Food Blog Forum 2013 – Key Points from Conference Day {Orlando, FL}

I woke up feeling really excited about the day ahead on Saturday. It was the conference day, and the Food Blog Forum had a rock star line up of many leaders from the food blogging world. I was so looking forward to what they had to say and share, and I was ready to soak up the information like a sponge!

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We started with a light breakfast of fresh fruit and various breads.

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I had a piece of whole wheat toast with cream cheese and one of the glowing fruit bowls.

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(I took really detailed notes on my laptop of all the presentations, but I’m going to share a couple points from each that resonated most with me.)

Scott Hair of Steamy Kitchen kicked things off with a warm welcome. He was soon joined by the rest of the Steamy Kitchen crew – Jaden and their two son, Andrew and Nathan – for their presentation, Redefining Success. This whole presentation really touched me because I’ve seriously been redefining my success over the last couple years. Their talk was really in sync with one of the books I’ve been reading recently, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Key points from Redefining Success:

  • How do you define success? If you don’t know how to define success, you’ll always look for it and want more of it.
  • What is your end goal? Are you trying to become a successful food blogger so you can spend more time with family? If so, maybe growing your blog so you have a TV show or book deal isn’t the solution. What are you really trying to do? For example, if you want to spend more time with your family, think about what you can actually do to do that (or part of that) now. Could you trade in a raise at work for more vacation days or more time off?
  • Reconsider your definition of success. Was it having more money? Did you really want more money so you could feel more free? Maybe the solution isn’t more money but less money and a downsized lifestyle.
  • Always start with the emotion you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t know the emotion, ask yourself these questions: Right now, I’m trying to achieve X. What will X give me? (last question is important, i.e. “sense of feeling more free”) Money is a thing that will give us a feeling of something. Power, freedom, ability to do things, opportunity, etc. Emotion must be cornerstone of what you feel success is. “family, freedom, doing things together, freedom to do what you wanted when you wanted.”

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Todd Porter and Diane Cu of White on Rice Couple took the stage for the next presentation – Taking Your Visual Ideas to Flight. As you guys know, I love photography. Photography is one thing I know I’ll never want to stop learning more about. I enjoy learning new tips and tricks and hearing different POVs for best practices. And, I’ve been a fan of the White on Rice Couple’s photography for awhile, so I was extra pumped to hear their presentation.

Key points from Taking Your Visual Ideas to Flight (In Photo and Video):

  • Everything begins with an idea. It’s not about the gear. It’s about your story, message, and visual voice. Gear doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the idea.
  • “Your eyes are your lens, your heart is your shutter.” It’s not about what you see but how you see it.
  • Look beyond the obvious – think from a different perspective.
  • If you’re interested in starting in video, start with photos set to music. Try animoto.com to create a free 30 second video.
  • Their video gear is very light – a good quality tripod for stabilization, natural/given or basic light panels for lighting, and a sennheiser or other audio lapels for audio.
  • Music on videos is very important. The WOR couple can spend 3/4 of their time just picking the right music. It’s worth spending $30-60 for music that is just right for your video. They suggest sites like – With Etiquette, Free Play Music, and Triple Scoop Music.
  • Their favorite iPhone apps: snapseed, VSCO cam, Filter Storm, Camera+, Noir Photo (black and white)
  • Don’t let not having a DSLR keep you from capturing what you want. Use a smaller camera, like the iPhone. There’s value in the imperfect photo. Authenticity is beautiful.

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{Showing different angles from lighting and the effect on the photo}

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{Sample work setups – the setup vs final photo shots slides were fascinating!}

After the photography session, we broke for lunch. The lunch was so fun, I thought it deserved its own post, so I’ll share photos of the eats after this one.

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We returned from lunch for a session called Technology Talk: Trends & Tools with Elise of Simply Recipes and Babette Pepaj of Bake Space, moderated by Erik Deutsch. Elise is frequently posting helpful articles and tips on a small Facebook group we belong to, so I was ready to hear more of what she had to offer, along with Babette. The talk focused on four main areas: Mobile, Video, Pinterest, and Looking Beyond the Blog.

Key points from Technology Talk:

  • Mobile: readers are increasingly using mobile (phone/tablet) devices to access blogs, so it’s important to make sure your sites have mobile friendly formatting. Look into responsive themes. If you’re a blogger, be sure to check your stats so you know where your traffic is coming from so you can best offer your content to your readers.
  • Video: Video is content you can create and repurpose everywhere. You can post on FB and people can watch there, you don’t have to go off the site to get there. Video makes it harder for someone to steal your content, too.
  • Pinterest: It’s been an SEO world, but it’s moving to a Pinterest world, with Pinterest being the #1 source of traffic for about 1/3 of the room at the conference. Consider using hash tags and calls to action on your pins and pinning in the morning or night for best traffic.
  • Looking Beyond the Blog: eBooks, DIY apps, etc. are good ideas. Babette has created Cookbook Cafe as a way for bloggers to curate their recipes and share them with readers in a way that is great for both. Bloggers can create an interactive web-based eBook or iPad App.

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Food bloggers tell stories with their posts and recipes, so the conference organizers thought it would be interesting to hear more from Disney, one of the best at story-telling, about the story behind one of their newer restaurants. So, we next heard from a Disney Imagineer, Tim Warzecha, about the process and work that went into designing and developing one of Disney’s restaurants, Sanaa, which features African cooking with Indian flavors. The team put together many different pieces to provide an experience that is what the guest imagines Africa to be like. They created idea boards and narrowed down many ideas to focus on the beads of a necklace. From there, they explored many other traditions and ideas, big and small. They created lamps that looked like African robes and shaped the building like a necklace, which also looked like a water buffalo. The restaurant took about 5-7 years to complete with about 2-3 being spent on the design and concept. No detail was too small. The baskets at the front of the restaurant are over 100 years old, are something traditionally seen in an African house, and took 2 years to source!

One of the most interesting things I learned was how the team looked at challenges as opportunities to reinforce their theme. For example, they had several columns in the center of one of their rooms, and they turned them into trees and decorated some with beads like those from the inspiration necklaces.

The food was inspired by the trade route that ran through Africa. Here’s the Sanaa menu if you’re curious about the eats. I wish we’d had more time so I could check this place out!

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Our final presentation of the day was about Grassroots Community Building by Jeff Houck (food writer for Tampa Tribune/TBO.com), David Leite (Leite’s Culinaria), Julie Deily (The Little Kitchen), and Lindsay Landis (Love and Olive Oil). Their presentation really got me thinking about the community here at The Chic Life. I’ve never really thought about my blog having a community. Most of the time, I think no one’s really reading unless they leave a comment or something. But then, I’ll talk to a friend who remembers that cool sandwich I had last week, or I’ll see someone post one of my photos on Pinterest saying the recipe they tried came out really great, or I’ll get a random comment on a recipe I posted two years ago, and it reminds me that you’re out there. I’d like to think more about what I can do to foster this community and make it something you guys like, enjoy, and find useful. If you have any ideas, feel free to comment or email me at thechiclife at gmail dot com.

Key points from Grassroots Community Building:

  • Know the importance of not just putting stuff out there, and then putting more out. You have to engage with the community.
  • Consider adopting a “no comment left behind” policy, or something similar, where you try to respond to all comments on the blog, twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Anyone you interact with is a potential community member.
  • Think about intent. What is your intention in gathering this community? For example, David said he would rather have 80 people engaging and building each other up than have 800 not.
  • Be authentic. Be yourself. But have a filter.

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And that’s a wrap! Phew! That was longer than I originally intended, but there was a lot of good info shared at the conference that I wanted to share with you!

Next time – our amazing and fun lunch experience eating kid-style a la Disney!

Green Monster Smoothies 101 + Basic Recipe

It’s sweet, it’s refreshing, and it’s…GREEN? Yup, it’s a Green Monster Smoothie!

If you’re a Green Monster (GM) expert or enthusiast, you may be wondering if you could learn from this post. I don’t think you’ll learn anything you don’t already know. But, I do think you could offer your GM expertise. You can share tips for those less familiar with the wonderfulness that is the GM.

This post is actually written more for my other friends and readers who are new to GMs. Many of my Zumba participants, “real life” friends, and blog/twitter friends aren’t as familiar with Green Monster Smoothies.

So, if you’re wondering what the heck a “Green Monster Smoothie” is, then read on. And if you’re a Green Monster guru, then leave some comment love. Please share some of your tips and favorite GM recipes.

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

{So beautiful and green}

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

What is a Green Monster Smoothie?

A Green Monster smoothie is a healthy smoothie. It is bright green in color, thanks to the star ingredient: spinach! Yes…I said “spinach.” Don’t cringe. Honestly, once it’s all blended up with other ingredients, you cannot taste it! Have you ever tried eating just a spinach leaf plain? I have. It didn’t taste like much of anything. So, especially when you blend the spinach up with fruit and milk, you won’t taste it. Mmmkay? ;)

Some people use kale instead, but I prefer spinach.

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

Green Monster Smoothie Ingredients

There are endless combinations, but the most basic and common ingredients are:

  • Spinach/Kale – This is the KEY ingredient. You can use fresh or frozen (I’ve tested it – check out this post).  And, as I mentioned above, you can substitute the spinach with kale.
  • Bananas – usually 1 to 2 are used per smoothie. I go with 1 per serving, and I prefer frozen bananas because it makes the texture thicker. This is also a good way to save bananas before they spoil. Simply freeze and save for a smoothie later! Brown bananas aren’t just for banana bread!
  • Milk of choice – dairy milk, soy milk, vanilla rice milk. You can use your favorite milk, but  a sweetened milk will yield a sweeter smoothie. I prefer to use unsweetened and add a natural sweetener, like honey.
  • Ice – to help make the smoothie cold and frosty.

Other common GM ingredients:

  • Yogurt – makes the smoothie thicker and provides protein and add probiotics.
  • Honey/Agave – liquid sweeteners if you need more sweetness in the smoothie. I think the bananas are sweet enough. If you use a sweetened non-dairy milk, you probably won’t need either of these.
  • Chia Seeds – a health-food ingredient. If you let it sit in liquid for several minutes, it will plump up and become gelatinous (like a tiny tapioca pearl, for bubble tea fans).
  • Nut Butters – peanut butter, almond butter, etc. Add this for creaminess and healthy nut nutrition.
  • Other fruits – feel free to add your other favorite fruits. See the next section on ingredients to avoid when selecting (mostly for color).

Ingredients to use in small portions when making GMs:

*Edited: After reading some of the comments, I decided to edit this. Instead of avoiding them all together, I’ll warn against using too much of these ingredients. Thanks guys! :) *

  • Berries – blueberries, raspberries, etc. If you use too much, the berries will change the color of the smoothie. It won’t be green or as green. Sometimes berries turn the GM brown!
  • Other – Pretty much anything with a lot of color that will change the color of the smoothie away from green. Trust me, a brown smoothie is not as appealing visually, even if it still tastes amazing. Not to mention, I wouldn’t call a brown smoothie a “Green” Monster Smoothie. I’d call that just a smoothie with spinach in it. :lol: We should come up with a name for these, right?!)

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

Once you’re ready to blend, there are a couple tips to keep in mind.

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

Green Monster Smoothie Blending Tips

I like to layer my ingredients in the blender in the following order*:

  • Spinach/Kale – putting this at the bottom helps ensure the leaves are blended instead of flying around the blender and sticking to the sides. If I use frozen spinach/kale, I don’t always add that first since it doesn’t have the same texture as fresh
  • Dry ingredients – like flaxseed meal, matcha, etc. Add first for the same reason as spinach – so it doesn’t get stuck to the sides/lid
  • Nut Butters – so it’s less likely to fly up and stick to the sides
  • Liquid Sweetener – same as nut butters
  • Other small fruits – goji berries, etc.
  • Bananas – to weigh spinach down
  • Other large fruit – cantaloupe, etc.
  • Ice
  • Milk of choice

*All of these ingredients are not always used, but if I were using them, this is the order I’d follow.

And every blender is different, so settings will vary. I usually just blend away until all the fruit/ice is smooth and all the spinach leaves are blended so small. Instead of seeing individual pieces, I look for smooth greenness. This usually only takes 1 or 2 minutes for me.

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

Why Drink Green Monster Smoothies?

First of all, they’re fun to look at and just plain delicious.

I spent a month with my Project Veg-Up challenge focusing on eating lots of fruits and veggies every day. I know that it can sometimes be a struggle to “eat your greens.” This is especially true on your busiest days. Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to consume fruit. And now thanks to the GM, they can be the easiest way to consume some vegetables, too!

So GM smoothies feature spinach, and here’s why spinach is good for you – a quote I’ve shared before from whfoods.com:

Spinach is an excellent source of bone-healthy vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, and calcium; heart-healthy folate, potassium, and vitamin B6; energy-producing iron and vitamin B2; and free radical-scavenging vitamin A (through its concentration of beta-carotene) and vitamin C.

Side note: This is just general info. I know some people are supposed to avoid spinach (doctor’s orders), so obviously, you may want to avoid the GM if this is true for you, too. And, you should always consult with your doctor before making dietary changes. But, I trust that you know what’s best for you. ;)

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

Basic Green Monster Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Green Monster smoothies are beautiful to look at and delicious to drink. And if you’re not sold yet, they’re good for you, too! Drinking GM smoothies is the easiest way I know to get a vegetable serving in for the day. Also, I don’t typically add extra sweeteners to my smoothies, but I’ve included directions below in case you would like to add some to yours. :)
*Vegetarian, Vegan if you use vegan milk* Serves 1
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1½ – 2 cups loosely packed spinach (or sub ¼ cup frozen spinach or sub kale)
  • 1 banana (a frozen banana will give you a thicker consistency, but non-frozen works, too)
  • 1 cup milk of choice (dairy, non-dairy, vanilla non-dairy, etc.)
  • 2 cubes ice
  • sweetener of choice, to taste, optional (liquid sweeteners, like honey or agave, will work best)
Instructions
  1. Place spinach, banana, milk, and ice in the blender.
  2. Cover and blend until banana/ice is processed and smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Taste test and if desired, blend in sweetener of choice to taste.
  3. Enjoy!
Notes
This single serving recipe is easily multiplied to serve more!

***
Here are more fabulous GM smoothie recipes you may enjoy:

*And be sure to check out this site for hundreds of other tasty Green Monster recipes: http://greenmonstermovement.com/ *

Green Monster Smoothie Recipe

Green Monster Virgins: Are you scared of Green Monsters or do you think you’ll try one soon? Why or why not?

Green Monster Gurus: What are you favorite things to add to your GM smoothies? And if you have any GM smoothies (of your own or of others) that you love, please leave the link in a comment! :)

My Secrets to Finding & Testing New Skin Care Products

Have you ever wanted to try new beauty products but been intimidated by the whole process? From picking out the correct product for your skin, to knowing if it will mesh well, there are all kinds of complications that can arise and send you into a panic. Don’t worry. I have some suggestions.

Read on for the dets, but first…some food photos…

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I made a tropical-style bowl of oats with rolled oats, banana, and coconut. I just had to put the creation in my Bahamas bowl.

After my beach vacay most of last week, I wasn’t looking forward to spending a day out of the fun and sun and in my windowless cubicle. But, it did feel good to work my way through my inbox and start being productive at the office.

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After the (what seemed like a longer than normal) work day, I headed to Zumba!

Song #3 was a killer squat song, and I helped co-lead it, which meant I was on the stage in front of all the other participants. This means no half-a$$ing the squats, peeps. I was going all out and it took all the energy from my legs for the rest of class! lol. Thank you Press It Up for kicking my hiney. Phew! It hurts so good, though. ;)

I also really enjoyed doing:

  • My First Kiss
  • Prumm
  • Pompis Pa’Arriba

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Hubby was a doll and made dinner yet again – Earthfare salad bar…

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…and whole wheat spaghetti with grass-fed beef/tomato sauce.

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And for dessert…none other than chocolate chip cookie dough balls! It’s so nice having these back in the house again. I wonder if I’ll be baking these for the rest of my life? Will dough balls be the next jello mold? ;)

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My Secrets to Finding & Testing New Skin Care Products

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Consult a Professional

Let me start by admitting that I’m a bit of a make-up/beauty product snob. I had pretty bad acne when I was a kid/teen, and tried nearly every product available at the drug store. What I finally determined was that it was better to consult a professional and pay more for 1 product than try 5 “cheap ones” that didn’t, or only semi, worked.

If you can afford it, definitely see a dermatologist. Actually, it’s safe/best to consult them before making a change to your beauty routine, especially if you have health concerns or sensitive skin.

Either way, the “professional” I’m actually talking about here is the one behind the make-up counter of your favorite shop. Not only are they trained to use the products they’re selling, they are usually expert users of the products. They’ve seen everything come through their shop, and they’ll probably be able to utilize all that training and experience to give you some great help.

Note: If you can pick a product off the shelf at CVS and have it work perfectly, then more power to you. Seriously, I’m jealous. ;) But, if you’re like me…keep reading for more tips. Not to mention, playing with new beauty products can be fun!

Get Referrals

So, like I was saying, check with the consultants of your favorite shop. Now, you may not yet know which shop is your favorite. Or, perhaps you had a favorite, but you want to try something new. Personally, I like to get referrals when I try new products/companies…preferably from people I know and trust (my mom is the one who told me about Origins).

Play the Field

When you are in the market for a new product, the world is your oyster. All the peeps at the make-up counters are ready to help you and will do anything in their power to assist you. Some may be a bit more into pressure sales than others (personally, I find that really annoying and prefer to take my business elsewhere), but don’t cave. Now is the time to play the field, try as many products as you want, and really see what’s out there.

Get a Free Consultation

Almost every make-up counter will do a free consultation, make-over, or mini facial. And places like Sephora and Ulta will be able to provide consultations for lots of different products, sometimes even suggestion a combination of products from multiple companies.

You’ll probably need an appointment, though some places do walk-ins. Your best bet is to call ahead. And while you have them on the phone, you should verify the visit will be free. Some charge money and some have minimum product purchases. Don’t get caught off-guard or allow yourself to be tricked into sales. And yes, this happened to me. I got snookered into purchasing 3 items from a not-so-cheap make-up company. Grr…

Ask Questions

While you’re having your consultation, be sure to ask as many questions as you can think of. You have the expert right there in front of you. Use their knowledge to empower yourself so you can make the best decision. Ask how to use the product (usually they show you this during your consultation), what skin types it’s best for, how long it will last, how much it costs…anything.

Samples First, Purchase Later

Given that my skin isn’t always the most agreeable, I find that I need a couple weeks testing out the product before I commit to purchase. Request free samples. They may not advertise or offer them, but they usually can provide samples. They should be able to either put a small amount in a mini pot, and sometimes they even have sample sized portions pre-packaged (like the plantscriptions sample pictured on this post). Usually, they’ll give you enough to last one week. I can often milk mine to last longer. ;)

Note: While you should play the field and test out multiple products, I don’t recommend mixing the products during test phase, unless you plan to use a mixture of products in the future. In other words, if you want to use Company A’s face wash and Company B’s moisturizer, that’s cool. But, if you’re not sure if you want to buy A or B’s moisturizer, don’t test them both out during the same week – you won’t know which one your skin likes best since you won’t know which one is working or not working.

Taking the Plunge

Test out the product with your samples. Make sure it meshes with your skin. And if you like it…go back and take the plunge by purchasing a new product or two. You don’t have to get everything at once. Sometimes there are discounts for purchasing “start up kits” or multiple products. Usually, you can just add a new product here and there until you have the whole “suite.” Just work with your schedule and budget.

And if you didn’t like the samples, fret not, just go back to playing the field!

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You may remember that I was considering buying into a new brand – Origins! After my mom recommended the brand, I researched the product online, but found there were too many options. I went into the store to learn more and got that free mini facial (it was glorious!). I came home with 3 samples: a scrub, a moisturizing mask, and some plantscriptions. I’ve been enjoying using my samples. My skin seems to be taking the new products pretty well so far, so yay! Can you believe I still have some of these samples left!?

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Randomness – A Book & TV Show

I have 14 pages left of Water for Elephants! I tried finishing the book near midnight last night, but I wanted to be fully awake to enjoy the ending. You guys know how I feel about finishing this book, but I’m thinking today is the day. I’m sad the story will be over, but I’m also really excited to see how the book comes to a close. Wheeee!

Also, I’m counting down the days until Drop Dead Diva starts up again. There are few shows that I actually try to watch on a regular basis, but DDD is one of them, and Season 3 starts Sunday!!! They left us with quite the cliff hanger at the end of Season 2, so I’m SO curious to see what happens next. Is he alive? Is he dead? Are you going to tune in?

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What are your tips for finding & testing new beauty/skin care products?

What skin care products/lines do you use?

PVU: Fruit and Vegetable Serving Sizes

As my beach vacay was coming to a close and we headed home, I was really looking forward to two things specifically:

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Hubby and Bailey!

The comfort of my own bed wasn’t too shabby either. ;)

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I got a couple surprise extras, though, thanks to sweet hubby – flowers!

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And a local doughnut! Actually, it’s a “honey bun”, but it’s pretty much a doughnut. What a sweet “welcome home”!

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Hubby also whipped up a fantastic grilled dinner – grass-fed filet, asparagus, and potatoes. I can’t get enough of those grilled potatoes, for realz! They are so tasty! I’m currently brainstorming ways to create a grilled potato salad. Doesn’t that sound drool-worthy?

***

Fruit and Vegetable Servings Sizes

As I mentioned for Project Veg-Up (my challenge for you to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day in June), you make the rules. If you want to measure your servings, go ahead. If you’re like me and prefer to eye-ball and estimate, that works, too. And if you just want to say “I ate some broccoli – there’s 1 serving”, that’s cool, too. Your game – your rules. ;)

However, if you’re going to estimate or even guess-timate your serving sizes, it may be good for you to know what actual serving sizes are. In fact, you may wish to measure out a couple servings till you get a handle on what the sizes truly are (up to you, though!).

For all things food and health related, I turn to my favorite RD – Ellie Krieger. If you haven’t seen her book, Small Changes, Big Results, you should totally check it out. The book has a wealth of knowledge, including tips, recipes and perhaps one of my favorite things – a factoid-filled appendix. Take a look at the book next time you’re at the book store.

In the interest of keeping things easy, what you basically need to know is that you should shoot for the following for one serving (according to the USDA):

  • Vegetables: 1/2 cup of vegetables or 1 cup of raw leafy greens (Ellie says eat as many as you want)
  • Fruits: 1/2 cup of fruit or about 1 medium-sized fruit (Ellie says limit this to no more than 4 servings per day)

Ellie compares these portions to a baseball, saying that 1 medium fruit is the size of a baseball and 1/2 cup of fruits/vegetables is 1/2 of a baseball. She also considers fruit and vegetable juices as servings, but I’m shooting to get mine from full versions. Additionally, she actually has different suggestions in her book for serving sizes for some particular fruits, like 1 cup or chopped canteloupe = 1 fruit serving. Click here for a snippet of her book with more info on her take on serving sizes, how you almost can’t eat too many servings of vegetables, as well as why you shouldn’t eat more than 4 fruit servings.

Check out this site (click) for some other useful fruit/vegetable portion ideas. My favorites, that I most commonly consume, are:

  • 10 baby carrots
  • 1 banana (however Ellie says 1/2 a banana is a fruit serving, though I’m guessing it depends on the size of the fruit)
  • 5 broccoli florets
  • 1 apple

If you’re searching for additional information on serving sizes, you may notice that they vary a bit. Just go with whatever works best for you and follow whichever sources you trust most. :)

Like this post? Share the love by clicking the Facebook Like button or sharing this post with your twitter or Stumble Upon friends – just click on the share button below.

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It’s not too late to join in on the challenge! Click here to read more about Project Veg-Up and join in on the fun.

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Get free blog updates by clicking here. :)

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What do you think? Do you measure your fruit and vegetable servings or do you estimate them? Do you have any tips or tricks on measuring or estimating fruit/vegetable serving sizes?

Track Down That Food Truck + A Restaurant Secret

Saturday kicked off a fantastic and relaxing weekend. Well, truth be told, I had to work a bit Saturday morning, but I was at least able to do it from the comfort of my home. After getting some “real” work done, it was time for some blog work. Imagine my surprise to stand up after hitting the publish button to see this:

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Bailey was sitting right under me.

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What a weirdo!? lol Silly boy!

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I broke away from technology to visit my fave farmer’s market – Atherton Mills.

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The market was decorated for Memorial Day!

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Note Bailey pulling like a crazed dog on his leash. This is how he rolls at the farmer’s market. I’m sure he seems quite calm since most of his photos are of him just laying around, but he is such a ball of energy! lol

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I like to try to visit a new booth every time we go to the market. This time we decided to try Rio Bertolini’s.

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I picked up 1 pound of spinach gnocchi. I’m going to try to create something similar to this.

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Hubby picked up some frozen fruit ice while I was buying kale.

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So, we sat outside and enjoyed the warm weather for a bit on some of the benches outside.

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And then, guess who arrived?! My sis made an impromptu visit to the Chic house for the long weekend. I heated up some soup for everybody for a quick meal.

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And then I tracked down the Southern Cake Queen via twitter! I really wanted my sister to experience some of the Charlotte food truck scene and I was just able to catch SCQ via twitter. She nicely set aside cupcakes for me and even tossed in 1 for free! Yay! Thank you SCQ!

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We got strawberry, vanilla, lime-coconut, and lemon.

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Sis and I headed out for an early dinner with some of my faves – Megan, Toya, and Erica.

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Their restaurant of choice – Mac’s Speed Shop. Second time in a week!

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And Toya reminded me that they had hush puppies. I had forgotten!

Restaurant Secret: Want to know a restaurant secret? Many restaurants will only give you bread (or hush puppies) if you ask for them. So, next time you’re eating out and missing your carbs (I know I’m not the only carb lover out there, right? ;) ), just ask your server if they serve bread. Oh yes. I’d say about 30% of restaurants work this way. But you can’t hide bread from a carb lover like me! hehe.

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Sis and I split the combo. We wanted turkey, but they were out, so we got: pulled pork, beer-butt chicken, ribs, and beef brisket. Plus, we ordered mac and cheese and collards on the side.

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Smoky goodness.

After dinner, I met up with blog friends Caitlin, Nicole, and Allison to see a new movie – Something Borrowed. Wow! The movie was so much cuter than I thought it would be. I’m not the biggest chick-flick fan, but there are definitely a handful that I go gaga for!

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And then I came home to dig into my cupcake!

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Lime-coconut goodness!

Reader question #1: (I know I ask this one a lot, but the movies change all the time!) Have you seen any good movies lately? Which ones and do you recommend them?

Reader question #2: What did you do for Memorial Day weekend?

Side Dishes to Entertain Vegetarians & Vegans

Hey friends!

I hope everyone is off to a fantastic week so far. I’ve been working some late hours to get this week’s blog posts to you, but it’s so worth it! It’s midnight as I type, but I have some hot tea to sip and bed to hit up soon.

I’m so glad you guys liked the Coconut Cream Cake Minis recipe. Has anyone tried it out yet? I know some of you are waiting on the Carrot Cake version (did you see those photos!?), and I’ll be posting those later this week (as in before or no later than Friday).

Ooh, and I loved reading everyone’s comments on the Vegetarian Dining Tips (for the meat-eating host). There’s some good stuff in there! Thanks for adding your feedback and additional tips.

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I was really looking forward to leftovers for lunch on Monday. (I know…me? Loving leftovers? That’s a rarity).

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Mostly I was looking forward to this veggie burger Kelly left after our Sunday bloggie dinner get-together.

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And for lunch #2, I enjoyed some of my Tuscan 3-Bean and Veggie soup (no recipe yet…do you want it?).

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I went to Zumba till late, so hubby ended up making dinner. Salad from the Earthfare salad bar.

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And for the main event…

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He made one of my recipes!

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It’s my Penne Arrabiata (with chicken, fresh mozzarella balls, and basil from my garden).

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I even used some of my purple basil leaves! They’re so pretty!

Vegetarian Entertaining – Side Dishes

So yesterday, I introduced four tips on Vegetarian Entertaining (for the Omnivore Host).

The first tip was about low expectations, which I think is pretty self-explanatory. But, I did want to talk a little more about the others, starting with Side Dishes.

So we’ve established the sad truth that vegetarians and vegans have low expectations of eats in social settings (dinner parties, office pot lucks, etc.), but how can you show your veg-friends that you want to make sure they don’t go hungry next time you entertain?

One easy way you can accomplish this, without changing what you had planned already for the main entree (roasting a brisket, eh?), is to offer a lot of or nice variety of side dishes. I’m not saying you need fifteen side dishes. I’m just saying, for the side dishes you’re doing, which is usually between 2-4, maybe make them all (or most) vegetarian and/or vegan friendly. Here are some additional tips:

Leave the meat out

Bacon on your spinach salad or in in your potato salad? That sounds awesome for me…but vegetarians aren’t just picky eaters, most can’t eat meat or anything that’s touched meat. If it’s easier, pretend they’re allergic to meat. You wouldn’t make someone allergic to avocado pick it out of a salad, would you?

Put the meat (and other options non-vegan ingredients) on the side

Put those bacon bits on the side, not mixed into your salad. Cheese on that baked potato? Only if someone adds it themselves. Granted some things require certain ingredients mixed in, but not all. Choose the dishes that are customizable to satisfy everyone.

Substitute veg/vegan-friendly ingredients

Vegan and vegetarian friendly options are pretty easy to find these days (and are pretty affordable). Want to make mashed potatoes? Use Earth Balance instead of butter. Use non-dairy milk, like plain rice milk, instead of dairy-milk. They’re not weird ingredients that you’ll never use again. If you have leftover ingredients, test them out. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something you like. You don’t have to be vegan to like rice milk. I drink it all the time and think it’s quite tasty.

Let your veg friend bring a side dish

Most vegetarians/vegans are used to bringing dishes they know they can eat to parties (it’s true! Check out the comments from yesterday). You could offer to your friend that they could bring a dish if they want, but don’t force them to. Offer politely. They may even offer on their own. But don’t rely on their single dish to keep them happy. You should still come up with at least one or two other dishes that they could eat. The more the merrier.

Take help from the store

Many health-food-focused grocery stores, like Earthfare or Whole Foods, have prepared foods. They’re probably more familiar than traditional grocery stores with people with vegetarian or vegan dietary styles. So, if you don’t know, ask them for tips on a good side dish to pick up for your next get-together.

I love all the bean, pasta, and potato salads. I also like prepared eats they make like marinated kale, mixed veggie salads, and dips. Veggie platters are always a win.

Protein

If you’re expecting your veg friend to fill up on side dishes, include some that are good sources of protein. I mean, have you ever tried filling up on a bag of potato chips? It’s not going to happen…maybe ever. They’re just not filling. Please note, as Katie pointed out, some people have soy allergies/aversions, so you may want to ask your veg friend before going down that route.

Good vegetarian proteins – base ingredients: beans, quinoa, tempeh, lentils, nuts/seeds. (Cheese and for some even eggs can be good for the non-vegans)

Some of my personal fave recipes with veg-friendly proteins: Balsamic Roasted Chickpeas and Southwestern Quinoa Salad (has quinoa AND beans!).

Keep this simple and easy – it’s not hard!

You probably already enjoy eats that are vegetarian/vegan and you don’t know it. Like hummus? Chances are good that it’s vegan (it’s usually made of chick peas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil). Don’t freak out. Think out…outside of the box. The answer may be easier than you expected.

Side Dish Recipes from around the blogosphere

Here are some wonderful vegetarian AND vegan side dishes from my blog friends:

Know of any other good vegetarian/vegan side dish recipes? Share the recipe link in a comment. :)

Entertaining for your vegetarian and vegan friends may seem scary at first, but it’s not only easy, it’s fun to think creatively on ways to keep everyone happy and full.

Next time – more on Vegetarian Entrees that please everyone! ;)

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Want to help get better vegetarian options at more social eat-togethers? Share these tips by clicking the Facebook-Like button, tweeting this post, or using one of the other “share” buttons at the end of this post.

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Vegetarian & vegan friends – What side dishes are you most happy to see in social eating settings? What do you wish you would see in the realm of side dishes at dinner parties and group pot lucks?

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