Milestones Matter

This post is brought to you by Netflix.

When we were getting ready for our second baby to be born, I was hyperaware of my older son’s feelings, probably indulging in his whims a little more than I should have. I knew that as he had been the only child for six years, his life was going to be changed tremendously. Once Max arrived, I did what I could to ease the transition, sharing stories of brothers and siblings and how we learn from life changes.

I’m happy to live in a world where I have lots of tools at my disposal to ease my children through these milestones. We not only learn through books and family activities, but through our family screen time. In fact, when my older son is feeling frustrated and unable to put his feelings into words, he often requests to watch one of the shows that deals with feelings. Sometimes, it’s easier for him to relate to the kids (or talking animals; go figure) on the screen than it is to me.

I let him use Netflix Streaming as a way to find shows that are appropriate for his age and fit his current life experiences. Here’s a few titles to explore if your kids are going through milestones:

  • New Sibling: The Hive: S01E01, Babee’s Room
  • Losing Your First Tooth: Super WHY: S01E10, The Story of the Tooth Fairy
  • Getting Glasses: Arthur: S15E09, Through the Looking Glasses
  • First Sleepover: Bratz Kidz: Sleep-over Adventure
  • First Trick-or-Treat: Julius Jr.: S01E06, Dressed for Spook-cess
  • First Pet: Beethoven
  • First Move: The Croods
  • First Big Game: D2: The Mighty Ducks

Netflix OctoberMilestones matter in our house, because for the kids, everything is big. Remember being a kid and buying something with your own money for the first time, or getting your first great report card? Milestones, both good and bad, should be things we look to, to celebrate and learn from.

What do you do to celebrate milestones?

Disclaimer: This post is the first in a year-long partnership with Netflix as part of the Netflix Stream Team.  All opinions are my own.

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Fresh Summit Recap

Jackfruit from Freida's Produce

This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend the Producer Marketers Association Fresh Summit 2014 in Anaheim, California, as part of Team Fresh Summit. Organized by Kitchen PLAY, Team Fresh Summit attended the full conference and worked with a few brands to bring attention to the event through social media.

I had followed Team Fresh Summit on Twitter during the 2013 event, and I couldn’t wait to apply for 2014. Because of my work on this blog, as well as my jobs with Recipe.com and Whole Foods Market, I’m incredibly interested in produce marketing and seeing the “behind the scenes” of the industry. When I was chosen for this year’s event, I was simultaneously ecstatic and ready to hide under the covers (hi, introversion!) at the first sign of anxiety.

Fresh Summit 2014

I couldn’t have been happier with how the weekend turned out, however. I had only previously met Casey at Kitchen PLAY, but the rest of Team Fresh Summit was incredibly welcoming, funny, and professional on the expo floor. Also, we’re all terrible bowlers, which struck down any nerves that could have been lingering after the first two days.

Fresh Summit 2014

Trend Spotting

  • Juices – Juices and smoothies were everywhere on the expo floor, whether from specific juice companies or from produce brands showcasing their product. My favorites were Suavva (made from cacao pod flesh), Red Jacket’s apple cider, and one of Suja’s new flavors, Spark (featuring raspberry, cherry, and cayenne).
  • Chia – Chia seeds were represented by Mamma Chia and Chia Pod, as well as in a few products from other brands, like Melissa’s packaged snacks containing chia seeds. (I was surprised to not see any hemp, which I view as more versatile than chia.)
  • Single pack snacks – Since apparently grabbing a piece a fruit isn’t convenient enough, everyone seemed to be hawking snack packs, from bags of cut apples to pickles with ranch dip to pre-portioned nuts and seeds.

Fresh Summit - Juice

The Future is Now

As part of Team Fresh Summit, we were tweeting up a storm during the weekend (apologies), showing off the brands we had met and sharing our favorite discoveries on Instagram. Unfortunately, most of the exhibitors didn’t have any sort of social media support on their displays, and when asked about Twitter, responded with things like “What’s a Tweeter?” and “I don’t Twit.” Our experiences perfectly echoed the panels on marketing and generation Z, as well as the keynotes by Jeremy Gutsche and Gary Vaynerchuk.

I get it. New media is scary. But blogs, Facebook, Twitter — those are not new. There’s a reason why, despite growing interest in farmers markets, eating whole foods, and back-to-basics lifestyles, the actual level of fresh foods in our collective diets has been stagnant for years, and it’s all tied back to marketing.

Bloggers are the new marketing, and it’s important for everyone (yes, bloggers included) to realize our worth. Work us into your marketing budget, or continue watching other brands take over your customers. You might have to kiss a few extra frogs, but it’s time to change.

Team Fresh Summit and Gary V

Team Fresh Summit and Gary V. Photo via Carly Morgan.

I’ll be sharing a few more posts related to Fresh Summit over the next month. I’d love to hear your questions about the event or just chat about produce in general!

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Butternut Squash Pilaf

Butternut Squash Pilaf

We’re very much into routine at my house. With a 15-month-old, I feel we need to be — every small change adds up and increases his frustration level. After all, he is only just beginning to explore the world. It’s not fair that once he has his bedtime cues down pat I head off on a business trip, upending the entire system. Or at least, that’s what he would have you believe by his too-early-for-terrible-twos tantrums and nightly screamfests.

Despite travel or events, I do what I can to keep things constant. Family dinner is our main constant, and no matter what we’re eating, it’s together around the table.

Just because we’re together, though, doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of struggles. The younger one has taken to dropping things on the floor and saying “Uh-oh!” while the older one turns up his nose at steak (of all things!). While there are some standard dishes I know I can serve, I’m always foisting new recipes upon them in an attempt to broaden their taste buds. I’m happy to report this butternut squash pilaf was a winner for everyone at the table.

Made of both grated and cubed squash, this dish is a wonderful vegetarian side dish or even main. I love that it uses brown rice, and the rest of the family love sweet, mild squash flavor. Butternut squash is a favorite in our house, always making appearances in dishes from tacos to frittatas, but I’m still pleasantly surprised whenever any dish is gobbled up.

The original recipe calls for fennel fronds, but I grabbed a handful of chives from the garden instead. My chives have been growing for years in the same pot, experiencing a rebirth every time the weather gets too cold and then warms up again. I’m always surprised at their tenacity, those tender chives, and this year I’ve decided to reward them by popping chives into as many recipes as possible. The burst of allium with light herbal quality is something I love, and pairing it with sweet butternut squash makes for a family-friendly dish that is making repeat appearances on our dinner table.

Check out my post for Butternut Squash Pilaf over on Recipe.com!

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Apple Pie Bars

Apple Pie Bars

He ran down the rows, alone and crying. For whatever reason, being out in the sunshine and light wind, among the apple trees, was too much for him. My thoughts of a starting an annual apple picking tradition evaporated as I scooped up my son and snuggled him while we dragged what we had picked to the checkout barn.

Later, we munched on Cameo apples together, keeping a napkin at hand for the sticky juice. The crying had been forgotten, at least by him, and I had hope that we could return, to try again for those picture-perfect memories.

It’s been years since that day, and we haven’t returned to the apple orchard. The apple season in Texas is too fleeting, too forgotten in the languid days of summer and then the rush to get back in the classroom. I’ll admit to watching the feeds of my Northern friends, with the parades of plaid, apple-toting, autumnal cheer, with a level of jealousy. But thankfully, this hasn’t kept me from the apples.

Apples are the constant on our grocery list, despite any protests about seasonal eating. At least they want fruit, I said to myself as I plucked out Galas or Pink Ladies and added them to the cart. We almost always have some on hand, plus applesauce. Apples, in fact, were the first solid food my toddler decided to eat, gnawing away happily on the core.

Once the apples start to get forgotten in favor of grapes or whatever the fruit of the week is, I grab them for baking. Pie is obvious, and one of my favorites is this Cheddar Crumble Apple Pie, but a whole pie screams dessert while Apple Pie Bars? Those whisper softly to you, saying, “I’m a snack! I’m portable! You know you can’t resist!”

Apples know us so well.

Apple Pie Bars

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 2 large tart apples, such as Pink Lady (approximately 1 1/4 pounds), peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Line a 9x9 square baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups flour, powdered sugar, and salt. Add 8 tablespoons butter and pulse until it resembles cornmeal.
  3. Pulse in egg until a soft, crumbly dough forms. Pour dough into prepared pan and press evenly to cover bottom. Prick all over with a fork, chill in the freezer for 30 minutes, then bake at 375°F for 25 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Add apples, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and stir to coat. Cook until apples are softened, approximately 15 minutes.
  5. Spoon apples evenly into baked crust, scraping the pan to collect caramelized juices.
  6. In a food processor, pulse together 1/3 cup flour, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons butter until coarse crumbs are formed. Scatter crumb over the top of the apples.
  7. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely before cutting.
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Pumpkin Gnocchi {Le Creuset Giveaway!}

This post is brought to you thanks to Le Creuset. Enter to win their new Stainless Steel Saucier pan, and get the recipe for Pumpkin Gnocchi.

Pumpkin Gnocchi image

You remember that first set of pans you got as an adult? For most of us, that meant shoddy hand-me-downs with suspect stuff encrusted on the handle, dented lids, and flaking-off coating that you just chalked up to helping your recommended dietary allowance of minerals.

When we got married, we received a few new pans, and supplemented the nicer ones with stuff from big box stores. We moved across the country only six weeks after getting married, so dropping a paycheck on quality cookware wasn’t in the cards. Fast forward through the years of home ownership and two kids, where there is always some pressing need like water heaters or fences or asthma medication, and it’s no surprise that investing in cookware was always put off.

That is, until this year, when my family surprised me with a set of stainless steel Le Creuset for my birthday. Granted, as I spent the entire day sick in bed I didn’t get to enjoy it right away, but I was thrilled to finally have pans without plastic handles.

Pumpkin Gnocchi pic

I’ve used my pans every day since, and I’ve loved how beautiful they’ve stayed, even when we don’t get them cleaned right away. (Ahem.) When I recently received the Saucier pan, I was blown away by how pretty it was. Even my toddler was enchanted, making faces at himself in the reflective curves.

The deep sides and rounded bottom of the Saucier make it ideal for recipes that need movement, like risottos, stir-frys, or quickly sautéing foods you don’t want to stick.

With the weather cooling down — even in Texas — I wanted to make a heartier dish full of seasonal flavor, so pumpkin gnocchi was at the top of my list. Gnocchi, like pasta, is actually quite easy to make from scratch, but does take some time. If your kids are into cooking, this is a great project for them, because they can take part in the entire process.

You only need pumpkin puree, an egg, flour, and salt, though you can easily incorporate spices or herbs into the dough. I prefer to use fresh herbs in the sauce, which keeps the flavor a bit lighter. That is, as light as it can be when paired with butter, shallots, and diced bacon!

Pumpkin Gnocchi uncooked

I have a gnocchi paddle, but you definitely don’t need one to create the characteristic grooves of the gnocchi. A fork will do just as well. The main thing to remember when forming the gnocchi is to use a light hand when it comes to handling the dough and adding flour, as too much flour or overworking will make the gnocchi too chewy. Also, you can use whichever flour you prefer for these, including whole wheat, fine pasta flour, or even a gluten-free blend. Add the flour in small batches, as you might not need to use the whole amount, depending on how much liquid is in your puree.

After the gnocchi boils, simply toss it in the sauce and serve. It doesn’t take long to go from pan to plate for this comforting seasonal dish.

Pumpkin Gnocchi photo

Want to get your own gorgeous Saucier? I’m giving one away thanks to Le Creuset! Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below, then grab the recipe. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme

Instructions

  1. Mix together pumpkin, egg, and salt. Slowly add the flour, a little at a time, until a soft dough forms. Knead dough a few times, but don't overwork it. Divide dough into four pieces.
  2. Dust a kitchen towel or board with flour. Roll each piece of dough into a long snake, then cut each snake into small pieces.
  3. Form the gnocchi lines by rolling it softly down the tines of a fork or on a gnocchi paddle. Set aside on a lightly floured towel until ready to cook.
  4. Set four quarts of water to boil.
  5. Dice bacon and put in saucier. Set heat to medium and cook bacon until crispy, then reduce heat to medium-low and add butter and shallots, stirring frequently.
  6. When the water is boiling, add gnocchi and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they float to the top. Remove from pot using a slotted spoon and immediately add them to the saucier.
  7. Add thyme and stir to coat gnocchi, then plate and serve.
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Disclaimer: I received a Saucier pan for the purpose of review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post, and as always, my opinions are my own.

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Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Cranberries

Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Cranberries

Crisp air is battling it out with sticky humidity for fall supremacy. One day I’m pulling out a blanket for the soccer sidelines, the next I’m wondering if I can really keep wearing the same pair of shorts for the rest of the year. No wonder my brain is swirling with thoughts like the fallen leaves in our yard.

It’s been more than a week, and I still feel tired from the Byte of Texas conference. It’s not just the actual act of organizing the thing (I had tons of amazing help) but the work of being “on” all weekend, which completely wipes out introverts.

The other big thing in my brain, the one that has been rattling around the most, is that odd now what? feeling. My to-do list is packed, but suddenly no longer spending 20-40 hours a week on something is a bit discombobulating. September and October smack of turning points in my career, and as a freelancer, navigating what I want is trickier than anticipated.

Fortunately, there is always refuge for me in the kitchen, in the chopping of vegetables, the sizzling in the pan, and the triumph of a meal that didn’t involve the drive-though. Some days even that familiarity is daunting, but once I grab ingredients and the cutting board, it flows into place.

Some of my friends say they’re over Brussels sprouts, but for those of us who didn’t truly discover them until the past five years or so, we say to bring ‘em on. And frankly, it’s weird to get worked up over having a vegetable on the menu that people consistently order. Do we really need to shame people because they like Brussels sprouts? Haven’t Brussels sprouts suffered enough at the hands of our boil-obsessed ancestors?

This recipe is one of my go-to side dishes because it’s quick and full of flavor contrasts: sweet cranberries, creamy walnuts, and slightly bitter sprouts. Plus it’s vegan so you can feel comfortable serving it to a large crowd (though you can always add bacon or pancetta for the carnivore set).

Smaller Brussels sprouts work best when you’re sautéing them quickly, so if yours are a bit large be sure to quarter rather than halve them. This will help ensure you get some of that lovely caramelization on each piece.

Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Cranberries

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 17 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, and halved
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add Brussels sprouts, salt, and pepper and stir to coat.
  2. Cook sprouts for approximately 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add walnuts and cranberries and cook for another 5 minutes, until sprouts are caramelized. Serve immediately.
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This recipe previously appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Hobby Farms.

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