Thursday, November 29, 2012

Make Your Own Fabric Softener

Who actually knows what is in fabric softener or those dryer sheets?  Sure they make our clothes smell nice and reduce the dreaded static cling, but that pesky "fragrance" or "perfume" can contain a slew of chemicals that the industry may or may not even know if they are safe for our health.  And then those chemicals are in our clothes, and against our skin (!!!), for hours...being absorbed into our bodies.  So, here is a recipe that I have been using for over a year now.  And you can even make it smell pretty depending on the essential oils you choose to use :-).  And the ingredients are edible (maybe not the essential oils so much) - can you eat your fabric softener???

1 cup baking soda
6 cups white vinegar
8 cups water
10-15 drops essential (I use tea tree, but lavender or whatever you like best works just as well!)

Basically, mix all ingredients in a large bowl or bucket.  I like to mix the baking soda and water first and stir until most of the baking soda dissolves.

Once you add the vinegar, it gets very bubbly as it reacts with the baking soda.  So don't make the mistake I did the first time and mix in a leftover vinegar bottle and attempt to shake instead of me, it gets messy!

bubbles, bubbles, bubbles!

Once it is all mixed up, then it is safe to use a funnel and store it in old vinegar bottles.  Use it just as you would fabric softener you buy at the store.  And no need for dryer sheets!!  With the exception of fleece, I do not have issues with static causing my clothes to stick together.

Now if this recipes is a little bit too much work for your busy schedule, you can also use straight-up white vinegar.  Don't worry, your clothes won't smell like vinegar - once it's dried, vinegar loses its smell...but, you won't get the pretty scent like you would with the essential oils.  Oh yeah, and it's super cheap! Bonus feature!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Quick & Easy Foaming Hand Soap

"Antibacterial" and "Antimicrobial" products are all the rage these days.  You can buy hand sanitizer, antibacterial soaps and lotions, and antimicrobial towels, toys, and more.  But in reality, they really aren't the best products for you or for the environment.  The most common ingredients which make something "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial" are Triclosan and Triclocarbon.  Here are a few good reasons to avoid these ingredients:

  • They promote drug-resistant bacteria or "superbugs" - can we spell MRSA??
  • They can disrupt normal hormone function associated with brain and reproductive development, including thyroid hormone, estrogen, and testosterone levels.  This can affect learning, behavior, fertility, and the growth of cancerous cells.
  • Because these chemicals get washed down the drain, they get into our waterways.  They can disrupt normal ecosystems (the natural flora of bacteria) that is needed to support the lives and reproduction of animals - i.e. fish, frogs, etc.  Not to mention the quality and safety of our water.
Here is an article where I got some of this information, and there are some references to other articles and links at the bottom.  Here is another article from the Environmental Working Group specific to the effects of Triclosan.  It even mentions that the American Medical Association and the FDA do not recommend household use of products containing Triclosan due to the dangers of promoting superbugs and because this ingredient is no more effective in cleaning and killing germs than good old soap and hot water.

So what are the alternatives?  I am a big fan of cleansing products using essential oils.  For example, tea tree oil is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal.  It's also safe to use in battling acne.  Lavender is another common essential oil effective against bacteria (it's also safe for all ages).  There is also thyme, which is a nice herbal scent for the kitchen, and orange oil, which is also good against grease.  Lemon, eucalyptus, rosemary, and lemongrass are other good choices.  Here is a chart that outlines some others and outlines their properties.

Dr. Bronners makes some excellent bar and liquid castile soaps.  I found the price to be better at my local grocery store for the bar soaps, but I buy the liquid versions at Vitacost.  They have a baby mild version which is unscented, and then several others which are already infused with essential oils (tea tree, citrus, peppermint to name a few).  I like to use the tea tree liquid soap as the base for my foaming hand soap.  Here is the recipe:


  • Foaming soap pump - Pampered Chef has one, or you can re-purpose one that you already have
  • Liquid Castile Soap of your choice - about 2 tbsp (it is VERY concentrated!)
  • ~12 drops total of your favorite essential oil or blend a few (optional - especially if using the soap which already is infused with tea tree oil).  You can also buy these at Vitacost or at your local grocery store or natural food store.
  • Water

1.  Put approximately 2 tbsp of soap into the soap pump.  This really does not have to be exact, just fill up the pump a little bit at the bottom.  The Pampered Chef pump has a little line for measuring the soap, but I don't even fill it up quite that high since the soap is quite concentrated.

2.  Add your drops of essential oils.  For the bathroom, I like to use just lavender and maybe some orange oil.  In the kitchen I like to also add rosemary, thyme, and peppermint.

3.  Fill up the soap pump with water, most of the way.  

4.  Keep those hands clean, with your custom luxurious foaming hand wash!  Wa-la!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Carried Away With Canning: Part III

I know, I know...this post is way overdue.  Would you accept the excuse that I have been too busy eating all my salsa and spaghetti sauce???  Anyway, here are the recipes for both:


Ingredients (enough for 2 pints - multiply depending on how many pints you intend to can):

8 medium tomatoes
1 slice red onion
1 red chile or jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
4 tbsp lime juice

1.  Wash the tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro.

2. Option #1:  Quarter tomatoes and place everything into a food processor.  This is what I did, and while the flavor was excellent, the consistency was very runny.

3.  Option #2:  Remove seeds and dice the tomatoes.  Dice the jalapeno peppers, chop the cilantro, dice the garlic (or use a garlic press).  Combine everything in a large Saucepot.  Your flavor will still be the same, but your consistency will be more chunky.  Because I was making about 12 pints worth, I used option #1 because I wanted to save time on all the seeding and dicing.  It's up to you, based on the consistency you prefer and the time you have to prepare the salsa.

4.  Bring the salsa to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. While the salsa simmers, prepare your boiling water canner and make sure your jars are clean (see Carried Away With Canning: Part I).  Sanitize them in the canner for a bit - maybe 10 minutes at 190 degrees.

6.  When the salsa is ready and the jars are sanitized, ladle the salsa into the jars and leave 1/2 inch headspace.  Process for 20 minutes (begin processing time once the water comes to a boil)..

7.  After being processed,  turn off the burner and let the jars rest for 5 minutes before removing.  Remove the jars and allow them to cool without being moved for 24 hours.

8.  Grab a bag of your favorite tortilla chips and enjoy!!!


Ingredients, for ~7 Quarts:

45 pounds tomatoes
3 large onions, diced
12 cloves garlic, diced or pressed
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
1/2-1 tbsp red pepper flakes (use according to your spiciness-level preferences)
1 tbsp marjoram
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
Bottled Lemon Juice

1.  Wash tomatoes (as we did in Part I).

2. Remove core and blossom ends, then quarter tomatoes.

3.  Cook tomatoes in a large saucepot until nice and soft.

4.  Run the soft tomatoes through a tomato press or food mill to separate the seeds and skin.  Place in a large bowl.

5.  Heat olive oil in a large saucepot.  Add garlic and onions and saute until onions are soft.  Add the tomato puree and seasonings into the saucepot.  Bring to a simmer and allow sauce to reduce by half, or until desired consistency.  This can take several hours, so pop in a good movie - but don't forget to stir occasionally in order to prevent scorching!

6.  As the sauce thickens, clean your jars and sanitize them in a boiling water canner.

7.  Add 1 tbsp of bottled lemon juice to each pint jar or 2 tbsp to each quart jar.  Ladle the sauce into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Put the lids on the jars and process pints for 35 minutes, quarts for 40 minutes (begin processing time once the water comes to a boil).

8.  When processing time completes, turn off the burner and let the jars rest for 5 minutes before removing.  Allow the jars to cool and remain still for 24 hours.

9.  Boil some pasta, crack open a jar, and enjoy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Carried Away With Canning: Part II

I know, I have been anxiously awaiting this post.  Well, let me tell you, I have been busy...CANNING!

Now that you have all the items you need - except, my apologies, you also need bottled lemon juice (I forgot to put it on the list). Here's what you need to know to can diced (raw-packed) and pureed tomatoes.  I recommend doing one thing at a time.  The first time that I tried canning I attempted to multi-task and it took much longer.

For your diced tomatoes, you will need 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds per quart.  For pureed tomatoes you will need 3 to 3 1/2 pounds per quart.

Gather all your supplies!

Step #1:  Review your recipe.  I used the general guidelines in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Step #2:  CLEAN your kitchen!  Use a safe disinfectant spray (I do like Seventh Generation) to clean all your counters and inside your sink.

Step #3:  Get a large pot of  water ready for boiling.  This is for blanching the tomatoes (coming up).  Also get ready a large bowl to put ice and cold water into.

Step #4:  Clean all of your jars, lids, and bands in hot and soapy water.  Make sure that you inspect all of the glass jars to make sure there aren't any cracks in the glass.  Place the jars in a pot of simmering water (not boiling - 180 deg F).  I recommend putting the jars into the pot and then pouring the water over top (I used a pitcher, because frankly this huge pot would have been way too heavy to move once it was full of water).  You can just use your canning pot for this if you don't have a second large pot.  This will keep the jars sterilized while you prepare everything, and you will already have nice hot water ready for canning.  Also place the lids in a smaller pot of water, again to 180 Deg F, to keep them also sterile.

Sterilizing the Jars.

Sterilizing the Lids.

Step #5:  Wash all of your tomatoes. I measured them with my food scale as I went to make sure I had enough for my recipe.  Then what I did was scrub them with my veggie scrubber to get the dirt off, rinsed them, and then I put them in a mixture of approximately  half vinegar and half hot water in the sink.  Then I scrubbed the tomatoes with a clean cloth and rinsed them again, and placed them on a clean towel to dry.

~ 4 tomatoes to a pound

Step #6:  Remove the core and score all of the tomatoes with an "X" on the blossom end.  This will help with the peeling process coming up soon.

Step #7:  Blanche the tomatoes.  Put several tomatoes into the pot of boiling water you've already prepared and cook for 30-60 seconds, just until the skin begins peeling.  While it's cooking, fill your bowl with ice and cold water.  Once the tomatoes have cooked, put them into the cold water to stop cooking (for about a minute).  Then transfer to another bowl.  Repeat the process until all tomatoes have been blanched, but make sure the water returns to a boil before you put in the next batch of tomatoes. 

Boil for 30-60 seconds.
Place in ice water.

Step #8:  Peel all of the tomatoes.  You can use a peeling knife to pull the skin off, but honestly it comes off super easily.  Discard the skins or use them for composting.

The skins are ready to be peeled off!
Step #9:  Dice all of the tomatoes and put them into a large bowl.  A cutting board with wells is very helpful, because these tomatoes will be juicy!

All diced - ready to get into the jars!
Step #10:  Using your jar lifter, remove one jar at a time from the pot which has been keeping them sterilized and carefully pour the water from the jar back into the pot.  I will demonstrate the correct and incorrect way to use the jar lifter in a bit, haha!

Step #11:  Put 2 tbsp of lemon juice into the jar if it is quart size, and 1 tbsp of lemon juice if it is pint size.  Put the funnel in the jar and fill the jar, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  You can add salt at this point if desired (1 tsp/quart or 1/2 tsp/pint).  Push the tomatoes down with a spatula and run a thin spatula along the edges to prevent any air bubbles.  FYI, we are packing the tomatoes in their own juice.

These tomatoes are so juicy!!
Step #12:  Wipe the rim with a clean damp towel.  You don't want any food particles on the top of the jar because this can interfere with proper sealing.  Use your lid lifter to take a lid out of its pot and place onto the jar.  Put the band on and tighten so that it is finger tight.  Return the filled jar into the canner pot.  Repeat steps #10-12 for remaining jars.  

Step #13:  Once all the jars are filled and put into the canner pot, make sure there is 1-2 inches of water above the jars.  Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, set your timer for 1 hour and 25 minutes (this is kinda long, but we are doing a raw pack here; if we cooked the diced tomatoes first, the processing time would be a less).  The water should boil gently but steady, not an extreme rolling boil.

Step #14:  I know you're tired at this point, but if you have some energy left, use it for cleaning up the inevitable mess that was made in the kitchen.  Or, put your feet up and watch a movie!

Step #15:  Once time is up, turn off the burner and take off the lid.  Let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Then remove with the jar lifter and place onto hot pads or towels, a couple inches in between each jar.  DO NOT MOVE FOR 12-24 HOURS to allow for proper sealing.

INCORRECT TECHNIQUE - HA!  I totally did this.  
Because the tomatoes are so juicy, the water and tomatoes may separate. Once you have waited 24 hours, you can tip the jar and mix it back up.

Step #16:  ENJOY your preserved bounty!!


Steps #1-5:  This is the same as above, but you can skip #3.

Step #6: Cut off the core and blossom ends of the cleaned tomatoes, quarter them and put them into a large bowl.  

Step #7:  Place the quartered tomatoes into a large cooking pot.  Cook them until they are nice and soft, maybe about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Step #8:  Crank your tomatoes through a tomato press or food mill.  Alternately (I have not tried this), you can puree them in a food processor and press the mixture through a sieve to separate the skins/seeds from the tomatoes.  Alternative #2, which again, I have not tried, you could blanch and peel the tomatoes as we did for the diced tomatoes and then put them in the food processor (this would leave the seeds in the puree, though).  You'll need one bowl to collect the puree, and one bowl to collect the skins and seeds.  Pour the puree into another bowl.

Tomato Press, graciously lent to me by my Mother-in-law.

Step #9:  Place the pureed tomatoes into a large stockpot and heat it to 190 deg F.  NOTE:  I felt that my puree was very watery, and when I do this again, I plan to boil the puree in order to boil off some of the extra water so that it's more thick.  

Step #10:  Fill your jars with the puree, lifting the jars carefully with the jar lifter, putting the lemon juice in first (1 tbsp/pint, 2 tbsp/quart), using the funnel to prevent food particles from dripping on the rim.  Leave 1/4 inch headspace.

Step #11:  Clean the rims, put on the lids, and tighten the bands and fill up your water bath canner as you did for the diced tomatoes.  Again, make sure there is 1-2 inches of water above the jars.  

Step #12:  Put the lid on the canner and bring to a boil.  Process 35 minutes for pints, and 40 minutes for quarts.

Step #13:  Once time is up, turn off the burner and take off the lid.  Let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Then remove with the jar lifter and place onto hot pads or towels, a couple inches in between each jar.  DO NOT MOVE FOR 12-24 HOURS to allow for proper sealing.


Well, there you go!  Now be warned, this is a rather time consuming project, so make sure you don't have anywhere you need to be.  Make sure you keep things clean as you go - lots of hand washing!  You can treat yourself to a manicure and pedicure later :-).  This process would go faster and probably be more enjoyable if you do it with a friend, too.

Here is what I ended up with:  

6 quarts & 17 pints diced tomatoes,  7 pints pureed tomatoes, 12 pints salsa, 4 quarts & 9 Pint and a Half jars of Sauce (minus what I have already used).

Coming up in part III will be how to make salsa and sauce.  FYI, I have been using everything and it is totally delicious!  It was a long time in the making, but I feel very accomplished and have a very happy tummy :-).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Carried Away With Canning: Part I!

OK, so with much ado, I better get going with my promise to post about my recent experience with canning, specifically of tomatoes.  Let's just say that I got a little carried away...and am getting carried away again and have picked even more tomatoes.  

Let's start at the beginning...why spend the time canning?  These were a few reasons I had:

1.) To save some moolah (of course, there is an initial investment in your tools and jars - but that is really a one-time thing, then you only need to re-purchase lids and maybe bands.  Since I had to invest in the jars this year, I borrowed my Mother-in-law's canner; next year I plan to invest in my own canner since I won't have the expense of the jars).
2.) To have (presently) fresh food stored up for months to come when said foods are no longer in season.
3.) To learn a useful skill.
4.) To avoid BPA leaching into my tomatoes and getting into my body!  See this interesting article from Wake Up World.  Apparently most canned products contain BPA in their resin linings, and because tomatoes are very acidic, the BPA leaches more into the food.
5.) To feel like "susie-homemaker" (haha).

There are other reasons you may have, but those were a few main ones I had.  It was also very gratifying once I completed to see my delicious bounty that I had worked so hard to create :-)...and even more gratifying when I used it in one of my fav recipes - Greek Bolognese from my Pampered Chef 29 Minutes to Dinner Cookbook (Vol 2)!

The most fun part of my journey was when I went tomato picking with my friend, Emily.  Because I am convicted that organic is better (I don't want to consume pesticides or any genetically modified "food"), I checked online to see if there was an organic farm in my area where I could pick lots o' tomats (because I wanted lots!).  I discovered Thorpe's Organic Family Farm, right outside of East Aurora and no more than a 20 minute drive from my house.  Perfect!  Local AND organic!  Their tomatoes were $7.50 per half-bushel, pick your own.  They also have a Community Supported Agriculture Program (but more on that in a future post...I am giving it a try for the first time and will fill you in later!).

Emily is the sweetest, and offered to drive.  We had no trouble finding the farm.  So far, so good.  They also had a great stand where you could buy produce that was already picked - peppers and garlic and herbs and potatoes and apples and grapes, oh my!

Emily at the Produce Stand with our loads of other goodies - yay for corn!

The lady at the stand was very nice and helpful, and showed us on a hand-drawn map where the tomatoes were and how they want everyone to drive all in the same direction.  Got it.  She gave us a few baskets to borrow, and off we started driving to the tomato area.  Now, it's single lane, this "road", and it gets tight when there are other cars that park along the road (or the roads running perpendicular in between the different plants).  And our map, remember, is hand-drawn and not to scale.  We pass the first tomatoes (beef-steak or something, we wanted the plum), but then by the plum tomatoes someone else was parked so we had to drive past.  

And then we got confused, and obviously were no longer on the "road for cars", but the "road for tractors":

We were "lost" for a little while...and those plants in the middle were high!  Poor Emily's car was getting some nice exfoliation for its underbelly!*  We were laughing so hard and really hoping that no one was watching us, and we were really glad that we were together - because had either of us gone alone, we are certain we would have done the same thing, but been all alone!  We were hoping if we got to the end of this stretch the "road" would turn and we could drive along the other side of the fields - uh, nope.  And with it being single lane, and not being sure if the plants to our right were weeds or good plants, and a ditch on the other side - we couldn't really turn around.  So...into reverse Emily went!  I was impressed, because she drives a standard, too - a skill I have yet to master although my husband has been driving a manual vehicle for over 2 years.  Very slowly and carefully we drove backwards until there was a reasonable area to turn around without smushing plants.  Whew!  And we finally found the tomato patch!

There were lots of tomatoes just ripe for the picking!  Some were tough to get to, because they didn't have those nice supportive wires like we may use in our gardens.  And our hands and shoes got really dirty - should have brought gloves, but hey, we were first-timers!  After a little bit of time, we had successfully gathered 3 half-bushels of beautiful tomatoes!

All in all it was a successful day!  Sunny and Funny!  And I had plenty o' tomats for my plans...mouah-ha-ha-ha...diced and pureed (which has since become plans for sauce and salsa, too).

Here are the tools & supplies you will need to get started on your own canning adventures:

  • Water Bath Canner or Pressure Canner
  • Basic Canning Tools - i.e. funnel, jar lifter, lid lifter, tongs, jar wrench
  • Canning Jars or lids and bands if you already have jars
  • Small pot for keeping lids sterilized
  • Several kitchen and dish towels, and hotpads/trivets
  • A kitchen scale - optional, but I like to be precise in measuring how many pounds of tomatoes specific to my recipe
  • Veggie scrubber
  • Vinegar (I used for washing my tomats)
  • Large pot for blanching your produce
  • Large bowl for your ice-bath
  • Colander(s
  • Large cutting board - I used one with a juice well, because my tomatoes were extra juicy!
  • Sharp utility knife and paring knife- a good ergonomical one so that your hand doesn't fatigue
  • Large trivet (or cutting board) for putting the hot jars onto before filling them
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Salt (optional)
  • Good scraper - one for pressing the tomatoes and a skinny one to slide along the jar to let out air bubbles
  • Ladle for scooping tomatoes into jars
  • Large bowl or two putting diced (or pureed) tomatoes into
  • Tomato Press, Food Mill, or Sieve (for pureeing the tomatoes and separating skins/seeds)
  • And a day with no place else to be, preferably a rainy one, as you just can't rush the process :-)
Now take some time to gather up your supplies, and be ready for Part II where I will get down to the nitty-gritty of canning!  Woot Woot!  

*Please Note:  No vehicles were harmed in the making of this adventure.  Though a little something came loose, Emily's highly skilled hubby was able to fix this no problem.  We do not advise taking a car onto a road intended only for tractors.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Few Make-Up Options for my Ladies

While I was hoping for my next post to be about my tomato canning project, I sort of picked, um, 80 to 100 POUNDS of tomatoes.  And needless to say, the project is taking its good ole time.  On top of that I have been inspired to try pasta sauce and salsa beyond my original plan to only can diced and pureed tomatoes.  So as not to keep you waiting on that topic, in the meantime I thought I would share a few suggestions for make-up (sorry guys!), as I have had a few ladies asking what alternatives I have used for make-up.

This was definitely a lot of trial and error for me, and of course a lot of checking things with Skin Deep.  Ladies I know you feel me here - we find our favorite mascara or lip gloss or whatever, and it is difficult to give that up.  But with a little digging, there are some goodies out there!  And some places will sell smaller samples of items, so that you can try out their products without a huge financial commitment.

The first company I purchased from was Maia's Minerals.  They have a GIGANTIC selection of products - mineral eye shadows, mascara, blush, foundation, lip gloss, lipstick, eyeliner, lip liner, brow pencils, skin care, hair care, bronzer, etc.  Overall, their prices are reasonable and of good quality, plus they all rate excellently on Skin Deep at 0-1 out of 10 only!!!  I really liked that they sell samples for their foundation, lip color, blush, and eye shadow for $1.50-$3.00.  I don't wear a ton of make-up, so I am still using the samples of the eye shadows that I purchased over a year ago - which is a stellar deal for me!  Their mascara was the first I tried, and I found it to smudge easily without me even touching my eyes.  HOWEVER, they have changed their formula  and the reviews on their site are positive.  They also have 3 colors to choose from , which is another plus.  I use their powder foundation which gives a nice matte finish and good coverage.  I also use their blush in Delicious Peach and Sweet Pink, their mineral glow in Divine, and their lip gloss in Purity and Mauve Touch.  The mineral colors are beautiful and reflective. The lip glosses go on super smooth!  I also really like the homemade feel of their products and the very reasonable shipping prices.  And the owner usually adds a little personal note and a free sample to try, too :-).  The only product I really didn't like was their eyeliner - the colors and choice of colors was great, but I found the application to not be very smooth, and it didn't last very long.

The second company I purchased from was Rejuva Minerals.  Their products also have a good safety rating, 0-1 out of 10, on Skin Deep.  They offer a variety of make-up and skin care products. Everything I have tried I have been happy with, but I have not tried many of their products as they do not have as wide a color selection, and they do not offer samples.  I have really enjoyed their mascara.  It is available only in black, but stays on without smudging (unless of course you physically rub your eyes) and is nice and smooth, no clumps!  Their lip gloss is equally beautiful and smooth in its application.  I have additionally tried their Ultra Hydration Moisturizer, and was very happy with it.  

I recently discovered another site called Saffron Rouge.  They have a big selection because they sell products from multiple companies, like  Living Nature, Inika, Badger, Dr. Bronner's, MOOM, and many others that I have not yet tried.  They have face care, skin care, make-up, body, bath, hair, baby,  men, and aromatherapy products.  Some of the products are a little upper-end in price, but I found the shipping to be very reasonable, and I got to choose some free samples at check-out.  They also list all the ingredients for you to look at for each product. I ordered Living Nature's Illuminating Tint and Inika's eyeliner.  I took a chance on the Inika eyeliner as I could not find it on Skin Deep; most of the ingredients were organic and some I didn't recognize - but I was desperate for finding an eyeliner again, so I have been giving it a try.  The ingredients I could find on Skin Deep didn't rate higher than a 3 out of 10.  Anyway, I like the way it applies, but I am still looking for an eyeliner to use on a more permanent basis (something that I have more data to go on).  The Living Nature illuminating tint is really great and I love the way it smells (it has Manuka Honey in it from New Zealand, which has a special place in my heart because I volunteered/traveled there for a month back in 2004).  It gives light coverage and a nice glow to your skin.  The price was fair ($37), which isn't too much more of what you might pay for something like Clinique or Estee Lauder or something along those lines.  The illuminating tint wasn't on Skin Deep, but other Living Nature products were, and they were all rated between 0-3.  Plus I was pretty familiar with the ingredient list, so I felt comfortable buying this product.  If you use this site, please double check the products or ingredients on Skin Deep!

Mostly I buy my make-up online.  In the grocery store I have purchased Badger products (hand cream and lip glass) and some Kiss my Face tinted lip gloss.  With anything, it is good to check the products (or ingredients) on Skin Deep.  While one product from a company may be great, some of their other products may be not so safe.  So just be careful.  For example, Kiss My Face products range 0-8 in safety, and Burt's Bees range 0-7 in safety - as you can see, the range is pretty broad.

The last company I want to share with you is a little harder to find, and definitely a splurge:  Terre D'Oc.  This company offers certified organic products and is based in France; there is also a store in New York City. I stumbled upon this during a weekend in the city with my Mom and my Aunts, and was so excited to find an actual store in which to buy some good make-up!  They totally lured me in with a sample and I ended up splurging on their Anti-pollution Foundation (~ $50) which naturally blended so nicely with my complexion and gave my skin a beautiful glow.  I also love their Nourishing Hand Cream with Shea Butter.  They gave me a sample of the Radiant Face Scrub made from pomegranates (~ $30) - it was gentle and smooth and exfoliating all at the same time!  Unfortunately you cannot order online, and prices are not listed (their NY site is under construction right now, too, so you have to get the info about the products from the French site).  But you can call the store and they will ship to you (but the shipping costs are high).  Their telephone number is 347-380-7482 and they are located at 55 West 49th St, New York, NY, 10112 (in Rockefeller Center).  If you are in the city, definitely go check them out!  They have teas and home fragrances in addition to their make-up, face/skin-care, and body care products.  Totally worth at least a visit!

OK, ladies!  I hope that this information is helpful for you to get started on finding some safer alternatives for your usual make-up products!  Good luck, and please share the knowledge if you try anything I have not!  I would love to hear your thoughts!

UPDATE, 10/22/12:  So I was recently in NYC and the Terre D'Oc store has closed, MAJOR BUMMER!  I am in process of getting in touch with distributors to find a way to purchase and have items shipped in the US.  Will update this information as soon as I get it!!

Friday, August 31, 2012

How this all got started...

So before I get too far ahead of myself in sharing the fabulous recipes and what not I have gathered and experimented with, I thought this next post should be dedicated to more of the "beginning" in my organic journey.  I mean, I have always been a health conscious person.  In high school I started having back/neck pain because of my scoliosis, and have been doing some sort of stretching/strengthening routine every morning ever since.  (This little issue introduced me to Physical Therapy, which directed my next steps to pursue my degree in the field.)  In college I tried my best to make healthier choices in what I ate - such as a fav snack of natural peanut butter with bananas.  When I got married, I needed to start considering the health of someone beside myself (Sidenote: OMG - how do some men survive without women!?  I swear my husband would live on Ramen Noodles, beer, and cereal if not for my preparation to get some fresh foods into his body!). 

And then last year, spring of 2011, I saw these two videos:  The Story of Stuff and The Story of Cosmetics, both produced by The Story of Stuff Project.  The Story of Stuff discusses the extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of products and how it all affects societies, economies, THE PLANET (!!!).  The Story of Cosmetics delves deeper into the specifics of what is put into personal care products.  I found this to be very interesting.  I didn't know about the thousands of synthetic chemicals that now exist...or that for the most part, we have no idea what the long term effects are on our health.  Some ingredients are carcinogenic, some are neurotoxins, some are reproductive toxins, some are immunotoxic, some are allergerns.  Yikes!  I also didn't know that the FDA does not regulate the cosmetics industry...they have their own "regulation committee" and compliance is voluntary.  Claims as to "natural" or "organic" on the label have no legal definition, and companies which produce personal care products don't even have to label all of their ingredients.  And while a "little bit" may be "ok", a "little bit" used several times a day, day in and day out, builds up in our bodies.  Even women's breast milk is contaminated (!!!). And I'm sorry, but that is NOT "ok" with me - no matter what those beautiful models on the magazine pages and TV commercials tell me.

I was shocked, as I was that girl who had 5 different scents of body wash in the shower - you know, so that I had a choice of scents to suit my mood.  And I have super dry skin; to remedy this I slather myself with lotion every day.  Plus the deodorant, the toothpaste, the mouthwash, the shaving cream, the shampoo & conditioner, the lipstick, the foundation, the mascara, the eye liner, the eye shadow, the perfume, the blush, the nail polish, the sunscreen, the face wash, the toner...I think you catch my drift.  I discovered through The Story of Stuff website this great site called the Cosmetic Database (aka Skin Deep) which is put together by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).  This is a research based site which allows you to search either by ingredient, brand name, or type of product.  It gives you the run down on the safety rating of the product or ingredient (0-10, 0 being the safest).  They are very transparent about how much data they have to back up their ratings and provide links to the actual articles where they got their data.  So I feel that the site is pretty trustworthy.  They also have a "Guide to Safe Cosmetics" which they will send to you if you donate at least $5 or you can download and print here.  Or you can read about the main ingredients to avoid here.

Based on their list of ingredients to look out for, I began reading the labels on all my products...the verdict??  I kept ZERO of my products.  It was so sad!  My Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shiny shampoo - gone.  My Oil of Olay SPF face lotion - bye-bye.  And no more Bath & Body Works :-(.  Oh, and my Crabtree & Evelyn...sometimes I really do miss my LaSource hand cream; this was a more difficult item to surrender.  I also threw out my home fragrance oil thingys, you know, that you plug in and it makes your house smell amazing?  I found out that "fragrance" or "perfume" on an ingredient label is really a whole other list of ingredients - over 3,000 of them - that are bad for you.  I just couldn't bring myself to put all these things onto my body anymore.  And so I had to start searching for and trying alternatives...which will be a big focus of this blog, to share the options which I have found!  Because there are options.  And you know what else, I save so much money because I am not tempted to buy a million and one scented body washes!!  Yay!!

Of course my journey did not just stop with changing my personal care products.  It opened up a whole other slew of doors!  Like the food that I eat, the air I breathe, the paint/flooring/furniture in my home, the dishes and pans that I use in the kitchen, the clothes that I wear, the water I drink and bathe in...really, it can go on and on and on.  Which is where this can all get overwhelming and why I wanted to start writing this blog in order to share what I have been learning.  It's impossible to change everything at once.  And some changes are more expensive than others, and you can only do what you can do.  But I think we need to do those things that we can do, rather than be so overwhelmed that we take on an "all or nothing" mentality that causes us to "live by default" and just go along with what the industry says is "safe".  I've been building changes upon changes, little by little.  I feel good about those changes - it's good for me, it's good for my family, and it will be good for you and your family, too.  So go on, do what you can do - and feel good about it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My First Post!!!

I am so excited for my very first blog post!  I know many of my friends and family have heard rumors all summer about this blog, and it is finally becoming reality.  Now I will have a central place to be able to share with everyone the recipes I use, the resources that have guided me in the changes we have been making, and my reasoning behind these changes.  There is so much I can write about, it has been hard to decide what to put into my first post!  Should I start with my testimony?  Should I start with a food recipe?  Should I start with a book review?  Or my deodorant recipe?  Or a laundry recipe?  Or a product review????  Eventually it will all be in here, so I guess it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. 

So, I have decided to share with you a recipe I don’t even have to have written down: my newly revised banana muffins.  I pretty much make these every week for my husband to have for breakfast.  He won’t take the time to prepare himself a healthy breakfast and needs something quick and easy and on-the-go (now I can’t criticize, I am totally guilty of eating on the go!).  The original recipe came from my Mom, and I think before that came from a friend of hers…but I needed to make it a little more healthy to be able to call it a “breakfast” muffin. 

With no further ado, I give you Organic Banana Walnut Breakfast Muffins!  These muffins are moist and delicious, with not too much sugar, some whole grains, and a little bit of protein…a great way to start the day and get you through to lunchtime!

  • 3 ripe organic bananas
  • 1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax mixed with 3 tbsp water, allow to sit a few minutes)
  • 1/3 cup organic applesauce
  • 1/3 cup organic cane sugar
  • ¾ cup organic white  flour
  • ¾ cup organic whole wheat pastry flour (make sure it’s PASTRY flour!)
  • 1 tsp aluminum-free baking soda (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder (such as Rumford)
  • ½ tsp fine ground Himalayan salt
  • ¾ cup organic walnuts
  • ½-¾ cup organic unsweetened coconut

Prepare your flax egg to allow the ground flax to absorb the water.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Spray a 6-cup muffin pan lightly with canola or vegetable oil (I use the Kitchen Spritzer from Pampered Chef).  You can also use a 12-cup muffin pan, but increase the temperature to 375 degrees.

Mash the bananas in a mixer.  Add the flax egg, sugar, and applesauce; mix to combine. 

Combine dry ingredients (flours, baking soda, baking powder, & salt) in a separate bowl.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until combined.  (OK, honesty moment…I never mix my dry ingredients separately, I’m too lazy…and my muffins always turn out fine.  So, I leave it up to you if you want to take the extra step).

Chop walnuts (the easiest way ever is using the Food Chopper from Pampered Chef).  Stir in the walnuts and coconut.   Pour evenly into prepared muffin pan.  Bake 32-35 minutes for larger 6-cup muffins at 325 degrees or 20 minutes for regular 12-cup muffins at 375 degrees.  Cool for a few minutes in the pan and then transfer to a Cooling Rack to finish cooling.  Store in an air-tight container; I recommend also keeping these in the fridge if they are not eaten with in 3-4 days.

Variations:  The recipe as written is vegan.  If you prefer, you can use a real egg instead of the flax egg.  You can also use just all-purpose flour instead of the whole wheat pastry flour.  You can also add chocolate chips instead of the coconut, but keep in mind you are increasing the sugar content.

ENJOY!  I hope that you love these muffins and that you continue to follow my blog!  Yay!