If you are a vocalist then taking care of your vocal chords means having a healthy routine. It is best to avoid loud places where you talk over room noise. You must steam and warm up your vocal chords every day especially before singing. Sinus rinse, vocal rest, refrain from late nights and alcohol. These are all regular activities in a “Be Good To Your Vocal Chords” routine. One I personally find extremely useful and practical to implement on a regular basis is the sinus rinse.
Vocal guru Valerie Morehouse has been guiding me in finding my own routine to maintain healthy and strong vocal chords. I have learned so much from Valerie about good vocal health, so I’m sharing some of these tips with you. Working with her has taught me what a key role clear sinuses play in a fantastic sounding instrument.
The fabulous Valerie Morehouse, vocal coach and voice guru extraordinaire.
Having a perfectly resonant sound consistently means happy sinuses every day, because it is here that a large part of the voice resonates to create the sound we make when singing and speaking. She firmly believes in sinus rinsing and she scolds me when I don’t do it, as she should. I have even heard of instances where students Skype lessons with her from the bathroom. They rinse during the lesson only to find an instant improvement in sound clarity and vocal chords coming together properly.
Now, a common question people ask me especially in interviews is “what is the least favorite part of your job?” My response surprises many. I love calling singing a job, so all of it is my favorite and sinus rinsing is the only thing that comes to mind as my least favorite occupational requirement.
Rinsing is uncomfortable and, well kind of gross but it helps so much that the good unequivocally outweighs the bad. Performing in a different city every day or every other day and generally being on the go is tiring and wears me down, which is when I feel most susceptible to cold or flu. Numerous times I thought surely I was catching a bug, either from constantly being on a plane or from fatigue. But when I rinse I feel better instantly.
“But I’m not a singer” you say. The rinse is still worth considering. Think about it, your sinuses are like a screen filtering germs and particles trying to come into your body. The mucus lining the sinuses is the first line of defense. By rinsing you are giving relief to your immune system. The saline solution has a sanitizing effect.
My ear, nose, throat specialist Dr. Chester Griffiths, a top ENT, has also been pushing sinus rinsing on me for years and suggests I can do it more than once a day. A few times I was so sick and rinsed four or five times in a single day! If you don’t believe me just ask Dr. Oz.
Dr. Oz stated in one of his episodes he believes in the netti-pot. Personally I prefer the bottle and they are essentially the same as long as you buy the prepackaged saline solution. I feel the bottle is easier to maneuver and less messy. Neither way is particularly neat but they serve the same purpose. You must do it over the sink or in a shower. One friend say she uses hers in the bathtub, but I cannot picture doing it anywhere but over my bathroom sink.
Niel Med Sinus Rinse is the brand I buy. It’s available “over the counter” and you can find it at any pharmacy. The one disclaimer is you must must must use filtered or boiled water. Preferably the water temperature is just cooler than lukewarm. You definitely do not use warm or hot water. Sometimes when traveling if there are no means to warm it up I’ll use water straight from a sealed bottle. It’s not the most comfortable sensation because the water is a bit cooler than the ideal temperature but it’s not going to harm you either.
I use Niel Med Sinus Rinse on a daily basis.
Recently Valerie reminded me that a ready to go saline rinse is also available at pharmacies. It’s fast and effective. You just squirt it up the nose and it’s not uncomfortable at all. This sounds like a good one to keep in my gym locker.
Now I am not a doctor, and if you’ve had sinus surgery or other issues of concern you should ask your doctor if sinus rinsing is right for you. But it is a general rule and safe to say you should rinse your sinuses!
Once you do it you’ll want to…
Sinus Rinse and Repeat!
Many people have never purchased an entire piece of feta. So my mission is to show you how easy it is to use up a whole lotta feta when it is LEFeTa over. Here are three quick easy recipes with ingredients you can find at pretty much every supermarket.
Feta Stuffed Dates
I am a date freak. This one time in Palm Desert, California, we stopped at the Shields Date Store. It was out of control and so was I. They had every single kind of date you could possibly imagine, a plethora of nuts, a wild assortment of dried fruits, and that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the wide selection of honey!
Then I stumbled upon the date cookies. Oh goodness this was the best “date experience” ever. I had been converted and suddenly had a mad love for dates. Owning a date palm at some point is on my bucket list because I know it will bring me so much pleasure. Well, that and dates last FOREVER in the freezer and actually taste good frozen.
While perusing the vast date selection at Shields, and enjoying the samples, I discovered the Royal Medjool. Any date will do for this recipe, but if you have a date choice this is the one I recommend.
The Royal Medjool is called royal for a reason. It is the largest of the dates. The sweetness is undeniable and compared to the others it has more of a fruit-like texture which makes it easier to stuff. The others are more sugary.
When it comes to stuffing, take the date, cut it carefully lengthwise until you have sliced the date all the way along one side. This will allow you to remove the pit and spread the date, but do not cut it completely through. Then take a little piece of the feta and stuff it right into the center of the date. Then press the date together. Sometimes I like to give the plate some variation by adding a mint leaf on the date or stuffing it with a nut. I like walnuts.
Feta stuffed dates.
Feta Watermelon Salad
This watermelon salad is so easy. Literally, you cut up watermelon, add some feta, and then sprinkle some mint leaves on top and there you go. The salad is done. If you want to get fancy you can add fresh squeezed juice from one lime and 1/2 tbsp of chopped red onion and give it a toss.
Feta and watermelon salad.
Feta With Hummus
Hummus from scratch is a lesson for another day. I know how to make it at home, but here’s a confession. I cheat. Yes, I buy ready-made Sabra hummus from Costco by the boatload since it lasts so long in the fridge. A great and easy way to add variety is to take some store bought hummus and mix in thinly sliced feta. I like to sprinkle some on top too. This one doesn’t come with measurements, just eye ball it.
Feta with hummus.
Valerie Morehouse suggested this book for good basics on using your voice correctly.
In my case I was suffering from mis-use and over-use. When I first met Valerie I had multiple things going on. I was referred to her by my ENT (ear, nose, and throat), who also happens to be one of the team doctors for the LA Kings, because I had significant swelling on my left chord. It has taken 2 years, and counting, to unravel the messy knot of bad habits, wrong musculature, talking in the wrong part of my voice, and vocal fry at the end of my phrases which was further perpetuating the damage already done. All of these things came to a head while I was on a tour with a grueling schedule in early 2012. I had lost the lower part of my upper register, I couldn’t hit the notes I could before and if I could it just wouldn’t ring the clear tone I was used to hearing when I sang.
In the spring I had improved by changing the placement of my talking voice, eliminating the vocal fry, warming up regularly, and working on specific vocal technique Valerie tailored toward strengthening my chords and proper placement designed to keep me from hiking the larynx.
You can only get so many miles out of your vocal chords within a given period of time and this is even more true if you are in fact abusing them. It matters not the activity, it’s about duration and proper use. If you are engaging the muscles correctly you can sing and talk almost endlessly. I have learned so much from Valerie about good vocal health. So I’m sharing some of these tips with you.
The fabulous Valerie Morehouse, vocal coach and voice guru extraordinaire.
Learn to be quiet once in a while. This is a basic and relevant part of a “Be Good To Your Vocal Chords” routine. Taking care of your vocal chords means no night clubs, crowded restaurants, wild parties, sporting events, and concerts. Basically no loud places where you are talking over the noise. If you find you must go then protect yourself. Call ahead to the restaurant and tell them you absolutely need a quiet table. There have been occasions where I have to be in a live music venue in a professional capacity or because there is a show that as a music lover I just cannot miss. In these situations I simply do not talk. I will wear ear plugs and insist on texting the person next to me instead of screaming.
Now, as some of you may know, I am a HUGE hockey fan. It is unfortunate, and a grand sacrifice on my part, but I have made it a habit to no longer scream at games. This is especially infuriating when a referee makes a bad call. Asking the person sitting next to me to yell at the ref on my behalf is just one of the small changes I have made to be good to my voice. I realize that I need to sing everyday, and anything that may interfere with having a healthy voice I need to address and change, and get into a new healthy habit that becomes my default position.
The ultimate goal? Be Good To Your Vocal Chords.
A Touch of Romantic Italy for Two
1 1/2 basil leaves
1 cup olive oil
1 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
cracked black pepper
5 cloves garlic
Sliced Coastal English cheddar
1 pound tomatoes on the vine
Cracked black pepper
One day I came across the most amazing caprese salad and I knew at once I would make my own version at home. The most beautifully baked tomatoes, still on the vine, were nestled in mozzarella cheese.
Making it is easier than one would think. Take the tomatoes and wash them, but leave them on the vine. I like to use a square brownie baking tin or a loaf tin lined with foil to bake my tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil then sprinkle the tops with chili flakes and fresh ground pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Do not leave the tomatoes unattended. Since the stems are staying on you want to make sure the oven isn’t too hot or they will burn. Don’t get me wrong, the stems are pretty crispy by the time they are done but it’s a matter of not filling the house up with smoke! Let your tomatoes cool before plating.
I love pesto, but I don’t particularly care for salt since I find most foods have a natural saltiness to them. This was my motivation to learn how to make pesto sauce. When I started researching it seemed easy enough to try making in my own kitchen. The first batch was a total experiment so I just kept track of what I was using and how much. One of the key elements to a great pesto is to be certain your basil leaves are totally dry after washing.
My sweetie is allergic to parmesan cheese which led me to try the aged English coastal cheddar instead. This particular cheddar is white so it works well as a substitute flavor wise and aesthetically.
Simply put all of the ingredients straight into a mixer or blender (but for two or three basil leaves) until it reaches the consistency that looks right. Don’t feel bashful. If your heart desires you can add more of any of the ingredients. I like my pesto with lots of garlic, but you can season yours to taste.
A Touch of Romantic Italy for Two
Spoon the pesto onto a plate then use the spoon to draw in a circular motion on the plate from the center moving outward. Place the mozzarella cheese strategically on the plate based on the number of tomatoes you are putting on each dish. The tomatoes go on top. Roll up your basil leaves and cut thinly, then toss on the plate. I always add a bit of extra olive oil on the plate too. Splash with balsamic vinegar and it is done.
You may have leftover pesto. I use mine on pasta or as salad dressing later on in the week.
Are you or a loved one totally vegan?? This recipe easily goes vegan. Leave out the cheese and plate your tomatoes on a cushion of basil instead of mozzarella.
Guilt Free Granola
3 cups oats
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp shredded coconut
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/3-1/2 cup honey
1 cup raisins
I love granola. But every time I pick up a box and look at the ingredients I’m turned off and put it back down. The granola let-down pushed me to research recipes. Every single recipe I came across had so much sugar and oil and things you just don’t want in your “healthy” meals. Save that stuff for cupcakes and french fries, right?
Choosing what products you use is as simple as reading the labels. It is important to make certain your dried fruits and nuts are sulfur free, unsalted, unsweetened with no added oil, sugar, or other preservatives. I go to Trader Joe’s for my nuts and dried fruit because they have a great selection with nothing added. I buy the shredded coconut from Whole Foods.
The wooden bowl I use to mix my oats and nuts filled with ingredients used to prepare Guilt Free Granola
Take 3 cups of quick cook oats, add 1 cup slivered almonds and 1 cup sunflower seeds and mix in a large bowl. Add in 3 tbsp shredded coconut, and the cinnamon and vanilla and stir it all up. I prefer using a wooden bowl and spoon because once you add the honey mixture it tends to stick less.
Put 1/2 cup honey and 1 tbsp coconut oil in a separate bowl and beat it with a whisk. The coconut honey and the oats can now be mixed together. I like using a wooden spoon to scoop the coconut honey into the oats and nuts. You can use anywhere between 1/3 to 1/2 cup of honey. I have tried it with both measurements of honey and it tastes great either way, but be sure to use the best honey you can get your hands on.
Once the nuts and oats are covered with honey spread the mixture on a well greased cookie sheet. I use coconut oil spray to grease my pan. Place it in the oven pre-heated to 275.
The trick to a good granola is in the baking. Bake at 275 degrees 10 minutes at a time for a total of 60 minutes in the oven. You have to take it out every 10 minutes and stir it around, then pop it back in to continue baking. Otherwise the oats will burn. And make sure you keep the oven at 275. Any higher and you will likely end up with burned inedible oats that fill up the house with a sweet smell for only a moment in time! Believe me. I found out the hard way and totally burned the batch from my first attempt. It took me days to get over it.
Oats and nuts seasoned to perfection on a coconut-oil greased cookie sheet ready to bake.
Once your perfectly golden granola has cooled, add one cup of raisins and stir it up. Your granola is now ready to eat. Store in an air tight container and it will last for up to two weeks. Beware. You may find you have to start making this once a week. I even took some to my fitness trainer, Mark DiMuzio. He approves of the ingredients and flavor, and says it is the most healthy and delicious granola recipe he has encountered to date.
I am curious to know what you think. So bake away and let me know how it turns out.
After all… it is Guilt Free Granola!
1 can tuna
1 jalapeño pepper
½ red onion chopped
2 tsp chopped chives
1 carrot peeled and shredded
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Tuna is a healthy protein and an easy dish since you can store cans of tuna in your pantry until you are in the mood to whip up a batch. But the mayonnaise I can do without. It was a challenge to create a tuna salad recipe that wasn’t drowning in mayo!
Olive oil is a go-to for me always. It’s great to use as a cooking oil but works surprisingly well in cold dishes and salad dressing. This dish came to be as a result of searching through my refrigerator for random ingredients I could add to the tuna. The flavor combination turned out healthy and spicy, my favorite way to cook. I realized everything I use in my tuna is a leftover ingredient from other dishes I make often.
Combine the wet ingredients first to make your “dressing.” Take the juice from one lemon, 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard, 1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir well, or use a whisk.
Drain one can of tuna, then empty the tuna into a large bowl. Stir to break up the “meat.” Add the finely chopped jalapeño, onion, and chives and stir well. Add your dressing and stir it up until it is well mixed.
Now the last step is to put in the carrot. Once you clean and peel it you can shred it right into the bowl. Mix it up and the tuna salad is ready.
By the way, there are no rules- you can always add more of any ingredient if you so desire.
Use the tuna on a green salad, in a sandwich or tuna melt, or stuff it inside an avocado. You can also make a double batch and have leftovers for a few days.
There it is, my mayo-free tuna salad recipe.
Healthy Plate: Tuna Salad stuffed into avocado, butter lettuce with homemade balsamic dressing, and Sabra hummus with broccoli crowns. My idea of lunch!
In 2012 I had the immense pleasure of opening for a music legend, Meat Loaf. He is one of the most sincere, loving, heart of gold people I have ever met.
When I caught wind of his residency at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas I knew this was a chance to reconnect with Meat and my Road Family.
During his concerts Meat likes to chat up the audience. He tells stories and makes his fan appreciation known to all in the house. I love it and everyone in the house loves it too. So naturally his Vegas show is called RockTellz and CockTails.
Frances Bowdery, his right hand (left hand and top hat) made it so easy for me to invade everyone’s space. She effortlessly took care of my tickets and made sure I had an all access pass to drop in and give everyone hugs and love.
MeatLoaf backstage and all Access passes so I can see all my friends in the band and production?? Yes please!
All of my goodies were waiting for me at will-call, but security wouldn’t let me in, saying it was too early and my “pass is active at 7 pm.” This was my very first time having limited access at a Meat Loaf concert, but I was accepting of the rules and willing to wait. But she changed that situation right away. Before I knew it, I had crashed his meet and greet, with permission of course.
Meat was meeting and greeting in an area set up with a place for proper photos and a professional photographer on site. I was catching up with the lovely Miss Frances while he took pics and his time with each and every fan in attendance pre-show. All of a sudden he realizes I’m in the room and calls me over. I greet him with a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek and then dangle from his neck for a quick minute like a little monkey.
With Meat Loaf after opening for him backstage Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham, N.C. Meat Loaf on my birthday August 19, 2012.
I saw the show twice and could have easily gone for a third and fourth. How is the show you ask?? It is amazing. I particularly love how there are opportunities to have a chat with the audience. I love how he shows pictures. I love how it has all the frills of a Vegas show and still feels like you are the only person in the room, as though he is singing and talking to only you. The production is brilliant and fun, and the music as always is fantastic. At the end you leave with the feeling that you had not only seen a great Meat Loaf concert, but that you were just on your way out from your buddy Meat’s place.
People kept asking me “what was your favorite part?” It’s hard to say because I love him so much and I thought the whole thing was great. I won’t be giving away any secrets either because each time it was a different show with unique moments! How amazing right? But one of the highlights was when he took questions from the audience!
With MeatLoaf before his performance at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas October 2013
When I discovered Meat Loaf was resuming his Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood I decided not only would I be returning for more RockTellz & CockTails fun but I would be sharing the good news with all of you.
I highly recommend catching a performance. You’ll surely sing along, laugh, and be entertained. In my opinion it gets 5 stars!
See you in Las Vegas.
Brie Mac & Cheese
4 -6 slices of Brie cheese room temperature
1/4 cup non fat milk
1/3 cup sweet peas
2 cups whole grain fusilli pasta
In celebration of the New Year one of my resolutions is to share more of my recipes.
I conjured up this dish -my version of mac & cheese- while discussing diet and ingredients with my fitness trainer Mark DiMuzio. Now I only eat whole grain pasta and avoid butter and sugar except when eating cupcakes so this is my version of healthy mac & cheese. I chose Brie cheese because the flavor is so strong. It wouldn’t take a ridiculous amount of cheese to make the dish creamy, tasty and cheesy. The black pepper gives it a hint of spice. The peas add a pop of color and a nice contrast in texture. Let’s cook.
First, measure out 2 cups of your choice of pasta and set your pot of water to boil before starting your sauce. I like fusilli pasta. Make sure to add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt to the water. Follow instructions on the package and cook it while you are babysitting your cheese sauce.
Next, take the Brie, place in medium size saucepan, add a generous splash of non-fat milk, turn heat to low and stir with a whisk. This is a labor-intensive process. Once you start heating and beating the milk & cheese it requires 20-25 minutes of constant stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Once the cheese is all melted and it starts to look like a cheese sauce it is ready. This is when you toss in the pre-cooked peas. By the way, you can always add more cheese or more milk if you feel the need but do it before adding the peas.
A combo plate with some of my original recipes: Brie mac & cheese, brussels sprouts, and peach and goat cheese salad.
Peas are prepared ahead of time. When I cooked this mac & cheese for the first time it was almost ready except I felt it needed something colorful and vegetable-y. When I looked in the fridge I noticed I had peas leftover from dinner the night before already cooked, boiled stovetop. So, I tossed them in. Low and behold it was a happy accident. So this is why my peas are usually cooked ahead of time.
Time the pasta so that it can go straight from the boiling pot into the cheesy pan. I like to use a colander spoon to drain and scoop my pasta directly into the sauce. DO NOT RINSE YOUR PASTA. The starch residue that remains on the pasta coupled with the heat helps it to absorb the sauce.
Once all of the pasta is in the cheesy pan keep stirring on low heat until the cheese sauce is evenly distributed.
Mac & Cheese? Yes Please!
With the holidays coming up people are asking me about healthy recipes. It’s always good to have a “go to” dish on the table that has great taste and is good for you. Now, I have nothing against butter but I don’t see the need to put it on my veggies. Here is one of my favorite veggie recipes- and it also happens to be vegan! You only need four simple ingredients: brussels sprouts, onion, olive oil, and black pepper.
I prep my veggies ahead of time and store them in the fridge so when I am ready to cook they are ready to go.
Brussels sprouts are a vegetable I prefer to eat at home because I find most other recipes fall short and leave the sprouts too undercooked which makes them hard to chew and tasting bitter. This is not a dish you want served al dente. Fact: my honey hated (yes hate is a strong word) hated brussels sprouts until I came along. Now he is a convert.
Take one whole white or yellow onion and chop it up. A rough chop will do just fine. Use a medium size pan, drop in the chopped onion, and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Let the onions sweat and start to golden on low to medium heat. Stir occasionally.
While the onion is cooking start up on the sprouts. I like to put my brussels sprouts on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, black cracked pepper (as much or as little as YOU want), shake around, cover with foil, and pop in the oven for 15 minutes, preheated to 375 degrees.
When they come out of the oven put them directly into the whole chopped onion that is slowly caramelizing stove top waiting for the “sprouts.” Turn the heat up to medium and allow it to cook stove top with the lid on for about 25-35 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid sticking. Add olive oil if needed.
When the brussels sprouts look dark and overdone is when they are actually done. What most people consider slightly over cooking them is what takes away the natural bitterness of the brussels sprout, coupled with the sweetness of just the onion is a perfect balance.
A combo plate with some of my original recipes: brussels sprouts, peach and goat cheese salad, and brie mac & cheese with whole grain fusilli pasta.
It’s great cold too if you decide to make a big batch and have healthy leftovers for later as a brussels sprout salad. I often make an oversized batch to have healthy meals ready to eat in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 white/yellow/sweet onion
Cracked black pepper
Love comes in all shapes and sizes. It can grow over time or capture you at first sight. Now I know that it doesn’t have to even be a living breathing being to feel drawn, to stir the spirit, invade ones core, to inspire creativity and passion.
I was struck when I least expected it.
Last Summer I was back east on tour. During that trip I had the opportunity to tour the Martin Factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. I had a performance opening for Meatloaf the next day in the neighboring town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
We pull up to Martin and for a moment I feel transported to The Toy Maker’s Factory, like in the movie Babes In Toyland. That film may be before my time but it’s a classic so I highly recommend it for children of all ages, much like the Martin Factory.
Chris Thomas greets me upon my arrival. Experienced beyond his years, he is tall and traditionally handsome, with dark hair, and a perfect knowing smile, he treats me like we have known each other for years. He guides me through aisle after aisle of “guitars-in-progress.” He knows every single person’s name at every workstation. I am astounded and immediately feel at home. After all, the Martin Factory is a Family.
Then I am stopped in my tracks. We have only just started the tour when we pass a particular station with a butterfly custom guitar in progress. It is stunning. I want to stare at it forever. The neck: a cherry blossom pattern of perfection. The body: covered with floating mother of pearl butterflies. It is still in pieces, not fully assembled, but the concept of the design is clear to me and it is mesmerizing.
Instantly I fall in love… and then find out it would retail somewhere between $75-100k - maybe more!
Seeing that guitar-in-the-making changed me forever and in that moment I know I will never look at any guitar the same again. I make it no secret to Chris that I am utterly enchanted by the Custom Butterfly.
Chris amusingly makes certain we pass the “butterfly” workstation on 4 separate occasions within a one-hour period. At least now I know where the song title “Killing Me Softly” may have originated. Inlay designer/artist, Aaron VanWhy, graciously allows me to invade his space. Surprised he lets me get so close I snap a few more shots of his meticulous handy-work on my iphone.
As a gesture of my sincere gratitude to Chris for the private VIP style tour I sing So Eden for him in his office, my single on the radio at the time. He offers to build me a guitar with a smaller amount of butterfly inlay so I can feel close to the guitar I am now obsessed with and considering stalking. I have every intention of taking him up on this offer.
Meeting The Butterfly motivates me to practice guitar playing with renewed enthusiasm. Not a day goes by I don’t think about that guitar, wonder where it is, who it belongs to, if they love it as much as I do, and how it can be mine one day. I am not a virtuoso on the guitar by any means, but after witnessing the butterfly-in-the-making I stand by my confession…
I’m In Love With A Martin.