Sneaky Superfood Chocolate Smoothie

NOTE: I was not paid for endorsing the superfood powders mentioned, neither company has any idea who I am. I have just used this type of product for years and find it invaluable. However, the links I include below to purchase the powders are affiliate links, so I get a portion of the sales if you do buy from those links. Thank you!

As I was rushing out the door to my yoga teacher training retreat for 5 days, I wanted to share this recipe with you all and with my husband, who needs the recipe somewhere safe to use for the kids when I’m away! I have been making this smoothie for the past month or so as a sneaky way to get my kids to start the day with superfoods like kale, spinach, spirulina, chia, and wheatgrass. Let’s face it, they would reject a green smoothie first thing in the morning. So this is a sneaky superfood chocolate smoothie. You can add nut butter as indicated below to make it a peanut butter chocolate flavor, or leave it out and have more pure chocolate.

My secret ingredient is a chocolate superfood powder. You have to get one that does not taste terrible. And you would think that would be easy, but it’s not. I have tried dozens of kinds and my favorites are Amazing Grass and Garden of Life Raw chocolate superfood powders. Both have a protein shake version, but that’s not what I am using here. Neither superfood powder has any sugar in them and both can be found locally at your Sprouts or Whole Foods or Natural Grocer or online at Thrive Market (Amazing Grass, Garden of Life), Vitacost (Amazing Grass, Garden of Life), or Amazon (Amazing Grass, Garden of Life). If you need discount codes for Thrive or Vitacost, please contact me via my Facebook Page and I can send them to you!

The most unusual thing that I do with this smoothie is add oatmeal. I started doing this when my daughter began refusing pretty much anything I offered for breakfast. If you are grain-free or doing this in addition to other things eaten at breakfast and it is too filling, you can leave out the oatmeal. But it is very important that you blend the oatmeal and chia seeds into a fine powder in the blender first, before adding other ingredients. If you blend everything together, the smoothie with be thick and lumpy. I’ve forgotten that step before and my kids wouldn’t eat it. See photos below.

Sneaky Superfood Chocolate Smoothie (kid approved) | Living Consciously Blog

Sneaky Superfood Chocolate Smoothie

Step 1

1/2 cup oats (buy gluten-free oats here)

1 tsp. chia seeds (buy here)

STOP HERE AND BLEND INTO A POWDER.
It will look something like this:

Superfood Smoothie Oatmeal Chia Seeds | Living Consciously Blog

Step 2

1 cup frozen bananas (if using room temperature bananas, definitely add the optional ice, below)

2 scoops chocolate superfood powder (see above paragraph for where to buy)

3/4 cup chocolate hazelnut milk (buy here or at Whole Foods)

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 tbsp peanut butter, nut butter, or PB2 – optional (buy PB2 here)

1/2 cup ice – optional, will make your smoothie thicker

 

Put the rest of the ingredients from Step 2 into your blender and blend everything on high until smooth and thinned out enough to pour and drink easily. In my Vitamix this takes almost a minute on high.

If you let it sit too long, the chia seeds will absorb the moisture and the smoothie will become a “thickie”! Serve to your children or yourself immediately!

 

You might also like:

How to Juice with a Vitamix
My Green Smoothie Guidelines
Saving Money on Organic & GMO-Free Groceries

Backyard Chickens: what no one tells you before you start

Backyard Chickens What No One Tells You | Living Consciously Blog

We’ve had our backyard chickens now for almost 3 years. Overall, if I had to do it again, I would. Just today I was talking to my chickens through the storm door while I fixed dinner and they were clucking pleasantly at me…

…while they covered the back door stoop in poop that I will inevitably step directly into the next time I go out the back door.

There are few things stinkier or stickier than chicken poop. It’s so difficult to remove yet you want to remove it so quickly.

I realize that there are things no one tells you before you start with backyard chickens. I think I need to make a list of those things. There might be people who would wait until a different life stage before getting into this, if only they knew. You can do a search for backyard chickens and get a million blog posts telling you how easy it is, how fun it is, how wonderful the eggs are. You can see hundreds of Pinterest-worthy chicken coops, including one from a friend of mine which is actually the bottom story of an enormous tree house/play fort. All very inspirational.

What I am here to tell you about today is what no one tells you about backyard chickens in a semi-urban or urban setting. In case you knew nothing about farm animals, like I did (or didn’t. or still don’t) beforehand.

In the past 2 years, here are the things I have encountered that you are likely to encounter too, at some point.

Poop – So much poop. If you let them “free-range”, please know that you ceding your backyard to them. It’s theirs now. You can never walk out there barefoot again. Even walking out the back door, you will find poop on the mat. If you don’t let them free range, you will be scrubbing, scooping, and sweeping poop out of the coop and chicken run (if you have one).

Salmonella from chicken poop – If you have children or perhaps forget to wash your hands very well at some point, you will get a nasty stomach bug. It’s just salmonella, which isn’t usually terribly severe. But it is no fun. If your chickens are free-ranging and you have children under the age of 4, understand that you are definitely exposing them to salmonella in the chicken poop that will be everywhere.

Mites – The standard answer to this problem on all the internet forums, boards, and blogs is “just sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the coop and nesting box and you’ll never have mites!”. That is a complete lie. I have gone through something like 25 lbs. of DE since last summer and it never did anything to either repel or quell the mite infestation. When your flock gets mites (which can actually come from wild birds, no fault of your own), you will have to treat them ALL (as in, catch each individual chicken and douse them) with either an herbal essential oil pesticide or DE (good luck with that). Then you have to empty and clean the coop and treat it with the same substance. You will have to do this every 6-7 days until the infestation subsides. I did this for 2.5 months last summer until the cold weather or the fact that I resorted to heavier pesticides finally worked. I had to wear protective clothing and a mask in 110 degree heat to keep from inhaling DE as the chickens squawked and clawed and pecked at me. I did that every week for around 10-12 weeks. Think about doing this before you commit to chickens.

Not all chickens are friendly – Our Buff Orpingtons were very shy, and their shyness came out as attacking when cornered. This is super fun when you have to catch them every 6 days to treat them for mites. The Red Sex Link that we have bit everyone for the first 1.5 years we had her. They also bite, peck, and attack each other. They will tear each other’s feathers out and make each other bleed. Sometimes you have to separate them.

Predators – We have lost two chickens to a bobcat and one to a hawk so far. Remember, every animal loves to eat chicken. They are easy to catch, have no natural defenses, and aren’t known for being intelligent. And they are delicious.

Death in the flock – Make sure you and/or your children are prepared to face death. In addition to the chickens killed by predators, we have also lost one to some kind of sudden illness that could have been egg bound or possibly liver disease My kids have taken each death in stride and never seemed particularly phased. We have been honest with them about what happened and they seem to appreciate that. But if you have qualms about discussing the death of a pet with your children, owning chickens might bring that fear to fruition sooner than you’d like.

Broody hen – Sometimes a hen will become convinced that her eggs have baby chickens in them and she MUST SIT ON THEM. This is called “going broody”. She thinks she has a brood. Unless you have a rooster in your flock (illegal in most urban/suburban areas), she obviously does not have a brood, but she doesn’t know that. She will chase the other hens out of the nesting box and peck anyone who comes near her. If she doesn’t allow the other hens to lay eggs in the box, they could hold their eggs inside and become egg bound (which is fatal to a hen). Unless you are prepared to find some fertile eggs and allow her to raise chicks, you will have to sequester her in a crate with an open bottom where she can’t sit down without adequate airflow under her bum for 2-3 days. When her internal body temperature cools, she should break the broodiness. Most people use a dog crate with the poop tray removed. We didn’t own a crate so we had to buy one ($60) the first time one of our hens went broody.

Finding a chicken sitter – It’s not as easy to find a chicken sitter as a dog sitter, because despite the free eggs, there are a number of things that could go wrong. There is a LOT of poop in the coop, so it has to be someone who is OK with walking through chicken poop. It’s possible the chickens might peck. Several times we’ve had chickens escape when the sitter opened the door and later had a neighbor call about our chickens wandering around the neighborhood (see Predators, above). Then you have to call another person who is comfortable both chasing and catching a chicken, and who is OK with being pecked by an angry chicken.

Mud – Chickens eat all vegetation in their area. They pull up any grass directly by the roots. Any area in which you keep chickens will have no grass at all. No grass when it rains means mud. Lots of mud. We had record rainfall in Texas this year. The coop was muddy for months. Did you know mud is the same color as poop? So who knows what all that stuff is that you’re wading through to gather eggs. The chickens are covered in it, the coop is covered in it, and you have to almost take a shower after feeding and watering them, which must be done every day since the food and water from the day before is already covered in mud. There’s nothing less fun than having to leave your warm couch and PJ’s and get dressed in what is basically hazmat gear to go out into the freezing cold mud to feed angry chickens.

I sincerely hope that you still want backyard chickens. They can be a fun adventure. They are not cheap and they are not easy. You will not be saving any money, but you will be more connected to your food and to your little vacuous, pea-brained pets!

When your eco-friendly yoga mat is toxic

When your eco-friendly yoga mat is toxic - deciphering marketing speak to find a safe yoga mat | Living Consciously Blog

Over the past month, I have been on the search for a new yoga mat to take with me on retreat to complete my 225 yoga teacher training. For the past year, I’ve been using the prAna Indigena natural rubber mat (affiliate link), which I love! Barely any slipping. But, because it is all rubber, it is 7 lbs. Not ideal for squeezing into a carryon in a plane. And we’ll be sitting on the mat during our classroom times, instead of a chair. The prAna is 3-4mm thick, which is fine for my regular practice (I don’t need cushioning), but I wanted to move up to a 5mm thickness for the retreat.

Unfortunately, I’ve found the process of buying a toxin-free yoga mat fraught with difficulties, primarily in the form of deceptive marketing language. Sure, if you search Amazon or Google for “eco-friendly yoga mat”, you’ll come up with plenty of options. Or what companies present as viable options. But how do you really know if your yoga mat is toxic or not?

The phrase “eco-friendly” in the description of a yoga mat does NOT mean it is free of toxins

Here is a list of things that I have found companies to claim as eco-friendly in yoga mats:

  • uses PVC, but was manufactured within EPA standards for emissions at the plant
  • part or all of the mat will biodegrade (eventually)
  • eco-friendly manufacturing processes
  • doesn’t use 6 of the highest-toxin phthalates banned by the EU (which are NOT banned in the US)
  • marketing copy attaches the word “natural” to materials such as “polyurethane”
  • uses the phrase “eco-friendly” but does not disclose the materials of which the mat is composed AT ALL

Can you see what is wrong with each of these?? It’s possible that none of these mats are actually toxin-free!  It’s all marketing speak that means nothing. I will outline the problems with each of these bullet points.

Eco-friendly manufacturing processes. A phrase that could mean anything. It could mean that they recycle the trash in their break room. It could mean that they use low-flow toilets at the manufacturing plant. Or that they have an LEED-certified building. It could ideally mean that the plant producing the mats disposes of waste properly. That would be nice. However, “proper” disposal of chemicals does not equal ethical or environmentally friendly — remember that it is often perfectly legal to dump your toxic sludge into ponds and lakes as long as you have the proper permits. There is a huge amount of leeway in the claim of eco-friendly manufacturing, so much that it literally means nothing to me when making the decision to purchase the mat or not.

Biodegradable mat. There’s also a lot of wiggle room here because the most common phrase is “biodegradable components”. Meaning that only a percentage of the components used in the mat might be biodegradable. It might be 10%, 20% or even 50%. And perhaps it’s 100% — great! But I still want to know what chemicals the surface contains, regardless of whether they biodegrade.

Of course I want to buy a mat that is environmentally responsible in both manufacturing process and when it comes to the end-of-life of the mat (i.e., I want it to be fully biodegradable without leeching toxins in the breakdown process). But equally or more important is avoiding toxic chemicals coming off the mat when I’m using it.

PVC free. Definitely something I look for, but unless the company discloses what the mat IS made of, it’s not enough. The most common alternatives to PVC in a yoga mat are polyurethane (a highly off-gassing plastic, see the paragraph about phthalates, below), or Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPEs). TPE is a blanket term for any number of materials.  Here is a breakdown of all the materials that fall under the name TPE, including some forms of PVC! So just because the mat claims to be PVC-free doesn’t actually mean that it is. Even if the TPE’s used are PVC-free, they are wide open to contain plastics with phthalates.

Free of the Big 6 phthalates. Phthalates are a big deal to me because they are hormone disrupting chemicals. They are most often inhaled through the off-gassing of plastics, because most plastic contains chemical phthalates for softness and flexibility. Throughout the lifetime of a plastic, the surface constantly releases these chemicals as the material slowly breaks down. Plastics are not stable chemical products — you may have noticed that plastic becomes more brittle as it ages, due to the phthalates leaching out as the chemicals return to their original states. The phthalates released from plastics are not only inhaled, but also absorbed by the skin. The feet have the most pores in the body, and our feet are in constant contact with a yoga mat. So avoiding phthalates in your yoga mat is VERY IMPORTANT!

There are hundreds of chemicals in the phthalate family. The EU has identified 6 phthalates that pose such a severe risk that they have been banned in EU countries. They have not been banned in the US. While it’s definitely a positive step for a company to make a mat without the top 6 most toxic phthalates, it doesn’t mean they didn’t use the hundreds of other phthalates available. So the marketing tactic of avoiding the Big 6 is really not enough to protect our health on the mat.

In the end, I have come back to the conclusion that I came to when I bought my current mat several years ago: the only truly non-toxic mat is one that is made of pure natural rubber. The prAna Indigena mat is one option, but the other mats prAna makes, including the E.C.O. mat, are not rubber. The not-so-E.C.O. is made of TPE’s and the prAna site contains no information regarding what components the company chose to use, whether PVC or phthalates or synthetic rubber.

I have finally settled on a Manduka eKo Lite mat, which I have experienced at the studio where I practice. It is all rubber but a tad lighter (~ 1-2 lbs lighter) than my current mat. It is, unfortunately, about the same thickness. I will definitely be bringing my grippy yoga towel (affiliate link) to sit on, and looking for another one at local stores.

What yoga mat to do you use and why? Do you know what your mat is made of?
 

#NoFoodWasted: Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste

A week from today is Earth Day – April 22 this year. Instead of freaking out and trying to learn how to do some new crunchy thing like making my own solar panels out of tinfoil, what I’m doing is sharing with you some super easy ways that you can reduce waste. Specifically, I’ll show you the simple and stress free ways I reduce my food waste. Could I do better? Definitely. But this is where I’m at now, and hopefully there might be a few ideas worth gleaning.

Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste | Living Consciously Blog

Whole Chicken = Bone broth

Since we’ve started eating meat again, I’ve found that it is super simple to cook a whole chicken in the crockpot. Crockpot chicken can be done many ways but always results in me not having to do much at dinner time. If you want to make bone broth from your chicken, though, you want to avoid things like stew or extreme spices that would change the taste of the broth too much.

There are hundreds of blog posts on the benefits of bone broth, go read a few. It is a magical liquid full of nutrition that will give you the strength to leap tall buildings in a single bound and all of that.

Here is how to make use of the leftover chicken: if you have preschoolers or small children like I do, it takes them hours and hours to eat the single piece of food you served them, even when they like it. So after I have eaten my own chicken, I wash my hands, grab a few glass storage containers (affiliate link), and start pulling the meat off the bones while they sit there not-eating. I save the bones and most of the fat in a separate container from the meat. I typically refrigerate everything for a few days until I get around to setting up the bone broth. All it takes a is a quick soaking of the bones and fat in apple cider vinegar and filtered water in a crock pot early in the day or late at night, then fill the crock pot up the rest of the way with filtered water and your choice of spices and herbs. Keep it simple. You can use this recipe for bone broth if you need one. I typically let the broth cook on low for 15-18 hours.

Celery hearts, fresh herbs + freezer = bone broth

If you tend to let your celery hearts and fresh herbs go forgotten in the fridge a bit too long so that they’re still edible (not slimy) but just no longer at the peak of freshness, pop them into the freezer before they go bad. I do this a lot for parsley, of which I never seem to use the entire bunch. Take them out and put them into the crockpot to use in your bone broth. You can also use them in soups and stews if you chop before freezing

Compost and Chickens

I keep two containers on my countertop: one for compost and one for the chickens. My chickens are very spoiled and only like certain scraps. They do not like garlic or onions, despite how cool garlic would make their eggs taste. They do not like kiwi. They have varying opinions about mangoes. And potatoes, avocado, and a few other veggies are toxic to them. So for the things they can’t or won’t eat, I have a terribly unprofessional compost heap (read more about how to compost here). Instead of showing you a picture of my probably-not-genuine compost heap which tends to actually grow it’s own garden, I will show you my countertop containers.

Compost Chickens and Food Waste | Living Consciously Blog

As you can see, they do not have to be fancy. This is also a great reuse of plastic tupperware type containers that I have been given by other people which I will not use with my own food due to plastic leaching issues. And here are my chickens enjoying some of the scraps that they deem acceptable.

Feeding leftover veggies to the backyard chickens | Living Consciously Blog

Obviously, not everyone has backyard chickens, so for those of you who don’t…

Fruits & Veggies = smoothies

When your fruit gets a little too squishy for your enjoyment (bananas, mangoes, strawberries), or your leaves get a little wilted (kale, spinach, swiss chard) but you don’t have chickens or other pets that eat produce, pop that not-so-fresh stuff into the freezer. Then the next time you want to make a smoothie, use the frozen fruit or veggies! Don’t forget to reduce (or completely eliminate) the ice that you use since you are using frozen items. You might also have to increase the liquid a little bit. Here are my simple green smoothie guidelines.

Meat = curry

As I am relatively new to cooking meat, meat waste is new to me. No one in my household except me will eat leftovers. And since I still do not prefer to eat meat more than once every few days, I’m not a huge fan of eating all the leftover meat from weekly dinners by myself. I have figured out a few things that I can do with our most common leftovers.

Pork loin, Ham – curry! Right now I use a curry mix whose ingredients are all written in some form of kanji so it might be fairly toxic, but my family loves it! I just set the rice machine to have rice ready and then curry whatever leftover meat I have.

Making curry out of leftover ham, reduce food waste | Living Consciously Blog

Chicken – Chicken soups. Chicken tacos. Chicken stir fry. I also freeze uneaten chicken breast or shredded chicken to serve with rice to my kids on an evening when my husband and I might be going out, healthier than chicken nuggets!

Fish – Fish smells so bad when reheated! It gets so gross in the fridge. Does anybody have any good ideas for leftover fish? Please email me or send me a tweet!

Meal Planning

Overall, the best way that I’ve found to avoid waste is to plan meals to use leftovers. I am not good at this, and I am not a smart meal planner. For that reason, I pay someone else to do the meal planning. Currently, I am using Real Plans meal planning system (affiliate link) and I love it. It provides a shopping list that I can alter based on what parts of the plan for that week I want to use and what parts I do not, and all the recipes can be adjusted to fit larger or smaller groups. You can find my review of the Real Plans system here. (NOTE: I am an affiliate for Real Plans so I get a percentage of their fee if you sign up for their system). Other meal planning systems that I have used in the past include The Fresh 20 and eMeals.

Those are all my ideas for now, for more ideas on how to reduce food waste, follow the hashtag #NoFoodWasted on Instagram and Twitter. I’ll be posting more from my Instagram on Earth Day with that hashtag as well! 

Happy Earth Day!

Gardening Outlook 2015

I’m approaching my organic garden with a good deal of optimism this year! Last year I had several plants do very well. Specifically, the tomatoes and bell peppers and EVERY herb that I planted in our community garden plot.

We have two plots again this year: the community garden plot up at the elementary school where my children will attend and one in our backyard.

The community garden plot is small, probably 4 feet by 4 feet. Raised bed. The soil was put there by a master gardener who set up the community garden. It is MAGICAL soil. Everything I have planted there has grown huge quickly. No pesticides or non-organic fertilizers are allowed. It gets full sun and we take turns watering so that it is watered every other day in the summer months. I have had no problems with pests aside from some beetles that took out the lettuce at the end of it’s growing season last year. But they didn’t touch anything else, and those plants were finished producing anyway.

Our backyard plot is 4 feet by 8 feet. This is our third year to attempt to plant things in it. It is also a raised bed, the soil came from a local composting plant that uses city scraps for compost. Everything I put into this soil has done poorly, if not immediately died. We also have terrible infestations of squash bugs, caterpillars, and extremely aggressive roly polys. I did not even know roly polys were aggressive until I got this garden. Those roly polys eat ALL the baby plants from the ground up. They never make it to full grown plants. Those that do make it to medium size never get any bigger, and the tomatoes do not produce much. I spent all of last year amending the soil with a number of different soil additives (organic) and spraying with garrett juice (compost juice). The soil failed all soil tests, showing that it has basically no nutrients at all. Kale grows well consistently, but it’s pretty difficult to kill kale. I planted a lavender plant in the fall and it’s not dead either, but it hasn’t grown. The broccoli I planted over the winter produced a few times. I also trapped thousands of roly polys by setting traps of tuna cans full of (cheap) beer. Roly Polys LOVE beer! But they get drunk and drown in it. It’s pretty awesome.

I spoke with another friend who is a master gardener about my raised bed in the backyard and she suggested mushroom compost. I have added 3 bags to the backyard bed and attempted to mix it in. I will also continue to add the soil amendments I added before, as well as the garrett juice. Hopefully this will be enough to allow some things to grow.

This morning it was our turn to water the community garden, so we stopped by a local gardening store and bought some small plants. Another way I am attempting to improve our results is to buy from local gardening stores rather than Home Depot, as I have in the past. I am hoping that the quality will be better.

Today we bought:

cilantro
tomatoes (I do not even understand the types of tomatoes, who knows what I bought? My 4 year old daughter picked it out)
dill
bell pepper
salad mix

Garden Plants 2015 - starting plants | Living Consciously Blog

We already had seeds for:

carrots
marigolds (to repel harmful insects)
sunflowers
green leaf lettuce

In addition:

an onion from my pantry sprouted and I have planted it in the community garden plot, it’s already huge!
a “volunteer” squash from last year has started re-growing in the community garden plot

I have a lovely little herb garden going at the community garden now! I am hoping that soon I won’t have to buy fresh herbs at all. The thyme and oregano from last year made it through the winter and are already so large that I had to trim them back. I even dug up some offshoots of the thyme and am going to try to plant them in our backyard garden.

Garden plants 2015 - herb garden at community garden | Living Consciously Blog

I think the only thing I might be missing is basil. Not sure why I forgot to buy that!

What are you planting? Do you have any recommendations for soil improvement?