Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Creating a healthy home - looking for alternatives to plastic!

A friend recently dropped off a book she insisted I should read.  She had initially taken it out from the library, but was so drawn in that she needed to purchase a copy for herself before she was even done reading it.  I'm sure many of you have come across this title and subject already - I had seen the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health - but I had not yet picked it up to read it.  I generally felt that our family is quite aware of keeping toxins and chemicals out of our household, and this book would not reveal much new information.  However, reading just the first chapter made me re-evaluate this thought, as I started to go over a list in my mind of all the subtle ways toxins creep into even the most eco-minded lifestyle.  First of all plastics (toothpaste tubes, rice milk cartons, tofu and tempeh wrapped in plastic, almost any packaging on newly purchased items, shampoo bottles, children's toys, winter snow suits, shower curtains)...then chemicals (furniture, virtually any new clothing, carpets, car interiors, plush toys).   It has been said that in an average day in North America we are exposed to over 450 toxins, just by eating 3 meals and going back and forth to work.  Of course, all these toxins all build up over time in our bodies to cause a myriad of health problems.

So, how to limit the exposure, especially in our homes?  It seems like you need to start with a serious purge in our homes of many familiar items, and then constant vigilence - difficult to do, and certainly not everyone has the budget to purchase all organic or so-called "eco" home products.  However, by minimizing the prevalence of plastics and toxins in our home we can actually save money, because one easy way to do this is by buying less (especially new items), reusing things or purchasing second hand, and making things ourselves with natural materials.

Here are a few simple ideas on how to reduce the amount of plastics coming into the home.
a) milks, yogurts - buy in glass jars
b) freezer bags - freeze food in glass jars, or can/preserve it in glass jars to avoid longterm freezer storage
c) produce bags - avoid those flimsy plastic produce bags at the grocery store by bringing your own cotton reusable produce bags
d) shower curtains - use natural materials like cotton, or hemp which is naturally anti-microbial
e) toothpaste tubes - a simple and effective toothpaste can be mixed in a glass jar using baking soda and a few drops of pepppermint essential oil or tea tree oil
f) dish and laundry detergents - purchase in bulk and store in glass jars
g) cleaning agents - use baking soda, lemon, and vinegar for effective (and cheap) cleaning
h) bread bags - store bread in old fashioned bread boxes, paper bags, or ceramic containers with lids
i) tupperware, ziploc bags and plastic food wrap - use cloth bags, glass jars, ceramic dishes to store food
j) diapers and disposable wipes - use cloth diapers made of wool, cotton or hemp, and reusable cloth wipes and natural sprays
k) tea and coffee packaging - use loose-leaf tea, or your own garden variety, and purchase coffee in bulk and store in glass jar
l) dishes and glasses - purge your cupboard of any plastics and scour thrift stores for glass cups, ceramic, stainless steel, and wooden dishes/bowls
m) bedding - if you can spend the money, do it here - we average about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, so healthful bedding is important!  use natural materials in bedding, mattresses, blankets like cotton, natural fibres, wool filling
n) clothing - try for all natural materials, or at least non-new clothing items (to avoid exposure to chemicals that treat new clothing)
o) house paints - by now there are lots of non-toxic, non VOC paints at every paint store, and at reasonable prices so these are an obvious choice
p) kid's toys - go for used, or non-toxic, all natural toys (wood, cloth, wool)
q) shampoos - make your own, use shampoo soap bars, or apple cider vinegar rinses rather than plastic bottles
r) food - to minimize plastic packaging when buying food, try to purchase in bulk (bulk flours, beans and grains usually come in brown paper bags), whole foods (e.g. produce at the market or grocery store, CSA, or home-grown), or in glass containers that are refillable (e.g. nut butters, honey, syrup, apple cider, milk, yogurt)

Winter sprout garden

We've planted seeds in the greenhouse and cold frames already, in hopes of harvesting some late winter greens.  Today we started our indoor winter sprout garden.  All this really meant was pulling out the wide mouth mason jars, finding mesh lids for them, and soaking several batches of seeds.  We love the sprout seed mixes from Mumm's in Saskatchewan - like spicy lentil crunch, sandwich booster, spring salad mix, brassicas blend, ancient eastern blend, etc - but of course you can simply buy organic seeds and mix your own variations together.  It's best to blend seedsor beans that are of similar size, so they germinate at a similar rate.  You can also sprout individual kinds of seeds, like the common alfalfa sprouts, mung beans, pea sprouts, wheat grass, or sunflower shoots.

It was fun for our 2-year old to help with this "garden" project, and she happily mixed and watered seeds, stirred them in their jars, and helped set up the draining station (we drain the jars propped upside down on a slight angle, supported in a wire dish rack).  She can watch the progress of these growing seeds, which are satisfyingly quick to sprout and ready to eat in only a few days!  We are already looking forward to our next winter picnic with homemade bread, hummus and fresh homegrown sprouts!

If you live locally and want to learn more about sprouting, check out our workshop on Wheatgrass/Sprouting, coming up on February 12.

Holiday gifts - peach lime jam

Our little one and I made a batch of peach-lime jam today, using organic peaches from our freezer.  This is a favourite jam in the house and people love getting it as a gift as it's a burst of summer flavours in the midst of winter.  And, how nice to warm up the house with a canning project on a cold day in December (rather than July when I made my other batches of jam!).  As I've learned, the way to make canning possible in a busy household is to do it in small batches.  The recipe for this jam comes from our favourite canning/preserving book entitled Small Batch Preserving.

Healthful holiday treats - raw vegan nanaimo bars

At our craft sale on Saturday I noticed a woman eating what seemed to be a massive slice of nanaimo bar. She caught the eye of several other customers around her, who were also ogling the dessert and asking where she got it.  It wasn't something we were selling here, and she said her friend had made it - and that it was raw!  This made me obsess about how to create my own version of a raw nanaimo bar, so last night I finally had the time to experiment.  I had been looking for more vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free treats to make for friends over the holidays. Wow!  This raw nanaimo bar is incredible!  In general I like the idea of nanaimo bars, but usually find them far too sweet and lose interest in them part way through eating one.  Usually pure confectioners sugar (powdered icing sugar) is what makes up a large portion of the mid-layer.  I have tried vegan versions successfully in the past, which are delicious but still very sweet.  I wanted a three-layered sweet that resembled nanaimo bars, with nuttiness, coconut, rich creamy filling and smoothe chocolate topping.  This raw recipe is by far the best nanaimo bar I've ever had. It's a variation on several recipes I gleaned from these sources - Gone Raw and Raw BC - as I did not have all the ingredients they called for.  Here's my version of the recipe - I'll see if I can remember exactly how I made it as there was some guessing and estimating going on.  Enjoy in small portions, and share with friends!

Raw Nanaimo Bars

Layer One
1 1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) soaked for 8-12 hours ahead of time
1/3 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
8 dates, pitted
1 Tbsp agave nectar or maple syrup
1 Tbsp raw cacao powder

Layer Two
1 cup raw nut butter (we used almond butter, plus some ground cashews)
3 Tbsp coconut oil
3 Tbsp agave or maple syrup
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp pure vanilla

Layer Three
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup raw cacao powder
1 avocado, mashed
1 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup

Combine each layer separately in food processor.  Then press into an 9x9 inch pan and chill.  When firmly set, cut into small squares.  Can be stored for several days in refrigerator or frozen for longer storage.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Healthful holiday treats - Raw gingerbread recipe

We've been doing a lot of holiday baking around here lately.  I've been creating and testing healthful variations on our favourite holiday sweets, like vegan shortbread made with barley flour, raw chocolate truffles and macaroons, and gluten-free sweets.  One of our newest holiday favourites is the following recipe for raw, gluten-free, vegan gingerbread people, made with pecan flour, ground flax, and fresh ginger, dehydrated rather than baked.  For all of you who are looking for a special sweet treat or gift to make for those on your list with gluten allergies, these are easy to make (kids will love helping!), beautiful and delicious - enjoy!

Raw Gingerbread People
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1 1/2 cup ground nuts (pecans, walnuts) finely ground in coffee mill
3 tsp freshly grated ginger (finely ground) or more to taste
2 Tbsp dark agave nectar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/8 cup water, or more to adjust proper consistency

1) Blend all ingredients together in large bowl.  Add more water as needed to create a consistency that sticks well when shaped into gingerbread people or shapes with cookie cutters.
2) Roll out using light dusting of flour (use flour such as rice flour if you want them to be gluten-free).
3) Make sure you roll out dough to same thickness for all your cookies or you will have different levels of "done-ness" from dehydrating.  Cut into desired shapes, aprox. 1/2 inch thick.
4) Decorate with raw seeds, nuts, cacao nibs, dried fruit like goji, cherries or cranberries, etc.
5) Dry in dehydrator at aprox. 110F for 8-24 hours, depending on whether you want cookies to be slightly chewy or crunchy.

Makes aprox. 18-20 mid-sized gingerbread people.

Craft Sale Success! Thank you!

What a full house today!  From morning until late afternoon friendly crowds found their way through our little home, supporting the local artists/crafters that filled four rooms in our house, and socializing with friends and neighbours.  It was an incredibly busy day with more than 250 people who dropped in, and the assorted boots and shoes piled at the front door made it feel like an all day house party.  We thank everyone who came out - including our wonderful vendors, as well as the customers and visitors.  Now it's time to settle into the rest of December, hopefully at a slower pace.  Wishing you all warmth, peace, friendship and good food over the holidays and for the new year ahead.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Don't Miss - Sat, Dec 11 - A Little Bird Told Me Craft Sale, 10 am-4 pm at Little City Farm!!

December is here, and it feels like the festive winter season is upon us!  We want to wish everyone well for the holiday season, the coming Solstice, and longer days that are ahead...

If you are local, please drop by to say hello during our annual  
A Little Bird Told Me Craft Sale, this Saturday, December 11, from 10 am-4 pm.  We'll have 9 vendors, beautiful works of art, handmade one-of-a-kind gift for everyone on your list, and lots of socializing while you are here!