Category Archives: Lifestyle

Kombucha 101 – What I Learned

Last month I attended a presentation at one of Chicago’s newest hot spots; The Kombucha Room.  Nestled in the Logan Square neighborhood, the venue strives to support regional brewers and community wellness education.

For those absolutely new to the term, we are talking about fermented tea infused with flavors and, as the presenter (Kombuchade) advised, “good for the performance athlete and your grandmother”.  The making of which is as much art as it is science, but definitely realistic to do at home.  (Although supporting your local, organic focused businesses is definitely a great way to “‘buch on” as well).

The first priority is to start with a good scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast).  Like any good culture, this should come from reputable sources and those that are able to provide you data on the strains.  There is actually a Kombucha Brewers International association which can help for resources and/or direction.  Best yet, scoby can eventually be shared with other fellow ‘buch makers.

*I have seen other recipe bloggers, such as The Kitchn, demonstrate how to make your own with a pre-purchased kombucha as part of the recipe.  However, this was not discussed in the presentation I attended.  Again, it’s best to know your sources and go with the good stuff.

Next, is to think about and determine flavor profiles.  This step has a part A & B.

  • A) Determine your base tea leaves.  These are needed for scoby growth.
  • B) Additives, such as spices, should align with your health and wellness priorities.
    • A “2nd level” fermentation, could have whole substrates like fruit or shaved ginger root.  (Whole substrates will increase “fizz” effect, experimentation with them will likely have best outcomes after you have become a more savvy brew master playing with your base teas and other, more simple flavor additives).

Experimentation with infusions are seemingly endless, but you will always want to keep a “base” scoby (ie not infused with any additives).  15-20% saved should be sufficient, but up to 50% set aside for future batches could generate “aged textures”.

After determining what flavor combinations you want to tackle, stock up on appropriate supplies and derive a strategic game plan for the brewing process.  Although some rules apply, this can be customized and fit to your lifestyle.  Figure out personal logistics.  Once a system is set up, input time could be, for example, an hour or two per week (keeping in mind, time put in will give back to you in more ways that one).

Pay attention to temperature in which you are storing your batch.  Some brew masters like to place them in proximity to a heated cooking source or on top of a refrigerator.  Colder temperatures will slow the ferment.  This is where trial and error + personal circumstances will come into play.  However, over time, you will get the hang of it and can tailor the plan accordingly.  Think of this as nurturing.

Once the kombucha has cultivated to your desired taste and consistency, it an be poured directly from the container it was fermented in to enjoy OR into smaller, individual containers to be refrigerated.

Additional resource material is below;

Supply Suggestions

  • Sterilized jar (glass preferred).  Can wipe with white vinegar wipe before use.
    • Growlers, mason jars, etc.
  • Large tea ball (metal strainer).
  • Filtered water, such as reverse osmosis.
  • Flip tops for jars (for example from Mason Jars Company).

Points for Processing

  • Don’t burn your culture, ie overheat.  Watch for little bubbles at bottom of the liquid (typically 150°).
  • Keep liquid moving in pot.
  • After pour onto scoby, stir up (can be with hand).
  • Don’t move jar around too much.
  • Don’t over seal the bottle or it could explode.  (Also, don’t use cheap wine corker, etc.  Be sure to buy something rated for kombucha pressurizing).
  • To limit the primary fermentation, refrigerate.  Otherwise, it will continue to culture/age.

Other Tips/Tricks of the Trade

  • Keep tea portion to at least 50% and consider avoiding anti-bacterial varieties or additives, such as an earl gray tea or certain essential oils.  (These might work for small batch, but it will definitely be trial and error).
  • Don’t attempt to reduce sugar.  The ‘buch needs this for energy.
  • Scoby can be stored in a mason jar.  Vinegar will preserve it (only warning is if there is a big black or green fuzz ball).
  • Infuse flavors when kombucha is warm (vs after refrigeration).
  • Your first batch may be a little thin.  Taste the scoby as you go along through the batching (play with it).
  • Individual bottles can be used to create more fizz.
    • Note:  different herbs have different fizz results.
  • The bottles can be “burbed”.
  • Although more advanced in technique, nitrogen can force carbonate.
  • Secondary infusions, such as whole fruit, may be best when wrapped with cheese cloth (think of this as similar to a tea bag).

If excess scoby (as it will continue to grow);

  • Recipes to convert into food
  • Can feed to animals
  • You can eat it directly
  • Compost it

Other Lessons/Words of Wisdom

  • Organic process ties into the energy/natural processes, ie ingredients don’t have to be organic, but quality of ingredients = quality of kombucha.
  • Buying commercial brands will vary with regards to the level of kombucha.  Translation; read labels.
  • If asked about alcohol content, it is hard to measure b/c alcoholic measures pick up on organic acids in the profile and includes those.  The short answer, is this shouldn’t be of too much concern and is likely gossiped about due to hype vs actuality.

In closing…  enjoy the opportunity to learn a new skill, practice mindfulness while doing, and reap the rewards of your custom creations!

If in Chicago, be sure to check out The Kombucha Room.  Social media shot outs are below:

@thekombucharoomchi

@TheKombuchaRoom

 

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Disclosure – Links to Mason Jars Company may generate very small amounts of monetary income.

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Bug Off…

It’s summer in the US and I definitely do not blog as much between June and September.  However, a news alert caught my eye this past weekend; Scientists say record floods could brew bad batch of mosquitoes (Chicago Tribune).  This on top of reports of the first case of West Nile virus in the state of Illinois this year…  Eeek.  Southern regions may be seeing even greater batches of the little buggers.

Unfortunately most commercialized insect repellents are higher dose chemical concoctions.  Considering the alternative of an invasive virus, the choice may be simple.  However, lower toxicity options do exist in the essential oil (EO) spectrum and, bonus(!), some of these EO’s may assist in overall immune health.

Lara Adler, a reputable and resourceful expert educator on environmental toxins reminds us that “a number of essential oils have clinically been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties, including clove oil, tea tree oil, thyme oil, oregano oil, rosemary oil, eucalyptus, lemon-grass, and cinnamon oils.  Some oils are more effective against bacteria, while others are more effective against viruses, so combinations can be more effective than just using one oil on it’s own” (nd).

Furthermore, certain EO’s are particularly effective for insect repellent.  In this area, I’ve seen several blends usually including options such as lemon-grass, peppermint, and/or citronella.

My amazing friend and camping expert shared the following insect repellent recipe (for a 2 oz bottle):

  • 1 tablespoon witch hazel
  • 8 drops citronella
  • 8 drops cedarwood
  • 6 drops lemon-grass
  • 5 drops rosemary
  • 5 drops peppermint
  • 5 drops rose geranium
  • 3 drops thyme

*Fill the remainder of the bottle with distilled water.

Check out Cricket Camping blog for more outdoor living tips and some cool narratives.

This summer, further support conscientious healthful living by getting outside and active, but with consideration for the option of lower toxicity “bug off” approaches.

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

Adler, L. (nd). Tools for Teaching Toxicity. Essential Oils as Cleaners.

5 ways to “pretty up” your beauty routine

The beauty industry is a big business!  This spring, I kicked off with a blog The ‘Real’ Spring Clean detailing a few ways to clean up lifestyle approaches and living environments with regards to harmful exposures.  Personal care is a huge area within this topic, partially attributable to lack of adequate evaluation (see a 2004 Environmental Working Group report).

5 faucets to consider within this focus area include the following;

  1.  Upgrade your products for more bang for the buck.  One thing that blows people away is that well formulated, low-toxin beauty care products often require a lower amount for adequate application.  What does this mean in simple terms?  Investment in this sort of product will stretch, ie “less is more”.
  2. Pay attention to substrate when color is involved.  Essentially, liquids involving color have a greater chance of causing harm when applied to the skin.  Therefore, paying attention to chemicals, particularly those relating to endocrine disruption*, and carcinogens in products such as gels and creams may take higher significance as compared to a dry powder.  Definitely pay close attention to that lip color and be sure yours does not include lead.
  3. Avoid synthetic scents.  “Fragrance” is not well regulated in the U.S. and can consist of many proprietary chemical concoctions unclear to the end consumer.  The frustrating thing is even with “good” options, it can be hard to avoid.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) maintains a guide called Skin Deep to help assess this.  A good habit is to check whether labels have the word “fragrance” OR if a natural, plant-based substrate, such as a specific essential oil, is indicated.  Also, consider swapping out chemical based perfumes for essential oil blends!
  4. Take a break.  Find opportunities to avoid or reduce applications, for example there are ways to reduce how often we wash hair with shampoo and conditioner which, as it turns out, often leads to better hair quality.  Not only will making these reductions help lower the risk of cumulative low-dose exposures from personal care, it will save money over time.
  5. Remember internal health.  Finally, and most importantly, the real “skin deep” starts from within.  Cellular health is impacted by nutrition, toxicity, and emotional health.  Proper care for your internal systems will illuminate in better skin and hair quality leading to less need for external applications.

Although, admittedly, I’m still figuring this out myself, there are a couple options that I have come to favorable resolution on (for now);

Annmarie Skin Care multi-purpose foundation relies on a mineral powder, which can be used dry, or combined with facial oil, cream, or serum.  Blend a small amount of the mineral powder with oil, cream or serum in the palm of your hand to create the liquid consistency for foundation.

Typically I blend with their signature herb-infused oil (also available in unscented), but it has surprised me how nicely it also applies as a direct powder application.  In consideration of point 1 above, this product stretches well.  I hardly use any of it to make for full coverage.

Neal’s Yard Remedies is a product line was introduced to me by the lovely Lara Adler.  Based in the UK, it is distributed through retail channels throughout Great Britain and via independent consultants in other countries.  An unexpected bonus is I found that a friend from grade school had become a rep so I was able to reconnect with her through the process (see her page).

I have been absolutely amazed at how happy I have been when using Lush Ultrabland Facial Cleanser.  The formula cleanses and moisturizes simultaneously and can be used simply as an under eye make up remover or as a total facial cleanse.  Their Full of Grace solid serum is also a great multi-purpose staple.

Mineral Fusion products, although not perfect (mostly due to fragrance), rank pretty favorable across EWG’s list, come at a reasonable price point, and are available through a variety of accessible channels, including Whole Foods.  In addition, they have hair care formulas for color treated hair which is less commonly found within natural/organic centered personal care products.

One discouraging thing about being a Hashi’s patient is that I have experienced a fair share of eye brow thinning.  ZuZu Luxe pencil comes in a tobacco color that I love and their products rank pretty well on EWG’s list as well.

A company that I have not tried yet, but am considering for future use is 100% Pure.  The company relies on natural, plant-derived pigments and avoids iron oxides which have to be tested for lead.

Many also turn to Beauty Counter which is positioned at the fore front of education in the US beauty market and centered on reduction of substrates that are harmful in personal care products including their coined “Never List”.  Link to the page for one consultant in my network.

Finally, I have noticed several small, craft based options picking up momentum.  A few favorites in the Chicago area include Bonnie and Biba Lips.  Lip applications have not had the best track record, such as testing for lead.  Especially with consideration to point 2 above, lip color is a key area to pay attention to when assessing for potential toxicity.

Additional resources can be found via the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

*Chemical-based substrates associated to endocrine disruption include phthalates (a class of chemicals related to “fragrance”, softeners, solvents, and stabilizers in personal and household related products), parabens (used as preservatives), and phenoxyethanol.  Endocrine disruptors refer to substrates that mimic or block hormone signals which, in addition to gland and organ health, have been studied for their role obesity.

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Disclosure - Annmarie Gianni & 100% Pure links direct to my affiliate pages which may generate very small amounts of monetary income.

The ‘Real’ Spring Clean

How do you define clean?

I hope to challenge your definition and for those in which I’m “speaking to the choir”, let’s sing!

Toxins are a result of man-made chemicals as well as naturally occurring.  Repetitive low-dose exposure to these compounds over time, such as phthalates, is what we refer with the terms “toxic load” or “burden”.  Collective dose has been a subjective topic within the scientific community.  However, there is a supportive body of evidence for associations between toxic exposures and the onset of a whole host of chronic diseases from autoimmune to cancers.  Children, pregnant women, and older aged adults are significantly more sensitive and vulnerable to toxin exposure such as those from pesticides.  Substrates with toxicity can be found in consumer products, food, and the environment in which we engage.

Do I have your attention?

O.k., now “what the heck can you do about it?“…

I cordially invite you to redefine your spring clean.  Conduct an intervention for yourself by focusing on ridding yourself of the ugly (cleanse) and shifting to more healthful alternatives.  The easiest changes will be in your home.  Pick a room to start with and get going.  (Hint, this will likely be your kitchen and/or bathroom).

Primary areas in which you can easily make shifts;

  1. Personal Care – Color, fragrance, additives, synthetic chemicals that few would accurately pronounce… you name it.  Each of these are areas to become keen on when assessing potential toxic load.
  2. Cleaning Products – Besides data on unintentional poisoning leading to adverse outcomes including death, the average US household cleaner contributes to indoor air pollution.  These products carry rather harsh hazard warnings, such as “Danger”, “Warning”, or “Caution”, for a reason.  Yet, natural alternatives do not need any of this.  Consider the alternatives.
  3. Food –
    • How many ingredients are in a piece of produce?  No, this is not a trick question.  Answer:  ONE!  A follow up question, do you know how that piece of produce was grown, ripened, and shipped?
    • How many ingredients are in the average processed food item?  To be honest, I could not find this data, but I’m certain the average number is over 5!  Whole-food recipes, ie products of resulting in multiples of one, are not what I’m referring to here.  I’m calling out additives, derivatives, isolations, etc.  Many nutritionists suggest to shop by “Five or Fewer”. By this, we mean if it has more than five ingredients, don’t buy it.
    • Finally, pesticide resin, which can also be systemic, and potential harmful exposures picked up during shipping and transit are also variables to take into account.  The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists provide preliminary guidance (see below).
    • BONUS – don’t forget to check out your food storage, packaging, and cookware options, especially those used for heated items and/or those holding fat based items.

A special note on fragrances – In some cases, natural derivatives can contribute to the scent of an item, however, often the term on a product label is code for chemical concoction and full disclosure is not legally required.

Changes in each of the areas can parallel each other.  We often think of health as diet and fitness and the term “clean living” has been coined to food.  However, our health is impacted by many more variables each of which can be addressed in a “Spring Clean”.  Healthful shifts will incorporate reasonable reduction and realistic transitions.

What about communal spaces?

On a public health landscape, we certainly have work to do.  However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does incorporate this area into their healthy workplace initiatives and can be leveraged as a resource for change within communal spaces.

Other Resources;

Clean 15-Dirty Dozen

Wellness Wednesday: Lessons from the Blue Zones

This month, I have been focusing on community ties with respect to social well-being.  There are numerous studies assessing associations between social connectivity and circumstances with respect to health outcomes.

In fact, social determinants for health, is a hot button topic within current health policy.  On a broad perspective, these determinants fall under three primary categories; 1) social institutions, 2) surroundings, and 3) social relationships (Anderson, et al, 2003).

One of the most compelling projects that has further illustrated this construct is the Blue Zone Project.  Originating out of the work from a National Geographic investigative journalist and researcher, Dan Buettner,  the project as a whole has taken an anthropological approach paired with methodology from epidemiology.

The project inspired a movement and has been referred to by many leaders in the field of lifestyle health.  Various activities to build out some form of a Blue Zone like attributes to communities have been initiated across the U.S. through workplace wellness service providers, government grants, and other community-based initiatives.

Although the majority of us do not live in a “true” Blue Zone, the project does present certain qualitative factors for all of us to consider.  In layman’s terms, it helps us consider actionable areas in our lives by revealing the characteristics of those living within an official Blue Zone.

In application, the project presents us with 9 key themes for living a life most suited for good health and longevity; regular natural movement, purpose, stress reduction (“down shift” methods), 80% rule in terms of eating to only 4/5th fullness, heavy intake of plant based foods, low-moderate consumption of quality wine, sense of belonging, prioritizing loved ones first, and associating with the “tribe”, ie social circles (Buettner, 2016).

It is the last three areas that align well to my monthly theme.  They are both inspirational and scientific.  To elaborate further;

Belong – essentially, find your faith and the respective group to help support you in it.  This may not be a traditional religion, but there should be principles that mimic various world religions including unity, moral conduct, and regular, consistent social congregation.

Loved Ones First – nurture yourself AND familial relations.  In some cases, this may also include the “family you create for yourself”, meaning certain close friends.  Consider a plan to take care of aging parents and loved ones while relishing in the many wisdom-based lessons they can provide you.  In some form or capacity, find at least one life partner.

Right Tribe – ever hear of the New York Times article, “Are your friends making you fat?”, which focuses on socialization with relation to health behaviors (Thompson, 2009)?  Although I don’t love the actual title of this due to potential stigmatization, the concept within presents some truth.  Align yourself to those who are willing to practice healthy behaviors and, in return, inspire those around you through your commitment to do the same.

I might also add that intertwining “purpose” into the three concepts above can have a dynamic effect.  Your sense of purpose can help lead you in the behaviors associated to social constructs AND your exploration of social relationships can also further support your definition of purpose.

In lifestyle practice, this could translate to identifying your daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly intentions.  There are a whole host of mind-body tactics to help you do this as well as effectively planning methodology.  For those that might need a little help with this, please check out my professional website.

REFERENCES:

Anderson, L.M., Scrimshaw, S.C., Fullilove, M.T, and Fielding, J.E. (2003). The Community Guide’s Model for Linking the Social Environment to Health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 24(3S), 12-20.

Buettner, D. (2016, Nov 10). Power 9, Reverse Engineering Longevity. Retrieved from Blue Zones: https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/.

Thompson, C. (2009, Sep 10). Are Your Friends Making You Fat? New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/magazine/13contagion-t.html.

Wellness Wednesday: It’s Winter in the U.S. Are You Missing Fresh Produce?

I’m going to let you in on a nutrition “do”…  when it comes to produce, quality most certainly matters!  So what’s the “do”?  Quite simply, seek education of the options, weigh them, then make the commitment to select the best options.

There is a plethora of things that can affect nutrient composition and density ranging from the mineral composition of the substrate it was grown in, the time it was picked as compared to the degree of ripeness, to how long it transported before getting to your plate.  These variables matter.

If you are dependent on super markets or corner stores to provide your produce, then you might find it challenging to pick the best options, particularly over cooler winter months.  Therefore, it’s good to have an idea of what is in season.  It will likely cost less and may be available through local sources which could be indicative that it was picked riper and shipped much less in distance.

According to Fruits & Veggies More Matters, winter is a great time for options such as certain cruciferous options such as Brussels sprouts, Collard greens, and Kale.  It can also be prime time for Sweet potatoes, Squash, Turnips, Dates, and Pomegranates (n.d.).  No wonder these are staple to holiday meals!

The Fresh Everyday Produce website also highlights Oranges, Grapefruit, and Cranberries (2012).  Finally, one other special mention is Greatist blog post “The Best Winter Fruits and Vegetables to Eat This Winter” for highlighting by cool or warm climates (Breene, 2013).

You may also consider what you can grow on your own.  An article on Off The Grid News highlighted different ways to grow Broccoli, Cabbage, and Cauliflower all year long without a garden (Cash, n.d.).

Modern technology is also on our side.  With the explosion of aeroponic and aquaponic methods paired with the local food movement, at home options are popping up every where and growers are investing in the systems to “up” the quality of what is available in grocery settings as well.

Personally, I’m partial to the Tower Garden.  Have you seen these things?  Available for outdoor or indoor use, the aeroponic system grows fresh produce faster, uses less water, and requires less space as compared to traditional farming methods.  Also, when given the right low-maintenance care, it can produce much more abundance for the dollars you put in as opposed to purchasing in stores.  Add one to your living environment and you might just make friends with those neighbors!!!

Nourishment through adequate nutrition from whole food sources is imperative for all seasons and it’s easy to get off track in winter.  Hopefully you can now say you know more about the what, where, and how to stay on track in terms of fresh produce.

References:

Breene, S. (2013, Dec 9). The Best Fruits and Vegetables to Eat This Winter. Retrieved from Greatist: http://greatist.com/health/seasonal-winter-produce-guide.

Cash, P. (n.d.). 3 Vegetables You Can Grow All Winter … Even Without A Garden. Retrieved from Off the Grid News: http://www.offthegridnews.com/survival-gardening-2/3-vegetables-you-can-grow-all-winter-even-without-a-garden/.

Fresh Everyday: What’s in Season. (2012). Retrieved from Fresh Everyday Produce: http://fresheverydayproduce.com/in-season/.

What Fruits and Vegetables Are In Season During Winter? (n.d.). Retrieved from Fruits & Veggies More Matters: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/whats-in-season-winter.

Other Mentions:

Wellness Wednesday: 5 Ways to use Jarred & Frozen Fresh Foods in Winter!

Many generations have relied heavily on “canning” food and I am not referring to metal canned items lining shelves in an average modern grocery store.  Yes, mason jars reigned.  Once upon a time, preserving food in this way from the various harvest seasons allowed for produce to be enjoyed across the cold, non-harvest months.

Thankfully, consumer trends have seemed to revive a likening for the jars.  Some of this is fashion, however also, at least I feel, a returned interest to classic and “clean” recipes (and packaging methods) has further instigated.

Somehow, I have turned into my grandmother and became a collector of what I deem “re-usable” glass jars.  Pickle jars are often fantastic, but I have re-used the jars from coconut oil, mustard, and tomato products stored in glass among other things.  I had so many greens last summer and fall that I started chopping them up into jars and freezing them for winter.  At one point, I counted 17!

NOTE – be careful which jars you freeze as some designs are not good for this and will break in the freezer…  I have learned this the hard way!  Therefore, for any foods that take more preparation, please use good, sturdy mason jars such Ball or Kerr.

This all brings me to my point…  Jarred or stored away foods are great for winter recipe planning.  Now, if you are like me and have an abundance of frozen greens, you have great sustenance for smoothies or soups.  However other “good ideas” are fruits, jarred tomatoes or juice, stocks, and purees (my CSA actually puts pureed squash in freezer bags for winter share deliveries).

In fact, using the correct preservation methods, you can make a fair amount that is shelf stable versus frozen or refrigerated.  It’s a great way to get in a few of the things you might miss over the winter months (or will pay an arm and a leg for at a grocery store).

My top 5 are:

Tomatoes – I can use about any type of prepared tomato (diced, stewed, juiced, etc) for a hearty cooked dish; soups, curries, stews & chili’s, & layered baked dishes just to name a few.

Pickled Anything & Krauted Foods – Did you know that the term “pickles” is not just for cucumbers?  Thankfully some savvy farm to table restaurants are reviving this notion and so should you.  Just about any farm, fresh vegetable can be pickled.  If you have followed my posts for a while, it is incredibly easy to pickle using vinegar and water with desired herbs and seasonings.  Making a Kraut isn’t all that hard either and how about the probiotic boost it will give you!

Fresh Herbs – There are some technical methods online for “how” to do this, but I typically just freeze them in small packs in order to use as needed.  If you have a wonderful indoor growing system, then this may not be useful, but if you don’t have room for one, freezing the excess in summer and fall is a good back up plan.

Greens – You guessed it.  Why let those fresh nutrient rich options go to waste?  Frozen, they can be used in most any stove-top dish; stir-fries, soups, sautés, etc.  I have even thrown excess lettuce in the freezer to later add to smoothies.

Fruit Preserves – This is a guilty pleasure and not something I would recommend for your daily plan.  I probably go through less than ½ a dozen jars of preserves a year and they are small.  However, it’s a winter treat that I can use for oatmeal crisps, with nut butters, drizzled over banana “ice cream”, or simply by the spoon.

2016 Holiday List!

2016 Holiday Suggestions

If you were following me in 2015, you may have seen my last holiday list.  The linked text will take you to the post.

This year, I have a few updates and new finds to share.  Similar to last year, my focus is primarily on small, locally oriented vendors with passion, personal connection, and value-focus to their product lines.  As you may already know, I’m a person driven by practices, so, of course, “eco-friendly” considerations are made.  I also share a few practical gift ideas that can help people in living their healthiest lives.

Give the Gift of Nutrition

Selfish plug here, but I am now a representative for the JuicePlus+ and TowerGarden company.  I am also a huge fan of recipe shares, food baskets, gifting a produce share, or simply sharing a significant dish.  Last year, I also recommended organic, non-GMO seeds.  It takes a little digging to find organic vendors (typically a “seed bank”), but many of them operate online.  I have used SeedsNow a handful of times, including for additions to wedding gift baskets.

Essential Oils

The applications for essential oils are immense; aromatherapy, medicinal, personal hygiene, and household cleaning, to name a few.  Good ones don’t come cheap, however.  If you are looking for a resourceful, yet indulgent gift, consider essential oils.  It takes a little research into quality standards, but you won’t regret the knowledge gained from exploring this path

I’m keeping this one on the list this year, only I’m providing a new suggestion for where to purchase.  I would highly recommend checking out Mountain Rose Herbs for their oils.  My mom introduced them to me and I have since found them reviewed by several health and wellness blogs.  They are consistently highly recommended.  Another small, local oriented company I recommended last year is Town & Anchor.  Their products will be finished formulas for a variety of body care needs.

***Bonus to Mountain Rose Herbs, they are also a great resource for bulk organic spices and offer a scaled shipping discount based on lbs ordered.

Storage

I still stand by this as a solid suggestion.  It can be very helpful for many people on your holiday list and is also a less expensive option which is ideal for shoppers on a budget.

Mason Jars – beyond traditional canning, there are so many uses for these.  They are great for storage, salad jars on the go, fermented foods, smoothies or lemon water, and personal care products.  Most craft stores sell lids with pumps for lotions or liquid soaps.  Even better, the price point is low.  With the versatility of these jars, the value is clear.  Plus, they come in a few different colors.  A ribbon or holiday trim can easily be tied around the lid for a simple, festive presentation.

Stackable Kitchen Storage – there are several options for this, but I have purchased from World Market.

Other Unique Home Goods & Finds

Do you know what a certified B corporation is?  I hope you do, but if not, I linked the text for further information.  The notion has been slower in progress in certain states, but is catching some momentum.  This year I found a cleaning product company, Meliora Cleaning Products, that is operating under this framework.  Environmental sensitivities are becoming a greater burden for the healthy livelihood of many people.  Therefore, having options such as this can really be helpful, especially if the recipient is under time crunches for making their own.

North Coast Organics, which I have under beauty and personal care is also a certified B-corporation.  Other well-known names that are B-corps include klean kanteen (what another great gift option), patagonia, seventh generation, King Arthur Flour, and The Honey Co.

The Sweet Side

There are a ton of sugar-sweetened products on the market, but only a few earn my vote.  Typically, I am looking for low sugar content (if any added sugars are used at all) and additive free, such as no gluten, dairy, or soy.  The reality is that good food products, especially those of specialty nature, often don’t come cheap.

People love to give chocolate at the holidays.  In my presentations, I tell patients/clients that I still eat chocolate…  only the good stuff!  There are two new chocolate finds in my arsenal.  1)  Taza Chocolate; I highly recommend their dark, stone ground options, particularly the jalapeno offering.  2)  tabal chocolate; which is small batch, organic, and fair-trade.  For them, my favorite was the Bolivia 70% Coffee, but none were bad, ha!

I also found a brand new honey company, Brood Honey, (which is a subsidiary of Worker B) that has a unique product for market…  honey aged in brewing barrels!  Currently they offer bourbon, cabernet, & tequila.  They then return the barrels to the brewers who can then use them for more interesting brews.  It’s a beautiful up-cycle usage of the barrels.  I would recommend the tequila.

If you are looking for wine, I have just started collecting a list of those that are eco- and sustainable in their practices.  I learned from a wine vendor that producers can do everything organic until the final step, which I think is adding the tannins, yet still cannot carry the USDA organic label. Although I’m still learning, it’s good to know that there is a spectrum of options.  I like the Boisset Collection because it embodies the eco-friendly practices, but also helps support people with financial reward through a distributor model.  Here is the link for one of the reps I know; https://my.boissetcollection.com/21vintage.

Finally, I came across an artisan tea company from the Southern U.S., Piper & Leaf Artisan Tea Co.  Why is this relevant???  They have figured out how to combine certain herbs and flowering plants, without additives, into combinations that taste very sweet.  Genius!  I cringe at the amount of refined white sugar that goes into southern sweet tea.  Now there is a solution.  Many of the brews I sampled were too sweet for me so I think for the southern sweet tea lover on your list, this is a health conscious option not to be ignored.  I did find the Chocola-tea and Summertime Chai, were o.k. for my liking.  They also offer limited time seasonal options.

Beauty, Personal Care, & Eco-friendly

The list of chemicals in traditional cosmetics is alarming and even more concerning is how “toxic” we are in industrialized countries.  Therefore, I keep these suggestions as staple suggestions as well!

Oxalis Apothecary – a new find for this year’s list.  Their underlying mission is to focus on “plant to body”.  Similar to “farm to table” in eating, they feel this brings the same notion to beauty care products.  I am also somewhat biased because the creator, Erin Wexstten, is from Southern Illinois.

Worker B – another new find who manages their own beehives and rely on organic practices.  Also, check out their Brood Honey line (under sweet side).

North Coast Organics – check them out of products such as deodorant and lip balms.  Promo code (which is hopefully still relevant) is 15OFF.

Beautycounter – sold through independent consultants, the products are developed to avoid approximately 1,500 chemicals that have either unsafe or inconclusive evidence of safety.  The company also takes a proactive approach educate consumers on cosmetic ingredients, not just sell product.  I was specifically touched by the back side of their business cards in which a “never list” of ingredients to avoid is printed.

Biba Lips – founded with a focus on glamour without less preferred ingredients, such as parabens, synthetics, or artificial fragrances.  “Biba” translates to a beautiful woman both inside and out.  The lip color line is beautifully crafted with botanicals centered on nourishing qualities and packaged in a gold-toned mirrored compact.

Bonnie – handcrafted in Chicago, Bonnie equals more than just lip balm.  The line includes facial masks, lotions & body serums, and natural perfumes.  Even better, the labeling is artistic and fully designed by the owner.  Hello stocking stuffer!

Smart Handbags

I still love PoCampo as an option and they have a few patterns this year.  These tactfully made bags are not just attractive and eye-catching, they are incredibly resourceful.  Tailored to incorporate our mobile device driven world with an on-the-go lifestyle, their designs are weather-proof and perfect for all commuter types; bike, transit, or car.

Spirits, Botanicals, Brews, & Accessories

Again, I caught up with the Strongwater folks this year.  I still love this as a viable option, especially if you want something a little nicer and crafty.  Certainly keep craft brewers and distilleries, preferably organic, on the list.  Another option I came across this year is The Bitter Housewife from Portland, Oregon.

Mom-made Fashions

This final entry is also a repeat from last year, but she is worth a duplicate plug!  Melissa, the mastermind behind Sew Like My Mom, offers a unique option especially for those on your list with young children.  From what started as a hobby making colorful patterned handbags, and synergistic to her life as a mother, she has grown her business from crafty, homemade designs to the development of her own line of children’s clothing patterns.

***Watch for her four adorable children in her images and product marketing.

Umami

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a Rick Bayless cooking demo in Chicago, IL.  Intertwining story telling while performing a demo is certainly a skill that he has developed.  Beyond the recipe, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about his perspective on food.

Although his cooking style is different than mine, he shares many of the same ideas in which I embrace including, but not limited to, learning methods from other cultures and seeking understanding of the food itself before taking on any culinary endeavors.  In addition, he spoke of being knowledgeable and considerate for the sensory system.

One of my graduate level nutrition classes, placed great emphasis on this as well.  It was in this course that I was first introduced to the concept of umami, the fifth taste, which also embodies what we have come to know as “savory”. Besides salt, sweet, sour, and bitter, foods that elicit umami are often viewed as superior in some way.  Underlying this perspective is a unique interplay within our human biochemical pathways adding further scientific support as to why humans favor the umami taste.  However, essentially, umami contributes to making a prepared dish palatable.  (It’s also a very fun word to pronounce out loud).

Additional information on umami can be retrieved from the resources at the bottom of this post.

On the day of the demo, Bayless incorporated a dish including autumn squash and pork to illustrate umami.  From my understanding, it is the smoked component of the pork that would elicit the umami response.  Personally, I do not eat pork.  Therefore, upon his suggestion, I tried  a version of the recipe with mushrooms.  I certainly can not take credit for the creative vision and wonderful turn out of this dish.  It is all a credit to Bayless.  However, I love to share innovative food concepts and, therefore, am summarizing my take on the recipe.

First, I started with the salsa like sauce by blending pan-roasted onions, tomatillos, and whole garlic cloves.

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I added a little bit of Co-Op hot sauce to the tomatillo blend which gave it an orange-like hue.

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Then, I sauteed the mushrooms in coconut oil.

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With the squash, I had a little help from my CSA who has been sending us an assortment of frozen, pre-prepared vegetables to fill in the lower production of fresh items during the winter months.  #TomatoMountain.  Therefore, I simply heated this in a pan over low-heat.  Finally, layered the items to be served and topped with pumpkin seeds as my non-dairy substitute/swap to cojita cheese.

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Even though I may have selected a slightly too hot version of Co-Op sauce, I still lived up every bite of the dish.

Without question, it embodies umami!

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Resources for Umami:

Beauchamp, G. (2009). Sensory and Receptor Responses to Umami: An Overview of Pioneering Work. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(3), 723S-727S.

Chaudhari, N. P. (2009). Taste Receptors for Umami: The Case for Multiple Receptors. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(3), 738S-742S.

Curtis, R. (2009). Umami and the Foods of Classical Antiquity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(3), 712S-718S.

De Araujo, I. K. (2003). Representation of Umami Taste in the Human Brain. Journal of Neurophysiology, 90(1), 313-319.

DuBois, G. (2004). Unraveling the Biochemistry of Sweet and Umami Tastes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(39), pp. 13972-13973.

Lindermann, B. (2000). A Taste for Umami. Nature Neuroscience, 3, 99-100.

Lindermann, B. N. (2002). The Discovery of Umami. Chemical Senses, 27(9), 843-844.

Mau, J. (2005). The Umami Taste of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 7(1/2), 119.

Yamaguchi, S. (1998). Basic Properties of Umami and Its Effects of Food Flavor. Food Reviews International, 14(2-3), 139-176.

Yamaguchi, S. N. (1998). What is Umami? Food Reviews International, 14(2-3), 123-138.

Yamaguchi, S. N. (2000, April 1). Umami and Food Palatability.  The Journal of Nutrition, 130(4), 921S-926S.

Other Mentions:

Tomato Mountain Farm, Brooklyn, WI, http://www.tomatomountain.com

Co-Op Sauce, Chicago, IL, http://www.coopsauce.com

 

Running is in the Air

Fall is in the air… 

For many Americans, the Fall season is a time to think about pumpkins, hot chocolate, changing color of the leaves, and, without further ado, football.  I, however, don’t care much for watching football and hold an even greater apprehension towards the less than healthy food options that go along with spectatorship.  Stadium concessions and sports bars aren’t exactly targeting the “clean eating” crowd and most spectating involves extra hours of sitting, something I do enough of during the work week.

Without disrespect to those that love this way of life as one of American’s greatest past times, I have come to accept that with football season, I will lose 50% or more of my social circle on “game days”.  Therefore,

…I must find delightful diversions for myself.

Summer’s heat and humidity, as well as the strong temptation to make a beach day, typically wreak havoc on my running game plan.  Yet, the Fall season is a great time to reverse this pattern and up my game at the practice of running.  Cooling temperatures and generally clear mornings create an ideal outdoor environment for hitting the trail, city streets, or neighborhood path.

Although not for everyone, running has been a great activity for weight loss and maintenance, physical endurance, and overall peace of mind for me.  Often, I have found greater mental clarity on or after a run.  However, I wasn’t always a runner.  Running laps or short distances for conditioning was a regular component of my training protocol in high school and college sports, but the “fever” that many people experience from running was something I never caught.

Embrace and gain focus.

Alas, I learned to get over it.  Through trials and tribulations with progress here, setbacks there, I eventually became a runner in my early 30’s.  The biggest hurdle was to quit making excuses.  In order to gain this mental clarity, I had to get over myself in many ways.  Part of this strategy included overcoming a perfectionist mentality while accepting that less active times were o.k. and not reason to throw in the bag.  In fact, as I learned from a collection of seasoned experts, taking rest periods in running can be beneficial to the body and more helpful than hurtful for long term athleticism.  After several years of taking a stab, then giving up, I finally paced myself to a reasonable running protocol.

The iconic slogan of Nike, “Just Do It”®, is a pretty good one for running motivation.  It also embodies the classic “K.I.S.S.” principle; keep it simple stupid (or silly as I prefer to use).  Finding the subtle joys in it versus focusing on any negatives has been the easiest way for me to let go and embrace running.  Now, about 8 years of greater focus to include running in my physical activity protocol and approximately 5 years of taking the practice more seriously in terms of setting goals and entering timed races, I jump for joy for Autumn weather.  After all,

…Fall, is now running season in my play book of life!