Bottoms Up: Cocktails with Good-For-You Ingredients

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I wanted to make a fun and not-so-naughty holiday cocktail and went with a twist on a margarita for our Christmas party. A hibiscus margarita is one of my favorites and I usually make them with hibiscus tea sweetened with honey, lime juice and tequila, with a dash of orange bitters. For the holiday version, I simmered the hibiscus tea in a pot with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. (Yes, the house smelled great!) I transferred the cooled tea to a pitcher, adding lime juice, frozen cherries, and bitters. A vintage pitcher and glasses found at local thrift and antique shops made it even more festive. Later, for a Christmas brunch, I added the spiced hibiscus tea to prosecco.

More on better-for-you cocktails: My story for Purist magazine, with drinks made in LA, NY and Aspen.

The Best Lip Balms: Honey-Based Goodness

 

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I love using kitchen ingredients as personal care and beauty products—corn starch as dry shampoo, diluted apple cider vinegar as a facial toner or hair conditioner, coconut oil as a moisturizer or makeup remover, coffee combined with honey for a face scrub. In the kitchen, I use honey as a healthier alternative to sugar; in the bathroom, I use the coffee and honey scrub every week or two and regularly wash my face with it—just honey and warm water for a gentle cleansing.  As it’s antimicrobial, I also apply it to minor burns and cuts.

I stock up on honey from the local farmers’ market and favor it raw and unprocessed. Recently I tried a couple of lip balms offered by two honey vendors and—bingo!—they’re the best. Each is beeswax-based with healthy oils and honey and they’re super-moisturizing. Because I like a bit of color on my lips, I took some of the balm from the one in the pot and blended it with two of my favorite lip colors—Illusive lip2cheek by RMS Beauty and Strawberry Lipstick by Logona—for my own DIY tinted lip balms.

DIY Natural Bug Repellent Spray

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My love for the great outdoors is deep and eternal, but the threat of bug bites is a constant and nagging concern. I’ve tried a lot of the DEET-free insect repellents on the market and found many to be effective, including non-toxic and better-for-you bug sprays made by Badger and All Terrain. Most natural insect repellents use essential oils I already have, so I started experimenting with making my own by consulting different DIY homemade recipes found online—often bending over bottles in my kitchen laboratory while repeating “I’ll get those mosquitoes!” My preferred bug repellent spray is made with apple cider vinegar diluted with distilled water, a combination of essential oils, and vanilla extract. For each cup of the diluted apple cider vinegar, add approximately 50 drops of essential oils and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

DIY Bug Repellent Spray with Apple Cider Vinegar, Vanilla and Essential Oils

Fill a bottle with:

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup distilled water

15 drops citronella essential oil

15 drops peppermint essential oil

5 drops lavender essential oil

5 drops rosemary essential oil

5 drops rose geranium essential oil

5 drop grapefruit essential oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Tip: In addition to putting this natural bug repellent in a spray bottle, fill a travel-size perfume spray bottle to pack in your bag when you expect to be outdoors (especially during the evening, when mosquitoes like to feast).

Drink Up: Daily Tonics and Teas for Good Health

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Two recent conversations inspired this post: hearing about a family member who suffered from dehydration after a long day in the sun without adequate fluids, and a friend who has been bothered by a recurring cold since she started working in a new office. To both I say, “Drink up!” In addition to eating clean, staying hydrated is essential in the maintenance of good health. Below are a few good-for-you drinks I consume daily.

Hot Water with Lemon Juice
I love starting my day with this lemon juice tonic. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a glass or mug and fill with just-boiled, filtered water that has cooled for a few minutes. I remember my grandmother drinking hot lemon water (she would also squeeze a lemon slice right into her mouth without making a face!). It naturally provides a fresh-from-the-fruit dose of vitamin C and is said to kick-start the system, detoxify, and provide balance.

Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
Stir one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water—cold or warm—for a boost of detoxifying vitamins, enzymes, and minerals. Be sure that the apple cider vinegar is organic and unrefined (I like Bragg’s) and shake the bottle before use. Optional: stir in honey and sprinkle in some cinnamon (the cinnamon never fully dissolves but adds some flavor and provides another antioxidant boost). I like to have this tonic mid-afternoon, right around the time my energy starts to wane. Instead of reaching for something sugary, I’ll drink this to feel revived.

Flavored Water
Sometimes I add cut fruit (fresh or frozen), sometimes cucumber slices, sometimes fresh mint or lemon verbena. It’s so easy and good—just drop into a pitcher or container of water and refrigerate. Also consider adding something to your reusable water bottle when you’re on-the-go and add frozen fruit to your water bottle instead of ice cubes on hot days. I also like adding a splash of chilled hibiscus or chamomile tea (see below).

Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is an infusion easily made with dried hibiscus petals and hot water. I love the tart flavor and drink it straight-up, combined with green tea, or chilled and sweetened (agua de fresca). It contains vitamin C and minerals and studies suggest it could help lower blood pressure and ease digestive woes. To easily enjoy it all week long, I make a batch and keep it chilled in the refrigerator. It’s also good for topping off a hot cup of tea or adding a boost of flavor to water or regular iced tea.

Green Tea
Green tea, long known to be an antioxidant, is my go-to for an afternoon cup of tea. When it’s cool out or I’m working in an air-conditioned office, I reuse the tea bag and refill my mug with hot water all afternoon—this keeps me warm and limits my caffeine intake. Extra boosts to add: hibiscus tea or a few dried hibiscus petals; lemon juice or a lemon slice; grated ginger. Or, stir with a cinnamon stick.

Chamomile Tea with Apple Cider Vinegar
Here’s my bedtime drink: half a cup of chilled camomile tea with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Chamomile is known for its calming effect and I heard that consuming apple cider vinegar helps ensure restful sleep, so I’ve combined them. I make several cups of chamomile tea in advance and keep it chilled in the refrigerator.

13 Tips for Staying Healthy at the Office—Physically and Mentally

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When a friend recently changed careers and started working in an office for the first time, she asked me if I had any tips on staying healthy at work. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked at a desk in an office and the experiences have taught me a lot, including ways to stay healthy—and sane. Here are several habits I’ve developed to help maintain my health in the workplace.

Get up and move.
If you’re working in an office, you’re probably planted on your butt for most of the day. Studies point to the health hazards of sitting for long periods, so it’s up to us to get up and move more.

Start with simple from-here-to-there stretches. Every time you get up to use the restroom or cross the office to attend a meeting, take the opportunity to stretch. Reach up, reach out, reach back, reach down for your toes. If you spend a lot of time typing, you will also benefit from stretches designed to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

To cut down on your sitting time, consider getting a standing desk, or creating your own by elevating a laptop on a pile of books. I like to alternate between standing and sitting on a yoga ball instead of a chair—it keeps me from slouching and also feels good to bounce a little while working.

Finally, rally your coworkers into scheduling time for daily movement. At a few different offices, I’ve led or participated in five-minute movement breaks with other coworkers. We’ve done everything from standing yoga poses to basic calisthenics. Also fun, if your office isn’t too conservative: occasional dance breaks.

Look around.
Staring at your computer all day can cause eye strain. Years ago, an eye doctor advised me to get up and walk to a window every hour, to look out into the distance and give my eyes a break from staring so closely at a computer screen. When you’re not able to get up, you can still take eye breaks by looking around and adjusting your focus.

Drink up.
There are numerous benefits of staying hydrated, from keeping your mind clear to maintaining gut health. Throughout the day, drink water and other good-for-you beverages such as herbal teas. In offices that are too cool from the air conditioner, I will make a cup of green tea and continually refill it with hot water to stay warm and also hydrated. Drinking a lot also necessitates trips to the bathroom, so you’ll get up and move more.

Keep your hands clean.
I accepted looking like a crazy germaphobe at work after witnessing too many people leave the bathroom without washing their hands. Nasty, I know. And then there are the ones who wipe their runny noses with their hands when they’re sick. So go ahead, use a paper towel to open the bathroom door on the way out. If your office has a hand dryer instead of paper towels, use a square of toilet paper. Also, if you’re going to use a hand sanitizer at work, choose non-toxic ones made with essential oils. I like EO and Clean Well products.

Keep your workspace and possessions clean.
Do you bring your smartphone with you to meetings or—gasp!—the bathroom? Do you throw your bag down on the floor? Don’t. Find room on your desk or a file cabinet for your bag. If you need the phone with you for meetings, be sure to clean its surface often.

You should also make an effort to keep your desk clean of dust and germs. Instead of chemical-laden cleaning products, fill a spray bottle with equal parts distilled water and vinegar (optional: add drops of lavender or tea tree oil) to maintain clean surfaces.

Take a proper lunch break.
Don’t think lunch, think lunch break. That means eating while you’re seated at your desk doesn’t count. Step away from the desk—and no one one will get hurt. (You know the emails will be there when you get back.) Getting away from your desk for a midday break can be energizing and replenishing, which is good for you and can also benefit your work. If you’re not able to take a full hour, at least make sure you eat away from your computer.

Think twice about using the fridge.
I have yet to encounter an office refrigerator that didn’t have at least one moldy container lurking in the back. I’ll bet that lunch you packed from home can safely remain bagged and unrefrigerated for the two or three hours until lunchtime. If you choose to use the fridge, be sure to wash your hands before and after you eat. (And don’t be the one who leaves that container in the back to get moldy.)

Snack wisely.
Eat a sugary snack and you’ll inevitably face the dreaded sugar crash. Keep fresh fruit and raw nuts at your desk and you’ll keep up your energy between meals. I also like to keep a stash of dark chocolate bars on hand for an afternoon treat—and to share with grateful coworkers. (Note: while healthy snacks are best for every day, going back for a second cupcake at a birthday party isn’t going to kill you…)

Get outside the office.
If you don’t go outside for lunch, plan for a short afternoon outing. Right at that point during the afternoon when you feel your energy dip and check the time to see there are two or three more hours until you get to go home—that’s the perfect time to get up and get out. Walk around the block, look up at the sky, breathe the open air.

Breathe through the stress.
The meeting that won’t end. The co-worker complaining about how the barista messed up her latte order. The manager who asks you at 5:30 p.m. to deliver a spreadsheet before the next day’s 9 a.m. team meeting. Arrggh! When you feel yourself getting frustrated, angry, or annoyed, pull back and breathe. Easier said than done? Not when you’re calculated about it—by actually counting. When stressed, you can calm yourself by inhaling slowly to the count of ten, then exhaling at the same slow pace. Repeat as needed. Is there a quiet office or conference room you can use for five minutes? Consider taking a meditation break. (You don’t have to wait for stress to get to you, either. If you find yourself with downtime, give yourself the gift of breathing time.)

Tune it out.
Are coworkers having a lively discussion about a reality show at the cubicle to your right while a conference call is on speaker phone at the cubicle to your left? There are frequent distractions and disruptions in any office and you might find yourself unable to focus. Google “online sound machine” and you’ll find sites that offer white noise options for you to plug in your earphones and tune it out. Sounds of the ocean usually works for me.

Decorate your desk area.
It may sound insignificant, but surrounding yourself with photos, art, and amusing tchotchkes is good for your state of mind. You may be spending more waking hours in your office than in your home, so it’s in your best interest to make your workspace feel welcoming and it’s easy to do by surrounding yourself with images that give you a boost. (A photo of your last vacation will be the perfect visual for when you’re having a bad moment.) Is there a quote that moves you? Print it and tape it to your computer monitor or another place you can easily glance at for inspiration.

Give yourself a break.
We can all use time to pull back from work for a few minutes. When that time comes, visit your favorite escapist blog, check your social media accounts, read the long-form article that has nothing to do with work, watch the latest viral video, listen to music, call a friend, or play an online game. Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Soup Recipe: Roasted Asparagus and Pine Nuts

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I make soups with roasted vegetables often — just a roasted vegetable blended with vegetable stock — but I also like the idea of adding one extra ingredient to give it some zing. Here, I added pignoli nuts (pine nuts) to asparagus.

Ingredients:
1 bunch of asparagus
3 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Toss asparagus with olive oil and salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet with the pine nuts.

Roast until the asparagus stalks are softened and pine nuts are lightly browned, approximately 20 minutes.

In a blender, combine with the stock and purée til combined and smooth. (Add more or less stock if desired.)

Good served alone or with a bit of parm cheese.

Yum.