A Day on the Farm

Since I’ve started working on the farm I get a lot of people asking me questions. What is the farm like? What kind of farm is it? What do you do every day?

Well, for starters, I work for a small, family farm that raises hogs, sheep, cows, and chickens. The animals are all pasture-raised, and are never given any antibiotics or hormones. The farm is not certified organic, but they are Animal Welfare Approved. (I think I’ll wait for another post to discuss label meanings and the various certifications). This year the farmer hired three interns — myself, my husband Ric, and another intern who is interested in having a farm with his family one day. One of our intern projects has been planting and maintaining several gardens, which has been a great learning experience for us. I’ve always loved the idea of growing things, but I have a bad track record… I can’t even keep house plants alive. It’s been good for me learning how to plant, when to plant, and how to care for the plants to hopefully save them/protect them from the myriad of issues they’re up against when growing organically — weeds, bugs, mildew, disease, etc., etc., etc.

So, here is an attempt to answer questions and share with you what life on the farm is like. (And also share lots of fun pictures).

I get to the farm around 8:30 in the morning and usually head to the garden. It’s been sweltering hot lately but it’s beautiful in the garden in the mornings. It’s warm but not too hot yet, and the garden is in shade. We spend time weeding or harvesting or planting Some days I’m with Ric and/or the other intern and some days I’m on my own. I like it when I’m alone and feel like I can really soak all the beauty in. The sky lately has been blue blue blue, and if you look out past the farm, most of what you see is sky. All around is sky and land. Blue and green, everywhere. The sky always gets my attention, because it is always so beautiful. I can’t help but stare.

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Here is our garden in the early stages

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This was taken a few days ago. Green, everywhere! (including the weeds, unfortunately)

Beautiful blue sky dotted with clouds

Beautiful blue sky dotted with clouds

The only sounds in the mornings are the chickens in the hen house and the birds singing. And sometimes the pigs keep me company… I hear them, the babies and their mamas, just a few feet away, snuffling and rooting around in the grass.

Beets, etc., with the hen house in the background.

Beets, etc., with the hen house in the background.

Curious piglets

Curious piglets

Curious piglet and his mama, who might try to kill me for getting too close to her babies if not for this fence.

Curious piglet and his mama, who might try to kill me for getting too close to her babies if not for this fence.

Lately we have been getting so much out of the garden. Last week we picked over 12 lbs of green beens! I also pulled up 20 beets and a bunch of peppers, and some young onions.

Heaping bag of green beans and beets

Heaping bag of green beans and beets

harvest

I never get over the excitement of watching something that I planted grow until finally it is ready to harvest and eat. I know it is so cheesy, but seriously, it’s such a miracle. That a tiny seed covered in dirt, with some water and sunlight, will grow and grow some more until it bears fruit. I totally geek out over the miracle of life, whether it’s plants or animals. There is so much new life on the farm, which is really incredible to witness. Just last month I was able to watch a sow give birth to a whole lot of babies.

14 sweet babies, born about a month ago!

14 sweet babies, born about a month ago!

My favorite lil guy

My favorite lil guy

OK, so this goat is the best. I don’t ever want him to grow up because, let’s face it, adult goats are pretty ugly. But this guy, he’s so sweet. He’s got big floppy ears too big for his head, and he loves getting attention. He’ll frolic (yes, frolic) right over to you with his gangly legs, and he’ll sniff you and lick you and nibble on your fingers, hoping for a treat. I just love him.

more babies!

More babies!

So many lil guys on the farm. They’re downright adorable.  And of course I want to cuddle them all but the goat is the only one who will oblige me.

Alright, so, after I’m in the garden and I look at the babies for awhile, willing them to jump into my lap, it’s time for chicken chores. There are two hen houses, or gallineros (I’m learning Spanish, from the farmer’s lovely wife, who is from Nicaragua), and about 1,000 hens. First I head to the big house and I open up the giant sliding doors to let them all out. We usually do this around 11 am so that in the morning they can stay in and lay eggs. Once I let them out, I pick up my egg basket and start collecting.

Stop looking at me, hen

Stop looking at me, hen

And this is what I see staring me down from the nest boxes. So, here’s the thing… egg collecting can be a little bit intimidating at first. You have these hens squawking and staring at you, and sometimes you can just tell they are not happy with you. If there is a hen in the nest box, you just have to stick your hand under them (gently, of course) and feel around for any eggs. Chances are they’re sittin’ on a few. I get pecked at a lot, but most of the time it’s not painful at all. Sometimes, though, they will really get you where it hurts — grabbing the skin in their beak and twisting. I suspect these vicious ones are just broody (see below), but yeah, that hurts.

Here are the various personalities I’ve encountered while egg collecting.

1. The nonchalant hen. She could care less that you are all up in her business. She’ll even stand up to assist you in the egg collecting process.

2. The paranoid hen. As soon as your hand approaches the nest, she completely freaks out, and runs out of that box as fast as she can, flapping her wings all over the place. You just might get a wing to the face.

3. The broody hen. These are the hormonal ones who just want you to leave them alone so they can hatch a few chicks. They are not at all happy that you’re there. You might find your hand pecked to bits, and you might find yourself shouting obscenities to a barn full of squawking chickens.

4. The cannibal. I can never put my basket down because there are random hens that will follow me around trying to peck at the eggs in there. And in the event that I accidentally drop an egg on the ground, a bunch of the hens will run over like I just rang a dinner bell and go nuts over that broken egg. What the heck?

Cannibal?

Cannibal?

5. The drama queen. These ladies will scream bloody murder (really, it sounds like screaming) when you take their eggs. They won’t even peck at you, just scream a lot. Sometimes it even sounds like they’re screaming, “no, no, no!” Sorry, girls.

6. The inconsiderate hen. Sometimes I will find two birds in a nest box, which makes it difficult to get under them and get to the eggs. Sometimes I will find two birds in a nest box, and as I’m going to get the eggs, a third will climb in on top of them. And sometimes (OK, one time), I found a hen literally squatting on top of another, as it laid its egg… right on top of her. I find this hilarious.

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7. The hoarder. Enough said.Eggs

Alright, now that you know the girls, I will introduce you to some other quality animals on the farm. Meet Gabby and Trace, the best farm dogs ever.

Love them.

Love them.

Little Gabby likes belly rubs, and Trace likes to bark ferociously at strangers but is really a very sweet dog.

OK, back to my day. After collecting eggs and refilling water and feed for the chickens in both hen houses, we bring the eggs to the egg washing room where they will later be washed, sorted, and packed. We also refill the sheeps’ water. Here they are snacking on some nice alfalfa hay.

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sheep

“You guys, this is delicious.”

Sometimes Ric and I will save our vegetable and fruit scraps from home to bring to the pigs, and this happens:

Feeding Frenzy

Feeding Frenzy

Once you toss a bucket of scraps in, they all come running, jumping over one another, trying to get in on this feast and eat every last bit of food. It’s pretty funny.

Depending on the day we could be doing a few different things in the afternoon.. we might be washing and packaging eggs, preparing orders, bailing hay, stacking hay bales in the mow (the top of the barn), or more work in the gardens.

giant egg

Umm, I think a dinosaur laid this one?

Bailing hay

Bailing hay

Alright, this post has become exceedingly long, so I’ll cut it short here. I’ll leave you with some pictures of that beautiful sky I was talking about earlier. Please feel free to ask more questions about the farm in the comments!

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sky

First Harvest!

In early May we planted three gardens on the farm. I’ve never had a garden before, and it’s been amazing to watch our plots of dirt transform into lush, green spaces. We planted a variety of vegetables and fruit: potatoes, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, beets, onions, pumpkins, all kinds of squash, cucumber, strawberries, asparagus, watermelon, and honeydew…just to name a few. I’ve always wanted a garden and it’s been an awesome learning experience… Learning what each plant looks like as they first began to come up out of the ground; trying to differentiate between the tiny, new beet plants and the weeds that surrounded them; watching for certain kinds of bugs — some beneficial to the plants and some that are not good at all.

As the plants have continued to grow, I’ve been anxious for the first thing that we could pick or cut or pull up out of the ground and eat! This week I was able to cut garlic scapes, and pull up our first radishes! So exciting! Really, there is nothing like pulling a vegetable out of the ground and thinking, “I grew this!” I don’t know why more people don’t grow their own veggies.

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Well, you probably know what a radish is, but you might not be familiar with garlic scapes. I had no idea what they were until the other farm intern and his wife made us some garlic scape pesto recently. (So good!) The garlic scape looks like part of the stem on a garlic plant. It shoots up in between the leaves and you’ll know it’s ready to cut when it’s curling at the end. It’s actually beneficial to cut the scape off so that the garlic plant can use more energy to go toward growing the garlic bulb itself. And, bonus, you get to eat the delicious garlic scape! I wanted to try out my own pesto with the scapes, so I decided to use them all up, slather it on some bread, and top with thinly sliced radishes. Mmm, delish.

Here are a whole mess of garlic scapes in all their glory. Aren’t they pretty?DSC_0027 DSC_0029

This pesto was ridiculously easy to make. We whipped it up in just a few minutes. Along with the bread, radishes, and some white wine, we had ourselves a simple summer meal. You could also definitely serve this as a yummy appetizer.

Head to your local farmers market to try to hunt down some garlic scapes! They have them at our market now, so I’m hoping you’ll find some at yours. Looking for a farmers market? Check out this website to find one in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/

Garlic Scape Pesto (makes about 1 cup)
10-20 Garlic Scapes
Handful of fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Walnuts or whatever nut you’ve got on hand (almonds, pine nuts, etc)
Salt and Pepper (optional)

Chop up your scapes, leaving off the white pointy end. Toss them in a food processor along with your basil, about 1/3 cup of olive oil, 1/3 cup of cheese and a handful of walnuts. Blend for a bit, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides with a spatula.

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Add more oil and cheese if you like. Pesto is great because you really just add what you like until it’s the consistency and taste that you like. I added probably another 1/4 cup of oil to get it to a smoother consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Ta-da! Pesto, with bunny ears.

I slathered this deliciousness on some toasted bread and topped with sliced radish and a bit more cheese. I would have preferred to use a nice loaf of french bread or a baguette that had been toasted in the oven. That would have been amazing, but of course I didn’t have a baguette on hand so I just used some wheat bread that I had. Still delicious! Either way, this is a really simple meal with lots of fresh ingredients. Enjoy it.

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It’s been a while…

It has been over nine months since I’ve last written. If you’re a new subscriber you might be wondering why it’s been so dang long.

Please do excuse my long hiatus. My last post came shortly after I began a new job with the amazing hunger-relief organization Feed My Starving Children. For nine months I worked two jobs — during the week I worked in the marketing & communications office of a university, and I spent most weekends traveling around the country for FMSC. As you may be able to imagine, it has been a busy year. From September to May I didn’t have much time off, and Ric and I were on somewhat opposite schedules, so what little time we had together we spent together. In the process, my blog got left behind.

In May I left my job at the university to work on a farm. Yup, I’m a farmer… sort of. Back in February Ric had the crazy idea to apply to be interns on a small family farm that we had purchased eggs and some meat from in the past. We both thought it would be a really great experience. So we applied, thinking it was a total long shot, but in the end we actually got it! So for the past month I have been working on a small, diversified, family farm that raises antibiotic-free, hormone-free, pasture-raised animals.

I’ve been torn about continuing the blog under the guise of “Not Quite Vegan,” because I have to confess that I am nowhere near vegan at the moment. In fact, my meat consumption has gone up about 500% since working on the farm. You may remember my confessional post about eating bacon last summer. In it I explained why I would occasionally eat meat if it was from a local farmer and I knew it was raised without any of the bad stuff.

Well, now I have gone from eating meat maybe once every one or two months, to eating meat five days a week.

So, dear readers, do I start a new blog? Do I continue this one with a new title?

What I would like to write about is my love of food — natural foods; food from the earth that still has dirt on it; meat raised by local farmers in a humane and healthy way. I love food, and I think working on the farm has given me a new perspective on food. I am passionate about the local food movement, and trying to move away from the processed junk that seems to consume so many Americans’ diets (myself included sometimes!). What I would like to write about is what to do with the food you might find at a farmers market, for instance, and how you can prepare that food. I think a lot of people who have been in the habit of eating a diet consisting largely of processed items might have a hard time figuring out how to make the shift to whole foods. I have had people tell me that they just don’t know what to do with some of the vegetables they find at the farmers market. I totally understand, and I’ve been there myself. It takes work and it takes a sense of adventure and a willingness to try new things, make mistakes, and get your hands dirty.

So, my diet may have changed, the title of this blog may change, my reader audience may change, but in the end it’s all about what I love: food. Because of my love affair with food, I want to continue to share my recipes and thoughts with you, just maybe in a new way.

Please comment and let me know what you think! I will be brainstorming a new title for the blog and new posts! In the meantime, here are some pictures of the farm.

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Zucchini and Pesto Pita Pizza

This is one of those throw-together-whatever’s-in-the-fridge type of recipes that turned out  to be really tasty!

I am a huge fan of pizza, but after joining weight watchers and realizing how many dang points a slice of pizza is, I try to find creative ways to still get my pizza fix without all the points (the bulk of which come from the dough, FYI. Boooo).

Here is one such way: using a whole-wheat pita in place of dough.

I didn’t have any pizza sauce, but had a ton of basil so I decided to make my own pesto. If you’ve got a food processor, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and nuts (walnuts or pine nuts) you’re in business. Pesto is really easy to make. The only annoying thing, of course, is cleaning up the food processor after.

Homemade Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine basil and nuts in food processor; pulse a few times to mix. Add garlic, pulse a few more times. Add olive oil while food processor is running. Add the cheese if you want it, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stop and scrape down the sides of the food processor, and pulse a couple more times. Voila! This makes about a cup of pesto, which will keep for a week or two in the fridge. You can also freeze it if you want to keep it for longer!

In addition to the delicious fresh basil, I had ground cherries and zucchini from the farmers market! I had never heard of ground cherries before, have you? Here’s what they look like. Kinda like baby tomatillos. They actually are in the tomatillo/tomato family. You just pop them out of their little husk and eat them. Now, I am not a fan of eating straight up tomatoes, even cherry tomatoes. But these are sweet enough that I really enjoyed them. So yummy just to snack on. They would be a really good addition to homemade salsa, too.

For my little “pizza” I used pesto, baked zucchini, ground cherries, goat cheese, and mozzarella cheese. So good. This was just what I had, though. Feel free to use whatever you’ve got. It would be great with mushrooms, regular tomato, spinach, broccoli, squash, whatever. Also, if you want to cut down on points/calories, you could use tomato sauce instead of pesto.

Pita Pizza (serves 2)
1 whole-wheat pita, divided (cut all the way around the edge so you end up with 2 circles)
1/2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
Pesto
Olive oil
Ground cherries
1 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (part-skim)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Slice up some zucchini and toss with just a little bit of olive oil (1 or 2 tsp). Season with salt and pepper. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake at 350° for about 10 minutes. (Just until they are softened up.)

Pop your pitas in the toaster oven, and toast halfway. You’re going to put it back in the toaster oven (or in the real oven) to melt the cheese once you’ve added your toppings, so you don’t want it completely toasted yet.

Spread each pita with pesto (about 1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp per pita). Top with zucchini slices, ground cherries, goat cheese, and just a little bit of shredded mozzarella. Put it back in the toaster oven to melt your cheese, and serve right away!

1 serving = about 9 PointsPlus

One-Year Blogiversary!

Happy Birthday/Blogiversary to my blog! One year ago today I did my first blog post, about a food I don’t even like (beets, blech), and with a picture that was horrible. What was I thinking? Good question. Since then, I have only posted foods that I love and have (hopefully) gotten a little better with the camera.

In honor of one year, I have a delicious fall treat for you: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars! So good. Of course, I found them on Pinterest (original recipe here). I was thinking they would be more like a cookie bar, but they turned out much more cake-y. Still, they were moist (sorry, but they were), flavorful, and delicious!


Seriously Yum

Best of all, I had pureed pumpkin in my freezer from a pumpkin I roasted last fall, and I finally got to use it up. OK, on second thought, maybe that’s not best of all. Best of all was savoring these delicious chocolate-y pumpkin-y bars.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars
2 cups flour (I like to use white-whole-wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp coarse salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar (I used roughly half white sugar and half brown sugar)
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
12 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 13×9 pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang over the handles. This is what the original recipe’s instructions call for, but I’m sure you could also just grease the pan and that would be fine.

Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat in the pumpkin puree. It’s going to look curdled, but don’t worry about it.

Now add the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread your batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (or use a knife because you never have toothpicks).

Cool completely in the pan. If you’ve used aluminum foil, once they are cool, you can use that to help lift them out of the pan. Otherwise just cut them into 18 squares. One square = 9 PointsPlus. (I know, I know. Eat it anyway. What else are those extra points in the week for?)

Put these out on your table when you have friends over, and they will not live to see tomorrow. The bars, that is. Not your friends. Although, I could see why you would want to kill your friends if they ate all of them.

Now, what are you going to do with that leftover pumpkin puree? I had half a cup left over, but if you use canned pumpkin for your bars, you’ll probably have about a cup left. This morning I had the brilliant idea to mix it into my oatmeal! I don’t have an exact recipe, per se, just some rough guidelines. But it was really good.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Oatmeal, prepared for two or four
Apple Cider (optional)
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Brown Sugar
Almond Milk
Pumpkin puree

Prepare your oatmeal as usual. When it’s almost done, turn the heat down to low. Mix in 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (for two. If you want oatmeal for four, add 1 cup of pumpkin). Mix in about a tablespoon of apple cider, a few good sprinkles of pumpkin pie spice, a few tablespoons of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of almond milk. (My favorite almond milk flavor is unsweetened vanilla.) Obviously, taste and add more of anything if necessary. Even though cinnamon is part of the pumpkin pie spice, I added a little more cinnamon on top of that.

Enjoy with a glass of apple cider. Yay fall!

Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers

Ever made your own veggie burgers? We had always bought pre-made until we found this recipe last summer. Now this is our go-to burger. It’s really flavorful, packed with sweet potato, black beans, and spices. Even our meat-eating friends loved them! And for you vegan and/or gluten-free people, this burger is safe. Original recipe here.

If you think making your own veggie burger is going to be complicated, don’t worry. This recipe is really easy. The prep work is a little bit time consuming, but nothing too crazy.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers (Makes 6-8 burgers)

  • 15 oz black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 c cubed sweet potatoes (skin on)
  • 1/2 c frozen or fresh corn
  • 2/3 c finely chopped onion (1/2 medium onion)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/2 c cooked quinoa
  • 6 Tbsp rolled oats, partially ground (we use our coffee grinder to grind them)
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Before doing anything else, you’ll want to cook your quinoa, and steam your cubed potatoes. For the quinoa, just follow the directions on the box. To cook the potatoes, I usually put them in the microwave sprinkled with a tiny bit of water and microwave for 5+ minutes, until tender.

Preheat the oven to 375° when you’re done cooking your quinoa and potato.

Wondering what quinoa is? First things first, it’s pronounced keen-wa, and it is really good for you! It is a great source of protein, and contains all 8 essential amino acids (I don’t really know what that means, but it’s probably good). You should be able to find it in any grocery store. Try it as a substitute for rice in any recipe; you can also substitute it for the pasta in my pasta salad.

Back to the recipe!
1. After you’ve rinsed and drained your beans, mash half of them in a bowl until it is paste-like. After they are good and mashed, add in the rest of the beans, and very lightly stir/mash just until combined. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mash your cooked sweet potatoes, but leave it a little bit chunky. While each cube should be mashed, you don’t want the creamy texture of mashed potatoes.
3. Stir in the salt, pepper, oregano, coriander, chili powder, cayenne (if using) and olive oil, until combined.
4. Mix in the onion, garlic, corn, black beans, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and ground oats, until just combined. Feel free to taste at this point and add more spices if you think it needs more kick.

Using your hands, form the mixture into balls and flatten into patties, between 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick. We usually make 6 patties, but you can make up to 8.

Place the patties on a pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the burgers halfway through.

We usually serve on a bun with pepper jack cheese and ketchup. It’s also good with avocado and/or roasted red peppers!

If you make 6 patties, each burger (without bun & toppings) is 4 PointsPlus. If you make 8 patties, each burger is 3 PointsPlus.

Black Bean, Pineapple & Avocado Salad

I’ve been obsessed with black beans and pineapple lately. In the past couple of weeks we have had friends over a couple times, and both times I have made a delicious pineapple & black bean guacamole. Unfortunately I haven’t taken pictures either time, but I will make it again and get it on the blog soon! Another great pinterest find.

Since I found that recipe, I have been putting pineapple and black beans together more often. Since Ric is at work it’s just me for lunch today. I wanted something easy, so this is what I came up with. I don’t usually make a lot of salads, mainly because I think a really great salad has a lot of ingredients that I don’t usually have in the house or am too lazy to prepare. I love going to salad bars and having all kinds of things already chopped up and laid out before me. Those salads, I love. But the thought of doing all that prep work myself — bleh. No, thanks.

Fortunately this salad was easy to throw together, and I had everything I needed. It made for a big salad that filled me up. Exactly what I needed after splurging on pancakes for breakfast.

Black Bean, Pineapple, and Avocado Salad (1 Serving)
1/4 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 medium avocado, chopped
1/4 – 1/2 cup pineapple, chopped (put in as much as you want!)
1/4 cup salsa
1 Tbsp shredded cheese of your choice
Lettuce
A squeeze of lime juice
Dash of cumin

Toss everything together, and you’re done! What could be easier?

On another note, for anyone doing Weight Watchers, I have been doing it online for the past couple of months and it works great for me. I’ve found that I really need structure in all areas of my life — meals included. WW helps give me that structure, keep track of my eating, and make much healthier choices. All of that to say, I will now try to include the WW points plus value to my recipes. This filling salad is only 4 points! Hurrah!

I enjoyed mine with some fresh pineapple and watermelon.