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April 16, 2014

Chewy Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars @

Sometimes you just have one of those days where there are few things that would cheer you up…one of them being your favorite ooey, gooey, chocolate chip cookies. The past couple of days have been dreary, chilly, windy and rainy so we’ve been stuck inside for the most part. That makes for two grumpy little ones and a worn-out mama. Enough said! Time to pull up our sleeves and make cookies!

Our rainy-day cookie bars were gobbled up pretty quickly. The aroma of coconut and chocolate in the house probably lasted longer than they did! These cookie bars are so rich and delicious, you’d never know that there are healthier ingredients in them. Coconut sugar, coconut oil and oats are three of my favorite healthier cookie ingredients. Sort of balances out the chocolate chips, right? I hope these delicious, comforting cookie bars will brighten up your next rainy day!

Chewy Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 16 bars

Chewy Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars


  • 1 cup organic finely shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup organic oats
  • 1 cup organic whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup organic coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon organic ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 pastured eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup organic virgin coconut oil, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
  • 1 cup organic dark chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Oil a 9" x 9" glass baking pan.
  3. Add first 7 ingredients to a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  4. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the eggs, coconut oil and vanilla extract.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  6. Press batter into the baking pan.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cookies have set and the edges are golden brown.
  8. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes or so, or until cool to the touch. Cut into 16 squares.

What are your favorite cookies to make on rainy days?

April 14, 2014

Backyard Beekeeping: Five Reasons to Keep Bees -

Like gardening, there are tons of reasons why backyard beekeeping is very beneficial for individuals, communities and the environment. We now have one hive of honey bees in our yard, and I’m excited to share our experiences with you through a blog post series. I honestly never thought I would be writing a series about beekeeping because I never thought we would do it. Just like any other hobby, beekeeping obviously isn’t for everyone. As a matter of fact, if you start researching online you’ll come across articles that list reasons NOT to keep bees. Allergic reactions to stings, time commitment, and cost of equipment are among some of the reasons I’ve read.

Since we have small children, the very idea of having bees in the yard was remote. It wasn’t until my mom, a retired science teacher, took a beekeeping class that my mind was opened to it. She asked me if we would like her to set up her hive in our yard. After she educated me about it and I researched beekeeping more, I moved past my fear of the hive being dangerous and realized the benefits that it would bring to my children. It’s something we’re looking forward to doing as a family.

For us personally, the pros of keeping bees far outweigh the cons. My goal for this series of posts is to help open more minds to backyard beekeeping, and help you decide whether it’s for you. Here are some of the main reasons that moved us to make our decision:


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1/3 of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. Apples, broccoli, blueberries and cherries are just a few crops that are dependent on honey bee pollination. Almonds depend entirely on pollination to bloom (source.) You can see that crop yield is reduced as the population of healthy honey bees is reduced. The more people who keep honey bees in rural and even urban communities, the better the local food supply.

Help Save the Bees

You have most likely heard that honey bees are in danger. Studies have shown that one major cause for the decline in the honey bee population is synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming (source.) Additionally, bees collecting pollen from GMO crops have been shown in studies to have terminal digestive diseases (source.) Since 1/3 of the food we eat is pollinated by bees, our food supply is in danger if the honey bee population is in danger. This is just barely touching the surface of this problem, but you can see that something has to be done to reduce environmental toxins (see more information here.) Becoming mindful of the things we can do individually and personally is a step in the right direction.

Having just one hive in your yard where you have a pesticide/herbicide-free landscape where the bees can flourish helps increase the population of healthy honey bees. Each hive counts and makes a difference!

Whether you decide to have a honey bee hive or not, there are ways you can help:

  • Use natural alternatives to synthetic pesticides in your home and garden.
  • Plant flowers, herbs, shrubs or trees that feed honey bees (here’s a list.)
  • Buy non-GMO plants and seeds from organic suppliers.
  • When you buy honey, buy from local beekeepers you can trust. Farmer’s markets and local natural food stores are the best places to buy honey.

Healthy Honey

Imagine having your own supply of healthy, raw honey right from your yard. It hasn’t been pasteurized or processed in any way to deplete its benefits. I love to bake with raw honey, but we also use it as a natural remedy for lots of different ailments because of its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. We use it topically on cuts, burns and rashes. Whenever we have a cold or sore throat, we drink it in tea or inhale it in steam over a hot pot of water. I have taken a couple of teaspoons of it daily during allergy season to help relieve symptoms. I have even soothed my asthma with it by drinking it in hot tea; reducing and even preventing my need for the conventional medication I took in the past. I’m also excited to have our own raw honey and beeswax to use for homemade lotions, lip balms and soaps.

Farm-to-Table Learning Experience

Backyard Beekeeping: Five Reasons to Keep Bees -

Our small backyard homestead is providing our children with a strong sense of sustainable, healthy living. It’s empowering them to form lifetime healthy habits. Even though they’re really young right now, they love to be in the garden and help cook meals that we enjoy as a family. Other than seeing the honey that comes from the hive, learning about how the bees help their garden grow is a big part of knowing where their healthy food comes from.

Connection to Nature

Spending time with bees can be a therapeutic and much needed change-of-pace from the busy lives most of us have, much like gardening can be. Watching the bees work together in their colony to survive and watching them adapt to their surroundings and changes of seasons is amazing. Seeing and appreciating the bounty that nature provides in an up-close and personal way is spectacular, and knowing that you’re helping these beneficial insects is satisfying. I’m grateful that my children can experience first-hand how we depend on honey bees, and their knowledge of them will be so important as they grow up learning to respect their environment.

In my next post in this series I’ll talk about some first steps to take in getting ready for bees. Reading good beekeeping books like Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees, joining a local beekeeping association or taking a class are some ways to get started.

How do you feel about beekeeping? Is it something you would like to do in the future?

April 11, 2014

How to Compost with Worms -

In my How to Start Composting post that I wrote in January, I talked about the basics of saving food scraps in your kitchen and different ways of getting started with composting, including vermicomposting. Now that it’s April and we’re knee-deep in worm poop, I’m excited to show you how to vermicompost. We’re not literally knee-deep in worm poop. Well, I guess we could be if we stand in our worm box. Anyhow, just imagine having a big box of rich “black gold” to use as a fool-proof way to organically feed your veggie garden. Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a really easy way to make the most of your kitchen scraps for any type of garden that you have! It’s a great method whether you live in a house with lots of yard space, or in an urban apartment. You can set up a worm bin outside or inside. Here are the specifics!

Why Are Worm Castings so Good for Your Garden?

Besides being good for garden soil and plants, one of my favorite things about worm castings is that they’re a fool-proof way of fertilizing. You don’t have to be quite as precise about feeding your garden with them because even though they contain a high saturation of nutrients, they won’t burn plants like some other types of fertilizer and you also can’t overfeed your plants with them. Here are some of their other bragging points:

  • Increase root and plant growth.
  • Improve the soil texture in your garden.
  • Provide protection against disease causing organisms in the soil (source.)
  • Help soil retain moisture more efficiently.
  • Attract beneficial earthworms to the garden.

All of the benefits of worm castings together will provide you with a stronger, healthier, faster growing, and higher-yield garden. Did you know that they also reduce waste in landfills? By recycling waste at home by vermicomposting, you’re reducing your carbon footprint (source.)

  • Eliminating curbside pickup of waste reduces fuel consumption by vehicles.
  • Composting at home reduces use of machinery at commercial composting sites.
  • Making your own compost at home reduces the need to buy bags of soil amendments which reduces the use of packaging materials, vehicle use and fuel consumption.

10 families of 3 who produce 1,560 pounds of food waste per year can divert 7.8 tons of waste from landfills per year by vermicomposting. (source)

How to Start a Worm Bin

You’ll add kitchen scraps and bedding to a bin where the worms will convert the scraps to castings, or compost. Here are some options for worm bins:

Our worm bin is made of natural, non-toxic cedar wood and is 4′ x 2′ and 21″ deep. It’s sunken into the ground except for the top 6″. This helps recreate a worm’s natural habitat and also helps moderate temperatures year-round. You can see more pictures of it in my How to Start Composting post. We chose a cedar bin because the wood is sustainable, naturally rot-resistant without the need to be treated with chemicals, it will last for years, and it’s 100% natural so nothing will leach into the compost.

How to Fill the Worm Bin

How to Compost with Worms -

Our worm bin has two compartments, so we started to fill up one side with layers of food waste and bedding. Here’s what the worms like/don’t like to eat:

  • They like to eat all table scraps including fruit/veggie trimmings, eggshells and just about anything.
  • They like meat, fish, and dairy but use caution as these types of scraps produce odors that can attract animals to your bin. We personally do not put these things in our bin since we live in a rural area where bear are common.
  • Coffee grounds and unbleached filters, unbleached tea bags and muffin liners are all good.
  • Don’t put anything in your bin that contains large amounts of cooking oil.
  • Don’t use grass clippings or pine needles.
  • Non-biodegradable materials should not be used.

We use organic peat from our local garden center for the bedding layers. We dump our gallon stainless steel kitchen pail of scraps in every other day or so, and sometimes every day. There’s no need to cut up the food scraps; just fill the kitchen pail and dump into the worm bin. It ends up being a couple of inches of scraps at a time in the worm bin and we cover each layer with an inch or so of peat. We did this until one side was 3/4 full, then added our worms.

Adding Worms to the Worm Bin

European red worms or red wigglers are good composting worms. Did you know that they can eat half of their body weight to their whole body weight every day?!? If you add 1 pound of worms, add no more than 1 pound of food scraps per day.

We brought 4 pounds of euro worms home to our worm bin. You can order worms online or the less expensive option is to look for a nearby worm farm or bait shop. We’re grateful to have a reputable worm farmer near us, so we picked up our worms locally and didn’t have to pay shipping costs associated with ordering online. We chose euro worms because they are explained by the local worm farm to be hardy worms and they also burrow deeper than red wigglers. We have a hot and dry summers as well as a deep worm bin so these characteristics made sense to us. The euro worms also love a high fiber/low protein diet and most of our food scraps are from fruits/veggies. Here is a helpful article about the differences between the red wiggler and the euro to help you choose the right type of worm for your bin.

How to Troubleshoot Your Worm Bin

Here are some minor issues that we have had with our worm bin, and how we easily remedied them:

  • We had an abundance of fruit flies and flies in our bin, so we started to cover the scraps with more bedding. This also helped reduce odors from the scraps.
  • Worms were sitting on the top of the bedding, so we left the lid open so light could shine on them. Light causes them to burrow back down into the bin to get back to work!
  • We noticed the bedding/scraps drying out. The instructions that came with our bin mentioned that the material should be as moist as a wrung out sponge, so we sprinkled a little water in with a hose. Alternatively, if the material in your bin is too wet, you can leave the lid open to air it out.

When to Harvest Worm Castings

I’ll show how to harvest worm castings in my next post in this series. For our type of worm bin, we started to fill the second half of it when the first half was filled within 6 inches from the top of the bin. When the second half is full with scraps and bedding and the worms have moved to that side to eat, we’ll know it’s time to harvest the first half. It will be full of rich, dark matter (castings) that will have a mud-like consistency. We can’t wait to work this “black gold” into our gardens soon!

Other posts in this series:

Would you like to start a worm bin? Would you use an indoor bin or an outdoor bin?

April 9, 2014

Roasted Romanesco @

If you haven’t tried this striking, buttery-flavored veggie called romanesco, I highly encourage you to take some home next time you see it while you’re shopping! We recently had it in our CSA basket and can’t wait until it makes an appearance again. We actually may try growing some in our garden. If you like broccoli or cauliflower, you’ll probably like romanesco even more. It can be enjoyed many of the same ways as broccoli or cauliflower: Eat it raw, steam it, include it in salads and casseroles, and so on! One of my favorite ways to prepare it is roasting it. I found that it really doesn’t take much to season it because it’s already so delicious with its own buttery, nutty flavor.

Roasted Romanesco @

Here are a few fun facts about romanesco:

  • It’s also known as romanesque cauliflower, romanesco broccoli or broccoflower.
  • It’s actually an edible flower bud.
  • It’s one of the vegetables in the plant species Brassica oleracea; others include kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and of course broccoli and cauliflower.
  • It’s packed with lots of different nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, and is high in dietary fiber (source.)

No matter how you prepare your romanesco, you may not be able to resist taking pictures of it first!

Roasted Romanesco

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Serving Size: 6, depending on size of romanesco head

Roasted Romanesco


  • 1 head of organic romanesco
  • 2 tablespoons organic olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned garlic salt (we use this)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon organic grated parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Thoroughly wash the head of romanesco, cut the florets from the stem, and break them into smaller pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, toss the romanesco pieces with all of the ingredients except for parmesan cheese, and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until slightly tender and you see golden brown edges.
  5. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.

April 6, 2014

Natural Earth Paint Wooden Eggs Craft Kit Review & Giveaway @

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in our Natural Earth Paint giveaway! Congratulations to Dawn G., our winner. Please stay tuned for more healthy giveaways in the near future!

I was excited when Natural Earth Paint asked me to review their Wooden Eggs Craft Kit and Natural Egg Dye Kit because I love doing eco-friendly crafts with my daughters. I really wanted to try these paints and dyes since it’s tough to find truly non-toxic art supplies that also work well. Here’s why these natural egg kits turned out to be a huge success for us, and how you can enter to win a Wooden Eggs Craft Kit to try!

Natural Earth Paint Wooden Eggs Craft Kit

Natural Earth Paint Wooden Eggs Craft Kit Review & Giveaway @

In this kit we received 6 wooden eggs that are 2″ high, and 6 Children’s Earth Paint colors (blue, green, yellow, white, orange and red.) The high quality eggs are handmade in the Pacific Northwest with sustainable FSC certified wood. The powdered paints are made of natural earth pigments and organic milk protein.

Natural Earth Paint Wooden Eggs Craft Kit Review & Giveaway @

We mixed the paint in little ceramic bowls by adding a little bit of water to the powder to reach a creamy consistency. We just mixed a little of each color at a time so we could save them for future painting projects. Each color mixed together very smoothly and easily, unlike some other natural paints we have tried. You can make the paint a thinner consistency for a watercolor effect, but we liked the thicker consistency for the eggs. It covered very nicely and the hues are so vibrant and beautiful!

Natural Earth Paint Wooden Eggs Craft Kit Review & Giveaway @

After the paint dried, I used a homemade natural beeswax polish to seal the eggs and prevent the paint from smudging from moisture.

Success! My four year old daughter had so much fun spending hours carefully painting her eggs, and loved the bright colors. From a mama point of view, I love this kit because I have peace of mind knowing my kids are not ingesting anything toxic when they get the paint on their skin or even in their mouths. I LOVE how these eggs can be reused every year at Easter time, and also how we can paint some every year to create little keepsakes for the kids.

Natural Egg Dye Kit

Natural Earth Paint Wooden Eggs Craft Kit Review & Giveaway @

In the Natural Egg Dye Kit we received 4 colors of dye (green purple, orange and blue) made from pure fruit and vegetable extracts (spinach, purple carrots, turmeric, beets, red cabbage, and blueberries.)

We filled 4 glasses with a half cup of hot water each, poured in the powdered dye and mixed. We dropped a hard-boiled egg into each and let them sit for 15-20 minutes. We used brown eggs, so they turned out to have a vintage look to them. The earth colors are so beautiful and rich. We preferred these natural colors over the synthetic colors in conventional dye kits.

Natural Earth Paint Wooden Eggs Craft Kit Review & Giveaway @

Success! My daughters were excited to see the bright, pretty colors on the eggs when they lifted them out of the glasses. We put rubber bands on some eggs to make stripes, and painted some with the paint left over from the wooden eggs. From a mama point of view, I love that these dyes are 100% pure, natural and non-toxic. I know that most conventional egg dye kits contain some pretty toxic chemicals. Here is a New York Times article that Natural Earth Paint passed along to me, about synthetic dyes: F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings. Natural Earth Paint also mentioned this:

“The “natural dye” currently used for red in most naturally dyed products (lipstick, cherry coke, some natural egg dyes, etc.) is the blood of the cochineal bug, also called carmine. These bugs are farmed and crushed in a very ecologically irresponsible way.”

I’m very happy that there are 100% safe and non-toxic options available! Making your own dyes out of fruit and vegetable pigments at home is also an option, which is a bit more time consuming and messy. I love the Natural Egg Dye kit because it’s so convenient.


Enter below to win a Wooden Eggs Craft Kit just in time for Easter! Thank you to Natural Earth Paint for sponsoring this giveaway.

About the Natural Earth Paint Company

Leah Fanning Mebane, a professional visual artist, founded Natural Earth Paint with her husband in 2011 with the goal of providing non-toxic paints to artists and health-conscious parents. This quickly growing family business focuses on an eco-friendly business model and holds the Gold Certification from Green America. They currently have about a dozen products sold on their website including Natural Face Paint and Earth Oil Paint, and they’re always working on the development of future products. They use recycled and biodegradable packaging, and use vegetable-based inks for printing.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

April 3, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things from March 2014 -

My favorite part of March is always my oldest baby girl’s birthday on the 29th. She turned 4 this year! Where does the time go?? Speaking of time flying, it seems like we just planted our veggie seeds indoors, and we’re already in the process of transplanting them into bigger pots. In the next month we’ll be planting them in the garden beds…we can’t wait to watch them grow. Another exciting highlight from March: the beehive in our backyard. I will definitely be blogging about this, so stay tuned for our adventures in beekeeping!

I’m so thankful to be inspired daily by some pretty amazing bloggers, and I love sharing their wonderful content with you. Here’s a roundup of some my favorite natural living posts that I came across in March:


  • You seriously can’t beat homemade soft pretzels! Here is a healthy recipe for Homemade Sourdough Pretzels, by Five Little Homesteaders.
  • I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate more veggies for my little ones! I can’t wait to make this beautiful Chicken Pasta Primavera by Real Food Girl Unmodified.
  • Another wonderful recipe by Real Food Girl: Balsamic-Strawberry Black Pepper Jam. YUM.
  • Here is a roundup of 65+ seafood recipes from some of your favorite real food bloggers, presented by Oh, the Things We’ll Make.
  • Real Food Outlaws is one of my favorite blogs to go to for new recipes to try. I can’t wait to try this Grain Free Lemon Medeira Cake, which sounds so refreshing and perfect for spring.
  • Do you get sick of the same old salad every day? Homegrown and Healthy posted a roundup of 30 delicious salads from real food bloggers. I promise you’ll never get sick of salads again!

Natural Remedies:

  • I can’t wait to try this recipe by Growing Up Herbal for Relaxing Bath Salts that will help my little ones relax and fall asleep at night.
  • Before tossing those weeds from your garden aside, think about the teas you can make! Oh, the Things We Can Make shows how to forage for teas in your own yard.
  • I placed this in the “Natural Remedies” section because sprouts have so many powerful health benefits. In this post, The Skinny Pear shows how to grow and eat sprouts.

Healthy Living Tips:

  • Are you thinking about backyard chickens? Live Simply shares 3 questions about chickens to consider before making the decision to bring those adorable chicks home.
  • Thinking about planting a veggie garden, but not sure where to start? Attainable Sustainable lists 12 of the easiest vegetables to grow.
  • Did you know that you can eat sweet potato leaves? Yes! It’s a beautiful houseplant that you can eat. Attainable Sustainable shows how to plant them, and also shares some delicious recipes.
  • If you would like to try homemade cleaners in your home, you’re not going to want to miss this post by We Got Real. There are some great homemade cleaner recipes AND a spring cleaning checklist.
  • Homemade Reed Diffusers are a much healthier alternative to store-bought air fresheners which can be very toxic. Health Starts in the Kitchen Shows how to make them!

Natural Beauty Tips:

What are some of your favorite highlights from March?

April 1, 2014

Sarah Valiant, Interior Designer and Owner of Valiant Design Co., contributed this wonderful guest post to share valuable tips on how to avoid toxic chemicals in home decor. Whether you’re shopping for furniture, paint, wallpaper or flooring, here is some very helpful information to guide you in your quest to find healthier choices! I have to mention that I absolutely love her beautiful organic cotton cushion line, shown below.

Valiant Design Co. Healthy Home Line

Photo by Sarah Valiant

Have you ever brought home a new sofa or mattress and wondered why the room all of a sudden smells like a chemical plant after it was unwrapped?  This is because the vast majority of the furniture and decor we bring into our home is filled with chemicals that are very detrimental to our health and the environment.

I first became very interested with this issue when my husband and I began talking about starting a family.  Suddenly all of the articles regarding toxins in our daily life (that had held my attention for 5 seconds in the past) were being scoured over for every little detail.  I wanted to make sure that I was healthy when I was pregnant and that our baby would have a toxic-free environment to grow up in.

After trying my best to spread the word about living a toxic-free lifestyle and pressing the government to enact change, I realized there was something I could do that was actually tangible.  As the owner of an interior design company, I decided to create my own line of toxic free decor and named it Valiant Design Co. Healthy Home.  As I wasn’t in a position to invest in an entire product line I have started small with decorative cushions.  Our cushions are made from organic cotton, organic muslin, oeko-tex standard linen, oeko-tex standard felt and recycled cotton batting that has not been treated with any flame retardants, bleaches, dyes or fungicides.  You can check out the collection here:

I truly believe that if we can slowly phase out toxic elements in our home and start making safer choices we can really change the direction of the market.

The Chemicals to Be Concerned About

  • Formaldehyde
  • VOC’s
  • Phthalates
  • Flame Retardants

Where They Are Found and What They Cause

Formaldehyde - is found in particle board (think cheap “wood” products), mattresses, foam cushions, kitchen cabinets (the ones that aren’t 100% wood) and carpeting.

Formaldehyde can cause cancer after chronic longterm exposure, respiratory issues, rashes, nosebleeds, reproductive and hormonal disorders and developmental disorders.

Phthalates - are found in vinyl, scented candles, wallpapers, paints, carpeting, flooring and furniture.  Pthalates damage our hormone and reproductive systems.

VOC’s - are found in paint, vinyl flooring, building materials, carpeting.  VOC’s cause cancer and respiratory problems.

Flame Retardants - are found in stain resistant fabric, mattresses, carpeting, paints and foam cushions.  Flame Retardants cause cancer, interfere with hormonal development, developmental and reproductive disorders.

The good news is that you can avoid these nasty chemicals, you just need to know where to look and the questions to ask.


Make sure that furniture you buy is made with a 100% solid wood frame and that it does not contain any polyurethane foam, or flame retardants.  My favorite trick for this is picking up an old piece of furniture off craigslist or from a garage sale.  This way you can have it re-stuffed with healthy options (natural rubber foam, organic cotton, or wool fill), covered in a toxic free fabric, and/or re-stained with a toxic free stain or paint.

If you’re not up for the extra effort here are a few furniture, decor and mattress suppliers that are toxic free.


When looking to paint a new room, go for a VOC-free option and always leave a window open for at least 24 hours to allow for any minor off-gassing to be whisked out of your house.  Check out these options:


If you want to update your house with the booming wallpaper trend, try a wallpaper that is non-vinyl, organic cotton, or contains recycled content.  Also be sure that it doesn’t require toxic adhesives.  Graham & Brown and Phillip Jeffries have a number of options that are quite stunning.  If it’s kid friendly you’re after, take a look at Inhabitots.


When searching for a new flooring option consider hardwood flooring with a PVC free finish like tung oil or polywhey floor finishes (the usual polyurethane coating is extremely toxic).  Stay away from laminate or engineered hardwood as they contain formaldehyde.

For those of you who love your carpet I am sorry to say that this is one of the most toxic things you can put in your house.  They are filled with chemicals in the glues and synthetic fibers and they off-gas for years.  Try adding natural fibre area rugs to your home for that soft feel.  I like rugs with fibers such as pesticide free wool, cotton, jute, coir or woven silk.

I hope this list has provided you with a quick “cheat sheet” that you can refer to when designing your new toxic-free home!  Happy Decorating!

Sarah Valiant, Interior Designer and Owner of Valiant Design Co.

Photo by Stephanie Lipp Photography

Sarah Valiant is an interior designer based in Toronto.  After working for two leading design firms in London and Paris, she returned to Canada to start up her dream company.  Her passion to create beauty through toxic-free and functional design drives her from project to project.








March 30, 2014

Easy Tips to Make Your Home Smarter This Spring @

Thank you to Direct Energy for sponsoring today’s post, and encouraging me to share tips for a smarter home! #DEsmarthome

Springtime is wonderful because everything feels so fresh and new; especially the house after some much needed spring cleaning and organizing! It’s also the perfect time to implement some new changes to make our home more eco-friendly. The main reason I choose to be more mindful and less wasteful with our resources is to help protect and improve the environment our children are growing up in. Another important reason is to save money on energy bills every month. Direct Energy provides lots of easy tips to make your home smarter, and here are a few simple steps that we’ve taken around our house.

Efficient Energy Star® Appliances

We recently invested in energy efficient appliances when we moved into our home last July. We have definitely noticed a savings in both water and electricity, compared to when we had less efficient appliances in our previous home. I would highly recommend choosing Energy Star® if you’re considering purchasing appliances in the near future. Another tip regarding appliances is to only run them when there’s a large load to do, since using the appliances less frequently saves more energy.

Control Home Temperature

Turning down the heat during the winter and running the air conditioning less during the summer saves a ton of energy. Here are some tips to help regulate the temperature in your home:

  • In the US, Direct Energy offers a Meridian Savings Plan. With this plan you get a competitively priced fixed energy charge, up to three Honeywell Smart Thermostats, plus a smartphone app that allows you to control your thermostat anytime, anywhere.
  • While you’re home, dress in layers and use more blankets to help stay warmer when the heat is turned down.
  • Block drafts, make sure the house is properly insulated and make sure that all heated and cooled air gets circulated in the right places.
  • Change air filters every 1-3 months to keep the system running efficiently.
  • When the house heats up during the warmer months, closing curtains to block hot sunlight helps cool it down.
  • We use our ceiling fans more often than our air conditioner since they use less electricity.

Hang Laundry to Dry

Easy Tips to Make Your Home Smarter @

We installed a simple clothesline outside on our deck that we use when weather permits, which gives us the option to use the dryer less. We also have this nifty “ladder” hanging from the ceiling of our small laundry room that we use as a drying rack. I wash cloth diapers every couple of days and always hang them to dry. I admit that it’s not realistic for me to hang every piece of laundry up to dry, especially since I have two little ones, but just hanging the cloth diapers alone saves quite a bit of energy.

Easy Tips to Make Your Home Smarter @

Switch Light Bulbs

Traditional incandescent bulbs are less efficient than CFLs or LEDs. CFLs are essentially miniature versions of fluorescents, but they give off soft light similar to to traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs are small, very efficient bulbs that bring the most value because they last the longest. We’ve almost gone through all of our old incandescents and are gradually replacing them when we see CFLs or LEDs on sale.

This is a tip that you’ve probably heard ever since you were old enough to remember it, but I figured it’s worth mentioning since I find myself saying it now that I’m a mom. “Turn off the lights when you leave the room!”

Shorter Showers and Low-Flow Shower Heads

Low-flow shower heads are a really inexpensive and easy change to make so less water is used with every shower. Don’t fear, using a more efficient shower head doesn’t mean the water will be trickling. We have them in our new home, and even with the naturally lower water pressure that we have here, they work just fine. Shorter showers will obviously save water, and turning down the water heater temperature will also help save energy. Baths can use less water than showers if the tub isn’t filled with more water than needed. Checking faucets and toilets for leaks is another tip to make sure water is not wasted.

Unplug Electronics

If your laptop or cell phone is plugged in, it’s using electricity even after it’s fully charged. A good rule of thumb is to unplug everything if it’s not being used. For example, if you have a TV and stereo plugged into a power strip, turning off the power strip at night or when you’re away will save energy.

Reuse and Recycle

We recycle everything we can at our house, and we also reuse as much as we can to reduce waste. Here’s a list of some of my favorite things to reuse:

  • Reusable shopping bags
  • Cloth diapers
  • Cloth wipes
  • Cloth napkins and cloth “paper towels”
  • If we do get a plastic bag from a store, we reuse it in a trash can at home
  • Mason jars
  • Make homemade cleaners and reuse the containers every time
  • Catch rainwater to water plants

Grow a Garden and Compost

We’re growing much of our own food this summer in our vegetable garden, and we’re planning on canning much of our harvest to make it last through the winter. We use almost all of our food scraps in our worm compost bin, which in turn feeds our garden. We also belong to our local organic farm’s CSA program and we shop the local farmer’s market. Sustainable food choices help the community and the environment! Even small-scale gardening on a patio or balcony is a big step toward more sustainable living.

What do you do in your home to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle? Do you have plans to make more changes this spring? Please share in the comments or post on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #DEsmarthome

This article is sponsored by Direct Energy. #DEsmarthome

March 28, 2014

Starting Seeds Indoors: How to Transplant Your Seedlings -

There will come a time when your seedling plants will need to be transplanted into larger containers to promote healthy growth. This is the final major step before their exciting big move outdoors. We just started transplanting some of our seedlings today, which is at least a month before we’re planning to plant them in the garden beds. This is the point where you feel a big sense of accomplishment because your tiny seedlings finally start to look like real vegetable plants. Just imagine the taste of all of those fresh veggies straight from your garden this summer!

Why Seedlings Need to Be Transplanted

  • They need a richer growing medium to help them grow before they’re planted outdoors. If you’re growing an organic garden, a rich organic potting soil is a good choice. (Here is an example.)
  • You know the feeling you get when you’ve been riding in a car for a long time and you need to stretch? That’s exactly what happens to the seedlings. They need more space for their roots to spread out and grow, and the plants themselves start to get cramped and compete for light in their original flats.
  • Extra seedlings need to be thinned out to avoid crowding. If you planted more than one seed in each furrow, as we did, the plants need to be thinned down to one per container.

When to Transplant Seedlings

Starting Seeds Indoors: How to Transplant Your Seedlings -

As we speak, we’re watching our seedlings for their second set of “true” leaves, and also for crowding in the flats as signs to transplant them. The seed leaves are the first leaves to form right out of the soil. The true leaves are the ones that form after that, and in most cases they look more similar to the adult plant’s leaves than the seed leaves do. Once the true leaves open up, there’s a good chance your plants will become crowded really quickly.

Types of Containers

Starting Seeds Indoors: How to Transplant Your Seedlings -

A 3″ to 4″ pot is a good size for transplanting seedlings. Yogurt containers with holes punched in the bottoms are an option, as are DIY newspaper cups. We used 3″ peat pots (here is an example) and newspaper cups. The convenience of these two options is that you can plant the pots straight into your garden without having to remove the plants. To make a newspaper pot, double up a piece of newspaper and cut it to about 8″ x 4″, then wrap it around a round glass and tape the sides together. Tuck in the bottom edges, then slip it off of the glass.

How to Transplant

It helps to water your seedlings to soften the soil a bit before transplanting them. We planted our seeds in individual soil blocks, so I just lifted each block out and very gently loosened the soil around the seedlings using my fingers. You’ll see very fragile roots and you’ll want to be as careful as possible to not break them apart too much. We filled the pots halfway with potting soil and set a seedling on top of each, without compressing the fragile roots. It’s easiest to fill the pots ahead of time to have them ready for the seedlings as soon as you lift them out of their flats. Finally, we tucked soil around the plants, adding another inch or so of potting soil. We watered each one so that the soil was moist but not soggy.

What’s Next?

  • Continue to give your plants at least 12 hours of light per day, making sure to raise your grow light as they grow taller. We keep our light a few inches from the tops of the plants.
  • Just like before, water them to keep the soil just moist but not too wet. Setting your pots close together in a tray or flat will help them retain moisture.
  • If your organic potting soil doesn’t contain fertilizer, you may want to consider fertilizing your seedlings after transplanting. Fish emulsion (like this one) works great; just make sure to check out the directions and use it at 1/4 strength.

Have fun watching your plants really take off now that they have more room to stretch out, and enjoy them indoors until 2 weeks before your outdoor planting date. My next post in this seed starting series will be about hardening off the seedling plants.

Other posts in this series:

March 26, 2014

Organic Kale Frittata @

We love the organic pastured eggs that we get from our local farm every week, and among my favorite things to make with them are frittatas. Frittatas have come to my rescue on more busy weeknights than I can count since they’re quick, easy to make and nutritious for my family. One of the other reasons I make them often is that they’re versatile so I can use whatever veggies I happen to have in the kitchen that day. My favorites so far are my basic veggie frittata and this kale frittata.

If you’re looking for ways to eat kale, even if you’re not a huge fan of it but wish you were because it’s so nutritious, this frittata recipe is for you. My husband has insisted for years that he despises kale. Whenever I make delicious chips out of it, I get them all to myself because he won’t touch them with a ten-foot pole. The other week I had a nice big bunch of fresh kale in the refrigerator and decided to try it in one of his favorite meals; a frittata. I actually told him it was spinach so he would try it. Yes, he’ll eat spinach but not kale. Anyway, he ended up loving it and I said, “HA HA! You like kale.”

Organic Kale Frittata @

Kale Frittata

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Serving Size: 6

Kale Frittata


  • 1 pound fresh organic kale, deveined and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon organic olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 organic pastured eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup organic whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup organic grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup organic grated mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups organic diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Fill large pot with 1" of salted water and boil kale for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Pour into a colander and press gently to drain as much water out as possible.
  3. Sautée onion and garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes, or until onion is just tender.
  4. In a large bowl, combine eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan, mozzarella, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Gently stir in kale, sautéed onions and garlic.
  5. Pour mixture into an ungreased pie pan.
  6. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  7. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.