Go Blog Social 2014

You haven’t seen much out of me around here lately because I’ve had a serious case of writer’s block. I don’t know if its the stress of moving, work deciding to own all my spare time or the fact that winter is dragging on forever, but I’ve just felt like curling up with Netflix rather than write. The ideas have flowed but the words have not.

Attending the Go Blog Social conference the weekend before last has given me that inspiration to write again (unfortunately it didn’t magically provide me with any extra hours in the day to do so).

I attended GBS last year and this year far exceeded my expectations. It was held at The Berg, a hip, sunny event space in downtown KC.

the berg

 

 

 

 

 

There were tons of inspirational speakers giving tips on the business of blogging, but the biggest thing I took away was something that sounds common sense, but is sometimes hard to remember in the blog world: “be yourself”.

There are so many blogs and so many rules that seem to come with blogging that sometimes we forget to just have fun with it, speak from our hearts and share a little of ourselves with our readers. It was refreshing to see bloggers who have used their unique voice to set themselves apart and inspire others. It forced me to re-imagine what I want my blog to be and I’m excited to move forward with new ideas.

There was also lots of fun and lots of good food (and lots of booze).

For lunch, we happened upon BRGR. Since they’re in the Urban Table family, I was excited to check it out. The burger was good, but the real stars of the show were their fries. They served a heaping cone of perfectly seasoned fries that I could have happily made a full meal of.

BRGR fries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also took the opportunity to try Tannin Wine Bar for dinner. It features the largest wine list I’ve seen so far in KC, but I had to go with the delicious Spring Sangria. I also satisfied my hunger with a spread of grilled pitas with feta and olives, a handmade tamale and pomme frites (if anything, this was the weekend of fries).

tannin sangria tannin pita tannin pomme frites

 

After dinner, we headed back to Berg for more socializing and fun with the Photo Bus (how cool is that?).

photo bus kc

photo bus kc 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I tried my first macaroon and wondered what took me so long. I can see why they’re always raved about on the cooking shows I watch. Salted caramel is definitely the way to go!

Saturday didn’t have any food highlights (that’s what happens when you make wine and champagne dinner), but held lots more fun with some fabulous ladies. I can’t wait for next year and I especially can’t wait to dig and and have some fun with my blog!

go blog social  

Essential Oil Basics: Choosing a Carrier Oil

If you’re going to use essential oils topically, you’ll need to choose a carrier oil. Carrier oils are vegetable oils that you can use to properly dilute essential oils to apply them to your skin. Two of my favorite ways to use essential oils topically are to put a diluted calming blend on my feet to help me sleep or a diluted immune blend on my feet when I feel like I’m coming down with something. Some of my favorite oil blends also come already diluted with coconut oil so that I can put them straight on.

Carrier oils also have their own health benefits from the fatty acids they contain, which is why you see them used in hair, skin and body products.

There are tons of carrier oils to choose from. Let me share three of my favorites with you.

carrier oil basics

Jojoba oil This one is by far my favorite, but does have the disadvantage of being one of the more expensive carrier oils. I like this one for my feet because it feels a little more substantial than some of the others.

Grapeseed oil I like this one because it’s very light. The scent reminds me a little of olive oil, but not in an overwhelming way. 

Sweet almond oil I like this one because it absorbs quickly and has a slightly sweet scent.

Vegetable butters, like shea or cocoa butter, can also be used for dilution, but oils are a little easier to use because you can measure them out in drops.

Check out this guide for some general dilution guidelines for specific oils.

What’s your favorite carrier oil and how do you use it?

Adventures in Cooking: Homemade Corned Beef

Its been a long time since I’ve tried a new cooking technique, but I was recently inspired by our new stove and the grass-fed beef we recently purchased. I decided to take one of the briskets and attempt a homemade corned beef. Corned beef is one of my favorite meats, but curing my own seemed very intimidating. Regardless, I really wanted to make my own to avoid the junk in the grocery store corned beef. I searched lots of recipes and found plenty of very complicated ones, but none that were clean. I wanted to avoid sodium nitrite, so I found this recipe that could easily be changed to make clean. 

I started with a 2 lb beef brisket, so I had to halve the recipe. Instead of using the sodium nitrite, I replaced it with more kosher salt. 

corned beef ingredients

I brought the water, pickling spices, raw sugar, salt and cinnamon stick to a boil until the sugar and salt were dissolved. I let it cool in the refrigerator until it was cool enough to pour into a Ziploc bag over the brisket. I doubled bagged it to prevent leaks and let it hang out in the fridge for a week, flipping the bag over every day or so.

homemade corned beef 

When I was ready to cook it, I placed it in a pot, and just barely covered it with water. I brought it to a boil and then let it simmer for four hours. The result? Well I realized that when I halved the ingredients, I forgot to halve the salt. Oops. It was just slightly on the salty side…. But otherwise it was delicious with that salty, slightly sweet taste corned beef is supposed to have. And other than the wait time, it turned out to be very simple to make.

20140325_064957

What have you made lately?

Container Garden Planning

I’m stuck in gardening limbo again this year. I think I shared with y’all last year that we were planning on trying to move, so I wasn’t sure whether I should plant a full garden or not. I ended up going with the full garden and we didn’t end up moving, so it worked well. This year, we’re pretty sure we’re going to move soon, so I’m going to plan on an all container garden that can move along with us.

I’m going the easy route this year and hitting up my favorite farmer’s market for their annual transplant sale to snag some organic seedlings. If you’re in Kansas City, make sure you stop by on April 18th 4-9pm!

 

Here’s my tentative plan for this year plus some awesome container gardening inspiration:

Lettuce

I may go with a simple all lettuce container like this

lettuce

(source)

Or a combination lettuce and herb garden like this one

herb and lettuce garden

(source)

Herbs

I may do a combination of the salad garden above, a tiered all herb garden like this one

tiered herb garden

(source)

or a hanging herb garden like the one I did last year.

hanging herb garden

Potatoes

I plan to try a potato barrel this year. I’m going to try a half whiskey barrel or small trash can to avoid it weighing too much to move.

potato barrel

(source)

Tomatoes

I’ve had success with bush tomatoes in a container before, so these should work well in some of the small containers I have on hand.

Bell peppers and chilies

I’ve never tried these in a container before, but figure they should perform similarly to tomatoes in a container.

 

Want to know what else you could grow in a container?  Check out this list, some may surprise you.

 

What are you growing this year?

Anything in containers?

Vegan Cuts Beauty Box: January and February

I’m back with an update on Vegan Cuts Beauty Boxes. I shared the first one I received in December, but in my experience subscription boxes have often disappointed after the first one or two. Luckily, the next two boxes of cruelty-free mostly organic and natural samples didn’t let me down. Check out what they contained:

January:

vegan cuts beauty box january

This month’s favorite: Ofra Long lasting liquid lipstick – it smells great and feels great on, no stickiness here!

Aubrey Organics detangler and shine booster spray

Primal Pit Paste – I’m intrigued by this product, I’ve seen it lots in the real food blog world, but I will admit that I’m not quite ready to give up on antiperspirant yet (baby steps Smile)

Better Botanicals Jojoba clarifying scrub and Coriander balancing cleanser

biao beauty rejuvenating night crème

Dew Puff natural plant sponge

 

February:

vegan cuts beauty box february

Favorite product this month: Birthed by earth lemongrass tea light – this smells AMAZING, just like lemon essential oil. I almost don’t want to burn it

Chandler Farms pomegranate hand crème – also smells amazing!

Medusa’s make-up lipstick

Greenbody tea tea and rosemary natural deodorant

Yarok hair paste

Molly Rose mint truffle lip balm

 

You can get your own beauty box for $19.95 a month. (I paid for these boxes with my own money and don’t receive any incentive for you purchasing one)

What subscription box services do you belong to?

Focus Friday: Why eat local?

Hey friends! I feel like my last couple FF’s have been a little heavier, so let’s talk about something a little lighter: local food! I’ve talked a lot about how important local food is to me and how we always try to support restaurants that source local food, but I don’t think I’ve ever spent the time breaking down why. So today, while I sit here dreaming about a beautiful Spring and visiting the farmer’s market, let’s chat about why locally grown food is so important:

why eat local

It is fresher

Since local food doesn’t have to travel, it can be harvested the day you buy it or a few days before. You can buy it at its freshest and it will last longer when you take it home too.

It tastes better

Fresher = better taste

It is better for the environment

Less travel and shipping for the foods means less pollution, less wear on the roads, less fuel usage and more.

It supports the local economy

By buying local, you’re supporting local farmers, which helps stimulate the local economy. You also have the opportunity to speak directly with the farmer, giving you the ability to ask questions about how the food is grown and what pest/disease prevention methods are used. This can help with the next item…

It reduces questions

Remember when a lot people got sick from eating salad served at Olive Garden and Red Lobster? They were sourcing greens contaminated with salmonella from a farm in Mexico (who by the way has had 4 different recalls on their greens in the last 3 years) . When you eat local, you don’t have to worry about running to the fridge to check where your spinach came from and whether you’re affected by a recall. You already know where your food came from.

It gives you more choices

It wouldn’t make sense for a farm to ship 20 different varieties of apples across the country to your local grocery store every week. They sell a limited set of varieties that the most people will recognize. When you eat local, you have access to more variety and more unique choices you might not find normally.

 

Do you eat/buy local? What do you try to buy local? What’s your favorite locally sourced restaurant?

Focus Friday: The Unhealthy Truth

I told you one of my January goals was to read The Unhealthy Truth.

 

the unhealthy truth

(source)

Since February’s nearly over, I better get to sharing my thoughts with you. The book covers Robyn O’Brien’s journey from serving her kids the normal, processed American diet to becoming an advocate for transparency in the food industry and better food for all. The book was incredibly informative, but definitely not a light read. It made me mad and frustrated and feeling like I still have so far to go in my real food journey. It’s a little heavy, but the information is oh so important! Here’s what I took away from the book:

I immediately quit soy

Like me, you’ve probably heard mixed things about soy. I’ve heard that it might lead to an increase in breast cancer, but other reports that its perfectly safe. Through O’Brien’s research, she found studies that show soy causes problems with women’s breasts and reproductive organs, can negatively affect the thyroid and may cause cancer. Exposure during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of reproductive issues and testicular cancer in males. Soy also blocks absorption of minerals and interferes with the digestion of protein. If those things aren’t enough, genetically modified soy can cause “chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and other digestion problems, as well as headache, lethargy, acne, eczema.” Those things alone are enough to make this long-time IBS, migraine and fatigue sufferer decide to immediately kick soy and replace it with almond water milk. There are some benefits to soy, but there has only (as of 2009) been one study of the effect of GM soy on humans. That study showed GM soy actually changes the DNA of bacteria in our digestive system and can affect the immune system. SCARY! Anything that alters my DNA (even just in the bacteria in my stomach) has me running the other way!

GMOs are even scarier than I thought

I’ve talked before about the concerns with GMOs, also known as genetically modified organisms. The major concern is that we simply don’t know how they will affect us long-term and there is no required safety testing for GM plants. There has only been the one test on humans (the one mentioned above), but the numerous studies on mice have been very concerning. We’re talking negatives effects on the liver, kidneys and pancreas, even death.

Nature has protections in place that keep different species from crossing. You can’t breed a horse and a chicken for example because their DNA is too different. The same is true of plants. GM engineering forces together DNA that would not be possible in nature, such as putting insecticide inside the corn so that releases as it grows or placing scorpion venom in tomatoes.

Sometimes science can be a wonderful thing and has certainly given us many blessings, but there are limits. I’m perfectly comfortable consuming a hybrid, such as grapefruit (which is actually a hybrid of a pomelo and sweet orange), but I’m not comfortable consuming something where animal and plant DNA have been crossed. Its just too unnatural for me.

I learned that Europe, as well as 60 other countries, have strong labeling laws that require any GM ingredients to be listed on food labels. Are they all just less advanced than us or are they right in being cautious and transparent? I say it’s the latter. I wish so badly that the US would get on board but unfortunately the food industry is doing everything it can to prevent that. Just take a look at this chart from Food Babe showing the previous fight over GM Labeling in California.

prop37

Follow the money

I could go on and on about all the surprising connections that O’Brien uncovered between the people who are supposed to be doing unbiased research on our health and the large, powerful food and drug companies who actually write their paycheck, but I’ll simply say that the government, Big Pharma and Big Food are far more connected than you realize. It can sometimes be difficult to find out who is footing the bill on grants and studies, but it often traces back to a large food corporation who wants to sell their product or a pharmaceutical company who has a vested interest in their drugs being needed. Can we trust studies that are ultimately paid for by the companies who have a profit to protect? Because of this, I believe that….

We aren’t getting all the facts

The omnipotent Monsanto has their hands in so much more than seed and pesticide production and they love to keep you from getting any potentially negative information about GM products. Just see the chart above. If GM seeds (Monsanto’s main product, along with the herbicide they sell to spray on said seeds) are as perfectly safe as they say they are, why did Monsanto spend over 1 million dollars to keep GMOs from being labeled in just one state?? Take this and the (often hidden) connection between government, the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry, its hard to believe that we are getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 

Ultimately I can’t even scratch the surface of everything I learned from the book, but its already spurring me to make more changes with my food and in my home. O’Brien does an amazing job of presenting a heavy and sometimes shocking subject and it’s definitely worth adding to your reading list.

Essential Oil Basics

I’ve been trying something fun and new in my natural journey: experimenting with essential oils! They’re just another step in my (slowly moving) quest to remove harmful chemicals from my home and use more natural remedies. I’ve been having so much fun learning about all the different kinds and their different uses. Its hard to pace myself as I build my collection because I just want to buy all the different kinds right now.

When I first started buying essential oils, I thought they would be nice to put in my homemade laundry detergent and maybe make a few cleaning products. As I started researching them more, I realized they have infinite uses, especially as a replacement for traditional medicine and personal care. Essential oils have been used for centuries to treat ailments and are still widely used in other parts of the world as such.

You’ll be seeing more about essential oils on the blog in the future, so I wanted to start with an overview on what they are, what they do and how to use them.

essential oils

What are they?

Essential oils are a concentrated liquid distilled from parts of plants (leaves, bark, flowers, seeds, etc.) Their medicinal use dates back to 3500 B.C. and possibly earlier (some sources say 18,000 B.C.).

How can they be used?

There are several ways to use essential oils. The most effect way to use is to inhale them, either directly from the bottle or by diffusing them in a diffuser. They can also be applied to the skin in various locations, but almost all oils should be diluted first with a carrier oil before applying them to the skin. They can also be taken internally, either in pill capsules, under the tongue or diluted in beverages. I won’t personally recommend that you take any essential oils internally, because I’m not a doctor. There are some amazing testimonials out there about people who have treated serious illness, even cancer, with the internal use of essential oils, but internal use is a controversial topic in the essential oil world, so that is something you’ll have to decide if you are personally comfortable with. There are some oils that should never be ingested under circumstances, so proceed with caution.

I will say, if you don’t feel an essential oil is high quality enough to ingest it (in theory, even if you won’t), you shouldn’t put it on your body. Your body absorbs things you put on your skin very well, so make sure you are putting only the highest quality oils on your skin and following instructions for proper dilution.

What are they used for?

Essential oils can be used for mood, for sleep, for illness, for injuries, for prevention and so much more. Any illness or discomfort you can name, there’s likely a useful essential oil to be found. They are also great for making natural cleaning products, natural bath, body and beauty products and making your house smell great without chemicals.

What should I look for when choosing a brand?

When I started buying essential oils, I thought any brand would do. Being frugal at heart, I looked for the least expensive because I love me a good deal. But as I explored ways to use them, I realized I needed to do more research if I would be putting them on my skin.

A few things to note:

There is no regulation on using “therapeutic grade” on essential oils. Anyone can label their oils that without any third-party testing required.

Purity or “100% pure” isn’t necessarily an indication of quality. More important is whether the oils have been adulterated, which includes adding chemicals, diluting a quality oil with a cheaper, lower quality oil or adding synthetic ingredients to make the oil smell stronger.

Look for a company that uses organic farming methods. Pesticides used on the plants can end up in your oils and you certainly don’t want to be inhaling those or absorbing them through your skin.

Since you can’t test oils for quality at home, choosing a good essential oil company requires a little research. A good essential oil company should be open about what farms their oils come from, the processes they use to grow and harvest, their distillation process and their internal quality control process.

Which ones should I start with?

I had a hard time narrowing them down, but these would be the three I would start with:

20140213_230035

Lavender – great for dry or chapped skin, relaxation and stress, healing burns and irritations

Peppermint – useful for fatigue, easing tension and headaches or digestion

Lemon – helps with energy, digestion and is especially useful in cleaning and freshening

 

How do you use essential oils? Which are your favorites?

Focus Friday: What does “natural” mean?

Hey friends! I’ve missed chatting with you lately! We’re smack dab in the middle of what shouldn’t be that busy of a time, but totally is. I’ve got so many things I want to share with you, but it seems like never enough time to do it! I wanted to check in with a quick Focus Friday and talk about something that drives me crazy!

natural

Let’s talk about what the word “natural” means when you see it on your food (and also your health and beauty products). The very definition of natural is “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind”. When we talk about natural, we usually think of things that are left in, or close to, their original state. They don’t have added chemicals or other man-made ingredients added. And they must be better for you right? BIG WRONG.

I bet you’ve seen some of these products on your grocery store’s shelves:

natural cheetos

(source)

fruitsnacks

(source)

sierramist

(source)

chickenbreast

(source)

 

Tell me, have you ever seen a cheeto in nature?

Those fruit snacks contain corn syrup, mineral oil and even carnuaba wax (yes the same wax in both car wax and furniture polishes)

And just because you slap “natural” on a soda doesn’t make it any less of a chemical stew.

The chicken probably makes me angriest of all. Besides the MSG and GMO-laden breading, the chicken inside is filled with antibiotics and likely raised in horrible, unsanitary conditions.

The truth is, anyone can put natural on ANYTHING. There is no FDA regulation on the word natural. Yet companies put it on their products because they know it makes you feel like you’re making a healthier choice. Whether it says “natural”, “all natural” or even “100% natural”, it may still be filled with GMOs, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and other junk. It makes me so angry that they purposely mislead people! That’s not to say that there aren’t some great products labeled as natural that truly are, but unfortunately its not something you can trust without doing a little more digging.

I think this cheeky video does a great job of summing it up:

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen the word “natural” on?

Eat Local KC: Urban Table

We visited Urban Table during KC Restaurant Week, a weeklong restaurant exhibition where restaurants offer a prix fixe menu with part of the proceeds going to various charities in KC. Urban Table offered one of the more extensive prix fixe menus, so we chose to visit them.

I loved the rustic burlap and metal décor.

.urban table

The restaurant was extremely dark, but I tried to get the best pictures I could.

For our shared starter, we picked the trio of spreads with toasted bread, herb goat cheese, hummus and arugula pesto. The goat cheese and hummus were delicious, but the pesto had that arugula bitterness.

urban table starter

For the soup/salad choice, we both chose the potato soup. I would describe it as almost a bacon soup but it was superb.

urban table soup

I chose the chicken and dumplings for my entrée

urban table chicken and dumplings

and the husband went with the hanger steak and mashed potatoes.

urban table hanger steak

he enjoyed his main course, but I found the chicken a little flavorless and dry. The mushroom gnocchi was delicious, which surprised this mushroom hater.

We ended with the bourbon bread pudding. I practically liked the caramel off the plate.

It wasn’t the best local place we tried, but it was definitely good enough to try again.

Urban Table on Urbanspoon

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