March 6, 2006

Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Diapers

Ask most any mother, and she will tell you what a conundrum the diaper experience is. No one wants to be responsible for creating another new landfill, and yet, the visual of a screaming toddler in a leaking cloth diaper somewhere in public sends chills down our spines. Therefore the best course of action, according to my husband and myself, was to purchase our diapers based on brand recognition -- and of course, cheaper is better.

For the first year of my daughter's life, I blissfully set about purchasing the top two brands with their cute animation characters because it was easy and relatively inexpensive. I told myself that the natural version of disposable diapers would leak and were terribly costly.

After purchasing a package of 15 no-name brand diapers for $6 on a vacation, and seeing the inflamed bumpy red consequences on my kid just 1 hour later, I began seriously considering what I was wrapping her up in 24 hours a day. And I couldn't get past the fact that I was exposing her to toxins so that I could save $6.

While Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Disposable Diapers are more expensive than the national brands (Huggies, Pampers, etc.) and cannot solve all diaper dilemmas (for some reason, I thought that purchasing the more environmentally conscious brand would mean that they magically disappeared once in the trash), they are a much more valuable product than standard diapers.

Because Seventh Generation Diapers are made with chlorine free wood pulp, they do not contribute to the dioxins found in the environment that are released when bleaching paper. This also means that chlorine is not touching your baby's skin.

The Seventh Generation Diapers are not only safer for the baby and better for the environment, but they are extremely absorbent -- a critical factor when you are potty training and someone isn't always upfront about their bathroom needs.

The only criticism I have regarding this product is that their sizing scale is confusing. According to their measurements, my daughter can fit into 3 different sizes, which induces blank stares from my husband in the grocery store. However, the silver lining to this little cloud is that we get 4 more diapers in the small sized package. See! There are bargains to be had everywhere!

To get your very own bargain, click here to buy Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Diapers.

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Whole Foods Market 365 Moisturizing Bath and Shower Gel

The first thing that caught my eye about Whole Food Market's 365 Moisturizing Bath and Shower gel was the price: $1.99 for a 12 oz bottle! Now that's a pretty good deal, I said to myself, especially where I live because things tend to be more expensive. Plus I could use the "moisturizing" bit having spent the last week being pummeled by frigid winter winds coming off of the ocean. I want to avoid the painful condition I like to call "dry butt" at all costs. TMI, I know, but there is nothing worse than a dry chaffed backside. Stop laughing! It's more painful than it sounds!

So I gave the bath gel a whirl, and overall was pretty happy with it. It came out of the pump bottle in clear gel form, and then made a nice foamy white lather when rubbed between your hands. I used it to shave my legs and it clung nicely to let me do the job. The last bottle of shower gel I bought was a cheapo drug store brand which would immediately slide off my skin, so I appreciated this aspect. As for the scent, it was very mild--suitable for men as well as the fairer sex. The fragrance, which is described on the bottle as being comprised of "a blend of herbal and citrus components" had a faint scent of rosemary, which for me brought back flashbacks of a traumatic "facial" given to me by my older sister at 11 years old that involved holding my face over a steaming bowl of rosemary-laced water, then lying on my back as she slathered my burning face with toner. (I secretly think her motivations were driven not by the pubescent state of my complexion but her desire to finally punish me from knocking her off her only child perch with my arrival a decade earlier.) However I doubt you'll have the same issue.

The gel is made with pure plant and seed oils and contains no animal fats. So if you're looking for something cheap, natural, and pleasant, this is a decent bet. Given that I can spend hours in Crabtree & Evelyn with my nose buried in soaps I would prefer something with a bit more of a scent, but for those who like their shower gels mild this is a good option.

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February 24, 2006

Back to Nature Macaroni and Cheese Dinner

Given the number of well-known "natural" macaroni and cheese boxed dinners that are out there, it doesn't seem like there's much need for yet another newcomer. The only reason I picked up the Back to Nature Macaroni and Cheese Dinner with Organic Cheddar Cheese sauce mix is because my kids have about a three-month window of time with any mac 'n cheese product before they decide that their favorite is now "yucky!" (usually right after I've invested in a jumbo pack of the now-reviled brand).

The first thing to note about the Back to Nature brand is that the sauce mix is organic, but the macaroni is not. Kind of odd. The second thing to note is that the taste of this organic sauce is quite bland. The macaroni was tender and the sauce mixed up well, but it just didn't have a very cheesy taste. However, my kids seemed to like it (pasta made it into the mouth with no coaxing, no screams of protest upon tasting), so I guess I'll be buying it anyway. But if I'm eating with them, I'll be making a packet of Annie's Homegrown Microwaveable mac and cheese for myself. Especially because I have a giant box of it sitting in my pantry.

Stock up your pantry by clicking here and buying Back to Nature Macaroni and Cheese Dinner from

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February 17, 2006

Soyco Veggy Singles

One word comes to mind when I ate the Soyco Veggy Singles -- RUN. Don't walk away from these things, run and run quickly away from the faux dairy aisle.

We all know that individually wrapped cheese singles are an abomination of nature. Pallid yellow or close-to-school-bus-orange are not exactly what comes out of any dairy producing animal and most edible items are rarely rubbery and moist at the same time. Heck, I've even seen them stored NEXT to the dairy case, as if the clerks were trying to say, "Come on, we all know this isn't real dairy, so let's make room for the sour cream."

Soyco Veggy Singles, in the cheddar flavor, are that crazy yellowish/orange color we as Americans have come to embrace from our dairy product. The consistency is such that when I tried to remove the item from the paper, if not properly chilled (as in left on the counter for a few minutes), rather than pull away it leaves a smear and I was forced to make my sandwich with whatever I could scrape off with my fingernail. When I tried to melt them into scrambled eggs, instead of the creamy consistency I'm used to, it was oily clumps of orange goo. And if this all isn't appetizing enough, the taste has a slight bitter chemical aftertaste.

The packaging for Veggy Singles is not labeled "dairy free", it does boast the product as "Nature's Alternative to Cheese" and "Soy Nutritious" -- all things that anyone avoiding dairy and animal products in general would seek out. However, vegans beware, included in the ingredients are: skim milk proteins and casein (a dried skim milk protein).

Veggy Singles are an alternative to cheese singles if you are looking for something that has a concerning texture, surprising ingredients and a disappointing taste. At least with good old standard cheese singles I already know where the questions lie and I still enjoy the taste.

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February 16, 2006

Ecover Ecological Toilet Bowl Cleaner

If you're looking for a more natural way to keep your toilet bowl sparkling, or at least not reminiscent of the toilet bowl scene in the movie Trainspotting, Ecover's Toilet Bowl Cleaner should fit the bill. I recently gave it a try. You'll have to take my word for it, but it did a fine job of cleaning up at my house (I'm happy to post pictures of my dirty stove, but I have to draw the personal sharing line somewhere).

Ecover's toilet bowl cleaner is packaged like a conventional angled-top cleaner which helps put the product under the toilet bowl rim where you need it. The cleaner itself is milky-white and a bit thin, but it clung well enough to do the job. It has an extremely strong pine scent, which is good if you're particular about your house "smelling clean" but would definitely be a problem for someone with a scent sensitivity. In any case, the toilet looked as clean as it usually does after using a conventional product, and it seemed to stay clean for the same amount of time.

Now, I can't claim that my trial of the product was exactly scientific, as I didn't have the lab equipment to test whether the product eradicated every last germ. However, since you're generally not drinking out of the toilet bowl, my personal philosophy is that I'd rather a.) Not flush toxic chemicals into the septic system that's underneath my backyard; and b.) if the odd pet (or kid) did drink out of the toilet bowl, I'd be more concerned about them drinking bleach than the stray germ.

The other thing to love about Ecover's toilet bowl cleaner is that it's from a company that really strives to practice what it preaches. Read the extended entry for details.

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February 14, 2006

Organic Wine: 2004 Jelu Malbec

While my partner had to sacrifice herself to the organic chocolates market, I sit here performing my own servitude for the public: cracking open a bottle of organic Argentinean Malbec.

Let's just say that as public service positions go, cushy government jobs have nothing on this girl.

Overall, the organic and bio-dynamic wine market is a complex one. While the quality of the wine reigns supreme, this doesn't necessarily mean that organic or bio-dynamically produced fruit is the originator. This creates a difficult situation in that there are those vineyards that produce wine by traditional methods, make exceptional wines, and are not technically organic, and other vineyards that grow and harvest using only organic and bio-dynamic methods for purposes of quality and terrior preservation, and make less than superior wines. Then there are the rare few vineyards that can accomplish both. The best way to judge the organic and bio-dynamic wine market (and it hurts this taste tester to say it) is to taste it bottle by bottle.

The 2004 Jelu Malbec is a treat to drink not only for the sweet dark cherry burst in your mouth, and the smoky bouquet with hints of vanilla, but also because of its value. This Malbec costs between $10 - $14 a bottle and could easily become a regular in the everyday wine lineup. Not terribly complex, the 2004 Jelu Malbec has enough body to compliment saucy dishes, rich cheeses and even an organic chocolate Valentine's Day gift.

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My Organic Valentine: Chocolate Bars For Your Eco-Conscious Honey

Gentle reader, even though I don't usually have chocolate bars in my house (due to an utter lack of self-control), and even though my husband and I have ignored the commercially manufactured "Hallmark Holiday" for years, I, your intrepid blogger, have sacrificed my rules, not to mention my waistline, to test and report back on various varieties of organic chocolates just in time for V-day. I really do hope you appreciate the lengths I go to to bring you the information you need.

Now the good news about all of this is that some brilliant person discovered that chocolate is actually good for you! Why nothing could be more "heart healthy" than to gift your loved one with a big old chocolate bar and bottle of fine, antioxidant-filled red wine. Hey, I think I like this health food thing!

I reviewed three chocolate bars: Newman's Own Organics Butter Toffee Crunch Milk Chocolate; Whole Foods Market's 365 Organic Swiss Milk Chocolate with Almonds, and Green & Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts and Currants

Whole Foods' 365 Organic Swiss Milk Chocolate is a good basic choice. With 33% cocoa, it has a light, creamy taste for those who prefer their chocolate mild. The almond pieces are small and plentiful. According to the package, the bar is made in Switzerland using "Old-World" blending methods, and the cocoa beans are grown in the Dominican Republic by a co-op of small farmers called the YACAO Project that works to provide a healthy livelihood to small farmers and their families.

Newman's Own Organics Butter Toffee Crunch Milk Chocolate is a fancier bar. While still classified as milk chocolate, it's definitely on the darker side. I couldn't find the percentage of cocoa used. The chocolate itself is very good; smooth and with a deep chocolate taste. However I must say I was disappointed that it didn't contain more toffee crunch. The pieces were quite small and didn't exactly provide the "crunch" I expected given the name of the product.

For those who like their chocolate dark, Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts and Currants, with 60% cocoa content, has a much stronger, slightly coffee-like taste. The hazelnuts are finely chopped and plentiful. The currants were also small--so much so that they got a bit lost. However they did add a sweetness and chewiness that provided a rather pleasant counterpoint to the intensity of the chocolate. This bar is a good choice if your sweetheart happens to be a vegan, as it contains no milk products.

Here's another fun idea: buy all three (or more) and conduct your own chocolate tasting! Here are some pointers from a recent article in the Boston Globe.

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February 10, 2006

Not Your Mother's TV Dinner: Moosewood's Organic Vegetarian Southwest Cornbread and Red Beans

As much as I don't relish my husband's business trips (and the resulting solo childcare duties), I must admit that a tiny piece of me looks forward to a few indulgences I can only truly enjoy on my own: the ability to watch trashy TV and to eat whatever the heck I want. Now I can certainly do these things when he's home, but it's more fun when someone's not harrumphing and glowering from the couch.

Tonight I put on my terrycloth robe, fuzzy pink slippers, and hair curlers (ok, that's pulling a James Frey), and cooked up a genuine frozen dinner. But this was no Hungry Man, rather an organic vegetarian meal from Moosewood.

Moosewood, a line from Fairfield Farm Kitchens, offers about half a dozen organic vegetarian entrees ranging from Moroccan Stew to Spicy Penne Puttanesca. The recipes are based on those from the famed Ithaca, New York Moosewood Restaurant. I chose the Southwest Cornbread and Red Beans.

Overall, it was pretty good for a frozen meal. Everything held up reasonably well going from frozen to microwave reheating. The cornbread, if not straight from the oven fresh, was at least not the hockey puck I imagined it would be. It had been covered a bit by the red beans which helped lock in some moistness, and it had a somewhat sweet flavor from the sugar and "hint of orange" in the recipe. The beans, which were mixed with rice, celery, corn, tomatoes, and spices, had a mild spicy flavor. Nothing was overcooked--in fact the celery even held a bit of its crunch--but I would have appreciated more corn as there were so few kernels that they almost seemed like an afterthought. A couple of stray pieces of rice were undercooked but overall the dish was moist. It was also plenty hearty for one. I paired it with a simple green salad, and if you really want to enjoy yourself I'm sure it would go well with a nice glass of wine.

The best part is, with my husband away, there was no need to worry about the potential after-effects of a bean-filled dinner. Yet another advantage to spousal business travel, I suppose. Honey, don't rush back, 'kay?

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February 5, 2006

Asian Cooking the Natural Way: Marukan Lite Rice Vinegar and San-J Tamari Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce

I rely heavily on Asian cooking in my home, especially Thai and Chinese. I like how the intense and spicy flavors can be paired with vegetables, fish, and noodles or rice to create tasty low-fat meals. However, there are a few pitfalls to avoid with two staples of Asian-style cooking: soy sauce and rice vinegar. Many brands contain high salt, high sugar, and less-than-natural ingredients.

I've recently tried two "lite" and "natural" alternatives of two Asian-style cooking staples: seasoned rice vinegar and soy sauce, both purchased at a health food store. I compared both to larger brands purchased at an ordinary chain grocery store.

Marukan offers a Lite Seasoned Gourmet Rice Vinegar with "low sodium and sugar." In comparing it to a non-lite version I picked up at a local supermarket (Nakano), Marukan does have less sugar (4 grams per tablespoon versus 5), and does not contain high fructose corn syrup like the other brand. However, Marukan's sodium content was actually higher (350 mg per tablespoon as opposed to 240 mg in the non-lite version). In terms of taste, the Marukan Lite variety was somewhat less pungent than Nakano's brand, but otherwise comparable.

I compared San-J's Naturally Brewed Tamari Premium Soy Sauce Reduced Sodium to La Choy's Lite Soy Sauce. (Note: San-J also offers an organic lite version but it was not available at my market that day.) The difference in taste was startling. Although the San-J brand contains more sodium than the La Choy (700 mg and 560 mg per tablespoon, respectively), the San-J tasted much less salty and had a deeper, more interesting flavor. Their web site attributes this to the fact that the product is made with more soybeans than ordinary sauce.

The bottom line: if you're interested in using a rice vinegar and soy sauce that have more natural ingredients, these two products fit the bill. However, be aware that using them will still add quite a large load of sodium to a dish (personally, I always cut the amount of soy sauce called for in any recipe in half). Just make sure to plan ahead so you don't overdo your daily sodium intake, especially if you plan on wearing those cute pointy toed heels that night!

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February 4, 2006

Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub

I can't say as I have ever been concerned about accidentally eating any particular cosmetic (except the random lip balm when I was younger), but that is a serious consideration when I use Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub.

The Burt's Bees Citrus Scrub smells like you are rubbing a divine slice of carrot cake across your face. Besides the delectable aroma, it is also a wonderful skin exfoliating experience. The paste consistency stays on your fingers while you are mashing it about onto your skin, unlike some products that end up slipping down the drain. The texture feels like a nice beach sand or granular snow fall, much more enjoyable than the other scrubs that have literally left dig marks in my forehead because they were too cheap to grind up their almond shells. My skin is soft and glowing afterwards, not bumpy and red -- a definite plus when trying to look better, not worse.

The only complaint I would register is the packaging. While I love little glass jars of all kinds, particularly since they are usually more environmentally safe than plastic, this particular product deserves a word of caution. Since the facial scrubbing is a task easier done in the shower (otherwise I have a puddle of water on the floor and scrub somehow in my ears), it takes extreme care on my part not to drop this delicate vessel and spread shards of glass around my naked feet. So, hats off to the glass jars, just be sure to stock up on the bandages if you're clumsy.

The Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub is 2 oz. of sinfully scented and simply delicious cleansing experience. (No, I didn't actually taste it...yet.) An absolute heavenly addition to any winter skin regimen.

Stock up on Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub -- click here.

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