Saturday, January 30, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Haiti Donations

I have been inundated, as I'm sure everyone has, with e-mails and other pleas to donate money to Haiti for earthquake relief. There was even an option to give at my grocery store. In addition, there are all kinds of events taking place in the South Florida community to raise money for Haiti. While we want to give, and money seems the most helpful donation at this point, which organization to give to is confusing. One of the first e-mails I received was asking to donate to Partners in Health, ( the same organization Meryl Streep spoke about at her acceptance speech for the Golden Globes. This organization has been a presence in Haiti for 25 years. Even established organizations have come under fire for not using donations in an appropriate way. The Red Cross was criticized by a reader in The Miami Herald recently. They noted you need to write "Haitian Relief Fund" on your donation to make sure your money is spent in Haiti and not elsewhere. Other donation possibilities are Doctors Without Borders, Operation Helping Hands and the Salvation Army. Now that little hope for finding anyone alive is possible, it is time for recovery. Let us not forget the people of Haiti at this most crucial time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Stewed Prunes

Stewed Prunes. Really! I re-discovered their restorative effects on my recent trip to Club Med. I saw them, thought "Why not?", got a little bowlful and voila! As the french say, it did the trick, renewed my je ne sais quoi. It was a wonderful feeling. I don't know about you, but I'd rather solve my health issues with diet, rather than popping a FiberCon pill. Prunes, now labeled "Dried Plums" to oomph their appeal, deliver more antioxidants than fresh blueberries. They are also full of potassium and fiber. The only downside is, being a dried fruit, they are rather high in calories (about 100 calories for 5 prunes) so factor that into your daily intake. Other remedies for fellow suffers who are not always "regular" are: drink lots of water and exercise. That's right- get moving to get things "moving". Making stewed prunes couldn't be easier. I saw lots of recipes that added sugar, orange juice etc... but why add more calories than necessary? I just covered the prunes in water (about an inch above them) in a saucepan for a half hour, added a bag of Earl Grey tea for flavor (it could be another kind) and simmered them for about half an hour. Voila! Stewed prunes, problem solved. The spring is back in your step and life is good.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Haiti

Soup, oatmeal and saving money all seem inconsequential in light of the recent events in Haiti. When I was a flight attendant for Air Florida, I flew into Port Au Prince for more than a year and was impressed with the Haitian people's gentle nature and happy spirit. Why did natural disaster hit a people already struggling so hard to survive? It does not seem to make sense. In 1992 I was here in Miami when Hurricane Andrew plowed through our city. Much of our home both cars and a lot of "stuff" was destroyed. The thing I realized in the aftermath was that as long as my family was safe and sound, all the "stuff" I 'd accumulated over a lifetime, including my house and car, didn't really matter much. The other thing I was happy to discover was how our neighborhood came together to help each other out- with food, phones, generators- in a time of need. We took turns Bar-b-queing the food in our freezer that was going to go bad and truly became a neighborhood at that time. If anything good has come from this disaster it is how people all over the world, even in these hard economic times, have shown an outpouring of support for the people of Haiti. Food, water, clothes and financial aid have been showered on people in desperate need. The basic goodness and decency of humanity has a chance to shine in times like this. And for that, I am grateful.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Better Late Than Never

Just returned from a week-long vacation in the Bahamas at one of those all-inclusive resorts. My husband bid on it (half-price) at an auction for my fiftieth birthday and we were finally able to go. All inclusive resorts are having fabulous deals right now (a lot are basically half off) and the great thing about them is, as their name implies, they are all-inclusive. There are a couple things you could do to actually spend money- like order a fancy bottle of wine or SCUBA dive- but everything else was included. The only thing we spent money on was a photograph taken on the beach and a couple gifts for the kids, less than $50. All the food (at three different restaurants), wine, drinks and activities were included in the price. No charge. Some of the activities offered (for free) are: Sailing, snorkeling, Zumba, tennis clinics, Abs and Butt class, wind surfing and cooking classes. We participated in a lot of them and also took a walk to the spot where Columbus first landed in the New World.
We had a choice of three Club Meds and we picked the one with no Mini Club (club for kids). When we arrived I saw a photograph of a cross on the beach that looked vaguely familiar to me. I realized that I had used the photograph of this cross as the cover of a booklet I made for my future daughter in high school. It was a project for religion class. I can't remember exactly what I said to my future daughter, something about being true to yourself with quotes by Kahil Gibran, but I do remember the cross. It looked so beautiful, simple white set against the clear aqua water. And now, out of all of the islands in the Bahamas (there are 700), out of all of the places in the world, I landed here at this island of San Salvador. Coincidence? I happened to be reading The Secret, where you cut out images that you want to manifest in reality. Well, it may have taken me thirty-four years, but it finally happened. I also re-discovered some old loves- speaking French, sailing and snorkeling. As they say, better late than never...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ A Pot of Soup

It's cold here in Miami (really!) and about to get colder, so the only thing to do is make a big pot of soup. Although, steaming hot soup makes perfect sense at this time of year, I like to make soup once a week all year round. This week it was French Onion, last week it was Cream of Cauliflower. Besides making a cheap and nutritious dinner (when paired with sandwiches or salad), the remaining soup makes a perfect lunch or mid-afternoon pick-me-up. I found myself snacking on the Cream of Cauliflower with curry every time I needed to fill my stomach. At only 15o calories a bowl, it was a nutritional bargain and the creaminess comes from, not cream but half and half (I used 2 percent milk) and the fact the cauliflower is pureed. Yummy! Other favorite soups in my repertoire are Split Pea, Roasted Chicken Noodle, Italian Wedding and Spicy Pumpkin. Just read about an easy soup in the paper: Bring 6 cups of chicken or veggie broth to a boil. Add a bag of frozen cheese tortellini until floating and then add frozen peas. As Ina says "How easy is that?" When I had a "procedure" a couple weeks ago, the only thing I could eat was "clear liquids". I was amazed at how good plain old heated chicken broth can be!
Here is the recipe for Cream of Cauliflower Soup. I clipped it from Parade.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

2 leeks, with 2" of green

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 celery rib, with extra leaves, coarsly chopped

2 Tbsp finely minced garlic

2 tsp curry powder

2 tsp ground ginger

6 cups chicken or veggie broth

Juice of half a lemon

1 head of cauliflower, cored and broken into florets

1 cup half and half

salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cut leeks in half lenghtwise. Wash to remove dirt. Pat dry and thinkly slice crosswise.

2. Heat the oil with the butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Wilt the leeks and celery with leaves until softened, 10 minutes, add garlic during last 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the curry poseder and ginger and cook over very low heat to permeate the veggies, 1 minute.

4. Add the broth, lemon juice and cauliflower florets. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until cauliflower is very tender, 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

5. Puree in a food processor until very smooth, adding half and half through the ffed tube. Add extra broth if neccessary. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 8

Per serving: 150 calories

Friday, January 8, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Oatmeal

One of my favorite things to make for breakfast, on chilly mornings, is a big pot of oatmeal. I like McCann's Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal (in the gold can) and, although it takes a while to make (about 30 minutes), after I've made it, I put the rest in the fridge and have enough for about a week. It is a more expensive oatmeal, at $5 a can, but it makes 20 servings which comes to 25 cents a serving! That is a bargain for a nutritious, filling breakfast full of fiber. The can recommends serving it with buttermilk and brown sugar but I usually add skim milk and maple syrup to mine. You can also add chopped apples, nuts, dates, raisins, cinnamon, honey or even fresh blueberries, depending on your mood and what you have in the fridge. It's a soul-satisfying meal that warms you up and is good for you. Oh- you can also buy the one in the round red canister with guy in the funny hat. It's even cheaper. Just don't buy the individual pouches with yucky artificial (peaches and cream) ingredients. You deserve better than that. Happy Oatmealing!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Undecking Part 2

Now, if you have not already done so, it's time to tackle the gift-wrapping area. Ugh! I have to admit, I hate this job, but once again, it is a time to edit, throw away and re-access what is needed for next year (actually this year). I have already broken down the boxes and separated the tissue paper into a neat pile. I bought some half-off wrapping paper at Bed Bath and Beyond that I have put with my other wrapping paper. I've gone through my ribbons and boxes from last year and got rid of any boxes that did not have a top and a bottom (recycling) or were broken, because I have plenty more from this year. I separate my Christmas gift bags from my regular shopping bags (Nordstroms etc...) and flatten them out to be stored. I now review what I need for next Christmas: Red ribbon, Christmas gift tags and some fat gold ribbon for the tree and write it down in my handy little notebook, so if I come across it in my shopping, I can purchase it. This would have ideally been done a couple weeks ago when the after-Christmas stuff was on sale, but c'est la vie. I have all my tissue paper, boxes and bags stored in a bench in the hall so back it goes. While I'm at it, I will go through my Christmas cards. I save the ones with photographs on them (I'm a sentimental sucker) and toss the rest (recycle). There are also organizations that accept Christmas cards or you can save them for craft projects for the kids. I tear off the addresses from the corner, put them in an envelope, take a sheet of paper and make a list of the people I received cards from with 2009 at the top, and how many cards I received, with the number circled. I fold this over the cards I saved, secure it with a rubber band and stash it in my card box. That way, if I decide to send cards (I didn't this year) I immediately know how many to order or buy (always get more than you think you'll need if it's close) and I have the addresses at my fingertips so I don't have to hunt though my address book to address them. Whew! The holidays are a lot of work, but once all the trimmings are gone and stored away, it is a feeling of accomplishment and now we are ready to get to the business of the new year. Relax, Pat yourself on the back and Celebrate! Go Alabama!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/Undeck Those Halls

Time to start (or finish) undecking the Halls. I have a time-sensitive motivator because the girl's grandmother is coming to watch them and is staying in my son's room (where all the Christmas stuff is stored) so I have to get it put away NOW. I usually dread it, but last night, as my husband undid the lights, we started a fire, put on music (NOT CHRISTMAS) and roasted marshmallows with the kids. Now what do you do with your tree after it's use, as an ornament, garland, tinsel holder, light twinkler, is done? Many cities have recycling options available, but you may have to haul it there yourself. The Boy Scouts also offer this service (for a fee). My son's friends gather all the Christmas trees in the neighborhood and have a New Year's Eve bonfire, which sounds like a good idea but might actually be illegal is some states. As I was researching this, I found some other options that never occurred to me if you don't want to haul it away or leave it curbside. Put it outside in your garden for the birds to find refuge in. You can decorate it with pine cones covered in peanut butter and then rolled in birdseed to attract the birds (or just scatter birdseed around the base). Want to help our aquatic friends? If you live near a pond or lake, you can throw it in there to provide shelter and nutrients for the fish. If you have a garden, you can strip the needles and use it as mulch for acid-loving plants. Whatever you do, don't leave your Christmas tree up too long. Besides being a fire hazard, it's bad feng shui. Dead plants sap energy and are downers. Also, most recycling programs for trees only last through January. While we're cleaning house, review your decorations and discard those that don't work or are broken. Chipped dishes and cups are bad feng shui as well (plus you can cut your lip on them) so my little Frosty mug is going to have to go, along with ornaments that are broken and can't be fixed. Time to toss those gingerbread houses in the garbage as well. I know it's sometimes hard to let go of things that have memories, so take a photo. As for me, I have found my solution to my Christmas tree puzzler. I am going to have my husband chop it up and use it as firewood. Since we paid more than $100 for it, it makes since to get as much use out of it as we can and it's a way for us to enjoy our Christmas tree well into the New Year. Our Tannenbaum will keep us warm on those chilly nights!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy

Things are looking up for 2010! At least it seems that way-stocks are up, consumer confidence is up, the real estate market seems to be picking up (especially for houses $300K and under), the holiday season was better than expected. The Dow Jones jumped more than 150 points Monday. Will it last? Who knows, even if it slips down again, at least it seems to be heading in the right direction. Up! I will take it as a good sign. Now, it would be nice if banks start lending money and unemployment falls. From people I've talked to, they are optimistic for the New Year, because they feel, economy-wise, it couldn't get any worse than 2009. So, good riddance old year, hello new. Bring it on! Woo! Woo!