Archive for the ‘HOLIDAYS’ Category

Heart health took center stage when Lyndon B. Johnson issued Proclamation 3566 in December,1963. He declared February as American Heart Month and Congress passed a joint resolution requesting presidents each year to follow suit. In that era, more than half of deaths in the United States resulted from heart-related conditions.

In the 2017 proclamation, President Donald Trump stated “The death rate from heart disease in the United States has fallen dramatically since the 1960s . . . [yet] heart disease remains a leading cause of death. . . . During American Heart Month, we remember those who have lost their lives to heart disease and resolve to improve its prevention, detection and treatment.”

 Globally, more than 17 million deaths occur annually from heart related conditions with projected increases in future years. What is more appropriate than to think about healthy hearts on Valentine’s Day? As a day of love, it’s befitting to encourage those we love to eat healthy and to express our love to family and friends by practicing a healthy-heart lifestyle.                                     

      Image result for free heart healthy clip art                                                             

 If you plan to treat those you love with any type of food this Valentine’s Day, make it healthy. Increase the availability of fruits and vegetables, avoid offers of high-sugar, high-salt foods, and provide meats low in fat, especially saturated fats.

As we commemorate a day for hearts, remember to protect yours. Helping yourself and others choose healthy-heart foods can reduce the number of people likely to meet untimely deaths due to cardiovascular disease. It’s the way to honor a national treasure―you and those you love. Happy Valentine’s Day.


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Eating is a major focus during the busy holiday season. Many people add a few pounds to their weight from the festivities centered around food. This isn’t the time to diet, but with a few simple changes, we can spare ourselves from gaining additional pounds.

    1. Choose smaller portions. Not easy, but many times we not only add extra calories but become uncomfortably full from excess food. Gauge those portions sizes and feel better afterward.
    2. See what calorie-laden foods you can skip or resolve to eat less. Gravies and creamed dishes add lots of calories. Select unsweetened beverages. Choose red sauces over white ones for fewer calories.
    3. Choose desserts with less calories. Double crusted pies and those with whipped cream or topping have more calories. If you must have a piece of that traditional coconut cake, make it a smaller portion.
    4. Watch out for snacks of candies, nuts, party mixes and yellow cheeses. Look for veggie or fruit trays and skip the dip.

A few simple changes can keep away those dreaded extra pounds. Make the holidays a time of love and joy without those rich, fattening foods. Have a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

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What is more appealing as a token of love on Valentine’s Day than a heart-shaped box of chocolate candies? How did this custom begin?chocolate candy: Illustration of a Partially Open Gift Filled with Chocolates

As with many traditions, St. Valentine’s Day evolved from a mixture of Christian commemoration and mythological folklore. The most popular version of this day’s origin relates to St. Valentine, a priest during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II in 270 A. D. The Emperor believed single men made better soldiers and therefore forbade them to marry. St. Valentine secretly performed wedding ceremonies for many young soldiers and was, therefore, jailed. While imprisoned, he healed the jailer’s daughter, and before execution wrote her a note signed “Your Valentine.”

Others believe customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originated centuries before from the pagan Feast of Lupercalia celebrated between February 13 and 15. The occasion, one of the most ancient Roman festivals, celebrated Lupercus, the god of fertility. For years the Christian church tried to suppress the festival. By the fifth century, Rome began to move away from paganism towards Christianity. The Feast of Lupercalia became relegated to the lower classes and eventually ceased. Pope Gelasius abolished Lupercalia and later established the celebration named after St. Valentine.

In 1537, King Henry VII of England officially declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. The holiday of feast and romance mimics portions of the pagan festivities. In the years to follow, participants celebrated with poems and later valentine cards, roses, and eventually candy.

Chocolate had a history as a love food. The Mayan and Aztec elites prized chocolate as a luxury item. By the 1600s, this decadent treat in the form of a drink had spread through Europe with the advent of chocolate houses. Even Marie Antoinette had her own chocolate maker.

In an effort to find use for pure cocoa butter and to make a more palatable chocolate drink, Richard Cadbury in 1861 originated the idea of “eating chocolates.” He filled heart-shaped boxes decorated with cupids and rosebuds with these new confections. Thus he spawned an industry of heart-shaped boxes for sale on Valentine’s that now has projected sales of more than 35 million at a value of over $1 billion. Chocolate became the choice sweet for Valentine’s Day.

By the late 1800s, Milton Hershey, successful in caramel making, began covering those caramels with sweet chocolate. After the turn of the century, he sold foil-wrapped chocolate kisses which today we enjoy year round. Hershey advertised them as a nourishing food.

Then there was Russell Stover whose wife began wrapping candies in her kitchen in 1923. They moved from Denver to Kansas City and opened several factories. The Stover’s sold Valentine chocolates in heart-shaped boxes to department stores and eventually bought out Whitman’s, expanding their focus to big-box retailers like Target and Walmart.

All those famous brands remain today to entice us throughout the year, but especially on February 14. Few now think of St. Valentine’s Day as a religious celebration. The traditions of love and chocolate, however, seem to last forever. After all, Hershey was right. Chocolate is nutritious unless you indulge too much. May your admirer gift you on this special day with a box of chocolates. Enjoy!

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Many cultures observe unique traditions on special occasions. People begin the new year with food customs in an attempt to assure health, happiness, and prosperity. Worldwide, several foods such as cakes, grapes, fish, pork, greens, and legumes represent good luck.

Cakes and other pastries are often enjoyed from Christmas through New Year’s Day. Commonly round in shape, they consist of many different flavors. Some incorporate a variety of fruits and may include an object inside, such as a coin. The lucky person to find the object in a serving is assured great success in the coming year.

The Spanish consider grapes a way to achieve prosperity. The tradition dates back to 1909 when grape growers in one region initiated a way to use excesses from the year’s harvest. They eat twelve grapes at midnight, one for each stroke of the clock. The custom later spread to other countries.

The consuming of fish, especially cod, to start the new year dates back to the Middle Ages. Certain types of fish were preserved and safely transported to other areas. Likewise, cured herring remains a popular fish in Poland and Germany.

To many, pork symbolizes progress. Pigs push or root forward in the ground and serves as a symbol of moving forward. Roast pig is popular in several countries including Cuba, Italy, Spain , Portugal, Hungary, Austria, and the United States. Southern states favor ham hock, usually used to season cooked greens or their choice of legumes.

Cooked greens are common in many cultures. They signify money and indicate fortune for the coming year. The Danish choose kale with a touch of sugar and cinnamon. Germans and many other regions eat cabbage or sauerkraut, while southerners in the United States make collard greens their choice.

Legumes also symbolize money since the tiny peas/beans enlarge as they cook to represent  expanding fortunes. Southern Americans often cook black-eyed peas with hog jowl. The most well-known treat for prosperity in that region is Hoppin’ John. For a history of this delightful dish, see my blog of September 19, 2011. That blog also includes my favorite recipe which I have repeated here for you to consider this New Year’s Day. It’s quick and easy to prepare.

Whatever your choice of food for good luck, make it healthy and enjoy the delights of many healthful foods during the coming year. Happy New Year!

Hoppin’ John

6          cups canned and drained or cooked dried black-eyed peas

4          cups chicken broth

2          cups water

1          (6.6 ounce) package long-grain and wild rice with seasonings

4          cups diced canned tomatoes

1          pound smoked spicy sausage, cut into 1″ pieces and lightly seared*

½         cup chopped ham

Combine all ingredients in a deep saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook 20-25 minutes. Soup will thicken as it sets. Freeze any leftover portions for up to six months.

* Searing cooks out part of the fat. To reduce fat content even more, use a smaller amount and add more lean ham.




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I never understood the meaning of sugar plums. I associated the term with the sugar-plum fairy in Tchaikovshy’s The Nutcracker or the noted verse “visions of sugar plums danced in their heads” from Clement C. Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas. Sugar plums are much more.

The term initially applied to small candies, usually round, made from dried fruits and nuts. The trend began in the 1600s. In earlier years, the word “plum” referred to any dried fruit. Maybe it’s time to return to the nostalgia of earlier years and move away from sugary treats. Along with the mystical memories of fairies and dancing, they deserve a place of prominence for a healthy, less sweet treat.

Although sugar plums of yesteryear weren’t necessarily made from plums, some recent versions do use dried plums (prunes). Traditional recipes combine almonds, dried plums, figs, apricots, powdered sugar, seasonings of toasted anise, fennel, and caraway seeds and ground cardamom. Ingredients often are moistened with honey, formed into balls, and rolled in sugar.

A simple version combines eggs and sugar with almonds, coconut, dates, plus almond and vanilla extracts. The mixture is rolled into balls and baked like cookies. Other varieties combine dried dates, apricots, cherries, raisins, white chocolate chips, and chopped nuts moistened with fruit juice and rolled in turbinado sugar (regular sugar will do). More modern types of sugar plums may use red gelatin with sweetened condensed milk. Other recipes add cocoa or for a different flavor try varied types of nuts.

Most of these recipes are simple and take little time to prepare. Serve these tasty rounds piled high on a decorative plate and listen to the oohs and ahs. For a last-minute treat that will delight the family and provide a more nourishing fare, try one of these recipes on Christmas Eve.

To all my readers, a Merry Christmas.

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Valentine’s Day is the occasion when we celebrate love. It isn’t exclusive to lovers. We honor family and friends with gifts. Given the choice of flowers or candy, most choose chocolate, and 83 percent of Americans will make their gifting of love some type of candy or chocolate.

While candy can contribute to overweight, it isn’t usually the culprit. Candy was around long before the modern-day problem of obesity. Research indicates that those who eat candy may weigh less, not because candy doesn’t have calories (we wish), but because normal weight people incorporate it as part of a healthy diet. Interestingly, one study of 1,000 U. S. children and teens found that those who ate candy were less likely to be overweight than those who did not. I can attest to that. As a child, my parents allowed me to eat way too much candy, and yet I remained very thin.

According to the National Confectioners Association, depriving oneself of candy to lose weight may backfire. More than 70 percent of adults quit trying to eat healthy because they associate a healthy diet with giving up favorite foods. Not so.

If you receive sweets this Valentine’s Day, keep moderation in mind and ration to less than 100 calories per day. Select small, individual portions of chocolates and candies. If you choose candies other than chocolate, “Treat Right” lists the number of pieces equal to 50 to 100 calories. It isn’t uncommon for me to keep boxed chocolates a year or longer in my freezer. When the urge for chocolate strikes me, I retrieve one piece and leave the rest frozen. If the temptation to consume the entire box overwhelms you, take a piece or two, share with others, and freeze immediately. Take pleasure in allowing each piece to melt in your mouth and last for a long time. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day guilt-free with candy.

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It’s rare to find anyone who doesn’t like chocolate. Most people love that smooth velvety texture and unique taste. The three main choices are dark, milk, or white chocolate. Several other available varieties include baking, bittersweet, cocoa, semi-sweet chocolate and more.

Chocolate comes from seeds inside the fruit, called a pod, of the cacao tree. The football shaped pods vary in color; green, yellow, orange, red, purple, or maroon. Trees grow mostly on small cocoa farms tended by family members. Farmers clip pods by hand, split them open, and pull fifty to sixty deep purple seeds from the sweet white pulp and juice. After harvest, farmers send beans to factories worldwide for roasting, grinding, and pressing.

In the past few decades, chocolate has been recognized not only for its flavor but also as a contributor to a healthy diet. Chocolate is abundant in flavonoids, thereby rendering the same health benefits. Some claims include:

  • improved blood flow
  • reduced risk for heart disease
  • lowered blood pressure
  • decreased mortality
  • lowered risk of stroke

Additionally, chocolate may improve mood, which most any woman knows without reading the research. However, a study published in 2012 found that subjects given chocolate candy reported higher levels of agreeableness. A 2013 study found that cocoa flavonoids increased positive moods and reduced anxiety in healthy middle-aged adults. Likewise, it may improve memory.

Before you gorge on Valentine chocolates, remember they have sugar added for taste and are calorie laden. Healthy diets advise eating in moderation and include chocolates as part of the discretionary calories for the day. Most women of normal weight can choose up to 300 discretionary calories daily from sources of extra fat or sugar. Of that amount, limit chocolate candies to 50-100 calories which is equivalent to about two or three small pieces. Let it melt in your mouth to savor the pleasure. Enjoy!

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