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
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


-2 quart mason jars with lids
-glass pitcher with lid


-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


-food processor
-pint-size jelly jar with lid


-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!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Reducing Plastic Waste

It's the new year and possibly a new you if you've gotten on the resolutions band-wagon. I decided to forego my usual goals, that focused on body and mind, and instead go a different route- drastically reducing my plastic waste. Completely eradicating plastic would be nearly impossible, however, reducing my usage is practical in many different ways.

Why am I putting plastic on my hit-list when it can just be recycled anyway? It turns out not all plastic gets recycled as evidenced in the photo above. Also, as recycling is a business, if there is no buyer for a certain plastic number (the number in the arrowed triangle stamped on plastic) then it gets incinerated, thereby releasing a potent toxic mixture of chemicals into our air.

It is also important to know how plastic breaks down. We... well, most of us (I hope) have heard of the word biodegradable. A word that may not be so familiar is photodegradable- which is the process plastic goes through to break down into smaller molecules. These molecules, which are toxic on their own, are like a vacuum for other organic pollutants like BPA and PCB's. It takes centuries for plastic to completely decompose, which means we are literally leaving poisonous time bombs for future generations. Think about all the unnecessary one-use plastic items that get thrown out everyday: plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic plates, sandwich bags, etc. It takes thousands of years for them to break down! An interesting and rather sad statistic is that Americans consume more than 25% of the world's resources and produces 30% of the trash and environmental pollutants. We manage all this and still make up only 4.5% of the world's population. (Yikes.)

Two of Americans worst (and in my opinion, unnecessary) offenders are plastic bags and water bottles. One-hundred billion plastic bags are used every year in the U.S. alone and under 1% are actually recycled. World-wide water bottle consumption is at fifty billion every year, however, thirty billion of that is consumed in the U.S. The national recycle rate for plastic bottles isn't any better at only 23%. That means 38 billion water bottles end up in the landfill or ocean. Every. Stinkin'. Year. Another sad statistic: 86% of all ocean debris is plastic.

Even after this bird decomposes, the plastic remains to poison a new generation of sea life.

In the course of researching for this post I came across this little tid-bit that really put drinking out of plastic bottles into perspective: it takes three times the volume of water to manufacture one bottle of water than it does to fill it. Due to the dangerous chemicals used in plastic production (are we really still eating off of this stuff?!) the water used during manufacturing is largely unusable.

You can go into any store now and see "BPA free" on a whole range of packaging from water bottles to baby toys and even small kitchen appliances. BPA isn't the only hormone disruptor in plastic and is really just the tip of the iceberg for dangerous chemicals that can leach into our bodies. PVC and phthlates are another huge issue. Phtlates have been linked to breast cancer, reproductive toxicity and even altered genital-development in baby boys, just to name a few. Unless the product states that it is PVC and phthlate-free, along with BPA, it will contain the former two chemicals if there is plastic involved. Plastics are so ubiquitous in our society that 93% of people have detectable amounts of BPA in their urine and 8 out of 10 babies and nearly all adults have measurable amounts of phtlates in our bodies. So- I'm thinking it's time to cut back on plastic use...way, way back.

Here are some tips and/or practices to help reduce plastic in your life:

  • Invest in glass straws that you can find here. We use a lot of straws in my household and this just makes sense. My kids use them, too.
  • Either invest or scope out the thrift stores for Pyrex, Anchor or other glass containers to store leftovers in. An economic option are mason jars that come in all sorts of sizes.
  • Drink out of stainless steel or glass water bottles. My glass water bottle with a silicone sleeve cost $25 at Whole Foods. I just saw the same thing from another company for $10 at Meijer. (Doh!)
  • Check out your local thrift store for old glass jelly jars. They are the perfect size cups for little kids and we haven't had one break yet. (They cost 49 cents each.)
  • Use foil instead of plastic wrap when a glass container is not feasible. (The foil is recyclable.)
  • Use bar soap for washing hands and in the shower. No plastic bottles and it will save you a ton of money! I'm currently in love with this soap. Make sure to use a non-plastic soap holder.
  • Use a shampoo soap bar. If you have hard water like me then this might not be for you.
  • Use soap nuts for your laundry detergent. Great for the environment and economical, too! They even worked on my toddler's soiled diapers.
  • Make your own cleaning supplies to drastically cut down on plastic bottles.
  • Carry your reusable bags on you at all times while out shopping. I keep mine in my purse. There are all kinds of reusable totes- even ones that can fold up quite small like this one.
  • Use cloth napkins to cut pack on the plastic wrap over paper napkins and their own subsequent waste issues.
  • Same with using rags over paper towels.
  • If having something shipped, request non-plastic packing material.
  • When shopping, if there is an option, choose the item that doesn't use plastic in it's packaging, i.e. tea bags wrapped in paper over plastic.
  • Really love something that is covered in plastic? Call the company and let them know- politely- that you are looking for a healthier option. 
Trust me, companies want to hear from their customers. They are in business to make money and want to hear how you would be willing to part with more of it. Use your voice to make change- it is stronger than you think!

Personally, I still have a long road a head of me when it comes to lowering my plastic usage but, like all new changes, I'm taking it one day at a time and feeling happy for accomplishments made so far. Throughout the year, I will post other ways to reduce plastic as I find new alternatives. Hopefully this is a journey we can take together!