On Trends: Charcoal Toothpaste

Charcoal sure is getting quite the attention these days. It seems that this granulated, activated, ashy celebrity has stolen the spotlight. Instagram posts are covered with picture-worthy activated charcoal-containing foods, such as black scoops of ice-cream atop waffle cones, and seeded black hamburger buns on either side of a beef patty. This ‘coconut ash’ has also been praised to bind toxic drugs and chemicals in the body due to its negative charge, thus pulling out toxins before the stomach can digest them. (Someone has yet to start an all-charcoal diet.) For similar reasons, bits of charcoal are also being integrated into beauty products in the effort to bind dirt and oils, and I’ve seen humans who look like panda bears, mid-exfoliation. Pretty cute. And don’t think I didn’t consider for a moment the use of charcoal sticks in lieu of a water filtration system. In a crazed effort to eliminate plastic use completely while not being open to drinking unfiltered water, I myself fell down a charcoal-obsessed rabbit hole internet search. Drop a stick of charcoal in a jug of water, wait a few hours, and voila! Perfectly delicious drinking water advertised. While I have nothing at all to say about any of these aforementioned things, except maybe to note that charcoal ice cream temporarily stains your teeth the same color as the pint, I do have a few things to say when it comes to this much celebrated charcoal entering our toothpaste.

Why Put Charcoal in Toothpaste?

Have you seen videos of people brushing their teeth with black globs of sticky stuff and wondered to yourself, “Why put charcoal in toothpaste?” Especially after divulging the fact that a first date may be complicated by stained teeth as a result of trying charcoal ice cream with a potential future life partner. Along the same lines of the previous train of thought that activated charcoal can bind to things due to its micro-porous nature, it seems that some are of the mind that it can also bind plaque and bacteria and tartar. There is the added benefit of whiter teeth, as well. So, why don’t we dig deeper about these two topics?

Does Charcoal Like Bacteria?

Not any more than we do! Activated charcoal is porous in nature. The thinking behind removing bacteria with activated charcoal is that plaque and micro-organisms will be caught in the pores of the charcoal particles, and thus be removed. Possible, but it seems that it does this at a similar rate as regular old toothpaste would. So, no, there is no special binding relationship between the new celeb and our bacteria.

Does Charcoal Toothpaste Detoxify?

There isn’t much to say about the detoxifying nature of charcoal toothpaste that so many people claim. The gums and teeth are not at all similar to your liver and kidneys, which take on the job of clearing your body of toxins. Because of this, the charcoal is not exactly detoxifying your body of anything. Of the same token, for those who are using charcoal toothpaste and are concerned about the charcoal affecting your current medications, rest assured that the charcoal is not in contact with the medications in your digestive tract and therefore has no effect. Unless, off course, you are swallowing the toothpaste rather than spitting it out.

Does Charcoal Actually Make Teeth Whiter?

The simple answer is, “Yes it does”. Bizarre, that you can brush with black to make them white! Charcoal is effective in removing surface stains, which isn’t exactly equated to whitening teeth. Surface stains are extrinsic staining on the teeth due to a coffee drinking habit, or the occasional red wine indulgence. These stains reside on the enamel layer which happens to also be the outermost layer of your tooth. Typically, other ‘whitening’ toothpastes remove these stains as well.

However, your teeth can also have intrinsic stains, either caused by trauma, certain medications, weak enamel, or excess fluoride use. These intrinsic stains can not be removed by toothpaste, with or without charcoal, primarily because the toothpaste will never reach these stains. Whitening of intrinsic staining can only occur from bleaching treatments (whether that’s in-office or over-the-counter) that penetrate past the enamel. But if you wish to use charcoal toothpaste to help reduce stains due to a cold brew habit, then charcoal toothpaste will suffice.

Should We Be Wary of Charcoal Toothpaste?

Unfortunately, charcoal is abrasive. Part of what makes it so good at removing extrinsic stains is the fact that it is rough and can rub off discolorations that are stuck in the pores of your teeth (teeth are porous too!). However, the concern is that charcoal acts like sand paper. Anyone who has consumed or brushed with charcoal will know the grainy feeling it leaves in your mouth. Like sandpaper, repetitive use of the stuff can abrade parts of the outer enamel layer. The enamel is the strongest part of our bodies (stronger than bone!) and our teeth need it as protection. Removal of the enamel layer will weaken the tooth and cause hypersensitivity. You know those ‘Zings’ you feel after a tooth whitening session? Well imagine a permanent version of that, if the enamel is removed. Yikes! Ironically, too, the removal of enamel makes the teeth even more prone to staining for future years to come. Enamel is definitely something we want to protect. If you are planning on using charcoal toothpaste, then consider brushing lightly and gently.

Also, before you declutter your regular toothpaste, may I suggest alternating your charcoal toothpaste with the regular one? Who knows? Like all trends, charcoal coolness may fade, and you may be reaching for your trusty familiar toothpaste brand, once again. At the very least, the alternation will help reduce abrasion to your beautiful, pearly whites. Plus, most charcoal toothpastes do not have fluoride, a good protector of teeth. Fluoride is what helps fight dental decay, and as much as we want white teeth, I am sure you would agree that we want to KEEP our teeth even more. Since charcoal is a recent celebrity, it is too early to tell what charcoal is really about. Better to wait until the tabloids (and research) unearth its true qualities before we fall head over heels for this new star.

Vegetable Dumplings

The quest for hunger-satisfying meat alternatives progresses as we trudge on through this vegetarian challenge. It has been two and a half weeks, not without relapses. I admit to taking the path of least resistance when I was offered a slice of pepperoni pizza at work, and the chicken empanada did not help either. Although neither I nor my husband foresee a long lasting meatless dining adventure, we have decidedly enjoyed discovering new vegetarian recipes together over the course of the past few weeks.

One such scenario where I miserably failed at resisting temptation was when we went out to our favorite ramen place for lunch. The bowl comes with chashu, and though I gave almost half of it to Mike, I still happily digested the first half before deciding that it was enough. I was brainstorming of alternatives to chashu meat, without getting the vegetarian bowl, when I came across this idea: Chashu donations to lucky Mike, and I will simply order a side of vegetarian dumplings to eat with my ramen. Which then had me thinking about vegetarian dumplings, the makings of which could not wait until the next ramen date. So I embarked on a journey to make my own.

Aligned with my practice of avoiding plastic like the plague at the grocery store, I have given up frozen foods for over a year now, amongst other things. Which also means passing up on extremely convenient, pre-made dumpling wrappers that my mother used to get when I was a child. I had to make these dumplings from scratch. Considering my new baking habit, it wasn’t all that foreign to me to make dumplings using flour and water. Off course, one could go the convenient route, but with Mother Nature in mind, I decided to make this recipe in the kindest I knew how.

The Ingredients

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Fresh Dumpling Wrappers

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup boiling water
Dumpling Filling:
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 peeled and minced garlic clove
  • 3 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1½ cups chopped green onion
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • sesame oil for frying
  • salt and pepper to taste

The Process:

 

  1. While the water is boiling, mix the salt and flour in a bowl. Add the water, and using a stand mixer with a ceramic paddle attachment, mix the water into the flour. It will still be crumbly when you switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough for 7-8 minutes. After kneading the dough, cut the dough in half. Make each half into a round bagel shape but forming it into a ball and then using both thumbs to push a hole through the center. Allow the bagel rounds to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
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  2. Meanwhile, cut up all the veggies. Once everything is chopped, heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add cabbage, ginger, and garlic. Stir fry over medium-low heat until cabbage has wilted. Add mushrooms, green onions and carrots, and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil to your taste. I typically don’t even add salt and pepper, but you can.
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  3. At this time, the dough should be ready. Using a tortilla press, I shape the dough into small rounds. I then make the dough even thinner using a rolling pin, compressing the dough into a very thin, flat disk. Depending on the consistency of the dumplings that you prefer, you can go as thick or thin as you want. Typically, if I am going to fry the dumplings, I go for a thinner wrapper. If I am going to steam the dumplings, I like a thicker piece.
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  4. Place a scoop of the vegetable mixture in the center of the dough wrapper, and then fold the dough in half. Wet one edge with water, and then fold the other edge over and over again to create the dumpling design.
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  5. You can immediately cook them, but I prefer to lay them out on a tray and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, you can package them in a Tupperware and they can stay frozen for up to a few months.
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When we want to cook them, we just toss them on a hot frying pan, or steam them while the rice is cooking in the rice cooker. This time around, we decided to eat them with a bowl of hot ramen, summer nights notwithstanding.

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Property Ownership: It’s Not About Finding Your Dream Home

I think back to just a few weeks ago when we were considering buying a loft in our neighborhood and we had come across an over-priced turkey. I think, in our minds, we saw a loft we have been dreaming of, but in our hearts, we knew there was something wrong with the big picture. The main problem was that the price the seller was asking for did not match the perceived value that we had of the loft. Luckily, signs of an uncooperative seller really pushed us away and his personality became an additional factor that made us hesitate for a moment. That moment was enough.

I remember how it happened very vividly. It was a pivotal moment in our house buying venture. We had exactly three days to respond to the seller’s counter-offer … if you could call it that. We received it on a Friday and Mike and I decided to go do something we hardly do, which was to dine out. We went down the street to a chicken and waffle stand called Bruxies to talk about the pros and cons. We both were dancing around the question of, “Do we let this go or do we just bite the bullet and sacrifice a huge expense in order to get this space?” Deep down, we both knew that it wasn’t worth the cost. But we were fearful, too. Of missing out on an opportunity. Of missing out on this imagined dream.

It turns out that all of this was a blessing in disguise. As we were sitting there that summer evening, waiting for our trays of fried food to be delivered to us, I remember casually turning on my phone and searching Zillow. It was a thing I’ve done the last year and a half or so, and I’ve probably memorized nearly every listing on the market. I just liked to see what was out there, out of curiosity. On that particular day, we were primed to buy a place. On that particular day, we were determined not to be duped of our money. On that particular day, we were in a specific headspace or state of emotions. On that particular day, a loft was added to the listings.

It was actually the first property that showed up on my feed, which meant that it was the most recent addition. Or, well, re-addition I should say. I knew exactly where the loft was located, and I knew what it was listed for before. There was a $20,000 price reduction. The loft was selling for under $500,000, which, if you live outside of California and New York, you probably would not understand how great of a deal this was. My obsessive habit of scrolling through Zillow has paid off! I knew right away that those lofts were selling for a bit more than the listing price. I showed Mike, and in an instant, I think we both knew the answer. Though we didn’t say it out loud, there was a hint of a spark, maybe from some neurons firing in our brains or a shooting star over our heads or whatever, that told us this could be the one.

After that moment, we couldn’t stay close-minded anymore about the property we were going to buy when we realized there were better opportunities. The main reason why we wanted the loft in our current neighborhood was because we had already lived here. We were comfortable, we knew the pros and cons. We knew the floor plans and the neighbors. We knew the HOA people and the surrounding businesses. But it does not mean that it was the best option. The minute you get comfortable, you start to close off doors to other opportunities. Practicing the art of purposefully seeking discomfort in life, it makes sense that we went with this other loft. We had texted our real estate agent and within minutes , we had an appointment to view the other loft the next day. The loft that we ended up getting. By refusing to entertain the grossly priced loft in our immediate neighborhood, we found a loft that checked off a lot more.

  • Location: The loft we found was in the heart of downtown. Originally, we were hesitant to even consider these lofts because of the location. But once we opened up to the idea, the location ended up being its best feature. We initially feared being located in the heart of downtown, where there would be potential noise from concerts on weekends, or busy sidewalks and traffic during the day. But once we got over that, we realized that this location had more pros than we thought. Walk outside and there are many restaurants, bars, and coffee shops to go to. We would be one block away from the farmer’s market, three blocks away from one of my work offices, and within a few blocks from the courthouse, the library, the post office, and many other governmental offices.  It is one block from Main Street and located on 3rd Street, so that if and when we do decide to open our own business downstairs, we would get decent foot traffic. But best of all, the loft we ended up with was next door to one of our close friends! As in, we share a wall. As in, the exact friend whose housewarming party we went to three years ago and whose loft inspired us to live in a loft of our own.
  • Style: The style we were looking for was a live/work loft. I would admit that it doesn’t look nearly as industrial as the one we currently live in, but it definitely has the vibe of something more than just a traditional home. Vaulted ceilings, large windows, cement floors, metal railing, and exposed vents. We can always add additional industrial touches at a later date.
  • Price: The asking price for this loft was incredibly cheaper. As I calculated in the previous post How to Decide if Property Ownership is a Good Financial Decision for You, the equivalent of our current monthly rent would be a property that is less than $520,000. The loft we bought was actually originally listed at $520,000! But after a previous potential buyer changed their mind, the seller lowered the costs down to $499,000. That weekend, we placed an offer for their asking price, which is $150,000 cheaper than if we went with that fake seller. Since I have been studying the market for over a year, I knew right away when this came on the listings that the price was fair. Our appraisal came back at $505,000, so we were very happy with the one we chose.
  • Commercially Zoned Space: The loft is already commercially zoned for business! Just thinking ahead to our future dream of starting a business that’s our own gives me the shivers.
  • No Immediate Renovations Needed: Unlike the first loft we were considering, the bottom floor in this loft is already partitioned with it’s own full bathroom. Which allows our roomie to stay with us. Plus, the loft requires no immediate renovations. The inspection report came back with minor tweaks, but we can move in once escrow closes and assume our day to day without a hitch.

All of this to say that persistence and patience pays off. That fear of a new adventure should be stifled almost immediately. That comfort will lead you to over-priced turkeys and closed doors. That curiosity can lead to wonderful new paths. That sometimes, it’s not about what you plan for, what you prepare for, or what you dream of, but rather, what life gives you, and whether or not you choose to take it by the reigns and just go with the flow. That it is not about finding a dream home, but instead, finding a home that will get you to your dream life.

Play Pretend: A New Bathroom

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

As thirty days of escrow continue to creep on by, I can’t help but daydream about all the fun we are going to have in our new place. Off course, not all at once and definitely not right away. Buying a home doesn’t completely absolve us of all other responsibilities! No, we’ll be making the home feel more like OUR home at a s-l-o-w pace, as if that wasn’t already expected. No need to rush in, all foolhardy. But for now, a girl can dream.

Currently, the obsession lies with the bathroom, specifically the one upstairs. It will likely be the first room that we plan a renovation for, with the hopes of tackling it sometime next year.  Why not right away? Because we believe in YNAB budgeting and maintaining a healthy balance between student loans and property ownership. Because we recognize that renovating any space is a WANT and not a NEED. Because sometimes, you just have to live with the selections of the previous homeowner, and still be grateful there’s a roof over your head, you know? Not in dire need of anything at all, the reno can wait, but my thoughts have a mind of their own. In an effort to source things ethically, here are a few products that I am playing pretend with. All products are either Fair Trade Certified, organically made, solutions for sustainable living, or have a social impact in third world countries. Some of them check off more than one box, too.

+ For clean butts and minimalist stylesTushy Bidet – I’ve written about a history of not using toilet paper until I was in my teens, here. Plus, friends rave about bidet living and I am pretty much ready to go back to a zero toilet paper life. For now, Who Gives A Crap has my back. But I still dream of a bidet for the sake of reducing my carbon buttprint. The US spends $6 billion on toilet paper alone. That crap is unsustainable. Additionally, in an effort to fight the Global Sanitation Crisis, Tushy has partnered with Samagra and has helped provide clean latrines for over 10,000 families. If you’re interested too, get 25% OFF all original Tushy bidets here! Plus, get Tushy towels for ONLY $5 with the purchase of any bidet. Ends 9/30.

+ For drying off after five-minute showersCoyuchi Towels – Fair Trade Certified and GOTS certified, these are loomed in India using organic cotton. For a no frills towel, I am looking at these guys, specifically in the slate color.

+ For keeping puddles off the floorCoyuchi Rug – A matching mosaic canyon bath rug, off course! Organic cotton and hand-woven, also in Slate. Why this infatuation with Coyuchi? Let me count the ways

+ For vanity above the vanitiesThe Citizenry Provdencia Mirror  –  Two matching mirrors over the vanity sinks. You’ve likely heard about The Citizenry by now, but these mirrors hold a special place in my heart. These mirrors were designed by Cristobal and Valentine, a husband and wife duo that lives in Santiago, Chile, and did you know that I, too, lived in Santiago, Chile for a bit? Citizenry gives people access to a market that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and in a fair trade working environment, these mirrors brought together multiple artisans from multiple backgrounds, such as glass, stone-cutting, and wood working. I want to support people from the city I once lived.

+ For the clothes that served usThe Citizenry Hamper – Hand–crafted from locally sourced palm leaves by master artisans in Guerrero, Mexico. Each basket takes three days to complete, from start to finish in a fair trade working environment.

+ To cover up – Ty Shower Curtain – A simple recyclable shower curtain made of #2 plastic material. Unlike other vinyl showers, it does not off-gas and it breathes, making it less likely to grow mildew or mold. Ty is made of 100% HDPE, one of the most common recyclable plastics and is PVC free. At the end of Ty’s life, you may recycle it locally or send it back to Grain to do the recycling. For the artistic, they also sell a customizable version here.

How about you? Any sustainable bathroom faves?

Travel: Places To Eat in Calgary and Banff

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

On our first visit to Canada, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. On top of extremely hospitable people, we were surprised at how low key the every-day seemed to be. Used to the rush of daily living in California, a visit to Calgary showed us that city life could be slow, too. The openness of the people we met was also a surprise, one that I was not accustomed to, but that I was also very in love with. Calgary, to me, was a bit sleepy though, and if I could have a do-over, I would have gone straight to Banff, because I can never have enough time in the wild. Banff was everything the pictures showed us, and even more. We were actually surprised to rate Banff as an equivalent to our beloved New Zealand. We will definitely be returning here again to explore more of the sights we haven’t seen (with the hopes of encountering bears and moose and the like).


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Not worth the time.

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Good, but ordinary.

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Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Alforno Bakery and Cafe

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♦♦♦♦
222 7 ST SW
CALGARY, AB T2P 0E4, CANADA
$$

Always in search of bread, Alforno Bakery and Cafe has been on my radar since we first set eyes on visiting Calgary. It was a rainy morning on our first day, but we chose to walk a mile along the river anyway to the cafe shop. The bread was absolutely delicious! The baguette was amazing, not at all what I expected. The outside was crisp and light, not the typically heavy crust that you would expect. The inside though was extremely soft. My husband had a sandwich on toast and his bread was great too. I definitely would go back! They had so many sandwiches on the menu that I wanted to try, and loaves of bread on the shelves. Can we open one in SoCal?

Analog Coffee

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♦♦♦
740 17 AVE SW
CALGARY, AB T2S 0B7, CANADA
$

As a Californian, a summer in Calgary was cold for me. Add to that a bit of moody drizzle, and it wasn’t long before our quest for fresh-out-of-the-oven bread became a quest for coffee. We swung by a large food court area where Analog coffee was housed, got two lattes, sat down, and watched the World Cup with fellow Canadians taking a lunch break from their work day. It WAS a Tuesday, after all! It’s always hard to judge coffee in a latte, so I am not even going to try. I liked the drink, worth coming back to try the actual coffee. But on this particular dreary day, I wanted the comforts of a mug full of milk.

Tuk Tuk Thai

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♦♦
636 17 AVE SW
CALGARY, AB T2S 0B4, CANADA
$

Tuk Tuk Thai was rated as one of the best cheap eats in Calgary. It may be that we were extremely tired from walking ten miles in the city, but we found the food to be okay. It was good, but definitely not even close to being memorable. In fact, the pad thai was a bit bland, and the beef was doused in a vinaigrette. I do give them props for their lotus flower paper bowls, and extremely eco-conscious restaurant though!

Wild Flour Bakery

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♦♦♦♦
211 BEAR ST #101
BANFF, AB, CANADA
$

Off course, we had to stop by the highest rated bakery in little old Banff. I loved it so much that we actually ate breakfast there TWICE! This was the very first stop we made since we had driven up to Banff in the morning. Once you walk into the place, you knew that this was a place for gathering with a group of friends over hot bowls of soup, warm sandwiches and coffee. That morning, we ordered coffee and two panini sandwiches, perfect for our hungry stomachs after an hour drive.  Interested in the bread loaves sitting on the shelves, we took one home for our peanut butter lunches during the hikes. They always say that you know the bread is REAL when it only lasts 2-3 days. It bothers me to see bread on shelves lasting more than a week, and I shudder thinking about how much preservatives we put in our food. This definitely passed the test. Since we were only in Banff for three days, it hardened up right when we were finishing the loaf. Just the way our home made bread lasts! We returned on our final day here, interested in the warm porridge that we had seen the first morning we came, but we mistakenly ordered granola instead, which was actually a blessing in disguise because I remade this exact same granola and ate it every day during our first week back from our trip. It was so delicious! Next time though, I’m going to definitely get my hands on that steamy bowl of porridge. Between this and Al Forno, it is evident that this is not the typical commercialized bread that you would normally buy. This bakery focuses on making really nourishing bread. They use only organic flours, natural starters, and bake in a stone heart oven for that beautiful crust. They are a kindred spirit, and their passion for leavening is apparent in their product.

Banff Ave. Brewing Co.

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♦♦
110 BANFF AVE
BANFF, AB T1L 1A9, CANADA
$$

After a day of hiking, we thought we wanted to eat bar food on our first night in Banff. Turns out, a day of hiking followed by bar food only makes you groggier and sloth-like. The food was very typical, with my fish and chips and fries taking similar to one I would order at a diner back home. The view though was great, since the balcony of the bar looks down on the main street. Lots of people watching opportunities, followed by an early night in.

Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

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♦♦♦♦
TO GET HERE, YOU MUST HIKE THE PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS
$$

This was by far, my favorite eating experience on our trip. Getting to this teahouse means hiking up the Plain of 6 Glaciers Trail. After trekking through flat land, icy mountain slopes, and gravelly dirt paths for four miles, reaching this teahouse two thirds of the way up was just extreme paradise. To this day, they carry all their supplies up and down the mountain via donkey or in backpacks. It was summer, but still cool enough to drink tea, so I cannot imagine how heavenly this must feel after a trek in early spring or late fall. They housed a lot of tea options from Banff Tea Co. and Mike and I loved ours so much that we visited Banff Tea Co. in downtown Banff and got some tea to take home for our house and as a gift for my sister’s upcoming birthday. Mike got some homemade tea biscuits (more bread!) that was extremely delicious! Meanwhile, I was resisting the urge to get a slab of chocolate cake, until the picnic table next door ordered one of their own and I caved. It came cool, moist, and with a generous dollop of chocolate icing on top. Absolutely no regrets. This to me was almost as cool as the hike itself. I think just being out in nature and stripped from things we take for granted make reaching places such as this a great opportunity for finding gratitude in something as simple as a slab of chocolate cake.

Nourish Bistro

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♦♦♦♦
110-211 BEAR ST
BANFF AB T1L 1B4
$$

This was by far the BEST restaurant we ate at. We learned our lesson after the first night of bar food. This place was SO good that we actually ate here two dinners in a row. It is a vegatarian oasis, serving a number of different cuisines. They support local farms and you can absolutely tell in their fresh farm to table food! Elegant, GMO free, Organic, Gluten Free, Raw, Local, Seasonal, Compassionate, + Green. They even take their sustainability to the bar, serving organic cocktails as well as house juices, elixirs, smoothies and locally crafted teas. If that was not enough, the food itself was extremely creative! I mean, the loaded nachos had everything from strawberries and mandarins to beans, quinoa and lentils. The roasted cauliflower is also pictured above. Not pictured but worth mentioning are the King Kong Noodles and the Mac and Squeeze. I think when we go back to Banff, this would be the first place we visit.

Other places worth visiting:

 

Cocofloss: Join the Party!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Much to the bereavement of all of society, flossing is absolutely necessary and cannot be replaced by things such as water-flossers or, say, prayers. All at once now, *collective sigh*. I get it. But there is a new hero in town, one that’s got me (and soon enough, you, too) cheering. I would like to introduce you to a new best friend and awesome travel partner, Cocofloss!

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It would be difficult to argue against the fact that  the hardest part about flossing is the motivation to actually do it. Cocofloss is a creative solution to making flossing (dare we say it?) an inspiring act looked forward to by all. Imagined and brought to life by two sisters, Chrystle and Cat, Cocofloss is all the right sorts of trendy. Chrystle is a dentist and is a flossing-pro. Cat is an artist and a bit more lazier on the flossing front. But together, they make a dynamic duo, saving the world, one tooth at a time.

Cocofloss is not just string in a box. It’s an experience, and I challenge you not to become completely enamored and transformed into a flossing fanatic once you’ve tried it out. Does it sound like I’m a crazed dentist? Maybe a little. I still dare you to try it! Scented with different fruity aromas, flossing transports you elsewhere. A sandy beach at the Caribbean, perhaps? The four standard flavors include Fresh Coconut, Cara Cara Orange, Pure Strawberries, and Delicious Mint. Currently, there is the seasonal Summer Watermelon flavor for post-BBQ hangouts. Once you open the box, delicious scents waft to your nose. Try not to get addicted!

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Now it isn’t just all fun and games. There’s lot to love on the dental front too. Firstly, the string is blue. That isn’t just to make it engaging to look at. The blue string actually makes the plaque that you remove visible. There is a sort of satisfaction in seeing the plaque that you are actively prohibiting from staying in your mouth. Crazed dentist, indeed! Take THAT, plaque!

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Advertised as a loofah for your smile, there is another feature that I absolutely love. The floss is made of multiple, soft, polyester filaments and is coated in vegan wax. The waxy material is easy to glide in between tight contacts. Once you pass the floss through the contact, the fibers seem to spread. In other words, they poof out ever so slightly, filling that gap underneath the contact and covering more surface area while massaging the gums. At the same time, the fibers are very gentle which protects the gums from trauma. Plus, we all know there is strength in numbers! The fibers are even strong enough to remove chunks of calculus and tartar! Off course, there’s a technique for that. For the non-queasy, here’s a video. Viewer discretion advised.

Also, remember how you floss vigorously before your six-month cleaning because you suddenly remembered that flossing was important? Don’t you deny it! Heaven forbid the dentist ever notice. As much as I love holding you accountable for flossing, Cocofloss can do that for you too. Each container has an indicator for how long the floss should last you. The regular packages are a two month’s supply. Once two months are up, you should be finished with your flossing container. If the indicator is not motivation enough, sign up for the six month plan on their website to make sure you are on track between dental visits. Under the six month plan, Cocofloss will ship you a new flavor of your choice every two months, for a total of three flavors, over the course of six months. If you receive your new Cocofloss before you have finished the old one, then maybe that’s an indication that you’ve skipped a day or two (or three or four).

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Lastly, the floss is infused with coconut oil. Which I think is a cool concept, especially considering all the rave about the benefits of oil pulling. However, I would not necessarily say that the coconut oil does much of anything, considering the amount of time it’s in contact with the teeth. Remember that oil pulling requires you to swish coconut oil around your mouth for 20 – 30 minutes! You only floss for a few minutes. The floss itself does a majority of the heavy lifting, but if coconut oil grooves with you, and it gets you to floss, then there you go!

Two things worth noting that could be improved. The floss is housed in a plastic container, although I would like to note that it is advertised as vegan, animal cruelty-free, and is a completely recyclable product. But still, more plastic being circulated around the world. I’m as crazy about plastic packaging as I am about teeth (maybe even more) so for that, I apologize. And secondly, it does come at a bit higher price than other floss. You can find these babies at $8 a piece, although if you buy a package of 3 or more, you will receive a discount. Regardless, if it is the only thing that’ll get you to want to floss every day, I say it’s worth it. Preventative care is the number one most important thing for oral health, and the fact exists that, for most people, flossing just ain’t fun. Cocofloss tries to bridge that gap. We need to make preventative oral health care cool, just like we made smoking cigarettes uncool. Consider it a changing of times, if you will.

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If you’d like to give Cocofloss a try, ordering is easy! This product lines the shelves of Sephora, Nordstrom, and Urban Outfitters, but you can also order here, from the comforts of your home. I have personally tried all five flavors, and I’ve got to tell you that Pure Strawberries is my absolute favorite. Reminds me of farmers markets and strawberry shortcakes! I recommend this product to all my patients, especially kids and younger teens who have yet to develop a flossing habit. Challenge them (or yourself) to floss for 21 days straight (the number of days it takes to form a habit). Let’s introduce a new flossophy to younger generations by teaching them that flossing is actually cool.

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Property Ownership: The 45% Rule in Mortgage Lending + IBR’s Saving Grace

So I know that we WERE in the process of refinancing our student loans in the Spring, which we announced on zee blog prior to an Oregon trip. Now that we are returning to Oregon once again in a week, I wanted to say that we STILL have yet to finalize the refinancing. And no, we did not wuss out. Don’t fret, refinance is still in our near future plans. If anything, we manned up a bit more. How? It was at that time that we decided to tackle property ownership as well! So why did refinancing have to be put on hold?

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There were two moving parts that we were balancing at the same time. Firstly, we decided that we can tackle student debt quicker by refinancing to a lower rate than our current 6.7%. Secondly, we also agreed that a sure heck of a lot of money was going towards rent, and then disappearing into thin air. After much consideration, we decided that tackling property ownership was yet another financial challenge we wanted to pursue.

Here’s the catch. Both actions would affect the results of the other.

The 40% Rule and the 45% Rule in House Buying

The general rule with mortgages is that lenders will want to see that your property’s monthly mortgage payments do not exceed 40% of your monthly gross income. For example, if you’re monthly take home pay was $5,000 a month, then the monthly mortgage cannot exceed $2,000. Which is fine, because we chose a home that would be a close equivalent to what we were already paying for in rent, and it is nowhere near 40% of our monthly gross income.

The problem lies in the second general rule. General rule number two states that your monthly housing expense and monthly repayment of non-housing debts, can total up to, but generally be no more than, 45%. By non-housing debts, I mean car payments, credit card payments, and yes, student loans. Uh-oh! Do you remember when I told you that 100% of my income was going towards paying down student loans? How in the world were we able to get a mortgage loan with a rule like this? Well, IBR is our saving grace.

IBR is a Saving Grace

When you are under the IBR program and are applying for a mortgage, they consider only your minimum monthly payment, which is a small percentage of your income. This is regardless of whether you are funneling more than the minimal payment towards the loans in hopes to reach financial freedom faster, or not. So buying a property while under IBR is “easy”! Because no one assumes that you would be crazy enough to pay down your student loans, when you can wait for loan forgiveness instead.

If we had refinanced prior to getting a property, the monthly payment of the refinanced loan would be $5,500/month. When you add that towards the monthly mortgage payments, then we get very close to exceeding the 45% rule. Even though we would still fit the rule, the tightness in the budget does not allow enough breathing room for emergencies, or whatever life chooses to throw our way. We all know I need breathing room! And once you refinance, there is no turning back. IBR is lost for good. There goes your saving grace.

So refinancing would have likely swept away all hopes of property ownership in the upcoming few years. Which means more money spent on rent and not funneled towards building wealth. Now you can see why we had to put our refinance on hold. We do not wish to refinance until after we close escrow on a property. Refinancing student loans first would have put us much farther behind on our financial goal of owning property. But buying a home first does not put us much farther behind on our financial goal of paying down student debt.

Mortgage’s Effects on Refinancing

Unfortunately, there ARE effects of a mortgage on student loan refinancing. Owning a property can affect the refinanced loan rate of the student loan. Since the loan company will now see that we have a mortgage to pay on top of the student loans, they may apply a higher loan rate to our refinanced loan than the originally quoted 5.5%. But the chances of refinancing at a rate lower than 6.7% is still present! Now in our particular case, a student loan company may think that $500,000 in student debt is crazy. They may not trust in our ability to pay them back in ten years, on top of having a home. And we don’t blame them. It is a scary thought, after all, and they know nothing about our personalities or financial story. So if a loan DOES deny refinancing the full $500,000, here is what you do. Refinance part of your loan. For example, get $250,000 refinanced at a lower rate. That seems more doable to the refinancing company. Then pay only the minimum amount towards the refinanced loan, and funnel the rest into the loan at 6.7%. Why? You want to pay down the loan with the higher percentage first, since the interest rate will be charging you like crazy. Meanwhile, you’ve cut part of the interest that you would be paying under IBR. As the numbers dwindle, consider refinancing again in the future, this time the loan in its entirety. Since we still plan to keep up with our $6,500 payments per month towards student debt, a lowered interest rate will help us out, no matter what. If they do not approve the loan in its entirety, we take baby steps. Even if only a portion of the loan is refinanced, it still doesn’t deter us or set us back from our plan to be free from student debt in less than ten years!

In the end, our choices were this:

Refinance first, and have a very difficult time securing a mortgage.

OR

Pursue property ownership first, and refinance at a slightly higher rate, but still at a lower rate than the current loan.

As you can see, we went with the latter.

And I am pleased to say that we are almost there! Once we’ve secured the property portion of our game plan, we ARE going to refinance. And I will share with you guys THAT process as well!

 

Vegetarian Coconut Curry

We’ve kind of took it upon ourselves to create a frugal challenge that requires us to become vegetarian for a week. The progress report: Grocery bills have been less than $40 for two, sufficiently providing three meals per day, seven days a week. Frugal challenges for the win! As if this wasn’t enough, the past few weeks, I’ve indulged myself in an even bigger challenge, one spurred by a visiting 24-year old cousin from Virginia. Her recent visit divulged the fact that she has been pescatarian for two years, in an effort to be non-contributory to the food industry’s ways. I did give up beef one year ago, along similar lines of reasoning, but could not fathom giving up anything more (this fear driven by a love of bacon). But her youth and drive to make a difference was very inspiring. I have a lot of friends who have gone pescatarian. Additionally, I know of two people who gave up meat at 8 years old. If I could be whole-heartedly against plastic, why can’t it be the same of food? I bade farewell to my far-off cousin with the promises of at least trying it. Off course, I decided to time my first week of trials with this month’s frugal challenge of vegetarian meals for one week.

The results are two-fold. Extreme sadness and ill-conceived hunger at all times. Giving up chocolate was easier than this. It’s not like I haven’t gone vegetarian for a week before. It’s just that I’ve never done it knowing there’s possibly of a week (or lifetime) or pescatarianism after. On the other side, experimental recipes galore unleashes an innate happiness that only creation can.

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Before we grocery shop, we always write a list. Firstly, because I am type-A. Secondly, because I despise wasting time in uncertainty. And lastly, to avoid getting any unnecessary items. Especially junk food and snacks! So when we were brainstorming for a week of vegetarian dishes, it was Mike who suggested trying an Indian dish. Some may call us crazy for trying a curry in mid-summer heat, but I wasn’t mad about the results. Plus, any excuse to eat rice is welcomed in my culture.

We’ve made curry before, but usually in the fall and winter, filled with squashes and, well, meat. We decided to try something a little different, with more summery ingredients. This recipe contains a good blend of spices, including bold Cayenne pepper. There’s a kick with every spoonful, balanced by Jasmine rice. It does already contain potatoes though, so if you are bothered at all by endless starches, maybe skip the rice. It tastes just as well as a soup! The carrots was Mike’s addition, and the spinach was mine. As with everything, personalize it however way you wish with your own selection of greens. Our recipe, below:

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Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon crushed cayenne pepper 
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, and cubed
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut in 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 bunch of fresh spinach, washed and chopped

The Process:

  1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine the oil and tomatoes and simmer for four minutes. You don’t want to burn the tomatoes, but you do eventually want their juices to come out. The tomato paste will go a long way with this dish.
  2. Stir in the spices and cook for another 4 minutes.
  3. Add the water and potatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 10 minutes. It may be that you’d need to add more water. Don’t let the dish dry out.
  4. Add in the green beans, cover and cook 5-8 minutes more, or until potatoes are tender.
  5. Stir in the coconut milk and increase heat to medium. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the spinach and stir, allowing the spinach to wilt, about 15-30 seconds. I personally still like spinach looking vibrantly green. The color makes it taste better, or so I tell myself. Once the spinach is wilted, it is ready. Serve and enjoy!
  6. Optional: Globs of Jasmine Rice on the side, stray rice included.

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