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Monday, February 23, 2015

DIY Wood Wick Candle



As much as I love my maintenance-free electric fire place, it is missing a key component: the warm sound of crackling wood. There are those insanely expensive Wood Wick candles that make this comforting sound but they are also known for their "divine" scents. I have written about the dangers of artificial fragrances here. Phthalates are especially troubling as it is an endocrine disruptor (as if we don't have enough going on in our lives to make our hormones wacky) and has links to breast cancer and birth defects.

So, of course I am making this myself because #1, I'm frugal (cheap? whatever!) and #2, watery eyes and headaches are not my idea of relaxing in front of the fire. My local craft store sells wood wicks in a package of six for $6 and two pounds of palm wax for $10- completely reasonable in my book.

A quick note on palm wax: please make sure that it comes from a Rainforest Alliance Certified company.  Malaysian and Indonesian rain forests have been devastated by the over-harvesting of palm trees. Even if the bag reads an eco-friendly renewable resource, it is just a technicality. Trees are being cut down at a rate where new plantings can't keep up. Wildlife can't survive in a grove of new saplings and mature trees are the lungs of this planet. Of course, non-GMO soy or beeswax will work just as well!


Supplies

2 wood wicks with metal clamps (should come together in the packaging)
2 cups wax pellets (palm, beeswax or soy)
2 glass jelly mason jars
1 glue gun
1 large glass measuring cup
1 sauce pan for the water bath
1 cookie sheet
1 cooling rack
Essential oils for fragrance (optional but I have a pleasing and stress-reducing combo below)




Start by hot gluing the metal wick clamps to the bottom of the jelly jars. Try to center them as much as possible. Pour the wax into the large measuring cup and pre-heat the oven to the lowest setting.



Make a water bath by placing the glass measuring cup into a sauce pan. Carefully fill the sauce pan with water until it is half way up the measuring cup. Don't get water in the wax. Place on the stove over medium to low heat until all the wax has melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the measuring cup from the water bath. While the wax cools, place the jelly jars on the cookie sheet and place in the oven to heat for 3 minutes. Warming the jars will help the wax cool more evenly and slowly to help prevent any dips or air bubbles in the finished candle.



After the wax has cooled for a few minutes add: 80 drops lavender essential oil, 50 drops rosemary essential oil and 30 drops cedar wood essential oil. Stir gently to combine. Place the wood wicks into the the metal clamp and carefully pour half the wax into each jelly jar.



                                     Place the candles on a cooling rack to harden over-night.




The next morning, using sharp scissors or nail clippers, trim the wood wick to 1/4 inch- it is important to keep the wick short or you will have a mini-bonfire in a very small container. As always, please don't leave a lit candle unsupervised, especially around children and pets.

Tonight I'm going to take advantage of Dino putting the kids to bed- and curl up with a good book in front of my glowing fireplace and crackling candle. Enjoy- I know I will!

Linked with the Homemade Mondays blog series.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Finding More Ways to Afford Organic Food



Eating food that is sustainable for the planet and our bodies is a top priority in my house. That means a larger portion of our family's budget goes towards groceries. In The Hidden Cost of Cheap Food, I explained how conventional food will actually cost you more- not only monetarily but in your health as well. There's no doubt that organic food will initially cost you more up front.  As daunting as squeezing your already tight budget may seem, there are ways to shift other priorities to make this work. Today I have a follow-up to a previous post, Finding Ways to Afford Organic Food, where I shared a major way my family diverts money to our groceries. Below are six more practices that my family uses to make organics a more affordable option.


1)  Turn the thermostat down.

At night when you are toasty under the covers and during the day when you are not at home, lower your thermostat. You actually sleep better and deeper in a cooler environment.  When you are away from home, it just doesn't make sense to keep an empty house super warm. You don't have to get all crazy, either- just a couple of degrees should show a difference in your heating bill. Dino and I are in a constant thermostat war because I am cold all the time but we can agree on turning it down for these two circumstances.


2) Dim the lights after dinner.

Once dinner and the clean-up is done, we try and keep the house at low lighting. This is great for the electric bill and also allows your body to naturally increase its melatonin levels that help you fall into a healing sleep. Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant.


3) Cancel the landline phone.

Yes, I truly believe there is a radiation risk when using cell phones but they are a necessary (and fun) evil. With two cell phone bills the landline seemed a little unnecessary and frivolous. If the radiation is a concern, like it is for me, then try texting more and use the speaker function when you do have to chat.


4) Cut the cable cord.

Too much of a stretch? We weren't sure how we were going to handle it either but, honestly, I don't even miss it. We can watch our TV shows online and were even able to connect the laptop to our smart TV to watch the Super Bowl- all without the insane cable bill hanging over our heads. Thanks to Goodwill and Savers, we have plenty of movies and Spongebob episodes for the kids when they (but mostly me) need a break... and I don't have to worry about them being barraged with asinine commercials for crap they (and again, mostly me) don't need.


5) Go on mini-vacations.

Putting the focus on making memories and not just on the destination can make a "mini" seem just like a big, splashy family vacay. During the winter months a weekend at an indoor water park can be a much needed relief from the blustery weather outside. In the summer, camping is a great way to get out and see the world without breaking the bank. 


6) Only go to restaurants on special occasions.

Being the only cook in my house, this was a hard one to implement as I enjoyed the much needed break from cooking and clean-up every week. What I didn't enjoy was all the genetically modified ingredients, pesticides, and artificial hormones that my family was ingesting on a weekly basis at $50 to $60 a pop. That is half of my organic grocery budget for the week and this wasn't even safe food! We do have a few restaurants that have local and organic offerings but they weren't what we could afford for our family of five on a regular basis. By limiting restaurant visits to birthdays and our anniversary, that local organic burger isn't so out of reach now.

This is what we have found to work for our family and I know that this will not work for everyone. My hope is that it will at least get you looking at different areas of your life and start weeding out what isn't really necessary for what is: food that is sustainable for the planet and you!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.



Monday, February 9, 2015

Artificial Dye-Free Valentine Gummy Hearts



With Valentine's Day less than a week away, these super quick and easy gummy hearts make the perfect treat for your little Valentine(s). Better yet, they are made with grass-fed gelatin (you can read the benefits here and here), local honey and with no artificial colors. On occasion, I do let my kids have the rare clear soda and conventional treats when we are away from home because I don't want to be that mom. However, I am always and unapologetically that mom when it comes to artificial dyes.

The FDA states that the artificial dyes used in our foods are perfectly safe and take issue with the multiple studies that claim otherwise. Due to these same studies, countries like Norway, Austria and Britain have banned artificial colors in their foods. In addition, the European Union requires warning labels on foods containing any artificial dyes. So what, exactly, was found in these studies? In lab tests done on animals, damage to DNA and genotoxicity occurred along with birth defects. In studies done on human children with or without ADHD, increases in hyperactivity were shown in both groups. Some scientists also state that artificial dyes are contaminated with known carcinogens. Anyway you slice it, artificial dyes are bad news. I urge you to start checking labels of the foods that you buy. You will be surprised where artificial colors like Yellow #6 are hiding. (They're everywhere!)

The Valentine gummy hearts are colored with a splash of tart cherry juice... but an organic cranberry or pomegranate juice would work just as well. Let's keep our treats safe and sweet- just like our Valentines!


Artificial Dye-Free Valentine Gummy Hearts
Living Life Granola
1/3 cup Izze sparkling apple (or other juice-sweetened soda)
3 tbsp grass-fed gelatin
3 tbsp local raw honey
1 tbsp organic tart cherry juice (or other organic, red fruit juice)

In a small sauce pan, whisk the honey, cherry juice, and Izze together until the honey is fully incorporated.  Working one teaspoon at a time, otherwise the mixture will be clumpy, sprinkle the gelatin over the honey juice and whisk until all the gelatin powder is wet. Continue until all the gelatin is in the pan (9 tsp total). It should turn into a thick paste.

Heat the pan over low-heat until the gelatin/juice mixture is liquid and runny again. Pour into an ungreased 8 x 8 x 2 glass baking dish if using a small cookie cutter or carefully pour into candy molds. Place the baking dish or molds in the freezer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out the gummies or pop the gummies out of the molds. Can be stored in the fridge, in an air-tight container, for up to 2 weeks.



Linked with the Homemade Mondays blog series.

Sources:


http://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelhennessey/2012/08/27/living-in-color-the-potential-dangers-of-artificial-dyes/

http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/11944-banned-foods.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/457555-the-side-effects-of-artificial-colors/

Monday, February 2, 2015

Natural Medicine Cabinet with a Soothing Antiseptic Recipe




Over the last couple of years my medicine cabinet has had a complete overhaul. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines not only suppress symptoms and impede your body's ability to heal itself but they are comprised of synthetic chemicals that are highly toxic to you and your family.  No one wants to suffer when they are sick or injured so below is a list of natural remedies that do not just cover up symptoms but actually help your body to recover and mend in a timely manner.

***Please confer with your licensed health care practitioner before taking any herbs if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or going to be administering anything new to an infant. I am not a doctor and everyone has unique health needs. Do not give honey to an infant under 1 year of age. Eucalyptus essential oil should not be used with children under 10 years of age.***


Colds/Flu/Viral or Bacterial Infections


  • Bone broth: beneficial for healthy blood cells and strengthens the immune system.
  • Elderberry Syrup: anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. Helps relieve nasal congestion.
  • Echinacea tea or extract: potent anti-viral and my personal go-to when I feel a cold coming on. If you buy the extract and it doesn't make your tongue go a little numb, then it is not the real deal.
  • Slippery Elm tea: helps soothe sore throats.You can usually find this at your local grocer.
  • Eucalyptus essential oil: with a towel draped over your head and a steaming bowl of water, add a few drops of the oil to the water and inhale to help open congested airways. (Not for children under 10.)
  • Local Raw Honey: great cough suppressant. (Not for infants under 1 year.)
  • Garlic and Olive Oil: smash a garlic clove in a teaspoon of warmed olive oil and place a couple drops in the ear for aches or infection. Repeat as needed and refrigerate any leftover oil.

Allergies

  • Local Raw Honey: 1 teaspoon per day. This could take a few weeks so be patient. (Not for infants under 1 year.)
  • Peppermint tea: extracts of the leaves have been shown to inhibit histamine release.

Insomnia

  • Chamomile tea: mild relaxant and also has sedative properties.
  • Room Freshener: spray on linens before going to bed to help calm and soothe the mind.
  • Take 10 deep breaths. Breathing in as much as you can and fully exhaling right before bed.

Heartburn/Upset Stomach/Intestinal Complaints

  • Activated Charcoal: antacid remedy, powerful absorbent in the stomach and intestinal track that also picks up harmful bacteria to pass it through the body. This can cause constipation if over-used but it is useful in treating diarrhea.
  • Psyllium Husk: great for constipation- a natural alternative to Metamucil.
  • Peppermint tea: soothes an upset stomach, aids in digestion and helps relieve bloating and gas.
  • Chamomile tea: relieves heartburn, indigestion and colic.
  • Ginger tea: anti-nausea. Can usually find at your local grocer.
  • Bone broth: great anti-inflammatory and also is very healing to the digestive tract.

Pain/Sprains and Bruises

  • Turmeric tea: potent anti-inflammatory. Great for arthritis pain.
  • Aloe Vera plant: gel squeezed from a cut leaf is very soothing and healing for burns. Easy to grow and care for- every home should have one.
  • Arnica cream: reduces pain and swelling and promotes healing. Do not use on broken skin or take internally.
  • Peppermint tea: cooled and applied to the nipple prevents cracks and pain in breastfeeding mothers.
  • Epsom Salts: 1 cup poured under running bath water helps relieve sore muscles.
  • Lavender Bug Bite Balm: DIY balm great for itchy or painful bug bites.

Fungal Infections

  • Tea Tree Oil: a couple of drops neat (straight from the bottle) onto the infected toe or nail. Repeat until infection is gone.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: soak a cotton ball and place over the wart, with medical tape, and leave overnight. Repeat until wart falls off.
  • Oil of Oregano: apply a little to Plantar warts every morning and night until they are gone.

Cuts and Scrapes

Soothing Antiseptic Vinegar
Living Life Granola
    • 1/2 cup raw apple cider vinegar
    • 1/2 cup distilled water
    • 30 drops tea tree oil
    • 15 drops lavender essential oil
    • 15 drops bergamot essential oil

    Mix all the ingredients in a finger pump spray bottle. Let sit for at least 24 hours in a dark cabinet before use.


Humans have been healing and treating themselves for thousands of years before the advent of OTC's. This is actually a small list in comparison to all the natural remedies out there but I hope this will get you started in the right direction!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Made from Scratch Kitchen: Small Appliances



When it comes to safe and healthy eating, the most important step is not necessarily that it's organic (although it is up there!) but that it not be highly processed (pretty much anything that comes out of a box at the grocery store). Food health experts from Michael Pollan to Dr. Andrew Weil agree that making your own food from scratch is tantamount to longevity.

Saying "made from scratch" can put a wide range of images in your head- and I'm guessing that they're not all positive ones. It doesn't matter that making food from scratch is healthier for you and can also save you money- it still won't make a difference in the most important of commodities: your time.

While time will always be a factor when making items from scratch, it doesn't have to be a time-consuming endeavor. Below is a list of my five favorite small appliances that make preparing everything from meals to snacks to desserts more efficient so you can enjoy more of your free time doing the things you love.

1. Food Processor

Makes: nut butters, almond flour, oat flour, hummus, mayo, power balls, fruit bar dough, raw brownie dough; and slices, dices or chops cheese, vegetables and fruits.

Mine has been used almost every single day for over a year now and it is one of the cheapest models out there: the Hamilton Beach Chef Prep. It was $30 when I bought it and the same price as the Hamilton Beach 8 Cup Processor. Both models have great reviews with 4.5 stars out of 5.


2. Blender with Portable Smoothie Cups and Spice Chopper

Makes: smoothies, nut milks, applesauce, pureed soups; and grinds flax seeds, whole spices and fresh herbs.

I was lucky to find a Cuisinart 15 Piece Compact Portable Blending/Chopping System on eBay for $45. The person had bought it, not saved the receipt, then decided they wanted another model. People do this a lot. If your budget is tight, then make sure to check eBay and Craigslist for great deals.


3. Slow Cookers 7 quart and 3 quart

Makes; bone broth, soup, mutiple types of dinners, roasts whole chickens, apple cider, spiced wine, apple butter, bread pudding and overnight oatmeal.

Between the bone broth, dinners and overnight oatmeal, I have one or the other of my slow cookers on my counter at all times. They become indispensable for the from-scratch-cook on nights you know you will not have time and/or the energy to cook. Just throw your raw ingredients inside the crock in the morning and come home to wonderful smells of an already cooked meal with only one dish to wash.

The larger one cost $30 and the smaller one I bought on Black Friday at Meijer for $10. It is currently at Meijer for $15 so don't buy it from Amazon!


4. Dehydrator

Makes: dried nuts and grains after a proper soaking, dried fresh herbs, dried fruit (Starbursts have nothing on dried watermelon and pineapple!), fruit leathers, jerky from grass-fed beef, fruit and veggie chips

My Nesco Snackmaster Dehydrator was mentioned in a previous post and is the ultimate real food snack maker!


5. Stand Mixer

Makes: marshmallows, butter, butter milk, whipped cream, maple and sage whipped dip, whipped coconut oil, bread, pizza, and cookie dough.

I don't even want to know how my grandma made bread dough without a stand mixer. It would not be made with love if I had to do that by hand (do expletives have an organic version?). Luckily, my stand mixer makes it nice and simple. The KitchenAid brand can get quite expensive but Hamilton Beach saves the day again with this thrifty model for $36.


Making food stuffs from scratch doesn't have to be a time-draining throw back to the 1800's. Using small appliances saves you time in the kitchen, can possibly save your life by keeping you away from over-processed foods and saves you money from the over-priced organic boxed items. Don't forget to check eBay or Craigslist for used appliances- those sites are a treasure trove!







Monday, January 19, 2015

Cheaters Face Lotion for Different Skin Types



When it comes to moisturizing your face, there is no end to the myriad of oil recipes online. Some of of these are actually rather good but I would recommend using it as a treatment serum and not as the actual moisturizer.  Moisturizing your skin equates to adding water, not oil. The skin needs a balance of oil and water to remain hydrated and healthy. In order to get that balance, you need a mixture of an emollient (natural oil) and a humectant (water) held together by an emulsifier (think beeswax). In other words: lotion.

Lotion-making is an art- a rewarding one at that- but it is also time consuming for a very short shelf-life. As a dedicated DIYer of beauty products, I wanted to find a way to make safe, effective lotions without the massive time commitment every few weeks. The trick was to find an already made organic, unfragrance lotion that could just have essential oils added in. The Desert Essence Fragrance Free Hand and Body Lotion is my top choice- not only for its safe ingredients but also its low price-tag. One bottle will yield two recipes worth of facial lotion.

Hormonal Acne
Teenage Acne
Red/Sensitive
Anti-Aging
By Living Life Granola
-4oz fragrance-free natural/organic lotion
-10 drops lavender essential oil
-10 drops geranium essential oil
-5 drops carrot seed essential oil

Squeeze the lotion into a clean 4 oz jar. Add in essential oils and stir well to incorporate. Let set for at least 24 hours in a dark cabinet before use. Use a craft stick to remove lotion to extend shelf-life. Use within 6 months.
-4oz fragrance-free natural/organic lotion
-10 drops lavender essential oil
-10 drops geranium essential oil
-5 drops tea tree oil


Squeeze the lotion into a clean 4 oz jar. Add in essential oils and stir well to incorporate. Let set for at least 24 hours in a dark cabinet before use. Use a craft stick to remove lotion to extend shelf-life. Use within 6 months.
-4oz fragrance-free natural/organic lotion
-10 drops chamomile essential oil
-10 drops lavender essential oil
-5 drops calendula extract

Squeeze the lotion into a clean 4 oz jar. Add in essential oils and stir well to incorporate. Let set for at least 24 hours in a dark cabinet before use. Use a craft stick to remove lotion to extend shelf-life. Use within 6 months.
-4oz fragrance-free natural/organic lotion
-10 drops carrot seed essential oil
-10 drops lavender essential oil
-5 drops cedarwood (atlantica) essential oil

Squeeze the lotion into a clean 4 oz jar. Add in essential oils and stir well to incorporate. Let set for at least 24 hours in a dark cabinet before use. Use a craft stick to remove lotion to extend shelf-life. Use within 6 months.


It is important to remember that while your skin is the largest organ of your body, what you put in your body will have far more of an impact than what you put on your body.  Choosing the right beauty products for you skin goes hand-in-hand with a healthy diet, mind and body. With the cost of this facial lotion being so thrifty, don't forget to slather up your neck and decollete, too!


Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.
***This post earned the Most Popular title for this series.


Monday, January 12, 2015

How to Make Almond Milk and Butter from the Same Batch of Nuts





My family and I have been drinking almond milk for years but it wasn't until recently that I discovered how easy (and inexpensive) it is to make yourself. Then much to my surprise (and joy), an experiment with the left-over almond pulp was successful in being made into almond butter. Two products for the price of one! Using the process below will yield a little over 6 cups of almond milk and 1 cup of almond butter for just $3.56. Beat that, Walmart!

This will require a blender, food processor and dehydrator. The first two are generally common in most kitchens. The dehydrator, on the other hand, not so much. Just like any kitchen appliance there are the low, medium and high-end dehydrators. Finding one used is a great economic option if you are just starting out dehydrating food. The brand I use is a medium-line Nesco that also has fruit-roll trays (bought separately). The trays are necessary to hold the finely ground almonds.

Almond Milk

Supplies:

-2 quart mason jars with lids
-drainer
-blender
-glass pitcher with lid
-funnel
-cheesecloth

Ingredients:

-2 cups raw, unsalted almonds (Costco has a 3lb bag for $16.)
-filtered water
-sea salt to taste



The night before you are going to make the milk, place 1 cup of almonds in each mason jar, fill with 4 cups of  filtered water and place the cap on the jar. Leave on the counter over-night or for at least 8 hours. If you can't make the milk the next morning then stick the jars in the fridge until you can get to them. Use within 24 hours, even in the fridge.

Using the drainer, empty the jars and rinse the nuts. Fill the blender with 3 cups filtered water and 1 cup of the rinsed almonds. (If you have a larger blender then add all the almonds and 6 cups of water.) Blend on high for about 1 minute or until the almonds are finely ground.



               Place the funnel on top of the glass pitcher and the cheese cloth over the funnel.


Pour the contents of the blender into the cheesecloth-lined funnel. Make sure all of the ground nuts get out of the blender. Bring up the sides of the cheesecloth and twist to close. Squeeze the cheesecloth to extract as much milk as possible.


Place the almond meal from the cheesecloth onto the fruit-roll tray or other solid dehydrator tray. Spread as evenly as possible for even-drying. Repeat process with the other jar of almonds and spread on another fruit-roll tray. Set dehydrator per manufacturer's instruction for nuts (mine is 105 degrees) and dehydrate for 6 hours.

Make sure to get to the almond meal after 6 hours. If the almonds dehydrate for too long then it will take longer for it to turn into almond butter. The wet almond meal can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge, but again, don't leave for more than 24 hours.

Add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to the almond milk (or to taste) in the glass pitcher and stir. Place on the cap and store in the fridge. Use within 1 week.


Almond Butter

Supplies:

-food processor
-spatula
-pint-size jelly jar with lid

Ingredients:

-dry almond meal from almond milk
-sea salt to taste



After 6 hours, carefully empty the fruit-roll trays of now dry almond meal into the bowl of a food processor. Depending on the type of food processor you have, this can take anywhere from 6 to 15 minutes. I have a lower-end model and it takes about 10 to 12 minutes to process the meal into butter. Run the processor for one minute at a time, scraping down the sides when necessary.



Once the almond butter is smooth, add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt to the bowl and process again. Store in a jelly jar with a lid in the fridge. Use within 2 weeks (if it will last that long!).

Almond milk can be used in any recipe that calls for milk. The only time I didn't have success was when I tried to make pudding, otherwise, almond milk makes the perfect substitute to cow's milk. Using the almond meal for almond butter helps stretch grocery dollars and is actually healthier than store-bought almond butter due to the nuts being soaked before they were processed. I'll go over the importance of soaked nuts and grains in a future post. Until then, use the almond butter in place of peanut butter and enjoy all the extra vitamin E!