Thursday, June 30, 2005

Choosing the Right Bed for a Room

For any bedroom, the bed is the focal point of the room. It is also the place where you spend approximately one third of your life. Accordingly, it is important that you choose a bed that will not only be comfortable, but one that provides a great jumping off point for furnishing and decorating the rest of the room. Choose your bed carefully, and the rest of the room will fall into place.

Here are a few of the most popular options available to those in search of the perfect bed:

Sleigh Bed

The sleigh bed is characterized by graceful, swooping curves at the headboard and footboard, similar in appearance to a sleigh. This bed is a beautiful one often favored by those who love rich woods and elegance. This is a large bed that commands a lot of attention in a room. If one of the sleepers in this bed is tall, the footboard may preclude comfortable sleep in a smaller bed. So, be sure to keep this in consideration when selecting this bed. Accompanying furniture and decor should speak to elegant simplicity.

Platform Bed

The platform bed is a very simple bed and is great for rooms that seek a more casual feel or perhaps an oriental flair. The bed frame consists of a simple wooden platform, on top of which the box spring and mattress are placed. There is no headboard and no footboard. There are no side rails. The beauty of this bed lies in its simplicity. Like tofu or eggplant, the simplicity of this bed allows it to take on the flavors and characteristics of the surrounding decor. A platform bed sets the tone for a more simply decorated room. Oriental prints and lanterns work well with this bed, as do art prints and unique pottery.

Four Poster Bed

The four poster bed is old-fashioned elegance at its best. As the name implies, the bed frame has tall posts rising up from each of the four corners of the bed. The posts may be simple or ornately carved. Like the sleigh bed, this bed commands attention and dominates a room. Allow it to be the centerpiece it deserves to be by decorating the rest of the room simply and tastefully. If you are looking for a romantic room, with floral patterns and lace, this bed sets the tone perfectly.

Canopy Bed

Nothing quite beats the canopy bed for romance and mystery. The canopy bed is similar to a four poster bed, but has a canopy frame across the top so that a fabric covering can be draped across the top. Only the canopy itself may be covered in a fabric that ruffles or drapes around the edges. Or, a fabric drape can flow down all sides of the bed, veiling it in privacy. To achieve a similar result less expensively or in a more casual room, mosquito net bed canopies are available. A sheer mosquito net is shirred onto a small frame that is suspended from the roof and then draped down over the bed. This option works particularly well with a platform bed, above.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

Television's Bubble Boys

Over the years, television has shown its fascination with bubble boys--boys who, for some health reason or another, have to live their lives in a bubble environment that protects them from outside germs. For some reason, viewers seem fascinated with this subject, perhaps because it represents the most severe form of life long deprivation of freedom one can imagine. Hollywood has told the story many times over the years. Sometimes touching and serious, sometimes humorous, televisions' bubble boys have given several generations of television viewers a lot of food for thought.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)

Television's first bubble boy burst onto the scene in 1976 in a made for television movie called "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Seventies heart throb John Travolta starred as Todd, a teenage boy who has spent his entire life living inside a germ free environment. He is unable to leave his plastic bubble environment because of his body's failure to develop immunities. Even the simplest cold could kill him. Todd falls in love with the girl next door, played by Glynnis O'Connor. Todd's parents are played by Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed and John Travolta's then real life love, Diana Hyland. This is the warm and touching story of a young man trying to come to terms with the normal events of teen life, compounded a hundred fold by his unusual living situation. Repeatedly reassured that the world is searching for a cure or that his body may someday develop immunities on its own, Todd longs for the day when he can walk out of his plastic bubble. Will he ever be able to? Much of this story's fascination lies in the viewer's attempt to decide what he or she would do under the same circumstances. The story culminates with a beautiful song written by and sung one of the major songwriters of the day, Paul Williams. John Travolta himself recorded the song, called "What Would They Say?" on his solo album effort.

Seinfeld's Bubble Boy (1992)

In 1992, the concept of the bubble boy resurfaced on an episode of Seinfeld. In the classic episode, written by Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Jerry and the gang are on a road trip. Jerry has agreed to stop along the way to visit a sick fan, a young boy who has not developed immunities to disease and who has lived his young life trapped in a plastic bubble environment in order to avoid germs. During the visit, George agrees to play a game of Trivial Pursuit with the Bubble Boy and gets into an argument with him, insisting that the answer on the card is correct while the Bubble Boy insists it is a misprint. The hilarity of this episode lies in George's being so very George--he is concerned only with proving himself right and completely disregards the Bubble Boy's situation.

Bubble Boy (2001)

Perhaps the funniest depiction of the bubble boy is 2001's "Bubble Boy," a movie that appeared in theaters but is now available on DVD for television viewing. This film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jimmy, a young California man who is forced to live in a plastic bubble environment due to his body's inability to develop immunities from germs. Like Todd in the "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," Jimmy falls in love with the girl next door, Chloe, played by Marley Shelton. When Jimmy finds out that Chloe is getting married to another man on the east coast, he devises a mobile bubble so that he can travel across country to stop the wedding. Hilarity ensues. None of these portrayals attempt to make fun of the situation, and although it may seem differently, neither does this film. Jimmy's entrapment in the bubble in this film seems to be a metaphor for entrapment in an environment stifled by any number of things, including overly protective parents. Swoosie Kurtz is outstanding in her role as Jimmy's mother.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

Regional Food Gift Baskets

Gift baskets are a very popular gift for any occasion. You can turn the usual gift basket up a notch by creating a food gift basket that shows off your region's local specialties. For example, last year, rather than give individual gifts, I created family Christmas gift baskets featuring foods from San Luis Obispo County, California. The baskets contained lots of sample products and appeared to be fancy (and expensive) gourmet gift baskets. However, by planning wisely, I was able to keep costs down and create gift baskets that really pleased the recipients.

To make your own regional food gift basket, here are some tips to follow:

1. Since some food items tend to take up a great deal of space, find large wicker baskets that will be roomy enough to hold your goodies. You can find inexpensive and often unique baskets to hold your items at local thrift shops or discount stores.

2. Choose a selection of items that will show off the variety of products in your area. Here are some ideas based on what I included in my food gift baskets. While you may not have these types of companies in your area, these ideas and suggestions may inspire you to think of specialties from your own hometown.

Wine or Beer

A bottle of wine or beer makes a great centerpiece for your gift basket. San Luis Obispo County happens to be home to a large number of wineries, as well as a couple of great microbreweries, such as SLO Brewing Company. I chose what to include in my regional food gift baskets based on the likes of the recipient. Some received a bottle of wine from a great local winery, while others received a couple of assorted microbrews. Is there a local winery or brewery in your area?

Coffee or Tea

San Luis Obispo is also home to a great coffee company, SLO Roasted Coffee. They sell miniature sample cans of their entire variety of whole bean and ground coffees at local grocery stores. These cute little cans made a great addition to the gift baskets. Is there a favorite coffee or tea company in your town? If so, perhaps you can include tiny sample cans or sample bags of specially roasted coffees or teas.


San Luis Obispo County is also home to a great spice company called The Spice Hunter which offers a variety of spices and spice mixes with an eye toward providing the perfect balance between "gourmet and healthy." As a result, they have some very interesting and unusual spice blends, such as ready to go Thai, Chinese, Indian and Jamaican blends. Do you have any gourmet or specialty foods or spices in your area?

Sauces and Condiments

A favorite restaurant in the San Luis Obispo area also bottles its famous barbecue sauce and sells its famous trail beans by the can. Sauces and condiments make great gift basket items that the recipient can use as they please with a variety of meals. Does a local restaurant in your area offer similar items for sale to the public?

3. Finally, now that you've gathered your great local food items, jumble them in the basket in a manner appealing to the eye and wrap the basket in clear or transparent colored plastic, tied at the top with a ribbon. You now have a great gourmet food basket featuring regional specialties from your area. Your friends and family will love the opportunity to sample these special treats.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

My Favorite Frozen Pizzas

Pizza is one of my favorite foods, and I like it so much that I eat at least one pizza per week. Because I eat so much pizza, I have had a chance to try many different varieties over the years. While these days I mainly prefer to have my pizzas delivered to my home or to make my own pies from scratch, there are still times when I will pop a frozen pizza into the oven. Frozen pizzas can actually be quite good, but of course the taste and quality depends on the specific brands you choose. If you always just go for the cheapest pizza in your grocer's freezer section, then you don't know what you're missing. Here are my favorite frozen pizzas, in no particular order.

Tombstone Stuffed Crust Pizza
When these pizzas first came out years ago, I knew right away that I would like it. My favorite parts of the pizza are the crust and the cheese, so when Tombstone went ahead and put cheese into the crust, I couldn't lose. I was right, too. Having cheese in the crust definitely improves the flavor. This might not be for everyone, though, since a lot of extra fat comes with all that extra cheese. But I recommend that you try it at least once!

Jack's Naturally Rising Pizza
You don't know jack about pizza until you've had one from Jack's. I prefer the naturally rising pizza because I like a thicker crust. Jack's uses three different types of cheeses on their pizzas, which makes for a great basic pizza taste. Kids and picky eaters will love this pizza because it's not loaded with "yucky" toppings.

Home Run Inn Pizza
I think Home Run Inn is a local Chicago brand, so I'm not sure about the availability in other parts of the country. Home Run Inn makes frozen deep dish pizzas that they sell under the Perrino's label. Deep dish pizza is a Chicago tradition, and the frozen varieties don't get any better than this. My only complaint about these pizzas is that they only come with cheese, sausage, or pepperoni toppings.

DiGiorno Spicy Chicken Supreme
DiGiorno pizzas are the best-selling frozen pizzas on the market, and for good reason. While most other frozen pizzas come with pretty bland toppings, DiGiorno has choices like this one, the Spicy Chicken Supreme. It has a naturally rising crust, and is topped with spicy chicken, peppers (both red and green), and onions. If you like more on your pizza than just cheese or pepperoni, then you must try this one!

Stouffer's French Bread Pizzas
While not pizzas per se, these are some of the tastiest pizza-type products that I have ever had. These are perfect for lunch or for a quick snack. For sheer variety, you can't beat the choices that Stouffer's offers. You can get such yummy options as Five Cheese, Grilled Vegetable, Three Meat, and Deluxe. I practically lived on these a few years ago. They are that good!

Summertime Desserts

Summer is my favorite time of year for oh so many reasons, not the least of which is the abundance of yummy summertime desserts. Summer desserts are cooler, creamier, lighter and fruitier. Summer desserts are also more colorful, vibrant and pleasing to the eye. By taking advantage of the availability of summer produce, you can create desserts that are healthier and still as sinfully delicious as their more caloric counterparts. If you want to satisfy your family's appetite or wow a party crowd with a delicious summertime dessert, here are a few of my favorite summer desserts that are sure to please.

Berry Trifle

This is my all-time favorite summer dessert because it has all of the very best elements of summer, including fruit and . It is absolutely delicious, yet it is so simple and easy to make. You will want to make this dessert in a trifle dish or any fancy glass bowl. Try to find one that is about the same width at the base as it is at the top for even layering. Form a base of lady fingers at the bottom of the dish. Lady fingers work best because of their consistency, but you can also use pound cake, sponge cake or angel food cake slices. Whatever cake you decide to use, spread raspberry jam on top of the cake. Then layer a mixture of sliced fresh fruit. I like to use sliced peaches, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries for this mixture--this combination has great color and texture. Next, add a layer of vanilla pudding. Repeat the layers one or more times: Cake, jam, fruit and pudding. Finally, top with whipped cream and a garnish of sliced strawberries and blueberries. Refrigerate to chill, but serve within a couple of hours or the cake may begin to get soggy.

Grandma's Jello Polka Dot Cake

I've seen lots of recipes for polka dot cake out there, but none of them are quite like my grandma's Jell-o Polka Dot Cake. To make this, you first need to make a variety of colors of Jell-o gelatin, including green, purple and especially lots of red. Prepare a graham cracker crust in the bottom of a rectangular glass cake baking dish. Next mix most of the red Jell-o with whipped cream until it creates a fluffy, hot pink mixture. Fold in tiny cut up squares of the different colors of Jell-o you have made, the more the merrier. Pour the Jell-o mixture into the rectangular baking dish and then chill. When you are ready to serve, you will have a cool and creamy summer treat that is delicious.

Fourth of July Cake

For a really simple dessert with added summer flair, dress up this boring old dessert for Independence Day. First, bake a rectangular sheet cake, any flavor you choose. Next, frost a the with vanilla frosting. For the final step, decorate the sheet cake by arranging fruit in an American flag pattern. Place blueberries at intervals in a square in the upper left hand corner of the cake to simulate the blue and white starred area of the flag. Then create lines of raspberries or sliced strawberries to simulate the flag's red stripes. Voila! You have turned a regular cake into something summery and special.

Simple Seafood Hors d'oeuvres

If you are looking for a way to liven up a party menu, serving seafood hors d'oeuvres may be the way to go. Recipes made with seafood seem somehow more exotic, more elegant and more "gourmet." When you serve seafood recipes at your party, guests feel that you went to a lot of extra expense and work on their behalves, and they appreciate it. The truth is, though, that there are many simple seafood recipes that signal elegance and that extra little something without breaking your budget or consuming too much of your party preparation time. Here are a few simple, delicious and flexible seafood hors d'oeuvres that will dazzle and impress your guests.

Shrimp Canapes

To make this simple recipe, simply mix softened cream cheese with whatever flavorings you like. For example, you can mix in fresh lemon juice and/or lemon pepper, garlic and/or dill dip mix, shredded cheeses, tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, paprika or other seasonings such as thyme. As far as flavorings, get creative and experiment with those flavors your family or guests will like. Once you have developed a cream cheese mixture you enjoy, fold in cooked baby or medium shrimp. You can serve the mixture atop fancy crackers sprinkled with rosemary or dill weed. My favorite way to serve this dish however, is to spread the mixture on a flour tortilla, then roll it up lengthwise and slice it into rounds. I then sprinkle the rounds with paprika, dill weed or some other garnish, depending on the ingredients I have used in the cream cheese mixture.

Crab Quesadillas

This recipe is so easy, yet so delicious, that I have even made it for lunch when there was not a party guest in sight! Simply combine fresh cooked crab meat (or imitation crab meat) with a variety of shredded cheeses and season to taste with lemon, garlic, pepper and/or onion. Then, you are going to cook the crab quesadillas much as you would a simple grilled cheese sandwich. Butter a tortilla and place it butter side down in a skillet over medium to medium high heat. Then, cover the tortilla with the cheese and crab mixture. Place another buttered tortilla on top of the mixture, butter side up. Cook the quesadilla for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove the quesadilla to a plate and slice as you would a pizza. Have condiments such as lemon wedges, lime wedges and seafood cocktail sauce available for guests. You may substitute other seafood for the crab meat.

Other Seafood Favorites

There are a number of other favorite seafood recipes that make great hors d'oeuvres as well. Serve chilled shrimp with a variety of seafood cocktail sauces and garnishes, such as lemon and lime wedges. Serve marinated shrimp--this shrimp dish requires only that the shrimp be marinated in one or more of a variety of simple sauces available at your grocery store, such as oriental marinades or spicy hot marinades. Serve popcorn shrimp for a more casual event, or for a more formal event, try a hot crab newburg dip in a sourdough bread bowl with toasted chunks of bread and crackers for dipping. Another idea is to liven up your regular stuffed mushroom recipe by adding crab or shrimp to the stuffing.

Embarrassing '80s Styles

As anyone who grew up during the '80s would probably agree, there are a lot of fashion fads that I wish I had never taken part of. When I look at some of my old pictures, I can't believe what I was wearing, or worse, what my hair looked like in those days (how many cans of hair spray did I go through in a month?). Some of the styles I sported were either ugly, ridiculous, or just downright embarrassing. Here are some of my worst transgressions.

Do you remember the fad of wearing boxer shorts as regular shorts? This seemed to be more popular among junior high school girls than anyone else, although I distinctly remember doing the same thing a couple times during my first two years of high school as well. This might sound like a pretty strange thing to do for someone who didn't live through that era, but even major retail outlets like the Gap sold boxer shorts that were specifically intended as outerwear. Most of the shorts had paisley patterns because that was "in" at the time. Being the major loser that I was, however, instead of buying all my boxers from the Gap, I actually just went to the men's department at K-Mart and bought regular boxers from there. This was of course a mistake because these real boxers were made of material that was a lot thinner than the ones sold by the Gap. I don't even want to think about what might have been visible when I wore those shorts!

Another thing that bothers me when I look at my old pictures is that whenever I am wearing a shirt with a collar, the collar is up. I don't remember how that trend started, but it looks pretty dumb when I see it now. The collar up look was made all the worse when coupled with another '80s fashion faux pas, the rolled pants. Remember when everyone rolled up their pants cuffs? At my school, there was a certain artistry involved in rolling your pants. You never just rolled them up regularly. Instead, there had to be certain folds in the right places. You didn't want a loose roll, or one that was too tight. Wow, I can't believe all the mornings spent in the girls' restroom with my friends trying to get our pants cuffs looking just right.

Wearing shoes without socks is one more bad look that I remember from the '80s. This trend was started by the Miami Vice guys. I'm not talking about sandals or flip flops here. I'm talking about not wearing socks with regular shoes, such as loafers (don't forget to add the shiny penny) and even sneakers (like my Keds). That sounds pretty gross now, doesn't it?

It's easy to look back now and say "What was I thinking?" But it's pretty hard to determine which trends will be laughed at in the future. Looking around at what's popular now, can you make a guess as to which styles we will be shaking our heads at 10 years from now? Neither can I!

Budget Art for Your Walls

by Christina VanGinkel

If you are looking for an easy and inexpensive way to create a one of a kind piece of wall decor, I have the perfect idea. Create a family tree to decorate an entryway, dining room, or living room wall. It can be created as simply or as elaborately as you desire, and no matter how you go about it, as long as you put a moderate amount of effort into it, it is sure to be a conversation piece for years to come. If a family tree were not something you would choose to make, many other projects could also be transformed into artwork suitable for hanging.

I created our family tree quite simply. Starting by making a list of the family members I was going to include, I graphed out the relationships beginning with both my husbands and my own great-grandparents, all the way down to our grandson. I laid this information out on our computer in a simple graph I created in Microsoft works. I put a watermark of a tree behind the graph and printed it on a lovely antiqued cardstock paper.

Once printed, I used a scrap booking product that ages paper and went around the edges to give it a bit more of an aged look than the paper already did on its own. I also accented the whole thing with various scrap booking paraphernalia, such as some bits of old lace and some very antique looking buttons. Once I was satisfied with its appearance, I framed it in an oversized frame that I had purchased at a rummage sale, again keeping with the antiqued look of the piece. Because it was oversized, I had a mat cut at a local frame shop to fit. I brought them the dimensions I needed, and a piece of the paper I printed on, already antiqued, to get a suitable match. Once it was complete, it looked as if it was done professionally, and other than a bit of time, the cost of the mat cutting, and the five dollars I paid for the frame, the project hardly cost me anything, yet it looks wonderful!

Wall art is such a personal way to decorate a home, that hanging something such as this is both suitable, and a great way to share a bit of your family with guests. With all the scrap booking products on the market, and home printers so widely available, it is possible to create just about anything you would like. A friend of mine took pictures of her kids, printed them in black and white, aged them the same way I did the family tree graph, and lined them up down her staircase. They look more like art than they do family photos.

The best way to see if one of these projects or something of your own creation, will work in your home, is to try any ideas you might have. Costs are minimal when you print on your own, shop for used frames wherever you have an opportunity to do so, and drag out your scrap booking supplies for extra inspiration. You will be pleasantly surprised when the next guests to stop by ask you where you purchased your art.


I was recently doing some research on some nostalgia websites and I came across a nifty online store that specializes in retro candy. On this site you can buy your favorite candies from the past-- stuff like root beer barrels and BB bats and atomic fireballs. Stuff you may not have eaten since 1974. But oh the memories!

My best friend used to like Bit O' Honey's and Mary Jane's, but I was never one for the chewy stuff. Even with another old time favorite, caramel creams, I would suck the cream out of the middle and toss the chewy part. Tootsie Rolls were never my thing either-- once again, too chewy, although I have been known to indulge in an orange Tootsie Pop from time to time (there's something about the orange/chocolate combo that I do like enough to overlook the chewiness factor). And remember Good 'n' Plenty's? Yeah, me too, but they were never my thing either-- I hated all things licorice. No, I preferred either chocolate candy or wintergreen tinged treats like candy cigarettes or wint-o-green flavor Life Savers.

I remember the first time I tasted a Twix bar. I really couldn't believe it. Whoever invented those things should get some sort of a medal. I usually prefer plain chocolate without all the nuts and crispy things added, but Twix was a whole new ballgame. It had the crunch of a cookie, the delectable addition of caramel and it was covered in chocolate. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Another great candy bar is the Symphony Bar. The chocolate in it is really good and I don't mind the toffee bits added in. Which bring me to another favorite chocolate bar-- the Heath Bar. I honestly can't believe how much I love the, because the toffee is pretty hard to bite into. But I first tasted Heath Bars in a flavored ice cream called Heath Bar Crunch (I think it's by Ben and Jerry's). Once I tried the bits of Heath Bar in it, I was hooked.

Reese's Peanut butter cups are another favorite. I always buy a bag of them at Halloween time and save them to give out last after all of the Dum Dum lollipops and Starbursts are gone.
That way, if there's any candy left at the end of the night it will be something I like. Luckily my husband isn't a peanut butter fan so I really do get all the leftovers to myself.

And speaking of holiday candy, how about Easter? In my opinion, Easter candy leaves a lot to be desired. What's with those marshmallow chicks? Are they even edible? Some of the inexpensive brands of chocolate eggs don't even taste like chocolate. And jelly beans? Most children I know don't even like them (although I like the spicy kind and some of the really fruity ones). You would think that with a holiday where the main attraction (for kids, anyway) is candy that there would be a better selection. But no-- Halloween candy blows Easter candy away.

When I'm looking for some good grocery store chocolate bars, I buy Dove bars. Or I sometimes go for the traditional plain Hershey bar (always a classic). But for now, I'm off to order some Pop Rocks, just for old times sake.

Junking for Home Decor Items

by Christina VanGinkel

Junking for items to use in your home decor plan is a fantastic way to spend time in the summer. With the availability of auctions, rummage, and yard sales, you never know what it is you will find. Not to be confused with those outlets in the traditional sense, but in the term being used, junking refers to the act of looking beyond an items intended purpose, and putting it to use in a brand new way.

Think of using an old bottle as a vase, and you will understand the term, though this would be an example of it in its most basic sense. Junking is at its best when you take an object and actually put it to a useful end, when it otherwise would be beyond its normal intended use.

Years ago, my husband, and I delivered a weekly penny saver paper to the surrounding community. Through the years, we ended up collecting an assortment of mail tubes. Without doors, they were similar in size to a mailbox, but made of black plastic. We took an even dozen of them and screwed them together four high, by three wide, and made them into the perfect gardening shed cubbyholes, definitely not their intended purpose, but a great way to use them, nonetheless!

The goal of junking is to be as creative with your ideas as well as you can, and as quick as you can. If you are out at an auction or rummage, you most likely will have to decide if something is worth purchasing right on the spot. It is not as if you can go home and think about an item, and consider if it may be put to use in some way. You will have to decide on the spot if it is coming home with you, and if it can be useful as 'something'.

Containers of all sorts are perfect items to look for on your junking outings. Think of any needs you may have around your house. Do you have a need for somewhere to toss reading material in a bathroom, or how about a need for an item to grow a small container garden in? My favorite idea I have ever come across was in a gardening magazine years ago. It discussed how a woman used the drawer from an antique bureau that had been ruined. The bureau had one drawer, with a beautiful front, that was salvageable. She tossed the whole thing, save for the one drawer. She lined it and uses it to this day as a centerpiece on her dining room table, filled with the trappings of whatever holiday is currently in. For Christmas, she said she fills it with cedar boughs and glittery ornaments. At Easter, she has a small 'fir' tin tree that she places in it surrounded by bunnies, and decorated with small glass eggs.

Next time you are looking for a way to spend the day, head out junking. The search is as fun as the finished product, sometimes more so, and you never know what creative and useful find you might discover.

Kit Kat Around the World

If you like Kit Kat bars, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the standard milk chocolate variety. In the United States, there are currently four different flavors available in addition to the Original, although, depending on your location, you might not find all five of them at your favorite store. One of the additional flavors, White Chocolate, is available all the time. The other three are billed as "Limited Edition," so I'm not sure how long they will be around. Theses Limited Edition versions include Inside Out, Mint, and Triple Chocolate. This might seem like a pretty good variety, but this pales in comparison to the Kit Kat flavors offered in countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan.

Kit Kat is reportedly the number-one selling candy bar in the U.K. Accordingly, Kit Kat's maker, chocolate giant Hershey Foods, keeps the Brits supplied with lots of interesting flavors. (All the flavors described below refer to the flavor of the chocolate. The wafer part of the candy bar pretty much retains the same flavor no matter what the chocolate flavor is.) For example, you can get an Orange Kit Kat, Lemon and Yogurt, or Caramac (like caramel). During special holidays like Christmas and Halloween, you can even find a Christmas Pudding Kit Kat or a Blood Orange Kit Kat in the U.K. I've never tried any of these flavors, but the Orange one sounds like it might be good. I would also try the Christmas Pudding flavor just to see what it was like. In addition, there are two varieties that come with a fruit filling: Red Berry and Mango & Passion Fruit.

In Canada, you won't find such exotic flavors, but they are still different than the ones in America. For example, our neighbors to the north can indulge in a Peanut Butter Kit Kat or a Caramel Kit Kat. Both of these flavors come in Big Kat-style bars, instead of in the standard Kit Kat style. Additionally, Canadians can choose from Strawberry Fraise, Vanilla, and Dark Chocolate.

In Japan, there are even more wild flavors of Kit Kat. For example, the people in the Land of the Rising Sun can satisfy their chocolate cravings with Passion Fruit, Melon (cantaloupe), or Yogurt flavors. The most interesting flavor variety available in Japan has to be the Green Tea Kit Kat. I haven't had the courage to try that one yet!

In Australia, they only have one additional Kit Kat flavor that I know of, but since I've never been to that country, I can certainly be wrong. Our friends Down Under can treat themselves to a "coffee break" with a Cappuccino Kit Kat.

It might surprise you to learn that there is kind of an underground following of people who pursue these international flavors. I've seen many of the Kit Kat flavors listed above on sale on auction sites like eBay or on specialty websites on the Internet. So if you are interested in trying any of these flavors, you don't need to spend money on an airplane ticket. Just get online!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Harry Potter Foods and Candies

So the new book release is creeping up and I'm about to have a heart attack with excitement! Pushing that aside, a fun topic to address for the foods section to all of you Harry Potter fans such as myself, what better thing to talk about than the Harry Potter festivities that happen in the Great Hall everyday, and special treats on the holidays?

Berttie Botts Every Flavour Beans, yes... they even have those on the market now... believe it or not, I actually didn't mind the vomit flavor ones! Just kidding! (Though I must warn you to watch out for the Sardine flavored beans, they are nasty).

All of you witches and wizards out there (and a fair majority of muggles as well) just have to take time to savor the idea of tasting awesome Harry Potter treats that you can make come to life. Did you know that you can really make butter beer? (There is actually more than one way to make butter beer). There are tons of fun treats in the Harry Potter books that you can make your own reality, which is more than awesome for all of you fans!

If you look around the Internet there are several recipes and ideas available to you for Harry Potter treats. Along side all of the mystical and magical treats, there are the delicious indulgent foods that we can eat everyday such as chicken drummies, mashed potatoes and things like that they serve for their everyday lunches, breakfasts and dinners.

Did you know that they sale Chocolate Frogs too? Is that not cool or what? I need to go Harry Potter treat shopping because the special occasion is coming up! There is also the satisfaction of knowing that they even have recipes for Pumpkin Juice! Harry Potter is so huge people are actually making these things a reality and hopefully you get the opportunity to indulge on these treats, because they're fun!

You will find that on the Internet they also sale Unicorn Droppings (do not worry... they are just jelly beans!) and many other magical treats.

Harry Potter foods and snacks are a great idea for any occasion, whether it is to celebrate the coming books or upcoming movie events. Also if you are a huge Harry Potter fan, it is a good idea to have a Harry Potter birthday party serving the treats. Every year I get a Harry Potter birthday cake, just come up with ideas like that for parties.

With all of these ideas, you better head to your search engine and start looking up all these awesome recipes! They taste excellent, and they are a lot of fun too, so make sure you don't forget to check them out if you are a Harry Potter fan, or if you have a family member or a friend that is a fan.

On July 16th they are having parties all over book stores for the release of the 6th book, talk to the book store and see if you can bring some Harry Potter treats for the guest and be the star of the show! Just go crazy and have fun with them!

The Real Gilligan's Island

The Real Gilligan's Island is a new reality show that is just finishing its second season. Like Survivor, The Real Gilligan's Island pits two teams against each other in weekly competitions. Players are voted off weekly until only one player is left standing. Unlike Survivor, the players are forced to dress like characters from an old 1960's television sit com.

The game starts with two teams of castaways: Two millionaire couples, two movie stars, two Professors, two Mary Anns, two Skippers and, of course, two Gilligans. Players are selected who closely fit their characters. For example, the millionaire couples are real life millionaire husband and wife couples, just like Thurston Howell III and his dear wife, Lovey. The movie stars are real movie stars, too. The first season pitted Rachel Hunter against Nicole Eggert, and the second season pitted Angie Everhart against Erica Eleniak.

The teams are stranded on an island which is outfitted with thatched bamboo huts and hammocks and Tiki torches. It looks very much like the old television show setting. In fact, messages to the team members are delivered via a staticky old radio just like the one the Professor used to repair time and time again, only to have Gilligan stumble into it, send it flying and break it into a million pieces. Ah, Gilligan!

Initially, like players are pitted against each other to determine who is crowned the "Real" Mary Ann or the "Real" Skipper. Once the field has been narrowed to one of each character, players compete against each other in events like diving for objects, eating inedible things and digging for clams. The winner of each competition is awarded a life preserver, which protects him or her from being banished to the other side of the island (which was considered a very scary place on the old t.v. show). The players then vote to banish one of the non-winning players to the other side of the island. The winner of the final competition is rescued from the island by a helicopter and awarded $250,000.00.

This is one of those television shows I tell myself I am not going to watch, but then cannot seem to peel my eyes from the screen. Those of you who remember and love the old television show starring Bob Denver will find little similarity between that show and this reality game show, other than the costumes and scenery. So, what is the appeal? I guess it is similar to the fascination human beings have with anything that they find difficult to believe is happening before their very eyes. The millionaire wife on Season 1 was absolutely horrendous, so I could not help but feel a little satisfaction when she was forced to eat worms and other assorted indelicacies…and then lost and was voted to be the one banished to the other side of the island. Near the end of Season 2, when Mary Ann was voted to be the one banished to the other side of the island, I shared the remaining players' satisfaction and relief. Mary Ann had been quite a pain, after all. In the end, I suppose it's all about good triumphing over evil, and who doesn't like to watch that happen?

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

Food: The Emotional Battle

You sit there on the couch debating whether to exercise or to go in the kitchen and quench your food craving. This is an everyday routine, a battle of decision for a majority of people. A lot of the time food seems to be our best friend and our worst enemy at the same time. We read health articles posted all over the Internet, or try to seek out any information to help find that overnight miracle and cure, almost as if it is a disease that can simply be cured by a pill. One day you strenuously exercise on the treadmill or overwork your abdomen with an over haul of endless crunches, playing in your mind that you can lose 2 pounds if you work really hard.

Food is a great thing... it keeps us energized throughout the day to perform tasks. It helps keep us mentally stable... but sometimes our mental state can make the food that we consume the enemy. When one chocolate bar turns into 5 chocolate bars, and when one scoop of ice cream turns into 7 scoops of ice cream you know you have some sort of emotional problem.

The problem that we need to unravel is our emotional barrier. I still have yet to find mine. Perhaps boredom, but whatever the problem is... there has to be some way out there that will work in coping with turning to food as our friend. What do you feel when you eat those two hamburgers? What kind of satisfaction are you gaining? Perhaps take the knowledge you get from the satisfaction of the food you eat and apply it to some other useful and healthy tool that you can use. Perhaps a morning Yoga session to relieve stress and tension, a jog in the evening with the dogs will do the trick.

Yes... this sounds like a typical article, but have you tried it? Maybe you have "tried it all," yet still find food to be your only source of comfort. What do you do now? Maybe you have tried doing physical things like most articles recommend, but have you tried keeping a diary to express your deepest concerns and problems? Perhaps painting a picture will help express your unsolved emotions. Have you tried any of those kind of things? Usually a lot of the times we have a missing piece in our life, perhaps a passion or a reason to truly live for... or so we feel. It is so easy to fall to pieces and just let ourselves go, but try your hardest not to give into temptations as such.

Maybe it may take a counselor to help recognize your problems and help to keep you on track if you cannot find anyone else to talk to. There are many kinds of counselors out there such as food counselors, which may help you eliminate your problems with food. It may be wise to get all of the help that you can get when you are trying to lose weight, because I am sure that everyone can agree when I say that switching from eating large amounts of food to small amounts of food can be highly difficult. So what you need to do for yourself, is try to get help, and make it a quest to find that missing piece in your life that you use food as a substitute for. It may be extremely difficult, but your life will feel so much more worth it in the end.

Whimsical Bear Decor

by Christina VanGinkel

With my eclectic style of decorating, each room in our house is somewhat different from the ones before it, and each in itself is a mix of various colors and accents. Our front bathroom is no different from the rest of our house, and has no decor whatsoever to speak of. With its brand new floors it is begging for a redo each time I walk through its door, yet I am actually at a loss. I have no clue as to where to go with this room's colors or accents.

Currently on the wall are two frames. One is of a young girl and her St. Bernard dogs. It was actually a print salvaged from an old calendar. The other frame holds two of my coveted antique ink blotters. Both feature girls from 1948. The year itself is not in any way special to me, but the prints themselves are fun, and they also each have a short poem accompanying the pictures. I love the artwork printed on many of the old ink blotters. The more I think about it though, a bathroom is probably no the best place to hang them. Made to blot ink from the old style nib pens, I wonder if the paper will absorb moisture easily. Moreover, as the print is not professionally framed, I am sure that moisture could be a problem.

I think what the room needs is a theme. I am not a person to normally go with and stick to a theme, but because the room is so small, the more I think about it, I feel that is the only way to go. As the bathroom is just off our new entryway, I think a bit of whimsy is in order.

I have always loved the bear decor making the rounds in all the shops and gift catalogs. All the bathroom basics, from toothbrush holders to paper roll holders are available in bear themed products. Shower curtains that look like forests of pine, even rugs that resemble giant paw prints. Why, even a bowl of natural potpourri in a fresh pine scent would both work and tie in with the room if I chose that route. After pulling out several catalogs of home decor items that have landed in my mailbox the last few months, I have found enough items to decorate my whole house if that was what I desired, let alone my small front bathroom. I even found a cushioned toilet seat cover that appears to be a filled with fishing lures. As many of the bear items include fishing bear, it would probably fit in, but I do not think I want to go quite that far.

Besides the new floor, we did replace the towel bars and tissue roll holder with matching wood replacements, so a new wooden toilet seat would round out that look. By adding the shower curtain that resembled the forest, a fun styled bear print rug, and a matching toothbrush holder, soap dish, and soap dispenser all in a bear design, the bathroom will be guest worthy and whimsically styled.

Keeping Formalwear Affordable

If you're a female, there's a good chance that at some point in your life you have had to wear a formal dress, and had to pay a hefty price for that bit of glitter and gauze. Is there a cheaper alternative? You could say, "Just don't buy a fancy dress," but nobody wants to show up at the prom or the company holiday party in jeans and a t-shirt. Don't worry. There are other options available for those with a more frugal mindset.

Hit the Clearance Racks
When I was in high school, while other girls looked through prom magazines and longed for expensive designer dresses, I made it a personal mission to see how cheaply I could get my dress. And I accomplished this purely through clearance racks. Look for dresses for the next formal occasion after homecoming and prom seasons and after the holidays.

Keep Your Shopping Options Open
Don't think that you have to visit a bridal shop or high-end mall department store to purchase a suitable dress for your special occasion. I have purchased formal dresses at the discount clothing retailer Dots, a store known for having $10 and $15 clothing. Also consider outlets and discount stores like T.J. Maxx or Burlington Coat Factory. Don't be afraid to buy secondhand. Formal dresses can show up in thrift shops any time of the year, and you just might find a dress or two at your local yard sales. If you're looking for more designer wear, a consignment shop will be the best place to look, although more and more people are turning to online auction sites to buy and sell such dresses.

Make Your Own
If you or someone in your family is a seamstress, you can make your own formalwear instead of paying others to make it for you. However, the fine fabrics used for formalwear can be expensive, so if you're not confident in your sewing abilities, this probably isn't the time to experiment at the risk of ruining thirty dollars worth of fabric when you could have found a clearance dress for that same amount.

Dress Up Something You Already Own
Another option that can cut your costs is to purchase something that will make an outfit you wear every day suitable for formalwear. Sometimes accessories can make all the difference, and a wrap or jacket can add the right flair to your career-wear. I recently attended a dinner function that called for semi-formal attire. I purchased a velour shirt and wore it with a standard black skirt that I wear all the time and added my dressiest heels. My total cost for the evening was $9.99.

Once you've purchased a dress, look for chances to wear it again. Do you have a friend that's the same size as you? Trade dresses for a special event if you're concerned about being seen in the same outfit twice. You'll also be more likely to wear your dress a second time if you keep future uses in mind when you're shopping. For instance, if you say no to sequins and glitter, can you wear the dress to your cousin's wedding?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

My Feelings About Spin-Offs

These days it seems that whenever someone has a good idea, they want to milk it for all it's worth and make as much money from it as possible. This is especially true in the entertainment industry. When a singer or band has a surprise hit, that song will get played over and over on the radio and on MTV. Even if that band becomes a one-hit wonder and never produces another popular song, you can bet that they will hit the road and play small clubs and other gigs for the next twenty years. This happens with movies, too. How many Rocky or Superman movies are there? Unfortunately, television is not immune to this phenomenon, either. Just look at all the spin-off series that have come and gone over the years.

I personally don't like spin-offs. Although I have attempted to watch several of them, I never got hooked on any. The spin-offs are rarely as good as the original shows. The only exception that immediately comes to mind is Frasier, which was a spin-off of the old Cheers sitcom. I watched Cheers, but I never did warm up to Frasier, probably because Frasier Crane wasn't one of my favorite characters to begin with.

When you look at today's TV lineup, you can see lots of spin-offs on air. The most glaring example is the CSI "franchise" (yes, they refer to successful movies and TV shows as franchises now). There is the original one that takes place in Las Vegas, then there are two spin-offs, one in Miami and one in New York. Do viewers really need to see 3 CSI shows per week? I don't. Another spin-off that's currently on air is Joey, which features one of the characters from the now-defunct Friends series. I watched Friends for several years, but then stopped as the jokes got stale and the situations got even more unbelievably contrived. I tuned in to the premier of Joey just out of curiosity, but didn't like it and never watched it again. Then there's Boston Legal, which takes over where The Practice left off. This show has received some critical acclaim, but hasn't really found a niche with audiences yet.

I guess the fate of the above-mentioned spin-offs is still up in the air. But there are others that never quite made it off the ground. Do you remember that show called The Lone Gunmen? No? Well, you're probably not alone. This spin-off of The X-Files lasted only one season before getting cancelled. Another spin-off that lasted only one season was Models, Inc. This show was spawned from Melrose Place, but obviously didn't enjoy the same success. I'm not even going to talk about The Time of Your Life, which was a spin-off of Party of Five!

The reason I don't like spin-offs is that I watch new shows in order to see fresh ideas, not to see the same characters with the same personalities, only in different locations. Give me something new, not recycled!

Television Commercials Aren't So Bad

Ah, television commercials! The bane of the television viewer's existence. Nothing is more irritating than having the network break away to a television commercial just when you are about to find out who's being voted off the Survivor island or who shot J.R. Also, some commercials give us way more information than we need. I, for one, do not need to actually see a woman scooping clumps out of a cat litter box in order to be convinced of cat litter's odor absorbing qualities. I much prefer the advertiser to tell me about the product's good points while showing an adorable kitten chasing a string and playing a really good rock tune in the background, something like Cat Scratch Fever. Other commercials are just over the top to the point of bordering on ridiculous. I am still trying to figure out what Paris Hilton in a bikini has to do with the price of cheeseburgers in Beverly Hills.

Still, as much as we complain about them, television commercials do have a lot to offer. Here are just a few of the things that are actually kinda great about television commercials.

1. Television commercials provide product information. Okay, you're right. A lot of television commercials are absolutely ridiculous. But they DO keep us posted on what's out there for consumers. Without television commercials, we wouldn't know about the advances in disposable diapers or the difference between solid, aerosol or extra dry antiperspirant or deodorant formulas. We might not even know the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant! Commercials also let us know when new products come out on the market that may solve problems in our personal lives, for our children or in our households. Without television commercials, how would we know about tartar control toothpaste, whitening toothpaste, or toothpaste for sensitive teeth? We wouldn't, not without spending a lot of time in the grocery store aisles looking over each and every product and reading lots of packaging.

2. Television commercials give us snapshots of our culture. Television commercials give us a real picture of what life was like in bygone eras. Television programs and movies are not quite the same. Shows and movies are designed to entertain and to tell a story, and so costumes and settings must dazzle. With television commercials, however, the actors are hired to play "every man" in order to convince "every man" that he must purchase their product. So, their furnishings, clothes, hairstyles and language reflect those of the day. What gives us a clearer, more realistic picture of life in the '50's, for example? "Happy Days" or a period commercial for Geritol, Alka Seltzer or Texaco? What provides us with a better snapshot of life in the '60's than a bunch of flower children on a hilltop, all dressed in bell bottoms and peasant blouses, singing, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke?"

3. Television commercials are entertaining. As much as we complain about them, some television commercials are truly humorous, touching, fascinating or captivating in some way. I, for one, can't take my eyes off the screen when the HP photo printer commercial comes on, the one with the guy pulling rectangular cut-outs from around his neck and up over his head, where they instantaneously turn into freeze frame photos of the guy pulling rectangular cut-outs from around his neck and up over his head. I can't stop smiling (or dancing) when Ellen's American Express commercials come on. And how about that Folgers commercial? The one where the little girl comes downstairs early on Christmas morning to find that her brother has come home from college to surprise the family? And then they make coffee together for everyone? That one never fails to bring a tear to my eye. In fact, I'd better go. I'm getting a little misty just thinking about it.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

Five Great Cable Television Channels

Cable television has come a long way since it burst onto the scene back in the 1970's or 1980's. I remember when cable television was an option. In the days before cable television, a household could get a perfectly acceptable selection of channels with the use of a simple antenna. Of course, if you stayed up past the Tonight Show, you were stuck with only one viewing option: Tom Snyder's late, late show. After that, it was nothing but snow. Still, it was free!
Today, cable television is no longer an option. If you don't have it or a satellite dish, you ain't watching' much. Rabbit ear antennas still do the trick, but will pick up very little these days.
Fortunately, cable television has evolved over the years so that it is now worth the price of admission. In addition to regular network channels, specialty channels offer viewers more opportunities than ever to learn and to be entertained.
Here are five of the very best channels cable television has to offer.
1. The History Channel. The History Channel features programming covering all aspects of world and U.S. history, including major historical events that have shaped the world and the United States, biographies of world leaders and important people and great documentaries. Who needs school?
2. The Food Network. The Food Network is a great resource for anyone who loves to cook…or to eat! Whatever you are looking for with respect to food, you will find it on this channel. A variety of cooking shows will teach you to bake and cook anything and everything, including ethnic and regional foods. Other shows will teach you how to cook on a budget, and even other shows will show you where to find the best restaurant meals.
3. The Travel Channel. Whether you are planning a vacation or dream of doing so one day, the Travel Channel allows viewers a glimpse of places all over the world. It is not limited to destinations, either. If you are wondering where to find the most haunted places in the world, the fanciest public bathrooms, or the most breathtaking railroad trip, you can see all of these things and more on the Travel Channel.
4. The Style Network. The Style Network offers everything you can imagine about fashion and beauty. From runway shows featuring the most glamorous and expensive styles, to tips on dressing well without breaking your budget, this channel covers every range of fashion. The Style Network doesn't stop at clothing, either. If you want to learn how to create a smoky, "Chicago" jazz style eye makeup look or what products will give you the plumpest lips, tune in to the Style Network.
5. The Discovery Channel. The Discovery Channel features documentaries and programming covering every area of science and, well, discovery! The Discovery Channel offers shows about every aspect of the scientific world, from weather-related phenomena, such as twisters, to natural phenomena, to behavioral science, such as fear. My son was once shown in a Discovery Channel episode which showed how babies learn fear, and how the Marine Corps teaches parachuters to overcome fear. The Discovery Channel even devotes an entire month to the most fascinating subject of all, sharks!

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

Fun Retro Jewelry

I grew up in the '70's, when jewelry was creative and fun. Today's jewelry is nice, don't get me wrong. I especially like the new, really long but delicate earrings, the ones with a very slender chain and something shiny and fabulous dangling at the end. Still, sometimes I long for the day when jewelry was big, bold and had personality. Here are a few of my favorite retro jewelry pieces, ones that should never go out of style.

The Mood Ring: Mood rings were all the rage for awhile there. The concept was a simple one. The ring had a beautiful, colorful oval stone set into it, and the idea was that the stone would change colors depending on the mood of the wearer. Blue meant happy, green meant calm and at peace, brown meant unhappy and black meant, basically, dead. My dad used to say that my mom's mood ring did a great job of predicting her moods. When she was in a good mood, it was blue. When she was in a bad mood, it left a red mark on my dad's forehead. Mood rings were not only pretty and BIG, they were fun. What one of us hasn't put a mood ring into the freezer for a couple of hours to see what would happen? (For those of you who are too young to know, it turns black.) So, the truth is, mood rings are probably more an indicator of temperature than of mood, but who cares? They are darned good fun. I only wish we'd had microwave ovens back then…oh, the possibilities.

Puka Shells: Puka shells were not just for Hawaiians or surfers back in the day. They were for everyone. That was the beauty of puka shells. You didn't have to surf the waves or run around tanned and shirtless, wearing only colorful swim shorts, to pull off the puka shell look. Anyone who could afford a string of puka shells could look like a beach bum, and a lot of us attempted it. Authentic puka shells are tiny, usually white Hawaiian shells string tightly and closely together so they form a continuous and uniform string of shells up high around the wearer's neck. When you wear puka shells, you are making a statement, and the statement is this: "I am VERY cool, and I may or may not know how to hang ten."

Bangle Bracelets: Bangle bracelets are fun, bright and colorful. They are generally slim and come in a bright assortment of colors. The object is to slide as many of these things onto your wrist and forearm as you possibly can. The more the merrier when it comes to bangle bracelets. Then, as you walk around town, make sure to show off your arm as much as possible and shake your arm imperceptibly, so the light catches your colorful bracelets and your bracelets make a very light tinkling noise, hence, the name "bangle" bracelets. Bangle bracelets also send a message about the wearer, and the message is this: "I am VERY fun and colorful, and I know how to accessorize."

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

Cheese Rules for the Uninitiated

The cardinal rule of cheese is that it is a living, breathing substance. It is something that changes over time, much in the same way that wine does, and that is something that you should know before you get started with learning to enjoy the wonderful cheese of the world.

If you are serious about learning to distinguish between the various types of cheese, then you should enlist the services of someone who knows cheese and can guide you through. There are, however, a few simple rules that you should learn for yourself before you begin satisfying your palette.

Any good cheese should be cut while you are watching. You may purchase already cut and wrapped cheese, but you will find that it is fresher (and the weight more accurate) if you have it cut while you are there.

The cheese should have the rind still on it. Plastic, wax, and paint on the rinds of fresh cheese are not a good sign. Instead you should look for something natural, such as a buffed or soft rind. It is acceptable to cut the rind from any cheese, even if the rind is soft.

You will need to cut the rind from some of the harder or bruised rinds. They are unclean, and the taste is not very good. Other rinds are more flexible, though, such as the one on Reblochon. You are free to cut them off without any raised eyebrows, but you can eat the rind if you enjoy the taste.

Next to the rind, the freshness of the cheese is the most important. A harder cheese will stay fresh longer. It can stay fresh for up to a month if you keep it in the drawer of your refrigerator if it is a hard cheese, but softer cheese will mold more quickly.

Cheese's flavor increases as it ages so be sure to keep that in mind. While it is not a freshness issue, you may not be happy with the subtle taste of a very young cheese if you are looking for something with a bit more bite.

When you get home with your freshly cut cheese, put it in the bottom of your refrigerator. While you want to wrap it, do not put it in a sealing container, such as plastic ware. Instead, try aluminum foil or wax paper. That will allow the cheese to continue to get stronger and taste better without ruining it with the airs in the refrigerator.

Do not put cheese in the freezer. The process of freezing ruins its taste, and there is no way that you can help the product recover. You will need to allow the cheese to get to room temperature before you serve it, so be sure that you plan to get your cheese out with plenty of time to spare before serving.

These few simple rules will help you to get started with purchasing, storing, and serving exotic cheeses. In time, you will learn about the various flavors and consistencies of cheeses, and you will discover the ones that you crave.

The Soybean: A Food For All

Chinese farmers cultivated the soybean when they realized that it helped to replenish lost nutrients in the soil where it grew. Around the fifteenth century BC, Chinese farmers made this discovery, and it helped the Chinese to provide food for their massive population for hundreds of years.

Soybeans' high protein content led to their use as a substitute for meat, which is far more expensive. That meant that many people could afford to eat a food high in protein, which had not been possible for them before.

The protein in the soybean led the farmers to create a food they called doufu. They named the discovery the "Yellow Jewel," "Great Treasure," and other names to indicate its importance in their society.

Farmers could grow soybeans easily as they are a very hardy plant. They are a member of the legume family, and their scientific name is Glycine max. Soybeans have traveled the world and continue to be a source of great nutrition.

After centuries of use in China, soybeans made their way through the Pacific to the island of Japan. The Japanese began eating this food as well. They called it tofu, which is what we call it today. Tofu is the most common food made from the soybean, and it is a great source of protein.

Many Japanese people began to eat tofu and other soybean products in the first century AD because they began to follow Chinese customs. Many Chinese people were Buddhist, and this religion requires vegetarianism, which made soy foods even more convenient.

When soybeans came to Europe in the1700s and then the United States in the 1800s, people were not as quick to eat them for their tofu properties. They caught on after French scientists realized that they are low in carbohydrates. These scientists knew that this quality would make soybeans a good choice for diabetics because of this property.

Americans began to use the soybean more frequently as time went by. Farmers used them to feed their livestock, however, instead of for human consumption. Research in the United States led to different products, such as soy sauce and soy coffee. People began to use soybeans without necessarily knowing.

Henry Ford, one of the great innovators in American history, understood that soybeans had properties that would allow them to be used for fuel and car parts. He began to use them in this capacity but soon understood the enormity of their usefulness.

Ford started to promote soybeans as part of the diet. Other Americans began to research the use of soybeans, leading to a research laboratory at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champagne.

Today, people eat soybeans in many foods. American farmers now produce more soybeans than any other farmers in the world. Most of those soybeans are used to make soy oil. This soy oil is then converted into vegetable oils, margarine, shortening, and animal food.

Tofu, too, is a common food today. No longer the province of vegetarians only, tofu provides a versatile meal and plenty of protein for people the world over.

By Julia Mercer

Hand Print T-Shirts

by Christina VanGinkel

Long before I was a grandmother, I would see someone wearing a t-shirt with small handprints all over it, with writing proclaiming 'World's Best Grandma' or some other similar saying. I always wanted one, with my own grandkids prints. Now that I have one very sweet little grandson, I have decided that we will spend some time this weekend making matching shirts for him, his mother, and myself.

To keep the work to a minimum and to keep it simple, I purchased three plain matched t-shirts in our corresponding sizes. I bought my daughter's in a size larger than she wears so she can use it for a night shirt, as though I know she will like making the shirt, and think it is cute, especially her son's, I can not picture her wearing hers out and about, as I will wear mine! I went with the Hanes brand as they were available in the cotton that I wanted, and they were tag less. After pre-washing them, I also went ahead and pre-painted each of our names, Mom, Nana, and DJ across the front of each. I cheated by using my Tracer brand stencils that I have for scrap booking. I used a kid style font, along with a stencil paintbrush, and acrylic paint. By placing a piece of scrap cardboard between the layers of the shirt and pinning the shirts in place, stretched lightly but no too tight, they will be easier to work with and keep the paint from flowing to the back also.

With the same acrylic paint, I plan to have each of us stamp our handprints on each shirt. For mine, besides letting my grandson go wild all over the shirt, I am going to create a two-layered handprint. For this, I went ahead and already placed my handprint in a dark color beneath my name so that it will be thoroughly dry. I am going to have him place his handprint in a lighter color directly over mine. Once dry, I am going to go back and write his name inside his print. When the shirts are completely painted and dried, I will wash them in a cold water cycle, and then dry on medium heat to set the paint.

Besides having fun wearing this shirt, and I will, as I am a shameless brag when it comes to this small bundle of energy I call my grandson, I can hardly wait to make the shirt. Time spent doing crafts with kids reminds me why I have enjoyed crafts so much through the years. Creating clothing with kids is easier than many people realize, and the joy they get out of wearing something they helped create is priceless. Simple pre-made visors that kids can decorate with foam shapes are always fun, as are plain tennis shoes that they decorate with beads and paint. Make some time this summer and create something with your kids that both you and they can enjoy. When my children were little, we would often paint, draw, bead, and glue. Sometimes what we created was useful, as these shirts will be, and other times we gained nothing more than time spent together.

Creating a Great Guest Room

If you hate having company, are always worried that people will overstay their welcome and do NOT want to encourage visits to your home, then do NOT read this article. If, on the other hand, you want your home to exude graciousness and hospitality, here are some tips for creating a great guest room that your visitors will love.

1. Make sure the sleeping accomodations are comfortable. Furnish the bed with a comfortable mattress. Although this may be a guest room and may not be used often, you do not want your guests sleeping on an uncomfortable bed and being miserable. Provide a variety of pillows, use high thread count sheets and make sure extra blankets are available.

2. Furnish the closet with extra hangers, a steamer, lint brush, iron and perhaps a small, travel ironing board. This will allow your guests to hang clothing as they unpack, as most guests do not bring along hangers. The other items will provide your guests with the opportunity to freshen up their wardrobes and will be appreciated.

3. Provide a chest of drawers where guests can unpack sweaters, under garments and other items. As the drawers may not be used often, keep them smelling fresh and clean using cedar chips or pot pourri. Use Febreze to freshen the room, including drawers, periodically to prevent musty, stale odors.

4. Every guest room should have a separate bathroom to provide the guest with privacy and comfort. Make sure the bathroom is stocked with plenty of bath sheets, bath towels, hand towels, wash cloths and bathroom tissue. There is nothing more embarrassing for a guest than to run out of one of these items and have to come asking the host for additional items.

5. Make sure the bathroom is also stocked with plenty of personal care items, including shampoo, conditioner, a selection of soaps, toothbrushes, new toothbrushes, hygiene products and any other items you might anticipate that your guest may have forgotten to pack.

6. Make sure there is a television available in the guest room so that your guests can relax and unwind at the end of the day.

7. If you really want to make your guests happy, furnish the room with a DVD player and a selection of movies. Provide a couple of selections from every genre, drama, romance, comedy and even thrillers. Not only will your guests enjoy the opportunity to relax and watch a movie, they may stay out of your hair long enough for you to get dinner made!

8. Stock the guest room with a variety of books and magazines for your guest's reading pleasure. If you really want to go the extra mile, provide a daily local newspaper or entertainment weekly from your area so that guests can get a feel for the area and see what activities they may wish to engage in during their stay.

9. Make sure the guest room has adequate and varied lighting. Provide a full lighting option, as well as a good bedside table lamp for late night reading. Use a night light in the bathroom which can be left on or turned off at the guest's option. This can be helpful for a guest who is not accustomed to their surroundings and may prevent a stubbed toe in the middle of the night.

10. A classy touch is to provide a festive snack basket in the guest's room. Guests may be embarrassed to let you know if they are hungry between meal times or if they would like a late night snack. Providing a gift snack basket is not only a festive and classy touch, it will be very appreciated by hungry guests.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

Bedroom Benches

by Christina VanGinkel

Sitting at the end of the bed in our master bedroom is a laundry basket filled to overflowing with assorted socks from every family member that has resided in our house over the last few years. Normally, I can walk through our room and literally zone it out. It bothers me, especially because ninety-nine percent of its contents are worthy of nothing more than the trash bin. Yet it has sat there for years, moved each week to vacuum around it, and then put right back. Actually, I recall emptying it about a year ago, and somehow it ended back in the same spot, being refilled by all those lone socks whose match must be somewhere nearby. No new socks have gone into lately though, as I instituted a new sock policy. It is not washed unless it has its mate attached to it. That way, there are no more single socks, at least not clean ones. I think it is safe to permanently get rid of this dinosaur, and put in its place the bench I have been wanting since the first day we moved in nearly thirteen years ago.

Actually, I have known I wanted a bench there, but not sure of the style. After doing some browsing, I have narrowed it down though. My favorite so far, but the one that is also farthest from my normal decorating style as I could ever get, is an upholstered roll arm bench with exposed wood frame. Covered in red crushed velvet, with the exposed wood frame in a deep walnut finish, it is gorgeous. It also has no storage feature, which is something I know I would like. In our small house, any added furniture pieces are a bonus if they come with included storage.

Another bench we have looked at, of all wood construction with storage beneath the seat, is nice, but I am not fond of the rounded bottom or the scalloped trim across the bottom, accenting the rounded curves of the piece even more. The storage it would provide though would be nice. One other wood bench we looked at was exactly the opposite style wise, but had no character at all. It was straight edged all the way around, really nothing more than a box with legs and a hinged lid.

Rounding out the pieces that we have been considering is an upholstered tufted bench with casters. It has a minimal amount of storage beneath the seat, but enough that I think it would be useful. The top is cushioned, allowing someone to actually sit on it and be comfortable. As I age, I think it would serve me well to sit on as I get dressed in the morning or ready for bed at night. My only problem with this piece in particular, the more I think about it, is its color. In a light cream, I know it would not hold up well without constant cleaning. If it could be ordered in a different fabric, I think it would be an ideal choice, what with its quality construction, storage, comfort, and casters for easy moving when cleaning! Time to make a few phone calls to see if a fabric change is possible and hopefully so, as the more I consider the bench the more I like it.

Jewelry Trunk Shows

by Christina VanGinkel

If you make and sell your jewelry at consignment shops, gift stores, craft and art shows, etc., but are still looking for more ways to market your work, have you considered doing home trunk shows? A trunk show is similar to a craft show; except your audience is there to shop exclusively from you and it is held in someone's home. Office parties can also be offered, and can be quick affairs held in a break room during lunch.

These can be held year round, but work especially well before the holidays. Word of mouth is a great way to get people to sign up, along with flyers around town, and a small add or two in the surrounding papers. Penny savers papers are great, as the ads are inexpensive and people read them specifically to buy and sell items.

Decide ahead of time what you are going to offer for incentives to the party host, and if you will offer a gift or discount to the guests for booking a party, and consider a door prize. While you goal is to sell your work, by setting up incentives you are enticing people to both purchase now and book additional parties. Print fliers to pass out to guests with all information clearly explained. There is nothing more I dislike than going to a home show and not having a clue as to prices and available discounts. I like things clearly spelled out, as do most people.

Keep your prices reasonable, but do not undercharge just because this is a different way of marketing. If you want to lower prices, offer some specials or sale items. That way if you notice something is a hot seller, you can easily adjust the price back to its normal price at the end of the sale period without people wondering if you just like to raise your prices whenever. Again, clearly mark that items are 'on sale' and a date for the sale to end. Offer a variety of priced items. Every crowd will surely have someone on a budget and others with unlimited budgets. By offering a variety, you will garner more sales and repeat customers.

Be prepared with your display. I have found that display boards and cases designed specifically for the task work better than anything I could have made myself. The small investment was well worth it. If I can enter a home and set up a pleasing display in just under ten minutes, I feel I have a good set up. If you are going into offices, you may only have twenty minutes to sell, so if you can set up in under five minutes, all the better. If you set up and everything is a jumbled mess, and you spend half an hour just sorting things and marking prices, you are losing potential sales. Jewelry should always be kept organized and be pre-priced.

For lengthy home shows, having a small project or task that you do there is a great way to display your work. Do check with your host beforehand if a certain amount of space will be needed, such as for lampworking. If you are famous for wirework for example, bring along your tools and demonstrate just how detailed you must be to get the looks they are buying. People appreciate the hard work that goes into something if they can see it and are more apt to spend if they know the quality of work that went into a piece, and making money is, after all, your goal!

Cool Summer Treats

With summer in full swing and temperatures reaching into the upper 90s across the country, we could all use some cool treats to help us cool down. Although I don't like the heat and humidity that inevitably come with the summer season in Chicago, I at least have an excuse to indulge in some decadent and delicious desserts. If you're looking for something healthy to eat, just move along. You won't find it on my list! Here are some of my personal favorites, in no particular order.

Dairy Queen Blizzard
It's hard to believe that this Dairy Queen original treat has been around for 20 years already! This is one of the best ice cream-based desserts out there. In case you've never had one, it consists of soft-serve ice cream blended with your choice of candy or fruit. Some of the candy choices include Butterfinger, Heath, and M&Ms. Fruit choices include banana creme, blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry.

Starbuck's Caramel Frappuccino Blended Coffee
I am not a coffee drinker at all, but that doesn't stop me from heading into Starbuck's to check out their awesome beverage creations. The Caramel Frappuccino is the best of the bunch. It has the right balance of flavors, and the coffee taste is not overpowering, which is a must for someone like me. The whipped cream topping is optional, but does anyone really choose not to get it?

Baskin-Robbins Pound Cake Ala Mode
I think the availability of this treat varies from region to region or from franchise to franchise. The Pound Cake Ala Mode consists of a slice of pound cake topped with two scoops of your favorite ice cream. Then, you can also choose a topping for your ice cream, such as hot fudge, chocolate, or strawberry, and get whipped cream and nuts over everything. This is better than a basic sundae. Because the pound cake is on the bottom, it is soaked with ice cream by the time you get to it. That might not sound very appetizing, but it is very delicious.

A&W Root Beer Float
This has got to be the all-time classic ice cream treat. A&W operates fast food stores in my area, so I always get mine from these places. But of course root beer floats are so easy to make that you can whip them up in your own home. All you need is vanilla ice cream and a can of root beer. This is a simple treat that's great for sharing.

Drumstick Sundae Cone
Wrapping up this list is a basic ice cream treat that you can pick up at nearly any grocery store or convenience mart. The Drumstick Sundae Cone has been a favorite of mine since childhood. It is made up of a sugar cone with vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate and covered with nuts. You can even get Drumsticks with centers of caramel flavoring.

When the summer heat gets too much for you to bear, simply pick up one of these ice cream-based treats to help you keep your cool!

The Versatile Crescent Roll

When it comes to serving a side dish of bread with a meal, just about everyone loves crescent rolls. Light and flaky, they're the perfect complement to almost any meal. With refrigerated dough available in every grocery store, they're also very simple to make. You simple open the package, unroll and separate the crescent dough triangles, roll each triangle into the crescent shape and then bake according to the directions on the package.

Despite their simple nature, crescent rolls are surprisingly versatile. If you think that your only crescent roll options are buttered or not, here are a few alternatives to the basic roll for you to consider.

A favorite treat when I was kid was a chicken nugget roll-up that my mom would make with crescent roll dough. I believe the original recipe came from a Pillsbury ad. First, you start by unrolling each triangle of dough. In the center of the triangle, place a teaspoon of barbecue sauce (the exact amount can vary according to your own personal preference). On top of the sauce, sprinkle some shredded mozzarella cheese. Finally, place a frozen chicken nugget on top of the sauce and cheese. Fold the crescent roll around the contents and pinch the edges together. Honestly, the end result will be more of a pocket than a crescent roll. In general, you can bake as directed on the package, although you might wants to experiment with the best baking time for the perfect mix of flaky crescent roll, bubbly cheese and warm chicken. If you aren't in the mood for chicken, you can also use one or two frozen meatballs in place of the chicken nugget in this recipe. Perhaps you could also try cheddar or a blend of cheeses.

I've since created several variations on this theme. For instance, you can use a teaspoon of spaghetti sauce instead of barbecue sauce along with the mozzarella cheese and chicken nugget to make a chicken parmesan pocket. Once again, if you don't feel like chicken, you can use meatballs instead. You can also make a pizza crescent roll with two or three slices of pepperoni or a small amount of another topping along with pizza sauce and cheese. Or you can forget about meat all together and simply fill with a blend of cheeses for a unique cheesy treat.

Another way of making pizza with crescent rolls is to use the entire package of crescent roll dough to make a pizza crust. Simply unroll the dough triangles and press them together to fill your pizza pan. You may actually want to use a rolling pin to even out the dough. Cover with sauce, cheese and toppings and bake. Or bake the crescent roll crust by itself and then top with cream cheese and fruit for a dessert pizza. Sure you could buy pizza crust just for this purpose, but you'll miss out on the unique flakiness of a crescent roll crust.

So the next time you're pressed for ideas for dinner or a snack, look for a tube of crescent roll dough and make a creation all your own.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Uses For Stale Bread

My mother used to always tell me, "Waste not, want not." When I was young, I had no idea what she meant. I would have been just as happy for her to pack up the leftover liver and onions and send it to those starving children overseas that she kept telling me about. As far as I was concerned, they could have it!

Today, now that I am grown and have children of my own, and now that I have a greater appreciation and concern for the world outside my own doorstep, I am big on recycling, conserving and making the most of what you have. I try not to waste. It's not only good for my conscience, it's good for my budget, too!

So, before you throw out those last few slices of stale bread in the pantry, consider whether you might be able to incorporate them into your cooking. Here are a few ways you can use stale bread and turn something old into something new and delicious.

1. Make Bread Crumbs. Mother also used to always say, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." I've updated that saying for my kitchen. My motto is, "If life gives you stale bread, make bread crumbs." Store-bought bread crumbs are expensive and you are paying for something you probably have sitting right in your cupboard--stale bread! To turn stale bread into bread crumbs, first lightly toast the bread in the oven. Then, cube or crumble the bread, depending on what your recipe calls for, and toss with herbs or seasoning if you like. Now, use your very own homemade bread crumbs for any number of dishes, from stuffing to meatloaf to homemade Italian meatballs!

2. Make Your Just Desserts. Another great use for stale bread is as a base for a number of dessert recipes. Again, prepare the bread by first lightly toasting in the oven. For most dessert recipes, you will need to cube rather than crumble the bread. Use the toasted bread cubes in any number of dessert recipes, from chocolate bread pudding to apple charlotte!

3. Make Soup Out Of It. You can make soup out of just about any leftover, and stale bread is no exception. Stale French bread is the perfect base for one of my personal favorites, French Onion Soup. First, make the soup following any French Onion Soup recipe. The soup itself will consist of a beef broth base jam-packed with sauteed onions. Next, slice the stale French bread and lightly toast the slices. Place slices of the toasted French bread into the bottom of oven-safe, individual soup crocks, which have been placed on a cookie sheet or other oven baking sheet. Pour the soup over the toasted French bread, then top with lots and lots of shredded Mozarella cheese. Bake in a medium oven until the cheese is melted and serve. Warning: This makes a much better soup course than an entree. Too much French Onion Soup can mean a big tummy ache later on!

4. How About The Old Stand-By's? Remember, stale bread slices also come in handy for several kitchen standby's, such as French toast or grilled cheese sandwiches. Think about the ways you normally use toasted or grilled bread in your kitchen and, when possible, use stale bread rather than waste a perfectly fresh slice!

Copyright (c) 2005 by Leanne Phillips

J. Peterman Clothes

If you are familiar with the name J. Peterman, it's probably due to the wildly popular television series Seinfeld. A lot of people don't know that there actually is a person named J. Peterman, and that there is actually a fully operational J. Peterman clothing company. As depicted on the show, the J. Peterman Catalog is known for its highly unusual, often literary, and sometimes humorous descriptions of the products. One major difference between the J. Peterman Company portrayed on Seinfeld and the real company is that the real company is located in Lexington, Kentucky and not New York City.

While I can't speak for the catalog, the J. Peterman website doesn't contain as many items as you would find on more mainstream clothing sites like Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch. For example, under the heading Men's Sweaters, you will find only 3 different styles to choose from. Clicking the Men's Pants link will yield 6 different styles. There are definitely more clothes for women on the J. Peterman site, but it is still less than you would find somewhere else.

The J. Peterman Company prides itself on selling clothes that you won't find at the local mall. The company wants to create a sense of "romance" to go along with their fashions. So on the site you can expect to find items with titles such as "1960's Bubble Skirt", "Swagger Coat", "Gatsby Pants", and even a "This could be it" dress. J. Peterman also has an assortment of accessories, perfumes, and colognes. Among the accessories are a leather messenger bag, a derby hat, and various watches.

I have to admit that I first started looking at J. Peterman clothes after I heard about the company on Seinfeld, so that was a great bit of publicity for them. But I have never bought anything from there. A couple of items have caught my eye over the years, but I find J. Peterman's prices to be too high for what they offer. For example, you can get something called a "Hemingway Cap". It looks to be an ordinary baseball-style cap, except that it has a longer bill. There aren't any logos or other markings on the cap, and yet it is selling for $39. You can get two or three caps from other name-brand stores for that price, and you could buy even more caps from places like Old Navy.

Also, the Gatsby Pants that they sell just look like ordinary pants. Sure, the name is cool and conjures up images of a bygone era, plus its name draws from one of the most famous characters in literature. But the pants themselves appear to be just regular khaki pants that you can get at Sears. They are made of lightweight linen (nothing special there). The only "extras" that I can determine from the written description are a watch pocket and suspender buttons. Do those features make the pants worth $128?

Anyway, if you want to check out the J. Peterman website, it is Even if you don't buy the clothes, you can enjoy the well-written descriptions!