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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Orange Spiced Cranberry Sauce…The Secret Recipe

I was born and raised a canned cranberry sauce girl. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, dinner was comprised of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, and sliced cranberry sauce. The shape of the cranberry sauce resembled the cylindrical tin can it was stored in, and was sliced thin and served on a festive plate. Cranberry sauce was always one of my favorite components of a holiday dinner, and nothing tastes better than roasted turkey with cranberry sauce on top! I always thought that canned cranberry sauce was the “norm,” and didn’t realize until I entered graduate school just how delicious homemade cranberry sauce tastes. Last year, my professor Dr. Fisher taught us how to make homemade cranberry sauce in Gastronomy class, and even gave me her secret family recipe to try. Well, I tried it, and let me tell you that I will NEVER go back to canned cranberry sauce! I tweaked Dr. Fisher’s recipe a bit, and created my own secret recipe for cranberry sauce…which I am nice enough to share with you all today! Enjoy this simple and tangy side dish along with your turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes!

Orange Spiced Cranberry Sauce


Only four ingredients needed to make homemade cranberry sauce!

36 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (usually 3 bags)

12 ounces (1 ½ cups) 100% orange juice

1 package mulling spices, tied in a coffee filter

1 cup sugar


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large 3-quart saucepan, and bring to a simmer.
  2. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sauce is done when cranberries start to burst and sauce starts to thicken.

*Sauce is best served cold the next day, as sauce will thicken in the fridge.


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Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Dark chocolate and pumpkin are two of my favorite foods…hands down. They are two flavors that go together oh so perfectly during the holiday season. I love baking pumpkin chocolate chip loaves, pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes, and now my new favorite dish, chocolate pumpkin pie. If you think plain ol’ pumpkin pie is to die for…think again. The melted bittersweet chocolate swirled into the smooth pumpkin makes this holiday pie rich, creamy and delicious! I happened to be watching ABC’s new talk show “The Chew” one afternoon and this recipe caught my eye. I immediately went online and frantically copied the recipe from co-host Michael Symon! Try out this new twist on classic pumpkin pie this holiday season, and let me know what you think!

Michael Symon’s Chocolate Pumpkin Pie


3 oz bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped)

6 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped)

4 tbsp. unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)

1 14-oz can pumpkin

1 12-oz can evaporated milk

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tbps. Cornstarch

1 tsp. vanilla

1 ½ tsp salt

¾ tsp cinnamon

¾ tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg

pinch cloves

Pie crust (already prepared or homemade crust)

Ingredients needed to make chocolate pumpkin pie


  • In a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter, stirring frequently until smooth, and remove from heat.

  • In a large bowl, mix together all other ingredients. Fold in the chocolate mixture, and pour into a pie crust.

  • Place pie pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until center of pie is set, about one hour.
  • Refrigerate until cooled completely to serve.

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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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10 Thoughts on Whole Living

I am a big fan of Genna Gerngross’ healthy living blog, “Diary of a Food Runner.” I went to high school with Genna in the Philadelphia area, and she has recently moved to North Carolina to pursue a culinary arts degree. She has come up with some fabulous vegan and vegetarian meal ideas that I cannot wait to try! One day while pursuing through her recipes, I stumbled upon a post she entitled “10 Thoughts on Whole Living.” Because the purpose of this blog is to provide healthy, local, and sustainable information to the community, this list was right up my alley to review and post.

I have to say that I couldn’t have discovered this list at a more important time in my life. Through all of the newfound changes that have occurred in my life, this list has reassured me in so many ways. I found the list so amazing, honest, and true to life that I had to continue to pass this list on to you all! Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions!

10 Thoughts on Whole Living

1. A meal shared with family and friends sustains you in more ways than one.

2. Gratitude cannot always change circumstances, but it can help you see beyond them.

3. With rejection comes decision: you can either turn back or find a new way forward.

4. Feeling restless may be a sign that you haven’t sat still long enough.

5. Stop seeing life as a problem to be solved and, instead, as a mystery to be enjoyed.

6. Sometimes you have to travel to a new place to rediscover the old you.

7. To make the best use of your intuition, think less and listen more.

8. Give above and beyond what you think will help.

9. Rather than worry about how your body should look, focus on how you want it to feel.

10. Virtuous and delicious aren’t mutually exclusive; the most nourishing foods can also be the most delightful.



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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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