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Archive for November, 2012

Aromatherapy involves much more than essential oils. Below are a few other important elements in an aromatherapy practice.

More Plant Extracts

While essential oils are probably the most common ingredient in aromatherapy products, there are three other main plant extracts that may be used: CO2s, absolutes, and hydrosols. The primary difference between essential oils and these other plant extracts is the way in which their essences are extracted.

Essential oils are extracted through either a steam distillation process (the steam carries the aromatic molecules to be separated and bottled) or an expression process (a machine presses the plant to release its essential oils).

CO2s are often labeled as essential oils–the main difference here is that the extraction process involves using carbon dioxide rather than water or steam. They are usually thicker than true essential oils, and are said to maintain more of their original components because no heat is used during the distillation process.

Absolutes are made when hot water or steam distillation would either harm the quality of the oil or simply not produce enough oil. They are very concentrated extracts and are produced using a solvent, which is later removed. Because of the possibility of trace solvent remaining in the absolute, they should not be used internally.

Hydrosols are the aromatic waters that remain after distilling essential oils. They are much milder than essential oils, but still contain many healing properties.

Carrier Oils

Also important in aromatherapy are carrier oils, which are fatty oils most commonly made from vegetables and nuts. As the name suggests, help “carry” essential oils (or CO2s, absolutes, or hydrosols) into your body.

One of the wonderful things about most carrier oils is that they have relatively small molecules. This means that these oils are unlikely to clog your pores or leave stains on your clothes. Their small molecules also allow the carrier oils to penetrate your skin and bring essential oils deeper into your body. This is one reason why it’s important to dilute your essential oils with some sort of carrier oil before applying them to the skin–the carrier oil actually helps the essential oil act more efficiently.

Yet carrier oils do much more than act as a means of transport. Each carrier oil also offers unique enhancements to the healing process. Here are just a few of our favorites at Essential Life Aromatherapy (ELA):

  • Sweet Almond Oil: an excellent emollient for chapped and dry skin
  • Apricot Kernel Oil: light and great for the face
  • Evening Primrose Oil: helps with balancing hormones, eczema, arthritis, inflammation, and regulating insulin
  • Jojoba Oil: a wonderful all-purpose oil, good for all skin types, healing for the scalp and hair, with a long shelf-life
  • Olive Oil: a highly nutritious oil, great for making ointments
  • Rose Hip Oil: one of my personal favorites, this oil helps reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging (it’s in our amazing face oil)
  • Sesame Seed Oil: long revered in Ayurvedic medicine, this is a wonderful warming and moisturizing oil
  • Fractionated Coconut Oil: great for moisturizing in general, this oil also has a long shelf life

A few other healing and infused oils we use in our ELA products are arnica (for aching joints and muscles), Calendula (for healing the skin and wounds), and argan oil (which is very nourishing for hair). We’re also experimenting with a few other fun ingredients, including a Saint John’s Wort infusion.

Just for Fun . . .

I thought I’d throw in a picture of a few products I use daily, which involve a variety of aromatherapy ingredients:

bedtime face routine © 2012, Juniper Stokes

On the left is a bottle of our amazing ELA face oil. I massage this into my face each night. It contains a variety of essential and carrier oils that are especially good for the face and skin, including carrot seed, jojoba, and rose hip oil . . . along with many other secret ingredients. (I make this for myself all the time, so the bottle isn’t labeled.) In the center is a rose/sandalwood hydrosol I made to use as a soothing face spritzer. And on the right is a small bottle of concentrated rose hip oil I brought back from a recent trip to Patagonia, where it was surprisingly popular. I massage a few drops of this directly into areas that need a little extra care (spots, wrinkles, all that). I love my all-natural aromatherapy nighttime ritual.

***

Essential oils are only the surface of what aromatherapy can offer. An effective, well-trained aromatherapist will be able to take from the plethora of ingredients available in order to create the most healing products possible. If you have any questions about using these ingredients, please write! And again, if you’re interested in any of our products that use these ingredients, feel free to contact us at elaromatherapy@gmail.com.

Also, I’d love to hear if any of you have more ideas about how to use all these wonderful ingredients in your own aromatherapy practices. Do you have other ways that you use these carrier oils? A favorite absolute or hydrosol? Ideas for how we will use our new Saint John’s Wort oil? Share your wisdom and let us know!

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Well, it’s the day after Thanksgiving and I am happily stuffed after revisiting some of yesterday’s leftovers for breakfast this morning. I’m at home visiting my parents in Washington State, and I’m happy to say that our Thanksgiving meal was seasonal, local (with pumpkin, squash, carrots, and herbs from our garden), and totally vegetarian!

My family has been pescatarian for years, and I don’t even remember the last time we attempted to have a turkey for Thanksgiving. Though stuffing a turkey for this holiday has become an American tradition, our family has found alternative, more sustainable, turkey-friendly, and equally enjoyable ways to celebrate. We still stick to the classics for our sides–cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and veggie gravy, brussel sprouts or green beans, corn, sweet yams–these are all very easy to make vegetarian. But for the main event, rather than stuffing a turkey, we stuff a pumpkin from our garden. Some years, we use a regular bread crumb stuffing, while other years, we switch to wild rice for a local twist. Either version gives us the satisfaction of the Thanksgiving stuffing tradition, without the added cruelty. And let’s be honest, the more well-known veggie alternative, Tofurkey, is not that satisfying or healthy.

I know it’s a bit late for recipes, but I thought I’d at least share this year’s menu with everyone, with hopes of giving other veggies some inspiration around this time of year. And as a bonus, this menu is almost entirely gluten free.

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu

Appetizer

  • Goat cheese torte with pesto and sun dried tomatoes

Sides

  • Simple green salad with cranberry gorgonzola dressing
  • Organic homemade cranberry sauce with ginger and hot chillies
  • Mashed potatoes with homemade veggie gravy
  • Roasted green beans with red onion
  • Caramelized mushrooms and onion in a rich butter-wine sauce
  • Sweet yams with maple syrup and spices

The Main

  • Individual acorn squash cups stuffed with wild rice and herbs

Dessert

  • Pumpkin pie with bourbon whipped cream

Drinks

  • Local sparking and red wine, as needed ;)

The only dish that wasn’t homemade this year was our appetizer, a goat cheese torte from Trader Joe’s. We served this with rice crackers and sparkling wine from the Mountain Dome Winery, my favorite local winery for the sparkles.

Mountain Dome sparkling wine and Trader Joe’s cheese torte © 2012, Juniper Stokes

A simple side salad with organic baby greens, tomatoes, and green onions, topped with a gorgonzola cranberry dressing from Trader Joe’s, gave the meal a bit of freshness.

simple side salad © 2012, Juniper Stokes

The green beans were supposed to be roasted in bundles with kitchen twine, though we later realized we had the wrong kind of twine and cut if off before actually roasting these beautiful bundles.

green bean bundles © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Homemade gravy with olive oil, flour, and veggie bouillon–delicious and vegan!

vegan gravy © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Dad bought organic cranberries and spiked them with ginger and Thai chili peppers from our garden–amazing. I’ll never serve canned again!

homemade cranberry sauce © 2012, Juniper Stokes

This year, we decided to use acorn squash rather than pumpkin for our main event. After a bit of an odd growing season, my parents ended up with several extra small but still delicious acorn squash from their garden, perfect for individual servings.

tiny acorn squash © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Thanks to their new green house, we were able to season the wild rice stuffing with herbs and carrots from the garden, as well.

stuffed acorn squash with wild rice © 2012, Juniper Stokes

All together, it was a wonderful, healthy, local, vegetarian feast!

Thanksgiving dinner © 2012, Juniper Stokes

I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of the pumpkin pie (made with a garden pumpkin) with bourbon-agave whipped cream! It was delicious, and I must have been a bit too excited to eat it . . .

I hope these menu ideas help, and if anyone is in desperate need of a recipe, let me know! I’m happy to help.

Happy Thanksgiving! © 2012, Juniper Stokes

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With all the pumpkin and squash dishes I’ve been cooking lately, I’ve ended up with a lot of seeds. Pumpkin and squash seeds are not only delicious, but rich in magnesium, zinc, and protein. The secret is to prepare them to be perfectly crispy–neither too chewy nor too burnt. I’ve had plenty of seeds to experiment with this season, and I think I’ve finally figured out how to make perfectly cooked pumpkin (or squash) seeds.

Perfectly Cooked Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients

  • pumpkin and/or squash seeds
  • olive oil
  • salt

I haven’t included any specific measurements for this recipe because I’ve found that I never really know how many seeds I’ll have to work with. I tend to buy a lot of small, organic squash and continually save the seeds from each one until I have enough to fill a single layer in a 9″x12″ glass baking dish or a large baking sheet. I use enough olive oil to generously coat the seeds, and I add salt to taste.

Directions

First, you’ll want to clean the seeds. Depending on the type of pumpkin or squash you use, this could be fairly easy, or could require enough effort that you might as well sit down with a bowl of seeds in front of your favorite half hour sitcom. I’ve been cooking a lot of acorn squash recently, and I’ve found that these seeds are fairly easy to squeeze away from the pulp. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the process will be easy for you, too. And if you don’t clean the seeds perfectly, don’t worry! A bit of orange goop really won’t ruin them, and I think it sometimes adds a bit of flavor.

Once the seeds are about clean, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the seeds in a baking dish or on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt to coat. I generously coat the seeds to prevent burning and sticking (and because I love the taste of olive oil). I feel like it’s better to add a bit too much oil at the beginning and then use a paper towel to remove excess oil later, rather than to add too little up front and end up with dry, sticky seeds.

Next, bake the seeds for 40-45 minutes, stirring once to prevent sticking.

perfectly cooked pumpkin seeds © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Next time, I plan on making flavored seeds–curry, thyme, cardamom . . . who knows! I’d love to hear about all of your favorite versions, so please share :)

Enjoy!

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I was doing a bit of shopping at Whole Foods the other day when I noticed that radicchio was half off the regular price. Now, I’ve never cooked with radicchio before, nor have I thought much about what it actually is . . . . It’s always just been one of those fancy ingredients casually referenced in gourmet foodie magazines that sounds somehow familiar yet also unidentifiable. But on this particular trip to the store, the bright yellow half off tag caught my attention, and though I had absolutely no idea what to do with the vegetable, I decided it would be a good time to learn.

In case you’re wondering, radicchio looks a bit like small purple cabbage:

Česky: červená čekanka

radicchio, from Wikipedia’s creative commons

I did a bit of research on different ways to cook radicchio, and I found several interesting recipes. In the end, I decided to keep the ingredients as simple as possible. After all, it was my first time actually tasting radicchio, so I really wanted to taste it! As it turns out, radicchio has a very bitter taste. While nutritional medicine and Ayurveda remind us that we need all types of flavors in our palate, I found the bitterness of this vegetable alone to be a bit much. In order to balance the bitterness, I roasted the radicchio until it was almost caramelized and topped it with a bit of lemon juice and parmesan. The result made a subtly bitter and balanced dish that works perfectly as a small side.

Roasted Radicchio

Ingredients

  • 1 head radicchio
  • 1 small white onion
  • juice of 1/4 large lemon
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the onion and radicchio (many people also prepare the radicchio as wedges), and place them in a glass baking dish. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss to coat. Bake covered for about 15 minutes. Uncover, and gently stir and turn the vegetables. Cook uncovered for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir the vegetables again, top with parmesan, and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and serve.

Roasted Radicchio © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Enjoy!

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I eat salad all summer long, and I don’t always like to give up my daily salads as summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter. But I do like to eat seasonally, and now that it’s November, what’s more seasonal than pumpkin and squash? Adding a bit of curried pumpkin and feta cheese to an otherwise basic salad makes this easy staple suddenly seasonal and gourmet . . . and surprisingly easy to prepare!

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main)

  • 1/4 acorn squash (okay, I used squash in my salad, but I’m sure any winter variety, including pumpkin, would work)
  • 1/4 c crumbled feta
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 4 radishes, sliced
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 2 c lettuce, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 2 Tbs flax oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

First, steam the acorn squash (or pumpkin) for about 20 min. While the squash is steaming, sprinkle a bit of curry powder on top. I won’t lie–there are probably more professional ways to create delicious curried squash. But when I cook for myself, I like quick and easy, and this method is the quickest and easiest I’ve found. Once the squash is fully steamed, use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin, and then chop the squash into bite-sized pieces.

While the squash is steaming, you can prepare the rest of the salad. Chop or slice all the veggies and put them a bowl. Then add the feta. It’s as easy as that.

Once the salad is prepared and the steamed squash is on top, you can dress the salad. Following the easy=good method, I put the dressing ingredients directly on the salad, rather than premixing them. I think curry and basil make a great combo, so I first sprinkle a bit of dried basil on top, followed a bit of salt and pepper. Next, add the flax oil. I like the nutty flavor flax adds to this dish, and flax is rich in those ever-important omega 3s. Finally, top the salad with the balsamic vinegar, toss, and enjoy.

curried pumpkin and feta salad © 2012, Juniper Stokes

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During the past year, I have had some “issues” with yoga. After years of regular practice and deep immersion in the yoga world, I began to realize that the yoga community can be a little too extreme, as well as how a yoga practice can easily be taken in what I feel are unhealthy directions–physically, mentally, and spiritually. These feelings and changes in my relationship with yoga came about from a variety of experiences, and in order to fully process them, I found myself needing to take a complete break from my yoga practice, and eventually, from any type of spiritual practice at all.

Though losing what I thought had been a solid foundation in my life was difficult at the time, I now realize what a gift this past year has been. By gaining distance from the yoga world, from spiritual extremism on one hand to pop culture fads on the other, I gained the perspective needed to reintroduce various practices and ideas into my life with greater discernment. As a result, I am now creating a more sustainable practice (physically and spiritually), rooted in experience, balance, and a deeper understanding of myself and my subject matter.

During my years of practice and trainings in the yoga world, I studied many techniques and philosophies related to coming into balance and finding optimal health in mind, body, and spirit. As I begin to reintroduce the practices that I find most healing into my own life, I would like to begin sharing them here, with all of you. Take what works for you, forget what doesn’t (or come back to it later). Ultimately, the greatest way for any of us to reach wellness is to follow our own intuition.

Pink Lotus © 2007, Juniper Stokes

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Happy photo friday! You’ve heard the rumors, and they’re true: Tokyo is crazy-crowded. Here is a shot of Shibuya Crossing . . . on a quiet afternoon.

Shibuya Crossing © 2006, Juniper Stokes

During my first three months living in Tokyo, knowing I would have to face crowds like this was often enough to prevent me from venturing outside my apartment. By the time I left, this was nothing, and I can still “crowd walk” like a pro. It’s amazing what we can get used to as humans.

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