Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Color Frosting Naturally & Quickly

What do cupcakes, Skittles, sprinkles, and even salad dressing all have in common? They all contain food dyes. Ever seen those strange names on the ingredient lists: "FD& C Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1," well that my friends would be the food dyes. Obviously some of the foods from the list I mentioned above  are a bit more obvious than others, but nowadays food dyes are everywhere and don't show any sign of going away...yet.

Today we'll learn how to get these colors...naturally!

I don't know about you, but as a kid I grew up on Fruity Pebbles, Cap' n Crunch,  Jell-O, and sprinkles, and I didn't really think anything of their bright neon colors as I happily ate along. I just figured they must be safe right? I mean how could "they" put something in there that would be anything less than safe for adults and children to eat? WRONG! Fast forward to just a few years ago and I started hearing about parents putting their hyperactive kids on "red-dye-free diets". I thought, what was so bad about red dye? Maybe I should cut out red dye too? And what about all those other colors, should I be eating those too?

Well, like most "awakenings" I've had on my green journey, the truth is usually a bit tougher to swallow than believing the lie that everything is fine, healthy and safe. Just as I discovered with GMO foods, personal care products, and household cleaners, there were some dangers lurking in traditional food dyes as well.  One of the most recent and comprehensive studies was done by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and they found that "dyes used in commerically prepared foods ranging from candy to breakfast cereals and salad dressing-present a "rainbow of risks" and can cause allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and even cancer."

The nasties that I'm trying to avoid.
The report goes on to describe how:
  • Food dyes contain ingredients that are derived from petroleum...they same thing that goes into gasoline! 
  • They add no nutritional value or benefit to the foods they are added to.
  • Foods that contain food dyes in U.K. must be labeled: "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention of children." But yet they are okay for US children to have? 

The report also breaks down some of the dyes and their effects individually:
  • Red #40 : "Which is the most widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice, while also triggering hyperactivity in children."
  • Blue #2: "Used in candies, beverages, pet foods and more, was linked to brain tumors."
  • Yellow #5: "Used in baked goods, candies, cereal and more, may not only be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals, but it's also linked to hyperactivity."

Click here to learn more about each food dye and the ill effects it has been linked with.

The end result of the report calls for the FDA to ban dyes, a move that would force the industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.  But if you don't feel like waiting for the FDA, you can start taking steps to remove food dyes from your family's!

Check the ingredient lists of the foods you buy and if they contain food dyes, look for a non-food dye alternative. Now this isn't always the easiest thing to find, but it get's the toxic, attention and behavior altering food out of your cart and out of your body.

Now in a perfect world, that would be the end of this lesson about food dyes...just avoid them! Simple enough, right? But what about birthdays, parties, special occasions?  Unless you're living under a rock or don't have kids, a time is probably going to come where you're going to want to make or bake something special...something with some color. I can relate. Before Avery was born, I was perfectly content to frost my cakes and cupcakes with either chocolate or vanilla frosting, "Who needs colors?" I thought!

But then Avery's first birthday rolled around and I knew I wanted some type of colorful icing to match her colorful party!

Avery's First Birthday Party

To achieve the "pink" frosting I was looking for at her party,  I did what other greenies probably do, use a fruit or vegetable juice to color my frosting. I had a juicer and I was happy to put it to use to color my frosting naturally. So I purchased some beets, juiced them and added a teaspoon or two to my batch of frosting.

Beet juice straight from my juicer. 

The "beet-dyed" pink frosting.
As you can see, it turned out great and I was thrilled to have found such an easy and green alternative to traditional food dyes!

But seeing as I probably didn't want to be limited to only making pink or red cupcakes for the rest of my life, I took to the internet to find other natural coloring ideas. I found tips to use spinach or liquid chlorophyl  for greens, oranges for orange, red cabbage for blue (a weird one I know, but once boiled and mixed with baking soda supposedly will make blue), and turmeric for yellow. So I broke out my juicer, whipped up a batch of frosting and began experimenting. Here's my results....

"Orange frosting" made with the juice of oranges. You can
tell that it started to make the frosting pretty watery after about
2 Tbs. of juice , and even then the color was still pretty light. 

For "green frosting" I tried spinach juice. Here's 2 Tbs. of
juice added to the frosting, and still it's pretty light...can
you even tell it's got green in it? I hardly can. 

So, as you can see, aside from all the work involved in juicing the fruits and vegetables, the colors weren't very strong, and the more juice I would add the more it would take the frosting from a thick and fluffy texture, to a watery-and almost slimy texture. At one point I also tried adding turmeric to a batch of frosting, and the results weren't too great. Although it didn't effect the texture, it did effect the taste. So unless you want your frosting tasting like a stir-fry, you might want to avoid that one.

Feeling helpless and defeated I took to web once again to see if a natural food coloring set existed to make this process much easier...and that's when I found India Tree's Nature's Colors Decorating Set.  At first the price ($15 off Amazon) took me back, but after all the wasted juice, mess, and time I'd spent experimenting, I was wiling to give it a try.

To tell you a bit more about India Tree:
"India Tree Decorating Colors are made from highly concentrated vegetable colorants. They contain no corn syrup or synthetic dyes."

Directions: "Use to color icing in rich jewel tones or soft pastels. Add them to your frosting a drop at a time."
As you can see it comes with three colors: red, yellow,
and blue
In case you're an ingredient detective like me, here's their ingredients:
  • Blue: Glycerin, vegetable juice, deionized water.
  • Red: Beet juice, citric acid.
  • Yellow: Glycerin, turmeric, deionized water. 

So now that we've got a natural food dye, it's time to put it to use! 

Watch below to learn how I naturally color my favorite frosting in this week's video:

Don't have time for the video, no problem! Let's get started on that frosting. Here's my all-time favorite  recipe. I love that it does not have any powdered sugar, and although it does contain shortening, to me me it's a better alternative to traditional frostings. Hope you like it too!

Here's the recipe, as listed on the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen's blog 
(*This is the full recipe, but I cut the recipe in half most of the time and I find that it's plenty to frost 20 some cupcakes.*)

Sugar-Free, Vegan Frosting
  • 2 cups organic palm shortening (Spectrum)
  • 1 cup arrowroot powder
  • 1 cup agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons non-alcoholic vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring (non-alcoholic)
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons beet juice (optional)
Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and whip up with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. This can be made a day ahead of time, stored at room temp. Just re-whip before frosting the cake.

The ingredients.

Add all the ingredents to a mixer.

Then mix till smooth.

I then scoop out the frosting into Pyrex bowls so that
I can mix the colors in easily and if I have any leftover,
I can put the lid on and store it for later.

Now it's time to get colorful! Here's how to color the frosting with India Tree colors...

1. Add several drops of the dye to the frosting.

2. Stir till you reach your desired color. 

Here I've mixed some red and blue to make purple. 

Here's the end result of the first round of colors:
purple, green, and orange.

Second round: blue, yellow, and red.
Then it's up to you what you want to do with your frosting! You could frost cupcakes or a cake, put them on graham crackers, use them for any other frosting needs.

I frosted a batch of my favorite gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free cupcakes from the book, BabyCakes:Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked About Bakery by Erin McKenna. I share more about this recipe back in Avery's 1st Birthday Party post.

The end result: colorful, natural cupcakes!
Here's the cupcakes I frosted with the same set of natural food dyes for our Gender Reveal party a few weeks ago...

Pink and blue cupcakes dyed with the India Tree colors.

As you can tell, Avery's not too picky when it comes to knowing the difference between traditional or natural food colorings. Here she is on her 2nd Birthday!

Want to take your cupcakes or frosting to the next level with some sprinkles? Well, you can bet that traditional sprinkles are loaded with more food dyes, but luckily I found this cool brand of sprinkles called: "Let's Do Organic: Sprinkelz Confetti". They do not contain any food dyes and instead are dyed with natural vegetable food colors. Yes, they are a bit more dull than the sprinkles you may be used to, but they're better than nothing if you looking to spruce up your baked goods without the use of toxic dyes. 

Do you have a favorite natural way to color frosting, cakes, or other foods? Share your experiences below! And remember when you're looking to color your delicious, baked goods be sure to....

Here's to some yummy, colorful, non-toxic baked treats!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

23 Weeks

Hey greenies, it's baby update time! This week's belly shot seems to bring the title of my blog: "Ashley's Green Life" to a whole new level...

This week's photo background: I stumbled upon this "wall of greenery" while driving near downtown Kansas City and knew I had to take one of my belly pics here.  I love the nature-inspired look it brings to the series of belly shots, instead of brick walls, and other painted backgrounds.

The actual location is literally just the back of a parking lot for a small office complex right across the street of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Questions of the week:

1. How big is the baby (with Avery's help)?

Some of the various "baby size calculator sites" seem to vary in this one, but The Bump (what I use the most) says this week that Baby Mila is the size of a grapefruit. Which must have translated to: "a ball to play with" for Avery! Because aside from taking care of it for a minute or two, she wasted no time sending that grapefruit flying across our porch and eventually into the yard. 

"Yep, that's how big my baby sister

"This sure makes for a great ball!"

Then she ended the photo shoot with a "Rapunzel moment"
as she admired the grass. (If you seen the movie Tangled,
it's the part where Rapunzel touches the grass for the first
time. It's Avery's favorite movie right now!)

2. What I'm eating...
Veggie burritos have been sounding really good lately. This one cracks me up because when I was pregnant with Avery, I couldn't stand veggie burritos. Beans on a burrito, yes, but way! This time around I really like them and they make for the perfect summer dinner. 

Here's one of our favorite "Chipotle knock-off" Veggie
Burritos with sautéed peppers, and onions, homemade cilantro
lime rice, black beans, guacamole and tortilla chips.

3. Best moment of the week?  Feeling Mila's kicks and movement. This is one of my favorite things about pregnancy because it's literally proof (you can feel) of the little life growing inside of you. I love it...most of the time. Now if I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and then try to fall asleep it's pretty much a wake up call to Mila and she will start her own little dance party in my tummy.  Other times she likes to move around are when I'm eating, or about to eat, when I'm nursing Avery (wonder when Avery will feel these?) and all kinds of other little moments throughout the day. To me these movements are like my own little inside joke with her, because although they are getting stronger and easier for Brandon to feel, most of the time they are just between her and I. I can't help but think of a quote from The Office where Michael Scott says, "I love inside jokes. I'd love to be a part of one someday." One of all my all-time favorite Office quotes...too funny. So thanks for the "inside jokes" Mila, I love them already. ( :

Here's a pic of the clip:
Here's the actual clip, so you can get the full reference:

See you in two weeks for the next update!

Recently this post was linked up to "Tuesday Baby Link Up" over at the blog Every Breath I Take, as well as a number of other blogs that are listed in the link above. So hop on over and check out some other fun baby posts!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Green Nursery: Eco-Friendly Painting Tips

Well, being the planner that I am, you know I couldn't wait long (try a week) before getting a jump start on Baby Mila's nursery! Previously it was our "office," but once Avery was born, it kind of became our dumping ground for papers, projects, and mail that needed to be filed or put somewhere else. So I've spent the past few days clearing that room out, moving our "office" furniture to the basement (thank you Brandon) and of course spending many hours on Pinterest planning this nursery.

For me the first step in nursery planning, is to paint the walls. We were lucky with Avery's room because we were happy with the color it was so we didn't need to paint it, but for Mila's room which currently tan (a color that we have for nearly every room in our house) I knew I wanted something different.
Here's a before shot of the room, which used
to be our "home office".

My color choice for Mila's room: grey! Two accent colors that will be going along with it are a dark pink, and a hint of orange...with a little white as well. Here's a sample of the colors together in the way I think best...tissue paper pom poms!

The nursery colors (and a sneak peek at the freshly painted
grey walls).

Okay, okay so enough girly talk about the room design, today I want to share with you how you can GREEN your baby's nursery or any room that you are painting in your home with a few simple tips.

So let's jump right into those tips in this week's video:

No time for the video, here's all my tips in pictures:

Eco-Friendly Painting Tips

1. Choose a Zero-VOC Paint: This is the single most important tip I can reccomend in going green with your baby's nursery. "VOC" stands for Volatile Organic Compounds and they are chemicals used in paint. They are often responsible for that "paint smell" which my nose can smell from a mile away. Aside from strong odors, VOCs can cause eye, ear, and nose irritation, headaches, nausea, loss of coordination, and even damage to the liver, kidney, and nervous system. (read more here).    

With those lovely side effects in mind, I make every effort to get a paint, no matter the brand that clearly states: Zero-VOCs.  The brand I got for this project was "Olympic Icon Self-Priming Semi-Gloss Paint". I got one gallon of it from Lowe's for $25.

Here you can see that it states Zero VOC/Low Odor.
This is not the only brand around with Zero VOCs, most hardware stores carry at least a brand or two that offer a Zero VOC option. Here's a few other options: Benjamin Moore's Aura Paint (low VOCs) that costs $67 a gallon, Sherwin Williams Harmony Paint (zero VOC) that costs $41 a gallon, Behr Premium Plus Paint  (zero VOC) that costs $26 a gallon, AFM Safecoat Paint (zero VOC) costs $46.

Clearly there are enough "green paint" options out there to fit everyone's budget and green preferences.

2.  Circulate the air with fans and windows. Now even though we've taken steps to get a healthier paint without VOCs, there are still a variety of chemicals that still remain such as: titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, aluminum hydroxide, and pyrithione zinc. Now I'm no chemistry expert, but those are still chemicals that I don't want to be inhaling or getting into my body, so in comes the next green tip: open the windows. Obviously no one is a huge fan of the "paint smell" so it's probably common sense to open a window and get some fresh air during and after the painting process. 

Getting some fresh air...
A fan is another great way to get some air moving in the room you are painting as well. Did you know most paint cans even say, "Provide fresh air ventilation during and after application and drying." 

3. If pregnant, have someone else paint for you: I'm sure this is debatable for some of you, but for me, it's simple, I don't want my body or my baby around the paint or fumes, zero-VOCs or not. According to the American Pregnancy Association, currently there are no studies done on the safety of painting while pregnant, but if you must paint, they recommend some of the tips you will see below, such as: protecting your skin, keeping the area well-ventilated, and limiting the time you spend painting by taking frequent breaks. 

Personally I feel that I take a variety of precautions already to reduce my exposure to toxins and chemicals during pregnancy, so why take the chance with paint? Instead I steer clear of it and have others help me. In this case, Mila's Daddy, Brandon. One tip is that you can get everything ready for those helping you paint, by gathering supplies, taping the windows and doors, or any other prep work so all that your friends or family have to do is the painting. 

Thanks to my hubby, Brandon for offering up his painting
skills (and tallness) for this project. 

4. Wear a mask: This is probably one of the more extreme "green paint tips" I have to offer, since masks are a bit uncomfortable to wear, but if you are extremely sensitive to the fumes or smell of paint, it is an option to consider.  

5. Wear gloves and longer clothing to keep the paint OFF your skin. As much as it may seem like a crazy precaution to wear gloves and long sleeves, it even states on most cans of paint: "Do not get on skin or clothing." Our skin is our largest organ and can absorb nearly everything that gets on it...think about things like nicotine patches, the only way they get into your body is through your skin. And given what's in paint, I don't want that getting absorbed into my skin.

My kind of scary looking "Paint Hazmat" outfit if I really
wanted to go green with my painting.  Lovely, right?

6. Reuse supplies you already have (blankets, brushes, pans, etc.). Obviously one important thing to do in going green is to REUSE what you already have, and paint supplies are no exception. For several years, every time I would paint, I would buy all new brushes, trays, and drop-cloths. But now that I've greened up my act, I try to reuse as much as I can for each painting project. Obviously we need new rollers or brushes from time to time, but when it comes to other painting supplies (roller brush handles, painting trays, plastic drop cloths, etc.) they get used, and reused a lot at our house. 

Here's a paint tray that has seen it's fair share of painting

7. When buying paint, only get as much as you need.  Keep in mind that according to "paint experts", one gallon covers over 400 sq. feet so buy your paint accordingly. The less you buy, the less you have leftover to dispose of or have lying around your house.

One gallon of this grey paint was about how much
we needed for this job. 

8. Recycle old paint at your local Hazardous Waste Facility. Again, not new info here, most people know NOT to throw their old paint out with their trash, instead you can take it to your local Hazardous Waste Drop Off. In fact, my can of paint even recommends: "Contact your local environmental regulatory agency for guidance on disposal of unused product. Do not pour down drain or storm sewer."

Here I am taking a load of old paint
to our local Hazardous Waste Facility
a few years ago.

9.  Utilize an indoor plant to help filter the air. Who knew that cool little green plants could do so much good? NASA, yes, NASA, did a study on the ability of indoor plants to help purify the air and they found a variety of plants were able to purify the air to some degree during their normal photosynthesis process, read more here.  Some indoor plants had more powerful purifying properties than others, the top ten included: Arcea Palm, Lady Palm, Bamboo Palm,  Rubber Plant, Dracaena (Janet Craig), Phileodendron, Dwarf Date Palm, Ficus Alli, Boston Fern, and Peace Lily (see pictures and more info of all ten here).

Bamboo plants are some of my favorites, as you'll see below, but I'd love to try out some of the other recommended plants (I can see a future video tip coming about this soon!).  Until then, I'll  be keeping this one in Mila's room to keep the air clean and get any leftover toxins from the painting process out of the air.

My favorite type of indoor plant,

Here's what the room looks like once it's been painted...

Clearly it's needing a bit of pink, but that will come soon enough!

So there you have it, my favorite "eco-friendly" painting tips. Do you have anything else to add to the list? Or any other eco-friendly paint brand that you like to use? Share below.

See you next time for the next step in getting this nursery "green" and ready for Baby Mila!

Recently this post was linked up to "Tuesday Baby Link Up" over at the blog Growing Slower, as well as a number of other blogs that are listed in the link above. So hop on over and check out some other fun baby posts!

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