Archive | February, 2014

Treat the Tootsies!

27 Feb

Time for pampering!  Man, does a pedicure feel good! It is a treat for sure. A pedicure can produce an immediate attitude adjustment. And going with my sister doubles the enjoyment. Girl time rocks! So does spoiling the ol’ tootsies! Why get a pedicure? Well if you have to ask….

We totally abuse our feet. And we shamelessly take them for granted. Until they hurt. Then we usually just get a little mad at them, as in “Why do my feet hurt?” while knowing that it is our own darn fault for not being attentive to them. We walk, stand in heels, go to the gym, and shove our feet into shoes that probably should have been thrown out long ago. Some of us spend a great deal of our day on our feet too. Feet get abused so every once in a while they deserve a little down time!

My sister and I were sharing some girl time and decided to have a pedicure. This time we planned and had an appointment. Sometimes you have to schedule sister time! This time we opted for the sea salt scrub for our feet. We sat back in our chairs, chatted, giggled, and gossiped. Our feet were soaked, rubbed, scrubbed and polished up. All good stuff! This trip for a pedicure was more of a beauty treatment and mental health inducer versus sheer maintenance. We giggled at my funny little tick when a certain spot on my feet were touched. My leg jerked involuntarily when a “touchpoint” on my foot had pressure on it. Even the girl giving my pedicure giggled, but I think hers was more attributed to nervous relief that she hadn’t been belted in the face by my quirky foot flailing!

Anywhooo, we must remember that relationships are crucial to happiness, health, and wellness. The relationship with ourself is very important, but we tend to put that on the back burner. What I mean by this is that we need to spoil ourselves, take care of ourselves before we can give ourselves to any one else. Our culture doesn’t exactly support this. No one gives us permission for a bit of self indulgence. We must simply take it, and offer no excuses. We need to be good to ourselves. Period.

So don’t wait for an occasion. Treat those tootsies and pamper your self a bit. Find a good salon, give them a jingle, and make an appointment. Go alone and flip through a magazine. Go with a friend and giggle with some girl talk. Go with your sweet lover and hold hands. It only takes one pedicure to get hooked on this simple pleasure! Go for it! And enjoy! Start practicing the fine art of self indulgence!

The Art of Layering

26 Feb

Layering is important.  I grew up in the midwest and made it through countless winters there, so I know a thing or two about layering.  When it is so cold that the moment you walk outside your nose hair freezes (and it aint pretty!) you learn about the importance of layering.  That brings me directly to another point.  Fashion goes out the door when the temperature is below zero, the furnace doesn’t shut off, and it’s just plain cold.  Which works for me.  I seem to have missed the “fashion” girl gene anyway.  So I layer for reasons not related to fashion…my sister got that gene!  She always looks cute.   Me?  Well, lets just say I try.

I apply most of my sense of layering to food, of course!  As a (self proclaimed snobby) foodie, I like to layer flavors when I cook.  What does that mean?  I add ingredients slowly while cooking if the recipe and time allows, perhaps with a soup or a sauce.  When pinched for time, a sauce can be thrown together quickly.  However, if time allows, layering food flavors while cooking is worthwhile.

Secret tip: throwing a parmesan rind into a sauce or soup early on to simmer adds flavor.  I love this tip.  Not only because of the amazing flavor that this imparts, but the premise is wonderful when cooking.  Layers.  Like a cake.  And using every single part of food.

Surviving Morning (C)rush

25 Feb

Any busy parent has been stuck in what I call “The Morning Crush”.  We get caught up in finding this, grabbing that, scheduling this, signing that.  Find a coat.  Pack up lunch.  Locate the car keys.  Take the dog out.  Yup, mornings are busy.  But they are survivable.  It does take some planning and organization though.  But any parent with kids, a job, multiple schedules, taxi duty, and household management duties can do it.  In fact, planning and organization makes mornings a bit of a breeze sometimes.  As with anything, practice is key here.  You get better with experience.

Making one change at a time is a good way to make positive changes work for the long-term.  Let’s begin with a good hot nutritious breakfast.  Made fast.  Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and goodness.  And super easy.  Just pull it out of the fridge, heat it up, and enjoy.  Impossible you say?  Nope, not at all.  With a little advance planning and prep, weekday morning breakfast will be a snap.

My secret weapon here is oatmeal.  Made ahead of time, my oatmeal will keep in the fridge, and can even be frozen.  It is quick to reheat on a busy morning, and a healthy way to begin any day.  And for those of you with a sweet tooth, you can add in fresh or dried fruit to sweeten this without sugar.  The possibilities are endless with the add ins to make my oatmeal into your oatmeal.  Just toss in what you have around, within reach, and bammo!  You have a powerhouse start to your day in minutes.

I make oatmeal with quinoa.  Why add quinoa to oatmeal?  Well, first of all, it is a good way to add another whole grain to your diet.  Second, quinoa is a complete protein.  Third, this pumped up oatmeal is stick to your ribs and will really hold off hunger and temptation for the entire morning.  Quinoa is also a good source of iron and fiber.  I like to make a big batch of quinoa and keep extra in the fridge.  In addition to adding it to oatmeal, I also add it to, for example, roasted veggies for an easy side dish for supper.  But back to oatmeal.  Let me share my pumped up oatmeal recipe for you to try.

Do Ahead:  Make a large batch of quinoa.  Cool and keep cooked quinoa in the fridge.

Amy’s Pumped Up Oatmeal

  • 2 cups skim milk (may substitute with almond or soy milk if desired)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • dried fruit like raisins, and/or 1 banana to add, sliced, at serving time (avoid if watching sugar intake. Dried fruits are high in sugar.)
  • nuts or seeds, like sunflower or almonds, to add at serving time

Combine water and milk in a saucepan over medium high heat.  When boiling, add oatmeal and cinnamon, stir, and turn heat down so the oatmeal simmers uncovered.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Stir in quinoa.  Continue cooking until desired doneness, about another 5 minutes, stirring as needed.  Remove from heat.  Portion in 6 ounce serving size and refrigerate or freeze.  Easy tip:  Freeze in muffin tin.  Pop out to heat and serve.

When ready to prepare, remove number of portions needed from fridge or freezer and place in separate bowls.  Add 1 T. water and microwave for 2-3 minutes.  Stir and add fruit, nuts, and/or seeds.  Enjoy a super fast, easy, and nutritious breakfast.  This is a terrific recipe to customize for preferences.  I have had this breakfast, and it has lasted through morning crush, a tough workout, and a busy morning at work.

There you go.  One step toward making morning crush more manageable.  And a way to start your day off with a solid healthy breakfast!  Go ahead.  Get going.  There is nothing stopping you.  Bon appetite!

Valentine Cake

18 Feb

Food is center stage in my home many days. Well, family is really front and center, but the kitchen is truly the heart of our family home, and we hang out there often. When I say that food is important to my family, I don’t mean constantly eating junk food. Taking the time to prepare healthy food with family is enormously rewarding. It is a family value and time well spent together in a warm comfortable and accepting environment.

We have great meals and nutritious food, but we have loads of fun too. I enjoy cooking, but am not much of a baker. I can sure improvise though. And have a blast. My kids do too! I love to cook, but the teeny tiny side of me that bakes rears its ugly head every now and again. Not really one for cookies, I turn to making cakes with the children. We put a spin on it though. We will make fun cakes for most any occasion!

Make a round cake and a square cake.

Make a round cake and a square cake.

When I make cakes, I use a high quality cake mix. Those work just fine for non bakers like myself. But I always make the

Cut the round cake in half.  Place half on 2 sides of the square cake.

Cut the round cake in half. Place half on 2 sides of the square cake.

  frosting from scratch. I learned how to make out of this world frosting from my mom. She    very wisely advised me to “always make a little too much frosting by accident”. Was she ever right! I was never voted Prom Queen, but when I make frosting I am Prom Queen for a moment..the most popular girl in the kitchen! What do I mean by popular? Let me tell you!

When I bust out my frosting, a line forms in the kitchen. Kids. Denis. His mom. More kids.  Everyone lines up to grab a spoonful of frosting before it makes its way to the cake. Everyone but my youngest son that is. The baby of the family (I am one too!) is a scrappy bunch. We learn survival of the fittest at a very young age! Anywhooo, my son doesn’t grab a spoon and stand in line. Nope, not him. The moment he notices a naked cake cooling on the counter and a stick of butter softening nearby (a main ingredient in my frosting), he loudly calls the beater from the mixer. Now that is the holy grail when making frosting, let me tell you! He is a

Then frost your cake with love!

Then frost your cake with love!

smart kid. No line, no waiting, and a solid guarantee of a good dose of moms incredible buttercream frosting. Yup, that’s my boy!

But I digress! Back to the cakes. I do not have lots of room in my kitchen for a bunch of specialty cake pans. So I improvise. I make 2 round cakes, or a round cake and a square one, and cut it to fit the occasion. I have also made a rectangle cake for my sons, and with colored frosting made everything from a football field cake with action figures to a construction site cake with matchbox bulldozers. So much fun, and the creativity flows. Food should be fun, so go have a blast!

So why blog about making a valentine cake right after Valentines Day?  No, I have not been hitting the cooking wine today.  It is    because I don’t celebrate Valentines Day.  Well, at least not on February 14th that is.  I celebrate it all year.  I detest the idea that there is “one day of love” a year.  Nope,  I am not having any part of that.  I live more of a robust life.   I tell people I love them every single day.  Genuinely.  Confidently.

Yep.  I say I love you every day to the people in my life, not just on February 14th.  The calendar does not define any “day of love” for me because it is every day.  So make valentine day cake.  Any day you want.  And tell the people in your life you love them 365 days  a year.  It is great for the spirit, the soul, and a full happy heart.

Kitchen Confidence

13 Feb

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child

I have been cooking for years.  I enjoy cooking, food, and the fellowship that meals together provide.  My meals are typically nutritious, flavorful and have a bit of a flair in its appearance on the table.  I am usually into presentation…it is my artistic side expressing itself. I put thought into food, meals, and the ambiance of the event.  As I have said in previous blogs, sometimes I get too tired to really pull out all the stops when I cook.  But for me, cooking is usually a pleasure.

I have friends that find “Whats for dinner” a dreaded comment when directed their way.  I can’t relate to that because I enjoy cooking.  I can always pull a quick meal together, or an elaborate one given the time.  I realize, however, that I have lots of experience.  And made lots of mistakes.  In fact, I still make mistakes, but now I can usually quickly evaluate and fix them.

As the Julia Child quote says, I spent a lot of time with that what-the-hell attitude when learning to cook.  I dug in, started cooking in earnest in college, and went from there.  Cooking is like math though.  You begin with a foundation, a very basic one, and then go to the next level when ready.  You can’t do division without understanding addition, subtraction and even multiplication.  And with cooking, you can’t bang out a complicated sauce or a fantastic roast without a foundation on which to build.

My youngest son gets easily frustrated sometimes.  When that happens, many times it is because he wants to be good at something and tries to master it right away.  When he first started playing chess, he would sometimes quit in the middle of a match when he saw that he could not win.  I would tell him that you can’t expect to win Wimbledon the first time you pick up a tennis racquet.  When he finally won against a well respected opponent, he was thrilled.  He still talks about that match because the success was hard won.  He earned it.  Working toward something develops, amongst other things, a good work ethic.

Working toward getting better at a skill, which cooking is, takes time, experience, and patience.  It isn’t a “home art” taught in school like it once was.  Now we kind of have to take the initiative and teach ourselves to cook.  And like anything, when you apply a solid work ethic to it, great things begin to happen.  Great things like confidence.  Fun.  Enjoyment.  Satisfaction.

Confidence is not something you “get” or something someone can give to you.  It is something earned.  And the only way to earn it is to be put or to put your self in situations to take a risk and experience small successes.   Once the foundation is there, confidence is instilled, and growth occurs.  Blocks on which to build.

Start cooking.  But don’t take yourself seriously.  Start with a simple recipe and a few inexpensive ingredients.  Make it easy on yourself.  Soup is easy.  Baked proteins with rubs or marinades are easy, like pork tenderloin or chicken.  Roasted veggies are a snap.  Salad dressing is simple.  Don’t be afraid of ruining a recipe, wasting ingredients, or disappointing yourself or others.  Get positive energy from taking a risk…and gaining confidence.  Take Julia Childs “what-the-hell” attitude with you and have a blast!

Dinnertime…with leftovers

12 Feb

My last post outlined the challenge of making a quick dinner with items out of my fridge and pantry.  I was too tired to fuss, and ended up with a big batch of tomato roasted red pepper soup.  It was belly warming and delicious.  After dinner I tossed the leftover soup into the fridge.  That was a lucky move!

The next day, I dashed out to a class at my local gym after work.  Walking in the door at home, I was greeted by an equally busy but hungry family.  It was 6:00. I was pinched for time.  I had to think fast.  So I pulled the leftover tomato soup from the fridge and then foraged through my kitchen for the rest of dinner.  In addition to the leftover soup I had:

  • Frozen tortellini
  • Frozen broccoli cauliflower mixture
  • Refrigerated biscuits
  • Canned tomato paste
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter

This became dinner.  I put a big pot of water on to boil.  Next, I took the leftover soup, put it in a saucepan and added some tomato paste (to thicken the soup), oregano, parsley, and basil.  After a big stir over medium heat, that began simmering  into a nice sauce.  The frozen veggies went into the microwave.  The bread went into a 350 degree oven for 13 minutes.

The pasta water boiled, so in went the tortellini and cooked in a quick 5 minutes.  By then the vegetables were cooked, and the bread was ready.  As the pasta drained, I pulled the bread out of the oven, split and buttered the biscuits.  The veggies went into an oven safe bowl with a little butter and parmesan cheese.  I put it back in the microwave for a minute.  Dinner was on the table in a snap.

You can’t hit it out of the ballpark every night.  It wasn’t a perfectly healthy dinner, but much more nutrient dense and economical than any drive thru meal.  Not bad for a home made family meal tossed together in about 30 minutes.

The best part, and you may use this if you like,  is the “dinner rule” in my house.  The person or people who make dinner don’t do the dishes or clean up the kitchen.  At first this was a hot button issue with whining teenagers arguing their point of why they should not have to do the  dishes.  I turned a deaf ear to it, so the whining did not last long.  But this rule, held tightly from the get go,  changed the thinking in my household.  Others wanted to cook dinner.  And who am I to argue?

It’s dinnertime

11 Feb

It’s dinner time.  As much as I love to cook, and as important healthy meals are to my family, every once in a while, I am just too tired to cook.  So I cheat a little.  Not naughty cheat, just a shortcut cheat.

Tonight I was pretty much out of gas by the time 5:00 rolled around.  Time to plan and cook dinner.  I had to peek in my pantry and fridge to see what I could pull together.  Here is what I had and pulled out.

  • Canned tomatoes
  • A jar of roasted red peppers
  • Chicken stock
  • Milk
  • A few stalks of celery
  • Arugula
  • A parmesan rind from a fresh parmesan cheese wedge (yes, I save and use everything!)
  • Garlic
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Croutons
  • Seasonings/herbs

What could I pull together?  Soup.  Tomato soup.  And maybe a grilled cheese sandwich if needed.  But I started with the soup.  I put some olive oil into a big dutch oven on top of the stove.  I added some chopped celery and garlic.  I let that sizzle for about 5 minutes.  Then I added 2 cans (28 ounce each) of tomatoes.  I chopped up the jarred roasted red peppers and tossed those in with the tomatoes.  Added a dash of white wine.  And about a cup of chicken stock. Next basil, parsley, salt and pepper went in. I chopped up about a half cup of arugula and added it to the soup.  Then I went about my business and let that simmer on the stove.  After about 1/2 hour or so, I used my stick blender to smooth out the mixture.

I tossed the parmesan rind into the soup to simmer and add flavor.  After a bit, I tasted the soup.  It wasn’t “tomatoey” enough, so I added a small can of tomato paste, stirred it in, and let that simmer and bubble a while longer. I also added about a 1/2 cup of milk to so the soup became a little creamy.

The great thing about soup is that it is ready whenever you are.  .  When my family gathered around the dinner table, I had a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches made, cut them in half, and tossed a plate of sandwiches onto the table.  It was a healthy meal because the soup had very little sodium and lots of savory seasonings.  It was vegetable dense.  The sandwiches, well, those were cheater, just a belly filling addition.

It was delicious!  I served the soup with croutons on top, so there was a little crunch to compliment the creaminess of the soup.  It was a pretty big batch of soup, so I had leftovers!  I love leftovers!  And guess what I used my leftovers for?  Tune in to the next blog and I will clue you in! Until then, relax and make some soup.  Bon Appetite!