Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Luck o' the Irish Table

blog by: Alisa

On St. Patrick’s Day, many a home will be filled the fragrances of traditional Irish fare. Probably the first dish that comes to people’s minds is corned beef with cabbage. I readily admit, it’s the first thing my mind drifts to as well. It’s one of my favorite meals. Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t care much for corned beef, my son doesn’t care for cabbage, and my daughter won’t even consider allowing her fork to touch any of it. What’s a wanna-be Irish girl to do? Tell them to suck it up and eat it anyway; it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and by God, I am having this meal at least once a year.

The most common method of preparing this meal is to boil everything together: first the beef, then the carrots and potatoes, and last goes the cabbage.  That’s the way it was cooked when I was growing up, and we had it much more frequently than once a year. Then one day I was dining out and ordered a plate of oven-roasted corned beef with roasted potatoes and carrots. That’s when I realized the boiling method is a lot like boiling a steak with a baked potato and broccoli; something that should be avoided as often as possible.  If you find yourself in a house where the oven doesn’t work and the only thing in the fridge is a corned beef brisket, well, by all means, boil away. Corned beef soup is better than nothing. However, if you are looking for a sublime corned beef experience, go with a tried and true roasting method. You will not be sorry you did.

Slow Roasted Corned Beef and Cabbage
3 1/2 to 4  lb corned beef brisket
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 (12 fluid ounce) bottle Irish beer or ale (e.g. Guinness or Smithwick’s)
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
1 head of cabbage, cut into 1/6 wedges
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
2 lbs baby red potatoes, scrubbed clean OR regular red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

I, personally, have a preference here for Smithwick’s ale over a Guinness stout, but I also prefer lighter, smoother beers and ales. Go with your preference.    
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Rinse the beef completely and pat dry. Rub the brown sugar on the meat to coat entire beef, including the bottom.
2. Place the brisket, fat side up, on top of the sliced onion in a roasting pan or Dutch oven. If desired, sprinkle the accompanying package of seasonings around the brisket. Pour the bottle of stout or ale around the beef.
3. Cover, and place in preheated oven. Bake for 2 hours.  Remove cover, add vegetables around the meat, add a little more ale if needed, and replace cover. Return to oven and bake for 1 more hour. Test the tenderness of the brisket. If it doesn’t seem quite tender enough, let it cook for another 30 minutes. (If your vegetables are done, be sure to remove them before going the extra 30 minutes. Mushy vegetables BAD.)
Allow to rest 5 minutes before slicing against the grain into ½” thick slices. Place sliced brisket on a large platter and arrange vegetables around the beef. Serve with grainy Dijon mustard, a horseradish sauce, or just as it is.

The interesting thing to note is that corned beef is not exactly a traditional Irish dish. Yes, it was popularized there, but beef used to be only a wealthy man’s meal. The hardworking backbone of Ireland came home to dishes made with lamb and more affordable cuts of pork, such as ham and pork belly. With that in mind, you should know that colcannon is a more traditional Irish meal than corned beef with cabbage. It’s also easily just as tasty when properly prepared. Colcannon doesn’t always have to include the pork, but being the omnivore that I am, I like the meatier version. Bacon is often used in place of ham, but if I had my way, the Southern girl in me would prepare this dish with a salty country ham every time. Country ham is absolutely divine. Unfortunately, that divinity seems exclusive to the South. The few times that I’ve had it since moving West have been when I ordered it from an Internet site and had it shipped to me. 

*Alisa suddenly gets swept up into vivid daydream of a Southern breakfast of grits, country ham, and a side of redeye gravy*

Oh, sorry.  *shakes reverie out of head* I was supposed to be telling you about colcannon. It’s a delectable Irish dish made of cooked cabbage, mashed potatoes, and ham. And it’s a much more traditionally Irish meal than corned beef and cabbage. Leave out the pork, and you have a vegetarian taste of Irish tradition.

3 lbs red potatoes, peeled and diced for boiling
1 lb cabbage, finely shredded, chopped, and cooked
4 oz butter
1 cup milk
3 tbsp heavy cream
8 scallions, chopped
½ lb cooked bacon, crumbled, or cooked & diced ham

Peel and boil the potatoes until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, then mash until they are smooth. Stir scallions into the milk in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately add the milk and scallions to the potatoes and blend together with a fork. Add in the chopped cabbage, heavy cream and half of the butter then stir through until smooth.
Serve colcannon in individual bowls. Make a well in the center of each serving and top with butter.

Round out your St. Patty’s Day with a loaf of soda bread and a cold Irish ale, and you will understand why the Irish feel so lucky!

(pronounced 'slawn-cha'), meaning Health! A common toast in Ireland, the equivalent to ‘Cheers.'

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Green Paw Prints

blog by: Kim

Tips for Greening Your Pet & Saving the Homeless Ones

Who doesn’t love the sound of four paws running across the room with manic fervor? We love our pets. According to Psychology Today, pets have become such important parts of our families that traditional pet names like Fluffy and Fido have, in recent years, given way to adorable human names such as Max and Lily. Some people are cat people, some are dog people-but regardless of which camp they fall into, most people are simply crazy about their pets. They love us unconditionally. It’s easy to see why we love them so. It seemed a natural fit to take a green spin on responsible pet ownership and reducing your carbon paw print.

First off, we want to feed them the best food we can. If you can afford to, choose organic pet food that is free of BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, harmful chemicals found in some mainstream pet foods. Try Karma Naturals. If you’d like to price shop, hit your local pet supply store and skim the food shelves to compare different organic brands and prices that work with easily your wallet.

I don’t know about you, but I love a good bakery that specializes in natural, baked animal treats. Naturally made treats contain less fillers and chemical additives. I love Three Dog Bakery:

Another tip: Scoop the poop please. Rain water carries pet waste and other pollutants directly into waterways.  Animal waste can sometimes contain harmful organisms like Giardia, Salmonella and E. coli. Worms can be transmitted to humans and other animals by ingesting contaminated water. That doesn’t sound good in the least. Extra points if you reduce your pet's carbon poo-print with Biodegradable Business Bags made from real corn. They biodegrade completely in 45 days and become fertilizer. How cool is that? Available at:

For cat owners, why not go au-natural? When selecting safe, healthy, and environmentally friendly kitty litter, look for plant based litters made from natural sources like wheat, wood, and newspaper. Not only does clay based litter come from strip mining, but when your cat, dog, and other furry friends ingest clay litter, they can suffer from asthma or other lung problems. Clumping litter leaves a huge carbon footprint. The main culprit is sodium bentonite, a natural clay ingredient that expands into a hard mass when it comes into contact with moisture. Kitty can also ingest the clay while cleaning her paws and some even develop sores on her pads from it. Bad kitty litter, bad!

Upcycle Chic: Recycle and Repurpose your old dog or cat beds. Donate them to your local animal shelter. Or, simply fill a duvet with old clothes or bedding that you might have laying around the house and create a sharp looking new bed for your pet. Donate toys that they no longer play with because there are plenty of homeless animals in shelters that would love a toy from you.

On a more serious note, please remember that animal shelters all across the USA are overrun with too many animals due to overpopulation. There are so many feral cats having endless litters of kittens or home dog breeders allowing dogs to mate multiple times in hopes of selling the puppies- referred to as surplus births. Many of these poor animals are impulse purchased as cute babies, but later abandoned, neglected and eventually euthanized. Getting your pet spayed or neutered is the most effective defense against overpopulation. By doing that, it places fewer and fewer offspring in kill-shelters. Before you buy a puppy from a pet store or an inhumane puppy mill, look at your local shelter for an adult dog that needs a good home.

Don’t rule out an elderly dog or cat either. They are the most overlooked and they make amazing pets for someone who’s looking for a mellow friend to share their days with. Americans love their pets. We spend over $3 billion yearly caring for and spoiling them. Yet according to the Humane Society of the United States, millions of pets are euthanized in America’s shelters every year!

Reading about it is one thing- but advocating for the animals is even better. Donate a little of your time or used pet products to a shelter. Drop off a blanket or a bag of food. Donate even a few dollars to them if you can spare it. Most of these organizations are volunteer based and rely solely on donations from individuals or businesses to support their work to provide compassionate care, medical treatment and adoption services to a never ending influx of animals in need.

Over $2 billion is spent annually by local governments to shelter and ultimately kill 8-10 million adoptable dogs and cats due of shortage of homes. Source: Business Wire Features
Less than 3% of dog guardians are responsible for surplus births.
Source: Save Our Strays

An estimated 6 to 8 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year. Millions more are abandoned, only to suffer from illness or injury before dying. Source: Doris Day Animal League

Educating ourselves and our children is one of the best ways to prevent neglect, abuse and pet overpopulation. And even small steps at reducing our carbon paw prints make a difference in the long-run. Woof.

"Animals are such agreeable friends, they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms."  ~George Eliot

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

If Only I Knew Then What I Know Now. 101 Truths Every Woman Must Know

blog by: kim

I stand, clutching a diet coke and crunch on the ice.  I watch my little girl happily running around like a crazed sugar junkie up and down the sidewalk. I wonder how I got here.  I spit the ice back in the cup. Like most dreamers, I was told to pay attention or I wouldn’t amount to much. I didn’t pay attention to that.

I have a confession to make: I don’t know everything. Close, but not quite. In my teens and twenties I thought I did. After falling on my face a few too many times (divorce, moving and stumbling through mommyhood) I realized that I needed to slow down and listen to the advice of women who have graced these halls before me.  There is no running through flower-filled fields to The Sound of Music like I thought as a wide-eyed child.  Where is Julie Andrews when we need her? 

We live in a day and age where therapy and antidepressants are as commonplace as eating Cheerios. It’s so easy is to become isolated and to believe we are the only ones experiencing hardship, grief or stress. True, some experiences have to really be lived to be learned, but the sage advice of our fellow sisters is priceless if you listen to the bits of wisdom they have to offer us.

I asked women of all age groups what they wished they knew when they were in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond. What would have helped them avoid troubles along the way? Their answers are authentic and honest. Some are also reminders for us to not take ourselves so seriously all the time, and not sit around waiting for Mr. Perfect to sweep us off our feet. Guess what? He’s not coming girls.  Time to get real.

There's a big world out there with lots to explore and experience. We can learn from each other and the women before us. We women are both strong and vulnerable. A blend of old and new. Both parts valuable, both parts worth holding on to. We need to look at ourselves as honestly as we can, seeing the truths-both the good and bad-within our experiences so that we can pass them on to our daughters, nieces, friends and other women who will nod and say “Yes, I have been there, too.”

1- 51 of the 101 Truths Every Woman Must Know

1. Know what you want in a relationship, but more importantly, know what you absolutely do not want; and don't waiver from that. That one thing on the "do not want list" will ultimately kill the relationship. Don't waste valuable time in life. It is very short. Don’t compromise who you are! ~Dr. B. Kelly, Ph.d

2. Women need to be kinder to nature and animals and lose the fur and excessive use of leather. Men don't care if you are wrapped in a fur coat. They really don't, I came to learn. ~Martha

3. Be educated - not just book learning (which is important too), but educated on everything - politics, religion, cultures, history, etc. The more you know about things, the more open you will be to other people. People fear what they don't know. If we know more about other's views, faiths and cultures we won't have to fear them ~Suzanne

4. Have kick ass credit- You need it in life. It’s not a concern when we are younger, but it will be when you want to buy your first car or home. So pay your bills on time and don’t borrow more than you can pay back.
 ~Gretchen/ wife & mom

5. Make peace with the past. Let go of painful memories. Clinging to them stunts  your growth. You are not your parents. Have a bad childhood? Join the club. Break the cycle. Your past does not define you! ~Anonymous

6. Don't worry about who doesn't like you, who has more, or who's doing what . Instead, cherish the relationships we have with those who do love us. ~ Erma Bombeck

7. She should never think of her spouse as her "Better Half" fact she should always think of herself as an individual in a marriage...not a person who needs to be completed by that spouse or significant other.  ~Jillian

8. Support other women and celebrate their achievements. ~ Sarah
9. Stand up for yourself. Each person has their own journey in life, and you'd rather make your own mistakes than follow someone else's path. ~Robin

10. Yes, you WILL survive without a man/husband/boyfriend. Your oxygen has not been cut off! ~ Patti

11. If you are single, use protection when having sex. It is your body. You’re the only one that can protect it! ~ Gwen/ artist

12. Do not obsess over your body if it isn’t perfect. Nobody’s is. Work on what you can, keep it fit and healthy and let go of the rest or you’ll worry yourself to death. ~ Donna

13. Find your spirituality, whatever form it comes in. Believe in a higher power than yourself ~ Carrie

14. Avoid toxic people. Ditch toxic relationships. They are all over. Energy vampires. Drama queens, people who pick fights and complain endlessly. Do not engage them. Back away, then run! Surround yourself with the good ones. ~ Alana

15. She should always have the right to choose and to change her mind. ~Jillian

16. Don’t be cruel to other women or judge their path (or people in general) then justify it in your own head. Karma will come back to bite you in the ass one day when you least expect it! ~ Jen

17. Spend a whole weekend in bed ~ Pam

18. Learn how to entertain easily & simply ~ Laurie

19. Live and let live. There will always be people who are different than you, with differences of opinion. The sooner you accept it, the better” ~ Your grandma

20. Be  empathetic with yourself so that you can empathize with others. ~Anonymous

21. Treat your best girlfriends like family, because no one gets it like girlfriends do. ~ Karen/ spa owner

22. Never make someone else a priority when you are simply an option.
~ Carolyn

23. Avoid extreme fad diets, they are unhealthy, unbalanced and impossible to maintain over the course of a lifetime.  ~ Tina

24. Great sex! It keeps you young! ~ Anonymous

25. Truly befriend another woman. Sometimes we can be so catty and jealous. Layoff the passive/aggressive competitive vibe ~ Cheryl

26. She should LOVE herself in all ways. She should get therapy if she needs to. Everyone needs it and it is a great gift to give to ourselves. ~ Anonymous

27. Trust your intuition. Listen to warning bells!  My intuition has never been wrong! I just didn't listen because I wanted what I wanted. But my sister, I Have Learned! ~Cheryl

28. Know how to buy a good car without being taken for a ride. ~Amber

29. Wear sexy underwear! Even if you are single! Even if no one will see it. ~ Anonymous

30. Never act your age. Acting “adult” all the time is over rated. Laugh and have fun. ~Corinna

31. Try to be ok with what life throws your way. There’s many bumps and up’s and down’s. The better you can roll with the punches, the easier time you will have  over the long run. ~Leslie/business owner

32. If you have a calling follow your calling. Your dream. Your heart. You have a brain, use it . Do not fear your own creative genius. It is genuinely yours. Don't let anyone try to tell you how to think or to feel, you know.  ~Deb/Music Therapist

33. Maintain a stable, comfortable body weight. You don’t have to be stick thin. Your body has it’s own natural weight. Obesity and being underweight are not healthy over the long term of your lifetime. Women’s weight tends to fluctuate over the years with having children and different life stages. Try to maintain a stable weight within a five to ten pound range without going under or over that range. ~Beth

34. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Easier said then done. ~Sarah H.

35. Know when to cling to something, and when to let it go ~Carolyn

36. Let it go. Begin again. Follow your heart. ~ Deborah

 37. Invest in assets, something that puts money in your pocket every month. ~ Tracy

 38. Don't let other people decide who you are and what you should do. Know yourself and follow your heart. If you believe in yourself, nothing can stop you from achieving what YOU want. I wish someone had told me that... and that I had believed them! ~ Suzanne

39. I wish I could tell my 24 year-old self that what I needed most at that time, when it came to men. To learn how to "just say no" vs. the "just do it" approach I followed from ages 17-23-ish. Instead, I made a pact with God that I wouldn't pursue a relationship until I understood myself more and was able to express myself better. ~Pauline

40. Your true “calling” has the ability to change the world. Follow that calling to the ends of the earth ~Alisa

 41. Life is all about LOVE ... of self and others. That's ALL that really matters. Look for the best in others (including yourself) and focus on that. Don't worry about what other people think about you. Follow your heart and trust your "gut-instinct" ALWAYS.  ~Lisa

42. Don't be a victim. You are the master of your own destiny. Make your time here the best you can because nobody is going to hand it to you, you have to do it for yourself. And ALWAYS be kind to people. ~Anonymous

 43. To relax and enjoy life while you're young! Not that I've never enjoyed it, but  I'd have been more aware. ~Crissy

44. If you can be ok in your own company and be self reliant, you can really do anything. ~ Grace

 45. Nourish you body with healthy foods. Excessive smoking, drinking and eating fatty fried foods and lots of red meat will kill you. Fuel yourself with better choices. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there at your fingertips, use it. None of it makes a difference unless you apply it. ~ Rena

46. Never show 'em all your cards. Took time to learn that. ~Melanie

47. Don't ever be an "expert". That's the minute you stop learning. ~Rise

48. Join some sort of exercise class early, like dancing, or some sport that you just love. And...there's always going to be someone prettier, richer, or smarter than you, so don't try to compete in a losing battle. Just be the best you can be. ~Jackie

49. Because sometimes I like what I see, and sometimes I don't:
“Accept everything about yourself – I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end – no apologies, no regrets”  ~ Rise

50. Without the heart there can be no understanding between the hand and mind.  ~Celeste

51. Don't try to be someone you are not- to impress anyone! Instincts are the internal compass that influence us to become who we were created to be. In the younger years, I talked myself out of things because I was trying to be what was expected of me. Now I am living in my authentic self with all its quirks. ~ Cheryl

All the good advice in the world won’t do you a lick of good until you ultimately choose to make up your own mind and apply it. Take it all with a grain of salt, chew on it, mull it over and then decide for yourself what works best for you and the path you are on. For those of you with daughters, do what I did: I printed these out and taped them to my child's forehead. Now she will never forget.