Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Holiday Survival Guide: Stress Relief

I have a tendency to work a lot. And it seems that more things I do, more things I still have to do - read through more files, return more phone calls, respond to more emails, feed the dog, clean the house, pick up Alex, drop off Alex, pick up Alex again… 

Yikes! By the end of the day, I am exhausted, stressed, smile-less, and snap at everyone who dares to stand in my way. 

“Join the crowd,” a friend told me. “Between my work, husband, two kids, and a mother-in-law, I don’t have time to breath!”

Oh, this is not good. Breathing is vital to life! While I do understand how easy it is to get swallowed by a bubble of things-to-do, but I also know that there is a very simple solution to get out of it - walking! Yup, a simple but powerful solution!

You know, like any muscle, our brains get fatigued after a hard day of work, and taking in the sights and sounds of nature is what we need to relive stress. 

To be honest, when I have an endless to do list, I don't really want to go for a walk. I would so rather watch my favorite show, or grab a cup of coffee with a friend, or swing by Anthropology...

But here's the hard truth - we don't even have to enjoy the walk to get the benefit (just like doing what we like is not necessarily good for us!).

Fine! The reason prevails. The walk it is. I promise that between working, cooking, baking, gathering with family and friends, eating, shopping, and more shopping, I will take time to walk around the block, or in the park, or at the beach... 
Breath in... Breath out... Work? What work?...

xo, Zuma A.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pumpkin Everything: Pumpkin Pamper

I think that up until now I have established that not only are pumpkins a beautiful and colorful decor in the house but, also, a delicious fruit packed with flavors and vitamins. Yes, according to botanists, it is a fruit, because it is a plant that develops from a flower and contains seeds!

Mmmm... Pumpkin is a such an antioxidant-rich food, that this time of year, we really should make the most of it. Pumpkin nourishes our body with the A, B, and C Vitamins, iron, protein, fiber! And have I told you that pumpkin is also great for our skin?!

Yes, you guessed it, it's the Pamper Time! I truly believe that I am at my very best when I am relaxed and feel good. So for sake of my family, friends, coworkers, and everyone I encounter on my way, I am going to brew a cup of tea and mix for myself a delicious pumpkin mask.

Shopping List (all edible ingredients!)
1/4 cup of pureed or canned pumpkin
1 tsp of unflavored Greek yogurt
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground almonds (they contain Vitamin E and acts as the anti-aging agent)
1/8 tsp olive oil

Mix all the ingredients and apply evenly to clean skin after a warm tub or a shower. Remove with a clean washcloth after 10 minutes, and your skin will feel soft, smooth, shining and healthy!
 Why is Alex screaming? All I wanted is to kiss him!

xo, Zuma A.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Do You Like Me?

A few weeks ago, when I was checking my Facebook timeline, I came across with a quote from the movie Amadeus. It was a conversation between Mozart's wife and Salieri about Mozart's music:

           Constanze Mozart: Is it not good?
           Salieri: It is miraculous.

This quote stuck in my mind for quite some time - how could she possibly doubt? She heard the music!

But have we really changed in the last hundreds of years?! Hmmm...

Inspite of the rise of a new generation of female CEOs who rule companies, represent states, defend clients, and perform surgeries,  there are still so many of us who come home and somehow lose the tough confidence in our private lives.

When it comes to my private life and life as a writer, I am guilty of doubting myself from time to time.  While I don't ask for approval for every blog post I write or for every cupcake I bake, the doubts do drive me crazy until I hear the praise like "your cupcakes are delicious!" Phew.

Last Saturday was Alex's birthday. We decided to do a small party and invite 10 kids. After a few conversations with Alex, the Mad Scientist party was planned and ten invitations were sent weeks in advance... So why did the RSVPs not start coming? The weekend passed, and then the week, and then another weekend...  Then, slowly, the regrets started coming.

Closer to the date of the party, I started getting nervous. Every day I would wake up and check emails to see if anyone else is coming. The doubts were driving me crazy. Did everyone receive the invite? Or do they not like Alex? Or did I need to be more friendly with the other kids' moms?..

...The night before the party, I texted my friend something in the lines of: it seems that only 6 kids are coming to the party. And she responded something in the lines of: great, we will be there too!

Wait! Was I driving myself crazy because a few people won't come to the party, instead of being happy about those who would come?! And honestly, don't I understand that other people's lives don't revolve around me and my kid's party?! They may have other plans!

The party turned out to be amazing. Alex was surrounded with love and happiness! He got to do the awesome scientific experiments with his friends, got lots of birthday wishes, cool presents, and green haired chocolate chip cupcakes. What else could a 9-year-old possibly need?!
Green Hair Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
The Mad Scientist's Assistant
Now This Is How Fog Is Created!
Cotton Candy. Yumm
 When the day was over, and I settled down to unwind, the thought about my lack of confidence started bugging me again. While I am a tough, decisive and confident during my day job, I am a softie wimp at home. Why such a drastic difference? Is it hundreds of years of suppression and traditions? Is it because I had been told that I cannot do this or that because it is not appropriate? Is it because I am simply a wimp?

Well, whatever it is, from now on, whenever I don't hear a praise, I won't allow myself to assume that somehow it is because I did something less than perfect... and even if I did, at least I tried and that counts for something.

xo Zuma A.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Devilicious Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs is my go-to dish. I love it, my family loves it, my guests love it...

There are so many variations of Deviled Eggs - curry, smoked salmon, smoked bacon, pesto, and they can be garnished with caviar! But, even though that may sound a little boring, I like the classic version of Deviled Eggs the most - a combination of a plain silky eggwhite and a spicy and salty egg yolk filling splitting in my mouth...

And the best part of all is that there is nothing simpler than making Deviled Eggs!

Did you know that the concept of the Deviled Eggs began in Ancient Rome? But the official deviled egg name came around 1700s, and the term "deviled" first showed up in print in England in relation to spicy or zesty food.

Okay, while making this dish is very simple, there are a few tricks that you should know.

Shopping list for 6 eggs:
1/4 cup organic mayonnaise
1 tsp yellow mustard
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp hot sauce such as Tabasco
Salt to taste
Smoked paprika for garnish.

Trick #1:
Make sure the eggs you are going to use, aren't very fresh (not passed the expiration date, of course). I learned that the fresher the egg, the more difficult is to peel after it's boiled. And peeling a pot full of eggs where every one of them disintegrates into chunks can be, to say the least, frustrating. You know what I mean? So get not-so-fresh eggs!

Did you know that brown eggs are not more nutritious than white ones, and they are more expensive because the breed of hens that lay them are larger and require more food!

Trick #2:
The night before boiling eggs, prop the carton of eggs on its side in the fridge. This will center the the yolks in the whites. That's right, and I bet you did not know that, because I didn't until very recently! And please secure the carton with a rubber band to keep it from popping open.

Trick # 3
Always bring eggs to the room temperature before you start your deviled egg project.

Place the eggs in a single layer in the pot that has a tight fitting cover. Add water to the pan until the eggs are covered by more than 1". Bring the eggs to a rolling boil (not simmer) and immediately remove the pan from the heat, and put on its cover. Turn on the timer and let the eggs slowly cook in hot water - 12 minutes for medium eggs, 17 minutes for large eggs, 19 minutes for extra-large eggs.

Never over-cook eggs. It will result in rubbery whites and adds the dreaded "green sheen" to their yolks.

Once the timer is off, drain the eggs and place them in a bowl of ice water to cool.

Now you are ready to peel the eggs, pop the yolks out, put them into the garlic press (yes!) and squeeze the yolks into a bowl. And if you do not have the garlic press handy or pressed in time, then just mash the yolks in a bowl. Finally!

Mix in the bowl the yolks, mayo, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, black pepper, and hot sauce.

Evenly disperse heaping teaspoons of the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika.

xo, Zuma A.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Words of Wisdom

I wasn't planning to write more about my birthday celebration, but I obviously have more to say about the matter, so here I go.

On Saturday, my family got together to celebrate my day. It was a hectic day. After a late dinner and a few drinks the night before, I could not get my act together and got to the kitchen only after 11AM.  It would be ok if I didn't love entertaining! I always manage to plan challenging new recipes and spend quite a lot of time setting the table and arranging flowers everywhere. So, for the purposes of high efficiency, I gave Alex the 9x7 babysitter called iPad, and got down to business... 

The day went by - we ate, drank, played games, talked, sang the happy birthday song. I made a wish and blew out the candles...

It was already a late night when I sat down to look at the pictures we took. 
Oh my! I thought. That's a lot of candles! How did I get here so fast? What have I learned? Anything?


"Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known," wisely said Winnie The Pooh.

I think I understand what Pooh is talking about, and that must mean that I've learned something, and it is great... as long as I stand on the bottom rail of a bridge with people I love. That's all.

xo, Zuma A.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me

During this hectic holiday season,  my family celebrates another two events - Alex's and my birthdays!

I love celebrating birthdays, no matter the number! Some years I throw parties; some years I stay at home in sweats and watch movies, or fly to Vegas, or go to a spa, or do nothing at all. Whatever life feels like at the moment, I guess.

Well, my birthday is today, ta-da! So what's the itinerary?

Today I will be working (yup, it's Friday, so got to work). Then I've got to get the house cleaned and dressed up in pink flowers,  get groceries for the Saturday dinner (mom and dad are coming over! and now you know why I've got to get the house cleaned!). Then I need to get Alex from school, get my hair done, go to the  gym; then maybe, just maybe, I may have just enough time to swing by a store (there is a lovely dress I've been thinking of lately... a lot), and at night go out with the gang...

Not bad for 44!

Birthday wishes? Yes, lots of pink flowers and peace on Earth.
Pink flowers for me
And pink flowers for mom

With love always,
xo, Zuma A.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Doggy Dress Up

    Here is my dog Lucy, my cutie pie little Yorkshire Terrier.

Ten years ago when we brought her home, I thought that I finally got a little girl, and that we could play dress up and walk around Newport's Fashion Island in cute pink tutus... That was the plan all right. Lucy turned out to be a tomboy. Her favorite activity is to threaten big dogs, dig holes, and run after rodents. And when she gets tired or bored, she goes to sleep.
Great! I have a husband, two boys, and now a dog who does not have a hint of interest in fashion! I've honestly tried to turn her, but in vain - she would just stand there looking cute in a pretty dress and not move for way longer than I had time for.

Lucy is 10 years old now, and, while being a little dog still makes her look like a cute little puppy, she is in her respectable age now.
Long story short, recently we found out that Lucy's got signs of arthritis, and, in addition to the necessary supplements, I decided to get her a coat to stay warm during her night walks! (I've read that keeping her warm would help relieve the possible pain.)

"Lucy, it's a necessity for you now, and protesting or freezing just won't work," I told her last Saturday. "On Sunday after lunch, we are going to a store to look for a sweater or a jacket for you." Ahh, I've been waiting for this moment for a long time (and I don't mean the arthritis!)

Finally, when the day had arrived, Varuzh, who believes that dogs should be all natural, decided to throw a question into the air: "You know Lucy is a dog and has lots of fur, do you?"

Really? I know that he thinks it is a waste of time and money, but I ignored the question, and soon after, my friend Mary Ann, Lucy and I were off to the pet store nearby.
No, we did not go to a bakery by mistake. These are yummy pet treats! 
To our luck, there were no other four-legged customers in store at the moment. So we closed the door and took Lucy off the leash and let her sniff around. (Please please please, Lucy, do not pee! I prayed silently.)  But to my surprise, Lucy was in her nearly best behavior, patiently let me put clothes on and off of her, and she even walked around the isles to model her look.

 Here is look #1. A soft light sweater she could run around at home or in a yard on a cold Southern Californian day.

Look #2. A fleece jacket. Hmm, where have I seen a similar pattern before? Well, whatever it was, the jacket was not comfortable, so off it went.
And finally, the winner! Look #3: a cozy and snug warm jacket with a special hurnes hook and, most importantly, a pink trim!

The decision was made, bill was paid, rewarding snack was chewed. 
 And now it was the moment of truth - to prove Varuzh that he was wrong, and hope that Lucy would not stand still and actually go for walk in her jacket with pink trim.

With love always,
xo, Zuma A.
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Unforgettable Buttercream

Mmmm, buttercream. I LOVE buttercream! But to get the creamiest and the most delicious buttercream ever, you have to promise me that you will follow the steps below religiously! And if you do, the buttercream you will make will have everyone, including you, crave for more more and more!!!

Tools you need:
Measuring cups and spoons
Butter knife (or any knife)
Medium size heat proof bowl
Small to medium size sause pan
Frosting bag and decorating tip of your choice

Shopping list:
3 egg whites, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
14 tbs unsalted butter, cut into 28 pieces, at room temperature
Step 1:
In a heatproof bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over simmering water in a saucepan (not touching, though) and heat the mixture. Whisk periodically until the sugar is dissolved (the mixture should be warm to the touch).

*** If you are new to baking, please do not be afraid of this step. I've tried beating the egg-whites with sugar powder instead of melting the sugar, but it did not give me the results I was looking for. Melting the sugar in egg-whites makes the buttercream have amazing texture, so creamy and smooth. And, once you do this step a few times, it will become a piece of cake.
Step 2:
Remove the bowl from the saucepan, and beat the egg white mixture by using a mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled to room temperature, holds stiff peaks, and is white and fluffy. Don’t over-beat!

Step 3:
Switch the mixer to a medium speed, add the salt and butter one piece at a time. Make sure each piece is incorporated before you add the next piece. When everything is incorporated, switch the mixer to high speed and beat for another 5-6 minutes or until the cream thickens. 
Step 4:
Frost the cupcakes!
Finally, if you want to have flavored buttercream, at the last moment, add the buttercream flavor of your choice to the cream and beat for another 10-15 seconds.

Buttercream Flavors Add-Ons:
Vanilla buttercream -        add 1 tsp vanilla extract
Chocolate buttercream -   add 2 tbs chocolate syrup
Strawberry buttercream - add 2 tbs strained strawberry syrup
Coconut buttercream -      add 1 tsp coconut extract
Maple buttercream -         add 2 tbs organic maple syrup

You can watch here the YouTube video Vanilla ButtercreamEnjoy! 

xo, Zuma A.

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