Saturday, 28 September 2013

My Top 11 Uses for Coconut Oil

I realize that the blogging world is buzzing with ways to use coconut oil, and the big natural health bloggers have been extolling the virtues of coconut oil for some time. I probably have dozens of pins on Pinterest for the uses of coconut oil, and I have two ebooks on my Kindle about why it is so beneficial for people to use. I would like to share my journey into the wonders of coconut oil.

There is much debate in the medical and natural health world about whether coconut oil is the new wonder food and can doing everything from curing dementia to weight loss, or that promoting it's health benefits are akin to selling swamp land in Florida. One side says it raises cholesterol and is only healthier when compared to butter, the other says that it actually lowers the bad cholesterol and raises the good cholesterol.

I slowly stared using coconut oil to fry and sauté food when I began turning away from vegetable oils. I researched PUFA oils (poly unsaturated fatty acid), which are in omega-3 and omega-6 rich oils. I read about the dangers of getting oil from some omega-6 rich products like corn, seeds and soy without a heavy manufacturing process that exposes the oil to oxidation and chemical solvents. Then to keep the oil from going rancid, it is treated with more chemicals. To top it off, the oil oxidizes even more when used to cook at high temperatures, which can contribute even more to free radicals. Also, our bodies need less omega-6 oils than omega-3, so we may be eating more of the wrong kind of oil. So while PUFA oils are held up as healthy, low fat oils, they are not. There is also the issue that low fat may not be the healthiest way to eat. (source) In the end, I'm not sure that I want to eat oil that is not possible to obtain without heavy manufacturing. Just grind corn or grape seeds and you can see that there is no visible oil present, compared to the cream rising to the top of whole unhomogenized milk and when squeezing olives.

I still love olive oil (extra virgin oil is easily obtained without heavy chemical manufacturing) but it is not ideal for cooking because of the omega-6 content that can oxidize with heat. I have moved toward butter as a "real food", it also does not do well for cooking at higher temperatures.

Enter coconut oil. It has been used for centuries for nutrition and health by practitioners of ayurvedic medicine. For example, oil pulling involves daily rinsing of the mouth with coconut oil for healthy teeth and gums because coconut oil is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It is also used for detoxing and a multitude of other health benefits.

Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is processed by pressing the "meat", which is cold pressed, to obtain the oil, although some heating occurs due to the pressure so cooling is required to keep the oil from heating up and therefore oxidizing. Some coconut oil is processed using extreme heating and chemical processes, but it is not labeled virgin coconut oil and is therefore easy to avoid. Because coconut oil is slow to oxidize it does not go rancid for a long time (two or more years), which is not the case for most oils.

I must admit that at first it took me a while to get used to the taste of food cooked in coconut oil. I have never been a fan of the flavour of coconut. As with anything new, though, once I gave it time I began to enjoy the flavour. I started talking to people about coconut oil and heard how they were using it. Some put it in smoothies, others use it for skin moisturizer.

What? Skin care? This sent me down a whole new rabbit hole. It was at this point that I was also researching ways to detoxify my personal care products like makeup, moisturizer and cleanser, shampoo and conditioner, and the two paths collided. I began using coconut oil for basically anything you could imagine. My bathroom counter now resembles my kitchen counter (because along with coconut oil, I use honey, apple cider vinegar and Himalayan pink salt for personal care products). My daughters have jumped on the coconut oil bandwagon with me and together we are continually trying it for new purposes.

Here are my top 11 uses for coconut oil:

  1. Higher temperature cooking, such as stir frys and sautés 
  2. Lard substitute in baking: my favourite is using when making homemade flat breads - I substitute butter or lard with coconut oil 1:1
  3. Dry feet soother: massage clean feet with generous amounts of coconut oil at night, put on an old pair of socks and leave overnight. Buff the dry areas with a pumice stone to remove the dead skin. Repeat this as often as needed until the dry areas, such as heels, are soft and smooth.
  4. Homemade dark chocolate: this is my favourite chocolate treat now and it is very quick and easy to make.
  5. Face moisturizer: I rub a very small amount (perhaps a pinky nail's worth) of coconut oil into the palms of my hand to melt it, then I massage it into my face after washing. I prefer doing this at night time so that it has time to be absorbed into my skin (I don't like the oily sheen in the morning when I head out for the day). 
  6. Skin conditioner: after a bath or shower, particularly in the evening, I massage the oil into my skin all over my body. 
  7. Shaving cream: in the summer when I do shave my legs, I sometimes use coconut oil in place of castille soap for shaving. I can skip the previous step of moisturizing my legs after a shower as the coconut oil "shaving cream" leaves my legs silky soft.
  8. Sunburn soother: I try to be careful in the sun, but occasionally I get too much and have a sunburn. Coconut oil not only moisturizes the skin after a burn, it soothes the sting of a burn. Reapply as frequently as needed (several times a day), especially with a bad burn.
  9. Hair conditioner: I use the "no 'poo" method to wash my hair (either nothing but water to wash, or baking soda / apple cider vinegar) and but occasionally I need to do a deep condition. I melt a small amount (teaspoon or less) in the palms of my hands and massage into my scalp and hair. I leave it in my hair until the next time I wash it and put my hair in a bun or pony tail for the day. 
  10. Mouth canker sore soother: I have found putting coconut oil topically on my canker sores (which I am quite prone to) soothes the pain. After the initial sting, the pain is gone for up to an hour, which is as long as other over the counter remedies work for me.
  11. Bug bite soother: my oldest daughter discovered this one - whenever she feels a bug bite itching she applies coconut oil to the area and it relieves the itch and sting. She just reapplies when it returns. 

Friday, 20 September 2013

{this moment}

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Soule at SouleMama.

"A Friday ritual. A single photo....capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Eco Dishwashing Options

Recently our aged dishwasher suffered a slow and painful death, leaving me with a counter covered in dirty dishes. Actually, my counter is always covered in dirty dishes, but it felt worse because now I was going to have to wash them all by hand.

We had to wait about three weeks for a new amazing Energy Star dishwasher to arrive and it was quite a challenge to keep up with it all, especially as there are five of us in the house, with some of us around full time, cooking and eating and making messes. I do realize that this is a first world problem and many people do not own a dishwasher.

As my one little word for the year is “gratitude”, I tried to look at the problem from a new perspective. Here I was gifted with the opportunity to be water-wise and mindful of my energy use. I knew how to use as little water as possible to wash dishes when camping and I took this on as a challenge. Then I began to feel fairly self-righteous about the experience, assuming that I was washing dishes in an environmentally friendly way

As we got closer to the delivery date I began to feel guilty about getting a new dishwasher. Here I was coping without one and I wondered how “bad” it was going to be to go back to my oh so convenient dishwasher. I decided to do some research into hand washing versus dishwashing machines.

Continue reading at The Green Phone Booth >>

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Growing and Harvesting Quinoa

After seeing a very wise gardener friend's photo of her quinoa harvest on Facebook last summer, I knew I had to add quinoa to my garden this year. I direct sowed the seeds into the end of one of my raised beds nearest my patio (mistake #1) completely unaware of what quinoa looks like when growing (mistake #2).

The seedlings came up fairly quickly and grew rapidly. Within a few weeks I had tasty baby greens similar in texture to spinach that I used in salads. However, it soon became clear that the quinoa was going to be tall. I decided to google what quinoa looks like when it is growing and I discovered, much to my surprise, that it can grow to over six feet tall! I was suddenly aware that I had planted it in the wrong spot in my garden, because it quickly blocked my view of everything else growing in the beds behind it. While it is lovely when growing, I wanted to see my cucumber trellis, mustard greens, chard and beets when I sat on my patio. Note to self: grow quinoa at the back of the garden if possible.

It certainly was a conversation piece in my garden, and I enjoyed sharing what quinoa plants look like to anyone who paused long enough in my garden to listen to me (or anyone that I could drag into my garden to listen to me).

By August the quinoa was developing the "flowering" tops where the seeds would eventually grow.

It became infested with aphids. Luckily ladybugs set up shop and happily feasted on them. My girls loved watching them and they learned about the life cycle of ladybugs as a result (yay for inquiry based learning).

By the end of August the tops turned a "calico" colour of reds and yellows and the leaves were falling off the stalks.

At this point I cut the tops off and let them dry before removing the seeds. However, I made mistake #3 when I left them on my patio table; shortly after this we had a rain storm and I had to rush out to move them to a covered area of my patio.

Now let me say right up front that I had (still have?) no idea how to remove the seeds from the bitter saponin covering. I did some online research and asked my amazing gardening friend how she did it. Then I improvised my own method based upon what I had learned.

I started by running my fingers along the stalks to pull the seeds off. When I was done I had a fairly large bag!

Because the seeds sink and the twigs and saponin float, I used a food processor to agitate on high speed and separate everything.

I knew that the saponin of soap nuts is what is used to clean clothes, but it was still surprising to see the foamy, soapy water when agitating the quinoa!

I poured off the chaff, refilled the container and put through the processor several more times for each batch until nothing floated, and put the seeds aside. I did this until there was no more left to separate.

When I had nothing but seeds remaining, I put them into the processor again and agitated on high speed to ensure that I had all the saponin removed.

When nothing was left floating I washed the seeds with fresh water until the water was no longer murky.

This is what I had left.

The total chaff is on the left and the cleaned seeds are on the right.

The next step was to dry the seeds. My friend mentioned to me that she had a problem with her seeds going moldy despite thinking they were completely dry. I don't own a food dehydrator to help with this so I decided to dry them on a low heat in the oven, which took several hours. My husband thought the house smelled amazing, but my youngest daughter kept on asking, "What that bad smell?"

This is how much I had after drying.

I learned a great deal going through this process. I know what I will do differently next year, and I am going to do some more research into the best way to dry the cleaned quinoa seeds.

What amazes me, and what intrigued me from my friend's photo of her quinoa harvest last summer, is how little I ended up after drying. I had approximately ten plants and I was left with a very small bowl of seeds, probably enough for 2 - 3 meals for my husband and myself (my daughters won't eat it).

It really brings home the idea that we should be more grateful for all of the food we eat that other people grow for us. Our food is worth more than we pay for it and yet we think it is too expensive now. My small bowl of quinoa is like gold to me. It took about three hours doing this by hand, for a small bowl. I kept saying to my husband that I am now willing to pay whatever they charge for organic quinoa.

Growing my own food has taught me so many lessons - patience, planning, acceptance and gratitude. I can now expand my understanding of gratitude to being thankful for all of the people in this world who grow organic food for us.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Bike Safety with Kids

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Natural Parents Network: Bike Safety With Kids
I'm happy to have a guest post today at Natural Parents Network about "Bike Safety With Kids."

Bike safety is an important topic for me. I have used my bike to commute to university and work, to go shopping, and to take my children to school. I have seen the road from both sides of the spectrum — as a car driver and bike rider. I have seen reckless cyclists who have taken great risks (myself being one of them), but I have also seen drivers carelessly ignoring, or even targeting cyclists. While riding my bike I have been a victim of drivers who do not understand the rules of the road as they apply to cyclists. I cannot change the behaviour of others; I can only ensure that I do my best to be a polite, safe cyclist.

When I started taking my oldest daughter out in a bike trailer, I became even more aware of bike safety. It's funny how having children can make a parent so acutely aware of safety and everything that can go wrong. The flag on my trailer suddenly wasn't big enough to alert drivers to its location at the back of my bike.

Now that I have three daughters, two of whom ride their own bikes on both quiet streets and major roads alike with me, there are some basic safety steps I take while out on bike trips.

Continue reading at Natural Parents Network ››


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of "strangers" and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids' best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can't Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Spidey Sense — Maud at Awfully Chipper used a playground visit gone awry to teach her children about trusting their instincts.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it's not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she'll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child's safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don't Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of "No" and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she's not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to car seats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase "be careful!"

Friday, 6 September 2013

{this moment}

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Soule at SouleMama.

"A Friday ritual. A single photo....capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Unlike Amanda's, mine will have words this week.

 I love this tree lined path on our walk, where my daughters and I chat on our walk to school. We call this path the Squirrel Highway because of all the squirrels jumping from tree to tree. Just before taking this photo I was witness to a game of chase between four squirrels on my way home. So peaceful and calming walking with trees.

Eco Modelling with Kids

Over at the Green Phone Booth I'm sharing the impact of living by example.


Monday, 2 September 2013

Summer Garden Roundup

It is now September and the long, warm days are winding down. I've been busy in the garden, with harvesting the summer veggies and cleaning up the beds to plant winter crops. I spent my Labour Day long weekend the same way I started my summer - puttering about in my backyard garden - which seems very fitting. I have enjoyed watching the changes over the season and seeing plants complete their life cycle when they go to seed. Overall I would say that we have eaten four to five meals per week from my garden, which makes me proud.

It was my first time growing garlic.
My garlic turned out better than I was expecting for my first time growing it. Out of 25 cloves planted about half were harvested, and about ten were edible. The bulbs were huge - much larger than the original bulbs from which the cloves came, and they were delicious! I have more reading to do about growing garlic, but I already know that I need to add much more organic matter and fertilizer to the soil this fall (they are heavy feeders). At the Sharing Farm garlic festival last weekend I picked up $25 worth of garlic (several varieties) to plant this fall and I am looking forward to getting them in the soil.

In early August I started noticing powdery mildew on my peas, which were almost finished by this point. The mildew quickly spread to my mustard that had cone to seed and then the squash. I was very disappointed because I tried everything I read about over the winter to avoid the mildew: watering in the morning and using a soaker hose to water near the base of the plants. Having said that, I have been reading that this has been a bad year for the mildew in general, and even the weeds in my front yard are covered in it. As a result the zucchini hasn't produced as much as I had hoped, but we've still had enough to keep us going. I have also been disappointed with the saucer squash; they were the first squash to get the mildew and they have produced only three squash so far.

I planted more pumpkins than I intended because I didn't label all the seedlings when I transferred them outside to harden them up in the late spring. The pumpkins started growing earlier, and ripened sooner than I expected; by mid August most of them were turning orange. Despite having more pumpkin plants than last year, I have the same number of pumpkins - seven.

I thought carefully about what we actually eat to make sure that I wouldn't grow too much or little of something and I would say that overall I did well with this. We had just about the right amount of greens, peas, beans, salad greens, potatoes, chard, kale and carrots, and they all did well. I would say that the carrots were the most loved item in the garden this year by my daughters. My favourites were mustard greens, cucumbers, kale, beets, raspberries and tomatoes. My husband's favourites were the potatoes and mustard greens.
My daughters' mini garden

My daughters have enjoyed watching me in the garden and often ask to help. At the end of July they planted their own little garden and they are very proud of how it is doing. Of course the plants are crowding each other out because I let them plant what they wanted where they wanted. I find it interesting that my six year old wanted to plant vegetables that she won't eat. Perhaps this may encourage her to try them, but I'm not holding out too much hope as she is a very fussy eater. They are growing tomatoes, carrots, kale, beets, lettuce, and broccoli.

But what is a vegetable garden without the eating? There is nothing like growing your own food. It has been interesting to plan meals around what we have growing, which meant that we ate lots of salad and greens in the earlier part of the season. My "specialty" in June and July was mustard greens, beets and beet greens sautéed in garlic and balsamic vinegar, with feta cheese. I had many salads for lunch, which changed as new things came into season. Throughout the summer I have made quinoa salad that included whatever I could find in the garden, with apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar dressing. I experimented with salad rolls using rice paper noodles and wraps, and although they were a great deal of prep, they were fresh and perfect for summer. My family's favourite meal was my "zero mile fried rice", made from brown rice and again whatever I had in the garden. I tried kohlrabi from the farmer's market for the first time and found it was delicious in the fried rice; definitely need to add that to my list of things to grow next year. With tomatoes finally ripening and coming in fast and furious in the last week I decided to make tomato boccincini salad, and it was definitely worth the wait.

A few of the meals I made from my garden this summer.

What I grew this summer:

kale (2 varieties)
shelling peas
snap peas
Brussels sprouts
tomatoes (various heirloom varieties)
saucer squash
sugar pumpkins
carrots (rainbow)
garlic (2 varieties of hard neck)
chocolate mint
lettuce (salad bowl, Amish deer tongue)
hot peppers
green beans
dragon's tongue beans

What I will do differently next year:

  • add more organic matter and fertilizer to the garden beds
  • grow more carrots, cucumbers, kale, dragon's tongue beans, onions, garlic, basil, potatoes, beets
  • try growing spaghetti squash, kohlrabi, butternut squash
  • spray all squash with a milk and water regularly to prevent the powdery mildew from taking hold
  • reseed greens more frequently
  • skip the saucer squash
  • cut down on the amount of pumpkin plants
  • have a soaker hose for each raised bed to cut down on watering time
  • experiment with other growing containers, like hanging baskets and straw bales
  • plant more seeds directly outside rather than start inside (such as grens, peas and beans)

I was fixated on my vegetable garden this year, to the neglect of my flower bed at the back of my garden. I did plant marigolds for a burst of colour, but I found that they were also quite good in salads. This was the first year I tried planting sunflowers and while they took a long time to bloom, they are beautiful. But next year I may give some more attention to planting companion plants and flowers around my beds and containers to help attract more bees.