Archive for September, 2009

Do you ever go into a coffee shop and take a slow deep breath to savor the aroma? I do. I love the smell of coffee, but oddly, I don’t drink it. Besides being a green tea type of person, the caffeine in coffee sends my heart into racing mode. Yes, I know green tea also contains caffeine, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to affect my body the same way.

Some of my favorite food memories are coffee-based. My Auntie Priscilla used to make a satiny, chewy coffee candy as part of her Christmas gift to my family. These little bites of coffee were each rolled in wax paper and then finished off with a twist at each end. It’s a prized family recipe now and it always reminds me of her.

Another wonderful coffee-based memory is the Coffee Crunch Cake once served at the now defunct Blum’s Bakery in San Francisco. It was a confection that consisted of layers of light sponge cake and fresh whipped cream, all covered with chunky bits of light-as-air coffee crunch topping. I can almost taste it now!

So after going out for coffee this afternoon with some friends, or in my case, a chai latte, I was in the mood for some coffee and baking. I’d had a recipe on my desk for a while and decided to try it. Chocolate Cupcakes with Coffee Cream Filling is a Paula Deen recipe, so it’s a given that it’s decadent and probably not low in calories! The cupcakes are made with a batter that contains fresh brewed coffee, injected with coffee cream, and topped off with coffee butter.

Overall the cupcakes were delicious. The cake part was moist and the cream filling was light, but flavorful. The butter cream was a little too sweet for me, but really how bad can a mixture of cream cheese, butter, sugar, and coffee be? I did not use the chocolate covered coffee beans for garnish because I didn’t have any, but I did sprinkle some organic raw cacao nibs on top. They’re not sweet and have a nice chocolate crunch. You can find these at Whole Foods.

One thing I would do differently the next time I make these is to use a pastry bag and pastry tip to squeeze the filling into the cupcakes. The screw lid of my Wilton squeeze bottle kept coming off and there is more wastage of cream since some of it inevitably gets stuck in the bottle. If you’d like to try the recipe just click on this link.

Again, what could be better than chocolate and coffee? Enjoy!!

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sc0014fe50Every woman has her Achilles’ heel, not just in the normal sense, but in terms of her body image. Renee Zellweger, in her movie role of Bridget Jones, provides a portrait of this insecurity as Bridget gets dressed under a blanket because she does not want her boyfriend to see her “wobbly bits.” Working in a women’s retail clothing store, where the target age is probably forty years on up, I’ve made some interesting observations. Not surprisingly, this one is the most common: Most women are not happy with at least one part of their body. Lamentations abound from the dressing rooms. On a daily basis I hear, “If I lost weight, this would look better” or “I like to cover my arms” or “I used to wear low necklines, but can’t now.” Women are so hard on themselves. How did we get this way? Yes, I say “we” because I am also guilty of this irrational self-criticism. How many times has my husband heard these words pitifully escape from my mouth as I come out of a dressing room, “Does this make my hips look big?”

Women aren’t born with these insecurities, so how did we develop these along with a streak of vanity? We can guess that societal pressures, plus promotions by the cosmetic, fashion, magazine, and diet industries, all play parts. Here’s a link to an article called Women and Body Image: Ten Disturbing Facts. The author’s first point clearly illustrates how the fashion industry plays a role in shaping our body image. She states, “The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds.”

In addition, if we aren’t comfortable with our bodies, what messages are we sending to our children? Here’s an alarming statistic in the article: “One out of every four college aged women has an eating disorder.” Consider our daughters who played with Barbie Dolls and other shapely fashion dolls. Do are daughters also have body image issues as a result of seemingly innocent play? Point number nine in the above article states, “At 5′9” tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 which is considered severely underweight. Because of her ridiculous proportions (39” bust, 18” waist, 33” thighs and a size 3 shoes!), if she was a real woman, she wouldn’t be able to walk upright – she would have to walk on all fours. Note that the target market for Barbie Doll sales are girls ages 3 to 12.” Beauty and Body Image in the Media, another online article, also makes claims about Barbie, “Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions, for example, found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built that way would suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition.” This is not child’s play.

Where I work there are no mirrors in the individual dressing rooms and just a few in the dressing area. Although there are women who hate this lack of privacy, it’s a good thing. There is a lot to be said about the camaraderie and commiserating that transpires when women are together trying on clothes. I have witnessed complete strangers laugh and give advice to one another. There’s a positive energy in the air when women support women. I tell my customers who are critical of their bodies, that I can help them look their best just the way they look now. We can’t deal with how they used to look and we can’t wish away the ten pounds they’d like to lose. All we can control is the present. Sometimes when they start picking apart their bodies, I remind them that they are lucky to be healthy. I know it’s weird stuff for a sales associate to say, but I like to put things in perspective. Am I a top seller in the store? Not really, but I do have customers say they’ll see me next week for their therapy session or that I make them feel good. It’s all in a day’s work for me and I like myself better because of that.

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Have you ever returned to your childhood hometown and gotten lost? I spent last week visiting my parents and as we headed out to run an errand my mom asked, “Do you want to drive?” I said I would if she wanted me to, but that I would need directions. After a nanosecond worth of thought, she replied, “That’s okay. It’ll be faster if I drive.” Although I grew up in the area, I haven’t lived there for over three decades. My familiar landmarks have changed and I’ve lived and worked in several different cities since I left home. Yet, somehow there’s an expectation that I should know my way around the area. The odd thing is that this expectation conflicts with the fact that my whole family knows I am directionally challenged.

Why am I directionally challenged? I’ve come to a few conclusions. The primary one is the whole notion of north, south, east, and west is an abstract concept to me, much like the atoms and molecules I studied in chemistry. Compass directions are not concrete concepts. Having grown up where the mountains are to the east and the ocean is to the west, I was completely disoriented when I married and moved to a place, where in the words of my husband, “If you are driving towards the mountains, then you are heading north and if you are driving towards the desert, then you are heading east and if you’ve reached Disneyland, then you’ve gone too far west.” Even better yet, he used to persuade me to use the sun as my directional guide by making statements like, “If it’s the later part of the day and the sun is on your right side, then you are heading south.” My reply to that was, “What if it’s the middle of the day and what if I’m driving at night? I don’t see how the sun or the mountains can help with directions if you are driving at night and can’t see anything!”

Another thought about being directionally challenged is that I have an unusually good memory and am a visual learner. Compass directions have no meaning to me, but landmarks do. Give me a physical landmark and it makes an imprint in my brain. Directions like “Go two blocks and make a left at the purple building with the yellow trim and the blue shutters make more sense to me than “Go two blocks and turn east.” Unless I’ve been to a place before, I have no visual map to retrieve in my head. But if I’ve been to a place before, it’s no problem finding my way back.

Being directionally challenged is not a flaw, it’s just a different type of operating system. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right, You Can’t Go Home Again, of course, unless you know how to get there!

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College Care Packages

When I was a freshman in college I received a care package from an out of state cousin. It was the first care package I’d ever received and, although I don’t really remember the contents of the package, other than dried prunes, it taught me about how simple gestures can mean so much. One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes sums it up, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I have never forgotten how my cousin’s thoughtful gesture lifted my spirits. One of my nieces has been away at college for about a month now and homesickness can set in at about this time, so I’m putting together a care package for her. In a U.S. Postal Service flat rate box you can cram as much as you want as long as the box does not exceed 70 pounds. The post office will give you the boxes free, you fill them, and then pay the flat rate for them to be shipped. They come in four sizes and the rates vary from approximately $5.00 to $14.00. Delivery time is usually about two days. It’s better to mail these packages at the beginning of the week, so that they arrive midweek and do not sit in the college mail room over the weekend.

Here’s a list of ideas to include in college care packages:
scented face mask
nail polish
lip balm
hand lotion
shower gel
hand sanitizer
ear plugs
cute Bandaids

granola bars
microwave popcorn
microwavable cakes like Betty Crocker’s Warm Delights
cookies – homemade or store bought
dried fruit
beef jerky
instant oatmeal
Easy Mac
Rice Krispies Treats
tea bags
hot cocoa packages
beverage pouches for water bottles such as Crystal Lite On The Go

seasonal decorations
water bottle
stress toy
Chlorox wipes
Shout wipes
USB flash drive
gift cards
quarters for laundry (if they’re not using laundry cards)
mini football

I’d love to learn what favorite items you include in college care packages!

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There is a door off of my family room that always remains shut to guests and is opened very cautiously by family members. It’s only a wooden barrier, but it separates chaos from order. Behind the door is my craft closet. I’m a crafter in pursuit of finding my craft and along the way I have amassed a lot of stuff. But the primary reason for the mess is that I keep everything. I see potential uses for everything beyond their intended uses. Just ask my husband about the cracked plastic laundry hamper that I would not let him throw away. He’s used to my pack rat ways, but the expression on his face when I said, “Why can’t we cut the bottom off and use it as a tomato cage?” told me that I had come up with my most ridiculous idea yet. I beg to disagree! I ‘m just a creative person who sees endless possibilities in things.

P1080020_1Here’s another example. What usually happens to photographs that are misprinted for one reason or another? Most people throw them away, but, of course, I do not. I save them for reasons unknown. Then one day I was making a birthday card for a neighbor and thought wouldn’t it be great if I cut up these colorful, but imperfect photos, and make a design with them? I took out scissors and paper punches and became engrossed with the bits of color and shapes as my design came into being.

Later as I stood back to admire the photo mosaic flower I had created, I thought of other materials that could be recycled in this manner. What about using black and white photos or glossy magazine photos? How about utilizing magazine articles with different font sizes for value density effects? What if I folded the photos for texture . . . . here I go again!

If you are wondering about the fate of the plastic laundry hamper, I sadly conceded to tossing it out.

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P1080452It’s kind of ego-deflating, but my most requested recipe is not for cookies or Chinese dishes, but it’s for my breakfast oatmeal. I always loved it when my mom served me a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast. As a child I would look into my bowl and watch little specks of liquid gold (melted butter) float in pools of rich milk that surrounded islands of oats. Decades now, I can still taste the wonderful goodness of hot oatmeal. Of course I can, because I have eaten it everyday for breakfast for the last two years! The catch is my mom gave me something else besides oatmeal. She gave me a genetic propensity for developing high cholesterol. My mom’s a tiny little thing, but her cholesterol numbers are big time. She once had her blood drawn and it looked like milk. The genetic link is strong. My siblings carefully watch their cholesterol and my daughter was diagnosed with high cholesterol at the tender age of five.

“If you were my mother, I would put you on medication.” Those words from my doctor brought me to attention. Vainly, my first thought was, what does he mean if I were his mother? Do I look that old? Then reality set in, my valiant effort to stave off high cholesterol was failing. It was inevitable. My total cholesterol was 255 and my LDL (“L” stands for lousy) was 171. I begged him to give me six months to see if I could turn it around. He consented. Well, I stretched that out to eight months, but it was worth it! After eating steel cut oatmeal every morning for eight months, I managed to bring my total cholesterol down to 225 and my LDL down to 136. That 35 point drop in LDL was amazing and my doctor said some patients don’t even see those kind of results with cholesterol medications.

Two years later I’m still eating steel cut oatmeal every morning. The latest lab results are looking good. My total cholesterol is 212, but my LDL went down to 119! Of course it helped, too, that I got a job that requires a lot of walking.

Once a month I cook a big pot of steel cut oatmeal. Why steel cut versus the other kinds? Steel cut oats are whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) which have been cut into two or three pieces. Rolled oats are oats that have been steamed, rolled, re-steamed and toasted. Unfortunately they lose some of their texture and taste in the process. Instant or quick oats have been further processed to break down fiber. The more soluble fiber, the better. Read this article from the Mayo Clinic on the top five foods to lower your cholesterol numbers.

Here’s my most requested recipe:
Rinse 5 cups of steel cut oats, toast them in large pot, add 15 cups of hot water, stir in cinnamon and dried cranberries (optional), and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes. No stirring allowed. Let oatmeal cool. Scoop about a 1/2 cup or so into a waxed paper square (hamburger patty squares from Smart and Final) and push into cupcake tins. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool. After they cool down, pop out each cupcake of oatmeal and put into a plastic freezer bag and freeze.

Each morning I reach into the freezer, grab an oatmeal cupcake and place it in a bowl. I microwave it for one minute and then peel off the paper. I place it back in the bowl and add ground flax seed, frozen blueberries, a handful of toasted walnuts, and a sliced banana. This concoction gets microwaved for a little over a minute and it’s ready to eat!

Let me know if this helps you with your cholesterol levels!

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White lace only for summer!

White lace only for summer!

I’m not a fashion expert by any means, but dressing my Barbie Dolls until I was ten years-old and working in women’s retail clothing for over a year has taught me that almost every fashion rule we knew before can’t stand on a single frayed thread nowadays. Yes, we can now wear brown with black and yes, we can wear blue with black. Who would have ever imagined that the day would come when we would be able to wear different blacks together. Well, that day has come. The only question left is can we wear white after Labor Day? Today an article on my Yahoo page caught my eye “If You Must Know: Why Shouldn’t We Wear White After Labor Day?” It was written for TIME by Laura Fitzpatrick. Ms. Fitzpatrick goes over the possible reasons in history for the enforcement of this fashion rule, such as temperature and class distinctions, but in the final paragraph concludes that “Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, gives the go-ahead for wearing white after Labor Day.”

After a little more searching I found a great AP article that presents a good compromise. Perhaps, the issue is not so much the color, but more the type of fabric used seasonally. “When summer really is turning into fall, it’s time to re-evaluate the fabrics in your closet. Linen should get packed away first — and it doesn’t really matter what color it is, says designer Shoshanna Gruss”. I especially like the advice given about white jeans. “Nothing is more chic than white jeans in the wintertime with a chunky cozy sweater or a blazer and leather boots,” says Suze Yalof Schwartz, executive fashion editor at large at Glamour. There is one no-white rule that still applies, Yalof Schwartz says, “No matter the time of year, don’t wear it to a wedding unless you are the bride.” Maybe wedding invitations should include non-compete clauses!

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Hello world!

Chihuly GlassWelcome to my blog! “What about this?” is a phrase I frequently catch myself saying, because I’m always thinking of ideas. Like this photo and the photo header above, both of which I took at a Chihuly glass exhibition, I wish this blog to be a bright and colorful record of my thoughts, ideas, and endeavors. Although I intend to post about some of my favorite topics – food and creative projects – I will also include posts on style and fashion tips, ways to help others, and basically anything else that pops into my head! Pretty random stuff, but sorry that’s how my brain works.

What about me? Let me introduce myself. I’m Linnell, a fifty-something-year-old woman, who is a wife, mother, former dental hygienist, community volunteer, and part-time sales associate. I put my husband through graduate school more than three decades ago and today he is a successful professional. Hooray for him! Making the decision to be a full-time stay-at-home mom was easy, but raising three children was the hardest job I’ve ever had. I love my kids, but hooray, they are all out of the house now! I’m ready to embark on the next fifty years of my life. It’s my turn to discover all that I can be. Want to come along for the ride?

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