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?