My Foodie Adventures in Olympia, Washington and a Recipe for Berry and Kale Health Shake (Part 1)

A few weekends ago, I traveled to Olympia, Washington with my parents to attend the wedding of my sister Lori’s daughter, Jennifer. I loved spending time with my family in a beautiful albeit rainy part of the country!

Flower Arranging for Wedding via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Here in New England we say that April showers bring May flowers, but in the Seattle area they have rain all year long, so the flowers are plentiful. For the wedding and reception, a bunch of us got together to arrange flowers in dozens of Ball Jars. And you thought Ball Jars were just for canning …

Reception food has a reputation for being so-so … but not this event. Jen’s wedding featured a veritable ocean of seafood—raw oysters, curried mussels, and geoduck, which you’ll learn all about in next week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast. Lucky for all the guests, Jen works at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, WA, so we were treated to the freshest, most flavorful shellfish you could imagine.

Shigoku oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms

Don’t you think these oysters look like shimmering jewels? The raw bar was beyond beautiful … and it turns out that oysters are also super nutritious. They’re brimming with heart-healthy omega-3 fats, immune-boosting zinc, vitamin B12, iron, and lots more. Despite their nutritional benefits, I’ve never gotten past the ‘yuck factor’ of eating them raw … until the wedding.

I decided it was high time to brave it out, and so I bellied up to the bar for “exclusive” Shigoku oysters, which Taylor Shellfish describes as, a small, dense, cornucopia of an oyster with a light, clean taste of cucumber and salt, and a finish of water chestnut and Jerusalem artichoke. The culinary verdict: I loved these oysters. In fact I went back for seconds … and thirds!

Dad eating Shigoku Oysters

 My dad is an oyster-eating pro. His technique: Top with a bit of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon and just toss ‘em back …

Health Shake
After all the overindulging at the wedding, the next morning my sister offered to make the berry and kale smoothie that she and her husband have for breakfast every day. Feeling brave after a night of raw oyster eating, I happily accepted. Check out all the healthy ingredients in her shake including cod liver oil (omega-3!), berries, and freshly picked kale from the garden. You’d think my sister was the dietitian in the family!

Berry and Kale Health Shake
What a great way to kick start the day!

Berry and Kale Health Shake

Makes 1 Serving

Lori says the mix of ingredients in her Vitamix shake is pretty flexible. Sometimes she adds a spoonful of peanut butter or yogurt for extra protein or swaps the water for 100% fruit juice. If you plan to pack in a thermos or a to-go cup when you’re, well, on the go, you may want to leave out the chia seeds and psyillium powder. The reason: they both tend to make the shake too thick (in Lori’s opinion) if you wait too long to drink it!

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 medium ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries or mixed berries
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 teaspoon flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cod liver oil
  • 1 kale leaf or a handful of baby spinach leaves
  • 1 teaspoon psyllium powder, optional

1. Place the water, banana, blueberries, mixed berries, protein powder, flaxseed, chia seeds, cod liver oil, kale, and psyllium powder as desired in a blender and blend until well combined. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 280 calories, 8g fat (1g saturated, 2g omega-3), 10mg sodium, 40g carbohydrate, 9g fiber, 20g protein, 150% vitamin A, 130% vitamin C, 15% calcium, 25% iron

Print Recipe

Lori's Health Shake via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Okay, so it’s not a Northwest beer, but it was refreshing and oh-so healthy!

Pumpkin Nutrition … and a Recipe for Pumpkin Banana Smoothie

I woke up bright and early today, packed up a few coolers, and headed to New England Cable News for a “live” TV food segment on Spicing Up Fall with Pumpkins. During the segment (which you can watch on the NECN website), I talked to host Steve Aveson about pumpkin nutrition—it’s packed with vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants like lutein—and showed off three kid-pleasing recipes: Pumpkin Banana Smoothie, Ghoulishly-Good Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin, and Black Bean Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce. (The smoothie and enchilada recipes can also be found on our new family recipe app, Meal Makeovers.)

Pumpkin Banana Smoothie via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Each serving of this luscious smoothie has 100% of your vitamin A for the day. Oh, and it’s also delicious!

Pumpkin Banana Smoothie

Makes 2 Servings

When the month of October rolls around, our thoughts turn to pumpkin, a super food packed with immune-boosting vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants like lutein, which is good for eye health. It may seem strange to add pumpkin to a smoothie, but trust us … this smoothie is beyond awesome! We make it with some canned pure pumpkin, protein-rich Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract. And then we add a banana and a few drizzles of honey for a super-sweet touch. Serve with breakfast, as a snack, or for a spooky Halloween treat!

  • 1 small ripe banana, frozen
  • 1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup 0%-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup canned 100% pure pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1.  Break the banana into a few pieces. Place in a blender with the milk, yogurt, pumpkin, honey, vanilla extract, and pumpkin pie spice.

2. Blend until well combined. Place a few cubes of ice in two glasses. Pour smoothie over ice, drizzle with honey as desired, and serve each with a straw.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 cup):  130 calories, 1g fat (0g saturated, g omega-3), 55mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 7g protein, 100% vitamin A, 15% calcium

Print Recipe

Planning a TV segment takes a lot of effort—shopping, prepping, gathering props, figuring out what to say!—but it’s worth the effort. I had a blast hanging out with the NECN crew and sharing my nutrition knowledge and Meal Makeover Mom recipes with viewers.

Liz on NECN talking pumpkins!

Lights, camera, action!

pumpkin segment on NECN

NECN prep

Here’s what my house looked like the night before when I was laying out my props. Note to self: Don’t forget the extension cord and the ice….

My Trip to Iceland: Flying, Driving, Swimming in a Geothermal Pool, and Playing Golf When We Should Have Been Sleeping {Part #3}

In Parts #1 and #2 of my Iceland adventure this summer with Simon, I shared highlights from our trips to Reykjavik and the Golden Circle and our stay at the awesome, I-must-come-back-again Hotel Ranga in Hella. On our third day, we did a mega drive from Hella to Kirkjubæjarklaustur and packed in more activities along the way than we typically do here at home in a week! Read on for the highlights … and giving a shout out to Iceland Travel for helping me organize the trip!

Helicopter ride in Iceland

After breakfast at Hotel Ranga, Managing Director, Friorik Palsson, treated us to a helicopter ride over the surrounding countryside, compliments of Norðurflug Helicopter Tours. It was an unexpected thrill and an exciting way to start the day, to say the least.

helicopter ride in Iceland

The helicopter met us in a field. Friorik ran out to greet the pilot before he buckled us in and bid us a cheery farewell. It was surreal!

glacier in iceland

What a view. That’s Mount Hekla in the distance.

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Located in South Iceland, you can hike up behind it, getting wet along the way from the cold glacial spray.

Skyr yogurt in Iceland

Dashboard dining at its finest! Simon was ravenous 24/7 during the trip (growing teenage boy = “I need food”), and Iceland’s own Skyr yogurt saved the day.

Seljavallalaug natural swimming pool

It’s always worthwhile visiting the main attractions when you’re on vacation, but Simon and I decided to drive off the beaten path to check out Seljavallalaug, a geothermal swimming pool at the foot of the Eyjafjoll Mountains. It was built in the 1920′s right into the side of the rocky hillside. You have to drive down a gravel road, park your car, and then hike about 15 minutes to reach the pool.

Near Reynisdrangar pillars in Vik, Iceland

Hanging out on the black, rocky beach just outside the seaside village of Vik.

Golfing at night in Iceland

After a day flying in a helicopter, hiking up waterfalls, swimming in a natural hot spring, and touring around Vik, we checked into Laki Hotel at the Efri-Vik Farm. And guess what? They had a 9-hole golf course on the premises. We rented a set of clubs, and Simon set out with mom as his caddy! It was 9:30pm by the time we finished, and it was still light outside. Notice the black, volcanic sand trap! :) We loved this hotel. Cozy, clean, delightful staff, and a delicious breakfast.

Jökulsárlón in Iceland

Stay tuned for Part 4 of my Iceland adventure. I’ll tell you about our afternoon at the glacial river lagoon, Jökulsárlón, and why we’re laughing hysterically. Check back soon …

Announcing Meal Makeovers, a Healthy Recipe App for Families … Plus, a Giveaway of 5 Apps

Meal Makeovers, a recipe app developed by two registered dietitians with a passion for feeding families a super healthy diet (oooh, that’s us!), is finally finished, and now, anyone with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch can download it. Meal Makeovers features healthier versions of classic recipes families love, and yes, creating this app was just as challenging as writing our cookbooks! We’re giving away five copies of Meal Makeovers. Read on for details on how to enter.

Meal Makeovers App via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Here’s the icon for our app!

The app is available for $1.99 in the iTunes store and includes 50 recipes ranging from breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to snacks, sides, vegetarian, gluten free, and dessert. More recipes will be added regularly. Each “makeover” recipe starts with a description of the dish followed by a list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions. We offer detailed nutrition information and cool features like a shopping list, searchable tags, and mouth-watering photos. We don’t have plans yet for an Android app, but we’re discussing it!

Screen shot from Meal Makeovers recipe app

Here’s a screen shot from the app showing a few of our family-pleasing recipes.

Meal Makeovers Cooking app on iTunes

Our Have-It-Your-Way Tacos recipe, made with lean ground beef, shredded carrot, black beans and a bunch of other nutritious ingredients is included in the Dinner and Gluten Free categories.

We worked with a company called Mobile Skillet to develop Meal Makeovers. You can visit the Mobile Skillet website if you have questions about app development, etc. And … If you have an opportunity to purchase and download the app, let us know what you think of it. You can leave a comment here or head on over to our Survey Monkey survey to weigh in with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.

GIVEAWAY NEWS: We are giving away five copies of our Meal Makeovers app. The app is available on the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch, so to be eligible, you’ll need to own one of those devices. To enter, tell us about your biggest family mealtime challenge and how you hope our app will help you solve it.

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

> Tweet about the giveaway using the hashtag, #MealMakeoversApp, with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest.
> Follow The Meal Makeover Moms on Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms)

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on September 18th at noon, and as always we’ll use Random.org to pick our winners. Good luck!

Nutty Banana Ice Cream

This recipe for Nutty Banana Ice Cream is available ONLY on our app! Sooooo delish ….

My CSA Bounty and a Recipe for Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

I love my CSA (community supported agriculture), and I’ve been a member of the Farm Direct Coop for about eight years. Every Thursday from June through October I pick up my weekly bounty. Sometimes there are choices—pick three items from a table with six options—while other times the decision is made for you—take one pound of peaches and two pounds of apples, etc. I have a fruit and veggie share, and I also get bread from a local bakery.

CSA

One of the fun things about participating in a CSA is that you never know what you’re going to get from week to week, and for me sometimes I’m not familiar with all the items. What the heck is callaloo?

CSA veggies via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Decisions, decisions: Should I get another bunch of kale or an eggplant?!

CSA via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

One nice thing about my CSA is that there are always people who like to give advice on how to prepare things. Here, a fellow member explains that he likes to pit his peaches,  stuff with cheese and herbs, and then roast them. I wouldn’t have thought of that!

Vegetables via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

This was my haul a few weeks ago. I got two beautiful bunches of Swiss chard and posted to our Meal Makeover Moms Facebook page asking for fresh advice on what to do with them. There was no shortage of ideas, but the recipe for Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans that Kristin shared really caught my eye. I made it and it was a huge hit with my family.

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

Makes 6 Servings

This recipe originally appeared in the January / February 2009 issue of Eating Well magazine, but I got it from our friend Kristin’s blog.  I didn’t change much, but I did leave out the water and saute the veggies instead, and I added more mozzarella cheese. Chard is in peak season from June through August (did you know there are over 50 varieties?), and it’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, magnesium, iron, and manganese. It’s also high in antioxidants and fiber, and it helps support bone health thanks to the vitamin K.

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • One 16-ounce package shelf-stable gnocchi, (see Tip)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 cups chopped chard leaves, (about 1 small bunch) or spinach
  • One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
  • One 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often, until plumped and starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and water. Cover and cook until the onion is soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Add chard (or spinach) and cook, stirring, until starting to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper and bring to a simmer.

3. If serving immediately, stir in the gnocchi and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. (Tip: If making ahead, keep the gnocchi separate so it doesn’t get soggy.) Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 3 minutes.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if desired.

Tip: Look for shelf-stable gnocchi near other pasta in the Italian section of most supermarkets.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 325 Calories, 7g Fat (2g saturated), 616 mg sodium, 55g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 14 g Protein

Print Recipe

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

The gnocchi that I used in the recipe came from the new Whole Foods that just opened up in my town of Melrose, MA (yippee!). I used plenty of olive oil to saute the gnocchi which gave it a nice crispy texture!

Sriracha Chard Pickles via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

In the spirit of full disclosure, I also made Sriracha Fridge Pickles with my Swiss chard stems, as recommended on Facebook by Carol Ann. They were not a big hit around here, because the stems were pretty fibrous and the flavor was a bit too spicy. I may use the onions in sandwiches but probably won’t make the recipe again. It was fun to try though! :)

My Trip to Iceland: The Golden Circle, the Coolest Hotel in Iceland (in my humble opinion), and a Taste of Puffin {Part 2}

In Part #1 of my 4-part Iceland series, I shared highlights from our flight from Boston to Iceland and our tour around Reykjavik. On our second day, we rented a car with the goal of working our way around The Golden Circle … and then south. Initially, I was nervous about driving in Iceland, but I quickly realized that once you get out of the city, the two-lane highway that circles the country — with a max speed limit of 90 kilometers (about 55 MPH) — is a breeze. That’s my kind of driving! Plus, we had a GPS who spoke Icelandic with an English accent, so getting lost was not an option…

The Golden Circle, Iceland

The Golden Circle begins at Þingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland’s Viking Parliament.

The Golden Circle, Iceland

From there, we visited Geysir Hot Springs (think, Yellowstone) and the giant, two-tier waterfall at Gullfoss.

Iceland cafe

Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Cafe Galleri in the town of Laugarvatn, known for its geothermal rye bread. (The bread is literally baked in a geothermal oven underground for 24 hours. The slow cooking yields a surprisingly sweet flavor.)

Smoked trout on hot spring rye bread, iceland

For lunch, we ordered Hot Spring Baked Bread with Sliced Smoked Trout and Hot Smoked Trout with Fresh Salad and Hot Spring Baked Bread. After we ate, Simon, my growing teenager, asked, “what’s for lunch.” In Iceland, there’s no such thing as super-sized portions; the food is just way too expensive.

North American suite at Hotel Ranga

Heading south from the Golden Circle, we checked into the marvelous, four-star Hotel Ranga in Hella (south Iceland). To our amusement, they gave us one of their themed suites, which are all designed after each of the seven continents. Coincidentally, we ended up in the North American suite complete with a buffalo head, bear skin, Native American Indian headdress and lots more. Simon said it was the nicest hotel he’d ever seen. Yes, he was like a kid in a candy store :)

Hotel Ranga restaurant, Puffin appetizer

 For dinner, we ate at Hotel Ranga’s restaurant, boasting a menu with local meats, seafood, and produce. Don’t be mad at me, but for my appetizer I chose the Lightly Smoked Puffin served with beer bread and “Cumberland” sauce. I’m not sure I’d order it again (it was a bit chewy), but I wanted to experience something unique to Iceland.

Dinner at Hotel Ranga

The service was superb. Simon and I loved being pampered, and a highlight of the night (if you could call it “night” since it never got dark) was spending time chatting with Friorik Palsson, Managing Director of the resort. I’ll tell you more about Friorik in Part #3 of my Iceland blog series.

Hotel Ranga, barley risotto

We split the Creamy Local Barley served with wild mushrooms and root vegetables … prepared like risotto.

Hotel Ranga, dessert

Dessert!

Hotel Ranga

After dinner we walked along the river, and Simon dreamed of coming back some day so he could fish for salmon …

Sunset at Hotel Ranga

And then, before we knew it, it was 10:30pm and the sun was starting to set. Time for bed before our third day of Iceland adventures …

Helicopter ride in south Iceland

Up, up and away. Stay tuned for a wild ride on day three …

My Trip to Iceland: The Food, The Great Outdoors, The Sights {Part 1}

Last week, I traveled to Iceland with my son, Simon. The reason for our trip: We had a wedding in the UK and decided to lay over in Iceland along the way … plus, I’d heard so many great things about the country (which is quite green despite its name) that I was itching to visit. I have so much to share about this family-friendly destination, so rather than cram it all into one looooooong post, I plan to write four shorter ones instead. To help me plan the trip, I worked with a lovely woman named Iris from Iceland Travel. We focused on a self-drive tour with lots of culinary stops along the way, so that’s what you’ll be hearing about in my posts :)

IcelandAir

From the minute we boarded our Icelandair flight, we were greeted with island hospitality … a bottle of Icelandic water, which tasted clean and fresh for lack of a better way to describe it, and fun facts about the country like this one posted on the back of our seats.

IcelandAir

Simon got busy with his summer reading before taking a break to watch a movie. The flight was about 41/2 hours from Boston. Not bad …

Breakfast at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina

We arrived around midnight — 7pm our time — and it was still a little bit light outside. As you’ll see in the coming posts, during the summer months, there’s only a few hours of darkness each night. On our first morning at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina, we were starving (and needed a lot of coffee), and this breakfast hit the spot. What impressed me about the Icelandic breakfasts we ate during our visit were the savory versus sweet offerings: hard boiled eggs, roasted vegetables, rye bread, smoked fish, tomatoes, and just a bit of fruit.

Hallgrimskirkja

We walked from our hotel over to Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland at 244 feet. A short elevator ride to the top revealed views of the colorful rooftops of Reykjavik, the country’s capital. Notice the bright green rooftop in the photo below ….

Scene over Reykjavik

It’s impossible to miss …

Reykjavik house

… and here’s what the house looked like from the street level.

Puffin stuffed animal

Simon wanted to buy this giant stuffed puffin as a gift for his UK cousins. I think you know what I said …

Loki cafe, Iceland

Outside the church is Cafe Loki where they serve traditional Icelandic dishes. We each ordered a small bowl of the Icelandic Lamb Soup for 1,450 Kroner. By the way, there are a lot of sheep in Iceland, hence the abundance of lamb-based dishes.

menu at cafe loki

Here’s the menu from Cafe Loki.

reykjavik

After a long walk along the waterfront, we decided to go on a whale watch. Yup. You can cram a lot into an Icelandic summer day …

Dinner at Slippbarinn in Reykjavik

I think it was 9pm by the time we sat down for dinner. Isn’t this Spring Salad gorgeous? Here’s how it was described on the menu at Slippbarinn, located at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina: Roasted salsify, sunchoke and celery crudite, melted cheese, pesto of spring onions, salted hazelnuts, herbs, aged apple vinegar and thyme oil. It was lovely and filled with interesting textures and flavors. (There were some local strawberries tossed in there too.)

Golden Circle

We hit the road the next day for the Golden Circle (thank goodness for my GPS) and lots of beautiful waterfalls. Check back soon for Day 2 of our Iceland adventure. (Waterfalls at Gullfoss.)

My Trip to Traverse City, MI for the Annual Tart Cherry Harvest {Podcast #224}

Close your eyes and imagine a clear blue lake so vast that it looks like an ocean, a hilltop of trees dripping with clusters of ruby red jewels, and a food that’s tart to the taste buds yet impossibly addictive, versatile, and exploding with great nutrition. Welcome to Traverse City, Michigan, the Cherry Capital of the world. Well, make that the Tart Cherry Capital. I’ll tell you all about it on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast and share a new recipe for Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, so be sure to tune in …

Tart cherries, Traverse City, MI

I was invited by The Cherry Marketing Institute to attend an educational cherry harvest event in Northern Michigan. I was compensated with travel and lodging expenses; all comments and opinions are my own.

Two special guests join us on the show this week to highlight the harvest and the nutritional benefits of tart cherries: Phil Korson, President of the Cherry Marketing Institute and Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD.

Tart cherrise in Traverse City, MI

My visit to Traverse City and the surrounding region was magical on so many levels. As a bona fide foodie, the town literally made me giddy with happiness, and I’m not making that up. Everywhere you turn, you see, smell, and taste cherries … not to mention gorgeous views of the lake. From shops like Cherry Republic that sell cherry salsa, cherry jams, and dark chocolate covered dried cherries to cherry-themed aprons, pot holders, and glassware … to cherry wine, the little crimson gem is celebrated by everyone from farmers to families who visit each year for the annual Cherry Festival. Traverse City is charmed with cherries :)

Growing Montmorency cherries in Traverse City, MI

Don Gregory owns Cherry Bay Orchards, and he was our ambassador during the Go Tart cherry harvest tour. Don explained how cherry trees are grown on hills where the temperatures are more moderate (hot air rises!), how they thrive in sandy soil, and how 99.9% of the crop is “processed” … which turns out to be a good thing. The tart cherries (as well as the sweet ones) grown in places like Michigan are fragile, so they don’t travel well. That’s why most are “processed.” After the pits are pinched out, the cherries end up frozen, dried, or as juice or juice concentrate. (Most fresh cherries sold at markets across the U.S. are sweet cherries from places like Washington state where the fruit has less moisture and holds up better when shipped.)

Machine shakes cherries from the trees

Harvest season takes place in July and early August and lasts about four weeks. This piece of machinery literally shakes the cherries off the trees, and during the harvest, trees are shaken 24/7. At Cherry Bay Orchards, 40 million pounds of cherries are shaken off trees each year, and most are the tart Montmorency variety. For a 15-second video of shaking, check out my Instagram page.

Tart cherry harvest

The fragile fruit is quickly submerged into water baths to cool them down and cushion their short journey to the nearby processing facility. Believe it or not, this container holds 1,000 pounds of cherries plus 1,000 pounds of water!

Did I mention that cherry juice is a natural addition at cocktail hour? Here I am at the Boathouse Restaurant with friend and fellow dietitian, Carolyn O’Neil.

Tart Cherries in Traverse City, MI

Eating tart cherries right off the tree was a treat … and no, I did not partake in a pit spitting competition. Pictured above: tart cherries, cherry crumb pie from Grand Traverse Pie Company, cherry guacamole at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, cherry balsamic vinegar at Fustini’s, and snack time at the orchard.

So … moving on to nutrition. Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD was on hand to share the latest health news on tart cherries. Here are some highlights:

> Half a cup of dried cherries has nearly 50% vitamin A, and they’re also a good source of potassium and fiber.

> The antioxidant compounds found in bright red tart cherries are called anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation in the body. Those anti-inflammatory properties “cool the fire” of pain and inflammation in muscles and joints.

> Tart cherries are good for heart health. Research shows they help to lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.

> Eating cherries may reduce the risk of a gout attack by up to 35%. Over eight million Americans have gout, so adding tart cherries to the diet could offer some welcome relief.

> Looking for a better night’s sleep? Drinking tart cherry juice (8 ounces in the morning and 8 ounces at night) may reduce insomnia and help people get more Zzzzzzs.

For even more info on the harvest and the latest nutrition studies, tune in to Cooking with the Moms! If you want to see more amazing photos of tart cherries check out the blog post by my RD colleague, Regan Miller Jones, at  Healthy Aperture blog.

 Lake Michigan outside Traverse City

Until next time …

(For all of my Traverse City photos, visit our flickr page.)

To read more about Traverse City and cherry harvest, visit the following blogs:
> Family Fresh Cooking: Very Cherry!
> Healthy Aperture: Ingredient Spotlight: Tart Cherries
> What’s Gaby Cooking: Chocolate Cherry Coconut Cookies
> Nutrition Unplugged: Happiness Does Grow on Trees: Celebrating Cherry Season in the Heart of Cherry Country
> Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Michigan’s Tart Cherries: The Harvest, Michigan’s Tart Cherries: So Proud, Sour Cherry Galette with Cream Cheese Crust
> Family Feed Bag: Michigan Tart Cherry Chutney & Goat Cheese Crostini
> The Kitchn: How Cherries are Shaken off the Tree

A Recipe for Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies and the Lowdown on Tart Cherries

I recently returned from Traverse City, MI for the tart cherry harvest, and in a few days, I’ll be sharing all about the trip. I’ve never spent time in Northern Michigan (my loss completely), and I certainly hope to return some day soon. While you wait on the edges of your seats for more details on the tart cherry harvest and all the great nutrients found inside this bright red fruit, I thought you’d enjoy my recipe for Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. Bake up a batch or two and let me know what you think, and be sure to check back in a few days for my blog post and a Cooking with the Moms podcast devoted to cherries.

Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

I was invited by the Cherry Marketing Institute to join them for the Cherry Harvest in Northern Michigan. They paid for my travel, but all opinions on this blog are solely my own. Everyone in the group was sent home with a bunch of goodies including dried Montmorency cherries. So I decided to use them in this new better-for-you cookie.

dried tart cherries

Nearly 100% of the tart cherries grown in Michigan are pitted and then frozen or turned into dried cherries or juice. Dried cherries can be eaten out of hand as a snack, added to trail mix, used in cookies and other baked goods, sprinkled over salads, used in salsas, and lots more …

A half cup of dried tart cherries has 200 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and an impressive 45% vitamin A.

Cherry Chocolate Oat Cookies

Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 24 Cookies

Kids love cookies, but like any sweet treat, it’s best to not go overboard. I’m happy to report that you can feel good about giving your kids these cookies. Made with whole grains—oats, wheat germ, and whole wheat flour—and other nutritious ingredients like dried cherries, pecans, and eggs, they’re an AOK addition to the cookie jar!

  • 2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 3/4 cup pecans, finely or roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil and then lightly oil or coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. Whisk together the oats, pecans, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients, and stir until just moistened. Mix in the cherries and the chocolate chips.

4. Working in batches, scoop the batter by rounded tablespoon and place on the prepared baking sheets. Wash your hands (it will be easier to work with the batter), and then flatten slightly with the heel of your hand, forming 2¼ to 2½-inch cookies. Leave about 1 inch between each cookie.

5. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining batter.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 cookie):  170 calories, 9g fat (1g saturated), 80mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 3g protein

Print Recipe

cherry pie at Cherry Republic

Indulging on cherry pie with my friend and fellow dietitian, Janet Helm at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, MI. I’m not much of a pie maker; cookies are definitely more my culinary speed :)

Tart cherry trees, Traverse City, MI

More on the tart cherry harvest coming soon …

A Recipe for Lower-Sugar Strawberry Jam, Summer Vacation Memories, and a Giveaway for a Ball FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker {Podcast #223} — GIVEAWAY CLOSED

Who wants some homemade strawberry jam? We made a few batches recently, and let’s just say they’ve been disappearing quickly from our refrigerators. On this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast, we share our latest recipe for Mom’s Strawberry Jam, rave about our new Ball FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker (we’re giving one away, so read on), and tell you all about our vacation adventures in Nantucket and New Hampshire so far this summer. Plus, you loved him on our Composting for Dummies podcast, so Janice’s husband, Don, is back on the show this week to tell us about his childhood jelly-making memories.

Homemade, lower-sugar strawberry jam

In true Meal Makeover Mom fashion, our goal with this recipe was to lower the sugar a bit. We followed the directions in the Ball recipe booklet but then tweaked it a bit by adding a few more strawberries and a little less sugar.

And now … The Back Story on our Strawberry Jam:

Local New England strawberries

Our local strawberry season here in New England comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Lucky for us, back in late June, Janice’s friend Catherine surprised her with a flat of fresh-picked strawberries from western Massachusetts. Coincidentally, Ball had just sent us a complimentary Jam & Jelly Maker to try out, so the berries were immediately put to good use.

Ball freshTech Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

Janice and her friends tried two different versions of jam. For starters, they opted for Ball’s “Reduced Sugar” recipe which called for 3¼ cups crushed strawberries and 2 cups sugar. They also tried a version with just 1 3/4 cups sugar plus 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar for added flavor.

Ingredients for homemade strawberry jam

What we finally settled on was a lower-sugar jam made with 3½ cups crushed strawberries, 1¾ cups sugar, and we used Ball’s Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin.

Making strawberry jam in the Ball freshTech Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

How cool is this? To make the jam, all you do is sprinkle pectin in the bottom of the pot along with the crushed fruit and a tiny bit of butter or margarine to help reduce foaming. Four minutes later, add the sugar, top with the glass lid, and less than 20 minutes later, you’ve got jam to put into jars.

Homemade strawberry jam

All of the jam and jelly recipes in the Ball booklet offer a Traditional version and a Reduced-Sugar version. Thanks Ball!

homemade jam

Too cute. Makes a great house-warming or hostess gift!

Mom’s Strawberry Jam

Makes 4 (8-ounce) Half Pint Jars (Recipe adapted from Ball, freshTECH Sweet and Simple recipe booklet)

We’ve taken a stab at canning before, but quite honestly, we’re not the most patient home cooks on the planet. That’s why we were thrilled when Ball sent us their in-a-flash jam and jelly maker. Besides strawberry jam, you can also use it for other jams like peach, sweet cherry, pear, plum, apple, and a bunch of jellies. (For more recipes, you can visit the Ball website.) While we would not categorize our jam as a health food—it still has plenty of sugar—it’s made with real, wholesome ingredients and the flavor is amazing.

  • 3½ cups crushed strawberries (from 7 cups whole, stemmed strawberries, @ 3 pounds) * We used a potato masher to crush the berries
  • 3 tablespoons Ball Low or No-Sugar Needed RealFruit Pectin
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine
  • 1¾ cups granulated sugar

1. Sprinkle pectin evenly over bottom of the pot fitted with the Stirrer. Add crushed strawberries evenly over pectin. Add butter or margarine to help reduce foaming.

3. Press Jam button (the cook time will automatically default to 21 minutes). Press Enter.

3. Wait 4 minutes for appliance to sound 4 short beeps indicating that it is time to add sugar. Add sugar gradually while Stirrer continues running. Place the glass lid on the pot.

4. The appliance will continue to automatically stir your ingredients while it cooks. Stay within earshot of the Jam & Jelly Maker. The appliance will beep again at the end of the process signaling jam cooking is complete. Press Cancel, unplug the appliance, and immediately remove glass lid.

5. Remove Stirrer using a pot holder. Skim foam, if necessary, from top of jam. (From there, the recipe booklet goes on to describe three preserving methods). We simply filled our jars with the fresh jam and placed in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 tablespoon): 30 calories, 0g fat, 5mg sodium, 7g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g protein, 20% vitamin C

Print Recipe

Ball Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

Giveaway News: Wouldn’t you love to win the Ball FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker? Well, one lucky winner will soon become the proud owner of one. (Open to U.S. residents only.) To enter the giveaway, tell us why you’d like to win it or share your favorite canning recipe or childhood canning memory.

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

> Tweet about the giveaway with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest.
> Follow The Meal Makeover Moms on Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms) or on Facebook.

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on August 2nd at noon, and as always we’ll use Random.org to pick our winner. Good luck!

Disclosure: We received a complimentary Jam & Jelly Maker from Ball, but the opinions and recipe in this post are our own. We were not compensated for this blog post.

My Summer Escape to New Hampshire for a Dose of Relaxation and Some Good Eats!

When life gets hectic and the temperature soars I’m lucky to have a relaxing place to escape to. My parents spend most of the summer at their cottage in Laconia, NH, on Lake Winnisquam and we’re usually able to visit a few times each summer.  The past several years Don and I have found ourselves at the lake over the Fourth of July while Leah enjoys her one-week overnight camp in Maine.

My goal in life is to be as tranquil as this statue!  Watching the sunset over the lake is as close as I come …

When we arrived at the lake, my Dad gave me a present for what he said was, “all my good work.” This statue / business card holder is made of forks and spoons and will now be displayed prominently in my new new kitchen. Best Dad ever!

A trip to the lake wouldn’t be complete without a visit to family friend Mo Gouin’s garden. Mo was a guest on our Cooking with the Moms podcast two summers ago talking about the home canning craze. He grows more vegetables than anyone I know, and this year he extended his bean trellis from 12 to 14 feet high. I brought him a jar of our homemade strawberry jam, and he gave it two thumbs up. The pink banana squash plant in the center photo above should produce squashes that weigh 50 to 70  pounds!

Little Corner Store at Strawbery Banke via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Before we went to the lake, Don and I spent one night in Portsmouth, NH, and we discovered that it’s a truly fun city! We visited the Strawbery Banke Museum where the highlight for me was “The Little Corner Store” showcasing food items sold in the 1940s. You’ll be able to read more about this store in a future blog post.Lunch at Surf Restaurant, Portsmouth, NH via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Fish tacos, sweet potato fries, and local beer on an outdoor balcony at Surf Restaurant overlooking Portsmouth Harbor. I love summer!

Postcards from Nantucket: A Mini Getaway Filled with Food, Fitness, and a Big Fish

Big, fluffy hydrangeas, lighthouses that once guided whaling ships to shore, an endless blue sea, and the best fish tacos EVER are just a few of the things that keep me coming back to the magical island of Nantucket. Even two of my favorite books of all time, Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, are set on Nantucket.

Brant Point Lighthouse

If you take the ferry to Nantucket, you’ll receive a warm welcome from the Brant Point Lighthouse, the second oldest light station in the United States.

Hanging out on Nantucket Town

Tim and I just spent four days on ACK (that’s the nickname for Nantucket) with our friends, Debbie and Bill. Here we are outside a new restaurant in “Town” called The Proprietors bar & table. The menu is inventive, the cocktails a bit bizarre (mine was dusted with bee pollen), and the vibe super hip.

Halloumi cheese at The Proprietors bar & table

This was one of my favorite dishes on the menu: Halloumi Cheese served with eggplant puree, orange blossom honey, and crispy chick peas.

shrimp tacos at Millie's

If you like to ride bikes, Nantucket is the place for you. A bike path circles and traverses the island, connecting most of the beaches. On one of our days there, we rode to Madaket and back, taking a much-needed break on our 28-mile excursion for lunch at Millie’s. I ordered the Smith Point tacos made with grilled shrimp in corn tortillas with tomato and sweet corn salad, guacamole, and chili ranch. I’m not kidding when I say I’ll be spending the rest of my summer trying to recreate this dish!

Hydrangea bushes

Hydrangea bushes are blooming everywhere on the island right now. The flowers remind me of big bowls of colored popcorn!

fishing for striped bass on Nantucket

Bill took us fishing on our last day on Nantucket. I actually reeled in this five-pound striped bass. Can you believe it? It was not easy work. I’m happy to report that this gorgeous fish is back at sea and that he did not end up on my dinner table.

Sconset house

The Big Reveal: Tim and I are building a house on Nantucket. I can’t wait to show you the kitchen! It’s straight ahead and to the right, and over the coming months, I’ll be sharing insights into my appliance, plumbing fixture, and cabinetry selections. Stay tuned …

An Afternoon with Celebrity Chef Alton Brown … and the Dedication of a Grape Vineyard at Welch’s

Most people know Alton Brown from the hit Food Network TV show, Iron Chef and Good Eats. But we got to know him recently at an event held at Welch’s worldwide headquarters in Concord, MA.

Alton Brown at Welch's grapevine dedication

It was a hot and steamy New England day, but Alton, who hails from Atlanta, had no problem handling the heat at the dedication of a new Concord grape vineyard made with cuttings from the original Concord grapevine, circa 1849. A man named Ephraim Wales Bull developed the grape variety that still thrives today … and the very grape that Welch’s uses in their juices and jellies.

Our interns meet Alton Brown

We attended the event with our interns June and Lauren, and we spent quite a bit of time chatting it up with Alton.

The Meal Makeover Moms with Alton Brown

Alton is as funny in person as he is on TV, and he’s passionate about Concord grapes. Besides their deep, rich flavor, the grape also brings big nutrition to the table.

 Welch's juices

It’s funny, when we think back to some of our favorite childhood foods and flavors, grape juice comes to mind. As kids, the last thing we thought of were polyphenols, but it turns out that grapes are rich in this powerful, health-promoting antioxidant. Polyphenols keep hearts healthy and minds sharp, and they may also help to boost the immune system. Grape juice is made from the entire grape including the seeds and the skin, which have the richest concentration of polyphenols.

grapevines from Welch's

Talk about cool swag: Before we left, everyone had an opportunity to take a Concord grapevine home. Since Liz does NOT have a green thumb, Janice will be planting the vines in her backyard. Stay tuned …

For all the grape science information you could ever ask for, visit the Welch’s wesite. Our colleague, Casey Lewis, MS, RD does a great job outlining the health benefits of grapes.

My Trip to the Culinary Institute of America and a Gluten-Free Recipe for Sweet Potato & Peanut Quinoa Cakes

Last month, I spent a weekend at the gorgeous Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, CA. My trip to the CIA was part of Plant-Powered Eating: The Role of Peanuts in Healthy Diets, a nutrition program sponsored by The Peanut Institute. We sat in on lectures exploring the benefits of adding peanuts to the diet and we cooked a variety of recipes—everything from a deep fried turkey to peanut caramel popcorn—alongside seasoned CIA chefs. My favorite recipe that day was this one for Peanut, Farro, and Mushroom Burgers with Swiss Cheese and Caramelized Onions.

peanut farro vegetarian cakes

This recipe took quite some time to assemble, and there were more than a few cooks in the kitchen preparing it. So in true Meal Makeover Mom fashion, I set out to recreate the recipe to (a) make it more streamlined, (b) use fewer ingredients, (c) keep it kid friendly, and (d) make it gluten free (something our readers love).

Gluten free quinoa cakes made with sweet potato, chopped peanuts, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, and rosemary

I used Tim and the boys as my guinea pigs, and I’m happy to report that there were no leftovers after dinner.

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Look at all that rosemary.

Fresh herbs including rosemary grow everywhere around the grounds of the CIA, and we used some for the recipe.

Sweet Potato & Peanut Quinoa Cakes

Makes 4 Servings

Peanuts are the most nutrient dense nut. They contain a long list of nutrients including folate, niacin, vitamin E, iron, copper, and magnesium. I love them for their versatility, and I’m especially fond of them in this recipe. The sweetness of the sweet potato is the perfect balance for the flavor of the peanuts, and the quinoa makes these pint-size patties perfect for people on gluten-free diets. To serve the patties, you can do a number of things. Consider melting a slice of cheese on top and serving on slider buns (unless you’re gluten free), or serve on top of a crisp, fresh summer salad. You decide!

  • One 8-ounce sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil or expeller pressed canola oil, divided
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Steam the sweet potato until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth. Set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, rosemary, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 1 to 2 more minutes. Season with kosher salt and pepper.

3. Add the mushrooms, quinoa, peanuts, and Parmesan cheese to the mashed sweet potato and stir until well combined.

4. Form the mixture into 8 patties. Heat the remaining oil in the nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Carefully arrange the patties in the skillet and cook until the bottoms are golden, about 4 minutes. Flip carefully and cook until the other sides are golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Cook in two separate batches if your skillet is not big enough to hold all 8 patties.

Nutrition Information per Serving (2 patties): 360 calories, 20g fat (4g saturated), 200mg sodium, 35g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 15g protein, 140% vitamin A, 15% vitamin C, 10% calcium, 15% iron

Print Recipe

Disclosure: I do not work for The Peanut Institute, but my travel expenses associated with the conference were paid for.  All opinions and recipe are my own. (Check out my other Napa CIA post featuring Peanut Butter Crepes with Strawberry Sauce.)

My Recent Visit to the Pacific Northwest … A Food Lover’s Paradise

I recently returned from a trip to Portland, Oregon for an executive committee meeting of the Food & Culinary Professionals (FCP) subgroup of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I’m the new chair of this 2,700-member organization, and this was our annual planning meeting. FCP’s mission is to empower members to be the nation’s food, culinary, and nutrition leaders, and to that end, we provide a wide variety of educational and networking opportunities. I chose Portland for the meeting site for a few reasons: It’s a great foodie city and we’re all dietitians who LOVE food, three of the 18 attendees are from the area, and I have two sisters who live in the Pacific Northwest.

Portland, OR Tabor food cart: Schnitzelwich

I devoured so much great food during my trip that I’m not really sure where to begin. OK. Let’s start with food carts. Portland has tons of them including Tabor, voted among the top 10 best food carts in the entire U.S. My sister, Diane, who lives in Portland, insisted we try their famous Schitzelwich.

Here I am with my share of the giant Schnitzelwich—it’s made with breaded pork loin, Ajvar red pepper spread,  Romaine lettuce, sauteed onion, and horseradish sauce on ciabatta bread—which my two sisters and I split for lunch!

Lardo Tuna melt Portland OR

After our initial FCP meeting and a walking tour of the city, we had dinner at Lardo, a modern sandwich shop that uses local and sustainable ingredients. This Italian Tuna Melt made with provolone, olive tapenade, and shaved fennel was beyond delicious, and I think the side of fries was the best I’ve ever had. (No worries, I shared them with three other people.)

Oven and Shaker, chickpeas, Portland, OR

Another culinary highlight was the fried chickpeas at Oven and Shaker. They’re famous for being crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Oven and Shaker, Portland,

If you have never tried vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, you are missing out and must add this to your bucket list of foods to try.

Gig Harbor, Tides Tavern

After leaving Portland, I traveled to Olympia, WA with Diane and her partner, Nancy. Our mission: to spend a  few days with our sister Lori and her husband, Chris. Lucky for us, they own a boat, so we motored up the Puget Sound with Mount Rainier in the distance and spent the night in the beautiful town of Gig Harbor.

salmon tacos, Tides Tavern, Gig Harbor

 Eating salmon tacos on the outdoor deck at Tides Tavern with family was yet another highlight of the trip.

clams, Taylor shellfish, seafood

On my last night in town, my niece Jennifer cooked up some amazing Manila clams. She works for Taylor Shellfish Farms and really knows her stuff. Stay tuned, because I plan to invite her to join us as a guest on Cooking with the Moms to talk about tips for choosing and preparing mollusks and shellfish.

beer, portland, OR

On a final note, did I mention that Portland is a beer-lovers paradise? So many microbreweries … and so little time. It was great fun sampling some of the local beers, and we even did our own “Hop Project” beer sampling in Diane’s backyard. Ten Barrel Brewing released a mixed 12-pack of four different IPAs, each made with a different hop.  I think my favorite was #2! For those of you who aren’t beer experts, the hops in beer function to balance the sweetness of the malt by providing bitterness. The type and quantity of hops helps determine the flavor profile of the beer.

This was an amazing trip, and I’m already looking forward to returning to the Pacific Northwest. If you want to see more photos of my trip check out our Flickr page.

How to Improve Your Food Photos for Your Blog with DIY Photography Boards

As registered dietitians, we certainly know a lot about the subject of food and nutrition, and now, after writing this blog since 2007 (can you believe it’s been that long?), we’re working hard to tackle the topic of food photography. One thing we’ve learned about taking pretty food photos is that the background can make a big difference. A while back, Janice’s friends gave us some old boards from their 1800′s New England barn. Then Liz snagged an old weathered piece of wood her husband was about to throw away. Both have become our go-to background boards, and both have been showcased here on the blog many times. But now we’re bored … so we decided to create some new boards DIY style!

DIY Photography Boards

To boost traffic to your site, it’s important to take pretty food photos. Gorgeous images of food—whether decadent or healthy—will improve the Pin-ability of your pictures and increase the odds your photos will be accepted to sites like Healthy Aperture, Food Gawker, and Tastespotting. And if you’re like us and spend your days cooking up healthy recipes for families, nice-looking food photos can help to entice kids to try new foods and take that first bite!

Here’s our step-by-step guide to creating DIY food photography boards:

DIY Photography Boards

STEP 1: Buy Your Boards. We stopped by Home Depot with our intern, Catherine, and this more-than-eager salesman was happy to show us a bunch of birch “handypanel” boards.

Supplies:

  • One 2 x 2 foot, 1/2-inch-thick handypanel board = $7.42 per board
  • Three 2 x 4 foot, 1/4-inch-thick birch handypanel boards = $8.52 per board (* The salesman cut each of these boards in half to create two 2 x 2 foot boards. If you do this, tell the guy to use a sharp saw blade to avoid splintering. Several of our boards were splintered at the cut edge, which required sanding).

DIY photography boards

STEP 2: Buy Your Stains and Paints

Supplies:

Brushes –

  • One 2-inch foam brush for staining = $0.77 each
  • Three 2-inch bristle brushes for painting = $1.15 each

Paints and Stains –

  • Two 7.25-ounce Behr paint samples = $2.94 per sample
    Colors = Blue Jewel and Glazed Raspberry
  • Two 8-ounce jars of Varathane stain = $5.26 per jar
    Colors = Dark Walnut and Sunbleached
  • We also used a Benjamin Moore paint color called Palm Coast Teal that Janice had left over from painting Leah’s room.

DIY Photography Boards via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

STEP 3: Stain Your Boards. We hired Janice’s daughter, Carolyn, to help us with the project. She’s home from college and about to leave for an internship in DC, so we took advantage of her two week lull!

DIY Photography Boards

STEP 4: Use a foam brush to place stain on one side of board. Wait 24 hours and then either add another coat of stain or brush on a coat of paint. To give your boards an old-time feel, leave room for the stain to show through beneath the paint. Once dry, you can repeat on the other side with stain and a different color of paint. Or, you can stain the board and leave as is.

DIY Photography Board

Half-inch 2 x 2 foot board with one coat of Dark Walnut stain.

DIY Photography Boards

Quarter-inch birch board with one coat of Sunbleached stain.

DIY Photography Boards

Quarter-inch birch board with one coat of Dark Walnut stain and one coat of Glazed Raspberry paint.

DIY Photography Boards

Quarter-inch birch board with one coat of Sunbleached stain and one coat of Blue Jewel paint.

DIY Photography Boards

How cool is this? We took this photo with the Camera + app, edited it, and then added a filter in Instagram. The background board had one coat of Dark Walnut stain.

When it comes to your choice of stain colors or paint colors, the sky is the limit. Our goal was to have some boards with stain only and a few boards with stain and paint. We also purchased a 2 x 4 foot black chalk board that we cut in half, so it will be fun to experiment with that. So, for $70.89 in materials we got 9 boards, which should be enough to add a bit of variety to our backgrounds. Moving forward, we would like to create a board with stain plus cream-colored paint and another one in a terracotta color.

We hope you’ve found our tutorial to be interesting and helpful and that you’ll let us know if you end up taking the food photo board plunge youself! There are other tutorials out there on the web including an excellent one by Recipe Girl, and we’ve shared links to many others on our Delicious Photography Tips Pinterest Board.

A Mother’s Day Recipe for Peanut Butter Crepes with Strawberry Sauce … and a Sneak Peek at my Recent Trip to Napa

I’ve never made crepes before—at least not that I can remember—but they’re super easy to make, even if you’re a kid with a dad hovering over your shoulder. These peanut-butter filled crepes are the perfect breakfast-in-bed treat for Mother’s Day … and they’re healthy too! All YOU have to do is copy the recipe and pass it along to your family. HINT HINT!

Peanut Butter Crepes with Strawberry Sauce via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen #MothersDay #Breakfast #Nutrition

Many of the crepe recipes I’ve seen are made with lots of butter (yes, I used some, but not much, and I used “light”), filled with all sorts of decadent cream cheese-laden ingredients, and topped with whipped cream. My crepes are a lot lighter, which is something I know you moms will appreciate. They provide a nice helping of protein thanks to the heart-healthy peanut butter and the Greek yogurt, and they’re filled with vitamin C from the strawberries. Plus … they are gorgeous to look at.

Peanut Butter Crepes with Strawberry Sauce via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen #MothersDay #Breakfast #Nutrition

The motivation for making crepes was twofold: First, it’s Mother’s Day, and when we asked our Facebook fans what they would love as a breakfast-in-bed surprise for Sunday, crepes topped the list (along with waffles). Second, last weekend, I traveled to Napa, CA for a food and nutrition conference sponsored by the Peanut Institute. We spent some time at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone where a peanut butter crepe recipe was demonstrated. My recipe is a version of that one.

This is the view from my window as we flew towards California. A feast for the eyes!

Culinary Institute of America

A chef at the CIA demonstrated an interesting technique for making crepes. She suggested blending the crepe batter ingredients—a quick way to get everything incorporated—and said the key to crepe success is a nonstick pan. You can certainly use a lot less butter that way.

Peanut Butter Crepes with Strawberry Sauce via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen #MothersDay #Breakfast #Nutrition

Peanut Butter Crepes with Strawberry Topping

Makes 6 Servings

Peanuts are one of nature’s most nutrient-rich foods. Hmmm … where to begin? They contain vitamin E, which research shows boosts the immune system and lowers heart disease risk. They also contain more arginine (an amino acid) than any other food; arginine improves circulation and may help to lower blood pressure. And studies indicate that when people include peanuts and peanut butter in their daily diets they have lower BMIs and body weight. The nutrient analysis for this recipe is per crepe, and I suggest you serve it with lots of fresh, sliced strawberries on the side. (Recipe adapted from the Culinary Institute of America.)

  • One 12-ounce bag frozen organic strawberries (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus a pinch, divided
  • 3/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 1 large egg (preferably an omega-3 egg)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons light butter, melted, divided
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup 0%-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • Sliced fresh strawberries for topping, optional
  • Powdered sugar, optional

1. Place the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and a pinch of the salt, in a small or medium saucepan. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to cook at a low boil, stirring every few minutes, until the berries break down and the mixture is nice and syrupy, 15 to 20 minutes. To speed things up, use the back of a spoon to smoosh the berries against the side of the saucepan as you stir.

2. Remove the berries from the heat and transfer to a bowl (you’ll have about 1 cup of sauce). Let cool to room temperature, or cover and place in the refrigerator for later use.

3. To make the crepes, place the milk, egg, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon of the melted butter, 1/8 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt in a blender and blend until smooth and all ingredients are incorporated.

4. Heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Lightly brush the pan with a bit of the remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter. Place a scant 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan and swirl to form an even layer. Cook until the bottom is lightly browned, 60 to 90 seconds. Use a spatula to flip the crepe and cook an additional 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and cover with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining butter and batter. (You can make the crepes ahead of time, cover, and place in the fridge. Before assembly, simply heat each crepe for about 10 seconds in the microwave.)

5. To assemble, spread 2 teaspoons peanut butter on each warm crepe. Spread on about 1 tablespoon of the strawberry sauce. Fold the crepes in half and then in half again to create a triangle. Top or serve with Greek yogurt, the remaining strawberry sauce, and sliced berries and powdered sugar as desired.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 crepe):  200 calories, 9g fat (3g saturated), 150mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 9g protein, 40% vitamin C

Print Recipe

Post a comment and let me know what you had for Mother’s Day!

Disclosure: I do not work for the Peanut Institute, but my travel expenses associated with the conference were paid for.  All opinions and recipes are mine and the scientific research addressed in this post is based on peer-reviewed, published studies.

Not a Baaaaaad Way to Entertain in My New Kitchen … with a Lamb Dinner for Boston Foodies

Most of us would probably entertain more often if someone else did the food shopping for us and then stopped by to prepare, serve, and clean up the mess! It takes hours to plan and implement a spectacular dinner party … hours most of us don’t have in our busy lives. As much as I love to cook and entertain, which I do fairly often, it was great to recently host a dinner party for local foodies on behalf of the Tri-Lamb Group AND have it catered by Miss Fork, a boutique catering company in Stoneham, MA.

Chef Julie at Lean on Lamb Dinner via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Chef Julie served up samples of my Barbecue Lamb Sliders which one guest declared as, “mad good.”  I’m a big fan of lamb not only because of the flavor and the fact that it’s nutrient rich, but it’s also surprisingly lean (especially the leg, loin, and rack) with an average 3-ounce serving containing only 175 calories.

Lean on Lamb Dinner via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Every item on the menu was inspiring, but the Armenian Lamb Kufta and the Mediterranean Lamb Loin Chops with Quinoa Salad were show stoppers!

Liz Enjoying her Lamb Loin Chop

Liz certainly enjoyed the Mediterranean Lamb Loin Chops with Quinoa Salad!

Boston Area Bloggers at Lean on Lamb Dinner  via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Boston-area food bloggers were invited to the dinner including Shannon from Tri to Cook, Christine from America’s Test Kitchen, Kathy from Kathy Can Cook, Pam from Cave Cibum, and Rachel from Fork it Over Boston.

Carolyn O'Neil and Allison via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Fellow RD and author Carolyn O’Neil (on the left) was in town from Atlanta to receive the Nutrition Science Media Award for 2013 from the American Society for Nutrition, so I was thrilled that she was able to join us. Here she is along with Allison Beadle from the PR firm Salt & Co.

Cookbook Author Maria Speck with Janice via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Maria Speck, author of one of my favorite cookbooks, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, took a break from writing her second book to enjoy a few nibbles and a glass of sparkling wine.

Grilled Lamb and Vegetable Kabobs

If these lamb kabobs have you yearning for more, be sure to try my Sweet & Sour Lamb Meatballs. Stay tuned for my Barbecue Lamb Slider recipe on the blog in the coming days…

Sweet & Sour Lamb Meatballs via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

Disclosure: Janice was compensated for recipe development and media work by the Tri-Lamb Group

Kitchen Makeover Update: I Host an Open House for the Contractors and Builders Who Worked on the Project

My kitchen makeover took six months to complete, but do you know how many people it took to make it happen?  The answer: A lot! It took a village to make my dream kitchen a reality … from the architect, excavators, framers, roofers, and siders to the countertop/appliance/cabinet suppliers, plumbers, electricians, tilers, painters, and general contractors. To thank everyone for their hard work and commitment, I invited them to an open house in my new kitchen last weekend.

Kitchen Makeover Workers via MealMakeoverMoms.com

A few of the key people who helped with the kitchen makeover are Randy from Sears/Kenmore, Paul from Paul John & Son Roofing, Dave the tile guy, Billy the plumber, Tom the general contractor, Alberto and Jorge from Paul’s Professional Painting, and Tom #2 (Tom’s sidekick), the guy with the colander on his head!

Party Food via MealMakeoverMoms.com

Luckily we have a 9.5-foot Silestone island that comfortably held all the food for the party. My friend Mary’s mozzarella, tomato, basil skewers and our Roasted Carrot Hummus were crowd favorites.

Tashia shredding the pork

I made two slow cookers full of our Pulled Pork Primavera Sandwiches, and they were devoured. You may recognize Tashia, one of our past Boston University interns, who came early to help me organize the pantry and then helped shred the pork.

Carole Cabinetry Designer and Owner via MealMakeoverMoms.com

Kathy and Maura from Carole Kitchen and Bath Design inspect the eco-friendly Executive Cabinetry cabinets!

Kenmore double oven demo via MealMakeoverMoms.com

Randy, the awesome Sears sales associate who helped me pick out my Kenmore appliances, was impressed with the double oven.

In addition to the builders, I invited my many neighbors who endured months of trucks on the street, our messy yard, and construction noise.  There were 52 people who showed up, and it never felt crowded in the space!

Tom Moylan and Tom Roy, builders extraordinaire!

My kitchen makeover would not have happened without these two guys: Tom Moylan and Tom Roy. They were fixtures at my house for six months. Some days I miss seeing them, but most of the time I’m glad they have moved on so I can cook and entertain in my new kitchen!

My Parents Pass the Holiday Entertaining Baton: Easter Celebration in My New Kitchen

My parents have hosted every major holiday since I was born … and well before that too. They’re the ultimate entertainers, and they throw a party like no one else I know. Mom sets her game plan weeks in advance, and she and Dad set their beautiful dining room table days before their doorbell rings … and rings … and rings.

momdadedited

Mom and Dad on Easter 2012. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t make it to Easter dinner this year due to a medical issue. Luckily, we live close by so we were able to send over a nice plate of food — (lamb and asparagus are two of his favorite foods) — and we called him a few times throughout the day to cheer him up.

All this holiday entertaining doesn’t happen without a lot of effort on my parents’ part, so I decided it was high time I stepped up to welcome my family here for Easter. After all, I have the space now in my new kitchen, and I have a brand, spanking new Kenmore double oven, which makes cooking for a crowd so much easier than life before my Kitchen Makeover.

Bissex family Easter

We fit twelve people easily around my new Pompanoosuc Mills extension table, and Don and I could have fit two more on the ends if we needed to.

Janice Cooking

I made a lovely raisin sauce to go with our ham that I adapted from a Farmland Foods recipe I found online. I cut back a bit on the butter and sugar and used cornstarch instead of flour, and it was very tasty. (Yes, I did use a bit of rum.)

Jeff slicing the leg of lamb

One of the highlights this year: My brother Jeff brought a whole leg of lamb that he cooked in his new smoker. The flavor was amazing.

Buffet Easter Dinner at Chez Bissex

 Scalloped Potatoes, Maple Glazed Carrots, Grilled Asparagus, Smoked Leg of Lamb, and Honey Baked Ham were on the menu at Chez Bissex this Easter.

EasterFriends

In addition to family, holidays are about friends, and I was delighted that Nancy (right) stopped by for Easter dessert and Shirley (left) invited me over to her house the day before Easter to try her family’s awesome pizzagaina (a traditional Italian dish made with eggs, meat, and cheese).

It wouldn’t be Easter dinner without the “Lamby Cake” that our family friend Lucy makes every year.  Gotta love our holiday traditions!

BissexGirls

I couldn’t resist sharing this photo of my two girls. Leah was so happy when her big sister, Carolyn, came home to celebrate the holiday.

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