Thursday, March 31, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Serendipity

Got some bad news yesterday and went to sleep worrying about how things were going to work out. I woke up to the smell of coffee brewing (but there was none) and walked outside to see the orchid I'd been waiting to bloom, finally arrived. I smiled and took this as a sign that everything is going to be OK. Do you ever feel the universe is giving you signs? It often happens when you're in a place of despair and hopelessness. I remember driving around after Hurricane Andrew, depressed over the situation when it started raining and a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky overhead. I couldn't help but think of Noah and the flood and that this was God's sign that everything would be alright. While I was playing tennis today, there was a lone hawk flying overhead (which always reminds me of my Dad) and then when I was waiting to pick up my car after tennis, I ran into a person I hadn't seen in years, who I'd just been talking about the night before. Wierd, huh? It happens like that- a song comes on that reminds you of a happier time, a friend you need appears out of the blue, a flower blooms that never bloomed before. Which leads to my last story. I stopped by the grocery store to pick up dinner only to run into a neighbor I was just thinking I needed to talk to about an article I want to get published; she came up with several good ideas on where to market it. Serendipity! And as I was outside admiring my orchid blooming, I noticed a tiny lychee on my lychee tree. I've had it a couple years and this is the first lychee! And so, this may be the secret to serendipity- to plugging into the postive energy and good luck of the universe- and that is paying attention. I only noticed the lychee (which must have been there a while) because I was searching for signs of life- something good. Like my yoga teacher instructs us as we lie in the fetal position at the end of our practice "We were born with everything we need to make us happy, everything we need to make us happy is still within us." Kind of like Dorothy's ruby slippers, the power lies within us- home is here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Birthday Cards

I had two friends with birthdays this month, so I turned to my tried and true favorite gift- note cards. Before you say "How boring", these are not any old note cards. These are artistic, original note cards, personalized for the recipient with photographs I have taken. Similar to ones you probably have seen in gift shops or tourist stores, which sell for a couple bucks a pop. One of my friends who grew up in Miami, but has since moved to Naples, was celebrating the big "50". I wanted to do something special for her, so I drove around to places we used to frequent- Dante Fascell Park, Matheson Hammock, a bridge in Gables-By-The-Sea (our old neighborhood) and snapped shots. My secret to fabulous photographs is the fact that I take a lot of photos, but use only a small percentage. This inspired me to make some note cards for my other friend- Martha- whose birthday is tomorrow. She has a tiled sign outside her front gate announcing her house as "Martha's Vineyard". I snapped that, made ten copies (Snapfish) on glossy paper, affixed the photograph to blank note cards with rubber cement, signed the date and my name in pencil underneath the photo, paired it with the envelopes, wrapped it up and was good to go. I get my blank note cards at Micheal's- 50 for $10 (less with a coupon) and the prints are around 10 cents each, making my investment around 30 cents (if my math is correct) a card. I also make cards up of pretty Miami sites for people that are leaving town, or for birthday parties with tennis friends. It is the perfect, personal and creative gift that won't break the bank. And how did my friends like their cards? Well, let's put it this way Martha "loved, loved, loved them", told everyone about them and suggested I blog about them. So, here you go Martha- Voila! Happy happy Birthday!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ We Are Who We Are- Or Are We?

As I was driving down Old Cutler past familiar haunts, I was thinking about The Beach Boys, specifically about how I liked them in high school and still like them. Then, I was thinking about how my dream (in high school) was to get a little beach house where I could escape on the weekends and how I still have that dream. I still like Elvis, still like cooking and writing and reading. So, I was thinking, how at the core, at lot of me is the same. A boy I knew in grade school used to ride his bike everywhere . Our first date was riding our bikes to Suniland theatre and I almost passed out before we arrived; biking was not my thing. He still rides his bike (but now to work). I, actually, ended up riding my bike to my first job (at good ole All Sports) and liked it (once I got into shape), but now prefer walking (or running). And that is something that has changed. When I had to run for the Presidential in High School, I thought I was going to die- I hated it. And my favorite movies in High School were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers musicals, now I like a wide variety of movies, from documentary to foreign films. I still, however, love Alfred Hitchcock movies, Bruce Springsteen, chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven, salami sandwiches, tapioca pudding, hot baths, strong coffee, split pea soup, sitting outside watching the sunset, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and traveling. So some of me is definitely the same, some of me has grown and evolved'; I am a work in progress. One day, when I was driving down a street in Tallahassee, I had an epiphany of sorts (why do I always have my epiphanies in the car?) and pulled over and started crying. It was just that who we are, who we really are, isn't how we look, the car we drive, the house we own, the clothes we're wearing, how much money is in our bank account. All of that stuff falls away, and what we are- the essential core of our being- is none of that. I felt a sense of unconditional love that day and also that it is who we love and who loves us back in this life that is what really matters. With or without a beach house.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/Fat Chicks Roll the Dice

I am reluctant to blog about this, but I was at a Bunko game the other night and, as I sat there scarfing down corned beef sandwiches, potato and leek soup and Irish soda bread I noticed a similarity between the middle aged ladies gathered there, who had come to roll dice and have fun. It wasn't that we were all past forty, most had teenage children or came from the same socio-economic strata. No, it was that we all (or most of us) were sporting an unattractive spare tire around our middle. What gives with that? Obviously, after 40 our metabolism slows down, but are those ten (or more) extra pounds inevitable? I think about Kathy Lee (of Regis fame) who was out of the spotlight for ten years, while living down the embarrassment of her husband Frank boinking a flight attendant in a set-up by the media. Anyway, when she returned to TV, she said she was ten pounds heavier and actually ate less than she used to. The obvious solution is eat less and move more, right? Well, I thought so but I also am not a big fan of starving. I ran into a friend recently who had lost a lot of weight and looked great. Her secret? She went to the Dr. who prescribed her Adderall for her "slow metabolism" and the pounds dropped off. I was intrigued and horrified, all at the same time. My son just told me the other day, another friend (whom I never would have suspected) had done the same thing. He thinks Adderall is not good for you. "Why do you guys care anyway about your weight? You're over fifty, married with kids," he commented. Oh really? So at fifty, we're just supposed to roll over and play dead? Or, let our bodies and our looks go to pot? On the flip side, I think about Nancy Reagan and how she kept her cute petite body well into her old age. I do also remember a restaurant owner saying she would come in to his place (with then-President Ronald) and eat very lightly. So, it seems, we're back to starving yourself. There are all kinds of "Flat Belly Diets", "Diets after 40" out there. Are any of them the magic bullet? Food for thought (at least it's calorie-free).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Lessons from Julia Child

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm reading a biography of Julia Child, Appetite for Life. I was amazed to find out it took Julia ten years, from start to finish, to complete her masterpiece Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That was ten years of choosing recipes, trying them out (sometimes 40 times!), experimenting with different ingredients, typing, revising, consulting back and forth with her co-authors etc... The bulk of the work, however, fell on Julia and she took it on full steam because she was so passionate about wanting to teach Americans about french cooking and food. I have found this encouraging because, I too, have been working on a cookbook. A tennis friend whose son has autism, holds a tennis tournament (Food Autism Tennis F.A.T.) every year to raise money for Autism Speaks. She is a wonderful cook, especially a baker, so I suggested, a couple years ago, she put out a cookbook to raise money for the cause. She agreed and a year later (or more, I've lost track) we are ALMOST finished typing in recipes for the book. Although a couple people are helping, the bulk of the work (and typing) has fallen on moi. We had a professional photo shoot (thanks to someone on our team who is a food stylist) and asked people to send us their "tried and true", great recipes, especially if they can be served room temperature for a crowd (like we do at tennis matches). At times, it has been discouraging, but we have slogged through and now are close to the end.

So, what I've learned from Julia is Persistence! Just keep going... and love what you do. Sometimes, it is the process that gives us the most enjoyment and once the project is done, that is over. Luckily, for Julia, she was able to parlay her book into a T.V. show and a living that she loved. With the money she made from the cookbook, her and her husband Paul bought a little house in Provence where they lived part of the year. I will just be happy to sell enough cookbooks of Serve It Up! to make some money for autism.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Mon Chou Gross!

I'm so excited about my latest purchase, I had to blog about it! $2 for a HUGE head of cabbage at the Pinecrest Garden's Farmers market. Cabbage is already a cheap buy as far as vegetables go, and packs an excellent nutritional punch with Vitamins A, B, C, E and potassium. Cabbage is known for its cholesterol-lowering benefits (if steamed) and for cancer-fighting qualities if raw or cooked lightly. The cabbage I bought weighs in at almost 7 pounds! So, in addition to the cabbage that will go with my corned beef for St. Patty's Day, I will have enough for coleslaw, cabbage rolls and other possibilities. Will I make Kim-Chee with it? Or possibly put in a minestrone soup? Some other recipes that looked good, that I've never tried, are apple cabbage salad, with granny smiths or spiced Indian cabbage. Another plus for cabbage is that it lasts a long time. Let the cabbage feast begin!
"Having a good wife and rich cabbage soup, seek not other things."
Russian Proverb

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Don't Worry- Be Happy

According to a Harvard Medical School Report on Happiness, 50% of our happiness is genetic, 10% depends on your circumstances (job, home, mate etc...) and the other 40% is under your power to control. I found that statistic rather shocking. I was most surprised that only 10% is circumstantial. That means you could be a garbage man, living in a shack, eating spaghettios every night and that would only affect your happiness level 10%! When I think of people being unhappy, I usually think it is due to their circumstances, but that is not at all true. The really encouraging news, especially if you're not genetically predisposed to being happy, is that 40% is under your control. That is a big number. One of the books that changed my life when I was going through an especially hard time, was Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking. After reading that book, I started to put his suggestions into place and my life really started turning around, for the better. Everyone is going to have hard times, and difficult circumstances in life; how you handle them and what you do with them helps define who you are as a person. Another book I read when I was going through a hard time (thinking about getting divorced) was Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting. This book explained that by generating positive vibrations and thoughts, you attract positive circumstances into your life. Like attracts like. It approached the information with a scientific bent, while The Power of Positive Thinking focused on religious quotes and stories, but both were about increasing positivity in your life. As Abraham Lincoln said: "A man is about as happy as he makes his mind up to be." Well, at least that's 40% true. What makes you happy? Being outside, exercising, cooking, writing, meditating? Try to do what makes you happy on a daily basis and you, and people around you, will reap the benefits.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Mom Was Right - Eat Your Veggies!

I am really digging my veggies these days! There was an article on AOL about the best restaurant in the world (Noma in Copenhagen) and when they asked the chef what new trends he noticed, he commented that vegetables were big these days. This restaurant even employed two foragers- people who go out and gather food from the woods. I have already done my foraging (picking dandelions out of my yard) but beyond that, I have been really in love with vegetables lately, especially ones I don't normally eat. In the last few weeks I have made sauteed dandelion leaves, stir fried Swiss chard (served with a peanut sauce), roasted brussel sprouts and broccoli salad. I was going to try kale, but when I went to buy it at Whole Foods, it was a little pricey, so I opted for Swiss Chard instead. These vegetables all contain Vitamin K, a vitamin most of us fall short of in our daily intake. It has recently been shown to play a role in balancing blood fats, making your good cholesterol (HDL) better and triglycerides lower. Researchers suspect K is involved in metabolism, blood sugar regulation and fat storage and all of those factors combine to affect HDL and triglyceride levels. When I was in Key West, I met a girl who has a food blog (Love Hurts, Bacon Heals) and she also teaches inner city kids how to eat better. She said one of her favorite vegetables was Brussels Sprouts. I was shocked. OK. When I was growing up, my Mom gave us three food items we NEVER had to eat. One of mine was the dreaded brussels sprout- smelly, soft, mushy, slimy, gross. But after talking to this girl, I decided to give them a second chance. I used an Ina Garten recipe- the essence of simplicity- that roasted the brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. To my surprise, they were delicious! I even ate them cold the next day and were so good I made them again the next week. Roasting (as opposed to boiling or steaming) really brings out the flavors of the vegetables. Here is the recipe: As Mikey said : Try it, You'll like it! And you'll get your dose of Vitamin K for the day.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 1/2 lbs. Brussels Sprouts, ends cut off and outer yellow leaves removed
3 T Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients in a bowl (or large Ziploc bag). Pour on a shallow roasting pan (lined with aluminum foil for easy clean-up) and roast 35 to 40 minutes, shaking from time to time to roast evenly. They are done when they are crispy outside and tender inside. Sprinkle with more salt, if needed. A squeeze of lemon is also nice. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Don't Forget About These Cookies!

If I seem to be writing about food a lot lately, I have to blame it on the fact I'm reading a Julia Child biography- Appetite For Life. I'm at the part where she's living in Europe and most of her time was spent experimenting and perfecting recipes for her masterpiece- Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I actually got to hear her editor for that book- Judith Jones- speak at the Key West Literary Seminar in January. What a dynamo that woman is! At any rate, I just wanted to note that if you have a couple of egg whites left over (which I did after making Key Lime Pie the other night), you have the makings for an easy, delicious and low fat dessert- meringues. As an added bonus, the ingredients for these cookies/candies are very inexpensive and made with items found in most pantries. I've been making these for a long time and the kids always love them! The recipe comes from my torn, burnt and battered Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which I will never trade in because the new one has different recipes. Fannie Farmer is an excellent cookbook, for good, basic All American Fare. Be sure the egg whites are at room temperature before you begin and add the sugar very gradually so that they don't lose any volume.


2 egg whites
8 T sugar, preferably superfine (put in blender for a couple seconds)
1 tsp. good vanilla

Preheat the oven to 250. Cover a cookie sheet with brown paper (like from a grocery bag) or parchment. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and add 6 T. of the sugar, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the vanilla and fold in the remaining 2 T. sugar. Shape the meringues on the cookie sheet with a pastry bag and tube or a spoon. Bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the meringues remain in the oven for 6 more hours. Don't open the oven door.

My husband's aunt called these "forgotten cookies", but don't forget they're in your oven when you go to pre-heat for another dish. I've cried over burnt meringues one too many times.