Blueberries, Baby

The early 80s were all about putting fruity scents on things; scratch-and-sniff stickers, chunky erasers, lip balms, and magic markers. 

Ask any young woman what her favorite strawberry-scented object was from the 80s and she will most likely tell you this: Strawberry Shortcake. She was the doll that smelled like strawberries! And she actually smelled really good. 

The character was, and still is, owned by American Greetings. She started out as a star in their card line then moved into hearts and homes with her line of dolls, colognes, bed sheets and skirts, and posters. 

The Strawberry Shortcake doll was first introduced by Kenner in 1980 and was immediately popular. The dolls and toys made well over 100-million dollars in their first year out. Wow! That is a lot of strawberry scent. 

From my research, the appeal of the character as told through books and television specials was that she was always optimistic, kind, and ready to help anyone in need. I like that. 

This month is National July Belongs to Blueberries Month. I have always loved anything blueberry, much more than strawberry things. I am constantly searching out blueberry jams and blueberry syrups at restaurants and stores. If there is a choice of muffins, it is always blueberry. Same with pancakes. 

I also love the name blueberry and the color of blueberries, which actually has a lot of purple in them. Even better. 

Strawberry Shortcake had a crew of friends each with their own distinct name and smell. My favorite of her pals was, of course, Blueberry Muffin. She was SS’s friend since the very beginning. In the 1980s the character was depicted with blue hair in pigtails. She spoke with a southern drawl and was known as being a bit forgetful. This made her even more endearing. 

Having three son, Strawberry Shortcake dolls and paraphernalia were never a part of our home. But I always loved the idea of her, and more specifically, her bosom buddy, Blueberry Muffin.

I believe that no matter how old we are, there are still sweet things that touch our hearts and instantly bump us back to the simple innocence of youth. I hope I never let go of that. 

Horseradish is not made from Horses

One of July’s ‘National Month’ tributes is National Horseradish Month. 

When I was a little girl, I remember hearing adults talk about horseradish. I could not wrap my head around what in the world that could be. I felt sure it had something to do with horses and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I grew into a hearty eater. I am a passionate eater. There is very little food that I do not like or have not tried. Growing up in a somewhat simple life, we normally stuck to the basics when it came to food. “Basics” meaning pot roast, (real) mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh vegetables, salad, dinner rolls. To most people, that sounds heavenly. To me, it became old hat and I was eager to branch out and try new foods I had never tasted.

It was about 15 years ago that I got my first taste of real horseradish. Yeah, I had tried that stuff that comes out of the pumper at Arby’s but…not quite the same.

I cannot remember the details of whose wedding we were celebrating, but it was enchanting. The reception was held at a beautiful historic building in the city. It was so lovely; the china, the crystal, the chefs in tall white hats carving tender roast beef served with, yep, freshly made horseradish. It was divine and I was hooked. 

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a hardy perennial plant of the mustard family. It is native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. Horseradish is known for its pungent root. The root is grated and then mixed with water, vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Pretty simple. 

Hats off to National Horseradish Day. If you haven’t tried it, I strongly encourage the plunge. You will not be disappointed. As an added bonus, your sinus congestion will be cleared immediately. 

Ahhh….

Iced Tea Month

June is National Iced Tea Month, which is very appropriate. When you think of June, you think of summer and swimming and graduations and weddings and refreshing iced tea.

I grew up drinking iced tea. Let me rephrase that, I grew up drinking very sweet iced tea. My mama, and then when we were old enough, my siblings and I, brewed a two gallon jug of iced tea every single day; winter, spring, summer or fall (all you have to do is call. Thank you, Carole King, for that lovely, timeless song). 

We boiled water on the stove in a funky, triangular-shaped iron pot. We put in eight teabags (always eight) and boiled for a few seconds, then let it ‘brew’ for about five minutes more. We then poured that beautiful copper red tea into one of those old-fashioned Tupperware jugs with the lid that has a small hole and cap for pouring. The jug had been previously filled half way with cold water and two cups of sugar. We stirred that sweet nectar until it blended beautifully then stuck it in the fridge until dinner time. 

The sweet tea at our home affectionally became known as “Ray Tea”. It is still called that today. Whenever there is a family event ~ Thanksgiving, picnics, reunions, birthday parties, Ray tea is expected to be on the counter. 

I have had a lot of sweet tea from various restaurants, and it is pretty good, but my mama’s sweet tea is the best I ever had.

As a young wife and mother, I thought it was cool to jump onto the sun tea bandwagon and made it that way for years. It was always so fun to put it out in the morning and by dinner time, it was perfectly colored and ready to drink. I definitely modified the sugar measurements, though. Of course, it wasn’t as good, but knew that it was better for my family. 

I have stopped making fresh iced tea. For one, I have hard water and it just never comes out the same coppery red color. Two, I drink my tea and coffee sans sugar. I have been drinking it that way for at least 15 years. When I want iced tea, I buy a gallon jug of Tradewinds or Pure Leaf unsweetened tea and pour it over ice. It always satisfies.

We hear a lot about green tea and the latest trend, matcha green tea. There are apparently real benefits to partaking. But even old-fashioned black pekoe tea has healthy pluses. 

Black tea is full of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help protect cells from DNA damage. Increasing evidence hints that the antioxidants in black tea may also reduce atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), especially in women. 

So it is your national duty to drink in a tall skinny glass of iced sometime this month. Wait for a real scorcher of a day and guzzle it down like you’ve been in the desert for two weeks. It is incredibly satisfying, and sans the sugar, is actually very good for you. 

Go ahead, take the (Nestea) plunge. 

Healthy Thursday

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States with over five million cases diagnosed each year. 

Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun in as little as 15 minutes. Even if it’s cool, you still need protection. UV rays, not temperature, do the damage.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is a very common cancer in the United States.

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer. It is more likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body than the more common forms of skin cancer. Though melanoma represents only five percent of the skin cancer cases diagnosed in the United States each year, it results in the most deaths. Melanoma kills more than 10,000 people in the U.S. annually. 

Melanoma is more common in men than women and among individuals of fair complexion.

Well, I am a female and I am not fair complected, so you can imagine my shock when I had a melanoma diagnosis in 2013. I had noticed a small brown patchy area on the side of my nose. I ignored it for a a few weeks. My husband said he didn’t think there was a real concern but to go ahead and see a dermatologist. I did. 

The biopsy came back as stage zero melanoma. Of course, I was extremely thankful for the stage zero part, but I was still shaken. I had to undergo a major flap procedure. 

After checking out the rest of my skin, a second melanoma was found on my left calf. That one also returned from pathology as stage zero. I needed a second surgery which involved carving out a big chunk of skin. However, the one on my leg was the bigger concern. 

The truth is, I probably would not have had that one checked out for a long time. It seemed like a normal brown mole. The doctor told me that left unchecked, that one could have been an issue. Frightening.

Never, never, never would I have suspected the word ‘melanoma’ could be attached to me. I have dark hair and dark eyes. I am not a sun-worshipper. I wear hats and sunscreen faithfully. 

The doctor told me that my melanoma could have been the result of just one bad sunburn as a child. He also said there is really no rhyme or reason as to why some unusual suspects develop melanoma. It is also not always due to sun exposure.  Melanoma can be found on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. The good news is that melanoma is extremely curable if it is found early. 

So in this Healthy Thursday post, I strongly urge you to go see a dermatologist. Send someone you love to the dermatologist. 

And for goodness sake, put on your stinkin’ sunscreen and wear a hat. A “pretty tan” fades and what’s left behind just isn’t all that pretty. 

National Bike Month

A couple of years ago for my birthday, my family bought me a great royal blue Trek bicycle. Though I do not ride it enough, I love it. 

My house is located on a narrow two-lane road. It is not safe for bike-riding. So, unfortunately, to get in a good ride, I have to pull down the bike rack from its hook high on the garage wall and do all the strapping and pulling and tightening and fixing in order to attach my bike to the car. It is a bit of exercise in itself. Though, if I did it more often, I am sure it would become much less cumbersome. 

I then drive about two miles to a beautiful park, unhook the bike, put on the lip balm, don the helmet and hit the path. The park has three ponds, each with a lively fountain shooting crystal droplets into the air then delivering them back to the water.

There are a couple of baseball fields, four tennis courts, a great play area for kids, a nice picnic shelter and a beautiful white barn. 

What is it about riding a bike that instantly takes us back to childhood? I remember loving the feeling of sailing along on my bike with my hair streaming behind me. I also remember a feeling of freedom. 

In complete apropos timing, tonight on our way home from dinner, my husband, without prompting, mentioned that he would like to get a bike and ride with me. Awesome!

I often ask him to walk with me at the park but walking is just not his thing. However, bike-riding might be! I am excited about the two of us strapping our bikes onto the yes, double bike rack that I bought in anticipation that he would someday want to ride. 

We are going to be like Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper out riding our bicycles, holding hands. The Wonder Years revisited.

 “And so Winnie and I had our one slow dance after all. But things wouldn’t be the same between us. We were getting older. All we could do was close our eyes and wish that the slow song would never end.”

Healthy Thursday

I am a creature of habit when it comes to eating breakfast. For starters, I always eat breakfast. I awaken hungry and I am ready to chow.

My normal routine begins with berries. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are my favorites. Then I move to eggs. I pour a generous amount of olive oil into a small frying pan, crack two healthy eggs into the pan, add pepper and occasionally chopped spinach and/or chopped tomatoes. For a real splurge, I toss in a little cheddar cheese. I then scoop out about a tablespoon of almond butter onto my plate and cover it with cinnamon. That breakfast is completed by a mug of steaming dark roast coffee with a little cream.

That is my breakfast at least six out of seven day a week, often all seven. 

May is National Egg Month. Eggs are good for us!

Eggs have long been vilified for their high cholesterol content. However, new research states we may have been all wrong. 

While it’s true that just one egg yolk has 200 mg of cholesterol, eggs also contain additional nutrients that may help lower the risk for heart disease. In addition, the amount of fat in an egg, about 5 grams, is mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. It’s also crucial to differentiate between dietary cholesterol and cholesterol in the blood, which are only weakly related. 

Eggs also boost brain health. When you eat the whole egg, yolks are a very good source of vitamin B12. This vitamin energizes the brain and provides crucial protection by eliminating potentially toxic compounds and promoting long-term nerve health and function. 

Egg yolks are also one of the few excellent sources of choline. Choline is the main building block of the nervous system function. Its importance cannot be overstated. 

Research has shown that eating eggs daily for breakfast is an effective strategy to help control body weight. The healthy fats found in eggs help increase feelings of fullness and satisfaction. This cuts down on snacking between meals. 

And yet another boon, eggs are rich in the antioxidant lutein, which fights free radical damage. Lutein also helps protect existing brain cells, helps create new ones, and improves neuroplasticity (the brain’s capacity to keep developing, changing, and healing itself). 

As I see my mother getting old and struggling so much with her memory and the processing of daily tasks, I want to take intentional steps to try to keep my brain as healthy as possible. 

If you are now not convinced to eat eggs, you really do need to start eating your eggs because your brain obviously needs them.

A poem lovely as a Tree

Along with National Soft Pretzel Month, another of April’s assigned titles is “National Poetry Month”. I have always loved poetry. One of my early favorites was in junior high school when I read the haunting and beautiful “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. It was originally published in 1849 and was the last complete poem composed by Poe.

I still remember some of the lines –

But we loved with a love that was more than love
I and my Annabel Lee
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me

Of course early on, I loved all of the great American poets; Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay…

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!

My son, Andrew, referenced in my April 1 blog, has introduced more contemporary poets to me; Kay Ryan, Christian Wiman, Robert Bringhurst…

Love means love of the thing sung, not of the song or the singing.
These poems, she said…
You are, he said,
beautiful.
That is not love, she said rightly.

One of the first poems I remember recording (hand-written) in a book is entitled “Sweet Anticipation”. It is composed from a 20 year old woman-girl’s perspective of being pregnant and anticipating seeing, holding, smelling, loving her firstborn baby.

We did not know the sex of our first child. However, I must have known because I wrote out this poem in just a few minutes when I was about five months pregnant.

I saw some shiny roller skates I’d like to buy you, Andy
And a little shovel with a pail
To make my carpet sandy.

Your daddy found a short golf club he said would suit you fine
And a baseball cap for your sweet head
To block the bright sunshine.

Maybe it seems we’re rushing things, impending the event
Cause you’re still up in heaven
Waiting to be sent.

Sweet, simple, straightforward, but oh, so very gushing from my heart.

Isn’t that what poetry is ~ a cutting open of the heart and spilling its contents onto paper?

Soft Pretzel Month

One of April’s national month titles is “National Soft Pretzel Month”.

My husband and I love, love, love warm soft pretzels. He is a bit of a “plain jane” when it comes to eating. He loves the original pretzel with no dipping sauces or toppings. Perhaps he is better defined as a purist. I tend to love any flavors, any toppings and any and all dipping possibilities.

Auntie Anne’s, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was founded by Anne Beiler and her husband, Jonas, in 1988. The chain now has 1,500 locations, including 400 international locations. They are located in shopping malls and Walmart stores, as well as non-traditional retail spaces such as universities, parking/rest areas, airports and military bases.

Here are a few fun facts I discovered about Auntie Anne’s Pretzels:

Anne was a high school dropout. She was raised in Pennsylvania by Amish parents, and started selling her homemade pretzels at farmers markets. She had an eighth grade education, but earned her GED at the age of 50, long after her success had been cemented. I love that.

Auntie Anne’s has made enough pretzels to circle the earth about 50 times. That is a lot of dough.

Every regular size pretzel receives a nice little butter bath after being baked. Um…yum.

Leftover pretzels are given to those in need. At the end of each night, the unsold products are sorted, bagged and sent off to be donated with help from a company called Food Donation Connection. Love that, too.

In 2005, “Auntie” Anne and Jonas Beiler, the company founders, sold Auntie Anne’s in order to fully devote themselves to their original vision of opening a family-counseling center. I really, really love that.

Sometime this month, do yourself a favor and go to Auntie Anne’s. Not only are they incredibly delicious, but their story is great and the good work that is coming from the business is quite literally, changing the world.

Because I believe in attempting to stay healthy and fit as I am aging, I will try to limit my visits to Auntie Anne’s. Otherwise, my body may begin to look like a cheddar stuffed pretzel dipped in hot salsa cheese. Just sayin’.