(Handy) Man Up for Home Repair with Hot Mustard Popcorn

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These days, my list of honey-dos looks more like a full-blown melon patch.

There’s all the usual stuff … weeding, fertilizing, planting, window washing and the regular home improvement projects that never seem to go away. But this year it’s worse. Old Man Winter did not go gentle into that good night; he ignored the calendar and raged on, heaping storm after storm upon us until well past his sell-by date.

Frankly, the homestead took quite a beating. I can see every layer of paint ever put down on my poor front porch, and there’s a critter-size hole under the steps; I may as well put out an “open all night” sign for skunks and raccoons. My back deck is no better, and I’ve got trim rotting on the side of the house. Thanks to the ice dams and punishing wind, it now rains INSIDE my garage. And these are just the things I KNOW about.

Sigh. Last night I had the best dream: (more…)

Welcoming Spring with an Easter Egg-stravaganza

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by Nicole

After a long and punishing winter, Spring can’t come soon enough for me. And nothing helps me shake off the gray-sky blues like decorating for Easter.

As a child, my fondness for Easter was overshadowed by my near-fanatic adoration of Christmas. After all, it’s hard to compete with Santa, trees, mangers, elves and presents. Over the years, however, I’ve come to love Easter every bit as much. Not only do I appreciate its profound spiritual significance, but I also welcome all the totems and symbols associated with the holiday, many of which also signify the coming of Spring.

Some of these—hot cross buns, the pure white of the Easter lily—have visible roots in the Easter story. Eggs, which in the Easter tradition represent new life, were adapted by early Christians from pagan celebrations of the vernal equinox, in which they served as powerful symbols of fertility. Other traditions, including the Easter Bunny himself, arrived in the New World with European settlers.

So whether it’s Easter season, Spring fever or a reaction to being cooped up in the house for months, I’ve pulled out all the stops. My house looks like an Easter parade. I’ve got bunnies of all shapes and sizes perched on every available surface; a flock of ceramic chicks marching across the mantel; bouquets of flowers; and, of course, dozens of eggs. I have delicate china eggs on my dining room table; baskets of painted wooden eggs in my family room; and even a wicker “Easter tree” adorned with brightly colored mini-eggs. (more…)

Turn Up the Heat: Sriracha Lime Popcorn

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I come from a long line of pepper lovers…and the hotter the better.

In our family, hot peppers were treated as a quasi-medicine. As a child, my grandfather schooled me on the benefits of hot peppers to the metabolism and, to clogged sinuses. But what my grandfather loved first and foremost was the taste and, of course, the kick. When you were wiping your eyes and guzzling water, you knew the pepper was good.

His brother-in-law, Woody, shared his passion. Woody was a prolific gardener, and every summer his tiny patch of green yielded up a bounty of red and green hots that were the envy of his South Jersey Italian neighborhood. After siphoning off a cooking supply for my grandmother and aunt, he and my grandfather would retreat to the second kitchen in the basement. They’d sequester themselves for days, pressure cooking and preparing their secret recipe “hot pepper butter,” which they meticulously canned and preserved. Chemists by trade, they had this annual production down to a science; every year we were treated to dozens of jars of bright orange fire ambrosia. It was not for the faint of heart or stomach; in fact, being invited to partake of it was a rite of passage in our family, a sign that we had reached a certain level of maturity. It breaks my heart to say that the recipe died with them.

What lives on, however, is my craving for hot spreads and sauces. The truth is, I can’t handle the actual peppers very well. But hook me up with any kind of hot sauce, and I’m in heaven. I’m an opportunistic hot sauce user. I’ll toss it on everything from scrambled eggs to chicken soup to plain brown rice in near indiscriminate amounts. Sometimes I even use it as a dip.

I love that hot sauce has gone mainstream. My local Mexican restaurant has at least four varieties right on the table, and my grocery store seems to expand their line every time I go in. My new favorite sauce is sriracha, an Asian blend some California friends introduced me to a few years back. Although it’s been around for nearly three decades, sriracha has recently gained a huge following, with lots of specialty stores and smaller manufacturers producing their own versions.

So yes, I’m in hot sauce heaven, with no shortage of sauce or ways to use it. This tasty recipe for Sriracha Lime Popcorn is easy to make, and a great way to turn up the heat on one of my favorite snacks.

Sriracha Lime Popcorn
Yield: About 12 cups

Ingredients
• 3 quarts popped popcorn
• 1/2 teaspoon minced lime zest
• 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
• 1 tablespoon hot chili sriracha sauce
• 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
• 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions
1. Place popcorn in a large bowl. Sprinkle popcorn with lime zest.
2. Mix butter, sriracha sauce and lime juice. Drizzle over popcorn and toss. Sprinkle with salt; toss again and serve immediately.

Baskets of Easter Joy

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Growing up, we spent every Easter with our cousins. The night before, we kids would pile onto the floor of our grandparents’ bedroom and compare notes about what the Easter Bunny might bring. Unlike Santa, the Bunny didn’t require us to be good all year, so we drifted off to sleep happily confident he’d deliver unconditionally.

Come Easter morning, we’d race down the stairs and dive in to our baskets, which we found displayed like treasure on the dining room table. We had to get there before the grownups woke. This gave us time to sample the goods and make any necessary adjustments, such as swapping my black jelly beans for somebody else’s purples.
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Fiery Flavors Heat Up The Home

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We just received an invitation to a friend’s Annual Chili Cook-off, where the competition is as hot as the peppers used.  In these colder months, I love a spicy chili.  There’s no quicker way to heat up your body than with the fiery sensation of hot peppers.  These sometimes painful and highly addictive pods can cause sweat to form uncontrollably on the upper lip and brow, noses to run and eyes to water.  No, not a red-carpet look, but if you love chilies, you’ll see this as part of the overall allure of this steamy southwest staple. (more…)

Popcorn Madness!

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My brackets are busted.

A couple of upsets and I’ve now got zero shot at this year’s NCAA pool jackpot. But being out of the money isn’t so bad; I still get to watch the hoop dreams unfold with my friends, many of whose teams are still hanging in.

In a sports world defined by lockouts, salary caps, endorsement deals and trade deadlines, the NCAA basketball tourney is a breath of fresh air. Most of these kids aren’t going pro—they’re playing for the love of the game. They’re taking their best shots, and it’s a delight to see. Best of all, the tournament is a great excuse to shake off the dregs of winter and gather with friends to watch and wager.

My buddy Andy is the Grand Master of March Madness. For the past 20 years, he has scheduled his annual “TV Vacation” just in time for the Sweet Sixteen playoffs. He and his pals gather at his place for a day-long marathon of food, drink and basketball on the giant flat screen. Over the years I’ve seen people come early…come late…come with spouses, children, neighbors and even work colleagues in tow…but they all show up for this can’t-miss party. And everyone brings food, typically of the frat house variety.
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Bacon-Lover’s Delight: Maple Bacon Popcorn Mix

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It seems the last few years have become the Golden Age of Bacon. And I for one couldn’t be happier about it.

My favorite breakfast food has migrated off the plate and firmly to the center of food culture. The morning staple is popping up in places from the ridiculous (breath mints) to the sublime (ice cream). Die-hard foodies have also taken to curing their own artisanal bacon as a hobby…and bacon-themed restaurants and food trucks are popping up around the country. In my opinion, bacon works best as a savory counterpoint to sweets, such as baked into chocolate chip cookies or, as I sampled this summer, dipped in chocolate. Wow.

As you might expect in the digital age, bacon’s newfound popularity is being embraced by hipsters and wider pop culture. There are websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts celebrating all things bacon…and quite a few bacon memes floating out there on the Internet. And, along with the expected bacon-related clothing and t-shirts, there’s something completely new on the market: a bacon-wrapped car. Yes, you read that right. The Ford Motor Company just announced custom exterior bacon decals for its 2014 Fiesta model—you can choose between completely wrapped or the more tasteful strips along the side. You buy that, you are one serious bacon lover. (more…)

Revamping a Child’s Diet: Whole-Grain Popcorn fills the Snack Gap

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Stovetop Popcorn

I count myself lucky that my family has been spared food allergies.

We’re friendly with at least a dozen families whose children have peanut or tree nut allergies ranging from mild to extreme; a few of the kids can enjoy some types of nuts, while others are so sensitive they break out in hives simply by touching anything with nut residue on it. These parents and kids alike have my admiration, since staying safe depends on diligent reading of food labels and self advocacy. I feel the same toward folks who are managing other allergies like wheat gluten or food additives. It’s a lot of work.

My kids are fairly picky eaters. Our lack of allergies is a blessing here in the House of Fussy Palates. Still, I’ve always offered a variety of foods; strived for well-balanced meals; and encouraged good food choices. I buy organic when I can, and we sit down to meals together at least five nights a week. My kids are active –everybody does at least one sport at all times—and in great shape. So I wasn’t worried about their food intake in the slightest.

Until, that is, my daughter’s 10-year-old physical, when a blood test showed high cholesterol, specifically borderline high LDL, the low-density lipids that are the so-called “bad cholesterol.” Honestly, I was shocked. (more…)

Keeping Healthy Habits through a Long Winter: Adobo and Peanut Roasted Popcorn

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Sigh. My New Year’s resolutions are a distant memory. A couple of months into 2014, that long list of self- and home-improvement projects just doesn’t seem as quite as compelling as it used to. I know I’m not alone in this, because even the crazy crowds fighting their way into my gym back in January have thinned. It’s the human condition; in fact, only about eight percent of us stick to our resolutions.

Resolutions are tricky. They have an all-or-nothing quality to them that I find problematic. That’s why, even as I craft a list of goals for a given year, I try to remember that it’s all about progress. I don’t need to be perfect to make meaningful changes in my life and well-being. As I told my friend who’s struggling to stop smoking: every cigarette you don’t smoke is a victory. (more…)

Napping … With No Regrets!

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by Nicole

It’s taken me years to publicly admit this but here goes: I’m a napper. That’s right. Almost every day, at some point between 1 and 3 p.m., I sneak off and lie down for an hour of delicious, refreshing sleep.

In our go-go culture, where busyness is often viewed as a badge of honor, my nap habit sometimes feels like a moral failing. I have had friends and acquaintances who–upon hearing of my snoozes–offer remarks such as, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly rest during the day, I just have too much going on,” or “You’re so fortunate that you can find time to relax.” As if I’m lying around dozing and eating bon-bons all day.

True, I don’t work a full-time office job. But I get up before five a.m. and with work, kids, pets, husband, volunteering at school and keeping my household running, I barely sit down. Fast forward to three p.m., and I’m on the go again, supervising homework, more volunteering at school and church, and feeding and chauffeuring children ‘til well past 9 o’clock at night. Suffice it say, I’m no slacker. And I need to nap…with no apologies.

It turns out I’m not alone. Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and Salvador Dali (imagine his dreams!) were all devoted nappers. And study after study extols the benefits of a brief nap. (more…)