Monday, July 28, 2014

Air (or Err) Freshener?

This is not going to be a popular subject. Trying to get people to let go of their death grip on Febreze is like trying to get Chicagoans to call Sears Tower by its new "Willis" title- which is not going to happen, ever. I'm hopeful, however, that the mindset can be changed over the air fresheners.

Who doesn't love the smell of apple berry blossom or morning mountain mist. Your house can be a complete s*%t hole but at least it smells awesome. Well, that is what the Febreze commercials are telling me anyway. The folks at Environmental Working Group have a different story to tell like developmental and reproductive toxicity along with asthma, respiratory and environmental concerns. As you could probably assume, Febreze got a nice juicy F on their safety rating. Their other formulations didn't rate so high, either.

I shouldn't be picking on just Febreze- most air freshners on the market right now are filled with carcinogens like benzene, formaldehyde and VOC's (volatile organic compounds). There is also a nasty little endocrine disruptor, phthalate, that has been shown to cause birth defects and increase breast cancer risk. Honestly, you are better off breathing in the rotting garbage... but outside of the Hoarders TV show, who actually lives like that? If you really need some fresh air, crack a window or turn on the exhaust fan but don't plug-in, spray or spritz unless it is with essential oils. Below is a safe recipe for a room & linen spray adapted from the book Natural Health by Nerys Purchon.

Room and Linen Spray
By Living Life Granola
4 oz spray bottle
2 tbsp vodka
1/2 cup filtered water
40 drops bergamot essential oil
20 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops tangerine or orange essential oil
10 drops cedarwood essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil

Place all ingredients into the spray bottle and shake before use. If the spray bottle is not dark, store out of the light to retain the integrity of the essential oils.

This spray smells so good and it doesn't give me a headache or watery eyes from all the synthetics like the other stuff does. I love giving this as a gift, too. So for all you Febreze lovers out there- there is another way! Don't just breathe happy, breathe healthy, too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finding Ways to Afford Organic Food

Yesterday, I asked you to change your perception on the amount of money spent on your food. Today, I am going to challenge your perception again, however, not with food dollars but with pretty much anything else you buy.

If there is one connection that is continuous throughout this lifestyle, it's that whatever is healthiest for the planet turns out being the healthiest for humans, too. By reducing and reusing, not only can we keep items out of our increasing toxic landfills but we can also subvert any monies saved towards organic groceries. How can this be done? Thrift shopping.

Places like Good Will, Savers and other small consignment shops have the connotation of being dirty/low-rent and, quite frankly, not the status builder. When I first started shopping at these places, I was horrified that someone I knew might see me. Then I started experiencing, first hand, the type of deals that I could get and then I couldn't shut up about it... to anyone who would listen.

In addition to the original tags still being on clothes, you can find a huge assortment of brand names: Aeropostale, Gap, Baby Gap, White House Black Market, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Children's Place, Brand Jordan, Nike, Hannah Anderson, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Hollister, and a ton more. Obviously not all of the clothes will have the store tags still on them (as in the photo above) but you would be amazed at the great condition of some of the clothes at these stores. By buying a majority of my family's clothes used we save quite a bit of money. The kids and I get to look stylish for a fraction of the cost and if it wasn't for my big mouth no one would know the clothes were second-hand.

The savings don't just stop at clothes. Pampered Chef's stoneware is one of the safest materials to bake and cook in but it is also extremely expensive. The deep baker in the photo above goes for $88 on Pampered Chef online and that doesn't even include the shipping. I bought it for 15 bucks at Savers. Thanks to Savers, I have an entire cabinet of stoneware that is worth around $300 but I only paid $68 for all of it.

Most likely when you buy a new outfit or kitchenware you are washing it before use. It is no different when you buy it second-hand. Just because you buy something in a store new doesn't mean that it was never tried on by other people first, or that an item on the shelf hasn't been handled by half a dozen people before it ends up in your home. Buying items second-hand, however, does keep trash out of the landfills and reduces the waste and environmental damage from the manufacturing of new consumables. Not to mention all the money saved that can go towards your organic foods.

Outside of consignment shops there is also Craigslist and Bookoo that operate as online single-item garage sales. You can find gently used furniture, clothes, toys, bikes, home decor- you name it.

With the exception of the area rug, photos and throw pillows everything in my living room was bought off of Craigslist, Bookoo and Savers. I'll take trashy and turn it into classy any day.

There is room in most peoples' budgets to afford organic food. It just might take thinking a little differently about where your money is spent. Are you up for the challenge?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hidden Costs of Cheap Food

Driving down any number of main highways this summer I have noticed that the McDonald's soft serve billboard is there to remind you that happines$1 is only a buck away. Sadly, in the last 40 years this seems to have become the American way: red, white and cheap food. The blue can be our mood since this "food" is making us SAD (Standard American Diet) and sick.

In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan brings to light the disparity between how our money used to be spent on food and how it is being spent now. In 1960, 17.5% of our income was spent on food with only 5.2% going towards health care. Fast-forward to today and those numbers have nearly flip-flopped. We are now only spending 9.9% of our income on food and our health care costs have soared to 16%. Our health and the type of food we consume is undeniably tied. When we make quality food a priority we invest in a healthier future.

Listen, I get it. Spending $4 on a pound of organic green beans when you can get the same amount of the conventional kind for a buck, seems ludicrous. However, there are untold hidden costs to cheap food. In an excerpt from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Steven L. Hopp states that in addition to that cheap sticker price there is an additional $80 billion in subsidies that we are paying annually. Eighty. Billion. Every. Year.
Broken down that is:
  • $22 billion in our taxes for agricultural fuel
  • $3 billion for the Farm Bill subsidies for corn and wheat
  • $10 billion for treatment of food-related illness
  • $17 billion in agricultural chemical cleanup costs
  • $8 billion in collateral damage due to pesticide use
  • $20 billion in costs due to nutrients lost because of soil erosion

Turns out those $1 green beans and soft serve are not such a great bargain after all. Organic farming practices on the other hand:
  • enrich the soil and prevent erosion
  • do not use harmful pesticides and herbicides
  • protect and maintain endangered plant species by ensuring biodiversity 

With organic food you are paying up front for the additional time and labor, and also the packaging, marketing and distribution for the small farmer. This is the cost of real food. It's all there on the price tag and yes, it is a little higher but you won't be blind-sided with hidden monetary and health costs later.

What I am asking you to do is not an easy feat. Essentially, I want you to change your perception of how you spend your food dollars. Yes, yes- much easier said then done. But it can be done and in the end the health of your waist-line, body and planet will be that much better for it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Make Farmer's Market Dilly Beans

This weekend at the farmer's market I was on a mission to find fresh, organic green beans. They are in season, after all, and it's been a long time coming to finally make some dilly beans. If you haven't had the pleasure of eating one, they are, in a word- awesome. My husband, Dino, hates green beans, but he fully enjoys them once they are pickled.

At $4/pound, I bought green and wax beans for a dollar cheaper than what I have seen them priced for at Whole Foods and they are local to boot. To top it off, we also came across a heirloom garlic variety, Music. (Check out what they look like @LivLifeGranola on Twitter.)

With the vegetable portion of the recipe out of the way, I could now focus on the vinegar. A while back I had heard that non-organic white distilled vinegar was made using corn. So before I was going to dump potential GMO's all over my beautiful organic produce some sleuthing needed to be done.

Of course Heinz's website offered no answers to this, even on their FAQ page, so I called their customer service. The woman I talked to at Heinz asserted that the company does not use any genetically modified seed for the corn used to make their vinegar. When I asked why this wasn't stated on their label, she replied that legally they don't have to. What?! Legally they don't have to put it on their labels if there ARE genetically modified organisms on the label. If companies are paying the premium to use non-GMO ingredients, then they are more likely than not putting that on their packaging.

The organic wdv on the right is Whole Foods' 365 brand at $3.39 for 64 oz. The Heinz bottle on the left is $3.25 (Costco)  for 1.32 gallon. Heinz manufactures more than 7.5 million gallons of vinegar yearly in the U.S. alone. Let's remember that 80% of corn grown in the U.S is genetically modified. Now, my math skills are poor at best but even to me these numbers do not add up. I'll leave it up to you what you want to believe. Finally, on to the recipe...

For the supplies I went to Walmart and bought a canning pot ($19.97), jar-lift ($2.97) and a magnetic lid-lift ($ .97).

The recipe is from Marisa at Food in Jars off of Yummly. I liked how she used apple cider vinegar to make her brine as it was the only organic vinegar I had at the time.

It is important to follow ALL the instructions to properly preserve the beans. You do not want any nasty bacteria growing in your food jars. The vinegar/water ratio should not be messed with either for this reason. Each vegetable and fruit will have different rules for canning for water baths and pressure canning. Please follow those specific directions for your own safety.


2 lbs green beans, rinsed (I used a mix of green and wax.)
2 1/2 cups filtered water
2 1/2 cups organic apple cider vinegar or organic white distilled vinegar
2 tbsp sea salt
4 tsp dill seed (I used dried.)
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp red chili flakes
4 cloves garlic, smashed (The Music variety were so large I actually only used two cut in half- and I LOVE garlic.)

Before you start, sterilize 4 quart-size mason jars in the dishwasher and leave there until ready to use. To sanitize the lids (not the bands), simmer in a pot on the stove for 5 minutes and leave until ready to use. Start the brine by bringing the water, vinegar and sea salt to a boil. At the same time start heating the water in the canning pot.

Cut the green beans to size to fit your quart jars. You want about an inch of head space. Don't throw out the bean ends! Use them to make bone broth.

Take the warm mason jars out of the dishwasher and put the following spices in each jar: 1 tsp dill seed, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1/4 tsp red chili flakes and 1 smashed garlic clove. Stuff the green beans into the jars on top of the spices. Don't worry if they are packed in tight. Pour the boiling brine equally into the four jars leaving an half-inch head space.

Run a small rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to get rid of any air bubbles.  Wipe the top and threads of the jar with a clean damp cloth. Using the magnetic stick, remove the lids from the hot water and place on the jars. Screw on the bands to keep the lids in place but do not over-tighten.

Place the jars on the rack in the canning pot and carefully lower into the boiling water. I say carefully for obvious reasons but also because my idiot-self, in my excitement, accidentally knocked over a jar and in the process of trying to right it, stuck my fingers into the boiling water. So, I don't have a picture of the jars in the canner. I apologize, to you... and my fingers, but mostly to you, of course.

Leave the jars in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Have a towel ready to place the jars on after the 10 minutes. The jar-lifter is great because it fits the neck of the mason jars perfectly. Let completely cool on the towel before checking the seals. You should be able to hear the pings shortly after you take them out of the water bath. Check the seals by gently pressing on the middle. If it springs back up, the jar didn't seal and you will want to put it in the fridge and eat right away. To store, take the bands off the jars and label with at least the date. You will want to let the beans pickle for at least two weeks and then enjoy them within the year.

Yummm. The next two weeks are going to take for-ev-er!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lavender Bug Bite Balm

In my previous post I mentioned that my family and I were going camping. We went with family friends of ours and much fun was had by all. We also had a TON of mosquito bites, and yet, we can't wait to do it all over again. The camping part- not the mosquito bites. As soon as we got home I mixed up a batch of my lavender bug bite balm and soon even the bug bites were a memory.

2 tbsp bentonite clay
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp witch hazel
2 drops lavender essential oil
1 drop peppermint essential oil
1 oz cosmetic jar

Mix all ingredients together to form a paste. Doesn't need to be refrigerated. Use within 30 days.

Use a Q-tip or craft stick to remove the paste from the jar so that it will have a longer shelf-life. You don't rub the paste in but apply a small layer over the bite and let it dry like a facial mask.

The clay, apple cider vinegar and witch hazel are all soothing and healing to damaged skin. Lavender and peppermint essential oil are both antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain reliever). Peppermint has the added benefit of having a cooling effect as well. Due to the properties of these ingredients this would also make an excellent sun-burn relief remedy, also.

Let's keep summer fun and irritant free- and of course, safe and green, too.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Safer Marshmallows

My family and I are going camping this 4th of July weekend and no camping trip would be complete without s'mores paraphernalia. Swapping out the artificially-flavored, BHT preservative and cancer-inducing graham squares is easy enough, as is the GMO Hershey's chocolate, with affordable organic options. It is the marshmallows, however, that are a little more tricky.

How innocent these little white fluffy pillows of confection look- until you look at the ingredient list. From Kraft's website:


Isn't it amazing that even in a purely white product, Kraft still manages to throw an artificial color in the mix. So unnecessary. I'm the nut in the grocery store aisle, stomping my foot, saying "what the %&#@, Kraft!" Then having to quickly explain to my kids that mommy said "LUCK," as in we are so lucky we are going to get to make these ourselves at home! Homemade really being the only option if you are on a tighter budget as natural marshmallows in the store will cost you upwards of $4 a bag. (Yeah, I really wish that was an actual exaggeration.)

If you have a stand mixer and a candy thermometer, making marshmallows at home is really no more complicated than making chocolate chip cookies.


Stand mixer
Heavy sauce pan
Candy thermometer
Measuring cup
13 x 9 glass baking dish


2 packets gelatin*
2 cups organic sugar**
1 1/4 cups water, divided
Coconut oil, for greasing the baking dish

*Grass-fed gelatin would be the best to use for its health benefits but it is pricey. I'm still working up the nerve and money to purchase it. And health benefits aside, the end product here is still loaded with sugar and should be consumed sparingly.

**My preferred sweetener of choice is coconut palm sugar and I have used it in this recipe with yummy results that ended with mocha colored marshmallows. However, using 2 cups at a time can also get quite pricey. Use whatever is in your budget.


Mix 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp water with the gelatin in the mixer bowl. Set aside.

 In the saucepan mix the additional 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp water with the sugar and cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Once the mixture starts boiling, stop stirring and continue to cook until the temperature reaches 270 degrees, aka hard ball stage. This will take about 10 minutes so check your emails, Twitter or Facebook accounts (Living Life Granola is now on Twitter) but do it close by to make sure your pot doesn't boil over. After the hard ball stage has been reached remove from heat.

A neat trick my mom taught me if you don't have a candy thermometer is to drop a small amount of the boiling mixture into a cold glass of water. If the drop turns hard and falls to the bottom of the glass, it has reached the hard ball stage.

Place the gelatin mixture in the stand mixer and turn on slow. While the mixer is on, slowly add the sugar mixture to the gelatin. 

Once it is all in, turn the mixer to high and beat for 10- 15 minutes or until light and fluffy. 

Spread the marshmallow cream into the greased baking dish. You can grease the spatula as well to get an even and smooth top for the marshmallows. As you can see from the picture, I just slap it in and call it a day. Let it set over night or for 8 hours. Cut into squares and enjoy your three ingredient marshmallows without all the artificials!

Some different variations of the same theme: 

-After spreading the cream into the baking dish top with toasted coconut and gently press to adhere to the marshmallows. Cut as normal in 8 hours.

-Add 1/2 tsp of juice during the whipping stage to naturally color the marshmallows. 

-Instead of spreading the cream in the baking dish, mix with an organic puff rice cereal. Then spread in the baking dish for organic rice crispy treats.  Let cool and harden for a few hours before cutting. 

-To make popcorn balls mix with  popped popcorn instead of puff rice. Grease up your hands well to shape.

-Cut the marshmallows into fun shapes and dip in chocolate.

How do you marshmallow? Let me know in the comments below.