Sunday, December 29, 2013

Apple Cider Vinegar - good for just about everything

My husband Ed has to take a drug called Bosutinib to treat his Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. It is so strong that he had to have weekly blood tests to check for liver damage when he first started taking it. This class of drug called tyrosine-kinase inhibitors (TKIs) has been a game changer in the cancer world, and we are extremely fortunate that it is available for him. However I worry about how it is effecting the rest of his body - it's seriously toxic stuff and he will be taking it every day for the rest of his life. To offset any damage I started researching ways to detox that wouldn't do anything at all to counteract the efficacy of the Bosutinib. Apple cider vinegar kept coming up in my searches, so I learned more. Good grief is this stuff amazing!! 


Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV for short) has been used anecdotally for thousands of years - Hippocrates, the father of medicine raved about it. It is one of nature's best detoxifiers and gently removes toxins from your body, purifies your blood and builds your immune system. There are many different brands out there, but you must buy raw ACV with "the mother" intact because processed vinegars (Heinz, White House, any generic brand) have been distilled and stripped of all benefits. "The mother" is a stringy, web-like sediment that floats at the bottom of the bottle and passes on gut-friendly bacteria and probiotics - don't worry you can't taste mother…I only buy Bragg's and have found it at Harris Teeter and all health food stores.


This inexpensive remedy has a multitude of uses. It took a little while to get used to drinking it, but I now crave the stuff. This is how I drink it first thing in the morning before breakfast:

  • 1/4 cup filtered water
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed juice (I prefer orange)
  • 5 drops of liquid Stevia
  • 1T Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar
  • a squeeze of lemon (another natural detoxifier)
Tastes like Tang and I love it. We've been using ACV for a couple months now and my skin is clearer and I was able to fend off a cold faster than usual because of it's immune boosting qualities. I feel like the Gus, the patriarch on "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", but instead of Windex I wanna put apple cider vinegar on everything. Tip: avoid drinking it undiluted as it's acidic nature can damage tooth enamel. Here are some amazing ways to use it - it's my new go-to!! 

Digestion 

  • Lower glucose levels: Help fight diabetes by taking 1-2 tsp of ACV before meals to dramatically reduce insulin and glucose spikes in the blood. 
  • Constipation: Minimize this problem by adding 1T of Psyllium Husk Powder (natural form of Metamucil) to your ACV drink daily and let it soak for 2 minutes before drinking. I took Psyllium Husk during my pregnancy and never had a problem!
  • Indigestion: Before mealtime sip 1/3 tsp ACV (not much at all!) and hold in your mouth for one minute before swallowing. 
  • Eliminate toxic waste: Toxins stored in your body will eventually cause problems. With a process called "acetolysis" certain toxic wastes are rendered harmless and flushed from the body thanks to the enzymes provided by "the mother."
  • Increase metabolism: Thanks to the powerful combination of vitamins, minerals and trace minerals ACV will help you burn calories faster
  • Weight loss: ACV helps break down fats so your body can use them instead of store them. It also helps suppress your appetite and make you feel fuller so you eat less. Drink 1T with water before each meal. 
  • Acid reflux: Take a dose as soon as you feel symptoms coming on for instant relief
  • Reduce bloating: ACV is a powerful diuretic and will help ensure you aren't carrying around extra water weight. Just ask actress Meghan Fox who swears by her ACV cleanse.




Millions suffer from stomach issues which are aggravated by poor digestion and weak saliva juices. By drinking ACV before meals (sipping 1/3 tsp and holding in mouth for 1 minute before swallowing), you are providing enzymes and prepping your saliva which will improve the entire digestive process that begins in the mouth. Digestive fluids will flow faster which will result in improved break down and elimination of food leading to better overall health. This suggestion sounds cumbersome but certainly worth a try if it helps eliminate or reduce suffering from stomach problems! 

Skin and Hair
  • Acne: I use diluted ACV as a toner (just like Scarlett Johansson) and it helps dry out and heal acne. I love how smooth it makes my skin - it tightens and plumps and can minimize the appearance of wrinkles. (a little warning - you might have initial break outs when you begin any detox because as your body releases toxins from your body some make their exit throughout the skin…)
  • Sunburn: Obviously we should always strive to avoid skin damage, but if you do accidentally turn red ACV will neutralize the burn. Dilute it in water and pat on with a wash cloth - this will sting at first but will make it feel better quickly. Even better, put the wash cloth in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes beforehand for extra relief.
  • Rosacea: Mix 1T ACV and 1T water and apply to affected areas with a cotton ball before bed. In the morning rinse off with luke warm water.
  • Burn: Apply immediately after a burn and it will neutralize, instantly stop the pain, prevent scarring and help heal. I tried this after hot oil burnt my arm and it worked. ACV is hailed as the best burn treatment by many - seriously keep a bottle in your kitchen!
  • Natural wart remover: Use waterproof tape to secure a ACV dampened cotton ball (the cotton from a q-tip works great) over the wart overnight. In the morning do the same thing with castor oil instead for a daytime treatment. At night you can alternate ACV with Vitamin E (prick open the capsule).
  • Corns and callouses: Soak affected areas in warm water with 1/3 cup ACV for 20 minutes. After soak rub areas with a coarse town then gently use a pumice stone. Apply a undiluted ACV soaked gauze bandage overnight. Voila!
  • Molluscum: Is a type of viral infection that causes "water warts." My friend's children had them and the dermatologist had no solution - ACV worked!
  • Cold sores: Apply directly to affected areas and the itching and burring will rapidly disappear and help the sores heal quicker.
  • Hemorrhoids: Good Lord, I hope I never need this one again but just in case… soak cotton ball in ACV and gently press area for 20 minutes for relief. Will sting initially (which means its working) then ahhhhhhh….. If undiluted is too much for you, add some water.
  • Yeast, viral and fungus infections: Because of it's richness of malic acid athlete's foot, psoriasis, eczema can all be treated with a 50/50 solution of ACV and water. For athlete's foot soak feet in 50/50 mixture twice daily - also be sure to spray your shoes so the acidic ACV will kill the fungus and you don't become recontaminated!
  • Insect bites: Will help stop pain and itching by neutralizing the venom, apply directly.
  • Shingles and chicken pox: Apply undiluted ACV directly to the affected area without pressing or rubbing twice a day and healing should start in a few days. For relief add one cup of ACV to a warm bath.
  • Varicose veins: Wrap ACV dampened cloth around troubled areas morning and night with legs elevated for 15 minutes. Remove and while your legs are still up gently massage the blood upwards starting at your ankles to get blood back into circulation. Continue for 6 weeks.
  • Age/Sun Spots: I have spent insane $$ on fraxel laser treatments to remove my sun/age spots and they came right back, UGH. I'm going to try this remedy even though it sounds a little torturous (just like the laser treatments…). Peel and cut a slice of onion and soak it in ACV for a few minutes. Rub it gently on your troubled spot and continue the treatment for four to six weeks or you get the results you want - I'm going to do this and will report back :)
  • Skin tags: These unsightlies can be removed by applying ACV to a q-tip and pressing it to the skin tag twice a day until it falls off.
  • Hair: When used as a rinse will make your hair feel smooth, shiny and provide clarification by removing oil and dirt. It balances your hair's pH, which helps seal the cuticle making it smoother. Can also help with dandruff and soothe any scalp irritation. Mix a tablespoon in a glass of water and rinse your hair after washing - rinse it out afterwards or it will feel crunch (don't worry, the smell will dissipate once your hair dries!). For a special hair mask mix with coconut oil and vegetable glycerin and cover with a shower cap and turban wrap.
  • Deodorant: My sister swears by this! Apply to skin and ACV absorbs and neutralizes any stink (the vinegar smell will dissipate). 
Apple Cider Vinegar does wonders for your skin! I'm going to start adding it to my bath water to alkalize my skin and help remove toxins. I also want to try this facial remedy:
  1.  First wash your skin with warm water and no soap. 
  2. Apply a wrung-out, hot water soaked wash cloth to your face for 3 minutes, then remove. 
  3. Now soak a thin cotton wash cloth in hot ACV water (1T ACV per cup of water) and again apply to face. Cover the wash cloth with the first cotton towel wrung out of hot water. 
  4. Lie down for 15 minutes or longer with your feel elevated to bring more blood circulation to revitalize your face for cell rejuvenation.
  5.  Now remove both cloths and gently rub skin upwards with a coarser towel to exfoliate the skin loosened by the ACV facial. 
Muscles and Joints
  • Arthritis: Heat up 8 oz of water with 3T of ACV and 2T of baking soda. Soak a bandage and wrap it around the joint for 20 minutes - make sure the bandage is warm not hot.
  • Leg cramps: If you suffer from nighttime leg cramps drink 1T of honey with 1T of ACV in a cup of water before going to bed.
  • Aching muscles: Soak in a warm bath with 1 cup ACV added




The rest of your body
  • Headaches: For relief put 2 Tbs ACV and 2 cups of water and bring to a boil and put towel over your head and inhale 5 deep, slow breaths of steam vapors. 
  • Sore throat: Mix 1 tsp with 1/2 glass of water and gargle 3 mouthfuls of mixture each hour, then spit it out. As the throat feels better, gargle every 3 hours. Bette Midler, the Beach Boys and Katy Perry use this trick to keep their throats healthy and germ-free (I figure you're bound to be a fan of one of these stars…).
  • Yeast infection: The enzymes in ACV help restore the natural balance of healthy bacteria in the gut and keep yeast in check. Take 2 tsp diluted with water orally and douche with 3T of ACV mixed with 2 quarts of water twice daily until you get complete relief.
  • Bedwetting: Mix 1/2 tsp of buckwheat honey with 1/2 tsp of ACV and drink right before bed - will greatly reduce or eliminate the problem.
  • Allergies: To reduce sinus congestion and mucus take 1 tsp of ACV with a cup of water to relieve symptoms
  • Cancer prevention: Pectin, a soluble fiber in vinegar helps dilute cancer causing dietary fats through the colon before they can be absorbed. Studies show that a high fiber diet can kill colon cancer cells.
  • Blood pressure: ACV helps promote a healthy circulatory system by thinning the blood and helping break the plaque built up in the arteries. Helps keep your heart strong by proving potassium and other fuel.
  • Cataracts: Drink AVC and use eye wash of 1/3 tsp ACV in 4 oz distilled water applied with a dropper 3 times daily. Keep eyes closed for 2 minutes after application - sometimes will sting. This is certainly worth a try before cataract surgery!
For your pets
  • Natural flea repellent: Bathe your pet with the usual shampoo, pat dry and them spray a mix of 3:1 ACV to warm water all over coat and massage into the sin. Not only will they be flea-less, but also sport a shiny coat!
  • Maintain pH: Add a tiny bit of ACV in their water to maintain their pH balance and prevent kidney issues and UTI. I just started adding to our cat's water bowl.
  • Fat buster: Add 1 tsp ACV to their drinking water twice a day to help dissolve fats and safely keep your pet trim.
  • Immune system boost: Help fight cancer, heart disease and slow the aging process by adding 1 tsp of ACV to your pet's water bowl. It could be what helps turn around your sick or lethargic best friend!
  • Rash and itch: Spray or pat ACV on irrupted areas twice daily
Around the house
  • Air Freshener: Adios Febreze! ACV is the original room deodorizer - spritz it around the house to freshen things up.
  • Disinfectant: Straight vinegar kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of common mold and 80% of germs and viruses - take that 409 and bleach! For a natural, non-toxic cleanser mix 1/2 cup of ACV with 1 cup of water and clean away!
  • Weed killer: Mix 1 part ACV to 8 parts water and spray on weeks. Will kill the weeds and leave the rest of your garden happy.
  • Produce wash: Mix 4 TBS of ACV with a gallon of cold water and soak your fruits and veggies to remove dirt, pesticides and bugs. You won't believe all the gross stuff that settles at the bottom of the bowl!
In conclusion, if you don't already own a bottle of raw apple cider vinegar GO BUY SOME!! Bragg's is the only way to go in my book. If you suffer from one of the plethora of ailments listed above why not try a natural remedy that has been used for thousand of years? Don't take my word for it and do your own research because I realize this list sounds pretty ridiculous. Who knew!?

Sources:

- "Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar Miracle Health System" by Paul and Patricia Bragg
- The Gerson Institute Blog
- Takepart.com Blog
- Eating Bird Food Blog

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Morning Gingerbread Pancakes

We're trying to start some Christmas traditions for our little family and I love the idea of a special breakfast. Hoping this Gingerbread Pancakes with Agave Maple Syrup recipe is one we'll want to make year after year! It comes from my Babycakes Covers the Classics cookbook by Erin McKenna and I've never tried it, but it sounds divine - how can I possibly go wrong with gingerbread and Christmastime?! They're vegan, gluten free and I can't wait to try my first bite :)


Gingerbread Pancakes
by Babycakes Covers the Classics

2 cups Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour (I will substitute spelt flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup melted coconut oil plus more for pan
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup dark molasses
2/3 cup rice milk (I will substitute almond milk)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Agave Maple Syrup

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, salt, xanthan gum, cardamom, and cloves. Add the applesauce, 1/2 cup coconut oil, agave nectar, molasses, rice milk, and vanilla and stir with a rubber spatula until the batter is smooth.

In a large nonstick skillet or on a griddle over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon coconut oil. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup pancake batter into the pan for each pancake. Using the back of a rubber spatula, spread the batter to make a 4-inch pancake. Cook for 2 minutes, then flip and cook on the other side for 2 minutes more, or until the center bounces back when tapped and the edges are browned. Transfer the pancakes to a warm plate and repeat with the remaining batter. Serve with the Agave Maple Syrup.

For Agave Maple Syrup:
1 cup agave nectar
3 tablespoons maple flavor, or to taste

Put the agave nectar in a small bowl. Add the maple flavor and stir until fully combined. Taste and adjust maple flavor to desired intensity. Makes 1 cup and can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly, for up to 1 month.

Enjoy!! Ho Ho Ho

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas cookie transformation

Baking cookies has always been one of my favorite Christmas traditions. I've eaten the same homemade goodies for about 36 years now and baking with my mom is one of my earliest memories. I've been bummed because all of our family recipes include highly processed and genetically modified ingredients that I now avoid. Adios butter flavored Crisco and Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, sigh :(

I changed my eating habits soon after my wedding back in the summer of 2011 after my husband's Leukemia diagnosis. With some leftover William-Sonoma registry credit I bought a few vegan cookbooks to help support our new lifestyle. A sales lady recommended the just released Babycakes Covers the Classics by celebrated baker Erin McKenna - the doughnut on the cover instantly sealed the deal with my sweet tooth. McKenna includes recipes from her famous NYC hotspot bakery - all free of gluten, dairy, eggs or refined sugar. German chocolate cake, whoopie pies, gingerbread pancakes with agave-maple syrup, doughnuts topped with rich vanilla glaze, sticky honey buns... The pictures in this cookbook will make you drool and forget all about that butter flavored Crisco.

Unfortunately this awesome cookbook has been gathering dust for over two years now because I was my heart was stuck on my stupid old recipes - shame on me! Enthusiastically I went out and bought the ingredient xanthan gum (a binding and thickening agent necessary for holding gluten-free baked goods together) after my Babycakes purchase and it has been hidden way unopened in the back of my pantry. I have been gung ho about converting breakfast, lunch and dinner to plant based but holding back on my beloved baking. Last week I had two Christmas parties that required I bring a dessert. I couldn't bring myself to supporting pro-GMO companies, so I brought out Babycakes and quickly decided on the Snickerdoodles recipe.

I had never baked with melted coconut oil before and finally got to open up my bag of xanthan gum - it was a little different, but not too big of a change. My biggest worry was how they were going to taste. I was not disappointed one bit - they were DELICIOUS! They come out flat and chewy, which is exactly how I like cookies. All my friends gobbled them up and were excited to learn they were vegan and gluten-free (the batch I made was low gluten with the spelt, but would be free with rice flour). Next I'm going to try sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies and her take on Nilla Wafers and the Thin Mint - I'll pass them along it they're as good as the Snickerdoodles!
I didn't take this picture, but this looks just like how mine turned out.

 Snickerdoodles 
from BabyCakes Covers the Classics, serves 36

1 1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup of vegan sugar (I used organic sugar from Trader Joe's)
3 Tbs ground cinnamon
2 cups rice flour (I used spelt flour but rice flour would make it gluten free)
1/4 cup ground flax meal
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum (I bought Bob's Red Mill from Whole Foods - $$$ but you get a huge bag)
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs melted refined coconut oil or canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tbs vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together the 1/2 cup sugar and 2 Tbs of the cinnamon until evenly incorporated. Set aside

In a medium bowl, whisk together the 1 1/3 cup of sugar, the flour, flax meal, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt and the remaining 1 Tbs of cinnamon. Add the coconut oil, applesauce and vanilla and mix with a rubber spatula until a thick dough that resembles wet sand forms (it really does look like wet sand!). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Working in batches, drop the dough by the teaspoonful into the cinnamon-sugar mixture and roll around to coat the dough all over. Place on the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Gently press each cookie with a fork to help them spread. Bake for 7 minutes, rotate the baking sheet and continue baking for 7 minutes more, or until the cookies are crispy around the edges. Let stand on the baking sheets for 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The low down and dirty on diapers

Babies wear diapers nonstop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Diapers cover some extremely important body parts and the delicate skin on their tushes is very absorptive. Definitely not a place I want to expose to toxins….

I learned about what conventional diapers are made of from The Honest Company's website and it's an eye opener. The basic anatomy of conventional diapers (Huggies, Pampers, etc) is an absorbent core covered by plastic, plastic and more plastic then doused with synthetic dyes, lotions and fragrances. The core, where all the tinkle gets sucked into, is made of a highly absorbent compound made from tree cellulose and synthetic chemicals. Those gel crystals found in many diapers are made up of sodium polyacrylate (SAP), which is a common irritant. It is then covered with a petroleum based woven plastic to keep the moisture in and then covered with a different plastic to allow the tinkle through. Pretty much the whole diaper is composed of several types of plastic and the shady plastic industry doesn't reveal ingredients, RED FLAG! (for more on plastics read this post).  In 1999 The Archives of Environmental Health found that conventional disposable diapers release the VOCs toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and dipentene, which are all linked to asthma. GREAT! Diaper makers then add fragrances (read about the hormone disrupting phthalates here), lotions (read about parabens here) and synthetic dyes. Conventional diapers must be perfectly white so they are bleached. This process creates one of the most potent cancer causing chemicals known to man - dioxins. To summarize, conventional plastic diapers emit VOCs, are linked to asthma, skin irritation, cancer and endocrine disruption - we're supposed to put these on our precious babies?

Four years ago when my sister Molly was pregnant and said she was going to use cloth diapers I thought she was CRAZY. What a huge hassle and poop in your washing machine?! Twenty years ago I babysat for a family that used cloth diapers (I was only 5 years old…) and remember being paranoid about pricking the baby with safety pins. They had this huge, smelly cauldron in their basement used to boil diapers and I constantly dealt with leaks. Not a positive experience. Never would I have imagined I would become advocate myself - I was so wrong and my sister so right!  Cloth diapers have come a LONG way in just the past decade and no more intimidating safety pins thanks to great new options like velcro and snaps. I LOVE the cloth diapers we use for Olivia. They're cute, easy to wash, non-toxic and have saved us boatloads of money. If you have time to do one load of laundry every other day and two minutes to stuff diapers with inserts you can fit cloth diapering into your schedule. It's that easy! Not to mention you'll be saving your baby from exposure to synthetic plastic conventional diapers full of chemicals. For me it's a total no-brainer!

My daughter Olivia in her Fuzzibunz pocket diaper with hemp liner
The most overwhelming part of the whole process for me has been choosing which type of diaper to buy. I have a hard time making decisions and suffered from severe baby brain so I selected my sister's favorite - Fuzzibunz. They've worked out great for us and I've never looked back. Many people suggest trying several different brands and types to see what you prefer. The website Kelly's Closet has a 30 day money back guarantee to try out cloth diapers - zero risk! In Charlotte we have a family run children's store called The Milky Way that focuses on cloth diapers and nursing - they offer a monthly cloth diapering class and are a wealth of knowledge for mothers.

There are three basic types of cloth diapers: prefolds, pockets, and all-in-ones. Fuzzibunz are pockets and the only type I have experience with. My friend Whitley uses the prefolds with Thirsty brand covers and swears by them. Another great hybrid option that my friend Cassie loves are G-diapers which are reusable diaper covers with disposable inserts that you flush or toss G diapers website.

Prefolds and flats:
  • The most economical diaper system available. A pack of 6 Bummis organic cotton prefolds go for about $40 and a Thirsty cover costs about $12. 
  • This "old school" method uses a piece of rectangular, absorbent cotton folded into thirds and laid inside a waterproof cover. 
  • Traditional pre-folds are cotton but bamboo and hemp have recently joined the market because of their super absorbent qualities and softness. 
  • This option takes up very little space and washing is easy because the covers are reused.  
I found a great blog called Elisa Loves that details everything you need to know about this easy option.
My friend Whitley's darling son Worth and his truck in his Thirsties cover/ Bummis hemp liner
Pocket diapers:
  • The most popular style of cloth diapers 
  • Bargain brands like Kawaii cost about $12 each, Fuzzibunz that I use cost about $15 each and a deluxe Blueberry cost $24. 
  • Feature a cover that has a wicking pocket that you stuff with an insert. It takes me about 2 minutes to stuff a dozen pocket diapers, so easy!
  • Typical inserts are made of absorbent microfiber, which is a fabric that you don't want to directly touch your baby's skin. I like to place an additional hemp insert on top of the inner layer of the pocket for extra protection. Olivia went through a heavy wetting phase and had a leak almost every day - adding this hemp layer immediately solved this problem.
  • Some pocket diapers are one size fits all that adjust with age and can be used on babies ranging from 10-35 pounds. Others are available in sizes and tend to be more fitted (this is what I use).
  • Some pocket diapers use snaps and others close with Velcro.
  • I have heard great reviews on Kawaii, Sunbaby, and Rumparooz.
My precious niece Evie getting into the toilet paper in her FuzziBunz
All-in-One (AIO):
  • Easiest to use with no stuffing or folding
  • No cover required and the absorbent material is sewn into the diaper cover
  • Great option for anyone thinking cloth diapers are too much work
  • Tend to be more expensive, the popular BumGenius is about $20 each
  • Require more laundry, take longer to dry and take up a lot of space in your drawers
bumGenius one size pocket diaper
G-Diapers:
  • A hybrid between a disposable and cloth
  • Feature a reusable diaper cover with disposable inserts that you can flush or toss
  • When the insert is soiled, remove from the gPant, dispose and tuck in a new insert for a fresh change. Use the same gPant through multiple changes and change when dirty
  • A pack of 32 inserts cost $15 and the gPant cover costs $15
Ben, my friend Cassie's sweet little boy, striking a pose in his gDiaper
The process:
  • We have about 16 diapers that I keep in the top drawer of Olivia's changing table stuffed and ready to go. 
  • I keep a Fuzzibunz hanging diaper pail on the back of her bedroom door and I love it. There is a zipper across the bottom of the bag, so when you do laundry you just unzip it and dump the diapers - you don't have to touch anything dirty! The bag gathers up tight at the top to help manage the smell. I also carry a "wet bag" in my diaper bag for dirty cloth diapers on the go.
  • For poopy diapers you just drop the poop into the toilet. (I can't really describe this without it sounding gross) The poop just peels off the liner and falls into the toilet. The only time we've had problems with poop sticking to the diaper is when Olivia has been sick. Some parents use a little sprayer that attaches to the toilet water line to rinse off the poop, but we've never needed one (I'm convinced this has to do with Olivia's clean and healthy diet).
  • I do a load of laundry every other day and use Molly's Suds detergent. You cannot use traditional laundry detergent like Tide because they build up a residue that cause the diapers to repel moisture not absorb it. Plus conventional detergents are loaded with artificial fragrances and dyes that are harsh and toxic to little one's skin. For more on detergent check out the diaper jungle website.
  • There are many different washing techniques and I follow the instructions suggested by Molly's Suds.
    • Warm rinse with no soap
    • Hot wash with soap
    • Warm rinse
    • Warm rinse again
    • Dry in laundry machine 
  • For pocket diapers you do not have to separate the insert from the cover before washing - thankfully the wash cycle does this for you! I usually have two or three inserts that don't come out and I make sure to remove them for the dryer or else they won't dry.
  • Every few months you may have to strip your diapers if they start to smell like ammonia (trust me, you'll know when it's time). We've only had to do it once and there are many different techniques. I scrubbed the diapers and inserts with blue Dawn and did three hot washes - this did the trick for me. 
  • Not all diaper rash creams can be used with cloth diapers because the ingredients can build up and cause the diapers to repel moisture - avoid zinc oxide and cod liver oil. For additional info on specific creams and recommendations check out this link. We use Ava Anderson Non-Toxic diaper cream and love it.
There are thousands of handmade cloth diapers available on Etsy for amazing prices. I'm a member of a cloth diaper coop that I found on Facebook - do a google search and you'll find tons of buying options! Another great way to save money is to buy gently used diapers on Craigslist or Ebay. I bought very gently used Fuzzibunz pocket diapers on Ebay for about $5 each and bought new inserts and hemp liners - they've worked great! I found a lovely lady named Adriana that sews hemp inserts and may also make cloth diapers - her email is bursztyn2@hotmail.com.

We do use disposable diapers when we travel, when Olivia goes to the church nursery and overnight. The only diaper brands I trust are The Honest Company and Seventh Generation. I LOVE the Honest Company's diapers which they describe as "ultra absorbent, eco-friendly, extra soft, hypoallergenic, free of chlorine processing & risky additives (like fragrances, lotions, and latex). Oh, and did we mention how adorable they are?" I only wish they offered overnight diapers for heavy nighttime wetters like my daughter. For bedtime we use Seventh Generation diapers, which aren't as cute or soft as Honest but definitely get the job done. We've never had any problems with leaks and Olivia has only had minor diaper rash a handful of times. I always buy them on eBay for much cheaper than Amazon or Target prices. The Honest Company has a bundled deal with wipes for $79.95 a month, which is very comparable to conventional diapers.
My friend Courtney's munchkin Miles admiring his Honest diaper 
We are very happy with the diapering choices we've made for our daughter. My husband Ed surprises me with how much he prefers the cloth over disposable - he raves about how they are so much more comfortable for Olivia and easy to use. I would have never in a million years thought I would be such a fan!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tips for perfecting roasted veggies

Roasted vegetables are an excellent addition to any traditional Thanksgiving dinner - or any meal for that matter! This is my absolute favorite way to eat my veggies. I love the way a little time in the oven concentrates their flavor and their natural sugars caramelize. Here are some tips to master this cooking technique….

  • Most recipes call for a temperature between 375 and 450. I have found the middle at 400 to be just right for my convection oven. It is important to have the oven completely heated before adding your vegetables.
  • Chop your veggies to be be uniform in size otherwise they won't cook evenly. 1 inch chunks work best me. Bigger chunks = longer roast time, smaller chunks = shorter roast time
  • Spread the veggies in a single layer and give the vegetables plenty of space on the tray because air is what will help it caramelize. If you pile on too many veggies, they'll steam instead and get mushy.
  • Lightly coat the veggies with olive oil - for every 2 pound of veggies, toss with 1 tablespoon (remember each TBS has 100 calories, so don't go overboard!). I put them in a bowl and use my hands to make sure they are completely covered. Many cooks love a Misto sprayer, but I haven't had much luck with them.
  • I prefer to season with salt and pepper only - sometimes I like to add fresh rosemary.
  • You can roast different vegetables together if their roasting times are similar. Denser root veggies like carrots, potatoes, butternut squash take 30-40 minutes, so I put them in first. After they've been in the oven for about 10-15 minutes I'll add my cauliflower and onion which takes about 20 minutes. Then for the last 10 minutes I throw in some garlic, which are notorious for burning in our household. The Heal With Food blog lists roasting times for every vegetable imaginable and has been a great reference for me.
    • 10-15 minutes: asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, garlic, okra, yellow summer squash, zucchini
    • 15-20 minutes: brussel sprouts, 1/2 inch carrots, green beans, mushrooms, parsnips, radishes, shallots, zucchini
    • 20-30 minutes: artichokes, 1 inch carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, turnips
    • 30-40 minutes: butternut squash, potatoes
  • Give the veggies a turn with a wooden spoon about every ten minutes.
For a delicious, healthy dinner I love to put my roasted veggies over quinoa (cooked in vegetable broth) drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar - I eat this once a week.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quinoa & Pear Salad

This recipe is from Eating Well Magazine, Nov/Dec 2011 compliments of Nutritionist Stacy Kolbash of Johnson & Wales. The recipe I have printed out from her cooking demonstration is now wrinkled and stained from the multiple times I've prepared this awesome dish! So good for you, so delicious and so easy to make - a cooking triple threat.


Quinoa & Pear Salad

Ingredients:
14 ounces reduced sodium vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons walnut oil or canola oil
1 tablespoon fruity vinegar such as pear or pomegranate
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 ripe but firm pears, diced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

Directions:
1. Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in quinoa, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa has popped, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar, chives, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add pears and toss to coat.

3. Add the quinoa to the pear mixture; toss to combine. Transfer to the refrigerator to cool for about 15 minutes. Serve topped with nuts.

*** This dish is best served within the 15 minutes recommended in step #3 above - otherwise the pears and walnuts get a little mushy.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A lesson in GMOs - be informed!

Until last year I didn't understand what GMOs were - I had heard the acronym before but had no idea what the fuss was all about. My ignorance is EXACTLY what major food manufacturers and bio-tech companies want - for consumers to be in the dark about what is in their food.

Simply stated a genetically modified organism (GMO) is when a seed is manipulated in a laboratory to do something not intended by nature. DNA of one species - including bacteria, viruses, insects, animals, or humans - are forced into the DNA of unrelated plants or animals for a desired trait, such as insect resistance, starch content, ripening or resistance to herbicides, viruses, or fungus. This is very different from traditional hybrid seeds that naturally cross two similar species and has safely been used by farmers for hundreds of years. For example, the bio-tech giant Monsanto spliced soil bacteria into corn to create a GMO designed to produce poisonous insecticide in every cell. The insecticide, called Bt-toxin breaks open the stomach of certain insects to kill them. Bt Corn is classified by the EPA as a pesticide and is commonly used as feed for livestock. This is an important concept to understand: Bt toxin is not sprayed on the plant, the plant is genetically altered to produce it in EVERY cell in the plant - it's impossible to wash off. Consumers then eat the eggs and meat from these animals that were fed the pesticide laden Bt corn and it enters their bodies. 




In 2011, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found Bt-toxin in the blood of 93% of pregnant women tested, Bt in 80% of umbilical blood in tested babies, and in the blood of 67% of non-pregnant women. There have been no long term human studies performed to confirm the safety of Bt corn, but Monsanto swears up and down its safe for human consumption. If Bt genes are indeed capable of transferring into the bacteria colonizing the human digestive tract, scientists believe it could result in:  

  • Gastrointestinal problem
  • Food allergies
  • Childhood learning disorders
  • Autoimmune diseases
Interesting how all of these problems have drastically increased in prevalence in recent years.....

Last month I attended a gardening class at Renfrow's Hardware & General Merchandise lead by owner David Blackley. Renrow's has been a downtown Matthews institution since 1900 and is as down home Americana as you can find - I LOVE this place and they have been a wealth of knowledge in my gardening endeavors. David is an organic farmer and spoke very passionately against GMOs in the class. I decided to interview him because he has a very interesting perspective as a farmer and seed expert, plus I have loads of respect for his opinion. Here is what he said (all of his statements will be in purple):



"Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO seeds are seeds that have been developed by bio tech to be used under their direction and under their control forever. Traditionally for the last 10,000 years we've been able to grow things and save our own seeds. At the very least if we had a hybrid seed for some food we wouldn't have to pay any royalties, or you wouldn't have to worry about using pesticides on them. So its a marketing thing. The big companies say it's going to help feed the hungry and it's going to help reduce pesticide use. There are lots of buzz words, but the fact remains that these modified seeds haven't been thoroughly tested enough to know what its doing to animals or humans."
To expand on David's quote about feeding the hungry, GMO farming is not the answer. Sustainable agricultural practices are the answer to world hunger. Farmers who plant GMOs are not able to save their seeds from year to year due to patent infringement and poor fertility in the seeds. Many farmers have been sued by Monsanto (they actually have an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers). So after getting a first year of good harvests, the following year farmers must continue buying seeds which leads to perpetual debt. This has caused enough financial despair in India (the Bt cotton scandal) that an Indian farmer took his own life every 30 minutes (a total of 17,638 in 2009). India is now considering a ten year ban on all GMO crops.
"Most of the modified seed grown goes to animals - cows, pigs, chickens. So we're eating the eggs or meat from those animals and they've eaten the genetically modified corn and soy. But now it's creeping into our diets as well because any high fructose corn syrup, which is in everything is coming from GMO plants. There are basically two kinds. There is one GMO that is for herbicide resistant, so that Roundup and other chemicals can be sprayed on the plant and it kills all other plants, collateral damage so to speak. But it is absorbed into that plant, so it is in what we are consuming. The other type of genetic modification is for insecticide, for insect control. That's the one that seems to be causing problems the most. If the bug spray is basically in the plant then we're consuming that and the consumption of this bacilis BT is causing a lot of problems - reflux, digestive issues. Because in nature BT doesn't persist - you can spray it over a crop, it will kill the worms but it's gone. You can eat the crop the same day - basically it's on the exterior of the plant. But when its bred into the plant, every kernel of corn or every cotton seed that's pressed for oil has that insecticide in it, and that's just not good."

My main concern is the toxicity of GMOs. Are they safe in moderation? How do we know what that threshold of moderation actually is? No long term studies on humans have ever been done and the animal studies are appalling. GMOs have been shown to accelerate aging, cause organ failure, cause tumors, affect unborn babies, affect fertility and weaken the immune system. When fed to hamsters, the 3rd generation were not able to produce babies. I strive to avoid them for my family whenever possible, which is becoming increasingly difficult. 
"The testing for consumers... I'm not satisfied has been done completely. The Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department passes all of this because the big chemical companies say we'll do the testing for you to save you money. Most of the big wigs in the Department of Agriculture and the FDA are former Monsanto employees, so the fox is guarding the hen house."
Monsanto has incestuous ties to the US Government. Despite blatant conflicts of interest, Monsanto executives have held Cabinet, judicial and policy-making positions in the Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations. These commissioners, directors and secretaries of these agencies are put in place to grease the wheels for the wealthy bio tech firms - the abuse of power is disgusting. Unfortunately if the FDA, USDA or the EPA approves something now, I view it with more suspicion than acceptance. Something is amiss if they say that radiation and pesticides are acceptable in your food, but raw milk isn't safe for consumption?!


  • Michael Taylor: VP of Monsanto > Deputy Commissioner of the FDA
  • Roger Beachy:  Director of the Danforth Plant Science Center (paid for by Monsanto) >director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • Elena Kagan:  Obama Solicitor General (when she famously took Monsanto’s side against organic farmers in the Roundup Ready Alfalfa case) > US Supreme Court justice.
  • Clarence Thomas:  General Counsel for Monsanto > US Supreme Court justice.
  • Margaret Miller:  Monsanto supervisor > Deputy Director of Human Food Safety
  • Donald Rumsfield: Board of Directors for Monsanto’s Searle Pharmaceuticals > US Secretary of Defense
  • Ann Veneman:  Monsanto Board of Directors > US Secretary of Agriculture
  • Linda Fisher: Assistant Administrator at the EPA >VP of Monsanto > Deputy Administrator of the EPA
  • Dr. Michael A.Friedman: Deputy Commissioner of the FDA > Senior VP of Monsanto
"The way to avoid it is buy organic, grow your own or buy from a farmer's market. In the grocery store you don't know what you're buying unless its labeled organic because the Supreme Court and Congress said we don't need to label because they're scared to because they know what consumers will do. The state of Washington is currently the latest state that is trying to pass GMO labeling. North Carolina is one of them - there are 13 or 14 states. The Europeans require that - if you go to England or to Germany it will tell if it's GMO or not. The rest of the world requires labeling - we'll get to that point..."


There are at least 26 countries that have total or partial bans on GMOs, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico. Significant restrictions exist in about sixty other countries. Not included on this list are the United States and Canada where GMOs are embraced by the government - their citizens are denied the basic right to know what's in their food. The Agriculture and Bio-tech industries have spent over $572 million dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying to make sure they don't get labeled. Last year California voted on Proposition 37 to label GMOs, which lost by a tiny margin. On Tuesday, November 5th Washington State will cast their votes for people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act." The opposition has spent over $68 million dollars on these two campaigns in attempts to confuse voters and defeat the bill. General Mills, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Kellogg, Hershey's, ConAgra Foods, Heinz and Campbell Soups were among last year's anti-labeling campaign top contributors and spent millions to prevent labeling. One parent sated in a comment on Cheerio's Facebook page:
"So sorry that the food my kids loved as toddlers is one I can't support anymore. I can't believe that General Mills has the well-being of its customers in mind when it contributes to movement against labeling of GMOs."
Couldn't have said it better. What's frustrating to me is that these same companies already label their products in 64 other countries around the world. The big question stands: Why are they spending so much money to not disclose to the American public what is in their products? Click here for a comprehensive list of products with GMO ingredients - time to clean out your pantry!!
"sugar beets, soy, corn, cotton which you think, oh that doesn't matter but cotton seed oil is in everything. And alfalfa, alfalfa is a new one. Alfalfa is a tremendous amount of feed for cows and now there is no way of knowing. We sell alfalfa meal here as a fertilizer and now we're selling GMO alfalfa, so we're about to quit selling it cause we don't agree with that. Alfalfa is the latest it was approved last summer by the Supreme Court and congress and there is no stopping it. A lot of the yellow crook neck and straight neck squash and zucchini in grocery stores some potatoes, but they've kinda gotten away from that. But when you buy squash out of season at the grocery store its probably GMO and that's only come on the scene in the last couple of years - its got the Bt in it for the worms."
In one form or another GMOs are found in nearly every non-organic item at your grocery store. The most common:
  • Cotton - 94% (cotton seed oil)
  • Soybeans - 93%
  • Sugar - 90% (beet sugar - i.e. refined sugar)
  • Canola - 88%
  • Corn - 88%
  • Papayas (from Hawaii)
  • Dairy (conventional American cow's milk and cheese)
  • Aspartame
  • Zucchini and Yellow Squash
  • Conventional meat (they are fed GM corn and soy)
  • Alfalfa (recently approved by the FDA; widely fed to animals to produce meat and milk)
  • Kentucky Bluegrass (recently approved; widely fed to animals
  • Farmed salmon (slated for approval by the FDA)
Corn and soy are most prevalent ingredients in food processed in the US today - here is a list of corn and corn based products and soy based products. We're not just talking corn on the cob and edamame... 
"Its like cloned animals, we'll be seeing cloned hogs before long. I'm not sure that's the best way either because when you have 1,000 hogs in a hog house and they're all genetically the same the diseases could all run rampant. You could kill off a population in no time and you've got genetically modified animals like this GM salmon being fed GM feed, well nobody has done the research to these salmon that are already super duper "franken-salmon" and you're feeding them "franken-food" whats gonna happen? Now what happens when that salmon escapes into the wild and starts breeding with nature? It's the genie out of the bottle and you can't get it back." 
How I avoid GMOs:
  • We strive to eat "old school" like our Grandparents did - we make the majority of our food using real whole food ingredients. The blog 100 Days of Real Food is an incredible resource for cutting out processed food and has tons of great recipes.
  • Any processed foods are almost guaranteed to have GMO ingredients (especially if made by big name companies like Kraft, General Mills, etc) unless they are organic or have the Non-GMO label. I avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store and avoid processed foods. 
  • All Trader Joe's brand foods are GMO free although they are not labeled Non-GMO. Blogger and food advocate "Food Babe" does not believe this and you can read her thoughts at this link. I however feel liability wise they would not make that claim if it was not true - they have way too much to lose and hopefully I'm not being naive here….. Many companies that claim to be "natural"  have lost millions class action suits because they use GMO ingredients. I was personally duped by Barbara's Naturals cereal - all natural since 1972. I paid a premium for their "Shredded Spoonfuls" and "Puffins" cereal and was very frustrated to learn they use GMO ingredients - I submitted my claim. Anyways, I love Trader Joe's and think they're on a great track of providing healthy choices for consumers. 
  • I shop regularly at our local farmer's market. Any local small farmer will be very anti-GMO.
  • Eat from our own raised bed gardens (what's left after the rabbits have their lunch....)
  • We rarely eat out at restaurants. The Food Babe blog has some great tips on how to avoid GMOs when you eat out. She offers a few questions to ask including: Is your cheese imported? If it's French, you're safe. What oils are used to make your food? Most restaurants use the cheapest, which are soy, corn and canola oils. 
  • I just added the Non-GMO shopping guide app to my phone to help me identify products safe to buy at the grocery store.
For additional information check out these articles:
GMOs not even in moderation
10 myths GMO companies want you to believe
Former "Pro-GMO" scientist speaks out about GMO Dangers
Robyn O'Brien on Kids and Food Allergies from GMOs
Are GMOs killing the bees? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Muffins, muffins and more muffins

I don't know the muffin man, but I know the muffin toddler and her name is Olivia - she's OBSESSED. The only tantrums she's ever thrown in her short 14 months involve muffins, she doesn't mess around... I always sing "the muffin man" nursery rhyme before I give her one and she starts waving her arms and squeals, very cute. These are three of our favorites - vegan, very low in sugar, easy and DELICIOUS!!!!
Banana wheat germ muffin



My friend Cassie is my partner in crime against toxic living and gave me this awesome recipe that her little boys gobble up. They have lots of big banana flavor and the wheat germs gives a little bit of crunch - they taste so good its hard to believe they're so healthy. As soon as bananas start to get brown spots they make me gag, and I end up wasting lots of ripe ones - not anymore!

Ingredients:
1 cup plain soy milk (almond milk works great too)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 very ripe bananas
1/3 cup canola oil (I always buy from Trader Joe's to ensure non-GMO)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour or spelt flour
3/4 cup wheat germ (Whole Foods or any store with bulk bins)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
 2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the soy milk into a measuring cup and add the vinegar to it - set aside to curdle.

Meanwhile, mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add the soy milk mixture to the bowl along with the oil, sugar, and vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, wheat germ, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the banana mixture and use a wooden spoon to gently stir the ingredients, until all the dry ingredients are just moistened.

Fill the muffin cups three-quarters full and bake for 22 minutes. Yields one dozen muffins.


Spiced Apple Crumb Muffins

Ed begs me to make my Spiced Apple Crumb Muffins and Olivia tears them up - everyone loves them is shocked to learn they're dairy free. The recipe is from Gwyneth Paltrow's "My Father's Daughter" cookbook, which I use all the time (also love her zucchini spaghetti, all her soups, and blueberry muffins). Her healthy lifestyle was prompted by her father's cancer, which I relate to completely. I kinda love all things Gwyneth Paltrow and have learned a lot from following her GOOP blog and great wellness tips, just wish I had her deep pockets to buy everything she recommends!!!



For the crumb topping:
1/2 cup spelt flour (buy at Whole Foods or anywhere that sells bulk flours)
1/4 cup whole rolled oats (not instant or steel-cut)
1/4 cup unrefined dark brown sugar (Trader Joe's has a great organic brown sugar that is perfect for this recipe because its not sticky)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I only buy mine from Trader Joe's because it is GMO free)
1 tablespoon soy milk (I usually use almond milk, either works)

For the muffins:
1 tablespoon cornstarch (also buy at Trader Joe's, GMO free)
1 cup finely diced peeled apple (about 2 small apples)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons real Vermont maple syrup (Costco is best place to buy, great price)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoon soy milk (or milk substitute of your choice)
2 cups of spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup lightly toasted walnuts, roughly chopped 

Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper - I usually get 15 muffins from this recipe.
For the crumb topping, combine all the dry ingredients in a small gown.  Add the vegetable oil and soy milk and rub everything together with your fingers - the mixture should be pebbly.  Set aside.

For the muffins, in a small bowl, toss the cornstarch with the apples. In another large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and all of the syrup and soy milk (I use a large Pyrex glass measuring cup). Sift the remaining ingredients (except for walnuts) and fold in the apples and walnuts. Fill the muffin cups and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean. My oven cooks them perfectly at 25 minutes - any longer and they're a little too dry.

SO GOOD!!! I keep 6 out and freeze the rest (they freeze beautifully). This is a top five favorite recipe for me - LOVE.....

Blythe's Blueberry muffins



This recipe is also from Gwyneth's cook book and are delicious! They are sugar free (use maple syrup and agave nectar instead) and vegan. Miss Gwyneth says "They rock the house."

Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy milk (or almond milk)
1/2 cup real Vermont maple syrup
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 cups spelt flour (Whole Foods or any store that has bulk bins)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 1/2 cups fresh organic blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix wet ingredients together, stir in the dry ingredients, and fold in the blueberries. Divide among the muffin cups and bake until a toothpick tests clean and the muffins are golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Let cool before eating (if you can...).