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Friday, January 31, 2014


I've been getting some requests lately to talk about skincare.   To me, skincare is serious business.  Makeup, not so much.  I believe that the real investment is great skin.  If you can put a pretty finish on top of it, that's great, but it starts with the skin.  And, of course, your skin starts with your genes, your overall health, your nutrition, your level of stress, the amount of exercise you are getting, exposure to chemicals, availability of clean air and clean water, and a consistent skincare routine.  Until recently it was thought that there was nothing we could do about our genetics; you had to deal with what you were dealt with.  Fortunately, new studies are coming out showing that the gene expression largely depends on the conditions to which the genes are exposed.  Hence, more than ever greater emphasis are placed on nutrition, stress management, and general care in living.  

The next step is finding the right skincare.  I've spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars looking for just the right kind.  Very expensive disappointments were abound.   And I was never able to find "the one" product in each category, to which I would want to go back.  My bathroom even now looks like Sephora, Nordstrom, Target, and Whole Foods face and body care aisles exploded in it.  Most of the products are simply abandoned, since I never have the time or desire to take anything back.  

One product that particularly evaded me was daytime moisturizer.  My requirements were simple:  it needed to have sunscreen (more than SPF 15, so it would be suitable for the warmer months); the sunscreen needed to be natural, preferably zinc oxide; the said zinc oxide needed to not leave a yucky white film on my face that in an hour would pool together into fuzzy balls; it needed to be free of parabens, GMOs, artificial dyes, colors and scents; it needed to sink right into my face, rather than taking its sweet time to do so; it needed to keep my face comfortably moisturized all day; it needed to have a pleasant (natural) smell; and it needed to not make me look greasy three hours later.  At the end of last summer, by pure luck, I stumbled upon Pratima Skincare and all my wishes finally came true with Neem Rose Face Sunscreen SPF 30.  Here are its ingredients, taken from Pratima's website,


Because zinc oxide is micronized, there is no white chalk effect upon application and because the micronization is "non-nano," it gives me some peace of mind, that it won't be traveling through my skin and into my bloodstream, which is what nano-particles allegedly do (and even if the jury's still out on this one, I am simply not willing to wait for the resolution of that debate).  I also like that it is not packaged in plastic (since the chemicals in plastic can leach into products) and that it comes with a pump (no contamination from dipping your finger into the product).  Did I mention it also has a faint rose smell? 

I also bought Pratima's Rejuvenating Gold Eye Cream, with which I am also quite impressed.  For the first time in many years I will be making a repeat purchase.  

I also wanted to see if my dermatologist would have any daytime moisturizer recommendations for me at my last appointment (since I am always trying to improve upon everything), but our discussion ended with my doctor taking down the name Pratima Skincare and their website url, which I showed her on my iPhone, so she could recommend it to her other patients.  My dermatologist was particularly impressed with the product ingredients.  Up until our conversation, she has never heard of this line.

Over the years, I've also read many books on skincare in an attempt to become a better-educated consumer.  My latest favorite is No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products -- And the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics.  It's full of amazing, in-depth information on all aspects of beauty products.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Vegetable Quinoa

Here is a quick dish that combines whole grain sprouted quinoa and roasted vegetables.   To make it, you will need:

  • 2 zucchinis
  • 2 yellow squashes
  • 1 peeled eggplant
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper
  • 1 cup sprouted quinoa (or just quinoa)
  • 2 cups water
  • dressing (you can use ready-made to save time; I made mine by combining in the Vitamix one whole lemon, salt, pepper corns, and 1/4 cup olive oil).
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Chop the vegetables and spread them on a roasting pan.   Sprinkle them with salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast for 25-30 minutes, until slightly browned.   
  2. Chop some roasted red bell pepper from a jar.  
  3. Make the dressing (or open the dressing bottle).  
  4. In a medium-sized pot combine 1 cup quinoa (rinsed and drained) with 2 cups of water (I used homemade chicken stock to add flavor, you can also use vegetable stock to keep this dish vegetarian) and bring to a boil.   Reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes.   
  5. Combine quinoa with the vegetables and add the dressing.   Mix everything well.
This made for a great dinner tonight.

To end it on a light note, serve some orange segments for dessert.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

On our last cruise, both girls got makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on Disney Fantasy.   Alexis chose a Rapunzel costume and Emily went for Tinker Bell.  They loved getting their hair, nails, and makeup done.  The rest of the day, Rapunzel and Tinker Bell paraded around the ship, took pictures with Disney Princesses, and generally basked in the crew's attention.  

Although Emily got tired of her costume by the end of the day and declared it "scratchy," Alexis has been holding strong for a year now.  She loves donning on the dress and lighting up her wand and making everyone around call her Rapunzel.  

Today, my Rapunzel is a bit under the weather.  After we visited the doctor's office, where she asked everyone to call her Rapunzel, we drove by Whole Foods to pick up some dessert.  Nothing like a little sugar (or is it the antioxidants in the berries?) to make a Disney princess all better.  

She is already planning two new makeovers at Bibbidi Bobbidi for her next cruise.   I guess, that'll mean the retirement of the Rapunzel dress. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Flour's Banana Bread

The other day, the girls and I were shopping at The Fresh Market and Alexis was, as always, on a mission to cram as many sweets as possible into our cart.  It certainly doesn't help that The Fresh Market's giant confectionary aisle is right in the middle of the store and all roads from dairy to veggies lead to it.  In fact, Alexis just dashes straight to the "right" location as soon as she crosses the doorway to the store, letting me do my sensible shopping across the perimeter.  

Besides the sweets, Alexis's other interest is samples.  Really, of anything, but preferably of something sweet.  This time, she navigated through the candy aisle and the bakery and found none.  She loudly demanded samples.  She even suggested that I break open some particularly intriguing-looking packages so she can have a taste of what's inside.  

Finally, at the checkout, the cashier brightly said to the girls:  "Would you like to try a sample of our banana bread?"   Alexis's eyes lit up:  "Is it with chocolate chips?!?!"  The cashier replied with a smile:  "No.  But it has nuts!"   Alexis wailed in dismay:  "Nuts?!   I hate nuts!!  I love chocolate chips!!"  Seeing that we were at an impasse, I promised her that I will bake her a banana bread as soon as we get home, with chocolate chips and with no nuts (the latter was not true, since I put omega 3s into everything).   The cashier was so glad that the yelling stopped that she didn't even seem to judge my parenting technique.

When we got home, I made the Flour Bakery's banana bread.  The recipe can be found here.   Flour is a famous bakery in Boston, owned by Joanne Chang, an alumna of Harvard with a degree in economics, who apparently has a pretty big sweet tooth and some serious baking skills.  Flour Bakery has four locations in Boston and two recipe books, Flour and Flour, Too.  Although the recipe had no chocolate chips in it, I added some because otherwise my kids won't accept it as a passable banana bread.  This one, though, was out of this world delicious and will be my go-to recipe from now on.

You will need:

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used extra virgin oil)
  • 3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed (I let the mixer do the mashing)
  • 2 tbsp of creme fraiche or sour cream (I used sour cream)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (I skipped the toasting)
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (my addition)
Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl.   Set aside.

1 2/3 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/2 tsp salt

Beat sugar and eggs until fluffy, then drizzle in oil.

1 cup sugar + 2 eggs

1/2 cup oil
Add vanilla, sour cream, and bananas.

1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp of sour cream

3 1/2 very ripe bananas

Fold in dry ingredients, nuts, and chocolate chips.

Add dry ingredients that were set aside

2/3 cups chopped walnuts + 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Pour everything into a loaf pan (sprayed with a butter spray) and bake at 350 degrees until baked through (about 1 hour and 15 minutes).


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Prosciutto Salad

One of my bridesmaids, Natasha, now lives in Paris (I know, I have cool friends).  She emailed me a recipe for a salad that is similar to what she's been served at her neighborhood restaurant, Cafe Le Passy.  Since it had prosciutto in it and I like salt, I had to make it. Understanding that this is a re-creation of a re-creation, I am sure it's not the same salad as what's served at Le Passy, but it is quite delicious nonetheless and easy to assemble.  Because the simpler things are, the higher quality they need to be, I made an excursion after today's workout at the gym to The Fresh Market to get just the right ingredients.  It made an amazing dinner and a couple of very happy Americans.
Here is Natasha's recipe (thank you, Natasha!) for 2 servings:

  • 1 bag of mixed greens (I used a mix of organic arugula and organic baby spinach)
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, sliced lengthwise
  • 6 slices of prosciutto
  • 4 thick slices of goat cheese warmed in the oven (I broiled the chevre for about 4 minutes)
  • David Lebovitz' vinaigrette (the recipe and technique are described here, for which you will need sea salt, red wine vinegar, a minced shallot, Dijon mustard, and olive oil)

The dressing should keep for about eight hours at room temperature, but if you want to make the dressing in advance, it's best to add the shallots closer to the serving time, so they keep their full flavor.

Assemble the salad in individual plates by laying the greens on the plate, then placing the sliced egg around the plate.

Place three slices of prosciutto on top.

Place the melted chevre on top of the prosciutto.

Drizzle the dressing on top.    

Although I didn't have any white wine on hand, my Paris friend recommends to serve this salad with a glass of well-chilled Sancerre or Riesling.   Enjoy!

Daddy-Daughter Dance

This evening, Emily took her Daddy to their first daddy-daughter dance at Emily's school.  I am sure the first of many.  It was sweet sending them out the door, despite Alexis's wails about just how much this was all unfair, since she had to stay home and didn't get a corsage.  She seems to have found solace now in watching the Mermaid movie and eating black cheddar white truffle popcorn.   In return for letting her sister out the door, she was also promised to be taken to a daddy-daughter dance at our gym in a couple of weeks.  With a corsage.   

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Filling Station

There is a great coffee place not far from my office called The Filling Station.  In addition to coffee, they also serve a variety of green juices, squeezed fresh right in front of you (very helpful when one decides to go on a juice fast, yet is too lazy, I mean, doesn't have enough time, to make juice at home and bring it to work). The Filling Station is also great for a casual lunch, serving interesting soups (coconut curry today), sandwiches, salads (kale, stuffed avocado, and strawberry pecan are delicious), and wraps (my favorite is Killer Veggie).  

Since I needed a lot of energy this morning, I went for a macchiato and a new juice called, I believe, What the Kale.  (Do caffeine and carotenoids cancel each other out?)  I've been running on kale ever since.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Castaway Cay

A few years ago, we took our first seven-night Disney cruise.  We went to the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and St. Maarten), which were absolutely gorgeous, and then made a one-day stop at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas.  It was such an amazing experience that every subsequent cruise we took, the day at Castaway Cay was the one we were all really looking forward to.   We've now been to Castaway Cay three times, all in January or February, and each time we are there, I cannot get enough of the scenery.  

In the morning on the day when we get to Castaway Cay, we usually eat breakfast at the buffet restaurant (Cabanas on Disney Fantasy), outside, while watching the ship getting docked.  We then pack up all the beach essentials (although there is also a store on the island where forgotten items like sand shovels and Disney pool towels can be purchased) and then deboard the ship for a few hours.  We spend the day on the beach and eat lunch on the island.  Disney serves a great barbecue around noon.  The kids run in the water, build sand castles, and we talk about just how nice it is to escape all the cold and snow in the wintery Kansas City.   We then return back to the ship about an hour or two before the crowd to ride the Aqua Duck without any wait time.