Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's smoothie time!!!

My family is a HUGE fan of the smoothie. In my opinion, smoothies are the easiest and tastiest way to eat a ton of fruits and veggies - especially veggies. People typically don't have a problem getting in all of their daily servings of fruit, but veggies can be a challenge. With smoothies you can sneak in kale, broccoli, carrots, brussel sprouts, spinach, you name it and combined with a little fruit, the fruit will dominate the flavor. Even if the smoothie is green, it will be sweet, fruity and delicious. Kids love smoothies and I can't think of a better way to feed a picky eater. Add a handful of blueberries and it will turn purple - they'll have no idea they're eating kale!
Olivia enjoying some arugula, banana, berries, cucumber, carrot, chia seeds and coconut milk in her Re-Pac pouch 
I also appreciate how smoothies will fill you up, thanks to the fiber content. It's not recommended to replace a meal with a smoothie, but as a stay-at-home mom sometimes I take what I can get. A tall glass will keep me full for hours. 

There are many recipes out there but I typically just throw together whatever we have. When I put together a smoothie my goal is for my veggie to fruit ratio to be 2 to 1. However if you are new to plant based eating and struggle with veggies, flip that to 1 to 2. Over time increase the veggies - baby steps. I try to rotate the greens that I use (kale, spinach, swiss chard, mustard greens, arugula, collards, romaine) for a little variety, exposure to different vitamins and minerals and to prevent a build up of oxalic acid. I just learned about this - spinach is high in oxalic acid and eating too much can affect thyroid function (I have hypothyroidism, so this is prevalent for me). Now don't get me wrong, spinach is AMAZINGLY good for you - just don't eat pounds of it every single day!

Typically we stock frozen organic berries and pineapple, but you can't beat fresh. In North Carolina we have access to amazing peaches and strawberries during the summer. I always buy a bunch of extra to freeze so we can enjoy them over the off-season. I clean and cut them up, put them in a Zip-Lock freezer bag and lay them flat. The first year I did this I stuffed the bags too full and it ended up being a huge mass of frozen peach that was difficult to break off. Filling the bags about 2/3 full and laying them flat will make it much easier to break off chunks. 
We hoard our summer peaches and strawberries - such a treat in the winter!
Costco is my go-to for frozen fruits and vegetables - their prices can't be beat! I love their pineapple (it's not organic, but pineapple is not a dirty-dozen fruit), organic berry blend (I only buy organic berries - they are very porous and thin skins making them vulnerable to chemicals), and organic frozen broccoli. I also buy all my nuts at Costco - walnuts are a delicious to smoothies are flax seed, chia seeds and I'm experimenting with hemp. Buying in bulk is the way to go!

Sometimes I like to add a little protein powder, but don't think it's absolutely necessary since there is already a lot of protein in the smoothie ingredients I use. Just a little warning about powders - they can have weird textures, overpowering flavors and pretty much destroy your smoothie. Food Babe wrote a post about the healthiest protein powders on the market and I bought the Raw Garden of Life brand that she recommended. It doesn't change the texture, I like the vanilla flavor and love that it is plant based. If I make a very veggie heavy smoothie, sometimes I'll add 1/2 a scoop to give it some sweetness (I have a pretty severe sweet tooth…).

Our Vitamix is like a member of the family - I have one, my sister has one, my parents have one. We are believers and would all agree that the Vitamix is definitely a top five all-time best purchase ever. Expensive yes, but worth every single penny. Consider it an investment in your health! I can't vouch for other products out there but have friends that like their Nutri-Bullet or Magic Bullet. What I can say about the Vitamix is that it is a work horse that blends unlike anything else out there. I prefer to invest in products that will last me for years and years and years and believe completely in the concept of getting what you pay for. Check out Craigslist for a used Vitamix in great condition - I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to sell theirs though! 
This amount of fruits and veggies was enough for two large glasses. 
I didn't learn this until recently, but there is a proper order for adding the ingredients to your blender: 
  1. Liquid first - as a base I use unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk.
  2. Add any nuts, seeds or protein powder (this is especially important for chia seeds since they need liquid to soften). 
  3. Add softer foods like banana, greens, fresh peaches.
  4. Add heavier foods like apple and carrots. 
  5. Add any frozen food or ice last

The heavier ingredients push the other foods down into the blades, which will ensure the best texture possible. This is pretty obvious, but the higher the blender speed you use the finer the texture will be. My Vitamix has unbelievable power, but to protect it I start out slow first and then build up speed with a strong finish. I highly recommend clean your blender immediately and trust me on this one. I rinse mine before I even drink my smoothie - the longer you wait the harder it will be to clean. Finally, ENJOY!!!
Here's to your health!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Baby Apothocary

Just like all moms, I want the absolute best for my baby. My standards for products that I use on Olivia are extremely high - no phthalates (fragrance), parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, and I reference the EWG's Skin Deep to verify safety of all ingredients. I refuse to take any risks with any endocrine disrupting chemicals, which are linked to just about everything - cancer, autism, diabetes, asthma, infertility, the list goes on and on (for more on endocrine disrupters click here). 

There are "greenwashing" product galore on the baby aisle. Products that contain the words "natural"and "organic" yet have slews of dangerous ingredients when you read the label. Marketers know that certain buzz words sell product and they use them carelessly. Perfect example: BabyGanics Soothing Daily Lotion that contains fragrance linked to irritation, allergies, and organ system toxicity. Grumble, Grumble. It is SO FRUSTRATING when you pay a premium for a product you think is pure and natural and then learn it's not - believe me, I have fallen for it over and over the past couple years!!! I recently found an amazing blog called Eco Friendly USA and am so grateful for the writer's research. She is "a label-reading mama on a mission to find the safest products on the market" and I've learned a ton from her site. She lists products that are "greenwashers, somewhere in-between, and safe." Awesome, awesome resource to bookmark and follow on Facebook.

This is a list of products that I really love, trust and swear by for my daughter Olivia, my 17 month old. Hope you'll try them out!

Vitamin D3 is crucial for optimal health and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently doubled the recommended amount that all children should receive. During the winter months we don't always get enough sun exposure and I found this product to supplement until warmer weather. Child Life brand is gluten, casein and alcohol free, contains no milk, soy, eggs, wheat, corn and is free of artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. The dosage for Olivia's age is 8 drops and she loves the berry flavor. I bought our bottle at Whole Foods.

I learned about Clean Well from a segment I was listening to on NPR with the Founder and Chief Scientist Dr. Larry Weiss  and have been hooked ever since - no more Purell for this household! Clean Well uses the antiseptic power of thyme to kill germs and is free of alcohol or any other harsh chemicals. It isn't gloppy, doesn't dry out your skin and won't sting cuts. Clean Well is kid safe and Olivia loves mimicking us rubbing our hands together. I bought my pump (which we keep at Olivia's changing table) at Whole Foods and also have a couple small pocket sized ones for my purse and car.

Ana is an aromatherapist that I have gotten to know at our local farmer's market in Charlotte. I have fallen in love with every product she hand makes and appreciate her talent and drive. The Bee's Aid balm is my go-to ointment for any bump, bruise, cut or skin issue for Olivia. She recently had a run-in with the stairs and had a pretty bad gash and bruise by her eye - it didn't need stitches but was her biggest boo-boo to date. I was worried that it might leave a scar and religiously put this ointment on it - it was gone in FOUR DAYS. I was amazed and am so glad I have this balm in my armory! You can order directly from Ana on her website and while you're there try out her unbelievable body butter and shea butter soap, I'm addicted!!

This is the #1 safest lotion on the market according the EWG Skin Deep website! I've become a big fan of Poofy Organic products and am impressed by their certified organic ingredients and rave reviews - can't wait to try out more of their line. The bath wash and shampoo is extremely gentle and has a very sweet, subtle scent (all natural, of course!). Both the lotion and shampoo are $14 each and can be purchased on the Poofy Organic website.

The product description on the NoseFrida cracks me up: "It's smart. It's Swedish. It's maybe a little strange. It's doctor invented and recommended." Hilarious! Being a Swede myself I love it :) This "snot sucker" gets the job done and I like how you can actually see the snot, not just assume it's in the big blue bulb. I'm guessing most babies dislike having their nose aspirated, so ideally a two person attempt works best. We bought ours at a local baby store called Shower Me With Love and it is also available on Amazon. Don't be intimated by this product - it's the best!

We bought this Vick's alternative at the drug store when Olivia was under the weather and congested. It  is made of all natural eucalyptus, lavender, chamomile, coriander, dill weed, castor oil with a coconut oil base. It is menthol and petroleum free and safe for babies 3 months and older. Maty's is safe, gentle, effective and the smell reminds me a little bit of the hippies from college (I was shocked not to see patchouli on the ingredients list). We put it on feet for relief!

Mommy's Bliss Gripe Water is a lifesaver if you have a gassy, fussy baby. Digestive issues are very common in newborns since their systems are still developing. You feel so helpless when your little one is suffering with gas and this product saved many nights for us! I feel very comfortable with the ingredients of Mommy's Bliss: (From the website): "The fennel, ginger, and sodium bicarbonate have been known to be beneficial in easing nausea and discomfort due to baby stomach gas and other colic symptoms. Fennel and ginger are also effective for easing the discomforts of infant teething. Mommy's Bliss Gripe Water does NOT contain any of the following: gluten, starch, dairy products, wheat, yeast, dill, chamomile, alcohol, paragons, artificial colors, artificial flavors, binders, sucrose, fillers or petroleum based products." Olivia is thankfully past her colicky phase but I still give her gripe water for occasional hiccups (old wives tale says that hiccups mean they're growing!). We bought ours at the drug store and it is also available on Amazon at a really nice discount.

We swab Olivia's nostrils with this awesome homeopathic remedy that boosts your body's ability to fight off a cold. 95% of colds and flu originate in the nasal passages and the Manuka honey and essential oils stop it in its track. Colds seem to be much more milder and shorter in duration. Ed and I use it also when we feel a tickle starting or are exposed to someone that probably should have stayed home - we have barely had a cold all season!

I'm convinced this is the best diaper cream available and Olivia's bottom would prove it - not a single rash since we started using Ava Anderson diaper cream about 6 months ago! It's made of organic olive oil, calendula extract, organic shea butter, organic jojoba oil, lavender and essential oils - no harsh chemicals and it goes on thick. We will never be without it! $18.95 for a huge 8oz tub and you can order from this link.

I'm still on the hunt for a great teething remedy and am currently experimenting with essential oils - hope to be able to update this list soon :)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Black Bean Burgers with Mango Salsa

We've been trying out lots of new recipes lately - several misses but they're all worthwhile when I discover a home run like this one, SO GOOD!!! I've wanted to find a great black bean burger recipe and this is it, hands down. I had a really good feeling about it when I saw the ingredients - cilantro, shallots, lime, avocado, jalapeño pepper, mango, YUM!  My husband AND daughter both gobbled them up and I couldn't get enough. It makes enough for 6 large patties and we had leftovers which tasted just as good the next day. This one is a keeper :)
Olivia approved recipe!
Black Bean Burgers with Mango Salsa
From Yummy Mummy Kitchen blog
2 cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I buy from Trader Joe's, no bovine growth hormones)
1/4 cup panko
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 medium jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
2 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup chopped peeled mango (about one medium)
3 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 1/2 fresh lime juice
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
6 green lettuce leafs
whole wheat hamburger buns (I prefer Great Harvest, although they have to be special ordered)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place black beans in a medium sized bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in 1/2 cup of the chopped cilantro and the next seven ingredients. Shape into six 1/2 inch patties and arrange on a greased cookie sheet (I made smaller patties for my toddler and she loved them!). Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, carefully turning once.
    I made a few "sliders" for Olivia - she LOVED them!
  3. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro, mango and the next four ingredients (through minced garlic) in a medium bowl. Place a patty on bottom half of the bun, top with lettuce leaf, 1/2 cup salsa and top of bun.
Really good with blue corn chips if you have any leftover

I didn't have any lettuce and it was messy to eat - the lettuce keeps the salsa contained
Thank you SO much to Marina of the Yummy Mummy blog for posting this recipe - it was a finalist out of thousands for Cooking Light's Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My switched up beauty routine

It's taken me a while, but I've found a new non-toxic product routine that I'm really happy about! I was really anxious about switching out my beloved brands that I had been loyal to for years (until I learned what was in them…). I'm a creature of habit and change is hard for me so transitioning out ALL of my products was a pretty big deal for me. Good news is that I didn't blow a whole bunch of money trying stuff I didn't like - kinda lucked out with some great first tries!
In my shower
From the left:
  • Trader Joe's Honey Mango Moisturizing Cream Shave - I love this stuff and the ingredients are clean according to the website.  Paraben free and 100% vegetarian. The smell is very fresh and gives you a nice, clean shave - men can use it too!
  • I use homemade goat's milk soap that I buy from the farmer's market. It seemed like all the natural soaps I would try would disappear after a week in my shower and I learned a great trick - keep the soap on top of a sponge (this one is a natural sponge from the Dead Sea) and it will help dry out the soap and get the sponge suds ready for your next shower. This bar of soap has lasted me at least a month!
  • Ava Anderson shampoo and conditioner - I really like how these products make my hair feel. Other brands I tried left my hair either too dry or really greasy, this is just right. They come in huge 16 oz bottles for $17.95 each and can be ordered at I still have 1/3 bottle left of the conditioner and have had the same bottle for 4 months now - just had to replace my shampoo. Their packaging could use some work, but overall I really like what's inside. Another brand that I have heard good things about and never tried is Pureology. These are sold in salons, so you don't have to order them online - here is a link to the where to buy section of their website.
  • Ava Anderson exfoliator - I like this product but don't love it - will be trying something different when it runs out. 
  • Clarisonic - LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! I am nuts about mine and love how smooth, soft and clean it makes my skin. I try to remember to use it on my neck and décolletage. Not a cheap at $125 but your skin will thank you! 
Before bed

My new bedtime makeup removal routine is VERY DIFFERENT than what I used to do. Like a complete 180 different. I've always struggled with mild acne and have tried everything out there. Not terrible acne, but just enough to be annoying. It makes me cringe when I think back on the ProActiv that I used that bleached my towels and sheets - scary to think what it did to my skin! I went on Accutane before my wedding hoping to cure my skin woes for good. My skin was great for a while and then went back to its old ways. I would NEVER take a cosmetic product now that requires monthly pregnancy tests because it causes severe birth defects - yikes...The Ava Anderson cleaning routine didn't impress me and I was ready to try something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Why keep trying pretty much the same thing over and over with minimal success?

I came across a blog called Crunchy Betty "you have food on your face" and LOVE her information. She recommends washing your face with honey and baking soda - Yes, honey and baking soda! Then using diluted Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar as a toner and removing eye makeup with olive oil. I thought it would be a huge, sticky mess but I AM LOVING IT! The honey washes off easily and makes your skin unbelievably soft - you will glow! I know it's absolutely crazy and insane, but I swear it. Since I've started washing my face this way I no longer have to wear make-up because my skin tone is so even. I've had maybe two little pimples also, that's all!

A little bit about raw honey straight from Crunchy Betty's blog:

  • It is antibacterial and antimicrobial. It will get off any lingering nastiness that’s thinking about setting up camp on your face and creating pimples.
  • It is slightly drying which means it helps soak up any pimples or oiliness.
  • It is also incredibly moisturizing. Seems like a double standard, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Honey sinks into your skin and moisturizes like you wouldn’t believe. (Remember Cleopatra and her honey baths to look young?)
  • It imparts all kinds of beneficial enzymes that work at scrubbing your face for you, as well as perform a little anti-aging action.
  • It’s great for acne, aging skin, normal skin, dry skin … honey loves EVERY SKIN TYPE.
  • It is healing and helps repair acneic sores and scars.
  • It’s 100%, absolutely, positively natural, great for your skin, and such a SIMPLE addition to your routine!
  • First thing, you want to make sure your hair is completely pulled back or it might get a little sticky. I pour a little bit of raw honey (must be raw and I recommend buying local from the farmer's market) into my hand and add about 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda and mix with my finger. Spread it over my face and massage it in for about a minute - the longer you can let it soak in the better. I usually will floss, brush my teeth and take my vitamins while I wait. (I just read on Crunchy Betty's website that she puts the honey and baking soda into a wet wash cloth and applies it that way - I'm gonna try it out tonight.) I then rinse it off with water - you'll be surprised how easily it washes off and even more surprised at how soft your skin is! Next I put some diluted Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar on a cotton ball and use as a toner on my face. I let it dry and rinse off with water. The ACV will perfectly balance the pH of your skin and remove any leftover traces of makeup. A tip - flush the cotton ball or your bathroom will smell like apple cider vinegar, which some husbands don't appreciate. I am using Ava Anderson eye makeup remover pads to remove my mascara and am not a fan - will be trying the olive oil when I run out. Not sure why the honey doesn't intimidate me but the olive oil does…

    For more on Crunchy Betty's honey wash check out these links:

    Give it a try!! I would love to hear what you think!

    To moisturize

    I am obsessed with lotion and it was really hard for me to give up the Lubriderm that I had used for over 20 years - my mom started using it when I was a baby. I tried a few different brands like Say Yes to Carrots and Burt's Bees and was not happy with the feel or texture. It was a happy day when I discovered the Ava Anderson hand and body lotion. It is the perfect heaviness for spring and summer and isn't greasy at all. When the weather turned cold and dry, so did my skin. I found something heavier that keeps me moisturized all day during a trip to the farmer's market! Ana is an aromatherapist in Charlotte and is at the farmer's market off Yorkmont every Saturday. Her business is called Ana's Corner and if you don't live in Charlotte you can buy off her website. I love everything I have tried of hers and like supporting a local business. Her body butter is AMAZING and I put it on immediately after a shower or bath - soaks right in like butter. 

    For my face I am using Ava Anderson moisturizers and like them, but don't love them. From the left you have the eye cream, then the serum, the nighttime moisturizer and the daytime moisturizer with SPF. When I run out I'm going to try Derma e, which you can buy at Whole Foods. My friend Melissa swears by them and I am impressed by the reviews. Another brand I'm impressed with is Poofy Organics and I really like the body wash and lotion that I bought for Olivia. Their Flawless Face Daily Moisturizer sounds like good stuff!

    ***6/1/14 UPDATE*** I'm now using my body butter from Ana's Corner year round - she explained to me that the formulated it to give natural sun protection (coconut oil and shea butter), so it's perfect for warmer weather - I'm hooked! I also started using argan oil at night as my moisturizer. I bought a bottle when I traveled to Morocco a few years ago and never knew what to do with it - it's amazing for reducing wrinkles and softening your skin. When I run out I'm going to purchase Josie Maran's argan oil, which I sampled and is to die for. Her whole line has me very intrigued and impressed - plus you can buy it at Sephora (they'll give you nice samples to try).

    Monday, January 13, 2014

    Stephie's Southern Broccoli Salad

    Broccoli salad is one of my favorite Southern picnic foods and is a staple recipe in all church cookbooks. It's a sneaky dish that fools you into thinking it's healthy because of the broccoli, but check out the ingredients in Paula Deen's version:
    • 6 pieces of bacon
    • 2 T bacon grease
    • 1 cup mayo (Duke's, of course)
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 8 oz sharp cheddar
    • 2 T red wine vinegar
    • handful of raisins
    • one head of broccoli cut into small pieces
    You might as well just substitute deep fried cookie dough for the broccoli…

    Broccoli is a power house vegetable packed with antioxidants, folic acid (pregnant mamas eat up!), potassium, magnesium and is one of the best sources of calcium out there. It boosts your immune system, fights cancer and keeps you young. I love it roasted but am not a fan of broccoli in the raw. That is until I found this awesome recipe when I was researching my apple cider vinegar post. It has the sweet tanginess and crunch of the original Southern broccoli salad minus all the bad stuff :)
    Duke's is a Southern staple - there is no other mayo brand for a true Southerner. However we have found Vegenaise to be a surprisingly good substitute, especially when mixed into something.
    1. In a bowl mix together 1/2 cup Veganaise, 1 T raw honey and 1 tsp of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar.  I only use raw honey - grocery store honey is stripped of all its benefits and Bragg's ACV is the only kind in my book.

    2. Cut your broccoli into small pieces

    3. Cover the broccoli with the sauce and top with slivered almonds. Enjoy!!

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

    My morning latte fix

    I've tried for over two years to try to get into drinking tea and I just don't think it's going to happen. Sometimes you just need coffee - not want, NEED. Especially in this freezing cold weather! My coffee habit definitely needed a makeover. I only had one cup a day, which isn't bad but my problem is how I prepared it. I like mine on the sweeter side, so the one tablespoon recommended serving size of the "Natural" Bliss creamer (I have "natural" in apostrophe because it's anything but - full of GMOs, grrrrr…..) would end up being more like 1/3 of a cup. UNREAL calories, carbs, fat and sugar when you do the multiplication!

    One of our friends introduced me to a "frother" that lets you make your own cappuccinos and lattes. It is awesome. This nifty little handheld device has saved us hundreds of dollars in Starbucks visits - no need for that! It's key to my morning latte and best part? YOU CAN BUY THEM AT IKEA FOR $2!!!! Best $2 you will ever spend, although you have to brave the big box store because you can't buy them online. We originally had a fancier "Aerolatte" and this works just as good. Buy ten of them!

    Originally I frothed the "Natural" Bliss creamer - greenwashing at its best. When I realized that I might as well be drinking a milkshake I switched it up and will never go back. Here is my technique:

    1. Make coffee. I really like "Cafe Pajaro" from Trader Joe's which is organic and fair trade - just the right boldness for my taste.

    2. Fill you mug halfway with almond milk (or less if you want less froth). I prefer Trader Joe's brand which is carrageenan (carcinogenic sweetener) free. I've experimented with coconut milk and flax milk and they don't froth as nice as almond milk. Warm it up in the microwave - a minute and a half is just right for me.
    always tastes better in my favorite mug from our Jackson Hole wedding!
    3. Add 5 drops of liquid stevia and a dash of cinnamon. (more or less depending on your sweet tooth)

    4. FROTH!!!!!

    5. Top it off with the coffee, kick your feet up and enjoy :)

    I'm a one cup a day girl and don't advocate drinking massive quantities. This article from Dr. Mercola's website talks about the benefits of drinking coffee in moderation and how it and has therapeutic qualities. A nice quote:
     "Although organic coffee as a whole food may be therapeutic, caffeine in isolation can be quite toxic. The natural blend of polyphenol antioxidants, bioflavonoids, vitamins and minerals in coffee beans all work to ether to help neutralize the harsher effects of the caffeine. There are literally thousands of different natural chemical compounds in your brew, and science now suggests the synergy between them can pack a nice nutritional punch."
    An un-guilty pleasure!