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?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Sssshhh!-We're-trying-to-sleep Workout

We've all gotten the urge to workout in awkward situations. You don't want to wake a sleeping baby with your grunts of motivation. You're roommate is studying for a big test and can't stand your heavy breathing. It's 1 o'clock in the morning and your downstairs neighbors are pounding on your floor because of your incessant jumping on their ceiling. Now you are equipped with this little beauty. It's a total-body workout which can be done in almost perfect silence.

You can download the printable pdf here.

Below is a description of how to do these workout moves. For a full list you can check out my glossary here. You can also find more printable workouts by clicking here.

Front Kicks
Start in a standing position. Lift your right leg straight out in front of your body until it is as close to parallel with the ground as you can lift it. Alternate legs.

Uppercut
Stand with feet hip-width distance apart. With a quick upward motion, scoop your right fist through the air to just in front of your face. Repeat on the other side.

Lunge Kick
Do a lunge then when you're standing do a front kick.

Lunge
Take a big step forward with your left foot, bend your knees and lower your body until both legs form 90-degree angles. Push off with your left foot and stand back up. Do reps, and then repeat on other leg.

Front Kicks
Start in a standing position. Lift your right leg straight out in front of your body until it is as close to parallel with the ground as you can lift it. Alternate legs.

Squat
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms by sides, Squat slowly until both knees are bent 90 degrees and raise arms straight to shoulder level in front of you. Immediately rise out of squat, returning to standing with arms by side.

Pushup
Lay on your belly with hand flat on the floor on either side, forearms perpendicular to the floor. Stiffen body and literally push yourself away from the ground, hinging at the knees. When arms are straight hold and with control release your body, hover above the ground and repeat.

Russian Twist
Grab a 5- to 15-pound dumbbell with both hands. Stand with feet hip-width distance apart and your arms straight out. Take a big step forward with your left foot and, engaging your abs twist your torso to the left as you bend your knees and lower your body until both legs form 90-degree angles. Twist back to center, push off with your left foot and stand back up. Do reps, and then repeat on other leg.

Crunch
Lay flat on your back. Place your hands behind your head, and your feet flat on the floor. Pull your shoulders away from the mat. Make sure you don’t pull your head forward with your arms but rather keep your gaze upward and use your hand for neck support only. Lower yourself back to the mat.

Calf Raise
Stand with feet hip-width distance apart. Lift up onto your toes, hold and release.

Tricep Dip
Find an elevated surface such as a step, a coffee table over a chair. Place your palms on the surface directly behind your body. Hold yourself up and gently lower yourself down using your arms. When your arms make a 90-degree angle behind you lift yourself back up to the starting position.

Glute Kickback
Standing facing the back of a chair, hold onto the top of the back rest. Lift your right leg straight behind you as far as you can, hold and return to the floor. Repeat on left side.

Plank
Set-up the top of a push-up position with your hands directly below your shoulder. A variation of this is to rest on your forearms with elbows directly beneath shoulders. Hold your body completely straight by engaging your abs. If you can’t hold the plank for the full duration, work up to it. Form is more important the length of time: don’t drop your hips or raise your butt.

Vertical Leg Crunches
Do crunches but instead of positioning your feet on the floor press them straight up as if trying to press them into the ceiling.

Side Plank
Lie on your side with your legs straight. Prop yourself up with your hand directly below your shoulder (or on your forearm with your elbow directly below your shoulder). Your body should form a diagonal line with your feet stacked on top of each other. If you can’t hold the plank for the full duration, work up to it. Form is more important the length of time: be sure your hips and knees stay of the floor.

Short Bridge
Lay on your back with arms by your side and feet flat against the floor, hip-width distance apart. Lift your hips from the mat until your body forms a straight line from shoulder to knee.

Bird Dogs
Postion yourself like a table top, knees flat on floor, hip-width distance apart directly below hips, hand shoulder-width apart, directly below shoulders. Lift your right arm and left left so they form a line parallel to the floor, hold then return to table-top. Switch sides.

Jack-Knife Sit-Up
Lay flat on the ground, arms extended over your head legs straight. Raise your arms and body off the ground at the same time as you lift your legs straight up so that you meet in a fold balanced on your lower back.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Hershey Bar Cake

Yesterday was my last day working for Boulder County Parks and Open Space. The seasonal position started in April and ended in October so I knew it wasn't forever going in but it is still sad to say goodbye. I loved everything about working there; my co-workers are all wonderful, caring people and my work was interesting and varied. I learned a lot about myself this summer and a lot about what kind of work I'd like to pursue in the future. They say when one door closes another one opens and behind the second door there's cake! (That transition was a little forced, sorry)


I made this cake for my mom's birthday because it's her favorite since she was a little girl. This is quite possibly the best chocolate cake recipe ever in the history of ever. Just sayin'.



Also, I lost a lot of pictures when I did an update to my phone so unfortunately the pictures of her birthday party were among those that have gone missing. :(

Ingredients:

  • 6 (1.55 ounce) Hershey's milk chocolate bars
  • 1-1/2 cups Hershey's chocolate syrup
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract 


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan. Set aside. 

In a microwave safe bowl combine the candy bars and the syrup. Microwave in increments until melted stirring occasionally. Set aside. 

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. 


Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 


Add melted chocolate, beating well. 


In another bowl, combine flour and baking soda. 



Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk to sugar mixture. Beat well after each addition. 


Add vanilla. 


Pour batter into prepared pan(s). 


Bake for 45 minutes.



Then cover with aluminum foil and cool in pan for 15 minutes. 


Turn over onto wire rack. 


Dust with powdered sugar, frost it, drizzle with icing or leave it. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.


"This cake has a hole in it."
"You fixed it!"