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7 Bizarre Cheeses From Around the World

19 Jan

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January, 20 is a National Cheese Lovers Day and a perfect excuse to talk about our favorite food, cheese!

There’s so much more to the amazing world of cheese than your typical grocery store can offer. There are a lot of great affordable cheeses out there, don’t get us wrong, but none of them made it to our list today. Thousands of artisan cheeses are produced through their own intricate and labor-intensive processes, creating complex varieties with unique flavors. Join us as we explore the most unusual (and expensive) cheeses around the world, because we’re going to give the term “indulgence” a whole new meaning!

Stilton – golden cheese from UK

Let’s start with a fancy cheese.  This delicacy, believe it or not, would be served to you as a dessert! The most expensive cheese in the UK, White Stilton Gold, is made by Clawson who is known as ‘The King” of the British cheeses. With only six creameries in the world, it’s no wonder the prices for this luxury “gold” is so high. Creamy and crumbly White Stilton Gold is made with real edible gold leaf and gold liqueur. It will cost you around $500 per pound and will certainly make an amazing gift for any cheese connoisseur you know. Rumor has it that celebrities and oil sheikhs are already in line for a sample of the golden cheese.

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Pule – donkey’s cheese from Serbia

Another option for those who don’t mind spending a fortune on good cheese is Pule. Even more expensive than Stilton (around $600 per pound), Pule is made outside Belgrade, Serbia and only available on demand. So, even if you’re a millionaire you will still need to go to Serbia and wait for the cheese to be made, which might actually take a while. To make 1 kilogram of this cheese requires 25 liters of smoked donkey’s milk (or 3 gallons per pound) collected by hand from 100 donkeys who only produce 200 ml of milk per day, each!  But this cheese may just be well worth the wait, not only because of the unique crumbly taste, but also due to its health properties. Pule is low in fats, rich in proteins and vitamins (60 times more vitamin C than cow’s milk), and is known to strengthen the immune system.

Moose Cheese from Sweden

Moose cheese? The main reason you probably have never heard of it is that there are only three moose on the planet capable of producing milk. Their names are Gullan, Haelga, and Juna and they all live in Bjursholm, Sweden.

The process of making moose cheese is long, expensive, and tricky. Moose only lactate 5 months a year and require the most tender handling in complete silence otherwise they can get unsettled and dry-up for good. Each moose can produce about 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of milk per day if you’re lucky, which means the farm can make no more than 300 kg (660 pounds) of cheese a year. So if you’re looking to surprise your friends and have $400 to spend on a pound of cheese, pick yourself up some of the world’s rarest moose cheese. Although, instead of actually giving them this cheese, you can always go the cheap route, and just say, “Did you know you could make cheese from Bullwinkle?”.

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Epoisses – stinky cheese from France

If smelly cheeses aren’t a problem for you, then Epoisses should be on the top of your “to try” list.   As a hand-washed rind cheese, it is considered among the stinkiest in the world. Of course, cheese-lovers know that’s a sign of potent, delicious flavor.  Made from raw cow’s milk with its rind washed with pomace brandy, this cheese has a flavor and texture as unforgettable as its smell, which has made this cheese a culinary treasure. Some liken its scent to gym socks, and it has even been banned from public transportation all over France. I wonder what made Napoleon love it so much?

Casu marzu – flying maggot cheese from Italy

For the extreme foodies out there, here’s a cheese that will horrify you. Casu marzu literally means “rotten cheese.” It is one of the most disturbing cheeses out there, and here’s why. To make it, you start with regular sheep cheese and basically leave it out to attract flies until it’s infested with thousands of live larvae. This cheese is only made in Sardinia, Italy and is quite popular with locals. They prefer to eat it while the maggots are still alive (they think it’s unsafe otherwise). Some people get rid of them before consuming, while others leave them in but cover the cheese with their hands while eating because the disturbed maggots can jump up to six inches high! Soft and liquidy, Casu marzu has an aftertaste that lasts for hours and is definitely one of those foods that require a certain courage to try.

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Milbenkäse – cheese with mite excrement from Germany

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Italian maggot cheese, along come the Germans who take cheese-making to another level. Their Milbenkäse is made by allowing quark (a fresh dairy product much like yogurt) to sit amongst thousands of dust mites that transform it into a highly sought after delicacy. The mites excrete an enzyme that ripens the cheese for about a year until it turns to a blackish lump with a bitter and zesty flavor. Is there anything more to this cheese rather than the unique process and high price? They say by consuming Milbenkäse you can rid yourself of a host dust allergies. That might be a question worth asking some aficionados who’ve already tried it.

Yak – everlasting cheese from Tibet

Are you one of those people who wish good cheese never ended? They have a solution for you in Tibet! Hard like a piece of resin, Yak cheese is so hard it could break your teeth, but at least you can suck and gnaw on it for hours. Made by wrapping the curd from yak’s milk in cloth, then pressing and drying it over a wood fire to give it a distinctive earthy taste, this cheese variety can only be found in Tibet, India and Nepal.

Of course there are so many cheeses that haven’t made our list. What’s your favorite weird cheese? Make sure you stay tuned as we’re sure to write a part two to bring you more delicious, odd, and wonderful cheeses!

Image #1 by Yoane Carle
Image #2 by Simon Doggett
Image #3 by Ewan Munro
Image #4 by JohnPickenPhoto
 
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10 Tips to Jump Start Your New Year

08 Jan

The Ball has dropped, the last of the party is finally cleaned up, and your New Year’s Resolutions might have accidentally gotten tossed out with the trash. Don’t worry, we all say things we don’t mean when under the influence of champagne and party hats. But if you are really looking to make some real positive change in your life for 2017, the best advice we can give you is start small, and do something that resonates with you are and who you want to be.

If you need a little bit of help thinking of things that will make your life better and make you feel good while doing it, we just happen to have a list ready.

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  1. Clean out your pantry!  No really, this is going to make you feel better. We all do it, buy something because we forgot we had it and next thing we know there’re 4 unopened tubs of peanut butter in our cabinet that we are never going to eat. Go through each space, and keep what you know you are realistically going to use. For the rest, make sure they aren’t expired and bag them up. Donate them to shelters, food banks, or even college campuses (which often have a location where they accept donation for students in need). New year, new you, new food! It’s a great motto to live by.

  2. Clean out your closet. We promise this isn’t all about donating to charity. But if you have some things that you can give away, that’s great. The point of going through your closet is so you know what you have, what fits, what doesn’t, and so on. You’d be amazed at how many people buy a shirt or dress and put it in their closet only to forget about it. You may find so many hidden treasures that you won’t need to use all those gift cards your family gave you on clothes.

  3. Finally match your socks. While you’re surrounded by your wardrobe anyway, take a minute to pull out all your socks and actually match them. This may sound silly, but we know you’ve had more than one morning where you could not find a pair of socks. This way, the first few weeks of the year, you can get up late for work confident that the battle to find socks won’t slow you down. Plus, we’re betting you’ve got some socks with holes, stretched-out tops, or no more partners. Set these lonely socks aside – they’re perfect for wearing on your hands when you dust hard to reach places, for DIY sock puppet projects with the kids, OR they can even make great toys for your pets.
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  4. Make a calendar you can use. We aren’t talking a paper calendar, but you can use that if you want. Pick whatever phone app you like. Google calendar seems to sync with everything.  If nothing else, make sure you have reminders set up at least a week in advance for things like birthdays, anniversaries, and even a reminder for the movie you saw advertised that doesn’t come out until summer 2017. It’s a little thing that will help you remember to buy gifts and make plans.

  5. Learn to make at least one new dish. It’s as simple as that. Promise yourself you’ll learn one dish this year. If you’re really into cooking, one a month. They don’t have to be complicated or fancy, just put some new flavor and a little variety into your diet. We know you have about a thousand saved in your bookmarks.

  6. Treat yourself.  Yes, you can use the New Year as an excuse to get yourself that thing you always wanted. Want a weekend away? Make plans to travel somewhere! Learning guitar? Take some time to replace the old strings and really clean up your baby. A moment to spoil yourself after months of planning to give to others can be very emotionally and mentally relaxing.
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  7. Take inventory of your holiday haul.  There are always a few things that don’t fit quite right, or need to be in a different color, or came out of the box broken. Most stores stop accepting holiday gifts returns at the end of this month, so make sure you take some time to go through what you got and take care of what needs to go back.

  8. We’re not saying take down your tree, but you may want to dust it.  For a lot of people, holiday trees stay up until…Whenever. And that’s okay! But if you’re leaving yours up, take a moment to dust it, and change up the decorations. Keep that beauty – and holiday spirit – in tip-top shape with a little TLC.

  9. If you made a resolution and you’re finding it too hard to stick to, try taking baby steps.  You don’t have to totally give up on your resolution if you’ve already broken it.  If you want to do something like to learn a language, try learning a new word or phrase a day. You can slowly build that up to more and more, and before you know it you’ll be picking up whole sentences and having basic conversations.

  10. Make sure your home is ready for anything!

This is a good time to:

  • Check batteries in alarms;
  • Check batteries in remotes;
  • Do a little of the deep cleaning you swear you’ll get to;
  • Make sure you have at least one flashlight in an easy to reach place;
  • Make sure you have candles;
  • Get a bottle of water and some dry food for “just in case;”
  • Check your emergency supply kit, renew/update/add items as needed;
  • Go to the car, make sure it’s ready to start fresh and prepared too;
  • Make sure your basic medicines/vitamins are in stock and not expired.

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Whatever way you start off 2017, don’t forget that it is okay to stumble. You won’t get to everything on your to-do list, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you’re trying and doing just a little bit more than the year before. Let us know what you plan to do and how in the comments! You might inspire someone else to greatness.

 
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5 Unusual Airbnb Spots for New Year’s Eve

22 Dec

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. You know exactly where you want to celebrate New Year, but you just can’t decide on a hotel. The place needs to be fun and fit your personality down to the letter, because as they say, ‘the way you meet the New Year is how you’re going to spend it!’ We want your upcoming year be full of adventures, breathtaking experiences, and unforgettable emotions.  Going with a traditional hotel room just can’t guarantee you any of that, no matter how fancy it is.  That’s where Airbnb comes to the rescue. This website is a priceless resource of the most unique lodging rentals around the world, and it will tempt you with the vacation of your dreams. Still skeptical? See for yourself, but don’t hesitate too long because these incredible locations around the world are already filling up.

 

Bamboo House (Bali, Indonesia)

If you’ve ever dreamt about an exotic place where you can enjoy fantastic panoramas of the jungle, you’ll be amazed to find out that such a place actually exists. This luxurious bamboo house set on the sacred Ayung river in Bali, Indonesia is nothing but unique. Dreamers and celebrities alike are mesmerized by its fabulous settings and incredible views, keeping the Sunrise House busy since 2010. Though it is located in the middle of the jungle, the villa has a lot to offer. The Bamboo House comes fully equipped with luxury amenities including a plunge pool and private garden. This incredible four-story, all bamboo construction comprises 3 bedrooms, a lounge area, a kitchen, a media room, and a work space all furnished with exquisite bamboo furniture. With so much to offer, it is an easy pick for a family or group of friends who want to escape for the holidays together.

If you’re interested, here is what you need to know:

The Bamboo House is priced at $335 per night and comfortably accommodates 6 guests. This seems like a more than reasonable price to pay for a once in a lifetime dream location you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. Let the Tarzan in you enjoy the amazing sceneries of the dense jungle waiting to be explored!

 

The Seashell House – Casa Caracol (Isla Mujeres, Mexico)

If you want to spend New Year’s Eve like a mermaid or Neptune, this eccentric Seashell House is a perfect fit for you! Located on the most beautiful Caribbean island, Isla Mujeres, it looks (and feels!) like something out of surrealist paintings or the pages of Zeus’s children’s books. Built in 1994 by a famous architect Eduardo Ocampo for his brother, the unique building was inspired by a seashell. Every little detail inside and outside of the house is themed around shells which makes you feel like you’re one with the ocean. Which is a great transition since the ocean is the view just outside of the window.

Casa Caracol accommodates 4 people and has all the amenities for a comfortable and enjoyable stay with family or friends, and costs $308 per night. It is easy to get to and from Cancun International Airport, making this Caribbean gem the place to escape to for those who believe that crowded pools and touristic attractions aren’t part of a perfect New Year’s getaway.

 

Cabana Floripa (Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil)

You may be looking for something that puts you totally out of your element. A real adventure! Perhaps something that is part Oz adventure, an all eco-friendly, artsy tree house.  Cabana Floripa captures all of that and much more. Made of colorful recycled glass artwork, this one-of-a-kind cabin is an incredible place to explore for both kids and adults.  If you desire a vacation filled with emotions over luxury, Cabana Floripa is a truly unique and special experience for romantic getaways or family vacations alike.

The price may just be the best part at only $73 per night! As an extra bonus, you’ll have beautiful white sand beaches at your disposal only a walking distance away.

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King of the Castle (Galway, Ireland)

Who doesn’t want to start a new year like a king? Well, you can make that dream come true and start your year off like royalty in an actual castle!  This restored medieval building is full of character and looks exactly the same as it did 600 years ago when it was first built. Though now it has a few modern conveniences to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Just imagine yourself sitting before a huge fireplace wrapped in a blanket, looking at crackling wood and raising a toast to a new year. Don’t forget to top the experience off with delicious festive meal and a little pinch of snuff, just like the nobles who stayed before you. Yes, in a castle!

Your loved ones or friends can join you on this adventure since the castle accommodates 5 guests and costs only $161 a night. For a castle that price is an absolute steal!

  

Elqui Domos Astronomic Hotel (Paiguano, Coquimbo, Chile)

For couples looking to spark love on the New Year, what could be better than gazing at a breathtaking view of stars in the comfort of your own bed?! The only astronomic hotel in the Southern Hemisphere, Elqui Domos is a unique place that offers just such an evening. Located deep in the wilderness of Elqui Valley in Chile, these rooms were designed to be an absolute dream for stargazing. The resort offers two-story geodesic domes; each with a living room and a bathroom on the first floor, and a comfortable bed with a detachable roof over it on the second floor.

If you’re looking to get out and adventure you will find exciting tours, nighttime horse rides, and plenty of gorgeous vineyards in the area to help you make the most out of your getaway. At $196 per night we know these rooms will be all booked in no time.

What is your ideal place to celebrate New Year? Would you rather look at the stars close to nature or watch fireworks in the busy Times Square in New York? Please feel free to leave your comment below and have a wonderful and exciting New Year’s!

All images courtesy of airbnb.com

 
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Favorite Winter Holidays Recipes From Around the World

09 Dec

When it comes to Christmas dinner in US, it can feel like there’s not much variation. We know the traditional dishes, roast chicken or turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes are usually followed by a slice of pie (or two) and maybe another dessert, to be polite of course! While this food is delicious, it can be easy to find yourself in a holiday rut. Tradition is great! But let’s spice things up a bit.

Around the world, people tuck into all sorts of wonderful and delicious festive fare. Given the upcoming celebration, we’d like to share our 3 favorite holiday recipes from different parts of the world and give you an idea how you can add an exotic flare to your Christmas dinner.

Let’s start with a recipe inspired by traditional Jewish cuisine. As you might know, instead of Christmas, Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, and there’re plenty of amazing Hanukkah recipes worth borrowing and incorporating in your holiday menu. Potato Latkes are the easiest to make, but they aren’t at all lacking in flavor.  Made just in a few simple steps, they will make a great appetizer for you and your family.

What you’ll need:
1 small onion
3 tsp salt
1.5 lbs potatoes
2 eggs
¼ cup flour
Oil for frying

Directions:

  1. Dice the onion and sauté with a little salt until golden brown.
  2. Grate the potatoes and leave them in cold water.
  3. Put the eggs, flour, fried onion and 2 tsp. salt in a bowl. Drain the grated potato, add it to the rest of the ingredients and thoroughly mix everything together.
  4. Heat 2-4 tbsp. of oil in a frying pan, over medium heat. Scoop the batter with a table spoon (about two spoonful) and gently drop it into the oil. Press down gently with the back of the spoon to flatten. Fry 2-3 minutes until golden, then flip and fry additional 1-2 minutes on the other side.
  5. Repeat Step 4 until you run out of the mixture (makes about 16 latkes). Make sure to add more oil to the pan every couple of batches. Enjoy as is, or with a little sour cream or applesauce to taste.

The next recipe comes from Milan but is enjoyed for Christmas and New Year all over Western Europe as well as South America. Italian Christmas bread, Panettone, is deliciously sweet and will become a great alternative to the traditional Pumpkin or Apple pie on your holiday table.

What you’ll need:

For STARTER:
3/4 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
A pinch of instant yeast
⅓ cup of cold water

For DOUGH
2 1/4 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons soft butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tbsp instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped dried pineapple
2 tbs grated orange or lemon zest

Directions:

  1. To make the starter: combine the starter ingredients in a bowl, cover, and allow to sit overnight at a room temperature.
  2. To make the dough: Combine all the dough ingredients except the fruit. Mix and knead them together until the dough is elastic and smooth.
  3. Cover the dough and allow to rise for 60-90 min, or until puffy.
  4. Gently “punch” the dough down with your fist and knead in the fruits and zest.
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a tall straight-sided 2-quart pan. Cover the pan and let the dough rise for about 1 hour (until it’s just crested over the rim of the pan).
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°F and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake an additional 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat again to 350°F and bake for 25 more minutes.
  7. Cool down completely before serving. Serve immediately or keep wrapped at a room temperature for up to a week.

And the last but not least is a very popular and surprisingly easy to make Russian salad Olivier. Even though the name might tell you otherwise, this recipe is traditionally Russian and is made for the winter holidays by every housewife.

What you’ll need:

6 large potatoes (Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold, or red potatoes)
2 carrots
6 eggs
4 pickles
1/2 lb of your choice of cooked meat (ham, beef or chicken) or mushrooms (for vegetarian version)
1 can of sweet green peas
salt and pepper
mayonnaise (or sour cream to taste)

Directions:

  1. Boil potatoes, carrots, and eggs until cooked (20-30 min).
  2. Peel and cut all the vegetables and eggs in small cubes. Chop your choice of meat and pickles.
  3. Mix everything together. Add peas.
  4. Dress with mayonnaise or sour cream until evenly coated.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

With so many wonderful dishes to choose from it was hard for us to pick just three, so don’t worry we’ll be writing more! In the meantime, let us know if your favorite didn’t make the list in the comments below.

Image #1 by Meal Makeover Moms
Image #2 by Nicola
Image #3 by Ivana Sokolović

 

Unusual Yet Romantic Gifts

25 Nov

We work with a lot of different kinds of people here at GiftBasketsOverseas.com (GBO). But by and large, our favorites have to be romantics and geeks.

We know when we’re dealing with a ‘geek’ right away. They always know what they want, have specific instructions, and are easy to do business with. Their orders mostly consist of new technology or practical household items like a brand new model of a phone, a camera, iPad, Xbox, large TV with LCD screen, or even a washing machine.

Romantics are just as easy to spot, and the gifts are just as varied! Their gifts, from chocolates to flowers, to jewelry, all have sentimental value, even if it’s not easy for our team to spot right away.

Even though both geek and romantic orders are pretty straightforward, every once in a while we get quite unusual requests. Here are some of our most memorable examples:

Once we had a call from a customer who wanted to order a valet stand for trousers. A ‘geek’ or ‘romantic,’ it’s hard to say, but here’s her story. She was celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary with her husband and decided to give him a gift with a double meaning. As an office worker, her spouse has to wear suits to work every day. After so many years together she must have been a little tired of steaming those trousers for him, so she decided to give him a valet stand. With this new gift, he would not only remember where he left his trousers last night but also look neat every morning on his own. Was this smart woman giving a gift to her husband or herself? It’s tough to say.

Last summer we received a request to send a gift not in a regular wrapping paper, but in chintz. The customer explained that her son was celebrating his first wedding anniversary and in their culture the first anniversary is called the Chintz wedding. Given the name it was easy to understand why it’s considered good luck if the anniversary gift is wrapped in this specific fabric. We were more than happy to follow the tradition and helped the client get what she wanted.

Other ‘romantics’ have quite a sense of humor. Several months ago we had a special request to deliver a… hair tie. Yes, as simple as that. The customer admitted that he promised his girlfriend a hair tie because she was constantly losing them and asking him for help finding it. He was hoping that if he gave her a hair tie as a gift delivered to her office at work along with a bouquet of red roses she’d be more careful and wouldn’t lose it that quickly. Well, we hope he was right.

Chocolates, flowers, and more traditional gifts are all great! But there’s something to be said for a gift that is a little odd and deeply personal. It just reminds us that no matter how big or small a gift is, it’s the story and thought behind it that determines how truly unforgettable it is.

Image #2 by Sean McGrath

 
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Why Giving Really Is Better Than Receiving!

11 Nov

We’ve all heard people say that it’s better to give than to receive, but would you believe that being generous is tangibly good for you? That’s right, according to Dr. Devin A. Byrd, Behavioral Sciences Department Chair at South University, there are mental health benefits to altruistic behaviors, and gift-giving is definitely among those.

From searching for just the right gift to fit your loved one’s personality to wrapping it and sending it, the very act of shopping for someone else provides “an emotional lift,” according to Dr. Byrd But even more than the ‘feel-good’ quality of giving, your generosity sparks positive memories of the person you’re shopping for which also provides a mood boost. Another bonus is that the gift itself creates a noticeable link between the two of you. Especially in this modern age, when many people will celebrate holidays at a distance from one another, the act of sending gifts when you can’t be there is a way to strengthen bonds. And of course, there’s nothing more important to mental health than your social support network. Gift-giving is a way to help keep it strong even when they’re far away.

You may be saying, “Okay, that’s great – yes, it feels good to send a gift, but it isn’t like it has any physical health benefit, right?” Wrong! There is a ton of research showing that those who are generous on a regular basis (i.e., they help out a charity, they perform random acts of kindness, they surprise people with gifts, etc.) are healthier and live longer. Stephen Post, professor of Preventative Medicine at Stony Brook University, found that regular generosity had a positive impact even on people suffering from chronic illnesses.

You might ask, “How does that work?” It turns out that things like shopping for another person, spending time helping them, and even talking to them during a time of a need, turns your focus from your own day-to-day life, and onto the other person. Researchers think that this reduces internal stress. Stress and the cortisol it produces are major factors in the development of almost every chronic disease you can think of. Reducing stress is directly linked to better health.

But perhaps the best way that giving is good for you is that it generates a sense of gratitude. “Of course it does,” you might say, “when you send a gift or spend your time, the person you give it to is thankful.” And yes, that’s true, but gift-giving also invokes a sense of gratitude in the giver! When choosing a gift, or thoughtfully supporting someone we care for, we’re often also expressing that we’re grateful for that person’s role in our lives. This creates a cycle of contentment, stress-reduction, and even creates a hormone called oxytocin, which is responsible for making us feel connected, warm, and empathetic.

I know the holiday shopping can sometimes seem like a chore, with crowds, planning, and the time crunch, but we hope this little PSA will help you keep in mind that’s not all it’s about. For every gift you decide to send, you’re recalling fond memories, reaching out to the ones you care about even from afar, and you’re preparing yourself a big dose of happiness. So when holiday shopping looks like a mountain of work remember how very true it is that it is better to give than to receive – and science proves it!

Image #1 by asenat29

 

Your Guide to Buying the Best Candles for Diwali

31 Oct

There’s a time around the globe when millions of people fill the world with candles, colorful lights, prayers, and gifts of goodness to one another – it’s Diwali, or the Festival of Light, and it’s the most important festival of the Hindu religion. For five days every fall, warm flames big and small shine to represent the triumph of light over darkness, everyone exchanges gifts, and there are great feasts to share. This year, Diwali also coincides with the Hindu New Year, so we’re going to help you celebrate with your complete guide to finding the perfect candles for the Festival of Light.

Candles

In the past, people used candles primarily for light, but today candles have become so much more. So many types of candles exist these days, and they’re no longer limited to the practical aspect of surviving in the darkness. Besides their decorative value, and the ability to create a certain ambience, candles can have an incredible effect on your mood. You can use candles to bring a whiff of aromatherapy into your space; the many fragrant essential oils used in modern candles can help you to relax, rejuvenate, cheer up, or energize.

With so many types of candles on the market available to us, how can you choose the ones that are safe and beneficial for your health and environment? Which candles last longer and don’t drip? What is the difference between beeswax and soy candles? Why are paraffin and palm candles the least expensive? To answer these and other questions, we’ve compared different types of candles and made a list of the pros and cons of each one.

Beeswax – is the most natural of all waxes produced by honey bees.

Pros:

  • It can be used in almost any form, it’s easily moldable, and doesn’t droop.
  • Is non-toxic, burns clean with no sticky, black petroleum based soot.
  • Doesn’t require the use of fragrant oils since it has its own natural aroma which actually has a positive effect on our nervous system. Like the taste of honey the scent can vary depending on what flowers the bees had access to.
  • Is a natural air cleaner as it produces negative ions, which help remove air pollutants.
  • It contains propolis – a unique ingredient beneficial for our health.
  • Burns and lasts longer than other candles.

Cons:

  • It takes about 10 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax.
  • Taking the beeswax from bees and using it for candle-making contributes to bees’ extinction.
  • They are the most expensive type of candles.

Soy – made from vegetable hydrogenated soybean oil.

Pros:

  • Natural & nontoxic when burning.
  • It burns 50% longer, cooler, and more evenly than other waxes, leaving almost no excess wax in the jar.
  • Water soluble, so it’s easy to clean off surfaces.
  • Because of the lower melting point of soy wax the scent is much stronger and does not require extra chemicals.
  • Biodegradable and a renewable resource.

Cons:

  • It takes about 60 pounds of beans to make 11 pounds of oil.
  • Almost all soy beans are genetically-modified and are grown with the use of pesticides and harsh chemicals.
  • Most soy candles are not 100% soy, and contain a high percentage of paraffin.
  • Even a 100% soy wax candle must be processed with a certain amount of paraffin. So, when burning a 100% soy candle small amounts of the carcinogens and toxins found in paraffin can still be potentially released.
  • More expensive than paraffin candles.

Paraffin – a by-product of the crude oil refining process.

Pros:

  • Can have low, medium, and high melting points making it the most versatile wax.
  • The least expensive type of candles.

Cons:

  • Burns very hot and fast.
  • As dangerous as petroleum. Paraffin candles release 11 known toxic carcinogenic chemicals into the environment, including toluene and benzene, which contribute to global warming.
  • Produces the most soot of all the waxes. Petro-carbon soot released from burning stains walls, furniture and is circulated through your air ducts.
  • Not made from a renewable resource (petroleum is in limited supply).

 

Palm Oil – made from palm fruit that is grown on African palm oil trees.

Pros:

  • Used to harden other waxes and blends easily.
  • Cheap to source.
  • Can withstand high temperatures and don’t melt when not in use.
  • Nontoxic when burning.

Cons:

  • The environmental impacts of using any palm products are devastating. Deforestation and slave labor are just two major concerns important enough to choose other types of candles over candles made of palm oil.

Other things to consider when choosing or making a DIY candle:

Wicks

The wick in the candle is probably as important as the wax. The highest-quality candles use only 100% cotton wicks. They burn evenly, slowly, and don’t smoke as much as wiry wicks. But the most important, they don’t have some poisonous chemicals like other cheaper options. A pure hemp wick is a good alternative to cotton.

Scent

When choosing a candle we usually pay attention to two things: design and smell. Probably the greatest factor to consider in your purchase of candles is usually how they are scented. But did you know that synthetic, petrochemical-derived fragrant oils used in cheap candles are extremely dangerous for your health? Organic, pure essential oils on the other hand are the least harmful for us when burning, and also the least harmful to the environment when sourcing.                                    

While these tips are great for Diwali, candles are useful for so much more. Many other holidays and special events use them. Make sure when you make your pick for this holiday, you buy in bulk to be ready for that next special event. With a few extra candles around you can easily set up an impromptu romantic dinner for you and your partner. Or, if the power goes out you’ll be ready to tell fun stories and make shadow puppets with the whole family, rather than spending a night bumping into tables. After so much work to make everything perfect for your loved ones, make sure you take a few moments for yourself and buy an aroma therapy candle for your alone time. You’ve earned it!

Image #2 by Sheena Car
Image #3 by Annie Pilon

 
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Our 9 Favorite Haunted Places Around The World

21 Oct

October is here and once again the world is buzzing with people trading ghost stories and creepy tales to keep each other up at night.  You know the kind, the tales you laugh about at first, but days or even weeks later a thought inches its way into your skull “What if. . . .”

Real or not, imagination or something else, scary stories are a thrill and there are none better than those told about real places. Haunted houses, castles, forests, churches, playgrounds, they’re all just a little easier to believe right around Halloween. So what are the best hot spots? A quick Google search will probably lead you to local tales, or a real hot spot of reported activity just a few hours’ drive from where you sit. There’s no real rating system, ghosts aren’t real . . . Right? Just in case, here are 9 spooky locations you might want to avoid!

Aokigahara, Mount Fuji, Japan – Maybe you saw the movie, but the real Aokigahara is too beautiful, majestic, and yes creepy to be portrayed by any film.  This swath of 13.5 miles of dense trees and even denser undergrowth sits beneath Mt. Fuji, and even without knowing its history, just a glance is sure to take your breath away.

Local legend and popular tourist tales tell a different story of people coming to this sea of trees with the intention of committing suicide. The stories have spread and more and more people flock to this forest to see what it’s all about, fewer come out. Rumor has it, you can catch glimpses of the people who chose to spend their last moments here, and it’s certainly easy to see how you can feel like there’s something or someone else with you when you’re standing in the middle of this much overgrown nature.

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Beechwood Lunatic Asylum, Victoria, Australia – originally known as Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, this complex of more than 60 buildings housed the mentally ill for 128 years before closing its doors in 1995.  Like most asylums, Beechwood has a long and complex history that leaves a lot of people with more questions than they started with.

Visitors have reported seeing a figure of a man who shows up near the cellar only to completely vanish once you’re almost sure he’s there. Other tales include the usual bumps, scrapes, and noises you can never quite explain, and aren’t really sure you want to. With such a long history and sprawling landscape it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how anyone could get lost, overwhelmed, and scared out of their minds.

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Paris Catacombs, Paris, France – If ghosts have rules they certainly include something about graveyards. No resting place is quite as ominous and vast as the Catacombs of Paris. These underground ossuaries were made out of the skeletons of collapsing mines in Paris and house the remains of over six million people.

Since the early 19th century, people have been coming to look at this underground wonder. Some to pay their respects, some to seek answers to questions on death, and more still to see if they can find something to make them question what they know of the world.  Whatever draws you there, make sure you go on a guided tour. Not all of the tunnels have been mapped, and even experienced tour guides have to be extra careful to not get turned around and wind up lost forever.

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Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa – Built in the 17th century, this Dutch East India Company fort is the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa, and it’s now considered the best-preserved building of its kind. Like most colonial buildings, the structure wasn’t popular when it was raised and it hardly got more popular as the surrounding people were oppressed.

With so many bad feelings and spilled blood drenching the history of this building, it’s understandable that many people feel instantly uneasy as they tour the grounds. Reports even include testimonials of those who see vicious dogs jump at people (although no dogs are kept on the grounds), and men marching around that seem to appear and disappear into nowhere.

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Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania, United States – This former American prison operated from 1829 until 1971. The wagon wheel design and all of the building’s features were built to minimize privacy, maximize security, and ensure that prisoners never forgot that they were in a place meant to make them to pay for their crimes.

The history of the prison is long and sordid, with tales of misconduct from both the jailors and the prisoners. Many people have reported seeing ghosts of inmates that died, doors closing or opening on their own, having their hair pulled by invisible people, and more. The building tours do little to discourage these rumors, embracing its spooky status and offering haunted tours around Halloween.

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Poveglia Island, Italy – This is a small island that has been used as a dumping ground for centuries. But rather than trash, it was unwanted people that were abandoned.  In the 1300’s, the sick, dying, or dead were brought here to keep them away from people who were healthy.

In the 1800’s, the island was repurposed as a place to care for the mentally ill, and it is rumored that in the 1930’s a doctor was performing weird experiments on the patients there.  After a brief stint as a geriatric center during the middle 20th century, the facility and the island were abandoned entirely.  Tourists and locals were banned from visiting the place, and recent attempts to try to revive the hospital building were abandoned. No one knows why.

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Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland – This historic fortress leaves a lasting impression on everyone who visits. The building has been standing since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD) and while the nature of the early settlement is unclear, there is no question that the people who built it were impressively skilled.

The castle has been used, if not as housing for lords, then as a barracks for soldiers, and the history it has built up is impressive. Used to house prisoners during the Seven Years War, the American Revolutionary War, and others, it is clear that this larger than life structure has seen every side of humanity. Visitors report feeling threatened, seeing shadowy figures, drops in temperature, and even something touching them. Maybe they just read too much about what happened here or didn’t see a small hole that let in a draft. Maybe they ran into a spider web. Or maybe, just maybe, they ran into something else.

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Old Changi Hospital, Changi, Singapore – This hospital was built in 1935 by the British and doubled as barracks. During WWII the facility was overtaken and captured by the Japanese. They went on to use Changi Hospital as a prison camp where they carried on intense questioning of prisoners, even brutal torture.

It seems the screams of these people never managed to escape the walls, as it’s one of the many things visitors report experiencing, along with sightings of bloody soldiers, phantom smells, and crying. With erratic electricity and various other weird events, it’s no wonder many feel uncomfortable entering the building.

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Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada – This hotel was built over 125 years ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a place to entice travelers and help visitors indulge in a taste of luxury. Behind its picturesque landscape and furnishings, though, lies a not-so-pristine history.

A favorite story told by locals is the tale of room 873, where it is said that a family was murdered. The stories of this room grew quickly. Visitors to the room after the supposed murder reported screams, bloody handprints, and more. Eventually, the hotel staff decided it was best to get rid of the room completely and they sealed it off, finishing the brick with drywall to make it – almost – disappear into the rest of the hallway.

The hotel is still functional today, but the staff won’t tell you anything about room 873. However, many visitors still report seeing the family and other mysterious things in the hall.

Whether you’re looking for a spooky story to tell this Halloween, or you’re interested in a very scary vacation, all these places fit the bill, and have great tourist locations around if you decide to take the family. Whichever you pick you are sure to have a terrifyingly good time or at least a story that will send a chill down someone’s spine! If you know of a local haunt that didn’t make the cut, tell us about it in the comments below.

 
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3 Fall Vacation Spots with Spooky Thrills

14 Oct

October is here, with longer nights and a chilly wind, and while people in the US are gearing up for Halloween, many others around the globe are also trading ghost stories. What if you could make those spooky stories come to life for you and your family? If you dare to be scared, we’ve got some terrifying travel plans that will keep you and your family on the edge of their seats (in a safe, fun way of course).

One of the best reasons to go on a ghost-hunting trip is that October isn’t a traditional vacation month, so right now flights are cheap. Hotels are cheaper too, and if you’re willing to vacation during the week, you can get some of the best rates ever on a getaway for you and your loved ones. Plan a bonding trip for the company, get out with friends, or take the kids somewhere more adventurous than Disneyland.

If you love all things that go bump in the night, try planning your vacation around these possibly haunted locations. They love tourists and offer the best of haunted (and not) sightseeing. You can go antiquing by day and ghost hunting by night at these scare-tastic locales.

Aokigahara, Mount Fuji, Japan – Mt. Fuji is a wonder in its own right. Bustling with a dizzying array of local hotels on either side of the mountain, you’ll find staying near this world wonder is easy. There’s plenty of public transportation to help get you to and from major shrines and hot springs. Just remember, if you do travel outside of the climbing season of July-August, you’ll need to plan a bit more carefully since some of the public transportation options stop. Once you’ve got the local travel handled though, you can enjoy a panoramic spa like Yurari. The temples and guided tours are nearly endless, and the local shopping is bursting with options too plentiful to fit in your suitcases, even if you bring a spare.

With so many regular tourist options, there’s already plenty to do for the whole family. But if you’re looking for something unusual, beautiful, and spooky you don’t have to go far. At the base of the mountain sits Aokigahara. With 13.5 miles of dense trees and even denser undergrowth, this forest is sure to entrance you.

Listen to the locals and do a quick Google search, and you’ll find that this forest is a notorious spot for suicides. The more the stories have spread, the more people have come to visit this absolutely haunting location. Rumor has it, many of these people never come out. The forest is such a popular place for suicide attempts that there are signs reminding visitors to ‘Remember your children and family,’ and that ‘Your life is precious.’ If you’re brave enough to go in, you may even catch a glimpse of the yurei: the mournful spirits of those who spent their last moments between these trees.

Whatever you find, you’re sure to walk away with a bigger scrap book and a ton of great stories to tell!

Beechwood Lunatic Asylum, Victoria, Australia – Victoria, Australia is where people go to do a little bit of everything. You will get absolutely lost in your options for spas, and by the end of your trip, you’ll want to visit at least one! There’s also a dizzying array of gorgeous beaches ready to show you the beauty of the world, but we recommend visiting the 12 Apostles Beach for the best views. If you want an all-day adventure, you can go to Wilson’s Promontory where you’re sure to spot at least one kangaroo.

When night falls, and your family is itching to get into the spooky spirit of Halloween, you can take a drive up to Beechwood Lunatic Asylum, originally known as Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum. This institution was open for 128 years before closing in 1995, and its history would leave any horror film writer giddy with options.

Maybe you’ll get lucky and see one of the famous apparitions, like the man guarding the cellar. Maybe you’ll feel a playful tug on your hair, or hear things that just aren’t possible. Whatever adventures you have at Beechwood, you’re sure to walk away with stunning pictures of the sprawling estate and 60-plus historical buildings. You’re also in Australia, you really can’t have a bad time there!

Last on our list, but certainly not least, is Poveglia Island, Italy. You aren’t actually allowed to get on this island. It has a history of being used as a quarantine zone, home to a mental-institution-turned-geriatric-center that is now closed, and plenty of rumors about things that go bump in the night. In fact, recent attempts to restore the building were unexpectedly haunted.

However, while you can’t go on the island, you can visit the area around it and soak up the culture, local rumors, and plenty of sights. It’s nestled between Venice and Lido so whatever side you choose to stay on you’re sure to have a good time. Between the food, art, culture, and kind locals, you and your family will be spoiled for choice of entertainment and fun.  If you’re looking for something spiritual rather than spooky you might try visiting St. Mary of the Friars, or simply taking in the captivating sound of Musica a Palazzo – a “Traveling Opera.”

Add some shopping, and a boat ride from San Marco Square that might just get you close enough to snap some pictures of Poveglia Island, and your family has a new Facebook album that will be the envy of all of your friends.

Take a trip to one of these spooky spots, or tell us about other haunted vacations on your itinerary. No matter where you travel, in every corner of the world you’re sure to find something wonderful, unique, and inspiring. If you ask around enough you may even find a local haunted spot or two. If you’ve got a spirit for adventure and a willingness to explore you are sure to make any vacation spot a unique adventure for you, your friends, and your family. Just make sure you take plenty of pictures and share with the world the wonders you find. After all, the best part of traveling is sharing the story.

 
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National Frappe Day – 1-Minute Original Frappe Recipe

07 Oct

October 7th is National Frappe Day, so it’s the perfect time to indulge in delicious frappe drink. With cold weather right around the corner, this might be your last chance this year to enjoy this cold, but oh-so-delicious beverage.

The word frappé comes from the French language, and it means chilled, but the drink itself is a version of coffee that first became popular in Greece and Cyprus. Now, a version of it has spread all over the world thanks to Starbucks’ famous Frappucino, and McDonald’s Mocha Frappe, which actually don’t have a lot to do with the original recipe.

The first frappé was made in Greece in 1957. The story goes that its invention was equal parts accident and desperation for a morning caffeine fix. One of the employees of Nestle Company couldn’t find hot water for his morning cup of instant coffee so he decided to make it with cold water and ice in a shaker instead. The drink turned out to be a hit – it looked gorgeous with its foam topping, satisfied sweet tooths and caffeine cravings, and took less than a minute to make. Before long, all the local baristas were serving it. To this day, the frappé is the number one drink in every cafe in Greece.

In the US, the frappe turned into a sort of coffee milkshake and most westerners have never actually tried the real frappé. But since today is National Frappe Day it’s the perfect opportunity to do just that! As an added bonus, doing it at home is cheaper and easier than going to your local coffee shop!

You’ll need:

  • 1 ½ tsp Instant Coffee (or more if you want more foam)
  • 1 ½ tsp White Sugar
  • Cold Water
  • Milk or Water to taste
  • Ice cubes
  • And any toppings you like!


Step 1 –
Put the coffee and sugar into a shaker or a BPA-free plastic bottle and top with just enough cold water to cover the mix. Then shake quickly for about 30 seconds. If it’s foaming a lot, you’ve done it right!

Step 2 – Pour the contents into a tall glass and add ice cubes along with milk or water to taste. Stir until everything is mixed and enjoy. If you’re looking for something a little extra indulgent, this is where your toppings come in! A little bit of whipped cream, caramel, or chocolate syrup will make it feel just like Starbucks.

You can make this cool-looking, famous drink at home in literally 1 minute! Get fancy with your toppings and you have a perfect drink worthy of an Instagram shot! Impress your friends the next time they visit with your barista skills or pamper yourself and your loved ones with this frappé recipe, but beware, it is highly addictive, and you might not want to go back to your old way of having coffee!