Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shark Week Starts Tomorrow

When I was a kid I really wanted to be a marine biologist. I don't know if it was because I grew up in Maine near the ocean, or just because I loved sharks. I really loved sharks. I drew pictures of them and wrote stories about them and read lots and lots (and lots) of books about them. And part of me still thinks they are just the coolest animals ever.

As some of you may know, Sunday marks the beginning of Discovery Channel's Shark Week. I'm really excited to be celebrating Shark Week on my Facebook page this year! I'll be sharing the "Catch of the Day" from Sunday through Saturday, with fun shark-themed products that I like. I'll also share shark facts, videos, artwork, and more! (Don't worry: I'll keep the gore to a minimum.)

What celebration is complete without a special lip balm? I figured the Shark Bite would be a perfect choice! Based on the cocktail of the same name, the Shark Bite is a layered balm with grenadine pooling on the bottom, topped by a rum-and-citrus flavored blue balm and a bright blue cap. All orders placed between July 31 and August 6 will automatically receive a Shark Bite balm. Of course, you can also order extras! They're available at our site.

Please consider joining us this week on Facebook! (I can't wait to drive everyone nuts being the crazy shark lady!)

What about you? Do you like Shark Week? How do you celebrate?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Herbal Spunk and Dr. Cindy Jones

I have a confession to make: I have never been afraid of my shampoo. Even the recent warnings that it's "making me fat" haven't moved me. But when I read that Colorado Aromatics was offering a new herbal shampoo with natural, biodegradable ingredients, I was intrigued enough to order some. The only "fear" I harbored was whether it would work as well as my old brand. I needn't have worried.

Herbal Spunk Conditioning Shampoo contains natural surfactants, glycerin, vitamin B, and a blend of botanical extracts including sage, catnip, green tea, rosemary, and peppermint. Sounds great, right? When I started using it two months ago, I had questions which were quickly answered: Yes, this shampoo has an excellent lather, even when using a small amount. No, it does not dry out my hair; in fact, I haven't used a separate conditioner for two months. And no, the botanicals don't give the shampoo—or my hair—a medicinal smell. In fact, did I mention it has peppermint in it? Yep, it smells like peppermint, one of my all-time favorites for personal care. In short, I'm just delighted with it and plan to order more. (For the record, I purchased this product and this is my own opinion.)

While Herbal Spunk measures up to other shampoos in all the usual ways, it's the unique ingredients that interested me from the beginning. I found that the longer I used it, the more questions I had about it: Why catnip? What other choices went into formulation? And ultimately, a question many people ask: Who's created this great product? I needed to contact the formulator directly for these details.

Cindy Jones, Ph.D. is the scientist-researcher-herbalist-formulator behind Colorado Aromatics. With degrees in microbiology, chemistry, and toxicology as well as a Ph.D. in biochemistry/molecular biology, she has experience as a cancer researcher, a college professor, and a medical writer. Dr. Jones has shared her knowledge as the author of several books and a number of other publications. She is also an expert contributor at an online resource for science-based cosmetic information, Personal Care Truth. I am honored that Dr. Jones has agreed to answer some of my questions so I can share more information about Colorado Aromatics and her great products.

How did you get started farming the botanicals you use? Have you always been interested in gardening/farming?

Appreciating nature as well as gardening was a part of my upbringing. As a child of the 70’s, getting ‘close to the land’ was always a dream of mine. But my interest in natural sciences led me to study biology and chemistry in college (some don’t realize chemistry is one of the natural sciences) and my curious nature let me to the field of research.

The first house we bought had a small herb garden so I was driven to learn all I could about those herbs and I started dabbling with them. As a scientist I gravitated toward understanding the scientific and medical evidence for the use of herbs. I wrote about herbs, made extracts from them and various products while I started growing more herbs. I found the process of making skin care products very creative and satisfying.

My husband and I finally found ourselves in a place where we could conceivably purchase land and so we did that in 2007. This enabled me to grow my business and grow more herbs for my business. We have horses, goats, and chickens outside as well as cats and a dog inside. We grow a variety of herbs as well as fruit.


What motivated you to start Colorado Aromatics?


I found that my knowledge in both chemistry and herbalism was perfect for making high quality skin care and personal care products and as I gained experience and knowledge I started offering my consulting services to other small companies.

Besides making my own products I also offer microbiology testing and product development consulting (through Sagescript Institute, Ltd.). When I started to grow my own brand with our move (in 2007) I wanted some separation of my products from my consulting so I started Colorado Aromatics. This is the name we decided to use at the farmers markets too. We grow herbs on our farm for these products and also make these extracts available for others.


How did you choose the particular extracts you've included in Herbal Spunk? Also, are the properties of "extracts" the same as those plants' essential oils?


Whenever I formulate a new product the first thing I do is research what herbs would be beneficial in the formula. I examine the scientific literature and both modern and traditional herbal writings to choose plants that I already grow or that would grow well in my area. The herbs in this shampoo (Artemisia, salvia, mint, catnip, rosemary, and green tea) were chosen to soften and strengthen the hair, improve hair growth, decrease split ends as well as to moisten and protect the scalp and improve hair follicle health.

Many people think that any type of extract from an herb is the same. Its important when using an herb to know something about the chemistry of the activity you are after. Sometimes you will want a water extract (if you are looking for flavonoids), sometimes an oil extract (if you are looking for oil soluble vitamins) and sometimes you might want an essential oil or a hydrolat if the properties you want are volatile. You don’t get the same properties in all types of herbal preparations.


Where can people find your products?

Find us online at the Sagescript Institute website and blog. We also have a Facebook page and twitter as Sagescript.

We sell at our local farmers markets; Longmont and Boulder, Colorado and online at Colorado Aromatics. I love being part of the farmers market because there is a real sense of community there. It's great to have that interaction with my customers every week and I also like educating people about farms and farm products and letting them know that farms are more than just food. Fiber, medicinal products, cosmetics, etc. can all come from farms and be more sustainable products when they do.
-----

Thank you, Dr. Jones! I really enjoyed getting to know more about your work, and I appreciate your willingness to share what has gone into creating your business as well as your products. (And thank you, too, for the photos! Please note: photos ©Sagescript Institute, Ltd. and Colorado Aromatics.)

If you're in Longmont or Boulder, check out your farmers markets for Colorado Aromatics! I didn't even mention the fantastic soaps I also ordered (can you tell I was a little smitten with the shampoo? I blame the peppermint), and there are lotions, herbal baths, massage oils, insect repellents...many other products to choose from.

What do you think? What's your favorite Colorado Aromatics product?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lemon Blueberry Cake

A friend used to bring big bowls full of blueberries to my door. When I asked him, "Where are you getting these?" he would hand over the bowls with a silent smile, willing to share berries but never the location of his secret berry picking spot.

Last week the blueberries were ripening and when my daughter went picking in her friend's neighborhood, who do you think she saw there picking in his "secret" spot? Naturally we all went back the next day to pick enough for a pie. With the leftover berries we made this cake.

My Nana loved to make blueberry cake for my daughter when she was little because she loved to eat it! I've seen this same recipe online in many places and believe that it came from a New England church cookbook long ago, but we always considered this Cousin Maud's recipe. (I can't resist changing it a little; I think lemon just belongs with blueberries.)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp lemon oil (NOT essential oil; I use Boyajian)
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
extra sugar for topping (I use coarse white sugar for this, but any sugar will do)

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 9x9 pan. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter with the sugar and add the (well-beaten) egg yolks. Add the milk, alternating with the flour mixture. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the batter along with the vanilla and lemon oil. Add a sprinkling of flour to the blueberries to coat them, then stir berries into the batter. Pour batter into greased pan and top with sugar, then bake for 35 to 45 minutes.

Just see if you can let this cool before tasting. It's delicious with tea or coffee, in place of blueberry muffins with your breakfast, or as a perfect summer dessert.

What do you think? What's your favorite way to eat blueberries?

Monday, July 25, 2011

No more barking

My neighbor has a sweet golden retriever named Sofi.

Sofi likes to "visit" other yards, so on more than one occasion I've walked her down the road and popped her back through the gate. This friendly, wagging canine trots silently along, easygoing until the gate closes between us; then the amiable soul becomes a frantically barking maniac.

The first time this happened, I found it alarming; I figured it was just that she didn't know me very well, or that she was upset about being back in her yard. Recently I learned that she does this to her own "mom," barking crazily when my neighbor closes the gate between them. Then I found it kind of amusing: I guess that being on the other side of the fence makes everyone--even mom--look like an enemy to Sofi.

I wish I could say this is a trait exclusive to dogs, but of course it isn't. I can't count the number of times I've "barked" at someone for having a different opinion, for being on the other side of the fence from me. How often have I discovered later that the differences were small, that those people were friends, that we really were all on the same side?

Discovering that a friend is now on the other side of the fence can feel like a betrayal. Separated by different points of view, the easiest thing is to bark our anger and hurt feelings. This approach makes things worse. Just as I'm hesitant to re-open the gate to that furious dog, barking at each other keeps us at arm's length, often just when we most need each other's support. Isn't there a better way?

I tried, but no amount of sweet talk helps with Sofi. She simply will not be soothed. But she's a dog, and it's her nature to bark. I know it isn't mine. I know that there's a whole lot less to bark about when you can find common ground with someone, when you realize that with most things you're on the same side. So I'm going to try something new: No more barking.

What do you think?


Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's Pouring? Mimosas

Mimosas are so yesterday. And by "yesterday" I mean they're so hot that I had to make another big batch of Mimosa lip balm just yesterday!

Since its early days at the Ritz Hotel in Paris back in the Roaring Twenties, the Mimosa cocktail has become a favorite complement to brunches and the traditional way to toast the bride at bridal showers.

While there are variations of this cocktail, the most basic recipe includes simply chilled orange juice and champagne. Proportions vary widely (though most recipes are more generous with the bubbly!). Pour both into a champagne flute and garnish with fruit if desired. A splash of Grand Marnier can also be added, but isn't necessary.

We recently shared a way to bring the Mimosa to your bridal shower dessert table; check out our recipe for Mimosa Whoopie Pies for a sweet treat your guests will love.

Judging by "what's pouring" in our lab right now, Mimosa bridal shower favors are hugely popular. If you're looking for your own, we'd love to help you! Contact us to discuss the details of your Bridal Shower Brunch or other event!

What's your favorite bridal shower cocktail?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Feeling Powerless? Helping Helps.

Several months ago I heard that a toxic chemicals law here in Maine was being reviewed and possibly amended to include cosmetics. I wrote to my state senator to share my opinion, noting that I thought it was “an issue that should be dealt with at the federal level rather than attempting to address it in each state by proposing lists of ingredients banned from cosmetic use.”

Fast forward two months, and we are again (predictably) trying to deal with this issue at the federal level, thanks to last week’s introduction of HR 2359: The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011. This is not the first time I’ve written about such bills; you can see other examples here and here and here and here and here. Oh, and here. This new bill has a few differences, but this is what I believe:

1. If this bill passes as it is now written, my business is gone. And while
2. this bill is unlikely to pass as it is now written,
3. sooner or later some version of this law will pass.

I'm not opposed to regulation in some form, but I feel certain that these decisions are being made by people who don’t know much about what I do every day, or how their laws will affect me. In spite of all of my letters and phone calls and posts, that thought makes me feel powerless.

So.

Here I sit with this feeling, not knowing what to do about it. And I can’t stop thinking about my customers and my work and what’s been happening here lately.

I don’t remember just when it began, and I’m not sure why, but I started being asked to make gifts for women with cancer. “My friend just had surgery for breast cancer,” one woman shared. “I don’t know what to do to help her, but I had to do something. Can you make something special for her?” One customer’s sister had just been diagnosed; another had a friend going through a mastectomy and wanted to send her a gift before she went into the hospital. Many of them expressed a strong desire to help as well as a sense of feeling powerless.

I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and I just realized why: when you feel powerless to “fix” things, helping someone helps. Even if it’s a small thing, like a well-timed gift with a personal note, it helps. And I can do that. I can help with that, and that makes a difference. My work has always been about helping people express gratitude for (and to) their loved ones, singling them out for special attention on happy occasions (like weddings or baby showers) and supporting them through the difficult ones (like divorces or illnesses). Focusing on that instead of worrying about this bill keeps my work meaningful for as long as possible, whether that's six months or six years, and to me that's the most important thing.

Of course I’ll sign this petition opposing the bill, and I’ll talk with others in my industry to find ways to communicate our concerns about the bill. I’ll write (or speak) to my senators and congressmen when the time comes, too. And I’ll refer everyone to other blogs and resources for information about this legislation as it progresses (see below). But I won’t be talking about it here anymore. Writing about losing my job keeps my focus on feeling powerless, and that doesn’t help anyone.

I'd love to know what you think. How do you deal with feeling powerless?

For further information about this bill, please refer to the following:
Personal Care Truth
Essential Wholesale's Essential U
Robert Tisserand's Blog
Sagescript Institute & Colorado Aromatics
Sarva Soap's Soap Leaves

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Berry Peachy Summer Cobbler

This has already been a "berry peachy" summer. I mean that in the (cutesy?) we've-had-awesome-weather-and-enjoyed-ourselves way, but also in the man-these-peaches-and-berries-are-fantastic way. I think I've eaten more peaches in the past three weeks than in the previous three years. Last week's favorite was grilled peaches (and all I can say is WOW, if you've never tried them, you are missing out), but this week I think we were happy to see the raspberries ripen so we could have something new.

All good things must come to an end, and the last of these ripe peaches were destined for a cobbler. Raspberries make a deliciously tart complement, but strawberries would also be excellent.

Ingredients:
• 1/2 stick butter, melted
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
• 1 cup white whole wheat flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 to 5 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
• 1 cup raspberries
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Heat oven to 375°.
Pour about a tablespoon of the melted butter into a baking dish (I used a 10-inch square, but an 8-inch would work well, too) and spread over the bottom. Layer the sliced peaches over the butter, then add the raspberries (or other berries). Sprinkle 2 tablespoons brown sugar over the fruit.

In a mixing bowl combine 1/2 cup sugar, the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices; stir to blend. Stir in the milk and vanilla, then add the remaining melted butter. Pour the batter over the fruit, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean, and the top will be lightly browned.

I served this warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but whipped cream would also be amazing. (It's also pretty good right out of the pan with a spoon. Wait, did I just say that out loud?) If you prefer, you may also use plain sugar and white flour, or add the spices to the fruit instead of the cake. Canned peaches work, too; just drain before layering.

The next few weeks will be all about the raspberries, but we had some great peachy days here. How about you? Do you like peaches? What's your favorite way to eat them?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bye-Bye, Skinny Jeans

Today I packed away my "skinny" jeans. I love them so I'm kinda sad that they don't fit anymore, but I'll admit that I didn't want to buy them in the first place. The years that I wore them taught me some interesting and surprising things about skinny—and fat—and how people feel about them.

For most of my life I've maintained an average weight, with occasional "overweight" years (according to the CDC's definition). Several years ago I started having health problems, and while none were life-threatening, over time I lost weight. To deal with illnesses I had to make changes to my diet which led to even more weight loss. I bought jeans a size smaller, and smaller, and then a third size smaller; even my shoe size changed. My 20-something, SlimFast-slurping self would have been delighted with these changes, but I was sicker than I've ever been. I felt awful. It was even a little scary losing weight without knowing when it would stop.

What's interesting is that at my sickest point, the compliments began. "You look great, have you lost some weight?" was a common question if I hadn't seen someone in a while. I always said, "Thank you," but felt strange accepting the compliment. I felt I hadn't "earned" it. My weight loss was unintentional; not from being "good" and choosing the correct foods, or doing the work of exercising, but a simple side-effect of illness. Should I feel good about it? Should I explain what was happening? The whole situation was awkward.

Things got even more awkward when I started running to try to improve my health. I wanted to support my efforts by connecting online with other people in exercise programs, but found that almost everyone was trying to lose weight. Improvement to me meant gaining weight, or at least slowing my loss. How could I explain? I realized pretty quickly how I might be seen: comments about "skinny bitches" were common, so I gave up trying to participate. I remembered making similar comments years before when I had 10 (15? 25?) pounds to spare; it always made me feel better to say them, but it was pretty different being on the other side of them. I felt guilty about being thin, even though I hadn't chosen it. I felt like I had to apologize to people when they said, "I wish I could have your willpower." I couldn't eat what I wanted to, when I wanted to, unless I wanted to end up in the hospital. To me, that isn't willpower. I didn't have a choice.

I have a 12-year-old daughter and I have been determined to spare her from body image baggage (if that's even possible). We never used the word "fat" around our kids until they were old enough to understand how hurtful it can be. I didn't talk about my weight, or hers. When she was 8 some of her 8-year-old friends were already talking about dieting with their moms. We just kept talking about everyday foods and special occasion foods, about exercising for fun and to stay healthy. We tried not to focus on what people looked like or what they weighed.

And that's why I packed up the jeans. As I've started feeling better and have gained back some weight (yes!), my clothes just don't fit. There's nothing more irritating than too-tight clothing (especially jeans), and I was starting to complain about it. "Fussing" was giving it too much attention, so I put them away. While I always imagined it would be good to be thin, the experience was not what I expected. I felt guilty and isolated in addition to feeling sick. Being skinny, I've learned, doesn't necessarily mean being healthy. And being healthy is exactly what I want for myself AND my daughter.

I know that this is a complicated issue and that my experience is only one small part of a much bigger picture. I'd love to know what you think. How do you feel about weight and body image? Do you feel that you're healthy AND that you have a healthy view of yourself? If you're a parent, how have you helped your kids to feel good about themselves no matter what shape they are?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Feature at Indie Business Blog

Last week on the Indie Business Facebook page, Donna Maria Coles Johnson posted the following question: What is the most important consideration when choosing a website designer for your company?

I worked for nearly 10 years as a web designer so I have strong opinions about it! I shared my thoughts and found out today that dM chose my tip to be featured at the Indie Business blog. You can read her post Indies are talking: What to look for in a website designer to find out what I said!







I really recommend dM's Indie Business blog and Facebook page for business tips and lots of advice from other entrepreneurs. What do you think? Have you hired someone to work on a website for you? What do you look for in a designer?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Work-Staycation

A few weeks ago my husband accepted a new job. After 14 years that's a big change and we're pretty excited for the new opportunities this will bring him.

Changing jobs in the middle of the summer means that the week between the old and the new is the only vacation time he'll be able to take. So I decided it would be a great time to take some time off with him. We planned several cookouts and dinners with friends, days at the beach, picnics. I figured I could work mornings and then have my afternoons and evenings free to visit and play.

Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way. The mostly mornings has stretched to some afternoons and some nights, too, in and around the cookouts and visits. The beach days have totally passed me by...my kids are off with their dad again today while I wrap balms and bottle lotions.

As much as I wish I could have gone to the beach today, I have to say that this work-staycation thing has been fun. I apologize for not planning a better blogging schedule; it's something I need to work on so that there will be something here for you to see even when I'm not here! But I really needed even this little bit of rest. I have enjoyed spending time with friends and family and not working all day every day. As much as I love my work, I appreciate coming back to it even more when I've been away from it for a little while.

What do you think? Do you have to get away from work completely in order to relax, or do you find that even small breaks work well to recharge your battery? Do you take weeks at a time, or are long weekends better for you? What are you doing for fun this summer? I'd love to know!

(I'm sharing some photos here of the teriyaki chicken kabobs we grilled on the Fourth, and my son enjoying his hot dogs at one of our cookouts! Below you can see the view from my "lab" window...my kids enjoying one of my favorite spots, among the flowers on our deck.)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

For a few weeks now we've been picking up a share of veggies at our CSA farm, and some weeks it's a challenge to get all of those greens eaten before we go pick up the next bunch! As it gets warmer I'm also making lots of salads, including pasta salad, which my kids love. I wondered if I could find a way to "sneak" spinach or kale into the salad (AND my kids). This spinach pesto pasta salad is the result.

You'll need:
- 1 lb pasta (penne, rotini, mini ziti, farfalle all work well)
- fresh spinach or other greens (4-5 handfuls of loose leaves)
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic
- olive oil
- balsamic vinegar (You can also replace the oil and vinegar with your favorite balsamic vinaigrette; I'm partial to Newman's Own brand.)
- 2 to 4 ounces cheese (Parmesan and Romano are great, feta is also delicious, fresh mozzarella...whatever you like)
- grape tomatoes
- black olives
- artichoke hearts
- broccoli or any other favorite veggies
- salt and pepper


Cook pasta al dente, drain and set aside to cool.

Pesto ingredients:
4-5 handfuls of fresh spinach leaves, rinsed
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Process the ingredients above in a food processor until finely chopped. Add more vinegar/oil as necessary to make the mixture smooth. Add to cooled, drained pasta and mix. Add about 2 cups of grape tomatoes, 5 or 6 chopped artichoke hearts, and 1/2 cup chopped black olives. Stir in 2 ounces (or more) of grated Romano and Parmesan cheeses or cheese of choice. Lightly steamed, cooled broccoli is also great in pasta salad; feel free to add in your other favorite veggies, raw or lightly cooked and cooled. Mix all ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste, and top with additional grated cheeses. Chill until served.

What's your favorite way to eat spinach and other greens? We've got lots of weeks left to eat them this summer, so I'd love to hear about your recipes!

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