Archives for category: good health

This is my version of a recipe from Martha Stewart Living magazine from probably 10 years ago.  My husband would literally eat this every day. It’s dummy-proof and requires no cooking beyond boiling water for your noodles of choice.  This is great served hot (our favorite), room temperature or chilled, so it’s perfect for just about any occasion; double or triple it for entertaining.

The way I make it, it contains two of my favorite once-upon-a-time trendy ingredients: goat cheese & sun-dried tomatoes.  The original recipe calls for ricotta and you can do feta, as well.  The vinaigrette in this recipe is wonderfully simple and is great on all sorts of things; you can simply make it a ‘pesto’ with less olive oil if you want to use it as a spread for wraps, pitas, etc.  We use it in place of ketchup slathered on grilled portobello ‘burgers’.  More olive oil will turn it into a vinaigrette that is great if you prefer it in this recipe or as an easy salad dressing.  I always make extra of the vinaigrette/pesto because it keeps well for several days in the fridge.

This recipe is full of delicious,whole foods that contain high levels of antioxidants which prohibit the actions of free radicals (think: cancer prevention, slowing aging process, etc.), as well as monounsaturated fats (think: good fats).

Grape and sun-dried tomatoes provide the phytochemical lycopene, which, according to Wikipedia, ‘has been considered a potential agent for prevention of some types of cancers’. Everyone is probably aware of the health benefits of olives (e.g., high in polyphenols, Vitamin E and flavonoids), but if you want a little extra information explaining exactly why they are beneficial, this is a great link:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=46#healthbenefits

I add a ton of fresh basil because 1) we have a slew of it growing on our back patio, 2) my oldest son gets a kick out of being the family’s designated basil-picker 3) it tastes great and 4) it’s high in bioflavonoids; I will add even more next time because I just learned that it’s also high in anti-bacterial properties:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85

I love the mellow yet rich taste of the goat cheese (chevre) in this recipe juxtaposed with the distinct flavors of sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives…truth be told I like goat cheese on just about everything.  But one of the best things about using dairy products from goats’ milk rather than cows’ milk is that it is, in my experience, much more easily digested.  I’ve always read that goats’ milk is the closest you can get to breast milk and that often people who are lactose intolerant may tolerate goats’ milk.  You can get all varieties of goats’ milk products: straight milk, yogurt, cheese.  I’m not crazy about the yogurt, but it may be worth a try if you are unable to tolerate cows’ milk.

For the pasta, choose whatever twisted noodle you like (gemelli, casarecce, fussili); this also works with penne.  Textured noodles work best because the sauce will cling to it.  And if you are looking for a way to use all the tomatoes you have in your garden this summer, feel free to use any type of tomato rather than grape tomatoes.  They will work just as well.  Remember to double the vinaigrette/’pesto’ portion of this recipe so you have extra for salad dressing or sandwich spread.

16 ounce box pasta (fusilli, penne, gemelli, etc.)

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more or less, if you want extra vinaigrette or a ‘pesto’-like texture)

10 ounce jar (approximately) sun-dried tomatoes in oil (remember to account for this oil as you may not need to add as much extra-virgin olive oil if you want a ‘pesto’)

2 Tbsp. red-wine vinegar

4 tsp. salt-packed capers, rinsed thoroughly

4 cloves garlic

freshly ground salt and pepper to taste (PLEASE NOTE: the capers, sun-dried tomatoes and olives will add a bit of salt so be careful not to add too much here)

1 cup grape tomatoes

1 cup Kalamata pitted olives, halved

about 16 ounces cup goat cheese (try feta or fresh ricotta; I like to switch to fresh oregano rather than basil if using feta)

about 1 cup fresh basil, torn

1. While boiling your water for the pasta, combine sun-dried tomatoes, red-wine vinegar, capers and garlic in a food processor.  While running, add the extra-virgin olive oil until smooth; stop when you reach desired consistency.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

2. Cook noodles according to package instructions.  If serving hot, serve immediately or chill, if desired.  I serve ours warm, so I add the goat cheese to the pasta to melt it, then add the vinaigrette to coat. Alternatively, you can also add vinaigrette and a chunk of cheese to each plate.  Top with tomatoes, olives and basil.

Enjoy!

Technically, summer isn’t quite upon us but I’ve been receiving alot of emails asking about sun protection.  And considering that skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in the United States, I’m not surprised by the level of concern.  Not only are we inundated with conflicting information about the pros and cons of various types of sunscreen; now we are told that we’re not getting enough Vitamin D because we actually protect ourselves from the sun too much.  It’s seemingly a conundrum: use sunscreen to prevent cancer but fear that the sunscreen is actually giving us cancer.

Growing up, my dad was fanatical about our using sun protection (he also urged us to have a ‘light-weight jacket’ with us at all times, but that’s another story).  Not that I was without my share of sunburns and fake-baking as a teenager and young adult, but it did impress upon me a great respect for the power of the sun: power to heal and power to prematurely wrinkle!  I remember that if I had a cold, the first thing my mom did was make me go outside and sit in the sun for a bit.  But I also remember being made to wear a t-shirt over my swimsuit to avoid too much of a good thing.  Over the years, I’ve endured endless taunting about my less-than-flattering, packable Eric Javits straw hat (which I purchased about 15 years ago in a great hat shop in DC…think it was The Propper Topper?…with my friend Liz…she thought I was crazy to spend so much on a hat but it has proven itself a very worthwhile investment!). Now, as my skin and I approach 40, I’m grateful for the healthy respect my dad gave me for the sun…and for my dorky hat.

I, like you, am overwhelmed by all the conflicting data surrounding sun protection.  Moving to South Florida with a toddler 3 years ago forced me to get even more serious about the whole thing.  Fortunately, we started putting baseball hats and sunglasses on our sons at a young age, so they are now accustomed to grabbing a hat as they head out the door.  And, in large part due to sheer laziness, we also use long-sleeve sun shirts for the kids at the beach and in the pool so we don’t have to lather, re-apply, etc.  Our favorites are from a company called UVSkinz.  We’ve used them since my now 5 year-old was 6 months after seeing them at a beach kiosk while on vacation in Hawaii and we continue to pass them on as hand-me-downs to his younger brothers. They break my rule: they’re made in China; but, the President of the company and mother of 3 young sons, Rhonda Sparks, started the company after losing her 32-year old husband to skin cancer.  The company does so much to raise awareness and give back that it’s easy to support them in spite of the China thing.  Check them out when you have a chance.  They are always doing some type of awareness-raising promotion or discount and they will have your shirts to you lightning-fast!

http://www.uvskinz.com

Even with hats, sunglasses and long-sleeve shirts, chances are you will still need sunscreen.  I urge to to take a moment and visit the following links to the Environmental Working Group’s website:

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/sunscreen-and-skin-cancer/

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/does-sunscreen-damage-skin/

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/getting-enough-vitamin-d/

These articles will give you some great insight regarding the safety of sunscreens and the need for Vitamin D.  While you’re on their website, please check out the results of their annual analysis of common sunscreens.  You can select your brand from the pull-down menu to see what rating EWG gives it.  If you start to find this overwhelming, here are our two favorites that we have used for at least 4 or 5 years:

California Baby No Fragrance Sunblock Stick, SPF 30+

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/about-the-sunscreens/323402/California_Baby_No_Fragrance_Sunblock_Stick%2C_SPF_30%2B/

The EWG gives this an overall score of 1 (FYI: the lower the number, the better…higher numbers indicate questionable and/or toxic ingredients). This stick is super-easy to apply in a hurry and great for cheeks, noses, shoulders, etc.  Expensive, but worth it for the ‘no mess factor’ alone.

Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrellas: MINERAL Natural Sunblock, SPF 30

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/about-the-sunscreens/331059/Jason_Natural_Cosmetics_Sunbrellas%3A_MINERAL_Natural_Sunblock%2C_SPF_30/

Overall score is 2.  Please note that unlike California Baby, not all JASON products receive a good score.  For the most part, California Baby’s products receive a 1 or 2 score, but many of the JASON products receive much higher numbers, so don’t mistakenly assume that safety levels are consistent across manufacturers’ product lines.

Again, I hope this doesn’t overwhelm you. Until all the data are in (which may never happen as long as the FDA is involved!), my approach is to love the sun in moderation and to avoid using sunblock, if possible, by choosing a hat, sunglasses, etc.  Choose a safer, less toxic sunscreen when you need it, but get a little sun when you can, preferably in the early morning or late afternoon.

Now, go enjoy your summer!

I know summer hasn’t quite hit in the north but it’s officially hot in Ft. Lauderdale.  So here’s a recipe for one of our favorite ways to cool down.  If you like bananas and chocolate, you’ll love these.  For the moms out there, your kids probably already love bananas which are high in potassium, but these treats are a good way to get your little ones to eat ‘real chocolate’ and nuts.

Only my oldest son and I will eat (undisguised) raw cacao, so I use the cacao nibs as chocolate ‘sprinkles’ to entice the rest of the crew.  Our favorite brand is by NAVITAS Naturals; we like the Organic Cacao Nibs which, the company claims, are a ‘Mayan Superfood’.  Not sure how accurate that is, but they are high in antioxidants, iron and magnesium. These are also good for adding to cookie dough, muffins, smoothies, etc. and I like to mix them with nuts and dried cherries to make trail mix.

http://www.amazon.com/Navitas-Naturals-Cacao-Nibs-8-Ounce/dp/B000OQ4A3S/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1305309200&sr=8-2

You can also add ice cream sprinkles.  If your kids react the way mine do to red & blue food coloring dyes (think: The Exorcist), then you may have also banned the stuff from your house!  We love the sprinkles from ‘Lets do…Sprinkelz’, specifically the ‘carnival’ variety.  They are definitely made from mostly sugar (organic evaporated cane juice and organic corn malt syrup), but at least they are colored with extracts of seeds, vegetables or fruits.

http://www.amazon.com/Lets-Do-Organic-Sprinkelz-Chocolatey/dp/B001HTJ31A/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=grocery&qid=1305309243&sr=1-4

Here’s what you’ll need:

2-3 bananas (should be firm but not too ripe)

a little over 1/2 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips or a 6 oz bar of chocolate (I usually use half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate)

about 1 Tbsp. canola oil

4-6 popsicle sticks (for those of you wondering: yes; we DO wash and re-use ours…but we get new ones when company comes!)

about 1/4-1/2 cup toppings (chopped walnuts, cacao nibs, sprinkles…all of these are optional)

1. Cut each banana in half and insert a popsicle stick into the bottom of each banana half.

2. Place all the bananas on a cookie sheet or large plate (choose something that will fit into your freezer).

3. Melt the chocolate by doing an improvised bain-marie: place the chocolate and oil in a small pan placed inside a larger pan of warm water on the stovetop, stirring to make smooth.

4.  Dip each banana in the melted chocolate then roll in your chosen toppings.  Freeze for about 25 minutes.

Enjoy!

Chances are you don’t necessarily have the time or the fortitude to do a hardcore ‘cleanse’ (which seems to be the latest buzzword) but keep in mind that doing just one or two extra little things a day can really add up and the cumulative effect of all those ‘little things’ can be quite significant.  I often find myself saying that since I don’t have time, for example, to lift weights for 20 minutes then why bother at all because 5 minutes can’t make an impact; but, I’ve come to learn that 5 minutes are better than zero minutes.  Just like if you have a lousy breakfast, it’s easy to tell yourself that you may as well not bother to eat nutritiously the remainder of the day because you already screwed up breakfast when, in fact, eating a lousy breakfast with a healthy lunch and dinner each day puts you much further ahead than if you just ate three lousy meals a day every day.

If this seems logical to you, then read on because you’ll learn about two very simple, quick & inexpensive things you can easily do every day to stimulate your lymphatic system which helps remove toxins from your body.

About 3 years ago I started daily skin brushing.  I think I first read about it in a book by Paul C. Bragg and Patricia Bragg (as in Bragg Amino Acids) called The Miracle of Fasting.  I’m not in total agreement with everything in the book, but it contains a great deal of GOOD and useful information.  Skin brushing is done when your skin is dry, before or after showering.  I prefer to do it right before showering and try to do it daily because it’s great for improving circulation and the Braggs claim it ‘helps purify lymph so it’s able to detoxify your blood and tissues’ while removing ‘old skin cells, uric acid crystals and toxic wastes that come up through skin’s pores’.  That’s all very nice, but I have to confess that my main incentive for doing it is to help prevent and eliminate cellulite (plus, it feels REALLY GOOD)!  You can technically use a towel or a dry loofah sponge, but I recommend using a natural-bristle brush with a long handle.  These are easily found at drugstores, health food stores and department stores.  Here’s a link to the one I use from a company called Elemis, which is made in Germany and I love it (check eBay, too, because nordstrom sells this for around $40 but I know I paid much less):

http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/elemis-skin-brush/2889513?cm_cat=datafeed&cm_ite=elemis_skin_brush:15721&cm_pla=personal_care_accessories:women:bath_accessories&cm_ven=Froogle&mr:referralID=NA&mr:trackingCode=ACDFCFFD-D981-DE11-B712-001422107090

Here’s how it’s done:

Using long strokes, start with your feet and work upward, working toward your heart.  Do your entire body, gently in areas of thinner skin (e.g. stomach) and with a little more pressure in areas of thicker skin (e.g. back).  The whole process should only take a few minutes.

If you haven’t read it already, please consider this amazing book: CLEAN: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself  by Alejandro Junger, M.D.  Dr. Junger, originally from Argentina, is a cardiologist in New York City who is also extensively trained in Eastern medicine.  He has a unique and compelling perspective regarding allowing your body to rid itself of toxins.  Here’s the link from amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Clean-Revolutionary-Program-Restore-Natural/dp/0061735337/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304627783&sr=1-1

Dr. Junger not only recommends skin brushing, but he suggests you ‘follow this with a hot-cold plunge or shower’.  I don’t have time for just a plunge so I follow with a shower, but turn it into a ‘hot-cold plunge-shower’.  This simply means that I turn the water to as hot as I can tolerate for a minute or so, while I wash my hair, then turn it to as cold as I can tolerate for a minute while I rinse my hair and wash my face. Then I go as hot as I can again and lather up, shave my legs, etc., then do a final cold round to rinse.  This whole process boosts your circulation and detoxification because, as Dr. Junger describes, ‘your skin is your largest organ: it contains miles of arterioles and venules that are filled with blood.  These vessels relax and dilate with heat and contract with cold.  When this relax/contract pattern happens, your skin pumps almost as much blood as your heart.’

So, in about 7 minutes, you’ve just given yourself what you would have paid about $150 for at a spa!  Add $100 for the optional seaweed treatment….stay tuned for that recipe.

Just a heads up for anyone planning to purchase raw coconut chips from Nutiva: I just finished the last of my supply making a batch of granola & tried to re-order but the company no longer offers it.  If anyone finds a good alternative please let us know.  Let’s Do Organic makes a decent one but not as good as what Nutiva sold…wish I had bought more!

OK…so by now, most of you probably, at the very least, suspect that all the lotions & potions you use on a daily basis MAY be, at least, SLIGHTLY toxic in some way, shape or form but, you are so busy that you are just lucky to shower, brush your teeth, apply deodorant and get out the door on a daily basis.  The last thing on your to-do list…scratch that…it doesn’t even make your to-do list…is taking time to research the ingredients listed on the various labels.  Relax…I’ll try here to save you that time.  Today I want to target the ubiquitous soap, because, if you are like my 5-year-old son (who has been raised by a border-line germ-phobic mother), you wash your hands at a minimum of 82 times a day. Additionally, I’m going to list a couple recipes so you can make your own soap, very easily and very economically.

I’ve received a bunch of questions regarding things like sunblock, detergent, baby products…I’ll be doing subsequent posts to tackle each category.

If you have even slightly considered how these products are made, where they go after you use them and how they may be adding to your toxic load, please read the book The Hundred-Year Lie: How Food and Medicine Are Destroying Your Health by Randall Fitzgerald.  My friend Cathy recommended this to me a couple years ago; it will dramatically the alter the filter through which you view just about EVERYTHING in your life: your food, your house, your personal care items, your clothing. Here’s the link for the listing on amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Year-Lie-Yourself-Chemicals-Destroying/dp/0452288398/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1304271880&sr=1-1

Back to soap…

Fitzgerald indicates in his book that, according to the FDA, ‘we each use nine personal-care products daily, containing about 126 chemical ingredients.’  Think about it; it adds up quickly: toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, body moisturizer, facial moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, hairspray, make-up (that’s a good 9 products right there for some people), sunscreen, lip balm…you can probably think of more, and we haven’t even counted soap.

The vast majority of soaps contain some combination of the following:

parabens (chemical preservatives starting with methyl-, ethyl-, propyl, butyl, isobutyl-) that have been shown to disrupt normal hormone function (think: reproductive system, thyroid, etc.)

synthetic chemical called phthlates (sounds like THAL ates) which have been shown to cause a broad range of birth defects and reproductive impairment in lab animals and are often hidden under the generic term ‘fragrance’

a foaming agent called sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is used in brake fluid and antifreeze

triclosan, a chemical in the ever-popular antibacterial version of hand-soap, is a contributor to antibiotic resistance

Here are a couple links to articles on the Environmental Working Group’s website discussing all of the above:

http://www.ewg.org/news/ugly-face-our-cosmetics

http://www.ewg.org/news/selecting-personal-care-products

I’ve never been a huge bar soap person; I prefer shower gel.  And I’ve noticed, between using filtered shower water and using a highly concentrated organic bath gel, I don’t actually need much of the gel. My favorite shower gel is made by Pangea Organics.  I bought it several years ago on a whim because Whole Foods had a Buy One-Get One Free coupon.  Well, at about $18 a pop, I found as many coupons as I could and purchased about 10 bottles; I’m now down to my last one and don’t feel like shelling out $18 again so I’ve been experimenting with how to make my own.  I totally understand if you have no time for that (as if I do!) so here is the link to Sephora (they actually have it for $16) if you are looking for a nice Mothers’ Day gift (please note that this is in no way meant to imply that it is an equal substitution for jewelry, especially if your wife recently gave birth to a 10 lb., 6 ounce baby):

http://www.sephora.com/browse/product.jhtml?id=P250922&shouldPaginate=true&categoryId=5975

I like the Pyrenees Lavendar with Cardamom variety, but they have a bunch of them and I would guess they are all wonderful.  It has no petroleum, sulfates, synthetic preservatives, artificial colors/fragrances or GMOs.  I love what the fine print on their bottle says: ‘what we choose to consume today, directly impacts how we-and future generations-will live tomorrow’.  I think they may have stolen that from the Seventh Generation folks, but I’m not positive…even so, it all bears repeating, so it’s all GOOD.

If you have any interest in making this yourself, you can simply take an empty 8 or 8.5 ounce bottle (I just use my empty Pangea Organics bottles) and add the following to make a shower gel that is very similar to the Pangea product:

almost 8 ounces (roughly 1 cup) Dr. Bronner’s Organic Unscented Baby-Mild Castile Soap (Whole Foods & amazon carry this soap and I heard TARGET, but I’m not certain)

a couple drops of the following essential oils:

orange

lavendar

cardamom

calendula

If you want to get even closer to the real thing, add a couple drops of the following (which can all be found at http://www.mountainroseherbs.com):

fennel seed extract

horsetail extract

marshmallow extract

red clover extract

blue violet leaf powder

This will give you a wonderful shower gel at a fraction of the cost and your Dr. Bronner’s can also be used to make floor cleaner, kitchen spray, bug spray…there’s a reason they call it ‘Magic Soap’).  It contains organic coconut oil, olive oil, hemp oil, jojoba oil, and Vitamin E (tocopherol).  The lavendar oil you purchase is also wonderful for those little metal lamp rings; just put a couple drops in one before you turn on the light as the scent is effective for soothing, relaxing and healing. Calendula oil is great for little cuts and scrapes and also for taking the itch out of bug bites.

Now that you are GOOD on shower gel, here’s a link to my favorite foaming hand wash from a company in Beaver Falls, PA called Sensibility Soaps:

http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/bathbody/body.html

Scroll down almost to the bottom; the Nourish Foaming Hand Wash is great and contains none of the aforementioned carcinogens or endocrine disruptors.  It contains no ‘chemicals’ and is both vegan and certified USDA organic.  Even better, the bottles the company uses are #2s (so they can be thrown in with your curb-side recycling) and the labels are made from PLA film which is a renewable and recyclable material that is produced using 60% less fossil fuels than plastic.

I love the smell of the Method brand foaming handsoaps and have always considered them the ‘lesser of the evils’ because while they are free of triclosan, they still contain sodium lauryl sulfate, among other questionable ingredients.  So until I found the Nourish product, the Method soap was the best I could find. Now I save the containers and make my own.  Here’s all you need to make your own foaming hand wash:

Dr. Bronner’s Organic Unscented Baby-Mild Castile Soap

filtered or distilled water

Add about 2 tsp. -1 Tbsp. (depending on the size of your re-used container) of the Dr. Bronner’s soap (2-3 quirts should do you) and fill almost to the top with water, allowing room for the pump.  If you want to make it scented, you can add a couple drops of any essential oil you have on hand.  Or just leave it as it.  I used to refill my liquid soap pump containers with castile soap but it’s a little more ‘runny’ than the commercially produced stuff so after being squirted in the eye one too many times, I decided refilling the foaming containers was the way to go.  So, if you don’t have the time to make your own, you now have a couple options you can feel really GOOD about but if you want to be adventurous, have at it.

After the granola recipe post, I received several emails asking about gluten-free options.  If this is something that concerns you because you truly need to be gluten-free (perhaps you have Celiac disease) or you have just noticed that limiting your intake of gluten makes you feel better, then the following information should be GOOD for you.

There is a book I highly recommend by Frank Lipman, MD called Spent, in which he describes the immune system response to gluten (which is a mixture of gliadin and glutenin proteins found in wheat, rye and barely) as making you feel ‘a vague unwellness’.  Perhaps you haven’t yet paid attention to gluten in your diet and this post will inspire you to do some further homework.  Dr. Lipman references a book Dangerous Grains by Dr. James Braly & Ron Haggan, M.A. in which they show research that suggests ‘that gliadin causes our immune system to to react as though it is responding to a foreign body rather than a nourishing food.’  They believe that some people produce a liver enzyme that helps our body to metabolize it but others don’t produce it and, as a result, the gluten isn’t broken into smaller particles (in other words, it’s not digested properly) and these bigger particles then leak through the walls of our gut and enter our bloodstream at which point our body attacks them as foreign substances.  I’m over-simplifying it, but as I’ve mentioned before, if you see your body’s energy as a ‘pie’, your immune system has to use a huge slice of your ‘energy pie’ to fight the effects, which leads to the ‘vague unwellness’ Dr. Lipman references.

The good news is that there are alot of whole foods that are satisfying alternatives to products containing gluten (cereals, pastas, commercially-produced cookies, etc.), such as brown rice, buckwheat, nut flours, quinoa and millet.  There are many packaged gluten-free products (pastas, fruit bars, etc.) but in my experience, many of them taste like cardboard.  However, there are a handful (and probably more that I’ve just never tried) of good options.  Many years ago, before I had even heard of gluten, my oldest brother got me hooked on Ezekial bread.  I actually started eating it to help reduce carbohydrates in my diet, back in the day.  Most large grocery stores and probably every health food store carry it in their freezer section. We love the cinnamon raisin variety (in the purple bag) and I happen to think the ‘plain’ version (the orange bag) is a little ‘cardboardy’ but I know plenty of people who like it.  It is a grain bread, but it is flourless and sprouted.  Dr. Lipman indicates that most people can tolerate it well.  Apparently, the problems that many have with gluten are actually with the gluten lectins which are primarily in the seed coatings and are actually destroyed in the sprouting process.  They also make English muffins, pitas bread and corn tortillas; we are big fans.

One friend wanted to know about the oats in Margo’s granola recipe. Here’s the deal with oats:  apparently, if they are pure and uncontaminated, they should not cause a problem.  Dr. Lipman references a study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 57, no. 1 (2004): 163-169 (S. Storsrud et al., “Adult Coeliac Patiens Do Tolerate Large Amounts of Oats”).

There are supposedly two companies that sell ‘pure oats’ that have not been cross-contaminated with wheat, barley and/or rye during harvesting, processing, etc.

I have not tried these so please do your own homework.  Here they are:

http://www.creamhillestates.com

http://www.glutenfreeoats.com

My boys would eat pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I let them. We do mostly 100% whole wheat pasta but if someone in the house seems a little under the weather, I’ll use the best gluten-free pasta I’ve tasted, which is from bionaturae; the best price I’ve found is from amazon.com and here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/bionaturae-Organic-Rigate-Gluten-12-Ounce/dp/B001E5E0YW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=grocery&qid=1303840645&sr=1-1

I know that many of you have had your own experiences with gluten-free products; please share if there’s anything you love and think we should all know about.

My husband and I love granola but even most of the ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ varieties still have more ingredients than I would like.  Not to mention they are always sold in boxes the size of toy kitchen food that then need to be recycled and the granola itself is in a plastic bag that can’t be recycled.  So, when my friend Margo sent me a text saying she had ‘finally mastered granola’, I couldn’t wait to try the recipe.  We’ve been eating it all week so I would say it’s a hit.  My rebel husband likes his with milk (I wish I had time to go into it now…suffice to say I’ve at least converted him to organic milk from grass-fed cows).  I like mine with my favorite yogurt that can be had from a container: siggi’s Icelandic style skyr (http://www.skyr.com/), and I’m sure my middle brother will take the time to make this and then promptly add it to his Publix fat-free yogurt du jour.

For the oats, I have found it’s most economical to do the organic bulk oats from Whole Foods, but get yours wherever you like.  Just make certain you aren’t getting the ‘quick oats’ variety or steel cut oats.  This recipe calls for 5 cups and I take about 1/3 of that and grind it in the food processor for just a couple seconds so that the granola will be a little lumpier and have more clusters (although, Margo said getting those clusters like the store-bought kind has is something that continues to elude her, so, if either one of us figures it out, I’ll be sure to update you).  Don’t knock yourself out to have truly raw almonds for this recipe because you are baking it anyway, so it sort of defeats the purpose.  If you are new to brown rice syrup, I think you will really like using it.  I also use it for making sushi rice.  I get raw, flaked, unsweetened coconut and coconut oil from the same place I order my hemp seed (http://nutiva.com/), but I know that Whole Foods carries a nice organic flaked coconut and, again, because you are baking this, don’t be too concerned if it’s not ‘raw’.  Whole Foods also carries several varieties of coconut oil.  Just get the best you can find at your favorite grocery store.  If you ultimately find that you enjoy incorporating more coconut products into your diet, then definitely take a look at Nutiva. Their raw organic coconut flakes are a great treat to eat by themselves and are a wonderful addition to any store-bought granola!

Here is Margo’s recipe with my ‘tweaks’:

5 cups organic oats

1 cup organic almonds (more if you like)

3/4 cup organic, flaked, unsweetened coconut (plus another 1/2 cup for adding after the granola has been baked)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/3 cup coconut oil, heated only enough to bring from a solid to liquid

1/3 cup organic brown rice syrup

1/4 cup honey

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup organic raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Combine the dry ingredients (oats, almonds, 3/4 cup coconut, cinnamon) in a large mixing bowl

Combine the wet ingredients (coconut oil, brown rice syrup, honey, vanilla) and add to the wet ingredients, mixing thoroughly

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spread the granola mixture evenly

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to stir and to check for doneness (you don’t want it to get to ‘browned’)

Once the mixture is cool, add your raisins and 1/2 cup coconut (or whatever dried fruits you like; I plan to try this with freeze-dried berries and walnuts instead of the raisins, coconut and almonds)

Store in a large glass container with a lid and enjoy.  Thank you Margo.

When we moved to Florida about 3 years ago, we noticed that our tubs and showers were developing this gross film of pink residue.  It will probably not shock you to learn that I long ago banned Soft Scrub from the premises, so what to do?  Worse, what were our bodies doing with the gross pink residue once our SKIN absorbed it, given that our skin is actually our largest organ?  We were already spending a fortune on bottled water and my husband put his foot down when I half-jokingly suggested doing the same for our bath water.  It also killed me to recycle cartons and boxes of bottled water and San Pellegrino (my kids have chosen the moniker ‘spicy water’ and they are completely addicted, by the way).  Living near the beach, we’ve become acutely aware of just where all of those un-recycled water bottles go.  I don’t know if the math on this is accurate, but Brita advertises that annually, Americans drink enough bottles of water to wrap around the earth 3 times.  This may or may not be mathematically accurate; regardless, those bottles have to be produced and then go somewhere and even if they are recycled, it requires a great deal of resources to bring them cradle to grave, in addition to the fact that your water has now been sitting for who knows how long in a plastic container, absorbing all kinds of lovely phthalates, which are know endocrine-disruptors.  We are exposed to a plethora of toxic chemicals which we can’t so easily control, so why not make a a fairly painless change to something we drink and use all day long?

http://www.pacinst.org/topics/water_and_sustainability/bottled_water/bottled_water_and_energy.html

So here’s something you can do that doesn’t cost a fortune and will pay for itself pretty quickly (I haven’t done the calculation in a while, but I seem to recall when I did my initial research, it would pay for itself within several months).  We installed Aquasana water filters in our showers and on our kitchen sink.  We used to have a Brita pitcher, but I was forever forgetting to replace the filters and I just never felt like it quite did the job.  Aquasana does offer a whole-house filtration system which we plan to install just as soon as we hit the lottery.  Actually, the price is around $800 so it’s not completely outrageous, just more than we wanted to spend on our rental place.  We chose their shower filter for our bathrooms and the above-counter system for the kitchen sink.  We liked it so well that when we renovated our current house, we had one of the under-the-counter systems installed for our new kitchen.

Prior to installing the shower filters initially, we thoroughly scrubbed the showers and tubs so we could start with a fresh palette.  Typically, prior to the new filters, we would see a build up of the pink residue within a couple days.  After we installed the filters, we literally never saw it again; nor did we see a ‘film’ on the glass shower door.  I saw an amazing improvement in my skin’s moisture level and we noticed we could use a much smaller amount of bath gel to get the job done.  When we moved to our current house in December, we had no way of installing a filter in the bathtub that we were using for bathing the boys.  Within a couple weeks, we noticed our middle son developed a permanent ‘goose-bump’ texture to his skin.  We switched to showering him in the filtered water and within 4-5 days, the bumps were gone for good.  We ended up with an shower filter that wasn’t compatible with one of our showers so we passed it on to my brother who always coveted it when he came to visit and he’s now a total convert, which I find particularly remarkable because he finds such pleasure in poking fun at all my little habits and actually has the nerve to keep his own supply of coca-cola in our patio fridge.

The company is in the US and their products are made here.  We’ve had wonderful experience with their customer service and when we bought our systems, they were giving away these great glass bottles to store cold filtered water in the fridge.  It’s great having filtered water handy at the tap to use in our Sodastream, which may be my favorite product on earth (excluding my Vita-mix, but that’s another story for another post).  This has definitely taken the financial sting out of our ‘spicy water’ habit.  I know they are sold all over now, but we got ours at Williams-Sonoma and that’s where we conveniently get our refill cartridges.  If you don’t drink carbonated water, then don’t bore yourself with the rest of this post.  Instead, go ahead and visit the Aquasana website to see if it would work for you.

http://www.aquasanausa.com/

They will give you some further information regarding what specific things are filtered out versus what’s not.  We chose the option of having them auto-ship replacement filters every 6 months which has been super convenient.

If you DO regularly drink a sparkling water like Pellegrino, then take a look at the sodastream system.

http://www.sodastreamusa.com/

Looks like they are now selling it at Bed Bath & Beyond, so you could sign up for their newsletter and get a 20% off coupon.  The cartridges cost about $30, but at Williams Sonoma (and maybe now other retailers), they take your empty cartridge and give you the new one for half-price.  We have the Penguin version, not just because we are from Pittsburgh, but because it uses glass bottles.  It’s made in Israel, doesn’t take up too much room on the counter and comes with 2 glass carafes so you can always have one carbonated and one chilling prior to being carbonated.

I hope this is helpful; it’s made a huge difference for us.

The response to the snowballs recipe was so terrific that I decided to include another variation that’s definitely much less involved.  And if you are a Larabar fan, you’ll really like these and will appreciate not having to recycle those little foil wrappers.  Just like the snowballs, these are high in fiber and potassium.  One thing I forgot to mention in the snowballs post: these recipes are also gluten-free.  We have found that by mainly focusing on whole and homemade foods in our house, we don’t have to be too concerned about gluten.  But, I know that some individuals are truly highly sensitive to gluten and need to eliminate it completely.  So these are a great on-the-go snack for kids for whom gluten may be a big concern.  This recipe uses walnuts, but feel free to substitute pecans, almonds…whatever you have on hand; my sons particularly like these with chopped dried cherries and pecans.  And if you are new to dates, pitting is easy: simply put a slice in them with a paring knife and the pit will pop out easily.  Anyone know if you can grow dates from those?

Date bars

about 3 or 4 Tbsp organic unsweetened coconut

14 ounce package organic Medjool dates, pitted

1/4 c walnuts (if you want, you can lightly toast the walnuts), chopped (I typically chop half very finely and leave the other half as small chunks)

Sprinkle about 2 or 3 Tbsp of the coconut in the bottom of a glass 8×8″ square baking dish.

Press the dates into the coconut, covering the entire bottom of the dish.

Quickly mix together the walnuts and the remaining coconut then cover the date layer by giving them a gentle push.

Cut into whatever shape you like.  Sometimes we do triangles, squares, rectangles, whatever.

Enjoy!