Friday, December 19, 2014

Tension Taming Tips to Finesse Stress

The holidays are upon us, so ‘tis the season to be jolly. And that means that you can’t let yourself fall victim to stress! It’s not always easy, what with the hustle and bustle of shopping, decorating your home, getting ready for company, and concerns about pushing an already tight budget to its limits. Here are a few quick tricks that’ll short-circuit the stress in the wink of a reindeer’s eye:

Breathe. Taking slow, deliberate breaths and focusing on the sensation (called mindful breathing) won’t shrink the long line at the toy store, but it will lower your heart rate and help you gain a sense of control.

Spend quality time with your pet. Your furry friend loves you unconditionally, so playing a quick game of fetch with Fido or cuddling on the couch with Kitty will lift your spirits and serve as a buffer against stress.

Take a walk. A simple walk at a brisk pace enhances the flow of brain chemicals that block the effects of stress. It doesn’t have to be a long walk—even a dash up and down the stairs will do in a pinch.

Munch on chocolate. It’s true—eating chocolate helps release endorphins, those brainy chemicals that control your mood. (And it’s yummy!)

The most important thing is to allow yourself to enjoy the holiday season and all of its wonders. After all, it only comes once a year!

Friday, December 12, 2014

DIY Bay-Rum Aftershave

I’ve made my list and checked it twice, but let’s face it: Some men are just too darn hard to shop for around holiday time. So if you’re looking for a homemade gift idea for the man in your life, you’ve come to the right place. This classic potion is the perfect answer — especially for those guys who have everything!

½ cup of vodka
2 tablespoons of dark rum
2 dried bay leaves
¼ teaspoon of allspice
1 cinnamon stick
Rind from 1 small orange, shredded

Combine all of the ingredients. Pour the mixture into a clean jar with a tight lid, and set it in a cool, dark place for two weeks. Strain out the solids, and pour the liquid into a nice-looking bottle. Add a label for a personal touch, if you’d like.

That’s all there is to it, and trust me — your man will love it!

Friday, December 5, 2014

6 Holiday Party Tricks That Won’t Break the Scale

Want your belly to shake when you laugh like a bowl full of jelly? Sure, if you’re St. Nick — after all, you want to fit the profile. But for mere mortals like you and me (who want to stay slim and trim), party invitations are pouring in, and the season of overindulging has begun. This year I’m going to do my best to keep weight gain at bay with these holiday party tricks:

1. Eat with your non-dominant hand. You’ll take your time and appreciate every delicious bite.

2. Distract your taste buds. The flavor of mint suppresses your appetite and alters the flavor of other foods. So suck on a candy cane (a 6-inch stick is only 55 calories!) or sip peppermint tea to help you steer clear of the cheese ball.

3. Make every bite count. Don’t indulge in things you can have any time of year, like chocolate chip or brownies. Instead, choose decadent delights that you only see at Christmastime, like eggnog (233 calories per cup!) or fruitcake (90 calories per slice), which has gotten a bad rap over the years, but is really quite tasty.

4. Choose the smallest glass for your cocktail. Then switch to water!

5. Fill up on bubbles! No, not bubbly — down a bottle of carbonated water before heading in to the party.

6. Load up on veggies that are high in fiber and water content, like tomatoes, leafy greens, peppers, carrots, and cauliflower.

If you doubt you’ll be able to stick to these tricks, try my “dress for success” tip. Wear flattering, form-fitting clothes to give you the extra incentive to pass on second helpings. 

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.