Saturday, April 30, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Will and Kate Plus Billions

I, like millions of others, got up early yesterday (6 a.m.) to watch the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Why bother watching the pomp and circumstance of this event taking place across the pond, which has little bearing on our lives here in America? Well, number one I'm a hopeless romantic. I got up early to watch Prince Charles and Diana get married thirty years ago, having been a flight attendant flying to London at the time and caught up in all the hoopla. Number two, there are always going to be wars, natural disasters and fighting politicians, but how often do we get the chance to focus on something positive in the news? This is the beginning of a young couple's life, with all the hope and enthusiasm that goes along with it. People claim they want more "positive news" and yet, when they get it, cranky old men like Dan Rather call it "silliness". Bah humbug! I'll take a little silliness in my life, thank you sir, and "more please". Or to quote Barbara Walters who quoted Winston Churchill, this event was " a flash of color on the hard road we have to travel." A day to take a break from our worries and cares and celebrate!

I had promised scones and tea, but didn't get up early enough, so we had a tea party after school. It was a dreary day- rainy and grey- and the scones, tea and berries and cream were just the ticket to cheer us up. We talked about the wedding, the dress, the fashion and toasted the royal couple with our English Breakfast tea. These scones are a recipe I first made as a child, reading Agatha Christie mystery novels and curious about what scones were. They are as good as I remembered, but you could baste them with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle them with coarse sugar to gild the lily. They should be eaten the day they are made, served warm with butter and strawberry jam. Long live the Queen and best wishes to Will and Kate!

Tea Scones

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup dried currants or raisins

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Blend in shortening with pastry blender until mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add remaining ingredients. Mix with fork, divide into two parts and turn each part out on floured board. Do not handle. Flatten with rolling pin into circles about 1/2 inch or more thick (thicker is better). Cut into triangles and put on greased and floured baking sheet.(I used Baker's Joy) Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Makes 16.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Guilty Pleasures

Last night on Dancing With The Stars it was Guilty Pleasures night. Guilty Pleasures being music you like but are ashamed to admit. Overlooking the fact that watching DWTS is a Guilty Pleasure in and of itself, I started wondering what my Guilty Pleasure in music is. People listed ABBA and Journey as guilty pleasures, but I'm OK to admitting I listen to that on my I-Pod. I have been actually liking Justin Beiber's Baby a lot lately, and that definitely can be seen as a guilty pleasure since I'm over 50 and he's a teeny bopper. So here's some more of my guilty pleasures, just for fun. What are yours?

1) Justin Beiber

2) Reading Us Weekly.

This is actually a REALLY guilty pleasure. Number one, I'm reading trash. Number two, it's actually my stepdaughter's subscription so I steal it from the mailbox and run upstairs to read it before she gets home. Dear God, save my soul!

3) Pork Rinds

Gross, I know, but sometimes when I'm at the grocery store I see a bag hanging on a display and HAVE to have them. I usually finish them before I reach the check out line. I do pay for them.

4) Naps

Mmm... Love them. One afternoon, not long ago, after a tough tennis match I took a shower, slipped into my luxurious white sheets and conked out. 20 minutes is all I need but it feels like heaven.

5) Facebook

I probably do not have to elaborate on that one.

6) Truffle oil on popcorn

A newly discovered guilty pleasure, inspired by a recipe in an Ina Garten cookbook, but hers is with truffle butter. Now that's a seriously guilty pleasure!

7) MC Hammer Can't Touch This

This always gets me running. Luckily, I've gotten rid of my harem pants.

8) The Flying Nun

Yes, I ordered the TV series on Amazon. It doesn't hold up as well as I Love Lucy, but on a bad day is just the thing to cheer me up.

9) Dirty Dancing

Nobody puts Baby in a corner!

10) Starbucks Caramel Machiatto

Hard to justify the calories and cost, but sometimes I just do it!

11) Getting a mani/pedi

Hard to justify the cost and time spent, but it feels so good and is calorie-free. Read an Us Weekly while getting one, to really ramp up the guilt.

12) Massages

I crossed this off my list because I believe massages are therapeutic and good for your physical and mental health, but since I'm usually reluctant to tell my husband where I'm going when I get one, I figure it's got to be a guilty pleasure.

13) Chicken Fried Steak

This was one of my Dad's favorite meals and I get it on the two or three times a year I go to Cracker Barrel. Must be served with mashed potatoes and gravy for full guilty effect.

14) Eggs Benedict

Hard to justify the cholesterol and calories, but when I slice into that perfectly cooked egg with hollandaise sauce, I am happy as a clam. Why are so many guilty pleasures about food?

15) Peeps

You know, those marshmallow little chicks that appear around Easter time. I prefer the classic yellow color and even wrote them into a NYPD Blue spec script I wrote in Grad school. Recently tried chocolate covered peeps and they rock!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Eat a Happy Chicken

A tennis teammate recently had a party to celebrate her partner's graduation as a flight attendant with Delta airlines. At the party, she served such delicious grilled chicken that everyone requested the recipe. She gave it to us with one important caveat: Use chicken purchased at Whole Foods, not your ordinary grocery store. According to Kelly, chicken from Whole Foods is tender, moist and delicious while chicken purchased elsewhere is tough, stringy and tasteless. Ever the sceptic, I decided to do a taste-test. I marinaded boneless chicken thighs from Whole Foods in the marinade, along with chicken legs from Publix. Obviously, it's not apples to apples but darned if she wasn't right! The poultry purchased at Whole Foods was much more tender, juicy and flavorful than the other chicken. I liked the recipe so much, I used it the next night on a pork tenderloin that I grilled. It was delicious, as well. The downside to buying chicken at Whole Foods is that it is much more expensive (probably twice as much) as chicken from Publix. But isn't eating chicken free of hormones and antibiotics worth it? According to Whole Food's website, they give their chicken lots of space to roam around, creating a stress free environment. Less stress= Happy Chickens= Good Eats. This delicious recipe is going to be included in Serve It Up, a cookbook to raise funds for Autism Speaks. Look for it there!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Take In Pizza

One of my favorite go-to meals that I usually have the makings for at home, is pizza made with Boboli pizza crust. Today I had grilled veggies and fresh mozzarella at hand, so I smeared a Boboli with pesto, topped it with the sliced veggies (red pepper, onion and zucchini), fresh mozzarella and a quick grating of Parmesan and red pepper flakes and I was good to go. Pizza doesn't have to be a nutritional nightmare if you top it with veggies and go easy on the cheese. I usually have half of the small pizza, paired with salad, soup or fruit and save the other half for a quick snack later. It's even good cold. Toppings are limited only by your imagination and are a great way to use up leftovers. Leftover meatballs can be combined with ricotta cheese, sliced sausage can be paired with mushrooms and onions and if all else fails, I make a white pizza with olive oil, sliced garlic, mozzarella and herbs, marinated artichokes and hearts of palm optional. Of course, jarred sauce can be used in many pizzas, but I also love sliced fresh tomatoes, with basil and olive oil. Another plus to these pizzas is once you preheat the oven, you start making your pizza and set it in for ten minutes. The whole process takes 15 minutes, quicker than any delivery pizza I know. Here's a good recipe combining two of my favorites- prosciutto and arugula.

Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula and Parmesan

1 small 8 inch pizza crust

1 T olive oil

a couple peeled and sliced cloves of garlic

2 T grated Parmesan cheese

2 slices (1 ounce) very thin prosciutto

1 medium tomato

1 cup arugula or spinach

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place crust on baking sheet or pizza stone, drizzle with olive oil and scatter garlic over it. Use the back of the spoon to spread evenly. Scatter cheese on top. Coarsely chop prosciutto and scatter it over the cheese. Core and thinly slice the tomato and place the slices evenly over the prosciutto. Bake the pizza about 10 minutes, or until ingredients are heated through. Remove from the oven and pile on the arugula or spinach. Press it down slightly with your hands. Return the pizza to the oven and put in for another minute. Slice and serve. Makes 1 or 2 servings.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Flowers That Fly

The first thing I do in the morning these days is rush out to our new butterfly garden and check on the caterpillars. I was so excited when I found the first, itsy bitsy one on a milkweed plant Emma and I purchased with garage sale earnings a couple weeks ago. A couple days later, after munching on milkweed leaves, it was huge! Now there are four caterpillars who are all big, fat, juicy, yellow and black striped wonders. They completely cleaned off all the leaves on one of the milkweed plants so we went to Home Depot today, to buy another one. Besides plants to eat (we also have parsley and dill), butterflies need nectar plants, so we bought some pink and red pentas and a purple lantana. They also need water, so I took an old bird feeder and filled it with sand and water. The whole project cost about $35. I had started a butterfly garden in the backyard with the girls when we first moved into this house six years ago, but it never really attracted any butterflies. I decided to try again in the front yard because I had noticed butterflies flying around near the mailbox. Can't wait until they form chrysalises and eventually emerge. But, yes I can, because I'm jumping ahead. "Be patient, grasshopper." I need to appreciate them as they are right now.

And now, since April is Poetry Month, a poem about butterflies.

Butterfly Day

It is blue-butterly day here in spring

And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry

There is more unmixed color on the wing

Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.

But these are flowers that fly and all but sing

And now from having ridden out desire

They lie closed over in the wind and cling

Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.

Robert Frost

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Chump Change

The Good News: Jobs are returning to Florida. The Bad News: The pay ain't that good. While economic indicators show unemployment numbers falling slightly, most of the jobs that are being offered are in retail and tourism- minimum wage type gigs. In industries that are well paying, manufacturing, professional services, financial (read banks)- they are still laying off workers. This week I found out that at a very expensive private school here in Miami, half of the students in a certain grade applied for financial aid. Half! This left me scratching my head and wondering why the recession is just hitting wealthier people now. Maybe they had enough resources and savings to get them through the initial hit, but now have reached the bottom of the barrel. Real estate seems to be picking up, but is no place close to what it was at the all-time high. And that's probably a good thing. The bubble we floated in for a while was just that, a bubble, and we all know what happens when it bursts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Let Them Chew Gum

I usually get a craving for something sweet after a meal, especially if it's a protein. My secret weapon is less than two bucks, comes in three delicious flavors and can be kept in my purse. It is Extra Dessert Delights, sugarfree gum with 5 calories each. I love Mint Chocolate Chip, but it also comes in Strawberry Shortcake and Key Lime Pie flavors. Promoted on the Biggest Loser, perhaps instead of "Let them Eat Cake!" Jillian shall pronounce "Let them chew gum!"

Friday, April 8, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ The Salt of the Earth

Sodium. Not very sexy, I know but did you know it can contribute to that jelly around your middle? Sodium pads fat cells, making your waist appear bigger. I found this out when researching how to get rid of belly fat. We are supposed to have between 500 to 1500 grams of sodium a day so I decided to pay attention to my sodium and record how much I ate in an average day. In the photo above, which product do you think has the most sodium (for milk and soup, based on one cup servings)? When I wrote down my meals for the day and added up the sodium, I was shocked at the results. Here I was eating what I thought were "healthy" foods, but they were packed with sodium. Here were my meals: Cereal with milk, coffee with milk, a mozzarella cheese stick and an apple, a Body for Life Shake and two Lean Cuisines. My total? Almost 2000 milligrams! Some people confuse salt with sodium. Salt is composed of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. One teaspoon of salt is 2000 (read more than your daily allowance) milligrams. Ingesting too much sodium, besides padding fats cells and causing you to bloat, is one factor in the development of high blood pressure. Sodium is found in places you wouldn't necessarily expect it and in some of the usual suspects. One dill pickle has 928 mg of sodium- expected. One ounce of almonds roasted with sea salt only has 40 milligrams, but reach for the Wasabi version of those almonds and they have 115 milligrams. While we would expect regular soy sauce to be high in sodium (1400 mg), a cup of instant chocolate pudding has almost 1000 mg! The point, is read your labels and try to avoid processed food. Also, drink lots of water and focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, especially for snacks. Which item in the above photo did you guess had the most sodium? If it was the Lean Cuisine, you were right. It weighed in with 690 mg of sodium, followed by the split pea soup (670), the shake (280) and skim milk at 130. And if you're trying to fit quickly into that little black dress, avoid sodium to drop water weight. Jillian Michaels has a fast flush drink, with cranberry juice, dandelion tea and lemon juice, I sometimes drink before a party or event. It's only a temporary solution, but it works in a pinch.

Jillian Michael's Fat Flush Drink

Mix together:

60 oz distilled water

1 tablespoon sugar free cranberry juice

1 dandelion root tea bag

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Drink, drink, drink and watch the water weight leave your body.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Leave the World a Better Place

I recently read an article about organizing your house, that gave this advice: "Leave each room you visit better than you found it." This means, if you see an old newspaper, dirty socks, stack of bills laying out, do something about it. This also can apply to outside the house. I often see weeds that need picking, a stray garden glove or little piece of garbage laying in the dirt and every time I notice them, it bugs me. Better to pick it, put it away, throw it out and be done with it. It won't be taking up psychological room in your mind for your "to do" list. Since I've read this quote, I've been trying to put it into practice and it certainly makes me feel more productive and has resulted in a cleaner house and garden. I also thought it was an excellent philosophy for life- leaving a room (or the world to expand the idea) a better place than when you entered it. Plant a sunflower, offer a helping hand, smile at a stranger and everyone will reap the benefits of your random acts of kindness. I feel part of my job on this earth is to educate people and offer practical solutions to problems. In this vein, since my sister complained about a previous posting ("Fat Chicks Roll the Dice") which was pretty much just a complaint about gaining weight in middle age with no apparent solution, I have vowed to try to solve the dilemma. I have started working on an experiment to lose weight and so far- after one day- have lost two pounds! Stay tuned for more...