Spooky Swirl Brownies: A Paleo Halloween Recipe

Spooky Swirl Brownies - Paleo Halloween Recipe | Jaybird Blog

One of my favorite things about cooking and baking is the opportunity to experiment. I try all kinds of recipes, usually starting with one I find on a blog or in a book, but I never follow them to the letter. Over the years, I’ve learned what spices I like and what ingredients complement each other, and I usually have a few personal touches to add to even the most meticulously-tested recipe. Every time I bake, I see it as a chance to try something a little different–I don’t even faithfully follow my own recipes.

Case in point: these Spooky Swirl Brownies, a new paleo Halloween recipe.

With Halloween coming up in less than two weeks, I wanted to bake a paleo dessert with the charm of my favorite Halloween candies: bright red Fireballs, neon green sour straws, and other colorful junk food. When I saw purple sweet potatoes pop up at my grocery store (something that magically happens once every few months), it was time for a new experiment.

In the past, I’ve made many batches of Pumpkin Swirl Brownies and Sweet Potato Brownies, and I’ve used purple sweet potatoes to make these Purple Sweet Potato Muffins. I wanted to try something different without straying too far from brownies, a dessert that always gets raves no matter what diet the person eating follows, and so I stuck pretty close to my pumpkin swirl brownie recipe. The purple sweet potato is denser than its orange relative, so the batter is thicker and the resulting brownies are fudgier…a trade-off I’m happy to make.

While all the adults who tried one of these brownies enjoyed them, I think these would be most fun to make with kids. What better way to convince them that vegetables can be fun to eat than to make bright purple goo and turn it into a dessert? The recipe has some kid-friendly tasks like spreading batter layers and swirling; just make sure an adult is the one to use the oven and the food processor!

Where to Find Purple Sweet Potatoes & Puree

I got this question when I posted the purple sweet potato muffins, too. As I mentioned, I find them every few months at Mariano’s, a grocery chain in the Chicago area. I’ve also found them at Joong Boo, a Asian market in Chicago, and readers have suggested looking at ethnic grocery stores in whatever city you live in. If you have suggestions for other national chains that might stock them, please leave them in the comments to help others out!

You can make purple sweet potato puree at home by baking medium purple sweet potatoes potatoes directly on an oven rack at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork. I put a sheet of foil on the rack below to catch any sugary drips while baking. Let baked potatoes cool, then remove baked potato from skin and process on high in a food processor until smooth.

Spooky Swirl Brownies - Paleo Halloween Recipe | Jaybird Blog


Spooky Swirl Brownies: A Paleo Halloween Recipe


  • 1 cup purple sweet potato puree (homemade or canned)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • heaping 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, divided (Enjoy Life is a paleo + GF brand)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 9x9" baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Stir in dry ingredients except cocoa powder and chocolate chips.

Scoop half the batter into a second bowl and stir in cocoa powder. Fold 1/4 cup miniature chocolate chips into the batter in each bowl.

Starting with the cocoa batter, pour batter into baking dish and smooth into an even layer. The cocoa batter in particular will be very thick and may be hard to spread--be patient and accept that it may not be perfectly even. Follow with a layer of purple batter, then repeat. Use a knife or chopstick and drag through the batter at varying heights to create a pattern and swirls under the surface. Some blending is okay but avoid over-mixing in order to have two distinct colored layers.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the brownies comes out clean. Cool in pan for 2 minutes, then lift using parchment paper and cool on a rack.


What’s your favorite Halloween treat, paleo or not? Have you ever baked with purple sweet potatoes? 

P.S. I’d say the second picture is actually a truer reflection of the puree’s color than the first. The light was better when the second photo was taken, and the purple color also becomes less bright when mixed with other brownie ingredients and baked again. The top crust of the brownies remains purple but in some areas begins to turn orange where it is baked–the same way a chocolate chip cookie turns golden brown as it bakes.

The Keeper of Frivolous Memories

The Keeper of Frivolous Memories

He was teasing when he said it. I was taking a picture of our beer flight for Instagram.

“Alicia Johnston, slayer of beers! Cuddler of puppies! Keeper of frivolous memories!”

I didn’t respond for a split second, and he immediately apologized. (And for the record, it was light tasting, not slaying.)

“They aren’t frivolous; I know it makes you happy. I’m just joking.”

My boyfriend watches me take pictures any time we’re out together. I try to put my phone away at the table, but most anything else is fair game: a picnic spread during an outdoor concert, a mural as we walk towards the L, the sign as we drive into Indiana, an absurdly garnished burger (okay, sometimes I break my phone out at the table).

Keeper of Frivolous Memories. I wasn’t offended, but I was lost in thought. I liked the title, though there was a slight tug of judgment. His statement made me think about everything I’ve documented in the past year: pictures on Instagram, life events on my blog, articles I’ve liked on Twitter, silly remarks on Facebook. They are often frivolous. So why have I found so much joy in sharing them?

On Instagram in particular, I primarily post pictures of objects. A notebook splayed open and surrounded by colorful pens. A simply arranged bouquet of flowers.  A letter-pressed card. For the most part, each image is subtly posed.

Each object in these pictures holds only a vague meaning for me. After all, I am pretty enamored of my planner, and I start every single day with coffee (latte art optional), but if these things were taken from my life, I wouldn’t be devastated. If every image were wiped tomorrow, I’d be able to shrug and let it go.

What’s significant about Instagram, and about my frivolous memory-keeping, isn’t the subjects of my pictures. What’s valuable to me is the chance to focus in on the highlights of life. Some people use a gratitude journal, some say a daily prayer of thanks. I offer up an image instead.

Gorgeous weather on a picnic? I’m grateful for the laughter of my friends, the richness of brie, and this quilted blanket in the grass.

New apartment? I’m grateful for the opportunities these empty rooms will offer.

Rough day? I’m grateful for the martini my roommate shook up for me.

Sharing pictures on social media lets me linger a little longer in a sweet moment. Any time I look at my feed, or I get a notification of a like or comment, that moment comes back to me. It pops up and reminds me to focus on the positive. It prolongs the enjoyment of an experience, whether it’s a slowly sipped coffee on my porch or a trip across the country.

It’s less common that I publicly share pictures of the people in my life, but those are the pictures I care most about. I hesitate before posting them, and much of the time, I don’t share them on a feed that’s open to anyone. Those are the snapshots printed out and displayed in a frame, the ones I pull out of an album when I need a smile. They are taken to document moments that are anything but frivolous. My finger on the shutter simply says, “I want to remember this moment.” I do it in a different way.

With pictures of my loved ones, I don’t need extra space on an electronic device, or repeated notifications from a feed. I just need to spend a moment framing that experience, thinking about why I find it meaningful. In those moments, with people to share my memories, the act of taking the picture is often enough. Sometimes, sharing feels right, so I do.

And so, wearing my new title with pride, my manifesto goes like this:

I’ll savor the small moments, as long as capturing does not interfere with enjoying. I’ll keep sharing my gratitude in snapshots, and taking freeze-frames of my heart’s strongest beats. As long as it makes me happy, I’ll keep those frivolous memories.


P.S. I drafted this a long time ago with a different blog in mind, but Shannon’s recent post on social media and anticipated memory inspired me to go ahead and share. Read it on her thoughtful blog, Awash with Wonder.

Power and Grace, Body and Spirit

backpacking in canyonlands

It seems pretentious, at 25, to say that I’m rediscovering myself…but I am, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

Since slowing down on the blog front, hours I forgot I had have opened up. I used to wake up on a Saturday morning with my day scheduled out to include all the things I had to get done. Laundry, blogging, cleaning, freelance. The devotion to work–to the feeling of productivity, even when I wasn’t perfectly productive–got the better of me, and I wasn’t making the best use of my time. I don’t want to get too optimistic too early, but lately I’ve been taking better care of myself and my space: using free evenings to reorganize my tiny bedroom, tracking my spending, sinking into hours of cooking-as-relaxation, and creating a better bedtime ritual.

I’m reconnecting, too, with my body, and with those habits that make me proud. More sleep. Less sugar. Long walks. Less after-hours contact with my laptop. I’m working on my routines and priorities, and I’m trying to find ways to make the good habits stick.

All day long, I’m mentally engaged, focused on work and dedicated to problem-solving. I feel powerful each time I puzzle out the most efficient solution or plan out a strategy. I lean in to new challenges and opportunities, and outside of work, I pursue new chances to grow. I spend my commute listening to podcasts: on business, on spirituality, on food and pop culture. I write in a journal before bed. My spirit is nourished all day long.

Working an office job has been tough on my body. My new friend the chiropractor never fails to mention that my neck is tense and my shoulders are turned inward. I’ve caught the dreaded desk spread, coupled with the effects of too many delicious dinners out.

Movement helps me balance the equation.

The bend of my legs, the tension in my torso, the sweep of my arms up in a stretch: all these movements bring me back to my center. They activate a grace that I forget when I’m sitting at my desk, and a physical power that can’t be replaced by intellectual stimulation. When I’m moving, I admire the way my arm curves and the strength in my legs. I don’t think about aesthetics, but about ability.

That’s one way to love your body: to reconnect. To dig down to the place where you are focused on action, not appearance, and on celebrating all that you can do. It isn’t only about exercise. Reconnecting means listening when your wrist hurts, or your back’s in knots, or your nails are brittle, and then thinking about how you can make it better. It means identifying lifestyle changes that will help heal your body and prepare you for a long and healthy life.

To me, that means spending less time on a laptop, taking short walks throughout the day, regularly going to the chiropractor and masseuse, and adjusting the way I drive for better back health. It means recommitting: affirming to myself that health is one of my top priorities, right up there with relationships and career, then making choices accordingly.

I’ve written about choosing health plenty in the Love Your Body Resolution series, but ironically, letting go of the writing is what’s helped me do just that. My focus has swung to the “lifestyle” piece of “lifestyle blogging,” and I’m working every week on making mine better: acknowledging the realities of my choices (food, drink, exercise) and the reality of my work life (sedentary) and finding that my hobbies need to include more movement. More sweat. On an emotional level, I don’t usually struggle to appreciate my body, flaws and all, but I haven’t always acted in a way that reflects that love.

I’m finally devoting my time to doing just that.

This post was inspired by one of the talented, creative souls I’ve met through blogging: Julie Walsh, founder of fitBallet. fitBallet workouts combine the grace of ballet with the power of circuit training and have heartily kicked my butt every time I’ve done them. Follow fitBallet on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date on free workouts, new offerings and really cute exercises like “baby curls.”

And just so ya know, this wasn’t sponsored in any way…I dig Julie and am thrilled to see her applying her (intellectual and physical) grace and power to such a cool new venture.

P.S. Want more on loving your body? You might like these posts: RecommitHow to Apply Budgeting Lessons to Your DietOne Question to Ask Yourself.

A Gratitude List for Fall

Writing a gratitude list for fall, my favorite season.

Fall may not begin until September 23, but this past weekend we got a beautiful preview in Chicago. The leaves are hinting at yellow, the air is cool and almost sharp, and the honeycrisp apples have hit the farmers market. It’s almost the season of cider and pie, crunching leaves and all things plaid. My favorite season, the one that always seems to rush off early and leave us in the clutches of winter.

Wait, it isn’t winter yet, so let me back that up:

While it feels like summer ended too fast, I love all things autumnal, and I want to savor this season for as long as possible. That means lots of time outside: picnics, hikes, day trips to Wisconsin or the suburbs, and the usual strolls through the neighborhood. This weekend, that meant walking around the Lakeview East Festival of the Arts, stopping by the farmers market, and spending a couple hours at a breathtaking farm while the sun went down.

As usual, all that fresh air and walking was great for coming up with ideas. (IOU Love Your Body Resolution posts, times ten.) What it wasn’t so good for? Sitting down and actually writing. Like so many things that I know are good for me, writing gets shafted in favor of things that are easier, or that feel more pressing.

So I thought that sitting down and making a gratitude list might be a good way to chip away at this pesky writer’s block–focusing on gratitude seems to be a helpful response to most situations. What better way to welcome fall than with an early thanksgiving?

On this clear day, on which I watched an exquisite sunset and unpacked my Bean boots, I’m grateful for:

  • Warm sweaters that are still going strong after 10 years.
  • A steaming moka pot full of espresso, made with beans sent our way from a charming town I visited this summer.
  • The USPS. It may not be perfect, but it brings the sweetest words my way.
  • My raggedy journal (one of many) that’s been my on-again, off-again companion since high school French classes.
  • Hours of conversation this past weekend.
  • The ability to crochet, taught by my grandma, which means I will always have all the cowls I want, as well as something to do with my hands during marathons of The West Wing.
  • Long walks through the city, through my hometown, and hopefully new destinations in 2015.
  • A tried-and-true zucchini bread recipe from my roommate, waiting for me on the counter so I can unwind by baking a welcome gift for our neighbors this week.
  • The gift of sight, and a lens that reveals miracles in the everyday.
  • Friends and family, always.

This week, I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken, talking to my awesome mentor, making some enchiladas with J, and training a couple people at work. I hope your week is off to a wonderful start, too!