chopped green cabbage (I did find that the cabbage really shrunk and the next time I will add a couple more cups of cabbage to the slaw)
  • 1 thinly sliced apple (your favorite variety)
  • 3 cups of fresh strawberries
  • ¼ cup of white balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup of sliced celery
  • ¼ cup of chopped colored bell pepper
  • 1 bunch of thinly sliced green onion
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 1 lime (juice and zest. For a sweeter slaw you may use an orange or tangerine instead)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional ~ Extra Virgin Olive Oil (if you are watching your fat you may choose to leave out)
    Citrus Berry Slaw Salad by Produce with AmyI promise that this salad is as flavorful as it is pretty. Make sure you check out my Salad Tab for other healthy and vibrant salads.Pin this recipe HERE.

As winter continues I promise to keep sharing my healthy recipes. It may not be strawberry season but we can fool Mother Nature by creating our own gardens. To me nothing tastes more like summer than strawberries and basil and I hope you enjoy this combination. Keep me posted and let me know what you think.
Citrus Strawberry Slaw Mason Jar Salads


Citrus Berry Slaw

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Rainbow Collage4Most experts agree that there is no comparison between fresh and dried basil in terms of flavor. The fresh leaves have a flavor complexity and intensity that is largely lost in the dried form. If storing for a week or less, basil can be wrapped in several layers of paper towels and placed in an airtight or Ziplock bag and stored in the highest section of the refrigerator where it will stay fresh for several days. It can also be stored for a few days in a glass of water placed on a counter top. ~Herb Society of America Guide

This week gently heralds in a new school year and I am back to work for two days of professional development. It has been a spectacular summer full of gardening, organizing our house, and reading and writing for pleasure. Yet, I am ready to reclaim my work schedule.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

This school year I am changing things up a bit when it comes to my cooking routine. Normally I shop on Friday night or Saturday afternoon and engage in a cooking marathon for the week’s meals on Sunday. This fall I am going to try to break my grocery gathering up into segments. I will shop on Wednesdays after work and cook on Thursday and Friday (Thursday a large pot of soup and Friday a couple of entrees for both Mike and I). On Saturday I will take a trip to the Marquette Food Co-op and will assemble my Mason Jar Salads. Monday I will leave myself open to the possibility of another quick trip to the market.

Last year, submerged in piles of essays to grade, grocery shopping and cooking started to feel like a chore instead of a pleasure. I am hoping that my new routine will make meal preparation more manageable and help free up precious time on the weekend to grade, blog, do housework, and spend time with Mike, family, and friends. I also think that pre-weekend cooking will help me make strong food choices on the weekend since I will have healthy food already prepared.

When I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 I found that planning and prepping my meals was essential to my weight management success. I never allow myself the excuse that I do not have enough time. I make time for my health.

This summer, when I had the luxury of more free time on my hands, I tried to be flexible and spontaneous with meals and during the week took many small trips to the store and 7farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables. I think that breaking my shopping into small trips actually helped save money and time. I found that I have not been dreading the weekly shopping and since I often grab one of the hand-held baskets, (instead of a large shopping cart) I am not stockpiling food and I am only buying what we will eat for the week.

One item that has not been on my list in the past couple weeks is tomatoes. My tomato plants have perfect timing and each day I am able to harvest enough ripe fruit for the day’s meals. I wait all summer for the candy-sweet tomatoes straight off the vine and I am savoring each juicy bite.

While my tomatoes have persisted and were able to survive our cold and rainy summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my basil plants have not done as well. While I have been able to pluck quite a few clusters of leaves for basil vinaigrette and a few slices of bruschetta, the plants have remained small and many of the leaves are brown (a woman at the farmers market told me this was due to the cold temperatures we have experienced this summer). 3

Since one of my favorite fall food combinations is tomatoes and basil, I have been disappointed my lackluster basil crop. This Saturday my friend Brenda gave me a generous gift of robust basil plants from her father’s garden. The plants are healthy and thriving and I am so thankful.

I love the aroma of basil and this morning I picked a bowl of fresh tomatoes for tonight’s dinner. I will be making Vitamix recipe for a raw dish: Zucchini Pasta with Pomodoro Sauce (with extra basil, of course). This coming weekend I am planning on making homemade pizza topped with plenty of basil, green and ripe tomatoes, Greek olives, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. As I type I am also imagining tomato and basil soup with fresh spaghetti squash from my garden.

Earlier this summer my recipe for Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette Dressing received many positive reviews. So yesterday I decided that I needed to come up with another basil dressing for a batch of Mason Jar Salads. I wanted a creamy dressing that featured the intense aroma and flavor of basil. Naturally, pesto came to mind.

Here is my version of a plant-based Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing that uses raw cashews as a thickening agent. A traditional pesto recipe would use pine nuts, but I did not have any on hand. I think that any nuts would work; almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds. Next time I make this dressing I will toss in a few pine nuts but will still stick to raw cashews since I like the creamy texture that they yield. If you wanted to make this dressing a vinaigrette you could leave out the nuts. If you eat dairy you could also add a fresh grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the blender or to your salad. 1CREAMY PESTO SALAD DRESSING

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of raw 5apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing with a bit of celery. I enjoy my dressing extremely tart and often sprinkle more vinegar on my salad before serving.)
  • 1/2-1 cup of fresh basil leaves (depending on how strong you want the flavor to be. I also tossed in a few extra leaves in the blender for good measure)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
  • 1/4 cup of raw cashews (you could substitute almonds, walnuts, or nuts of choice)
  • 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
  • Chives (I used fresh since I have chives in my garden. If you do not have fresh chives you could add a little bit of onion)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Blend until smooth

The dressing turned out just as flavorful as I imagined it would. I knew that the salad that I created to accompany it had to be extra special. Since I had purchased a wide variety of fruit and vegetables I decided to capture a rainbow in a jar.

2When making Mason Jar Salads it is important to put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar. I find with the quart sized Mason Jars that I need extra dressing. Sometimes I add extra vinegar or lemon juice to the bottom as well as the dressing.

I made two versions of the Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad. For the first one I layered the following:11

  • Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • Quartered cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced nectarines
  • Yellow bell pepper
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • White beans
  • Romaine lettuce

For the second version I layered the following:

  • 8Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • White beans
  • Quartered radishes and cherry tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Quartered yellow tomatoes and yellow bell pepper
  • Broccoli florets
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Pickled beets
  • Romaine lettuce

Since part of the charm of the Mason Jar Salads are how visually appealing they are I think it is important to make them as pretty as possible. Plus, by filling them with a vibrant rainbow of fruit and vegetables we are making sure that we are meeting our nutritional needs.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes. I also have other plant-based salad dressing recipes. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

My goal for fall and winter is to continue coming up with new recipes and to blog at least once a week. As always, I really appreciate feedback if you try my recipes. I am so thankful to my readers and love that together we can embrace a healthy lifestyle.

I would like to extend a thank you to my dear friend, and Weight Watchers receptionist, Brenda and her father for the gift of basil. It really made my weekend special and I appreciate your kindness.

In the coming weeks Brenda has agreed to do a guest blog so I can feature the story of her incredible weight loss journey. Brenda has lost seventy pounds and for the past two years has done an amazing job maintaining her loss. I am thankful for her friendship and the way she inspires, motivates, and helps keep me (and our entire Weight Watchers group) accountable. Brenda strives to educate herself about nutrition and is always aiming to understand what her body needs to stay healthy, fit, and energized.

Since I launched Produce with Amy in January of 2013, Brenda has been my biggest fan and supporter. She is always willing to give my recipes a try and her belief in me helps give me the confidence and the drive to keep experimenting and coming up with new recipes.  If you know Brenda, make sure you encourage her to write her guest post so others can be inspired by her hard work, determination, and weight management tips and advice. I am excited to share her story with you!

6I know that Brenda will be trying the Creamy Pesto Dressing and I hope that you do too. If you do not have basil in your garden (or a generous friend who will share) make sure you check out your local farmers market or produce section of the grocery store for fresh basil.

Fill your plate (and Mason jars) with a vibrant rainbow. Your health will thank you.


Creamy Pesto DressingRainbow Plate

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing