Grocery Shopping for an Empty Nest

My girls left for 7 weeks of sleep away camp yesterday.  It’s their 5th summer at camp so you’d think I’d be used to the strange quiet of that first Saturday morning without them, and that feeling of being a little unmoored.  

But, I’m not.  

For the first few days I have this nagging sense that I forgot something. Not having to be responsible for being home at a certain time, not making sure dinner is on the table (or at least being summoned in some way), not hustling in the morning to get everyone out the door – these are weird sensations, and it takes a while to find a new way of being present.  

One of the things I tell people when they ask, “What’s it like to not have your kids around for 7 weeks?” is that it’s those little things that are the most unsettling. And then I always tell them about the first time I went grocery shopping after my girls left for camp for the first time, 5 years ago.  

I walked into a grocery store and just froze. I had no idea what I ate. What my husband ate. What WE ate. It’s not that my kids are picky eaters; it’s just that the items I am used to restocking week after week are the things that fill lunch boxes, create quick breakfasts, and produce dinner for four. Milk? Never drink it. Cereal? Haven’t had it in years. Pretzels, chips, cheese crackers? Have no use for them. Giant bunches of bananas or grapes? We’ll never get through them before they go bad. Suddenly I was at a total loss. I turned and walked out.

So, after 5 of summers like this I’ve figured it out. I get my basics online – nuts, tea, bread, paper goods – and then fill in during the week, when I know we will actually cook, with fish, veggies, fruit, etc. 

Like most New Yorkers I have tried every grocery delivery service. Some I’ve found really expensive, some I’ve found unreliable, and some have just been really yucky quality-wise. Peapod reached out to me when they launched their new NYC service and I thought I’d give it a try, most of all because they work through Stop n Shop and given how expensive my Manhattan neighborhood grocery stores are, I thought it would interesting to price compare. If I can get some suburban pricing delivered to my city door I’m all for it.

I ordered my child-free basics, and was happy to see tons of store brand options as well as a lot of incredibly well priced organic offerings for everything from almond milk to cashews to strawberries. The site is fairly simple to use, though the interface isn’t exactly beautiful.

Peapod by Stop and Shop  Online Grocery Shopping

But once you build a list you can keep reordering from that so you don’t have to go through the navigation hunt every time. There were an incredible amount of delivery times available, and big discounts on different days of the week and times. Most of all, it truly felt like shopping in a big suburban grocery store in the best way – lots and lots of options, specials, and both name and store brands. And you can sign up for a Stop & Shop loyalty card so you get those rewards points, just like a physical grocery store.

I’m all for more options in the grocery delivery business. It’s really the only way to know I will be able to cook healthy meals during the week after work. But, right now I’m happy that I didn’t have to have my yearly existential grocery store moment!

I was given a promotional code to shop at and try it out. All opinions are my own, as always.

Bake It Happen: Pink Pumpkins, Sweet Treats and Raising Money for Breast Cancer Awareness


It’s October – there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are starting to change, pumpkin flavored everything has invaded every food establishment and grocery aisle – and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Last year, my friend Shari Brooks and her sister, launched a brand new campaign that took a very different approach to raising money for Breast Cancer research  – Bake it Happen.  Due to the tremendous success of that first year, Bake it Happen is happening once again – with the same premise, only bigger, better, and sweeter.

The idea is the same – bake it, share it, win it (and trigger donations and awareness at the same time.)  This year you can choose from 3 of the recipes from

Simply bake the MyJudytheFoodie treat of your choice, and share it with the people in your life – and on social media with the hashtag #BakeitHappen.  Every time you share a pic of your Bake it Happen moment a $2 donation will be made to the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.  (yes, pink pumpkins really exist – naturally!)

pink pumpkin

And, you will be entered to win an iPad Mini and 3 months of Baked by Melissa Mini of the Month Club.  

We baked up pumpkin brownies, with a slight variation – making them more like pumpkin blondies with chocolate chips – but super delicious just the same!

Check out the campaign at and start sharing and raising money now!  (and isn’t it so much better than dumping a bucket of ice on your head?)

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!


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

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, 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?