Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Valentine's Day Is Soon

When there's snow on the ground and it's 16 degrees F outside, you stay indoors ... and think. 

Our next holiday, Valentine's Day, is less than a month away. So I did a small round up of sparkle. The ruby ring, diamond encrusted watch and heart neckless are wildly expensive, even separately, but a girl can dream. For those of you with a big budget, the ring is from Boodles, the watch from Chopard and the pendent from DeBeers. Thankfully, looking (and appreciating the glitter) is absolutely free.

Red is such a beautiful, vibrant color, so perfect to celebrate love and get us over the winter doldrums. 

Happy Early-Burly-Future Valentine's Day!

How will you celebrate?

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Monday, January 20, 2014

A Light Carrot Cake

Photo credit: judicialpeach.com
This weekend I baked a carrot cake. I don't understand why so many cake recipes call for so much fat and sugar. My carrot cake is light, yet moist, sweet and tasty. I didn't add additional fruit to the recipe, such as pineapple, applesauce, coconut or raisins, not that there's anything wrong with that, but sometimes a pure carrot cake flavor rules. I used the following ingredients:

Carrot Cake Light

Ingredients:
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
punch of ground clove
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups grated carrots (I use a food processor.)
1/3 cup of chopped walnuts

optional for an extra kick of flavor
 1 slice of fresh grated ginger
 10 turns of freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. 
2. Add the wet ingredients, one at a time and mix with an electric mixer.
3. Pour into a large greased loaf pan. (If you prefer a round cake, pour into 2-8 inch cake pans.)
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 - 45 minutes, or until the center is done. Test with a poker or toothpick.
5. Remove from the pan(s) and cool.

Eat plain or with a cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients: 
1-8 ounce package light cream cheese
1 cup powder sugar, or more to thicken
drops of skim milk (if needed)

Directions:
Mix the ingredients, in order, using an electric mixer and spread on the cake. Top with a ¼ cup chopped, oven toasted walnuts if you like.

There are lovely flakes of carrots in a slice. Looks very orange and healthy, no? It has a bit of  vitamin A, fiber and protein. So invite a friend over and enjoy!

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wendy's Chili Is A Great Deal All Around

Photo: The Village Voice
There are times when you need to find some cheap eats. Wendy's chili, which is meaty, beany and tomatoey, fits the bill. It is filling, low in fat and (in my opinion) tastes as good as homemade. Rare is the day when you can eat a nutritious meal for two bucks (before tax). At Wendy's I order either a large chili, or a small serving and a baked potato. I like the saltine crackers and packet of hot seasoning too.

I miss Dave Thomas, the founder, former chairman and spokesperson of the fast food chain, who died in 2002. When you watched Dave in a Wendy's commericial, you sensed he was a caring man. Thomas never met his birth mother. As an infant he was adopted, but after turning 5, his adopted mother died, and later he had to drop out of high school to earn a living. He took jobs working in restaurants.

Wendy's was named after Thomas' then eight year old daughter. After becoming successful, Thomas became a well-known advocate for adoptions and education, raising lots of money for both causes. He wanted to give needy children (and young adults who like himself had dropped out of high school) a hand up. In 1993, to set a good example for kids, Thomas earned his GED.

After paying for my order, I like to drop a few coins in the charity box at the Wendy's cash register in honor of Dave Thomas, who overcame an imperfect childhood, become an entrepreneur and made a difference.

What's your favorite fast food?

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Best Leggings, A Round-Up

Photos: published in Elle magazine
Just like denim jeans and a leather jacket, leggings are a wardrobe essential. They are casual smart. So comfortable and versatile, you can dress them up or down. Opaque leggings can be worn with a big shirt or sweater. Underneath a skirt or dress, they keep you toasty warm in the winter. Leggings are equally chic with ballet flats or boots; and they are great for traveling, since they roll up and take up little room in a suitcase. 

At one time, I loved Victoria Secret's classic leggings. They were 92% cotton and 8% spandex, hit at the belly button and over the hips (so they stayed put!); plus they were fairly thick, opaque and dressy. They often sold for $15 on sale, so I always bought 10 pairs at a time. Moreover, they lasted through numerous machine washings. No longer available, I hope Victoria Secret brings their classic leggings back soon! Why mess with perfection? They have been replaced by their thinner and lower waisted offspring: daily leggings and yoga leggings

The closest to VS's classic leggings today are the retailer's Pink label leggings; however the wrinkle for some of us is, they are shorter with a 27-inch inseam.

So where can a lover of ankle-length-basic-leggings turn to buy a decent pair? Leggings soft, opaque and thick enough to wear alone; are not shinny; or athletic looking ... leggings which flatter your legs and are warm in winter, but still thin enough to wear under a dress??

Here are my finds for the best basic leggings right now:

1. Victoria Secret - From the Pink Shop  - 2 varieties: (a) the basic leggings - They are soft and fairly opaque. But as noted, they have a shorter 27-inch inseam. Cost: $19.50, or special - 2/$30. (b) Another choice, Pink's much loved yoga leggings - They are thicker and come in an assortment of colorful wide-waist-bands, but have the limited, 27 ½-inch inseam. (not to be confused with VS's daily and yoga leggings. Yes, it is confusing.) Cost: $34 - $49. 

For longer legged ladies who need a 32-inch or 34-inch inseam ... well, we'll just have to wait for VS to bring them back. Every season, VS seems to change their leggings, and frankly, it's not always an improvement.

2. Express sexy stretch leggings - At $29.90, they are affordable and feel like the old Victoria Secret classic leggings. Very black, thick, opaque, and soft: 95% cotton - 5% spandex. There are several styles (some with ankle zippers or snaps). They wear longer than 27 inches; I bet they measure 32 inches. They go on sale too, which is great. According to reviews, customers love them despite not understanding why tiny holes eventually develop in the seams. I had the same problem with Express' boot cut yoga pants. (Strange, as I am not a large person.) The leggings are soft, slimming and budget-friendly at $14.95 on sale ($29.90 regularly), thereby earning my blue ribbon. Just know they are not made to last forever, so it's a trade off.

3. Old Navy Women's Fold-Over Yoga Pants - In my opinion, the name is misleading. Yoga pants and leggings are usually two different things. Fortunately, these are indeed leggings, and at $19.90 a pair, they are also blue ribbon worthy. In fact these are my 2nd favorite leggings available today. They are 93% cotton and 7% spandex. They are soft, opaque and durable. Better in quality than leggings costing 2-3 times more. By the way, Old Navy also sells excellent traditional boot-cut yoga pants. Stock up!

4. American Apparel cotton spandex jersey leggings - Well-made; a choice of colors, prints and textures; soft, a comfortable cotton-spandex blend; durable. They are heavy enough to wear solo. Cost: $28.

5. Hue ultra leggings with wide waistband - Pricey, but fine basic leggings ... and they are definitely not thin or shinny. So you can pair them with shorter tops and wear them outside the gym. Cost: $34-$44 (depending on seller).

6. James Perce stretch jersey long leggings - I like them very much, but at $68 a pair, they are an investment. Personally, I hate paying so much for basics. I'd rather own several pairs of basics -- like leggings (socks or t-shirts) -- so I can carelessly machine wash and dry them many times over and not really think of them as an investment. But that's me. If a pair of James Perce leggings in my size landed on my desk, I'd be very happy. Who wouldn't?

Without a doubt, good quality leggings at affordable prices are harder to come by than years ago. So if you have a brand to recommend, pleassse share under comments. Savvy Shoppers want to know!

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Phil Everly: January 19, 1939 - January 3, 2014

Photo: New York Times: Phil and Don Everly
A dash every fan dreads, but it inevitably comes. R.I.P. Mr. Phil Everly. Thank you for your sweet, perfect harmony and equally amazing solo voice.

In today's New York Times: "Paul Simon, whose song “Graceland” includes vocals by Phil and Don Everly, said in an email on Saturday morning: 'Phil and Don were the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard. Both voices pristine and soulful. The Everlys were there at the crossroads of country and R&B. They witnessed and were part of the birth of rock and roll.'

'I loved them both,' Mr. Simon wrote. 'Phil was outgoing, gregarious and very funny. Don is quiet and introspective. When Simon and Garfunkel toured with the Everlys in 2003, Art and I would take the opportunity to learn about the roots of rock and roll from these two great historians. It was a pleasure to spend time in their company.'”

Paul McCartney and John Lennon worshipped them, as did Albert Lee, James Burton, the Hollies, Tim Rice, Neil Diamond, Tom Petty, Brian May (Queen) and rock and roll greats too numerous to mention.

Green Day's Billy Joe Armstrong (who along with Nora Jones put out an Everly Brothers' tribute album called "Foreverly" in November, 2013) wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal about "The Dark Traditions of Phil Everly" and older brother, Don.

I have listened to their music since I was in a bassinet ... literally. My Dad played their records around the house. What a high standard they set. Their harmony was so sweet that children were undisturbed listening to tales of heartache, early death and murder.

From all accounts, Phil Everly was a gentle soul. To think, he is no longer with us ... there are no words, only sadness. It's a day many of us didn't want to come. There is no doubt that his memory and music will live on forever in his family, friends and fans.

Update, Sunday night: Read CBS Sunday Morning's Bill Flanagan's segment on the influence of the Everly Brothers.


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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year ... Western Skillet Eggs For Breakfast

Photo: Vanity Fair
A Very Happy New Year! 

Let's start the first day right with a nutritious breakfast. But after a night of celebration, one without too much fuss. One pan dishes keep the preparation and clean up easy-breezy. 

Here's a recipe I got from the Food Network. Feel free to make it your own, as I did, with ingredients you usually stock in your kitchen:

Western Skillet Eggs Baked In An Oven

Ingredients:

1/2 cup skim milk
Photo: Food Network Magazine
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
sea salt, to taste
punch of dried garlic
turns of the black pepper mill, to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 large green pepper, sliced into sticks
1 large red pepper, sliced into sticks
punch of nutmeg
punch of fresh celery leaves
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, diced
4 ounces ham, diced
2 cups of whole grain bread, cut into bite sized pieces
2 teaspoons dried parsley, plus more for topping
8 large eggs

Directions:

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine the milk, garlic, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste in a bowl and set aside.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet. Add the onion, bell peppers and celery leaves and saute 5 - 7 minutes until soften.
4. Next throw in the tomatoes, ham, bread, parsley and 1/4 cup of water and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. It only takes a few minutes. Season to taste.
5. Then turn off the heat and make 8 indentions in the bread mixture with a spoon or measuring cup. Crack your eggs into each indention.
6. Pour the set-aside, seasoned milk over the eggs.
7. Pop the omelet into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes until the eggs are set.
8. Top with parsley to make it pretty.

Serve with coffee and juice. Bon Appetit!

Photo: CNN








Wishing you a happy and healthy year ahead. As we begin another year in our ole imperfect world remember that a little kindness and generosity of spirit go a long way.

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