Hypo Allergenic Lotions and Potions

Hypo-Allergenic, Natural, Somewhat Organic Lotions and Potions

I live in Fort Collins, Colorado. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature right now at 2:02pm on November 18, 2008 is 75. The relative humidity: 14%. Whoops, sorry. It just went down to 13%. Low humidity is awesome. It’s cooler in the summers and warmer in the winters because you don’t feel damp all the time. Summers are particularly lovely. You don’t sweat in the shower, you don’t stick to yourself, and your hair looks terrific all the time. Winter is a little more complex. While we have more sunny days than Florida (I’m not kidding, folks) and all the snow stays in the mountains or blows over Fort Collins to the eastern plains (so you can ski or snowshoe whenever you want, but never have trouble getting to the grocery store), the dry climate does have a few drawbacks. In fact, we invested in a whole house humidifier because of frequent nose bleeds and cracked, dry skin.

When we first moved here in 2002 I really struggled with dry skin and even some strange rashes that even fabulous Dr. Beck couldn’t identify. She suggested that I use only hypoallergenic lotions and body washes. No problem. Except I really wanted to use products that were natural and earth friendly. That knocks out everything from Kiss My Face, Burts Bees and other favorites that I had used for years. I searched high and low – well, really I used the internet. Eventually I found a great company, Alba Botanica, that has a whole line of hypo-allergenic lotions, creams, sun screens and hair care products that are available at our local health food and even grocery stores. The stuff ain’t cheap, but whenever Vitamin Cottage has a sale, I stock up on the big bottles. Now I have no rashes and supple skin – for a 40 year old Coloradan.  As for the nose bleeds and other sinus issues. Also solved thanks to my acupuncturist, Pam DeVore, who recommended trying a Neti Pot. Ancient Chinese Secret… that really works. Here’s a wacky video that shows you how to use it. I don’t follow any of their advice and I certainly don’t do their post-neti pot exercises. Maybe I’m really missing out on more amazing benefits.

Neti Pot and Salt

Neti Pot and Salt

Here’s what I do. Make a saline solution of a teaspoon of salt and warm water. Then, and this is the crazy part, you pour the solution into one nostril and let it run through your sinus cavity and out the other nostril. Repeat with other nostril. Best to do this over a sink to avoid embarrassing wet spots on your clothing, a slippery floor or wet dog. Blow your nose after each Neti pot session. Then, voila, no sinus headaches, no allergies and no nosebleeds.

Before I found the neti pot, I used calendula creme inside my nose. I passed this Q-tip on to my mother who gets nosebleeds whenever she visits us from St. Louis.  Being my mother, you would be correct in guessing that she is also an overachiever.  She used so much calendula in her nose that she developed sores and had to stop. Good thing she has chronically low blood pressure.

P.S. No one paid me anything to write this.  And our humidity is now way up to 18%.

Mandolin

Scott and his mandolin

My husband is an accomplished mandolin player. He has a beautiful 1918 Gibson that is perfect for the old time jazzy numbers that he plays for the mature adult folks at Columbine Health Systems facilities. When we first met and fell in love I thought I could learn the mandolin. It’s smaller and lighter than a guitar – just right for my delicate female constitution. After a few minutes of strumming, I gave up. I didn’t have the patience for it at all. Scott made it look so easy. I decided to stick to the piano. And the kitchen.

Even though I love my food processor, for years I have coveted the manual slicing, dicing and julienning mandolin. I imagined perfect, slender french fries and crispy sweet potato and beet chips. Without the guilt of frying. Oh, how I love starchy root vegetables.

This year we are winter members of the Monroe Organic Farm, our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organic family farm food source. We’ve been summer members for six years, but we finally took the plunge and last week we got pounds of yukon golds, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, leeks, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, lettuce and even a few stray tomatoes. We’re splitting a share with another member, so every two weeks through March, we’ll get a load of goodies.

Beth's Mandolin

Beth's Mandolin

With my commitment to slow, local food at full throttle, I felt it was time to invest in my own mandolin. Perhaps I didn’t do quite enough research before I seized the Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon moment. Or maybe I got what I paid for. All I know is my technique needs refinement. In other words, I still need to practice and my mandolin patience has again been tried.

My lack of precision is made up for with great enthusiasm and creative use of tiny vegetable fragments. I thought I was making sweet potato fries. Instead I got sweet potato threads. Never one to waste perfectly good organic local produce, I made up a new recipe. Shoestring sweet potato pie thingy. I took my very thinly julienned sweet potatoes (one very large potato) and mixed them with a clove of minced garlic, two eggs, some panko (Japanese bread crumbs), some cinnamon, salt and pepper. I olive oiled a ceramic 10″ pie plate, spread the sweet potato stuff evenly and topped it with sliced pears. I baked it at 350 for about 1/2 hour. Side dish or dessert? You decide. We ate it too quickly for a photo.

Crabapple Front 2005

Our front yard in 2005

Crabapple Front 2008

And the front yard in 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We live on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.  It doesn’t rain much and Kentucky Blue Grass just isn’t right for our arid, sunny climate.  When we bought our house I was inspired by our next door neighbors, the Kings.  Their front yard was more garden than lawn.  I designed new beds and we installed 7 tons of strip stone and 10 yards of mulch.  The only grass left is on the new paths – we just haven’t had the money and inclination to lay the stones yet.  I’ve planted native and drought tolerant shrubs and perennials and now we only have to water once a week – and I do it by hand so I can check in on each of my plantings.

You can probably guess what drew us to the house – our amazing crabapple tree (and the 6 other mature trees on our little suburban plot).  We’re so grateful to the original owners who also loved to garden and had the foresight to plant so many awesome trees.  We have a shadiest yard in the neighborhood.  And now, our front crabapple tree has been nominated as a Colorado State Champion.  We’ll find out in December if we’re winners.  Stay tuned.

 

2005 Grassy Lawn

2005 Grassy Lawn

 

2008 Mulched Beds

2008 Mulched Beds

 

What’s not to love about a meal that can include pancakes, waffles, eggs, cheese, fruit and syrup? Well, I guess that’s not really recommended, but breakfast is a meal I love. I try to power walk, run or do yoga every weekday morning. And then I eat breakfast. This is my latest concoction for everyday eating.  Add milk or yogurt and fresh berries in the summer.

Granola and Yogurt Parfait

Fall Breakfast: 1/2 cup Granola, 1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt, raisins

Beth’s Granola

6 cups of oatmeal (not instant or steel cut oatmeal) 
6 cups of puffy, whole grain cereal – my latest favorite is kamut
1-3 cups of assorted chopped or sliced nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans
1 1/2 cups peanut and/or almond butter
1/2 cup local honey (you’ll never have allergies again, I swear)
2/3 cup canola oil
1 very ripe banana, mashed
1/3 cup apple butter
2 Tbs vanilla
1Tbs cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups raisins

Making your own granola doesn’t take long and you will never go back to boxed crap again. You can control all the fun ingredients plus the sugar and the oil, so how can you go wrong. Once you’ve made this a few times, adjust the ingredients to your family’s tastes or health desires. Add syrup. Cut down the oil. Increase the banana and add flaked coconut and dried pineapple.

Preheat the oven to 300. Spread the oats, puffed cereal and nuts in two large, shallow baking pans. You need pans with sides. Don’t use a flat cookie sheet; it will be a huge mess. Bake for 15 minutes, then switch the pans and bake for another 15 minutes. This will give the granola a nice crunch before you add the fabulous coating. After you switch out the pans of nuts and grains, heat the nut butter, honey, oil, banana and apple butter in a sauce pan and whisk it all together until it’s smooth and hot. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk a little more and remove from heat. Remove the pans from the oven and glop half the goo on each pan and carefully mix it all together until the goo is evenly coating all the toasted grains and nuts. Alternate, cleaner method: Dump one pan of the toasted ingredients into a large bowl and add half the goo. Stir until everything is evenly coated. Spread the gooey toasted clumps back onto the pan. Repeat with second pan and rest of goo. Bake the pans of almost granola for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and flip everything around on the pans to keep things from burning. Bake a final 10 to 15 minutes. Check the pans and make sure the granola is the color you like. Cool the pans on racks and sprinkle the raisins over the warm granola. Definitely use your masterpiece as an excuse to buy a fun new cookie jar that you can keep right on your counter for easy snacking. Or breakfast.

“… it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” – Thomas Jefferson

Gray Jay - Rocky Mountain National Park

Gray Jay - Rocky Mountain National Park

I’m not sure what I believe. I’m certainly not confident that what I believe now, I will believe in the future. The world, the universe, and people are too changeable and we are always learning new truths. My husband Scott and I talk about religion and spirituality pretty often. You do that when you experience a heavy dose of your own mortality. When I ask Scott whether he believes in God, he has the most brilliant answer, “I believe in good.” One little, round vowel changes everything. He isn’t saying he doesn’t believe in God. Just that he believes in good. I think he’s on to something.

I do know that I love PBS. Recently we watched a program that explained how life on our planet likely came from space debris that contained left handed amino acids (yeah, I know, whatever that means. I’m not going to try to explain it. Just rent the video). Lots of science to back up the theory. That’s kind of huge don’t you think? Certainly puts the notion of God creating the planet in jeopardy. Heck, it even puts Darwin’s theories of evolution in jeopardy. Fascinating stuff. So, what I believe today is different than what I thought yesterday. I bet we’re going to learn more stuff besides this.

Some things, however, remain the same. I believe that my life exists. I am not dreaming. And I’m not going to wake up as a cockroach. And I happen to exist on the planet Earth in an amazing time of prosperity for some and scientific and technological advances that could bring prosperity to even more. I believe that I’m a very fortunate woman. I believe that our universe is fascinating and powerful and generous. I think there is enough of everything for, well, everything to have enough. I believe that we are connected in some system that we don’t understand. Plants and animals and rocks and stars all impact our lives and vice versa. It’s in our power to repair our environmental and social damage. But we do have to make the effort.

I’m incredibly grateful for this life. I give thanks to the plants and animals that grow and give themselves to us, the sun that shines, the water that quenches and people who love and so on. I guess I am a naturalist.  But I try not to stop with thanks. I believe in symbiotic relationships, karma and the cycle of life. I give everything I can of myself, knowing it is, well, good. We water and fertilize our gardens, lawn, trees and shrubs.  We recycle, compost, conserve and generally try to protect our natural habitat. We feed the birds and squirrels who live in and around our home. We donate money and especially time to charities and causes we care about. We are involved in our community and our neighborhood.

We don’t go to church. We don’t pray to an entity outside of our selves, our universe or cosmos. If god exists, super. If god doesn’t exist, that’s okay too. For me, being allowed to experience this life is gift enough. I certainly don’t want to ruin life for others, no matter how small or far away or different, so I try to be good. I don’t need more than that. Some do. I think worshiping, meditating, being thankful, whatever you want to call it, with a group of people can be a powerful experience. But for me, when the belief becomes more important than the meditation, when you believe that you are right and others are wrong, suddenly religion becomes sour. Organized religion is a slippery slope. Just like cultural pride can become nationalism, idolatry can become zealotry.

I am not against god or Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims or any other religion. I am for good. I believe in good.  That is enough for me.

Today my husband and I created a new tradition.  In Colorado we can participate in the great American voting ritual at our leisure.  We can opt to mull over the issues in the privacy of our own home and use mail-in ballots, take advantage of short lines and pleasant volunteers at early voting centers two weeks prior to election day, or we can wait in lines with the other procrastinators on election day.  We have tried the latter options.  I am too paranoid to trust my ballot to our imperfect mail-in ballot process.  We live in Fort Collins in Larimer County.  I voted at our County Government Center in downtown Fort Collins on Friday.  But today, we drove to beautiful Estes Park (also in Larimer County), Scott voted and then we tramped up to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park to celebrate our civic participation.  We worked over the weekend so that we could enjoy the solitude of RMNP on a Monday morning.  We didn’t see a single person during our four mile hike.  Our car was the only car in the Park and Ride Lot.

I am a registered Democrat. But walking in the woods at 10,000 feet, in the shadow of Long’s Peak, and the majesty of the Front Range, I can understand being a Republican – a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, that is. Thank goodness he had the political will and foresight to create the national park system and introduce love of natural beauty and conservation to our country. Sure, he did some things that don’t make a lot of sense one hundred years later.  But none of us are perfect.

For me, I can think of no better way to keep the big picture in the fore, remember why I love being an American, strive to be a better, giving citizen, protect our little planet and relish the one life I’m lucky enough to have than to vote in Estes Park, Colorado.

Colorado Elm Fall 2008

I love the colors of autumn.  This year our Elm tree is particularly spectacular.  It inspired me to create a yellow dish – Quinoa stuffed Acorn Squash.  Of course the squash, onions and yellow carrots I used are from Monroe Organic Farms.  

Here’s what you need:

1 Acorn Squash
Maple Syrup
Olive Oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp Tumeric
Salt and Pepper
Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash
1 cup Quinoa, rinsed
1 and 1/2 cups stock – vegetable or chicken (just don’t use water if you can help it!)
1/4 cup golden raisins

Here’s what you do:

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Preheat oven to 450.  Split squash from stem to butt and remove seeds (this sounds like a surgery I don’t want to have).  Drizzle 1 Tbs of syrup over cut side of squash.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over it as well. Place squash on baking pan and cook in oven while you prepare the stuffing.  Heat 1Tbs of olive oil over medium heat.  Saute onions, carrots and garlic until very soft and slightly browned.  Add tumeric and pepper.  Add quinoa and stock.  Bring to boil and then cover and simmer until liquid is soaked up and evaporated.  Add raisins and check flavors.  Add salt and pepper if needed.

Take squash out of the oven and spoon stuffing into the squash cavities.  Drizzle a little more syrup over the top and put back in the oven for 1/2 hour or until squash is soft and cooked through.

I’m an eggplant lover.  I could eat eggplants every day in any way.  But not everyone feels like me.  If you just plain don’t like the flavor of eggplant, then this cooking strategy is not for you.  My husband was pretty sure he did not appreciate the eggplant until I tweaked my cooking technique.  I had tried grilling and roasting eggplant slices with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Nothing seemed to entice.  Scott complained that my beloved eggplant was slimy and gross – certainly a specific and legitimate gripe.  After five or six years of trying to sneak eggplant into various dishes without success, I remembered that Scott also doesn’t like cooked mushrooms, zuchinni or summer squashes.  I began to see a pattern.  Texture.  I’m not sure what inspired me this summer – perhaps an overabundance of squash and eggplants.  But I became determined to find a way for Scott (and others) to enjoy these popular farmer’s market fruits (they have seeds, so they must be fruits, right?).

Last year I learned that Scott would eat zuchinni if I grated and sauteed them with olive oil and garlic.  The zuchinni becomes not quite crunchy, but it definitely isn’t slimy.  Plus the garlic and olive oil are so delectable that you can’t help eating a whole zuchinni by yourself.  We also like zuchini and summer squash in bread – adding sugar, butter and flour makes everything better.  But eggplant chocolate chip bread just doesn’t sound very good.  And grating, salting, rinsing, drying, sauting is kind of a big pain in the ass.  Not for every night and the quantity of eggplant and squash I have to deal with every week.  So I was back to the drawing board.  

I’m a big fan of roasting – even in the summer heat.  It’s so easy to turn on the oven, prep vegetables (and chickens for that matter) in big chunks on an oiled pan and let them get sweet, crusty and tender while I have a glass of wine and listen to NPR.  I mean, you don’t even have to turn them or anything.  Sometimes, if I have a particularly dry mouth, just to promote salivation, I open the oven door and pretend to loosen the vegetables from the bottom of the pan with a flick of my wrist (and a potholder). But it’s not like the recipe is ruined if I just enjoy that wine and leave the oven alone.  So, roasting was appealing.  Another eggplant bonus: you can roast them without peeling, chopping or any other time-consuming preparations.  Just prick the skins with a fork.  Four or five pokes is probably enough.  The purpose of forking is to release the steam produced inside the eggplant so that it doesn’t explode inside your oven.  I kind of enjoy this violent, stress-relieving, puncture-fest and sometimes get a little crazy with the pitch fork, I mean dinner fork.

I decided that if Scott didn’t enjoy the roasted eggplant and yellow squash, I would.  I loaded up the oven and after 45 minutes I experienced divine, epicurean inspiration.   Use the advantage of the slimy, gross texture of roasted food for good, not evil.  I decided to improvise on baba ganoush and make a dip – food that is supposed to be slimy and gross.  

I keep my food processor on the counter. I use it a lot.  It would be silly to put it away.  So I cut open the eggplant, spooned out the flesh, scraped all the olive oily, seasoned squash (yeah, I know they’re fruits, we’ve been through that, but it just doesn’t seem right) into the food processor and whirled away.  I added several cloves of garlic and a little more olive oil to thin the puree.  The sweetness of the squash balanced the raw garlic and meaty, smoky flavor of the eggplant.  I added a bit more salt and pepper, tried not to eat all of it right then and chilled the “dip” for the real test.

Scott loved it.  Texture problem solved.  Flavor: complex and savory.  Now we have this every week with spelt pretzels, pita bread crisps, carrots or as a sandwich spread.  Sometimes I add an onion to the squash for more flavor.  Once I added a can of garbanzo beans for a little protein.  Both variations worked and got rave reviews.

Here’s the recipe in short form

1 medium eggplant

1 summer squash

2-3 cloves garlic

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Olive Oil spray

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 450 (475 above 5,000 feet).  Wash and dry produce.  Spray baking tray, cookie sheet or something flat and metal that you use in the oven, with olive oil spray. Use fork to puncture skin of eggplant and put on tray.  Cut squash into large chunks – two inch thick rounds are fine.  Add to tray.  Spray squash with more olive oil spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Check on squash.  It may be done!  Scrape it off the pan into your food processor or blender.  Put the eggplant back in the oven and continue baking until it has collapsed from the heat (probably another 15 minutes).  Slice open the eggplant skin and don’t get steamed.  Spoon or fork the flesh into the processor.  Toss as much raw garlic as you can stand and the olive oil into the mix.  Whir until smooth.  Taste and add salt and pepper if it’s needed.  Good warm on toasted pita triangles or cold on anything else.

We have been members of the Monroe Organic Farm for six years.  Every Wednesday my husband Scott and I pick up a load of fruits and vegetables that were harvested just hours earlier in the day.  This week we got red and dark purple sweet peppers, banana peppers, globe eggplants, a cucumber, a bicolor summer squash, string beans, yukon gold potatoes, carrots, yellow onions, four varieties of tomatoes and a honeydew melon.  The food is often caked with crumbly soil fresh from the farm.  We soak the veggies overnight to rehydrate their sun-shocked flesh.  Then we get everything into the fridge or appropriate storage location.  We keep potatoes in a cabinet where we also store baking supplies.  Onions and garlic go in the spice cabinet.  If we have more onions than I will use in a week, I store them in the back of the fridge.  Right now we have a freezer full of roasted corn, many kinds of peppers, pesto frozen in ice cube trays, tomato sauce and a big container of borscht.  I will use all of these over the winter months.