April 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm , by Hilary Merzbacher
Chef and blogger Gaby Dalkin knows her way around an avocado. So much so, that she just released a comprehensive cookbook dedicated 100% to the versatile, creamy-fleshed fruit. We gave her a call to chat about blogging, her recent wedding and (of course!) all things avocado.
Tell us what inspired you to write a book devoted to avocados. Within the food blogging world I’m known as the avocado queen. Everyone refers to me when they’re talking about guacamole or avocados and I’m 100% obsessed. So when I was approached for ideas for my first cookbook I just jokingly said “avocados!” and everybody loved the idea. I didn’t think that anybody would take it seriously but now, here we are.
Did you happen keep track of how many avocados you used during your recipe development? I used over 400 avocados. The produce guys at my local grocery store and I totally became best friends.
In addition to being a cookbook writer and recipe developer, you’ve written the food blog whatsgabycooking.com for years now. What inspires the recipes you post? I like to cook with the mentality of eating healthy most of the time, then having the occasional really incredible dessert. I just made this amazing brownie-ice-cream-cheesecake that’s going up on my blog next week. I like to have a balance of everything. I know that my readers come to my website for avocado recipes and desserts most heavily, but I also post a lot of main courses—basically what my husband and I are eating. A lot of my readers are around my age and are cooking for their families too. I want to give them simple and delicious recipes they can take into their kitchen.
The avocados available in grocery stores are often a bit under-ripe. What are your tips and tricks for storing and ripening them at home? If avocados are too ripe in the store, you sometimes get them home and they’re brown inside, mushy and just not perfect. I buy slightly harder avocados that aren’t quite ready to be cut into yet—I’ll stick them in a brown paper bag with a banana and the natural gas that the banana gives off ripens the avocado faster.
I know you were recently married. Congrats! Can I ask if there was a guacamole bar at your wedding? There was absolutely a guacamole bar at my wedding! It was a late night snack to feed people halfway through the reception and I was too busy dancing to have any—I was so bummed! But it was totally gone by the end of the night, so I think that’s a good sign!
What inspired you to try making avocado chocolate chip cookies and the other sweet recipes in your dessert chapter? Avocado is a really easy substitute for butter. My husband is in great shape but has really high cholesterol—I wanted to find a way to cut cholesterol in baked goods and allow him to still eat a cookie at the end of the day.
It’s probably like picking a favorite child, but can you tell us your favorite recipe from your new book? A top three is okay too! I’ll tell you that I’m obsessed with the goat cheese guacamole—it’s my favorite guacamole. Also, the salmon with the pepper avocado relish is one of my favorite main courses. The avocado stuffed potato skins (recipe below) are probably one of my go-to appetizers for any kind of party or event I’m throwing.
Avocado-stuffed Potato Skins
Even though this recipe says it serves 8 to 10, be prepared to eat the entire thing by yourself. These little bites of potato filled with cheese, salty pancetta, and smashed avocado will totally rock your world. Serve them for a game day or a fun backyard bash and they will disappear off the table faster than you’ll believe.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 80 minutes (including cooling time)
Serves: 8 to 10
12 baby yellow potatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
11⁄2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 Hass avocados
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1⁄2 teaspoon coarse salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Drizzle the whole potatoes with the olive oil, making sure they are all evenly coated, and lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Remove the potatoes from oven and let them rest until they are cool enough to handle.
Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise so that you have 24 pieces. Carefully scoop out the middle portion of each halved potato so the remaining portion looks like a little potato cup. Set aside the scooped-out potato flesh for another use.
Put the cut potatoes back onto the baking sheet, cut side up.
Add the pancetta to a small skillet over medium-high heat. Let the pancetta start to crisp while occasionally stirring. Once the pancetta is golden brown, remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel–lined plate to drain the excess fat.
Toss together the pancetta, cheese, and red onion in a small bowl. Evenly distribute the mixture in the potato skins on the baking sheet. Put the baking sheet back in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, until the cheese has just melted.
While the cheese is melting, cut each avocado in half lengthwise. Remove the pit from the avocado and discard. Remove the avocado from the skin, and cut the avocado into a small dice. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice, chives, salt, and pepper and mash together with a fork.
Once the cheese has melted in the potato skins, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Let the potatoes cool slightly, and then top with the guacamole mixture.
For more avocado-filled recipes, purchase a copy of Gaby’s book, Absolutely Avocados (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), available now on Amazon.com.
April 22, 2013 at 9:53 am , by Mandy Velez
Looking for a guilty pleasure and like animals? Okay, us too. That’s why National Geographic’s Spoiled Rotten Pets is our must-see show this month. Host Beth Stern (Howard’s wife and the spokesperson for the North Shore Animal League) profiles America’s most pampered pets and their doting owners to show us just how far their love can go.
Viewers meet Wilma and Pebbles, two pot-bellied pigs who live with a couple inside their Pennsylvania home and get regular spa treatments, some diapered ducks, a few Pup Scouts, and a Pomeranian that has a bar mitzvah – yep – you read that right, a pupmitzvah!
Stern told us she and husband Howard have been known to spoil their four cats, too. “I’ve gotten horrible nights sleep due to the fact I didn’t want to move one of my cats, because they were resting so comfortably,” she says. “But I think anyone that loves animals or has pets is going to see themselves in each episode.”
Want to see it for yourself? Check out this trailer.
April 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm , by Mandy Velez
Itchy, watery eyes, sniffles, sore throat. Sound familiar? Yup, it’s allergy season. I thought I somehow escaped it this time around, but I’ve spent the past week sneezing nonstop. And according to my Facebook feed, I’m not alone: “Allergies are really kicking my butt today,” one friend harped.
It doesn’t help that experts are expecting an especially tough spring for allergies this year, thanks to a slew of bad storms and a longer growing season. But there are plenty of things you can do to avoid annoying symptoms. Here are a few easy tips for staying one step ahead this spring.
Take meds as soon as you wake up.
The pollen count is highest in the morning, and symptoms will only get worse if you don’t keep ahead of them. If you can, avoid going on walks or heading outside in the early hours of the day, and don’t forget to take an antihistamine like Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra as soon as you wake up.
Don’t stop at antihistamines.
Nasal sprays and neti pots can also help once symptoms get started, says Reed Erickson, M.D., the medical director of MedExpress. Prescription steroid sprays like Flonase can help reduce inflammation. Neti pots, which you fill with warm water and saline, can help flush out pollen and congestion, while soothing your sinuses.
Keep your windows closed.
You may feel tempted to let in all that fresh springtime air after a long winter. But don’t: you’ll just be letting allergens in, says Kevin Ronneberg, M.D., the associate medical director of Target. Another thing you can do, especially if you have itchy eyes, is skip your contacts or wear sunglasses when you have to venture outside, he adds.
Know your triggers.
“The best way to treat allergies is to avoid them,” says Dr. Ronneberg. While it may feel like you’re allergic to everything sometimes, it can help to know about your specific triggers so you can track them. If you don’t know what you’re allergic to, make an appointment with your doctor to get tested. The ACAAI is also hosting free allergy screenings across the country in May.
Get the App.
WebMD and Accuweather just released a new iPhone app that allows you to get daily weather forecasts and check allergen levels for pollen, trees and dust. Just input your location and it will give a three-day forecast, along with tips and tons of useful info. I tried it and loved that I could learn when pollen counts were high in my area.
Photo by zirconicusso, shutterstock.com
Categories: Health, Ladies' Lounge | Tags: ACAAI, Allegra, allergens, Allergies, allergy triggers, American College of Allergy, and Immunology, antihistamines, asthma, avoid allergies, Claritin, featured, fight allergies, how to get rid of allergies, itchy, Kevin Ronneberg, Med Express, nasal spray, Reed Erickson, sneezing, Target, watery, ways to beat allergies, WebMD, WedMD app, Zyrtec | 1 Comment
April 16, 2013 at 5:39 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
I woke up this morning after a restless night of heartache for the suffering and pain that was caused yesterday by the Boston Marathon bombing, and I don’t think I was alone in that state. Yesterday was a very sad day indeed and my heart continues to go out to all of those affected by this incredibly cruel act of disrespect for human life. For all of us at Dancing with the Stars, there was a strong feeling of duty for our fellow human beings. At about 3:00 p.m., just two hours before show time, there was talk of pre-empting us due to local news coverage. But in the end, they decided that people needed to be able to change the channel from the coverage for their children, to have something else available on the television set to lighten hearts and ease people’s minds, if only for short while. I think it was a good decision. Some people may have needed a respite from the heaviness of the news and the questions that have once again arisen about our safety.
Yesterday our vulnerabilities were once again exposed in a tragic act of someone or some organization. We don’t know who did this yet. But my stomach churns to think of a mind that would come up with such a terrible creation of destruction and pain that hurt so many innocent people, people who were at the finish line to support their loved ones and cheer them on in their most challenging hour. May God bless all of them.
I pray for their suffering to be eased by the love that is pouring out to them from everyone across our country. Social media and the internet have become important tools in times of crisis. I’ve found that when someone is troubled, Facebook and Twitter provide wonderful platforms of support. When a family member is sick, or has passed on, the support that is given via tweets and Facebook posts is truly comforting and life-changing. I know this from my own experience, but I certainly saw it yesterday and it’s a beautiful thing. Sure, some people use the platform to spread hateful words and anger, but the love overpowers the negativity. That’s what is so incredible about the human race. We have found a way to make computers, technology, and apps tools of humanity. Yesterday, the tweets and posts were so uplifting and helpful. There were updates, photos, videos, places for people to stay, support and valuable information being shared non-stop. People helping each other… that’s what I saw yesterday both outside and inside the ballroom.
What happened in the ballroom yesterday is tiny compared to what happened in America, but I hope that it helped to lift the hearts of those who watched us yesterday despite this terrible situation we’re in. But we’re in it together, and we each can play a part. We can do something to help those who’ve been hurt by the bombings, both emotionally and physically. It’s our duty as human beings to do what we can to help our fellow human beings in their time of need. And each act of kindness and generosity helps to heal our own hearts.
I want to thank all the dancers for putting their hearts into their dances and giving so much of themselves. Ali is from Boston and had wonderful words to say about where she grew up. Our first two tens of the season, by Val and Zendaya, were dedicated to the Bostonians. There was a strong feeling of camaraderie amongst the crew, cast, audience and everyone who is a part of our show. We all knew we had to do our thing and that “the show must go on” for everyone at home who wanted a friend to sit with in their living room for a few hours, to take their mind off of what was happening. It seems strange to say, but there was more joy in the ballroom last night… there was more light and more vitality than I’ve felt in a while. I think that opening number was incredible. I wish they would do that every week; it added so much energy to the show. It was like a black pleather shot of liquid vitamin B—nothing but energy. It was a performance that celebrated our strength, vitality and never-ending determination. We all know that what happened yesterday isn’t going away and is now a part of our history. We will not forget this, but we will not let it stop us either…the dancing will continue and remind us to celebrate life.
That’s all for today. May you all be safe and celebrate life!
April 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
I think this week had two of the best shows we’ve produced in a long time. The competition show was filled with uplifting and inspiring performances as well as reminders of who our contestants are outside of the dance floor. It’s exciting to be reminded of their accomplishments. And then there was Andy Dick, who has captured so many of our hearts. His deeply moving performance to “Hallelujah” for his daughter was a real moment of magic. He went completely into his heart center and with the newfound elegance, posture and grace that he has worked so hard for with Sharna, he transported us all to somewhere deep into our own heart centers. I have never received more tweets and responses about a performance and how it touched people. A lot of men were also crying along with us, and that’s beautiful. To come into this competition not knowing anything about dance and then, in four weeks, be able to give us all a true moment of profound, intense and honest emotion is incredible. This is what dancing is all about. For me, dance in its truest form is about self-expression, movement to tell a story and inspiring people.
I was hit hard by Andy’s performance because of the recent loss of my father…it was the cry I haven’t really had yet, and it was really unexpected. I went four weeks without crying in public. I felt good because I had just gotten back from Hawaii and had a magical experience sending my father’s ashes back into the ocean, letting his physical form truly return to the earth from which it came. I felt peace and joy for all the beautiful memories he created, for all the laughter I heard and for all the love that was flowing. Andy’s love for his daughter was so beautifully expressed in his dance that it was a trigger for all of us.
Most people are so busy now. Our lives are packed with emails, texts, keeping up with our jobs, family responsibilities and Facebook friends that we don’t live with our hearts out front as much as we used to when things were simpler. Life is moving at a tempo that at times can feel out of control and overwhelming. Andy’s performance in particular reminded us that life is about magical moments. We have to stop and look up from our phones and computers to notice what is happening all around us. We need to slow down and take a moment to breathe in the joy and sadness and beauty that make up our lives.
I’m so grateful and proud to work on Dancing with the Stars because of these special moments that change the lives of our audience. With movement to music, we were able to open so many hearts, but it took great courage for that to happen.
To not be the best dancer, yet still go and pour every ounce of your being into something in front of millions of people with fear and trepidation is something to be applauded and applied to our own lives. To move forward with the fear you feel in your heart is the essence of living a full life. It’s strange to some that a dance could mean so much, but that is why I’ve loved being a dancer my whole life. The ability to touch people and get lost in the dance is a moment of beauty, and I wish for everyone to find those moments in their lives in whatever it is that makes them feel that way. This theme was evident in our results show with our courageous dancer Brilynn Rakes, who danced with Derek. She also proved that life is about facing fears courageously and she too inspired many with her dance and her courage. I also grew up legally blind but the doctors were able to correct my vision with contacts and glasses, so I understand how she sees the world. In fact, I was inspired when she said that because she couldn’t see very well, she had to rely on her emotions and how things felt. She taught me something—now I believe that is why I also honor my own emotions so much, because my sense of sight was diminished. And every morning when I wake up it’s still diminished, but I wear contact lenses and have perfect vision with them in. But at night, I love when I take out my contacts and just see the world hazy, and blurry, which some might consider a handicap. Brilynn proved that it is actually her advantage and it’s made her the beautiful person and dancer that she is.
Thank you to our producers and crew for making TV that inspires us, to the band for creating the music that is the foundation for all of the performances, and to everyone who works on our show so tirelessly. We have the most amazing staff and today I celebrate and thank them for making moments that we will not soon forget.
April 4, 2013 at 11:39 am , by Amelia Harnish
Why do you need to think about your muscles? Well, aside from making you look toned and fabulous, weight training also protects your joints, strengthens your bones and even revs your metabolism. As important as it is to get your heart rate up with walking, jogging or other aerobic activities, strength training is worth its weight in added health benefits. And with swimsuit season rapidly approaching, now is the perfect time to get started. Here are a few beginners’ tips from Deborah McConnell, a global master fitness trainer from the Life Fitness Academy.
Warm up first: “You want to wake up your joints and loosen up a bit beforehand to prevent injuries,” says McConnell. Power walking, jogging or a little time on a treadmill or elliptical are all good options. Do it for at least five to 10 minutes.
Find the right routine: You’ll need to do a bit of homework to find a training program that’s right for you. “In general, I recommend beginners start with a full body routine. Do eight to 10 exercises that hit all the major muscle groups, and start with eight to 12 reps each,” says McConnell. Try this basic routine from Jillian Michaels or check out the American Council on Exercise’s Kick-Start Challenge.
Practice good form: A strong core is essential for weight lifting, whether you’re using dumbbells, cable machines or your own body weight. Be sure to engage your core for every repetition, and don’t forget to breathe. “Every movement should be slow and controlled. You can get hurt rushing through it,” says McConnell. If you’re using weights, make sure it’s challenging, but light enough for you to get through each set with proper form.
Space out your sessions: Your muscles need time to rest and recover to get stronger. Shoot for two to three strength training workouts a week, with at least 24 hours between each one, says McConnell.
Don’t forget to stretch: Evidence is mounting that you shouldn’t stretch before exercise, but there is still good reason to stretch afterward. In fact, it’s a good idea to break between sets to stretch and relax the muscles you just worked on, says McConnell. When stretching, gently hold until the muscle relaxes. Sudden movements or bouncing can lead to injury.
Photo copyright Artem Furman, shutterstock.com
April 3, 2013 at 1:11 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
This week’s prom theme took us all down memory lane. It reminded me of the good times back in Hawaii, growing up in those beautiful islands, surrounded by wonderful people, dancing out on the deck of our house and dreaming that one day I would become a dancer. I had great parents who let me pursue my dreams and supported me 100 percent. They also challenged me to be a better person, and I hope that this show—and our prom week—did that for our contestants as well. I hope everyone had the chance to walk down memory lane and smile, remembering the good times and chuckling at the awkward moments that happened along the way to adulthood.
I have to say, I really enjoy writing these blogs. Although the conversation is kind of one sided, it feels like I’m sharing with my girlfriends. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts with you each week. And as far as the dancing goes, well… I thought all of the performances last night had plenty of color and personality, and it feels like this season has a lot of heart. I also think the addition of the Jazz and Contemporary routines brings a new element to the show. There’s less mandatory technique in those dance styles, so we’re seeing some really creative approaches to showcasing the stars by our talented pros. For me, this season is revitalized and exciting and I really hate to see someone go home.
But someone has to get eliminated, and last night it was Wynonna Judd’s time to go. I wasn’t prepared for her early departure; I guess I thought she had a strong enough fan base that could save her. Sometimes I think the fans assume their favorite is safe, and maybe that’s what happened here. I was really hoping we would get to see her blossom and have a break through next week, but ultimately we need to remember why she joined the show. She had been through so much with her husband, supporting him through such a difficult time in his life, and then she had the courage to do something for herself. To me, she was a winner the moment she walked onto our dance floor. So many women get caught up doing everything for everyone else. I can relate to that, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ve also been taking care of a lot of people for a long time, and it’s hard to remember to do things for ourselves. I applaud Wynonna for having the courage and strength to take her life into her own hands after giving so generously of herself for so long. She should be very proud of her choice and we should remember what she did. We’ve had two very courageous women go home so far, but they’re still very inspiring.
Who knew a dancing competition could be such a life changer? But it is! People’s lives are changed by our show; they learn new things about themselves. Watching Wynonna thank her country music fans with what seemed to be an even deeper appreciation of their support was a very poignant moment. And in turn, when we watch these moments, we learn new things about ourselves. That is television at its finest.
Have a great week and take care of yourselves. Treat yourself well.