Artist of the Month: Anne Ferrari of Vita Pulita

055_0The following post was written by Anne Ferrari, Owner and Founder of Vita Pulita, the first Herban Lifestyle Store Artist of the Month. During the month of December, Anne’s soaps will be featured at our new brick and mortar store in Fairfax, VA.

I was always fascinated by soap. As a child growing up in the Bronx, NY, I didn’t have many soap options, but I was still fascinated with making soap pretty. My holiday gift to my first grade teacher was an ordinary bar of soap on which I pinned a homemade pompom. The obsession with soap remains. It wasn’t until my good friend Mary Kearns shared with me that she had started making soap herself that I was finally inspired to give it a try. And once I did, there was no turning back.

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As a professor with a PhD in psychology, I am accustomed to using research in my work experience. This serves me well as soap ingredients need a great deal of research too. One customer of mine confessed that she didn’t worry too much about what she put on her skin as she believed that it was not absorbed by her body. Unfortunately, research on breast cancer and the use of parabens in beauty products shows us otherwise. Vita Pulita products never contain parabens, as they never contain artificial fragrances or colors. They are products that I feel confident using and sharing with my family. In fact, Vita Pulita was born of necessity, when my pregnant daughter could not find a safe yet still luxurious body butter. I whipped up a combination of unrefined shea butter, unrefined cocoa butter, rice bran oil, and essential oil. I still sell that body butter, and it is a customer favorite.

Although I am not an artist, one of my favorite things about making soap is making it beautiful. Many of us assume that” beauty” and “natural” do not go together and quite frankly, there are some colors that simply cannot be made naturally in soap, such as a vibrant blue. However, natural soap can be just as lovely, especially when one dives into her creative side. Check out my White Wedding Soap, Carrot Orange Soap with Cocoa, Black Charcoal Facial Detox Soap, Cupcake Soap or Pink Sea Salt Bar and see what you think. All of the colors and scents in Vita Pulita Soaps are from natural and healthy sources, such as plant essential oils and ground up spices. If a color or scent cannot be made using this method, then it will not be made.

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It wasn’t until recently that my father shared with me that his mother made soap in Italy from olive pomace left over from the farm. I was shocked, but not surprised. I was named for her after all (over the protests of my mother who did not care for the sound of “Anna Maria”), as I was born on the anniversary of her death. And I chose to name my company Vita Pulita, which means “clean life” in Italian, although I don’t speak Italian myself. Perhaps the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, would say that my need to “soap” is part of my family collective unconscious, inherent in me. It certainly feels that way at times.

You can find Anne’s products online at the Vita Pulita website, on Etsy and seasonally at markets in Westchester County.

Meatless Monday: Southwestern-Style Quinoa

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I have to confess that I have never been much of a quinoa fan, even though I know it is a superfood high in fiber, iron and protein. Unadorned quinoa tastes too earthy to me, but, out of necessity, I’ve finally created a quinoa dish that I not only tolerate, but love!

Home after traveling for several days, we were longing for a health home-cooked meal. In advance of our travels, we hadn’t done any grocery shopping and were completely out of all of our usual staple grains. The one thing in my cabinet, which had been there a while being ignored, was a bag of Alter Eco Organic Royal Rainbow Quinoa, which my husband had purchased because it looked interesting. I also had a bag of organic corn in the freezer, which inspired me to try making a southwestern-style dish. The end-result was so good that I wanted to share it with you!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups filtered water (plus water to soak the quinoa before cooking)
  • 1 vegetable bouillion cube
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 bag of frozen organic corn

Soak the quinoa in water for ten minutes, then drain thoroughly. Place in a saucepan with 2 cups of filtered water and the bouillion cube. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent, then add the spices and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the corn and cook for another 5 minutes and remove from heat.

When the quinoa is finished cooking, remove from heat, add the corn mixture and almonds and stir until well-blended.

Serve with a salad, for a simple well-balanced meal! This dish can be enjoyed hot or cold.

How to Make Vegan Welsh Rarebit (aka Rabbit)

rarebitA while back I posted a recipe for vegan mac and cheese. And although it was the best recipe I had produced at the time, I have to admit that I haven’t been quite satisfied with it.

Recently, I had a craving for vegan nachos with cheese sauce, so I did some searching on and found this excellent recipe on Food.com. This one has a higher proportion of cashews, which results is a rich, creamy texture.

Ingredients*

  • 4 cups of filtered water
  • 2 cups raw cashews (roasted won’t give you the nice creamy texture)
  • Another 2 ½ cups of filtered water
  • Strained juice of 1 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (regular works, too, but smoked provides a deeper flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • ½ cup of beer (a dark beer, like porter, is preferred)
  • 4 slices of whole grain bread, toasted

Directions

1. Soak the cashews in filtered water overnight.

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2. Drain the water from the cashews and place them in a blender with all of the ingredients, except for the beer and bread, and blend until smooth.

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3. Pour the blended mixture into a saucepan, add the beer and heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently

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4. Spread over the toasted bread and serve with a salad for a simple, delicious meal!

To make nacho cheese sauce, eliminate the beer, replace the mustard powder with garlic powder and add 1 tablespoon of chili powder.

*Most Welsh Rarebit recipes call for Worcestershire Sauce, but this contains anchovies. If you are not a strict vegan, this adds a nice depth to the flavor.

Wordless Wednesday: Farmers Market Finds

Perfect tomatoes. Ready to eat. No adornments necessary.

English peas. Preciously short season. Delicious in Minted Pea Soup.

Fingerling potatoes. Red and white. To be roasted with garden herbs and olive oil.

Strawberries. Last of the crop. Season came early this year. Perfect for Cold Strawberry Soup.

Icelancic lambs wool. Naturally gorgeous brown color. Will be used to make a batch of Fuzzy Soaps.

Peas and potatoes and basil.

Tomatoes and cucumbers. A salad in the making.

The jewel-toned cauliflower would look gorgeous on a crudité platter.

Nice variety of squash. My favorite are the oddly decorative and yummy patty pan.

Garlic scapes have a very short season. They are wonderful in stir fries.

So happy to have Solitude Wool selling their wares now at the farmers market.

Back to the Start

In her blog today, EcoKaren wrote about a very cool Chipotle ad, “Back to the Start,” that was shown during the Grammy Awards last night.  As Karen put it, “This short film depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future.” The soundtrack is Willie Nelson’s moving cover of Cold Play’s “The Scientist.”

I was so moved by the video that I wanted to share it with you. I downloaded the song on iTunes for 99 cents. For each sale, 60 cents will be donated to Chipotle’s Cultivate Foundation, whose mission is to help fund initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, and culinary education.

I have been impressed by Chipotle’s sustainability efforts. It’s a good place to get a quick, relatively healthy vegetarian meal. Plus, some of the Virginia Chipotle’s use pork from Polyface Farms, a sustainable farm that was featured in Food, Inc.

Join Us at the 2011 BUST Holiday Craftacular & Food Fair in SoHo!

If you’re in NYC this weekend (December 10th and 11th), I hope you’ll stop by the Herban Lifestyle table at the BUST Magazine Holiday Craftacular and Food Fair Holiday 2011. We’ll be at 82 Mercer St. in SoHo from 11am to 8pm on Saturday and 11am to 7pm on Sunday.

There will be over 200 vendors selling handmade crafts and food. Plus, there will be demos, DJs and more. Admission is just $3, and the first 300 shoppers each day will receive a FREE goodie bag filled with amazing gifts.

BUST Magazine founders and co-publishers, Debbie Stoller and Laurie Henzel, will be signing copies of their new book The BUST DIY Guide to Life. They will also be offering classes on fun DIY projects like how to make your own tiny terrariums, snow globes, and more.

On Saturday, Jay McCarroll, winner of Project Runway season one will be selling affordable bags and scarves from his current line.

Visit the BUST website for a full list of BUST Magazine Craftacular and Food Fair vendors.

CARBON Hosts Eco-style Event to Benefit Fairfax Non-profit

On Saturday, November 19 CARBON, DC’s eco-boutique, will host a fun event to help raise money and awareness for FACETS, a Fairfax-based non-profit serving homeless families and individuals. We will be collecting toiletries and food for the families – bring a donation and receive a coupon good for 10% off at Carbon. There will be food, drinks, giveaways, and a portion of proceeds from the sale of both Herban Lifestyle products and Melissa Lew will go to FACETS.

image copyright Melissa Lew

On the 19th, I will be offering a special day of pampering, with free demos of my line of natural and organic certified cruelty-free bath and body products for men and women. The day will also feature a special collection by eco-friendly jewelry designer, Melissa Lew.  The Virginia-based designer combines elements of nature and architecture to inform her collection of refined recycled silver necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and Vitality, a unisex series of necklaces featuring Chinese symbols such as Peace, Trust, and Happiness.

November 19, 2011

Noon to 6 p.m.

CARBON

2643 Connecticut Ave., NW

Washington, DC  20008

(Woodley Park-Zoo Metro Station)

CARBON is committed to reducing your carbon-footprint by offering fashion-forward sustainable clothing, shoes, accessories, and handbags.  We carry small, independent designers and companies both locally and internationally who operate from a corporate social responsibility mission.  Several of our designers create hand-crafted and fair trade products.  CARBON is generated by 100% local wind turbines, implements the 3 Rs religiously – reduce, reuse, recycle – and supports local environmental and human rights initiatives.  CARBON also offers wardrobe consultation and personal shopping.

Growing My Own Mushrooms

Day 2

I first heard of Back to the Roots‘ mushroom growing kit on The EcoMaker blog (where my shampoo bar, soap and solid lotion were recently reviewed). My family loves mushrooms (we are very much like Hobbits in that sense), so I thought it would be fun to grow our own.

Day 5

I ordered two kits from Back to the Roots, and they arrived in less than a week. They offer free shipping if you buy two or more sets. I have since seen the kits in my local Whole Foods. However, I will probably just order refills (the kits cost $19.95 each, and the refills are less than half that).

Day 8

It took a few days before the little buds appeared, but by Day 7, they were looking like mushrooms. We were all amazed at how quickly they grew, and how, even over the course of a few hours, they had mushroomed in size. Miraculous!

The “soil” in which the mushrooms grow is actually recycled coffee grounds, which can be used as mulch for one’s garden after the mushrooms have been harvested. They come in a compostable cardboard box. Very earth-friendly!.

Day 10

I sautéed them and we ate them as a side dish. However, it occurred to me that these meaty, nutty oyster mushrooms would be perfect for my vegan mushroom stroganoff recipe. I will definitely grow more of my own mushrooms. Next, I think I will try growing my own shiitakes

Meatless Monday: The Story of the Morel, a Recipe


Our farmers market Mushroom Guy had a couple of containers of morels on sale, as they are at the very end of their preciously short season (mid-April to mid-May). So we snagged them. I was looking forward to making a dish I had read about in my new favorite non-fiction book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver. The book documents her and her family’s year-long journey of eating as locally as possible (in their case, living on a farm in southwestern Virginia made some things very easy, and others rather difficult).

The book is peppered with great seasonal recipes, and one of the springtime vegetarian dishes had caught my eye. I made a modified version of the Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding for my family for Easter (it was a huge hit). However, I didn’t have morels at that time (a mushroom that cannot be cultivated, and which Kingsolver wild harvests in abundance on her rural Virginia property), so had substituted them with cremini mushrooms. So, when Mushroom Guy had the last of the morels, I was eager to give the recipe another try.

Both times, I made some modifications, based on my family’s tastes. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 loaf of whole grain bread, stale or toasted
  • 1 pound of asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound of morels or other mushrooms
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of grated cheese (cheddar or swiss)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Place the milk and green onions in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep.

Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes, then place the cubes in a 4 quart baking dish.

Steam the asparagus for a few minutes until bright green. Spread over the bread cubes.

Coarsely chop the mushrooms. If you are using morels, soak them in warm salted water for a few minutes.

Mushroom Guy said that it’s important to give them a good, salty soak to remove any “critters” that may have moved into them. I was glad that I followed his advice. The salt water coaxed this little guy out of his hiding place. Good thing since it wouldn’t have been a vegetarian dish otherwise!

Drain the mushrooms and sauté them in the butter until tender. Pour the cooked mushrooms and butter over the asparagus bread mixture.

Beat the eggs until just mixed. Grate the cheese and mix into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the asparagus, bread, morel mixture.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or  until the cheese is bubbly and begins to brown on the edges. Serve hot with a salad. It also makes great leftovers.

Avocado Banana Chaat


I have wanted to try Rasika, an Indian restaurant in DC, for a while now. Friend after friend has told me how exquisite the food is, but it seemed that the timing was never right and somehow five years had flown by. So, for Mother’s Day I chose to have dinner there with my family and a dear friend.

We ordered several dishes to share, marveling at each one. One of our favorites was one of the appetizers, the avocado banana chaat, which had an incredible blend of sweet, sour, spicy, and cool tastes. I swore that I would go home and try to replicate it.

After a couple of tries, here is my take on the delightfully different dish. I added some crumbled tangy tomato banana chips that we found at our local Indian grocery store.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 banana
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind chutney
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • tangy tomato banana chips for garnish (optional)
  • paprika (optional)

In a medium bowl, mash the banana with a fork and squeeze the juice from half the lemon over it. In a smaller bowl, mix the tamarind chutney, cumin and cayenne pepper until well blended. Stir the tamarind chutney blend into the mashed banana. Cut the avocado into 1/2″ cubes and squeeze the juice from the remaining half lemon over it to preserve the color. Add the avocado to the banana-chutney mixture, tossing gently, making sure not to squish the avocado. Chill.

To serve, dish onto a plate and crumble some banana chips to give it crunch. You can also sprinkle some cayenne pepper or paprika on an around the chaat for color. Bon appetit!