Friday, December 20, 2013

Winter Solstice and Pfeffernüsse

The winter solstice is tomorrow I wrote this article for Images, the quarterly publication produced by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. Please read because it's pretty interesting (in my very humble opinion). I thought about copying it here but I didn't want to lower my google ranking for duplicate content. So yeah.



Anyway Monday is Pfeffernüsse Day in many European countries. No I did not just sneeze, pfeffernüsse (also known as pepernoten in Dutch, päpanät in Plautdietsch, or peppernuts in English) are traditional German cookies. Although they are more related to Christmas (Weihnachten) these days, they were often enjoyed during winter solstice celebrations.

When I took German in high school, we would celebrate Sankt Nikolaustag on December 6th. We would put our shoes in the hallway and our teacher, Frau Singer, would fill them with sweets. Afterward we would sing Christmas carols auf Deutsch and then we would head to the home economics classroom where we would make these spicy little cookies. Fond memories.

Today I would like to share the recipe with you. It makes about 5 millions small, round, thin cookies so you might want to half the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup healthy margarine such as smart balance or earth balance (butter works too)
  • 2 eggs (vegan option: 4 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons water)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons anise extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Stir together the molasses, honey and margarine in a saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until creamy. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in the eggs, anise extract, white sugar, and brown sugar. Combine the flour, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, pepper, and salt in a large bowl. Add the molasses mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C). Roll the dough into 3/4"-sized balls. Arrange on baking sheets, spacing at least 1 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven 10 to 15 minutes. Move to a rack to cool.

Molasses, honey and margarine in medium sauce pan.

While that cools to room temperature, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, spices baking soda and salt).

Then add the sugars, eggs and extract to the molasses pot.

Finally add the molasses mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. It's very sticky so be ready for your arm workout for the day. Switch arms to build muscles evenly.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then roll into balls and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 325°F for 10 minutes.

Eat, drink and be merry!

Pictured from left to right: Sugar Cookie Cut-outs (and how to ice them), Vegan Cinnamon Sugar Cookies, Candy Cane Blossoms, and Pfeffernüsse

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Workout Playlist

Creating a good workout playlist can be overwhelming and while it's good to have a motivating mix spending time creating the playlist takes valuable time from your workout. So I'll make it simple for you. The only workout mix you'll ever need:


Just kidding... unless that works for you. And in that case, you can just stop reading now. If you need more variability, READ ON!


Skip the musical roulette

Instead of setting your MP3 player on shuffle, proactively build timed playlists that provide the right energy all the way through your workout. Barney Stinson says a playlist should be all build. Here is his classic "Get Psyched" playlist:


For a workout mix though I would recommend starting slow for your warm up, building up to a peak and then bringing it back down for your cool down.

Keep it fresh

Every month, find a weekend to look around on iTunes charts to see what's new by your favorite artists and in your favorite genres so your playlist never gets stale. Workout songs are a personal choice because it comes down to whatever gets YOU moving.

If you need a place to start, here are a few of my favorite workout songs:

  • "Get Down Tonight" - KC and the Sunshine Band (113 BPM)
  • "Rock and a Hard Place" - The Rolling Stones (129 BPM)
  • "Dancing with Myself" - Billy Idol (176 BPM)
  • "Moves Like Jagger" - Maroon 5 (128 BPM)
  • "Safe and Sound" - Capitol Cities (138 BPM)
  • "Beat It" - Michael Jackson (139 BPM)
  • "Walk This Way" - Run-DMC (106 BPM)
  • "All Shook Up" - Elvis Presley (125 BPM)
  • "Seven Nation Army" - The White Stripes (124 BPM)
  • "Stronger" - Kanye West (104 BPM)
  • "Radioactive" - Imagine Dragons (138 BPM)

Get in rhythm

Studies have shown that listening to music that syncs with your movements provides a better workout than exercising without tunes. The following is a good guide to follow based on what your workout involves:

Beats per minute    Perfect for

160 and up                  Running, jumping rope
140 to 160                   Jogging, Spinning
125 to 140                   Power walking, stair-climbing, elliptical
105 to 125                   Walking, toning
60 to 115                     Stretching, yoga, warming up

What's on you workout mix?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Upcycled Gift Bags

I inherited some small brown paper bags with handles at a volunteer project this summer. I thought to myself, "These would be perfect for gift bags, if only they didn't say Xcel energy on them." Fortunately, I am a very clever person and I have upgraded the ugly plain bags into cute gift bags for Christmas gifts.


It's very simple to make some of these cute bags for your own use and for any occasion. Find some plain bags. Then check the scrapbooking section of your local craft store for decorations.


Gather some glue and scissors (it's even easier if you just use stickers), and assemble. Be extra Earth-friendly and reuse your beautiful creations year after year.




Have fun with your creativity! Share a picture of your works of art on my Facebook page.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Vegan Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

This recipe comes from my College Vegetarian Cooking cookbook. The author describes these cookies as "giant Teddy Grahams" which is so accurate I couldn't think of a better way to say it.



They are vegan and we all know the best thing about vegan baking is that you can eat the raw cookie dough (I guess I should add, "without worrying about getting sick," because raw eggs have never stopped me from eating cookie dough). The other best thing about vegan baking is that you can take the cookies out early if you like soft cookies or leave them for the entire duration if you like them crunchier (for the same reason). So with all that said, here's the recipe.

Ingredients:


  • 1 cup softened margarine (I use smart balance)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Add margarine and sugars to a mixing bowl and combine vigorously until smooth and creamy. Add flour, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. Roll dough into 1"-sized balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet, approximately 2" apart. Bake for eight to 10 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.


Dear my parent's Ninja blender and food processor,
I'll miss you when I move out. I have treasured our time together. We created delicious and nutritious smoothies in individual travel cups. You perfect the art of making cookie dough. If I wasn't a poor unemployed post-graduate I would invest in your cloned family members. I will not forget you, let's make the most of the time we have left together.
Love, Maggie


Dear my parent's convection oven,

I'll miss you when I move out. I have treasured our time together. You have made it so that I can cookie two trays of cookies at the same time for the same amount of time. Your light provides rays of light as if God is watching over the things that bake within you. If I wasn't a poor unemployed post-graduate I would invest in your cloned family members. I will not forget you, let's make the most of the time we have left together.
Love, Maggie


These cookies look so yummy.... mmmmm cinnamonny goodness. Did I ever tell you that cinnamon is my favorite food group? Well it is. :)

Cinnamon Sugar Cookies with Candy Cane Blossoms

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bootcamp Pyramid

I am a fan of pyramids (see thigh pyramid workout). If you played any sports in high school you might remember them (fondly or maybe not so fondly) as ladders. Basically, you start with a short interval (for this workout it's 20 seconds), and work your way up (climb) to the longest interval (50 seconds) and then you step easily back down to the short interval again (20 seconds).


All the intervals here are less than a minute. This makes the time fly and boosts your motivation as you see the intervals get shorter as the end of the workout gets closer. No equipment is necessary for this workout except an open space in which to do it. Turn on some good music and you’ll get a full body cardio/toning interval workout!


You can get your printable version of the workout here. Don't know how to do these moves? Check out my workout glossary.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sugar Cookies and How to Ice Them

The sun is slowly setting behind the Flatirons. I am watching it through a window Espresso Roma on the Hill. Small snowflakes speed to the ground as if racing; they cover the dirty black asphalt in a pure white blanket of snow. My Bhakti chai steams in a chipped blue mug in front of me as I breathe in the crisp Boulder air, filling my lungs with it’s slightly marijuana-smelling freshness. The colors of autumn, which were incredibly lovely this year, have been erased and replaced with a new beauty. It reminds me why I love Colorado so very much: the beauty is spectacular for a few fleeting moments before it disappears and is replaced by some other magnificent sight. There's no way to capture the moment to recall later so the best thing to do is enjoy it while it's there.

With the fresh snow I am giving myself permission to feel festive, not that I haven't tried. My personal rule is that Christmas doesn't exist until Thanksgiving is over so now my Christmas playlist is on repeat and my Holiday movie count is at ten. I've also eaten an entire package of Hershey's candy cane kisses and Christmas cookies are building up. To makes these sugar cookies that don't spread and keep their shape see the recipe below.



Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low to medium speed.  Mix thoroughly, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula and mix again. Do not over mix as this aerates the dough and causes the cookies to spread more during baking.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla extract to bowl, mix, scrape down the bowl with your spatula and mix again.
  3. In a separate bowl sift flour and salt together .
  4. Add all of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture bowl.  Mix on low speed. Do not over mix at this stage either, the glutens in the flour develop and the dough can become tough.
  5. Roll the dough out between 2 large pieces of parchment paper.  Place on a baking sheet and into the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.
  6. Roll out the dough further if you need to, and cut out cookie shapes.  Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Re-roll scraps and repeat, refrigerate again if necessary.
  7. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again.  They will then hold their shape better when baked.
  8. Preheat your oven to 350°F (176°C).
  9. Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown.  The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie.
  10. Let cookies cool to room temperature before decorating.

This was my first attempt using a glaze this way. Below is the icing recipe I used...




Ingredients:

  • 1 cup powder sugar (confectioners sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 drop lemon juice (can be fresh)

Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together. These amounts are approximate: use more powdered sugar and less milk for the edges so it doesn't run everywhere, use less powdered sugar and more milk for the insides so it spreads itself. It takes a little practice. The lemon juice isn't for flavor, it just counteracts the sweet sugary flavor.
  2. Once mixed you can add food coloring however you'd like.
  3. Refrigerate the icing for 10 minute before using (and periodically during the process).
  4. If using an icing bag follow the instructions for using the attachments. Line a glasses with a plastic bag or an icing bag and pour the icing in.
  5. Cut a small corner off the bag for the icing to come out of. Start very small at first, you can always cut more but you cannot cut less. Add the icing attachments if you have them.
  6. Use the thicker icing to line the edge of the cookie and make shapes, the fill with the thinner icing.
  7. Add sprinkles and create a masterpiece. :)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

5-Song Workout

Workout Wednesday is the day that is today. So here's a thing to print out and do.

It's necessary for me to go to ab classes most of the time because it's a struggle to keep myself motivated when doing ab workouts when I'm home alone. Having someone telling you how many moves to do makes me actually believe that I "can do 3 more." But sometimes (always) I'm lazy so I like staying home better. That's where this workout comes in. Pick five of your favorite songs of the moment (Bitin' the Bullet by Grouplove, Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Pharrell, Addicted to You by Avicii, Glory and Gore by Lorde, and Mission Bells by Matt Nathanson do it for me).

Find more printable workouts here and a glossary of workout moves here. Download the printable version here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

50 Water Saving Tips

Water is vital to the survival of everything on the planet and is limited in supply. Earth may be known as the "water planet", but even though about 70% of its surface is covered by water, less than 1% is available for human use. The Earth's populations and demands for water use increase the water supply remains the same, but we can all do our part to protect this critical and precious resource. When it comes to conserving water, small adjustments can have a big impact. Save water and protect the environment.

Inside Water Savings

Kitchen

  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run. Fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  • Dishwashers, especially Energy Star, typically use less water than washing dishes by hand.
  • Look for water efficient dishwashers if you are thinking of buying a new one.
  • Use only one glass or container for your beverage of choice each day to cut back on the dishes you need to wash.
  • Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean.
  • Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Instead, compost vegetable food waste.
  • Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water from the tap.
  • Don’t use running water to thaw food. Instead, defrost food in the refrigerator.
  • Install an instant water heater near your kitchen sink so you don’t have to run the water while it heats up. BONUS: This also reduces energy costs.
  • Collect the water you use while rinsing fruit and vegetables. Use it to water house plants.
  • Reuse leftover water from cooked or steamed foods to start a nutritious soup.

Laundry Room

  • When doing laundry, match the water level to the size of the load.
  • Have a plumber re-route your greywater to trees and plants rather than the sewer line. Check with your city and county for codes.
  • If you're looking to buy a new washing machine look for water efficient models.

Bathroom

Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you’ll save up to 150 gallons per month.

Time your shower to keep it under 5 minutes. You’ll save up to 1,000 gallons per month.

Turn off the water in the shower while shampooing and conditioning your hair, while washing your body and shaving your legs to save 150 gallons a month.

Toilet leaks can be silent! Be sure to test your toilet for leaks at least once a year. (To test for leaks add food coloring to the tank, if you see color in the bowl you have a leak).


  • When running a bath, plug the bathtub before turning on the water. Adjust the temperature as the tub fills.
  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth and save up to 4 gallons a minute. That’s up to 200 gallons a week for a family of four.
  • If you're in the market for a new toilet, consider buying a dual-flush toilet. It has two flush options: a half-flush for liquid waste and a full-flush for solid waste.
  • When washing your hands, turn the water off while you lather.
  • One drip every second adds up to five gallons per day! Check your faucets and showerheads for leaks.
  • While you wait for hot water, collect the running water and use it to water plants.
  • Install water efficient faucets and shower heads.

Outside Water Savings

Garden

  • Group plants with the same watering needs together.
  • Reduce the amount of lawn in your yard by planting shrubs and ground covers appropriate to your site and region.
  • Plant species native to your region.
  • Start a compost pile. Using compost in your garden or flower beds adds water-holding organic matter to the soil.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil around plants.
  • Use sprinkler that deliver water in larger droplets. Mists evaporate before hitting the ground.
  • For hanging baskets, planters and pots, put ice cubes on top of the soil to water without overflow.
  • Water only when necessary. More plants die from over-watering than from under-watering.
  • Apply water only as fast as the soil can absorb it.
  • Minimize evaporation by watering during the early morning hours when temperatures are cooler and winds are lighter.
  • A running hose can discharge up to 10 gallons per minute so time your use.
  • Examine soil moisture depth. If the top two to three inches of soil are dry, it’s time to water.
  • Collect water from your roof by installing gutters and downspouts. Direct the runoff to plants and trees.

Lawn

  • Adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk or street.
  • Mow your lawn to between 1.5 and 2 inches to shade soil and protect roots.
  • If you walk through your grass and you leave footprints it's time to water.
  • Make sure your grass seed is suitable for your region.
  • Aerate your lawn so water seeps into ground instead of running off.
  • Water your summer lawns once every three days and your winter lawn once every five days.

Other

  • Use porous material for walkways and patios to prevent wasteful runoff and keep water in your yard.
  • Use a broom instead of the hose to clean off the driveway, sidewalks, paths and patios.
  • Let your kids play in the sprinklers over areas of your lawn that need water.
  • Wash your car on the lawn to water it at the same time (use biodegradable soap and a hose head that you can turn off the water).
  • If you see water leaking from public sprinklers or fire hydrants report them to the city.

How do you save water in your home?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Variation on a theme: Candy Cane Blossoms

I know today is Black Friday and it's tempting to go out and get all the great deals that have been advertised. I just want to get on a soap box really fast and say how ridiculous I find it that we spend one day expressing how thankful we are for all the blessings we have in our lives and the very next day all that goes out the window. And for what? Cheap goods that no one really needs. I hope that everyone who reads this might take a step back and really evaluate what's important. I also want to put a plug in for Small Business Saturday which is tomorrow. You may not get a toaster for $3, but chances are you already have a toaster. And by shopping small you will support your community in a very big way and you will find great gifts that are unique and meaningful. Use this map to find small businesses in your community. That's all *takes step down off soap box*...

I do love this season. I love the music and the tingly feelings and the well-wishers. Oh... and the cookies. I LOVE cookies! The way cookie monster loves cookies. *nom nom nom* One of my favorite Christmas cookies is peanut-butter blossoms. They're the ones with the kiss stuck on top. (Follow the link for the recipe).


So, when I saw a picture for the most adorable "Candy Cane Blossoms" on Pinterest, I was super excited. I mean, the spell Pinterest holds over me was broken: I didn't even pin the recipe. I actually got off the couch and checked whether I had the ingredients. Keep scrolling down for the recipe.



Ingredients


  • 48 Hershey's Candy Cane Mint Candy Kisses
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened (vegan option: smart balance or other healthy margarine for baking)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg (vegan option: 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed into 2 tablespoons water)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk (vegan option: milk substitute of choice)
  • Red or green sugar crystals, and festive sprinkles

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F. Remove wrappers from candies. Beat butter, granulated sugar, egg and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt; add alternately with milk to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in red sugar, green sugar or sprinkles. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and cookie is set. Remove from oven; cool 2 to 3 minutes. Press a candy piece into center of each cookie. Move from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.


You can also make them birthday cookies like I did for the girl I used to nanny.

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone! Let me know what your favorite cookies are in the comments below.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Get Fresh With Avocados

I am a big fan of avocados these days. You might go so far to say avocado problem. Some puns just work better when you hear them. If I had a TV show you would have heard, “I’ve-o got a problem,” but I don’t have a TV show… I have a blog. I’ll give you a minute to say it to yourself a few times and then we can move on to more pressing matters...
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Ready?
Avocados. Are. The. Best. Things. In. The. History. Of. Ever. 
(I certainly like to hyperbolize)

Let me get plant nerdy on you for a moment and inform you that avocados are the FRUIT (a berry containing a single seed to be exact) of an avocado tree. The avocado is also affectionately called alligator pear because of it’s shape and wrinkled, leathery skin.


Health Benefits

Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which according to the American Heart Association, they reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and decrease bad cholesterol levels in your blood. Monounsaturated fats also typically are rich in Vitamin E and help your body absorb fat soluble nutrients from food.

Additionally, avocados provide magnesium and potassium, both of which help reduce blood pressure. They contain about 10 grams of fiber (75% insoluble for digestive help, 25% soluble to give you the feeling of fullness).


Storing

To prevent a cut avocado from browning, coat the surface in lemon or lime juice. The brown color is the result of oxidation, the process which creates free-radicals, the acidity of citrus fruits slows down this process.

If you need to ripen rock-hard avocados quickly, store them in a paper bag with apples and they should be ripe in a day or two. Apples emit a hormone called ethylene which cues fruit to ripen.


Uses

  • Mash up half an avocado and spread it on your bread. En route to the New World, Europeans spread avocados in place of butter. 
  • Blend it into a smoothie with almond milk ice cubes.
  • Guacamole is healthy and delicious. Americans consume 8 million pounds of guac on Super Bowl Sunday and 14 million at Cinco de Mayo.
  • Mix it with plain yogurt and spoon it over grilled chicken or fish.
  • Avocado oil is good for cooking at low heats. Studies show is has antioxidant properties and can reduce signs of aging.
  • Stir it into tuna, chicken, or potato salad in place of mayonnaise. Add a pinch of curry.
  • Whisk it with fresh citrus juice as a salad dressing. 
  • Use them to treat sunburns, prevent chaffing and reduce wrinkles. Mix with honey and yogurt, then slather it on your face for a great moisturizer.
  • For healthier baked goods substitute some or all of the butter in the recipe with avocado. Pop Sugar has great recipes to try.


Avocado Semifreddo

This recipe is from Rachel Ray magazine

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup raw pistachios, chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large avocado
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups cream
Salt
Cooking spray

Directions:

In a nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium high. Add nuts, sugar and a pinch of salt; stir until sugar browns, approximately 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Coat 5-by-9-inch loaf pan with cooking spray; line with plastic wrap, leaving 3-inch overhang. In a food processor, puree avocado flesh, condensed milk, lemon juice and pinch of saly. Whip cream to stiff peaks; fold in avocado puree and nuts. Pour into pan. Cover with plastic wrap overhang; freeze until firm, approximately 4 hours. Unmold onto platter, slice and serve immediately. Serve 8.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Om Alone

Such a punny title. There are many reasons to practice yoga at home, not least of which is the cost of attending classes at a studio. Studios can be over-full, and you’ll struggle to find an inch to lay out your mat. Parking can be a nightmare, especially if your studio is in a busy city center. You may encounter expressionless holier-than-thou clones who can practically balance on their noses, causing you to feel inadequate. Who can achieve nirvana under these circumstances? I’m not anti-studios but I am pro home and at home you can avoid these distractions and you don’t have to share your space. Need further convincing?

At home:

  • You can’t miss a class because you schedule them.
  • You determine the amount of time you spend yoga-ing.
  • You can practice whatever pose you want, however many time you want and for whatever amount of time you want.
  • You develop a deeper awareness of yourself and your mental and physical state without a teacher’s guiding voice.
  • You may KNOW that yoga is not competitive but you will feel more comfortable exploring challenging poses when you are alone.
  • You will become more capable of suiting your practice to meet your needs.
  • Are you sensing a theme? YOU.

So stay home to get a toned and limber body and a stress-free mind. Be sure to get in a least a Sun Salutations in each day and a full 45 minutes routine two to three times each week. Attend classes to have a trained teacher check your alignment two to four times each month. At these supplemental classes, pick up a few new poses to add to your home routine.

Create Your Yoga Space

Pick a quiet space, where noises from the street, your neighbors, or living mates won’t reach you. Bring in decorative elements like a buddha statue and candles and incense. Play meditative music to set the mood. Make sure there is plenty of space around your mat and the area is clutter free.

Make a Date with Your Mat

Classes are generally 90 minutes long but it’s okay to practice in shorter increments. Most yoga teachers agree that practicing for 20 minutes each day is more beneficial that practicing for 90 minutes once or twice each week. Making yoga a habit gives you feedback about your body and mind, which can help improve your practice. So schedule time for yoga each day just like you schedule time for work and spending time with your family.

Have a Plan

Before you lay out the mat it can be helpful to decide which poses you’d like to explore further and which parts of your body you’d like to focus on. Pay close attention when you do go to class and think about how you can use what you learn at home. Notice the sequence your teacher introduces poses in, how long you hold each pose, when inhales and exhales are used. Talk to your teacher for suggestions and advice about how to get the most out of your home practice. Write down notes to help you remember. Find resources on the Yoga Journal website or my personal favorite, Yoga Downloads. Learn the basics for creating a pose sequence and how each pose is set up. Then you’ll have a good foundation when you actually get on your mat.

Create a Sequence

Building a sequence from scratch can be daunting so focus on parts of your body, which would benefit from some attention. Make sure you have a quiet beginning and end. Sun Salutation are another great place to start to get the body warmed up before moving into more focused poses.Yoga Journal has a yoga sequence builder, so use that to help you get some ideas. The more you practice at home the more you will gravitate toward a certain group of poses. Keep this sequence as a backup for days you are too tired or too busy to come up with an original sequence.

Just Do It

Incorporate yoga into your daily life. It’s okay to watch TV or do a crossword while flowing into poses. It’s okay to do a Sun Salutations while you wait for the laundry to finish. Do what you can, when you can, where you can. Become more responsive to your own needs and let yourself fall in love with practicing at home.

Monday, November 11, 2013

50 Energy Saving Tips

Much of the energy consumed in the U.S. each year is wasted through inefficient technology and transmission. This causes families and businesses to pay higher energy bills and results in increased carbon pollution. Energy efficiency is a simple and cost effective solution to combat climate change, prevent further air pollution and reduce the cost of energy for consumers. 

Sometimes there is great need to consider your impact on the planet. Sometimes you can change the way you are living in order to promote cleaner air. Sometimes you set out to write a great blog post describing all the wonderful things you can do to create a better world. Sometimes your blog post is just a list. Sorry, I'm not sorry.

General

  • Consider powering your home with renewable energy. Many companies offer partial or full renewable energy plans.
  • Get off the grid by adding solar panels to your home. You may actually make money by selling energy you don't use to the power company.
  • Be sure your windows seal properly and are energy efficient.
  • Check for air leaks, fix the ones you find.
  • Make sure your home is completely insulated.


Lighting

  • Switch to low-energy fluorescent lightbulbs. They last up to 10 times as long as regular lightbulbs.
  • Use motion sensing bulbs for your outdoor lights. They are both efficient and convenient.
  • Save energy (and lower your electric bill) by turning off the lights when you leave a room.

Appliances

  • If you're in the market for new appliances, opt for energy efficient ones to save energy and money on your bill.
  • Clean the lint filter in your dryer regularly. A dirty filter uses up to 30% more energy to dry clothes.
  • Better yet, instead of using the dryer, try a drying rack, especially on sunny days. You will save energy AND your clothes won't shrink.
  • Do all your laundry in one day so the dryer doesn't have to heat up again for each load.
  • Set the temperature of your refrigerator to between 30 and 42°F, or use the energy save function if available.
  • Check the coils behind your refrigerator for dust. The refrigerator doesn't have to work as hard when these are clean.
  • A full freezer full uses less energy than one that is empty.
  • After the rinse cycle, turn off your dishwasher and open the door a crack to let your dishes air dry.
  • Only run your dishwasher when full.
  • Use less energy by heating up leftovers in a microwave or toaster oven instead of the oven.
  • While in use keep your oven closed - every time you open the door the oven loses 25°F of heat.
  • Turn your oven and burners off toward the end of baking and cooking. It will continue cooking using existing heat without using additional energy.
  • Use copper-bottomed pots and pans, which use energy more efficiently.
  • Conserve energy by keeping your pots and pans covered while cooking.
  • Match pots and pans to similar sized burners to prevent energy loss around edges.

Electronics

  • Unplug your chargers and kitchen appliances when not in use - they draw energy just by being plugged into the power outlet.
  • Better yet, plug your electronics into a power strip and turn it off when not in use.
  • Instead of a desktop, purchase a laptop if you are looking to buy a new computer - it will require less electricity to run.
  • Come to that, don't forget to turn off your computer when you aren't using it to save power. Or if you prefer to leave it on use the hibernation option instead of a screensaver.
  • Look for energy efficient televisions, if you are looking to buy a new one.

Heating

  • Cover bare floor with area rugs for insulation and comfort.
  • Raise heat gradually by a couple of degrees each time instead of jumping the heat up.
  • In winter, set your heater between 68 and 70°F during the day and 65 to 68°F at night.
  • When not in use close the flue to your fireplace and install glass doors to keep heat in and cold out.
  • Change the filters in your heating system every month.
  • Let the sun help you heat your home by leaving blinds and curtains open during the day and closed at night.
  • Lower your thermostat when you are out. If you go on vacation don't turn it below 55°F to save energy and to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.

Cooling

  • Consider installing an evaporative cooler instead of air conditioning. How Stuff Works has written an article outlining the pros and cons of each.
  • Keep your exterior doors and windows closed when AC is on. Keep them slightly open if you have a swamp cooler to promote air flow.
  • Keep interior doors open so air flows freely throughout your home.
  • Change your AC filters once a month.
  • Turn your thermostat to the highest possible comfortable temperature and set it to "auto."
  • Close air vents and doors to rooms you aren't using.
  • Use ceiling fans to circulate air more efficiently. Additionally, the breeze from ceiling fans can make you feel 3-4° cooler so you can set your thermostat a little higher and still feel cool.
  • Provide shade over your home with trees. Plant a new one every Arbor Day.

Water Heating

  • Always launder with cold water or make sure you only wash a full load if you use hot water.
  • Install low-flow shower head and faucets.
  • Turn off your water heater if you are leaving town. Most heaters can reheat water in a few hours after you return.
  • Set the temperature of your water heater to 120°F.
  • When buying a new water heater, look for one that is energy efficient.
  • Take shorter showers and only allow the water to run while you are wetting your hair and rinsing off.

Check out Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home from the U.S. Department of Energy for further, more detailed information about these ideas and quite a few other ideas to help you save money and energy in your home.

Which of these tips are you willing to try?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cooking Fats: Behind the Music

I didn’t realize I had so much to say on this subject but as it turns out I am quite passionate about cooking oils and fats. So passionate that I believe this is one of the longest posts I’ve ever written. Because of this epic of a blog post, I have included jump links so you can simply click on the oil you want to know more about to easily move around this article.





Recommended Oils



Coconut Oil


Coconut oil is extracted from the brown meat of a coconut. It contains, 92% saturated fats, 6% monounsaturated fats and 1.6% polyunsaturated fats. These saturated fats were once considered unhealthy, but recent studies show they are a safe source of energy. Additionally, previous studies were conducted on refined coconut oil that contained hydrogenated oils (which are bad!). This is why you should be sure to buy virgin (processed without chemicals or high heat) coconut oil that is high in the medium-chain fatty acids, which absorbs quickly into the body.

Coconut oil also has important health benefits. It is rich in a fatty acid called Lauric Acid, which can improve cholesterol and acts against bacteria and other pathogens. Additionally, coconut oil provides a slight boost in metabolism and, compared to other fats, increases the feeling of fullness.

This oil is semi-solid at room temperature therefore it won’t go rancid for months or even years. I recommend using coconut oil for frying, due its high heat tolerance, due to saturated fat content.

**Side Note** higher saturated fats means higher smoke point, the smoke point is the point at which the nutrients in an oil or fat begin to break down).

Coconut oil can be used as a replacement for other oils in a typical recipe by a ratio of 1:1. You need less coconut oil than you’d expect when sautéing (due to low water content).

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Butter


8 Health Benefits of Butter - Dr. Axe
Like coconut oil, butter was also demonized in the past due to its saturated fat content (68% saturated fat, 28% monounsaturated fat and 4% polyunsaturated fat), but there really is no reason to fear real butter. Real butter is good for you and actually fairly nutritious. It contains Vitamins A, E and K2. It also contains the fatty acids Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which may help decrease body fat percentage in humans, and Butyrate, which can prevent inflammation, improve digestive health and fight obesity. For butter rich in Vitamin K2, CLA and other nutrients, make sure it comes from organic, grass-fed, unpasteurized cows.

When cooking with butter, it tends to burn at high heat, like for frying. This is because regular butter contains trace amounts of sugars and proteins. To avoid burning your butter, you can cook with ghee, clarified butter from which sugars and proteins have been removed, leaving only pure butterfat. I recommend using butter for baking, and cream-sauces and ghee for frying.

There’s a quick tutorial for how to make butter yourself at the bottom of my recipe for buttermilk cake. Here is a tutorial for clarifying butter.

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Olive Oil


Olive Oil Excellence
Extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, olive oil is loved for its heart healthy effects and is believed to be a key reason for the health benefits of the mediterranean diet. It can raise HDL (the good) cholesterol and lower the amount of oxidized LDL cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. The fatty acids in olive oil are mostly monounsaturated (75% monounsaturated, 14% saturated, 11% polyunsaturated).

When buying olive oil, make sure to look for quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil, that is cold-pressed and unfiltered. It has much more nutrients and antioxidants than the refined type. It should appear cloudy and be golden in color. The bottle should be green to slow oxidation ( a process which creates free-radicals that are damaging to cells in the body)

To keep it from going rancid, store olive oil in a cool, dry, dark place. While olive oil is inferior to coconut oil for cooking at high heat, studies show that you can still use it for cooking or sautéing at lower heats (under 320°F). Olive oil is best used to drizzle on salads or other dishes after they have been cooked.

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Animal Fats - Lard, Tallow, Bacon Drippings


The fatty acid content of an animal depends on the animal’s diet: A diet primarily composed of grains results in higher proportion of polyunsaturated fats; if the animal is pasture raised or grass-fed, saturated and monounsaturated fats will be higher. That said, animal fats from naturally-raised animals are superior for cooking.

You can save the drippings from meat to use later, or you can buy ready-made lard or tallow from the store (just be sure to check the label for no hydrogenated oils).

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Avocado Oil


Avocado oil has a similar composition to olive oil: it contains primarily monounsaturated fats, with few saturated and polyunsaturated as well. Therefore, I recommend using it in similar ways to olive oil.

Recent studies show that avocados are a powerhouse of nutrients and healthy fats your body craves. Keep your eyes peeled for a post all about this wonderful superfood.

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Fish Oil


Fish Oil - Dr. Vlada Korol
Omega-3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA. This is old hat if you read my post about hemp, flax and chia seeds. Another way to satisfy your need for omega-3s can be found in a tablespoon of fish oil. The best source is cod fish liver oil, because it is also rich in Vitamin D3, a nutrient many people are deficient of. Due to its high concentration of polyunsaturated fats, fish oil shouldn’t be used for cooking. To unlock these health benefits, take it as a supplement, one tablespoon per day. Store it in a cool, dry and dark place.

Just check with the manufacturer to see where the fish came from and how it was caught and find it on you’re sustainable fish guide.

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Flax Oil


Flax oil contains lots of the plant form of Omega-3, Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA), which I discussed in my post about hemp, flax and chia seeds. Due to the high content of polyunsaturated fats, this oil is also best used as a supplement: added to salads, smoothies and other cold foods. However, unless you’re vegan, fish oil is probably a better option. Some studies show that ALA is not efficiently converted to the active forms, EPA and DHA (both of which are readily available in fish oil) in the human body. Therefore, it is absorbed slowly into the body and should be used in small quantities.

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Nut Oils and Peanut Oil


There are many nut oils available and they are generally rich in polyunsaturated fats. They can be used as parts of recipes, but are a poor choice for high heat cooking or frying.

One exception is macadamia nut oil, which like olive oil contains monounsaturated for the majority. The taste may just make up for the step price if you’re willing to shell out the dough (that was a pun). Macadamia oil can be used for low- or medium-heat cooking.

Peanut oil is derived from peanuts, which aren’t technically nuts (they’re legumes). Peanut oil is popular in Asian cooking and some fast-food restaurants use it for deep-frying.

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Sesame Oil


Despite this oil’s high proportion of polyunsaturated fats (41%), it is stable enough for cooking at high heats. It also adds flavor when drizzled over a stir-fry. Sesame oil is a great source of Vitamin E and other nutrients, and is beneficially for maintaining blood pressure. Sesame oil keeps very well at room temperature but storing it in the refrigerator keeps it from going rancid for even longer. Make sure you buy the unrefined variety.

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Avoid These


The following oils are created from genetically modified plants or must be highly processed before hitting the shelves at your local grocery store. This processing increases the shelf life but involves very high heats removing most of the natural flavor. It also causes oxidation, creating free radicals that can damage the cells of our bodies. The processing also creates a huge imbalance in Omega-6 to Omega-3, making them far too rich in Omega-6 fatty acids.

Many of these oils have been wrongly labeled as “heart-healthy,” but new research has linked them to heart disease and cancer. One study looked at vegetable oils commonly found in U.S. grocery stores and found that they contain between 0.56 to 4.2% trans fats. That’s why I continually strew the importance of reading labels. Trans fats are bad!

Trans fats increase levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol and lowers levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol. It is found in hydrogenated, or partially-hydrogenated fat products like margarines and vegetable shortenings. It is also used in packaged snack foods and by fast-food and other restaurants.

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Canola Oil


Canola oil, best used in baking and frying, is derived from rapeseeds. Fun fact: its name comes from the phrase "Canadian oil, low acid” referring to the first canola plants. These were bred in Canada to have lower levels of erucic acid, which was believed to have adverse affect on the heart, at the time.

The fatty acid breakdown of canola oil is fairly good, with a perfect Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 2:1. That’s before the heavy processing, the final product is completely devoid of this natural ratio. Watch this youtube video to see the whole disgusting operation.



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Palm Oil


Palm oil is derived from the fruit of oil palms. It consists mostly of saturated and monounsaturated fats, with small amounts of polyunsaturates. Which is why I would recommend using it for frying. Red Palm Oil (the unrefined variety) is best. It is rich in Vitamins E, Coenzyme Q10 and other nutrients.

Palm oil is a tricky one for me to classify because there are many beneficial qualities associated with this oil. Unfortunately, harvesting palm oil is terribly unsustainable: in areas where palm trees are farmed specifically for the production of oil Orangutans, an endangered species, are losing their native habitat. So if you are very attached to using palm oil check with the manufacturer to find out about their farming practices and whether they are sensitive to the habitat of orangutans.

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Avoid these too:


  • Cottonseed Oil
  • Rapeseed Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Soybean Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Rice Brain Oil
  • Hydrogenated Oil
  • Any oil labeled refined, hydrogenated, or partially-hydrogenated


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What is your favorite oil or fat to use for cooking?