Archives for June 2010

{The People Who Live At Pottery Barn}

Ever look at a picture of a home in a magazine and think, Do people’s houses really look like that?    Do they actually go in those rooms?  Why does one need 157 yellow books on one bookcase?  Do people really buy coats and pets that match their home decor?!  Well, think no longer!  The fine gal behind Catalog Living has answered those questions.  Click on over to read a breif blurb about the folks who live in magazine houses.

Here’s a couple of my personal favorites:

And that second one kills me because I have that page bookmarked–I really like the room (and yes, the tree!).

{Foodie Friday: Panera Bread Co.}

 

So I thought this post would go against the reason for doing Foodie Friday blog postings. But not really.  Whether eating at home, or eating out, a girl has gotta know what’s in her food, right?  So when things get busy, or we’re super-tired, or on the road, or those other 3 nights/week that I haven’t gotten around to cooking, we always head to Panera.  Always.  They know us by name.  And order.  And when we order something outside of the norm, they go into a frenzy.  I’ll admit, it’s sad. 

After visiting their website recently and stumbling upon a wonderful build-a-meal nutritional calculator, I felt that I had to share.

Panera is really the only place I’ll eat out.  With the You-Pick-2 option, the price is decent, the portion sizes are perfect, and food actually is very healthy (as long as you pick the right two).  The You-Pick-Two gives the option of sandwiches, salads, soups, or even mac-n-cheese (not a good choice), along with a side: chips, apple, or baguette. Let’s take a look at what I normally get:

Smoked Turkey Breast Sandwich w/lettuce and tomato only
(I don’t eat the bread, and instead make a wrap with the lettuce…)

That’s right—only 70 calories!  And with 12g of protein vs. 3g of carbs, it’s wonderful for those folks on a protein rich diet.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Again, very low-cal!  And although it is a bit more carb intensive, the protein is right there with it.  It is high in sodium, but I would rather have high sodium than high fat or high sugar.  Because it’s soup, it is very filling, and Panera uses a creamy broth, so it’s satisfying and filling.

Apple

At 80 calories, an apple makes a nice, sweet dessert that is also extremely healthy.

Some days, I like to substitute one of the choices for a salad.

Caesar Salad w/Grilled Chicken

Because I don’t eat dressing, or croutons (okay, sometimes I sneak a few), this item still comes in at under 100 calories.

Overall, I get a full meal for a grand total of:

  • Under 250 calories
  • Only 4-7g of fat
  • A good dose of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Iron
  • $6.19 (with cooking and clean-up)
  • A full, satisfied feeling

Now, just be cautious not to give into the temptation of getting the soup in a bread-bowl, loading up on condiments, or choosing a few of the delicious sweets (not that I would know…) from the glass display conveniently placed by the cash registers, and you’ll be set!

{No Impact Man…er, Woman}

While blog-stalking over at YHL this morning, I came across a wonderful post describing some green endeavors.  One thing they touched upon was a documentary they watched recently, titled No Impact-Man–a documentary on one man’s attempt at green living, apparently telling his wife that she can’t use toilet paper anymore.  I must say that within two minutes I had this bad boy in my library queue on its way to me (gotta love working for a college–free state-wide book delivery to my desk!).  There’s also a paperback option.

No Impact Man Paperback

I was obviously intrigued, though I pictured more of a Michael Moore-ish documentary rather than something I would actually learn something from.  Clicking around on the website though, brought me to their No Impact Project.  The challenge is to forego many of life’s “necessities” and make a hard, conscious effort to be completely green for one week.  Project?! Challenge?!  Green?!  Count me in!

You must register (free) first, and then you will be e-mailed the weekly “how-to” guide.  I must admit, it doesn’t seem that difficult.  Honestly.  Some of the things they suggest I have already done, and others I have been meaning to do.  Overall, it looks more fun and rewarding than difficult and demanding.

So, I’ve decided on August 1-7 to be my “Challenge Week”.   This will be after my vacation, after my graduate classes have ended, and I will have no excuse not to.  So who’s in?  Seriously, this will be much more fun with more folks involved!  Think about it…trips to the local farmer’s market…pot luck dinners…candle-lit game nights…swap parties…the possibilities are endless. 

 Comment here or get in touch with me if you are “in”.  Come on, all the cool kids are doing it.

I’ll document all of our progress right here, so stay tuned!

{Acquarella Peeper Polish}

In an effort to rid myself of toxins, hormone inhibiting compounds, and other chemically-laden crapt, I’ve made an effort to change out my beauty products.  That sounds so fancy—“beauty products”—like I spend more than 5 minutes getting ready in the morning.  Nevertheless, I have tried to use up what I have, and then replace it with something greener and healthier as the need arises.

However, some items simply cannot be used up.  The old saying “ignorance is bliss” may hold true for some, but for me, I follow a different saying: “knowledge is power.”  I know, I know, I could totally be on one of those cheesy after-school infomercials…Anywho, once I know what’s in a product, or how something is affecting my body, I simply cannot continue to use it.  For severe offenders, it gets tossed right away. Like, fingernail polish (or rather toenail polish—I don’t think my fingernails have been painted since my wedding day…2 years ago.)

One would think that a water-based, “healthy” nail polish would not withstand life on a busy-girl’s toes, right?  Especially with the amount of walking (and stumbling) that I do, in peep-toe pumps at that.  However, I am very, very surprised and impressed with Acquarella. Acquarella is a water-based polish, non-toxic product.  Their website boasts little to no odor, relatively low drying time, and actual benefits for the nail. I was skeptical, but that skepticism was unwarranted, as this stuff holds up.

It seemed somewhat complicated—washing, and buffing, and smoothing, and evenly painting…Oh. What?  Normal girls do that anyway when they paint their nails?  Let me just say, that the first time I used this, I painted my nails 30 minutes before walking out the door.  I did no prep work—just slapped on a coat and went.  I stood up too early and smudged it, but I easily wiped it off and put a new coat on.  At this point, I was still skeptical, as I thought—wow, that wiped off easily.  However, it wasn’t until a little over a week later that I got my first chip.  Some may be appalled that a paint job only lasted that long, but considering the amount of effort I put into making it perfect, I was pleased with my week of cuteness.

I then used their “super-special” remover to take it off.  Now, this was a bit tricky.  It did take a lot of rubbing and soaked cotton balls to actually get it off.  It also seemed to leave behind a pinkish hue.  But I hate, hate, hate traditional remover, and would often just let polish chip completely off so that I didn’t have to use it, so I won’t complain too much about the extra scrubbing.

I then went through the process of buffing and prepping according to the directions before painting them again.  Over three weeks later, they looked like this: (WARNING: creepy feet picture ahead.) This is Plasma, a brighter red color.

There’s no doubt that this stuff is durable, and looks nice, but is it really any healthier?  To answer that question, you must know what is in traditional polish.

My super-googling skills (also known as research for all your “old-timers”) has turned up a few main concerns.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is among the 25 most abundantly produced chemicals in the world and is used in the manufacture of plastics, resins, foam insulation, glass mirrors, explosives, artificial silk, dyes, disinfectants, germicides, embalming fluid, fumigants, preventatives for mildew in wheat and rot in oats, germicides and fungicides for plants, insecticides, slow-release fertilizers, construction materials such as plywood adhesives, sugar, rubber, food, petroleum, pharmaceuticals, and textiles.

While the actual polish may not contain pure formaldehyde, it does contain compounds and resins made up of formaldehyde.  Additionally, formaldehyde in all its pure glory state is found in many, many nail treatments—hardeners, conditioners, lengtheners, etc. The use of formaldehyde in cosmetics is banned in the European Union, Canada, and Japan, but the good ole’ FDA has not seen anything that warrants concern.

Okay…serious research aside, formaldehyde brings back high school memories of frogs in jars and eyeballs in jars, and other forever frozen-in-time objects swimming in formaldehyde.  That, coupled with common sense, led me to realize this is not something I want anywhere near my precious, precious body.

However, there has been serious research done.  In 2004, formaldehyde was reclassified as a known human carcinogen—meaning that it will cause cancer—after further research that showed formaldehyde causes nasopharyngeal cancer in humans.  Kind of brings new meaning to the phrase “high school is killing me”, no?  Formaldehyde can also be absorbed through the skin causing irritation or even allergic dermatitis or burns.  Once it makes its way through the skin, it can enter the bloodstream finding its way to any part of the body it chooses.

Toluene

toulene

Toluene is a colorless, flammable liquid used paints, paint thinners, silicone sealants, many chemical reactants, rubber, printing ink, adhesives, lacquers, leather tanners, and disinfectants. It can also be used in the manufacture of polyurethane foam and dynamite (yep). Toluene can be used to break open red blood cells in order to extract hemoglobin in biochemistry experiments…whoo whoo.

Short term problems can be fatigue, nausea, confusion, weakness, and long term exposure can cause serious nervous disorders, negatively affect kidney function and even death. Even just low to moderate levels can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and hearing and color vision loss.

Toluene may enter the human system not only through vapor inhalation from the liquid evaporation, but also from air and soil contamination. It is toxic as the body cannot simply rid the body of toluene through normal routes (urine, feces, or sweat).  It must actually be metabolized—broken down and sent through the body—in order to be excreted.

Phthalates

phalates

Phthalates are chemical compounds that come in many different forms.  They are used for adhesives, building materials, personal-care products, medical devices, detergents, packaging, children’s toys, modeling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles. Phthalates are used in a variety of household applications such as shower curtains, vinyl upholstery, adhesives, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers, and cleaning materials. Personal-care items containing phthalates include perfume, eye shadow, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray.They are also found in modern electronics and medical applications such as catheters and blood transfusion devices.  As of 2004, manufacturers produced about 800 million pounds of phthalates each year.

Phthalate exposure can occur through direct use of a product with them, or indirect, such as inhalation or drinking contaminated water. Diet is believed to be the main source of exposure–fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meats are a major source (I’m assuming because of all the crapt we do to cows).  Another scary source is medications.  The coating on pills, the plastic bottles they’re stored in, and the machines used to manufacture them all contain phthalates.  Studies have shown time and time again that people taking medications have the highest amount of phthalates—and these are the people with weakened bodies to begin with! They can also be absorbed through the skin.  Phthalates are quickly released into the environment as plastics age and break-down.

There are some super-scary things in regards to phthalate exposure.  While other contaminants are scary, phthalates seem to be more so simply because they are in EVERYTHING.

Phthalates are turning boys into girls, girls into boys, and some children into such gender-confused messes that they don’t know what’s going on.  One study found that prenatal exposure to antiandrogenic phthalates may be associated with less male-typical play and behavior in boys, and they have the potential to alter androgen-responsive brain development in humans.  Likewise, most of this damage is being done while the poor kid is still developing because they can upset the delicate balance of hormones.  The male reproductive system is particularly at risk since phthalates interfere with androgens most—male hormones like testosterone—causing defects in testicular development and fertility.  I’m assuming that my future teenagers are going to have reason enough to hate me without adding—“thanks for insisting on drinking bottled water and painting your toenails, Mom.  Now I have no balls!”

As well, women who deliver prematurely have, on average, up to three times the phthalate level in their pee-pee compared to women who carry to term. It’s also known to accelerate puberty in girls, insulin resistance, obesity, and has been linked to liver cancer.  A study published just last month found the first strong link to phthalate exposure and autism.

A study published in September 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the presence of phthalates in every person tested — and the highest levels in women ages 20 to 40. The CDC suggested that cosmetics were a source.

Good ole’ George W. signed a law that limited the amount of phthalates allowed in certain products to 0.1% concentration.  Any child’s toy or care item manufactured, sold, or imported in the U.S. after Feb. 10, 2009 must adhere to these standards.  But wait…I thought most of the problems for kids were happening in-vitro?  And, the mother’s use of products is a huge contributor? Wait, what?

Fumes

When liquids dry, something must evaporate.  When the resins and compounds in nail polish dries, vapors are released.  Remember, those resins are made up of formaldehyde, toluene, and phthalates.  Those are going straight up the nose, wreaking havoc there before making their way down the throat, through the lungs, etc., etc. etc.

Inhalation of vapors can produce narrowing of the bronchi and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs.  Malaise, headache, sleeping disturbances, irritability, loss of vision and impairment of dexterity, memory, and equilibrium may result from a single exposure to fumes, even at very low doses.

Many brands have begun moving away from these concerns, and some claim to have eliminated them altogether.  However, instead of simply taking these chemicals out, they are being replaced with compounds nearly as hazardous.  Check out the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to see how your favorite brand stacks up.  Skin Deep ranks cosmetics from 0-10, with zero being a low risk, and ten being a severe risk.

I chose Acquarella based on their product rating of 0-1, and positive reviews.  There are a few other brands, notably Honeybee Gardens, that are also revered.  Aquarella is a bit pricey at $18, there isn’t a huge range of modern color options, it can only be ordered online, and it’s not 100% safe.  However, it is a better choice, and a small, simple step towards healthier living.

{Foodie Friday: Zucchini}

 

Last week I received a request for zucchini bread.  I’m not sure why; it’s not like I have infamous zucchini bread skills or anything.  In fact, I’ve never even eaten it, let alone made it.  This made it quite difficult.  When I finished baking it, I thought, well it tastes good, but does it taste right?  I’m guessing that all was well because it disappeared quite quickly. 

I’ve been wanting to try out a few zucchini recipes lately, so I’ve spent this week sleuthing zucchini. 

Description:

Zucchini is actually part of the “Summer Squash” family that includes a few different variety of squashes, like  Pattypan and Crookneck.  Zucchini skin can be green or yellow, and possibly speckled.  The flesh is white.

Etymology:

Pronounced zoo-keen-ee

It is also known as the courgette.  Zucchini is the more common name in North America, Australia, Germany and Italy, while courgette is more commonly used in Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa.

“Zucca” is the Italian word for squash, becoming “zucchine” in the plural. The alternate name courgette is from the French “courge”, French for squash.  Ironically, ‘Zucchini’ is plural in Italian whereas in English it is singular.

Random Facts:

Zucchini is incorrectly regarded as a vegetable, when in fact, it is a fruit.  It is the swollen ovary of the flower of the zucchini plant.

The flower of the zucchini plant is also edible, and apparently makes a great garnish for salads and side dishes.  Check  out the fried zucchini flower salad!

Where is it Grown?

Modern-day squash developed from the wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico, over 10,000 years ago.  As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and like other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina. In the United States, California, of course, is the main grower.

Can I Grow Them at Home?

Absolutely!  Zucchini can be started anytime from when the danger of frost has passed, until mid-summer. For the “real” gardener, start with seeds.  Because the taproot of the plant is very easily damaged, most “experts” recommend starting with seeds.  Of course, hybrid and genetically modified plants that have made to be stronger do exist.

Plant seeds in 1″ deep, and about 2′ apart. Put 2-3 seeds in each hole, but after sprouting occurs, pull up 1-2 of the sprouts so that only one remains.  (Plant 2-3 to ensure you get at least one in case of rot, or other non-sprouting issues.) Seedlings can be started indoors before the planting season, or outdoors.

Water to a depth of 6″, and water 1-2 times per week to maintain.

It takes about 14 days for seeds to begin sprouting.  About 4 weeks later, plants will begin flowering. Then, zucchini grow rapidly; especially in hot weather and are usually ready to pick within 4 to 8 days after flowering. Be sure to pick zucchini that are 2 inches or less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long.  The larger they get, the harder and tougher they are.

Zucchini plants produce both male and female blossoms.  They must have a little “bedroom action” to produce fruit.  If you’re worried that bees or other insects won’t get the pollination work done, you can hand pollinate.  This site has some great tips on hand pollination.  Just look at yourself as a little artificial inseminator.

Female zucchini flower - note the multi-part stigma in the center.             Male zucchini flower - note the single stamen in the center.       

Can you guess the male from the female?

I’ve also found that folks in apartments are having success growing zucchini in containers.  Of course, a larger pot is needed for success.  So, I guess I no logner have an excuse to let my lack of garden keep me from having a garden.

When is it in Season?

Though available year round due to mass production and cultivation, the peak times for organic zucchini is May-July.

Storage and Shelf-Life

When selecting zucchini from the store, choose ones that feel heavy, but are not too large.  Large zucchinis are too fibrous, yet at the same time, smaller ones will not have great flavor.  Their rinds should be shiny and have no blemishes or indentations.

Store them in the fridge for up to 7 days. Freezing isn’t really recommended, as they turn more to mush than anything tasty.

Umm…Why Should I Care?

Like all fruits, zucchini contains all sorts of good nutrients that help the body stay healthy.  Surprisingly, zucchini is high in beta carotene–that’s right, it doesn’t just come from orange carrots. Notably, squash has been shown to help men with enlarged prostate problems.  Also, with only 16 calories per cup of raw zucchini, it makes an excellent low calorie snack or addition to any meal.  The high water content and fiber will also leave you feeling fuller, for only the low, low price of 16 calories.

Recipes:

Zucchini Oven Chips–these look like a fun alternative to potato chips or oven baked fries.

Looking for an alternative to pasta?  Pasta can wreak severe habit on diets, for diabetics, and those who are trying to stay low on the glycemic index.  Enter zucchini pasta.  Fear not!  I was skeptical, but at a conference last Fall, vegetarian lasagna with zucchini pasta was served.  To everyone’s delight, it was delish!

Minus the onions, this stuffed zucchini recipe may make it onto my menu next week.

And of course, there is the famous zucchini bread recipe.

{June Bugs and Sit Up’s}

 

These are just a few things coming up in the month of June for us.  June!  Yay!  Official Summer goodness.  The time of barbeques, camping, bathing suits, and coconuts (I don’t know—I always envision and smell coconuts when anyone says ‘summer’.  I swear you could walk up behind me and say ‘summer’ and I would start salivating over coconuts.)  But a new month means new goals, and a reflection back at the past month. 

So, my May Goals, along with self-imposed grades, were:

Take vitamin every day, C+
Take herbal supplement 3x/day
, B- (getting better!)
Eat dinner in 4x/week
, B (2 weeks we only ate in 3 times)
Be in bed (and asleep) by 11:00 on weekdays
, C (The nights I didn’t get to sleep by 11, I was asleep by 11:30ish.)
Walk to and/or from work 2x/week
, B (only because we had one week of non-stop rain)
Walk 15 minutes on treadmill 1x/week
, Not Needed—I walked a lot outside…
Go for at least a 20min. walk outside 1x/week
, A
Mail a card to a friend via snail-mail
, A
Spring clean the Laundry Room, Bathroom, & Bedroom
, C+-ish (I clean, then it gets dirty, so I can’t even remember what I cleaned…)
Make 3 sets of cards for Fall craft fair (gotta start early…)
, F (I made 3 cards total…)

I did implement a new tracking system for my goals, which helps.  I printed of a mini checklist with a calendar to clip inside my day planner.  It seems to be working.

What else have I been working on?

Mainly, I got busy at work.  To most people, that would be torture.  I did a happy dance.  I’m never busy at work, and it gets very old.  The grass is always greener on the other side, eh?  I also managed to grow flowers.  Lots of them.  In April, I started  a flower garden, and in May, nothing died.  That’s an achievement right there.  I seemed to do a lot of baking, too.  I made three different kinds of cupcakes and my first ever attempt at zucchini bread.

What I’ve Done for Fun

We went to two weddings in May.  I heart weddings.  Eric’s cousin married in early May, and had a really cute kid’s choir that signed the entire song during the unity candle.  Quite fun.  A coworker of Eric’s married in mid-May, and they had the most delicious looking cake in the world.

(I think we were doing the “train” with Eric’s grandparents…)

(Who’s that sexy guy?  Or the girl with feather earrings?  Aren’t those fab?)

After the wedding, we embarked on a trip to The Squirty Worm.  No fear—it’s like a fun center for families and kids.  I got my butt kicked in miniature golf, although I did get a hole in one.  We also did batting cages, in which Eric thought that Major League fast pitch was his cup of tea (it wasn’t).  Following that, we raced go-karts.  It has been awhile since I’ve driven a go-kart, and yep, it is just as fun as I remember.  Eric pulled a Mario Andretti and passed everyone on the inside.

And of course, we ended the month at the Indy 500.  I began going with Eric 6 years ago (Holy crow that seems like a long time).  Apparently, this was the hottest 500 in history, but I still think the first year was the hottest.  I was rooting for a Helio win, or even an Andretti win, but no luck.  Dario Franchitti won after everyone else started running out of fuel.  I really wouldn’t mind him winning, especially since he races for Target, it’s just that his win means that Ashley Judd (his wife) is going to get her dramatic self in front of the camera.

Indianapolis 500

What I’ve Been Reading

I read a few books this month.  Mr. Maybe, by Jane Green was pretty good.  I’m a Jane Green fan, and this is the 4th or 5th book I’ve read by her.  Not as great as her others, but still good.  The other book, The Diplomat’s Wife, was a sequel to The Kommandant’s Girl, which I read last month.  Much like The Kommandant’s Girl, a lot of action and suspense was built up in the beginning, and then it just kinda fell flat at the end.  It’s like, “oh, I’ve only got 100 pages left, I better start wrapping this story up.”  There were also a few parts where the author went into so much detail that I thought it was an event or quirk that was going to come up later in the story, but it never did, or it was a far reach.  I enjoyed the history lesson (which there really wasn’t much) more than the storylines.

What’s Been Turning my Brain to Mush?

We made it to two movies this month: Robin Hood and Sex and the City 2.  (Yes, “we”.  Eric likes Sex and the City more than I do, I think.)  Robin Hood wasn’t one of Russell Crowe’s best, nor was it “epic”, but I’m not sorry that I spent the $10 to see it.  Same with SATC.  We saw it opening night, and while not as hilarious as it could have been, I had a good time.  I felt they could have done a lot more with some of the storylines, and some of the jokes fell flat, but overall, I “lol’d” a lot.

With all the rainy days, I found myself watching a lot of telly.  Since the Charlie St. Cloud trailer came out, I renewed my slightly statutory crush on Zac Efron, which means I rewatched Hairspray, and High School Musical…1…2…and 3.  Please. Shoot. Me. Now.

Netflix also roped me in with Watch Instant episodes of Roswell.  You know, Twilight, but with aliens instead of vampires.  I envisioned that entire cast when reading Twilight

They would have been much better than chain-smoking, throw-up-the-bird K-Stew, and the ever awkward RPatz, but, whatev.

Kristen Stewart

So, this leads to setting some new goals, or continuations of other ones.

Take vitamin every day
Take herbal supplement 3x/day
Eat dinner in 4x/week
Be in bed (and asleep) by 11:00 on weekdays
Walk to or from work 4x/week
Go for at least a 20min. walk outside 1x/week
Stretch and do “mini-workout” every day
Mail a card to a friend via snail-mail
Organize my clothes closet
Make 3 more cards for Fall craft fair (gotta start early…)
Try one new recipe
Read 2 books out of the “To Be Read” pile accumulating on my coffee table

I really must get these goals done this month—I have to get bikini ready for Aruba!

And fear not you faithful blog readers, you.  I have not lost interest in spewing my incessant ramblings—I’ve simply had a laptop crash.  You would think that dating the 2nd coming of Bill Gates would leave me with a massive amount of technology, but alas, I am computerless–and pictureless.  So once I recover all of that, I can post all of my wonderful ramblings of the past few weeks.  Happy Reading ahead, no?