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Photo Courtesy of OMBU Lifestyle
It all started with a seed.....

In 2007 three Miami-based sisters, Marie, Marina and Mariel Alemann, committed to “...creating a new generation of conscious consumers,” founded shoe company OMBU Lifestyle.  Their mission: Help those in need by providing them with resources for a better life.

Their concept is a simple, and popular, one: buy one, give  one.  However in this case, for every pair of shoes you buy, the company, by working with Trees for the Future, plants a tree seed in an extremely impoverished
country. And at the same time you receive a tree seed yourself to plant to be part of the  “movement,” so that for every pair of shoes two trees are added to the environment. 

OMBU’s alpargatas (espadrille-style shoes) are made from eco-friendly recycled leather and fabric, and have a rubber sole. Most of the styles are under $50 and come in a variety of designs including sequins, polka dots, solids, denim and even camo. To add to their sustainability, the shoes are shipped via USPS (which uses recycled material in their packaging) and you receive your shoes in a cute, reusable bag made of recycled material instead of a traditional box.

Thanks to One Green Planet and OMBU I received a pair of Yute shoes to give a try.

The Yute model (in photo above) is a beige burlap-type fabric that at first glance I thought would be a bit rough on my skin, but even from the first wearing I found them to be very comfortable and the sole is quite cushy...a nice change from similar shoes that I have tried. Given the “stretch factor” of fabric shoes, I ordered a size 8 which is half a  size down from my usual 8-1/2. They fit perfectly. 

After two months of wear, my OMBUs are showing only the littlest bit of wear on the sole. I have been able to brush off any dirt and dust with a damp washcloth and  they look as good as new.  If needed, you could also gently hand-wash the shoes, but I wouldn’t put them in a
washing machine.

Tasty Companion's Ratings:

Comfort: ★★★★
 As with any flat shoe without support, there are limitations to how long you can where them, and I wouldn’t  suggest them for hikes in the woods. However, they have been great for stop-n-go city walking for 2-1/2 hours, shopping, walks along the beach....And unlike other shoes of this type I have not experienced any “shoe stink” – yeah!

Style: ★★★★ 
Espadrille-style shoes like OMBU’s are a great casual option, and work with skirts/dresses, shorts and pants alike. Most styles, including the Yute that I received, are great with denim. However, OMBU does offer some dressier options: the shiny pink Pinky (among others) would be great for the bride and/or bridesmaids as a comfort option to heels at the reception, and the floral Blue Hawaii or Pink Hawaii would be cute for a casual dinner out.

Price/Value: ★★★★★
If you can find a great basic shoe for under $50 that fits well, can be worn for a variety of occasions and is  comfortable, that qualifies as a 5-star item in my book!   Most of OMBU’s styles are actually under $40 (even as low as $31 on sale), but there are some cute Limited Edition styles that run about $70.

Availability:  ★★★
Unless you live in the Miami area, there are not currently any bricks-and-mortar retailers options to “try before you buy.”  And if you live outside of the United States, you are currently out of luck as OMBU does not ship  anywhere else. However, if you buy on-line and are not 100% satisfied, you return the shoes, unworn shoes in their original packaging, within 30 days of purchase for a full refund, less the shipping cost.

 Company: ★★★
 OMBU Lifestyle’s mission and environment-focused philosophyare admirable. However, their website does need a bit more information on where and how the shoes are made, and the source of the materials (i.e. sweat-shop free?). Specifics in success they achieved in working with Trees for the Future, customer reviews on their site and stories from customers about their seed  planting experiences would add more credibility to their sustainability story.

Overall: ★★★★
Yes, I will buy a replacement pair when I wear out my current ones!

Do you have any favorite eco- and animal-friendly shoes that I should try?
 
NOTE: I received this product in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.


 
 
About 6 months ago I read The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, a great book on the criminal nature of the “haute” wine world. Extravirginity by Tom Mueller was one of those “Customers Who Bought This Book Also  Bought…” recommendations. 

First, some background: About a year ago, I would have said that I knew how to pick a good olive oil in my local grocery store:             
-Extra-Virgin? Of course.              
-Cold-pressed?  Naturally.
-Dark glass bottle?  Confirmed.             
-Expiration Date at least 1 year away? Right on.     
-Greek or Italian? Perfect.

 I am lucky, however, to live part of the year in Crete, Greece  where we buy our extra-virgin oil from our Cretan friend, Manolis, who grows his own olives for his own oil.  We  watch the olives harvested on Monday and have our 17 kilo cans by Wednesday morning. We know that this is the good stuff from the “kick” it gives to the  back of the throat.  Our friends call this oil “pharmaco,” meaning medicine, in a very positive way.  

So I thought I was an educated olive oil consumer. Not the case.  

In Extravirginity, Tom Mueller does a good job  explaining what everyone who appreciates and uses olive oil should know, including how and why it is true that olive oil is great for cooking and for your health. Mueller also provides a recap of its history and explains how olive oil is produced (planting, harvesting, extraction and grading). He also describes the different technologies used around the world and how they can influence quality and flavor, just as varying  vineyard practices can influence the quality and taste of wine. 
 
The biggest eye-opener for me was finding that the  global olive oil market is a large agribusiness with widespread global corruption as packagers and distributors profit in an essentially unregulated market.  Mueller also provides details that debunk what marketers want you to believe: that the color of the oil and the point of origin are indicators of quality. I also learned that I  cannot and should not rely on labels (they are most likely in-part fiction), and that studies that have shown (spoiler alert!) that there is a chance some of the extra virgin olive oil you buy in the supermarket isn’t extra virgin at all, and may not even be 100% olive oil. 

However, Extravirginity is not the easiest read and is probably 75 pages too long.  At times the book rambles, mixing history, crime and personal accounts, and some threads start in one part of the book, are interrupted, and continue later on.  There is some repetition in the stories about the criminal presence in the industry. 

So I wish Mueller had reached the fantastic end of his
book sooner:  In his appendices he provides indispensable resources to help us navigate the oh-so slippery waters of the olive oil world so that we can find high quality oils from trustworthy suppliers.

In sum, although this may not be the easiest- book to get through at times, it is an excellent source of information about an important food.  

I won’t stop buying my oil from Manolis when I am in Crete, but I am better armed to be skeptical when buying olive oil anywhere else in the world.  I am also determined to find a way to ship my 17 kilo cans back to North America.
 
 
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The Bounty of Oranges in Crete
…make Orange Cake!

Living part-time in the Mediterranean we’re blessed to have an abundance of locally-grown and fresh produce available year-round.  Oranges, for example: at any time of the year in Crete you can buy ripe oranges at the grocery store, at the laiki agora (farmer’s market), at rickety stands on the side of the highway, and from farmers’ pickup trucks parked in the center of town. 

But my H and I do not even have to buy oranges.  Our landlord owns a large grove and every once in a while drops by with a bag full of 30-40 of them.  Occasionally, My H and I will head out to the grove on our own for a nice walk and to collect some oranges ourselves.

With this wealth of Vitamin C-packed goodness, the challenge becomes how to use the oranges before they grow fuzzy green coats.  

So with last week’s oranges I put on my Mediterranean hat and I:  
     
- Channeled memories of kindergarten and made orange and clove pomanders to place all over our house (I don’t remember the cloves hurting my fingertips so much when pushing them into the orange skin!)         
- Cooked up a huge pot of marmalade (and put some in a pretty jar for our landlord’s wife, Evi)  
- Diced 2 pounds of orange segments to have in the fridge to throw in Greek yoghurt and cereal, for snacking…and        
- Dried a few oranges’ worth of peels for future“green” air freshener and ant killer experiments.

Today, at My H’s request, I used even more oranges to make one of his favorite Greek specialties,
Portokalopita, which roughly translates to orange (portokali) + pie (pita). (This and other orange-based recipes will also be in our new book on the Mediterranean Diet due out later this year.) 
 
Now, this is not quite a pie as we know it, but more of a custard-y cake, drenched with a tangy yet sweet orange syrup.  No flour needed, as the structure comes from simple phyllo dough. This orange cake is actually very easy to make, and – even better - you can involve the kids!

Some Notes:        
- You will find phyllo dough (also filo or fillo) in the freezer section of your grocery store near the frozen pie shells and puff pastry. Keep it in the freezer and the day before you make the Portokalopita put in the refrigerator to thaw. Take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you start.   
- Don’t use a substitute for the Greek-style yoghurt, although you can use full-fat, low-fat or non-fat.       
- If you like even more glaze on top of your cake, spread a bit of marmalade (ideally home-made) on top after it has cooled completely.
 
And if life has given you lemons? Replace the oranges in this recipe with lemons for a different flavor.
 
Ingredients
- 1 package (450-500 grams or 1 pound) phyllo dough 
- 1-1/4 cups olive oil, divided         
- 2 cups sugar, divided        
- 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon      
- 4 large eggs        
- 1-1/2 pounds oranges (about 4 large)        
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder        
- 1 cup Greek-style yoghurt         
- ½ cup raisins (optional)

Directions

Prepare:
         
Preheat the oven to 350F. Put 3/4 cup of the olive oil, 1/4 cup of the sugar and all of the cinnamon into separate small bowls.  With a pastry brush, lightly grease the bottom and sides of a medium baking pan (about 12 inches round or square x 2 inches high) with a bit of the olive oil. Unroll  the phyllo dough onto a flat surface.  Zest the oranges and then juice them.
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Greek Orange Juicer
Make the Cake Base:         
Again using the pastry brush, lightly brush the top sheet of phyllo with olive oil and then sprinkle  with some of the sugar and cinnamon.
  Starting at the short end use your fingers to fold the single sheet in accordion style into 1-inch  pleats. Place the folded sheet on its edge in the prepared baking pan, opening  the pleats just a bit to cover the bottom surface.  Repeat with additional sheets of phyllo until the baking pan is covered (about 6-8 sheets in total); reserving the rest of the phyllo sheets for the filling. 

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Phyllo Folding
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Pleated Phyllo Base
- Place the baking pan in the preheated oven and cook just until lightly brown, but not more than 10 minutes; you're just firming up the base here. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Make the Cake:
 - Now for the kids!  Have them use their little fingers to shred the reserved phyllo sheets into very small, confetti-like pieces.
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Phyllo Confetti
- In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and ¾ cup of the sugar until light yellow.  Add the orange zest, baking powder and yoghurt and mix well.  Stir in the raisins (if using) and the shredded phyllo and mix well.
- Pour the batter evenly over the phyllo base, using a rubber spatula to make sure the batter goes into all of the nooks and crannies and down the sides of the base.
- Place the cake in the oven and bake until lightly browned on the top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes.  Remove and set aside to cool.

Make the Glaze:
- While the cake is baking, put the remaining 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Measure the orange juice and, if needed, add enough water to make 2 cups of liquid and add that to the saucepan with the sugar.
- Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces to a syrupy glaze, about 30 minutes. 
- Keep hot, and when the cake has cooled enough for you to handle the pan, pour the syrup very slowly and evenly over the top (most of it will sink in to the cake). Note that it is important that the cake be cool and the syrup hot. Let the cake cool completely before serving.
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Portokalopita - Orange Cake
Have a favorite way - or ways - to use up your bounty of fruits or veggies?  Share with Us!
 
 
Laiki Agora
My husband (The H) and I  have been back in Crete, Greece now for one week, and, as happens with every return to our home-away-from-home, we are still “oohing” and “aahing” when we head out for groceries.  
 
The H just returned from a 10-minute sojourn to the local corner market to pick up a few things and came back with: 2 pounds of local, ripe field tomatoes that even in early March actually taste like tomatoes; 1 pound of firm, local red onions; and a 100 gram bar of the best Greek dark chocolate you can buy.  The damage? Three Euro, which is no more than $4.00.  

On Saturday we will make our weekly trip to the laiki agora (local farmer’s market) to stock-up on produce and cheese, all of it local and grown or made by the people selling it.  And most of these products are organic, not by intent but just because
that is how they farm here.  We’ve never spent more than 15 Euro for a week’s supply that we could never dream of finding in one place – if at all! – back in North America. 
 
We buy our eggs from the guy down the street who has a little plot of land lush with chickens, goats and one petulant turkey.  Our olive oil?  In our kitchen we have a 17 kilo can of the stuff that was pressed in January from olives harvested just days before from one of our friend’s groves.

If I need some thyme, oregano or maratho (anise-flavored dill-like fronds of a fennel plant), I step outside our back door and pick them from the wild fields that are our yard. 

Of course, this abundance is the ultimate inspiration for creating and testing recipes for our new book on the  Mediterranean Diet.  Today’s
concoction was a very simple stir-fry. We had this for lunch, but you could whip it up in your own kitchen as a great side dish for dinner tonight!

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Red Pepper and Onion Stir-fry

Serves 1 as
a main dish, or 2 as a
side.



2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
2 small red onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (more if you likely a spicy dish)
5 large black olives, such as kalamata
¼ cup crumbled Greek feta cheese

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over high heat.  Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring, until the vegetables just  begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Lower heat to medium and stir in the thyme,
salt and pepper.

2. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the  vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in vinegar and red pepper flakes, and then season to taste with additional salt and pepper if desired. 

3. Scoop everything onto a plate and sprinkle evenly with the feta and olives. Serve immediately or at room  temperature.

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Of course, we do have our “locavore” food sources at home in North America. What  are yours, and how do they inspire your cooking?

 
 
Like me, you are probably on the constant look-out for a new breakfast idea.  Cereals – even so-called “healthy” ones - get boring, We can only eat so many eggs so many ways and the thought of another liquid breakfast in the form a smoothie can sometimes make me, um, gag.

I want something that has everything: grab-and-go when I need the portability, low-sugar, good fiber, some protein, low-fat…too much to ask? Apparently.  So, I developed my own recipe for a tasty, hearty and healthy muffin, Mo’s Meusli Muffins.  These are everything I want, plus about 16% of the RDA for calcium.  Added bonus: my husband asks me to make them!
 
 
After planning, cooking and serving a relatively complex dinner last night for several guests, I want to take a break this evening with something a bit lighter as well as quick & easy. 

I pulled out our book, The 17-Day Diet: The Tasty Companion for ideas, and chose our Easy Chicken Parmesan, which has become a family favorite.

Easy Chicken Parmesan


INGREDIENTS
4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breast Halves
4 Egg Whites
4 tablespoons Water
½ cup Low-fat Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
¼ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup canned no-sugar-added Tomato Sauce (or use your own)
¼ cup shredded Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese

DIRECTIONS

1. Slice chicken breasts into 1" strips; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites and water just until they begin to foam; add chicken strips and mix to ensure all pieces are coated well with the egg white mixture.
3. In a large sealable bag, mix together parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
4. Place coated chicken pieces in bag and shake to coat well and evenly. Place coated chicken pieces on a rack and let sit for 10 minutes.
5. Preheat broiler to High.
6. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and fry 1/2 of the chicken pieces until crispy and cooked through. Be sure not to crowd chicken pieces – you want them to brown evenly and not steam. Place cooked chicken in an oven-proof baking dish in a single layer; repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and chicken pieces. 
7. Pour tomato sauce over cooked chicken and sprinkle evenly with mozzarella cheese.
8. Broil until sauce is heated through and mozzarella cheese melts. Serve immediately accompanied by a green salad.

Servings per Recipe: 4

Calories per Serving: 300
17-Day Diet Allowances per Serving: freebie vegetable, freebie protein, ½ healthy fat
 
 
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When the topic of vitamins comes up in any conversation, My H is quick to state that I must have “the most expensive pee in the world.”  Most every day I gulp down an “alphabet’s” worth of supplements that from my stock that fills a full shelf in our pantry: B12, C, Calcium, Calms Forte™, Chromium Picolinate, D, Evening Primrose Oil, Kudzo, L-Carnitine, L-Glutamine, Magnesium, Omega 3-6-9, Resveratrol…you get the picture. 

But I am not the only one: the global market for vitamins and minerals is expected to grow to US $30 billion in 2015*, most of that in North America.  According to ABC News, about half of all Americans take vitamins every day. 

I do not want to live forever.

 
 
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My Husband ("My H") does not like kale.  I do not think it would be much of a stretch to say that a lot of people don't like kale.  But I do. And kale is a nutritional powerhouse, with loads of Vitamins A, B6 and C with calcium, fiber, iron and potassium and only 36 calories per serving (1 cup cooked).

So, while researching ingredients for my forthcoming book, The Mediterranean Diet: The Tasty Companion (scheduled to be published this Summer), I came across a great recipe for a kale salad in  Meals that Heal Inflammation by Julie Daniluk.  Although not a traditional "Med" dish, the recipe was full of Mediterranean ingredients, so the kale is punched up with flavor.  I revised the recipe a bit to make it a hot side dish and...my husband loved it!

A microplane is a great tool for grating the lemon peel and the garlic. You will also need a pot with a steamer basket (or colander) and a lid.

Makes 4 servings

Mo's "Med" Kale
• 1 large bunch Kale, rinsed well and stems removed
• finely grated peel and juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• 1/4  cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
• 1 tablespoon minced red onion
• 1 clove garlic, grated (ideally using microplane, but you can also use the small holes on a box grater)

1. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil over high heat in the pot with steamer basket.  Place kale in steamer basket, cover and steam until wilted and quite soft, about 10 minutes.

2. While kale is steaming, make dressing by mixing remaining ingredients well in a large serving bowl.

3. Remove kale from steamer and place in serving bowl with dressing.  Mix ingredients together well and taste.  Adjust seasoning as desired.  Serve immediately.

If you want something a bit spicy, you could add 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the dressing.

Let me know what you think!