Summer Travel Party

Though it may sound shocking to East Coasters, I sent my kids back to school last Tuesday. (We start early here in Phoenix.) Despite *lots* of sibling conflict the last couple of months (the fights! the injuries! the drama!) ours was overall a good summer. With the kids back in school now, I’m looking back fondly on the good times our family had in May, June, and July.

One fun event was our Summer Travel Party.

The idea for this themed party is that, while we’d all love to trot around the globe visiting exotic locales over the summer, it’s just not always possible. So if we can’t get to Hawaii, England, or Italy, why not have them come to us? We invited our friends to select a destination they’d either traveled to in the past or would like to travel to in the future, then join us for a potluck of foods (and optional costumes) from that place.

Here’s how it went down.

The Decorations

I’ve been a major nerd for party decorating since college (see evidence here, here, and here) and this party proved no different. I decided to decorate each room of the house–well, the usable rooms, anyway, not my master bath or anything–as a different country. Starting with…

England

My family room went British for a day with the inclusion of some fun decor from across the pond, such as a Union Jack, red phone booth, a fun London pillowcase, and plenty of teacups and teapots.

Germany

Our family spent three months in Germany during the summer of 2017, so getting a tricked-out German kitchen was pretty simple stuff. This meant an old stein, photos from a German calendar, an old-timey print I got in Cologne, where we lived, a Bavarian flag tablecloth, and–the piece de resistance–an Oktoberfest head-in-the-hole banner (just in case someone didn’t wear a costume but still wanted a photo).

Mexico

Living in Phoenix, it’s not too hard to come by Mexican decorations, so our living room enjoyed a little mexi-makeover for this party. Streamers, a sombrero, some festive little llamas, and a serape table runner leftover from our Nacho Libre party did the trick.

Tropical Islands 

Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re visiting Hawaii while going to the bathroom?

That’s all I have to say about that.

The Food

Since this was a potluck, we enjoyed a lovely array of foods from around the world. Our family represented Germany, so we provided German beer, brats, and fixin’s. Others brought potato salad from Greece, rice and beans from Costa Rica, pizza from Italy, and more.

The costumes

Some of our guests were brave enough to dress in costume from a destination they’ve traveled to (or want to visit). Mostly, though, we got a lot of pictures with the Bavarian head-in-the-hole banner. ūüėČ

This party was a fun and whimsical way to hang with good friends and enjoy good food.

Want to host a summer travel party? I’d love to hear what country you’d represent!

Banana Almond Butter Muffins

Why is it that every time you search for a recipe with almond butter (especially baked goods) everything that comes up is touted as Paleo? Do a quick Google search for almond butter muffins and you’ll find results like this:

Almond Butter Muffins {Paleo}!

SUPER Paleo Banana Almond Butter Protein Bites {PaleoPaleoPaleo}

Flourless Almond Butter Muffins With Secret-Ingredient Buffalo Meat–As Paleo As It Freakin’ Gets!

Apparently, in the world of Paleo (aka the way our ancestors supposedly ate) peanuts are legumes, not “real” nuts, so for some reason, hunter-gatherers wouldn’t have eaten them. Almonds, on the other hand, are allowed on the diet.

Since I’m a freelance food and nutrition writer and I usually write for other people, sometimes it’s such a joy to get to write my own opinions on my own blog. So let me just say, I think all this Paleo almonds-versus-peanuts business is nonsense. Looking at the nutrient profile of peanuts and almonds, I think we’re splitting hairs, so I don’t really care whether my furry forebears ate or didn’t eat one or the other. I’m just trying to find a decent almond butter muffin recipe because I happen to like almond butter, mmkay?

So what’s a girl to do when she can’t find a muffin recipe that’s not made with rice flour or coconut sugar (and/or buffalo meat)? Make her own!

These Banana Almond Butter Muffins are a riff on the always-reliable Sally’s Baking Addiction’s skinny peanut butter banana muffins.

They¬†do have a couple of unique ingredients, like some flax seed for extra fiber and omega-3 fats, and in place of almond milk, I used an interesting banana nut¬†plant-based coffee creamer¬†I’ve been trying out. But of course, if you don’t have flax seed or banana-nut coffee creamer, whole wheat flour and any kind of milk will do. (Even cow’s milk–take that, Paleo!)¬†Heck, you could even revert to peanut butter instead of almond butter.¬†In addition to these ingredients, you’ll find Greek yogurt, honey, whole wheat flour, and a couple of mashed bananas.

Healthy? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely. Paleo? Nope, not for me.


Print Recipe
Banana Almond Butter Muffins
Creamy almond butter meets wholesome whole wheat flour, mashed banana, and ground flax seeds in this healthy breakfast recipe. Chocolate chips optional but necessary.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 17 minutes
Servings
muffins
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 17 minutes
Servings
muffins
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease 14 muffin cups.
  2. In a large bowl, combine mashed banana, honey, brown sugar, yogurt, egg, creamer/milk, almond butter and vanilla.
  3. To the same bowl, add white whole wheat flour, ground flaxseed, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips, if using.
  4. Divide batter evenly between muffin cups. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking 12 minutes. Muffins are done when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Store in an airtight container, preferably in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by (but heavily edited from) Sally's Baking Addiction.

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Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes

I could sit down with a good cookbook like a good novel. A nice night in, to me, is poring over a new cookbook, imagining each step of each recipe, and picturing the delicious finished product. It’s basically the equivalent of fantasy fiction for cooks.

With a fairly large collection of cookbooks (plus compulsively checking them out from the library, as I do) there are always those recipes I bookmark during my perusing and think,¬†I’ll make that eventually. But time goes by, I find new and exciting ideas on Pinterest, and sometimes things I think I’ll make fall by the wayside.

These Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes are one such recipe.

For years I’ve been a fan of Real Simple’s line of cookbooks, and this recipe called out to me from Meals Made Easy as long ago as–dare I admit it–2009. I thought it looked healthy, easy, and bit unique. I mean, how often do you put fish in a tomato? Sounds kinda weird…but not in a bad way. Plus, I find the idea of food as its own serving container ADORABLE and kind of a genius way to minimize on doing dishes.

The thing is, though, heirloom tomatoes are only in season so often. And even when they are, I usually pass them by in the grocery store, thinking they’re just a little too fabulous for me. They’re the fine china of vegetables: Fancy and gorgeous, but really? For everyday?

You know what, though? Yes! Why NOT splurge on something as healthy (not to mention gorgeous) as heirloom tomatoes? I picked up these multi-colored models yesterday determined to finally put fish in a dang tomato!

The results were worth the wait. (Of ten years, haha.) I really enjoyed not only the process of stuffing these heirlooms for unique presentation, but also the fun of eating them. The tuna mixture is flavored with a Mediterranean profile of lemon juice, olive oil, capers, parsley, and pepper, but could be played with any way you like. Plus, if you have dietary restrictions like gluten-free or dairy-free, these fit the bill.

Give them a try for a tasty, healthy, seasonal summer lunch!



Print Recipe
Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes
This light and healthy Mediterranean-flavored lunch is a fun way to soak up the flavors of summer!
Instructions
  1. Using a paring knife, slice a circle in the top of each tomato. Scoop the flesh out of tomatoes, leaving about a 1/4 inch-thick tomato "shell." Drain any excess water out of the flesh you've scooped and dice it into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces.
  2. Place diced tomato in a mixing bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and mix to combine.
  3. Scoop the mixture into your tomato shells and serve.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Real Simple.

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12 Healthy (And Cheap!) Trader Joe’s Products I Can’t Live Without

If you ask me, there’s one grocery store that trumps all the rest, where I’d willingly shop to the end of my days: Trader Joe’s. I firmly believe that this unique chain has excellent business practices, amazing products, and some of the smartest marketing on the planet. (Ever heard the Freakonomics podcast about how Trader Joe’s should run the country? Pretty compelling stuff.) My long-term plan, after retiring from my writing career, is to trade in my laptop for a Hawaiian shirt to become a TJ’s checker. I imagine spending my twilight years preparing samples of plantain chips and using my employee discount to purchase copious amounts of Neapolitan Joe-Joes. (I hear they pay pretty well, too!)

As both a nutritionist and a long-time Trader Joe’s shopper, however, I’m familiar with the common criticism that too many of the store’s products are highly processed. While it’s true that TJ’s carries plenty of not-Whole Foods (badum ching!), I’ve found that it’s entirely possible to find lots of healthy, minimally processed products–and I’m happy to share some of my favorites!

Here are 12 TJ’s products I buy time and again. They’re not only healthy, but (at least where I live) significantly cheaper than their counterparts at big-box grocery stores. Happy shopping!

1. Les Salades du Midi Fresh Spinach

Sure, you could buy fresh spinach just about anywhere, but I especially like getting mine from Trader Joe’s for a couple of reasons: 1. At 10 ounces, the bag is enormous and lasts a good two weeks, and 2. It’s consistently inexpensive. I almost always have a bag of Les Salads du Midi in my fridge.

2. Multigrain Blend With Vegetables

You’ll spot this one in the frozen section. Read the ingredients and you’ll find it’s literally just a¬†mix of barley, spelt, and rice with veggies, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pro tip: heat in a saucepan with some extra olive oil and lemon juice until warm, then add crumbled feta for an easy, healthy side dish to go with meat or fish.

3. Creamy Salted Peanut Butter

If your peanut butter has any ingredients besides peanuts and salt, that’s a problem. Added sugars are oils are NOT necessary in peanut butter–which is why I dig TJ’s very basic two-ingredient recipe.

4. Spicy Lentil Wrap

Need a quick, healthy lunch? This spicy lentil wrap is plant-based with mega-high fiber. Accompanied by a dippable tahini sauce, it makes a super convenient take-along meal. I eat half of it one day and half the next to stretch the veggie goodness over two lunches.

5. Soft 10-Grain Bread

For as simple as bread is to make–flour, yeast, water–it’s amazing how difficult it can be to find a commercially made variety that doesn’t contain at least a dozen suspicious ingredients. But TJ’s 10-Grain Bread’s ingredient list is long for all the right reasons: 10 whole grains!

6. Frozen Fruit

Frozen fruit is often harvested at the peak of freshness, so when strawberries or mango aren’t in season, you’ll probably do better to buy them frozen than fresh. Trader Joe’s sizable frozen fruit section typically offers competitive prices and a broad selection. I stock my freezer with berries and tropical fruits to use in¬†smoothies, oatmeal, and muffins.

7. Roasted Red Peppers

Canned and jarred veggies don’t have to be boring or gross (unless we’re talking about canned beets which are, by definition, boring AND gross). Roasted red (or yellow!) peppers are an awesome staple to add flavor and interest to recipes. Toss them in a salad, layer them into a dip, or whip them up in a soup.

8. Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

For pizza night, you¬†could go through the rigamarole of making your own pizza dough from scratch (and good for you if you do)–but to save time, TJ’s whole wheat pizza dough sure is a sweet whole wheat convenience.

9. 2% Greek Yogurt

Hellooooo, probiotics! Greek yogurt is a great source of good gut bugs, calcium, and protein. I eat it almost every day in some form or another¬†and I’m always happy to use TJ’s 2% variety for a few less calories than the whole milk kind.

10. Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene, so they’re certainly a valuable fruit-slash-vegetable to include in your diet. But is there really any reason to pay $5-plus buy them sun-dried? Not when you have a Trader Joe’s close by! Even when a recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, I simply drizzle some olive oil over these lovelies and let them sit in a jar for awhile. Try them in these dinner recipes.

11. Cilantro Jalape√Īo Hummus

You’re gonna need to like spicy to like Trader Joe’s Cilantro Jalape√Īo Hummus. This creamy dip definitely has a kick. With a garbanzo bean base and generous amounts of jalape√Īo, garlic, and cilantro, it’s a healthy alternative to heavier dips. I could eat it by the spoonful, but you’ll probably want to spread it on crackers or crudit√©s.

12. Lentil Soup With Ancient Grains

Can we talk lentils one more time? This tomato-y lentil soup with ancient grains may be rather high in sodium (as are most soups, let’s be honest) but its ingredients are simple and nutritious: lentils, veggies, grains, and a smattering of spices. All at just 200 calories per serving.

Flax Seed Meal

I’m late to jump on the flaxseed meal bandwagon, and now I can’t get enough. These ground seeds are full of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Try them in these Blueberry Flax Seed Muffins!

What’s your favorite healthy Trader Joe’s product? Tell me in the comments!

Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake

Need a dessert to feed a crowd? This Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake with yogurt icing is just the ticket!

Every other Sunday for the last fifteen years, my husband and I have had Sunday dinner with his family. Coming from a New York Italian family as he does, Sunday dinner is almost more of a religious observance than a simple meal. Barring an act of God, it WILL happen. And it will probably involve sausage.

Over the years, as we’ve gotten together, the family has seen many changes. While Sunday dinner started out at his parents’ house every week, we’ve now transitioned to rotating between the homes of his mom and his siblings. And whereas, fifteen years ago, there were seven of us around the dinner table, there are now eighteen adults and kids. When it’s our turn to host, you can find me searching for recipes that feed a crowd.

I’ve assembled a handful of go-to entrees to serve for dinner, from chili to casseroles to barbecue chicken sandwiches (thank God for the Crock Pot). But sometimes the course that leaves me stumped is dessert. A single pan of brownies no longer suffices for this many people, and forget about a single pie–or even two. One dessert I come back to time and again is the ample, flexible bundt cake. It’s easy to slice and serve for any portion size, it doesn’t require the effort of frosting of a layer cake, and it always turns out so pretty. Plus, who doesn’t like cake?

I made this Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake for our most recent Sunday dinner. Lately I’ve been digging in to a bit of “research” (aka baking and eating) on replacing butter or other fats with heart-healthier olive oil. This particular olive oil baking experiment was certainly a success! The cake turned out slightly–but not overly–dense, with a delightfully almost-crunchy crust. Drizzled with a yogurt icing with a hint of orange, each slice was a little bit of citrus heaven, especially when accompanied by a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

To complete a Mediterranean-themed meal, I served this after my Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale. (See? I told you sausage would be involved.) For Sunday dinner or to feed any crowd, I’d say you can’t go wrong with bundt cake–especially this one.



Print Recipe
Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake
Serve up a slice of citrus heaven with this orange olive oil bundt cake topped with yogurt drizzle!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Instructions
Make the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously grease a 12-cup bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix sugar and eggs with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add olive oil, vanilla, and orange extract and mix until smooth, then repeat with orange zest and juice.
  3. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix with hand mixer until no lumps remain.
  4. Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake 40-45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before frosting.
Make the glaze:
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, orange juice, and yogurt until smooth.
  2. Drizzle icing over cooled cake. Garnish with additional orange zest. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Food Network, glaze my own recipe.

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