Archive for Healthy Holiday Foods

My Earliest Food Memory

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope that each and every person has a wonderful holiday filled with food, fun, and family! I also hope that everyone gets a chance to relax and enjoy the friends and family that surrounds them. Is anyone having a “White” Christmas? It is rare to get any fluffy white snow here in North Carolina!


Christmas Eve is my absolute favorite holiday of the year. I have a long-standing tradition of going to the church that I grew up in and attending the midnight mass on the 24th with my Dad and best friend Lisa. It is my time to reflect about how the past year went, and to be thankful for my friends, family, and my presence here on earth. Unfortunately, I will be unable to continue this tradition this year, but hopefully I will be able to find some peace of mind and time to reflect this Christmas Eve. I will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas with my Mom, and then traveling to Philadelphia to visit my Dad and friends back home for the remainder of the holiday season. I am looking forward to visiting everyone! What are your travel plans for the holiday?

Speaking of long-standing traditions, I wrote a paper for my Gastronomy class last year about my “earliest food memory.” It is directly related to Christmas, and is actually one of my favorite descriptive papers I have written over the years. My hope is to get everyone in the holiday spirit and to think about what your earliest food memories or holiday traditions are!


For those that have read MFK Fisher’s book The Gastronomical Me, the author describes her first food memory as eating warm peach pie with thick cream poured on top. Her father served this dessert to her and sister Anne while traveling back home after a trip to Los Angeles. She states that she does not remember what she ate, except for the peach pie at the end of the meal. She describes her food experience by saying, “Perhaps that is because it was the first conscious one, for me at least; but the fact that we remember it with such queer clarity must mean that it had other reasons for being important. I suppose that happens at least once to every human. I hope so.” I can relate to MFK Fisher with my own food memories throughout my life, because most of the time it isn’t the foods that are important to you, it is the people that you shared the foods with and the experience you had at that time.

My earliest food memory dates back to when I was about four years old. My younger brother and I absolutely adored Christmas morning when we were children, and we used to get up really early in the morning and wake our parents out of bed in order to open up our gifts. My parents of course did not want to wake up as early as my brother and I did, so we were told that we could not open any gifts until breakfast was made and coffee was prepared. In the meantime, my brother and I would impatiently sit at the top of the staircase, staring down at the glowing Christmas tree in excitement with all of our mysterious gifts placed underneath the tree.

My mother was always the first one to get out of bed, and while still in her pajama bottoms and white shiny Isotoner slippers, would carefully hurdle over my brother and I at the top of the staircase to start the coffee in the kitchen. At the time I did not drink coffee, but I can distinctly remember the strong, bitter aroma that encompassed the entire house and the sound of the coffee percolating into the pot. Then, my Mom would reach into the refrigerator and pull out a cylindrical tube of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. I know this may sound very trivial to others, but baking Pillsbury cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning has turned into a tradition since that year. I can remember the distinct “pop” of the can and the sound of the cardboard and foil unraveling in order to get to the dough. I can smell the vivid and sweet aroma of cinnamon and bread seeping from the oven for the short ten minutes they take to bake. Once the cinnamon rolls were finished baking, that was a sign to my brother and I that it was time to race downstairs and open up our gifts.

I always waited until I finished unwrapping my presents to go into the kitchen and select a cinnamon roll to eat. I enjoyed savoring the smell of the rolls cooling off in the kitchen while opening my presents, and eventually the smell made me so hungry that my stomach would start to growl. I selected the largest cinnamon roll in the batch, and remember taking a blunt butter knife and spreading a heaping portion of gooey white icing on top of the roll, making sure to melt the icing into all of the nooks and crannies of the roll. To be honest, I do not remember exactly what the cinnamon roll tasted like at that time in my life, I just remember all of the events that preceded the consumption of my cinnamon roll on Christmas Day.

From that year forward, the smell of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls baking in the oven and coffee brewing reminds me of Christmas Day.  Not only do I love the taste of cinnamon rolls, but I enjoy reminiscing about what that food represents to me. It brings me back to my childhood and being together with my family, and when the biggest concern my brother and I had were opening the gifts underneath our Christmas tree. Just like MFK Fisher says, “When I think of that food, it is the people I see.” Although my Mom cannot fully replicate the memories behind baking the original Pillsbury cinnamon buns now, she still continues to bake them every Christmas morning with a steaming pot of hot coffee, and I get excited to open my Christmas gifts once again.


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Beat the Holiday Sugar Rush!

Like most people during the holiday season, I often find myself saying that I’m “too busy to exercise” or that I’m “too tired to cook” during the holiday season. With all of the holiday baking, present wrapping, and tree decorating that occurs during December, it is definitely difficult to stick to your normal diet and exercise routine. The holidays are also well-known for calorie-dense, sugar-laden treats…and don’t get me wrong, I love them as much as you do! However, I have two recipes here that are simple, easy, tasty, and require minimal ingredients. Many of the ingredients are fresh and include a serving of fruits and vegetables and have minimal added sugars. So beat the sugar rush this season and try these two recipes for great on-the-go yet sustainable nutrition! You can have these for a quick breakfast, a post-workout snack, an on-the-go meal while traveling, or a unique holiday treat! After all, the spinach and the red peppers make for some festive dishes!

Spinach Shake

This recipe includes all of the food groups…protein, dairy, fruit, vegetable, and healthy fat. How convenient! I just tried out this recipe today as a post-workout snack and it was delicious! And, it takes less than 2 minutes to prepare.


1 scoop vanilla protein powder

½ banana

¾ cup almond milk

1 tsp. peanut butter

1 cup spinach



Combine ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Easy Egg Muffins

Here is a perfect snack to enjoy guilt-free! Each muffin is packed with protein that will fuel your day and support muscle growth. Make a bunch of these and save them in the fridge for snacks on-the-go, or make them for a quick Christmas Day breakfast! You can conveniently find all of these ingredients at your local farmer’s market.

Servings: 6


6 free range, organic, omega-3 eggs

½ red bell pepper, finely chopped

1/8 cup organic, low fat shredded cheese

Pinch of salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line muffin tins with paper liners or grease lightly
  3. Mix up the eggs, add bell pepper, cheese, salt and pepper.
  4. Fill 6 muffin tins
  5. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until eggs are fully set.

Nutritional Analysis:

1 muffin: 89 calories, 6g fat, 120mg sodium, 1g carbohydrate, .16g fiber, 7.5g protein

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Give the Gift of Health for the Holidays!

Are you looking for a more creative, thoughtful, or useful gift to give your friends and family this year? Why not give the gift of health during the holidays? Check out these 10 simple healthy gifts that will keep on giving all year long!

1. Create a list of healthy gift options for friends and family members this holiday season

2. Make a gift certificate to take your child bowling, exploring in a park, or playing in the snow!

3. Put together a basket of colorful fruits and veggies to brighten someone’s holiday

4. Give a reusable water bottle, and personalize it for a special surprise!

5. Give to those in need! Donate canned goods as well as your the to help “serve up health” to others who are less fortunate. PORCH, The Interfaith Food Shuttle, and the Emergency Shelter of Eastern and Central North Carolina are always looking for healthy food donations in the Raleigh area.

6. Create a healthy recipe book that includes some of your family’s favorite dishes!

7. Purchase a gym membership, personal training sessions, or even a new piece of home exercise equipment for a loved one

8. Schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian to re-vamp your diet in the new year!

9. Surprise your friend or family with a subscription to a CSA box or Papa Spuds for fresh local food, year round!

10. Purchase a gift from the farmers market for a great stocking stuffer! Local honey, artisan cheese, or homemade jam are creative ideas.

Do you have any healthy holiday gift ideas? Share them here!


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Thanksgiving Potluck in Los Angeles

I promised that I would make a blog post about my Thanksgiving Day adventure, so here it goes! My brother invited many of his friends from film school who were staying in L.A. for the holiday. We had about 15 people in total come over for the occasion, and everyone brought a dish to add to the Thanksgiving buffet. What I found particularly fun was that all of our guests came from different parts of the world, including China, Russia, Romania, Spain, and Mexico. Many people made traditional holiday dishes from their country, including sangria, tortillas, and gazpacho. I decided to make a very traditional American Thanksgiving menu, which many of our guests have never had before. Thanksgiving was filled with many international foods, flavors, and memories!

My brother JR and I cooking up Thanksgiving dinner!

Here is what our menu looked like:


Cornbread stuffing

Turkey gravy

Homemade mashed potatoes

Homemade sweet potato casserole

Homemade orange spiced cranberry sauce

Steamed carrots

Homemade chocolate pumpkin pie

Chocolate pumpkin pie...yum!

Orange spiced cranberry sauce

Spanish "tortilla" with eggs, onions, and sliced potatoes

I will be posting some of my favorite holiday recipes on the blog throughout the Christmas season. I would love to hear what your Thanksgiving traditions are, and what you love to prepare for your guests! 

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Homemade Sweet Potato Bread…It’s Holiday Heaven!

This week, I had a bunch of sweet potatoes leftover from my last CSA box of the season, but I had no idea what to do with them. It is post-Thanksgiving after all, and I am all sweet potato-ed out! I happened to be glancing through the latest Penzey’s Spices catalog when I noticed the perfect seasonal recipe for me to try- sweet potato bread…and let me say that it was a match made in heaven! This bread does not have an extremely strong sweet potato flavor, but is definitely a desert-type bread with its cinnamon and nutmeg undertones. It is delicious when served with hot coffee for breakfast, or spread with peanut butter for an afternoon snack!

Sweet Potato Bread

Courtesy of Penzey’s Spices Holiday 2011 Catalog

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Baking Time: 50-60 minutes

Yields: 12 slices

Nutrition Facts: 1 slice= 250 calories, 9g fat, 30mg cholesterol, 170mg sodium, 40g carbs, 1g fiber, 24g sugar, 3g protein.

Ingredients needed to make sweet potato cake


Don't forget the sweet potatoes!


1 ¾ cup all purpose flour

1 ½ cup sugar

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

½-1 tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

½ cup canola oil

1/3 cup water

1 tsp/ vanilla sugar



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix well.
  3. In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs, sweet potatoes, oil, and water.
  4. Stir into the dry ingredients just until moistened.
  5. Spoon into a greased and floured 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  6. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar over the top of the loaf.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan to a wire rack.


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Healthy Turkey Day Leftovers!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope everyone is enjoying spending time with their friends and family, making lifelong memories, and cooking some traditional holiday meals! This week, I made the journey back to the west coast, where I am visiting my younger brother in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. I have taken on the (slightly unexpected) task of cooking Thanksgiving dinner for him and over 20 of his friends. This is yet another experience that I will never forget, and I will be sure to post about my Thanksgiving dinner in California!

Most importantly, I hope everyone takes the time to be thankful for all of the positive people, places, and things in your lives right now.That is what Thanksgiving is all about (besides eating yourself into a food coma!). I am so thankful for my Mom, Dad, and brother and everything that they do to support me. I am also very thankful for my education, my career, my health, and all of the future opportunities that lie ahead of me. Finally, I am so very thankful for all of my friends, old and new, that have been such an integral part of my life and have helped motivate and encourage me throughout my life. I’d love to have you all share what you are thankful for this year!

Now that your all-day cooking and baking festivities have ended, what should you do with all of your Turkey Day leftovers? Let’s face it, it is awfully boring to continue to re-heat the same old turkey and stuffing over and over again. Well, I happened to come across a creative yet healthy recipe, courtesy of Lisa Lillien (aka “Hungry Girl” on Food Network), called “Thanksgiving in a Salad Bowl.” Everyday can feel like Thanksgiving with this super easy and nutritious salad! This salad is less than 300 calories per serving, which is something to be thankful about! Check out the tasty recipe below.

Thanksgiving in a Salad Bowl

Nutrition Facts: 296 calories, 7g fat, 497mg sodium, 28g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 19g sugars, 32g protein

You will need: Large plate or bowl, small bowl, whisk

Preparation Time: 10 minutes



2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

2 cups chopped spinach

3 ounces cooked, chopped, skinless lean turkey breast

2 Tbsp. dried cranberries, chopped

2 Tbsp. crumbled fat free feta cheese

1 Tbsp. chopped pecans



1 Tbsp. canned whole cranberry sauce

½ Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

½ tsp honey mustard

Dash of pepper and salt



On a large plate or bowl, combine all salad ingredients. Mix well and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Pour dressing over the salad or serve it on the side.

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Are You Ready for Turkey Day?

Free-range turkeys can roam throughout the farmland, increasing their health, diet, and overall quality of life compared to factory-raised turkeys.

Last year, Dr. Fisher, one of my professors at Meredith College, was describing to her students her annual turkey day traditions, one of which included reserving a free-range heritage turkey. Since I did not grow up in this area, I have never heard of reserving a turkey at a local farm. In fact, I thought that all Thanksgiving Day turkeys were always frozen, wrapped in white plastic and made from Butterball brand! That is all I have ever seen in my lifetime, so I was especially intrigued to look further into purchasing a free-range heritage turkey. Here is what I have found, and I hope you consider purchasing a free-range turkey for your holidays this year. You’ll get richer flavor, better nutrition, and the satisfaction of supporting a local poultry farmer!

Happy heritage turkey farmers!

Nutrition Know-How: Heritage versus Factory Farmed Turkeys

  • Pasture raised turkeys are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed turkeys that are raised in factory farms. They are also much lower in omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory.
  • Pasture-raised turkeys do no require antibiotics and hormones necessary to raise turkeys until the crowded conditions of factory farms. This essentially keeps the meat cleaner and safer for you to eat.
  • Factory farm turkeys tend to be dry and tasteless, so they’re often injected with a saline solution and additives to enhance their overall taste.
  • Turkeys processed by farmers instead of large processing facilities are much less likely to be exposed to contaminated and harmful bacteria, reducing your risk of food-bourne illness.
  • Turkeys are a great source of protein, Vitamin B6, Selenium, Zinc, and Phosphorus. It is best to receive these beneficial nutrients in a farm-raised turkey!

The classic roasted turkey is always a favorite, however there are many ways to prepare your turkey for your guests!

Quick and Easy Turkey Recipes:
Have leftover turkey during the holidays? Or, are you looking to prepare a new turkey dish for your friends and family this year? Look no further! Here are four delicious recipes that will tantalize your taste buds!
  1. Asian Turkey Cole Slaw- mix shredded turkey into your favorite slaw mix. Toss with tahini dressing and sesame vinaigrette, then add green onions and toasted slivered almonds for a zesty crunch.
  2. Turkey Avocado Wrap- on a whole grain wrap, spread cranberry mustard. Add shredded napa cabbage, sliced avocado, shredded turkey meat, and sliced strips of red bell pepper. Roll up the wrap and enjoy!
  3. Turkey Chili- mix up your favorite batch of chili. In the last five minutes of cooking, toss in a hearty helping of chopped cooked turkey meat. Top with a dollop of tangy greek yogurt and chopped green onions. Add a pinch of cayenne or red chili pepper for extra spice, and fresh cilantro for color and scent.
  4. Cubed Turkey on Salads- top your salads with leftover turkey and add your favorite seasonal ingredients, such as diced pears, apples, dried cranberries and toasted pecans (I have tried this before and it is not only healthy, but delicious!)
Have you purchased a free-range heritage turkey before for the holidays? Do you have a unique turkey recipe that you prepare for your friends and family? If so, share your thoughts here! 

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