Travel like a local

Americans are on the move: logging two billion business and leisure trips of 50 miles or more from home for at least one night last year alone, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Today, more people are looking for authentic travel activities – ones that are outside the traditional museum or monument visit. To get more out of your next vacation, consider expert advice on how to break out of the tourist rut and have a truly authentic local experience.

“The single biggest thing you can do to trigger these experiences is to talk to people – talk to locals,” says Reena Ganga, Gadling blogger and Wanderplex Founder. “But since that’s easier said than done, I think there are several ways you can try to foster interactions with locals and put yourself in a position to create great travel memories.”

Hyatt House, an upscale extended stay hotel brand located across-the United States,-has teamed up with Ganga and America’s favorite lifestyle maven, Martha Stewart, to help vacationers learn the tricks of travelling like a local with the following tips:

Reena Ganga’s tips:

* Trek like the locals. Don’t limit yourself to sightseeing buses or taxis. If the locals travel in communal mini-vans or via bike, do it too. Locals who aren’t used to seeing tourists take that form of transport often find their tenacity endearing and will make the effort to talk to them.

* Go off the beaten path. Make time to head to the smaller, secondary cities when you travel. These are often the places that feel the most culturally distinct. If you’re in a big city, head outside the tourist zones and into interesting neighborhoods where the locals spend their time.

* Choose a place that feels like home. Instead of staying in a traditional hotel, think about staying in a serviced apartment or an extended stay hotel like Hyatt House, where you have a living room and kitchen. Then head out to the local market and talk to the vendors. You’ll discover the produce and products that are special to that area, and you never know where the conversations will lead.

* Eat with the locals. Don’t just eat at chain restaurants that you’re familiar with or that only have English menus. Go where the locals congregate. Whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant or a street stall, local eateries are likely to have more authentic food and the locals are often eager to tell you about the food, how to eat it, etc.

* Put away technology. If you find yourself lost while traveling, don’t immediately refer to maps on your phone – stop and ask a shopkeeper for directions. If you need a restaurant recommendation, don’t just search online. Ask locals for their tips – it’s a great excuse to strike up a conversation.

Keep in mind, traveling with a local mindset means taking a new approach to packing, too. Stewart offers these smart packing tips:

* Distribute weight evenly. Pack the heaviest items, such as shoes and toiletry bags, at the bottom. Pack socks inside shoes to prevent footwear from getting squished.

* Skip checked baggage. A canvas bag with a sturdy strap is great for packing for any length of trip. Remember, if you forget something, often hotels can help. Hyatt House has the Hyatt Has It – Borrows program, which can supply everything from a phone charger to yoga mats.

* Carry-on with care. Because you never know when weather or unforeseen events will cause travel delays, pack a carry-on bag containing items you would be very unhappy to lose, such as medications and toiletries.

* Stay clean on the run. Travel-size packaged antibacterial towelettes are great for keeping your hands and face clean.

* Regulate wrinkles. Use large drycleaner bags to pack bulky sweaters or cardigans. The plastic helps prevent wrinkling.

* Secure belongings. If you’re traveling a long distance, use a lock and key or combination lock to protect your belongings.

These simple tips make it easy to travel like a local and get the most out of your next vacation. You’ll be delighted by the unique memories and wonderful stories you get by traveling with a local mindset.

Sources: Martha Stewart Living, June 2003; Martha Stewart Digital, Article: Smart Packing Tips; Martha Stewart Video – Organizing: Helpful Tips for Packing Travel Bags; The Martha Stewart Show, Season 7, Episode 7099 (How to Pack a Suitcase Lightly for Easy Travel)

Adding Traditional Twists to Thanksgiving

Across America, families will be spending Thanksgiving together, and more than likely, enjoying the same menu items they’ve enjoyed in years past. Interestingly, more than half of Americans would embrace adding new foods or new preparations to the Thanksgiving table this year, and many think that side dishes provide the perfect opportunity to experiment, according to the findings of a new survey.

The survey conducted by Pillsbury reveals that 89 percent of Americans say preparing homemade foods shows their loved ones how much they care. However, many think the Thanksgiving meal is the most stressful of all holiday meals to make, and 72 percent are always looking for tips and tricks to prepare their dishes quicker.

The survey also shows how new food trends are shaping today’s Thanksgiving table. While some households are starting to offer alternatives to turkey, more are incorporating vegetables into their meals. Green beans, corn and carrots are among the top vegetables that Americans will serve for Thanksgiving. Other side dish staples include stuffing or dressing, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes and cranberries. With the need to reduce meal preparation time, and the interest of many to incorporate new dishes to their traditional meal, an easy and delicious dish such as Sweet Potato Casserole Crescents is one that will surprise and delight friends and family members.

Pie is a traditional Thanksgiving element and many families will end their meal with the pumpkin variety, the top Thanksgiving dessert served across America, according to the survey. Apple and pecan pies are close followers.

“We often hear from consumers that they want to make a homemade pie for their holiday celebration, but they find making the pie crust challenging,” says Madison Mayberry, Pillsbury food editor and entertaining expert. Her recommendation: make a homemade pie using a Pillsbury Pie Crust, found in the refrigerated aisle at your supermarket. The pre-made crust allows you to unroll, fill, top and bake, saving time and making it easier to bake a delicious pie. Mayberry recommends adding one of these popular pie recipes to your holiday meal: New Fashioned Pumpkin Pie, Perfect Apple Pie, or Salted Caramel Pecan Pie.

New-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:

1 box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk (1 1/2 cups)

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 425 F. Place pie crust in 9-inch glass pie pan as directed on box for One-Crust Filled Pie.

2. In large bowl, beat eggs with wire whisk. Stir in remaining ingredients until well blended.

3. Pour into crust-lined pan. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F; bake 40 to 50 minutes longer or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

4. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Store in refrigerator.

Tradition holds true across the country when it comes to Thanksgiving dinners. But with emerging food trends, and families trying to incorporate time-saving techniques and modernizing some of the classic recipes, today’s Thanksgiving table has a bit of a new look from years past.

For more Thanksgiving holiday recipe ideas, visit Pillsbury.com.

 

Home winterizing checklist

Fall means colorful leaves, apple cider and cooler temperatures. It also means winter’s on its way, so now is the time to winterize your home.

Improve your home’s comfort and energy efficiency with a home energy audit. Making energy efficiency upgrades identified in a home energy audit can save 5 to 30 percent on your monthly energy bill, according to Energy.gov.

If you would rather perform your own walk-through, this checklist can help you prepare your home for colder weather:

Exterior home maintenance tips

* Clean those gutters. Remove leaves and debris, then flush your gutters with water. This will help prevent clogged drains and reduce the potential formation of ice dams, which can cause excess water to get backed up and seep back into the house.

* Clean your window and patio door screens and put them into storage.

* Install storm doors. Storm doors help insulate your home against drafts and strong winds.

* Clean the tracks of patio doors and windows. Use a dry paintbrush to loosen dirt and debris and then vacuum to remove.

* Wash windows.

* Touch up exterior paint where needed.

 

Indoor home maintenance tips

* Schedule a furnace check-up by a professional to prepare it for the season. Also check to see if the filter needs changing.

* Add insulation. The amount of money you’ll end up saving in heating costs is likely well worth the investment of adding additional insulation to the attic.

* Check with your utility company to see if they offer rebates for energy-efficient home improvements including replacing windows or adding insulation.

* Clean and repair air ducts.

* Wrap pipes. Freezing temperatures can cause pipes to freeze and burst. To help prevent this, insulate pipes with a pre-molded, foam rubber sleeve, available at most local home improvement or hardware stores.

* Reverse fans. Adjust your ceiling fan to rotate clockwise to push rising warm air down.

* Check for leaks and drafts. Stand next to window and door openings to feel if cool air is blowing through. Leaky windows or drafty doors may need to be replaced. If you find a small leak around a window, seal it from the outside with weather-resistant caulk. Also apply weather stripping to exterior doors as needed.

Replace energy-inefficient windows

For a more long-term fix, replace old, drafty windows with a more energy-efficient option. Upgrading from single-pane to double-pane windows can also reduce energy costs, according to Energy Star.

Unique & nutty twists on holiday recipes

With the holidays fast approaching it’s time to enjoy some of the season’s tastiest foods. Small twists can turn a traditional dish into a holiday classic.

The good news is it’s simple to add a fresh twist to holiday favorites with easy additions like Fisher Nuts.

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, an Iron Chef and expert on Food Network , says that nuts are one of the most versatile ingredients to use when reinventing dishes. Here are her top five tips for cooking with nuts:

1. Cranberry sauce with a tiny grate of orange zest and a handful of toasted almonds stirred in at the last minute puts a simple but tasty twist on a staple Thanksgiving side dish.

2. Want rich, thick gravy with no lumps? Thicken gravy with ground nuts instead of flour. Simply separate a little of the gravy in a bowl and blend with ground walnuts until smooth. Then just whisk it back in the pot with the remaining gravy.

3. Spruce up holiday side dishes by stirring in some toasted pecans or almonds. Top gratins with a thin layer or stir a handful into sauteed or braised vegetables. The nuts bring out the earthy flavors of vegetables, adding richness without making dishes too heavy.

4. Stir together melted semi-sweet chocolate and a handful of chopped pecans or walnuts. Add a pinch of cinnamon and roll into bite-size candies. It’s an easy way to have something different than a pie or cookies for the holidays. Plus it’s gluten free.

5. Make nuts part of any season by toasting them in a little warm olive oil over medium heat. When the nuts are toasted and coated in the oil, stir in any fresh herb (for example, rosemary for winter or basil for summer) and allow the herbs to gently crisp up and meld with the nuts. Serve as is with a pinch of salt.

These five tips can help you transform traditional holiday fare into instant classics. To “wow” guests, try this tasty recipe from Chef Guarnaschelli at your next gathering:

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Sweet potatoes are at their best when combined with something sweet. This recipe blends flavors reminiscent of a cinnamon-infused pecan coffee cake topping and pairs them with sweet potatoes for a change from the more traditional marshmallow topped casserole. Plus, it’s perfect for busy cooks because the potatoes can be microwaved in just 15 minutes. (Prep Time: 25 minutes. Cook Time: 15 minutes Yield: 8 servings)

18793707

Ingredients:

4 large sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon orange zest, packed
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 cup Fisher Pecan Halves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Pierce sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave on high for 15 minutes or until completely cooked through. Let rest 5 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

3. Topping: Meanwhile, combine the pecans, flour, sugars, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to blend. Mix in 1/4 cup butter. The topping should form sandy clumps. Refrigerate.

4. Split the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out some of the flesh inside. Arrange the sweet potato “halves” on a baking sheet. In a medium bowl, combine the sweet potato flesh with the remaining 1/4 cup butter, orange zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spoon the filling back into each potato half and top with the topping on a baking tray. Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake until the topping browns, 15 to 20 minutes.

Serving seafood this Holiday Season

When you’re brain-storming holiday menus, do lovingly roasted turkeys with all the trimmings and decadent cookies dance alongside the peppermint and sugarplums in your visions? Certain flavors and foods are strongly associated with the holiday season – seafood, however, isn’t always among those favored dishes. But it could be! The right seasonings and a dash of creativity – along with historically low prices on well-loved options like lobster – could make seafood a centerpiece of your holiday menus.

Serving seafood can allow you to combine both the “wow factor” your family and guests crave in a holiday meal with the nutritional benefits they deserve. Nutrient-rich seafood is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, as well as omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Plus, with a wide variety of textures and flavors to choose from, you’re sure to find a type of seafood that appeals to every person at your table.

Here are three secrets to incorporating seafood into your holiday entertaining:

1. Buy as close to fresh as possible.

Unless you live in a fishing village, it’s almost impossible to get truly fresh fish. Most seafood will have been refrigerated and/or frozen at some point in its journey from the water to your grocery store – and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, if the seafood were left unfrozen, it could easily spoil by the time it reached the market, so don’t discount a selection because you suspect, or are sure, it’s been frozen. Instead, consider how the fish or shellfish looks and smells – and in the case of live shellfish, how it acts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says fish should smell fresh, not “fishy.” The flesh should be shiny, firm and free of slime for both whole fish and fillets. Uncooked shrimp should be translucent and shiny, with no strong odor. If you’re buying live lobster or crab, avoid ones that appear lethargic, and instead look for ones that show leg movement. For live shellfish, tap the shell before buying. If the animal inside is alive and healthy, the shell should snap shut.

2. Variety is the spice of life.

Let’s be honest – even people who eat a lot of seafood often reach for the same old seasoning week after week, regardless of the time of year. Traditional seafood seasoning is flavorful, appealing and versatile – hence its popularity. But if you would like that flavor in organic versions with a more robust taste, maybe a Cajun twist, or even a version with less salt, try something new.

Frontier Natural Products offers three organic seafood seasonings – Original, Reduced Sodium and Blackened – that enhance a variety of seafood dishes. Made with certified organic, premium spices, all three flavors use real sea salt rather than evaporated table salt. Kosher-certified by KSA, the seasonings also help restore America’s wetlands – 1 percent of sales of the spices goes toward wetland preservation and restoration.

Mix up your approach with these seasonings. Sure, they’re great sprinkled atop a grilled or baked fillet, but how about as an ingredient in lobster macaroni and cheese? Or as the flavor that gives an extra zing to a crab dip?

3. Par for every course – and time of day.

Some people only feel confident serving fillets as an entree. Others can manage a crab dip appetizer but can’t envision basing an entire meal on seafood. Still others would never dream that seafood could work well on their breakfast table. Because of its variety and versatility, seafood can be great for any – or every – course and served at any time of day, from breakfast to a late-night snack.

Can’t imagine how seafood fits into a breakfast? Try incorporating leftover lobster in your scrambled eggs, a la Seinfeld’s George Costanza. Or, substitute a crab cake for the English muffin and give traditional Eggs Benedict a whole new appeal. An updated tuna salad or well-seasoned chowder is always great for lunch. And dinner can be a seafood extravaganza with appetizer and entree both going swimmingly with the holiday season.

You’ll find plenty of seafood recipes at Frontiercoop.com. Here’s one that echoes the holiday season’s blend of comfort and excitement by using lobster to give classic macaroni and cheese a sophisticated, celebratory flair:

Smoked Gouda Lobster Macaroni and Cheese  (Prep time: 20 minutes. Cook time: 35 to 40 minutes. Serves five)

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

3 teaspoons Frontier Original Organic Seafood Seasoning, divided

1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

8 ounces uncooked rotini (or other pasta)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups 1 percent milk

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup sour cream

4 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, grated

6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

6 ounces raw lobster tail meat, cut into pieces (thaw if frozen)

1 1/2 teaspoons medium grind black pepper

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, melt one tablespoon butter. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, 1 teaspoon Seafood Seasoning and bread crumbs. Set aside.

Add rotini to the boiling water and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta and reserve.

In a large saucepan, melt four tablespoons butter and add flour. Cook over medium heat, whisking, three to four minutes, until golden. Gradually add milk to flour mixture, whisking. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat to low.

Add the heavy cream, lemon juice, sour cream, Gouda cheese, cheddar cheese and two teaspoons Seafood Seasoning, stirring until cheeses are melted and sauce is smooth.

Spray a 9-by-9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and place cooked pasta and lobster in pan. Pour cheese sauce into pan and mix everything together.

Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top of macaroni and cheese, and then bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are browned. Sprinkle final dish with black pepper.

5 tips to avoid holiday weight gain

Who doesn’t love the smell of a warm kitchen during the holidays? They’re designed around food and bringing family, old friends and new friends together. However, holidays can also be a detriment to your healthy lifestyle and cause you to lose your focus through the end of the year.

But they don’t have to.

“Think of fall as the perfect time to reassess the state of your health and prep for the challenges of the holiday season,” says Alicia Rodriguez, corporate registered dietician at Life Time – The Health Way of Life Company. “When it comes to nutrition and avoiding weight gain, my motto is, keep it simple and easy.”

Here are some tips to help you do the same.

Bulk up your plate with protein and vegetables

The side dishes at most holiday meals are often as good as the turkey or ham, but stuffing and mashed potatoes aren’t the best way to fill your plate. One way to avoid-weight gain is to build your plate with protein. This should be easy since holiday dinners revolve around meat. Second, fill your plate with side dishes that include vegetables. You may have a little spot left on your plate – use this space for your “indulgence.” When you look at your plate, the goal is that the majority is still providing you with good nutrients and reduced carbohydrates.

Use the “fork” trick

Many of us go back for seconds, and even third helpings at holiday meals. This year, focus on asking yourself if you’re enjoying your food. To help you answer this question, use the fork trick. Once you take a bite of food, place your fork down on the plate and let it go. Chew your food, swallow and then pick it up again. The key to this trick is letting go of the fork. This will remind you to slow down, enjoy your food and converse with friends and family.

Avoid the clean plate club

Growing up, many of us were always told “You can’t leave the table until you finish everything on your plate” and inevitably, we spent many nights sitting alone at the dinner table. These days, Rodriguez advises her clients to eat until they are full and, if their plate is not clean, it’s OK. Focus on one plate of food, slow down and be careful not to overeat. Overfeeding is never really a healthy thing to do.

Share your dessert with a loved one

After a satisfying meal, it is hard to avoid the sweet smells of pumpkin -or warm apple pie. If you choose not to skip dessert, share a small slice with a loved one or new friend. If you are hosting, designate one family member to bring dessert to limit the endless selection of pies and reduce the urge to over indulge.

Make like a turkey and trot out the door

Start your holiday with a new tradition this year and gather the family to do something active. Take a walk to a local park, put together a family friendly flag football game, rake the leaves up in the yard (and jump into them) or encourage the family to sign up for a run/walk event such as the Drumstick Dash in Roanoke.

Holidays are a time to be thankful for family, friends and everything in between. Savor the moment, really take time to taste your food, get out and have some fun, and avoid the-holiday weight gain.

Boost your home’s energy efficiency

It’s now easier than ever for homeowners to transform their homes into models of green living thanks to the growing availability of affordable, energy-smart building products and materials. From replacing incandescent light bulbs to reviewing the energy rating on new appliances, more homeowners are making informed decisions on how to cut energy consumption and boost efficiency.

Homeowners who are serious about boosting their home’s energy efficiency should consider working with a certified Home Energy Rater. These professionals conduct a series of tests to assess a home’s energy efficiency to provide an overall efficiency rating in much the same way that appliances are rated. Armed with this information, homeowners can make home improvement decisions that further boost their home’s energy efficiency.

According to the U.S Department of Energy, heating and cooling accounts for about 56 percent of the energy use in a typical U.S. home. While using smart thermostats can help correct daily energy use, homeowners should consider how thoroughly sealed their home truly is. For instance, the amount of air escaping from the home via cracks and gaps within the building envelope can have a significant impact on the overall efficiency of the heating and cooling system.

Why does this matter? Escaping air means the furnace or air-conditioner must work overtime to compensate and maintain a comfortable living temperature. As a result, energy consumption remains high, monthly bills continue to climb and any efficiency achieved through other methods is done in vain.

Understanding the factors that contributes to air leakage is essential for improving efficiency and lowering monthly bills. One of the key areas to consider is the home’s insulation. While some homeowners may think simply layering more insulation on top of existing insulation may do the trick, typically these traditional insulation types are unable to provide a thorough air seal or promote better heating and cooling efficiency. In fact, all the small gaps left behind by regular insulation materials like fibreglass can add up quickly.

One effective consideration is replacing traditional insulation with a high-performance spray foam insulation. Spray foam insulation, such as Icynene, both air-seals and insulates to stop air leakage from occurring, allowing homeowners to reduce energy consumption, effectively control their indoor environments and live greener.

When installed, spray foam insulation expands to completely seal a home’s walls, floors and ceilings to prevent air leakage. Insulation experts from Icynene note that quality spray foam insulation can noticeably reduce heating and cooling costs, in some cases by up to 50 percent. More information on how spray foam insulation can help improve household energy efficiency and reduce air leakage is available at icynene.com.

Maximize snack mixes

Everyone wants to enjoy foods they can feel good about eating, and snacks are no different. While carrot sticks and crackers with cheese are great go-to options, it’s important to mix things up. Snacking should be tasty and combine an interesting medley of flavors, as well as include whole grains and vitamin-rich ingredients, resulting in a savory, nutritious nibble.

When deciding between your favorite snacks, there’s no need to sacrifice flavors and seasonings often reserved for main course dishes. Instead, look to combine different food groups to create unique, delicious snack mixes. A mix can not only pack a lot of flavor but also can be full of nutrient-rich vitamins and whole grains.

The perfect snack mix combines flavors, textures, seasonings and tastes.

* Whole grain crackers add heartiness to your snack leaving you deliciously satisfied.

* Adding vegetables such as leafy greens adds vitamins and minerals – a perfect low-calorie addition.

* For extra crunch, popcorn or nuts are flavorful ingredients to add to your mix for a wholesome, appetizing snack.

Chef Rocco DiSpirito, known for his best-selling healthy comfort foods series Now Eat This!, created Brown Rice Triscuit Sea Salt & Black Pepper Crumbled Snack Mix, a tasty mix of popcorn, kale and the new Brown Rice Triscuit, which is baked with 100 percent whole grain brown rice. This snack mix is one great way to reap the benefits of whole grains in a distinctive new way.

18374689_web

Brown Rice Triscuit Sea Salt & Black Pepper Crumbled Snack Mix (Yield: 9 servings, about 1 cup each, Prep time: about 10 minutes, Processing time: about 10 minutes)

Ingredients:

Olive oil cooking spray

3 tablespoons popping corn kernels

1/8 teaspoon each salt and crushed red pepper flakes

1 bunch of Tuscan kale (about 15 leaves), or 4 loosely packed cups of leaves only (remove tough center stem with knife or kitchen shears)

20 Brown Rice Triscuit Sea Salt & Black Pepper Crackers, quartered

1. Spray a medium-sized saucepot with 1 second of cooking spray; add the popcorn kernels and place over medium high heat. Cook, covered, shaking occasionally until the kernels have popped, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat; place popcorn in large bowl and season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes.

2. Lay the kale out in batches in single layer on microwave-safe plates. Spray each plate with 1 second of cooking spray and microwave on high for 1 minute. Flip the leaves, then microwave on high until the leaves are dried and crisp, about 1 minute. Continue microwaving, if needed, turning every minute until crisp. Repeat with remaining kale.

3. Break the kale crisps into bite-size pieces. Toss with the crackers and popcorn and serve.

Nutrition Information Per Serving: 80 calories, 2g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 90mg sodium, 14g carbohydrate, 2g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 2g protein

The regional magazine for women