Showing off our Disney Side at a Tweentastic Disney Tea Party -

Showing off our Disney Side at a Tweentastic Disney Tea Party -

I don’t think there is any bad age or best age for Disney.  The real magic of Disney is that all ages can find something fun, wonderful and plain ol’ optimistically wonderful to celebrate and explore.  My daughters never went through a Princess phase, but they did go through a fairy phase.  Even when my daughter dressed up like Belle for Halloween at 4 years-old she added a pair of wings…

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As my daughters have gotten older they’ve experienced more and more of the things that make Disney unique, from being able to stay up really late at Walt Disney World to the Broadway world of Disney.  So when we were given the opportunity to host a Disney Side party at our home we immediately brainstormed about what would be special and fun for them and their tween girl friends.  Given that we were throwing this event after school, a tea party made perfect sense – and one that could easily be made supercalifabulous enough for tweens.

The menu:

Cinderella Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

pumpkin chocolate chip bread

Belle Craisins® scones

craisins scones

Mickey Mouse shaped finger sandwiches (cream cheese and cucumber, tuna, and PB&J)

mickey mouse sandwiches

And of course, hot cocoa and tea.

The table was set for an afternoon of Disney fun…

disney side tea party

And then the fun began…

Of course no tween party is complete without some crafting.  The girls went to work on cutting, decorating and styling Hanes T-Shirts into personalized fashion statements…

It was great to get all these girls together and have them express their Disney Side!  Plus, that Mickey Mouse shaped cookie cutter makes every sandwich irresistible!

Want to learn more about Disney Side?   Check out DisneySide.com and DisneySideCelebrations.com and get inspired to show off your Disney Side!

I was provided a suitcase full of great supplies and ideas by Disney to create this fantastic party.  The ideas, opinions, and guests are all my own!

5 Foods to Break Up With in 2014

This is a guest post from Lauren Slayton, founder of Foodtrainers, and a friend of mine for the last 7 years.  Lauren’s new book, Little Book of Thin, just came out in time for your New Year’s Resolutions, and is chock full of simple, easy to follow advice on eating better and making healthier – but satisfying – choices. I’m thrilled to feature this post from Lauren with this great advice to follow for your whole family.

little book of thin cover

Many of my clients are moms. I’ll sit down with them for initial sessions and hear “I have one soda a day” or “I have Splenda in my coffee”. When I ask if they allow their children to have Sprite or sugar substitutes without fail they’ll say, “of course not our house is totally organic” or  “never!”. Interesting.

I don’t overwhelm clients with “No’s” and I purposely opened Little Book of Thin with Ten Steps to Svelte or 10 tips that are proactive. However, with certain foods firm rules are easier to follow and if you absolutely want to feel your best. Here are the foods you should absolutely break up with, and keep out of your home, in 2014 to start off on a much healthier path.

  1. No Soda:  Ok let’s get this one out of the way since I already mentioned it. You probably know it’s unhealthy but did you know soda (diet included) promotes weight gain, not loss? Diet soda drinkers have higher levels of abdominal fat too
  2. No Skim Dairy:  This one is perhaps a little more surprising. Skim milk doesn’t help you lose weight. One study with 20,000 women over 9 years found that those who increased skim dairy gained 10 percent. Those who increased whole milk consumption lost 9% on average. Fat in milk helps assimilate Vitamin D, which is crucial for our bones and also appetite control.
  3. No Fro Yo:  Fro yo on the surface seems great. Imagine a life where you can have dessert and lose weight until you realize you’re not losing weight. At most yogurt shops the portions are huge, the toppings too tempting and the ingredients? Read them and let me know what you think.
  4. No Bottled Salad Dressing:  I’m guessing you wouldn’t put two to three teaspoons of sugar on a salad not to mention salt. If you’re going to the trouble of getting or bringing a salad for your lunch make your own dressing with olive or walnut oil, apple cider vinegar, lemons or limes. We have a Thin-I-Gette dressing in LBT that uses miso, it’s really delicious.
  5. No Gum:  Gum makes you gassy. Gum contains multiple artificial sweeteners, preservatives and food dyes. Sweet begets sweet too and the more sweet (real or fake) you eat the more you crave. Plus, gum chewing doesn’t look nice.

If you’re rolling your eyes thinking “are we supposed to be perfect all the time”? Not at all. I’m not typing this while nibbling on arugula but I’m in favor of planning. A well-planned wholesome dessert here and there (ok once a week) will leave you so much better off than having these “No” items often or daily.  If something on this list makes a regular appearance, perhaps it’s time to break up. Just hum Tom Petty “I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone.”

I wish you a healthy, happy and “thin” New Year.

Bake it Happen for Breast Cancer Research

bananas for boobies logo

I recently had a discussion with my daughters about friendship.  It’s hard to explain to an 11 year-old that friendships ebb and flow, and more importantly, that if you keep your heart open you will continue to make new friends throughout your life.

Some of your friends will stick.  Some won’t.  And that’s okay.  It doesn’t diminish the power of the friendship you had in that time of your life.

If you’re lucky you will have one or two great friends.  If you’re really lucky you will continue to stumble upon those rare people with whom you immediately click – the ones that maybe make you believe in past lives – in all phases of your life.  The ones that feel like family.

I have been that lucky, and I know how special and rare it is.

When my daughters were born I was the only one of my friends to have a baby (babies!).  My cousin, with whom I am extremely close, also had a baby, just a few week before me, but she lived in Michigan.  So aside from talking on the phone all the time, I didn’t have “mom” friends.  And, because I had twins, the thought of schlepping to baby groups between pumping, and feeding, and changing, and wrapping them up to take naps – while also being social in some carpeted basement of the Y, was really more than I could bear.

So, I was nervous when my girls finally started preschool and there were all of these other MOMs.  And, most of the time, it was just me and the nannies.  I seemed to be the only stay at home mom on the Upper West Side – but really it was just the blur of drop off and separation that made it seem so.  Eventually, I met the other moms – at the school auction, at the endless school parties, at playdates.  And I don’t know how it happened, but I met some of the best women I will ever know.  I am still amazed that we were all randomly put into this 2 morning a week class together.

One of these women was Shari Brooks.  And while there are a lot of things I could list about Shari that make her, well, her – there is one that tops the list – Shari is a Do-er, not because she wants recognition, and not because she’s keeping a mental tab in her mind of what someone now owes her, but because she really, really has a heart and mind that just go there.  She is continually thinking about what is the right thing to do, the best way to do it, and then just doing it.  It’s not Type A, it’s Type A to Z.  She’s got it covered.

Knowing Shari like I do, it was not surprising to me that she turned her energy towards creating something positive out of the loss of her mom Judy from metastatic breast cancer five years ago.  I feel incredibly lucky that Shari entered my life at a time when I could get to know her mom, even though her mom was sick from almost the moment I met her.  I have never wondered where Shari gets her energy and love of life from because I saw it firsthand in her mom.  Even at her frailest, after years of ongoing chemo and radiation, Judy would come up on the train from Baltimore – by herself! – to spend time with her grandkids, just be with her family and share more experiences.

A while after Judy passed, Shari started an amazing blog called My Judy the Foodie, where she has kept her mom’s memory alive through her mom’s recipes and special meals.  When I met Shari she literally couldn’t boil water.  I once watched her throw pasta into a pot of cold water and then turn it on.  No joke.  So to watch Shari teach herself to cook through doing, and then through sharing, all the while keeping her mom’s memory alive for her kids, and really everyone, has been a real revelation.

Now Shari has teamed up with her equally awesome sister to create another endeavor that will honor Judy and advance the cause of breast cancer research, Bake it Happen (aka Bananas for Boobies, which if you know Shari makes perfect sense, but Facebook doesn’t know Shari that well so they didn’t like it).

This is no 26 mile marathon where you must exhaust yourself to prove you care.  This is not pinkwashing to make companies look like they care.  This is a very basic way to share purpose and care.

  1. Bake a loaf, or two or three, of Judy’s amazing banana chocolate chip loaf.
  2. Take a pic of your fabulous creation.
  3. Then share it on Facebook or email it to bananasforboobies@gmail.com
  4. Then share a loaf in real life.   Take a pic of that too!
  5. You could win an iPad!

Every time a photo is shared a dollar is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Here’s how we baked it happen last weekend:

See?  Simple, delicious, and meaningful.   Just like good friends.

Head on over now to Bananas For Boobies and Bake it Happen!!!

Marcus Samuelsson and Uncle Ben’s (Beginners) Get Kids Cooking!

at red roosterLast month I had the pleasure of dining at one of the best restaurants in NYC: Red Rooster Harlem.  Yes, the food is wonderful, but really it’s not just about the food – it’s about the incredible sense of community and care that fills the space that makes it so special.  After meeting Marcus Samuelsson, and having him give us a tour where he pointed out all of the thoughtful features that went into building Red Rooster it was easy to see why the restaurant exudes warmth and an authentic identity.  From the art that features local customers, to the books that reflect the history of Harlem, food, music and culture, to the artists they feature in the space – you know that there are conscious, purposeful choices put into the restaurant.

That thoughtfulness extends to the food and work of Marcus Samuelsson, who has teamed up with Uncle Ben’s Rice to get kids and families cooking together.

The campaign, Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest asks families to create a cooking video together and show how cooking can bring you together – and teach kids better food habits.  You could win $15,000 for your family – and $30,000 for a cafeteria makeover for your school!

When you talk to chefs they usually point to a family member as the reason they got into cooking – a grandmother, an uncle or aunt, their mom.  Cooking in the home is one of the most fundamental experiences we can share with our kids – it doesn’t have to be a big deal – it’s actually better if it isn’t.  Unfortunately, I think we spend more time watching impossibly hard cooking shows that have nothing to do with real life cooking – and less time actually chopping, peeling, and turning on a stove to make a simple dinner with our kids.

Marcus spent a lot of time with my daughters and niece at the lunch – asking them all about their school lunch program, what they’d like to see in school lunch, what the kids actually eat – and about the conditions of the lunch room and the experience of lunch time at school (hot, rushed, and overcrowded – all while being yelled at by cafeteria aides).

Marcus Samuelson

It was really interesting to me that he partnered with Uncle Ben’s, but I totally understood it when you looked at this program that was trying to get families to not just cook together, but celebrate it too.  And if using quick rice can make it easier to create that dinner, and get it on the table faster, then I’m all for it.

At Red Rooster they started with the brown Uncle Ben’s Rice, added lobster stock, herbs and spices and created their dirty rice:

It was delish.  Along with the rest of the meal of shrimp, jerk chicken, kale salad and cornbread.  Plus they made Shirley Temples for my girls.  They felt very swanky.

If you’re in NYC be sure to go to Red Rooster for a really special meal.  (We also picked up cupcakes for our Rosh Hashanah dinner that night.  And they were amazing)

So, grab your kids, and get cooking together today.  You can shoot the video on your smartphone – nothing fancy.  Just like you can make some simple pasta, nothing fancy, but at least you’re doing it together, and showing your kids that cooking is not a big deal – it’s something you do to take care of yourself and the people you love, in the most basic way.  And then enter the Uncle Ben’s Beginners Contest – you could even end up on Rachel Ray!  But hurry!  The contest ends October 6th!

 

Nesting for Baby – 2 weeks to go

This is a guest post by Jess Levey as part of Maternity Mondays.

We are now at 38 weeks, and as Braxton Hicks contractions (or ‘practice labor surges’ as we say in hypnobirthing) appear as quickly as they dissipate, the reality has definitely set in, that yes, we will soon be experiencing a life changing event, probably the most altering life event that we have yet encountered and may ever encounter. And, like any great adventure there is that amazing excitement and fear of the unknown that I have learned to embrace while trying as much as possible to control what’s to come, as futile an attempt that may be. We all do it- we try our hardest to control parts of our lives that we know are uncontrollable, and as much as I have prepared mentally and physically for labor, I know deep down that most of what will transpire is really out of my hands.

I can practice my hypnobirthing meditations every night, do my squats, begrudgingly do perineal massages, walk and walk and walk, insert and ingest primrose oil, eat my greens and omega 3s, talk to baby, stay positive, drink my pregnancy tea, and visualize the ‘perfect’ birthing experience, but in the end, something major or minor can occur and I can end up with an emergency C-section, or maybe I won’t be able to breast feed, or maybe our baby will be jaundice for a few days. As much as we can try to prepare and control what is to come, I know deep down that placing too much attachment on this ideal labor is dangerous.

That said, my husband and I have been greatly enjoying nesting and preparing as much as we can. If we can’t fully control the birthing experience, we may as well control what will happen when baby comes home. After my ridiculously fun baby shower a couple of weeks ago, we had to find room in our tiny one bedroom apartment for all the baby goodies- a task which has been quite an overwhelming challenge. The more stuff we get, the more anxious I seem to get. But, with subtle furniture re-arrangements I am hoping we can make it work. The most satisfying preparation we have done thus far is cooking home-made meals and freezing them so that we have yummy food to just heat up and enjoy during those sleepless first few weeks (or is it months?). So far we have made butternut squash soup, meatloaf, chili, lentil stew, sweet potato Quiche, broccoli Quiche, and currently my husband is cooking up a shepherd’s pie and some kugel.

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If there is one thing that Jewish people do when they are anxious, it’s eat, and in our case, it is cooking that has given us this wonderful sense of control and ease, and a feeling that we will be well taken care of when we bring baby home- not just by our close family and friends, but also by ourselves. My mother keeps telling me how much help we will need when the baby arrives. I keep trying to remind her that we are only having one baby (while my sister had the great challenge of two at the same time), that it’s not THAT hard, and that in case she forgot, my husband is actually a domestic maven who works from home, so there are two of us here supporting each other, doing the laundry, cooking, and cleaning together. While we are constantly in sync organizing and cooking and cleaning, I am reminded how lucky I am to be in this situation and it just boggles my mind how women have been doing this alone for so many years. Every time I go to do the dishes with my aching back, my husband looks over and says “you want me to finish that up?” And, as much as I want to continue to praise him for his ‘modern ways’ I also believe that this is really how it should be- we are in this together, preparing for what’s to come, even if I am the only one pushing through the pain.

And, with that, I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR full of adventurous unknowns…20121231-094739.jpg

 

A Very Chocolatey Halloween with Jacques Torres

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This week we were seriously delighted to go to Jacques Torres in Tribeca and create chocolate Halloween confections with Jacques and his amazing team.  If you follow me on twitter you already know that I documented my first Wicked Hot Chocolate of the season on the first chilly day in October.

I love Jacques Torres chocolates, so when he opened a store near my daughters’ school it was a mixed blessing – for my dark chocolate tooth.  I sort of hid how awesome it was from my daughters, because the last thing I need are girls who love lobster AND high quality chocolate.  If a 50 cent Kit Kat makes them happy who am I to tell them otherwise?

But, I was super excited to bring my girls to have this incredible experience of both meeting Jacques and getting to work with his delicious chocolate to create really fabulous Halloween chocolate treats.  I had no idea how awesome it was going to be, but it was one of the experiences that surpassed my expectations.

First, the girls were given chef hats and smocks and I was given a hair net (this is why there are no pictures of me!)  Then they were led into the back of the store to the actual chocolate factory.  Vats of chocolate were stirring, racks of finished products were stacked to the ceiling, and the tables were laid out with jars of candy, sheets of molds, containers of fruits.

colored chocolate for decorating

All the fixings for candy chocolate making

They immediately dove in and started making Halloween lollipops and giant tombstones.  After filling in the details with colored chocolate they used a huge pastry bag full of dark, milk or white chocolate to fill the molds to the top, and then they were whisked off to the refrigerators to set.

Filling the tombstone mold

That would have been fabulous enough, but then wax lined baking sheets appeared with huge dollops of chocolate waiting to be decorated and candy covered.

Then, a giant Jack o’lantern (Jacques o’lantern) puzzle mold.  And finally, the huge haunted house molds.   Before I knew it my girls had created 40 pieces of chocolate Halloween goodness.  40!!!

Entire Halloween chocolate creation haul!

On top of all that, Jacques Torres couldn’t have been more wonderful with the kids.  He obviously loves what he does, and loves sharing it.  His team was incredibly gracious, patient and encouraging even though they were over run with sugared up kids (and parents.)   They even packaged everything up professionally to take home.

40 chocolate Halloween creations!

And now, I think that little Jacques Torres store near my daughters’ school will never be just my place ever again.  Also, I’m totally ordering the chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving!

Get ready for Thanksgiving next!

Sardines and Entenmann’s: Why Some Cravings are Better Than Others

photo credit: bettybl flickr

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger Jess Levey.  This series appears almost every Monday on Beccarama.

Well, it is official.  At 27 weeks people now know I am pregnant – thanks in part to my Facebook declaration as well as my now very obvious belly bump, or as I like to call it my belly mound.

Sometimes I forget that I am pregnant and then I catch a glimpse of my profile reflected in a store window and have a moment of internal freak out,” How could I let myself go like that?!” And then reality kicks me in the gut (literally.) Much like when you wake from a dream in which you were smoking cigarettes and eating an entire Entenmann’s chocolate cake only to wake up with extreme relief that it was all just your subconscious playing games with you, again.

The problem is that like many women I have spent much of my interior life struggling with my self worth merely based on this body profile that I catch in a reflection from time to time.

Last weekend while on a work trip/babymoon in Montauk, we came across Woody Allen’s film Melinda and Melinda. In one of the opening scenes Brooke Smith’s pregnant character explains to her friend that her husband says having sex with her is like having sex with the loser from weight watchers.  This happened to be a night when I was feeling much huger than usual, partly in thanks to one of those very wide hotel mirrors that hung across from our bed as well as the 4 Tates chocolate chip cookies that I eaten (never again, I promise!). I just sat there, wondering if my husband felt this way, but then I remembered that he is not a complete a-hole like the character’s husband in the film.  Just that afternoon, my husband had me modeling for him on the beach while he celebrated my new beautiful body with his talented photographer ways.  For the first time in my life I was sticking out my bulging belly with pride and love.

We are all very much aware of the extremes that some women will go to ensure that they stay sexy and desirable while pregnant, making sure to gain only the recommended maximum 20 pounds (or less) during pregnancy. I am not one of those women. I am thoroughly enjoying eating without counting calories. But, just as when I wasn’t pregnant, my goal needs to be about conscious behavior towards good health.

That said, there are foods that make me bloated and foods that make me way more tired than I normally am. The culprit, of course, is white bread and sugar. I couldn’t shake my exhausted-ness these past few weeks until it hit me, I had been eating way more bread than I normally do, mostly because it’s a quick snack, can be eaten with anything, and well, it’s what I crave.

But, today I decided to be more conscious of my eating, and it worked. I stuck to eggs and salad and just a couple of pieces of my sprouted grain bread, which I ate with sardines (luckily for my growing baby this is one of my favorite foods to eat), and I had more energy all day. I had a photo shoot in Staten Island in the morning followed my 5 straight hours of editing and I didn’t for one instant feel my usual exhaustion, which is shocking since it was a rainy gloomy day!  This is an amazing relief at a time when I was beginning to think that the next three months were going to be a brutal fight with extreme tiredness, aches, bloating, and all the other bad stuff people tell me comes with being pregnant.

Hopefully as I get closer to my due date, I will have more power over those undesirable pregnancy symptoms by making better choices on a daily basis.  I am relieved to find myself figuring out what works for me. Let’s just hope that all that bread I was eating won’t make my kid one of those super carb-cravers who demands buttered noodles for dinner while throwing the quinoa salad on the floor in a fury.

Is That A Baby in Your Belly or Just Too Many Croissants?

Ice Cream Sundae

Ice Cream Sundae (Photo credit: Swamibu)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger Jess Levey.  This series appears every Monday on Beccarama.

So, the other day my neighbor who has lived in my apartment building for 20 years or so, and who likes to bond with people by throwing out insults to them, said to me, upon finding out I was pregnant, “well, I was going to say something but since you are not the skinniest person in the world, I wasn’t quite positive that you were pregnant.” I was shocked, but I shouldn’t have been. She also once entered my apartment uninvited, saw my collection of clogs on my shoe rack and remarked, “women with our stature shouldn’t wear clogs.” Funny thing is that she says these things as a way of getting closer to me, and these insults always follow with a kind gesture the next day – one day it was antique brownie cameras left on my apartment door mat, the next an email with a relevant job posting in my inbox.

I took this insult lightly. I mean, I’m not completely unaware that I am not the skinniest person in the world, but I guess I was hoping that no one else knew this. Also, I was hoping that it was pretty obvious that I am pregnant and haven’t just taken up a nasty beer guzzling habit. The night before this incident I went to an art opening where I saw some friends and acquaintances that I had not seen in a while, and no one said anything about my new (or what I though was new) plump rounded belly.  I had to point it out to everyone who I saw, and was shocked that it wasn’t so obvious. Granted, I was wearing a baby doll dress that made me look pregnant even at my thinnest, but it was still disappointing.

There were many reasons I was looking forward to being pregnant. Aside from the fact I would be able to experience this incredible biological miracle, and I could use my pregnancy as an excuse to not lift anything or go to that lame ass party, I would also have a much better excuse for having a rounded belly. I have always carried my extra weight in my tummy. One of my earliest memories is from when I was 5 years old doing pirouettes towards my ballet teacher and being so proud when I reached her chair and having her pat my stomach and say “you’ll have to get rid of that,” in that high-pitched cutesy tone that people seem to use when speaking to children even when they are being just plain old mean.

I’m pretty sure this is when my harsh self judgment began. I have always been a size 10/12 trying to just be a size 8, a goal I have successfully reached twice maybe three times after yet another stretch of diligently counting Weight Watchers points and exercising routinely or punishing myself for not keeping up my routine. But, the fact is that I love food, and even as healthy as I am, calories are calories especially for someone with as slow of a metabolism as me, and eating half as much as I want to eat doesn’t last very long.  How nice to be pregnant and not be counting my points anymore. I knew in the beginning that I would want to let myself go, eat croissants every morning without worry since I was going to grow big anyway and maybe baby will like croissants as much as I do.

But, I knew that eating empty calorie foods would never be good for me and the baby either. I know from experience, that when I am my healthiest, meaning when my husband and I are cooking together from our food co-op’s incredible produce selections that I not only look better, but I am also my happiest. I know women that gained 70 pounds when they were pregnant which always freaks me out, but they also revealed to me that they were eating Doritos and Pringles daily, they didn’t gain this weight from eating watermelon (my one major craving throughout the past 5 months). When my midwife had told me that she doesn’t care how many calories I eat as long as the calories are from healthy food, I was so relieved. I haven’t been told this by any nutritionist or dietician in the past 20 some dieting years. Of course, I still have that occasional ice cream, but only from our local homemade organic shop (there is calcium in ice cream right?). But, mostly I eat tons of fruit, lots of veggies, fish more often than meat, whole grains, and yogurt. In the amazing book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, which I have been reading, the author explains how studies have shown that eating leafy greens during pregnancy can actually prevent cancer in your child. The fact that I can help my child’s health this early on is extremely empowering. Before my child is even born, I am able to truly affect its development by making simple choices. If I can’t control the air that it is breathing, I might as well control the quality and type of fuel it is ingesting.  Now, if I could only look at my new even bigger belly as a strong home for my growing baby rather than a reason why I can never be a ballerina…

No Colander Needed: Barilla Microwavable Meals Hit the Al Dente Mark

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This is another fabulous guest post by food blogger Shari Brooks of My Judy the Foodie. Now, I feel I need to preface this post with a little editorial – in the 8 years I have known Shari I don’t think she’s ever eaten pasta in front of me. She’s just not a carbo-loading kind of girl. So, if she says she enjoyed these meals, I believe her! And, as a pescetarian, I love all their veggie options, but the psycho anti-chemical girl in me needs to say that when I turn to a frozen meal, I NEVER microwave in the plastic container!

This week I had the pleasure of attending a private luncheon at Scott Conant’s gorgeous culinary suite in Soho, hosted by the celebrated pasta brand, Barilla. We dined with Barilla’s renowned Executive Chef Lorenzo Boni, and sampled the company’s latest product innovation: Barilla microwaveable meals – available nationally this month!

Barilla is a family owned brand that has been around for 135 years. That’s reason enough to embrace their continued mission to offer high quality pasta that preserves the culture and tradition of Italy. Their latest product line, a variety of 5 different microwaveable pasta meals, continues to deliver the Italian taste and quality people have come to expect from Barilla – Italy’s #1 brand of pasta – in a single serve offering.

Made from the same 100% natural ingredients as Barilla dry pasta and jarred sauces, the microwaveable meals are shelf stable, portable and ready in just 60 seconds. This product is the perfect remedy for people with a hectic lifestyle. Whether you’re at work and can’t figure out what to eat, and don’t have time to eat, or, you’re harried, trying to put together a last-minute dinner for the family, these microwaveable pastas are a practical solution.

Do pre-packaged microwaveable meals scare you? Don’t fret, we also had the opportunity to listen to Anna Rosales, a professionally trained chef, instructor and registered dietitian for Barilla America. She enthusiastically provided an overview of the nutritional values to these meals:

Each 9 oz. package contains 1 serving of pasta and sauce and:
• All meals are 320 calories or less.
• There are no artificial colors or added preservatives.
• All meals provide between 9g and 11g of protein.
• The pasta in the microwaveable meals is an excellent* source of fiber.
• The sauce in the microwaveable meals are a good or excellent* source of vitamin A.
• The whole grain varieties are a good* source of iron.

Sounds pretty good, right? See for yourself. If you read the pasta containers, you’ll notice that all the ingredients are natural and it actually reads like a recipe. You should be able to recognize all of the ingredients listed – a huge feat in today’s increasingly complex world of food labeling.

What’s even more surprising is the revolutionary packaging of the Barilla microwaveable meals maintains the product’s taste, texture and freshness for a shelf life of 12 months at room temperature. The pasta and sauce are stored in separate trays, allowing consumers to customize their meal experiences.

At lunch, we were able to choose from one of the five available varieties:
• Mezze Penne with Tomato & Basil Sauce
• Mezze Penne with Traditional Marinara Sauce
• Mezze Penne with Spicy Marinara Sauce (I chose this!)
• Whole Grain Fusilli with Vegetable Marinara Sauce
• Whole Grain Mezze Penne with Tomato & Basil Sauce

And, within just a few minutes (it should’ve been only 60 seconds but they did have to accommodate all 35 people at once) we were served our very own past entrée in the packaging.
My serving was perfectly al dente and surprisingly, extremely tasty. In fact, if it had been plated, I’d have no way of knowing it was fresh from the stove top!

It’s genius that the Barilla brothers have developed a new way to discover the best of Italian cooking without cooking at all.

Whether you throw some containers in your bag on the way out the door, keep a supply in your desk drawer or, stock your pantry shelves, how can you say no to a meal that can be conveniently available anytime anywhere?

For more information, or to locate a grocery store near year, go to http://www.BarillaUS.com.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated to write this post. However, I was treated to a very fine lunch featuring the new Barilla product. I also received some nice Barilla-branded baubles as well as samples of the 5 microwaveable varieties. All opinions expressed (as always) are my own.

Turn Vegetables into Edible Art Kids Will Love with Clare Crespo and Country Crock

This is another guest post by the fabulous culinary blogger, Shari Brooks of My Judy the Foodie.  I guess I should just admit that she has become the food columnist for Beccarama.com, and I love it! So grab some celery sticks and a tub of Country Crock and enjoy the post!

Let’s face it, getting our kids to eat their veggies is an uphill battle. What could possibly be appealing about eating broccoli or spinach when there are so many tastier food choices?  I definitely resisted eating anything green as a child and I was denied many desserts in the process.  But, this week I attended a very exciting event sponsored by Country Crock and culinary artist Clare Crespo to promote the launch of a whimsical online recipe book, A Very Veggie World,  that features 25 imaginative veggie recipe creations from “Veggie Volcanoes” to “Green Bean Campfires.”

As a mom with young kids, I know first-hand the challenges of providing well-balanced meals where they’ll elect to eat their vegetables. Finally some fun solutions! Clare’s book arms us with ammunition in the form of beautiful full-page imagery with recipes turning basic veggies into celebrated, fun objects for kids enjoy and eat.  And we all know, when our children are involved in meal prep, they’re more invested in sampling the actual dishes.

Forget about eating Brussels Sprouts.  Try designing “Molecular Model Brussels Sprouts” where kids get to turn their kitchen into a chemistry lab.  Don’t fret about zucchini.  Try building “Zucchini Boats” with carrots sails.  Freaked out by broccoli?  You won’t be after you get a chance to make “Broccoli Swamp” complete with bubbly Swiss cheese to creatively recreate murky water.  Or how about an explosive sweet potato volcano?

In the test kitchen I created two of the 25 featured dishes while Clare explained the very basic steps. I must say, I’m not sure who had more fun making the “Pizza Flag” or the “Eggplant Car,” me, or my adorable 6-year old partner.  While he scooped and designed, I sautéed and chopped.  In that kitchen we were a team, working together on our veggie-based masterpieces.  Across the room, every single person experienced the same sense of satisfaction, and quite honestly, sheer delight as we witnessed an oblong eggplant transform into a quirky wagon with zucchini wheels–all in a matter of minutes.

All of the recipes are paired with gorgeous pictures, easy-to-digest nutrition tips, as well as quick shortcuts and links to other favorite recipes.  While Clare places the veggies front and center, she also accents them with Country Crock– a much healthier alternative to butter with 70% less saturated fat, zero trans fat and 30% fewer calories (apparently 8-10 kids surveyed said their veggies tasted better with Country Crock).

Oh, and I forgot to mention, the recipe book, A Very Veggie World is available online for FREE. FREE. FREE. FREE. FREE. FREE.

So, if you’re looking for fun, imaginative ways to get your kids invested and excited about eating their veggies, download  A Very Veggie World now.

Now, who says eating your vegetables can’t be fun?