Saturday, August 15, 2009

Essential Rules to Living Healthy

It's been a month since I've posted and mostly that is due to all the summer activities in our family. This past week we've all been abruptly pulled back into real life with a bout of what the doctors think is a gall bladder issue. We've started to look at our diet and also exercise, since evidently both play critical roles in the health of the gall bladder. (Yes, this personal chef is learning the guidelines for yet another healthy diet!)

It's just too easy to fall back into old habits...and pile on the old pounds, but then when poor health comes knocking on our door it's a wake-up call to pay attention to the way we are living. But the whole heath thing is so confusing as we are bombarded with conflicting "studies" and all the infomercials that guarantee hundreds of "best ways to lose weight and get in shape."

Today's Zen Habits post came at just the right time for me and so I am sharing it with you, too. These are some really simple (and common sense) rules for improving your health and staying in shape. Hope this helps you, too!

zen habits: The 7 Essential Rules To Optimum Health & Weight Loss
The 7 Essential Rules To Optimum Health & Weight Loss
Posted: 14 Aug 2009 03:46 PM PDT
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Chris Lopez of Fit and Busy Dad.

We live in an information overloaded society. There has not been a moment in history when information has been this available, right at our fingertips. By typing one simple phrase, we now get hundreds, thousands, sometimes even millions of answers to our most desired questions. And now it seems, because of the abundance of information available to us, that a lot of us are confused. No more confusing has been our struggle with living excessively. As a result, many of us are in debt, have too much stuff and are overweight.

There are too many questions on how to exercise, how to eat, or how to live healthily - cardio or weights? How much protein? Does fat make me fat? Will situps give me abs? Am I going to get big, bulky muscles?

I don’t profess to know the answer to EVERY question out there, but I do know that all things being equal, the simplest answer is most likely the right one (Ockham’s Razor). That holds true in life as much as it does in weight loss, exercise and general health. So in saying that, I have devised a list of The 7 Essential Rules to Optimal Health.

You may read these rules and be turned off that I’m insulting your intelligence. But let’s face it, now more than ever, do we need to get back to the basics in order to save our waning, unhealthy & obese society. We’ve veered off the path of “simple” and have really made things more complicated than they are.

1. Eat REAL Food.
For a busy population who doesn’t have time to count calories or how many grams of protein or how much sodium or saturated fat, this is your answer to health and weight loss.
Anything that Mother Nature put on this earth in it’s simplest form is real food - unpackaged, unprocessed, unpreserved fruits, vegetables, legumes, naturally raised meat & fish. Steak from a cow that has been allowed to eat from a pasture, not an all-beef hot dog. Water, not soda. Apples, not apple fritters.

Here’s the truth … if you eat nutritious real food then your body feels nourished and doesn’t feel the need to consume more. If you eat the common processed food products of today with empty calories and little to any nutrition value, then your body needs to 1) work harder to digest and assimilate what you’ve eaten thus using energy 2) still feel hungry because what you’ve eaten provides no nourishment and 3) throw your systems out of whack because your body has no idea what you just ate.

2. Live Life Actively.
Our society was the healthiest when there were no such things as treadmills, ellipticals and Pec Decks. We used the gym to support our activities (like what athletes do). We rode our bikes, skied, surfed, played pick-up basketball and walked everywhere.
Now, we go to the gym. We run on treadmills like rats in a cage, partake in bodybuilding programs that give us bulky, unuseable muscles and create imbalance & injury, and do aerobic classes that give us little to no benefit with the way we look.

As our society transitioned from an active culture to a gym-going culture, obesity, heart disease and diabetes slowly started to increase. Coincidence? Maybe. But staying active and trying new things - playing a sport, going for a hike, being active with family, playing frisbee with the dog- never killed anyone.

Ask yourself these questions…When was the last time you got excited to go to the gym (to actually workout, not to see the hot aerobics instructor or personal trainer)? And what about when you knew that the weekend was just around the corner and you were going to the beach to play some volleyball? Or out to the golf course with your buddies to play 18 holes?
Live actively and use the gym to support your efforts.

3. Get outside.
This goes hand-in-hand with the point above. True that some of us live in a climate that isn’t always condusive to outdoorsy things. Hogwash. Unless it is 110 degrees in the shade or sub-Arctic temperatures outside, there are always options for us to be active outdoors - even if it’s just for a walk after dinner. Our bodies crave the outdoors and being with nature. It’s hard-wired into our systems. Being outdoors gives us a feeling of freedom and calm that no gym, mall or office building could ever provide for us.

4. Constantly strive to improve in order to see change.
If you are doing the same thing, day in and day out (lifting the same weights, running the same distance for the same time, etc) without any change or improvement, then nothing is going to happen to your body.

Your body wants to stay the same, and it is only when you decide to venture outside of your comfort zone that you will actually see any improvement - and that rule holds true with life as much as it does with exercise. Set goals, break records and constantly strive to get better. If you ran 5km in 30-minutes yesterday, then the next time out, aim for 29-minutes. If you did 10 push-ups yesterday, then aim for 11 the next time you attempt them.
Force yourself out of what’s comfortable and you will change - both in body and in mind.

5. Get some sleep.
Often the “missing link” to everyone’s weight loss quest is their lack of quality sleep. Healthy adults require 7-9 hours of uninterrupted, good quality sleep EVERY night.
Sleep helps regulate your hormones. It kills off bad bacteria that has accumulated in your gut throughout the day and it’s the primary time for your body to repair its tissues - especially your muscles. Don’t get enough of it and your immune response will suffer (your ability to fight off disease & sickness), you gain belly fat (because of the higher amounts of the hormone cortisol) and you’ll experience lows in energy.

6. Practice Active Recovery.
This is the Yang to intense exercise’s Ying and is probably the most overlooked rule. You were not designed to “go hard” 100% of the time.

Regardless of what you may believe, exercise, with all it’s benefits to your body and health, is still stress. Any response that produces an adrenalin rush will also produce a stress response in your body. Because of this, we must balance our intense exercise activities with calming, stress management exercises. Traditional yoga, tai chi, qi gong or some form of deep breathing or meditation are the most common examples of ways to handle stress.

Try to incorporate at least one of these activities into your weekly (if not daily) practice. Only a few minutes of deep breathing or mediation is all you need to regain balance move on with your day without anxiety or nervousness.

7. Use Natural Movements.
There are 5 natural movements - Squatting, Lunging (which includes walking & running), Pushing, Pulling & Rotation. If you want to save time, increase results and live healthy, then all your exercises should incorporate at least one, if not more, of these movements.

Is there a need to stand in front of a mirror holding dumbbells and lifting them up to the side while standing on a ball? No. Is there a need to sit on a machine, strapped in and squeeze your thighs together or push them out? No. These movements are unnatural. They force you to break your body up into individual parts, when in truth, your body operates as a network of nerves, bones and muscles to move you and the objects you lift or carry from Point A to Point B.
Exercise naturally, move naturally, be healthy.

So Now What?
Use the above rules as a checklist and try to incorporate and adhere to one rule per week, introducing a new rule each time you have mastered one. Try not to get overwhelmed. This isn’t a “shotgun” approach. We’ve gotten away from the basics of health and it will take time to get back. Just keep at it and be consistent and you’ll get there.

By just living with these 7 rules in mind, you’re sure to become a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life.

Read more from Chris at his blog, Fit and Busy Dad, or subscribe to his feed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Baked Barbecue Lima Beans

I love baked beans, and for years I've been trying to replicate the baked lima beans that my family used to get at a local farm market near Pennsylvania's Amish country. I mostly loved the sauce because the beans were always too hard for my taste. Now I know why they were always hard; you must cook the dried beans until they are tender to your liking because once you add tomato-based sauce to the beans they won't get any more tender no matter how long you cook them. Not sure why, but they just won't. I'm sure Alton Brown knows and maybe you can Google one of his shows and find out. In the meantime, you can take my word for it.

Here's my latest attempt and my family thinks it's a winner!

Start with a pound of dried lima beans. Pour them out on the counter and check for any foreign debris (often you will find a pebble or two) or blemished beans and discard those. Scrape the beans into a colander and rinse well, then put them into a pot and cover with at least 4 inches of water. They will swell as they absorb the water. Set the pot in a cool spot over night.
In the morning, drain and rinse the beans again, then continue on with my recipe.

Baked Barbecue Lima Beans

Serves 6

1 lb. dried lima beans
8 oz. bacon, chopped and cooked crisp (reserve 2 T. bacon fat in pan)
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 can tomato soup (14 1/2 ounce)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Pick over, wash, rinse dried beans and soak as described above. Place beans back into stockpot and cover with water. Salt water heavily (about 1 T.) Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce to medium low and simmer for 1 hour or until just tender. As beans cook, skim the frothy buildup from the surface of the water and discard.

Remove from heat and pour cooked beans into a colander. Rinse with cold water and pour beans into a large bowl. Add cooked bacon to beans.

In same skillet as the one you cooked the bacon, heat reserved bacon fat over medium-high heat and sauté peppers and onions until tender. Add these to the beans and bacon.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Gently fold sauce mixture into the bean mixture until incorporated. Pour into a greased 3-quart baking dish. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 1 hour. Enjoy!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 2 & Two Eggs!

Our little Carolina Wren added another egg to her nest today! Look at the photo below and you'll see the picnic basket that I used for a planter on the front porch, and if you look very closely, you can even see the nest containing the two little eggs. This is exciting!

Chef Debbie

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Carolina Wren Nest

While we were at the lake last weekend, a Carolina Wren built her nest in a picnic basket planter on my front porch, and today we found her first egg! Will keep you posted on future egg-laying!

Chef Debbie

Saturday, July 11, 2009

One Yummy Thing to do with Squash

Squash is really coming on strong now in my garden and we are loving experimenting. Even Bob's gotten into the swing of things in the kitchen, with his Southern Fried Squash. He tosses sliced squash and Vidalia onions with corn meal and fries it in a tiny bit of canola oil in a heavy skillet. That is how his Aunt Margie always cooked it and she was famous for her fried squash.

I was laid up for a couple of days with a sinus infection and that's all the time it takes for patty pan squash to go from quarter-size to dinner plate size. Patty Pan squash is the pretty white saucer-shaped squash in the photo below.

One of my favorite ways to prepare squash when it gets a bit big is to slice it, dredge it in bread crumbs, and fry it. It makes a bit of a mess in the kitchen, but it's really worth the effort.

Breaded Fried Squash

Serves 2-4 (depending on how hungry your crowd is!)

2 Medium size zucchini, yellow, or patty pan squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 cup plain flour
2 eggs, beaten with 1/4 c. milk
1 1/2 c. fine dry bread crumbs
Salt & Pepper to taste
Canola oil for frying

Put the flour, egg mixture, and bread crumbs in each of three shallow bowls. Lay out the sliced squash and salt it lightly.

Fill heavy skillet with 1 inch of canola oil. Heat over medium-high heat to frying temp. (See note below about frying temperature.)

Dredge each side of each slice of squash in flour just to dust, then in beaten egg mixture, then in the breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere. Place in the oil as you go and repeat until you have the pan filled in a single layer with the squash. Fry until golden on one side then turn and fry on the other. Drain on a rack-covered baking sheet and keep warm in a 200 degree oven while you fry the rest. Salt lightly before serving.

Note: One easy way to tell when the oil is the right temperature for frying is something that I learned years ago from "Sarah's Secrets," a show that was on the Food Network when the Food Network was worth watching. If you stick the handle end of a wooden spoon straight down into the oil, when it is the right temperature for frying the oil will bubble up all around the wood. Works every time and is spot-on!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Breathe...another great post by Leo Babauta

If you haven't subscribed to Zen Habits yet, you are missing some great posts by blogger Leo Babauta. This is one of my favorites and so worth sharing that I'm reposting it (with permission) here today. Enjoy and BREATHE.


Posted: 05 Jul 2009 12:27 PM PDT

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Breathing can transform your life.

If you feel stressed out and overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.

If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.

If you are discouraged and have forgotten your purpose in life, breathe. It will remind you about how precious life is, and that each breath in this life is a gift you need to appreciate. Make the most of this gift.

If you have too many tasks to do, or are scattered during your workday, breathe. It will help bring you into focus, to concentrate on the most important task you need to be focusing on right now.

If you are spending time with someone you love, breathe. It will allow you to be present with that person, rather than thinking about work or other things you need to do.

If you are exercising, breathe. It will help you enjoy the exercise, and therefore stick with it for longer.

If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.

So breathe. And enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.

Tip: Put the word “Breathe” as a screensaver or desktop pic, or put it up as a note on your wall or fridge or on your desk. Then do it every time you see the word.

Chef Debbie

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cancer Boost from Whole Carrots

Sometimes I come across a story that just makes good sense, and this is one of them so I want to share it with you.

If you've ever boiled a red beet you know that if you cut it before boiling it, all the red coloring leeches out into the water....and it stands to reason that many nutrients are moving right along with the color, too. You don't see this as well when you cook carrots because the color is not as vibrant, but the water does take on an orange tinge.

So, when I read this article about why carrots are more nutrtious if they are cooked before cutting, it was one of those "slap your forehead" kinda moments. Of course! And another added benefit is that they are much easier to cut, too, when they are just tender instead of rock hard.

Read on and change the way you have been cooking!

Cancer Boost from Whole Carrots
By Sharon Barbour BBC News

Chef's tip: Chop after cooking

The anti-cancer properties of carrots are more potent if the vegetable is not cut up before cooking, research shows. Scientists found "boiled before cut" carrots contained 25% more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those chopped up first. Experiments on rats fed falcarinol have shown they develop fewer tumours. The Newcastle University study will be presented at NutrEvent, a conference on nutrition and health, to be held in France.

Lead researcher Dr. Kirsten Brandt, from Newcastle University's School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said: "Chopping up your carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water while they are cooked. "By keeping them whole and chopping them up afterwards you are locking in nutrients and the taste, so the carrot is better for you all round."

The Newcastle scientist, along with colleagues at the University of Denmark, discovered the health benefits of falcarinol in carrots four years ago. Rats fed on a diet containing carrots or falcarinol were found to be one-third less likely to develop full-scale tumours than those in the control group.

Since then the scientists in Newcastle have been studying what happens when carrots are chopped and cooked. The latest findings show that when carrots are heated, the heat kills the cells, so they lose the ability to hold on to the water inside them, increasing the concentration of falcarinol as the carrots lose water. However, the heat also softens the cell walls, allowing water-soluble compounds such as sugar and vitamin C to be lost via the surface of the tissue, leading to the leaching out of other compounds such as falcarinol. If the carrot is cut before being boiled, the surface area becomes much greater - and so the loss of nutrients is increased.

Dr. Brandt added that in blind taste studies the whole carrots also tasted much better. Eight of ten people favoured the whole vegetables over those that were pre-chopped. This is because the naturally occurring sugars which are responsible for giving the carrot its distinctively sweet flavour were also found in higher concentrations in the carrot that had been cooked whole.

Dr. Brandt said: "The great thing about this is it's a simple way for people to increase their uptake of a compound we know is good for you. "All you need is a bigger saucepan."

Dr. Kat Arney, of the charity Cancer Research UK, remained unconvinced that keeping carrots whole would have any impact on cancer risk. She said: "When it comes to eating, we know that a healthy balanced diet - rich in a range of fruit and vegetables - plays an important part in reducing the risk of many types of cancer, rather than any one specific food."

Carrot on Foodista

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mrs. Lochman's Salad

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of conducting a wine tasting at the home of one of Charlotte's nicest and most gracious hosts. She invited me to share her beautiful buffet table with her friends after the tasting and then emailed me the recipe for her delicious vegetable salad, which will always make me think of her and the wonderful evening I spent with her and her friends.

This salad makes the best use of all the vegetables that are available at our farmer's markets right now. If you can't get good fresh corn, then substitute it with frozen. This just tastes like summer.

Mrs. Lochman's Salad
(a.k.a. Fresh Zucchini and Corn Salad)

1 ½ lbs. medium zucchini
2 tsp. salt, divided
1 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from 2 ears)
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup thinly sliced basil leaves

Trim off ends of zucchini. Cut into ribbons using a vegetable parer. Place strips in a colander over a bowl. Toss with 1 ½ tsp. salt and let drain, covered in refrigerator, for at least 1 hour. Rinse the zucchini in the colander under cold running water to rinse off some of the excess salt and then drain on paper towels.

If using fresh corn, husk and clean corn. Bring water to boil in large pot and add a tablespoon of salt to the water. Immerse the corn cobs in the water, cover, return to a boil and boil for 10 minutes or until just tender. Remove from water and cool to touch, then slice kernels off cob with a sharp knife.

Whisk together lemon juice, sugar, pepper, and remaining ½ tsp. salt in large bowl. Whisk in olive oil in a slow stream.

Add all veggies to dressing and toss well before serving.
Adjust seasoning if needed. Can be made 6 - 8 hours in advance.

Our icy cold
Kakadu Ridge Unoaked Chardonnay was delicious with this salad!
Serves 6.

Chef Debbie

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Ultimate Guacamole

I bought some unripe avocados one day last week, thinking that they would turn from hard nobs to nice soft fruits after a couple of days on my counter so that I could make a vegetable salad with them, but my timing was off and they weren't ready when I needed them. So yesterday, when I found that they were perfectly ripe (they give just slightly to the touch), I decided to make guacamole with them and now I'm sharing my recipe (method) with you! Just in case you've only had rather bland "guacamole" try this method because I like mine with very bold flavors.

Have all your ingredients ready before you cut open the avocadoes, which will turn brown unless they quickly come into contact with the lime juice. Dice the onion, tomato, clean the cilantro, and stem, seed, and dice the peppers. I just noticed that the garlic is not in this picture, but you will definitely like your guacamole better if it has garlic in it. It's all a matter of personal taste, though, so increase or omit ingredients to your palate's delight.

Here is the finished guacamole just begging for a tortilla chip! Keep this in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap in contact with the surface of the dip until you're ready to serve it.

The Ultimate Guacamole
3 medium avocados, just tender to the touch but not mushy soft
1/2 cup finely minced red onion
2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced (or to taste)
2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Juice of 1 or 2 limes, to taste
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
A dash of freshly grated black pepper
1/2 cup ripe tomato, seeds and pulp removed, chopped
Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs.

To peel and seed avocado, run sharp knife around pit from stem to blossom end and back again. Gently grasp each half and twist. The will separate with one half retaining the round brown pit. Cup that half in one hand and tap pit with sharp side of chef knife, then twist the pit with the knife to remove it. Using a large serving spoon, run it around the avocado just under the skin and the half will easily come out in one piece.

Place avocado halves in a mediun bowl and mash with a large fork. Leave some lumps in it so it looks rustic. Add all remaining ingredients, taste, and adjust for seasoning. Add salt, pepper, or more lime juice as needed.

Place in serving bowl and garnish with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs.

Serve with tortilla chips.

A wonderfully cold tecate would be great with this, or if you are a wine lover, pull out a cold bottle of our Vina Cordilla Sauvignon Blanc or our Kakadu Ridge Unoaked Chardonnay.

Chef Debbie

Friday, June 12, 2009

Slowing Down

Zen Habits is one of my favorite blogs, and today I am bringing you author Leo Babauta's latest post because some days we just need to be reminded not to race through life. It is good to be able to appreciate each moment of each day of our life and not race to the end. Enjoy!

The 10 Essential Rules for Slowing Down and Enjoying Life More
Posted: 11 Jun 2009 04:00 PM PDT
Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

It’s an irony of our modern lives that while technology is continually invented that saves us time, we use that time to do more and more things, and so our lives are more fast-paced and hectic than ever.

Life moves at such a fast pace that it seems to pass us by before we can really enjoy it. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s rebel against a hectic lifestyle and slow down to enjoy life.

A slower-paced life means making time to enjoy your mornings, instead of rushing off to work in a frenzy. It means taking time to enjoy whatever you’re doing, to appreciate the outdoors, to actually focus on whoever you’re talking to or spending time with — instead of always being connected to a Blackberry or iPhone or laptop, instead of always thinking about work tasks and emails. It means single-tasking rather than switching between a multitude of tasks and focusing on none of them.

Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one, but it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Do less. It’s hard to slow down when you are trying to do a million things. Instead, make the conscious choice to do less. Focus on what’s really important, what really needs to be done, and let go of the rest. Put space between tasks and appointments, so you can move through your days at a more leisurely pace. Read more.

2. Be present. It’s not enough to just slow down — you need to actually be mindful of whatever you’re doing at the moment. That means, when you find yourself thinking about something you need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen … gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what’s going on right now. On your actions, on your environment, on others around you. This takes practice but is essential.

3. Disconnect. Don’t always be connected. If you carry around an iPhone or Blackberry or other mobile device, shut it off. Better yet, learn to leave it behind when possible. If you work on a computer most of the day, have times when you disconnect so you can focus on other things. Being connected all the time means we’re subject to interruptions, we’re constantly stressed about information coming in, we are at the mercy of the demands of others. It’s hard to slow down when you’re always checking new messages coming in.

4. Focus on people. Too often we spend time with friends and family, or meet with colleagues, and we’re not really there with them. We talk to them but are distracted by devices. We are there, but our minds are on things we need to do. We listen, but we’re really thinking about ourselves and what we want to say. None of us are immune to this, but with conscious effort you can shut off the outside world and just be present with the person you’re with. This means that just a little time spent with your family and friends can go a long way — a much more effective use of your time, by the way. It means we really connect with people rather than just meeting with them.

5. Appreciate nature. Many of us are shut in our homes and offices and cars and trains most of the time, and rarely do we get the chance to go outside. And often even when people are outside, they’re talking on their cell phones. Instead, take the time to go outside and really observe nature, take a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy the serenity of water and greenery. Exercise outdoors when you can, or find other outdoor activities to enjoy such as nature walks, hiking, swimming, etc. Feel the sensations of water and wind and earth against your skin. Try to do this daily — by yourself or with loved ones.

6. Eat slower. Instead of cramming food down our throats as quickly as possible — leading to overeating and a lack of enjoyment of our food — learn to eat slowly. Be mindful of each bite. Appreciate the flavors and textures. Eating slowly has the double benefit of making you fuller on less food and making the food taste better. I suggest learning to eat more real food as well, with some great spices (instead of fat and salt and sugar and frying for flavor).

7. Drive slower. Speedy driving is a pretty prevalent habit in our fast-paced world, but it’s also responsible for a lot of traffic accidents, stress, and wasted fuel. Instead, make it a habit to slow down when you drive. Appreciate your surroundings. Make it a peaceful time to contemplate your life, and the things you’re passing. Driving will be more enjoyable, and much safer. You’ll use less fuel too.

8. Find pleasure in anything. This is related to being present, but taking it a step farther. Whatever you’re doing, be fully present … and also appreciate every aspect of it, and find the enjoyable aspects. For example, when washing dishes, instead of rushing through it as a boring chore to be finished quickly, really feel the sensations of the water, the suds, the dishes. It can really be an enjoyable task if you learn to see it that way. The same applies to other chores — washing the car, sweeping, dusting, laundry — and anything you do, actually. Life can be so much more enjoyable if you learn this simple habit.

9. Single-task. The opposite of multi-tasking. Focus on one thing at a time. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe, and pull yourself back. Read more.

10. Breathe. When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out, pause, and take a deep breath. Take a couple more. Really feel the air coming into your body, and feel the stress going out. By fully focusing on each breath, you bring yourself back to the present, and slow yourself down. It’s also nice to take a deep breath or two — do it now and see what I mean. :)

—Read more about simplifying and focus in my book, The Power of Less.

Chef Debbie

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wines for Humanity

Wines for Humanity is a great company to be involved with, full of warm and sharing people who want to give back to their communities.

We just had a leadership conference in Chicago and I took my new Nikon D90 camera with me. I know that I irritated all my cohorts with all my "practice" shots, but some actually came out really good. Here they are!



Jose & Gina



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wine Tastings & Networking Groups

Just as birds of a feather do, wine lovers tend to flock together. We form clusters at parties where the conversation naturally migrates to comments about the wine served, tales of great tastings attended, favorite bottle openers, and our favorite BYOB restaurants. We even strike up conversations in the wine aisles at grocery stores!

I am amazed by the growing number of networking groups that are being formed for the sole purpose of gathering to appreciate wine with like-minded people. As the trend grows to entertain in the home and also to incorporate wine into business networking events, we are realizing that appreciating fine wine is an amazing catalyst to camaraderie!

I've joined a local business networking group for women, Networking Women and Wine. What great fun to gather together monthly at a local restaurant or wine bar to enjoy wine and find ways to support each other's business! Thursday I am going to lead a tasting (and pair the wines with my signature hors d'oeuvres) for a meeting of the group Women Who Wine. (Isn't that just a great name?) This group meets in private homes. I cannot wait to meet these sisters-in-the-vine and once again expand my social circle of wine enthusiasts.

Where ever you live, check your area for groups of wine enthusiasts, make new friends, enjoy some great wine together, have fun! If you are in my area, I'll help you hold a great tasting in your own home. Contact me through my website and let's plan your party!

Here's to the corkscrew - a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly. ~W.E.P. French

Chef Debbie

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Basic Recipe for Easy & Versatile Baked Eggs in a Cup

I read a recipe somewhere for eggs that you bake in a muffin pan, but those little cups just didn't seem big enough, and what do you do if you only want to make one or two? What about making them ahead of time to use throughout the week for a quick breakfast? And maybe I want some of lastnight's leftover asparagus in mine and my husband doesn't?

The possibilities are endless with this recipe. I'm giving you the basic recipe and method, and you use your imagination to make this perfect for you. At the end of the recipe are some of my ideas. I'm sure you'll have a lot more!

You'll need one 4-ounce custard cup for each egg. Spray it with cooking spray and press one piece of Canadian bacon into the bottom. Top that with vegetables of your choice (or no veggies if you don't want any) and then break an egg on top. You can do this up to one day ahead, cover tightly and refrigerate or just continue with the recipe if you want to bake them right away.

Put the filled custard cups onto a baking sheet and slide it into a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, top with about a tablespoon of shredded cheese and loosely cover with a sheet of foil. Let rest for 5 minutes; the cheese will melt and the interior of the eggs will finish cooking. When cooked this way, the yolk will still be soft and a bit runny. If you want it cooked harder, just leave the eggs in the oven for a few more minutes.

Easy & Versatile Baked Eggs in a Cup

Serves 4

4 slices Canadian bacon
4 large eggs
1 T. shredded reduced-fat cheese (I use Mexican blend)
Sautéed or leftover vegetables of your choice (optional)

Spray each of four 4-ounce custard cups with nonstick cooking spray. Press one slice of Canadian bacon into bottom of each custard cup. If using fresh vegetables, sauté them first (onion, scallion, bell pepper, tomato, etc.). If using cooked vegetables, just chop them first into small pieces. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the vegetables on top of the bacon and then break an egg into each cup.

Place filled custard cups onto a baking sheet and slide into a preheated 400-degree oven. Bake for 15 minutes and then remove. Sprinkle with cheese and cover loosely with foil. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. With a spoon, scoop contents of each cup onto your plate or, if you are doing this for a crowd, onto a warmed serving platter or chafing dish.


Make ahead: Bake according to directions; cool completely and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 4 days. To heat, microwave for 45 seconds on high. Serve.

Mexican: For veggies, use sautéed onions and combine with a can of diced green chiles. Cooked corn would be a good addition to this, or use a can of drained Mexican corn. Serve with a selection of salsas (rojo-red and verde-green). For the traditional Guadalajaran "Divorced Eggs," serve each plate with two eggs, top one egg with red sauce and one with green.

Italian: For veggies, use sautéed onions and bell pepper. Serve topped with a quick sauce of minced garlic, green onion, diced tomatoes, and fresh basil. Fresh asparagus tips would be a good addition to this, too!

On a buffet: Serve in chafing dishes with a variety of sauces on the side, with fresh fruit and an assortment of muffins. Great for a family gathering since you can do these ahead of time!

Veggie suggestions: onions, bell pepper, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, English peas

Sauce suggestions: Italian red sauces and bruschetta toppings, Mexican salsas, classic hollandaise

Nutrition per basic recipe each egg cup: 136 Calories; 8g Fat (53.2% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 229mg Cholesterol; 507mg Sodium. Exchanges: 2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Fat.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Recipe for Fresh Italian - Style Spaghetti Squash

I was looking for a budget-friendly vegetable side dish to make today. I'm on Phase 1 of South Beach, and I tend to get very bored with the vegetable/protein thing. I'm hungry for pasta so I decided to give spaghetti squash another try.

Understand that I've tried spaghetti squash before and just was not impressed. No way was it even close to tasting like pasta. Just as that mashed cauliflower stuff that is supposed to replace mashed potatoes doesn't come anywhere near the flavor/texture profile of good mashed potatoes.

After my wine tasting in Charlotte last evening, I wheeled into Harris Teeter (one of our really nice grocery stores in Charlotte) and browsed the produce department, hoping to get some ideas. I picked up the spaghetti squash, found fresh tomatoes (reduced because they were a bit over-ripe) and grabbed the rest of the ingredients I usually put into good Italian tomato sauce. Here 's the result, and I've got to tell you that it is delicious! I think it is the fresh herbs that I used. They are expensive to buy in the produce department of grocery stores, so plant some in pots and put them outside your kitchen door so you can use them all spring, summer and fall. You'll be amazed at the difference fresh herbs make in your culinary creations!

Fresh Italian Spaghetti Squash

1 medium spaghetti squash
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
3 c. chopped tomatoes
Salt & Pepper to taste
Handful of mixed fresh herbs (I used basil, oregano, and chives)
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese to taste

Wash squash; pierce several times with sharp knife and microwave on high power for 15 minutes or so until it's soft when you press on it. Remove from the oven to cool slightly. Cut squash in half and using a clean kitchen towel to protect your hand, hold the squash half. Using a spoon, scoop out seeds. Take a fork and pull the spaghetti-like strands of flesh away from the skin and into a bowl. Repeat with the other half and set aside.

Heat a large non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 tsps. olive oil and add onion and green pepper. Season with salt and sauté until just getting tender. Add minced garlic and continue to sauté for about two minutes. Add tomatoes and stir until tomatoes are heated through. Empty bowl of squash into the pan with the vegetables and fold into mixture until everything is heated through. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Lastly, toss in fresh herbs and scatter shredded cheese over top. Serve and enjoy!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Budget-Saving Recipe for Easy Salmon Salad

I've never been wild about salmon salad because I am just not wild about fishy tasting cold food. (Well, I do love tuna salad, so I guess that is the exception.)

I roasted some salmon fillets for supper the other night and, as I usually always do with meats, poultry, and seafood, I throw in some extra servings for quick meals in the days to come. I had one 6-oz. serving of salmon left over and created a great salad that I just loved because the taste of the salmon was offset by the briny olives and capers. Lots of freshness, too, with the vegetables, and that final shot of lemon juice just took it over the top!

A bonus to this salad is that you can stretch a 6-oz. piece of cooked salmon to feed 4 people generous servings. So, the next time you cook salmon fillets, make an extra serving to use for this delicious salad for lunch or dinner the next day.

Easy Salmon Salad

Serves 4

6 oz. cooked salmon, skin and bones removed and flaked into bite-size pieces
1/2 lb. grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 c. celery, sliced
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled, quartered and sliced cross-wise
1 tablespoon rinsed and drained capers
1/4 - 1/2 c. sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives
Olive juice to taste
Good quality mayonnaise to taste
Juice of one lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
Leaf lettuce

Combine all ingredients except salmon and lettuce in large bowl. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and olive oil and lemon juice until it's perfect for your taste. Gently fold in salmon just until incoporated, keeping chunks of fish intact. Chill well.

Serve cold on a bed of lettuce with lemon wedges on the side. Enjoy!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cafe 222's Peanut Butter & Banana French Toast

What a shame to have to stay in San Diego for two nights longer than planned! I should be so lucky again! That is just what we were forced to do when our red eye flight out was cancelled on Thursday night last week. Since airlines have reduced the number of flights, the next flight that we could get on was Saturday morning. Neither of us was too disappointed; we checked into the beautiful Marriott in the Gaslamp Quarter and gratefully crawled into our luxurious bed for a good night's sleep.

In the morning I found Bob working at his laptop (it was a workday for him, after all) and so I went through my usual morning routine and then went downstairs to get some advice from the concierge. First on my list was to find a good place for us to have breakfast, and without hesitation the concierge suggested Cafe 222!

Cafe 222 is only open for breakfast and lunch. It feels really small because its seating for 75 is at small tables for 2 - 4 that are scattered throughout two levels of outdoor patios and a few tables inside. Nothing fancy here, but I loved the artful touches that always make me happy with these kinds of charming eateries. How perfect was this arrangement of artificial flowers stuffed into box graters and arranged on one of the two solid walls inside. (The other two walls are windows.)

Isn't this chandolier darling?

This was my breakfast. I know, not a very healthful breakfast, but this is what I usually get when I go out. I don't make Eggs Benedict for myself at home so it's ok to splurge. That is my rationalization. It also is a pretty good way to judge a breakfast place. There is, after all, an art to poaching eggs perfectly and making hollandaise sauce that has that perfect balance of lemon to offset all the butter and egg yolks in the sauce. This was delicious!

Peanut Butter & Banana Stuffed French Toast? They serve a lot of that here at Cafe 222. In fact, Bobby Flay came here and challenged the owner to a Throw Down with this signature breakfast. I heard that he lost, but then he usually does. He might be an Iron Chef, but how can he compete with someone who has made thousands of servings of Peanut Butter Banana Stuffed French Toast???

Here's the recipe by Cafe 222 owner Terryl Gavre. You can watch her make this here.

Peanut Butter & Banana Stuffed French Toast

Makes 3 servings

6 slices day-old white or wheat bread
1 to 2 ripe bananas
8 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
Honey, for drizzling
4 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Dash salt
Butter or oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for topping
Maple Syrup, for topping

Remove crust from bread. Lay bread out on counter and spread a thin layer of peanut butter on each slice. Peel banana and slice enough to cover every other piece of bread. (You will be making 3 complete sandwiches). Drizzle a small amount of honey on each piece of bread that does not have banana on it. (These are the tops). Place honey drizzled piece of bread on top of a piece with bananas on it to make a sandwich. Repeat until you have made 3 sandwiches.

In a shallow medium sized bowl, gently whip, by hand, the eggs, cream, vanilla, rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

Heat skillet to medium heat, around 350 to 375 degrees F, or until butter melts and begins to sizzle. Dip 1 sandwich at a time into rum batter and place into skillet. Cook until golden brown (about 3 to 4 minutes before turning) on each side. Remove from skillet and cut in 1/2 diagonally. Top with powdered sugar, butter and maple syrup.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Bitter Tasting at Fess Parker

Bob and I were excited about visiting the Fess Parker Winery. Our destination manager had arranged for our tasting there and we'd enjoyed the chardonnay back home. We were right in the middle of wine country and wishing we'd had more than one day to explore!

This winery is one of the most beautiful we'd seen so far. It was nothing like the Italianate pretentious structures of other wineries we'd visited. This was more like a ranch house and something that looked right at home in the rolling hills and ranches of the area.

Bob and I both grew up watching Fess Parker play Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett on TV, so it was great fun to see his picture in the tasting room. Even more fun were the little coonskin cap cork-toppers for sale!

It's hard to imagine being in a more beautiful setting and having such a terrible tasting experience. Our hostess was rude, snobby, and unwilling to volunteer any information about the wines or the ranch unless we asked pointed questions. And followed up with pointed questions. She really was irritated, I believe, that she was in such a demeaning job as a sales person for this winery.

I am absolutely sure that the performance of this hostess had a great impact on our opinion of the wines. We tasted the chardonnays and pinot noirs for which they are famous, and found all to be overpriced for their quality. That equals not a good value. This was the first winery we visited where we didn't purchase a thing, not even those cute little coonskin caps. We couldn't wait to leave, as a matter of fact.

If you want to see a truly beautiful winery and vinyard in the California style, you can visit Fess Parker at 6200 Foxen Canyon Rd. Los Olivos, CA 93441. Call them at (805) 688-1545, (800) 841-1104 if you have any questions. If you visit for a tasting, be sure to request someone other than the gal from New Zealand.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tasting at Firestone Vinyards

Firestone Vinyard was the first estate winery in Santa Barbara County, CA. It was started by the son of the Firestone of tire fame back in 1972.

Our hostess told us that some of these vines had been planted more than 30 years ago, making these the oldest vines we have seen thus far in CA.

My friend Shannon Brunet of Global Restaurant in Charlotte told me that if I present my business card, tasting fees would be waived for those of us in the business. This was true and a real money-saver for us, allowing us to spend our money on the wine and not the tasting and glasses!

I've mentioned before how important the tasting room hostess is, and Susan Pratt at Firestone Vinyards was the best we've ever had. She was friendly, enthusiastic, and passionate about her wine knowledge. We spent almost three hours with her, joined the wine club and also will have a case or so of Firestone wines waiting for us when we get home. (Susan is the one who recommended Mattei's Tavern & Brothers Restaurant for our dinner.)

Later that evening, after our wonderful experience at the tavern in Los Olivos, we strolled through the small village. Who should drive up to us but Susan, who was visiting her church to refresh a flower arrangement! She took us into her church to show us its beauty and then spent another 30 minutes or so telling us about the area and its residents. She said that lots of past stars from Hollywood have retired to Santa Barbara County. I can see why. It is a beautiful place, full of rolling hills, woods, pastures, and history.

You can visit Firestone Vinyards at 5000 Zaca Station RoadLos Olivos CA 93441. Call them at(805) 688-3940 ext. 31 to join the wine club or ask questions. These wines are delicious and affordable for everyday drinking.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, March 27, 2009

An Evening at Mattei's Tavern & Brothers' Restaurant in Los Olivos

We love historical places, so when we passed this tavern on our way to the vinyards, we just knew we had to come back for supper. Imagine our delight when the hostess at Firestone Vinyards recommended this restaurant to us!

Chef brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols moved into this historical building and restored it to its stage coach days splendor. It's surrounded by pretty green lawns and gardens, and an original wooden water tower at the edge of its large back lawn. I can imagine hosting an evening of dining with friends on that lawn!

They definitely need some old-fashioned southern rocking chairs on this porch, don't you think? I can just imagine all the people waiting for the stage to arrive!

It wasn't easy or comfortable for folks to travel back in those days! We're definitely spoiled by our luxury cars and air conditioning!

This is the lobby of the tavern and restaurant. Back during temperance times, the tavern was moved to a small building unconnected to the stage office, but it's back now. The fireplace and beams in the ceilings are all original. I just had to ask about ghosts, and the receptionist told me that she'd heard others talk of glasses falling off shelves for no reason, and women feeling their hair being pulled. Probably just stories to tantalize the tourists, but I would have been disappointed if there hadn't been any to tell!

Our bartender was great fun and made the best dirty martinis! What a perfect good will embassador, and he set the stage for a wonderful evening!

I would say that Bob is relaxed after a full day of wine tasting and touring. Wouldn't you agree?

I think the general public never gives food servers the credit they deserve. Our waitress was fantastic. She helped my poor memory out, too, because I recognized Cheryl Ladd at the table next to ours (one of Charlie's Angels...she's the blonde cutie), but I couldn't place one of her companions. Our waitress wrote a note on her pad that the handsome gentleman with the full shock of white hair was Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Remember him from the old FBI show on TV back in the late '60s & early '70s?

What a beautiful rack of lamb! The exquisite 2007 Estate Pinot we had from Melville Vinyards in the Santa Maria Valley was the perfect pairing for Bob's lamb and my salmon. The next time we come out here we are going to do the wineries in the Santa Maria Valley and Melville will be our first stop!

You can visit Mattei's Tavern & Brothers Restaurant at 2350 Railway Avenue in Los Olivos, California 93441. Call them at (805) 688-4820 for reservations or questions.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wine Tasting at Eos Winery in Paso Robles

I know that we at Wines for Humanity source many of our California wines from the Paso Robles area, so I was thrilled to visit the beautiful Eos Estate Winery. This is one of those places where the view is spectacular from so many vantage points, that we lingered outside for a while enjoying the scenery before we went inside.
If you visit wineries, you already know that the wine-tasting experience is totally dependent on the host or hostess you have. Colleen (below) was a real gem. We spent a lot of time enjoying her warm personality and extensive knowledge of the winery and wine-making there. The wine was delicious, and Bob joined their wine club and then had them ship some of his favorites home.

Touring at Eos is self-guided. We had places to go so just quickly peeked into the wine cave below.

In this photo is just a sampling of the more than 10,000 barrels of wine being stored, mostly in French oak with some American and other European. I wish you could smell the heady aromas of all the wines aging there.

Below is one of my favorite views of the vinyards, which stretch into the distance and seem to go on forever.
Eos Estate Vinyard is the largest winery on California’s Central Coast to run completely on alternative energy. It has a solar farm that is more than 2 acres large. Bob was impressed!

Eos Estate Vinyards is located at 5625 Highway 46 East Paso Robles, CA 93446.
Call the winery at 805.239.2562 if you have any questions about their wine, joining their wine club, or just having a delightful visit.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie