Friday, June 6, 2014

A Farmer's Market Beauty Routine

A bounty of skin care goodies, all made from the most natural of ingredients.  No chemicals, no fake stuff, just simple indulgence in its purest form, from the earth.  Now that's some pampering that I can sink my teeth into!

I will personally attest to the surprisingly powerful effects of each of the products below- I've made them and "guinea pigged" them ALL on myself. You know that feeling when you have stood overwhelmed in one of the many beauty aisles in your local big box store, shelled out way too much cash for a product full of promises, gotten home and tried it out only to find that it didn't deliver on any of those promises? Yeah, this is exactly the opposite of that.

Lemon Tea Sugar Scrub:
(face & body)
A sugar scrub exfoliates the skin and removes old, dead skin cells to reveal new, fresher-looking skin.  Using green tea topically has nearly as many health benefits as drinking it!  Green tea on the skin can help to reduce inflammation, protect against UV radiation (applied after before and after sun exposure, though NOT as a substitute for sunscreen), neutralize free radicals and prevent cell damage, and it can even help to slow the progression of skin cancer and inhibit the development of melanoma.
  • 3 tablespoons Epsom Salt
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 3 Green Tea bags (just open tea bags and pour into the bowl)
  • 10 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Lemon Zest from 1 lemon
In a large bowl, mix salt, sugar, ant tea.  Next mix in the olive oil, then mix in the honey, finally, add the lemon zest.  Apply to skin in the shower (when your pores are good and steamy and open), scrub gently, then rinse off.

Papaya-Aloe Anti-Wrinkle Facial: 
This is the real deal! I could feel my skin tighten and firm, almost immediately. Plant power! Papaya contains the natural enzyme papain, which acts to naturally and gently remove the outermost layer of dead skin and reveal beautiful, fresh, new skin.  Be careful not to leave the papaya mask on your skin too long as it may be too drying- about 5 minutes is best.  Apply to clean skin, leave on up to 5 minutes, rinse with cool water and moisturize well.  We tripled this recipe to make enough to fill a small jar (and still had a little left).
  • 2 tablespoons Mashed Papaya
  • 1 teaspoon Aloe Vera Gel  
To begin, open the papaya and remove the seeds.  Spoon the fruit into a small bowl and mash.  Add the aloe vera gel and mix.

To get the aloe vera gel; 
cut a piece from an aloe vera plant, 
split along one side with a paring knife, 
and then use a spoon to scrape out the gel.

Watermelon Toner:
I cannot wait to make another batch of this- my skin felt impossibly great and looked even better. Watermelon is a truly amazing, nutritionally powerful food that is just as good for you on your body as it is in your body.  The fragrance is delightfully fresh and uplifting and vitamins A, B, and C help to make your skin glow. I'm not certain that its necessary, but we kept ours in the refrigerator to prevent any spoiling.
  • 2 tablespoons Fresh Watermelon Juice
  • 1 tablespoon Vodka
  • 2 tablespoons Witch Hazel
  • 2 tablespoons distilled water
 Get fresh watermelon juice by using a blender or food processor, or from an especially juicy melon (just be sure to strain out most of the solids).  Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Apply to clean skin daily.

Olive Oil Body Lotion:
This is my one of my favorite lotions.  Even though I was a little skeptical as I hadn't ever thought about beeswax in a lotion before, I use it after showering and on my baby's eczema and we have found it very soothing and nourishing to dry skin.  We love it!  The vitamin E in the extra virgin olive oil can help protect against UV radiation (applied after sun exposure- do not use in place of sunscreen), combat free radicals an cell damage, and can help treat eczema and psoriasis.  The oil does tend to separate, so be sure to give it a good shake before use.  Also, (not surprisingly) this lotion tends to be a little on the oily side- this is why I like to use it after showering, so that I can towel off any excess oil.

  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated Beeswax
  • 1/8 teaspoon Borax powder
  • 1/2 cup distilled water
  • 3-5 drops Essential oil (your choice of scent, we used a ginger/citrus blend)
Combine olive oil and beeswax in a bowl and slowly heat in the microwave (about 60 seconds at a time) until the wax has melted.  In another bowl mix borax powder and water until dissolved, then heat to roughly the same temperature as the oil mixture.  Pour the borax mixture into a blender and mix on low while slowly adding the oil solution in a steady stream.  Put the blender lid on and mix on high for about 2 minutes.  Pour into a lotion bottle and allow to cool.

Honey Almond Lip Balm:
This. Stuff. Rocks.
Not only do I love it on my lips, but it works wonders on dry gardening hands and crusty, been-cooped-up-all-winter feet.  Also magical on elbows, and I think I'll make a batch with some eucalyptus oil to use on my babies when they're sick.  Or color a batch with some fresh beet or berry juice and use on lips or cheeks. With this recipe as a base formula, the possibilities of awesome-ness are endless!
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons grated beeswax
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cocoa butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, heat slowly (about 60 seconds at a time) in the microwave until the wax has melted.  Then blend in a blender 1-2 minutes, pour into tiny tins or jars and allow to cool.
We have had a bit of trouble finding tiny tubs or jars for lip balm or lip gloss.  The ones pictured above came from the travel cosmetics section of a big box store.  The following websites may also prove helpful: DIY Cosmetics, Sunburst Bottle, or Lip Balm Tubes.

Lavender Mint Bath Tea:
The scent of mint can be elevating and brightening, and can help soothe a headache (even migraines). The healing benefits of lavender range from soothing joint pain and sore muscles, to warding off depression, to treating eczema. 
2-3 tablespoons each of the following-
  • Dried Lavender
  • Dried Mint
  • Sencha Tea
Add all ingredients in layers to a small sachet, spice or tea bag.  The sachet can then be hung from the faucet under warm running bath water. 

All dressed up in 
a pretty basket 
makes it a beautiful 
and thoughtful gift!

Some recipes in this post are from the following books:
The Big-Ass Book of Crafts, by Mark Montano.
Natural Beauty for All Seasons,by Janice Cox. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mushroom Salsa

This recipe is my copy-cat version of the mushroom salsa served at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. It is SO GOOD that I have been known not to share nicely with others. Mmmm, that simple, chopped, fresh, raw, healthy goodness!

  • 1 lb. mushrooms (button or bella work best), wiped clean with a damp cloth & stems removed
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds and veins removed
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 generous handfuls of cilantro, finely chopped
  • juice from 2 limes
  • sea salt & pepper to taste 
  1. Working with each ingredient separately, first roughly chop with a knife, then use a hand chopper (like a "slap-chop") to finely dice mushrooms, carrots, jalapeno and onion.
  2. Add them all together in a large bowl, along with remaining ingredients, and stir.
  3. Enjoy with tortilla chips, I like Xochitl best.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Vegan Dinner Club: Sushi

I dislike using the "v-word".  It always feels like there is some unwarranted negative stigma attached and most people visibly recoil as soon as the word has left my lips.  Maybe those big companies that make and market "food-like products" (you know the ones- all those processed boxes, bags and cans lining the shelves of the grocery store that have their own television commercials) have been successful in leading people to believe that "health food" tastes bad and foods called vegan have some weird secret ingredient that only new-agey types and hippies understand. On the contrary, folks! Vegan food is painfully simple and wholesome- real food, from the earth.

Vegan Dinner Club was born last month when in a very short span of time, several friends began asking me questions about the transition to plant-based eating. Some were timid, overwhelmed by the idea of change maybe a little bit hesitant of that aforementioned stigma attached to the "v-word". I want to change that, like yesterday. So why not say it loud and proud? Especially to the friends who want to know more about it and need to shake the unjustified stigma. VEGAN Dinner Club!  I couldn't think of a better way to inspire others to embrace healthy eating than over a great meal. We welcome anyone with a shared love of healthy eating, potluck style, and hope to continue to meet with and inspire others with food once a month. No weird secret ingredients, just real food that is unbelievably easy to prepare.  My husband and I had never made sushi before, and we found it so pleasantly simple that our 3 year old and 5 year old made their own sushi rolls along with us!

First, we cooked a huge pot of sushi rice, as in the entire 2 lb. bag, using this recipe which includes yummy extras like rice vinegar and sesame seeds.  Then we got rolling.

On the menu:

 Clockwise, from the top:

Raw Zucchini rolls:

You can find the original raw zucchini sushi roll recipe here
though I adapted it a bit and used wasabi hummus.

 Shitake Nigiri:

Find the shitake nigiri recipe here.

Thai Iced Tea:

  • Steep one Thai iced tea bag for 4 minutes in hot water.
  • Remove tea bag and stir in 2 tablespoons of agave nectar.
  • Pour over ice.
  • Top with a generous splash of coconut milk.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Vegan Nachos

I know what you're thinking.  You're wondering about the paradox of cheeseless nachos. And you know what? I thought the very same thing.  However, once I got over it and fixed myself a heaping pile of this fresh plant-y goodness, I have honestly never missed the cheese- not for one second.  It just tastes better, and I FEEL better after devouring nachos made this way.  Here's a thought: remember all of the times you've washed a plate after eating cheese nachos? Remember how that once melted now hardened cheese clung to the plate? Yeah, that same scenario is happening inside your gut. It really is just as difficult for your body to process as it is to scrape off the dirty plate. So skip the cheese already!

  • Tortilla chips (my favorite are Xochitl)
  • Beans (the very BEST are Amy's Organic Vegetarian Refried Black Beans. Seriously, I could eat them with a spoon straight out of the can.)
  • Corn
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced and diced
  • a generous dusting of nutritional yeast (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, sliced with seeds/veins removed
  • a handful of torn cilantro leaves
Layer on a plate in the order above and thoroughly enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Make-Ahead/Freezer Meal Experiement

Each week, I like to make a menu plan (albeit somewhat shall we say, "informal") and coordinating grocery list before shopping.  The hope is that this planning will help to keep food costs down. The downside, however, is that sometimes life just happens and doesn't stick with the plan.  On days that don't play out like the 50's housewife model in my mind, and I don't have dinner prepared and plated (or even started) and laid out on a beautifully set table when my darling husband walks through the door, we usually fall into the convenience trap of dining out. Boo! That wasn't in the plan- or the budget!

Pinterest usually plays a large part in my weekly menu planning.  The convenience of pinning a recipe and then being able to read it from my phone as I cook is a fantastic luxury.  One thing I've noticed and become curious about are the pins linking to blog posts that claim one shopping trip, several hours of prep/chopping, and an ample supply of freezer bags can feed a family for pennies on the dollar for a week up to a month. AND THEN, cooking is as simple as emptying a baggie and flipping on the crock pot every day. Really?! Claims like $150=34 freezer meals have certainly grabbed my attention.  Math is not my favorite, but that breaks down to less than $5 per each freezer bag full of dinner for the whole family.

Bottom line: I'm a scientist and I'm ready to "guinea pig" this business.

First things first, let's PLAN.  Something that leaps to mind before beginning: Maybe I'm being a bit prejudicial here, but when I conjure up an image of a typical freezer-to-crock-pot baggie in my mind's eye, I'm thinking of processed food ingredients like canned-cream-of-whatever-soups, velveeta and ground beef (ahem, aka pink slime). I don't eat that and I won't feed it to my family. So let's take care to stick with the most REAL FOOD ingredients- and as much as possible, organic. Okay? Also, let's include a meatless menu selection or two. I've perused Pinterest and come up with the following recipes:

  • Breakfast Burritos
(I don't have an exact recipe for these. Basically I chopped and sauteed a few potatoes and added a dozen eggs once the potatoes started to soften. When cooked, I put about 2-3 tablespoons of the potato/egg mixture in a warmed tortilla with some shredded cheddar. That's the mild version for the kids. For my husband and I, I added 2-3 tablespoons of green chile. Rolled 'em up burrito style, wrapped in foil, labeled and froze. To reheat: remove foil and microwave about a minute on each side.)
  • Bean Burritos
(Same as above; I don't have a specific recipe. For these I added 2-3 tablespoons cooked brown rice, 2-3 tablespoons vegetarian re-fried beans, and some shredded cheddar to a warmed tortilla. Rolled, wrapped in foil, labeled and froze. To reheat: remove foil and microwave about a minute on each side.)
(as far as I'm concerned, The Kitchen Whisperer's Simple Pizza Dough Recipe is the only way to have pizza. Ever.)

Note: Most of the above blogs mention doubling and even tripling each recipe to maximize the stretch of each dollar.

Then, I made a list and went shopping.  To the dollar store for the aluminum pizza trays and pans for the Provolone Penne Bake; on to Costco for the meat and cheeses, tortillas, rice and beans; finally, my regular grocery store (King Soopers) for the rest. Typically I prefer Sprouts Farmers Market stores for the best price and selection of produce, but by the end of this afternoon of shopping with 2 little ones in tow, the close proximity of King Soopers won out. The grand total, including 12 lbs. of organic brown rice, 6 lbs. of organic whole wheat pasta, and salad fixings to serve with most of the crock pot dinners, was comfortably near $150. With a tally of at least 15 dinners, (plus all the frozen bean/cheese & breakfast burritos) that makes the cost < $10 a meal to feed our family of four. Some of the claims I saw on Pinterest made more freezer meals for a little less money, and hey that's great- but for me, it is always worth the few extra dollars to buy, eat and feed my family REAL, ORGANIC WHOLE FOODS.

On the first afternoon, after shopping, I spent about an hour washing, chopping and assembling 3 freezer bags of Teriyaki Chicken, 2 freezer bags of Apple Cinnamon Pork Chops, 2 freezer bags of Chicken Caccitore, 1 freezer bag of Chicken Curry, and 1 freezer bag of Vegetarian Curry (using the same recipe for the chicken curry, minus the meat). Oh and, aside from the crock pot on each day of cooking, THIS was all the dirty dishes I had left to wash after preparing NINE freezer meals:

Next day, I started the pizza dough (doubled the recipe) in the stand mixer first.  While the dough was rising, I cooked the potatoes with eggs, and rice for burritos.  We made 3 dozen burritos! 12 egg/potato/cheese, 12 egg/potato/cheese/green chile, and 12 bean/cheese/rice. By then the pizza dough had risen and the kids and I assembled 4 pizzas. Next, I made the Provolone Penne Bake and we ate one pan for dinner with a Caesar salad and froze the other. 
All told, we gave this day about 4-5 hours cooking/prep time.  Add to that the hour from the night before and we'll call it 6 hours to prepare 9 crock pot freezer bags, 4 pizzas, 2 penne bakes, and 36 burritos. Here's what my freezer looked like, holding all of that prepared food:

Lessons learned:
  • Spending the better part of a day in the kitchen and making this much food with my two little ones probably would've been better suited to a day when my husband was home to offer a hand (duh!).  
  • There were a few more dishes to wash after day two's prep work....
  • To me, Pinterest seems to be lacking in the vegetarian/vegan slow cooker/crock pot recipes- apparently herbivores with crock pots only eat soup? So, I've borrowed some cookbooks from the library and plan to use more plant-based options on my next go-round of make-ahead/freezer meals. 
  • And cookie dough.

Things that didn't work:
  • The recipes/instructions for the frozen pizzas and the Provolone Penne Bake= FAIL.  
    • The pizzas oozed into mush and dripped down to burn on the bottom of the oven.  I really do love the idea of homemade frozen pizzas from scratch, so I plan to keep experimenting until we find the right method.  
    • The Provolone Penne Bake also got a little watery and mushy when cooking from frozen.
  • I got a BORED. Nine days in, with 5 freezer dinners left, I found myself NOT looking forward to firing up the ol' crock pot. This appears to be a consequence of both multiplying recipes in the name of cost efficiency AND using recipes found on the internet that weren't exactly tried and true by our family's palate.
  • On the PLUS SIDE, the frozen burritos worked out unbelievably well for us!

Is the method of make-ahead/freezer meal cooking worth it? 
Is it as cost & time efficient as we hope?

I can't complain about healthy meals for my family under $10, or the effortlessness of the freezer bag to crock pot convenience, or the lack of pots and pans that need washing after dinner each night.  We were also less tempted to dine out (our financial Achilles), saving money this way as well.  All in all, this experiment definitely saved our family some real money. Is it worth it? My simple answer is yes- with a few conditions. Since PLANNING is the cornerstone of make ahead meals and I'm a "planner", this method worked for me on the whole.  If you don't love to plan as much, it may not.  Will I do it again? Considering the remarkable amount of time and money saved, yes I plan to give this method another go.  Next time however, the recipes used will only be our own favorites.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fresh Organic Peach BBQ Sauce

I love barbeque sauce. LOVE.  So when I came across a recipe in my inbox for peach BBQ sauce I was all over it.  Our tiny peach tree produced it's largest crop of peaches this year.  And although we valiantly fought off the squirrels for our harvest, we ended up splitting the crop with the squirrels about 50/50.  Even still, it was quite a haul for us.  Our peaches were on the tiny side, but were sweet, juicy and delicious!

The following recipe is quite large as I wanted to can quite a few jars & stock up. This recipe yields 6 pints. You could certainly decrease the measurements for a smaller batch, or even make a very small batch and keep it in the fridge.

  • 5 lbs fresh organic peaches
  • 2 organic white onions
  • 3-4 cloves garlic (I like a lot of garlic, but prepare your sauce to your own taste)
  • 1 1/2 cups organic brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (This gives a nice little kick of an aftertaste- again, to your own taste)
  • 4 tsp paprika
  • 3 tsp sea salt
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 balsamic vinegar
  • 5 tsp molasses
  1. First blanch the peaches and remove the pits.  To blanch the peaches put them in boiling water for 60-90 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon and immediately submerge in ice water.  Drain and remove the skin with your fingers or a paring knife.  Discard the peach pits (at this point when I glanced down at my pile of peach pits I had the uncontrollable urge to indulge in a 90210 marathon... Get it...? The Peach Pit? oh, I crack myself up....).
  2. Next, puree the peach flesh, onions and garlic in a food processor or blender.  Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer, loosely covered, on medium heat for about 20 minutes.
  3. Then, prepare/sanitize jars and lids.  You could do either pints or half pint jars as you prefer.  I chose to do a combination of both.  Ladle the sauce into the jars and process in a hot water bath for 25 minutes.

Recipe adapted from:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cahsew Ricotta

Homemade Vegan Cashew Ricotta

Cashew Ricotta, where have you been all my life?!  How did I not know of this awesome-ness?  This cashew ricotta is so good, I like it better than any traditional ricotta I have ever tried in the past and my carnivore husband loves it, too!  Healthful and very easy to make, this is it for me.

I read through some other recipes before creating my own and several of them suggested the need to soak cashews overnight before making the ricotta.  Two things- 1) I am not that patient 2) especially when I am hungry.  I did not soak my cashews overnight, but I did soak them while I gathered the other ingredients and set up the food processor (maybe 15 minutes?).  Also, I used the water from the soaking bowl with the nuts in the food processor.

Of nutritional note:

Cashews are an excellent source of fiber, protein and "good fats". The fats found in cashews are essential fatty acids (aka Omega-6, or linolenic acid and Omega-3, or Oleic acid), which means that although we need them, a body cannot make them itself. We need to include these types of fatty acids in our diets for many reasons, one of which is maintaining heart health. Oleic acid helps to lower cholesterol in the blood, lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and raises HDL (good cholesterol) levels.  Linoleic acid helps to lower blood pressure and strengthen blood vessels.

  • 2 cups raw cashews, plus soaking water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon flax meal
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning blend


  1. Place cashews in a large bowl and cover with water.  Soak at least 15 minutes.
  2. Whirl cashews and garlic in food processor adding a little of the soaking water at a time until the desired ricotta-type consistency is reached.
  3.  Add all other ingredients and blend.

Of course, then you can spread it on lasagna noodles and enjoy!