Being married for 10 years can have its challenges especially when it comes to avoiding predictability. For many of us the real issue is carving out the time. Finding a moment just for ourselves is difficult enough which is why it's so easy to fall into patterned behavior with our significant others. To be honest, for a long time my husband and I didn't do much more then go out to diner, see a movie or veg out on the couch. We started to notice that our work week resembled our weekends in terms of routine. Tell me if this sounds familiar, one of us would walk the dog, cook and eat dinner, eventually making our way to the couch to partake in a marathon of DVR. Don't get me wrong I'm a self-proclaimed television lover and proud of it but even I was getting frustrated with myself and my husband. I decided that if I wanted a break from the monotony I needed to get creative. So I challenged my husband to find something for us to do that didn't involve dinner, a movie or television. In return, I would come up with my own ideas and each week we would do one of them. What I learned was even a simple idea that didn't involve going out could be a fun way to change it up. It was also important that we stayed within budget so that we could continue this couples trend indefinitely. Remember to think outside the box and don't be afraid to try something new. Here are a few of my suggestions for couples dates that have become our staples. We try to add new ideas every few months or whatever something that interests us comes up. Please feel free to share some of your ideas. I'd love to hear them:
1. A night of music
Find a local restaurant or bar that has live music. Many cities have small venues popping up that cater to all types of musical tastes. Try searching Facebook events and use the filters to find music near you. My favorite thing to do is find a restaurant that has a piano player or jazz singer and order a drink at the bar. It keeps the cost down but creates a super romantic atmosphere. I'll often follow my favorite places on Facebook so that I get weekly event updates.
When was the last time you went bowling? I promise it's not just for kids birthdays. It's one of those activities that always brings out my competitive side. The atmosphere of a bowling alley lends itself to having fun. Often we end up teasing each other over who bowls better or who can't bowl at all. It's one of those overlooked date options that we end up doing more times than I'd like to admit.
3. Have a picnic
Why not wrap up that dinner and take it outside. Grab a blanket, some silverware and eat dinner while watching a sunset. I find this idea so overlooked because it's so simple. If your lucky enough to live by a park then just head out and pick your perfect spot. Take the time to talk and enjoy the beautiful summer weather while being surrounded by trees and other greenery. It costs nothing except the food you were going to eat indoors anyway. All you're doing here is changing the setting.
4. Take a boardwalk stroll
This is a new one for us but one I really enjoy. Exercise is important to both me and my husband. We wanted to find something that incorporated walking but wasn't the same old hike. We live about 30 minutes from Long Beach, Long Island so a boardwalk stroll seemed like a nice alternative. Bring some snacks or maybe find a café near by to sip lattes after you finish the walk. Nothing relaxes me more than being near the ocean which makes this a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or early evening.
5. Game night
Have you seen the variety of games that exist now. I'm not talking about the ones on your tablet but the ones that come in a box. Everything from classics like Monopoly to new versions of old favorites like Jenga Quake. For more updated classics check out this link to Pop Sugar's post 10 Classic Board Games: Then and Now. This might also be a great time to break out that game of twister hiding in the back of your closet. The original is still fun but if you're so inclined Hasbro has also updated that game as well.
6. Visit a farmers market
Summer is here and with that comes farmers markets overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables. Why not find one in your area and enjoy a nice weekend smelling and tasting all the markets have to offer. After visiting the market take your bounty home and make dinner together. Pop a bottle of wine, light some candles and enjoy a great meal together. To find a local farmers market near you check out Local Harvest.
The 2017 Coffee and Tea Festival was recently held at the Brooklyn Expo Center. This years roster brought out a great mix of sellers from all corners of the coffee and tea market. The trends at this years festivities included cold brew on tap, turmeric and sustainability. New techniques were also front and center, with many companies finding new ways to extract the best flavor from their leaves and beans. Honey was also well represented, sampling everything from The Olive Tables's Greek honey from the forests of Peloponnese to Washington State buckwheat honey from Bee Raw. There were a few new additions to the festival this year like Trill Tea, Wise Ape Tea and Red Beard Coffee to name a few. I've learned over the years that the best way to enjoy the festival is to take it slow, sample and ask questions. Find out what makes the company unique and if you really like something I recommend buying it at the festival. Most of the time the prices are lower and you won't pay shipping if they only sell online. After two hours of tasting and smelling dozens of teas, coffees, confections and more here is my round up of just some of the best I found in no particular order.
1. Taste Artisanal Market: Ginger Turmeric Honey
As a lover of turmeric and ginger this honey hits all the right notes. The flavor is a combination of spicy, sweet and bitter. A profile that works with a variety of foods. It might not seem it but this honey has versatility. I use it drizzled on chicken, yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes and even my favorite pizza bianca. It also makes a great accouterment to charcuterie or a cheese board. The ginger turmeric honey starts with raw wildflower honey and is infused with organic ginger and turmeric. All of their honeys are made in small batches ensuring quality as well as taste. In addition to their ginger turmeric honey I'm also a huge fan of their Calabrian Chile honey and their slightly floral lavender honey.
2. Tahana Confections: Earl Grey and Espresso Caramels
This years gift bag included these sweet little caramels in two flavors. The buttery rich texture of these caramels have a wonderful mouth feel. They don't stick to your teeth but melt in your mouth. The earl grey caramel was balanced in both taste and smell. The tea enhanced the flavor without being to overpowering. The tea they use is from from White Heron Coffee and Tea in Portsmouth, NH. The espresso has a nice subtle coffee flavor. It compliments the vanilla flavor of the caramel itself. The best way to describe Tahana is caramels taken to the next level. Tahana is perfect for treating yourself to a little bit of luxury at an affordable price. A 1/4 pound bag starts at $7.99 and is available in a variety of flavors. In addition to the espresso and earl grey they also make coconut, vanilla and salted to name a few.
3. Red Beard Coffee: Java Mocha
Hard to find but worth mentioning is Red Beard Coffee's java mocha. A medium blend that was perfect hot or cold. There is no chocolate in the coffee but there are subtle notes of chocolate from the coffee beans they use to create the blend. You can find RedBeard at a few farmers markets. They were one of the newbies at this years festival. John Prada the owner was very gracious and took the time to answer my questions and help me pick the perfect coffee. You can find their coffee at Flag Beverage in Lindenhurst, NY. It's available on tap for 32oz growler fills or by the cup.
4. T Salon: Balance Herbal Tea
This wellness tea is a combination of chamomile, peppermint, blackberry leaves, cinnamon bark, ginger pieces, rose petals, licorice root, and marigold flower petals. T Salon was established in 1992 and has made it their mission to produce tea in a responsible and sustainable way. They also use their company to support charities like breast cancer and heart health. The flavor of their balance herbal tea blend is delicate. It has enough spice to leave an impression but it doesn't overwhelm with spicy notes. I've enjoyed this tea best in the morning before I start my day.
5. Teeccino's: Dandelion Coconut Tea
Dandelion coconut tea is technically a tisane not a tea. Some of the organic ingredients include roasted carob, chicory, dandelion root, dates, almonds and coconut. It's caffeine and gluten free. The mix of nuts, herbs and dried fruit add up to one perfect cup of sweet satisfaction. From the first sip the flavor is clean with wonderful notes of sweet coconut and orange mixed with just the slightest bitterness from the dandelions. They offer a variety of flavors including turmeric ginger (another favorite), red chai and caramel nut along with a full line of coffee alternatives. If you have a chance make sure to check out their website where they offer dozens of recipes from cookies to cocktails using their products.
Trill Tea is just plain cool. In the crowded arena of tea Trill stands out with its personality and sleek packaging. Look is important but substance is key and Trill has it in spades. There is a sexiness to Trill that adds to the appeal but the complexity of flavors is what makes it legit. I first discovered Trill and its founder Chaz Greene at this years Coffee and Tea Festival in Brooklyn. His booth was one of my last stops. After tasting so many samples of coffee and tea I was just expecting more of the same. As fun as the festival is, it feels like an assembly line after a while, purveyors repeating the same statements and everyone trying to grab a sample. Unless you get there early it's hard to mingle with the sellers and learn what makes them different. Between Chaz's genuine nature and enthusiasm I found myself excited to try his teas. My eyes gravitated to the black boxes with modern font lining the table. Before I even tried the tea I knew the brand was made for someone like me. There was an aura of sophistication and a small business appeal that peaked my interest. Once I started sampling my positive impression was quickly confirmed. The Nut Cinn Apple tasted like sweet oatmeal in a bowl. It was a warm and comforting mix of cinnamon and sweet almond wrapped in a fall blanket. Another standout was the Ginger Hendrix, a combination of spicy ginger and earthy green tea, well-balanced and refreshing perfect for a warm night on ice. Trill tea was approachable and true to its ingredients. I could taste the blueberry back notes in the True Blue Berry Matcha and the tart goji berries in the So Far Goji.
As a supporter of small businesses especially when they’re local I was thrilled to discover this unique and authentic brand. Chaz describes Trill as a tea steeped in the culture of passion, ambition and creativity. These three words speak to the true meaning of entrepreneurship. It's this infectious attitude that makes Trill standout from the pack and make me want to support and seek out their teas. Reading more about Chaz and his company just reaffirmed my initial suspicions. Trill tea is striving to be more than just a tea company. They strive to modernize tea in both flavors and perception. As a lover of tea I appreciate the creativity Chaz has brought to his teas. It seems every flavor combination has been done but it's all about balance. Trill teas finds the perfect balance between sweet and earthy, spicy and tart. The perfect tea first thing in the morning or while relaxing at night. It's not complicated, just clean, flavorful and inspiring.
I've always been a firm believer that life is better when you experience it. Experiences shouldn't be reserved for vacations only. Life is about learning, participating and enjoying the simplest things. Whether you visit a local museum on your day off or sign-up for a class just to learn something new, without experiences we can't grow and we can't discover what makes us happy. As much as I love tea I've only experienced traditional afternoon tea once. This past weekend when my husband asked what I wanted to do I said afternoon tea at a speakeasy. Discovering Garfunkel's located on the lower east side was like finding a secret hideaway. Open since 2015 Garfunkel's described as a Gatsby-esque speakeasy serves cocktails during the evening and proper tea during the day. You enter through The Burgary and let the bartender know you have a reservation for tea. The host will come to escort you upstairs were you will walk through the bank vault door and into the 1920's. There is a bar to your right and the space is filled with oversized plush chairs, couches and stools. It's all a mix and match of colors and accents but feels completely cohesive. On the Saturday afternoon I went customers had come and gone but the energy was peaceful and conversations never went above a whisper.
When we sat my husband and I were offered a choice of five teas ranging from white to green to three kinds of black. We both opted for the recommended green and hazelnut black. Our oversized pots arrived ready to be poured. The tea was perfectly steeped and tasted better with each cup. Garfunkel is not the place to go if you're in a rush. It's best enjoyed when you have at least 90 minutes to relax and savory each sip and each bite. All the trays that go with the tea are the same. Our tray consisted of four savory bits each (dijon egg salad, curry chicken salad tart, scallion and mushroom cream cheese topped with cucumber and smoked salmon over horseradish cream. The sweets included a tender slightly sweetened scone, a blueberry danish, a fresh-baked brown sugar cookie and a deeply rich chocolate pudding. As is tradition you also receive homemade clotted cream and jam for your scone. Everything tasted fresh and homemade, some items I enjoyed more than others but it was well thought through and went perfectly with the tea. I left feeling satisfied but not over indulgent. It was really what I expected when having afternoon tea. It's not quite a lunch but more than a snack. The price was high at $29 per person but compared to other afternoon tea spots in the city it was fair.
Garfunkel's certainly is an experience. It wasn't cheap but at the same time it's not something you would do every weekend. I think experiences can come in all price ranges. It's about going beyond your normal routine and finding new ways to enrich your life. My plans for future experiences include seeing more local theater, taking a few art classes and even visiting some of my local breweries. To save money on some weekends all it takes is a nice drive a few hours from home to get a change of scenery. Discovery is not just about places and things but about self discovery. It's easy to get suck in a rut and get bored with the same old thing. Reinventing your weekend to include one new thing should be on everyone's to-do list. Not just as a resolution in the new year but as a way of life just like eating healthy and getting your exercise.
A recent trip to San Diego’s Old Town brought me to The American Tea House. A five year old shop filled from top to bottom with all things tea. Everywhere you looked glass jars abound just waiting for you to take them off the shelves and give each an inhale. This store is packed with hundreds of loose leaf teas, coffees, herbs, spices and honeys. The day I visited there were plenty of coffee and tea samples to wet my appetite. All their teas can be enjoyed either iced or hot. If tea isn’t your thing, American Tea House also carries a full line of origin and flavored coffees. All the teas are sold by the ounce with a two ounce minimum. Most teas cost around $4.50 an ounce and if you check-in with yelp you get 10% off your total order. You also get a free tea of your choice with every four ounce purchase. There is no hard sell, the atmosphere is laid back and you're encouraged to smell and ask questions. Unique flavors like Bora Bora mango rooibos and Russian Caravan share space with old favorites like Lapsang Souchong and Japanese Sencha.
The American Tea House like many good tea shops listens to the customer. The choices were overwhelming so I described the type of tea I was looking for. I wanted something fruity but with caffeine. I also don’t like tea flavored with peach or raspberry. Something with an essence of cinnamon but not a chai. They recommended the apricot brandy black tea. The perfect combination of warm spicy notes but with the stone fruit undertones of apricot. Right away the smell made me think of dessert. A perfect tea to satisfy my sweet tooth when the afternoon sugar cravings hit or a perfect base for a tea infused cocktail. The whimsical flavors and touristy location do not diminish the quality of what this shop offers. Many of the loose leaf teas are organic and they even sell two types of matcha. The customer service is also a high point. I spent a few minutes exchanging ideas with one of the workers on infusing oatmeal with tea and she turned me on to adding chai to hot chocolate. I’m currently working on a recipe for the decadent sounding beverage.
What I love most about vacationing is that feeling of discovery. Learning and finding new places that tap into that sense of adventure. The mystery of walking down a street and just stumbling upon a place that feels like only you know about. I left The American Tea House with a bounty of loose leaf tea and an endless list of culinary possibilities. I’ve included a link to their website here: The American Tea House. In addition to selling tea and coffee you can also purchase flavored sugars, salts and spices. If you're ever in San Diego I recommend stopping by this wonderful shop. Grab a cup of tea to go and enjoy the sights and sounds of Old Town.
The official start of summer is almost here. The days are growing warmer and the humidity is starting to rise. This is also a great time to take a moment for a little self-assessment. Taking some time to reevaluate your own self needs and find ways to reset all aspects of your life is a great way to usher in the lazy days of summer. It's not always pleasant to sit outside so when the heat reaches uncomfortable levels try taking it indoors. The bottom line is we might not be kids anymore with the benefits of a summer vacation. There is still no reason we can't enjoy our own summer fun by nourishing our minds, bodies and souls.
Eating healthier is a great way to reset for summer. Take advantage of the farmers markets popping up in every city. You can usually find them starting in June or July and going throughout the summer. These markets are more than just fruits and vegetables. Indulge in some fresh baked breads or locally made jams and honeys. I love to come up with dinner ideas on the spot depending on what's available. Try rethinking those heavy meals in exchange for vitamin dense smoothies, chilled soups and protein rich salads. Simple is my favorite way to approach summer food. When you clean up your diet and concentrate on eating fresh and mostly unprocessed foods you'd be surprised how quickly the body responds.
We all should exercise more, but when it gets to 100 degrees with 90 percent humidly exercising looses its luster. There is a time and a place for everything. If you want to workout vigorously I recommend an air conditioned gym or living room. If possible try to get out in the morning or after sunset and take a walk. Just 20-30 minutes a day can have an amazing impact on your health and mind. Find a few podcasts to listen to and use the time to relax and stay healthy. Just make sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout. I also highly recommend using a good quality sunscreen. I even put it on later in the day just so I reinforce the habit on a daily basis.
Take it outside and enjoy some shade. I've made a commitment to myself this summer to spend at least one meal outside when weather permits. For breakfast I'll walk to the park, grab a bench and enjoy a morning ice coffee and a good old fashioned newspaper. Even if I only spend 15 minutes sipping and reading it gives me a change of scenery right off the bat. If I opt for lunch I either make something or buy, find a nice tree and enjoy a little quiet outdoor time. It forces me to focus on my food and enjoy my own company.
Take it inside and spruce up your environment. Updating your home decor is a nice way to welcome in summer and treat yourself to something new. Think about adding a few new candles in fresh scents or buying a colorful bouquet of flowers once a week to bring the beauty of outside indoors. I love decorating my walls with vibrant photographs of flowers and images that invoke a sense of adventure. My own line of art tiles, wood plaques and magnets available at JBTwineDesigns were heavily inspired by the beauty of spring and summer. I wanted to create affordable and unique designs that can compliment various styles and tastes. As a special offer to Inspired By Tea readers use coupon code TEAINSPIRED20 for 20% off any order above $10. The shipping is always free.
Liven up your wardrobe with a few new pieces. Try adding some color or accessories that will take you into the summer season. A new pair of sandals or shorts can go a long way in making you feel exciting about the season. We only tend to wear these clothes for a few months so you don't need to buy the store, but treating yourself to a nice new shirt or even bathing suit will make you feel confident. It's about giving yourself permission to enjoy the days ahead and looking your best can go a long way in reinforcing that feeling.
Plan an afternoon to learn something new. Every major city and even smaller cities have some sort of museum or educational institution. If your lucky enough to have summer Fridays or can take a few hours a month to go and see something new I would highly recommend it. The benefits of stimulating the mind can create real change and inspire our creativity. Take advantage of the quieter weekdays when you can stroll through a museum without any crowds or distractions. As much as we need to eat healthier we also need to feed our minds.
Summer might not have the same meaning as it once did. The days of two months of vacation and sleeping until noon don't apply when you work and support a family. It's up to you to find that middle ground. We throw the word balance around, but so many of us have no idea what that means. A good place to start is by implementing things in your daily life that just make you feel better. It doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming just different. Enjoying your coffee in the park or taking a walk after dinner are all the ways to enjoy the outdoors. Going to a museum by yourself or trying a new recipe are also ways to move us in the right direction. It's about creating a sense of adventure. It can go along way into helping us develop positive habits that will last longer then your childhood summer vacation.
There are so many ways to turn a decadent dessert into a healthier version of itself. The main goal is to duplicate the flavors while adding nutritious substitutions. Using ingredients like canned beans, vegetables, nut flours and protein powders can turn the occasional splurge into a weekly part of any healthy eating plan. It takes a fair amount of trial and error to figure out what works but learning is part of the fun. Once you figure out the ingredients that work best you can create an endless amount of cakes, brownies, cookies and muffins. I strongly believe that education and moderation is the secret to loosing and maintaining weight loss. For me finding alternative ways to create my favorite sweets has allowed me to never feel deprived. The best feeling is when someone eats something you made and just things it tastes delicious. They never assume it could be good for you. As a lover of tea it's also a nice way to take a break during the day sipping a cup of earl grey and eating a chewy chocolate cookie.
All of the healthier versions of desserts I make have minimal ingredients. I try to stay away from butter and added sugar, but there are times that a little goes a long way. It's ok to add these things, but I like to cut it in half at least and find other ways like adding avocado instead of butter or the old method of applesauce instead of oil. Sometimes a recipe just needs eggs so I'll use one and combine with liquid egg whites. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to go flourless. Since certain nut flours can add up I frequently use canned beans as a base and decrease the sugar by using mashed ripened bananas. Grated zucchini goes a long way in keeping baked goods super moist without tasting like a salad. One of my favorite desserts is carrot cake. I've made a few iterations of the classic in the past with my Carrot Cake Pancakes and Gluten Free Mini Carrot Spice Cakes. My mission for this more classic flavored carrot cake was to make it a nice protein rich treat that was packed with fiber and flavor. I wanted a crunchy top, creamy frosting and moist, slightly dense cake. From the smile on my husbands face I think this recipe is a winner and hits on all three elements.
15.5oz can white beans (drained & rinsed)
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp honey
1/3 cup egg whites
1 cup finely grated carrot (about 4 carrots)
4 pineapple rings + 1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup vanilla whey protein powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4oz chopped walnuts
Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 Tbsp low fat cream cheese softened
3 Tbsp fat free plain greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp maple syrup or honey
This cake should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container. It will last a few days but I doubt you'll need that much time.
I wanted to close out the week with a super simple and antioxidant rich drink perfect as a snack. I've dubbed this drink a cooler over calling it a smoothie because of the texture. It's not super thick but very refreshing. The pomegranate berry matcha mix from MotionMatcha works perfectly to give just the right amount of balance. Feel free to use what ever matcha you have just make sure to adjust the sweetness.
5 grams matcha powder (1 packet of MotionMatcha's "pomegranate berry matcha")
1 cup coconut water
1/4 cup of almond milk (or dairy/non-dairy of choice)
1/2 frozen banana
few sprigs of mint
1-2 tbsp honey