Friday, May 28, 2010

Trying to smooth things over

Last night while watching TV, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom! Your skin is cracking!” To my horror, my legs looked like a dried-up riverbed! I realized that I hadn’t been taking care of my skin and with summer right around the corner – bathing suits, shorts and rompers (can you believe they are making a comeback?!) was creeping up on me.

I wanted to get back that soft, dewy skin that I had taken for granted. So, if you’re interested in getting rid of those rough heels and those flaky, dry lips, read on. I saw this beauty segment on the “Today Show” recently and thought I’d share some of their tips. You can get soft skin from head to toe, the natural way. And these solutions can easily be done at home even if you’re on a budget so you can have glowy (yes, I know that’s not a word but work with me) skin all over.

Softening Hands
This is an easy way to get your hands soft all over. Combine ½ cup [dry] oatmeal with ¼ cup water. Mix it up and massage the mixture into your hands, concentrating on your knuckles and your cuticles – where the dry skin tends to build up. Once you’ve exfoliated, wipe your hands with a towel. Granted, it doesn’t feel like it’s exfoliating, but it is. Keep in mind that you just need a light exfoliation on your hands. You don’t want to use anything too abrasive and oatmeal is known to be very soothing. Follow-up with a lotion/hand cream to seal in the moisture.

Softening Lips
Lips tend to get flaky and chapped and you want to make sure they’re very soft and kissable. Take a damp (soft) toothbrush and dip into a tiny bit of baking soda. Massage over lips. Rinse lips, pat dry and put a lip balm infused with lanolin, which is super hydrating. Now, they’re soft and kissable.

Softening Legs
Spend $85 for a 25-minute scrub?! Make your own sugar scrub for your legs for far less. Did you know that sugar is great for your legs because it melts into the skin very quickly? Mix ½ cup white sugar and ½ cup olive oil. Massage the mixture into your legs. Don’t forget your knees as dry skin tends to build up there as well. This mixture has the perfect texture to melt into the skin. Ideally, you would want to do this in the shower or after you’ve soaked in the bath. When you’re done, rinse off. This is super easy and makes your legs incredibly soft. Moreover, you don’t have to spend a bazillion dollars for a sugar scrub when you can just make this yourself at home. After showering, apply lotion.

Softening Feet
If you suffer from dry heels, this is a great exfoliating treatment for feet. Mix ½ cup sea salt with 2-3 tablespoons of almond oil. Rub into your feet concentrating on your heels and your calluses. The sea salt will slough off the dead skin cells and calluses making feet pedicure ready.

So, bring on summer. Goodbye alligator skin!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Farfalle with Italian Sausage, Peas and Mushrooms

It never fails. Every day after I pick up my daughters after work, they always ask, “What’s for dinner?” The reply is usually, “Well, what would you like?” It’s really a rhetorical question as I will probably cook whatever I want/is easiest. Nonetheless, I always ask hoping that the answer will be different than the standard “Chicken nuggets!”

Well, lo and behold, last night I got a different response. This time it was, “You know what I miss mommy? I really miss the pasta you made with the sausage and the peas. It was delicious!” Her response caught me completely off-guard. Why? Because she was smoothly asking for the pasta dish without explicitly telling me to cook it. I loved how she had cleverly disguised her response into a thinly-veiled compliment. I’m sure she had a glint/twinkle in her eye when I agreed to cook it. The recipe is below. Bon appétit!

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, removed from casing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 (10 ounce) package frozen peas, defrosted slightly
1 pound dried farfalle pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese

In a large pot bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil.

In a large sauté pan over high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add Italian sausage and sauté breaking any large lumps until golden brown. Remove meat from pan and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to pan and heat. Add chopped mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until all the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the peas and sauté for 4 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the pot of water has come to a boil, add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain in a colander. Return pasta to the pot and add the meat mixture. Combine thoroughly and gently cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Drizzle in remaining olive oil. If the mixture is dry, do not hesitate to use more olive oil if necessary. Check the seasoning. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Stir well and serve in large bowl.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Add some sizzle to your summer

With Memorial Day just around the corner, charcoal and gas grills will be sizzling with hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwursts and steaks. Great grill marks and on-point wellness (or rareness) are my husband's specialty. But when I grill, I'm the expert at grilling vegetables and fruit. That's my forte.

Break out of your mold and try cooking vegetables and fruits on your grill. Personally, I love to grill corn. I cook the corn with the husks off, rub it with some butter and give it a healthy dose of Tabasco. Wrap it in foil, throw it on the grill and "Voila!" - some of the best tasting corn you'll have west of the Mississippi. Sometimes I'll make variations. Try butter and chili powder. Or butter with some lime zest. Yum-o!

Of course, I like grilling the standard vegetable fare as well - asparagus, zucchini and tomatoes. I just toss them with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. It's simple but great, as the natural taste of the food comes through. You can be as creative as you want and make vegetable kebabs! Add onions, mushrooms, squash, eggplant! The possibilities are endless.

Some grilling aficionados say that almost any fruit can also be grilled, and they taste delicious. I can only vouch for two (for now) - pineapples and cantaloupes. When you grill fruit, it caramelizes the sugars and turns everything a little bit sweeter and gives fruits a smokier background. It just kind of adds a little depth that you don't get unless you grill it. Pineapple, freshly grilled, is awesome. As for grilled cantaloupe? Drizzle it with honey and you've got the easiest, tastiest dessert - hands down.

So, feel free to let your imagination run wild. Have fun and experiment. Happy grillin'!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Carried Away

With "Sex and the City 2" opening on Thursday, I wanted to focus on women and friendship. I love how the show and movie's touchstone is the friendship between these women. The new trailer for "Sex and the City 2" has Samantha saying: "We made a deal ages ago — men, babies, it doesn't matter, we're soul mates."

Girlfriends have always been a part of TV — Ethel and Lucy, Rhoda and Mary Tyler Moore, Monica and Rachel — but it took "Sex and the City" to elevate those friendships to the next level making them seemingly impenetrable to real-life issues including work, family, time, money or partners.

Becoming increasingly busy with organizing kids, careers, husbands, and the household, women have forgotten to nurture and organize the one thing that has remained constant in their lives — friends. I don't feel too bad about the complicated ways in which I am a daughter, a wife, a sister or mother. But as a friend? Well, that's an entirely dfferent matter...

Personally, my female friendships, many of which are long-standing and intimate, don't come close to the soul union shared by the SATC ladies. The truth is, I have some good old friends, and some good new ones too. But they certainly don't fit together like a dinette set: They are separated by interests, personalities and geography. I have never figured out a way to turn them all into an inspired motley crew à la "Sex and the City." If anything, this has only gotten harder as I live longer, have more experiences and meet more people. The truth is, despite the warnings of much of the chick lit and chick flicks, finding love and marriage turned out to be not so hard. Instead, it was the perfect girlfriend, or girlfriends, that has been so elusive.

As I have gotten older and wiser, I am realizing how invaluable my female friendships are. According to Dianne Ruth, PhD, female friendships can be extremely powerful.
“Friends eliminate isolation and loneliness. Having a friend is what keeps us sane, makes us laugh and allows us to be who we need to be. We empower each other and appreciate each other when no one else will. Sharing ourselves with another woman contributes to our emotional well being.”
If we've learned anything from "SATC," it's that hope is always around the corner and that a glass of wine (or new shoes) can ease almost any crisis. So, go out and celebrate your awesome connection with your female friends.

A Lost Cause

The journey has ended. Last night the long-awaited and long-planned last episode of ABC's "Lost," the tumultuous trip that began with television's most closely examined plane crash, reached its destination. Fates were decided, questions were answered and one of TV's most confusing series concluded.

However, I think I was just one out of the 13.5 million viewers who was not interested in seeing the "Lost" finale. But what I was interested in was hearing that ABC had packed roughly 107 spots - or more than 45 minutes of commercials and promotional time - into the 2-1/2 hour series finale. What?! That's absolutely mind-boggling!

Normally, a network typically runs anywhere from 18-21 spots - or roughly 9 to 10.5 minutes of commercial time - per hour to accommodate 44 minutes of content. Apparently, within the first hour of last night's finale, it appeared that ABC squeezed in roughly 37 ads, along with seven promos for ABC and local programming. And for an ad lover like me, I loved it. Everything from "True Blood" to Home Depot to Target were being promoted. But to the average consumer? That's advertising overload. Apparently, just when the finale would air a major plot point, a break would occur featuring anywhere from five to 11 ads.
“I expected there would be a significant amount of commercials in Lost,” concedes Bill Carroll of Katz TV Group, a media buying firm. ”It didn’t seem like any more than you are seeing in primetime these days. Does there appear to be more commercials on TV? Yeah. Obviously, ABC was able to put in more in the two-and-a-half-hour broadcast.”

Clearly, this showed that advertisers are willing to pay a premium in programs with a rabid fan base. And on that note, I cannot wait for the series finale of "24" tonight. Hopefully, it won't have nearly as many commercials as "Lost." If it does, I just might lose it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Here's the Skinny

I don't need scientists to tell me that my metabolism slows with age. Heck, I'm living proof that my body is definitely not the same as it was almost 20 years ago. Did you know that the average woman gains 1-1/2 pounds a year during her adult life?! That's enough to pack on 40-plus pounds by her 50s, if she doesn't combat the roller coaster of hormones, muscle loss and stress that conspires to slow her fat-burning engine! But midlife weight gain isn't inevitable. And if 40 is the new 20, well come on down midlife - minus the crisis, of course. Hopefully, by finding the balance between exercise and adopting some new eating strategies, we can avoid the pitfalls of packing on the pounds.

I'll be the first to admit that I absolutely HATE dieting. Not only does it make me hungry, it makes me a complete and utter lunatic (aka a raving bitch to my husband). I've tried everything from the Special K Diet to the South Beach Diet to cutting out carbs entirely. Yet, every time I FAIL. Depriving myself of food only makes me want it more. So, I've devised some healthy eating habits that will hopefully stave off the midlife weight gain.

Obviously, you need to cut calories to lose weight. But it's important not to overdo it. Going too low delivers a double whammy to your metabolism. When you eat less than you need for basic biological function (about 1,200 calories for most women), your body throws the brakes on your metabolism. Personally, I never really bought into the idea of eating a meal every 3 to 4 hours, but by doing so I've found that I stay satisfied and keep from overeating later in the day.

Try drinking a cup of green tea every day. Did you know that a cup of brewed tea can raise your metabolism by 12%? That is, according to one Japanese study. Researchers believe the antioxidants in tea provide the boost in helping with weight loss. Obviously, it's not a magic weight-loss potion, but just to be on the safe side I drink three cups a day. Tee hee.

I love white pasta and bread. To me, it just tastes better than the whole grain variety. But if I want to burn fat, research has shown that I better suck it up and boost my fiber intake and switch to whole wheat bread and pasta. And I should try to eat more fruits and vegetables. Hopefully, that shouldn't be too hard to do as salads and fruit smoothies will probably be my main go-to-meals this summer.

Drink lots of water. You hear it all the time. Drinking water is important. Ever since I stopped drinking soda, I've noticed a change in my body. Let's face it - I'm not drinking my calories anymore. It used to be so easy to drink 2-3 cans of Coke everyday. But now, when I choose to have a Coke, it's a treat. And a treat is something you don't indulge in everyday.

As for drinking until the sun rises? Ha! I'll save that for the college co-eds. I'm older (ugh!), maturer and wiser now. Quite frankly, I am a complete lightweight when I indulge in those rare happy hours with friends. One drink and I'm done. Apparently, that works in my favor because when you have a drink, you burn less fat. Who knew?

I'm no diet expert or exercise guru. I just know what works for me. Heck, I don't even own a scale. I know when I've gained weight by my clothes. Too tight? Time to do smaller portions again. I am far from perfect but as long as I try to eat things in moderation and keep active, I think I'll be able to avoid the midlife weight gain. Whew!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Waiting Sucks

I am all about vampires nowadays. I've read the entire Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Thursday nights are reserved for The Vampire Diaries. And, of course, Sundays is all about True Blood. HBO's True Blood enters it's third season on June 13 and the undead are as saucy as ever. It continues the adventures of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse who pursues an affair with her vampire lover Bill Compton.

I first got into True Blood when my husband's friend loaned us his DVD set of Season One and I have been hooked ever since. Although, I still have two episodes left to finish up Season Two, I simply cannot wait for Season Three to begin. And my husband is hooked too!

But what is so good about it? USA Today sums it up perfectly,
"Sexy, witty and unabashedly peculiar, True Blood is a blood-drenched Southern Gothic romantic parable set in a world where vampires are out and about and campaigning for equal rights. Part mystery, part fantasy, part comedy, and all wildly imaginative exaggeration, [True] Blood proves that there's still vibrant life — or death — left in the 'star-crossed cute lovers' paradigm. You just have to know where to stake your romantic claim."
True Blood sucks you in with its depth of characters and great storytelling. How can you not get sucked in by Lafayette's antics, Tara's spunkiness, Eric's brooding manner or Bill's undying love for Sookie? It's a combination you should bewere of. True Blood is a series you can definitely sink your teeth into.

On a Roll

I am a foodie. When I'm not cooking, I love to try new things. New places, new restaurants, new food. I am not the most adventurous eater but I will try reinvented favorites. Which brings me to the lunch truck. Not particularly a place you'd go for lunch, right? I mean, lunch trucks are known to have sub-par food and are usually parked near construction sites.

Last year several chefs reinvented the idea of a lunch truck and the concept has invaded major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, New York and Portland. Everything from Korean BBQ tacos to grilled cheese to cupcakes can be found on food trucks nowadays. And now the mobile dining movement has arrived in Vegas. Slidin' Thru, the brainchild of Ric, serves delicious gourmet sliders made from the freshest ingredients. But seriously, food trucks and gourmet food?! It's quite a contradiction. A crazy contradiction that is an awesome combination!

I first discovered Slidin' Thru when they made a stop at our office. What a gem! Angus sliders with names such as "Barbie," "Pep Pep" and "Captain's Order" will tempt your taste buds. And for those not in the mood for a burger, they also serve a "Pulled Porkie" and "Eggplant Caprese (Veggie)." On a recent visit, they added regular and sweet potato french fries to their menu. Absolutely mouthwatering! I can't say enough good things about this truck.

However, you should keep in mind:
1. It is cash only so leave your debit/credit card at home. Go to the bank before heading to the truck's location.
2. Get there early because your food is made to order. Yes, there will undoubtedly be a wait (sometimes 10-15 people long) for your food because the person you hand your money to is also the one making your food (okay, Ric does have 1-2 other people helping him), but this isn't McDonald's people! Ric is serving up gourmet burgers. It takes time. It takes love. Trust me, when your order is ready, you will savor every bite. Mmm... mmm... good.

Check out their weekly schedule at or follow them on Twitter @SliderTruck.

Life's a Moving Target

For as long as I can remember, I have always watched commercials more than the actual programs. That probably explains why I have my degree in advertising and have worked in the industry for the last 13 years.

I love how words can move people to do something - take action, cry, smile, etc. Words alone can be so powerful. I mean just think - Hallmark wouldn't be so popular as it is if people could express their sentiment themselves. Hallmark is a thriving business because they can put into words what most people can't. And that's exactly what a good commercial can do. It can make you buy things you don't necessarily need. It can make you laugh. It can make you cry. Advertising is both loved and loathed for that very reason. But if you can remember a commercial long after it's aired, then the agency has accomplished their goal. You are talking about their company/product. Whether it's good or bad, you are talking about it. And you are talking about it way beyond the minimum 60 seconds that they were allotted. Mission accomplished. That, my friends, is the power of advertising.

One of the best commercials on TV right now, I believe, is Target's "Life's A Moving Target." Created in partnership with Wieden+Kennedy, this new campaign demonstrates how the brand that made design more everyday is making everyday life more surprising and more joyful.

It starts off simply with the concept of a dress and ends with a dress. Obviously, their intent is to tug at the heartstrings. Although, the target audience is primarily female, my husband liked the commercial too. He liked that it wasn't a blatant "in-your-face" ad. And he's right. Target wasn't trying to shove the idea that I needed to shop there down my throat. Rather, they used subtlety and well-produced vignettes to make me feel good if I shopped there. This commercial exemplifies the love people have for Target and celebrates the role the store plays in their everyday lives as an oasis of quality and value.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Easy Spanish Rice and Pork Chile Verde

Mexican food is one of the most popular types of cuisine in America. And if your idea of good Mexican food is Del Taco or Taco Bell, I have a recipe that will make you think otherwise. I made this on Cinco de Mayo, never thinking that it would turn out good. But not only was this meal easy, it turned out amazing.

Easy Spanish Rice
2 T oil
1-1/2 C uncooked rice
2 C chicken broth
1 C chuncky salsa

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Mix rice into skillet, stirring often. When rice begins to brown, stir in chicken broth and salsa. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes, until liquid has been absorbed.
As for the main entree, I put together the easiest pork Chile Verde. You just put it the slow cooker before you leave for work, set the timer and by the time you get home, your kitchen will smell like you entered Old Town San Diego. Really.
Easy Pork Chile Verde

1-2 lbs pork stew meat
1 jar green salsa
2 bay leaf
1 T ground cumin
4 C chicken broth

Put all ingredients in slow cooker. Set timer for 8-10 hours. *NOTE: This dish can be a little spicy for those who don't like spicy foods.

I will never profess to be the next Julia Child but if I can put together a decent meal in about 30 minutes or less, I feel like the next Food Network Star. And now you can too. Buen provecho!

Seasoned Salmon and Orzo with Sweet Peas

I'm no Giada de Laurentis, Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart. But the one thing I love to do is cook; that is, when I have the time. With two young children and a full-time job, there is very little time to do the things I love - much less cook. You hear the cliche, "Food is love." Indeed, it is true. Once I get started I find that cooking relaxes, and at the same time, inspires me.

There have been many occasions when the pantry is bare, the refrigerator isn't stocked and yet dinner has to be on the table in 30 minutes. What to do? What to do?

Typically my menu consists of two choices: take it or leave it. I am not the kind of mom who cooks two different meals to appease a picky eater. Nor will I drive all over town just because my child wants McDonald's french fries with Burger King's Chicken Tenders. My motto: "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."

Well, after surveying the kitchen last night I made a simple salmon dish. And might I add, it turned out surprisingly really good. I settled on the protein (fish) but couldn't decide on pairing it with pasta or rice. Well, how about orzo? Pasta shaped like rice. Genius! And, of course, my dish had to have some kind of vegetable with it. I mean, what kind of mom would I be if I only served my kids nothing but carbs for dinner? I'd probably be the word's greatest mother in their eyes, but some people might not see it that way. Opening the freezer I saw frozen peas. Hmm... Even if the kids only ate, let's say, two or three peas, that'd meet their nutritional requirement, right? I kid. I kid.
After 30 minutes, we sat down for an enjoyable dinner. And, believe it or not, the kids even asked for seconds.

Seasoned Salmon and Orzo with Sweet Peas
2 6-oz. salmon portions
2 tsp. Chef Paul Prudhomme Salmon Seasoning
Olive Oil
1/2 box of orzo
1 cup frozen sweet peas
Salt and pepper to taste

Brush both sides of the salmon with melted butter or olive oil. Sprinkle Chef Paul Prudhomme Salmon Seasoning on both sides of the fish making sure to press the seasoning gently into the fish. Place the salmon into a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 13-15 minutes. Do not overcook the fish.
While the salmon is baking, cook orzo per the directions on the box. During the last two minutes of cooking time, drop one cup of frozen sweet peas into the pot (with the pasta). *NOTE: You only want to heat the peas through. Overcooking them will make them lose their bright green color.

Drain pasta and peas. Place in bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place pasta on plate and add salmon. Voila! Seasoned salmon with orzo and sweet peas. Enjoy!