Thursday, April 11, 2013


It was a bad morning. One of the many mornings when I feel like a failed parent. After failing to get  my one year old to eat anything for breakfast I gave up and was trying to make my own. While I stood at the stove cooking oatmeal, I scanned my Facebook feed which was full of articles and posts about all the things parents are doing to screw up their kids. We let them watch too much t.v.; we let them play too many video games; we give them formula--even once is a crime you know!; we give them baby food from a jar, which is similar to feeding them rat poison if the articles are to be believed; we don't give them enough exposure to nature; we don't brush their teeth often enough; we yell at them sometimes; we fail to achieve the ideals of attachment parenting by putting them in a stroller and walking for hours because it's the only way to gain some silence; we just never do enough as parents and the message out there is that if our kids turn out badly it's our fault. Let's forget about their own natures. Let's forget about any other formative factor. The message I'm getting is that I am the only thing standing between my child and a life of crime and if one day I crack and let him eat sugar or stay up too late I'm going to unleash a monster.

While I was skimming these posts my one year old was throwing a fit because I was making oatmeal instead of playing with him. He was screaming and throwing himself at my legs, the noise reaching an unbelievable volume and I just lost it. It was all too much. I sat down on the floor, with my oatmeal burning to the pot, and I cried. I cried because my kid won't eat solid food at 14 months old. I cried because he throws tantrums multiple times a day and there's nothing I can do about it. I cried because all those stupid articles about what not to do as a parent are making me feel like a failed mother. I cried because motherhood suddenly felt so huge and overwhelming that I didn't know what else to do.

While I was sitting in a heap on the kitchen floor losing my mind my son stopped crying. He sat beside me silently while tears dripped off the end of my nose. I turned to him and he was looking at me. Then he reached out and patted my leg. I was so shocked that I started laughing. Here is this one year old child who suddenly reached out to perform an act of comfort. How did he know to do that? Was he just imitating an action he had seen or was it something else? Where did this act of compassion come from?

He soon went back to throwing tantrums, but it made me think. It made me think about how we all need to step back and give each other a pat on the back. If you're anything like  me you went into parenthood having read 800 books about how to be the perfect parent, and you held carefully crafted ideas about how to do everything right. And then, if you're like me, you were faced with the reality of raising a child and realized that no book holds any answers, because every child is a unique hurricane force that is completely unpredictable and shakes you to your core. And while you want to stick to all your ideals, some days you just can't because there's too much rice cereal to scrape off the floor and you're trying to wrestle your kid into a stroller so you can go home from the park and there's a load of peed on sheets to wash and you haven't actually eaten anything yet today I'm sorry...Ideals? What are those? I'm just trying to survive here.

And in the middle of it all my infuriating, beautiful child calmly reaches out and pats my leg and I have to believe that maybe I haven't screwed up so badly after all. So here's my new rule: If you have a hundred ideals in relation to being a parent, and if you aim towards those ideals, and if you come even remotely close to realizing even one of those hundred ideals you should congratulate yourself and throw the biggest freaking party in the world and invite all the other parents who are going insane from lack of adult contact and we can all remind each other that we're doing our best and check our guilt at the door. Just for an hour. Just for second. Who's with me?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fine, I'll Make it Myself

My husband has a lot of allergies--from food to environmental irritants. Putting on an "all natural" hand lotion before bed a few weeks ago resulted in an all night cough fest and lost sleep for both of us. It also meant looking for alternatives for my sad dry hands, and it turns out that almost everything on the market contains toxins, poisons, and irritants.

Here are a few of  the big ones:

1. Parabens: Substances that soak into the skin easily and enter the blood stream. They mimic estrogen and are implicated in various cancers.

2. Parfum: a mystery term that could refer to thousands of chemical fragrances. These fragrances are known to trigger migraines, allergies, and asthma.

3. Phthalates: Substances added to products to make the smell of fragrances linger. Studies prove that this stuff is extremely toxic. The David Suzuki Foundation Survey of Chemicals in Cosmetics lists phthalates as hormone disruptors and may cause liver and kidney failure in young children who chew or suck on products containing phthalates.

There are a lot more toxic substances lurking in your hand cream, your cosmetics, and your hair products and the question I have to ask is WHY? Why isn't this regulated? Currently there are very few laws in Canada that prevent the use of toxic substances in cosmetics, even though it's common knowledge that your skin absorbs everything you put on it and sends it straight to your blood stream. A quick look at the ingredient list on my hand lotion turned up dozens of unrecognizable ingredients. What are they doing in there? What are they for? All I want to do is moisturize my hands! Surely that doesn't require toxins and poisons.

The general rule that I see coming up again and again is that if you wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin. So I got rid of all my commercial hand lotion and set out to make my own. There are tons of recipes online that use fairly easy to source and clean ingredients. And hand lotion is ridiculously easy to make. I ended up making up my own recipe to use ingredients I could get at Galloways--a specialty food store in Richmond, BC that carries a whole array of soap and cosmetic making ingredients.

Here is my recipe (keep in mind that the amounts are approximate)

1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup shea butter
1/4 cup shredded beeswax
250 ml Macadamia Nut Oil

Put all ingredients in a double boiler and heat until all ingredients combine into a liquid. Pour liquid into small, decorative Mason jars or other glass containers. Leave at room temperature to cool back into a solid or put in the fridge to speed the process.

Don't leave out the beeswax, because it acts as an emulsifier for the oils. The hand lotion this recipe produced was quite soft. If you want a more solid lotion use less macadamia nut oil (or whatever liquid oil you're using). Almond oil is popular for use in hand creams as well and you could use that instead. You could also add some essential oils for  light scent. I left it out, wanting something basically scent free. The cream does have a vague scent of honey and nuts from the beeswax and oil. Quite pleasant, but faint, and dissipates quickly.

This was a really easy, reasonably affordable project. And I would argue that it works even better than commercial moisturizers. Throwing out your old moisturizers and making your own is an easy way to eliminate thousands of toxins from your life and your body. Let me know how your experiments go!  I also have left-over materials so if you want to come by I would be happy to run a personal tutorial for the cost of supplies.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sorry, What Kind of Irrigation?!

There are a lot of things that people don't tell you about parenthood. You expect to lose sleep, you expect to be puked on, you expect your social life to disintegrate, but I think I missed the part on the job description that said you need nasal irrigation skills. It must have been way down at the bottom with things like "must be able to scrape manure off a one year old's tongue" and "must not have a fear of eye snot."

My one year old and I have been sick with three consecutive colds over the past two months. It hasn't been pretty. I woke up one morning so sick and sleep deprived that I was actually in tears and begging not to have to care for my equally sick son. Thankfully he was shipped off to Granny and Grandad's for the morning allowing me to get some much needed rest. But the illness has lingered on. While I'm feeling much better, my son's nose has been an oozing disaster for weeks and he's now developed a terrifying cough that flares up at night and makes me think that a slimy alien is about to crawl out of his throat. We're off to the clinic this afternoon to see if the witch doctors have any ideas, but in the meantime I went to the drug store in desperate search of something that would ease his cough and allow him to get some sleep.

I came home with a NeilMed Saline system and a container of baby Vicks Vaporub. I already own a NoseFrida snot sucker. These are my tools. The task is to perform nasal irrigation in the hope of removing some mucus and quelling the cough. The term "nasal irrigation" makes me think of tractors and water bombing and automatic sprinkler systems and digging ditches to filter water onto parched land. I didn't know I needed an agricultural degree to raise a child, but come to think of it, it probably would have been good training. A one year old is pretty similar to a farm animal I think--endlessly eating, endlessly producing poop and gas, and endlessly becoming filthy.

So with my arsenal at the ready:

I prepared to do battle with all things snot and cough related. I think you will especially appreciate the adorable image on the NoseFrida package of a mother sucking snot out of her smiling child's nose. Let me tell you, that illustration is a big fat lie. You  try sucking the snot out of a screaming, flailing child, who is crying so hysterically that you literally can not keep up with the snot production. It's a lost cause. Of course, the snot sucking took place after my attempt at nasal irrigation. This involved taking a small ampule of saline solution and trying to hold my child still, tilt his head to the side, and squirt liquid up his nose. Let's just say he didn't like that. Can't imagine why. But it did sort of work. Once I got some saline into his ravaged nasal passages the snot started flowing and I had the snot sucker at the ready.

Yeah, it was traumatizing. My kid probably thought I was trying to suck his brains out through his nose in preparation for mummification. I would have been upset too.

The last step was a nice relaxing pre-nap bottle and a giant smear of Vicks BabyRub all over his chest. He didn't protest about the Vicks. It doesn't have as strong a smell as the adult version. He's down for his nap now and he coughed a little but seems to have settled in now. This is a huge improvement on the all night cough session that has had me awake since 3:30 am this morning. We may have a winner with the Vicks. Least invasive and potentially most effective. Though I can't really say if irrigation contributed to the lower level of coughing. Let's all just have a moment of cough-free silence and thank the nasal irrigation gods for their intervention on my behalf.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Green Juice!

Green Juice. Copyright Andrea Paterson. Amaranth Road Studio. 2013.

I've been reading a lot about the health benefits of green juice so I went out and bought my very first juicer. It was a huge pain in the butt trying to figure out which one to get so I'm hoping I might be able to help prospective juicers to sort through the process. Here is my contribution to the Omega vs. Breville debate.

The bottom line is that there is no juicer out there that will do everything perfectly and any decent quality juicer will make juice. Don't buy a cheap $100 juicer because it will break and have horrible juice yield. But I'm beginning to think that beyond that any of the popular juicers will work. The two main contenders are the Omega 8000 series masticating juicers and the Breville Juice Fountain Elite centrifugal juicer. I went back and forth between them in agony trying to figure out what to buy and eventually settled on the Breville. Not because I thought it was definitely a better purchase but because I could get it at my local kitchen shop and they would take it back if anything went wrong. Given the fairly large number of reviewers who complained about broken juicers of all kinds, I didn't want to deal with an online purchase. I couldn't get the Omega locally so that ended that.

So here are some thoughts about centrifugal juicers, and the Breville in particular:

The main bone of contention when it comes to juicers is that centrifugal juicers suck at juicing leafy greens and the masticating juicers are finicky about soft produce and tend to get clogged. The general rule is that if you intend to juice primarily leafy greens you should get a masticating juicer and if you want to do a lot of fruit and hard vegetables you should go for a centrifugal. So what do you do if you want to do a wide range of fruits and vegetables? I assume most new juicers are in this camp and this is where I got stuck. I've never used the Omega juicer but I can tell you that if you hope to make green juice, fruit juice, hard vegetable juice, or just about any juice at all the Breville does a decent job. The big complain out there is that it doesn't handle leafy greens well. I'll admit that the pulp from the greens probably still contains some juice but I've been able to make juice that is very VERY green indeed. Use the lower speed for leafy greens, roll them up as tightly as you can, and feed them through slowly, and you do get decent juice yield.

There is also some debate about whether centrifugal juicers degrade the nutrient and enzyme properties of your juice. I haven't run any studies myself, but my research suggests that if you drink your juice right away juice made from a centrifugal juicer is just as nutrient rich as juice made from a masticating juicer. Breville provides some third party studies on their website that outline the nutrient profiles of juice made with centrifugal juicers and suggest that there is no degradation in the first half hour after making the juice. It does degrade and oxidize more quickly however, so if you plan to make huge batches of juice and store it in your fridge you should probably get a masticating juicer.

The picture above is today's juice, made with the Breville juicer. I used:

3 large black kale leaves
1 apple
1 grapefruit (peeled, but with lots of pith still on it)
3 small carrots
1 medium broccoli stem

I ended up with over 10 oz of juice, which seems quite decent given the fairly small amount of produce used. And you can see from the picture that there is a lot of green going on! The resulting pulp was a bit moist, but there really wasn't much left of my original vegetables and fruit. I'm fairly certain that the majority of the nutrients ended up in my glass. And here's the kicker--my one year old sampled this and actually came back for more! Believe it or not green juice can be delicious. This recipe resulted in a really fresh and zippy juice thanks to the tartness of the grapefruit.

Is the Breville Juicer perfect. Well, no. It sometimes spits entire pieces of unprocessed fruit and vegetable into the pulp bin and I do wish that the pulp was a bit drier. But I doubt the Omega is perfect either. Reviews suggest that the Omega mesh filter tends to break easily and the auger sometimes scrapes against the filter resulting in small plastic flecks in your juice. Customer service at Omega is notoriously awful and they currently have no filter replacements in stock due to the high level of breakage. These points are what drove me to buy locally to avoid a customer service disaster and choose the Breville over the Omega. In the end, I doubt it matters which one you buy. If I was rolling in cash I would have bought a Super Angel or a Norwalk juicer, but regular people simply can't afford a $2000 juicer. So at the very least, let me put your mind at ease about the Breville Juicer. It does make green juice, and it does juice leafy greens if you're careful about technique. Come on over if you want to sample some!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Swamp Water and Algae Crackers

I'm embarking on some food adventures. The newest addition to my kitchen is a juicer. If you already have a diet high in unrefined plant foods, juicing is a great way to kick your nutrient intake into high gear. Yes, you do need fibre. And yes, juicing removes fibre. But I'm finding that a glass of fresh, green juice in the morning packs a serious punch and I'll be getting plenty of fibre later in the day. The key is to juice vegetables primarily and use fruit sparingly. You don't want to give yourself a sugar high. If you can juice green vegetables your body is going to thank you.

People just don't know what to do with kale even though it's probably the healthiest food floating around these days. An easy way to sneak some kale into your diet is to juice it. I promise--it won't taste like you're drinking scummy pond water and you may be able to give up your coffee habit for good! It's probably best to use organic produce for juicing so you don't end up sipping a cup full of pesticides. If you're using conventional produce I would consider peeling it, even though  you'll lose some nutrients.

This morning's juice recipe:

1 bunch of  black kale
4 carrots
1/3 of a large cucumber
1 small apple
1 small pear

This made 20 oz of juice in a Breville Juice Fountain Elite--definitely enough for two people! And it gets a thumbs up from the husband for not tasting like death. (Our failed Daikon juice experiment goes in the tastes like death category).

Image from

Now what to do with a bucket of organic produce pulp? Seems like a terrible waste to throw it out. So after being inspired by a number of recipes online I'm currently working on a batch of dehydrated vegetable crackers.

I used all of the this morning's juice pulp, put it in a food processor and added:

1/4 cup almond meal
2 tbsp soy sauce
Water until the mixture formed a wet batter.
Spread batter on a non stick dehydrator sheet and stick it in the dehydrator until the crackers are completely dry and crisp. The time will vary widely depending on your local humidity. And yes, they do look like they're made of algae, but they taste good if you can ignore the extraordinary green-ness.

So, you may be asking "why didn't you just eat the vegetables?" The answer is that it's just not as much fun. I'm unlikely to sit around and consume huge quantities of raw veggies by themselves. There's only so much salad one person can  happily eat in a day. You'll eat way more vegetables if you turn them into things you like to eat. I'm far more likely to enjoy a glass of fresh juice and some raw veggie crackers with hummus than a plate of raw carrots and kale. I'll be sure to let you know how the crackers turn out!