Check out my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You, available from Amazon.

2012 Silver winner in the Health/Medicine/Nutrition Category of the Independent Publishers Book Awards

Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 5 crappy eco-beauty products of 2010

I've been meaning to write this post for weeks now, but I also wanted to take a few weeks break from writing and blogging to spend the holidays reading and hanging out with the kids. I've managed to read through quite a few books in the meantime and it's been difficult scraping myself together to get back to blogging.

I have some exciting things going on in the book writing arena, which I'll discuss shortly, but in the meantime I wanted to tell you about the crappy eco-products that I tried this year and have been swearing at them ever since. So, without further ado, here's my top list of junk:

1. Vidal Sassoon Ecostyle Hair Dryer: I bought this hair dryer with much excitement because my previous dryer died a terrible death. I know many of you will argue that I shouldn't be using a hair dryer, etc. etc., but I have long, thick hair and live in a cold house with high humidity and don't like torturing myself more than necessary. Unfortunately, in spite of being all environmentally friendly, using less electricity (35% less!) and all that (made from recycled plastic!) it, too, died a miserable death after using it only for about 7 months. Not very environmentally friendly, that one.

2. Physicians Formula Organic make-up: Oh, how I wanted to love this stuff. This product line is easily accessible at the drugstore and inexpensive, all thing considered. I blogged about it in 2009 and used if for a few months in 2010, but came to the dramatic conclusion that this stuff is generally unusable. I just heard that Cover Girl is coming out with their own line of "natural" makeup which I'll try once my non-toxic book project days are over in a month or so.

3. Naturally Bare Hair Removal "honey wax": I reviewed this over on my other blog, Green Goddess Dressing, in January and was upset to find out this product, which was touted as "natural" wasn't all that it claimed to be. The ingredients they included weren't all inclusive and, after reading the fine print, ended up being chock full of parabens.

4. Brazilian Blow-Out: In spite of claiming up and down (and still claiming) that this hair straightening product is formaldehyde free, the manufacturers are still full of shit and this product will alternately straighten your hair and scorch your lungs and eyes at the same time.

5. Aveda hair care products (in general): I have to admit that Aveda is making strides in trying to remove some of the more egregious ingredients in their make-up products, but they are still coy about what's included in their hair care products and oftentimes, a quick peek at the listing on the bottles shows some less than savory ingredients. A special request for the ingredients listing in their salon hair coloring products last month unearthed some spectacularly nasty chemicals that I can no longer convince myself aren't deleterious in spite of the "97% naturally derived" claim. It's the 3% that will bite you.

Hopefully 2011 will bring less crappy eco-products past my door step, but I somehow expect that not to be the case.

What heinous eco-products did you hate in 2010?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Salted Chipotle Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Okay, I promise this is the last recipe I post for the year, but I just finished putting together the gift bags for my kids' teachers and some parent friends from their school and I wanted to throw something else in there. So, I made some cookies. But these aren't your ordinary cookies. These are complex cookies with character. The kind that makes your taste buds report in waves of flavors.

First, I took a standard, chocolate chip cookie recipe that I've had success with in the past (and, more importantly, was quick - I was strapped for time). In this case, it's the Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip cookie recipe. And then I doctored it up with some spices, most notably chipotle, cinnamon and cayenne and then sprinkled some sea salt at the finish for a sweet, salty, spicy (with a hint of smoky) flavor profile.

I recommend getting Ghiradelli bittersweet bars and chopping them into chunks or you can use Scharffen Berger chocolate chunks (it ends up being cheaper than the bars). Just make sure you use good quality chocolate. I would have used Guittard, but didn't want to wrestle with chopping up the bulk chocolate. For the rest, I used all organic ingredients, house made vanilla extract and eggs from our backyard chickens.

These end up being mildly spicy. If I weren't baking these for other people (and eating them myself), I would increase the chipotle and the cayenne. So, if you like things spicy, feel free to double the cinnamon, chipotle and cayenne!


Salted Chipotle Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

2 1/4 cup unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chunks
fleur de sel (or fine sea salt)

Directions
Heat oven to 375ยบ F.

Stir flour with baking soda, salt and spices and set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, one at a time. Mix on low speed until incorporated.

Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chunks. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle fleur de sel or sea salt on each unbaked cookie.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for three minutes and then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Then stuff into mouth.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eat your Christmas tree

A few years back, when my 8-year-old son was an infant, my husband and I visited the (now-defunct) restaurant Cascadia in Seattle, which focused on regional and seasonal ingredients - hence the name. It was before most of my eco-nuttiness, so I wasn't nearly as in tune to the local ingredients thing, but when we went back the second time - whoa doggie - did I ever grill the waiter. Unfortunately, he didn't have many answers to my litany of questions. But I digress.

On that first visit we tried a Douglas Fir Sorbet, mostly because of the uniqueness of it. It was fantastic - one of those flavors that, although you may not want to snack on it daily - has stuck in my mind all these years. And, that's saying something given my ADD.

Anyway, last year my husband purchased a little book called Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers, written by a local author, and one of the cocktails included in this fabulous little gem is a Douglas Fir drink that reminded me of that sorbet from yesteryear.

So, now that you have that fresh Douglas (or Noble) Fir Christmas tree hanging around the house (and I know that you bought an unsprayed one, didn't you?), go ahead and clip a six inch section from the tree where no one will notice it missing and make yourself some Douglas Fir infused gin or vodka and get your holiday spirits on! And, don't forget, little sprigs of Douglas Fir also make for a fantastic drink garnish.

I think a fir or spruce infused gin, vodka or brandy would also make for a nice present, particularly if you hang a drink recipe around the bottleneck.

Douglas Fir Sparkletini
1 1/2 ounce Douglas Fir infused gin (see below)
3/4 ounce white cranberry juice
1 1/2 ounce fresh Lemon Sour (see below)
Splash of dry sparkling wine (preferably local)

For garnishing:
Tiny sprig of Douglas Fir
Fresh or frozen cranberry

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Measure in the infused gin, cranberry juice and lemon sour mixture. Strain into a martini glass and top with a splash of dry sparkling wine. Garnish with a fir sprig and float a cranberry in the drink.

Douglas Fir Infused Gin
1 (5-6 inch) sprig of Douglas Fir branch, rinsed
1 750ml bottle gin

Put the fir branch into the gin bottle and cap and let sit for 24 hours (do not leave it in for longer). Remove the branch and discard. The infused gin can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 year.

Fresh Lemon Sour
Makes 1 cup:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

In a small container with a lid, combine the ingredients. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Another drink idea is the Pine Needle Daiquiri. If drinking trees ain't your thang, then, by all means go ahead and eat it. Here's a tasty looking recipe: Douglas Fir & Orange Blossom Butter Cookies. And, for the serious tree snacker, check out this post: Douglas fir tips bring the flavor of the forest into the kitchen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Douglas fir sachet

I was at Whole Foods yesterday picking up some kid's vitamins and I happened upon some Douglas Fir sachets near the vitamin section. I picked one up, since I love Douglas Fir, and gave it a whiff. I was amazed at how sweet smelling it was even though all it contained in the muslin drawstring bag was Douglas Fir needles. I was about to spring for one when I noticed it cost something like $8.99.

Since we live in the land of Douglas Fir trees and, since we have a fir Christmas tree sitting in our living room, I figured I could easily make my own either by sewing my own sachet or using a repurposed one.

I went home and looked around online to see if anyone had any hints or tips on making your own, such as whether or not you need to dry the needles or what and there were quite a few articles and blog posts on making your own pine needle sachet. One of my favorite's was making a sachet out of a men's shirt sleeve. This same site suggested using pine needles and lavender (which we have a ton of) as well as a mix of other herbs.

What a great way to use leftover pine needles from your used Christmas tree. I think I'm going to have a hard time waiting for after Christmas before I start snagging the needles for this project. Patience, Deanna, patience. In the meantime, I might be heading down the road to Carkeek Park for some downed Douglas Fir needles and some salmon watching at Piper's Creek.

Juniper Ridge, which makes the sachets I was sniffing in the store, also has them in Christmas Fir and Big Sur Sage. Since we also have a ton of sage, I might make one of those as well.

In any case, here's yet another thing to do with your Christmas tree after the holidays are over.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas debt

The money treeAccording to Gallup, Americans will spend, on average, $715 this year on Christmas gifts. This is up from around $640 last year. Every year, I'm amazed that people spend that much on Christmas gifts!

No wonder we have a credit problem in this country. Unless these people are saving up all year for buying gifts or spreading it out, which is probably true for a percentage of Americans, they are really taking a hit at the end of the year.

I don't think I spent more than $250 mostly because some of the gifts I'm giving were made from scratch. The ones that I spent money straight out-of-pocket were toys for the kids and gift certificates for nieces/nephews out-of-state.

Did you end up spending more or less than you were expecting on Christmas gifts? Or, maybe the question should be, did you end up spending more or less than you wanted? How does it compare to the national average?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Keeping your bed warm when it's 50 inside

Even though we've pledged for a night time temperature of 55 degrees in our house for this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, our thermostat is in a faraway land as far as our bedroom is concerned. Because our old central heat is less than efficient, this means that, as the outside temps drop into the freezy zone at night, our bedroom gets colder than 55.

This really hasn't been an issue. Frankly, sometimes I'll wake up and it's 58 in the house and I'll be doing morning chores for a while before I realize I'd forgotten to turn on the heat. That's because I'm still kind of toasty from bed. So, when I get up and put on a sweater or extra layer, I'm fine. What's my secret? A down comforter.

We have two down comforters - the midweight one is the one we use. We have a heavier weight one, but that one makes us feel like we are in an inferno and have never actually used it in Seattle. I should probably sell it but I figure if we ever have a major loss of services, we could all survive under that at night.

If it gets really cold in the bedroom before bed, I'll warm up the bed warmer. A few years ago I researched like the dickens what the best bed warmer for me would be. I thought about a hot water bottle since they come in all fancy sorts of varieties with fuzzy, plushy characters, but I was afraid that it would pop and then I'd be left with water soaking my bed. I know this probably isn't a reasonable fear, but I think a wet bed is worse than a cold bed. Plus, once the water cools down, now you have a cold water bottle unless it's been near you all night. No thanks.

Cherry pit heating padAnd then there are the microwaveable bed warmers. No, I'm not talking about those gel packs. I'm talking about those kinds that are filled with rice or some sort of other material that holds heat for a little while and conforms to whatever shape you want. Somehow I managed to stumble upon cherry pit bed warmers, which are like the rice ones but filled with, well, cherry pits.

Not too surprisingly, it was from Mother Earth News. They have been used for ages to help heat up a bed and, traditionally, have been heated using a warming oven, but they can be put in your oven's warming drawer, or popped into the microwave. Now, why would I choose cherry pits over rice or another filler? Well, they hold heat for a lot longer - upwards of 2+ hours in my experience. And, it smells like cherry pie when you heat it. I must admit it is a bit noisy, but well worth it.

When I was in the market for one, I wanted to make my own, but didn't have a sewing machine or the skills, so I bought one (see fancy leopard print one above). However, it's incredibly easy to make your own. Since I'm sure you don't have several pounds of cherry pits lying about, you can buy sanitized pits in bulk from The Cherry Pit Store.

To make a heating pad, just sew a natural fabric bag into whatever size you want and fill a little more than halfway up with cherry pits. Sew it shut and heat in the microwave no more than 2-3 minutes until hot. You can make a cover for it or you can just hand wash it by sliding the pits to one side, washing the cover and the sliding them to the other side and washing that side. You can also put it in the washing machine. Just don't do this with rice bags! The only caveat is that the cherry pits are expensive. So, if cost is an issue, then use rice (not instant rice!).

And, let's not forget, it's never to late to sign up for this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shaving gift set winner - make that winners!

Okay, so Anne, the owner of Seattle Sundries who is sponsoring last week's shaving gift set giveaway has been kind enough to change it up and let me choose two winners!

The first winner can choose the shaving set or they have the option of selecting three soaps in tins (if they prefer) instead. The shaving set comes with a black ceramic shaving mug, a badger hair shaving brush with a faux ebony handle, and TWO BARS of frothy shaving bliss (of your choosing).

The shaving set (or three soaps) winner is.... Marya of the blog, Fragmentary Green!

The second winner gets to choose three soaps in tins from Anne's soaps. This second winner is.... Crafty Farmer of the blog Anderson Family Nut Farm!

To select your soaps, go to the Seattle Sundries shaving kit page (to decide which two soaps you want) or the soap page to pick out the three soaps in tins and email your selections and contact information to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com!

And, if you are totally confused by this, email me for clarification as well :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Caramel covered homemade marshmallows

Williams Sonoma versionFollowing the theme of recreating Williams Sonoma food gift ideas, I wanted to share with you another knock-off. It's the caramel covered marshmallow treat. Also called Modjeskas, these candies were purportedly named after a beautiful Polish actress by an admirer.

Anyway, they look a heck of a lot more complicated to make than they actually are. These make great gifts wrapped in wax paper. Especially when you aren't paying $27 a pound for them!

To make the marshmallows:

Ingredients
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115 degrees)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions
Oil bottom and sides of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners' sugar.

In bowl of standing electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240 degrees, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing mixer beat on high speed until white, thick and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes. In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to 1 day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallows into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallows (without caramel) keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature for 1 week.

To make the caramel:

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
16 marshmallows (see recipe above)
Wax paper

Directions
Cut the wax paper into 2 inch x 3 inch wide strips. You may need to adjust the size of your wax paper depending on how big your marshmallows are.

Place the sugar, water, cream, and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the butter until it is melted. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the caramel reaches 238 degrees, then remove from the heat.

Stir in the vanilla and salt. Allow the caramel to thicken and cool for 10-15 minutes until it cools to about 175 degrees.

To dip the marshmallows:

Using a fork, drop a marshmallow into the caramel and turn it over until it is completely covered. Remove the marshmallow from the caramel, letting excess caramel drip off. Place the marshmallow on a piece of wax paper.

Continue dipping with the remaining marshmallows. If the caramel becomes too stiff, place it over the heat for a minute or two until it becomes easy to work with.

Allow the candies to set fully at room temperature before wrapping. Store excess candies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Related posts:
Chocolate peppermint bark
Holiday gift basket
White chocolate raspberry jam

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chocolate covered candied orange peels

Chocolate dipped candied orange peelsI wrote up this recipe almost three years ago and made some for holiday presents and I still have people asking me to make some more. I better get on it this year...

You can modify this recipe to make more or less. This year, since I'm all about non-toxic ingredients, I've edited it a tad, but if you can't find organic chocolate or sugar to your liking then do what you can.

Ingredients:
Peels from 5 medium size organic oranges
4 cups granulated organic sugar
2.5 cups filtered water
6 oz organic, fair trade chocolate (milk or dark or white or mix it up)

The process is fairly easy.

Step 1. Scrape the inside of the orange peels to remove the residual orange from the pith. If the pith is really thick, scrape it out with a vegetable peeler or a knife.

Step 1

Step 2. Cut the peels into strips about 1/4" in width, removing the parts where the stem and the orange end are and any parts that don't look good.

Step 2

Step 3. Put the strips into a medium sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil to blanch the peels. This helps remove the bitterness of the pith. Repeat the blanching process one more time (if you removed a lot of the pith) or two more times if you left a lot of the pith on (like I did).

Step 3

Step 4. Drain the peels and rinse with cold water. In the same saucepan add the water and sugar and bring to a boil. It will start to boil somewhere around 210 degrees F.

Step 4

Step 5. Once the sugar syrup is boiling, add the peels and bring the temperature back up to boiling. Simmer the peels on medium low until they become translucent. Depending on how much pith is on the peel this will take anywhere from 1/2 an hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes (this is how long it took mine).

Step 5

Step 6. When the peels are looking translucent, use a pair of tongs and remove them from the pot, placing them on a rack set over a cookie sheet to catch the drips. If you want you can roll the freshly removed strips in additional sugar but I found this to be a huge mess.

[You can strain the sugar syrup and use it as a simple syrup in a variety of recipes - just make sure you refrigerate it.]

Step 6

Step 7. Leave the peels out to dry. If you want to speed things up you can put the whole cookie tray/rack combo in the oven at 250 degrees F for an hour or two (just skip the non-stick!).

Step 8. If you want to dip the strips in chocolate, melt the chocolate over a double boiler and dip, laying the strips down on parchment paper to dry.

Step 8

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Candy cane themed holiday gift ideas

Here is a repost of a few easy to make homemade holiday gift giving ideas. I've included one food item and one beauty care item in case you prefer one or both!

Layered peppermint barkI suspect I'm not the only one being bombarded by Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel catalogs all sporting delicious tins of chocolate peppermint bark. I've had the stuff from Williams Sonoma and it's mighty tasty, but for about $30 a pound, I knew I could do much better (Crate and Barrel's is something like $15 for 14 ounces).

So, even with using high quality Callebaut chocolate (on sale this week in the Seattle area at Town and Country Markets for $4.99 a pound) it's much, much cheaper to make it yourself.

Peppermint Bark

Ingredients

16 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped
6 candy canes, coarsely crushed (about 6 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Instructions
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Melt bittersweet chocolate in double boiler until it is melted and smooth. Stir in peppermint extract. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture onto cookie sheet. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate so that it is about 1/4 inch thick. Chill for about 15 minutes or until it is set.

Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a double boiler until it is melted and smooth. Cool until it is barely lukewarm (about 5 minutes). Pour the white chocolate onto the cooled bittersweet chocolate, using a spatula to spread out the chocolate to cover the first layer evenly.

Immediately sprinkle top layer with crushed candy canes. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then chill just until firm, about 20 minutes. It can be broken apart or cut into rectangles. Store in an airtight container in a cool place or freeze. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

You can pack the bark in glass jars that are decorated with red ribbon and candy canes for a sweet touch.

Candy Cane Sugar Scrub

Crushed candy canes are really just sugar right? So, why not add them to a sugar scrub to make a super festive beauty treat?

Ingredients
1 cup granulated white sugar
6 candy canes, finely crushed almost into a powder
1/2 cup sweet almond oil (or olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon vitamin E oil (optional - used as a preservative)
1 teaspoon cocoa butter (optional)
6 drops peppermint essential oil

Instructions
Mix all ingredients until well blended. Place into a clean glass jar with a tight lid and add a fancy label. I highly recommend the 1/2 pint wide mouth canning jars and wide mouth plastic storage lids.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shaving gift set giveaway

A mom friend of mine, Anne, from our kids' school is also the owner and mastermind behind Seattle Sundries, where she sells soaps with the most unique names and designs. An immense amount of thought goes into all of her products and their ingredients and it definitely shows.

For the upcoming holidays, Anne offered to have me host a giveaway of one of her Men's Shaving Sets. This would make a great holiday gift for the man (or even woman!) in your life. From her website:
Seattle Sundries' soap is GREAT for shaving... smooth with creamy lather. The shaving set comes with a black ceramic shaving mug, a badger hair shaving brush with a faux ebony handle, and TWO BARS of frothy shaving bliss (of your choosing).

Each bar is 3” wide and just over 1” deep weighing 4 ounces or more. As with all handcrafted artisan soaps, there may be some variation in color and slight irregularities in shape. This is a result of being cut and trimmed by human hands rather than by a machine If you find that your soap “sweats” when left out, don’t be alarmed. It’s simply the natural glycerin in the soap attracting moisture from the air.

If you need some tips on how to build great shaving lather, read our blog post on the topic!

Seattle Sundries is known for its Backwoods Soap, Pottymouth Soap and Sasquatch Soap that's rumored to help "tame the smelly beast in all of us." Her bars were also featured on Pioneer Woman's blog a while back (if you want to see 8 billion close up photos of the soap :).

You can even work with Anne to create your own custom soap with private label, which makes for a great holiday gift as well. Hmmmm... maybe I should have her work on a "Clean your Duker" soap to give out to everyone for the holidays this year.

Anyway, if you are interested in being entered in the Shaving Gift Set Giveaway, to be chosen by the random number generator, add your name to the comments of this post and let me know which soap from her site you would like to try. I think they are all fantastic, so it's going to be hard to choose! You have until midnight Saturday PST, December 4th to enter. Good luck!

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