My kids love soda.  What's not to love, right? Sugary sweet and delightfully bubbly and fizzy - it's a treat for sure!  As it turns out, there's A LOT not to love about these drinks.  Mass production processes and the desire for increased profits has led to the use of increasingly cheaper ingredients, as well as unhealthy preservatives, stabilizers and colorants that make the product more appealing and stable for long-term storage on grocery store shelves.  Basically this all means these drinks are now full of GARBAGE - processed corn sugars, food dyes, artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives and some even contain flame retardants (brominated vegetable oil)!!  There's not a single ingredient in the majority of these products that I feel is safe for my children to consume.  There are some companies out there that make sodas suitable for human consumption, but they tend to be pretty expensive and then many aren't much more than juice combined with cane sugar and carbonated water - which, honestly - you can just mix up pretty easily yourself at home.  We used to let the kids have ginger ale when we'd go out to restaurants, thinking that since it had ginger in it, which is a natural anti-inflammatory, it would at least help to redeem some of the 'ickiness' of the sugar.  But the popular 'ginger ales' of today are NOTHING like what they used to be.  In fact, I'm not even convinced there's any actual ginger in them at all!  And they're certainly not the tonic of health they used to be.

I know there are options for healthy 'fizzy' beverages, such as kombucha and water kefir, and I tried making water kefir a couple of years ago - it turned out ok - but it seemed to be a little bit cumbersome to me.  Kefir grains are not always readily available and they can be a little expensive depending on where you live.  I've done a bit of wine and beer brewing at home so I decided to look into methods for making natural sodas and learned that one common way of making homemade sodas is to use what's called a 'ginger bug'.  I'm not entirely sure why it's called this, because it doesn't look like a bug, nor does it have insects in it - it's basically a wad of shredded ginger that becomes fermented.  Maybe the 'bug' part refers to the wild yeast and bacteria that handle the fermentation? I don't know, but regardless of the strange name, this little wad of ginger makes a mean soda full of natural anti-inflammatory agents from the ginger, beneficial enzymes and probiotics to help restore gut flora and help keep your digestive system running like a charm!

There are many ways to make a ginger bug and although this process is based in science, there's a lot of room here for experimentation.  You do not need to adhere to these measurements precisely but try to keep similar ratios of ginger/sugar. When feeding my bug I typically approximate the amounts so as not to dirty a measuring spoon. :)

Here's how I chose to start my bug:

Ginger Bug:
My Ginger Bug!

  • 1 Pint Filtered, un-chlorinated water
  • 2 TB Grated Ginger (Skin and all, wash well, preferably organically grown)
  • 2 TB Unprocessed 'raw' sugar (Any sugar will work, but I used both coconut sugar and raw turbinado in mine)
  • 1 TB un-sulphured molasses (for extra vitamins)

I put this all into a large quart-sized mason jar and stirred well to dissolve the sugar, covered with a folded-over cheesecloth and secured with a rubber band and the metal lid.  

  • Stir at least twice a day to agitate the mixture and keep it active.  
  • Every day for about 5-8 days add in about 2 tsp grated ginger and 2 tsp sugar.  
  • I would add in extra molasses and a tablespoon of water about every other day just to replenish what might have evaporated.
  • Continue to stir every day, twice a day or more.
  • Keep in a moderately warm place where it will not be disturbed (my kitchen is about 78F)
  • The darker your sugar, the darker your bug - so if you're using a very light sugar and not adding molasses your bug might be much lighter in color than mine.
You'll know when your bug is ready when it's all bubbly on the top and you can hear it fizzing while stirring.  It should smell gingery and sweet, maybe even a little yeasty like a beer.

I personally thought starting and keeping the bug going was a breeze, but there are a few things to keep in mind to help avoid issues:
  • Make sure if you are fermenting other foods (sourdough starter, sauerkraut, etc.) you want to keep SEVERAL FEET in between your concoctions to avoid cross-culturing.
  • A lot of ginger in the US comes from foreign countries and is irradiated before it hits the stores - organic foods are not irradiated.  The irradiation process can destroy the natural bacteria and yeast present on the skin and prevent a bug from fermenting properly so try to choose organic ginger if possible or find some that's not irradiated. 
  • Be consistent in feeding and stirring your bug to keep it active.
  • Make sure you're keeping a cheesecloth or other breathable cover over the top to keep out bugs and debris but allow excess CO2 to escape. 
Once you've got an active bug, you can strain off the liquid (saving the solid part of your 'bug' to use again by replenishing with fresh water, ginger and sugar) and mix it into any number of recipes for natural sodas as the agent of fermentation (which is what makes the bubbles - the carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the fermentation process).  I will post the recipe for the Ginger Beer I made with my bug as well as a Ginger-Pineapple Soda soon.  Go get your bug started and stay tuned!...

Inspiration for this recipe came from: The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World by Sandor Katz

I can't believe how excited I am about BREAD - it almost seems ridiculous to me.  However, after years of avoiding it like the plague because of issues I have with gluten-intolerance, I am SUPER-thrilled to have found a way that I can enjoy bread again (in moderation of course, which is tough when it TASTES SO DARN GOOD!!!).  Since I've never made a sourdough starter from scratch and have never baked bread with a wild yeast starter, I figured there would be some trial and error involved in the process.  My starter was a breeze to get going, despite the fact that I was less than scientific in my overall procedure.  I'm not a big fan of 'measuring' so I kind of estimated with my flour to water proportions but I still had a lovely bubbling starter after 5 days.

First bread attempt - kind of flat 
My first attempt at making the bread, however was not quite as stellar although it was edible and looked sort of pretty in a rustic way.  I used a mixture of rye, teff and sprouted barley flour combined with all-purpose flour and although I let it rise for almost 20 hours, not much rising occurred. I decided to bake it anyway to see if it would rise a little in the oven, as breads often do.  Alas, no additional rising occurred.  The bread was very heavy and dense, very sour for my taste and pretty flat, although it had a nice crisp crust.  There were not many air pockets at all inside the bread, which was to be expected considering how little it rose.
Interior was very dense, just a few air pockets
After some research, I determined that the problem might have been the lack of gluten in the flour I used.  Rye, teff and barley have low gluten content compared to wheat and this was evident when I kneaded the bread.  I didn't get a good, smooth consistency and it seemed to be lacking in stretchiness overall.  Based on everything I've read, it seems that gluten is what provides the structure for holding the air bubbles, so not having a sufficient amount of it really impacted the ability of my dough to rise.  Rye flours tend to rise less but ferment more quickly, which explains why my bread was very sour and had a low rise.  Back to the drawing board...

Let the dough rise in a warm spot covered with a damp towel
For my second trial I decided to stop overthinking it, (or maybe I actually decided to START thinking about what's really going on in this overall process?).  I took a cup of my starter, mixed in about 2.5 cups of BREAD flour, a teaspoon of himalayan salt and about a cup of water.  I dumped it all into my KitchenAid Stand Mixer with the dough hook attachment and let it go to town for about 20 minutes, adding in a little extra flour when I thought it needed it (too sticky).  At the end of 20 minutes I had what I'm used to seeing when I make bread, which is a clean mixing bowl and a nice, soft and stretchy wad of dough that was just slightly sticky to the touch, but not so sticky that I couldn't pat it into a nice soft, smooth ball without getting gunk all over my hands.  I coated this ball lightly with oil and placed it back into the bowl to rise.  Covered with a damp towel, I let it sit for about 8 hours until it was at least doubled in size.

After the 8 hours (or when doubled), I grabbed a large plate and spread a handful of bread flour on it, then scooped out my dough (which was quite loose, stickier and bubbly at this point) and dumped it onto the flour.  I folded it over onto itself a few times, made sure it was coated in flour and then turned it upside down so the folded part was on the plate.  I covered with the towel and then let it sit there to rest for another hour.  During that time, I put my Cast Iron Dutch Oven (with lid) into the oven and set it to 450F.  Any large heavy pot with a lid that can withstand high temps will work for this, it does not have to be cast iron, but I LOVE my cast iron pot because not only does it make killer bread, it has so many other uses in the kitchen - I use it for all my soups, stews, gumbo, baked casseroles - it's the bomb. Plus, it's kind of heavy so I get a little workout in every time I use it, lol!

Ta Da!

After about an hour, my dough had risen a bit again, but did not double in size.  It was pretty late at night when I was making this, so had it been earlier in the day I might have allowed it to rise a bit more, but I honestly don't really think it was necessary given the results I had.  I pulled the dutch oven out, removed the lid, sprinkled a handful of flour in the bottom of the pot to keep the bottom crust from sticking and burning and then fairly unceremoniously dumped in my dough and replaced the lid.  It doesn't matter if you dump it in crooked or off-centered, it somehow seems to work itself out in the oven.  I put the pot back into the oven and left it alone for about 30 minutes.  After this time, my bread was done.  Nice and brown, a gorgeously split and crispy crust and it sounded hollow when I tapped on it with a large knife.  A lot of factors come into play here so you might need to put your pot back in for a bit or pull your bread from the pot altogether and place it back into the oven to bake a bit more.

Crusty, perfectly sour and delicious!
My final product came out PERFECT! Crusty and crisp on the outside with a great rustic look, just the right amount of bubbles in the center, slightly chewy and sour enough to let you know it's sourdough without making you pucker.  As far as the crust is concerned, you can just let it do its own thing and bust open at random angles or you can put some quick slashes into the top either right before or immediately after you dump it into the pot. If you're going to be all artsy like that you will probably want to make sure you have a slightly firmer loaf so it'll take the slashes (knead in some additional flour before the second rise) before placing into the pot and you'll want to be more careful about getting it centered.  I kind of like the natural look personally, but that's just me.

Although this bread took several hours in total to make, the amount of actual work involved was pretty minimal.  Most of the time was spent waiting for the bread to rise.  With a proper sourdough, this is necessary as it's where most of the flavor gets developed.

Next time I think I will mix up my dough before I go to bed so that it's ready to bake in the morning.  Think that'll be a much better plan that trying to bake at midnight, don't you think? ;)

Gorgeous, inside and out!
If you're making this for a specific event you'll want to take into consideration the long rise time involved in the process - good things take time and wild yeast requires more time to work its magic than commercial yeasts.  What you end up with, however, is a much healthier final product, loaded with enzymes and beneficial bacteria that actually help to restore gut health, and which lacks the large phytic acid concentrations found in 'modern' bread.  Phytic acid is basically nature's way of protecting nuts, seeds, beans and grains out in the wild - all of these have an exterior coating which protect the seed so that it has time to sprout, but which is basically indigestible by humans.  Phytic acid binds with key minerals present in the grain (or nut, seed, bean...) such as iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc to form phytate, making these unavailable and effectively rendering a food product less nutritious.  It also inhibits several enzymes that the human body needs to break down proteins and starches, which is why high-phytate foods cause such digestive distress for some people.  Soaking or sprouting these items breaks down the coating, allowing them to be digestible - this is why many people who have trouble with regular wheat flour don't have the same issues with sprouted wheat flour.  The fermentation process involved in making sourdough almost entirely eliminates the phytic acid contained in the flour, allowing the minerals to be absorbed and preventing any inhibition of enzymes required by the digestive process.

For more information on sprouting and soaking, I highly recommend these books:

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats

The Sprouting Book: How to Grow and Use Sprouts to Maximize Your Health and Vitality

Bread gets a bad rap these days especially with so many people having sensitivities and allergic responses to gluten.  I think part of the reason is that in our over-processed and hurried society, we don't take the time to make bread the way our ancestors used to and we've rushed most of the beneficial components of bread right out of the loaf.  Even when buying a loaf of 'traditional' sourdough from a bakery you'll find that it usually isn't made with a traditional wild yeast starter, but instead adds prepared activated yeast.  I've been reading a fantastic book called Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, which has in it a wealth of information on more traditional foods and their health benefits, along with the increasingly more processed foods prevalent in the typical American diet and their detrimental impacts to our health.  I highly recommend the book, lots of great information as well as recipes for 'back to basics' foods, beverages, tonics, etc.

There are numerous health benefits to cultivating a wild yeast starter for use in bread-making, some of the more notable are:

  • The longer preparation time and soaking of the grain in the process of making the starter help to facilitate breakdown of the proteins in the grain into amino acids, making the grain more easily digestible and often causing less digestive distress for those with sensitivity to gluten.
  • Sourdough basically makes it's own natural preservatives in the form of acetic acid, which inhibits the grow of mold, giving the loaf a longer shelf-life naturally without requiring the addition of any other preservatives. 
  • Sourdough has a lower glycemic index than most other breads, which means it has less impact on blood sugar and will not likely cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels immediately after consumption.  This makes it a better choice for individuals needing to regulate blood sugar levels such as those with diabetes. 
  • The lactobacillus bacteria produced as part of the fermentation process not only help to provide a happier digestive system by increasing beneficial gut flora, but they naturally produce lactic acid which helps to break down the phytic acid that is present in the grain.  Phytic acid prevents absorption of certain minerals, so by reducing its presence, the lactobacillus are effectively making for a more nutritious loaf of bread.  
As with most things in the kitchen, making a sourdough starter involves a little science, some artistic license and quite possibly a little witchcraft, lol.  I don't tend to get too strict with regard to measurement but here are the approximations I used for my starter:

You want to use equal parts flour and water and if you're using measuring cups and not measuring by weight, which most people will probably do, you'll need more flour than water.  Dry ingredients measure out differently by the cup than liquids.  A cup of water is approximately 8oz whereas a cup of flour is approximately 4.5 oz.  Given this, if you use 1/2 cup of water you'll probably need a little more than 3/4 cup of flour.  So where I used flour, I just had the cup slightly heaping as opposed to measured flat in the cup.  Not exactly scientific, but it worked.

Day One:

A slightly heaping 3/4 cup of flour (use a good quality flour, unbleached - I used wheat but you could use rye, barley, etc.)
1/2 cup filtered water (preferably un-chlorinated)

Add the flour and water to a large glass bowl and mix vigorously until it's completely combined.
My starter was pretty vigorous after only a day.
Scrape down the sides and make sure it's a uniform mixture.  Should be pretty sticky.  Cover with a towel and secure with a rubber band or loosely cover with plastic wrap.  You want some air and wild yeast to get in but you don't want critters, dust or debris in there.  Place in a warm, stable-temp location in your kitchen.  Preferably 70-75 degrees F.  The warmer your kitchen, the faster it'll ferment but you don't want to cook it so if it's too hot in there you might want to find another place to put it. 

Days 2-5:

For the next 4 days you'll want to continue to feed the starter with the same ratios you used on day 1.  Follow the same directions, each time stirring in the flour and water vigorously and covering with a towel or loosely with plastic wrap/a lid.

Day 3, my starter had larger bubbles.

I consulted myriad sources for starting and maintaining sourdough starter and they all seemed to recommend different intervals at which to feed the starter, some saying you needed to do it as often as every 4 hours.  I don't know about you, but that sounded reminiscent of the days when my children were infants and I was up every few hours to feed them! I'm not that excited about bread that I'm going to care for my starter that often, so I only fed mine once a day.  If you're noticing that yours isn't bubbling and frothing like it should be, then maybe you might want to try feeding it 2-3 times a day until it gets going.  My kitchen is about 76 degrees and my starter was bubbling after the first day -
results will vary here depending on the flour used, your water source, your kitchen temp, etc.

What to expect along the way:

On day 2 you should start seeing a few bubbles in your mixture, although don't freak out if you don't.  The bubbles are an indicator that the wild yeast on the flour and from the air have started consuming the sugars in the flour and are releasing carbon dioxide, which is what's making the bubbles.  Your starter might just be slow for any number of reasons so be patient if you don't see bubbles right away.  The mix should smell a little sweet and yeasty.

On day 3 you may or may not have bubbles, but most likely will unless your starter is slow.  If you're not seeing any yet you may want to check your kitchen temp and considering a warmer, less drafty location.   In my starter I had quite a few bubbles at this point and the mixture was starting to smell sour and not entirely pleasant - a little like sweaty socks.  This is actually normal! Yum! Sweaty sock bread!  The mixture should also look like a sticky, thick batter and larger in volume than the previous day.  You will probably hear bubbles popping as you stir it.

On day 4 the starter will continue to get looser and larger in volume with more bubbles.  It will also start to smell even more vinegary and sour and if you taste it, that will be reflected in the taste.  This is normal.

On day 5 your starter should be ready to go - it should have doubled in volume, be nice and loose and airy with bubbles - almost frothy -  and it will have a pungent odor.  If your starter is not ready to go at this point, continue to feed it for a few more days using half the amounts you'd been using for days 1-5.

If your starter is ready but you're not, then you'll want to put a tight lid on the mixture, pop it into your fridge and store it until you're ready to use it, continuing to feed it once a week.  During the feedings, you will probably see better results  If you're starting to get 'too much' volume in the container, you can discard or use some of it and then continue to feed.  You can keep your starter going indefinitely in this manner.


Once it's ready to be used, you can pop the starter into your favorite recipe per the guidelines.  I'm going to try tinkering around with the recipe on the King Arthur flour website to see how it comes out, since it seems pretty basic.

If you're fermenting anything else on your kitchen counters - like the Ginger Bug for Ginger Ale I've currently got brewing (recipe to be posted later) - you'll want to make sure you have several feet in between the concoctions so there's no cross-contamination with the yeast.

My son's birthday was yesterday and he couldn't decide what kind of cake he wanted so he told me to just 'surprise him'.  I just finished reading this great book called the The Husband's Secret, which is set in Australia near the Easter holiday and in which a dessert called a 'Pavlova' is mentioned numerous times.  After I looked up what it was - a light meringue-like cake typically served with fresh fruit and whipped cream or lemon curd, named after the famous ballerina of the same name - I decided to give it a try! I've never made any sort of a meringue before, so I figured why not try something completely brand new when it's my son's birthday and I'm already a bit pressed for time? Yeah, that's just how I roll.

I based my version partly on this recipe I found in Saveur magazine and about 20 other recipes I read through in various locations on the web.  I have a little trouble following directions and thought 3 cups of sugar sounded absurd, so here's the ratio of ingredients I used:

For the Meringue:

10 egg whites
2 cups fine sugar
1 TB White Vinegar
1 TB Vanilla Bourbon Paste
1/4 C Cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350F and grab a sheet of parchment paper.  Draw a 9" circle on the parchment, - flip over a cake pan if you've got one and trace around the pan with a pencil.  Turn the parchment over pencil-side down onto a cookie sheet.  

Combine the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla until well combined.  It's going to make this really odd, sticky blobby mess that may kind of freak you out a little.  Just trust me - it's really a strange consistency - it will pour slowly, but then if you try to stir it, it's almost like it's solid.  I couldn't resist playing with it a little.  Stop playing with it and set it aside. 

Put your egg whites into a bowl and add in the sugar.  Using a metal whisk (preferably one attached to some kind of stand mixer or other mechanical device) beat on low until sugar is dissolved into egg whites, then kick up the speed to high until soft peaks form (about 5-8 minutes).  At this point, plop in the cornstarch goo and continue beating on high until glossy stiff peaks form - maybe another 5 minutes.  

Spread the mixture gently onto the parchment, trying to keep it roughly the size of your drawn circle. 

Everything in my process went perfectly until we got to the baking part.  The directions said to place the sheet into the oven, turn down the temp to 215F and bake it for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes, then shut off the oven and leave the meringue sitting in there for another 3-4 hours until cooled.  

Yeah  - I did this, but then the ceiling of my cake eventually dropped and fell into the blob of the inside which was clearly not cooked.  Could be that I used too many egg whites and not enough sugar, but who knows - I will have to research this a little more.
The top is missing because we kept picking it off and eating it - so good!
Thankfully, I've had enough of these little adventures to know that I need to have a backup on hand since what was going to be my son's cake was decidedly un-cakelike.  Good old pound cake came to the rescue there - super easy to whip together - will post that recipe later.  

So, not wanting to give up on this strange new dessert,  I turned the oven back on, popped this pavlova thingy back into the oven and baked at 200F for almost 2 more hours and then I just let it sit again in the oven until it cooled.  After all this, my final result was very strange in look and feel and yet oddly delicious and somewhat addictive.

As you can see, it's still a tiny bit gooey in the inside - still not completely done.  
The exterior layer breaks off easily and is very crisp and melts in your mouth.
My kids call it the 'styrofoam cake' because the exterior of the cake has a texture and feel very similar to a type of styrofoam - not the rubbery kind used for coffee cups but the firmer, more brittle kind used for floral displays and crafts.  The exterior of the cake is very crispy and brittle and the interior is somewhat like a marshmallow.

It melts in your mouth like cotton candy and is sweet but not overwhelmingly so and the entire thing tastes exactly like a well-toasted marshmallow.  I think I'm going to pour some melted chocolate and graham cracker crumbs on it...   mmmm.... A new twist on S'mores cake!! Deliciousness....  I will definitely do some more research and try again to see if I can get this to come out like it was supposed to, but for a first time FAIL it still came out pretty darn tasty!

If you're trying to shed fat and gain lean muscle, carb-cycling is one of the easiest and most effective ways to start seeing results fast.  It sounds like a very complex plan, especially if you get into reading about some of the underlying processes such as ketosis, but the basic gist is that you're merely alternating days where you eat a very low amount of carbohydrates with days where you're eating a higher number of carbohydrates in order to promote fat loss by tricking your body into burning fat for fuel instead of the sugars from carbohydrates that it would normally use.  The focus is on carbs because of all the macronutrients, those seem to have the greatest impact with regard to that layer of 'goo' that we all seem to want to get rid of - that little bit of something-something that's keeping your six-pack from showing (and we all have a 6-pack somewhere under those layers, regardless of how many crunches you do, or don't do...).  

I will lay out more details in a future post, but there are many ways to do this carb-cycling thing depending on your goals and how quickly you'd like to see results.  The more low-carb days you have in your plan, the quicker you will see results, however a plan with several days of low-carb eating is very difficult to maintain even in the short term and unhealthy in the long term as it's quite taxing on the liver.  Carbs are an important source of energy for the body and low-carb days will likely leave you feeling tired, irritable, with little energy and possibly a headache.  The body will adjust with time and these symptoms will lessen, but days where carbs are restricted will still be a challenge for most people.  

To make things as simple as possible, I recommend either alternative high and low-carb days every other day OR eating mostly lowcarb and aligning high-carb days with your strength training workouts, which should be at least 2-3 days a week to maintain lean muscle mass.  Shoot for eating 5 times a day (three main meals and two small snacks), roughly every 3 hours.  On your low-carb days you should include a serving of protein, fresh veggies and an optional healthy fat at the three main meals.  Snacks should be some type of protein-rich food with a veggie - think hard-boiled egg and some carrot sticks or almond butter on celery sticks.  On your high-carb days, you can add in some type of grain or starchy veggies to each meal.  Snacks can include fruit on these days.  If you're jonesing for a buttered roll or a beer, save it for the high-carb days.  

Depending on your goals, you may also want to add in one 'cheat' meal per week or every other week.  I don't recommend going to McDonald's and gorging on a Big Mac Super-Sized meal, but if you've been wanting a reasonably-sized burger or a slice of pizza, the cheat meal would be when you'd have that.  Just keep in mind that these cheat meals are designed to make your meal plan more sustainable for the long term, but they will also reduce the speed of your results.  If you're trying to get shredded for an event that's two weeks away, you're probably going to want to opt for a plan that cycles in high-carb days infrequently and does not include a cheat meal.  

Below you'll find some a printable guide to help illustrate which foods are 'better' choices when it comes lean proteins, veggies, carbs, 'Nature's Candy' (which is fruit and also a carb), dairy (a protein/carb/fat combo), fats, condiments/sauces and beverages.  

Note:  Dairy intake should be limited if not restricted altogether.  Serving sizes for dairy items kind of depend on the type, so it can get complicated.  For something relatively low-fat/low-sugar like low-fat cottage cheese, you can have as much as a cup for a serving.  For hard cheeses such as cheddar, you'd be limited to just an ounce.  Butter would follow the fat serving size, as would full-fat cream.

Natural Insecticidal Garden Spray

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper when I went out to survey my little organic garden beds one morning and discovered that something had turned them into a mess of patchy lacework.  My kale, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts appeared to be the hardest hit and after closer inspection, I determined that the culprit was some little caterpillars.  Although I was angry enough after all of the hard work I put into getting my garden up to douse the little buggers with something really nasty, I took a few moments to calmly reflect on my original intent - that being a healthy source of chemical and GMO-free veggies for myself and my family.  And spraying nasty junk on the greedy little bugs, no matter how satisfying it might have been, would have destroyed my intent in one fell swoop.  So - I set to work on some non-toxic (to humans) methods that would get rid of the pests without poisoning my family or the environment.

Here is the first spray recipe that I've tried and I have to say that it seems to be working fairly well.  I happened to have these essential oils on hand thanks to some other natural projects of mine, so I was able to make this mixture quickly without having to go out and buy anything, but these oils are fairly common and can easily be found in most health food stores or online.

  • 28 Oz Bottle (Reused an Empty Method Spray Bottle)
  • 1 TB Bronner's Liquid Soap (Any biodegradable vegetable soap will do) - Tip: don't use any with tea tree oil it will burn the leaves of your plants.
  • 10 Drops Orange Essential Oil (Lemongrass would also work)
  • 20 Drops Neem Oil
  • 5-6 Whole Cloves (Just put them in the bottom of the container)
  • 10 Drops Cinnamon Leaf Oil
Fill to the top of the container with water.

Spray tops and underside of leaves. Repeat every few days and after watering/rain (I try to water at the bottom of the plant near the root so as to avoid washing off my spray). This mixture will help take care of many common pests such as aphids, mites, white flies, mealy bugs as well as nasty little caterpillars. I've also discovered that roaches and ants don't care for it either.  I can attest to it killing the caterpillars, although as with any treatment, you will have to be diligent in keeping up with spraying to avoid re-infestation.  You will also want to make sure you thoroughly wash your veggies before consuming.  Nothing in this mix is toxic, but it will probably taste really disgusting and could cause some digestive upset.

Note: I have read that Neem can be toxic to bees and some other beneficial insects, so if you're using this spray on or near any plants require pollination, I would leave out the Neem oil.

I'm really not a mean person, so I did feel a little bad torturing these caterpillars in this manner, but with the rate of destruction in my garden I decided I had no choice.  Here is a video of me testing out my spray.  As you can see, it's not only effective, but works fairly quickly... I guess I feel a little better knowing that they didn't suffer too long.

Fiesta Quinoa Salad

  • 1.5 Cups Quinoa (Uncooked - will yield about 4-5 cups cooked)
  • 1 14 Oz Can Organic Black Beans
  • 3 Ears White Corn, raw, cut the kernels off the cob
  • 2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes Quartered
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper, Chopped
  • 2 Avocados, firm, chopped


In a blender combine:

  • 2 Chipotle peppers (canned in adobe sauce - I used Goya brand) - I also grabbed about 1 TB of the onions and sauce
  • 1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Tsp Himalayan Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Cumin
  • 1/8 Tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Large Clove of Garlic
  • 1 Tsp Dried Oregano
  • 1/4 C Agave Nectar 

Cook the quinoa according to the package directions and then allow to cool. Add in the beans and veggies, pour the dressing in and combine until mixture is evenly coated with dressing.

Note: The dressing has a bit of heat to it- add in an extra chili pepper for more heat or use just one for less.

Want to take an 8-pack to the beach this summer? This will help...


Walk/Jog 5-10 minutes
Dynamic stretch 3-5 minutes


Jumping Jacks - 2 minutes
10 Burpees
5 Mountain-Climber Burpees (Jump back to plank, alternate knees to chest for 8 count, jump back to standing)
15 High boat/Low boat (Boat/Banana)
5 Burpees with Tuck Jump 
High Knees Run - 1 Minute
10 Pushup to Side-Arm/forearm Balance with optional leg raise and knee to elbow crunch
30 Single-Leg Tricep Dips (use glutes to press hips upward, extending raised leg high into the air, switch legs at the halfway point)
Plank - hold for 1-2 minutes with optional alternate arm/leg extension and crunch.
20 Bicycle Twist Crunches


Walk/Jog for 2-3 minutes 
Static stretching 5 minutes

If you're a Newbie:  1 round of workout section
If you're not a Newbie but not quite a Badass: 2 rounds of workout 
Badass Version:  3-4 Rounds of workout or repeat until you collapse

People have been eating fermented foods for thousands of years and in many cultures, these foods are a regular dietary staple.  There is a great deal of evidence to support the health benefits of eating these types of foods, although most of them didn't come about for health improvement reasons per se, but were born out of the need for preservation and just the natural processes of decay (sounds gross, right? But that's nature for ya).

Fermented foods have been shown to improve digestion, boost beneficial gut flora, improve immune function and many studies have shown that these types of foods can help with common ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Allergic Rhinitis, Atopic Dermatitis and even the common cold.  Examples of fermented foods include wine, cider, beer, kefir, yoghurt, leavened bread and pickled vegetables.   Most of the pickled and fermented foods you will find in the grocery stores have been pasteurized or processed to make them shelf-stable and thus, the health benefits have been eliminated or severely reduced in the process.  Fortunately, it's easy to make your own pickled/fermented foods at home and actually kind of fun!

This week I decided to try out some pickled cabbage using a classic Russian technique for salted fermentation.  There's a lot of room for experimentation with this type of recipe so don't worry about being too exact with ingredients.  This process is part science mixed with artistic license so just relax and have fun with it.  Here is what I used for my first try:

Picked Red Cabbage:

2 Small-Med Heads of Red Cabbage
5-6 Carrots
2-3 Cloves FRESH Garlic, minced (Optional)
2-3 TB Himalayan or other good quality salt, (anything but that processed white "table salt" garbage)
2 TB Whole Peppercorns (I used a tricolor blend) - (Optional)
2-3 Bay Leaves
1 TB Honey or sugar (Optional)

Shred or thinly slice the cabbage and carrots.  You don't want the cabbage too thin or your finished product won't be very crunchy.  I used the slicer/shredder function on my food processor for the cabbage/carrots and it took just a few minutes to get both heads evenly sliced/shredded with the perfect width, but if you prefer old school, a knife and a manual shredder will work just fine.

I placed the cabbage and carrots into a large stainless steel pot and mixed well - then I added in the salt and thoroughly massaged the salt into the mixture.  I didn't really measure the salt but I used approximately 1/4 cup.  You want the cabbage to be pretty salty but not overwhelmingly so.  Spend a good amount of time mashing the salt into the cabbage, you really want to make sure it's dissolved and massaged in.  You can smash it with a fist, squish it in your hands, whatever - just have fun with it - great way to take out some frustrations!

Mix the peppercorns, garlic and the bay leaves in and then smash the whole mixture down firmly into the bottom of the pot.  I waited until after day 2 to add in the honey, and only because when I tasted the mixture it just seemed like it needed a tiny bit of sweetness.  Cover the mixture with a plate and something heavy.  I used some canned goods for this but a large clean rock would work or a couple jars of liquid, a small kettle bell, whatever you've got on hand.  You can cover the pot with a towel or just use the pot lid if it fits over the weights.

Now comes the hard part! WAITING!! I really struggled with this part, because it smelled absolutely heavenly (especially with all that garlic) but this is where all the magic happens, so be patient!  Place your pot in a spot where it won't be disturbed and where it will remain at room temperature.  Fermentation will occur slightly faster the warmer the ambient temperature so just keep this in mind when you are determining how long to let it sit.  It will take approximately 3-6 days or so for the cabbage to get to the point where it's ready to be eaten.  

After the first day or two, there should be a visible quantity of liquid surrounding the plate (it won't be floating, but the cabbage should look like it has some 'sauce') - this is from the salt pulling the juices out of the cabbage.  If your cabbage looks too dry, add in a little bit of water, just enough so that the liquid is visible around the edges of your pressing plate.

Every day, remove the weights and poke holes down to the bottom of the pot with the end of a wooden spoon to allow the mixture to off-gas.  Replace the weights and lid and continue to let it sit.  After about 2 days you might want to give it a taste to see if it needs more salt or spice - this is where I decided to add in my honey.

I decided my cabbage was done at the 4 day mark.  When yours is ready, jar it up and refrigerate.  It's ready to be eaten immediately, but will keep for quite some time in the fridge.

NOTE:  The peppercorns will soften during the fermentation process and will add in a nice spicy bite to the cabbage, especially if you use a mixed blend like I did.  The amount I used was a bit spicy so if you don't like pepper/spice then I recommend adjusting this - either reduce the quantity, use a bit of ground black pepper instead, or leave it out completely.

I like to eat this just plain by itself, but it's also good dressed with a little Olive Oil, vinegar and fresh herbs.  Makes a great topping for rueben sandwiches or on a burger.  All kinds of possibilities!!

ENJOY in good health! :)

Just sent my kids off to school armed with their homemade valentines for their classroom parties and got to thinking about how grateful I am that we moved to a new school that actually allows 'real' parties!  Our previous school district had this rule - which I personally disagree with vehemently - where kids were only allowed to bring in 'healthy' treats for school celebrations.  No cookies, cupcakes, candy, etc. - ever!  Now,  I understand when you have upwards of 20 kids in a class how it could get a little out of hand to have every kid bringing in cupcakes and candy for his/her birthday - so I can see how they might want to curtail that.  But to disallow holiday party treats altogether? That's just wrong!!! Holidays and special occasions are MEANT to be celebrated! This is when kids SHOULD be having cupcakes and candy and potato chips and fruit punch - and not every day after school...

The obesity crisis in this country didn't happen overnight and it sure as heck didn't happen as a result of kids (or adults) having a cupcake or two at a holiday party.  The health issues we face have come from our society systematically and consistently increasing portion sizes, increasing sugary food intake, decreasing exercise and increasing the amount of time spent in sedentary activities like watching TV and playing video games.  I believe that these schools that disallow 'treats' at parties are sending the wrong message.  Their hearts are likely in the right place and they're trying to help educate the kids on healthy eating habits - but I believe knowing WHEN to allow yourself a treat is actually a healthy habit! And frankly, if they're THAT concerned with kids' health and wellness, they'll start taking a look at their own school lunch menus - CRAPAPALOOZA!!  But that's a topic for another time...

Don't be afraid to allow yourself a little treat today! Remember, it's not the occasional treat that makes people unhealthy and unfit - you aren't going to get 'fat' from one day where you have a few cookies or a brownie, or even an entire pan of brownies.  What matters are the little things that you do (or don't do) on a daily basis to manage your health and fitness.  The cumulative effects of not taking 15-30 minutes to workout, of eating an extra serving at dinner, of having dessert EVERY DAY, of binge drinking every weekend, etc. - those little things done consistently over time are what will cumulatively make the difference between achieving or not achieving your health and fitness goals...

So go ahead, celebrate this holiday and allow yourself an indulgence! Enjoy something you love, but don't often have - and take the time to truly SAVOR and appreciate it - and then carry on with your healthy habits...

Have an AWESOME day! xoxo