Organic for Dummies

This week’s post is about organic food. The subject turned out to be quite complex, and I was not able to complete the post in time for my usual post. I apologize for the delay but I hope you will find it was worth the wait.

A decade ago, “organic” was more often paired with “chemistry” than “produce.” Now organic food is an entire industry complete with regulations and oversight. Though there is some confusion about what organic actually means, generally it refers to food that is produced in the most natural way possible. For produce, it means limiting the type of pesticides and fertilizers used as well as restricting genetic modification. For meat and dairy, it means animals were not given hormones or antibiotics.

Choosing foods with no or safer chemicals sounds lie a no-brainer, so why wouldn’t someone buy organic over non-organic food? Two words: market forces. Organic food is generally more expensive, sometimes quite a bit more expensive, than other food. When money is tight — even when it’s not — it can be pretty intimidating to think about increasing an already stretched food budget. Is it worth it?

Proponents of organic food make three major claims: organic food is healthier, tastier, and better for the environment. Organic foods are more expensive, in some cases, far more expensive, than non-organic counterparts, and ultimately the consumer needs to decide if the benefits outweigh the cost.

Organic food is healthier than traditionally reduced food
Organic food fans claim that organic produce has less chemical residue than produce grown non-organically, and that it has more vitamins and minerals. According to the US Department of Agriculture definition, organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. If you are concerned about chemical residues you can prioritize buying organic produce that has soft (edible) skin like apples, strawberries, and celery. Items like citrus, avocados, and potatoes, that either require peeling or are grown underground, are more likely to be safer.

Claims that organic produce contains more vitamins and minerals do not appear to be true. See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/science/earth/study-questions-advantages-of-organic-meat-and-produce.html?_r=0 for more information.

When it comes to meat and dairy, the jury is out. Beef and milk may be worth the extra cost, but conflicting information makes the decision less than clear cut. Organic milk should not be confused with raw milk. The former is produced with a variety of restrictions on how the cow is treated; the latter refers to how the milk itself is treated (or not treated, in this case). For more information about organic milk and meat see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_milk

Organic food is tastier than non-organic food
Obviously, how food tastes is a matter of opinion. The claim is that because organic farms use healthier practices, including healthier soil, the food that results reflects these values. Think of the difference between a homegrown tomato and one bought in the store. I’m not a tomato fan, so I couldn’t say, but I’m told that there is a huge difference. This may or may not be true generally, but there are many reasons unrelated to chemical use why homegrown tastes so much better (i.e. pride, letting the fruit ripen longer, eating soon after picking, etc).

Organic food is better for the environment
Once again, there is a great deal of conflicting information regarding the environmental benefits of organic farming, and the issues are far more complex than I am able to analyze. For pro/con, please see the links below.

Pro: http://www.ota.com/organic/environment/environmental.html
Con: http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2012/120904.html

For more information about organic foods, please see the following resources:

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446&acct=nopgeninfo

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_movement

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/science/earth/study-questions-advantages-of-organic-meat-and-produce.html?_r=0

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/why-buy-organic-dairy-meat.html

—————-
Judith is our Active Mama’s Munchie Maven and Yoga Maven. That means she teaches Active Mama’s Cooking Basics Chef classes, and is also our instructor for Active Mama’s Mommy Yoga with Judith.

Judith is refreshingly laid back, exceptional at what she does, and is the able mother of 3 beautiful children.

Judith comes well-accredited. She earned her Masters of Public Health and her passion is helping people find ways to make their lives healthier.

If you have questions for Judith she can be messaged throughhttp://www.meetup.com/Active-Mamas.

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Checking the clock

Time management is tricky. What slows you down?

Do you have to remember the schedule for 4 or more people… Daily?

Do you struggle to anticipate the time it takes to get the kids ready, pack everyone into the car, and drive from here to there?

Do you often fight last minute ‘fire drills’ that are caused by competing pressures?

I’ve discovered over the years that I don’t have a natural talent for managing my time, but I’ve learned how to accomplish an incredible volume of work each day – mostly without feeling swamped. I’d say managing to not feel swamped is an achievement in its own class.

Here are practical tips to help you be more efficient.

1. Write down your to do list somewhere so important items don’t slip through the cracks – choose someplace you’ll actually reference

2. Delegate what (a) is possible to delegate (b) to someone competent and (c) don’t take on tasks that are not meaningful

3. Tackle about 3 really important and urgent things everyday (see number 7)

4. Bundle your time – If you’re going to be by the bank, what other errands on your list are nearby, even if you planned to go tomorrow?

5. Get enough sleep and take a break inbetween your ‘thinking’ activities – there are some items you can accomplish without much thought out of habit and others that require your concentration – Fuel yourself appropriately

6. Take your food with you – take healthy food from home along with plenty of water – keeping your body healthy gives you more energy

7. Prioritize your to-do list and only do things in Category A, by:
(a) things that are urgent and important (if you don’t do it there IS a serious consequence);
(b) things that are urgent but unimportant (if you don’t do it there is no serious consequence)
(c) things that are important but not urgent (you don’t have to do them today, but if you ignore them you will definitely not be happy later)
(d) things that are not important nor urgent (you don’t have to do them immediately and you won’t really care if you delay them)

8. Schedule appointments in some kind of calendar you will really reference and consider drive time in those appointments – always allow a 15 minute buffer on both sides, or more if outside forces notoriously contribute to taking more of your time (such as the doctor’s waiting room)

9. Spend 15 minutes the night before tidying up your house or apartment every night before you sleep and morning before you leave

10. Use commute time to your advantage. Here are my favorite car time uses:
(a) make phone calls using a headset in the car
(b) reconnect with your kids through conversation (but realize you’re giving up valuable eye contact so reconnect with them face to face later too!)
(c) thoughtful reflection for those items you just need to think about
(d) relieving stress – either focus on deep breathing or turn on some fav tunes

11. Set aside some small and consistent window of time everyday to just think, perhaps this is 30 minutes every morning or 15 minutes before and after some consistent activity

12. Always assess your day and write your list for tomorrow – start by transferring leftovers from today’s list – include (a) appointments, (b) to-do’s in those 4 categories, see 7, (c) phone calls and errands

I am covering time management in full detail at our workshop. If you need help managing your time, see http://www.meetup.com/Active-Mamas/events/98668082/?hidePromoBar=true

Love, Robyn

For more information about Robyn, see http://activemamas.org/?page_id=22

Mommy, CEO

A mother is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Need proof? God trusted her, and her alone, to birth.

**Side note worthy of space**
If you’re adopted like I am, then you have received 2 gifts: a birth mother and a mommy. And if you’ve ever given a baby away for adoption then you’ve given some mommy somewhere a gift they can never repay you for, and will always be grateful. And if you’ve adopted a child then you have just what it takes to raise your baby right as his or her mommy.

Back to the point: As a mom, you will be bombarded with information, tools, opinions, and research. Your kids will almost constantly need you. Your work is never done. The home recycles dirt, as you recycle everything else. If you work outside of the home then you also balance a career with the delicate emotional, physical, and spiritual requirements of your family. Learning. Health. Socialization. Money. Shelter. Food. Clothing. Entertainment. Development. Birthdays. Home. Laundry. Feelings. Friends. Vacations. Career. More. Think of all the things you manage! Wow!

I take pride in being open-minded about the way parents choose to ‘parent’. I am also solid in my convictions about what my family, and my son needs. You should be adamant about what your family needs too.

We often don’t give ourselves enough room to stand behind what we believe. I tell you this now… I tell you this once… And I will tell it again: You are the CEO of your home, a top level executive. You are responsible for the strategy of your family, and the director for taking it from here into the future. Your job is to serve your team, and serve it well.

Your family wants you to have answers, provide boundaries, help each member dream, gain confidence, grow in his or her talents and abilities, and improve on those skills that might be lacking.

Your family wants you to love them, to be gracious, to forgive, to find acceptance, to create safety and security, and to help shape it’s future.

Your family wants you to be ambitiously devoted to bettering each member, and yourself.

An outstanding CEO is a great listener, resourceful, humble, kind, honest, firm and gentle, thoughtful, responsible, communicative, peaceable, and inspires his or her team members to do better in fulfilling their purpose or task. A CEO weighs short term benefits with long term gains, and adjusts. A CEO sees the forest and the trees. A CEO asks for help where necessary and is always learning.

As a mother, think about inspiring your kids (and other family members) to greatness. What’s greatness? Well, now that’s the part your team will decide. Your job is to direct the energy.

If you want to capitalize on your abilities as the ‘Mommy, CEO’ of your home, join us in http://www.meetup.com/Active-Mamas/events/98668082/?hidePromoBar=true

Love, Robyn*

*read more about Robyn by clicking http://activemamas.org/?page_id=22

Colorful Mama

Hair color… Is it for everyone? Throughout my career as a hairstylist I have heard several reasons why women choose not to color their hair. These reasons include: Maintenance, money, time, and damage. Reasons people choose color: Highlight facial features, brighten face, cover grays, turn heads, and enhance a dull, natural color (sometimes known as “dishwater blonde”, “ashy”, or “mousy”- those words pretty much sum up my hair color haha!).

First, I will state that if someone comes to me for a consultation about hair color I am very honest with my guest. If they have a rich, natural color that really compliments them, I will say “Be natural! It works!”. In most cases though, natural shades are not that shiny and can be enhanced a bit.

Let’s address maintenance. Many women believe that once they get color they will have to be in the salon every six weeks to get it touched up. If you are doing all over color that is multiple shades lighter or darker than your natural color then yes, you will be retouching your roots often. But, there are options that give you more time in between coloring. The number one low maintenance and trendy color right now is ombre’. Generally, ombre’ is darker at the roots and lighter at the ends. Ombre’ is a great way to have brightness around your face without the up keep of your roots. I always tell my guest that it looks like they spent lots of time at the beach over the summer and their hair has now grown out from being sun bleached. There are some pretty extreme versions of ombre’ out there. I lean more towards the subtle, nicely blended ombre’. I am actually rocking some ombre’ in my hair right now!

Notice how my hair goes from a dark strawberry blonde at the roots to light blonde at the ends? Very subtle

Notice how my hair goes from a dark strawberry blonde at the roots to light blonde at the ends? Very subtle.

This is the extreme ombre' I am not a fan of. It just looks like she has roots!

This is the extreme ombre’ I am not a fan of. It just looks like she has roots!

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Not a fan of the roots look? Try getting what we call at my salon “brightening” or “face framing high lights”. This usually consist of around six to ten foils in a shade that is just a few shades lighter or darker than your natural color. Many salons offer this as an add on service (with a haircut, conditioning treatment, blow out, etc…) for a very reasonable rate. Only $30 at my salon!! (Zonolite Hair Studio)

Face framing high lights

Face framing high lights

Brightening

Brightening

Low lights

Low lights

Are you more of an all over kind of person? Would you like to just enhance your natural color? A demi permanent gloss is a nice option. You can choose a color that is a richer version of your natural color. The shade you choose may be more golden or red to give your hair a nice shine. The great thing about demi permanent color is that only about 50% of  the color stays in your hair permanently. So, as your hair grows the color fades out a bit. With this option there is no urgency to get those roots done because they are barely noticeable. Demi is also great for coloring gray hair (50% gray or less) because it makes the grays in your hair just look like high lights.

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With lower maintenance options, that lowers how much you would be spending on color as well. As a mother it becomes a difficult task to take time for yourself and especially spend money on yourself (even though you deserve it!!). If you are still not interested in spending money at a salon on your hair as much as I hate to say it, there is always the store bought option… I frown upon this because store bought (AKA box) color can be unpredictable, more damaging, and incredibly difficult to fix if you choose the wrong color. Also, if you choose the wrong color and can’t fix it yourself it can be expensive when you go to the salon to have a stylist take care of you. Worst cases are when women end up with darker hair than what they wanted and desire to be a couple of shades lighter. This service in the salon is known as corrective color and has been know to take 4+ hours and cost $200+ to fix. ***Remember color cannot lift color***  Bleach is usually required to lift box color.

If you do choose to go with box color, please be cautious!!!! Try demi permanent for going darker. If you are going lighter take this into consideration: Box color only has the ability to lift 2 levels of color. So, if you want to be more than 2 levels lighter than what you are you will have to use bleach (in a salon we can lift up to 4 or 5 levels with color). If you have dark brown hair and you put light blonde box color on your hair, your hair will just look medium brown that is very “brassy” or orange. When bleaching your hair, timing is everything. If it is on too long, you will end up with super blonde hair that could possibly be very damaged. If bleach is not on your hair long enough, you will have orange hair that then has to be toned.  There are lots of variables that go into doing your own hair color. That’s why I strongly recommend leaving it to the professionals to take care of.

Worried about damage? The more levels you lift your hair the more your hair cuticle opens and hair becomes slightly fragile. Also, depending on what type of hair you have, color can damage it more or less. Fine hair is the most fragile (be careful when going lighter). Coarse hair can withstand many levels of lift with little damage. If you do not want to damage your hair here are some options: Use demi permanent hair color instead of permanent for going darker, only go a couple of shades lighter when lifting your hair, and choose foils instead of all over. These options will not noticeably compromise the integrity of your hair.

When deciding what hair color to choose for yourself it is important that you determine what skin tone you have in order to know what colors look best on you. Eye color plays into this as well. This website will be helpful in determining what your skin tone is if you are unsure: http://www.instyle.com/instyle/package/general/photos/0,,20475181_20591842_21153816,00.html           (side note: this website has hair care advertisements. I do not recommend these products because they are not natural/organic)

Well, that sums up our lesson on hair color! If you guys have any questions regarding any of the information I write on this blog, feel free to call me or come see me at my salon! I work Wednesday 4-8, Friday 3-7 and Saturday 10-4. Zonolite Hair Studio 4042491543

Best,

Nicky Nocera

Next Blog Topic: Natural/Organic Hair Care

MSG . . . OMG

Last week’s letter writer filled me in on her situation: a member of her family is sensitive to both MSG and lactose. So she wants to learn to cook, but without using ingredients that contain these items.

MSG — mono sodium glutamate — is an additive that enhances flavor in foods. It’s found in just about every packaged food for obvious reasons. It may also be present in restaurant food, so people who are sensitive to MSG have to be extremely careful about what they eat. To make matters worse, there are dozens of different names for MSG

Lactose is the sugar that is present in milk, and many people are not able to digest it because their digestive systems lack the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose, (lactase). Luckily, many people with lactose intolerance can withstand some amount of milk in their diets, and they may not be sensitive to other components of milk such as casein (protein). In addition, one can take a lactase pill to help with digestion as needed. For more information about lactose intolerance, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactose_intolerance.

So, here are the requirements: easy, only fresh or vetted products with no MSG, and no dairy. Let’s get to work.

To me, a slow cooker is the ideal vessel for a busy person making dinner. Just throw everything in the pot and wait. No precision, no attention, and no timing required. There is nothing better than coming home after a late appointment and knowing that dinner is already done. Ok, there are probably better things, but when I’m hungry, tired, and wound up from the day there is nothing better.

There are hundreds of slow cooker recipes online with varying degrees of difficulty. Here are some of my favorite recipes that are MSG- and dairy free. I don’t know much about vegetarian cooking, so these recipes contain meat.

Tortilla soup:
This recipe contains chicken broth, which may contain MSG so be sure you check the label. Cans and cartons are less likely than bouillon or powdered chicken packets. If you’re feeling ambitious you can make your own broth* and be sure there’s no MSG in it.

A little oil for frying
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime (made by Rotel, available at most supermarkets)
1/2 cup frozen corn or 1 can corn
4-6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chicken pieces, preferably leftovers from another chicken meal
Salt to taste
Avocado
Corn chips
Shredded cheese (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

Put about a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and set stove to medium. Sauté the onion and pepper in oil until the onion becomes soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker and add tomatoes, corn, chicken, broth and salt. Turn on cooker and follow instructions. Serve with avocado and corn chips. If desired add cheese and sour cream.

Beef stew:
Beef stew is so easy it’s ridiculous. It also has about a thousand different variations and is very friendly to whatever veggies you happen to have. Most beef stews include onions, carrot and potatoes, but you can also add parsnips, butternut squash, celery or even apples. Stew lends itself well to freezing, so if you like it, make extra next time and freeze the leftovers. Also, because it cooks for such a long time you can get away with using a cheaper cut of beef like chuck. I use beef chunks labeled as stew beef but I like to cut the pieces a little more than they already are. This is a personal preference, however, and it’s fine if you don’t.

Here’s a very basic recipe. Just put all ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and enjoy that evening.

1 package stew meat
1 cup baby carrots
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Chili

http://www.food.com/recipe/simple-chili-190598

(OK, I’m taking the easy way out)

*After you’re family has eaten the drumsticks from last week, save the bones and boil them in enough water to cover them for 2-3 hours or set your burner on low and let them go overnight (or use a slow cooker overnight). Set a timer so you don’t forget about them. Add a little salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons), and that’s it.

 

Dear Judith . . . Easiest Meal I Know

Dear Judith,

I have never been much of a cook. I can make cold cereal, salad, and a few other easy things, but that’s about it. I’d love to be able to cook for my family on a regular basis, but I’m intimidated at the thought of cooking a meal from scratch. What’s a good meal for a beginner’s beginner? Please be very specific. Oh, and what shall I do with my toddler while I’m cooking? FYI, I have three kids, including my toddler.

That’s the thing about kids: they get hungry every day. First of all, congratulations on taking the first step to learning your way around a kitchen. As you’ll find out, cooking is easy. It’s planning meals, juggling preferences, and making everything come out healthy that’s tricky. As you no doubt know, taking “baby steps” is a good approach to attaining your goal. In this case, it means trying one recipe at a time, with plenty of time in between. Once you’ve made one, you can always go back and put it on your regular rotation of meals. As you build more and more new recipes into your experience you will eventually have enough to fill most every night.

Since you say you do not know your way around a kitchen, I’ve chosen a meal that requires very little technique. In other words, it really is as easy as following the directions. My love for chicken is no secret and BBQ chicken drumsticks (legs) with sweet potatoes is a favorite in my house and is extremely easy to make. The leftovers are great for kids’ lunch boxes.

Count on about 2-3 drumsticks per adult, 1-2 per child, and part of one for the baby. I like to buy chicken legs in bulk at Costco: you get a great price per pound, and the legs are packaged five to a pouch, so you can use just what you need and freeze the rest. If your family likes this meal, you can make it again next month with your frozen stash.

If you’re using frozen chicken, defrost it first by putting it in the fridge the night before and check it a few hours before cooking to make sure it’s thawed out. FYI, you can use chicken thighs instead of drumsticks if you want. Because you have a toddler, I recommend trying this on a weekend, when there’s another adult at home so you don’t have to worry about your toddler.

Here’s what you need for this meal, assuming a family of four plus a toddler:
10-15 thawed chicken legs or 2-3 Costco pouches
BBQ sauce of your choice. I like Sweet Baby Ray’s, but you can use any kind you like.
2 large or 3 medium sweet potatoes
Baking pan or cookie sheet large enough to fit all drumsticks
Aluminum foil (optional but recommended as it can get very sticky)
A spoon
An oven
A timer
Tongs or a spatula

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350F and let it warm up while you do the rest of the prep. This is called pre-heating.
  2. Line baking pan or cookie sheet with foil, making sure the entire bottom is covered.
  3. Remove (not frozen) drumsticks from pouch and place on foil, leaving a little space between the pieces.
  4. Squeeze a dollop of BBQ sauce, about the size of a quarter, on each drumstick. Use the spoon to spread sauce to cover the entire surface of the drumstick. 
  5. Place sweet potatoes on the same pan as the drumsticks if there’s room. If not, place them on a different pan.
  6. Put chicken and sweet potatoes in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.
  7. When the timer rings, pull out chicken and use the tongs, a spatula or a fork to turn each drumstick so the part that was touching the pan faces up. 
  8. Repeat step 4, adding sauce to the meat that was previously not sauced.
  9. Put chicken back in the oven and set the timer for another 30 minutes.
  10. When timer rings the chicken is done. If you want to you can use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature (should be 170 or higher), but 60 minutes in a hot oven should be plenty of time to cook thoroughly.
  11. Squeeze the potatoes to make sure they are done — if they squeeze easily they are. If they feel firm, poke a small hole in the skin of each potato and finish them up in the microwave. About five minutes should do it.

You can serve the sweet potatoes as they are (baked potato style), or you can go a little further and serve them mashed potato style:

  1. Make a slit in the skin.
  2. Use a spoon to scoop out the orange flesh and place in a bowl. It should come out easily. If it doesn’t, it needs ore cooking time.
  3. Mash the sweet potato flesh with a spoon or fork. Add a few sprinkles of salt and about a Tablespoon of butter. 
  4. Mix until butter melts. Serve.

If you’re planning for dinner at 6pm, pull the chicken out at 4:45. It will take a few minutes to arrange the pieces and sauce everything, and a few more to turn them after 30 minutes. You may also need a few extra minutes to finish off the sweet potatoes in the microwave and scoop the flesh.

Happy cooking!

Yes, and…

Years before my son was born, I took an improv class to improve my ability to connect with people, my creativity, and have some fun. Here’s one improv game that can help you change your attitude: It’s called ‘yes, and…’

In the world of improv, it’s your job to build a story. You remember grade school, where you learned a story plot has an intro/ setting, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution, right? Telling the improv story is always done with a challenge, such as having to use a particular word, only noises, or only body language, etc.

In the ‘yes, and…’ game you’re set up with any number of other players. A player throws you a line, such as ‘I ran into your brother at the store and he told me you were at home laying in bed for 2 days while your kids ran around naked eating candy’. This person may be pretending to flip ‘air omelets’ in an ‘air kitchen’ at the same time, giving the audience some context to where this is taking place.

Whatever you say, you have to start your statement ‘in agreement’ by saying ‘yes, and… (Insert whatever you can think of to build the story)’. Your answer might be something like this: ‘yes, and in addition to eating candy, naked, my kids were also watching television and squirting chocolate syrup on the walls. I thought instead of trying to correct the situation, I would let them do their thing, because my parenting philosophy is to ‘live and let live’. It was working for me, but then my husband came home.’ Since you also realize you’re in a make-believe ‘air kitchen’, you might pretend to start setting the table, so you can both eat your pretend meal together.

Then the first person has to answer you with a statement that heightens the story, or takes the story somewhere, starting ‘in agreement’ with you by saying ‘yes, and…’ He or she would have to respond to the fact that you’re setting a pretend table for breakfast. but it would be his or her job to further the storyline into a rising action at this point, or a climax. Get it?

Playing this game makes you realize how often your first answers in life are ‘no’ or in opposition of what you are being asked.

Think about how this relates to how you respond to your child(ren). How often do you say ‘no’ when you could say ‘yes’.

What about your spouse? Do you say yes a lot to your spouse?

What would it do to your stress levels if you have a ‘yes attitude’?

Try saying ‘yes’ more today as an experiment and see what comes of it.

Another way you can blow your mind is to have a conversation with someone where you are only allowed to ask questions as your reply. Go for a walk with your spouse. Ask him or her to help you with an area you both agree is a problem. Tell him or her you’re both only allowed to respond by asking questions for 5 minutes. Write the questions down that you want to revisit after the 5 minutes is up. It’s really a difficult challenge to ask only questions! See how this exercise brings you to solutions you wouldn’t have otherwise brainstormed.

If you aren’t familiar with improv games, we are going to play a few at the warrior maven workshop. See meetup.com/active-mamas.

Love,

Robyn

For more information about robyn, see the ‘about robyn’ page above.