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.

Good-for-You Granola Recipe

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This is a sugar-free version of granola that’s easy to make and delicious. I use a combo of walnuts and almonds and mix it up with the dried fruit (blueberries and apricots are favorites).

2 cups oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
3 tbsp. coconut oil
2 tbsp. fresh orange or tangerine juice
1 tbsp. flax seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. zest from orange or tangerine
1/4 cup dried fruit

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Melt coconut oil on low heat and add vanilla before tossing with the dry ingredients. Spread on baking pan and cook, stirring every 10 minutes until it’s golden brown (about 40-50 minutes). Cool and toss with dried fruit of choice. Yum.

2013 Green Beauty Picks

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I’ve loved makeup since my days of playing dress-up as a kid. The big difference now is that my grown-up choices are more responsible—less toxic, but just as fun. After two friends recently asked about items to buy that are better for you—green, eco, clean, less toxic—and another complimented me on my lip color, I put together some notes on my current favorites. It’s my “what’s in my makeup bag” edition for 2013—with selections by brands taking steps to make products that are safer and less damaging to you and the environment. (Find out more from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. Also check out The Green Beauty Team for more recommendations from colleagues.) 

FOR EVERYDAY:

RMS Beauty – Lip2Cheek

I wear Illusive on cheeks and also patted on lips. It’s a brownish pink with some plum to it that adds a hint of color when it’s dabbed on—with a bit more, you have a bold but neutral lip. 

RMS Beauty – Lip Shine

Sublime is a bright bubble gum pink that provides a light pink pop when very gently patted on lips. (I blend it with Lip2Cheek in Illusive for a plummy pink.)

Yes to Carrots – Lip Color Balms

I like that it’s moisturizing and has barely-there color without any shimmer.

RMS Beauty – Living Luminzer

Magic in a jar. This is creamy and provides a glow that really does look like it’s coming from your skin. 

Jane Iredale – PurePressed Base Mineral Foundation

For full coverage on my face, I apply this just after moisturizing. Bonus: It’s SPF 20.

RMS Beauty – Un Cover-up

When I don’t wear makeup all over, this is great to pat on sunspots, any red areas, and around the nose.

Alima Pure – Bronzer

Just a brush on the cheekbones and down the nose and you get a faux sun-kissed look.

Vapour Beauty – Illusionist Concealer

Dab it on lightly and it does wonders to conceal dark under-eye circles.

Physician’s Formula Organic Wear – FakeOut Mascara

From the only brand I’ll buy in a drug store, this mascara adds serious length and thickness to lashes.

Vapour Beauty – Mesmerize Eyeliner

It’s easy to apply, has solid staying power, and wakes up my eyes with a clear line across lids or simply dotted on at the lash line.

FOR GOING OUT AND AND GETTING GLAM:

Vapour Beauty – Aura Multi-Use Blush

Spark gives my cheeks a great where-have-you-been? pink flush.

Alima Pure – Satin Matte Eyeliner

When going for drama, I use a wet brush to apply this power eyeliner.

Alima Pure – Luminous Shimmer Eye Shadow

 I like Meringue for a dreamy light eye or Smoke for a sultry look.

Jane Iredale – 24-Karat Gold Dust

This comes out for special occasions—brushed on cheekbones and neck/cheeks/shoulders.

Primitive Natural Makeup – Lip Gloss

Creamy and shiny—and not sticky. I wear Rio alone for a soft red or apply it over red lipstick.

Primitive Natural Makeup – Lipstick

My red of choice is Belize, which has  a touch of berry and feels bold but not severe.

DIY Face Scrub: Another Kind of Coffee Pick-Me-Up

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I like to reuse and repurpose as much as possible, which makes this DIY coffee and honey facial even better. I simply take used coffee grounds and add honey, then gently pat the sticky mixture on my face and let it sit for about five minutes. Over the kitchen sink, I then gently massage with two fingers using a circular motion on my cheeks, chin, and forehead, avoiding the delicate eye area. When washed off, skin is soft and glowy.

Roasted Cauliflower, Sunchoke and Garlic Soup

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Such an easy and delicious soup to make.

Cauliflower
Sunchokes
Garlic
Olive oil
Vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Chop a whole cauliflower head and spread florets on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. Add several cloves of garlic and chopped sunchokes. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until cauliflower is soft. In blender, purée with vegetable stock. Heat and eat. Yum.

Sunshine on Tap: Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

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Originally published on The Green Beauty Team website

The most surprising prescription I’ve been given by a doctor wasn’t something I could pick up at my local pharmacy. Instead, she told me to get out in the sun more—and to go easy on the sunscreen. The advice from my doctor came when a blood test revealed I had a vitamin D deficiency. As someone who has been a devoted sunscreen user for years, this sounded as nonsensical as being told to take up smoking or eat more deep-fried foods.

It has long been established that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) increases your risk of skin cancer and causes signs of premature aging. I wear a moisturizer with an SPF of 15-30 every day to prevent skin cancer, sun spots and wrinkles. (Health is a top priority, but vanity is another great motivator.)

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in some, but not many, foods. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IUs (international units) of vitamin D for adults 19-70. The trouble with getting D from your diet is that it’s found in limited quantities. For some perspective on amounts of vitamin D in foods, one cup of fortified milk has 115-124 IUs and 3 oz. of salmon has 447 IUs. The best food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Egg yolks, cheese and mushrooms also contain small amounts, and some milk, cereals, cheeses and yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from supplements.

Alternately—and this is where my doctor’s advice comes in—your body can naturally synthesize vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, without sunscreen or windows to block the rays. According to the Natural Institute of Health, most people get enough D from regular sun exposure.

WHY YOU NEED PLENTY OF D
Those of us who wear sunscreen regularly are at risk for a vitamin D deficiency, but it’s important to take steps to maintain the recommended levels, as the role of vitamin D is not to be dismissed.

Let’s begin with bones. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is essential to maintaining bone health. If your body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, it cannot absorb calcium and you can develop osteomalacia, a condition which causes bone pain and muscle weakness. A calcium deficiency also puts you at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones. Each of us naturally loses bone mass as we age, which is why it’s critical that we get enough vitamin D and calcium.

Vitamin D has other vital roles in maintaining overall health: it helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses, and works to make sure muscles and nerves function properly. Though not yet conclusive, recent studies have also been conducted on vitamin D’s role in preventing cancer and other diseases and conditions.

GETTING BACK THE D
Just as my doctor prescribed, I am now trying to spend 10-20 minutes of unfiltered sunlight several days a week—not long enough to get burned, but long enough for the body to produce vitamin D. (Lucky for me, living in Southern California makes this possible year-round.) Of course, those especially at risk for skin cancer need to take greater care in protecting themselves and no doctor will carelessly recommend that people get too much sun exposure. I’m also taking a daily vitamin D supplement and taking care to add more fatty fish to my diet.

You never have to twist my arm to go out for sushi. These days I’m also making my tried-and-true favorite of tuna and capers with pasta weekly (penne with fresh or canned tuna, a handful of capers, tossed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil). Plus I’ve added these vitamin D-packed recipes below to my repertoire.

Sicilian Style Pasta with Sardines
Salmon with Herbed Mustard Sauce
Baked Salmon in Foil
Roasted Mackerel with Avocado Salad

Raid Your Kitchen for DIY Hair Care

Originally published (slightly edited version) on the Green Beauty Team website

Many of the same all-natural and good-for-you ingredients in your fridge and pantry are also healthy and effective applications for your hair. When tending to your tresses, here are some DIY hair care products you can make with common ingredients from your kitchen. Good enough to eat? You bet: Ingredients listed in the concoctions below are edible.

Heavy-Duty Conditioner: When you know you’ll be hanging around the house for an hour or two, try a homemade conditioning treatment using coconut oil or olive oil as a conditioner. Simply fill your palms with oil and apply to dry hair, section by section. Pull back into a ponytail or braid and let soak. If you feel the need to cover your hair, try a hot towel or a reusable shower cap, but try to avoid wasteful plastic wrap. If coconut oil is your elixir of choice, you can leave it in when you’re going out. I simply slick my hair back into a low, sleek and slick ponytail. Regardless of which oil you use, you’ll want to shampoo well to rinse out the oil. Be sure to use a gentle shampoo free of astringent ingredients, so you don’t unwittingly dry out your hair all over again.
Quick Conditioner: If you’re short on time, but desperately need a moisture boost, apply a small amount of olive oil on a comb to wet or dry hair and leave it in. Another quick conditioning pick-up: “Tip one back” in the shower and try the age-old trick of rinsing beer through just-shampooed hair.
Conditioning Hair Mask: Avocados, mayonnaise, and eggs are well-known conditioners. Mash up a mixture of any combination of these emollient ingredients and massage into dry hair for 30 minutes, then wash out. It’s messy, but you can contain it all with a towel or shower cap.
Beach Hair Spray: For DIY beach hair spray, blend distilled water, coconut oil, and sea salt in a spray bottle. Feel free to eyeball the proportions.  I use a ½ cup of water, 1 teaspoon coconut oil, and 1-2 tablespoons of sea salt. Shake well before spraying to dry or wet hair. Then, scrunch and twirl away for more body. (I boil Brita-filtered water to make my own distilled water.)
Sexy Bed-Head Hair: The trouble with the bed-head look is that no one really wants to show off greasy roots. The best way around this is to apply coconut oil to the middle and ends of your hair, staying away from the scalp. To get this look with squeaky clean hair, apply a small amount of coconut oil, twist and scrunch hair until messed up to your liking.
Greasy Roots Controller: We’ve all had those days between shampooing when our hair maintains good form but our roots look a little too oily. So many of the dry shampoos on supermarket shelves contain artificial and toxic ingredients worth avoiding, even if the idea is a good one. Try making your own dry shampoo to use on greasy roots with corn starch, which soaks up the oil. That’s right — just corn starch. Apply with fingertips to your scalp and rub or comb through until the powder disappears.
Flyaway Controller: Rub palms with the barest amount of coconut or olive oil, and gently smooth those out-of-control hairs into submission.
Dry Ends Controller: Apply a small amount of coconut oil or olive oil to the ends of dried-out hair, wet or dry.
Lifeless Hair and Dandruff: To remove product build-up or treat a flaky scalp, rinse hair with apple cider vinegar. To breathe life into your tresses, apply to hair only. To control flaking, start at the scalp working your way through to the ends. (Don’t worry — the vinegar smell doesn’t linger.)

Safe Fake Bake

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I came back from a week’s vacation that included a lot of quality beach time. Like I always do, I lathered up with sunscreen and wore hats to keep my face protected. But when a coworker commented on my tan, I delighted in telling her it was “faux.” My sunny complexion comes from using Alima Pure’s bronzer in Maracaibo, with a touch of Vapour Beauty’s Aura Multi-Use Blush in Spark on the apples of my cheeks. Easy, non-toxic, and “naturally” glowy.

Recipe: Peach Cucumber Summer Salsa

Peaches are in season and I wanted to make a summery salsa for taco night with friends. This is loosely based on a Bon Appetit recipe I found on Epicirious, but I skipped a few ingredients and added a few more to my own liking. We served this with tortilla chips and also used it to top Mr. MVP’s grilled shrimp tacos. Note on peaches: they’re on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce with pesticides, so it’s always best to choose organic.

Peach and Cucumber Summer Salsa

1 white peach

1 yellow peach

1 hothouse cucumber

2 limes

1/2 red onion

Sea salt

Fresh black pepper

Dice peaches and cucumber (skins on both) and place in bowl. Finely chop 1/2 red onion and add to bowl. Add zest of 1 lime and juice from both limes. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill before serving. Enjoy.

Wine note: Mr. MVP poured us Moscadello from Capanna, a rare white Italian wine with the perfect amount of sweetness.

 

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Dark chocolate hazelnut spread inside a tortilla.

I have always liked Nutella, but I’m not a fan of milk chocolate and wish it were more dark and bittersweet. While I like Nutella, I know I’d love dark chocolate Nutella. So I set out to make a darker version myself. And after reading the amusing news reports of the woman who sued the company because commercials for Nutella implied that it was a healthy breakfast food for her kids, I wondered if I could make a version that is a bit healthier. I wanted to make my dark chocolate hazelnut spread without adding sugar or oil, but I didn’t have much luck finding a recipe online that looked right for me. So here’s my concoction, made simply with nuts, honey, unsweetened cocoa powder, almond milk, vanilla, and salt.

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

1 cup raw, unsalted hazelnuts

2 1/2 tsp. raw honey

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/8 tsp. salt

Roast hazelnuts on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes (check after 5 minutes and shake them on the sheet for even roasting).

Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle, then remove skin from the nuts with your fingers (or shake the nuts in a covered bowl).

In a food processor, puree the hazelnuts until shiny and smooth, resembling the texture of natural peanut butter.

Add the cocoa powder, salt, honey, and 1/4 cup of the almond milk and puree until smooth. If it needs more moisture, use the remaining almond milk.

Enjoy.

Note: I brought a batch to a dinner party at the home of friends and we spread it on croissants for dessert. They told me they aren’t the biggest fans of Nutella, but they loved this spread.

Almond Milk Hot Chocolate

For a friend’s barbecue on a cool Los Angeles evening, I brought ingredients for almond milk hot chocolate for us to sip by the fire pit. I make my chocolate milk with dark chocolate, cocoa powder, and almond milk. Preparing it couldn’t be easier: I add pieces of a chocolate bar (70%), unsweetened cocoa powder, and a dash of salt to unsweetened almond milk in a saucepan, then stir occasionally with a whisk on medium heat until blended and hot (but not boiling). Measurements? I usually make one or two cups at a time and use 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder and a few pieces of chocolate. Honey, agave nectar, or sugar can be added for sweetness. Our friends Kristine and Dan had marshmallows for toasting by the fire and a few of us added one (or two) to our hot chocolate milk mugs. Yum.

Q&A: Perfumer Mandy Aftel

Excerpt of my interview with Mandy Aftel, originally published on Greenopia.com

Perfumer Mandy Aftel’s love of natural essences drives her business. While most commercial perfumes are made using synthetic scents, her Berkeley-based Aftelier Perfumes is focused on making artisan natural perfumes. She’s also written books on the subject, including Essence & Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume and Aroma: Cooking with Essential Oils (co-authored with Coi chef Daniel Patterson).

Best part of your job?
I love smelling new natural materials and creating with them. I love all the different ways they smell—it’s amazing. For instance, I love the difference between Moroccan, Indian, and Egyptian roses. So, I would say the best part is creating and using those materials.

Is there a particular environmental non-profit you support?
Alice Water’s Edible School Yard.

What’s your favorite vacation destination?
I love to go to cities with great art and where great literature has been written, like London and Paris.

What’s your favorite weekend outdoor activity?
Gardening. I have a wonderful garden. I grow the stuff I don’t have the essences for. I love lilies and I grow a lot of roses.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
I’d be a fir tree because I like the way it smells. It’s kinda jammy, like strawberry jam in the forest.

Describe your path to green. How and when you became eco-conscious.
I would have to say my passion for natural essences is behind it. You cannot help but be in awe of nature when it makes such incredible smells. Barks of trees and flowers—this rainbow of smells is so extraordinary. It’s hard to not be in awe of nature and to want to preserve it.