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    8 EASY STEPS TO A COZY HOME

    BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE – so if you’re looking for some neat tricks and tips here are 8 easy steps to a cozy home in these waning winter months, you’re in luck. Stay with me as I break down some design myths. Let us re-write those age-old rules – you and me 🙂 because why not?

    White in Winter?

    One of the biggest myths in design is – white can’t be warm. I dare say, It is not true. If you are one of those people for whom all white everything somehow conjures up images of a cold and sterile hospital room or a sanatorium, now’s the time to throw away that rulebook and re-arrange the visual in your mind’s eye.

    Now everyone is open to experimentation – with delightful results. The great thing about going all white is that you can simply layer on more color in your accessories in warm hues and then switch these out as the seasons change.   

    Orange is the New White?

    Warm tones raise the visual temperature of your home in the winter months. You can use Rust, Terracotta and Orange to create beautiful settings with perfect winter or more specifically autumnal hues. (Sorry I just really love that word.)  Starting with a crisp, Thanksgiving themed orange for that last one.  

    How Do You Chase Away the Winter Blues?

    Bring in the blues. Navy that is. Use Navy or Prussian Blue in lustrous high gloss finishes on your kitchen walls or on a plush living room velvet sofa – will effectively warm up your home. When one lived in the North East, the Thanksgiving Holidays brought with it expectations of the first snows of the season. As snow season would start we would head out to the Carolina coast for the Holidays. One likes a sweet reminder of those warmer times.

    The Sun in Winter?

    Bring in the sun, bring in yellow! Of the 8 easy steps to a cozy home the one tried and tested rule of thumb is – introduce a color scheme based on warm yellow in your home. With yellow you can get away with doing it in large doses and still not let it get overpowering. Conjure up a color scheme in shades of yellow and orange. For added depth you can add brown with a splash of white. With this “lion” of a color scheme you can’t go wrong in winter.

    A foyer with flair - Tori Black Homes Interior Design

    To Store or Not to Store – and How?

    A key to making your house feel warm and welcoming is to make it look lived in. Having said that, this may not be achieved by strewing personal belongings all over the place. Rather it can be achieved by finding clever – and more functional at the same time, more aesthetically pleasing – ways of storing seasonal items within reach and in plain view. Talking about bikes and other storage – this is just one more of the 8 easy steps to a cozy home all winter long.

    Banking on Brown?

    Then your’e on the right track. When the chill gets to you, reach for the chocolate – or the chocolate brown paint. rather. An easy fix for the winter blues is to paint your walls in a warm hue such as chocolate brown. Then pair it with a tan leather sofa laden with a chunky wool knotted throw in soft warm gray alongside fluffy lambskin or hide pillows. Or paint a single wall perhaps the one behind your bed in the Master Bedroom in a Benjamin Moore chocolate brown in a high gloss finish for a glamorous doze of warm and cozy.

    Chocolate walls in a rich lustrous finish creates Instant warmth. In England, come September, when the rains would start again after brief summer break sometimes halting all kinds of outdoor wanderings on foot or on a bike.

    Lighting Up?

    Yes please! One of the obvious ways to bring in the warm and cozy is by lighting candles in different rooms of the house. However, keep safety in mind as you do so and don’t overdo it. Small groups of three to five candles in different shapes and varying heights in a strategic corner or two of your home will add a nice warm glow as well as a cozy ambience to your winter home. Candlelight is romantic and candles, whether scented or otherwise – whatever your preference – are known to be mood elevating.

    To Eat Drink & Be Merry?

    A quick and easy way to raise the spirits – and literally turn the house warmer, is to cook a meal. A family style roast in the oven warms up the kitchen allowing the warmth to radiate to the whole house. Not to speak of the seductive aroma of holiday cooking that wafts through the rooms, spreading cheer as folks await the feast busying themselves with setting the table with the good china.

    Holiday roast

    Once the hungry tummies – and hearts – are just about full you can rest assured warm and cozy is definitely in the house! Happy Winter….!

    Holiday table setting

     Image Credits – White Sectional image courtesy Bassett Furniture. Orange Refrigerator image courtesy Smeg. Photo of Sunshine Yellow Foyer courtesy Tori Black Homes. Picture of Living room with Blue velvet sofa courtesy House Beautiful. Bicycle with lights in Hallway image

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    5 Affordable Makeover Tricks

    For a list of the top 5 Affordable Makeover Tricks…..that do not involve staples or a glue gun…please read on!! Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a DIY warrior who decided this morning to run out to Home Depot or Lowes, for a glue gun, heavy duty staples and a gallon of paint – and ready to manifest your inner designer-on-a-dime avatar…….more power to you. However, for an affordable design makeover, the process involves a bit more than stapling, gluing and painting (as seen on TV).

    It is about having a plan (of sorts)  – even a basic one will do – and following the list. This blog tells you how to get affordable done. How to stretch your decorating dollar to it’s max. At the same time, how not to make costly mistakes. Mistakes occur when we are lured by what appears affordable at first glance – but once you begin to see the big picture – stops being so! Contrarily, chief among the many myths of decorating is the belief that spend big and you won’t go wrong – right? Wrong! Design begins and ends with details details details and not in the pocket book. The key element is not what to do but how to do it. So, here’s my list of 5 affordable makeover tricks…..

    Oversized Artwork –

    Make Art matter. Whether you found it at a  swap meet while digging through piles of framed generic still life art pieces or a piece you chanced upon online while hunting for something else entirely – the scale of the piece is key.

    “When in doubt go big”  was the advice one received from a design mentor early in my design career. It has never failed me when it comes to selecting art for my clients. Whether it’s black and white abstract art or a sepia-toned oil on canvas portrait of a nude or a simple still life of wine and fruits on a table – make it big in order to make it count.

    Add an Accent Wall –

    Paint – and I cannot stress this enough – is the quickest least expensive tool to makeover a space. So when you’re ready to make sweeping changes to your room – go one step further. Create a feature wall working with different colors.  A feature wall – or a feature room – can be created by painting horizontal stripes on a wall – or all four – of the house

    Another option is to paint a mural. Don’t let the word mural intimidate you. Who says you need to be a budding Picasso to pull off a mural with flair? Do a little bit of planning. Understand the scale of the mural in relation to the scale of the room. Also consider the other furniture and fixtures. Plan what colors to use. Plan the theme. Then decide on your subject. Do a small pencil sketch on a sheet of paper – or a napkin – first.  Just keep in  mind be big, be bold and most of all, be you. Let the mural represent who you are. That room will become your feel-good room and your refuge as you marvel at your own creativity and can-do spirit!

    Add a Function – Add a bar

    Cooped indoors for the better part of two years, we have to work on squeezing out more usage from our homes and each of its rooms.  No matter how small a room, I create multiple areas for more than one task in each room I design. For instance, a living room could benefit from a chess table drawn up to the fire to enjoy a game.

    Affordable design - bar cart

    A family room could always use a bar area. When planning on bar furniture, if you are in the mood for splurging, go for a tall Chinoiserie Armoire. Or a William and Mary Secretary Hutch that can double as a desk during the day. You can switch it to a bar unit, come happy hour. Otherwise, spring for a bar cabinet with bar doors, interior lighting and all the bells and whistles if you have the space for it. If not and if you have a small to standard sized room think bar cart. A home bar will make even the smallest, most cramped rooms go from feeling claustrophobic to being a place to relax and unwind.

    When choosing a bar cart, the style of  will be determined by what style you decided to decorate your room.  If the space is a modern Industrial style loft opt for a metal cart in a nickel finish.  if your preferred style is Hollywood Regency – with a twist of feminine yet powerful girl-boss – find a bar cart in vintage matte brass or bronze finish. A rattan or wicker bar cart works well with a British Colonial look with classic Ralph Lauren vibes. Next, make a list of basic bar supplies.  Keep a list of your favorite sundowners and what you need to make your drink.  Now start stocking

     Go Dark –

    Dark hued walls or a dark toned wallpaper adds instant glamour and invites you in for some serious cozy nesting.  A navy blue bedroom is often my go-to for a quick dose of the classics – without making it look dated. Lacquered brown walls matched with snow white bed linen and pillows give the bedroom a decidedly hotel-like ambiance.  I have been known to cover all four walls of a client’s bedroom with a charcoal fabric with a large scale repeat pattern. 

    Chalkboard wall

    A black bedroom fills a room with drama and gives off chic upscale vibes. Keep in mind, the color you choose must be a shade –  a color mixed with black – which is more sophisticated rather than a tint – a color mixed with white – which is more playful.  In color theory, a tint is a mixture of a color with white, which increases lightness. A shade is a mixture with black, which increases darkness. Both affect the color’s saturation. In other words – how the surface behaves in relation to the light in the room.  Will the light be absorbed or will the light bounce off of it.

    Go Up –

    Last but not the least in my list of 5 affordable makeover tricks – bring in a tall piece of furniture.  This will make the space more functional. It will also help the aesthetics of the space by drawing the eye upwards thus creating a sense of spaciousness.  Horizontal lines make a space look casual while vertical lines make them dressy. For instance a tall piece of furniture. Like a ladder leaning against the wall, laden with magazines. An upright bookshelf styled with books, candles, vases and collectibles, will give your room the illusion of added height.

    And those are just a few of my absolute top favorite 5 affordable makeover tricks. For more blogs on affordable design ideas for your home …..stay tuned!

    Photo credits: Image of oversized artwork image credit Decoist.com – Traditional bar cart under Holiday wreath image courtesy – Southernliving.com – Hollywood Regency brass bar cart image courtesy Elledecor.com – Living Room with accent wall mural image courtesy Apartmenttherapy.com – Image of nursery with dark chalkboard wall courtesy Goodhousekeeping.com – Living room with tall bookshelves image courtesy Forbes.com

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    HOW TO ROCK A DINING ALONE EXPERIENCE

    All you beautiful single people out there – here’s how to rock a dining alone experience -especially during the holidays. When you enter a restaurant alone and the host/hostess asks you in that special tone of voice “party of one?” prior to seating you, embrace it. Do not feel the need to erase it from your memory as a bad thing – except that tone lol. All the times I have dined alone here at home in Los Angeles as well as around the world when traveling on my own, I’ve had much fun by following a few simple dos and don’ts.

    How to rock a dining alone experience

    I do believe eating out on your own is becoming more and more popular. A few years back, Open Table, an online restaurant reservation service reported that the fastest-growing type of reservation was for tables of one.

    Ha! There you have it….!!

    If you plan on staying home tonight you can find my easy to follow weeknight meal plan here but if you’re in the mood for stepping out by all means rock that dining alone experience. Now keep in mind, while you or I may indeed be comfortable dining alone, the host or server more often, is not. It is hilariously worse when one is travelling alone in a foreign country. The cultural differences around the globe pertaining to the perception of single ladies dining alone are as varied as the countries themselves.

    Single people dining alone

    Don’t!

    • Don’t accept the bad table next to the kitchen, if you don’t want to. Ask politely but firmly if they could seat you at another table. Explain that you are on your own and don’t mind waiting a little.

    Do!

    • Sit at the bar – although some folks may sometimes assume that you are looking forward to talking with other people for company. If you prefer to be left to yourself, follow the next tip to show others that you are indeed an expert on how to rock a dining alone experience.
    How to enjoy dining alone

    What to bring!

    • Bring a book to read when dining alone. Some restaurants are fancier than others and might not be the kind where you bring your book or ipad, so play it by the ear.

    How to rock it!

    • Be friendly with the server but not over-friendly. Do not feel the need to share the reason for dining alone. It is simply a choice you made this evening. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Be you!

    • Some people might be all too ready to put a single diner – more so a single female diner – in the category of either lonely or cocky. If the likes of them are getting ready to treat you with sympathy or disdain as the case may be, from the moment you walked in, that is their choice. Don’t feel like you have to fall into one of those two categories. You certainly don’t. Be yourself and enjoy your meal.

    What if!

    • If you are in a foreign country, understand that travelling alone in a place you’ve never been before and being among people whose language you don’t speak, is in itself a bit nerve-wracking. Be prepared for surprises. Treat it as a learning experience. Try to stay pleasant and allow certain things to roll off your back – within limits. If it comes to a choice between being courteous and being safe, choose the latter.  At the same time do not try to make it about a clash of cultures. 

    Last but not the least, have fun being in your own company. And that ladies and gentlemen boys and girls, is how to rock a dining alone experience. Bon appetit!

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    MIX DON’T MATCH

    The true and tested formula of mix don’t match is having a second coming. When decorating you may mix but you must also follow the basic rules of design or you may end up with a space that is more disharmony than distinctive. Restless rather than refreshing. Create a carefully curated space that looks effortless rather than a random mix that shows lack of planning and effort.  The essence is in the details.

    Mix Colors –

     Don’t try to match wall colors with the exact shades of the soft furnishings in the room with the artwork with the curtain fabric. It will end up looking either too insipid or trying too hard and failing to get an exact match. There is bound to be variations even if you select the same color.  When combining shades and tones of the same color within a space, the way each element reflects – or absorbs light – is crucial.

    What are tints, shades and tone?

    Adding white to a pure color creates a tint. Any of the basic twelve colors with pure white added to it produces a tint or pastel palette. Tints are softer and more subtle than the pure colors hence they are often associated with pastel.

    Adding black to a color creates shades. Shades can range from medium to very dark  depending on the amount of black added to the color. Black should always be added with caution because it can easily become overpowering. Increasing the contrast will also produce a deeper shade of a color.

    Adding black and white, or gray, to a pure color, creates tones of a color. Most of the colors we see in our world on a daily basis are tones of a pure color. Tones have the qualities of a pure color but are not as intense, because they are “toned down.” Be cognizant of the rules and stay within a tonal range.  

    Mix Styles –

    It is always a good idea to create an organic space with one dominant style and a healthy mix of one other style that is compatible but different from the original one. A study of multiple Parisian apartments confirms that a careful combination of styles results in a sophisticated yet livable space. Most European interiors are able to achieve this effortless yet stylish look by following this rule of design.

    'Many different styles - mix don't match

    A Mid-Century Modern room can breathe with one or two British Colonial Campaign style pieces of furniture and a room decorated in Hollywood Regency style will benefit hugely from a touch of the Modern Neoclassical. Art Deco can sometimes blend well with Modern or benefit from incorporating one or two items in an Eclectic Global style. Chinoiserie mixes well with French Toile.   

    Mix Finishes –

    I get a lot of questions from clients enquiring about if and when to combine different wood finishes within a room and how to do it successfully. When it comes to kitchens there seems to be some confusion about whether it is a good idea to combine countertop and backsplash materials and finishes. Same with how and when to combine different materials for the vanity, the shower walls and flooring in bathroom remodels

    Mix textures –

    This is a must if you want to create a room that is interesting – as opposed to blah – as well as restful. For a room that also looks updated and high end as opposed to dated or cheap mix don’t match textures

    Many textures - Mix don't match

    A well designed room such as the one above will have a combination of gloss with matte and showcase textures such as glass, metal, raffia, wicker and fabric mixed in together.

    Mix scales –

    I always tell my clients that small sized rooms benefit from substantial pieces of furniture. Conversely, in large rooms one can introduce multiple small items of furniture mixed in with larger pieces. Smaller pieces that might otherwise make a small room appear tinny or busy. Here again it is important to remember the rules of design so as not to get lost in the how and how big is too big and how many small pieces might one add in a large room?

    Mix patterns –

    This step is tricky! Before executing this step do a quick study of how the different patterns react to one another.  

    Do plaids work with florals?  How does a paisley print relate to a geometric pattern? Would a sofa covered in a fabric with blush cabbage roses on an off white background work well against a dark green palm leaf pattern wallpaper. Or can I choose the same wallpaper in an ecru shade …..and make it work….etc etc.

    Pattern mix bedroom

    Photo credits –

    Mixing colors – image of Living Room in mix don’t match shades of gray and yellow courtesy Elledecor.com ~  Style mix – Ă«clectic Living Room with gate leg table and modern accent chairs courtesy Lonny.com ~ Mixing finishes – image of earth tone living room – courtesy ballardesigns.com – Texture mix – photo of David Netto-created Connecticut dining room courtesy Verandah.com ~ Different Scales – image of bi-level living room with white sectional sofa courtesy Goodhousekeeping.com ~ Pattern Mix – courtesy Architecturaldigest.com

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    8 Wallet-Friendly Fashion Brands

    Here is a quick round-up of 8 wallet-friendly fashion brands and a quick guide on what to shop for. A curated list of manufacturers and retailers from here at home and across the pond.

    Zara

    If you are a fashion forward gal who enjoys deep discounts while shopping for quality clothes, then you know Zara. This Spanish based retailer has grown to be a wildly popular clothing brand. It offers a budget friendly clothes-shopping experience without sacrificing style. It is a go-to favorite brand of main street fashionistas as well as celebrities who are know to hand-select Zara items from time to time to create a fashionable yet relatable look.

    Zara is a wallet-Friendly Fashion Brand

    I rely on this brand for basic wardrobe staples, as well as one of a kind signature items for special occasions. Zara has some pretty nice footwear however, in my experience it seems to forego comfort to a certain extent.

    Mango

    A competitor of Zara, Mango is my go-to for good-quality, well-fitting basics that are affordable as well. This brand to me, feels like a more sophisticated and grown-up version of Zara. Whether I’m looking for an everyday cardigan Fall or a check tweed blazer winter, For a wide array of high-fashion-low price point affordable styles, Mango does not disappoint.

    Affordable Midi skirt from Mango

    It’s footwear line is pretty good, but if you’re looking for true longevity, perhaps it’s best to look elsewhere. I like Mango for the chic handbags that could easily pass as designer. Mango is the place to go if your style is more subtle. If you’re looking for nice work wear or classic pieces that you will want to wear for years to come.

    H&M

    If you ask me, this brand also known as Hennes & Mauritz has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a trendy instagram-worthy signature piece to wear this current season, or a classic item that will last you years, H&M never fails to deliver.

    H&M is one of 8 wallet-friendly fashion brands

    Additionally, H&M frequently offers lines in collaboration with high-end designers such as Alexander Wang and Kenzo, as well as celebrities such as the Weekend and Nicki Minaj.

    Topman

    This retailer from across the pond is a part of Asos. It offers a more cutting edge version of the basic H&M look in the world of affordable fashion. I love this brand because it offers access to reproductions of runway styles in a very affordable price range that makes it truly approachable as a brand.

    Another budget brand in womens fashion

    ASOS

    Along with providing access to a multitude of affordable designer brands at affordable prices, this English outfitter also offers its own name-sake brand. I like ASOS pieces because they are on the trendy side, sometimes bordering on edgy. Despite that, they also carry options that are classic and mature-looking but never boring or matronly.

    purse-friendly fashion brand - Asos

    ASOS also has a terrific selection of formalwear that proves that getting dressed up for a special event can be fun and stylish but doesn’t have to cost a lot.

    Everlane

    This is a particular favorite brand of mine. It is in my list of 8 wallet-friendly fashion brands not only because it is an affordable clothing brand but also because it is also known for transparency of its supply chain. The company was founded in 2010. It provides information about where its clothes are made, be it in LA or Ho Chi Minh City. Some of their items are made outside America.

    one of 8 wallet-friendly fashion brands

    J Crew Factory

    If like me you enjoy the fun but slightly preppy-yet-on-trend look of J.Crew, but perhaps you dont like the prices, opt for J.Crew Factory instead.You will find an equally-chic, more affordable, line of amazing work-wear staples like blazers slacks, trousers, blouses and tops.

    Modcloth Cardigan

    From time to time J.Crew Factory releases items that look identical to the ones sold at J.Crew, but at lower price points. However, they tend to wait until a later season to do so. So patience pays.

    ModCloth

    This is another brand known for their quirky indie and retro-inspired pieces. Modcloth is a great source if you’re in the market for a boho chic inspired fun print dress or a pin-up-style swimsuit. In addition to clothing and accessories, ModCloth sells unique shoes, vintage inspired accessories, and home decor items as well.

    another wallet-friendly fashion brand

    What’s more, ModCloth has an extensive selection of plus-sized clothing as well as petite and tall sizes.

    This is my quick list of 8 wallet-friendly fashion brands that offer high quality, high style clothes. I have attempted to give you a peek at my go-to brands for wardrobe staples as well as signature pieces that one can wear to work and social events all year round. Clothes that won’t fall apart and will not burn a hole in your wallet.

    Credits

    Black Pantsuit photo courtesy Zara | Pleated Midi Skirt with White Shirt courtesy Mango | Silk Scarf photo courtesy H&M | Red Patterned Topman Dress courtesy Nordstrom | Image of clothes rack photo courtesy Everlane | Photo of Black Leather Pants Black Jacket and Slingback high heels courtesy ASOS | Picture of Black & Gold Floral Cardigan and Maroon Drawstring Pants courtesy J Crew Factory | Tweed Pencil Skirt and Black Top photo courtesy Modcloth

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    Uthappam – Pancakes Indian Style

    As a lover of Indian foods here is a simple and easy recipe for Uthappam or Pancakes – Indian Style. This is a healthy breakfast food born in the south of India that has grown in popularity among foodies throughout the world. Alongside Dosa and Vada, Uthappam is a popular street food sold from food trucks and carts in cities all across India.

    Uthappam - Pancakes Indian Style

    Ingredients –

    • Idli Mix or Dosa Mix (you can make it from scratch or you can buy the mix from any Indian store) – 2 cups
    • Onion – 1 medium – finely chopped (1/2 cup)
    • Bell Pepper – 1 finely chopped – 1/2 cup
    • Tomato – 1 finely chopped – 1/3 cup
    • Green Chillies – 2-3 finely chopped
    • Oil for pan frying
    • Salt to taste
    Uthappam - Pancakes Indian Style

    Directions

    1. First prepare the batter following instructions for the Idli or Dosa mix from the Indian store. Or you can prepare a homemade idli batter from scratch by following recipe here
    2. Add salt to the mix (if you haven’t added it to the homemade batter before fermenting). Add water as needed.
    3. Mix well. Batter should be about the same consistency as regular pancake mix – thicker than regular dosa mix batter and slightly more runny than idli mix batter.
    4. Next, heat a cast iron griddle or Tava (you can buy a dosa Tava at any Indian store) or a regular non-stick griddle – on medium high.
    5. Sprinkle a few drops of oil on the preheated Tava and spread the oil onto the whole tawa/griddle using a halved potato or a small onion cut in half. This helps to spread the batter evenly while preventing it from sticking.
    6. Repeat this prior to ladling out the batter for each Uthappam.
    7. Next, pour a ladle of batter on the griddle/tava and spread it in a circle by gently rotating the ladle in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction.
    8. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped onion and 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped bell pepper on top of the Uthappam/pancake .
    Indian Food Vada
    1. Next, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of finely chopped tomato and add some finely chopped green chillies on top.
    2. Gently press down the veggies with a spatula.
    3. Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil around the edges.
    4. Cook for approx 2-3 minutes until the bottom turns a light golden brown.
    5. Flip it gently with the spatula and cook other side for a minute or until the bottom of the pancake looks done.
    6. Transfer the Uthappam to a serving platter.
    7. Repeat steps 5 through 14 using the remaining batter.
    8. Serve hot with coconut chutney or tomato onion chutney
    Indian Food Idli

    Hope you enjoy this healthy recipe for Uthappam or Pancakes – Indian Style. You can find my other recipes here. Keep the comments coming! We love your feedback.

    Tips and Tricks –

    • Using a cast iron Tava is recommended so as to have the Uthappam turn out a nice golden color.
    • The batter should not be spread very thin as otherwise, the veggies will not cook evenly within the batter.
    • If you prefer your Uthappam thick and fluffy, cover it with a lid while it is cooking. It will speed up the process
    South Indian Food

    Credits –

    Recipe – foodviva | images – Uthappam with Coconut Chutney, Tomato Chutney and Sambhar courtesy yazhli – Image of Uthappam with Sambhar courtesy B Six Inn featured image courtesy Tripadvisor

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    Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods That Reduce Stress

    For those of us whose concept of a happy meal is a healthy one – this is a quick Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. This is my take on “Happy Meals” with no-cook recipes with step-by-step instructions on and how to create them for your family. Sometime back, my daughter (she is away at college) had mentioned that she was ordering pizza more often than she liked to because she didn’t want to have to cook.  Knowing how strongly she feels about eating right and staying healthy so for all those who like my daughter lacks the time or the will to produce home-cooked meals, I say – don’t beat yourself up for ordering Pizza. There are worse things in life I tell her! Nevertheless I understand her concern. So I sat down to create this how-to guide for her and others that are concerned about the food they eat to how it affects their physical and mental health. It was the beginning of my journey to find “happy foods” or ingredients or foods that make you more happy and less anxious.

    Here’s how to use happy foods that reduce stress to draw up a Weeknight Meal Plan. If you don’t want to cook, you don’t have to. By following the steps you can save time, eat healthy and avoid worrying about your health because you’re ordering out, not to speak of wasting money. It is a process, one step at a time.

    Shopping for groceries

    DITCH THE STRESS –

    When you shop for groceries, plan a little and buy stuff so you don’t have to cook at all. This way you’ll eat healthy and feel good about yourself. And you’ll be happy There’s a ton of meals that require none to minimum cooking time. Yes….Really! Let’s face it with everything thats going around, planning for a meal can sometimes be stressful and exhausting. Let’s talk healthy no stress meals with little or less cooking time and no elaborate planning.

    CREATE A TEMPLATE LIST –

    A big stress buster – this I have learnt from my daughter – is to make a quick list, a sort of a template – in your Iphone’s “notes” or “reminders app. Make a list of staples each week (it makes life a lot easier) and switch them around week to week. You can add or take away items as you need, before you go to the shops.

    SHOP FOR STAPLES –

    Here are some of my basic must-haves for a Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress:

    • Quinoa – believed to be among those foods that make us happy – or rice or flax seeds
    • Lentils or beans or black eyed peas. All simple and easy to make ahead or right at dinner time with no stress.
    • Cereal
    • Onions, Carrots and Peas – good for any kind of veggie sautĂ©s  or meat stir fries
    • Potatoes – looking for a weeknight meal plan with happy foods that reduce stress need very little work and time?Potatoes are great for the occasional french fries or a quick Indian style curry with potatoes AKA Aloo dum.
    • Yoghurt is another one of my staples. They are rich in probiotics which is known as one of those happy foods. You can put it in an Indian style curry such as Spicy Egg Curry or Mom’s Chicken Curry. It gives the sauce its creamy texture without adding cream or butter. The secret is out!

    Rice and Lentils are easy to make however most other ethnic cooking like Curries – chicken curry or fish curry – usually require more prep and more elaborate cooking. Either way, cooking elaborate comfort foods from one’s own culture following mother’s recipe may or may not be included on a how to guide on creating Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. But to make that once in a while, Indian food on a weeknight I have some quick tips as well. For that reason I have a list of basic ethnic food ingredients as well that I keep stocked in my kitchen for when the mood strikes:

    Ethnic Store Basics

    • Basmati Rice
    • Naan Bread
    • Lentils – Moong daal and/or masoor daal and/or Rajma
    • Turmeric
    • Coriander seeds (dhania)
    • Mustard Oil – small bottle (Fish sometimes smells a little, unless cooked in Mustard oil)

    If you can’t make it to the Ethnic store, don’t worry, you can still eat yummy healthy meals all week long, with my guide to creating Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress with minimum cooking. Start by making a list of some staples each week at the grocery store. 

    Ethnic food

    Grocery Store Basics

    • Jasmine Rice 
    • Tortillas – alternate between while wheat or corn or Spinach Tortillas
    • Lentils – alternate between split pea or kidney beans – (the latter takes longer to boil and must be soaked overnight before you cook)
    • Lousiana Fish fry mix OR just bread crumbs – plain or seasoned
    • Garlic Salt
    • Sardines – I buy the ones in water – not in oil or tomato sauce which are fatty or mushy and tasteless …blah!!
    • Cereal – I usually get Kashi with or without berries 
    • Milk – Almond Milk or Coconut Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Honey
    • Corn chips or alternate week sweet potato chips
    • Hummus – 2 different kinds alternately – to use as spread on toast in the morning or for lunch sandwiches with cold cuts or cheese and tomato or for cucumber sandwiches
    • Soup – alternately clam chowder or minestrone or tomato soup or split pea. I don’t like the chicken soup because it just tastes like water and salt and does not fill up my tummy satisfactorily

    Produce Section

    • Tomatoes – they go with everything – in curries to make the sauce thick – or in tomato and cheese sandwiches or tomato slices served on the side with rice and fried fish. 
    • Onion – small bag – for sautes and/or curries
    • Garlic – a small one will last you weeks.
    • Small potatoes – 1 bag – for curries or fries or lightly seasoned potato wedges
    • Mixed Vegetables – buy an assortment of fresh veggies – they stay fresh for a week, My favourites are squash, bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans and cauliflower
    • Broccoli – 1 bunch you can just eat them steamed for 10 – 15 minutes
    • Radish – 1 bunch – you can eat them raw (wash thoroughly and soak in water) or steam for 10 minutes!!
    • Baby carrots – with the green leaves – these cook in 5 minutes. Besides they are sweet and tasty.
    • Fresh Greens – Spinach or Kale or Bok Choy
    • 2 different kinds of salads in bags. A trick to creating WeeknightMeal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. I buy salad kits. They make life easier. Besides, they have toppings and berries all planned out.
    • Light salad dressing of your choice and alternate the flavour every two three weeks.
    • Lemon  – a squeeze of lemon juice goes well with steamed rice and seafood besides adding flavor to lentil soup.

    Frozen Section

    I try not to buy anything from the frozen section – because I don’t like preservatives – except frozen peas. I have not bought fresh peas in the longest time, as I don’t have time to sit down and shell them. Not that it wouldn’t be a nice thing to do in the kitchen. Gather around as a group, shelling and swapping stories, like old timers. Slow down – celebrate the past. Maybe someday! For now let’s get back to Weeknight Meals To Make You More Happy


    Bakery Section

    • Bread – sourdough, whole wheat, multi grain, garlic bread or focaccia. Rotate every week so you don’t get bored.
    • Cookies – 1 bag or box only every two to three weeks. Once again, you can rotate the kind of cookies you get.
    Breads

    Deli Section

    • Cold cuts – 2 different types  – I get the turkey breast from the Real Simple line (something like that, I forget the name brand) but its the one with no additives. i like to make sure there is no Sodium Nitrite – I am told it can cause cancer but I guess as per the FDA the jury is still out.
    • Rotisserie Turkey Breast or Roasted Chicken
    • Cheese – 1 or 2 kinds
    • Olives

    10 READY MEAL PLANS FOR THE WEEKNIGHT

    Don’t get too overly concerned with cooking in order to eat. If you plan the shopping, then you can eat what you have in your fridge when and if you’re hungry and not worry about the specter of cooking hanging over your head.

    Happy Cook

    THE MAIN DISH

    (1) Steamed Rice or Quinoa or Naan Bread

    On Sundays I sometimes make a quick cup or two of quinoa or boil a couple of cups of rice ahead of the week as a way of my rudimentary food prep. That will go for a week. I buy Naan bread or Tortillas. You can make any number of quick and easy entrees throughout the week to go with the main dish.

    THE SIDE DISH

    (1) Lentil Soup

    Plan ahead and prep and even pre-cook – if need be – your main dishes for the week. I like to spend some time over the weekend and get this part done. Then combine them with meat and fish entree from my weekly list.

    Lentils are a great source of protein and fibre. Here’s how I do lentils to make daal. Boil a half cup of lentils or black eyed peas in 3 cups of water, When it looks and feels mushy, take it off the heat. Take a fresh pan – heat a little bit of oil. Add a pinch of coriander seeds, Then slice a couple of green chillies lengthwise and add to hot oil. Roughly chop some tomatoes. When coriander seeds begin to sputter, add the tomatoes, stir for a bit until they begin to lose color. Add frozen green peas. stir a bit until they begin to lose color and feel a little softer. Next pour the boiled lentils mush into the pan. Sprinkle salt and turmeric. When it begins to sizzle, turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Take off heat. Pour very carefully into a deep bowl. Add some cilantro on top. Enjoy with boiled rice and a squeeze of lemon juice.  

    (2) Bok Choy in Olive Oil

    Bok Choy is a green leafy vegetable that appears on the list of happy foods as well. Lightly toss these in olive oil with some sesame seeds until the greens begin to turn soft – but not mushy. Season to taste with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. flakes. Best served with seafood.

    (3) Spicy Kale

    Kale is a versatile vegetable. I like to follow my quick and healthy easy recipe for Kale and Eggs

    (4) Sauteed Mixed Vegetables

    Cut the vegetables in equally sized pieces. Heat Olive Oil in a long-handled wok. Add onions. cook until they turn transparent. Add the other veggies. Grab the handle of the pan and flip the pan up in the air tossing the vegetables to coat them evenly with oil. Alternately you can use a spatula as you would toss a salad. Cover with a lid and cook for a few more minutes. ad a splash of water if they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Test the cauliflower with a fork to see if its cooked through – but not soggy- to know when its ready to eat.

    THE ENTREE

    The above should see you through a week of healthy meals combined with one or more of the following easy poultry or seafood entrees to choose from :

    (1) Pan Fried Fish

    I use Salmon, because of its health benefits. Food that promotes mental well-being and happiness. You can use any other fish that is available. What I do is on Sunday with the rice and lentils or daal, for a few minutes extra I cook a  basic Salmon Fry. If you like that, heres how you do it -(beat a couple of eggs together in a bowl, dredge the Salmon fillets in egg, then cover with breadcrumbs or Louisiana Fish fry mix). Heat Mustard Oil, fry both sides until brown, carefully lift out of the frying pan on to plate lined with paper towels.  

    (2) Turkey Rotisserie

    Buy a split Turkey breast or a whole rotisserie chicken. Carve and serve with the rice and lentils with tomato slices on the side.  Make a quick and easy Raita or yogurt dip. Beat a cup of yogurt with a fork. add some red pepper flakes and salt to taste. No cooking today!

    (3) Baked Salmon in Mustard

    Make sure to get the spicy style mustard – not the sweet one. Put the fish fillets in a baking dish, cover and coat with mustard. add mustard oil, add two slit green chillies and bake for about 30 minutes – turning once – 15 minutes on each side.  

    (4) Fish in coconut Milk

    You can substitute coconut milk (in a can) for mustard and follow the instructions from the above recipe. Add a pinch of turmeric – which is another “happy food” and cook the same way.

    (5) Sardines on the Side

    Open a can of sardines – heat it up with rice and lentils then serve with some pita chips on the side. No cooking!

    (6) Cold Cuts of Meat

    Warm up some cold cuts (lunch meat). Serve with rice and lentils, with cucumber slices and halved radishes on the side.  No cooking and you can still have the benefits of the meat protein.

    (7) Soup for dinner

    Open up a can of soup – hot clam chowder OR hot Tomato soup with a little bit of milk added, served with toast spread with hummus or guacamole on the side.

    Soup

    (8) Dinner Salad

    A big bowl of salad with your choice of salad dressing and some cold cuts and chips added on top.  

    Do not overthink or sweat about an entire week of meals. It can drive you nuts.  If you’ve planned the shopping you can now eat whatever you have in the house!

    THE SNACK

    I like to eat one big meal through the day. For instance, rice with vegetables and a fish or chicken entree. Usually it’s Lunch – because then it has all day to get digested as we are running around doing stuff. I eat a bunch of small snacks in the evening as soon as I get home from work. I cut a piece of brie along with some grapes – another “happy food” and a small piece of bread dipped in olive and some salami or chicken sausage. Sometimes I’ll either have a bowl of salad or hot soup with toast for dinner – I try to avoid bread or rice at dinner. Try not to eat a heavy meal late in the evening as it might keep you up at night. 

    If I get hungry later when I’m writing or watching TV, here’s my quick fix for a snack.  A bowl of cereal with yogurt sweetened with  a little honey or a tiny bit of brown sugar. It tastes like ice cream.  That way I get the fibre from the cereal and get my sweet fix at the same time.

    6 DAILY STRESS BUSTERS – 

    • Try to carve out a time – preferably a fixed time every afternoon or evening, for tea (or coffee). Drink it from a cup and saucer.  Sit down with the teacup or coffee cup and savor each sip. Serve yourself some crackers or cookies in a little plate to go with it, or salami or olives.  Make sure you are not watching TV or reading at the same time. Just have happy thoughts and enjoy your tea. I like to sit outside and enjoy the view.
    • Try not to focus on what you did not get done that day but instead focus on how amazing a person you are – because you are!  No one tells you that nearly enough, neither do you.
    • Try to get to bed early and get up early. Try not to focus on what you need to get done that day as you get ready for the day.  You have a calendar for that. Do not stay up late. It will lead to sleeplessness.
    • Instead of your list of tasks, try to focus instead on how amazing the day is and how lucky you are to get to enjoy it. It’s not gong to be easy but you have to keep working at it. If you wish to be happy there is no other option.
    • Try to rotate your routine for simple everyday tasks. Even something small as switching your toothbrush holder and soap pump from one side of the sink to the the other makes you feel good in the morning.
    • Smile into the mirror. Notice how your face lights up. How you look more attractive than when you wear a frown.  

    PRACTICE – 

    Hopes that my simple guide of Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress will help simplify your life. Also hope the 6 stress busters work for you. Try them – and try again – until they start to work. The objective is to turn your mind around so as to perceive your actions as just something essential. Accept what you did or did not do in terms of not right or wrong – just in terms of you being YOU. To not be sad or angry at things you did or failed to do or things that others did to you because your only obligation is to yourself, your only goal is to make you happy.  Tamp down negative thoughts as soon as they crop up. Then turn then into the positive thoughts.

    Weekday Meals to Make You Happy

    In reality, one may have to do this repeatedly because the neuro-pathways may have become used to thinking that negative is productive. That is only because the negative may have become a habit – stressing out or worrying may have become familiar. But familiar does not necessarily mean right. In some cases indulging in worrisome, anxious thoughts at night or at bedtime may have become routine. Make the effort to identify them as counterproductive and move to the positive. Keep in mind, fear has no basis and worry has no outcome. We must keep fighting those until being sad stops feeling familiar and being happy becomes more commonplace. 

    I feel we must devote time and energy to controlling our stress on our own – spend more time on ways to avoid stress and less time in stressing. Therein lies the biggest secret. As in every thing in life – the important thing is to keep at it – practice, practice, practice. Because….

    ….The only place where SUCCESS comes before WORK is in the dictionary – Anonymous

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