Thursday, December 31, 2009

Under A Blue Moon



Ninety-nine percent of the time when I bake breads at home, they're dark and grainy. [See Thursday, July 9 2009 post by clicking here.] But once in a blue moon I'll make a light and fluffy country loaf, using unbleached, all-purpose flour. Well, guess what? Tonight, New Year's Eve -- there's going to be a blue moon. So to mark the occasion and kick off a new year, I baked a loaf of country bread and cut it into big, thick slices. And it's not altogether unhealthy. I used eggs, lots of buttermilk, olive oil and oatmeal in the recipe. My sample of fresh baked bread was delicious with wild, blueberry fruit spread. Tonight I'll serve it with humous, brie, ham and wine.

Everything in moderation though. That's a smart New Year's resolution for life and a diet. Limit white foods like refined rice and flour most of the time. I believe in a little flexibility. Otherwise, you become a fussy guest in someone else's home, and you can never enjoy a country biscuit, Christmas cookie or French pastry. Ridiculous!!!

So the word for 2010 is “moderation.” And you might expand your everyday diet to include 100% whole grains.

Ten healthy grains to try in 2010 are:
1) Amaranth – It's really a seed, but eaten like a grain and loaded with vitamins A, B2, B6, C, K, folate, and minerals like calcium and iron.
2) Brown Rice – Rich in vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, plus iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc.
3) Bulgar Wheat – A good source of the usual B vitamins, iron, phosphorous and manganese.
4) Barley – In addition to B vitamins, it has iron, magnesium phosphorous and zinc.
5) Millet – Packed with B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
6) Popcorn – Eat plain, or flavored with olive oil and brewers yeast to keep it healthy.
7) Quinoa – Contains a balanced set of all 8 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
8) Spelt – A good source of protein, B vitamins and minerals like manganese and copper.
9) Steel cut Oats – High in protein, B vitamins, iron and magnesium. It's also good for your heart because of its cholesterol-lowering properties. [Steel cut oats are chewy and taste nutty unlike rolled, or rolled quick oats. All 3 are whole grains.]
10) Teff – An excellent source of protein, cacium, iron, magesium, boron, copper, phosphous and zinc.

For blue moon occasions, here's my Country Bread recipe:
1 package dry active yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 ¼ cups buttermilk, warmed [Eyeball it. Add more or less as you work the dough.]
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra
1 cup rolled oats, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling top
Optional: 1 tablespoon each - sesame seeds & flax seeds for sprinkling top
2 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour, plus extra for kneading
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 extra large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 egg white, lightly beaten for top

In a bowl combine the yeast, honey, 1 c. buttermilk and olive oil. Make sure the liquid is warm before you stir in the yeast. Set aside for about 20 minutes. Next add the oats, salt, eggs and flour. Mix into a dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface until supple, and place the dough in a bowl. Coat the ball of dough with olive oil. Cover and let it rise for about an hour, until doubled in volume. Then, punch the dough down, knead and shape into a loaf. Place it in an oiled loaf pan. Oil the top and let the dough raise until it doubles in the pan. Last, brush the top of the loaf with an egg white and sprinkle with the remaining oats, sesame seeds and flax seeds. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 - 30 minutes.

Enjoy the blue moon … and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas


Mahalia Jackson 1911 - 1972
Around the holidays, I find myself counting my blessings for tangibles and non-tangibles, big and small. One of the many things I'm grateful for is the age we live in, including the ability to look stuff up on YouTube. It's such a magnificent library for music, vintage interviews, historic speeches, old movies and television shows, current events and talented ordinary people. If we ever have to start paying for the channel, I don't know how much my bill will be. I use it to hear music I don't own, to see concerts all over the world I can't attend and to learn more about historic, or current events (and yes, that includes the latest celebrity faux pas).

video

Last night after a night out, I spent a half-hour listening to Christmas music on YouTube. Here's a rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” by the late, great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson that just might bring a tear to your eye. She was the real deal! It is worth watching old interviews of her too! 

As we enjoy the holiday season, let's take some time to remember what Christmas is all about. Perhaps, we can find ways to use our time and resources to give something back to a world that really is in need.

Be kind to the people around you. Merry Christmas! And thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

May the Pies Of Texas Be Upon You



When I plan a big holiday dinner and do a lot of cooking, I sometimes make my life slightly easier by ordering an appetizing dessert. It's more expensive than if I make it myself, true, but everything is paid for in either time or money. And the bustling holidays are the perfect time to spend a little more on culinary treats that are extra special, extra rich and extra delicious.

Some of the best pies known to man can be ordered from Royers Round Top Cafe located an hour's drive from Austin, Texas. It's been around for over 60 years, but in 1987 Bud Royer and his wife, Dr. Karen, bought the 38-seat eatery and turned it into a warm and friendly, casual and kooky Texas bistro. In addition to gourmet comfort food, Royers Round Top Cafe has evolved into a pie lovers haven. I cannot make a pie better than Bud, so it's worth the $26.50, plus shipping, for a holiday indulgence. Now ... I just order one or two pies; but for serious pie eaters, Royers has a pie-for-life membership plan. Here's a schedule of pies you could get monthly for the rest of your life:

January: Ann's Pecan
February: Bud's Butterscotch Chip
March: Café's Buttermilk Delight
April: Café's Buttermilk
May: Bud's Chocolate Chip
June: Ann's Pecan
July: Bud's Butterscotch Chip
August: Bud's Chocolate Chip
September: Café's Buttermilk
October: Sam's Coconut Chess
November: Dr. Karen's Pumpkin
December: Café's Sin-Nammon Ring

Fruit pies are only available at the restaurant. And if you order a slice while dinning in, without the recommended vanilla ice cream, you are charged an extra 50 cents. Talk about pie in the sky! Thanks to Royers, you don't have to wait for your heavenly rewards.
Café's Sin-Nammon Ring

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"There'll Always Be A Christmas," An Album Review



A classic Christmas album has been remastered and released as a CD.  It features The Ames Brothers, a popular 1950s quartet, singing in perfect harmony.  There are 12 songs and one bonus track.  And whether singing in close four part harmony, or taking solo turns, there is never a false note or arrangement.

The album is an enjoyable blend of religious and secular Christmas music. Listeners may not know all the songs, as some are not as familiar as, say, “Silent Night.”

Every track is fantastic. My favorites have changed over time. When I was a child, I loved “Silver Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S.” Now I'm partial to “O Holy Night,” “Good King Wenceslas” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” To be honest, it's hard deciding. There's not one mediocre song to skip over.


The backing orchestra, conducted by Sid Ramin, hits the right notes too. Lush strings and a festive brass section, in spots, adds to a majestic mood. But it's the gorgeous voices, which make this a standout Christmas album. If you hear the CD, chances are it will become a family favorite.

Joe (bass), Gene (2nd tenor), Vic (1st tenor) and Ed (lead)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Time Of The Season


It's that time of the year again, harvest ... and holiday time. What side dishes do you serve at your holiday dinners? My picks are low in cost, fat and calories, but high in nutrition, fiber and flavor. They include:

Sweet Potatoes - Now is the time of plenty; you'll find them for 69 cents a pound, or less. I love sweet potatoes baked or microwaved. They satisfy my sweet tooth, which is activated by a myriad of holiday candies and treats. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A, B6 C, E, potassium and complex carbohydrates. And they are filling when temptation lurks all around and everywhere you go.

Pumpkin - This is the only time of the year you can buy cans of pumpkin at the supermarket. Rich in vitamins A and K, some C, E, iron, copper and other minerals, it is good for your eyes, heart and immune system. I like Libby's 100% pure pumpkin, which has only one ingredient. It makes easy and delicious pies, puddings and breads.

Cranberries - Fresh cranberries freeze well and can be thawed and used in salads and drinks throughout the year. Mix them with apples and grapes also. They are loaded with antioxidants, including vitamin C and flavonoids. Not only do fresh cranberries contain components to keep illness away, they are an anti-aging wonder.

Butternut and Acorn Squash - They are sources of vitamins A, B1, B5, B6, C, potassium, magnesium and folic acid. For a simple dish, I cut one in half, microwave it for 6 - 10 minutes (depending on the size), season to taste and ... voilà ... it's ready to eat.

Why wait for a holiday to serve food that's good for you and your palate? The peak season is now.
Sweet potatoes
Remember?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Home Gyms: Save Time, Space and Money



You don't need an expensive gym membership or fancy exercise equipment to get a great workout, not according to Consumer Reports magazine. This got my attention because after dinner I ate two hefty slices of pumpkin praline pie; and frankly I've never managed to survive a trial, one-week gym membership.  I'm serious! -- nor do I have room in my home for a treadmill.

All you need to set up a complete fitness routine at home are the following:

1) An exercise mat – To cushion your joints on hard floors. Use it for sit ups, push ups, Yoga or Pilates. Expect to pay $15.
2) Dumbbells – They improve and maintain muscle tone. Consumer Reports suggests buying two pairs -- one for regular use and the other, a heavier, more challenging set. Costs: $15 a set.
3) Elastic bands – For resistance training and strengthening muscles. Again, buy two pairs with different levels of resistance, one tougher than the other. Costs: $15 a set.
4) A stability ball – Allows you to add a variety of moves to strengthen your core muscles. Consumer Reports says use a 45-cm ball if you're under 5 feet tall, a 55-cm ball if you're 5 foot 1 inch to 5 foot 7 inches, and a 65-cm if you're taller. Costs: $15 - $40.
5) Workout DVDs – Look for ones with a combination of strength, flexibility and cardio routines. Costs: $15 - $20 each. Or, find a public library where you can check out a large selection for free. The change will keep you from getting bored.

I also walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Some dollar stores stock cheap pedometers to keep track of steps. My friend, Cara, got me two for $2.00 to replace a $30 model. They all break, so go cheap.

With a few pieces of inexpensive equipment, you can get into shape and work off your Thanksgiving dinner. Who are we kidding? It wasn't just dinner, was it?  Ready, Set, Work it off!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Organic And Eco-Friendly Gifts


As the holidays approach I'm starting to think about great gifts to buy for family and friends. I do my best to select special items that are useful and will make relatives and buds happy. This year I'm adding beautifully wrapped gift sets of organic bath and body products to my list.

One reason I like to give organic products is for their purity. All natural soaps and moisturizers, made with essential oils like lavender and jojoba, are good for you and the environment. I look for toiletries with no unnecessary chemicals and artificial emollients to dry out the skin as we move into a colder climate. Another consideration is, they are not gender specific and can be enjoyed by the entire family. Ingredients like olive oil and aloe vera have been used for centuries to care for the skin and scalp. Even people who are allergic to perfume can appreciate the clean scents and soothing properties of herbs and essential oils like eucalyptus, sweet almond or calendula flowers. [Personally, I prefer the scent of botanicals like peppermint oil over a strong perfume.]

The trick is to find organic products, which work as well as and better than conventional goods. I narrow it down to companies who use the finest natural ingredients, whose products are non-greasy and long lasting.

Here are a few of my favorite eco-friendly companies for bath and body products:

Skinnyskinny – Located in Brooklyn, it offers premium ingredients and pretty packaging at reasonable prices. [I want the organic buckwheat hull pillow.]
Aveda – Where you'll find top-notch organic skin care and make-up, knowledgeable sales associates and a spot of herb tea while you shop.
LaLicious – A Los Angeles company selling luxury all natural products. The peppermint body butter is a favorite. I keep it at my desk as a hand cream.
Whole Foods Market – They carry a wide selection of nourishing soaps, lotions, body butters and hair care, all made from botanicals.

And don't forget about the presentation. Look for eye-catching, recycled materials to wrap gifts. Be kind to the environment while making everyone on your list feel pampered and special.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Fruits of Fall, Is It Time For A Change?



When selecting food, most of us prefer the familiar. Too often we resist new dishes and taste sensations. What are we afraid of exactly? If we stick to the tired same old fare, time and again, we'll never expand our horizons, right? So this week while at the fruit market, I bought a pomegranate and an eggplant. I bought them partly because I did not grow up eating them. Not only are they fresh, they are exotic, colorful and at $1.00 each, a very good value this time of year. And the owner of the fruit market gave me a surprisingly easy eggplant recipe to try.

Though commonly thought of as a vegetable, an eggplant is actually a fruit. Specifically, it's a gigantic berry that has folic acid, potassium and the ability to block the formation of free radicals.

Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants and vitamin B5. They block free radicals too. To eat one, simply cut it in half and pull or pound out the kernel-like seeds. {Watch to learn how.}

Here is the recipe for the deep purple fruit that you eat like a vegetable:
Eggplant Medley
1 large eggplant
14 oz can whole tomatoes
1 medium red or yellow onion
Season to taste: salt, pepper, garlic, basil, bay leaf, bullion cube

Dice the first three ingredients into large cubes, and threw everything into a pot. Season to taste, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender (approximately 10 minutes). I refrigerate the eggplant medley. It's delicious cold. Bon appétite!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Keep Colds And The Flu Away


Although it's impossible to avoid all germs, many doctors agree there are measures you can take to keep from catching every virus that goes around. Start by getting enough rest -- at least 7 - 8 hours of sleep each night -- and eating balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Here are a few extra precautions to lessen your chances of getting sick:

1} Wash your hands often, especially after touching public areas like doorknobs and shaking hands with other people. As you lather up, mentally sing “Happy Birthday” twice before you rinse with warm water -- that's the length of time you should spend washing your hands.  Extra tip: Carry your own ink pens to use in public places like banks and grocery stores.

2} When you can't get to a sink, use an alcohol hand sanitizer. – I used to think it was overkill for a normal person with a functioning immune system, but with both seasonal and swine flu, plus the usual cold viruses floating around this year, I plan on being more vigilant and buying packets of alcohol-based-moist towelettes to carry in my purse.

3} Reduce stress in your life. – Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day and plan your time wisely. Not only will you lower stress, you'll pace yourself and get more done in the long run. [My mother, who is a pistol, once said, “You can live without food or money if you have to, but stress will bring you down, make you old and kill you faster than anything else in the world.”  This is the same woman who warned me to stay away from the knives because I could poke my eyes out and to hand over the scissors because I could cut my fingers off, but she's right about stress.]

4} Enjoy a social life that makes you happy – First of all, you need some exposure to germs to build up immunities. And studies show, happy people are healthier people.

5} Winterize your diet with these 4 foods: a) 100% fruit juice – According to "You, The Owner's Manual," we need 500 mg of Vitamin C a day. In Winter, I drink orange, pineapple and mango juices and buy oranges and grapefruit. Taking Vitamin C pills work too; b) Eat yogurt – Yogurt, containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, fights off fungus infections, say Drs. Roizen and Oz, authors of the "You" books; c) As it turns out, an apple a day really does keep the doctor away. That's because apples have flavonoids. Flavonoids help the body kill germs more efficiently. Other foods rich in flavonoids, include cranberries, black, green and white teas, oatmeal, broccoli, chili peppers and red wine; d) Consume ginger and turmeric. – Both have properties that boost the immune system and help ward off infections. So eat curries and oriental dishes in Winter to stay healthy.

Why not start Autumn with healthy habits? It's better to prevent a cold than to nurse one. So take good care of yourself.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Michael Jackson: An Artist At Work, A Review


Michael Jackson and dancers from "This Is It" rehearsals
Yesterday I did something uncharacteristic. I saw a film at a movie theater on its opening day in New York City, no less. “This Is It,” is an amazingly well-made music documentary about Michael Jackson, the performer. For 111 minutes, you get to watch MJ at work, and you can't take your eyes off him. He was a gifted entertainer who could do it all -- sing, dance, choreograph, write songs, compose music and mesmerize an audience with the sincerity, intensity and originality of his performances. Director Kenny Ortega, his collaborator of nearly 20 years, brilliantly put together a loving tribute from rehearsal footage shot between April and June, 2009. The rehearsals were captured using high definition cameras, and the music was recorded in stereo. You get to see how much hard work goes into preparing for a live show. During many hours of rehearsals, a myriad of details come together. It feels like you have the best seat in the house to watch over the 3-month period. Clearly, Michael Jackson was a musical genius ... still at the top of his game. What a treat to see him interacting with his cast and crew, gently correcting a tempo or refining a group dance move and spurring his tour family on to aim for perfection. The music and dance is sensational, with full run-throughs of his famous songs from "Billy Jean" to "Smooth Criminal." He will be remembered as one of the greatest entertainers of our time. And for me, it was a must see movie on a big screen. I loved it. If you go, sit through the credits so you don't miss anything.


From "Dangerous," Jackson was involved in every aspect of the show. video

Earth Song - From 1996's History tour. Both songs - words and music by MJ.
video

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Keeping Up With The Joneses … In Denmark


On a recent show, Oprah visited families around the globe, featuring the lives of women. I'm a sucker for these kinds of programs. The place that appealed to me the most was Copenhagen, Denmark. I like the mindset and lifestyle of its people. Danes are ranked #1 as the happiest in the world by 30 years of scientisfic studies and polls. And if you watched Oprah, you learned why. Here's a summary:

1. In Copenhagen, people are concerned about the environment. – 1/3 of the population rides bicycles everywhere, even with small children and packages in tow.
2. The Danes don't worry about homelessness, poverty or unemployment. – If you lose your job, the government steps in to pay 90% of your salary for 4 years and helps you find new employment.
3. Health care is free to everyone. – The country wouldn't have it any other way.
4. The government takes special care of women and children. – Women get 6 - 12 months of paid maternity leave. Citizens get a free education and are paid $400 - $500 per month upon entering a university.
5. People are free to pursue careers based on interests and talents, in lieu of income. – Taxes are progressive. If you earn more, you are taxed more -- up to 60%. {Other sources say, the average worker pays 44% and the highest earner 62% in taxes. Details here.}

But the Danes support these equalizers. They don't mind paying higher taxes because they feel they get a lot for it. As explained by Nanna, a 44 year old resident of Copenhagen, “Then you have healthy, educated people in the world. What could beat that?”

I admire this way of thinking and how it carries into the home décor. I don't like clutter and apparently, neither do Danes. The typical Danish design is modern, clean, bright, sparse and organized. Plus, the big windows are divine! I'm use to more space (and coziness) than the family of five shown here. But what appeals to me – and makes my heart flutter! – is the idea of having everything you need, without the excess of things you don't need. Makes you think, doesn't it? Now you'll have to excuse me; I'm stepping away to get rid of extra stuff and to write a note.

Note to self: If you don't use it, lose it. Focus on what's important.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Save On Your Next Computer ... And Electronics



Would you buy a refurbished computer? I did -- the second time around -- and saved 18% off the sticker price. I bought my first computer, an Apple PowerBook, at retail. Last year after seven years of use, I replaced it with a refurbished MacBook Pro that I ordered from the Apple Store online. First I went to Apple's mega store on Fifth Avenue, so by the time I looked online, I had talked to several Mac Geniuses and knew just what I wanted. I bought a MacBook Pro -- perhaps a more powerful laptop than what I actually need -- partly because I saved hundreds of dollars by buying it refurbished. I got a 2008 model in September, 2008, the same year it came out. Apple tests and certifies all their refurbished products and offers a one-year guarantee. That was a deal too good for me to pass up. Apple's service is 150% positive; their technical support is awesome. When I took my laptop out of its Fed-Ex box, it was "good as new." To this day, I can't tell the difference between refurbished and what I play with at Apple's Fifth Avenue Store. My laptop is still a top performer; I've never had a problem with either its hardware or software. So I'd definitely buy refurbished again.

A few tips: 1) Do your research; 2) Stick with companies known for their outstanding products and customer service; 3) Look for free shipping and a full year product warranty.

Other businesses offering refurbished [aka, "reconstructed"] products, include Canon for printers and Bose for audio/video equipment. Maybe your favorite manufacturers do too. Check their websites to see. You could save big bucks on big ticket items.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Never Underestimate The Value Of A Sample


Receiving product samples is wonderful. Who doesn't like trying something for free? In our poor economy, businesses must scrabble to bring in and keep customers. This week while running my usual day-to-day errands – and just for walking into Kiehl's, a sales associate gave me samples of three new hair products to take home. It amounted to a full week's supply. Down the street at Godiva's – without even asking, I was handed two scrumptious gourmet truffles {at $44 a pound!} to try. 

 I've gotten a little spoiled because an introduction to an unknown luxury without opening a wallet is nice ... especially when the item costs a chunk of change. Trying before buying has made me a smarter consumer. By shopping with merchants, who dole out plenty of free samples, I've gotten good at figuring out what works for me, what is just a gimmick and what merchandize is worth its asking price. I don't waste money on goods I don't like once I get them home. And I don't clutter up my bathroom with one mistake after another. 

 Although the gourmet candies and snacks never see the light of day once in my hands, the trial sizes of shampoos, conditioners and moisturizers are perfect to take on overnight trips away from home. 

 Also retailers who offer lots of free samples tend to offer superior customer service and other shopping benefits like customer rewards cards and free products with [and without] purchases. All worth considering to get the best deals. Naturally businesses are hoping if you try it, you'll like it. Meanwhile, you get to evaluate their goods risk-free. Go for it!

Extreme Sample Friendly Stores include:

For skin, hair and personal care products:
1} Aveda – They teach customers about skin care and wellness and give first rate massages and a "spot of tea" for free.
2} Bath And Body Works (sans make-up)
4} Kiehl's (sans make-up)
5} Origins
6} Sephora

For gormet chocolate and food:
7} Godiva – If you sign up for their rewards card, you get a free chocolate every month.
8} Lindt – Samples galore at their Fifth Avenue flagship store!
9} Williams-Sonoma – Especially on weekends and the weeks leading up to holidays
10} Zabars – For New Yorkers and visitors to NYC
Your local 11} delis, 12} gourmet, 13} grocery and 14} drug stores – Particularly on the weekends and near holidays

Even ladies' clothing:
15} Victoria's Secret - When you sign up for a store credit card, you receive free VS undergarments and toiletries 3-4 times a year.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What 6 Foods Are Always in Your Kitchen?


I know people who eat all their meals out and keep practically nothing in their cupbards or refrigerators, except for bottled water, or perhaps a single serving of yogurt. Not true of me. Although I can be a minimalist in other areas, I never let myself run out of certain foods. You will always find them in my kitchen. Here are six:

1) milk – I buy a gallon a week, per person. That's a lot, isn't it? Lots of Vitamin D!
2) eggs – Boiled eggs make easy snacks, or sandwiches on very short notice. {All you need for a serving is: 2 cut-up hard boiled eggs, salt, pepper, low fat mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and diced red onion.} Plus, eggs are needed for baked goods and a variety of simple dishes like meatloaf, stuffed peppers, and even green salads.
3) peanut butter – I buy it freshly ground at a neighborhood health food store, and it only has one ingredient, peanuts. You don't need sweeteners, hydrogen vegetable oil, or anything else. Pure pb is delicious and a satisfying stick-to-your-ribs food.
4) solid white tuna – A quick and easy meal. Actually, “light” tuna has less mercury, but I prefer the texture of solid white. Just don't eat it more than once a week.
5) sharp cheddar cheese and 6) saltine crackers – This is my favorite "at home" snack. And when I get carried away, it becomes a dinner.

Other foods may come and go, but not these staples. Now do tell, what 6 foods are always in your kitchen?