Monday, October 27, 2014

No-Sew Reusable Dust Wand

There is a microfiber cloth that sits in my rag bin week after week as the Swiffer duster wand gets all the love. I actually feel that the microfiber picks up more dust but I'm able to reach more places (being a shorty) and maneuver the wand more without having to move objects. However, the waste this produces isn't very green- economically or ecologically. The trick was finding a way to put the microfiber onto the duster wand. The only problem- I don't sew. Like, at all.

The solution: using the same method as a no-sew fleece blanket.

What you will need:

  • 12 in. by 12 in. microfiber cloths
  • 1 duster wand with a tab to hold the cloth in place (shown in photos below)
  • sharp pair of scissors
  • 4 straight pins

Start by folding the microfiber cloth in half and place the wand directly in the middle. Slide the cloth underneath the tab to hold in place. (The generic brands will more than likely have this tab over the name brand.)

Using four straight pins, pin both layers along the wand. This will hold the fold in place when you start to cut the strips.

Take the wand out and make five cuts up to the straight pins. Depending on what side you start on the first or last cut will be along the fold of the cloth. Do not cut all the way across. You will have 2 layers of five strips on each side of the cloth.

Double knot the strips that are directly on top of each other, working down the row. Then do the same on the other side.

Take out the straight pins and slide the wand back in, securing the cloth in the tab to hold in place. Give it a good shake to get all the loose microfiber particles off from the cuts or you can wash it first before use.

Meijer has a six-pack of microfiber cloths for $5 that will last for years, even with multiple washings. The generic brand of duster refills would cost me $10 and only last about a month with disposables that drain the wallet and add to our increasing waste problem. This reusable dust wand is the best of both worlds: more green for the planet and more green for your wallet! Now all you have to do is wave your wand and watch the dust disappear.

Linked with the Homemade Monday series.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Upcycled Loot Bags

This past summer I read The Zero Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst. I love to read but for those of you that don't- this is a quick, short read and a complete eye-opener to what our waste-habits are doing to this world. She also had some really neat ideas to help cut back on your trash output. Since reading this book, I have been trying to reuse and even upcycle what would normally be trash and/or recycling. I even created a way to reuse the endless forest of empty toilet paper rolls that are forever sprouting on the top of my toilet tanks (because no one in my family seems to know where the recycling bin is).

It turns out empty toilet paper rolls make a perfect shell for a loot bag container. Just add some paint, sparkly tissue paper and curled ribbon and you have what looks like a large piece of candy that houses the real deal inside.

  1. Start off with the empty toilet paper rolls, two colors of paint of your choosing, a straight edge paint brush, craft paper or newspaper to cover your workspace and masking tape.
  2. Wrap a piece of masking tape around the very middle of the roll so the ends overlap.
  3. Make two more masking tape rings on either side of the first one, leaving the width of masking tape of space between each ring.
  4. Paint the exposed roll in the color of your choice. Take off the tape as soon as either side of the tape has been painted. If you wait until the whole roll has been painted then the paint will come off when the tape does. Found that out the hard way (a few times) then it finally sunk in to take the tape off before starting the next level.
  5. Once all the masking tape has been removed do any touch ups to your first paint color and let dry completely. You could use painters tape but I didn't have any narrow enough for this project and I wanted to make these from items already on hand. For the second color use a straight edge brush and carefully paint along the first color on the roll. A steady hand is a plus but the straight edge brush will help keep you straight... enough. Again, let dry completely before going to the next step.
    The suckers are from Glee Gum and are just like blow pops but without the artificial colors! Whole Foods has them.
  6. Stack the candy on the tissue paper so that it will be able to fit into the toilet paper roll. Tightly roll the tissue paper up and gently push it into the toilet paper roll so that you have even amounts of extra tissue paper coming out both ends of the toilet paper roll. I had to give a couple of hard wiggles and shoves but it all ended up fitting. Tightly tie the ends of the tissue paper with ribbon, close to the toilet paper roll. Curl the ribbon and cut off any excess tissue paper. You want the end result looking like a wrapped piece of candy.
  7. Using lettered stamps and an ink pad, stamp each child's name onto the roll.
And now you have a cute, unique and upcycled loot bag! Reducing and reusing is rewarding on so many different levels: environmental, personal and economical. Before you throw out- think about what else it could be. You might just amaze yourself.

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturday series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Maple and Sage Whipped Dip

So a certain organic, sprouted chip company introduced a pumpkin cranberry tortilla flavor this past month. They are insanely delicious and even a huge Costco size bag does not last more than three days in my house. I must be a chip snob because I just can't wrap my head around not dipping a tortilla chip. These were also being served at my kids' birthday party and chips without dip is like Bonnie without Clyde. Where's the fun?

Multiple recipe searches later I realised that what I looking for didn't exist. How in the billions of recipes online I couldn't find a maple syrup and sage savory dip is beyond me. Why maple syrup and sage? I don't know... it just sounded like a good idea with pumpkin and cranberry.

Cream cheese as a base was a solid choice in my opinion because messing up cream cheese and maple syrup is a hard thing to do. Not that I couldn't, mind you, just that the odds were stacked in my favor. You can definitely use a non-dairy cream cheese but since this was for a party I used the real stuff. For the savory aspect, I thought a small shallot sautéed in a little butter would complement the sage nicely. I whipped up all of the above ingredients in the stand mixer for about 6 minutes and son-of-a gun, the dip was really good. (Of course it was- right? Or I wouldn't be sharing this with you.)

The ingredients in color:

Maple and Sage Whipped Dip
Living Life Granola
8oz package of cream cheese or non-dairy substitute
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 small shallot, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon sage powder
Scant amount of butter

*Please use organic ingredients when you can.

For best results, let the cream cheese come to room temperature.  Meanwhile, sauté the shallot in just enough butter to not let in stick on the bottom of the pan. Do not let it burn- 2- 3 minutes should do it.

In a stand mixer bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, maple syrup, sautéed shallot and sage. Whip on medium speed for 6 to 10 minute or until desired consistency is reached. Best served right away but can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

If you do store the dip in the fridge, make sure to let it soften a bit before you use or your yummy chips will break off in the dip. This dip would also be great on baked sweet potatoes or in a pumpkin soup. Be creative and have fun. If you come across a really scrumptious combo, please share below!

Linked with Homemade Mondays and Simply Natural Saturdays.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Daily Habits to Naturally Detox

As knowledge of our increasingly toxic world is growing, so too are the number of detoxifying programs being marketed to consumers. The fact is, though, that the amazing human body you are walking around in is completely capable of naturally detoxing itself. We have the skin, liver, kidneys, colon and lungs working in some capacity in this endeavor. The best way to create a toxin-free inner environment is to limit toxic exposure in the first place. Eating organic whenever possible, drinking filtered water, using home-made cleaners (or safe store-bought ones), getting at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day and staying away from processed grains, sugar and artificials will go a long way in keeping your internal detox system in tip-top shape.
However, there are some benefits to giving our detox organs a helping hand that can yield some great results in mood, mental clarity and physical well-being.

Drinking Water

Water is part of every function of the body including the removal of toxins. Even being mildly dehydrated puts stress on the kidneys and can cause constipation. If you wait until you feel thirsty to drink you are already dehydrated so make sure to bring water with you and drink it throughout the day. The type of water you are drinking will also determine if you are helping your body remove toxins or are actually adding more to the load. In our part of the world, we are lucky in that we don't have to worry about bacterial contamination. However, the chemicals that are being dumped into our water supply to combat potential contamination is causing a whole host of other health issues, in addition to all the industrial and agricultural waste as well. Bottom line: invest in a water filter. Check here to find your local water contaminants and the best water filter for your area.


Through sweat the body eliminates salt, drugs and various other toxins. By utilizing the largest organ- the skin- it takes the pressure off of the liver and kidneys to do all the dirty work. As most of us don't have access to a sauna or steam room and we are supposed to be getting 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day, getting sweaty to your favorite work-out is the perfect alternative. Make sure to be well hydrated before and after your sweat session otherwise it will not be as effective.

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a European practice of brushing the body with a natural bristled, long handled brush. This simple yet effective exfoliation technique stimulates the lymphatic system that is the body's pathway for removing toxins. It also stimulates the sebaceous glands (oil glands) that will help naturally moisturize the skin in addition to improving blood flow and circulation to the area. Super bonus on this one: it helps to diminish cellulite, ladies! I can actually attest to this- dry brushing is amazing. Take a few minutes before a bath or shower and starting with the bottom of your feet, brush towards your heart with gentle pressure. Brush the abdomen in a circular, clock-wise direction and don't forget in between your fingers and underarms. Skip the genitals, breasts (for women), neck and face. It's also a good idea to wash the body brush in mild soap once a week to keep it clean of dead skin debris.

Eating Algae

No, really, it's not as disgusting as it seems. Just throw some dried powder in your smoothie and call it a day. There are tens of thousands of different kinds of algae but spirulina and chlorella are the best known. Their chlorophyll content beats the pants off of other leafy greens which means they are potent detoxifiers. Chlorophyll is able to remove heavy metals from pesticides, environmental toxins or radiation from the body. It also is very alkalizing by balancing the internal pH. It is believed that disease cannot develop in an alkaline inner environment. Spirulina is so ancient that it actually doesn't have a hard cellular wall so the body can easily assimilate it unlike chlorella that needs to have the cell walls cracked or it will pass right through your system without being utilized. Look for broken cell wall on the packaging before you buy chlorella.


Our digestive organs require huge amounts of energy in order to break down food. By refraining from eating solid food for a certain period of time, that energy can be directed towards repairing and healing the body instead. Rats and humans have been shown to have longer life expectancies when their calories are restricted. Fasting has also been reported to make the senses sharper, the head clearer and feeling more energetic. There are many different ways to fast. For my own every day purpose I do not eat anything after dinner but continue to drink water or herbal tea until bedtime. Upon waking in the morning I will drink 12 oz of fresh juice. My current juice recipe is 1 cucumber, 2 large carrots, 1 - 2 inches of ginger and 1 apple. Juicing is great due to all the vitamins, minerals and enzymes being absorbed by the digestive system right away without having to exert a lot of energy to breaking down solid food. A smoothie for breakfast is also easy on the digestive system. Drink plenty of water or herbal tea until lunch when a normal solid meal can be eaten.

Basically, how I incorporate all this into my day looks something like this:

  • Wake-up and make my juice. 
  • Do thirty minutes of exercise, making sure to drink water throughout. 
  • Before showering, dry brush (make sure your skin is dry before doing this).
  • Make a breakfast smoothie including chlorella powder. 
  • Drink tea and water until lunch. 
  • Lunch as usual.

This is what I have found to work with my schedule and that is how I am able to stick with it. Waking up a good ninety minutes before my kids helps too (like immensely). Go with what works for you, although, everyone should be drinking plenty of filtered water! Remember to not purposely fill your body with toxins and not freak out over the ones that do get in... your body's got it covered.


Weil, Andrew, Natural Health, Natural Medicine: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.

Tourles, Stephanie, Organic Body Care Recipes: Storey, 2007. Print.

Morris, Julie, Superfood Kitchen: Sterling Epicure, 2012. Print.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Benefits of Pastured Meat and Dairy

When it comes to meat and dairy my first rule-of-thumb is to eat it in moderation. There have been a few well-documented studies showing adverse health affects with daily consumption. Be that as it may: I still heart ribs, think bacon is candy and butter will probably have to be taken out of my cold, dead fingers. One of the ways my family was able to cut down on meat and dairy, however, was switching to humanely-raised pastured and/or 100% grass-fed products. So what exactly does that mouthful mean?

Currently the USDA doesn't have a federal definition for pastured-raised meat due to "the number of variables involved." (I feel like I should be thanking the beef industry lobbyists for this one.) In a nut-shell it means animals that have access to forage for their natural diet in a pasture setting, hence pastured meat. Pigs and chickens do have to be supplemented with grain unlike cows, goats and lambs that can live just off of grasses. Make sure that you using a reliable source when buying non-organic pastured pork or chicken. The grain they are given is most likely GMO if they are not certified organic.

If meat is labeled 100% grass-fed it means that the animal has been feed and/or grazed on grass or hay (dry grass) for its whole life. They don't necessarily have to be given access to the outdoors but in most cases they are getting their diet from pasture. Meat labeled Grass-Fed could have had some supplemental grain added to the diet. Watch out for meat labeled grass-fed but then in small print- "Grain-Finished." Cows are grain-finished in their last few months before slaughter to help fatten them up. Well, that's a good thing, right? Not exactly- by eating grass right up until the end the cows have an ample supply of omega-3's in their system which will get passed down on to you when you eat the hamburger, steak, etc. When the cows are fed grain in their last few months they use up their own store of omega-3's not leaving much or any to pass on to you (selfish cow). How can you make sure that your labeled "grass-fed" beef hasn't been grain-finished: look for 100% grass-fed on the packaging. Be forewarned that 100% grass-fed, unless certified organic, doesn't mean that it has to be free of anti-biotics, hormones or pesticides.

The best way to make sure you are not paying for a misleading label is to purchase from a local farmer. These guys and gals are passionate about what they do and are happy to answer any questions and even give farm tours so that you can see exactly how and where the animals are raised. In northern climates, animals do have to be supplemented with grain in the winter months. Make sure to ask how long the animals get to graze before they are processed and if they use GMO feed. You can find locally sourced pastured-raised meat and dairy here and here.

So, why should you care what your meat eats? To make this completely cliched:  you are what you eat-  and what your food eats. Pasture-raised meat has/is:
  • lower in fat and calories (awesome!)
  • extra Omega-3's (potent anti-inflammatory)
  • conjugated linoleic acid a.k.a. CLA (a healthy fat that is lowering cancer risk in humans in promising lab results.)
  • higher in vitamin E
  • humanely-raised

Before processed foods were so prevalent in our society, humans generally consumed equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. This balance is needed for optimal health. Omega-3's quell inflammation in the body along with providing the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting and cell growth. Omega-6's, found in seeds, nuts, soy and grains, increase inflammation, which is important for immune response as long as it is in check. With the SAD (Standard American Diet), we are getting way too many Omega-6's and not nearly enough of Omega-3's, leaving our bodies in unchecked inflammation 24/7, that may be leading to coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases.

By eating pasture-raised meat you can avoid unnecessary Omega-6's in your diet and even add some extra Omega-3's.  It is still important to limit the amount of meat eaten at each meal and to try and keep it to three servings per week (or less!). These benefits are also transferable to dairy as well, but again, even pastured organic dairy have hormones that have been shown to promote tumor growth. Everything in moderation, folks! Even the good stuff. Through buying from local farmers, you can eat your pastured meat guilt-free knowing that you are supporting your community, humanely-raised animals and nutritional integrity in your food.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Manuka Ginger Elderberry Syrup

It's that time of year again when the sniffling, sneezing, hacking and nose-blowing symphony starts to chime up all around us. "Mommy, my throat hurts" is usually soon to follow. Most are quick to turn to over-the-counter medications but they do nothing but mask symptoms and impede the body's immune system from doing its natural job: attacking the offending virus or infecting bacteria. All that lovely mucus and snot with low-grade fevers is the body's way of getting the nasty invaders out. If you try to stop this natural process it will take you twice as long to recover.

In today's hectic world (and with our constant demands), taking the time to properly recover isn't always feasible. Like with all illnesses, we need to get to the root of the problem. In the case of colds/flus and the like, this would mean getting the immune system in fighting form, and if this is done from the get-go, then you could possibly head-off the illness all together.

Elderberry is a folk remedy that has been used for centuries in places like North America, Europe, western Asia and north Africa. Elder is a tall shrub that can grow up to 30 feet tall. Elderberries are anti-viral & anti-inflammatory and they contain potent antioxidants called anthocyanins that protect against cell damage and enhance immune function by boosting production of cytokines. These act as messengers in the immune response to help get things done in a timely manner. Elderberries may also reduce swelling in mucus membranes and relieve nasal congestion. Not bad for a little berry.

Manuka honey comes from honey bees that forage on the manuka bushes (Leptospermum scoparium) in New Zealand. Its properties include anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and antiseptic along with some antioxidants. Manuka honey is wonderful both internally and externally as well. (You can find it here.) A lot of the elderberry syrup I came across contained honey as a sweetening agent. It only made sense to combine elderberry and manuka honey to make one helluva immune-boosting tonic.

A couple of things, though, before we get to the recipe.  You'll notice in my bio that there are no initials after my name. If you are on medication of any kind, please consult your doctor before taking anything- including herbs. There are, as of yet, no studies of elderberry's effects on pregnant or lactating women so there is a lot of Internet disagreement over whether or not it should be taken. I personally feel it is safe as it has been used for hundreds of years, however, let's remember the lack of initials behind my name- it is always best to be extra cautious during pregnancy and lactation. Make sure to ask a board-certified, licensed midwife, licensed naturopath or D.O. if this syrup is right for you during this time. I have found that M.D.'s are usually not as open to alternative medicine as the former practitioners. When buying elderberries, make sure to get the Sambucus nigra variety found here or at your local health food store. Other varieties can be poisonous if not cooked properly. Even Sambucus nigra may cause an upset stomach if consumed raw (but it is not poisonous). This risk is nil if the berries are cooked first. Now that the warnings and precautions are done, let's get on with the recipe!

Bring 3 cups of filtered water to a boil in a sauce pan and add in a half cup of dried elderberries. Reduce to a simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. During the last 15 minutes of simmering, stir in an one inch piece of grated ginger.

Strain elderberry mixture through a fine sieve or a cheesecloth-lined colander. Gently press berries to extract as much juice as possible. Let cool completely before adding in the half cup of manuka honey so that all of the vitamins and enzymes remain active.

Manuka Ginger Elderberry Syrup
By Living Life Granola
1/2 cup dried elderberries
3 cups filtered water
1/2 cup manuka honey
1 inch piece ginger, grated

Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan and add in elderberries. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in ginger during the last 15 minutes of simmering. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or a cheesecloth lined colander. Gently press the berries to extract all of the juice. Whisk in the honey once the elderberry mixture is completely cooled. Store in a glass jar in the fridge for 2 to 3 months.

Preventative dose: 1 tablespoon daily for adults
                                   1 teaspoon daily for children 3 years and up
                                   1/2 teaspoon daily for children 1 and 2 years of age
                                   Do NOT give to infants under 1 year due to the honey.

Sickness dose:         1 tablespoon every 2 to 3 hours for adults
                                   1 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours for children 3 years and up
                                   1/2 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours for children 1 and 2 years of age
                                   Do NOT give to infants under 1 year due to the honey.

***Ask your health care provider before using if you take any medications, are under medical treatment, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

At $20 a jar, manuka honey is not cheap, though it will yield two recipes worth of elderberry syrup. The twenty bucks does start looking like a bargain when you begin to tally how much missed work, co-pays and medications will cost you by the end of winter due to a worn out immune system. Manuka honey is a pretty good investment in my book. This syrup has warded off more than one virus in my household. We do not take it everyday and I would not recommend doing that either, however, it does work best when taken at the first sign of illness and continued until the symptoms abate. We have been known to take it if we have been in close contact with a sick person, but usually only for the day, just to help give the immune system a little boost.The best preventative, of course, is washing hands, not touching your face, getting enough sleep and eating lots of fruits and veggies. Here's wishing everyone a non-existent flu season!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Chai Tea at Home without an Expensive Machine

This lovely cup is my morning must-have and as much as I love tea it was surprisingly (sadly, really) Starbucks that brought chai into my realm of existence. I still love my green and herbal teas but there is just something special about a really good chai.

Starbucks' prices alone are enough for me to boycott the place but in the past I have gone there in desperation for caffeine. I had the misfortune (fortune?) of seeing my chai tea being made one day. Oh, my. Did they really just pump a brown syrupy substance into my cup, a tea concentrate, if you will, and expect me to drink it? Yes, they did. And yes, I did. Not a proud moment but I like myself even less when going through caffeine withdrawal. Also, not too long ago, I found out that Starbucks supports the Grocery Manufacturers Association (boo, hiss!) that has donated millions of dollars to stop your right to know what is in your food- namely, genetically modified ingredients. I now make it a point to not give one dollar of my money to Starbucks and to make sure that I bring my caffeine with me from home- or live with the monster headache.

Making chai at home is the obvious solution when it comes to cost and health benefits. The antioxidants will still be intact and it won't be filled with inflammatory sugar or GMO's and antibiotics from the milk. Milk was actually my only issue with the home brew: how in the world was I going to froth it without a fancy, costly machine? After looking into a couple of frothers online I came across this gem.

This handheld frother goes for $2.49 at Ikea making it the most affordable option, hands down. If you don't have an Ikea by you, no worries, I have seen these babies on Amazon, too.

So, with the frothing part down let's get to the tea. Chai is a spiced tea that is traditionally consumed in India. Chai actually means tea in the Hindu language. In India, black tea is boiled with spices and then served with milk and honey. I make my own chai using organic black tea bags and powdered spices.

The great thing about making chai at home is that you get to control exactly how much sugar and what type of milk goes into your cup. I use stevia to sweeten as it is calorie-free and I have a personal policy to not drink my calories in everyday beverages. Plus, it's a plant- practically a vegetable, really. Be careful of the stevia that is sold in the grocery stores, however, as it is most likely a highly processed powder that bares little resemblance to the actual stevia plant.

Stevia is a green herb. The stevia I use from Mountain Rose Herbs, in the photo above, is a green powder (makes sense, right?). The packet of stevia from the grocery store is white. I don't know how it got like that and probably don't want to know, either. The bag from Mountain Rose Herbs will last a loooong time, too, as you only need a little pinch per cup of chai. It goes for $5 for 4 oz. The unrefined green stevia is 10 to 15 times sweeter than table sugar and the refined stuff is 200 to 300 times more sweet. In my humble opinion, it is probably best to stick with the unrefined.

Here's how I make my morning chai:

While waiting for the water to boil, add 1 rounded teaspoon of chai tea into a French press along with a pinch of stevia (or to taste). You will want to add the stevia while it is brewing due to the unrefined powder not dissolving well into liquids. Add boiling (not hot) water to the French press and cover with the top.

Little side-note here: all tea should be covered as it steeps, not only to retain water temperature but to keep the volatile oils from evaporating in the steam. These oils have most of the health benefits and you want those in your cup, not the air.

Let the tea steep for five minutes. While the tea is steeping, pour about two tablespoons of almond (or other milk substitute) into a mug and use the handy dandy frother to whip up some awesome almond fluffiness. When the tea is done steeping, pour into the mug in a steady stream and the froth will automatically rise to the top. The whole process takes under six minutes (if you have an electric kettle) which is faster than you would get it at Starbucks, not to mention way cheaper and sans all the added sugar and antibiotics and GMO's from the cow's milk. (See why I don't drink cow's milk here.) With real tea and spices your home brew is as healthy as it gets- enjoy!

Kate's Chai Tea Mix
From Living Life Granola
1 box of Whole Foods's 365 Black Tea, 70 count (or 1 1/2 cups loose black tea)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground allspice, optional (this is not in your typical chai tea but I like the flavor)
Please use organic ingredients when you can.

If you use the 365 tea bags they are already nicely lined up to cut open multiple bags at once. Dump all the tea into a mixing bowl and add in the spices. Stir well and store in an airtight container in a dark cabinet. Do not refrigerate as this will degrade the quality of the tea. Use within one year.