Friday, June 20, 2014

BPA-Free is just as bad

When I put together Olivia's registry I did TONS of research on the products I selected, and felt really good that all the BPA-free items were the absolute safest choice for my daughter. Boon dishes and utensils, Born-Free bottles, ZoLi sippy cups; all BPA-free, cost a little more and were free from toxins, right? NOPE, recently come to find out that "BPA-free" does not mean "free from all hormone-disrupting chemicals." They just switched out BPA for another ingredient that will still leach chemicals and petroleum by-products into your food. This article from Mother Jones details a new study in the journal Environmental Health that identifies specific plastic products - including AVENT baby bottles, CamelBak sippy cups, and Lock & Lock food storage containers - that leach estrogen-mimicking chemicals. Study authors write "Many PC-replacement-products made from acrylic, polystyrene, polyethersulfone, and Tritan resins leached chemicals with estrogenic activity, including products made for use by babies. Exposure to various forms of UV radiation often increased the leaching of chemicals with estrogenic activity."

So what's the big deal with hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA? ALOT, that's what. One of my first posts on this blog was about endocrine disrupting hormones and the havoc they wreak. For starters they're linked to cancer and it only takes a tiny dose - just parts per BILLION. According to scientists they may cause infertility problems, liver abnormalities, asthma and heart disease and a slew of other issues. Even worse, some of these effects appear to be epigenetic and trans-generational meaning they pass from one generation to the next. Bottom line, avoid these chemicals as much as possible. (I also wrote these informative posts about the hormone disrupting chemicals BPA and phthalates).

"Many of the items are advertised as healthy alternatives to plastics containing BPA and the hormone-altering chemicals known as phthalates," writes Mother Jones. "Born Free markets its baby products as the 'natural choice for moms who want a safe, calm experience every time they feed their baby." Weil Baby claims that its bottles are made from 'revolutionary new materials' that are 'ultra-safe.' After UV exposure, CertiChem's study found that both companies' products leached potent synthetic estrogens." This just makes my blood boil. Companies use clever BS marketing buzz words like "All-natural", "Gluten-free", "BPA-free", etc. to sell their products and safety only seems to be an issue if we don't buy it. My lesson learned is that the burden is on the consumer to determine product safety and it is important to thoroughly research your purchases and read labels.

Plastic is EVERYWHERE and there is not much I can do about what is outside of my home. My main concern is plastic used with our food - bowls, plates, cups, utensils, etc. Little by little we've been replacing our BPA-free products with either glass or stainless steel and I've found some great substitutes! 

Sippy cups: It ticks me off how much money I wasted on stupid ZoLi sippy cups - they were $15 each and the special straw cleaning kit was another $10. UGH!!! I'm glad I discovered Pura Kiki stainless steel bottles and luckily Olivia loves them. They are 100% plastic free with silicon spouts and the outside is completely non-toxic and free of lead, phthalates, PVC or BPA. I also really like that they can be used as bottles and the top is compatible with pretty much every nipple out there, so they grow with your child. They come in a lot of great colors and a heads up, ours have been dropped several times and the paint has chipped here and there. No big deal, but if the aesthetics of your sippy cups are important to you then go with the natural stainless. They're not cheap at $15.99 on Amazon, but I highly recommend them!!!
Dishes: I had a collection of Boon plates and bowls (the one with the suction that sticks to the table) and immediately switched these out for alternatives we already owned. Our Pyrex Snapware has been great for bowls - they are practically unbreakable (saying practically because they can break, its just very hard to do) and a great size for snacks or cereal. Olivia has dropped them on the floor numerous times and they have never busted.
I made the FOOLISH, FOOLISH mistake of letting Olivia use our Pillivuyt dishes until I figured out a good plate substitute. I was completely asking for it when one shattered into pieces on the floor - I could have cried because I KNEW it was bound to happen, UGH!! Several natural/green parenting blogs I follow recommended Duralex which is the company that invented tempered glass that is 2.5 more resistant to breakage and chipping than normal glass. The dessert plate is just the perfect size for my almost 2 year old at 7 1/2 inches and is dishwasher and microwave safe. Another bonus is they're made 100% in France and not China. I bought a set of six on Amazon for $21.80 and they've served us well so far! I will probably buy some of the matching bowls down the road.
One of the "crunchy mama" boards I follow shared this great idea for small snack bowls: stainless steel cat food bowls! Wal-mart sells this exact 4 1/2 one for only $1.00 and it doesn't have any cheesy cat paws or designs on it - just plain stainless steel bowl. They don't have them online and I found ours on the pet aisle. ONLY $1!!! I actually remember my vet years ago saying to never use plastic food bowls for your pets because the chemicals leach into the food and water. I should have questioned why it was not recommended for pets but apparently okay for humans...

Utensils: Olivia started using our stainless flatware several months back, so that hasn't been a concern. For our next little one I will use something bamboo like Bambu 5-inch Baby's Utensils, which are $16.99 on Amazon for a set of four. 
Baby Bottles: If I were in the market for baby bottles I would stay away from anything plastic - no matter what they claim I would not trust them. There are many glass options and I would probably go with LifeFactory. They are all made in the US or Europe, are leakproof and like the Pura Kiki will grow with your child into a sippy then regular water bottle. The only reason I wouldn't recommend the Pura for baby bottles is because you can't see how many ounces your baby has drank since it is stainless. LifeFactory bottles are't cheap at about $17 each and I would probably try to find some used ones on Ebay or Craigslist.

Teethers: Just like everything else, I paid a premium for a couple teethers for Olivia that were both BPA and BPS free. I wish I would have bought one of these handmade natural wood and organic bamboo teethers from Myecobaby on Etsy. Only $10 and Olivia would have LOVED these (especially the one with the knots).
 Water Bottles: Ed and I are addicted to our water bottles and carry them everywhere. We were fans of CamelBak and Nalgene, but are now BIG BIG fans of our new Sigg stainless water bottles. Check out their website and you won't believe all the fun, creative designs you can choose. I was overwhelmed and couldn't make up my mind, so I went with this basic blue 1.0 Liter Classic Traveler and am crazy about it. They also have a wide mouth option, but this one is just right for me. They cost about $23 on Amazon and I like that they are made in Switzerland and not China (like Kleen Kanteen). Mine has taken a few tumbles and has a couple little dents, but I still love it. I've had water that tastes funny in stainless steel containers and that is not the case with the Sigg. Ever since we installed our Premier Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System from Costco and switched to Sigg I've been pounding water all day because it tastes so good!
Food storage: I have mentioned our Pyrex Snapware in previous posts and above as a bowl option - love this stuff. We bought our 18 piece set at Costco for a crazy good price of something like $28, but I don't see it on their site anymore. Amazon sells it for $44.76, which is still a great price. I have never had a leak and it is so so durable. I did buy an additional set of smaller one cup squares for $12.99 and that is all we need! These have been great for Olivia's snacks.
Travel mugs: Next up on my shopping list is to replace our plastic travel coffee mugs - they're probably not even BPA-free. We don't use them much, so it hasn't been a top priority. My sister has a great looking ceramic one from Starbucks that I was eye-balling, but it was a seasonal Christmas purchase. Found several different options on Ebay and I like this one:

I would love to hear any other suggestions or ideas!!

Additional reading:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Trader Joe's, be still my heart

Grocery shopping used to be my most dismal and ho-hum errand - it was dreaded and mind-numbing. Thanks to Trader Joe's coming to our neighborhood a couple years ago it is now the highlight of my Monday - bring on the grocery shopping!!! Their quirky and energetic atmosphere make shopping fun and I appreciate their healthy, organic options at super low prices. We now do about 75% of our shopping at Trader Joe's and I don't miss my old store one bit - the remaining 25% is shared at our local farmer's market and Whole Foods and Costco. Trader Joe's is close to perfection in my eyes, but they do sell lots of junk food (especially the frozen pre-made meals), so it is still important to check the ingredients. Stick with the whole, real foods and the low processed options - you can't go wrong! I planned to do a top ten list, but that wasn't nearly enough - here are some of the reasons I'm crazy about Trader Joe's:
  1. First and foremost, SAMPLES! I usually head straight to the sample kitchen at the back of the store and enjoy a cup of coffee (with soy creamer and organic coconut sugar or stevia) and try out their goodies. I've discovered so many great products this way - perfect example, who would have thought to add bruschetta to organic tomato soup?! Sometimes they even have wine samples :)
    My happy place - I always get 2nds (sometimes 3rds…)
  2. They have the coolest and most helpful employees that really know their stuff. Sometimes I wish I could stick around and hang out. Their Hawaiian shirts make me happy and help me remember to buy pineapple :)
  3. Trader Joe's is very involved in the community, especially at food banks. In 2013 the company donated more than $260 million dollars of product to food banks - awesome!
  4. The majority of their cans are BPA free, which is a HUGE DEAL! (except for mandarins, hatch chilies, artichokes, sardines, crab, cherrystone clams, oysters). In my researching the exceptions I learned that their receipts are also BPA free, so I don't have to refuse them all the time now :)
  5. PRICE PRICE PRICE!!! Trader Joe's blows other grocery stores away and makes buying organic doable for my family. Perfect example: Applegate Organic Smoked Turkey is $3.99 at Trader Joe's and $7.49 at Harris Teeter for the EXACT same thing. No marketing gimmicks or sales - they offer low prices all the time. Checking out isn't painful like at other stores! 
  6. NO synthetic colors, NO artificial flavors, NO artificial preservatives, NO MSG, NO added trans fats, and drum roll please - NO GMOS in their Trader Joe's brand products!!! I'm going to repeat that last bit - NO GMOS!!
  7. Love the music and I find myself singing out loud all the time - this morning they played two favorites back to back: ABBA's "Waterloo" and Britney's "Hit Me Baby One More Time" - I was in heaven!
  8. Trader Joe's is THE place to buy specialty products like nuts, dried fruits, chocolate and their cheese selection can't be beat.
  9. They make shopping with little ones fun! Olivia starts chanting "two cookies" as soon as we start pulling into the parking deck - they're organic, very low sugar cookies too, big bonus. She loves the stickers (I love them too, especially the seasonal ones!) and they're all over her carseat. When she gets a little older I know she'll have fun with the treasure hunt.
    Happy shopper!
  10. I appreciate how they have products labeled Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Kosher, Low Fat or Low Sodium - makes shopping with restrictions easy.
  11. My husband drank "Chock Full of Nuts" exclusively for like 25 years and switched once he tried  TJ's organic free-trade Cafe Pajaro blend - DELICIOUS!!! We're absolutely hooked and coffee gourmands I know agree!
  12. Their wine department is amazing - the prices can't be beat and unbeatable support and advice from staff experts. As a wine unconnoisseur I really appreciate the descriptions and employee favorites - I've gotten several great bottles for $5 or less! They also have several organic options that I'm anxious to try out - check out the blog Trader Joe's Wine Guy for tips and suggestions.
    My favorite aisle - the reds!
  13. I'm vegetarian, but think it's awesome that they offer antibiotic free meat and poultry. All of their dairy is also free of bovine growth hormone.
  14. My new favorite place to buy cards - wonderful designs for only $.99!! Many of them remind me of the gorgeous designs at Rifle Paper Company, which start at $4.50 each.
    High quality paper, darling designs and $.99 = total no-brainer!
  15. I appreciate their "no questions asked" policy on returns - they will return absolutely anything for any reason. Harris Teeter has given me grief before when an item I bought doesn't show up on my VIC card records - such a hassle.
  16. I'm always running into my friends - great minds shop alike :)
  17. Next to my favorite farmer's market florist, Trader Joe's is my go-to for beautiful blooms at crazy cheap prices. I love their outdoor display!
  18. Trader Joe's treats their employees REALLY well - part time employees can earn $20/hour with FULL benefits and managers can make $130,000. Not too shabby!
  19. A typical grocery store stocks over 50,000 items while Trader Joe's carries only 4,000 - this really helps me out since I will contemplate peanut butters for 15 minutes.
  20. Trader Joe's is committed to sustainable and responsible sources for their seafood and refuse to sell species condemned by environmental groups. Greenpeace approves and they are now using their buying power to leverage change in the seafood industry.
  21. Whenever I need to indulge myself their maple cookies, cinnamon almonds, and kettle corn do the trick every time. It's hard not to add them to my cart every visit - only special treats!
  22. Trader Joe's has some seriously delicious yummy goodies and I have to just keep on walking' - we don't keep sweets in our house because of complete lack of control. However, when I do need to indulge myself their maple cookies, cinnamon almonds, and kettle corn do the trick every time. It's hard not to add them to my cart every visit - only special treats!
    My friend Julie introduced these to me several years ago and they're one of my most special of all treats - I can't make eye contact when I walk past their spot on the bottom shelf in the nuts section, its just too much.
There are several items that make it into our cart every week and many goodies that we always keep stocked in the pantry - here are our favorites!
  • FRUIT: Organic raspberries, Organic grapes (not often stocked), Pineapple, Mangoes, Grapefruit, Bag of organic Bartlett pears (these take about a week to ripen, but are SO TASTY!),  organic apples (varies - Granny Smith or Gala), bananas ($.19 each!), bag of lemons, bag of limes, ginger
  • VEGETABLES: organic spinach, organic power greens (kale, chard, spinach mix), organic broccoli, cauliflower, organic celery, avocados, organic cherry tomatoes, bag of yellow onions, shallots
  • DAIRY/MILK SUBS: organic shredded mozzarella, their soy cheese blend is actually pretty good!, unsweetened almond milk, unsweetened coconut milk, 
  • SPECIALTY: 50% salted cashews, Brazilian nuts, organic Thompson raisins, organic cranberries, raw sunflower seeds, raw pumpkin seeds, Medjool dates, dried cherries,
  • BREAD: Ezekiel whole wheat loaf, whole wheat homemade tortillas
  • CEREAL: Joe's O's, Shredded Bite Size Wheats (these are SO good and have no sugar!), Crisp Rice Cereal (so much better than Rice Krispies!), Barbara's Peanut Butter Puffins for a treat (they are now non-GMO, Barbara's lost a huge lawsuit because they claimed to be all-natural yet used genetically modified ingredients), rolled oats
  • STAPLES: organic black beans, organic chickpeas, white kidney beans, lentils, organic bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, Cafe Pajaro organic free-trade coffee, organic ketchup (you won't believe how much better it tastes than Heinz and for only $1.99!!), multigrain pancake mix (for "Daddy-cakes" every Saturday morning), Just Almond Meal, organic sugar, toasted sesame oil, love their Orange Muscat Champagne vinegar
  • MISC: BALELA!! (Middle Eastern chickpea salad - SO GOOD!!), they have great natural dish sponges, mango shaving cream has been a favorite for years, aloe vera juice, tofu and tempeh
  • WINE!! Love their Proseccos and you can't go wrong with the $6 Zonin. I'm always trying new reds and have been stuck on Pinots and Malbecs for a while now - going to start trying out their organic options. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Homemade low sweetener strawberry spread

Perfect consistency and texture - the most gorgeous color!
Making homemade strawberry spread was surprisingly easy - so easy that I decided to make it two nights in a row! After tasting the finished product on my Ezekiel bread this morning I quickly realized my supply of 5 jars wouldn't be enough. I made jelly with my mom years back and my memories included lots of boiling, lots of mashing and lots of praying that it sets. Seemed to be a huge process.  Not the case for this recipe which took me no more than 30 minutes from start to finish and the end product is TO DIE FOR DELICIOUS!!

I had picked several pounds of organic strawberries at Wise Acres Organic Farm in Indian Trail a few weeks back and wanted to return when the berries were at the peak of their sweetness.  I just picked another fifteen pounds and they are the best I've ever tasted - bursting with flavor and sweetness! Here's the huge problem with jelly - it requires INSANE amounts of sugar. Like twice as much sugar as strawberries because regular pectin requires jelly to be 55-85% sugar to set properly. A few friends had tried low sugar or honey recipes without success - tasted good but was more of a syrup rather than jelly. I asked Cathy, the owner, if she had any favorite recipes and I'm SO GLAD she told me about her recent Pomona Pectin discovery. 

It allows you to sweeten your jelly with low amounts of any type of sweetener you chose (sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, stevia, xylitol, sucanat) and ACTUALLY SETS. It's preservative-free, sugar-free, vegan, gluten free and non-GMO. Peach season is coming up next and I can't wait to try a different fruit!

This recipe yields about 4-5 cups and here is what you need:
  • Mason jars and lids - I have a ton of vintage ones of all different sizes and it filled up 5 for me. 
  • Two big pots - one to boil your jars in and the other for the jelly. I used my Le Creuset dutch oven and big stainless soup pot. 
  • Small bowl
  • Soup ladle
  • Tongs
  • 4 cups of mashed strawberries
  • 1 cup of organic sugar (you can also use honey, agave, xylitol, fruit juice concentrate, stevia or any other sweetener of your choice!)
  • Pomona pectin kit (which is enough for 2 to 4 recipes). I bought mine at Wise Acres Farm but you can also buy it on Amazon. I haven't searched for it in stores and am hoping that Renfrow's Hardware will stock it next year :)
  1. Make the calcium water (never heard of this before, secret ingredient maybe?) by putting 1/2 teaspoon of the white calcium powder that comes with the kit and 1/2 cup of water in a small clear mason jar. Shake well. This will store in the refrigerator for a number of months.
  2. Wash and rinse your jars; Bring jars, lids and rings to boil; turn down heat just a little and LET STAND IN HOT WATER. (You'll be bringing this back to a boil really soon…)
  3. Prepare your fruit - remove stems and mash. I put mine in the Vitamix for about 30 seconds at the lowest speed and it worked perfectly. Put 4 cups of mashed strawberries in the pan.
  4. Add 2 teaspoons of calcium water to the pan and stir well
  5. Add the 1 cup of sugar (or substitute of your choice) and 2 teaspoons of pectin to a separate bowl and mix thoroughly.
  6. Bring the fruit to a boil. Add the pectin-sweetener and stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes to dissolve pectin while mixture returns to a full boil. Remove from heat.
  7. The pouring step is probably easiest with two people - I did it by myself and was far from graceful… I used the tongs to pick up the mason jar from the hot water and used the ladle to fill the jars to 1/4" to the top. Wipe the rims clean and screw on the 2-piece lids. Put the filled jars back into hot water and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. (Add 1 minute more for every 1,000 feet above sea level).
  8. Remove from water and let jars cool - I placed mine on a baking cooling rack. After a few minutes check the seals, the lids should be sucked down. If you listen hard you can hear a subtle pop. 
  9. Eat within a year and gobble up within 3 weeks of opening - TRUST ME, this isn't hard to do!!