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Chestnuts: A Sweet And Healthy Holiday Treat

Yes, Virginia, there really is a sweet and healthy holiday treat – the versatile chestnut! An ancient diet food consisting of 50 percent water, less than one percent fat, cholesterol and gluten free, and rich in vitamins C and E, chestnuts are closer to the brown rice family than any other nut or vegetable.For centuries a popular and inexpensive food that fed many, the chestnut has now become more of a seasonal delicacy with the demand outstripping supply. Since the American Chestnut blight killed over 3.5 billion trees over a 50 year period beginning in 1904, the American Chestnut is making a slow comeback with innovative breeding programs. Most chestnuts grown in the U.S. are hybrids of European and Asian species.

Where Can I Find Them?

Chestnuts, unlike other nuts, are very perishable. More like fruit than nuts, they begin to lose their high water content and dry out within a few hours after being picked. Purchasing pre-cooked/pre-peeled nuts simplifies the preparation process.

• Internet/Mail Order: Numerous American farms – many family-owned – and plantations now breed and produce wonderful hybrid chestnuts in several sizes. They ship crops as soon as picked, so get your holiday order in as soon as possible.

• Local: Fresh from local growers or at your grocery, health food, gourmet and specialty stores.

• Imports: Some imported chestnuts are often imported under poorly controlled conditions, but good fresh ones can be found in season in groceries, health food stores, and in gourmet and specialty shops. Canned and jarred varieties may be more tender – and certainly easier to prepare – but they do not compare to the fresh ones.

• Street Vendors: Roasted, especially in large cities where they are often cooked with sand in large woks. The wonderful aroma is very seductive, but the taste is frequently disappointing because these are often hanging out on heavily-trafficked street corners, thus the nuts can absorb gas fumes.

How Do I Select Them?

• Look for rich brown shell. The tan-colored end should be free of mold, the nut should be firm when grasped. If shell moves when you squeeze, it has already started to dry out. Test nuts by putting them into water; the fresh ones should sink. Inside meat should be cream colored/yellow, not dark. Discard nut meats with blue-streaking, black spots or a vinegary smell. If you find grocery store nuts under misters, they may be of poor quality, as they should not be stored in overly moist conditions.

• Packaged: Shelled chestnuts can be purchased jarred, canned, dried, frozen, or vacuum packed in a variety of forms, such as boiled, steamed, roasted, whole in syrup, candied/crystallized. Packaged chestnuts are usually of good quality, having been prepared when fresh.

• Famous luxury item, the French marron glace (candied chestnut) is prepared with a complicated process, which includes 16 different steps.

• Other forms: Chestnuts are made into flour, liquor/beer and the honey produced by bees residing in chestnut groves.

How Do I Store Them?

Fresh nuts should be stored in the refrigerator and used as soon as possible. Steam peeled, flash frozen nuts should be used soon after thawing because the fumigation required during the importation process kills the seed embryo, causing the nut to deteriorate much more quickly.

• Refrigerator: Placed in-shell chestnuts with a damp towel in a ventilated bag in the crisper of your refrigerator, the nuts will keep for a couple of weeks. To keep them for one or two months, store at a cooler temperature.

• Freezer: Cooked chestnuts can be frozen for about a year. Blanch, peel and vacuum pack them whole or prepare by chopping or pureeing first.

Chestnut Tips

• Whatever your method of cooking fresh chestnuts, to prevent the nut from exploding, cut a large “X” on the flat side of the nut with a chestnut knife or a small serrated knife, making sure to cut all the way through the shell – or cut off the tips of the shells.

• Chestnuts rival beans in their ability to produce flatulence (ahem, gas).

• Dried chestnuts are sweeter and less floury in texture than fresh, roasted nuts, albeit not as flavorful.

• Use of a chestnut knife and chestnut roasting pan will greatly expedite your peeling and roasting.

• December is the prime month for fresh chestnuts


WHICH CHRISTMAS TREE IS RIGHT FOR YOU? Tips to Help Shoppers Select the Perfect Tree for Their Lifestyle

 

Since President Franklin Pierce had the first White House Christmas Tree in the 1850’s American families have faced the task of choosing a tree that fits their lifestyle, demonstrates their passion for Christmas and is practical and economical.

Everyone has an opinion about the family Christmas tree–must it be live, cut or artificial? And what size–is bigger always better?

What about the shape, the color, the needle length, the branch strength and spacing, the needle-holding ability–and even the fragrance? We can always cut our own trees, but most of us purchase them from the nearest local seller.

Dawn Bryan, author of the best-selling “The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving,” and founder of Qualipedia (www.thequalipedia.com), a consumer information and lifestyle website, offers the following tips to help shoppers choose the tree that is right for them.

Before making any decision, keep in mind where your tree will be displayed and know the measurements of the area before you purchase.

Trying to balance our love of tradition with practicality and current lifestyle, we can easily make the wrong decision. Ask yourself:

Are you the traditionalist who loves to make the season come alive while stringing lights and breathing in the fresh fragrance of your pine?  Do you not have the space to store an artificial tree during the year?

If so, select a cut tree with good green color, needle resiliency, and pleasing fragrance.

How to Select a Live or Cut Tree:

  • Check condition of the needles by bending the needle gently between your thumb and forefinger. The fresh needle should bend easily, not break
  • Pull your hand toward you along the branch. Needles should adhere to the branch and not fall off in your hand.
  • If a cut tree, lift the tree a few inches off the ground, then drop it on stump end. If outside needles fall off in abundance, it is probably not fresh. If old needles, which have been lodged among the branches from prior shedding fallout, this is not a sign of a dry tree.

How to Care For:

  • Living Trees: Store before decorating in unheated, sheltered area out of sun and wind; While inside, keep soil damp; limit inside stay to 7 to 10 days; when moving to the outdoors, do not immediately change temperatures from warm house to freezing cold; when planting, mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent freezing and water only when needed.

 

  • Cut Trees: Cut a half-inch off the base of the trunk before immediately placing it into water; do not whittle down the sides of the trunk, as the tree drinks mostly from the edges of its trunk base; trees may drink as much as a gallon of water in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter; keep tree away from sun, fireplace and other heat sources; and unplug lights at night unless you are expecting Santa. To recycle, check the recycling link on your community’s website.
  • Real Christmas trees are a renewable, recyclable resource, often grown on soil that doesn’t support other crops.

Are you time-compromised, afraid to climb ladders, not interested in needle clean-up and tree maintenance, or evergreen allergic?

If so, select an artificial tree that imitates your favorite variety or is in your favorite color. Many are pre-lit and some come with ornaments, berries, pine cones, flocking, frosting and fiber optics already in place.

How to Select an Artificial Tree:

  • If you are looking for the most realistic looking artificial tree, purchase one with PE needles (rather than PVC), a center pole, and individual stick branch attachments.
  • If your primary concern is buying tree that is easy to assemble, choose one with PE needles, a center pole, hinged branch attachments and pre-strung lights.
  • Artificial trees come in a myriad of varieties, heights and shapes to fit into your space and decorating style.
  • “Tip count” can be used as an advertising ploy, and usually makes little difference to the overall appearance, mattering much less than needle quality.
  • For quality, look at the branch ends: well-crafted trees use heavier gauge metal and have sculpted, not snipped-off, ends.
  • Lights: Look for three-year or 3,000 hour warranty,  80-100 lights per square foot,  twist-proof sockets, the ability for the entire string to stay lit, even if a single bulb burns out, is broken or removed; and have 8-10 inches between lights.

How to Care For an Artificial Tree:

  • With proper care, an artificial tree will last 6-7 years, making it an economical choice.
  • Wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when putting up your tree.
  • Store the tree in a carrying case, NOT a cardboard box. The latter will get damp and/or disintegrate and cause dust to inundate your tree, and critters like to chew through boxes to makes warm homes in artificial trees.
  • Concerns:
  • Artificial trees off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs,) as they are made of PVC and/or PE and many contain lead, which makes the PVC more malleable. These trees are known to shed lead-laced dust.
  • Artificial trees often are treated with a fire retardant which off-gasses.
  • Artificial trees cannot be recycled. It is possible to donate a gently used tree to a local thrift store. If the tree is unfit for use, it must be taken to a landfill.

Picking and Carving the Perfect Pumpkin

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 Dawn Bryan Founder of Qualipedia Offers Tips Far Beyond Pumpkin Pie and Jack-O-Lanterns

Pumpkin production, which climbed to more than 1.5 billion pounds in 2015, reaches its peak in October as Americans prepare to celebrate Halloween. As pumpkins have become ingrained into our Halloween and Thanksgiving cultures, the number of creative ways to use and enjoy them has increased.

Dawn Bryan, author of the best-selling book The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving, the recently published Elite Etiquette, and founder of  Qualipedia™ the definitive source for making choices daily that count, offers the following tips including how to grow, pick, carve, eat, and store along with nutritional information and some wacky facts.

Pick a Perfect Pumpkin:  A mature pumpkin will be difficult to scratch, bright orange, have a green stem and be fully hardened. A shiny skin indicates that it was picked too soon.

  • For Eating: Look for a pumpkin which feels heavy for its size, as it will tend to have more dense, edible flesh.
  • For Painting: The best pumpkins for painting have smooth skin and shallow ribbing. The varieties Orange Smoothie, Cotton Candy, and Lumina are excellent for painting.
  • For Carving: Choose a pumpkin with structural strength, flat bottom, sturdy stem, and ability to last several days after being carved. It will sound hollow when tapped.

 Carve Pumpkins:

  • Carving pumpkins can be accomplished with a variety of tools such as regular kitchen knives.
  • However, in recent years inventors have patented tools made solely for this purpose; in addition to the cutting tools, some kits contain design templates and detailed instructions.
  • Choosing specialty pumpkins such as giant, miniature, unusual shapes, or white pumpkins (spooky) can add to the originality.  The most popular carvings are of the Jack-O-Lantern variety.
  • To carve a good Jack-O-Lantern, you need grease pencils for pre-marking; patterns — your own or those you can download from the internet; gutting spoons for scooping; a long, thin-bladed boning knife to cut out the top and other large pieces; and a very sharp small paring knife for detail work.

Growing Pumpkins:

·         A seasonal, warm weather crop, pumpkins require warm soil that holds water well and at least one bee hive per acre for adequate pollination.

·         Milk-fed Pumpkins: Feeding your pumpkin milk helps to grow a larger pumpkin. Although milk does not have any properties that directly increase pumpkin size, it keeps your pumpkins healthy and free of disease.

There are three ways to milk-feed your pumpkin:

  • Wick: Pour two percent milk with a tablespoon of sugar into a small covered pan or bowl, insert one end of wick or string into a small slit in the pumpkin stem and the other into the pan which is in a small hole next to the pumpkin.
  •  Injection: You can also use a syringe to inject the milk into the stem.
  • Pour: Use milk as fertilizer by mixing with manure or pour a cup of milk around the roots daily.

Pumpkins for Food:  

·         Pumpkins have become a part of the cuisine of many countries throughout the world: Roasted with other vegetables in Australia and New Zealand, in tempura in Japan, for ravioli stuffing in Italy, as a cooked vegetable in China, and served as a sweet dessert in Thailand, India, and the Middle East.

·         Eat only when ripe.

·         Fresh pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, micro-waved, or roasted and is frequently mashed or pureed before combining it with other ingredients.

·         Desserts include pumpkin pie, crème brulee, mousse, gingerbread, cupcakes, and cheesecakes.

·         Other favorites include the pumpkin martini, pumpkin beers, pumpkin muffins, sweet and sour pumpkin, and pumpkin soup.

.          Pumpkin oil is frequently combined with other oils for cooking. Pumpkin blossoms are often batter fired or used to make fritters.

Store and Preserve:

·         Store in a cool dry place (45 to 60 °F) for up to a month or refrigerate for up to three months.

·         Extra pumpkin for eating can be frozen, canned or dried for longer storage. Freezing is the easiest and results in the best quality product.

·         Carved pumpkin will begin to dry and shrivel as soon as it’s cut. To slow down the dehydration process and deter the onset of mold, coat all cut surfaces as well as the entire inside of the pumpkin with petroleum jelly. Coat the eyes, nose, and mouth or any other design you have carved out.

Health Benefits:

·         Pumpkins:  Fat-free, cholesterol free, a good source of vitamin C and an excellent source of vitamin A; the bright orange pumpkin shouts that it is loaded with antioxidants.

·         Pumpkin Seeds are excellent sources of fiber and rich in vitamin A and potassium.  They are also packed with protein, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamins E and B.

Wacky Facts

–Pumpkins can grow to weigh over 2000 pounds!

–Pumpkin seeds and oil have been used as a remedy for snake-bite and prostate problems, cure for freckles, and poultice treatment for burns.

Pumpkin burial is an age-old Halloween tradition. You can even find eulogies on the internet. Surely, the Great Pumpkin approves!


Candid About Crystal

WHAT IS IT?

All crystal is glass, but all glass is definitely not crystal.

Crystal is mouth-blown glass that contains lead oxide. When added to molten glass, it adds weight and gives a much higher index of refraction than normal glass, greatly increasing sparkle and brilliance and creating a prism effect. It can be cut and faceted into intricate patterns.

There are several processes/techniques which are used to enhance crystal. These include etching and frosting; engraving; glazing and gilding. Colored glass is usually created from the fusing of two layers of glass, one clear and one colored. The cutter cuts onto the colored glass to reveal the clear glass. The color comes from the addition of metal oxides, i.e. real gold results in ruby; cobalt in blue; and iron oxide in green.

Terms generally used:

  • Full Lead Crystal: Glass containing at least 24% lead oxide can be called “full lead crystal”; however, many well-known brands contain higher levels into the 30%’s.
  • Lead Crystal: Glass containing 10-24% lead oxide.
  • Crystalline: glass containing 6-10% lead oxide. However, American standards permit clear glass containing any amount of lead to be considered “crystal”.

CHOOSING CRYSTAL

Crystal is a product that really requires personal perusal–at least at first. Once you have done your homework, reviewed and handled a variety of crystal, online purchasing is a viable option. But no Internet picture is going to allow you to see or feel differences in light refraction, color, quality of edges, balance and weighting. Information regarding lead content is often absent from websites that sell crystal, so it is wise to call the manufacturer or retailer about the specific item to determine whether it is full lead crystal. You may also wish to inquire as to whether the crystal product is hand-crafted or machine made. Many manufacturers make handcrafted crystalline, crystal and full-lead crystal, but also their lead-free, machine-made cousins, so one should not make assumptions based on only the name of the manufacturer.

High quality crystal will display the following qualities:

*Sparkle, clarity and translucency

*Smooth, precise, polished cuts and edges

*Uniform shape and thin walls

*No seams, as this indicates pressed glass that was molded, not mouth-blown

*Slight or few variations, such as bubbles, cords (small lines), chill and flow marks (surface indentations).

*A crisp, clear high-pitched ring when you tap the rim. Lower-pitched or muted sounds indicate lesser quality.

CARING FOR CRYSTAL

*Temper your crystal–get it gradually used to temperature changes–when adding hot or iced drinks. Never put boiling water into crystal, or put it in the freezer.

*Since crystal easily absorbs stains and odors, rinse glasses soon after use. As for vases and carafes, don’t leave flowers or wine in them for long, as they can become permanently stained.

*Use warm soapy water (no abrasives) to wash crystal (one at a time to avoid breakage), with a rubber mat or towel cushioning bottom of sink. Dry with a lint-free towel.

*Keep items away from dust, as it can act as an abrasive.

*Store glasses right side up to ensure the rims don’t chip–or put your crystal in a stemware rack.

* For water spots, sub on lemon juice or vinegar; for hard-to-clean stains or residue, use denture-cleaning table or mix uncooked rice with lemon juice or vinegar and swish it around; use ammonia, but never on metal rims or decoration.

CRYSTAL WARNINGS

For the most part the lead contained in lead crystal is not dangerous. However, since heavy metals accumulate in the body and can cause serious harm, consumers may want to follow some guidelines to reduce the danger that lead crystal can present. The FDA recommends that people rethink the way they use lead crystal for food and beverages.

–Soak your new crystal in vinegar for 24 hours, then rinse thoroughly.

–Use a mild soap, as abrasives can make lead leaching more likely.

–Do not store food or beverages for long periods in crystal. This is particularly important for juices, vinegar and alcoholic beverages.

–Do not pour wine/alcohol into guests’ glasses until time for drinking.

–Pregnant women should avoid using crystal.


Podcast: Cracking the Code on Elite Etiquette – Jennings Wire

Please enjoy a recent podcast interview with Dawn Bryan and Annie Jennings of Jennings Wire on proper etiquette.

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Highlights from the conversation include:

  • How would you define “etiquette” for the 21st Century? What is Elite Etiquette?
  • What are some of the unspoken, unwritten rules, customs and traditions? When do they apply?
  • What if you make an embarrassing protocol mistake in your business communications?
  • In new experiences, what do most people worry about doing wrong?
  • Why do some businesses ask to have a MEAL with a job candidate before making an offer?
  • What does the gift you give say about you? How is it a reflection of who you are as a person?
  • Why is it important in this rapidly changing, social media world to learn about etiquette and protocol?

Listen to the full podcast HERE

Full article HERE

 


Back to School Gifts for College Students

It’s that time of year again for the college students to head off to school—this can be exciting, but also nerve racking. Help ease their minds and get them prepared for the year with some fun gift ideas from Dawn Bryan, founder of The Qualipedia.

Fund Their New Expenses:

  • Coin bank filled with quarters for laundry or parking meters
  • Car parking fee for the first semester
  • Gift certificate to school bookstore for books and supplies
  • Coupons for local carwash

Select Necessary Items for Their Dorms or Apartments:

  • Gift certificate to a shopping website or local store for bedding and other linens
  • Footlocker or chest for storage, which can also be used as a table
  • Laundry bag with supply of detergents
  • Cooking basics, such as frying pan, knives, and mixing bowls

 Help Them Keep in Touch:

  • Subscription to hometown newspaper or magazine
  • Framed photos of loved ones and friends
  • Calendar marked with birthdays, anniversaries, etc. of family and friends

Give Them Some Fun:

  • Season (or single) tickets to school games
  • Passes to local driving range, movie house, or concert
  • Membership to a local museum, sports club, or gym
  • First shares of stock, along with a subscription to investor news

Going off to college is a big transition for anyone, but with these thoughtful and fun gift ideas you’ll surely make your favorite student’s transition much easier.

Happy back to school shopping from The Qualipedia!


RAINBOW GIFTING: WEDDINGS

“The ideal gift communicates the appropriate and desired message about both the giver and the receiver.”
Although gay and lesbian couples have the same wedding gift needs and desires as do more traditional couples, there are ways to add more thoughtfulness and pleasure to your gift giving , while at the same time often spending less time and money.
Couple Considerations:

  • Recognize that the couple may have been living together for many years and thus have no need for many of the basic household items usually given at showers and weddings. However, they may be interested in adding to or replacing pieces of their crystal or silver.
  • Realize that many rainbow weddings are not planned months in advance ( including invitations and gift registries) because the couple has waited years to become married and wish to be a part of the joy surrounding the recent legality of rainbow marriage in their state.
  • Appreciate that couples may prefer gifts that recognize/celebrate/contribute to gay pride .
  • If possible, consider the entire family when selecting the gift(s), including children and pets.

Rainbow Register:
Some suggestions for ways to give your gifts that special rainbow aura:

  • Select same-sex gifts which show both pride in each other and in the relationship, ie set of two teddy bears dressed as brides or as grooms; his/his or hers/hers monogrammed towels, sheets, pillows, aprons, or crystal; matching cufflinks with new combined monogram; game such as Our Family, a board game which highlights the contributions of GLBT-folk throughout history; rings or other jewelry with interlocking Venus symbols. Check out the internet for many other gay and lesbian themed items.
  • Cater to their sensual side with silk sheets, matching PJ’s and slippers with monograms, aromatherapy, set of DVD’s, foot massages, a spa package, gifts of buffed metal or leather.
  • Relate gift to their special interests by giving a Netflix subscription; workout or sports equipment; Bose speakers; extra stemware for entertaining; movie gift cards to their favorite foreign film theatre along with a gift certificate to the coffee shop next door; tickets to a concert, play, opera or a museum membership; over-the-top new kitchen equipment for making fancy desserts or special cookware.
  • Give something which is significant to their relationship, such as a gift package or gift card from the place where they first met, whether Starbucks, Macy’s, Barney’s NY, Barnes and Noble, the local bar…; a bottle or case of their favorite wine or rum (Mt. Gay?); a framed photo or painting of the two of them now–or as young children; reminders of their trips to Disney Land/World; a silver or crystal replica of the wedding invitation; a picnic basket outfitted for two to be used when they go to concerts in the park.
  • Choose to make your gift special by giving a monogrammed and dated leather or satin guest book or wedding album; voucher for a weekend stay at a B & B; kitchen appliance or utensils along with a gift certificate from Whole Foods; a monogrammed decanter and their favorite Scotch; a set of their favorite CD’s, show, or music in a special box; leather bound book of their favorite poetry; compiled scrapbook of photos and handwritten messages from family and friends; video tape of special greetings from family or friends who cannot attend the festivities.
  • Make your gift choice count by donating to a charity in the couple’s honor; selecting a gift from the gift registries which donate 10% back to the gay or lesbian charity of your choice; plant a marriage tree or give plants or shrubs for their yard (or gift certificate); selecting a gift which is environmentally friendly.

Remember that the well-selected gift, given in the right spirit, makes the giver into a receiver, too.