The Crunchy Cookie

Equal parts deliciousness and hippiness

When I read this article on NPR.org by my friend Eve, I immediately started salivating.  She discovered five delicious cupcake recipes that incorporate such non-traditional baking ingredients as black beans and whole oranges… three are even gluten-free!  These recipes are really what the Crunchy Cookie is all about: balancing indulgence (a tasty treat) with caring for yourself (swapping high fat and low nutrition ingredients for nutritious, whole foods).  I’m reposting Eve’s recipes for orange cardamom cupcakes with orange yogurt icing and red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting below but I encourage you to check out the original article for her insights and more recipes.  Enjoy!

Orange Cardamom Cupcakes With Orange Yogurt Icing
Eve Turow for NPR

Orange Cardamom Cupcakes With Orange Yogurt Icing

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

For Cake

2 medium-size, thin-skinned oranges, preferably seedless*

6 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cup finely ground almonds or almond meal

1 teaspoon ground cardamom (approximately 8 green cardamom pods)

For Frosting

1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons orange zest, plus more for garnish

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Candied orange peel, optional

* This recipe would also work with 4 to 5 clementines, or 15 to 20 kumquats; or, if you skip the cardamom, 3 lemons

  1. Scrub the oranges and place them in a pot with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, adding more water if necessary. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, cut the fruit in half and remove all of the seeds (otherwise the cake will be bitter).
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Put the oranges, peel and all, in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or blender and puree. Measure out 1 1/4 cups.
  4. Then, with a food processor, beat the eggs with the sugar and baking powder at medium-high speed until thick and lemon-colored. Add the ground almonds and cardamom and mix well. Slowly mix in the pulped orange. Spray or add liners to your cupcake pan and pour the batter in, about 3/4 full.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. If the top begins to get too brown, cover loosely with foil. Place cakes on a rack to cool.
  6. Combine all frosting ingredients in a bowl, mixing with a spoon until smooth and thoroughly mixed.  Spread frosting on top of cooled cupcakes with knife or spatula. Top with extra orange zest or candied orange peel. For children, orange jelly beans or sprinkles can be fun garnishes.
Close-up of a red-velvet cupcake before frosting

Eve Turow for NPR

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

For Cake

15 1/2-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) red food coloring

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Red sprinkles, optional

For Frosting

4 ounces low-fat cream cheese

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon honey

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Add beans to a strainer and rinse well. Puree beans, vanilla extract and eggs in a blender or food processor. Add yogurt and continue to blend until all lumps are removed. Pour into a bowl and add cocoa powder, food coloring and sugar. In another bowl, mix together baking powder, baking soda and vinegar. The mixture should begin to fizz. Add to batter and mix in.
  3. Grease cupcake pan or add cupcake holders and pour the batter in, about 4/5 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Place cakes onto a rack and cool.
  4. For frosting, mix cream cheese, sugar and honey until smooth in a food processor, mixer or blender. Spread on top of cupcakes with a knife or spatula, adding red sprinkles if desired.

If you’ve ever suffered a migraine, you know that they’re more than just a headache.  Often accompanied by sensitivity to light, sound, and smells as well as nausea and vomiting, a migraine can disrupt your life and make you feel like jabbing a pen into your temple is a less painful option.  I began suffering migraines in my early twenties and have learned that the most important aspect of management is prevention.  I’m lucky in that I don’t have to turn to  more drastic measures such as blood pressure medication and that by eating healthily and regularly and keeping to a consistent sleep schedule, I can manage them fairly well.  Another thing that helps?  Riboflavin, that magic B vitamin.  A study published in the medical journal Neurology found that high doses of riboflavin (400 mg a day) were a safe prophylaxis for migraines.  The study’s participants had fewer migraines of shorter duration and lesser severity.  They also reported using fewer anti-migraine drugs.  Pretty promising, right?  If you have migraines, talk to your doctor about incorporating high-dose riboflavin into your treatment program.  Along with avoiding your triggers, it can help you manage a nasty and disruptive problem.

If you’re not sure what your triggers are, try keeping a migraine journal.  Write down anything you’ve eaten, been exposed to, etc. in the day or two preceding your migraine.  Note the duration and severity on a 10 point scale to try and find any patterns.  (Doing this helped me pinpoint that my migraines are linked to my hormonal cycle, lack of sleep, red wine, and maybe even the scent lavender.)  Then talk to your doctor about treatment and prevention measures, including alternative treatments like acupuncture.  Good luck!

When not busy expanding our knowledge of the universe, NASA occasionally researches topics with very practical applications here on Earth.  Like houseplants.  NASA has identified 19 different species of houseplants that are useful in improving indoor air quality and many have the added bonus of treating certain chemicals, like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene that are found in household items like paint and building materials.  All 19 plants are easy to find at your local nursery and NASA recommends one of these plants for every 133 sq. ft. in your home to improve air quality, grown in pots of at least 6 inches in diameter.  Here’s the list of the top 15 (B=reduces benzene, F=reduces formaldehyde, and T= reduces trichloroethylene):

  • Philodendron scandens “oxycardium”, heartleaf philodendron
  • Philodendron domesticum, elephant ear philodendron
  • Dracaena fragrans “Massangeana”, cornstalk dracaena
  • Hedera helix, English ivy, B
  • Chlorophytum comosum, spider plant, F
  • Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”, Janet Craig dracaena
  • Dracaena deremensis “Warneckii”, Warneck dracaena, F
  • Ficus benjamina, weeping fig
  • Epipiremnum aureum, golden pothos, F
  • Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”, peace lily, B, T, F
  • Philodendron selloum, selloum philodendron
  • Aglaonema modestum, Chinese evergreen
  • Chamaedorea sefritzii, bamboo or reed palm, B, T, F
  • Sansevieria trifasciata, Mother-in-Law’s tongue, B, F
  • Dracaena marginata, red-edged dracaena, F

What’s great about houseplants is that they’re used to flourishing in low light, so they’re good for office environments as well.  Not included in the top 15 are the gerbera daisy and mums, which are considered decorative, seasonal plants and not true houseplants.  Both reduce benzene and the gerbera daisy also reduces trichloroethylene.

This fall I’m headed back to school and for me, that means cutting expenses wherever possible (remember those $300 textbooks?  Eesh!).  So instead of heading to Whole Foods or another natural foods store to get my cosmetics, I’m headed to the drugstore in my building.  A quick survey of the products was pretty disheartening: so many chemicals in such small bottles!  But there are some good options out there at places like CVS and Walgreens.  They’re generally more expensive than generic or brand-name products like Pantene or Dove, but you get what you pay for in terms of the ingredients and company philosophies on animal testing and environmental responsibility.  Here are my drugstore favorites and be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post for some tips on “crunchy” drugstore shopping:

  • Organix Shampoos and Conditioners ($7): All Organix products contain active organic ingredients and are packaged in bottles made from post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin with compostable labels.  What they don’t contain is important, too: the products are paraben-free and sulfate-free and never contain ingredients tested on animals.  I like the Cherry Blossom Ginseng shampoo and conditioner for my fine, curly hair: it conditions nicely and smells delicious!
  • Burt’s Bees ($3-$25):  Burt’s Bees is one of the first national natural cosmetics companies.  Known for their distinctive yellow packaging and beeswax ingredients, all Burt’s Bees products are paraben-, sulfate-, phthalate-, chemical sunscreen-, and petrochemical-free.  The company is committed to charitable donations, environmentally friendly packaging and practices, and not using animal testing.  DG and I have the Beeswax Lip Balm ($3) in the car, in the bathroom, at our desks… pretty much everywhere and the Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream ($6) is easily portable, wonderfully moisturizing and smells absolutely amazing.
  • Almay Pure Blends ($7-$14): I love to see bigger companies like Almay provide healthier, natural alternatives.  The Pure Blends collection is talc-, paraben-, and fragrance-free and comes in less, more environmentally friendly packaging.  I’m a fan of the eye shadow in Lavender and the lipgloss in Petal.  The lipgloss stands out for its subtle color and smooth consistency.  (Though I haven’t tried it, the Organic wear line by Physician’s Formula is another makeup line found in drugstores that is paraben-, cruelty-, synthetic preservative-free and boasts that its ingredients are of 100% natural origins.)
  • Organic Cotton Balls and Cotton Swabs ($3-$4): Although these staples are a little more expensive than their generic counterparts, switching to organic cotton balls and swabs is an easy way to make your beauty routine more eco-friendly.  Conventional cotton is one of the most polluting crops in the world: it’s estimated that 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides are used in the production of cotton, which only makes up 2% of the planet’s agricultural land.  Though organic cotton clothing options like t-shirts and jeans can be pricey, making the switch to organic cotton balls fits into almost any budget.

Some do’s and don’t's for crunchy drugstore shopping:

  • DO prioritize your cosmetics.  Anything that stays on your body longer (like nail polish), covers lots of area (like body lotion), or is applied to vulnerable areas (like the skin around your eyes or on your lips) should be as safe as possible.  If you have to, compromise on things like soap and shampoo that are washed off and make sure that things like toothpaste and lip balm that are easily ingested aren’t harmful.
  • DON’T purchase nail polishes or nail treatments that contain toluene, DBP or formaldehyde.  Many drugstore brands contain these dangerous chemicals, but some, like Sally Hansen, don’t.
  • DO be sure to read your labels!  If you don’t know what an ingredient is or want more information on a product, check it out on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.
  • DON’T be fooled by the words “bio”, “natural”, or even “organic” in product or brand names.  These mean nothing.  Their use is often just a clever marketing gimmick, so be sure to examine the label for things like sulfates, petrochemicals, and parabens.
  • DO choose fragrance-free products or products that get their fragrances from essential oils whenever possible.
  • DO look for powder makeup that doesn’t include talc.  While not harmful when applied to the skin, the real danger is in inhaling it.  Stay away whenever possible.
  • DO buy products that come in bulk and environmentally-friendly packaging.
  • DO remember that less is more: buy products with fewer ingredients AND examine your routine to find products to eliminate.  Fewer ingredients and products mean fewer points of failure.
  • DO reflect on what’s important to you and prioritize your purchases accordingly.  Whether it’s organic ingredients, recycled packaging, local companies, or cruelty-free products you really care about, you can send a message through what you chose and chose not to buy.
  • DO experiment with everyday items you find in your kitchen or garden.  It’s amazing what things like olive oil and baking soda can do for your beauty routine.

Is this post missing your favorite drugstore brand, product, or conscious buying tip?  Post in the comments section below or email me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

Two years ago I started a new tradition: fall resolutions.  Inspired by the Jewish High Holy Days, a time for reflection and atonement, fall seems to be a better time for me to make resolutions than January 1.  I think this is also due to the fact that for most people, autumn is associated with the beginning of the new school year.  Think about it: for twelve years of your life (maybe more, maybe less), you had new school supplies, new clothes, new classmates, new teachers, and maybe even a whole new school environment this time of year.  That conditioning makes fall the perfect time to make new starts in other areas of your life.

I generally break my resolutions (and there are many) into categories such as health, family, friends, relationship, work (or now school!), and community.  I have a special journal I use so that I can reflect back on how I did each year and decide what is important enough to carry forward.  Some of the resolutions I know will be on my list for this year are:

  • Do all the reading for my courses on-time.
  • Take advantage of some of the travel opportunities the university will provide in Scotland.
  • Increase my running from every so often to three times a week, at a minimum.
  • Practice yoga at least twice a week.
  • Find creative ways to stay connected with DG while we’re apart.
  • Take a look at my resolutions more than once a year to help stay on track.

This tradition has given an interesting annual snapshot of where I was in my life at this time of year for the past two years.  I can see how I spent my energy and what areas of my life have improved enough to no longer be just resolutions, but actual change.  I encourage you to start a similar tradition of your own!  (If you want to get some tips for how to make achievable resolutions, check out ResolutionQuiz.com for a quick quiz, based on Prof. Richard Wiseman’s research at the University of Hertfordshire.)

Do you have a tradition for self-reflection?  What would be on your fall resolution list?  Share in the comments section below or by emailing me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

Photo: Karen Steffens, Sunset Magazine

I recently went to visit my grandmother in D.C., who, aside from making us three course meals for dinner, made mini tea cakes “in case we wanted them with our afternoon coffee.”  (I know, my gramma’s amazing.)  Now, my grandmother can bake like nobody’s business and these tea cakes were no exception.  One thing that made them stand out for me was the use of added orange peel; it turns out she zests oranges and lemons whenever she uses them and keeps the zest in the freezer for baking.  Genius!  This little tip inspired this post, all about creative uses for citrus, especially lemons.  If you have a tip and don’t see it below, please post it in the comments section!

  • Use citrus juice in healthy marinades and dressings by combining it with olive oil, a little honey or agave nectar, and seasonings like minced garlic, cilantro, and mint.  The possibilities are endless!
  • Use lemon juice to remove berry, coffee and tea stains in fabric by soaking the stains in lemon juice for one hour before laundering.
  • Have stains on a wooden cutting board?  Sprinkle a little salt on the stain and use half a lemon to rub the salt into the stain.  Let it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing with cold water.  Repeat if necessary.
  • If you have a cold or flu, boil half a lemon, a few cloves of garlic, and about an inch of grated ginger root to make a tea.  Add honey and cayenne pepper to taste and drink often!
  • To get rid of tea and coffee stains in your mugs, sprinkle a little baking soda in a lemon rind and rub the stains away!
  • Use a little lemon juice to get rid of that lingering garlic, fish or onion smell on your hands or kitchen wares.
  • To freshen your disposal, throw used lemon rinds down the disposal after everything else.
  • A paste of lemon juice and baking soda makes a great polish for brass, copper, and chrome.
  • Lemon juice and white vinegar make an excellent cleaning fluid for the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Put lemon wedges in a bowl of water and microwave until a good amount of steam builds up in the appliance.  This helps neutralize odors and loosen food when cleaning the microwave.
  • A little lemon juice can help degrease pots and pans.
  • Want to lighten your hair?  Dampen it with lemon juice and then sit in the sun.  (I’ve heard strong chamomile tea works as well.)

With Labor Day approaching and many people fitting in that last trek of the summer, I thought I would share some of my favorite travel products and tips.  These are tried and true and will hopefully help make your next trip healthier and happier!

  • Once when I was at the airport, I saw a woman nearby who was getting sick and rushed over to help. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long but I was able to leave her with a pocket pack of my new travel favorite, Clean Well All-Natural Hand Sanitizing Wipes. These toxin-, alcohol-, and triclosan-free towelettes are biodegradable, easy to pack, and unlike antibacterial sprays, they save valuable space in your one quart plastic bag for carry-on liquids. (Plus, as I learned, sometimes a wipe helps clean up unforeseen messes when a spray won’t.)  DG loves the herbal-infused original scent, while I can’t wait for Clean Well to make wipes in the orange-vanilla scent.  You can purchase the pocket pack of wipes for about $2.50 (for 10 wipes) at Whole Foods, Target, and drugstores everywhere.  They also come in large containers (40 wipes each) that are perfect for the office, locker, or home.
  • If you’re looking to pack a snack for the plane, try packing oranges!  Not only do they come in their own biodegradable packaging, but their high water content helps keep you hydrated while in the plane or car.  Also, they come in handy if you want to try the Orange Meditation while traveling to relieve any stress.
  • Want tame your curls away from home?  Try the Hot Sock Diffuser.  For less than $5.00, this easily packable diffuser slips on just about any hair dryer to help you fight frizz on the go!  It’s also great for your gym bag (why do gyms only seem to have hair dryer attachments for straight-haired girls anyway?).  The Hot Sock diffuser is available at Amazon.com or your local beauty supply store.
  • There was a time when I trusted my nails to any old nail salon.  Then, disaster struck: a bad manicure gave me warts, which I then spread to 7 of my 10 fingers because of my (former) nail-biting habit.  I know, I know: not cute and gross.  Not only am I now a big fan of doing my own nails, but I will walk right out of any salon that doesn’t live up to my standards (check back for more info on this subject soon!).  I now carry the Tweezerman Petite Manicure Set ($20, Sephora.com) with me whenever I travel or visit a nail salon, and I find myself reaching for it at home time and time again.  This mini, extremely portable set comes with a cuticle clipper, a cuticle pusher/cleaner tool, and a file in a handy plastic case.  The tools are metal so they’re easy to disinfect by soaking them in rubbing alcohol for a day.
  • Packing for a trip but don’t know where to start?  Head over to packwhiz.com for packing lists geared for your destination or trip type.  You can also upload your own list and refer back to it whenever you need it.  This is a great organizational find for someone like me who depends on lists to keep from losing her mind–thanks to Sandi P. for the tip!

Safe and healthy travels!

Do you have any travel favorites?  Any tips for other readers?  Please post them in the comments section!

Hello from the Windy City!  DG and I have made the trek from the Bay Area to Chicago all in one piece!  We did a straight shot from Marin in less than 40 hours and only stopped for gas, which I do not recommend.  Next time I do a road trip, I would like to enjoy the journey and maybe even stop to see the nation’s largest ball of twine.

So now that we’ve arrived, first thing’s first: I needed to find my local farmers’ market.  Luckily, I knew just where to go: LocalHarvest.org, an online community that helps locate organic farms, farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), and more!  They have an online store, links to blogs and forums (great for seasonal recipes), events, and a newsletter you can subscribe to or peruse online.  LocalHarvest.org helped me find Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand: easy walking distance from my new digs and open six days a week!  Here are my favorite tips for “farming the market” right:

  • Use durable, reusable bags (like cotton totes or Chicobags) to transport your fresh produce and keep it protected.
  • Chat up vendors about their growing process–learning how the food is raised and delivered to you can be quite enlightening!
  • Ask for hidden treasures: you never know when you might find organic farmers who simply haven’t paid for the certification (passing the savings on to you!), a great family recipe, or a deal if you stock up!
  • Do the ‘once-around’– scope out all the stalls once before deciding on what you’ll be eating, especially if you’re purchasing eats for a meal you’ll be preparing later.
  • Don’t hesitate to come towards closing time: the goods are mostly likely just as good but the prices may drop as vendors try to unload their wares before closing time.

Happy shopping!

Do you want to spread the word on your local farmers’ market?  Have great shopping tips?  Share in the comments section below!

My 14th birthday stands out in my memory for a simple reason: chocolate.  A few of my friends (hi Holly, Brooke, Jacque, etc.!), aware of my love for all things cocoa, pitched in and bought me a 10 lb chocolate bar from Costco.  I arrived to my freshman homeroom to find this behemoth of a chocolate bar on my desk and was completely thrilled and stunned.  It lasted quite a while, I might add: my parents finally resorted to giving bricks away to dinner guests as they left.

A dozen years later, I’m thrilled for another reason:  research has shown that dark chocolate has a myriad of health benefits, including antioxidants and heart-healthy cocoa phenols that lower blood pressure.   But there is a downside, and I’m not simply talking about the extra calories that come from overindulgence in dessert.  It appears that my love for chocolate helps perpetuate child labor and slavery in the Ivory Coast, the country responsible for 43% of the world’s chocolate supply. It’s estimated that as many as 15,000 children are enslaved on chocolate plantations in the Ivory Coast. That’s pretty disgusting.

Luckily, TransFair USA, the only third-party certifier of fair trade products in the US, has a handy tool that helps you find fair trade products near you. And not only does it help me feed my chocolate addiction responsibly, but it has information on how to order fair trade-certified coffee at Starbucks and even on where to buy fair trade flowers for special occasions. Makes things more palatable for everyone.

My favorites are Dagoba’s Conacado Organic Chocolate Bar (73% cacao; $3.45 per 2 oz bar) and Endangered Species Chocolate’s Organic Dark Chocolate Bar, which has the added bonus of supporting conservation efforts (70% cacao; $3.99 per 3 oz bar).

What are your thoughts on fair trade? Do you have any favorite brands or companies that sell fair trade products? Is there a better alternative out there? Let me know in the comments section or email me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

Today is Send an Email Day and it’s a great excuse to reconnect with a friend or loved one.  Email is free, fast, and carbon-neutral, not to mention an easy way to reach out and let someone know you’re thinking about them.  If you’re looking for a way to spruce up your celebration of Send an Email Day, try one of these great websites for free ecards: