Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This is the bad news. The good news? Because "young adults may face a steep climb back to work as the economy recovers", some are deciding to volunteer. My son Christopher's girlfriend Shannon is going to be graduating from FSU with an engineering degree this year and is thinking about joining the Peace Corps. Christopher, in the meantime, is in no rush to finish college and is D R A G G I N G out his time at the community college TCC. Other students are looking into Law School or Graduate School as an alternative to the harsh new real world. Christopher is also thinking about volunteering for the Peace Corps with Shannon. I think they'll make a cute volunteer couple and, if I was an employer, would be very impressed with that on an applicant's resume. Like Mother Superior says: "When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ How to Pick Running Songs

I have been taking a Fitness 101 Program with Footworks in South Miami. I am in the 3-1 group, which means we run 3 minutes and then walk 1. We run a 5 K most nights (3.1 miles), but the other night, we ran 4 miles. This was a feeling of accomplishment for me since I have never run that far before. We all agreed that running in a group, with a leader who pushes you to finish, is a real help. But since we only run 2 days a week, I am running 1 or 2 other days on my own. A girl in my class mentioned she found it hard to run on her own. I told her to put running music on her I-Pod. She told me she had done that, but was unsure on how to find music that would get her feet a movin'. I explained to her my method. I downloaded songs I thought would be good to run to (found some suggestions on-line, got others from my sisters, both runners) and then I tried them out on my runs. I made a note of the songs that made me want to run and kept a list. These songs became my Top Running songs. If I liked a song, but it was not quite fast enough, I might choose it as a Warm Up song (like the Dire Straits "Walk of Life"). As Cool Down songs, I choose songs that make me feel good and able to bask in the glow of my accomplishment, like Bruce Springsteen's "My Beautiful Reward". Listening to it after my run, is my beautiful reward for running.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." Robert Frost

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part of the three R's is recycle (renew, reuse), so this past weekend I recycled some old cane chairs I've had around forever. Since we are usually short dining room chairs, I wanted to transform the off-white, vinyl-covered Bistro chairs that stick out like a sore thumb, into chairs that resembled my Ethan Allen dining room chairs. So, I bought a couple of cans of paint at Home Depot ($6 each), some compatible fabric at Joanne's ($25)and off I went on my mission! I first unscrewed the seat from the chair. then cleaned, sanded and primed my chairs. After the primer dried, I zapped the chairs with a couple coats of my espresso brown satin paint (pretty!), cut out a circle of my grass cloth type fabric, stapled it on with a heavy duty stapler, put the whole thing together and voila! "New" chairs for about 10 bucks each. And I get the satisfaction of knowing I did it myself (with a little help from my hubby). Now I am ready for my next dinner party with chairs that won't stick out like a sore thumb.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Eat Like An Italian

Chew Deliberately. Didn't our mothers tell us something like: "Make sure you chew your food well?" Turns out, (like many other things) she was right. Just read something on the Oprah website about eating consciously, from somebody like the Dali Lama. An example was to take an apple- look at it, feel it, smell it and when you eat it, REALLY focus on the apple and your experience (crunch, taste, smell) eating the apple. Coincidentally, I recently read an article about a guy trying to be the healthiest guy in America, who had started trying to chew each bite of food 50 times! I think he usually did it about 30, but that's still a lot. Since I read about the same subject twice, it made me think there's a trend going on here. Coincidence or synchronicity? As someone trying to lose weight, this is also a helpful tool. Sometimes I eat in the car, on the way to my destination. Oftentimes it is an apple I eat, crunching away, while driving and listening to the radio. Am I really enjoying the apple? Of course not. I also tend to eat my trusty Lean Cuisines in front of the tube, gobbling down the meager serving while vegging out to The View. Better to sit at the table, with all your focus on your meal, and chew your food well. Sometimes, when I am cooking for company, I've spent so much time getting ready for the meal that when I sit down and eat, it's almost as a chore I have to plow through, rather than a pleasure to be savored. I inhale the food and exhale, ready for dessert, not eating consciously at all. I think the Italians (and Europeans in general) have it right; they make meals an occasion, drawn out and delightful. Of course, the wine they serve with meals doesn't hurt a bit. Most of us don't have time for three hour meals but even if it's fifteen minutes spent eating take out, relax and enjoy it. So try the apple experiment and make an effort to really chew and enjoy your food. Eat like an Italian. Buon appetito!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Buy Local Produce

My husband recently brought home a box of clementine oranges. One of them was complete mush and many others on the way to being mush, so I returned them to the grocery store. When I looked at the box, I discovered they were from Morocco. Why were we buying oranges shipped from Africa when we live in Florida, home to the best oranges (along with California) in the United States? Why indeed? In addition, the box of Clementines were $8.99! Very extravagant (as I said, my husband bought them) compared to $3.59 for oranges from Orlando, FLA. After buying a delicious melon the other day, my mother told me that the ones from California and Arizona were the best tasting. The ones from Chile or other South American countries, not as good. While I appreciate that there are certain fruits, like grapes and cherries, that we can buy out of season (because our winter is their summer and vice versa), I feel better buying seasonal fruit and, of course, better yet, from local farmers at a Farmers Market. Less carbon footprint and all that. Find out what is grown around you and try it in season. We have fat juicy strawberries down in Homestead that are incredible right now. It's even more fun to pick them yourself and enjoy a strawberry milkshake while you're there. That way your kids can discover how strawberries are grown and enjoy the "fruits" of their labor first hand. "Orange" you glad you did?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Reusable Coffee Filters

I clipped a recent article about a variety of uses for paper coffee filters. My favorite tip is probably to use them to cover food in the microwave, but you can also use them to polish stainless steel and as a wrap for herbs in a soup or stew (instead of cheesecloth). Which is good because I can never find cheesecloth when I need it. I have plenty of paper coffee filters leftover because I bought a metal coffee filter years ago and that way I don't waste paper and have no added expense. After I make coffee, I just dump the grinds in my compost container I keep in my kitchen, rinse it off and voila! Ready for the next day. As a round-up of other blogs, I finally found the photo of my son as The Joker in the costume I "made" for Halloween and took a photo of the Ricotta Lemon Almond Muffins (Nonna's Muffins by Giada) I baked yesterday morning. Perfect with a cup of coffee made with a reusable coffee filter. Enjoy!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Be an Educated Eater

I'm going to lunch for a meeting today at Panera's Bread. Before I go, I looked up the nutrional information for the menu, online. That way I am aware of what I'm eating and how many calories I'm ingesting. It's not that you shouldn't "blow it" every now and then, but if I'm blowing it I want to know I'm blowing it and darn well enjoy it. I hate to order soup and a salad, think I'm being "good" and actually be eating more calories than I should all day. I'd rather eat a cheeseburger and french fries if I'm going to "blow it". Panera actually has some pretty good choices and I'm happy to learn that they are going to start posting nutritional information right at their restaurants in the near future. Some members of our tennis team met for lunch at P.F. Changs in December. I checked it out online before lunch and was armed to make intelligent food choices. I got the Steamed Vegetable dumplings (30 calories) and seared ahi tuna (312 calories) while someone else ordered spring rolls (350 calories), lettuce wraps (510) and a rice bowl whose nutrition info I can no longer find but almost passed out when I saw it. Granted, she shared the appetizers, but still. The last time I went to P.F. Changs I ordered the Chicken Lo Mein, which I thought was pretty healthy. 1620 calories! Never again will I walk into a mine field without a metal detector. Like an ad on TV used to say: "An Educated Consumer is our Best Customer". I am determined to lose 10 pounds by June 1st. My new slogan is: "Know it when you Blow It".

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Ricotta Cheese

I bought a large container of Ricotta cheese to make lasagna with, but never made the lasagna so am looking for ways to use it. A recent commercial says we throw out $500 worth of food that goes bad every year. What a waste! Just read an article online that listed Ricotta as a "surprising Super Food" that can add years to your life. It's higher in calcium and lower in sodium than cottage cheese and also contains: folic acid, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. The suggestion was to buy part-skim, which I always do.

I turned to Chowhound and other sources for inspiration on how to use my ricotta. Sweet or Savory, that is the question. Here are the answers:


Flavor it with Splenda and vanilla extract and serve it with mandarin orange slices and toasted almonds. This works with the South Beach Diet

Ricotta Hot cakes- Nigella's recipe was recommended

Ricotta with apricot jam and slivered almonds on top

Lemon Muffins with almonds- Giada's recipe

Whip ricotta with honey and lemon and serve over berries- could use strawberries or blueberries.

Spread on toast with jalapeno jelly or orange marmalade

Ricotta with grilled figs and honey


Ricotta on toast with sliced tomatoes

Saute broccoli rabe in garlic with good olive oil and red pepper flakes and serve with a dollop of ricotta

Gnocchi- My aunt Josie uses Ricotta instead of potatoes for a lighter (and easier) version

Pizza- is a natural for ricotta. Make it easy by using a pre-made pizza shell (like Boboli). I took a cue from Anthony's Coal Fire for variations:

Tomato sauce topped with ricotta and mini meatballs

A white pizza with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese

Ricotta on top of pizza with meatballs, sausage, and grilled veggies

A Spring Pasta recipe called for sauteing 2 cups peas with shallots in olive oil, then throwing this mixture over cooked orichette and adding 1 cup of ricotta and chopped mint (or basil). Yum!

Another pasta dish recommended was with gemelli, sausage, onion, garlic, fresh basil and marinara sauce, layered with ricotta, like lasagna.

Which brings me back to why I bought it in the first place. With all these ideas, I may have to get another container!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Wrap in Scraps

The other day I went to wrap a gift in a box and discovered the paper was too small for the box. Don't you hate when that happens? But, when I looked at the strip of paper around the box, it looked pretty cute. I taped the paper around the box, affixed a bow and voila! I was admired for my creativity, liked I'd planned it all along. Here is a photo of an example of what I'm talking about, so now you have a use for those small pieces of wrapping paper lying around. I wrapped this one with tulle (usually seen in bride's veils), but would leave it plain if the gift was for a guy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ 10 ways to recycle Newspapers

So you've read your newspaper, clipped necessary coupons, decided the path of your life based on the generic horoscope readings ("If today is your birthday..."). Now, what do you do with your newspaper? Recycling springs to mind first, but newspaper can also serve other purposes beyond lining the proverbial bird's cage and using it to make Silly Putty imprints. Here are ten ways to reuse newspaper you might not have thought of.

1) If your shoes are stinky or wet, stuff crumpled up newspaper in them to deodorize and dry.

2) Newspaper is a Painter's Friend. Use on the floor to catch drips, under the paint can and tape around windows to prevent them from being painted.

3) Clean windows with them. Use a solution of vinegar and water (1 part white vinegar and 1 part hot water) and crumpled newspaper. This leaves a film that's resistant to dirt.

4) Packing. I don't know what I would have done without newspapers to pack for my moves.

5) Start Fires with tightly rolled and tied newspaper "logs".

6) Newspaper is also a Gardener's Friend. Shred and add to compost heaps, use as mulch in your garden to discourage weeds and use as a covering for plants during cold snaps.

7) If you are growing tomatoes in your garden, you can use newspaper to ripen green tomatoes. Wrap green tomatoes in sheets and lay in a box. Check every couple days to see if they are ripe.

8) Arts and Crafts! I remember my Dad making paper dolls for me out of the newspaper and making paper mache balloon creations with my Mom. When using newspaper for paper mache, tear the strips and dip into a solution of 1 part flour, 2 parts water to make a "glue".

9) Use as a mat when polishing shoes.

10) One of my favorite ways to reuse newspaper is as gift wrapping, especially for large gifts. I wrapped my daughter's suitcase in the travel section a couple Christmases ago. You could wrap a briefcase in the business section, or movie tickets in the entertainment section; use your imagination. A classic birthday wrap places the recipient's horoscope in a prominent location, highlighted in yellow to stand out. "If today is your birthday..."

Now that you have great ideas on how to reuse your newspaper, you don't need to be the cat lady with piles of newspapers stacked around your house. This photo came from the newspaper the day my son was featured in Tropical Life. I won't be recycling that one-

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ The Newspaper Isn't Dead Yet

We've all heard about the demise of the newspaper, what with the internet and Kindle edging out good, old-fashioned newsprint. Still, there's nothing like hearing that thud of the paper hitting the pavement, going outside to retrieve it and bringing it inside to unfurl and read with a nice, hot steaming cup of java. Lucy and Ricky did it, Ozzie and Harriet did it and, I am convinced we will continue to do it for generations to come. For 50 cents a pop (or a buck for the Sunday edition) it continues to be a great bargain! In a recent edition of my local paper (The Miami Herald) I found an article about new sports bras (I still need one), an article I want to use as a blueprint for a future article, an article to blog about (vacations are good for you) and a recipe for eggplant pizza. And that was all in one section! There are often coupons for department stores, craft stores, or sports stores that can save you a bundle, not to mention the Sunday circulars with their plethora of clip crazy coupouns. Your newspaper can actually save you money in the long run. And just like Netflix, it's delivered right to your doorstep. What could be better? The recipe for eggplant pizza, of course. (Disclaimer- I haven't tried it yet.)

Eggplant Pizza

1 Eggplant

8 oz jar marinara sauce

8 oz shredded 2 % mozzarella

8 oz turkey pepperoni

Peel the eggplant. Cut it into 1/4 inch slices. Cover each slice with marinara sauce. Top with three or four slices of pepperoni and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Apply Pam to a metal baking sheet and place eggplant slices on it. Bake 10 minutes in a 300 degree oven. Makes about 5 slices of "pizza".