"The best times you are going to have in life are at the dinner table and in bed." Old Italian saying. So relax, and enjoy the simple things!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Simple Living Ideas: Discernment: How Do You Know What to Want?



http://sjsa.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/discernment/


Discernment is a term used to describe the activity of determining the value and quality of a certain subject or event. Typically, it is used to describe the activity of going past the mere perception of something, to making detailed judgments about that thing. As a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others. (Wikipedia)
Discernment is a key to simple living. If you don’t know what you value, how can you decide what to keep in your life and what to do away with? You can’t simplify until you have narrowed down your priorities. So, what is important to you?
My health is most important to me because I feel that if I am not healthy and fit I can not enjoy my family and friends. What I enjoy doing most with the people in my life is sharing good food and conversation,... occasionally doing this in an interesting location; so yes, travel is important to me. Therefore, when I am deciding on what options to pursue and what objects to possess I ask myself: How will this choice effect my health? Will this help me enjoy family, friends and food more? Do I get to travel? 
I've come to my values mostly through meditation and emotional release work that is focused on tuning into my true feelings. I have spent a lot of time tearing away belief systems I inherited and replacing them with ones that genuinely reflect my thoughts and desires.
How do you determine what is right for you?
The ability to make choices that are best for you has never been harder. The options and availability of everything is greater now than it has ever been; primarily because of the Internet. That is why it is even more important now to spend time getting to know yourself, and deciding on your values...because the choices are vast... and they just keep changing.

Please share with us your process for discovering your values, how do you decide what is right for you?...
I look forward to your comments,
Diane
copyright 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Healthy Eating: Kitchen Basics: What you need in the kitchen...no uni-taskers!

fire extinguisher

Alton Brown, the host of the science food show, "Good Eats" famously said, "The only uni-tasker you should have in your kitchen is a fire extinguisher." I try to honor his creed for two simple reasons. One is I hate to waste money on a gadget I hardly ever use and secondly, I don't like to clutter up my kitchen with too many gadgets and utensils. When you have too many items it takes longer to find what you need. Wasting time and money is not simple living.

The list that follows are the kitchen basics I think most people can use in order to be able to bake, roast, sauté, broil, and stew. Every home will most likely need a few more items that are customized to the type of food you prefer to cook. In our house we make a lot of whole grains so we use a rice cooker several times a week. My husband also bakes his own bread, so he has various baskets and bowls that he uses for shaping and proofing bread. 

My meal plan for the week is at the end of this post.

For baking:
nesting bowls
Nesting bowls

What I like about ceramic nesting bowls is that you can put them in the oven and in the microwave. They are also pretty enough to use as serving bowls.


baking pans
Baking pans
measuring cups
Measuring cups



For Savory Cooking:

cooking utensils
Cooking Utensils
 For spoons you definitely want long ones so you won't burn yourself. A slotted one is important for draining meat and veggies that are cooked in water. A ladle is necessary for soups and stews. A rubber coated whisk is good to have for mixing a sauce on the stove in a non-stick pan. The wooden spoon is important for not scratching a non-stick pan and the spatulas I own are heat resistant so you can scrap a hot pan.
cooking knives and scissor
Cooking knifes and scissor.
 For knives a chef's knife is your most important multi-purpose tool. You can cut almost anything with it as long as you keep it sharp. It is important to have a serrated knife for bread and fruits and veggies like tomatoes. A paring knife is helpful for cutting meat and so is a kitchen scissor.
salt and pepper for cooking
Salt and Pepper for Cooking.
I like having a pinch salt holder to keep by the stove and a pepper grinder that allows you to control the coarseness of the pepper. Salt and pepper are in every savory dish so it is nice to have them out and available in an easy to use container.
grating and basting
Opening, grating, and basting. 

sauce pots
Sauce Pots
 The larger sauce pot I have here has a built in colander. It is great to have a pan structured this way because you can lift the pasta right out of the pan, strain it as you lift it, and deposit it directly into sauce without having to leave the stove.
frying pans
Frying Pans


There are 3 frying pans here one large non-stick for fish and a small non-stick for eggs. Below is a large sauté pan that does have a lid. This is great for brazing meat and making sauces.

Appliances:

Kitchen Appliances


A Cuisinart makes chopping and mixing large batches of things much easier. The electric mixer makes baking much easier and a blender is good for pureeing and making smoothies.

Dutch oven and crockpot.
A Dutch oven really makes the best stews and chili because the liquid gets heated from all directions which makes for a richer sauce. But if you can't be home for hours to attend to a dutch oven, a crockpot can make many things that a dutch oven can, not as well, because the heat is only coming from the bottom, but the convince of it is worth the investment in one.

Meal Plan for the Week:





Friday: Arctic Char with Roasted Potatoes and White Asparagus

copyright 2012

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Simple Organizing: i Charging Station: Are you tangled up and blue?

icharger
i charger 2012


We are a three Kindle, two iTouch, one iPhone, one iPad family. The good thing about these devices is they reduce book and paper clutter. Less trees are being used to process newspapers, magazines, and books... but darn all of the cords needed to charge these gadgets.  Well, I found a solution the

iHome IB969G Charging Station for iPad, iPod, iPhone, BlackBerrys and eReaders

allows you to neatly charge two iPhone/itouch a Kindle or other reader, and an iPad all at the same time. I have it placed on top of our wine rack... it fits nicely on any counter top too. Well worth the investment.

Click on to see product details:



Friday, February 24, 2012

Foodie Friday: Sautéing Fish Simplified: Sounds Fishy to me?


artic char
Arctic Char with Roasted Potatoes & White Asparagus


It being the first week of Lent my thoughts turn to fish on Friday. You see in my house growing up Vatican II never happened. My mother continued to says her prays in Latin and we AWAYS ate fish on Friday. 
My grandfather on my mom’s side was from a fishing town outside of Bari, Italy. He only ate fish and a little veal. He found steak repulsive and he thought chickens were dirty. Fish was good and cheap when my mom was growing up in the 1930’s. Times have changed so much, fish back then, was considered the food of the poor. If you didn’t have money you bought or caught your own fish. 
My mom grew up in New Haven, CT you didn’t have to go out very far in a boat to catch tuna or cod. Mussels and oysters could be found on the beach. You can still find shell fish in Long Island Sound, but you would be crazy to eat it, the water is so polluted.  Tuna and cod are harder to find these days in New England. Many species have been over fished.
 If you want to purchase fish responsibly Oceana has a pocket size guide that you can print out and take with you to the fish market. It out lines which fish are OK to purchase and which fish you should avoid because they are either overfished or polluted.
I don’t like broiling fish I find that the top of the fish gets over cooked and the rest is not always cooked enough. I think sautéing, poaching, and steaming are the best way to keep moisture in fish. 
SAUTÉING FISH:
1) Heat oil in a non-stick skillet on medium high.

2) Dry fish with paper towels, salt and pepper it, cover with any dry seasoning now. “Old Bay” seasoning mix works on all fish.
3) Before you put the fish in the pan test that the skillet is very hot, this helps prevent sticking. Put a drop of water in the pan. If it sizzles the pan is OK to cook with.
4) Once you place the fish, do not move it for at least 3-4 minutes. Watch the edges of the fish, make sure it’s not burning. If you move the fish it will stick.
5) After 4 minutes flip over the fish and cook for another 3-4 minutes. If the fish is very thick cover the pan with a lid.
6) Fish is done when it is opaque. It still can be a little pink in the middle because it will continue to cook.
7) I know many recipes say cook fish until it flakes, but trust me. When it flakes it is over cooked because the recipe is not including the fact that it will continue to cook even though it is off of the heat.

8) Let fish rest for 3 -5 minutes. While the fish is resting you can throw some wine in the skillet (1/2 cup or so) with a tablespoon of butter and some herbs (tarragon or dill always work well with fish) and make a nice reduction to pour over the fish. Just make sure that you simmer the wine and stir it until  most of the water has evaporated, or it starts to look a little thick. If it is not thinking sprinkle a little flour or corn starch into the pan and mix it well.
copyright 2012
fish



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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Simple Living Ideas: Parenting Simplified: By the French???



bringing up bebe
I have traveled a lot in my life. Take a look at my Pinterest board if you are curious as to were I have been. I travel in order to take myself out of context and learn who I really am. Along with self knowledge, I am also endlessly fascinated by how different customs are from one country to the next, yet paradoxically how much we all share the same humanity.
 Having children has definitely decreased the time I have to travel, so occasionally I try to read books written by Americans who are living abroad who share their insights into our culture by experiencing another culture.
Pamela Druckerman’s book: Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting caught my attention because Anglo culture has through out time been in opposition to Franco culture. 
The French parenting style is very simple. A child from a very young age is taught the rhythm of his family and society. French parents are very firm about sleeping, eating, and behavior. The French listen to their children, but they do not think just because they listen that a child is right. They strongly believe in teaching self-control through delayed gratification as a way to develop self contented and resilient adults.
In simpler terms they instill good habits. When I was growing up kids played outside all day. Why? Well, we didn’t have video games.. true. But we also had parents who believed they were entitled to have a conversation with their friends, so they would just send us outside. 
I don’t know about you but when I was little I rarely saw a kid that was overweight. Yes, we were more physically active, but we didn’t snack like kids do today.  At school we were given a pint of milk and a single graham cracker to fueled us until lunch. After school I was not allowed to gorge on junk food. It wasn’t in our house. Snacking was controlled. 
My kids are 10 and 12 and they still ask me if they can have a snack - because if it is too close to the next meal I say, “no.”  Remember hearing, "No you can’t have a cookie now it will ruin your appetite.” Well, these words are still being said, but in French. 

So, check out this book, it really is interesting to look at how another culture raises their children. I’m sure you will find many things you agree with and many things that are well... just too French!
copyright 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Simple Living Ideas: Valentine's Day Flowers Drooping: OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!

flower head in vase
Flower Tops

It is not very often that I get a bouquet of flowers so I try to extend the enjoyment of having them for as long as I can. When the stems start to droop I cut off the flower's heads and float them in a wide bud vase or bowl. The tops stay fresh like this for quite a while, and it really catches people's attention! 




















Monday, February 20, 2012

Healthy Eating: Simple Cooking Tips: Chef's Secrets



woman cooking

Simple Cooking Tips:
Don’t Drink and Drive, but Do Drink and Cook, especially if you are cooking for a large group and you are nervous. There is nothing like a glass of wine or beer to help relax you and release your inhibitions about cooking.
If you want to enjoy cooking, use good knives. You really only need 3 knives: a large chef’s knife, a bread knife, and a pairing knife, buy the best that you can afford. You will be grateful daily for how little labor you have to exert when you cut with good knives.
Keep your knives sharp. Nothing makes cooking more laborious then struggling to cut your meat and vegetables. You can periodically use a home sharper and most hardware store will send your knives out (I try to do this once every 2 years) to be professionally sharpened.
Wash your hands before you handle any food. It is as good advice for home cooks as it is for restaurant cooks. Wash your hands every time you touch raw fish or meat. You don’t want to pass e coli or salmonella on to your lettuce?
Don’t use the same cutting board and knives for raw fish and meats as you do for your vegetables. I recommend using only plastic cutting boards for fish and meat because you can throw them in the dishwasher and know that they are sanitized. It is hard to be certain you killed all bad germs on a wood board.
Use a “garbage bowl”, or as I call it a “composting bowl.” As you chop your vegetables it is nice to keep a small bowl on hand to deposit any unwanted stems etc.. Your counters will stay cleaner and you will only have to make one trip to the compost bucket.
Salt as you go a long. Put a little salt on each item as you add it to the recipe, this way you'll guarantee everything has been seasoned. Salt is necessary for blending flavors while cooking, and I bet you won’t even come close to adding as much salt as what is put into processed food.
Taste as you cook. Don’t re-taste with the same spoon. But it is important to check the flavors of your cooking during the process, even if you are following a recipe exactly, you could make a mistake, and the seasoning may not be to your liking.
Use fresh good quality ingredients. They cost more. So eat less, and enjoy what you eat more. Your health and your figure will benefit.
MENU PLAN FOR THIS WEEK: 

TUESDAY: Chicken Parmesan with potatoes and green beans.
 I buy Trader Joe’s frozen breaded chicken breasts, top them with red sauce and Mozzarella cheese, bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. The potatoes I roast in the oven at the same time, chopped and tossed with rosemary, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The green beans are frozen and I boil them for 3 minutes and add olive oil and crushed garlic.
WEDNESDAY: Wonton Soup with escarole, carrots, onion, and celery.
Sauté any veggies that are wilting in your fridge with some vegetable oil at the bottom of a large sauce pan. When veggies are soft add 2 cartons of chicken stock bring to a boil. Let soup sit for hours if you can. Before you are ready to serve bring the broth to a boil and add the frozen wontons (I buy Trader Joe’s) let boil for 5 minutes. Then serve.
THURSDAY:  Chili, cheddar cheese, with corn bread.
I have frozen chili that I will be thawing for this meal, but Trader Joe’s canned chili is excellent. Top with shredded cheddar cheese. The corn bread is best made from scratch or again, I recommend the Trader Joe’s mix.
FRIDAY: Ravioli's with red sauce and a side salad.
I buy good quality frozen raviolis from an Italian grocery store. We like to experiment with different cheese mixes and meats.
copyright 2012 
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Foodie Friday: Poor Man's Lasagna

lasagna poor man's lasagna


I think “Lazy Man’s Lasagna” is a better name for this dish. I don’t think the ingredients cost all that much less than if you made a regular lasagna, but the labor involved is greatly reduced. I personally think of it as a poor man’s dish, because after I have spent so much time and effort making a nice lasagna to give as a gift, I still have to feed my family that night. I usually throw together whatever ingredients I have leftover to make my poor family’s meal.
You can make this as a meat or meatless meal quite easily. For a vegetarian version substitute beans, especially cannelloni or pinto beans for the meat. Darker beans don’t work as well, but they can be used.
Poor Man’s Lasagna
by Diane Balch
simplelivingeating.com
prep: 15 min. serves: 4-6
1 14.5 oz of Barilla Plus Pasta (any kind other than spaghetti you can use Schar's gluten-free pasta) 
1 jar of good quality marinara sauce (Rao’s is good)
approx. 1/4 to 1/2 cup of part-skim Ricotta cheese.
1 6 oz bag of shredded Mozzarella cheese part-skim.

2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon of chopped or dried parsley

salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lbs of meatloaf mix ground meat or 1 can of beans

1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning

1 tablespoon of olive oil
Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and put a large pot of water well salted on for the pasta.
2)While the pasta water is coming to a boil.  If you are using meat season it with the Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Sauté it in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

3) While the meat is browning in a large bowl mix together the ricotta, parmesan and parsley. Add meat when it is done.
3)When the pasta is cooked mix it with red sauce, meat or beans and the ricotta cheese mixture.
4) Spread out in a lasagna pan and top with Mozzarella cheese
5) Bake at 400 degrees until cheese starts to get brown in spots approximately 20 minutes.

6) Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving with a side salad or greens.

copyright 2012



























Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Simple Living Ideas: Relationships Simplified: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

http://manbicep.com/2011/12/22/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall-whos-the-fairest-one-of-all/

My first job out of college was running the Better Juniors department at Macy’s in Brooklyn. I was having a terrible time. My employees, were mostly women who were old enough to be my mother, they would trash me out on the sales floor. They would even get into fist fights with customers. They were a rough bunch to manage and I was floundering.
One afternoon I was telling my woes to a girlfriend and she decided to give me a book she had read called, "Living in the Light” by Shakti Gawain. She said, “It really helped me learn from the bad things that have happened to me.” I was willing to give it a read. What stuck with me from the book was it’s concept of Mirroring. 
Mirroring is really a simple and helpful way to look at the people and events in your life. The concept goes like this: everything in your life is a mirror of what you think and believe about yourself. Which is really not that strange if you think about how your perception of events shapes your experience of events. For instance, a colleague can be at the same meeting or the same lecture, and not find the presenter annoying or her handling of questions rude, but you see this person as being annoying. What you experience in life is always filtered through your mood and your beliefs.
So I gave mirroring a try. I asked myself why would my employees think I was such a horrible boss? Why would they yell and scream at me? What feelings about myself were they mirroring back at me? 

Could the fact that I was really insecure about managing a 4 million dollar business right out of school be something I am projecting to my employees? I did fear that I couldn’t handle these workers, and I did fear that they would not accept me as their boss because I was so much younger then them. 

I really let myself feel this fear, and I emotionally worked through my insecurities. Oddly enough, as I started gaining self-confidence, my employees started treating me with more respect. They still yelled at me when they weren’t happy about something, (hey, it was Brooklyn) but at least now they did it in the stockroom! 
It’s Valentine’s Day and life is focused on relationships. Give mirroring a try. The next time you find someone bothersome ask yourself: What is this person reflecting to me about myself? Do I fear being too loud or brass? Am I insecure about how I treat people? What can this person teach me about myself? Mirroring is a good less in empathy too. You may be surprised at how such a simple concept can give you so much insight into your own real thoughts and feelings.
copyright 2012




Monday, February 13, 2012

Healthy Eating: Menu Planning Simplified


http://www.keepingitkleen.com/tag/grocery-list/


If you run to the grocery store every other day buying an item here and an item there for dinner each night, you are not using your shopping time efficiently. Just think of the extra time and gas savings you will have if you sit down once a week and plan your meals.
This is what I do each Sunday.
Check the refrigerator for fresh ingredients that need to be used. These are the first items I think about putting into a meal. For instance, I have broccoli and a lot of eggs from last week. Do I have some cheese, check. Then I need to buy a pie crust and make quiche this week. Broccoli cheddar quiche is always a hit with my family. If I have enough ingredients I will make two and freeze one, which will take care of another meal in a week or two from now.
Check the freezer: Frozen items last a fairly long time, but the freezer should be your next place to check after the most perishable refrigerator items have been added to the menu plan. So what do I have in the freezer: some chicken breasts, that can work nicely with a pre-made curry sauce I have on hand, along with some leftover mashed potatoes. I have frozen green beans too. Complete meal: got a protein, carbohydrate, and a vegetable. Almost over looked some ravioli, with some jarred sauce and a salad that will make a quick meal on a day that is busy.
Check your pantry: Looks like I have a lot of difference rice and I have cans of beans. I think I might make some Mexican rice (just use a pre-mixed seasoning) and I’ll spice up the beans with some leftover salsa. I will buy some guacamole, and I have some sour cream in the fridge. Sounds like a nice meatless Spanish dish.
Check your collection of recipes. I’ve wanted to make a Thai pork and noodle soup recipe I had cut out of Real Simple magazine. I added the ingredients I need for this dish to my shopping list.
Check for variety: I make sure that I have mixed up grains and proteins, don't want to have potatoes every night. I also checked that I’m not serving chicken two nights in a row and pasta three times in a week.

Menu:
Meatless Monday: Broccoli/cheddar quiche
Tuesday: Chicken Curry with potatoes and green beans
Wednesday: Raviolis with red sauce and mixed green salad
Thursday: Spicy black beans with Mexican rice topped with guacamole and sour cream

copyright 2012

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