Sunday, July 22, 2012

Simple Summer Eats Topped with a Dash of Complaining

summer, Baltimore, Raw Olive, extreme heat
The beast of Baltimore is here. Summer is in full force, with suffocating humidity, 100-degree temperatures and blood sucking mosquitoes.
The fire pit has been dragged into a corner and the only life on the porch and deck are the fearless squirrels and my half dead potted plants. It’s too hot to water. I certainly appreciate staying cool in my air conditioning ever since the week-long power outage, but I don’t enjoy feeling confined to my house.
Meal preparation has become very limited during this house arrest too. With busy schedules shooting in different directions faster than Katniss could fire off her arrows in “The Hunger Games,” I find that everyone is eating at different times and are randomly hungry.
I’ve been experimenting with a few simple snacks that also serve as quick, healthy meals to try to smooth out the random hungriness problem before it evolves to crappy food.
A good friend turned me on to cottage cheese and brown rice cakes for a quick, protein-rich breakfast. I know, I thought the same thing, but it’s actually really tasty and not gross at all. She likes to eat hers on those poppy corn things that they make in the back of Wegmans, but it’s not worth the drive for me. You’ll be hooked once you give it a chance.
healthy snack, avocado, Raw Olive, Cooking Light MagazineA big thanks to Cooking Light’s editor, Scott Mowbray, for reminding me of one of my favorite savory snacks, avocado toasts. He created his in a panic when he realized he forgot to plan an appetizer for a summer gathering. He also used the word “fussification” in his most recent note from the editor to emphasize the fact that sometimes simplicity gets lost when we cook.
At Chez Voss (sorry that’s not a new gourmet restaurant in Towson, just my house) we like to prepare our avocado toast on a sesame bagel. Just toast a sliced bagel, scoop out the avocado and mash it with a fork on the bagel halves, add a pinch of kosher salt and hot sauce.
Avocados are a staple in our house. We always have a batch ready to go and several in bowls ripening at various stages, since you know there’s never a ripe avocado at the store when you need it.
Spinach and parmesan tortilla pizza topped with avocado and tomato has become a tasty meal recently. Just Raw Olive, healthy pizza, avocado, tomatosprinkle some shredded parmesan cheese on a flour tortilla, top with chopped, fresh spinach and toast in the toaster oven on light-medium. Remove from the oven, top with chunks of avocado and fresh tomato and sprinkle with salt. I really hope you have a toaster oven. We are probably the last people on earth without a microwave, I’ve been told by my children, so we use our toaster oven a lot.
I don’t typically love tomatoes, but when they are fresh and perfectly ripe, I’m game. I’ve always enjoyed a tasty garden tomato and cheese sandwich, but to make it a little heartier, I cooked up a grilled feta and tomato combo. Don’t go too crazy with the butter, but definitely butter the outside of each piece of bread. Place a thick slice of feta cheese on one slice of bread, top with some thinly sliced tomatoes and a few basil leaves if you have them. Top with the other slice of bread and cook it just like a good old grilled cheese that mom used to make
grilled cheese, healthy lunch, Raw OliveOf course, those were the blissful days of Velveeta, and I can’t buy it anymore because I now know that it’s not really cheese. Sigh.
What simple things are you making these days?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Six Things I Learned from Six Days Without Power

I extracted a few valuable lessons during our unintentional week off of the grid. Now that I’m sitting in my cool house with a frosty glass of iced tea and some very happy fat cats, I can clearly reflect on the past week.
I had people say, “How did you do it? I would have never survived that long.” Well, actually, you wouldn’t have died from lack of ice, but you might have been strangled by your spouse or trampled by your irritated children at some point.
Seriously, although it was a blur, it really wasn’tthat bad. I am bit wiser from the entire experience, too. 
1. It’s hard to run an Internet business without power. I tried it for two days, but my hand-crafted quality levels went way down when I started sweating all over the counter. Perfect time for a forced stay-cation.
2. Panera isn’t very good. After dumping all of my fridge contents and accepting the fact that we were eating out for three meals a day, I realized that there aren’t that many decent, healthy, affordable places to eat. I don’t do fast food restaurants and most other sit-down places are too expensive for multiple meals. I’m sure Panera’s increased traffic from the storm will be followed by a sharp decline for a month or two. I know I won’t be back for a while.
3. People love to rally when there’s a community crisis. It’s refreshing to see neighbors shift into altruistic mode during times of need to assist each other with tree limbs, ice purchases and reassuring chatter about the latest BGE truck sighting. I had many friends reach out to offer their homes for sleeping or re-charging, but I also had a surprisingly large number of people offer me a shower. Now I am known to skip showers after the gym in an effort to save time, but typically showering is not a problem when the power is out. 
4. Generators are really noisy. Yes, I am one of those non-generator users and we aren’t really fond of the other side. I know that it’s nice to have a light and fan or maybe your refrigerator, but not at the expense of your poor neighbor whose bedroom window is 10 feet from your droning generator. I know there are some exceptions here, but generally it doesn’t add up to spend $30 a day on gas to save a gallon of milk, some frozen chicken and irritate the heck out of your neighbors. Just rough it like the rest of us.
5. My kids loved it. Well, "love" might be a strong word, but after the power was restored the kids were surprisingly dissappointed that mom and dad were back to business. While off the grid, we were forced to spend more time doing things with the kids out of the house. We enjoyed time with cousins, Red Zone, too much time in Panera and the library. Air conditioned errands were the highlight of our day.
6. Ice is underrated and dry ice is overrated. You don’t realize how much you appreciate a proper ice cube until you don’t have any ice. Warm water and an 87 degree house are not complementary. I honestly think I missed ice more than anything last week. It was music to my ears to hear the clinks of my ice maker generating those first few cubes once the power was restored. Our $50 in dry ice lasted a disappointing 24 hours and didn’t save a lick of food. We would have been better off using it for entertainment.
What did you learn during the outage? I realize this could get ugly.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Commencement Advice From a Middle Aged Mom

I'm no Ira Glass, but If I were giving a commencement speech to new graduates, I certainly wouldn't sugar coat anything.   
Of course, you already know that we are in a recession and that jobs are scarce. Hopefully your four years plus in college have served as a platform for more than just academics.
When I was leaving for college, my father gave me some sage advice. He said, "Of course I want you to do well academically” (he had to say that since he was a teacher), “but more importantly, I want you to take these four years to mature and grow socially. That will serve you far better than a 4.0." I might have taken the social advice a little too far, but for the most part, he was right.
Given the economic climate, here's what I suggest for new graduates:
1. Have fun.
Most likely you are single with limited baggage. Use your early years to kindle new relationships. These connections, whether personal or business, will serve you well later in life.
2. Keep writing.
I know you've done your fair share already, but writing is a skill that transcends technological change. Try blogging to keep your skills sharp. I truly believe that if you can write, you can do almost anything.
3. Stay close to home.
A recent study suggests that our relationships with friends and family are what make us happy. Stay knitted to these people and they can help you through the bumps in life.
4. Lower your expectations.
Society puts so much pressure on us to "exceed our highest expectations," but if they aren't that high to start with, than you've already succeeded. More importantly, the pressure you put on yourself to be the best might actually blind you to an opportunity that could lead your life on a whole new path.
5. Be nice.
This sounds a little trite, but one thing I've learned over the years is that niceness attracts niceness. Period.
6. Save your money.
My parents did it, but somehow my generation got caught up in the "society of stuff." It's time to go old-school with your finances, ditch your credit cards and save some money.
7. Don't date or be the "50 Shades of Grey" guy.
Somehow this poorly plotted book has been put on a pedestal, since sex clearly still sells. Unfortunately, Christian Grey is just a creepy guy who has deep-rooted issues from childhood. Your spouse or partner will be one of the most integral parts in your life. Make sure you pick a good one.
8. Stay healthy or get healthy.
Exercise, eating well and keeping a healthy mind are enduring habits that will benefit you in all aspects of your life and hopefully will be passed on to your children.
9. It’s not all about you.
Take a little portion of yourself and dedicate it to global goodness. Our world faces many problems and it’s your social responsibility to help improve things for generations to follow.
10. Think creatively.
I recently heard that young adults today will have seven to ten career changes in their life time, five of which don't exist yet. The future appears to be an exciting mystery. The best you can do is arm yourself with common sense and creativity.
Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Spirit of Exercise Events

What’s so fun about a long, muddy bike race? I asked myself the same question several times this weekend when my shorts were so soaked that every time I sat down water squeezed out like a sponge or when my stomach starting lurching at mile 30. 
I’ll tell you what’s satisfying about pushing yourself to your limits; knowing that you can do it. It’s refreshing to take a step out of your everyday routine and thrust your body and mind into a state of blissful, in-the-moment confusion. I noted several times while whirling through the trees that my mind was blank. Yogis spend years learning to achieve this state and I found it in the woods.
Why pay money to suffer when you can do it for free? Good point, but race events ooze such positive energy it’s hard to wipe the smile off your face while immersed amongst high-energy, fit people and it’s way cheaper than therapy. What’s not to like about perky race announcers, cheerful volunteers, encouraging fans and the luring podium? It kind of gives you a rockstar allusion.
So consider it, maybe a 5K run or a sprint triathlon or even an endurance bike race. These events are food for the soul and body. Dig out your inner rockstar and set a goal on the other side of your comfort zone. It’s greener over there anyway.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last-Minute Training

I'm tired. It might be the chartreuse pollen coma or the exercise flu due to my attempt to cram a month’s worth of training into a few weeks for a 9-hour mountain bike race. 

Cramming exercise is like trying to speed read a book for a paper that’s due in the morning. It’s not ideal and we’ll see if it can even be done.

For some reason, I have a lot of nonsense coming out of my mouth these days. I get caught frequently saying worrisome things to the cats like, “you’re such a good hunter. I love how you got that ball” or “come get your treat for doing such a good job scratching on your post.” Yes, they are trained to scratch on a scratching post. Really, cats can be trained.
My “training,” on the other hand, has rendered me useless. Multiple classes daily at the gym equals fatigue, piles of laundry, uncooked meals and bad business. Apparently, it hasn’t affected my ability to be the cat whisperer, though.
So, here’s my master plan for my last week of training.
1. Have kids do laundry — ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
2. Drink raw cacao smoothies before working out (recipe below). Raw cacao gives you a great caffeine boost without the crash.
3. Eat more. When else can you do that?
4. Sleep an extra hour every night - scratch that, it’s not happening.
5. Create some motivational sticky notes for my desk. These made the cut:

Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone~ N.D. Walsche 
The difference between winners and losers is that winners win ~ Me
Work what you got ~ Mary J. Blige
Get off Your Ass ~ Me
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going ~ Jim Ryun
Chocolate-Strawberry Smoothie
– 1 cup frozen strawberries
– 1 whole banana
– 2 cups fresh baby spinach (spinach is great for your muscles)
– 1 ounce raw, organic cacao powder or nibs (Whole Foods sells it)
– 1 cup coconut water
Let’s go!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Want Sexy, Beach Hair?

Here’s a recipe I created for quick, thick and sexy beach hair. Instead of spending up to $30 on the salon Surf Spray, just make your own for under a dollar.
Mix 4 oz. of warm water with 4 tsp of epson salt, 1 tsp honey, 1 tsp coconut oil (I like Trader Joe’s), 1/4 tsp lemon essential oil (use lemon juice if you don’t have essential oil), 1/4 tsp olive oil.
Mix well with a whisk and pour into a spray bottle. Spray a few spritzes on to wet hair, scrunch and let dry. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Houdini Bunny

The Bunny somehow wedged its way into our house again this year despite tightly sealed doors and a few "over aged" children.
Mr. Cottontail and I don't see eye to eye on many candy-related issues, which presents a problem on basket filling day. I get it, he's got a lot of wicker to fill and is forced to buy his goodies economically. I'm sure he's incredibly thankful for that fluffy Easter grass.
Unfortunately, cheaper in candy means extra high fructose corn syrup, chemicals and plenty of red and blue food dye. I'm sure that candy shopping at Whole Foods is just out of the question.

In the past, the Bunny has been quite successful in leaving the right ratio of candy to useless trinkets. This carefully formulated equation ensures that 90% of the candy is consumed by noon, with a little help from mom and dad, and the non-food items provide mindless entertainment for the rest of the day until they break.  
This year, though, the Buns and I needed to have a little electronic chat. I realized that Skype might be too revealing, so after a little digging, I was able to track down his email address via gmail.

I decided that this Easter we would splurge on extra sugar and artificial everything just to mix it up a bit--live on the edge. I figured this might make up for the other 364 days of Trader Joe Joes, cat shaped ginger snap cookies and natural vanilla wafers. I also needed to specify that the non-food items have a little more utilitarian quality to them. Times are tight, let's make the most of these baskets. Bunny was agreeable to these changes and happy to supply extra sugar-encrusted eggs, since there was apparently a surplus this year.

I have to say, Houdini Bunny nailed it. I hope your Easter is just as sweet.