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Archive for October, 2012

Happy Photo Friday!

In 2010 I went to the Amazon, and I only have about a million pictures from that trip. I’ll probably take some time and bombard this blog with a post full of Amazonian photos eventually, but for now, here is one of my favorites. Cruising an outlet of the Amazon River at dusk, I spotted these two lizards lounging on a branch, the moon rising behind them.

Lizard Moon © 2010, Juniper Stokes

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Time for another recipe! I’m sure many of you have had the experience of making so much of an amazing dish that you end up with amazing leftovers. But sometimes, no matter how amazing the leftovers are, you’re just not in the mood for the same dish twice. When this happened to me this summer, I got creative and turned last night’s dinner into a totally new breakfast.

The Dinner

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, our garden was overflowing with squash and tomatoes this year. One way I enjoyed eating up these veggies was making a chunky, fresh pasta sauce. I’ve never been a fan of using a lot of canned ingredients, so I like to make my own “sauces” using veggies and spices, which I toss with brown rice pasta.

I’m not overly strict, but I am basically wheat-free, and brown rice pasta hits the spot when one of my carb cravings comes along. I like Tinkyada brand pasta, though I’m sure there are many good brands.

my favorite pasta

These pastas have a great energy saving cooking method, too. Simply boil for 5 minutes, and let sit covered for another 20 minutes. I find that it’s almost impossible to overcook brown rice pasta, so its perfect for multi-tasking and making a sauce at the same time.

Chunky Veggie Pasta Sauce

Anyway, back to the sauce . . . as with most of my cooking, I use what’s seasonal and available. Here is what I put in the sauce:

  • 1 large yellow squash, chopped
  • 5 small-medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh and/or dried herbs (I used oregano, basil, and thyme, dried and fresh)
  • 1-2 Tbs olive oil
  • splash white wine (because, as I’ve said before, wine makes everything better)
  • salt and pepper to taste

This is a very general recipe. Basically, I just sauté a bit of garlic and herbs in olive oil, throw in a bunch of fresh veggies and herbs that I think are delicious, and splash some white wine on top before serving. I toss the “sauce” with the pasta (I put this in parentheses because it’s really more like sautéed veggies and liquid than sauce–but still delicious), top with parm, and serve. It makes a wonderful, easy, healthy, dinner.

Leftover Veggie Egg Bake

But let’s get down to the main event: using up the leftovers. The pasta sauce could’ve served four, but only two of us ate it, so we had leftovers. I didn’t feel like pasta two nights in a row, but I needed to use up all the food becuase the garden doesn’t wait! So, I decided to use the veggie pasta sauce to add some veg-power to our breakfast. I added some eggs and feta cheese (for a bit of fanciness), and ended up with a protien and veggie-packed morning meal.

Ingredients:

  • about 2 cups chunky veggie sauce (this is just what I had leftover–any amount would work)*
  • 2 eggs*
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

*I used about a 1:1 ratio for cups of veggie sauce to eggs, and I liked the results. However this dish was very heavy on the veggies, and I would up the eggs for a more quiche-like dish. Also, if you’re using a sauce with more liquid, you also may want to up the egg ratio and cook for a bit longer, so the end result isn’t too soupy.

Directions:

  • Step 1: Preheat oven to 450°.
  • Step 2: Use a fork to stir the eggs, breaking the yokes, in a large bowl.
  • Step 3: Add the leftover veggies, feta, salt, and pepper, making sure the eggs coat everything thoroughly.
  • Step 4: Pour the egg and veggie mixture into a glass baking dish.
  • Step 5: Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. (45 minutes leaves a bit of liquid, while an hour should be enough to remove all the excess moisture for a firmer dish.)
  • Step 6: Let cool slightly, and serve!

veggie leftovers egg bake © 2012, Juniper Stokes

This breakfast, made from two eggs and leftovers, tasted like gourmet brunch. This is my favorite new method for all veggie leftovers and I highly recommend it. Enjoy!

veggie leftovers egg bake © 2012, Juniper Stokes

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I’m a very cautious traveler. I leave copies of important documents with friends and in protected computer files. There are locks on all my bags, with address labels both outside and within. I wear a money belt during international transit. And I keep money in more than one place.

These practices have saved me from a few sticky situations. But hiding money all over the place . . . I may have to rethink this one:

Travel Remnants © 2012, Juniper Stokes

I recently cleaned out a few old travel pouches and a drawer of old travel information, and this stack of currency is what I found. While part of me wants to hold on to bits of currency from each country with hopes that it will lead me back again, my bank account has other ideas. I cashed in this loot for almost $200 USD! Who knew . . . .

Oh, and since taking this photo and exchanging the money, I found another previously undiscovered supply of cash–Singaporean dollars and Japanese yen. I’m pretty excited about the yen :)

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Essential Oils Box

Essential Oils (Photo credit: luxomedia)

Why do aromatherapists care about using essential oils rather than fragrance oils?

First, let’s review: Essential oils come from nature. Fragrance or perfume oils are manufactured in laboratories. Fragrance oils are not inherently bad–I love some of my fragrance oil perfumes, and occasionally use some of the perfume oils I’ve purchased during my travels to make myself body washes and lotions. They smell good, and that’s good.

Yet when it comes to my health and beauty regimens, I prefer to use true aromatherapy products. Fragrance and perfume oils may smell good, but they do not offer the healing benefits as essential oils. Essential oils have amazing healing abilities (which I discuss in my previous post, I ♥ Aromatherapy: An Introduction), and they smell wonderful, often in deeply complex ways that fragrance oils rarely achieve.

Going Natural

I like to compare essential oils to food–more and more people are recognizing that real food (coming from nature) is better for our health than processed food (with elements created in laboratories), and essential oils are no different. In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan discusses the importance of consuming real, whole foods. He notes that for years, most nutritional research focused on identifying the individual vitamins, minerals, and nutritional values of the various foods we consume. While this has been helpful in many ways, we are beginning to learn that the synergistic effects of the vitamins and minerals naturally occurring in a whole food, such as an apple, are far more healing than the same elements in isolation, as in a vitamin-fortified product. The truth is, modern science still seems a bit crude compared to the genius complexity of nature.

The same principle applies to essential oils. Over time, various plant-based healing components have been identified, extracted, and reproduced in laboratories, and this has brought us many important medicines (think of aspirin, from willow bark, for a common example). Yet isolating these elements and reproducing them in factories removes the true healing potential of the whole, natural oil. The wonder of nature never ceases to amaze me–as with food, the unique chemical components of each essential oil work together in a synergy we are just beginning to understand, and when we isolate these components, we risk losing the full potential of the essential oil. Not only that, but in subtle aromatherapy, it is said that the true essence of the oil, the key element, is lost when it is reproduced outside of nature.

How can you make sure you’re buying natural products?

As I’ve mentioned before, the United States does not regulate the use of the term “aromatherapy”, or “natural” for that matter. This means that it is up to us as consumers to be vigilant in deciding which products we purchase and use. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Read ingredients carefully–you’ll probably start to notice that many aromatherapy products contain a few essential oils, but also quite a bit of fragrance oil. I often see something like, “made with essential and fragrance oils” on labels. Or worse yet, “made with all natural fragrance oil”, which I hope you now know is certainly not natural at all.
  • Avoid products with “nature-identical essential oils”, which are not essential oils from natural sources.
  • Some flavors just don’t come from nature. This is especially true for popular food fragrances–I’m pretty sure your pina colada body wash and bubble gum lotion aren’t made with essential oils . . .
  • Many essential oils are incredibly expensive, and products using real essential oils will reflect this. If the cost seems too low, the product may contain only a minimal amount of essential oil. Depending on the product and its other ingredients, this may be fine, or it may not actually contain sufficient oils to bring about healing.
  • Floral oils, absolutes, and more exotic oils are particularly expensive, so if you find a “rose” lotion for a low price, it’s probably a fragrance oil.

As always, if you have any questions about this topic, I’d love to hear from you!!!

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I love aromatherapy. It has been part of my life peripherally for as long as I can remember, and I have been practicing and studying aromatherapy in earnest for the past year. It seems there is an unending supply of information on aromatherapy, and I am constantly learning more about this amazing field.

I know I’m not the only one who loves aromatherapy, either. The proliferation of all-natural home and beauty products boasting aromtherapeutic benefits has been growing steadily for years. What I have noticed, though, is that the quality of these “aromatherapy” products varies widely, and at least in the United States, there is no government regulation on the use of the word “aromatherapy”. I have found that existing aromatherapy products range from being truly healing and powerful products, to misguided attempts by amateur aromatherapists, to products that really shouldn’t be labeled as aromatherapy at all. And despite the popularity of aromatherapy, I’ve found that relatively few people actually understand what aromatherapy is or the many ways it can heal.

I’m writing this series of posts about aromatherapy with hopes of bringing more awareness to this subject. I’m passionate about aromatherapy and am constantly researching and making new truly high-quality products (through Essential Life Aromatherapy–contact me if interested!). There is much to learn about this field, and there are many misconceptions that must be addressed. These posts will only scratch the surface of the depths of aromatherapy and its benefits, but I hope that they give you a clearer understanding of what aromatherapy is and how you can use it to enhance your own life.

What is Aromatherapy?

Of the many definitions I’ve found for aromatherapy, one of my favorites comes from certified aromatherapist Valerie Cooksley, R.N. and author of the amazing book Aromatherapy: Soothing Remedies to Restore,Rejuvenate and Heal. She defines aromatherapy as the “skilled and controlled us of essential oils for physical and emotional health and well-being”.

There are a few key words in this definition that I want to take a closer look at. First, notice the words skilled and controlled. True aromatherapy comes from knowledge, experimentation, and training. Simply putting a random collection of essential oils in a shampoo does not necessarily mean that the shampoo contains the benefits offered by true aromatherapy. The other terms to note are physical and emotional. While many people associate aromatherapy with increases in emotional health, such as stress-reduction and relaxation, fewer seem to realize that aromatherapy also has direct, physical benefits, such as pain-reduction and the ability to help fight infections.

And Essential Oils Are . . . ?

Before I get overly excited writing about all the amazing benefits of aromatherapy, I think I better step back and clarify another part of the above definition: essential oils. Essential oils are liquids that can be distilled (usually through a steam or water distillation) from plants. They are found in various plant parts, including the flowers, leaves, bark, wood, roots, and peels (for fruit).

Essential oils contain the essence of a plant. They give the plant its unique fragrance and represent its chemical composition. Think of a fragrant herb or flower that you’re familiar with, such as rosemary. Imagine yourself pinching a leaf from the rosemary plant and bringing your fingers to your nose. You are smelling the essence of rosemary, brought to you via its particular essential oil.

Essential oils are also volatile, meaning that they are unstable and will quickly evaporate from a liquid to a gas–that’s why you can smell them so easily! The term “oil” is actually a bit misleading as well, since essential oils range from watery liquids to thick resins and rarely actually feel oily.

Another key fact about essential oils is that they are very concentrated. Valerie Cooksley helps put this in perspective, noting that one drop of essential oil usually equals about 30 cups of an herbal tea made from the same plant. Essential oils are powerful! This is why it is so important that aromatherapy is done with skill, caution, and education.

Finally, essential oils must come from nature. They are not fragrance oils, and they are not created in laboratories. While fragrance oils and perfumes may smell lovely, they do not offer the same healing benefits as essential oils.

*Check out my next post for more information about why aromatherapists use natural ingredients, and my upcoming post about more ingredients used in aromatherapy.

How Does Aromatherapy Work?

This is a simple question with a very complicated answer. Contrary to popular belief, aromatherapy involves a lot more than scent, though scent is certainly part of it. For this introductory post, I’ll try to keep it to the basics, and I’ll follow-up with more detailed answers in the future.

There are two basic ways that aromatherapy heals:

  • First, odor molecules are received through the nose and go on to affect brain chemistry.
  • Second, essential oils are absorbed through the skin and go on to affect body chemistry.

Other ways aromatherapy can be used to heal are through oral doses and rectal supplements (sounds fun, huh). These methods are much less common than the first two, and should only be undertaken under the direct supervision of a certified aromatherapist or medical professional.

The ways in which both the brain and body process essential oils are fascinating, and I promise to go into more detail about this soon. For now, just remember that there is more to aromatherapy than smell!

A Holistic Approach to Healing

While essential oils are powerful and have amazing healing benefits, aromatherapy as a whole is part of a holistic approach to health and well-being. Rather than relying solely on one type of healing, aromatherapy is most effectively used to support an integrative approach to well-being, which may involve acupuncture, therapy, nutrition, yoga, physical therapy, doctors’ appointments and more.

Safety

Safety is another area of aromatherapy that really needs its own post. As I mentioned before, essential oils are powerful, and working with a certified aromatherapist can be very helpful. Still here are a few safety tips to get you started:

  • as a general rule, always dilute oils before applying them directly to your skin
  • avoid ingesting essential oils orally
  • some essential oils can be dangerous if used incorrectly, so do your research
  • certain medical conditions may have contradictions with some essential oils
  • extra care needs to be taken in certain populations, including children, pregnant woman, and our animal friends

When in doubt about a particular product or essential oil, ask! Ask an aromatherapy professional, or better yet–ask me! I’d love to hear from my readers with any questions or comments about aromatherapy, so let’s get the discussion going!

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This picture brings up memories of one of my all-time favorite trips–Greece. A girlfriend and I spent 5 weeks traveling through Athens, the mainland, and the islands of this amazing country. On the morning this photo was taken, we were waking up to our first day on Mykonos, one of Greece’s many beautiful islands. I’d gotten out of the shower to discover that my friend had prepared a breakfast of Greek yogurt and honey, sliced apples, grapes, cheese, fresh orange juice, and coffee (Nescafe cappuccinos, because that’s how they roll over there).

Something about the sight of the breakfast, combined with the Greece Lonely Planet guidebook, awakened in me a deep appreciation of where I was in life. I was in Greece, on a beautiful island, with one of my best friends, living a real life adventure better than any I could have imagined. Every time I look at this photo I’m reminded of those feelings, and I love it.

Breakfast in Mykonos © 2009, Juniper Stokes

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Phew! In the past week, I have packed up my life and traveled across five states to move to a new city, begin a new job, and start a new year (yesterday was my birthday!). I’ve been busy. I meant to post this awesome soup recipe before the move, but as it often does, time slipped away into a frenzy of packing and good-byes. I hope this posting catches you in time to use the last of your own garden and farmers market harvests.

A little while ago, I posted a photo of my  Autumnal Equinox harvest, with promises of recipes to follow. One of my favorite recipes to come out of the harvest was a huge pot of soup. Inspired by the veggies of the harvest, I decided to try and make a soup as close to entirely garden-grown as possible. I threw in tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, fresh herbs, and dried herbs (from last year’s harvest) all from the garden. Garlic, onion, and a few other basics had to be bought, and I couldn’t resist adding fresh farmers market corn. I topped this soup with a bit of semi-sweet white wine and Parmesan and enjoyed the flavors of late summer.

And I should mention that this recipe makes a huge pot of soup. My original plan was to have leftovers to freeze, so I could enjoy the flavors of summer when I need a pick-me-up this winter. Alas, the soup was just too good, and we all ate up the entire pot within days.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large zucchini, sliced or chopped
  • 1 large yellow squash, sliced or chopped
  • 1 large carrot, sliced or chopped
  • about 6 small-medium tomatoes
  • 1/2 c green beans, chopped
  • 1 cob corn
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • about 2 cups lightly packed fresh mixed herbs (rosemary, basil, parsley, thyme, marjoram), chopped
  • 1 tsp each dried oragano and basil
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 quarts veggie broth or water
  • heavy splash semi-sweet white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste

As with most things I cook, ingredients are fluid–a bit extra on the herbs, a bit less of the squash–these changes really won’t effect the overall results too much. Still, I have to say the  ingredients and ratios I used for this particular soup were amazing, so I’ll throw in a few pictures to help you more accurately estimate the amounts.

Directions:

garlic cloves © 2012, Juniper Stokes

First, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil, adding the dried herbs and a bit of salt. I like to keep the soup pretty low fat, so I add water rather than more oil to prevent sticking. Once the veggies are added, they release enough water that you shouldn’t have any more sticking problems.

After sautéing the garlic, onions, and herbs for a few minutes, add the carrots and cook for another 4-5 minutes.

I used 2 fat carrots from the garden instead of one big one © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Then add the squash, zucchini, corn, and beans, and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes or so.

use a knife to take fresh corn kernels off the cob © 2012, Juniper Stokes

squash and zucchini © 2012, Juniper Stokes

veggies in a pot! © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Once the vegetables are just beginning to become tender, add the tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes.

garden tomatoes © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Next, throw in the fresh herbs, followed by the broth or water.

rosemary, parsley, marjoram, thyme, and basil © 2012, Juniper Stokes

I like my vegetable soup to be very brothy, so add a bit less liquid  for a chunkier soup. With the garlic, onion, herbs, and surplus of veggies, you should be fine sticking to water. A broth will simply add a bit more immediate flavor if you don’t have time to let the flavors set. When I made this soup, I compromised and used 1 cup veggie bouillon broth, with the rest plain old purified water. It worked.

Simmer the veggies in the liquid long enough to let the flavors merge, about another 25-30 minutes. I think a bit of wine makes most things better, so I like to stir in about a 1/4 cup semi-sweet white wine right after turning off the heat at the end.

Top with parm (totally optional), salt, and pepper and serve immediately, or for even more flavor let the soup sit overnight. Yum.

late summer garden soup © 2012, Juniper Stokes

And in case you’re wondering, my new home is in Boulder, CO, and I just turned 32. Enjoy the soup!

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