Outdoor Entertaining: Backyard and Picnic Party Foods


Originally published in the July 2012 issue.

by Renee Loux

Summer is the high season for outdoor gatherings to celebrate warm weather and make the most of evening’s lingering natural light. When it comes to outdoor entertaining, simple is generally better. Backyard cookouts and picnic takeouts call for tasty fare, light foods and nothing too fancy or fussy.

In most parts of the country, summer brings a bounty of just-picked produce, and the fresher it is, the fewer the steps required to make delicious dishes. By keeping just a few staples on hand—cold-pressed olive oil, garlic cloves, fresh herbs and lemons, a good sea salt and freshly ground pepper—the cook will always be prepared to put together a delectable, trouble-free spread. Options run from grilled goodies to marinated and tossed salads that give the hosts time to enjoy their company. Complete the treat by serving skewers of fresh, ripe, cut fruit for dessert—an easy, healthy and welcome alternative to rich and complicated or store-bought sweets.

Creating a fun and festive atmosphere for backyard gatherings is easy, without a lot of fanfare. String up twinkly lights and use natural wax votive candles placed in empty jam and jelly jars to protect them from the wind. To ward off mosquitoes and generally keep bugs at bay, encircle the patio, deck or park picnic area with citronella candles or incense. Fire pits always make an outdoor gathering feel more special. A mesmerizing center of attention, they also warm up the evening as the temperature drops.

To keep serving and cleanup easy, use eco-friendly disposables. Look for plates made from recycled content or bagasse (derived from sugar cane fiber), cutlery sourced from biodegradable, plant-based plastic and recycled-paper napkins. Give guests instant access to a nearby compost bin, garbage can and recycling bin, or designated carry-away bags.

Happy summering!

Renée Loux is an organic chef, restaurateur, green expert and media personality. Her books include Easy Green Living and The Balanced Plate. Visit ReneeLoux.com. 

Tasty Ways to Savor Summer

Grilled Black Bean Quinoa Patty

These flavorful patties are a hearty and complete source of protein, a popular, plant-based option for traditional burgers. Ground flaxseed mixed with water works to bind the ingredients together in place of eggs. When grilling, be careful to flip them gently, so that patties stay together; they’re equally delicious cooked in a skillet on the stove. Serve on a whole-grain pita and load on the toppings. For a gluten-free alternative, use ground tortilla chips instead of breadcrumbs.

Yields 6 to 8 burgers

1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed, drained and spread out to dry for 20 minutes; divide into two equal parts

2 Tbsp Vegenaise

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp garlic powder

1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed, mixed with 3 Tbsp water

1/2 cup cooked quinoa

1/2 cup breadcrumbs or ground tortilla chips, as needed

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Sea salt 

Freshly ground black pepper



Avocado slices


Sliced red onion


1. Drain and rinse black beans in a colander. Shake and let stand for a few minutes for excess liquid to drain. Spread out on a clean, dry towel; blot dry with another clear, dry towel; and let stand to dry for 20 minutes. This can also be done in the oven—spread on a cookie sheet and dry at 300° F for 15 minutes.

2. In a food processor, place half of the beans, Vegenaise, cumin, oregano, garlic powder and crushed red pepper. Chop in pulses to create a coarse purée. Transfer to a medium bowl.

3. In a small bowl, mix ground flaxseed and water. Let stand 5 minutes to thicken. Mix into the black bean mixture and add remaining beans, quinoa, breadcrumbs or ground tortilla chips, onion and cilantro. Mix until combined. If the mixture looks too wet to hold together, add more breadcrumbs or ground tortilla chips. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Form into 3- to 4-inch-circumference patties. If time allows, let chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours to firm and for flavors to develop.

5. On a grill preheated to medium-high and brushed with oil, cook patties until crisp and brown, turning once, 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Or heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook until browned, turning once, 5 to 6 minutes on each side.

Watermelon Mediterranean Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Avocado and Olives

This dish embodies the zenith of summer, when watermelon and tomatoes are at their height. Paired with refreshing cucumber, buttery avocado, savory olives and bright herbs, this pastiche of flavor and texture is a perfect accompaniment to any backyard or picnic party.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

3 medium heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 cup watermelon, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1 avocado, cut in half, pitted and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup pitted green olives, chopped (Castelvetrano olives recommended)

1 Tbsp chopped basil

1 Tbsp chopped mint

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. In a bowl, place tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, avocado, olives, basil and mint. Toss gently.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour over tomato-watermelon mixture and toss gently to mix. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Pesto Grilled Corn on the Cob

A pesto-packed twist on a backyard party classic, grilling corn in its husk yields tender kernels and a delectable natural sweetness.

Yields 6 servings

6 ears unhusked corn


1 cup packed basil leaves

1 clove garlic

2 Tbsp pine nuts

1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

6 Tbsp olive oil

1. Oil grill and preheat to medium high.

2. Fill a large bowl with cold water.

3. Keeping the husks attached at the base, peel back the husks of each cob and remove the silk. Cover the cobs again with the husk.

4. Soak the corncobs in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes to prevent husks from charring too quickly.

5. In a food processor, place basil, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice, salt and pepper and chop in pulses for maximum mixing. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Set aside.

6. Place corn, covered in its husk on the grill. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove from the grill, let it cool enough to touch and then remove husks. Return to grill and cook, turning to lightly char all sides, for an additional 5 to 7 minutes total.

7. Remove from grill and generously brush with pesto. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper if desired and serve hot.

Peach Basil Green Iced Tea

Peaches and basil are a refreshing flavor combination to embellish this cooling iced tea. Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and good-for-you phytonutrients.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

6 peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup agave nectar

4 cups water

4 green tea bags

1 cup basil leaves

4 cups boiled water

Basil leaves for garnish

1. In a saucepan, place peaches, agave nectar and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

2. Place peach mixture in a blender and blend until smooth (always be careful when machine-blending hot foods). Pour through a sieve or strainer lined with cheesecloth to strain into a pitcher.

3. Bring an additional 4 cups water to a boil. Pour over tea bags and basil and steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and basil. Pour into pitcher with peach nectar and chill in the fridge until cold. Stir before serving, as the peach nectar tends to separate; serve over ice garnished with basil leaves.

Strawberry Honey Lemonade

This honey-sweetened lemonade is flush with fresh strawberries for a perfect balance of flavor and thirst-quenching enjoyment.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

1 pint strawberries, washed, trimmed and cut in half

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

2/3 cup honey

1/2 cup warm water

5 cups cold water

1. In a blender, place strawberries and 1/4 cup lemon juice and blend until smooth. Pour through a fine sieve and press with the back of a spoon or pour through a strainer lined with cheesecloth to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard pulp.

2. In a pitcher, mix together honey and warm water and stir until honey is dis

solved. Add strawberry juice, remaining lemon juice and cold water. Mix well and serve over ice.

Watermelon-Mint Limeade

1 small watermelon (or half of a larger melon), diced

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

1/3 cup agave nectar

2 Tbsp chopped mint

1 Tbsp chopped basil

Pinch crushed sea salt

2 cups ice

1. Using a chinois or other fine-mesh strainer, push the watermelon through the mesh using a sturdy wooden spoon, to push through all the liquid into a bowl, leaving behind the pulp and seeds. Pour the liquid into a pitcher with the lime juice, agave nectar and a pinch of salt. Chill well.

2. Just before serving, add the mint and basil to the liquid, and blend the mixture in the blender in two batches, adding a cup of ice to each batch.

Future fun: Freeze leftover portions into popsicles for an easy treat on another day.

Recipes from The Balanced Plate and Living Cuisine, by Renée Loux, and ReneeLoux.com; limeade recipe courtesy of Beth Bader, co-author of The Cleaner Plate Club.


Pint-Sized Pets: Smaller Pets Have Big Potential

by Randy Kambic

Whether they crawl, swim, hop or fly, speak, make other sounds or stay silent, many small wonders can make ideal pets.

While 85 percent of U.S. households with pets feature a dog or a cat, giving a home to smaller friendly creatures can mean less maintenance and less cost—including only tiny stomachs to fill and no vaccinations. Downsizing to well-considered domesticated companions also provides uncommon windows to animal behavior for adults and youngsters alike.

Apparently, many appreciate these benefits. The same 2011 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey that reported on dogs and cats also showed that 12.6 million residences have fish; 5.7 million, birds; 5 million, small animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, gerbils, hamsters, mice and rats); and 4.6 million, reptiles.

“These animals pose a world of possibilities,” says Veterinarian Dr. Kimberly Weiss, owner of Heartland Healing Hands, in Oklahoma City. “They all have individual needs. Having them

around starts as something cool, a special cachet for a youngster, and then, if fostered by parents, into a special sense of responsibility.”


Watching colorful fish swim around an aquarium encourages a serene, soothing feeling. In addition to their traditional purview in kids’ bedrooms and seafood restaurants, more workplaces and physicians’ offices sport tanks these days.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Melinda Fernyhough, Ph.D., a manager with the Hartz Mountain Corporation, recommends that a first collection encompass a variety of species that happily coexist, behave differently, and don’t lead to overcrowding. “It is best to error on the side of fewer fish; you can always add more,” she says. “A good initial combination can be darting petras, slower moving mollies and

guppies, interactive oscars, and plecostomus bottom feeders.”


For first-time bird guardians, “Consider starting off with a small bird, such as a parakeet, cockatiel or canary,” says Dr. John Simon, a veterinarian and owner of Woodside Animal Clinic, in Royal Oak, Michigan. “If you are more adventurous, consider what you desire most in a bird—how much talking you expect, its appearance, level of friendliness—and how much it will grow. Some larger breeds, such as Amazon parrots, macaws and cockatoos, can live 60 or 70 years, so your selection could remain in your family for generations. If you’re away a lot, consider housing two of the same breed; they can keep each other company.”

There’s no magic to producing a talker. “The more interaction, attention and mental stimulation, the happier the bird and greater inclination to talk,” advises Weiss. She suggests taking a bird out of its cage regularly and providing lead- and zinc-free mirrors, noisemakers and other toys to ward off boredom. Favorite gabbers include African greys, macaws and double-yellow-headed Amazons; cockatoos are more prone to imitate sounds.

Small Animals

While many rabbits do not like to be held and cuddled and hamsters can sometimes nip if awakened or startled, guinea pigs are typically friendly and often enjoy interaction with people. They can emit a charming chirp or “oink” sound when petted or touched.

Smaller rodents like gerbils, mice and rats love scurrying around their cages and “jogging” in wheels. Hamsters and rats are sometimes active at night, so their cages might not be suitable in bedrooms. Guinea pigs are more docile and sleep much more.

“These ‘pocket pets’ like fresh veggies to supplement their nutrition—green beans, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, spinach, arugula and green peppers,” advises Seattle-based Veterinarian Dr. Darla Rewers, owner of Ancient Arts Holistic Services. “Rabbits should get more of the lettuce-type greens, but limit the spinach, because it is high in calcium.”


Whether it’s the dinosaur-like appearance of an iguana, flicking tongue of a chameleon, intricate scale patterns of a snake or wise-looking turtle head, the exotic appearance of reptiles fascinates children. They take up little space inside a small aquarium and their lack of fur prevents potential allergic reactions. However, some reptiles need special lighting and specific amounts of water; maintaining proper levels of heat and humidity is vital to some of them in order to replicate their natural environment.

It’s best to learn as much as you can about a potential pet before bringing it home. Understanding species temperament, behavior patterns, maintenance needs, diet and average lifespan helps you know what to expect beforehand and ultimately to better enjoy your choice of the small-pet experience.

Find tips on small animal ownership and care at Hartz.com and AmericanPetProducts.org.

Randy Kambic, in Estero, FL, is a freelance writer and a copyeditor for Natural Awakenings.

Originally published in the May 2012 issue.

Sunset Yoga for Charity

Sunset Yoga for Charity classes meet from approximately 6:30 p.m. to sunset, every second and fourth Friday, through October. Practice is held on the grass of the bluff (bring your own mat) by the Marietta Johnson statues, just south of Fairhope Avenue in Fairhope.

For each session, a different yoga instructor donates his/her time to teach. Sunset Yoga for Charity participants make a freewill donation at each class. All funds raised are then given to the charity chosen by that week’s instructor. Proceeds from the May 11 class, led by Christina Caprez, will support the efforts of Share the Beach (AlabamaSeaTurtles.com), a local sea turtle rescue group. Amanda Brenner, will lead practice on May 25 and donate all proceeds to the Bay Area Food Bank (BayAreaFoodBank.org). The June and July classes will include 30 minutes of meditation before the yoga session begins.

Individuals of all experience levels are invited to participate. Organizer Billie Reinhart says, “Last year there were many people who made Sunset Yoga their very first yoga experience.”

The complete schedule of classes and charities is listed at MindAndMotionYoga.com, along with donation information for individuals who desire to make a contribution, but are unable to attend class.

Location: Fairhope Municipal Pier on the Bluff, Fairhope. For more information and schedule details, visit MindAndMotionYoga.com or call Reinhart at 251-379-4493.

Originally published in the May 2012 issue.

Yin Yoga Workshop at Yoga Birds

A special Yin Yoga workshop, led by Chuck Frenkel, will be held from 4 to 6 p.m., June 9, at Yoga Birds, in Fairhope. The cost is $35 before May 28 and $40 after. In this workshop, Frenkel will lead participants to explore the full range of Yin Yoga asanas (postures).

According to Frankel, “We will re-learn how to relax and become more mindful, while journeying inward and enjoying the moment. Yin yoga is a gentle yoga practice which focuses on loosening and stretching connective tissues, opening and restoring the joints and invoking a remarkable feeling of freedom and lightness in the body. It consists primarily of seated asanas that are held for a period of time, allowing gravity to do most of the work.”

As a Yoga Alliance-registered yoga teacher, Frenkel is currently participating in a 500-hour teacher training program with Sharyn Galindo, in Chicago, where he also teaches Ashtanga-based vinyasa flow and yin yoga.

Location: 209 S. Section St., Fairhope. For more information, call Rachel at 251-990-3447 or visit YogaBirds.com. See ad on page 39.

Originally published in the May 2012 issue.

Acupuncture Cools Hot Flashes

A small, yet intriguing study published in Acupuncture in Medicine found that traditional Chinese acupuncture curbed the severity of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Fifty-three middle-aged, postmenopausal women were divided into two groups; one received such treatments twice weekly for 10 weeks, while the other experienced “sham” acupuncture with blunt needles that did not penetrate the skin. In both groups, levels of estrogen and other hormones were measured before the study began and before and after the last session. Menopausal symptoms—hot flashes, vaginal dryness, urinary tract infections and mood swings—were also measured before and after the treatments, using a five-point menopause rating scale (MRS) in order to assess their severity.

At the end of the study, the women receiving Chinese acupuncture scored significantly lower on the MRS scale, with hot flashes seeing the sharpest decrease. The researchers explain that acupuncture boosts production of endorphins, which may stabilize the temperature control system of the body. They say that more investigation is needed because the study was small, but note that its results seem promising, suggesting that traditional Chinese acupuncture could be an alternative for women unable or unwilling to use hormone replacement therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms.

Originally publisher in the May 2012 issue.

The Write Way to Lose Weight

According to a new study published in Psychological Science, the right kind of writing may facilitate losing weight. Participating women were given a list of significant values including creativity, religion, music and relationships, and asked to rank them in order of personal importance. Half the women were asked to write for 15 minutes about the value most important to them; the other half wrote about a value not among their most highly preferred but that might be important to someone else. The first group lost an average of 3.4 pounds during the next few months, while the second group gained an average of 2.8 pounds. Researchers think the weight loss may be due to increased self-esteem and strengthened resolve.

Originally publisher in the May 2012 issue.

Mom-to-Mom Wisdom: Calming Advice for More ‘Good Days’ with Fretful Kids

by Beth Davis

Parenting has more than its share of stressful challenges, and today’s moms are often frustrated by conflicting advice. As families search for answers to daily issues, a more holistic and natural approach, known as conscious parenting, has been gaining momentum.

According to Lori Petro, founder of TEACH through Love, a child advocacy group and educational resource for progressive parents, conscious parenting comprises the spirit of cooperation, instead of traditional models of discipline and control. “We want to teach our children how to live in the world, explore, be creative, compassionate, learn appropriate expressions of emotion and think for themselves,” she says.

To help maximize the rewards for all, Natural Awakenings asked several forward-thinking moms for their best tips on how to handle some of parenting’s biggest challenges.

Surviving the First Year

As a certified Happiest Baby educator, mother of three and owner of Gummy Giggles Baby Boutique, in Yukon, Oklahoma, Lori Simmons provides parents with essential tools and knowledge to help calm unhappy babies. She notes that while dealing with a crying infant is simply part of being a parent, colic is a condition moms dread the most.

Making the baby feel as if he or she is still in the womb is key, she advises. “People try to not make any noise, but the reality is, babies often cry because it’s too silent.” She recommends swaddling the baby, swaying and shushing quietly in the baby’s ear—all to mimic the comforts of the womb.

The best advice that she gives any new parent is that it’s okay not to know everything. “Just listen to your instincts and understand that each child will learn and grow at his or her own pace,” she says. “Most importantly, relax and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Weathering Toddler Meltdowns

Petro says we can better meet the challenges of these years—including temper tantrums, biting, toilet training and sleep problems—if we understand these situations in the context of a child’s development. During early growth, exploration and change, children typically have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings, and that can prove overwhelming for everyone.

So, what can adults do in the middle of a toddler meltdown? First, remember that it’s the rare parent that hasn’t had to deal with a tired, cranky, screaming toddler. Simmons admits to having handled her share of tantrums. “They don’t understand their own frustration, so it’s difficult for parents to understand the reason for outbursts,” she observes. Her strategy is to take the stressed child out of the situation.

It helps to know that some hitting and biting is considered normal for toddlers, especially if they see it as an effective way to get what they want. Parents can put an end to it much the same way they deal with other inappropriate behavior, advises Petro. She suggests remaining calm, finding the root cause of the situation and acknowledging the child’s feelings and needs. Understanding why the child is doing it is crucial to making it stop. “Conscious parenting operates from the premise that all behavior is communication to meet a need,” she says.

Addressing Adolescence

According to Certified Life Coach Clare Seffrin Bond, although the adolescent years can be difficult, there’s plenty that parents can do to nurture teens and encourage responsible behavior. “The best parenting advice I ever received was from my mom, who encouraged me to grow into parenthood—taking it day by day, without the expectation that I would be proficient simply through the act of giving birth,” says this mother of two, in Richmond, Indiana.

Rewarding relationships come through accepting the notion that children are individuals living their own journey, rather than extensions of their parents. “What parents see or feel in a situation is not

necessarily what the child is experiencing,” Bond explains. “Taking the time to recognize the fact of individual realities can be huge in rethinking one’s approach to discipline.”

She recommends speaking to adolescents honestly—even when it’s painful—and listening to them, even when we may not want to hear, or believe, what they’re saying. “Stay in touch with the fact that your relationship with your children is absolutely huge in terms of their—and your— development as a happy and fulfilled person,” counsels Bond. “Work hard at remembering your own teen years, including the frustrations and disappointments. Empathy and respect are essential ingredients in successful human relationships at every age.”

To connect with Lori Petro, visit Teach- Through-Love.com; for Lori Simmons, GummyGiggles.com; and Clare Seffrin Bond, TheRoadToClarity.com. 

Beth Davis is a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings

Originally published in the May 2012 issue.