Essential Oil Q&A + Simple Sweet Tooth Recipes

This is a long one, guys.

I didn’t mean to leave you hanging after that last post, but life went a bit crazy.  I took another trip to Glasgow, I had crochet orders coming out of my ears, I had foolishly scheduled both of my classes to submit essays on the same day, and we had what amounted to a four-day Valentines extravaganza involving buses and trains and concerts and Dublin and running here and there with the hopes of making it anywhere on time.  We survived by the skin of our teeth (what does that even mean?).

I have had several questions since my last post about essential oils.  Two of the main ones have been: ‘What does it mean to use an oil?’ and ‘What does a typical day using essential oils look like?’  I’m really glad I was reminded of the first question because it was actually one of those things I originally wondered and forgot to share.  The second one will differ, of course, depending on what an individual’s needs are, but I can show you what my day looks like.

What does it mean to use an essential oil?

I think the term ‘use’ is a bit vague, and it’s because it is there to encompass loads of things.  The main ways to use an essential oil are by diffusiontopical application, and, in some cases, ingestion.  I only recommend Young Living essential oils, especially for ingestion, because I can trust their processes and protocols.

  • Diffusing an oil puts it into the air in tiny particles.  You can smell it, changing your environment the way that a candle or a good soup on the stove (It is me we’re talking about, after all.) does.  It also means that you are breathing it into your body.  It can affect your mood, change your breathing, and can even remove bad smells and toxins from the air.
  • Topically applying an oil simply means putting it on your skin.  It can be particularly useful for things like blemishes, burns, cuts, etc. where you want to affect a specific place on your body.  It can also be helpful for muscle aches and joint pains because you can apply it directly to the sore spot.  Topical application is also good for oils that you can’t or don’t want to ingest or diffuse (They don’t all smell great.).  Some oils should be diluted before applying because of their strength.
  • Ingestion is not something you should do with all essential oils, but many of them are labelled as safe.  You can buy empty capsules to swallow them, and some you can even drop onto/under your tongue if you like the taste of them.  Ingesting oils can be helpful for things like helping to combat a virus or easing digestive discomfort.

What does a typical day using essential oils look like?

When I wake up, I usually already have a pile of work ahead of me.  Often I’ve gotten a ton of student emails while asleep — the wonderful part about living five time zones away from your students — and I have either (or both) student work to mark or crochet orders to fill.  Whatever is on the agenda, I typically need help focusing first thing in the morning.  I stick on the diffuser with lavenderpeppermint, and lemon.  This trio is super-helpful in reducing sinus inflammation, which prevents those sinus headaches I used to get daily, and it’s very light and uplifting.  The diffuser, itself, acts as a humidifier but doesn’t produce any heat, so it helps with the early-morning dehydration grumpiness.

diffuser

Go, little guy, go!

Because I have hormonal issues ranging from thyroid to reproductive to digestive to sleep, I use some oils in the morning and one at night.  I put Progessence Plus blend on the insides of my wrists and rub them together, and I do the same with Lady Sclareol blend on my ankles.  These spots are really good for getting into your bloodstream faster because your veins are so close to the skin there.  I also use a roll-on of cypress on the tops of my feet and hands to help with circulation. [I tried cypress for my awful circulation on a bit of a whim since I got a bottle in a kit as a present from my mum. I actually have before and after photos of my toes taken only three days apart to show the difference it made, but I figured nobody really wants to see my stinky feet.]

When I let Zoe outside for the first time in the morning, I pop over to the fridge and grab my bottle of Ningxia Red juice.  It’s made with whole crushed wolfberries (you may also know them as acai berries) and a handful of oils already mixed into it.  It gives me a mental and physical boost and helps to balance blood sugar throughout the day.  I can always tell when I forget to have any of it because I’ll start to really drag around 3-4pm.  It only takes a little bit — think of a shot glass — so I usually mix it equal parts with coconut water to give me extra electrolytes, too.

ningxia red bottles

Juice juice juice

About a half-hour before I have lunch, I make a capsule to take.  I use grapefruitpeppermint, and Thieves blend and swallow it with a glass of water.  Grapefruit helps digestive motility and aids in metabolism issues.  After seeing a dietician in the past few months, I learned that I actually have slowed my metabolism by not eating enough food most of the time.  It shocked me because I love food, but I don’t get hungry all the time and often let myself get too busy to stop and take care of myself.  Peppermint eases digestive discomfort; pain when eating was yet another reason why I avoided eating throughout the day.  I actually don’t experience pain when eating anymore. Whoo!  Thieves helps my immune system by fighting off anything I might pick up and boosting my natural immunities to the world around me.  That’s right — I don’t have to be sick all of the time!

Most of the time, I will try to have a salad or a green smoothie for lunch.  I try to have a little fun with it.  When I make my salad dressing, I will often add lemon essential oil to it.  It doesn’t separate in the oil and vinegar like lemon juice can, and it’s just easier to handle.  If I’m making a smoothie, I might add the grapefruit oil (instead of taking it in a capsule) or any other ingestible oils that sound good at the time.  All of my oils help me in some way, so I’m not wasting them by adding them to my food — I’m just finding another way for them to help me.

Day 7

Don’t tell me you wouldn’t gulp that down.

In the afternoons, I usually get a bit stressed out, so I’ll put the diffuser on again, this time with peppermint and Release blend.  I was given the bottle of Release for free at a meeting I attended in town; I have to admit I probably never would have bought it myself because it (and some of the others) has a bit of a silly name to me, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.  It helps to, well, release stress and bad emotions, while the peppermint uplifts.  It’s the perfect mix for a slump.

Before bed, I put EndoFlex blend on the arches of my feet.  This oil is one of the most important for me, as it’s the other side of the hormonal equation for me.  I use it before I go to sleep so that I can truly rest.  It is what has made the biggest impact on my rest cycles and what actually allows me to wake up feeling less tired than when I went to sleep — you know, like you’re supposed to.

The very last thing I do is put the diffuser on one more time.  It helps me to get to sleep and stay asleep.  Most nights, I’ll diffuse orange, cedarwood, and Valor blend.  I use orange a lot (you may have noticed) because it is great for triggering natural melatonin release, aiding sleep but also calming nerves throughout the day.  I actually bought it ‘just because’ one month, and it turns out it’s my favourite. Coincidence? Cedarwood is great for breathing issues, and it has helped me to not wake up reaching for my rescue inhaler at night.  I used to need it at least once through the night — my breathing was inhibited enough that I would wake in a panic — and again as soon as I woke up in the morning; I don’t need it at all during the night, which is clearly a good thing for my lungs, but it also means I’m not working up those stress hormones while asleep. Valor is in the mix for another type of sleep discomfort altogether.  Since I added it into the nightly routine, CB has stopped snoring.  I didn’t even notice the difference — because I was asleep! — until we were in a hotel recently.  Once the chainsaw started up, I had a devil of a time drifting off.  It wasn’t until I read about Valor reducing snoring that I put it all together.

If that all sounds like a lot, there are two things to keep in mind: 1) Most of the time, I’m only using 1-2 drops of each oil. A 5ml bottle has just over 80 drops, and a 15ml has about 250 drops. 2) I haven’t taken anything else (other than my inhalers, and I’m working on that!) in months — not pain relievers when I threw out my back, not Sudafed when I got an awful cold and sinus infection, not sleep aids for my life-long insomnia. My essential oils have completely replaced medications for me.

Bonus for your sweet tooth

One of the things I like to do (like I mentioned with my lunch above) is add essential oils to sweet treats.  One of my favourite oils to use is orange because it just tastes great.  I have used both it and peppermint in milkshakes and chocolate-banana-shakes (four drops per shake).  At Christmas, I made little chocolate candies with a few drops of orange essential oil and sea salt — if you’ve ever had a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, the reviews were better for mine than his, though I don’t have a fun orange-shaped mould.  Considering today is Shrove Tuesday, I think we might find a way to make some specialty-flavoured pancakes after dinner tonight!

Want to know more about essential oils? Leave me a comment or send me an email!  If you’d like to order, you can go here to sign up and get your starter kit. Four of the oils I mentioned above come in the Premium Starter Kit, along with others and a diffuser!

Slowly Simmered Dreams

I have finally achieved one of my goals in life: I have a slow cooker. I know. I know. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a really huge development for me as a person.

Isn't she pretty?

Isn’t she pretty?

There are some things you just can’t make without a slow cooker. You can live without those things, but your life would be devoid of joy. You may think you are happy now, but there is happiness you can’t even imagine on the other side. CB asked me last night if our slow cooker has been off since we got it, and I was able to answer ‘yes’ only because I haven’t done any overnight experiments yet.

I’m convinced that my slow cooker can time travel (it is parked next to the TARDIS) or, at least, look into the future. When I first set it on the counter on Monday, I stared for a moment, contemplating what I should first make. It reached out to me, explaining that chicken noodle soup was truly the only option. I even had leftover roasted chicken from Sunday’s dinner! How did it know that, the very next day, I would feel bad and need something comforting and wholesome to eat? It’s magic!

One of the most appealing things about a slow cooker (and the real selling point for CB) is that I can make dinner at any time during the day. I sat down to write this post at 10:30am, and tonight’s dinner is already done. It is, honestly, a matter of practicality. In my ever-growing quest to understand my body, I had to realise that I don’t always have the energy to make dinner at dinner time. When it gets to be about 5pm and I’m not sure I can roll myself off the couch to cook, it makes the option for unhealthy take-away that much more enticing. If I’m brimming with energy at about noon, why not make dinner at noon? A slow cooker gives me the flexibility to create a healthy meal without undue strain on my body. I also already have three slow cooker meals in the freezer, ready to be thawed whenever we want them. I made almost an entire week’s worth of dinners in one day. One busy afternoon — without too much pressure because they didn’t have to be on the table at any particular time — and I had one dinner for that night, one for the fridge, and three to be frozen. I was inordinately proud of myself and intend to integrate it into a weekly ordeal.

Last night, I also made this apple pie risotto from our gfree life.  I added two tablespoons of flax meal to the recipe (I just can’t help myself).  It was amazing — sweet without being too sugary, dessert-y without being heavy, and filling enough that CB had some for breakfast instead of his usual porridge.

CB kept calling it "crumble" because that's what it smells like.

CB kept calling it “crumble” because that’s what it smells like.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken, pre-cooked and shredded or uncooked (It will cook along the way)*
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of cayenne powder
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 big handful kale, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli, in small pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon dried cilantro/coriander OR 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried basil OR 1/2 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
Choice of noodles/pasta — I used 2 cups of brown rice shells; eyeball how much you need and remember they will expand when cooked

*You can use bone-in chicken if you take the weight into consideration and understand that you may get loose bones in your soup. It does add a certain richness in flavour, but I don’t like taking the chance.

Hardware:
Slow cooker
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board and 2 forks, if uncooked chicken is used

Directions:
Dump all ingredients EXCEPT noodles/pasta into the slow cooker. Stir together and cook on low for 6 hours.

Choose your own adventure:

A. If using precooked chicken, stir in your noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

B. If using uncooked chicken, remove it from the slow cooker at this time. Place it on the cutting board and carefully use the forks to shred the meat. Return to slow cooker with noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

I was so excited for this soup.

I was so excited for this soup.

Chocolate Chip Smooshy Bars

As it is crazy marking season in my Real Life, I’m opting for quicker meals and easy treats.  This recipe is one of my new favourites; it is sweet and satisfying, but you don’t feel like you’ve eaten a big, stodgy dessert when you’re done.  If you want to make it more of a treat and not quite as good for you, leave out the oats and flax, reduce the agave nectar to just under 1/3 cup, and only include 1 tablespoon of milk.  I like a bit more texture, and I like the addition of the oats and flax for mixed fibre.  Without it, they are softer and smooshier, almost like a blondie. Both are tasty, and both come recommended by my husband, the undisputed King of Desserts Sydney Makes.

Chocolate Chip Smooshy Bars

This one is the oat-free version

This one is the oat-free version

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1 teaspoon gluten-free baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
Extra coconut oil or other oil for greasing pan

Hardware:
large mixing bowl
small mixing bowl
whisk
measuring cups and spoons
8×8 baking pan
oven
knife
spatula

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.  Lightly grease the bottom and sides of your baking pan.

In the large mixing bowl, combine your almond flour, flax meal, oats, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk well.  Almond flour won’t clump as badly as other flours, but, because it has a slightly wetter texture, it can stick to the bottom and sides of your bowl and keep it from being properly mixed.

In the small bowl, combine the agave nectar, coconut oil, vanilla extract, milk, and eggs.  Whisk to combine.  Add the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk together.  Let stand for five minutes.  Whisk again.  Fold your chocolate chips into the batter with the spatula.

Scoop (yes, it will be scooping instead of pouring) your batter into the baking pan and smooth.  Try to get the top as smooth as you can to ensure even cooking.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.  You want a golden colour on the top.

Remove and let stand for at least 30 minutes before cutting.  If you’re impatient (like we were), they taste just fine scooped out with a spoon after 15 minutes, but they won’t hold their shape.  They actually taste the best the next day once they get a bit more smooshy!

Seriously, you have to wait.  I know it's not fair.

Seriously, you have to wait. I know it’s not fair.

Back in Belfast and Black Bean Brownies

From my last meal before travelling

From my last meal before travelling

I am back home to Belfast!  I wish I could say it feels great, but so far it feels like my head against my pillow — but MY pillow!  The tiny traveller made it, too; she got lots of special attention from a lovely family on the transatlantic flight, so she arrived feeling very important and very cute.

She climbed into her luggage while I was packing and did not want to get out.

She climbed into her luggage while I was packing and did not want to get out.

A couple of days before I left, I made dinner with dessert for the family. I’ll be posting the dinner later, but the dessert was too good to leave for long.  The beans provide the starch necessary to hold the brownie batter together without the need for any sort of flour, but they also provide a high level of fibre and protein among other great things.  Even my incredibly picky grandfather enjoyed these guys. If you’re not a big fan of dark chocolate, use regular cocoa powder.  My mother didn’t care for it until she had a scoop of ice cream with it because of the richness.

Decadence

Decadence

Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients:
1 can of black beans (or cook up your own), about 15 oz
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used 3 tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa and 2 tablespoons regular cocoa)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup honey powder)
a bit of icing sugar
cooking oil or spray

Hardware:
large food processor
sieve or colander
mixing bowl
spatula
8×8 baking pan
oven
measuring spoons and cups
cooling rack
knife

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

Drain and rinse the black beans in the sieve/colander.  You want the water to run cleanly through the beans.  Shake off the excess water.  Blitz the beans and eggs together in the food processor.  It will look soupy, but the eggs helps the beans to break down better.  Without them, the beans will be very lumpy.

Bean and egg soup

Bean and egg soup

Add the vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder.  Pulse to combine.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Stir in the sugar with the spatula.  When completely combined, it should look like any other brownie batter.  I added some chopped pecans and chocolate chips (no measurements, just whatever looked right), but I think they would be great without them.

Brownie batter -- can you even tell this stuff started as a weird soup?

Brownie batter — can you even tell this stuff started as a weird soup?

Pour into the greased baking pan and bake for 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.

Brownies!

Brownies!

Sprinkle the icing sugar over the top if you’re feeling fancy.  I was.

Fancy

Fancy

Wait until they are completely cooled before slicing.  I cut mine into 16 pieces.  If you make them bigger, no one will judge you.  Just tell them you’re eating your vegetables.

Peanut Butter and Better Labeling

There’s a new law involving gluten labeling working its way through the US government.  It sets guidelines about which products can be labeled “gluten-free” and which products cannot.

Well, it’s a start.  I think it’s very important that companies not put “gluten-free” on their packaging if the product is not, in fact, gluten-free.   What the US really needs is the requirement to label all gluten-containing foods.  I think the UK is behind the US in a lot of ways when it comes to dietary restrictions, especially when it seems no one understands that being vegetarian means that, no, you actually don’t want sausage. But it’s just a little sausage. No. You can pick it out. No.

What the UK does have going for it is an intense allergen labeling system.  I can go through the entire candy aisle and see exactly why I can’t eat anything but Dairy Milk. A Celiac with a milk allergy is just screwed — but they can easily know that they’re screwed!  I spend a lot less time in the shop, reading all the labels; I pick one up, see “contains gluten”, put it back down.  Now that I’m in the US for a wee while, I have to remember to be ever more vigilant.

I have always had a love-hate — okay, it was more like hate-hate, if I’m honest — relationship with breakfast.  For years, I never knew why.  The fact is that breakfast is mostly meats and breads in different combinations.  In the South, we had grits.  Grits I liked.  Grits I could stand.  I’m really iffy about eggs, I had to pass on the bacon and sausage, and I never knew why toast left me feeling gross.  Even the quick-and-dirty options were bad because they were mostly Pop-Tarts and pastries.  All of my reasons sounded like excuses to miss the most important meal of the day: I get tired when I eat breakfast; I get nauseous when I go to gym class after eating breakfast; If breakfast is supposed to increase and sustain your brain power, why can’t I concentrate when I eat it?  Even now, I never look forward to breakfast, and — horror of horrors! — I still usually skip it.

Not a paid advertisement. I just like the stuff.

Not a paid advertisement. I just like the stuff.

When CB and I were visiting my parents over Christmas, my mother opened her pantry to reveal a treasure so bright and shiny: Gluten-free Chex Cereal.  As I explained, I’m not into breakfast, and cereal is no exception.  Typically, my thoughts go to “Yes, I’d love a bowl full of that thing that makes me bloat up like a balloon!”, but there are a lot of flavours to try.  Plus, it reminded me of getting a bag full of homemade Chex Mix for Christmas (We called it trash.  I don’t know why.  It’s better not to ask these things once you’re grown.).  Get this: it’s actually good.  I mix different ones together in the same bowl — another no-no in the Sydney Book of Rules about Food — and dig in.

Since she opened the pantry that first time, my mother has been saying, “I thought you might could use them for a crust for something.”  Well, I finally indulged her. Hello, gluten-free peanut butter pie.

Peanut Butter Pie

If you don't like peanut butter, look away now.

If you don’t like peanut butter, look away now.

Ingredients:
For the crust:
3 cups gluten-free Chocolate Chex cereal
1 tablespoon honey powder
2 tablespoons almond flour
pinch of salt
1/2 stick of butter (57g)

For the filling:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
8oz cream cheese (usually 1 package), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 5oz whipped cream (I don’t know how to measure it. It was half a tub of Cool Whip — for shame, Sydney!)

Hardware:
2 mixing bowls
pie dish
small microwave safe bowl
wooden spoons or other stirring utensils
measuring cups and spoons
oven
refrigerator
microwave (for melting butter)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

Crunchy.

Crunchy.

In one of the mixing bowls, crush up the Chex cereal.  I use my hands because I am classy.  You don’t want it powder-fine; you should still be able to see what it was. Add in the honey powder and almond flour and mix to combine. Melt the butter in the microwave and stir into the bowl. Spoon the mixture into the pie dish and press into the base and up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes.

Crusty. I had a picture both before and after baking, but it looked exactly the same.

Crusty. I had a picture both before and after baking, but it looked exactly the same.

In the other mixing bowl, stir together room temperature cream cheese (Okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t leave it out to get to room temperature. I put it in the microwave for 19 seconds. Yes, 19. If you want someone to make sense, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you want pie, stick around. I like your style.), icing sugar, peanut butter, and vanilla. It’ll be a bit tough to stir, and you’ll probably wonder if you’re really just making a mess. Try to form as even a consistency as you can.

The point at which I thought it was a goner.

The point at which I thought it was a goner.

Much better.

Much better.

Add the whipped cream to the mix, bit by bit. You want to fold it into the peanut butter mixture. You do NOT want to stir or beat it together because the whipped cream has the air that gives the pie its creamy texture. Like I said, I used a bit more than half an 8oz tub of Cool Whip. I would say that I would have whipped my own if I had Ruby with me, but my mother has a stand mixer, and I totally didn’t do it.  Once you have it all mixed together, just make sure your crust (and the pie dish) is completely cooled and spoon it into the crust. Spread it around however you want.  I don’t make things pretty. I just make them tasty.

I think it would be good with shaved/grated chocolate or mini chocolate chips on top of it. We only had regular chocolate chips, and, since it doesn’t go in the oven, I thought they would be a little much.  Leave the pie to set in the fridge for at least an hour.  You’ll want to take this one somewhere you’ll have to share it, or else you’ll be tempted to eat it all at once.  Peanut butter is good for you, right?!