Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How to Make Better Coffee at Home

Brew better with these killer coffee-making tips

Even if you are not a skilled barista, you’d still like to have a great cup of coffee before you leave home in the morning, right? Good thing we’ve got the scoop from a seasoned barista – tips for awesome do-it-yourself coffee preparation. Now, you can easily turn your morning brew into a worlds-better cup of joe. 

Meet our barista

Idyllwild, California resident Chris Bayer is not just a longtime barista and coffee roaster. Bayer is also a fan: a true aficionado of this favorite American drink – the most popular hot beverage on the planet, in fact.

His first and last piece of advice: “It’s all personal: a matter of personal taste.  My wife and I disagree on the best way to make a cup of coffee, and that’s okay. Even baristas disagree on the perfect way to get a perfect cup of coffee, but your own taste buds are the ultimate judge.”

In this introductory article, we'll start with Bayer's first-step recommendations: starting off with the right coffee selection. After all, no matter how perfectly you store your coffee or prepare it (which we'll cover in part #2 of our barista interview), it will be nearly impossible to get a great cup of coffee if you haven't purchased the right beans.

How to select the right coffee beans

Not all coffees are created the same.  “Where it’s grown, the elevation of the fields, the processing of the beans, and other factors make a flavor difference, so you may need to try a few different coffees to find one that fits your taste,” Bayer says.

Rather than go into great detail on the different varieties – which could violate Bayer's taste preference theorem noted above, we'll start with this word of advice: “It’s easy to get sidetracked in your coffee bean selection by packaging labels, like fair trade, organic, country of origin – even the pricing. Don’t be swayed too much by all this,” Bayer cautions.

He points out that, for example, the process of getting the organic label on your product is costly enough that it fails small farmers. Their simpler methods of farming may in fact fit organic labeling requirements but they often cannot afford the organic certification process.

“Even the price can be more about marketing that quality,” Bayer asserts. “While the best tasting coffees are not likely the cheapest, coffee doesn’t have to be the most expensive choice to be great tasting.”
So then, how can the average consumer get the right bean for their home roast?

“The easiest way is to find the a good coffee roaster near you who knows this sort of thing,” Bayer says, “someone who buys the beans green – pre-roasted – and then roasts them onsite. Not only is that an assurance of freshness, but a good coffee roaster is going to be your best source of information.”

How the supplier processes the coffee can also affect flavor. “Coffee is like wine in many respects, not only in that both coffee and wine are generally acquired tastes and vary greatly in flavor and quality based on the location of the coffee plantation and the weather conditions in which it was grown, but also because the methods chosen for processing the coffee bean can dramatically affect the flavor and quality,” Bayer says.

“What few people realize is that the coffee bean is not a bean at all, but rather the pit of a fruit – sometimes referred to as the cherry of the fruit. Like other fruits, the flavor can change significantly depending several factors, including whether or not it was allowed to ripen before removing the fruit from the vine, and whether or not it was processed immediately after harvesting.”

Yes, even how the beans are harvested can affect the flavor. “For example, a small farmer may hand pick the beans, instead of using a big tree shaker that is less discriminating in filtering for the best beans,” Bayer explains.

Freshness is everything

Bayer’s strongest recommendation in buying your coffee beans is to get them as fresh as possible.  “Unlike wine, coffee doesn’t age well. Once it’s been roasted, you’ll taste the difference in freshness after as little as two or three weeks.”

The advantage of buying directly from a coffee supplier that roasts its coffee beans is that it has likely been fresh roasted.  "In fact, many local roasteries even have a ‘roasted on’ date on their labeling," Bayer says, "which also explains why good, freshly roasted coffee beans are often more expensive; by date-labeling the coffee, the roaster may end up throwing out batches that don't sell within two or three weeks."

Are there disadvantages to buying from a small local roastery?

"There are some, although I find that the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages," Bayer says. "The obvious disadvantage is that, without mass production, you'll probably pay a bit more if you buy your beans from a local roastery. Also, consistency can be an issue. While a local, small-batch roaster’s coffee beans will be fresher than a national supplier, the local supplier cannot offer the mass production benefit of  uniformity.”

A matter of taste

Barista Chris Bayer’s first word is his final reminder as well: “Your taste buds must be the ultimate judge of a good cup of coffee. For instance, while I appreciate the local coffee shop that sells and roasts their own beans, I don’t believe it’s necessary in order to have a great cup at home.”
Stay tuned for our follow-up article and interview with Chris Bayer: Storing and Brewing Techniques for the Perfect Cup of Coffee, coming soon.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance seems to be a buzzword in today’s world. Most of us know the term means some type of issue with milk, but what is it exactly? Does it vary in intensity? And how do you know if you have lactose intolerance?

Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products and can cause problems when the body does not produce enough lactase to digest it. When you are unable to properly process lactose in your body, you can experience a host of symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Discomfort and/or gurgling in your belly

The best way to be diagnosed is by a doctor – not self-diagnoses! But if you notice that you have digestive issues when you consume dairy, it’s worth monitoring your symptoms until you are able to see a doctor.

If you discover that you are intolerant of lactose, it can feel like the world – at least, your eating world – is coming to an end. And truthfully, those with severe lactose intolerance may have to limit their menu. But food intolerances often span a spectrum. So if you discover that you are lactose intolerant, don’t count all as lost just yet.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to allow some time for your digestive system to heal after exposure to lactose. But once you are feeling well, you can start to experiment with your tolerance to lactose. For some people, you can have a small amount per day. Other people can have a serving or two per week without symptoms. Lactase supplements may help with your tolerance.

Foods like hard cheeses and Greek yogurt often digest a bit easier, compared to milk and ice cream. Be patient, and try a few foods at a time. If you have a severe reaction to a trial food, give your system time to heal before trying another food. You might also consider diary products from animals other than cows. Goat yogurt, milk, and cheese is often tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. 

If you discover that your reaction to dairy is severe – or you simply want to avoid it – there are plenty of alternatives! From coconut milk yogurt, to rice-based cheeses, you do not need to feel deprived. Insider tip: eat soy and rice-based cheeses as part of recipes, rather than alone. Remember that they are made of different ingredients, so there will be some taste/texture differences. But with some trial and error, you’ll find the ones that work best for your tastes and recipes. (For example, check out this dairy free macaroni and cheese recipe!)

If you are game to try to heal your intolerance, some medical professionals believe you may be able to cure it. With time and persistence, you may find relief, or perhaps, just higher tolerance.

So, if you find yourself facing a dairy intolerance, take one step at a time. It’s an opportunity to find new toppings for your burger, play with new pizza recipes, and explore flavor combinations you’ve never experienced. And as you explore, keep us posted on your progress!

What dairy-free recipes have you tried that you’ve loved?

Contributing Writer

Friday, April 25, 2014

What is Ayurvedic Medicine?

Also known as Ayurveda, Ayurvedic Medicine originated in India over 3,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest medical systems, falling within the category of Eastern medicine.  Ayurveda promotes the use of herbs, special diets, exercise, and treatments under the guidance of a trained Ayurveda practitioner.

What are the components of Ayurvedic Medicine?

Prakriti, or your body’s particular make up, is an important consideration with treatment.
Dosha, or are life forces, are taken into account by a practitioner, as well.
Connectedness among all individuals, their health, and the universe.

What are the Ayurvedic types?

There are 3 main Ayurveda types, which are based on your physical characteristics as well as emotional behavior. They are:

  1.  Vata: Individuals fitting this type usually have a small, thin build, dry skin and hair, and are adverse to cold temperatures.
  2. Pitta: Represented by a medium, muscular build, sharp mind, and fair skin that sunburns easily. Individuals fitting Pitta type are usually uncomfortable in the sun and hot weather.
  3. Kapha: An easy-going, relaxed personality, prone to being overweight, with soft hair and skin. This Ayurvedic type doesn’t like cold, damp weather.

Often, individuals are a combination of several types, resulting in these combinations:
  • Vata-Pitta
  • Vata-Kapha
  • Pitta-Kapha
  • Vata-Pitta-Kapha
Find out your Ayurveda type by taking this test:

How do you find an Ayurveda practitioner?

Typically, Ayurvedic professionals are not licensed as doctors in the United States. However, practitioners may be licensed and recognized as other specialists, such as midwives or massage therapists. Visit the National Ayurvedic Medical Association for more information.

What are some Ayurveda remedies?

Turmeric is often used for inflammatory conditions, among other disorders. Evidence shows that turmeric may help with certain digestive disorders and arthritis.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata, Boswellia carterii, also known as frankincense) has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and immune system effects. When used in patients with osteoarthritis, it was found to be more effective on their pain than the placebo they were given.
Treatments such as massage therapy for a specific ailment is often beneficial to patients. These services are often tailored to an individual’s needs by utilizing an oil or compound that is based on the patient’s particular Ayurveda type, illness, or health complaints.

Check out more ailments/remedies at

Who can benefit from Ayurveda?

The basis of Ayurveda is a focus on preventing illness or imbalance in the body. However, specific illnesses are treated, as needed. Practitioners suggest that this type of medical system is extremely beneficial for individuals who recognize the importance of the mind-body connection.

Is Ayurvedic medicine safe?

According to experts, it’s important to utilize Ayurvedic medicine and treatments under the supervision of an Ayurveda practitioner. Also, remember to tell your healthcare provider about any Ayurvedic treatments, specifically herbs and metals, that you try, as this can impact your overall health as well as medications he/she might prescribe.  Utilizing a combination of Eastern and Western medicine can be beneficial to individuals when used safely and correctly.

Where can you learn more?

Visit for a complete overview of Ayurvedic medicine.

Be Wize & Be Healthy

Spring Cleaning, Naturally

When you think of spring cleaning what comes to mind? Washing windows, polishing furniture, and cleaning closets may be part of your plan. For others, decluttering and reorganizing every room in the house might be in order. Regardless of what constitutes spring cleaning for you, you can tackle it efficiently, effectively, and naturally.

What are the benefits of homemade natural spring cleaning products?

Natural cleaning products, also known as green products, are safer for your family and free of hazardous toxins.
Natural home cleaning is relatively inexpensive.
You may already have ingredients for natural cleaning recipes in your home.

What ingredients do you need for natural cleaning recipes?

The basics for most natural cleaning solutions are:

Baking soda
Liquid detergent
Hot water

When combined, these ingredients can make:

Natural window cleaner: Combine vinegar, water, and ½-1/4 teaspoon liquid detergent.

Oven cleaner: Use 1 cup of baking soda, water, and a squirt of liquid detergent to form a paste.

Soft scrub: Mix ½ cup baking soda with liquid detergent.

Furniture cleaner: Combine lemon juice and olive oil.

Check out this chart for more natural cleaning recipes.

What if you’re not inclined to make your own cleaning products?

Commercial natural cleaning products are available. They probably won’t be as inexpensive as do-it-yourself products. But, if you don’t have the time or desire to make products yourself, they can be a good option. It’s a good idea to check a green product’s rating and safety with the Natural Products Association (NPA) before using.

Are natural cleaning products effective?

According to a variety of sources, including AARP and Green America, natural home cleaning is effective. While you might need to use a little more elbow grease than you would with commercial brands, natural cleaning products really do measure up.

How to get organized for your spring cleaning:

1. Gather supplies. Decide what ingredients you’ll need for green cleaning solutions. Old T-shirts make great cloths for dusting and cleaning furniture. Recycle newspapers for washing windows.
2. Create a plan. Which rooms will you tackle and what tasks will you perform in each room? Also, will you perform one specific task throughout the house, i.e. dusting and polishing furniture, or will you handle each room from top to bottom?
3. Enlist the help of your family. Assign age-appropriate duties to children. Responsibilities such as dusting furniture, cleaning out closets, and changing water can be fitting for children of all ages.

Green cleaning hints:

*Hydrogen peroxide makes a great bleach alternative for your laundry.
* Plants make great air fresheners.  Best bets: Boston fern, English ivy, bamboo palm, ficus, gerbera daisy, peace lily, spider plant, golden pothos, and mother-in-law’s tongue.
*Natural potpourri is inexpensive and easy to make. Fill a small pot of water with citrus slices, cloves, and cinnamon. Simmer on the stove, and you have a fresh citrus scent that quickly fills your home, naturally.
*If allergies aren’t a problem for anyone in your family, open your windows as soon as it gets warm enough to allow fresh air into your home.

By enlisting the help of your entire family, you’ll make this year’s spring cleaning a family event and teach your children the benefits of green cleaning.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thursday – The Day to Take Your Child to Work

This Thursday, April 24, it’s officially the day for parents across the U.S. to Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work

Did your mom or dad do this with you when you were growing up – take you to their place of work for a day? If so, then you know what a lasting and positive memory that can create for any child.

This Thursday is the perfect opportunity to carve out some of your work day to take your son or daughter to work and build such special memories for them.

Share your story of going to work with your parent

My father was a church pastor. When I was nine years old, a time when he was working towards his Masters of Divinity, he carpooled with a couple of his fellow seminarians three days a week from the Georgetown, Ohio area to classes at the seminary school in Lexington, Kentucky, several hours away. One memorable day, Dad took me with him. To this day, decades later, I remember vividly that day – the funny carpool conversations, coloring pictures at the student desk beside Dad’s to pass the time while a professor lectured, and eating lunch with him in the campus cafeteria. In a family with four siblings, such extended one-on-one time with Dad was a rare treat, and one I value as a red letter day in the calendar of my life.
If you had a memorable time with your mother or father on a workplace day with them that you think might inspire or encourage other parents to do this with their children, won’t you please share your story using the comments field below? We’d love to hear about it!

What parents can do

To make your own Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work day extra special for your child or children, consider these tips:
  • Notify your child’s teacher and school of your plans so they can be prepared for the planned absence.
  • Clear your plans with your boss. Even if your place of work supports the take-your-child-to-work concept, you can help the day go smoother if your supervisor has a chance to prepare, perhaps by using a different day to schedule long meeting or intensive group work sessions.
  • If you have more than one child, consider a rotation plan; one child this time, the next child next  year. This  time with your son or daughter will be a more special memory if the day is carved out for just him or her. Each year, consider making it a different child’s turn for the field trip to your work place. Alternatively, enlist your spouse’s transportation assistance on the big day so that one child has the morning with you and the other child has the afternoon.
  • For older children, use this as a teaching opportunity. Show them exactly what you do; maybe even teach them the basics of some of your tasks.
  • Knowing your child’s attention and interests may wander, be ready with age-appropriate games or crafts for them to work for those moments when you need to take a call or really must be productive.
  • If you have tasks that cannot be put off and that require your concentration, find out if a coworker is also participating with their child, and work out a one-hour swap – an hour where the coworker watches both children and an hour when you watch both children.
Remember to set realistic expectations that your work time will be less efficient due to the limited attention span of any child; that’s okay. The value of creating a positive lifetime memory far outweighs the tyranny of the day’s normal work priorities.

What managers and employers can do

Supervisors, please do your part to grease the skids for your subordinates’ participation in this important event. Tips:
  • Make an official proclamation to be certain that your employees know they have your support and even encouragement; they may be uncomfortable asking if it’s okay to bring their child to work.
  • Offer optional parent-child events that your employees can take advantage of, such as arranging a mid-afternoon ice cream social, supplying craft materials, giving each child a company-branded knick knack to take home as a souvenir of the day, or arranging for a group parent-child company photo.
  • To make the day extra-special, arrange for a photographer to take a photo of your parent employee’s big day with their child – and give them a 5x7-inch framed glossy that the child can keep in the bedroom as a remembrance.

To learn more about Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work day and to get more tips on how to make the day a success for you and your child, go to or to

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

What Rhymes With National Poetry Month?

April’s National Poetry Month celebration is the perfect opportunity to get your kids, your family, and yourself enthused about poetry. National Poetry Month exists to celebrate the art and history of poetry – to introduce generations to poets and poetry. To help you make the most of it, we offer these eight tips to enrich your life with poetry and change the way your family thinks about poetry.

Why should I care about poetry?

Poetry is found throughout the written history of humankind – an omnipresent representation of our thoughts and feelings. In the words of author Amy Lowell (Poetry and Poets: Essays), “Without poetry the soul and heart of man starves and dies … It is the height and quintessence of emotion, of every sort of emotion. But it is always somebody feeling something at white heat, and it is as vital as the description of a battle would be, told by a soldier who had been in it.”
Poets gives us new eyes – a way to experience life in ways we might otherwise overlook.  Sometimes, in the art of the poet’s expression, you’ll find your own heart and soul. Poets can take an otherwise drab day and add color, shade, and shadow. Through the words of a poet, you can awaken your senses.
Are you ready for this? Then take advantage of the following.

Top eight ways to celebrate national poetry month

Here are our favorite 10 tips for infusing your life with poetry. Need more, check out

  1.  Add a poem to your e-mail signature.  Educate and inspire your coworkers or friends by adding a short poem (or a short passage from a longer poem that has value on its own) to your mail program’s e-mail signature. Consider using a Haiku, Tanka, Diamonte, or Cinquain – all short for easy consumption.  Learn about all four of these short poetry forms here.
  2. Write a poem. If you have any creative leanings, now’s the time to add your own wisdom, humor, or feelings to the body of poetry in this world. If you’re not sure how to get started, find guidance and encouragement at On Writing  on the site.
  3. Read a nightly poem as a family. Either as an after-dinner reading or a bedtime reading, make the month special by sharing poetry as a family.  Need a great poetry for children resource? Try children’s author Kenn Nesbitt’s website Poetry4kids – a  big collection of funny poems and classic children's poetry. To get you started, here’s a poem kids will enjoy: I Love to Do the Laundry.
  4. Create poetry with your children. Make Poetry Month unforgettable for your family by teaching them some poetry basics. Encourage them to write about their feelings or observations, whether or not they rhyme. Teach them about rhyming. To get started, check out Giggle Poetry, a site filled with poetry contests,  games, and ideas for teaching poetry to kids.
  5. Hold a poetry lunch at work. Invite your fellow workers to join you for a poetry picnic to honor National Poetry Month. Make the announcement far enough in advance to give attendees a chance to locate a favorite poem to share with the group.
  6. Revisit an old favorite. If you have a favorite poem from your past, make sure you read it again this month.
  7. Listen to poetry on your commute. If you are an aural learner, you can get audio books of poetry from various online or local resources. With poetry, listening to an aloud reading can reveal qualities hidden in its melody, rhythm, or alliterative qualities that you might otherwise miss. Plus, many downloadable readings are done by the poem’s author – a special treat!
  8. Try a new poem daily. makes this easy; simply subscribe to their Poem a Day e-mail delivery.

For more poetry exploration, explore The Poetry Foundation website, which not only has featured poems from back issues of the literary journal Poetry but also highlights the inspiring work of 250-plus poets.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gardening with Kids

Looking for a fun activity for the entire family to enjoy? Try gardening! Whether your focus is vegetable gardening, growing flowers or herbs, or a combination of gardening activities, introduce your family to gardening this spring.

Benefits of gardening with kids:

Kids of all ages learn how to plan, nurture, and enjoy growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs.
Provides an opportunity to teach the monetary savings of growing your own food and flowers.
Teaches important lessons such as patience, responsibility, and nurturing.
It’s an activity the family can enjoy together outdoors.

Types of gardens:

Backyard: Those gardens planted and cultivated in the privacy and convenience of your own property.
Container: A great choice for small spaces such as apartments, container gardens offer the enjoyment of gardening in a little space.
Community: Often located in cities, community gardens provide a plot of land for each participant to plant, cultivate, and enjoy as his/her own. In addition to the benefits of gardening, this type of garden provides a great sense of belonging and community.

Planning your garden:

1. Determine what planting zone you live in. This will affect what vegetables and flowers will thrive in your garden.
2. Check your local garden center or the Farmers Almanac for suggestions of what to plant.
3. Create a planting schedule. This is based on the last frost of the season as well as the type of plants you’ll be growing.

How can you get your kids involved with gardening?

Make gardening a fun activity for the kids, and they’re likely to want to join in. In addition, follow these guidelines:

1. Develop a plan for your garden as a family. Allow each family member to choose a vegetable or flower to grow.
2. Assign specific tasks for actually planting the garden. Younger family members may be responsible for digging holes and planting seeds. Older kids may assist with marking rows or putting up a fence.
3. Develop a routine for maintaining, watering, and weeding the garden.
4. Monitor and track progress to help determine what to plant next year.

What are some gardening activities for kids?

Create a garden art box.
Plant extra seeds to grow food for the needy in your community or at your place of worship.
Plant specific gardens that attract butterflies or gardens that smell good, for instance.
For more ideas on gardening activities for kids, check out this site.

Gardening crafts:

Design your own place markers for rows of seeds. Use sticks, discarded flatware, and other materials you can find to create unique pieces for your garden.
Paint rocks to decorate your garden. Check out this video for making ladybug rocks.
Create an earth loom for your garden. Made out of remnants found in your yard, such as sticks, twine, and stalks, combined with fiber and yarn, a garden earth loom makes a wonderful addition to any garden. Check out some ideas here.
Encourage kids to make signs. For instance, if you’ve planted carrots, paint a sign discouraging bunnies from trespassing!

Regardless of what you grow and how simple or elaborate your garden is, gardening can be a great family activity. In addition to resulting in delicious produce and flowers for your family to enjoy, gardening provides hours of fun, teamwork, and entertainment for your entire family.