Holiday Staples: Old and New

Bottoms Up: Cocktails with Good-For-You Ingredients

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I wanted to make a fun and not-so-naughty holiday cocktail and went with a twist on a margarita for our Christmas party. A hibiscus margarita is one of my favorites and I usually make them with hibiscus tea sweetened with honey, lime juice and tequila, with a dash of orange bitters. For the holiday version, I simmered the hibiscus tea in a pot with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. (Yes, the house smelled great!) I transferred the cooled tea to a pitcher, adding lime juice, frozen cherries, and bitters. A vintage pitcher and glasses found at local thrift and antique shops made it even more festive. Later, for a Christmas brunch, I added the spiced hibiscus tea to prosecco.

More on better-for-you cocktails: My story for Purist magazine, with drinks made in LA, NY and Aspen.

Bowled Over: Well-Balanced Lunch Combinations

Lately, I’ve been getting as excited composing a well-balanced lunch bowl as I do dressing for a fun occasion. Staples include homemade hummus, brown rice, wild rice or quinoa, sauerkraut, sauteed greens, quick pickled red cabbage and carrots, roasted yams and other vegetables, and sometimes chicken or chicken sausage. Sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and Bragg’s Sea Kelp Delight seasoning. Yum.

Drink Up: Daily Tonics and Teas for Good Health

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Two recent conversations inspired this post: hearing about a family member who suffered from dehydration after a long day in the sun without adequate fluids, and a friend who has been bothered by a recurring cold since she started working in a new office. To both I say, “Drink up!” In addition to eating clean, staying hydrated is essential in the maintenance of good health. Below are a few good-for-you drinks I consume daily.

Hot Water with Lemon Juice
I love starting my day with this lemon juice tonic. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a glass or mug and fill with just-boiled, filtered water that has cooled for a few minutes. I remember my grandmother drinking hot lemon water (she would also squeeze a lemon slice right into her mouth without making a face!). It naturally provides a fresh-from-the-fruit dose of vitamin C and is said to kick-start the system, detoxify, and provide balance.

Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
Stir one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water—cold or warm—for a boost of detoxifying vitamins, enzymes, and minerals. Be sure that the apple cider vinegar is organic and unrefined (I like Bragg’s) and shake the bottle before use. Optional: stir in honey and sprinkle in some cinnamon (the cinnamon never fully dissolves but adds some flavor and provides another antioxidant boost). I like to have this tonic mid-afternoon, right around the time my energy starts to wane. Instead of reaching for something sugary, I’ll drink this to feel revived.

Flavored Water
Sometimes I add cut fruit (fresh or frozen), sometimes cucumber slices, sometimes fresh mint or lemon verbena. It’s so easy and good—just drop into a pitcher or container of water and refrigerate. Also consider adding something to your reusable water bottle when you’re on-the-go and add frozen fruit to your water bottle instead of ice cubes on hot days. I also like adding a splash of chilled hibiscus or chamomile tea (see below).

Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is an infusion easily made with dried hibiscus petals and hot water. I love the tart flavor and drink it straight-up, combined with green tea, or chilled and sweetened (agua de fresca). It contains vitamin C and minerals and studies suggest it could help lower blood pressure and ease digestive woes. To easily enjoy it all week long, I make a batch and keep it chilled in the refrigerator. It’s also good for topping off a hot cup of tea or adding a boost of flavor to water or regular iced tea.

Green Tea
Green tea, long known to be an antioxidant, is my go-to for an afternoon cup of tea. When it’s cool out or I’m working in an air-conditioned office, I reuse the tea bag and refill my mug with hot water all afternoon—this keeps me warm and limits my caffeine intake. Extra boosts to add: hibiscus tea or a few dried hibiscus petals; lemon juice or a lemon slice; grated ginger. Or, stir with a cinnamon stick.

Chamomile Tea with Apple Cider Vinegar
Here’s my bedtime drink: half a cup of chilled camomile tea with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Chamomile is known for its calming effect and I heard that consuming apple cider vinegar helps ensure restful sleep, so I’ve combined them. I make several cups of chamomile tea in advance and keep it chilled in the refrigerator.

Buried in the Sand: Beach Glass and Clams

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It doesn’t feel like summer unless I have the chance to stroll along the shore in search of beach glass. Where I grew up on Long Island, it’s easily found and I have been a collector of sea glass for as long as I can remember. I think of it as treasure-hunting and usually stop only when my eyes tire and my back begins to ache from bending—or if the sun is beating down and I feel compelled to jump right into the ocean. In another life, I might have been a gold-digger. During a recent family visit, I picked up 20 pieces on a beach walk with my parents.

Another fond childhood memory I have of searching along the shore is for clams. Our parents would send us — me, my brother and cousins — to go clamming in the sand and we would fill our buckets with them, then take them home to be served. I remember steamed clams and pasta with clam sauce, but my favorite was baked clams. The bread crumb mixture was similar to the one we used for stuffed artichokes — with olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, and parmesan cheese — but we added oregano and lemon to the mix for baked calms. For the kids who weren’t fond of the slimy clams, Uncle Mike would chop them into small pieces to blend with the bread crumbs before baking. After a long day at the beach that made me feel nostalgic for childhood beach days, we picked up clams and I prepared them for dinner. Just as good as I remember.

This & That: Strawberry Picking

This & That (& Green): New finds or old favorites I’m loving right now—vintage or second-hand items, plus beauty products and other goods made responsibly with better-for-you, non-toxic ingredients.

The strawberry plants in our yard are flowering and the gaviota strawberry variety is available from at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. Sweet!

Top row:

Harry’s Berries at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.

Second row:

Our flowering strawberry plant.

My new spring kicks: A pair of Converse Jack Purcell sneakers with a Marimekko strawberry print. I liked seeing the sneaker recycling bin at the front of the Converse store, with information on the ReUSE A SHOE recycling program with Nike.

A Ball Mason jar filled with filtered water, lemon slices, and frozen organic strawberries from Whole Foods. This idea came from the lovely Elisha Reverby, founder of the Elique Organics skin care line. I met up with Elisha at the Natural Products Expo this month on a hot day and she was sipping water from a jar just like this. She said she adds the frozen strawberries so they’ll act like ice cubes and keep the water cool—as well as sweet-tasting.

Bottom row:

Two dried strawberry snacks, both made using organic strawberries and nothing else. The first are freeze-dried and crunchy and come from Nature’s All Foods (available at Whole Foods); the second are chewy and dried using a dehydrator from a farmers’ market vendor. I’ve been reducing the amount of refined sugar in my diet and find that healthier treats like these satisfy my sweet tooth.

Strawberry-red for lips and nails from companies that use better-for-you ingredients in their beauty products: Primitive Makeup’s lip gloss in Rio, the creamiest and softest red lip gloss I’ve found; and Mineral Fusion nail polish in Fiery Lava.

Update: our strawberry plant is now in bloom—and I found my new perfect, everyday red lipstick. Logona’s lipstick is made without any synthetic colors or preservatives—and the color I chose is actually named strawberry. It’s creamy, warm, and looks like a red I wore years ago. Perfect.

Soup Recipe: Roasted Asparagus and Pine Nuts

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I make soups with roasted vegetables often — just a roasted vegetable blended with vegetable stock — but I also like the idea of adding one extra ingredient to give it some zing. Here, I added pignoli nuts (pine nuts) to asparagus.

Ingredients:
1 bunch of asparagus
3 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Toss asparagus with olive oil and salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet with the pine nuts.

Roast until the asparagus stalks are softened and pine nuts are lightly browned, approximately 20 minutes.

In a blender, combine with the stock and purée til combined and smooth. (Add more or less stock if desired.)

Good served alone or with a bit of parm cheese.

Yum.

Good-for-You Granola Recipe

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This is a sugar-free version of granola that’s easy to make and delicious. I use a combo of walnuts and almonds and mix it up with the dried fruit (blueberries and apricots are favorites).

2 cups oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
3 tbsp. coconut oil
2 tbsp. fresh orange or tangerine juice
1 tbsp. flax seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. zest from orange or tangerine
1/4 cup dried fruit

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Melt coconut oil on low heat and add vanilla before tossing with the dry ingredients. Spread on baking pan and cook, stirring every 10 minutes until it’s golden brown (about 40-50 minutes). Cool and toss with dried fruit of choice. Yum.

Inside the Art of Cuisine

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Here’s another vintage cookbook for my collection: The Art of Cuisine by Henri de Toulouse-Laurec and Maurice Joyant. The 1966 collection has recipes with some imprecise directions (“take a large handful of onions…”), along with illustrations from Laurec. From the intro: “He imagined a dish as an artistic creation, like writing a poem or dancing a ballet.” Love.

A Holiday Gift Guide for Giving Better Stuff

I heard someone joke about going to the local thrift store the day after Christmas to donate the just-unwrapped and unwanted bounty of gifts. Yes, we definitely have a collective problem with too much stuff (and too much waste), which is why it’s great to give experience gifts or contributions to good causes in the recipient’s name. But sometimes the best gift really does come in a package you can hand to your loved one for opening. For gift-giving that’s more meaningful, ’tis the season to:

Give twice.

When you buy items from thrift stores or auction sites that benefit nonprofits, your dollars support their work. A few favorites even have online shops, including Housing Works. When you shop online while logged in to Amazon Smile, you can choose a nonprofit to receive a small portion of sales. Also, sites like Bidding for Good offer products and experiences that benefit a variety of organizations.  

Another way to give back is by buying from gift shops for museums and parks, in person or online. (A few favorite museum shops: MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, LACMA, The Getty.)

Stay local.

Support the independent businesses in your neighborhood by shopping local—especially at book stores and sources that sell the works of local artisans. Even better if you can shop on foot or bike, leaving the car behind.

Be a maker.

Homemade gifts, including food and personal care items, are twice as nice. Extra touches: attach a recipe for the recipient and consider a vintage glass jar, container, or tin that can be reused.

Celebrate good taste.

Put another way: give tasty edibles. Choose locally grown produce, sweet treats, and other items for out-of-the-ordinary dining experiences at home. First stop: food vendors at your local farmers’ market. A farmers’ market basket or bag with fresh and local produce and a cookbook is a perfect gift. My grandmother always said, “Food is love.”

Make it an experience gift.

Give movie, concert or theater tickets, restaurant gift certificates, or museum memberships and you’re giving the recipient an experience to enjoy. The same goes for magazine subscriptions, books, music CDs, and DVDs of movies or TV shows. Also consider giving games or a puzzle from a photo-printing service that allows you to create one with personal photos.

Go green.

One size fits all: House plants, herb gardens, and seeds or outdoor plants for loved ones with yards.

Buy better products.

It’s true about one person’s trash being another’s treasure—and when you buy from antique markets, consignment and thrift shops, eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, and other sources of second-hand items, you do your part to reduce waste to landfills. Think of it like the island of misfit toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—there are worthy, good-as-new items out there looking for a home.

Another factor to consider: the maker of the products. Give from companies with responsible business practices—organic, Fair Trade, sweatshop-free, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, etc. (Look up B Corps for more.)

Kiss Cookies, Two Ways

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When I was growing up and made these peanut blossom cookies with my mom during the holiday season, we always used milk chocolate kisses–our only choice at the time. Now, dark chocolate kisses are available and, while it’s dark chocolate or bust for me, some family members and friends have let me know they prefer the old-fashioned milk chocolate kisses. Make both and everyone’s happy. (Recipe for the peanut butter kiss cookies here.)

DIY Face Scrub: Another Kind of Coffee Pick-Me-Up

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I like to reuse and repurpose as much as possible, which makes this DIY coffee and honey facial even better. I simply take used coffee grounds and add honey, then gently pat the sticky mixture on my face and let it sit for about five minutes. Over the kitchen sink, I then gently massage with two fingers using a circular motion on my cheeks, chin, and forehead, avoiding the delicate eye area. When washed off, skin is soft and glowy.

Pie 1-2-3

Apple pie for the Thanksgiving family dinner. Mini apple pies for the next day. Triple berry pie for the day before — because the berries at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market looked so darn good and the feast should really start the day before….

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Roasted Cauliflower, Sunchoke and Garlic Soup

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Such an easy and delicious soup to make.

Cauliflower
Sunchokes
Garlic
Olive oil
Vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Chop a whole cauliflower head and spread florets on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. Add several cloves of garlic and chopped sunchokes. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until cauliflower is soft. In blender, purée with vegetable stock. Heat and eat. Yum.