Friday, July 30, 2010

It Pays to Increase Your 'Reading' Power

When we (meaning myself, my 3 sisters and brother) were young my parents would take us on long car trips for our vacations. Nothing fancy, but we were lucky enough to go to a lot of interesting places on the east coast. Part of their strategy to keep us from being bored during the drives, was to have my mother read a page from the Reader's Digest called 'It Pays to Increase Your Word Power."

In this popular monthly feature (still running in the Digest today I believe) there were 10 to 20 vocabulary words with 4 possible answers. My mother would test us and keep score, my father would always win. But it did enrich our vocabulary I think and definitely helped us on standardized tests because there were no tutors or tutoring services in our world.

So I thought that each Friday, I might include a more modest sampling of words I come across in the course of reading a couple of newpapers, a book or two and some magazines each week. I also found some interesting facts in a book I'm reading right now and I'll pass those along as well.

(From the NY Times and Wall Street Journal this week

argurs: 1. an herb 2. trellis 3. argues 4. a camera

aerie: 1. creepy 2. secluded dwelling 3. open and breezy 4. fairy-like creature

harbinger: 1. a bird 2. a heavy drinker 3. forerunner 4. place for yachts

misogynist: 1. women hater 2. mythical expert 3. chef 4. athlete

vicarious: 1. a lot of 2. by proxy 3. victorious 3. minister's duties

argurs: (Answer: 3)

ae·rie (answer 2)
Variant(s): also aery \ˈer-ē, ˈir-, ˈā-(ə-)rē\
Function: noun
Etymology: Medieval Latin aerea, from Old French aire, probably from Vulgar Latin *agrum origin, nest, lair, from Latin ager field — more at acre
Date: 1554

the nest of a bird on a cliff or a mountaintop
obsolete : a brood of birds of prey
an elevated often secluded dwelling, structure, or position

har·bin·ger (answer : 3)

Pronunciation: \ˈhär-bən-jər\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English herbergere, from Anglo-French, host, from herberge camp, lodgings, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German heriberga
Date: 14th century

archaic : a person sent ahead to provide lodgings
one that pioneers in or initiates a major change :
one that presages or foreshadows what is to come

mi·sog·y·ny ( Answer: 1)
Pronunciation: \mə-ˈsä-jə-nē\
Function: noun
Etymology: Greek misogynia, from misein to hate + gynē woman — more at queen
Date: circa 1656
a hatred of women

vi·car·i·ous (answer: 2)

Pronunciation: \vī-ˈker-ē-əs, və-\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin vicarius, from vicis change, alternation, stead — more at week
Date: 1637

 serving instead of someone or something else
 that has been delegated 
 performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another 
3 : experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another4 : occurring in an unexpected or abnormal part of the body instead of the usual one 

FUN FACTS (from a book called 'The Sword of the Templars' by Paul Christopher) 

  1. Edwin Traisman: a food scientist who created the process for freezing McDonald's french fries and helped develop Cheez Whiz
  2. Leominster, Mass.: The book says this town is the home of Foster Grants Sunglasses and the place where the plastic pink flamingo was developed though I couldn't find anything to back that up. But it may be true!
  3. Nordlicht, Hitler's Horse: Died 1968 in St. Rose, Louisiana ...Near the entrance to La Branche Plantation, just off of River Road, marked by a small plaque, is the final resting place of what may be the most notorious equine in history. This is the grave of Nordlicht, "North Light," a chestnut thoroughbred stallion who died, quietly, in the bloody year 1968. Nordlicht's early days were anything but quiet. Born in 1941 -- a life bookended by war -- Nordlicht was, some believe, the horse of Adolf Hitler.
Over The Weekend: I start my gift wrapping unit

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dollar Frame Redux

A couple of posts ago I transformed some flip-flops using multi-colored ribbons. Doing that project, I mistakenly cut some of the ribbons too short and was unable to use them on the sandals.

Keeping with my new philosophy (not to waste and mostly not buying anything new until I use up some of the clutter I already have) I decided to use the discarded ribbons on a cheap, metal, one dollar frame I had picked up in a discount store. Full disclosure, the frame was manufactured in Mexico, not in the USA, a disappointment! But wait, I found 5X7 beveled mat from Target and it was made in the United States. Let's hear it for Target Corp.!

I glued the ribbons around the frame and then added rosette fillers and some rhinestones. Check out the result. Of course this frame is multicolored because I used leftovers but you can coordinate colors better (all pinks, all blues, all white, etc.) depending on the person you're giving it to or the room you're putting it on. All you need is an old frame, some ribbon, rhinestones and craft glue! Makes a quick, inexpensive and fun gift.

Tomorrow: A vocabulary quiz from this week's papers

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Great Potato Any Way You Slice It!

I saw this potato recipe in a magazine and unfortunately didn't save it but since it was really simple, I can recall most of the ingredients and details.

This is an impressive side for company and can partially be made 
ahead with the topping added for a quick turn in the oven to roast and melt.  

Use skim products wherever possible to keep calories low. 

  • large 'new' potatoes but you can also use Yukon Gold 
  • butter (or low calorie spread) 
  • Parmesan cheese grated 
  • cheddar cheese grated (used skim here, works just as well) 
  • fresh parsley, chopped 
  • salt 
  • pepper

  • Steam the potatoes early in the day. (Notice I didn't microwave them because I now know that microwaving kills the nutrients in vegetables. See post about vegetables) When they're soft slice 3/4 of the way through at about 1/8 inch intervals with a sharp knife. 
  • While the potatoes are still warm, put 1 teaspoon of butter on each and let it melt through the slices.
  • Cover the potatoes and just before serving, heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Sprinkle potatoes with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
  • Top each potato with a heaping tablespoon of Parmesan, then cheddar. 
  • Lightly drizzle olive oil on top and bake for about 15-20 minutes till potatoes are golden and cheese melted.
Note: This might work well on the barbecue with the potatoes and ingredients wrapped in tin foil. I might try that this weekend and will let you know how it tastes. 

A Few Facts About the Potato
This is my second potato recipe and I just wanted to share some misnomers about this vegetable from someone who is an almost professional dieter! 

Potatoes are moderate in calories, non-fattening, filling and are loaded with nutrients. 

Potatoes have fiber so they help in digestion and also lower cholesterol. 

Phytochemicals in potatoes include flavanoids and a recently identified compound called kukoamine that appears to help lower blood pressure.  With the exception of vitamin A, white potatoes have just about every nutrient including vitamin C. 

Most of the vitamin C is lost due to the heat of cooking unfortunately. In addition, one baked potato offers about 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin B6, which is good news for your heart. 

They are also very high in potassium, much more than any other potassium-rich food. They are a good source of iron and copper, too. 

In fact, a potato a day really is good for your heart and helps promote 
normal blood-pressure levels. 

A normal-to-large size potato has about 280 calories. 


Tomorrow: Finishing A Frame Project

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Bee-utiful Pillow You Can Make in an Hour

Tonight I'm going to make a small pillow. I'm not going to take out the sewing machine which would be easier but I want to prove a point that anyone can make a decorator pillow with rosettes in a very short time. All you'll need is a piece of fabric about 6" square, some scraps of same fabric or coordinating fabric, (maybe three strips about 8" long folded in half), needle, thread, needle threader (for those of us who can't see!) and about an hour of your time.

Final Product

I bought some remnants (remnants are scraps of fabric usually less than a yard that are sold off the bolt for a much cheaper price) out in Eastport. Long Island last summer at the store I wrote about in my very first post. In their store that's located in back of their main store, I found some great pieces of upholstery fabric for $1. each! Of course I couldn't resist. One of the pieces was a gold color (and the subject of tonight's posting) that was dotted with winged insects (bees I think) and I just fell in love with it.

The challenge (and the reason it was in a remnant bin) was an unfortunate tear running here and there along a crease line. It prevented me from making a larger pillow but since I actually like smaller accent pillows it really wasn't a problem.

I ironed the piece this morning and was able to get one 12" square pillow as well as two narrow rectangular pillows and 3 small 6" squares...and there was still enough left over for rosette making. Not too bad for my one dollar!

I'll be working on this tonight as I watch TV and will post the final product later. (uploaded now, see final pillow at top).

After sewing 3/4 way around (use backstitch sewn on the reverse side). I turned it inside out, stuffed the pillow and sewed the open end closed. I made three rosettes and sewed them to the pillow in the upper left corner. I had some gold-ish bronze ribbon in my ribbon collection and also found an unused Christmas package ornament. I added that to the bow under the rosettes. It took on a holiday persona but I have 5 other pillows to make and embellish other ways. Will keep you posted as I complete those projects.

I have lots more rosette projects coming up. I happened to catch a few minutes of Oprah today and she had some cascading rosettes on her shirt. I already have my t-shirt project ready and will probably get to it next week.

Give hand sewing a try, it's relaxing, portable and it keeps your hands out of the potato chip bowl!

Tomorrow: A Sliced Potato Recipe

Getting Framed

As part of my organization project (see July 23rd post) I want to finish hanging my art. And also. as part of my organizational 'vows', I'm not buying any more frames! Like an unrepentant shopaholic, I can't resist a great looking frame and I have way too many. I've even purchased a few sad, chipped  'charlie brown' frames imagining their glorious transformation using a can of spray paint, a rosette or two, sequins, ribbons.....but I never get to it, I just can't commit! So they stack up in some of my cluttered trouble spots until now. 

Looking through some Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel catalogues I recently received in the mail, I noticed lots of great wall art layouts and was encouraged to get on with the 'hangings'.  Some of my projects are pictured here. 

I like the eclectic approach these take and I've tried to mimic that in the few areas that I've completed. My house faces a lighthouse (on a hill in the center of Staten Island...really!) I've been collecting illustrations of lighthouses and have a few hanging already. These are in my kitchen.  

I love unusual looking plates so I started a collection of those on a wall just outside my dining room (and there are some in the dining room as well). I have original illustrations from cities I've visited but they're still in a box.

Grandchildren photos lean against the mantle in the the guest bedroom. It took so long for me to get that project completed that the kids were a year older and had already changed so much. 

So if you're like me and need a little inspiration or push to get going, check out catalogues (image below is from Pottery Barn) , home decorating magazines or furniture stores. A few websites below offer some great suggestions. Make sure you have all of the tools needed...hammer, measuring tape, picture hangers, wire, framed art're all set to go!
Tomorrow: Rosettes, Part 2

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grillicious Guacumole

Guacamole is great any time of the year but I think especially in the summer as an appetizer or accompaniment to barbecue. Maybe it's the green color, maybe the hint of lime or the crisp chips? I'm not sure but I know that I enjoy guacamole more in the warmer temps.

Guacamole actually has a historical background which dates back to the Aztecs who called guacamole ahuaca-mulli (translation: avocado sauce or avocado mixture). The Aztecs guacamole was very much like today's version.  The Aztecs believed the avocado to be an 
aphrodisiac and so it became very popular with the conquering Spaniards. 

Another reason for its popularity was the fact that the avocado has the highest fat content of any fruit. The Aztecs had a very low fat diet compared to today so a fruit that contained elements that sustained life was very important. 

My sister has a great recipe, really easy, that's become a family favorite. The recipe follows. All you'll need is a few simple ingredients, a bag of chips and about 15 minutes. Serve with fruity sangria.

'Out East Guacamole'
5 avocados ripened
5 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 small onion minced
1 small tomato finely chopped
dash of chili powder
juice 1/2 lime (optional)
kosher salt to taste

Scoop out avocado meat leaving shell and pit behind. Mash in stainless steel bowl until mostly smooth. add onion, garlic and tomato. Squeeze in lime juice and add salt chili powder to taste.


Stadium Centennials
This weekend we were up in Boston and took a tour of Fenway Park. An interesting fact we learned at the end of the tour was that next year, 
Fenway will celebrate it's 100th Anniversary (opened in 1911). Two years after, it will be Wrigley Field in Chicago's 100th (1914). The next stadium that will celebrate it's centennial will be Dodger Stadium in Los was built in 1962! Hardly a historic stadium but all other stadiums in the United States are new. 
If only the Yankees held out building the new stadium until 2023!

Tomorrow: Getting Framed

Friday, July 23, 2010

Out of the Closet

My family and I have a dirty little secret....our closets are a mess! But let me not stop there, in addition to the closets there are so many hidden spots loaded with 'stuff' in my house that I've lost track of them. The sad part is that instead of cleaning out, I clean around these clutter clusters and like a festering cold sore they've become an unfortunate blight on the face of my lovely home.

The Christmas gift I forgot to give to my daughter's mother-in-law?...that's behind the white chair in the living room closer to the fireplace than the Cuisinart that my other daughter bought for her girlfriend's registry before she changed her mind and bought something else. The silver frame for the baby's christening photo? the Pottery Barn box next to the burgundy couch in the TV room under the bag from Macy's with the dress that's has to be returned. The fabric that I bought to make a pillow? not sure, maybe under the black desk next to the stationery boxes in my husbands office or is it still in the car trunk? I could go on and on.....

I had breakfast with some friends this morning and the conversation inevitably got around to decluttering our lives. I say inevitably because I've come to believe that decluttering (or is it uncluttering? ) is a right of passage for women of a 'certain' age. I've gotten to the point that it would probably take me the rest of my functional days to actually sort through this stuff and do with it whatever it was I originally intended (if I could even remember!) My friends seemed to have the same problem so I decided to declare a moratorium on buying more paraphernalia.

I hope my husband reads this!

To insure I keep my promise, I'm embarrassing myself by publishing these photos of some of my best clutter spots...I'll be starting in my son's room where his double-sized closet (after he married and moved out oh, about 6-7 years ago) turned into a gift wrapping mecca for roll

after roll of wrapping paper, rolls and rolls of ribbons, boxes and containers for said gift wrap and ribbon and of course, the many gifts that were purchased and never boxed, wrapped and ribboned along with a collection of never mailed all-occasion greeting cards that could fill a small card store! Now, I do have a reputation as a great gift wrapper to uphold but if I were ever to be nominated to the gift wrapper hall of fame, I'd be disqualified after the judges took a look at my work space!

So it begins...the innocent looking white chest with shelves (used to be part of the baby furniture set) will be turned into a gift wrapping hub and the rest will be either tossed or stored somewhere else as I begin my quest to have the most organized and clutter-free house ever. Now I know this is a subject that's gotten a lot of attention on shows like Oprah, Rachel Ray and the Martha Stewart Show. Then there's 'Queer Eye and the HGTV channel... yes, clutter is a national crisis! The difference here will be that I'll be figuring this out by myself, no professional intervention...and I'll do it cheaply, remember, no more stuff!

Stay tuned and let the tossing begin!

Over the weekend: I'll make my sister's easy "Out East Guacamole"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Picking Healthy Vegetables...Part 2

  Yesterday I gave some tips on picking the best fruit possible we'll talk about vegetables, not all of which are part of summer's bounty but nevertheless are a great side for barbecue, in a salad or as a main course...yes, think vegetarian! I'll give you optimal times for each vegetable if I can and the best ways to cook them. 

   Lets start with
steaming.... its a well
 documented fact that vegetables are healthiest when you steam. Steamed vegetables lose only 10% of their flavonoids which are levels of anti-oxidant substances found in vegetables like broccoli. Flavonoids are important because they absorb harmful chemicals called fr
ee radicals which can damage your DNA and cause cancer. Steamer pots or utensils are available in most stores and range in prince from $10. to $50. Definitely worth the investment of you don't already have one. Steaming is fast, preserves nutrients, and it works best for fresh and frozen vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, spinach and roots like beets, parsnips, peas and beans.  

Microwaving vegetables is the least healthy way of cooking vegetables. Vegetables lose almost all their healthy antioxidants because microwaves produce hotspots inside the food which cause the antioxidants to break down. 

Boiled vegetables were not much better, losing 80% of their flavonoids by the time they were cooked, with most of the healthy antioxidants draining out into the water. 

Oven roasting is quick, simple, and is an excellent way for cooking vegetables as it preserves the vitamins, flavors and minerals. 

Stir-frying is a good flavor and color preserving cooking method. Sliced vegetables are put in frying pan covered at bottom with any liquid for cooking such as chicken broth or a broth made from stir-fry seasonings. Constantly stir the vegetables until they are crispy and glossy

But since it is summer lets talk about grilling your vegetables. Fresh asparagus, corn, carrots, onions, peppers, mushrooms are perfect for grilling
because they have low water content. Coat vegetables lightly with olive oil before putting directly on the grill or place in a grilling pan. Cook until tender but with a 
snap to them. 

Asparagus should have straight, bright-green stalks with stiff tips. For optimal nutritional value and flavor, steam asparagus instead of boiling  but are also great on the grill. SEASON: March to June. 

Select beets that are  firm and attached to red stems and fresh green tops, those without tops beets without their tops are usually older. SEASON: mid-June to mid-October.

String beans should look bright and 
be firm, not wrinkly, should have a good snap when broken in two. SEASON: Available year-round.

When choosing broccoli look for tightly budded heads that are dark green in color. SEASON: from July to October.

Look for firm carrots with mostly smooth skin. Thick carrots often have tough centers. If you buy fresh bunched carrots with green tops, remove the tops before storing, because they can steal moisture and nutrients away from the roots. SEASON: Year-round, but are best from July to September.

Cucumbers should be firm, unblemished, and dark green in color. SEASON: from June to September.

Choose eggplants that are heavy for their size and have smooth skin. SEASON: from August to September.

Mushrooms should be free of bruises and other blemishes, not wrinkled or slimy. SEASON: from October to November.

Potatoes should be firm and free of bruises and cracks. SEASON: from September to January.

Look for peppers with thick, smooth skin. SEASON: from about May to September.

Choose spinach that is dark green with no signs of yellowing, sliminess, or wilting. SEASON: June to October.

Squash should have hard, smooth skin. SEASON: Acorn and butternut squash are in season from September to December. 

Look for yams that do not have any cracks or soft spots. Steaming is the best cooking method to preserve the nutritional value of yams. SEASON: from October to about March.
Zucchini should have firm, dark green skin. Old zucchini are soft and wrinkly. SEASON: July to September.

Easy Red Potato Recipe
1 bag small red potatoes
olive oil
prepared pesto (I like Costco's) or homemade version
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
kosher salt
fresh pepper

  • Slice potatoes in half and place in baking pan. Mix 1/2 c pesto, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  • Mix with potatoes and sprinkle with olive oil.
  • Bake at 350 degrees until potatoes are roasted and tender. 
  • Sprinkle with parmesan cheese before serving.

Note: The potatoes pictured here were paired with grilled shell steaks. The next day, the leftovers were added to a salad. 






  •  Some of the tips in this article are from a Canadian publication called Glow.