Farmer’s Market Salad

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IMG_7772 During my knife skills class, we made some simple roasted chicken thighs to use for a taco filling, we made 3 different kinds of salsas and guacamole, and we made a surprising side dish; a farmer’s market salad, using only ingredients that had come in our chef’s weekly CSA box. Having grown up a beans and rice with tacos gal, a side salad, one so far removed from Mexican fare, was quite the departure for me, but a good one nonetheless to offset all the fried chips & dip, and stuffed to the brim corn tortillas.

This type of salad is not necessarily some new invention, and exists only on the premise that you use what you have, not what you go out and buy. Thus, your ingredients for this salad are forever in rotation and changing, especially with the seasons. Since we shot this salad 2 months ago when tomatoes were still ripe and juicy, I’d probably now skip the tomatoes and use avocados or roasted squash of some sort. Your types of lettuce may change as well. The idea is flexibility here, but you get the idea I’m sure.  IMG_7680 Gather all your vegetables and start chopping away, even taking liberties and using the food processor to shred up some veggies for an even more festive display; think beets, zucchini or finely diced onions. IMG_7695 If possible, use two types of lettuce, as this really gives the salad dimension and depth. Here I used a romaine and kale finely chopped. IMG_7718 IMG_7720 Another nice addition to this salad was fresh herbs, whatever you have on hand. At the time of the class, our instructor had received a beautiful fennel bulb, with the ends still in tact. I had never eaten raw fennel, and when thinly sliced, it added a great bit of zing. She used the bulb and the wispy ends, and the feathery flowers made the salad so pretty. I didn’t have any here, but if you ever come across fennel and you don’t know what to do with it, remember that you can always add it to a salad. IMG_7727 IMG_7732 The dressing is a go-to I’ve been making for years, which an old friend taught me how to make. All you need is some olive oil, lemon juice, dijon and maybe a bit of honey if you want it on the sweeter side. Then toss in some fresh herbs and salt and pepper, and you’re done. I know some people enjoy making their own dressings, so if you do, this is a great one. But if you can’t get around to whipping up your own batch each time, I love Tessamae’s bottled dressing.  IMG_7742 IMG_7748 IMG_7755 Once you’ve mixed your dressing ingredients together, toss with the salad and let sit for a couple of minutes before serving. Top with marcon almonds, some goat or feta cheese, or nothing at all. Add in a protein for a full meal, or leave it as is and serve as a side dish. This is the perfect salad for any season, especially since it makes good use of what you have on hand already. IMG_7764 Read below for the full printable recipe, but really, once you get the portions for the salad dressing right, this recipe really needs no print-out at all. Enjoy!

Farmer's Market Salad
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A hearty salad to serve as a side dish or a main, using fresh in-season ingredients you may already have on hand.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 head of Romaine or other leafy lettuce
  • 1 head of Kale
  • 1 red beet
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1-2 seasonal vegetables
  • small bunch of fresh herbs like parsley, dill or chives
  • 1 small fennel bulb with flowered ends in tact
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • optional marcona almonds or other nuts, soft cheese like goat or feta
Instructions
  1. Chop all vegetables and lettuces and combine in bowl. Mix in finely chopped fresh herbs.
  2. To make the dressing, combine the juice of 2 lemons, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tbsp of fresh chopped herbs, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard and whisk together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Gently mix dressing with salad, and top with optional nuts and cheese. Serve immediately.

 



Basic Knife Skills

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knife-skills-5 I consider myself fairly proficient in the kitchen, and have been for several years now. Even though my focus on healthier eating has really only been in the last year+, doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking all this time; it was just a different way of cooking. At any rate, since I thought I knew my way around the kitchen all these years, I was pretty surprised when I found out I had been using my knife the wrong way all these years, and I had been using the wrong knives for the majority of my cooking. A couple of months back already, geez I meant to write about this a lot earlier, I finally decided to take a knife skills class, because even though I didn’t think I was doing things wrong, I figured I could do things better. What I learned in that short 2 hour class though, blew my mind and my skills and proficiency in the kitchen have vastly improved in the last couple of months because of it.

While a blog post pales in comparison to real-life instruction, I figured it could definitely help a few of you out there, or at least inspire you to take a class of your own to get the real deal tips which will help make you faster and smoother during meal prep.

The very first thing I learned is that I’ve been holding my knife wrong all these years. Like most people, I had been holding the whole handle in my palm, using my index finger for leverage on top of the blade (major no-no), and the rest of my fingers wrapped around the handle. Wrong! This is how you hold a knife. IMG_7681 IMG_7683 You begin by grabbing the very edge of the blade closest to the handle with your thumb and forefinger, and then wrap your remaining three fingers around the handle. From the other side, it should look like this. IMG_7684 IMG_7685 This positioning will give you the best control of the knife while chopping, leaving you less prone to injury, and more prone to chopping shit up correctly! By the way, I also learned that I had been using the wrong knife this whole time. I have 2 big chef knives that I always found too heavy, so rarely used them, preferring the smaller blade knives used only for odd tasks like filleting fish. Turns out the reason these large blade knives always felt cumbersome was because I was holding them wrong. Doh! I’ve switched to only using my big chef’s knife too. A larger blade also gives you more reach and leverage when you’re chopping. knife-skills-6 knife-skills-4 When chopping, you want to use a rocking motion, trying to keep the tip of your blade on your cutting board at all times, and gently lifting the knife up and rocking it down with a rolling type motion. Here’s a good video that shows you how to hold and rock the knife back and forth. This technique takes lots of practice, and even a couple of months later I’m still not super speedy, and I still sometimes naturally want to hold the knife the old way. But with continued practice I’m getting faster and faster, and what’s more important, I’m slicing things properly and much “prettier.”
knife-skills3 Besides spending time going over basic knife holding and chopping skills, we spent a good portion of the class just practicing. There were about 10 of us in the class, and she put out several types of knives for us to try out, and had a wide array of produce to practice our chopping and dicing skills on. She shared a few ingenious tips too, including how to cut a carrot. When she was demonstrating her carrot slicing, I asked her why she was chopping them at a diagonal. Assuming it was for show, she actually revealed that it was so they wouldn’t roll off the cutting board. Anyone who has been chopping round carrot pieces for years can confirm that many round pieces roll right off the board and on to the floor. The diagonal cut stops that. This tip alone was worth the cost of the $40 class! knife-skills2 Another great tip for chopping tomatoes. Instead of slicing skin first, pierce the tomato with the tip of the knife to easily slice it in half. Then rest the tomato, skin side down, and slice the flesh first. Because the skin is so delicate, even a super sharp knife at times has trouble slicing through it first. By slicing the heartier flesh first, you get some force going and are able to easily cut through the skin. knife-skills1 IMG_7725 For years I’ve been painstakingly pulling leaves off of parsley and cilantro stems, and it turns out that was totally unnecessary. Just grab a few stems, roll them together, and start chopping leaves and stems together, while holding onto the ends of the stems. When you have chopped down to where it’s mostly stems and few leaves, stop and toss the rest. Continue mincing so that the leaves and stems get chopped finely all together, and no one’s the wiser. IMG_7680 In addition to practicing and prepping an actual meal while we were there, I also finally learned the proper technique on how to dice an onion, and here’s another great video to show you how.

I have to admit, I expected to learn a few more secret chef’s tricks on how to make myself faster or prevent silly problems like stopping foods from sticking to my knife, but really, I learned that chopping and dicing is pretty simple, it just takes practice. There aren’t always short-cuts for everything, and even classically trained chefs still have starchy foods stick to their knives. It was a great class that I’m so glad I took, even if it just taught me how to properly hold my knife and how to slice a non-rolling carrot!

Tomorrow I’ll share a recipe for the yummy salad I’m shown making in this post, and later in the week I’ll share some of my favorite, use everyday kitchen items, so you can start making your Christmas lists. But first, do you have any other knife skills tips and tricks to share? If so, please leave a comment!



Candy Free Halloween Ideas

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candy-free-halloween-ideas-2014 Several times I’ve tried to broach the subject in a Babble article, of limiting kid’s sweets consumption. It’s usually met with a mixed reaction, with a fair amount of folks approving, and with an equal amount of very vocal people objecting to such a horrific idea. The most common comeback to a typical discussion of limiting junk food for kids is, “Everything in moderation” and of course “Let them be kids!”  The sad truth though, is that there really isn’t a lot of moderation in the average kid’s diet. Empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for children and adolescents aged 2–18 years, and most US youth do not meet the daily recommendations for fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And oh yeah, the average adolescent drinks more soda pop than milk each day. So when we talk about moderation, I’m not sure what we mean here.  candy-free-halloween-ideas-from-target

But this post isn’t about a guilt trip, it’s more to explain my crazy logic in offering up non-candy treats this year. Between birthday parties, play dates, church, chorus practice, baseball practice, football practice, sports games, and the well-meaning grandparents, my kids get plenty of junk offered to them on a daily basis, and I’m sure yours do too. I pick my battles, and almost always I allow them to “just be a kid” and partake in most of what’s offered to them, and when they’re not looking I may ditch the leftovers. But I’m sort of thinking, where and when it’s easy enough, it may be wise to sway from the pack and offer up entertainment in other forms. Hence, the toys and other little goodies we’ll be passing out this year, in lieu of candy. I’d take a wild guess and say our house will probably be the 1/100 houses offering up something other than candy, so it’s safe to say no kids will suffer during this process. They will get plenty of candy this Friday, I have no fear of that, and now kids knocking on our doors will also get a little different treat.  Candy-Free-Halloween-Ideas

Of course this idea is nothing new, and others have been offering up non-candy treats for years. But this year, we’re finally jumping on board and since it’s early enough to still make the switch from candy to non-candy, I thought I’d share what I found yesterday. Target made it too easy for me, and I got out of there with over 100 little items at just under $25. It’s safe to say I usually spend at least $20 on a few bags of candy, so this wasn’t that much of a cost difference. A couple of readers offered up the brilliant idea of glow sticks, which I love and will probably steal the idea for next year when I have time to order a bundle in advance. Someone else I know passed out bags of Pirate’s Booty and a healthier yet still yummy granola bar, but I’d imagine that’s gotta be expensive. And little packs of pretzels, which usually just have a couple of ingredients, is another smart and affordable option. Pretty much the possibilities, while maybe not endless, are plentiful. Candy-free-halloween

Oh! And after I posted on IG our non candy selections, a friend brought up the Teal Pumpkin Project. While I’m not sure we’ll have a teal pumpkin on our doorstep on Friday, I do feel happy knowing that kids will allergies, and their parents, will be able to enjoy what we’re passing out.  IMG_8008

Of course not everyone can make the switch and pass out non-candy options, or else the kids will revolt I’m sure. But even if we can just make a more conscious effort to take it easy on the sugary sweets, during whichever holiday or event you choose, I think our kids will be a lot better off for it, don’t you? Okay, off my soap box now! Trick or treat all! candy-free-halloween-ideas-target Clockwise, from left of the skull: stampers set of 6 $1; colored fangs set of 24 $3; glow in the dark bat rings set of 6 for $1, bubbles set of 20 for $5, bouncy balls set of 15 for $3, slime set of 12 $4, Rose Art play doh set of 4 $1, sticky eyeballs individually wrapped set of 24 $3.



It All Started With Some Sickness

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photo It’s been a whirlwind of activity since returning from vacation, which explains my absence here for the past 2 weeks. After several doctor’s appointments over the past few months though, including some pivotal ones last week, I’m glad to say that I finally have a bit of an answer for what’s been going on with me for the past year. On Thursday, after my endocrinologist reviewed my most recent blood-work, which was an extensive thyroid panel including testing the T3, T4, TSI and anti-TPO levels, she came back with a diagnosis of Hashimotos, an auto-immune disease where the immune system basically sees the thyroid gland as a foreign object and attacks it. While it was disheartening to receive such crappy news, it was also a huge relief that I finally new what was causing my persistent symptoms that have been with me for the past year. I discussed this diagnosis on my GMMDI IG account, and I’ve had quite a few people leave comments and email me, wondering how I was able to get such a diagnosis, mainly because they have similar symptoms, and feel confused and frustrated, not knowing where to start. It’s not necessarily easy to walk into your doctor’s office and tell them you’re feeling tired, so can you order some blood work? Certainly many doctors would react positively to your complaints, but all too often they would simply order a basic CBC and check for anemia or vitamin deficiencies. So how did I get down to the nitty gritty, which led to this diagnosis? Well, thankfully, it all started with recurrent strep.

As I had discussed back when I did my cleanse a few weeks ago, I’ve had persistent strep throat for the past 18 months. While we greatly hoped that Syd’s tonsillectomy would help me, after I continued to get strep, I finally went in to see Syd’s ENT, who luckily treats both children and adults. At first glance, it would have been simple enough for her to just recommend getting my tonsils removed, and she initially did, but I pushed back and upon explaining my recurrent symptoms over the past year, she ordered a fairly thorough CBC panel, which included a basic thyroid test (TSH). My symptoms over the past year include:

Brain fog; general fogginess which often affected mental clarity and ability to do my job. Posts that previously would have taken me an hour to write took 3-4 painstaking hours, and I was often hit with intense bouts of writer’s block. While us moms can generally feel like we’re in a fog as we go throughout our day, trying to juggle it all, it’s usually when working that we notice the biggest dips in productivity. Writing for the past year has been a huge struggle for me, hence why I took a break from sponsored posts for the time being.

Chronic fatigue going beyond “mom tired.” We’re all a bit tired, especially us moms caring for kids and juggling it all, but this went beyond the regular end of day fatigue; this was constant fatigue from the moment I woke, never feeling like I had a good night’s sleep, to the end of the day where I was struggling greatly to get through bed time. Whereas I used to be very productive after the kids went to bed, tidying up, working on projects and blogging, it was all I could do to clean up the kitchen and make it to 9 pm.

Insomnia. Once I hit my pillow, usually before 10 pm, I was fast asleep but have had a very hard time staying asleep, often waking between 3-4 am and never being able to fall back asleep. It’s often like I wake with a jolt, and I feel wide awake, but too tired to even move and get out of bed. At this rate, I sleep through the night 2-3 nights a week, and the rest of the time I start my day at 4 am. This definitely does not help with the chronic fatigue, but that plagues me whether I sleep all night or not.

Body aches, most often in the lower back area, but some days all over. While many thyroid websites cite hip and joint pain as a symptom of a thyroid disorder, never really discussing the back, body aches in those with thyroid conditions can often manifest themselves in different places, as it affects everyone differently. I have never had chronic back pain in my entire life, until this past year, and most days, even with consistent yoga practice, I have trouble moving and sleeping at night, finding relief only in Advil.

Moodiness. No real explanation here, but just moodier than usual.

Highly anxious and easily overwhelmed. Nothing to the levels of sparking panic attacks, but more so, I just feel overwhelmed a lot. Small tasks seem much bigger than they are, and I subsequently fail to do little things, which turn into bigger problems. I discussed this a bit a while back, but I thought it had more to do with just being too busy and having too much on my plate, but really, more than anything I now think I am just experiencing some mild anxiety.

Based on these symptoms, my ENT had some theories, one of which included a very simple explanation. Being that I had been fighting off infection consistently for the past 18 months, she thought my body was just run down and tired from working so hard. That would have made a lot of sense, and I did seem to rebound slower and slower each time I got strep throat, taking days to feel better and get some energy back, but it just felt like it was more to me.

When my blood work came back, we did in fact find that my white blood cell count and platelet count was quite low, and my TSH levels were off. She recommended I see an endocrinologist and hematologist for both of these issues, and long story short, I ended up with the Hashimoto’s diagnosis.

None of the three specialists I’ve seen have been able to successfully connect the dots on the three consistent problems I’ve had; strep throat, off blood levels, and the thyroid disorder, but I have my theories. Thyroid issues can often be triggered by stress or even infections and viruses, therefore it’s possible the strep throat may have triggered the thyroid disorder. Or the strep could keep coming back because of my body’s inability to fight off the infections due to a low white blood cell count. Neither the hematologist or endocrinologist wants to link the low wbc count with the thyroid disorder, but in reading and talking to many people who have thyroid conditions, they often have wacky blood count levels. My wbc has continued to dip lower over the past few weeks, so much so that my hematologist is monitoring me closely for the next month, and if we see consistent drops, he’s ordering a bone marrow test to see what’s going on. At this point, a full blood panel which included 13 tests resulted in nothing wrong, including vitamin deficiencies, mono, and even hepatitis. My gut tells me it’s somehow connected to the hashimotos and there’s nothing to really worry about, but what do I know?

The endocrinologist does not want to treat me at this point because even though the antibodies are clearly present and fall within the “high” treatable range, my overall TSH levels are not elevated enough; meaning the Hashimoto’s hasn’t harmed enough of the thyroid gland to warrant treatment. It is messing with my levels enough thought that I clearly feel off, and it’s affecting my day to day life. I was kicked out of a great blogging program last week because I failed to complete a project on time. I’m truly bummed that some days, I just can’t seem to get it together. I hate more than anything, this feeling of being unproductive and unmotivated. I can’t remember the last time I even wanted to touch a supply in my craft cabinet, and I spent all of 10 minutes yesterday throwing up some Halloween decorations to please the kids, a holiday I’ve come to love but feel completely uninspired to rally for.

While a thyroid condition is rarely life-threatening, it is one of those things that can wreak general havoc in your day to day life. The thyroid gland has a whole host of important functions, including regulating metabolism, and is one of many glands in the endocrine system in the body that regulate the function, growth and development of virtually every cell, tissue and organ in the body, and influences the function of many important organs in your body including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin. When it’s out of whack, you can experience many of the symptoms I listed above, as well as weight gain, dry skin and extreme hormonal imbalances causing depression and anxiety. I know myself better than anyone else, and while I could have certainly received much scarier news, I can first hand confirm that my thyroid being out of whack has negatively impacted my day to day life over the past year. With that said, I don’t want to just sit around and wait for my thyroid to become so damaged that I need treatment, but would rather seek some help in the meantime.

Fortunately, autoimmune conditions like hashi’s, seem to respond positively to dietary restrictions and adhering to strict diets, including quitting sugar or following a diet along the lines of Paleo or GAPS. I visit an integrative doctor tomorrow to seek out some answers, and hopefully get some tools and information to be proactive, and start feeling better. I’m hopeful that I can help manage the Hashimoto’s with an autoimmune protocol diet, but have no qualms about trying medication if my symptoms and lab work continues to progress negatively. Of course, some of the things I’ve said in the past, mocking the “Paleo heads” and lambasting the gluten-free trend, are starting to come back and bite me in the ass. If anything, I have learned once again, to have a heart for empathy and not to judge, especially when it comes to food and health.

If you have been feeling not so normal and suspect  you may have a thyroid condition, it is very important you push beyond a simple TSH test, which is where most doctor’s start. While it’s certainly a place to start, often times, like with the case of Hashimoto’s, your doctor will not find irregularities unless they order a full thyroid screening. You can read about the complete list of thyroid tests to ask for here.

While I’m certainly not suggesting that every woman who experiences fatigue has a thyroid condition, I am suggesting that we as women take the time to slow down and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. It was a combination of the recurrent illnesses, after I’ve been a beyond healthy woman for years, rarely getting sick, and the chronic fatigue that persisted even after I continued to let go of more and more work, that I knew something was really off with me. Perhaps a good rest and reduction of stress will help you feel better, but if not, please seek out a good doctor and push for some answers. About 200 million Americans suffer from a thyroid disorder, and they are 4-7 times more common in women than in men.

Please let me know if you have any questions and if I’ve missed anything. I’ll keep you updated after my appointment tomorrow.

 



Detox Your Beauty

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As I’ve spent a good deal of the time detoxing a lot of our food choices over the last year, it seemed only fitting that I eventually tackle the personal care and beauty areas. When I initially asked for advice in finding a decent, cruelty-free body lotion a couple of months back, I was overwhelmed with over 150 responses on my Instagram in just a little over an hour. I ended up settling on the Alaffia Everyday Coconut Body Lotion, and while the body lotion works well and the scent is nice, the other products I also purchased on a whim from Alaffia, including shampoo and conditioner, did not work so great. So I decided to back up and start from scratch, trying out individual beauty items as I needed them, and taking some time to really read reviews, learn a bit more about the ingredients I truly wanted to stay away from, and go from there. Some items were so reasonably priced, I also just tried a few on a whim. The results have been great, and below, are the items I’ve been personally using over the past few weeks and moths, and have really grown to love.  Detox-your-beauty 1.Babyganics Mineral-Based Sunscreen SPF 50 I originally found this line at Target, and while they no longer carry the sunscreen at my Target, perhaps more of a seasonal item, I was happy to find it on Amazon. We all used this sunscreen all summer long, and we never once got burned, it went on easily, and lasted full days in the pool, and did its job well while we were in Maui. It’s mineral based, and contains no PABA, pthlates, parabens, fragrances or nano-particles. You can purchase a standard squeeze tube, or buy the spray, which works just as well. And Amazon also has a good little bundle which I picked up for Maui, containing the spray sunscreen & deet free bug spray.

2. Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes! Mascara This came very highly recommended to me by several readers after I originally posted about finding the Physicians Formula mascara, which I talk about below. This mascara is vegan & of course cruelty-free, and is powered by olive esters, and works just as well as any conventional mascara product out there. It’s about twice as much as the Physicians Formula, so if you want a more budget friendly option, shop below, but I do find that this holds up to heat and humidity better than the PF mascara, and it makes the lashes look a bit fuller.

3. Primal Pit Paste Stick Natural Deodorant  While “further testing” is still needed to confirm if antiperspirants with aluminum and parabens are truly unsafe, mimicking estrogen like hormonal side effects, I figure why chance it when there are some great natural deodorant products out there now. I found out about PPP from a Facebook ad of all places, and learned it is truly one of the most natural and safe deodorants you can get. You can read about their ingredients and the possibilities of a pit “detox”, under their FAQ section, but the bottom line, this stuff works great. Both my husband and I use it, he the strong and myself, the regular, and we have noticed that we actually smell better. Recent studies show that all those antiperspirants may actually make you smell worse, and we both notice feeling and smelling more fresh, throughout the day. If you’re unsure, try out a trial size sample and give it at least a few days before you make a decision. I’m not a heavy sweater, but reviews and feedback I’ve received confirms that even those who sweat a lot, don’t have a problem with this stuff. I do find that the stick works a wee bit better than the rub-on.

4. Tarte Amazonian Butter Lipstick in Plummy Rose This lipstick has a great depth of color to it, and goes on, literally, like butter. Tarte, while recently acquired by a parent company which is not cruelty-free, remains committed to providing safe, natural and most especially, cruelty-free products.

5. Physicians Formula Organic Wear 100% Natural Origin Mascara This ranked high in Crazy Sexy Kris’ mascara smackdown a few months ago, and while some complain that it runs in really hot weather (it does), overall, it’s a great, 100% natural and organic mascara option, which performs well under normal circumstances. Plus, it’s affordable, and widely available everywhere, including Target.
6. Organic Lavender Nail Polish Remover I’ve been thinking I need to change out my nail polish remover for quite some time, since the nauseous fumes and the way it dries out my cuticles, can’t be good for me. This stuff rates high and gets great reviews online; my bottle is on its way and I’ll keep you posted on how it performs.

7. Nail Lacquer Fabulous 10 ml by Kure Bazaar All three of the following nail polishes are rated high in terms of safe ingredients, application and color saturation. I’ve tried the Acqurella and love it, and have ordered the other two, so I’ll keep you posted.
8. treat collection Natural Nail Polish
9. Acquarella Nail Polish

Navigating your way through the health and beauty market, in terms of figuring out what’s safe and what’s potentially toxic, is extremely overwhelming, to say the least. Especially because some of the safe and benign ingredients have as strange sounded, hard-to-pronounce names, as the toxic ones, so using the old food rule of “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t consume it”, doesn’t necessarily apply here. To get a rundown of safe and unsafe ingredients by category, you can visit the EWG site, and they also have an app called Skin Deep that you can use to scan products while shopping, but be forewarned, their database is limited and many products are not listed.

The Detox Market has taken the guesswork and research out of the shopping experience by doing the legwork for you. They guarantee to only carry products that are truly safe, cruelty-free and natural. I hope to visit one of their LA stores soon!

The Beauty Counter also only makes completely safe beauty products, and while their line isn’t all encompassing, this page on their site gives an interesting rundown of the beauty industry, and why it’s important to head towards more natural products, and take a peek at their “Never List.”

I love fashion and beauty, and in many ways I was worried to start going down this path, not knowing where it would end and begin. But there really are so many great products out there, that with a little time and research, I’ve found that there’s really a great, healthy alternative for all my conventional products I’m currently using. While this is just a start, at least it’s a start in the right direction and I can’t wait to keep going. Please share any other lines or products you love and can’t live without!



Slow Cooker Bolognese

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slow cooker tomato sauce with grass fed beef-3 My friend gave me a big sack of garden tomatoes. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking I’m absolutely, 100% crazy for wanting to turn those into a sauce when I should be thickly slicing and devouring them with nothing more than a sprinkle of coarse salt and fresh ground pepper. The problem is when I had a garden of my own, I would plant so many tomato plants I didn’t know what to do with all the gorgeous fruit as they weighed down the branches come late September. I would bottle them. Some would be pureed or diced and frozen to add to be added later to soups and stews. And pounds would be roasted and pureed into the most delicious soup imaginable. But I’d still be left with dozens of tomatoes, so I got into the habit of cutting them up and popping them in the slow cooker to make pasta sauce. The long, slow cooking turns the ripest, juiciest tomatoes into a rich, sweet sauce that rivals any other. slow cooker tomato sauce with grass fed beef-4 slow cooker tomato sauce ingredients

You can certainly make this vegetarian by adding more diced veggies and tomatoes, or substituting finely chopped mushrooms for the beef. For this I’ve used grass fed ground beef. It has big meat flavor and becomes super tender during the several hours of cooking. From there, the world is your oyster, as they say. It’s spectacular spooned between layers of lasagna noodles and cheese, tossed with spaghetti or fettucine, zucchini noodles, or with a piece of thick-cut buttered bread. (My favorite way when I was a kid.) slow cooker tomato sauce with grass fed beef

 

Slow Cooker Bolognese
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil or butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound grass fed ground beef
  • Two (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 8-10 cups diced tomatoes, about 12 medium tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Hot cooked pasta, for serving
  • Shaved parmesan cheese, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Have a 4-6 quart slow cooker ready to go.
  2. Heat the oil or butter in a large skillet. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables start to soften.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds.
  4. Next add the ground beef, using a wooden spoon to break it up as it cooks.
  5. Once it has browned, remove from heat and transfer everything to the slow cooker.
  6. Stir in the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and ½ teaspoon salt.
  7. Set slow cooker to HIGH for 3-4 hours, or LOW for 8-10 hours.
  8. Before serving, taste and add more salt if needed, and season with black pepper.
  9. Serve over hot, cooked pasta and garnish with cheese.

 



DIY Honeycomb Spiders

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Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!

Halloween is my favorite holiday and I have good reason for it. Besides the facts that it is at the loveliest time of year (weather wise), that it is just two days after my birthday, and that sneaking some candy into your diet is basically required, Halloween also evokes a lot of imagination. I mean, at no other time of year is it considered completely appropriate for a grown man to wear a jumbo diaper and carry a rattle. I can support a holiday that encourages humorous cross-dressing and face painting for all ages. One thing about Halloween I love is that people decorate with things that on any other day of the year would normally terrify them. Bats are creepy…let’s turn them into a garland for the fireplace! Spiders scare the crap out of you? A cute fluffy spider wreath for the front door it is! Three-inch mummies equal cake toppers and zombies are not just shooting target, but also lovely porch decor. It’s madness on Halloween, and I love it. So I get really into the spirit of spooking every year, put aside my arachnophobia, and come up with some creepy crawling crafts. This year I made a honeycomb spider decoration that I can’t wait to stick on the top of the cake for my birthday! You should make one too!

Items you will need:

Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!

– Sticks or twigs. This last year we trimmed up some trees and I saved a bunch of branches for crafts just like this. My husband thinks I’m crazy; I prefer resourceful.

– 5″ black honeycomb balls. I bought mine from this website. You can choose to make spiders any size you want…just order the right honeycomb ball size. I think some giant honeycomb spiders might be my next craft!

– Black paint and a paintbrush.

– A hot glue gun and glue sticks.

– Pliers to cut twigs from the branches.

Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!

Step 1: To begin this craft you are going to need to use your imagination a bit. What I mean is you are going to have to trim “spider legs” off of your branches. For my spider legs I tried to trim the creepiest of twigs that looked like they could just crawl away. Once all your legs are cut, paint them in a thick coat of black craft paint and allow the paint 15 minutes to dry.

Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!

Step 2: While those creepy crawling legs are drying I assembled my honeycomb balls. Each honeycomb comes in the shape of a half circle and folds open into a little 3D honeycomb ball–the perfect little spider body.

Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!

Step 3: For the final step it’s time to add the legs. Begin by applying a generous amount of hot glue to the end of a spider leg twig. Then stick the leg into an opening in the honeycomb ball. I held each leg in place while the glue dried, that way none of the legs fell out or shifted positions. After gluing all 8 legs in, the little honeycomb spider should stand up on its own.

And that’s it! A perfect little spider for Halloween decor or a spooky cake topper!

Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!

Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!

Honeycomb spiders for Halloween!



Easiest Vegan Coconut Red Curry

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Vegan Red Curry If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me what the heck I was eating on my detox, I’d have at least $1. I did get asked a lot, because when you roll out the list of things you *can’t* eat, it seems like the list of what you *can* eat would be teeny tiny. But in reality, if you’re cooking at home, your possibilities are abundant. Eating out is another story, as I’ve already told you all about. But at home, for the most part I felt free to cook, or modify, foods I was craving. Vegan Red Curry Curry is one of those things I go in and out of craving. I won’t think about it for months, and then I get a craving and I have to have curry right this very second! The other day, my friend Candace sparked my craving when I ran into her at Sprouts and she told me what she was making for dinner. From then on out, it was curry for lunch and dinner, for about 4 days straight.  IMG_7698 Of course my family doesn’t love curry as much as I do, or really not at all, so this was the perfect dish for me to make myself during the detox, since it would ensure I had lunch and dinner covered on the nights I made something that wasn’t detox-friendly. This recipe lasted myself for 4-5 meals, and would easily serve a family for one night or a couple of 2 days, especially serving it on top of rice or noodles.  IMG_7703 The types of vegetables you use are all up to you, but standard curry usually involves carrots, a squash of some sort, potatoes and a green. Potatoes, since they are a nightshade, were off limits for me during the cleanse, but normally I would’ve added those in a heart beat. The mixture of baby zucchini, baby bok choy, carrots and onions was wonderful though, so adjust as you wish and include or leave out according to your tastes and preferences.  Vegan Red Curry Ingredients If you want to make your curry vegan, use these 2 simple ingredients which are widely available just about anywhere. Full fat coconut milk will give the best richness and flavor, and the Thai Kitchen red curry paste is as clean as they come, and sure is convenient. I read reviews that the paste didn’t have a strong enough curry flavor for some, so if you like strong flavor, consider adding in some curry powder as well, but this was plenty tasty for me. Vegan Red Curry Ingredients To take the flavor up a notch though, if you’re not concerned about this dish being vegan, adding in a good tablespoon full of Red Boat Fish Sauce , which is outstanding and adds a nice flavor you wouldn’t get otherwise. Never in a million years would I think I’d own and use fish sauce as much as I do now. Beware though, it has a strong odor when you first pour it, but it burns off after cooking. IMG_7707 , which is outstanding and adds a nice flavor you wouldn’t get otherwise. Never in a million years would I think I’d own and use fish sauce as much as I do now. Beware though, it has a strong odor when you first pour it, but it burns off after cooking.  You want to saute your carrots and onions first, before adding your more delicate veggies like squash and bok choy. If you’re using potatoes, add these in here as well.  Vegan Red Curry Once you’ve cooked the heartier veggies, add in your softer veggies and let cook for about 10 minutes, perhaps even covering the pan to trap in some heat and steam. Vegan Red Curry While you’re cooking your veggies, you are warming your coconut milk and curry paste in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. You can skip this step and just add in your coconut milk straight to the pan of veggies, then stir in your curry paste, but your coconut milk may look a little curdled. Still tastes as good, just doesn’t look as pretty. If you’re going for speed and less dishes, just do it this way, but if you want it to be purty, definitely heat separately.  Vegan Red Curry Let the curry mixture and veggies simmer together for a few minutes, just to mainly let the flavors coat and meld into the veggies, and then you’re ready to serve. I really love this over brown rice, or the Tinkyada Brown Rice Spirals.

Vegan Coconut Red Curry
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
An easy and satisfying weeknight meal.
Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Asian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2-3 heads of small baby bok choy, cut in half or quarters
  • 3 carrots chopped in 1 inch slices
  • 1 whole onion thinly sliced
  • 2 small zucchinis or 4-5 baby zucchinis chopped in 1 inch slices
  • Optional add other vegetables like potatoes or cauliflower
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp Thai Kitchen red curry paste or other similar curry paste
  • 2-3 tbsp coconut oil
  • optional 1 tbsp fish sauce
Instructions
  1. Heat coconut oil in a large and deep skillet on medium heat. Add onions and any hearty vegetables like carrots and potatoes and cook for 7-10 minutes, until slightly soft.
  2. Add in zucchini and any other more delicate vegetables, and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Add in the bok choy or other greens like spinach, at the end, cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until wilted.
  4. Meanwhile, warm coconut milk and curry paste in a small saucepan on medium heat, allowing for a gentle simmer and stirring occasionally.
  5. Pour curry sauce over vegetables, and add in the fish sauce if using. Stir to coat and heat through.
  6. Serve over brown rice or brown rice pasta.

Whatever you top this on though, I promise you this is one of the easiest, yummy dishes you will make yourself this week! Recipe below.



DIY Wire Star Wall Art

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Wire art DIY

A few months ago I passed a beautiful art wall that had some really interesting wire art. The wire was shaped into a city landscape and had this unique sketched look about it. I loved the wire art’s simplicity and that I had never seen anything like it before. So I set out to create some wire art for my own home. I stared by creating wire stars, but now that I have one project under my belt I think it’s time to start experimenting with other shapes and silhouettes. The best part about these wire stars is that they make a huge statement without overtaking a space.

Wire art DIY

– Bailing wire…I bought my wire at my local hardware store and it is the perfect wire for wall decorations because it is easy to shape and thick enough to make a statement. Plus it costs $2.50. Can’t beat that price.

– Needle-nose pliers.

Wire art DIY

Step 1: Begin by unwinding a few feet of the bailing wire and stretching it out straight. It is easier to start forming the wire art when the wire is straight to begin with. Then, using the needle-nose pliers, form the shape or silhouette you want for your wall art. The best way to manipulate the wire is to bend the wire with the pliers, but to smooth out bumps using your fingers. I think the wire looks more unique with several overlapping wires that follow the same shape so once you finish the first wire form, repeat that shape several times.

Wire art DIY

Step 2: Then, to make sure all those wire stars stay together, cut a 3″ piece of wire and twist it around the star forms. This secures them together and makes it easier to hang up.

Finished! If it seems like this DIY project is super easy, that is because it is! I hung my starts next to my bed and they offer the perfect touch of DIY to our room without it being cheesy or expensive.

Wire art DIY

Wire art DIY

Wire art DIY



Thriving On A 21 Day Cleanse

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thriving-on-a-detox-2 Last week my editor checked in and offered a post suggestion; “5 Funny Things You Think About When On a Detox.” I at first agreed to write the suggested post, thinking I could weave a funny little tale about life on a detox, and be done with it. But the more I sat on it, I wrote her back and told her no. Because I wasn’t going insane on this detox, wasn’t starving, wasn’t craving everything in sight, wasn’t a raving lunatic bitch. I actually felt pretty dang good in fact. So instead of that funny post about surviving a detox without killing someone, I wrote about detox myths and today, I’d like to share a little a bit about how I not only survived the cleanse, but thrived.

If you need a rundown on the details of the cleanse, go ahead and visit the 21 day cleanse recap post I did when I first started. As I’m writing this, I am cruising through day 21, with just dinner left to go. To tell you the truth, when tomorrow comes, I don’t plan on going bonkers on everything in site, nor do I plan to tiptoe around adding foods back in. I have an appointment with an Endocrinologist and Hematologist over the next 2 weeks, where more blood work will be completed, so until I have answers as to what may be wrong, if anything, I’ll go back to life, sort of as normal. But I do plan to try and walk along a very similar path as I have these past 21 days. More on that later.

First, what did I eat during the cleanse? 

I’m working on a comprehensive 21 day printable meal plan that I can share with you, so you can see exactly what I ate, drank and snacked on for the last 21 days. I hope to have that up and ready in 2 weeks. Wish it could be sooner, but we leave on vacation Sunday and I just don’t think I can get it done before then. In general though, I ate the vast majority of meals at home, as eating out, for the most part, was a complete pain in the ass. I ate lunch at Wahoo’s twice, and ordered their grilled fish bowl with brown rice and black beans, and topped with their tangy cabbage slaw, which has no added sugar – I checked. Eating at CPK or Corner Bakery, when I tried, was a joke. Every single food item had one of the top ten allergens, which is what I was avoiding, or at the very least, sugar, added to every single menu item. If eating out while on the cleanse, either call ahead if it’s a small restaurant, and to make it easier on yourself, just tell the manager you have dietary restrictions, and ask if they have dishes without the top allergens. If eating at a chain restaurant, they should all have a list of ingredients and allergens behind the counter. Ask for it and review it. You’ll probably be disappointed and will understand how people with severe allergies feel. Then you’ll sulk and go back home and cook some more.

Back to what I ate, sorry about getting off track! Since breakfast is a juice, for morning snacks I mainly ate apple slices and almond milk, carrot cake energy bites, if I was really hungry after a hard workout, I’d have a rice tortilla with avocado spread on it, or on days when I wasn’t really hungry at all, I’d eat some cashews or a “nice” pear. Lunch was usually a salad because it’s the easiest thing to whip up during the day, my afternoon drink was often a smoothie or water with Aloha pack in it, because I couldn’t bear the thought of cleaning my juicer again. And dinner was a whole myriad of things, which I shared over on Instagram almost daily.  detox-3

Was I Starving?

I can say this with utmost sincerity, I was not! Of course I got hungry, as we all do before meal time, but I was able to function very well all day and not be consumed with hunger. I was not limiting calories here, and really the only main difference was that I wasn’t eating breakfast, rather drinking it with a green juice, which I do some days anyhow.  This does not mean you won’t be hungry, I don’t know what your daily meals look like, but with my existing eating habits, I felt satisfied. To avoid after dinner munchies and cravings though, I did often get into bed by 9pm  and read or watch TV so I wasn’t tempted to sneak into the pantry for my chocolate covered almonds. And late night munchies are usually about cravings rather than hunger anyhow.

Keep in mind that when your body gets on this pattern of eating and drinking around the same time everyday, and when you’re feeding it nourishing foods like you *must* do on the cleanse, you will naturally end up feeling full and satisfied because you’re giving your body what it needs to function, not supplementing with empty calories. Also, several studies show sugar consumption can make you actually feel hungrier.

What About Cravings?

I’m not going to lie and say I never had a craving, because of course I did! But not giving into my cravings was both a testament to some mental fortitude, but also science. Sugar and salt when consumed, serves to fuel more cravings for sugar and salt because it’s pretty addictive stuff. When you eat less of it, your taste for it changes and you crave it less. I found myself not even being fazed by sweets by the end of this, but savory, salty foods is another story. I ordered pizza for the kids on Friday night, 18 days into the cleanse, and I almost bit my arm off it looked and smelled so good to me!

But I didn’t give in, because I was feeling so good I didn’t want to rock the boat. See, I wasn’t doing this cleanse because I wanted to lose a few pounds (although I did do that), I was doing it because I wanted to feel better, and after I got past the caffeine withdrawals of the first 3 days, I felt 10 times better than I had felt in the past 6-9 months.

How Did I Feel?

While on the cleanse, I continued to work out 4-5 times a week, and felt great doing so. I got a ton of projects done around the house that I had been putting off, and I continue to avoid the afternoon slump. All in all, I feel annoyingly great! ;)

Going Forward?

Tomorrow I plan to wake up and try out a cup of the Allegro decaf, which is guaranteed to be 99.9% caffeine free, through the Swiss Water Method. I don’t plan to back to caffeine, if I can help it. I also plan to be very mindful of my sugar intake, as I think that was another big reason why I felt so full of energy. Plus, sugar helps to feed infections, giving me even more reason to try and limit it as much as possible. As far as the other foods I avoided, I don’t think I’ll worry about them too much unless I get results back which indicate I have an autoimmune issue, which then I would consider following this sort of diet indefinitely.  thriving-on-a-detox

Any Tips?

Read your labels, you’ll be surprised how often sugar in some form is in packaged foods, from almond milk to roasted chicken you get at the supermarket, sugar is added to so, so many foods!

Cook in batches and reserve leftovers just for you. This was crucial! Each week I cooked one separate dish just for myself, to eat for lunch and dinner for a couple of days.

Get a few convenience items to make your life easier. You will be cooking and cleaning a lot, and you’ll get annoyed and tired if you try to do everything yourself. I went through 2 bottles of Tessamae’s dressing during this cleanse, as I was putting it on all my salads and marinating chicken in it on the days I was too busy to whip up an elaborate detox meal. I found a bulk package of beets for example, to add to all my salads to make them feel fancier and so I wouldn’t get sick of eating salads.

For afternoon drinks, signing up for the Aloha pack was a lifesaver because I would just add a pack to water or a Suja juice or even almond milk, and drink it on the go.

MEAL PLAN! Plan out your meals each week and shop accordingly. This isn’t something you can just do flying by the seat of your pants. Fighting cravings and giving up some of my favorite things was made much easier knowing that I had a good meal coming at me, just around the bend.  thriving-on-a-detox3

Lastly, I just want to say that this is a serious process, as in, it’s pretty dang strict. Even Whole 30, one of the more strict programs out there, allows for eggs and red meat. I don’t recommend anyone to try this if their current diet is on the other extreme of healthy. Not to say everyone couldn’t benefit from something like this, I just think it would be really, really hard. I know how to read labels now, what to look for, and for the most part, how to cook this way. My prior familiarity with this way of eating and cooking allowed me to not feel chained to a meal plan, allowing me to feel more flexible. My taste buds, I think, have also changed so that I love the taste of fresh green juice and I’ve learned to love the tastes of food with limited additives. I think if I didn’t have this prior knowledge, and I was still eating a lot of “junk”, it would have been much, much harder for me to stay on track. I don’t say this to try and dissuade anyone from a cleanse of some sort, but just consider you may want to start a little smaller, something like we did during the 30 Day Challenge.

I can’t tell you how good I feel compared to just a few weeks ago. Perhaps because I was feeling so lousy, the results of the cleanse are even that much more remarkable, so please don’t be disappointed if you don’t seem to feel as good as I do, in comparison to pre-cleanse. At the very least though, you’ll improve your health in the process, and see what you’re made of ;)

Oh, and did I “cheat?” Yes, I did; twice. Two weekends ago I went out to dinner with my brother, sister and our spouses and I called the restaurant ahead of time to get a lay of the land. They were happy to make ingredient accommodations for me. But I drank a beer with a 4% alcohol level, had a glass of wine, and then later, had a wine flight, all over the course of 4 hours. I can’t remember being so sick you guys. I threw up several times and regret it so much. It was pretty obvious that my tolerance was already lowered. Along with the fact that I hadn’t had any substantial oil or carbs during dinner, it was a recipe for disaster. And this past Saturday we celebrated my friend Wendy’s birthday, and I had 1/2 a beer and couldn’t even finish it, nor did I want to.

I’ll keep you posted on the meal plan and in the mean time, please ask me any questions you may have!