Archives for category: good planet

I’m sure you have all been losing sleep over how to get organic dried cherries…you will rest well tonight knowing they do exist.  Last month I posted a quinoa recipe that lists dried cherries as an ingredient.  I mentioned that I have been looking for dried cherries that are organic without added sugar because cherries consistently rank high for levels of pesticides.  The ones we typically eat have no added sugar, but the cherries themselves are not organic.  Turns out, VitalChoice carries dried organic tart cherries, but they do contain organic cane sugar so there’s a bit of a trade-off: choose organic cherries with added sugar or choose no sugar with possible pesticides.  I’ll let you make the call.

If you are interested, check out:

http://www.vitalchoice.com/shop/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=267&idcategory=275

I encourage you to check out this company even if you are perfectly happy not having dried organic cherries in your life.  We have been ordering their sashimi-grade Alaskan Sockeye salmon for years and it’s always incredible, raw or grilled.  They also offer some great bonus gifts-with-purchase each week if you sign up for their mailing list.  That’s how I discovered their macadamia nut oil that is amazing for grilling salmon.  If your idea of salmon is the cotton-candy pink kind from your average super market, you are in for a real treat.  Turns out most of the salmon you purchase is not only farmed (which is terrible for you, the environment and the fish), but it is dyed to appear red or pink in an effort to mimic wild salmon’s naturally occurring red-orange hue.   The antioxidant astaxanthin is what imparts its red color.  More on salmon later (I say that alot, don’t I?), but for now, if you are a salmon-eater, do all you can to get it wild-caught from a sustainable source.  Here is a link to what Wikipedia has to say about astaxanthin:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astaxanthin

If you go to VitalChoice’s ‘Top Sellers & Special Values’ tab, you will see some good deals.  I like having a mix of smaller and larger portions so here’s what we order:

http://www.vitalchoice.com/shop/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=799&idcategory=232

They ship it in a recyclable styrofoam container in dry ice and you can choose the date.  This link will take you to their VitalGreen page.  Take a look at their initiative to recycle the containers:

http://www.vitalchoice.com/shop/pc/viewContent.asp?idpage=7

Hope everyone has a relaxing Labor Day and thanks again for your encouraging emails!

My friend Margo is one of those amazing bakers who can actually create her own recipes.  Anytime I try something new and want to figure out how to bake it, I go to her.  I can improvise fairly well when I’m cooking, but I respect baking as an exact science so I get a little nervous about changing ratios, etc.  Here is Margo’s recipe for crispy brown rice bars. I love being able to make this sort of thing for myself because 1) the cost for wholesome little snacks like these can equal the size of a mortgage payment over the course of a year 2) I just cringe every time I open one of the wrappers and know that most are headed for the land-fill 3) these are void of any preservatives that still come with many ‘natural’ and/or organic varieties.  

I’ve already praised the benefits of almonds and dried fruits (See the post with the recipe for date balls.), but these also contain one of my favorite ‘sneak-in’ ingredients: hemp seed.  I order mine in 5 lb. bags from Nutiva (www.nutiva.com).  It is easily stored in the refrigerator and is a great addition to smoothies and salads.  For baby food or salad dressing, try adding their hemp oil.  Hemp seed contains the perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids.  For a quick synopsis, here’s a quick read from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp_oil

In addition to being gluten-free, I also like that this recipe calls for brown rice syrup and honey rather than white or brown sugar or agave nectar. I’m certainly not an expert on sugars and I don’t mind a little agave now and then, but I do believe that sugar is not as innocuous as the marketing companies whose clients include children’s cereal manufacturers, ketchup manufacturers and ‘whole wheat’ bread manufacturers would like you to believe.  It wreaks havoc on our immune and digestive systems and everything else in between.  More on that later.

Brown rice syrup is a polysaccharide (or ‘complex sugar’) rather than a monosaccharide (or ‘simple sugar’).  It’s still a sweetener so it should be used in moderation, but because of its structure, the body breaks it down more slowly so you don’t get the crazy spike in blood glucose levels that occurs with simple sugars.  It also means that the body can utilize it for energy rather than storing it as fat.   Honey is also a natural sweetener but, unlike processed sugar (e.g. white sugar), it retains its own natural digestive enzymes and nutrients.  I don’t know much about it, but raw honey is a very popular choice because it is completely unprocessed and, as a result, retains all of its natural nutritional benefits. Apparently it is good for allergies and as a natural antibiotic.

A note about gluten free: Thanks Joan, who wrote in to ask about brown rice syrup being gluten free.  I’ve now specified in Margo’s recipe to use Lundberg Farms because both their organic and eco-farmed versions are gluten free.  That’s the only brand I have used so I mistakenly assumed all varieties are gluten free…not so.  I checked http://www.glutenfreeliving.com and they indicate that it’s actually the fermentation process that determines the distinction.  If the brown rice is fermented with barley enzymes, the result is NOT gluten free.  If fungal enzymes are used, the resulting rice syrup IS gluten free.  If eating gluten free is not important to you, then obviously use whatever brand of brown rice syrup you prefer.  

Enjoy the recipe that follows…thanks Margo!

My kids are obsessed with these organic crispy brown rice bars – but we go through a case of them in a matter of weeks.  When I complained about it, BethAnn said what she always says to me about pre-packaged snack food:  “Couldn’t you make those?”  And I responded the way I always do:  (apologetic grimace) “Yeah probably, but I never will.”  So tackled the brown rice bars and came up with this versatile recipe that I hope will become as popular in your house.  My kids like to help make them too.

Crispy Rice Bars

3 cups organic brown crisp rice cereal (I like Barbara’s brand)

¼ cup raw almonds

¼ cup raw cashews

¼ cup shelled hemp seeds

½ cup raisins (or other small dried fruit; add enough to suit your taste)

1/3 cup smooth nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, tahini, hazelnut would all work well, as would a combination)

¼ cup Lundberg Farms Gluten free brown rice syrup

¼ cup honey

Preheat oven to 350.

Grind nuts and seeds in a spice mill to coarse consistency.

Add these and raisins or other dried fruit to brown rice cereal.

Bring nut butter, honey and brown rice syrup to a boil in a small pot, and allow the mixture to bubble for about one minute (do not let it burn).

Pour nut butter mixture over rice mixture and stir thoroughly.

Turn out onto a greased 9×9 metal cake pan and press down with greased fingers.

Bake for about 10 minutes, just until edges begin to brown.

Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Store in layers separated by parchment in an airtight container.

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!

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.

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.

I figure spring has sprung for my loved ones in the northeast so it’s ok to use the word ‘snow’ now.  Especially since the snow in this recipe is coconut.  These are my husband’s favorite ‘legal’ sweet tooth fix. These little date balls rolled in coconut are relatively easy to make and keep well in the refrigerator.

They pack a huge nutritional punch: dates are wonderfully & naturally sweet and are high in dietary fiber, vitamin A, iron and potassium; walnuts add vitamin E, manganese and omega-3 fatty acids; coconut for the antimicrobial and antiviral properties of lauric acid (on a side note: I know that for a long time coconut got a bad rap during the snackwell, ‘fat-free food obsession’ years, but it’s a really amazing food in all its forms…coconut water, shredded coconut, coconut oil, etc….I’ll spend more time later discussing the nutritional value of coconut, specifically; but in the meantime, just do an internet search on the nutritional benefits of coconut and you’ll wonder why you’ve avoided it all these years).

This recipe definitely does not require precise measurements and the amounts given for each ingredient are approximate.  Feel free to add a little extra here and there if you, for example, love raisins or love apricots.  If you prefer, you can use dates as the base, but switch up the dried fruits and/or nuts, substituting dried cherries for raisins or pecans for the walnuts.  As long as you stay relatively close to 1/2 c. nuts to about 1/2 c. dried fruit to each 14 ounce bag of dates, you’ll be fine.

As always, I list the ingredients that I use which are organic and unsulphured.  I’m fairly certain that if a product is labeled organic, it cannot be sulphured.  We use so many almonds in our house that I do buy them truly raw and organically grown.  Here’s the deal with truly raw almonds: the government requires that raw almonds be at least quickly pasteurized; however, I have found 2 farms in CA that will sell them directly to you and, because they are the original grower of the almonds, they can sell them to you without having been first pasteurized.  ‘What the heck is the difference?’ is what you are probably saying about now…and I know some of you are saying a word other than ‘heck’.  Like any whole food, almonds contain their own, God-given digestive enzymes.  The more the food is cooked (i.e. brought to a higher temperature), the more the food’s own enzymes are destroyed, thus requiring YOUR digestive enzymes to do more of the work, which of course requires more energy of your body, allowing less energy for the GOOD things like repairing your immune system after your 4th coca-cola of the day (that one is for Uncle Ken).  I’m completely over-simplifying, but if you look at your body’s energy in its entirety, then each system of your body gets its own slice of pie.  What you want, is for only a tiny little sliver of that pie to be used by the digestive system, so your immune system, for example, gets a huge slice of pie.  Hope that makes sense.

Here’s where I get my ingredients, but please use the best of whatever you can get.

Raw, organically grown almonds I get from 2 places, as it always seems one is out of their supply at any given moment.  I buy them 25lbs. at a time because it’s much more economical and because it takes a lot of gas to ship these little gems from CA to FL.

Briden Wilson Farms  www.homegrownalmonds.com

25 lb box for $204.75

Organic Pastures  www.organicpastures.com (I actually have to call them at 877-RAW-MILK because I can never successfully place an order via their web site)

25 lb box for $225

The dates I use are the best and freshest I’ve been able to find.  I actually order them from amazon when I’ve accumulated other things in my shopping cart so that I always have them on-hand.  They are organic Medjool dates from the Bergin Nut Co.  Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Bergin-Nut-Company-Organic-14-Ounce/dp/B001E5DRC8/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1302804068&sr=8-5

Everything else you should be able to readily find.

 

Snowballs…or ‘those balls’, as my middle son calls them

1/4 c. organic raisins

1/4 c. raw almonds

one 14 ounce bag Medjool dates, pits removed

1/4 c. walnuts

about 5 or 6 dried apricots (totally optional)

organic, unsweetened shredded coconut (I throw maybe a 2 Tbsp. in, but mostly you just need this for rolling the balls in ‘snow’)

Combine raisins, nuts, pitted dates and apricots (or whatever dried fruits and nuts you prefer) and a couple tablespoons of coconut into your food processor. Pulse until the mixture becomes one big clump.  Remove and roll chunks of it into bite-size balls, then roll in the coconut (this part is kind of tedious, but I consider it a labor of love).

Ours don’t usually last too long, but if you have left-overs, refrigerate them.  Those Pyrex containers with the dark blue lids are great: not only are they are made of glass so there’s no concern about BPA, they are also proudly made in the USA.  When you have finally used and re-used your plastic Gladware, recycle it with your yogurt containers and other #5 plastics (www.preserveproducts.com for their Gimme 5 locations) and invest in a variety set of Pyrex storage containers.  The lids can go in the top rakc of your dishwasher and they don’t affect the taste of your left-overs.

Enjoy!