Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Simple, Healthy Kale


Simple, Healthy Kale
Winter is the perfect time of year for kale.  This dark green, healthy vegetable packs lots of vitamins into one serving.  It is easy to prepare and looks attractive on your plate.  I recently served this simple, healthy kale side dish to balance out the heavy richness of a pot roast dinner.  The kale was just the right accompaniment.  This recipe is written for two servings, but you can easily double it.

Buy crisp, deep green bunches of kale in the produce section of your grocery store.  If you are in a hurry you can buy the packaged kale, but you will save money buying it by the bunch.  Preparing the kale is quick.  Just hold the leaf of the kale by the stem in one hand and pull the leaf portion from the stem with the other.  It will only take a minute or two.

Simple, Healthy Kale
Serves 2
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, trimed of stems, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Directions

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and cook until soft, about three minutes.  Add the garlic.  Cook for about a minute.  Add the kale and chicken stock, tossing to coat the kale.  Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes.  Stir in the balsamic vinegar, tossing to coat the kale.  Cover, remove from the heat and set aside until ready to serve.  Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese before serving.

Printable simple, healthy kale recipe

Enjoy!

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Finding Solitude


Winter at the Beach
You might not think of the beach as a great place to be in the winter in New England, but on just the right day it can be one of the very best places you can go.  Today was one of those days for me.

My head has been spinning lately with too much to think about and too much to do.  Sunrise today brought more of the same.  I needed to clear my head.  Luckily the sun was brightly shining and the temperature was in the low 40s.  Low tide was at 9:30 a.m. making today a perfect day for a morning walk on the beach.  The beach in winter can be a little tough on the ears when the wind is blowing, but today there was little to no breeze at all.  A fleece was all I needed for warmth.  No hat and no gloves were required.

Most of us head for the beach in the summer to escape the heat and humidity.  There can be a lot going on at the beach in the summer.  It's not always the most relaxing place to be.  The energy from the many people, music, children playing in the surf, seagulls calling, lifeguards blowing whistles, and so on can mean that the beach in summer is not the best place to find solitude.  In the winter the only sounds come from the surf.  More often than not I am the only person on the beach.  Today there wasn't even a seagull for company.



Today I planned to take a three mile walk on the beach.  The solitude was the perfect environment I needed to focus, relax and work out my priorities for the next several days.  The sun was warm on my face and the sparkling water was a feast for my eyes.  I finished my walk at the Watch Hill lighthouse.  It was so delightful I wanted to share the sights and sounds with all of you.  I hope you'll take ninety seconds and enjoy the sights and sounds of the beach in winter.






Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Five Keys to Growing A Healthy Ficus Tree


My Ficus Tree
I have a ficus tree in my family room.  It's a room with high ceilings and the ficus fills a corner nicely.  The tree was a housewarming gift to my husband and me twenty-nine years ago.  It was small then, probably about three years old at the time.  That means it is about thirty-two years old now.  I can't believe I've had a plant for that long and haven't killed it!

When I thought about how I managed to keep this tree happy, healthy and growing strong all these years it came down to five key elements.

1. Good Light
My ficus loves living in the corner of my family room where it gets both southern and western light exposure.  It had started in a northwest corner of my house and that didn't work well at all.  The tree told me it was unhappy by dropping lots and lots of leaves.

2.  Perfect Temperature
There are no heating sources near my ficus.  The room is kept at approximately sixty-five degrees for a majority of the year.  Nighttime temperatures can go as low as sixty degrees.


3.  Trimming and Grooming
Twice a year I give the tree a good trimming and grooming.  I like to take it outside in the fall and spring.  I give it a good shake to loosen any old leaves and trim back the growth of the branches to keep it compact.  The tree also gets a shower when I take it outside.  I've only repotted the tree twice in all the years I've owned it.  It may be due for another repotting soon.

4.  Water Sparingly
I usually water my tree with room temperature water once every seven to ten days.  I read once that the key to watering a ficus is to only water when it tells you to.  That's when the tree puts out a single yellow leaf, like you can see in the picture below.
A Single Yellow Leaf Means Time to Water

5.  Feed Occasionally
Very infrequently I use a water soluble 10-10-10 fertilizer when watering the tree, mainly during the spring and summer.


These are the five care steps that have kept my ficus going strong all these years.   Good luck growing your own ficus tree!


Enjoy!
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Friday, January 22, 2016

Easy Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup


Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup
It's January and winter is finally showing its true colors.  The temperature outside has plummeted and
the wind is howling.  Snow is on the way.  That means it is time for a steaming pot of soup.  This chipotle butternut squash soup will be perfect for my meatless dinner tonight.  It's spicy, so add the chipotle in adobo in small amounts.  I plan to pair it with a grilled cheddar and caramelized onion sandwich.  Yum!

I call this my easy chipotle butternut squash soup because this recipe was developed to reduce the soup's preparation time and effort.

  • First, use frozen butternut squash and you won't have to struggle with peeling and dicing a whole squash.  
  • Buy a bag of carrot matchsticks from the produce section of your grocery store and you won't need to peel and slice your carrots. 
  • Buy peeled garlic cloves packaged in bags from the produce section of your grocery store.  I've never liked peeling garlic.  If you have a garlic press, this is a good time to use it rather than taking the time to mince your garlic cloves. 
  • Keep pureed chipotle in adobo in tablespoon portions in your freezer so they are always ready for recipes.  Just puree canned chipotle in adobo sauce using your food processor or blender.  Measure tablespoon portions into snack size plastic bags and freeze for later use. 
  • Finally, I use my Ninja Cooking System which has a stovetop setting that allows me to saute the vegetables, bring the soup to a simmer and then slow cook all in one pot.
The preparation is easy and the cleanup is minimal.  There is no reason not to make this soup tonight.


Easy Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6

  • 3 lbs frozen, diced butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrot matchsticks, chopped
  • 1 medium apple, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken broth, your favorite brand
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons pureed chipotle in adobo

Garnish

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon pureed chipotle in adobo 

Directions
Saute the onion, celery and carrots in a Dutch oven (or your Ninja cooking system) until tender, about five minutes over medium high heat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the apple and garlic, cooking for another two minutes.  Stir in the chipotle in adobo, honey and chicken broth.  Start with one teaspoon of the chipotle in adobe.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer.  Simmer for 30 minutes until the squash is tender.  

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Taste and season with additional salt, pepper, and chipotle in adobo, if necessary.  Keep warm until ready to serve.  Meanwhile mix the sour cream and remaining chipotle in adobo together.  Top each bowl of soup with a dollop of the chipotle cream when serving.

Printable chipotle butternut squash soup recipe

Enjoy!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Macy's Credit Card Fraud-Customer Service Hell

I'm upset.  I just want to get it out there up front.  Today was the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak.  I'm talking about my credit card fraud issue with Macy's.  I referenced it in an earlier post
about experiencing another credit card fraud issue this month.

So, what happened today?  At 8:30 this morning I received a collections call from Macy's.  There was a very nice, sympathetic woman on the other end of the phone who listened to my story.  She told me there were no flags on the account to indicate that my account had experienced fraud.  I was incredulous!  She told me I needed to follow up.  Again, I was incredulous.  After all it feels like follow up is all I have done.  There have been two fraud reports submitted (since they said one of them was never received), multiple phone calls made to inquire on the status of the fraud report, and a detailed letter sent to the collections department in response to their overnight mail informing me of my past due debt.  The hours I have spent in follow up will soon be in the double digits!

It has been...five...long...months.  How long should it take for Macy's to resolve this issue?  How hard would it be for Macy's to close the account to additional interest charges?  Why hasn't anyone at Macy's put a note in the computer system indicating the account is under fraud investigation?

I posed these questions to that very nice, sympathetic collections associate who called this morning.  Of course, she had no answers for me.  Of course, she was unable to do anything about my problem.  Of course, she turned the problem back on me making it my responsibility to follow up once again with the unresponsive fraud department.  She did tell me to call right away.  She did give me the phone number for the fraud department.  She did tell me their hours of operation.  Wasn't that helpful?  She also apologized for my experience.  I believe she is the first person I have spoken to at Macy's who actually apologized for these five months of customer service hell!

I bet you want to know what happened when the follow up call was made to the fraud department.  Once again Macy's displayed its expertise in lack of action and lack of accountability.   Fraud associate, Anna, employee # 91010530, indicated the issue has been escalated and that we shouldn't be concerned about the additional interest charges that have been accumulating.  After all they will be reversed when the matter is resolved.  She also said we shouldn't be concerned about the damage Macy's is doing to our credit rating.  What will Anna do to help us?  Well, Anna will escalate our concern in the system.  When asked if she would personally see that the issue received attention she said it wasn't possible.  After all, the credit investigation unit is in another building.

What's happened next?


Followed by:


And then:
Followed by:

Is it possible that someone associated with Macy's will actually do something to help me resolve this issue?  I'm hopeful, but doubtful. 

Updated on 1/22/2016 
Today is day 157 in Macy's customer service hell.  
The issue is still not resolved.  On 1/19/2016 I received an email from Macy's customer service requesting the details of the problem. 

Wouldn't you think this problem would be detailed in the notes of my account?  After all there have been several discussions with various Macy's fraud and customer service specialists over the past several month.  Apparently not!

Well, today is three days later and there has been absolutely no communication from Macy's.  I have sent two follow up emails requesting a status update with no response. 

Updated on 1/23/2016

Day 158 of Macy's Customer Service Hell
Yesterday afternoon I received the following email from May's customer service once again passing responsibility from one area to another.  Is anyone actually going to resolve this $130 issue?  


8:30 a.m. today, we received a collections call from Macy's.  Really Macy's?  Are you insane?

What do you think about this kind of service?

Updated on 1/27/2016

I am happy to report I have been released from Macy's credit card hell.  It happened on Monday, 1/25/2016.  That was day 160.  I received a personal phone call from one of Macy's credit service managers, Bradley, who told me he had personally resolved the issue.  He was apologetic and contrite. and listened to my feedback on the experience without defensiveness.  He was professional in every way.  I am very happy this issue is closed and I hope Macy's will review its process so others won't suffer as I did.


Wishing you a fraud free day,

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

It Happened Again!-Credit Card Fraud

Last Friday, while paying bills online, I took a quick look at my Visa credit card statement.  I noticed three charges for Starbuck's card reloads totaling $125.00, one the previous Saturday, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday.  Someone has been drinking a whole lot of of coffee!

I immediately thought, "Sh**!  Someone's using our credit card.  Again!"  It's creepy and makes the hair on my neck tingle.  Credit card fraud a personal violation that has been happening far too frequently to me.  There have been four credit card fraud incidents in a little over a year's time and that's too much.  It angers and frustrates me, but I just don't know what I can do about it!!

The main reason it frustrates me so much is that I have become dependent on my credit card.  I carry little, if any cash on me these days, preferring the ease of the credit card.  I like having one bill to pay each month.  I like having a record of where money is being spent.  I like not carrying around cash or running to the ATM.  I like not writing checks.

The bank (Bank of America) must love me.  I generate lots of transaction fees for them.  What do I get in return?  Well, first, there's that convenience I love so much.  Second, my bank is very generous with its cash back rewards program.  They even make an automatic cash reward deposit to my checking account each month.  Third, in the event of a fraud situation the bank immediately credits me for the fraudulent transactions and doesn't make it my problem.

So, what's the problem you ask?  The inconvenience of credit card fraud comes from the closing of the account that has been compromised and time spent addressing the issue.  I must spend time on the phone notifying the bank of the issue.  It will take a week for the replacement credit card to be issued.  I must notify any merchant who uses the account for an automatic payment. There are credit fraud reports to be submitted.

I must give kudos to Bank of America for its handling of my credit card issues.  The service associates who take my call are sympathetic and quick to address the steps we will take to nip the problem in the bud.  They reassure me that I won't be held liable and that I'll be back up and running quickly.  Three of the credit card issues I have had this past year were with my Bank of America card and the experience with the Bank has been consistently excellent.  This experience is in sharp contrast to my experience with the fourth incident, Macy's American Express card.

If you have a Macy's American Express card watch out!  That fraud event occurred in August, 2015, and has not yet been resolved.  There have been multiple phone calls to their fraud department, two lengthy fraud reports submitted, collection calls to respond to and letters to their collections department to write.

I have spent HOURS trying to resolve this issue. They make promises they don't keep.  One department does not talk to the next and the issue goes on and on and on and on... Unlike Bank of America, Macy's has made this credit card fraud issue my problem.  I'm extremely dissatisfied with Macy's and needless to say, the Macy's credit account will be closed and my shopping dollars will be spent elsewhere going forward.

It appears little can be done to protect myself short of not using credit cards at all.  Here's what I have done:

1.  Only shop at reputable, online sites.

2.  Reduce the number of credit cards I carry and use.

3.  Keep the credit cards within my sight as much as possible.

4.  Researched RFID wallet technology and decided against using it.

5.  Regularly monitor the charges to my credit card account.

I believe the most recent credit card incident came after using the card at a restaurant where the server took the card away from the table.  While I have no proof of the connection, I notified the restaurant of my suspicion and informed the Bank of the same.

What have you done to protect yourself?
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Calla Lily Tea Sandwiches

Calla Lily Tea Sandwiches
One look at these calla lily tea sandwiches on Pinterest and you might think they are far too fussy for you to make.  That was my first thought when I was asked to make them for a bridal shower recently.  They just seemed like too much work for too little impact.  I was wrong.  These calla lily tea sandwiches are adorable, tasty and not too fussy once you get your assembly technique down.

I must admit these are a perfect little bite to serve at a bridal tea.  Make your fillings a day ahead to let the flavors develop.  You can also make the sandwiches a day ahead.  No bridal showers in your future?  These sandwiches would also be fun to serve at your next book club meeting or to your girl friends who are stopping by for a glass of wine after work.

Search calla lily tea sandwiches and you'll find many links and a variety of fillings.  I started with these Herbed Cheese calla lily sandwiches found on the Tasty Kitchen site.  In my opinion these sandwiches are best suited to a smooth, well seasoned filling.  I reduced the amount of chopped walnuts and made certain they were very finely ground.  You could omit the walnuts entirely.  The smoked salmon filling started with a favorite dip recipe I often make.  Think about any savory spread you like for ideas about other fillings you may use.

I did learn some helpful tips by making these sandwiches that will ensure your success.
  • Don't buy a fancy loaf of bread for this recipe.  Any white sandwich bread works perfectly.
  • Taste your filling to be sure it is yummy.  All the flavor in the sandwiches comes from the filling.  You need to be sure the filling is perfectly seasoned.
  • Use a lightly dampened paper towel to cover the sandwiches as you make them to keep the completed sandwiches from drying out while you assemble the rest.
  • Save time by using pre-cut carrot matchsticks.  You'll find them in the produce section of your grocery store.
  • Set up an assembly line.  Pre-cut the green onion stalks, cut four to six bread rounds at time, and complete one step completely before moving on to the next step.
  • The scallions are meant to be eaten as part of the sandwich.  If your filling includes onions you may want to omit them.

Calla Lily Tea Sandwiches
4 dozen sandwiches

Ingredients
  • 4 loaves of white sandwich bread
  • Herbed Boursin cheese filling
  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese filling
  • Paprika
  • Carrot matchsticks
  • 3-4 bunches of scallions, green part cut into 2-3" lengths 
Directions
  With a 2-1/2" round biscuit cutter, cut 48 bread circles from the loaves of white bread.  Using a rolling pin, flatten each bread circle.  Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle.  Stick a carrot matchstick into the top of a scallion and place it onto the base of the circle.  Sprinkle paprika over the filling for garnish.  Pinch the sides of the circle together at the base of the circle to form the calla lily flower. Cover the sandwiches with a lightly dampened paper towel to keep them from drying out while you are assembling the sandwiches.  Remove the paper towel and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until serving.

Herbed Boursin Cheese Filling
Makes filling for 24 sandwiches

  • 1-5.2 ounce package garlic and Herb flavored Boursin cheese at room temp
  • 3 ounces, cream cheese at room temp
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Directions
  Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to process until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Filling
Makes filling for 24 sandwiches

  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1-2 heaping teaspoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 dashes of Tabasco, or to taste

Directions
Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to process until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Calla Lily Tea Sandwiches for Bridal Shower
Printable Calla Lily Tea Sandwiches recipe

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