Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Watches, Tales And Sprouts

The last time I needed a new watch my intelligent and stylish European Mother said, “Oh, don't buy one. I have a nice watch!  I'll send it to you.”  A few weeks later, it arrived and, indeed, it was a very nice watch, just what I was looking for:  1) trim on my wrist; 2) with numbers, making time easy to tell; and 3) an appealing design.  The watch had a vivid blue, round face with bright red and yellow accents and a matching blue leather band.  There was only one drawback:  Plainly, it was a Superman watch.  But when I mentioned this to my mother, it became clear that she didn't know who the heck Superman was.  The conversation went something like this:

Mom (Sounding very pleased):  Did you get the watch?

Me (Puzzled):  Yes, it's a nice watch, but it's a Superman watch.

Mom (Without a hint of comprehension):  “No it isn't.”

Me (Even more puzzled):  “Yes, Mom, it is.”

Mom:  “No ... no it's not.”

And clearly she was getting annoyed, thinking she had sent me such a smart timepiece, only to hear me find fault with it, some defect she didn't understand.

Mom:  “It's not a Superman watch.  It's an Armitron watch!”

That's when it hit me how culture and conditioning shapes our ideas of attractiveness.  If you grow up in the United States and see a Superman logo, you instantly know you're looking at an “S” and a “shield.”  But if you grow up in a country without Superman, what you see is pretty, primary colors and an engaging design.  Your mind doesn't automatically make the connection with Superman.  My exchange with my Mom was fascinating.  I've been wearing the Superman watch for a couple of years now, and my Mom still looks at it and says, “Boy, that's a nice watch!”

This weekend, I finally bought another everyday watch.  I found it at an Earth Day fair, and it's for occasions when I can't sport a super hero.

My new watch is from a green company called, Sprout.  When I put it on, the first thing I notice is how light and comfortable it is.  There is a choice of six bright colors, and it comes in two sizes, big and small.  The watch is constructed of renewable materials.  The dial is made of bamboo; the case and buckle of hard corn resin; and the strap is a soft, organic cotton.  It also has precision quartz movement and a durable mineral crystal face with silver hands and black Arabic numbers.  It runs on a mercury free-battery and at $30 retail, it's a steal.  Plus, the watch comes with a bit of clever marketing.  The packaging converts into a mini grass garden.  After removing the watch, you'll find a small plot with seeds, that you slide into the box, water, then place in a window for a little greenery indoors.  Makes an adorable gift.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Fish, Good Or Bad?

Fish is a nutritious source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids.  A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation and heart disease.  Fish is great for your brain and eyes also.  Many doctors suggest eating two 6 ounce servings per week.  More isn't recommended because all fish has traces of mercury.  While healthy adults have the ability to eliminate mercury from their bodies, children, women who are pregnant and women who are breast-feeding need to avoid certain types of fish.  And just to be safe, it's best that all people avoid fish containing higher levels of mercury, most of the time.  Usually, larger and older fish have more mercury, while smaller and younger fish have less.  So which fish should you eat?  The Environmental Defense Fund has a best and worst list: 

Crab, Dungeness
Farmed Oysters
Herring, Atlantic
Catfish, USA
Mackerel, Atlantic
Sablefish/Black Cod
Salmon, wild Alaska
Sardines, Pacific USA
Shrimp, pink Oregon
Striped bass, farmed
Sturgeon, farmed
Tilapia, USA
Trout, rainbow, farmed
Tuna, USA, Canada – light has less mercury, but you can safely eat albacore (white) once a week
Chilean, sea bass
Orange roughy
Rockfish, trawl
Swordfish, imported
Tilefish, Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic
Tuna, big-eye/yellowfin
Tuna, bluefin

If a fish is not listed, it's mercury content is somewhere in the middle.  Make sure your fish is not undercooked.  The fillet should be tender and flaky, with no transparency.  Canned tuna and salmon are super values and an excellent way to get some fish into your diet.  All canned salmon packed in the USA is wild Alaskan, which is low in mercury.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Celebrate Earth Day

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, a day – and in some places a week – set aside to appreciate our planet and learn how to take better care of it.  Many communities have become more eco-friendly, implementing programs to make it easier for residents to recycle glass, metal, paper and plastic.  Doing our part is simply the right thing to do, and as I learn more, I want to do more.  

Here are a few steps, I've taken over the last year:

1) Switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs, except for one reading lamp.  The trick is to make changes gradually that you can stick with, as opposed to, all at once.  Small measures make a big difference collectively.

2) When possible, I use salt, vinegar, baking soda and borax as household cleaners over commercial products, containing a multitude of chemicals.  Washing windows with vinegar and water really works! So does unclogging a drain using baking soda, vinegar and hot water. Click here to read how.

3) I put more thought into why I buy stuff and have learned to live with less.  Now I must have a valid reason to bring new things into my home.  If you have $20 burning a hole in your pocket, why not deposit it into your bank account, or donate to a cause you believe in?  Saving for a rainy day, or making this world a better place for another person pays greater dividends than buying material things you don't need.

4) I'm slowly giving away clothes and household items I never touch.  Do you (like me) wear favorite outfits time and again, while the bulk of what's in your closet never sees the light of day?  Usually, if something -- whether it's a second raincoat, an extra skillet, or a spare vase -- is tucked away in a closet, it goes unused.  Lately I'm asking myself:  Should I keep an object, if I have to move another object to get to it?  I've decided to give many of the things, that hide behind other things away to friends and charities who can use them. 

And guess what?  I'm not depriving myself.  It all adds up to lessening my carbon footprint and living a simple life of greater purpose.  Care to join me?  Calculate your carbon footprint here, and Happy Earth Day.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Dear Readers,

Blogger updated it's operating system.  But now some stuff has a mind of its own.  Bugs to work out.
Yikes!  Please bear with me.

Homemade Monster Cookies

Saturday was a chilly and cloudy afternoon.  But the nippy weather was my motivation for turning on my oven to satisfy a cookie craving.  The recipe I chose to make comes from "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking," by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  Rightfully called "monster cookies," they are one part chocolate chip, one part peanut butter and one part oatmeal.  The next time I'm asked to bring cookies to a pot luck dinner or tea party, I'll make these again without altering a single ingredient.  Saturday's version was delicious too -- a tad healthier and less sweet -- and I certainly had no trouble eating too many of them.  But you just know that LOTS of butter and M&M's make cookies all the more divine.  You just know it!  Below is the original recipe, with my changes, outlined in blue notes.

Monster Cookies
½ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking soda

Pinch of salt 
5 ¾ cups rolled oats

1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes. [I reduced the butter (from 12 tbsp) to 2 tablespoons and used drops of water for moisture when mixing.]
1 ½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

5 large eggs

¼ teaspoon light corn syrup  [I used honey.]
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 oz) M&M's [I omitted the M&M's and substituted unsalted peanuts to make a peanut nutty batch that was less sweet.]

Directions (from the cookbook):
1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Add the oats and stir until the ingredients are evenly combined.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and pale in color. Add the sugars and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Do not over mix. Note: I mixed the ingredients by hand.
3. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth (about 20 seconds) and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat until just incorporated.
4. Scrape down the bowl and add the peanut butter. Mix on low speed until just combined. Add the oat mixture in three additions, mixing on low speed until just incorporated.
5. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to fold in the chocolate chips and M&Ms. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for 5 hours. [I put it in the freezer until I could work with the dough. I didn't have 5 hours.]
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
7. Use an ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to scoop out the dough in 2-tablespoon-size balls onto the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until the cookies just begin to brown. Let cool on the pans for 8 to 10 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. [I scooped the dough in 1 tablespoon sized balls and was careful not to handle them too much.]
8. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Yields 40 cookies [or 70 smaller]. Enjoy!
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Zac Posen Designs For Target

Zac Posen and friends, who are wearing his "Posen For Target" fashions
In a slow economy high fashion designers must be just as resourceful as consumers to stay afloat.  Nowadays you can put together an ultra chic wardrobe at very affordable prices.  Another celebrated name to hit Target is Soho born designer, Zac Posen.  His line is available from April 25th through May 30th.  For a decade this 29 year old wunderkind has dressed stars, including Naomi Campbell, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow.  He has a flair for drama and is best known for ruffled, party gowns and cute, sultry, short dresses that retail for thousands of dollars a piece.  The majority of articles in his Target collection range from $40 to $80 and look very similar to his haute couture line.  He says his inspiration is to give a girl the best summer of her life!*

In Manhattan a special pop up store opens 10 days before the collection launches at Target nationwide.  It runs for 24 hours, starting at 11 p.m. on April 15th through 11 p.m. on April 16th and takes place at 481 Eight Avenue.  What a great opportunity to pick up a fun, trendy outfit for a reasonable price.
Update - April 16th:  In his Target creations, Zac Posen gives you lots of embellishments, such as hip pockets, zippers, cute pleats and soft, yet substantial fabrics.  My favorites include the little ruffled dress above.  (Selma Blair has it on.)  The dress comes in two colors, red and black.  Wear it with or without the ruffle for two different looks.  The ruffle wraps around the bottom and is secured by snaps and hooks.  The [$80] dress is easy to slip on and makes every waist look small!

I also like a pair of sateen, black boot cut trousers [55% cotton], a matching jacket and a knitted tuxedo body shirt.  All 3 items are sold separately, but look spiffy together.  [Costs for the ensemble: $140.]  Zac Posen ... you are my new love!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Shoe Company On A Mission

Isn't Blake Mycoskie a hottie? [You know you're thinking it.]
This morning The Today Show featured a story on TOMS Shoes. Blake Mycoskie, its remarkable founder, is showing all of us how to make a difference.

Mycoskie started his company in 2006 because he wanted to do something to help children in impoverished countries who have no shoes to wear. The idea came after he visited Argentina and observed that without shoes, poor village children are susceptible to cuts and sores that are painful, plus dangerous if infection sets in. They also suffer from podoconioisis, a soil transmitted disease that gets into their systems through the soles of their feet and leads to very serious health problems. In addition to disease, Mycoskie noticed that barefooted children are not allowed to attend school. So he created TOMS, short for “Tomorrow's Shoes,” as a sustainable company with the important goal of donating shoes to those who need them. With every pair of shoes you buy, TOMS gives a new pair to a child in need.

TOMS Shoes are patterned after traditional Argentinean shoes. Often made of canvas with rope and rubber soles, they are light, airy and comfortable. There are 100 different styles, and many sell in the $45 range.

According to various media reports, to-date the company has provided over 600,000 pairs of shoes to children in the United States, South America and Africa. And if you thumb through celebrity magazines, you'll catch well known faces like Scarlett Johansson, Keira Knightley and Brad Pitt wearing their TOMS. You can find TOMS Shoes online and at Norstrom and Whole Foods.
Just in time for Spring

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Can Needle Flowers Improve Your Health?

For centuries Indian mystics believed lying on a bed of nails put the body and soul in perfect harmony. And as a child, I watched parodies of yogis sleeping on nails in sitcoms. Well as exotic as these images still are, there may be some truth in the ancient Indian practice. Doesn't it seem like everything old, becomes new again?

Nowadays in place of a bed of nails, what has become popular are acupressure, or Shakti mats. A standard mat contains over 6,000 spikes. (4,000 spikes are more intense; 8,000 spikes are less intense.) Lying on the mat is supposed to stimulate the nerve endings of your skin, which causes the body to release its own feel-good and wellness hormones, including endorphins and oxytocin. The claim is, this lowers your blood pressure and strengthens your immune system. Initially, you have to build up a tolerance for lying on the plastic needle points. Once you get used to it and use the mat for at least 20 minutes several times a week, the benefits are many. Users say they have more energy. It reduces stress and makes them feel relaxed, happy and centered. It eases pain, like back aches and muscle and joint soreness. It relieves headaches and promotes a better night's sleep.

I haven't tried an acupressure mat yet, but I know eliminating stress and keeping the circulatory system working improves your overall health, so I definitely have an open mind. Have you tried a Shakti mat? If so, tell us. Did it help you?
costs $39-$69

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