Removing the staples: Cleaning the house, naturally

Health & Beauty

Note: This is the third installment of a three-part series on alternative uses for common kitchen staples

When it comes to doing chores, deep cleaning the bathroom and kitchen are arguably two of the worst tasks. Scrubbing the tub and sinks, wiping off greasy counters and cleaning the floors aren’t only a physical headache — they give you a literal headache. The culprit? Most likely your commercial household cleaners.

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“Natural” cleaners, such as J.R. Watkins’ line of products, are often looked at as better than commercial cleaners, such as Clorox and Windex. However, this is not always the case

Whether they are used for glass, floors, bathroom appliances or any purposes, an overwhelming majority of commercial cleaners contain toxic substances like phenol, formaldehyde, phosphates, ammonia, chlorine bleach, arsenic, naphthalene, hydrochloric acid, paradichlorbenzene, lye, phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid. When breathed in, they can irritate the entire respiratory system, making you dizzy and nauseated. According to the Organic Consumers Foundation, in 2000, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers, accounting for 206,636 calls.

People who realize these side effects and dangers often pitch their toxic commercial cleaners to replace them with “natural,” “organic” and “eco-friendly” cleaners, such as Method’s line of products. Although this may give the buyer a peace of mind, the labels don’t necessarily equate to safer products. In fact, the foundation said that while “organic” in the grocery store refers to foods grown without synthetic pesticides, in chemistry, it refers to chemicals that are carbon-based, including volatile organic compounds that release harmful fumes and may cause brain damage or cancer.

So, if common household cleaners such as Windex and Clorox are out of the mix, and organic, all-natural products are deceptive marketing ploys, what are some safe, acceptable cleaning alternatives? According to Sarah Aguirre, they can be found right in your kitchen cabinet.

While it’s initially as potent as bleach, vinegar “cleans much like an all-purpose cleaner,” Aguirre wrote, adding that a solution of equal parts of water and vinegar in a spray bottle is a great natural cleaning product, cleanser and deodorizer for most areas of the home. Some rooms she suggested were the bathroom, kitchen and laundry room, where adding ½ cup of vinegar to a rinse cycle in the place of store-bought fabric softener “has the added benefit of breaking down laundry detergent more effectively.”

Not shockingly enough, lemons are also present on Aguirre’s list, and they have a multitude of uses.

“Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits,” Aguirre wrote. “Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. …One of my favorite uses for the fruit is to put a whole lemon peel through the garbage disposal. It freshens the drain and the kitchen.”

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When life gives you lemons, use them to clean your bathroom, kitchen and garbage disposal

Aguirre suggested mixing lemon juice with vinegar or baking soda to make cleaning pastes, and cutting a lemon in half and sprinkling baking soda on the cut section to scrub dishes, surfaces and stains. She did caution, however, that lemon also acts as natural bleach, so she advised to test it out on hidden areas before using it.

The last item on Aguirre’s list is a no-brainer, especially when it comes to refrigerator and freezer odor-repellent: baking soda.

“Baking soda is actually one of the most versatile cleaners on the planet,” Aguirre wrote. “Baking soda can be used to scrub surfaces in much the same way as commercial non-abrasive cleansers. I’ve used it in trashcans, laundry, and even my sons’ super-smelly sneakers. Baking soda makes a great addition in the laundry room, as well.”

In addition, Aguirre listed ketchup, coffee grounds and rice as other cost-effective ways to clean the house naturally. So, save the baked goods; clean your house with your ingredients, instead.

Removing the staples: Pure (bathroom) essentials

Health & Beauty

Note: This is the second installment of a three-part series on alternative uses for common kitchen staples

As a college student, there have been an embarrassing number of times I have lost track of my life, whether it has been running out of (edible) food or misplacing my phone or keys. While these may constitute as some pretty trying times for a lot of young adults, they still don’t match up to what I believe is the worst thing to lose track of: empty bathroom essentials.

Whether it be shampoo, conditioner or body wash, discovering you’re out of something when you hop into the shower because you forgot you had to open the bottle last time and scrape around the sides to get the very last smidgen is easily one of the most unnerving dilemmas I can think of. In fact, it makes my skin crawl.

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Running out of shampoo, conditioner or face wash might be a pain, but there are several ways to remedy the dilemma — and, chances are, they’re all sitting in your kitchen

Thankfully, there are several natural alternatives, most of which are lying around your kitchen in their purest forms right now. And, believe it or not, ditching your store-bought shampoos and conditioners and switching to homemade remedies may actually save you a couple hundred — if not thousand — dollars on ineffective products and doctor visits.

“As a woman who struggled with acne for more than a decade, I understand how frustrating it can be to spend thousands of dollars on doctor visits and special chemical-laden creams that don’t work,” Richele Henry wrote on her blog, MindBodyGreen. “I started searching for alternatives and found that some of the best skin treatments are pure, whole-food based facials you can give yourself at home in minutes.”

And she is absolutely right. I have taken to the kitchen when I found out I was out of face wash, shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste, and I have found my hair to be much softer, and my skin and teeth to be much brighter, after using ingredients I would normally never think twice to apply to my body.

So, what exactly can you make when you run out of your bathroom essentials? There are plenty of things you can find if you scour the Internet, but the following are my Top 5 favorite creams and scrubs.

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Homemade lemon sugar scrub is perfect for exfoliating your face, hands or body

 1. Lemon Sugar ScrubThis was one of the first scrubs I made on a whim, and now I make jars of it as gifts for family, friends and coworkers because it works so well. RECIPE: To make two Mason jars’ worth, use 5 cups of granulated sugar, 2 cups of olive oil and 7-8 tbsp. of lemon juice. Mix it all together in a bowl and distribute into the jars. This recipe is perfect for your face, hands or body!

2. Avocado, Honey and Coconut Oil Hair Mask: I make this hair mask at least once or twice a week, because it brings out a magnificent shine and smoothness that I’ve never gotten from only using store-bought shampoo, conditioner or deep-conditioning cream. RECIPE: In a plastic bag, mix together ½ of a ripe avocado, 2 tbsp. of coconut oil and 1 tbsp. of honey. Then, add to your hair and let sit with a plastic bag over your scalp for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Once you’re ready to rinse it out, add shampoo to your hair before you get it wet, then rinse. Follow with an all-natural conditioner if you want. It’s one of my hair’s favorite recipes!

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Mix a few tablespoons of coconut oil and baking soda with your choice of essential oil and Stevia for a wonderful alternative to chemical-laden Crest and Colgate toothpastes

3. Homemade Coconut Oil Toothpaste: I just began experimenting with coconut oil a few months ago when my friends told me about all its uses outside of cooking. This was one of the concoctions I made down the line because in my house, essential oils aren’t usually as readily available as avocado, lemon or sugar. Regardless, this is a recipe that I believe is a must try for all looking to ditch their Crest or Colgate. RECIPE: Mix 6 tbsp. coconut oil, 6 tbsp. baking soda, 25 drops of essential oil of your liking and 1 tsp. of Stevia into a bowl until it is light and creamy, then pour a Mason jar or other tight-sealed container for later use.

4. Yogurt, Lemon Juice and Egg Hair Mask: I just recently began making this hair mask when I decided to take a break from dairy and needed a reason to use the rest of the yogurt in my refrigerator. While I’m pretty attached to eggs (see the first installment of this series), I decided to sacrifice one for the sake of my hair — and boy, was it a good idea. This mask makes your hair silky smooth, while the protein from the egg helps strengthen it. It’s fantastic! RECIPE: In a medium-sized bowl, combine ½ cup yogurt, 1 tbsp. lemon juice and 1 egg. Apply the mixture to your scalp after oiling and cleansing. Leave the mask on for about 20 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

5. Mint and Green Tea Homemade Lotion: And last but not least, the most intricate recipe of them all. I just learned how to make this lotion a couple months ago, and although I’m almost out of it, there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll make it again. The basic recipe allows for free reign over what you want it to smell like, so I decided to choose one of the recommended pairings: mint and green tea. (Because what sounds more refreshing than that?) There’s many more, so I encourage everyone to try it! RECIPE: Combine ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup coconut oil, ¼ cup beeswax (and an optional teaspoon of Vitamin E oil, 2 tbsp. Shea or cocoa butter, and essential oils, such as mint and green tea) into a pint-sized Mason jar. Then, fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place over medium heat. Place the lid loosely on the jar, then set the jar in the water and wait until the ingredients are melted. Once they’re melted, pour the lotion into the jar you’ll store it in. Use it all within 6 months, and then make some more!

Removing the staples: Taking a crack at eggless cooking

Food & Drink, Health & Beauty, Healthy Recipes

Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series on alternative uses for common kitchen staples

Being a vegetarian for the last two years, the number of times I have been asked if I only eat salad is, quite frankly, unbelievable. (More unbelievable is that my mother continues to ask me that question to this day.) There are myriad ways to take a carnivorous meal and turn it into veg-friendly fare — fall-off-the-bone ribs being the only exception, unfortunately — and I’ve had quite a time figuring it all out.

This tofu-driven journey was amplified when I opted into going vegan for three months, thus eliminating my most-coveted protein: eggs.

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Brown eggs are great by themselves, but adding salt, pepper and fresh dill makes them even better.

Why was I bound under a personal oath to give up eggs? Because, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, “do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say the term “literally” is thrown around all too loosely these days, but when I say I literally eat eggs with nearly every meal, I mean it. So giving them up for three months was quite a task, especially when it came to baking.

Thankfully, by this point in my vegetarianism, I knew how to experiment with different foods and spices in order to mimic that of non-plant-based dishes, so figuring out how to get around eggs while cooking and baking wasn’t necessarily the most difficult thing in the world. In fact, it was quite interesting.

Below are four different ways I’ve learned how to substitute eggs for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in desserts. And though it’s been a while since I’ve kicked veganism, I continue to resort to these tricks even when I do have eggs in the refrigerator, because they’re that good.

1. Applesauce: This is easily my most favorite egg replacement, because not only does it give whatever you’re making the most delicious hint of apple, but it also doubles as an oil substitute when baking. I highly suggest using applesauce only for baking breads, cookies or cakes, or making pancakes and waffles, unless you’re into your savory dishes marrying with an unfamiliar taste. (¼ cup applesauce = 1 egg)

2. Flaxseeds: The most interesting of them all, flaxseeds never seize to amaze me in the way they cook. The texture from beginning to end changes tenfold, with the seeds turning into that of an egg white after simmering for a little less than five minutes. Flaxseed eggs are recommended for any eggless baking, but pizza crusts are where I’ve used them most often. (1 tbsp. ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal + 3 tbsp. water = 1 egg)

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Flaxseed meal, left, in its pure form. After cooking it in water for five minutes, it turns into a paste, shown on the right.

3. Tofu: Who says you have to be a vegan to replace tofu for eggs in your breakfast scramble? I personally love doing so, and adding dashes of cumin, paprika, garlic salt, sea salt and ground pepper, and fresh dill makes it even better. Not only can tofu be used as a physical egg, but it also can be pureed and used in the same way as flaxseed eggs and applesauce. (¼ cup soft or silken tofu = 1 egg)

4. Bananas: Another one of my favorites, bananas are shockingly resilient when it comes to unconventional cooking and baking. Not only can they be used as an egg replacement in desserts and baked goods, but they can also be used to make vegan ice cream, smoothies, yogurt and sorbet. Just make sure, of course, that whatever you’re substituting bananas in pairs well with the other ingredients being used. (1 ripe banana = 1 egg)