Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but it’s not necessarily the best for our health with its combination of sugary treats and cheap plastic costumes. This year, I’m trying to make my holiday fun a little healthier for my family and the environment. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with. Please share your tips with me!
1. Host a costume-swap party. I love this idea of saving and passing on used Halloween costumes, especially for kids. If you have a group of parent friends, especially whose children are a few years apart in ages, make it an annual tradition to save your children’s costumes and swap them next year. The site National Costume Swap Day offers registration and tips for hosting a swap. A friend of mine used to host an annual "soup swap" party. Everyone would make a large batch of soup, then package it in 1-quart plastic freezer bags. Everyone would bring four to six servings and trade. We all left with many kinds of soup for the freezer. You could host such a party and add a costume swap into the mix.
2. Get thee to the thrift store. I love thrift store shopping, but depending where you live it can require some hunting to find nice, normal day-to-day clothing. Lucky for us we aren’t looking for nice or normal when it comes to Halloween. Take a few hours on an upcoming Saturday to visit your local thrift store and see what inspirational (aka weird) clothing options you can find.
3. Make your own face paint. When the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested children’s face paint for lead and other heavy chemicals, they found lead present in 10 of 10 samples. Fortunately, it’s fun and easy to make your own nontoxic version by mixing natural food coloring (available at health food stores or here) into unscented lotion or pure cocoa butter. Greenhalloween.org offers video instructions.
4. Candy, man! It’s a major bummer, but most conventional chocolates are made using horrible working conditions and in some cases child slave labor. The good news, though, is that you can find a number of delicious organic, fair trade candies via the Natural Candy Store. Try the OCHO bite-sized organic candy bars or Halloween lollipops. All Natural Candy Store candies are also free of artificial colors, dyes, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives.
5. Make a healthier treat. While candy doesn’t offer much in terms of nutritional value, a few Halloween favorites are better from a health perspective. Caramel apples, for example, offer all of the fibery goodness of the fruit and, if you add them, nuts provide healthy fats. This recipe from Whole Lifestyle Nutrition uses cream, sucanat (unrefined cane sugar) and honey to make caramel. Another tasty treat that’s pretty good for us: Caramel corn. This healthier version uses almond or peanut butter and honey to make a sweet topping for popped corn (always avoid microwave popcorn bags, which are lined with the chemical PFOA—instead opt for air-popped, skillet-popped or simply use a brown paper bag in the microwave).
Photo By Whole Lifestyle Nutrition
It may not be a metropolis, but my home of Lawrence, Kansas, is pretty cool. A college town filled with art, music and intellectuals (we’re the 9th-smartest city in America, according to this recent study), we’re also lucky to have access to some pretty amazing food. One of our leading businesspeople is Hilary Brown. The founder of the visionary café Local Burger—think healthy, local fast food—Hilary has now moved on to be the owner of an expanding veggie burger business, Hilary’s Eat Well, making her delicious burgers available at Whole Foods and other grocery chains nationwide. We’re all proud of this local dynamo (and quite lucky that she will be catering some events surrounding our upcoming Lawrence Mother Earth News Fair). Hilary agreed to share some of her recipes with us. The great thing about these delicious vegan recipes is that they are much healthier alternatives to the conventional versions of these classic comfort foods: nachos, sloppy Joes and Swedish meatballs. Enjoy!
Hilary’s Nacho Typical Nachos!
Adzuki Bean Burgers add amazing flavor and extra crunch to these nachos. The secret to great vegan nachos is the cheese—we love WayFare cheese dips because they're dairy-, soy-, egg- and gluten-free and taste really (really) good! Also great with black olives, WayFare sour cream, jalapenos and extra salsa!
• 30 tortilla chips
• 2 Hilary's Eat Well Adzuki Bean Burgers (toasted)
• 1/2 cup black beans (rinsed)
• 4 green onions (chopped)
• 3/4 cup WayFare Mexi Cheddar Spread
• 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (quartered)
1. Heat cheddar spread in a small saucepan over low heat.
2. Arrange chips on large plate. Crumble toasted burgers over chips and add black beans.
3. Drizzle with cheese dip and top with green onions and tomatoes.
Hilary’s "Sloppy Joannas" Vegan Sloppy Joes Recipe
This is a great gluten-, soy- and meat-free version of sloppy Joes! Sir Kensington's Spicy Ketchup is perfect with this recipe—it has great flavor and is made with real, whole-food ingredients.
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 green pepper, chopped
• 4 Hilary's Eat Well Adzuki Bean Burgers, chopped into ¼-inch cubes
• 1 tablespoon oil
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
• 1/4 cup yellow mustard
• 1 cup Sir Kensington's Gourmet Scooping Ketchup, Spicy
• 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
• Gluten-free hamburger bun
• Sliced red onion (to serve, optional)
1. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent.
2. Add bell pepper and cook another 3 minutes or until softened.
3. Add burgers and cook until browned and heated through.
4. Stir in brown sugar and chili powder. Add mustard and ketchup and stir until combined. Add salt to taste.
5. Serve heaping on a gluten-free bun with sliced red onion.
Hilary’s Vegan Swedish “Meat” Balls Recipe
This easy-to-make vegetarian version of Swedish meatballs is great for parties!
• 4 Adzuki Bean Burgers, crumbled
• 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
• 1/3 cup raw unsalted almonds, chopped
• 1-1/2 cup vegan, soy-free Diaya
• 3 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon corn starch
• 1/3 cup almond milk
• 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
• 1 tablespoon Pickapeppa or vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
• 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
• 2 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg (omit if vegan)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and shape mixture to walnut sized balls.
3. Place in a lightly greased or oiled pan and bake covered with foil for 20 minutes. Turn periodically to brown each side.
4. Remove from pan and let sit 5 minutes before serving. For Vegan Swedish Meatball Sauce follow a traditional recipe and substitute Vegan Sour Cream or find a recipe here.
Next week, I, along with my 1-year-old Julian; husband and Mother Earth News Fair Programming Director, James; and about 30 other members of our staff here at Ogden Publications will be heading east to our fourth annual Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. If you’ve never heard of the Mother Earth News Fair, you’re missing out. As I mentioned, my husband, James Duft, is the programming director, and with such a close view of this event, I can tell you how much care, conscientiousness and planning goes into it every year.
Each year, more than 10,000 enthusiastic people descend on Seven Springs Mountain Resort, a gorgeous spot in the mountains of Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half from the Pittsburgh airport. More than 150 speakers and presenters (myself included) present on a range of topics focused on self-sufficiency and sustainability. You can see the full program guide here. This year some of the highlights for me include the always entertaining and informative Joel Salatin presenting “Don’t Be Scared, Be Strange”; a legend in the herb world, Rosemary Gladstar, presenting on Herbs for Family Health; the excellent author Lisa Kivirist presenting on “Organic Eating on a Dime”; and, because cheese is just one of the greatest foods, a workshop on making cultured raw milk mozzarella—yum!
Mother Earth Living has its own stage with its own lineup of presenters, covering such topics as herbal remedies, DIY home necessities and more. Plus there is tons of fun for the whole family outside the presenters—dozens of animals are on display including alpacas, llamas, pigs, chickens and sheepdogs. There is delicious food, ongoing presentations of old-fashioned skills such as weaving, plus a marketplace of more than 200 vendors. Plus, everyone stays together at the resort, so breakfast might find you comingling with actor Ed Begley Jr. and our publisher, Bryan Welch. If you love living simply and living well, I would highly encourage you to join us at one of the upcoming Fairs. We are adding a Midwest location this year in Lawrence, Kansas, (where many of us live) on October 12 and 13. West Coast residents can visit the Puyallup, Washington, Fair every June, and anyone in the Southern regions can look forward to our first-ever Asheville, North Carolina, event this coming April of 2014.
Here is an overview of last year's Pennsylvania Fair
You're coming, right??
Weleda Calendula Baby Face Cream: This wonder cream is my go-to for any skin problems my baby is having. Whether it’s a raw chin from teething drool or a mild rash outbreak, this miracle cream makes it disappear. Incredibly effective yet gentle and free of harmful chemicals, this cream is a must-have for sensitive baby skin. 1.6 ounces: $13
Pura Bottles: I’m in love with my Pura baby bottles. I didn’t want to use plastic bottles, and glass is great but it can crack or chip. Hence, the stainless steel solution. Pura makes excellent bottles with a wide range of nipple styles. The other amazing thing they’ve thought of? The steel rim also comes with a silicone sealing disk, so as baby gets older, you can use it as a container for snacks or whatever else you’re toting. I love them! Pura Kiki 11-ounce infant bottle: $16
Earth’s Best Organic foods: Although there are a few companies making high-quality organic baby foods, Earth’s Best Organic is the only full line, including cereals, purees, snacks and more for infants, toddlers and kids. Every ingredient is organic, the company tests its ingredients for pesticide contamination, and the foods are sourced from American farms. Plus they make lots of interesting flavor combinations such as Apple Butternut Squash, Chicken Mango Risotto and Summer Vegetable Dinner (zucchini, corn, green beans, brown rice, carrots and garbanzo beans). 4-ounce jars: $1
Ubbi diaper pail: Made of durable stainless steel, Ubbi diaper pails don’t absorb odors like plastic cans often do. They have a tight seal you close at the top, which helps hold in odors, and they use standard garbage bag sizes, unlike some that require custom bags you have to keep buying. And, unlike some of the plastic options, Ubbi pails have a modern design. It’s a great product. Ubbi diaper pail: $80
Honest Diapers: I have been totally satisfied with the service from Honest Diapers. Figuring out what kind of diapers to use was one of my hardest decisions when pregnant. Although I love the idea of cloth, working full time made it sound unappealing to spend so much of my precious baby time doing laundry. But I definitely didn’t want to use chemical-laden and landfill-clogging conventional diapers. Enter Honest Diapers. Chemical-free and biodegradable, these disposable diapers arrive at your doorstep each month, along with saline diaper wipes. The quantity is perfect: I’ve never run out of diapers, yet I have very few left when the next batch arrives. They come in a variety of adorable patterns, including seasonal and holiday patterns, all of which are updated periodically. It’s fun, easy and better for the environment than conventional. Another advantage: I never have to think about buying diapers. Honest Diapers and wipes, monthly subscription: $80
My husband, James Duft, is the programming director for our Mother Earth News Fairs, a series of hands-on celebrations of sustainable living. This year will be the first one we’ve had in Lawrence, Kansas, where we live. A couple months ago, we met for coffee and breakfast with a few of our city leaders as he started developing content plans for the Fair. It was a fortuitous meeting, because we met Ian Spomer, sales director for Cromwell Solar, which is now leasing solar panels in Lawrence. As an editor for Natural Home & Garden (now transitioned into Mother Earth Living), I had talked to and featured many people who had financed solar panels, most notably Matthew Grocoff, the host of GreenovationTV, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He made the good point that “most people can walk into a car dealership and walk out with a $25,000 car and financing. Yet navigating solar rebates, tax credits, incentives and financing requires an advanced degree. Investing in solar should be as easy as buying a car.” (Read about Matt's net-zero Michigan home.)
In California and many other places in the U.S., solar leasing has made investing in solar just about as easy as buying a car. Major companies such as SunRun and Sungevity have been making this opportunity available for years. But solar leasing didn’t exist in Kansas—until now. Using a solar lease, the bank owns your solar panels and leases them to you for a period of 15 years. The first step is applying for the loan. Then the company determines how much solar you’ll need by pulling your electricity bills for the past year. In our case, our south-facing roof and smallish house meant that our solar array will be able to provide 98 percent of our energy needs. If we can cut back on energy use at all, we should be able to achieve 100 percent solar.
We will make payments to the bank, which is financing the panels, which will cost less than our current electric payments. The payments go up with inflation over the years of the lease, but less than the expected cost of electricity increases. At the end of the 15-year lease period, we buy out the remaining cost of the panels—contractually not more than $1,000. Then we own them and they continue producing free energy on our roof. The panels are under warranty for 25 years.
None of this requires a down payment. The bank gets big tax credits for financing the alternative energy; we get an expensive alternative energy system with bite-size payments we can afford. Of course, you may also be in the position to take out a loan and take advantage of tax credits on your own, but for us, this was a workable solution.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to come home to solar panels covering our roof! They’re not turned on yet—we’re awaiting a final inspection by the energy company. I am so excited for the day we start producing solar power!
Tomato season has hit Kansas, and our tomato plants are in full production mode—meaning tons of delicious garden-fresh tomatoes in just about everything we eat. But even so, we simply have too many to eat them all right now, and I want to save some of this summer deliciousness for later in the year.
Luckily, we have a food-freezing guide in our July/August issue, so I was ready to preserve some of our ripe fruit. Last year was the first year we had tons of tomatoes and I planned to try my hand at canning, but having a baby in the middle of August squashed those plans. So this is my first year of experimenting with preservation methods. I decided to try the very easy instructions for stewing tomatoes Barbara Pleasant recommended in our Guide to Freezing Food (instructions below).
I thought the peeling part would be a task, but it was actually incredibly easy. After being dunked into a big pot of boiling water, the skins peeled off easily. Then I dumped out the water and put the quartered tomatoes back into my stockpot over medium heat. 20 minutes of cooking and voila—supersimple stewed tomatoes bursting with flavor. I started with probably 30 tomatoes and got six 8-ounce jars of stewed tomatoes. I put them in the freezer this time because I was in a rush. Next time I’m going to try water-bath canning so I don’t have to worry about defrosting before using.
3-Step Stewed Tomatoes
1. Put fresh tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Let cool briefly and peel loosened skins.
2. Cut into quarters, put into a large pot over medium heat and add about a cup of water.
3. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn off heat. Let cool, transfer to jars and either freeze or can.
Last June after the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, my husband, James, baby, Julian, and I traveled down to Portland. I was going to the home of Cara and Jason Hibbs of Oh, Little Rabbit to photograph them and their home for a feature next spring. We’d booked a place to stay via Airbnb, but we didn’t know the homeowners had a cat and James is allergic, so we had to make last-minute plans. Lucky for us, we were very near The Kennedy School, one of 65 properties in the McMenamins chain of brewpubs, microbreweries, music venues, historic hotels and theaters.
For those of you on the West Coast, this is probably old news, but many people around the rest of the country may not have heard of the chain—which is based mainly in Portland but also has locations around Oregon and Washington. The Kennedy School is an old elementary school that’s been converted to a hotel, replete with a movie theater (free to hotel guests but also open to the public), a wonderful restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor courtyard, a heated outdoor soaking pool, a variety of bars including a cigar lounge and more. Each room is decorated with vintage décor with dim lighting via antique chandeliers and heavy wooden headboards (ours was painted with an owl).
We had such a great time we were sad to have to check out after two nights because they were all booked up. But, luckily for us, there are many more McMenamins locations, so we simply transferred our stuff to Edgefield. In Troutdale (about 20 minutes from Portland), Edgefield was build in 1911 as the county poor farm. It has a vineyard, huge organic gardens, a golf course, and a variety of restored historic buildings. The food—available from four different restaurants on site—is spectacular, the grounds are gorgeous. The rooms don’t include any televisions or phones, but you won’t miss them. Instead, visit the on-site spa and outdoor pool or watch live music at the outdoor pub. You can also watch on onsite glass-blower and potter at work or take in a movie at the on-site theater (family-friendly, the hotel offers a “Mommy Matinee” where kids can come and no one minds a little fussing).
I’m a huge fan of the restoration of old buildings (my book, Housing Reclaimed, is all about homes built from reclaimed materials), so the McMenamins properties were so up my alley. They truly defined our trip to the Portland area and we had so much fun. I highly recommend anyone visiting Portland consider staying at one of these excellent historic properties!
All photos courtesy McMenamins