Friday, December 7, 2012

Paleo Pressure Cooker Beef & Sausage Stew & Product Review: Cuisinart CPC-600 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker


It's stew night in the Green Organic household :)

Feeding a Paleo family can be challenging, but we try to make it easier by shopping smart and planning meals ahead of time.  One of the best things we've invested in, in recent years, is a deep freezer, to take advantage of sales on meat.  It's also a great place to store bulk packages of our Paleo baking supplies, like coconut and almond flour.  Buying in bulk and freezing is definitely important for staying on budget.  We regularly stroll the meat section for sales, and stock up on whole chickens, and tougher cuts, like pork shoulders and beef roasts, then break up bulk packages, and freeze them for later use.  But what to do with all those big, tough cuts that need long, slow, moist cooking, when you're a busy family with two working parents?

I used to rely on my slow cooker/crock pot for things like stews and braises, but the results were never to my husband's liking; coming out overly mushy most of the time.  Then there was the concern with leaving a cooking appliance on all day while we weren't home.  That meant we could only slow-cook on the weekends, and had to turn to faster-cooking, more expensive cuts of meat during the week.  Lucky for us, there was a solution: an electric counter-top pressure cooker.


Growing up, my Chinese parents always had a stove-top pressure cooker pot around for making traditional soups; one of those old-fashioned, super heavy pots, that would hiss and spew the whole time they cooked, which always rather intimidated me.  Thankfully, pressure cookers have come a long way since, with new automated functions and safety features built in.  After further research, and finding out just how fast these things can cook, I was ready to dive in.  It's hard to believe it's been a year and a half since we first got our Cuisinart electric pressure cooker.  Between making bone broths, simmering stews, and braising meats until they're fork-tender and delicious, we use our pressure cooker at least once, if not twice every week!  A friend followed suit and purchased the same model, which she uses to make homemade apple sauce for her kids.  It's proven to be a very handy cooking device!

So just how fast does a pressure cooker cook?  First, factor in the built-in browning feature of this counter-top model.  I couldn't do that with my old crock pot!  That saves having to heat up and brown meats in a separate pan, and the transferring of the meat to the cooking vessel.  Who doesn't love less mess to clean up?  Then it's a matter of calculating the cooking time for your dish:

  • Bone broths (3.5 lbs bones and meat): 90 minutes
  • Pork half picnic shoulder (4 lbs): 90 minutes
  • Beef stew (sirloin, chuck, 2 lbs): 30 minutes
  • Corned beef brisket (2 lbs): 30 minutes
  • Whole chicken: 30 minutes
  • Chicken thighs (2 lbs): 20 minutes
  • Soups: 20 minutes
  • Vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc): 5 minutes

I love that when I open the pot, all the meat and vegetables are still intact!  The meat is tender, but hasn't separated and displaced itself from the bones, and the veggies retain their shape.  I regularly toss in whole garlic cloves in my pressure cooker, and even though they're completely soft, they're still whole at the end of cooking.  Definitely no more mushy mystery meat for us!  Pressure cookers also use less liquid, and retain a lot of moisture when cooking.  That's something to keep in mind, if you're converting any old slow cooker recipes.  You can also get away with less seasoning, as the pressure actually helps infuse the food as it cooks.  Be sure to read the manual that comes with your pressure cooker to guide you along.

As an added bonus, the pressure cooker has no problems tackling frozen meat.  My husband and my daughter both love corned beef brisket, which I regularly buy already brined and seasoned. Those can go straight from the deep freezer into the pressure cooker, frozen to done in 40 minutes, and with no thawing.  Very convenient on work nights, freeing up my hands, and giving us plenty of time to settle in and get the side dishes going, and have the entree done in very little time.

This Cuisinart model is very easy to operate, with just three buttons: Menu, Temperature, and Start.  For pressurized cooking, there are two simple options: low and high.  Low is what I use when I've got the pot filled to the maximum (2/3 full for all pressure cookers), which is usually when I'm making bone broth.  High pressure is for all other times, like when cooking meats.  The menu button cycles through Low Pressure, High Pressure,then various decreasing increments of heating the cooking pot itself (Browning, Sauté, Simmer), and finally, a very handy, automatic Keep Warm stage.  As I mentioned, I love the browning feature, and the non-stick insert makes cooking and cleaning up very simple.  The lid locks on very securely, and there's no need to second-guess if it's on right.  A little red indicator/safety valve pops up along the top of the lid, to let you know when the pot has fully pressurized.  There's also very little noise, compared to my parents' old stove-top pressure cooker pot.  That was a pleasant surprise.  I also like the silicone gasket that fits under the lid.  It's very secure, easy to put on and remove, and much less hassle than the old-fashioned rubber gaskets my parents always fought with.  All in all, this pressure cooker has a very simple design, and it's very easy to use.  If you can operate a crock pot, you can operate a pressure cooker.  It's definitely paid for itself in shortened cooking time, and being able to use those cheaper, tougher cuts of meat on more of a regular basis.

Tonight, we're enjoying a hearty Beef & Sausage Stew, Paleo-style, from our pressure cooker.  Stews are such a convenient way to feed lots of veggies to the family, and use up what you might have in the fridge.   Frozen vegetables work great in this dish, too; just wait until the end of cooking to add those in.  The base for this stew is just simply a package of frozen squash purée, adding some extra vitamins, sweetness, and body, and also making it Autoimmune Protocol-friendly, for those who don't eat tomatoes.  This, of course, can also be prepared on the stove-top in a dutch oven, or slow cooker, cooking low and slow, until your meat and veggies are tender.  Just be sure to add a little more liquid, if you're using something other than a pressure cooker.

Paleo Pressure Cooker Beef & Sausage Stew

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:


2 lbs beef (sirloin, chuck, etc), cubed
1 lb bulk Italian pork sausage
1 package frozen squash purée (12-ounce) (can substitute for 1 can of tomatoes)
2 onions, diced
5 carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen cut leaf spinach
1 cup water or bone broth/stock
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp Real Salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Set pressure cooker on "browning" mode.
  2. Add sausage, and cook until some of the fat has rendered.
  3. Add the beef and continue to brown the meat.
  4. Add onions and celery, and allow to sweat.
  5. Mix in water, carrots, and remaining spices and herbs.
  6. Distribute the stew ingredients evenly in the pot.  Set block of frozen squash purée on top (does not have to be fully submerged).
  7. Lock on the lid, set for low-pressure, and set timer for 30 minutes.
  8. After 30 minutes, let pressure fall naturally.
  9. Remove the lid and set back on "browning" mode, to bring back to a gentle boil.
  10. Add frozen peas and spinach, and cook through.
  11. Season with fresh ground black pepper to taste.

This stew makes for great leftovers, too.  Remember that non-stick, removable insert?  It's so handy to lift that out of the pressure cooker, and set into a sink of ice water, to quickly cool leftovers to prep for the fridge.  This is one of our top favorite kitchen must-haves.  Hope you'll consider picking one up for yourself or a loved one :)

Faye

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paleo Apple Cider Donut Holes


Seasons greetings, everyone!

It's that beautiful time of year again.  Our family is certainly getting into the Christmas spirit here, breaking out the decorations, and enjoying some holiday baking together.  We're delighted with all the amazing, gluten-free Paleo recipes that are being shared, and hope to try as many as we can!


Last week, I shared with you a review of our newest toy: a Nostalgia Electrics Cake Pop and Donut Hole Maker. This really is a nifty little kitchen gadget, that turns out amazingly good baked treats that are totally Paleo-compliant, with virtually no mess, in very little time, and without the need to fire up the oven.  For those still shopping, this would make a great gift for under $25, for anybody who loves to cook. Aside from sweet treats, I managed to create this very easy and tasty recipe for savory Sweet Potato Mini Crab Cakes.  They turned out wonderfully, and will definitely be on the regular recipe rotation in our household.  I couldn't believe how fast the cake pop maker turned these out; taking only seven minutes to completely cook through to light, fluffy, golden-brown deliciousness.  I wish I had picked up one of these machines sooner!


Once again, I have to thank Lea over at PaleoSpirit.com for inspiring this whole cake pop/donut hole adventure, with her recipe for Paleo Apple Cider Donuts.  Lea has an actual mini donut maker, but her recipe worked perfectly in our cake pop maker, too.  We have a couple takes on Lea's recipe now.  The first couple times I made these, I didn't have any apple cider in the house, so I substituted the same amount in orange juice.  That transformed the recipe into wonderful, moist, little orange spice cakes, and I highly recommend giving that version a try, too.

Here's now our cake pop/donut hole version of Lea's original recipe, which my daughter also helped decorate for the holidays.  Not to worry if you don't have a cake pop maker or donut machine: a fan from Facebook has successfully made this recipe in her mini muffin pan, baked at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.  I've also included our recipe for the optional glaze, which is easily made corn- and dairy-free, by making your own homemade powdered sugar, and substituting coconut oil for butter.  Simply combine a cup of granulated cane sugar in your food processor with a tablespoon of arrowroot starch, and pulse, to make a good Paleo substitute for powdered sugar. Kids of course love any kind of sprinkles and decorations (not exactly Paleo, but more for the presentation and fun-factor).  Still, my favorite was topping these off with cinnamon and sugar.  That really helped the flavors shine through.  Experiment and be creative!


Paleo Apple Cider Donut Holes

Makes 12 large cake pops/donut holes

Ingredients:

For the cake pops:

  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider (room temperature)
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp Real Salt
  • *optional decorating sprinkles and candy toppings

For the optional cinnamon sugar coating:

  • 1/2 cup granulated organic cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp grassfed butter/coconut oil/ghee (softened and spreadable)
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp water

Directions:

  1. Preheat donut hole maker. (Alternate: bake in mini muffin pan/donut pan in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, coconut oil, and honey. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the coconut flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt, breaking up any lumps.
  4. Mix dry ingredients into the wet. 
  5. Add apple cider, and stir until evenly combined.
  6. Using a cookie dough scoop or small ice cream scoop, fill a heaping mound of batter into the compartments of the donut hole maker.
  7. Close the lid, careful to latch tightly, and set your timer for four minutes.
  8. As the machine is very hot, using oven mitts, carefully pick up the donut hole maker and flip it over onto its front side, onto a heat-safe surface.  This is the secret to having nice, uniform, evenly round and browned results.
  9. After four minutes, unplug the donut hole maker, and flip it back over onto its back.  Let it continue to cook for three more minutes.  There is enough residual heat to continue the cooking process, without over-browning the outside edges.
  10. After three minutes, carefully open the machine, and transfer the donut holes to a cooling rack.  Allow to cool fully before attempting to frost and decorate.
  11. While donut holes are cooling, prepare the glaze and toppings.
  12. To make the glaze, in a small bowl, combine butter/coconut oil/ghee with powdered sugar, incorporating half a tablespoon of powdered sugar at a time, mixing thoroughly.
  13. Add water incrementally, to form a smooth, slightly runny paste.
  14. Dip cooled donut holes in glaze and decorate with sprinkles and/or cinnamon-sugar blend.
Our first batch of these holiday donut holes turned out great, and we can't wait to make more to share with our friends and family.  We certainly hope you will, too!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Faye

Friday, November 30, 2012

Paleo Sweet Potato Mini Crab Cakes & Product Review: Nostalgia Electrics Cake Pop/Donut Hole Maker

Paleo Sweet Potato Mini Crab Cakes

Many thanks to Lea over at PaleoSpirit.com for sharing an awesome recipe that inspired this treat; her special Apple Cider Paleo Donuts, that she made in a counter-top electric mini donut maker!  Delectable, sweet, cakey donuts were certainly something I'd thought I'd never eat again, once going Paleo.  Glad Lea was here to prove me wrong ;)  As fate would have it, while at my local grocery store, I looked down and saw this adorable little cake pop/donut hole maker, and it was even a few dollars cheaper than Amazon!  I couldn't wait to get home and try Lea's recipe.  It was so quick and easy mix together, and seven minutes later, we were enjoying Paleo-compliant, gluten-free, yummy little donut holes.  Definitely a new family favorite.


This is a great little machine.  Right out of the box, it's very non-stick, and I didn't have to apply any extra grease, before cooking.  Just do be careful, as the machine does get very hot on the outside.  Wear your oven mitts!  I also set the machine on top of a trivet, to protect my counter top.  There are red and green indicator lights, to let you know when the machine is properly heated, and I love the locking latch.  More on the importance of this latch later.  This particular model produces seven ping-pong-ball-sized cake pops/donut holes, and works best with denser batters, like you'd use for muffins or cupcakes. A cookie dough scoop makes it easy to measure out a good heaping dollop of batter into each compartment.  Then just snap on the lid, and let the baking begin!

Today, I decided to experiment with a savory recipe.  While at the grocery store, I also got a great deal on canned wild-caught crab meat.  That sparked an idea for Paleo sweet potato crab cakes, but without the splattering mess of trying to pan-fry them.  This recipe works great in this counter top donut hole maker, but you can easily adapt this for use in the oven, and bake into little muffins.  Fifteen minutes at 400 degrees F should do it, or as soon as they're golden brown.  On to the recipe!

Paleo Mini Sweet Potato Crab Cakes

Makes 21 mini crab cakes

2 six-ounce cans of crab meat, drained
2 room-temperature eggs
3 tbsp melted grease (bacon grease, coconut oil, butter, or ghee)
1/2 cup roasted sweet potato, mashed
1/3 cup coconut milk
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 tsp Real Salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried herbs (Herbs de Provence, oregano, etc)
1/4 tsp paprika
2-3 grinds fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat your donut hole maker.

Combine crab meat, eggs, grease, sweet potato, green onions, and coconut milk, and blend thoroughly.

Combine remaining dry ingredients, breaking up any lumps in the coconut flour.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix well.

Using a cookie dough scoop or small ice cream scoop, fill a heaping mound of batter into the compartments of the donut hole maker.

Close the lid, careful to latch tightly, and set your timer for four minutes.

As the machine is very hot, using oven mitts, carefully pick up the donut hole maker and flip it over onto its front side, onto a heat-safe surface.  This is the secret to having nice, uniform, evenly round and browned results.

After four minutes, unplug the donut hole maker, and flip it back over onto its back.  Let it continue to cook for three more minutes.  There is enough residual heat to continue the cooking process, without over-browning the outside edges.

After three minutes, carefully open the machine, and transfer the donut holes to a cooling rack.

Serve warm with a nice organic side salad.

It was so much fun putting these together, and I love that there was so little to clean up.  No splattering mess from trying to fry anything on the stove top, and once the donut maker had cooled a bit, it was easy to wipe clean with a damp paper towel.

Next time, I think we'll add a little zing, and try making a little dipping sauce to go with these.  Maybe something with avocado, or dill and lemon. They're still really good just by themselves, too ;)

Enjoy!

Faye

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Me vs. Candida - An Epic Battle

My personal story of recovering from Candida overgrowth

Hi everyone!  It's great to be back and blogging again, after a rather stressful, painful, and frustrating period of several months of illness.  It was quite a journey, trying to figure out what was going on with me, and I'm glad to report I'm finally on the mend.

All this began late in the summer, when I started breaking out in horrific rashes, from what I thought was eczema from a leaky gut.  Life was being extra hectic, and while I was (and still am) eating a grain-free/gluten-free/dairy-free Paleo diet, I wasn't taking the best care of myself.  Nights of five- and six-hours of sleep were becoming the norm, meals were rushed, and I was taking little to no time for myself to rest, exercise, or de-stress.  I was seriously pushing my body beyond its limits.

It wasn't long before I started breaking out in rashes.  Having suffered through eczema as a teen, that's what I assumed was going on with me, so I went about my old ways of cortisone creams.  Soon, a few spots here and there on a couple fingers had spread to large, angry, red patches that were hot to the touch on my forearms.  Then my chest began flaring up.  My doctors quickly shot me up full of steroids and put me on rounds of pills to try to calm the effects.  In hindsight, this was a huge mistake.  Rashes like eczema don't crop up because our bodies are starved of steroids; it's your body telling you that something else is wrong.

So, in the meantime, I also assumed I was having some kind of autoimmune issues from a leaky gut.  I found a great friend in Sarah Ballantyne, better known as The Paleo Mom, with her fantastic write-ups on how to modify the Paleo diet for autoimmune conditions.  Sarah herself suffers from an autoimmune condition, and has to avoid/limit certain foods, to keep her symptoms at bay, and also takes certain supplements to help her body heal.  I began restricting foods, and started taking fermented cod liver oil for extra Omega-3's, L-glutamine to heal what I thought was a leaky gut, and a slew of other supplements.  Unfortunately for me, the end of each round of steroids brought my rashes back, angrier and more inflamed than before, and spreading to areas like my face.  I started getting blisters on my palms, and later, the back of my hands would crack and weep.  Sarah was extremely supportive and helped reassure me that I was on the right track with my eating, with plenty of bone broths, fermented foods, and sticking with the Autoimmune Protocol, but the painful rashes continued.  I was at my wits end.  No amount of creams or supplements or a change of diet were helping.  A final call to one doctor ended with her washing her hands of me, and telling me to go see a dermatologist.  There's conventional medicine for you: clearly what was wrong with me was just manifesting in my skin, and not the skin itself.  Even I knew that.  I've been to dermatologists my whole life for my prior eczema problems.  All they do is push creams and pills on you.  None of them ever stopped to help me find the root cause.   This doctor clearly wasn't going to help me find the root cause of my rashes, either.  It was then that I decided to seek out help from a functional medicine practitioner.

If you've never been to a functional medicine practitioner, I highly recommend it.  These specialists are here to help treat the whole body and restore balance without the use of drugs.  Drugs are "band-aid" solutions to symptoms, but they never fully address the root causes.  I was fortunate to have found a chiropractor in town who uses the nutrition teachings of Weston A. Price, the late expert on the downfalls of the modern Western diet on our health, and the importance of traditional foods for well-being. I was thoroughly impressed just with this doctor's intake paperwork, which asked for everything, including eight pages of not just medical history, but eating habits, elimination patterns, and a host of possible symptoms, from head to toe.  In all my life, I had never seen such a comprehensive questionnaire.  It's stuff I wished all of my conventionally-trained doctors had asked (and should have), but never did.    

It was wonderful to sit down with a health professional who not only knew what Paleo was, but actually implements it in his practice.  We geeked out over supplements for a while, and I was off for some extensive blood work.  Thankfully, the results came back relatively normal, with no signs of anything serious, like Hashimoto's thyroiditis.  My thyroid levels were low, but not at the point of hypothyroidism.  My liver was also congested.  What surprised me the most was that my Vitamin D levels were extremely low, and I happen to live in the Sunshine State.  I should mention that the blood work was done in my regular doctor's office, as the nurse who gave me my annual check-up had no idea what Paleo was, and wanted me to have my fasting blood sugar tested.  This was based on the fact that I had gestational diabetes when pregnant with my daughter.  Nevermind that it was seven years ago, way before I went Paleo.  This woman not only didn't know what Paleo was; she was also rushing through my appointment, couldn't get me out of the office fast enough, and obviously couldn't care less.  I wasn't about to waste my time on deaf ears, explaining how an ancestral-type diet reverses insulin resistance.  Here, however, was the proof in black and white when my lab work came back: my fasting insulin level was that of an Amazonian hunter-gatherer.  Paleo for the win ;)

Back at the chiropractor's office with test results, I was told to continue with the Paleo diet, and we added on a few more supplements.  Unfortunately, the flare-ups continued.  Soon after that, the chiropractor suspected the rashes were actually coming from what's called a healing crisis.  Also called a Herxheimer reaction or die-off, a wide range of symptoms can manifest in the body from brain fog to skin conditions from the toxins released by an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast.  In my case, it appears I've been ravaged by a Candida infection this whole time.  Candida is a yeast that normally resides in the gut, but can become rampant for a number of reasons, including stress and not making enough hydrochloric acid for digestion.  Unfortunately, when Candida go wild, and especially when they die, they release up to 79 various toxins.  That would explain why my liver was on overdrive, trying to detox.  Unfortunately, one of these toxins isn't readily removed by the liver: acetaldehyde.  This particular toxin stays in the body, and isn't purged like the others.  Acetaldehyde is serious trouble: it's a neurotoxin that can damage brain cells, and wreak havoc on the immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems.  That probably explains my low thyroid numbers, too.

Before knowing acetaldehyde was the problem, the toxins continued to build up under my skin.  They especially liked to accumulate near my joints, which for me, was on the backs of my hands, and on my wrists, forearms, and elbows.  At one point, I was wrapping my elbows and backs of my hands with gauze, to soak up all the fluid that was seeping out and forming blisters.  The fluid coming out was also burning, and it was in fact the acetaldehyde accumulating in my tissues, swelling them up with nowhere else to go.  My skin was hot to the touch, and at one point, my face was so swollen, I couldn't even fully open my eyes.  My energy level had plummeted, and I was walking around in an exhausted brain fog.  I also developed post-nasal drip and a lot of phlegm.  Here I thought I was catching a little cold, and didn't think anything of it at the time, but it turns out these are more symptoms of a Candida infection, too, with the toxins invading the lung cells, and the body trying to expel them.  

Thankfully, at this point, I was already exploring the GAPS diet, and had cut out sugar, including fruits and even Paleo-friendly carbs, like sweet potatoes and winter squash.  That cut off the food source to the sugar-loving Candida yeast in my gut.  I had also stumbled across the wonderful detox benefits of Bentonite clay.  Human beings throughout history have relied on clay internally and externally for its healing properties.  Modern scientific analysis now reveals why it's so beneficial: Bentonite clay is negatively charged and attracts and holds onto positively charged toxins in the body, so they can be eliminated.  With the thumbs-up of my chiropractor, I began soaking my feet in hot water and clay at night, and drinking a few teaspoons of dry clay in water, several times a day. Clay isn't absorbed by the body, but it does a great job neutralizing toxins in the gut, and it also literally pulls Candida right off intestinal walls.  That took care of the Candida overgrowth in my gut, but there was still the matter of dealing with the accumulated acetaldehyde in my swollen tissues.

Here's what motivated me to write this post: many people have written about Candida, but not many address the issue of the acetaldehyde.  In all my Candida research, there's plenty of advice on how to deal with cutting out Candida's food source (sugar), how to purge Candida overgrowth from the gut, how to meal plan, and eat properly to minimize future flare-ups.  However, like I said before, that nasty by-product of Candida, acetaldehyde, that was poisoning me is stubborn, and likes to stick around, despite all detox efforts.  My gut was healing, but I couldn't deal with any more burning fluid seeping out of my skin.  It took a lot of research before I came across something that directly addressed the overload of acetaldehyde swelling my body, and how to get rid of it: molybdenum.  

Molybdenum is an essential trace mineral.  When it comes to Candida, molybdenum has the amazing ability of being able to go straight to the liver, and help it turn that acetaldehyde toxin into something that can be readily excreted by the kidneys: acetic acid.  Back to my original healing protocol of thinking I was healing eczema from a leaky gut, I was already taking NOW Foods NAC supplement, which contains some molybdenum, at 50 mcg per capsule, for a total of 100 mcg for the day.  However, when tackling acetaldehyde poisoning, upwards of 250 mcg three times a day may be necessary.  Based on my NOW Foods NAC supplement, that amounts to fifteen capsules a day.  I can tell you, within an hour of increasing my intake of one capsule to five, I was already feeling tremendously better.  The hot, red, inflamed areas started feeling a little cooler to the touch, and I could feel the swelling lessen.  The next day, I awoke with a much clearer mind, and a definite improvement in all my symptoms; the first time in ages.  It's a slow-going process, but very reassuring to see and feel the difference, and know I'm on the right track of healing.

Here's hoping none of you have to experience what I went through.  I'm going to do my best not to fall into those traps again, with continued good, clean, healthy eating, probiotics, plenty of rest, those awesome chiropractic adjustments, and taking time for myself.  

Here's to your good health!


Faye
Candida source image courtesy of GreaterImmunity.com

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Getting Crafty: Amigurumi Crochet Animals!

Pig by GreenOrganicMama - Inspired by the Chipotle "Back to the Start" Pigs 
About two months ago, I was inspired!  My friends already know I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and I just happened to be looking at Gryffindor house scarves.  They are really cool, but I thought to myself, "These look pretty easy to make."  That's what prompted me to pick up crochet again.

I have to thank my third-grade teacher, who first taught me, and my entire class, how to do many crafts, including crochet.  I hadn't really made anything since that potholder for my mom, but a few Google searches later, I was in love with all the amazing patterns, and the HUGE variety of crafts that can be made.

I still have every intention to make that Harry Potter scarf using this free pattern. I've got the yarn and everything!  However, I've been side-tracked, making little animals instead, which the Japanese call Amigurumi.  Google Amigurumi, and you'll find pages and pages, devoted to this art of making adorable little crochet toys.  They are also super easy and inexpensive to make.  Crochet, and its sister, knitting, are both re-surging as popular and cool crafts.  We're not talking grandma's doilies here; with a little time, patience, and imagination, you can make some truly awesome things.  Come see for yourself on my Pinterest Crochet board.

The nice thing about crochet is that it's very inexpensive to get started, and the materials are cheap, and very easy to find.  You can take your hooks and yarn with you pretty much anywhere, and you can do as much or as little as you want, in one sitting.  It's really quite relaxing!  As for the hooks, I've already tried a few different types and brands of hooks, but I certainly have a favorite.  Check out Clover Soft Touch which are available individually, or in a great value pack of eight popular sizes (C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and J).  My value pack also came with a great travel case to store all the hooks.

Yarn is super easy to find practically anywhere, online and offline.  Still, it's nice to be able to walk through a store, and touch and feel, and match up colors.  Most Amigurumi patterns call for "worsted weight" yarn, which is clearly marked on yarn labels. While you're at the store, pick up some safety doll eyes, and a bag of polyester fiber-fill.  Maybe a good pair of scissors, too.

You'll probably need one more thing, which is a set of stitch markers.  Now, you can certainly buy a small pack for less than $2 at the craft store, but if you're like me, you probably already have a cheaper alternative at home: plastic-coated paper clips.  I don't know why I haven't seen any other crocheters mention using paper clips; I think they're much easier to find, and way cheaper than even safety pins.

Getting started is super easy.  There are plenty of great books out there, but I found the best tool was actually YouTube.  Nerdigurumi is a great resource, with an entire series of how-to's:


Once you have the basics, the hardest part is choosing just one pattern to start with.  There are thousands of free patterns, as well as those available for sale on Etsy, and in traditional books.  

Here are a few of my recent projects, which have been so much fun to do.  This is Timmy, from the awesome British cartoon series, Timmy Time, which was a spin-off of Shaun the Sheep (which was a spin-off of Wallace & Grommit) ;)  My Timmy was based on this adorable free pattern, with a few of my own modifications:


And here's another picture of my little pig, inspired by the "Back to the Start" Chipotle commercial:



I've already been asked to make another pig, so I'll have the pattern available ASAP :)

Happy crafting!

Faye

No promotional consideration was paid for this post.
Images copyright GreenOrganicMama.com.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Homemade Lip Balm & Solid Hand Lotion

All-natural homemade lip balm and solid hand lotion

Did everyone catch that awesome Chipotle commercial that aired during the Grammy's last weekend?  If you didn't, here it is:


We've been living green, organic, and now paleo/primal for some time now, so this commercial really hit home for us.  Thank you to Willie Nelson for his fantastic work with Farm Aid, and his moving vocals on this wonderful cover of The Scientist.  There's a lot to be said for going back to our roots, and acknowledging that progress does come with a price.  Everything we eat, buy, and use, has some kind of hidden cost.  That being said, we definitely strive to live more simply, and reduce our impact on the environment.

I've shared with my Pinterest friends a couple recent awesome finds for super frugal, all-natural, homemade lip balm and solid lotion bars, as posted by fellow mom blogger, Sarah at Frugal By Choice.   I love Sarah's insistence on "normal" (a.k.a. easy to find) ingredients, when formulating her blends.  Eczema and dry lips are common-place in my family, and I'm reaching for lip balms and moisturizers all day long.  Natural or not, beauty products are expensive.  I couldn't wait to use Sarah's recipes, and have my own all-natural products to care for my dry lips and frequently chapped hands.

First thing first, I had to locate beeswax.  Being from the Sunshine State, with lots of local farms, I was on a mission to find locally-produced beeswax.  That's when Christina at Southern Wholesale Division on eBay came to the rescue!  This local beekeeper also carried cute little metal tins, for which Christina graciously provided combined shipping.  I opened my mailbox with glee this morning, and couldn't wait to churn out my first batches of homemade lip balms and solid lotions.  I've tweaked Sarah's recipes to make them a little easier; you can skip the double-boiler, and do everything in your microwave.

Just a few notes on beeswax:

LIVESTRONG has some great info about this amazing, naturally-produced, anti-inflammatory skin protectant.   Per Wikipedia, the colors of beeswax can vary widely, depending on the age of the bees and the hive, and the type of plant that the pollen is coming from.  Beeswax is typically divided into two categories: raw and refined.  Refined is usually more white, with little, if any, honey smell, and that's what candle makers usually go for.   For our purposes, raw works just fine, and it's also cheaper, and easier to find.  My shipment of raw beeswax smells absolutely amazing, and I'm sure I will be back for more.

Beeswax also comes in all sorts of shapes and varieties; from pellets to huge blocks, to everything in between.  Mine came conveniently shaped in 0.5 oz/1 tablespoon blocks, which made them super easy to measure out, to conform with Sarah's recipes.


 

*** Update: 1-22-2013 - I am now a consultant for NYR Organic/Neal's Yard Remedies, and I absolutely love our line of organic essential oils and base oils.  Please click here to visit my online shop.  Orders ship UPS from our MA headquarters to your door. *** 

Homemade Lip Balm & Solid Hand Lotion

Equipment:
1 one-cup Pyrex measuring cup
1 silicone spatula
2 silicone trivets
4 one-ounce metal tins (for the lip balm)
2 two-ounce metal tins (for the solid lotion)

Lip balm ingredients:
1 tbsp (0.5 oz) filtered, raw beeswax
4 tbsp Tropical Traditions expeller-pressed (a.k.a. unscented) coconut oil
10 drops bergamot essential oil (optional)

To make the lip balm:

Add the coconut oil and beeswax to the glass measuring cup.  Microwave on 30-second intervals until beeswax is just melted.

Very carefully, remove the measuring cup from the microwave and set on a trivet. (Use extra caution: we're talking molten wax and hot oil here.)

Arrange your lip balm tins on your other trivet.

Add bergamot (or your favorite) essential oil to the mixture, and stir carefully.

Pour very slowly and carefully into your lip balm tins.  Allow to cool and set at room temperature.


Solid lotion ingredients:
2 tbsp (1 oz) filtered, raw beeswax
2 tbsp Tropical Traditions expeller-pressed coconut oil
2 tbsp sweet almond oil
10 drops of your favorite organic essential oil(s) (optional)

To make the solid lotion:

Add the beeswax and both oils to the glass measuring cup.  Microwave on 30-second intervals until beeswax is just melted.

As with above, very carefully, remove the measuring cup from the microwave and set on a trivet.

Arrange your lotion tins on your other trivet.

Add your favorite essential oil to the mixture, and stir carefully.

Pour very slowly and carefully into your metal tins. Allow to cool and set at room temperature.


I am so pleased with the finished products!  The lip balm is rich and creamy, with incredible staying power, without being thick or heavy.  The lotion is definitely solid, but doesn't take much effort to soften on my skin.  It does a great job, soothing those really irritated, cracked dry spots, and providing a comfortable, non-greasy, invisible, protective layer.  Let's not forget the savings, too.  My go-to lip balms were about $3 a tube.  That works out to about $20 an ounce!  This homemade version?  We're talking $0.42 per ounce.  Looks like we've found two winners today.  Sorry, cosmetic industry.  Here are two more products I won't be buying from you anymore ;)

As Sarah stated in her blog comments, it's just a matter of tweaking the amount of beeswax, if you want something a little softer, or a little firmer.  I'm quite happy with how mine turned out, and I plan to make some extra batches, come gift-giving season ;)

One of my favorite Paleo authors, Mark Sisson, has a fantastic recent post about handicraft. There is truly something genuinely satisfying about making something with your own two hands.  Here's hoping you'll give this project a try!

Faye




No promotional consideration was paid for this post.  Photo copyright GreenOrganicmama.com

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Coconut Oil: For a Healthy Body; Inside & Out


I'm very happy to report that our family is still enjoying all the benefits of living the Paleo lifestyle.  For those who aren't familiar, last summer, we took our healthy eating a step further, and cut out all processed foods, including grain products.  It's actually been much easier than we thought it would be, and it really helps that there is a huge, supportive online Paleo community out there, providing tremendous resources, useful hints, and always a patient, listening ear.  The result?  Mysterious rashes have cleared up, mom and dad are leaning out, the little one is happy, energetic, and growing like a weed, and we're not suffering through repeated bouts of respiratory infections like we used to.  Sounds like we've found a winner ;)

In perusing all the mouth-watering primal recipes out there, many Paleo bloggers rely on coconut oil as their primary cooking oil.  Coconut oil has now taken the spotlight as the reigning healthy fat among the  "super foods".  Healthy fat, you say?  Yes, not all fat is bad.  This great post by Hybrid Rasta Mama spells out 160 ways that coconut oil is good for us; using this naturally anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, shelf-stable, and delicious food for everything from cooking, baking, hair treatments, bug repellent, you name it! I know we've only seen the tip of the iceberg in our household.  That five-gallon drum that we just ordered is going to get a lot of use!

A huge thank you to both George at Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations, and Esther at Paleo on Main Street, for introducing me to the Tropical Traditions brand of coconut oils.  Not all coconut oil is made the same way, and not all of it tastes the same, either.  Tropical Traditions has a great FAQ.  When buying coconut oil, just be sure that yours is coming from a reputable source.  Some manufacturers source their oil from multiple locations.  The jar you see on the grocery store shelf could be a blend of oils from several different countries in itself.  Tropical Traditions was born in the Philippines, and all their oil is made with care by local community farming families.  



Coconut oil has a host of benefits, including aiding metabolism.  This is now our primary cooking oil for everything from scrambled eggs to sauteing vegetables.  For these savory dishes, we use Tropical Traditions' Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil.  Processed this way, expeller-pressed coconut oil doesn't have that distinct  coconutty flavor or taste, making it a better choice for regular cooking.  This is different from virgin coconut oil, which is fantastic for baking; adding hints of sweet, nutty flavor to your favorite recipes.  


My ultimate favorite use for coconut oil is actually not for eating.  A big shout-out to Liz Wolfe at Cave Girl Eats for changing my entire beauty routine; making it simpler, pure, free of chemical additives, and not to mention, frugal!  I don't know what to do with all of my stockpiled face washes, creams, lotions, and potions, because it's now coconut oil to the rescue!  I've always had issues with very sensitive, combination skin, with plenty of clogged pores, and a random painful zit.  Toss in the occasional bout of eczema, from some kind of allergy cross-contamination (always resulting from eating out), and dealing with my skin has definitely not been easy.  That is, until now.  Liz, if you're reading this, you are my hero ;)  

Every morning, I reach for a jar containing a mix of 2/3 coconut oil, and 1/3 castor oil.  Castor oil is another super oil, with great anti-inflammatory properties (perfect for my eczema).  Just don't eat the stuff ;)  As I wait for the tankless hot water heater to kick in, I massage a bit of this mixture on my face, making sure to get it into those problem T-zone areas.  Once the hot water is flowing, I gently wipe my face with a steamy hot wash cloth, which really does take off all the excess oil.  Coconut oil is considered to be a "dry oil", as it is readily absorbed into your skin.  By the time we're finished a quick breakfast, the oil has absorbed, and I'm ready to apply my makeup.

This same jar works to remove my makeup at the end of the day, too.  I massage this onto my face, before stepping into the shower, and I take it a step further, by massaging with the Olay Professional Pro-X rotating brush.  Call it the Clairsonic for us broke girls. LOL ;)  Just a little bit of mild bar soap goes on the brush head.  At the end of my shower, I apply a few dabs of another homemade blend of half coconut oil, half jojoba oil.  Thank you again to Liz for suggesting the jojoba oil, which she points out is very similar to our skin's own sebum.  I noticed a difference within just a few days.  My pores are shrinking, the trouble spots are clearing up, and I don't have that aggravating, dry, tightness, immediately after washing my face anymore.  My skin is definitely much softer now, too.  As a bonus?  No more having to read labels to find "natural" skin care products.  You can't get much more triclosan/SLS/fragrance/paraben-free than pure plant oils.

If you want to give this a try, but don't have the other oils on hand, that's okay.  Some people use straight coconut oil.  Give that a try first, and see how you like this cleansing method.  I'm pretty sure you're going to be hooked when you see and feel the results ;)

Faye


No promotional consideration was paid for this post. Review based on personal purchases.
Coconut & coconut oil image courtesy of Care2.com.
Spa facial image courtesy of Carlabelladayspa.com,

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