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Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas DIY: Sugar Scrubs!



The holidays are upon us and if you’re like me, you’ve had your moments of being overjoyed and also moments of being overwhelmed. Like every year, I started off by declaring that my gift list would be short and only include a few children. And like every year, the list grew to include adult relatives, teachers, and friends. I decided to make gifts more meaningful and inexpensive this year by creating some of them myself. I recruited my children to help make their (numerous) teacher gifts.

I am not the most creative person in the world, so I recycled a recipe I learned from the fabulous Karen Peters at one of her blending workshops. We made candy cane scented sugar scrubs for the teachers and packaged them with a little poem that explained how to use them and also some chocolate covered peppermint sticks. We used finely ground pure cane sugar purchased from our local grocery store and added a blend of olive, grapeseed, and avocado oils. Then we scented the scrub with a couple of drops of candy cane fragrance oil. It smelled absolutely edible! The teachers loved the unique gifts and I can defintely say that they were a hit!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Home/Work Basics: Starting the Day Off Right!


As each year begins, I promise myself that I will be diligent in my meditation. When I meditate at the beginning of the day, I feel more calm, peaceful, and focused. However, I always seem to get off track and let my quiet time fall to the wayside. This year was no different. I started off meditating and journaling. However, as I got busier with work and family obligations I found other things to do besides meditate.

Reading one of my favorite blogs, Moptop Maven, inspired me to get back on track. Her insightful article on meditating made me realize how valuable that time is. I took her advice and found my "peaceful place" and now I meditate at least three times a week after my jog over this bridge.

I sit in a picnic area at the base of the bridge and just spend some time focusing on me.

Meatless Monday: Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce




Continuing in the theme of heartier vegetarian fare, I made a vegetarian Bolognese sauce that very “meaty” in texture and flavor. I wish I could take credit for creating all of my recipes from scratch but I must admit that Cooking Light’s website and magazines have provided me with many great ideas.

So what made this sauce different than your typical veggie pasta sauces? Mushrooms! And I am not a big mushroom fan but a combinations of chopped fresh mushrooms and crumbled dried mushrooms created a ground beef like texture when added to the sauce.

The ingredient list was pretty basic. I was able to find everything at my local Publix:

Ingredients

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms (about 1/4 ounce)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped carrot

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 (8-ounce) package cremini mushrooms, finely chopped

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup warm water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (28-ounce) can organic crushed tomatoes with basil, undrained

1 (2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind

12 ounces uncooked whole-wheat penne (tube-shaped pasta)

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


I used my Magic Bullet to process the dried mushrooms until finely ground. The recipe says you can also use a coffee or spice grinder.


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and mushrooms; sauté 10 minutes. Add wine; simmer 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Add 1/4 cup warm water and next 4 ingredients (through cheese rind) to onion mixture. Stir in ground porcini. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes. Keep warm. Remove rind; discard.


Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Place 1 cup of pasta in each of 6 bowls. Top each portion with 3/4 cup sauce and about 1 tablespoon cheese.

Work Basics: Do the Hard Stuff First!


I am always looking for ways to make life simpler. Be it the latest app or template, there are many ways to prioritize daily to-do’s. As management consultant (and mother of two) who works from home, I have no shortage of daily to-do’s. The challenge is to keep my work and home life somewhat separate even though they literally merge.

When I started working from home, I would have a conference call and then put in a load of laundry, work on a client deliverable, then start my dinner,etc. Sounds like a great balance but the reality of it was that I found myself working on my consulting projects well after my family was tucked away in bed. Though I was no longer on the road like I was when I worked for a huge consulting firm, I was still exhausted. I had to figure out how to become more efficient.

Then one day while in a meeting, one of my professional colleagues mentioned that he got through the more tedious aspects of his job by “doing the hard thing first”. Talk about an “aha” moment! I realized that my exhaustion and lack of productivity during the day was because I was tackling the easy and familiar tasks and leaving the more difficult ones closer to the deadlines.

The very next day, I did the task I dreaded the most first. The remainder of the day was easier, more relaxed and overall, more productive. So, my conclusion is that no matter how many apps I have on my smart phone or how cute my to-lists look posted on my magnetic whiteboard, it is up to me to “get it done” and doing the hard thing first is the best way to start my day!

How do you make sure you make the most of each day?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rosemary Roasted Cornish Hen




Now that the temperature is dropping, it seems more natural to roast than to grill. Hence, my use of the remainder of my fresh rosemary to season my Cornish hens. And yes, I actually made this recipe weeks ago when the rosemary was actually fresh. I’ve just been a little slack with my posting.

This recipe was extremely simple and very flavorful. I started with a Cornish hen, fresh rosemary, and some Kerrygold garlic butter. I seasoned the hen with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Then, I placed the rosemary and butter under the skin so that the flavor would really sink it (and it did!)


I roasted the hen at 350 for a little under an hour with some red potatoes sprinkled with a bit more of the fresh rosemary and some butter. I made some green beans and voila!, a quick and healthy weeknight meal!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meatless Monday: Vegetarian West African Soup


As the weather gets cooler, my vegetarian dishes are taking on a heartier flare. Light pastas with fresh veggies are perfect for the summer however I try to choose comfort foods in the fall and winter. This Monday we had vegetarian west African soup. Very easy. Very filling and extremely flavorful. One caveat – you must like peanuts.

Here are the ingredients:

2/3 cup roasted peanuts (or 2/3 cup natural peanut butter)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 cups chopped onion

6 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled sweet potato

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 15 1/2-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained

1 15 1/2-ounce) cans black beans, drained

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

Flat-leaf parsley sprigs (optional)

This recipe is so quick and easy that I managed to throw it together in the 30-minute window between dropping my son off at football practice and heading out the door to a meeting.

The recipes calls for homemade peanut butter in which you place peanuts in a food processor; process until smooth (about 2 minutes), scraping sides of bowl once. In the interest of time, I use 2/3 cup of natural peanut butter.


Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Add peanut butter, potato, and next 6 ingredients (potato through tomatoes); bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes or until potato is tender. Garnish with parsley, if desired.


This recipe is also great reheated if you have leftovers.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hair Basics: Rosemary Spritz



The other day, my neighbor gave me a beautiful bunch of fresh rosemary. It was fresh from her herb pot and smelled great. So, what was I going to do with this unexpected gift? I love to cook with rosemary (which is one of the things I did with it) however I know my family would not want to eat rosemary in every meal for the next week or so. Then I remembered that rosemary is also fabulous for hair. I did a little internet research and came up with great info. A few examples can be found here, here, and here. Besides smelling great, rosemary is known to stimulate the scalp leading to hair growth. So, I decided to make a couple of hair products with my fresh rosemary.


The first was a simple spritz. I steeped the fresh rosemary in my Teavana tea maker and let it stay in there until it cooled. While it was still warm, I added about a teaspoon of raw honey – good for moisture and shine. The honey completely dissolves in the warm water so there is no stickiness in the final product.


I keep the spritz in the fridge since it is all natural and won’t last long at room temperature. So far, I love it! I spritz my hair at night before going to bed and also mid-day just to give it a quick shot of moisture. It works well and is easy and inexpensive to make.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Meatless Monday: Spinach and Chickpea Curry


Living in Florida, I have come to love all things curry. My close friend from Trinidad gave me some curry powder that will knock the socks off the stuff in the grocery store here. Curry is a flavorful, typically spicy dish which is prominent in South Asian and Caribbean cuisines. This version includes chickpeas, which add extra fiber and protein to an already healthy meal.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons margarine

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves minced garlic

1 small apple, peeled, cored and

coarsely chopped or 2 tomatoes, chopped

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons curry powder

2 cups vegetable stock

2 cups chickpeas

2 cups loosely chopped spinach

1/4 cup light cream

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup seedless raisins, soaked in warm water or brandy

Mango chutney

Directions
Heat margarine in large skillet; sauté onion until golden. Add garlic and apple or tomato. Cook over low heat until apples are soft.

In small bowl, combine flour and curry powder; stir into onion mixture. Cook a few minutes to blend into thick, smooth paste. Gradually add vegetable stock chickpeas and spinach, stirring often over medium heat, cooking until curry is thick. Add light cream, salt and pepper to taste. Add raisins. Cook slightly longer to desired thickness.
Serve over hot cooked rice. Serve mango chutney on the side.

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Almost) Another Meatless Monday: Butternut Squash Risotto


Roasted butternut squash risotto with sugared walnuts was one of the best meatless dishes we’ve had in awhile. Well, almost meatless…there is a little pancetta in the recipe for flavor. However, you could leave it out and add a different savory seasoning for a similar taste. This is the kind of dish you love to have cooking when friends just happen to stop by for dinner. That is, if you don’t mind sharing….

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup chardonnay
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or 1 1/2 tablespoons thyme plus 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
So first, you toast the walnuts in the oven for a few minutes. Then drizzle with a little warm butter, toss in brown sugar and a sprinkle of pepper. I had to kick my kids out of the kitchen just so they wouldn't eat them all!
Then peel and cut up the squash, toss with a bit of olive oil, and roast until tender. While the squash is roasting you can bring your chicken broth to a boil, chop onion and pancetta, and heat a large saucepan.
Add pancetta to saucepan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Add onion; cook 3 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook 1 minute or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes total). Stir in squash, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Top with cheese and nuts.
So good!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Another Meatless Monday: Orzo with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese


Meatless Mondays have become a routine in our household. This Monday, we had orzo with zucchini, tomatoes, and goat cheese. It was tasty and quick! After all, who has time for a complicated dish on a Monday night?

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) package orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with garlic and oregano
  • 1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and diced
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese

Preparation

Cook the pasta in a Dutch oven according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain, and toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in pan over medium heat. Add zucchini; cook 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in parsley and next 5 ingredients (parsley through bell peppers). Cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in pasta and cheeses.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Meatless Monday! Angel Hair Pasta



It’s amazing to me that so many of our meals center around meat. I was a vegetarian for about a year and struggled to create meals that did not center around omelets or salads that left me hungry in a couple of hours. My family is very active so Meatless Mondays need to have enough substance to make them feel satisfied when dinner is over.


One of our favorite meatless meals is angel hair pasta w/tomatoes, basil, and garlic served with a big salad. The pasta is a simple recipe from an old school cookbook, In the Kitchen with Rosie, created by one of Oprah’s former personal chefs.

Here’s the super simple recipe:

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

½ cup dry white wine

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup chopped tomato (1 medium tomato)

8 oz angel hair pasta

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat and maintain at a boil.

Put the olive oil and garlic in saute’ pan and cook over medium heat just until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat and pour in wine. Return to heat. Cook another 1 to 2 minutes, until wine has been reduced by half. Stir in lemon juice and tomato. Remove pan from heat.

Place pasta in boiling water and cook to desired doneness. Drain the pasta and put it into warm serving bowl. Add the basil, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper, along with tomato mixture. Toss and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Homemade Hair Spritz



My hair loves spritz. Despite Florida’s humid climate, I feel that my fro benefits from a nice spritz of moisture in the middle of a hot day. However, I was getting pretty tired of spending $5 - $10 for bottles of water infused with herbs and oils that I already own. So I decided to add a few things to my collection (as only a true product junkie would) and make my own spritzes.

I did a bit of online research and found great resources such Anita Grant who provided information on how different herbs affect hair. I placed an order and was very excited to receive my packages of dried herbs. I have to admit that my dried herbs sat under my bathroom sink for about two months while I used up my store bought spritz.

I was excited about the idea of making my own spritz but dreaded the process of dealing with herbs. However the process I was dreading turned out be easy peasy. I decided to make two bottles of spritz. The first is supposed to prevent breakage of dry, coarse, naturally curly hair and consists of organic hibiscus and blue malva. The other consists of organic nettle, coltsfoot, and horsetail, a combo that promotes healthy natural hair growth and prevents split ends.


I infused herbs into my water using two types of Teavana tea infusers. Both worked well and were as easy as making a cup of tea. With each type, I placed the loose herbs into the container and poured boiling water over them. I then allowed them to steep until the water cooled. I poured the infused mixtures into spray bottles that I bought from Target.


I have only used my homemade mixes for about a week but so far I really love them. These two bottles barely put a dent into my herb supply. My $20 investment in dried herbs will probably make about 20 bottles of spritz! I added a bit of lemongrass essential oil to nettle/coltsfoot/horsetail combo and it smells great and makes my hair feel super soft. I have few other herbs that I have yet to use but will keep you posted as I channel my inner mixtress.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cutting Expenses


Saving money does not always have to be the result of a detailed, time-consuming plan. Sometime, it can be as simple as picking up the phone.

During a peculiar incidence of late night insomnia, I was watching Suze Orman re-runs (for some reason I never watch the actual show). She was giving a caller advice about cutting all of her expenses by 20%. I thought to myself, “easier said than done”. However, sometimes it really is just that easy.

The next day, I called up my trusty cable company to discuss the ridiculous price of our cable, internet, and telephone package. I was totally prepared to leave the cable company and go back to the phone company for the same services.

It was surprisingly easy to get them give me a “special” which cut my bill by $41 – a little over 20% . Hmmmm…..who can I negotiate with next?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Short on Time? Try Tabata!



Taba-what? That’s what I was thinking as my super fit girlfriend, A, told me about a new type of routine to add to my fitness arsenal. I had asked her to help me spice up my Fall routine because I knew she would have a great idea. The workout she told me to try is the Tabata workout. Created by Izumi Tabata, the Tabata protocol is based upon supra-aerobic cardio.

The workout goes something like this:

  • 5 minutes of warm-up
  • 8 intervals of 20 seconds all-out intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • 2 minutes cool-down

Short, huh? Short and intense! The key is to really go all out on the 20 second intervals. You’ll be praying for the clock to move faster.

I did my first Tabata workout yesterday. I was definitely skeptical because I am a long cardio session type of girl. I did a Tabata workout that, coincidentally enough, was in my latest issue of Oxygen magazine. I did it three times and burned 150 calories (according to my very accurate heart rate monitor). That’s 150 calories in under 15 minutes of hard work. I’ll take it!


Oh yeah, I also found a cool app for .99 to time my intervals so I wouldn’t be distracted trying to keep track of time. The Tabata protocol will definitely be my new go-to workout when I’m in a time crunch. Thanks A!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meatless Monday!



In an effort to incorporate more veggies into our diets, my family tries to go meatless at least one night per week. Meatless Mondays are a great way to get kids involved in coming up with dinner ideas that do not involve meat. They love the theme and have actually tried to put a theme on every night of the week (Taco Tuesdays, Soup Sundays, etc). The weeklong themes are a bit much and I don’t even attempt them but Meatless Mondays are going strong.

Our last Meatless Monday meal was a grown-up twist on one of the kids’ favorites – smoked gouda mac and cheese which also has a little spinach in it. I served it with a beet salad. For some reason, my children really like beets. They don’t eat the blue cheese, and walnuts in the salad but they do eat a lot of beets.


This meal was quick and flavorful and made great leftovers.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Making Natural Hair Products


Over the past couple of years, I have really worked to simplify both my hair routine and the products that I use in my (and my daughter’s) hair. The more I learned about products, the more I realized that many of the brands I purchased were not contributing to the overall health of my hair. I threw out everything containing sulfates, mineral oil, and lists of chemicals that I could not identify.

As I transitioned to natural ingredients, I purchased from many companies - big and small – and probably spent more money than I care to think about. So, I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to learn how to create hair products for myself. Last weekend, my daughter and I attended a Natural Hair Lab (hosted by Karen of the Peace and Beauty Project) and made organic shampoo, hair butter, and hair oil. We had a great time learning about the benefits of natural products on our hair and skin.


It was great to be able to work with ingredients that we could pronounce like the castile soap, black cocoa butter, cocoa absolute and mint in the yummy shampoo.

And the jojoba, rosemary, and mint in the soothing scalp oil.

And also the almond butter, lemongrass oil, and coconut oil in the amazing lemongrass hair butter.


My daughter and I learned so much. Maybe too much – she came home and told her Dad that his chemical-laden shower gel was poison! LOL!

Good times…..

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Body Basics/Healthy Food: Cooking With Wine



Ever wondered what to do with a bottle of wine that you knew you were not going to finish? I used to just pour it down the drain if I knew my hubby and I weren’t planning on drinking it within a day or two. It seemed that no matter what preservation technique we used, the wine just didn’t taste the same after several days.

Recently, I came up with a money-saving use for leftover wine. Freeze it! Not to drink but to use it cooking. The wine I drink is of much better quality than the cooking wines in the grocery store and maintains its flavor when frozen within a day or so of opening. When I am cooking a dish that calls for wine (like my pasta sauce) then I simply throw in a cube of frozen wine. Voila! Instant flavor. No waste!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Body Basics/Healthy Food: Avocado Smoothie


Up until a couple of years ago, the only ways I’d eaten avocados were in guacamole, sushi, or sliced on my turkey burger. However, my husband and I were in an Asian restaurant and noticed avocado smoothies on the menu. Honestly, an avocado smoothie did not sound too appealing. But our waiter gave us a sample and it was actually quite good. Traditional avocado smoothies are made with sweetened milk and crushed ice to give them an almost milkshake-like consistency. We now make them at home using fresh avocados, vanilla almond milk, and frozen mango. Don’t frown until you try it!

By the way, avocados are a great addition to your diet because they provide many health benefits including lowering cholesterol and regulating blood pressure. Don’t get scared away by the fat content – its monosaturated (oleic acid) – just don’t go overboard on your avocado consumption.