MUST-READ BOOKS

There's nothing better than a great book to keep your mind sharp and your holiday cocktail party conversation interesting. Here are the best of this season's must-reads according to Park Road Books owners Sally Brewster and Frazer Dobson.

Sally and Frazer revealed this list of their favorite new books during a Holiday Books event presented by Friends of the Library at Queens University of Charlotte. Have fun picking out a few that either you, or someone on your gift list, would enjoy. All are available at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road at Park Road Shopping Center. Details: 704-525-9239; www.parkroadbooks.com

Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, $35: A lavishly illustrated book of weird places you can travel to including two in North Carolina. "This is a fantastic gift for a travel buff," Frazer says. 

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer, $26: "A group of librarians try to save precious Arabic texts while staying one step ahead of Al Qaeda," Sally says. 

Bark the Herald Angels Sing by Peter Thorpe, $16.95: "A book of photos by an English photographer who has taken pictures of his dogs for his Christmas cards for the past 20 years," Sally says. "It makes you want to grab your camera and dress up your dog or cat," Sally says. 

The Christmas Boot by Lisa Wheeler, $17.99: "A beautifully illustrated book for children about a poor woman who finds a magical boot," Sally says.

Dancers After Dark by Jordan Matter, $19.95: "A series of artistic photos of naked dancers taken in locales around the world including New York City, Paris and Stockholm," Frazer says. "It's human anatomy at its finest."

Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard, $40: "A lot of storytelling and the recipes are organized by the main ingredient (Ground Corn, Blueberries, Oysters)," Frazer says. 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling, $24.99: "An original screenplay of the movie," Frazer says. "It's set in New York in 1926." 

Frozen by Matthew Reinhart, $40: "A spectacular pop-up version of the movie from the finest paper engineers in the world," Frazer says. 

General Vs. The President by J.W. Brands, $30: "A thrilling book that explores the relationship between Truman and MacArthur," Sally says. 

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard, $30: "Candice Millard writes the best narrative nonfiction," Sally says. 

Indestructible by John R. Bruning, $28. "This is a page turner," Sally says. "It's a true story and the war book of the season. It shows how one person can make a big difference." 

In The Company of Women by Grace Bonney, $35: "Profiles of 100 exceptional women from all walks of life and all over the country," Sally says. "This is a great inspirational Christmas gift."

Jungle by Kan Kainen, $25.95: "A book for all ages, it has photos and text that describe all the creatures found in the jungles of South America and Africa," Frazer says. 

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, $28: "A novel based on actual events about the battle between Edison, Westinghouse and others to electrify America," Sally says. "It's told through the eyes of a young lawyer. It's a great thriller but you learn a lot."

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on Writing by Pat Conroy, $25: "A collection of essays articles and interviews that's Conroy's last book," Sally says. "Don't miss the absolutely hilarious essay he wrote about getting fit."

Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James, $24: "A collection of four of her short stories that haven't been published before," Sally says. 

Refuge by Anne Booth, $15.99: "A children's book that's a different telling of the Nativity story from the point of view of the donkey," Sally says. "And $1 from the purchase of each book goes to the United Nations Refugee Agency fund."

Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart, $18.99: "A young adult story about a boy who finds a pocket watch that can make him invisible and how he and his friends try to make the world a better place," Sally says. 

Speaking American by Josh Katz, $25: "Do you say bucket, or pail? Soda, or pop? This is a fascinating look at regional dialects," Frazer says. 

Stowaway in a Sleigh by C. Roger Mader, $17.99: "A children's book about a kitty cat that ends up in Santa's sleigh," Sally says. 

Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest by Beth Macy, $28: "Macy is such a chronicler of the South," Sally says. "This is a true story that takes place in 1899 in Truevine, Virginia, about two albino twin brothers born into a sharecropper's family and what happens to them," Sally says. 

The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chung, $26: "An entertaining story about an immigrant who wants to take his family back to China but his wife and children have become used to living in America," Sally says. "It's well written and laugh-out-loud funny." 

 

 

PASS THE PULSES, PLEASE

 Photo credit: www.pexels.com. 

Photo credit: www.pexels.com. 

The year is almost over and we had no idea that the United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. In fact, we didn't even know what pulses were. But an article in a recent issue of Dr. Oz: The Good Life magazine explained it all: Pulses are beans. The word is common in Europe and Canada but is just catching on in America.

Beans, uh, we mean pulses, deserve all the attention. Just a half-cup serving has as much protein as three eggs and almost a day's worth of fiber plus zinc, iron and B vitamins. The article suggests several ways to pack some pulses into your diet. You can puree them and spread them on sandwiches, turn them into hummus or toss them in salads or soups.

The most unusual suggestion is to mix them into your next batch of brownies. We haven't tried this yet but it does sound intriguing. Use a 15-ounce can of black beans in place of a cup of the recipe's flour and it's supposed to make the brownies extra moist (and extra nutritious) without sacrificing the taste. 

IN A PICKLE

 Kruegermann Naturally Fermented Pickles, $6.95 at Walmart. 

Kruegermann Naturally Fermented Pickles, $6.95 at Walmart. 

For once, it's good to find yourself in a pickle. But only if it's a naturally fermented pickle - not a pickle that's been brined in vinegar. Naturally fermented pickles contain lactobacillus, a good bacteria that promotes healthy digestion.

 A Study in the British Journal of Nutrition also claim naturally fermented foods fight bloat - and just in time for holiday binge season - they can help prevent fat storage after eating too much.

If you're not a fan of pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi (a traditional Korean side dish of fermented vegetables) are other options for adding lactobacillus to your diet.

 

A HEALTHY DIP

 Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip

Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip

Can a dip taste decadent but actually be good for you? Yes, thanks to a recipe for Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip from the food blog Cooking LSL We modified it slightly and served it at a recent gathering and it was a hit. 

It's so easy. Here are the details: 

In an 8-inch square dish, spread out a layer of hummus, followed by layers of chopped cucumbers, chopped Kalamata olives, chopped roasted red peppers, chopped tomatoes, diced onions and top it with crumbled feta cheese. Serve with pita chips. 

After we made it, we realized we left out the chopped tomatoes, so ours was actually a Mediterranean Six Layer Dip! But it was still delicious. This is a winning appetizer we'll be serving again and again. 

TWO TIPS FOR A GOOD NIGHT, AND A GOOD MORNING

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An article in the September issue of Redbook magazine has two timely tips: one will help you get enough sleep at night; the other will help you start your new day off right.

Getting enough sleep is key to maintaining excellent health. For those who lose track of time and stay up too late, set an alarm on your iPhone or clock just as you would in the morning to wake yourself up. When the alarm goes off, that's your signal to head to bed.  

Then in the morning, instead of jumping out of bed right away, take a moment to think about how you feel. Follow that up by indulging in a stretch while you're still in bed. The experts interviewed in the article say that taking a minute to focus on your body first thing in the morning helps you set a more mindful tone for the rest of your day.  

 

FIVE SUPERFOODS YOU SHOULD BE EATING

A recent article in the British publication the Daily Mail took research from scientists at Harvard Medical School and other expert sources to come up with a list of the five superfoods that are the healthiest for women to eat as they age. The researchers advised that you should have an overall healthy diet filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables, but these five foods seem to be especially beneficial:

Oranges. One of the most popular fruits in the world, they're an excellent source of Vitamin C (containing up to 93 percent of the daily requirement), fiber, folate and B1 along with other nutrients including copper, potassium and calcium.  

Apples. You don't have to eat one every day as long as you're incorporating other fruits into your diet, but 2-3 times a week is ideal. They have phytonutrients that help regulate blood sugar and they have a positive influence on bacteria in the digestive tract. 

Pears. To get the most benefits, consume both the skin and the flesh. The have around 22 percent of the daily fiber requirement and anti-inflammatory flavonoids.

Walnuts. Packed with nutrients and more protective antioxidants than other nuts, they can help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer's along with lowering cholesterol and easing stress levels. Some studies suggest that eating just six walnuts a week can help aging bodies become less frail.

Romaine Lettuce. It maximizes the health benefits of any salad because it's the most nutrient-dense. It's packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. 

 

 

WAIT! DON'T THROW AWAY THAT TEA BAG!

After making hot tea or iced tea, don't throw away those those damp tea bags right away. Instead, keep a resealable plastic bag in the freezer and pop them inside to use later. Just be sure to cut off the string first. Our favorite brand is Tazo, especially the Tazo Zen green tea with lemongrass and spearrmint.

Here are three ways frozen tea bags come in handy:

1. Place one under (not over) each eye for a couple of minutes. According to an article in Good Housekeeping magazine, it's the coldness and the tea's tannins that rapidly reduce inflammation and swelling. A word of caution: Do not to let the tea bag touch your eye or it could cause irritation. 

2. Did a mosquito, or other bug, feast on you? Pull out a frozen tea bag and use it as a cold compress. According to Dr. Oz The Good Life magazine, it's the antioxidants in the tea that help soothe a bug bite.

3. Too much sun and fun can give you a summer headache. When that happens, lie down and place two bags on your forehead or a bag on each temple. Just taking the time to relax and cool down will have you back to your normally sunny self.

A SMART SUMMER SNACK

Here's a healthy - and refreshing - way to snack smarter during the summer: Replace your favorite cracker with a slice of cucumber. Almost any savory topping that works on a cracker tastes just as delicious on a slice of cucumber. Plus, a cucumber slice has valuable nutrients and hydrating properties without the calories of a cracker.

Our favorite example? Cut a cucumber into slices that are at least 1/4-inch thick. (Whether you peel it or not first depends on your personal taste - some people find the skin bitter - but leaving it on gives you a boost of fiber, If you leave the skin on, be sure to wash it well.) 

Then take your favorite pimento cheese (for a store-bought version, we love Palmetto Cheese) and spread it on top. If you want to make it prettier, use a pastry bag or plastic bag with the tip cut off to pipe the pimento cheese on top. 

SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT COMMUNITY TABLE BISTRO

 At the media preview for Goodwill's new Community Table Bistro, visitors were given jars of strawberry jam that said "spread the word." The bistro opens June 23.

At the media preview for Goodwill's new Community Table Bistro, visitors were given jars of strawberry jam that said "spread the word." The bistro opens June 23.

Having access to healthy meals that are delicious and affordable is a wonderful thing. That idea is a main ingredient in Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont's new Community Table Bistro. It's scheduled to open June 23 at Goodwill's Opportunity Campus at 5301 Wilkinson Boulevard. 

Andrew King, the new director of food service, is one of Charlotte's most beloved former caterers who has a plate full of business experience including the famous High Cotton Catering. His goal is to create a menu and atmosphere that will lure people from all over Charlotte while also giving the west side neighbors an option for healthy, low-priced meals.

"Almost everything is made from scratch and the most expensive thing on the menu is $7.99," King said during a recent media preview. The bistro will be open for breakfast and lunch weekdays only from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Among the signature breakfast items are the Morning Burrito (a whole wheat tortilla with scrambled egg, grated pepper jack cheese, and fresh housemade salsa), a Breakfast Salad with Coffee Vinaigrette (spinach, romaine or small local lettuces , red onion, oven roasted tomatoes, fried egg and candied bacon) and Grilled Banana & French Toast Panini.

A variety of sandwiches, salads, soups and sides are on the menu at lunch along with daily specials. The specials are Chicken & Dumplings (Monday), Pulled Pork BBQ (Tuesday), Asian Salmon Patties (Wednesday), Baked Chicken & Dressing (Thursday) and Chicken Pot Pie (Friday). And three desserts will be offered daily. 

The cherry on top of all this is that the bistro will also provide restaurant services training for those helped by Goodwill. 

 

 

A HEALTHY INDULGENCE

 Modern Muffin founder Claire Putterman. 

Modern Muffin founder Claire Putterman. 

Charlotte-based Modern Muffin claims to make the city's best muffins. After tasting the Orange Pineapple Poppy Seed variety, we're starting to agree. It was "bursting with real fruits," just as it claimed on the box of four we purchased at Harris Teeter. And we like that the company describes its products as "a healthful indulgence." That's truth in advertising because at around 300 calories each, they are a treat. But they're also a healthier alternative to the usual muffin (Modern Muffin claims its products have 40 percent less sugar and calories than most others on the market).

We also like that each muffin is individually wrapped to make sure it stays at its peak flavor. Because the muffins are made with fresh ingredients, be sure to heed the expiration date. We recommend freezing the ones you don't plan to eat within a few days.

The baker behind the brand is Claire Putterman, a former French teacher at Providence Day School who founded the business in 2011. She perfected her recipes after years of trying to incorporate fruits into healthy food her children would eat when they were younger. Now her children are grown and work for her company. 

There are eight Modern Muffin varieties, but some are seasonal, including Strawberry Berry, which is available now. They're sold at Whole Foods stores in North Carolina and at 34 Harris Teeter stores in Charlotte. 704-542-8369; www.modernmuffin.com

 

 

A REFRESHING MORNING HABIT

Drinking a glass of water shortly after waking is a great way to rehydrate your body since you haven't had fluids for hours. To add to the taste, and the health benefits, squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. Rich in Vitamin C and a good source of the important mineral potassium, lemons also have other health bonuses including aiding digestion. 

The one drawback is that lemon juice can harm the enamel on your teeth if you consume too much over a long period of time. But how much is too much? We turned to Charlotte Dentistry for advice. The dentists there recommended limiting it to one lemon wedge per 8-ounce glass of water. 

Here's how to get the perfect lemon wedges: Wash the lemon, slice it down the center lengthwise and remove any seeds. Take each half and slice it lengthwise at least once or twice until you have the size of wedge you prefer, then squeeze the juice into the water. If you like to dunk the whole wedge in the water after squeezing the juice, make sure you rinsed the rind really well. 

PUT SOME PEP IN YOUR STEP

 Athletic-inspired shoes from Johnston & Murphy at SouthPark Mall. 

Athletic-inspired shoes from Johnston & Murphy at SouthPark Mall. 

Spring in Charlotte is a beautiful thing to behold. But some days it seems best to view the gorgeous weather while you’re inside looking out thanks to all the pollen.

Allergies are just one of the reasons people turn to exercising indoors this time of year. If you want to put some pep in your step no matter what the weather is like outside, there’s a free indoor place to exercise that’s definitely not your average gym: SouthPark Mall.

Starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, people begin showing up to walk the mall’s corridors at their own pace in the quiet time before all the stores open at 10 a.m. On Sundays, the hours switch to 8 a.m. before the stores open at 12:30 p.m.

Nicole Kennon, Director of Marketing and Business Development for SouthPark Mall, told us that usually around 30 mall walkers turn up in the mornings.  “It’s open to anyone, but what we find is that it’s mainly seniors and young mothers with strollers,” she said. “We see an influx this time of year and when it rains."

Wearing casual clothes and sneakers, the walkers arrive alone or in small groups. All of them definitely have the chance to meet their daily exercise quota since the mall is the largest in the Carolinas.

The only advice Kennon has for newbies is to remember that since all the stores are closed the only way to get in is through one of the mall’s main entrances. Security guards start opening the entrance to the front of the mall that faces Sharon Road first then work their way around to the other main entrances.

Kennon has gotten to know some of the regular walkers over the years since she sees them in the mornings on the way to her office. “It’s fun to see how much they enjoy it and how some really use it as a time to socialize” she said. “Some of them time it so after they’ve finished walking they can stay and have coffee or they’ll shop and have an early lunch."

A BERRY GOOD IDEA

Fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. We just can't get enough of these super fruits that are super good for you. They're loaded not with just antioxidants, but a special type of antioxidant called polyphenols that respected medical groups including the American Cancer Society say can have major health benefits. 

Here at The O Report, we love berries so much that we go a little crazy and buy too many at a time. When we have an abundance of berries that need to be eaten quickly or they'll go bad, we have a delicious solution that also doubles as breakfast or a dessert. 

Take whichever type of berry you have on hand that are nearing their expiration date, throw them in a bowl, then take a fork and mash them all together. Take your favorite sliced bread (we love Bays English Muffins) with or without butter, spread the berry mixture on top, and heat for 5 to 10 minutes. We think it's better than any jam or jelly you can buy, and it will give you loads of energy while also making you feel as if you've just eaten a decadent treat. 

If you're trying to cut back on your bread intake, the mashed berries are also delicious with plain or frozen yogurt. 

YOU'RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT

A survey in the March issue of Redbook magazine polled 1,000 women on how they feel about getting older. The answers to the survey's questions surprised the editors, but not us.

60% said they've come to appreciate a "flaw" they used to obsess over, such as being really tall.

35% said they would spend more than $200 on an anti-aging product, but only if it was guaranteed to work.

68% agreed that the older you get, the less you care about what people think of you.

77% have become more happy as they've aged.

41% say they're in favor of dyeing their grays away forever.

The things that make them feel young are: Getting in a solid workout (26%), laughing or smiling (24%), getting a full night's sleep (23%), and having a romantic interlude with their partner (20%).

 

MODERN GYM CLOTHES

Need some motivation to get to the gym before spring gets here? American designer Derek Lam's collaboration with the athleisure brand Athleta will help you feel sporty and stylish. The Derek Lam 10C + Athleta collection is fit to wear inside or outside the gym. Some pieces are great to layer over gym clothes, others you can work out in. All of them have Lam's modern approach that will make you want to run errands after class just to show off. Here are a few of our favorites:

Top row, from left: Derek Lam 717 sneaker by New Balance, $80. Sleek leather jacket (in black or dove), $498. Crosswalk sweater in dove, $158. Stripe fluid dress in black and estate blue, $148.

Bottom row, from left: Crosswalk cardigan sweater, $168. Parallel zip tight in estate blue and blazing yellow (also, gray and white, and black and white), $98.



PEP TALK

If you've watched one of the TED Talks online, you know how interesting the short (less than 18 minutes) videos can be. Thousands of topics presented by experts from around the globe are covered in the videos. 

In the March issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life, a magazine devoted to healthy living, there's a list of six TED Talks videos the magazine deems especially inspiring for those who yearn to be more joyful, kind, resilient and both passionate and compassionate. Click on the speaker's name below to view their talk. 

1. Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford University psychologist, explains a study that illustrates the upside of tense times. 

2. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, shares his secret to living joyfully.

3. Shawn Achor, a researcher in positive psychology, talks about the business advantage of being happy.

4. Joseph Kim, a refugee from North Korea, discusses how even a small act of kindness can change someone's life.

5. Esther Perel, a relationship therapist, shares how happy couples keep the passion flowing in a long-term relationship.

6. Susan Cain, a negotiation expert, talks about the importance of alone time.

 

THE BEST GREEN BEANS

If you read Consumer Reports magazine, you may go organic. At least when it comes to string beans. The magazine compared 28 fresh vegetables and found that conventionally grown string beans had the highest pesticide risk, by far. The article stated that a serving of green string beans grown in the U.S. was 200 times riskier to eat than a serving of U.S. grown broccoli. To reduce your exposure to pesticides, the magazine recommends buying only organic string beans.

THE ART OF BOOSTING YOUR BRAIN POWER

Can playing or listening to classical music make you smarter? Yes, according to a recent study from the University of Helsinki published in the journal Scientific Reports. It details experiments by researchers who used brain scans to reveal playing or listening to classical music can give the brain a boost at any age. The conclusion was that music stimulates the genes involved with learning and memory, plus it causes the body to release the happy brain chemical dopamine.

Not to burst the champagne bubbles of the scientists who surely celebrated the study’s publication, but Opera Carolina Maestro James Meena thinks they’re a little late to the party. “It’s poppycock,” he said. “Artists have known this for centuries.”

On the eve of Opera Carolina’s production of Romeo & Juliet (Jan. 24, 28 and 30 at Belk Theater; www.operacarolina.org), Meena elaborated on his thoughts with the passion, intelligence and musical knowledge he’ll bring to the podium when he conducts the performances.

His words stimulated our brains so much, we decided to divide them into two Acts, plus an Intermission. And don’t miss the finale.

ACT I
“Scientists have been attempting to quantify the effect of classical music on the brain for decades, which I find comical,” he said. “Before science became our deity, we understood the natural world through empirical evidence, essentially what worked and what did not work.  We knew empirically that learning in music was part of a complete individual. That it, like learning math and science, was part of a complete education, not separate from but an equal partner in developing well-educated people. So, science is now quantifying what human societies have known for centuries, which I find amusingly pathetic.”

INTERMISSION

ACT II
“This is to me a matter of faith, not in a religion but faith in human instinct,” Meena continued. “We now believe that if we cannot measure, compare and quantify something it has no value. Just as one can observe a sunset and be moved by its magnificence without “quantifying” the refraction of sunlight, so too we can judge that one who is trained in the discipline of music is well-equipped to use that training in other disciplines.”

FINALE
Here are Meena’s top three picks for arias everyone should know:

  1. Nessun Dorma by Puccini from Turandot. “Not sung by Michael Bolton or Andrea Bocelli but by a (trained opera) singer like Franco Corelli or Luciano Pavarotti,” he said. For video of Pavarotti performing the aria in 1994, go here.
  2. Casta Diva by Vincenzo Bellini as sung by Maria Callas. (To see a video of Callas performing the aria in Paris in 1958, go here.
  3. Wintersturme from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner as sung by Lauritz Melchior. For an audio recording of Melchior performing the aria, go here.

Bravo, Maestro!