Archives for category: good heart

We hosted a charity wine-tasting Saturday evening with Chef Lee Blakely from Wines For Humanity.  If you aren’t familiar with them, check them out at http://www.winesforhumanity.com.  A portion of the proceeds from purchased wine goes to charity.  Our tasting benefited The Pantry of Broward County (www.thepantryofbroward.org).  I think my husband may have fallen in love with Chef Lee; she provided the perfect balance of education, entertainment and sarcasm.  Chef Lee recommended various food pairings for each course so we did mostly cheese but I wanted to use the opportunity to provide some raw appetizers.  I was a little nervous because, even with a large group, what are the chances that dehydrated food will be a hit?  Good news: I think we ended up with a couple converts.  Every last bite was inhaled. And I had so many requests to share the recipes, I thought they deserved a blog post.  Actually, they are from 2 of my favorite raw chefs, Judita Wignall & James Russell.  I have meant to find time to blog about each of them, but just haven’t committed the time.  So, here goes.

If you would like to add more raw food to your daily menu but are overwhelmed at the thought of having to give up cooked food completely, be intimidated no longer!  First, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, adding any raw choices to your daily consumption will benefit you; don’t feel you need to go 100% raw. That’s a nice goal, but I think shooting for 80% is more realistic.  Take baby steps in that direction by finding raw recipes that ‘make sense’ to you and don’t overwhelm you. For many, that means starting with raw desserts.  Do what works for you without killing yourself, make it a habit, then move on to something else.  Secondly, if you want to go 100% raw but believe that you have to give up cooked foods, know this is not the case.

After using my oven’s dehydrator setting and loving it, but wishing for more than a 2-tray system, I took the plunge and bought an Excalibur. Actually, I sold an old bracelet on eBay so I could say I bought it myself. The husbands in the audience will appreciate this. They offer a 5-tray oven and a 9-tray oven.  Given the footprint on your countertop will be the same for either model, take my advice: spend the extra 40 dollars and get the 9-tray model.  I purchased mine from an authorized dealer on eBay, but there are many on-line retailers.  Mine came with a great recipe book and free shipping, so do your homework.  Here’s a link to the eBay retailer from whom I purchased mine:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/310265620015?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649#ht_2380wt_1398

A dehydrator is a raw-foodies’s version of a toaster oven.  Now that I have one, I don’t know how I survived without it.  I’m exaggerating but it has been a great addition to our kitchen.  We us it for making raw energy bars, fruit leather, flax crackers, wraps, kale chips…tons of raw foods that are (at least) equally as satisfying as their ‘cooked’ counterparts, but infinitely more nutritious.  I’m over-simplifying for the sake of time, but, in a nutshell, by ‘cooking’ the food at a temperature that does not exceed approximately 118 degrees, you maintain the foods’ naturally-occurring digestive enzymes.  Bottom-line: digesting the food and obtaining its nutrients requires very little energy for your body which means it’s less taxing on your body which means you have more ‘free’ energy to be used on more important things like repairing your cells, maintaining your immune function, etc.  Translation: you will feel lighter and have more energy.  If you want to further research the rationale behind a raw (and living foods) diet, I recommend you research Ann Wigmore.  She was a pioneer and wrote an amazing book that is an oldie but a goodie titled The Hippocrates Diet and Health Program.  Here’s the link to the amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Hippocrates-Diet-Health-Program/dp/0895292238/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346098960&sr=1-1&keywords=ann+wigmore+hippocrates+diet

One general word about raw food: try to use the best, highest quality ingredients and, if at all possible, make them organic.  I’ve noticed that when you transition to raw foods, your taste-buds become very good at discerning differences in the quality & freshness of the individual ingredients.  Especially if you are also doing any type of elimination diet and/or cleanse.  It’s as though your taste-buds get ‘re-set’, starting over from scratch.

Now for the recipes.  The first one is from an amazing book, Going Raw by Judita Wignall.

http://www.amazon.com/Going-Raw-Everything-Lifestyle-Revolution/dp/1592536859/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346099558&sr=1-1&keywords=going+raw+judita

The recipes are great, especially if you are new to raw and she actually gives quite a bit of useful information, ranging from sprouting to cleansing, so if you have thought about adding some raw books to your collection, this is a terrific place to start. I have yet to make a recipe I haven’t loved.  A quick list of several of my favorites in case you buy the book: zucchini hummus, guacamole, energy bars, tomato wraps, fettuccine, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate mousse and, (recipe to follow) stuffed mushrooms.

These mushrooms will be a hit with any group, I’m convinced, regardless of how tainted their taste buds are; people won’t believe that they are vegan and raw.

Spinach-Walnut Pesto and Pignolia (Pine Nut) Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms

MUSHROOMS

20-30 medium-size baby bella mushrooms (or you can use more readily-avaialable white mushrooms or 6-8 large portobello mushrooms)

1. Remove the stems by gently twisting and setting aside for another use.  Don’t ‘wash’ your mushrooms because they will absorb too much water.  I use a wet cloth to remove any dirt.


MARINADE

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)

2 Tbsp. tamari (I use the organic, low-sodium version from San-J; it’s also gluten-free)

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1. Combine all ingredients.

2. Place mushrooms in a shallow baking dish and pour the mixture over them.  I kind of massage the mushrooms with the marinade.

3. Let set for 15 minutes (or 1 hour if using the larger portobello caps).

PINE NUT CHEESE

1 cup pine nuts, soaked 2 hours, then rinsed

1/4 cup water

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1.  Process all ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender until smooth.  Add more water if needed a Tablespoon at a time, but it’s best to keep it on the thick side (I usually only add 1 extra Tablespoon).

SPINACH-WALNUT PESTO

2 cups spinach, packed

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic (I usually add 3 or 4)

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup walnuts, soaked 6-8 hours, rinsed, then dehydrated (if you can’t dehydrate them, no worries; the recipe will still work!)

1. Place spinach, oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a food processor and blend until smooth.

2. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed; add the walnuts and pulse until incorporated but still a little chunky.

ASSEMBLY

1. Fill each mushroom cap with the ‘cheese’ then follow with a dollop of pesto.

2. Place the pan stuffed mushrooms on a dehydrator tray and warm at 100 degrees for 2-3 hours (3-4 hours if using the larger portobello mushrooms).

3. Serve warm

Note: if you don’t have a dehydrator, you can still make these and bake for less time at your oven’s lowest setting; you lose the digestive enzymes, but you still get the vitamins and minerals and, although the mushrooms will be softer, they are equally as yummy

James Russell’s Mini Flax Pizza Bites were a huge success.  He has a great website and blog with a simply amazing amount of information, videos and recipes, in addition to some beautiful e-books that can be downloaded for a very reasonable price.  Here’s a link to his site.

http://therawchef.com/therawchefblog/

I was surprised, quite frankly, how much people absolutely loved these. One batch after another was inhaled.  They are a little labor-intensive but very worth it.  Please note that the recipe calls for making dehydrated flax crackers as the pizza ‘crust’; however, if dehydrating is not an option for you, you can substitute raw mushrooms, about 20 small or 12 medium-large.   Simply marinate the mushroom caps in 1/4 cup tamari and 1/4 cup olive oil for at least 2 hours.  Bake at your lowest setting for about 20-30 minutes (or until they are warmed to your liking), then follow the instructions for assembly below.

FLAX CRACKER BASE

1/2 cup flax seeds

1/2 cup flax meal (ground flax seeds)

6 medium tomatoes, seeded

1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 2 hours or longer (these are dry; not the version that is packed in olive oil)

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 cup fresh basil

3 Tbsp. dried Italian herbs (I use dried basil & oregano)

3 medium onions

1 clove garlic (I use 2, at least)

1. Process all ingredients in a food processor.

2. Spread evenly and thinly over 2 dehydrator trays lined with Paraflexx or parchment paper.  Dehydrate at 105 degrees for 1-2 hours, then score into small squares (about 1 or 2″ square).

3. Dehydrate another hour, then invert onto another tray and dehydrate another 8-12 hours.

PINE NUT CHEESE SPREAD

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup macadamia nuts

1/4 tsp. sea salt

2 teaspoons nutritional yeast

1/4 cup water

1. Process all ingredients in a food processor until rather smooth.

TOMATO SAUCE (please note that you can substitute high-quality jarred tomato sauce, as well)

4 medium tomatoes, seeded

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 2 hours or more

1 soft date, pitted

1 clove garlic

2 tsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. fresh basil

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. lemon juice

1. Blend all ingredients in a high-powered blender until smooth

PESTO

2 cups basil, tightly packed

1 Tbsp. minced rosemary

1/4 cups pine nuts

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 tsp. sea salt

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until broken down, but leaving it a little chunky

ASSEMBLY

1. Using flax cracker as a base, add a dollop of tomato sauce, then a dollop of the pine nut cheese, then the pesto.

2. Garnish with your favorite topping; I like chopped Kalamata olives.

3.  If you have chosen to substitute mushrooms for the flax cracker base and do have a dehydrator, warm at 105 degree for 1-2 hours.

Enjoy!  And a special thank you to all my guinea pigs Saturday night!

Being raised on Kool-Aid and Hostess snack pies, I developed quite a sweet tooth over the years that I started seriously trying to curb (with varying degrees of success) around 1995.  I guess I instinctively knew on some level, at least, that Swedish fish and gummy peaches just couldn’t be good for me, but I didn’t understand fully why until about 5 or 6 years ago.  As I’ve aged, I have seen the toll it has taken on my body and my teeth and I feel blessed to have come to an understanding of its damaging effects sooner rather than later (see yesterday’s post for a great New York Times’ article on sugar).  I come from a long line of sugar-addicts so within the context of clean-eating, cutting the sweets has by far been my biggest challenge.  One of my favorite things in the world?  Chocolate. Chocolate on anything.  I can find a way to justify chocolate for every meal of the day.  And I don’t mean cacao; I mean the CHOCOLATE. Granted, over the years I’ve transitioned to dark, organic chocolate at least, but it’s still just a cover for sugar.  For years, a satisfying recipe for chocolate brownies has eluded me…I’ve tried gluten-free recipes, raw recipes, recipes calling for copious amounts of agave…you name it…and I never felt good about any of them and wasted pounds & cups of expensive ingredients to no avail.  Until last night.

I’m hesitant to even give you this blog because it SOOOO puts mine to shame in the recipe department.  Not just the recipe department, but the aesthetics department, as well.  The photography of the ingredients and final products are absolutely gorgeous.  I’m guessing the creator is not a homeschooling mama of three!!!  And if she is, I don’t want to know. The author, Sarah Britton, is an holistic nutritionist and vegetarian chef. Oh, I can only dream…Her blog is My New Roots and the site is

http://www.mynewroots.blogspot.com

Check it out and then take pity on me and come back to my site and pretend you’ve never seen hers.  No; seriously, her blog is beautiful and the information she’s sharing absolutely hits the mark; the epitome of tasteful taste…if that makes sense.  I hope you love it as much as I do.

Anyway, back to the brownies.  So I had my own recipe that I created based on some ‘decent’ store-bought varieties of ‘healthy’ brownies and decided to do an internet search to see if I was close to the prize before wasting any more ingredients.  My New Roots popped up with a recipe for raw brownies that promised to be out of this world.  ‘Yeah, right’ I thought.  Then I took a closer look at the 5 ingredients and they were what I had but with no agave nectar.  Fantastic.  And she uses walnuts where I had planned to use cashews.  Having all ingredients on hand, I went to town.  These things go start to finish in maybe 10 minutes if you have a food processor.  I can’t offer enough superlatives to describe these brownies.  Now, I admit that my taste buds have evolved to the point where stuff I used to LOVE (e.g. double-stuff OREOs, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Raisinettes) now sickens me.  Even the thought of eating them now makes me a little nauseous, but I still love ‘better’ sweets like organic gelato, for example.  I only need a few bites to satisfy the urge now, but still, those choices offer no nutritional benefit and usually give me hives.  This gives you the rationale for my quest.

I refrigerated them overnight and went to bed planning my brownie breakfast.  I knew the real test would be my oldest son.  As our family’s eating habits have evolved over the years, Samuel’s tastebuds are what I would consider to be the most ‘adulterated’ of my three children.  He was breastfed the shortest time, and, although just about everything he has eaten for 6 years has been organic, he still has a place in his heart for white flour & sugar!  The results of this morning’s taste test: ‘Mommy, these taste like a banana split!’.  Now, I’m not aware that he has ever had an actual banana split, but somehow, he has developed a romanticized affection for the dessert.  Kind of like my middle son who has never had cotton candy, but thinks it is its own food group.  And, as if getting his thumbs up wasn’t enough, my dad, who taught me the beauty of neapolitan ice cream in a cardboard container, gave the stamp of approval.  I didn’t tell him what ingredients they consisted of until after the tasting because he’s a hard sell.

Now that we’ve established how delicious these are, let’s spend just a little bit of time on the nutritional boost the 5 ingredients will give you.  By the way, I agree with Sarah: use the best ingredients you can find and/or afford.  Let the specific richness of each ingredient shine through in the final product.  First, walnuts contain some unique antioxidants and offer anti-inflammatory benefits.  They also contain a specific kind of Vitamin E that has shown to be cardio-protective.  Similarly, almonds contain antioxidants and cardio-protective properties, in addition to high levels of magnesium which helps to relax veins & arteries, resulting in improved flow of oxygen throughout the body (spoken like a true former Pfizer cardiovascular Rx drug-pusher, but that’s another story entirely…probably a whole book, actually).  Raw cacao, rich in antioxidants, is also high in magnesium, which helps with blood circulation.  And what about dates? Not only are they a great source of fiber, but they also contain high levels of antioxidants known as tannins, which provide anti-inflammatory properties.  And these benefits just scratch the surface.  If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out http://www.whfoods.com as they provide a wealth of information regarding what nutrients and benefits specific foods offer.

So, without further delay:

The World’s Best Raw Brownie (I tweaked this just a bit but it’s still 99.9% Sarah’s recipe; you may want to send her a thank you note after you taste them)

2 cups raw, whole walnuts

1 cup raw cacao (I use Navitas brand organic raw cacao nibs; most health food stores will have some version; I order mine from amazon)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2 cups organic Medjool dates, pitted

1 cup raw, unsalted almonds, roughly or finely chopped, depending on your (or your 6-year-old’s!) preference

1. Chop or process your almonds in a food processor to suit your taste.  I did a mixture of finely ground with some larger pieces.  Set aside.

2. Process the walnuts in your food processor until the nuts are finely ground.

3. Add the cacao and the salt; pulse to combine.

4. Add the dates, one or two at a time, through the feed tube while it is running.  Sarah says it will look like cake batter crumbs & that’s exactly what you get.

5. In a large bowl, combine your walnut/cacao mixture with the almonds.  Press into a square brownie pan (Sarah recommends you line the pan; I did not and simply used a large spatula to cut and remove the brownies form the pan).

6.  Refrigerate; they are easy to cut when cold and, I think, taste better chilled.  Sarah pictures them with a little dusting of cacao powder, which makes them look very pretty).

On behalf of Sarah, enjoy!

While back in the ‘Burgh last month, my mother-n-law and I took my dinosaur-obsessed sons to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Wow.  I’m embarrassed to say that I went to exhibits and classes there a zillion times while we lived there but I had no idea they had redone (which is a total understatement) the dinosaur exhibits.  If you haven’t gone lately, please go.  Anyway…we ate at the museum cafe and had this incredible quinoa salad.  I wasn’t certain of all the ingredients but knew it had quinoa (duh), dried cherries, ginger and, I figured, some type of onion and green herb.  So I did an internet search for ‘quinoa cherry ginger’ and came up with this great recipe from the Meatless Monday website.  I’ve tweaked it a little but here’s the link for the original recipe:

http://www.meatlessmonday.com/ginger-cherry-quinoa/

If you check it out, you will see the recipe actually comes from a site called Domestic Divas.  I had not heard of it but spent a little time there & I encourage you to do the same.  It’s a terrific blog and I found a slew of recipes I plan to try.

http://www.domesticdivasblog.com/

It’s healthy and easy: my favorite thing about the recipe may be that you can do it all in one pan.

If you are new to quinoa (pronounced |ˈkēnwä|) don’t be intimidated.  I can just hear my friend Mark asking, ‘What the $*@# is quinoa?’!!! Quinoa is a non-gluten grain that is apparently not truly a grain but a relative of green leafy vegetables.  I learned to love it after reading CLEAN: Remove, Restore, Rejuvenate by Alejandro Junger, MD.  It’s one of the approved grains on his elimination diet/cleanse list of OK foods; his book contains a handful of easy quinoa-based recipes. I enjoy that it gives you the texture of rice but packs such an amazing nutritional punch.  It’s high in protein and is safe for those with Celiac Disease.  Not only is it high in protein, it is actually a complete protein, meaning it contains the nine essential amino acids.  I also just learned that it is very high in magnesium which apparently may benefit migraine sufferers.  If you haven’t visited already, please take a look at The World’s Healthiest Foods website; it’s a comprehensive resource if you are looking for the specific nutritional benefits of certain foods:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?dbid=142&tname=foodspice

This recipe also contains pine nuts (which my nut-allergic friend Christie will be happy to know are optional; she’ll also be happy that I remembered she’s allergic to nuts, but that’s another story), fresh ginger root and parsley.  I’m a big believer in allowing our food to be medicine and these are three great foods for doing just that.

Pine nuts (or ‘pignoli’) contain the highest level of protein per gram of any nut.  The following information comes from a great review of their benefits from Today’s Women & Health:

http://www.todays-women-and-health.com/pine-nuts.html

‘Pine nuts are nature’s only source of pinoleic acid, which stimulates hormones and helps diminish your appetite.  They have the highest concentration of oleic acid: a monounsaturated fat that aids the liver in eliminating harmful triglycerides from our body which helps protect our heart.  Pine nuts are packed with 3mg of iron per one ounce serving. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying pigment in blood that supplies energy.  Additionally, they are rich in magnesium which helps alleviate muscle cramps, tension and fatigue.’ (Another great food for migraine sufferers.)

Everyone knows ginger is good for nausea and helping with morning sickness, but there’s a reason why they serve it alongside sushi, specifically with sashimi.  I remember reading in Sushi for Dummies that this practice is to help kill any parasites and/or bacteria that could be present in the raw fish.  It’s also high in magnesium, potassium and other minerals.  Here’s a link for a more comprehensive list of its medicinal benefits:

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/ginger-root.html

Parsely is basically good for everything that ails you.  No joke.  It’s great to flavor foods, but also great to throw in with your vegetables if you own a juicer.  My green-thumbed-mother (sadly I did not inherit the gene) grows tons of it and tells me that my 4-year-old niece eats it by the fistful which I think is awesome.  Even Mrs. GoodStuff can’t get her kids to do that.  The benefits are so numerous and complex (just to name a few: cardio-protective, tons of anti-oxidants, protection against arthritis) that I’ll just give you the link if you want to see specifics:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=100

Ok…enough about why this is so good for you…this recipe also tastes incredible.  And, as I mentioned, it’s incredibly easy to make and to clean up because it’s done in one pan.  This is great served chilled, but also warm (my preference), or hot.

1/4 c. pine nuts (or more if you’re a fan; I use a whole cup)

1+ Tbsp. olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 tsp. fresh ginger root, peeled & minced (also feel free to add more here; I use closer to 2 tsp.)

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 1/3 c. water

1/2 c. dried cherries (I use 1 cup.  *Use whatever dried cherries you like but note that most will contain some form of sugar and/or sulfites & oil as additives.  For this recipe, I use Whole Foods dried sour cherries; if you want one without any added sugar or sulfites, they are a little pricey but I’ll give you the link at the end of this recipe to the ones we get for snacking, adding to steel cut oats and for making trail mix.)

1/2 c. golden raisins

1 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, chopped

Freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts in a little olive oil then set aside (They toast quickly so pay attention and don’t let them get too brown!)

2. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in same skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shallot & ginger.  Saute just about 2 minutes until they soften.

3. Add quinoa & stir to combine.  Cook for about 1 minute then add the water.

4. Bring to a boil, cover and cook about 8 minutes total.  (Add the dried cherries & raisins after about 4 minutes, then cook another 4 for a total of 8 minutes.)

5. Let sit, covered for a couple minutes, uncover and add the nuts, parsley and salt & pepper.  Toss with a fork.  Serve immediately or cool to desired temperature.

Enjoy!

* Here’s the link to the dried cherries I get from amazon.com (Whole Foods also carries them most of the time but if you choose the Subscribe & Save option, they are a much better price; please note that the labeling of these as ‘organic’ is legal under USDA regulations, but the cherries themselves are not organic.  I haven’t been able to find any organic varieties without sugar that taste good; however, they may be out there.  It’s worth finding a good-tasting brand that is organic and not sweetened with sugar because cherries consistently rank in the Top 10 most toxic fruits and veggies thanks to crazy levels of pesticides.  So if you know of a better brand, please share):

http://www.amazon.com/Eden-Organic-Montmorency-Cherries-4-Ounce/dp/B001ELL288/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1

Since I started this blog I’ve been asked consistently about body lotion. Here’s my ‘recipe’ for an inexpensive concoction that can be used for body oil, bath oil or massage oil.  I’ve been using the same ‘recycled’ 8 ounce glass bottle with a pump for years.  I just refill it every 2 to 3 months.  If you are familiar with this blog, you can easily guess that this is chemical-free: no preservatives, parabens, etc. I buy the three oils used for this in large quantities and simply store in a dark, cool place like the fridge or under the sink.  The essential oils I use here can easily be substituted for any you like, but I finally found a combination that, for me, is extremely soothing and calming.

Enjoy!

organic canola oil

organic grapeseed oil

wheatgerm oil

(Grocery stores should have the first two.  Wheatgerm oil I buy from http://www.mountainroseherbs.com; they also carry a variety of glass containers if you don’t happen to have one you can re-use)

Essential oils:

rosemary

peppermint

eucalyptus

lavendar

sage

fir needle

Pour equal parts of each oil into your glass container.  Add 10-15 drops of each oil.  Take a nice hot/cold plunge shower.  Towel dry then lather up!

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.

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.