Finding Your Zen Anytime, Anywhere

Living in the suburbs, nothing makes me happier than falling asleep to the sound of crickets outside my window. The summer sounds of birds chirping and rain falling on the roof bring peace and a sense of oneness with nature that is unique to the summer season. These relaxing sounds are soothing any time of day and I am sharing some useful apps that deliver that relaxation in the most unlikely places, thanks to the convenience of technology.  I have found that great meditation and noise simulator apps can help me achieve the same level of relaxation whether I’m commuting to work or at the office in need of a 10-minute psychic refuel.


Relax Melodies

Relax melodies is one of my favorite apps to listen to when I am trying to unwind after a long day. It contains a large library full of relaxing sounds to help you fall asleep at night and meditation guides to help you regain clarity after a frazzling day with kids and work. This is the largest library I have ever seen in an app. If you find raucous traffic soothing, they have it. If the sound of the planet Jupiter relaxes you? They have it!

What is so unique about this app is that you can really tailor every sound bite to your personal preferences. You can adjust the volume of each piece so the next time you open it up the settings are automatically to your liking, as well as combine multiple sound bites that make the experience extremely personal. You can set the noise on a timer so the app will automatically close after a certain period of time so you need not worry about wasting battery while you sleep.

It is not necessary to pay the $9.99 for access to the full library but if you do, you will not regret it. The app is compatible with smartphones and Apple Watch so you can use it on-the-go.



If you are trying meditation out for the first time, Headspace is a free app to consider. Headspace, a guided meditation and mindfulness app makes meditation simple. The opening menu provides an array of meditation guides focusing on health, relationships, performance, foundation etc. Each session lasts around 10 minutes and you can track your progress to keep you on the path to relaxation.

And if you find yourself on the verge of a mini-meltdown — because everybody gets them — the app has an “SOS” feature that can help you calm down, rationalize the situation and provide clarity.

I would recommend this to any parent trying to maintain some semblance of sanity during the day and teens who sometimes need that reassurance that they can do whatever they put their minds to.


In my opinion, there is no reason why summer relaxation levels can not be achieved any time of year in any location. Check out these apps to keep deep relaxation within reach and part of your daily restoration regimen.


-Contributions made by Sam Donsky

Container Herb Gardening With Seasons on the Hudson

I recently visited Seasons on the Hudson in Irvington, NY to participate in a container herb gardening workshop hosted by Gerald Palumbo, owner of Seasons on the Hudson and Seasons, A Floral Studio in Manhattan.

Container herb gardening is easier than I thought. These lovely little eco-systems can be customized to your palate. Love Italian cuisine? Basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary are the herbs for you. These little gardens are convenient and beautiful. Notice how Gerald liked to alternate tall and squat herbs so the containers had a visual appeal with dimension and balance.

Over the years, my containers of herbs have sat on my front steps, making an obstacle course for visitors who gingerly navigated pots teeming with fragrant mint and basil, dill, chive and parsley. My big mistake had been not using pots with irrigation holes at the bottom OR adding a buffering layer of gravel, like Gerald demonstrated, or small stones that I have on hand from terrarium building projects.

Note that Palumbo points out that herb container gardens will not grow beyond their “quarters” like herbs might when planted in the garden. Think about how mint just takes over the garden like ivy does in the yard. With regular pruning and care, these herbs will stay fresh and flavorful all summer long. Some will thrive more in the winter months will plenty of sunlight.

Not only are these beautiful planters great for cooks to use at home, but they also make perfect centerpieces. In fact, Palumbo has found that instead of conventional flower arrangements at weddings, many couples are requesting herb containers that guests can take home after the celebration.

Palumbo sells customized herb garden containers similar to the one we created in the video for $75 at his stores in both Irvington and Manhattan. They can tailor your container garden to your preferences.

Seasons, a Floral Design Studio                                        Seasons on the Hudson

888 8th Avenue                                                                          45 Main Street

New York, NY 10019                                                                 Irvington, NY 10533

phone: 212.586.2257                                                                phone: 914.591.7377

Thanks to Miko, manager of the Irvington shop, for filming this video.


Contributions made by Sam Donsky

Container Herb Gardening: A Growing Trend

Seasons on the Hudson’s container herb garden

Even though I have plenty of garden space, I love the flexibility that containers give me: pots of basil, parsley and rosemary are standard on my kitchen counter all year round. I keep big pots of chives on my front steps for snipping into salads and soups. I have been growing herbs this way with relative success over the years. I wanted to know more though. Should herbs be intermingled? Do some varieties just need their own private pot to thrive? What kind of drainage should pots have? How much water? And sun?

I reached out to Gerald Palumbo, the owner of Seasons on the Hudson in Irvington, NY and Seasons: A Floral Design Studio in Manhattan for the answers.  

Q: What are the biggest myths about container herb gardening? Is it true that you can grow a garden in a vessel as small as a teacup?

A: Myth: herbs will live indefinitely indoors. Many herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill are annuals and will only do well through one growing seasons. Other herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano are perennials and may live for many years if they are well taken care of. With regard to planting herbs in small containers such as a teacup, keep in mind that the smaller the container the smaller the plant will remain.

Q: What are the herbs that are ideally planted with each other? Which herbs should not be planted together and why?

A: You generally want to plant herbs together that prefer the same light and moisture conditions:  For example rosemary, lavender, thyme, and oregano tend to like drier soil and lots of sun. Herbs like basil, chives, parsley and dill prefer moister soil.  

Q: What are some considerations for containers with herbs which will be kept indoors?

A: With the proper light conditions most herbs can be kept indoors. Frequent cutting of the herbs and regular fertilizing will promote continual growth.

Q: What is the basic care of herb containers for outdoors living in the summer season?

A: When herb gardens are placed outside during the summer, proper watering is crucial. Plants tend to dry out quicker when in containers, especially terra cotta.

Q: What is the ideal container made of for herb planting?

A: I prefer terra cotta for the herbs that prefer a drier soil and I prefer plastic or ceramic containers for the moisture-loving varieties. Good drainage is always important.

Q: What are three rules of thumb for container planting?

A: Choose the proper container with good drainage. Use a good potting soil. Always water your container very well after planting.

Q: For herbs being mixed in container planters, does close proximity impact things like taste and growth?

A: Flavor of the herbs is not affected by how close they are planted to each other. I like to plant the herbs that I like to cook with and it is always nice to have fresh herbs on the kitchen window sill in the winter.

Seasons on the Hudson will host a container herb garden workshop on Sunday, June 19th, at “Celebrate Irvington” where you can learn how to create a beautiful herb garden for your kitchen table, patio, or as a nice gift for someone. The cost is $75 per person and covers the workshop and provided materials for an herb container garden you can take home with you. Timing is flexible. For registration and details visit:


Sunday, 19 June 2016 from 11:00 to 16:00 (EDT)


Seasons On The Hudson – 45 Main Street, Irvington, NY



Contributions made by Sam Donsky

Hoboken Farms: Small Town Sauce, Big Town Flavor

Hoboken Farms Big Basil tomato basil sauce

Store-bought sauce can be a pretty contentious subject for fans of sauces with that just-made fresh flavor. I was one of those snobs, always stressing to squish San Marzano tomatoes in the can as a pot of salted water cooked pasta. I’d pull out the woody stems and toss the broken down tomato meat with fresh smashed garlic cloves sizzling in olive oil. That simmering concoction would meld as it cooked, was seasoned with salt and pepper and finished with torn fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of EVOO.

My work-life balance wasn’t in sync enough for homemade sauces to be on the menu and I always kept a few jarred options to resort to when the kids were lobbying for lasagna, pasta and a protein or chicken parm. I’d get complaints when I hadn’t sufficiently labored at the stove and produced a luxurious sauce that had flavor rich with the taste and aroma of freshly made tomato and basil sauce with the wonderful texture of those hand-swished tomato chunks. 

Hoboken Farms sauce comes in three varieties (L to R): Big Red, Big Boss and Big Basil

When the folks at Hoboken Farms asked me to sample their three sauces–Big Red, their marinara sauce; Big Boss, their vodka sauce; and Big Basil, their tomato basil sauce– I agreed without expecting much. I had read the reviews and readied myself to see what all the fuss was about. 

I popped off the lid of the Big Basil sauce and took stock: wonderfully fresh aroma; great texture thanks to meaty tomato chunks; beautifully seasoned and full of fresh taste. These sauces are the real deal. They have the taste you’d expect from a chef that perfected marina, tomato basil and vodka sauces by simply relying on excellent quality ingredients prepared classically with minimal fuss.

Big Basil sauce served over Tolerant Organic Red Lentil Penne

Here’s how I enjoyed Big Basil over Tolerant Organic Red Lentil Penne: talk about elevating the natural flavor of pasta! Hoboken Farms defies you to sauce your pasta  modestly the way you’d be served them in Italy. I flunked, happily and greedily over-saucing and enjoying every spoonful. 

Other ways I’d serve Hoboken Farms Big Basil or Big Red sauces:

– Spooned over a layer of pesto atop a grilled slice of sourdough or ciabatta

– Layered with plain Greek yogurt for a savory parfait that’s topped with minced celery and parsley for crunch 

– Spooned over zucchini noodles or baked potato

– Blended with summer veggies like squash and kale for a refreshing smoothie or chilled soup

– Stir a cup or more into bean or vegetable soup

– Baked on top of seasoned chicken cutlets or fillets of fish like char

You are only limited by your creativity with Hoboken Farms, a pantry essential for uncompromising sauce enthusiasts. 

Contributions made by Samantha (Sam) Donsky

Summer Beach Bag Essentials: 12 Must-Haves for a Day of Fun in the Sun

Summer’s here and with it comes trips to the beach or neighborhood pool. When there are children in tow, those trips become more complicated with appetites anticipated and anxiety about excessive sun exposure. From light-weight, absorbent microfiber towels to soothing essential oil-infused after sun skin sprays, here is a round-up of nifty products for those warm weather jaunts:

1. Beach Bag ($9.99)
The Ikea Solur beach bag is reasonably priced and at-the-ready in an assortment of colors. Big enough to pack multiple items and changes of clothing, this tote is lightweight and durable. The detachable zipper-pocket makes it easy to carry cell phone, wallet and keys when running to the snackbar. The beach bag can be purchased on the Ikea website or at an Ikea near you:

Ikea SOLUR Beach Bags
Ikea SOLUR Beach Bags

2. Microfiber Beach Towel ($55)
SolEscapes Travel Lux Microfiber Beach & Pool Towels are 40 x 7 inch towels that are practical and easy to stow. I love the light weight of this product and how absorbent they are without getting heavy. That means less weight in the bag hauled back and forth from the car, less room used up in the bag and best of all, faster drying. Purchase on the SolEscapes website:

SolEscapes Microfiber Beach Towels
SolEscapes Microfiber Beach Towels

3. Zausner Hydrating Mist ($13)
I love this product and keep a year-round supply in my fridge to soothe stressed skin or to spray on kitchen burns. Zausner Hydrating Mist is a sun recovery system for sun-damaged or dehydrated skin. An all-natural, 12 oz. bottle has a delicate, fresh aroma thanks to essential oils like lavender, sesame, geranium, roman chamomile and sandalwood, leaving a cooling, fresh fragrance behind. Natural vitamin E, calendula and French seaweed boost its healing properties and moisturize sun damaged skin. Tip: Leave the spray in a cool beverage cooler for an even more invigorating cool down. The spray is sold at Whole Body stores and is also available on the Solar Recover website:
Save Your Skin

Zausner Solar Recovery Hydrating Mist
Zausner Solar Recovery Hydrating Mist

4. Zausner “Save Your Lips” Lip Balm ($4)
Protect the pucker. The Solar Recovery SPF 16 lip balm glides smoothly over lips to protect them from the harsh UV rays emitted from the sun. Ingredients beeswax, coconut oil, jojoba oil, calendula, lavender oil, vitamin E and geranium oil. The lip balm is available on the Solar Recover website:

Zausner Save Your Lips SPF 16 Lip Balm
Zausner Save Your Lips SPF 16 Lip Balm

5. COOLA Citrus Mimosa Organic Sun care ($32)
COOLA Sport SPF 35 Citrus Mimosa Sunscreen Spray has an easy spray-on application and is water-resistant to last you the whole day. This 6 fl oz. sunscreen is infused with anti-aging antioxidants and is made with 97% organic inactive ingredients such as Cucumber, Algae and Strawberry extracts, and Red Raspberry Seed oil. It is naturally scented with a subtle sweet orange aroma. The Sunscreen Spray is available on the COOLA website:

Coola Citrus Mimosa Sunscreen Spray
Coola Citrus Mimosa Sunscreen Spray

6. Maui Jim Polarized Sunglasses ($100-$400)
Maui Jim Polarized Plus Lens Technology gives a whole new meaning to eye protection. With various designs to choose from, Maui Jim enables you to pick your favorite frame and match it with your preferred lens. With nine types of polarized lenses, these sunglasses not only block out the sun but are waterproof and oleophobic, which means that they shed water and repel grease. No wonder they are a top choice among surfers. he sunglasses are available to custom build on the Maui Jim website:

Maui Jim "Mavericks" and "Surf Rider" Sunglasses
Maui Jim “Mavericks” and “Surf Rider” Sunglasses

7. Coolibar Women’s Water Jacket ($75)
For a chilly day at the beach or protection while you are on the boat or in the water, Coolibar women’s water jacket offers strong sun protection without the worry of reapplying sunscreen. The jacket is made of suntect fabric, which blocks 98% of harmful UV rays. Chlorine and salt water pose no threat to its ability to block harmful rays. The jacket can be purchased on the Coolibar website:

Coolibar Women's Water Jacket
Coolibar Women’s Water Jacket

8. Alkazone Water ($47.76 for a 24-pack of 23.7-ounce bottles)
Keeping your body hydrated ensures you have energy and keeps your skin healthier. Alkazone antioxidant water is electrolyte enhanced and has a 9.5 pH alkalinity, ideal to keep you truly hydrated and refreshed throughout the day. The water is sodium free and enriched with Selenium which is a natural antioxidant found in blueberries that slows down oxidation. Alkazone can be bought separately or in 12 or 24 packs on their website:

Alkazone Antioxidant Water
Alkazone Antioxidant Water

9. Beach Store Umbrella ($59.95)
The Beach Store umbrella contains a wind vent for those breezy days at the beach and comes with a convenient carrying bag for easy travels and clean up. This eight foot, 20-panel beach umbrella has been approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation and provides SPF 100 protection. The umbrella is available on the Beach Store website:

The Beach Store 20 Panel Blue Umbrella
The Beach Store 20 Panel Blue Umbrella

10. Yes To Cucumber Wipes for a Post-Beach Rinse Off ($2.99- $5.99)
Yes To Cucumber facial towelettes are 98% natural and hypoallergenic, ideal for sensitive skin. These oil-free facial wipes are made up of organic cucumbers, aloe vera and green tea to gently remove excess dirt and oil along with sweat and makeup. They offer an easy way to remove excess oil from skin and that streaking mascara from wave riding. The towelettes come in mini and regular size and are available on the Yes To website:

Yes To Cucumbers Facial Towelettes
Yes To Cucumbers Facial Towelettes

11. Aubrey Swimmer Shampoo and Conditioner ($14.98)
Chlorine, salt and the summer heat can cause hair to become brittle and damaged. Aubrey’s Organic Swimmer’s Normalizing Shampoo is made up of organic rice extract, citric acid, organic shea butter and Aloe Vera to restore moisture balance and help remove chlorine and other chemicals. The Normalizing Conditioner detangles and restores brittle hair with organic Aloe Vera, Jojoboa oil, B vitamins, amino acid complex and horsetail ingredients. This shampoo and conditioner combo with its pH-normalizing ingredients helps to strengthen and protect hair fibers while adding body and softness to the hair. Use it before you get in the car for the drive home to keep chlorine and salt from doing further damage to your locks. The shampoo and conditioner are available in 2 oz, 11 oz and 16 oz sized bottles on the Aubrey-Organics website:

Aubrey Organics Swimmer's Normalizing Shampoo and Conditioner
Aubrey Organics Swimmer’s Normalizing Shampoo and Conditioner

12. Healthy Hoohoo Wipes ($13.99)
After a long day in a wet bathing suit, we may not be feeling our freshest. Healthy Hoohoo wipes are a gentle and natural feminine freshen up wipes with a touch of aloe for moisturizing. We like the fact they are paraben and fragrance free, along with being sold in nifty little pouches for easy stow in purse or beach bag. In case you run out of baby wipes, they’ll do gentle double duty on little bottoms. Think of this product as baby wipes, for grown-up gals. 😉
The wipes are available on the Healthy Hoohoo website:

Healthy Hoohoo Single Wipe
Healthy Hoohoo Single Wipe

Nicolette Bussanich, research associate, contributed to this round-up.

Springerle Cookie Molds From House on the Hill – Valentine’s Day Just Got Sweeter

House on the Hill in Elmhurst, IL sells springerle cookie molds, well over 500 of them, along with baking and crafting supplies. This is the go-to resource for replicas of the beautiful embossing tools that date back to the 1700s. Designed for use specifically with springerle or gingerbread dough, these molds also work well in the service of cake decorating. Here’s a Valentine’s Day themed cupcake using pink fondant with the Double Rose mold ($34.50) from House on the Hill.

Pink fondant embossed with House on the Hill Double Rose mold
Pink fondant embossed with House on the Hill Double Rose mold

Any purchase over $35 comes with a handy little recipe book called “Too Pretty To Eat” in reference to the delicate, food-as-art feeling of springerle cookies. There are recipes for chocolate and peanut butter fondant, marzipan, which can easily be colored with food gels, also sold at House on the Hill, and of course, several variations of cookies in the springerle, gingerbread and short bread genres.

Cookies in another romance theme can easily be baked and stacked up in a clear container, presented with a bow and good wishes for a delightful Valentine’s gift. These cookies have use the Amo Te heart mold from House on the Hill, which retails for $26.50.

Amo Te Heart mold from House on the Hill used for creating springerle cookies.
Amo Te Heart mold from House on the Hill used for creating springerle cookies.

And here’s the same mold used with fondant to create a clever cupcake topper. The fondant can easily be adhere to the cupcake top with a dab of icing.

Amo Te Heart mold from House on the Hill used with pink fondant.
Amo Te Heart mold from House on the Hill used with pink fondant.

Bakerella, one of my favorite blogs, did a piece on cookie molds just about this time last year featuring these same molds from House on the Hill, even creating adorable cookie toppers by adhering the fondant embossings onto same shape sugar cookies.

With our below freezing weather in New Jersey, I am still in my gingerbread making mode. Here’s a platter of both gingerbread and springerle cookies using House on the Hill’s Baroque Owl mold, $25.50.


House on the Hill molds can be purchased in selected gourmet retailers across the country. The largest selection though is available on the website, Be sure to check the company’s News & Events page for workshops in Elmhurst, IL and around the country. Owner Connie Meisinger, a 4th generation springerle baker, travels to gourmet retailers to educate people about the magic of baking (and crafting) with her springerle molds. The website features a slow-paced, tip loaded video by the owner on preparing springerle dough and working with the molds.

To reach House on the Hill by phone, call 877-279-4455. To read Connie’s blog, click here.