All posts by Guest Writer

@BruceontheLoose

The music people choose to love is an interesting thing to observe.

Some folks want you to know how cool they are by the musical groups they promote.  Others let their musical preferences reflect their lifestyle – which is why there is such a large range of genres from Americana to Country to Hard Rock to Rap and more.  Then there are people that don’t push their musical preferences to the front of a conversation, but are known to weigh in with an “I hate that group” or a quick “have you heard of such and such?”

When you’re looking for a common ground conversation at a mixer, music is an interesting topic.  Really listening to what a person says can give you a deeper look into their life approach.  It becomes a springboard to further conversation.

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Try this fun question, sure to incite a variety of responses: What are five songs you never get tired of hearing on the radio?

First of all, the tendency is to choose obscure music from dusty LPs that others reviewed and decided are classics.  You know– that fifth cut from the Police’s Syncronicity II album, or the live version of a Rihanna song that no one has ever heard.  Other responses include bands from New Orleans or central Tennessee that you must hear.   Naturally some music snobs will say, “I never listen to the radio.”  That’s how they can stay above The Fray (get it?) and not have to pay attention to pop music at all.

I like music.  It transports us to another place or another time.  It reminds us or propels us.

That means I can always pick out my favorites, but still appreciate and enjoy a wide range of things including show tunes, Eminem, and American Authors (who?).  With two teenagers, I try to keep up with newer music as well– I even saw the One Direction Documentary last fall.  That doesn’t make me hip – in fact I’ve probably lost some gravitas with a few of you – but at least I am somewhat current.  Not a bad trait for a 49 year old.

Now, since this is my question, I have a running start on answering it.  However, you can start thinking of your own answers and have fun discussing them with your friends and family.  Try to include songs that most everyone would have heard at some point – even if it was while walking through a shopping center or eating at a restaurant.  Here are my five in no particular order:

  • Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn
  • Mr. Jones by the Counting Crows
  • Unforgettable by Nat King Cole
  • Viva La Vida by Coldplay
  • The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby

No matter how many times I’ve heard these particular songs, I’ll tune in, perk up, or hit replay.  There isn’t always a reason.  I just like them.  How about you?  What songs catch your ear every single time?  Talk amongst yourselves.

Remember Those New Year’s Resolutions?

January’s almost over and you may have already forgotten about that to do list of New Year’s Resolutions that only seems to get longer. You haven’t gone to the gym five times a week like you were hoping to and yesterday you bought yet another pack of cigarettes. Don’t beat yourself up about not fulfilling all of your 2014 goals by now. The most common reason why New Year’s Resolutions fail is because we tend to set huge standards for ourselves and these goals are often bigger than they should be.

new year goals or resolutions - colorful sticky notes on a blackboard

Aim lower; start small. Don’t plan to change your entire lifestyle in a week, rather make small improvements to your lifestyle more frequently. If you want to live healthier, set a goal of eating some type of fruits or vegetables every day or incorporating less strenuous exercises into your daily routine, such as stretching every other morning.

Know your limits. We tend to set grand resolutions expecting to see a major change instead of setting realistic goals. People who live a generally hectic life should not set too many goals at once. Rather, try to change one behavior at a time. This can be as minor as wanting to have more time to see your friends and be social or talking to your family more often. Long term ideals often fall through the cracks–for example, if you wish to learn a new language or lose weight, just do a little every day. Resolutions will come through gradually; don’t expect sudden changes.

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Get a support group. It’s easier to work towards your goals with the help of friends and family on your side. Accept any help that comes your way which will also help with any relapses in behavior or stress management. Those on your side will make sure you keep going whenever you feel less than capable and can definitely throw a great celebration party when you achieve a goal!

Stay positive. So you were too tired to work out or hang out with family and friends–don’t worry about it. Mistakes are normal and can even give you more incentive to get back on the track. Thinking positively defeats those negative thoughts that can threaten any further progress. Come up with your own inner mantra and always keep on the bright side of life!

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We want to know, have you stuck to your resolutions so far?  What are your secrets?  Remember, there is no shame in failing, as long as you keep trying!

Look Cute and Stay Warm!

To be cute or not to be cute?

That is the question that’s definitely been on most of our minds during this frigid winter. Freezing blasts of cold air have put a damper on daily ensembles around the nation. So who is this invisible enemy, daring us to tuck away sexy heels and lightweight jackets in favor of fur lidded puffer coats and ski masks?

Thanks to the Polar Vortex, a low pressure system of circulating cold air descending south from the North Pole, many of us have put fashion on the backburner in order not to freeze to death when having to deal with weather as low as 1° Fahrenheit in some areas. You shouldn’t have to choose between wanting to look cute and hypothermia, so here are some tips on how to survive the winter weather and still look fly:

  • LAYERS!  The number one way to make it through these frosty days is to pack on lots of layers. This is especially good for constantly moving from outdoors to an indoor setting. You can wear a nice coat, a scarf, a nice blazer, and a comfy cardigan underneath. For the main outfit, try a slip underneath your dress or layering t-shirts. Leggings can go under jeans or trousers or for a more whimsical look, try knee highs over tights!

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  • OUTERWEAR: Puffer coats aren’t always the answer. (And if they are, try a less bulky one with a high collar or tailored waist!) This winter, don a double breasted wool pea coat instead, like a Jason Kole product, available at Macy’s for only 79.99!  www.macys.com                                                  
  • Keep your fingers warm and your hands adorable with quirky gloves and fingerless mittens! The Etsy shop, Yastikizi, specializes in handmade hand warmers and other winter fashion necessities to combat the cold weather in style! www.etsy.comwebsitecoldweather
  • Funky tights can add flavor to any drab winter ensemble! Retailers like SockDreams or Romwe have large collections of inexpensive one-of-a-kind legwear sure to make a scene.  www.sockdreams.com or www.romwe.com

 

@Bruceontheloose: Try Something New

It’s so easy to listen to other people and catch where they are wrong.  Sometimes when we take a deep breath and think, the next thought is the recognition we’re saying (or doing) the same thing.

Let me explain.

In the past few weeks I have had different Roanoke folks tell me they’ve never visited Black Dog Salvage, eaten at Lucky Restaurant, been to a show at the Kirk Avenue Music Hall or even heard there was a new hamburger place down on Market Street.  Respected business people said they didn’t come downtown because it was too big a hassle or they didn’t know how to park.  Active citizens didn’t know about the Roanoke Food Tour or hadn’t been to the renovated Center in the Square.

I was shocked.  These are all opportunities easily accessible and mostly not too expensive.  Interesting diversions for people in the area – some of whom may be wondering what they could do to have some fun or experience something different.

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The next part wasn’t as fun.

I’ve never been to AmRhein’s Wine Cellar.  It’s been years since I have hiked in the area and I’ve never visited the Cascades.  I haven’t been to the updated Mountain Lake Resort.  I just learned Foggy Ridge Cider is about 20 minutes from Floyd and they are open for tastings on Friday- Sunday.  I’ve only eaten at The Blue Apron one time (and loved it).  And so on…

I decided recently it was time for me to do some more exploring in my own (adopted) home town and 2014 will be the year I chip away at my list.  When someone visits our area it means business.  The Virginia Blue Ridge branding and marketing will bring more visitors through the coming years, but if they come across someone who hasn’t experienced a lot of these great things I wonder if they’ll come back.  Will they have fun and experience all we have to offer?

What about you?

Watch Salvage Dawgs on TV (yes Roanoke has its own real life TV stars), drink a cocktail at Lucky (or grab an amazing dinner or both), listen to live music on Kirk Avenue, or eat a burger at Jack Brown’s.  You can find parking downtown – make it a game or pay your two bucks and pull in.  Google the Roanoke Food Tours then go on one.  Visit the top of the Center in the Square.  Find things not on this list and make your own fun.  Then tell others about it – that’s how a community grows and a region is built.  Virginia’s Blue Ridge has so much to offer.

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Sometimes we just need a reminder our own patterns are just as set as the “odd” ones of someone else.

I can’t wait to make 2014 the year to start some new local tourist stops.

8 Steps to Perfect Holiday Cookies

The time-honored popularity of holiday cookie baking remains strong even in today’s grab-and-go society.

“Most of us are looking for ways to simplify the holiday hubbub, and focus on activities that truly have meaning for our families,” says Ginny Bean, publisher of Ginny’s catalog and Ginnys.com. Bean, who fondly recalls baking holiday cookies with her mother and her three sons, offers the following easy tips for your own holiday cookie baking tradition.

* Get organized. Read the recipe thoroughly. Gather your ingredients before even turning on the stove to make sure that you haven’t forgotten anything that would require an unanticipated trip to the store.

* Keep it simple. Bean recommends starting with this good, basic dough recipe and adding different ingredients to customize the taste and texture to personal preferences:

Cream 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar until fluffy.

Add 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat until well mixed.

In separate bowl, whisk 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon baking soda together, then add slowly to creamed mixture, beating until combined.

“There’s almost no end to what you can do to this dough,” says Bean. “Get creative and experiment with different mix-ins like lemon peel, pumpkin pie spice, even instant coffee, or substitute toffee or peppermint chips for traditional chocolate and butterscotch.”

* Use the right fat. Some cookie recipes only achieve their best flavor and texture with butter. Hopefully, those recipes will specify “butter only; no substitutes.” Recipes calling for butter or margarine will produce good results with either, as long as you use a margarine that contains at least 80 percent vegetable oil.

Check the nutrition label. The margarine should have 100 calories per tablespoon. Margarines with less than 80 percent vegetable oil have high water content and can result in tough cookies that spread excessively, stick to the pan, or don’t brown well.

* Measure accurately. Metal or plastic measuring cups are intended for dry ingredients such as flour and sugar. When measuring flour, stir it in the canister to lighten it and then gently spoon into a dry measuring cup and level the top with the straight edge of a knife. Glass or plastic cups with spouts are meant only for liquids. If you use a liquid measuring cup for flour, you’re likely to get an extra tablespoon or more of flour per cup, enough to make cookies dry.

* Chill dough properly. The chilling time given in a recipe is the optimum time for easy rolling and shaping. If you need to speed up chilling, wrap the dough and place it in the freezer. Twenty minutes of chilling in the freezer is equal to about one hour in the refrigerator.

* Use a powerful mixer. An electric stand mixer is the best way to mix heavy cookie dough. With a handheld mixer, you’ll probably end up needing to stir in flour by hand, which can be a nightmare.

* Choose the right cookie sheets. Look for shiny, heavy-gauge cookie sheets with very low or no sides. Dark cookie sheets can cause cookie bottoms to overbrown, and cookies won’t bake evenly in a pan with an edge. Insulated cookie sheets tend to yield pale cookies with soft centers. If you use them, don’t bake cookies long enough to brown on the bottom because the rest of the cookie may get too dry. Nonstick cookie sheets let you skip the greasing step. But the dough may not spread as much, resulting in thicker, less crisp cookies. Unless specified otherwise, a light greasing with shortening or quick spray with nonstick spray coating is adequate for most recipes.

* Know your oven. Experiment with the temperature of your oven. If your oven typically cooks items faster than the recipe calls for, adjust accordingly. Don’t bake cookies for too long. They should be light brown around the edges and look a little underdone when they come out. Keep in mind that cookies will continue to cook from the heat of the cookie sheet after you remove them from the oven. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet initially and then transfer them to a wire rack once they can be lifted with a spatula without breaking them. Once they are cooled completely, you can decorate them or store directly in an airtight container.

Fun Holiday Appetizers

Get crafty with edible holiday appetizers

Don’t worry, Mom. In this case, it’s OK to play with your food. The latest online social media craze features awe-inspiring galleries of edible art, showcasing everyday ingredients transformed into munchable holiday masterpieces.

This season, whether you’re looking to revamp the relish tray or simply keep the kids occupied with a fun project, a few holiday-friendly staples are all you need to let your creativity take flight.

Take, for instance, California black ripe olives. Known for their versatility and mild flavor, black olives are a party favorite for a reason. And with 95 percent of the nation’s ripe olives grown on family farms in California, they’re a truly all-American ingredient, too. They’re also the perfect building block for edible holiday treats.

Get in on the fun with an easy and adorable-to-look-at recipe that uses black olives, cream cheese, pretzels and a few other common ingredients to create an unforgettable herd of holiday cheer. In fact, this is one reindeer game anyone can play.

For more holiday recipe ideas featuring California ripe olives, visit www.calolive.org.

California Olive Reindeer

Makes 8 reindeer

Supplies:

2- 4 Won ton wrappers

Cooking spray

2 Sandwich-sized reclosable plastic bags

4 ounces cream cheese

Scissors

8 colossal California Black Ripe Olives

8 large California Black Ripe Olives

1 bamboo skewer

16 pretzel sticks

Paring knife

Tiny pieces of carrot and raisins

Powdered sugar (optional)

Kale (optional)

Mushrooms (optional)

Directions:

With a small, sharp knife, cut wonton wrappers into “antlers.” Place on a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes at 350 F, or until lightly browned. Place cream cheese into two sandwich-sized reclosable bags. Snip 1/8-inch off the corner of one and 1/16-inch off the second. With the bag and the 1/8-inch hole, squeeze cream cheese into colossal olives. Using a bamboo skewer, make a hole in the large olives. Break a pretzel stick in half and press into hole and into colossal olive. Press together to form the head. Make four holes in the colossal olive with a bamboo skewer and push four broken pretzel sticks in to form legs. Squeeze cream cheese with the small-hole to form eyes. Make tiny slits with a paring knife in the top of the head and insert wonton antlers. Make a hole in the large olive (head) and insert a small sliver of carrot for the nose. Use a small piece of raisin to create pupils.

To create a winter setting, dust kale leaves with powdered sugar and snip the tops off mushrooms to simulate large boulders.

Quick, simple holiday entertaining tricks

The holidays are that special time of year when we open our homes and welcome guests from far and wide. It is a chance for us to connect with old friends and family we may not have seen since the previous holiday season.

If you’ll be hosting holiday guests this year, you know there are plenty of preparations to be made. While the main course and the sleeping arrangements may require some additional thought, you don’t need to get bogged down in the decorations. Follow these tips to create a beautiful holiday motif in just a matter of moments.

* Dress up the curtains. Wrapping paper and Christmas print ribbon only appear once a year, so when they do make the most of them. Use some of that print ribbon and wrap it around your curtains to make festive, holiday bows. This will bring your furnishings into the holiday spirit and give the room a more complete look.

* Serve a festive snack. The main course may be extravagant, but there’s no reason the snacks have to be laborious. This year, offer your guests Wheat Thins Holiday snacks. These better-for-you hexagon-shaped snacks feature festive imprints, including snowflakes, a gingerbread man, a bell and a candy cane. Plate them on a holiday platter and serve them with a garlic dip, a spinach artichoke dip or another of your own creation for a fun, unique snack. Share your entertaining ideas for Wheat Thins Holiday snacks on Twitter @WheatThins.

* Dress up your house plants. Why should the tree get all the attention? If you have plants in your home, decorate them with festive ornaments of their own.

* Create a sparkling centerpiece. A centerpiece doesn’t have to be a large, dramatic thing. For a simple, yet elegant centerpiece, place vintage ornaments on a cake stand and surround them with holly leaves or evergreen twigs.

* Place your wishes in a wreath. Create a touching piece that will engage and entertain your guests. Hang an unadorned twig wreath from a wall. Then supply your guests with small, blank cards and markers to write on and ask them to write a message about the season or the upcoming year on the card before adding it to the wreath. Your guests will enjoy creating their own messages as well as reading the messages of their fellow event attendees.

* Create decorations from candy. If you’re looking for simple decorations to adorn your house with, fill tall, slim drinking glasses with candy canes for a festive, yet elegant appearance. Tie a red ribbon around each glass to complete the look.

Preparing your home for that holiday get-together doesn’t have to mean hours of decorating. With these simple tips you’ll be able to showcase your Christmas spirit and spend your newly-found free time enjoying the season.

Dish Up the Love

Dish up the love this holiday season with time-honored recipes

The heart of the holiday season centers around the bonds created during celebrations and traditions – Thanksgiving dinner, cookie exchanges, Christmas and Hanukkah parties and more. These special moments are often created in and around the kitchen. Whether it’s an afternoon spent making holiday cookies or sitting around the table enjoying Grandma’s famous meatballs, there’s something special about quality time spent together preparing for or enjoying seasonal fare.

A big part of what makes these holiday moments so special are traditional recipes and the memories they evoke – those favorite dishes that have passed from generation-to-generation or friend-to-friend and are always requested at this time of year.

Holiday cooks and entertainers are encouraged to submit their time-honored holiday recipes at WorldKitchen.com/DishUptheLove. For every recipe submitted, Baker’s Secret, CorningWare, and Pyrex will donate $1 up to $50,000 to Feeding America. One dollar helps provide nine meals secured by Feeding America on behalf of local member food banks. Additionally, one grand prize winner will receive a Valentine’s Day trip for two to New York City. Be sure to check out other shared recipes for new menu ideas to try in your own kitchen.

When making your family favorites, or trying out a new recipe, consider the following tips from Antonia Lofaso, Top Chef All-Star and executive chef/partner at-Black Market Liquor Bar &-Scopa:

* Spend more time cooking and less time on cleanup – Reliable and durable baking dishes like Baker’s Secret simplify the baking process, turning the baking marathon into a fun afternoon of family bonding time. And they’re dishwasher-safe, meaning less time spent cleaning up the mess and more time enjoying the delicious baked goods.

* Serve meals family style – Having the entire family around the dinner table during the holidays is special. Serving the food family style makes it easy for the host to participate in the fun with everyone else, and allows all members to take as much food as they want while passing the dishes around the table.

* Reduce prep time – Creating all those wonderful dishes doesn’t have to take all day. Help reduce time by serving those favorite menu items in table-worthy bake ware such as CorningWare. These dishes can transfer seamlessly from oven to table to the refrigerator for storage, and complement your holiday table decorations beautifully.

* Favorite dish will travel- Sometimes the person with the most-requested recipe isn’t the one hosting the meal, and when that happens, Pyrex Bakeware comes to the rescue. Not only can you prep and bake in Pyrex but it’s great for storing and taking on the go.

Lofaso has two favorite recipes she shares with her family each holiday season. They are Italian Rice Balls and Bacon, Brussels Sprout and Goat Cheese Pie, which she’s sharing so you can try it at your next family holiday gathering.

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Italian Rice Balls

Servings: 15 to 18 rice balls

Ingredients:

1 cup Arborio rice (risotto rice)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 egg yolks
2 cups grated or shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3 cups vegetable oil
2 cups dried plain bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups cubed firm whole-milk mozzarella cheese

In medium pot, combine the rice, water and salt and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and let the rice cook for 12 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. When done, spread rice out on a baking sheet. Use a rubber spatula to move the rice around, allowing the steam to escape and the rice to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the egg yolks and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Add the egg and cheese mixture, parsley, basil and sun-dried tomatoes to the cooled rice. Use a rubber spatula to incorporate these ingredients. It will be very sticky. Put the bread crumbs in a medium bowl.

In a 4-quart pot, heat the vegetable oil to 350 F, verifying the temperature with a candy thermometer. Set up the sheet of rice next to the mozzarella cheese and bread crumbs. Use a 2-ounce ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion out the rice. Roll 1 scoop in wet hands to shape it into a ball. Push two cubes of mozzarella cheese into the center of the ball. Reshape the rice to close the ball around the cheese. Coat each ball with bread crumbs and set on a plate until ready to fry.

Fry 4 or 5 rice balls at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove from oil using a slotted spoon and set to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce.

Tip: Purchase firm mozzarella cheese in a block and cut it into cubes.

 

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Bacon, Brussels Sprout and Goat Cheese Pie

Servings: 10 to 12

Pie crust ingredients:

2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup ice water

Pie ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound smoked bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 pound Brussels sprouts, stems removed and quartered
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Piecrust directions:

Combine the butter, flour and salt in a food processor and pulse for 1 minute. Once the butter has been chopped, set the processor to spin and drizzle in the ice water. Blend for no more than 45 seconds. The dough should form a ball in the food processor. Remove the dough, flatten it like a disk and wrap it in plastic. Let it rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to a day.

Pie directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a 10 to 12 inch saute pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook until slightly crispy. Remove from pan. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and season them with salt. Cook in the bacon fat and oil for 4 to 6 minutes, until golden brown and soft. Strain to remove the excess oil. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to plate of bacon and cool in the fridge while preparing the dough.

Remove the dough from the fridge and give it a few minutes to warm up. On a dry, lightly floured surface, press your rolling pin down in the dough, rolling upward and downward. Turn the dough a quart turn and repeat the process all the way around to make a circular shape. You want to have about 2 inches of crust overhanging your pie pan. Roll the crust onto the pin and gently roll the pin across the pie pan, draping the crust into the pan. Once the crust is arranged in the pie pan, roll the pin across the ridge of the pan. This will cut off the excess crust and leave a clean edge.

In a medium bowl, combine the fontina and mozzarella cheeses. Layer half of the cheese on the crust. Top it with the bacon and Brussels sprouts. Layer on the rest of the mixed cheeses so the Brussels sprouts are completed covered. Sprinkle on the goat cheese.

Bake the pie for 45 minutes, rotating it halfway through the baking time. The pie crust will turn a golden brown color. Serve warm or at room temperature.