Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How to Host a Christmas Cookie Swap with Delicious Citrus Cookies

What’s your favorite part of Christmas? Is it the family time with relatives, buying and sharing gifts, the beautiful holiday music, the special seasonal activities and traditions? Or could it be one of my favorite things about the holidays…the delicious food?

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I absolutely love to bake holiday cookies, and have developed quite a list of favorites over time. In fact, every year I try to make an assortment of especially pretty cookies, which I package up into pretty bags or boxes, and gift to teachers, neighbors, and other friends and acquaintances. I always bake a variety of flavors and types, and I like to make the presentation a little fancy. I think my favorite year was the one when I bought white paperboard boxes and my daughter drew elaborate designs all over them in colored pens (she’s quite the artist, and spent much more time on it than I ever would have!)

However, I have to admit that this task can take up quite a bit of time at a season when I’m already just so busy. Have you ever considered hosting a holiday cookie swap? I went to one once, and I keep meaning to host my own. This is a fun way to get in some social time and to pack up beautiful cookie gifts to distribute while not actually having to do all the baking yourself!

To host a swap, send out invitations to 5-8 friends a couple of weeks before, explaining that you’ll all be bringing cookies so you can share them and make up varied cookie boxes, bags, and tins for friends. Ask them to bring a dozen cookies for each attendee, plus some extra for sampling. Coordinate to make sure you’re not duplicating types of cookie. If you like, you can provide simple bags, boxes, tins, tags, and twine, or ask your guests to bring them.

When guests arrive, you’ll have a tasty snack already available (just add coffee and tea, or wine or after-dinner drinks) and everyone can socialize, pack up their cookie gifts, and enjoy themselves rather than spending time finding recipes, buying many different ingredients, and dirtying many dishes making multiple types of cookie.

So what kind of cookies will you bring to this year’s party or cookie swap or just bake to stock your own family’s cookie jar? While I enjoy traditional favorites, like sugar cookies, my mother-in-law’s nutmeg logs, and my mom’s famous pecan tartlets, I like to make sure to include some delicious citrus-flavored cookies as well. I think the flavor of oranges, tangerines, and lemons adds some much-needed brightness, freshness and sparkle to the holiday platter. Why not take advantage of these traditional (and in-season) holiday fruit?

But which citrus cookie recipe to choose? There are so many incredible choices. We’ve collected a few for you.

  • Take a look at this gorgeously elegant Orange Shortbread with Dark Chocolate and Pistachios. If you want to knock your gift recipients’ socks off, these are one excellent option! I love how these combine the rich taste of chocolate with the aroma of orange, and the pale green pistachios really give it a Christmassy look.
  • For something a bit homier, go with these Super Soft Clementine Cookies, which can also be made with other citrus, like oranges or tangerines.
  • Or how about these dainty Lacy Almond-Orange Cookies, which feature the haunting flavor of anise along with orange zest? Cookies like these won’t be on just any cookie platter.
  • What could be more festive than these adorable cranberry-orange pinwheels, which star two traditional holiday flavors? After chilling the dough, you just slice and bake—really easy.
  • These soft, frosted orange-ricotta cookies are a tried and true Italian Christmas favorite. The beautiful bits of orange zest in the icing add that real orange flavor!
  • Baking gluten-free? Oranges and almonds are a time-tested, classic combination, and this simple gluten-free (egg- and grain-free, too) recipe for Orange Almond Cookies will meet your recipient’s needs while also tasting delicious.
  • Finally, my daughter, who has interesting tastes for a middle-schooler, thinks it’s just not Christmas without homemade biscotti. It’s true that they’re very tasty! I suggest these orange-almond biscotti dipped in chocolate, which will add a sophisticated touch to any cookie plate.

Enjoy your holiday and your delicious cookies!

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Gorgeous, Easy Holiday Decorating with Florida Citrus

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but Christmas is really sneaking up on us. I’ve got my tree up, the holiday music is playing, and I’m about to start baking up a storm (I love holiday cookies). Don’t talk to me about shopping, though!

Every year, my family and I make holiday ornaments and decorations of one kind or another. Sometimes they’re just for one season, like the time we strung popcorn on garlands (not that easy!), or the fragile paper snowflakes we make and hang in the windows every year. Others stay on our tree for years, like the sweet, glitter-crusted cardboard ornaments my children created when they were toddlers.

This year, I decided to make use of my lovely, ripe winter citrus in my holiday decorating. You might enjoy trying this, too, for a simple, yet beautiful Christmas look. As you may know, oranges have long been associated with the holidays. It used to be very common for children to receive an orange in the toe of their stockings, back when fresh citrus was more of a costly luxury. In Germany, children still traditionally receive oranges, nuts, and candy in their shoes on December 6, which is celebrated as St. Nicholas’s Day. And many of us just naturally associate the beautiful color and fresh, sweet taste of citrus with holiday treats and gifting.

After seeing the idea showcased on blogs and Pinterest, I decided to try drying some orange slices to hang in my windows and on my Christmas tree this year. I started with seedless navel oranges (citrus with seeds are harder to handle and don’t dry as well) and sliced them a little more than ¼” thick. Try to slice your oranges as evenly as you can, or you will have problems later with them drying unevenly.

A number of blogs suggested drying the orange slices directly on the oven rack, but I was worried that they would fall through, so I took the cooling racks I use for baked goods and put them on the oven racks, then placed the slices on those. This worked perfectly. I found that a temperature of about 215 degrees was about right, but your oven may vary.

The oranges took about 2.5 hours to dry all the way. You’ll want them to be dry and leathery, with no juice remaining, but not brown. Watch them carefully toward the end.

(By the way, I took advantage of this long, slow oven baking period and also dried some orange peel to make into citrus salt and citrus sugar! You can read more about how to make these gourmet items here.)

The finished dried orange slices have a lovely translucent quality that will remind you of stained glass. They look beautiful hanging in a window, strung onto a garland or a wreath or on a tree. Here you can see an ornament I made on my tree and a simple ornament with a cinnamon stick tied on hanging in my window. By the way, you can also store these dried slices and enjoy the orange flavor they add to a cup of hot tea.

These lovely, inexpensive natural ornaments are equally at home among rustic décor or in a more elegant environment. Check out these more elaborate variations, prettied up with dried flowers and ribbons. Or here’s one with cranberries and cinnamon sticks.

Not feeling up to drying slices? There are still so many ways to incorporate beautiful oranges, tangerines, and other citrus into your holiday décor. There’s not much simpler than placing a bright cloth, a few sprigs of pine or fir and some oranges or tangerines on a table, but it looks warm and beautiful. Or try the slightly more sophisticated look of tangerines, vintage ornaments, and fir or spruce boughs on a decorative plate—a simple yet elegant centerpiece at low cost.

Of course, you’ll also want to enjoy delicious treats and beverages made from oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and other citrus fruits during this holiday season!

Look for other posts coming up soon with festive recipes featuring fresh citrus. Happy holidays!

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Want to See What “Online Shopping” Looked Like in 1986? Florida Fruit Shippers Was There.

It’s Black Friday as I write this post, and I don’t know about you, but I have no plans to go anywhere near a physical store. First of all, I know I’d never find a parking spot, and the crowds and general stress (not to mention those Christmas carols playing over and over) are too much for me. I’ve always been happy to sit this one out at home.

However, I will start my shopping this weekend—from the comfort of my own home, and possibly in my PJs. While I don’t want to brave the stores, I’ve got no quibble with venturing online to shop, and I bet you don’t either. Statistics show that Americans today do about half of their holiday shopping online. I’d say I personally do about 75%! It’s just so much easier.

But can you remember when online shopping first started getting off the ground? What was the first thing you bought through a computer, and when? Amazingly, here at Florida Fruit Shippers, our owner and founder, Rick Del Greco, identified the incredible potential of online shopping over 25 years ago. That’s right—we’re early adopters here at Florida Fruit Shippers!

In fact, we recently unearthed a tape from 1986 of a news segment about this “new” way to shop. It features Rick and our beautiful oranges and grapefruits. We think you’ll enjoy going back in time to the ‘80s, when clothes and computers definitely looked a little bit different:

Here’s another clip from the Today show about the CompuServe Mall where an expert has to explain to a confused-looking Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley how online shopping works. They seem amazed! (Don’t forget to show these to your kids and grandkids for a really good reaction!)

And in my favorite clip , this big question gets asked: “Is home shopping just a fad, or is it here to stay?” Well…what do you think? (Look for a fun big-ticket item from Florida Fruit Shippers at the 3:42 mark.)
CompuServe ad from the February, 1985 issue
of Online Today [source]

As you saw in the first clip, Florida Fruit Shippers started offering online citrus ordering way back in 1986, through the very earliest major online shopping venue in the U.S.: the CompuServe Electronic Mall. At the time, there were less than 30 merchants selling products! CompuServe was the first company offering commercial Internet and online services in the United States. To use their electronic mall, customers scrolled through a list of companies (other early adopters included big retailers like JC Penney, Waldenbooks and Sears) and read text descriptions of the products. Of course, no images were available, as this was well before web browsers. Check out some ads for the Mall from back in the day here, including an image of the entire directory of companies selling online in 1984.

Just like today, though, when a customer was ready to buy, he or she entered a credit card number, and the product (maybe a basket of delicious navel oranges?) shipped out the next day. The service worked really well for Florida Fruit Shippers because it gave people around the country and the world easy access to a special, local product that ships beautifully. Online ordering increased our business dramatically in just a few short years.

Our Christmas Tree Deluxe gift basket
continues to be a holiday classic!

How did Florida Fruit Shippers have the foresight to get into the online space so early? Owner Rick reports that he was always pretty interested in computers and computing, and bought himself a Timex home computer early on. He saw an ad for the CompuServe Mall in a computer magazine, thought it would be a great thing for FFS to try, and the rest is history. FFS continued to partner with CompuServe through 1996, when we started our first stand-alone website. Rick remembers how excited everyone was back then when we finally were able to feature (small, low-resolution) pictures of our beautiful citrus!

Today, of course, we’re no longer the only company offering online ordering of gift citrus. But we think you’ll find that our emphasis on customer service and our hand-selected, top-quality oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, and honeybells still set us apart.

Just like the customer featured in that first video, I love having the option of “ordering flowers at 3 am.” I bet you do too. This holiday season, I’m taking a minute to appreciate how far technology has come (no more scrolling through a bunch of tiny green text!) while enjoying the leisurely convenience of shopping online.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Best Way to Spread Holiday Cheer: Florida Citrus

It happens every year: the holidays roll around, and you find yourself thinking about that list of people you really ought to appreciate in some small way. Often, these are the folks who make a difference in our lives but whom we don’t know too well: coworkers, our children’s teachers or instructors, neighbors, relatives we don’t see often, or maybe your hairdresser, mail carrier, or babysitter. Perhaps you’re also the type who loves to “gift” your circle with some small token. And let’s not forget that awkward moment when someone has a gift for you, but you’ve bought nothing for them!

Most of the time, it’s easiest to come up with one gift (or a couple of set options) that we can acquire in bulk for these occasions. Gift cards are a safe choice, but I know I’m not alone in considering them a bit boring—and the costs can add up. Decadent baked goods are one possibility, and some love them, but it’s not the right choice for those who have allergies or are watching their weight. Many people are tired of generic candles and mugs.

This year, why not share the joy of citrus with these acquaintances? Of course, one of our fantastic gift boxes, baskets, or cases is the perfect choice for your close relatives, friends, and key business associates. Try our Florida Sunshine Box or our Christmas Tree Deluxe! However, it’s not always appropriate to go all-out for smaller gifts such as these (though some of our options, like the Fruit Sampler or the Tangerine Special are very reasonably priced). Instead, handle a number of gifts by ordering several trays of our fantastically special Page oranges (a truly gourmet variety they’ve likely never tasted), our bright and juicy tangerines , or our classic favorite navel oranges and shipping them to yourself. Then pick up some pretty baskets at the thrift store (or repurpose baskets and boxes you already own). Line them with tissue paper or raffia and place three to five citrus fruits inside. Another option is to gather and tie the fruits in a pretty, inexpensive dish towel in bright citrus colors. With a cute gift tag, this will look beautiful and seasonal and set you back less than $10 per person. You know the citrus will be absolutely delicious and perfect, and your recipient won’t feel guilty about enjoying it!

Of course, if you’re the type who loves to get crafty and make something, oranges and citrus offers lots of great opportunities here, too. Last year, we showed you how easy it is to make gourmet citrus salt and citrus sugar. Packaged in a pretty mason jar with a ribbon, these make perfect and inexpensive gifts for your foodie friends. If you prefer to go with a more beauty-oriented gift, our citrus sea salt scrub is also a cinch to make, keeps your skin smooth and soft, and smells incredible. Or if soap-making sounds fun to you, check out this very simple glycerin-based Orange Zest Lemon Soap, made in a double boiler. All of these gifts are made from the rind of the orange, meaning you still get to enjoy the rest of the fruit. Why not order some of our perfect citrus and make use of the peels for these holiday treats?

Or, what about a gift to keep your friends’ and acquaintances’ homes smelling wonderful—without any weird chemicals or ingredients you can’t pronounce? These adorable bags of stovetop simmer spices, featuring a whole orange, whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, look so cute and would be really easy to put together.

Finally, if you do want to bake, there are so many incredible citrus options out there that we can’t begin to cover them in this post (and won’t try!) Look for a special feature on citrus Christmas treats soon, but for now, I’d like to share a few personal family favorites with you.

I made these cranberry-orange cookies last year for gift boxes, and they were my favorite of the whole bunch. There’s something about the sparkle that makes them so festive, too. I was surprised by how much my children loved them.Another cookie my children ask for that you might not expect them to is biscotti! The homemade version really bears no resemblance to the ones you find lurking in glass jars at coffee shops (you know, the ones that have been there since the beginning of time). They’re slightly fiddly to make, but a nice thing about them is that recipes tend to produce a lot and be rather frugal. Here’s a lovely-looking orange-almond biscotti recipe. Oranges and citrus have been associated with Christmas and the holidays for generations. They’re fragrant, beautiful, delicious, and good for you. Every home ought to have these seasonal fruits on hand for enjoying and gifting during the holiday season. Order a tray, basket, or box from Florida Fruit Shippers today.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

20 Delicious Ways to Use Fresh Citrus in Your Thanksgiving Feast

What’s your favorite holiday? Although my children’s wild enthusiasm for Halloween is infectious, and I love all the sweet family traditions of Christmas, there’s something about Thanksgiving that’s really won my heart over the years. It’s funny, because it wasn’t at all my favorite when I was a child. In fact, I have to confess that I once considered the day stuffy and boring. But as I’ve grown older, the simple pleasure of gathering with friends and family for a day of togetherness and delicious food has come to mean a lot to me.

I’m only halfway a traditionalist when it comes to the food on the table at Thanksgiving, though. There had better be stuffing and pie, but I definitely like to mix things up and try new recipes. One dish I do find it hard to be without is my mother’s simple cranberry relish. There’s nothing especially fancy about it—in fact, the recipe comes off the back of the cranberry bag—but its bright tang is a perfect complement to the other rich flavors on the Thanksgiving plate. What makes the relish perfect is the inclusion of a whole seeded orange.

As a matter of fact, seasonal citrus marries beautifully with every course on your Thanksgiving table. Dishes featuring fresh Florida oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit add a light, bright note to what can be a heavy meal. These fruits have just come into season and are fresh, juicy, sweet, and at their peak. The gorgeous fall color is another beautiful bonus. Read on for a cornucopia of delicious ways to incorporate fresh, seasonal citrus into your Thanksgiving celebration. You’ll want to make these recipes a new tradition.

At the Table

What could be easier and prettier than using fresh citrus? Try a wooden bowl full of fresh oranges and pine cones, or a rustic table runner set about with oranges, tangerines, small gourds, greenery, and candles. If you’re setting a more formal table, small tangerines or Page oranges tagged with names cards (wrap the fruit in pretty tissue paper, then tie with decorative twine and attach the tag) make for gorgeous named settings, with a small gift built in.

To whet their whistles
Cranberry-orange mulled wine is truly a special holiday treat.
This cranberry-orange mulled wine, made with Cabernet sauvignon, brandy, spices, and fresh- sliced oranges, is a special, deeply warming treat, perfect for celebrating. It can be served cold as a sangria if you’re living the Florida lifestyle! After dinner, try this bourbon citrus hot toddy, made in the slow cooker for the ease of the bartender. And for those who prefer not to drink alcohol, how about this refreshing Grapefruit Mojito “mocktail” or a “virgin mimosa”--a mix of sparkling white grape juice and freshly-squeezed orange juice?

Gorgeous salads

Every Thanksgiving table needs at least one beautiful colorful salad to balance out all the turkey and buttery side dishes. Don’t make this an afterthought—instead, embrace the beauty of winter produce and fruits and create a gorgeously bright, refreshing dish, like this beet and tangerine salad with cranberry dressing, this crisp but luscious platter of oranges, fennel, and avocado, or this showstopper citrus-kale salad, featuring goat cheese, ruby red grapefruit, baby kale, and a fresh orange juice dressing.
Oranges can add a splash of flavor and color to any salad.

The Main Affair

Citrus is a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving bird.
Citrus also pairs perfectly with poultry! This brandy and tangerine-glazed roasted turkey includes so many delectable sounding ingredients—fresh tangerines, tangerine marmalade, and fresh sage, chives, rosemary and thyme—wow! The dish starts off with a cider and citrus brine. If you haven’t tried this technique, you really should—it makes for a moist, well-seasoned bird. If that tangerine masterpiece seems like too much, go simple and opt for just the brine and roasting, or try this one (which uses only the orange peels, so you get the juice and flesh for another purpose).
But wait…have you got vegetarian guests this year? Even a vegan? Never fear. These citrus-tamari tofu steaks with rosemary and warm satsumas (feel free to sub in tangerines if that’s what you have) are fast and easy and absolutely Thanksgiving-appropriate, even for those who do not eat dairy, egg, or grains.

On the side

Citrus pairs naturally with sweet potatoes, carrots, or squash. This year, why not try out this citrus candied yams recipe, made a bit lighter and brighter with the tang of fresh orange? And if you enjoy carrots at Thanksgiving, these citrus maple-glazed ones (roasted in the oven with tangerines!) look delectable. Not everyone love brussel sprouts, but for those who do (and I’m one!), these orange-glazed brussel sprouts with butternut squash will look irresistible. Finally, let’s not forget the cranberry sauce, since cranberry and orange are meant for each other. If you enjoy a cooked version, this simple orange-cranberry sauce will be the perfect accompaniment to your bird. But if you’d like my mom’s classic recipe, the one it isn’t Thanksgiving without in my book, here it is. It’s so simple, but adds sparkle to your plate.

Room for Dessert?
Cranberry-orange cakes are festive show-stoppers!

You’ve tried pineapple upside-down cake, but what about a citrus upside-down cake? This simple but beautiful recipe can feature oranges, grapefruit, tangerines or clementines, and would be wonderful with whipped cream or ice cream. Hosting guests who eat gluten-free? This moist, fragrant almond-based tangerine cake has no exotic flours or ingredients; it’s based on an old Spanish recipe that’s naturally flour-free, and every guest will love it. No one can resist a pecan pie, but if you’d like to gild the lily, try this bourbon-orange pecan pie. Finally, if you didn’t make that cranberry-orange sauce for a side dish, or even if you did, why not add this beautifully festive cranberry-orange cake to your holiday dessert table? The taste is pure holiday season.

I don’t know about you, but I’m absolutely starving now and can’t wait for Thanksgiving to come. The only problem is that I’m really not sure how to choose which of these incredible-sounding recipes to make—maybe all of them? Enjoy the bounty of fresh Florida citrus around your holiday table.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A College Care Package to Keep Your Student in Good Health

Got a new college student living away from home for the first time this year? If so, you know that the experience of sending your son or daughter off to school (didn’t you JUST bring that baby home from the hospital?) can be an emotional roller-coaster for parent and child alike. Some days, it may seem like your student has no interest in telling you the first thing about his or her life. The next day, your cell phone may be ringing at midnight with a teary kid on the other end of the line.

Among the many ways you can be a helpful and supportive parent, sending a care package is a favorite. Every student out there loves to get a care package for home. I don’t know about you, but I was always jealous of the kids I saw picking these up in the mail-room when I was in school! Of course, there are all kinds of ideas out there for care packages—quarters for laundry, fancy coffee, deluxe toiletries, replacement school supplies, and on and on. But no one can deny that “tasty snacks” is probably near the top of the “most wanted” list for most college students.

So here’s a great suggestion: why not send a fresh, delicious, and incredibly healthful gift box of Florida oranges, tangerines, or Honeybells to your student? This different but delectable care package will be appreciated by your student and his or her roommate, housemates, or fraternity or sorority brothers or sisters alike. Florida citrus is the perfect choice for busy, stressed-out students. Our sweet, juicy, easy-to-peel fruit is delicious and picked at the peak of perfection. Plus, unlike typical dorm snacks and junk food, Florida oranges, tangerines, or grapefruit are absolutely great for them, and all that vitamin C will their immune system.

Remember, while there’s nothing wrong with a box of mom’s homemade cookies once in a while, your student is now in a food environment that’s often unhealthy. The cafeteria probably has some good choices, but also lots of unhealthy ones as well. Parties and social events are likely to be heavy on salty and fatty snacks. And who out there didn’t eat a lot of Ramen and cheap pizza in college?

In fact, many college students turn to emotional eating to relieve stress, or rely on high-fat “comfort foods” that remind them of home. Simply put, they may use food to self-soothe. Alternatively, without parents there to guide them, some kids may just forget to include vegetables and healthy fruits like Florida oranges in their diets.

Time pressure is a factor, too. If your student is an athlete or has a part-time job or a very demanding course load, it can be almost impossible to find time for healthy meals and snacks. They may rely on Cup O’Noodles and vending machine candy instead. Many students also find it almost impossible to stop in at the grocery store and pick up the fresh produce we all need for good health.

For a much better option, send your student one of our beautifully packaged boxes or baskets of sweet, fresh, healthy citrus. If a pick-me-up “taster” box seems the best choice, try our Fruit Sampler, packed full of juicy, tangy oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit. For a larger box to share, why not send a few trays of Tangerines and navels?

Having a student away at college represents an incredible success on the part of both parent and child, but at times it can be hard on mom and dad. After all, we still want to nurture the sons and daughters we love so much. Sending a delicious gift basket or box to your young adult reminds them that you love and care while also maintaining healthy boundaries. Enjoy the “thank you’s”!

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Buyer's Guide to Florida Citrus

We have over a dozen varieties of citrus available at different times throughout the season.  With so many options, how do you know which new variety you should try next?

Which orange is better for juicing: the Temple Orange or the Valencia Orange? 

Is Grapefruit the only citrus with a tart + sweet flavor?

Which orange is better for eating out of hand: the Navel Orange or the Honeybell?  
(By the way, if you follow the blog, you should know that the Honeybell isn't actually an orange!)

I'm pleased to announce that we're hard at work creating the Buyer's Guide to Florida Citrus to help you answer all of these questions.

So far we've created guides for the following varieties:
With many more to come.  Our goal is to have the buyer's guide completed before the start of next season.  If you have any recommendations, please sends us an email: answers@orangesonline.com .

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Make This Sweet-Smelling Citrus Sea Salt Scrub in 10 Minutes

It’s been an unbelievably cold and snowy winter nationwide. However, most of the country is finally starting to see a few welcome signs of spring. As temperatures start to rise, you may be getting your spring and summer clothes out and looking forward to a change of wardrobe. But is your skin parched, scaly and miserable after a long winter of dry air?

You can spend a lot of money on products that promise to solve this problem. However, I’d like to show you how to use fragrant citrus and some inexpensive, simple household ingredients to create a sweet-smelling, all-natural salt scrub. It’ll moisturize your skin deeply, and leave you feeling invigorated, too.

This recipe produces a luxurious product that’s very similar to pricey store-bought scrubs. You’ll also be using the peel of your oranges—a part of the fruit you’d most likely throw away otherwise. Orange zest is very high in vitamin C, a popular ingredient in fancy skin creams and treatments. According to experts, topical vitamin C can reduce the effects of sun damage, soften wrinkles, and heal dry skin.

Microplane grater
The process to make the scrub is really quick and easy. First, take an orange and remove about 2 tsp of zest. (Of course, your orange is still perfectly good for juicing or eating!) Here I’m using my microplane grater, which I love. It’s so much easier to use and clean than other graters.

Sea salt
Mix your zest with about 1 ½ cups of coarse-textured (not fine) sea salt in a medium-sized bowl. If your salt is in very large crystals, you might want to whir it in a coffee grinder for just a few seconds to break it down a little bit.

Olive oil
Add in about ½ cup of olive oil, almond oil, or liquid coconut oil (I used olive oil because I had some inexpensive oil on hand).

The scrub
Stir. The amount of oil here is a matter of personal preference. You may prefer a slightly drier or slightly more oil-rich scrub.

Essential oils for additional fragrance
Finally, you can add about 20 to 30 drops of an essential oil and stir, if you’d like to enhance the scrub’s fragrance. I had some sweet orange essential oil, so I used that. Lavender or peppermint essential oil would also harmonize nicely. This step is optional.

The final product
Spoon your scrub into a decorative jar or container. You’re done!

To use the scrub, I suggest bringing it into the shower. Scoop out a tablespoon or so of scrub, gently rub it over an area of dry skin (making small circles), and rinse thoroughly.

This fresh, natural scrub will gently exfoliate, leaving your face and body feeling smooth and soft and looking brighter. It’s also a great and very easy-to-make gift. With just a few minutes of your time, you can add some “zest” to your day and enjoy healthier, glowing skin. You’ll be ready for swimsuit weather in no time--so let’s hope Mother Nature holds up her end of the bargain!


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Friday, February 13, 2015

The Fake Count, the Imaginary Pirates, and the 100% Real Grapefruit

So you’re about to sit down to a delicious fresh grapefruit for breakfast. Or maybe you’ve sectioned one up for a fruit salad, or even for a salsa or dinner dish with shrimp. And you’re wondering...hey, why do they call it a “grapefruit” anyway?

As you might imagine, we know the answer. Want to take a guess?

(Warning: Answer given below.)

Grapefruit growing in clusters.
The correct answer is b. We’ll forgive you if you didn’t know, since not that many people are lucky enough to have seen this juicy, succulent fruit growing.

Though the word is not Creole, grapefruit does originate from the Caribbean—either Jamaica or Barbados. Grapefruit, a relatively new fruit, is actually a hybrid of the sweet orange and another type of citrus, the pommelo. No one really knows if the fruit arose naturally or was deliberately created. And incidentally, it didn’t start out being called a grapefruit. It originally went by the name “shattuck” or “shaddock,” after a Captain Shaddock who, legend has it, first brought pommelo seeds to the Caribbean.

Legend has it that Captain Shaddock, of the East Indian Trading Company,
introduced pommelo seeds to the Caribbean.

So how did the grapefruit make its way to Florida? We have an interesting character named Odet Philippe to thank. The mists of history have obscured much of the story of Philippe, and Philippe added to the problem by telling some tall tales about himself.

"Count" Odet Philippe
You see, Philippe claimed to be a count, to have grown up with Napoleon and later served as his chief surgeon, to have been the nephew of King Louis XVI of France, and to have traveled with famous pirates of legend. Over time, however, historians have come to seriously question all of these assertions. What we do know is that in the 1820s, Philippe became the first European settler in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where he built a plantation on an ancient Native American burial mound.

There, he grew large groves of tropical fruits, and eventually began to specialize in grapefruit, which he had learned about in his travels in the Caribbean.  Philippe gave freely of his seeds, and also helped his neighbors learn how to graft citrus. He is credited with beginning to popularize grapefruit in Florida, and some even consider him the father of “citrus culture” in Florida.

Today, a park in the town of Safety Harbor, FL marks where Philippe’s house and groves once stood, and citrus trees still bear on the property.  In 2011, Safety Harbor held a festival celebrating grapefruit and its unique connection to the area. It featured the planting of a grapefruit tree, grapefruit treats, and even a grapefruit line dance.

Safety Harbor and Philippe Park
While Odet Philippe may not have been a count, sailed with pirates, known Napoleon, or even been a doctor at all, history agrees that he did bring grapefruit to Florida, which is now among the world’s top producers of this beloved, delicious, sweet-tart fruit. We think he did pretty well for himself, no matter what.

Image Credits

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How to Make a Dreamy, Creamy Orange Julius

Who else out there remembers Orange Julius? Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this was the place to go for a hot dog and what was actually a pretty fantastic frozen orange-vanilla drink. The Julius made many a boring mall visit a little sweeter for me in those days.

Orange Julius was the official
beverage of the 1964 World's Fair
Some might even call the Julius the original all-American fruit smoothie. This healthy citrus beverage was ahead of its time. Its origins date all the way back to the jazz age, when Julius Freed, an everyday juice stand owner, changed his recipe at the suggestion of a friend, adding milk, ice, vanilla flavoring, and a bit of sugar. Soon, customers were lined up for the drink, calling out, “Give me an orange, Julius!”...or so the story goes. The sweet, creamy beverage was even the official drink of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, where it quenched fairgoers’ thirst alongside attractions including a demonstration of a computer modem and the original “It’s a Small World” ride, now housed at Disneyworld.

Orange Julius ingredients.
A big part of the drink’s appeal is the way it balances the brighter, sharper taste of citrus with creamy dairy and vanilla. Though you’d probably never otherwise think of mixing orange juice with milk, somehow it works here. It might remind you of orange sherbet--or of another childhood favorite, the creamsicle.

You’ve probably had an Orange Julius made using frozen orange juice concentrate. While those are pretty good, the drink goes to a whole new level when made with fresh-squeezed juice. It’s far fresher-tasting, sweeter, and all around more refreshing, too. I tinkered a bit and combined ideas from several online recipes before coming up with two different versions for you to try. In my unscientific household poll, two of us preferred the Classic and two of us went for the New Millennium. By the way, I have to note that every participant spontaneously said “Mmmm” after his or her first sip.

Classic Creamy Orange Smoothie

  • Juice of 3 juicy Florida oranges, such as Valencia or Temple (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 5-6 ice cubes
Blend in a blender till very frothy.

New Millennium Creamy Orange Smoothie

  • Juice of 3 juicy Florida oranges, such as Valencia or Temple (about 1 cup)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup vanilla yogurt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 4-5 ice cubes
Blend in a blender till creamy.

Mmmm, a delicious glass of
New Millennium Creamy Orange Smoothie
If you enjoy this drink, you can take it in all kinds of different directions. Try adding frozen mango cubes, frozen pineapple, or frozen or room-temperature bananas. Frozen pineapple was a huge success at our house, and also gave the drink a great, thick texture. If dairy doesn’t work for you, you can substitute alternative milks like soy or almond milk, or even coconut milk.

This classic creamy citrus treat is even more tasty than I remember. It’s also really easy to whip up at home. Give it a try with your own family, and see if you awaken some memories—or make some new ones.

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