Monday, November 19, 2012


It’s that time of year again, Thanksgiving, the Holidays, cocktail parties, celebrations at the office, casual get-togethers, potlucks, and so on. This means LOTS of food and drink. YES! We have all heard the expression: “you taste with your eyes first”. Naturally, besides possibly sound, or smell it is the initial sensorial experience you have with food, even before touching or tasting it. Therefore, it should be on the top of the list to make your food look it’s best. I know this is true as my 3.5 year old son very immediately points out that if something on his plate does not look visually appealing that he is not going to eat it because it is “yucky”…even before tasting it. It doesn’t get any more honest than that. Now I know he is 3.5 and not truly looking at the food as a presentation piece but it does tell me that the way your food looks matters and can make a difference in the way people eat. Although I do this as my career as a Food Stylist you DO NOT have to be a professional to apply some of the fundamentals of Food Styling to your own creations. Food is an art, one that taps into all senses. So go ahead and explore your inner artist and try out some of these tips for “styling” your food. Your family and friends will savor it even more.

--COLOR: This is an easy one. Color is pretty and can add so much to a boring, “blah” looking dish. It is easy to amp up the color in any dish and usually more healthful! If a recipe calls for bell pepper use a variety of different colored ones. If you are doing a green salad add some radicchio. Roasted potatoes use purple, or sweet, or a mixture. A drink, add a colorful garnish. Contrasting colors and a variety of them are good, even different variations on the same color are more appealing than a monotone palate. Adding some fresh chopped tomatoes to your pesto sauce adds color and depth of flavor…win/win!

--TEXTURE: Not only is adding texture to your food going to enhance its visual appeal it will also add flavor and dimension to the mouth feel. This is best achieved by adding complimentary and contrasting ingredients or a variation of ingredients to a dish.  Adding toasted nuts or dried fruit to a salad gives it more layers of flavor and aesthetic interest.  Serving a smooth soup with a crusty crouton or toasted pumpkin seeds gives you contrast. Or simply cutting things in a different shape can add interest. If you have made a dish with lots of texture as you serve it make sure those things are showing. Things may drop to the bottom or end up hiding under something else. Don’t worry, this time it is O.K. to play with your food, pull some of those things out to the top, make sure that you can see them and they are identifiable. 

--ARRANGMENT: Artfully arranging food on a plate or serving vessel is key. Instead of just dumping the food, be mindful of how it is going to end up. Smooth out the top, slice and fan out the meat, mix things in another bowl then pour into the serving dish and clean up the edges. Stack things, lean things on each other, height can be good, and I don’t mean an architectural project just lift things up a bit. Swirl a little extra sauce on top, or start with the sauce on the bottom as a bed for the food to lie on, peeking out around the sides. Odd numbers usually work better than even when arranging larger items. Another way to present is to “compose”. A tossed salad looks like a big jumble, if you artfully arrange each of the components it looks like, well, art and intentional.
DISHWARE: can also play a roll in the beautiful presentation of food. Make sure the vessel “fits” the contents. Use different colors, shapes, and things made of different materials such as glass, ceramic, baskets and wood…mix and match!

--GARNISHING: I worked in lots of restaurants in my life time and back in the day the signature garnish for every plate was chopped parsley and diced red bell pepper sprinkled on the rim of every plate or an orange round twisted into an “S” shape with a sprig of curly parsley. LAME!  Garnishing can be as simple as some whole or chopped fresh herbs, topping with an ingredient that already exists in the dish, or adding something to a platter that is just beautiful, like kumquats or figs on a Turkey platter. Beverages almost always benefit from a garnish and can be an essential part of the drink itself.

--GO WITH YOUR INSTINCTS: I have a tendency to overthink things, well… just about everything. Sometimes when I am working I could mess with the food literally forever as I can always see a better way to do it or the more I move things around the more I can see that I can change or improve upon. I have to stop myself sometimes and I have come to realize that sometimes if I just let things happen almost naturally they look better. They may need some tweaks or clean up but the overall effect seems more REAL. And that is what we are talking about here. Real people eating real food, we are just enhancing it a bit or paying a bit more attention to detail. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Lesson here: less is usually more!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012


 Thanksgiving is next week. It is a wonderful day to step back and be mindful and appreciative of all the things you have. It is key to remember the IMPORTANT things like family, community, the Earth and just simply be thankful that you have food to eat. And if like most on Thanksgiving there will be lots of food, probably too much. I am listing a few ways to help you be more aware and have a more sustainable Turkey Day (even if it’s without turkey!). And hey, these things can apply all year round!

--Buy a Heritage Turkey:
Why? They taste better, are humanely raised, you help a farmer and the breed itself from extinction! If you can’t find one look on: They can help you locate one in your area. There are plenty of online sources that will ship but keeping in the “local” spirit and all that it is good for, you can also ask around at your local farmer’s market. I know that the place I buy all my meat from, Riverview Farms, was offering them this year.  However, you usually have to order them in advance. If you have missed the deadline…at least you know for next year and can plan accordingly OR there are other options. Buy a Certified Organic/Certified Naturally Grown, Pastured, or at least Free Range bird. These are all better options than the mega-mart, self-basting (what does that even mean?), super injected, industrialized birds. Support those dying breeds!!!

--Be Turkey Free:  
I know this may seem crazy and out of the question but consider it, even if for a moment. The reason is the factory farming of livestock is usually inhumane to the animals as well as the workers and accounts for a ridiculous amount of the world’s greenhouse emissions. I get mostly excited about all the side dishes anyways that the poor turkey gets way over shadowed on my plate. And then of course there is dessert.
Go veggie, so many options and more than enough for a grand meal. For some ideas:

--Smart Shopping:
-Hit your PANTRY/GARDEN first. Odds are you may have quite a few of the ingredients you need for your dishes already. Or if nothing else you may be inspired by an already existing but -has been hiding in your pantry- item! I do it all the time!
-Go to your Farmer’s Market. They have the best, freshest, in season, LOCAL produce out there and usually good tips and recipes on how to cook their goods. Just ask.
-Buy ORGANIC. Your food dollars talk and the food is better for you. I know Thanksgiving is a big day and can be an expensive meal. If you can’t buy all organic check out: for the list of MUST buy organic produce. Save a few bucks on the others.
--Use whole ingredients or buy from bulk bins, I know it is tempting to take short cuts but making food from scratch is certainly more healthful and much less wasteful from a packaging stand point.

--Get Help:
Who says you have to do it all? I get it. I am a control freak and I like MY menu, and the way I make MY sweet potatoes but everyone has strengths and you should hone in on that to help take a little pressure off. Do what you can do and have other’s bring something. Aunt Mary is a good baker; have her bring dessert. Uncle Al is terrible in the kitchen, he can bring wine or beer (preferably LOCAL), see where I
am going here?

--Have a Waste-Free Meal:
--DISHES, I hate doing dishes and I have found myself in a career that they are always there and never ending. Thanksgiving is a day full of dishes but PLEASE don’t go disposable. The landfills have had their fill and whatever we can do to keep more going in the better. If you must do disposable choose eco-friendly, compostable or bio-degradable options such as:
--COMPOST: another way to keep more from going into the landfills (another source of global warming causing greenhouse emissions) and oh, so good for your garden!
--Plan for your LEFTOVERS: my mom always reminds me to bring containers to bring home my leftovers, encourage your guests to do the same or check out these ideas for reincarnating all that leftover food:

--Have fun and Enjoy the Moment:
Whether you are doing all the work, just showing up to eat, or kicking it alone try and truly take a moment to be THANKFUL.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012


 As a mom who is in to food I found that I was on the borderline obsessed with feeding my child properly. It is my job as a parent to make sure that my kid gets the best nutrition possible. I have to talk myself down sometimes because no matter what my expectations are a kid is a kid and most kids are a real challenge when it comes to eating. As a newborn I breastfed, I knew it was the best that I could offer. As he grew into solid foods I made all of his baby food, I felt really good about it. I knew exactly what was going into my child’s body and how it was being made (safely). Then we moved into finger foods and he was more feeding himself then me feeding him, which went well, some days better than others but he was still pretty open to most foods new and different. Now he is a toddler, 3 in fact, and things are a bit more challenging. Although I realize the struggles are not really about the food but more about his stage of development it makes it hard as a parent who really cares about what their kid is eating when the only thing he will eat is crackers for days on end and won’t touch things he used to love. There are endless bananas in my freezer because what was once a “guarantee he will eat this” food he won’t eat anymore and I just hate to throw them out (they will be good for baking among other mutations: smoothies, yogurt popsicles, etc.). Aside from, this there are countless other obstacles that come along with feeding a child. As I am sure I am not alone in this I am happy to say that I am a part (or at least a few of my recipes) of a fantastic book on this exact subject. If you find yourself in need of some help with the challenges of feeding you kids check it out. I use it all the time!!! Available at

Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Grow Your Own Mushrooms

The story is this: I bought a mushroom growing kit as a gift for my husband as he is into gardening and loves to watch things grow. The kit came with a roll of toilet paper, a bag with a rubber band, mushroom spores and instructions (plus a 25% off coupon for your next order). Golden Oysters were the ‘shrooms-to-be. The instructions are lengthy and said if you didn’t start them right away to put the spores in the fridge.  They were not started right away so I put the spores in the fridge. They sat there for months. Realizing that my husband really wasn’t that interested I decided to try my hand at them. How much fun was this! It is a process that doesn’t take much skill, mostly patience but what an amazing thing to see happen. On the front end it takes nothing to start, the incubating period is long, but then the fruiting happens within days. Literally from the morning to the evening you can see the mushrooms growing. I was shocked. Maybe because the first part took so long but everyday I couldn’t wait to get up and check on my ‘shrooms to see their progress! Although they only produced a handful of mushrooms (I think due to the late start) I harvested them, sautéed them in some butter, sprinkled some salt and WOW. They were delightful. I am a proud mushroom mom!

The process starts (at least with the kit that I had) with soaking the toilet paper roll in water, you then place it in the bag provided and pour the spores down the center. Close up the bag with the rubber band and put it in a warm dark place (like in a cabinet in your kitchen) and wait (this is the incubation period). 1-3 weeks is all it takes for the roll to be covered in fluffy mycelium, then wait another 1-3 weeks, the longer the better and the faster the “fruiting” process will take.  At this point you place the bagged roll in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours to stimulate the fruiting process. Remove it to a room with light and open up the bag (I put it in my office so I could watch it!). Wait another 1-2 weeks and those babies will start popping! Once they do it is only a matter of a few days until the reach full potential. Harvest and eat, then repeat. You can continue using the same roll and spores over and over again…I am in my second run now and want to continue trying other types of mushrooms. I encourage you to try it. It is fun and is cool for kids (and adults!) to watch how they grow.
I ordered mine from: and the mushroom company website is:
There are several kits out there a simple Internet search will result in many options!
In fact for my birthday my husband gave me a new oyster mushroom growing kit that uses recycled coffee grounds and claims ‘shrooms in as little as 10 days…as well as a shiitake log, both from Farmer D’s:
I also went to the Grant Park Farmer’s Market and met a guy from Atlanta Gourmet Mushroom who also sells kits and mushrooms. He invited me to his place to see how he does it on a larger scale and also said they do foraging outings!!! How fun! Check him out!

Happy Mushroom Growing!
-Vanessa Parker McIntyre, the Urban Gatherer

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Farmer’s Markets 2012

A note from The Urban Gatherer:
The Urban Gatherer took a little break. There has been a lot going on with work, travel, a move, and overall…life, but we are hoping to ease back in and try and start posting regularly again. We hope that you missed us and we hope that we can continue to inspire you!

Farmer’s Markets are getting back up and running for the 2012 season and we couldn’t be more excited. It is the mark of spring and all that it has to offer. Farmer’s Markets are a great way to get out there and support your local food community, meet people, and just get some damn good food! There are always activities for kids, chef demos, sometimes music and seasonal surprises in store. If you want to be a part of the markets and are not a farmer or vendor, volunteer! We always look to the farmer’s markets for inspiration and sometimes just plain comfort. It is reassuring to be around others that are interested in what is going on out there NOW and know that this movement is becoming bigger and bigger. Aside from the fact that it is very fashionable to eat locally and for restaurants to claim “farm to table” practices it truly is a trend you can feel good about supporting! Below is a list of Farmer’s Markets openings around Atlanta, some already have and there are more to come!

March 14:
Decatur Farmer’s Market (although their Sat. market runs year round):
April 1:
Morningside Farmer’s Market:
April 14:
Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market : 
East Lake Farmer’s Market:
April 19:
East Atlanta Farmer’s Market (see photos):
April 29:
Grant Park Farmer’s Market:
May 5:
Green Market at Piedmont Park:
May 19:

Don’t see yours here? Check out the GA Department of Agriculture site for a full listing of Farmer’s Markets by county!

Happy Marketing!!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tips for Beating Childhood Obesity

Everyone is talking about it, as they should be. The signs are everywhere…including up on billboards, warning us. This is a serious issue that we should all be aware of and be thinking and acting on how to fix and prevent.  The health of our future is in our hands. The first lady, Michelle Obama, is on a campaign against childhood obesity ( Jamie Oliver with his Food Revolution is trying to help improve the way our children eat at school ( What can you do? See the tips below. Also, check out the USDA’s website: for guidelines on how to eat healthfully as well as recipes and tips on how to do it on a budget, plus much more.

The photo above is part of the Green Tables Mission from Les Dames d’Escoffier, Atlanta Green Table’s initiative mission is to inspire and promote a community table, whose centerpiece is focused on whole, local, and sustainable food.
One of the Green Tables Programs:
Oakhurst Community Garden Project: 
Youth come for a cooking lesson with Les Dames d’Escoffier volunteers. Their day begins in the garden harvesting some fresh herbs and produce that can be used. Everyone returns to the kitchen to discuss healthy food preparation techniques. The children are enthralled as they learn the trade secrets of top chefs.
One of the most beautiful parts of the experience is sitting down and eating what has been prepared. Sure enough, the participants munch through the meals they've prepared. But what is most touching is the informal discussion about food preferences and trying new things.
Happy, healthy eating!

Childhood Obesity Tips:

Play: For younger children, don't include the word "workout" in your vocabulary—instead, promote "play time" and encourage activities that are fun and physical such as hop-scotch, jumping rope, tag or hide-and-go-seek.

Screen Time: You are a role model to your child. Try to limit your screen time (TV, computers, cell phone, etc.) as well.

Sleep: Establishing a routine for your child will help balance his or her body's internal clock. Try to have your child go to sleep each evening at the same time, even on weekends.

Holidays: Sometimes, overindulging at the holidays can lead to eating unhealthy all of the time. Try to recognize when your family's holiday eating has become an unhealthy habit.

Eat Fresh: Whole fruits and vegetables are better choices than juice for your family because they include fiber and other benefits that juice lacks.

Doctor/Health: Know your child's BMI (Body Mass Index). This number will help you understand whether he or she is at risk for certain obesity related health problems.

Fast Food: Take "happy" back. Remember, treating your kids to fast food is not the only way to make them happy. Spending time together—whether it's cooking a meal at home or going for a walk—is a surefire way to see some smiles.

Rewards: Never punish a child by withholding food or physical activity. We want to promote these healthy habits, not place negative values on them.

Shop Smart: Be aware -some food manufacturers pay grocery stores to put their products at the eye level of your child, especially in the cereal and checkout aisles.