Food Matters
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8 Great Holiday Cheese Board Additions

Tis the season. To be merry. To party hearty. And if you are a foodie, to make a cheese board or two!

Yes, sometimes the holiday season from mid-November to January can feel like one big party. Three holidays = a lot of celebrating! A cheese board is perfect for entertaining at home—or taking to share.  And it’s sure to be a hit!


Cheese boards have always been a holiday favorite. Of course, back in the day, serving cheese meant a simple assortment surrounded by crackers. Adding some olives and nuts or a bunch of grapes if you wanted to get fancy.

Today’s cheese boards are a veritable smorgasbord of possibilities—the more the merrier! Besides a wide array to cheeses (consider a homemade smoked whitefish chevre for uniqueness) there are so many choices! What to add? Here are some ideas to get you started!

prepared deli meats

Charcuterie is the big gun today. Unless you are going vegetarian, a cheese plate isn’t complete without it. Sliced sausage has been a component for ages, but today’s plates may include extras like thin sliced salami, pancetta and prosciutto—the latter is almost a given!

Pickled Vegetables. Small pickles (or cornichons if you speak haute-cheese) were an early entry to the cheese plate arena, but today the ranks of pickled vegetables have expanded. Artichokes and round red mini-peppers are beautiful additions and every fall I make a turmeric-pickled cauliflower to bring some summer into my cheese plates.

Nuts. Other than pistachios, you’ll want your cheese board to include nuts that are already shelled.  Walnuts, pecans and almonds are perennial favorites.  And for a gourmet touch, consider flavored Marcona almonds from Spain.

olive assortment 

Olives are another classic cheese board accoutrement. Stuffed or unstuffed, pitted or not, just don’t skimp on quality. And if it’s for Christmas, consider tossing in some red and green olives for the color.

Fruit serves as a perfect complement to cheese. One option is to serve it up fresh. Berries and grapes are perfect whole or in bunches. Or for larger fruit go with halves or slices, and consider a touch or the exotic, like figs or persimmons. A tasty alternative is dried fruits--figs or apricots are delicious. Finally, for a unique presentation consider dried pears sliced lengthwise or apples cut across. You can even do your own homemade dried fruit.

fresh berries and fruit 

Preserves like jam or honey can provide a similar taste profile to fruit. Tiny jars can go right on the plate! Consider more exotic honey’s like buckwheat which may bring a more complex flavor profile.

Starchy bites like crackers are a given, but you needn’t stop there. Thin slices of French bread are delicious and easy to get locally for dedicated locavores. Pretzels are another option, and you can’t beat bread sticks for elegance.

grape leaves and other specialty foods

Specialty foods can put your cheese board over the top. For a special touch consider treats like stuffed grape leaves or artichoke tapenade.

If that all sounds like a lot, pick and choose. Or pull out a second platter! There’s no rule that you are limited to one.

It’s the holidays, after all—enjoy!

Join Inger at Art of Natural Living for great local food, gardening fun and green lifestyle tips. From (mostly) healthy recipes to natural body care, living naturally is an art

Allergy-Free Pumpkin Chai Bread Recipe

Photo by Queren King-Orozco


  • 2 tablespoons Flax Meal
  • 6 tablespoons Black Tea, room temperature
  • 1 cup Maple Syrup
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1-1/2 cups brown rice Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Xanthum Gum
  • 1 teaspoon ground Allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground Cardamom
  • 2-1/2 tablespoon ground Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground Cloves
  • 2-1/2 teaspoon ground Ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 15 Oz. Pumpkin


Flax Egg:

One of my favorite egg substitutes for baking is a flax egg. It’s simple to make and acts as a good binder. Substitute 1 real egg directly with 1 flax egg.  For this recipe I decided to keep with the chai theme and used room temperature, black tea for the flax egg instead of water. 

  1. Measure out 2 tablespoon of flax meal in a small dish.
  2. Add 6 tablespoons of black tea at room temperature. Whisk together.
  3. Let the flax egg sit for 15 minutes before adding to the rest of your baking mix. This step is important! The flax needs time set up. When ready, it should have a texture similar to jelly and will hold together when you pour it from the dish.

Pumpkin Bread:

  1. Mix together your flax eggs. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  2. Grease a loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.
  3. Set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. In a large bowl, add all dry ingredients (spices, flour, etc.). Whisk or sift together.
  5. In a separate bowl, add oil and maple syrup together. Mix with a hand mixer for two minutes. This will be your substitute butter.
  6. Make a crater in the dry ingredients and add the flax eggs, substitute butter, vanilla, and pumpkin. Mix together with a wooden spoon. 
  7. Add the batter to a loaf pan and put it in the oven. Let it bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. 
  8. Pull out the loaf and let it cool on a baking rack for 30-45 minutes.
  9. When cool, add a frosting or topping if you like.

A Case for Red Meat

Don’t give up on one of the oldest and most nutritious food sources on the planet.

Since most meat is red meat, why not make the most of this delicious and nutrient-dense protein source. Learn how to select it and how to cook it, then let it do its job of nourishing the body with micronutrients and savoriness.

Yes, there are many very good reasons for not eating red meat but that is a broad generality and only pertains to the origins of the meat. This is a recent phenomenon since humans have thrived on red meat for many generations. “Don’t eat red meat” is a common mantra displayed in modern society. To eschew red meat is the same as giving up cheese or celery. They all have good and bad versions. This article will focus on the positives of red meat, why it is healthy and why you should make it a part of a regular diet.

sliced red meat
Photo by Steven Ashton

A Little Background

The difference between conventional supermarket red meat and truly 100 percent pastured red meat is significant in terms of nutritional content. Grass-fed means that animals consumed not just grass but other wild vegetation such as alfalfa and clover and many others.

The nutrient content of a 1/4 pound of grass-fed beef has roughly 2-3 times more omega 3 fatty acids than factory raised beef. The micro-nutrient profile is more complete. Red meat is a complete protein. The risk of contamination by bacteria and hormones is vastly lower. Include some organ meats from the same healthy animals, and you have all essential amino acids covered. It’s all about the quality of life that the animal was provided. Humane treatment and feeding of animals produces healthier flesh.

Typically, animals raised for food on pasture and forest are humanely treated and raised in a natural and healthy environment. What it comes down to is that with the exception of chicken breast and most fish, everything else is red meat.

There Are Nutritious Red Meats Readily Available

With a movement towards healthier food well underway in recent years, many big-name supermarkets carry 100 percent grass-fed beef, elk and buffalo. Some specialty stores take it even further by stocking deer, caribou and ostrich. Always make sure you are getting 100 percent grass-fed meat because there are also farms where the meat is “grain finished” which defeats the purpose of raising the most nutritious meat.  

Don’t forget pastured lamb and wild tuna!

Grow It or Hunt It Yourself

Hunters and farmers have known for a long time the health benefits of wild and pasture raised meat. Even pigs that are wild or forest raised have red meat. Pork should not be white.

I personally have spent a great deal of time and effort hunting and processing feral pigs. These pigs mostly ate acorns and roots. Never was any of the meat white or pale. A growing number of small farms are selling pastured or “Forest raised” pigs where they fence in a portion of forested land and allow the pigs to eat their fill of the natural vegetation. These pens are rotated to other areas as necessary. The same goes for cattle grazing. Cattle are raised on grass and hay their entire lives.

Humans have a long history of eating red meat and in many cultures and it is the main sustenance and always has been. The vilification of red meat is a modern phenomenon that has been created as a result of the mass production of meat.

grilling steaks
Photo by Steven Ashton

Preparation Is Important

Since high-quality red meat is not cheap, it should be treated with the utmost care and should never be overcooked. The protein becomes distorted and many of the micronutrients are removed while under long periods of high heat. Aging in cool temperatures is a natural way to bring out more flavor and tenderness.

When comparing the different types of red meat, be aware of the fact that meats that have had many additives such as sausage and bacon don’t count in this comparison. Pork has been commonly made into meat products that are not necessarily nutritious. When purchasing these types, look for the least amount of added ingredients and natural additives.

The practice of factory farming in confinement is barely a blip on the historical scale of human feeding practices. Humans have survived and evolved on various types of red meats but only very recently started consuming factory raised meats. If you have tuned out on red meat you might want to rethink the well-researched nutritional advantages red meat has over other types of protein. Continue to eat as our ancestors did but just be discriminating in your red meat choices; our ancestors had no choice as all of their meat sources were natural.


Websites to locate pasture-raised products in your area:

Eat Wild

Local Harvest

I encourage readers to watch the well-researched and documented film: “The Perfect Human Diet” available on Amazon Prime.

11 Gifts in Jars

Most of these gifts cost little to make and require only a bit of effort. But they look impressive. Jars are the little black dress of food—everything looks good in them.

"I'm So Organized I'm Starting These Now" Gifts 

Prepare these gifts in early November.

1. Vanilla Extract

vanilla extract MEL
New batch of vanilla extract infusing

Start this as soon as possible. Here’s all you do: Split three vanilla beans, not quite to the top. Place in a jar. Pour in a cup of vodka, bourbon, brandy, rum or single-malt whiskey. Close the jar. Shake the jar every week or so. Your delicious vanilla extract is ready in about six weeks to two months. If you start this a bit late, don’t worry. Your recipient might not use it right away. Tell them when they can use it. For more info, read this blog post.

2. Mead

mead before after MEL
New jar of mead brewing (right) and ready-to-drink (left)

To make this delicious honey wine, dilute 1 cup of raw honey with 4 cups of water in a jar and wait. Stir it daily. Depending on your kitchen environment, this ferments in a couple of weeks. I usually let mine go for much longer, about six weeks. Fill flip-top bottles with the mead a week or so before you give it away. Depending on how bubbly it is (i.e., how much carbon dioxide it contains), burp the bottles every few days to avoid geysers or explosions. Here are detailed instructions for making mead.

3. Preserved Lemons

preserved lemons MEL
Prepping preserved lemons

These cost a bundle in the store—if you can find them. Preserved lemons add intense flavor to Indian dishes, hummus, bean dishes, soup. Traditionally, they go into a Moroccan chicken tagine. Cut organic lemons (you don’t want pesticides or wax on skins you’ll eat) in quarters but leave attached at the end, stuff with a tablespoon of salt, stuff the lemons into a jar, pour lemon juice over and wait for a month before eating. Here are the full directions.

"I Still Have Plenty of Time to Plan" Gifts

Work on these a few weeks or a month before Christmas. For some, you’ll need to make starters first.

4. Ginger Beer

fizzy ginger beer MEL
Very carbonated and spicy ginger beer

You can start this a few weeks out, depending on your recipient. The longer it ferments, the more alcoholic it becomes. It’s highly carbonated so burp (i.e., open) your bottles every two days, or even every day, depending. To make this, you first need to start a ginger bug. That can take about a week so plan accordingly. Here is my ginger beer recipe.

5. Sourdough Crackers

sourdough sesame crackers MEL
Sourdough crackers are a delicious way to use up older sourdough starter

These cheesy-tasting-cheese-free crackers freeze really well so you can make them a few weeks in advance. If you don’t want to freeze them, make them the day before you give them away, or the morning of. You’ll need a sourdough starter for these, which can take a couple of weeks to get going. Here is the cracker recipe.

6. Loose Leaf Chai Tea Blend

chai comparison MEL
Store-bought on the left, home-blend on the right

You can make this one any time but you’ll need to first buy and eat oranges and dry the peels (again go for unwaxed, organic oranges). Mix chopped dry peels with black tea and spices such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, star anise, coriander seeds, black peppercorns and ginger. Find the full instructions for loose leaf chai here.

7. Candied Citrus Peels

drying candied peels MEL
Candied citrus peels drying on a rack

This makes a small amount of candy only but it tastes fantastic, like gumdrops with an intense citrus flavor, made with actual citrus rather than nasty chemicals formulated in a lab to taste like citrus. They keep in a jar of sugar for months if not longer. Here is the recipe.

"Christmas Is a Week Away, How Will I Ever Get Everything Done" Gifts

Work on these the week you’ll give them away for optimum freshness.

8. Cookie Mix

cookie mix in jar MEL
Chocolate chip cookie mix

For the chocolate chip cookie mix pictured above, you can fill your jar in a few minutes after you’ve bought all the ingredients. If you do lots of baking at the holidays, you probably already have all of the ingredients on hand. Include the directions and voila, check off another person on your list. Go here for the post with full instructions.

9. Staples in Jars

staples in jars MEL
Jars filled with pantry staples

For the crazy jar lady on your list, how about several jars filled with pantry staples? Above, I have flour, chickpeas, sugar, brown rice, white rice and popcorn. You could start looking for jars now (I’ve scored really nice bail-top jars at thrift shops) and—to ensure fresh ingredients—fill them the week you’ll give them away.

10. Kimchi

kimchi day 0 MEL
Simple and addictive kimchi, start of fermentation

Unlike sauerkraut, which ferments for a couple of months or longer, kimchi is ready in a few days. Traditionally, kimchi calls for fish sauce. I add dried kelp granules instead. They add a bit of a fishy flavor and aroma. The spice in kimchi—gochugaru—makes this fermented incredibly delicious. Find my simple kimchi recipe here.

11. Granola

granola in jars MEL
Homemade granola

Unlike the fermented foods I’ve included in this post, granola needs little planning ahead. Make it a couple of days before you give it away and it will stay fresh and delicious until your recipient gobbles it all up. You an add all sorts of foods to granola—a handful of this nut, a cup of that seed. Add some oil and sweetener, bake, cool, mix in dried fruit and transfer to jars. Read my granola post here.

Throw the Perfect Fall Dinner Party With These Tips

As much fun as summer is, most of us can't wait for fall to roll around. Aside from the cozy fashion, brisk weather and holidays, there are all the warm flavors of the season to celebrate, too.

All these assets combined also provide you with ample inspiration for a fall-inspired dinner party. As a bonus, the feast you prepare can go easy on the Earth, too. Here are six tips for a party that's equal parts enjoyable, autumnal, and eco-friendly.

fall soup
Photo by Libby Penner on Unsplash

1. Shop Local...

This tip should apply all the time if you're actively in pursuit of a green lifestyle. Local shopping benefits the Earth as much as it does you and the local community. For starters, transporting a nearby farmer's goods to you requires much less fuel than, say, an international flight tasked with bringing the same products from overseas. On top of that, you'll be putting your money back into the local community, thus building up small businesses. If you need any more incentive for buying locally, the food tends to have more nutritional value than something grown and shipped from somewhere else. Time to find a nearby supplier and get shopping.

2. ...and Seasonal

To that end, your fall dinner party menu will undoubtedly incorporate those seasonal flavors we mentioned previously. This is good news, because buying produce that's in season is a boon to the environment. If you're buying something out-of-season—say, a sweet, summertime watermelon in the middle of fall—then you know it had to be shipped in from somewhere with the right climate. That's not good for the environment, nor is it good for you, as we've already learned.

You'll want to familiarize yourself with the produce that's suited for fall growing. From apples and pumpkins to Brussels sprouts and pomegranates, you have plenty of perfect autumnal choices. Imagine all the good you can do by combining tips one and two and planning your dinner party menu with local, seasonal ingredients. You, your community and your guests will all be pleased with your careful shopping.

3. Have One Hearty Headliner

It's no secret that the production of meat, dairy and eggs hurts the environment. According to Smithsonian Magazine, livestock-centric food production creates one-fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The worst offender of all is beef, as cows require the most land, water and fertilizer to grow. They also produce five times more greenhouse gases than their livestock counterparts.

For your fall feast, steer clear of a red meat centerpiece. Instead, opt for a single hearty headliner made of an environmentally friendly protein. You could go completely meat-free, serving up a vegan or vegetarian main, or you could mix things up with an in-season fish, such as luxurious Maine lobster, which is typically caught between June and December. You can make plenty of show-stopping recipes with just the lobster meat or tails—no boiling of the live animal required.

4. Decorate Naturally

Your dinner party table will probably feel incomplete without a bit of decoration. However, buying a bunch of one-time-use ornamentation won't fly, considering the green-living policies you follow.

Decorate your table with the natural elements you see around you. One of the simplest ways to do it is to collect the gorgeous fallen leaves that represent the season. Examine them for any dirt or hiding insects before laying them at the center of your table. You could also try collecting pinecones and placing them into decorative jars or doing the same with seasonal fruit that you'll later eat. Another eco-friendly option: candles made of beeswax or soy. You can even make them yourself to ensure they are up to your standards.

5. Don't Overdo It

As you're piecing together your fall dinner party menu, it is easy to let your stomach get the better of your good sense—it all sounds so good, doesn't it? However, cooking too many dishes means you'll have leftovers that might not get eaten, which means you'll be wasting a lot of food when you throw it in your compost pile.

Try and consolidate your cooking plan so it's just enough food for everyone invited. Whittle your focus down to two to four recipes, depending on how many people will attend. That way, there's just enough for everyone to eat without being wasteful. Bonus points if you can prepare parts or all of a recipe ahead of time—your guests want to hang out with you instead of watching you slave over the stove all night.

6. Buy Extras Secondhand

We already mentioned the fact that you can decorate for your party with nature's bounty. Unfortunately, you probably won't find a fancy fall platter or serving utensils in the middle of the forest. That means you might have to buy a few supplies to host your party properly. To do so in an eco-friendly way, head to the local thrift shop to see if they have what you need first. That way, you won't be wasting any resources to make your meal—the dish you'll purchase will have already been well-loved by someone else before they passed it on to you, nothing new required. It'll be a budget-friendly buy, too.

With these six tips in mind—and the ample fall inspiration around you—you'll throw a dinner party that's just as memorable as the season itself. While that feels pretty darn good, it'll be even better knowing that your soiree was completely Earth-friendly, just the way you wanted it to be.

My Ayurveda Kitchen: Delicious Quinoa Bowl for Autumn

Before going to the recipe let me explain a little bit about quinoa. Quinoa is not classified as a grain; it is a pseudo-cereal.

What exactly is a pseudo-cereal? A pseudo-cereal is one of many non-grasses, such as amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat, that are used in much the same way as cereals (true cereals). Nutritionally, quinoa is considered a whole grain, which is a gluten-free complete protein. Yes, you heard it right!

Quinoa Health Facts

  • High in fiber and low in calories
  • Improves your metabolism
  • Helps in weight loss and is ideal for Kapha predominant persons
  • Aside from being a good source of protein and other vitamins, in other words, Quinoa can help you have a healthier weight, healthier heart, improved digestive process, and healthier bones.
  • Quinoa can protect internal organs with its antioxidant activities, it also regulates diabetes, and reduces the risk of gallstones.
  • Super protein

Now let’s move on to the recipe.

Quinoa bowl
Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

Delicious Autumn Quinoa Bowl Recipe

• 2 tbsp. of ghee
• 1/4 tsp. Asafetida
• 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
• 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
• 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
• 1 cup of quinoa
• 1 cup of black-eyed peas
• A handful of coriander leaves
• 1 cup of vegetables of your choice – in fall I prefer seasonal vegetables like squash, pumpkin, carrots, etc.
• 1 tsp. of bouillon stock powder
• Salt and pepper to taste


1. Cooking Quinoa: Add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of quinoa, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. When it becomes fluffy, switch off the flame.

2. Cooking Beans: Soak the black-eyed peas overnight, drain and pressure cook for 2 whistles. Drain and keep aside.

3. Steam the vegetables of your choice.

4. In a pan, add ghee and sauté the spices for 2 minutes. Add the cooked quinoa, black-eyed peas, and vegetables. Mix well. Serve warm.

17 Time-Saving Tips for Cooking Real Food

If you’ve decide to cut down on your plastic footprint, you’ll start cooking more—unless you already cook everything from scratch. That’s because when you reduce your plastic consumption, you cut packaged, processed food from your diet and replace these food-like substances with home-cooked versions.

When you cook more, you not only reduce your waste, you also eat tastier food, improve your health—unless you only cook chocolate chip cookies—reduce your dependency on corporations to feed you, spend more time with your family and save money. I know cooking real food requires takes time. These tips will help save you some.

Plan Ahead

1. Cook Simple Food

I make a lot of one-pot meals and other simple food—minestrone soup, dal, frittata, pizza, refried beans. These types of dishes also help you use up food you have on hand so you waste less of it. I don’t cook anything very elaborate but it all tastes good.

Minestrone soup. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

2. Start Early

I love to eat steel-cut oats for breakfast. At night before bed, I combine them with water in a pot, bring everything to a boil and then turn off the heat. By morning, they have cooked and I simply heat them up. If I forget to do this, they take about 45 minutes to cook in the morning. I don’t have 45 minutes in the morning. (Go here for the full recipe.)

3. Stock Up on Non-Perishable Staples When You Shop

When I use up ingredients, I add them to my running shopping list. When I need staples like rice, beans, sugar, salt, baking soda and so on, I buy lots. I hate to realize just as I start cooking that I’ve run out of an important ingredient.

4. Buy Organic Produce and Don’t Waste Time Peeling It

I don’t recommend eating the peels of industrially grown produce. Stick with organic, stop peeling potatoes and carrots and save time.

organic farmers market produce
Organic produce from the farmers' market. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

Choose Your Equipment

5. Keep Your Knives Sharp

Dull knives can slip and cut you. A sharp one will speed up chopping and help keep your digits intact.

6. Use a Pressure Cooker

Friends and readers kept telling me to get a pressure cooker and am I ever glad I finally did. I love it. I’m actually a bit obsessed with it. After soaking chickpeas, I can cook them in minutes and they taste spectacular. I have to admit that opening a can does take less time but the contents can’t compare with beans you cook yourself. You’ll save money too. (Read more about using a pressure cooker here.)

7. Use a Crock Pot

I make stock in my crock pot regularly. I have also made good minestrone soup in it. You just toss everything in there and let it sit all day.

8. Choose the Right Tool for the Job

For example, if you want to make a vat of soup, use one large pot, not four tiny pots occupying all the burners on your stove. Trying to cook with the wrong tools leads to frustration and inefficiency.

At Your Station

9. Organize a Mise en Place

This French phrase means “put in place.” Before you start to cook, chop and measure out everything and set it on your countertop. Then just grab what you need as you cook. This saves so much time.

10. Organize Your Tools

I have a tiny kitchen. One of my favorite accoutrements is the bar in the pic below, which holds all the utensils I constantly use. I don’t have to search through drawers or cupboards for these when I need them.

bar with tools
Tools of the trade within easy reach. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

11. Double or Triple Recipes

Cook a vat of soup and you can eat it all week and freeze some of it for later. Making extra doesn’t require much more effort and will save you lots of time in the long run.

12. Prep What You Can in Advance

When I come home from the farmer’s market on the Sunday, I prep some of my vegetables. I trim carrots and beets, or roast them or both. I clean and chop greens and stash them in the refrigerator—just as convenient as the bagged stuff! I may cook beans. I might make salad dressing. It depends on the meal plan.

13. Keep Your Compost Bowl Close by When Prepping

This helps keep your countertop clean and organized. If you don’t compost, here’s a post on how to compost the lazy way.

14. Cram More Into Your Oven

If you’re making, say, eggplant parmigiana at 350 F, bake a pie or cobbler, bake potatoes or roast vegetables or do all of the above while you have the oven on.

15. Clean As You Go

I am trying to instill this in my kids. Every good chef knows this rule. Clean as you cook and you’ll work more efficiently and won’t face a sink piled high with dishes when you’re done.

Lifestyle Tips

16. Get Your Neighbors and Friends Involved

Students often ask me how they can find the time to cook. I always suggest that they take turns with their friends and roommates making vats of food for the entire group at the beginning of the week. In other words, we can all work together and share! It’s a radical idea.

17. Farm Out the Cooking to Your Children

Yes, it takes time to teach them but once your kids have learned how to cook, they can cook dinner regularly. I don’t buy snack food because I don’t buy processed, packaged food. When my kids want cookies, they make cookies! This is such an important skill—cooking in general, not just baking cookies, although that is also very important.

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