Autistic Chef Ava Marie Teaches East Bay Kids

Autistic Chef Ava Marie Teaches East Bay Kids how to make her Cranberry Pumpkin Loaf recipe



Chef Ava Marie, the Autistic Chef  and Owner of Autism Cooks food blog, recently spent the day with me sharing her passion for cooking with a group of East Bay High School students. The students are enrolled in a transitional program for kids with special needs. I had the awesome honor of being her sous chef for the class of 25 students while she taught them how to cook her scrumptious Holiday Cranberry Pumpkin Loaf recipe. 

I met Ava Marie Romero at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. She was a member of the audience during my cooking demo “Making Heirloom Jams with Garden Petals.” After my demo, she told me that she too was a cooking instructor and worked for the South San Francisco School District nutrition services and also taught cooking classes at the South San Francisco Library and Burlingame Recreation Center. She is also a food competitor entering online contests and the winner of countless State Fair prizes and ribbons for her baked and canned goods. I love how food draws us together and feel blessed that we have been friends ever since. 

Rebecka Evans and Ava Marie Romero

I was blown away by Ava’s poise and professionalism as she shared her personal journey as a young adult with autism, fueled with a passion for a career in cooking. As a person born with autism, Ava has meet adversity head on in her life, but she has never let it deter her from her goals. To know that Ava put her mind to her dream and made it a reality is pure joy! 

Cranberry Pumpkin Loaf, made by Chef Ave Marie

The Cranberry Pumpkin Loaf made by Ave Marie was a big hit with the students and staff. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as we did! PLEASE stop by and follow the Autistic Chef Ava Marie on Facebook. You can find more of her delicious recipes on Autism Cooks

Chef Ava Marie is my friend and my inspiration! 

Chef Ava Marie


Cranberry Pumpkin Loaf
Yields 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
  1. 3 eggs
  2. 2 cups sugar
  3. 3/4 cups applesauce
  4. 1 1/2 cups pure pumpkin puree
  5. 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  6. 1 1/2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
  7. 1 1/2 baking soda
  8. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  9. 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
  1. In a large bowl mix sugar, applesauce, and canned pumpkin (the wet) with wooden spoon until well combined
  2. In another bowl mix flour, pumpkin spice, baking soda, and salt and mix to combine
  3. Gradually stir flour mixture into the wet pumpkin mixture in small batches until well incorporated.
  4. Fold in the dried cranberries
  5. Pour batter into 2 greased loaf pans bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 - 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
At Home with Rebecka
Chef Ava Marie

Chef Ava Marie

Chef Ava Marie

Garlic Infused Prime Rib Roast with Red Wine Gravy – Keeping up Holiday Traditions

Prime rib roast is an elegant, succulent roast to serve for the holidays.

Christmas Prime Rib Roast

Christmas Rib Roast

Smothered in garlic and cooked to perfection; Christmas dinner is not complete without my perfectly cooked Prime Rib Roast.

The Christmas sideboard includes other family favorite recipes: Homemade cranberry sauce, creamed onions, green bean casserole, sour cream mashed potatoes, spinach-artichoke bake, and baked sweet potatoes, just to name a few. Of course, we can’t forget about the pies for dessert!

What are you cooking this Holiday Season? 

If you don’t have a menu plan yet, this prime rib roast recipe would be a wonderful choice!

Garlic Infused Prime Rib Roast with Red Wine Gravy
Serves 16
Simply ingredients prove to be the best when cooking a rib roast.
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Prep Time
15 min
Total Time
3 hr 35 min
Prep Time
15 min
Total Time
3 hr 35 min
  1. Prime Rib Roast
  2. 1 16-20 pound bone in prime rib roast
  3. 5 large heads peeled, and grated garlic
  4. 1/4 cup coarse ground sea salt plus a few pinches for veggies
  5. 1 tablespoon fresh grated pepper
  6. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  7. Aromatics: 1 large onion, 3 large carrots, 4 stalks celery, 2 bay leaves, 1 cup water or beef bouillon.
  1. Pat dry a room temperature rib roast using paper towels or a clean cloth
  2. pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
  3. place a large wire roasting rack into large roasting pan
  4. roughly chop all aromatics and toss into the bottom of the roaster, add fresh ground pepper to taste, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil
  5. In a small mixing bowl, combine garlic, 1/4 cup sea salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Combine to create a thick paste
  6. Cover entire rib roast with garlic rub, massaging firmly
  7. Place meat on roasting rack, loosely cover with aluminum foil
  8. cook in 450 degree oven for 35 minutes, do not open the oven door but reduce heat to 400 degrees and continue cooking until internal meat thermometer reaches 140-145 degrees. About 3 hours
  9. Remove tin foil 20 minutes before serving, test for doneness. If desired temperature is acceptable, remove roast from oven and loosely cover with previously used tin foil and then cover foil with a clean dish towel
  10. allowing roast to stand for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before serving,
  11. The result, perfectly cooked, rare center roast and medium rare ends
Prime Rib Red Wine Gravy
  1. Remove aromatic solids from the roasting pan and discard, reserving pan juices. Combine 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1 cup red wine. in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake mixture until well blended. Place the pan on the stove top covering the back and front burners, heat both burners to medium. Deglaze the pan with the wine flour mixture, making sure to scrap all the browned bits to collect all the rich flavor. Add more wine or beef stock if gravy is too thick, salt and pepper to taste, serve with roast and mashed potatoes!
  1. My family prefers medium to medium well roasts, so I generally add 10 minutes to the cooking time after the meat thermometer reaches 145 degrees, producing a hot pink center (for me and my husband) and a juicy medium to medium well for the rest o the family. My dad takes the burnt ends!
At Home with Rebecka
Prime Rib Roast of Beef

Chocolate Mint Cookies – Make Ahead Freezer Cookies {Creative Cookie Exchange}

 Chocolate mint cookies are thick and chewy cookies, packed with chocolate mint flavor! This easy make ahead freezer cookies recipe for chocolate mint cookies makes the perfect addition to a holiday cookie platter. Great for cookie exchanges, too!

Chocolate Mint Cookies

It’s time for the next installment of the Creative Cookie Exchange hosted by The Spiced Life and At Home with Rebecka.

This months theme: Make Ahead Freezer Cookies!

I love the idea of making a batch of freezer cookies to bake fresh another day especially, during the holiday season.

These make ahead chocolate mint cookies are the perfect addition to any holiday cookie platter!

Make Ahead Chocolate Mint Freezer Cookies
Yields 4
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  1. 1 tablespoon vinegar
  2. 1/4 cup milk
  3. 1 1/2 cups sugar
  4. 1/2 cup shortening (I used butter)
  5. 1 egg
  6. 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  7. 2 cups sifted flour
  8. 1/2 cup powdered cocoa
  9. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  10. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Add vinegar to milk, set aside
  2. Thoroughly cream shortening and sugar
  3. Add egg, extract, and soured milk to mixture and combine
  4. Sift together flour, cocoa, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture, blend until well combined
  5. Shape dough into roll, about 2 inch in diameter,
  6. Wrap dough in waxed paper, freeze for up to 3 weeks or chill for 4-6 hours
  7. Slice dough into thin cookies and place on ungreased cookie sheet
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes
  1. The cookie flavor was superb but a bit too thick for a wafer type cookie. Slice dough less than 1/4 inch thick, and slightly flatten with a rolling pin. I used butter which made the dough too wet, I had to add about 2 tablespoons flour; it's best to use shortening
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cocoa-Mint Wafers
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cocoa-Mint Wafers
At Home with Rebecka

Chocolate Mint Cookies


 To join in the fun, just complete the steps below:

 1. Write a blog post with recipe and original photo. The theme this month is make ahead freezer cookies for the holidays. The post should describe how to freeze the dough and also how to bake the dough when you are ready. We would like the recipe to be one you’re making for the first time, and photos must be original.

2. Post the Cookie Exchange badge somewhere on your blog so others can join in the fun:

Creative Cookie Exchange

3. Make a good faith effort to visit and comment on the other cookies in the Linky party. We all love cookies so that should be easy!

4. LIKE the Creative Cookie Exchange Facebook Page

 5. FOLLOW the Creative Cookie Exchange Pinterest Board:

 6. LINK your blog post below using the Linky tool

 You can also just use us as a great resource for cookie recipes–be sure to check out our Facebook page, our Pinterest Board, and our monthly posts. You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! Also, if you are looking for inspiration for this month’s theme, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made so far:


Pumpkin Cranberry Cookie Drops from KarenTrina Childress

Espresso Pinwheel Cookies from A Baker’s House

Cherry Pistachio Ice Box Cookies from Noshing With The Nolands

Chai Spice Girls from All That’s Left Are The Crumbs

Scottish Shortbread from Made With Love

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies from Food Lust People Love

Chocolate Mint Cookies from At Home With Rebecka

Neapolitan Striped Crisps from Karen’s Kitchen Stories

Coffee? Tea? from Ninja Baking

 Christmas Linzer Cookies from It’s Yummi!

Chewy Pumpkin Ginger Cookies from If I Ever Owned A Bakery

Best Ever Sugar Cookies from Liv Life


Salted Dark Chocolate Crisps from The Spiced Life


A link will be included below the list that will allow you to get the code for this list and put it on your blog. By doing this, the same list appears on every blog that includes the code so that people can “hop” from blog to blog. As other link up, their recipes will appear on your posts linky.


This easy make ahead freezer cookies recipe for chocolate mint cookies is the perfect addition to a holiday cookie platter. Great for cookie exchanges, too!


Handcrafted Coffee Creamers ~ Dairy, Gluten Free or the Whole Nine Yards

Handcrafted coffee creamers are a healthier option to store bought creamers, Homemade coffee creamers are preservative free, have no corn syrup, and are lower in fat and calories. Using this coffee creamer recipe allows you to make gluten free and dairy free coffee creamers, too!

Three versions of the same recipe can be altered to be sugar free

Vanilla Bean Coffee Creamer made with Almond, Coconut and Cows Milk

Do you take your coffee, black, with cream, flavored? I can never decide which I like better, so I go through phases, alternating taking my coffee black then flip my taste buds 360 degrees, and consume copious amounts of store-bought coffee creamers, half and half, and heavy cream. I call these days, my “winter fattening” phase! The truth, I really like handcrafted coffee creamers and drink them year round, despite my better judgement.

I fall prey to seasonal flavors each time I pass the dairy section of my grocer! As my creamer consumption reaches peak performance over the holidays, I decided to read the back of the container this week; a whopping forty-five (45) calories per tablespoon and little to no “cream” in, creamer!

Water, sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, less than 2% of natural and artificial flavors, sodium caseinate, (a milk derivative), mono – and diglycerides, dipotassium phosphate, and carregeenan; these are the star performers of store bought coffee creamers. 

The Webster dictionary defines Creamer as a “non-dairy substitute for cream, and with less than 2% of natural and artificial flavors, and only a milk derivative”,  the definition is right on point. How can coffee creamer taste so darn good but have absolutely no nutritional value? Sometimes, ignorance is bliss! 

As a matter of course, I decided to whip up my own, handcrafted coffee creamers. 

Forgoing high fructose corn syrup for my handcrafted coffee creamers, I chose to use organic sugar in them.

Maple syrup is a fine alternative if you prefer another option. For sugar-free, dairy and gluten-free coffee creamers, substitute almond, soy, rice or coconut milk for cow’s milk, and Stevia or Splenda sweetener for sugar. Simple to make at home and delicious, the handcrafted coffee creamers are a hit! 

Rich and creamy, they are all delicious and can be flavored just about any which way you like!!  My favorite for Thanksgiving, Pumpkin Spice made with real cream!

Vanilla Bean Coffee Creamer - Dairy, Gluten Free or the Whole Nine Yards
Yields 2
This recipe utilizes almond, coconut and cow's milk to create three distinctly flavored coffee creamers: Creamy Vanilla Bean made with Cow's milk, Almond Vanilla Bean made with Almond milk, and Coconut Almond Cream made with coconut milk
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For Almond Vanilla Bean
  1. 2 cups almond milk
  2. 1/4 cup raw sugar
  3. 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed and added to mix
  4. 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  5. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Creamy Vanilla Bean
  1. 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 1/4 cup raw sugar
  4. 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed
  5. 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  6. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Coconut Almond Cream
  1. 2 cups coconut milk
  2. 1/4 cup raw sugar
  3. 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed
  4. 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  5. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Whisk almond milk, sugar, vanilla seeds and pods together in a medium saucepan
  2. Cook until milk begins to steam, remove from heat
  3. add extracts, whisk to combine
  4. Remove vanilla pods and discard
  5. Refrigerate in a glass jar with tight fitting lid for up to 10 days
  1. Creamer can also be made with rice or soy milk. Splenda, or Stevia can be substituted for the sugar
  1. Spiked creamer, add Bailey's Irish Cream or Kahlua
  2. Chocolate mint creamer add, 2 tablespoons powdered cocoa, 1 teaspoon peppermint extract and Creme de Menthe
At Home with Rebecka

These recipes for Handcrafted Coffee Creamers are gluten free and dairy free. Homemade coffee creamer has NO corn syrup and is lower in fat and calories.

Handcrafted Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer

Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer with Dairy Free and Gluten Free Options
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  1. 1 cup whole milk
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 3 tablespoons can pumpkin
  4. 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  5. 1/4 cup raw sugar
  6. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Whisk milk, sugar, pumpkin, and spice in a medium saucepan
  2. Cook over medium heat until milk begins to steam, remove from heat
  3. Add vanilla, whisk to combine
  4. Refrigerate in a glass jar with tight fitting lid for up to 10 days
  1. Creamer can also be made with rice or soy milk. Splenda, or Stevia can be substituted for the sugar
At Home with Rebecka

Vanilla Bean Seeds

These recipes for Handcrafted Coffee Creamers are gluten free and dairy free. Homemade coffee creamer has NO corn syrup and is lower in fat and calories.

Vanilla Bean Coffee Creamer made with Almond, Coconut and Cows Milk

Christmas Prime Rib Roast with Red Wine Gravy and a Sad Christmas Tale!


It’s already well past the first weeks of the New Year and I’m finally posting my Christmas Rib Roast Recipe! Unfortunately, the week before Christmas was fraught with frustration and angst, putting me way behind on publishing my holiday blog posts.

The reason for the frustration and angst, a down right nasty Christmas “Humbug” moment!  My husband’s car was stolen December 21, 2012 right from our garage, while we were home, at dinner time!  We were home with our two youngest children, and enjoying some quality time with our grand daughters, while our oldest son and his wife were out Christmas shopping.

Without wavering and just like any other evening, my husband Blake, parked in the garage when he arrived home from work, leaving his keys in the console.  As a general rule, he closes the garage door but on this particular evening, he left it open with the intent to take our teenage son Chris, to a holiday party right after dinner, and to allow easy entry for our son Zach and his wife Emily, after shopping.

We ate dinner at 6:00 PM, Chris took the trash out at 6:30 PM.   We know the car was in the garage at 6:30 PM because Chris had to walk around it to get the garbage cans.  Zach and Emily walked in the garage door which leads directly into the kitchen, exactly at 7:30 PM.

With a quizzical look, Zach asked where the TSX was parked and why it wasn’t in the garage.  Blake shot back a scowl, and told Zach in no uncertain terms, making a joke about his car not being in the garage wasn’t funny, at all!  I felt my heart sink.

You can’t really prepare yourself for a moment like this!   At first, shock washes over you, then disbelief and finally, you just get really pissed off!  The realization that a brazen thief had walked into our garage, knowing full well we were home, slipped the keys into the ignition and drove away with our vehicle, sucks! This kind of brazen behavior really takes a lot of balls!!

I called 911 and the police were at our home in less than five minutes.  We filed a report with the officer as he detailed the most recent car thefts in our area.  He explained that our county had seen six Acura and Honda vehicles stolen from garages exactly like ours, in the past few weeks.  He elaborated with details about Denver gangs targeting affluent bedroom communities and about two specific car thefts ending in high-speed chases, and in gun fire. The first thought that crossed my mind as he elaborated was, “why the hell didn’t someone tell us that this had been going on?”  Media are supposed to cover stories like this, to warn stupid citizens like me.  I would have been all over the family to close the garage door, put the keys inside the house and watch the streets for unsavory sorts, possibly, averting the “would be” thieves!

The next realization, is that the thief has my house keys, garage door opener and any personal items we left in the car.  Immediately, momma and papa bear instinct takes over. The first course of action, Blake changes the garage door code, it’s too late in the evening to have the door locks rekeyed so he props a chair against the front door and loads his revolver. I run through the house checking, locking and re-checking all the doors and windows.  If the thief had returned to our home with ill intentions, I can guarantee he would NOT have left the house moving. I can’t speak for anyone but myself and immediate family when I say, that I would not hesitate to put someone “down” if they entered my home under this kind of circumstance.   When the threat of home invasion, or thought of persons unknown, entering my private residence with intention to do harm to my family, I’m deftly aware of my willingness to protect them at all costs!  Maybe I’m wired differently than most people but I truly believe that if the circumstances were similar, any parent, mother, father, cousin or friend, would do all they could to save and protect.  As a victim of crime, even as menial as a car being stolen from our home, I’m aware that my consciousness was changed in an instant.  My primal human nature to keep and protect, trumps all!

On a side note, our 2004 Pearl White, Acura TSX was a beauty, and in perfect condition.  We’d just spent several hundred dollars on new tires, replacing old parts, adding new breaks and maintenance.  The car was in top running condition. BALLS!

The Good News:

1. No one was hurt!  My son could have easily walked into the garage just as the thief was backing out!  Or, the thief could have had intentions on stealing more than just our car.  If I let my mind go there, the possible scenarios get really ugly.

2.  Neither my husband or myself had to shoot a home intruder. As much as I know our collective capabilities to protect the family, shooting a person is not on my bucket list!

3. My awareness of our personal surroundings is heightened.  My diligence for home and family safely has grown exponentially.

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t leave you keys in the car, ever!

2. Close the garage door, immediately!


Christmas went on without any further drama and a blessed time was shared by all!  I thank God for His protection!

And finally, the Christmas Roast!

Prime Rib Red Wine Gravy: Remove aromatic solids from the roasting pan and discard, reserving pan juices. Combine 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1 cup red wine. in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake mixture until well blended. Place the pan on the stove top covering the back and front burners, heat both burners to medium.  Deglaze the pan with the wine flour mixture, making sure to scrap all the browned bits to collect all the rich flavor.  Add more wine or beef stock if gravy is too thick, salt and pepper to taste, serve with roast and mashed potatoes!



Traditional Boiled Egg Custard, Gone Wrong! Saving a failed recipe

egg custard in cup1

Nothing says the Holidays like a traditional egg custard.  This year I decided to use a new recipe from one of my favorite cook books, Fannie Flags Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook. I’ve always had good luck with her recipes and couldn’t wait to taste the dreamy, delicious dessert.

The barometric pressure must have been wacky that day because this batch was a bust.  I cooked the custard the right amount of time and tested the consistency; it was perfect.  I didn’t forget to add the tablespoon of flour and I refrigerated the custard for 24 hours.  Sadly, the custard never set up!

I generally just dump a failed recipe into the trash but the flavor of the custard was so delicious I didn’t have the heart to toss it out.  In the attempt to save the dish I pulled out a tart pan, added a baked pie crust and emptied half of the failed custard into the shell.  The remaining custard went into ramekins.  I re-baked the tart for 35 minutes at 350 degrees and promptly burned the top!!  Ugh!  Thank goodness, the ramekins fared better with a shorter baking time (about 20 minutes).

Still, unwilling to lose the battle with the tart, I scrapped off the burned top, sprinkled powdered sugar over the pie and ta-dah, recipe saved!

Stay tuned for my mom’s delicious custard pie recipe! I’ll try not to mess that one up! 

burned pie

Egg Custard Pie Recipe by Fannie Flagg

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

3 eggs, beaten

1 12-ounce can evaporated milk

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


bake pastry shell 400 degrees F. for 5 minutes. Leave oven on. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix well with wire whisk. Pour into pie shell and bake 400 F. For 10 minutes; reduce heat to 325 F. And bake 25-30 min. longer. Let cool at room temperature before serving. Store in refrigerator. Yields one 9-inch pie. 


egg custard tart