Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Product Reviews: Natural Household Cleansers April 27, 2008

A simple change in cleaning product is a painless way to help the environment while safe-guarding your family’s health; Across the board, prices compare to leading brands. Best of all, your home will be clean and smell wonderful.

Here is a short-list of popular natural cleaning brands, including company info and consumer reviews. If your favorite is missing, please comment with your suggestions. If you would like to share your experiences (positive or negative) with a brand mentioned here, please leave a comment (including specific product type—window cleaner, all-purpose spray, detergent, etc.) and I will be happy to include it.

This company boasts a wide range of hard-working products, each with a spa-inspired scent, including cucumber, lavender, grapefruit, green tea, magnolia and almond. Co-founded by Adam Lowry, a chemical engineer from Stanford and environmental scientist, Method products are biodegradable, made from recyclable packaging and are not tested on animals. The cleaners are made with naturally derived surfactants (the active cleaning agents in a product) and work by absorbing dirt rather than chemically degrading it.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) named Methodcofounders, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry as their 2006 “Persons of the Year”. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indoctrinated Method into its Green Power Leadership Club, which recognizes organizations that have made exemplary green energy purchases. Inc. Magazine has added Method to the 25th annual Inc. 500 ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the country.
Even the packaging looks good. Karim Rashid, an artist with over 70 objects in permanent collections in museums around the world, designed the containers for Method’s lost-cost, highly-effective household cleaners.

  • Gillian Cantor (mother of a toddler and pregnant with her second,) has never found a Method product she didn’t like. “I especially recommend the almond-scented wood polisher and the cucumber-scented all-purpose cleaner. And you can’t beat the price!”
  • Becky Wheelock (mother of three) disagrees; “I used Method, but I didn’t like the smell. It was overpowering and chemically–go figure!”

Ecos Earth Friendly Products

Founded in 1993, Ecos’ Earth Friendly Products offers 60 household products, an industrial/bulk Pro-Line, and a Natural Pet Care line. Earth Friendly Products promises a “power-packed clean” without toxins, petrochemicals, bleach, ammonia, phosphates or other harmful ingredients. The products are plant-based, have pH in the neutral range, are biodegradable and septic safe.
If you demand a clean home, Ecos products may be just the ticket. While not all alternative cleansers are created equal, Earth Friendly Products truly deliver. This family-owned business was awarded the distinguished American Culinary Award, The Gold Performance Medal by Quality Institute International (QII) for its distinctive citrus-based cleaners and the 2002 Readers’ Choice Award given by Natural Home Magazine for the best natural household cleaning products. Ecos also received the 2003 Socially Responsible Business Award for its efforts to manufacture only in the U.S., source ingredients locally, control product quality, contain product costs and provide jobs locally.

  • Canuck “Simplesprouts” uses Ecos’ liquid laundry detergent and “I really love it.” She found it at Costco in Canada. “It was about the same price as Tide.”
Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds  
An Escondido, Calif. company in business over 50 years, Dr. Emanuel Bronner created his liquid and bar soaps organically with essential oils. A third-generation master soap-maker from Heilbron, Germany, Bronner was heir to the family’s soap factory and business, but rebelled and came to the U.S. in the late 1920s.
Initially a consultant to various soap companies, when many chose to convert to synthetic surfactant formulations, he struck out on his own in the late 40s. His simple, natural and 100% environment-friendly castile soaps reflected his ecological consciousness, resonating with the counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s, and he became an icon of the time.
The company’s only household cleanser—Sal Suds—is one extremely multi-purpose product. Sal Suds is a balanced formulation, certified organic, never tested on animals, biodegrades rapidly and is packaged with 100% post-consumer recycled material. It is probably the most cost-effective choice available, as it is highly concentrated and works on virtually every surface in every room of the house, including dishes, floors, laundry and even heavy-duty grease-cutting jobs. One product, many uses; the convenience and cost-effectiveness alone make it worth a try.
Made from plant-based surfactants with natural spruce and fir-needle oils, Sal Suds is a powerful cleaning solution, yet is mild and gentle on the skin and is equally effective in hard or soft water, rinsing freely, hot or cold. Sal Suds is not soap-based and is formulated especially for all-purpose hard-surface cleaning.
Among the company’s several social initiatives, Dr. Bronner has donated over 1,200 acres of land to the San Diego County Boys and Girls Club.
  • Becky Wheelock gets her youngest involved in the housework; “August always helps me scrub the shower and generally clean the bathroom. I switched to Dr. Bronner’s because it’s a multifunction cleaner that smells great and is truly all natural, so it’s great for big jobs, including the wood floors. Since the kids play on the floor, no Pine Sol for us!”

Seventh Generation
Seventh Generation offers a large and diverse range of household products, including Free and Clear allergen-free products and baby, pet and paper products. Against animal testing, Seventh Generation designed its line of cleansers based on a commitment to both the environment and the necessity to protect ourselves from cancer-causing toxins. Seventh Generation’s vegetable-based cleaners are made from a renewable resources and therefore save petroleum, do not contain fluorescent chemicals or phosphates which don’t readily biodegrade and are often toxic to aquatic life. They are also are chlorine-free. Chlorine bleach creates dangerous toxins such as dioxin, furans and other organochlorines. Countless studies show a direct link between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects and developmental and reproductive disorders.
While I applaud this company’s initiatives, I have yet to find a specific product in their line that works as well as others mentioned here. I especially caution you against the dishwasher detergent if you want to avoid spotty dishes.

  • Megan Lopez also uses the liquid dish detergent, and agreed that the dishwasher detergent did not clean as thoroughly as hoped. “My 12-year-old daughter Jordana has allergies and eczema, so we depend on Seventh Generation’s Free & Clear line, especially the laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaner.”

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day aroma-therapeutic household cleansers offer a breath of fresh air. Or rather, a breath of your choice of lavender, lemon verbena or geranium. The scents are so appealing, I actually feel pretty while I’m cleaning, an unexpected reaction to a cleanser. The geranium scent is very rose-y to my nose, and it evokes images of vacationing in some lovely cottage in the south of France while I’m wiping down the bathroom sink—not too shabby “aroma-therapy.”
Attractive packaging and luscious scents highlight these hard-working, biodegradable cleaning supplies free of solvents, phosphates, ammonia, chlorine and artificial colors. In addition, most Clean Day products have a near neutral pH, making them safe for skin contact. Made with essential oils, Mrs. Meyer never tests on animals.
Yes, there really is a Mrs. Meyer. The company is run by Thelma Meyer’s daughter, one of nine children. After 40 years of keeping house, she believes her mom knows a thing or two about cleaning.
(Please note that even natural, essential oils may cause an allergic reaction to people who are sensitive to these substances. However, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products contain no peanut ingredients, are not exposed to peanuts in the manufacturing process and are also gluten-free and do not contain any wheat, or wheat-derived ingredients.)

Ecover offers household and laundry products including dish and dishwasher detergent, multi-surface and toilet cleaners, and a full range of laundry products. Over and over, I hear that is impossible to find a dishwasher detergent that is comparable to, say, Cascade. Well, Ecover is the answer to that conundrum. Both the powder and tablets are unsurpassed. The box holding the product is made of 95% recycled cardboard and the little plastic wrappers are made from Polypropylene and are 100% recyclable.
This international company was founded in 1980 in Belgium. Acting in the spirit of the externally audited ISO 14001standard, Ecover has extended its environmental policy to all departments of the company, from production to marketing, resulting in the world’s first ecological factory, which has a green roof extending over more than 6000m². Perhaps the most prestigious recognition was being named to the Global 500 Roll of Honour of the United Nations Environment Program.

If your favorite that is missing, please comment with your suggestions. If you would like to share your experiences (positive or negative) with a brand mentioned here, please leave a comment (including specific product type—window cleaner, all-purpose spray, detergent, etc.) and I will be happy to include it.


Appreciating Dark Chocolate April 23, 2008

Planning a Chocolate Tasting Party? Or maybe, like me, your passion for good chocolate borders on religious fervor. (TGiC? Or how about, WWCD?) This info is complete and perhaps overly-detailed; as a busy mom of two boys aged one and three, it is difficult to find a moment without background noise (particularly of the “crying baby” variety.) Does it stop me from enjoying my choccy? Hardly. I also like the notes about allowing the piece to slowly melt in your mouth. It’s so Paul McKenna, but also may be eye-opening. Just how fast do we eat our food, especially when it’s a treat? Or when chasing babies? Ok, Dig in!

  1. Find a location free from background noise, such as television, music, a crying baby, road traffic noise or just talkative friends etc. Being able to concentrate as intently as possible will facilitate flavor detection.
  2. Clear your palate. This means that your mouth should not contain residual flavors from a previous meal. Eat a wedge of apple if necessary. This is crucial in order to taste the subtleties of chocolate’s complex flavor.
  3. Make sure that the piece of chocolate is large enough to accommodate full evolution of the flavor profile. A piece too small may not allow you to detect every subtle nuance as the chocolate slowly melts. The important thing to remember is that flavor notes gradually evolve and unfold on the tongue rather than open up in one large package. So remember, don’t think small here. 10g should be a minimum starting point.
  4. Allow the chocolate to rest at room temperature before tasting. Cold temperatures will hinder your ability to detect the flavors. Some even advise that you rub the chocolate briefly between your fingers to coax the flavor. This procedure is optional.
  5. Look at the chocolate. The surface should be free of blemishes such as white marks (called bloom). Observe the color and manufacturer’s job at molding and tempering. Does the chocolate appear to have been crafted carefully? The bar should have a radiant sheen. Chocolate comes in a multifarious brown rainbow with various tints, such as pinks, purples, reds, and oranges. What do you see?
  6. Break the piece in half. It should resonate with a resounding “SNAP!” and exhibit a fine gradient along the broken edge. This is quality stuff!
  7. Smell the chocolate, especially at the break point. The aroma is an important component of flavor. Inhaling will prime the tongue for the incoming chocolate. It also gives you a chance to pick up the various nuances of the aroma.
  8. Place the chocolate on the tongue and allow it to arrive at body temperature. Let it melt. Chew it only to break it into small enough pieces that it begins to melt on its own. After all, we’re tasting and not eating! This step is crucial, for it allows the cocoa butter to distribute evenly in the mouth, which mutes any astringencies or bitterness in the chocolate.
  9. Observe the taste and texture. As the chocolate melts, concentrate on the flavors that are enveloping your tongue. Melting will release more volatile compounds for you to smell. Close your eyes, take notes, enjoy this moment of bliss, and bask in contentment. Texture can be the most obvious clue about the quality of a chocolate. Low quality chocolates will have a grainy almost cement-like texture.
  10. Now the chocolate is nearing its finish. How has the flavor evolved? Is the chocolate bitter? Heavy? Light? Was the texture smooth or grainy? Do any changes in texture and flavor occur? Take note of how the chocolate leaves the palate. Is there a strong reminder lingering in your mouth, or does it quickly vanish? Note any metallic or unpleasant flavors in the finish. This is a sign of stale or lower quality chocolate.
  11. Repeat the process with a different chocolate. The comparison will highlight the subtle flavor notes in each chocolate. By sure to cleanse your palate thoroughly before tasting each different chocolate.

Notes on bloom:

  • The formation of whitish spots, or bloom, on chocolate is due to a separation of some of the fat in the chocolate. While it affects the aesthetics of the chocolate somewhat, it isn’t harmful to eat or use chocolate that has bloomed. Bloom is related to heat and humidity, so store chocolate in a cool, dry place free of odors.

The above is adapted from’s article, “How to Taste Dark Chocolate.”

Visit my page Chocolate Resources and Info! for a list of dark chocolate tasting recommendations. For more info and recipes on appreciating dark chocolate, please click on the Chocolate  or Food & Recipes category of this blog.



Clorox Green Works to Boost Company Image and Sales? April 22, 2008

Early, early in the morning, my husband wakes to watch Squawk on the Street, a program dedicated to the ups and downs of the New York Stock Exchange. If our baby has roused me at some particularly drowsy hour, I’ll pad quietly downstairs for a cup of half-caf and watch with him. When Chairman and CEO Don Knauss rang the Opening Bell with Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope this morning in honor of “Green Week,” I sat up and took notice.

Let me say first and foremost, I am an alternative cleanser zealot. Whenever I see a Clorox commercial for Formula 409 or those new disinfecting wipes, it stirs up my inner activist. Images of smiling moms wiping down toys and high-chairs with non-biodegradable cloths infused with a variety of carcinogens widely known to cause cancer and/or respiratory problems as a narrator suggests that to be a good mother, you must buy this product. What “good mother” do you know that would expose her child (and herself, her husband and pets) to toxic substances? Repeatedly? This is called chronic exposure. While our first concern is typically to eliminate germs and bacteria within the home for the health of our family, as my friend Becky Wheelock, a mother of three, points out: “our bodies are accustomed to almost all of the bacteria we come into contact with everyday. These harsh chemicals people buy at their closest grocer and slather their homes (and bodies!) with are really toxic. But since they ‘kill germs’, we believe our homes and children can be safe.” While it’s certainly true that the human body is accustomed to most common home bacteria, our bodies are not equipped to fight cancer-causing toxins. Consider the following:

  • The EPA recommends “choosing less hazardous products that have positive environmental attributes (e.g., biodegradability, low toxicity and low volatile organic compound (VOC) content) and taking steps to reduce exposure can minimize harmful impacts to building occupants, improve indoor air quality, and reduce water and ambient air pollution.”
  • The Cancer Prevention Coalition has named commonly used household products such as Professional Windex Concentrate Glass Cleaner ( S.C. Johnson Wax) and Ajax Oxygen Bleach Cleanser (Colgate-Palmolive Company) as cancer-causing products. According to an Australian study, exposure at a young age to certain chemicals in household cleaning products may increase the risk of developing asthma.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that 80% of all cancer is attributable to environmental influences. These include lifestyle influences such as smoking, as well as exposure to carcinogenic chemicals found in everyday household cleaners.
  • In a 15-year study in Oregon , women who didn’t work outside the home were determined to have a 54% higher death-rate from cancer as opposed to those who did. The study suggested that chronic exposure to cleaning products played a role. While most household cleansers have relatively small amounts of toxic ingredients, repeated exposure to these small amounts over several years of cleaning, scrubbing, dusting and polishing can accumulate to produce cancerous tumors, aggravate asthma symptoms and may prove dangerous to pets and small children who spend greater amounts of time in the home.
  • According to the National Institutes of Health, many common household disinfectants contain phenols-caustic and dangerous compounds that have been shown to cause damage to respiratory and circulatory systems. The EPA lists disinfectants that contain phenols as “corrosive and toxic.” (Phenols are found in household detergents such as Lysol, Pine-Sol, Spic-n-Span, Baking Powder, Mouthwash and Sugar substitutes.)

While sales have been down for Clorox (CLX), the Fall 2007 acquisition of Burt’s Bees followed shortly thereafter by the introduction of Green Works keep the company’s fingers crossed; Clorox will post their earnings on May 1. But what about Green Works? (which include a general purpose cleaner, window cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, dilutable cleaner and bathroom cleaner.) Is this the beginning of nationwide awareness of healthy house-cleaning? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

1.) Pro: Clorox has both the advertising dollar and nationwide market penetration to educate the public on alternatives to carcinogenic cleaning products, and offer product in markets without access to the smaller brands that suffer from limited distribution. The non-profit Sierra Club has given Green Works its stamp of approval; Carl Pope commented, “”We hope we are transforming the marketplace by doing this.”
2.) Con: None of us want to live with mold and muck (or Staphylococcus, Salmonella, and E.coli or viruses that cause colds and flu: Rhinovirus and Influenza A2), but Green Works isn’t a disinfectant, so it won’t get rid of those. To be a disinfectant, a product must be capable of removing 100% of bacteria, viruses and fungi, and this product isn’t quite there.
3.) Pro/Con: Price. Clorox Chairman and CEO Don Knauss said this morning that while Green Works doesn’t cost more to manufacture, it will be priced at a premium—a pro if your intention is to purchase the stock. However, considering that dozens of 100% natural cleaning brands are available (in limited markets) at the same cost as Formula 409, for many consumers, this is a con
4.) Pro: Clorox claims that each one of the five cleaners is at least 99% natural. However, Collin Dunn at notes, “natural” is “the ubiquitous, unregulated ‘n’ word.”
5.) Con: The other 1%, however, is not “natural”. That 1% allows for ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate and lauramine oxide to be present as well, according to Courtney Curtis: Your Guide to Green is also troubled by Clorox’s use of the unregulated word “natural,” commenting: “even if it was clearly defined, not everything that is natural is safe. Arsenic, lead, and mercury occur naturally. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, [Clorox’s] 1% of unnatural ingredients are derived from petrochemicals. Namely, the preservative Kathon, and the Milliken Liquitint Blue HP dye and Bright Yellow dye X. The dyes give several of the products a light green color. Not exactly necessary, in my opinion.”
6.) Con: Just how bad is that 1%? Clorox claims that the preservative, Kathon, will biodegrade within 28 days. According to the MSDS for Kathon, the substance by itself carries the following risks: “irritating to skin, risk of serious damage to eyes, may cause sensitization by skin contact, harmful to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.” Not exactly green.

I’ve purchased and used dozens of alternative cleansers over the years, and as a result have a small collection of tried-and-true products with plant-derived surfactents that really work and are safe for my family and cat. (And when my children get old enough to begin helping more around the house, I won’t think twice about handing over a sponge and bucket!) Click here for reviews of my favorites.


Happy Birthday, Baby! April 17, 2008

Filed under: Lacko Family Chronicles — rjlacko @ 6:53 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I can hardly believe my baby is now one year old! Has it really been 12 months since I gave birth to him right here at home in a birthing tub? I just received an email from, reminding us waterbirthers to spread the good word, so here is mine: I used a birthing tub and midwives for my sons’ births; The first time, my labor was only 3.5 hours, and the second was 2 hours. If that isn’t reason enough for you pregnant mommies to look into it, I don’t know what will convince you! It was a beautiful, life-changing experience both times, and the best part is that both mommy and baby are able to meet without having to detox off the drugs first. We are both high on endorphins, mind you, but we are present and alert and able to fall immediately in love.

Noah is a champ! He is trying very hard to repeat everything he hears. He even took a stab at “birthday” this morning. The only words he’s truly nailed so far are mama, dada, baby, cat, hi, and bye. He also likes to roar like a lion, bark like and dog, and is determined to snort like a pig, so far without much success. For nursing, he says, “bu-ahhhh!” and taps me on the chest. (Yes, I’m still nursing. He loves it, my milk is still coming in plentifully, and I’m not the least inconvenienced.) Although, I do have to start thinking about when we might start to wean.

Noah has had eight teeth since about 10 months, and can sit in a high-chair eating finger-foods. He can also drink from a cup. Unlike his older brother Joseph, Noah is a big meat-eater. He likes his veggies, legumes and whole grains, but he has no interest in fruit whatsoever, not even bananas. (Special note: At Christmas when we were in Canada, he loved the strained blueberries and pears we bought there.) With the exception of yogurt, Noah refuses all things sweet, so it should be interesting when we serve him his first birthday cake today. (Hmm, more for me?)

My husband loves Noah’s obsession with blowing raspberries. We have video of him doing it on my shoulder (laughing each time), but he will also do it to my tummy until I’m covered in baby slobber. Ah, to be mommy.

Noah absolutely loves dropping Joseph off at nursery school. He gets so excited just walking through the door. He also loves to rough-play with his big brother, bull-dozing over him in fits of laughter.

Music is his favorite. He will step right up to the organ or piano and begin tapping out sounds and rocking his little booty. He lights up whenever I sing to him (so his taste in music needs some refining!) and he loves to dance and clap and wave his hands. When Dora The Explorer sings the, “We did it! Lo hicimos!” song, I’ve noticed that he dances the twist, just like she does; (from a seated position, that is. He hasn’t begun walking yet, although he will stand and clap blocks together for a few seconds.)

From the night of his birth when I swept him up out of the water and he put his hands on my chest and pushed himself right up to look directly in my eyes, he has been so connected, so content with his world, and so ready to smile. He truly is a gift and we’re so happy to say, “Happy Birthday, Noah!”


The Best Chocolate Cake for Lovers of Real Chocolate April 13, 2008

I absolutely love chocolate. To me, real chocolate begins at 70% cocoa; I especially favor the mid-to-high 80 range. I like it dark, I like it beautifully-made, and I like to taste the intricate notes imbued by the cacao beans’ country of origin. And even then, I like to compare the differences between soils and shared crops within a given region. I like to eat chocolate the way other people drink wine. And I know I’m not alone—you’re here, curious and likely hungry.

This recipe is adapted from Michel Montignac’s wonderful book, Slim Forever – The French Way. It offers a rare opportunity to transform the world’s best chocolate into an astonishing (I mean, mind-blowing) cake, without detracting from the chocolate’s inherent flavor and character. I say “rare” because this cake has the consistency of a mousse or cheesecake, although it is dairy-free and sugar-free—and flourless (wheat- and gluten-free). The best part? You can have your cake and eat it too; Montignac places all chocolate with 70% or more cocoa at a GI of 25.

Change My Life Forever Cake
Begin with just over a pound (16.5 ounces) of the best 70% or higher chocolate you can find. Click here for recommendations.

Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round springform pan with baking parchment. (The collar lining the side of the tin should rise above the top of the pan.)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

In a double-boiler, melt 11 ounces of chocolate, broken into pieces.

Separate 10 eggs. Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the egg whites until peaks form. Do not overbeat.

Remove the melted chocolate from the pan and let cool 5 minutes. Gently stir together the beaten egg yolks and add to the melted chocolate. Add a couple of tablespoons of the beaten egg white and stir just to combine. Quickly and gently fold the rest of the egg white until the mixture has the consistency of a souffle or light mousse. Do not overmix.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the pan and bake for 8 minutes exactly. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool 30 minutes; then refrigerate, covered, 12 hours or overnight.

To finish, take the cake out of the refrigerator and turn it onto a large plate. Melt 6.5 ounces of chocolate in a double-boiler as described above. Pour a thin film over the top of the cake. Chill in the fridge 15 minutes. To serve, dip a sharp knife in the hot water and use to slice the cake.

Still need coaxing to trade in candy bars (with empty nutritional calories, piles of sugar and often less than 10% actual chocolate, doing little more than rotting your teeth)? Check this out.
To emphasize my adoration of great chocolate, I’ll make this offer: if you live in Orange County, I’ll bake this cake for you myself, with your choice of either Scharffen Berger or Valrhona (or a mixture of each) and deliver it to your door for 40 bucks. How do you like them apples? 

Looking for more great recipes like this one? Check out my other blog, the Unassuming Foodie!


Chocolate Resources and Info! April 12, 2008

The following is a living document and is updated regularly.

Need coaxing to trade in chocolate-flavored candy bars for The Real Deal? You already know candy bars are empty nutritional calories, contain high levels of refined sugars and often less than 10% actual chocolate, doing little more than rotting your teeth. But, consider that

  • Cocoa is rich in antioxidant flavonoids called flavanols; Studies have shown that people with high blood levels of flavonoids have lower risk of lung cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and type-2 diabetes.
  • Chocolate is packed with high-quality polyphenol antioxidants that may reduce the risk of developing heart disease and/or having a heart attack.
  • Cocoa may also regulate your cholesterol; In one study, Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at Penn State University reported that people who ate a diet rich in cocoa powder and dark chocolate had lower oxidation levels of bad LDL cholesterol, higher blood antioxidant levels, and 4 percent higher levels of good HDL cholesterol.
  • Diabetes and Hypertension suffers rejoice! Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which are one class of polyphenols; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that eating dark chocolate (with 70% or greater cocoa offers 500mg polyphenols) is associated with improved insulin resistance and sensitivity and decreased systolic blood pressure, whereas white chocolate (offering 0mg polyphenols) has no effect.
  • You can indulge without the bulge. I don’t have to tell you good followers of the Glycemic Index that when chocolate has a content of 70% or more, the impact on blood sugar levels are negligible. In his lovely book, Slim Forever: The French Way, Michel Montignac places the GI of 70% cocoa (or more) at only 25!
  • Cacao nibs are the edible part of the cocoa bean after it has been harvested, dried, fermented and hulled (winnowed). Cacao is rich in magnesium and contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine (stimulants). Other chemicals that naturally occur in cacao include MAI inhibitors (diminish appetite), PEA (similar to what the brain releases when we are in love) and anadamide (the “bliss” chemical which is the same chemical released when we are very happy).
  • The Carob tree is native to the Mediterranean. The seeds or pods are edible and similar to cocoa, but contain no theobromine. Carob powder is an edible powder or flour made from the ground seeds and pods of this plant, often used as a substitute for chocolate.
  • What is cocoa powder? Cacao nibs are ground to extract about 75 percent of the cocoa butter, leaving a dark brown paste called chocolate liquor. After drying again, the hardened mass is ground into the powder known as unsweetened cocoa. The richer, darker Dutch cocoa has been treated with an alkali, which helps neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity.

Article: Chocolate, The Psychoactive Cocktail Excerpts:

  • It is made from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. The cacao tree was named by the 17th century Swedish naturalist, Linnaeus. The Greek term theobroma means literally “food of the gods”.
  • A study of 8000 male Harvard graduates showed that chocaholics lived longer than abstainers. Their longevity may be explained by the high polyphenol levels in chocolate which reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins and thereby protect against heart disease.
  • In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt added triglyceride cocoa butter to create chocolate bars that readily snap and then melt on the tongue. Cocoa butter begins to soften at around 75 F; it melts at around 97 F.
  • More than 300 different constituent compounds in chocolate have been identified.
  • Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid. It is the rate-limiting step in the production of the mood-modulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Enhanced serotonin function typically diminishes anxiety.
  • Acute monthly cravings for chocolate amongst pre-menstrual women may be partly explained by its rich magnesium content. Magnesium deficiency exacerbates premenstrual tension.

How to Taste Dark Chocolate:
Appreciating Dark Chocolate

Recommended Chocolate:
Is your favorite missing from this list? Comment with your recommendation! (Or better yet, send samples.)

Recommended Flavoured Chocolate:
I rarely eat anything but straightforward, unadulerated chocolate and raw cacao. I’ll even turn down a bar with natural vanilla added. However, most people prefer some variety so it must be noted that the following acompanies offer remarkable standouts. Is your favorite missing from this list? Comment with your recommendation! (Or better yet, send samples.)

Recommended Books and Websites:
The Unassuming Foodie
The Chocolate Connoisseur
French Women Don’t Get Fat-The Secret of Eating for Pleasure
Slim Forever-The French Way
Fine Dark Chocolate
Chocolate and Cocoa: Health and Nutrition
The Chocolate Blog
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light
The Academy of Chocolate (Bonjour, Chloe!)
The Chocolate Note
Chocolate News

Chocolate Recipes on Motherhood, Marriage & Other Wild Rides:
The Best Chocolate Cake for Lovers of Real Chocolate
Raw Chocolate Brownies! With Icing!!
Can’t Get Enough Raw Chocolate Brownies


The Holy Grail of Potty-Training April 9, 2008

It wasn’t too long ago when I boasted prematurely about little Joseph’s progress on the potty. You can read evidence of how little I understood of the complexities of potty training here. However, here I am again to sing my son’s praises, albeit with fingers crossed.

When Joseph turned three in February, I was discouraged by the fact that he was still in pull-ups. After all, we’d been discussing every last aspect of the potty for more than a year. That’s a lot of discourse on the fabulous lifestyle of the toilet-using set. He knew all there is to know about potty use and showed that he could do it—if he wanted. We offered stickers and posted progress charts, we sang, clapped and danced when he did the deed, and our son played along…occasionally… Sometimes, he would outright demand a “biper.” Or, he would insist on wearing his cherished themed (Cars, or Thomas the Train) underpants, only to sit in his own waste rather than disturb his playtime by admitting that he’d had an accident. Yuck, I know. More surprising, he would outright refuse to let us clean him up, screaming and hollering about having to change his dirty clothes. His potty-training—however earnestly I tried to foster his self-esteem with loving reassurance—became a vestige of control for him. But with that control came a myriad of other emotions too varied and precarious for me to fathom, though I tried to meet them each as they appeared.

I’m now going to make a possibly contentious suggestion: Potty-training is as mysterious, timing-dependent and fraught with emotion as falling in love. I know it may be considered unseemly to draw a parallel between the beauty and fragility of love and how one handles his or her ones and twos, but the journey to undies is a delicate yet highly-charged path indeed. Let me also announce that over the last two weeks, Joseph has not only worn undies on a daily basis, but of his own accord, waved bye-bye to his nighttime pull-up and has (miraculously) kept the bed dry—not a single urinary faux pas.

How did this happen? My best intentions exhausted, at a ped appointment I moaned to our doctor about his stunted progress, and he suggested that I stop dwelling so much on the next milestone and allow Joseph to finish up being a “baby” on his own time. He’d become a “big boy” when he was good and ready. He gently questioned whether, since his baby brother had been born, we had (mostly unconsciously) shuttled him towards big-boy status for our own sanity (and convenience—honestly, two kids in diapers?!)

I took his words to heart and began a new campaign of treating him like my little baby—more rocking in my arms, more cooing in his ear, more cuddles and less coaching. He eats it up! To be frank, I enjoy it myself. Letting go has removed a great load of pressure from us both. My dashed expectations are replaced with contented acceptance. Like falling in love, the quality of a relationship has more to do with what we’re giving than what we’re getting. Most significantly, the more I treat him like my little guy, the more he wants to be my big guy. So, I guess we can deduct that his slow potty progress was my fault. Hmm.

And then, we got the newsletter from school. Nursery school graduation is at the end of June, and everyone who is three and potty-trained will graduate to preschool, get a whirlwind of wonderful new curriculum (including cooking, yoga, ceramics, drama and gardening!), play in the big-kid playground, and last but not least, it will cost us almost $300 less per month!

The newsletter came on a Friday. I struck while the iron was hot. I took a glass bowl down from the cupboard. I cut up sheets of stickers into individual pieces, I opened a package of alphabet fridge magnets, and added a small collection of plastic necklaces. When Joseph came home from school, we said, “bye-bye, diaper. Helllloooooo undies!” I showed him the potty and the glass bowl and he took it from there, no problem. I put the pull-ups out of sight, replacing them with only undies. That weekend, I had to remind him a few times to say “bye-bye diaper,” but he got the hang of it, and we have been diaper-free from that day forward. In fact, it was less than a week into it that he chose not to have the pull-up at night.

We’re so proud of Joseph. And he’s proud of himself! Yes, we remind him to use the potty throughout the day; yes, we locate potty wherever we happen to go; and yes, he still gets a sticker or magnet each and every time, but my son is dry. My son is confident, self-assured, and dry!

Like finding love, the timing was everything. Will I go straight to the prize-bowl method with my younger son? The simple answer: possibly. He’s a different person, and I’m a different mommy now, thanks to this experience.