Saturday, December 29, 2012

SoulBike Or Exerpeutic 400XL ... It's All Good


SoulCycle, a fitness studio that has taken the world of celebrities and urban professionals by storm, is now selling its bike.  The bright yellow bike comes with weights and Delta Look clips (needed for cycling shoes).  Like the SoulCycle classes, the SoulBike is for consumers with big budgets.  Retailing at $2,200, it is quite an investment.

Fans of SoulCycle praise the spin classes as physically, mentally and spiritually uplifting.  A 45 minute class (costing $32, + $3 to rent shoes) combines high energy music with jumps, dips, push-ups and dance movements, resulting in a full body workout.  Now enthusiasts with deep pockets have the opportunity to take the bike home.  The question is, will it sit idle outside of class?

If you can't spend 22 Benjamin Franklins on a stationary bike, you might consider the Exerpeutic 400XL Folding Semi Recumbent Exercise Bike.  Although not for spinning, it is well designed to give you a challenging cardiovascular workout.  It will keep you in shape, as well as, leave you with a few dollars to take your favorite spin classes.

Fearing the workout would not measure up to that of a gym bike, I tested the Exerpeutic 400XL.  My verdict: You definitely get hot, sweat and tire.  Suitable for heights up to 6ft, 2 in*, the cheaper bike is sturdy, steady and very quiet (for apartment dwellers).  It has a supportive back pad, comfortable seat and good secure peddles.  The bike is also compact, easy to fold up (it rolls) and can be stored in a closet; however if you don't leave it out, you won't hop on and use it.

So whether your wallet is fat or thin, you can still stay in shape by cycling in the comfort of home. Choose what you can stick with: Exercising 4 or 5 times per week is what is important.
*A 6'0'' man tried it and had enough leg room. We did not test it with a 6'2'' person, so can't verify the claim.  The bike is stronger and roomier than it photographs.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Madecasse Chocolate Is Made In Madagascar ... Or Maybe In Heaven

On Christmas day friends (and neighbors ... they live in the hood) gave me some big'O, juicy, perfectly-shaped fruit, which is a wonderful surprise!  There is an assortment of apples, pears, clementines, a mango and an Asian Nashi pear -- sometimes called an "apple-pear."  The healthy snacks are sweet and delicious!  5 stars and very thoughtful!

Tucked away in the fruit basket is this dark chocolate bar, which until yesterday I didn't even know existed.  Without question, it is the best dark chocolate I have ever tasted.  It is a smooth, rich chocolate.  Like expresso is to coffee without any bitterness.  One serving, and now I am addicted.

The chocolate is made in Madagascar by former Peace Corps volunteers who fell in love with the country and wanted to do more for its people.  Not only do the cocoa farmers receive a fair trade price, the chocolate is made in their country.  It's the only fine chocolate manufactured in Africa.

Thank you, friends, for sharing your knowledge and amazing tastes! ♥
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Monday, December 24, 2012

Have A Merry Christmas

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings

My favorite interpretation of these two traditional Christmas carols is a 2004 recording by the Bare Naked Ladies, featuring Sarah McLachlan.  While God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is of English origin, We Three Kings was written in America in 1857.

Much peace and love to you this holiday season!  Once again, thanks for stopping by the blog.

Here are a few Christmas images to enjoy while tapping you toe to the song:



A Christmas tree outside the Bloomberg Tower - 731 Lexington Avenue at 59th Street, New York City



KaLightoscope Christmas at the Galt House, Louisville Kentucky.  Huge and elaborate!  To see more click here.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Books From The World Of Entertainment

When you need a gift for a relative or friend, you can't go wrong with a good read.  I am especially partial to biographies.  To tell you the truth, I will read just about anybody's biography.  Anybody's and everybody's.  Here I will limit my bio picks to the world of show business and popular culture (listed in no particular order):

1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – Written with Steve Jobs' full cooperation, chronicling his life and the invention of the personal computer, tablets and iphones.

2. Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe – The pretty boy actor [just stating the obvious!] tells a good story and writes with intelligence and perspective.


4. Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin – The Boss sat down and helped tell this one.


6. Life by Keith Richards – This bad boy shouldn't be alive, much less have the wits to write with keen intelligence about the Rolling Stones and much more.

7. Mick Jagger by Philip Norman – You can't have one without the other. 

8. This Time Together: Laughter And Reflection by Carol Burnett - disclaimer: I have loved CB since I was a young child, the person and the entertainmener. Kiss, kiss, Carol Burnett!



11. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto – If you have a big budget, pair the bio with Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection – a set of 15 of his classic films.

12. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers and Lionel Friedberg – Scotty Bowers fraternized with old Hollywood and kept confidences of the famous  for 60 + years.  Then he got old and decided to make buckets of retirement money by publishing his scandalous stories.  Juicy  NYT review here.

13. Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything In Your Closet by Tim Gunn – A bio of garments.  Because. This is THE SAVVY SHOPPER, right?

14. After Camelot: A Personal History of the Kennedy Family  1968 to the Present (2012) by J. Randy Taraborrelli – Mr. Taraborrelli does his research.  While not shying away from unflattering details, he's a fair and balanced biographer. – A Kennedy actually went into show business becoming an actor, namely Christopher Lawford, son of Peter Lawford.

15. Dream More: Celebrate The Dreamer In You by Dolly Parton – Dolly writes with humor and wit.  Multi-talented and hugely successful, she is living the American dream.  Dolly is smart as a whip and has great enthusiasm for life.

Getting someone a good book may spark an interest in reading.  Almost everyone loves entertainment and popular culture.  We don't need to do crossword puzzles, or solve Rubik's cubes every minute of every day.  Sometimes you ... or someone on your holiday list ... just needs to unwind with a compelling book that gives you a glimpse into a world you want to know more about.  If you have a biography to recommend, please add it under comments.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Voice Tribute - Hallelujah

Our world is filled with beauty and purpose, as well as, heartache and pain.  Both good and evil exist, and we spend many years ... indeed a lifetime ... trying to make sense of it all.  

The Voice is reality television at its best.  Seasons 1, 2 an 3 featured brains, heart and talent. Here's another reason why I love the show.  Last night The Voice showed the healing power of music, hitting all the right chords, by opening the night with a Leonard Cohen classic.  The song is bittersweet, a world weary, temporial hymn.  Nothing will bring back the 20 children and 6 adults, but this is a beautiful tribute.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Lessons From The Animal Kingdom

Hey bro!
If these images don't warm your heart, you probably need to check your pulse. Two orphaned babies, one a kangaroo and the other a wombat, were taken to the same Australian rescue center, where they became best friends.  Well ... out of the actions of babes.  Ok, let's say it together: Ahhhhhh!

I can't decide which is cuter.  The little naked belly?  The big ears.  Or either pair of eyes.   Adorable.  Now ... as you go about your daily activities, spread the goodwill.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lickety-Split Vegetable Beef Soup


Often I turn leftovers into new dishes, rather than eat the same meal twice.  An example: I cut leftover meatloaf into cubes, freeze them, than when I need a quick meal, I take out the frozen meatloaf, slide the cubes into fresh bell peppers and microwave until done.  Voilà ... baked stuffed peppers in about ten minutes.

Early this week I used leftover steak to made a hearty homemade soup.  It was about as fast and easy as opening a can of soup.

Lickety-Split Vegetable Beef Soup 

Ingredients:
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (Use what you have: whole or diced tomatoes work.)
28 ounces water
16 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables (green beans, corn, carrots and lima beans)
½ medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
10 oz steak, diced (I used top round steak, leftover from a meat and gravy dinner)
1 large bouillon cube (or 2 small) chicken, beef or any flavor
2 teaspoons garlic
½ - 1 teaspoon salt (I used smoked sea salt)
12 turns of the black pepper mill
dash of nutmeg
dash of oregano
dash of basil
dash of parsley

Directions:
Throw all ingredients into a soup pot and bring to a boil on the stovetop.  Simmer until the vegetables are tender and the flavors mingle, about 20 minutes. Serve.  Divide up what you don't eat and spoon into 16 ounce containers.  Freeze for future quick lunches and dinners.

If you don't have leftover beef, you can substitute lean sausage, ham, lowfat hotdogs, or tofu.  In lieu of vegetable beef, use a protein you like and have on hand.  If I have fresh turnups, I dice and add them to the soup.

There was a time, I ate both homemade and canned soups.  Lately, I don't like the taste of canned soups.  Although expensive, they look and taste watered down.  Either my palate has changed, or canned soaps (errh ... soups) have changed.  Homemade soup is so much better.  It's subtantial, delicious ... and cheap.  Bon appétit!

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

At Overstock Find It For Less

Suburban comfort, or edgy styles
Overstock.com, an online retailer, launched in 1999.  The merchandise it offers is vast – everything from health and beauty products ... to jewelry ... to shoes and apparel ... to furniture and home furnishings ... to kitchen gadgets and electronics.  In short, if you need it, Overstock probably sells it.  

The company either buys inventory from other retailers, or manages the inventory for other retailers.  Also, workers in developing countries make homemade goods especially for Overstock.

Personally, I check Overstock before buying just about anything.  There is always a great deal, plus customer service is excellent.  Low and free shipping makes buying even heavy items affordable.  I am very happy with the quality of a jute rug (with a cotton border), Wolfgang Puck slow cooker and Timex watch (with a geniune leather band) I purchased at unbeatable prices. Overstock is the place where I plan to buy my next sofa.

Also, you can find the perfect gift and have Overstock deliver it directly to out-of-town family, saving you the fuss and cost of extra postage.  Once my mother and I nearly got into a telephone spat after I sent her a beautiful pearl necklace from Overstock that she insisted could not be real pearls at the price I paid.  (How about I LOVE them!?!)  They were real, and she does love them, so all is good.  However, I must say, if I were selecting jewelry as an investment (my next life!), instead of as something pretty to wear, I probably wouldn't buy it online.  Not heirloom-grade, but very nice, indeed; the jewelry is real silver and gold with real jewels. 

As always ... research a product thoroughly, plus read all the customer reviews to avoid ordering mistakes.  In addition, customer care answers product questions online and by phone.  If you make a few purchases a year -- such as ink cartridges for a printer and/or gifts -- I recommend joining Club O -- to earn 5% (and more on exclusive products), as well as, free shipping on all your orders.  Club O quickly pays for itself.

At Overstock.com you will find true value without depleting your back account.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract



Dried Vanilla Beans photo by B.navez (via Wikimedia Commons)
Who says facebook is a waste of time?  It's true, you're on it when you should be doing something else.  But. Reading a fb friend's status sparked the idea for today's post.  After discovering how ridiculously easy it is to make real vanilla extract, I decided to stop buying the tiny-teeny-weeny commercial bottles.  So from now on I'm making my own.  With two simple ingredients, I will be rich in vanilla extract ... and it will cost less.  Here is the recipe: 

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Ingredients: 
1 cup vodka
6 vanilla beans (also known as pods)*
plus time

Directions:
1. Using a sharp knife, cut the vanilla beans in half, lengthwise.  For a snazzy appearance, leave the very ends attached (so the pods look like a fork in the road).
2. Next place the cut vanilla beans in a canning [Mason, Ball, Kerr's] jar.
3. For every 3-6 vanilla beans, cover completely with one cup of vodka.
4. Secure the lid on tight, and store the jar(s) in a cool, dark room for 8 weeks or longer before using.  Shake the jar once in a while.  The vanilla pods will infuse the vodka, turning the liquid from clear to a lovely dark brown.  You can use the extract after 2 months, but it's even better after 4-6 months.

Homemade vanilla extract never goes bad.  As your jar empties, you can top it off with more alcohol, and the vanilla beans will continue to infuse the liquid.  With the passage of time, you might throw in another split vanilla bean.

Extra Tips:
1) Expect to pay about ten dollars for vodka.  Expensive vodka isn't necessary.
2) You can also use bourbon, brandy or rum as the alcohol for a subtle difference in flavor.  The vodka is more neutral.
3) Use fresh vanilla beans that are soft and feel oily to the touch.  Avoid dry, brittle beans. (They will work, but not as well.)
4) You can use any variety of vanilla beans sold.  There are subtle differences in tastes.  Below are a few of the most popular.

Types of vanilla beans:
Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla - tastes creamy, haylike and sweet.
Mexican vanilla - has mellow and spicy flavors.
Tahitian vanilla - is often described as fruity and floral.

Another way to use vanilla beans is to make vanilla sugar.  Just split a couple of pods and throw into a jar of white sugar.   My mom uses vanilla sugar to make cookies and cakes.


A jar of homemade vanilla sugar, or extract (poured into a decorative bottle) makes a fantastic hostess gift.  As with all goodies, a bit of research yields the best prices.  Here are a few sources: (a) for vanilla beans [about 50 cents a pod!] click here, or try Ebay; (b) for gift bottles [at 74 cents per bottle] click here; (c) for canning jars, go to a local hardware store; (d) and for alcohol, you are on your own, folks.  But I know you are a resourceful bunch.  Finally ... remember the sky's the limit for all the pretty jars, or bottles you could use as gifts.  Always pour your batch into containers with air-tight lids.

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*Note: The US and Canadian standard is 13.75% vanilla, the equivalent of 6 vanilla beans per cup of vodka to be sold as vanilla extract.  Anything less is considered vanilla vodka. But 3 beans for every cup of vodka when aged for 6 months or more will be very potent.

Please see "Labels" section for the credits to the photos used in the body of this blog post, and visit the corresponding websites - give them some traffic too.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

One of the things I'm grateful for is you.  From my stats, I know you live all over the world. Thanks for your emails, ideas and simply for stopping by from wherever you are logging on.  I love hearing from you!

State fair photo by my childhood friend, Pam H.  I'm grateful for my  friends.
Hey little buddy.  You can be thankful that on this day, you're safe.  Looks like he read the preceding post on the importance of sleep, right?
Click to enlarge
I am touched by this 1936 photo of a child praying before school lunch.  Take a look.  She has a bottle of milk, a small sandwich, hot soup and an apple.  Her mother sent her to school with a clean, starched dress and a big bow for her hair.  It reminds me of the hopes and dreams every parent has for a child, and I wonder how this child's life unfolded.

Are you counting your blessings today?  Sometimes it's the everyday things that really matter. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Sleep Is Crucial To Good Health

Sleep is a building block of good health.  During sleep the body repairs [damaged cells] and rejuvenates itself.

It is also "important in forming memories," says Robert Stickgold, PhD of the Harvard Medical School.  When you sleep, your brain organizes the experiences and "skills you learn during the day, refining and making sense of them."

There is a significant link between how well someone sleeps and his/her overall health and function, according to the Harvard studies.  A chronic lack of sleep leads to illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and stroke, as well as, depression, weight gain, diabetes and obesity.

It turns out that too little or too much sleep is a bad thing.  Studies show that adults who sleep less than 7 hours, or more than 9 hours don't live as long as those who average 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.  And laboratory animals die faster from a lack of sleep than a lack of food or water.

So if you want to stay healthy, function at full capacity and live a long life free of disease, make sure you get the right amount of zzzs.  And don't fret if your teenager sleeps more than 8 hours. Ten hours, or more is not unusual for preteens and teens when bodies and brains are developing.

A good night's sleep is sleep that is undisturbed by noises or lights, so you will drift into and benefit from REM sleep, which happens at intervals during the night and is characterized by rapid eye moment, dreaming and bodily movement, as well as, faster pulse and breathing.  REM sleep is crucial to restful sleep.  When you don't get it, you wake up exhausted.

To fall-and-stay-asleep easily, doctors recommend:

1. Establish a bedtime routine where you wind down and disengage yourself from stimuli.  This means shutdown your computer and stop checking your email two hours or so before bed.

2. Sleep in a dark room -- free of all light.  Cover up the light from clocks and electronics if necessary.  The brightness interfers with sleep even when you are not aware of it.

3. Sleep in a cool room about 65 F to 72 F with soft, cozy covers.

4. Don't sleep with a television, or radio playing nor you cell phone near your pillow.  Turn all devices off.  They interfere with the quality of your sleep, depriving you of much needed REM sleep.  You need 8 hours of silence.

5. If you wake up, focus on relaxing and resting in bed.  You can also try reading until you are drowsy.  It is better to stay in bed rather than to get up, eat, or turn on your computer.  You don't want to stimulate yourself, but to reinforce the habit that nighttime is for resting and sleeping.  If you start getting up, the bad habit of waking up will soon replace the good habits of resting and sleeping.

6. Watch what you eat and drink.  You may have to stop drinking caffeinated drinks after 4 or 5 PM; and alcohol interferes with REM sleep.  Wine may lure you to sleep, but you will wake up a few hours later ... tired.

7. Don't set a snooze button.  Go to bed on time so you can get the proper amount of sleep, set the alarm for the correct time, then get up when it rings.

8. See a sleep specialist if you have a hard time getting a good night's sleep.

You don't want to live a life deprived of sleep.  If you have to pry yourself out of bed every morning, you aren't getting the hours you need.  With a good night's sleep you should always feel rested and refreshed when you open your eyes in the morning.  Try the steps above for several weeks.  Good sleep habits will lead to sweet dreams.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Consider A Convertible Dress

Go sleeve or sleeveless

A reader of THE SAVVY SHOPPER called my attention to this convertible dress. What a creative and smart wardrobe staple.  Thank you, Loretta!

You buy one dress – a piece of easy-to-work fabric -- and transform it into a dozen different looks.  Learning to style the dress definitely calls for a bit of practice, but with the help of YouTube tutorials, you can master a style, one possibility at a time.

The dresses are classic and comfortable and come in an assortment of solid colors.  I think the dark colors are dressy.  A single convertible dress can take you through the holidays with a myriad of styles.  It is perfect to pack for out-of-town trips when the less is more principle rules.  Take one dress along to wear to many parities and events.  Look cute and chic and unlike the day-before without packing more than a carry-on bag.  

Below are two manufacturers of convertible dresses.  The Twist Wrap dress is sold as a bridesmaid's dress, but it's just a versatile party dress.  Two convertible dresses; same innovative idea.  One may be right for you: 
Hipknoties, $85 – Click and scroll to the bottom video.


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