The New Chicks on the Block

Baby ChicksWe got four little, soft, baby chicks this weekend! It’s very exciting. We’re hoping to have our own fresh egg supply in 5 to 6 months. For now they’re staying warm under a heat lamp in the garage. In 6 weeks they’ll move out to the grand coop I’ve been building for the past several weeks. I’m still working on building the fence for their chicken run.

My kids are so excited about their new pets. They all had names before we even got home from the feed store.  Snowey, Blackfeather, Aiden and Dixie. Aiden might need to be renamed since we’re hoping they’re all girls. We got Dixie the day after the first three because they didn’t have her kind at the first store we went to. I had to call around to find her. She’s an Ameraucana and she’ll lay greenish or bluish eggs…we hope. Her name is Dixie and she’s the first pet I’ve ever voluntarily gotten. I’m not an animal person at all, so this is a big deal for me. My eldest is smitten with Snowey.

I’ve been thinking about getting chickens for years. I always thought it would be so fun for the kids to go out in the mornings and collect the eggs. I’ve read up on the subject and finally took the plunge. It will be a learning experience I’m sure. But more and more neighbors have their own chickens.  I’m excited to join them.  Our little farm is expanding. Fresh, home-grown eggs and produce. Woo Hoo!

I also tried making my own almond milk last week. It wasn’t hard. I need to figure out a better way of straining the milk through cheesecloth. That part was a bit messy. Other than the straining, it was really quick and easy. Soak the almonds for a couple hours, blend with milk, strain and done. I added vanilla and too much stevia, so it was really sweet. I’ll probably keep buying the stuff at the store for awhile, but it’s pretty cool to have that little skill in my bag of tricks. I can make milk at home.

Food for Better Health

There are a lot of different “experts” declaring what we should be eating these days. I’d like to eat things that make me more healthy, as opposed to less healthy. This seems all very simple and basic, but we’ve come a long way from real food in our culture. So it takes a bit of digging, a bit of education, a bit of research to figure out what I should be feeding my family.asparagus

I’ve read quite a few books on the subject of food. I get turned off by diet books because I’m not changing what I eat for the purpose of losing weight. I just want to put healthy things in my body and into my kids.

The Paleo diet is not for me. I’m sure it’s healthy, and maybe if I was more motivated to make drastic changes immediately I would do it. I’m looking to make sustainable changes for the long term. I still want to be able to order something at a restaurant occasionally. The Whole Thirty does a good job of explaining the Paleo diet if you want to look into that book.

I just started reading The Daniel Plan, by Rick Warren. The basic gist of that diet is to eat real food. I like that. Stuff your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Not the packaged, processed stuff we consume lately.  I’m also looking at the Mediterranean diet, which is also referred to sometimes as the Biblical diet. They all seem to be saying the same basic thing:

 Eat whole, real food- fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, beans, some lean beef and chicken. Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables.

When buying these fruits and veggies, it helps to know which of these are best for you. Look at the Glycemic Index, the nutritional value, etc. Then look at how it’s grown. Some fruits and veggies are grown with a lot more pesticides than others. How can you keep track of all this. Please, let’s just keep it simple!

The Environmental Working Group developed an app that makes one thing easier. Each year they list the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15”.  I can’t remember all of this and I’m not able to buy every single thing on my grocery list organic. So I downloaded this handy app that tells me which are the best foods to buy organic. This free app is called “Dirty Dozen” and it serves as a handy reference while cruising the produce aisle. For example: get your apples organic but it’s okay to get your pineapples and asparagus from the regular section.

There is an app like this for buying skin care and cosmetics too. It’s called “Skin Deep”. You can scan the item you’re contemplating purchasing and see how it rates health wise for you.

 

Seedlings

SeedlingsIt took two tries, but I have officially started my spring garden. Why two tries already? It’s only February. Well, I filled my little seed tray with dirt from my garden. Big mistake. Particularly from the potato patch. I planted about 60 seeds only to find the next day that little potato bugs had planted their own little eggs in that soil. So there was an infestation. I had to dump the entire two trays and start over. I only lost a couple days, and I probably started too early anyway. So no big deal. Lesson learned. Use clean, fresh starter soil from the bag.

My little broccoli, onions and cabbage seedlings grow a little each day. It’s fun watching new life pop out of the dirt. It’s like magic. They all turn toward the slider from whence the sun shines in.

My Last Cup of Milk

I don’t know when it happened. It may have been a few months ago, or maybe it’s even been a couple years. Obviously the impact hasn’t been that life changing for me. I’m talking about the last cup of milk that I drank. This is surprising considering that only a few years before, when I was pregnant and breast feeding, I was drinking up to two gallons each week, just me. It slowly tapered off. First I drank less as the kids drank more. Then I tried buying organic milk for awhile. Since that is quadruple the cost, we drank even less. Then the pediatrician suggested we try cutting out dairy when my youngest son was diagnosed with asthma. He said it in a kind of shruggy-far-out-suggestion-long-shot type of way it seemed to me. Kind of like… “You could try moving to Zimbabwe for a year and see if that helps”. That’s how it sounded when he said: “You could try cutting dairy out of your diet.” It sounded outlandish and impossible and unpromising. So we just cut back on milk a little more. My kids drink water with meals. It’s been this way for a while. I have coffee with breakfast, wine with dinner, smoothies for breakfast or lunch, and lots and lots of water.

Gallons of Milk
Courtesy of www.bluewaikiki.com

Basically, the only time milk has been getting used in our home the last year or so is to add to breakfast cereal and coffee, pancake mix and French toast. So when I bought a carton of Almond milk a couple weeks ago and poured it in my kid’s cereal, they didn’t say a word. I mentioned it after breakfast and there was no riot. They all tried drinking a glass of the new found stuff. 2 kids liked, one kid didn’t, but that’s the one that didn’t like milk anyway. I won’t guzzle it like I used to guzzle milk, but it’s a pretty good flavor. I get the original unsweetened kind. Unfortunately 2 of the 3 almond milk labels I’ve read had quite a few ingredients that looked preservative-y. I haven’t gone so far as to memorize all the ingredients I’m supposed to stay away from these days. But the “Silk” brand seems to be the healthiest I’ve found so far.

Apparently it’s not hard to make the stuff at home. Here is a recipe:

Rich and Creamy Homemade Almond Milk from The Nourishing Gourmet

2 cups of almonds
Water to cover
salt, optional
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
Sweetener of choice, optional

1) Place almonds in a bowl and cover with warm water. Add a few dashes of salt, optional. (Soaking nuts and seeds in salted water is a traditional practice). Soak at room temperature for about 8 hours. Drain the almonds and rinse well.
2) Place the almonds with 4 cups of water in a blender. If you have a smaller sized blender like me, you may need to do this in two batches. Blend for about 1 minutes, or until the almonds are crushed well. Strain using a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, squeeze well to remove all of the milk.
3) Add sweetener of choice (such as stevia, honey, or maple syrup) to taste (optional) and vanilla (optional). Keep refrigerated and shake before using.

Tips:
You can cut the almonds in half for less rich almond milk (cheaper too).
You can also make a variety of baked goods from the nut grounds leftover. Look at Elana’s nut crackers for an example.

So, why no more milk? Reading up on the subject, one begins to see this is hot topic. People become passionate about it. I’m just trying to make healthier choices for my family, a little more each day. Here is what I’ve found:

According to the Harvard Medical School “When most people in the United States think of calcium, they immediately think of milk. But should this be so? Milk is actually only one of many sources of calcium—dark leafy green vegetables and some types of legumes are among the other sources—and there are some important reasons why milk may not be the best source for everyone.”

These reasons include:
lactose intolerance
high cholesterol
-saturated fat
-possible increase in risk of ovarian cancer. “Women with high intakes of lactose—equivalent to that found in 3 cups of milk per day—had a modestly higher risk of ovarian cancer, compared to women with the lowest lactose intakes”. This is possibly due to modern industrial milk production practices.
-Probable increased risk of of prostate cancer

Further reading on this subject revealed more about dairy industry practices. Most milk is produced on large dairy farms which are more like factories. Cows are given hormones to boost production, impregnated to boost production, fed antibiotics for this like mastitis. 55% of the antibiotics in the U.S. are fed to livestock. The average dairy cow produces 120 pounds of waste each day. That’s a lot of yucky stuff soaking into the water supply- nitrogen, methane.

It’s even been suggested that cow’s milk may increase your risk of osteoporosis! “Here’s how it happens. Like all animal protein, milk acidifies the body pH which in turn triggers a biological correction. You see, calcium is an excellent acid neutralizer and the biggest storage of calcium in the body is – you guessed it… in the bones. So the very same calcium that our bones need to stay strong is utilized to neutralize the acidifying effect of milk. Once calcium is pulled out of the bones, it leaves the body via the urine, so that the surprising net result after this is an actual calcium deficit.” According to Vivien Goldschmidt at saveourbones.com . Perhaps this is why the rate of osteoporosis is much lower or non-existent in countries that do not consume much in the way of dairy products.

Amy Lanou Ph.D., nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., states that:

“The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost nonexistent.”

Other good sources of Calcium include dark leafy greens like kale, collards, dried beans and legumes as well as broccoli. This makes sense of course. Cows don’t drink milk to get calcium for all of their strong bones. They eat greens.

Harvard’s updated “Healthy Plate” may be used instead of the USDA’s food pyramid. Dairy is very limited on it. It seems the Dairy Council was not consulted on this.

Healthy Plate

Further reading:
http://www.collective-evolution.com/2011/12/15/the-dairy-myth-milk-does-a-body-good/

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/

Milk Letter

Asthma and Milk

Houseplants for clean air

Golden PothosIn an effort to breathe cleaner air and rid our lives of asthma and allergies, I recently put little houseplants in each room of my house. After two weeks, they are all still alive. Well, almost all. There is one in my office not looking too good, but I think it might pull through.

Did you know that NASA has done studies on which plants clean indoor air the best? How else are you going to keep a nice space station living space? These plants take carcinogens and other harmful toxins out of the air you’re breathing at home. I think that’s spectacular. Over the years, I’ve tried having a couple flowering plants inside. They don’t last long. Apparently they need sunlight and fresh air. There is a good list of plants that will survive inside, even in some low light situations with only occasional watering. This is great for me.

 I paid attention to how much light each plant would need and planned which room to put it in accordingly. The living room is my darkest room, so it got the snake plant, which also needs the least amount of attention in regards to regular watering. So I have high hopes for that.

Ivy

 There are plenty of websites that list various plants and their benefits. Here is a short list of what I found and have managed to keep alive so far:

Aloe Vera– It cleans formaldehyde from the air in addition to being a great natural remedy for burns and scrapes.

Baby Rubber Plant– It purifies & cleans formaldehyde and other toxins from the air by giving off high oxygen content.

English Ivy– “It’s known for removing the chemical benzene, a known carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, detergents, pesticides, and the off-gassing of other synthetic materials, is said to be fantastic for asthma and allergies and also removes formaldehyde” According to sustainablebabysteps.com. The allergies and asthma are my main reasons for making these changes. I’m still looking for this one. Until I find it, I got a different kind of ivy for the bedrooms.

Gerbera DaisyGerbera Daisy– According to NASA, this beautiful flower removes benzene which is a known carcinogen (causes cancer). In addition, it absorbs carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen. This beauty sits on my kitchen window sill and makes me happy. It needs bright light.

Golden Pothos– This is one of the top 3 types of houseplants that effectively remove formaldehyde according to NASA. It also increases general indoor air quality and removes carbon monoxide.

Snake Plant– NASA found this hearty plant to absorb toxins like nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde. It tolerates low light levels and irregular watering which is just perfect for my living room.

Please see the more comprehensive list with photos found on sustainablebabysteps.com for more info on each plant.

Three of the main household chemicals causing trouble for us are benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. These chemicals are carcinogens and they’re off-gassed from synthetic materials in your home. So having these plants clean up to 90% of these chemicals from your air in just 24 hours could decrease your risk of cancers, asthma, allergies, auto-immune disorders etc. That’s what I’m hoping for. Every little thing helps. Plus they look nice.

Face Wash DIY

I’ve been using honey to wash my face in the mornings for about 4 weeks now. I can’t use it in the evenings because it doesn’t do much for removing make-up. But it’s great for your skin. I let it soak in for a few minutes before rinsing it off in the shower. My face is clearer than it’s been with my regular face wash. I’m managing without my prescription acne medicine. I’ve been on this for the past couple years.

Earlier this week I made a face wash that I could use at night.

Face Wash Recipe:

3 Tbs Honey
½ cup vegetable glycerine
2 Tbs liquid castile soap. ( I used almond flavor)

I love how it smells (and tastes). I’ve used it for two nights now and my face feels very clean and fresh after washing. Both mornings, I’ve woken up with tiny white heads. I’ll keep trying this for a couple more weeks to see if my skin calms down and likes it. I always break out a little more when switching to something new. It’s not bad, so I’ll give it more time. Also, after the first night I used it, I also applied my new home made moisturizer which I should not have done. Patience is key when switching out all of my personal care products. If I can do one at a time, then I’ll know what the culprit is if I start to have unwanted reactions. I’ll have to hold off a little longer on using my new moisturizer. It’s hard because I’m excited to see how it works.

The moisturizer recipe:

4 Tbs Pure Aloe Vera
1 tsp vegetable Glycerin
6 drops Jojoba oil
¼ cup sweet Almond oil

I cut this recipe in half because it’s an experiment. Also, it’s a little greasy, probably because I added way more than 6 drops of Jojoba oil. I didn’t have a dropper, so I poured it.

How to Sprout Lentils

Sprout your own sprouts!

These are so yummy and delicious. You won’t believe how easy it is to do. Mung Bean Sprouts

When I’d seen “sprouts” on a deli sandwich or sold at the grocery store, I think they’ve always been alfalfa sprouts. I never liked these much. But sprouts are super healthy, packed with way more vitamins and nutrients than just eating the thing un-sprouted…like lentil soup, whole wheat grain vs. sprouted wheat, etc.

Healthy enzyme, proteins, fiber, vitamin and essential fatty acid content increase dramatically during the sprouting process which takes a couple days on your counter top. Get a super boost of vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E.
As I type this, I’m enjoying a small bowl of mung bean sprouts with Italian dressing. It’s a fantastic healthy snack. Ready to learn how?

Red Lentil Sprouts1. Begin with a mason jar and the outer ring of the lid so the top can stay open.
2. Fill jar up less than 25% with your little red lentils, or whatever your grain/bean of choice is. They will nearly triple in size.
3. Fill the entire jar with water.  Cut out a square of cheesecloth and cover the top of the jar, screwing the lid ring over it to hold it in place. (Don’t put an airtight lid on.)
4. Allow beans to soak for 12 hours, (overnight) then…
5. Drain water & rinse thoroughly!  When rinsing, fill the jar, swirl water around beans vigorously and several times before draining. Drain thoroughly. Do all this with the cheesecloth still covering the top so water drains out and beans stay in.
6. Leave drained bean on the counter out of direct sunlight and repeat rinsing process 2-3 times daily.
7. When sprouts are desired length, spread them on a paper towel to dry, then refrigerate in airtight container.

Tah Dah!!

When you’re done, you can eat them plain, add them to a salad or use them however your would use unsprouted lentils. You’ll just get way more good, healthy stuff this time.

Read more here

Vegetable Garden- Seed Catalog

I just got 10 new packets of seeds in the mail. It’s more exciting than it sounds. There is so much potential in those little envelopes, unknown flavors or healthy veggies that I’ve never tasted. There is such a deep sense of accomplishment and reward plucking home grown veggies from my garden and tasting how much more flavorful, fresh and vitamin packed these home grown varieties are compared with what can be purchased at the store.Planting Seeds

I first started growing vegetables 11 years ago. I started with seeds and they almost all died. I didn’t know anything about what I was doing. So for my next attempt, I bought the seedlings and that worked out fairly well. Apparently you have to pay attention to things like when certain vegetables can grow and where in the world, what kind of soil they do well in, etc.

Now that I have more experience under my belt, I’ve started growing more veggies from seed. Part of the reason it’s so exciting is because I’m not just getting the hybrid packets from my local big box store. I pour over the seed catalog from my favorite heirloom seed company. There are dozens and dozens of varieties to choose from all with helpful descriptions about flavor, yield, the history of the particular kind of tomato or bean or melon. They come from all over the world. These seeds are alive and have a history all their own. I think this year I’ll make an attempt at saving my own. You can do that with these seeds. You’re not allowed to save many seeds these days. Large corporations are suing farmers for saving their seeds after they’ve been contaminated by their GMO products. The world is going crazy. I’ll try to stay sane in my little backyard garden and grow what I can to eat.

Have you ever tasted the difference between a home grown cucumber or tomato compared to the grocery store? I just didn’t think I liked them until I grew my own. After that, I was hooked.

For my veggie patch, I use something called the “Square Foot Gardening” method. I have four 4×8 raised beds with special square foot garden soil. This consists of one third each of peat moss, vermiculite & compost. There is no dirt in it. The soil is nutrient rich, light and airy and it retains moisture well. Weeds are a snap to pull out and there aren’t any besides what blows in from other parts of the yard. There are no rows, just 1 foot squares with vegetables packed in. A guy named Mel Bartholomew, a retired engineer, developed a different way of growing veggies which requires less seeds, less weeding and more vegetables in a smaller area. It works great for me. I’m excited to get started on this year’s planting.

I buy my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company at rareseeds.com.

Soap Nuts for Laundry

Soap nuts
Photo courtesy of Victoria @ greenideareviews.com

Apparently the laundry detergent that I’ve been using has some problems. Some of the chemicals in it are known to cause asthma and respiratory problems. Like this:

SODIUM BORATE
High Concern: developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects; Some Concern: skin irritation/allergies/damage, respiratory effects

And this:

ETHANOLAMINE
Moderate Concern: respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects; Some Concern: chronic aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage

…and a long list of others.

It got an “F” on the EWG’s healthy cleaning guide. So I’m going back to my soap nuts. These fantastic little round nuts clean my laundry just fine. There are no added perfumes or hazardous, cancerous, toxic chemicals added to them. They grow on trees, contain Saponin, and clean my clothes. Saponin is “an effective, hypoallergenic, biodegradable organic cleaning agent that ends our reliance on sulfates, synthetic chemicals and other toxins” according to Naturoli.com, which is where I bought mine.

I first tried these about 6 years ago when I still had two kids in diapers. I started using regular detergent again because they were not getting the smell out of my little guy’s urine soaked footie pajamas. That was a tough smell to get out. We don’t have that problem anymore. I’ve started using the soap nuts again for the past two weeks and the laundry all looks and smells nice and fresh, but not perfumed. Thank goodness for potty training!

Soap nuts are super easy to use. If you buy them from Naturoli, they come with a little canvas drawstring bag. You put 5 soap nut berries in there, pull the strings tight and place them in the washing machine. They need to be replaced after 4-5 loads. That’s it.
There is a good review and more info on Soap nuts here.

Home Made Honey Wheat Bread

I have a bread machine. It’s fantastic. Well, almost fantastic. I take the dough out for the final rise and put it in a regular bread dish to bake in the oven because I don’t like the shape of the bread machine loaf. Also, I can’t just leave it because if it cooks with the paddle in it, then I have a big hole in the bottom of my loaf. Still, the bread machine is great. It takes about 6 minutes to put about 6 ingredients in there and then presto! It’s almost done, except for the aforementioned transfer an hour later.

Whole Wheat BreadWhy do I make my own bread? Well, I started to because my 3 boys eat so much and I had to make extra trips to the grocery store for said purchase. It became easier to just make a loaf every other day. But there are also the health reasons. It’s difficult and expensive to find bread that only a short list of ingredients that I recognize. For example: the “healthy” whole grain bread I’ve long enjoyed has terribly long list including things like pyridoxine hydrochloride. It says in parenthesis that this is vitamin B6. So there goes the theory that you should avoid anything with words you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. It seems Milton’s is pretty good for you. Still, I’m ending my hiatus. I stopped making my own bread for the past several months, but I’m starting it up again. The big bread machine will once again occupy my counter space. Also, the house smells fantastic when fresh baked bread aromas fill the air.

Here is my go to recipe:

Basic Honey Whole Wheat Bread – 2lb loaf

1 ¼ cup warm water
1 tsp salt
2 ½ Tbs unsalted butter
2+ Tbs Honey (sometimes use much more)
1 ¼ cups Bread Flour
2 ½ cups Whole wheat flour
½ cup Flax meal
2 ¼ tsp Yeast (1 packet active dry or instant bread machine)

I sometimes throw in some Kashi 7 grain cereal or wheat germ etc. Also, next time I think I’ll try putting in some sprouted lentils. I love these!

It needs to rise twice before baking at 350 for 40 min.

Mine just finished cooking. The house smells great. I’m going to go enjoy a warm slice now. With honey. Mmmm.