“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” 
― Philip Pullman

*Note – While it may be October, pretend it’s July. I wrote this in July for my monthly food column in a local magazine (Marquette Neighbors). Yesterday there were snowflakes in the air, so this afternoon I enjoyed time traveling back to July.

July, the sweet spot of summer. Vegetable gardens are planted and are showing promise, Lake Superior is dazzling us with apricot colored sunrises, and we are adjusting to a new way of living. We are a little more cautious, watching things closely from a distance, and hopefully are a lot more appreciative. 

The pond that my husband built for me (and our ducks) is my happy place.

I have heard many people humorously say that 2020 will go down in their memory bank as the year they made dinner 5,000 nights in a row. While I love to cook, it’s the dirty dishes that plague my heart and kitchen. Therefore, 2020 for me is the year that I am extremely thankful for a dishwasher (that runs daily). It is the year that I have had more time to experiment with my Recipes to Try board on Pinterest. It is also the year that I am even more thankful that we have chickens (we have the time to sit down multiple times a week for a formal family breakfast) and the year that my husband decided that maybe cabbage rolls are not as horrible as he thought they were when he was kid. 

The other day my step-son Lukas and I were surveying our yard and I was teaching him the names of the flowers that were in bloom. Of course, I seemed to have a story to go with each flower from my childhood. How my grandfather curated a frothy hedge of pink peonies and how their luscious, fragrant blooms riddled with ants turn me back into an eleven year old too.

Lukas and I get along well and I think it is because we both like to tell stories. Even more important, we listen to each other’s stories. This summer Lukas is obsessed with egg sandwiches and he loves to make different variations of them. However, he’s not too keen on vegetables, but he gives them an honest try. Everything except for beets. He refuses to accept beets and gives his head a fervent shake when I offer him a pickled one from the jar or a roasted one at dinner time.

Lukas always wants to know what recipe I am planning for my recipe column. For this month’s feature he decided no matter what the ingredients were, that it should have Cabin Fever in the title. He thought it was a title that would draw people in and would be relatable. I had to laugh and agree with him. While my husband and I are a little smitten with our log cabin tucked away in the wilds of Skandia, sometimes we too have to venture out and be social. That said, the recipe that I am sharing with you today is one that I often make for potluck and social gatherings. It is a crowd pleaser and one that I make often for my workday lunches or to have as a side with dinner.

CABIN FEVER SALAD – (Greek Pasta Salad)

*Pasta – 16 ounce box (I prefer a small pasta – like orzo, ditalini, or stelline. For this salad I was able to find a petite star-shaped pasta)
*Quart cherry/grape tomatoes halved
*Cup feta cheese (crumbled or cubed – I prefer buying a block and cubing it) –
*½ cup chopped onion (red, white, or yellow)
*Cup of kalamata olives halved
*2 cucumbers chopped (If garden fresh, I leave the peels on)
*1/2 green bell pepper chopped
*½ yellow or orange bell pepper chopped
*4 cups of greens (spinach, kale, or spring mix)
*Juice and zest of 2 lemons (If you make my homemade dressing, you can use the lemon in the dressing)
*Optional – handful of fresh chopped dill. A couple Tablespoons of fresh oregano and a little freshly chopped mint is also wonderful mixed in
*Dressing – I will share my Greek Vinaigrette recipe below. Though, when in a time pinch, I use store bought. I am partial to Newman’s Own Italian varieties or the Zesty Italian that you mix up from the dry packets)
*Salt and pepper to taste


*1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar (since homemade dressings can be made to suit individual tastes, I always recommend that you add vinegar to meet the level of tartness that you enjoy. If you prefer your dressings less tart you can add more olive oil)
*Juice and zest of one lemon
*1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard
(I have also used spicy brown mustard
*1 clove of garlic
*1 Teaspoon red onion
(you can substitute with green, white, or yellow onion)
*1 sprig offresh oregano (Approximately 2 Tablespoons. If you are using dried use 1-2 teaspoons. Taste as you go and add more if desired)
*1/4 cup of olive oil (You can add more depending on taste. You could also skip the oil and add the oil directly to each salad, or to the jar, to maintain portion control)
*Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta, drain, and let cool before adding the rest of the ingredients and mix. If you are preparing for an event, make several hours (if not a day) in advance to let the flavors marry.

This recipe will make a LARGE batch, so you can halve or quarter the ingredients if you only want a few servings. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days (it tastes better after sitting for a day or two) and it makes a great Mason Jar salad either layering the ingredients or mixing right up. Sometimes I whip up a batch after we make Shish Kebobs. I make sure to grill up extra skewers of vegetables (tomato, onion, peppers) to make a salad the next day.

I also tend to add less pasta, and add more greens, when I am making it for myself at home. However, I enjoy the texture pasta brings to the salad and it soaks up the dressing and makes it extra flavorful. You may find yourself having to add more dressing (depending on how much pasta you add). Sometimes if it seems “dry” I may add some olive oil, more lemon juice, or even raw apple cider vinegar.

In the summer, when growing my own greens, I am partial to kale over spinach. While we grow both in our garden, kale is much easier to grow. It does not go to seed like spinach and lettuce and I harvest the same patch from spring until fall.

I hope you enjoy this salad and that it helps cure any cabin fever that you may be experiencing. May you savor all the sweetness that July offers and take advantage of a slower pace to listen to the stories around you. Trust me, the Lukases in your life will thank you.

Lukas loves to help out in the kitchen.

Layered Greek Dip with Hummus & Tzatziki Sauce

Layered Greek Dip with Hummus & Tzatziki by Produce with Amy“Variety in your diet is health in your life.”
― Toni Sorenson

One of the reasons that I started this blog in January of 2013 was to challenge myself to come up with new recipes so I could avoid a food rut. Instead of being limited by a plant-based diet, I wanted to branch out and find new ways to incorporate fruit and vegetables and share my ideas with others.

To save both money and time, I am committed to prepping my lunches at home on the weekends. It is the healthiest routine that I have established for myself since I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 and one way that I help keep myself on track. I plan my menu and shopping list on Wednesday or Thursday, shop on Friday night or Saturday after my WW meeting, and prep on Saturday and/or Sunday.

A few weeks ago I found myself not thrilled about the lunches that I was transporting to work. With the cooler weather my salads felt a bit lackluster and I decided to make something that felt a little more special. I contemplated making my Layered Refried Bean and Guacamole Dip recipe, but instead decided to create a new version. I thought that a Greek dip that combined a plant-based tzatziki sauce and hummus would give my lunches a little sparkle.
Layered Greek Dip
Years ago I purchased three cup Pyrex glass containers with lids and I have found them perfect for portion control. I have over a dozen and they have held up well. Pint sized Mason jars would also work for these individual dips.

I made seven individual dips – five for me and two for my husband Mike. I cut up raw vegetables to scoop up the dip.  Mike loved his so much that he ate one straight out of the container with a spoon.

Before I started following a plant based diet, feta cheese was one of my favorites. I really crave feta so I was THRILLED when I discovered Jackie Soban’s blog, Vegan Yak Attack, and her recipe for  Herbed Tofu. I added a bit more vinegar to the recipe and also added dried dill. Because of this recipe I discovered Raw Coconut Vinegar (I bought it at our local food co-op) and I LOVE it. Thank you, Jackie!

Make sure you check out Jackie’s other recipes and follow her on Facebook and other social media. Her meal ideas are phenomenal and she incorporates stunning photography into all her posts. Doesn’t her photo of Herbed Tofu Tomato Salad make you drool? Trust me, you need some of this herbed tofu in your life.


Layer the following in your containers. You can decide how much of each ingredient you want to add. I added 1/4 cup of hummus into each dish and divided the tzatziki sauce up between the seven containers.

*Note – next time I will add a little more hummus and less of the tzatziki sauce as the tofu based sour cream was very rich. 

*Hummus (recipe to follow. Store bought would work as well)
* Tzatziki sauce
(recipe to follow)
*Chopped romaine lettuce
(amount depends on how much you want to use. I used approximately three cups)
*Chopped green bell pepper
(I used one medium pepper)
*Chopped kalamata olives (I used approximately 1 cup)
*1 pint of halved grape tomatoes
*Pepperoncini peppers
(I used a couple of Tablespoons per individual dip)
*Vegan Yack Attack’s Herbed Tofu (I used half of her recipe divided between the dips)

Layered Greek Dip by Produce with Amy

My Vitamix blender is one of my favorite kitchen tools.

My Vitamix blender is one of my favorite kitchen tools.



*2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans
*1/8 cup of tahini
*1/8 cup of extra virgin olive oil
*1 clove of garlic
*Cumin to taste (I used close to a teaspoon)
*Salt to taste
(You can add a little water to blend)



Seeding the cucumbers by running a spoon down the middle will keep the sauce from getting runny.

Seeding the cucumbers by running a spoon down the middle will keep the sauce from getting runny.


*2 seeded and finely chopped cucumbers
*1 container of Tofutti Dairy Free Sour Cream 12 ounces (if you eat dairy you could substitute plain fat-free Greek yogurt. I recommend the Greek Gods brand)
*1/4 cup of fresh chopped dill
(could substitute a couple teaspoons of dried)
*1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
*1 clove of finely minced garlic
*1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
*1 Tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce (Vegan recipe)
*Salt and pepper to taste

Make sure that you cut up a lot of raw veggies for dipping. I used carrots, cucumbers, celery, and colored bell peppers. Pita chips, tortilla chips, and pretzels would also be great for dipping.


Pin it HERE

The dip stayed fresh throughout the week and was exactly what I hoped it would be. I know that it sounds like a lot of work, but trust me, it is worth it when you taste how fantastic it is. I plan on making a large platter of this dip to bring to my mom’s house for Christmas. The ingredients for this dip also make a wonderful wrap.

If you are like me, variety truly is the spice of life and rotating my meal choices keeps me reaching for healthy food. Thank you for stopping by and make sure you check out all my other recipes. I love being able to share my passion for healthy cooking with you!

Athena, the sweetest little photo bomber.

Athena, the sweetest little photo bomber.

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads“If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.”
― Deepak Chopra

In two weeks I celebrate my seven-year anniversary of walking through the doors of the Weight Watchers center in Marquette, Michigan to become a member. I shared the story of my journey in a post on my birthday in June (click here to read).

Daily, I think about how thankful I am to have embraced a healthy lifestyle and to be given the opportunity to be a Weight Watchers leader and help others maximize their health and find success in weight management.

When I started Produce with Amy I was nervous and unsure if anyone would even read my posts. I am grateful for the continued support and messages that I receive from those who are following my blog and those who stumble on my Facebook page or find my recipes on Pinterest. If you are reading this now I would like to thank you! While writing helps keep me accountable to my own goals, I love the way the Internet can erase the miles and that my posts from the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan can reach people across the country and across the globe. I am constantly using my blog as an authentic and real world example of writing with my high school students. It makes me giggle when they roll their eyes and tell me, “Mrs. Laitinen, my mom reads your blog and last night we had green smoothies.” How cool is that?

There's my name. Part of my fifteen minutes of fame! :)

There’s my name on the very bottom. Part of my fifteen minutes of fame. 🙂 Thank you, Florine!

In July, I was THRILLED to be contacted by Weight Watchers Marketing Manager, Donna DeMarco, to see if I would be interested in writing an article for the THINLINE publication. THINLINE is given out at all of the meetings within our WW franchise. (Read my piece on page 24 entitled Inner Spark.) Ms. DeMarco said that both her and Florine Mark are fans of my blog. I cannot think of a bigger compliment and I am so thankful.

Earlier today I shared my recipe for an exotic and elegant, Fruited Chia Salad with Blackberry Vinaigrette. I am equally excited to share a more classic salad and dressing recipe that I know will be a big hit with many because what is better than a Greek salad? I have never been to Greece but it is a destination that occupies the top of my bucket list. Even though my heritage is mainly of Finnish and Swedish descent, I am asked often if I am Greek.
Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette Greek Vinaigrette DressingGREEK VINAIGRETTE DRESSING13

  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar (since homemade dressings can be made to suit individual tastes, I always recommend that you add vinegar to meet the level of tartness that you enjoy. If you prefer your dressings less tart you can add more olive oil)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard (I have also used spicy brown mustard)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 Teaspoon red onion (you can substitute with green, white, or yellow onion)
  • 1 sprig of fresh oregano (Approximately 2 Tablespoons. If you are using dried use 1-2 teaspoons. Taste as you go and add more if desired)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil (You can add more depending on taste. You could also skip the oil and add the oil directly to each salad, or to the jar, to maintain portion control)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Blend well. When this dressing is blended, it does get frothy but will separate when stored in the refrigerator. It could also be mixed with a whisk if you want a more rustic texture.
Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek VinaigretteWhen making Mason Jar Salads  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 layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars. (I made six salads)

  • 3 Tablespoons of Greek Vinaigrette 
  • Sliced cucumber (I used two cucumbers)
  • Chopped green bell pepper (I used two peppers)
  • Beets (I love beets in Greek salad. I used my mom’s pickled beets but you could roast your own or buy them prepared in a can or jar)
  • Artichoke hearts (I bought them from the olive bar in our local grocery store. You can also buy them canned or in a jar)
  • Orzo pasta salad (recipe to follow)
  • Pepperoncini (I divided this jar between the salads ~ 4-5 peppers per jar)
  • Kalamata olives (I used 5 olives per jar)
  • Feta Cheese (even though I try to remain dairy-free I did end up putting 2 Tablespoons of feta in the salads.)
  • Chopped romaine lettuce


  • One cup of white beans
  • Two cups of cooked orzo pasta
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons of finely chopped red onion
  • 1 cup of chopped tomatoes (I was still able to pick fresh tomatoes from my garden)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon each of fresh oregano, mint, and dill (if you are using dried you can use one teaspoon)
  • Handful of fresh parsley (you can substitute a couple teaspoons of dried)Orzo Pasta Salad
  • 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix well. This also serves as a great side or main dish. If serving on its own you can add olives, artichokes, peppers, feta cheese, and even chopped kale, spinach, or your favorite green.

How lucky am I to have these for my lunches this week?!

How lucky am I to have these for my lunches this week?!

A classic Greek salad gets a modern makeover when layered in a jar.

A classic Greek salad gets a modern makeover when layered in a jar.

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek VinaigretteSo far, for this school year, I have made a different kind of Mason Jar Salad each week. They stay fresh and are a great way to make sure you are getting a variety of fruit and vegetables into your meal plan. Many of my Weight Watchers members love them and say that the jarred salads inspire them to make more vibrant selections and that they end up throwing away less produce. The bottom line is that Mason jar salads can be better on our waistline and on our pocketbook. I hope you enjoy this recipe and if you try this salad, or any of my other recipes, please let me know. I wish you a healthy and energy packed week!

Click here to Pin this recipe on Pinterest.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salads anddressings. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette