Budget Epicurean

Budget Epicurean: April 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Most Important Rule of Money: Pay Yourself First

Let me begin by saying I am not a financial expert, nor do I have financial training. I am not a CPA, an investment banker, or a tax expert. I am just a normal American, still in school, with a job (sorta), who has read a lot of finance blogs, books, and articles. I apply this one rule to my life every day. And I am in a fairly stable position. I can manage my monthly expenses, and have a small amount set aside for retirement and savings. I'd like to share the most important rule of money I ever learned.

My main financial training came from my parents. My father set each of us kids up with a savings account at age 13. We were taught how to balance a checkbook, and how interest works for or against you. I was given a book that remains the cornerstone of my financial outlook on life. That book was "The Richest Man in Babylon" by George Clayson (free audio version on YouTube). It is a simple story of life in ancient Babylon, and how the richest man tried to teach the people how to also become rich.

The number one rule of how to begin growing wealthy, is this: Pay Yourself First. All other things will build upon that rule. But what does that mean? An article from About.com says: "Money, like water, expands to fill the container in which it is placed". This means that if you set a goal for your money, and take steps to get it to that "container", it will eventually expand to reach that amount. But if you don't have goals and a plan to reach those goals, you are likely to reach the end of the month with no more money than you began with. Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, 75% by some estimates! But it doesn't have to be that way.

The Road to Financial Freedom

It will not be easy. If it were, there would be no debt and everyone would be wealthy. It will require discipline. It will require sacrifices. But it is more than possible. If you are determined to get out of debt and/or become financially stable and eventually wealthy, start taking these steps right now.

Step 1: At the beginning of the month, before paying anything else, pay yourself. Try for 10% of your take-home paycheck. If you feel that is too high, begin with 5% and work your way up. But DO IT. Take that 10%, whether it be $10 or $1000, and put it into a savings or investment account. Even if you can't afford it. If after that, you pay your other bills and come up short, write down by how much.
Step 2: Find a way to make up the difference, increase your income and/or decrease your expenses. You may need to work a few extra hours, pick up a side job, sell some things, or give up a few perks. But ask yourself, are a few immediate gratification items worth lifelong financial bondage? Is it worth going out for dinner or drinks to always have debt hanging over your head? Pay yourself, then do what it takes to make up the difference this month. Then do the same next month.
Step 3: Reduce your 'extra' expenses. Anything you do not require to live is extra. Rent/mortgage, utilities, and basic food. Besides that, do what you can to cut back. Maybe take the bus or carpool instead of driving, eat in all week, stop going out for movies. Make it a game and see how low you can get your spending to go. This is where budgeting comes in. Create a budget of how much you want to/can afford to spend in certain categories each week/month, and follow it.
Step 4: Build up a solid emergency fund. For a typical single individual, you probably need about 3 month's expenses. If you have children, plan for an extra month per child as well. This would help cover things like doctor visits, sickness, car troubles, job loss. It will give you a huge comfort knowing you have some money saved and so small life problems won't totally derail your financial life. This emergency savings is the beginning seed of financial freedom.
Step 5: Once you've built up an emergency fund, invest. Keep that 1-3 month fund in something liquid like a savings account, then start using that 10% per month to invest. Open a 401K or money market account, and start investing in your future. Pay down debts, or buy stocks/mutual funds/bonds/real estate. Educate yourself on investing options, and play it safe until you learn the ropes. Don't believe 'get-rich-quick' schemes or you're likely to lose your carefully guarded nest egg. This money is the seed you hope to grow into a tree of wealth, a bad investment will rip it up by the roots and you will have to start all over. Continue to 'water' it with monthly investments, and over time you will see it grow.

Though this can be so very difficult at first, over time paying yourself first will become natural. You will start to feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment as you watch your balances grow and your debts disappear. You will start to enjoy living more frugally, because it means you have more left over to add to your savings and investment. Best of all, you will rest easier knowing that if an emergency arises, you can easily take care of it, and your future retirement will be more comfortable. Don't wait another day, set up that direct deposit and take the first step down the road to financial freedom today!

More articles on Paying Yourself First:
Pay Yourself First: What It Means and How to Do It from Wisebread
Pay Yourself First from Get Rich Slowly
What Does Pay Yourself First Mean from AboutBudgeting

Do you pay yourself? Any advice to get started?

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Three egg omelets

Omelets are an always popular breakfast item. Usually reserved for the weekends or a restaurant, I wanted to show you how easy they can be. As explained in my Ham & Greens Frittata post, the difference between and omelet and a frittata is that a frittata has all the ingredients mixed into the eggs, it is all cooked together, and not folded up. An omelet is partly cooked, and then the ingredients are added in and the eggs are folded around the other ingredients. Most are intimidated by the flip, or fold technique. However, with a few simple tricks you can make a fluffy protein half-moon like a pro chef in no time.

3 eggs (large, fresh, and room temperature if you can)
1/2-1 cup chopped veggies of choice
Meat and or cheese if you like
Vegetable spray, olive oil, or here I use coconut oil for the pan

Step 1: Add 1 tbsp coconut oil (olive oil, etc) to a warm frying pan. Saute and veggies or fully cook any meat you are adding. Set to the side to keep warm.

Step 2: Break all three eggs into a bowl and lightly whisk. You can use one or two whole eggs and the rest egg whites if you are concerned about cholesterol, or use egg substitutes. They should work just the same.
Step 3: Now the (not so) tricky part. Pour the eggs into the pan. You can wait to add the other ingredients until the last minute, or just add them on top of the eggs like I did. When the egg starts to cook (you will know by the change in color and texture) push it down the sides of the pan with a spoon or spatula. Mix up the egg in the center a little too. This helps to get the egg to cook on the bottom.
Step 4: Wiggle the pan around as you use the spoon or spatula to push the cooked egg to the center, and tilt it to get the uncooked egg to run up the sides. Repeat until most of the egg is cooked. Then, using a spatula or spoon, flip the egg in half, covering the fillings. It's a great idea to add a sprinkle of cheese first for a gooey inside at the end!
Step 5: Let cook for another few minutes, then flip and cook a few more. This is just to ensure that all the egg inside heats enough to cook fully.
Sprinkle with a bit of cheese, and enjoy! You can use whatever type of vegetables or beans you like here. Onion, mushroom, greens, zucchini, and peppers work great

Of course, for the carnivore in the house I had to make a ham & bacon one too. All breakfast meats are amazing in omelets as well. Get creative, try any combination that sounds good. And don't worry about not getting the half-flip perfect. Worst case scenario, you still have some delicious scrambled eggs.
Either way, break an egg and enjoy!

What is your favorite dish to make with eggs?

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mediterranean Vegetable Panini

Anything "Mediterranean" has been a buzzword lately. Claims abound that if you eat like someone from the Mediterranean, you will lose weight. I'm not completely sure where "the Mediterranean" even is, but I picture somewhere on the coast of Greece or Italy. The diet involves lots of fresh vegetables like eggplant, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. as well as health fats from olive oil, fish, and avocado. Combined with low amounts of red meat, sugar, and saturated fat plus an active lifestyle, it is claimed that you will suffer less cardiovascular problems, health issues in general, and live longer. I'm sure the sun, sand, and surf of the Mediterranean Sea doesn't hurt... While there is always going to be conflicting information about diets because of marketing and such, here are a few websites for some information: WebMD - Mediterranean Diet Weight Loss Effectiveness?; Mayo Clinic - Mediterranean Diet & Heart Health; US News Best Diet - Mediterranean Diet: What you need to know.

This sandwich was inspired by Udis Bread. They have an eggplant panini that is absolutely amazing, it is a huge slice of eggplant grilled, with grilled red bell pepper and goat cheese. I had bought an eggplant and didn't know what to do with it, so I decided to try my own version of an eggplant panini. I also had a red bell pepper and some zucchini, so I decided to go all veggie-licious. You can sub in whatever vegetables you like, ones that hold up to grilling are the best. Also I don't have a 'real' grill, so the hand dandy George Foreman did the heavy lifting. You could also use a pan and just put a lid on top of the sandwich weighted down with something to grill it.

1 1/4" thick slice eggplant
2 (or 1 really big) slices of zucchini
2/3 red bell pepper, seeded
Handful of spinach
2 tbsp hummus
thick slice cheese (I had white cheddar)

Step 1: Brush or spray grill with olive oil so the veggies don't stick. Grill eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper for about 10-15 minutes, until softened and beginning to char.
Step 2: Layer the veggies, hummus, and cheese onto some bread. Spray the grill again, and press the sandwich for 2-5 minutes, just to heat through.

I actually took this in for lunch, and though a little moist from the hummus it held up well.
You can use whatever kind of bread you like, or try a wrap or pita pocket. 

Warning: it may be a better idea to wait until you are ready to eat the sandwich to add hummus. The bottom of the sandwich was a little squishy. 
If you get rid of the cheese, then this sandwich is also vegan.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Twice the wine for half the calories!

Just in time for Thirsty Thursday, a smart trick to let yourself enjoy two glasses of wine for the caloric price of one! Whether at home with your girls or sweetie, or out on the prowl at happy hour, this is a sneaky trick to help manage your weight without putting a damper on your social life. 


Now, before I tell you the trick, let me say this is in no way an endorsement for drinking. I am not giving anyone permission to over-indulge or anything like that. There is much mixed information in the news about how red wine contains antioxidants and resveretrol, so it has to be healthy; or alcohol causes lowered inhibition, weight gain, and loose morals, so it's the devil. There is some truth to both sides, and my life motto is all things in moderation.  Women are recommended to drink no more than one beverage per day, and men two. An alcoholic beverage means:
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, such as vodka (a shot)
While it is true that some studies show various mental and physical health benefits of moderate amounts of alcohol (specifically wine), alcohol also contains "empty" calories. This means that you are getting calories from the drink, but no health benefits from vitamins or nutrients. So you need to take into account the calories that you will be adding on top of all your food calories for the day, or you will gain weight over time. This also goes for other "empty" beverages like soda pop or sugary coffee drinks. 

Calories in Wine

Depending on the type of wine, one 5 ounce glass can contain between 100 and 300 calories. That is the typical size of a midday snack or breakfast. The range is large because it depends upon the type of wine and the sugar content. Sweeter wines tend to have more sugar, and thus more calories, than dry wines. Which is unfortunate, because I can kill a whole bottle of moscato in one sitting, but take two hours to force down a dry red. I guess that's the idea...

The website GetDrunkNotFat is aptly named, and specializes in exactly the type of information you would think. They have a great chart here that summarizes many types of beverages (including things other than wine) broken down by calories per serving, serving size, even grams of carbohydrates per serving. You should also check out this amazing infographic on "Wine for Beginners" by Madeline Puckette from WineFolly.com

The part you've been waiting for!

Anyways, there is a way you can have you wine and drink it too. (Nonsensical metaphor, check). Simply ask the bartender or yourself to mix half wine with half soda water. Carbonated water or seltzer water have as many calories as regular water: Zero. Therefore, you can have 2.5 oz of wine plus 2.5 oz of sparkling water, twice! That's nicer than having one glass of wine, and one glass of water, don't you think? 

Carbonated water gets its fizzy property from dissolved carbon dioxide. Many names are basically synonymous, including: soda water, seltzer, carbonated water, club soda, sparkling water, and mineral water, with small distinctions. The exception, which is not synonymous, is tonic water. This is definitely not water-flavored; if ever you have tried it you are aware of its bitter taste. This bitter property comes from the organic compound quinine.  
What quinine looks like. In case you ever need to
organic chemistry your way out of a situation at a bar.
While bitter compounds are typically rejected by your taste buds (from an evolutionary mechanism which protected early people from ingesting poisons, see the comic below), quinine has been used in medicine for centuries. In fact, quinine has been and is still used occasionally to treat malaria. Interestingly, it is also naturally fluorescent. So if you're at a club with black lights, you could always order a gin & tonic and amaze your friends with your glowing beverage. 
The same logic applies to foods and drinks. If it was bitter, it might be poison. At least nowadays we know better.

So now that you know, choose your fizzy calorie-free mixer, and your wine of choice. May I recommend not diluting a very expensive fine wine, but going for something like (now) three-buck-chuck? Simply because, if you can afford a $200-bottle of wine, I assume you want to enjoy the wine for itself. In that case, please proceed, and maybe email me so we can be friends?

You can even use flavored soda water so that you don't notice a taste difference, or improve the taste of a wine you aren't terribly fond of, but are tired of that 1/3 full bottle in the fridge.
It makes a bubbly beverage that feels even more special. And good news, there is no scientific evidence that carbonated water harms bone health, in case that was a concern.
Enjoy responsibly!

For more health effects of alcohol, check out:

Do you have any healthy or frugal drinking tips?

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ways to Use Hard Boiled Eggs & Ham

Happy Easter! If you are reading this today, Easter Sunday, then thank you loyal reader! If this is a day, week, month after the fact, don't worry. This post is created with you in mind. On Easter Sunday, the typical American family will enjoy a nice meal of ham and boiled eggs, with many other possible additions including Easter bread, bacon, quiche... This means there is likely to be some amount of ham and likely large amounts of eggs left over. 

Since one can only eat so many cold ham sandwiches and limited amounts of egg salad, I put together a reference of many kinds of recipes to re-purpose leftover foods into new and exciting dishes! Keep in mind, cooked ham keeps great in the freezer for up to 6 months, so that is always an option. Hard boiled eggs will keep in the freezer up to a week.

Recipes for Hard Boiled Eggs

Photo from "Spoonlighting" blog, I recommend reading it

Classic egg salad: chop up eggs and mix with mayonnaise. This can be jazzed up many ways- add Tabasco, dill, curry powder, celery, etc.

Tuna salad: take plain tuna fish salad to the next level by adding chopped boiled eggs to it. Adds a nice texture balance, and even more protein.

Potato salad: make a classic potato salad and toss in some eggs as well. Boil chopped potatoes until soft, drain and toss with mustard, mayonnaise, sour cream, spices, and a few chopped eggs.

Deviled: take the yolks from the eggs and mash separately. Add mustard and mayonnaise. You can get crazy and try crushed nuts, pesto, BBQ sauce, whatever your  imagination thinks up. Put into a plastic ziplock, cut a corner off, and pipe the filling back into the egg halves. Garnish with a dash of paprika or fresh dill.

This classic strawberry shortcake, from the LA Times, with a secret ingredient: boiled egg yolk in the batter.

Cobb salad: make a bed of lettuce, then cover with chopped tomato, bacon, avocado, and hard boiled egg. Really, boiled eggs can top any salad.

Soup garnish: serve a hearty chilled gazpacho or borscht the traditional way, topped with a halved hard boiled egg.

Pickled: using spices, vinegar, and some beet juice for that lovely ruby color, pickle your leftover eggs and they will keep much longer. Try this recipe from Allrecipes.

Noodle soup: add a cooked egg into anything from fancy glass noodle Pho to ramen to add a kick of proteins and vitamins.

For even more ideas, see Health's article "8 Excellent Recipes for Hard-Boiled Eggs"

Recipes for Leftover Ham

Photo from "Petit Jean Meats". They recommend heating their ham
in your dishwasher to save oven space. Go read it, I'm not lying.

Sandwiches: this one's a given. Who doesn't love a few thick slices of ham on a soft roll or bun, slathered in mayo and topped with tomato? But once you've had that three days in a row for lunch, it's time for something a little more exciting...

Breakfast: leftover ham is a rockstar in the breakfast department. Layer it with a cooked egg and cheese on a bagel, wrap it up in a breakfast burrito, or add it to any frittata, quiche, or strata.

Soups: ham and navy bean, ham and barley, ham and potato, the possibilities are endless here. Just search "ham soup" and watch how many pages Google finds. Don't forget, the bone add a nice layer of flavor so don't get rid of it. Add it to the stock while it simmers away and enjoy extra umami. 

Scalloped potatoes: another ham classic, just layer thinly sliced potatoes, coat with flour and butter, and ham, add a little milk, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. You can add in extra veggies like peas, happiness like bacon, or get crazy and use sweet potatoes to up the oomph of health.

Casseroles: add ham into any type of casserole. Ham, broccoli and cheese. Ham, beans and rice. Ham... you get the idea. Adding new ingredients and baking it all together gives the leftover a fresh breath of life.

Pizza: use small chunks or thin slices and add ham to homemade pizza. Add pineapple for Hawaiian, sausage and pepperoni for meat lovers, BBQ sauce, or ranch.

A great idea for any types of leftovers that freeze well is to freeze them in smaller, recipe-sized or single-serving packages. That way, when you're rushed for dinner and just want to throw some ham into tonight's pasta primavera, you don't have to wait to defrost a big chunk, you can just grab one of the two-slice packages you froze.

Two really great resources for inspiration come from AllRecipes. They have a collection of Leftover Ham Recipes as well as a special Easter Ham section. You should also check out PremeditatedLeftovers article on 10 uses for leftover ham plus 5 things to do with a ham bone.

What's your favorite way to use leftovers?

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Baked ham & greens frittata

Frittatas are an awesome brunch staple, because they are easy to make and infinitely customizable. This would be a great Easter brunch option! They are the perfect answer to a vegetarian source of protein. Add in tofu, beans, and whatever veggies you want, but the eggs do the heavy lifting in the protein department. One typical large egg contains 6 g of protein, which is 12% of the recommended daily allowance for an adult (source: USDA). It also has keratin for your eyes, vitamin D, A and B, with only 70-80 calories. There aren't many other protein sources with as complete nutrition for such a low per calorie count.

What's a Frittata anyway?

Frittatas are most similar to a crust-less quiche. So if you love quiche but want to cut down on carbohydrates, calories, and saturated fat without sacrificing taste and versatility, a frittata is perfect for you. There is some confusion as to the difference between a frittata and an omelet. The main difference is that  omelets traditionally have the egg mixture cooked and folded around a filling which is added on top at the last minute, whereas a frittata is all mixed and cooked together, not folded over. A frittata is also traditionally baked in the oven for all or part of its cooking time. Your best choices for a perfect frittata are cast iron or a non-stick oven-safe frying pan. 

Now, if you have never tried a frittata, it may be intimidating. Or perhaps you have tried before with little luck. They turn out too dry, tough, overly browned, stuck to the pan, or too bland. That's ok. There are a few tricks to the perfect frittata every time. Whatever pan you use, make sure to spray with cooking oil or spread some olive oil around so the eggs don't stick. You need more for stainless steel than for non-stick or cast iron. Then make sure to cook any meat thoroughly first, then the veggies, then add the eggs. The rest of the tips are below.

6 large eggs
1/2 cup spinach
1 cup cooked asparagus
4 slices deli turkey
Cheddar cheese
Spices (Mrs. Dash & garlic salt) 

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400. Cook any meat you're using first (bacon, sausage, chorizo), remove it, and drain any fat. Then cook your veggies until slightly softened. You want them to still have a little crunch, as they will be cooked further.
Step 2: Add the meat or tofu and heat until warm. Season liberally here, as you will lose some flavor. I used a Mrs. Dash seasoning mix and generous amounts of garlic salt.
Step 3: Spread the contents of the pan into an even layer. You can sprinkle on a little cheese to let it melt here. Then beat the eggs in a separate bowl until fluffy and pour over the veggies and/or meat. Tilt the pan around so the eggs spread all the way to all edges. Let it cook just until it begins to set and is hard around the edges.
Step 4: Put the whole pan into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. When you cut a hole in the center and no raw egg is left, pull it from the oven. Let cool 5-10 minutes, then cut into wedges like a pie and serve.
It turns out only gently browned but cooked through. The eggs are springy and light, and it is super filling without feeling heavy.
Frittatas have so many uses! If you've had a late day and are starving but don't want too complicated of a dinner that you can make fast, just throw whatever veggies into it, have a nice glass of wine with it, and there's a 20 minute dinner. If you're having friends or family over for brunch or lunch, add a light salad. If you want to make a nice weekend breakfast for yourself or your family, just make some toast. Frittatas are so versatile. 

Enjoy, and Happy Easter!

(Easter Sunday is the 20th, in case you didn't know. I had to look it up too, don't worry.)

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to Perfectly Hard-Boil an Egg; & 6 Ways to Dye Hard Boiled Eggs

Happy Easter!!!

I'm guessing not many people will be reading this blog the day of, since Easter is kinda a major holiday. That's why this is published a little early. There are many great things about Eater. Egg hunts, baskets of presents and candy, Cadbury eggs, chocolate bunnies, Easter Sunday brunch. If you're religious, that church part. Since a major part of Easter is coloring hard boiled eggs (or at least it always has been for me), it's important to know how to properly hard boil an egg. It's gross when you peel an egg to eat it only to find a grimy green ring around the yolk, or the yolk is still runny.

There are many theories on how to perfectly boil eggs. First rule though: DO NOT TRY TO MICROWAVE IT. Seriously. Even thought BuzzFeed claims there are 12 ways to do it right. (Most of those ways don't involve in-the-shell eggs, so that's cheating). If you just put a raw egg into water and stick it in the microwave, the steam will build up quickly. You will spend the next 2 minutes oblivious to the imminent explosion, then the next 10 minutes after that cleaning dripping raw egg and shell shards from your entire microwave. Not that I know from experience or anything...

How to perfectly boil eggs

1. Place 6-12 eggs in a pan which has a lid. Cover the eggs with cold water, add a little salt, and maybe a tsp of vinegar.
2. Bring the eggs to a boil on the stove. As soon as they start a rolling boil, remove them from the heat and cover.
3. Let them sit in the hot water for 10-15 minutes. Then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
4. To peel, bang the egg on a hard surface, or roll it in your hands to break the shell. Start at the larger end and pull off shell pieces, running under cold water if you need extra help to get the shell off.

This version from MarthaStewart is actually closest to how we do it at my house. (Should I be upset about that?). This article from SimplyRecipes is also a good detailed explanation. The green ring is caused by boiling water, so the best way is to have the eggs at a rolling boil as short a time as possible.

Fresh eggs are usually harder to peel, so if you have eggs you bought last week rather than this morning, use those. Adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the cooking water may make peeling easier too. This is also a good idea to add if you're boiling the eggs to dye them. 

Ways to Dye Easter Eggs

First of all, you will want to cover the surface where you are dying eggs with newspaper or cloth to prevent staining your family heirloom table. This can get messy. Then make sure you have plenty of eggs for each person dying, because this is fun and it's easy to get carried away! Just one more pretty egg, please....
1. Food coloring or Kool-Aid
You can use plain food coloring to dye cooked, cooled eggs, no need for expensive store-bought kits. Just add 20 drops or so to 1/2 cup water and 1 tbsp vinegar, then leave them in the water until they are the color you want. Or add one whole packet of KoolAid (NO SUGAR) to 1 tbsp vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Adding more vinegar or leaving it in the color longer will give more and more vibrant colors.
2. Decorations
There are a lot of ways to decorate your egg, just be sure you do so before you put them in the dye. You can add stickers, draw on them with a crayon (anywhere the wax is, there will be no color and it will stay white) or wrap with rubber bands to create stripes. Then place in bought dye kits or food coloring.
3. Layering
Starting with the lightest color, dye the egg. For example, yellow. Then, use wire, a spoon, or string to dip the egg into the next color only part of the way, leaving part of the egg unsubmerged. For example, blue. This will make the overlapping areas green. If you don't dip it all the way in the yellow, you can have a yellow-green-blue egg. You can do this multiple times to create many layers of color.
4. Sponge painting
If you intend to eat these eggs, make sure you are using food grade dye and paint. If these are just for show, go crazy with whatever. Using a small piece of sponge (kitchen or makeup kind) dip into paint, and dab across the dyed or non-dyed egg surface. You can use multiple colors to create works of art.
5. Swirled/Marbelized
Once you are SURE you don't need a dye color alone, add a tbsp vegetable oil. Where the oil sticks to the egg will dye lighter or not dye at all as compared to the color you add it to. But be sure, because once you add the oil you cannot remove it! This creates beautiful swirled eggs.
6. Cracked Dye
After you cool cooked eggs, break the shells just a bit on purpose by banging them on a hard surface once or twice. Then dye as usual. When peeled, the egg will have spidery dye patterns of color! Use food grade dye if you intend to eat them.

Once you're finished with the fun of dying eggs, put on a baking rack or back into the carton to dry and set.

Have fun decorating, hiding, and/or eating your eggs this Easter!

What's your favorite part of Easter?

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

No pain no gain? -- Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Anyone who has ever begun a weight-lifting regimen, shoveled a long driveway, or lifted something heavy only to be sore the next day (or two, or three...) is familiar with the concept of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the constant ache in your muscles that you feel 24-48 hours after doing something strenuous to which you are not accustomed. To be clear, it is not the same as the sharp, immediate pain of a pull or strain, nor is it the same as the muscle fatigue you feel while working out.

What causes DOMS?

There is some misinformation on the internet and in common knowledge that a build up of lactic acid or lactate, created through aerobic respiration, causes muscle soreness. While it is true that a build-up or inability to get rid of lactate can hinder workouts, this is not the cause of DOMS. This is caused by microscopic tears in the muscles during the "eccentric", or lengthening, portion of an exercise. This causes the muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens. The opposite is the "concentric" portions of an exercise. Examples of eccentric moves include walking or running down hills, the lengthening portion of a bicep curl, the downward portion of a squat or lunge, or jumping. It is believed these microtraumas to the muscle fibers combined with inflammation and swelling cause the associated pain.

I once had a "leg day" where I did over 200 squats/lunges per leg, and was then limping around for three days after. Hopefully that was just a 'beginning to build muscle' stage and won't be the norm. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to prevent this soreness, especially if it is a new activity. When you first begin letting weights or playing a sport, there is going to be some amount of discomfort. There are a few things you can try to prevent or ease soreness.

To ease muscle aches:

  1. Take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or Aleve. This will help calm the 'pain' signals to your brain and decrease any swelling so you heal faster.
  2. Take a hot/cold shower. Let me explain. If you take a very cold shower or bath right after the workout, anecdotal evidence says it may help decrease how sore you are later. The next day, if sore, try a soothing hot bath to ease achy muscles.
  3. Try foam rolling. These rolling-pin looking foam tubes are designed to relax the tissue layer surrounding muscles and easy achy soreness. Here's a Yahoo article about it.
  4. Massage the sore areas. It may hurt a lot while happening, but some swear that it gets rid of pain faster after.
  5. Active recovery. Do light exercise like yoga, walking, or swimming. This makes the muscles continue to move, gets blood flowing through the sore areas, and hopefully help them heal quicker. 
  6. Take Vitamin C before and/or after a workout. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and may help prevent muscle damage caused by free radicals created when muscles work hard.
  7. Try a creme like IcyHot or Bengay to soothe deep muscle soreness.
  8. Drink lots of water and green tea. Staying well-hydrated is always a good idea, but your muscles can be up to 70% water, so keeping them hydrated means keeping them able to work.

While time is really the only thing guaranteed to help make muscle soreness go away, hopefully this article will inspire you to be safe and smart, and ease your way into weights. Please, DO NOT use this soreness as an excuse to just stop working out! It just means you pushed a little too hard this time. In fact, some think that DOMS is a necessary part of building new muscles. Here's an article from fitness magazine Runner's World on "Why Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Is a Good Thing" by Mackenzie Lobby

Your muscles will build themselves back up and get bigger and stronger, especially with repeats of those motions (so keep legs, arms & shoulders days on the schedule). The severity of the soreness will decrease over time as your muscles build and adapt to the exercises. Eventually whatever left you sore and weak will be no problem at all. Rest and recover, then get back out there! Regular movement is the number one best thing you can do for your heart, blood pressure, and overall health and wellbeing. 

For more information you can see This PDF from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Do you have any advice for sore muscles?

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Under 100 Calories per Bowl: Cruciferous vegetable soup

I'm always a big fan of recipes that help "clean out the fridge or pantry", and if they are healthy as well then bonus! We all have some assorted cans, boxed, half bag of frozen mixed vegetables, etc. that have been sitting around since approximately we moved into whatever abode we inhabit. Even the most strict, list-making, meal-planning, leftover-eating of us have odds and ends we need to try to use up before expiration dates. It is especially hard with produce. I have a bad habit of buying everything that's on sale, I want to cook eventually, sounds healthy... and then I have a fridge packed full of five-day-old veggies beginning to wilt and lose nutrients. Sad face. 

That's why this soup is fantastic! You can mix and match what vegetables you add based on what you have waiting to be used, and choose whatever protein and grain is in the half-empty box in your cupboard. There is of course a few caveats. You need a huge ratio of veggies to other stuff, and a large portion of it must be water. IF you are going for a filling, vegetarian, healthy, low-cal, low-fat soup. Try to choose mostly cruciferous vegetables and/or leafy greens, as those pack the most nutrients and fiber for the least carbs and calories. And limit the beans and the grains to one cup each. If you have a "meat tooth" feel free to throw in some cooked shredded chicken or steak.

1 whole head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 bunch kale, chopped
1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup barley
1 cup pinto beans
1 can diced tomatoes
Garlic salt
Lots of water (stock or bouillon for extra flavor)

Step 1: Chop all your veggies and add to the crock pot. Add the grain (barley) and protein (beans) as well as diced tomatoes. You can sub fresh chopped tomato or tomato sauce, or get rid of it. I just super love diced tomatoes in all the things.
Step 2: Cook on low for 4-6 hours, until veggies, barley and beans are tender. Add any other seasonings you like. Enjoy for under 100 calories per bowl as often as you are hungry!

*Disclaimer: I do not recommend crash diets like the cabbage soup diet where this is all you eat all day, but I do believe that soup before a full meal will help dampen hunger and make it easier to eat healthy and manage a healthy weight.

Nutrition Facts

  12 Servings

Amount Per Serving
  Calories 94.1
  Total Fat 1.0 g
      Saturated Fat 0.2 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 0.2 g
  Cholesterol 0.0 mg
  Sodium 766.7 mg
  Potassium 412.5 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 18.8 g
      Dietary Fiber 5.1 g
      Sugars 1.2 g
  Protein 4.2 g

  Vitamin A 42.4 %
  Vitamin B-12 0.2 %
  Vitamin B-6 10.1 %
  Vitamin C 73.5 %
  Vitamin D 0.0 %
  Vitamin E 1.5 %
  Calcium 7.6 %
  Copper 5.7 %
  Folate 21.8 %
  Iron 8.9 %
  Magnesium 9.1 %
  Manganese 19.7 %
  Niacin 5.6 %
  Pantothenic Acid     3.7 %
  Phosphorus     7.5 %
  Riboflavin 6.2 %
  Selenium 6.0 %
  Thiamin 7.5 %
  Zinc 4.2 %

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

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