Spring Holiday Menu Ideas with Healthy Tips for Holiday Overindulgence

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This week we celebrate our favorite Spring Holidays with festive menu ideas and tasty treats to share with family and friends. Check out these recipes, straight from Fun & Simple Gourmet, for a casually festive Easter feast and be sure to read to the end of the blog where Guest Blogger, Cheryl Conklin, MSEd, from Wellness Central, tells us “How to Feel Better After Overindulgence with a Little Self-Care.” Complete with tips and recommendations to help alleviate the symptoms of overindulging before, during and after a festive holiday celebration. Wishing you all a most Happy Easter and Happy Passover Week!

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Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. A time to celebrate Easter and Passover with fresh spring flowers, spring vegetables and eggs! Yes, eggs are used to celebrate both Easter and Passover. Easter eggs are common gifts during Eastertide, whether boiled and dyed or chocolate filled with an array of confections, eggs in general are a symbol of rebirth. Easter eggs symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus. Hard boiled or roasted eggs are also very symbolic on the Passover Seder Plate, symbolizing the temple sacrifice and the continuing cycle of life. They are eaten during the Seder Meal, dipped in salt water. My Jeff wants his eggs, deviled…go figure right! And trust me, he can eat an entire dozen, I literally have to hide them so he won’t totally overindulge and eat them all before the guests arrive!

We will celebrate Easter at home with a brunch of Panettone French Toast and festive Mimosas and then enjoy the day at the RBC Heritage Golf Tournament here on Hilton Head, which happens to take place over the Easter Holiday this year. Then we’ll finish the day with a lovely Easter dinner of Lamb and Spring Vegetables finished with a delicious Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake. You know I have to get my Easter chocolate! I’m not much of a candy person, but this rich and creamy dark chocolate swirl cheesecake, with a hint of orange is the perfect sweet ending to this holiday meal. Now, first things first, delicious and festive not so traditional mimosa cocktails~

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Spice up your Spring Holiday Brunch with these festive drinks. Sparkling Cider makes a great non-alcoholic version. The garnishes of aromatic herbs add a wonderful fresh aroma and flavor.

The Venetian~ Fill a champagne flute half way with Prosecco. Add one jigger Campari and a splash of soda water. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.

Gigi Bellini~ Fill a champagne flute 3/4 full with your favorite champagne. Add a drizzle of Grand Marnier (orange liqueur) to taste and garnish with a fresh rosemary stalk.

Pink Lady~ Fill a champagne flute 1/2 - 3/4 full with your favorite champagne. Add freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice. Top with a pinch of fresh lemon zest and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.

Now, about those eggs! Jeff is crazy for deviled eggs. So simple to prepare, this basic traditional recipe comes from my grandmother. All I have to do is hide them from Jeff until everyone arrives!

One dozen fresh organic eggs 1 teaspoon sweet pickle juice

½ cup mayonnaise Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard                 Sprinkle of Paprika for finishing                               

2 tablespoons yellow mustard Fresh chives, finely chopped (if desired)

Place eggs a large saucepan with enough water to cover the eggs and a generous pinch of kosher salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and cover, allowing the eggs to rest for 20-25 minutes.  Rinse with cold water and carefully crack and peel eggs.  Slice in half lengthwise with a smooth bladed knife and place the yolks in a medium bowl, whites on a serving plate.  Smash the yolks with the beaters on an electric mixer and add mayo, mustards and pickle juice.  Beat with electric mixer on medium speed until well combined and creamy.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and thoroughly combine.  Spoon creamy yolk mixture into a pastry bag or a Ziploc baggie, pressing the mixture into one corner.  Snip the corner of the Ziploc baggie with a pair of kitchen shears and fill each egg white half with the yolk mixture, 1-2 teaspoons of filling in each one.  Sprinkle with paprika and finely chopped chives if desired.

Panettone French Toast is my favorite holiday brunch dish. Its’ sweet and savory, served with 100% pure organic maple syrup with a little orange liqueur to bring out the orange flavor in the french toast, always an Easter Brunch crowd pleaser. For the rest of our casual Easter feast recipes, simply click on the photos!

Lamb is a traditional Easter dish and this Colorado Rack with lemon, garlic and fresh herbs is tender and succulent, finished with a lovely red wine sauce. So elegant yet super simple to prepare. The Penne with Spring Vegetables, sugar snap peas, asparagus, scallions, carrots and Brussels sprouts, is fresh and light with a lemony and aromatic cilantro and basil pesto sauce, a perfect compliment to the flavors of the lamb. I included my Mediterranean Potato Salad, also a great side dish with lamb. I always like a fish option on a holiday table and this year it’s my Grilled Citrus Salmon, with a sweet orange and rosemary glaze. For dessert, the Dark Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake, and a Pear & Ginger Crumble topped with vanilla bean ice cream and toasted slivered almonds.

Now, after this wonderful holiday feast you will want to read on with Cheryl Conklin from Wellness Central on how to feel your best! I know you will learn so much from her article, all super great advice! Thanks Cheryl!

How to Feel Better After Overindulgence with a Little Self-Care

-Cheryl Conklin, MSEd, Wellness Central

On special occasions and during big events, many people will unconsciously overdo it when it comes to eating and drinking, which can leave you feeling bloated and unmotivated. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to ease the discomfort that can come with taking on too much, both before and after you indulge. Preventative care is half the battle, especially if you know that certain foods are likely to give you heartburn or indigestion. You can also look for help from a daily probiotic, which will help with tummy troubles and keep you feeling great. Keep reading for tips on how to alleviate the symptoms of overindulgence.

Reduce Bloating

Everyone has gas, but when it builds up too quickly without a release, it can cause a great deal of pain and can even mimic the feeling of a heart attack. It can also lead to lots of uncomfortable bloating, leaving you feeling overly full no matter what you eat. Take care to eat slowly (eating quickly can cause gas build-up) by chewing your food slowly and waiting 20 minutes or more before going back for seconds.  Not only will this keep you from feeling bloated, but it will also allow you to savor your food and may help prevent weight gain, since taking your time will let you process the feeling that you’re full and satiated.  Probiotics can also help a great deal by introducing healthy bacteria into your intestines, boosting your metabolism, and breaking down bits of food left in your digestive tract that can cause problems later.

Fall Back on Hobbies

Believe it or not, taking up a hobby can relieve stress and anxiety, as well as provide us with a little comfort when we’re feeling under the weather — and that includes making us feel better after overindulging. Focus on something you enjoy that also brings you comfort, whether that’s settling in for a good movie, reading that book you’ve been meaning to finish, or tackling an art project that’s been lingering in the back of your mind. At the end of the day, doing something enjoyable and healthy makes you feel good, so use that to your advantage.

Get a Little Exercise

While it’s probably true that the last thing you’ll feel like doing once you’ve overindulged, light activity can actually help you feel better when you’ve overeaten or when you feel bloated. You don’t have to do a full workout; a short walk at a steady pace will help quite a bit, especially if you have trapped gas that’s making you feel miserable.

Embark on a Staycation

Need to reset completely? If time allows, consider packing your bags for a healthy, detoxifying staycation. Considered by many to be the ultimate self-care splurge, a staycation may be just what you need to reduce stress, re-commit to healthy habits, and get back on track. Fortunately, Hilton Head is the perfect spot for a quick “getaway.”

Overindulgence can be okay if you don’t overdo it. The key is to eat small meals when you can, stay away from foods and drinks you know will cause problems later, and keep in mind that it’s not just one type of food that can lead to heartburn or indigestion. Also, if you do overindulge, look for ways to make yourself feel better without the guilt. Keep your comfort in mind, and do what you can to prevent any problems before they begin. (wellnesscentral.info)

Thanks again Cheryl for your collaboration this week! Wishing everyone a super fantastic & delicious Spring Holiday Week! You can find all of these recipes and many more of my favorites in Fun & Simple Gourmet, at iTunes for your iPad and other Apple devices. If you prefer hardback, it’s available at Amazon & here on my website.

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Spring into Lighter Fare with these Fresh Spring Dishes & Wine Pairings

Ah, the joys of spring, spring showers, spring flowers, spring vegetables, spring pollen, well maybe not that one, and spring cleaning. Spring symbolizes new life, and rejuvenation, our senses become alive again with the scents of spring and longer days allow us to spend more time enjoying evenings outdoors and al fresco dining. March is one of my favorite months of the year. I love the warmer temperatures during the day, but still cool enough for a sweater or jacket in the evening, and the occasional spring shower, that makes everything green, fresh and bright! There’s nothing like the fresh clean scent of a spring shower.

Of course, for me, the newness of spring is all about the food. Spring is a great time to lighten things up with a more delicate fare after the hearty dishes of winter. I love cooking with fresh spring vegetables this time of year, sweet peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, asparagus, leeks, butter lettuces, fennel and arugula. Fresh herb pestos are also a great way to add depth to lighter dishes with a fresh spring flavor. Spring is also a fun time to explore new lighter wine varietals after the hearty dishes and more robust wines of winter. Spring salads, soups, entrées and wines feel somehow energizing and new. Here are some of my favorite spring wines paired with my fun & simple spring dishes like this month’s featured recipe on my Recipe Page, Spaghetti with Wilted Greens in a light and velvety sauce.

This spring try a light Sauvignon Blanc, which is produced from a green skinned grape originally from the Bordeaux region (France) though now grown just about everywhere wine grapes are cultivated. It produces a crisp, light bodied and fresh flavor, which makes for a perfect pairing with the fresh flavors of spring vegetables. In fact, a well-aged Sauvignon Blanc is said to develop aromas of spring vegetables like asparagus and peas as it ages.  One of my favorites is Decoy Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc from California.

 Another wonderful spring wine is Sancerre from the Loire River Valley.  Sancerre is similar to  Sauvignon Blanc, in fact it is a member of the Sauvignon Blanc family. Sancerre is produced in the Loire Valley, specifically the left bank of the Loire River. It’s medium bodied due to the minerals in the soil, yet delicate, floral and mildly acidic and pairs perfectly with goat cheeses, rich creamy bries, grilled fish, shellfish and chicken. 

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Pan Seared Halibut with Risotto Primavera & Sweet Pea Pesto, a delightfully mild fish, pan seared to crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside with creamy risotto and fresh pea pesto. Perfectly paired with a Sancerre from the Loire River Valley  with its floral mild acidity is a perfect balance with this mild and flaky fish, the complex flavors of the pesto and creaminess of the risotto. I’ve never met a Sancerre I didn’t thoroughly enjoy like the Domaine Fournier Les Belles Vignes.

Shrimp Provencal, shown above served with angel hair pasta, with fresh grilled shrimp in a luscious Provencal sauce and sweet pea & basil pesto, pairs perfectly with the Sancerre, though the versatility of this dish also pairs nicely with a Rose’ from Provence or even a nice chilled Pinot Noir.

The complex flavors of the Provence sauce including, fennel, garlic, lemon, tomato, capers and olives are perfect for the medium bodied Sancerre or the pale colored Grenache based Rose’s of the Provence with their notes of citrus and melon, crisp and light, usually produced with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault grapes. There are so many great ones! One of my favorites, Aix, a crisp and light wine with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. A few more of my favorite spring dishes…

Sweet Pea & Proscuitto Salad with Romaine, Butter Lettuce, Shaved Parmigiano & Proscuitto, a well rounded side salad to compliment any spring dish. Asparagus & Leek Soup, fresh, green, soothing and healthy! Paired with a crisp light Sauvignon Blanc.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint/Basil Pesto, succulent lamb chops with a fresh minty pesto, paired perfectly with a nice California Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend.  The rich earthiness of the lamb balanced with the fresh pesto calls for a bold red wine that’s not too heavy. One of my favorite blends is the Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and oaky yet perfectly balanced with the robustness of the Cabernet grape and lighter fruitiness of the Merlot.

Enjoy these Spring Wine Pairings and Fresh Fun & Simple Spring Recipes! Remember to send me your photos of my dishes and tag them #gigistyle #funandsimple to be featured! If you haven’t already, don’t forget to download “Fun & Simple Gourmet” at iTunes (click here) for your Apple devices. You can also order your hard copy edition here or at Amazon.com!

Wishing you all the joys of spring!

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Some of my favorite Wine Tools to help you enjoy exploring Spring Wines!

Simple Tips to Organize Your Kitchen from Soup to Nuts

January is always a great month to reset and get a little organized with a fresh new start to a fresh new year.  One of the best things you can do to enjoy cooking and being in your kitchen more is being organized. I am an organizational freak by nature, which comes in pretty handy, especially in the kitchen. People ask me all the time how I make entertaining look so easy and the answer is simply, by being organized. It doesn’t take that much extra time to plan in advance, in fact, in the end, planning and organizing saves time. January is also National Soup Month!  What’s better than soothing, healthy soups to warm your soul.  After the holidays, I’m always ready to hunker down at home, especially when the weather isn’t quite stellar. My Healthy Kale Minestrone is a hearty meal on its own. Packed full of fresh healthy veges, and finished with avocado and extra virgin olive oil, you will live on this one all winter long. I like to make a big pot on a Sunday, and then we have it to enjoy whenever we want, all week long. Just click on the photo for the recipe! Keep scrolling for more healthy and delicious soups to keep you warm this month! Now back to organizing!

Recently I did a little kitchen re-organization. My kitchen was in pretty good shape, but there’s always room for improvement. A few little changes can save a ton of time.One thing in particular was adding drawers to the inside of my base cabinets. Now rather than sitting on the floor to try to dig in the back of a cabinet to find something, I simply pull out the drawer and I can see everything that’s there and easily retrieve what I am looking for. This is especially helpful with heavy items, like my kitchen aide stand mixer.  I also added drawers to my pantry shelves, making it super easy to find things, especially on the lower shelves.

Which brings me to my next kitchen organizational peeve…expired foods.  How many canned items are in your pantry that expired 2 years ago, 5…even more? It’s crazy to think about, but the time goes faster than you think. Take a few minutes even once a month before doing your grocery shopping to go through your pantry and refrigerator to remove expired items. It’s also a great way to make a good grocery list.  If you stay on top of it, it only takes a minute or two. 

A few other helpful hints to keeping your kitchen organized and functional: 

1.    Buy dried spices and herbs in small quantities and discard after 3 months.

2.    Store garlic, shallots and onions in a bamboo steamer basket. It’s the perfect environment to optimum freshness and it helps keep the veggie bin in the refrigerator a little less cluttered.

3.    Use drawer inserts for flatware, cooking tools and knife drawers to keep everything organized, easy to find and uncluttered.

4.    Hanging pots and pans on a ceiling rack not only saves room in your cabinets, it makes them super easy to retrieve and put away.

5.    Using an over the sink cutting board saves counter space and makes clean up so easy, just push the waste right into the sink.

6.    I recently purchased an over the sink, roll up drying rack. So cool! Dishes, glasses and pots and pans drip dry right in the sink and when you are finished, it just rolls up and stores easily and without taking up much room under the sink.

7.     Finally, labeling is a fun and simple way to keep everything organized.

Some of my favorite organizational tools to help you get started!

A few more of my fun and simple soup recipes! They are warm, soothing, healthy and delicious! Simply click on the photos for the recipes!

Now, get in the kitchen, get organized, and make these wonderful healthy soups!  I hope you enjoy these healthy recipes as much as I enjoy sharing with you! You’ll find these and many more of my favorites in my latest lifestyle cookbook, “Fun & Simple Gourmet” at Amazon or iTunes for your devices!

In the meantime…

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A Merry Merry Holiday Menu

Everyone has been asking me what I’m preparing for our holiday celebrations this year, so I decided to share my menus. The one thing that I always talk about is planning. Being organized isn’t just a good idea, it makes serving a holiday feast, or entertaining a crowd so easy! It doesn’t have to be difficult or daunting, it is meant to be fun, especially for the cook! And, don’t be afraid to let guests bring a dish if they offer, whether it’s an appetizer, side dish or dessert, it never hurts to have a little help and it saves room in your kitchen while you focus on preparing the main dishes. My favorite thing about the holidays is the cooking, so, I will do a big holiday dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Call me crazy I know, but I really do love doing it. Here’s a preview of this year’s Christmas Eve dinner which always includes a pasta dish, this year Fettuccine with Brown Butter & Sage, Toasted Hazelnuts finished with Hazelnut Pesto.

I usually start 2-3 days in advance of the holiday just getting little things together to save time the day of. Desserts usually come first. My fig cake is moist and can be baked at least 2 days in advance. The glaze can also be prepared 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator, then just spooned over the cake the morning of. And this rich and delicious Pecan Tart can also be prepared a day or 2 in advance. Just store in the refrigerator until the morning of, and bring it out to room temperature before serving.  There’s nothing wrong with re-heating slightly it in the microwave just before serving to bring back the fresh from the oven ooey gooeyness!

The day before is perfect for making salad dressing, cooking side vegetables and potatoes, like mashed potatoes that can easily be reheated in the microwave while the meat is resting, just be sure to bring back to room temperature before re-heating.  Haricots Vert can be blanched the day before, and then heated through in a sauté pan with unsalted butter.  The shallots and fennel can be roasted early the morning of and just left at room temperature until added to the sauté with the beans. These are both staple sides on my Christmas Day Holiday Table.

And, it woudn’t be Christmas without Jeff’s favorite Coconut Creme Cupcakes! His favorite special occasion dessert, so he gets them twice a year, Christmas Day and his birthday.

Coconut Creme Cupcakes

Coconut Creme Cupcakes

That’s it! Fun & Simple yet elegant and delicious. That’s my kind of holiday! Wishing you and you’re a  most wonderful and delicious holiday season and safe, happy and healthy new year!

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Here are some of my favorite tools of the trade for preparing these dishes perfectly every time!







5 Perfect Pumpkin Dishes for Thanksgiving!

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Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving…right? Of course it’s one of my favorite holidays because it’s all about two of the my most important things in life…Gratitude and Food! I like celebrating and preparing for Thanksgiving all month long, creating fun new recipes and enjoying preparing and updating some of my old ones.

Pumpkin is one of my favorite foods and can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, not to mention the many health benefits of pumpkin!

Vitamin A rich and only 49 calories per cup, pumpkin has little or no fat content, and is high in antioxidants, like beta carotene which protects your cells against free radicals. Pumpkin also has fiber, Vitamins C, B2 and E, Iron, Copper and Potassium. I love pumpkin in lots of dishes over the holidays, but I eat pumpkin all year long.

I've selected five of my favorite pumpkin delights for you to share with your friends and family this holiday season and all year long...enjoy!

Simply click for the recipes.

Pumpkin Risotto   with Fried Sage, Toasted Hazelnuts and lots of Parmigiana!

Pumpkin Risotto with Fried Sage, Toasted Hazelnuts and lots of Parmigiana!

Creamy   Parmigiana Pumpkin Zita   with a hint of Amaretti

Creamy Parmigiana Pumpkin Zita with a hint of Amaretti

Pumpkin Ravioli   with brown butter, sage and toasted walnuts

Pumpkin Ravioli with brown butter, sage and toasted walnuts

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake  , my go to Thanksgiving dessert

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, my go to Thanksgiving dessert

What’s better than preparing a holiday feast with those closest to you and sharing a day of food, love and gratitude! I can’t think of a single thing! I hope you enjoy preparing these fun & simple pumpkin recipes as much as I enjoyed preparing for you! Please feel free to share and don't hesitate to reach out with your comments and send me your photos! I would love to hear from you! You will find many of my favorite holiday dishes in my new cookbook, Fun & Simple Gourmet! And…it makes a super great holiday gift!

Wishing everyone a safe, healthy and Happy Thanksgiving! In the meantime,

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5 Things You Need to Know About Incredible Edible Peanuts!

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I had the pleasure and honor of spending a few days with a group of super talented and amazing food professionals, for Peanut Tour 2018 hosted by the Georgia Peanut Commission and Southern Peanut Growers. Planned perfectly for harvest season, we were able to experience a harvest, first hand, from the fields to the buying facility, to shelling, blanching and distribution. I must say, I was astounded by the true science of farming and the agricultural research being tested and developed for the next generation of food products, here, by the University of Georgia Food Science and Engineering Departments, to make our food healthier, safer, more sustainable and better for the environment. In addition, this research helps to safely and efficiently increase yield to feed our growing global population. Because of DNA technology, scientists at UGA are developing peanuts that are healthier and more cost effective, reducing the need for pesticides and increasing yield, also known as Genomics…pretty cool stuff! More on those 5 essential things to know about peanuts after some fun talk about our adventure!

Our journey began in Atlanta, where our fabulous hosts from the Georgia Peanut Commission, Joy Crosby and Whitney Brannen, Leslie Wagner, Southern Peanut Growers and Trista Cady of FLM Harvest, treated us to a fabulous dinner at King & Duke in the heart of Buckhead. This gem, named after characters in Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” features a 24-foot open hearth right in the middle of the restaurant. Chef Hodgkinson and his amazing staff prepared a tasting dinner for this group of foodies fit for kings, or queens as the case may be, since our fabulous, self named, #peanutgang, was all women, incredible women, featuring 2 nutritional PhD’s, award winning chefs, a culinary arts professor, food industry writers & bloggers and food television personalities. Combined with our wonderful hosts, this was a #girlpower journey not to be reckoned with!

The Peanut Gang featuring South Georgia Peanut Farmer David Reed

The Peanut Gang featuring South Georgia Peanut Farmer David Reed

The next morning we were off to the UGA Food Science Lab to learn all about what they are cooking up, literally! Product testing and development is there expertise, we were even “tested” ourselves in the Sensory Lab, with a taste comparison study of a new nutritional drink the scientists are developing for nutritional enhancement in underdeveloped countries.   

Then we were off to The Whistle Stop Café, of Fried Green Tomatoes fame (circa 1991, Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, directed by John Avnet) for a southern hospitality lunch of fried green tomatoes, of course, and other down home southern favs.

After an overly satisfying lunch, we continued to head southeast to the Georgia Peanut Belt to experience the harvest, first hand, with David Reed and his family on their amazing farm. David took us through the very technical process of the harvest. BTW, these aren’t your grandfather’s tractors! Today’s farmer uses GPS guided equipment that tracks the exact location of the peanuts, for precision harvesting. This science of farming, called “Precision Agriculture,” is optimal for the most efficient production. Soil moisture levels can be monitored on a farmer’s cell phone and irrigation can be controlled by the touch of a button from your phone! How crazy is that?

We were hosted that evening at the family farm and cabin of Armond and Brenda Morris for a most special dinner on their beautiful property. Armond is the Chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission and he and Brenda were the most gracious hosts, telling stories of their family and farm, opening their home to us, truly a very special evening. The next morning we started our day by visiting UGA’s Water, Energy and People Efficient Model Home that was built right on the Tifton Campus. It is surrounded by an edible landscape and is a net-zero energy and water lab home that students helped design and build, and, a few very fortunate grad students actually live in. Net zero energy uses 70% less energy than most new homes combining solar and geo-thermal energy. In fact, it is possible that the home creates more energy than it actually uses during certain times of the year, sending the excess back to the power plant. Wouldn’t it be great to get a credit back from the power company every month rather than paying a bill!

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The edible landscape includes peanuts, bananas, other fruits, vegetables and herbs developed by plant breeding teams, designed to be beautiful and functional. Like frost tolerant citrus fruits, with improved genetics, creating efficiency of water and energy and flavorful nutritious plants that are perfectly adapted with the environment around them. So cool…     

Next we visited the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) at UGA Tifton Campus. The DNA testing lab here was by far the most intriguing part of this journey for me. Here scientists slice and test plant DNA to breed hybrid peanuts to be healthier and self protective, decreasing the need for pesticides, lowering cost, increasing yield and continuing to perfect the plant for optimum nutrition and environmental benefit. DNA of a peanut…are you kidding? When I say these scientists, are so incredibly brilliant, I am not even close to describing the remarkable work they are doing.

Did I mention that the peanut is the ONLY plant that flowers above the soil, but fruits below. Here you see Scientist Juliet Chu pointing out the fruit (peanut) below the soil of the yellow flower above. The Georgia Peanut Commission helps to fund these research programs under the Commodities Promotion Act, through a small assessment on the producers and the information that they receive is priceless. Now, on to the actual processing. So we experienced the harvest, now those peanuts are taken to a registered buying point where they are cleaned, inspected by the USDA and purchased by a Shelling Plant. There the peanuts are further cleaned, shelled, blanched, sorted, sold and packaged for shipment to a production facility or storage. The peanuts are processed by very high tech machinery, gone are the days of human hands cleaning and sorting peanuts! I was most impressed by the number of times the peanuts are cleaned and inspected throughout this process. They have this gig down to a “science!”  Also impressive is that every part of the peanut is utilized, after the shells and husks are removed they are packaged separately along with small broken pieces to be used for feed and fertilizer making them 100% sustainable!

On our final day, we were hosted for another fantastic lunch at the Georgia Peanut Commission with sensational speaker, Casey Cox, a young sixth generation farmer who came back home to manage her family farm after graduating from college. Casey is an amazing young woman, committed to preserving the integrity, efficiency and water conservation of her family farm, through science and technology. Check out this video short featuring Casey and her work.

Our final evening was spent reflecting on our experience and enjoying a fabulous farm to table dinner at The Local Kitchen & Bar, in Tifton where all of the food is sourced from local producers. The food was fresh and beautifully presented, not to mention superbly delicious, especially the peanut soup appetizer!  The perfect farewell dinner for this group of enthusiastic foodies! Jeff came to join in the fun for our farewell, and to save me from the impending hurricane. He fit right in with the #peanutgang, read everyone’s palms, including a texted photograph of one of our peanut gal’s fiancé’s hand, Jeff approved!

Back to that list of 5 Essential Things to Know About Peanuts!

 1.     Peanuts are not NUTS at all! They are legumes and even more surprising, the ONLY plant that flowers above the soil but fruits below!

 2.     Runner peanuts make my favorite thing…peanut butter! Runners are grown primarily in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. They are used in peanut butter because of their strong peanut taste and uniformity in size, for even roasting. One acre of these little legumes will make 30,000 PBJ sandwiches!

 3.     Peanuts don’t need to be fertilized because of their natural ability to take nitrogen from the air and ground.  This is also important in crop rotation, peanuts will leave some nitrogen and replenish the nutrients in the ground for other crops.

 4.     Health benefits of these incredible edible legumes are seemingly endless.  Peanuts are used in nutritional sustenance products for developing countries to help prevent starvation and nutritional deficiencies, in products that actually taste good. A great source of Biotin, full of heart healthy monounsaturated fats associated with reduced cardiovascular risk, antioxidants similar to those found in red wine (resveratrol) that neutralize free radicals and lower risk of cancer, while increasing blood flow in the brain reducing risk of stroke, and packed with essential minerals like copper, which can lower harmful LDL cholesterol and Omega-6, not to mention high in protein and fiber, making peanuts the perfect go to snack every day!

 5.    Peanuts are now being used to produce other food products like plant-based milk, ice cream mixes, pancake mix and even pasta! They are not just for snacking, candy and peanut butter anymore!

I have always made peanuts, mostly peanut butter, part of my daily diet routine. I am even more committed to peanuts after learning so much more about their super healthy properties and environmental benefits. Who would have thought that my daily PBJ was so healthy! I have truly Gone Nuts for Peanuts!

But, what I was most taken by on this journey, was the hearts of the people in South Georgia, a wonderful community of giving and caring farmers and their families, who all look out for one another and their environment. Who would have dreamed, that on our final day of Peanut Tour 2018, we would be racing out of South Georgia to get ahead of the storm that was about to slam the coast of Northwest Florida and make its path directly over the farms and homes of those here in South Georgia whom we had just become so fond of. Hurricane Michael was devastating to the coast of NW Florida, and to the farmers of South Georgia, who lost most of their cotton crop, and remaining peanuts that had not as yet been harvested. Thank goodness for their safety, though our hearts are heavy with the loss of their crop during what was to be a bountiful harvest. This community, no doubt, approached the storm, the way we experienced they approach life, by helping each other, giving to their community and their environment and being the gracious and welcoming hosts they were to us during this amazing adventure.

May I add that experiencing this journey with the #peanutgang, Amy Casey, Personal Chef & Food Writer, Elieke Demmer, PhD, Scientific Affairs Manager, RXBAR, Lisa Dorfman, PhD, Nutritionist & Culinary Consultant, Patricia Howard, Acclaimed NYC Private Chef and Caterer, Melinda McIsaac, Chef Instructor, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts, Roberta Pipito, Award Winning Chef & TV Personality, and Rachel Quenzer, Owner & Founder, The Everyday Mom Life and long time food industry professional, was one of the most memorable and best times of my life, including a super great impromptu bridal shower for Elieke, who is preparing for her nuptials in just a couple of weeks. We will be forever bonded as the #peanutgang, #peanuttour2018!

Thank you ladies for the camaraderie and the laughs, it was truly phenomenal! 

The Peanut Gang with Brenda and Armond Morris at their lovely Farm and Cabin

The Peanut Gang with Brenda and Armond Morris at their lovely Farm and Cabin

And to our outstanding hosts, Joy, Whitney, Leslie and Trista, this experience couldn’t have been more perfect, except for the arrival of Hurricane Michael after our departure. You truly outdid yourselves with hospitality and kindness, and I know I can speak for the entire #peanutgang when I say that we are truly grateful for being included in this spectacular event.

Farming is what food is all about, at least that’s where it all begins. Here are some of my favorite peanut recipes, all super delicious and healthy! Give them a try, I know you will enjoy! Don’t forget to send me your photos and share your new knowledge of everything peanuts!

In the meantime…

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It's Pumpkin Month!

Gingered Pumpkin Muffins with Dark Chocolate Glaze

Gingered Pumpkin Muffins with Dark Chocolate Glaze

It's time to transition into fall! I love the flavors of fall, especially pumpkin! This time of year, I use pumpkin in everything, from breakfast muffins to salads, soups, pastas and desserts. Sweet, savory and everything in between, there is nothing better than the taste of pumpkin to get you in the mood for fall weather and flavors. Whether you are serving these delicious muffins for breakfast or dessert, the warm aromatics will have you at first bite! Filled with pumpkin spices and ginger then drizzled with soothing dark chocolate, just one of these little delights will never be enough! Stay tuned for lots of wonderful pumpkin recipes coming up in the next few weeks. Not to worry, when it comes to fun & simple menu planning, you are at the right place. My simple and elegant recipes will save you time in the kitchen so you can enjoy healthy eating with your family and friends. #HealthyLifestyle #FunandSimple This week's feature, Gingered Pumpkin Muffins with dark chocolate glaze. (simply click on the photo for the recipe) Early fall comfort food at its best! You will find many of my favorite recipes in my new lifestyle cookbook!

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Stay tuned for lots more about pumpkin and many more fun and simple pumpkin recipes. I hope you are enjoying your fall flavors and activities. Send me your photos and stories and don’t forget to share my recipes with your friends and family! Until next time…

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