Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ A Wine Book

A one dollar purchase from Michaels has given me an enormous amount of pleasure. If you have ever been to Michaels Art Supply Store, I am sure you are familiar with the $1 section in the front, with reasonable purchases in bins. A couple of years ago I bought a Wine Book there, which has spaces inside for information about wines. My husband and I love wine, but usually buy the same wine (Pinot Grigio) and guzzle it down without thinking much about it. Now, when we try a new wine, we take out our wine book, sit down somewhere quiet and go about recording our opinions on the wine. This is a way of living more in the moment, and savoring the small pleasures of the day, as well as trying new wines and finding new favorites. In the book, we record the type of wine, the vintage, the producer and the region/state/country. This gets us thinking of the different places the wines come from, and trying wines from different parts of the world, instead of sticking with our usual (California and Italy) locations. Then we record the price, date tasted, place tasted and what was served with the wine (usually nothing). The third set of questions is where it really gets fun; this asks for appearance, bouquet, taste and balance. We have gotten really good at detecting aromas, such as pear, citrus, apples etc... The 2008 Chianti in this photo, for example, boasts an "intense aroma of violets". That one we did not guess. Then, there is the tasting of the wine and deciding if it would be a wine we would buy again. My daughter A.J. (a Food and Hospitality major) taught us the correct way to drink wine, last year during our trip to Italy. First, look at the color of the wine (preferably in a good light), next, swirl it around to release the aromas and take a deep sniff, getting your nose inside the glass. Then, take a sip, swishing the wine around in your mouth, and finally, swallow. This way of drinking wine, makes a bottle of wine more of an event, rather than a day in a life. This little wine book has recorded many beautiful and relaxing nights with my husband and I highly recommend buying one.
"Wine is bottled poetry." Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Keep a Gratitude Journal

What if there was something you could do that would improve your life immeasurably and it's absolutely free? The secret lies within your power, just like Dorothy's ruby red slippers. Here it is: find things every day to be grateful for. During an extremely difficult time in my life, I used to keep a "gratitude journal" where I wrote down five things every day that I was grateful for. When you set about your day SEEKING out reasons to be grateful, you have a more positive attitude and, as an added bonus, attract more good things into your life. You become a happier person, simply because that is what you've set your sights to look for. Some days, of course, the things to be grateful for - graduating from school, getting engaged, having a baby- are obvious. Other days, you may struggle to find things to be grateful for, but if you have: your health, a roof over your head and clean clothes on your back, that's a good place to start. Isn't being happy one of the main goals in life for all of us? Try this exercise and I can pretty much guarantee you'll be happier. Now that my life is more settled, I've gotten out of the habit of writing my five things down each night, but I think I will go back to it. Whether it's a good night's sleep, watching an exciting tennis match or sharing a nice lunch with friends (all things I have done today), being grateful for it makes it that much better.

"You've got accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ The Zen of Corn

What could be better than fresh, sweet corn-on-the-cob? Whether it's boiled, roasted or grilled, you just can't beat it! And at 5 for a dollar (what I just paid at Publix), you can't beat the price! It doesn't come packaged in a neat Styrofoam tray, however. It comes, husk and all, just like Farmer Jones picked it. I remember going to a big cookout one summer in New Jersey, where they grilled the corn in the husk and served it to their appreciative guests. They had soaked the de-silked ears of corn in big buckets of water, to prevent the husks from burning; so they essentially steamed the corn. It was delicious, but these days, I sometimes throw leftover corn on the cob, right on the grill. I don't mind the grill marks. A woman at a vegetable stand in Tallahassee had an easy suggestion for cooking corn. She puts it, husk and all, in the microwave, covers it with a wet dishtowel (clean, of course) and nukes it for a couple minutes. Leftover corn, if you have any, is great in salads, cornbread or to make corn pudding. The sugar in the kernels starts to break down right away, so you should cook it as soon as possible. James Beard, the famous American cook and author, suggests eating it as an appetizer, which is what I did tonight. It was so darned good (you can see my small nibble) I could almost believe I could become a vegetarian. Sheer bliss!

"At the beginning of a meal it is delicious, refreshing and most satisfying, and you are not chewing on an ear while other things on you plate get cold." James Beard

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Revenge of the Peanuts

I hate to throw away those Styrofoams peanuts that come in mailed packages, but the bags full of them are threatening to take over my garage. What to do? Just read a great tip in a magazine to use them in potted plants. If you have a plant to put in a big container, it is a waste to fill it all up with soil (the plants won't know), so they recommended putting the peanuts in a plastic garbage bag and putting the bag on the bottom of the container. Fill the rest up with soil and plant your plant. I had a similar problem with my big blue pots by my front door, but since I just wanted to put sea grass in it, and the container they came in was too small to fit inside the pots, I found a plastic pot that was the right size and laid it inside. Now I can easily remove the grass to water it. Another tip they gave for herb gardens was to group herbs that need less water and fertilizer (Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano) in one area, and the ones that need more water and fertile soil (like basil, parsley and cilantro) in another area. You don't want to over water your rosemary, since you frequently see it growing into bushes in arid climates.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ A Royal Treat

I remember reading a book, or an article about someones mother and the letters she had written to her daughter. Anyway, the mom had been through good times and bad, and lived in large and small houses, but throughout her letters she always mentioned what trees were blooming, what seeds were sprouting and how her garden was doing etc... These were the things that brought her happiness. While driving around Miami lately, there is a proliferation of blooming Royal Poinciana trees and it is amazingly beautiful. I have often thought, whether you are living in a trailer park or a multi-million dollar house, if you live near a blooming Royal Poinciana tree in June, you are rich indeed. Unfortunately, the trees, which are blooming wildly now, only do that a couple months a year. Luckily, the riches nature offers us are available every day and in every season. Take a walk around your neighborhood and delight in the riches it offers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Salty Dog Days

Have you seen the new bath salts, with all kinds of exotic ingredients, crowding the beauty aisles these days? While I love taking baths at the end of a long day (less calories than a glass of wine!) and salts are a nice alternative to bubble baths, it's not practical to do every day unless I want to keep an open account at Crabtree and Evelyn. My solution? I make my own mixtures. The easiest is using plain old Epsom salts, only a couple bucks at your local CVS. The extra advantage to this is if you play sports or exercise, Epsom salt (a 100% natural mineral), relieves stiffness and soreness. But plain old Epsom salts can be boring, so I like to kick it up a notch. Sometimes I stir in a couple drops of lavender oil, brought back from France by my stepdaughter Lauren. Other times I stir in a magic herb mixture purchased from my friend Veronica, that is supposed to be a cure-all for everything. It smells like eucalyptus. I also occasionally use herbs from my garden (mint for refreshing baths, rosemary for relaxing ones) thrown into the salts, which tend to soak up all scents easily. After making white wine sangria today, I was faced with the leftover ends of a lemon and a lime, so I threw them into the salts to marinate. You can get ideas from products you already have, such as the rosemary-mint shampoo by Suave on my shelf. After you make your special mixture (also a thoughtful gift) draw yourself a nice, hot bath, pour in some lovely, handmade salts, and enjoy. The only thing that could make this any better is some white wine sangria!

P.S. Don't use any alcohol based perfumes or solutions to scent your salts as it could sting your delicate areas.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Spice Up Your Popcorn

Popcorn is the one food I can never say no to and that I can keep eating, until the point of practically puking. I must have popcorn when I go to the movies, but movie popcorn is expensive and super fattening. I have even been known to sneak my own popcorn into the movies. That, is the ultimate in cheapness, I admit. Here are some seasoning mixes to sprinkle into your popcorn as you sit down to watch your summer movies. If you want to spice up your popcorn, sprinkle some red pepper flakes into the oil before you heat it up. I also sometimes mix in additives- pretzels, peanuts, even m & m's- to my popcorn. The first time I saw Titanic at the movies, my tennis partner got a big ole bag of popcorn and dumped a box of Milk Duds into it. I thought "gross" but the hot and salty popcorn mixed with the melty, carmely chocolate and it was delicious. As Rachel Ray says "Yummo!"
Popcorn Seasoning Mixes

Cajun Style

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper

1 pinch cayenne

Southwestern Style

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

Italian Style

1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground red pepper

Mix together and sprinkle on popcorn. Can be double or tripled. Keep the Italian one in the fridge, as it contains cheese.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Best Summer Movies

Summer's here! Well, not really. It officially starts June 21st, but it certainly FEELS like summer and TV's now in re-runs so that means- SUMMER MOVIES! While I love going to the movies to escape the heat and revel in the experience with fellow movie-goers, it can get to be very expensive. My local AMC charges $10 for a movie. When you add popcorn, soda and parking to that, it's hard to get away for under 20 bucks a pop. My solution? Netflix. Pop your own popcorn- either air popped or on the stove (I stay away from microwave popcorn), add some fun seasonings and voila! You have yourself a summer night made in heaven. Here's my list of Best Summer Movies (completely subjective), followed by a couple Popcorn Seasoning Mixes to mix into your hot-popped bowl of corn. My favorite drink to go with popcorn is lemonade, but beer (or white wine spritzers) work for adults as well. Enjoy!

"Give my father a hearty soup, a can of beer and a bag of popcorn and he is as close to heaven as he can get." Nell Newman on her dad, Paul Newman.

Best Summer Movies

1) Jaws Scared me to death when it came out. The animated "Bruce" may seem antiquated compared to modern special effects, but I still think it's darn scary.

2) Vacation Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and the first set of kids still crack me up.

3) Caddyshack Ok, I like Chevy Chase. But I also like Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield in this classic golf comedy. The scene in the pool with the Baby Ruth is hilarious.

4) Little Mermaid/Finding Nemo One summer my daughter AJ watched The Little Mermaid every single day, sometimes twice a day. Eventually the tape wore out, but luckily the movie holds up. I also love Finding Nemo. Ellen DeGeneres is a hoot as Dory.

5) Dirty Dancing Another one of my daughter AJ's favorites. It may not be appropriate for younger children but who didn't want to be Baby to the hunky Johnny?

6) Grease Came out the summer I graduated from high school. Summer Lovin', had me a blast!

7) Now and Then/ Stand By Me Wasn't crazy about Now and Then when I first saw it at the movies, but changed my mind after watching it at home. Known as the girl's Stand By Me.

8) Live and Let Die Saw this in the summer of 1973 when James Bond's watch was a newfangled "digital". For me, James Bond will always be Roger Moore because of this flick. Set in the Caribbean and New Orleans; look for Jane Seymour as Solitaire.

9) Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark The first and, I think, best one of them all. Something happens every 8 minutes. How much more of an action movie can you get?

10) A League of Their Own/The Sandlot Girls baseball: "There's no crying in baseball" . Boy's baseball: "You play ball like a girl". Summertime hits the Sweet Spot in these two movies.

Honorable Mention:
The Flamingo Kid, Pirates of the Caribbean (the 1st), Splash, Men In Black, Independence Day.

* Popcorn recipes to follow.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Phantom Electricity Busters

Are you guilty of any of these crimes? Leaving appliances or chargers plugged in while not in use can not only be a fire hazard (think irons or coffee pots), but they are also pulling "phantom electricity", which accounts for 5 Billion Kilowatts wasted per year! Any appliance that has a digital clock or standardized light is guilty of "stealing" electricity, but they are not the only offenders. Cell phone and camera chargers are perfect examples of items that don't need to be plugged in when not in use. By leaving household appliances in "standby mode" consumers may lose anywhere between $10 and $80 a year. This is not a huge amount, I realize, but doesn't it bother you that that extra money is going to the electric company (mine is FPL- Florida Power and Light) and not in your pocket? Every time I look and see a phone charger plugged in with no phone attached, it bugs me because I know it's continuing to drain electricity that is not being used. Biggest offenders in your house are: Plasma TVs, Stereos with surround sound and Printers. According to HP, your printer will last longer if you remember to turn it off every night, so there's an extra bonus. The best way to handle turning off a bunch of stuff at one time (like printer and computer) is a power strip. You may have one lying around, but they can be purchased at your local (or mega) hardware store for less than $10. So, "Let the Sun Shine In!", but turn your unused appliances off!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Rub a Dub- Time to Grill!

Summertime is here and that means... time to grill. I am quite fond of supplements to season my meat before it goes over the fire. Of course, you can buy pre-made rubs for your grilling, but making your own is easy if you have some basic ingredients. You'll be finished making it in the time it would take you for a trip to the grocery store. This Basic Bar-B-Que Rub is from Steve Raichlen's Barbecue Bible Sauces Rubs and Marinades and I love it. I use it on ribs and chicken, but it also works on beef and fish like salmon. You can tweak it to your own tastes, adding or subtracting spices to fit your needs. I like to rub it into the meat and let it sit for a few hours before grilling. Mix the ingredients together and store in a jar, away from heat and light. If you use a recycled glass jar, make sure it doesn't have any lingering aromas and make sure you label it, so you know what's inside. I found some cute little squatty jars by Ball at Target that I use. Time to get your grill on!

Basic Barbecue Rub

1/4 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less)
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Transfer to a jar and store away from heat and light. The rub will keep for several months, enough to get you through the summer.

Makes 1 cup

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Buy Generics

Remember when Generic items came in white packaging with black letters? Well, they've come a long way baby! When generics first came out in the late 70's, I was skeptical. I first delved into generic products with paper goods, which seemed like a pretty harmless way to go. How much damage can a paper towel or TP do? When my kids were little, I would occasionally buy the store brand cereal, because name brand cereal was so expensive (paid for by those Saturday morning commercials shown during cartoons, I guess). Of course, they "claimed" it tasted different, so I would save the carton of Cheerios and pop in the Publix "toasted oats" cereal. Devious, eh? At any rate, these days a lot of my purchases are store brand and honestly, I can't tell the difference. Many store brands are manufactured on the same production line as the name brands, but since you aren't paying for advertising, etc... it is cheaper. When my family did a "We All Grew Up on McArthur Milk" commercial, we confessed that we usually bought Publix brand milk. Guess what? It was McArthur Milk all along. In a taste test by Consumer Reports of 29 different food categories, most tasters couldn't tell the difference between branded and store brand products. Even more surprising, generics actually beat out brand names in taste four times! Since store brands are 27% cheaper, buying them is a no-brainer. Cotsco now even sells wine and champagne under its Kirkland Signature Label. So, pop a bottle of Cotsco champagne and celebrate the evolution of Generics!