Category Archives: Fresh Ideas

The Obscure Origins of April Fool’s Day

You’ve all heard the stories, right?  From the fooler or foolee that executed or was victimized by the ultimate April Fool’s joke.  Hell, it was only a year ago that I regaled readers of this blog about my wife and her mother “fooling” me into believing that we were on the verge of birthing triplets, to include ancestral proof and an ultrasound video of the trio.

Another classic April Fool’s story was applied on a national scale when sportswriter, George Plimpton, wrote of New York Mets fireball pitcher, Sidd Finch, in the April 1, 1985 edition of Sports Illustrated.

Plimpton claimed that Finch was raised in an English orphanage, studied Buddhism, and could throw a baseball an astounding 168 miles-per-hour.  Mets fans were ecstatic, networks and newspapers rushed to interview the yoga-practicing phenomenon, and batters feared for their lives.  And it was all a hoax conceived by Plimpton, Sports Illustrated and (gasp!) even the Mets were in on it.  All involved came clean in the April 15th issue.  But where and how did this tradition of fooling people begin?  And why on April 1st?

Let’s answer the second question first.  The month of April is named after the Greek goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, Aprilis.  Aprilis was the daughter of Aphrodite (goddess of love and pleasure, among other things) and Dionysus (god of wine, parties and ecstasy among other things).  With a lineage like that, it’s easy to understand why Aprilis was fond of a god-awful good time.

Zeus eventually tasked Aprilis with making him laugh at other’s expense.  In other words, he had Aprilis use her significant humorous wit to develop and initiate practical jokes on the other gods and goddesses.

Aprilis once famously replaced Hades’ fearsome, three-headed dog, Cerberus, with a fluffy, three-headed bunny named Mazeménos, which roughly translates to “cuddly.”  Simultaneously, she convinced her father to replace the deadly waters of the River Styx with wine which the damned promptly used throw a massive party during which they all became thoroughly inebriated.  Hades failed to see the humor in all this.  However, Zeus laughed his ass off.  Now that we know the answer to the first query, let’s tackle the second.

During the Renaissance, when the artists, authors and royalty of Europe re-discovered the works of ancient Greece, some came across the stories of the heretofore obscure minor goddess, Aprilis.  One future king who reveled in the exploits of Aprilis was Henry VIII of England.

Before Henry wed six different women and had two of them beheaded, he was an impetuous youth with too much time on his hands, which could probably be said of many princes.  After all, he had an older brother, Arthur, who would ascend to the English throne rather than Henry.  Therefore, as the second born male heir, Henry was pretty much left to do as he pleased.

Young Henry quickly fell in with his father’s court jester, Stephen.  A quick word about Renaissance court jesters, or “fools” as they were sometimes called.  They certainly were not vacuous, dim-witted men prancing around in tights and a four-cornered hat complete with bells, juggling beer steins while telling crude jokes.  A Jester was, in fact, a highly intelligent individual chosen for his rapier-like wit and ability to challenge all at court with his biting sarcasm and humorous insults.  Sounds a bit like the goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, does it not?

Anyway, young Henry and Stephen had a grand time “punking” any and all members of Henry VII’s court.  And Stephen, with the protection of the young prince, was able to get away with murder, so-to-speak.  Even after Henry’s older brother, Arthur, died in 1502, making Henry next in line to the throne, he kept Stephen close and used him as an unofficial adviser.

However, this relationship displeased many at court, including Henry’s father who considered Stephen a nuisance at best and a corrupting influence on Henry at worst.  Eventually, Henry VIII’s father had the Duke of Leister accuse Stephen of treasonous activities.  A show trial ensued and Stephen was locked away in the Tower of London in 1508, never to be seen again.  His fate, to this day, remains unknown.

After Henry VIII ascended to the throne in 1509 and throughout his reign, he never forgot his childhood friend who could so easily make him laugh.  As Henry wrestled with the affairs of church and state, he often remembered those carefree days spent with Stephen as they roamed the halls and rooms at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court.  It is believed that largely due to these memories, Henry desired to set aside a special day in which practical jokes were not only accepted, but encouraged, in honor of his first and only true friend, Stephen.

And what better day to celebrate the memory of Stephen, than on the first day of the month named after the goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, Aprilis?  So there you have it, the long, convoluted and somewhat touching story of the origins of April Fool’s Day.  And yes, this entire story is a total work of fiction in the tradition of the tale of Sidd Finch.  I have no idea of the true origins of April Fool’s Day as I feared if I did know the true facts, they would seep into this fictionalized version.  Happy April Fool’s Day.

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February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day

When I was in college, I worked at a dry cleaner. I was there long enough to get to know several of the regular customers. Quite often some would linger and strike up some great conversations and some would share wonderful stories. One elderly gentleman did this most times he came in. He knew enough about me to know I was a Freshman in college and that my family was overseas.

One day he walked in, handed my boss an envelope and left. That envelope contained a check and a note. My boss read the note out loud and my jaw hit the floor. The check that was included in the envelope covered my tuition for the next semester, paid in full.

I couldn’t figure out why he would want to pay for a stranger’s college tuition and not expect anything in return. My boss told me that the man had been doing it for years. He would select a student he felt would appreciate it and help them out. This random act of kindness, made 26 years ago still brings tears to my eyes.

People have been committing random acts of kindness for hundreds of years. We may not know exactly what they have all been, nor have we always given them the title of “Random Acts of Kindness”.  It has its very own day assigned to it. This year’s Random Acts of Kindness Day is February 17, 2017.

The first Random Acts day was created in Colorado in 1995. The concept is designed to make the world a little bit better by each of us doing a kind deed. Participating does not mean you have to spend money to be kind.

In case you might be having a difficult time figuring out something nice to do that you may not do on a regular basis, I have compiled two lists. One list is of kind deeds that will only cost you a little bit of time. The second list is for those of you who would like to show kindness via money.

Random Acts of Kindness that Won’t Cost You a Thing

  • Open the door for someone, complete with a smile
  • Volunteer time at an animal shelter or rescue
  • Simply smile at people
  • Do a favor for someone without expecting anything in return
  • Babysit for free
  • Sweep your neighbors porch/shovel their sidewalks
  • Walk a friend’s or neighbor’s dog
  • Volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter
  • Read to the elderly at a retirement home
  • Send an encouraging card or email
  • Thank a veteran, police officer, or firefighter
  • Give a hug, it’s not just a kind act but a stress reducer as well
  • Donate blood (Perfect for American Heart Month)
  • Be tolerant
  • Compliment a stranger

Random Acts of Kindness for Those Who Can Spare Some Change

  • Pay for the food of the people behind you in the drive through
  • Take flowers to a retirement home
  • Leave a zip bag of quarters on a washer at the laundromat
  • Donate food to an animal shelter
  • Leave a bag of cookies with a note in the mailbox for the postal carrier
  • Take coffee and donuts to your local fire station
  • Donate cat litter to a cat rescue
  • Donate a new toy to a children’s hospital
  • Take muffins and coffee to work
  • Donate money to your electric company to be used for someone who is struggling to pay their bill
  • Plant a tree
  • Hire a house cleaner for an ill friend or one with children
  • Buy a gift card from a car wash and leave it in an envelope on a dirty car at the grocery store
  • Grab a few cases of water and take them to the Red Cross
  • Donate canned goods to your local food bank

Even though Random Acts of Kindness Day is recognized on February 18th this year, you don’t have to limit yourself. Imagine how much nicer the world would be if we could all do just one random act once a week…imagine twice a week. Maybe some of the nice things could begin to draw some of the attention away from all the bad things that happen. Wouldn’t it be nice to shift that focus? How do you plan to take part this year?

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The Rich and Flavorful History of Soul Food

Please, when I mention soul food, do not think only of the food marketed by some older gentleman parading as a colonel from Kentucky.  Soul food, as I discovered while researching this post, is so much more than just fried chicken, corn bread, and sweet potato pie.  Although those dishes do play a role, they are not the end-all, be-all of soul food, far from it.  Soul food has its origins, as one might expect, from West Africa, but it also contains ingredients from Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas as well.  It is, in fact, a fusion cuisine that has evolved over the centuries and is, perhaps, rediscovering its vegetable roots (no, not like turnips or carrots).

What we now refer to as soul food has its origins in West Africa.  When millions of African slaves were forcibly removed from their homeland and brought to North, Central, and South America, as well as numerous Caribbean islands, one of the memories they brought with them were of the culinary variety.  The Columbian Exchange (the transfer of foods, animals and ideas among the Atlantic world) began almost immediately after Columbus first landed in the Bahamas in 1492.  Eventually, African plants and seeds arrived in the slave states of the South, sometimes via the Caribbean.  One of the most significant was rice, along with okra and black-eyed peas.

The West African diet consisted mostly of vegetables and meat was usually only used to flavor the dish.  This tradition easily transferred itself to America as Southern slaves usually only had access to limited amounts of meat.  And what meat they did obtain was of the variety not eaten by their owners, such as ham hocks, oxtail, chitterlings (or chit’lins…pig intestines), or gizzards.  Many slaves also were permitted to supplement their diets through the use of their own gardens, where they grew vegetables that were common to the Native Americans…sweet potatoes and corn.  Hence the inclusion of many corn based items, such as hominy, grits and cornbread under the soul food umbrella.   The slaves also grew “new” greens such as collard, mustard, turnip, cabbage and kale.

After the Civil War, many Southern blacks became share croppers, still tied to the land that others owned.  However, by the time the U.S. entered World War I, in 1917, many Southern blacks began what has come to be known as the Great Migration as they headed north in search of manufacturing jobs and they took their soul food recipes with them, along with their music.  These African-Americans then began to use lard to cook the meat that they now acquired through better paying jobs, to include chicken and pork.  Some of these transplanted Southern blacks managed to open their own restaurants and they became community gathering places within cities, both north and south.

As for the term “soul food,” African-Americans began to use that term in the 1940s, but it went mainstream with the arrival of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s, as “soul” was also placed in front of man, brother, sister, and music.  Simply stated, during this time, “soul” equaled African-American, while “Southern” came to be associated with white.

Around this period, the American diet began to change with the mass consumption of processed and fast food and this is when soul food was transformed and came to be considered part of an unhealthy diet.  While a soul food diet has always had healthy and unhealthy elements, this equilibrium was unbalanced when processed and fast food manufactures altered its composition.

However, recently, many African-American chefs have been leading the way back to the roots of soul food as they take it back to its veggie-centric beginnings.  Often referred to as “down-home healthy soul food,” it features meat dishes, but they’re now grilled or baked rather than fried in lard.  Dishes are also prepared with less salt and sugar and are flavored with onions, pepper, garlic, herbs and spices.  It has been referred to as a sort of homecoming by African-American chefs and culinary experts.  Imagine, soul food as a synonym for health food…well, imagine no longer.

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For Your Christmas Gift List, Go Unique.

As you contemplate what to get your friends, family and coworkers for Christmas, why not avoid the bland, boring, perfunctory, and/or plain?  Nothing says “I refuse to put any serious thought or effort into my gift decision making process,” than a $50 gift card or a tie or cash.  This year, take a risk and go unique and that internet machine makes it easier than ever to do just that.  Simply think about the recipient of your gift and what his/her interests and hobbies are and then take it from there.  With that in mind here are a few uncommon gift ideas (in no particular order…no ranking here, within a wide price range) and where to find them.

Chicken with Artichoke and SpinachHome-delivered meals – from MagicKitchen.com of course.  They (we?) offer a variety of meal bundles such as comfort food, home-style, soup for the soul, diabetic friendly, low sodium, senior, and gluten-free just to name a few.  All you need to do is determine the needs and/or desires (in terms of food) of the recipient, visit http://www.magickitchen.com/ and take it from there.

Simulated sunrise alarm clock – An extremely appropriate gift for those that suffer with the winter blahs, aka seasonal affective disorder.  This simulated sunrise clock gradually brightens the closer it gets to your wake-up time and it offers five calming, natural sounds to wake-up to as well.  It also works in reverse, as both the light and natural sound diminish as you drift off to la-la land.  Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0093162RM/?tag=dodochristmas2016-20

Macaron making kit – NOT to be confused with the Americanized “Macaroon” (the almond-based confection), the French macaron is a to-die-for meringue-based cookie.  This kit provides the receiver with everything they need to make a variety of macarons, from “rose” to “Earl Grey” to “wasabi” (yes, I just wrote wasabi).  Check it out… http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/macaron-kit

3dpen3D writing pen — This hand-held 3D printer is perfect for the artist on your list.  It extrudes (or exudes, I’m not sure which) a warm plastic gel that hardens in a few minutes and allows the user to create works of art that have depth, height and width…hence 3D.  It comes with 50 plasta-gel refills of various colors.  Get it here:   http://www.hammacher.com/Product/Default.aspx?sku=89808&refsku=87427

642 Things to Write About – This notebook of writing prompts brings out the creative writer hiding in all of us.  It offers a series of prompts and space to pontificate.  Here’s a couple of examples: “You have been evicted from your home, but rather than live on the street you go to Ikea.  At night, you hide in the bathroom until the janitor leaves.  Write about your life.”  And “What is the sound of silence and when did you last hear it?” Read more here:  http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/642-things-to-write-about

Pac-Man video game console – This full-size arcade console will fill the owner’s home with the vintage “wocka, wocka, wocka” sound as players run from (or chase) blinky, pinky and those other two ghosts through the most famous of mazes.  The game, while a bit expensive, also comes with 12, pre-loaded classic arcade games such as Galaga, Dig Dug, and, of course, Ms. Pac-Man.  Fulfill your classic gamer’s wishes here: http://www.hammacher.com/Product/Default.aspx?sku=11801&PID=7101032&source=cj

Custom Bobblehead – Why collect bobbleheads of famous athletes when you can give any person on your list their own bobblehead?  Simply visit this site  http://www.1minime.com/ , pick a body-style (they have over 450 to choose from, such as: Scarface, a pimp, various athletes, the grim reaper, a ninja, a princess, a bride, rock star and couples too), upload a picture and they’ll take it from there.

cokemachineVintage-style Coca-Cola vending machine – This mini-fridge vending machine holds ten 12-ounce cans of your favorite beverage (not necessarily coke) and is perfect for an in-home bar, game room or the ever popular man cave.  It offers push-button vending…just remember to keep it well stocked.  https://www.sharperimage.com/si/view/product/Coca-Cola-Vending-Fridge/201599

A Listography Journal – An alternate way to journal, this series comes in a variety of titles that coerce the writer to reflect upon their life as they compile lists of their favorites and from either their present or past.  Titles include lists that deal with your favorite films, books, food, travel places, and things you’d like to do in the future.  Get writing here:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/1452106517/?tag=dodochristmas2016-20

Teas from around the world – Give the gift of global teas to the tea lover on your list.  It contains a set of ten tubes of loose-leaf teas from various global tea-producing areas.  Each tube makes enough tea for 6-8 cups.  The teas range in flavor from Long Jing to bancha tea mixed with roasted rice.  Read more here:  http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/tea-from-around-the-world-set

DIY Computer – For the computer geek, er, genius in your life.  This computer kit comes with everything one would need to build a computer, to include a wireless keyboard, speaker, HD screen, and PCU.  It comes with a step-by-step instruction guide and gets the owner started on coding skills and making their own apps and games.  https://kano.me/store/uk/products/kano-complete

sockMembership in the sock-of-the-month club – Usually socks, well, suck as a gift.  However, many use socks to express their individuality, and this gift certainly will help them in that endeavor.  They offer a variety of socks from traditional to quirky, from no-show to over-the-calf.  The recipient can receive one or two pair of socks every month with a new design that have never been sold before.  Learn more here:  http://www.sock101.com/sock-of-the-month-club-s/1869.htm

Bacon flavored toothpaste – Nothing says fresh breath like bacon!  For the person that just can’t get enough bacon in their life, this is the gift for them.  This 2.5 ounce tube of pork goodness will leave the taste of breakfast in the user’s mouth for hours and cause people in the vicinity to develop a strange craving for crispy bacon.  Yes, this is a real thing and here’s the proof:  https://www.offthewagonshop.com/collections/weird-funny-gifts/products/bacon-flavored-toothpaste

Star Wars BB-8 robot – Modeled after the famous robot from The Force Awakens, this smaller version reacts to commands from either a Smartphone app or its owner’s voice!  It also has autonomous behavior that permits it to wander around on its own as well as an adaptive personality that allows BB-8 to develop a unique personality through interactions with its owner.  Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com/Sphero-Star-Wars-BB-8-Droid/dp/B0107H5FJ6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1471962679&sr=8-1&keywords=sphero+bb8&tag=goodhousekeeping_auto-append-20&ascsubtag=goodhousekeeping.gallery.399

wine-glassesMusical wine glasses – each glass in this set of two is actually capable of playing a note in the A-major scale.  The note it plays is dependent upon the level of wine in the glass.  Each note is clearly marked on the glass and all that’s required to get it to tone is a quick swipe around the rim of the glass with a wet finger.  A unique take on the toning bells idea, party goers can actualyl play songs which is made easier with the included downloadable sheet music.  See them here:  http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/major-scale-musical-wine-glasses-set-of-2

Wonder Woman apron – We all have a wonder woman in our life so why not let her know that with this colorful kitchen accessory.  It might not improve her cooking skills, but she’ll definitely look better (if that’s possible) while working on those meals.  Peruse it here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00541NO4E/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00541NO4E&linkCode=as2&tag=tuckerheavy-20&linkId=TOPMX4MOVPHGBKZG

Mossy Oak pink camouflage duffle bag – Have a woman on your list that loves outdoor activities, like hunting or fishing, but still wants to exert her femininity?  Then this is her gift.  This 20-inch bag features the famous Mossy Oak camo accented with pink handles, zippers, shoulder and reinforcing straps.  See if it’s what she’s looking for here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009RUQC0G/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B009RUQC0G&linkCode=as2&tag=tuckerheavy-20&linkId=XCYP4P2VAYYGSMGE

Bluesmart carry-on luggage – With this innovative carry-on, the owner can track the whereabouts and condition of his/her bag through 3G and GPS technology.  It beams this info to a smartphone.  It also comes with a battery and two USB ports that can be used to charge a phone six times over.  This TSA approved luggage also features a water-resistant surface and a built-in scale.  Be amazed here:   https://www.amazon.com/Bluesmart-1-Smart-Carry-On-Luggage/dp/B00X5OUC1U/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=boost&srs=12034488011&ie=UTF8&qid=1447630729&sr=8-42&linkCode=sl1&tag=randallheavy-20&linkId=88e08fc43edcdb6ca1d2f6c087bbd695

stripedPlant Theatre funky veg kit – Who hasn’t wanted to grow multi-colored Swiss chard, purple carrots, red Brussels sprouts, or striped tomatoes?  Well, this kit provides its recipient with everything they’ll need to grow all of them (seeds, pots, and peat blocks).  The perfect gift for those who desire to create a psychedelic salad.  Here it is: https://www.amazon.com/Plant-Theatre-Funky-Veg-Extraordinary/dp/B00Q74B3D6/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1447636639&sr=8-11&keywords=gifts&linkCode=sl1&tag=randallheavy-20&linkId=cbf9f11b0a3ae61da87481d8e45753d2

Exploding Kittens card game – this family-friendly card game bills itself as a “card game about kittens and explosions and sometimes goats.”  I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, but if you’re curious you can check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/Exploding-Kittens-About-Explosions-Sometimes/dp/B010TQY7A8/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=randallheavy-20&linkId=4382a5fc7f6304a38277eda570e1ff6f

There you have it…20 unique gift ideas for just about everyone on your gift list.  So please, this Christmas, take a chance and give a gift that is truly as unique as you are.  I’ll just leave you with a quote from one of my favorite Hugh Grant movies, Four Weddings and a Funeral,  “Why be boring?”  Happy Holidays!

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Sweat the Small Stuff: 5 Small Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Life.

Yeah, I know the quote is usually “DON’T sweat the small stuff,” but sometimes the small stuff matters.  If you think about it, our entire lives are comprised of “small stuff,” in the form of the thousands of decisions we make on a daily basis.  Should I eat just one more?  Binge watch The Walking Dead or work on the house?  Wear these yoga pants or not?  Hit the snooze again?

These seemingly small decisions add up and become who we are.  So why not make a few small decisions that, when done consistently, can actually improve your life for the better?  That’s what I thought, you have no argument…and “I don’t have the time” counts as no argument.

  1. pedometerGet (and use) a pedometer – But just don’t wear it around and look at the total at the end of your day. Set benchmarks (or goals if you prefer) and break them!  Make small bets with your friends, family and coworkers.  For example: “I’ll bet all of you a tarantula that I take more steps than you over the weekend.”  Or create a contest with a prize for the winner.  For example: “whoever takes the most steps today gets the last MagicKitchen.com Panna Cotta.” Of course, there are plenty of pedometer apps for your phone, too.
  1. Breathe deep…the gathering gloom (sorry, I regressed to my teenage years when I kept trying to figure out those strange lyrics to “Nights in White Satin”). Research has shown that deep breathing exercises (just 5 minutes a day) reduces stress producing hormone levels, decreases anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep.
  1. scrabbleDo a crossword, or Sudoku, or play Scrabble – In other words, exercise your brain as if it were a muscle (Is it a muscle? Or an organ?…Does it matter?). No, it doesn’t matter.  The brain ACTS like a muscle and the more you exercise it, the more efficient it gets.  Of course, the obverse is also true.  Your brain will atrophy like any other muscle if it remains sedentary for an extended period of time.  Studies have shown brain exercises can extend its cognitive reserve…aka its ability to withstand damage due to aging, such as dementia.  Learning new things, such as a musical instrument or foreign language does the trick as well.
  1. Read nutrition labels – Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is NOT bliss when it comes to your nutrition (sorry for contradicting so many popular idioms in this post). Your body knows what you’re putting in it even if you keep it from your mind and the results (good or bad) happen regardless.  You might set that Snickers bar aside when you find out it has 280 calories, 14 grams of fat, 30 grams of sugar and contains trans fat.  Look at it this way, after eating that Snickers, you’ll have to run about 2.5 miles to burn it off (and that doesn’t even take into account the effects of the saturated and trans fat consumed).
  1. hug2Hug someone…just make sure it’s consensual. The hugging of loved ones reduces stress, anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and releases anti-depressant hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin.  Regular hugging has also been shown to aid in healing and recovering from illness.  Hugs also increase self-esteem, ease tension, teach the concepts of giving and receiving, and encourage empathy and understanding.  All these benefits apply equally to the hugger we well as the huggee.

So, to recap: work the heck out of that pedometer, breathe deep the gathering gloom (or just do deep breathing exercises), work the heck out of your brain, flip it over and read that nutrition label, and get and give plenty of hugs…and don’t forget to do all these things on a consistent basis.

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November is Diabetes Awareness Month…

ada-logo…And in order to help raise awareness about this disease that currently afflicts more than 29 million people in the U.S., MagicKitchen.com is awarding a $250 gift certificate to one lucky entrant.  All that’s required of you is to go to this site: http://www.magickitchen.com/diabetes-awareness.html and simply enter your name and email address.  The contest opens on November 1 and the winner will be announced on December 3.

Lemon Rosemary PorkSince the whole idea of our contest and designating November as Diabetes Awareness Month is to…well…raise awareness among people about diabetes, here’s a few facts regarding the disease as cited by the Center for Disease Control:

  • Of the 29.1 million people who have diabetes, 8.1 million of them (or 27.8%) are undiagnosed.
  • At least 1 in 3 people will develop type II diabetes in their lifetime.
  • The risk of death for adults with diabetes is 58% higher than for adults without the disease and their medical costs are twice as high.
  • Those who have diabetes are at greater risk for blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and stroke.

ground-turkey-noodles-IMG_3995-(2)In addition to the 29 million who have diabetes, 86 million have pre-diabetes (those whose blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as type II diabetes) and 90% of them are unaware of this fact.  Hence the need for Diabetes Awareness Month…to make them aware of the disease and to convince them to see their doctor for a blood glucose screening.  Because for many of them, there’s still time to stave off full-blown diabetes by simply eating healthy, losing weight and leading a more active lifestyle.

Since there are often no signs or symptoms of pre-diabetes, you should get a blood glucose screening if you have any of the following risk factors:

    • Overweight with a body mass index (BMI) over 25.
    • Are inactive
    • Age 45 or older
    • Have a family history of type II diabetes
    • Have high blood pressure
    • Your HDL is below 35
    • You are African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-American or Pacific Islander.
    • Have polycystic ovary syndrome

Portion Control mealsSo what can you do if you’re diagnosed with prediabetes?  Well, the treatment is simple and totally within your hands.  The CDC states that you can lower your risk for type II diabetes by 58% if you lose 7% of your body weight (or 15 pounds for someone who weights 200 pounds) and perform some moderate exercise (like brisk walking) for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

The lessons to be learned here?  You can win a $250 gift certificate from MagicKitchen.com simply by registering and if you or someone you know is at risk for pre-diabetes, get them, or you, in for a blood glucose screening and then start eating healthier, lose some weight and become more active…the ball is in your court.

That link again is http://www.magickitchen.com/diabetes-awareness.html

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Trouble at Blue Apron

blue-apron1The rumor mill and news agencies are twittering away about the problems multi-billion dollar start-up Blue Apron is having. As we keep our ear to the ground regarding food safety and nutrition, we couldn’t help hearing the news.

In case you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard of Blue Apron, let me bring you up to date. They are the company who sends you a box with all the ingredients for making several meals, along with the recipe cards for doing so. Everything is packaged so that you get exactly as much coconut milk or butter as you need to create the meal. Just dump it into the pan according to their directions.

They were founded in 2012, and already they deliver 8 million meals per year. That’s a huge growth spurt, and like most adolescents, they’re having growing pains.

Most of the reports have to do with violence and predatory behavior between employees,  including bomb threats being called in at their Richmond warehouse.

There have been at least four people arrested, and employees have complained of being punched, groped, bitten and even choked by other employees at various times. Bomb threats have been reported as well.

There are some complaints about the work environment as well.  People are hired, fired and quit regularly, causing some chaos.

Buzzfeed’s report states, “All told, interviews with 14 former employees describe a chaotic, stressful environment where employees work long days for wages starting at $12 an hour bagging cilantro or assembling boxes in a warehouse kept at a temperature below 40 degrees.”

The same facility in Richmond has been visited multiple times by OSHA officials, and some complaints have been registered as to employees’ safety. Buzzfeed adds, “In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Blue Apron said it appealed some of these violations and the case has “yet to be fully resolved.””

So all is not rosy in Blue Apron land.

Melody, MagicKitchen.com blogger.

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The History of Meal Delivery

father and daughter in kitchenI learned to cook when I was a young teenager. My dad was a wiz in the kitchen and he taught me how to make great meals. Like he did, I taught my children their way around a kitchen. They are much better than I am at some recipes. Home cooked meals are truly fantastic, however there doesn’t seem to be as much time to cook as there once was.

Thank goodness we can order from certain restaurants and have them deliver dinner (and sometimes lunch). Most people in the U.S. have had a pizza or Chinese food brought to their front door. Food delivery is a common occurrence for a lot of homes.

Who was the brilliant person to make the first home delivery? When did having hot meals delivered spark the idea of delivering pre-cooked, frozen meals? In order to figure this out, let’s take a look at the history of meal delivery with the facts below:

  1. The first meal delivery most likely was conducted somewhere between 3000 – 700 BC. It wasn’t exactly pizza they were delivering, but something very similar. The crust portion consisted of a breaded type pastry with different herbs, veggies, and cheeses. Surprisingly, people paid the exorbitant price of an entire herd of sheep. If the patrons wanted extra cheese, no problem. That would just be one more sheep, please.
  2. Butchers in 14th century France would send their wares from the block to the homes of the families who could afford it.
  3. Photo from http://www.theskinny.co.uk
    Photo from http://www.theskinny.co.uk

    Cohorts of dabbawalla in Mumbai began feeding hungry workers across the city with home-cooked lunches, back in the 19th century – and they still do it today. Such dedication is astounding.

  4. Food delivery became very popular during World War II, as the Women’s Volunteer Service delivered food to those who had their homes bombed so badly, their kitchen was no longer in working service.
  5. Of course, the Americans took this one step further. During the Colonial era, some of the restaurants in hotels provided patrons with additional plates for the guests’ servants.

The American form of take-out is something more than just delivering boxed lunches and additional plates of food. The way the country has embraced this exposes changes on a larger scale as far as social, economic and tech history. When American troops were over in Japan and China, they would purchase boxed lunches on the trains they had to take.

This showed the locals that the U.S. troops weren’t wealthy, but laborers. Restaurant delivered meals were in the sphere of the wealthy, normally. The deliveries the soldiers received signified they weren’t part of the wealthy.  Eventually, African American women took over the scene by selling take-away. It was a great entrepreneurial stance and it helped feed their own families.

Jamaica_sweetsDelivery and take-away food was soon started down a new path. Fast food joints were popping up all over town and pizza was being sent home, extremely hot, dripping with cheese. Now, there are grocery deliveries, trucks with freezer compartments bringing food to your door, and companies like Magickitchen.com with their meals to go. This adaptation allows for those who can’t leave their homes to grocery shop or who are on very specialized diets to be able to order meals to go right from their computer screens. They can order a meal at a time, enough meals for a week, and some even order a 2 to 3-week supply.

family_diningVery smart people started the delivery and take away food services for the world. I’m sure when they first started in that business, they never thought  that it would never take on wings and fly like it has. Not only has it filled empty bellies of young families, starving college students, and those oh so wonderful romantic scenario dates; it has also allowed those who can’t grocery shop or cook for themselves an opportunity to order tasty and healthy meals.

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Tomorrow is National Left-Handers Day!

Here are 5 Kitchen Tools for Left-handers

Are you a southpaw? Don’t you wish companies would take Left-handers into consideration when producing kitchen tools? Well, it looks like some have started doing just that. Some of the gadgets look pretty intriguing. The holidays are just around the corner, so making sure you have the proper tools to make your family meals easier for you to cook, is vital for kitchen success. in order to assist you a bit, here’s a list of some incredibly useful tools, toys, and gadgets – made especially for the southpaws.

  1.  4 Piece Bamboo Utensil Set – This set is from Lefty’s The Left Hand Store. I love using bamboo utensils. They are elegant and strong at the same time. There aren’t many things you can say that about. This set is specifically designed for the lefty. The ends are angled to have an ergonomic fit, making cooking easier on the hands. This set includes: 14″ Slotted Spatula, 14-1/2″ Pot-Sitter, 15″ Wok Tool, and 13″ Stir Spoon.
  2. LH Salt_Pepper  I couldn’t pass this one up. Everyone needs a salt and pepper shaker. Lefty’s has this quirky left hand that serves as a pepper mill and salt shaker. I know its not possible for these things to be specifically designated left or right handed. It’s just not every day that you see someone using a hand to season their food!
  3.  minnowHanging on for a moment longer to the odd and quirky gadgets for southpaws, I found a minnow cork screw. Yes, I said minnow. The fin even has a function. This little fish corkscrew will make opening a bottle of wine a pleasure.
  4.  Can openers…two words that used to send a left-hander running out of the kitchen pulling their hair out and screaming. Finally, there are several companies that make opening cans for southpaws a breeze. Check this one out here.
  5.  Some veggies just need to be peeled. Some fruits just need to be peeled. Now the left-handed community can do so in sheer comfort. This peeler has 3 different positions so your creative mind can peel as you please. They include vertical, horizontal, and one at a 45 degree angle.

Since I’m a right handed girl, I may have over looked an important tool that you use in the kitchen. If I did, let me know in the comments. Another thing I would love to learn about is the left handed knives. Do you use those or knives made to be ambidextrous? The comments below are open.

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20 Easy and Healthy Summer Breakfast Ideas

Summer, of course, means more than just heat.  It also, for most of us, means a more, shall we say, relaxed pace to life.  And in this more relaxed lifestyle, we tend to sleep in a bit more whenever possible and then scramble (egg pun intended) around in the AM for breakfast…or brunch in some instances.

Well, here are 20 easy, light and healthy breakfast ideas and most do not require the use of a heat generating device, such as the stove top or oven.  We used the term “ideas” rather than “recipes” because we’d like you to experiment with the ingredients and prep methods in order to perfect them in your own, personal way.

  1. Smoothies – of any variety.  Simply combine your favorites (berries, bananas, flavored yogurt, milk, protein powder, jam, honey, etc.) and blend.
  2. Fruit pizza on a bagel – Simply spread a bit of cream cheese (but not too much…these are “healthy” ideas after all) on a whole wheat bagel and add your favorite sliced fruit.
  3. Granola, yogurt and fruit – Mix…you guessed it…granola, your favorite yogurt and fruit together in a bowl or cup and enjoy.
  4. yogurtbananaYogurt granola banana popsTake half a banana, insert a popsicle stick in the end, role it in yogurt, then granola and freeze.
  5. Muesli – aka cold oatmeal (certain types of oats need to be soaked overnight in milk) mixed with yogurt, fruit, nuts, cinnamon, orange zest, some maple syrup…simply add whatever flicks your switch.
  6. Breakfast wrap – slice some banana and pineapple, add some granola, and cottage or feta cheese and then just wrap in a tortilla…breakfast on the go.
  7. Avocado toast – thinly slice some avocado and place on lightly toasted whole wheat indexbread and add a pinch of sea salt and pepper along with some lemon juice, olive oil, strawberries, goat cheese and/or honey.
  8. Breakfast salad – cube some watermelon and mix with chopped and peeled cucumber, add some lime juice, feta cheese and a bit of chopped mint.
  9. Raspberry cheesecake bagel – Simply spread some mascarpone or cream cheese on a bagel and top with fresh raspberries.
  10. English muffin egg pizza – Hard boil some eggs ahead of time, slice or crush and place on a toasted English muffin with a tomato slice and your favorite type of shredded cheese.
  11. The “works” bagel – Toast a bagel and spread on some cream cheese.  Then add diced tomatoes, capers, red onions, and sprouts…or whatever your heart desires.
  12. Farina with apricots and almonds – Bring some farina (think Cream ‘o Wheat) to a boil with milk, let cool and top with brown sugar, diced apricots and almonds.
  13. Cottage cheese crunch – Real easy one here…just mix some granola with cottage cheese and add some of your favorite fruit…peach slices work well here.
  14. Fruit kabobs with vanilla yogurt – Cube your favorite fruit (pineapples, melons, pears, etc.) and place on kabob skewers.  Place some vanilla yogurt on the side for a dipping sauce.
  15. English muffin with burled banana and peanut butter – OK, this one requires you to fire up your broiler, but only for a few minutes.  Slice up a banana or two and sprinkle with some brown sugar.  Broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the sugar is caramelized.  Spread some peanut butter on a toasted English muffin and top with the bruleed bananas.
  16. breakfasttacoBreakfast tacos – place some sliced avocados, tomatoes, and blueberries in a soft taco shell and enjoy.
  17. Fried honey bananas – Slice up some bananas and fry in some olive oil (1-2 minutes per side), drizzle with honey and sprinkle with some cinnamon.
  18. Savory oatmeal with an egg – Take some oatmeal (duh!) and add an egg that’s been prepared over easy.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper and some shredded cheese and you’ve got your new breakfast favorite.
  19. PB+J waffle sandwich – toast some whole wheat waffles and then make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with them.
  20. Avocado toast with egg – On whole wheat toast, spread some smashed avocado, top with a fried egg (over hard works best…less mess) and finish with a pinch of sea salt and pepper.
  21.  Bonus idea – Order in any of MagicKitchen.com’s Complete Breakfast Meals,  or some of our a la carte breakfast items, like Carrot-Zucchini-Walnut Muffins, or Corn Bread Blueberry Toaster Cakes.

Hopefully you find a few of these ideas appealing to your palate, and as stated previously, don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients as you see fit…live dangerously and bon appetit!

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