August 8, 2011

Great Deal on Re-Pac Bags

There's a great deal on Re-Pac Bags, reusable sandwich and snack bags, on Mamapedia. If you've never visited their site before, they offer some great deals on mom- and kid-friendly products. They also fully guarantee your purchase. If you're not satisfied in any way, your money will be refunded, no questions asked. Another great program they're participating in is Savings for School. During your purchase, you can select your school and 5% of your total will be donated to the school of your choice.

Although I haven't used Re-Pac Bags before, I plan to buy some using my Mamapedia voucher. What I like about them is the that they seal with a zipper and are leak-proof. I currently use Itzy Ritzy Snack Happened bags (which I do love), but they leak when you add food with any type of liquid. With these I can add oranges and strawberries to my kids' lunches without using a plastic bag or container. And when they come home, I can wash them in the sink, pop them in the dishwasher or throw them in with the laundry.

The Mamapedia voucher costs only $11, but is worth $22 (a 50% discount) of product. Large bags are $7.95, medium are $6.95 and small are $5.95. There's a wide variety of colors and patterns to choose from. I'm excited to get mine and send the kids off to school environmentally stylish!

August 1, 2011

Favorite Zucchini Bread

If you still have loads of garden fresh zucchini that needs to be eaten, I have a few ideas for you. Try this yummy, kid-friendly zucchini bread, bake some surprisingly delicious zucchini brownies (recipe to follow shortly) or shred and pop in the freezer. The latter is very simple and can actually be used in both recipes. After shredding the zucchini, measure in individual portions (1 or 2 cups) and place in a small freezer bag. You'll want to remove as much air as you can and place the bags in the freezer. When you're ready to use it, remove the necessary portions from the freezer and add to your recipe as indicated.

If you're making this zucchini bread, you'll be pleased to find that this recipe makes 2 loaves! My family can go through one within a day. The other can be eaten right away or frozen for use in the future. It's extremely moist and the zucchini just melts into the bread. Nuts are optional and I always add a handful or two of chocolate chips.

favorite zucchini bread

3 cups all-purpose flour (I actually prefer King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional, but delicious)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. 
2. Grease and flour two 8x4 inch pans. 
3. Sift flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon together in a medium bowl.
4. In a large bowl, beat eggs, vegetable oil, applesauce, sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to mixture and thoroughly combine. Stir in zucchini, nuts and chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pans. 
5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
6. Allow to cool and remove loaf from pan. Cool completely.

July 20, 2011

DeVita, A Natural Skin Care Product Line

If I could be in love with a beauty product, DeVita Natural Skin Care Systems would be my newest infatuation! I thought I finally figured out my skin care regimen and found products that worked well with my sensitive skin. They controlled redness, were not overly drying and didn't make me feel like an oil slick and, most importantly, didn't make me break out. I kind of new they weren't free of the chemicals I was trying to avoid, but overlooked that fact because they really worked for me and I didn't feel like going through the long process (years) of trying to find new products that harmonized with my skin.

Just recently, though, I sat myself down and read the labels and discovered what I already knew - they were loaded with chemicals, parabens, artificial fragrances, etc. I no longer wanted to put my in-depth search off, so I did some investigating and started looking into natural skin care lines. Using one of my favorite websites as a reference (, I began by limiting my choices to products that were given EWG's rating of 0-2 (low hazard, vs. ratings of 3-10 which represent a moderate to high health hazard.) I again narrowed my choices by availability (how easy it is to buy from a reputable seller), price (some were outrageously expensive - a long time ago I told myself I would no longer spend a fortune on my beauty products) and shipping (factored this into price.) Next came reviews. I tend to read the reviews of products before I buy them much more than the average person. I can't help myself. So I read up on a bunch of the contenders and decided to first try one, and only one, without going too crazy (like I am with sunscreen, which will be written up separately)...and went with DeVita!

I couldn't decide which of the products in their line I wanted to try. I discovered on they have a sampler package of their anti-aging line for only $13.54. Decision made. It comes with 7 sample size containers, including the Moroccan Rose Facial Toner, Gentle Aloe Facial Scrub, Daily Solar Protective Moisturizer 30, Evening Nutritional Moisturizer, Italian Tomato Leaf Mud Masque, Optimal Rejuvenation and Aloe Vera Moisture Cleanser. And now I've been using them for a month and haven't looked back. It's amazing - this never happens on the first try. My skin looks and feels healthy, is evenly moisturized, is protected during the day with the SPF 30 moisturizer and there's not been a blemish on my face. I've already ordered more of the two moisturizers, cleanser and mud masque. I don't use toner often, but when I do, it's fantastic and the sample will last me a while. Facial scrub in general is only a once a week thing for me, so, again, the sample is going to last a few months. I'm just realizing I haven't tried the rejuvenation product...and I'm not sure why. I'll have to add that to my regimen. 

In addition to my love of their products, I love what this company is all about. They truly care about what we put on our face and have developed their products using all natural, plant-based (100% vegan) products. They don't test on animals and use all recycled / recyclable packaging. You won't find any toxins on their ingredient list - no parabens, alcohol, SLS. Their website is newly designed and filled with great information. They even dedicate a page not only to what wonderful ingredients they use, but also one that lists what they leave OUT of their products. I urge you to check it out here.

Finally, in terms of cost, they are extremely reasonable. The amount of product you actually need to use is minimal, so I don't expect to have to purchase another bottle of cleanser for at least 2-3 months. I found the best pricing on, although you can also purchase their products directly from their website or

If you decide to give them a try, I'd love to hear about your experience!

July 9, 2011

Sangria and summer - the perfect pair!

Sangria is absolutely delicious and especially refreshing when temperatures hit the 80's and summer is in full swing. While sipping it, I have flashbacks to time spent in Spain with good friends and enjoying leisurely tapas in a small restaurant on Boston's Newbury Street. I recently had the occasion to make several pitchers of this fruity concoction...and the result was heavenly. In my search for authentic recipes, I discovered this Sangria that's made in a small bar in Cordoba, Spain. There are so many different ways to make it, but this one is superb!

2 bottles of red wine (inexpensive Spanish red works well - Rioja is best)
2 1/2 cups dark rum
1 cup Triple Sec (or Cointreau)
1/2 cup Green Apple Schnapps (peach schnapps is a good substitute)
2 tsp sugar (optional)
2 - 3 cinnamon sticks
Fruit, peeled and chopped (seasonal is best - I used 2 oranges, 2 lemons, 2 plums, 3 peaches)
5 cans Pellegrino Limonata (I found this in my local grocery store. Fanta Limon is the Spanish way, but any lemon soda will do)

1. Fill a large pitcher (you might need two) or punch bowl with the wine, liquors, fruit, sugar and cinnamon sticks. Stir well.

2. Place mixture in refrigerator and let sit overnight for the flavors to blend together. If you don't have the time, at a minimum let the mixture sit for two hours in the fridge.

3. Just prior to serving, add the Pellegrino Limonata to wine mixture. Serve over ice. 
Makes 20 servings.

June 24, 2011

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Eating fresh, homemade clam chowder is such a wonderful tradition in Connecticut. Unfortunately I don't eat dairy anymore, which means New England Clam Chowder is off the table. The real authentic ones are usually cooked with pork, which makes it doubly off for me. I used to love it – I love just about anything with clams. 

When my family and I visit Rhode Island in the summer, we spend hours digging for clams during low tide in Narragansett salt ponds. Not only do we have loads of fun, we gather loads of them to dine on. Grilled clams are fantastic, as is linguini with clam sauce (a family favorite.) But I was determined to satiate a craving and find a chowder without the dairy and meat. During my recipe hunt, I found a healthy, tasty Manhattan version. As an added bonus, it's extremely easy to prepare. I've adapted it a bit to suit my preference for lots of veggies and a little extra zip. It's delicious. It's not only great in the winter, but it's reminiscent of a day at the beach and perfect to enjoy outdoors in the heat of summer. 

manhattan clam chowder recipe

3 (6.5 ounce) cans minced clams or 3 cups fresh clams, juice reserved
1½ cups water
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes or 1 ½ cups diced fresh
1 cup chopped onion
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (optional, adjust to your taste)
1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Ground black pepper to taste

1. Drain clams and reserve the liquid. Add enough water to the reserved liquid to make about 3 cups. Chop all your veggies.

2. Pour clam juice and water mixture into a large pot. Add tomatoes, diced vegetables, seasonings and Worcestershire. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.  

3. Remove from heat and slightly mash the veggies to thicken the broth. Add clams and heat thoroughly.
Makes 4 servings.

June 14, 2011

Organic Gardening: Weed and Deer Prevention

The garden is in! It's so satisfying to look at a newly planted garden. All the hard work and effort prove to be so worth it. At this time last year I was out pulling and hoeing knee-high weeds. I let my garden go in-between my early spring and after-the-last-frost plantings and paid the price. The weeds had gone wild and were difficult to get under control. This year I decided to try a different approach. I placed cardboard boxes in some of the walkways and in areas I wasn't ready to plant in. When I removed them, there was wonderfully weed-free soil underneath. Glorious! Up until planting, I also made sure to avoid walking in the beds - this prevented the soil from becoming too compacted.

I've gone back and forth on whether or not I should put down the not so seed-free hay we have in our barn as my mulch. I was planning to use grass clippings over newspaper, but knew I wouldn't have enough to cover the entire garden area. I decided to use the hay - it's free, it's plentiful and if laid out in a thick enough layer, will choke out the weeds. In addition, it's completely organic and will eventually be returned to the soil. I laid down a few layers of newspaper (making sure not to use the glossy, color inserts) and placed the hay on top.

Another challenge I have living out in rural farm country is keeping the deer and other critters at bay. My garden is a nightly feast for them if I don't protect it. The evening after putting in my lettuce, I found deer prints leading to a fully eaten head of leaf lettuce. I tried the highly recommended Irish Spring soap trick but the next night tracks and partially nibbled lettuce were located RIGHT next to the soap. Clearly not an adequate solution. It wasn't until the weekend that my husband was able to put in our fence. It's an electric one - easy to set-up and install - and works like a charm. It doesn't harm the animals, but rather gives them a healthy shock that prevents them from coming back. Once up, animals no longer visit my garden for a midnight snack.

I just purchased a new gardening book, The Vegetable Gardener's Bibleby Edward Smith. I highly recommend it for organic gardening tips and suggestions. The pictures are beautiful and the great amount of detail is helpful. It has introduced me to some new ideas on garden layouts and different ways to prevent weeds using an inter-planting technique. Next year will bring some exciting changes. For now, I can't wait for my sunflowers to pop up!

June 8, 2011

Intex Pool and Salt Water System: A Healthier Summer Swim

Summer is here in the Northeast! We really went from winter, jumped through spring and are now facing a heatwave usually only seen in August. The predictions are for temperatures close to 100 degrees. Right about now I am SO happy we have our newly set-up above ground pool. Okay, it's not beautiful to look at and is a little too close to our house and patio for my liking (it's on the only level spot in our entire yard), but it's a great addition and will be the source of much summer fun. It's already gotten a lot of use...and it's only the beginning of June.

I purchased it from our local Target and the size I bought (14' x 42") is available only through Target. It was on sale for $230, but is regularly priced at $300. Click on the Target link on the right and type in Intex Ultra Frame - free shipping is available now with your $50 and over order. It comes with a cover, skimmer, pump, net, water test strips and vacuum.

It was incredibly easy to set up. A girlfriend who purchased the same pool actually set hers up first and had a few tips for me, which was very helpful. The box is really heavy. The best way to 'move' the box was to take it out piece by piece instead of trying to carry it (by husband was away during setup.) I did have a friend helping me put the frame together, although I could have done it myself - it just would have taken a bit longer. Hmm, she also put together the ladder...maybe quite a bit longer. Once up, just add water. We have a well, so the hose was on and off for a few days until it was full. That didn't stop the kids though, they still had fun in just inches of water.

One of the things I've always hated about pools are the chemicals needed to treat them, so I decided to go the saltwater route. Intex makes a compatible salt water system, which essentially converts pure salt (sodium chloride) into chlorine via electrolysis. The advantages of this system include no longer needing to handle the dangerous chemicals and continually adding them to the pool, no more red, stinging eyes, no more faded bathing suits and it's much more environmentally friendly. Salt doesn't evaporate, so it's not necessary to constantly replenish it. Our pool water is clean and clear and there's no salty water taste! Although the salt is converted to chlorine, it's at much lower levels and doesn't contain all the chemicals the packaged chlorine does. The Intex Deluxe Saltwater Systemcosts $160 (or at Target $170 and free shipping), plus 2 bags of 40 lbs. pure salt (available at Home Depot, local hardware stores, etc.) at less than $10 each.

Now instead of trekking out to the beaches or heading to Nana's pool, we only have to go as far as our backyard. I'm looking forward to a great summer with the kids!

If you decide to add an Intex pool to your summer activities, here are a few tips:
* You do want to make sure the area where you place your pool is fairly level. Ours is ever-so slightly off, which concerns me a little, although I'm assured it won't be an issue. We did siphon off a little of the water just to be sure.
* As the directions indicate (watch the DVD), make sure you smooth out the wrinkles on the bottom of the pool when there's only an inch or so of water - I waited too long and couldn't move any of them.
* The filter can be cleaned with a garden hose, but you should have an extra one on hand for when that no longer does the job.
* Remove the ladder when not in use - you just never know.
* Make sure you're familiar with your state's pool laws - fences, alarms, etc.- and that you review your pool rules with the entire family.

UPDATE: I just saw the same Intex pool with slightly different dimensions (15' x 42") at BJ's for about $250. They also had the Intex Saltwater System available for $160.