The Crunchy Cookie

Equal parts deliciousness and hippiness

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:

A Note About My Family’s Experience with Going Gluten-free: After consulting with our doctor, DG and I decided to maintain a gluten-free household about a year and a half ago and now, it seems that gluten-free menus and options are everywhere I turn.  Which is good for us, but maybe bad for people in general.  It seems to be the next big thing in diets, which makes me cringe because reaching for something just because it’s labeled “gluten-free” isn’t best if you don’t do your homework.  Gluten-free living can and has helped thousands of people who suffer from things like celiac disease and IBD but it’s not necessarily a healthier lifestyle for everyone: in fact, many gluten-free foods are higher in fat, calories, and carbohydrates  and lower in fiber than their glutinous counterparts.  (Now if you want to discuss removing processed foods from your diet, that’s a horse of a different color.)  If you’re considering going gluten-free, please consult your medical provider and not something like Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s book that promises that it’s “the secret to a healthy life”.  And now back to the post…

The American Dietitic Association recently published a study that analyzed the amounts of gluten found in supposedly naturally gluten-free foods.  The results are reason for the gluten-intolerant and gluten-adverse to be concerned: 7 out of the 22 samples showed gluten levels above the proposed FDA rule for gluten-free labeling.  The study states that “gluten contamination of inherently gluten-free grains, seeds, and flours not labeled gluten-free is a legitimate concern.”

If you’re gluten-free, you probably already know that gluten can pop up in unexpected places, including oatmeal (which is naturally gluten-free but grown and processed in such a way that it’s usually contaminated by gluten), sauces, milk and meat products.  You probably also know that the FDA currently has no definition for “gluten-free” and that gluten-free labeling is voluntary and not regulated or enforced.  What this new study shows is that we also now have to be extra careful when buying things like rice flour because they may be contaminated by gluten.  In my mind, it’s probably safer to buy flours and products labeled “certified gluten-free” because even though they are generally more expensive, they have been tested  to ensure that they don’t contain gluten above 10 ppm.  If a product is simply labeled “gluten-free”, there’s no guarantee that it has been tested and it may just be a marketing ploy because of the gluten-free diet’s new-found popularity.  Sigh.  We’ll just have to wait until the FDA actually decides on a definition for “gluten-free”, a process that’s been in the works since 2006.

Do you have any tips for or questions on healthy gluten-free living?  Please post in the comments section below or write me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

I’m trying to incorporate more meditation in my life and I find that I’m afraid of not doing it right.  This, I have heard, is fairly common among novices who not only find stillness and mindfulness to be a challenge, but are used to accomplishment, not practice.  I try to keep this in mind (ironic, considering it’s meditation) but somehow in yoga class or during prayer, I find myself wanting to sneak a peak at everyone around me and compare myself: Am I sitting right?  Am I going too fast or too slow?  Do I look serene enough?  Am I the only one not getting this?

So maybe, I figured, sitting meditation isn’t for me.  Many people discover activities like washing the dishes or running to be meditative and I do enjoy the sense of quiet that can be found in day-to-day activities.  I’ve come across a meditation technique that is spot-on for me right now: the Orange Meditation.  Created by the founder of the Unified Buddhist Church, Thich Nhat Hahn, the Orange Meditation is a mindful eating technique that engages the senses and is helpful to me in that it has a beginning, middle, and end.  Here are the basic steps of the Orange Meditation (borrowed from Suite101.com):

  1. Breath deeply three times, slowly and carefully, or until one feels connected to the self.
  2. Pick up the orange and hold it in the palm of the hand. Feel its texture. Notice its color. Spend some time examining and enjoying the orange.
  3. Slowly begin to peel the orange. Notice the change that occurs under the orange’s skin. Take time to smell the orange. Gently touch the exposed flesh.
  4. When the orange is peeled, pick up a segment. Bite into it, and close the eyes to concentrate fully on the orange’s flavor. Do not take another bite until all of the previous bite is gone.
  5. Pause occasionally to reflect on any new sensations from eating the orange.
  6. When the orange is gone, focus again on the self with several deep breaths. When ready, open the eyes.

If you want to try this technique, find a quiet space away from distractions like TVs, computers, and phones (which, let me tell you, is a challenge in my house) and give yourself at least ten minutes of uninterrupted time.

Have you discovered any meditation techniques that work for you?  Do you have any meditation stories you’d like to share?  If so, please add to the comments section below or shoot me an email at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com.