Saturday, February 28, 2015

Photos Of School Lunches From Around The World Will Make American Kids Want To Study Abroad

More than one-third of kids in America are obese or overweight

In 2013, the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools, served 5.1 billion lunches, Bloomberg reportsThe quality of these lunches must somehow correlate to the health of America's youth, considering more than 32 million children are served NSLP every day.
Parents could model better eating habits and stock their crispers with fresh fruit and vegetables, but a viable starter solution might begin at lunchtime. Sweetgreena healthy quick-serve restaurant that values local and organic ingredients, clarified disparity between American student lunches and those of other countries by photographing typical school lunches from around the world. The visuals are eye-opening.
A representative for the company told The Huffington Post that to create these mock meals, Sweetgreen evaluated different government standards for school lunch programs and compared the data to real photos from students who had posted on several social media platforms. Because school lunches can vary by region, it's important to note that the images below aren't exact representations of a country's school lunch, but offer a resemblance.
The U.S. government acknowledges that our nation's children should not go hungry, but there's less of an emphasis on what exactly our children are being fed. With the great risks associated with being overweight and news that diet may be just as important to mental health as it is to physical health, the state of students' nutrition should be all it takes to improve the quality of the lunch tray -- think fewer chicken nuggets and more produce. But America's got some work to do.
That's not to say the country is apathetic: U.S. government sectors are making strides to improve the current condition of the food we're serving to our youth. For example, by 2013, all 1,300 of New York City's public elementary schools were equipped with a fresh salad bar in their cafeterias (and they'll be getting snazzier in the near future)...
Fried "popcorn" chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, fruit cup and a chocolate chip cookie.
Comparatively, countries have got us beat when it comes to school lunches, nourishing their students with fresher, greener and more nutrient-rich foods that are very much brain foods. There's less fried stuff, less brown mush (see above).
Take a look at the photos of school lunches served around the globe, originally posted on Sweetgreen's Tumblr. Which lunch do you want your child to be eating at school?
Pork with mixed veggies, black beans and rice, salad, bread and baked plantains.
Local fish on a bed of arugula, pasta with tomato sauce, caprese salad, baguette and some grapes.

Pea soup, beet salad, carrot salad, bread and pannakkau (dessert pancake) with fresh berries.

Fish soup, tofu over rice, kimchi and fresh veggies
Steak, carrots, green beans, cheese and fresh fruit.
Baked chicken over orzo, stuffed grape leaves, tomato and cucumber salad, fresh oranges, and Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds.

Mashed potatoes with sausage, borscht, cabbage and syrniki (a dessert pancake).
Sautéed shrimp over brown rice and vegetables, gazpacho, fresh peppers, bread and an orange.

First lady Michelle Obama is vocal and active about her passion for standardizing healthy meals and snacks for children. And in 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, whichrequires child nutrition programs to improve and help schools provide healthier meals, including more fruits and vegetables.

Source: HuffingtonPost Taste: Photos Of School Lunches From Around The World Will Make American Kids Want To Study Abroad

Saturday, February 21, 2015

8 Lessons from the Richest Man in Babylon (On Wealth Building)

In 1926, George Samuel Clason published a series of pamphlets written in parables that was set in the ancient city of Babylon. The book became known as The Richest Man in Babylon and has become a classic in financial literature. I first encountered this little book when I graduated college and was blown away by the simplicity of the story and by the tried-and-true lessons it presented for accumulating wealth.
The story sprang from the characters Bansir who was a chariot builder and Kobbi who was a musician. The two had become the best at their craft but yet had no money and were poor. They went out to seek the advice of their childhood friend Arkad who in contrast had grown very rich and amassed fortunes.

1. Pay Ourselves First 
(“Start thy purse to fattening.”)

One of the greatest lesson the book has taught is this first lesson. When Bansir and Kobbi seeked the advice of their very wealthy friend Arkad he tells them a story. Arkad was once a poor scribe who made a deal with a rich man to find out the secret to wealth in exchange for his work on a clay inscription. The rich man gave him a very valuable advice 

I found the road to wealth,” he said, “When I decided that a part of all I earned was mine to keep. And so will you.” 

Although this is a very subtle message it is very powerful in accumulating wealth. We cannot accumulate wealth if we do not save what we earned. We can do that by paying ourselves first and foremost before we spend any of the money we have earned.

Did you ever wonder why the U.S. government takes taxes on our wages before we can get to it? The U.S. government (IRS) knows this law well. They pay themselves first with our money. This is why we must be vigilant to pay ourselves first with every money we earn. The book recommends that we pay ourselves 10% of all that we earn. For every dollar that we earn, 10 cents should go to pay the person you see in the mirror every morning. You may call it the “Me Tax” if you like. The difference between rich financially stable people versus poor broke people is knowing this first rule. Wealthy people pay themselves first and poor people do not. Before we start paying others or start spending the money we earn we need to pay ourselves first. 

“If you have not acquired more than a bare 
existence in the years since we were youths, 
it is because you either have failed to learn 
the laws that govern the building of wealth, 
or else you do not observe them.”

"A part of all you earn is yours to keep. 
It should be not less than a tenth 
no matter how little you earn. 
It can be as much more as you can afford. "
“Pay yourself first”

2. Live below our means. (“Control thy expenditures”)

If we have paid ourselves first at least 10% of what we earn that leaves us with 90% or less of our income to live on. Controlling our expenditures enable us to make good use of the money we have left over after we have paid ourselves. There have been many advice on frugality over the years but I think it will not solve the problem for the majority of us until we truly define what money is to us and also define the difference of need vs. want. I wrote about this on the guide to becoming smart about money.

“Budget your expenses so that you may have money 
to pay for your necessities, to pay for your enjoyments 
and to gratify your worthwhile desires 
without spending more than nine-tenths of your earnings.”

The best advice to becoming wealthy is to keep expenditures down even when our earning power increases. Many of us have the habit of spending more as we earn more and it’s not unusual to see someone splurging and suddenly their expenses go up as they start earning more. For example, if we suddenly have a $2,000 – $3,000 raise it is best to maintain our current expense level as if the raise never happened. Instead we can tuck that extra money away into our savings or investment. Controlling expenditures will mean living below our means. When we live below our means we accumulate wealth faster. We can think of it in this way, our earning power is our ‘offense’ and controlling our expenditures is our greatest ‘defense’.

3. Make our money work for us 
(“Make thy gold multiply”)

I believe this lesson is about investing our money and letting it work for us. I personally believe that each and every one of us should think about investing only after we have built our savings and an Emergency Fund. After we have accumulated 6-8 months worth of expenses in our Emergency Fund it is only then that we should consider about investing our money on other investment vehicles. Our Emergency Fund is a security blanket especially during this time of economic downturns.

” …put each coin to work so that it may reproduce its kind even as the flocks of the field and help bring to you more income, a stream of wealth that will flow constantly into your purse.”

If everything else is good and gravy, making our money work for us is a great way to accumulate wealth. There are many investment vehicles we can tackle but the best thing we should all be aware of is that we should never invest in anything we do not completely understand. Investing our money will mean becoming knowledgeable about what we are investing in as well as the repercussions if the investment does not pan out as well as our potential exit strategies when we are ready to take our money out. There are many ways we can invest our money such as stock markets, real estate, businesses, and so on. We must do our diligent effort to find great investments so we ensure our money will multiply and work for us.
We should also invest our money to ensure we have a steady and safe income while taking advantage of compounding interest we receive from our investments. Time is our biggest ally and as our investment accumulate interest and the money we get from the interest earns interest and so on this is how we can make our gold multiply.

4. Insurance protects our wealth. (“Guard they treasures from loss.”)

Have you ever had a car accident? I have. I was in an intersection when a car on the left passed a red light and hit my car head on. Thankfully we both did not get hurt. And thankfully we both had insurance. Insurance helps safeguard our wealth by absorbing potential loss and mitigating our financial situation. There are many insurance we can buy and we should do our research on which one and how much we need. A renter’s insurance or a homeowner’s insurance helps protect our homes. Another one is longterm insurance which become suitable to help us as we grow older and help protect us from medical expenses and long-term care.
We should all consider buying insurance now in case we need it if something happens. This is a proactive approach and one we should take and not forget. The idea is that we will never have to use the insurance but in case something does happen we are protected financially from the loss it would have caused.

5. Our home is our 
biggest expense. 
(“Make of they dwelling a profitable investment”)

Our homes are potentially the biggest expense we have to tackle. Many of us do not own a home and instead rent one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that but I believe the lesson we can learn from this one is that we should manage our biggest expense smartly. Many of us have decided to take on a huge mortgage to buy our home and after the real estate bust many were left with homes that lost their value and in many cases were underwater. I believe the lesson we can learn from that was that we needed to ‘live below our means’ and buy or rent a home we can comfortably afford.

6. Have a retirement plan. (“Insure a future income.”)

A 25 year old earning an annual salary of $40,000 with an annual raise of say 3% will have earned an estimated $3 million if they retire by age 65. That’s about 40 years of working and earning. We should have a retirement plan if we want to retire comfortably. We can do that by setting aside money to be invested for our retirement. There are many retirement investment plans out there such as 401K, Traditional IRA, Roth, etc. The younger we can start putting money away for our retirement the better. When we start putting money away for retirement early we take advantage of a magical thing called ‘compounding interest‘.

Our net-worth does not equal our self-worth. We need to keep them separated.
Compounding interest is known as the eight wonder of the world. Benjamin Franklin knew of this knowledge. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin left 1,000 pounds (about $5,000 in today’s money) when he died to a trust. He bequeathed that trust and left it to his favorite cities Philadelphia and Boston with the provision that the money was to remain untouched for as long as 200 years. What was left in the trust after it grew was the amount of $2 million given to Philadelphia and a whooping $5 million for Boston. The lesson we can learn from this is to make time work for us when we plan for retirement by starting early. Time can be our retirement’s greatest friend.

“Remember that money is of a prolific generating nature. 
Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more.” 
– Benjamin Franklin

7. Invest in ourselves. (“Increase thy ability to earn.”)

The best way we can increase our earning is by investing in ourselves. We can do that by continually learning and striving to develop ourselves. We are now in a very exciting time: the Information Age where knowledge is literally within our fingertips thanks to the Internet. I really love the OpenCourseware idea where many schools including Ivy Leagues post their whole class courses for free. It’s a great way to learn on our own. Another one is Coursera which has many online courses for free from Finance to Philosophy, check it out.

“Those eager to grasp opportunities for their betterment, do attract the interest of the goddess of fortune. She is ever anxious to help those who please her. And who is she pleased with? She is pleased with those who do – rather than those who merely talk and engage in wishful thinking. Action will lead you forth to the successes you desire.”

There are many things we can learn on our own and should strive to make ourselves well-rounded. Whether we learn to eat more healthy, enhance our current work skills, or learn to make more money, we must take the initiative to invest in ourselves. When we become smarter and wiser our ability to earn more also increases.

The 5 Rules of Gold from the “Richest Man in Babylon”
Gold comes gladly and in increasing quantity to any man who will put by not less than one-tenth of his earnings to create an estate for his future and that of his family
Gold labours diligently and contentedly for the wiser owner who finds fir it profitable employment, multiplying even as the flocks of the field
Gold clings to the protection of the cautious owner who invests it under the advice of men wise in its handling
Gold slips away from the man who invests it in business or purposes with which he is not familiar or which are not approved by those skilled in its keep
Gold flees the man who would force it to impossible earnings or who follows the alluring advice of tricksters and schemers or who trusts it to his own inexperience and romantic desires in investment

8. Track Our Wealth. 
(Know where you are and where you are going.)

In order for us to know where we stand financially we need to face the whole truth of our current situation. We can do that by tracking our current wealth or lack thereof. This is a tough exercise but we must face the truth of how we earn and spend our money in order for us to know where we are going. There is a big difference between wealthy people and those who are not, wealthy people know their net worth while the poor do not pay particular attention nor care at all about tracking their assets and liabilities.

You cannot manage what you do not measure.” 
– Bill Hewitt (co-founder of Hewlett Packard)

We can track our wealth by creating a spreadsheet of all our months earnings and expenses and tallying the difference between the money we earn and how much we spend. When we do this work we are able to gauge how we are doing financially. We can also track our net worth by calculating our assets versus our liabilities (our debt). If you have not done this work yourself it is an eye-opening experience. In order for us to fully develop a plan to be wealthy we need to learn how to track our wealth so that we may know where we want to go and create a plan to get there.
I hope you learn and enjoy this article on 8 lessons of wealth building from “The Richest Man in Babylon”. Please feel free to share your advice and leave a comment for us.
Source: ;8 Lessons from the Richest Man in Babylon (On Wealth Building)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What Great Corporate Wellness Programs Do

In a recent HBR post, “In Defense of Corporate Wellness Programs,” doctor and entrepreneur Rajiv Kumar took on the doubters about the value of workplace wellness programs. But as designers and researchers who have spent the better part of two years creating a system of healthy living for a huge national populace, we think he didn’t take his defense far enough. Not only are wellness programs valuable for the organizations and their employees, as his data states, they are our biggest hope for fixing a national health crisis.

“Companies are a microcosm of society and an important and unleveraged setting for health improvement and risk reduction,”

says Dr. Ron Goetzel, a leading expert in the field of health and productivity management. With 150 million Americans going to work every day, corporate America is not only in the best position to change our nation’s health, but has a responsibility to do so.
As part of a project with the Department of Defense, we recently researched over 20 award-winning and recognized workplace wellness systems, at companies such as Johnson & Johnson, L.L. Bean, and Safeway. We saw these leading organizations owning the responsibility to change how people interact with healthcare, in a way that government or healthcare organizations have been unable to do.
The organizations with the greatest success are managing to shift people’s relationship with health from one where health is something thought about and “practiced” annually at the doctor’s office, to one where health is practiced daily through small lifestyle habits. The more proactive stance toward health they have established feeds off of itself and enhances employee lives, even while reducing future costs. For the organizations in our study, this translates into average annual health care cost increases of 1 to 2 percent compared to the 7 percent national average.

How have they done this? Here are three approaches we discovered that appear to be key

Put it in Surround Sound

The best wellness programs bring the built environment, company policies, and leadership messaging under a single mission of wellness. When USAA’s Enterprise Medical Director Dr. Peter Wald joined the organization 12 years ago, he found many discrete resources for wellness — mini gyms, cafes, and health experts – already in place. Once he tied them under the mission of prevention, putting health in “surround sound,” as he likes to say, the program took hold within the organization. Safeway redefined its core business from “a grocery company with a wellness program,” to “a wellness company that happens to sell groceries,” and the program took off. The CEO, along with the leadership team, ensures that health and wellness are kept top of mind, and leaders work hard to tie all wellness activities back to a broader company strategy. Safeway made large capital investments in a state-of-the-art fitness center, a preventative-care health center, and health-focused cafeterias to support the organizational mission. Creating a seamless wellness experience has resulted in participation rates of over 80 percent.

Keep it Personal

When health is made personal and put in real-life terms, people discover the value that health can hold in their lives — and that provides the strong call to action. Johnson & Johnson, which has one of the longest-standing wellness programs in the country, understands that people don’t strive to get healthy because it’s the right thing to do in some abstract sense. “Health is usually a means to an end,” says Adam Glauberg, Director of Global Health Services at Johnson & Johnson. The individual wants to be there for family, to get off diabetes medication, to perform better at work. If the company can tap into those personal motivations, it can better communicate the value of health. J&J uses a platform called “Energy for Performance in Life,” a training program designed by the Human Performance Institute division of Wellness & Prevention, a Johnson & Johnson company, to teach employees how to maximize their energy to improve their performance both at work and at home. The program is designed to be less clinical and more lifestyle-oriented than many health-oriented interventions. Making the program more relevant to everyday life dramatically increased the number of people engaging in it; it has now reached 90 percent employee participation.

Make it a Collective Effort

Wellness needs to be done with employees, not to them, or the effects won’t last. When employees feel a system is their own, engagement increases. The best programs actively design for “grassroots” partnership and harness the power of shared accountability to sustain engagement. L.L. Bean empowers its employees in different locations to design their own wellness initiatives relevant to their department’s needs. If a worksite is able to get at least 15 people interested in a new program, it receives funding and support from corporate to run that program locally. This kind of empowerment encourages many employees to become health and wellness representatives in their location — initiating activities such as Zumba and yoga and recruiting other employees to join in their collective wellness efforts. Building such community health champions helps spread the message and ensures the program’s reach. It also keeps people accountable and gives them the support they need at those inevitable derailing moments.
So let’s stop challenging the validity of comprehensive wellness programs, and instead celebrate our most wellness-oriented organizations for stepping up to a national health care crisis. Our society depends on their reach and influence to help move practice forward, and to reframe the conversation from a focus on sick care to a focus on well care. Already, these programs have made deeper inroads into large, intractable health care problems than anyone else – and with the Affordable Care Act making new provisions for wellness programs, there is hope for greater support and incentives. Let’s give workplace wellness programs the support that will keep them, and the people in them, healthy.
Source: Harvard Business Review,
MARCH 21, 2014

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine’s Day Recipes: 8 Yummy Ways to Show Your Love

If you’re looking for a festive way to cook up some Valentine’s Day fun, look no further! We came up with a list of easy recipes for the sweet people in your life. Whether you’re spending the night with the girls or looking to surprise that special someone, we’ve got the yummiest ways to show your love.

Valentine Heart Kebabs

  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 1 honeydew melon
  • 1/2 watermelon
  • 1 6-ounce container plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Heart-shaped cookie cutter
  1. Cut fruit into 1-inch-thick slices. Using a small, heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut hearts from melon slices. Poke a hole in each heart with a toothpick, going from top to bottom. Then, thread popsicle sticks.
  2. Stir together yogurt, orange juice concentrate and honey until well combined. Serve with hearts.
  3. Heart in a Basket: Egg and Toast

  • Slice of bread
  • 3 teaspoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter
  1. Using a 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, remove the center of a thick slice of bread and toast it. Melt 1 ½ teaspoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat.
  2. Place bread slice in skillet and cook until underside if lightly browned. Add another 1 ½ teaspoon butter and flip bread. Fit cookie cutter, coated with cooking spray, in bread’s cutout heart, and crack an egg into cutter.
  3. Cover skillet and cook until egg is set, 2-3 minutes. Use tongs to remove cutter. Serve with toasted heart for dipping into yolk.


  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) citrus-flavored vodka
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) raspberry-flavored vodka
  • 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) Chambord
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cranberry juice
  • Raspberries for decoration
  1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add vodkas, Chambord, lime juice, simple syrup and cranberry juice. Shake or stir until well chilled. Strain into a martini glass.
  2. Garnish with raspberries; serve.
  3. Chicken Noodle and Heart Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 large carrots, cut into hearts (see instructions below)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 stalks fresh thyme (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 large sage leaves (optional)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper (use your own discretion)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 large chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1/2 pound small pasta, such as farfalle or rotini, cooked for about 1 minute less than the recommended cooking time
  • Fresh parsley


  1. Peel the carrots. Then, use a paring knife to cut out a notch all the way down the length of a carrot. Remove the little wedge.
  2. Use a potato peeler to gently round off the pointed edges.
  3. Flip the carrot over, and shave off wide peels on each side of the bottom of the heart. Keep peeling until the two sides meet in a point.
  4. Cut it into slices. Repeat with the rest of the carrots.
  1. In a large pot set over medium-low heat, combine olive oil, carrot hearts, diced onion, celery, thyme (both kinds), bay leaf and sage. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes).
  2. Add in stock, 1 cup of water and vinegar. Add in cayenne pepper, and bring to a boil. After about 20 minutes, check the soup for flavor, and add more water, salt and pepper as necessary.
  3. In each individual bowl, place the desired amount of chicken and pasta, cover with a ladle of the soup and top with parsley.

Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

  • 3 packets unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 vanilla bean (seeded)
  1. Pour 1/2 cup of water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the packages of gelatin over the water. Give it a whisk. Let the mixture sit while you make the sugar syrup.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat; do not stir this mixture.
  3. Once the sugar dissolves, raise the heat to medium-high and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Put the gelatin mixture and the scraped vanilla seeds into the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment.
  5. Slowly pour the sugar mixture into the mixer while on low speed.
  6. Whip on high speed for 10 to 15 minutes. It will have gained volume and turned bright white. Add the vanilla.
  7. Dust the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan with powdered sugar. Be very generous with the sugar, or you will never get the marshmallow out of the pan.
  8. Pour the marshmallow out and smooth.
  9. Let the pan sit out, uncovered, overnight.
  10. The next day, cut out using a sharp knife, or cookie cutters.
  11. Dip the cookie cutters into powdered sugar so that you can get them out. Also, dust the marshmallows again (especially the sides) so they do not stick together.

Pizza Made With Love

  • 1 prepared pizza dough
  • Your favorite sauce
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and sliced
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Your favorite toppings
  1. Preheat oven and a pizza stone to 550 degrees Fahrenheit for at least one hour. Have dough in a lightly greased bowl covered with a towel while oven is preheating.
  2. Place pizza dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper.
  3. Stretch dough into a heart shape. Trim with a knife as needed.
  4. Spread sauce over dough and top with favorite cheese and toppings.
  5. Use a cookie cutter to punch a heart shape out of a red bell pepper.
  6. Transfer pizza and parchment (will help keep the heart shape) to the hot pizza stone.
  7. Cook 8-10 minutes or until crust is brown and cheese is bubbly.

Conversation Heart Cookies

Note: You’ll need to make the icing before the hearts.
Royal icing ingredients
  • 2 pounds confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 10 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 cup water
Royal icing directions
  1. Combine confectioner's sugar and meringue powder in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
  2. Mix on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. With mixer on low, gradually add water.
  3. Mix on low until smooth and the consistency of thick honey, about 5 minutes. Do not overbeat.
  4. If icing is too thick, add more water, a little at a time, beating to desired consistency. If icing is too thin, continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes more.
  5. Icing will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Stir with a rubber spatula before using.
Conversation hearts ingredients
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Royal icing
  • Gel-paste food coloring (such as leaf green, lemon yellow, peach, red, rose and violet)
Conversation hearts directions
  1. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy.
  3. With mixer running, add egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low.
  4. Add flour mixture gradually, beating until just incorporated.
  5. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into a disk and wrap each in plastic.
  6. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or overnight).
  7. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in top third and lower third.
  8. Let 1 disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes.
  9. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to just under 1/4-inch thickness, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking.
  10. Cut out cookies with a 2-inch heart cutter, and place them 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  11. Roll out scraps once and repeat.
  12. Repeat with remaining disk of dough.
  13. Freeze cookies until very firm, about 15 minutes.
  14. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through and switching from top to bottom, until edges turn golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes.
  15. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies will keep, covered, for up to 1 week.
  16. Divide royal icing into 1/2-cup portions in small bowls.
  17. Tint each with a different gel paste food coloring, starting with just a drop, mixing well, and adding more, drop by drop, to reach desired shade.
  18. Transfer 1 bowl of icing to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/8-inch round plain tip. Pipe the outline around edge of each cookie, then fill in with frosting. Poke air bubbles with a toothpick.
  19. Transfer decorated cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and let stand uncovered overnight until dry.
  20. Arrange stamp letters to create desired phrases. Fold a paper towel into quarters.
  21. Squeeze a small amount of red gel-paste food coloring onto a paper towel, and press stamp in coloring. (You may need to blot stamp a few times on a clean paper towel if coloring is too thick.)
  22. Lightly press stamp on top of icing in center of each cookie.
  23. Let stand until dry, about 30 minutes.
  24. Stamped cookies will keep, covered, for up to 3 days.

    Champagne Fondue

  • 1 1/4 cups champagne or sparkling wine
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes
  • 2 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch ground white pepper
  1. Toss the grated gruyere cheese with the flour and set aside. In a large saucepan, heat the champagne and the shallots until the mixture boils.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and add the cream cheese. Stir until the cream cheese is almost completely melted.
  3. Add approximately 1/2 cup of the Gruyere cheese and continue to stir until the Gruyere is almost melted. Continue adding the gruyere in 1/2 cup portions until all the gruyere has been added. The fondue may look lumpy, but it will become smooth as the cheeses melt.
  4. Add the Parmesan and the nutmeg and continue to stir. Increase the heat to high and continue to stir until the mixture slowly bubbles.
  5. Continue to cook until the fondue is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with the pepper and serve.
Source:By Caroline Finnegan in FOOD & NUTRITION: Posted Feb 12 2015 HerCampus