December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas and see ya in the 2012

Posted by PEC

In true PEC fashion, we wanted to wish everyone a very merry christmas with a little music and a chalkboard....

In case it went too fast for you, here's the text:
"We are PEC and we like to go to the MAX in all that we do! And party like it's 1999! With chestnuts roasting on an open fire, we at PEC(...)wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!"

We like to go to the max and party like it's 1999?

We're not good at improvising.

Go easy on us.

But seriously, we love you all and thank you for your company during 2011. We're going to take a little christmas vacation, but will be back real soon. See you next year!

December 22, 2011

Vicariously Vegan: Hermit Cookies

Posted by Jenna

Happy Holidays everyone! Hermit cookies are one of my favorite Christmas cookies, so I was super excited to find an awesome vegan recipe for them. This recipe is adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (they have a ton of great vegan cook books and a really great check them out!) These cookies are really simple to make and oh so tasty. Hope you like them as much as I do!

Hermit Cookies

1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup strong black coffee, cooled
1/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2-1 cup raisins (depending on how many you want)
3/4 cup walnuts (optional)

Step 1: In a large bowl mix together the oil, coffee, molasses, and sugar. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Stir in the dry ingredients until they're almost combined, then fold in the raisins and walnuts until the dough is formed. 

Step 2: Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Step 3: After the dough is chilled, divide it in half and form it into 2 logs on the cookie sheet. Each log should be about 1/4 of an inch thick and about 3 inches apart from each other since they do spread a little while baking. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with the extra sugar.

Step 4: Bake the cookies for 24-26 minutes until the edges start to turn brown and the cookies feel slightly firm when pressed. They may also start to crack on top, which is totally fine. 

Step 5: Let the cookies cool for 15 minutes, then move them to the counter or a cutting board. Using a sharp knife slice the logs into individual cookies and let them cool completely.
Then eat them and enjoy!

At the end of the day this is all that was left!

December 20, 2011

Kraft Dinners and Christmas Gifts

Posted by Laura

The other day, I was chatting with one of my best friends, Marli*, about life and "success".  We daydreamed about being millionaires (ha!) and if that day ever came for either of us then we would still live life by the standards we do now. For example, she said that she would stay in her modest house, but re-do her kitchen. I said I would continue to shop at Goodwill and re-do roadside finds, even if I lived in a mansion. I think The Barenaked Ladies say it best..."If I had a million dollars, I wouldn't have to eat kraft dinner, but I would eat kraft dinner and just buy really fancy ketchup - dijon ketchup!":

The point that I'm trying to get at with this is that with Christmas upon us, people's anxiety tends to spike as their wallets lighten. The holidays are meant to be a time of being together, catching up with old friends or distant family, and remembering where we come from - whether it be our faith, family or friends that provide those little reminders of who we are. Okay, enough of me blabbing. Here are a few little tidbits to enjoy the holidays without breaking the bank:

Deliberately spend time with someone. In this day and age of emailing, texting and skyping, it is easy to drift away from good 'ol quality time.

My nephew Sawyer makes a mean pancake

Start a new tradition or partake in an old one. Like going into the woods, gathering greens, and making wreaths with friends. Thanks Alissa!

I made a wreath...with my own bare hands...from the
woods' greenery...true story

Give handmade gifts. This is not only incredibly personal, but easy on the wallet.

window from the woods

We at PEC encourage everyone to take a moment for yourself (like right now) and identify why you do the things you do around the holidays. For me, I've had to process why I give gifts. Is it because I want to be recognized? Is it because it is a tradition that I do without thinking about it? It it because I love the look on their face when they open it? Through different conversations and processing, I realized that giving gifts to people is a way of honoring them, and in a way inserting yourself into their daily life. For example, every time I see or use something around my home that someone gave me, I instantly think of that person. An apron from my husband's aunt...a spoon for our coffee beans from my brother...a pair of glass votives from Kristin. Every time I see these things I think of that person. That is what I love about gifts. Gifts don't need to be big, extravagant, expensive things. Just a little way of saying "hello". So I encourage everyone to stop, listen, and ponder during this season.

Have a very Merry Christmas :)

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Just kidding. I only put the little asterisk in so I could tell you that Marli and her husband McCabe own not one but two stellar coffee shops out in Fort Collins, CO named Mugs Coffee Lounge. Check them out if you're ever in The Fort.

December 18, 2011

How to Holidays: Rosemary Salt

Posted by Kristin

Well ladies and gents, we've officially got seven more whole days until the big day, so here's a quick gift idea that tastes as good as it looks: Rosemary Salt.  I first saw the idea of spice mixes as gifts on Pinterest and researched recipes for rosemary salt on a few different websites. The easy part is that there are only two ingredients. Yup, you guessed it: rosemary and salt.  Rosemary salt can be used in a number of different ways, but some of my favorites include using it as a rub on a roast (like pork tenderloin- yum!), grilled chicken or steak, and grilled veggies. This recipe makes enough to fill 3 small jelly jars.

To start, get some sea salt and make sure its in larger granuales, which it usually is. Then grab a handful of fresh or dried rosemary, preferably still on the stalk. If its already dried in a spice jar, thats fine too, it just won't be quite as fragrant and fresh.

All you need: Rosemary, sea salt, and a handy food processor (or a knife and cutting board).

Next, strip the rosemary leaves off the stalks by running your fingers down the stalk in the opposite direction that the leaves grew.  Throw the rosemary in a food processor and grind until its a fairly fine texture. If you don't have a food processor you can chop the rosemary by hand until its fairly fine. Watch out if the rosemary is dry. It flies everywhere when you chop it by hand! I used about 1/3 of a cup of fresh rosemary.

Then, add about 2/3 of a cup of sea salt to the blender. Blend util both the rosemary and salt are mixed thoroughly and the texture of the sea salt has been reduced into smaller granuales. The salt should still be fairly course thogh, not fine like table salt.

Ready to blend.

The final product.

I decided to use some small jelly jars I had for containers and to make some special labels for the tops. After all, accessories make an outfit, right? I printed a brief description of how to use the rosemary salt on some tan craft paper, trimming the edges so they fit in the round cover. Then, for an extra punch of color, I traced a round circle of red craft paper to go behind the typed label and glued the typed label to it.

Make sure you round the edges on the typed label so it fits snugly in the metal ring.

Finally, I poured the rosemary salt in the jar, inserted the label into the metal ring, popped the round metal disk behind the label, and screwed it on tight.  Enjoy!

A nice little gift ready to go!

December 16, 2011

How To Holidays: Make a Rice Heating Pad

Posted by Laura

I just love to cuddle up with a warm heating pad when I have achy muscles. Heating pads are so quick and easy to make, and they allow a lot of room for creativity/personalization. Here is a tutorial on one I made for my sister-in-law as a Christmas gift.

Rice Heating Pad

-Cotton Fabric, any size (I cut 2 pieces 10"x15" each)
-Rice (I used Jasmine Rice for the nutty scent)
-Dried Lavender
-Sewing Machine

For the Fabric;Silk, Flannel. For the Filler; Corn (make sure it's feed corn - this can be found at a store like Agway), Buckwheat, Flax Seeds. For the Scent; Essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus or peppermint (add to rice before filling).

Step 1 (optional): Dry the rice out. One problem with rice heating pads is that they can sometimes become damp in the microwave because rice retains moisture. Some people like the damp heating pad. I do not. I opted to dry the rice out by spreading it out on a cookie sheet and roasting it for approximately 30 minutes at 200 degrees.

Step 2: Sew the bag. Put both pieces of fabric together, wrong sides facing each other, and sew 3 sides (2 long and 1 short) with a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Cut the corners to make it less lumpy when turning right side out.

Step 3: Turn right side out and add sections. By sewing sections, you are limiting the space that the rice has to shift around in the bag.

Make sure you pick the right color thread for this part
since the thread will be showing.

Step 4: Mix rice with desired scent. I combined about 1/2 cup dried lavender to my rice.

Step 5: Fill the sections with rice. A funnel works well here.

Step 6: Stitch up the open end. Fold open end over twice, into itself, about 1/2" each fold. Iron into place, use pins to hold in place and sew seam.

All done!

December 14, 2011

How to Holidays: Cocktail Glass Votives

Posted by Kristin

Mission of Christmas 2010 (Mission 2010 from here on out): Make many of my Christmas gifts by hand on a budget. Specifically make some cute, personalized gifts for my friends.

Method of Mission 2010: Look for gift ideas on line. Review what materials I have on hand. Visit Goodwill for cheap materials. Try to make sense of a big pile of "stuff".

Result of Mission 2010: What I think turned out to be pretty cute, unique votive holders made out of small cocktail glasses, spray adhesive, fabric, glue, ribbon and sheet music.  Yup, I said sheet music.

Visual evidence of Mission 2010:

Version one, for my "S" friend

Version two, for my "H" friend

Mission 2010 Details:

1. Scope out the glassware shelves at Goodwill. Look for small, matching cocktail glasses that are large enough to hold a small candle or tea light. Do a happy dance when you score them for 25 cents a piece.

2. Figure out what colors and fabrics represent each of your friends. For example, my "S" friend likes a more feminine style so I used floral, green fabric layered over white tulle. Her husband is also a musician so I layered a strip of old sheet music over white linen. To put the final stamp on the votive, I cut out an "S" from the sheet music and placed it on the final strip of fabric. For my "H" friend, I knew she liked more subdued colors and natural materials, so brown ribbon, leaf-patterned fabric, and burlap seemed fitting for her.

That "H" used to belong to some cheesy, romantic ballad,
like "It Only Happens When I Dance with You" by Perry Como. 

3. Determine what order you want the various fabrics in and cut to size. Spray the votive with spray adhesive and wrap the first layer of fabric around the votive.  Continue with the next layer of fabric or other material, until all the layers are applied. Experience the annoying feeling of spray adhesive getting everywhere, like on your vintage, wooden dining room table, on your fingers, and in your hair as you try to get it out of your face. Kind of freak out when your fingers stick together and then realize you can slowly, gently pull them apart.

4. Once the fabric layers are applied with spray adhesive, finish it off with your letter of choice, light a candle inside and do another happy dance.  Vow to not make so many handmade gifts for Christmas 2011 because you totally over-committed yourself in 2010. In December 2011, realize that you've set out to make even more handmade gifts than in 2010. Hang your head in self-frustration. Do this for a minute and then get up and get moving because you have to keep making gifts.

This message will self destruct in seven seconds.

Just kidding.

The end.

I swear.

For real.

I mean....for realz, yo.

Ok now its over.

December 12, 2011

Fair Trade 101: Dean's Beans

Posted by Laura

I had the privilege of interviewing Dean from Dean's Beans Coffee [located in Orange, MA] about the future of fair trade. Dean is passionate (and I mean passionate!) about fair trade standards being upheld. He is also very transparent with his own standards, putting his fair trade audit right on his website. As a consumer, I caught on to Dean's advocacy about this subject and was intrigued to ask more questions. He was kind enough to help me understand it more.

What exactly does Fair Trade mean?
Fair trade was originally conceived in Europe in the mid 1980’s as an alternative to the international commodity trading system that kept farmers in poverty all across the globe. It became formalized in the late 1990’s and has been adopted on every continent through the work of the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations (FLO) through their national licensing initiatives. In the USA, the licensee was Transfair USA, which has just changed its name to Fair Trade USA. The rules of fair trade provide minimum pricing when the market goes below a living wage, a premium when the market is above that minimum, pre-harvest financing to help farmers through the lean months before the harvest, and helps the small farmers organize democratic, transparent cooperatives through which to sell their products directly in international trade. The big problem right now is that Transfair USA just resigned their license with FLO and is going it alone, which will allow it to make up its own rules for fair trade (and what they have revealed so far is a terrible blow to two decades of success for the fair trade movement).

Is there a difference between Fair Trade and Fair Trade Certified?
Yes! Fair trade is an international movement to bring social justice into the unfair world trading systems. Fair Trade Certified is the trademarked stamp that Transfair USA uses to demonstrate that a product (not a company!) is certified to have been purchased in accordance with the international rules. From the beginnings of Transfair back in the late 1990’s, there has been a tension between the movement types who want to continually raise the bar on fair trade and force large corporations to increase their participation, and Transfair’s approach of accommodating the large corporation by constantly changing the rules around the use of the term and logo of Fair Trade Certified. For example, in the past, the logo could only be used on a product that contained 100% fair trade ingredients. The logo could not be used generically on advertising, on delivery vans, etc, so that the consumers would not be confused about what the logo represented. But somehow that mysteriously changed as large companies got involved. Now you can see the logo everywhere, which gives the impression that Green Mountain and Starbucks, for example, are 100% fair trade, which they are clearly not. Additionally, Transfair just changed the rules to allow plantations to participate in coffee fair trade, which is contrary to the rules, contrary to the express decisions of the farmer groups and totally confusing for consumers. It also has changed the logo use rules, so that you can use the logo on a product as long as it contains at least fifty percent fair trade ingredients, not 100%. That leads to the possibility of a hot cocoa product, for example, being made with child labor or slave cocoa that is obviously not fair trade, as long as the sugar and other ingredients are fair trade. What a disaster!

What does the future hold for Fair Trade? Specifically the standards of Fair Trade changing?
We are entering a period of real confusion for the consumer and a blunting of the transformative power of fair trade. I predict that with a year or so several of the big companies, specifically Green Mountain and Starbucks, will claim to be 100% fair trade and have the logo to prove it – not because they have changed their business practices, but because Transfair has lowered the bar and changed the rules to accommodate their biggest clients (they pay a license fee to Transfair for every pound of fair trade sold).

Is there a certain visual stamp we can look for on products to know that we're purchasing authentic Fair Trade?
This is the biggest issue on the table right now, and the international fair trade community is scrambling to respond most effectively and with the most integrity. The credibility of the Transfair/Fair Trade USA logo is going down the tubes and all of us serious fair traders have already abandoned the seal and resigned from Transfair. There are a few other labels for fair trade out there which should become more prominent, such as Transfair Canada (the Caandian licensee of FLO) which may start licensing US fair traders in place of the now defunct (at least morally) Transfair USA. Fair Trade Federation (FTF) does not certify products, but the organization is limited to peer-reviewed members who are 100% fair trade, so membership in FTF is a great way to trust a brand. A new label, Fair For Life, is coming out as well, but will take a while to get known. Several responsible companies, ours included, are relying on independent audits of our trade practices, with both the practices and the audits made publicly available. At the end of the day, the consumer will have to do some research and trust the brand, not the logo being used.

What can our response be? Specifically during the holiday season?
It is tough to ask consumers to do the research, especially around the craziness of the holidays. The whole point of labels, seals and logos was to do the work for you, but the powers that be capture those labels pretty quickly and manipulate the public with misleading claims or appearances. There are some really committed companies out there. In the world of coffee, I have faith in Equal Exchange, our own brand (obviously!), any of the twenty six roaster members of Cooperative Coffees in the USA and Canada, and some small local roasters who can’t go to source and participate in social change the way we do but are honest in their purchases and their representations. Unfortunately, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee!

So PEC readers, what's the take home message? For me, it's that the standards are changing. Just because the ingredients are fair trade certified, it doesn't mean that the labor going into it is. Research the companies you are buying from to make sure they are truly practicing fair trade and not just using the stamp as a marketing tool.

Shameless plug for Dean's Beans - my husband and I have been avid Dean's Beans coffee drinkers for years because the quality and taste is near perfect. Our favorite blend is called Ahab's Revenge and it comes from East Timor. Stay tuned for a giveaway of a pound of a different blend from East Timor!

December 10, 2011

Taking Root Design Website Launched!

Posted by Kristin

Well folks..I'm unabashedly about to do a plug for my own business. But since I co-author this blog, and Laura's an awesome co-author and TRD-supporter (my business name shortened), we both thought we'd throw some PEC love over to my landscape design and consulting practice, Taking Root Design.

Thanks to my brother Jon, I have a pretty sweet logo, if I do say so myself.

I've mentioned TRD a few times, like here and here and here. But since having a website is pretty critical to growing a business these days, I finally decided to get on the ball, jetted over to and set 'er up. I highly recommend Weebly for its user-friendly format and price,which dollah! Then just a quick visit to to snag my domain name and the bones were in place. After alot of writing, photo uploading, editing and nail biting, I called it good to go. I even played around with taking a picture of my very own digits for the front page.


Check out the Taking Root Design site at Feel free to contact me with any design quires at Alright- official advertising now over. Thanks PEC!

December 8, 2011

How To Holidays: My Art

Posted by Laura

We had a bit of an early [partial] Christmas this year with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew from Colorado. Although it was early, it helped me manage my time to avoid burning the midnight oil the week before Christmas, scrambling to finish all my handmade gifts. For my nephew Connor, I made him a little contraption to display his art. I came across the idea from another blog, somewhere on the web, and am feeling guilty that I can't remember where because I want to give credit where credit is due. The great thing about this gift is that it can be personalize which means you can let your creative juices flow!

1 Picture Frame
2 Clothes Pins
Paint and fine point paint brush
Glue (hot glue or Elmer's works fine)
1 Photo (or a small collage of photos...or a sewn photo...or whatever else your creative mind comes up with) 

I chose a simple picture frame from IKEA and painted it white. I made a simple gray to paint the phrase "My Art" along the bottom. I then framed put the picture in the frame, glued the clothes pins to either side and bada-bing-bada-boom! I also had the thought to add magnets to the back so it could hang on the fridge, but it was just that...a thought. By the time it needed to be wrapped and under the tree, I didn't have time to go to the store for magnets.

Yay! Connor has grown so much since the picture in the frame was taken. Before we know it he'll be off to art school!

December 6, 2011

Christmas Trees: The difference between Spruces and Firs

Posted by Kristin

Now that December is officially here, many of us are prepping to buy our annaul Christmas tree, if we haven't bought it already. This is a tradition I look forward to every year, from choosing the best tree to hanging to last ornament. When going to a tree farm or lot to buy a tree, you're often confronted with many different choices for a tree. From my experience of Christmas tree shopping in New England, the top two types (or species of you are a horticultural weirdo nut like I am) are Firs and Spruces. More specifically, you'll most likely find these beauties:

Balsam Fir

Fraser Fir

Colorado Blue Spruce

Norway Spruce

For descriptions on each of the trees, check out this helpful site.

Often, when you're out in the lot, you may not know exactly what tree you're looking out. But I've got my own little way to tell the difference between a Spruce and Fir. It goes like this: "Spiny Spruce" and "Friendly Fir". Now before you starting scratching your head too hard, let me explain.  Way back in the 90's (geesh- where did time go?), I was little rugrat on vacation at Sugarloaf Ski Area in Maine.

Above tree-line skiing and riding on the east coast? Yup, this place has got the goods! image via
One day during our vacation, my mom, sister Catie, and I went on a guided snow shoe tour along some wooded trails. Our guide, the strapping Maine woodsman that he was (I really don't recall what he looked like but I just have red flannel, Carharts and suspenders in my mind), told us lots of nuggests of information along the way but there's one nugget that has stuck with Catie and I since then: Spiney Spruce and Friendly Fir.  He taught us that by feeling the individual needles of the trees you can distinguish which is which. Spruces have a spiney, or more rouded, needle shape all the way around. Firs have flat needles and are therefore smoother, or friendlier-feeling, to your fingers.

And now for some visual aids.

Below are the needles of a Fraser Fir. They are smooth and flat and smelly really yummy!The needles on Fir branches also tend to be flatter over all, with a distinct bottom and top side.


These guys are the needles from a Norway Spruce. Still fragrant but much more rounded in shape. Spruce needles tend to go around the entire branch and don't have a distinct top and bottom side, unlike their Fir counterparts above.


Here's a shot of our handiwork after lots of light stringing and ornament hanging (while watching one of the best newer Christmas movies, Love Actually):

This Balsam Fir smells like Christmas!

What are your holiday traditions? Do tend to go with a Spiny Spruce or Friendly Fir?

December 4, 2011

How To Holidays: Simple Giftwrap

Posted by Laura

Lauren wrote a few weeks ago about fun and simple gift wrap. I wanted to piggy back that with a post about my first wrapped Christmas gift this year. It seems like I always have similar tones to the gifts I wrap each year. Last year was brown gift wrap with green & white ribbon. This year, I think it's going to look a little something like this since I am loving the pop of color with the strip of paper added...

Start with a white box...

...add some craft paper...

...and a strip of festive paper (from GHTR's Celebrate Magazine) secured with double sided tape...

...and finish off with twine and white raffia tied in a bow.

Here's another variation of a gift that I wrapped about a month ago for A&A. It's still sitting in my office since I haven't had a chance to see them since they tied the knot.

I just have to throw one more atcha. Here's a gift in a brown box with red raffia and brown twine holding it together. The square in the middle is a CD, wrapped with plain computer paper with a reindeer outline printed on it. The trick is to think outside the box (har har har).

I think I'll stop here because in the words of the great, late Steve Jobs, "I could talk about this stuff for hours"...