Berry Good Muffins

By Mary Pat Baldauf

We’re in the throes of Spring, and there is so much to do in the Midlands right now. If one of the things you’re doing is picking strawberries at a local farm, you’ll want to check out this recipe for strawberry muffins from my friend April Blake. These muffins are incredible and the perfect way to share your strawberries!

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STRAWBERRY MINI MUFFINS (from The April Blake)

INGREDIENTS

Makes 48 mini muffins

2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced or diced
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs beaten

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter and flour muffin tins (two large tins, or one large and two mini, or four or five mini muffin tins).
  2. Slice strawberries, and place in mixing bowl. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, and set aside while preparing dough.
  3. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in large bowl and mix well. Pour oil and eggs into strawberries. Add strawberry mixture to flour mixture, blending until dry ingredients are just moistened. Make sure all flour incorporates. Divide batter into pans.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes for mini muffins (or 25-30 if you’re going for large muffins), or until knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn muffins out, and cool completely.

Quick and Easy Pizza Night

By Rachel Sircy

Well, truthfully, I wasn’t planning to write about this, but after I tried Mama Mary’s gluten free pizza crust, I thought I had better share my experience. My husband had been asking about home-made pizza recently – I make a pretty mean chicken pizza – but the thing is, I really don’t like to make gluten free pizza crusts. Somehow, the mixes always give you something weird. I really dislike the Bob’s Redmill pizza crust mix. It’s like dry, crusty bread. My favorite, as far as pizza crust mixes go, has always been Namaste, but even that wasn’t ever a normal pizza crust. It was white with greenish flecks of Italian seasoning in it. It was also the consistency of cake batter with the weirdly elastic properties of marshmallow cream. It was weird, but at least it was a kind of weirdness I could handle. Actually, I haven’t even made the Namaste pizza crust in so long, that I don’t know if the formula is even the same anymore.

So, when my husband asked for pizza, I really just wanted to hand him $5 and point him in the direction of the nearest Little Cesar’s, but then I remembered something. Walking down one of the aisles of the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Cayce, I remembered seeing little personal-sized pre-packaged pizza crusts that were labeled “gluten free”. I figured they couldn’t be as bad as Bob’s Redmill, and their small size also solved another one of gluten free pizza’s big problems: leftovers.

My husband loves cold pizza – I’m not such a huge fan, even in my gluten-eating days, I disliked the way that the refrigerator turned all of that luscious, gooey cheese into something like cold leather – but cold, leftover gluten free pizza is pretty nearly inedible. Not only does the cheese turn to leather, but the something that happens to most gluten free pizza crusts that causes them to become so hard that – should you be desperate enough to try to eat a piece – you have to gnaw on the slice like a wild animal trying to peel the last bit of meat off of a carcass. And, in my opinion, reheating a gluten free slice of pizza doesn’t make matters much better. The microwave may melt the cheese, but it doesn’t do much for that awful crust. I have always hated making an entire huge pizza and pretty much having to throw out the leftovers. Yes, some of you may be thinking that you have a perfect (albeit really time-consuming) recipe for gluten free pizza crust that tastes good the next day, but here’s the thing: I’m lazy. Especially when it comes to baking. I kind of hate it. I used to love to bake before I discovered that I have celiac disease, but that love died in the first few months of going gluten free and I’ve never been able to revive it. If you want to see me at my absolute worst, ask me to make a gluten free pizza crust. Or worse yet, a gluten free pie crust. In the case of the pie crust, you might have to pick me up off of the kitchen floor because I will have fallen over, weeping.

Long story short, I decided to give these little pizza crusts a try. And it turns out that they’re pretty good. I mean, they’re not the best pizza crusts I’ve ever had, but I personally think they beat Bob’s Redmill by a mile. (Sorry to beat up on you, Bob. You’ve given us a lot of great products, but your pizza is the pits.) So, I am making a recommendation: if you, like me, are lazy and want a quick and easy pizza without leftovers, try these Mama Mary’s pizza crusts. I didn’t take a picture of the crusts in the package, because I wasn’t planning to write about them, but I took a picture of the back of the package:

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And here’s the finished product:

Again, I found these pizza crusts in the gluten free section of the Neighborhood Market in Cayce. They’re not refrigerated, they right there on the shelf next to the gluten free snack bars and whatnot. I feel fairly certain, however, that almost any Walmart would carry them. Walmart is pretty good at having the same products in every store. Happy Eating!

 

 

 

Read to your Kids

By Jeanne Reynolds

I had to hear it a couple of times for it to sink in. When it did, I could hardly believe it.

“Here’s a great hack for your home virtual assistant device,” the radio announcer enthused. (For those like my husband who think a hack is a terrible golfer or someone who sneaks into your computer system, “hack” is current slang for a quick fix, trick or work-around.)

“You can get (name of device) to read your child a bedtime story!” she continued. “Just say, (name of device), read Billy a bedtime story. Then you both can sit back and listen until one of you falls asleep.”

This may be the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard. I mean, it ranks right up there with, “Here, eat this sausage dog right before you get on the roller coaster” and “Don’t worry, these bungee cords almost never break.”

Seriously? Take a beloved childhood ritual – one of the most important things you can do to help your child develop a love of reading that will reap untold lifelong benefits – and ask a machine to do it for you?

Now, I totally get how exhausted, frazzled and pulled in 7 directions parents of young children are at the end of the day, especially if they’re also holding down jobs outside the home. And reading a story may seem like another chore there’s just not enough time for. The digital voice is better than nothing, right?

No. It’s not.

Because that’s no more “reading” than is watching a movie version of a book. Both are entertaining, but very different. And just getting Billy to shut up and go to sleep is not what a bedtime story is all about. bedtime-story

Reading – seeing the words and pictures, turning the pages – is essential to a child’s future. Children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. And two-thirds who are still struggling by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

And it’s not just being able to read, but loving to read. A third of high school graduates never read a book after high school. Living in a house overflowing with books, and remembering trips to the public library as a highlight of the week as a child, this is harder for me to understand than black hole theory. And incredibly sad.

It’s one reason I’ve been volunteering for the past school year with Midlands Reading Consortium. Even though my pre-K student can’t read a lick (yet!), I’m trying to model the joy of reading and help him develop not just a skill but an avocation he’ll enjoy the rest of his life.

No batteries required.

A Toe-Sucking Experience in Cozumel

By Chaunte McClure

When I go on vacation, I’ve vowed to try something I’ve never done before, be it an adventurous excursion or some other out-of-the-box activity. This time, while in Cozumel I got my toes sucked.

Pic 1

My entire feet, actually, and around my ankles, as my husband sat beside me, watched and enjoyed the same treatment. It was a brief escape from the sun after swimming in the turquoise Caribbean ocean at Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club where we could enjoy everything from kayaking to horseback riding to massages and fish pedicures. I opted for a fish pedicure after my cousins raved about their experience. (They snuck away while my body finally got used to the ocean’s cool temperature.)

Pic 2

To the Islander Fish Spa I headed to get a feel for what it was all about. After getting my feet cleaned of the beach sand, it was time to simultaneously and slowly put my feet in the spa tank. Then the tickling began! A school of fish nibbled away at the bottom, top and sides of my feet. The bottom was the most ticklish but after a few minutes, I got used to the nibbling and kissing which lasted for about 15 minutes. It’s like a micro massage but from Garra Ruffa fish to help remove dead skin cells. Once the treatment was over, a technician (I guess that’s what they’re called) rubbed our feet with a cream that started out smooth and creamy then slightly dried before he wiped it off with a towel. The result: soft, smooth feet and a story to tell.

Pic 3

In hindsight, I should have taken sanitation into consideration, but had I done so, you wouldn’t be reading this post because the germaphobe in me would’ve forgone the opportunity. No regrets, though, and three days later my feet are just fine. Kissable, indeed.

Have you had a fish pedicure? How did you like it? If you haven’t, would you try it?

 

From the mountain to the Valley

By Stacy Thompson

So how to follow up climbing to the Rooftop of Africa? Head to the lowest dry point in North America!  When my mom first suggested a hiking and camping trip to Death Valley, I of course had to wisecrack “the one in Clemson or Baton Rouge?” (for my non-sports-obsessed readers, the football stadiums at LSU and Clemson are nicknamed ‘Death Valley’)  She responded with a well-deserved eye-roll, and then said she was serious…she wanted to hike in Death Valley.  With very little knowledge of the region, but, as ever, trusting my mom’s keen sense of adventure, I repeated the words I respond with whenever she suggests a hike…”I’ll never say no!”

So last month we hit the trail again, but this time in the confines of a 3.4 million-acre US National Park that is the largest in the contiguous US.  Not only is Death Valley the driest (about 2 inches of rain…annually!) and the hottest (record high of 134 degrees) place in North America, it also has the lowest dry elevation of -282 feet in Badwater Basin.  Legend has it that the Valley was named by gold-rushers who spent several miserable months trying to get through to California –after suffering dehydration and near starvation, when they finally reached the edge of the desert, one turned and looked back to exclaim “Goodbye Death Valley.”

I’ve visited deserts in my travels, and have spent numerous weeks inside of and around the Grand Canyon.  My past experiences in no way prepared me for the diversity of Death Valley.

From mudstone hills and canyons…

To serene, magnificent sand dunes…

To the salt pan surrounded by distant peaks…

Every day, and even several times in a day, we were experiencing inspiring vistas and dramatically varied terrains.  As always, Mom kept on hikin’…

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And although we didn’t get to see much wildlife (did you read the part above about the lack of rain and extreme heat…don’t blame them!), we did manage to spy on this little guy on one of our treks…

pic 12

In all, it was another amazing adventure to one of the more unusually beautiful places in our country – I’d highly recommend it, but may want to avoid the summer months!!!

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April Officially Marks Start of Ozone Season

By Mary Pat Baldauf

LOGO_Clean Air Midlands

Ozone season in South Carolina begins in April, and now’s the time to start following the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s daily forecasts for ground-level ozone. High concentrations of ozone can create breathing problems, especially for children, people with asthma or other respiratory problems, and adults who work or exercise outdoors.  Here are some things to keep in mind during ozone season, which lasts through September 30:

Ground-level ozone affects everybody. At ground level, ozone is a health hazard for all of us, especially the young and elderly. Those who are active and exercising outdoors may experience breathing difficulties and eye irritation. Prolonged exposure may result in reduced resistance to lung infections and colds. Ozone can also trigger attacks and symptoms in individuals with pre-existing conditions, like asthma or other respiratory infections like chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Stay alert. The highest ozone levels are typically found on days that reach the high 80s and 90s and when the wind is stagnant or light. Stay tuned to your local meteorologists, as they will be notifying the public of Ozone Action Alert days when ozone levels are forecasted to reach unhealthy levels.

Ozone2017

Know how to limit exposure without reducing healthy physical activity.

  • No matter how fit you are, cutting back on the level or duration of exertion when ozone levels are high will help protect you from ozone’s harmful effects.
  • Plan outdoor activities when ozone levels are lower, usually in the morning or evening.
  • Sign up for the ozone forecast so you can plan outdoor work or exercise during your day to avoid possible high levels of ozone.
  • Use these recommendations for schools and outdoor activities to modify plans for outdoor activities such as recess, lunch, and physical education class.
  • If you’re involved in an activity that requires heavy exertion, you can reduce the time you spend on this activity or substitute another activity that requires more moderate exertion (e.g., go for a walk rather than a jog).

Don’t just breathe, do something.  There are simple, easy steps you can take to reduce harmful emissions during ozone pollution season. Be a clean air warrior by:

  • Driving less by carpooling, walking or riding your bike or using alternative transportation.
  • Reducing idling – turn off your engine if you expect to be stopped for more than 30 seconds (except in traffic).
  • Observing the speed limit. It saves gas and reduces emissions, and may even save you a costly ticket.
  • Keeping your vehicle tuned up and your tires properly inflated. Both help save gasoline and improve air quality, as well as make your car safer.

For information on other ways you can make a difference, visit click Clean Air Midlands.

 

Who Are You Hanging Out With?

By Shannon Boatwright

Ok, so I already had this whole idea ready, notes written and all, for a blog entry I was all into and passionate about. But then, I see this post on Instagram by Prince EA (@prince_ea) and I had to drop everything and write about this topic. The post said…

“Who are you hanging out with? There was a 20- year study done at Harvard, it said that your physical health is determined more by your relationships than the food you eat, the exercise program you’re on or the genes that you have inherited.”

SMiley

Wow. So on one level, YES, but Wow. Shocking to really think about. And I mean, really think about it…

#1 – How is your physical health?

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#2 – What kind of foods do you eat?

#3 – What kind of exercise are you getting?

#4 – Ya got good genes?

#5 – How are your relationships?

#6 – Who ARE you hanging out with?

 

This one has really made me think….

For me, as a public school teacher, I know my health is not as good as it could/should be. Why? Because, I’m overworked, overwhelmed and grossly underpaid. And let’s face it, I don’t have or make enough time for ME. Who do I spend most of my time with during the work week? Adolescent, middle school kids.

Of which, maybe 30% are well behaved, respectful children who make an honest effort.  50% are lazy, rascals that test a teacher’s patience at almost every turn. And 20% are inconsiderate, disrespectful punks that need a good dose of real discipline.  Add to that equation the fact that I’m a person of great passion and dignity, that cannot help but give 150% to my job – which means, I attempt to reach all these kids that I spend most of my time with during my work week.  It’s exhausting.

I should work out daily. I fortunately do a lot of moving within my school day, whether dancing, doing warm up after warm up with each class or simply being on my feet, walking the halls of the school or constantly dragging seating and/or set pieces around on my stage. But, do I do a focused work out just for me? Nope. Not usually. I’m always teaching or doing activity for something else/someone else. Do I need to make the exercise happen for me? All for me? YES!

Do I eat good? Sure, compared to most. I’m not a soda person.  I have my coffee every morning, usually only one cup. Do I put too much sugar in it? Yep. Two whole spoonfuls with French vanilla creamer. I can’t do it any other way. I’ve tried. I’d rather have no coffee, than have to endure drinking dirty water – aka black coffee. I discovered that firsthand when I did the Whole30 healthy eating program. My other drink of choice, besides a relaxing, lovely glass of wine, is good ole southern sweet tea. Which in my house, we only make green tea since the hubby has battled kidney stones. I like to think I do pretty darn good with drinking water. I have my days of course, but generally I do really well with drinking a lot of water because it just flat out makes me feel better.

Food wise, quite honestly, I don’t count calories and I take pride in the fact that I never plan to. I love food. I love to cook. I could eat pasta every day. But, the cool thing, … as you get older, you start listening to your body. At least I have. I’ve learned. I know when I need fruit. I know when I need veggies. I know when I need grains and/or red meat. I’ve learned to listen to my cravings. Even those rare times when I need chocolate. 😉 Our bodies speak to us. We just have to listen.

Do I have good genes? People tell me I do. I like to think I do. My family is beautiful, in my opinion. All mostly healthy people. Any critical issues, etc they have suffered from in my bloodline have been due to injury or sickness for the most part. No tragic hereditary ailments. For which I am incredibly thankful.

My Mama is beautiful. Fortunately for her, she has been blessed with a strong dose of the Italian bloodline of her family tree, which has graced her with gorgeous, dark skin that seems to age half the amount of time most normal people’s skin ages. Of course it helps that she takes amazing care of her skin. But she indeed has genes to thank for that. Me. I’m a different story. Though people constantly and consistently say that I look like my mother, it’s really only that my mother and I are two peas in a pod. We have the same mannerisms, the same manner of speaking at times… let’s just say we are artists born of the same brush. It’s a magical thing. But the reality of my exterior is that I have a lot of my father’s genes. And, my dear Daddy is of Scottish decent. Even some Irish may be in there. Therefore, yep, I am a true blond/auburn/strawberry little lady with white, freckled, easily prone to wrinkle skin.

Now fortunately, on the talent scale, I’d like to think I should be very thankful to have equal parts of both my parents, as they’re both very charismatic, outgoing, friendly, talented individuals. But I’ve come to the harsh reality that I just don’t have all the exterior genes that my mother has. I think the only Italian genes I inherited are definitely that of an interior nature, which is that I have a naturally determined, strong willed, very passionate, sassy temperament that either wows a person or scares them.

So all this being said, you’d think that all of this would have a heck of a lot to do with my physical health. I mean come on!

Yet this Harvard study stated that “your physical health is determined more by your relationships than the food you eat, the exercise program you’re on or the genes that you have inherited.

This is huge and I totally get it.

The reality for some people, despite what they eat, how much they work out or what genes they were graced with, is that they’re miserable. Their physical body may look good or their life may seem awesome to others, but internally they’re a mess. Is this because of unhealthy relationships in their lives? Ever heard the stories about the celebs, rock stars, actors, sports stars, dignitaries, etc who seem to have it all? Success, fame, power, riches….yet, they struggle consistently with emotional demons and some even end their own lives? Whew. Wow.

Yep. Doesn’t matter how fabulous the exterior may seem. It’s the relationships that mold the person.  Just maybe, the people we surround ourselves with…the people we have true relationships with, are what truly defines us.  ???   Hmmmmm…

Does my stressful job within the public school system affect my health? Heck yea it does. On more levels than I could begin to describe here. And, let’s face it, if I didn’t have the fellow teachers, the ones that have become truly best friends among the battlegrounds of public school, I would never survive the war that is public school. The relationships I have been graced with while soldiering through the dirty platoons of teacherdom, well, some of these friendships are everlasting. Seriously. I don’t know what I’d do without some of these fellow warriors I’ve had the honor and pleasure to work with. And during those school hours, despite the brats and rugrats I may have to deal with, I still build faith in my grand, underappreciated profession, thanks to the precious few students who make an effort, make me smile and remind me of why I try so hard to inspire.

And my family and real friends, my oh my, I could write page after page about the true family and friends that I have faith, security and thankfulness in knowing that they love me, they forgive me, they adore me, they have my back no matter what …it’s a truly priceless thing to know I have loved ones I can go to for support no matter what I may be going through.

I can absolutely attest to the fact that in my older, more recent years, I have become a healthier person due to the people I surround myself with. My husband, my Love… he makes me a better person. He adores and supports me in a way that words cannot begin to describe. Sometimes just the look in his eyes gives me the push I need to be myself and pursue my dreams. His genuine adoration and love allowed me to find myself. His humble, supportive, loving nature reminds me that it’s ok to put myself first. He has this grand ability to love me and allow me this priceless opportunity to be ok with sharing my talents. So I can say with utter confidence, when I hang out with him, I am complete. I am a healthy, awesome individual because I can be me.

Relationships? Are they really that important to our health?

Oh My Goodness, YES YES YES YES and YES.

So, who are you hanging out with??