DOLE Packaged Foods Summit 2014

I had the honor of attending the DOLE Packaged Foods Summit this year! I’ve been working with Dole fresh for a couple of years now, and I’m really exciting to be working with Dole packaged as well. Dole packaged foods consists of frozen, canned, and other shelf stable items that make healthy eating on the go and in a hurry, simple and easy! I am loving some of their new products and can’t wait to share them with you below!

DAY 1:
All of the bloggers met at Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, California for a fun night of drinks and ton of food! Chef Ben Ford welcomed us to his fabulous restaurant with an endless amount of hors d’oeuvres!

Dole-Summit-2014-5Mixologist, Jordan from This Girl Walks Into A Bar created the perfect cocktails for our evening in Culver City. Each drink recipe was created with one DOLE packaged item! Her Pineapple Island Cocktail had DOLE Frozen Pineapple Chunks in place of ice for a sweet cooling addition to the drink. The Blueberry Vista Champagne Cocktail also had the addition of DOLE Frozen Blueberries at the bottom, and the Summer Golden Cocktail had delicious DOLE Pineapple Juice!

Dole-Summit-2014-7From left: Katie from Once A Month Meals, Nikki of Seeded at the Table, Chef Ben Ford, Ally from Ally’s Kitchen, Amelia of Eating Made Easy.

Dole-Summit-2014-9Of course I made some of the girls pose for ridiculous pictures haha. Instant friends! Katie from Once A Month Meals, Pattie of Living Mi Vida Loca, Chrystal from Duo Dishes, Nikki of Seeded at the Table and I!

Dole-Summit-2014-10Typical blogger summits equals everyone on social media at all times! #working

Dole-Summit-2014-12I love seeing other bloggers in their element! Pattie from Living Mi Vida Loca was so fun to watch, she is brilliant at arranging food for photographs!

Dole-Summit-2014-11I love hearing how everyone started their blogs! The best part of blogger summits for me is meeting everyone and hearing their personal stories. Some people started their blogs because they went to culinary school, some started because they were diagnosed with food allergies and restrictions, some are simply passionate about cooking, and some like me, started their blog because they lost weight! Each blogger at the summit brought a different strength to the group which was so fun to see.

Dole-Summit-2014-13Ally of Ally’s Kitchen was the winner of the 2013 DOLE California Cookoff recipe contest! She describes her style as “bohemian bold” and “peasant chic!” Loves her! Too cute!

Dole-Summit-2014-8Meet the bloggers!

Amelia: Eating Made Easy
Pattie: Living Mi Vida Loca
Ally: Ally’s Kitchen
Katie: Once A Month Meals
Kristy: The Wicked Noodle 
Leslie: Hungry Housewife 
Amy: Super Healthy Kids 
Nikki: Seeded at the Table
Chrystal: Duo Dishes
Sara: Average Betty

After a fun night at Ford’s Filling Station, we headed to the Four Seasons – Westlake Village to check in and rest up for the big day ahead.

DAY 2:
We woke up bright and early and headed across the street to the Dole headquarters, which is conveniently located just feet across the street from the Four Seasons.


Dole-Summit-2014-15Inside the DOLE headquarters there is a huge mural of fruits and vegetables in the heart of the building.

We had the pleasure of meeting Brad Bartlett, President of Dole Packaged Foods! He joined us for breakfast and the rat of the day at DOLE!
We ate breakfast outside and then gathered in the official DOLE test kitchen! This is where all of the DOLE recipes are made and well… tested!
I love bloggers, we are always on our phones social media-ing it up haha. I had to get a photo of this moment when we were literally all on Instagram sharing the new DOLE products with our followers!
One of my fav new DOLE products is DOLE Fruit Squich’ems. Applesauce may seem like a kid’s snack, but these are AWESOME. The BPA free squeeze pack is portable, mess free, and designed so you don’t need a spoon! The produce in DOLE Fruit Squish’ems use a rapid heating and cooling technique made by scientists at North Carolina State. This process kills microbes within 80 seconds which retains 90% of the original vitamins and nutrients versus other processes that have to heat produce for 15 minutes which lowers nutrients and alters taste. This is a brand new technology that doesn’t exist in any products in a grocery store besides these! DOLE wants their products to have the least amount of processing as possible while making it safe to consume from the shelf.

Squish’em Tip: Freeze your DOLE Squish’ems for a slushy like sweet treat, or freeze and throw into your kids lunch boxes in place of ice packs!

Another favorite product is the new DOLE Shakers. A.K.A. the blender-less smoothie! You may have seen tehese in the frozen fruit aisle of your grocery store, but these are the new and improved Shakers – now with Greek yogurt AND vegetables! As you guys know, I’m addicted to smoothies, especially smoothies with veggies added in! This is a suer convenient way to get a serving of fruit, veggies, and protein rich greek yogurt when you’re on the go and don’t have time to use your blender! All you do is fill it with your juice of choice, shake shake shake, and you have a perfectly blended fruit & veggie smoothie!
Inside of the Shakers are tiny frozen beads of pre-blended fruits, veggies, and Greek yogurt, kind of like Dippin’ Dots! Since I have a severe berry allergy, I was SOOO happy to find a flavor that I could enjoy! I’m obsessed with the new Pineapple and Mango flavor, which also includes sweet potato and carrots!
We all filled our Shakers with DOLE Pineapple Juice, but I actually love using fresh orange juice in mine!
Amelia and Kristy shaking it up!
Another new product that I was super stoked about are the DOLE Fruit & Oatmeal instant oatmeal cups! Unlike other instant oatmeals that contain dehydrated fruit, these come with fruit packed in 100% fruit juice on top! After heating the oatmeal mixture with water, you pour the fresh fruit and juice into the cup and stir it in!
Have you ever wondered why DOLE Pineapple Juice is in a can and never a plastic bottle? I have! and I learned why at the DOLE Summit! DOLE stores their Pineapple Juice in a can to avoid exposure from light which alters the color os fresh juices. Look at a competitor’s pineapple juice on the left and the fresh DOLE Pineapple Juice on the right! the other brand looks like apple juice!
A very very exciting announcement: Dole is coming out with DOLE Garden Soups! They have short ingredient lists and are made with natural ingredients! We got to sample the Roasted Garlic Tomato Basil soup, and it was to die for. I’m a HUGE fan of tomato soup, and this flavor did not let me down! I cannot wait for these to hit the shelves.
I had no idea until the summit, but Dole acquired one of my favorite snack companies Mrs. May’s! I used to be addicted to their Cashew Crunch!
The Mrs. May’s Crispy Veggie Chips are so good. They’re unlike any “vegetable chips” I’ve had before. They’re made from real vegetables, not vegetable blends, and they’re perfect seasoned and crunchy! We ate the entire bag by the end of the presentation haha.
After sampling all of the new DOLE packaged foods products in the test kitchen, we all headed to the DOLE cafeteria for lunch. Their cafeteria is really incredible. It’s the healthiest corporate cafeteria I’ve ever been to – everything is made to order, and nothing is pre-made. There were tons of vegetarian and vegan options, and an abundance of fresh produce. If I worked at DOLE HQ, I would never eat anywhere else. Wait until you see my veggie wrap from lunch, you will agree!
Veggie wrap with hummus, roasted red bell peppers, spinach, chopped tomatoes, avocado, and shredded mozzarella wrapped up in a sundries tomato tortilla and lightly grilled in a panini press.
After lunch, we walked back across the street to our hotel for some R&R, and I mean real R&R! The DOLE team treated us to spa treatments at the hotel. It was such a dream, and I am so spoiled from the realizing massage.

Once we all finished our spa treatments, we walked down the street to Lure Fish House where they had a special menu prepared for our DOLE Blogger Summit.
I had the most incredible Organic Tuscan Kale Salad. Chopped raw kale mixed with carrots, quinoa, wild rice, red peppers, green onion, and red grapes. Mixed in shaved parmesan and toasted sunflower seeds and tossed with a citrus champagne vinaigrette. Still drooling over here!
The best part of blogger summits is the ridiculous amount of food photos that we all take, and we all understand. We will literally let our food get cold until we get “the perfect shot.” My family usually tells me to put my phone away, but these ladies get it! I also love the amount of selfies that went on during the summit! Katie and Ally to “selfie” to a whole new level! So cute!
Halfway through dinner, I looked over to see Pattie staging a photo of her dinner with candles from the table for lighting! Amaze!
DAY 3:
I have to say that Day 3 was my favorite day of the summit! We met at the California Health & Longevity Institute Wellness Kitchen where Paulette Lambert, R.D., CDE prepared us breakfast made from DOLE packaged products! The Wellness Kitchen is absolutely stunning. I’ve decided that I NEED a chandelier in my kitchen ASAP! How stunning is the light? Swoon.

Breakfast consisted of a Detox Smoothie, Almond Date Energy Bars, Blintze Soufflé, and Spiced Quinoa Breakfast Porridge.
The Almond Date Energy Bars were my absolute favorite. I will share the recipe with you guys so you can make them too!
After breakfast we took a walk to the California Health & Longevity Institute while Miss Ally prepared for her cooking demo!
Ally is a total rockstar in the kitchen! She cooked up a gorgeous DOLE Jerusalem Fruit Tabouleh.
Kristy photographing Ally’s dish!
Next up we watched Paulette Lambert, R.D., CDE cook our lunch. I LOVE LOVE LOVED watching and listening to Paulette talk about each ingredient she used and WHY she used it! When I make recipes with kind of funky ingredients, I love sharing why that certain food is good for you and how it benefits your health, and that is exactly how Paulette cooks as well! I was mesmerized watching her chop and cook 5 dishes at the same time!
As Paulette cooked, we sipped on Pineapple Apricot Bellinis!
Loved seeing a Vitamix in the Wellness Kitchen!
Below are the finished lunch dishes by Paulette Lambert, R.D., CDE! Recipes to each dish are coming to you this week! Check back each day for a new DOLE recipe from the summit!

Gingered Carrot & Orange Soup
Beet & Mandarin Orange Salad
Thai Pineapple Fried Rice with Crispy Tofu
Dark Cherry Buttermilk Cake
Saying good bye to everyone from the DOLE Summit was so hard! I just adored all of the bloggers and am crossing my fingers that I see some of the girls at the Dole Cookoff in Santa Monica! Have any of you bunnies submitted a recipe for the contest?! The grand prize is $25,000!
Stay tuned all week long as I post recipes from the DOLE Summit!
Health & Happiness
xo Catherine

Disclaimer: Dole Summit was a sponsored event. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Big Bear Ski Trip

Last weekend I went to big bear with a huge group of 11 friends! Southern California got a “huge storm” so we were hoping for a nice dump of powder, but to our surprise, the “biggest storm of the season” brought about 1 inch that melted when we arrived! The weekend was so much fun, great memories and countless laughs! I brought my GoPro along and videoed a bunch of runs on the mountain, there are so epic falls and hilarious commentary that I can’t get over. Oh, and my skis were stolen. GOOD TIMES!

Big Bear 28These gift with purchase Victoria’s Secret duffles are the best weekend bags!

Processed with VSCOcamMy go to travel snacks:
Peanut Butter & Jelly Larabar  //  Tarragon Dijon Kale Krunch by Alive & Radiant  //  Apple & Pear That’s It. Bar  //  Chobani Simply 100 Pineapple Greek Yogurt  //  Trader Joe’s Roasted Coconut Chips  //  bkr glass bottle  //  Banana  //  Apple

I love all of these items because they’re shelf stable (minus the yogurt that I ate right when I got in the car), but not overly processed or junk. There’s something for every type of texture, sweetness, or savoriness that I may crave. I’ve been addicted to these Roasted Coconut Chips from Trader Joe’s lately. They are really similar to the Dang Foods Toasted Coconut Chips that I discovered a couple of weeks ago. Not only are these snacks portable, easy to eat while driving/traveling, but they’re also great for you. Each snack is made from whole natural ingredients which are full of nutritional value.

Big Bear 31Half of us on our way to Big Bear for the weekend. Guess who drove? Yours truly!

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Big Bear 27View from our cabin.

Big Bear 6Off to go skiing the next morning!

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Big Bear 24Kat, Beth, & Jessica getting ready to walk to the mountain.

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Big Bear 9
Big Bear 10Julio and his sweet Dr. Pepper board.

Big Bear 11Chiristia and her natural swagger.

photo 6About to take the GoPro down the slopes!

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Big Bear 4
Big Bear 5Josh and I on the lift. We were the only 2 skiers out of 11 people. I’d like to say that we are WAY cooler than the rest of the gang. jkjk. But really, skiers are so much better!!! hahaha. “Skies for life” -Johnny Tsunami

Big Bear 13Christia & Corey gearing up.

Big Bear 2
Big Bear 1
Big Bear 25This little one was too cute!

Big Bear 14Corey, Beth, Josh, & Steph taking a ski break.

Big Bear 15
Big Bear 16Steph & Charity getting their grub on.

Big Bear 17Jess getting pumped up for snowboarding.

Big Bear 3Christia and I being snow bunnies. This was right before my skis were stolen. As you can see, they are right behind me in this photo. The short little white ones to the left of my head!!! Ughhhh. Everyone stayed at our table while Steph & I left the group for 10 minutes, came back, and my skis were gone and replaced with someone else’s! Rrrrr! I was actually pretty calm but bummed more than anything because all I wanted to do was ski! I went to the Bear Mountain Rental Shop and they actually loaned me a free pair of skis for the rest of the day! Thanks Bear!!! You saved my day!

Big Bear 19
Big Bear 20
Big Bear 18
Big Bear 21Christia, Corey & I on the chairlift.

Big Bear 22
Big Bear 26Packing the car up at the end of the weekend to head home. We had so much shiz you would’ve thought we were going on a 2 week trip haha.

What are your favorite travel snacks?

2014 So Far

I feel like I haven’t done a personal update for a looonnngggg time, and I realized this when someone left a comment asking if I went blonde. Well… yes I went blonde at the beginning of January! I had been wanting to go lighter for a while and finally went for it after the new year. I’ve posted multiple photos of my new locks on Instagram but completely neglected to post my array of selfies on my blog haha. So for those of you who are interested in my new hurrr and what I’ve been up to, here it is!

2014 So Far 1
My obsession with green juice and green smoothies is still going strong. My favorite juice is the Greenie from Nekter Juice Bar! Parsley, spinach, kale, celery, cucumber, lemon and apple.
2014 So Far 2
2014 So Far 3
Fav green smoothie recipe is still my RFFMBT Simple Green Smoothie.
2014 So Far 4
I did my very first back-to-back spin class at Full Psycle!!! I came out of my 6:30pm class, ran into my friend Blake and he said “do the hip hop class at 7:30 with me!” In my head I was like no way Jose, I just finished pedaling my heart out for 45 minutes, I am d.o.n.e. but then one of the founders/instructors, Shelly overheard Blake and I and said “Catherine, if you take the next class, it will be the first sold out hip hop class of 2014!” So of course I gave in, grabbed the last open bike at the front of class and gave it my all! I actually did BETTER in the second class! I think it’s because my legs were warmed up, and I had tons of endorphins and energy after class #1! I kept my Polar HRM going and burned 1,879 calories between both classes! DAYUMMM! For anyone who may ask, my watch is a Polar RC3 with GPS. I have a full review of the watch here.
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Earned myself 2 Full Psycle Raglan shirts for those 2 back-to-back classes! Great milestone in my workout journey!
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I took advantage of the CA heat wave and went Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) for the first time with my friend Blake! We had SO much fun, it’s a great core, arm, and back workout! Of course I had to sport that FP Raglan shirt that I earned the day before! My bow bikini bottoms are by a local company called LOlli Swim. They were limited edition Minnie Mouse themed, but LOlli has some other beyond adorable bow bottoms in stores and online!
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I also took my very first Pilates class at Core Reform in the beginning of January. I started taking a few semi-private lessons with my friend Taryn so that we could learn the proper form on the reformer. I highly recommend doing this. Reformer Pilates classes might seem intimidating, but if you take a couple of private lessons (or at least one) to understand how it works, it makes the classes much better! I was hooked after my first class, bought a month of unlimited classes and have been going 4 times a week! My abs hurt so good!
2014 So Far 10
Of course I’m still obsessed with spin at Full Psycle and go 6 days a week! I’ve been loving alternating spin and Pilates throughout the week since my legs get pretty stiff from cycling. Pilates has really helped!
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Last month I also took Teddy to Corgi Beach Day in Huntington Beach!
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Last week my friend and fellow health & fitness blogger Kayleigh (Okay Fitness) and I took her adorable little munchkin nephew to Disneyland! Taking a toddler to Disneyland and pushing a stroller around the cobblestone streets in the park is a workout in itself. Mad respect to all of the mommas out there who do this!
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Other obsessions in 2014: slouchy beanies and lipstick. Bright bold lips that give you confidence and make you feel girly! Sorry I’m to sorry for all of the selfies! February is the month of self love! I guess it’s less awk than asking my friends to take photos of me? haha.
Processed with VSCOcamAbove Lipstick: Lime Crime Velvetine in Red Velvet
Lip Liner: Mac lip liner pencil in Cherry
Top Coat: Covergirl Natureluxe gloss balm in Anemone 225

Processed with VSCOcamAbove Lipstick: Revlon Colorburst Lipstick in Fuscia 030
Lip Liner: Covergirl Lip Perfection Lip Liner in Splendid 235

Last night I had a serious moment! I made a new PR in spin at Full Psycle. #1 out of all of the girls, #4 all around, and 2 away from 500 total energy!!! This was a huge huge accomplishment for me and I still have a smile on my face today! My very first class on 7/8/13, my total energy was 158 kilojoules and my average power was 69! HOLY GUACAMOLE, that’s an enormous difference. I cannot believe how strong I have gotten!!! I’ve noticed a huge change in my mood, overall happiness, and body composition since starting spin and Pilates!

2014 So Far 17
So far, 2014 has been all about stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things! Have you tried a new workout or healthy recipe since the beginning of 2014? Let me know!

Health & Happiness
xo Catherine

You’re only one workout away from a good mood!

Today I wanted to talk about exercising and the happiness that it brings.

I’ve never been a huge fan of working out. A few years ago, if you gave me the option of going to the gym or watching a movie on the couch, I would say “movie on the couch” in a heartbeat. I have to admit that I still have these moments, but they are far more rare.

One workout away from a good mood 5

It can take a lot of energy and strength to get yourself back on track and exercising, but once you do, you are unstoppable!

I’ve recently realized that working out makes me a much nicer and happier person. No matter how hard my workout is at the time, or how much my quads are burning, or if my heart is racing so fast I think I’m going to die in spin class, it’s only an hour of my day. It’s only a tiny fraction of my day being uncomfortable and pushing my limits until I am in an excellent over the moon happy mood. And to be quite honest, sometimes I think of the men and women training in the armed forces for inspiration to push through. If they can survive bootcamp, I can make it through 1 hour of exercising!

Sometimes I spend too much time in my head and I am so darn hard on myself. I beat myself up for not being as “perfect” as others. The more I compare myself and my body to others, the more depressed I get. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. The only way to get out of my own head and stop comparing is to focus on me, and me only. How do I do this? I workout.

I love who I am after I workout. I love that my mind is clear and my thoughts are all positive. I’m proud of myself for getting to the studio and being there. I’m proud of myself for not giving up when I’m at my limit. I’m proud of myself for pushing through and completing the workout. I’m surprised and amazed by how strong my body is and what it is capable of accomplishing. I love that I feel stronger and stronger after each class. I am grateful for this strong body that I have worked so hard for. I am proud of myself, and that makes me the happiest.

In the past couple of weeks, I have really stepped out of my comfort zone.
I took my first ever pilates reformer class, I took back-toback spin classes, and I sat in the front row. I even did a two-a-day three-a-day completely unplanned because I felt so great and energetic! All of the above make me so happy and proud! Was I excellent at pilates? Heck no! I practically folded into a pretzel during one of the workouts. Was I ranked #1 on the leaderboard at spin class? Not even close! But I showed up, I worked my butt off, I never took a break, and I smiled bigger than ever before after that workout.

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I’ve realized that so much of my happiness comes from stepping out of my comfort zone and the feeling of accomplishment after I do so. As I have talked about before, I struggle with depression. But I don’t like who I am when I’m depressed. Last time I bought at a light therapy lamp to try to treat my depression, it helped me feel better. But no matter how comfortable I get being isolated from the world and in my own head, I know that’s not who I am. I’m loud, funny, obnoxious, extremely energetic, and full of life. And when I’m down, that’s my inspiration to get happy. No matter how deep down the rabbit hole I may be, I know that that Catherine is just peeking out from the top. No matter how awful working out may seem at the time, I know that as soon as I get on that spin bike and the instructor says my name that a little spark in me ignites and the happy me is there. Even when I think I can’t make it through, I know that fitness is 100% mental. That my body wont go where my mind doesn’t push it. My body hears everything that my mind says, so I must think of positive things and believe in myself that I can do anything and it will happen. It really will.

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It’s incredible how powerful the mind is, how strong our bodies are, and how a bad day can change from some measly little endorphins after a workout. I want to continue this routine that I am in because this is by far the happiest I’ve been in a long time, and it has nothing to do with my body. I say this with the biggest smile: I am so proud of myself! Instead of being down on myself for stupid little things, I am so proud of what I have accomplished. I am proud of being healthy, having a career that I love, and for pushing through the low points and lemons that life hands me.

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I am here with one purpose, to inspire you. I hope that today, you sign up for a group exercise class or something that you have been too afraid to try in the past. I often hear the same things from so many people about trying spin for the first time. “I’m so out of shape, I’m scared I won’t be able to keep up.” “Everyone in class is going to be so fit and I look so heavy.” “I don’t know what I’m doing.” If you have ever thought of any of the above before, let me tell you that none of that matters. NONE OF IT. No one cares what you look like, no one judges you for being in the studio and working out. Every single person in that studio has been in your position. Everyone there went to spin for the first time not knowing what they were getting into. Heck, half of the people might have been overweight or out of shape when they first started! Maybe that’s where their life changed and they fell in love with working out? You never know! No one at the studio is going to care what you’re wearing or what you look like. To be honest, they are probably too busy trying to make it through the workout to care or even notice! Step out of your comfort zone and go for it! After all, you’re only one workout away from a good mood.

Health & Happiness xo

Natural Delights Medjool Date Summit

With a quick hop, skip, and a jump, I boarded a plane from LAX en route to YUM. Yes, that is the actual abbreviation for Yuma International Airport. YUM couldn’t be any more perfect for a food blogger summit! Even better, the mountains surrounding the Yuma area are called the Chocolate Mountains. Uh-mazing. As you can already tell, this was a food filled adventure! After my previous collaborations working with Natural Delights Medjool Dates I was invited to attend their first ever blogger summit in Yuma, Arizona. It was nothing but delightful. ha. ha. pun definitely intended.

Let’s start off with why I LOVE Medjool Dates so much:

  • They are naturally sweet – Medjool dates are naturally sweet and contain no added sugar, making them an ideal alternative to artificial and processed sweeteners.
  • They help protect against cancer – Medjool dates are filled with polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against the oxidation and inflammation of cells that can lead to cancer. Medjool dates contain more antioxidants than blackberries, plums and apples.
  • They help stabilize blood sugar levels – Medjool dates rate low to low/medium on the Glycemic Index (GI). A low-GI carb diet keeps glucose and insulin levels stable, helping maintain sustained energy and a healthy weight.
  • They make you feel fuller for longer – Medjool dates are loaded with dietary fiber. Just one-quarter cup of Medjools provides 12 percent of the daily requirement of fiber and helps satisfy between-meal cravings.
  • They can reenergize – Rich in potassium, manganese and other important minerals, Medjools help balance blood sodium levels and release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates.
  • They are a healthy snack – Medjool dates are a no-fat and no-cholesterol treat, making them ideal for snacking.
  • They help fight against “bad” cholesterol – Medjool dates help lower LDL cholesterol levels, which decreases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
  • They can ease labor and deliveries in pregnant women – A study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicated that pregnant women who consumed six Medjool dates for four weeks prior to their estimated delivery date had easier labors with fewer complications.
  • They help lower blood pressure – Medjool dates are also dense in copper, Vitamin B6, niacin, calcium, iron and Vitamin K, making it the perfect addition to the DASH diet, which is proven to lower blood pressure.
  • They have a long shelf life – Medjool dates have a shelf life of 30 days when stored at room temperature – making them ideal for travel and enjoying at work, home or play.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-41In attendance were these fineeeee bloggers:
Very front: Beth Atkinson from DGWB – thanks for the pic, girl!
Second Row (from left): Cynthia David – Cynthia David Blog, Caroline Edwards – Chocolate and Carrots, Me!
Third Row: Theresa Albert – My Friend in Food, Nicole Hamaker – Pinch My Salt, Kim Nguyen – Lovin’ From The Oven
Back row : Alyssa Brantley – Everyday Maven, Jackie Bruchez – The Seaside Baker

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-3I arrived in Yuma to sunny skies at a warm 103 degrees and tons of Natural Delights goodies in my air conditioned  hotel room!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-6Night one started with a happy hour full of Medjool date appetizers like mascarpone stuffed dates, and sweet Medjool date salsa.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-37After happy hour we made our way to Glen Vandervoort’s house for a beautiful dinner with other Bard Valley Medjool Date growers and their families. The Medjool date appetizers continued with prosciutto wrapped dates, and an olive date tapenade that was to die for. Just think, salty sweet deliciousness. I will be sharing the original recipe with you this week!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-4I came home from dinner to turndown and a box of Bard Date Company chocolate covered dates from Dave & Debbie Mansheim’s shop Basket Creations and More. They are like chocolate covered raisins, but better. Much better! Want to make some chocolate covered dates similar to these? Try this recipe for Medjool Date Pecan Chocolate Truffles!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-7The next morning, we all met in the conference room for breakfast, history of Natural Delights Medjool Dates, and a rundown of their current and upcoming products.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-38Natural Delights is now offering Snack Packs of Medjool dates and their super popular date rolls. I love the convenience of these mini bags. They make for a great healthy on the go snack! I actually wish these would be in the check out lines at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. I would definitely grab mini bags of fresh Medjool dates versus a bag of candy any day!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-24Glen Vandervoort brought us freshly harvested medjool dates straight off of his tree for us to try during breakfast. Words cannot even describe how divine fresh dates are. They literally taste like caramel. For the rest of the day, all we (the bloggers) could talk about was how insanely amazing the fresh dates were!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-33After breakfast we visited the medjool date gardens!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-26We had the opportunity to go up in the cherry picker and harvest dates from a 30ft tree.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-25Safety First! Andrew Costanza: Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association’s Director of Compliance and Standards got us in our sweet harnesses before going up in the trees. How fab do Alyssa (Everyday Maven) and Kim (Lovin’ From The Oven) look?!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-28When dates are growing, they are covered in cloth bags to prevent birds from eating them, and any from falling to the ground. In order to harvest dates we shook the bags, untied the string holding the bag together at the bottom, and then let the ripened dates fall out of the bag and onto a tray.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-31Once the dates fall onto the trays, they are checked and sorted depending on their ripeness. As you can see the yellow date closest to the front is not yet ripe, the date in the center is only partly ripe, and the  last one is just perfect.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-30Theresa (My Friend in Food) sorting through her pile of harvested Medjool dates.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-29Beth from DGWB harvesting dates with the bloggers!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-32“The Big Six”
Did you know that Medjool dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world? I bet you wouldn’t have guessed they have been around for 8,000 years! In 1927, eleven Medjool date trees were brought over from Morocco to escape disease. Of these 11 trees, nine were brought to Bard Valley and six still remain today. All 250,000+ Medjool date trees in Bard Valley can be traced back to “The Big Six.” Kind of amazing if you ask me!
Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-34Me standing with one of “The Big Six” Medjool date trees. As you can tell, they are soooo tallll!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-23After frolicking in the date gardens, we arrived at Datepac, LLC., where all of Natural Delights Medjool Dates are packaged for you! I loved the vase of pens in their front office with non other than date pits! Who needs rice or beans, right? Hilarious!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-1Health and safety required us to wear these super chic hairnets and visitor passes while inside. #lunchladychic

IMG_7859 While at Datepac, we watched the dates make their way from being washed to sealed up in their packages.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-21After being washed, the dates go one by one down a conveyer belt which takes individual photos of each date with a fancy shmancy state of the art camera. Once the computer system receives each image, it determines the date’s size. A brief puff of air then blows each date onto next next conveyer belt according to it’s size. So high tech!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-19The packing grade scale doesn’t just go by size. It actually goes from highest quality and largest date, down to lowest quality and smallest date. The quality is determined by how tight or puffy the skin of the date is.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-36It was amazing to see how much of the process was actually done by hand. In order to sort the dates, it must be done by (extremely clean) bare hands to feel the skin’s texture.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-16We even got a chance to sort the dates and see if we could tell the difference between jumbo, large, extra fancy, fancy, mini, and confection.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-18After dates are sorted, they go to the packaging area.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-20Dates on dates on dates.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-17 Another fun part of Datepac that we got to explore was the Date Roll area! We watched them make some fresh pistachio date rolls. The lower quality (not so pretty, but still tasty) dates are ground up (kind of like sausage), rolled in their topping, and then sliced up and packaged.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-15After our tour of Datepac, we had a beautful lunch at River City Grill. The restaurant made us a special lunch filled with, you guessed it: Natural Delights Medjool Dates! Lunch started with Bacon Wrapped Dates and Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Next up was a fresh Salad with Juicy Pears and Chopped Medjool Dates. For the main course, I chose a Medjool Date & Pesto Pasta. Our decadent lunch concluded with Date Caramelized Crème Brulée. Ohh my tummy was so happy!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-14Once we got back to the hotel from lunch, we had a social media break for a couple of hours before our next event. Andrew (Director of Compliance and Standards) asked if any of us wanted to go on a spontaneous trip to the sand dunes in California. Funny because we were staying in Arizona! Five of us we’re up for the adventure, and away we went!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-9The sand dunes were absolutely gorgeous.

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-8On our little adventure, we also made a quick stop in Mexico. Just kidding! Kind of…

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-13We were so close to the border. No joke! We were in Arizona, California, and Mexico all within 15 minutes! Andrew dared us to go and poke our fingers between the border fence, but none of us took the dare, haha! The sign was a bit intimidating!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-12Kim from Lovin’ From The Oven!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-11Cynthia (Cynthia David Blog), Kim (Lovin’ From The Oven), Theresa (My Friend in Food), Me, and  Caroline (Chocolate and Carrots).

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-39After our trip to Mexico (ha) it was time for a Date Shake Competition! All of the bloggers were randomly paired into groups of two and we had a huge variety of ingredients to use. Nicole (Pinch My Salt) and I made a “Bananaccino” with 10 different ingredients. Not exaggerating, there were actually 10 odd ingredients in there! It was…interesting to say the least! Unfortunately, Nicole and I didn’t win, but we had a great time anyways!

Natural-Delights-Medjool-Date-Summit-2013-5After our wild adventure to Mexico and Date Shake Competition, we had our final fiesta at  Tina’s Cocina with Private Chef Alex Trujillo. Our extravagant dinner was made table side in the back of a historic church. We got to sip on Prickly Pear Margaritas and enjoy each other’s company while watching Chef Trujillo prepare our dinner! The endless courses started off with Baked Brie and Medjool Date Jam on crostini and five courses later ended with a Sweet Medjool Date Tamale with Coconut Rum Sorbet. It was a fabulous ending to a delicious summit.

Medjool Date Summit, Yuma, AZ | -3108The next morning a few of us who had later flights went on a tour of the Yuma Territorial Prison. 3:10 To Yuma, anyone?
Me, Caroline (Chocolate and Carrots), Kim (Lovin’ From The Oven), Nicole (Pinch My Salt), and Beth (DGWB) behind bars! Ahhh!

I had the absolute best time at the Natural Delights Medjool Date Summit. Every little detail of the summit was perfectly thought out and planned for us. Thank you so much to Erin Hanagan for finding all of the amazing venus in Yuma, to Dave Anderson for getting us everywhere promptly and keeping us with the schedule down to the second, to Glen Vandervoort and family for opening up your home to us, to Andrew Costanza for taking us to Mexico and back in one piece, to Dave & Debbie Mansheim for the Chocolate Covered Dates, to Ed O’Malley for the perfect tour of Datepac (and for remembering me from the PBH Conference!), to Jim Freimuth and Chris Nielsen for teaching us about organic dates, Steve for all of the great photos, and last but not least, thank you to Beth Atkinson from DGWB for organizing this incredible summit and having an answer to EVERY question! You guys are all Natural Delights! This is near the top of my list of favorite blogger summits I have ever attended. Of course it would not be the same without all of the hilarious, sweet, brilliant, creative bloggers that were a part of it. So many delightfully tasty memories!

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