Tag 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 Pullet egg…

It may come as a surprise that, for this farmer’s granddaughter, my first adult purchase of pullet eggs was this year.  Despite the common place of chickens in my childhood upbringing, I had not been formally introduced to the joy and benefit of pullet eggs in my adult food and nutrition journey.

“Pullet” refers to some of the first eggs a young hen lays and are noticeably smaller in size.  According to my supplier at the farmer’s market, they are significantly nutrient dense as compared to larger eggs from more mature hens and provide richer flavor.  There are some great blog posts on pullet eggs out there already so I chose to not “re-write the book”, so to speak, but provide a brief highlight for those who may have not been formally introduced to the pullet egg either!

A little more on pullet eggs can be found on The Kitchn; What Are Pullet Eggs?

*Feature photo is of my dad, the late rooster Snowbell, and I.

 

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!

20151206_191429

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

 

A Holiday List

2015 Holiday Suggestions

When I started pulling my materials together for this late last month, I didn’t realize how comprehensive my list would end up.  Flipping through my collection of business cards, it turns out that I was introduced to quite a few new products over the last year including those offered from small, locally oriented vendors with passion, personal connection, and value-focus to their product lines.

Gift giving practices will vary from person to person, but my hope is for those making purchases this holiday season, that “consumer vote” will support some of these great products and services.  With “eco-friendly” and “shop small” concepts in mind, a few of my favorite new 2015 finds as well as some old stand-by options are included in this suggestion list:

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.

A few classic, reliable vendors include doTerra or Young Living, but there are certainly others worth considering.  It takes a little research into quality standards, but you won’t regret the knowledge gained from exploring this path.

Earlier this year, I met a bright representative of Young Living at an eco-friendly beauty event and learned all about Thieves’ Blend, which comes with a historical story.  It is pretty well accepted that 15th-century French thieves used the blend to cover the inner side of their masks, due to its antibacterial properties, when entering households affected by the plague.  Despite its controversial past, it is still highly revered today.

There was a raffle associated with the event and I was fortunate enough to win a bottle of Young Living Thieves’ Blend household multi-purpose cleaner formula.  So far, it has been fantastic to use.  Not only is it quite remarkable how well it works, it smells great.  It is a much better choice as compared to synthetically “scented” household cleaner formulas.

Finally, if you are looking for finished formulas for a variety of body care, check out Town & Anchor.

Storage

My family does an annual game that falls somewhere between white elephant and naughty Santa.  Anything from gently used to brand new can be included as one’s entry as long as newly purchased items don’t exceed a high price point.  Last year storage items, particularly those for the kitchen, seemed to be the most frequently stolen and chit-chatted over throughout the game.

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 – several years ago I came across clear, glass kitchen storage canisters at World Market that had a black chalkboard label area pre-stamped on.  At the time, I bought a handful of them in a variety of sizes.  Later, when I started buying almost all my dry goods from bulk bins, I went back for more.  Only this time they had been redesigned to have lids shaped in a way for stacking.  Genius!  Although it has seemed they have phased out using the chalkboard label, you can still purchase chalk board decals.

*See photo at bottom

Beauty & Eco-friendly

The list of chemicals in traditional cosmetics is alarming.  The good news, there are better alternatives.  I was fortunate to be introduced to a few alternative options this year including, but not limited to the following:

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!

{blade +bloom} – scrubs, soaps, and body balms.  The coffee scrub is phenomenal.

Smart Handbags

A great bag can be hard to find.  Two new options I found this year are below:

(Undercover) POPULAR – specializing in self-proclaimed “upcycled vintage”, the designer finds creative ways to use retired products such as old footballs made into a handbag or wine corks turned into fun and novelty bottle charms.  She also offers a wide selection of vintage handbags and accessories.

PoCampo – I was nearly sold at first site.  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

I came across Strongwater at a craft festival.  I was blown away by the thought and care put into this old-fashion craft spirit and liquid botanical business.  The Colorado-based, young entrepreneurs focus on classic cocktail mixers based on apple cider vinegar with infused ingredients and herbal bitters extracted in grain alcohol.  Each tailored to blend flavor with apothecary health benefits.

If looking for a great complimentary product, check out 3-Switch glassware or DropCatch barware.  Completely indulgent and cool, fun products, the funky glasses and decanters 3-Switch offer are perfect for holiday cheer while DropCatch’s bar accessories are classic, stylish and practical, including their signature magnetic bottle openers.

Another beverage option is to look into local brewers that offer half and full size growlers.  This is a great way to support small-batch, sustainable, and/or organic brewers.  In Chicago, we have a fantastic addition to our local brewery community, Greenstar Brewing, http://www.uncommonground.com/greenstar-brewing.

Sustainable Produce, Seeds, & Other Organic Foods

Earlier this year, I was searching for off the beaten track gifts of a practical nature and the idea of sending up a produce box or signing the recipient up for a membership was suggested.  It takes a little digging within your respective communities, but many local companies specialize in local produce delivery, many times all or partially organic.  Another good place to look is locally owned and operated grocers.  It’s kind of free marketing for them, so it’s a win-win opportunity.

As for seed banks, it also takes a little digging to find organic vendors, but many of them operate online.  I have used SeedsNow a handful of times, including for additions to wedding gift baskets.  Spring planting themes would be great for holiday gift giving.

If you are seeking a good catch all vendor selling organic foods, teas, essential oils, and other health related products online, check out eSutras Organics.  Specializing in small batch products, they also have sustainability built into many aspects of their business model, including sourcing from smaller, artisan traders and offering discounts to customers who ship back their containers for reuse and recycling.

Handmade Soaps & Candles

It seems as though overnight, everyone is making soaps or candles.  Based on essential oils and natural ingredients, the aromatic combinations seem endless.  It’s hard to select just one.[1]  A few that I have been pleased to come across are as follows:

Soap Distillery – definitely a small-batch vendor, but not without a high level of uniqueness.  I recommend trying the Limoncello for a clean, fresh scent.

Cloud Nine Soap Co.  – this company covers all your needs for soap including body bars, a kitchen collection, designs for kids, shaving soap, and a laundry formula.  Not only are they resourceful, they have come up with some pretty great fragrance offerings.  They even sell “beer soap” which is actually infused with beer.  How is that for a unique gift option?  Also consider their skin & lip care items, bath accessories, and soy candles.

Peripeti Home – soy candles and home fragrances using essential oils over synthetics.  Seasonal fragrances include Holiday Hearth, Pumpkin & Ginger, and Cypress & Jasmine.

Artumie Candle Studio – handcrafted in Chicago and featured in select small shops across half a dozen states (also available through Wild Poppy Goods online shop, http://www.wildpoppygoods.com).  My favorite is Bergamot & Basil while Midwest Campfire is a close second and seasonally appropriate option.

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.

One staple I have found is Theo chocolate bars.  For about $3.99/bar, a variety of options are available with mostly natural sweetening ingredients, such as coconut, versus added refined sugar.  For the holidays, they are offering Gingerbread Spice, Peppermint Stick, and Nutcracker Brittle specialty flavors at a slightly higher price point.  They also offer a Sea Salt Dark bar benefiting World Bicycle Relief.

This year, I also came across GrownUpKidStuff which focuses on chocolate and caramel sauces made without corn, soy, gluten, or nuts.  They also make a dairy free option.  A few of their options are definitely unique, such as a chocolate sauce infused with Big Fat’s hot sauce.

Finally, don’t forget organic spices, especially for your recipients who love to cook.  Again, a few decadent options can come at a higher price tag for everyday use.  The holidays are a great time to spoil your loved ones with a few extra additions to their spice cabinet.

Mom-made Fashions

Many years ago I befriended an outgoing young woman, Melissa, the mastermind behind Sew Like My Mom.  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.

Other Unique Apparel, Home Goods, & Finds

Representing a hodge-podge, this list of vendors and retail stores cover a variety.  Most of which encompass eco-friendly offerings.

American-made – founded by a husband and wife duo, 50Roots serves to focus on American-made products representing products across the United States.  Carefully selected, from wine glasses to recycled messenger bags to a slinky, the product line is as diverse as the states in which products are made.  For the kiddos, check out their Eco-Kids arts and crafts and definitely do not forget to gloss over their “For Fido” options.

Global and ArtisanTen Thousand Villages operates stores across the U.S. and features artisan-made products representative of over 3 dozen developing countries while promoting fair trade.  Shop with a conscious at this crafty, diverse retailer (also available online).

Interchangeable Sandals – one of the coolest products I came across in the last year, Mohop Shoes uses orthopedic materials, changeable ties and accessories, and are made from sustainably-sourced, recycled, or fair-trade materials.  Select from either Made to Order and Ready to Wear options and be sure to also check them out on YouTube.

Rustic, Artistic, and Practical – if looking for anything from jewelry to lunch bags to a chicken coop with a refurbished feel, be sure to check out Peg + Awl.  Led by a husband and wife duo, the pair designs an array of products all with a special touch of family inspiration.

[1] Not all soy candles are created equal.  If a vendor cannot speak to this, it may be worth passing on them for now.

Photo of clear storage canisters mentioned above:

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National Holidays – A pleasant time to remember mindfulness

For many working Americans, a national (or federal) holiday brings about feelings of “yippee”.  It could mean a 3- or 4-day weekend from work, time to take a vacation, or the opportunity to attend a special, themed event.

In reflection of the Labor Day weekend, I am reminded of the idea of mindfulness.  Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as (1) the quality or state of being mindful or (2) the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis (2015).

The idea of mindfulness is referenced often in health and wellness promotion.  We even have a division of medicine exclusively focused on the area; Mind-body Medicine[1].  The concept of mindfulness can be a critical one to incorporate into efforts that support participant behavior change which is particularly relevant to chronic conditions or overall behavior in support of maintaining physiological wellness, absent of diagnosis.  Therefore, I like to find opportunities to link to the concept.

Holidays can be a great time to remind ourselves to slow down, connect with family or social networks, and, overall, find opportunities for joyfulness.  They can also be great times to take inventory of personal priorities.  I have found that 3-day weekends present an excellent opportunity to take a personal productivity day that may not have been available otherwise.  This can help bring about balance to an often hectic lifestyle and, therefore, contribute to greater mindfulness as we move forward into the next days, months, seasons, and/or years.

This Labor Day weekend, I delicately balanced time with friends and my dog with the management of a few personal affairs.  In Chicago, we were fortuned with late summer weather so, naturally, a trip to the Lake Michigan waterfront was included.

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Often, on weekends, I am furiously managing google alerts and personal e-mails not reviewed during the week, running errands, cleaning my apartment, working out and planning fitness regimes, and preparing meals for the next work week to come.

This weekend, however, I powered down for most all of Saturday and Sunday.  Then, used Monday to gradually re-power up, so to speak, and caught up on a few personal affairs.  In hopes to avoid a “case of the Mondays” (only this week on Tuesday), I avoided an excessive, over planned schedule.  This further allowed for awareness of the various moments and presented better opportunity to be fully present within them.

…I hope that many were able to do the same.

In further support of this concept, Raquel Vasallo’s 20 Signs You’re A Spiritually Healthy Person is a great reminder for a big picture view of living mindfully (2014).

[1] For information about Mind-Body Medicine visit The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s website “about” section; http://cmbm.org/about/what-is-mind-body-medicine/.

References:

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.  (2015).  Mindfulness.  Dictionary.  Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mindfulness on September 7, 2015.

Vasallo, R.  (2014, July 2010).  20 Signs You’re A Spiritually Healthy Person.  Mind Body Green.  Retrieved from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14440/20-signs-youre-a-spiritually-healthy-person.html on August 1, 2015.

Blue-Purple

It amazes me how, collectively across faucets, people can spend so much time focused on what goes on their body in order to look vibrant, colorful and full of life, yet may only devote a fraction of that time for what goes inside it.  There is a classic line I learned while working in production planning, “garbage in, garbage out”.  The phrase can definitely be applied to meal planning as well.

Living in a large city brings no shortage for the opportunity to watch people.  All too often, I observe the pinball activity within in the average workday, aka the daily grind.  It is not uncommon to see anxious people knocked back-forth, up-down, and sometimes down the shoot, figuratively of course.  Between scarfing down Starbucks at breakfast, another cup of joe or two at the office, grab’n go at lunch, and then, finishing off with take out for dinner, it is hard to imagine how much, if any, thought went into it at all.

As practitioners, we have latched on to health promotional advice suggestive of “eating a rainbow” and I am not talking through the consumption of iconic multi-colored candies.  Across epidemiologic studies, the approach is consistently favored and most likely achieved through consumption of a diet rich in plant-based foods.  For my science lovers out there, I will include the citations for two reviews of the study data in the references section; Boeing, et al completed in 2012 and Wang, et al completed in 2014.

Despite this commonly accepted recommendation, it can be easy to get off balance.  In fact, some colors are more commonly deficient than others.  According to Dr. Deanna Minich[1], one of my favorite nationally recognized nutrition professionals, blue-purple is the most common deficit in human diets (2015).  Although she didn’t explicitly say it, I interpret this statement to be meant for the standard American diet.  Minich adds that blue-purple colored foods have certain phytonutrients critical for the brain, such as in the support of learning and memory, (2015).

Last week I hit the blue-purple lottery. Summer has seemed to take added time to arrive in the upper Midwest this year.  However, our luck has finally started to change.  The most recent farmers markets were filled with blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and purple cauliflower and I noticed the super market offering US grown, organic blueberries at an in-store price.  Plenty of opportunity to absorb this beautiful color category!

The blackberries, from Ellis Family Farm, more or less melted in the mouth.  I paired half of them with kale and chives dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  In particular, I spoiled myself by using chocolate olive oil that I picked up from the Olive Tap in Manitou Springs, Colorado while traveling.

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I receive a weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) delivery from Tomato Mountain Farm in Brooklyn, Wisconsin.  Despite receiving broccoli the past two weeks, I couldn’t resist at least a small cut of the purple cauliflower from Nichols Farm and Orchard that caught my eye as I dashed through Daley Plaza farmers’ market on my lunch break walk.  I used it in a curry recipe.

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On Saturdays, I often walk with some people in the neighborhood and we have started passing through Green City Market in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.  There, I picked up a small eggplant from Iron Creek Farm which I sliced and pan fried in coconut oil eating half, then saving the remainder to dice up for eggplant-cabbage-mushroom dumplings.

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With the exception of the preparation that goes into the dumplings, none of these cooking/preparation methods are challenging, nor take a lot of time, and should fit into a busy lifestyle.  The salad was a quick toss.  I didn’t even chop the kale, just stripped the leaves from the stems and proceeded to tear apart any pieces that would be too large.

After working out a few great spice combinations, curry has become an easy go to.  Simply simmer the coconut cream with the spice combo then serve over steamed vegetables.  If desired, pair this with a meat option and/or layer over rice or quinoa.  In this case, chopping vegetables becomes the biggest challenge and I can assure you, if that becomes your biggest challenge of the day, you have had a great day!

The sautéed eggplant may take a little finagling to figure out the proportion of oil most preferred (I used a pretty modest amount), but again, the hardest part is likely the time it takes to slice.  I would guess it to take under 5 minutes.

Eggplant Pan-fried Coconut oil

In order to best wrap this blog post up in a pleasant conclusion, my take away of the week is to remember how vital color is for your inside.  I have used blue-purple as an example, but each color category contributes its own set of unique attributes and internal benefit.  The next time you stare down your closet, accessories, make-up, perfume/cologne selection, etc. figuring out how to best highlight your assets and look attractive for the day; please do remember your inner eco-system loves color too.  Make your inside radiate just as much as your fashionable outer self.

[1] For more information on Dr. Minich’s approach to food and nutrition, be sure to check out http://www.foodandspirit.com and if you are stumbling over “phytonutrient”, WebMD has a consumer friendly write up at http://www.webmd.com/diet/phytonutrients-faq (Metcalf, 2014).

References:

Boeing, H., et al (2012, Sep).  Critical Review:  Vegetables and Fruit in the Prevention of Chronic Diseases.  European Journal of Nutrition, 51, 637-663.  Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3419346/.

Metcalf, E. (2014, Oct 29).  Diet & Weight Management:  Phytonutrients.  Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/phytonutrients-faq.

Minich, D. (2015, Jan 19-26).  Whole-Self Nourishment for Pain and Inflammation:  A Seven Step Approach to Breakthrough Vitality [Digital slides and audio].  Retrieved from painreliefproject.com.

Wang, X., et al (2014, Jul 29).  Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer:  Systematic Review and Dose Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies.  BMJ.  Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4490.

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