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legs2

 

I mentioned a few weeks ago my constant battle with “spots,” otherwise known as melasma, liver spot, sun spots, hyperpigmentation. I may have become  a sunscreen convert in my 20s with regards to my face, but I have always allowed the rest of my body to soak in the sun with little to no precaution taken.

Well those spots haven’t just taken up residency on my face. The decades of sun exposure now tell their tales across my legs, arms and hands. And while my chest isn’t freckly or spotty like you see with many fair-haired women, I can see the damage wrought by the sun when I shrug my shoulders and a dozen lines appear across my chest –proof that the skin has lost its elasticity.

Now I recall the years I laid in the sun, slathered not with Johnson’s Baby Oil, but with some equally insufficient oil or lotion, with an SPF of 4 and the luscious smell of coconuts. In fact, recently, while looking through old photos, my husband asked, “Who’s this girl on the beach with your cousins?” “It’s me!” I promptly replied. “What? It can’t be… She looks Black,” was my husband’s response. When I recalled that the production of melanin is your body’s natural response to injury, I could only respond with a heavy sigh.

It’s not just vanity that is causing my spot obsession… I want to set a good example for my children who are still young enough to influence, and who are exposed daily to the intensity of our Californian sun. I hope to instill in them great respect for the power of the sun (think solar as well as radiation), and get them to think of applying sunscreen the same way they view brushing their teeth or getting dressed.

2015 sunscreen

 

I’m only recommending one sunscreen this year, although I still like Burn Out (Ocean Safe and Sensitive formulas), and Kinesys Earth Kind Sunscreen Ointment if you’re going to be in the water for an extended period of time, due to its water-proof quality. However, Honest Co.’s Honest Sunscreen Lotion is my all-around favorite this year. It’s formulation (which, like all my recommendations relies on non-nano zinc oxide) is more elegant than Burn Out which means it goes on easier and is absorbed into the skin better. It’s also much more moisturizing–so much so that it feels like you’re just using a regular face or body lotion. (While not an issue for my family, I know others have found the Burn Out to be somewhat drying.) And I love the price–just $13.95 for a 3 oz tube or if you have access to a Costco, $19.95 for two 2 oz tubes.

A final comment about sun safety… While many people now understand the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, and use sunscreen daily as a result, most of us don’t take the next essential step: reapplication. People often think you only need to reapply sunscreen if you’ve been swimming or sweating, because both can wash off the sunscreen. However, most sunscreens also begin losing their effectiveness after just a few hours. To stay adequately protected throughout the day, reapply sunscreen every 3-4 hours.

Safe sunning!

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spring favs

 

I don’t know whether to attribute my latest obsession with skin and hair to my advancing years, but I’m definitely obsessed.

I’ve been noticing everyone else’s skin and hair, and thinking a lot about what skin and hair properties age us most. Is it wrinkles? Sun/age spots? Overall even appearance in tone? The presence or absence of glow? I suppose it varies by observer, but there are plenty of medical professionals out there that claim the number one “ager” is spots (otherwise known as sun spots, age spots, liver spots, melasma and hyperpigmentation). While genetics, oral contraceptives and pregnancy can influence our spotting–how much we have and what type(s), the largest contributor is UV sun exposure. And it’s the UV rays that break down the collagen in our skin, speeding the onset of wrinkles. (We naturally lose collagen as we get older.)

Spots have inhabitated my face since I was a child. Some of them existed early on, so they might actually be freckles, but the vast majority laid claim to my visage during the past 20 years. I know now that they came at the bidding of the sun. That’s why I’m always touting the need to use sunscreen, with an SPF of 30 or greater, daily. It’s also why I am determined to find a natural product that helps lighten and brighten my complexion.

There are numerous products available today that use hydroquinone to lighten areas of hyperpigmentation, but hydroquinone is a known toxin that has been shown in laboratory studies to cause cancer in rats. It can also cause swelling and irritation and can lighten areas surrounding hyperpigmentation, resulting in a bulls-eye appearance. And wouldn’t you know…it’s been banned in Europe; there’s our (not) highly-effective FDA at work again. I have friends who have used products containing hydroquinone with positive results, but the benefits simply don’t outweigh the risks.

I’ve only been using Jurlique’s Purely Bright Treatment Serum for a few weeks, so I haven’t noticed any of my spots diminishing in size. However, my skin definitely seems brighter, “glowier,” and more even-toned! I love how this product feels on my skin even after it gets absorbed. The serum uses Jurlique’s proprietary VitaBrightKX+ along with Kakadu Plum, which is the world’s richest natural source of Vitamin C. I’ll report how the product continues to work, but it’s my current skin defense and skin repair weapon of choice. Jurlique is also one of the purest skincare lines available.

And to ensure my serum is really penetrating the skin to do it’s work, I cleanse with Juice Beauty’s Green Apple Cleansing Gel. Like Jurlique, the entire Juice Beauty line is completely natural (e.g., free of parabens, sulfates/ites, glycols, disodium ETDA, fragrance, etc.). The gel cleanser claims to “refine and brighten,” (using the natural exfoliant: glycolic acid), but all I know is it removes my eye make-up easily and leaves my skin feeling incredibly smooth and supple.

Of course, as I’ve gotten older, my hair has decided to reinvent itself several times over. I’ve battled gray hair for the past two decades (a trait inherited from my father who turned gray in his 20s). Then after having my children, my hair decided to turn from nearly stick-straight to wavy. Then as the years came on, my hair decided to get coarser and drier. I’m using two products that do a great job of combating coarseness and dryness naturally. Both are made by ACURE. The spray-on Leave-In Conditioner makes my hair instantly soft and supple, and the pure Argan Oil (use sparingly!) does a great job eliminating coarseness and controlling frizz. Both also help protect your hair from styling tools and UV rays.  I’m in love with both products, and find they work magic on my hair regardless of which shampoo and conditioner I use in the shower.

So here’s to “glowier” skin and glossier hair!

 

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breast abovebreast close

 

It’s been one of those weeks… Hectic. Disorganized. Too much on the plate, so to speak. It started with a quick trip to Washington DC with the family. (Note to self: Two days to see Washington DC is about five days too short.) We had a special opportunity there, but couldn’t extend our stay, so we saw as much as we could in 48 hours. We took a late flight back to San Francisco, during which the other three members of my family slumbered blissfully for 5 of the 5-hour and 20 minute flight. I suffered an airplane version of insomnia and didn’t sleep a wink. Needless to say, we arrived home at 2:30am! But back to the food.

The combination of sleep-deprivation and a greater than usual number of meetings this week meant I had no time, energy or imagination to cook up anything terribly fancy or creative. In fact, we ate really basic meals all week. However, I did whip up this dish in my slow-cooker one day, and it got me thinking that I’d like to share several super-easy slow-cooker meals with you. Most of us lead crazy busy lives and can benefit from a dishes you assemble in 5 minutes, that cook by themselves, and are ready to serve 4-5 hours later.

In my still tired, non-creative state, I couldn’t come up with a more exciting name than “easy slow-cooker chicken,” so please forgive me that. This dish is surprisingly flavorful given how little effort it takes to make it. You can serve it as is or over rice or pasta. I served it over my favorite Mexican rice (recipe coming soon) since I happened to have leftovers.

 

Ingredients

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 can organic tomatoes, stewed or diced

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and cut in quarters

1/2 an onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped (or dried equivalent)

1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped (or dried equivalent)

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped plus extra for garnish

2 organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 6 thighs

Sea salt and fresh-ground pepper

 

breasts raw

Preparation

Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of the slow-cooker pan. Pour in the tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Sprinkle the onion, garlic and herbs over the tomato mixture. Lay the chicken pieces on top. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Secure the lid and turn on high for 4 hours or low for 7-8.

Go enjoy the big chunk of time you just freed up!

 

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heart

 

I thought long and hard about posting a recipe of some yummy, somewhat decadent treat since most of us associate Valentine’s Day with sweets. However, I decided a few tips on helping your heart stay healthy might be a better way for me to show some love. (But in case you really want something sweet, and not too naughty, see my recipe for dairy-free chocolate truffles here.)

Experts think only about 25% of heart disease is genetic. The rest can be attributed to several factors, primarily diet and lifestyle. Here are a few good basics for keeping your heart healthy. They’re relatively easy, straightforward and have numerous benefits for your health, not just your heart.

Chocolate – The flavonols in cacao can lower your risk of heart disease by thinning your blood and relaxing your blood vessels which lowers your blood pressure. Look for “dark” chocolate, preferably with 70% or more cacao.

Olive oil – Its mix of antioxidants can lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) without having a negative effect on your HDL (good cholesterol).

Garlic – Eating at least one fresh clove of garlic a day can help prevent cholesterol from building up in your bloodstream, keeping arteries plaque-free and more flexible.

Apples – Eating an apple a day (not the juice!) may just keep the doctor away! Studies suggest the fiber and flavonoids in apples may lower your risk of having a heart attach by stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing cholesterol.

Wine – One glass of red wine a day has been shown to boost your levels of heart healthy fatty acids. However, for women, drinking more than one glass a day has been shown to increase your risk of other serious illnesses, such as breast cancer.

Exercise – Just 30 minutes of exercise a day will lower your blood pressure and increase your HDL. Stroll, walk, sprint, vary your speed and intensity to keep things interesting and help protect your heart.

Relax – It’s easier said than done for most of us, but a regular practice of yoga or meditation has been proven to improve your overall health and lower your risk of heart disease.

 

Wishing you love and good health!

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lice

I confess, today, I wish my blog was strictly a food blog… Or a strictly fashion or photography blog. But alas, I’m committed to improving the health of the whole body and looking for natural solutions to common problems.

(My head feels itchy just thinking about how to write this post.)

It feels somewhat embarrassing, and just a little gross to blog about lice, but I feel compelled–and I’ve been asked, to share this non-toxic, highly-effective solution since lice is a big problem where we live.

I never had lice growing up, nor do I remember knowing anyone who’d had it. But living here in Northern California, just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, my kids have fallen victim to the annoying little critters not once, but three times!! And before you think, she must not keep a tidy home, or she must not wash and comb her kids’ hair, let me share that nearly every family I know here has also experienced the joys of lice at least once. One friend’s child has had it nine times!!

No kids I know living on the East Coast have had it, so I’m guessing it has something to do with the very mild climate we live in, and I’d love to connect it to and blame it on global warming. The coldest it usually gets here is 42F, and it rarely gets hotter than 92F. It must be the perfect environment because there is always a lice “incident” (as our school calls it) in one of the classrooms at our school, every week of the school year. Think about that… that’s nearly 10 months of fearing the little critters will find their way onto your child’s head.

If you or your child should be so (un)fortunate as to get lice, you have just three options, as I see it, for ridding yourself of them. You can pay a “nit picker” to come to your home (very discreetly) and carefully comb through your hair. You can go to a nit picking salon (a booming business in the San Francisco area), since many don’t care about being discreet since the problem is so rampant here. Or you can do it yourself at home with this great product I’ve discovered by LiceMD. Mind you, many people rush out to the pharmacy to buy and later wash or have their hair washed with a shampoo containing pesticides, such as Nix. Please do not waste your time doing this! The pesticides used in lice treatments are known carcinogens, and are the last thing you want to put on your scalp or the scalp of your developing child. They also aren’t effective in killing the eggs, called “nits,” so they usually require multiple treatments.

LiceMD* has a product that is pesticide free and eliminates 100% of lice and their eggs. In reality, a thorough coming with a good quality lice comb will remove 100% of lice and their eggs, but this product helps you by literally suffocating any live lice, and making the eggs easier to comb out (they’re incredibly small and nearly impossible to see). The only ingredient it contains it Dimethicone–a silicon-based polymer commonly used as a lubricant or conditioning agent in many conditioners and hair styling products.

You simply apply the product to the scalp, work it through the hair, wait 10 minutes and then carefully comb through the hair section by section. Since the product is very slippery and viscous, it does require more than one sudsing with shampoo to get completely out.

Please note: LiceMD also manufacturers a product that does contain pesticides, so make sure you get the product shown above.

I always get lazy with this, but I find tea tree oil to be an effective preventative measure. When I’ve heard there’s been an incident, I wet my hands, put a few drops of tea tree essential oil in my palm, and rub my palms together before running them over and through my children’s hair.

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apricot hd aboveapricot hd side

 

Like me, you might find yourself right in the midst of holiday parties. They’re fun, they’re festive, and they can be exhausting, particularly if you’re doing the hosting. We’ve been hitting our share of holiday cocktail parties, but we prefer to host actual dinner parties, where guests come around 5:30pm, enjoy some wine and hors d’oeuvres for the first hour, segue to dinner around 7:00pm and go home by 9:00pm or 10:00pm, depending on whether they have little ones in tow.

I typically serve a cheese, cracker and charcuterie platter with one other hors d’oeuvre–something that’s a little fancier because of its ingredients or because it requires some assembly. My basic offering includes a three-cheese selection, such as Manchego, Triple Cream Brie and Stilton with a selection of crackers, one or two kinds of salami and maybe sopressata along with a small dish of cashews or Marcona almonds.

But above and beyond unwrapping a few chunks of cheese and slicing some salami, my favorite go-to hors d’oeuvres are apricots spread with a basil-goat cheese and topped with  Marcona or herb-infused almonds. They look elegant, taste delicious and are a cinch to prepare. I also love that they work as hors d’oeuvres summer, winter, fall or spring. They always get gobbled up and exclaimed over, which is just what you want guest to do when they’re in your home, right?

Please note: I considered buying conventional apricots (treated with sulfur to keep their orange color) because they certainly photograph better, but I just couldn’t reconcile having a “health and wellness” blog and showing something laced with chemicals just because it looks prettier. Conventional apricots also have a sharper, sometimes slightly bitter taste, whereas natural untreated apricots have a subtle carmel flavor. So please focus on the wonderful flavor and texture combination, and never mind the naturally brown color of the dried apricots in my photos.

 

Ingredients

4 oz fresh, quality goat cheese, at room temperature

2-3 tsp milk

2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

40 dried apricots

40 Marcona or herb-infused almonds

Honey for drizzling

 

Preparation

In a small bowl, mix together the cheese, milk and basil until it’s very spreadable. Thin with more milk if necessary.

Spread the cheese mixture on each apricot and top with an almond.

Drizzle all the apricots with honey and serve.

 

Sante!

 

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halloween 14

 

It’s that time of year again when leaves take on the most brilliant colors and the evenings come earlier and chillier. Grocery store fronts are stocked with pumpkins, gourds and late season heirloom tomatoes (at least here in California). And if your home shares any similarity with mine, you get the frequent scene of kids huddled over the Halloween costume catalogue, fiercely debating their choices for the year.

You might also have a love/hate relationship with Halloween, like me. I love to see the kids get dressed up with that great look of anticipation sparkling in their eyes. I love to dress in costume, too. I also love black crows, black cats (at least black and white tuxedo cats), and pumpkins. But I HATE, loathe and despise the shear amount of candy that gets handed out, and more than the amount, I hate the poor quality of most of it, with its corn syrup base and artificial flavoring and coloring.

So I must share a story with you … Last year, we got invited to a Halloween party in a friend’s neighborhood. After a light supper, all the party guests spilled out onto the streets to begin trick-or-treating. The parents sort of hung back to watch the kids run across the streets and scamper across lawns in an effort to amass as much candy as possible in as short a period as possible. I actually saw kids with pillowcases for collecting candy. After the fifth house, my kids announced they were done. One recently-made friend, with the most incredulous look on her face asked, “How can you already be done?” Immediately after which she noticed the candy collecting bags my kids were carrying. Roughly 8 inches by 8 inches by 1 inch, the relatively miniature bags conveniently (at least to me) only hold five home visits worth of candy. And so, my family spent the remainder of the evening strolling home admiring others’ costumes and decorations.

But my candy-curbing efforts didn’t stop with the bags. To further prevent the ingestion of tons of corn syrup and chemicals, we started a practice whereby our children “donate” their candy to their dentist who in return gives them one dollar per piece. Sadly, their dentist doesn’t really offer such a wonderful service, so I handle the “exchange” for them, giving them the appropriate number of dollars after my alleged visit to the dentist. Luckily, those small bags, hence small amounts of candy, don’t break the bank, and a few days later, our children gleefully go to the local toy store to pick out something of their choosing. I know this ruse will end soon when my kids, who are growing increasingly comfortable with their dentist, work up the courage to broach the subject with him. I’m hoping a conspiratorial look or swift kick under the dentistry chair will allow the moment to pass without incident.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I still hand out candy to any one who visits our home, but I buy only natural products. It’s not my place to tell children other than my own how much sugar is too much, but I also don’t feel comfortable doling out chemicals. I love that natural foods stores, such as Whole Foods Markets, are offering more and more natural candy options. While the colors might not be quite as vivid as what you find in the drugstore, and although the candy might not fizz or crackle on your tongue, the flavors are actually much better and much more authentic.

Here are two to consider this year. Tasty brand’s Organic Fruit Snacks* (“all natural gummies”) and YumEarth Organics Organic Pops (lollipops). Neither contain high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial flavors or preservatives. Read: no Red 40, Yellow 5, etc. Both rely on colors from fruits and vegetables, such as beets, black carrots, carrots and pumpkin. The Organic Pops even contain 100% of the daily recommended dose of Vitamin C!

 

Happy Halloween!

*Note: The 36-pouch box of Tasty brand’s Organic Fruit Snacks do not appear to be available on-line. Otherwise I would have provided the link. The trick-or-treat size pouches, sold in a box,. are readily available in most Whole Foods Markets

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