Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Green Cleaning with Essential Oils

By Kelly Lang, Health Coach & Co-op Wellness Educator

Kelly is teaching a FREE Green Cleaning Class in Concord on July 8, 2014. Click here for details and online registration.

Even if you’re not ready to install solar panels or a composting toilet, you can still take smaller steps to be more green and environmentally conscious.

Using all-natural cleaning products is be one excellent step toward living a greener lifestyle because the chemicals found in typical cleaning solutions can be some of the most toxic both to the environment and your health.

One way to upgrade to all-natural cleaning products is to learn how to use essential oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic extracts from plants, and most are naturally antibacterial. In some cases essential oils are also antiseptic and anti-fungal, making them a powerful germ-killing, mold-eradicating option without the toxic side effects.

At first it may seem daunting to learn which oils to use for the cleaning task at hand, but once you find a few favorites you can easily forgo the bottles of toxic spray under your sink and enjoy cleaning in a healthy, environmentally safe way.

Here are a few essential oils that can be excellent and effective for cleaning:


Lemon essential oil is both antibacterial and antiseptic. It can be used in a spray bottle with water to disinfect cutting boards, counter tops, sinks and other surfaces, or just to impart a clean, fresh scent into the room. It is also great for whitening, so you can add it to your homemade floor cleaner to whiten tile floors or add it to homemade laundry detergent to brighten whites. You can also drop lemon essential oil onto sticky substances like gum or glue to remove from just about any surface (including skin). Just be sure to use good quality, pure oil and dilute it if you’re using it directly on the skin. Lastly, lemon oil is a great essential oil to add to homemade furniture polishes.

Tea Tree

Tea tree oil, also known as Melaleuca can be a wonderful antibacterial cleaner for germ-ridden areas like the bathroom. You can add tea tree to a spray bottle with water and spritz bathroom fixtures and flooring before you wipe or mop. Tea tree is especially effective on showers, since its antifungal properties can cut through mold and mildew. It’s also a great choice for cleaning plastic patio furniture that develops mold spots.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint is another oil that kills bacteria, but it also has a wonderful, fresh scent. Peppermint oil is a great option for any room but because it also increases alertness it can be a perfect choice in the homework area or home office. You can also add one drop of peppermint oil to your toilet to keep it smelling fresh and kill bacteria at the same time. Peppermint oil also deters pests and can be sprayed or placed on cotton balls in areas that are prone to infestation.

Kelly sees clients and runs Green Life Wellness. Learn more at

Monday, April 21, 2014

Use It or Lose It: Thrifty Kitchen Tips

By Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

I grew up with a plaque above our kitchen table that my mother cross-stitched by hand. It said, "Waste Not, Want Not," and it was no joke. This mantra was pounded into me from a young age, and I still try to keep it in mind now that I've got a kitchen (and home) of my own.

Let's face it, almost all of us buy some food that we never get around to finishing. It's actually a colossal waste. America loses a whopping 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill, according to a report by the National Resources Defense Council. This translates to $165 billion in food rotting away in landfills. In our homes specifically, we throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and drink that we buy, which costs a family of four approximately $1,365 to $2,275. You could take a vacation with all that money!

In honor of tomorrow's celebration of Earth Day, here are some of my favorite things to do with food that's about to go by in the fridge...

  • Once the peels dry out, eating that orange or grapefruit as a snack becomes a whole lot less appealing. What to do? Juice it! A simple handheld juicer turns old-ish citrus into the most delicious juice you can imagine within seconds! (I like this one by Pampered Chef, which gets a lot of juice and is dishwasher safe.) Drink it straight, mix it with seltzer for a healthy soda, or use it to make a tasty cocktail (mimosas, anyone??).
  • If lime and lemon juice is a bit tart for your taste buds, add a tablespoon or two to soups and stir fries just before serving to perk up the flavor. You can often keep the juice in a container in the fridge for a few days or longer.
Citrus Rinds
  • Before you toss that citrus rind in the compost, use it to make your stainless steel sparkle. Sprinkle the sink with a bit of baking soda, then rub it with the cut side of a lemon (as if it's a bristle brush). Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing away. 
  • Squeeze a wedge of rind into a glass and cover it with plain seltzer for a refreshing drink.
  • If the citrus rind is still fresh and happy, use a microplane grater to grate the zest to flavor dishes (add them at the end of cooking), baked goods, and tea.
  • Maybe they're getting a little over-ripe or you ended up with more than you needed (a common scenario in summertime). Core larger tomatoes (cherry tomatoes can be left whole), put it in a zip-lock freezer bag, and stick it in the freezer. That's it! You can pull them out to toss into soups. Just throw them in whole - they'll break up as they simmer. If you run it under warm water first, you can easily wipe off the peel. If you want to chop it up, just let it thaw a tiny bit under the water, than use a good knife to break it up. Perfect for sauces and soups! So much easier than canning, too.
  •  Another easy treat is to cut tomatoes into 1/8-inch slices (or cut cherries in half), lay them on a dehydrator tray, and sprinkle them with a little salt, pepper, and oregano. Dehydrate them til they're crisp. These are a great savory, crunchy snack, and you can also soak them in olive oil or water to use them like sun-dried tomatoes in recipes.
  • Day-old (or even week-old) bread makes great toast, first and foremost. Keep it the fridge to  slow the mold process.
  • You can also use it to make French toast.
  • Stale bread can be drizzled with oil and spices and baked into homemade croutons or stuffing.
  • My mom used to save rock-hard stale bread in a paper bag and then run it through a food mill or meat grinder to turn it into bread crumbs.
  •  Is that bunch of kale beginning to wilt and yellow? Maybe the arugula is getting past its prime? Tossing it into a cooked dish will make short work of it since greens cook down to hardly anything. But here are some other tricks.
  • Toss it in the juicer with some sweeter things like oranges, carrots, or apples.
  • Break it into pieces, rub it with olive oil, season with salt and pepper (and whatever else you like - we add red pepper flakes) and bake it in the oven at about 350°F. Kale chips are particularly awesome, especially the curly varieties.
Chickpeas & Other Beans
  • Drain the chickpeas, put them in a pan, sprinkle with oil, salt, pepper, and seasonings (I like a combo of turmeric, rosemary, crushed red pepper, and coriander) and bake them at about 400°F, stirring occasionally, until they are golden and crisp. That lingering can of chickpeas will be gone in minutes! 
  • Toss them in a food processor with olive oil and seasonings of your choice - maybe also some lemon juice and tahini to make hummus. This works well with white beans and Italian seasoning or black beans and Mexican seasoning for a healthy dip.
  • It's quiche or frittata time!
  • For a more decadent and involved approach, you can turn a dozen eggs into an angel food cake (whites) and pound cake (yolks).
  • Beet chips disappear quickly! Peel and slice beets into thin slices or matchsticks, drizzle with oil (no other seasonings or even salt is needed), and bake in the oven at 400 degrees, tossing frequently, until crisp but not burnt. You can also try dehydrating them into chips instead of roasting them.
  • Slice up fresh beets and pickle them in a combination of water (you can use beet cooking water, if you have it), vinegar, and whatever seasonings you like. Or follow this recipe.
  • Play around with home fermentation!
Nuts & Seeds
  • Store them in the freezer, and they will last for months or longer!
  • Grind them up to make nut butters, gluten-free flour, etc.
 Hot Peppers
  • Got an abundance? Just toss them in a freezer bag, get out as much air as you can, and store them in the freezer for later use. To use, just run them  under a little warm water, and then they will slice up easily to add directly to dishes. (Once they totally thaw, they are a bit mushy and more awkward to slice.) We eat garden-fresh hot peppers year round!
  • My mum loves to turn an excess of hot peppers into hot pepper jelly to give as gifts or serve over warm brie or cream cheese with crackers at parties.
 Apples & Pears
  • Make applesauce (it's sooo easy), which you can freeze or can. And if *that* sticks around for too long, then smear it on a fruit leather tray (or wax paper) and dehydrate that into fruit leathers that will be gobbled up in minutes.
  • Dehydrate 1/8-inch slices for snacks. I like to sprinkle some with cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Slice and freeze it for baked goods later on. I find that you often don't even need to peel it.
Potato Peels
  • Rub the peels in a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake at 350-400°F, tossing occasionally, until crispy. I like to add fresh or dry rosemary when they are almost done cooking. 

Last Ditch Efforts

Do you deem it inedible? At least skip the trash can, and try this:
  •  Backyard chickens will gobble up most almost-past-their-prime treats, but don't give them anything that's actually gone bad or moldy. They can eat almost everything mentioned in this article, but check this list for other foods that you should not feed chickens (like onions, potatoes, avocado pits, and, well, poultry). My chickens even eat crushed up egg shells and cooked fish heads, as well as kale stems, lettuce butts, and other kitchen scraps.
  • Compost just about anything except a lot of meat or oil. Don't have an outside pile? Try worm bin composting.
I hope that gives you some fresh takes on old food in the kitchen!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Naturally Dyed Eggs

Reprinted from

Egg dyeing is a fun way to celebrate this time of year—and it’s a tradition that goes way back—as much as 5,000 years when Persians celebrated springtime with eggs colored with plant-based dyes. Plant dyes can be just as useful today and they’re plentiful; in fact you very well might have dye-worthy ingredients in your kitchen already.

Here are some great plant-based dyes—fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers.

Items Needed

White eggs (or try brown, keeping in mind color results will vary), egg carton, stock pan(s), water, white vinegar, slotted spoon and natural materials for dyeing (see table).

Optional: Tape, string, rubber bands, cheese cloth squares, natural beeswax crayons to create designs on eggs, and vegetable oil for an extra sheen.


Hot Bath Method
  1. Place uncooked eggs in a stainless steel stock pan. Add water 2-3 inches above eggs. (When using bottled juice, fill 2-3 inches above eggs. Do not add water.) Add natural dye ingredients and 1-2 tablespoons vinegar per quart of water.
  2. Cover and bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove eggs with a slotted spoon and air dry.
Cold Bath Method
The process for cold dyeing is much the same as the hot method except the eggs and dyes are cooked separately.
  1. Simmer the dye ingredients (water, vinegar and dye matter) for 20-30 minutes or longer, until the dye reaches your desired shade.
  2. Allow the liquid to cool and submerge hard-boiled eggs in the dye for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove eggs with a slotted spoon and air dry.

Notes, Tips & Techniques

  • Color variation: colors may vary depending on steeping time and foods used to dye eggs.
  • Deeper colors: the longer the eggs stay in the dye, the deeper the color will be; leaving the eggs in the dye for several hours or overnight (in the refrigerator) is recommended for achieving deep colors. Allow the liquid and eggs to cool before refrigerating and ensure that the eggs are completely submerged in the dye. Eggs will be speckled if the dye matter remains in the liquid. For more uniform colors, remove the dye matter from the liquid, by straining the liquid through a coffee filter, before refrigerating.
  • Egg flavor: the flavor of the egg may change based on the dye, so if you plan to eat your dyed eggs, a shorter dye bath and fresh ingredients may be preferable.
  • Drying: Make a drying rack by cutting the bottom off an egg carton and turning it upside down.
  •  Decorating:
  • Wrap onion skins around eggs, then wrap the entire egg with a cheese cloth square and secure it with string before placing the eggs in the dye.
  • Wrap string or rubber bands around eggs before dyeing to create stripes (use rubber bands for cold dyeing only).
  • Draw designs on hot, warm or cold hard-boiled eggs with crayons. When using hot or warm eggs, the crayon may melt slightly on contact with the egg (if eggs are hot, hold eggs with a potholder or rag to prevent finger burns). Crayon covered eggs should only be dyed in cold dyes as the crayon wax will melt in hot liquids.
  • Gently wipe dry dyed eggs with vegetable oil to give eggs an added sheen.

Article and photos reprinted by permission from Find articles about your food and where it comes from, recipes, conversation, and a whole lot more at
Egg dyeing is a fun way to celebrate this time of year—and it’s a tradition that goes way back—as much as 5,000 years when Persians celebrated springtime with eggs colored with plant-based dyes. Plant dyes can be just as useful today and they’re plentiful; in fact you very well might have dye-worthy ingredients in your kitchen already.
Here are some great plant-based dyes—fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers.
- See more at: