A Friendsgiving feast (+pistachio pumpkin biscotti)


Happy Friendsgiving!

Yesterday I hosted my 11th Friendsgiving, which is a tradition I’ve loved since college.  Throwing an open-house style potluck with lots of friends is a no-fail way to have a great time, and this year was no exception!

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Along with this pecan pie, I also made biscotti. This month’s RecipeRedux theme is “creative quick breads,” and since biscotti are technically  a quick bread (leavened without yeast), I figured these fit!  Click the blue frog at the bottom of the post to see all the other healthier-for-the-holidays quick bread recipes from members.

No fewer than 3 different people at the party asked who made them, so they are as delicious as they are pretty!  Wrap some up in a cellophane bag with a nice ribbon, pair with a mug and you have a lovely hostess gift this holiday season. ;)

Like the mug?  Check out StonewarebySarah for handcrafted gifts – lots of new items listed!

Pistachio pumpkin biscotti (adapted from Simply Recipes)

  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of pumpkin spice
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 6 ounces shelled pistachios
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of pumpkin purée
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine dry ingredients (through pistachios) in a mixing bowl and whisk until evenly mixed.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla together, then add to dry ingredients.  Stir to combine, then used hands to knead into a ball.  Break into two even pieces and shape each into a flattened log.  Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment for 45 minutes, then remove and cool for 20.  Lower oven temp to 300F.  Slice rolls into 1/2 inch-thick pieces, lay out on baking sheet, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.


4 Turkey Alternatives (that will please any crowd!)

This morning I was featured on the local ABC7 to discuss alternatives to turkey for the holidays – my third DC area television appearance!  Check it out:


Many thanks to the ABC7 team for making me feel so welcome and comfortable – they are as genuinely nice off the air as they are on it!

Want to learn how to do meal prep for healthy eating every week of the year with recipes personalized for you?  I offer personal nutrition assessment + cooking classes – check my package options to learn more!

Turkey Shortage?

A bout of avian flu in the midwest killed about 3% of the nation’s turkeys this year – though not before most of the frozen turkeys sold this November were already raised and frozen, according to the National Turkey Federation.  So prices may be higher ($0.59-1.99/lb for frozen birds in our area) but the supply is still robust.

To order a (DC-area) locally  raised turkey from a small farm, try:

But, since it’s unlikely that turkey as we know it was even present at the first Thanksgiving, why not buck the trend and offer something different?  Below are four ideas + recipes – each with their own claim to the place of honor as entree for the big day!

The other white meat: for meat-lovers who want something stuffed

A pork tenderloin is an impressive dish to serve, and could easily be stuffed with the same elements as a turkey – nuts, cranberries – and this recipe even include butternut squash!  The tenderloin has about the same amount of protein as turkey, and pairs nicely with similar ingredients.  Try this recipe by Gina (shes uses turkey tenderloin, but I used pork) – and don’t forget to visit your local farmer’s market to get higher quality, better-raised meats.

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The turkey shaped option: for visual effect

Cornish game hens are a breed or crossbreed of chicken; they’re very small, so these would make a nice individual-sized serving, or if on the larger side perhaps served by the half.  This recipe features some amazing fall flavors – lemon and sage – and Elizabeth shares my outlook on meat sourcing and portions to boot.


The vegetarian/vegan option: for the meat-free

What would a holiday post be without something from Martha Stewart?  Her stuffed acorn squash includes beans, quinoa, and nuts for protein that the squash lacks with a beautiful outcome that any guest would be delighted to have.  It would probably go well with a bechamel sauce, too!


The seafood version: a nod to our shellfish-eating forefathers

It’s likely that the early Thanksgivings included fish or shellfish, so serving a pescatarian option is very apropos!  Rosemary is one of my favorite cold-weather flavors, and oranges are in season now – added bonus, this dish takes under half an hour from start to finish: a big time savings so you can focus on side dishes.


Cookbook Giveaway! (+gluten-free pumpkin bread)


Things have lined up in a funny (should I say eerie?) way this week.  Last week I felt hectic, rushed, and that there wasn’t enough time in the day, and this week things fell into place – appointments scheduled neatly around my other calendar items, time felt long enough, and my to-do list has practically to-done itself.  The weather was rainy on the day I stayed in to do work, and sunny when I needed to be out and about on my bike.  The webinar I watched on ancient grains yesterday provided info for this post, which I’ve had on the docket for months.

So you’re thinking: wow, that’s nice.  How nice for you.  What’s in it for me?  And so I’m happy to reply: the chance to win a free, colorful, beautiful cookbook!  The folks at Grain Crazy, mother and daughter team Britney and Cherie, offered to give one of my readers their newest book, Quinoa Crazy.  I only do sponsored posts if I truly like and use the ingredient or food, so this one was an easy “yes!” when they asked.  I’m sharing my version of their quinoa pumpkin bread below, and all you have to do to be eligible to win is to 1) leave a comment at the bottom of the post and 2) like the Facebook post about this blog.  I’ll choose a winner at random on Wednesday, November 4th!

A few words about quinoa:

The plant is not actually a grass like wheat or oats, but quinoa seeds (the part you eat) have similar nutrient content and cooking methods so they’re often lumped together functionally.  It’s a complete protein (contains all 9 essential amino acids), is gluten-free, and can be eaten cooked or raw.  A crazy fact from the webinar I mentioned: The world has over 50,000 edible plants, but just three of them – rice, maize and wheat – provide 60% of the world’s food energy intake.  Diversifying your food intake is one of the best ways to be sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, so experiment with whole grains beyond those 3!

Start with this seasonal pumpkin bread

And let me know how it goes if you do!


  • 1 cup old fashioned oats + a few tables spoons for adding to the top
  • 1 cup quick-cooking steel cut oats*
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds*
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup dark mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree

*my additions to the recipe


Preheat the oven to 350F.  Mix together dry ingredients (first 7) in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, combine the honey, egg, and pumpkin until smooth and even.  Add to the dry ingredients and stir only as much as necessary to combine.  Pour the batter into a greased (I used coconut oil) loaf pan.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (some chocolate on it is ok).  Let the bread cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack (crucial for allowing steam to release; this is a very moist bread!).  Slice and enjoy!


RecipeRedux: National Nut Day!

I guess there’s really a day for everything these days, isn’t there?  Really though, I try to encourage everyone to eat nuts on a daily basis – a handful is a serving, they’re high in protein, fiber, and unsaturated fats, and they can be stored at room temperature.  The perfect snack, breakfast component, and wonderful in dishes sweet and savory alike.   Easy to store and portion in the office, the car, your purse…and there’s got to be a seasoning mix to please everyone out there!  Ok – my ode to nuts is over, but definitely worth consideration if you aren’t already eating them regularly!

What if I’m allergic?

Turn to seeds – sunflower, pumpkin, chia, flax…these have generally the same nutrient profile as nuts, but are different enough that most people with nut allergies aren’t triggered.  Make sure to check with your doctor if you aren’t sure which allergies you have!

Back to nuts

This recipe packs everything that tastes good about fall into one bite: pumpkin, pumpkin spice, apple, and almonds!  Add chocolate chips if you want a sweeter treat, and sub maple syrup for brown sugar if you have it on hand.  Delicious enough for dessert, but healthy enough for breakfast (try enjoying with plain greek yogurt!) – my favorite kind of recipe.  Don’t forget to check out the other nutty recipes by clicking the blue frog at the end of the post!

Pumpkin spice almond bars



  • 2 cups old fashioned (rolled) oats
  • 1 c slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 apple, diced (keep skin on for more fiber!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 very ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips (optional)


  1. Pre-heat oven to 325° F.
  2. Spray an 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl combine the oats, quinoa, almonds, chocolate chips, apple, pumpkin pie spice and salt.
  4. In a blender combine the sugar, banana, and pumpkin puree until smooth.
  5. Add pumpkin mixture to oat mixture and stir until all the oats are coated.
  6. Place oat mixture into the prepared pan and spread to be flat and even, packing down with the back of a spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.
  7. Let the bars cool, and cut into desired size (makes 10 snack sized bars).

Rocket Recap: the weekend’s recipes in pictures


Back from my 3rd Rocket Retreat with Jonathan Ewing – we have the schedule nailed down now, so the only things that change are the meals, the people, and the workshops.  Catch up on what Rocket yoga is and a little more about the retreat concept in either of my past two blogs on the topic…and enjoy the shots of food below!

Maryland shore soup with optional crab, baked potato bar, and almond crusted chicken tenders


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Baked eggs on toast with topping bar, Parmesan sweet potato wedges (photo courtesy of @tresslermania, who also shared many other lovely photos of the weekend on Instagram!)

Greek salad with grilled steak or pan roasted tofu
Peach and blueberry breakfast cake, cooling in the window

Scrambled egg bar, breakfast cake, and roasted potatoes

All of the above, plated!

Pasta with cauliflower alfredo and shrimp + antipasto platter

Fair Oaks Farm: a look inside an industrial pig farm

If there’s one thing I wish more people would do, it’s visit farms.  Most of our country has lost an intimate connection with the way our food is grown because they don’t grow it (raise it, slaughter it, or even cook it) themselves.  When you understand the life cycle of food – a leaf, a fruit, an animal – it encourages appreciation, balance, and a sense of connection that is disruptive to the cycle of overeating and food waste that our world is increasingly embracing.

Since I was in Chicago for a wedding this past weekend, I decided to add a day to the trip to visit a huge midwestern dairy farm that has recently (2013) added swine production.  This is the peak of agri-tourism: a campus of buildings to explore and more information than your head can hold at every turn!  There’s a restaurant (closed on Mondays, unfortunately), a cafe that sells ice cream and cheese (with floor to ceiling windows looking into their yogurt processing), a birthing barn, a 4D movie theater, an indoor ropes course, and a big garden (that was mostly dirt – assuming it was full earlier)!.  Due to the timing of our drive, we didn’t get to do a dairy tour, but did hop on a pig tour.

I was floored.  Surprised at not only some of the methods they use, but also that you could see every part of it.  The whole facility is designed around allowing visitors the ability to look through huge windows down into the barns – I’ll let you browse the pictures to see what I saw:

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“Main campus” – where you go to start the tours before you’re shuttled to the operating farm2015-10-05 13.28.42
Indoor ropes course – for kids and adults!  I like that there are lots of opportunities to be physically active on the trip here, though we didn’t have time for this.2015-10-05 14.15.56
The operational part of the pig farm – a large building built on top of the barns so you can see down into them.2015-10-05 14.10.36
Pigs being artificially inseminated in the background, post insemination in the foreground, where they stay until they have a confirmed pregnancy
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In the center of every observation deck there are interactive displays.  Here, you can give a fake pig a fake ultrasound.2015-10-05 13.54.34
Then the sows deliver in a farrowing crate, where they stay for 21 days (!!) eating and feeding their babies.  The average litter here is 14, and the farm’s record is 27 (!!!).  The sows can stand and lie on either side, have food and water always available at their nose, that pipe leading down to the front of the pig delivers fresh air.  The crate is to prevent them from laying on a piglet and squashing it to death – apparently a common situation? I forgot to ask the tour guide how often that happens, but found this conversation on a forum.

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They bring a new born piglet (that’s the umbilical cord hanging down) up to a window while the guide talks about the birth cycle.  Minutes old, and very cute!

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As they grow, they’re put in groups with other pigs of their age and size to reduce bullying.

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Even bigger!  All the floors they walk on are slatted so the manure drops down and is removed to use as fertilizer as crops, and run through a digester to create energy. The pigs move from this stage to another farm where they’re raised to slaughter weight.

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There were a lot of high tech displays – this one puts you into a virtual pig pen, and the computer pigs actually move around in response to where you stand.

What do you think?

The reason I encourage people to visit farms is because everyone seems to have an opinion about food, but very few actually try to see things firsthand, and even fewer are doing the actual work of it.  In the past few years I’ve become a lot more conscientious of how often I eat meat and where I get it from, and the truth is that most meat in our country is raised pretty much like this.  I do believe that all of these pigs are clinically healthy and well-monitored – the farm and barns were so clean the word “sterile” came to my mind more than once – but they live their lives from birth to death in an enclosed room on a concrete slab.  They have other pigs around them to play with and snuggle with, but not very much space to roam or root or explore (one display mentioned that an adult pig is about as smart as a 3-year old human).  As an American consumer, the only real power you have to change systems like this (unless you want to go into the business!) is to choose carefully how you spend your money.  It’s the reason I encourage people to talk to farmers, support local farms they can visit, and be willing to spend a little more on meat if they choose to eat it.

Share your thoughts!  Does this bother you?  Does it change anything about the way you want to eat?

Natural Products Expo East: thoughts on GMO-food and some food (samples) for thought

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This year, I went to the NatProdExpo for the second time.*  It’s in Baltimore, an easy jaunt from DC, and if you’re a foodie, it’s THE place to check out new food trends, sample everything from ice cream to hemp seeds, and hear interesting speakers on topics from “The Real Reason We Need GMO Labeling” to “The Importance of Nutrition for Behavior, Learning and Mood.”  And as a bonus (for me, at least) – it’s not just food!  They have health and beauty products, kitchen products, laundry products, and everything in between.

So, what’s a “natural” product?

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Certified Piedmontese Beef                              Color Maker, Inc

Really, almost anything.  Because the term “natural” isn’t specifically defined and yet is still favorably received by customers, everyone co-opts it.  The food section features everything from natural steak to natural food coloring (pictured above), and there were too many gluten-free, GMO-free, dairy-free, nut-free, animal-free products to count.  The conference is billed as the “largest natural, organic and healthy products event,” and there’s definitely a strong health angle, but it’s important to bear in mind that what IS in a product is more important than what it’s “free” of.  There were more than a dozen candy companies represented there, including Jelly Belly’s (they’re organic).  My gauge of the healthiness of a food is nutrient density – the amount of vitamins/minerals per calorie – and through that lens, a huge chunk of the food companies wouldn’t make my list of “things to consume regularly and frequently.” Here’s a brief roundup of products that caught my eye!

Product Review

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Michele’s Granola – a friend of mine introduced me to this granola company, and I have to say I’ve really never tasted better.  Somehow they get it light and crisp and crunchy without being too hard…as much as I tried, their representative wouldn’t tell me the secret to getting it this way!  It’s pretty low in sugar, and the first 5-6 ingredients are oats, coconut, nuts, and seeds.  My only critique: they appear to only use canola oil; I’d like to see more variety in that department!  This pic is of their new Muesli product, their version of the traditional German breakfast dish.


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Manitoba Harvest – I’ve had their hemp seeds (which are a fantastic addition to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, baked goods, etc), but they have new bars out, and they’re pretty good!  10g of protein and 3g of fiber, with only 9g of sugar despite the fact that that’s high on the ingredient list (I always look for a 3:1 sugar:fiber ratio to make sure my blood sugar won’t be spiking after eating!).  At 240 calories, this would make a nice afternoon snack, or couple well with a piece of fruit for a light breakfast.


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Bob’s Red Mill – oats, quinoa, chia seeds…and dozens of other products that even “regular” grocery stores carry under this brand.  They’re branching out with some new to-go oatmeal cups and even pea protein powders, items I’m not usually a huge fan of, but their staples are tried and true, and Bob himself comes in his cute hat to meet people at the expo.  I skipped that because I did last year, but how cool is that?


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Fage Yogurt – I’m always looking for WHOLE greek yogurt that’s strained (not thickened with gums, starches, or powders), and it’s getting a little easier to find.  My go-to is plain, but with these new whole-fat flavors I couldn’t resist!  Flavored yogurts tend to be mostly sugary and I view them more as a treat than a staple, but Fage totals have a reasonable balance of fat, protein, and sugar.


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Perfect Pickler – this, I love.  It’s a home pickling kit that takes the guess work and cooking/canning aspects out and puts some healthy probiotics IN.  The only problem I see here is that I’d want to do more than one jar at at time, but if you make a jar a week (it takes a few days at room temp for them to be sufficiently pickled) you’d have lovely add-ons for sandwiches, salads, and soups for a family very easily.  Kim-chi me!

Educational Sessions

Changing Diets, Changing Minds: The Importance of Nutrition for Behavior, Learning and Mood Presented by: Carlson Labs

Dr. Alex Richardson is a very engaging [woman!] professor at Oxford, and spoke primarily about the importance of omega-3’s for mental health.  Her presentation was very well laid out – she had the audience on the edges of seats as she described the typical amounts consumed, the problem with having such a vegetable-oil heavy fatty acid supply, and how getting enough DHA/EPA has implications for everything from learning to read to maternal post-partum depression.  She showed this slide, which is imaging of the neural connectivity of a child’s brain whose mother did and didn’t get enough omega-3 during pregnancy, respectively:

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In this case, you are what your mother eats, and many mothers aren’t making sure their balance of omega-3 to omega-6 is at the right level!  I’m a huge proponent of eating a variety of fats (instead of avoiding fat), and Dr. Richardson emphasized the importance of fatty fish to meet the levels (nuts and seeds have some omega-3’s, but unfortunately not in the form that is most potent in the body).  She also noted that the previous recommendation for pregnant women to eat a maximum of 2-3 servings of fish per week is now the target amount, because the benefit of the fish outweighs the risk of mercury poisoning, especially if you focus on certain types of fish.

On the downside (for a food-first dietitian), despite noting that healthy levels of omega-3 are achievable through diet alone, her emphasis was on using supplements to make up for deficiencies.  No surprise really – the talk was sponsored by Carlson Labs, who make supplements – but my recommendation would be to

1) look to changes you can make in your diet first (fish 2-3 times/week)
2) get blood levels of omega-3’s checked
3) supplement only after 1 and 2 prove to be inadequate.

Ask your doctor if he/she can order that test, especially if you don’t eat fish or are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Non-GMO Series: The Real Reason We Need GMO Labeling

Presented by Gary Hirshberg, the founder of the “Just Label It” movement (and former dairy farmer, I was surprised to learn!), this was the most interactive talk I went to.  Gary is a compelling speaker, very smart, and laid out the reasons for his campaign with clarity and passion.

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I went into this session as someone opposed to Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling, for the following reasons: GMO technology (by itself) has not been shown to have health implications for human consumption, people are confused enough by labels as it is (why add one more that doesn’t indicate health or lack there of?), and it could steer people away from healthy foods (GMO vegetables) and toward those that aren’t (non-GMO cookies).  Also, plants and animals that are certified organic can’t contain GMO’s by law – so there you have a way to choose non-GMO if you want!

Getting the full story on any issue you want to “take a side on” is crucial, so I’m so glad I went to this talk – I learned so much, and understand more nuances of the situation than I’d thought about initially.  Gary’s primary reason for starting this campaign is to strike a blow at one of the most pervasive uses of GMO technology: herbicide usage.  There’s a crucial distinction here that most people don’t fully realize – GMO technology and herbicide/pesticide technology are two separate things. Genetic modification of an alfalfa plant that allows it to be unaffected by herbicide and application of said herbicide are separate steps.  Got it?  So, in this particular instance of use of GMO technology, herbicide use in our country skyrocketed.  (That jump is even mostly attributable to a single GMO modification in a single plant: soy.) When that happened, the only weeds that survived were the toughest weeds, and adapted to become resistant to herbicide, which then necessitates bigger doses or stronger herbicides to kill.  Basically, in an arms war with nature, nature is always going to win in the end.  The best way to farm is to work with the land, not against it – Mother Nature will genetically modify with sample sizes and a level of mastery humans can’t compete with!

So, back to the labeling.  Why label?  Why not just attack the use of herbicides that cause resistant weeds and is dangerous for people to breathe and eat?  Someone asked that question, and sadly the answer came down to: legal tactics and money.  The Just Label It organization has only tens of thousands of dollars to put against multi millions of the food and ag companies, so they’re trying to get them to change though public/consumer pressure, knowing that most manufacturers will not want to put the two words “genetically modified” before ingredients on their food labels.  (I was glad to learn that they’re only pushing for a bid to add that in the ingredient list, and not create a new front of package label – although there’s a certification that has taken this route from the GMO-Free side.)

Here was the real surprise to me: Gary himself isn’t actually “anti-GMO.”  I went up to talk to him after he finished speaking, and asked about what he thought of the use of GMO technology for purposes other than herbicide resistance.  What if the technology was used to reduce harmful compounds in foods (like acrylamide in potatoes) or enhance positive ones (like beta-carotene in rice) or make a crop resistant to bugs without the use of pesticide application (as in Bt eggplant)?**  I’m not going to quote him directly, because I didn’t record and I wouldn’t want to get it wrong, but Gary said that with the proper testing for safety for consumption and environmental impact, genetically modifying food might prove to have merit (and he was actually the one who pointed me to the potato example, saying, “that’s interesting”).  If a food company wants to enhance a food by genetically modifying it, they should be transparent about what and how they’re doing, and use the “GM” label as a jumping off point for a conversation and education about the process.

To be honest, I’m still not sure if I’ll sign the Just Label It petition.  I’m glad I’m a lot more aware of their cause and its roots, and I’m all for transparency in food production, but I worry that being “GMO” will become equivalent to “bad for you” in a permanent way, when only some applications of the technology are problematic.  Requiring transparency of how safety and efficacy trials are conducted should be part of the solution.  I view this the same way I do computers, or automobiles – it all depends how you use it, and how well you test it; anything can be applied to make life better, or to hurt people and cause destruction.  It’s a big, complicated topic, and I welcome any questions or insights you may have!  Overall, I had a fantastic time at the Expo, and hope to go back next year.  Thanks for reading about my experience!

Join me on Instagram as I take a romp through all things food and pottery!

*I attended the Expo free of charge as a blogger.  I was not paid to attend and received free samples from the vendors I chose to write about.

**The articles linked to here are also excellent for exploring the issue of GMO technology as a whole, and do a good job of addressing all sides of the issue