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Chocolate is HOT

4 Feb

With Valentine’s Day being right the corner, naturally my thoughts turn to one thing: chocolate (Psshh, no, I DIDN’T mean to say “love”).    Chocolate is an amazing substance.  It’s been around for thousands of years, and it’s native to the Americas.  In fact, both the Aztec and the Mayans used their version of chocolate in religious ceremonies, including as an offering to please their fickle gods.  It’s also historically been used as a medicine for stomach upset, inflammation, fatigue, anemia, and a host of other ailments.  In fact, English physician Dr. William Hughes said in 1672: “Chocolate nourishes and preserves health entire, yet causes a pleasant and natural sleep and rest.  Drunk twice a day, a man may very well subsist therewith, not taking anything else at all.”  Now THAT’s my kind of prescription!

chocbrain from dribbble

These days, medical science is a wee bit less zealous about the use of chocolate – but it’s still being studied for its health benefits.  Dark chocolate especially is gaining a reputation as a healthy, helpful substance in moderation.  It shows a lot of promise in helping to lower blood pressure, improve cognitive function, control blood sugar, provide valuable antioxidants, and more.

how-choco-works-1

SO – since we know that chocolate is, indeed, good for you (again, let’s use that key phrase: in moderation) I thought I’d share a recipe that features that wondrous substance.  It would be great for Valentine’s Day, or any special occasion throughout the year (like, say, the fact you got up this morning.  Or it’s Tuesday. Or you made it through a whole day without yelling.  etc.)

A fun twist that’s recently cropped up is the combination of chocolate and spice.  While chocolate’s often thought of as strictly for sweet concoctions, adding a kick of spice to it gives it a wonderful new edge.  This recipe for Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies, from cookingchanneltv.com, is a relatively simple way to try this unusual combination.

                INGREDIENTS

  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

 DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. 

In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together, whisking until glossy and smooth. Alternately, the butter and chocolate can be melted in the microwave (in a microwave-safe bowl) in 25-second increments, whisking between each interval. Cool the chocolate mixture to room temperature. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer), beat the brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla extract and eggs on low speed until well combined. Pour in the cooled chocolate and continue to mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.

In a medium bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chili powder, baking soda, salt and cayenne pepper. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate batter and mix on low speed until just combined and no visible flour remains. Fold in the chocolate chips with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.

Working in two batches, scoop 12 balls of dough (preferably using a small ice cream scoop with a spring handle, about 1 1/2 tablespoon size) onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches of space between each cookie. Bake the cookies, one pan at a time, for approximately 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking time. The cookies should be puffy and still fairly soft when removed from the oven. 
Immediately slide the cookies, still on the parchment paper, onto a wire cooling rack. Cool just a bit before serving, 5 to 10 minutes.

hot choc cookies

We are still running our month-long GIVEAWAY for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. (Winner will be announced on 2/15/13)

Here are the steps to get you in the drawing:

#1: “Like” our page on Facebook . If you are already a MiUS Facebook fan, then share our page with your friends on your status (www.facebook.com/miuscollection.com), or get one friend to “like” MiUS.

#2: Leave us a comment here at the blog letting us know that you followed all steps ; -) and you will be entered into the drawing. That easy! Good luck!

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A Sense of Community (not the TV show)

6 Dec

This holiday season – and the local activities that revolve around it – has me thinking a lot about community.  Dictionary.com defines community as “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”   In this instance, I’m mostly thinking of the “specific locality” type.

We live in a relatively small town here in Northeast Ohio. Medina has a population of just roughly 27,000.  However, Medina does a wonderful job encouraging community, and getting people to engage with each other in a civic way.  The downtown has been lovingly preserved, with nice shops, restaurants and events that often draw good crowds.

Medina’s picturesque downtown

We are very fortunate to be in an area where the idea of “community” has been taken so seriously by our town’s leaders, and that there are several organizations that work very hard all year round to ensure it stays that way.  From our Main Street Medina association to the Medina County Historical Society, there are many people who are passionate about keeping our town – and our sense of community – alive and thriving.  I believe this is a concept that tends to feed on itself.  When just a few committed people really work at that sense of community – holding events, preserving history, encouraging downtown commerce – the more other people willingly start to appreciate and work to perpetuate these ideals.

Candlelight Walk 2012

As I’ve now been a resident of Medina for a little over two years, I’ve definitely come to appreciate – and therefore more frequently attend – the events they hold in the downtown area.  From the summer concerts in the park to the Candlelight Walk, I’ve happily enjoyed many activities that are unique to our town.  In turn, I’ve become more committed to wanting the downtown to keep thriving.  I attend the concerts, and make donations.  I patronize the restaurants on our town square.  I shop the wonderful, unique stores we have here.  I attend every Saturday Farmers’ Market that I can, and buy as much of my produce there as I’m able.  I’m really not having to go out of my way – or spend a lot more – to do all these activities; yet my hope is I’m helping to ensure that they will continue long into the future.

Medina Community Band concert in the town gazebo

Wherever you live, I encourage you to find a way to support your community.  Even if it’s just following the city’s Facebook page or Twitter feed, or eating a meal at the corner café versus the chain up the street, I think everyone can, at least in some small way, help to encourage their local community to thrive.  It just takes a little forethought.

Once you start, however, don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting more involved.  When you see what gems your own corner of the world has to offer, you just might become another passionate person who helps to keep that spirit of community alive.

Another great way to support our wider local community (the good old USA) is to buy USA made products!  Today’s holiday deal at miuscollection.com is sweaters!  All MiUS sweaters are 15% off, and enjoy free shipping on orders over $50.  Use code cozy12 at checkout.

SHOPPING FOR A CAUSE

26 Nov

I don’t know about you, but I am a HUGE fan of online shopping.  I don’t have to burn any gas, I can be dressed however I want (or not dressed at all…), there are no crowds to fight or snooty salespeople to make me feel insecure, and I can take my time.  Many times, I can also score free shipping, too.  What’s not to love??

If there’s anything better than shopping online, it’s shopping online AND contributing to a good cause at the same time.  That’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned.  So if you aren’t done with your holiday shopping yet, please consider spending some of your hard-earned money somewhere that it can do even more good while scoring you some great deals and great gifts.

Here are some retail sites that do a wonderful job of giving back in some way when you make a purchase.  Some work through outright donations; some give back by supporting ideals that might be close to your heart. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though, so do some research on your favorite causes, and see where else you can make an impact with your shopping dollars!

  1.  MiUS Collection, of course!  If, like many of us, you’re worried about the state of our country’s economy, how about making sure your shopping money stays right in the US?  MiUS carries beautiful, unique fashions, all made here in the USA.  You’re not only supporting our economy by shopping at MiUS; you’re also supporting some “homegrown” up and coming designers – and in turn, helping them grow as another US employer.  Definitely a bonus!

www.miuscollection.com

  1.  I COULD actually list this as #2-10, if I want to be lazy.  But when you log onto one of the GreaterGood Network of sites, such as www.thebreastcancersite.com, not only can you help contribute to mammograms for women in need… but you can also click the seven other tabs across the top, and contribute to adult literacy, rainforest preservation, veteran support, and more – AND shop to support each cause, too!  Click the button on each site’s homepage to contribute to the cause for free; then you can shop to your heart’s content from a huge variety of very cool merchandise.   The best part is, each item you can shop for lists exactly how your purchase can help that cause.  And the shipping costs are always very reasonable.
  1. Another cool way to give while you get is through http://www.igive.com.  Here’s the deal: you choose a charity to support when you sign up for free (they have tons of them on there, including local ones), and install the “iGive” button. Then when you shop your regular online retailers, if that retailer is connected with iGive, the button will pop up automatically and you can see how that site supports your giving.  SO easy!  And the list of retailers through which you can donate is HUGE, including such major sites as amazon.com; Ann Taylor; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and more.  Those donations can add up fast, all while you make your normal purchases.
  1. If you’re concerned about the environment, some good places to shop are green.ebay.com and www.bonafidegreengoods.com.  All the items offered for sale on both sites have been specifically chosen for environmental-friendliness, fair sourcing, and sustainability.  Not to mention they have a lot of very unique and attractive items for yourself or gift-giving.

You can find unique, beautiful, useful and/or handmade items at all of these sites, and support your favorite causes at the same time.    And the more you shop for a cause, the more you will get in the habit of knowing exactly what your retail dollars are supporting – and that is always a good thing.  An informed consumer is a consumer with a more powerful, more effective voice.  So go do some shopping, and make your dollars count!

COLD WEATHER COMFORT (FOOD)

8 Nov

When the weather starts getting chilly and grey, I really want to just curl up and hibernate until spring.  Cloudy skies, cold drizzle (or, worse yet, SNOW) and short daylight are not conducive to a cheery mood and abundance of energy… at least not for me!  But I do realize that hibernation is not a realistic option for a person who has a job, bills to pay, and enjoys eating on a very routine basis.  So, I indulge one of my other cravings that cold weather causes – cooking.  Specifically, comfort food.

Everyone has their own definition of what “comfort food” is, I think.  Mine is usually something that’s served hot, has plenty of carbs, fills you up, and maybe even makes you a little sleepy.   I don’t think, however, that is has to be unhealthy (though a massive serving of mac ‘n cheese can sometimes really improve a day).  One of my favorite meals during the winter is a big bowl of chili or soup, and a hunk of homemade bread with roasted garlic spread on it.  If I’m feeling extra virtuous, I’ll throw in a nice salad, too.

So I thought I’d share some recipes for my kind of comfort food.  Here’s the bonus: the main dish can be made in a slow cooker.

First, the roasted garlic.  You may not believe me, but it is super-easy, and very mild and creamy when it’s done.

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Take a couple heads of garlic, and cut off the tip so that the top of the cloves inside are all exposed – about ¼ to ½ an inch.  Then put each head of garlic in the middle of a small sheet of foil – one sheet per head.  Drizzle it with about a tablespoon of olive oil, and rub to coat.  Bundle the garlic up in the foil, place it in the oven, and leave it for 45 min. to an hour (it doesn’t need to be exact).  When it’s done, you can just use a butter knife or squeeze the garlic from its skin with your fingers.  It is really fantastic on pretty much any non-sweet bread.  Or crackers.  Or biscuits.  Or stale croutons.

image from ecurry.com

For the main dish, I highly recommend this chili.  It came from allrecipes.com, submitted by Danelle.  In my own version, I omit the celery, and will mix up the variety of beans I use based on what’s in the pantry.

SLOW COOKER CHILI II

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef3/4 cup diced onion3/4 cup diced celery3/4 cup diced green bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 (10.75 ounce) cans tomato puree

1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans with liquid

1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained

1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans with liquid

1/2 tablespoon chili powder1/2 teaspoon dried parsley1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon dried basil

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Directions:

1. Place the beef in a skillet over medium heat, and cook until evenly brown. Drain grease.
2. Place the beef in a slow cooker, and mix in onion, celery, green bell pepper, garlic, tomato puree, kidney beans, and cannellini beans. Season with chili powder, parsley, salt, basil, oregano, black pepper, and hot pepper sauce.
3. Cover, and cook 8 hours on low.
image from mcCormick.com
And for the bread… well, if you are lucky enough to own a breadmaker, drag that thing out, dust it off, and get something going (but remember you need a good 3 hours to get it done)!  If you lack a breadmaker – or bread flour and yeast – make a quick bread instead.  This blog has a terrific basic recipe that you can change up based on what you’ve got in the house and what kind of bread you’re looking for – sweet, savory or otherwise.  (Bonus tip: if you don’t happen to have buttermilk in the house, don’t worry!  You can fake it by using regular milk + lemon juice.  Put 1 TBS of lemon juice in a measuring cup; top off with milk until you’ve got 1 cup.  Let sit a couple minutes, and boom! There’s your buttermilk.)

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-buttermilk-quick-bread-with-10-different-variations-164621

image from www.thekitchn.com

So what’s YOUR favorite food for cold, gloomy days?  Please dish!

Our contest winner of the awesome flag shirt is Christine! Email carrie@miuscollection.com to claim your prize.
BUT….we are not done! Kelly and Joyce…you will receive 10% off your next order! Email millie@miuscollection.com for your offer code.
Stay tuned for more contests!

Upcycling Sweaters

31 Oct

At the beginning of every fall/winter season, when you pull out your warm clothing, you’re likely to run across a sweater or two that either has holes, no longer fits or works for your style, or you look at and say, “What was I thinking when I bought this??”.   So we’re going to talk about what options you’ve got for re-using these items of clothing.

First, there’s the option of giving it away.  This is the one I often exercise when I run across those sweaters that are still wearable but just don’t work for me anymore, for whatever reason that may be.

There’s also consignment.  If that sweater is still in great shape, and it’s a brand for which other people would willingly overlook a few previous wearings, then by all means… consign away! It’s certainly a good way to recycle, and to alleviate some of that guilt you feel when you look at that sweater and realize it’s just no longer going to work for you. A little cash back always helps, too.

If that sweater has a hole, so donation or consignment aren’t realistic – or you’ve got the urge to do something creative – you’ve still got lots of options. So check out the possibilities, be inspired, and have fun with your upcycling!

Decorative candle covers – no sewing required!  Who knew that fabric and flame could mix so well?

Photo from dailydanny blog: http://www.dailydanny.com/?p=2503

Another nice idea: a cuff for your coffee.  WAY cuter & more environmentally-friendly than cardboard.  Personally, I think you can cut off a reasonable chunk of arm, slip it over your cup, and it’s still cute as heck.  If you want to get really creative, sew (or just hot-glue) on something decorative, like a button or other token.  But if you’d like to create something that’s more likely to last, here’s a nice, simple tutorial.  It will even tell you how to felt wool to make it more durable.

http://www.newgreenmama.com/2010/10/felted-wool-sweater-coffee-cozy.html

Photo from http://www.newgreenmama.com

A really lovely idea I’m seeing all over the place is to use the sweater to cover a throw pillow.  Very cozy, and perfect for cold weather.  Here’s a post from another blog on the process.  Minimal sewing skills are required for this one, too.   No machine is even necessary if you use a simple whip-stitch.  http://www.centsationalgirl.com/2011/11/sweater-pillows/.

Photo from http://www.centsationalgirl.com

(For those that aren’t familiar with whip-stitch, take heart – it’s super-simple, and looks like this):

Photo from http://www.holiday-crafts-and-creations.com

There are literally thousands more sources of inspiration online, so just do a Google search for “upcycled sweater” and prepare to be delightfully overwhelmed by the possible projects!  And for those of you who can’t sew a stitch – or have no interest in getting crafty – you can do that same search, and just purchase some beautiful items from someone else who’s already done the upcycling for you.

Let’s Talk Closets

16 Oct

I can see my breath in the morning, I’m spotting UGGs® everywhere, and leaf piles are appearing in the street. It must be fall! So that means it’s time to get your closet ready for the upcoming winter.
If you’re like me, you don’t like having your sandals, shorts, and capris in the way when you’re trying to dress for sub-zero weather. If you’re lucky enough that you live somewhere that doesn’t get winter, you can just stop reading right here and go have a sandwich or something.

Obviously, you’re going to want to get the summer stuff out of your way. Hopefully you’ve got an attic, a basement or some other out-of-the-way place you can stash a few things for the season. I personally prefer to use a couple of large, sturdy plastic totes. They’re water-, mildew-, and pest-resistant, they stack nicely, and they are easy to label with a marker & some masking tape.

First, you want to make sure you CLEAN everything before you put it away. I mean, imagine if you stash that camisole for the winter while it’s still got some deodorant and a little sweat on there… ICK. So take a little time to throw in a load of laundry or two while you’re doing the rest of your closet re-set.

Second, see if anything – whether it’s getting put away or being put in the closet – needs any MENDING. Wait wait… don’t go get that sandwich, hear me out! I know that sounds like an awful, time-consuming task, but it will seriously take you a lot less time than you think. If you don’t have sewing basics at home, all you need to pick up is some basic colors of thread (based on what you wear most); a couple needles (thinner ones for more delicate fabric, thicker ones for heavier fabric); a pair of scissors; hem tape; and some good lighting. You can secure a button, mend a small hole, or fix a dropped hem in the time it takes for one TV show. If you aren’t familiar with hem tape… please get to know this fantastic product! All you need is a flat surface, and an iron, and suddenly you’re Martha Stewart®. It is amazing stuff for fixing hems, cuffs, etc. instead of using needle & thread. There are tons of helpful tutorials online if you don’t know your way around a needle or thread tape. It’s really not that hard, I promise.

Third – how about we do a little ORGANIZATION while we’re on this kick? I like to keep my closet organized by color. Some people like to do it by garment type. Whatever works best for your style of dressing – and that you think you might actually maintain. I know for a lot of people, room can be a big issue in a closet… there never seems to be enough. If that’s the case, consider investing in some closet organization products. Do some research online (there are about a gazillion blogs on home org, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding some tips), and try to figure out what products might help your personal situation the most. Shelf dividers, flat hangers, and shoe shelving have all been sanity-savers for me.

Lastly – make sure you’ve got the BASICS for a good wardrobe, and it will make dressing easier all season long. You don’t need to invest a ton of money – you just need to buy things that work together in multiple ways. There’s a certain website I heard about (hint: it’s miuscollection.com!) where you can pick up a few beautiful, flexible pieces to work into a stylish wardrobe. Assess what you have, analyze outfits you love (Pinterest is phenomenal for this exercise), and shop accordingly. Take your time to collect some classic pieces, and you’ll be on your way to a more fulfilling closet. Happy shopping!

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