Wednesday, October 30, 2013

PROBLEM:  You decided to take advantage of the fall harvest bounty and have purchased a number of fresh baking pumpkins.. You are now in pumpkin overload.  

What do you do with your baking pumpkins if you cannot use all your pumpkin right away?  

SOLUTION:  Get a handle on how much pumpkin you have and measure portions for different uses for recipes you plan to make by freezing cooked pumpkin puree.   This puree is super handy to have on hand especially for holiday entertaining!  See?  We Solved It – another problem – how to prepare in advance to feed a crowd!   

By freezing your cooked pumpkin puree ahead, you can whip up seasonal dishes to feed the masses just by defrosting your frozen pumpkin puree in the microwave to use right away to whip up amazing dishes. 

First of all, fresh pumpkin needs to be cooked before they are turned into puree. After removing all the seeds (to roast in the oven later!) and strings – you have several options.  You can either bake it in the oven (cut into pieces) for an hour at 400 degrees; boil chunks of it the way you would boil potatoes before mashing or simply microwave your pumpkin pieces about 6 or 7 minutes per pound. 

Once you have cooked pumpkin – use a masher, hand blender or food processor.  Fresh pumpkin is interchangeable with canned in recipes – so start searching for other ways to use it.
While you can freeze some puree in order to make your pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, you may automatically be tired of pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies and pumpkin bread.  Now what? 

Don’t be afraid to experiment and use pumpkin in a number of unexpected ways. They all don’t have to be sweet, but if you choose to indulge in sweets – you can even experiment here with pumpkin pancakes and scones.  But why stop here?

Use the pumpkin in SAVORY ways!  

Of course you can always make pumpkin soup.  Remember you can freeze the soup if you make excess. 

You can use the pumpkin puree and mix it with ricotta cheese, herbs like fresh sage, black pepper and salt and make yourself a tasty ravioli filling.  

You can also use the pumpkin puree as a sauce for chicken, pork and pasta!  

Start with a roux of butter and flour, cook for a minute or two to cook out the flour taste. Add the pumpkin puree and some heavy cream.  Season liberally with salt, pepper and herbs and you have yourself a versatile sauce.  Whether it’s chicken breasts, pork chops, or rotelle pasta – you’ll find this sauce to be delicious as a compliment to whatever you cook.  

You can use this same sauce over enchiladas (add in chopped jalapenos for a kick!) or make a pumpkin mole for your chicken.  You can also make your own pumpkin lasagna replacing tomato sauce with this lovely thick and creamy pumpkin sauce and use root vegetables like thinly sliced parsnips and beets in between layers of cooked ground or shredded turkey.  It’s a delicious fall harvest comfort meal that’s healthy!  

Use this same sauce over broccoli and bake it with thick slices of onions and add in your favorite shredded cheese and chicken and top with croutons in the oven for a delicious and comforting casserole. 

You can use fresh pumpkin puree in place of any recipe that calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup.  By doing so, you have a more nutritious, vitamin-packed dish that has more fiber, less sodium and less calories automatically, plus you’re adding the power of another vegetable to the mix.  So how about that old dusty recipe for green bean casserole… won’t it be a fun and interesting twist this holiday to have pumpkin puree in there instead.  You can still add in sliced mushrooms and onions if you’d like and top with French-fried onions.  No one will be expecting the pumpkin twist!  

Remember that pumpkin is like squash – it is very adaptable for many recipes.  Use it where recipes call for butternut squash.  You will find more possibilities open up when you remember that vegetables can compliment other vegetables and often replace them in other ways.
Whatever you do - you can feel good about it.  Pumpkin packs lots of vitamins and beta carotene and fiber!  It also makes a fantastic smoothie! 

Be creative. Try something new and different with your sea of pumpkins you turn into fresh puree.  Enjoy new dishes and celebrate the season. 

~ Athena & Tess – We Solved It

Friday, October 25, 2013

When was the last time you were outside and you simply reached up and looked upward?  Can you remember?   Think about it.   If you cannot remember, be sure to do this if you are feeling ‘blah’ and out of sorts.  Just remember to wear sunscreen and sunglasses and don’t look directly at the sun!  

Here at We Solved It – just like you, we occasionally need to remind ourselves to do this.  It is in this upward reach and looking upward we can re-center and balance our days.  

You may have heard or read that if you smile, you can change your mood.  This is also applicable for when you look up and reach upward; you can elevate and escalate what is going on inside of you just by catering to how you change up the dynamic of what is going on, on the outside, too.  You have the power to make this change just by this one simple move. 

Stretch your arms up toward the sun, look up toward the sky and breathe in and out.  It takes just a couple seconds – something you can do on a work break very easily.  It will reset and recharge you for the day.   You can also add this to your workout – most people do not stretch enough. 

We talk a lot about internal stretching – stretching of ideas and concepts, stretching of the creative imagination and exploring.  But just like variety is the spice of life, people get into mood ruts, too.

When was the last time you heard of a mood work out?  Well, here at We Solved It, we have one of those, too.   We adopted the methods from many actors we happen to know, who take it upon themselves to stay sharp within their craft and field.  Actors, who do Improv, have to spontaneously respond to what they are presented and instantaneously take on a new emotion, direction and mood at the snap of a finger.   It is with this exercise routine, we discovered that doing this helps exercise other muscles that many of us do not exercise enough. 

When was the last time you cried?  The good kind – to the point of dry heaving sobs?

When was the last time you laughed – for real, from the gut, out loud?

When was the last time you felt extreme joy – the kind that makes you jump up and down?

We ask about these three things and stop here, because we have discovered that most people often feel mad, angry, stressed, frustrated, jealous/envious and bitter more than they feel the other three emotions above.   

This is a problem.  This is what we need to solve in this world.  We need to return to expressing grief to rid ourselves of built up emotional toxins, laughing every single day and jumping up and down for joy.   Not only will this make you happier and healthier, it will make you sick less often.  Did you know this?

And just like reaching upward and looking up, there are methods whereby we can create this, too.  But it is about creating new healthy habits in our lives.   Just like making our bed each day is a habit or pouring that cup of coffee is a habit, we need to create new habits that incorporate upward mobility for our spirits. 

So take time each day to laugh at yourself, release grief, and literally jump up and down (though preferably outside, not in apartment where you will disturb your neighbor below), and take the time to reach and look up – you just may find yourself smiling more often.  

~ Athena & Tess – We Solved It
Friday, October 18, 2013

The Affordable Care Act is in effect and for many, taking action is what it is all about in order to get health care.  For some who never have had health care before, it may be a breath of fresh air. For others it is very overwhelming as it is a lot of new information to digest.  For those who have had health care all along, it can also be a confusing time.  

If you receive medical benefits from your employer, you will be receiving updates from your employer about how your benefits change as a result of the Affordable Care Act.  You may need to be patient to receive information as not all companies have all the information yet.
If you are an individual on your own trying to get coverage or are self-employed, something that you may not have considered is to start weeding through all the information on crafting the package that best suits your particular situation.  Not all situations are created equal.   

Did you know it all has to do with your previous year’s income tax return if you are looking into subsidies?   Talk to your tax person and dig deeper. 

For all questions and concerns check out:
First you need to consider what state you live in and if your state affects your situation and choices.  Some states have their own websites, too. 

Also – beyond just health insurance, you are probably re-examining your household budget and making said adjustments as a result of this new health care reform.

Did you know that your AUTO INSURANCE medical coverage also needs to be taken into consideration?   None of the many health care sites will tell you this.  As you well know – auto insurance is NOT THE SAME in every state.  Rates are different. Packages are different and medical coverage under said plans are different state-to-state.  And this may be something you factor in as you consider your household budget with this new Affordable Care Act in place to balance out your expenses for your coverage.

You need to look into your auto policy.  How much medical coverage do you have?  Does it overlap with your medical benefits?  Are you paying too much for this coverage now as a result of the Affordable Care Act coming into play?    

Does your auto insurance policy for hospitalization cover only you or does it cover your passengers and HOW will that look once you take a good look at your plan and expenses?  Do you keep this component of your auto insurance policy?  Decrease it to save funds because your health coverage is enough?   This all varies depending on the kind of coverage you have.  Not every situation is the same because of geography, packages, your customized auto policy for your household and also how you use your car.  This also could look differently to some whether their automobiles are used only for personal use or business use – some have vehicles they use specifically for their own businesses.    

What you need to consider is all of the above and factor in how you dissect your coverage.
If you are a business – C Corporation, S Corporation, LLC, etc. – you may also need to look into the Small Business health care plan coverage options and weigh them against the policies set for individuals.  If you are a family owned business and it is the family who is employees – this new Affordable Care Act can affect you in different ways depending on these separate medical coverage package options.  Sometimes getting the package as a business may be better for some than everyone getting coverage as an individual. 
Also what you need to consider is TAXATION. Contact your accountant who is familiar with your annual tax returns for more information as they are familiar with your income and household situation.

 There are tax credits affiliated with the Affordable Care Act and there are subsidies.  But this is not an across-the-board easy thing to understand because it is all based on INCOME.   Depending on the income bracket you fall under – and how you are set up as a household could also affect what you are able or unable to do.  

What tax offices are saying now is that your last year’s tax return is what qualification for certain programs is based on.  And this can vary state to state.   If you have income which fluctuates, you will owe back money.  This could come as a huge surprise and hit you hard in the wallet if you do not prepare ahead of time as your income changes throughout the year.  This particularly affects seasonal job folks who have to ride the feast or famine train when work has ebbs and flows. 

Each health care provider is different – it goes far beyond the HMOs and the PPOs to understand. Co-Pays and deductibles need to be weighed much like before but now with all the other factors put into consideration.

Your best bet is to take time to carefully research all your options and take your own personal health scenario into consideration in order to weigh which options work best for your particular financial situation as well as any business situation you may have yourself tied to via taxes and auto.  For some, it is all tied together. 

Be diligent about keeping notes.  And if you are confused, do not hesitate to make several calls or talk to someone else if you are getting flimsy answers. This is not a time to ‘guess’ – it is about making sound decisions so you don’t get stuck with having to owe money you did not anticipate or plan for based on wrong information or selecting a plan or package that is not best suited to you. 

Do not get frustrated.  Everyone is learning as they go. But the more information you gather and see that the facts which apply to your particular situation are not cookie-cutter for everyone, you’ll be able to customize the right plan to choose for yourself and your family. 

~ Athena & Tess – We Solved It

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

As the holiday season begins to get underway, perhaps you are thinking of mailing a few packages across the miles to loved ones.  Maybe you will be receiving a few gifts this season yourself.  Or perhaps you may take advantage of sales and having items shipped directly to you.   Inside of the package, we often dismiss the many uses of bubble wrap, foam packing peanuts and the most overlooked, foam packing sheets.  While many of you may already ‘recycle’ packing peanuts and bubble wrap, chances are you probably don’t recycle foam packing sheets because they may not take up as much space volume inside of a box as the other two choices.   But that doesn’t mean you should throw these foam packing sheets away!  Instead – repurpose them for many helpful and practical uses at home, by using them again and again.

Whether you are unpacking an electronic device or if you’ve finished moving – foam packing sheets have many uses other than shipping or moving.  The key is to think outside of what you normally use them for.  

The material itself can be cut into squares or circles and placed underneath the legs of heavy furniture to prevent scratching on wood floors or weighty marks on carpeting.  Uses at home do not stop with just furniture for this handy packing material. Foam packing sheets can also be cut-to-size for picture frames placed directly behind the photo before the backing is put on to fill in the gaps between the glass and the back of the frame.   One of the benefits of foam packing sheet material is that it also has a ‘non-skid’ traction texture which makes it a perfect replacement to glue on the backs of coasters, candle and serving trays, desk items such as staplers, tape dispensers or pencil cups or knick-knacks whose felt has disintegrated on the bottom. From butcher block knife holders, toasters, cookie jars and kitchen canisters, foam packing sheets also work, the same way.  They are a better material than felt, because unlike felt, they do not absorb moisture, which can lead to mold and mildew.  The water-repellent construction makes it an ideal material to use.  The bonus is protecting tables, counters and surfaces from scratching! 

While many may find foam packing sheets used traditionally between fine china plates for storage, protective for all glass and crystal household goods in the house, they are handy to keep in the trunk of your car for every grocery run which includes glass of any kind from pickle and mayonnaise jars, to wine, fruit juice and olive oil bottles from clanking inside your grocery bags for the ride home.  This not only prevents bottles from breaking inside the car, but can also protect other items from bruising fruit and vegetables or breaking precious eggs.  

Think beyond your home and the trunk of your car and you’ll find foam packing sheets ideal for your suitcase to protect snorkel goggles or inside your eyeglass case to protect eyewear. 
If you’re artistic, foam packing sheets are great for crafts – from holiday ornaments, picture and collage projects, bookmarks and creating pin cushions or earring holders, foam packing sheets are ideal for any of your creative ideas. 

If you happen to have larger sized foam packing sheets (the kind that come with new appliances in boxes such as televisions or other gaming systems, these sheets are perfect as a liner underneath kitchen and bathroom sinks.   Simply use the foam sheets the way you would normally use contact paper.   By doing this, you prevent those rusty ring circles from staining the bottom of your cabinetry from metal cans of cleaning products and also protect your cabinets from spills of other jars and bottles of personal care items such as nail polish remover, shampoos, sunscreen and more. 

Foam packing sheets also have a fantastic use for the garage or outside – particularly if you happen to have the ‘pocket’ type of foam packing sheets -  the kind that house new cell phones, zip drives or other smaller devices.  These sheets can be recycled into the perfect cover for your smaller hand garden tools (shovels or soil picks) as you store them when they are not in use.  The foam sheet pockets helps to protect your garden tools from the elements and prevents them from rusting. After  you wash and dry your tools, put them in the foam packing sheet pockets to prevent air from getting to them to keep them rust and dust free.   If you happen to have a planter pot whose holes are too large at the bottom, you can also use the foam packing sheet as a barrier so you don’t lose too much soil between the plant and the potting soil.  

Inside your closet, foam packing sheets are great for using inside your hats and caps. It helps to keep the shape of your hat or cap.   You’ll also find that foam packing sheets are perfect for layering stacks of flat shoes, flip-flops and other footwear in order to give you more floor space to store your other shoes.   By doing this, you protect the tops of your other shoes from the dirty bottoms of the shoes stacked on top.   

Inside the drawers of your kitchen, foam packing sheets are great for placing inside for your random gadgets, larger awkward serving utensils and more.  It keeps them from scratching the inside of the drawer every single time you whip them open quickly and the traction feature of the material also prevents them from sliding around when that drawer opens as well.  

So the next time you receive a package or open a new item you purchased and find the foam packing sheets, do a double take.  Rather than throw them away into a landfill where they are not good for the environment and are not biodegradable, think about recycling and repurposing them into one of the many uses we’ve provided.   Here at We Solved it, we hope you find many other interesting uses for several everyday items on your own and share them with us. Discover the fun of how you can be creative and make a difference one item at a time and save the planet just by thinking about all the things you can do before you throw something away. 

~ Athena & Tess – We Solved It