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July 2017

Worth the Splurge? I Review, You Decide.

Deciding on the topic for this “Worth the Splurge” was challenging! As I was laying in bed one morning, though, I thought – I should do it on sheets! Did you know that we spend 25-30% of our lives in bed? Wow, that’s a lot of time when you think about it! The most comfortable place in our house, then, should definitely be our beds.

sheets

Cotton Fibers and Sheets

I decided to do a little research on sheets and their materials before writing this post. Do you know that there are six types of cotton fibers used in bedding? They are Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton, Supima, Sea Island cotton, intermediate staple cotton, and short staple cotton.

Egyptian cotton has the longest staple in the world and produces fine, luxurious fabric. Pima cotton is one of the best quality cottons grown in America. It has a long-staple, and provides a luxurious, strong fiber. Supima cotton is a trademarked product that means that the item is 100% American Pima cotton. Sea Island cotton is the finest of all cottons. It’s very rare, silky, and white, with an extra-long staple. Sea Island cotton is grown in the West Indies and the islands off the Carolinas and Georgian coast. Intermediate cotton is used for bedding with up to a 230 thread count. Short staple cotton is commonly used in bedding originating from Asian countries.

Linen, Silk, Modal, and Bamboo?

Cotton is the most common fiber used in sheets. It’s all-season, easy to care for, and affordable. They also come in a variety of other materials such as silk, linen, modal, and even bamboo. Linen bedding, especially Belgian linen, is becoming really popular. The quilt and pillow shams on my bed are of Belgian linen. A set of linen sheets is high on my “wish list.” I’ve heard that they are great in the summer.

sheets
Belgian Flax Sheets from Pottery Barn

 

How Important Is Thread Count?

Most people think the most important factor when evaluating sheets is the thread count. Thread count is useful information, but the type of cotton fiber they’re made of is more important. Longer cotton staples are stronger and feel softer than shorter ones.

When buying sheets, it’s recommended you look for sheets made of Egyptian, Pima, or Supima, and a minimum of 200 thread count. If you’re looking at thread counts over 400, be sure to get them from a high-quality manufacturer. Less reputable manufacturers increase their thread count by piling the yarn which creates an inferior product.

My Quest For Perfect Sheets

I bought my first set of high-thread count sheets from Costco. They were a good bargain for such a high-thread count, but not really what I was looking for. They were thin and came untucked easily. My next set was from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. This set was similar to the Costco ones, though. So, my quest for the perfect sheets continued.

Enter Pottery Barn. I’d long been a fan of theirs and owned a fair amount of Pottery Barn table linens, towels, and bedding. One day, I ordered a set of their 400 thread count sheets. At the time, they were a splurge. When they arrived, I noticed they seemed about twice as heavy as the Costco brand, even though the thread count was the same. Over time, they became softer and velvety. Although I had other sets of sheets, these quickly because my favorites, and eventually I quit rotating them. I would wash them in the morning and put them back on the bed that evening.

sheets

Loving These New Sheets

We upgrade in size to a Cal-King bed when we moved into our new house. This meant I needed to purchase all new bedding. So, I looked online to see which sheets I’d bought previously from Pottery Barn. I was really surprised to see that they were already 6 years old! Luckily, I was able to get them in the size I needed. It only took a few months of used and washing for them to feel as soft and velvety as our old ones.

For tips on how to make your bed look stunning, visit here: https://www.potterybarn.com/tips-and-ideas/how-to-make-a-bed/. By the way, I am not affiliated with Pottery Barn and receive no absolutely no compensation from them.

So, what do you think? Do you feel that quality sheets are “Worth the Splurge?”

 

Planning Your Perfect Vacation, Part 2

I am back with part two of planning your perfect vacation. In case you missed it, click HERE to read the first installment. So, now you know what your idea of the perfect vacation is and what kind of experience you want. You have an idea of where you want to go and you’ve checked on the weather/season of travel.

 

vacation
Curacao, 2012

The Next Step

What have you decided on? A multi-city travel itinerary, tropical island, or country? Now is the time to do your research. I always turn to Trip Advisor first. This is the link for the travel forum. Find your location, and navigate from there. I get so much information about where I am going on Trip Advisor. When we went to Cancun several years ago, I read about Jungle Spa near Puerto Morelos. An American ex-pat who’d moved to Mexico learned about a local custom where generations passed down the art of Mayan therapeutic massage. She started Jungle Spa as a cottage industry for these women to help support their families. The reviews of the spa were excellent. So, I scheduled us for massages through their Facebook before our trip. My husband still talks about what an incredible massage he had there.

 

vacation
Royal Caribbean

A Cruise?

Did you decide on a cruise? Cruise critic is a great place to start. You can research different cruise lines and read reviews of cruise ships. One of the areas most helpful to me is the forum boards that they have on general cruising information, specific cruise lines, and ports of call. When we decided to take our first cruise in 2007, I had no idea which cruise line to choose. The cruise critic site really helped me find which cruise line best suited us. For instance, we wanted a smaller ship with more adults and fewer children, excellent service, and good food. Cruising is a great way to wake up in a different country or city every morning. You can see so many ports of call in just a week-long cruise.

vacation

Puerto Morelos, November, 2016

Accommodations

So, where do you want to stay? A hotel, resort, condo, or vacation home? One of our favorite types of resorts are all-inclusive. An all-inclusive resort, for those of you who have never heard of one, is a resort where the cost includes everything. All meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, activities, and entertainment. All-inclusive resorts are very popular in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Condo Resorts or Vacation Homes

When we go to Hawaii, we generally stay in condo resorts. We like the spaciousness of condos, the choice of grilling on our lanai in the evenings or eating out, and taking our own beverages to the pool. We’ve stayed in some lovely resort hotels in Hawaii, but usually only for a few days of our 10 day stay.

vacation
Grand Hyatt, Kauai, 2015

 

My favorite website for booking condos or vacation homes is VRBO (also known as Home Away). If a property I’m interested in has a professional management company, I always go to the company’s website to compare prices before booking. A few tips: read the reviews, chose properties that have reviews, and compare the total costs before you choose one. The charges can vary greatly from one rental to another. An example is that one may waive the cleaning fee for stays of a week or more and the other excessive booking fees.

Hotel Resorts

If you’ve decided on a hotel resort, then I recommend reviewing hotels through websites like Expedia or Costco Travel. I’ve personally booked trips through both websites. Costco is great if you’re a member and booking your airfare and hotel together. What I like about Costco is that they fully vet the properties listed and hold them to high standards. They do have a more limited number of hotels and resorts, though. Expedia has a wider range of hotel and resort options. They also offer more airline options, too, if you are booking both airfare and accommodations. I usually narrow it down to three or so hotels/resorts, then read reviews on multiple websites, always including Trip Advisor.

Why I Do the Research

Hopefully I warned you in part one of Planning the Perfect Vacation that I take vacation planning pretty seriously! Unless I’ve stayed somewhere previously, I never book a vacation impulsively. I have high expectations, so I want to ensure that I’m choosing wisely.

You’re almost there to planning your perfect vacation. Stay tuned for the last installment! That’s when I’ll share the plans for our next vacation that I am finalizing now.

Lasagne – Ultimate Comfort Food! Made Low-Sodium and Gluten Free.

Lasagne is one of the most-loved Italian dishes out there. It is sinfully delicious with its layers of cheese, meat, and pasta. I consider it one of the ultimate comfort foods! I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for a new lasagne recipe.

The Lasagne Challenge

My challenge was how to make it lower in sodium. I decided to take it a step further and use gluten-free pasta. Go me, huh? But, I think I accomplished my goal. Low-sodium, gluten-free lasagne that looks and tastes delicious.

The Players

This recipe calls for no-salt added canned goods: diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. I have been successful in locating no-salt added canned foods at my local Vons (Safeway), Wal-Mart, and Trader Joe’s stores.

Lasagne

I wanted a really rich sauce, so I decided I would let the sauce simmer for 3-4 hours on the stove. What I like to do is to take out a few cups of the sauce (without meat) for the bottom of the pan and to put on the top. So, I cook the ground beef and half of the onions separately and add them to the sauce before I assemble the lasagne.

Chop the onions and add them to the dutch oven to cook on medium-low heat for about 6-8 minutes.

 

Once the onions were translucent, I added the tomatoes,

then tomato sauce, and tomato paste

It’s all ready to simmer. I added the lid and left it on my stove on around 3 hours.

After  3 hours of simmering, I browned the meat along with the rest of the onions. I pulled out two cups of sauce, added the browned meat to the sauce, along with 1 cup of red wine, brought it to a boil and cooked on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes to burn off the alcohol.

 

Second String

Ricotta, egg, and parmesan cheese mixed together.

 

I got so wrapped up in putting together the lasagne, I forgot to get pictures of the assembly!

Ready for the oven…

 

And here it is! Hot and puffy, and oh so delish!

Lasagne

Put it together with a green salad or maybe some hot garlic bread and you have a wonderfully, comfort dish for dinner.

The Recipe

  • 1 cup of onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cans of 14 oz. no-salt diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can of 8 oz no-salt tomato paste
  • 1 can of 8 oz no-salt tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 cup of red wine (or 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar)
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 package of gluten-free no-boil lasagne noodles (I got mine from Target)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated or shaved)
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
Directions

Brown onions in olive oil until almost translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add in tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and spices, bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer, add lid, and let cook at least 45 minutes. Check periodically and add a little water, if necessary.

Remove 2 cups of sauce and set aside for later. Brown ground beef in a skillet on medium heat. While ground beef is browning, mix the ricotta cheese, egg, and parmesan cheese together in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. When the ground beef is browned and drained, add it to the pot of sauce, along with 1 cup of red wine or 1/2 red wine vinegar. Bring to a boil, then turn down to med-low and cook for 15 minutes (to burn off the alcohol).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add 1 cup of the reserved sauce to the bottom of the 9″ x 9″ lasagne pan. Layer your lasagne noodles above it. Alternatively layer your lasagne noodles with the ricotta cheese mixture, meat mixture, and mozzarella cheese, then ricotta cheese and meat again. When you have added the last layer of lasagne noodles, add the last cup of sauce and the rest of the mozarella cheese on top.

Add foil to the top of the lasagne pan (spray the foil with cooking oil spray first so it doesn’t stick) and seal on all sides. Cook for 20 minutes then remove foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking. The lasagne is done when it is golden and bubbled on the top, including the center. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Lasagne

Enjoy!!

The Migraine Relief Plan Book. A Review and my Progress.

Hey everyone! I hope you are enjoying your weekend. We’re in the throes of summer here with triple-digit heat. The one positive thing about it is that our pool is really warm and that makes for fun evening/night swims!

So, a month ago, I shared that I’d been diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease. It’s a rare disease that affects the vestibular (balance and hearing) system, causing tinnitus, vertigo, and hearing loss. The biggest challenges have been adapting my diet, due to the diagnosis. Namely, a low-sodium diet, to eliminate caffeine, and restrict alcohol consumption.

Recently, I came across a book called The Migraine Relief Plan that was highly recommended for those suffering from migraines, chronic headaches, vertigo, and Meniere’s disease. The aim of the relief plan is to reduce inflammation within the body that contributes to these and other conditions. I thought “What do I have to lose?” and ordered the book a few weeks ago.

The Migraine Relief Plan Review

I’m at the end of Week 3 of the plan now (I skipped ahead a week as I explain below). I wanted to give a review of the book, share my thoughts on the book, and what’s ahead in the coming weeks of the plan.

One of the things I really like about the book is that it takes a very slow approach to the plan. It’s also well-written, organized, and easy to follow. At the beginning of the book, the author shares her medical journey, how she came to create the plan, and write the book. You’ll be astounded at the depth of the author’s research and her commitment to learning everything she could about how to help herself and others. Another thing I like about the book is that its concise. The plan starts on page 37. Each week is a chapter and they range from 5 to 12 pages long. I almost forgot to mention that there are over 75 recipes in the book, too!

My Progress

So far, I’ve started tracking my symptoms/foods on an easy sheet I created (Week 1). I cleaned out my freezer (Week 2) and worked ahead and cleaned out my pantry (Week 3). My pantry and freezer were relatively compliant as I had cleaned them our after my diagnosis.

What’s ahead: Week 4 will be to clean our my fridge and switch out my snacks to approved plan foods. Week 5 will be to switch over my breakfasts to approved plan foods.

So, what are the foods approved and excluded on this plan? Well, the plan is sugar-free, gluten-free, and low-sodium. There are other foods omitted because they are known triggers for migraines, headaches, vertigo, and Meniere’s.

The plan sounds challenging, I know. It is not forever. It takes about 6 months: 2 months of transitioning to all approved foods, and 4 months on the plan itself. Then you can add back foods as you determine if they trigger your symptoms or not.

I’m Committed!

I admit to feeling intimidated about following this plan. I’ve shown little will-power in the past when it came to diets. But, my health and well-being are riding on overcoming the effect of Meniere’s disease as much as I can. So, I am 100% committed to completing this plan. If you suffer from issues related to inflammation, such as auto-immune disorders, headaches, migraines, etc. I hope you’ll join me!

Meniere's
The book

I purchased my copy on Amazon. Here is a link (I receive no profits off your purchase) to it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Migraine-Relief-Plan-Transition-Headaches/dp/1572842091

 

 

The 8 Handiest Kitchen Gadgets

Although I have a huge crock on my island and two drawers of kitchen tools in my kitchen, I have about 8 favorite gadgets that I use regularly. When we moved a year and a half ago, I culled my collection, but I still have a so many. It seems like when ever I get rid of one I wind up replacing it because I missed it later.

Some of my favorites are a little eccentric, such as my avocado masher and strawberry slicer. Enjoy my list of faves!

Fav 8 Gadgets

Avocado masher. Have you ever seen this gadget? If you make guacamole frequently like I do, then it’s really handy. Its design allows you to make it to your preference, chunky or smooth. I thought it was pretty cool the first time I saw it in Williams-Sonoma. Somehow my original masher got misplaced and it took me a while to find a replacement.

utensils
Avocado Masher

 

Potato Ricer. I believe I saw Martha Stewart use one of these on TV a long time ago and I thought I’d give it a try. The first time I used it to make mashed potatoes, my husband told me that they reminded him of his grandma’s’ mashed potatoes. I make mashed potatoes pretty often because they are a favorite of my husband’s. You can also use a potato ricer to mash other foods and even make baby food. It’s a really handy tool to have in the kitchen.

utensils
Potato Ricer

 

Citrus Juicer. Over the years, I have tried a variety of citrus juicers without being overly impressed with any of them. One day, I saw this in the grocery store and bought it. And, it’s great! I have one for oranges and one for lemons (that I also use for limes). Not only do they do a great job in getting out every last drop of juice, but they strain out the seeds, too.

utensils
Citrus Juicer

 

Wire colander. These came in a set of three different sizes and I use them all the time while cooking. I keep them in my utensil crock (they nest easily) so they are always nearby when I’m cooking. They are so handy for straining and rinsing canned foods like beans and tomatoes.

Gadgets
Wire Colander

 

Immersion Blender. This is the handiest thing ever. Have you used one? It’s great for soups and sauces. It purees potatoes, tomatoes, and black beans for soup, makes smoothies, and whipped cream in a jiffy. It keeps the mess to a minimum, since you can use it right in the pot or glass, and cleans up really easily.

gadgets
Immersion Blender

 

Micro planer. I like using this to grate garlic, cheese, and zest citrus. Since you can hold it with one hand and use the other to grate the food, it allows you to grate it over the bowl or pot you’re using. Then when you’re done, you just toss it into the dishwasher.

gadgets
Micro Planer

 

Mandolin. Using this makes your food presentation look like a professional’s. I have a food processor, but I never seem to get the slices as precise as with the mandolin. It’s super handy for making tarts, potato au gratin, slicing fruits and vegetables, and making salads.

gadgets
Mandolin

 

Strawberry Slicer. We saw this gadget when visiting my dad in Georgia. We love strawberries, so we decided to buy it. In the summer, we use it all the time to slice strawberries. The only downside to it is that if you use big strawberries, you have to cut them in half before putting them into the slicer as the basket area for them is a little small.

gadgets
Strawberry Slicer

 

What are your favorites? Are you a gadget junkie like I am? Leave your comments below.

 

Let’s Make Some Blueberry Hand Pies

I have always struggled with baking. I believe it’s because although I had the desire, I didn’t have the  knowledge to create delicious baked goods. Thank heavens for technology! You can watch a You Tube video on how to do or make anything.

Several years ago, I discovered Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen, which really helped take my kitchen skills to a new level. Have you seen their television shows on PBS? If not, you should check it out. They’re amazing. I still struggled in the baking arena, though. Then I began using King Arthur Flour and visited their website (http://www.kingarthurflour.com) to take a look at their recipes. It is now my go-to website for baking. Not only do they have hundreds of great recipes but they have video’s, too! Through their website, I’ve learned how to make a sourdough starter, french bread, and now Blueberry Hand Pies!

Let’s Get Baking!

Pies
Blueberry filling

 

What’s a hand pie? Well, I wondered the same thing. It’s just like a turnover, except its square. And, it’s like a pie except it fits into your hand so it’s easy to eat. These hand pies are about 3 1/2″ inches square.

I decided to make the filling first, so it would have plenty of time to cool off. The crust took a little longer than I expected. It’s summer here and my kitchen is usually around 78 degrees or more if I’ve been cooking. So, I needed to pop the pastry into the fridge frequently to keep it firm after cutting and before filling.

 

pies
Cooling off

 

These pies turned out even better than I expected! I was definitely looking forward to taking them to our family’s 4th of July get-together. One of the best things is that the recipe only made 8, so there wouldn’t be lots of leftover temptations!

 

pies
Ready!

 

I would definitely recommend this recipe. If a baking-challenged person like me can make them, you can, too! They were a real hit with my family, especially my granddaughter. She loved the blueberry filling.

 

pies
Delicious!

 

Head here to get the recipe: Recipe or view it step-by-step on their blog: Here. This post is in no way affiliated or supported by King Arthur Flour, I just happen to love their website and products!

Planning Your Perfect Vacation

In the past 10 years, my hubby and I have traveled to many wonderful destinations. Off the top of my head, we’ve visited 11 islands in the Caribbean; Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico; Maui, The Big Island, and Kauai in Hawaii; and a few cruise ports in Central America. We’ve been on 5 cruises, which account for many of the Caribbean islands, and taken multiple trips to Hawaiian resorts, and Mexican all-inclusive resorts. I get asked all the time how I plan our trips, so today I’m going to share that with you on the blog.

 

Perfect Vacation
Hilton Waikoloa Village, Hawaii, 2010

 

I’m the designated travel planner in my family. Just ask anyone in my family, I take my mission seriously. I’ve only used a real travel agent once, for our 30th anniversary trip to St. Lucia in 2015. I probably won’t do it again. Not that it was a bad experience, because it wasn’t. I used the travel agent to help me narrow down the region of our trip and to choose a resort based on our needs. Her expertise was really helpful in choosing and booking our location.

 

Perfect Get-A-Way
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos, 2011

 

What’s Your Idea of a Perfect Vacation?

Our idea of travel is going to a warm, fun, sandy place for some R & R (rest and relaxation). Everyone’s idea of travel is different, so it’s important to know what your idea of the perfect vacation when planning. Some people travel for new adventures, to experience a new culture, or to visit a particular city. Every time you travel you are going to have a new experience, you just need to ensure it’s the type of experience you want.

 

Sandals at St. Lucia, 2015

 

First Things First

The first step is knowing what’s your idea of the perfect vacation. What do you want out of this vacation experience? Is it freezing cold where you are right now and you want a warm, toes in the sand vacation? Or do you want to see a lot of places, say several cities in a week? Maybe you want to go zip-lining through a jungle? Understanding this is key to having the time of your life or coming home feeling like you still need a vacation.

 

Travel
Hawaii, 2015

 

Wonderful Destinations

Once you know what kinds of experience you’re looking for, it’s time to decide where to go. There are so many wonderful destinations out there! Deciding what you want to do comes before deciding where to go because there are more factors involved in the destination. Say you always take your vacation in the summer because your kids are out of school then. If a tropical, toes in the sand experience is what you want then you’ll need to factor in the season and weather. For instance, it’s hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in the summer and fall. This means great deals are to be had during the low-season, but a hurricane or tropical storm could affect your plans.

It’s Hot, Hot, Hot!

In Mexico, some places are really hot in the summer. We once went to Cabo San Lucas in July and it was blazing hot. I knew that it would be hot, but I didn’t realize the effect of the very high humidity. It was 110 with the heat index and we spent all day in the pool just to be comfortable. Another time, we went there in mid-August and had a tropical storm. In fact, our resort flooded and we lost water and air conditioning. We still had a great time though, and have a good laugh when we talk about that trip. Include Mother Nature in your decision making.

Planning the Perfect Get-A-Way
The Arc in Cabo San Lucas, 2010

 

So, we’ve covered what kind of vacation you want and what to factor in when choosing your destination. I have plenty more to share, though! Topics such about where to look for deals, research on where to say, and what to look for in a resort are to come. I’ll be sharing that over the next few weeks. Look for part two of planning the perfect get-a-way!

Feel free to share any of your funny vacation experiences below.