Hannah’s Gluten-Free Pumpkin Essential Oil Cookies

Pumpkin On Guard cookies
Perfect for fall, these gluten-free cookies are a little piece of awesome. Made with pumpkin, spices and a couple essential oils, they are sure to be a hit in any crowd. Bake them up and watch them disappear! A big thanks to my friend Hannah Gaitten for sharing this amazing recipe with me.

Gluten-Free Flour Blend
mix well and store in an airtight container
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup potato starch
1/2 cup almond flour (not meal)
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tsp xantham gum

Hannah’s Gluten-Free Pumpkin Essential Oil Cookies

makes approx. 3 dozen cookies
Ingredients:
2 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see above recipe)
1 1/2 cups sugar (sucanat or organic cane sugar)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 T cinnamon powder
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup butter OR coconut oil for dairy-free, melted
1/4 cup applesauce
1 egg
1 T vanilla extract
20 (+) drops *Protective Blend Essential Oil (this is the generic oil name)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 and prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.
Mix wet ingredients until smooth in a large bowl.
Add dry ingredients to the wet and mix well until combined. Batter will be like cake batter — much thinner than cookie dough. If it is too thin to hold its shape once dropped on the cookie sheet, add more flour — 1/4 cup at a time — until the batter can hold its shape (but will not be stiff).
Drop cookies (about 1/8 cup/2 tablespoons each) 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. You will have several batches to bake.
Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes — cookies will be soft but will have a matte finish, not glossy.

Frosting:
Powdered sugar
Butter or coconut oil, melted
Water or milk
Vanilla extract
*Wild Orange Essential Oil
Mix powdered sugar (make your own by blending sugar in a high-speed blender) with a little liquid (you can use milk, water, melted butter, coconut oil, vanilla extract) and Wild Orange Essential Oil. You can drizzle it over or smear it on the cookies. This frosting takes the cookies to a whole new level of yum!
Amy’s note: I used about 1 cup of powdered sugar with several tablespoons of melted coconut oil, a tablespoon of vanilla extract and enough water to get the right consistency, plus 10 drops Wild Orange EO.

Hannah notes that the cookies should NOT be stored in an airtight container as they will congeal together and form one giant cookie if you do. However, they can be frozen and thawed later, provided that you lay them flat and be sure they are not touching each other, in the freezer. Enjoy!

About the Oils:
(Please note: Due to recent FDA-regulations, I can no longer share on my blog the brand of oils I love and trust. If you’d like that information, please join my newsletter — link at the bottom — and I will happily share with you via email.)

Protective Blend Essential Oil

  • Ingredients: Cinnamon, Clove bud, Eucalyptus globulus, Rosemary, Wild Orange
  • This blend addresses: Bacteria, Immune system support, Mold, Topical disinfectant, Virus

Wild Orange

  • Properties: Antibacterial, Antidepressant, Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antiseptic, Carminative, Choleretic, Digestive, Hypotensive, Sedative, Stimulant

*Please note that only high-quality essential oils should be ingested and they will be labeled as safe for ingestion — not all oils are.

Here is Hannah’s inspiration for this recipe, which calls for wheat flour.

If you are interested in learning more about how I got started on essential oils and some of my favorite oils and blends (here’s a hint: one of them is the Protective Blend), check out my essential oils page.

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A Day In The Life: The Taste Test Challenge

Hey friends! I decided to start a new series on my blog to give you an idea of some of the things the kids and I do in our unschooling/life learning journey. It’s called “A Day In The Life” and this will be the first installment.

Yesterday Ava was watching YouTube (one of our favorite resources) videos from a group of girls who do different “challenges.” One of them was a “taste test” challenge, where one girl is blindfolded and the other gives her a variety of foods to eat and hopefully figure out what they are by taste alone.

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Ava asked me to set up some foods for her to try, so I arranged several different things on a plate — a banana slice, carrot, piece of a hot dog, a pinto bean, pickle, a Cheerio, ketchup, a frozen blueberry, seaweed, a pistachio, barbecue sauce, mini chocolate chips, and some nutritional yeast.

Then I blindfolded her and then challenge began! I fed her them one by one and she figured out all 13 without a problem, although she made some faces for some of them and asked for a bowl to spit out the ketchup and barbecue sauce. Hehe.

Julian was next and he missed just two of them, but Ava had fun feeding them to him. Unlike Ava, Julian ate them all happily.

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I’ll need to think of some interesting/challenging foods to add to the mix for the next time, because I’m fairly certain the kids would happily play that game again. And again. And again.

Some other things the kids did that day include: playing Minecraft (which is pretty much a daily activity in this house) while talking with friends over Skype, playing with our week-old chicks (Peep! Peep!), rediscovering their old magnetic chore charts and set them back up with daily chores they want to complete, examining things with their new magnifying glasses, playing with make-up, smashing rocks in the yard, practicing parkour, and playing with Littlest Pet Shops. Although we never left the house other than to go into the backyard, it was a very full day.
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More Day In The Life posts sharing our activities and adventures will come in the weeks ahead.

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Make a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake at Home

If you are like me, St. Patrick’s Day always brings back fond memories of slurping McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes as a child. The green-tinted ice cream, the cool mint flavor, the whipped cream, the yum! I think it was also a welcome reminder that spring was right around the corner.

As a kid, I never worried about what nasty ingredients might be lurking in my shake. I just knew it tasted good. But now living in the information age as an adult and mom to two kids, I am more conscious about the things we put into our bodies. Sure, we eat “junk food” now and then, but I generally try to keep healthy foods in our home so we can easily make good choices.

When I saw the HuffPo’s article about the 54!!! ingredients (including High Fructose Corn Syrup, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, and artificial vanilla flavor), 820 calories, 135 grams of carbs and 115 grams of sugar in McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, I knew I could make a healthier and just as tasty version at home with far fewer ingredients and no artificial dyes or HFCS. (Read a post I wrote about the problems with artificial colors.)

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I used organic vanilla ice cream, 2% milk, mint extract, and a bit of frozen spinach for color. There were 10 ingredients in the ice cream, plus the milk, mint flavor (three organic oils) and spinach makes a total of 15 ingredients! If you add whipped cream on top, that’s about 5 more ingredients or less if you whip your own from whipping cream.

Homemade Shamrock Shake Recipe

  • A few large scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • About a cup of milk (add more if needed)
  • Several drops of mint extract
  • A handful of frozen or fresh baby spinach (for coloring)

Blend until well combined and pour into glasses. Add whipped cream on top if desired. Serve and enjoy!

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The kids, hubby and I all agreed that they were better than McDonald’s version (which *ahem* we did recently partake in) and so easy to make at home.

Now you don’t have to wait for St. Patty’s day to roll around once a year. You can enjoy delicious mint shakes year-round!

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Our chickens and that time they nearly died in a fire

One of our pullets in the spring 2012

It’s been nearly a year since I shared that we’d finally gotten our backyard chickens. When I last wrote, they were itty bitty chicks living in a cardboard box in our basement while they grew bigger and my husband Jody built their permanent home. Now they are a year old, doing well and living in their palatial coop, built by Jody and painted by yours truly, but their life wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns (or mountain scenes and prayer flags as the case may be).

The coop One of the girls with my mountain mural

Nest boxes with sunflower

One day last March — only weeks after getting our chicks —  I arrived home to find the smoke alarms going off and the house filled with smoke! HOLY CRAP! I think I was in shock as I quickly unlocked the front door, let our confused dog Piper out of her kennel and looked around trying to figure out the source of the smoke. I only had my son with me at the time and I instructed him to take the dog outside. Unable to figure out where the smoke was coming from, I joined Julian outside and called 911. While I was talking to the dispatcher it dawned on me — maybe it was the brooder heat lamp and the cardboard box that the chickens were living in in the basement! OH NO!! NOT MY CHICKS!!!

Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, I took a deep breath, ran downstairs, grabbed the frantic chicks and shoved them into the ferret carrier, unplugged the heat lamp that started the fire and ran up and out of the house. The box had indeed caught on fire and appeared to be smoldering. If there had been flames, I’m sure I would’ve turned around and ran back upstairs, but it didn’t look too menacing, just smokey. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I coughed for a while lived and my chicks were safe and sound with me, Julian and Piper in the front yard as we waited for the fire department to arrive.

It turns out I had neglected to turn around the protective cover on the heat lamp so it keeps it AWAY from things and prevents fires. A helpful firefighter showed me how to do it. I thanked him, all the while thinking I may die of embarrassment. There I was, one of the people who spoke out in favor of backyard chickens to our city council, saying they wouldn’t cause any trouble or use any additional city resources and I was the one who called 911 after having a fire in my basement because of my ineptitude! Oy. Of course I didn’t tell the firefighters that. I just smiled and nodded and apologized profusely. (Thank you for your quick response and help, fire department! :)

Thankfully there was no damage to our house, just some water to clean up and soot on the wall and carpeting. The chicks’ cardboard box, on the other hand, had seen better days and I had to find them new living quarters. The girls desecrated lived in our bathtub for several days until we borrowed a friend’s dog kennel to house them in while work on the backyard coop was started in a hurry completed.

Lucky for us, the smoke and fire scare didn’t seem to cause permanent trauma (three cheers for resilient chickens!) and the girls started laying eggs in the summer just like happy little hens should. For a while we got the occasional double yolker (two yolks in one egg) as the girls sorted out the whole laying business, but these days they tend to be single yolks. Generally we have plenty of eggs — even enough to give some to my parents — but the girls have slowed down their laying over the winter as hens tend to do and we’ve had to supplement our supply at Vitamin Cottage.

Fresh eggs

Now spring is just around the corner and we’re hoping to add a few more chicks to the mix. Ava may be taking some to the county fair this summer as part of 4H, where she’ll have the option of selling them when it ends so our flock won’t get too big. This time around, however, I will be putting the protective cover ON the heat lamp (or maybe even buying an EcoGlow Brooder — how cool is that?) and using a large plastic bin for a brooder.

The next time I attempt to smoke a chicken, it will be in a smoker, not in my house. :)

Our Ancona this winter 2013

Here’s your Public Service Announcement for the day:
Brooder lamps get very, VERY hot and can cause fires even when properly installed. Please be careful if you use one in your house or chicken coop or perhaps check out this alternative instead — the EcoGlow Brooder.

Learn more about raising backyard hens:

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We finally got our backyard chickens!

OK, so technically they are basement chicks, at least for now. But yes, it’s true — we’ve got chickens!

After much organizing, letter writing, signature gathering and city council meeting attending, backyard hens were finally given the go-ahead in my city. I could have actually gotten chickens quite a while ago (when the limited number of permits was opened up city-wide), but like all good things, planning and patience were involved. I can’t even say now that we have it all planned out, but we’re working on it. And with chicks in the basement that are growing bigger by the day, we have to have it all sorted by the time they need to spread their wings!

Oh, and hi by the way. Yes, it’s really me coming out of blog hiding (is that what it is I’m doing?) to share this fun news with you all. :) Happy Spring!

We chose a variety of chicks. I based my decision on some breeds based on what I’d read about their temperament, etc., and some choices happened because the kids each wanted to choose one for themselves and we were at the mercy of what the local feed store had in stock. Currently residing in our basement are a barred rock and gold-laced cochin (my choices), a production red (Ava’s choice), a gold sex link (Julian’s choice), and a black and white ancona (one that I thought looked cute). Our chicks are 3 to 4 weeks old and have recently started having some supervised playtime in the backyard. They LOVE it! Pecking around in the grass and dirt is apparently a fabulous thing when you are a chicken. I have to admit that they are pretty fun to watch too.

The two chicks pictured with our newish dog Piper (we got her in November 2011) are the same chicks Ava and Julian were holding in the first picture taken just two weeks prior. These little ones grow fast!

My husband has been scouring the ‘net looking for the perfect coop design for our feathered friends and so far we are both liking this free insulated coop design. The coops looks to be some pretty snazzy digs, including a solar-powered door and a deicer for the water in the winter.

I’ll be sure to update once our chickens have a permanent home in our yard and when that first egg comes you’ll probably hear me shouting from the rooftops! :) Bawk, bawk.

Learn more about raising backyard hens:

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Chicago schools’ garden produce forbidden in the lunchroom

A school garden can be a wonderful outdoor classroom. Children can learn a variety of subjects while working with others to grow their own food. But in some school districts the children have the gardens to grow the food, but are forbidden from eating it in their lunchrooms.

When I first read that the Chicago Public Schools are not able to use the produce grown in their more than 40 school gardens in the lunchroom, I was shocked. Why grow it if you can’t consume it? The truth is that due to rules set by the district and its meal provider the food must be either given away, sent home with students, or sold.

“In order to use food in the school food program, it would need to meet specific/certified growing practices,” CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

These requirements would include eliminating all “pesticides and insecticide” applications and using only “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson.

Commercial vendors, though, don’t have to abide by these rules. They can sell the district produce treated with several pesticides and grown in nonorganic fertilizer.

But produce grown by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences on its 25-acre farm wouldn’t make the grade because, for example, it treats its corn with a single pesticide.

The school district touts using some local produce in its lunch program, but the produce that is most local of all — grown right outside their doors — is off limits. Children are being denied the most local and fresh produce of all. How does that make any sense?

According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) and 17% of U.S. children are obese. For Chicago children ages 6-11, the obesity rate is 28%. So in an area where more and more children are overweight or obese and, as evidenced in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, some American first graders can’t identify vegetables, the system is denying them healthy, local food.

Unfortunately, this is happening other school districts as well. Sybil who blogs at Musings of a Milk Maker told me on Facebook that this is also the case at the public school she is trying to get her daughter into.

Andrea Ward isn’t surprised by any of this. She had this to say on Facebook, “Lunch food is a big time business with big time rules and greed. Education is never about the kids (unless you are the one in the trenches–then that’s all you care about). Otherwise, it’s about politics. And politics is about money.”

However, other school districts across the country, such as Auburn School District in Washington state, have been able to adopt a garden to cafeteria plan. The school district’s 1 1/2 acre organic garden and orchard produces “fruits and vegetables for student lunches and snacks in 10 elementary schools. In addition to garden produce, the Auburn School District purchases from local farmers for all 22 schools.” This single garden produces food for all elementary schools during the growing and harvesting seasons.

Joanne White who blogs at Media Mum told me about her son’s elementary school in the Boulder Valley School District, Colo., where the school garden provides produce for its own salad bar. Joanne said, “The kids are fully involved from garden to table. No way Jamie Oliver would find any of them not knowing what a tomato is!”

In other school districts, the students eat what they grow, but not necessarily in the lunchroom, however not for the same reasons that the Chicago Public School District gave.

Karen from Eternal Maternal said her son participated in a school garden program at his elementary school located in Vancouver School District in Washington State. The children ate what they grew, but due to a variety of reasons including not enough of any one ingredient, lack of preparation time, etc., the produce was not used in the school cafeteria. Karen said, “I think it’s very important that kids learn where their food comes from and what it takes to get it to the point that it can be eaten. Providing food for oneself is a basic need. Typically, we don’t have to do it for ourselves until we’re in college and what do we do then? Go to the grocery store and buy a case of Ramen. When children learn to grow food that can sustain themselves, even if only partially, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, raises their awareness of the environment and, whether they realize it or not, raises their level of security because it’s a way they know of to care for themselves.”

At Stylin Momma Katy’s daughter’s charter elementary school in Maryland, all of the children participate in the school garden in one way or another. Her daughter is in kindergarten where they are in charge of pollination. The garden food is not used in the school cafeteria food (which is brought in) and most students bring lunches from home. However, Katy said, “they will sometimes have a sampling station in the lunchroom where the kids can try the foods picked from the garden, or they will use it in cooking class. They also have a school produce stand as a fundraiser.”

After hearing about the practices of different school districts, I have to say I find the reasoning behind Chicago Public School District’s ban on garden food in the lunchroom appalling. I have to agree with Andrea above who said, “it’s about politics. And politics is about money.” If the district had these kids’ best interests at heart, they would find a way to allow the locally grown garden food into the cafeterias.

Despite all of this, I am pleased to hear that many districts — especially inner-city districts like Chicago — have implemented school gardens. Perhaps even if the children are not allowed to eat the food in the lunchroom, they still are learning the valuable life lesson of how to grow it and perhaps are able to take some of it home to their families to enjoy.

Do your children have a school garden? Does the school use the produce in their lunchroom? How do you feel about Chicago’s policy?

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Photo credits: Flickr StevenDePolo and Sarz.K

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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