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.

Memories of Parks and Beaches: Celebrating the Wilderness Act

When I recall some of my treasured childhood memories, I picture myself either surrounded by trees and mountains or sand dunes and an ocean that stretches out as far as you can see. Parks and beaches were the best playgrounds and I was lucky to have them so close, as well as parents who exposed us to the great wonders of nature and taught us to appreciate and respect the wilderness.

It was a childhood packed with outdoor adventures. When I go back as far as I can remember, I’m at a park near our house feeding ducks and walking through the woods to climb a tree we named Irving. Our family’s summer vacations were camping trips to state and national parks, where we played in lakes, rivers, and oceans and hiked the Appalachian Trail. The rest of our summer days were enjoyed close to home at the beach, splashing in the white water then learning to jump waves and swim out past the breakers.

We went to the beach even during the colder months to walk the boardwalk nature trail. I didn’t know then that the area—the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness—was protected as part of the Wilderness Act, which was passed 50 years ago today. It was right down the road and also housed a nature center where park rangers would answer questions about the displays on the barrier island ecosystem. What a gift.

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.