My dog had fleas... (and how I got rid of them naturally!)

The pet product market is flooded with flea killers, repellents, shampoos, sprays and goos, and most of them are highly effective. However, they're made from dangerous chemicals that contain neurotoxins that could potentially pose a thread to your and your pet.

This is no chemical romance.
Lucky for us all, there are some simple natural methods to deal with fleas and it's easy to make your own flea products based on your comfort level.

Fleas are repulsed by a number of natural essential oils. Although this is not a comprehensive list, some of the most common oils that repel fleas are:
  • citronella
  • cedar
  • peppermint
  • rosemary
  • lavender
  • eucalyptus
  • lemongrass
These oils can be used alone or in combination to repel fleas from your canine and feline companions, as well as from your home in general. Here are a few recipes I use to deal with these pesky pests in my home - without chemicals!

Essential oils should be used in moderation.
Natural Flea Bath 
1-2 oz liquid castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner)
10 drops of any one or a combination of the oils listed above (I typically use a combination of eucalyptus, cedar and lavender)

Mix oils and soap in a plastic squeeze bottle. Thoroughly wet your critter around their neck and apply soap there first, working into a thick lather all the way around the neck. This will prevent the fleas from "escaping" to your critter's ears and face once you really get down to business. Once your soapy collar is in place, continue to apply soap generously to the rest of the body, using your fingers to get the lather through all layers of fur.

Once your furry friend is completely covered in suds, let the soap do its work. Fleas can breathe underwater but they can't breath through soap, so it's important to keep your animal soaped for several minutes to kill as many fleas as possible. Rinse thoroughly, starting at the tail and working your way toward that soapy neck. If necessary, wash the face last. My canine kid is pretty picky, so I usually skip her face in the bath and then get her later with a washcloth.

Natural Flea Spray
16 oz dark colored glass spray bottle
Spring or distilled water
10 to 20 drops of any one or a combination of the oils listed above

Mix in spray bottle and use on your critter in between baths, on their bedding, around doorways and to spray on areas where you think fleas might be nesting in your home, such as dark corners and carpeted areas. Because this spray is intended to repel fleas rather than kill them, it's great to use before heading to the dog park or training class, or anywhere else your pup might normally pick up fleas!

Natural Freshening Spray
16 oz spray bottle (glass is preferred)
2 cups hot water
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried mint (or 1 peppermint teabag)
2-3 drops orange essential oil
1 tsp vinegar

Steep rosemary and mint in hot water for 10 minutes. Strain out plant matter and allow reserved liquid to cool to room temperature. Stir in orange oil and vinegar. Pour into spray bottle. Use this spray in-between baths as a refresher, after dirty walks or trips to the dog park, or anytime your pooch needs a little freshening up. You can spray it directly on your dog or apply with a washcloth or rag. No rinsing required!

Where to get essential oils and other natural ingredients
While you can find essential oils at many natural markets and even some grocery stores these days, I still prefer to order mine from Mountain Rose Herbs. Their products are always fresh, top quality and organic, and the prices are quite reasonable. They also sell bottles and containers of all kinds for your homemade concoctions, as well as a number of natural pet products, if you're just not into mixing things yourself.

Whether you opt to buy premade natural pet products or make your own, going natural is one small way to make a big difference in the lives of you and your furry friends!

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Kermit was wrong: it IS easy being green!

Don't stress yourself out trying to figure out ways to live a greener life. It can be a lot easier than you think.


Here are a few "easy being green" tips from me to you:

Buy pre-loved. Make your local thrift store your go-to source for dishes and bakeware, flower vases, books and whatever else you have a hankering for. When you buy something pre-loved (ok, used), you're not only saving an item from ending up in a landfill, but you're also reducing the impact of brand new goods.

Minimize idle time. When you're waiting to pick up the kids at school, turn off your car to save gas and reduce emissions. Another way? Skip the drive-thru. Park and place your order inside instead of running your car while waiting in line.

Put on a sweater. Turn down your thermostat a degree or two, and you'll not only save fuel but you'll also notice some other savings on your next utility bill! (Plus, sweaters are sexy, man.)

Shorten your showers. Or take fewer of them. Every minute in the shower uses four to six gallons of water and oh boy, does that add up fast! Think about this the next time you're doing your scrub-a-dub routine and, better yet, consider in-between alternatives like sponge baths and dry shampoo. 

Even a small change can make a big difference to the environment. No matter how busy you are, I'm betting you can add at least one of these ideas to your daily routine. After all, the earth is worth it!

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FREE Vegan Guide from Chic Vegan!

Never before has anyone put together such a comprehensive, well-organized and concise guide to the vegan lifestyle.

In the brief, informative and totally non-preachy eBook The Ethnical Girl's Guide to Being Vegan and Fabulous, Mandi Hoffman of ChicVegan.com covers everything you need to know: what is vegan and what is not, basic nutritional info, a few recipes, tips on vegan clothing and beauty products, and some awesome "vegetiquette" suggestions on how to handle the subject of your vegan lifestyle in mixed company. Mandi has also recommended a list of books that all vegans should read AND she included a lovely categorized list of vegan resource websites.

And don't let the title fool you. This guide is loaded with great info that guys can use too!)

Photo courtesy Chic Vegan
Get yours now and share it with all your veg and veg-curious pals! (This is also a great guide to pass along to your Mom if you're tired of her asking whether you're eating right!)

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Dehydration, reusable bottles, and other things that keep me awake at night

If you've met me, you probably already know that I don't drink enough water. Try as I might, I'm in a near-constant state of dehydration, thanks to my penchant for coffee and wine and other things that tend to suck the life right outta ya. But, they say the first step is admitting that you have a problem. I assume that means the second step is doing something about it.

Wait, back up to that first step. How can you tell whether you're dehydrated? Well, I know I am, but if you're not sure, you can take this quiz over at Healthy Beginnings magazine to find out.

Ok, so, you're dehydrated. Now, on to that second step. Did you notice that the guy pictured on the quiz site is drinking from a disposable plastic bottle? What's up with that? I know it's 2010 and we've got a lot of great recycling technology these days, but you know what's even better than recycling? REUSING. So let's pretend Mr. Dehydration has gotten himself a nice, BPA-free reusable water bottle for all his aqueous needs. Something like this 1 liter CamelBak BPA-Free Better Bottle which just so happens to come in a variety of lovely colors. Or, if you prefer a little heavy metal, maybe one of SIGG's famous Stainless Steel Water Bottles. Our man's gotta have something to drink from. Ok, got that mental image? Good.

Now, how will Mr. Dehydration change his habits to become Mr. Super Hydrated? Maybe a little support from the online community would help. If you're in his boat, check out the Do the Reusable Challenge sponsored by Aladdin. Aladdin makes water bottles and mugs and stuff, and they're willing to give you a little discount on their products if you join the cause. But, let's face it, you probably already have a reusable bottle or travel mug or three stashed in your kitchen cupboard, so you should take the challenge to help you remember to use it.

P.S. Did you know that getting into the habit of carrying a reusable water bottle can actually help you drink MORE water than relying on glasses and disposable bottles? (Duh, because it's, like, a constant reminder! That's what I'm counting on.)

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You say tomato, I say Einkorn (with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto)

Last night, I had an ancient grain for dinner. It's called Einkorn. Don't worry, I hadn't heard of it either until I learned about a company called Jovial making pasta from this once forgotten grain. That's pretty exciting even if you're not a pasta-holic like I am!

Photo courtesy Jovial Foods
In a nutshell, Einkorn was the first domesticated type of wheat way back yonder in the Neolithic era. That's like 12,000 years ago! There's archaeological evidence that Einkorn was cultivated from the Fertile Crescent (think Middle East, in case your 7th grade geography lessons have been lost) to Central Europe.

Fast forward to 1991 and a couple of hikers in the Italian Alps came across the remains of a 5,000-year old iceman. His body was so well preserved that scientists were able to determine that Einkorn was part of his final meal.

Most of the wheat we consume today has been hybridized for optimal crop production through agriculture. Since Einkorn hasn't been heavily cultivated, it's experienced no hybridization. Essentially, it's one of the only pure grains on earth. This is a good thing because it means it's more nutritionally sound. Compared to most other types of wheat, Einkorn is higher in thiamin, lutein, protein and a number of other vitamins and minerals. Oh yeah, and it's also 100% certified organic AND the pasta is made in a dedicated vegan facility.

To try out the Einkorn spaghetti, I adapted one of the recipes on their website and whipped up a tasty pesto. It was a perfect companion for the subtle nutty-but-sweet pasta and a glass of red wine. This dish comes together very quickly but requires some multi-tasking to do so!

Spaghetti with Roasted Red Pepper & Almond Pesto
Yield: 2 entrees or 4 sides

1 large red bell pepper
4 ounces Whole Grain Einkorn Spaghetti
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp almonds, toasted
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup baby spinach leaves (or any leafy green)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Set a pot of salted water on high (for the pasta).

Heat a gas burner to high and char the pepper on all sides. (You can also do this in the oven if you don't have a gas range.) When you're halfway done, it should look like this:


Once thoroughly blackened, transfer to a paper bag or a lidded bowl until it's cool enough to handle. This will force them to let go of their skins and make them infinitely easier to remove than they would otherwise be.

Once you've set aside your roasted pepper, cook your pasta according to package instructions.

While your pasta is cooking, pulse together garlic, almonds and salt in your trusty food processor until finely chopped. Then add the spinach and pulse again.

Remove your pepper from the bag and peel the skins off. Transfer to a cutting board, cut in half lengthwise, and scrape out seeds and stems. Add peppers to the food processor and pulse until a paste forms. Drizzle in olive oil and lemon juice, and pulse until incorporated.

Once your pasta is done, drain and return to the pot off the heat. Add pesto to pasta and toss to coat. Serve alone or, like me, with a tasty side of sautéed mushrooms.


If you're ready to reach beyond semolina and give Einkorn a try, you can find Jovial pastas at Whole Foods or at another retailer near you.

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What does your dosha do?

If you've ever taken a yoga or meditation class, you've probably heard about Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine from India. Ayurvedic principles treat the body and mind holistically, and in specific ways depending on a person's constitution, which is affected by regulatory principles called doshas. There are three doshas: vata (air), pitta (fire & water) and kapha (water & earth). In ayurveda, it's important that we maintain a balance of our dosha principles in order to be healthy. If one dosha is too strong or too weak, we can become ill or at the very least develop some complaints about the way our bodies and minds are functioning.


Tradition holds that unbalanced doshas can be evened out through diet and exercise (such as certain types of yoga). The system is quite complicated, relying on careful assessments of dosha influences and the inclusion of various herbs and spices into one's diet in order to regain balance. Trying to incorporate ayurvedic treatments into your diet can be a daunting task if you're thinking about taking it on by yourself, but I've got a better way.

R-U-Ved has three new spice blends that are designed to help balance your dosha while enhancing your culinary experience. They're made from organic or wildcrafted herbs which gives not only the best flavor, but also maximizes the health benefits.


I know I'm a pitta-kapha type, so I tried both the Propita and Prokapha blends. Both were fresh and delicious, and I've been adding them to my dishes a few times a week. They come in convenient shaker bottles, so it's easy to mix in a bit to anything I'm making, or sprinkle onto a salad or sandwich.

So, what's your dosha? Deepak Chopra, perhaps the most famous ayurvedic practitioner in the West, has an easy online quiz to help reveal your dosha. Once you've got that figured out, you can pick up the right R-U-Ved spice blend that suits you at your local natural foods store or via their website.

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Triple Almond Sandies (or... vegan cookies invade your face!)

I'm not huge on sweets, but I love a good cookie once in a while. Who doesn't, really? The weather is cool today and I felt like making some nice treats: the not-to-sweet kind that are great with coffee or tea in the morning, afternoon or, heck, even late at night.

Since I don't have much of a sweet tooth, it's sometimes tough for me to decide what I'm in the mood for. I love almonds, though, so it was a no-brainer to work them into the recipe somehow. As I started thinking, I thought to myself, "Self, why work the almonds into the recipe when you can build the recipe around the almonds?" Clever, I thought, and so I got to work.

And now I give to you, world, my extra-special, not even remotely low-fat, delicious as all get-out Triple Almond Sandies... a new vegan twist on the old pecan sandie standard using almond extract, almond meal AND (you guessed it) actual almonds all in one tasty little cookie. (And these are tastier, if I do say so...)


Triple Almond Sandies
Yield: 2 dozen, depending on size

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup almond meal
2 dozen whole or sliced almonds

Heat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment (or if you're like me and you keep running out of parchment paper, just give it a quick spray with your favorite oil. I use olive).

Sift flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream Earth Balance and extracts until soft. Add sugar and cream some more, usually a solid 2-3 minutes until everything it looking nice and fluffy.

Add almond meal to the EB/sugar mixture and mix thoroughly. Last, add the sifted flour to the creamed mix in thirds, mixing as you go. The end result should be a dry-ish dough that is easy to mold and sticks to itself easily but not to you! It should look something like this:



Roll dough into balls, approximately 1 inch in diameter or larger depending on the size of cookie you prefer. I like small cookies (because you get to eat more of them! Doh!) so I make mine on the shy side of 1 inch. Flatten the balls between your palms and lay on the cookie sheet. Press 1 whole almond or an almond slice into the top of each cookie.

Bake 19-22 minutes until the edges of the bottom start to turn golden brown. This usually happens right about the time that the delicious almond scent completely fills your kitchen and most of the rest of your abode, lulling you into a sweet almondine coma. Resist! Immediately transfer your sandies to a wire rack and allow to cool.

Like I said before, these little babies are great paired with your favorite coffee or tea drink, but consider upping the almond ante by serving this snack alongside a hot almond chai or maybe splashing a little amaretto in your regular hot beverage.

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Foodie Gifts from Sur La Table

When I was approached to review Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving, the newest book from Sur La Table (aka HEAVEN, thank you!), I think the first thing I said was, "Are you KIDDING me?!" and then second thing I said was, "Gimme!"

Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving
Sur La Table is known to be a haven for home chefs and foodistas alike, not to mention a drain on the ol' bank account! They've been around since the early 70s when the first shop was opened in, you guessed it, Pike Place Market. (That's in Seattle. You should know that. There might be a quiz later.) These days, they've expanded to over 75 stores nationwide and every once in a while they put out a book that knocks my socks off. Their (blank) Cooks Love series has been going on for some time now and I think this is the best one yet. It's filled to the brim with great ideas that will not only make you the star in the eye of every holiday hostess you meet, but it could actually save you some major bucks as well.

So, what's this all about? It's a book full of gifts, but it's no catalog. It's full of recipes for jarred goodies, baked goodies, dried and cured goodies that you can make up in batches, put cutesy labels on, and gift to all your friends and loved ones. Can't cook? No problem. Gifts Cooks Love has a special chapter just for you, with "no cook" gift items as well as tips for giving the gift of kitchen toolery, if you're so inclined.

Need more convincing? Check out this recipe for Orange-Cardamom Marmalade and think about all the folks on your holiday gift list who might just love a jar! Like all jarred and canned goods, it takes a while to prep and you'll probably make an enormous mess in the process. But this recipe yields 11 1/2 pint jars, so you can really knock out a ton of your holiday gift prep with one batch!

Photo by Sara Remington
Orange-Cardamom Marmalade
from "Gifts Cook Love" by Sur La Table and Diane Morgan



2 1/2 pounds (6 to 8 medium) oranges, such as Valencia or Cara Cara
3/4 pound (about 2 large) lemons
6 cups cold water
20 green cardamom pods, crushed
8 cups granulated sugar


Prepare the fruit 12 to 24 hours before you plan to cook and preserve the marmalade. Wash and pat dry all the fruit. Trim and discard the stem ends. Cut the oranges and lemons into quarters and poke out all the seeds with the tip of a paring knife. Reserve the seeds in a small covered container. Using a sharp chef’s knife or mandoline, cut all the citrus, including the rinds, into ¹⁄16-inch-thick slices. Put the sliced fruit in a large pot, including any juices left on the cutting board. Add the 6 cups of water. Gently press down on the fruit to make sure it is submerged. Cover the pot and set aside at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (This softens the rinds and releases the pectin.)

The next day, bring the pot of sliced fruit and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils steadily without splattering, and cook for 30 minutes. Wrap the crushed cardamom pods and the reserved lemon and orange seeds in a cheesecloth bag tied securely with kitchen twine.

While the fruit is cooking, prepare the preserving jars and bring water to a boil in a water bath canner. Sterilize the jars and lids.

Add the sugar to the fruit mixture and stir until dissolved. Add the cheesecloth bag of cardamom and seeds. Continue to cook the marmalade at a steady boil until it reaches the gel stage (see Note) or reaches 220°F on a candy thermometer, 30 to 40 minutes longer.

Remove the cheesecloth bag from the marmalade, pressing any liquids back into the pan.

Remove the marmalade from the heat. Using a wide-mouth funnel and filling one jar at a time, ladle the marmalade into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles by running a long wooden utensil, such as a chopstick or wooden skewer, between the jar and the marmalade. Wipe the rims clean. Seal according to the manufacturer’s directions. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, and then turn off the heat. Wait 5 minutes, and then lift the canning rack and, using a canning jar lifter, transfer the jars to a towel-lined, sturdy rimmed baking sheet and let them rest. Check the seals, wipe the jars, and label.

Note: Here’s an easy way to check whether the marmalade is set. Put a small plate in the freezer. When the marmalade looks thickish and a bit gelled, put a small amount of the marmalade on the frozen plate and return it to the freezer. After a couple of minutes, run your finger or a spoon down the center and see if it stays separated and is a bit wrinkled. If so, it is done.

Recipe reprinted with permission.

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