Small Footprint Family sustainability starts at home Fri, 27 Mar 2015 20:54:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 8 Hidden Sources of Toxins in Your Home Thu, 26 Feb 2015 04:47:33 +0000 indoor-air-pollutionUnlike secondhand smoke, radon gas and molds which are airborne toxins we cannot readily control, most indoor air pollution comes from products we willingly bring into our home.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air we breathe inside our homes and offices can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside. This is because contained areas enable pollutants to build up more than open spaces do.

But unlike secondhand smoke, radon gas and molds which are airborne toxins we cannot readily control, most indoor air pollution comes from products we willingly bring into our home.

Here are eight sources of indoor air pollution that might surprise you.

1. Candles

As lovely as they can be, most candles will pollute your home with harmful gases and sediments. It doesn’t matter whether the candle is made from paraffin, vegetable oil, soy or beeswax. While burning, all candles release some soot carbon particles that become airborne and can lead to respiratory problems.

Paraffin candles are the worst. Paraffin is a byproduct of petroleum, coal or shale that has been whitened using bleach that infuses it with dioxins—one of the most toxic substances ever produced. Another chemical, acrolein, is linked to the risk of lung cancer from cigarette smoke, and is added to the wax as a solidifying agent.

Studies have shown that burning paraffin candles also releases large amounts of benzene and toluene—both known carcinogens—into the air. Most candles that you can buy at major retailers are made of paraffin.

Other toxins in candles include artificial dyes and synthetic fragrances, especially those used for aromatherapy. These ingredients often contain toxic plasticizers and solvents that are released when you burn the candle.

A safer choice is to buy candles made of beeswax or vegetable oils, and with natural dyes and perfumes. (These are my favorite candles.)

2. Air Fresheners

Most store-bought air fresheners emit toxic pollutants at levels that may lead to health risks. Many clean-air advocates compare their toxicity to that of secondhand smoke.

According to scientists at U.C. Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, many top-selling fresheners contain significant amounts of ethylene-based glycol ethers, which are known to cause neurological and blood effects, including fatigue, nausea, tremor, and anemia. These ethers are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the EPA and California Air Resources Board.

Many air fresheners also contain phthalates, which are proven endocrine disruptors. These can be specifically harmful to infants and children whose endocrine systems have not yet fully developed. Phthalates effect the developing male sex organs and are linked to abnormally developed male genitalia, poor semen quality and low testosterone levels.

A safer choice for purifying the air would be to keep houseplants. If you prefer fragrance, you safest bet is to diffuse essential oils. (Here are my favorite oil diffusers and my favorite essential oils.)

3. Dryer Sheets

Many people like the smell of warm laundry just pulled from the dryer. But have you ever wondered what makes those dryer sheets work?

When you touch dryer sheets, they feel waxy. That waxy surfactant is made of a mixture of quaternary ammonium salt (which is linked to asthma), silicon oil, or stearic acid (derived from animal fat) which melts in the heat of the dryer to coat your clothes. Basically, your fabrics aren’t really softer—they’re just coated in a fatty film to make you think they are.

Dryer sheets also contain fragrances which contain toxins that get into the air when released from dryer vent emissions.

Findings in a 2011 study show that air vented from machines using the top-selling scented laundry detergents and dryer sheets contains more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants. Of those, two chemicals—acetaldehyde and benzene—are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as known carcinogens, for which the agency has established no safe exposure level. 

Your best bet is to not use any dryer sheets. But if you really need something to help fluff your clothes, use a set of dryer balls or a less toxic dryer sheet that contains no fragrances or masking agents. (Here are some safe alternatives to dryer sheets.)

4. Cleaning Products

Many conventional household cleaning products contain harmful chemicals like alcohol, chlorine, ammonia or petroleum-based solvents, all which can have negative effects on your health, irritate your eyes or throat, or cause headaches.

Some cleaning products release dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can contribute to chronic respiratory problems and aggravate allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Products containing VOCs include most aerosol sprays, chlorine bleach, rug and upholstery cleaners, furniture and floor polish, and oven cleaners.

Chlorine bleach is particularly dangerous. Mixing bleach with any acidic cleaner like ammonia or vinegar can create chlorine gas (the same gas used in chemical warfare) which can cause immediate health problems, even death, when inhaled.

Even “green” or “organic” cleaning products may contain ingredients that can cause health problems. Natural citrus fragrances in particular can produce dangerous indoor pollutants.

The safest bet is to use less toxic, less expensive cleaners such as hydrogen peroxide (for sanitizing, stain removal and bleaching), tea tree oil or Thieve’s oil and water (for mold removal and as a disinfectant), baking soda, and white vinegar (for cleaning glass, counters and tile). Here is my most favorite recipe book for DIY cleaning products.

If DIY just isn’t your thing, or you would prefer to buy something ready-made that works just as well as (or better than) conventional cleaning products, but is safe enough to eat, I wholeheartedly recommend Branch Basics for everything from laundry to windows.

5. Carpet

That famous “new carpet smell” is actually the off-gassing of hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including toluene, benzene, ethyl benzene, formaldehyde, bromine, styrene, and acetone. Yikes!

Regular exposure to these chemicals is known to cause headaches, throat and eye irritation, allergies, confusion, and drowsiness. Synthetic carpets made from nylon and olefin fibers typically off-gas the most.

Ongoing exposure to these toxins can create long-term health problems, including learning and memory impairment, birth defects, decreased fertility, and diseases of the liver, thyroid, ovaries, kidneys, and blood.

Benzene is a well-known human carcinogen and formaldehyde is probable human carcinogen. Some new carpets also contain the moth-proofing chemical naphthalene, which is known to produce toxic reactions, especially in newborns. Some carpets also contain p-Dichlorobenzene, a carcinogen also known to produce fetal abnormalities when tested on animals.

While older carpets no longer off-gas toxins, dust mites (and their droppings) begin will infiltrate your carpet over time. The droppings can cause severe allergic reactions in many people, and scientists are just beginning to correlate dust mite exposure to asthma.

We also add toxins into our carpets when we track in contaminated dirt, heavy metals and pesticides from outside on our shoes. Almost any toxic substance we use near or within the home can settle into carpet fibers and later spread into the air.

A quality HEPA vacuum cleaner can help remove many of the particle-based toxins from your carpet without throwing them into the air where they can be inhaled. You can also buy carpeting certified “Green Label Plus” by the Carpet and Rug Institute, which rates carpeting for low emission of VOCs.

Also consider removing your shoes and leaving them by the door every time you come into the house. Not only will it reduce toxins in your home, but your floors will stay cleaner, too!

6. Kitchen Stove

A poorly ventilated kitchen can cause a huge amount of air pollution in your home. In fact, cooking smoke is the second leading cause of death in children worldwide.

Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide which is created when fuel is burned at high temperatures. Nitrogen dioxide mixes with the air to create nitric acid and toxic organic nitrates. These can irritate the lungs and lower resistance to respiratory infections such as influenza. According to the EPA, frequent exposure to high concentrations of nitrates may cause acute respiratory illnesses in children.

Always make sure your kitchen is well ventilated both during and after any type of cooking—not just if you burn something. Installing a high-quality ventilation fan or range hood can greatly improve air quality. If you don’t have a ventilation fan or range hood, as in some apartments, be sure to cook with nearby windows open.

7. Paint

Even if you haven’t painted in years, if you live in an older home, you may have walls coated in lead paint, which was banned in the late 1970s. Lead can be a powerful neurotoxin even decades after a room is painted, as the paint chips, peels and flakes off surfaces.

Many of these chips get pulverized to microscopic particles that become part of the interior dust you breathe. If you think you might have lead paint on your interior or exterior walls, contact a licensed paint contractor to help you find ways reducing your exposure.

New paint typically contains VOCs, and can off-gas for weeks, even months after a room is painted. Paint fumes can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, asthma exacerbation, fatigue, skin allergies, confusion, and memory impairment.

When buying paint, choose brands that are Low-VOC or Zero-VOC. These paints are just as good as standard interior and exterior paints, and as an added benefit, they tend to dry much more quickly, too.

8. Furniture

Chemical fire retardants are common in a wide variety of household items such as furniture, electronics, appliances and even baby products. These chemicals were mandated by a 1975 law called TB 117, but they have since been proven ineffective in preventing fires and are linked to numerous health and environmental problems.

In fact, these chemicals can make fires more toxic by forming deadly gases and soot—which are the real killers in most fires.

Fire retardants are most commonly found in furniture containing polyurethane foam, including couches and upholstered chairs, futons and carpet padding. They can also be found in children’s car seats, changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, nap mats and nursing pillows.

Some flame retardants include:

  • TDCPP (chlorinated Tris) – listed as a carcinogen by California in 2011
  • PentaBDE (pentabrominated diphenyl ether) – globally banned due to toxicity and environmental persistence
  • Firemaster 550 – associated with obesity and anxiety in one animal study

Tests done by the Environmental Working Group found much higher levels of both PBDEs and TDCIPP in young children than in their mothers—probably because children frequently put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths.

Fire retardants migrate out of products and contaminate house dust, which accumulates on the floor where children play and can also become airborne.

Women with higher levels of flame retardants in their blood take longer to get pregnant and have smaller babies. Children exposed in the womb have lower IQs and attention problems. Other studies have linked flame retardants to cancer, male infertility, male birth defects, and early puberty in girls. Recent studies in animals linked toxic flame retardants to autism and obesity.

So what can you do?

Fire retardants are nearly impossible to avoid completely, but if you take these precautions, you can minimize your exposure:

  • Vacuum carpets with a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter.
  • Damp mop floors and damp dust furniture on a regular basis.
  • Find out before you buy baby products such as crib mattresses and car seats, and choose products that don’t contain any fire retardants.
  • If you’re buying a new couch, choose one made without fire retardants. Look for the TB 117-2013 label and verify with the store that the product does not contain flame retardants.
  • Use this survey of major furniture stores as a guide to look for flame retardant-free products.
  • If you’re planning to reupholster your couch, replace the old foam too because it likely contains fire retardants. Ask your upholstery shop to find retardant-free foam.
  • Inspect foam cushioning for damage. Make sure cushion covers are intact since exposed foam can allow fire retardant chemicals to escape more quickly. Items such as car seats and mattress pads should always be completely encased in protective fabric.
  • Don’t eat on your couch!
  • Vacuum and wipe down your car’s interior regularly.
  • Be careful removing old carpeting. The padding is typically made of scrap foam that contains fire retardants. Old carpet padding can break down by the time it’s exposed for replacement. Isolate the work area from the rest of your home.

Improving your indoor air quality involves making a few adjustments to how you run your home, shopping smarter and replacing certain items you use with less toxic versions. Doing so will make a big difference not only for the planet, but also for your family’s health and well-being.

And aren’t you worth it?

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10 Things You Should Not Put In Your Compost Pile Fri, 30 Jan 2015 00:48:39 +0000 compost-binsWhile technically you can compost anything that was once living, some things are better left out of the compost pile for the sake of a better compost and less hassle. Here are 10 of them...

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Composting is one of the most powerful things you can do for a sustainable planet—even if you don’t have a garden. We simply cannot continue to take nutrients from the soil to grow food, year after year, and not put them back in equal or greater measure, and expect the soil to continue to provide for us.

There are at least 100 things in your home that you can compost, which will greatly reduce the amount of trash you put out every week to go to the landfill. But even though technically you can compost anything that was once living, some things are better left out of the compost pile for the sake of better compost and less hassle. Here are 10 of them…

1. Dog and Cat Poop

Horse, cow, chicken and rabbit droppings are great additions to your compost pile. They will add nutrients and organic matter that will benefit your soil. However, it is not advisable to add the poop from dogs and cats (and other carnivores) to your compost. Their waste often contains microorganisms and parasites that you do not want to introduce to the crops you will be eating.

If you do want to make use of your dog and cat poop, you must process them separately from your regular compost pile (there are special composters just for pet waste), and only use the resulting compost on non-food crops.

2. Tea and Coffee Bags

Coffee grounds and tea leaves definitely belong in a compost pile. They provide generous amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, which are two elements essential to plants. However, coffee grounds and tea leaves should only be added to compost if they are bag-less, or have been removed from their bags.

The bags that some coffee and tea products come in contain synthetic fibers that do not break down in a compost pile, and can contain chemicals you don’t want in your soil.

Don’t compost tea or coffee bags unless you are certain they are made from natural materials, like cotton or hemp.

3. Citrus Peels and Onions

While fruit and vegetables scraps from the kitchen are fundamental ingredients in a home compost pile, there are two iffy exceptions: citrus peel and onions.

“What?!” you say? Unfortunately, the natural chemicals and acidity in citrus peels and onions can kill worms and other microorganisms, which can slow down the decomposition in your pile. Plus, unless you chop them into tiny bits, citrus peels take forever to break down, which will delay how soon you can use your compost.

If you only occasionally throw citrus peels and onion scraps into your compost bin, it’s no big deal, but if you vermicompost or have worm bins (which is an amazingly convenient and odor-free way to compost if you are in an apartment), then citrus peels, onions and garlic scraps are a no-no, because they will harm your worms.

(Personally, I usually put my onion scraps into the freezer to use when I make stock, and use citrus peels to make non-toxic DIY house cleaning sprays instead.)

4. Fish and Meat Scraps

While technically they will decompose just fine, you really don’t want to add fish and meat scraps to the compost pile. Fish and meat are organic and will add nutrients to your garden, but unfortunately their smell will act like a magnet for any rats, mice, foxes, raccoons, or cats in the neighborhood (or even coyotes and bears, depending on where you live), who will ransack the compost to eat them.

The stink of rotting meat and fish could also really annoy you and your neighbors, too!

5. Glossy or Coated Paper

Many paper products are potential compost fodder, especially soy-ink newspapers, old paper towels and tissues and even shredded cardboard. They are from trees, after all!

However, paper that has been treated with plastic-like coatings to make it bright, colorful and glossy, like magazines, won’t decompose properly, contains toxins, and is not appropriate for your compost pile.

6. Sticky Labels on Fruits and Vegetables

Those obnoxious sticky labels and price tags on fruit and vegetables are plastic-coated and do not biodegrade. (See Glossy Paper, above.) They are also easy to miss, which means they often end up trashing up compost piles.

Try to remove these stickers from fruit and veggie scraps before you put them in the compost pile.

7. Coal Fire Ash

The ash from coal fires or charcoal-briquet fires should not be added to your compost pile, as it contains so much sulfur as to make the soil excessively acidic, which will harm your plants. Also, many charcoal briquets are treated with chemicals you really don’t want in your compost, your garden or your food.

Wood fire ash from the fireplace can be added in moderation, but please put the coal and charcoal-briquet ash in the trash bin.

8. Sawdust From Treated Wood

While sawdust from untreated, natural woods can be a great addition to compost, if the wood has been treated with any kind of pressure treatment, varnish, stain or paint, you should never add the sawdust to your compost pile.

These toxic compounds won’t break down in the composting process and can get into the soil, negatively affecting microorganism activity and plant health. The sawdust from pressure treated wood alone contains arsenic and cadmium—two toxins you definitely don’t want in your garden or your food!

Sawdust from treated wood also takes a very long time to break down because it is protected from decay by the chemicals put on it, which will delay how soon you can use your compost on the garden.

9. Large Branches

Large branches take forever to break down and will greatly delay your ability to use your compost in the garden. It may be a little extra work to cut down or chip your branches for the compost pile, but the smaller the pieces you add to your compost, the faster they will break down.

Alternatively, you can start a branch pile at the back of your lot, where you simply pile branches and let them rot over the course of a couple of years. Branch piles also make great habitat for small creatures and snakes too, so be aware of your local fauna before you start one.

10. Synthetic Fertilizer

Synthetic fertilizers (like the blue Miracle stuff) introduce inorganic elements into the garden ecosystem. Like taking a generic multivitamin instead of eating real, whole food, the form in which these synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients to the soil is not natural. This can actually kill the microorganisms in your compost and your soil, which will ultimately affect the health of your plants.

Compounds in synthetic fertilizers, such as heavy metals, will also leach through the soil into the water table, as well as upset the natural balance of nutrients in the soil and increase salinity.

Stick to natural ingredients for your compost pile.

Image: franz pfluegl/iStock/Getty Images

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Uncommonly Good Coconut Chicken Curry from an Uncommonly Wonderful Cookbook Fri, 23 Jan 2015 05:45:54 +0000 coconut-chicken-curryThis book approaches mealtimes as an opportunity for good conversation, connection, and revival—no matter where you are eating or with whom you are sharing your table.

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When I arrived in Seoul, South Korea almost 18 years ago, on my very first trip abroad—a teaching and traveling tour—I was shocked to discover that food was growing everywhere.

Squashes in pots climbed the side of gas pumps, peppers and cabbages grew in the downtown public landscaping beds, bitter melons scrambled up trellises in front of stores, shiso and other herbs bloomed on rooftops—almost anywhere one could squeeze in a container of soil, you’d find food growing. It was a gardener’s paradise!

I later learned that one of the reasons for this, aside from a desire for self-sufficiency and a love of kimchi, is because South Korea is very mountainous and has relatively little arable land compared to other countries, so food security is a national concern.

South Korea also has not been completely overtaken by processed, packaged foods like America, and still has a rich culinary tradition that depends on fresh produce, locally caught seafood, and traditional food preparation methods like lacto-fermentation.

One of the things I enjoyed most when I was traveling in South Korea was sampling all the different foods available in different regions of the country. Every town I visited had large all-week outdoor markets with tables overflowing with regional, exotic fruits I’d never heard of before, chili peppers and cabbages, whole pigs’ heads, a dizzying variety of squid, bottles of ginseng and jars of fermented vegetables with chili paste, known as kimchi—a national staple.

I would wander through the markets almost every day, exploring new sights and smells and picking up what I needed for that night’s dinner, which I cooked over a little propane stove. At just 26 years old, living this way felt so grown-up, so cosmopolitan!

Exploring a Culture Through its Food

Bicycling through Kyongju at 26

Bicycling through Kyongju at 26

Sometimes eating in South Korea was a real adventure. Most meals are accompanied by chef’s choice of banchan, which are kind of like tapas, or small, shared side dishes. Usually banchan consist of 3-5 different types of fermented or seasoned vegetables, but during my first week in Seoul, still jet-lagged and overwhelmed with culture shock, my server delivered a little bowl of tiny live crabs, wriggling around in a bed of thick chili paste.

Needless to say, that was more than my horrified and horribly provincial American palate could handle, and I left them squirming on the table, as I finished the rest of my meal squirming in my seat!

But after living and working in Seoul for several months, and getting relatively comfortable navigating the food markets, grocery stores, and short-order restaurants, I had not only acquired a taste for the ubiquitous chili paste and red-bean-filled desserts, I was ready to venture out to see what diversity of culinary delights the country had to offer.

Traveling back and forth across the country by train for few remaining months before my visa expired, I quickly learned that bibimbap (a traditional dish made with meat, rice, vegetables and chili paste) made in the north had very different ingredients than bibimbap made in the south. Bibimbap remains one of my favorite dishes ever.

Kimchi varieties were as numerous and diverse as the towns I visited, often reflecting regional crop varieties, season and climate.

Some parts of the country had more Buddhist influences, and many restaurants were vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly. Other regions didn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t eat meat or seafood (or SPAM!), and specialized in a delicious and uniquely Korean form of barbecued beef known as bulgogi.

Visiting a country that has maintained a varied and vibrant traditional food culture really gave me a sense of all that we have lost in America. After all, I live in a country 100 times the size of South Korea, where you can drive coast to coast and get a Whopper or a Grand Slam breakfast in just about every city in the nation, and never once get a sense of what makes each of our 50 states special or unique. How sad!

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

As a young, American woman traveling alone, I stood out ridiculously everywhere I went, so I was fortunate to receive a lot of invitations to eat.

Most Koreans were hospitable, curious people who seemed to enjoy feeding me (and watching my reactions with much amusement). Between their broken English and my even-more-broken Korean, we would share a bottle of soju and some banchan, and try to make sense of each others’ worlds.

At times (when I wasn’t wrestling with understanding train schedules written with Korean numerals or trying to find a pain reliever for a migraine), it felt like a magical first trip abroad—and it was magical, from a food and culture standpoint anyway.

cookbookcoverBecause of my experience in South Korea, sampling the different foods available around a country has become my favorite access point for connecting with and understanding a culture whenever I travel anywhere.

This is why when I was given a copy of And Here We Are at the Table – Grain-Free Meals from Around the World to check out, I was so excited. I get a lot of cookbooks to review, but this particular one was different because it was written by another person who enjoys exploring the world via food and culinary traditions, too.

But once I opened it, what I discovered inside blew me away…

An Uncommonly Wonderful Cookbook

And Here We Are at the Table is not your typical grain-free cookbook. Each of the 80 beautifully-photographed, international recipes reflects not only Ariana’s experience living and cooking in several different countries, but also her deep love of gathering around a delicious meal with friends and family.

Like my experience in South Korea taught me, this book approaches mealtimes as an opportunity for good conversation, connection, and revival—no matter where you are eating or with whom you are sharing your table.

 But And Here We Are at the Table is much, much more than an international cookbook. It’s also:

  • A travelogue detailing Ariana’s adventures from around the world that lead to the recipes you are preparing.
  • A memoir of the most enjoyable meals and people she has spent time with at the table from around the world.
  • A guide to foraging, global markets and the basics that all good cooks should know.

To give you a literal taste of what this masterpiece offers, I’ve included one of my favorite recipes from the book, below. But I strongly encourage you to check out the book in greater detail to see just what I’m talking about—including many more photos, recipes and stories.

I mean, just look at how beautiful this book is…



If you like good traveling stories, and enjoy well-seasoned, tasty whole food meals from around the world, you really don’t want to miss this book.

And Here We Are at the Table is available digitally as a PDF, and also as a paperback from Amazon.

Without further ado…

Coconut Chicken Curry


  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts (I kept the wings out, to use them for chicken stock)
  • 3 onions, yellow or white
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 1 turnip
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, smashed
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • fresh ground pepper
  • sea salt
  • one 14 oz (400 mL) can coconut milk (not low fat,
  • lemon juice, lime juice, or apple cider vinegar
  • a small bunch of cilantro


  1. In a large pot, heat up your coconut oil over medium heat. Put the chicken pieces in, skin-side down,
    to brown. You will probably need to do this in a couple batches. Give them plenty of time– if you try to turn them too soon, the skin will stick to the bottom. If they release easily, then they are probably ready to turn. Brown the other side, too. Remove the pieces from the pot when they’re browned.
  2. Add your onions to the oil in the pan, and use a wooden spatula to scrape up the bits of chicken stuck to the bottom of the pan. Let them cook for about 4 minutes or so, then add the carrots and keep scraping for another minute or two. Salt a little as you go, to build flavor.
  3. Add the spices, ginger and garlic in, and stir them with the vegetables and let them toast in the oil for about a minute– you don’t want them to burn, just to get really fragrant.
  4. Add the turnips, put the chicken pieces back into the pot, and pour in the coconut milk. Add a little hot water to the can to rinse and add that to the pot, as well– the liquid should be about to the chicken on top.
  5. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to an hour.
  6. Check for seasoning*, and add lemon juice to taste–a nice little acid kick here is important for flavor balance. Add more salt or pepper, if needed. Top with chopped cilantro right before serving.
  7. *Here’s an extra tip for cooking with Indian spices: If you don’t think your dish is flavorful enough at the end of cooking, you can add a wonderful, pungent kick of flavor by heating up some oil and toasting more spices and garlic in the hot oil to add to the pot right before you serve. This is especially great for dishes like lentils, that can get bland as they cook for a long time.

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Boost Your Immune System with Fire Cider Tue, 20 Jan 2015 05:56:32 +0000 fire-cider-master-tonic-3Fire cider is a traditional folk remedy infused with powerful anti-microbial, decongestant, and circulatory herbs and spices. Adding a tablespoon of this to your diet every day can help boost your immune system, stimulate digestion, and warm you up on cold days.

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Fire cider is a traditional folk remedy infused with powerful anti-microbial, decongestant, and circulatory herbs and spices. Adding a tablespoon of this to your diet every day can help boost your immune system, stimulate digestion, and warm you up on cold days. How perfect to make for a mid-winter pick-me-up!

Because this is a folk remedy, the ingredients can change from season to season depending on what’s growing around you at the time you make it. The base ingredients are apple cider vinegar, garlic, onion, ginger, horseradish, and hot peppers, which are mighty by themselves, but there are plenty of other herbs that can be added for extra strength, depending on what’s available to you.

Once you’ve made the fire cider recipe, this powerful brew needs to steep in a dark cupboard for a month to extract all the goodness from the ingredients. Some people even bury their fire cider jar in the ground for a month while it extracts—which I wouldn’t advise if you live where the ground freezes.

Using Your Fire Cider

Once fully brewed and strained, fire cider can be taken straight by the spoonful, added to vegetable juice, splashed in rice dishes, or drizzled on salad with olive oil.

You can also sautée some of the strained pulp with shredded carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and fresh herbs to make delicious stir-fries and spring rolls.

For daily immune support, gargle and swallow one tablespoon of fire cider every day after breakfast. If you are fighting a cold or infection, take 1 Tablespoon of the tonic 5-6 times a day. Do not dilute the tonic in water as it will reduce the effect.

Be careful: The tonic is very strong and hot, especially if you did not add honey! Do not use on an empty stomach, and start with a teaspoon for the first few times. The tonic can cause nausea on an empty stomach if you are not used to it.

Fire cider is safe for pregnant women and children (use small doses!) because the ingredients are all-natural and contain no toxins.

Fire Cider Recipe


  • Grater or food processor with grating attachment
  • Vegetable peeler
  • One-quart Mason jar with metal or plastic lid
  • Latex or vinyl gloves (for handling horseradish, turmeric and hot peppers)
  • Zester or microplaner
  • Garlic press (OPTIONAL)


  • fire-cider-ingredients24 oz. organic, raw apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup organic garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup organic onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup organic ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 cup horseradish, peeled and grated
  • 2 pieces of turmeric root, peeled and grated, OR 2 tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp. organic cayenne powder
  • 2 organic hot peppers (jalepeño, habanero, etc.), minced
  • Zest and juice from 1 organic lemon
  • Raw, local honey, to taste (OPTIONAL)

Seasonal Additions


  1. fire-cider-grated-ingredientsPeel and grate all the roots. Note: Turmeric stains everything and horseradish root is strong enough to clear not just your sinuses, but the whole room. You may want to wear gloves to keep your hands clean and cool.
  2. Mince the garlic, onions and hot peppers, then zest and squeeze the lemon. (Gloves will be handy for handling the peppers.)
  3. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, except for the vinegar, and mix well.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a one quart Mason jar. Hold your face away from the jar as you fill it.
  5. Pour in apple cider vinegar until you fill it to the top.
  6. Use a piece of parchment paper under the jar lid to keep the vinegar from touching the metal, or better yet, use a plastic lid made for Mason jars (like this one). 
  7. fire-cider-recipe-aboveShake well!
  8. Store in a dark, cool place for one month and shake daily.
  9. After one month, use cheesecloth or a nut milk bag (like this one) to strain out the pulp, pouring the vinegar into a clean jar. Be sure to squeeze as much of the liquid as you can from the pulp.
  10. You can use the tonic straight or, if you prefer, add 1/4 cup of honey and stir until incorporated to make cider. Taste your cider and add another 1/4 cup of honey until you reach the desired sweetness.
  11. Use the rest of the dry mixture as seasoning when cooking.

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10 Green New Years REVolutions Tue, 30 Dec 2014 09:53:47 +0000 happy-new-year-in-sand-e1357033592935Here are 10 things you can resolve to do this year to help make a big difference in the world, and save you some money, too.

If you like this post, you'll find even more at Small Footprint Family


It’s a new year, and the writing is on the wall: This tumbling rock we call Home is not happy with us.

The Earth is changing rapidly, and entire species of plants and animals are going extinct before we ever get a chance to understand them. Under our constant and growing demand, precious natural resources like fresh water, fertile soil, and forests are becoming depleted, destroyed or much harder to find.

The industrial toxins we’ve put into our air, water, food, medicine, furniture, clothing, workplaces and homes are taking a massive, synergistic toll on our public health—in the form of cancer, autoimmune disease, autism, mental illness, and more.

The climate has gotten downright scary.

This year, it seems like we need more of a New Year’s revolution!

But before you sink into despair, know that there are minor lifestyle changes we can all make, that—if even a mere 10% of the population did them—would create a revolution, and make a HUGE difference for our health and the wellbeing of this fragile planet we love.

Here are 10 things you can resolve to do this year to help make a big difference in the world, and save you some money, too.

10 Green New Years REVolutions

I hope that the following ideas will inspire you, and the related links will give you the tools you need to live more healthfully, naturally and sustainably in the coming year.

1. Bring your own shopping bags.

Shopping with reusable bags everywhere you shop is a simple way to reduce ocean pollution and prevent unnecessary sea mammal deaths. It also helps you reduce consumption, prevent deforestation, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Plastic bags are the second most prevalent form of litter after cigarette butts, and over 4 billion bags get caught by the wind and end up clogging storm drains and littering our forests, rivers, lakes, beaches and oceans every year. Plastic bags are also known to kill over a million birds and hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, seals, and other marine mammals every year.

Plastic bags are made of petroleum-based polyethylene and require 12 million barrels of oil to produce each year—a nonrenewable resource that creates more greenhouse gases and increases our dependency on foreign oil. That’s over $500,000,000 that we’re spending on oil, just to throw it away.

There is an easy way to always remember your reusable bags. Let’s make the plastic bag industry extinct this year, not sea turtles!

2. Cook from scratch.

This is a harder resolution to stick to, but your health, your wallet, and the environment will thank you for it. From farm to factory to store to table, processed, packaged convenience foods are dripping in wasted energy, oil, water and trees. This is especially tragic, since processed foods contain little to no nutrition, and usually have to be sweetened, fortified, preserved and “flavor enhanced” to be edible.

Batch cooking on weekends, meal planning, and cookbooks specializing in easy, fast preparation can make cooking from scratch much easier. Having something home-cooked in the freezer is invaluable for those nights when you are just too tired or too harried to cook. (This is my favorite whole food, grain free, dairy free “Quick and Easy” cookbook.)

Start with just one or two days a week, or a batch-cooking session every weekend, and then work up from there. Take the opportunity to slow down, spend time with family or friends, and enjoy taking care of yourself.

3. Eat organic as much as possible.

Organic costs a bit more up front, but this is money well spent because your food will be more nutritious and you won’t have to worry about the health effects of eating GMOs, toxic pesticides, or sewage sludge. (Ew.)

Plus you can be sure that your food was grown in a way that helped protect and enhance the ecosystem it was grown in. And if your food is also locally grown, then you can be sure that it is also supporting your local economy, too.

You can get organic food cheaply if you join a CSA, start a buying club, visit the farmer’s market at the end of the day when they are trying to get rid of everything, or wait for and stock up during sales. Of course, starting an organic garden is perhaps the best way to reduce your food costs and improve your nutrition. You actually need less than an acre of land to grow all you need to eat.

4. Eat better meat, and eat less of it.

Vegetarians have their environmental argument against today’s mass-produced meat right: The highly industrialized way in which we raise most livestock is inhumane, unhealthy and extremely unsustainable. Let there be no doubt: Conventional, grain-fed meat is a home-wrecker!

But here’s where environmental argument for vegetarianism ends: Whether you feed the grain to livestock or people doesn’t matter. An industrially farmed corn or soybean monoculture is a major source of greenhouse gases, air, water and GMO pollution either wayBut a permanent grassland ecosystem is a biodiverse, ever-cycling pump that continuously pushes carbon back into the soil where it increases fertility and builds topsoil.

The irony of all of this is that the very prairie we destroyed to grow grains to feed livestock not only released most of the carbon dioxide that harms our climate today, but was already the perfect, natural habitat for raising healthy, happy cows, sheep, chickens and pigs virtually for free.

According to a Scientific American article “Future Farming: A Return to Roots?”, healthy grassland sequesters substantially more carbon dioxide from the air than even rainforests can. (Wow!) Because of this, scientists and sustainable ranchers alike see managed holistic grazing on restored, permanent prairie as the very best solution to desertification, air and water pollution, and even climate change.

They have calculated that converting just half the U.S. corn and soy acreage back to pasture might cut carbon emissions by as much as 144 trillion pounds—and that’s not even counting the reduced use of fossil fuels for vehicles, machinery, fertilizers and pesticides that would also result. To put that in perspective, that’s enough carbon sequestration to offset the emissions from all the cars and trucks on the planet!

Then there are also the benefits of healthier, happier animals, better nutrition, greater biodiversity, less antibiotic use, no manure lagoons, reduced seasonal flooding and water pollution, no GMOs, better farmer livelihoods, and more.

But the only way to strongly encourage prairie ecosystem restoration is for you and I to create demand for grass-fed beef and dairy, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, as well as foraged pork.

Healthy grassland simply cannot exist without predators, ruminants, fowl, and foragers to make the ecosystem function. And since we don’t have trillions of wolf, coyote, bobcat, bison, bighorn sheep, guinea hens, wild turkeys and boar roaming the Plains anymore, we can only reap the enormous benefits of grassland restoration by mimicking nature and putting ourselves and our domesticated animals in their places. And decades of research proves this works very well.

So this year, resolve to eat clean, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat, dairy and eggs whenever possible, and make a big difference for small farmers and the environment by supporting pasture restoration with your wallet. You could even pledge to eat only “clean meat or no meat,” like we do at our house.

Animal foods that have been raised sustainably and humanely on pasture cost more, no doubt. Their prices reflect the true cost of what it takes to sustainably produce clean, safe, healthy animal products. So you might consider changing the way you eat meat by eating more like our ancestors—who were dependent on grassland ecosystems for their survival.

This means eating less of it, cooking with the organ meats and bones (which are more nutritious anyway), and using the fat to flavor and improve the nutrition of otherwise vegetarian dishes.

You can also make eating pasture-raised animal products cheaper by joining a livestock CSAstarting a buying club, or buying a half or whole animal directly from a farmer or rancher who uses holistic managed grazing practices.

5. Avoid fast fashion.

Big chain stores with insanely cheap clothing seem to good to be true—and that’s because they are. America’s insatiable appetite for cheap clothing that we wear for only one season couldn’t be more destructive.

In order to meet our demand for the latest fashion fad, Asian and Indian farmers ravage their fertile soils and deplete precious ground water to grow millions of acres of GMO cotton for export—instead of food for their hungry people.

Cheap fashion also supports the petroleum-based, highly toxic synthetic fabric and dye industry, and uses tons of fossil fuels during farming, manufacturing and shipping. Our love affair with cheap clothes-on-demand also sustains inhumane, often toxic, sweatshop conditions for garment workers all over the world.

This year, consider whether you need any new clothes at all, and if so, only buy what you need. When clothes shopping, try to choose timeless styles that won’t go out of fashion in six months, choose high quality materials and manufacturing so they will last, and buy domestically-made garments whenever possible.

Also consider organizing clothing swaps with friends or buying at thrift stores and consignment shops. It’s amazing what you can find at a good thrift store!

6. Get the chemicals out of your cosmetics.

Did you know that everything you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream? It’s true, which is why your personal care products should be so pure, you could eat them!

Just as you would read the labels on your food to make sure you aren’t eating any questionable or toxic ingredients, you should read the labels on your cosmetics and personal care products to make sure your not consuming toxins through your skin, too.

Use less chemicals on your body this year by checking out your products on EWG’s Skin Deep Database. The huge database will tell you just how safe any cosmetic or sunscreen is to use. This year, choose eco-friendly and non-toxic brands of personal care products whenever possible.

Better yet, start making some of your own personal care products. Toothpaste, deodorant, lotion and even liquid soap are pretty easy to make at home, and there are tons of recipes on the internet for everything from DIY mascara to homemade bath salts.

You could also try reducing your need for a ton of products by practicing oil cleansing for outstanding, natural facial skin care and the “No Poo” method of shampoo-free hair washing. Many women swear by both of these non-toxic techniques for beautiful, healthy, easy-to-maintain skin and hair.

7. Bring your own water bottle.

Did you know that, every year, the oil used to produce plastic water bottles in the U.S. alone is enough to fuel about 1,000,000 cars? The more we squander what little accessible oil we have left on this planet on really stupid things like single-use plastic bottles, the more we have to procure from other countries and dangerously and expensively drill out of pristine ecosystems. 

Anything we can do to quickly and permanently phase out disposable plastic bottles would help improve our relationship with the people living in oil and gas-rich nations, protect ecosystems, save resources, reduce waste and deadly pollution, and save money.

If you’re still buying bottled water, take a trip to the store and check out the many great reusable water bottles on the market. We don’t go ANYWHERE without our BPA free Camelbak water bottles. Get into the habit of treating your reusable water bottle like your keys or your wallet. Make sure it goes to work, school, and around town with you.

8. Hang your laundry to dry.

According to Project Laundry List, commercial, industrial and residential clothes dryers use a whopping 15-20% of domestic energy in the U.S. In 2007 alone, clothes dryers in U.S. homes emitted 54.72 million metric tons of climate changing carbon dioxide.

If all Americans used a clothesline or folding drying racks just once a week, the savings would be enough to close several coal fired or nuclear power plants! Throw in a high efficiency, front-loading washer, a cold water wash, and your own homemade laundry detergent, and 21st century laundry couldn’t get any greener!

9. Walk, bike, or take public transportation.

Nothing would protect the environment and decrease our dependence on oil more than taking steps to reduce your transportation footprint. Transportation accounts for more than 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

In big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C., car pollution causes the grey smog that leads to hotter summers and those horrible orange, red and even purple air-quality days that cause asthma attacks in children and other health problems in adults. 

That $4 a gallon you pay for gas does not even begin to cover the costs that the use of that fuel places on our economy. American’s end up wasting 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline just sitting in traffic jams every year. This costs American’s over $100 billion dollars per year in fuel alone. Then there are pollution remediation costs, loss of productivity due to asthma and poor air quality, healthcare costs, and more.

Any thing you can do to reduce your transportation footprint this year by walking, biking, taking public transportation or telecommuting will be a boon to both the environment and your wallet.

10. Detox your home.

According to the EPA, household cleaning products rank among the most toxic everyday substances to which people are exposed, and most chemical brands are not safe and contain ingredients that have never been tested for safety. And to top it all off, to protect “trade secrets,” manufacturers are not even required to disclose the ingredients in their cleaning products at all!

Some especially toxic household cleaners include ammonia, chlorine bleach, aerosol propellants, detergents, petroleum distillates, drain cleaners, and toluene. Many of these substances are not only absorbed into the skin, but they also give off toxic fumes that affect the person using the product and everyone else in the area.

Everything from dermatitis to headaches to cancer have been associated with the chemical products we use to clean our furniture, bathrooms and clothes—including air fresheners. Traditional cleaning agents assail our skin and lungs with carcinogens, assault our immune system, and expose us to unnecessary physical stress. They are also typically made from petroleum, and remain toxic in the earth’s soil, water, and environment for generations.

In contrast, green cleaning products are typically made with common kitchen ingredients like water, white vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap. Some also include coconut or orange oils, and other powerful plant-derived ingredients. Plus, making your own green cleaners, disinfectant, and laundry detergent is easy, and significantly cheaper than buying them at the store.

Many blessings to you in the New Year! May it be a healthy, abundant and prosperous one!

If you like this post, you'll find even more at Small Footprint Family

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