Sunday, February 28, 2021

Quality Matters

At Afternoon Tea, we always prided ourselves on the quality of what we made.  When we discovered some bakeries were using canned, commercially-made custards and pie fillings for their baked goods, it was something we decided we would never do.  We made everything from scratch.  We made our own pie crusts, we peeled apples, we made our own caramel, and we made our own fillings.  We never cut corners.

We didn't want any preservatives in our baked goods.  We wanted everything baked exactly the way we would do it at home, using the same basic, wholesome ingredients.

But quality extends not only to our baking, but to our day-to-day life, as well.  Do we pick quality over convenience, at least some of the time?  We can't cook and bake everyday, that's a given … everyone has too much going on to be able to pull that off, so convenience foods are a fact of life.  However, we should definitely look at all of our options and make the best choices.

A recent trend for grocery stores is carrying a number of chain restaurant-branded frozen foods.  They certainly have name recognition.  But what I also noticed is that they're not cheap.  A frozen bag of Chinese fried rice (branded by a very famous restaurant chain) was going for $8.99 at the store.

In the very same shopping center, just a few steps away, is a Chinese restaurant I frequent.  They sell a generous portion of fried rice (which looked to me to be about the same quantity, if not more, as the frozen bag) for the same amount of money.  As I held the frozen bag in my hand, I had to wonder why I would buy the frozen when the fresh is available to me just a few feet away at the same price.  Even if I put it in the freezer myself when I got it home, to have as a meal on another night, at least I know it was freshly made when I bought it.

For most folks, every penny counts, and that's understood.  There's always coupons and sales and gas points, so the convenience of the grocery store option makes sense for many.  But on those days when the pay-off is just not there, why not choose the freshest, most delicious option?  I'd gladly give up that extraneous box of cookies and spend the extra couple of dollars instead to enjoy a freshly made meal from one of my favorite restaurants.

One day I was sitting at the auto shop, waiting for the mechanics to work on my car, when I suddenly felt hungry.  Across the street was a fast-food place recognizable by its golden arches.  A few feet away from it was a French bakery.  Which do you think I went into?

I love a fast-food burger and fries as much as the next person, but the idea of checking out some ham-and-cheese croissants, a selection of quiches, or their soup of the day drew me into the French bakery like a magnet.

Quality matters.  Especially after a year of hardship, a year of settling for less, a year of holding back, a year of making do.  We've put up with a lot ... it's time to reward ourselves with a few quality choices.

Choosing quality makes us feel good about ourselves.  It tells us that we're worth the best.  It makes a difference in what we're putting into our bodies.  Opting for quality makes a difference in how we feel about our lives.  A latte every now and then from our favorite coffeehouse tells us we're worth it.  A sit-down restaurant over a drive-through shows us we're worth the time and the attention.  A good bakery lunch over a fast-food lunch is vastly more enjoyable, every time. 

Which is good … because they're opening up another new bakery not far from me pretty soon.  Can't wait to check them out!

.........................................................

Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Romantic Foods
Something special ...
Romancing Your Life
Setting the scene to fall in love with your own life
How It All Began
The very beginnings of Afternoon Tea.
Baking is Love
No one has to bake ... ever.  So when they do, you can bet that love is in there.
The Lenten Season
A reminder that accepting the challenge of self-discipline is good for the soul
Spring Cleaning
Tackling and taming the clutter
Dessert Not Optional
Indulging your sweet tooth is not always a bad thing.
Starting Off with a Bang!
Bust yourself free from 2020! States are opening up, it's time to make plans!
New Year's Resolutions
A list of fun things to look forward to in the year ahead!
Never On The "1st" Date
Laying the groundwork for the success of your goals and resolutions
Travel Plans
Planning some new sights and scenery in the New Year
The Romance of Travel
Falling in love with a new destination, adventure, and vistas
A Fresh Start
Healthful smoothies to begin the year off right!
Salty Sweets
Finishing salts on your dessert
How It All Began
The very beginnings of Afternoon Tea.
A Tale of Two Bread Puddings
So different, yet both so good!
A Very Foodie Town
It's almost time for Restaurant Week again!
Top Chef - Colorado
A celebrity in the family!
Cooking with Herbs
Herbs are making a tasty appearance in some of your favorite desserts!
The Problem with Pesto ...
It's so darned easy, you'll be making it all the time!
Herb Harvest
There's nothing like growing your own fresh herbs!
Fresh!
Locally-grown farm-fresh products and produce are the best!
Do-Gooders!
Ana's non-profit, Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Program received a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!
Baking Cakes
Basic baking tips for beautiful layer cakes
Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for our service members' complete health and wellbeing.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Starting Off with a Bang!

Did 2020 feel like a lost year to you?  Do you feel like an entire year of your life has been forfeited?  Stolen?

Did it feel like you were thwarted from accomplishing any of your goals last year, unable to do the things you wanted to do due to massive and unpredictable shutdowns and restrictions?

Did it feel like our entire country was stopped in its tracks from making any progress, from being able to move forward in our lives ... trapped in a fog of excessive fear and imposed solitude?

We can make sure that doesn't happen in 2021!

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty pumped up about the year ahead!  With so much pent-up energy, at this point, it's just a matter of time before things start busting loose!

We're different people than we were just a year ago.  We went through a hardship, but we learned some very valuable lessons along the way.  We learned to manage our fears.  We learned how to homeschool our children.  We learned how to get by on the basics.  We learned how to be creative.  We learned how to take better care of ourselves -- our hygiene, our health and nutrition, to take vitamins and get some sun -- and we learned how to take care of others better, as well.

We can feel that this hardship is coming to an end.  That even if we have weeks or months yet ahead of us, things are about to break wide open.  Will you be ready?

Even during a year of pandemic, good things happened.  Our family had several births this year, was able to do some traveling, and see our family members during the holidays.  These are wonderful things to have experienced in a year of hardship.

Some people took the opportunity this year to retire.  To remodel.  To build a new house.  To organize their photos, or their garages, or their basements.

After suffering such a trauma in the world, it's a good thing to acknowledge everything that did go right, milestones reached, and all the ways we were blessed this year ... before we start the next one.

Were you able to continue working?  Were you able to put food on your table every day?  Did you have any reasons to celebrate this year??

It's always a good thing to acknowledge the good things in our lives.  This is our starting position.

Your Starting Position

Make a "Year In Review" list of all the good things that happened this last year.  Good things happen every year, even in a year of pandemic, and it's always healthy to acknowledge all the things that went right, honor any milestones, and count all the ways that you were blessed this last year … before starting the next one.

In doing so, maybe we'll realize it wasn't a lost year after all.  We'll always remember 2020 for what it brought our family, not what was missing.


The One Big Thing

A sure-fire way to make sure 2021 doesn't become a lost year it to plan something big ... something exciting to do this year.  The pandemic won't last forever, and we can do the one big thing we've always wanted to do, if we decide to do it.

Aim for something big, something exciting this year.  In a "downward-dog year," (no insult to yoga intended), it's an excellent idea to set a goal for yourself that thrills you.  

What's your one big thing?  The one big thing that thrills you ... maybe even scares you a little?  While you're still stuck in the house, make a plan.  What is the one big thing that, if you accomplish it this year, will make 2021 one of your most memorable years ever?

For some it might be something huge.  For others, it may be more modest.  Still, everyone has something ... that one big thing that they've always wanted to do.

  • Get married.  What could be bigger than planning your wedding?  Sure, it might be a little frustrating right now with so many venues and restaurants shut down, yet I know someone who managed to get married in 2020 ... in California, no less!  And it was a beautiful wedding!  Event sites are planning for their new year, as well ... planning to start fresh and launch new plans in the coming months ... ready for bookings.  They're looking forward to better times, too, so plan something beautiful and memorable right now!
  • Run your first race or marathon?  Running is, for the most part, a solo sport, so it's a perfect exercise to take up during a pandemic.  While the rest of the world is indoors, you will have the roads almost to yourself to run, walk or speedwalk and start training for your new goal.  Or find a vacant track at a local high school or college.  Make 2021 the year you run your first 5K, 10K or marathon, and it will be a year to remember!
  • Same with cycling.  If you've always wanted to join a cycling club, or go on a long-distance bike tour or race, you can start training right now!  There are cycling clubs all over the country, so you can find a local one near you pretty easily.  It's a way to be together yet apart, get some awesome exercise in, make new friends, and accomplish some new goals.  Give it a spin!
  • Never taken the kids to Disney World?  Plan the most epic trip ever!  Disneyland in California may be closed indefinitely, but Walt Disney World in Florida is open for business and is a spectacular destination any year.  There are hundreds of videos on YouTube that show you the best rides, the best hotels and resorts, the best restaurants, the best watering holes, and the best strategies for making the most of your vacation.  Will you take time out to golf at WDW's world-class courses, or hit the water parks?  Will you stay at their fanciest resort or camp at Fort Wilderness?  Sit down with a writing pad and start making notes to plan your best trip ever (you'll need notes to keep it all straight!).  Do it!  Simply watching all the videos will be thrilling, and you'll be so excited planning your perfect trip, that the next few weeks will fly by almost unnoticed.  Plus, the kids will go absolutely out of their minds when you finally tell them!
  • Never been to Hawai'i?  Start planning that trip.  What islands will you visit?  What hotels?  Where will you attend a luau?  Take hula lessons?  Where will you scuba dive?  Go snorkeling?  Go fishing?  Will you take a helicopter ride around a volcano?  Will you visit a pineapple plantation?  Start planning your dream vacation now.
  • Never been on a cruise?  They won't be grounded forever ... start investigating your options.  The Caribbean islands?  Alaska?  The Galapagos?  An Ocean Cruise or a European River Cruise?  A Disney Cruise?  An 80s Music Cruise?  How about Antartica?  You could even do a cruise around the world, if you're up for something truly epic!  Some conferences are even held on cruise ships, so check out all of your options while you have the time to do so now!
  • Sail around the world?  Many years ago, it seemed to be on every man's bucket list.  I haven't heard many people mention it these days, but for that very reason, it may be the most epic New Year's resolution ever right now.  Plan that trip!  Read books by people who actually did it, and note their experiences and advice.  What will be your launch point?  What route will you take?  What will be your touch points?  What supplies will you need and where/how will you restock?  What are your contingency plans?  Bonus: because the isolation is already built-in, it's an extremely pandemic-accommodating goal.
  • Never been skiing?  A ski trip can be daunting ... so much gear, lessons, snowy roads and mountains to traverse.  If you grew up in the mountains, you may have been introduced to skiing at a young age, and it's second-nature to you.  For those of us who didn't, it's a whole other universe.  However, there's no doubt that it's fascinating to get a taste of how "the other half lives."  The good news is, you can rent most of what you need, and some ski areas are much more affordable than others ... so, do your research.  Look into the myriad ski areas and resorts around the country, and take a look at the planning guides and tools available to you.  Websites and videos will offer a wealth of information.  Perhaps there's a group you can go with, as well, which will make it easier.  One thing is for sure ... once you go, it opens a whole new world to you.  Whether you decide you're more of a ski bunny than a serious aficionado, ski vacations are now a part of your repertoire.  Whether you never actually go skiing again or not, you may still develop an interest in cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, ice climbing, exploring quaint ski towns and villas around the world, or simply enjoy sipping a hot buttered rum or hot chocolate in front of a blazing fire in a ski lodge.  And it opens your world to a whole new set of people you may have never met otherwise.  It all sounds pretty good to me!

Write a book?  Climb a mountain?  Start body-building?  Learn another language?  Finally visit Israel?  The possibilities are endless.  What are your post-pandemic plans?  What goal sparks a thrill in your imagination?  What's your "one big thing?"

We typically make lists of resolutions in January, but we don't need a list ... we just need that one big thing that will motivate us to take advantage of our time this year.  So, say to yourself, "2021 will be the year that I ..." and get going!


Don't Know Where to Start?

Start small.  Re-engage with your social circles, and find out what other people's plans are for the new year.  Start going to church again, and reconnecting with your community.  Take some small steps that will get your old life back, and help open the door to something new.

Perhaps taking a virtual trip will get you in the mood to plan a real one.  Take a tour of some of the most amazing cities in the world without leaving your living room.

Create a time capsule with a clean mask, photos and advertisements with people wearing masks, official instructions from institutions on washing hands, local mandates, write down your own feelings about dealing with the pandemic, school closures, work situations, etc.  You may want to add other items that commemorate the year (besides the pandemic), as well.  Bury it in your backyard.  Perhaps putting this time capsule together will put the past year in perspective for you ... and burying it might be symbolic of laying it to rest soon.  This exercise just might initiate something in you to look forward to, and with that, an idea for the new year!

Make a list of places you want to travel to this year, after the pandemic subsides.  Perhaps this would be a good year to rent an RV to travel across the US (instead of flying) ... and see if it's a lifestyle you'll want to adopt sometime in the future.

Make a list of restaurants you want to eat at, after the pandemic subsides (or pick up a take-out order from them right now).  Perhaps a food-destination vacation, such as New Orleans, Savannah or San Francisco, is something that intrigues you.

Plan a camping trip with your family.  If you didn't already take advantage of that opportunity this last year, what are you waiting for?  It's a pandemic-friendly activity, since most camp sites are at least 6 feet apart.  Maybe this will inspire you to visit more National Parks or other sites this year.

Begin any goal you set for yourself last year that you never got around to doing: cleaning out the garage, redecorating, painting rooms, tackling those handyman projects, etc.  Most people have good intentions, but procrastination has a way of settling in.  While the pandemic continues, make a plan to tackle those honey-do's on your list.  Once they're out of the way, a whole new world of possibilities will open up to you.

Diet, diet, diet.  Every New Year brings the looming shadow of New Year's resolutions past ... the perennial resolution of improving our weight, health and nutrition.  Many people put on weight during the isolation of pandemic ... we were encouraged to stay home, bored, with the refrigerator and pantry calling us every minute.

But other people actually took the opportunity to get the junk out of the pantry, investigate more healthful recipes, and exercise more (with all the time we're saving by not commuting).  I saw one of my neighbors outside every day, grabbing kettle balls and other exercise equipment from her packed garage, and exercising on the driveway.  Some people are intimidated exercising outside where they can be seen, but I admired her for doing so consistently ... the dedication and devotion.  I think most people will evoke that reaction from their neighbors, as well.

You have a couple months of winter yet to work on improving your diet and losing some of that pandemic weight.  You have a couple more months of isolation to start watching some yoga videos and stretching along with them.  You still have time to watch some dance videos and learn a few moves before the doors bust open!  You have time now to get an exercise routine down that you actually enjoy.

This isn't about resolutions.  This is about reclaiming our lives and our power.  So many people feel like 2020 was a lost year ... a year where travel, entertainment, and dining were pretty much out.  A year where they were not going to church or socializing, not getting together with friends and family and celebrating, where goals were abandoned.  Some folks closed themselves off so completely and shrunk into their four walls, and so their lives have shrunk, as well.

Bust Free from 2020!

This should be the year of expansion.  Sure, we may have to remain indoors for a couple more months yet, but one thing is certain ... spring will come again, summer will arrive and start flirting with us again ... will you be ready for it?

Will you be ready to meet life head-on again, and hit the ground running?  Or will you need to be coerced out of the doldrums?  Prepare now for a bigger life this year!  Make plans now for something big, something exciting, to make the new year memorable.

If 2020 is a lost year, a year worth forgetting ... make sure 2021 is unforgettable!!  In truth, that's what New Years should be about every year ... making exciting plans that will thrill your soul in the year ahead, and make every year memorable!  

Happy, Happy New Year!!!

.........................................................

Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

New Year's Resolutions
A list of fun things to look forward to in the year ahead!
Never On The "1st" Date
Laying the groundwork for the success of your goals and resolutions
Travel Plans
Planning some new sights and scenery in the New Year
The Romance of Travel
Falling in love with a new destination, adventure, and vistas
A Fresh Start
Healthful smoothies to begin the year off right!
Salty Sweets
Finishing salts on your dessert
Christmas for Dogs
With source countries so hard to track down, why am I still buying dog treats?
Warming Up to Winter
A nice warm drink before bed can become one of our most cherished routines.
Romancing Your Life
Setting the scene to fall in love with your own life
Romantic Foods
Something special ...
How It All Began
The very beginnings of Afternoon Tea.
Baking is Love
No one has to bake ... ever.  So when they do, you can bet that love is in there.
A Tale of Two Bread Puddings
So different, yet both so good!
Food Porn
It has become a national obsession ... we're salivating over food and all the food shows on tv
A Very Foodie Town
It's almost time for Restaurant Week again!
Top Chef - Colorado
A celebrity in the family!
Cooking with Herbs
Herbs are making a tasty appearance in some of your favorite desserts!
The Problem with Pesto ...
It's so darned easy, you'll be making it all the time!
The Icing on the Cake
Does a bakery really need to make frosted layer cakes?
What's Your Favorite Cake?
If only I could pick just one!
Do-Gooders!
Ana's non-profit, Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Program received a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!
Baking Cakes
Basic baking tips for beautiful layer cakes
Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for our service members' complete health and wellbeing.