How We Eat: Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition

What you choose to eat or not eat in this time in history is probably one of the most confusing and baffling parts of life. This is true, especially, if you are interested in good health, animal or environmental welfare, or your pocketbook. If you are at a point in your life where you don't care about aforementioned concepts, by all means, skip to the next blog post. If figuring out the "best" way to eat is a constant internal conversation, stay and have that conversation with us for a bit. Let's talk about Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. Kristl and I have come to this way of eating after struggling through thousands of dollars of mediocre restaurant food, easy convenience food, and home cooked food ranging from the lavish to the very simple. We have been those people who eat out every meal just because there is a restaurant they haven't tried. We have also eaten just potato chips and soda for dinner. Or brownies. And this isn't all like "in the past" either. In December, we definitely existed on nothing but white pizza for three days, and on Easter, we pigged out on candy (and then seriously suffered the consequences. Seriously.) No joke.

Those are the exceptions. Let's talk about the rule. The rule is we want to eat what makes us feel good. We don't particularly care about weight gain or loss, or packing on muscle. We do have some things to take into consideration. I have epilepsy, and my neurologist, who doesn't seem to care about my diet at all, will admit that limiting your sugar consumption is better for your brain. There are numerous studies to back this up. I can tell you, without the help of any studies, that sugar does not make my brain feel good. Sugar also tends to make Kristl's gallbladder issues act up. So, for the sake of feeling good, processed sugar gets the boot.

Ok, back to Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. What does it mean? Why is it healthy? What can you feed us if we come over for dinner?!

If you think way back before globalization, before industrialization, people ate what was available to them on their farm, in their community, and what was in season. There weren't factories to break down the food into boxes, and then put it in your freezer so you could heat it up in your microwave. People were confronted with the whole cabbage, the whole chicken, whole food. Now, no one is suggesting that we all go back to subsistence farming. However, the closer you are to your producer, the fresher the product is likely to be (not always, but usually.) This is sustainable because you are supporting the local economy with your dollars, and giant trucks are not going as far to bring you delicious food.

Ok, these are our ideal standards:

  • For meat: Locally raised (five state radius), grass-fed, pastured (able to graze on grassland in appropriate weather), never treated with hormones, only given antibiotics in appropriate situations. Limit beef, and try to only cook with meat 3 days a week. Try to eat parts other than muscle.
  • For fish: Salmon should be wild caught from Pacific waters, small fish are almost always better, avoid farmed seafood, especially from Asia. Eat fish 1-2 times a week.
  • For eggs: Locally raised, grass-fed, pastured in season, organic feed otherwise. We eat as many eggs as we want.
  • Limit tofu, but fermented bean stuff, like tempeh is a-ok
  • Limit dried beans, only because they upset Kristl's stomach in large quantities, but see above, we are experimenting with tempeh
  • For dairy: We eat only grass-fed dairy products, and only whole fat (4%). This is a lot of Kerry Gold cheeses and Kalona cottage cheese and sour cream. Also, for butter we usually get Kerry Gold or Organic Valley Cultured. Grass fed is preferred, then organic local, then local, in that order. But we always want to avoid added hormones and antibiotics in our dairy.
  • Eat all the fermented food! This includes pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, etc, etc, etc. If it's cultured, we want it. Good bacteria to the maximum. Anything is easier to digest with fermentation!
  • Consume bone broth daily. We make bone broth from bones left over from other dishes, and vegetable scraps. We do not necessarily consider bone broth a magical cure all, but there are lots of good minerals and collagen inside.
  • Eat 8-9 servings of locally grown vegetables a day. "Locally grown using sustainable practices" trumps "organic" from California/Mexico/Peru. If it is not the growing season, we check out the Environmental Working Group's Pesticide Residue Data (a la Dirty Dozen) and make an informed decision about buying organic. We do eat frozen organic green beans and peas, because they are frozen very fresh, contain no salt, and are a great value from Costco.
  • Eat nuts sparingly. Nuts are a great snack, and we enjoy a mixed nut butter called Nuttzo, but since few nuts are found locally we don't pig out on nuts.
  • Eat fruits sparingly. The sugar from fruit is still sugar, so we snack on vegetables over fruits, but we probably average about 1 fruit a day.
  • Limit natural sugars. We love honey and maple syrup, but they still give Rachel a little bit of brain fuzz, so we use them sparingly
  • Avoid processed goods. If it comes in a bag or a box, isn't in the same shape it was when it came off the plant, has more than five ingredients, contains alcohol, and/or includes preservatives, "natural flavors" or fake colors, you can bet it's not coming home with us.
  • Avoid processed sugar and alcohol. It makes us both sick and sad, but if processed sugar is as addictive as science says it is, then it probably makes a lot of people sick and sad. And Kristl is super allergic to alcohol. Womp.

That's our way of eating. That's the long and short of it. That's what keeps us healthy, makes us happy, and shines a little light on the world around us.

What I always tell people is that if it's not sustainable for you, then it's not going to be sustainable for the planet. If we had jumped in and tried to start eating this way when we started this blog two years ago, we would have started the week with an armful of vegetables and sunshine and ended the week with a bucket of frozen custard and shame.  The vegetables would have rotted, we would have wasted our money. We weren't ready then. Big changes don't necessarily happen overnight, and it often takes more than good intentions to push you in that direction.

The purpose of this post isn't to coerce you into adopting a Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition diet. Although, let me tell you, it is quite tasty. The purpose of this post is to demystify what these Sustainable Queers are doing over here and to inform you.

We'd like some company. We are essentially pinging the depths. We want to know if there's anyone out there who eats like us. Do you eat a lot of vegetables? Do you value local food? Do you geek out over fermented foods and making sustainable choices? Do you cook most of your own meals? Maybe you don't right now, but you could find yourself heading that direction... let us know in the comments.

Delicious Breakfast Bars (Vegan, Grain-free, Refined-Sugar-Free)

Vegan, Grain-Free, Refined-Sugar-Free Breakfast Bars
Vegan, Grain-Free, Refined-Sugar-Free Breakfast Bars

We first posted about these breakfast bars on our Facebook page in October of last year. We've tested and tweaked the recipes a few times and decided it was high time to post them in January, but kept forgetting to take pictures. I finally remembered to take pictures a couple weeks ago and realized a few things - 1) The lighting in our kitchen is abysmal. 2) I am 100% not a photographer. 3) There was nothing I could do to make these bars look appetizing. Nothing. So just trust us when we say you should make them.

For the past couple of years we've struggled with finding a good on-the-go breakfast that could hold us over until lunch time. We used Smitten Kitchen's thick, chewy granola bars for a long time, but they were a little sweet (even though we cut the amount of sugar) and didn't always tide us over until lunch. Then one day Rachel sent me a link to this recipe for Tahini-Date Salted Caramels and said simply, "I WANT TO MAKE FAKE CARAMELS." I'm always game to try a new recipe and I love traditional caramels, so we made them that night and loved them. We made them a few more times before I realized I could probably add chopped nuts and dried fruit and make a no-bake, vegan, grain- and refined-sugar-free breakfast bar (if you use raw tahini, they're raw, too!). You know the absolute best part? They're easy to throw together and you don't even have to turn on the oven!

I decided to use walnuts and tart cherries to offset the sweetness of the dates, but you can probably use any combo of nuts/dried fruits that appeals to you. We also started adding chia seeds, which do get all up in your dental work, but help you feel full longer. We each take one for breakfast every day and I frequently will take an extra one to work if I have a full day of patients with no scheduled lunch break. They're also great a post-workout snack!

Delicious Breakfast Bars (Vegan, Grain-free, Refined-sugar-free)

Makes 16 bars.

Equipment needed: Food processor (or possibly a high-powered blender like a Blendtec or a Ninja), 8"x8" square pan, parchment paper

  • 1-1/2 cups pitted dates - We've made these with medjool, barhi, and deglet noor, and have found that the moistness of the dates matter. Deglett noor seem to be a little drier than the other two varieties, so we if we use them, we tend to mix them with either medjool or barhi.
  • 3/4 cup tahini - We like the East Wind Community tahini the best.
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil - room temperature 1 cup chopped nuts - We run whole nuts through the food processor, but you can buy chopped nuts and save yourself a step.
  • 1/3-1/2 cup dried sour cherries
  • 1-4 Tbsp chia seeds - We started with 1 T and have since increased this to about 4 T. Of course, it's up to you.

1. Combine 1-1/2 cups of pitted dates, 3/4 cup tahini, 3 Tbsp coconut oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend until you have a thick, creamy paste.

2. Add the 1 cup of chopped nuts, 1/3-1/2 cup of dried sour cherries, and 1-4 Tbsp of chia seeds in on top of the paste. Pulse until combined and most of the cherries are broken up, everything is evenly distributed, and it starts to pull away from the sides.

3. Line a 8"x8" square pan with parchment and transfer the mixture to the pan. Press it flat with an off-set spatula, your fingers, or whatever floats your boat.

4. Refrigerate until firm (we usually do this overnight).

5. When firm, lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut into squares. We usually use a pizza cutter, but a large knife should work as well.

Nine on the Ninth - True Confessions

We're doing our Nine on the Ninth a little differently this month. Some readers may think that because we try to live a sustainable lifestyle we eschew anything that doesn't fall under the eco-friendly/sustainable umbrella. That just isn't true. It's about choices and education. We make choices that make the most sense for us in a specific moment - based on knowledge, budget, and need. Those choices are not always the most sustainable or eco-friendly. And, honestly, sometimes we're just lazy. So, without further ado, here are nine ways in which we do not always make sustainable choices. (This was also inspired a bit by the Christian lenten season, because, let's be real, this is confessional.) 1. We do a lot of dishes by hand, even though we have a portable dishwasher. Dishwashers have been shown to use less water and energy than hand washing, but we have a number of items that aren't dishwasher safe and we cook so much that we have to hand wash most of our cooking utensils because we're going to use them again immediately. All this is to say, we often use more water than we should to wash dishes. (Excessive water usage is only going to become a bigger issue as climates around the country continue to change.  We may be blessed to have the Great Lakes, but who knows how long they'll be around.)

2. We both have a soft spot for peanut butter M&Ms and they do occasionally jump into our basket when we're at CVS or Target. (Ditto for Kristl and gummy candy.) Eating candy isn't 100% unsustainable, but supporting multi-national companies that benefit from exploiting workers and the agriculture system in the U.S. is not sustainable.

Kristl loves gummy candy (though, to be honest, the gummy tummy series from Trader Joe's is not her favorite)

3. We tend to buy our clothes at national retailers who likely have terrible practices and exploit the garment industry (Gap used to be notorious for this). Though we would like to buy well-sourced, fair trade, organic clothing, a lot of it is out of our budget and/or doesn't suit our needs. Rachel has a little more luck, since there is more available in her size, but there just isn't much out there for Kristl's plus-size needs.

4. Rachel has a habit of putting hot soups directly into old plastic containers, even though she knows that can cause the chemicals to leach out. (In Rachel's defense, the liquids are rarely boiling and it takes high temperatures to release anything potentially dangerous.) What is more of a concern is buying canned vegetables/beans in cans coated with plastic containing BPA (specifically tomatoes, because of the high acid content).  See this article for some legitimate pros and cons.

5. We use more plastic and paper in the kitchen than we would like - specifically ziploc bags and paper towels. Even if you are buying paper towels and plastic bags made from post-consumer recycled products, the best choice here, for all of us, would be to use rags and reusable containers (like Pyrex glass containers).

Seriously, we weren't kidding about using a few too many Ziploc bags (also, it's hard to resist a Costco deal).

6. We have a car and use it a lot, definitely more than we need to. It's a luxury we aren't completely willing to give up, even though we know it isn't the most environmentally friendly choice. We're hoping to decrease our car use with some upcoming changes, but we're not going to get rid of it. Check out this infographic about how wasteful it is to idle your car (which is sometimes unavoidable in traffic or extreme weather conditions like we get in Chicago).

7. We don't always eat well-sourced food. Sometimes we just want some chicken wings and fries from the local bar, and that's okay.

8. We LOVE a good sample. Whenever we go to Trader Joe's, Costco, or Whole Foods, we gobble up the samples (sometimes more than one per person - shh!), even though they're frequently in non-recyclable plastic cups. Even the ones in paper cups are problematic, as they are likely not made out of recycled material and probably won't get composted. And don't even get me started on toothpicks! The best way to get around this would be to only sample the things that are served in a sustainable way (e.g. chips served with reusable tongs.)

9. *GASP* We have thrown away perfectly good containers because they'd gotten pushed to the back of the fridge for months on end and were filled with some unidentifiable substance and we couldn't stomach the thought of opening them. Real talk, though, if you haven't done this at some point in your life, more power to you. (We had to have a friend of ours who works in a hospital to get rid of some former pumpkin that had transformed into a many-splendored mutant multi-organism that probably is still lurking out there somewhere and will start the zombie apocalypse.  Thanks, Ashleigh!)

So, that's it for now, since we're keeping it to nine.  We aren't perfect, we aren't even trying to be perfect or preachy or bastions of sustainability in our community.  We are simply sharing our struggles and successes when armed with knowledge and faced with a global system that has (d)evolved to the point of self-destruction.  Swimming against the current is super exhausting and sometimes we fall back on our old habits simply because they are the paths of least resistance. Our hope, the only hope out there really, is that small changes can help, and that our stories will inspire you to make small changes too, so we can get the current moving in the right direction!

September 2013 Food Swap

September Swap
September Swap

It's always so exciting when it's time to start prepping for another Food Swap.  We started prepping for this swap about mid July, when we were getting a HUGE number of cucumbers from our CSA (Angelic Organics).  We don't eat a lot of raw cucumbers, so the natural decision was to make pickles. We don't like the way canned (shelf stable) pickles become less crunchy after processing, so we made fridge pickles.  The pickles we decided to bring to the swap were our second batch of fridge pickles for the summer.  The first time we made pickles this summer (and for our broccoli stem pickles), we used dill weed to make them taste like dill.  This time we used dill seed.  The difference is a deeper, but more subtle dill flavor.  We thought bringing some of these pickles to the swap would be a good idea, because it would give a couple weeks to mature in flavor and be just about perfect for our lucky swap friends to eat right up. We even used the Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars Kristl won at the last swap!

The other two items we brought were very different from pickles.  We brought homemade organic vanilla marshmallows and curried pumpkin goat cheese dip.  We made marshmallows for the first time earlier this summer with my friend Tracy in North Carolina. (It was part of an all-from-scratch s'mores project, which was really delightful, even though the chocolate making kit's directions didn't make any sense.) They are surprisingly easy to make, especially if you have a good stand mixer.  We used organic corn syrup, because we really try to avoid GMOs in our food, and Kristl used a real vanilla bean to flavor them.  We were, however, up against a lot of other marshmallows at the swap today, so even though they came out perfectly, they didn't go very quickly.

The curried pumpkin goat cheese dip is a recipe we came up with a couple years ago as a last minute dish to bring to a party.  Kristl was like, "Oh pumpkin goat cheese would be like pumpkin cream cheese!" And I said, "Yeah, and if we add curry it'll be nice and savory!" And a delicious fall party dip was born. (I'm pretty sure those aren't the real words we exchanged, but you get the idea.)  It's a ratio of about two to one, cheese to pumpkin, with curry to taste (probably around a tablespoon), a little salt, a little honey, and a little lemon.  I can't really give you a whole lot more direction than that, as I did a lot of mixing things in, tasting, and mixing a little more of honey or curry to taste.  It was our most popular item at the swap, and unfortunately, we only had three 1/4 pint jars to give away, and the sample jar (which we gave to a friend at the end of the day.)

Before I go into what we got, I will say that this swap was really overwhelming.  It was held at the Petersen Garden Project's office, which is pretty similar to other previous swap spaces, if you include the outdoor area.  Unfortunately, it was raining, and the backyard had limited tenting, so a few poor folks were set up outside, but the majority of the 50ish (I'm not actually sure about numbers, sorry) swappers were crammed inside the building. It was pretty chaotic, and you could definitely see some folks were overwhelmed by the atmosphere.  I am the more extroverted between Kristl and I, so I was on deck for the majority of the bartering and squeezing around other swappers to find the people and items I wanted.

One new aspect of this swap was that it had sponsors! Jarlsberg USA and Woolwich Dairy provided abundant (and delicious) cheese samples for swappers, as well as providing cheese to two swappers to create an original recipe with! We volunteered to be one of the lucky swappers, but were too late. We did use goat cheese in one of our swap items anyway! We're curious to see how things work out with future swap sponsors.

Our bounty
Our bounty

We ended up getting a nice collection of items, regardless.  I was heading out of state on business for most of the week, so Kristl wanted to make sure we didn't get too many perishable/sweet things.  The majority of our swap items were in the realm of the savory.  The only thing not pictured is Chris's sprouts, which were lovely, fresh, and our snack on the way home from the swap.  Most of the items are untested at this point, but Kristl  told me the brussel sprout salad was delightful and the brownish saran-wrapped item, a Filipino rice dessert, was a sort of like stickier version of butter mochi (a sticky rice dessert popular in Hawaii which may make an appearance at a future swap).

It's just amazing to me how creative our fellow swappers are and how different the offerings are at every swap.  Kristl and I try to strategize what is best for each swap, what types of dishes will be popular, and what will get us a diverse collection of items to take home.  Sometimes we are spot on (we think August was our best swap to date) and sometimes we make similar items to everyone else.  That's what happened with marshmallows this time around; who knew so many people would think to make them?  We have follow up plans for marshmallows (think chocolate and graham cracker creations), but for the September swap we still managed to walk away with inspiring items and delicious food.

You know we can't post a swap recap without adding at least one tip for swappers. This one's an important one. Be sure to thoroughly label your swap items.This is the first time we received multiple items with absolutely no labeling. I realized after the swap that we hadn't included a date made/use by date on our swap items.

Here are some things to absolutely include on the label:

1. What the item is. 2. Whether it is shelf stable/should be refrigerated/etc. We usually just throw everything we got from a swap in the fridge, because we don't know if something has been properly canned or not (unless it's labeled or the swapper told us otherwise). 3. Date it was made/canned. 4. Estimated "Use By" date. 5. Instructions for use (if necessary).

If you have additional space, you can also include the following:

1. Your name. 2. A way to contact you if there are questions (email, website, Twitter, Facebook, phone number, etc). 3. Ingredients.

The next swap will be held on Sunday, October 6, at 4pm, at the new Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. The swap sold out really quickly, but if you're interested, you can add your name to the wait list! Spots always open up, so there's a good chance you'll still be able to get in. Jill Houk (amazing chef) and Angie Garbot (fabulous photographer) will be at the space at 3pm to sign their new cookbook The Essential Dehydrator. We'll do our best to get there early to see them, since Kristl randomly knows both Jill and Angie.

The November swap will be held at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart on Sunday, November 10, at 3pm. The last swap of the year will be on Saturday, December 7, at 3pm, at Enerspace Chicago. I believe the capacity for both swaps will be relatively large. Be sure to follow Chicago Food Swap on Facebook to be notified when the swap registration opens. Unfortunately, we have conflicts on both of those dates, so the October swap will be our last for the year. Hope y'all don't miss us too much!

Easy Does It: My Simple Skin Care Routine

This post has been a long time coming, because this is one of the things people ask me about most often.  I will start by telling you my acne story, and then tell you about my personal acne solution. I started breaking out around the age of 9. NINE. I had terrible, red, painful cystic acne for all of my teenage years and into my early twenties. As a teenager I went to the dermatologist weekly to get liquid nitrogen blasted on my face in the hopes that it would clear up my acne. I also got the really big zits injected with steroids for a while, but the steroids had a really unsettling effect on me, so I discontinued that treatment pretty quickly.

Basically I did every treatment recommended by my dermatologist, short of Accutane. In fact, I was on -cycline drugs for so long the roots of my teeth turned blue, something I didn’t discover until I had some teeth removed in my late teens. My oral surgeon asked if I’d been on tetracycline or monocycline for a while and when I asked why, he showed me my teeth and explained that prolonged use can turn the roots blue. That was kind of terrifying to me. It made me realize just how much the meds permeated my entire body - while not even having that great an effect on my skin!

Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash

I stopped the internal medicines shortly thereafter and decided to really focus on my skincare routine. I started really simple with Cetaphil, but had an allergic reaction in which my skin burned and turned bright red. Cetaphil is a line of products which most doctors recommend as super hypoallergenic, mild, and gentle. This was not going to be easy. Like most teenagers (in Hawaii in the '90s, at least) I went full-blown with Clinique products. It worked for a bit, but then I started having a reaction similar to that I’d had with Cetaphil. So not only did I have incredibly painful cystic acne, I also had extremely sensitized skin. Looking back, I think it’s because of all the internal and external medications I had taken. My skin had no idea how to take care of itself.

I went through a few more skincare lines with varying levels of success - Murad, ProActiv, Origins, Fresh, and others I can’t remember. I went to Boston for college, dropped out of college, started acupuncture school and, still, my acne was out of control. A year into acupuncture school a friend and I took a semester off to go to esthetician school. I figured THAT would be my ticket to beautiful skin. In esthetician school I learned the ins and outs of skin, skincare, and makeup and got facials and skin treatment pretty regularly. I also started using Dermalogica, because that’s what came in our kits for school. My skin got better for a while, but after a little while went right back to being bad again. I tried fancy organic skincare lines like Eminence and Dr. Hauschka only to have similar results.

I moved to Chicago when I was 22 and decided to join my roommates on the South Beach diet. My acne cleared up with the decrease in carb intake, but as soon as I had even a little bit of sugar it came back with a vengeance. I had basically given up and resigned myself to a lifetime of terrible skin.

I haven’t even mentioned all the makeup I wore during this time, trying to “cover up” my terrible skin, as if a layer of foundation could hide the bumpy landscape that was my face. Through the makeup forums online I read about oil cleansing and it sounded promising, so I tried that. No matter what ratio of oils I tried, my skin just felt clogged and dirty. I tried it for a few months, but was never able to get through the adjustment period. That was when I threw up my hands and went bare bones with my skin care. I gave up all skincare lines and went with my gut.

I went through a few incarnations before settling on what I’ve been using for the past few years. Are you ready? You sure? Okay, here goes. I use Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Castille Soap (diluted, 1:3 Dr. Bronner’s to water - though I think I'm going to switch to Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild once I'm done with my current stash of Tea Tree) to wash and I use either organic jojoba oil (usually from Trader Joe's or Mountain Rose Herbs, though I've linked to one on Amazon if that's easier for y'all) or a homemade oil blend to moisturize. That’s it. Even more? I only wash my face once a day. If I’ve gotten really sweaty and/or dirty, I may use Thayers Natural alcohol-free witch hazel as a toner, but I find that I rarely do that anymore (though it is a quick way to clean your face if you’re hiking or camping!). If I feel the need to exfoliate, I use good old Arm & Hammer baking soda. Take a little in your hand, add water to make a paste, and gently scrub it on your skin.

At one point during my “new” skincare routine I started working at Sephora. I got a lot of free product and decided to try some of their fancy skincare lines. Guess what? I reacted to every one. I either broke out or turned bright red or had a burning sensation on my skin. I went back to my simplified routine and my skin normalized within a couple of weeks. Now, this isn’t to say that I’m completely breakout-free. I do get the occasional zit, but usually it’s small and it goes away quickly. If I get an unusually stubborn zit, I will sometimes put a little tea tree oil on it. Even with occasional breakouts my skin is so much better than it used to be.

Right-side, slight breakout
Right-side, slight breakout
Left-side, clear skin
Left-side, clear skin

Now, I rarely wear makeup (we’re talking probably less than 10 times a year) and am 100% comfortable going out in public with a bare face. In fact, I even get complimented on my skin! Listen, I’m not ever going to push my routine on anyone. I know how uncomfortable that is and how frustrating it is to be on the receiving end. I did, however, want to share what worked for me, after trying what seemed like EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT ON THE MARKET. Do what you will with the information. Everyone is different.

The nice things about this “regimen” so to speak is that it is really simple, very inexpensive and it fits swimmingly with a sustainable lifestyle.  Dr. Bronner’s products are organically produced and organic jojoba oil is not hard to find.  The soap is diluted, which makes it last a super long time, and you are only washing once a day, which makes that purchase go even farther.  Certainly, the health of your skin is affected not only by what you put on your skin, but also by how you eat and your stress level. 

As a matter of full disclosure, I do not smoke or drink alcohol or coffee and I eat a diet composed mostly of organic foods. I run my own acupuncture business, so I have a stressful day here and there, but on the whole, my job is pretty low stress.  I also receive acupuncture regularly, which helps to clear out any things that might be waiting around to aid the production of pimples. Regardless, I have recommended this regimen to many of my patients, friends, and Rachel, and most have seen dramatic results.  Rachel went from constant breakouts to only the occasional blemish.  If you are fed up with what the beauty and healthcare industry has to offer in regards to skin care for acne, give this a try, and commit to it for at least four weeks. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

UPDATE 06.21.13: I've compiled a Skincare FAQ post to answer questions that y'all have been sending me. Check it out!


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Our First Chicago Food Swap (and a Recipe!)

Ever since we started dating, Kristl and I connected deeply on the subject of food. We love to eat together, eat out, cook, bake, and talk (endlessly) about food and all things related. Kristl follows something like 5-8 food podcasts, I have a blog with my friend Tracy about our cooking exploits. We make things from scratch, we watch food documentaries. It's clearly a shared interest. Because of this shared interest, a huge portion of our shared past times are (you guessed it) food related. Recently, we were able to take our passion for making cool and interesting things from scratch and share it with a bunch of other people who like to make cool and interesting things from scratch at the Chicago Food Swap.

We signed up for the food swap as soon as we figured out it existed, because we knew we would love it. These swaps are very popular and there is usually an extensive waiting list for each meeting. Up to this point, the swaps have been running every other month and 30-50 people are able to attend, depending on the size of the venue. Local businesses have been gracious enough to host the swap, so the location changes for each event.

Kristl and I spent probably three weeks dreaming about all the things we could make, including infused salts, sugars, alcohols, homemade cheez-its, cookies, cakes, pies, various canned and fermented goods, really the sky was our limit. We are unlikely to admit this in public, but we always try to win. Shhh. As we got closer to the swap and got real about what our busy schedule would allow us time to make (including the added wrench in the works that I was going to be traveling for work the week preceding the swap), and we decided on 4 items: sriracha salt, lemon rosemary salt, candied nuts, and salted caramel sauce (check out the recipe below).  They were all really pretty (and delicious) but we didn't remember to take a picture of what we brought.  Whoops. We're still figuring out this blogging thing.

We were unfortunately late to the swap because of the Assyrian New Years parade in Edgewater (weirdly, I didn't have that one on the calendar), so I can't report to you what it looks like from the very beginning. However, the swap organizers were nice enough to let us snag a table in the back of Local Goods Chicago and we were able to browse for about 5 minutes before the swapping began. Each swapper has a sheet for each of their products with a name, list of ingredients, and other relevant information.  It also has 6-8 lines where other swappers can bid on the product with one (or two) of their own. For example, someone looking to score one of our sriracha salts wrote down her name and then offered to trade a jar of applesauce for it. If we thought applesauce was worth it for the salt, once trading began, we could locate the other swapper and make good on the deal. This part of the process is really fun.

Kristl and I divided and conquered. Sometimes I stayed by our goods and fielded trades from other swappers and sometimes Kristl would stay and I would take a jar and go find someone with something we wanted. Most trades were pretty equal and towards the end people were really trying to just not take their own products home with them. For first time swappers and for missing a great deal of the browsing/bidding portion of the event, I think we did a really good job of getting a great variety of items.

Well? What did we get? So we had brought about 15 items and we got roughly that amount in return:

I can't believe this is the only picture we took that day!
I can't believe this is the only picture we took that day!
  1. Garlic butter
  2. Pumpkin seed pesto
  3. Applesauce
  4. Apple butter
  5. Date Cola syrup
  6. Dill pickles
  7. Grapefruit ginger curd
  8. Pizza rolls
  9. Salted caramel chocolate cupcakes
  10. Lumpia (meat)
  11. Lumpia (sweet)
  12. Quick bread with spinach and feta
  13. Banana bread fudge
  14. Spicy Pepper Sauce
  15. Pear Ginger Cashew Conserve

Wow. And doesn't even scratch the surface of what was available. Part of the beauty of the swap is that we didn't want everything and not everyone wanted our stuff. You get to decide what you want, and you can always say no.  We will definitely be back, and we will bring weirder more elaborate things.  You can bank on that.  

Kristl's Salted Caramel Sauce

Slightly adapted from The Kitchn - Makes 3 cups

2 cups organic cream

1-1/2 cups organic sugar

1/2 cup filtered water

1/4 cup organic salted butter, cubed

1 tsp sea salt

Warm the cream in a saucepan to about 100°F (if you don't have a candy thermometer, don't fret!). The cream shouldn't boil, just be kept warm.

Over high heat, mix the sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepot until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, but watch the pot like a hawk. The sugar will bubble and then you will see streaks of golden amber. These amber streaks will very quickly become darker streaks, at which point you should lift the pan and swirl it carefully. Put it back on the heat and watch it carefully until it smokes. When you see the first tendril of smoke rising from the caramel, remove the pot from the heat.

Carefully pour in the warm cream and whisk vigorously with a long-handled whisk. The mixture will bubble and expand a lot, so be very careful. Nobody wants a caramel burn! Whisk in the butter and salt, then return to medium heat until the sauce reduces to your preferred consistency.

Let the caramel sauce cool and then pour it into jars. Usually we pour it into a quart jar, but for the swap, we used three half-pint jars and it fit perfectly. Supposedly it'll last at least two weeks in the fridge. I've never had it last more than 2 days. ;)

Note: Sometimes when I've made this it takes a little coaxing to get the cream to incorporate into the caramel sauce. When this happens to me, I turn the heat on medium-low and just keep whisking until it incorporates. (Sadly, I'm not enough of a caramel expert to get perfect results every time. Not YET anyway.)