Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Baba Ghanoush



I've always wished I could just call this plant an aubergine, even though I'm not French (or British). I've never grown the white variety and rarely buy them, so I've never quite understood the egg resemblance. Whatever you call it, though, eggplant makes a scrumptious August meal.

We've been picking up veggies from a local farm every week since June and in the past month we've had a couple of types of eggplant. I've broiled them, fried them, and roasted them. We've eaten them on pasta, in sandwiches, in salads and in sauces. I realized that the only thing we hadn't tried was a dip, and a little reading brought me to baba ghanoush. This Middle Eastern dish contains the one ingredient I personally require in a dip/spread: garlic. Here's how you can make your own:

1 large or 2 small eggplants
juice of 1 large lemon (approximately 1/4 cup)
1/3 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic, minced (I might even live dangerously and use 3 next time—wheeee!)
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

The first step is to bake the whole eggplant in the oven—don't slice or peel it, just cut off the top and poke it all over with a fork. Place the eggplant on a greased pan in 400° oven for 30 to 40 minutes, turning periodically. The eggplant will be very soft at the end. Remove from the oven and cool off eggplant in ice water, then remove and discard the peel and place the rest of the eggplant in a blender with the lemon juice, tahini, and minced garlic. Blend until smooth, then add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. We let this sit overnight to allow the flavors to blend (and the garlic to get really potent!), then ate with flat breads and baked tortillas.

Oh, tortillas—have you ever used a flour tortilla this way? It's awesome with hummus, too. Use a pizza cutter to cut a tortilla into strips, then bake at 250° for about 20 minutes. Flip them over halfway through the cooking time. You're basically turning these into crackers, so make sure they're crispy at the end. Try the spinach or tomato varieties of tortillas to mix it up. Yum-o.

I think this might be really good with cumin or olives, too. It's a recipe that I may keep experimenting with. What do you think? Have you ever eaten baba ghanoush? Don't you just like saying it? I know I do! Please share your comments!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Word of the Week: Writing

Over the weekend I caught a repeat of a talk Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave at the University of Denver Law School. The whole thing was interesting, but about 26 minutes in, a student asked her about the challenges she had faced as a litigator, both in general and in terms of her ethnicity. The second part of her answer was about writing, and I thought I'd share that with you to start off the week:

"I know that I have spoken previously to other student groups about writing. The biggest challenge that most students, not just minorities, but frankly the entire population has, is an understanding that the persuasiveness of lawyering is not the arguments you make in the courtroom. Getting up and talking to a judge, it really doesn't matter how articulate or inarticulate you are, because if you have a strong case, if you've made a persuasive case in your papers, you're gonna win. And that's probably true about almost anything you do as a professional. You persuade in your writing, and that's the task that every student has to spend the most time on, in my mind. Learning how to write well, tightly and concisely. And that takes a lot of effort."

I know that writing has become a huge part of my job, not just here but online at places like Twitter and Facebook, and of course writing about all of my products at my site. It seems like no matter what you do for work, you can do it better if you're a better writer. Justice Sotomayor talked about how she improved her own writing by rereading K-12 grammar books; I don't read grammar books (not yet, anyway...), but I do read a lot, and also try to write a lot.

What do you think? Do you find that you need to write well in order to do your job? How do you keep improving your writing skills? Please share your thoughts (and your writing) below!

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's Lollipop Day

Last Monday was "Cupcake Day" here: I spent the day putting together some party favors featuring that yummy fragrance and flavor. When I was chatting about this on Facebook, a comment by a friend (thanks, Beth Dimond!) gave me an idea: why don't I have a day featuring the fragrance and flavor from Feedback Friday? Welcome to Lollipop Day!

I know, Lollipop was last week's Feedback Friday, and in the future we won't wait a week to celebrate the day. To make up for the delay, we're going to celebrate Lollipop Day right through the end of August. Shop for anything lollipop--Lollipop lotions, Lollipop lip balms, Lollipop sugar scrubs--and take 10% off between now and September 1. No special codes, just head over to our site and see the discount reflected on every Lollipop product!

One customer who tried a lotion sample last week had this to say: "Let me tell you that that is the scent I've been looking for all summer. I just didn't know how to describe what I wanted but you had it. It does smell like candy and had me craving for some though I didn't know what. My husband told me that I smelled like Mike & Ike...It really is a fun scent...it reminds me of going to a candy store. Anyone that loves candy will appreciate that!"

Our Lollipop fragrance is phthalate free, and is available in:
hand creams
lotions
bath gel (with pink jojoba spheres for gentle exfoliation)
sugar scrub (also with pink jojoba spheres)
bath salts
gift sets
• lip balm - tubes and jars

Add some luscious Lollipop to your next order! Make sure to add a sample lotion, too. And then come back here and share your opinion! Happy Lollipop Day!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Financial Planning for Life's Milestones

Last month I posted a feature on financial planning with a guest expert. Robert Cooper is a Certified Financial Planner™ with over 15 years of experience in banking, finance, and financial planning. He shared information about some of the basics of financial planning: why you might need a planner, what a planner does, what type of planner to look for, and how to choose one.

I’m really excited that Robert has agreed to come back to answer more of my questions. Many of the people I work with are preparing for some of life’s big events, like getting married or having babies. Since Robert’s clients are often planning for transitions, too, he has some great financial advice this week for those of you who are approaching these milestones.

There are so many things to think about when planning a wedding, and the financial focus is usually on how to pay for the event. Are there other financial issues to deal with before you get married?

Before the big day it is critical that you sit down with your prospective spouse and discuss finances. You would not hide an important medical issue from your fiancé; don’t hide anything about money! Be upfront about debt, savings, and investments. Talk about how you manage money and the expectations of how you will share expenses in your life going forward.

You hear so many opinions about whether couples should keep their separate accounts. And what if one spouse already has debt? How do you handle these things?

Decisions like joint or separate checking accounts or managing shared debt are specific to each couple; there is no right answer. Sometimes it is helpful to talk with a planner to help understand what debt each person has and how the debt will be paid off. However, hiring a planner is not necessary for this first step. The most important action is to make sure each spouse is fully aware of the financial situation of the couple. This can be done by simply sitting down together and reviewing all your financial documents.

Will the couple have to make changes to their accounts because of their changed marital status? What kind of financial steps might be necessary?

One thing I recommend is to review beneficiaries on retirement policies. Generally the spouse is the default beneficiary on an IRA account, but I never like to rely on this “default” being correct. Make sure you specifically designate your spouse (or another beneficiary) by contacting your retirement plan coordinator and specifically listing your beneficiary on the account.

Also, talk with your fiancé about life insurance. If your household budget is now dependent on both incomes, what would you do if one of you died? This is a difficult discussion, but the discussion with the bank is much more difficult if something unfortunate happens later on and debts cannot get paid.

For those couples out there who are expecting, what new financial decisions should they be making when they’re planning for the big arrival?

Get a will. Get a will. Get a will. Apart from a lack of emergency savings, this is the next most important thing I see many families neglect. Once you have children, a will is critical. Remember, the most important aspect of the will is not who will inherit your money; it is what will happen with the guardianship of your children. Do not allow state law to decide who would raise your children should something happen to both parents. Talk with your partner about the choice of guardian, but also talk to the prospective guardian. If the unfortunate should happen, you don’t want the guardian of your children to be surprised, or even worse, decline the assignment of guardianship!

Everyone knows that kids are expensive! What should new parents do to make sure they have it covered?
Make sure your emergency savings account is adequate. You are adding another person to the household, and consequently more expenses. Make sure your ready cash is at a comfortable level.

What about the dreaded college expenses?
The sooner you begin planning, the better your situation will be in 18 years. However, college savings should come after your emergency fund and your own retirement. Remember, your child can get a loan for college, but no one is going to loan you money for retirement.
---------

Thanks again, Robert, for sharing advice on financial planning for life’s big milestones!

About Robert Cooper: After 9 years at MBNA American in Camden and Belfast, Maine, Robert moved to Minnesota to join with his mother-in-law in the financial planning business. His family was looking to improve their quality of life by having a small business that better fit with the family activity and school schedule. Living in Faribault, MN with his wife, Amy Gragg and their daughter Amanda, Robert finds time to run, golf, and help manage Amanda’s busy summer schedule!

Robert now has over 15 years of experience in banking, finance, and financial planning. He enjoys working with entire families on their financial goals and has been especially successful working with small business owners and women in financial transitions. His education includes a Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College and a Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan as well as several programs specific to financial planning. Robert is licensed for securities in multiple states and specializes in full family Financial Planning.

Capital Management Associates
1803 Legacy Drive
Faribault, MN 55021
Phone (507) 334-7433
Fax (507) 334-7433
rcooper@cap-mgt.com

SECURITIES OFFERED THROUGH CAPITAL MANAGEMENT SECURITIES, INC.
A Registered Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA and SIPC

ADVISORY SERVICES OFFERED THROUGH CAPITAL MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES, INC.
An SEC Registered Investment Advisor

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Monday, August 23, 2010

List is Just a Four-Letter Word

If there's a Truth about safe cosmetics out there, I feel like it should be on a list. Everywhere I look lately people are talking about them. Apparently, safety is all about the lists.

For example, the European Union has a list of 1,364 chemicals they've banned from use in personal care products. The U.S. list contains only 8 banned chemicals. I'm hearing about this list all the time. People say, "Imagine how dangerous U.S. cosmetics are if our list only has 8 banned chemicals!" Apparently some of us have list envy and want to make a larger list of banned chemicals. The truth is that of the 1,364 chemicals on the EU list, only 6 of those chemicals have been used in cosmetics. As long as we're making lists of things that aren't even used in cosmetics, why stop at 1,364? I'll bet I could come up with 13,640 things, or 136,400. Heck, we could come up with millions if we weren't too busy making other lists!

Which is exactly what we'll be doing if this new legislation for safe cosmetics passes. If I can afford to stay in business at all, I'll be very busy making lists for the FDA. I'll start with the list of my products, as well as the lists of ingredients that go into them (to the tiniest part per billion), and a list of the safety data for them. Then I'll be listing all of my suppliers, along with lists of all of the things I buy from them. If and when I have employees, I'll be listing them, too--and then updating them whenever I hire or fire. And I'll also have to list my gross sales figures, even though I'm a privately owned company. By the time my lists are added to the thousands of other companies' lists, there will be millions of pieces of data listed in the FDA's cosmetics database. That, my friends, is a really big list.

But that's not the only big list we'll be dealing with. You know how I mentioned above that we'll have to share lists of our ingredients, down to parts per billion? Those ingredients will have to be listed on my labels. Here's a picture of one of my lip balm labels as it appears today. Here's a blog with a list showing how three common natural ingredients become a list of more than 115 ingredients when you include all trace components. My lip balm pictured here has 10 ingredients. How are the trace components of all of them going to fit onto this 1" diameter label? And just out of curiosity, what happened to the recommendation to avoid "ingredients I can't pronounce"? Or the recommendation to buy "simpler" products with "shorter lists of ingredients"? This law will create just the opposite kind of ingredients list: the longer, more complicated, difficult-to-pronounce kind.

Listen, I like making lists as much as the next person. When I have a particularly busy day planned, I make a list of the things I need to do. Sometimes I even add a few things to the top of the list that I've already done, just so I can cross them off. I know it's not productive, but it looks good and it makes me feel better. Making long lists to ban ingredients that were never intended to go into cosmetics is just as unproductive: it may look good, it may make us feel better, but it doesn't do anything to make cosmetics safer.

Likewise, a ginormous list of products, ingredients, suppliers, supplies, employees, and gross sales figures is not useful simply because it's big. A list can be lots of things: it can serve as a reminder, a call to action, a way to mark progress, a guide to help us in decision making. But a list that is simply entered into a database and not interpreted or acted upon will not make cosmetics safer--which is the proposed purpose of this legislation. Who will have the time to review the million-and-one entries in this new database? Who will check my ingredients lists? Who will determine from (of all things) my sales figures, the number of employees I have, and the suppliers I use that I am making personal care products safer for my customers? The FDA? They're pretty busy at the moment with eggs and deli meat. They're struggling to enforce laws that already exist, looking for more power just to keep food safe. They've even been having trouble with drug safety; remember the children's Tylenol recall?

This new law will require tremendous increases in staff and resources at the FDA to enforce it. If the FDA is so understaffed it cannot maintain food and drug safety, it's not clear that these resources will suddenly be available to regulate cosmetics safety by reviewing scads of lists. Without people on the other side of this database to think, interpret, and act on the information, the biggest list in the world won't make our personal care products safer. A list like that is just expensive busywork that will put small companies out of business. A list like that is just a bunch of words.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Feedback Friday is Lollipop, Lollipop

This week's Feedback Friday fragrance and flavor were originally selected for kids, but we found that grown-ups like them just as much! This flavor was introduced at our Facebook Shop first, and now it's available at our site.

In case you're just joining us, Feedback Friday is when we feature one of our fragrances or flavors with an invitation to share your opinions (please leave your comments below). If you haven't tried the featured product, we make it easier by offering a sample that you can add to your next order.

We love the candy buffets that have become popular not just at wedding receptions but also at kids' parties, and lollipops in particular make terrific additions. They come in so many shapes and sizes and colors that they fit with any theme; in fact, they make a wonderful theme all on their own. They're beautiful in "bouquets" on tables, as place settings with their own special tags, and of course as special treats and favors. Try Ring pops for additional bling and "unicorn" twister lollipops for the princesses.

We think lollipops should be a perfect balance of sweet and tart; our lollipop fragrance is a juicy blend of orange, lemon, grapefruit, starfruit, and mango, while our lollipop lip balm combines orange, pineapple, and passion fruit. Both are fabulously fruity new ways to enjoy lollipops!

Our Feedback Friday sample this week is a 1 ounce bottle of Lollipop lotion. Add one to your next order, then come back and let us know what you think! Thank you for your interest!

Our Lollipop is available in:
hand creams
lotions
bath gel (with pink jojoba spheres for gentle exfoliation)
sugar scrub (also with pink jojoba spheres)
bath salts
gift sets
• lip balm - tubes and jars

You may be interested in these other Feedback Friday posts:
Lemon Blueberry
Lilac
Green Clover & Aloe
Apricot Freesia
Sweetini Spa
Lip Balm Tubes
Maine Woodland Berry
Coconut Twist

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Personal Care Truth - Guest Post Today!

I am excited that another of my posts—one about the precautionary principle—was shared today at the Personal Care Truth web site. This week PCT also added two new experts, Amanda Foxon-Hill and Doug Schoon. There is always something interesting to read there from experts in every area of the cosmetics and personal care industry. I highly recommend the site!

Thanks to Lisa and Kristin for the re-post! I really appreciate it!

Sangria Favors



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Post at Queerly Wed

I am honored to have a guest article at Queerly Wed today! I'm sharing my "expert" opinion about autumn wedding trends for Fall 2010. ("I'm not an expert, but I play one on TV...") I'd love to know what you think!

I wanted to share a little bit about what Queerly Wed is, so I'm hijacking the description from their site:

"Queerly Wed is your guide to planning a fabulous wedding. We are dedicated to bringing you queer-friendly vendors, and all of the information needed to plan your big day!

"We started Queerly Wed to help couples, like ourselves, who are in the midst of planning their wedding/commitment ceremonies. We didn’t know where to start and even if typical wedding vendors would be accepting of us. We hope to find the best of the best out there for you and give you everything you need to plan your big day."


I realize that same-sex marriage is a controversial issue. I have written about my personal opinion and professional stance in a previous post, and I welcome you to read more there.

If you're looking for other "queer-friendly" vendors, please check the resources available at Queerly Wed!

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Personal

This summer my family has participated in the CSA program at a local farm. Community Supported Agriculture means that we pay in the spring for a "share" of the farm's harvest and then from June to October we pick up produce every week. We have enjoyed spending time at Crystal Spring Farm, selecting salad greens and other veggies, checking out the chickens, pigs, and lambs, and picking flowers and herbs in the u-pick field. Another benefit of CSA, as mentioned on the Crystal Spring Farm web site, is that "shareholders also have the opportunity to know who grows their food and how it is cultivated." If you have a question about how something is grown, or how to prepare it, there is someone there happy to answer it. It's more...well, personal.

It occurs to me that there are similarities between this and the jobs of small cosmetics manufacturers. While we don't usually have shareholders, our customers know how their products are made and who makes them. If they have questions about what is in the products or how to use them, they have someone who is happy to help. For a while now I've thought this relationship between small cosmetics businesses and their customers was really special. Not to get all Jerry Maguire on you, but it's like what Dicky Fox says: "The key to this business is personal relationships." Especially when most of the work is customized—as mine is—there is more personal contact and interaction between customers and businesses. I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I recently attended a movie screening and panel discussion about safe cosmetics. The movie we watched was "The Story of Cosmetics," and one of the panelists was a recent graduate of Colby College named Sara Hart. Ms. Hart created a web site called Clean Makeup, launched last February to alert young women to the dangers of toxins in their cosmetics. During the discussion, the panelists were asked what products they used and recommended. Ms. Hart mentioned that she enjoyed lotions she purchased at the farmer's market. In an interview with MPBN, she gave a more elaborate recommendation:

"My favorite products are actually from the farmer's market that are home made by Maine families and local companies. I've had several conversations with different makers of the products and I enjoy meeting them and talking to them and I know the ingredients they use are good quality and safe."

It is my honest belief that Ms. Hart, the other panelists, and those in the audience at the discussion have no idea that the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 would put many farmer's market sellers out of business. While Ms. Hart, the other panelists, and the audience members all seem to support stricter laws like the Safe Cosmetics Act, I believe that none of them want to see small, local companies lose their businesses. In fact, one of the sponsors of the panel discussion, PPNNE, handed out a packet with a list of local Maine businesses whose products they endorse; many of these small businesses might not survive if this legislation passes as written.

After my first blog post about this legislation, I asked for your help. I asked you to consider signing this petition opposing the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 as written. A few days later, I received the following email from one of my customers. I am sharing an excerpt with her permission:

"I wanted to let you know that I signed the petition. I was really upset when I read that on your blog. I have finally found some companies that I can really enjoy with my sensitive skin and nose and have established relationships with these companies and now someone wants to take that away. That didn't sit well with me. So last night after work and a meeting I signed it. I like you too much and don't want you to lose your business. So again thank you for all that you do! You are a one of a kind and cannot be replaced. Sincerely, Shara"

I understand that you may not have the same feeling about me or my business; perhaps you don't even shop with me. That's OK. Maybe you're looking for the gluten-free products The Bath Nook offers. Maybe you shop cruelty-free and vegan with Cactus and Ivy, or enjoy the globally sourced indulgences of Bella Luccè, or "green" products made from a byproduct of the wine industry by The Grapeseed Company. Maybe you love the colorful soapy pops of Soapylove, the sweet bath treats of Milk and Cookeez, or the beautiful soaps and bath products of Mellabelle Designs. Or maybe you shop with another of the hundreds of small, local businesses selling at your craft fairs or farmer's markets. Please, talk with them about the impact that The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 will have on their businesses. Will they be able to stay in business if it passes as written? They are ALL "one of a kind and cannot be replaced." Support them by making sure this law gets rewritten to accommodate small businesses. Write to Congress. Sign the petition. And thank you for all that YOU do.

Soap photo from istockphoto.com by carterdayne

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cupcake Purse with Cupcake Goodies

I love cupcakes, and one of my favorite fragrances (and flavors) to "play" with is our Cupcake. This custom blend of warm vanilla and rich buttercream frosting has a subtle hint of coconut (and a smidgen of cotton candy for extra sweetness). And one of my favorite ways to share our yummy Cupcake fragrance is in this mini Cupcake Purse.

Made especially for us in the U.S. by Dungaree Dolly's, these mini Cupcake Purses are approximately 7" long, 3.5" high and 1.5" deep. Dolly makes each of these fully lined bags by hand, with a zipper top and bow detail. We love them because they're sturdy enough to use as a tiny clutch, knock around in your handbag, or keep in your desk at work with all of the essentials—then throw into the washer and dryer and start all over again! It's an awesome "green" gift because it's reusable!

Each mini Cupcake Purse comes with those items you absolutely must carry with you: a travel-size hand cream, cupcake lip balm, and purse potion fragrance to dab on that sweetness all day. Refill sets are also available in popular and seasonal fragrances. They make adorable birthday gifts for girls young and old (is it possible to be too old for cupcakes?).

If you're interested in a larger cupcake handbag, check out Dolly's gorgeous designs! She has the coolest bags! What do you think? Have you tried Cupcake?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Just Get the Lead Out": A Reasonable Request?

"Let's not debate how much lead should be allowed in lipstick; just get the toxic chemicals out of our products." (quote at minute 7:09 of The Story of Cosmetics)

Sounds simple, doesn't it? That's one of the reasons this quote in Annie Leonard's video makes me a little crazy. It implies that all "toxic" chemicals in personal care products are there because manufacturers put them there and are stubbornly refusing to remove them, even to protect public health. This just isn't the case.

Let's start with lead as an example. Through the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA set the action level for lead in drinking water at 15 ppb. The FDA's recommended upper limit for lead in candy is .1 ppm (equal to 100 ppb). Why have the EPA and FDA set allowable levels of lead in food and water? Why did they debate how much lead to allow in those products? Why don't they just "get that toxic chemical out" of our food and water? And should our cosmetics be "safer" than our food and water?

Lead is present in our air, our soil, and our water. It's there naturally, and it's also there because we put it there—through years of burning leaded gasoline, using lead pipes, and painting lead all over our homes. Lead is indeed present in some lipstick, but not because we (as manufacturers) "put it in there." It's there because we use pigments that come from the earth, which contain trace amounts of lead. Why do some lipsticks contain more lead than others? Lipsticks contain different amounts of different pigments, which contain varying amounts of lead. Lead levels in soils also vary depending on their location. Refining and manufacturing processes could conceivably affect lead levels, too, much as levels of lead in a home's drinking water vary depending on whether it is well water or "city" water, what type of plumbing the home has, even how "hard" or hot the water is. In other words, it's NOT that simple to "just get the lead out." Which is why safe levels are established.

What about those other toxic chemicals that cosmetics manufacturers are just throwing in willy-nilly? Shouldn't we "just take them out" too? I think that depends on what chemicals you're talking about, and how you view the role of chemicals in products. Though it may sound alarming, in my time off I frequently bake with sodium aluminum sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, and even sodium bicarbonate, a chemical created by the reaction of calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. I have occasionally (inadvertently) "just taken out" these ingredients, but the omission resulted in flat, unappealing muffins and cupcakes. These three ingredients together are what we call baking powder, the leavening agent that gives muffins (and other baked goods) that fluffy texture. Yes, they are chemicals, but they are added for a purpose.

In the same way, most chemicals that are added to personal care products are there for a reason. Personal care products that contain water, for example, must contain a preservative. Preservatives are by nature "toxic" because they have antibacterial and/or anti-fungal properties. Being "toxic" to bacteria or fungus, however, does not necessarily mean that the substances are "toxic" to humans. And "just leaving out" the preservatives because they are chemicals, or not natural, does NOT make a "safer" product. My first job was in a biotech laboratory fermenting 30 liter vats of E. coli, so I can tell you that it's the most "natural" thing in the world for bacteria to enter a nutrient-rich environment and flourish. The oils, butters, plant extracts, vitamins, amino acids, and sugars present in so many natural beauty products provide rich nutrient sources for bacterial and fungal growth. As a consumer, my expectation is that the product I purchase will not require refrigeration; will stay "good" in the container while I'm using it up; and will not introduce bacteria or fungus onto my skin. The addition of a chemical preservative makes this possible. While you could "just take out" the preservative, would you want to deal with the alternative?

What about ingredients like propylene glycol? They can't have any redeeming virtues, right? I love this discussion of propylene glycol at the Tom's of Maine web site. It's another excellent illustration of consumer expectations of products and their functions. Yes, we want our products to be safe and sustainable, but we also expect them to work. If a chemical is in a formulation to serve a particular purpose, "just removing it" will remove that functionality. What if there is no adequate substitution? Tom's of Maine customers preferred propylene glycol in their deodorant when the option was body odor. What product functionality are YOU willing to part with?

The ingredients you get in your cosmetics and personal products vary a lot depending on the manufacturer. As The Story of Cosmetics says, "Many responsible cosmetics companies are already putting safer products on the market." You know them from your farmer's markets or other local or online shops; they may or may not be listed in the Skin Deep database as signers of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. But even those who have signed the compact are making lipstick with lead (hello, Burt's Bees) because it's almost impossible not to. Even those who have signed it are having to balance product functionality with the issues of sustainability and safety (like Tom's of Maine). And even those "responsible cosmetics companies" who have signed it and are "putting safer products on the market" will be out of business if The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 passes as written. They are simultaneously recommending these companies and working to put them out of business.

Please, understand not just what is in your products but why those ingredients are there and what purpose they serve. Were they put there intentionally? Are they ingredients that are also present in your food? How will the products perform if those ingredients are removed? Also realize how fear affects your decision-making, and be skeptical of those who want you to be fearful of one or many ingredients, regardless of their quantity. There are so many places to get information, and so many sources for safe products; legislating even our "safe" options out of existence because of fear is NOT the answer.

(If you want to help protect the small businesses already providing safe products, please sign the petition to oppose H.R. 5786 as written. At this point, more than 3,500 have already signed.)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Zucchini Brownies

It's August, and I believe that loosely translates to "month of zucchini." A couple of years ago I wrote a post in August that said, "There is no such thing as too much zucchini." I still feel that way, but you definitely need to get creative to cope with the drive-by squashings. (You know what I mean: your coworkers leave them on your desk, your parents and friends drop them off, neighbors leave them on the doorstep. . . meanwhile, you're still picking them from your own garden. . .)

I wrote about one of my favorite zucchini meals a few months ago, and today I'm sharing a recipe for zucchini brownies. Folks, these are practically health food—very little oil, some whole-wheat flour, some fat-free yogurt, tons of grated zucchini—so of course I had to add frosting. (They're good without frosting, too.)

1 large zucchini, minus the pulpy seedy center, shredded (approximately 2 cups once drained)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (+ a little extra...heck, maybe even 1/2 cup. Let's not skimp on the cocoa.)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1 cup chocolate chunks/chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place grated zucchini in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain 20 to 30 minutes. Wring out as much water as possible. Set aside.

Whisk together the flours, unsweetened cocoa and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat egg, sugar, yogurt, and canola oil together. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Mix well. Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chunks. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (Well, clean-ish, since the chocolate chips will be melty.)

I tasted these right out of the oven, and even though they were moist and chocolatey, they were screaming for vanilla Heath bar frosting (has a brownie ever done that to you?). So here goes:

3 Tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
Heath bars, crumbled (or toffee pieces)

Cream the butter and mix in the sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. You may need to add a bit more sugar or milk to get the consistency just right. Then you can either stir in the crumbled toffee pieces, or frost the brownies and sprinkle the toffee on top. Your choice! Yum.


Hope this helps you work through that mountain o' gourd. Please let me know if you try it! If you have your own variation of zucchini brownies (or any other summer squash recipes...we need all the help we can get!), feel free to share your comments below!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Personal Care Truth - Guest Post

I am honored that my post about the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 was shared today at the Personal Care Truth web site. Personal Care Truth is a great resource for those who want to know more about the science behind cosmetic and personal care product safety. I would encourage you to visit and take a look around at the information they have available.

Thank you, Lisa and Kristin, for all of your hard work!

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Precautionary Principle: A Cautionary Tale

I've been inspired by the actions of WATCH (Women Against Toxic Cosmetics Harm) and the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, who (with the assistance of the Environmental Working Group and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics) sent away 12 common cosmetics products last spring to be tested for chemicals. Since they've already found the hidden toxins in my medicine cabinet, I figured maybe I'd take a look at what was going on in my fridge. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years and eat a diet based largely on whole, organic foods, so I was sure my food “tests” would come out clean. I was appalled by the results.

Carcinogens
• Formaldehyde

As it turns out, the apples, bananas, beets, broccoli, onions, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, grapes, green onions, kohlrabi, pears, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, and watermelon I have been feeding my family naturally contain 2 to 60 mg per kg of formaldehyde. The dried shiitake mushrooms my husband likes contain a whopping 400 mg/kg! As you may know, formaldehyde is classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen, and is known to cause cancer in rats.

• N-nitrosopiperadine
Before I learned of its formaldehyde content, I enjoyed my baked potato, and added a generous dash of black pepper. Now I’ve learned that black pepper, too, causes cancer in mice. It contains substances that break down into N-nitrosopiperadine, which is carcinogenic.

• Safrole
With pepper out of the picture, I figured I’d turn to other herbs and spices to make my poison-laced meals more appetizing. But cinnamon and nutmeg are among many that contain safrole, which causes liver cancer in rats. Rats.

• Tannins
Who knew that my morning beverage was killing me from the inside out? Guess it doesn’t matter whether I choose coffee or tea, or head straight for the cocoa, because with all three I’ll be getting tannins, substances which cause tumors in experimental animals. (What a relief that people don’t consume coffee, tea, or cocoa in large quantities!)

Endocrine disruptors
I thought that by eliminating the parabens from my beauty products I’d be "safe" from endocrine disruption, but I was so misled. Lots of plants apparently have naturally-occurring hormone-like activity, in the form of phytoestrogens. There are high levels of these phytoestrogens in my carrots, legumes, broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, soybeans, oats, rice, onions, apples, and coffee. Thank goodness I don’t drink beer, because they’re in that, too. Sure, these phytoestrogens are considered beneficial by some, but I also read that when sheep consume these natural hormones it can lead to decreased fertility. Their consumption also disrupts the normal cycles of female rats. And if things are bad for rats (particularly when consumed in grotesque amounts), they must be bad for us (even if eaten in moderation). Right?

Goitrogens, enzyme inhibitors, mutagens, antivitamins
The list goes on and on. It’s a horror show. All of my favorite foods have ingredients that, if not downright toxic, are capable of inhibiting enzyme action, vitamin absorption, and thyroid function as well as causing cellular mutations. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, mung beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, parsnips, celery, and wheat are only a few. I’m a walking time bomb, eating my way to the next organ failure.

Now that I understand the dangers, I can’t believe that the government has been advising us to eat fresh fruits and vegetables every single day! Even The Harvard School of Public Health says, “Most people should aim for at least nine servings (at least 4½ cups) of vegetables and fruits a day.” They recommend, “Go for a variety of kinds and colors of produce, to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs.” What are they trying to do, KILL us??

I, for one, will not be brainwashed. You can tell me that these foods are “safe” and even “beneficial,” but I’ve done my research. I know the truth. I’m taking my cue from the Environmental Working Group and their Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and adopting the precautionary principle with regard to my fridge. Anything that’s been linked to cancer in animals, or has estrogenic or toxic effects, will be banned from my diet. Until further notice, then, I won’t be eating apples. Or bananas, beets, onions, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, grapes, green onions, kohlrabi, pears, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, or watermelon.

Oh, and coffee, tea, cocoa, eggplant, mung beans, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soybeans, oats, rice, onions, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper. Did I forget anything?

But I’m not going to stop there. These foods are in every supermarket, and as The Story of Cosmetics suggests, we need to make sure that for items in our stores, the “choice to be safe and healthy has already been made.” Surely this must apply to our food, too? Take a look at your broccoli label. Where is formaldehyde listed on that package? Where are the goitrogens? The laws governing these labels are a travesty! I will not rest until my Evian label includes not just “water,” but also arsenic, fluoride, chlorine, barium, mercury, atrazine, copper, chromium, and any other measurable contaminants.

The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 is nice and all, but The Safe Foods Act of 2010 is a piece of legislation I could really sink my teeth into. Who’s with me?

Read more:
Natural Toxins in Food

More Naturally Occurring Toxins in Foods

Sunday, August 01, 2010

We have a winner!

Good afternoon! I'm really excited to announce that Missy Hoy is the winner of the Maine Woodland Berry gift set! Here's her winning comment:


Thank you to all of you who participated this time, and for all the comments! We'll do another giveaway closer to the holidays.

In the meantime please consider checking out our Feedback Friday features every few weeks and adding your opinions! It's a great way for us to see what you like best, and if you haven't tried it, we make that easier by offering samples. (Have you seen the newest Feedback Friday?)

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