The Crunchy Cookie

Equal parts deliciousness and hippiness

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.

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.)

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!

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.

In the best news I’ve heard in a loooong time, today is National Ice Cream Day, which I’m putting on my calendar and planning to celebrate religiously in the years to come. Here are my resolutions for keeping this indulgence from becoming too guilty of a pleasure:

-I will try to keep my portion size reasonable: no more than a one cup scoop.
-I will try to use toppings like fruit and nuts than provide some nutritional value.
-I will remember that the more complicated the flavor, the less healthy it will probably be for me.
-I will remember that “low sugar”, “low carb”, and “low fat” don’t necessarily mean “low calorie” or that the ingredients are all good for me.
-I will remember to support local and organic ice cream makers.
-I will remember that these are guidelines and not rules. Because a little ice cream is good for the soul and it’s good to enjoy a treat now and then, especially if I enjoy it with purpose.

Do you have guidelines on eating ice cream healthfully? Post below in the comments section! Happy Ice Cream Day!

You may be familiar with The Story of Stuff, a short, informative Internet film that takes us through the creation, distribution, and disposal of consumer products: it’s been viewed on the Web over 10 million times!  (If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it!)  My awesome friend Renée works for The Story of Stuff Project and gave me a heads up on their new project, The Story of Cosmetics, created in association with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  I’m really excited to see it when it comes out on July 21, but until then, all I have is the teaser they released today.  It promises to follow in the footsteps of the Project’s earlier films in its accessible tone and direct explanation of what happens when corporations aren’t looking out for the little guy.

See the teaser for the new film here and let me know what you think in the comments section!  Are you as eager to see it as I am?  Do you have thoughts on The Story of Stuff Project’s other films?  Let me know below!

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in plastics and resins and is getting a lot of bad press recently.  Banned in the EU and Canada, BPA has been shown to mimic hormones in animal studies and linked to precancerous changes in cells, early-onset puberty, insulin resistance, and reproductive abnormalities.  The scary news?  Over 90 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies, and children may be even more susceptible to its negative effects.  While there is contention over whether or not BPA is harmful to humans, you may choose to limit you and your family’s exposure to this potentially dangerous chemical.

Here are some tips to avoid BPA in your everyday life:

  • Avoid plastics with the numbers 3, 6, and 7 inside the recycling sign on the bottom of the bottle (see the image at top right).
  • Be wary of products that advertise as “BPA-free”.  Good Housekeeping found that three products that the manufacturers had listed as BPA-free contained BPA and one contained both BPA and phthalates, another chemical found in plastics that has been linked to endocrine disruption.
  • Avoid canned foods, especially those containing acidic or fatty foods (like tomato sauce).  BPA leaches into these foods more than others.  Choose foods in glass containers or those in “brick” cartons like Tetrapaks.
  • Don’t microwave food in plastic containers or with plastic wrap.  A plastic bowl that is microwave-safe means that it won’t warp in the microwave, not that it won’t transfer chemicals to your food.
  • If you purchase food that has been wrapped or sealed in plastic, remove the layer of food that came into contact with the plastic during storage and store the rest in a glass or ceramic container.
  • Wash your hands after handling cash register receipts as the “waxy” kind of credit card receipt is lined with BPA.
  • Use BPA-free water bottles (such as the BPA-free lines from Camelback and Nalgene) and don’t reuse disposable drink bottles.
  • Don’t wash plastics in the dishwasher and use as many glass and ceramic containers as you can.
  • Ask your dentist to put BPA-free sealants on your family’s teeth.
  • Choose beauty products and toiletries that come in glass containers or BPA- and phthalate-free plastics.
  • Encourage your local restaurants and stores to provide BPA-free containers and bags for your food and shopping items.  Or, even better, bring your own containers and bags and reduce waste at the same time!
  • Choose BPA-free toys for children.

Do you have more tips on avoiding BPA?  Please post in the comment section below!

I’m no expert.  At pretty much anything.  But what I do have is an interest in healthy, eco-conscious living and easy, accessible ways to do it.  I also have a habit of doling out advice on the topic, so much so that I probably needed an outlet so I would stop annoying people during social gatherings.  So I started this blog to share some of the tips, recipes, products, and info I’m gathering with my friends and family, virtual or otherwise.  I hope you’ll get involved in sharing your own advice in the comments section or by getting in touch with me.  After all, community is a part of living healthy and happy.  Enjoy!