Category Archives: Interesting Miscelleana

October: National Financial Planning Month…Who Knew?

Yes, the designation of October as National Financial Planning Month could be a contrived creation foisted upon us by certified financial planners (to a cynic like myself).  Regardless, it’s still a good time to make or review financial plans for your future.  After all, it was created to, “Promote financial literacy and raise awareness among the general public of the value of financial planning.”  And who among us doesn’t need to improve our “financial literacy” and be made aware of the “value of financial planning?”

As someone quite a bit more intelligent than myself once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  These words to live by apply to many situations, especially to setting financial goals like being secure in your retirement, or purchasing a new home, or saving for your child’s college education.  Sure, they’re noble goals, but how are you going to get there?  That’s where financial planning comes in.  Look, most of us do not plan to travel somewhere we’ve never been before without mapping out the route, whether the old school way, utilizing a paper map, or with a GPS.  We still know how we’re getting to our destination and getting to, or achieving our financial goals is no different.

Full disclosure, I am NOT, in any way, shape, or form, a certified financial planner, but I play one on TV…I jest, of course.  However, I don’t need to be one in order to remind people to get their financial house in order and to plan for their, and their family’s future.  And this doesn’t need to be rocket science.  All we’re talking about here is the “b” word (budget) and using it to plan for your financial future and goals.  It does, however, include more than just placing your extra money under your mattress or in a simple savings account…they’re essentially the same thing since the interest earned in a savings account and under your mattress are just about equal…oh yeah, there is that big shiny vault.

First step towards creating a budget: a list of your assets (car, savings, investments, home equity), and liabilities or debts (mortgage, student loans, car payment, credit card debt).  The difference between the two is your net worth…it can be positive (hooray!) or negative (crap!).

Step two: list of your monthly expenses (utilities, groceries, fuel, insurance) and monthly income, from all sources.  Hopefully, your monthly income exceeds your monthly expenses.  If not, you’ll sink deeper into debt and use more and more of your income to pay off interest rather than your actual loans.  You might also want to track your spending habits for a month or so to see exactly where your money goes, from your smallest impulse purchase (Starbucks) to your largest unplanned indulgence (picking up the bar tab after guys/ladies night out).  Most are quite surprised at the money “wasted” on non-essentials, aka disposable income that’s actually thrown in a disposal.

Once that’s all done, you should now be able to determine how much money you can set aside to reach your financial goals, whatever they may be.  Just remember, it’s never too late or early to start planning for retirement or your kid’s college expenses.  One of the most popular and safest investments to help save for retirement is a Roth IRA (individual retirement account).  A Roth IRA is simply a special retirement account funded with post-tax income and there is no up-front tax deduction for Roth IRA contributions as with a traditional IRA.  Also, access to your contributions, but NOT the earnings from those contributions, are tax and penalty free.  Roth IRA’s make the most sense for those who expect to be in a higher tax bracket during retirement than your current bracket.  This is usually just about everyone, but they make the most sense to young, lower-income workers.

As for college financial planning, most state’s offer what’s known as a 529 plan, so named from section 529 of the IRS code.  They differ from state-to-state, but they essentially allow you to pay all or part of in-state tuition for a public college education well before the potential student enters his/her college years.  In other words, they permit you to pay tuition costs for a specific year, before tuition increases in future years.  For example, you can pay 2017 tuition costs even though your child won’t enter college until 2030.

As previously stated, I am NOT a certified financial planner, so if you’re interested in learning more about listing your assets, liabilities, and monthly expenses or about a Roth IRA or a 529 Plan, please seek the assistance of a reputable certified financial planner…and that ain’t me.

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A Message from My Sons Regarding Climate Change

Hello devoted MagicKitchen.com blog readers.  As the title implies, this week’s topic deals with a rather controversial issue for some, climate change, although I don’t fully understand this controversy.  The fact that the Earth’s climate is changing is not disputed except by a small group of flat-Earthers.

What most people, at least in America, argue about is the CAUSE of this climate change and it essentially boils down to the role of humanity in this phenomenon.  Is human activity responsible for climate change or is it just a cyclical occurrence that happens every few thousand years or so?  In seeking how to answer this difficult question, I decided to ask my two sons, one eleven and the other thirteen, what they thought about this whole human-caused climate change controversy and here’s a rough summary of what they had to say.

“Dad, we really don’t care if climate change is caused by people or not.  Pollution, whether it causes climate change or not is never a good thing.  It can make us sick, the air stink and force people to wear surgical masks all the time like they do in China and we don’t want to wear those masks because they look stupid.  It would also be nice to breath…duh! (from the 13-year old).  I don’t think anyone thinks pollution is a good thing and even if it causes a little bit of climate change, shouldn’t we try to stop it?”

“Why do we have to burn so much coal?  Why are all the forests being cut down?  What the heck is palm oil and why do we need it? (after I explained one reason the forests in South Asia are being removed).  Can’t we produce energy with solar and wind power?  I don’t think they make an SPF 5 zillion sun screen, do they?  Why does it rain, like, every day around here?”

“All we know is that we’ve got 80 more years on this planet and it would be nice if the adults don’t destroy it before we get a chance to enjoy it like they did, and yes, Dad, you’re one of those adults.  It’s like the whole world is hooked on burning coal and wood and oil and gas and all that other stuff like it’s some kinda drug.  Well, how about all those countries that signed up for that Paris thing (after I explained the recent Paris Climate Accords that 192 countries signed on to, except, of course, the United States…oh yeah, and Venezuela and Syria) get hooked on some other drugs like wind and solar?”

“Wasn’t it like 120 degrees in Arizona a few months ago?  And doesn’t every year set a record for being the warmest ever?  (actually, 2016, the hottest year on record, was warmer than 2015 which was warmer than 2014 and then the string gets broken by 2010 which holds fourth place).  And aren’t sea levels rising?  And aren’t the coral reefs all dying?  And didn’t we have, like, no snow days last year?  I think the Earth’s broken and needs fixed, but the problem is, either no one knows how to fix it or they don’t want to fix it or they just don’t care.  And it’s us and our friends and our kids that are gonna get screwed and that’s just not fair especially when we didn’t cause this mess.  Why can’t Trump and all the other world leaders fix this before it’s too late?”  That last bit came mostly from my 8th grader who is obviously, and fortunately, learning about all this in school.

There you have it, the musing of a 13 and 11-year old regarding climate change.  I must admit, they asked some questions that were very difficult to answer (try defining “bureaucracy” and “vested interests” to an 11-year old).  Despite their limited base of knowledge, they kept coming back to the fact that they’re afraid that things are only going to get worse for them and their futures after all the people who caused or failed to fix this problem are long gone and I’m afraid my response was not that reassuring to them.

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Often Overlooked Vacation Spots

When it comes to vacation spots within America, sure, you can look at Orlando, the beaches of Southern California, Washington D.C., various amusement parks like Six Flags and Cedar Point, or just about any major city, but those places can be overcrowded, expensive tourist traps.  What most of us desire (OK, maybe it’s just me) in a vacation is a place where there is plenty to do, but also plenty of opportunities to relax and recharge.  I’m a big believer in not needing a vacation after returning from a vacation and having some money left in my wallet as well.  With that in mind, I present 10 often overlooked, relatively inexpensive vaca spots you might want to check out this summer in no particular order.

  • Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina – Established in 1934 and encompassing over 500,000 acres, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is an ideal location for anyone with even a passing interest in getting back to nature. Its numerous accommodation options include camping, cabins, and various low-cost hotels located along its fringes.  As for activities, take your pick: hiking, biking, fishing, bird and wildlife watching, horseback riding, ranger-led tours and other activities, and auto and train tours.  Visit nps.gov/grsm for more details.
  • Key West, Florida — “But isn’t all of Florida a tourist trap?” you ask. The answer is usually a resounding yes.  However, Key West has such a laid-back atmosphere and hidden gems in terms of small hotels and rental properties, that it made the list.  The secret to avoiding the tourist crush is to simply avoid Duval Street, but why would you want to do that?  It offers some of the best bars in the country.  Key West also offers beaches and numerous water-based activities.  Finally, if you get the chance to grab a seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park, take it.  Its pristine beaches support some great snorkeling and the massive Ft. Jefferson is also worth the trip.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico – Founded in 1706 and occupied by Native Americans for centuries prior, this city of over half a million has plenty of history to offer visitors, such as the Petroglyph National Park and Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It also has a variety of museums (to include the American International Rattlesnake Museum), a zoo, aquarium, Old Town Albuquerque, and the Sandia Peak Tramway which is the longest in the U.S., takes riders to a height of over 10,000-feet and offers panoramic views of the high desert.  As for accommodations, it offers everything from quaint B & Bs to trendy downtown hotels.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – No longer the Steel City, Pittsburgh has transformed itself into a hip, technologically-based city. Its downtown is home to both swanky and economical hotels, a vibrant cultural district that features top-end shows, and nightspots that range from dive to chic.  Its New World history dates back to the French and Indian War of the 1750s.  Thus, history-buffs will find plenty of museums and historical sites to visit.  And after all that, there’s always the city’s sports venues.  The Penguins just secured another Stanley Cup, the Steelers seem to truly be “America’s team” and PNC Park, home to the Pirates, is consistently ranked as one of MLB’s best parks to visit.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah – Yes, there is plenty of Mormon based history in Salt Lake City, but there’s also so much more. This highest of state capitals offers numerous year-round outdoor activities centered around its mountains, state and national parks and the Great Salt Lake.  It also gives tourists the option of visiting its various museums, an aviary, planetarium, water parks, amphitheaters, and concerts at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  As for accommodations, the city has quaint bed & breakfasts, lodges, resorts and traditional hotels from which to choose.
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – Yep, you read that correctly…Idaho! Coeur d’Alene is located in western Idaho, not too far from Spokane, Washington and it offers something for everyone, except an ocean view.  There are over 50 lakes within a few hours of this mid-sized town of about 50,000, but by far the most popular is the massive Lake Coeur d’Alene.  As one would expect, the town is known for its outdoor activities to include fishing, boating, golfing, hiking, biking and anything else you can think of to do out-of-doors.  The town also puts on numerous festivals and fairs throughout the year and has a surprising number of “artsy” venues and dining establishments.
  • Portland, Maine – The water’s a bit chilly on the shores of this southern Maine town, but the ocean views more than make up for the chill in the water. The surrounding area of Portland offers a myriad of inexpensive places to stay, such as cabins, rental homes, small resorts and traditional hotels.  And while Maine is best known for its rocky coast, the area offers plenty of sandy beaches to choose from.  Did I mention the seafood?  Its fresh, relatively inexpensive and abundant.  Portland is also large enough to offer a vibrant nightlife…if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • La Push, Washington – Ok, if you really want to get away from it all, La Push is the place for you. Located about as far west as you can get in the continental U.S., La Push is home to and managed by the Quileute Tribe which has occupied the area for centuries.  Known for its picturesque beaches and ocean fishing, La Push doesn’t push one to do much at all, except relax and unwind.  However, should you feel the need, the nearby Olympic National Park offers plenty of outdoor activities.  The surfing is purported to be quite good along the coast as is the whale watching too!
  • Mackinac Island, Michigan – If La Push is the get away place for the west coast, then Mackinac Island serves that purpose for the central part of the country. Located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, Mackinac Island sits close to where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet.  Firstly, there are no cars permitted on the island…yes, you read that correctly, no cars!  Next, there are no franchise hotels on the island.  It offers over 1,500 unique room options from small, family owned accommodations to resorts to a Grand Hotel.  Simply relax along a lake-front beach, visit Mackinac State Park, or rent a water craft and hit the lake.  It’s all up to you.
  • Kansas City, Missouri – Those who live in the center of the nation…so-called “fly-over” country, would do well to spend a few days in Kansas City. This mid-sized city is more cosmopolitan than mid-western and presents a myriad of tourist options.  It has some world-class museums devoted to World War I, American Jazz, and the negro baseball leagues…almost forgot, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library is in nearby Independence.  Its city center contains numerous street cafés and if barbeque is your thing, then KC is the place for you.  And depending on when you visit, you might want to check out a Chiefs football or Royals baseball game.

Now it’s up to you to get out there and check out one of these hidden vaca gems.  What the heck are you waiting for?  Live a little already!

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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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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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The Way Food Used to Look

This is going to amaze you. The vegetables and fruits we know today are vastly different from what they began as.

banana-before

OK, three guesses, what is this?

A. Squash
B. Banana
C. Some kind of starchy vegetable

If you guessed B. banana,  you were right! There were two types of this banana with hard seeds in Southeast Asia, about 7000 years ago. Someone made a hybrid, and our delicious, soft, sweet banana is what eventually came of it.

What about this tasty-looking item?carrot-before2 Those are early carrots.  Carrots started their life in and around Afghanistan. The early ones were purple or white, and they didn’t become orange until at least the 15th century.

wild-cornHere’s wild corn, before it was domesticated.  European settlers started the domestication process in the 1400s.

Eggplant1Eggplant, anyone?? Wild eggplant had a lot more seeds than our modern variety.  It wouldn’t make a very good eggplant parmigiana.

Here are some other foods you may not recognize. These are what certain foods look like when grown, before they reach the market. This is the way they look today, not in yesteryear.

cashewCashews grow from the bottom of these “cashew apples”, which are not edible but can be made into a stringent juice.

cacaoCocoa pods eventually turn into your favorite chocolate bar, but cocoa starts out looking like this.

cinnamontreeThe bark of this tree turns into everyone’s favorite spice, cinnamon!

And finally… the chickpea! These are green when raw, and perfectly edible. A little prettier than those you get in a can, wouldn’t you say?

chickpea-plantMelody, MagicKitchen.com blogger

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Novel Ways to Keep Warm this Winter

With the arrival of winter comes colder temperatures and, as a result, we all struggle to keep warm without going broke due to high gas, oil or electric bills. Well, here are some unique, if temporary solutions to your cold weather issues, and, despite my perverted mind, none of them include the use of another human being (sorry if you’re disappointed).

chilisEat spicy (not just hot) food – Since this is a food-centric site, this solution only seemed appropriate to list first. If you’ve ever broken out in a sweat during or after the consumption of a spicy Thai dish, you understand the thinking behind this idea. Simply cook up some recipes that include curry, chilies, hot peppers, wasabi, ginger, or any other spice that induces sweating. One side note: remember to account for the workings of your gastro-intestinal system, especially post-meal.

Hot Potatoes – Well, hot, tiny potatoes…that have been nuked (microwaved) and then placed in your pockets, on your lap, or in your slippers. Think of them as inexpensive and primitive hand warmers strategically placed around your body. Fingerling or petite potatoes work best if they’re to be placed in confined spaces, like your pockets or slippers, while russets are best for your lap (just take care not to scald sensitive areas).

Warm clothes – Prior to getting dressed, place your outfit in the dryer and crank it on high for about ten minutes…heavenly! Or do the same with your favorite blanket just before settling in front of the TV, computer, or retiring to bed for the evening. You could also “cook” your clothes in the oven, but then you run the risk of “burning” them. (See “The Calzone” episode of Seinfeld, season seven, episode twenty, in which Kramer does just that- see below).

dog-hugUse your pets – You feed, house and clean up (yuck!) after them, so why not have them contribute to your warmth? While binge watching your favorite series, simply cover yourself with pets; dogs, cats, ferrets, dozens of guinea pigs, snakes…(wait, never mind, they won’t work as they’re cold blooded reptiles), or pygmy goats, it matters not. And if you’d like to be even warmer, convince your pets to cuddle UNDER the blankets with you. It makes quite a difference.

A warm bed – prior to getting in that bed. This can be achieved in any number of ways, to include a hot water bottle, a warm frying pan that’s been rubbed over the sheets, or warm bags of rice or dried beans. Who said food’s just for eating?

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