Thursday, September 29, 2011

0070: Alhambra, Granada

Tomorrow I am off on a 20-day vacation throughout Spain!! Our first stop is Granada and therefore the Alhambra. From what I have read, there is simply no better place then the Alhambra to step back in time and appreciate the art and architecture of the Islamic people who ruled Spain for hundreds of years. This place looks absolutely beautiful!!

So, a few tidbits just to sound like I know what I'm talking about when I get there :-)

"On a hill overlooking Granada, the Alhambra—a sprawling palace-citadel that comprised royal residential quarters, court complexes flanked by official chambers, a bath, and a mosque—was begun in the thirteenth century by Ibn al-Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid dynasty, and was continued by his successors in the fourteenth century. Its most celebrated portions—a series of courtyards surrounded by rooms—present a varied repertoire of Moorish arched, columnar, and domical forms. The romantic imagination of centuries of visitors has been captivated by the special combination of the slender columnar arcades, fountains, and light-reflecting water basins found in those courtyards—the Lion Court in particular; this combination is understood from inscriptions to be a physical realization of descriptions of Paradise in Islamic poetry."
— Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism.

To supply the Alhambra with water for fountains and pools, the Nasrid king Ibn
al-Ahmar diverted the River Darro to the palace hill. The style of the Alhambra
reflects the Moors, who occupied Granada.
Photo: Shutterstock
"They" say this is the best-preserved medieval Muslim palace in the world. Of the early Alcazaba, or fortress, little remains but hulking red ramparts and a bell tower overlooking the fabled city of Granada. 
The Tower of Justice (Puerta de la Justicia) is the original entrance gate
to the Alhambra, built by Yusuf I in 1348. Photo: Wikipedia
As you go in you will first pass through public rooms where the sultans received visitors. Farther inside are the private quarters that were open only to the sultan, his family, harem, and servants (mostly eunuchs...). 

Palace of the Lions
Adjacent to the palace is the Generalife, where one of Spain's finest gardens spellbinds with sprays of water, terraces of roses, lily ponds, shrubs trimmed like crenellated castle walls, and shady cypress trees. 

It will be amazing to see such a site in person. I will of course post my original shots once I am able to. Until then, Ole Amigos!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

0069: Blue Cheese

Whether you are having it with chicken wings or over a filet mignon or even over crispy potato chips, I love blue cheese... just a few days ago I learned that it is good for you too!!

  1. Blue cheese has a blue or blue-green mold in it called Penicillium roqueforti. The mold is related to penicillin and fights harmful bacteria in the body. (Source:
  2. Protein is the building block for muscles, cells and organs. The recommended dietary allowance for women is 46g each day and 56g for men. One oz of blue cheese contains 6g of protein... (Source:
  3. Blue cheese contains a large amount of vitamin A, vitamin B, iron, phosphorus, protein and calcium. Calcium can prevent bone loss, prevent migraines, prevent blood clotting, and can help regulate your blood pressure. The milk protein in this cheese neutralizes plaque acids and also can help prevent tooth decay. (Source:

So, blue cheese for everyone!! ok, in moderation... need ideas?

Blue Cheese Chips: warm the chips in the oven (or make them fresh if you know how),
make a blue cheese sauce (I combine blue cheese dressing with lots of blue cheese crumbles
then warm the sauce), pour when you are ready to eat. YUM!!!
Blue Cheese Filet Mignon: cook your steak to taste then add the blue cheese sauce,
I use a lot more cheese than sauce here then under the broiler...
Blue Cheese Mac n Cheese: definitely add bacon and a glass of red wine!!!

Oh so yummy!!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

0068: Machu Picchu

A.K.A. "The Lost City of the Incas"
Machu Picchu is a beautiful ancient Inca city in the Andes of Peru. It is 8,000 ft high and one of the most famous and spectacular ruins in the world. This is a place that remains high on my list of places to go and I am thinking that 2012 or 2013 will be perfect timing...

There is uncertainty as to its place in Inca life. Current researchers think that it was a country resort for elite Incas - I like that idea!! At any given time, there were not more than 750 people living at Machu Picchu and far less during rainy season... The Incas started building it around 1430 AD but it was abandoned as an official sire for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Maybe they abandoned it because there was no time to play or to protect it???

One thing that is clear is that it was remarkably well hidden, and well protected. Located far up in the mountains of Peru, visitors had to travel up long valleys littered with Inca check points and watch towers. The Spanish simply missed the site.

The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place.

Although many people are said to have knowledge of the ancient city as it was referred to in some text found in the 20th century, it was not until Hiram Bingham that Machu Picchu was scientifically discovered in 1911 (he was looking for a different site, sponsored by Yale University). In September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts, which Bingham had stolen from Machu Picchu.

Here are some beautiful shots I found on Placeholders until I can share shots I personally bring back...

House with a view!!!!
Llamas - yep, it had to be a resort town...
There is a quote from an Inca sacrificial victim that reads, "Finish with me now because the celebrations they held for me in Cuzco were enough." It was recorded by the Spanish in the late 1500's. - Source: iTeach - Must of been some party right?!? :-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

0067: Dark Chocolate

This morning's choice: Nestle Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate -
of course made with 2% milk and a touch of Bailey's Irish Cream Creamer
(non-alcoholic, it's a morning drink ;-)
Chocolate, one of my favorite things - I know, I have a ton of favorite things but is there really any limit to the number of things you can love!!!

I am a certified chocoholic (well, foodie in general, that's why I workout hard :-) so, in my pantry:

  • Nutella (what a gift from the universe!!). Whether I make a peanut butter and nutella sandwich or a nutella and banana panini - YUM!!!! I wish I could make crepes but oh well...
  • Hot chocolate (some of my favorites are MarieBelle Aztec hot chocolate, Godiva dark hot chocolate, Ghirardelli Double Chocolate and Nestle Abuelita Mexican Style hot chocolate...).
  • DOVE chocolates (favs are the dark chocolate in red wrappers and the dark chocolate with almonds in the purple wrappers - and I just love the little sweet saying inside each wrapper). 
  • Ferraro Rondnoir dark chocolates - OMG!!! they are like mini brownies.... AMAZING....
  • Chocolate ice cream (Breyers or Edy's slow churned are great!!). 
  • Brownie mixes (I don't really cook from scratch much... but love the Ghirardelli mixes). 
  • Godiva chocolate candle (for when I have to be good, it's the next best thing :-)
The good thing I guess is that I really prefer dark chocolate which of course has its benefits:
  • "They" say that chocolate contains a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing phytochemicals, with benefits to both body and mind. (Note: milk chocolate contains added butterfat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels, it has less antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals than dark chocolate. Dark chocolate also has less added sugar and less saturated fat...)
  • Dark chocolate has antioxidants... the same antioxidant properties found in red wine that protect against heart disease are also found in comparable quantities of chocolate. (I often pair up dark chocolate and red wine - just to get all the health benefits!! and how much healthier is that pairing than creme brulee - another favorite of mine but one I have very rarely.)
  • So why the nice mood enhancing effect? Chocolate is the richest known source of a little-know substance called theobromine, a close relative of caffeine. Chocolate also contains other mood elevating substances such as phenethylamine (the very same substance released in the brain when people become infatuated or fall in love - I'd say a distant effect as nothing truly compares to being in love ;-) Theobromine in chocolate is what renders it toxic to some animals like dogs and cats so no chocolate for them...
  • And my caution - all goodies, especially chocolate (and wine) should be consumed in moderation... that's why I always have Dove dark chocolates in my house, I can really just have one and if I have two no biggie...
Conversational Tidbit: 
Chocolate, a food from the Gods as the Aztecs would say, has such a rich history. Cacao has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. In 2007, archaeologists reported finding evidence of the oldest known cultivation and use of cacao at a site in Puerto Escondido, Honduras, dating from about 1,100 to 1,400 B.C. The residues found and the kind of vessel they were found in indicate the initial use of cacao was not simply as a beverage, but the white pulp around the cacao beans was likely used as a course of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink. (I must be a direct descendant somehow; I love hot chocolate with Baileys, cheers!!) 

A Mayan chief forbids a person from touching a jar of chocolate.
Looks like an early torture technique to me!!
Photo: Wikipedia
Anyway, enjoy some dark chocolate - no guilt - just enjoy it for what it is and the health benefits can be the bonus side effect!!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

0066: Wine

Grape Facts:
  • The production of grapes is more than 72 million tons all over the world. There are approx. 25 million acres of grapes throughout the world!
  • It takes about 2.5 pounds of grapes to produce a bottle of wine. 
  • One grape cluster has on an average 75 grapes. 
  • One grape vine can grow up to 50 feet long and can have about 40 clusters of grapes. 
  • Eating too many grapes can give a laxative effect....

Interesting tidbits:
  • Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest known wine production occurred in Georgia, Iran and Armenia dated between 8,000 and 6,000 BC. 
  • In medieval Europe the Church was a staunch supporter of wine, which was necessary for the celebration of the Catholic Mass. During the lengthy instability of the Middle Ages, the monasteries maintained and developed viticultural (grape cultivation) practices, having the resources, security, stability and interest in improving the quality of their vines. They owned and tended the best vineyards in Europe. 
  • Dionysus is the god of wine and drunken revelry in Greek Mythology. He is often contrasted with his half-brother Apollo. Where Apollo personifies the cerebral aspects of mankind, Dionysus represents the libido and gratification. 
  • Bacchanalia, festivals in honor of Bacchus the Roman god of wine were held on March 15 & 16. It was held in secret and initially attended by women only. Admission of the rites was subsequently extended to men. The term bacchanalia has since been extended to refer to any drunken revelry...
An interesting tale of a Persian king, Jamshid and his harem:
According to legend, the king banished one of his harem ladies from his kingdom, causing her to become despondent and wishing to commit suicide. Going to the king's warehouse, the girl sought out a jar marked "poison" which contained the remnants of grapes that had spoiled and were deemed undrinkable. Unbeknown to her, the "spoilage" was actually the result of fermentation caused by the breakdown of the grapes by yeast into alcohol. After drinking the so-called poison, the harem girl discovered its effects to be pleasant and her spirits were lifted. She took her discovery to the king who became so enamored with this new "wine" beverage that he not only accepted the girl back into his harem but also decreed that all grapes grown in Persepolis would be devoted to winemaking. While most wine historians view this story as pure legend, there is archaeological evidence that wine was known and extensively traded by the early Persian kings. I included this thinking what a cool little tale to tell when drinking your next glass of wine :-)

Whichever is your beverage of preference, I leave you with this quote:

"The wines that one best remembers are not necessarily the finest that one has ever tasted, and the highest quality may fail to delight so much as some far more humble beverage drunk in more favorable surroundings."

- H. Warner Allen -

Sources include Wikipedia and

Monday, September 12, 2011

0065: In Memory of 9.11.01

All over the country and in cities around the world, flags flew, bells tolled and names of those who perished were read as we dedicated September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, to the nearly 3,000 victims of that day.
“Decades from now, Americans will visit the memorials to those who were lost on 9/11, and they will know that nothing can break the will of a truly united States of America. They will remember that we have overcome slavery and Civil War, bread lines and fascism, recession and riots, Communism and, yes, terrorism. They will be reminded that we are not perfect, but our democracy is durable, and that democracy–reflecting, as it does, the imperfections of man–also gives us the opportunity to perfect our union. That is what we honor on days of national commemoration: those aspects of the American experience that are enduring, and the determination to move forward as one people.”

~President Barack Obama~

At the ground zero ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, former President George W. Bush read the "Bixby letter" written by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864:

"Dear Madam,
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.

But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln"
“Terrorists never imagined that the 3,000 people who lost their lives that day would 
inspire 3 million to put on the uniform and harden the resolve of 300 million Americans.”

~Vice President Joe Biden
Remembering is an act of resurrection, each repetition a vital layer of mourning, 
in memory of those we are sure to meet again. 
~Nancy Cobb, in "In Lieu of Flowers"~
AP Photo: Justin Lane of a dad that lost his son (Robert David Peraza).

Friday, September 9, 2011

0064: A Hockey Tribute

Dynamo Minsk’s hockey funeral for Lokomotiv crash victims

The video is in Russian but no translation is needed.
2:45 minutes

Although it's difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, 
may looking back in memory help comfort you tomorrow.
~Author Unknown~

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

0063: Easy Recipes - THE Best Pecan Pie!!

This is seriously one of the best pies I've ever had... and I would definitely consider myself a pecan pie expert. My qualifications include the fact that I was raised in New Orleans (my taste buds are very well developed :-), I've been eating pecan pie since I could eat solids, it's one of my favorite desserts (ala mode please), and I've simply got one a heck of a sweet tooth so I've tasted many!!
Whether you chop the pecans or leave them whole this is what it will look like.
Absolutely delicious and super EASY to make.
As some of you may know, I'm no cook. I RARELY cook but I do LIKE to cook and I LOVE easy, great tasting recipes (checkout my post 004 for another easy recipe.). When I make it into the kitchen, I want to impress and this one does it every time :-)

So, how did I get this recipe?? I am a big foodie and love to eat out. One of my favorite restaurants is Craft NYC. A few years back I got a Holiday card from them with the Pecan Pie recipe inside. It is a recipe from Karen DeMasco (only one of the best pastry chefs ever... she has a cookbook out, "The Craft of Baking" which I thankfully bought used. It's for more experienced cooks but the pictures are pretty!!). My first attempt at making this I did secretly, doubting it would turn out right but to my absolute delight it was amazing!!! It has only gotten better the last two dozen times I've made it. Prep usually takes me about 30 - 40 minutes  depending on my focus level on that day, the rest is bake time. Here is the recipe, enjoy!!!

PIE CRUST:  {I use pre-made, I definitely haven't mastered the crust but I am still trying and I do tackle the filling from scratch... but if you want to try...)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter

1/4 cup cold water
9" pie pan

In the food processor, pulse first 4 ingredients until the butter pieces are the size of small pebbles. Slowly add cold water until dough begins to come together. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour. Roll out to 1/4 inch think and about 2 inches larger than the pie pan. Press into pan. Chill until firm. Line the pan with foil and pie weight or dried beans and bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. Remove from the oven and let cool. It should be very light in color. 

FILLING: {No healthy substitutes here, this is one dessert you are better off having a small slice but enjoying the true depth of its deliciousness!)
4 ounces butter, browned
3 large eggs
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups chopped pecans (I find that the South Georgia Pecan Co has great tasting pecans...)

Whisk together all ingredients, folding in the pecans last. Pour into lightly par baked pie shell. Bake for approximately 1 hour at 325 degrees or until the edges of the pie are completely set and the center is slightly jiggly. 

Beginners note: let the pie cool down, I usually allow for 45 min - 1 hour. The first time I made it I couldn't wait to try it and it was a bit runny but I served it with ice cream and the flavor was amazing. Later when I went back for more it was much firmer. 

The final step - PRESENTATION... just serve with ice cream and dust with powdered sugar and a sprig of mint - you can also include whipped cream like the picture below.

This is SO yummy it will impress almost anyone, even the pickiest Southerner!!! Bon appetit...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


"One million jasmine flowers are required to extract 1 litre (about 34 oz) of essential oil, and 100kg of orange blossom is used to produce just 100g of Neroli essential oil."

Wow right?!? Well, I'm not very knowledgeable about essential oils but I do know that one of my favorite beauty lines is from Decleor (a French company). The smell of any of their products is amazing!! I use their Aromessence line for my face and I feel like I'm at a spa at least twice a day - even if just for a few minutes. And I have a ritual... I always rub the oil between my hands (as I was taught at their spa :-) then close my eyes and inhale a few times - ABSOLUTE BLISS!! The product may be a little pricey but lasts forever and is simply wonderful. And they make for awesome gifts - I received their Alguaromes shower and bath gel - I treasure it because it smells amazing and sets me up for a truly relaxing day.

So, Decleor: "Cle" means key and "Or" means gold - or Golden Key that opens the Temple of beauty... Their philosophy was "Be more than skin-deep" and each initiative was designed for the well being of the body, the skin and the spirit. The company was started in 1974 by a passionate team consisting of a beautician, a doctor, a shiatsu teacher and a fantastic aromatherapist and physiotherapist, the latter being a pioneer in her field.

The team's joint knowledge, holistic approach to the body and their expertise in energy points prompted them to create plant-based treatments. They initiated a range of treatments associated with a line of products that were 100% pure, 100% natural, no colorants or preservatives.
There is also a line for the guys or your guy... it smells amazing too!!

So, I might as well throw in some beauty tips for the day - courtesy of Decleor :-)
1. If you are thinking of touching your face, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly. 
2. Cleansing your skin every morning and at night is highly recommended, regardless of whether you are applying makeup or not. 
3. Massaging your skin is one of the best ways for you to get the blood flowing easily and to help boost healthy skin. Spending at least two minutes massaging your face can help drive away the stress while promoting relaxation and healthy circulation. (See massage chart below.)
4. Drink plenty of water. Keeping your body well hydrated will definitely give you a much better-looking skin since it washes away any toxins and impurities from your body easily. 

So, whenever you're stressed, grab a glass of water and take 2 minutes to massage your face - even if you're in the office or in an airport take 2 minutes to de-stress...

Source: Decleor Paris

Thursday, September 1, 2011

0061: Fage Greek Yogurt

This beauty is more from my taste bud's point of view but nevertheless... I LOVE yogurt and without doubt Fage is my favorite. I actually just had some for breakfast. I only add honey and I literally savor every moment - the taste, texture and visual beauty of this simple treat is just special. 

As I finished my last bite I wondered - who is Fage? How could I know nothing about something I enjoy so much... Here are a few tidbits I came across...
  • Fage S.A. is a Greek dairy company that is headquartered in Athens. The word "φάγε(pronounced fa-yeh) is a verb meaning 'eat!'. 
  • In 1926, Athanassios Filippou opened a small dairy shop in Athens, Greece. At the time, the shop's location was part of the countryside and only had a single train station nearby. Little by little, as travelers would come and go, the store became known for its delicious, creamy, one-of-a-kind yogurt.
  • Fage expanded to the U.S. in 2008, looking to gain a foothold in the American market (which it did). Russell Evans of Fage Yogurt said, "The Greek segment of the U.S. yogurt category was nothing a couple of years ago. Now it's 20%. And there's enormous potential. " In 2008, the plant produced 12,000 tons of yogurt, now it's up to 52,000 tons a year. (Source)
  • In 2007, Fage put a billboard along the route of the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. The ad looked as if a Tweety balloon had gotten stuck in the yogurt. In 2011, Fage began airing "its first TV advertisement in N. America," featuring voiceover work by actor William Dafoe. Check them out...
Agency: Ogilvy
I think Tweety was cute but the 2011 advertising campaign was beautiful!!! Mullen (Boston-based advertising agency) succeeded Ogilvy (who had worked with Fage for three years). Here is a cool dairy shot from the campaign with the commercial clip below...
Psyop created the imagery.
Agency: Mullen
Fage was looking for some way to define "Plain Extraordinary" - something different to distinguish them from all the other yogurts out there... (Source: "I am obsessed with... a yogurt commercial???" - A Just Recompense blog.)