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Key Largo Vacation 2015

Back to reality and below zero temperatures this week. A terribly rude awakening considering I spent last week enjoying temps that were 60+ in Florida. Nothing like a vacation to make you question why the hell you ever chose to live in the Northeast. Spring is coming. Spring is coming. Spring is coming. (Just keep telling yourself that).

I wanted to share, more for more sake, some of the wonderful times I had last week in Key Largo and Key West with my husband and in-laws.


We stayed at Ocean Pointe Suites, which is a condo complex in Key Largo. I was worried because the reviews seemed to be hit or miss, depending on who owns your condo. We lucked out because ours was amazing (clean, beautiful, large and right on the water). Sorry I didn’t take pictures of the inside but this was the view from my deck. If you found this blog from a search of the place, we had room 4416 and it was awesome.


The first day the weather was beautiful! We hit up a local state park for some kayaking. No pictures because I didn’t wanna drop my phone in the water. Shortly after we were done I took up camp on the beach!


Ahhhh……to be right there again.



The first day was really warm and I managed to get sunburn on my legs. Oh well. The following days weren’t quite as warm, but I’ll take 65-70 degrees over the balmy 2 degrees it was here today. The next day we drove from Key Largo to Key West (about a 2 hour drive). We planned on eating, walking around, shopping and enjoying some drinks! I’ll share more about the amazing food I ate on WIAW this week (or next week if I don’t have time).

There were chickens everywhere in Key West! I don’t know why I was so interested in them considering I owned chickens.



Hogs Breath Cafe was cool.


Duval Street. It was raining when we got there 🙁


Drinks for breakfast!


Cutting in line at the southernmost point:


This was the view from the restaurant we ate at Key West. It cleared up in the afternoon but was still a little chilly by Florida standards.


The next day was beautiful but also a little chilly and windy. It was about 60 degrees and it was hilarious seeing everyone in Florida wearing winter coats, hats and gloves! I kid you not! It was unreal.



We did a little shopping and ended up at a restaurant in the afternoon. There was a little disappointment over the weather but I mean looking at it now you can’t really complain. I’d give anything for it to be at least 30 degrees here!


This was Robbie’s Marina, there was a restaurant, a Marina where you could rent boats or charters, and a cute little section of shops. It was fun!



Another highlight of the trip was the Islamorada Brewing Company. I was surprised there weren’t more craft breweries around and the bartender explained that there are a lot more regulations to get around than in NY.



Their beers we really light and delicious. After a misunderstanding about just how many flights we should order, I was forced to drink all of these. Pull my leg, I guess.


Later that night for dinner I went to a restaurant one of my friends recommended. The sunset there was beautiful, but once the sun went down the wind was COLD which made it hard to enjoy our food. We quickly boxed up our food once the sun was down. Couldn’t beat the view!



All in all despite some less than ideal temperatures the Keys were awesome! Now I’m back suffering in the cold. Help!

However I don’t think I’ll ever top the vacation to Charleston where Austin and I got engaged, and once we got back from Florida I started begging him to go back to Charleston! I hope we can next year.

Have you been to the Florida Keys? What were your favorite spots?


Paleo Crockpot Venison Stew

A lot of people have a “love it” or “won’t touch it” attitude when it comes to venison. However I don’t really have a choice due to the fact it comprises about 50% of what I have in my freezer right now!

I definitely don’t mind! Venison isn’t my favorite meat, but it was more or less free and that’s what makes it so good! My husband got a deer in the fall and we processed it here and saved it all with our vacuum saver. Voila- non-supermarket unadulterated

meat in the freezer and I basically didn’t have to do a thing!

Venison is also higher in protein, lower in calories and higher in some vitamins than beef! I prefer the taste of beef, when I cook venison with a variety of different flavors that compliment it, I can hardly tell the difference!


The main benefit for me is obtaining meat that hasn’t been raised by our industrial meat system. Sometimes I don’t get why people don’t want to eat venison because they think of a “cute deer” or something. I mean that deer probably had a better life and death than the cow from the burger you ate from your supermarket meat so there’s little to that argument. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a bit you know I have experience with eating animals that I’ve raised!

Anyway, I bet you were hoping for the recipe sometime soon. This venison stew is super fast to prepare and easy! I made it in about 10 minutes on Sunday before I went to the gym in the morning and it was done by dinner time. Feel free to add potatoes or other root vegetables of your liking. We ate the stew with side salads and still had enough leftovers for the next night! Enjoy!


Paleo Crockpot Venison Stew
Serves 5
A hearty, warm dish perfect for a cold night!
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Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
  1. 1-2 lbs venison stew meat (cubed chunks)
  2. 9-10 carrots, peeled and diced
  3. 2 white onions, sliced
  4. 1 clove garlic, minced
  5. 4 cups beef or chicken broth
  6. 3/4 can of tomato paste
  7. 1/2 cup red wine
  8. 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  9. 1 tsp salt
  10. 1 tsp pepper
  11. 2 tsp dried oregano
  12. 2 tsp fresh rosemary
  13. 2 bay leaves
  1. Place everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the meat is tender.
  2. Salt, pepper and season to taste.
Pencils and Pancakes

 This is a great recipe for a weeknight- virtually no dishes and leftovers for the second night (depending on how big your family is). If venison isn’t your thing you can easily sub beef!

Are you a fan of venison?

What are your favorite easy weeknight meals?



What I’ve been eating lately Wednesday + Thoughts on Whole 30

I really haven’t been putting much time into the blog lately, and I definitely have not done a WIAW in a bit, but I had the urge to share what I’ve been eating lately in relation to doing the Whole 30. I decided that with the blog, I am not going to force myself to blog. When I feel like it, I’ll do it! That’s what I’ve been doing. I don’t know why but the past year it’s been up and down with feeling the urge to blog and honestly I don’t want to force out stupid blog posts just to get something up. I hope you’ll stick with me! Here’s some tidbits about what I ate and my thoughts about the Whole 30 I’m participating in this month:

What I Ate Wednesday Button












{typical breakfast: kale, tomato and bacon quiche with parsnip fries and sauerkraut on the side}

Sooo…Whole 30…it’s not going as great as it was last year. I am hungry ALL THE TIME. This is normally not me. Over the past year I really have settled into routine and developed really NORMAl eating patterns as opposed to how I used to be in restricting food and calories and obsessively worrying about it. So yes, the Whole 30 last year was like a jump start for me and over the year of 2014 I really did develop much more natural, healthy eating patterns. Like, I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. Very novel idea.


{Lunch- tuna sushi rolls and salad}

However the Whole 30 (although it is very very similar to how I regularly eat) has extra rules I don’t normally follow- like not being able to eat dessert or paleo baked goods. To tell you the truth, these rules are stressing me out. Like normally I would just eat dinner to when I’m full knowing that I am going to have a little snack later. Now during the Whole 30 I’ve been like “better eat as much as possible for dinner because there’s no snack” mentality, which isn’t really healthy. I thought I had abandoned this mentality.


{Excellent Dinner- Venison steak taco salad with jalepenos, avocado, tomatoes, peppers, onions and plantains}

So to tell you the truth, I really wanted one of my husbands gluten free granola bars this weekend, so I ate one. Oh well. I am still following Whole 30 for the remainder of the month, but I’m not going to let these rules stress me out, especially when I’ve worked so hard to not have them. So if I want to eat something of plan, I am consciously making that a decision and not punishing myself for it. I highly suggest everyone do the Whole 30 strictly at least once in their lives. However, this just isn’t where I am on my journey of eating, so I’m not that strict about it. Mostly the lesson learned is- do what works for you!


{Another yummy lunch- Liver/Pork Meatballs and Sage noodles from The Paleo Kitchen<<Sooooooo Good! + a salad}

 Another thing I’ve noticed is that if I’m really going to eat enough at each meal to not snack in the afternoon, I have to eat a LOT. It’s possible but I really don’t have a ton of time to eat in the morning and shoving down that huge breakfast you saw above is difficult! Oh well, there’s no laws against snacks in my world!
















{typical snack- figs with coconut butter YUM!}

 That will be it for what I’ve been eating. Kind of random, but many delicious things. Hope your Whole 30 is going well!

How do you feel about breaking the Whole 3o rules??


Whole 30 Week 2 Meal Plan

Like many other whole food and Paleo bloggers I decided to do the Whole 30 in January. I got a late start because I was too >ahem< sick to start on New Years Day. Then I wasn’t prepared to start on the Friday after New Years because I didn’t have the right food in the house. SO I started last Saturday.

Today is Day 8! Here’s what I have planned for week 2 of my Whole 30. 


Pork Soup
*I made soup with butternut squash, Swiss chard, pork stock and bits of leftover pork. I usually make soup for lunch but it’s been annoying carrying it into school so I decided to just eat it here for breakfast.



Venison Stew (Mon-Wed)
Tuna Sushi (Thu-Fri)

I got these awesome Nori rolls at a natural food co-op I was at Saturday. Can’t wait to put them to the test!


Monday- Leftover Spaghetti Bolognese (over zucchini noodles)
A recipe from Practical Paleo

Tuesday- White pork chili from Meals Made Simple (Against All Grain)
Got this book for Christmas and haven’t made much from it, I was really looking forward to trying this recipe.

Wednesday- Leftovers!

Thursday- Country ribs with mashed parnsips/potatoes and green beans

Fri- Wing it?

Saturday- Pork Arrabiata over zucchini noodles (Also from Meals Made Simple).


A week into Whole 30 and I am feeling better, trying to get in some grass fed beef liver. It tastes gross but I am really trying to force myself to like it. I hide it in some meatballs and it’s pretty good. I picked up a large haul from my farmer the other day. #nutrientseeker


I’ve been feeling very blah and just unmotivated and I’m pretty sure the winter is getting to me. At the natural grocery store I visited this weekend I picked up some Whole 30 compliant vitamins to help with this at the advice of my naturopath. I never even thought of the vitamin D issue. I’m probably getting next to zero vitamin D right now…. Ugh, winter.



Have a great week!
Are you doing Whole 30? How are you feeling?


Holiday Gift Guide

Yup, had to do it! I am having the hardest time deciding what gifts to get people this year and I am loving everyone’s holiday gift guides! I read them every time and have even gotten some ideas from them.

So I decided to do one of my own! First up is a list of gifts I already have and HIGHLY recommend for any foodies/whole food enthusiasts in your life:

holiday gift guide 1

1.Spiral Vegetable Slicer – love this to make veggie noodles.

2.Silicone Baking Cups – These make EXCELLENT vessels for any paleo/coconut flour muffins or cupcakes.

3.Practical Paleo: The essential how to guide for anyone that’s interested in starting Paleo!

4. Silpat mats – use these for EVERYTHING that I don’t want stuck to the pan! I actually could use more.


Now here’s some gifts that I don’t have but are on MY list!


holiday gift guide 2


1.Clinique Happy – I love this scent! I got a free sample and now it’s out and I’m hooked.

2. I Pad cooking stand I also asked for a keyboard for my Ipad. I could use a cooking stand since I use my Ipad for recipes so much! I usually make a mess which isn’t good because my Ipad isn’t even technically mine….

3. I could also use a fancy looking apron for in the kitchen. Again, I am messy!

4. Shameless: Season 3 : Best show ever! I left off at season 2 and never got to watch it since we cancelled Showtime.

5. Funny shirts from This website is the best- they have the funniest shirts. Check it out!!

Okay, hope I gave you some ideas! Hurry up because the deadline for buying gits online is coming up fast!

Do you do a lot of shopping online?

What do you want for Christmas??

** Some of these links are affiliate links, which means I earn commission if you click and buy. As always, thanks for supporting Pencils and Pancakes.


Common Core Expository Essay Writing Tools

Whaaaat?  A school post. I don’t even remember the last time I did one…..

tools for an  informational essay

But alas, I have some tools to share with my fellow teachers. This year I have been making videos to accompany my lessons for students who are absent or struggling with concepts. Have you heard of flipped classroom? It’s when the students watch instructional videos and come to class with the material already “learned” so you don’t have to waste class time taking notes/doing direct instruction. Instead, class time is used to do “homework” or “practice” the skills you “taught” in the video. This isn’t so cut and dry with English. I don’t think it works very well with an ELA class, but a colleague is doing it with her math class and I think the flipped model is a great idea for math. I feel like in math the teacher has to give the notes on how to do the problem, and half the kids probably aren’t listening….then they go to do the homework and they don’t know how.

So with flipped classroom in a math setting the kids would watch the instructional video at home, then come to class and practice the problems. Now the kids who didn’t watch the video and or are struggling can get face to face time with the teacher while the advanced kids move on with the problems and videos. My friend has had great success with this method. I just don’t think it works for ELA per say. BUT…

I still like the idea of having instructional videos for lessons available for kids who were not here or are still struggling with a concept. With my short, 68 minute, every other day blocks it’s hard to differentiate or pick up students who don’t understand after the fact. I make videos for every lesson outlining what we did and the key concepts and students who are absent or struggling can just watch the video! We have a lot of attendance issues this year and it makes giving students back work a breeze. It becomes THEIR responsibility to learn what they missed.

Yes, making the videos is time consuming but I think about the fact that next year they will all be done. So I think it’s worth it. I know there are tons of resources like Learnzillion to get videos from but I really just like making my own stuff.

I made a set of videos that explains how to write an introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion of a common core expository essay. This essay would work for any simple, explanatory essay especially to prepare for state exams. Our essay was based off of the short story “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros (excerpt from the novel- first chapter). So for your students you can just tell them to plug in the applicable story. Here is the example of the essay question I give my students. This is for the first chapter of the novel “The House on Mango Street.”


Body Paragraphs


Also, I have a great graphic organizer that students can use, available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site! This organizer corresponds to the items in the videos. It is also completely aligned to common core standards! This is for 8th grade but anything in the middle grades is pretty much the same.

Informative Essay Graphic Organizer

What do you think about the “flipped classroom” idea?



5 Natural Solutions for Sleep

I’ve always had a hard time sleeping. I remember when I was a teenager having insomnia and trying to stomach warm milk at 3 in the morning. I also remember putting lavender under my pillow.

It definitely becomes a mental battle for me when I’ve had one or two nights in a row that I can’t fall asleep. Thankfully lately I’ve gotten in a great routine when it comes to sleep and I haven’t had bouts of insomnia for awhile (knock on wood…)

I used to take anxiety medication when I couldn’t sleep, and my doctor even prescribed me Ambien which I have also taken. But taking these medications scares me because I feel like I could get dependent or even addicted to them and then not be able to sleep without them, which perpetuates the cycle. I even feel this way about Benedryl or Nyquil, which some people use with no problem. Those medications didn’t really make a dent in my insomnia and I feel like using them is just going to perpetuate the problem.

Luckily I’ve found some solutions and routines that work for me and are completely natural and drug free. **Includes affiliate links

1) Having a routine. This sounds pretty boring and standard but the routine of “getting ready for bed” has to be pretty repetitive in order to tell your body it’s time to settle down. This means at the same time every night I get ready for bed and put away my computer or Ipad. I usually try to not go on the Ipad or my phone (need to get better at this) after 8 pm. I also go to bed at the same time every night. Obviously during the workweek I get up at the same time every day, but as painful as it may seem I also try to get up early on the weekends too so as not to throw my internal clock off.

I know, I know, you want  to sleep in on the weekends! But I feel like if you get enough sleep during the week there’s really no reason why you can’t get up normally on Saturday. I usually try not to sleep more than an hour and a half past my normal wake up time.


2) Blue light blocking glasses. They look really nerdy, and your spouse will make fun of you, but I’ve seen benefits of using the blue light blocking glasses as soon as I sit down to relax at night. The idea behind wearing them is that our body is not naturally adjusted to being accosted by artificial light after it gets dark, so it doesn’t want to shut down and go to bed. Do your own research about them, but I mean I spent $7 for these and I feel like when I wear them I can feel myself getting more tired. (Maybe it’s all in my head, but whatever works!)


3) Natural Calm Magnesium Supplement I know it seems like this is another thing to depend on, but it’s really not. This powdered magnesium supplement
helps me relax at the end of the night. Some nights I have it and some I don’t….and I don’t see any effect either way. I just drink it with hot water sometimes with lemon and honey. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to chronic inflammation and many people do not get enough magnesium. It not only can relax your mood but I also find it helps my constantly stiff muscles.


4) Magnesium Epsom Salt Bath If you have a little extra time at night and are feeling extra stressed or agitated a bath with an epsom salt soak like this
will do the trick. This is also a great alternative if you don’t feel comfortable taking the Natural Calm. You can usually get the salt at the drug store or grocery store in the bath isle.


5) Lavender pouch in pillow case This is an old trick the the scent of lavender is supposed to relax you. I just bought a little pouch of it at a farmer’s market this summer and put it in my pillowcase. It makes my whole pillow smell. Alternatively, you could look into an essential oil diffuser but I have no experience with that so I can’t speak for it.


So using all these things in combination I’ve finally settled on a routine that my body accepts as an “it’s bedtime” signal. Also obviously your diet is a main factor. I find when I’m eating very clean I have little problem with sleep. When I eat a lot of sugary things it becomes more challenging. Also alcohol might seem like a good idea to get to sleep initially but I usually wake up a couple hours later and can’t fall back to sleep if I have a couple of drinks that night. It goes to show that most things in your body will regulate if you treat it and feed it right.

All these products, and more are available on the new Pencils and Pancakes Favorite Products Store! Just click on the “shop” tab at the top of my website. I have included all of my favorite cooking product, books and items for better sleep. As always thanks for supporting Pencils and Pancakes.

What things help you sleep the best naturally?



The Pencils and Pancakes Real Food Cookbook

It’s ready! It’s ready! Finally….after almost a year of working on an eCookbook I am proud and super excited to say that it’s FINALLY ready to sell and on the market!

cookbook.jpgI know I did blog about this previously, but if you didn’t catch my last post, here’s a little about the recipes in this book:

  • gluten free
  • processed sugar free
  • whole food
  • paleo-friendly
  • grain free (all but one)
  • healthy

Some of the recipes included are:

Buffalo Chicken Pasta

buffalo chicken pasta

Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles

cookie dough

Homemade Spicy Jalepeno Salsa

Spicy Jalepeno Salsa

Also a never-before shared recipe for my original homemade spaghetti sauce…paleo friendly!

tomato sauce

The book also includes some whole food cooking tips if you’re new to Paleo and whole food cooking.

When you click on the Buy Now graphic, it will take you straight to GumRoad, the service I’m using to sell the eBook. It allows for easy, no hassle credit card payments- no PayPal necessary!

I’m super excited that I finally finished. Although I’m not trying to make a fortune and retire, I think just the fact that I set out to do something and accomplished it is reward enough. At the beginning of the year I had this crazy idea to do this. I asked myself what I enjoyed most about the blog and I think that creating and sharing recipes was it. Why not create and share recipes all together in a collection? I started researching self-publishing and decided to just do it.

I had moments of doubt and pretty much went through a phase this summer where I had no interest in working on the cookbook OR blogging, but a little inspiration was all it took to get it going again.

Just know if you decide to purchase that you’re supporting me being able to keep doing what I love- and that makes me extremely grateful.

landing page


Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon

Yup, you know you want this recipe because I added the “with bacon” tagline….

I made this soup for two weeks in a row now and deemed it “the best soup I’ve ever made.” I get on a kick with what I make for my lunch and pretty much make it until I get so sick of it I can’t stand it anymore. That pretty much already happened for chicken soup with kale at the beginning of the year. So I’ve switched it up a bit. Now that we got our bacon from our pigs I’ve been pretty much throwing it in everything.

This week I’m linking up with Jenn from Peas and Crayons to share what I ate..which is this soup. I don’t have too many pictures from what I ate for the week because this weekend we went camping. Here are a few beautiful pictures of the scenery:

 ASP #1

ASP #2

ASP #3

I love fall!

Actually I did take a pic of some of our food camping:

camp eggs


We stayed in a cabin with a food stove and gas oven. Can’t beat eggs fried in bacon fat. Those were our last eggs from our chickens 🙁

I also made homemade pulled BBQ pork last week. OMG.


Ate it alongside an acorn squash with pecans and butter and roasted broccoli. This was ridiculous.

And speaking of squash: now for the recipe!


Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon
Serves 4
Write a review
Total Time
30 min
Total Time
30 min
  1. 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  2. 1 large white onion, chopped
  3. 4-6 cups of stock (pork or chicken stock works best)
  4. 2 cloves garlic
  5. 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  6. Salt and pepper to taste
  7. 1/2 tsp onion powder
  8. 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  9. 1/2 lb bacon, cut up into 1 " strips
  1. Fill a large stockpot with chicken/pork stock. Add your cubed butternut squash, onion and garlic.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook until soft, about 20-25 minutes.**
  3. Take off the stove and let cool. Meanwhile, throw your bacon in a saute pan and cook until done. Set aside on a paper towel.
  4. When soup is cool, working in batches, place the mixture into a food processor. Be careful not to fill the food processor too full so it doesn't overflow.
  5. Place the soup back in the pot and add spices. Be sure to season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until warmed again.
  6. Add bacon and some of the remaining fat from the pan (I mean why not).
  7. Serve warm.
  1. **Alternatively, you can do this in a pressure cooker for half the time. Once it starts boiling and reaching high pressure, lower the heat and cook for about 10 minutes.
Pencils and Pancakes
Do you like camping? What foods do you typically bring?

What’s your favorite thing to pair bacon with?


What I ate Wednesday- Trip to BJ’s

Happy Wednesday! This week is moving along since I had Monday off…. Be jealous!  Hope you didn’t miss my post for Paleo Chicken Riggies yesterday and my announcement about the cookbook. Very exciting

I am linking up with Jenn for What I ate Wednesday.  Anyways, I don’t really have a full day of eats but do have some yummy things to share from last week. A highlight of my week was my trip to BJs. It’s kind of like a CostCo for those that don’t know. I was able to get a cheap subscription through my school. My friend and I stopped by before going to the movies (Gone Girl….how disturbing) and I was basically like a kid in a candy store. You have to watch carefully because some things will not be a better deal but I did make some good finds:





Figs….my favorite








Definitely needed










This was a double pack for 7.99










Pecans 6.99 lb








Great finds! I wanted to buy more but we were about to go to the movies so the huge thing of talents gelato couldn’t come :(.

The other night I made chicken pot pies from the 21 Day Sugar Detox cookbook. 



They were ridiculous. I don’t know why I haven’t made them sooner. Also, pumpkin chili from Gather. 




Also, so sad…. We got rid of our chickens on Saturday and although I was happy that I don’t have to take care of them anymore it was sad to get our last egg. 




It will be nice however to be able to leave the house for a weekend! 

What are your favorite finds at BJs or Costco?