5 Ways to Be Healthier with a Plant-Based Diet

I ate healthy. But I knew I could do better.

I ate a lot of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and reduced-fat dairy. Could I, however, reach the next level of healthy eating? Could I ditch processed foods, most animal products and oil?

Challenge accepted. I tried a whole-foods, plant-based diet. The diet is linked to health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.

What is a plant-based diet?

A whole-foods, plant-based diet focuses on choosing mostly whole, minimally processed foods that come from plant-based sources. This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes. It also excludes added sugars, white flour, and processed oils. Many view this way of eating as a lifestyle, rather than a diet.

When I tried a plant-based diet, I didn’t radically alter what I ate. Rather, I just made some simple tweaks.

Make it easy

First, I stocked up on beans, vegetable broth, unsweetened almond coconut milk, sweet potatoes and whole grains such as quinoa. Keeping a supply of plant-based options at home helped make healthy choices easy choices.

Mental Prep

Next, I didn’t focus on what I couldn’t eat. Instead, I focused on the new delicious meals I got to try. Looking for some inspiration? Check out this recipe for grilled tofu skewers with a pineapple teriyaki sauce.

Ease into change

Making changes to what you eat can be a daunting task. So each week, I decided to cut back on one meat-based feast. I also gradually introduced replacements, like drinking almond milk instead of cow’s milk.

Keep Grandma’s Recipe

Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean saying goodbye to your comfort foods. Instead, I made small tweaks to favorite family recipes by adding veggies, beans or different grains.

Self-help

Finally, I checked out online resources for help and ideas. Check out USDA.gov for a list of plant-based resources.

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As a bonus, I fell in love with this recipe. Try it. I hope you like it, too!

Cooking light salad

Print Recipe
Cooking Light Salad
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combined the bulgur and boiling water in a large bowl. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes. Stir in the figs and remaining ingredients. Cover salad and chill thoroughly. Serving size: 1 cup

How to Add a Little Adventure To Your Life

If you’re looking to add a little adventure to your life, Meetup may be the app for you.

The Meetup app led Jane Vangelov to two great adventures last year. Neither are activities she would have pursued on her own. But experiencing them with a Meetup group opened her up to a bold new activity that she never would have tried otherwise.

Syracuse Area Outdoor Adventures Club Meetup

It was through the Syracuse Area Outdoor Adventures Club Meetup group that Jane participated in two hikes in 2018. The first was a 6-mile hike in April of the hilly area behind the office of Green Lakes State Park. Her second foray was a 10.4-miles hike in Highland Forest in May.

Being a novice, Jane undertook her first hike with the Meetup group clad in a pair of ordinary sneakers, jeans and a light jacket one weekday after work. When she arrived at the designated gathering area, she found nine people had assembled. She started out strong, but quickly joined the few picking up the rear as other, more experienced hikers moved to the front of the group.

“I felt spent afterward,” she admitted, “but I still went to work the next day.” She also signed up for another, longer and more challenging hike a month later.

The second time, she came prepared. She had newly purchased hiking boots, along with a packed lunch, long-sleeved shirt, bug spray and other necessities for a day out on the trails.

But even with the new footwear, Jane confessed that she was ready to quit five miles in. “There was no mistake that my body was telling me that I was doing things I’d never done before,” she said.

A conviction that she could complete the hike kept her going. This knowledge, paired with encouragement from the group, propelled her ahead in spite of the tough conditions.

“I needed the challenge,” she said, “and the momentum of the group pushed me to go the distance.”

Syracuse Adult Beach Volleyball Meetup

The Syracuse Area Outdoor Adventures Club Meetup group isn’t the only Meetup with which Jane’s involved. Her favorite one is the Syracuse Adult Beach Volleyball Meetup group, which usually gathers on Sundays during the summer months to play at Pine Grove Health & Country Club in Camillus or the North Area Family YMCA in Liverpool.

On one Sunday in July, 18 people showed up to play beach volleyball, said Jane. “Some weeks, we have more players, while other weeks, we have fewer,” she said. When there are fewer players, they play three-on-three or four-on-four, with several games usually going on at once.

“Everyone gets along well,” she said, “and the group is not cliquey.” They switch players throughout the  three to four hours of play. “We accommodate everyone and make everyone feel welcome.”

Meetup groups for meditation and dance

Jane also has tried Meetup groups for meditation and dance. She quickly realized that the meditation group wasn’t for her and dropped out. Jane also belongs to the Dance Meetup group, which she said hasn’t been as active in recent years as it once was.

Each Meetup group is highly dependent on an organizer, notes Jane. “Someone has to take the initiative to get a group going and keep it going by organizing events,” she said. The organizer generally organizes and posts events to Meetup, where group participants can get information regarding upcoming events.

Meet a Meetup organizer

Ryan Kelly is organizer of the Syracuse Hanging With New Friends and Hanging With New Friends of Rochester Meetup groups. He took on both roles when the previous organizers stepped down.

The bimonthly events he organizes have ranged from singing at Singers Karaoke Club in Syracuse to apple picking and visiting the MOST and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. He also arranges weekly Trivia Night events at such locations as the Yellow Brick Road Casino, Movie Tavern and the American Legion in Manlius.

While the Syracuse group is open to any age group, the Rochester group is specifically for those in their 20s and 30s. “I wanted to meet younger people in the Rochester area,” said Ryan, who works in Claims at Excellus BlueCross BlueShlield. “I thought it would be a good way to connect with people.”

With activities scheduled for every weekend, the Rochester group is very active.  Activities have included visiting a haunted house last fall, attending a comedy show, having a picnic, going rock climbing and playing laser tag.

“It’s not for everybody,” Ryan admitted. “But I’ve met some of my best friends through Meetup.” For him, scheduling and attending activities helps him break out of his shell and assume a leadership role of an organization. He finds that people who are a bit on the quiet side, as he sometimes is, are eager to use Meetup to break their own barriers.

“What you put into Meetup is what you get out of it,” he said. After years of going to events by himself, Ryan now much prefers going out and doing things with others as part of a group.

Making friends through Meetup

When you download the Meetup app, you first provide some basic information about yourself and your interests. Then you’ll receive notifications regarding upcoming events. You can elect to join – or not join – events, based on your interests and availability.

“There’s a lot of flexibility,” said Jane. “You don’t necessarily have to be friends with the people in the group that ends up going.” The people who get together for an event inevitably do get to know each other during the event, leading to new friendships and an ever-broadening array of connections.

Jane feels as if her social network has expanded through her involvement with various Meetup groups. “If you’re single, you quickly realize that you don’t have to stay home alone, doing nothing,” she said. “Meetup gives you the opportunity to do something by yourself, but still be part of a group.”

It offers the chance to do something you’re totally comfortable doing. At the same time, Meetup also provides opportunities for doing something you normally wouldn’t try on your own, but in the safety of a group. “There’s something for everyone,” said Jane, noting that it can fill your recreational, social and spiritual needs.

A nationwide Meetup network

Meetup is also nationwide. So if you’re visiting New York City, for example, and find yourself with a free afternoon, a quick check of the Meetup app will provide a variety of options to choose from for any events that conform to your chosen interests happening in the New York City area.

Binghamton, Elmira, Buffalo, Rochester and Utica all have Meetup groups of their own. There are Meetup groups for single people, married couples, those who are older and those who are younger. In Syracuse, they include ethnic dining groups, foreign language groups and professional networking groups. New Meetup groups are always being started, Jane said.

Unwritten rules

Jane cautioned that there are some unwritten rules for Meetup participants. “You have to show up on time for an event,” she said. Arriving consistently late for events, being inconsiderate of others in the group, turning up unprepared for the event and failing to cancel a reservation to attend can all result in you being kicked out of the group.

More than anything, Jane finds her involvement with various Meetup groups is great way to get off her smartphone.  “When you’re at a Meetup event, the purpose is to be there with other people,” she said. “It’s considered rude to constantly be checking your phone for alerts and messages while you’re at a Meetup event.”

Take control of your life

“Meetup is especially good for anyone who feels as if their handheld device is taking control of their life, instead of the individual being in control of his or her life,” remarked Jane. “You get to meet a lot of people and learn something new while participating in an activity that you may not join on your own.”

Ryan echoed Jane’s sentiments. “There are Meetup groups for just about every interest,” he said, “and if there’s not one already available, you can create one of your own.” He recommends trying it at least once to see how you like it.

“That requires you to take that first step and branch out of your comfort zone,” he admitted, “But it could well be worth your time and effort.”

A Sweet Family Activity: NY Maple Weekends are Here!

It’s just about time for my favorite family activity. As we anticipate our annual tradition of visiting a local maple farm, I can’t help but recall a favorite childhood memory.

I remember adding maple sugar to fresh snow to make a sweet treat (don’t worry, scientists say eating small amounts of snow usually isn’t harmful). Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” was a childhood favorite of mine and I copied this trick that Laura’s grandmother taught her. My daughter recently read the story and it will be great to re-enact the experience with her–especially given our upcoming trip to a “sugar house.”

With New York’s Maple Weekends starting soon, upstate New Yorkers can visit a maple farm and start their own family traditions.

Packard Valley Farms

Shevah (r) and her daughter making memories at a local maple farm.

Every spring, New York State Maple Producers Association coordinates events at the “sugar houses” at about 160 farms and museums. This year it will be March 23-24 and 30-31, 2019. Find a place near you!

Most places have hands-on demonstrations of how syrup is made, fresh syrup tastings, and experts on hand to answer questions. Many also have pancake breakfasts complete with—you guessed it— local syrup.

My family loves these maple weekends. This fun family activity signals the beginning of spring, even if there’s still snow on the ground. The highlight for my daughter is sampling fresh syrup, maple butter, and, of course, maple candy.

Making maple syrup

I also love seeing how syrup is made and how natural the process is. While upgrades have been made over time, the basic process has remained the same for centuries. Native Americans in the northeastern United States and Canada were known to make syrup, and today New York is a top syrup producer.

Really, anyone can do it. The process involves very simple, classic steps:

Phase One: Find a sugar, black or red maple tree, drill a hole for a tap, add a bucket under the tap and let gravity work its magic.

Phase Two: Boil! It takes about ten gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Farms have huge vats for this process. And don’t forget to filter the syrup once boiled to remove sediment.

Phase Three: Pour into a sterile bottle and cap. Keep unopened containers in a cool place for up to two years. Once opened, store in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Phase Four: Enjoy!

You may notice syrup comes in different colors. Some have rich hues of brown or amber or gold. There’s a reason for this! A syrup’s color and flavor correlates to when the syrup was made; sap from later in the season is often darker in color and typically has a stronger flavor.

More than Pancakes

Maple syrup isn’t just for breakfast.

You can bake with it, using syrup in place of the sugar.

If you’re replacing sugar with maple syrup, you’ll want to use about ¾ cup of syrup for every cup of sugar and decrease the amount of liquid in your recipe by about three tablespoons.

Maple syrup can also be added to ice cream, BBQ sauce, fudge and kettle corn. Some of my favorite food magazines, such as Epicurious  and Food and Wine , are full of inspiration.

Visit the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Pinterest page for other tasty recipes for baking with maple syrup. (Don’t forget to view the recipes at the end of this story!)

“Just remember, maple syrup is basically sugar so enjoy it in moderation,” said Patricia Salzer, registered dietitian, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

A local tradition

If you’re a Maple Weekend newbie, here are some of my favorite places to consider:

  • Cumming Nature Center in Ontario County. Part of the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC), the tour focuses on the science of syrup making. This is a big place, so leave time to explore the extensive trails after breakfast.
  • Genesee Country Village and Museum in Monroe County. I’m a sucker for period costumes. You can experience syrup making in the 19th century. During maple sugar weekends, the museum is an especially attractive family activity with free admission for kids 18 and under.
  • Packard Valley Farms in Wayne County. This has been a favorite family activity for the past few years. There is a petting zoo and a hay ride up the road to a restaurant serving breakfast all day!
  • Schoff’s Sugar Shack in Ontario County. This family business uses modern techniques for making syrup. Instead of a tap and bucket, they use tubing to carry the sap into a pipeline.

Other farms to consider include:

Enjoying a Family Activity at Packard Valley Farms

Enjoying a fun family activity at Packard Valley Farms.

Try these (syrup-y) recipes

Print Recipe
Smoky Maple Marinade
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Whisk all the ingredients together.
  2. Use the mix to coat your favorite protein. For chicken, pork or beef, marinate one to four hours. For tofu or seafood, marinate for up to one hour.
Print Recipe
Maple Hash
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Brown the meat in butter or olive oil. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan.
  2. Stir in the sweet potato and onion, scraping up the meaty bits off the bottom of the pan. A splash of water, apple cider or apple juice on the bottom of the hot pan will help this process and add a nice flavor.
  3. Saute the sweet potato and onion until soft, about 10 minutes. (Speed trick - you can soften your sweet potatoes by throwing them into boiling water on the stove or in a microwave safe dish until fork tender).
  4. Once your sweet potatoes are fork tender, stir in the diced apple. Stir this around until the apples get soft, about four to five minutes.
  5. Once your veggies are fork tender, stir the sausage back in. Add the cinnamon, maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together about three to five minutes or until everything looks happily married.
  6. Enjoy! It’s delicious on its own or with a fried or poached egg on top.

Operation Puppy Rescue: Bringing Noah Home

When my daughter showed me a picture of a little pup found under a storage container in Afghanistan last fall, I was hooked. This puppy was beyond cute. It was a little ball of blond fur with these sad, brown eyes.

Inauspicious beginnings

Luna was one of nine puppies born among the dirt and rocks of a military base in Afghanistan. My daughter’s fiancé, Jake, and his Army unit stationed there believe it was the mother’s third litter, and that only one pup had survived from her previous litters.

Jake and one of the puppies

According to Jake, the puppies in this litter were docile, sweet and loving. Luna was the one little pup that boldly approached him and nuzzled in under his feet. It wasn’t long before Jake and my daughter, Mary, agreed to adopt her.

Move to Nowzad Animal Rescue Hospital

The contractors who worked with Jake on the Army base were equally taken with the litter. Thinking that the pups had little or no chance of surviving, they summoned all of their patience in coaxing and rounding up the pups and their mother for a trip to Nowzad Animal Rescue Hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Meanwhile, back in the states, the wife of a contractor connected with “This Is The Dog,” a nonprofit animal rescue in Miami. It took some planning, a great deal of collaboration and incredible generosity on the part of people involved with this wonderful organization for the first steps in what seemed like a nearly impossible rescue operation to take shape.

Mary and I started making plans of our own for a trip to Florida to retrieve little Luna. Because she would arrive just before Christmas, flights and rental cars proved too costly, so we decided to take a road trip and drive to Miami instead.

Devastating news

While these details were being worked out, the puppies received their first round of vaccinations. Everything seemed to be falling into place, and things were going well, when we received some devastating news.

Luna, the little pup that bonded with Jake, had contracted parvovirus, a dangerous and deadly virus that is extremely contagious. Luna was the first puppy to die, and all of her siblings became very sick. We were crushed; we thought they’d be safe at the animal hospital.

Nowzad bravely treated all of them for parvo, but four more puppies died, and the remaining four were gravely ill. We were all heartbroken, but Jake was devastated.

Waiting for a miracle

“Unless a miracle happens, they most likely will all die,” Jake dejectedly told us via Facetime. He seemed to have lost all hope and faith.

Not really knowing what to say, I reassured him that everything would be all right, even though I knew he was probably right. Mary and I cancelled our plans to drive to Miami.

It was just about a week before Christmas, when I received a text from Mary. The four remaining puppies were getting better. The plans were back on to bring them home, and would I still be willing to drive to Miami so we could rescue Noah, one of the four remaining puppies.

Coming home

The pups were granted visas and passports from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Determined to be healthy for travel by the Nowzad veterinarian, the pups left their early life in Afghanistan behind on December 17, 2018, and arrived safely at the Miami airport late on the night of December 19, 2018.

Four This Is The Dog volunteers were at the airport to greet them. One positive outcome from this sad situation was that there was room for the mother dog (since named Rosabella) to make the journey with her puppies. All five were placed in foster homes until their owners were able to get them.

Just like that, Mary and I left our home in Syracuse, N.Y., on Thursday, December 20, 2018, and arrived in Miami late Friday night. While we had excitedly had made plans to meet with Noah’s foster mother on Saturday morning, we were a little apprehensive that day, not really knowing what he would be like.

All of our anxiety vanished soon after we glimpsed Noah and his brother in front of the house when we pulled in the driveway. He was very scared at first, but allowed Mary to pick him up and hold him.

The author with her daughter, Mary, and Noah

We settled him into our car, equipped with a cage, food, water, blankets and toys, for the trip home. Noah cried a little in the car, but then lied down and really seemed to rest peacefully.

He had been through so much already in his short little life. During the long, 24-hour ride home, he mostly slept and came out of the cage for a treat or water every once in a while. We returned home on Sunday December 23, 2018.

Settling in

Since then, Noah has been adapting to his new life very well. Eager to investigate his surroundings, he tried to chew on everything at first. Now, he loves to play and run along the fence with the neighbor’s dog. He’s also very affectionate and really loves to snuggle.

Noah!

He has some trouble listening (maybe he doesn’t know English yet LOL). We plan to enroll him for training in the Clear Path for Veterans Canine Program.

I am honored and humbled to have been involved in this puppy rescue operation.

It was an unforgettable Christmas. Noah is home.

Postscript

The three remaining pups have been adopted. A family from Key West adopted Ezekiel “Zeke,” and one of the contractors and his wife from Alabama adopted two puppies, Whidbey and Baker. Rosabella is currently being fostered and thriving in her new home.

What You Might Not Know about the Festival of Holi

It’s almost spring! For me, that means it’s almost time to celebrate Holi, the Hindu celebration marked by a festival of colors.

Different parts of India have different traditions to celebrate Holi, a festival that falls this year on March 20. Holi marks the arrival of spring and the victory of good over evil.

A Two-day celebration

I’m originally from the state of Maharashtra in the western part of India. Growing up in this region of India, Holi was a two-day celebration. My mom would start the first day by making a big feast. The highlight of the meal was always the dessert “Puran Poli,” a sweet flatbread filled with lentils, sugar, cardamom, and nutmeg. The dessert is topped with “ghee,” also known as clarified butter. Later that evening, we’d have a neighborhood bonfire.

A Festival of Colors

The big “festival of colors” happened on the second day of Holi. To celebrate the coming of spring – we’d throw colored powders at each other while the kids would spray each other with water guns filled with colored water.

The author with her family as they celebrate Holi.

Celebrating Holi in Upstate N.Y.

Now I live in Clarence, N.Y., and haven’t lived in India for almost two decades. I still make my favorite Puran Poli dessert. I’ve included the recipe below.

My family and I attend the temple at the Hindu Cultural Society in Getzville, N.Y., where we celebrate the festival with our local community by throwing colors. Everyone from kids to adults enjoy this fun event.  We wear traditional clothing during the festival.  Despite what you might see in the Bollywood movies, we’re not wearing white clothes during the festival.

The one thing I miss about celebrating Holi in India is just how big the festival could become. Everyone celebrated Holi where I’m from. Here, we celebrate at the temple with only 100 to 200 people. It’s still fun and meaningful, but definitely not as big!

Print Recipe
Puran Poli
Prep Time 2 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 2 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Wash the chana dal 2-3 times. Add 5 cups of water along with the dal in a heavy-bottomed pot. Let the lentils cook on medium-low heat for an hour, stirring a few times. Remove any white foam that may rise up.
  2. Drain all the water. Add sugar, nutmeg powder, cardamom powder, and saffron. Mix well, and cook stirring frequently for 10-15 minutes on medium heat.
  3. Cool down the cooked dal for 10 mins. Blend it to a smooth consistency with a hand blender or food processor.
  4. Knead soft, pliable dough with 1 cup of whole wheat flour, salt, and oil. Let the dough rest for 30 mins.
  5. Start making balls for the dough and the stuffing, which should be of the same size.
  6. Put a heavy griddle on medium-high heat. Roll the dough by using the dry wheat flour that is kept aside for rolling. Make a 3-4 inch diameter circle. Put the stuffing in the middle of the rolled dough and then gather all the sides of the dough on top of the stuffing to enclose it. Roll the bread softly using more dry flour. Gently put the rolled bread on the heated griddle. Cook evenly on both sides to a perfect golden brown color. Serve with ghee on top.

How to Build a Backyard Ice Rink

Given that current weather forecasts for our part of the Northeast are including numbers below the magical 32 degrees Fahrenheit, my mental homeowner ‘to do’ list includes clearing the leaves, starting the snowblower, and so on…standard stuff you may say.

But even now, I catch myself dreaming of the next item…re-assembling the backyard ice arena, aka “Kane Rink.”

You may then quip “Are you nuts? Sounds like a lot of work!” And I’ll agree, but smile, fueled by a fond, selective memory.

Setting up the ice rink: Lots of trial and error

For nearly 10 winters, my sons and I (and occasionally my wonderful wife/hockey mom) would spend the better part of each Thanksgiving morning:

  • Re-assembling the pressure-treated frame boards (aka our first deck frame) for the border of the rink,
  • Screwing in the assorted galvanized straps and connections to secure the frame,
  • Unrolling and leveling the huge marine grade tarp over the ground and frame walls,
  • Starting the two-day water filling process, with 4” – 6” depth the goal for ease of freezing and maintenance.

Though the instructions SOUND simple, there was a lot of trial and error, and talking to other “crazy” “North Coast” (Webster borders Lake Ontario) parents like us. Some other, much more sane parents, might even ask “isn’t the nearby Webster Ice Arena a half mile from your house?” “Yep, but you can’t turn those lights on at 10 p.m. and play till you’re tired, or any other time you want…and water is cheap!”

Second-hand hockey equipment is key

Only one of my boys actively played hockey. Yet both were good skaters and outdoor adventurers who had fun with friends at our house all the time.

We had spare skates and sticks of all sizes. Plus two goals and a shooting net behind one to enable retrieval of pucks without too many losses to the neighbor’s deck for springtime discovery.

Since hockey families pass along items to newbies as their kids age out, we were lucky too. One parent gave us about 50 extra pucks. Another lent me his “NiceIce Resurfacer.” It’s a water pipe and cloth that evenly spreads the water. This tool saved hours of frustration and would have been worth buying for one season alone!

Building and maintaining the 25’x55’ rink was a shared task and one with new lessons each year. Here are some of those lessons, just in case you decide to start your own “backyard rink” traditions this year.

Want to build an ice rink? Start online

  • Google “how to build a backyard hockey rink” and watch some of the videos. There are many, many theories, but you’ll get the idea and answers to questions you hadn’t even thought of.
  • Consider an online vendor such as NiceRink.com for supplies, brackets and such. There are so many other options, you can start simple when the kids are young and improve year to year.

Ice rink tarp tips

  • Try a marine grade or waterproof tarp instead of stapling sheet plastic. You can reuse the tarp for many years.
  • Try placing corrugated plastic drain pipe over the board edges to hold the tarp and protect it from skaters, pucks and shovels too.

Clean that rink

  • Leaves from nearby trees have to be cleared promptly, or they will freeze into the surface and melt at a different speed than nearby ice due to color and sunlight. They create pits/holes in the surface of the ice.
  • Once the ice formed for the winter, clearing ANY snowfall was crucial within hours. If not, snow would melt then refreeze and/or worse create slush on the ice surface and the upper snow would create a blanket effect. I was in the habit of clearing the driveway and the rink all before sunrise. Again, a “North Coast thing” perhaps?

Finding the best spot for your rink

  • If your yard isn’t 100% level, that’s OK, the boards can be deeper in some spots. You can also bring in loads of dirt to improve your yard. Sixteen loads helped us!
  • Having a nearby source of BOTH hot and cold water is crucial to success. Sometimes hot water melted and easily leveled the top surface after skating or snow fell. A walk-out basement with available laundry tub served our needs. It also gave easy access to get back in the house when too cold to skate.
  • Lighting – if you can point some spotlights from your house to the ice surface, you’ll have extended hours of fun!

End of season fun

  • Buy a ~$30 battery-powered floating water pump for the end of season draining challenge – you’ll thank me.
  • If you only take one end of the boards down in the spring, you can still mow your lawn AND save hours of work! Plus you can keep the goal up for summertime practice on a mat that might also save your garage door from round, black dents.

When you get to the point where the kids go to college (unless you’ve developed your own backyard game and parents’ league), give away your gathered items. You’ll be amazed how much spare time you’ll get back in the winter! But it will be sadly quiet on those sunny, 15 degree days in January when you SHOULD be providing cookies and cocoa to a hungry crew. Savor those memories, they are worth the effort.

We know there’s a lot of fellow upstate NYers who are skilled at building the backyard ice rink! Please share your tips and advice. We’d love to hear them.

Flavorful Escarole and Pastina Soup

This delicious Escarole and Pastina soup includes many Italian flavors that remind me of my childhood. What little Ragazzo or Ragazzi didn’t grow up feasting on ingredients such as escarole, tiny pastina, and cannellini beans?

Alisa Fanara, my co-worker (and fellow Italian), shared this recipe. This soup is perfect for a wintery day. Add chicken or sausage to make the soup heartier.

Print Recipe
Escarole and Pastina Soup
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, carrot and garlic, salt and pepper. Cook on medium-low heat until the onion is tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the escarole and cook, stirring for a few minutes until the escarole is wilted. Add the broth, beans, and tomatoes. Simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the escarole is tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach and stir for a minute or two minutes until the spinach is wilted.
  4. Cook the pastina separately. Scoop pastina into the bowls. Ladle the soup on top of the pastina. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve the soup hot!
Recipe Notes

The recipe was adapted from the Los Angeles Times.

I Stand – A Lot. But why does it make others uneasy?

I have an odd habit that’s good for my health, but seems to make others uneasy.

I have a tendency to stand, even when asked to sit.

You might not think this is odd. Especially since sitting too much could put us at risk for serious health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.  This is true for people who even exercise regularly.

But my tendency to stand seems to create a lot of confusion.

Stand Whenever You Can

Whenever I walk into my hairdresser’s, for example, she always says, “Take a seat.”

But I don’t. I stay standing.

I stand when I read the paper, wait at the doctor’s office or nail salon, fill out papers or read something on my phone.

The other day a friend and I were waiting for another friend to go for a walk. While we were waiting, my friend asked if we should sit. I said, “No! We’re about to go for a walk! We’re not sitting!”

My new approach to standing

But I may need to take a slightly different approach to my standing habit.

My hairdresser, for example, said my standing while waiting makes her nervous. I’m making it seem as if I’m impatient, that I need to be helped right away.

That makes complete sense. It’s probably why I get all these odd looks whenever I’m asked to sit, and I don’t!

From now on, when I’m asked to sit, I may say, “Thank you, but I’m just better off standing.”

Maybe that’ll lessen everyone’s uneasiness? But we do need a culture shift. If people stood more, fewer people would ask why I’m standing!

Other ways to stand more

If you need more tips on how to stop sitting so much, read “Is being healthy as simple as standing up?”

I’d also love to learn more about any ideas you may have on ways to stop sitting so much! Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Five Pumpkin Breakfast Recipes for Fall

(Just about) everybody loves fall. But do you ever get tired of the leaves, the brisk morning air or the pumpkin everything? NEITHER DO I! I don’t just love pumpkin because of the weather. It’s also delicious and really good for you. Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene, which help promote the health of your eyes and skin. The fiber in pumpkin also works to keep your digestive system happy. That’s why I enjoy these pumpkin breakfast recipes all year long (shhh…don’t tell fall).

Print Recipe
Warm Autumn Oatmeal
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 minute
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 minute
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combine oats, pumpkin, milk, and apple into a bowl.
  2. Microwave for one minute.
  3. Add peanut butter and pecans, stirring to combine.
  4. Top with cinnamon.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Protein Smoothie
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Blend all ingredients together in a blender.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Granola Bars
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
bars
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
bars
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line an 8 by 8 pan with partchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together oats, walnuts, spices and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, honey/maple syrup, applesauce and vanilla until smooth.
  5. Pour over oats and stir to combine. Mix in chocolate chips.
  6. Evenly press the mixture into the pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until edges are golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes before cutting into bars.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Parfait
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, layer yogurt with pumpkin puree and granola.
  2. Sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Pancakes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
pancakes
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
pancakes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin, egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and whisk gently until combined. Let the batter set for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat a pan to medium heat. Drizzle vegetable oil on the warmed pan.
  5. Ladle 1/3 cup of the batter onto the pan for each pancake.
  6. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bubbles around the edges are open and set. Flip and cook on the other side for an additional 2 minutes.

Looking for a cozy dinner for an autumn evening? Check out our recipe for Tasty Crock-Pot Beef Stroganoff.

10 Pumpkin Patches To Visit in Upstate New York

Fall has arrived and you’re ready to hit the pumpkin patches. But which ones should you visit?

To help, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite pumpkin patches in these regions of upstate New York: Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Utica. Grab your kids, camera and in some cases your pet. Head over to the pumpkin patch to enjoy some fall family fun.

There are a lot more great pumpkin patches in upstate New York. If we missed your favorite one, add it to the comments section below!

For more, read Pumpkin Picking at Chase Farms in Fairport, NY.

Rochester

1. Stokoe Farms

    • Admission: General admission is $15 on weekends (also Columbus Day weekend) and $10 during the week. Discounts for seniors and members of the military (with ID). Kids under age 2 are free.
    • Activities: They have over thirty-five activities for their visitors, including picking pumpkins fresh from the field, enjoying a wagon ride, trying out their pumpkin launchers and apple cannons, and exploring the corn maze.
    • Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sept. 15 – Oct. 28.
    • Location: 656 South Rd, Scottsville, NY 14546

2. Wickham Farms

    • Admission:  They offer “fun passes,” which are not required but are a great option for people who are looking to enjoy multiple attractions for a flat rate. Otherwise, the separate activities have fees.
    • Activities: They have 20 activities, including a pumpkin hayride, pumpkin patch, corn maze, jumping pillow, and miniature golf.
    • Food: Fresh doughnuts and homemade cookies at the farm bakery, apple cider (hot or cold), Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters coffee, and farmer food trucks.
    • Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Orchard is 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends.
    • Location: 1821 Fairport Nine Mile Point Rd, Penfield, NY 14526

3. Pick’N’Patch

    • Admission: It’s free to enter, but many of the activities require tickets.
    • Activities: Some of their fun activities include the barnyard bouncer, corn maze, apple blaster, and hay rides.
    • Hours: Fall season is Sept. 15 – Oct. 31. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    • Location: 2205 Rts. 5 & 20, Stanley, NY 14561

Buffalo

1. The Great Pumpkin Farm

    • Admission: Admission is $8 per person at the gate for all seven festival weekends (Children ages 2 and under are free). Weekdays are free.
    • Activities: Pumpkin picking, boo barn, jumping pillow, playground, and more!
    • Hours: 10 a.m. to dusk every day, Sept. 15 through Oct. 31.
    • Location: 11199 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031

2. Wheatfield Pumpkin Farm

    • Admission: There is no admission fee, but the activities do have fees and they are cash only.
    • Activities: Haunted hayrides in October, family farm hayrides daily and a corn maze.
    • Hours: Sept. 23 – Oct. 30, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (extended hours on haunted hayride nights)
    • Location: 6920 Nash Rd, Wheatfield, NY 14120

3. Kelkenberg Farm of Clarence

    • Admission: General admission is $13 per person, children and adults.  No charge for children under age 2.  Admission includes the pumpkin picked in the field. They don’t allow pets.
    • Activities: Pumpkin picking, hay rides, pony rides for kids, farm tour, straw maze, and more.
    • Hours: Open starting Sept. 15. Open every weekend in October and Columbus Day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. without reservations.
    • Location: 9270 Wolcott Road, Clarence Center, NY 14032

Syracuse

1. Tim’s Pumpkin Patch

    • Admission: Free admission, additional charges for certain activities.
    • Activities: Corn maze, animal barn, tractor wagon rides, the hay fort, the fossil dig, and pumpkin picking. Dogs welcome.
    • Hours: The season is Sept. 15 to Oct. 31. Open every day of the week 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the fall season.
    • Location: 2901 Rose Hill Rd, Marietta, NY 13110

2. Katie’s Pumpkin Patch

    • Admission: Free admission. Free corn maze with any purchase, and $1 hay rides.
    • Activities: Pumpkin picking, hay rides ($1 per person) and a corn maze (free with any purchase).
    • Hours: Season starts Sept. 21. Weekdays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (when it starts getting dark before 7 p.m., they will close at 6 p.m.). Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed on Saturday.
    • Location: 8484 Dunham Rd, Baldwinsville, NY 13027

Utica

1. Pumpkin Junction

    • Admission: Free general admission and their corn maze is free.
    • Activities: They have pumpkin picking, a Halloween store, and the free Cornfusion Corn Maze.
    • Hours: Open Sept. 10 to Oct. 31 daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
    • Location: 2188 Graffenburg Road, Sauquoit, NY, 13456

2. Cullen Pumpkin Farm

    • Admission: No admission fee, but wagon rides are $3 (kids under age 5 are free).
    • Activities: Pick your own pumpkins, wagon rides, the Pumpkin Express, corn maze, and fun places to take pictures!
    • Hours: Open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting Sept. 8 through Oct. 31.
    • Location: 587 Cullen Road, Richfield Springs, NY 13439

Did we miss your favorite pumpkin patch? Add it to the comments section below!

Can’t get enough pumpkin? Check out  5 Pumpkin Breakfast Recipes for Fall