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By Maral Babai

Typically, I am not one for New Year's resolutions. I generally like to work on myself all year round. However, 2012 was a busy year for me. As it came to a close, I set aside some time to reflect on myself, my health, and my well being. As I look back at some projects and life style changes that I never had the time to get around to, the one that sticks out most is attempting to be as wholesome and chemical- free as possible in my cooking and eating. Here are seven simple tips that I've been trying to follow and would like to share:

1. Used coffee grounds are very versatile. After making coffee, the grounds can be used for compost, as a facial scrub, or even a deodorizer once they have dried out.

2. Eliminate canned food as much as possible. This is part of my attempt to reduce processed foods as much as I can. An easy place to start is with beans. Dried beans are just as cost effective as canned, and when soaked overnight, they boil in 20-40 minutes at the most. If you really want to go the extra step, sometimes farmers markets have fresh beans on hand, such as chickpeas.

3.Grow your own herbs. It is extremely simple to purchase a pot of herbs, and maintain them. If you have outside space, and do a lot of cooking, this is a great way to utilize the space and sunlight. Basil is a great place to start, as it is comparatively low maintenance to other herbs.

4. Re-use glass jars from items you have already purchased, like pasta sauce or jam. Once you remove the label with some hot water, make sure the glass has been completely cleaned, and re-use. Glass is also a comparatively safer way to store goods than items like plastic, which can leak chemicals and substances into your food. The small glass containers spices come in are great for transporting salad dressing for work or school, too.

5. Make nut butter. As long as you have a blender or a food processor, this is an extremely simple, delicious, and rewarding treat. All you need are nuts of your choice, and a touch of oil and salt depending on your preferences. Then, blend or process until the consistency reaches the crunchiness or creaminess you would like. This is also a fun place to experiment with different flavors, adding in honey, maple syrup, or chocolate. With the rising prices of nut butters sold in stores, this is also a more cost-effective alternative.

6. Eliminate using any boxed mixes for baked goods such as cakes and cookies. Making these things from scratch is incredibly simple and rewarding, and takes just as little time as box mix. You can also prepare all of the dried ingredients in jars ahead of time to make it more convenient.

7. Be mindful of non stick and Teflon pans that are old and starting to get scratched. When the coating starts to wear away and chip off, there are carcinogens released into the food and air. Additionally, the non-stick coating can get into food, which is harmful. It is best to try and replace them appropriately to reduce exposure to harmful toxins.

Maral Babai based in Orange County, is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine with a degree in Art History and International Studies. She greatly enjoys baking cupcakes in her spare time and attending as many live shows as possible.

​​​​​​​​​​​​Image Credit: Maicol Chavez for Mode-Moderne Journal

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