Monday, April 30, 2012

Martha Weighs In On Chemical Safety

I was reading the May issue of Martha Stewart Living and was interested to see an article about chemicals in consumer products. The article offers guidelines for consumers by breaking down products into three groups: products (or chemicals) to avoid, those to cut back on, and those to worry less about. 

I wasn't surprised to see "fragrance" on the list to avoid. Fragrance has been banned from several workplaces in the U.S, and just a few months ago New Hampshire considered banning perfume for state workers due to the chemical sensitivities that some individuals experience. For those with allergies or asthma, heavily scented products can be uncomfortable at the very least. (We appreciate that people might want to avoid fragrance in products, and accommodate that preference by offering unscented versions of our products. Many small businesses do this—make sure to ask about your favorite products if you are sensitive to fragrance.)

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see Cosmetics placed in the "worry less about" category. They chose to select parabens as the chemical of concern in some makeup and other products, but quoted dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D. when reassuring readers that "No large medical studies have provided evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between (parabens and breast cancer)." How refreshing to see experts and research as the foundation of recommendations about cosmetic products! Well done, Martha Stewart Living. 

If you're interested to see what other chemicals or products they feel you should be concerned with (or calm down about) you can read the article online here. I will say that I was disappointed to see the Environmental Working Group recommended as THE source for ongoing research about the safety of chemicals. Had they referenced the EWG Skin Deep database when writing about parabens, they would have seen that those preservatives have earned a Moderate hazard score (5) in the database, chemicals which Skin Deep recommends avoiding. In a previous post I recommended a list of other resources for information about cosmetic and ingredient safety. Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments!

What do you think? Where do you go for information about safe products? And what does "safe" mean to you? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Later

free printable thank you cards

I've recently decided that my favorite time is later. It's such a magical time, isn't it? When something comes up that I don't want to do, I schedule it for...later. The best part about later? It never comes! So I'm off the hook.

Of course that's not really the way things work. Putting something off just means that I have it weighing on my mind until I finally deal with it. I use more energy avoiding it than I would if I just got it finished. This week's project for "later": writing notes.

I'm usually pretty good about saying "thank you," but in the past few weeks I've accumulated a list of notes to write. I realized today that I was putting it off because I hadn't printed any cards. I usually make and print my own, but I'd used up my stash. When I have cards on my desk I can write notes quickly, so today I printed up a bunch of these houndstooth thank yous. If you'd like to have some for your desk, too, just click the link to download the PDF and print out as many as you need (for personal use only, please). 

From now on I'm going to make sure I always have a pile of these ready to send off at a moment's notice. I'll leave something else for "later"! What do you procrastinate about? 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three Cheesy Snacks Kids Love

Hi, I'm Emily and I have a cheesy pouf problem. That's not entirely true...the simple truth is that I have a cheese snack problem, and I'm not alone. My kids also really like chips and popcorn and crackers and all kinds of other snacks that are cheesy. We try to eat foods that are good for us, which means whole grains, fruits and veggies most of the time. I try to keep the snack foods to a minimum and choose more healthful versions when I can.

So as I was munching cheesy popcorn last week and reading the package (10 grams of fat!! Zowie!!), I wondered if there was another option. Could we make our own cheesy snacks that were better (leaner, cheaper, more natural, with more whole grains)? Never one to shirk a challenge, I rolled up my sleeves, finished up that bag of popcorn, and started planning.

As with most of my recipes and food ideas, I decided these snacks had to be simple and made from ingredients that were readily available. The only ingredient that might not be at your local grocery store is the one ingredient you MUST have: cheese powder. If you can't find it locally, you can buy Vermont Cheese Powder online at King Arthur Flour. 

We decided to try to make our own versions of three cheesy snacks: cheesy popcorn (sort of like Smartfood only smarter), nacho cheese tortilla chips (like Doritos without the Vitamin orange), and cheesy crackers (Cheez-its that won't give you greasy fingers). The first two are so simple your kid can do them...no cooking involved. (Well, except for popping the popcorn.) For each "recipe" we're also sharing why you might want to make your own: of course it's fun to make stuff, but some of our snacks contain less sodium, have no GMOs, or are much less expensive than the store brand.  


Cheesy Popcorn

My friend Michelle shared this article a few weeks ago: "Popcorn contains more antioxidants than other fruits and vegetables." As if I needed another reason to eat it by the bucketload! Of course this article suggests that you choose air-popped corn without lots of extra fat or sugar, and that's how we enjoy it most of the time. But when you really want a cheesy version, just how smart is Smartfood? 

Our research tells us that a serving of Smartfood (a scant 1 3/4 cups) contains 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 5 mg of cholesterol, and a whopping 290 mg of sodium! Can we do better with our version? This was just too easy.

We started by popping 3 Tbsp of corn, which gave us about 4.5 cups of popped corn. We sprayed lightly with cooking spray, then put the popcorn into a ziploc bag. Add 3/4 tsp of cheese powder and shake until the corn is coated. Um, yeah...that's it! Adjusted to the 1 3/4 cup serving size of Smartfood, our version has 39 calories, less than a gram of fat, .75 mg cholesterol, and only 30 mg of sodium. 

Why make your own? Our home made popcorn contains much less salt and fat; at $.11/serving, it's also almost 6 times cheaper than Smartfood. 


Nacho Cheese Chips

I really like Doritos, but I swear that when I was a kid they didn't have as much "stuff" on them. That "stuff" isn't just the Vitamin Orange I joke about (hello, artificial colors!) but also MSG, partially hydrogenated oils, and 180 mg of sodium per serving (of 12 chips. Does anyone eat just 12 chips?). I was pretty confident we could make a much less orange version of nacho chips. 

Again, easy...but this time because we cheated by starting with our favorite organic, low sodium tortilla chips. We could have started with unsalted corn tortillas and baked them, or even better, created our own corn tortillas, but that sounded too "Little Red Hen" to me and I really wanted something my kids could do on their own. The cheese and spice blend is the creative part of this snack. We mixed:

1 tsp cheese powder
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
pinch of paprika
(you could also add cayenne for a bit more kick)

and added 3/8 tsp of this blend to a ziploc bag along with 1 serving of our plain tortilla chips (1 ounce). Shaky-shake to coat the chips (no extra oils necessary...they will stick on their own).

Our version has 80 mg sodium instead of 180, 4.7 g fat instead of 8, and 133 calories instead of the 150 of Doritos. The cost is just about the same: $.25/serving for Doritos and $.24 for ours. I'd make my own because there's no MSG, no artificial color, and MUCH less overall sodium. (Bonus: the organic chips we used contain no GMOs; if that's important to you, making your own makes sense.)


Cheese Crackers

So here's the final recipe, and this one really is a recipe. It's on the back of the cheese powder bag from King Arthur Flour (can't seem to find it on their site anywhere). I only changed it a little bit (that's just how I roll). Here's what you need: 

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cheese powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vinegar in 3 Tbsp water
additional water to form dough

Mix the dry ingredients, then add in the butter until the mixture looks crumbly. (You can work the butter in with your fingers.) Combine the vinegar and water and sprinkle over the dough a bit at a time, stirring with a fork. You may need to add a bit more water to get the dough to form a ball. Chill the dough for an hour or more, then roll out on well-floured surface to make a 12 x 16" rectangle. Trim the edges, then cut into squares and prick each one with a toothpick. Bake at 375° for 14 - 18 minutes. Start checking at 10 minutes...they brown really quickly. Break apart and allow to cool. 

If you haven't ever made crackers before, let me just say they are SO much better than anything you can buy. So even though these cost about the same as what you might buy, and have about the same amount of sodium and fat and calories, it's worth making them because they are delicious. Oh, and one of the changes I made was to use whole wheat flour, so there's that whole grain benefit, too. But seriously? Make them for fun and because your kids will gobble them up faster than you can say CHEESE!

What's your favorite cheesy snack? 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How To Wear Scarves and Where To Buy Them

Rainbow Half-Scarf from Scarves.net
I received a beautiful scarf from a friend a few weeks ago and now I'm obsessed. (Great, just what I needed: a new obsession.) I hadn't worn a scarf since high school and I couldn't really remember how to wear it. I know that sounds silly, but you see people wearing them in so many interesting ways and I think I only knew two different ways to tie them. Which is pretty limiting, honestly.

So like any sensible person I went online to figure out how to tie a scarf. I ended up at Scarves.net and their fabulous collection of how-to videos showed me dozens of ways to wear scarves of all sizes and shapes. And colors and materials and OMG, they also sell scarves! How brilliant is that? So of course I had to check out their scarves and I'm not being paid to say this, but I may have ordered a few or four. Exactly four, actually. And keeping it to four required a lot of self-restraint. (Some of them were gifts, so that's okay, right?)

Anyway, if you have ever wondered how many different ways you can wear a scarf, or have ever wanted to find scarves at really reasonable prices in all kinds of colors and patterns and materials and WOW! more shapes than you can imagine, you must check out Scarves.net. (They're on Facebook, too.)







Monday, April 16, 2012

Beach Day

This morning I'll begin with an apology. If you have joined me regularly here, you know that I usually post a few times a week, but in all of April I have posted just once. At the end of March I had some dental work done and I just haven't bounced back. I can be upbeat and positive in tiny tweets and Facebook updates, but I realized I just can't pretend here long enough to write something fun. I'm surprised by how much energy it takes to get through my work and home responsibilities, and I'll admit that dealing with pain through much of it has been exhausting. I know that's not inspiring, so I've stayed away rather than sharing gory details of not feeling well.

I know that this is short-lived and I truly feel for people who have chronic pain. Please know that I miss being here and that I will have happy and inspiring things to share here as soon as I am able! I really appreciate you and your interest in my ideas and ramblings and you deserve more than an occasional scribbling.

This weekend I made sure to do some things to get feeling better. After playing "catch up" on Saturday, I took the day off yesterday. It was very warm so we went to the beach (Reid State Park in Georgetown, Maine). I can't think of a more peaceful and restful way to spend an afternoon. I think peaceful and restful was just what I needed.


The parking lot was pretty full, but once we got to the sand it was quiet, with only the sound of the waves to accompany our walk down the beach. 


My daughter is away on a school trip for April vacation this week, so my son was excited to get to do something special, too. 


He loves to climb on the rocks at Reid; while my husband tried to get his kite in the air, we trudged all the way to the end of the beach to do some rock climbing. 


Here's Tristan perched on top of the rocks. (The sun was a little bright in his eyes!)



The water was so pretty but super cold! Do you think that stopped him from putting his feet in?


"Look, Mom, I'm still dry!"


I felt better today than I have in weeks, and I don't think it's a coincidence. I'm really looking forward to starting my Monday well-rested!

Hope you had a good weekend, too!


Monday, April 09, 2012

I'm Singing Anyway

I follow lots of cookie (and cake) artists on Facebook and share their work there frequently because I'm amazed and inspired by the things they can do. Miniature paintings on cookies, cakes shaped like purses and castles, cupcakes that look like rosebuds...I find all of it incredible.

I enjoy baking and decorating cookies, but I'll never be a "cookie artist." I share baking projects here sometimes, knowing that the results aren't as amazing as the pros I admire. But I figure that there are probably lots of other people like me who bake for fun with their kids or to make gifts to share. (Am I right?) And I know, too, that any of my simple ideas could be starting points for those of you with more skill and creativity than I have. That makes me happy.

I keep seeing this quote everywhere: "Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best." (attribution details) These lamb cookies ended up looking more like woolly pigs. The daisies are a bit sloppy, I know. I'm no singer, but I'm singing anyway

What talents do you possess? Are there others that you're still working on? Are you singing even though you're not the best? What do you think?

These are some of my favorite cake and cookie designers on Facebook: 





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