Friday, November 21, 2014

It’s Turkey Time!

I love roasted turkey so much that I serve it for dinner at least a half-dozen times a year. But to me, the Thanksgiving turkey is the best. Served with stuffing, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, turkey is the star of the show. By now, preparing the holiday’s main dish is second nature to me. From buying the bird to safely storing leftovers, here are my rules of thumb:

Buying. Gather the rest of the items on your list first, then add the turkey to your cart right before heading to the checkout lanes. Check to see that the wrapping is tightly sealed and that it’s labeled with “safe food handling” instructions. Not sure how big of a bird you’ll need? If you’re buying a whole turkey, make sure you have at least 1 pound per person.

Thawing. Thaw a frozen turkey in the fridge for a few days. If you don’t have time for that, thaw it in a bucket of cold water. The trick is to keep its temperature below 40°F. Above that and your bird will be in the danger zone: the temperature range where foodborne bacteria quickly multiply.

Preparing. Bacteria can contaminate your hands, utensils, the sink, and any work surfaces the turkey comes in contact with. Clean them all thoroughly before prepping other food.

Stuffing. The safest bet is to cook stuffing in a casserole dish. But if you prefer to cook it inside the bird, stuff it just before sticking it in the oven.

Cooking. Set your oven no lower than 325°F, and make sure the turkey is completely thawed. Roast it breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Use a cooking thermometer on the breast, thigh, wing joint, and stuffing to be sure the safe internal temperature of 165°F has been reached. If your bird has a pop-up “done” sensor, you should still check the temp to be safe.

Serving. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the meat. This will make both jobs much easier.

Leftovers. Refrigerate uneaten turkey within two hours, and use it within three to four days. Frozen leftovers stay good for up to six months.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Give Arthritis the Cold Shoulder

Mother Nature is plunging most of the country into the deep freeze this week, and for some of us that means our arthritis pain is going to act up, too. It makes you wonder: Does cold weather really make arthritis worse, or is it all in our heads?

When our joints get cold, inflamed tissue shrinks down and pulls against the nerves. But that’s not the main reason arthritis seems worse during winter months. You can blame our more sedentary lifestyles for that. And I have to admit, reading by the fire or working on a needlepoint project is a whole lot more appealing than bundling up and heading outside for a walk. Being less active leads to stiffer joints.

But you don’t have to weather the elements to work exercise into your day. Many shopping malls open their doors before the stores are open just so folks can enjoy protection from the great outdoors while they walk. If the weather’s too bad for you to drive, set up a mini-walking course in your house, or march in place while you’re watching TV.

You can spend a whole lot of time, money, and energy trying different ways to relieve arthritis pain and stiffness. But you may be able to solve the problem yourself with one (or more!) of these DIY remedies:
  • Eat 15 to 20 sweet bing cherries every day.
  • Drink plenty of green tea.
  • Eat fruits and nuts — like pears, apples, and almonds — that contain the trace element boron.
  • Try the gin-soaked raisin remedy. To make it, put 1 cup of golden raisins (not black!) in a shallow glass bowl, and pour in just enough gin to cover them completely. Cover the bowl lightly, and let the raisins soak for a week or so, until they’ve absorbed all of the gin. Store them in a covered glass jar at room temperature, and eat nine raisins every day. Some folks report improvement after less than a week, while it takes others a month or more to get relief. Full disclosure: There are people for whom this remedy doesn’t work at all. But it’s easy and inexpensive to make, it’s delicious, and it has none of the side effects that many prescription meds can deliver.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Beware of Killer Convenience Foods!

It happens almost every time I go grocery shopping. I stand in the produce section, shopping list in hand, and compare prices between organic fruits and vegetables and those that were grown using chemical pesticide sprays. The organic versions usually win out, even though I might have to adjust my list to accommodate the higher prices.

But it’s not only fresh fruits and vegetables that retain dangerous pesticide and herbicide residue. Many of the packaged foods we eat are loaded with chemicals. According to tests conducted regularly by the FDA, this is the unhealthiest handful:

Bread. Grains of all kinds are routinely sprayed with insecticides. In its most recent analysis, the FDA detected malathion on most samples of bread (rye, white, and whole wheat), as well as on flour tortillas and crackers.

Breakfast cereals. Wheat-based cereals harbor the same bug-killer residue that bread does. Beyond that, most popular breakfast foods are made from corn, soy, and/or sugar derived from sugar beets — three crops that are genetically engineered to withstand massive doses of pesticides.

Ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and salsa. Commercial farmers spray the heck out of tomatoes in the field, so these three and other tomato-based foods retain significant pesticide residue. The most common is 2-chloroethyl linoleate, which has been linked to nerve and liver damage.

Frozen dinners. It’s no secret that these convenience foods are laced with heaps of sodium, artificial flavorings, and other nasty junk. But some of them — particularly frozen lasagna and burritos — have been found to contain organophosphate pesticides in the same class as DDT.

Snack foods. Pretzels and crackers — especially butter crackers, graham crackers, and saltines — contain high levels of organo-phosphate pesticide residue. And potato chips are notorious for their supply of a nerve- and liver-damaging pesticide called chlorpropham. It’s widely used on safflower and soybeans, the source of the oils in which many chips are fried.

The takeaway? If you’re going to use these convenient ready-to-eat foods, fork over a little more money for the organic versions!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween—Get Ready for a Sugar Rush!

Between the trick-or-treating, the scary costumes, the jack-o-lanterns, and the mountains of candy, your little monsters, super heroes, and princesses have been looking forward to tonight for months. And at the end of the day, when they dump their haul and start ripping open candy wrappers, you wonder if you’re ready for the sugar rush — and the morning-after miseries.

A recent study showed that trick-or-treaters bring home an average of 4,800 calories and 3 cups of sugar. And that’s just an average, folks! Kids who view Halloween as a competition to see who can bag the most loot can get that calorie count well over 10,000. So carve out a plan with your children before they go trick-or-treating. Decide how much candy they will keep for themselves, and how much they will give up. Then stick to the plan. As for what to do with the leftovers, here are some options:

Treat the troops. Operation Shoebox is a non-profit organization that sends care packages to troops overseas. Mail individually wrapped treats to: Operation Shoebox, 8360 East Highway 25, Belleview, FL  34420.

Swap with a dentist. Many offer Halloween candy buy-back programs. At $1 per pound of candy traded in, your child may end up a few bucks richer!

Supply a study break. College students live stressful lives. So let them relive their childhoods with a box of Halloween goodies.

Now for that “too-much-sugar” tummy ache. Here’s what to do if your little one has overindulged:
  • Bring on the bland to help settle her stomach. Put easy-to-digest applesauce, a little plain rice, dry toast, or even a mild cooked vegetable on the day’s menu.
  • Sometimes all it takes to settle a troubled tummy is the right scent. Have your “patient” scratch the peel of an uncut lemon and take a few whiffs, or open a bottle of peppermint oil and let him take a sniff. The odors will travel to his brain and help settle the topsy-turvy tummy turmoil.
  • It may be tempting for your tot to curl up on the couch, but a walk around the block may be all she needs to let a little gravity give some relief to her grief.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Afraid of Ebola? Fear the Flu Instead

I saw a funny message on Facebook the other day, posted by the niece of a friend. “You seem awfully worried about catching Ebola for someone too lazy to get a flu shot,” it read. My friend’s niece is a doctor, so I’m sure she has seen all kinds of irrational panic over the recent Ebola outbreak.

Although the actual outbreak is thousands of miles away from the US, there has been lots of confusion about how exactly the virus is spread. Add that to the publicity surrounding procedure errors at one of the hospitals that treated an Ebola patient, and a healthy amount of concern is understandable. Is it time to panic, though? No.

And you shouldn’t panic about the looming flu season either, but you should definitely be prepared. Every year, the influenza virus sends more than 200,000 Americans to the hospital and kills up to 49,000 folks, most of them over 65.

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges us to rush out and get a flu shot. Yet statistics show that fewer than 50 percent of the adult population heeds that advice. Whether you fall into the “No needles for me!” or the “Shoot me now!” group, here are a few factoids that you may not know:
  • The likelihood that the flu shot will protect you varies wildly from year to year, but generally it’s about 67 percent effective.
  • The shot is less effective for anyone who has a chronic health condition.
  • After you’ve been vaccinated, it takes about two weeks for your system to develop antibodies against the flu.
So get the flu shot to increase your odds of staying healthy, but you still need to protect yourself against getting the virus. You can pick it up simply by touching a germ-laden surface or shaking hands with an infected person. So start by disinfecting some of the most likely germ catchers in your home and office. Focus your attack on your computer keyboards and mouse, desks, tables, doorknobs, elevator buttons, faucets, handrails, remote controls. Then, when you wash your hands, scrub vigorously with a lather of soap for at least 20 seconds. And always use a paper towel to operate public bathroom faucets and your elbow to open the door. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Stop Dry-Skin Season Before It Starts!

As warm summer temps give way to brisk wind and lower humidity, your skin usually starts feeling as dry as the falling leaves. Don’t let that happen this year! Instead, get a jump on dry skin by treating it to a delightful DIY moisturizer. I’ve got a bunch of them in my bag of beauty tricks. But this nifty night cream is my favorite for fall:

STEP 1. Gather your supplies. You’ll need an apple (any kind will do), 1 cup of olive oil, and 1 cup of rose water, along with a blender or food processor, and a double boiler.

STEP 2. Wash and dry the apple thoroughly (don’t peel it!), then cut it in half, removing the core, seeds, and stem. Cut the fruit into small pieces, and toss them into the blender or food processor.

STEP 3. Start the blender and slowly add the olive oil until a paste forms.

STEP 4. Put tap water in the bottom of the double boiler and the apple-oil mixture in the top part; heat it until it’s just lukewarm. (If you don’t have a double boiler, substitute a saucepan and a heat-proof bowl.) Don’t let the apple cook — if it does, the key ingredient (malic acid) will dissipate.

STEP 5. Set the mixture aside until it cools to room temperature, then add the rose water and stir until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Store the cream in a plastic jar in the fridge, where it will keep for up to six days. Use it every night before you go to bed, and by the time your first batch is gone, you’ll see softer, more supple skin.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Microbead Madness!

Do you think you can’t live without the dead-skin-sloughing microbeads in your favorite body wash or facial cleanser? Well, it looks like pretty soon you’re going to have to. It turns out that those tiny beads (a typical bottle of exfoliating facial cleanser contains 300,000 of them) are causing big trouble — they’re showing up on the surface of the Great Lakes, and in the bellies of fish that mistake them for food.

In the wake of the discovery that microbeads are too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment facilities, several manufacturers have pledged to remove the sloughing agents from their products and replace them with natural exfoliants like ground nutshells, salt, and sugar. You can even have your skin exfoliated professionally with diamond crystals if you want!

When you purchase a commercial body wash, there’s no telling what might be in it. But this Sugar and Spice Scrub is so safe, you could eat it!


1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of white sugar
¾ cup of almond or coconut oil
2 tsp. of cinnamon
2 tsp. of ground ginger
2 tsp. of nutmeg

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, and transfer the mixture to a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. At bath or shower time, scoop out a small handful of the blend, and massage it all over your damp body. Then rinse with warm water.

And you couldn’t ask for a better facial cleanser than this one: In a bowl, mix ⅛ cup of finely ground sea salt and 1 to 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh mint. Drizzle in just enough unfiltered apple cider vinegar to make a thick paste. (An eyedropper is ideal for this job.) Gently massage the mixture onto your face and neck, and rinse well with warm water. Refrigerate any leftover formula, and use it within three days.