Sunday, October 30, 2011

Avoids Carcinogens with Homemade Popcorn [Recipe]

After several hours of racking leaves, my husband wanted popcorn as a quick snack.  As he started walking toward the cupboard, I knew exactly what he was going to get.  I still have a box of microwave popcorn from my pre-natural and pre-organic days.  (Do not ask me why I still have it.)  I stopped him halfway to the cupboard and told him that I can make him popcorn on the stove.  I quickly recalled that Giada De Laurentiis made popcorn in a pot one time.

Before I share the recipe, I want to tell why I am never again going to eat microwave popcorn (unless it was the end of the world as we know it and that's all I had left to eat).  I have read many articles about the dangers of microwaved popcorn.  Yes, microwaved popcorn is dangerous!  Not only are you microwaving food (another topic of discussion), but you're microwaving it in a lined paper bag with fake buttery flavor.

First, let's talk about the bag.  How dangerous can a paper bag be?  Very dangerous to your health, especially if you eat microwaved popcorn on a regular basis.  An FDA report showed that the chemical coating used on the inside of the bag breaks down when heated into a substance called perfluorooctanoic (PFOA).  The EPA identifies PFOA as a "likely carcinogen." (Source) Likely or unlikely, I want to avoid anything that subject matter experts deem as potentially cancer causing.  

Second, let's discover what the "butter" flavor really is. The fake butter flavor contain an FDA-approved chemical called diacetyl.  A number of microwave popcorn producers have stopped using the chemical in their products because it can cause "popcorn workers lung."  (I have to admit I laughed a little when I read this, but this is a serious condition). The medical term is bronchiolitis obliterans, which is caused by extended inhalation of chemical fumes. (Source) This condition is life-threatening and non-reversible.  If you have this condition, you cough, experienced shortness of breath, and wheezing. (Source) While you might not work in the microwave popcorn factory, you are still contributing to other people's health problems.  If you eat microwave popcorn on a regular basis, the toxic chemical is also released in your kitchen.  At least get the plain popcorn and pour melted butter on top of it.  Eat real food, people!
(image source: View Along the Way)


I will now get off my soap box and share my recipe with you.

Picture of Popcorn with Rosemary Infused Oil RecipeRecipe: I made Giada's recipe for Popcorn with Rosemary Infused Oil.  This was my first time making popcorn in a pot on the stove.  I let the oil heat on Medium-Low and threw in a few fresh rosemary sprigs. After about 5 minutes, I took the rosemary sprigs out, turned the heat to medium, and threw in the organic popcorn kernels (make sure you get organic as conventional corn can be GMO).  The popcorn and the oil took a little while to heat up and then popped for about 5 minutes.  Once popped, I poured it into a bowl and sprinkled Moroccan seasoning on top.  I had a few unpopped kernels, so I put the pot back on the heat to finish popping.

Results:  The popcorn was delicious! I found it easy to control the temperature and avoided burning the kernels. Next time, I am going to try to different infusions and seasonings.  I highly recommend this recipe to any popcorn popping novice.

A Man's Take: My husband completely forget about the microwaved popcorn and gladly ate the whole bowl by himself.  He did not miss the fake butter flavor at all.  Success!

At some point in the past 60 or so years, families traded the old tried-and-true method of a pot of kernels in a heart-friendly oil or an air popper for the mysterious little bag of kernels that grows in the microwave, creating "buttery" flavored popcorn.  Cooking popcorn using the traditional method gave me the satisfaction of making the popcorn just right and infusing it with the flavor that I want.

>> How do you make your popcorn? What flavors does your family like?

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Greener Holiday Season [#CTWW]

This week's challenge comes from Mrs. Green

Share ideas on eco-friendly gift giving.  We're looking for anything which helps us choose "green" gifts that will please the receiver. Feel free to offer links, do-it-yourself projects, etc. ... the more creative the better.

December holidays are one of the most wasteful holidays.  This year, I am in full green-force and am going to challenge my husband and myself to improve our wasteful habits. Here are two areas I am going to focus on:

Reduce the environmental impact of gift packaging.
 Gift giving can be so wasteful if you take into account gift bags, tissue paper, wrapping paper, tape, and even the plastic packaging that the gift could come in.  Here is what I do before and after the gift giving occurs.

  1. Choose gift bags over wrapping paper.  Gift bags can be reused at least several times.  I usually keep mine in a storage bin in the basement.
  2. Use newspaper as wrapping paper.  I only do this with my husband.  I would be afraid that our extended family would think I am crazy.
  3. Reuse tissue paper.  If the paper is not too crinkled, I straighten it out and fold it.  I've been able to reuse at least 50% of the tissue paper I receive with the gifts.  I sometime use it as lining between pots, pans, and dishes.
  4. Reuse boxes.  I save smaller boxes that come in the mail and use them for gift wrapping.
  5. Create your own tags.  Use any scraps of thick paper or magazine cutouts to glue together a personalized tag.

    My Challenge: I am challenging myself with making the 3-hour gift exchange session with the in-laws more green.  Usually, the big, black plastic trash bags come out and they are stuffed with wrapping paper, tissue paper, and any other trash.  Are you cringing yet?  I am!

Give eco-friendly gifts.
 We usually purchase gifts that our family requested, so it is a little difficult to buy truly green gifts.  Here are my strategies:
  1. Avoid buying gifts that come in plastic package.  The less packaging the better.  Cardboard boxes can be recycled.
  2. Add a *bonus* eco-friendly gift.  Even if you're shopping off a list of specific items that were requested, throw in a small eco-friendly gift like an all-natural lotion or lip balm.  
  3. Create homemade gifts.  Every year, my sister-in-law creates tree ornaments with her twin girls to gift to their grandparents.  Look in your yard or a local park to see what natural elements (pinecones, sticks, acorns) you can incorporate.

    Eco-Friendly Gift Idea: Succulents are easy to grow and divide.  Take a leaf off an existing plant, leave it on the windowsill in indirect sunlight for a few days, and then put the end into soil.  The leaf will wither and die, but will sprout new succulent growth.  I am successful most of the time at growing a new succulent.  Purchase a small terra cotta pot or reuse a pot you already have to plant the succulent and give as gifts.  Succulents require specific soil, but you can mix it yourself.

I will be focusing on my two challenges above to reduce the waste our extended family produces from gift giving and adding a small eco-friendly gift to get my extended family thinking about making small changes themselves.  Change starts with you.  All it takes is one little gift that can start a conversation and open up someone else's eyes to a whole new way of living.

Be the change that you want to see in the world!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

EcoStore – Body and Cleaning Products Without the Nasty Chemicals [Review]

I have seen EcoStore around the web.  I ever browsed through the product selection before, picking out products I would love to try.  You can imagine how excited I was when EcoStore reached out to me to a review products.  I knew exactly what I wanted to take for a test run!

Before I drive into the review, I would like to tell you a little bit about the company.

What is the EcoStore?  (from EcoStore website)

Our eco friendly household cleaning products are as effective as the leading commercial brands, and our body and baby care ranges are gentle on your skin and are simply beautiful to use.  Our hand and body washes are made from naturally derived ingredients that gently cleanse, condition and nourish your skin.  All of our products are made from plant- and mineral-based ingredients, free of toxic chemicals, that bring people closer to nature with non-toxic, environmentally safe solutions that also help to reduce our carbon footprint.  Unlike many leading brands, ecostore USA body care products do not contain Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, artificial dyes, perfumes or preservatives which means they are extremely kind to sensitive skin.

What EcoStore Products Did I Receive?

Auto Dish Powder – A high performance blend of simple mineral salts, citrus and Coconut oils. This dish powder is super concentrated.

Orange and Patchouli Body Wash – The blend of certified organic essential oils adds a fresh summer fragrance to the naturally derived ingredients and moisturizers.  

Auto Dish Powder (35.3 oz) sells for $8.50. 
Orange and Patchouli Body Wash (13.5 oz) sells for $8.00

EcoStore USA offers free shipping on orders over $25.
Check out EcoStore USA on Facebook and Twitter for deals and promotions.

What Did I Think of EcoStore Products?

Auto Dish Powder – This dish powder is a very concentrated, fine powder.  You only need to use 1 full tablespoon.  The performance of this dish powder matched that of Cascade dish powder and of the 365 Brand from Whole Foods.  I put in dirty dishes without rinsing (I usually rinse the dishes) and all of the plates were clean.  I love the “horsepower” of this dish powder.  Do not be put off by the high costs because this 35.3 ounce bottle will last a long time.

Body Wash – I received the Orange and Patchouli scent.  Traditionally, Orange and Patchouli are pretty strong scents.  I was extremely pleased that the scents are enough for your nose to notice, but not overpowering.  The combination of Orange and Patchouli was perfect!  The body wash is a clear liquid and a little runnier than commercial products, but the liquid suds up very well.  A little body wash goes a long way and you can use it as a substitute for soap.  It also works great for shaving your legs. 

EWG’s Skin Deep Database: Every ingredient was ranked 1 or lower. Check!


My Thoughts:
I would recommend both EcoStore products to anyone.  I love the simple design of the label, the pleasant scent, and of course, the ingredients! If you love traditional, commercial products, but hate Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, artificial dyes and perfumes, or preservatives or any other nasty chemicals, then EcoStore is the perfect brand for your whole family.

Opportunities for Improvement – I would love to see a bigger variety of scents like lavender, calendula, rosemary, or thyme.  I would also love to see more products for women like a moisturizer for the face or a makeup remover (these are hard to find without nasty chemicals).

What is the Man’s Opinion?  My husband thought that the body wash was a little runny, but he approves of the smell.  I wanted to try a smell that appeals to both of us and the Orange and Patchouli Body Wash met my requirements!

Total green check marks out of 5.

Auto Dish Powder 

Orange and Patchouli Body Wash 

Disclosure: I received the products from EcoStore USA  in order to facilitate my review. No other compensation was received. This product review is based on my personal experiences. This review is objective and completely honest.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thank You to My Work Friends

My coworkers will probably never read this post, but I still want to put it out there.  I am blessed to be working with a great group of women (and men).  Most of us are great friends and feel comfortable relying on each other during stressful times, which we can happen every day in our job.  From times of just needing to vent about a difficult team members to providing a shoulder to cry on when someone is experiencing challenges in their personal lives, we are there for each other.

My day job is being a Business Analyst.  I work in a group made up mostly of Project Managers and one other Business Analyst.  I've had to work over 10 hours each day this week (and it's only Tuesday, ack!), but my work friends have been there to provide moral support.  I tell them thank you every single day because without them, I would go crazy.  I am praying to God that I made it through this week without an emotional breakdown.

>> Whether you work during the day or take care of the kids and the household during the day, how do you handle challenging times?

Upcoming Reviews and a Giveaway

I am currently preparing two reviews.  I will also have a giveaway...

1. [Review] EcoStore USA - eco-friendly household products
2. [Review and Giveaway] Might Leaf Tea - high quality tea products

I hope you come back and check out my first official reviews.  I am really excited to be working with such great companies.  I know it is difficult to find all natural and organic foods and products, including cleaning and body products, so I am excited that both companies offer great eco-friendly products!

Green Motivation Monday on Tuesday - Compost Fall Leaves

Before I begin the post, I want to apologize for being a day late.  I have had to work extremely long hours this week, so I have not had my usual free time in the evenings.  

This post is part of the 
Green Motivation Monday series.  The purpose of these weekly posts is to offer motivation to take a small baby step in the green and eco-friendly direction.  Of course, I will be taking the step right along with you.  I will let you know how I did and I hope you let me know what you were able to accomplish.

Motivation: Compost the dried leaves in your yard.  

Whether or not you currently have a compost pile or compost bin, you can still compost those leaves into beneficial soil that can be added to your garden or outdoor plants.  Find an area in the back of your yard or behind a shed and start piling up leaves. 

My husband and I bought plastic garden fence and several posts, which we used to create a few compost piles.  The fence and posts help the pile look neater since it's contained (although we've had so many grass clippings and leaves that the two-part system is overflowing). 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Getting Crunchy with Katie: Why Your Next Bottle of Wine Should be Organic Wine

Although I drink wine all year long, the fall is a perfect time for thinking about wine because the grapes are picked and begin their process toward becoming wine.  

My first experience with organic wine was in Napa Valley, California.  My mom and I started our wine tasting day at an organic winery.  We were not impressed at all.  For the past three years, I’d written off organic wines as being mediocre, not worth spending money on when there are so many more delicious wines to be experienced.  One trip to a local wine store completely changed my perception.

Click over to my post at Mommy Living the Life of Riley Blog to learn why your next bottle of wine should be organic wine.  I think you will also be pleasantly surprised:

>> Have you ever tried organic wine?  What did you think?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reduce the Environmental Impact of Pet Fish [#CTWW]

This week's challenge comes from Jennifer

Find one way to lower the environmental impact of your pet.

This week's task is a little challenging for me (no pun intended) because we currently do not have any pets.  The closest we have gotten to pets is fish.  Fish have a pretty low impact on the environment and do not usually require a lot of waste unless you are talking about a huge aquarium in your house.  While other #CTWW folks are writing about bigger animals like cats and dogs, I will focus on fish.  We cannot forget the little guys!

Fish require:
  • Glass aquarium and gravel
  • Distilled water
  • Fish food
  • Filtration system
  • Hood and light
  • pH testing kit
  • Accessories (optional)

The main waste areas are the water and electricity to run the filtration and light, and potentially the type of fish food your fish require.  Here are my recommendations on how to reduce the environment impact of fish:
  1. Reuse old aquarium water to water your indoor or outdoor plants, unless you added aquarium salt, medication, or chemicals, including pH adjusters or algae killers etc. The last two generally are not safe for aquariums anyway.
  2. Purchase the same type of fish or similar in terms of food and water needs - this will ensure that you limit the amount of different foods and accessories that you are buying.
  3. Avoid buying tropical fish because they require a heater and a thermometer - this will reduce the amount of electricity needed to keep the aquarium at a comfortable temperature.
  4. Use natural decor like stones and rocks that you can usually find for free instead of buying plastic ones.
  5. Limit the size of the aquarium and the number of fish.  Bigger aquariums require more electricity.
Fish are smaller in size than cats or dogs, but they still require water, food, and electricity, just like any other animal.  Although fish require less than bigger sized pets, there are still eco-friendly changes you can make that will have a positive impact on your family and your environment.

WE'RE CHANGING THE WORLD ... ONE CHALLENGE AT A TIME!  Be the change that you want to see in the world!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Green Motivation Monday - Buy Preservative-Free Food

This post is part of the Green Motivation Monday series.  The purpose of these weekly posts is to offer motivation to take a small baby step in the green and eco-friendly direction.  Of course, I will be taking the step right along with you.  I will let you know how I did and I hope you let me know what you were able to accomplish.

Motivation: Reduce the amount of toxic chemicals you put in your body by buying preservative-free food.

Challenge: During your next grocery trip, read the ingredients list on the foods that you are buying. Count how many products have preservatives in them. You might need to research some of the ingredients online to identify if they are a preservative or an additive. By being aware of what you're eating, you are making a healthy decision for your whole family.

Preservatives are added to foods to make them shelf-stable and make them last longer. Once you start reading labels on the foods that you buy, you will be shocked at how many of them contain some type of preservative.  Even uncured, fresh bacon in a Fresh Market meat counter has Sodium Nitrite in it.  All packaged food will have an ingredients label.  The font might be size 6, but it will be there.

There are many life-threatening effects that preservatives can have on the body. Pregnant women are told to avoid deli meats and cured meats that contain Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate and any food that has preservatives in it.  There is a reason!  If you're trying to get pregnant, wouldn't you want to avoid preservatives also?  Take the first step by being aware of what toxic chemicals your family and your children are putting in your bodies.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend Summary - Friends and Exercise

The weekend is coming to an end.  I wish I had another two days to enjoy, but I am grateful for the two days that I have had.  This weekend was filled with many fun activities.

On Saturday, I enjoyed a nice run throughout our neighborhood.  The fall is perfect for running because of the cool weather and the gorgeous colors of the leaves turning.  I also enjoyed my first Garden Tea Party.  A coworker friend invited a few of us to a Garden Tea Party.  The weather was comfortable, the sun was shinning, and we enjoyed a three-course meal with tea in a very beautiful back yard garden.  I always love connecting with other ladies who can offer great advise about life, family, and kids.  This day was very fulfilling.

On Sunday (today), my husband and I went on a bicycle ride with our friends.  The two hours on the trail gave us opportunities to enjoy the scenery below.  Plus, biking is a great workout!

The trail goes through a wooded area along side a river:

>> What did you enjoy most about your weekend?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Green Motivation Monday - Choose Cycling over Driving

I am starting a new series - Green Motivation Monday.  The purpose of these weekly posts is to offer motivation to take a small baby step in the green and eco-friendly direction.  Of course, I will be taking the step right along with you.  I will let you know how I did and I hope you let me know what you were able to accomplish.

Motivation: Choose to ride your bicycle over driving your car for quick errands.

If you need to run a quick errand like dropping off/picking up mail at the Post Office or buying a few items at the grocery store, ride your bicycle and take a small backpack or satchel with you to keep your valuables and purchases.  Not only will you complete your errand, but you will also benefit from the exercise.

>> Have you chosen to cycle over driving?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Hate Bacon!

There, I said it! I hate bacon! I will not touch bacon with a 10-foot pole! The disappointing thing is that my husband loves bacon. He grew up eating bacon and his mom always cooks bacon when we visit. The smell of bacon (and breakfast sausage) makes me want to gag. I refuse to buy bacon (even the organic, preservative-free bacon).  If you love bacon, more power to you! We can agree to disagree. :)

My recent encounters with bacon being hidden in restaurant foods has triggered this post.  At a work happy hour, I was offered to try a stuffed mushroom appetizer.  A few bites later, I realized that the stuffing had bacon in it.  Mushroom: eaten.  Bacon stuffing: left on plate.  At least the menu mentioned bacon as an ingredient.

On vacation in Florida, I ordered a clam chowder at a local restaurant.  Simple soup with a broth base, clams, tomatoes, celery, and....BACON! I was appalled.  What if I were vegetarian?  What if I could not eat bacon for religous reasons?  How would I ever know that the clam chowder had bacon in it?  I know some recipes include bacon, but at least mention it on the menu (clam and bacon chowder is much more informative).  My husband graciously agreed to switch soups with me.

Thank you for listening to my I-hate-bacon rant. If you are going to eat bacon, buy the uncured variety without any preservatives.  Whole Foods and Fresh Market have several brands.  Restaurants - we appreciate it when you provide details about the ingredients in your dishes.

I will continue to enjoy my bacon-free life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

5 Tips for Eco-Friendly Travel - How Green Was My Vacation?

I recently posted 5 Practical Tips for Eco-Friendly Travel over at Mommy Living the Life of Riley.  As I sit in the villa on the last day of our vacation, I thought it would be a great idea to reflect on how well I applied my own eco-friendly travel tips.

1. Bring a reusable water bottle  Result: brought my stainless steel water bottle
2. Bring your own snacks, in reusable snack bags  Result: dried fruit, nuts, and organic candy in reusable snack bags
3. Pack light  Result: 47 pounds, but packed some of my husband's stuff, does that count?
4. Participate in hotel linen programs  Result: reused bath towels
5. Rent a fuel-efficient vehicle  Result: rented a Ford Focus

A few BONUS green checks: 

1. Bought a bottle of organic wine
2. Walked to dinner instead of driving x 2 nights
3. Used my reusable grocery bags as beach bags

>> What eco-friendly actions do you take when you travel?  Do you even think about being "green" on vacation?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Getting Crunchy with Katie: 5 Easy Tips for Eco-Friendly Travel

I have a few luxury comfort requirements when I travel:
  1. Air conditioning in hot locations, heat in cold locations (definitely required)
  2. TV or Internet (either one will do, although I could probably live without both)
These requirements are far from being eco-friendly.  I would probably never be able to vacation al fresco, off the grid, or in an eco-hotel in the middle of nowhere.  At the least, I need the comfort of the air conditioning and the indoors to escape the hot sun rays after being on the beach all day.  To offset the requirements above, I make a few small changes that reduce my impact on the environment when I travel.

Click over to Mommy Living the Life of Riley Blog to read about my 5 practical tips for staying green when I travel:

>> How do you behave differently when you travel?  What small changes can you make to reduce your impact on the environment?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Keeping My Family Healthy During the "Flu Months"

Summer has ended and the colder months have begun.  Although I know that you can catch a cold or the flu any time of the year (yes, even during the summer), everyone is more prone to catching the flu or the cold when the outside temperatures drop.  The dark, cloudy, and cold days of winter have some effect on our bodies and make them more prone to catching the cold or the flu.  I want to share with you three things that I do to keep my family healthy and strong: Echinacea, exercise, and eating (call it the three E's).

Echinacea has been touted as a homeopathic and an all natural way to boost your immune system.  There are no claims that it will cure a cold or prevent a cold, but there is a lot of evidence that it will boost your immune system so that it's stronger to fight off the cold or the flu before or after you get it.  My husband and I use Echinacea in two forms: drinking the Echinacea liquid extract that we dilute in some water and drinking herbal tea.

Exercise is another great way to ensure that your immune system stays strong.  Exercise helps to strengthen all parts of your body and helps to flush any toxins out.  Of course, exercising when it is 10 degrees outside does not sound fun, nor is recommended unless you bundle up with layers of clothes.  Then again, who wants to run around their neighborhood looking like the abominable snowman? Not us! Therefore, my husband and I use free weights and DVDs to stay in shape. Our favorite DVD are by Jillian Michaels. A healthy body equals a healthy immune system.

Have you ever heard the saying, "you are what you eat?"  This saying is very true!  So eat healthy and eat wholesome foods.  Cooking meals from scratch, using fresh produce and whole grains is another way that we help our bodies to stay strong and ward off any attacks on the immune system.  Eating as close to nature and as close to seasonal produce will support your body to fight off any infections.

Relying on natural medicine, exercising to keep your body strong, and eating well are three actions my family takes to stay cold and flu free.  These might not be the usual top three or top five actions that are recommended, but I promise that they will go a long way to keep you family cold and flu free also.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Lysol blogging program, for a gift card worth $40. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes [Review]

We are on vacation in Captiva, Florida this week.  I am bringing you a review of a slow cooker cookbook that I recently completed for Mommy Living the Life of Riley.  I am looking forward to trying more of the recipes from this cookbook.  The variety of easy, gourmet recipes is limitless.

Read about the cookbook here:

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