Twist on Traditional Thanksgiving

thanksgiving recipes

Keep the turkey and give the rest of the dishes a twist!

Fall is an intimidating time to eat healthy. Many of us have Halloween candies lingering, chocolates tempting us… then a few weeks later, a Thanksgiving feast (And leftovers!), followed by holiday parties, dinners with family (and if you have a huge extended family like mine that can mean multiple dinners and desserts), and then a New Year celebration to cap off the year with a toast— FYI, those cocktails are not calorie-free!

Instead of completely sacrificing the comforting foods we traditionally associate with Thanksgiving, I would like to offer a few ways you can alter recipes so that they retain their appeal, but minimize calories and fats.

Thanksgiving side dish

Simple substitutions can cut a lot of calories.

  • Casseroles. Most Thanksgiving dinners include a casserole or two or three. One dish that has been a welcome treat at my family dinners is a simple substitute: Roasted veggies with garlic and olive oil. Broccoli, asparagus and butternut squash work well. A ‘casserole’ is not complete without cheese! Top with grated Parmesan, Gouda or sprinkle goat cheese before serving.
healthy olive oil

Olive oil can hold many flavors when you infuse with garlic and herb blends.

  • Replace butter. You can generally substitute healthy oils for butter in most recipes—or at least a portion of the butter requirement. Butter is high in saturated fat and calories. With many pies adorning tables this holiday season, lightening up the butter content in other dishes can help offset your saturated fat intake. Offer various infused olive oils for breads instead of butter patties and use applesauce as a substitute for some baked goods.
bread recipes

Switch out ingredients in your bread to make them higher in fiber and nutrients.

  • Gluten free. You don’t necessarily need to suffer celiac or a gluten allergy in order to enjoy Thanksgiving. For bread, try homemade or store-bought gluten-free dinner rolls. They are usually made with garbanzo bean flour, almond meal, rice flour, and other higher fiber non-wheat flour blends. Instead of conventional stuffing, try a “stuffed rice” alternative by adding dried cranberries, warm apples, herbs, nuts and bacon to make extra hearty.

Can you forecast how your entire Thanksgiving dinner will play out? Where everyone will sit? Is your holiday décor the same year after year? With just a few simple changes you can transform your Thanksgiving dinner experience and make it memorable for everyone:

The Turkey Table. One long table for one long dinner? Perhaps, but if space allows, you can make the meal more social by arranging tables in a U-shape or L-shape, setting up a kids’ table nearby to keep them included. For table decorations, considering mixing traditional flower arrangements with other natural elements. Pinecones, colored leaves and acorns all make great seasonal options. Consider spray painting gold and mixing in various candles in glass jars or hurricanes for a layered effect.

Island time. If you are the chef behind the Thanksgiving dinner and normally use a kitchen island for food prep, consider clearing counter space and using the island as a serving space.

Place cards. Place cards are an easy place to be creative. To maximize table space, take advantage of place settings. Everyone will need silverware, so wrap fabric or construction paper around silverware and apply a chalkboard label. Have your little one help you apply the chalkboard label stickers and let them write the guests’ names too.

Have you tried twisting things up before? Let us know what worked for you! Happy Thanksgiving ~ Cheers!

End-of-Summer Barbecue Tips

outdoor entertaining

Whether you’re looking forward to the start of school again, or just trying to squeeze in a little more fun before the summer’s end, there are plenty of things you can do with your kids in the waning weeks of the season.

Nothing says summer quite like a barbecue. In the South ‘barbecue’ has a different meaning than other parts of the country. Barbecue in North Carolina means pulled pork—with vinegar-based sauces in the Eastern parts of the state, and tomato-based sauces in the Western areas. What I’m referring to is what the rest of the country calls a barbecue, and what folks here in the greater Raleigh area call ‘cook outs’. Barbecues are always a great casual way for kids to socialize and adults to have ‘grown-up time’.

watermelon recipes

Your color theme can translate into food choices.

Pick a food theme for your barbecue:

A food item. Corn peaked late this year. Grill corn and sprinkle it on salads, bake some buttery cornbread, and check out our popcorn bar idea below. Pineapple is another great option. It’s perfect served chilled, you can use the juice for making cocktails, sprinkle some brown sugar on slices and grill, or even try adding a slice inside your burgers. Top with a zesty cheese, like pepper jack for some sweet, savory goodness!

Color. Want to go red? Stock up on watermelon, strawberries, and an assortment of peppers. Let your little one pick their favorite food and plan your color theme around that. Try juicing and making colored ice cubes from your extra ripe strawberries or watermelons.

Dip. Don’t just have your guests take a dip in the pool, create a variety of dips and complementing snacks. Your guests won’t be bored when they can choose from white bean dip, dips made with Greek yogurt, and salsas. And for dessert? Fondue dipping creates an experience for just about every guest!


Who wants to be Grillmaster?

Here are a few ways to minimize the stress of hosting an end-of-summer celebration:

  1. “Child labor.” Whether you’re at the pool, or at your own backyard bash, you can get the kids involved by letting them make their own refreshment stand. Grab some lemonade mix and let your kids decide what flavors they want to create: Mixed berry, raspberry, strawberry, or any other concoction they can think of. Freeze whole fruit ahead of time and use it in lieu of ice for your kids’ drinks and your own. (Have an adult bar for some spiked lemonade—and check out our Vitamins and Vodka post.) Use fresh garnishes including Rosemary and Mint.
  2. Delegate. Assign one person Grillmaster duties and stock them with hot dogs, burgers, chicken, veggie kebabs and other staples. Go for a classic potluck. Everyone pitches in for a dish or drink, and you won’t have to worry about getting overwhelmed taking on the majority of the load.
  3. Outdoor theater. Relieve yourself of some responsibility. You won’t be able to entertain everyone, so have movies playing on loop. Choose Disney beach movies for kids—like The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo. For setting up an outdoor theater, choose a shady part of the yard or make your own ‘movie tent’ with a picnic shelter or brightly colored sheets. Hang a white sheet from the side of the house or a solid surface, and project a movie or video game. Set up a popcorn bar with different toppings and a variety of popcorn (caramel, chocolate-covered, traditional butter) and guests can keep themselves busy if needed.

Need more dessert ideas? Check out our No Bake Summer Recipes. You won’t even need to turn on the oven! Keep the fun, guests, and food outside and enjoy the end of summer as you ease into fall. Cheers!

Al Fresco Entertaining

garlic decoration

Try decorating with your ingredients.

Now that the weather is warming up it’s the perfect time to start using your outdoor spaces. Even if your patio or deck hasn’t seen a lot of action in the last few months, a quick sweep or morning of power washing can ready your backyard for dining al fresco.

Most people assume planning a meal outside means plastic lawn chairs and paper plates, but just because you’re not equipped with a dimmer switch to set the mood doesn’t mean you can’t make your meal an elegant affair.

When considering lighting, make sure it matches the mood you’re trying to set. Floodlights can be harsh, and tiki torches (although fun!) are typically used for very casual events. Instead, opt for outdoor string lights. Available in different shapes and brightness, you can string them from tree branches, wrap them around your deck railing, or wind them up your outdoor umbrella. They’ll keep your backyard bright with a soft, complementing glow. Don’t worry about having an electrical outlet—it’s relatively the same cost to buy solar-powered outdoor lights.

string light garland

Many outdoor string lights are now solar-powered, so you can put them anywhere.

Keep your tablescape congruent with your upscale-casual feel. No need to iron linens, but a thick solid-colored tablecloth will give your decorations a base for continuity by providing a main color or accent color to work with.

For the menu, make a seasonal favorite by incorporating ingredients from your own garden or the local farmer’s market. You’ll be able to ensure what you’re making is fresh, and it can help you keep the cost down. Try some simple chicken breasts marinated in fresh rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Grill at medium-high heat until no longer pink in the middle. The simple, herb-infused taste pairs perfectly with any fresh garden veggies and a crisp local white wine.

herb decoration

Use herbs from your own garden both in dishes and for decoration.

If nothing in your garden fits with your menu plan, consider some of your herbs or flowers to make a rustic-chic centerpiece. Complementing aromatic herbs or colorful flowers will enhance your table’s look.

To give the setting a final detailed touch, play music through some wireless speakers. Place them strategically so that you can hear them no matter where you stand in the yard. If you don’t have wireless speakers, an iHome or any speaker system will work just fine when set with some of your guests’ favorite tunes.

I can empathize that after a long week you might not feel up for entertaining at home. Instead of dealing with the dishes you can try a few al fresco dining options in downtown Raleigh. Located in the heart of the city, Jimmy V’s Osteria & Bar has the largest outdoor patio in the Triangle – an impressive arrangement anywhere, but appreciated even more so by those who want to people-watch downtown. The restaurant supports the Jimmy V Foundation and donated $40,000 to the cancer research fund early this year. If you’re going out, at least you’ll know your money will be going to help a good cause!

driftwood restaurant raleigh

Driftwood Restaurant’s ‘Picnic Basket’

We recently dined al fresco at Driftwood Restaurant in North Raleigh’s Lafayette Village. Their picnic basket menu option was great to enjoy outside.

Vitamins and Vodka

homemade cocktails

A friend and Marissa enjoy cocktail hour.

Sticking to a healthy diet is a challenge when grabbing drinks with friends or hosting a party. You may have spent the afternoon burning calories in a new rowing class, but your efforts could go to waste if you spend the evening sipping on a tall strawberry daiquiri. A pre-made pouch can run as high as 280 (empty!) calories per serving. How can you infuse your drinks with nutrients?

With the warm weather finally arriving, citrus cocktails become more appealing. The good news is, as long as you’re willing to step up your bartending game, you can still indulge in delicious, and relatively healthy summer drinks. Instead of prepackaged beverages loaded with extra sugar, sodium, and preservatives, you can make your own cocktails at home for a fraction of the price and calories – leaving the pouches for the kids’ juice.

To get started, head to your local farmers’ market to take advantage of the variety of fruits in season, such as strawberries and blueberries. The produce at farmers’ markets is usually fresher, less expensive, and shopping there helps support the local community!

blueberry recipes

Blueberry season!

Here’s a simple cocktail:

Vodka Blueberry

1 cup fresh blueberries
3-5 sprigs of fresh mint
¼ cup ice
1 oz melted dark chocolate
1 oz or more vodka (Depending on your taste!)

This makes a single serving. Make the juice yourself by blending the whole fruit. You’ll avoid the additional preservatives and loads of added sugar that are found in juices from concentrate, while gaining the antioxidants, nutrients, and fiber found in whole fruit. If you want your drink to be a little sweeter, use honey or make your own simple syrup by bringing equal parts water and sugar to a low boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. After letting it cool, you can add small amounts to any mixed drink. Best of all: you can control the amount yourself, making it easy to keep the calorie count low. Before pouring into a cocktail glass, melt the chocolate in a microwaveable-safe bowl and dip the rim of the glass in the chocolate.

mint recipes

Herbs add flavor, nutrients, and little-to-no calories.

If you want to try something a little different, fresh fruit smoothies are the perfect drink solution, especially when you’re hosting a get-together for kids and adults. You can whip up a fruity concoction without alcohol first, and pour a serving or two for the kids. Using the remainder, add a splash of alcohol and blend with a little more ice for a drink fit for yourself and the rest of the adults. Isolate the kids’ servings by giving them different cups to drink out of, or if possible, use different blenders for the different types of smoothies.

For an even better treat for little ones: Make a batch of non-alcoholic smoothies and pour them into Popsicle molds for a few hours. The kids can enjoy a healthy snack later, and you can use the same prepared fruits and ingredients to make the adults’ drinks.

You don’t have to give up on your diet for a refreshing summer cocktail. With a little work, you can sip on a freshly made cocktail and relax. Feel good about making healthier decisions for you and your family.

5 St. Patrick’s Day Craft Ideas and Recipes

St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t have to be limited to Guinness and leprechaun gold. The holiday is a sign that warm weather is just around the corner. It’s time to decorate and delight in new ways for this spring holiday.

Anyone can decorate with shamrocks. Here we take a look at a few unique St. Patty’s Day crafts and recipes to make your home entertaining memorable, tasty, and festive:

St. Patrick's Day Decorations

Re-purpose dried beans in decorations.

Light It Up. As winter slowly (Very slowly here in Raleigh!) comes to an end, what can you do with your dried beans for winter soups now collecting dust in your pantry? Fill hurricane vases, mason jars or other glass luminary pieces with split peas and/or lima beans, then place a cream pillar candle in the center. Your crafty ways just saved you money and added a simple and unique green centerpiece to your dinner table or accents around your home for St. Patrick’s Day.

Shamrock Pepper Prints. Your kitchen is the source again for this craft project! Slice the bottom of a bell pepper off and use the bottom as a shamrock stamp. Dip into paint and stamp cards, invitations, or home decorations. (Keep the rest of the pepper for a salad and keep the green theme going.)


St. Patrick’s Day Drink Ideas

Leprechaun Lemonade. Since we’re hoping for warm spring weather, what better way to refresh than with some lemonade? To stay festive, add a few drops of green food coloring until you reach the desired shade. This is fun for all ages. Entertaining adults? Create a spiked Leprechaun lemonade and serve in martini glasses.

Potato Leprechauns. Ireland is known for its potatoes. Instead of dressing up a classic Mr. Potato Head, have kids make their own potato person. Fold construction paper to make a leprechaun hat and belt buckle. Draw a face with markers, or if you have the time, take out the hot glue gun and attach felt for a beard. Offer kids a bag of chocolate gold coins once they finish their new spud bud.

green cupcakes

St. Patrick’s Day Cupcake Ideas

Rainbow Cupcakes. Cupcakes are versatile and it’s easy to modify parts of the batch to create dessert options for all palates. Airhead Extreme Sour Belts make great rainbow arches for St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes, and adding green food dye to vanilla frosting is instantly festive. For those who are not a fan of sour candy, hide the rainbow inside the cupcake. You’ll need a few bowls of cake batter to create the different colors before pouring into each cup. If you’re not a fan of blending food dyes into frosting or batter, add a few drops to shredded coconut and dip frosted cupcakes into the coconut. Instant “grass” on top – then insert a chocolate gold coin and the dessert gold is literally a piece of (cup)cake. (Try crushed pistachios or lime zest for those who are not nutty about coconut.)

Pre-Spring Small Plates for Indoor Entertaining

Our patio furniture is waiting for us, but it is still a little chilly here in Raleigh for dinner parties al fresco. With pollen and spring rains, indoor entertaining is a bit more attractive.

Keep the grill covered and the citronella candles unlit–we have several ingredients and menu ideas if you’re looking for healthy appetizers to serve family and guests indoors!

Stuffed Mushrooms. Crab or cheese? Your choice may depend on your preference or your guests’ palates. Opt for crab-stuffed mushrooms if your main meal also features items from the sea. Balance cheese-stuffed mushrooms with a light spring salad made from organic greens.

Butternut Squash Recipes

Butternut Squash Spring Salad

Butternut Squash Salad. Still trying to find ways to use up the season’s tail-end supply of butternut squash? Cube and roast the squash with garbanzo beans and garlic, then mix with olive oil and slivered almonds and chill until serving. This is super healthy and sweet!

Simple Shrimp. Mix classic and spring with a traditional shrimp cocktail. Prepare individual cocktail cups out of melons (a nice hint at summer fruits ahead) and perch cooked shrimp on the edge. Very little prep work involved.

goat cheese

Locally-made cheese!

Goat Cheese. Have you looked for a local cheesemaker? Here in North Carolina’s Triangle-area we have several local cheesemakers: Chapel Hill Creamery, Hillsborough Cheese Company, and Celebrity Dairy (which specializes in goat cheeses). Goat cheeses spread simply and work well on crackers while guests are socializing.

avocado recipes

Avocado Recipes

Avocado Pudding. Your guests will not be able to tell the difference between this chocolate avocado pudding recipe and a traditional chocolate pudding! Simply mix the ingredients in a food processor and garnish with your favorite accents. Let your guests decide the garnish. The recipe suggests orange zest, coconut, or almond—but don’t forget about raspberry or peanut butter! This is great to include if you are only serving appetizers as it gives guests a healthy sweet option—otherwise they would miss out on dessert!

Children’s Clothing Swaps and Consignment

dress up

Dressing up with Daddy

As a mommy to an almost two-year-old baby boy, it can oftentimes be overwhelming how quickly they sprout! You can forget about seasonal closet clean-outs, it’s more like monthly overhauls in our house. I’m grateful my son is thriving, but as we approach his second birthday and he enters growth spurt number 19, I feel like clothes are just not the most exciting gift to bestow upon a two-year-old. But we need them, and I clearly would rather spend the birthday budget on trucks, tractors, puzzles, books and primary colored wooden toys…What to do?

childrens clothing

Closets need to grow with your kids

Here are a few ways to help offset some of the costs that come with outfitting your little guys or gals…perhaps a great way to pare down what you already own and make some real cash that may help purchase the next season’s best:

  1. Clothing swap. Choose to hold a clothing swap the best way that suits you. Adults only for some kid-free time and no distractions for sorting clothes? Or invite parents and kids for a clothing swap party. This is a great time for parents to have adult time while offering kids time to socialize. Let older kids run their own fashion show and try on different clothes. (Maybe combine this with an Oscar Night dinner party.) Don’t want to be stuck with the leftover clothes once the party is over? Decide in advance how clothes will be handled—ask parents to take home items that are left behind, or find a local charitable organization to donate the clothes to.
  2. Consignment stores. To find brick-and-mortar consignment shops where you can drop off bags of clothes, use an online search tool like The Thrift Shopper. You can find consignment shops in your area and call around to learn about their consignment agreements. Some stores may only keep clothes for set lengths of time, and other stores have policies about what types of clothing they accept. These are great places to find affordable formal wear for children if you have been invited to some spring weddings.
  3. Online consignment. ThredUp is a site that allows you to both list children’s clothing items for sale and purchase gently-used quality clothes for kids. If you don’t want to leave the house to visit consignment stores in-person, this is an option for you. Besides visits to the post office—or the United State Postal Services picks up for free, too!—you will save time and money.

Of course, you may want to hold on to your children’s clothing—hand-me-downs can get more mileage the second time around if your family grows!


Keep hand-me-down bins in easy to locate places. I keep ours in the laundry room and when filled up, I add to the larger attic bin.

Celebrating 43 Years of Marriage


Honoring Jerry & Jan’s Vow Renewal in Hawaii a few years ago…

This past week, February 6th, marked another special family occasion.  It was my father and mother in-law’s 43rd wedding anniversary.

Before I go any further, I must congratulate you, Jerry and Jan, for maintaining your humor and sanity for over four decades!  And most importantly, for setting a fine example for us younger folks regarding love, commitment, sacrifice and marriage.

Personally, at just 6 1/2 years in, I can assure anyone reading this who isn’t already married, that it isn’t easy.  Worth it? Yes. Work? Yes. Painful at times? Yes. Rewarding? Yes.  And perhaps, your greatest investment.

Forty-three years is certainly impressive by anyone’s measure and so we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate with a little family get together this weekend.  Some red meat, red wine and all, very appropriate conversation (for once).

Here is a recap of our time together.

Table Prep

Table Prep

Hand Card for Grandpa & Grandma

Hand Card for Grandpa & Grandma


Candle Light

Food Prep

Food Prep | Menu: Filets of Beef, Sautéed Mushrooms & Onions, Roasted Assorted Potatoes, Asparagus, Sundried Tomato Bread, Kaylee’s Famous Spinach & Goat Cheese Salad, and Select Sweets for Dessert

I must say, it was a privilege to share the evening with our family.  There isn’t much else that makes me happier than breaking bread together and creating memories.  My personal highlight is caught in this photo…four generations(ranging  from 91 years old to almost 2 years old), all smiling.  Perhaps this offers some motivation for all marriages.

Four Generations

Four Generations