Monday, March 30, 2015

How to Make Perfume

If there is one thing that I hate, it's the pounding headaches and runny eyes that I get from synthetic fragrances. (You can read about their troubling health concerns here) If there is one thing that I love, however, it is perfume. Lucky for me that I can still perfume up without synthetics getting me down!

Perfume, in one way, shape or form (literally) has been around since at least ancient Egypt. The synthetic formulas lining the stores shelves now (for a pretty penny) are a rather new concept in the history of perfumery. To make your own perfume at home, we are going to take a step out of the labs and back into nature.

Here's a little perfumery 101: a good perfume is made up of three notes. The top note is the scent that reaches your nose first from the blend. It is light, airy and will evaporate quickly. All citruses are top notes. Middle notes are soft, full and balancing for the blend. Most florals and peppermint are middle notes. The base note will be the final fragrance to reach your nose from the blend. It is also the scent that will linger the longest. Woods, resins and vanilla are good base notes.

Once you get the hang of making your own perfume, you can experiment with multiple scents under one note. In the beginning, however, it will be best to start off with a single scent in each note. The scents themselves can come from multiple sources: citrus peels, vanilla beans, essential oils, flower petals and fresh or dried herbs.  The recipe below uses just three scents but it is one of my favorites and I wear it everyday.

Mystic Rose Perfume
By: Living Life Granola
1 glass jelly jar with plastic screw top (or place plastic wrap between the jar and metal lid)
1/2 cup organic vodka (at Binny's or Whole Foods)
1/4 cup rose water or distilled water
1/2 tsp glycerin
1 organic orange peel
40 drops rose essential oil or rose otto
1 organic vanilla bean, split length-wise

Place the orange peel and split vanilla bean into the jelly jar. Cover with the vodka- add more vodka if the peel and bean are not completely covered. Add the rose essential oil, cover with the lid and place in a dark cabinet for 6 weeks. Give the jar a little swish every week or so, if you can remember.

Once the six weeks are up, strain the mixture into a clean perfume bottle and add the water and glycerin. Gently shake until the glycerin has dissolved. Wear as you would with your normal perfume. Use within 1 year.

Making your own perfume can be so much fun- not to mention sooo much cheaper and a heck of a lot healthier without the endocrine-disrupting mayhem of the synthetics. If your blend is going to be comprised of mostly essential oils then it will have to sit for at least 2 months and sometimes up to 6 months before the scent has matured. My patience cap is at 6 weeks so I usually try to keep the essential oils to only a portion of my blend.  Whatever your blend, make it fun, make it you... just start making it!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturday blog series.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Homemade Filled Chocolates

In a follow up post to Why Fair-Trade Chocolate is so Important, I'm going to show you how fun and easy it is to make your very own filled chocolates. All you will need is a silicone mold, chocolate chips and your favorite filling. Below are two recipes that are reminiscent of Cadbury's egg creme and Reece's peanut butter fillings as they are a favorite in my house. The chocolate bunnies (in the photo above) were a huge hit with my family. The homemade chocolates totally tasted like the real deal but with out all the artificials, GMO's or slave-labor cocoa!

The bunny shaped silicone mold I found on sale at Michael's for $7. The silicone is pliable so you can easily pop-out the chocolates once they have hardened.

Start by making a double-boiler with a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water and a heat-proof mixing bowl. Once the water in the saucepan has started boiling, turn off the heat and pour a bag of chocolate chips (Whole Foods 365 brand has fair-trade chocolate chips!) into the mixing bowl that is on top of the saucepan. The mixing bowl should not be touching the water. Stir until all the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Move the mixing bowl with the melted chocolate to a clean working area. Place one spoonful of chocolate into each mold cavity, using your finger to "paint" the entire cavity with chocolate. Don't worry so much over how even the chocolate is but in making sure all the sides are covered. Place in the fridge to help speed the hardening process.

As the chocolate hardens in the fridge, start making the fillings. The peanut butter filling is from I have just scaled it down a bit to fit into twelve small molds. I'm finding it very dangerous that I now have this recipe in my repertoire- it is so unbelievably good!!

Peanut Butter Filling

1/3 cup organic smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup organic powder sugar
1/2 tbsp pastured butter, melted
1 tsp organic vanilla extract

Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and use a fork to mix thoroughly.

The Cadbury creme was inspired from this recipe but I just made a healthier swap with agave syrup over corn syrup.

Cadbury Creme

1/4 cup organic agave syrup
2 tbsp pastured butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups organic powder sugar
1/2 tsp organic vanilla extract
1 - 2 tbsp pastured, organic whole milk or dairy-free milk

Using a fork, mix all the ingredients until the powder sugar is all wet. Finish whipping the creme with a hand-held electric mixer.

Take the chocolate-lined mold out of the fridge and fill the cavities with your filling of choice, making sure to leave enough room for a top layer of chocolate. Place the almost-filled molds into the fridge for about five minutes. This is important for softer fillings like the creme or caramel to harden. This allows the last layer of chocolate to stay on top and not mix in with the filling.  Meanwhile, melt about a half bag of chocolate chips for the finishing layer.

Using a spoon, fill the cavities the rest of the way with the melted chocolate and place the mold back in the fridge to harden for ten minutes. Pop the finished chocolates out of the mold when ready.

Using a sandwich bag with a corner snipped and melted white chocolate helped make these bunnies' faces.

Now step back and thoroughly enjoy your feelings of bad-assness for making safe* and humane filled-chocolates that are out-of-this-world delicious!

*Key word being safe. These are still loaded with sugar and should be viewed as a special treat... but being naughty does taste so wonderfully good.

Wishing everyone a safe, healthy and warm spring break!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Stain Remover with Hydrogen Peroxide

Mishaps and stains are part of life- especially if you have kids... or are like me and can't cook without stuff splattering everywhere. Unfortunately, the top name-brand stain remover may get the gunk out but it is leaving all kinds of nasty chemicals in its place. The recipe below is as functional as it is frugal!

Pour 1 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide and 2 tbsp of baking soda in a mixing bowl and whisk contents until all the baking soda has dissolved.

Carefully stir in 1/2 cup of natural dish soap. Using a funnel pour the mixture into a 16oz squirt or spray bottle.

Always check a small unseen area for color fastness on delicate items.  If you can't wash the pre-treated apparel right away then make sure to rinse the item after 20 minutes.

Clean up is a breeze, too! Just rinse out your mixing bowl and measuring cups really well and leave to dry.

Stain Remover
By Living Life Granola
1 cup 3% hydrogen peroxide
1/2 cup natural dish soap
2 tbsp baking soda
16 oz spray or squirt bottle

Place the baking soda in a mixing bowl and add the hydrogen peroxide. Whisk until the baking soda has dissolved. Carefully stir in the dish soap. Use a funnel to pour the contents of the mixing bowl into the spray or squirt bottle.

If you are treating a delicate piece of clothing, always do a spot check first to check for color fastness. If treating an article of clothing and not washing right away, make sure to rinse off after 20 minutes.

Making this simple stain remover yourself cuts down on the dangerous chemicals that are going down our drains, saves you money from passing on the conventional store brands and cuts down on the excessive amount of plastic bottles used and discarded everyday. Win-win-win!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Fair-Trade Chocolate is so Important

With Easter right around the corner, I want to touch on the importance of fair-trade chocolate. What is fair-trade chocolate?  Well, there are several fair-trade organizations with their own set standards but essentially they are ensuring that workers and farmers are getting paid fairly for their time and product. Today, demand for chocolate is at an all time high. This should equate to a tidy profit for the cocoa farmer but in Western Africa, where 70% of the world's chocolate comes from, they are making less than $2 a day. Demand for cheap chocolate from industry giants like Hershey's, Nestle and Mars Inc., shady African governments and too many middle men has the cocoa farmers getting the short end of the stick. However, the true victims in all this are the West African children.

Western Africa is rife with intense poverty. Children are forced into labor just to help keep their families afloat- and many of them forgo school for their familial responsibility. 10% of child laborers in Ghana and 40% in the Ivory Coast do not attend school at all. A 2011 study done by Tulane University cited 1.8 million children working in the cocoa (chocolate) industry and that the majority of them were not paid. CNN estimates that 200,000 children are used as slave labor. Slave labor comes into play with the rampant child trafficking in the cocoa industry. Relatives, desperate for money, are selling children to work in the cocoa trade or traffickers are outright abducting young children from small villages in surrounding African countries. Burkina Faso and Mali are two of the poorest countries in the world where some of these abductions are taking place. These people do not have the resources to protect their children.

Child laborers are forced to work twelve hour days and use dangerous tools like chainsaws, machetes and agricultural chemicals without protective gear. Many of these children have scars and injuries from the machetes that they use to cut down the cocoa pod from the tree or to open the pod to extract the cocoa beans. The pods, once cut down, are placed into sacks that can easily weigh over 100 lbs and then must be carried or dragged through the forest. One account of a former slave detailed how it took two people to lift the pod bag onto her head and how she was beaten if she didn't move quick enough with her load. Whippings are cited as another form of punishment used on child laborers. Once the work is done for the day, the children go to sleep in windowless rooms on wooden planks. They do not have access to fresh water or sanitary bathrooms.

This reads like a slavery novel based in the 18th century but these atrocities are happening right now to children that we can have sixty-cent candy bars!

Over ten years ago, these disgusting practices came to light and huge pressure was put on the chocolate giants by consumer advocates and Congress to put a stop to forced child labor. Due to intense lobbying by the cocoa industry, a law was unable to be pushed through. Instead, in 2001, a voluntary Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by the chocolate companies promising to end child slavery issues by 2005. To date, the chocolate companies now have a new goal of 2020 to end child labor practices.

So, if you are asking yourself how in the world did this get pushed back 15 years... then let me tell you:  money talks. If you want child slavery to stop then you have to stop buying chocolate unless it is fair-trade certified. Period. You can also look for these labels to avoid slavery chocolate as well:

  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Fair Trade label
  • UTZ Certified
  • Certification Capacity Enhancement

I personally feel that my children's enjoyment should not come off the backs of other childrens' torment. Fair-trade chocolate is delicious and there are so many great companies out there. Stores like Meijer, Whole Foods and other local groceries should carry some and you can find a wide variety online with a simple search. With Easter four weeks away, there is still plenty of time to place an order. I will soon have a follow-up post with a recipe for some homemade, filled chocolate eggs, too! Remember that together, change is possible.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Power Balls

Power balls are a favorite in my house due to their portability, quick grab-ability and outright deliciousness. (Notice how the jar in the photo above is already half empty.) They taste like a dessert but are bursting in nutrition from good carbs, fats and protein... everything you need in a healthy balanced snack. These power balls are sweetened with local raw honey (which is a wealth of B vitamins), molasses (for some added iron) and pure maple syrup (which contains calcium, manganese, and zinc). With the addition of oats for fiber, these little balls will give you the energy and satiety you need to conquer your day.

These are the perfect snack to make when I find myself with a surplus of almond butter (you can see how to make almond butter here.) It also saves on dishes since I just pour all the ingredients into the food processor with the freshly-made almond butter.

Using a cookie dough scoop (in the photo above) speeds the process of rolling the balls and allows for a more uniform appearance. It also cuts down on the bickering over which kid/adult got the bigger ball!

Power Balls
Living Life Granola
Scant 1 cup almond butter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut + more for rolling
1/4 cup unsweetened 100% cocoa powder
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp water

If making this right after processing the almond butter then throw the oats in the food processor and pulse until oats are coarsely ground. Otherwise, place salted almond butter and oats in the food processor and pulse as above. Scrape down the sides if necessary and add the remaining ingredients. Pulse until the mixture is a fine meal and sticks together when pinched.

Using a teaspoon or cookie dough scoop, roll dough into about 24-1 inch balls. Pour a couple of tablespoons worth of shredded coconut on a plate to roll the finished power balls in. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge and enjoy within one week. Serving size: 2 balls.

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.