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My Surrogate Garden: the Farmers Market

So here's the deal. I don't have a garden. I drool a bit over all the garden photos on The Green Phone Booth and elsewhere. I even have a Pinterest Garden board. I do aspire to having a garden, but I just don't have the mental space, time, or energy to embark on this new endeavor just yet. (If you'd like to come plant stuff in my yard for me and tell me exactly what to do afterwards, just let me know!)

But you know what I've got? I've got the farmers marketAnd oh, how I love the farmers market. I shop at one, sometimes two farmers markets every Saturday and purchase at least 90% of my family's produce there (bananas being the major exception). I kind of like to think of the farmers market as my garden. My surrogate garden, if you will. So for the last few weeks, I've been annoying my children by whipping out my smart phone to take photos at the farmers market.

Are you ready? Here are some photos of my pride and joy: my local farmers markets.

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Hate Stirring Natural Nut Butters? Read This.

Does this happen to you?

As I get to the bottom of a jar of peanut butter, or almond butter, or tahini, I feel a vague sense of dread. It's the knowledge that soon, very soon, I will have to open a new jar of nut butter, and that entails trying my very best to integrate that layer of oil sitting on the top into the entire jar. Whether you use a fork, knife, or some other utensil, this process inevitably involves making a greasy mess on your hands, the outside of the jar, and on the surface beneath the jar.

At least that used to happen to me, until I discovered one of the finest inventions ever: the Witmer Mess-free Peanut Butter Mixer.

Are Full-fat Dairy Products Good for You?

Reconsidering Full Fat Dairy

For years my family has been eating organic whole plain yogurt produced by a local creamery. I chose whole yogurt (over lowfat or nonfat) mostly because it was creamy delicious. In addition, I had read that whole dairy products were important for women during their child-bearing years, and that doctors recommend whole dairy products for children under the age of 2 because young children need lots of fat for their developing brains. Also there is the fact that, as a general rule, we aim to eat foods in their most natural and least processed state as often as possible.

But recently I began questioning the healthiness of whole fat dairy.

Easy-peasy DIY Taco Seasoning Recipe

Not so long ago I used Trader Joe's envelopes of taco seasoning to season my taco meat. But then I discovered that it contained sugar, which meant my sister, who does not eat sugar and then regularly ate with us, could not eat it. Of course I had to browse dozens of recipes before trying a few and then finding my own favorite version through trial-and-error. I'd say of all the recipes I browsed, mine bears the closest resemblance to Alton Brown's.

I mix and store mine in the little glass jars that came with my yogurt maker (they hold a little less than one cup). I always make my yogurt in quart jars, so I can use the little jars for other things. After getting tired of searching for my favorite version of the recipe every time I needed to make a new batch of seasoning, I had a stroke of genius and affixed the simple recipe to the lid using part of a blank label.

7 Simple Low-risk Ways to Involve Kids in the Kitchen

Kids benefit tremendously from helping in the kitchen. Kids who help in the kitchen are more likely to try healthy foods and participate in family meals. They are also learning valuable cooking skills and building self-confidence as they contribute to the family. I try to frequently involve my kids in baking and cooking for these reasons.

But sometimes I am too short on time or patience to really let my kids (ages 6, 4, and 2) be fully involved. Or sometimes the child who wants to be involved is under two or just beginning to help in the kitchen.  At those moments, I need a simple way to let them feel involved that still let's me get the job done quickly and successfully. Here are some easy, low-stakes way that I let the kids help me in the kitchen.

Avoiding Toxins in the Backyard

School's out and that means that my kids are spending a lot more time in our backyard. I am a big fan of outdoor play for kids and adults. Unfortunately, there are several ways that we adults inadvertently make our backyards less of an ideal play location for our children by introducing toxic chemicals. Here are some ways you can make sure that your backyard stays safe and eco-friendly this summer.

Pesticide-free Bug Control

In my area, hot weather means bugs. They sneak in your home looking for moisture, shelter from the heat, and, of course, some morsels to eat. Just the other day the Pesticide Salesman stopped by my door to let me know that two of my neighbors were spraying for ants and spiders and did I want to sign up too (at a discount, of course!) so that they didn't all run into my house when he, "flushed them out" of the neighbors' yards and crawl spaces. Turns out I'm much more worried about the neurotoxins in pesticides than ants and spiders, so I turned him down. But I'm not a huge fan of bugs in my house. I've had ant, fruit fly, and cockroach invasions and lived to tell the tale, without the use of toxic pesticides! This is my tried-and-true ant bait/ trap (keep away from little hands and animals), and a non-toxic spray we use around the perimeter of our house to discourage cockroaches. House spiders are generally welcome at my home! Check out Beyond Pesticides for safe alternatives to toxic pest control.

The Non-toxic Eco-friendly Sandbox

Does Play Sand Cause Cancer?

Last summer I purchased a used rigid plastic sand box with a cover on Craig's List. Once I had the sandbox, all I had to do was buy some sand. Unfortunately, this decision was not as simple as I had hoped.

If you live in California, you've possibly seen the Prop 65 cancer warning on bags of play sand. That's because the super cheap fifty pound bag of sand you can pick up at home improvement stores or garden centers isn't actually sand. According to Healthy Child Healthy World, "'Play sand' is a manufactured material made from ground quartz that can contain carcinogenic crystalline silica and a mineral called tremolite, which is related to asbestos."  You can read more about the classification of crystalline silica as a human lung carcinogen in this OSHA document.

Some emphasize that the risk is mainly an occupational hazard for sand blasters who experience intense and prolonged exposure to the crystalline silica dust. While children certainly aren't subject to the same degree of exposure as sand blasters, parents still may not be comfortable with their children inhaling respiratory irritants linked to cancer. The issue isn't the silica, which is present in all sand, but the size of the particles. Finer particles can be inhaled into the lungs, causing respiratory irritation and an increased risk of mutations and tumors. So if you see a dust cloud above the sand box, you have an issue.

Non-toxic Sand