Sunday, March 29, 2015

Easy Green Tips for Easter

Easter is one of those holidays I always enjoyed as a kid and as I got older I feel like I grew out of it. But now with kids of my own, it's a fun little holiday I like to celebrate with them, and like most holidays, I like to make it as green as possible. So today I'm going to share my top 3 ways to go green this Easter.



My favorite ways to go green at Easter...




1. Go vegan with your Easter eggs!  For years I haven't dyed Easter eggs because I'm vegan and don't want to use real eggs. My girls have been too young too care, until now, so it hasn't been a big issue. But since Avery is about to turn four, I thought it would be fun to find an animal-friendly alternative that we could use this year to dye eggs, and boy was I in luck!

There are actually lots of options nowadays to use INSTEAD of real eggs. You can go cheap and use these plastic ones from Target for $3, or you could go fancy and get these porcelain ones from Eggnots.com for $20 for a dozen. For us, I chose the $3 option.


As you can tell they look just like the real thing.

Someone else was convinced and very excited to get to work!

From Target, I also got this "Egg Decorating Kit" for $5 that came with stickers, markers, and the dye tablets.  And I got an additional kit, which I probably could have done with out that had more stickers and markers, mainly because my girls are so young, they were fine with the decorations that came with the first decorating kit.


If you look closely you can see the 6 dye tablets we used for coloring.

Here's the steps to make and use the dye for the "fake eggs," which you may notice is different from traditional eggs both in ingredients and in results.

1. Pour 1/4 cup vinegar into a small bowl or cup.

2. Add a dye tablet and allow it to dissolve (5 minutes).

3. Now add the egg.
As you can tell, the eggs FLOAT! This makes it very hard to dye them since you constantly have to be pushing them down into the dye in order for them to pick up some of the color. On top of that the colors were not turning out very well at all.  The blue you see here was the best and strongest color, but all the others looked as white as they did (or so it seemed to me) when I first put them in the dye!


I found this to be very frustrating...and then I had to check myself. I was getting all worked about about these silly eggs and how they weren't turning out the way I wanted them (bright, bold, super festive), but Avery couldn't have cared less. She had never dyed eggs before so she had nothing to compare it to. For her the eggs were awesome! She loved trying them out in the colors, getting messy, and being creative. I love the lesson she taught me in this. (Be sure to check the lovely song she came up of what we could do even though the dye wasn't working out as I planned.)

Here I am letting go of my "Easter egg expectations" and just having fun...
let it go, let it go!
So instead of worrying about the dye, the girls jumped right in with decorating the eggs. They used stickers, markers, and little jewels and flowers to decorate the eggs however they wanted.


No surprise here, Mila decided to take a break from decorating the eggs
to decorate...herself (one of here favorite activities)!
So here's the finished eggs, and although they look nothing like eggs I've dyed in my pre-vegan days, I love them and how unique they are.


Not sure how interested Avery would be in decorating the small eggs, I knew this large egg I also got from Target ($3) would be a sure-fire hit...and it was. I got a separate sticker kit ($3) and she went to town decorating it. Be sure to see the finished egg sitting next to me in the video.

Decorating her "BIG" egg.

2. Reuse, reuse, reuse.
My second green Easter tip is just to reuse all your Easter supplies and materials year after year. I'll be the first to admit that traditional Easter supplies are not the greenest of materials. Plastic eggs, fake plastic grass, and more plastic Easter baskets all slightly make me cringe, so to counter this I reuse them. So instead of tossing them out or losing them (which happened a lot after our first Easter with Avery), I now have an organized system to keep and reuse all of our supplies so I don't have to go out and buy them every year. This helps me keep Easter supplies out of the landfill and save some money too.

The first way I reuse my supplies is to have a designated box for plastic Easter eggs. I just use a photo box and store the eggs in there. When I need them, I open the box and fill the eggs. When Easter is done, I put them right back in the box so they are ready for next year.

Storing the plastic eggs.

I also try to reuse the plastic Easter grass that looks oh so cute in the baskets and as decorations. To store this I keep it in two of our Easter baskets, one has the green grass, one has the pink.

Stroring the Easter grass.
The last item I try to reuse are Easter baskets. I know walking the aisles of Target can be tempting to splurge and get the latest or newest Easter baskets, but since my girls are still young and don't seem to mind the same old Easter baskets, I try to reuse these as well. We have four that they can choose from when searching for eggs and I store these with my Easter decorations and supplies so they are ready to be reused year after year.

Our Easter basket selection to be reused.

So that's how I try to go green and reuse our Easter supplies.


3. Use healthier candy or other alternatives.
The last tip is to use a healthier candy alternative to fill the Easter eggs. As parents you have the power to choose what your put in your child's Easter eggs (unless you go to a big Egg Hunt put on by a church or community, and in that case see my tip below).  So personally I try to find a balance between candy that is enjoyable for them (not just carrot sticks) but also healthier and not full of articfical food colorings, GMOs, and loads of sugar. Neither one of my girls have actually ever tasted traditional candy like M&Ms, Skittles, or Starbursts, for all they know the treats you'll see below are what they consider "candy" and so they are a little easier to please.  So here's a breakdown of some of my favorite "healthier" candy alternatives...




Usually I'll set up a little assembly line for filling the eggs...

I keep the portions small, here's 2 bunny cookies for 1 egg and I do
2 jelly beans for one egg too.

Obviously the marshmallow one only gets one per egg. Boy are the girls
going to be excited about this one!

One more green idea....
If you are attending a public Easter egg hunt, an idea you could try is to do a "trade" with your kids. So since you can't control what is being put in the eggs at the hunt, you could fill your own eggs at home and trade them out egg for egg so they are left with the healthier alternatives. You could then donate the candy (to someone who doesn't mind the sugar, GMOs, and other ingredients), or look into sending them to soliders overseas...similar to a program called Operation Shoebox  that donates Halloween/Easter candy to soldiers. I know it's more work, but if your child has food allergies or you want them to have healthier opitions this may be your best option to have them still feel involved in the activity, while also making sure they have safer and healthier food choices.

So there you have it, those are some of my favorite ways to go green at Easter. How do you go green at Easter? Share your tips below.

To end, here's a a fun look back at past Easters with Avery...

When she was close to 1 year old I dressed her up like a little Easter bunny...

Click here to see more of these pictures!

This is when she was close to 2 and her
personality really started coming out. 

For this Easter, my mom hid these fun little rubber bath toys in
all of her eggs...and she loved them! Be sure to watch the
very end of this week's video to see the infamous
"Easter Dance" Avery did at this Easter.

And here she is last year when she had just turned 3, rocking her "Merida"
dress from the Disney movie Brave. Love this sassy little smile!

I can't wait to see what fun Easter memories are in store for us this year now that Mila will be right there with Avery looking for eggs (and sharing in the candy as well)! Happy Easter greenies.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Healthier Vegan Frosting

Frosting isn't too hard of a recipe to create, but the trouble comes when you want to make it healthier. For me as a gluten-free, reduced-sugar vegan, the common ingredients of butter (dairy)  powdered sugar (cue crazy blood sugar spike followed by massive headache) and milk (dairy), just don't work.  But now that I have kids and a sweet tooth, I knew I had to come up with a frosting that we could use not only for birthday parties, but for topping other fun desserts like cookies (yes we frost our chocolate chip cookies) and so this recipe came to be.


If you've followed my blog for a while now, you may have seen this frosting recipe from a few years back about how I "Color My Frosting Quickly & Naturally" and in that post I share my favorite frosting recipe that consists of organic shortening, agave nectar, arrowroot powder, and vanilla extract just to name a few. But since agave nectar has come under fire recently as not being the "healthy product" it was once thought to be and instead being "just as bad for your blood sugar as high fructose corn syrup," I knew it was time to find a healthier alternative.

"How to Color Frosting Quickly & Naturally"
That's when I found Lakanto's Sweetener. It's extracted from monk fruit and combined with erythritol (a sugar alcohol made from fermented glucose) to make a natural sugar-alternative that tastes like sugar, looks like sugar, bakes like sugar (can be used cup for cup in recipes). It also does not raise blood sugar, or contribute to candida overgrowth, and it has zero calories. Talk about a good rap sheet. Lakanto came from Japan where it's actually been used for almost 20 years. You can read more about Lakanto and it's story on their website here.

Now all that is well and good with Lakanto, but there is one down side to the product...the cost. It costs about $37 for a 28 oz. bag on Amazon.  Pricey, I know. But ever since I stopped using coconut sugar and xylitol and instead went to using only this Lakanto sweeter and stevia, I feel much better after eating something "sweet" as opposed to the headaches and exhaustion that came from other sweeteners of the past despite being healthier alternatives.

Now since I've made it perfectly clear that Lakanto is my new favorite sugar alternative, the other downside to it is that it's in a granulated form, which makes it difficult to use in a recipe that calls for powdered sugar.

But that's any easy fix...cue coffee grinder. This little guy is going to convert our granulated sweetener into a powder (aka a healthier powdered sugar) all in a matter of seconds. So for this recipe you will need a coffee grinder or spice mill as their sometimes called (here's the one I use that I got off Amazon for around $17).

Coffee grinder will turn granulated sweeteners into a powder form.

Last up in the discussion of healthy ingredients is shortening. Personally I've been a little skeptical of shortening for a long time because of memories of Crisco from my youth and how I swore it off in my quest to eat healthier. And rightfully so, here's a list of ingredients found Crisco's Vegetable Shortening:

"Soy bean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, partially hydrogenated soy and palm oils, mono and diglycerides, TBHQ and citric acid."

Can you say...ewww?! But there are healthier alternatives out there these days. The first is Organic Shortening from Spectrum. It's from mechanically pressed organic palm oil, that's been sustainable sourced. It has no trans fats, no hydrogenated oils, it's no-GMO, and organic. The color and texture is similar to good ol' Crisco, just from a healthier source.

And just because more choices are fun, here's a second shortening I like that seems to be a tad bit healthier, from Nutiva that is a combo of coconut oil and red palm oil.  While being a little healthier, it does come with a down side, it has a yellowish tint to it, so you may want to add some natural food coloring to it (which I'll show you how to do later in the recipe). Apparently the yellow tint also adds a little extra nutrition as it's from antioxidant vitamins A & E that are found in the red palm oil. It also contains some healthy lauric acid from the coconut oil. Talk about having your frosting and eating it too! Click here to learn more about it.  (In case you're wondering, I've purchased these products after doing my own research, and these are my honest opinions of them.)

Nutiva's Organic Superfood Shortening

Alright, alright, now I'm finally ready for the recipe...and trust me, it's simpler than the ingredient back-story I've been sharing! It's time to whip up some frosting...





No time for the video? Check out picture steps of the recipe:

"Healthier Vegan Frosting"
Recipe makes 1/2-3/4 cup frosting, so double or triple for a larger batch

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup Lakanto powdered (with the use of a spice mill/coffee grinder)
  • 1/2 cup organic shortening
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • pinch of salt


Steps:
1. First pour your Lakanto or other granulated sugar (xylitol or coconut sugar) into a coffee grinder and pulse for 30 seconds until in a powdered form.

The before-shot.

After placing the lid on and grinding it for 30 seconds or so it will be a
powder like this.

I then measure out 1/4 cup of the powdered Lakanto.

2. Next measure out 1/4 cup of the powdered Lakanto and pour it in a medium mixing bowl. Followed by the remaining ingredients of 1/2 cup shortening, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp. almond extract, and a pinch of salt.



3. Now stir by hand or you could use a stand mixer, to combine all the ingredients together until smooth. This frosting is thicker than most standard frosting, so it may take a few minutes to get it all mixed together.






4. If you used the Nutiva Superfood Shortening it will be yellow like this, if you like that, great. If not, you could add some color to the frosting. I use these India Tree Decorating Colors, as I mentioned in this post "How to Color Frosting Quickly & Naturally".


5. I add a few drops of the natural "red" color to make it a pink color, a favorite in our house as you can imagine.



6. Then it's done. I usually transfer it from the bowl to a container to keep it fresh until I'm ready to use it.



7. You can then frost your cookies or cupcakes, or any other frosting-worthy treat you would like!


I like these Let's Do Organic Sprinkelz (they do contain sugar).

So there you have it, a healthier frosting alternative. I know it's kind of funny with the powdering of the sweeter and the thicker texture, but for me it's all worth it knowing that I can still enjoy some frosting now and then without sending my health into a tailspin.

What do you like to put frosting on? Do you have a healthier frosting recipe? Share it or your healthier ingredients below.

If you make this recipe, tag me on Instagram @ashleysgreenlife, I'd love to see them. 
See you next week greenies!

Gluten-Free, Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a slight passion for doing things that seem impossible...in the kitchen that is. Chocolate chip cookies without gluten, eggs, milk, and refined sugar (since it makes my blood sugar spike like crazy)....sure seems impossible, right?  But that's where the creativity begins with ingredients like: peanut butter, applesauce, brown rice flour, and stevia-sweetened chocolate chips? Now we're talking. So after many failed attempts, I present my favorite gluten-free, vegan chocolate chip cookies.


Gluten-Free, Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from: "Chocolate Chip Cookies" from Sift, Stir, Savour
Makes 15-18 cookies

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/4 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. guar gum or xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter (I use Trader Joe's Creamy Organic Peanut Butter)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
  • 1/2 cup Lakanto sweetener
  • 1/4 cup rice milk or other non-dairy milk (I use "Trader Joe's Rice Drink")
  • 2 tsp. organic vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I use Lily's Sweets Baking Chips that are stevia-sweetened)
The ingredients.

Click here to watch it being made:



No time for the video? Here's a picture breakdown of the steps:

Steps:
1. Combine brown rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, baking soda, guar gum, and salt into a bowl and whisk together.




2. Combine the peanut butter, unsweetened applesauce, and Lakanto sweetener (or other sweetener) into another bowl and mix together.

3. Now add ¼ cup rice milk and vanilla extract and mix together again.




Stir again to combine.
4. Now combine the wet ingredients into the dry and mix to combine with a wooden spoon.



5. When fairly mixed together add in the chocolate chips. If dough seems to dry to combine together add some rice milk, one tablespoon at a time, until it is not falling apart.  

It will be much thicker than traditional dough, stick with it though, it will
be worth it!
6. Then using your hands or a cookie scoop, measure out about ⅓ cup of dough and roll it into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly and then place on a greased cookie sheet.


Take a section of dough....


...roll it like a ball, 


...flatten it a bit and then place it on the pan.

7. Continue for the remaining balls of dough. You can place the cookies closer together than traditional cookies since these cookies will not expand, and instead they will remain in this shape while cooking.


All rolled up and ready to bake.


8. Then bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.


That's about the time that I have to take the cookie dough that is left to two little girls who love to devour it. Good thing it's vegan, so they can eat it without having to worry about eggs. 


The dough of this recipe truly is so delicious! Good luck not eating at least
2-3 cookies worth. ( :


"Cookie dough time!" 

The funny part is that after I brought the bowl in, Mila ran to the kitchen,
went to the kid silverware drawer we have, grabbed a fork, and came
back ready to dive in and eat some dough.  She's too funny. 

9. When the cookies are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool for 5-10 minutes. To save the leftovers, keep them in an air-tight container so they won’t dry out as quickly.



You can frost them, like we like to do...


...or just have them with your favorite type of milk!


Whatever you do...just eat them! ( :
So there you have it, my unique gluten-free, vegan chocolate chip cookies. Do you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe that's either gluten-free or vegan? Ever put anything interesting like applesauce in a dessert recipe? Or have you conquered what seemed like an "impossible" recipe in the kitchen? Share your thoughts and experiences below!

Or if you're interested in that frosting recipe, head on over to that post right now!




If you make this recipe, tag me on Instagram @ashleysgreenlife, I'd love to see them. 
See you next week greenies!

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