Snack Review: Fishpeople Salmon Jerky

If you had told me a few weeks ago that my new go-to snack would be dried Alaskan salmon, I would have thought the idea was…well…pretty fishy. I don’t usually think of seafood as snack food. (I did, however, just learn that whale milk ice cream is gaining popularity. Apparently it’s almost 50% fat and tastes like “a mixture of fish, liver, milk of magnesia, and castor oil,” so…maybe this is a thing now?)

Here’s the deal, though: As a freelance health and nutrition writer, I often get, ahem, interesting emails from PR people for various companies, asking me to try out their products so I can write about them. I’ve been offered all sorts of intriguing and off-the-wall stuff, from athletic wear to “designer” turmeric to plant-based sports drinks. I got a free tote bag and water bottle from Morton’s salt. (Yes, featuring the iconic umbrella-carrying salt girl.) I’ve been offered free online yoga subscriptions and services to cure headaches. And I was recently given a pre-screening of a new movie made by the guy who played Toby on The Office, and asked to interview him. Sometimes it’s a pretty sweet deal!

It’s hard to know when to say yes and when to say I’ll pass on these many products. But sometimes something comes along that sounds genuinely compelling, and this salmon jerky by Fishpeople was one of them.

First, let me just say that I dig the name “Fishpeople” and the company’s rather eccentric, stuff-of-Grimms-fairytales logo (pictured above) of a man/fish creature carrying a fork–or is it a trident? Is he a person? Or a fish? Is he going to eat people? Or fish? The world may never know.

When I tore into my first bag of jerky, I was excited, since I love salmon, but wan’t sure what to expect. I mean, I’ve had plenty of smoked salmon (which I also adore) and lots of beef jerky (I went through a jerky phase in high school, I confess), but what does fish look and taste like when you put it through the drying process?

I had my choice between Original flavor, Ancho Chili + Lime, Rainbow Peppercorn, and Lemon Zest + Herb. I decided to start with Original. Admittedly, the smell upon first opening the bag was a bit overpowering, even for someone who really likes salmon, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I tried the bits of dried fish and was pleased to discover they were extremely tasty! Chewy, certainly, but not nearly as tough as beef jerky, and with a slightly sweetness that complements the fish’s natural flavor.

I’ve now worked my way through the various bags of jerky and enjoyed them all. (Rainbow Peppercorn is by far and away my favorite.) I’ve sprinkled them on salad for an easy protein topping and snacked on them before bedtime. I even think you wouldn’t be remiss adding them to a sandwich, perhaps to make a salmon BLT.

Although–as mentioned–I wouldn’t normally think of eating dried fish for a snack, I’m really coming around to the idea. I mean, who says we have to eat any certain type of food at any meal? My 9-year-old likes to eat meatball sandwiches for breakfast, and sometimes I think he’s better off with that than a bowl of super sugary cereal in the mornings. So maybe salmon as my bedtime snack isn’t such a bad idea (as long as I brush my teeth before snuggling in next to my husband).

I say this especially because so many packaged snacks are high-calorie and packed with garbage. Dried salmon, on the other hand, is extremely low-calorie (each Fishpeople bag contains two 90-calorie servings), full of omega-3 fats (the kind with evidence-based links to brain health), and high protein (not that we need a TON of protein, but 12 grams per serving is a nice boost). Plus, they contain far less sugar than the average granola bar or yogurt I’d usually reach for.

Though the PR person I’d emailed with had emphasized portability as one of salmon jerky’s main selling points, I just don’t think I’m quite hipster enough to, you know, stash a bag of dried salmon to munch on during my flight to Coachella. But for an at-home snack my future self will thank me for? One that’s good for me and is actually really tasty? Yes, I’ll gladly grab some salmon jerky any day.

You can find Fishpeople’s products on their website, or on Amazon.

Blueberry Picking at Bartlett’s Blueberry Farm

When our family decided to stay at a farm in rural New Hampshire as part of our New England vacation, I immediately took to the internet to research the area around Newport, NH where we’d be staying. Among the historic buildings and covered bridges, one listing caught my attention: Blueberry picking! Whatever else we did, I knew this topped my list of options for a family activity. Blueberries are my all-time favorite fruit. In fact, at my former job at the American Heart Association’s Children’s Museum, every employee’s name tag stated their favorite fruit or vegetable under their name, so mine said “Sarah Blueberries”–which always led kids on my tours to ask if “Blueberries” was my last name. I wish! Wouldn’t that be perfect for a nutritionist? Maybe I can convince my husband we should consider a name change.

As fruits (and foods in general) go, you can’t get much healthier than blueberries. They’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins K and C, and contain a surprisingly high amount of fiber. (Check out this post of mine over on Brit + Co to read more about berry health benefits!) I also find them super versatile and delicious–as you may have realized from the many blueberry recipes on this blog!

Bartlett’s Blueberry Farm came highly recommended by the owners of the farm where we were staying, and it happened to be the closest place to pick blueberries, so we set off on our outing on a beautiful sunny day. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the lovely lady who runs the farm at a tented stand featuring tons of blueberry-based products.

The owner explained that we had access to the farm’s enormous swath of blueberry bushes, with our choice of picking to fill either a large bucket or smaller buckets. Since our stay in New Hampshire would be brief, we chose the smaller buckets, which adorably (and conveniently) hung on strings around our necks while picking.

With that, we were off to picking!

Embarrassingly, before this experience, I couldn’t have told you what a blueberry bush even looked like. They’re not exactly springing up on every corner in Phoenix, where I’ve lived almost my entire life. Actually, I’ve only ever known one person who succeeded in making them grow in the desert, and he was a horticulturist. So I was pleased to learn that blueberries grow in bunches on pretty, thorn-less, eye-level bushes.

Bartlett’s Farm boasted several varieties of blueberries. At the end of each row was a marker designating its variety, such as Duke, Nelson, and Earlibue. We tasted several and did notice a difference–some were sweeter, some tarter. To me, blueberries have always just been blueberries, so it was interesting to learn that there are subtle differences between different plants.

Picking the blueberries proved to be a very simple task (not nearly as arduous as apple picking, with all the reaching and pulling and spiky lacrosse stick-like plucking tools). With plenty of ripe berries in easy reach and no thorns to poke us, the berries practically fell off the branches into our buckets. We all just kept our eyes peeled for the bluest fruits, knowing they’d be sweetest, and avoided any green or magenta-colored ones.


Sometimes they even popped off in perfect little clusters, like this..


All in all, we probably spent 45 minutes picking before we got our fill (well, more than our fill) of blueberries. I don’t actually recall the price per pound, but I do know that for the amount pictured–I’m guessing at least two pounds–we paid only $6.60. A pretty stellar deal for fresh, local blueberries, even if we picked them ourselves.

If you’re ever in western New Hampshire, check out Bartlett’s Blueberry Farm!

And for more blueberry inspiration, check out these recipes:

Red, White, and Blueberry French Toast Casserole

Fresh Blueberry Ice Cream

Easy Blueberry Jam

Whole Grain Blueberry Orange Muffins

Lighter Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Blueberry Scones

How I Started Freelance Nutrition Writing (And So Can You)

Need a health and wellness writer with plenty of experience? Contact me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com!

Are you considering a getting started with freelance nutrition writing? Check out my post on why it’s such a great career.

You may have noticed that things have slowed down a bit here on the blog over the last several months. The reason behind this actually has to do with something really good–and something, in a sense, blog-related. See, I’ve been doing freelance nutrition writing, and a lot of it. Since I’d rather post quality than quantity on the blog, that means my posts here have gotten fewer and further between. Here’s a little bit about how it all came about, along with some tips for other nutrition professionals interested in getting into the world of freelance writing. (And to my handful of regular readers: Don’t worry, I’m still keeping the blog going with recipes and down-to-earth nutrition info!)

Some backstory:

Last August, our family spent almost three months in Germany. During this time, I wasn’t working (unless you count steadily “working” my way through innumerable varieties of German beer–oh, and I was also looking after my kids). Being very new in my career as a nutrition professional, I still hadn’t really determined what path I wanted to take. When you go through any traditional dietetics education, the party line from your program of study is that you have three options for employment: clinical, food service, or community nutrition. (Can I get an amen, RDs and DTRs?) While I knew I didn’t want to work in the clinical or food service settings, I wasn’t exactly sure what my career in “community” (aka public health) nutrition would look like. I did know, however, that my first position out of school would be temporary, that I wanted something part-time, and that I had always loved to write. My English minor back in college meant I had at least some education in doing so reasonably well.

Returning home from Germany, I decided to take a stab at freelance writing to see how it went. Initially, it barely even crossed my mind to start writing nutrition content. Instead, I began with something even closer to my heart: my own journey as a Catholic Christian. My cousin, who is a freelance writer in New Mexico, had turned me on to a couple of websites primarily aimed at Millennial Catholics, Busted Halo and Amendo. Armed with my backlog of blog content and one lonely article I wrote for my church’s Women’s Ministry page, I pitched Busted Halo’s editor, calling myself a freelance writer. I asked if they’d like to publish the story of a foolish decision I made as a young adult. I didn’t really expect to hear anything back–I mean, who was I kidding with this whole “I’m a freelance writer” pose?–but much to my surprise, the editor emailed me back with an acceptance!

And how I got to now…

After the success of my first pitch (and the thrill of seeing my first article in print), I craved more. Here and there, I’d send off a pitch, often into the echoing void of a general submissions inbox, never to hear anything again, but sometimes to a “yes” from a real human being. Pretty soon I made a pact with myself: Every day I wasn’t working–which was one to two days a week–I would pitch a new publication. I read a quick e-book called Make Money as a Freelance Writer, which encouraged new writers to make a list of all the topics you’re an expert in, as well as topics you merely have an interest in. I decided I could comfortably focus on nutrition, general health and wellness, parenting, and spirituality…and maybe some other random topics I just find fascinating, like forensic investigation and 19th century German poets. But, you know, less often.

Over the next few months, I pitched like a mo-fo. Setting aside my deep distaste for unsolicited social interaction, I rattled off cold pitches to dozens of magazines and websites. I emailed local dietitians to see if I could write their newsletters or other content for patients, and I sent out an ad for my services on my local Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chapter’s email listserv. The mornings I didn’t work, I’d go for a walk or a bike ride to clear my head and generate story ideas, then sit down to research a good publication to send to, and off my pitches would go. From September of 2017 to the end of that year, I sent out 40 pitches and received 8 rejections, 14 no-reponses, and 18 acceptances that turned into publications. When I read somewhere that new writers often have around a 10-20% acceptance rate, I felt my hard work had paid off (but those 8 rejections still definitely stung!).

How I get my gigs

At the end of 2017 came what I think of as my big breakthrough: Paid regular work. That December I was offered a weekly contributor position for the women’s lifestyle website Brit + Co’s Health section. Shortly thereafter, a dietitian hired me at a respectable rate to write her monthly newsletter. And in May of 2018 I was hired on to contribute regularly to fitness guru Chalene Johnson’s blog on her 131 Method website. Between these ongoing projects, a monthly kids’ cooking class I teach, and a few other articles every month or so, I was able to quit my in-person job–and am now making double to triple the hourly rate my job paid, while working fewer hours.

So how did all that happen?

Once again, I really have to give my cousin credit. She referred me to numerous Facebook groups where editors post calls for pitches–which I often answered and sometimes ultimately landed. (I also asked others in these groups for editor contacts when I couldn’t track them down). Then a couple of dietitians told me about even more Facebook groups where I found work. For awhile, I also regularly searched through Craigslist and Upwork for writing gigs–getting one decent food-related copywriting assignment–but have since decided pitching my own content is the better route for the type of work I’m looking for.

If YOU want to get into freelance nutrition writing

Maybe you’re a dietitian or DTR interested in getting started with writing, like I was less than a year ago. Judging from the responses I got when chatting with other nutrition professionals at a conference just last week, I believe many RDs and DTRs are drawn to this relatively obscure area of dietetics practice. After all, why shouldn’t we be the ones to give the public reliable health information? Journalists may have great skill in reporting on food and nutrition, but they don’t have the kind of in-depth knowledge a licensed nutrition professional can offer.

Here are my top pieces of advice if you’re looking to start freelance nutrition writing:

  • If you don’t have a blog, create one–even a lil’ dinky one–so you have a landing place for editors to see your writing.
  • Create social media pages for your blog and invite friends to like them. Post often, whether it’s your own blog articles or anything you find intriguing in the realm of food and nutrition. If you post interesting stuff, your following will grow.
  • If you’re in private practice, write your own monthly newsletter. Or offer to write one for a dietetics practice to build up experience and content.
  • Offer to blog for free (for awhile) for local food, nutrition, or restaurant websites.
  • Get into Facebook groups about general and nutrition-specific freelance writing (email me for examples!) These are where you’ll find editors issuing calls for pitches.
  • Search Craigslist and Upwork for nutrition-related writing gigs.
  • Pitch like a pitchin’ fool! And, if possible, don’t pitch to the general submissions email address you find on a publication’s website. Do a little more digging to get the email of an actual editor. (Try Twitter, LinkedIn, or ask in Facebook groups.) You’re much more likely to get a response from a real person.

The work is out there. And with your experience as a nutrition professional, YOU can be the one most qualified to get it. I can tell you, it’s a pretty sweet deal when you do!

Enjoyed this article? Have a project that could use some health and wellness writing? Contact me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com!

I Tried Universal Yums and Here’s What Happened

Christmas seems like a long time ago now, but that’s where this story begins. Back in December, as I was assembling my Christmas list (like a NORMAL person–who are these nonchalant gift receivers who say, “Just get me whatever you think I’d like!”?), I had been chatting with my co-workers about the hot new trend of boxes. Yes, boxes. Not plain old boxes, or simple gift boxes, but the kind of subscription boxes that arrive in the mail monthly with special, interesting goodies. You may have heard of examples like Stitch Fix, Birchbox, or The PMS Package (yes, it is what you think it is).

Being a foodie, I knew the one box I wanted to add to my Christmas list: Universal Yums. This box service caters to the culinarily adventurous, sending gift boxes of snacks from a different country each month. Chupa chups from Mexico? Haribo gummies from Germany? Sign me up! (Just nothing with crickets, please.)

When Christmas rolled around, my brother was kind enough to gift me with a month of Universal Yums. My box arrived in January full of edible presents from…drumroll, please…Greece! After taking a moment to give thanks that it wasn’t from somewhere extremely exotic to me, like Vietnam (see cricket aversion above), I sliced open my “Yum Yum Box” with gusto.

Not sure who was more excited, my 6-year-old or me.

The Yum Yum Box includes at least 12 snacks (other Universal Yums packages come with anywhere from 6 to 20+ goodies). Here’s what the haul looked like unboxed:

A variety of sweet and savory, it boasted oregano chips, a sesame-almond bar, cookies flavored with must (a kind of grape juice), olives, chewy fruit candies, something called halva (which my husband, who has a Greek aunt, recognized as a snack, but which looked more like cement to me), bread chips, a cream-filled croissant, and several chocolate candy bars.

For my first snack of choice, I dug into the chocolate (obviously), opting for a Triplo bar.

The Triplo bar needs to hit the U.S., like, immediately. Without a doubt, it would be a huge success. A three-humped chocolate-caramel mixture tops a wafer base, making this some perfect amalgam of Milky Way and Kit Kat. I’ve been scouring the internet for where to buy these in bulk every since. The other chocolate items in the Yum Yum Box were similarly delicious.

The sesame-almond bar I tried next certainly did NOT resemble any snack native to the U.S. Containing just sesame seeds, honey, and almonds, it sure could teach American processed snacks a thing or two about the goodness of simplicity. To this Western lady, its flavor was distinctly foreign–but enjoyably so–especially with the knowledge it was comprised of only three ingredients.

 

This brings me to another element I appreciated about the Yum Yum Box: with standard FDA-regulated nutrition facts on each food item, I wasn’t left to decipher nutrition information from Greek in kilojoules.

Additionally, a fun little booklet accompanied the box, providing a bit of background on each snack, as well as some games and riddles to solve, indicating where next month’s box would come from. This mini-magazine added to the intrigue and festive feeling of the experience.

Since my box arrived in January, I’ve gradually made my way through the dozen or so items it delivered, loving some, disliking others, feeling indifferent toward a few. Actually, it’s not quite true that I’ve made my way through all of them. I have yet to try the halva (which I still think looks more like a gray brick from some Communist-era demolition site than a desirable on-the-go snack), and I eventually threw out the cream-filled croissant on the grounds that any cream that can survive a trip across the planet and two months in my pantry is a cream I don’t want to eat.

This highlights the primary drawback I see with Universal Yums’ model: every food sent is, by necessity, processed. For obvious reasons, you can’t exactly send fresh fruits and vegetables or home-cooked meals via international mail. Still, as a nutritionist, I can’t help but hesitate to completely embrace a monthly celebration of processed food.

Final word: would I get Universal Yums again? As a gift, yes, any time! But personally, even though I enjoy trying new foods and the feeling that I can travel the globe with my mouth, I’m not quite up to spending $14-39/month to do so. Plus, I honestly don’t think I have the appetite for so many unusual snacks every month. There would always be ones I’m just not adventurous enough to eat (though it could be fun weirding out whoever runs the canned food drive at my kids’ school by donating shrimp chips from Thailand or beet candies from Ukraine). Regardless, my Universal Yums experience was definitely exciting and novel, and I’d be curious to see what a box from another country would look like.

Would you try an international snack box service? Or have you already? Tell me about it!

Book Review: Stir

Normally, I have a bit of an aversion to food memoirs. Often they’re cloyingly sappy, with too-tender tales of lessons both culinary and clichéd on grandmother’s knee. Or they make improbable leaps from food to philosophy: “As I kneaded the dough with my fingers, I was reminded that life’s possibilities are always at our fingertips.” Then again, maybe my distaste for food memoirs has to do with a secret jealousy that people out there are writing whole books about their relationship with food. Entirely possible.

So when I picked up a copy of Jessica Fechtor’s Stir at my local library, I wasn’t really prepared to like it.

Truth be told, it wasn’t the food aspect that made me toss Stir onto my pile of books for checkout in the first place. What drew me in was instead the fact that Fechtor’s story centers on recovery from a brain aneurysm that rocked her life in her late 20s. I’ll confess: I love reading or watching anything that showcases the gruesome or bizarre. My husband tells me I have the Netflix queue of someone planning a string of axe murders. So, brain aneurysm? Yes, please!

I toted Stir along with me on our road trip to Disneyland this past week, and didn’t even need the drive to and from California to read it. Forty-eight hours was all it took to polish off this immersive narrative.

Unlike the many food memoirs I’ve read before, Stir resonated with me. Fechtor manages to make deep, true statements about food’s role in bringing her back to her “normal” self after her aneurysm–without clunking sentimentality. Her eye for describing her own experiences struck me as probing and sincere, and her intelligence comes through on every page. It’s no surprise she’s A PhD candidate in Jewish literature at Harvard. Plus, her descriptions of food are nothing short of poetry, like this passage about a macaroon:

“The Hi-Rise almond macaroon is plump and squat, a round, rosy cookie with a whole almond pressed into its belly and dusted with powdered sugar. Squeeze, and and the crisp outer crust sinks into the chewy center.”

Does that not make you perfectly picture (and want to eat) a macaroon?

Several times, coming upon recipes featured at the end of nearly every chapter, I suddenly realized my need for whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, butter almond cake, cherry clafoutis. It made complete sense that these baked goods would serve as comfort food in a time of the author’s suffering and recovery. (Then again, some recipes were way out of my league, or would involve hours of preparation. To each her own.)

As someone who has had bizarre, hit-you-out-of-nowhere health issues, I must say I also found Fechtor’s life-altering surgeries and hospital stays relatable. Her resilience is incredible. There’s no way I could have responded to losing half my vision and a large chunk of my skull with anything like her optimism.

My primary criticism of the book is for its title. It seems a few more descriptive words could have better expressed the depths of Fechtor’s experience than simply Stir.

Overall, however, I highly recommend reading Fechtor’s well-told journey. Sometimes we could all use a jolt of gratitude that, whatever our troubles, at least most of us don’t require brain surgery–and a reminder of the many wonderful gifts food can bring under any circumstances.