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Bounty from Farmer’s Market: Gazpacho Soup!

Farmer's market gazpacho soup
Farmer’s market gazpacho soup

Gazpacho soup is found all over Seville, Spain, from where it originated. Traditionally, bread is added to the recipe, but I don’t add it to mine. There are many recipes for gazpacho–an old Craig Claiborne recipe calls for the addition of eggs to make it thicker. Most recipes call for a smooth blended mixture, basically making the soup a drink. I prefer it crunchy, however. So I put about half the ingredients into a food processor (you can also use a blender) and chop the rest. It’s all about texture. If you want to drink it, by all means, blend all the ingredients.

I make gazpacho soup in the late Summer into Fall when all the ingredients are local and super fresh. I buy whatever tomatoes look good at the farmer’s market in all colors. I used green, red and yellow tomatoes in the photograph, which is why the soup isn’t that red.

I tend to keep the amount of oil used on the light side, but add more for a thicker and smoother texture.

Gazpacho soup pairs well with grilled cheese with or without bacon. It is a perfect summer meal!

Gazpacho Soup

Serves 4

1 clove garlic

1 small red onion

2-3 Kirby cucumbers or 1 large peeled

1 Bell pepper, cored

2 pounds tomatoes, preferably heirloom, cored

Salt, pepper

Parsley to taste

Hot sauce to taste

2 teaspoons sherry or balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons-1/4 cup cup extra virgin olive oil

Blend garlic, onion and half the remaining vegetables and add vinegar, salt and pepper and the oil. Chop the rest of the vegetables and let chill 6 hours to overnight.

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Farmer's market gazpacho soup
Farmer’s market gazpacho soup

Improve Your Health with Flowers!

Peonies in ceramic vase
Peonies in ceramic vase

Last week,  I wrote a post on why you need flowers in your home. Today is about research that shows how flowers improve our health and well being.

Both plants and flowers elevate our energy and when plants are flowering, their energy is strongest. Because their energy is so powerful, the use of flowers in your home or workspace is the one of the best ways to bring in vibrant energy to help improve your life.

In the early 1930’s, Edward Bach, an English physician, discovered that he could heal patients of emotional and psychological difficulties using thirty-eight different flower remedies. Today, these flower remedies are used worldwide. (See the Bachcentre.com for more information.)

I use Bach’s Rescue Remedy anytime I am stressed and it works great for dogs, too! Bach’s flower essences can be found in most natural food stores. Just four sprays or drops onto your tongue and you will feel instantly calmer. Rescue Remedy has helped me go from clenching the wheel and cursing my situation to relaxed, happy thoughts in a matter of seconds.

A behavioral research study conducted in 2000 at Rutgers State University of New Jersey found that flowers improve our emotional health. The presence of flowers, it was discovered, triggers happy emotions, improves feelings of life satisfaction and affects social behavior in a positive manner.

A team of researchers studied the link between flowers and life satisfaction in a ten-month study of participants’ behavioral and emotional responses to receiving flowers. There was a universal reaction of delight and gratitude when receiving flowers, indicated by “true” or “excited” smiles.

The experiment found that flowers have a long-term positive effect on moods. Study participants reported feeling less depressed, anxious and agitated after receiving flowers, and demonstrated a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction.

According to Dr. Haviland-Jones of the Rutgers study: “Flowers bring about positive emotional feelings in those who enter a room and they make the space more welcoming and create a sharing atmosphere.”

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Lift Your Spirits with Flowers!

tulipsLift your spirits with a gift to yourself of fresh-cut flowers! The next few posts will address why flowers are important, how to arrange them yourself, caring for them and more.

20 years ago, I was getting paid a pittance to work as the event director at a holistic education center called Wainwright House in Rye, New York. I loved the job, however, and one of the perks was that employees could take classes for free. So, I studied Feng Shui and instantly fell in love with the practice. (Since then, I have refined Feng Shui to be more applicable to the 21st century and to include eco-friendly techniques, color theory and much more—I call it Harmonious Adjustments.)

Feng Shui taught me about the importance of real, fresh-cut flowers. So, even though I made little money, I purchased two vases and bought flowers once a week for my office. The flowers brightened my office and made me feel pampered and good about myself.

After I left that job, I took a position in a non-profit organization in New York City. The highlight of my week on the commute home on Fridays was that stopping at my favorite kiosk in Grand Central Station for flowers. So many gorgeous flowers—my challenge was to pick only one bunch! My husband got into it and looked forward to coming home to see the week’s pick.

At this point, my home just doesn’t feel right unless there are flowers in it. With the incredible amount of joy they provide, they are essential to my life.

Flowers enhance whatever space they occupy. They engage most of our senses; we see them, smell them, touch them and can even eat some of them. The actual vibration of flowers feeds us and feeds the Spirit! The energy that emanates from flowers literally has the power to elevate your mood! We enhance our most special occasions, like weddings, with flowers, not only because they are beautiful, but, because they are a physical manifestation of divine love.

Centuries ago, the Japanese created a special branch of Feng Shui called Feng Shui Seika. Feng Shui Seika is the practice of enhancing fortunes by using flowers in a particular fashion. The art was developed by a school of Ikebana called Enshinka International Ikebana.

Practitioners of Feng Shui Seika utilize grass, wood and flowers, as well as minerals, crystals and mirrors, to balance yin and yang. Followers believe that the energy within plants and flowers can best be channeled into one’s environment when they are arranged in a particular way. Based on Ikebana, the theory is that certain arrangements make it easier to receive the energy of the plants and flowers and that these auspicious arrangements will transform the recipients’ fortunes. Talk about flower power!

Tomorrow I’ll post about the research that proves flowers make us feel better.

11 Tips to Combat Stress: Transform Your Home!

Clutter free and great flow in this living room
Clutter free and great flow in this living room

Most of us know some ways to keep stress in control; eat right, get plenty of sleep, exercise, meditate. But, did you know that making your home a safe haven can also be extremely beneficial? And, that clutter is the last thing we need in when we are stressed out, as it makes us feel unsafe and anxious.

As an eco-friendly interior designer and Feng Shui expert, I have had the honor of helping many clients transform their lives by changing their homes. Living in a home filled with positive energy and beauty, a home that is clean, organized and clutter-free makes the occupants feel safe. In safety comes freedom; freedom to be creative, to be motivated and energetic.

Best of all, it doesn’t need to cost a fortune to create your sanctuary. I recommend the following steps to create your safe haven:

  •  Clean your home well and get rid of clutter! This is huge and you can even make money by selling your stuff! A clean home is a healthier home and just feels good. Clutter, as mentioned previously, causes stress, confusion, depression and lethargy. Get rid of anything you don’t love, need or have used for over a year.
  • Eliminate harmful products and replace them with eco-friendly ones. This step will improve your health and the health of the planet.
  • Clear your home of negative energy with smudging or dowsing.
  •  Surround yourself with artwork you love. If you don’t have any, start a collection! A few pieces of art that speak to you is a great stress-reducer.
  • Allow energy, or chi, to flow unobstructed throughout your home. Don’t crowd furniture.
  • Use color to your benefit. The cool colors, like blue and purple, are great in the bedroom because they lower blood pressure and help us relax. Social rooms, like the kitchen and living room, benefit from the warm, expansive colors like yellow, red, and orange.
  •  Place objects in the Bagua to attract whatever you want—love, money, fame.
  •  Balance each room with all four elements—earth, air, fire, and water.
  •  Houseplants add great energy and suck up indoor air pollution.
  •  Treat yourself to flowers every week—simply my favorite way to make my home feel like a sanctuary.
  •  Learn to decorate with confidence! Don’t worry about what’s in style—decorate to please your unique style.

One last suggestion–have fun while doing this! Transforming your home into a sanctuary is really enjoyable!

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For more information on these topics, read my book: Harmonious Environment

Farmer’s Market Potato Salad

potato-salad
Farmer’s Market Potato Salad

This potato salad bears no resemblance to the bland, sweetish dish from a deli. Try to purchase the potatoes at your local farmer’s market or where there is a variety of organic fingerling, baby or other small potatoes. These potatoes are categorized as waxy (low starch content) and are creamy, firm and flavorful and even come in cool colors like purple and red! (Adirondack Blue and fingerlings were used in this photograph.) I get my pickles at the farmer’s market and they are fresh tasting with only real ingredients, unlike those found on grocery store shelves. The parsley and lemon add a summery freshness.

Ingredients

Serves 6

1 pound fingerling, baby or other small, creamy potatoes, boil until done—depending on size about 25-40 minutes—a fork should easily penetrate, chop into bite sized pieces; no need to peel.

5 eggs, boil 10 minutes, peel and chop into smallish pieces

1 tablespoon or so Frank’s RedHot sauce or your favorite

3 ribs celery, chopped medium

3 new or half sour pickles, chopped medium

Handful of parsley, chopped fine

Small red onion, finely chopped or sliced fine on a mandolin and chopped

½ bunch of scallion, chopped fine

¾-1 cup Mayonnaise, as desired

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice from 1 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon Capers, rinsed and chopped

Black or green olives, chopped (optional)

While potatoes and eggs are cooking, prepare vegetables. Cut potatoes as soon as you can handle and add lemon—this helps prevent the mayonnaise from soaking into potatoes and you’ll need less. Mix hot sauce with mayonnaise and olive oil. Mix eggs and potatoes with vegetables, add salt and pepper. Stir in mayo. Chill.

Farmer's Market Potato Salad
Farmer’s Market Potato Salad

 

 

How to Choose Colors for a Better Life!

Color spectrum
Color spectrum

I love the subject of color and have studied it extensively. Interestingly, when I first studied and practiced interior design, I found myself calling colors “warm” or “cool” as you speak of them–depending on their undertones. I did this for years.

Then I began to study Feng Shui. I won’t get into detail, but suffice to say that traditional Feng Shui is an interior designer’s nightmare…you are supposed to use certain colors (that are significant in traditional Chinese culture) in every room. Ugh.

I understood that people react strongly to colors, but I wasn’t sure why. In preparation of writing my book, Harmonious Environment, I began to study color from the dispassionate scientific point of view. For example, in the 20th century, The Luscher Colour Test revealed that colors stimulate different parts of the autonomic nervous system, affecting metabolic rate and glandular secretions. In the 1950’s, studies showed that yellow and red light raised blood pressure while blue light lowered it. Blue light is now commonly used to treat neonatal jaundice and to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Different colors, pulse rate and respiratory rate; color affects muscular tension, brain activity and the emotions.

Each color has its own vibration; color can be used to bring harmony and balance into your life. The invisible vibrations of color can be used to either relax or stimulate. The color spectrum is made up of seven colors, with thousands of tones, shades and tints in between. The longest wavelengths, or extroverted (yang) colors—red, orange and yellow—are considered the warm, expansive and outgoing colors. The shorter wavelengths, or introverted (yin) colors—blue, indigo and violet—are cool, soothing and introverted. Green is considered neutral.

Picture the pure color spectrum–red, orange and yellow are considered warm; green neutral and blue, indigo and violets, cool. Black is warm, white cool. Add to that each color can become a shade (add black), tint (add white) or tone (black + white=gray=neutral.)

Now it’s all math. Pure green is neutral because it’s made up of equal parts blue + yellow. Add more blue and you have a cool green; add more yellow, warm.

Knowing that, pink cannot be cool–neither can red or orange. Add white to a warm color and it lessens it’s heat; black to a cool color and it warms it.

Here is another example: brown is composed of red, yellow and black and is considered warm, because the intensity of black overwhelms the red and yellow. However, add some white (tint) and the color becomes beige or tan and effectively moves to the center of the spectrum, or the neutral zone. (You have undoubtedly heard of colors like beige and tan being referred to as “neutral” colors. This is why.) But add a pinky undertone to beige and you effectively make it warm again.

When planning the predominate color theme in a room, remember that warm or yang colors—red, orange and yellow—are best used in rooms that are meant for social and physical activity, as these colors stimulate the more physical aspects of life; eating, socializing and exercise. Conversely, cool yin colors—blue, indigo and violet—are ideal in spaces meant for rest or meditation, as these colors invoke feelings of calmness, creativity and inner transformation. Green, which represents balance, health and harmony, is ideal in all rooms.

Color is one aspect of how our homes affect us—there are many things that do. (I’ll save for another time…) How things like color, energy, clutter and so on affect us is the psychology of home (an actual category used in libraries). Understanding these processes—how color works, for example—helps us to create harmony, balance and health in the home.

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The Best Salad Starts with Homemade Dressing!

Commercial dressings–even the natural ones with no artificial ingredients or preservatives–pale in comparison to homemade. They are super easy to make and last several weeks in the refrigerator.  All you need is vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and Dijon vinegar to make a classic vinaigrette. Add a variety of vinegars,  citrus, walnut oil, yogurt, fresh herbs and you are set to make an endless variety of dressings.

Store bought:

  • Uses inferior oil such as soy or “vegetable”
  • Most dressings have water as the first ingredient
  • Are expensive
  • Don’t taste good
  • Are over salty
  • Most are loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors and many unpronounceable ingredients

Some of my oil and vinegars, from left: Trader Joe’s Balsamic, Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar, Bragg’s Cider Vinegar, Trader Joe’s Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sprectrum walnut oil, red vinegar and rice vinegar.

Variety of oils and vinegars
Variety of oil and vinegars

I use my hand held blender with mini food processor attachment to make my dressing because it’s faster than by hand and it emulsifies the dressing (mixes it and keeps it mixed when used with mustard).

The first dressing is a fancy classic vinaigrette: omit the garlic and parsley for the classic. Switch the type of oil or vinegar for different flavors.

Good basics you can keep on hand to make an endless variety of dressings:

  • Raw apple vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Rice vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange
  • Walnut oil
  • Plain yogurt, Greek or regular
  • Shallots
  • Herbs
  • Scallion
  • Avocado
  • Egg

I use my hand held blender with mini food processor attachment to make my dressing because it’s faster than by hand and it emulsifies the dressing (mixes it and keeps it mixed when used with mustard). You can also use the hand blender itself. You can also use a whisk or shake it in a container.

The first dressing is a “fancy”vinaigrette: omit the garlic and parsley for the classic. Switch the type of oil or vinegar for different flavors.

I usually make about a cup of dressing. The oil and vinegar ratio is about 4 to 1, but depending on the strength of the oil or vinegar, you may want a higher or lower ratio. Make and taste; you’ll be preparing by eye in no time.

If you are new to homemade dressing, go easy on it–since there is no water, it will be much stronger than the commercial variety.

Hand blender with mini food processor
Hand blender with mini food processor

Balsamic Vinegar Vinaigrette

6 oz extra virgin olive oil

1-2 oz balsamic vinegar

1 clove garlic

handful parsley

salt and pepper to taste

1 scant teaspoon Dijon mustard

Toss everything together and blend.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Balsamic Vinaigrette

This dressing container is great. Made by Oxo, it comes in two sizes. Amazon

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Become a Flower Designer Now!

Peonies in ceramic vase
Peonies in ceramic vase

Not only do flowers feed our souls and make our homes look beautiful, they give us something new and different in our home and workplace to look at every week. Let’s face it, unless you buy new things all the time, your belongings can become invisible or even boring. A fresh arrangement or two every week (in the same or in different places) can bring a whole new perspective to an entire room! This happens because a new object is seen in relation to its surroundings. For example, if you put a large blue vase with pink and magenta roses on your coffee table, the colors, shapes and textures of the flowers and vase will interact with the objects near them.

Obviously, you can buy ready-made arrangements, but making your own is fun and easy. Arrangements can be as simple as a bunch of tulips placed in a glass vase to a huge, complicated mixed bouquet topiary. If you have no experience arranging flowers, start with a simple arrangement using one type of flower in one color. Tulips are great because they grow after they are cut, and you can watch them change as they mature; opening and bending their delicate stems towards a light source.

For inspiration, there are many beautifully illustrated books on flower arranging. Another option is to take a class in flower arranging. Practice designing with different flowers, baskets and vases and have some fun!

 

Flower Arranging

I collect flower vases so that I have a variety of options for my floral arrangements. Also, different containers look better in particular areas of my home. There are plenty of eco-friendly choices you can make when selecting a flower container:

  • Antique or second-hand containers
  • Earthenware containers
  • Glass containers, especially recycled
  • Containers made out of stone
  • Recycled metal containers

Any container that holds water can hold flowers—be creative and look around your home for possibilities. You can cover empty cans from your cupboard with fabric, for example. Or, put a bunch of flowers in a watering can. If they are watertight, clay pots can hold flowers.

tulips
Tulips in glass vase

When you entertain, it is nice to have flowers on the table—but not if they obstruct your guests’ views of one another. Low containers are perfect for the dining room table. To keep flowers upright, it might be necessary to use what florists use, floral foam. Oasis® brand is most common; just make sure the package indicates that the foam is for wet floral arrangements. Floral foam is available in craft stores.

The key to using floral foam is to allow it to absorb water at its own rate, in a sink or a container filled with water. If you forcefully submerge it, the inside of the foam will not get wet. The foam is ready to use when it has sunk to the bottom of the water-filled container. Floral foam is easily cut with a knife; cut whatever size you require, wet it, and place in a container.

You will want to cover the floral foam completely. In addition to flowers, you will need green filler—either from the florist or cut some from a bush or tree in your yard. You can cover the foam first and then place the flowers, or arrange flowers and then fill in spaces with greens.

The container in which you put your flowers is almost as important as the arrangement itself. Factors to keep in mind:

Proportion: Size and amount of flowers in relation to container

The flowers should fill the container selected so that they are neither crammed into the vessel nor too sparse. The size of the flowers should be proportional to the vase. Cut the stems to achieve the look you desire.

Gerbers in glass vase
Gerbers in glass vase

How the colors of the flowers work with the vessel

Colorful flowers with a very busy vase end up competing with each other. I prefer vases to be a single color, allowing the flowers to really stand out. My collection of vases includes an assortment of pleasing shapes and a variety of sizes to compliment all kinds of arrangements. But, the color of the vase still has an impact: a light green vessel with pastel flowers looks very different from a deep blue vase with hot colors, for example.

Cut stems to fit long-stemmed flowers into a small container

Do not be afraid to drastically cut the length of the stem. Take gerbers, for example; their stems are often several feet long, their heads are approximately three inches wide and they come in a wide variety of colors. The look of the arrangement will totally change depending on the length you decide to keep them. At full length, they are dramatic in a tall, slender vase. Cut the stem to a half foot and they look beautiful in a rounded vessel. Take one to three gerbers and place them into a still smaller container. Finally, cut all but a half inch of the stem and let them float singly or in groups in a dish. Fabulous!

How the arrangement looks in the intended space

If you are making an arrangement for a specific area, select the right size container and flowers, based on that space. A tiny arrangement will look out of proportion in the center of a huge foyer with vaulted ceilings. Conversely, placing tall gladiolas under a dining room chandelier would look crowded.

Finally, relax and enjoy the process of arranging flowers! Experiment with different flowers and vases, and allow yourself to create. Most importantly, honor yourself with fresh flowers on a regular basis!

Excerpt from Harmonious Environment: Beautify, Detoxify and Energize Your Life, Your Home & Your Planet

 

Refreshing Asian Inspired Coleslaw

Asian Style coleslaw
Asian inspired coleslaw with fish sauce and lime

I eat salad almost every day for lunch, so I like variety in my vegetables for dinner. When it’s cold outside, I tend to cook my veggies, but in the summer, I like lots of raw and colorful vegetables. One great dish is coleslaw. Very fast and easy to make with a food processor, but you can use a mandolin or even cut with a sharp knife if you don’t have one.

I also like coleslaw because, unlike a green salad that quickly wilts, a batch tastes great for two days. This makes it a perfect dish for entertaining or having something already prepared for a couple days.  Make this recipe early in the day to allow for maximum flavor.

The ingredients are for the coleslaw pictured; I picked them partially for the variety of cool colors, because it just makes the dish more fun! However, feel free to substitute the vegetables.  Any cabbage, brussels sprouts,  chiffinade cut    lacinato kale (flat leaves with small bumps)  and broccoli stems all work well.

Note: I like red onion but not in big chunks where the flavor can be overpowering. One solution is to slice on fine on a mandolin, then coarsely chop it and squeeze out excess liquid. I do this whenever I use raw red onion and you never get that strong taste.

This dish goes well with lots of food. I made it with a grilled pork tenderloin (adding lime juice and fish sauce to it when removed from grill) and potato salad over this past sweltering hot weekend. Light and refreshing, it was the perfect meal!  (I’ll post my potato salad in a couple days. I use fingerling potatoes from the farmer’s market and other fresh ingredients; stay tuned!) Chicken, burgers, baked beans…this slaw goes with lots of things and is really delicious!

Asian Inspired Coleslaw 

Serves 6-8

Ingredients 

½ medium red cabbage, shredded or sliced on mandolin

1 small red onion, thinnest cut on mandolin and chopped

½ medium jicama, peeled and shredded

1 big carrot, peeled and shredded

1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks

Handful of Cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped

1-2 Lemongrass stalks, chopped or 2 tablespoons dried (if you can’t find, no worries)

Mint, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons Fish sauce

2 limes, juiced

2-3 tablespoons Olive oil

Black pepper

Salt scant or none–fish sauce is salty, taste before adding!

Method

Shred veggies and put in colander and allow to drain half an hour. Squeeze out excess water. Make marinade by mixing oil, fish sauce, lime juice, lemongrass and pepper. Mix well with vegetables. Add cilantro. Refrigerate and let flavors meld a few hours or even overnight.

Asian Style coleslaw
Asian inspired coleslaw with fish sauce and lime

New Topics: Recipes, Feng Shui, Green and More!

I have had numerous careers and interests over my life and want to share some of what I have learned! So, starting today, I will be posting a variety of subjects on my blog:

  • Recipes and cooking techniques
  • Interior design and garden tips
  • Green or eco-friendly info
  • Feng Shui
  • Whatever else might pop in my mind.

I will post these subjects because I realize I would rather work on my art than blog about it. I am not comfortable posting “works in progress” or discussing techniques. For me, working on my art is a private endeavor. When a piece is finished, I am happy to show it, but talking about it–not so much.

I have loved fiber art since I was a kid. But for most of my life, it was a hobby,  partly because I had other things I wanted to do as well.  Like write books. Harmonious Environment was my first book and it won Best Non-Fiction!

Harmonious Environment

I also love to cook and worked as a chef and owner of a catering company.  I might write a cookbook that focuses on dinner menus–healthy, tasty and balanced meals–with what goes well together.

For almost five years, I have kept a “Dinner Diary”, recording meals and what worked well together (and not so much)!

So I will be sharing some recipes and cooking techniques that I hope you like.

I went to Parson’s School of Design for Interior Design and worked for years. I will share some useful tips on decorating your home. And since I am constantly fixing things, some DIY techniques as well.

I also studied Feng Shui and adapted it to design projects. (There are different schools of this ancient practice, and some of them are way too hard-core and not applicable in the 21st Century. I took the stuff that makes sense and ignored the rest.)

In one of those moments, it dawned on me that Feng Shui (basically, good energy, good energy flow) is only going to be effective if the home is also free from toxic chemicals.

It was around this time that I decided to gather all these subjects and write Harmonious Environment. I spent a couple years researching and a big part of that was on the environment and what was bad and good for it. (This was 2004 and green living was not on the radar like it is now.)

Anyway, I am planning on having some fun with this and I encourage you to reach out and ask me any questions or suggest a post you might be interested in reading.

Cheers,

Norma

 

 

 

 

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