Archive for May, 2008

Sink your teeth into these fudgy, rich brownies, and I promise you’ll never miss the gluten or refined sugars.  Or guess the secret ingredient.  These decadent delights are sure to please everyone, not just the health-conscious or those with food allergies.

Why do I call them “healthier” brownies?  First, they contain much more fiber than regular brownies, and, second, they’re made with the natural sweetener agave nectar.  Agave nectar is lower on the glycemic index than sweeteners like refined sugar and even honey.  Combined with the extra fiber, this means (diabetics and hypoglycemics rejoice!) that the morsels have a lower impact on your blood sugar levels.  That’s not to say that any brownie–even one of these–is a health food, but at least you’re not doing as much damage.  Sugar is sugar (and if you’re battling with Candida, you should steer clear of these), but if you’re in the mood to indulge, this is a great way to do it with a little less guilt. 

If you’re sensitive to dairy, consider making these with coconut oil instead of butter.  This 1-to-1 substitution works beautifully in baking.  And about that agave nectar: it’s popping up everywhere these days.  I had 4 varieties to choose from at my local Whole Foods!  I chose raw amber, but I’m sure the others would have worked fine.  If you simply can’t find agave or don’t want to bother looking for it, try using an equal amount of honey instead.  Someday I may try baking these with stevia (a completely natural, sweet-tasting herb) to eliminate the sugar altogether.  I’ll let you all know how that goes.  I absolutely do notrecommend ever using Splenda as a sugar substitute, but that’s for another post.  For now, just say “no” to Splenda.  It’s from the devil.

One more thing.  In case you missed my saying so, these are really, really tasty.  Fudgy.  Rich.  Tasty.

Now go check out the secret ingredient.  Surprised?

Go on, be a good sport.  Give ’em a shot anyway.  You’ll be glad you did!


Fudgy Black Bean Brownies

(adapted from the recipe at 101 Cookbooks)

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (that means 100% cocoa/cacao)
1 cup unsalted butter or coconut oil
2 cups very soft cooked black beans*
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 325.  For the best results, line a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper and spray lightly with canola oil.  If you’re lazy like me, just spray the plain dish and be done with it.

Melt the chocolate and butter (or coconut oil) together, either in the microwave or on the stove.

In a food processor, blend together the beans, 1/2 cup of walnuts, vanilla extract, and about 1/2 of the melted chocolate mixture.  Blend about 2 minutes or until completely smooth.  The batter will seem thick, but that’s okay.  I stopped the processor twice to scrape down the sides and make sure all the beans were completely pureed.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the rest of the walnuts, the rest of the melted chocolate mixture, the instant coffee, and the salt.  Mix well and add the pureed bean mixture.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs in a clean bowl until light and creamy, about 1 minute.  Add the agave nectar and beat well.  Add this mixture to the chocolate/bean concoction and mix thoroughly.  The batter will seem very thin and splashy.  That’s okay.

Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and back for about 50 minutes, until the brownies are set.

Allow the brownies to cool completely and refrigerate them.  Cut them into squares.  I recommend small ones because they’re so rich.

Now go spread the brownie love.

*NOTE: I used canned black beans, rinsed and drained, for this recipe, and they worked beautifully.  Be sure to check the label of the beans you buy, since many brands have onion and garlic powders in them.  You definitely don’t want that.  A little salt is fine.  You’ll need about 1 1/2 cans.


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Scooter Envy

My next door neighbors just bought a Genuine Buddy 125 scooter.  It’s cute and zippy and gets over 90 miles per gallon.  And they let me drive it.  Look.  Just look at it:

How could I not want one now?  I guess if I was my husband, I could avoid wanting one, safety nut that he is.  But, me?  Oh my.  I want one.  I want one really badly.  And gas prices are giving my rationalization all kinds of ammunition.

Think.  Just think of all the gas I could save!  The carbon emissions!  The money!  We could be greener, more frugal, more fun, and way, way cooler…all by acquiring one of these beauties. 

After all, living in Houston, we really can’t relocate to live within walking distance of my husband’s job, my school, and all the daily necessities.  Vehicles are a necessary evil in this public transportation-less metropolis.  But why do I have to burn 28 miles per gallon when I could be getting 92? 

I keep thinking about the possibilities.  I could zip over to the library to pick up a few books, then scoot down to the video store to drop off my DVDs.  On my way home, I could drop by the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients for dinner.  Or, on our date nights, we could scoot down to a gelato shop.  Or we could buzz over to the park for a picnic.  Or I could whiz over to a friend’s house at a moment’s notice.  And I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about the gas.  Oh, the possibilities!

I can just see myself puttering up to the Saturday morning farmers’ market here in Katy (I’d have to drive a car to the one in town, which is fine, because that’s when I like to drop off my recycling).  I could load up the front basket with fresh, sweet raw goats’ milk and some handmade chocolates.  In the back, I could secure my free-range eggs.  Oh yes.  I can see it.  I can taste it.  I am one with the scooter.
Oh, look!  It comes in seafoam green too:

Sure, it’s not as safe as a car.  But I would counter that it’s safer than a bicycle.  And we’ve certainly talked about bicycles before.  I would never, ever drive it on a highway, and it doesn’t go fast enough for that anyway.  I’m only talking about running errands or driving to school here.  Maybe I could even convince J to drive it to work on days when I need to take a car.   

Yes, I think I need one of these.  Birthday present, anyone?  Anyone?  Please?  <sad puppy eyes>

Now I’ll go mope through the rest of my day.  Life is hard sometimes…

So what do you think?  Utter stupidity?  Or pure genius?  (hint: “pure genius” will help build my case with my husband)


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Earlier this month, I kicked off a series on my favorite products with a post on gluten-free meal bars I love.  Today, I’d like to share my ever-growing infatuation with Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps.  Certified Fair Trade, USDA Certified Organic, and Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, these pure soaps are made from coconut, olive, hemp, and jojoba oils with essential oils for natural fragrance.  You can’t get much simpler or more natural than this.  Scents to fall in love with include Eucalyptus, Rose, Citrus, Almond, Lavendar, Baby Mild, Tea Tree, and Peppermint.  Although I would love to try the Citrus some day, I always go for the Peppermint because it’s easy to find and smells so fresh and clean. 

But what do I do with the soap?  I’m glad you asked!

1)  I make my own disinfectant all-purpose cleaner.
In an empty, clean spray bottle, I mix 3 cups warm water with 1 tablespoon Borax (available at grocery stores, Target, and Walmart) and 1 to 2 teaspoons Dr. Bronner’s peppermint liquid castile soap.  I twist on the lid, shake to mix thoroughly, and I’m ready to attack those toilets!

2)  I mop with it.
As I fill a mopping bucket with hot water, I add 2 to 4 squirts of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint liquid castile soap, depending on how much water I’m using.  I love how clean my house smells after I mop the kitchen tile with this mixture!

3)  I use it as hand soap and body wash.
This is a new idea for us.  After discovering through the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database that my beloved Jason products aren’t as pure as I’d thought, I have been looking for alternatives.  Dr. Bronner’s is the simplest of replacements.  As I run out of my hand soaps and body washes, I’m filling the empty bottles with 1/2 Dr. Bronner’s and 1/2 water (a little of this soap goes a long way).  Not only is this better for our bodies, it’s cheaper too.  Plus, we still smell good.

4)  I use it to wash the cars. 
Um, actually, I don’t use it to wash the cars.  My husband does that.  But I am the one who adds two tablespoons to the bucket of warm water he uses.  That counts for something, right?

5)  I use it as a daily toilet bowl cleaner.
I have a toilet brush holder next to my toilet that I keep filled with water and a little Dr. Bronner’s.  Every day, I take out the brush and do a superfast swish around the toilet bowl to keep it clean and smelling great.  (This daily toilet-bowl-swish routine is an idea I got from FlyLady)

This is just the tip of the iceburg, of course.  I can’t wait to discover new ways to use Dr. Bronner’s.  I’ve heard of people employing it for everything from washing their clothes to brushing their teeth!  The soaps enjoy quite a cult following.  I can see why.  They’re good for the body and the environment, they’re ethically produced, and they simplify cleaning supplies.  This last benefit also means that the soaps save me lots of money.  Since I can use one product for so many different tasks, I don’t need to buy overpriced specialty cleaners all the time.  Yes, indeed, Dr. Bronner’s works for me.

To find Dr. Bronner’s soaps yourself, check out the official Dr. Bronner website.  You can read all about the ingredients, the history of the company, and their new products.  (Their amazingly pure shampoos and conditioners sound great!  I’d use them if I wasn’t so happy with my new no ‘poo do.)  Although you can order straight off of their website, I recommend checking out www.vitacost.com.  Vitacost won’t have the same kind of selection, but their prices can’t be beat!  Personally, I’m more than happy to keep using Peppermint instead of Citrus if it means I can save money ($8.34 for 32 oz from Vitacost vs. $14.49 from the Dr. Bronner website).  If you just want to give the soap a trial run to see if you like it, try hitting up your local HEB or health food store.  

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greenmpm.jpg picture by Orgjunkie

I know this post is a day late, but with the holiday I really didn’t have my act together yesterday.  You’ll notice that for the first couple of days I have different plans for my husband than I do for me.  That’s because I was juice fasting last week (I’ll post about that experience a little later), so I’m trying to ease my way back into food.

Leftover Enchilada Casserole for J
Steamed pink banana squash and homemade kimchi for me

Shepherd’s Pie for J
Roasted pink banana squash and steamed kale for me

Grilled Basil-Garlic Turkey Burgers
Carrot Salad in Basil Vinaigrette
Steamed Green Beans

Creamy Red Lentil and Butternut Squash Soup (made with the pink banana squash I got from the farmers’ market this week)
Green salad with raw green beans, jicama, celery, and our favorite ACV vinaigrette

Friday: Date Night

Saturday: Heart & Home
Quinoa with Green Beans, Kale, and Peas 
Carrot Salad in Basil Vinaigrette

Crockpot Chicken and Quinoa

I’ll post any new recipes that turn out particularly well, hopefully with pictures.  To participate in Menu Plan Mondays yourself, visit Laura, The Organizing Junkie.

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When I discovered Heidi Swanson’s blog, 101 Cookbooks, a couple of months ago, I eagerly assigned several of her recipes to my menu plans.  One of the first dishes I tried was a quinoa salad with grilled zucchini.  While I must confess that I didn’t love the overall meal (I have something against the texture of grilled summer squash), I fell hard for the creamy avocado cilantro dressing.  Not only is it fantastic on green salads, it serves beautifully as a vegetable dip.  We brought some along on a picnic a few weeks ago and happily dunked raw carrots, celery, green beans, bell peppers, cucumber slices, and cherry tomatoes in all of its cool, creamy goodness.  I bet jicama would be a real winner too. 

I know that a lot of people think of making salad dressings from scratch as a huge ordeal, but I think this recipe is a great example of how that doesn’t have to be true.  Here, you simply throw a few unchopped ingredients in the blender and whirl.  It couldn’t be simpler.  Not only do you get superior nutrition and flavor while avoiding preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and soybean oil, you can save a lot of money by making your salad dressings at home.

For more ideas on healthy salad dressings, check out three recipes here.


Creamy Avocado Cilantro Salad Dressing/Vegetable Dip

(Adapted from a recipe by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks)

1 large ripe avocado
juice from 1 large lime
1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup plain yogurt or kefir (I use my homemade raw goat milk kefir, and it works great!)
3/4 cup water (adjust this amount up or down to make it thinner or thicker)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Puree all ingredients in a blender and serve immediately or chill for later.  (In my experience, the dressing did not turn brown, most likely because of the lime juice.)  Enjoy!

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I said “goodbye” to my shampoo and conditioner two weeks ago, and if things continue as they are now, this may be a permanent separation.  Yes, you read that right.  I’ve stopped shampooing my hair. 

Think I’m crazy?  So do I!  For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to wash my hair every single day because it would get so greasy and yucky after only 24 hours.  I have dim memories of older women telling me that way back when, people didn’t wash their hair more than once a week–and they didn’t need to.  They said that washing hair more frequently causes it to need more washing. 

I was unimpressed by this theory. 

I knew what my hair looked like if I went 48 hours between shampooing, thank you very much.  My fine hair simply doesn’t stand up well to any amount of oil.  It looks gross and feels gross.  Go two days between washing my hair?  No ma’am!

So how did I get into the no ‘poo movement?  I first heard of it about a year ago in a class on 18th century British literature.  One of the most horrifying aspects of life in the 1700s is the skincare and haircare products the women used.  Their makeup was made of ground up lead and bismuth buried in horse manure to ripen.  (Really.)  Anyway, one of my classmates mentioned that when she was researching 18th century haircare, she stumbled across websites where modern people wrote about their great results after tossing out their shampoo.  We were all skeptical, of course, but this student was adamant that somebody, somewhere was not washing her hair and having the smoothest, softest hair she’d ever had.

This time, I felt some stirrings of curiosity, but I promptly forgot all about it.

Last month, however, I happened upon a blog post at Keeper of the Home on this very subject.  After doing her research, this blogger decided to forgo shampoo herself.  After a couple of weeks thinking over the logic of it all, I jumped on board too.  I am a total convert now! 

Lest you think I never wash my hair at all, let me clarify.  I use a mixture of 1 tablespoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water for cleansing.  After thoroughly wetting my hair, I pour this mixture over my head in batches, working it in thoroughly with my fingertips, massaging the scalp as I go.  After letting the mixture sit in my hair for a minute or so, I rinse it out.  Next, I drizzle on a mixture of 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar in 1 cup of water.  I massage that in a bit, then rinse thoroughly.  (Don’t worry.  The smell disappears.)

Although I’ve tried following this protocol every other day, I’m still finding that I need to wash my hair daily.  This could have something to do with the humid climate where I live, or it may be that my scalp needs some more adjusting time.  Gradually, I’d like to work my way down to washing every other day or every third day.  We’ll just have to see how it goes.  For now, though, I’m absolutely thrilled!  My hair has lots of body and texture, and it feels great, smells great, and looks great.

There is more than one way to go no ‘poo.  Some people, especially those with very dry or curly hair, find that they don’t need these rinses at all.  They can stop washing their hair permanently by simply rinsing their hair in warm water and drawing a wet washcloth from roots to tips to distribute their scalp’s natural oils.  Others use the baking soda mixture only once a week but apply the apple cider vinegar rinse 2 or 3 times per week.  Others make a paste of the baking soda and water and massage it only into their roots.  Still other people add honey or herbs to their routine.

In every case, however, not only are these men and women saving huge money on their hair care, they are eliminating one of the most obvious sources of daily chemical exposure.  We all know that purchasing safe personal care products is much more costly than buying VO5.  What if you could wash your hair more safely than you could with those expensive nontoxic products, while paying less than you would for a bottle of Suave?  It might be worth a try.  Personally, I’m tickled pink! 

To read more about going no ‘poo, check out these resources:

Going No ‘Poo?  The blog post that caused me to seriously consider this.

Info: Shampoo Free  A very thorough post on the reasons for going shampoo free, how to do it, various tips, and even troubleshooting.  A must read!

The No-‘Poo Do  Testimony of one dry and curly-haired gal who loves her new ‘poo free life.

Why You Should Go No ‘Poo  Reasons to consider ditching shampoo for good and how to do it.

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A Little Setback and a Photo

Last Thursday, I wrote about my plans for preparing for pregnancy, and as I mentioned in that post, my first goal is holistic cleansing.  I have completed Step A of this process (preparing for the cleanse) and would be thrilled to proceed to the next phase if only my body would cooperate.  It’s fighting off some kind of cold-like illness right now, and while I’m not exactly sick, I’m not well either.  I’m not surprised, considering my stress level the past few weeks as the school term wound to a close.  I am a bit disappointed, though.

I seriously considered forging ahead anyway, but I’ve decided to give my body a couple more days to fully defend itself.  The next cleansing phase is a juice fast, which means I won’t be able to take supplements, and I think my body needs the extra support right now.  Until I get over this hump, I’m eating nothing but raw fruits and vegetables to promote an alkaline environment.  I’m also using my neti pot twice per day, putting garlic drops in my ears, and taking copious amounts of powdered vitamin C (ascorbate), garlic, and liquid echinacea (sooooo nasty!).  I hope I’ll be over this in no time flat.  As soon as I feel great again, which will hopefully be within a day or two, I’ll start the next phase of my cleanse.

One thing has been lovely about this setback.  Since I’m trying to eat lots of raw vegetables, I made that gorgeous carrot salad  again.  And this time I took pictures.  Want to see it?

I love how pretty it is! 

I also love how I ate the entire recipe–all by myself.  Oops.  I’m sure my husband didn’t want any anyway. 

Seriously, how could I resist?

Have a good weekend!


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