Friday, September 30, 2005

Onion Trivia

Onions are the source of much puzzlement. Why do they make you cry? What do they provide nutritionally? While I may not be able to answer those questions, here are some onion trivia facts that you probably do not know. These facts are from the National Onion Association, the United States based group set to promote onions to the general public and provide for their lobby.

Remember that first question. Why do onions make you cry? Well, it turns out that we can answer it after all. Onions contain sulfur-based compounds, which cause the eyes to water because of their chemical composition.

Now that you know why you cry, can you prevent it? You should always cut onions after they have been in the refrigerator. The cold will stifle the sulfuric compounds. Also cut the root part of the onion last. This rule applies to all three colors found in most grocery stores: white, red, and yellow. The yellow onion makes up about 88 percent of the onion crop. The reds come in a distant second at seven percent, while the white onion makes up the other five percent.

People around the world eat about 380 semi-truck loads of onions everyday, and the average American family eats 19 pounds of onions annually. Americans are nowhere near the top of the charts when it comes to onion eating, however. The folks of Libya each eat more than 65 pounds of onions every year! Yes, that is every person - not every family. That means that they average eating a pound of onions every 5.5 days. That's a lot of crying.

The United States' 1,000 onion farmers plant about 145,000 acres of onions every year. Let us hope that some of these farmers also plant the subtle herb parsley, which helps get rid of that sometimes rancid onion breath.

The world's largest onion ever produced was in England. This whopper weighed in at more than 10 pounds. Does this love for the onion extend to all of the English folk? Maybe it does. The Beatles recorded the song "Glass Onion" on their White Album.

Lewis Carroll, born in 1832 in Cheshire, England, had a playing card facing the threat of a beheading for not bringing in onions to eat in Carroll’s classic The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Besides Carroll's story, the onion appears in a traditional English children's rhyme. According to this rhyme, a thin onion skin is an indicator of a mild winter. Watch out if the summer's onions have thick skins, however; a rough winter is ahead.

The pearl onion, the small onion that can be boiled, also is used in drinks. It traditionally garnishes The Gibson. Some sources, however, call for the pearl onion's use in the Yellow Rattler, the Patton Martini, and other drinks.

If you aren't looking for alcohol to spice up your onion, try a sweet onion instead. These popular onions can be found in Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington. Each state has its own brand or brands of sweet onions, such as Georgia's Vidalia, Californi's Sweet Imperials, and Washington's Walla Walla Sweets.

Keep in mind these onion facts. You never know when they could come in handy.

By Julia Mercer

A Few Facts About Onions

Onions, like many other vegetables, are a two-pronged vegetable when it comes to eating. There are onions harvested in the summer months, but you can store them for good eating in the winter months as well. Onions have a long harvest season. The main types, yellow, white, and red, are available from March through August. You can tell when these veggies are ready to pick because their skin is very thin and translucent. These onions are the ones you would use for sauteing and other similar dishes.

Winter onions are the same colors, but they have been put into storage. These onions are harder and have thicker skins than their summer counterparts. Winter onions are great for stews or other slow-cooked dishes because their flavor is released gradually.

The three colors of onions are not evenly divided. The popular yellow onion, the ones labeled generically "onion" in the grocery store, make up about 88 percent of onion crops, according to the National Onion Association. Yellow onions are considered the basic onion and can be used for a multitude of dishes. They will brown very well and can be used in casseroles, souffles, soups, salads, and other dishes.

Yellow onions also work on sandwiches although it is popular to see red onions used for this purpose. Red onions are sturdy and will hold up to grilling, making them popular for grilling dishes. White onions are sweeter than the other two and are most often used in Mexican food.

The size variety in onions is one of their most interesting qualities. Onions can be very tiny. These white onions have a potent taste although they may be only one inch in diameter. These onions are best for creamy dishes or boiled. A type of onion called "super colossal" can reach five inches in diameter, but these onions are very rare. Most of the ones grown or imported in the United States are about three inches wide.

Different states produce different types of onions, and it is important if you are making a large number of onion dishes to learn the difference. The most popular of the sweet onion varieties is the Vidalia onion, produced primarily in the area around Vidalia, Georgia on the east coast. These onions are harvested from April through June.

Other varieties include Hawaii's Maui Sweet, harvested year round and Texas' Spring Sweets, available from March through July. Note that these varieties are all summer varieties. If you want winter onions, they are available in Michigan, Ohio, New York, and other states throughout the winter months. Some varieties, such as the Vidalia, are produced elsewhere in the winter. The Vidalias you will find in the winter actually are grown and stored in California.

While onions are not known for their massive nutritional value, they do have certain flavonoids, such as quercetin, that helps slow down damage to the body. Some studies also indicate that onions may be responsible for helping with stomach ulcers and may increase bone mineral density. These studies are preliminary, however, and should not be taken for definite fact at this point. Still, even without health benefits, onions are a wonderful flavoring veggie to add to your meal!

By Julia Mercer

Two Quick Eggplant Recipes

Do you think eggplant Parmesan is the only dish you can make with this delicious purple vegetable? Well, are you ever wrong! Eggplant is a versatile vegetable that can be delicious cooked in a variety of recipes. Below are just two to get you started.

One of the basic dishes you should try with eggplant is Baby Herbed Eggplant. You will need these ingredients: three pounds of small eggplants; three teaspoons of salt; two teaspoons of chopped garlic; 1/2 cup of sherry; black pepper; and 1/2 cup of shredded basil leaves.

You will need to begin by washing the eggplant. Take care to remove the green cap and cut out any spots you may see or bumps on the skin of the plant. Then cut the vegetable into quarters. Sprinkle the salt on the eggplant and leave in a colander for thirty minutes. The water will drain from the eggplant so that it does not absorb the oil during cooking.

Once the eggplant is drained, put it on a baking sheet. The fleshy side should be facing up, and it should be single layer.

In a separate bowl, combine the garlic and oil. Mix it well and then drizzle it slowly and evenly over the eggplant. Bake the veggie for thirty minutes on 350 degrees. Watch it until it turns golden brown.

Remove the now-tender eggplant from the oven and put it in a serving bowl. Pour in the sherry and stir. You can use red wine vinegar in place of the sherry. Then you will toss in your shredded basil leaves, and you are ready to serve.

When you are looking for eggplant to be the foundation of your meal, you may want to consider an Eggplant Souffle. After preheating your oven to 325 degrees, you will need to peel and cube one medium eggplant. In a small pot, use a boiling version of salting the plant. This method works the same way but is much faster. Put the eggplant in the pot and cover with water. Salt the water and boil for a couple of minutes.

Drain and mash the eggplant and set it aside. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a skillet, adding in salt and pepper to taste along with two tablespoons of flour.

Once the ingredients in the skillet begin to bubble, slowly pour in a cup of milk, stirring while you are pouring to avoid clumping. Then add in the mashed eggplant, a cup of shredded cheese, one tablespoon of ketchup, and 3/4 cup of bread crumbs. Turn the skillet to low and keep an eye on it.

In a bowl, beat two egg yolks. Pour them into the skillet mixture. Beat the whites from those eggs until they foam and form white peaks. Then you will fold them in with the other ingredients. Move the cooking food to a casserole dish and bake for one hour.

These recipes should get you started adding eggplant to your diet. These recipes are easy and tasty, so give them a try today.

By Julia Mercer

Try Adding Sweetness To Your Risotto

Just because risotto is rice-based does not mean that you cannot add a little sweet flavor to it. One option is to make an apple risotto. Made with apples and Gorgonzola cheese, this risotto is one you probably have never considered or tasted before.

Saute a small onion in a medium-sized skillet with 1/4 stick of butter. When the onions begin to get soft, add in 2 1/2 cups of the risotto rice you select. Cook in the skillet until the rice grains begin to turn golden. Once the rice grains are opaque, add in a glass of dry white wine. Stir the skillet until the wine evaporates.

Then add in a pound of cored apples. You can keep the peelings on but keep in mind that can get messy and even embarrassing for your guests. With the apples in, pour a cup of stock and stir to get the ingredients mixed together. You will need a total of one and a half quarts of chicken or beef stock and another 1/2 cup of butter.

This part of making risotto is the longest portion of the process. You should add in the stock one cup at a time. Allow each cup to get absorbed before you add the next one. After you have added all of the stock, during which you are stirring constantly, allow it to cook for 10 minutes and then add thinly diced pieces - three ounces worth - of Gorgonzola cheese.

You can add in a little salt and pepper to taste. When the rice is almost done but still a little tough, add in four tablespoons of apple Aquavit for the final taste to this tasty fruit risotto.

To stay fruity but add a little bite, you may want to try a lemon risotto. You will need to gather these ingredients: two chopped shallots; a stick of butter; two cups of risotto rice; a glass of dry white wine; four ounces of cubed Fontina cheese; two small lemons; a tablespoon of Lemoncello liqueur; salt; pepper; parmesan cheese. You also will need to have prepared five cups of vegetable stock before you begin.

The first step is to grate the rind from the lemons. Sit the rind aside in a small bowl. Then you will need to juice the lemons and set it aside as well.

Put half of the butter into a skillet. When it melts, add in the shallots and let them begin to cook. When the shallots begin to cook, add in the rice. As it begins to turn golden, pour in half the wine. Let the wine evaporate; add the rest; repeat. Add in the cheese, stirring all the while. Then use the method described above to add in the stock.

Allow the rice to cook for 20 minutes and add in the lemon zest, juice, and liqueur. Let the dish boil for one minute, add the remaining butter, salt and pepper, and stir.

Both of these fruit risottos are excellent choices for a little difference in your risotto repertoire.

By Julia Mercer

Stock For The Risotto

Making risotto calls for two really great ingredients: rice and stock. You can make the stocks yourself, or you can purchase them. Either way you need them to be top quality because otherwise the quality of the finished product depends on the stock you use.

There are four simple steps that you can take to make a basic stock. First, you will need to put all of the ingredients for your selected stock into a pan. The pan should be like a skillet but fairly deep. Pour in the water and add the salt to the ingredients in the pan.

The second step is to bring the stock to a boil, lower the heat, and allow the stock to simmer. You really need to allot a large amount of time to make your risotto or make a large amount of stock and use it for several dishes. The stock will need to simmer for about two hours.

Next you will strain the stock with a sieve or colander. The stock will be in the pot beneath the strainer. If you want to get every possible drop of flavor, use a spatula to press down on the ingredients to extract the flavor from them.

The fourth step is to put the stock into a large bowl. Allow it to cool and then use a small spoon to remove any fat that accumulates at the top. If you do not use the stock immediately, you can keep it in the fridge for three days or the freezer for six months.

Chicken stock, brodo di pollo, is the most basic of the stocks you can make. You will follow the method outlined above using two pounds of cooked chicken; one onion cut into large pieces; two celery sticks cut into large pieces; two carrots chunked; parsley to taste; and six peppercorns.

Remember when you are chopping the vegetables that you will need to chop them so that their flavor will mix with the other ingredients but so that the pieces will not fall through the sieve when you strain them. You will add one and a half quarts of water to the chicken broth.

If you are looking for a fish-based stock try this recipe. Rinse four pounds of fish in cold water for about ten minutes. Remove them from the water and clean them. Put them in your stock pot on low heat for about five minutes. Add in a sliced leek, a quartered celery stalk, a chopped carrot, eight ounces of white wine, 1/2 lemon, a little basil, 12 black peppercorns, and two bay leaves. Cover the ingredients with two and a half quarts of water and use the basic stock method to get your fish stock.

Vegetarians can make the stock with two carrots, one large onion, two celery stalks, two tomatoes, two cabbage leaves, and eight lettuce leaves. Cut up the veggies; add five cups of cold water; make your stock.

Try other variations, such as using beef or veal. Experiment with the stocks but keep the basic method intact to make a great risotto stock.

By Julia Mercer

A Few Facts on Eggplants

Eggplant is a vegetable that few people eat on a regular basis. This veggie is packed with taste and nutrients, however, and should be part of your diet. Eggplant is part of the potato family and comes in a dark purple color. While eggplant is available throughout the year, it is most abundant in August and September.

Despite this lengthy growing season, the eggplant does not like the cold. You can grow them for long periods during the year only if you live in an area of the country where the summers are long and hot. You will need to transplant eggplants from a small, indoor container to the outdoor garden only after there is absolutely no threat of a frost. These plants are sensitive and will not make it through late spring cold spells.

When you do move the eggplants outdoors, you will need to keep the plants 18 to 24 inches away from each other to permit the roots enough room to grow. If your family eats eggplant an average number of times, you will need only about one plant per person to yield enough of the vegetable to have enough but not too many.

You will know when the eggplant is ready for the harvest because the vegetable will be about six inches long. The waxy exterior will be shiny. Hold the vegetable in the palm of your hand and give it a gentle squeeze. It should press in but bounce back quickly when it is ready to harvest.

You will need to wear gloves when you harvest eggplant because the plants, especially in the smaller varieties, have prickly thorn. There is a green top, called a calyx, that grows on eggplant. You should use a small knife instead of twisting off the vegetable, and leave the calyx on the vegetable for protection.

Be careful during this process because despite the tough-looking exterior, eggplants are very easy to bruise. Gather them in small baskets and do not stack many of top of each other.

You cannot keep eggplant for very long. They bitter as they grow older, and they really do not have to be very old for this taste change to begin. Always plan to use an eggplant within two days or purchase or harvest. One way to help keep them fresh is to wrap them in plastic. Be sure that the green cap, or calyx, is still green and still looks fresh when you use the eggplant.

From a cooking standpoint, there are a couple of quick rules to remember. First, you will need to be able to convert the size of the eggplant to the volume the recipe needs. A pound of eggplant equals roughly three cups of the chopped vegetable. One medium-sized eggplant can feed three to four people, especially if served in a dish. This eggplant typically weighs about a pound.

The eggplant is an amazing source of nutrition, and it is a versatile food. Remember those facts when you are planning your garden for next year and give eggplant a try!

By Julia Mercer

Eat Your Brussels Sprouts!

Very few children want to hear this admonition, but the truth is that Brussels sprouts are a tasty vegetable, especially if they are cooked in a great recipe.

Brussels sprouts, who are part of the genus Brassica oleracea, are related to other dark green veggies, including cabbage, collard greens, and broccoli.

Brussels sprouts are seldom found fresh in the southern portion of the United States. This veggie is very fragile. They are native to the cold climates of northern Europe. People in Belgium enjoyed the cultivation of this crop and made it one of their principal crops. When the French claimed present-day Louisiana, they worked hard to bring this vegetable, which looks like a miniature cabbage, to their new homeland.

Over the centuries, Brussels sprouts have developed only two distinct breeds. The smaller variety grows up to two feet tall while the larger breed is two to four feet. Europeans actually eat a smaller version of the vegetable, measuring less than an inch in diameter while Americans prefer their Brussels sprouts one to two inches in diameter.

If you are planning to add Brussels sprouts to your garden, you will need to give the plants plenty of room to grow. Long, cold winters are perfect for the taller variety, but otherwise you should stick to the smaller ones. You will be able to harvest the veggie about three months after planting.

When the veggie begins to grow, the head of it, and the part you eat, will look like small cabbages. These tiny cabbages grow in what are called "leaf axels," meaning that they all start at the base and fan out in the same way cabbage and lettuce do.

Brussels sprouts definitely provide good nutrition, so you should make every effort to eat them at least a couple of times a month. A one-cup serving contains four grams of protein, which is fairly high for a vegetable. Sprouts also provide a good bit of folate (94 mcg per serving); potassium (494 mcg per serving); and Vitamin C (96 mg per serving).

Once you have decided to add Brussels sprouts to your diet, you may encounter a little resistance. The biggest hurdle in learning to make edible Brussels sprouts is to cut an “X” shape into the base of each one. Because the leaves are thin, they cook more quickly than the core. Then to get the core cooked, you have to overcook the leaves, making the sprouts taste yucky.

Regardless of the method of cooking, ten minutes is the maximum time you should cook Brussels sprouts. If they begin to lose their dark green color, you are overcooking them. Cut large sprouts in half to help them cook. Also select a uniform size so that they all get done in roughly the same amount of time.

Brussels sprouts are great with seasonings and are usually boiled. You can try adding bread crumbs for a little substance or overpowering the taste with seasoning if you really do not like them. Don't just skip them, though, because they are packed with nutrients.

By Julia Mercer

Decorate Around Your Stuff!

If you have an excess of "stuff" in your house, clean it out! When you are planning to re-decorate, make sure that you start by going through your house and getting rid of what you don't need. Once you have made room, then you may find that you still have too much stuff for your house or apartment. When that is the case, the best option is to decorate around your stuff. Find ways to make it less obvious that the vacuum cleaner is housed in the living room.

The first step is to find a place for everything even if it is in the corner of the living room or under the bed. Do not pile items under your bed, but some things, such as the long-handled duster that you only use for the corners of the alcove window in your bedroom, can go there purposefully.

Next consider adding some shelving. This method is one of the simplest ways to create new storage space. There are times when you have an odd nook or cranny. Maybe there are eighteen inches of space between the closet and door. You probably have not even considering using this space because it is so small. You could put a few extra books there, or you could make it a home for those three figurines you feel obligated to keep.

Look around your house and determine where you can add in shelving. You can pick up wire shelving, which can get pricy but is simple. You also may want to think about trying your hand at creating wall shelves. Home improvement stores will have the brackets, the stain, and the wood for you to make a custom-built shelf for that weird little wall in your office. One way to use wall space with shelves is to hang shelves one to two feet below pictures. Although you are already using that space, you can put that decorative teacup you bought in Japan on a doily underneath your picture of Tokyo. Think about how you can use shelves to add space.

When you have something that is a necessity, such as an iron, with nowhere to go, think about hiding it. Good storage is a decorating skill in itself. Use space behind closet doors. If you visit an organizing store, or even a cheap dollar store, you will find plastic and wire choices for these types of storage. There are iron hangers that bolt into the door where you can keep your iron, spray starch, and other accessories without them getting in this way. This behind-the-door storage works well for books, shoes, toys, and other items as well.

Remember that you can use vertical space (look up) if you need it. You also can hide items by creative decorating. For example, you can decorate a small trashcan with a tablecloth. Turn the trashcan upside down, put a small piece of glass for a top. Then you can keep items under the trashcan that you can pull out when needed, but your guests will never notice. Think creatively and you'll find ways to decorate around your stuff.

By Julia Mercer

Make A Small Bathroom Look and Feel Huge

Bathrooms often are the smallest room in a home. While that may make some people happy, it can be a chore if you like a bigger bathroom because you enjoy relaxing in the tub without feeling claustrophobic.

There are simple techniques to improve the "size" of your bathroom without doing any remodeling. The first key is to select the decorating colors carefully. Soft colors, such as beige, make the room feel warm. Use soft accent colors, like pale greens and blues, to make you feel serene in the bathroom. If you decorate a small space with bright colors, it heightens your intensity and makes you feel more anxious about the space. To that end, you should have light-colored flooring. Do not go with a dark wood, which is not a good choice for a bathroom anyway, or a dark tiled floor. Choose something light that will make the room open up.

Once you have the colors down, add some light. You want to get as close to natural lighting as you can as that enhances the mood. You can add skylights or recessed lighting. Without these options, try putting sconces on the wall or using small lamps that can brighten up the space.

You also can get rid of your large sink and cabinet if you have alternatives for storing your bathroom items. There are creative ways to store these items, such as using baskets, that will allow you to trade in the bulk of your sink for a pedestal variety, freeing up feet of wall space in your bathroom. Also do not clutter the space. You can have one or two large pieces on the walls, but you really do not need small little knick-knacks. Having too much on the walls makes you notice, albeit subconsciously, the small spaces available.

If there are items that "stick out," such as odd shelving that you don't need or extra pieces of furniture, get rid of those items. You can make the room feel much bigger the less there is in it. An artificial way to make your room look bigger is to add mirrors. You can try a floor-to-ceiling mirror for a little variety. You also can try adding in mirrors behind the lights you put on the wall or using small square mirrors to decorate throughout the room. Because mirrors reflect the space around them, they make the room look twice the size.

Finally do not distract yourself. Many people have "foggy" glass for bathroom windows. While this look is intended to keep people from seeing it, you should replace it with a regular window and put up blinds or a curtain. The glass is a distraction. Also make sure that you can see from corner to corner so that you will be able to take in the whole room. These fixes should help you to turn your small, cramped bathroom into one that looks larger and more luxurious. Experiment with these ideas to see which one works the best for your needs.

By Julia Mercer

Knitting and Crocheting

By Christina VanGinkel

Creating scarves, mittens, caps, ponchos, and a wide variety of other accessories from yarn is a growing renewed trend. Both knitting and crochet is making a comeback like no other time in the history of handcrafts. Gone this time is the stigma of wearing something handcrafted. In its place is the proud feeling to own and wear something created with one's own hands or by those of a loved one. For those who have not yet learned to knit or crochet, and are not fortunate enough to know someone who does, you can always buy these lovely creations at a craft or art fair, or better yet, learn one of the arts yourself.

Whether you live in a large city, small town, or in a rural community, chances are you can easily find someone willing to teach you one or the other. Be warned though that once you learn, you will join the ranks of millions who knit and crochet obsessively. You will find yourself with yarn and needles in hand in waiting rooms, sitting in the carpool lane, on vacation, and in your own living room night after night. I even know a woman who carries a small project in her purse so that she can crochet if she has to stand in line at the grocery store for longer than thirty seconds or so. As she told me, it makes the wait not so bad, as she knows she is at least accomplishing something. I always thought I was the queen of crochet until I met her! In addition, take note that once others know that you know how, request for items will start to pour in. Last year alone I quit counting at an even dozen for ponchos I crocheted for several young girls from toddler to teen.

With the huge variety of threads and yarns available on today's market, you can find a color or finish to match anything your heart desires. No longer are your only choices a few colors of some fine baby-weight yarn and a few others in a heavy worsted weight with some dull, drab colors in wool tossed in for extra measure. You will have at your disposal literally thousands of colors and styles. Fun fur has been all the rage the last few years and does not seem to be losing any of its popularity. A yarn suitable for everything from scarves and mittens to the trim on a poncho, fun fur is as its name implies. Fun colors, fun texture, fun. It lightens the mood of the person creating with it, and continues to brighten the day of the person lucky enough to wear it. Truly, a stress reliever no matter which way you approach it, and we all need as many of those as we can uncover.

If you are looking for a hobby, which will produce something you can brag about, check out knitting or crocheting. Men, women, even children enjoy picking up a hook or set of needles, and turning a few balls or skeins of yarn into something they can proudly say they made. Do not be left behind, get on track and find out for yourself just how rewarding these two crafts can be.

Japanese Snacks

Recently, we were honored and privileged to host a Japanese exchange student in our home for one month. She was a cute, fun, 12-year-old girl who had a maturity beyond her years and a great sense of humor. As is Japanese custom, she came to our home bearing an amazing assortment of gifts for our family, our extended family, and friends. We were stunned and thrilled to open package after package, looking in wonder upon all that she had brought to us. After opening nearly everything, she then presented us with a box full of Japanese snacks and delicacies. We Americans may think we have cornered the market on snack foods, but our Japanese exchange student introduced us to snacks, the likes of which we had never seen before.

Much of the Japanese diet is centered around rice, so most of the snack foods were rice based. While in our country we eat a lot of snack foods made of potatoes, corn, and wheat, we learned that the Japanese snack foods were lighter. Although we enjoy rice cakes in our country, rice can be made into many more varieties of snacks which are much more interesting.

One of our favorites was a type of candy or sweet. It consisted of a small ball of puffed rice, about the size of a piece of popcorn, dipped in caramel. Another wonderful sweet was a rice-based gel stick that tasted a bit like gummy bears. The colored and flavored gel was in a thin plastic tube and could be sucked out of one end. Similar to rice cakes in western areas, there were packaged rice cakes shaped more like candy bars. These rice cakes were wrapped in individual colorful foil packages and were a huge assortment of flavors from barbeque to chocolate to garlic. Since none of us could read the writing on the packages, and our student did not yet speak any English, we always had a surprise when we bit into one of the treats.

There were also more mature snacks to be served at dinner parties or other adult social gatherings. In addition to rice, the Japanese also eat a lot of dried fish. One of the delectable snacks our student brought was served in a beautiful tin box with a raised drawing on the top. Inside were individually wrapped, thin, round rice crackers. On each cracker was a thin slice of cheese and a paper thin slice of dried fish. The fish was so paper thin, in fact, that it looked like paper. When we first tried the snack, we began to peel off what we thought was the paper, but through hand gestures and a dictionary, our student explained about the fish.

There were a variety of other treats in the box brought to us from Japan; from mints and hard candies to rice pretzels and cocoa bars, we learned a lot about our Far-Eastern friends by sampling some of their snacks. We learned about many of our differences in preference and flavor, but most of all, we learned that everyone around the world, adult and child alike, appreciates great snack foods!

Try Corn-Based Appetizers

Don't consider corn for just a side dish anymore. You can use it as a main or secondary ingredient in a group of tasty appetizers. The next time you are planning a party, give one of these good recipes a try.

Cottage cheese and corn dip is one of those recipes. You will need to gather these ingredients for this low-fat recipe: one cup of low-fat cottage cheese; 1/2 cup of drained, canned corn; 2 teaspoons of dried basil; 1/4 cup of sliced green onions; and black pepper to taste. Mix the ingredients as is into a serving bowl. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve. This dip works with crackers or as part of a slightly more substantive meal. Try stuffing it into a pita pocket or using it on an exotic bread for a little extra taste.

Bean Corn Dip is another hors d'oeuvre that you may want to try for game day eating. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. You will need a deep-dish pie plate or a deep casserole dish for this recipe. Spray or otherwise grease the dish.

Evenly spread two cans of refried beans on the bottom of the dish as if it is the piecrust. Layer 1/2 cup of sour cream over the beans and then top with a cup of shredded cheese of whatever variety you enjoy.

Next, you will open a can of corn and drain it. Scoop out the corn and put it in a rough layer over the cheese. Top with one and a half cups of salsa. Next put on a 1/2-cup layer of sour cream and another cup of cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. When you remove the dip from the oven, pour on another 1/2 cup of salsa and serve with tortilla chips.

Corn-Stuffed Tomatoes is a self-contained dish you may want to try. Begin by gathering these ingredients: six medium tomatoes, one tablespoon of butter, two tablespoons of chopped onions, two tablespoons of chopped red pepper, one egg, 1/4 cup of cream, two cups of cooked corn, salt, pepper, and four tablespoons of shredded cheddar cheese.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet. Slice the tops off the tomatoes. You will remove the seeds, throw them away, and then turn the tomatoes open-side down on paper towels. Allow them to drain while you prepare the rest of the dish.

In a medium-sized skillet, melt the butter and then add the onion and red pepper. While they are getting tender, mix the egg and cream together in a bowl. Stir in the corn and a little salt and pepper. Remove the onions and peppers and pour them in.

You will then scoop the mix into the tomatoes and place them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle a little cheese on the top of each tomato. Cook the tomatoes for 15 minutes until the cheese is toasty brown.

These recipes give you a little hint as to the variety of dishes you can make with corn.

By Julia Mercer

Cook Pumpkin This Fall

Although pumpkins probably are most known for their use as jack-o-lanterns, they are a tasty and substantial fruit. Pumpkins are grown throughout most of the United States, and they can be harvested in the fall months.

The standard orange, the small variety of pumpkin, weighs in at only about two to five pounds. The intermediate pumpkins are eight to fifteen pounds, while the large variety weigh fifteen to twenty-five pounds. Each breed of pumpkin takes about 100 days to harvest from the time you plant them. Other than the standard orange pumpkins, however, there are many varieties such as the Rouge Vif d'Estampes, a flattened pumpkin also called the "Cinderella pumpkin."

There are jumbo pumpkins, which can weigh 100 pounds, green pumpkins, like the Tennessee, and naked-seeded trick or treat pumpkin.

If you decide to plant your own pumpkins, you will be able to harvest them about three months after planting. They will be ready for picking when they are a deep hue of the color they are supposed to be. The rind also should be hard. Keep in mind that pumpkins are ready to harvest in late September or early October, making them perfect for Halloween. You will need to use pruning shears to cut the pumpkins and leave a bit of the stem on the vegetable. If you do not, then the top of the pumpkin will be exposed, and it will not keep long.

Once you have the pumpkins inside, you are ready to start serving them for your family. Pumpkins, like most orange vegetables, have extremely high levels of Vitamin A. They also contain significant amounts of Vitamin C, phosphorus, and potassium.

When you get the pumpkin inside, then you will need to work on cutting it open to prepare for cutting. Put the pumpkin on a newspaper or a very large cutting board. Keep in mind that this process can get messy. Insert a long, sharp knife into the pumpkin's skin the way you would with a watermelon. You will pull the knife toward you (carefully) and then away from you until you have cut about half of the pumpkin. Then you will be able to pull it apart.

At this point, you should remove the strings and seeds. You can roast the seeds, which are really delicious, so you may want to keep them for this purpose. Once you have removed the excess, cut the pumpkin into large pieces. Rinse and then pat dry each piece of the pumpkin. You can use a paring knife to peel back the skin.

There are simple ways to cook pumpkin. You can cover them with water and boil them or steam them in a broiler. You also can place them flesh side up in a baking dish and bake them for 30 minutes on 350 degrees. You can even microwave pumpkin! Put it in for 15 minutes and then sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar when it is done.

Pumpkin has many other uses, such as pies, souffles, and casseroles. Try them all to see how many you like.

By Julia Mercer

A Little On Using Eggplant In The Kitchen

When you are picking your veggies to eat, you probably have trouble with the orange, red, and purple varieties. Most people do. While most of us can name off quite a few green and yellow vegetables, the brighter colors leave us stumped.

The next time you are looking for variety in your vegetables, then you should consider trying an eggplant. This purple vegetable is a great source of nutrition. A cup of cooked eggplant has only 28 calories, making it a great low-fat addition to your favorite casserole.

It contains little protein or carbohydrates, but it is a decent source of dietary fiber. Many people overlook fiber, but it helps keep your digestive tract clean and healthy, and you should eat it where you can get it since many people have trouble finding enough. In the mineral department, eggplant contains three important minerals: phosphorus, potassium, and folic acid. Your body needs these minerals to run, so you should take advantage of them in eggplant.

When you are cooking eggplant, keep in mind that it is spongy, and there is a lot of room for absorption in the well-spaced cells of your eggplant. That means that the vegetable soaks up oils and other cooking agents really well. While that works well for the actual cooking, you need to beware how much fat you may be getting from using a heavy oil.

There are two ways to deal with this oil absorption. One is to salt the eggplant before you begin to cook it. Water absorbs salt, which means that your eggplant will take in the salt and have no room left in the water cells for the oil. Just be sure to keep in mind when you are looking at your recipe that you added the salt in at the beginning. Another option is the squeezing method. Cut the eggplant into strips. Put it flat on a cutting board and squeeze it. This process will remove much of the air, making the vegetable appear flattened, leaving little room for oil to soak into it.

The choice of whether or not to peel your eggplant is entirely up to you. Some people love the look and taste of the peel and never get rid of it while others always do. It really depends on the recipe as different methods work well for different recipes. When you do leave on the peel, however, you will need to be sure that you select young, tender vegetables so that the peels will be easy to cook and eat.

The best part of eggplant from the cook's perspective is that it is so versatile. It can be the base of a dish, such as eggplant Parmesan. It works well baked, grilled, or sauteed. Eggplant also can be a mixture of other vegetables. The taste complements tomatoes, onion, and garlic particularly well.

Regardless of how you cook your eggplant, you will learn to love this veggie over time. Cooking it in a variety of ways will become a fun experiment in the kitchen, and you will never cease to be amazed at how you can prepare eggplant.

By Julia Mercer

The Rules of Engagement Rings

You are all set. You are your sweetheart are madly in love. You are convinced that if you asked her to marry you, she would say yes. Now all that is missing is the ring. How do you go about purchasing the ring?

The first decision you have to make is how much you can spend. Decide that first! Some people move backwards by going out and picking out a ring. Then they try to make the price fit their budget. If your bride-to-be loves you, then she will be happier with a less expensive ring that doesn’t cause a financial strain. Besides if the two of you haven't talked finances, purchasing a very expensive ring only serves to convince her that you make more than you do. You do not want to go into a marriage with those illusions. When you are considering the budget, factor in that you will have to purchase not only her engagement ring but your wedding rings as well.

Once you have a budget in place, then you should consider whether or not you want to tell your girlfriend before you go shopping. Many men believe that it is romantic to pick the ring before you pop the question. While women may find that romantic as well, they may not be as overjoyed about the ring selection.

If you go with not taking her ring shopping with you, then you have two basic choices on the ring. You can design your own ring, making it one that has special significance for you. You also can go with a traditional solitaire so that you are not selecting something unique that she will not like.

If you decide to ask her to go with you - definitely this woman’s recommendation - that does not mean that you cannot ask her to marry you with a night full of surprise. Get a ring box either by borrowing one from a friend or purchasing a small ring as a gift for her that is not an engagement ring. Then, make your plans to ask her to marry you and proceed as if you had the ring. You can explain the situation to her with a little note in the box or just tell her that you would like her approval for the ring.

Remember as you enter this phase that the engagement ring is only a symbol of your impending marriage. While in some areas, women wear their engagement rings for life, adding their wedding bands to the engagement ring, other women will put the ring away in a special place after you are married. Do not get so wrapped up in the purchase of the ring that either of these scenarios will bother you. The ring, like all other wedding plans, are not the decisions that will affect the rest of your life. They are simply tangible symbols of your love.

Take as much time as you need to select the ring and be prepared to let her return it to get one she loves and will cherish forever if you decide to do it without her input.

By Julia Mercer

Share Your Jewelry: Sell It!

There are millions of people who absolutely love jewelry. Thousands of those people have an eye for it. They can see designs, possibilities, and finished products when they look at the beads and chains used as raw materials for jewelry making. If you are one of those people, you can turn your jewelry-making hobby into your very own business.

The first step will be to decide what type of jewelry you want to make. Although you may have 147 ideas, you should stick to one or two at the beginning. Come up with a theme. Do you want to make hemp jewelry that you can market to the college crowd? Do you know plenty of women who bemoan the disappearances of the brooch and think there is a market out there?

Decide what type of jewelry will work for you. If you are having trouble deciding between the various types, think about the marketing scheme. Who will buy it? How will you reach them? Will they pay enough to make it worth your while?

With the type of jewelry decided upon, you need some raw materials to start. Give yourself a budget as healthy as you can afford and head out. When you are starting, keep these two tips in mind. Allow yourself some trash products. Everything you make the first time out will not work; accept that fact. Second, purchase retail from a craft store even if it is not the exact material you will use in the final product.

You should have a theme but have five to six different products if you are making all hemp, for example. Some jewelry makers opt to make only bracelets, but they are all unique. You can make these choices, too, and the experimentation step will help you determine which plan works for you.

So, now that you are armed with samples of your product, start looking for wholesalers. While you may not buy massive amounts of materials in the beginning, you will want to get a wholesale purchase license so that you can purchase the materials for less money. Order enough supplies to get you started.

While you are waiting for those supplies to come in, work on the image side of your business. Remember that you likely will start at craft shows or by convincing small retailers to sell your work. You will need a bang-up marketing plan to get them to purchase and create repeat business. These repeats will help you stay in business, so give them a way to remember you.

At the very least, you should make up business cards with your company logo and contact information. You also will need a mailing list so that you can send out brochures. These brochures will not need to be huge, but you should send mailings three to four times a year. You may just send a postcard saying, "I'll be in your town soon," or "You can now visit me online." Be sure to give customers a way to find you. Once you have these issues in place, you are ready to get to work on making that jewelry.

By Julia Mercer

Picking The Perfect Tiara

Whether it is for your wedding or for your high school prom, you may want to consider purchasing a tiara to help complete your look. Tiaras are "princess" items that are great for many looks. Here is what to consider when you are thinking of getting a tiara.

First, decide how much you can spend. Tiaras vary widely in price, so there is no reason that you cannot find something that will suit your budget. Next, make sure that the hairstyle you plan is one that will accommodate a tiara or that you can change easily to one that will. Many girls and women wear their hair in French twists with curls, buns, or similar hairstyles. These up ‘dos all will work for the tiara. The only styles where you may have a problem would be styles that emphasize the height of your hair or your bangs.

Once you get to the tiaras, the first big decision will be color. The base color of almost all tiaras is silver although there is a little variation there. You will need to decide, however, if you want colored rhinestones or other touches of color in the headpiece. If you have a dress already, you should bring it along for this shopping trip. Without a dress already selected, your best bet is to go for the silver tiara with only clear gems so that you are not stuck with a certain dress color.

There are five types of tiaras we will touch on here. The first are the Celtic tiaras. This type of tiara is not as popular as some of the other styles, but they are beautiful. The designs mimic Celtic art, so they have interwoven lines, usually with rhinestones on them. The Celtic tiaras sit low on your head and are meant as an elegant complement to your attire.

The heart, pearl, and crystal varieties are so-called for their designs. The heart tiaras are most popular for girls for prom or other formal events. These tiaras have hearts carved into them, or the metal on the tiara itself is heart-shaped. These headpieces range from being very subtle and perfect for even the pre-teen who may be a flower girl, to very showy hearts intended more for pageants and other event.

The pearl tiaras are a great choice if you will be wearing pearls as a necklace or earrings. They have individual pearls inlaid in the design, or they may have strings of pearls on the tiara. The crystal tiaras are the most "sparkly." They are designed for the sole purpose of lighting up with the lights hit them.

The final tiara we will cover are floral tiaras. These pieces work for less formal occasions. If you have a wedding that is a bit casual, for instance, you may want to consider the floral tiaras. They allow for flowers to work into the design giving you a combination look that can be stunning. Try on samples from all of these categories when you are out tiara shopping. You never know which one will look perfect on you.

By Julia Mercer

Display Your Necklaces Attractively

When you are selling your own jewelry, especially if you are at a craft fair or other booth-oriented selling locale, the display is almost as important as your product. A display can make or break your profit because it will show people how much pride you take in your work. When you are displaying necklaces, there are a few considerations to help you see how the customer sees your jewelry.

First, ask yourself whether or not the customer can try on the necklace easily. Jewelry is something that few people will buy without knowing how it looks on them, so you want to make it easy for people to try on your products. On the other hand, you have to worry about inventory control. Do not make it so easy that a necklace could slip into someone’s pocket without you noticing.

Second, consider your own comfort. How portable is the display? Is it something that you are going to dread putting up and taking down every time you go out? If so, then you probably want to reconsider. You want a sturdy display that can be folded so that you can carry it easily. To this end, imagine the possible obstacles your display could encounter, such as wind and rain. Make sure that it will withstand the elements or that you have some way of protecting it. Another thought here is to consider the display's durability. How long do you need it to last? How much are you willing to spend to make it durable?

Also think about how many necklaces your display will hold and compare that to your necklace collection. There is no definite answer here. With a small number of necklaces, fewer than 100, then you will want each display case to hold only five or so pieces. Larger collections will call for larger displays so that your table does not look cluttered with display backings and not product.

The display itself obviously should coordinate in color and theme with the types of necklaces you sell. If you make dream catchers, for example, you would not want a display in tie-dye colors. They don’t work well together. Try to make your own display so that you can paint it however you would like.

Practical concerns include how easily the prices can be made known. If you can have one price for a full display, that is the best choice. Otherwise, know how you will let people know about the prices. Also think about the different size necklaces you make to make sure they will not interfere with each other.

The final thought is about add-on selling. You want to sell complementary items together to improve your profit margin per customer. Be sure that if you sell matching bracelets, for example, you have a way to put them near the necklaces they match. Don't be afraid to experiment with your necklace display. See what works from show to show and go with what the customers like in a display even if it means abandoning your original idea.

By Julia Mercer

A Few Tidbits About Vintage Jewelry

Shopping for and wearing vintage jewelry can be lots of fun. You get to try on jewelry you otherwise would not wear or could not afford. You can feel that you have been transported to a different time. The whole process is great entertainment. When you are out looking for vintage jewelry, however, here are some quick pieces of information you should keep in mind.

First, you will encounter the term "Aurora Borealis." This term means simply that you are looking at costume, or fake, jewelry. The jewels are sprayed with a coating that makes them sparkle different colors, giving off bright lights like the night sky effect for which the jewelry is named.

The Marcel Boucher line of jewelry is one that is sought after. When looking at vintage jewelry, you may run into D’Orlan. This company is Canadian and run by Sandra Boucher, Marcel’s wife. You will find many reintroduced Boucher pieces in this line.

Another Canadian company you may encounter when you are looking for vintage jewelry is the Sherman company. The Sherman jewels, which come mostly in bright red, fuschia, and purple, are primarily high-quality rhinestones and rodium plating on the jewels.

Dress clips, which go between the sides of a woman's dress at chest level are a vintage piece. Louis Cartier, the famous French jeweler, designed the first dress clip in 1927, supposedly getting the idea from a woman hanging clothes on a line. If you are vintage shopping, be sure to check out this piece for your collection.

To help in your search, you may want to check out European Designer Jewelry. This Ginger Moro book in a veritable encyclopedia of the European vintage jewelry scene, containing photos of pieces from France, Austria, Italy, and Denmark, among others. The book also contains a value guide so that you can determine the worth of the piece you are considering.

Brooches have made a comeback! They do not only come in vintage pieces these days, but this women’s dress pin is still something you will find in your vintage search. The best ones out there will be rhinestone-studded and will really make a statement. Rhinestones, named for their original location at the bottom of Austria’s Rhine River, are pieces of rock crystal that can be smoothed. They are a semi-precious stone and very popular for dressing up a plain piece.

Verdigris is a French term that means roughly green grime. This filth can get on your vintage jewelry when there is damage to the metal beneath it. This damage may be surface but can extend to the core as well. You can try home remedies, such as using vinegar or lemon juice, to remove the gunk but be careful before you undertake any of these folk remedies on your vintage pieces.

These are just a few of the tips and ideas you should keep in mind if you will be purchasing vintage jewelry. The whole process can be exciting and provide a good hobby. The best part of it is that you can spend little or much money, depending on your budget, and still have a great time.

By Julia Mercer

Tips for Purchasing a Computer Desk

I love my computer desk. And it's a good thing I do because I spend a good deal of my time in front of it, whether writing, browsing the web or keeping in touch with friends. For me, my computer desk is one of the most important pieces of furniture I own, and I know there are others out there who feel the same way. But unfortunately, not everyone shops as carefully for a computer desk as they do for a new couch or bed. So I would like to offer a few pointers for selecting a quality and useful computer desk.

In describing what to look for in a computer desk, I'm going to be considering features from the viewpoint of a desktop computer user. Some points will also apply to those with laptops, but laptop users will also have additional concerns in regards to selecting the best computer desk.

One thing to consider is where your keyboard will be placed because proper keyboard placement is important to avoid unnecessary wrist strain. Pull-out shelves are usually the best option. Since they are meant for keyboards, they're usually at a good height for the average user. Some keyboard shelves even come with a built-in wrist rest. Make sure the keyboard shelf slides smoothly, but most importantly, make sure that it will stop at the place that is most comfortable for you. Some keyboard shelves are either all the way out or all the way in, with no ground in-between.

Almost as important as where your keyboard will be placed is where you mouse and mouse pad will rest. I've seen too many computers that have a keyboard shelf, but no place to put a mouse so that your wrist may rest naturally while using it. Make sure that your keyboard shelf is wide enough for a keyboard along with a mouse, joystick, gamepad, or whatever else you may use to control your computer. You'll save your wrist a lot of trouble.

Next, make sure that the computer has space for your case/computer tower. Most computer towers are slightly different sizes, so know your dimensions before you shop. Don't forget to consider the depth of the desk. It won't do you any good if your case is short enough to slide into the space but falls out of the shelf because it's not deep enough.

Finally, make sure that there is enough space for your monitor. The same principle of knowing your dimensions also applies with monitors. Except with monitors, you may also want to leave room for future size upgrades. Also consider how high your monitor will sit on the desk so that you can get the best line of sight on it.

I prefer computer desks that also offer storage space, so I consider side shelves, installed CD racks and cabinets placed over the monitor area to be added value. Decide on your own storage needs before deciding on the best computer desk for you. At the very least, you'll want a place to store your computer supplies like disks. Do you also need space for a printer, or do you have a separate cart for that? Do you want to store your extensive game collection in or on your computer desk? You'll most likely have to balance cost with extra features for this aspect of the desk.

Tie-Dyed Memories

There is a certain fashion trend that has lasted through the years. People of all ages enjoy this style whether they're purchasing ready-made items to wear or taking matters into their own hands and designing their own clothing. Appropriated by subcultures yet accessible to all, of course I'm talking about tie-dye.

While tie-dyeing will always be remembered as a hippie style, it has moved far beyond those flower child roots. I'm a child born of the 80s and during my senior year of high school in 1997 the color of our class shirts, voted on by a majority of my peers, was tie-dye. I've seen grandmothers in tie-dye shirts and I've seen babies in tie-dye onesies. There really is something about those bright, spiraling colors that appeals to everyone.

Personally, whenever I put on a tie-dye shirt, I feel instantly happier and more cheerful. It's a real pick-me-up. Now I'm not saying I would wear one to a business conference, but for everyday casual wear, nothing beats a great tie-dye pattern.

Tie-dying also tends to be a fun way to personalize group shirts. In fact, the ability to tie-dye seems to be a predominant reason for ordering white shirts in high school and college groups. I've seen high school students tie-dye their powder puff football t-shirts and I've seen college students make personalized mementos of a retreat weekend with a few tubs of dye. Dyeing the shirts becomes a social event and everyone can feel a bit unique while also feeling like they're part of the group.

I believe the first time I ever made a tie-dye shirt was in early elementary school. It was either a craft project in my Brownie Girl Scout troop or perhaps my teacher planned it as an end-of-the year treat. Either way, I dutifully brought in a plain white shirt. (As a side note, whenever I was going to do a tie-dye project as a kid, my mom always hated it because for some reason I never had any plain white shirts. So it either meant that I had to tie-dye one of my dad's undershirts and perhaps make a nightgown out of it or that my mom had to buy me a brand new shirt just to tie-dye. And if you've ever seen elementary school tie-dye efforts, then you'll understand why she probably didn't feel it was worth it.)

The white shirt would then be wrapped up in little rubber band bundles. Which led to the ever-important decision of which color to throw your wrapped-up shirt in. Each color looked beautiful in its deep hue, but you never knew exactly how it was going to look when dry. It was always exciting to see your very own creation arise from the tub of dye. Tie-dyed t-shirts are funny looking creatures, really. By the time you've wrapped them up properly with rubber bands or string, they're like lumpy, bumpy twigs or sometimes amoebas with lots of appendages. Somehow, the shirts I tie-dyed on my own never looked as good as the ones I could get from a store. Some of my friends knew the right wrapping tricks, though, and they came up with some cool creations.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Designing Jewelry

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are looking for a creative outlet that is both fun and useful, try handcrafting a piece of jewelry. With the availability of quality supplies on the rise, making pieces that you would be both proud of and enjoy creating is simpler than ever. Online resources for supplies are prevalent all over the web, from quality gemstones and diamonds, to more basic materials such as stringing materials and glass and metal beads. Putting it all together into a unique piece of jewelry will be as much fun as gathering all the supplies. Be warned though, that if you create one piece, it will surely be followed by more, many more!

Creating jewelry has been around for centuries, since long before record keeping of any kind was established actually. Some of the earliest discoveries of past civilizations show evidence of different forms of jewelry. Why should modern man be any different? Jewelry crafted by your own hands is special because you are able to put into it what you want. You can play with the colors and different bead finishes, putting a bead on, taking some off, and on and on. Like children with building blocks, beads quickly become an adult's toys in the truest meaning of the word.

If you happen to be going through a stress-filled time in your life, working with beads may be just the creative outlet you need. One can become so absorbed in working with the myriad of colors and finishes, the worries of daily life can slip right on by. There is also a tremendous amount of groups, both online and in various localities that focus on designing with beads and gemstones, and the purchase of them in general. Becoming involved in one of these groups is a great way to meet people and to learn of even more outlets for purchasing beads.

If you are in a deep slump, and just cannot conceive of anything to create, purchasing a book on the art of beads will surely get your creativity flowing. Begin your search right here at by typing 'designing jewelry' into the search field. Some of the most inspiring books are only a mouse click away, and there are many to choose. One that is a favorite of mine is The Encyclopedia of Jewelry-Making Techniques: A Comprehensive Visual Guide to Traditional and Contemporary Techniques by Jinks McGrath. Be warned though that if you buy this, you will definitely be inspired to start creating your own designs! Another favorite is Jewelry Design: The Artisan's Reference by Elizabeth Olver. This is more of a reference book, but extremely inspiring to those that might be just testing the waters of jewelry design. She is also the author of several more books on jewelry design, so if you fall in love with her first book as I did, she has more to offer.

Whether you end up making a few choice pieces for yourself or a few friends, or make so many that you need to discover an outlet for selling all the pieces you make, you will have discovered a hobby that will be a part of the rest of your life.

Surviving a Family Dinner

By Christina VanGinkel

Cooking for a crowd is easy, that is if you know how to cook and enjoy the task. What about for those of us who are barely comfortable getting dinner on the table several times a week, and often rely on takeout for a good part of our meals. I am one such person, and yet I have managed through the years to put on a family dinner with all the relatives in attendance without having to have a nervous breakdown by day's end. I accomplish each meal with a bit of strategic planning, and a reminder to myself that if something fails on the menu, oh well, there will be many other things to fill the appetites at the dinner table. More importantly, remember that an extended family meal is often about a lot more things than just the food!

Begin by accepting the offering of a dish. If someone asks if they can bring something, be prepared with a list of what you are going to need in the area of casseroles and extras. For example, my daughter always brings the fixings for a green bean mushroom casserole. Another relative has gotten in the habit of bringing a vegetable tray to be used as an appetizer. Yet another person never arrives without at least tow home baked pies.

The very first time I invited people over for a family meal I was taken aback by all the offers for help. I wanted to do it all by myself, even though I am not a cook by any stretch of the imagination. As the day approached I acme to my senses and called up everyone who had offered and asked if they would still like to bring something. Everyone said yes, and in the time it took me to make those few phone calls, my stress level dropped way down.

Next, keep your decorating for the meal to a minimum. While it is fun to dress up the table, keep it simple. Fresh flowers, or maybe a table decoration made by the kids. This is a family meal after all, not a dinner party for your boss or business associates.

Keep the mood relaxed also. If your family is made up of a majority of sports lovers, put the big game on if there is one, but provide a quiet spot away form the action for the few that may not be interested. A coffee table with a jigsaw puzzle on, partly assembled, is good for a gathering of different ages. Assign some of the kids' tasks, as this will keep them occupied and take the stress of some of the little things off you. Some ideas you could employ would be having a child taking coats at the door, keeping everyone's drinks refreshed (this is a good task for an older child), while another one could be responsible for making sure there are enough pre dinner snacks being passed around.

Most important of all, have a good time, as the best host is one who actually enjoys the company of their guests.

Understanding a Room's Needs

By Christina VanGinkel

Decorating your home can be as easy as heading to the store to do some browsing along with a bit of shopping, or as difficult as ever if all the stores in the world just do not have what you are looking for. Knowing what you are shopping for to begin with can be a major help though. Surprisingly, many of us head out for a day of shopping for a room in our home, with no real plan as to what the room needs. We just assume that we will know what it is when we see it. This way of shopping may work for some people, though I would assume the majority of us, need to have more of a plan in place, more of an idea of what it is we are planning to purchase.

For example, I know my office space needs more storage, but exactly what type of storage is where I am at a loss. I added a filing cabinet this week, off to the left of my desk, and now that it is in place, other than another surface on which to pile things, I am starting to think it was not what the space needed. I never took the time to examine what it is in my office space that needs storing. A filing cabinet sounded good when I arrived at the store, because I do have many papers piling up around my desk area. Yet, when I got it home and unpacked it, I realized I did not have many papers to put in it. I have a lot of papers per se, but most of them are actually more along the lines of notes, sketches, and items I tore out of magazines to save, and a huge pile of magazines themselves. As it was, I was unsure if it would even fit in the available floor space, and it nearly did not!

Upon further examination of the space, I realized I could store many of the magazines in the filing cabinet, but what I really need is a system to organize the small papers lying all around. Stuffing them into a file cabinet may get them out of sight, but most of them are along the lines of items that I would not want to hide away. I am the type of person that once something is out of sight, it is out of mind, and much of the small pieces of paper are ideas I am working on, so I need to come up with a system that will organize them, but not contain them out of sight.

After going through the mess I call a desktop, and sorting through what has become piled up next to the desk and on the surrounding surfaces, I was better able to understand my needs. I even went so far as to measure the desktop's empty space (this was after I cleaned the surface!), and the walls and floor space for a clearer assessment of my needs. I plan to head back to the stores this weekend, to complete my office reorganization with at least a clearer understanding of the room's needs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Clothing Items as Travel Souvenirs

I don't know about you, but when I go on vacation, one of the things I look forward to the most is buying souvenirs. Yes, sightseeing and eating new foods are high on the list, too. But I love shopping so much that nothing else can compete. So it's really no wonder that when I went to Italy I came home with a pair of shoes, or that I went to Japan and came home with a kimono. Those kinds of locally-inspired clothing items are wonderful souvenirs that bring back lots of memories and are great conversation pieces as well. Even domestic travel here in the United States can afford many opportunities to buy some unique clothing items. Here are some ideas on what to look for during your next vacation.

If you want a great souvenir item that you'll actually wear and that is relatively cheap, then I suggest purchasing t-shirts from the places that you visit. For example, if you go to New York City, why not get one of those famous "I [heart] NY" t-shirts? You can also get t-shirts from famous places, or even from bars. When I was in college, I had a friend whose mission was to collect a bar t-shirt from all 50 states. He also had a couple of rules in place that made the task a bit harder. First, the bars had to be local establishments. No national chains allowed, which ruled out places like Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe. Second, the t-shirt had to have the name of the bar, plus the city and state printed on it. This was difficult because a lot of places would just have the bar name and not bother with the location. I have to admit that his collection was pretty cool. The last I heard, he had 31 t-shirts.

You can also get other souvenirs that have more of a regional flavor. For example, if you're traveling through the Southwestern United States, you'll find a lot of authentic Native American clothing items for sale. What would be a better memento of your trip than a pair of hand-made moccasins or a buckskin shirt? Or, you can also buy fabulous accessories such as beaded belts or coonskin caps for the kiddies. If you travel to Hawaii, you just can't leave without an aloha shirt. They are available everywhere on all the islands, and many couples even go so far as to buy the same shirt in order to pull off a matching look. In Hawaii, you'll also find their one-of-a-kind "red dirt" shirts that are made from real dirt (actually more of a clay). These shirts have a very cool coloring and even come with special washing instructions to help you preserve the color (and to make sure you don't turn the rest of your clothes into the same hue!

So with a little bit of checking around, you can come home from your next vacation with some great clothes that you'll actually be able to wear. That's much better than simply accumulating a bunch of souvenirs that you will just end up stuffing into a drawer!

Hard to Buy Domestically Produced Clothing These Days

If you live in a town or a city that has a business that produces goods for the national or even international markets, chances are you will patronize that business above all others in the same field. For example, people living in Georgetown, Kentucky are probably more inclined to drive Toyotas than other brands of comparably priced cars. Why? Because the local Toyota production plant employs thousands of the area's residents. The same is true for clothing. If you have a clothing factory in your vicinity, you probably buy that company's clothing before you buy any others. I think it's a natural thing to do, and comes about from a combination of home-grown pride and a sense of civic duty. If you support the local business, then the business will stay in the community and continue to provide jobs and economic vitality.

These days, it can be a bit difficult to find clothing made in your area. Due to economic globalization, it is often cheaper for companies to have their clothing made overseas in third-world countries. For other companies, this very same globalization has spelled doom for certain divisions or even for their entire business. They simply cannot afford to compete with clothing produced overseas.

I lived in Minnesota for a few years and there were two companies that made fairly recognizable clothing articles. The first was Red Wing Shoes. They make high-quality work boots and safety shoes, and are still going strong, as far as I know. The second was Winona Knits sweaters. These sweaters were manufactured at a knitting mill in Winona, Minnesota. They were of excellent quality, had very nice designs, and were pretty expensive. I had never heard of Winona Knits before living in Minnesota, but I received a couple of their sweaters as gifts from friends in the area. I really liked the style, colors, and fit of the sweaters, but had a hard time finding them in retail outlets once I left Minnesota. I had always planned on returning to visit some people and buy some more sweaters, but I discovered a few years ago that Winona Knits had to close their doors due to economic problems caused in large part by competing brands manufacturing their clothes outside of the U.S.

The news is not all bad, though. You can still find locally made clothes if you try hard enough. For example, Dickies, which makes work clothes, uniforms, and even casual clothes now, has a plant in Texas. If you want some outdoor apparel that is suitable for hunting and other rugged activities, then check out Beagle Outdoor Wear. These are wool clothes that will keep you warm, and best of all, they are made in Vermont. For jeans, you can go with Prison Blues and Swivel. In addition, some of the denim offerings, though not all, from Land's End, LL Bean, Wrangler, Lee, and Levi's are also made locally.

Buying clothes is of course a highly personal decision. A lot depends on your taste, preferences, and economic circumstances. But the next time you go shopping, try local brands for a change!

Comfort Food in Tampa / St. Pete

The term "comfort food" has become quite well-known especially now in the 21st century. Most of us know that it is the food we remember from the past that gives us those warm and fuzzy feelings when recalling the memory or actually eating those foods again. It is often something that came from "Grandma's Kitchen" or the cooking Mom put on the table when we were kids.

We each have our own comfort foods and it is always a thrill to find them on a menu when we are dining out. One of my own memories from the past is a fast food place called Biff Burger. The one I used to visit closed down a few years ago and there is only one left in the country. It is found in the Tampa / St. Pete area. I have been to Florida numerous times in the last few years but have never yet gone to the Gulf of Mexico side of the state. When I do, Biff Burger will surely be one of my stops.

When I was a young teenager my family often stopped by Biff Burger before a Friday night of shopping and buying groceries. The regular hamburgers weren't covered with ketchup and mustard like other fast food burgers, but rather had an incredible sauce on them. Yes, thinking of that sauce gives those fuzzy feelings. The fish sandwich was called a Super Fish and it also brings back some very good memories.

Back to the comfort food thoughts . . . My local Biff Burger didn't serve breakfast and the St. Petersburg restaurant does. The menu is also very much more extensive than the Biff Burger I was used to. There are many types of burgers, hot dogs, and other sandwiches. (Check out some of the burger sizes!) Platters with other menu items are available if you want more than a sandwich.

If you want to travel a short 9 miles to Brandon, you will find some nostalgic comfort foods as well as newer cuisine choices at Mimi's Cafe on Providence Road. Mimi's serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the menu presents many choices like burgers, pasta, tacos, salads, wraps, and soups.

What are some of the comfort foods that Mimi's serves? A few of the menu items include Chicken Pot Pie, Glazed Pork Chops, Liver & Onions, Pot Roast, Meatloaf, and Roast Turkey. Some of those things should surely cause a bit of reminiscence.

Remember how most of us adored grilled cheese sandwiches when we were kids? That definitely counts as a comfort food and Mimi's serves a grilled cheese on parmesan sourdough bread with swiss, jack, mozzarella, AND cheddar cheese. There are also other grilled sandwiches and clubs. This is some serious nostalgia!

If your warm fuzzies happen to involve desserts instead of things like meatloaf and grilled cheese, Mimi's dishes up favorites like Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie, Apple Crisp, Bananas Foster Mud Pie (Banana and vanilla ice cream with caramel and sugared pecans . . . then served with whipped cream and bananas.

Not enough choices? Add New Orleans Bread Pudding, New York Style Cheesecake, and last but not least, a brownie made with milk, dark, and white chocolates and served with caramel and chocolate sauces and topped with another favorite comfort food, vanilla ice cream!

Pillow Talk

Last fall my husband and I bought a new couch. After tossing the blue and yellow plaid number that we had before, I was long out of my "country" phase and ready for something more modern. The salesman at the furniture store heard that I had two young children and persuaded me to buy a micro fiber couch.

"You've got to have micro fiber with kids, " he advised me. That was fine with me-- I liked the look and feel of micro fiber and the couches were reasonably priced. The only problem was the color selections-- there seemed to only be two micro fiber offerings in the couch style that I wanted: tan and red.

I pondered the red couch for a millisecond. I liked red. A red couch would give my boring family room a big punch of color. But my husband hesitated-- he knows me and he knew that, while I may like red today, I'd be sick of it in a year. Indeed, the red couch was a little too extreme for me.

The trouble was, I didn’t really like the tan couch. It was the most boring shade, and I could picture my kids spilling grape juice on the light colored fabric.

I had something darker in mind-- like the plush brown couch I had seen in one of my favorite home decorating catalogs a few weeks back.

The salesman than pulled out information on special orders. Yes, I could have a dark brown micro fiber couch. I ordered it right away.

When my new couch arrived (just three days later) I was thrilled with the deep, chocolatey color. It was very rich looking. I had also ordered the matching chair and ottoman, so the brown color dominated the room.

I stood back and examined the room. It was so bland looking. Even with the rich brown couch, it needed color-- badly. And that is when my quest for the perfect pillows began.

A quick jaunt to Target brought me home with two bright green, sequined pillows. Trouble was, when I set up the pillows with the couch, I felt like I was looking at a tree. No, the green didn't work.

Next up, I ordered some brilliant colored brown and blue flowered pillows from one of my favorite catalogs, Storehouse. I have to say that I love these pillows. They are beautiful, down-stuffed pillows and they looked great with the couch. Perfect for spring, with flowers on them. But my husband scoffed at what I paid for them (close to one hundred dollars with shipping). Yes, it was a lot to pay for pillows, but it was worth it if it solved the color problem.

Trouble was, as fall approached I realized that my springlike pillows just weren't cutting it. So that took me to Pier 1 Imports, one of my favorite stores in the area.

Pier1 was brimming with sequined and beaded pillows in every color. I bought some brown silk pillows with sequin embellishments, only to get them home to find that they just don't match my couch (the brown shades are totally different and they clash).

So now I'm continuing my quest for the perfect pillows for my couch. I'm thinking solid-color orange pillows for Fall. Now all I have to do is find them.

Craving Seafood in Tampa? Fear Not!

If you are visiting the Tampa area of Florida and experience a craving for seafood, you will not be disappointed at the dining choices that are available. Whether you are looking for something simpler like fish and chips or a fish sandwich or something more extraordinary such as sushi or octopus, Tampa offers it.

If you are near South Dale Mabry Highway, try Shells Restaurant. Their clam chowder is not greedy on the clams and it has plenty of bacon and potatoes in it, too. Appetizers include choices from mussels to crab cakes, calamari to oysters and conch fritters.

Shells offers a number of pasta and seafood combinations such as shrimp or baby lobster tails with linguine, each with a special sauce. Other seafood served with pasta includes sea scallops, mussels, and more.

For something unique, try a Fish Taco or a Seafood Po' Boy. The entree list includes
King and Snow Crab, Lobster, catfish, crab cakes, and many other seafood choices. If there are any landlubbers in your party, the Shells menu also offers chicken and steaks.

For another reasonably priced seafood meal, you may enjoy Skippers Smokehouse on Skipper Road. As with most other seafood restaurants, you will find the standard and traditional seafood offerings, but you will be able to find a few different and fun foods on the menu.

If you have never tried Gator Tail or Gator Chili, this is one place you will be able to find it. As long as you are trying new things, there is a Sesame Seaweed Salad on the menu that qualifies for "new and different." An unusual sandwich on the menu is the Blackened Grouper Reuben.

If you don't recognize some things on the menu such as Ahi Carpaccio or Louisiana Mudbugs, just ask your server. Entrees are served with hush puppies and two sides and many fish and seafood items are presented.

It is not found in Tampa proper, but if you would like a Greek touch to seafood and you will not mind traveling about 24 miles, try Santorini Greek Grill in Tarpon Springs. Talk about new and different foods! You will surely find some of those at Santorinis.

On the appetizer menu you can choose Taramosalata which is salmon roe and called "poor man's caviar" on the menu. If that wouldn't be your choice for an appetizer you may enjoy the oysters with Feta or Sagnaki (scallops and shrimp with cream sauce and Feta cheese) or Spanakopita (Spinach Pie). Those are just a handful of the Greek specialties on the starter list.

Some other Greek offerings served at Santorinis include:

Traditional Moussaka (eggplant layered with meat and cheese)
Dolmades (Ground meat and rice in grape leaves with lemon sauce)
Chicken Feta (with Feta and white wine sauce and served with pasta)
Calamari (Fried squid)
Broiled Octopus (As the name suggests!)

You will find the usual shrimp, scallops, mussels, etc. in the seafood section of the menu. For something different, try the Mediterranean Snapper or Porgy or the Seafood Paella. Seafood in the paella includes clams, scallops, shrimp, and mussels. They are served with a wine and Feta sauce and with pasta.

If you don't want seafood for dinner, a number of lamb, chicken, ribs, and beef items are on the list of options. As with any Greek restaurant, you will find things like gyros and souvlaki here, too. Don't forget your Baklava for dessert!

Need a Great Meal in Baltimore?

If you find yourself in Baltimore, Maryland for a business or pleasure visit, there are many choices for dining. From fast food to barbeque and upscale eateries to 50s-like diners, you will be able to find good eats all over the city.

First stop: Ray Lewis' Full Moon Barbeque on Boston Street. If you are in the mood for chicken, try the "Love Me Tenders," Buffalo Wings, or a Chicken Quesadilla. Full Moon Riblets are small hickory smoked ribs with bbq sauce. Maybe you would rather have Nachos, Chili, or Brunswick Stew, all available on the menu. All things so far mentioned are just a few items on the starter menu!

There are numerous salads offered and barbeque plates. You get to choose two sides with these platters and all are served with homemade chow-chow. If you don't want a platter, try the catfish, pork chop, or salmon options.

Last but not least, for a lighter meal at Ray Lewis', try one of their bbq sandwiches. The Southern Barbeque Burger is half a pound of beef with bbq sauce, bacon, cheese, pickles, and onions. There is also a great Catfish Po' Boy on a hoagie roll with tartar sauce, lettuce, and tomato.

If you prefer to dine at an upscale restaurant, try The Brass Elephant on North Charles Street. Appetizer choices will include items such as a cheese plate, smoked salmon, pate, mussels, and duck breast.

When it comes time for your entree, choose from Seared Airline Breast of Chicken, Roasted Mahi Mahi, Atlantic Salmon, and other seafood and meat choices. If you possibly have room for dessert, try the "Peanut Butter Dessert Tasting" and it will be a memorable evening for sure.

For a great and inexpensive (and fun!) meal, stop by Cafe Hon on 36th Street. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but these samplings will be from the dinner menu.

Cafe Hon offers soups and salads for starters including their homemade chili. Top it with onions and cheese if you wish. For more international taste buds, try the hummus served with pita bread. For a totally American taste bud, try a plate full of fries either plain or with onions, chili, and cheese on top.

You will be able to find cold sandwiches here for a light dinner and they serve various types of burgers as well. If it is comfort food that you would like for dinner, check out Cafe Hon's daily specials. They include spaghetti, meat loaf, pork chops, roast beef, turkey, and black beans & rice.

To get to the more serious foods and comfort food offerings, the menu offers a crab cake platter, Four Cheese Lasagna, Chicken Parmesan, and other pastas. The restaurant calls its meat loaf "Much Better than Mom's" so we are talking some serious comfort food here. Fish & Chips is on the menu, and many salad choices also.

This is a good choice for breakfast or brunch / lunch. Prices at this establishment are very reasonable.

No matter what type of cuisine or price range you are looking for, pull out a guide to Baltimore or do some research and chances are that the perfect dining choice for you may be closer than you think.

Jewelry Shopping at Overstock

By Christina VanGinkel

Shopping online has for me has gone from something I would never do; to the extreme opposite of I always shop online, for everything! The purchase of a piece of jewelry is right up there with all my other online ventures. I even have a few favorite stores that I browse just for jewelry, even when I am not sure if I really even need anything. Most of my jewelry purchases though are not for me personally. I love jewelry, I have several nice pieces, but the majority of the times I only wear my wedding bands and a chain with an antique safety deposit key that was my fathers. So, whom am I doing all this shopping for you might ask? The answer would have to be usually as gift selections for my daughter.

My favorite portal online to use is right here at My favorite link from here though has to be On any given day, their jewelry selection is varied enough that I always find something that I just have to have, sometimes for myself, but as I said before, usually for my daughter. The way they breakdown their shopping in the jewelry section makes it a breeze to find what I am looking for, even when I have not a clue as to what that might be. They have very specific category breakdowns for gemstones and jewels, including, Amethyst Jewelry, Blue Topaz Jewelry, Cubic Zirconia Jewelry, Diamond Jewelry, Emerald Jewelry, Garnet Jewelry, Onyx Jewelry, Pearl Jewelry, Pearl Strands, Peridot Jewelry, Ruby Jewelry, Sapphire Jewelry, Specialty Gemstones, Tanzanite Jewelry, and Turquoise Jewelry. They also have the following breakdowns, Body Jewelry, Children's Jewelry, Designer Jewelry, Estate Jewelry, Fashion Jewelry, Gold Jewelry, Heart Jewelry, Hope for Women, Men's Jewelry, One of a Kind Jewelry, Platinum Jewelry, Plus Size Jewelry, Religious Jewelry, Sterling Silver Jewelry, Titanium & Steel Jewelry, and Wedding Jewelry.

On top of all of these categories, they continue to make shopping with them both pleasant and easy by providing separate listings for watches and a design your own section so that you can build your own diamond ring. It provides options such as choosing which metal with be the base of the ring, which cut and clarity diamond, carat size, and which settings. There is also a primer on choosing a quality diamond along with fun diamond facts and engagement ideas, which will bring you to a page of fun engagement stories to read.

If none of this were enough to entice you to shop, keep in mind their famous shipping charges that are always $2.95, which is unless you happen to shop on a day that they are offering free shipping. You can always join their Club O also, which for a yearly membership fee drops their daily prices even lower, and offers shipping charges of $1.00. When the price of everything around you is going up, still manages to entice with low prices for quality merchandise and one of the cheapest shipping plans I have ever come across online.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

American Girl Clothing Collection

By Christina VanGinkel

Shopping for your daughter or a young niece or friend, who is still in love with her dolls, just got a whole lot easier. Check out the American Girl Doll Collection, and you will not only discover a collection of dolls she will want, but matching outfits! Available in sizes 3 through 8, and 7 through 20, you are sure to find a set of pajamas or a Halloween costume that will have her over the moon with delight, especially if it arrives with one of the dolls dressed to match. Outfits styled just for the discerning young lady in training are also available.

I was first introduced to this fabulous collection years ago when my daughter was in middle school. A catalog arrived in our mailbox one afternoon, and though she proclaimed herself too old for dolls, and was never even all that head over heals about dolls in general, she walked off with the catalog and proceeded to pour through it for weeks to come. There is just something about these dolls and their myriad of accessories that just grabs hold of young girl's attention whenever they are exposed to any of the American Girl products.

We never did purchase our daughter one, but I swore if I ever had a granddaughter I would buy her one. Well I am still waiting for the granddaughter, and in the meantime, they have expanded both their selection of dolls, adding Bitty Babies and several more American Girl dolls, along with a much wider selection of accessories including clothing for both the dolls and the girls who love them. Maybe I had better start buying the dolls now so I do not have to buy everything all at once. In the off chance my grandchildren all turn out to be boys, I could always save them to pass down to their children!

Much of the clothing is styled for today's active girls, and includes swimwear, sleepwear, tops, bottoms, outerwear such as snowboard jackets, jean jackets, caps, Halloween costumes, and even complete outfits. Some of the clothing is available with a matched outfit for the doll too, especially most of the costumes and sleepwear. Can you imagine a more fun way to go off to sleep than with your doll dressed in a matching set of pajamas complete with matching slippers? Accessories are also available, including items such as slippers, headbands, tights, school bag, travel kits, even watches, and radios.

Imagine giving a gift to a young girl of an heirloom styled doll that will be cherished for years to come and being able to include a matching outfit and an accessory or two for both the girl and her doll. How wonderful would that be for both the gift giver and the recipient? On the other hand, even just a gift from the clothing collection itself, as they have really managed to find a style that is both adorable and viable. Clothing that matches the active lifestyle so many young girls live in today's active world.

International Cooking: Israel

If you enjoy cooking dishes from around the world, you may want to try some Israeli dishes. To make a very easy chicken dish, start by slowly browning about 3 pounds of chicken in oil. This can be a whole chicken that has been cut up or just the parts you enjoy such as a package of drumsticks, breasts, or thighs. Saute until all sides are browned and remove the chicken from the pan. In the meantime, saute a medium diced onion and 2 sliced scallions until softened.

When soft, add 2 tablespoons of flour over the onion mixture and slowly pour in 32 ounces (4 cups) of chicken broth. Bring this mixture to a boil and then add your seasonings and herbs. This includes a tablespoon or two of fresh parsley that you have chopped, a sprinkling of thyme, 2 or 3 bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

Add the chicken pieces that you had set aside and turn the heat down, simmering for 45 minutes. After the 45 minutes, add 2 beaten eggs and a 10 ounce package of frozen corn and allow it to cook for 30 to 35 minutes longer. When you are ready to serve, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of green olives that have been pitted.

Many Israeli and Jewish soups are served with matzo balls. You can add them to any store bought or homemade soup that you are planning to serve and they are easy to make. For the first step, combine 4 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup of cold water, 4 tablespoons of oil, and seasonings to taste (1 teaspoon of salt and a dash of pepper). Mix well.

Add 1 cup of Matzo meal and stir well. Put this mixture into the refrigerator and allow it to chill for 20 to 30 minutes. After the mixture has chilled, wet your hands and roll it into balls. Drop the balls into the soup or broth that is already simmering.

If you want to serve them another way besides soup, just cook them in salted water. The Matzo balls should cook in the soup, broth, or water for 25 to 30 minutes. Do not lift the lid while they are cooking.

You may enjoy serving a Jewish potato "cake" called knish. Begin by adding 1 diced onion to a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Soften the onion for about 5 minutes and then turn the heat down and add 2 cloves of minced garlic and about a tablespoon of paprika. Cook until it is brown and caramelized (which will be at least 6 more minutes).

Cook 4 medium potatoes that you have cut into small dices in salted water for about 10 minutes or until they are soft. Drain them very well and return to the hot pan so they can dry out somewhat.

Mash the cooked potatoes and add the onion blend. Add a few of your favorite fresh or dried herbs. These can include parsley, basil, chives, or anything else you generally serve with potatoes. The herb amount should be between 2 and 3 tablespoons. Season with salt and pepper and add 1 egg. Add 4 tablespoons of either dry bread crumbs or flour and mix thoroughly.

Make your hands wet and create patties with the potatoes. Make them about 3 inches in size and an inch and a half in thickness. Spray a baking sheet lightly with non-stick cooking oil spray and arrange the knishes on the sheet. Spray more oil onto the knishes and bake at 350 degrees until browned. Baking time will be 35 to 40 minutes. After they have baked for 20 minutes, turn each one over and continue baking.

Quick Cooking with Canned Foods

If you're looking for some time saving tricks for the kitchen, make sure to make a pit stop in the canned goods aisle the next time you go to your favorite grocery store. Canned food items can help you whip up a meal in no time at all, so they are great for the working parent or busy family. Here are some tips for using canned food items to save time in the kitchen:

Canned soups. These days, your canned soup aisle is brimming with different types of soup. No longer just a haven for chicken noodle and tomato varieties, today's canned soup aisle has choices like French Onion, Cream of Asparagus and Fiesta Cheese. You can use canned soups to make delicious sauces for poultry. Mix a can of cream soup with a little milk for a flavorful sauce or topping.

Canned beans. Who has time to soak beans overnight? Canned varieties of black beans, kidney beans and northern white beans are just as delicious as their dried counterparts. You can add canned beans to soups, stews and casseroles to add fiber and flavor-- all you need is a can opener! Next time you're then add a can of lima beans and kidney beans. You may want to doctor them up to taste with fixings like ketchup, cooked onions and brown sugar, but this three bean medley is a great (and fiber-filled) way to add more beans to your diet.

Canned chicken, tuna or salmon. In the mood for some homemade chicken quesadillas but don't feel like cooking a chicken? Just head to your canned goods aisle for chunk, white meat chicken. You can substitute canned chicken when making sandwiches, dips and appetizers. It tastes great and all you have to do is drain the water out of the can-- no cooking required! Canned tuna is great for making a tuna casserole and canned salmon can be used to make a healthy and delicious sandwich.

Canned vegetables. If you're making a homemade chicken or turkey pot pie, try adding a can of mixed vegetables to the mixture. It's a quick and easy way to add a variety of veggies in one fell swoop.

Canned crushed tomatoes. If you don't have time to make real Italian spaghetti sauce from scratch, try this trick. Buy your favorite brand of jarred spaghetti sauce and then add a can of crushed or pureed tomatoes to it. You will be adding tons of extra tomato flavor for just a few pennies per serving. Also, next time you make homemade chili, add a can of whole, peeped tomatoes-- they taste delicious and will help make your chili extra chunky.

Canned fruit. If it's like pulling teeth to get you kids to eat enough fruit everyday, try buying canned fruit cocktail. Make sure it's packed in its own juice and not in sugary syrup. Canned fruit can also be added to Jell-O desserts and salads. Speaking of salads, mandarin oranges go great in a green salad and they add a burst of color to boot.