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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February is American Heart Month

It was 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson established the month of February as the official American Heart Month. Medicine has come a long way since that decision was made. Doctors were making the connection between heart disease and contributing factors such as high cholesterol, smoking, and not living an active lifestyle.

These days, medical professionals recommend exercise, a healthy diet, and medication to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. There are still too many people suffering from heart disease. The traditions to raise awareness remain firmly in place. Although it’s been 53 years since LBJ initiated the American Heart Month, some individuals aren’t aware of how to support the cause. The following list provides excellent ways to show support for heart health.

  • Wear Red – The National Wear Red Day® for 2017 is Friday, February 3rd. This day is dedicated to raising awareness for heart health in women. An astounding 1 out of 3 deaths in women are a result of stroke or heart disease. Wearing red on February 3rd will signify your support for the women with heart disease and stroke.
  • Donate, Donate, Donate – One of the best ways to contribute to the fight for a healthy heart is by donating. There isn’t just one place to help fund the cause. There are actually several. National Wear Red Day® has a site set up to “funraise”.

    The American Heart Association® provides two ways to give and three different types of gifts. You can make a donation on the Donate Heart Getting the kids involved is also a great way. Jump Rope for Heart is actually sponsored by the American Heart Association®. Encourage your child’s school to take part. Information on how to be a heart hero is located on the Jump Rope for Heart site.

  • Education – Learning all you can about heart health should be a priority. Starting with your diet is ideal. Look for healthy recipes and meal plans. Magickitchen.com provides low fat and low sodium meals that are not only heart healthy, but delicious as well. Discover the signs and symptoms of heart disease and how to reduce the risks. Ask your doctor for more information or visit the American Heart Association®.
  • Take Action – Taking action in your life to prevent stroke and heart disease is one of the best gifts to give yourself and loved ones this February. Work with a nutritionist for ways to improve your eating habits. Implement an exercise program to get that heart pumping.

    Giving blood also improves your heart health, which isn’t a well-known fact. When you donate blood, you reduce the excess iron in your blood and it promotes healthy blood flow. The American Red Cross is in need of blood. Now is a great time to help not only the recipient of your blood, but also your heart.

  • Spread the Word – Since you’ve decided to be an advocate of healthy hearts, how should you spread the word? Talk to your friends and family. Get them in on the fun. Use your social media accounts. Tweet about it and use the #AmericanHeartMonth hashtag. Send ecards to your friends and family that promote the cause and have fun with it! Visit You’re the Cure for more ways to take action for healthy hearts.

Too many lives have been taken due to stroke and heart disease. Our medical community is taking long strides all the time to work towards prevention and awareness for healthier hearts. February is upon us and is the designated as the American Heart Month. How do you plan to participate and take part this month?

 

 

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How to Keep that New Year’s Resolution for the Entire Year

As you probably know, making a New Year’s resolution is easy, keeping it…well, that’s where things get difficult.  A recent study found that 80% of New Year’s resolutions are toast by mid-February, and since it is now mid-January, we here at MagicKitchen.com thought we’d help you become one of the 20% who carry their resolution through February and beyond.  If you recall, just a few short weeks ago I wrote a post that dealt with creating resolutions that were both specific and achievable.  So let’s follow that up with one dedicated to keeping that resolution through the winter doldrums and beyond.

persona-trainer-memeUse your friends and family – Come on, you know you use them all the time already!  I mean, that’s what they’re there for, right…to be used and manipulated to help you get what you want.  Go public with your resolution, unless it’s of a really personal nature, like…never mind, I won’t gross you out with examples.  After you’ve publicized your resolution, give your friends, family, co-workers, Uber driver, whoever, free rein to harass, harangue and help you stay on the straight and narrow.  Tell them to slap that donut or cigarette out of your hand, or chase you around with a cattle prod to get you exercising, or give you money for staying off the Twitter machine.  You get the idea.

Accept small failures – Remember, losing a battle does not mean you’ve lost the war (I think that’s from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War…no, not really).  Look, you’re going to, occasionally, stuff a bear claw in your face, or direct some anger transference towards your kids (I think that’s from Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams…but I doubt it).  Please, just accept those little transgressions and use them to strengthen your resolve moving FORWARD…always look forward, not back.  As long as you’re making progress over the course of a long year, that’s what is important.

apps1There’s an app for that – No, not an appetizer, especially if you’re trying to eat healthier over the new year, but a smart phone application, and many of them are resolution specific.  Three apps that are more general in nature are Strides, Resolutions, and HabitBull.

Strides is a free app that allows you to create goals, track your habits, set reminders and keep up a specific pace.  Resolutions, an Android app, informs you when you last worked out, or had your last smoke, or deposited money in your savings account, etc.  It also has various home screen widgets that help you track your progress and act as reminders.  It also awards virtual “trophies” for milestones achieved.

Lastly, HabitBull tracks your habits, good or bad…it’s all relative.  It assists you in either breaking a bad habit or beginning a good one with reminders, a streaks calendar, and motivational quotes.  It also tracks your progress in the form of graphs and has a built-in discussion forum.  The free version allows you to track up to five habits while you can track up 100 with the premium version.

“Know thyself “(I think that’s a quote from ancient Greece or Egypt…no, seriously).  Wherever the quote came from, use it to do whatever YOU require to maintain your resolution over the course of twelve long months and beyond.  You should know what motivates you best, if not, take a moment, think about it and list the things you’re motivated by.  Then use them to create a plan that involves, friends and family, acceptance of small failures, and apps, or all three.  Good luck.

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Super Healthy Eating Ideas for the Super Busy (aka all of us)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before, from friends, spouse and especially from my inner-monologue (if you have an inner-dialogue, seek professional help).  And what I’ve heard from these people this person (me) with delusions of self-importance is, “I’m waaaay too busy to take time out of my day to prepare, cook and serve a healthy meal for myself, let alone my annoying loving family.”  Well, at the risk of sounding slightly vulgar and eloquent at the same time, that’s a load of nonsense.

To prove my last statement, here are 10 simple, easy and quick ideas…I’m reluctant to use the term “recipe” as it usually elicits audible groans and thoughts of, “recipes = time (which I don’t have) + effort (which I can’t waste on cooking due to my hectic schedule).  And while these ideas call for ingredients and instructions, they’re kept to a minimum and written in an easy to understand narrative style.  Yeah, I know, that sounds like a load of claptrap, but I’m the author and I’m going with “ideas.”

ground-turkey-noodles-IMG_3995-(2)1. Portion controlled meals from MagicKitchen.com

Hey, look, no ingredients or instructions required here!  Well, apart from microwave and enjoy.  MagicKitchen eliminates the shopping, prep, and cooking with our healthy, yummy (yes, I said yummy) portion controlled meals that come in 11 different meal packs, including 2 dedicated to breakfast, and dozens of individual choices.  Check them out here: http://www.magickitchen.com/menu/MKMWL.html

2. Pina colada yogurt parfaits

Ok, three simple ingredients required for this one: Greek yogurt, pineapple, and shaved coconut.  Simply slap some Greek yogurt in your favorite wine glass (or leave it in the container, like my lazy a$$) and throw in some fresh pineapple and coconut and consume.  The sweetness of the fruit balances out the bitterness of the yogurt quite nicely and you’re getting some proteins as well.

3. Peanut butter breakfast toast

pb-toast-chiaDo I really need to list the ingredients and instructions for toast?  I thought not.  Just slather some peanut butter (or almond butter) on your whole-wheat toast and top with banana slices, blueberries, raspberries, chia seeds, etc.  Just be sure to push the toppings into the peanut/almond butter as this will hold them in place when you invariably tip the toast up to eat.  My dogs were quite unhappy when I learned this little trick.

4. Broiled grapefruit with honey and brown sugar

Yes, “broiled.”  Ok, here come the dreaded instructions…ingredients are listed in the title.  Halve a grapefruit, broil for 4-6 minutes and top with honey, brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.  See what I did there, snuck in an extra ingredient…don’t freak.  The grapefruit gets just slightly crunchy on top and the heat melds the honey, sugar and cinnamon into a delicious syrup.

5. Easy roasted sweet potatoes

Or yams?  There is a difference, isn’t there?  Anyway, nuke (see: microwave) your sweet potato 6-7 minutes after stabbing it with a fork a few times.  Halve it, segment each half into ½-inch squares without cutting through the skin…if you measure each square, seek professional help.  Place a few slices of butter in between the cubes, sprinkle with some Parmesan and then broil for 6-12 minutes depending on desired crispiness.  Then, garnish with some chives and a dollop of sour cream and chow down.

Thanks to Savory Simple for photo and recipe.
Thanks to Savory Simple for photo and recipe.

6. Open-faced grilled cheese with a fried egg

Yeah, I know, this title needs some work, bit unwieldy, isn’t it?  Regardless, this one’s simple too.  Butter a side of whole-wheat bread, place butter-side down in frying ban and top with a slice of Swiss cheese, roasted red pepper, and arugula leaves.  Cook about 4 minutes.  Fry an egg to your specifications (sunny side up, over easy, over hard…you’re in charge) and place it upon your recently cooked, open-faced grilled cheese and gorge or delicately consume…you’re in charge.

7. Turkey and hummus club sandwich

If you haven’t shopped for hummus lately, you’ll be surprised at all the flavors now offered, garlic, red pepper, chili sauce…this ain’t your bubbe’s hummus.  Anyway, purchase your preferred flavor, or mix your own if you’re the ambitious type, slap it on some bread, add a few slices of turkey and arugula and voila, turkey and hummus club.

8. Risotto cakes

Ok, I’m not going to explain how to make risotto in order to adhere to my claim I made at the start of this blog…I’m sneaky that way.  Deal with it.  After your risotto has cooled, mash it into patties about 2-inches in diameter, press in some bread crumbs and then fry in some olive oil for about 5 minutes per side.  They can then be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months and enjoyed later.  Simply warm in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes if they came out of the fridge, or 30-35 if you froze the little suckers.  Serve over some arugula with a little parmesan and a spritz of lemon juice.  They’re also great as a snack on their own or as an appetizer.

9. Crispy ham and egg cups

Ham and Egg cups from Addicted to Recipes
Ham and Egg cups from Addicted to Recipes

Spray a standard sized muffin pan with that non-stick stuff and then line it with a slice of your favorite ham…yes, the edges of the ham are supposed to hang over.  Then plop an egg in each ham-lined cup and bake until the whites are cooked solid but the yolk is still a bit runny…about 13 minutes.  Then season with some salt, pepper, chopped basil, scallions or parsley, or go crazy and use all five!

10. Mini oatmeal cakes

Break out the muffin pan again and place a paper muffin liner in each cup.  Then fill each with your favorite oatmeal, mixed with milk to your desired consistency.  Then top with chopped walnuts, or dried cranberries, or blueberries or anything else you like to mix into your oatmeal.  Just be sure to press your topping down into the oatmeal.  Then bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  These little cakes of joy can then be taken on the go and enjoyed wherever.

There you go my hectic, harried and hurried friends.  Ten solutions on how to eat healthy while pulling your hair out.  Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you, or your family, need to settle for fast food.  Anyone who tells you any different is simply feeding you balderdash.  And wouldn’t you rather have food?

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Quit Messin’ Around: How to Eat Healthier in 2017

Yes, devoted reader, it’s time to set yourself up for failure once again by making a non-specific (eat healthier) and unattainable (cut out ALL junk food) New Year’s resolution.  Those two reasons, setting broad and impossible to achieve goals, are why 92% of all resolutions made are doomed to failure.

Look, a resolution is nothing more than a goal and we (or someone else…think boss or significant other) set goals for ourselves all the time, either in our professional or private lives.  And the rules for goal-setting also apply to end-of-year resolution-setting, and they are: make your goal/resolution as specific as possible and make it attainable.  Therefore, let’s combine those two rules with your vague resolution to eat better in 2017.

vegetables-449950_640Rule number one: make your “eating better” resolution as specific as possible.  Instead of “I resolve (sounds like you’re on the floor of the Senate) to eat better in 2017,” resolve to “eat five helpings of fruits and vegetables most days of the week…that would be four or more for the numerically challenged out there like your esteemed author.  Why only “most” days of the week?  DUH!…remember rule number two…make your goal achievable.

Or how about printing a list of healthy “superfoods” you’ve never eaten and resolving to try at least one item on that list every week of 2017?  Better yet, turn it into a checklist, then, check each item off and make a few notes about that item, such as “If anyone is trying to torture me for information, just threaten me with Brussels sprouts and I’ll tell them everything.”

Ok, last example of a specific goal: “I resolve to eat at least one meal per day that contains

Flaxseed
Flaxseed

no processed foods.” Like a meal comprised of roast chicken and potatoes with a side of green beans.  In fact, we here at MagicKitchen offer a number of meals that fit this category in our portion controlled and signature meals sections.  It’s a great way to keep your resolution as we do most of the work, all that’s required of you is to heat and enjoy!

Rule number two: make your goal achievable, but not too easily achievable, there must be an element of resolve (hence the term “resolution”) and sacrifice involved.  Please don’t resolve to adopt a diet of nothing but kale, honey and quinoa for all of 2017.  My guess is that you’re going to fall off the wagon with that resolution.  How about, “I resolve to

substitute either kale, honey, or quinoa for an unhealthy item I usually eat at least every other day.  Or if you can’t stand kale, (which is perfectly understandable), try one of these new superfoods for 2017.  And then track each time you make that substitution on a calendar.

Here are a few other tips to help you achieve your specific resolution that involves eating healthier in 2017:

  • Take a grocery list to the supermarket and stick to it.
  • Choose fresh or frozen food over canned.
  • Spinach-Mushroom Lasagna with Green Beans from MagicKitchen.com
    Spinach-Mushroom Lasagna with Green Beans from MagicKitchen.com

    Plan ahead by making menus and, as with the rule above, stick to them!

  • Don’t drink your calories…stay away from the sugary drinks.
  • Patrol the edges of your grocery store where the fresh produce, meats, dairy and whole grains are located.
  • Try out MagicKitchen.com complete meals for a change of pace. No rules, no sign-ups, no commitments required, try one or many.
  • Eat a lot of different colors when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
  • Replace dessert with fruit or at least add fruit to your dessert.
  • Accept the fact that you’re going to backslide a few times during the year…get over it and then get back on the horse or wagon or both. I’m not sure which.
  • Publicize your resolution to all who are willing to listen and tell them to nag you throughout the year. Also, write it down and stick it to both the doors of your fridge and pantry.
  • Finally, remember that doing something towards attaining or keeping your resolution is better than quitting and doing nothing…little steps matter!

So, good luck as you resolve to eat healthier in 2017 and remember to follow the two main rules (and various tips) and perhaps you’ll be part of the 8% that successfully stick to their resolutions through the entire year. May your New Year be a healthy and happy one!

 

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A Free EBook for Seniors: Merry Christmas!

walkingparkYeah, I know, age is nothing but a number.  However, my 22-year-old self might not feel the same way about that statement as my 51-year-old self does.  My 22-year-old self never had to get up to pee in the middle of the night (occasionally more than once). He never worried about his continually rising “muffin top”…that roll of fat that sticks out above the waistline of my pants like a muffin top escaping from the muffin pan…and yes, men develop and worry about it as well.  And my 22-year-old version never worried about “over doing it” in any way, shape or form.

Yes, as we age, our bodies change.  There’s no denying that, so stop trying.  However, that does not mean our quality of life must change, at least not yet.  I constantly hear that I shouldn’t fight the aging process and I couldn’t disagree more.  I am of the belief that common-sense resistance to the aging process can extend a meaningful quality of life.  And I think many of the 72.5 million, post World War II baby boomers out there agree with me, especially given the fact that they began turning 65 in 2011 and they will all be over 65 by 2029.

gardeningWith the above in mind, MagicKitchen.com is pleased to offer a free eBook, entitled 10 Tips for Senior Health to visitors of our site (get it here http://www.magickitchen.com/healthy-senior-tips-ebook.html ).  Research consistently reinforces that active seniors, both mentally and physically, have a better quality of life than their sedentary counterparts and this ebook presents 10 easy to follow and apply tips that will help ensure your senior years are your best years.

The first two bits of advice within the book are the ones you repeatedly hear, and there’s a reason for that…they’re essential.  Exercise both your body and your mind and do so on an almost daily basis.  These two tips are linked to several that follow, to include eating right (you’ll be amazed how regular exercise gets you thinking about proper nutrition and MagicKitchen can certainly help in this regard), prevent falls (regular exercise will hone your reflexes and have your muscles ready to prevent an unwelcome accident), travel (this, obviously, involves movement and seeing new places gets you thinking in new ways),  sleep well (be tired at the end of your day, mentally and physically, and sleep improves…Duh!), and focus on the things you’re grateful for (do NOT underestimate the power of positive thinking).

175x130-getstartedThe other three tips deal with health issues…don’t smoke (and if you do, quit!  for all the obvious reasons you’ve heard about), see your doctor regularly (to ensure all is well all the time), take care of your skin (primarily by avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun).

Who knows, after following the advice in this free ebook your 22 year-old-self just might get a bit jealous.

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Gift Guide eBook for Free!

Are you looking for that perfect gift for the hard to shop for person? Check out the great ideas inside the informative eBook: Gifts for All Seasons from MagicKitchen.com. You will discover some ingenious ideas for every occasion and other special events in your life.

brownies-newHere are a few things you will find to get those creative juices flowing:

  • Oh, so delectable chocolate desserts for that special someone to celebrate an anniversary.
  • Fabulous decorating tips to ensure a successful baby shower for expectant mothers.
  • A creative array of birthday gift ideas for the person who has everything.
  • Christmas traditions from various countries and options for you to add to your traditions.
  • Ideas to let that college bound high school graduate know that they still hold a place in your heart.
  • Congratulating someone has never been as easy with the fantastic ideas in Gifts for All Seasons.
  • brisket-saucedCorporate gift giving can be tricky. This eBook gives solutions to the various corporate gift giving occasions (and a scrumptious looking photo of Magic Kitchen’s Sliced Beef Brisket).
  • Father’s Day can be a tough gift giving occasion. Give something other than the stand by tie.
  • Need to comfort a sick loved one? Ideas for balanced, healthy meals are just a few pages away!
  • Want to make a memorable Mother’s Day? Inside, you’ll find fresh ideas for that morning meal.
  • House warming gift ideas for young home owners as well as the more mature set.

These are just some of the special days for which gifts are common. Magic Kitchen’s Gifts for All Seasons is the perfect companion for the giver to find unique ideas. Don’t miss out. Grab your copy today and let Magic Kitchen help deliver a gift your special someone will adore.

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It’s time to Plan Your Christmas Dinner…Let us Help.

Our Moist, Succulent Roasted Turkey Slices
Our Moist, Succulent Roasted Turkey Slices

Every father is known for conveying little nuggets of wisdom to their children.  You know, those short little sayings they stole from someone (most likely their own fathers) or created on the spur of the moment.  Short, pithy witticisms such as, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” or “Sometimes you gotta eat crap…like having dinner at your in-law’s house for the first time.”  or “Adolescent boys are as stupid as a bag of hammers.  What?…no, they don’t get any smarter, but if you’re lucky you’ll find one that works the way it’s supposed to.”

So what does this have to do with your upcoming Christmas feast?  Well, it’s tied to one of the many words of wisdom imparted to me by my father.  Being a spontaneous youth, my dad often said to me, “Even a trip to the frickin’ latrine requires some planning.”  In other words, just about everything you do in life, if you’re going to do it correctly (even in the “frickin’ latrine”) requires some degree of planning beforehand, and your Christmas dinner is no different.

Chicken ana Luisa
Chicken ana Luisa

If you’re going to prepare, cook and present it yourself, then the planning required can seem endless…clean and decorate the house, make the menu, list the ingredients needed, hit the grocery store, prep the food…and on and on it goes.  Well, we here at MagicKitchen.com can certainly eliminate some of that work with just a bit of prior planning on your part (yeah, you’re on your own with the whole cleaning and decorating your house thing).

Think of all the time and aggravation you’ll save if you let our dedicated and trained chefs prepare and cook some or all of your Christmas meal for you.  The entire meal will then be delivered to your door, fully cooked, to be stored in your freezer until the big day when it simply needs to be heated and served.  We offer full-meal packages that serve from one to six and include all the traditional favorites, from turkey to stuffing to gravy to rolls to green beans to pumpkin pie, along with

Crab Cakes, the crabbiest ever.

new specials such as Beef Wellington Dinner,   Crab Cake Dinner,    Chicken Ana Luisa Dinner or Chicken Parmigiana Dinner.

We also offer packages of “just sides” if you would prefer to cook your own bird with your father’s special recipe or have another entrée in mind.  And we also offer the inverse…you can add your own sides and we’ll take care of the turkey for you.  Or you can just order one of our delectable deserts or one or two sides.  You decide…just put a bit of planning into your decision-making process and make my dad proud.

For our entire holiday menu just go here http://www.magickitchen.com/menu/christmas.html

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Holiday Tips for Seniors

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when families come together to spend the Winter Holidays celebrating. In November, we enjoy a huge meal giving thanks for the truly wonderful people and things in our lives.

This is quickly followed by another family gathering complete with gift giving and delicious goodies in abundance. In spite of all the festivities, families can’t always manage to be together due to large distances, financial hindrances, or illnesses. These things certainly don’t mean our friends or families are pushed by the wayside. On the contrary, we tend to go out of our way to make loved ones feel loved, needed, and thought of during these special days.

Some of the most important people need our help the most during the Holiday Season. They are the elderly citizens of our communities. Here are some great tips and gifts for Seniors and their caregivers for the 2016 Holidays.

  1. walkingparkLooking Good, Feeling Good – We all seem to feel better when we look better. This is at any age, but it is especially true for the elderly. Gift certificates for a beauty treatment or to a barber shop can be just what is needed! Having a fresh hair cut or a beautifully coiffed style can put a spring in the step of aging family members.
  2. A Health Evaluation – This is the perfect time to really evaluate the health of your older family members. Some things to consider when determining how safe they are, include – if they are experiencing things such as memory loss or mobility problems, can they take care of themselves (i.e. bathing, eating, drinking, staying warm, etc.), can they take their medicine regularly, if they can safely drive, and how high are their spirits? Keep in mind that sometimes elderly people are reluctant to give any information letting on that they can’t handle daily life like they used to. Look for clues and signs when talking to them.
  3. Take a Load Off – Many miles can really put a strain on you when you’re concerned about your parents or senior friends. Meal time can be especially difficult. A perfect way to pitch in from across the country is by having healthy meals delivered to them. holiday-dinnerThis will enable you to feel like you’ve contributed to an important part of their day. Any meal can be delivered through MagicKitchen.com. There are many choices on the website from specialized dishes for particular dietary needs to comforting soups and delectable desserts. They will be sure to become favorites quickly.
  4. Give Great Gifts – Sometimes it is a challenge deciding what to gift to the mature members of your family or close friends. Perfect options include: meal delivery (see #3), a photo album of memories from the early days of their lives until the present, consider a clock with large numbers for the days when their eyes aren’t at peak performance, warm socks with a non-skid surface on the bottom, a bird feeder can bring many hours of delight…step out of the box and make it a hummingbird feeder.
  5. senior-man-on-laptop-smallThe Greatest Gift of All – This year, why not give the greatest gift of all to those wise, aging people in your life…the gift of your time. It can be something as simple as a phone call or a card you dropped in the mail for those miles away. Make sure to include all preparations for the festivities, as if they were going to be there with you. If these wonderful seniors are going to be joining you for the holidays, include their opinions and allow them to spend the time helping with the decorations or baking. Even if they have physical limitations, engage them in conversation and describe what you are doing. Ask them to tell the stories of their childhood at this time of year. Please, don’t forget to thank them. This will mean the world to them!

As you gather your family together this year, try to create new memories and traditions that all ages can participate in. Make sure to include some where the youngest are making memories with the oldest. These will carry in the hearts of all your loved ones for years to come. It is certainly time for our country to join together to care and love one another.

Wishing you and yours a Happy, Healthy holidays!

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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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