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.

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.

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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.

 

Pizza: My Favorite Veggie!

By Mary Pat Baldauf

I’m always on the lookout for good, healthy, easy meals, and I recently found a winner at my local Kroger store: CAULIPOWER, a ready-to-cook, cauliflower-crust frozen pizza.

Caulipowered

CAULIPOWER pizzas are made with real cauliflower, are nutrient-rich and gluten-free. While they taste like conventional recipes – my sister compares them to our mom’s homemade pizzas — they have less sodium, calories and sugar, and are higher in vitamins than most conventional and gluten-free frozen pizzas.

CAULIPOWER is the brainchild of Gail Becker who made the jump from a globally recognized corporate career at Edelman to the world of entrepreneurship. After both her sons were diagnosed with Celiac disease, she was frustrated by the poor nutritional value of today’s gluten-free options and wanted to create one product that could go beyond just ‘gluten-free’ to be craveable and delicious to anyone.

“I was really taken with the idea of bringing a concept that was born on the internet to life,” said Gail Becker, founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER. “I knew there was a large segment of the population that want to eat healthier, but may not have the time or resources to make those foods from scratch. My vision for CAULIPOWER is to advocate for accessible nutrition, that’s easy and even a bit unexpected.”

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Creating a vegetable-forward meal in under 15 minutes, CAULIPOWER pizzas are available in three guilt-free varieties:

  • Three-Cheese Pizza – a delicious mix of mozzarella, white cheddar and parmesan atop a signature sauce made from a traditional blend of spices, extra virgin olive oil and garlic
  • Veggie Pizza – features ripe red, yellow and green peppers atop a thick bed of mozzarella cheese and savory signature sauce
  • Margherita Pizza – honors the classic recipe with freshly diced vine-ripened tomatoes, abundant mozzarella cheese, and signature sauce made from a traditional blend of spices, extra virgin olive oil and garlic
  • And with there is a plain crust option, too, which is a blank canvas awaiting culinary artistry.

I found CAULIPOWER by glorious accident at Kroger on Forest Drive, and I’m hooked. They also sell at select Whole Foods and on Amazon.com, as well as other grocers throughout the country. To learn more about CAULIPOWER and where to buy it, visit CAULIPOWER.net or follow them on Facebook.

Kissing my sweet tooth goodbye!

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Studies show that sugar’s effect on our brain can be as addicting as cocaine. Yet the American Heart Association recommends that adult women eat no more than 24 grams, or six teaspoons, of added sugar. (The current average is over 30 teaspoons of sugar per day.) So what’s a woman to do?

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These days, I’m working to loosen the grip added sugar, particularly in the form of those pesky, persistent candies wrapped in holiday foil.  While Hershey’s Kisses may seem innocent enough, especially wrapped in pastel shades of the season, a handful contains the daily recommended allowance of sugar.

Excess sugar in your diet is unhealthy for many reasons, not the least of which is weight gain. It can raise your cholesterol; cause liver trouble and insulin resistance, which is a stepping stone towards diabetes.

From Rally Health, here are some tricks to help you successfully kick the sugar habit:

  1. Start with a solid breakfast. The less sugar you eat in the morning, the more balanced you will be all day. High-protein breakfasts have been proven to reduce cravings.
  2. Plan your meals in advance, to prevent dips in blood sugar.
  3. Dehydration can make you feel hungry, so drink plenty of water. Add lemon, berries or other fruit to your water to make it more flavorful.
  4. When you crave sweets, wait 10 minutes and change your environment. Take a walk, or get into a project. Perhaps you can distract yourself out of at least one sugar fix.
  5. To satisfy your sugar cravings in a more healthful way, turn to vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, beets and carrots. Other naturally sweet foods include coconut, bananas, frozen grapes, dates, vanilla, raw cacao and cinnamon (which has been shown to reduce sugar cravings by helping to manage insulin sensitivity). Berries are another option, and their sugars are released more slowly than those of other fruits. And high-fiber foods such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale make you feel full longer than many quickly digested foods such as cereal, bagels and other simple carbohydrates.
  6. Smoothies are a sweet treat that, if made without added sugars or too many sweet foods and with plenty of fiber, will satisfy without causing a blood sugar surge.
  7. Avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, which have been shown to increase sugar cravings.
  8. Trick your body by eating something sour when you want something sweet. The sour flavor can stimulate the taste buds and distract you from the sugar craving.
  9. Ginger and turmeric help prevent insulin resistance so don’t be afraid to consume them freely, in turmeric lattes or ginger-infused smoothies, as you work to balance your blood sugar.

If sugar has already hijacked your body and you want off the bumpy ride, hold on tight because you will likely have those drug like withdrawal symptoms for two or three days, and the cravings will likely remain for at least the first week. After that, some of the negative habits and hankerings will dissipate, and hopefully, you can take off your seat belt and enjoy a smoother ride.

Is added sugar a problem for you? What is your weakness? And how do you control your sweet tooth?

 

Grounds for a New Keurig?

By Mary Pat Baldauf

The last few weeks, I’ve noticed coffee grounds in my coveted cup of coffee at work from my desktop Keurig, which I’ve had for about five years.  First world problem, for sure, but annoying enough to investigate. Given the popularity of Keurigs these days – who doesn’t have one, right — I wanted to share the solution in case you, too, have grounds in your cup.

It turns out that the needle was clogged, and the fix was as easy as finding a paper clip. Lift the handle of your brewer to expose the brew basket (the area that you put the K-Cup® pod in). You’ll see the needle that punctures the bottom of the coffee pod.  Put the straightened end of the paper clip into the needle and gentle move it around and down to attempt to clear any debris.  For good measure, I also removed the brew basket and flushed it thoroughly with water.

While I’m on the subject of my Keurig, I also have to mention their recycling program, Grounds to Grow On. More than once, one of my green friends has chastised me for creating excess waste with those leftover pods. Grounds to Grow On offers workplaces an easy way to collect their brewed K-Cup pods to be recycled.IMG_20180209_165117_846

The process is simple: place your brewed pods in the Grounds to Grow On bin. Once the bin is full, present the bin with its pre-paid shipping label to UPS for pick-up, or drop it off at to any UPS location. Keurig takes it from there, turning the pods into recycled products – like aluminum cans and shipping pallets – and the coffee grounds into compost. There is a small fee for the boxes, but if you’re hard core tree-hugger like me, it’s a small price to pay for a guilt-free cup of coffee.

I heard about Grounds to Grow On from a member of the Midlands Green Business Program, Shealy Electrical. The Midlands Green Business program is a partnership between the City of Columbia, Lexington County, Richland County and Keep the Midlands Beautiful.  This free program recognizes businesses who adopt sustainable and eco-friendly business practices, thus keeping our community cleaner, greener and making it a more beautiful place to live. There are quarterly free networking breakfast meetings, which is more than worth the effort to complete the form and join the network. For information, visit Keep the Midlands Beautiful.

God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Every so often, I am reminded that there are no coincidences, just intriguing and earthly manifestations of God’s love. I got one such reminder this today, and I thought it would make for a timely blog post.

After an anxious Monday morning, while stopped at what has got to be Columbia’s longest traffic light, I did a quick search on my smart phone for books about faith and anxiety. One book in particular caught my eye, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado. I decided at lunch that I’d check Amazon to take a closer look at it and the other options listed.

The morning got away from me, and as it turns out, at lunch, I was asked to drop something off at church. As long as I was there, I decided to look at our church library. I walked in to find the volunteer librarian, who asked if she could help me. When I told her I was looking or a faith-based book on anxiety, she said that she’d just checked one in and scurried away to find it.coincidencealbert-e1504531764133-680x330

Imagine my surprise when she handed me Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World. (And, wait, it gets better.) As I checked it out, she mentioned that there was a new small group starting to study the book. She gave me the details and promised to connect me with the group leader. Long story short, I’m now signed up for the small group. I have to miss the first class for an evening work event, but I’m going to read the first four chapters this week to be ready for next week’s class. (God is so awesome!)
Have you ever had a coincidence that you knew was really just God’s way of remaining anonymous? If so, and you’re the sharing type, please tell your story in the comments.

Introducing the Nation’s Newest STAR: Columbia, South Carolina

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Allow me to introduce the state’s first STAR certified community, my employer, the City of Columbia.LOGO_Best_star_seal_3star_r

STAR Communities, the nation’s leading framework for sustainability and certification program for evaluating local sustainability, recently recognized the City of Columbia for achieving a three-STAR rating. This achievement makes Columbia the first STAR-certified community in South Carolina and only the 64th in the country.

STAR Communities provides support as localities benchmark progress, and a robust third-party verification process ensures accountability. STAR helps communities evaluate their strengths and weaknesses across seven areas: the built environment; climate and energy; economy and jobs; education, arts and community; health and safety; and natural systems. There are over 500 outcomes and actions that comprise the evaluation.

Several items stood out among Columbia’s sustainability initiatives:

The December award presentation was the culmination of a two-year journey that began in September 2015. Personally, this was the first major project I took from start to finish after returning to work from my rehabilitation from a ruptured brain aneurysm in March 2015. And while the certification is certainly a personal victory, it’s also a big darn deal for the City of Columbia and our community partners.

STAR Award to City Council

With the certification, Columbia becomes a member of a pretty exclusive club. Fewer than 70 local governments have been certified with STAR Communities. Other STAR certified communities in the Southeast include Atlanta, Birmingham, Louisville, Memphis, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

“We are incredibly excited and proud to be the first city in South Carolina to achieve a STAR rating,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin. “Our City staff and community have proven their commitment to making Columbia increasingly sustainable across a variety of performance areas, and this recognition provides us with an assessment backed by data that will help us determine our next steps. Through our Climate Action Protection Campaign (CAPC) and other programs, we will continue in our bold commitment to protecting our planet and fulfill our responsibility to our children, their children and beyond.”

The City’s participation in STAR was underwritten by grant from Siemens Cities Center of Competence (CoC), which is dedicated to working with cities to undertake key challenges as cities strive for economic growth and long-term sustainability.

For additional information, check out the City of Columbia’s STAR dashboard.