NoVA Blogger Meet Up Recap

Thanks to everyone that came out for the blogger meet up in Northern Virginia last night!


From left to right: Ashley, Anna, JC, Carlene, Liz, Diana

We had such a fun time chatting about blogging, Virginia, and life! Definitely check out those blogs, because these ladies are awesome! If you have an event idea, or you want to plan a meet up in your city, send us an e-mail: and we’ll see what we can do!

Northern Virginia Meet Up @ Northside Social

In case you haven’t noticed, the Virginia Bloggers list is getting long!

Seriously, go take a look!

Since we have so many Northern Virginia bloggers, we thought it was about time to have a meet up in their area, so we rounded a few people up and grabbed coffee at Northside Social. Not only was the coffee good, but I love any cafe that is active on Twitter 😉

norside social coffee

The cafe was cute, and it was fun meeting some new faces! 

norside social one

Photo courtesy of Northside Social

Ethel, Rana, Coco, Ileana, and Ashley and I enjoyed some coffee while chatting about blogging, Virginia, and future meet up ideas. (Bartending class anyone?) Stay tuned for more on that!

Hopefully we can do some more Nova meet ups in 2013. As always, if you have an idea for a meet up in your area, please shoot us at e-mail:

Virginia LOVE,

Liz @ I Heart Vegetables

Guest Blogger: The Studio Foodie

Today’s guest blogger, Mel, is a food blogger from Northern Virginia who is literally changing her life to follow her passion! You can read about her culinary adventures on her blog, The Studio Foodie. 

Damn, my life has changed so much in the past week–its overwhelming, dizzying, elating, and scary as hell, all at the same time. With the click of a mouse and the delivery of an email, I went from Mel, a food blogging federal consultant with a surprisingly stable job despite the economy to an almost-unemployed potential culinary student.

I can’t even fully explain what happened, but something inside of me broke last Tuesday. I started out in my consulting career with so much zeal and excitement–I was going to change the world! As time went on, I felt like I hit one brick wall after another. The fun died.

“That’s ok,” I told myself. “Work is work. It’s something to pay for all the fun stuff I do outside the office.” To a very large extent, that’s true. I started focusing on just getting the job done so I could go home and cook. My kitchen became my respite from an increasingly-stressful workday. I kept telling myself that things would get better, but they never did. Finally, last Tuesday, I hit my last wall. The security of a regular paycheck no longer outweighed the stress. So I resigned.

After 1 August, my insurance ends. No more 401k contributions for a while. With no income to speak of, I have no way to pay rent so after 5 years making it on my own, this little foodie is moving back in with her parents. (They won’t let me live in the basement, unfortunately, so I won’t be able to totally fill the ‘adult living her parents basement’ stereotype.) I’m selling nearly all my furniture to get some more cash savings under me for a bit.

You have no idea how difficult this is for me right now. I have been fiercely independent since I figured out I didn’t always need help–just ask my parents. As a toddler, I was constantly complaining, “No!! I do by self! BY SELF!!!” to anyone who’d try to help me with anything from making a snack to tying my shoes. One of my biggest joys in life, beyond cooking, was the knowledge that I was a totally independent woman–I needed no one for nothin’. I paid my own bills, changed my own tires, and made my own way in life.

And now I’m exactly 7 days from plunging below the poverty line.

Over the past week, the song “Defying Gravity,” from Wicked, has been playing over and over in my head. I guess you can say it’s become my theme song, of late. The song comes at Elphaba’s breaking point, when she decides that she must follow her own desires–and essentially starts down the pathway to wickedness. As she stands with her roommate and friend Galinda (the future Glinda), she begins to sing, “Something has changed within me/Something is not the same/I’m through playing by the rules/Of someone else’s game. Too late for second-guessing/Too late to go back to sleep/It’s time to trust my instincts/Close my eyes–and leap!”

I think that’s what I’m doing–I’m leaping. If I fall, I shall hit the ground running and with grace…or at least a well-practiced smile and a “I meant to do that.” But life is too short to pass up your passions.

Something changed inside me last week. I was tired of the stress, the drama, the nonsense. I’m playing by my rules now. Those rules will probably change a lot over the next few months, but that’s alright. They’re mine to change. I’ve been in talks with some other companies for a while now, so if those jobs pan out, I’ll take them up on the offer. I’m aiming for a January start date for school, and in the meanwhile, I’ll focus on expanding the blog and finding a job out at one of those wineries I love so much.

I’m excited for the future, and scared like no other, all at the same time.

In the meanwhile, a woman’s still gotta eat! I’ll still be posting recipes, but now from the perspective of a paleo woman sharing a family kitchen with non-paleo parents, on a near zero-budget. I can do this. It’s gonna be a fun ride!

Mel @ The Studio Foodie


P.S. If you missed our event announcement, make sure you check it out an R.S.V.P. if you’d like to attend!

Spreading the Love: Serving at the Food Bank

Today’s post is from Lele of Lele Lurves Plants, a blogger with a love of food & politics, and a heart for serving others! 

I started writing this post by thinking about hunger statistics, but all of you are free to research that for yourself (and I’ve given you some links at the end of this post).

Instead, I’d like to tell you how I ended up at this job.

I finished college wanting to get away from spoiled, entitled college kids. There’s nothing wrong with being a college kid, but I wanted to move from my cloistered, private college with a lot of people with too much money and not enough experience, to the real world.

I ended up doing an Americorps year at an afterschool program for low-income children in Arlington (that’s in NOVA, touching DC, for you southern VA-ers). It was exhausting and also a great antidote to everything that had disillusioned me in college. My burgeoning interest in public health (and my lifelong interest in food, and cooking it, and doing awesome cooking projects with my kiddos like this one) got me in touch with the Capital Area Food Bank. I’d interviewed for a previous job, but hadn’t gotten it. Imagine my stunned delight when they called me to offer me a new position: working for Kids Cafe, the food bank program that had sent our kiddos food all year. Woo hoo!

Northern Virginians, were you surprised to hear that I was working with low income kids in Arlington? Does Arlington make you think of the Whole Foods, like this charming rap? Virginians, take note: we are one of the nation’s wealthiest states. Loudon County is the highest income county in the entire country, with a median annual household income of $115,574. Followed by Falls Church city (#2), Fairfax County (#3), and Fairfax City (#8), just in the top ten.

Yet despite all of that, 1 in 6 people in our area are at risk of hunger.

The food bank’s main office is in Northeast DC, and fairly or not, the image of poverty in America that many picture is urban. However, I work in our Northern Virginia office, in the suburbs, not far from the Mixing Bowl of I-95 and the Beltway. Suburban poverty is sneakier. For example, if any of you live in Clarendon; know you can walk for fifteen minutes and be in Section 8 housing. Poverty, and hunger are there, but are a little further under the surface.

So, we see hungry people and we feed them. In Kids Cafe, we feed hungry kids. Hungry kids in this country can generally get their hands on a school lunch. It’s one of the most popular federal programs for a reason (and did you know it was created because soldiers in World War 2 were so malnourished?). School breakfast is also fairly popular, especially in this area. However, two meals- particularly for growing kids- do not a complete day’s nutrition make. So, we send an afterschool snack. Or, preferably, a supper. Lest you think supper is a weird, old-fashioned term, it’s coined by the USDA, and we speak a lot of USDA-ese at the food bank.

Becaaaaaaause…. Surprise! There’s another large, well-funded, huuuuuuuuuuuugely underutilized USDA program called the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP for short). It looks different in different places, but for our purposes here at the food bank, it means we can buy food, send it to afterschool programs, and with a little help from the staff at those sites with submitting attendance reports, get reimbursed by the USDA.

Being a government agency, the USDA supplies us with a certain number of rules. Snacks have to be food groups, and suppers have to include all five: a grain, a meat or meat alternate (like peanut butter, beans, fish, or, weirdly, non-milk dairy products like yogurt and cheese), milk (liquid, 1%-or-skim milk only!), and two servings of fruits or vegetables (you can do two fruits or two vegetables). As you would imagine, this meal planning is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. Some of it is creatively repurposing items that are donated to the food bank (weird frozen pre-sliced steak plus day-old sub rolls from grocery stores plus a thirty pound bag of onions= steak subs! Awesome!) and some of it is ordering our own food through our fresh produce suppliers and certain grocery stores (again, it helps that we get reimbursed. Our program largely pays for itself!)

So what does it mean? I will tell you firsthand, on a day when you hear about food banks competing with each other and talking smack about why other guys are less good at feeding hungry people, it feels really stupid and ridiculous. Ditto interdepartmental sniping. Ditto when I go down and see that stores have donated stale cake and soda, and this is how they laud themselves (and get a tax write off) for helping the poor and hungry.

However, the best days are the ones I get to do my (mandatory, per the USDA- your tax dollars are carefully monitored!) site visits. Site visits are the BEST. I arrive at the sites, usually slightly before snack, and see the kiddos bopping around on a playground, or reading stories, or doing a group project. I say hello to our site leaders, who all have a harried-but-happy look on their face at this time in the day. And then the kids sit down to snack and I watch them get a really healthy meal. And when I tell them I’m from the place that sends them their snack, and ask for any ideas they have for what I should send them, unsurprisingly they start with pizza and ice cream. But then I move on to fruits and vegetables, and wouldn’t you know it, they still get psyched. “Watermelon!” “Pineapple!” “Cherries!” “Oooh I love cherries too!”

It’s a big thing that we have the resources to give them that food, based largely on the goodwill and generosity of the community around us, as well as a program by the government that I can tell you, firsthand, does make a difference and is worth the money. Because they eat that third snack- or meal- of the day, and then they sit down to do their homework. And they’re focused, and they’re nourished, and I know that. And what I also hope is that by getting that healthy meal, by getting exposed to fresh fruits and vegetables, and by having the security of knowing they won’t go to bed hungry; they’re getting off on a good track not just for that day but for their life. That maybe when we send our nutrition education lesson, one kid absorbs some of the facts and it makes them a little healthier.

And p.s.; as we know, a poorly nourished kid is also a sick kid. In our program last year we were talking about whole grains and how they don’t make your blood sugar spike as much, and diabetes came up. I said offhand, “Does anybody here know what diabetes is?” Yikes. I can attest that poverty and nutrition-related illness are the best of friends at this moment in time, and it needs to change.

A few more things…

Hunger and public health junkies: for my organization’s website, I compiled stats on childhood hunger in America, and the very real impact food banks can have. Did you know that a child who has experienced hunger, even just once in their life, is 2 ½ times more likely to be in poor health than a child who has not? Did you know that almost half of the participants in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) are children?

If you want to hear more, check out some of my other posts on food bank life! Back in the day when I was finishing up my Americorps year at one of our partner agencies, we got to participate in an amazing farm visit. Speaking of kids, you can also get a behind-the-scenes look at a cooking demo in a microscopic kitchen at one of our sites in DC, where the site leader manages to feed dinner to twenty kids every day. And finally, check out a day in my life at the food bank, which includes a super delicious Empty Bowls fundraiser (and less glamorous warehouse tour!).

And just for funsies:

If you’d like to volunteer, come hang out with me! Tuesday afternoons you can help pre-pack the nonperishable goods that go out to our sites the following week.

If you’d like to donate, let me know!

And if you’re a particularly creative soul, make a USDA supper: it consists of milk, a grain, a meat or meat alternate, and two servings of fruits and/or veggies. An example from the menu going out this week: Bun (grain), sliced steak (meat), onions on top (veggie #1), oven fries (veggie #2), and milk.

Your turn! Meal-plan me something awesome and kid-friendly! Extra credit if it uses extra cheap ingredients!