Friday, July 25, 2008

Organic Gardening with Chemical Happy Neighbors

I am so proud of my organic garden this year. It is growing so well with compost and mulch to improve the soil and keep weeds down. My only fertilizer is worm compost tea. The plants were all growing happy and strong.

Then, my neighbor decided to Roundup the weeds and grass along our shared fence. Granted, it wasn't along the section where my garden is, but the drift from the herbicide killed two feet of grass on my side of the fence (where my dogs play) and drifted four feet into the garden. A tomato plant and a potato plant nearest the corner have been sick and wilted for weeks now, despite ample rain.

I did some research online and found recommendations to wait 8 weeks before eating crops that have possible herbicide drift. Eight weeks! Despite all my hard work to make an organic garden, I still have to worry about chemical residue in my food!

My problem is on a very small scale, and will not likely happen again (the culprit happens to be my uncle). I can do something about it. But, what if it were on a larger scale, and your neighbors were huge growers spraying chemicals on their fields by airplane? What if you couldn't go outside because the air was toxic with chemical drift?

Check out the story Pesticide Drift about people living in California's Central Valley, who have to live and work in chemical drift every day. They raise their families in a place where 30% of children have asthma. The people living in these areas are trying be heard. They are getting organized, and sampling the air with 'Drift Catchers' to prove their is a problem to government officials who downplay the drift as a matter of tolerance, and merely a bad smell.

Please think about that next time you buy a big bag of lettuce or slice open a juicy melon that was likely grown in California. Buy organic food, support sustainable growers, and grow your own food if you can.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Homemade Natural Face Powder Recipe

I have been on a mission to reduce the beauty products I use and replace the 'necessities' with products that are

  • natural
  • inexpensive
  • easy to make, store, and use
  • not irritating to my sensitive skin
  • still going to make me look good
My first success was with a homemade oatmeal/baking soda cleanser (by the way organic oatmeal does make a difference). After that I moved on to a face powder. I had been using the standard Cover Girl pressed powder, but I didn't like what I saw on the list of ingredients.

I did a little research and came up with a few options homemade powder:

This kitchen staple is the magic ingredient. The first time I tried it I was hooked. It feels soft, lasts all day, and makes your face feels great when washed off. If used lightly you can dust on straight without looking like a ghost. More great uses for cornstarch

French Green Clay
Green Clay absorbs oils and toxins, and helps slough off impurities. It is often used in facial masks (mixed with water and aloe or oils) to tone the skin and tighten pores. As a powder, the green tone neutralizes redness in the skin. When I used this by itself, it felt nice but not quite as nice as cornstarch. I thought the green made my skin a little off color.

Cornstarch/Green Clay Mix
I found a real winner when I mixed the two ingredients. The cornstarch kept me shine-free all day, felt light and natural, and the clay powder added a silky texture and decreased redness. I found an old powder container to reuse and I had a nice soft brush to apply it. The best part is- the whole shebang cost me pennies!

Note: I have fairly pale skin, so this mixture works well for me, but for darker complexions, you could add Organic Cocoa Powder. Cocoa powder is an antioxidant and adds a little pigment (and delicious scent!). See how this chocolate lover incorporates it into her cosmetics.

Shopping List: (You can buy most of these items in bulk to save money, and you will be able to use at least the cornstarch and cocoa for other uses)
NEW! Try a sample before you buy in bulk at my etsy shop !

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    Summer Foraging- Wild Fruits

    This year I've harvested and made jam and other delicious treats from juneberries, mulberries, and cherries. I have plans for crabapples, wild plum, elderberries, chokeberries, and all other berries and fruits I can find at work, at home, and in wild areas where I live.

    Go Wild!
    Foraging for wild fruit is a fun, inexpensive way to have fresh fruit. Most freeze well or make wonderful preserves for year round enjoyment of seasonal fruits.
    But Be Careful...
    Most people can identify a raspberry or blackberry, but many other fruits are a little more difficult, and may look similar to other plants with poisonous fruits. Before you go foraging, learn how to identify the plants (and similar looking dangerous plants) and refresh your memory each year. If you are just starting out, it's best to go with someone who can identify the plants. Be careful picking fruits near roadways. Pollutants like heavy metals, may be found in fruit growing along highways.

    Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    The Art of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

    Warm gooey melt in your mouth Chocolate Chip Cookies...

    Maybe you have the perfect secret family recipe, but for some of us, the Chocolate Chip Cookie is an art that is perfected over time (with plenty of trial and error on the way).

    What I've learned? The more butter and sugar the better. Bake until the chocolate is gooey. Serve warm, with milk, and use good chocolate.

    Here's some tips from expert cookie makers:

    Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie -
    • " through the recipe first, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature, use the best-quality ingredients you can find, don’t overmix."
    • The Rule of Thirds- Let the dough rest up to 36 hours for more even cooking, better texture, and richer flavor. Bigger is better- cookies up to 6" can be a real treat and you will get 3 rings of textures.
    • You'd be surprised, but a little coarse salt on top can make it even more amazing.

    Also, check out this NPR Interview with Shirley Corriher- food scientist and author, about "how to build a better chocolate chip cookie".

    Books about Chocolate Chip Cookies (I had no idea there were so many!)

    Tuesday, July 8, 2008

    A Touch of the News

    • How do you know where your produce comes from? There is currently no labeling law, but this fall, a new federal law will require that fresh food is labeled by country of origin.
    • Scientists are working on the problem of mercury in CFLs (in case they are broken or don't get recycled). They have come up with ideas for cloth or plastic for packaging or clean up that would capture the mercury.
    • If you're trying to get drunk really fast, drink cocktails with diet soda. Alcohol gets to the bloodstream 15 minutes faster with artificially sweetened drinks!
    • Phyto-nutrient citrulline in watermelon (among other benefits) has Viagra-like effects on blood vessels. This nutrient is found in higher concentrations in the rind. Watermelon pickles anyone?

    Monday, July 7, 2008

    How to Avoid Being a Walking Mosquito Bite

    I think mosquitoes must really like how I taste, but apparently they don't really have preferences. The little devils bite the people who are easiest to find.

    Mosquitoes find us by our warmth, carbon dioxide (breathing) and certain skin chemicals (like lactic acid). Exercise Invites Mosquito Bites because you are warmer, breathe more, and lactic acid is produced.

    Drinking alcohol is also said to make you mosquito bait.

    So, pretty much doing anything fun outside in the summer makes you a target.

    Best ways to keep from being eaten alive:
    • Wear light colored, loose clothing
    • Eat garlic or take vitamin B tablets (not proven to work but some swear by it)
    • DEET repellents work
    • There are plant-based repellents- Eucalyptus, soybean oil or citronella work but don't last as long
    • Some people swear by Listerine, but it is said to be a myth
    • Repellents made from Lemon Eucalyptus (an ingredient in Listerine) are natural and safe for clothes and skin
    Repel HG-406T Lemon Eucalyptus 4 Ounce Insect Repellent Pump SprayMore on mosquitoes

    Green Bookworms Come Together

    The Blogging Bookworm is a group of people interested in 'green' books. There are lists of good books, reviews, discussion, and even some book giveaways.

    Check it out and add some environmental books to your reading list.

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008

    It's Mulberry Time!

    I just picked my first bowl of mulberries from the tree in my backyard. I have ambitions to make jam with them, but I can't pick enough before the bloodthirsty mosquitoes drive me out. I may have to resort to the old 'shaking' method.

    Back in the day, when it was mulberry time my siblings and I would take an old bed sheet and some ice cream buckets, and walk down the fence line in the fields near our house. There were several big mulberry trees that were covered in the juicy black fruits. My brother would climb the tree and shake the branches, and the tree would rain berries onto the sheet that my sister and I held below. We would fill buckets and eat handfuls on the way home. While we scrubbed our purple hands, mom would make jam and syrup from the mulberries. Our favorite treat was fresh mulberries on vanilla ice cream. We still enjoy mulberry time in summer, but now my brother has a special pole and tarp to collect enough mulberries to make wine.

    When I bought my house, there were several mulberry trees growing in the yard. They are considered a weed tree around here, and most were removed along with the buckthorn and other weeds. Somehow, one tiny tree in the back corner escaped the chainsaw. It is now almost ten feet tall and covered in berries. The birds and I share the fruit. Nostalgia has kept it alive this far, but it will have to convince the less nostalgic of my household by producing some delicious berry treats. I guess I better put on some more bug spray, find a tarp, and go shake the tree...

    How to use mulberries: This sweet fruit can be used in any berry recipe, and they also mix well with other fruit.

    New Milk Jugs: Coming to a Store Near You?

    As shipping prices increase and environmental awareness grows, many products will be redesigned with efficiency in mind.

    This New York Times article, Solution, or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth highlights a redesign of the gallon milk jug.

    Old milk jugs could not be stacked, and required crates to deliver. Crates had to be returned and washed to reuse. The shipping methods are labor-intensive and not very efficient.

    New square shaped jug
    • can be stacked and shipped on pallets
    • cuts labor in half
    • cuts water use by 60 - 70%
    • fewer deliveries (more fit on a truck)
    • keeps milk fresher
    • costs less (10 - 20 cents a gallon)
    The one complaint? It's hard to pour. People spill it when they first use it.

    I say get used to it, we will be seeing more products changing their packaging for more efficiency.