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!

No Bake Recipes for Summer

When the summer heat peaks, the last thing you want to do is have the oven running. It residually heats your home, makes your air conditioning work harder (read about cutting summertime costs) and you deserve a break from the outside heat.

Ditch the oven and opt for some no-bake recipes instead.

Dirt Cake is a popular no-bake recipe, especially with kids. A pudding base and crushed cookie topping gives this “cake” its muddy appearance. Put the cake together in a beach bucket, top with gummy worms, and serve with a small beach shovel for an added effect.

As long as no one has any peanut allergies, peanut butter pie can be a delicious dessert that’s sure to give you a chill on even the hottest days. Check out One Ordinary Day for a quick easy recipe that you can enjoy after freezing for just 4 hours. Favorite moments in our house include topping with bite-sized chocolate shavings and candies…mmm!

peanut butter pie

No-bake peanut butter pie.

Introducing your kids to cooking with some of these easier recipes can be a great tactile experience. Where baking requires exact measuring to ensure everything cooks properly, no-bake recipes are usually more lenient, allowing your kids to be more involved. So even if one of your kids “accidently” adds a bit more chocolate sauce than the recipe calls for, it will still be delicious!

Cooking also provides a fun way to teach kids basic math and science principles. Measuring is a great way to teach fractions, and mixing ingredients like vinegar and baking soda is perfect for lessons on chemical reactions.

Another way to entice the whole family to get involved (maybe even dad) is by making homemade ice cream. A hand crank machine can be difficult for kids to turn, but an ice cream maker ball can create your favorite frosty treat by simply throwing it around or rolling it. The YayLabs ball can make up to a quart of ice cream, and it’s sturdy enough to handle even the roughest play from your toddlers. (Try adding some Greek yogurt and some fresh fruit to make the dessert a little more nutritious.)

ice cream

Summertime homemade ice cream.

Feel like you may have overindulged? Try our Shorter Workout for a quick, 25-minute calorie burn. After all, there are only a few weeks left of prime bikini season!

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.

Happy 80th Birthday Oma

Happy 80th Birthday Oma!

Happy 80th Birthday Oma!

Oma is German or Dutch for “Grandmother.”  My Oma has adopted the word as her name for the better part of three decades.  In fact, even distant relatives and friends refer to Roberta as Oma.  I have been told becoming a “Grandma” entitles you to be called all sorts of wonderful things…all to which you’ll answer if the right person is calling your name 🙂

Tomorrow marks another milestone in my Oma’s life…she turns 80!  We celebrated this weekend, the good ole’ fashioned way.  An adult beverage, tons of sweets, good company and great conversation.  Thanks to my stepmom, Sheri for hosting.  Everything was delicious and completely perfect. (More about Sheri’s ridiculous, superhuman “Martha” abilities some other time.)

Sheri's Chocolate Cake

Sheri’s Chocolate Cake

I feel a special connection to Oma, being her ONLY grandchild.  She has served as a second mother for the majority of my life and for her words of wisdom and honest teachings, I am very grateful!  She has instilled proper manners (yet, I don’t always choose to use them), caught my inappropriate grammar, taught portion control, introduced a tasteful sense of style and passion for art.  Oma has taught me to love everything turquoise, great design, contemporary fashion, dark chocolate and an afternoon card game.  Oma may be small in stature, but strong in her words and convictions.  Being married to a retired Naval Commander for over 55 years, Oma has learned to choose her battles wisely, but speak up and be heard.  A perfect balance of grace and strength, I will spend the rest of my life trying to emulate.

Oma & My Father - Their Birthdays Are 4 Days Apart

Oma & My Father – Their Birthdays Are 4 Days Apart

So here’s to you, Oma.  Happy 80th Birthday…May this be one of the best years of your life!  Cheers.

Cheers to You Oma!

Cheers to You Oma!