keep your paws clean

In our household, we like to keep our paws clean.

And I don't just mean clean of germs and dirt. I also mean clean of chemicals and irritants.

As part of my goal to health-ify the household, I started investing in non-toxic hand soap. There are a lot of options for hand soaps that you can buy with EWG ratings of 0. But they usually present one of two problems: a) they are ridiculously expensive, or b) they smell weird. Two problems I don't like to have.

So I tried something else.

I got myself a giant bottle of Dr. Bronner's citrus liquid castile soap. I waited until our foaming soap dispenser ran out. (If you don't have them, you can order some really inexpensive ones.) Then I did some mixing.

All you really need to make this soap is the dispenser, non-toxic liquid soap, and purified water. But I also added essential oils for a preservative and germ-killing boost, and aloe vera gel for moisture. You can purchase aloe vera gel, but just make sure it's pure. I finally was able to make use of our plant.

Buying a large bottle of soap is really economical; I estimate that each bottle of this will cost me $1-2. That is way better than just about anything in the natural soap market, and even rivals the cheapest in the regular market!

Plus, the whole process is way easy.

Non-Toxic Foaming Hand Soap

foaming soap dispenser
purified water
liquid castile soap
essential oils (optional)
1-2 tbsp aloe vera gel (optional)

The specific amount of each ingredient is not really important. If your water needs to be purified, bring it to a boil, and then allow it to sit until it reaches room temperature. Add any 4-6 drops of essential oil to the dispenser. Pour the water into your soap dispenser until it's about 3/4 full. Add the aloe vera and fill the rest of the dispenser with soap. Do not overfill, as the top will likely need to extend into the bottle a bit. It's important to add the soap last so it doesn't foam up as you add other ingredients.

I used citrus castile soap, with a few drops of grapefruit essential oil, and aloe vera gel from just one leaf. To get the gel out, start at the broken (fat) end of the stalk. Squeeze the leaf carefully to avoid the prickly parts; you should feel it sort of pop between your fingers. Then you can push the gel out. Repeat this process as you move towards the tip of the leaf.


fantasy friday: curing soup from frell

"When I was almost fifteen, Mother and I caught cold. Mandy dosed
us with her curing soup, made with carrots, leeks, celery, and hair from
a unicorn's tail. It was delicious, but we both hated to see those long
yellow-white hairs floating around the vegetables."

from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted is another book made into a movie I haven't seen. Anne Hathaway is in it, and she is just the sweetest...but my standards are high. Because in the book version of the story, you get to experience all of the fabulous food of Frell, described in delicious detail. Like this soup...

I really hope you aren't sick. But if you are, this curing soup is for you. Just as its name promises, it is the perfect thing when nursing a cold.

It is clean, light, and full of life. It has no oil, and is vegan and gluten-free. The spices are very subtle. The real point of this soup is to enjoy the warm broth and delicate flavor of the vegetables.

And though Ella and her mother hated those unicorn hairs, I promise you those rice noodles hairs are actually too delicious to pick out. You'll want to grab a fork with your spoon though...the whole experience is a bit like ramen.

Curing Soup

2 cloves garlic
1 leek
1 lb carrots
1 lb baby potatoes
1/2 lb celery, with leaves
10 cups water
2 cups white cooking wine
1 extra large bouillon cube
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp dried parsley
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground ginger
4 oz. rice stick noodles

Slice the garlic thinly. Clean and chop the other vegetables into bite-sized pieces. I sliced the leek from the bottom up; include the dark green tops, but be sure to wash away all the dirt that hides in them! In a very large pot, combine water, wine, bouillon, and vegetables. Heat on high.

While heating, stir in the soy sauce, parsley, bay leaf, and ginger. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, leave the lid on, and simmer until vegetables are just soft, about 30-40 minutes. Bring the soup back to a rolling boil, add the noodles, and cook for 3 minutes.

Be well.


mindful moments

I had a pretty jarring moment on the T the other day. I think most of us look at people when we're close to them in public spaces. We imagine their lives, and their thoughts, and their feelings. I often imagine that I might be good friends with someone I haven't even made eye contact with. And sometimes...I feel bad for people.

I was doing just that the other day, when I realized that what I was feeling was pity. And the person I was pitying didn't necessarily need it. I was assuming weakness, where there was possibly a great deal of strength.

And that's when I realized that there is a difference between pity and compassion.


Pitying requires assumptions. Assumptions that a person is suffering, or that they are somehow less than the people around them. Pitying makes us feel superior.

Compassion makes no assumptions. Compassion is about feeling love towards everyone, not just those we feel worthy of our pity. Compassion doesn't allow us to assume that the girl with the Prada bag has no problems. Nor does it allow us to assume that the guy in the wheelchair does.


Pity does not acknowledge human strength and resilience. Compassion is human strength.

Pity inspires emotion. Compassion inspires action.

Compassion is about treating other people as if we know nothing about them, but wish them love and happiness anyway. Pity has a lens. Compassion is blind.


I've always thought of myself as a very empathetic person, so it was difficult to admit that what I have often thought of as compassion has been pity. But then I had some compassion for myself as well. I guess there are worse things to feel than pity...apathy, maybe.

But here's my resolution moving forward. More compassion, less pity. And always love.


hot pads and happy couples

Gift giving can be such a chore sometimes, can't it? Don't get me wrong...it feels so good to give. But what feels so difficult is finding the right gift and the appropriate gift and the gift that won't let someone down. So much pressure! But I've found that in a world where people are increasingly dependent on buying the things they need, a homemade gift is almost always appreciated.

Somehow it seems particularly important for weddings. When I give a homemade gift to a new couple, I feel like I'm giving them something full of love for their home...something that will contribute to the warmth and happiness I hope for them.

I made these hot pads as a little extra something to add to our gift for the wedding we attended this weekend. I used this pattern and this yarn.

And the wedding? A blast! A beautiful bride, delicious food (I ate five slices of watermelon), and a ridiculous amount of dancing. I drank amaretto sours, collected all the extra favors from people who didn't want them, and swung and jumped and clapped as hard as I could during the Italian wedding song. How adorably retro did we look?

You might recognize those photobombers from a past post...

And though I'm no 1950s housewife, I did manage to make use of my project's scraps and make an extra potholder for our own kitchen, since we've been using a few ratty ones for years now.

You can find the granny square pattern here. Then I just crocheted a square backing and stitched everything together.

Hope your weekend was just as enjoyable as ours!


fantasy friday: a teaser

We're back in the dirty Jerz this weekend for a wedding. I was hoping to get up a fantasy friday post anyway, but didn't have a chance to make some final tweaks to a recipe before we left. Suffice it to say, only a few little changes are needed, and you can look forward to some of this in the future...

Have a lovely Friday and a beautiful weekend!


review and giveaway: nunaturals stevia

Update: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Melissa, Jenn, Brynn, and Antonia! Can't wait to hear what everyone thinks. And a big thank you to all who entered!!

Welp, when it rains, it pours. I'm very, very happy to present to you my second giveaway.

I've recommended NuNaturals liquid stevia in the past, because I think it is just the best-tasting brand of stevia on the market. A couple of weeks ago, I received a goody box full of their other products too, and I'm happy to say, they didn't disappoint.

I used the MoreFiber Baking Blend in my raisin scones...delicious. The vanilla stevia found its way into my almond milk so my cereal tasted frosted. And I will now have a permanent stash of the individual packets in my purse, so I can even avoid sugar when I have coffee out.

The bottom line is, I think NuNaturals is the highest quality stevia product out there. And so I appreciate all their product diversity in a market that is very under-served. I can't tell you how much I love that baking blend...so easy to substitute. Two of their more recent developments are the lemon and orange flavored liquid stevia extracts. The flavored liquid extracts are great, because they sweeten, and the flavor is strong too. The only one I'm not a big fan of is the cocoa bean flavor. It's not nearly as potent as the others with respect to sweetness or flavor, and I found myself using way more than I usually need. Edit: Just realized that I did not receive cocoa flavored stevia, but pure cocoa bean extract. Big difference! I still think it takes a lot to flavor something, but it's really great in things where cocoa powder doesn't mix well (e.g., to flavor yogurt). Just be sure to add some stevia for sweetness. ;-)

But this week I'm super pumped to offer the lemon and orange flavors in this giveaway. There will be FOUR winners, each of whom will receive one bottle of liquid Lemon NuStevia and one bottle of liquid Orange NuStevia.

Have no idea what you'd make? For starters, you can try my recipe for chocolate orange crunch balls below.

There are three ways to enter. Please leave a comment for each one you do...each comment will count as an entry. Entries will be accepted until next Wednesday, 4/25 at 6 p.m.

1. Visit the NuNaturals website and pick a product you'd like to try (let me know which one in your comment!).
2. Visit the NuNaturals facebook page and like it.
3. Find a recipe you'd like to try with stevia from my blog and pin it to pinterest.

NuNaturals is also offering my readers a discount! If you'd like to take advantage, use the discount code BLG0612 at the checkout on their website to receive a 15% discount on your entire order. This discount remains effective until June 30, 2012. Online ordering customers may also receive free shipping to the continental U.S. on all orders exceeding $35 after discounts.

Lots of luck!

Chocolate Orange Crunch Balls
2 tbsp coconut oil, at room temperature
2 tbsp crunchy almond butter
2 tbsp dark cocoa powder
1/4 cup almond meal
25 drops NuNaturals orange liquid stevia
3 tbsp cacao nibs

Combine the oil, almond butter, cocoa powder, almond meal, and stevia in a bowl. Stir well to combine. Make sure there are no clumps of cocoa powder. Refrigerate for approximately 10 minutes.

In the mean time, add the cacao nibs to a food processor, and pulse until coarsely ground.

When the refrigerated mixture has stiffened a bit, use two small spoons to form into balls, and drop one by one into the cacao nibs. Coat, and form into balls. Return to the fridge. If dough is too hard to work with, allow it to soften at room temperature. Likewise, if it's still to soft, return it to the fridge for awhile.

Keep in the refrigerator. Makes 10 balls.

Chocolatey, orangey, crunchy...amazing on so many levels...


enjoying exercise productively

You know those people who seem like they were just born to exercise? The ones who always make it to the gym after a long day at work... The ones who can go out for an easy 8-mile run... The ones who do yoga before they've even had their coffee...

I'm not one of them. But somehow I still love exercise. And it's taken me awhile to get here.

Because let's face it: there are a lot of reasons to hate exercise. Starting with the fact that most people do it out of obligation. They do it because they know it's healthy. They do it to lose weight. They do it to not waste the money they already spent on a gym membership.

Don't get me wrong...those can all be great reasons to exercise. But not if they come from a feeling of obligation.

I've been to all of those places and back. And I think exercise and I finally have a pretty healthy relationship. It keeps me looking and feeling good, but I know when I need to take a break before exercise starts to irritate me a bit too much. Here are a few of the ways we make our relationship work.


Make it a habit...

Exercise is no longer something I have to make time for. It is just as important as my semester classes or work meetings. Make your exercise part of your schedule, so it's not an afterthought. Write it in your planner. Do this for long enough, and you'll find that you're out the door to the gym without even thinking about it. Exercise is most effective when it becomes part of your lifestyle, but you have to figure out where it fits in. One of my favorite things about living in a city is that I get to exercise any time I want to leave the apartment...walking everywhere is my main exercise habit.

...But cut yourself some slack.

Just like we all occasionally need to play hooky from school or work (I won't tell), it's not the end of the world to skip a trip to the gym. I know I can't miss three weeks of class and still do well in school, and it's the same with exercise. I can't afford to make an excuse every time I feel a little tired or a little unmotivated. But if I never cut myself any slack, I end up overworked and overtired. Skipping a day of exercise is not a fitness failure...it's necessary for your physical and mental well-being.


Do what you love...

My dad said this to me many times as I was growing up. He says that the only way people will really pursue lifelong fitness is if they like what they're doing. So if you don't want to run a marathon, don't. If you find yoga insanely boring, skip it. Exercise is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and trying to follow someone else's routine might just make you hate it.

For years, I used the elliptical machine almost every time I went to the gym. Something about them seemed magical to me. But when I used them, I was always counting the minutes, either because I was bored or tired. And after those many years, I finally realized that I pretty much hate elliptical machines. Now I primarily lift weights, because I love the variety I get out of a weight lifting routine, and how much stronger it makes me feel. I go for a light, long jog about once a week. And I stretch a lot, with some occasional yoga.  And I love a good hike and lots of walking. I love doing all of these things while I am doing them. That tells me I'm doing something right.

...But try new things.

That being said, I would never know how much I love a light, long jog if I hadn't forced myself to start running. I always insisted I wasn't designed to run, and had bad knees. Then just over a year ago, I decided I wanted to be a runner. I pushed myself harder than I ever had. And while I no longer care about being good at running like I did a year ago, I do have an appreciation for how great running feels when I'm going at my own pace.

If you never try, you'll never know.


Do what feels good...

I once saw a girl at the gym vomit because she had been running too hard. I didn't get it. And I don't think I ever will. Yes, exercise sometimes hurts, but it should hurt in a good way. It should hurt in a way that reminds you you're making progress, not damaging your body. When you exercise, pay close attention to the feelings in your muscles, lungs, heart, and mind. Those are the places that should feel challenged, but happy.

....But keep setting goals.

Exercise that doesn't ever push you also doesn't really feel good...it feels boring. And it's probably not doing much for you. Whether it's getting stronger, going to the gym more often, or getting into that yoga pose (above photo is from my 'goals' board on pinterest), goals are what keep us going to the gym, and making that time useful.

I should probably make it clear that I'm no fitness buff. I don't have washboard abs and I can't do the splits. But I do value health and exercise, so this advice comes from a place of dedication, not ability.

Any other inspiration you can share?


mindful moments

It's a little late, I know. But I wanted to share with you some lovely gifts my parents sent us for Easter.

Besides this darling egg filled with all sorts of naughty candy, we got this beautiful little wish heart:

Do you spy the girl behind the lens?

This little heart makes the most beautiful little tinkling noise when you move it around...so magical. Since this was the first major holiday when all three children haven't made it home, my mom made sure we each had one of these little hearts to hold onto. She said whenever we can't all be together in the future, this can be a reminder to think of each other.

Yes, it's ridiculously sweet.

And to send the weekend gifts over the top, my dad made sure this book is now sitting on my dresser:

He knows Cary Grant is just my all-time favorite, and it's something special reading about him as a father, as a gift from my own.

Aren't parents the best?


fantasy friday: raisin scones from mason's farm

Poor, sweet Daisy. The girl has suffered through season 2 of Downton Abbey with painful guilt about her falsely professed love for William, and a sense of nagging obligation for the happiness of William and his father. Which side did you fall on? At first, I was all for honesty. I understood how difficult it would be for Daisy to live with such a lie. But as the story unfolded, it was evident that the guilt was her burden alone, and the good that came of her love was worth it.

Needless to say, I was so happy when Daisy finally made it out to the Masons' farm. But I have to admit, I was really distracted by something.

Ever the caring and gracious father figure, Mr. Mason made sure Daisy came in and helped herself to a cup of tea and a beautiful raisin scone. I hardly remember what happened during that scene. I only had eyes for the scone.

These scones are vegan and can be made sugarfree using NuNaturals MoreFiber baking blend. This was my first time trying it, and Iloveditsomuch. It substitutes directly for sugar and increases the dietary fiber in these treats. But, since the substitution is so easy, you can definitely just use sugar (or palm sugar) instead. And that makes these scones easy to make from just about anyone's pantry.

Be sure to enjoy with a cup of tea!

Healthy Raisin Scones

1 cup raisins
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup NuNaturals MoreFiber stevia baking blend OR 1/3 cup regular or palm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup vegan butter substitute
1/2 to 3/4 cup cold water
regular or palm sugar, for sprinkling

Cover the raisins in a bowl with very hot tap water and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. For the rest of the recipe, don't overwork the dough.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, stevia blend (or sugar), baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Cut in the butter substitute with a fork, until evenly distributed. Drain the raisins, pat dry, then stir into the dry ingredients. Stir in 1/2 cup of water and try to get dough to hold together. Add the remaining water 1 tsp to 1 tbsp at a time, until dough holds together. If you add too much water, just sprinkle in some extra flour. At some point, you'll want to switch from the spoon to your hands, and press it together.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll to about 1/2 inch thickness, and use a round cookie cutter to cut out scones. Arrange on a baking sheet, brush the tops with water, and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned.


a campus visit

Last Saturday I promised J Mexican food and dragged him all the way out to my beautiful campus for a photo shoot.

The blooms are here to stay, and being on campus lately is an enchanting experience of vibrant colors, stunning architecture, and jubilant church bells.

We strolled around to places even I've never been before, and stumbled across this labyrinth walk. As you make your way around the path, it's supposed to inspire a meditative walk. I tried. But then I got really excited about giving J a high-five every time we passed each other and trying to catch up to him before we got to the middle.

J spotted this little guy towards the end of our walk, and I was reminded that it doesn't feel like spring until you hear the chatter of birds returned to the north. Am I talking too much about spring lately? I can't help it. It was such a mild winter, but months of teasing have made me so welcoming of the sun and the season.

Happy, happy spring! Don't forget to enjoy it.


swedish chokladbollar

Isn't it exciting when you actually do something that you've pinned on pinterest? My cooking board is becoming particularly unwieldy, since pretty much everything looks delicious to me. (If you follow me, you'll also notice that I pin pretty much anything that has anything to do with cats.)

This weekend I was very excited to realize I had a delicious recipe for Swedish Chokladbollar that was pretty easy to whip up. The original recipe looks amazing, but of course, I replaced the sugar in mine and had to make a few other adjustments. Do read the original post though...it has some really interesting cultural insights. My favorite tidbit was learning that the Swedes used to let their children eat candy only on Saturdays. What a powerful message!

My favorite part about this recipe was that I only needed a little coffee. That was a good reason to use my new French press, which I found at the thrift store for a measly $3, still in the packaging. And dang, it made a great cup of coffee.

Swedish Chokladbollar

1/2 cup coconut oil
1 tbsp strong coffee
1 tsp NuNaturals vanilla stevia
1 1/2 cup oats
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup coconut flour
unsweetened shredded coconut

Heat the coconut oil for about 20 seconds in the microwave, until just melted. Stir in the coffee and stevia. Add the oats, cocoa powder, and coconut flour, and stir until well mixed. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes. Stir again, then form into balls. You might need to give each ball a good squeeze to get it to stick together, but it shouldn't fall apart easily. Roll each ball lightly in coconut. Return to the fridge for about an hour, and allow Chokladbollar to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.


purple and yellow

Blueberry Smoothie
(tastes better from a wine glass)
{small handful of frozen spinach, 1/2 a frozen banana, 1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries,
1 scoop protein powder, 1 cup almond milk,
a dash of salt, stevia to taste}