By Mary Heyl

“Oh the weather outside is frightful” has never been more true than this winter! From frigid wind chills to white-out conditions, the past several weeks of winter have been unpredictable, which is why life in Western New York is a constant adventure. Since our homes and our vehicles are prepared for whatever comes, it’s time to prepare ourselves for a weekend of healthy indoor fun, as cabin fever and actual fevers are just as real a threat as lake effect snow!

Nothing captures the joy of winter quite like a snow day (at least for the kids), but a day inside can be a real challenge for mom and dad! Making homemade play dough is a great way to pass the time and have some fun in the kitchen, too. To get started, mix 1 cup of white flour, 1 cup of warm water, 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons of cooking oil and 1 3-oz package of instant gelatin together in a small saucepan.

Mix until most of the lumps are gone. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens into a ball of dough. When the mixture feels like it can’t be stirred anymore, the dough has been formed! Next, place the dough on a floured cutting board and wait for it to cool (about 20 to 30 minutes). Let the kids help knead the dough, adding in flour until it is no longer sticky (about ½ cup). Now, you can add extra food coloring or glitter, or simply enjoy the gelatin color of the dough! Make more dough with other flavors of gelatin (recipe can be cut in half for smaller batches). Store the dough in airtight containers for up to three weeks.

While the kids are occupied with their new play dough creations, you can take advantage of the free time to make an easy, delicious dinner that will help you stick to your New Year’s Resolution, and keep the family healthy, as it’s loaded with immune system-boosting ingredients. Creamy Tomato and Spinach Pasta is chock full of tomatoes, an excellent source of lycopene, as well as vitamins A, C and K, which are all helpful in fighting colds and infections. The recipe also has plenty of garlic and onions, two allium vegetables with natural detoxification powers that stimulate immune response and reduce inflammation.  Let the healing begin!

To start, bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 8-12 oz. of your favorite pasta (farfalle and ziti are good choices) and cook until tender, about 7-10 minutes, then drain. While the pasta is cooking, dice a small onion and mince two cloves of garlic. Cook both in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until onions are translucent and softened. Add 1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano (or a plain can of diced tomatoes plus ½ teaspoon each of dried oregano and dried basil). Add ½ teaspoon of salt and stir to combine. Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and ½ cup of water to the skillet and stir until the tomato paste is dissolved into the sauce.

Turn the heat down to low. Cut 2 ounces of cream cheese into small pieces and add them to the skillet. Use a whisk to stir the sauce until the cream cheese has fully melted and the sauce is creamy. Next, add ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese and whisk until melted again. Stir about ½ cup of fresh or thawed spinach into the skillet and add the pasta until it is well-coated with the sauce. Cook over low heat for approximately 5 minutes or until all ingredients are heated through. Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper and enjoy!