Autumn Panzanella Salad with Pears, Butternut Squash, and Hearty Walnut Bread

panzanellaBased loosely on a traditional panzanella salad which combines garden fresh tomatoes with crusty bread to soak up the juices, this savory autumn panzanella features ripe, in-season pears, roasted butternut squash, and hearty walnut bread. Serve this salad throughout the fall and winter while pears and squash are abundant. It will also make a delicious and colorful addition to your Thanksgiving table.


1 small butternut squash, cut into ½-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups of cubed squash)
2 large shallots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
3 tablespoons olive oil for roasting squash PLUS 2 tablespoons for the salad
Salt and pepper
4 cups cubed whole grain walnut bread from your favorite bakery
¼ cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
2 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Bosc or Red Anjou, medium dice
1 tablespoon roughly chopped Italian parsley
¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the cubed squash, sliced shallots, and 3 tablespoons olive oil on a baking sheet. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Spread into a single layer and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the squash is soft and the shallots are beginning to brown. While the squash roasts, use a serrated knife to cut the bread into ½-inch cubes as well. Spread the bread cubes onto a second baking sheet and place in the oven. Toast the cubes lightly, for 5-7 minutes total, while the squash roasts. Allow the squash to cool slightly (or to room temperature) and then transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle the squash with the additional 2 tablespoons of oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup. Toss gently to coat. To the bowl, add the toasted bread cubes, dried cranberries, diced pears, and parsley. Toss the mixture together gently once again and transfer to a large platter or bowl. Sprinkle the shaved parmesan cheese on top and serve immediately.

prep time: 45 minutes including roasting
yield: 6 – 8 servings

Hangry IS A Real Thing

Pear and toast

The Oxford English Dictionary, the quintessential guide to the evolution of the English language, just added a few trendy words as new entries including awesomesauce, mic drop, and hangry. This last one is of particular interest to me, since it’s related to hunger and nutrition. You’ve probably heard someone say hangry or perhaps you’ve felt hangry, bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger. Although it may be a popular descriptor, it is a fact of life. What causes one to become hangry? The likely cause is low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia.

The body, particularly the brain, primarily runs on glucose, a carbohydrate. So, when you skip a meal, eat less than usual, exercise, or have certain conditions or medications, you may run out of fuel. This drop in available energy causes a stress cascade that can trigger fatigue, depression, irritability, anger, or worse. Sadly, if you’re prone to low blood sugar, you may not even realize that your blood sugar is low and that you’ve become hangry. What is the solution? Unfortunately, high-sugar snacks cause blood sugar to spike and may lead to a dramatic drop. Therefore, regular, small snacks that include carbohydrate plus fiber, protein, or fat will help sustain normal blood sugar over time. Try pears sliced with cheese or a handful of nuts to stay even, focused, and hopefully, happy!

Successful Mornings Start Here!

coffee-cup-bed-bedroomIf you’re like me, you’re busy…all the time. Sometimes I wake in the wee hours of the morning, my mind racing about what I have to accomplish the next day. ACK! So what can we do to make sure our mornings are more successful, that we have a positive day and a little peace of mind? Start here.

  1. Start with breakfast and don’t skip meals! Your brain and body need fuel. Low blood sugar is often the culprit for bad moods, low energy, and attention deficit. Try prepping breakfast and packing your lunch, or plan where and when you are going to eat the next day to make sure you don’t fall into this slump! Likewise, several studies have found that skipping breakfast leads to negative consequences, such as weight gain.
  1. Exercise three times (or more!) each week. Activity naturally reduces stress hormones and increases endorphins, our feel good hormones. Exercise can also improve mood and sleep!
  1. SLEEP. This may be the most important thing you can do to reduce stress, maintain weight, and have a positive attitude. Eight hours may be a dream, but shoot for a minimum of six.
  1. Find time for a little peace and quiet that isn’t sleepRelaxation, whether it’s sitting quietly, stretching, or simply unplugging, allows your brain to switch off and unwind.
  1. Finally, if you’re like me, before getting into bed write down everything that is bugging you or that you have to accomplish the next day. Hopefully, if it’s on paper, it’s off of your mind!

Pear, Carrot, and Coconut Muffins

Pear, Carrot, and Coconut Muffins SM

Here is a fun fall take on the classic morning glory muffin, a popular recipe published in Gourmet Magazine back in the 1980s. These muffins are chock-full of fruit, vegetables, and nuts, making them hearty and filling, but they retain a soft, light texture, as any great muffin should. They will keep very well in the refrigerator and reheat wonderfully thanks to their high moisture content. If you prefer your muffins warm from the oven, you can even mix up a batch and bake off just a few at a time, saving the remaining batter for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups finely shredded carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
1 ½ cups finely diced pear (from about 2 ripe USA Pears, such as Bartlett)
⅔ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
¾ cup neutral-flavored oil, such as canola or safflower
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, soda, and salt, and whisk to combine. Add the carrot, pear, coconut, and walnuts to the flour mixture and stir gently to coat the fruit and vegetables. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add the liquid mixture to the dry and stir gently until no dry pockets of flour remain. Line a muffin tin with papers and fill each cup ¾ full with the batter. Sprinkle each muffin with a little demerara sugar. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake the muffins for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

prep time: 15 minutes
yield: 12-16 muffins

Time to don your thinking cap!


barlett_almond_butter-2183Children and school buses have started roaming the neighborhood; I can’t believe we’re already back to school. No matter the age of the student, those of us in nutrition and education know that what fuels brain power is food! This means healthful meals, but maybe more importantly, healthful snacks throughout the day. All of us, but especially children and adolescents who are growing – yes, this includes college students – need to eat regularly to maintain proper blood sugar levels, aka energy, and essential nutrients that power the brain and body. Think about it this way: The body (and especially the brain) is generally like the engine of a car. The engine parts are proteins, fat is the oil that allows the parts to function together, and carbohydrates are the fuel that drives the engine. Just like the parts of an engine rely on each other, protein, fat, and carbohydrate work together for optimal performance.

Eating whole foods, those that are minimally processed and naturally contain essential nutrients, every 2-3 hours is likely the best strategy to meet nutrient needs. This means snacks and packing extra food into a backpack are musts, rather than relying on schools to provide snacks. Remember that nutrients in the body work synergistically, so combine items that contain a variety of nutrients: Consider fresh fruit plus nuts, seeds, single-serve items such as cheese or pretzels, or low sugar granola bars. Happy snacking equals happy studying!

Barbecue Pork, Pear, and Cheddar Quesadilla

Barbecue Pork, Pear, and Cheddar QuesadillaHere is a quick quesadilla recipe that makes great use of leftover pork, ripe autumn pears, and cheddar cheese. The combination of these three ingredients is so delicious, it just might become your favorite afternoon snack. These quesadillas are a great use of leftover ribs from your favorite barbecue joint. If you’ve never made your own barbecue sauce, try your hand at Pear Barbecue Sauce with Chiles and Spice to use for this recipe and double the pear punch!

6 ounces cooked, shredded pork
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce, plus more for dipping
4 flour tortillas (8-inch size)
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1 large, ripe USA Pear, such as Bartlett or Anjou, sliced
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the shredded pork with the barbecue sauce and microwave for 1 ½ – 2 minutes to warm. Set aside until ready to use.

Lay out two of the tortillas in a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the tortillas with half of the cheese. Divide the warm pork between the two tortillas. Next, arrange the pear slices around the tortillas as evenly as possible, and then top the pear slices with the remaining cheese. Lastly, place the remaining two tortillas atop the cheese layer and transfer to the oven.

Bake the quesadillas for 10-12 minutes, or until the tortillas begin to crisp lightly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Transfer the quesadilla to a cutting board and slice into quarters. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve immediately with more barbecue sauce for dipping.

prep time: 20 minutes
yield: 4 snack-sized servings

More Reasons to Eat Pears!

200253631-001I’ve been a fruit and veggie advocate for years and often give you ideas to increase your consumption. Fruit and vegetables are necessary for vitality and wellbeing – I personally believe these foods should make up the majority of our carbohydrate consumption. I tout pears as an excellent choice, but I’d like to take a moment to get back to basics and review the many reasons why.

A medium pear contains 6 grams of fiber, or 24% of your recommended daily needs. This nutrient is necessary for gut health, satiety, and weight management, and plays a preventive role in gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and many other illnesses. Pears also contain 10% of your daily vitamin C needs and 5% of potassium; adequate amounts of these nutrients are linked to well-being and preventing cancer, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases. Many antioxidants are also found in pears, particularly flavonols, carotenoids and vitamin C. These nutrients are protective against most chronic diseases, but especially cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Beyond these vital nutrients, pears are also portable, delicious, versatile, and keep you satisfied between meals. This humble little fruit packs a powerful punch!

Grilled Chicken, Pear, and Avocado Toasts

Grilled Chicken, Pear, and Avocado Toasts SM

This recipe takes two of everyone’s favorite things, pears and avocados, and combines them to create a beautiful and satisfying meal or snack. A nice alternative to a mayonnaise-based chicken salad, this recipe uses mashed avocado and lemon to bring the ingredients together. Enjoy these open-faced sandwiches for lunch or divide the topping between slices of toasted baguette and arrange them on a platter for an elegant appetizer.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 breasts)
1 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 large or 2 small avocados
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Bartlett, thinly sliced
6 – 8 slices artisan bread, toasted
Micro greens, for garnish

Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Drizzle the chicken breasts with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Once the grill is hot, cook the chicken breasts for about 5 minutes per side or until just cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and allow to cool slightly. Take half of the avocado (either one small or half of the large) and place in a large bowl with the lemon juice. Mash with the back of a fork until smooth, and season with salt and pepper. Dice the remaining avocado and the chicken breasts and add to the bowl and stir to combine. Lastly, add the sliced celery and pears and toss gently. Toast the bread lightly. Top each slice of toast with about one-eighth of the chicken and pear mixture. Arrange the open-faced sandwiches on a platter. Drizzle each one with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and top with micro greens for garnish.

yield: Serves 8
prep time: 10 mins
cook time: 10 mins

Vacation is over…now what?


Summer is vacation season, and vacation often means splurging—usually on food and drink. Dietitians are no exception to this rule! I once gained ten pounds on a three-week stint in northern Italy, mostly from pizza, pasta, and wine. Now that you’re home, how do you get back on track? Well you don’t have to become a hermit or only eat lettuce. Here are five simple steps to help you feel your best while dealing with the post-vacation blues!

1) Eat! Each day make sure your meals and snacks are filling – protein, fat, and fiber are nutrients that keep you satisfied longer and limit sugar spikes that lead to bingeing. Veggie omelets, fruit plus low-sugar yogurt, grilled chicken salad (light on the dressing), or a PBJ on whole grain bread are quick meals that provide a combination of these nutrients.

2) Snack! To prevent cravings and low blood sugar, don’t go more than three hours without a small, filling snack, such as a fiber-rich, fresh pear plus a small handful of nuts.

3) Move! Plan exercise into your routine at least three times each week to increase calorie expenditure and decrease stress.

4) Drink more… water! We often mistake thirst for hunger, so drink at least 8 cups of water each day, particularly when exercising.

5) Take a nap! When we are stressed or tired, the body secretes certain hormones, particularly cortisol, that trigger appetite and fat storage.

There you have it! Five simple steps to getting back on track and feeling refreshed!

Walnut Pesto Toast with Sliced Pears and Gorgonzola Cheese


This recipe, courtesy of Dave’s Killer Bread and Lauren Kelly Nutrition, will expand your toast horizons. Perfect for breakfast or an after-school snack, this simple pear toast is anything but boring.

4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons walnuts
¼ cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
½ USA Pear, sliced
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
Sliced walnuts for topping
4 slices of Dave’s Killer Bread

Add ingredients to make the pesto to high speed blender or food processor in the order displayed. Blend until smooth. Toast bread until light brown. Spread pesto on toasts. Add sliced pears and top with cheese and walnuts. Serve immediately.

yield: 4 servings