Monday, February 8, 2016

Natural Un-Shampoo Quest

Two years ago to the day I posted about the natural swaps I was making for skin/body care.  One of the items I mentioned was using baking soda and vinegar to wash my hair.  In a more recent update post I mentioned that I was not using that method anymore, but I thought it might be interesting (and potentially helpful for anyone who stumbles across this blog in a google search) to provide a full run-down of all the different un-shampoo methods I tried before settling on my current (consistent) method.

1. Baking Soda and Vinegar
This method is most widely referred to as "no-poo" though that term can really refer to any non-conventional shampoo hair washing.  It's the one that started me on the path, but after a couple months my hair was feeling pretty dry and some quick research explained that the BSV method is actually pretty damaging to the scalp because you change the pH so drastically. At this point I researched some other methods and tried the next one people were raving about...

2. Rye Flour
Yup, it sounds pretty weird.  But rye flour is really low gluten and did feel really nourishing to my scalp.  Surprisingly it cleaned pretty well and made my hair feel really soft.  However it wasn't 100% consistent as it didn't work in hard water which could pose issues when traveling, and sometimes was hard to wash out (kind of gross finding a strand of hair coated in dried dough later in the day).  So, on to the next...

3.  Morrocco Method
In my never-ending research for a consistent hair washing method, I stumbled across tons of rave reviews for these products.  They are apparently all natural and the internet had nothing but good things to say about them, so I not very smartly splurged on the full line of products.  After several months of using them, hoping I was still in a "transition period", I gave up with tons of product left. These "shampoos" did not clean my hair well at all - it was visibly greasy and I could smell the sebum on my scalp.  I felt gross.  However ordering this full line of products was not a complete loss, because one of the items that shipped with it was called Zen Detox - essentially just some bentonite clay, for which I followed the directions and put it on my scalp and then washed it out.  And it cleaned BEAUTIFULLY.

To note about MM products before I move on, I will never put them on my scalp again but they work okay as a conditioner for my ends, and also work pretty well as a body wash that doesn't strip all the oils off my skin.  So I can for sure use them but just not in the way they were intended.  There were two products in the line that I did really like, the Blood of the Dragon styling gel and the Pearl Essence Creme Rinse.  Otherwise personally I do NOT recommend the shampoos for a person with fine but thick curly (Caucasian) hair.

4.  Bentonite Clay
I figured I had finally found the holy grail of natural shampoo.  During all of my research though I knew that bentonite clay had a similar pH to baking soda BUT it is supposed to be mixed with vinegar prior to skin application to neutralize it.  This was something that couldn't be done with the BSV method because neutralizing it before washing hair made it ineffective, but the clay still cleaned very well after neutralizing.  Overall though after a while it still felt kind of harsh on my scalp, and I continued to research clays for skincare.

5.  Rhassoul Clay
This is it folks, the real deal.  The internet recommended rhassoul clay as the best clay for skin and haircare, and I found it for pretty cheap on a soap making website and tried it out.  After a bit of recipe tweaking, what seems to work really well is about 2 tbsp of rhassoul clay mixed with some apple cider vinegar, aloe, and glycerin, with some tea tree and other essential oils added, to create a thin paste.  This cleans incredibly well and does not appear to dry out my scalp.  A++++, would highly recommend.  The "shampoo" takes about 30 seconds to mix up and at most I have to use it once a week, depending on outside humidity (in summer I can go 2-3 weeks, winter about 10 days, before my scalp starts feeling greasy), just rinsing with water in between.  I have been using a variation of this recipe, with rhassoul clay as the main ingredient, for almost a full year and it's proven to be far more consistent than any of the other methods - something easy to stick with that doesn't frustrate me after a few weeks.  I wondered for a long time whether I would actually find something that worked or if I'd be forced to go back to conventional shampoo, but this seems like it will be a keeper for life.

On this note I stumbled across the product line Naturalicious yesterday and noticed that their shampoo is made with rhassoul clay as the main cleansing ingredient too (and happens to have a pretty similar ingredient list as the stuff I make myself - so I must be doing something right!).

6. Epilogue - DevaCurl
I learned about DevaCurl products, which really seem to be gaining in popularity, a while ago when getting my hair cut by a DevaCut certified stylist (it is definitely the way to go if you have curly hair and have suffered from bad haircuts your entire life).  When I get my hair cut the stylist washes my hair with these products and my hair does come out insanely curly.  My sisters have been using the DevaCurl products for a while and I bought a set of the products for one of them for Christmas, for which the package got lost and didn't show up until after Christmas when I'd already bought her a replacement set from Chatters.  I decided to use it up myself but after about 2-3 washes I noticed my scalp flaking pretty badly so I went back to the clay.  I am not sure why DevaCurl No Poo made my scalp dry as it appears to be a really moisturizing product, but it didn't work for me consistently.  The gel and the conditioner work really well though, but as far as washing my actual scalp I am sticking with my rhassoul clay.

Overall this natural shampoo journey has been at times extremely frustrating as it took me well over a year to find a method that worked consistently, but I'm glad I stuck with it!  My hair is so much healthier and easier to take care of than it was when I used conventional shampoo and I don't plan on ever going back.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Solving the Coffee Mystery

I've never been much of a coffee drinker. I was one of the few weird university students who could get by without multiple cups of XL Tim Horton's per day, and the few times I needed to stay up all night to get a report done I'd drink a Pepsi for the caffeine boost. I would enjoy the occasional frozen coffee drink which though is very likely much closer to a milkshake with some coffee flavouring than to an actual cup of coffee.  A lot of it had to do with the fact that when I drank coffee it seemed to make me ill - either too jittery from an excess of caffeine or worse, a full-day "coffee hangover" during which I would have no appetite and feel gross and nauseous.

However in recent years I started noticing that this coffee hangover didn't occur with all types of coffee, nor did I ever feel it with other caffeinated or acidic drinks.  We've been to Hawaii a few times over the past winters and drinking fresh ground coffee purchased right from the farms didn't affect me once.  We started purchasing whole bean coffee for home use that was locally/freshly roasted (currently we subscribe to Phil & Sebastian out of Calgary) and again, none of it ever affected me, but I was definitely not building a tolerance. Almost every time I would take a gamble on drinking restaurant coffee, including espresso drinks (which have never bothered me at home), I would get sick. The only common denominator in the coffees that didn't make me sick seemed to be that they were from places that advertised using fresh, recently roasted beans.

I always assumed that the coffee hangovers had something to do with caffeine and acidity and potentially brew method, but that just didn't really add up.  Sure, Starbucks and Tim Horton's do have typically more caffeine than other types of coffee but if a dark roast is supposed to be lower acid and lower caffeine than a lighter roast, why were medium roasts with bold acidity from Phil & Sebastian fine to drink at home, but a dark roast cappuccino at a restaurant that didn't use fresh beans made me sick? Why did the drip coffee we made from fresh roasted beans in Hawaii not bother my stomach?

Further, once I started drinking good fresh coffee, I really developed a taste for it and generally have no problem drinking it straight black.  But how do I know when it's safe to order in a restaurant or cafe?

This morning I finally sat down and spent a good hour researching what might be causing my coffee sickness, and I think I have finally found the culprit:  not acidity, not caffeine levels, but RANCIDITY.

Here's a summary of what I learned:

  1. The longer coffee beans are roasted, the darker the roast and the more oils from inside the bean get to the surface.  The oils can also naturally escape the bean, even with lighter roasts, the longer roasted beans sit on a shelf.
  2. The oil on the outside of the bean can go rancid EXTREMELY quickly - potentially within hours if exposed directly to oxygen, humidity, and light.  
  3. Rancid coffee oil on the outside of the bean can cause the coffee itself to also spoil.
  4. Rancid coffee can cause the coffee to taste bitter and stale (if the coffee you have doesn't actually smell like coffee anymore, it's stale) and upset the stomach or cause other digestive issues (including heightening coffee's laxative effects).
After roasting, whole coffee beans should be stored in an opaque airtight container with a one way valve to allow for off-gassing at approximately 20 C and consumed within one month.  After GRINDING, those ground beans should be used within a couple of hours.

Apparently, any pre-ground coffee you buy is almost always rancid or well on its way.  As well, commercial grade coffee is allowed to have up to 4% defective beans (which can mean broken, moldy, beans that are actually bugs, etc.) in the mix which also contributes to bad flavour and increased rancidity.  A large tub of Folgers for example is pretty much guaranteed to be rancid by the second time you use it.

Most people are able to stomach rancid coffee just fine with no digestive effects (though I'd argue that non-rancid coffee is not much of a laxative) so if that's you and you're fine with the taste, enjoy the fact that you can drink coffee anywhere you want without becoming ill for a day.

Unfortunately for me, I'm going to have to stick with coffee that I know is not rancid - freshly ground and roasted within a few months of consumption.  This limits me to home, or pretentious cafes. Which is maybe not the worst thing ever because having made it to age 31 without ever developing a caffeine addiction is definitely something to be proud of.

Note:  I didn't provide references because unfortunately I did all my research on my phone and then sat down to type this up, and none of my references actually had references of their own, though some of the articles were written by chemists.  This could all be complete BS, or it could be truth - I choose to believe it because it makes sense scientifically and I'm 100% positive that it's not in my head.  But just don't use this information for a science project or anything unless you're going to put the claims to the test in a lab!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Keeping the cat away from the Christmas tree

After getting cats we were still determined to keep getting live Christmas trees.  I can't really remember much about the first year, because they were still pretty small kittens, so they didn't seem to care much about the tree itself other than the ornaments.  Last year we only had the one cat for the first time, and being a little more bored (but happy) having no playmate, Jaypeg seemed to show a greater interest in the tree in the form of eating the needles.

We have gotten white pine the past couple years because I loooove the appearance of the longer needles, and because I heard internet horror stories about how evergreen needles can be deadly to cats if ingested (puncture intestines and the like).  I figured the softer pine needles would be a little easier on her internal organs than fir needles, if she happened to eat any.

And eat them she did, which led to vomiting on a fairly regular basis as pine needles are mildly toxic to cats. By the time Christmas was over I was so ready to be rid of the tree so we wouldn't have to deal with all the vomiting.

This year I kind of forgot about that and we picked up another gorgeous white pine (for $30 at Sobeys, who else thinks it's insane that a live tree that took years to grow doesn't cost $5000???) and she promptly started eating the needles before we'd even put the tree in the stand.  And of course started vomiting.

Last year I googled high and low to try and figure out how to keep her away from the tree but nothing seemed to work, including putting a compressed air motion sensor under the tree (she could just work around it). But this year I had a stroke of genius/luck the day after we set up the tree.

I was standing at the kitchen counter next to an empty wire cooling rack that I'd just taken a loaf of bread off of, one of these:

Jaypeg is not supposed to be on the counter which naturally means she is always on the counter, but I noticed her try to step on the cooling rack and then decide against it.  Eureka! I put the three wire racks we have around the tree, and sure enough, combined with the compressed air sprayer she pretty much completely avoids the bottom of the tree now. The only eating of needles and vomiting now is when our Roomba pushes the racks away a couple times a week but I can deal with that frequency (or maybe place the Roomba barriers better).

There you have it, internet - a surefire method for keeping your cat away from the Christmas tree: wire cooling racks!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Front Page Updates

So I finally remembered that I had this blog and came over here to check if I had an unmoderated pending comments etc.  I looked at the front page and realized that a) it's been well over two years since I regularly posted and b) I actually could update on a couple of those Front Page posts. So let's count them down.

Update - My Dad - it has now been over a year, and what an emotionally difficult year it was.  I just want people to know, if anyone is reading this, that when someone loses someone very close, like a parent, they don't just "get over it" after a month or two.  They may seem "fine" and happy and laughing but they are still very, very sad.  They still very likely want to talk about that person they have lost, and will want to for the rest of their life.  I am not saying this to be passive-aggressive to any friends who might be reading this, but rather perhaps for anyone who might happen to stumble across this blog and has never dealt with loss before.  I still miss and think about my dad multiple times per hour.  It is not something that goes away.

Update - Sourdough - I never did quite master the art of making true sourdough without yeast, but I did finally come up with a recipe that makes near-perfect whole wheat sourdough.  I modified this recipe to a point where it is not recognizable at all (but it was a good jumping off point), and mix/knead in a breadmaker but then do all of the rising and baking manually in the oven, because breadmaker bread is gross and weird shaped.  The resulting bread is sour but not too sour, slightly less than 50% white flour, light and fluffy and has a great crust. We haven't bought bread in probably two years.

Update - Natural Swaps - I can't believe this one was written so long ago.  I don't use all of these anymore but I have definitely made a habit of pretty natural skin and hair care.  I still do not use shampoo but wash my hair with a base of rhassoul clay and apple cider vinegar with some essential oils and glycerin mixed in and it works great.  Depending on the outside humidity I can go 1-3 weeks without washing (though still rinse every day).  I also still use the homemade deodorant and will never go back to anti-perspirant. The homemade lip balm is still a staple, and last winter I learned to make soap.  I wash my face with water only and use a homemade oil-based moisturizer on it and my skin is in much better condition than it ever has been - I can go an entire winter without getting "shiny forehead"!  To summarize I do not use any kinds of detergents (sodium lauryl sulfate or its other iterations) on my body anymore, and am totally sold on oils as moisturizers (contrary to what you might think, putting oil on your skin makes it LESS greasy).  It doesn't take much time to whip up a small batch of moisturizer, lip balm, or even bar soap.  This is one "hobby" that has definitely become a lifestyle.

And finally, update - Kittens - Even without losing my dad, last November was a tough month.  Early in the month our two sweet cats started violently fighting after one of them was accidentally stepped on.  We had no idea what to do and were advised by various veterinarians that they would get over it but we would just need to ease them back to like each other again.  We began some very complicated and stressful routines of separating the cats other than during supervised play together, and after about a week they seemed to be friends again.  But then of course a cat got under foot again and started the whole cycle, which then evolved into not being traumatized by getting stepped on but other random triggers that we could not pinpoint.  It was so sad and stressful and to be honest, the day my dad died I had actually already spent the entire day crying because I knew that the cat situation probably couldn't be salvaged.  When my dad passed away we took our adorable brown cat Biter to my friend Carolyn's for some cat sitting until we decided what to do, and she ended up keeping him which was so great.  I still really miss him but I am so happy that he was able to go to a great home where he is loved and can be the king of his castle.

After we separated the cats, their personalities both changed.  They both became more talkative and loving, shed less and purred more.  It sort of broke my heart to realize that they were likely living in a stressful power struggle the entire time they'd been together which finally snapped, but I'm so glad they are both happy now and mostly stress-free (cats are weird and get stressed out by strange things).  We still have Jaypeg who is definitely a mischief maker but one of the most friendly and funny cats you will ever meet. Here she is today, trying to knock over the Christmas tree.

And chewing on my hand on her favourite new place in the house, our bed.

My life has changed a lot since I regularly blogged on here, but it's kind of neat for me to see too that a couple of the things I was excited enough about a couple years ago to sit down and blog about when blogging wasn't a priority are now regular parts of my routine. No promises but I hope I can revive this space again in the next while and get back into the habit of writing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Dad

On November 22, 2014, ten days after my 30th birthday, my heart shattered into a million pieces when my dear, sweet, loving father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

My dad was the best person. He was kind and gracious and positive and enthusiastic.  He was accepting of people who were different from him and he was truly interested in hearing everyone's stories.  He loved so many things and he gave his all to various hobbies and organizations and people but somehow made it all work.  He was not a world traveler or a big risk-taker but he is one of the few people I've ever known who I can say absolutely lived his life to the fullest.  He loved, and was loved by, a staggering number of people.

I miss him every second of every day and I would give anything to have him back.  I am so lucky that I had the world's greatest dad in my life for 30 years, but it was much too short.

I want to be like him, and honour him with everything I do for the rest of my life.

Friday, March 21, 2014


My new obsession is sourdough bread.  It's definitely the macaron of 2014 for me... to make the perfect loaf of sourdough rye bread that looks as good as it tastes.

What I've learned over the past couple years from taking on some difficult baking projects is that baking is definitely a science.  It's frustrating and addicting and if you're developing your own recipe, often takes a lot of failed experimentation before the success you're looking for.  Just when you think you've got it right, something else throws a curve at you.  I used to think baking was the easier of the two between cooking and baking, but how wrong I was.  I read someone post somewhere recently that cooking is an art and baking is a science and I can't get it out of my head.

I started by making my own starter and trying a recipe that I just couldn't get to properly rise, no matter what I did.  It tasted amazing but it was always far too dense.  I tried a new recipe that used water instead of milk and was generally a drier dough.  It was good but not totally what I was looking for, so I adapted it myself using the advice of the internet and this awesome book, and came up with something that I am pretty happy with.

After faithfully making at least one batch of dough every two weeks when I'm home from work for the past five months or so and struggling through three different recipes, I think I almost have it.  I can make loaves that look like this, without using any yeast:

It's still a very dense bread but dense in a good, chewy way, not a "this clearly didn't rise" way.  The above loaves turned out pretty well, baked in a loaf pan, but the same day I tried another batch baked on a stone baking sheet.  I didn't take any pictures but they are violently ripped open in various places - almost like macaron "feet" on a couple.  I am guessing it's because the open baking sheet made the crust dry out too fast (whereas in the loaf pan the moisture is trapped a bit more).  I have had some ripping happen in my loaf pan bread before, but nothing of this magnitude.  One of the suggestions on the internet was to use a steam tray in the oven, which I've used before for making bagels (from the 5 Minutes a Day book - amazing) so I'll definitely be giving that a shot next time.

I've also made an incredible coffee cake and pancakes using the sourdough starter and while the bread is a very lengthy process, I enjoy it and I like learning something traditional.  This is the way that bread was made before commercial yeast and it's pretty amazing what flour and water can do if you give it time to work its magic.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Natural Swaps!

It has been a long while and unless you are one of a very select few who actually subscribes via RSS, I doubt many people actually check this anymore.  But anyway, this is something I have been meaning to write about for a while and I'm quite excited to share it.  I have switched away from or totally given up nearly all of the commercial products I used on my body - shampoo/conditioner, facial cleanser, and deodorant, for example.

It started several months ago when I was cleaning our bathtub and finding it incredibly hard to clean.  We used bar soap because body wash is expensive and I can't get behind throwing all those bottles in the trash, but it really scummed up the tub in a very short amount of time.  I started researching homemade body wash recipes, then went up to work and there was coincidentally a "make your own spa products" ladies night event where we made a few products with just coconut oil, beeswax, and liquid oils.  The "lotion bars" we made (just a 1:1:1 ratio of beeswax, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil) felt almost exactly like my favourite Burt's Bees lip balm and I went home excited to start making some of these products myself.

As I researched recipes further, I discovered that a lot of people out there have completely ditched commercial body cleaning/moisturizing products in favour of homemade products.  Not only are they better for the environment and your body and incredibly cheap and easy to make, I was about to find out that they ran circles around most commercial products in how well they worked! 

This is really long and I thought about breaking it up into a few different posts but then I got too lazy, so hopefully you don't get bored.  Here are a few of the recipes/methods I've tried, and my thoughts on each:

1.  Homemade Lip Balm - the one that started it all

I loosely followed this recipe, but omitted lanolin and used different essential oils.  All it really is is a 2:1:1 by weight mix of liquid oil, beeswax, and coconut oil with a bit of vitamin E and essential oils.  I also tried a 1:1:1 recipe of shea butter, beeswax, and coconut oil, but I found it much too waxy and better as a cuticle balm than a lip balm (I was using it on my cuticles until the cats knocked it into the nowhere place under the stove).

I ordered empty lip balm tubes off eBay for about 20 cents/tube, which brings the whopping grand total per tube of this stuff to approximately 25 cents/tube (high estimate).  I have given away a lot of tubes and the feedback has been awesome.  It also takes about 15 minutes total to mix, melt, pour, and clean up a batch.  Definitely a winner!

2.  Eliminating Hair Products

I'd heard before of people who didn't use shampoo on their hair (Brahm hasn't used shampoo in over a year himself actually, though we have very different hair types) but I had also heard that the transition period where your scalp craves shampoo and creates an excess of oil was pretty awful and I just wasn't interested in going through that with my mid-length, curly hair... until I heard that you could substitute a baking soda and vinegar wash for shampoo during that transition period! 

The idea behind quitting shampoo is that most shampoos, other than the extremely expensive, "natural" shampoos you can only get a health food stores, are basically detergents that strip all of the oils from your hair and scalp, which makes your scalp crave moisture and creates even more oil than it needs to to compensate.  Once you remove shampoo out of the equation your scalp doesn't create as much oil because it's not being completely stripped on a daily basis.

I followed the method outlined here with a few minor modfications, gradually increasing the number of days between BSV washes.  After about a month and a half I think my hair is mostly transitioned, as I recently went a full week without a BSV wash.  I think I can now safely use BSV on my hair once a week or less, and just a regular water wash whenever I shower in between.

This has been amazing.  During the winter it is incredibly dry both at home and especially work (the humidity detector in my office actually dips below 0%) so my hair is always really flat and gross all winter long.  However literally the first day I ditched the shampoo, the volume and curl returned to almost summer levels.  And especially surprisingly, this is without the use of any mousse/gel/etc. to tame frizz.  Sometimes I use a bit of coconut oil (when my hair is wet) for curl definition but I'm still not sure if I need it or not.  The natural oils seem to be really all my hair needs!

I've been trying to get more friends onto this bandwagon but fear of the transition period or just general skepticism that it won't work seem to be holding people back.  My sister tried it for a while but I think her very long and thick hair made it difficult to get all of the BSV out of which created a greasy texture that she didn't like, so she switched back to shampoo.  I do think you need shorter hair and/or a lot of patience to successfully wait out the transition but in my opinion it's definitely worth it.

A note on this - I was in Calgary recently and tried this in my hotel, with really hard water, and it was kind of terrible.  I don't know if you have really hard water if over time your hair would get used to it, or if it would be difficult to do, but what I did to combat it was use a bit of baking soda and vinegar every day instead of just once for the week.  It made it a bit better but still wasn't ideal.  When I got back into softened water things were happy again.

3.  Coconut Oil Face/Body Wash

This one sounds crazy, I know.  Washing your face with oil?  Won't that make it super greasy?  No my friends, it does not.

One thing to mention on this one is that it does not work for all skin types.  My sister tried it and broke out quite badly, as have several bloggers who've documented trying this method.  However for my oily t-zone combination skin, it works great.

The science here has something to do with your face oils being dissolved and gently removed by the coconut oil, like the shampoo method - not completely stripping all the oils off your face.  What I do is spread a layer of coconut oil on my face, with extra over any spots of acne (its antibacterial properties are apparently good for getting rid of acne - anecdotally I can confirm this), and then rinse my face a few times with warm water.  All of the oil does NOT need to be washed off at the end, and when I pat my face dry anything extra usually just absorbs into my skin.  It's definitely not greasy and sometimes even a little dry feeling.

Since I started this about a month and a half ago my skin is much less oily than it was and much less acne prone.  Prior to this I was using an acne cleanser and a moisturizer morning and night, now all I use is the coconut oil.

At our spa products night at work we made a coconut oil/sugar body scrub which I sometimes use when I shower at work in place of soap.  I don't use it at home because it makes the tub floor slippery - at work we all wear shower shoes so it's less of a slipping hazard.  But it works great and not having to moisturize after showering is a big time saver too!

4.  Castile Soap and Coconut Milk Body Wash

There are a lot of different recipes out there and I still might try a couple different ones to find one I like best, but this one is the first I tried and off the bat I completely hated it, but didn't want to waste it by dumping it.  It felt... greasy, and I had to use a lot because it washed away really fast.  It didn't foam up easily like regular soap.  But then I started getting used to it and learned to love it.

Pretty much all homemade body wash recipes use castile soap as a base, which is a type of soap with very limited ingredients - just vegetable/fruit oils and lye.  The foaming agents in most commercial soaps are apparently also what really dries out your skin.  This recipe is basically a mix of castile soap, coconut milk, and glycerin (to bring some suds back).

Like I said, it was pretty weird to use at first, when you are used to a lot of foam in your soap as well as equating the feeling of being clean with your skin being completely stripped of all its oils.  This is a very moisturizing body wash and your skin feels a little greasy after using it, but once you get out of the shower and dry off you just feel moisturized and clean.  Once I got over that, I started noticing that my skin wasn't as itchy and oily by the end of the day as it usually was, because I wasn't drying it out in the morning when I showered.

5.  Homemade Body Butter

I can't remember if I found an exact recipe or modified this one and others like it, but I measure out (by weight) a ratio of 1:1:2 coconut oil, shea butter, and liquid oil (I use sunflower).  I melt them down, let them begin to solidify in the freezer, add a bit of vitamin E and essential oils, and whip with a hand mixer until it's approximately tripled in volume.

This was another weird one to get used to but I LOVE IT.  It's very melty so ideally needs to be kept in a cooler room/spot (by a window in winter is good, if you put it in the fridge it solidifies too much I find), or could also reduce the amount of liquid oil to suit your climate.  But it keeps my skin moisturized all day long, whereas commercial lotions and body butters seem to work for a couple hours but by the end of the day I'm often scratching white lines into my dry arms or legs again.  Not with this stuff! Put it on in the morning and my skin is still extremely soft in the evening.

Because it is straight up oils and butters, it is greasy going on but absorbs in fast.  I find it really great for when my hands are extra dry, like after a flight.

6.  Homemade Deodorant

WOW.  I have been blown away by all of the above swaps but this one might take the cake.  As teen I was pretty sweaty, not sure if it was because of some social anxiety issues I had or just how my body worked, but I was always on the lookout for a stronger antiperspirant.  My body seemed to finally work itself out in my early 20s and I didn't sweat as much but I continued to use Dove antiperspirant, which is one of the strongest non-over-the-counter ones out there.  I'd always heard that the aluminum product in antiperspirant was conclusively linked to cancer but I kept using it anyway.  Then I read about how the natural product bloggers loved their 3-ingredient homemade deodorant, and that it actually made them sweat less than antiperspirant, so I decided to give it a shot.

I loosely followed the second recipe on this blog (subbed cornstarch for arrowroot) and just mixed up a tiny amount in a Ziploc bag, and apply with my fingers.  I didn't want to make a huge batch in case it didn't work but it turns out it works incredibly well and my "tiny" batch will probably last a month or more, for mere pennies.

LOVE LOVE LOVE.  I absolutely sweat less.  I do not stink whatsoever, even when I do sweat.  With antiperspirant I often found myself reapplying once or twice a day, and having to scrape off thick layers of it with my fingernails in the shower (sorry, gross).  And being really itchy, even though Dove was supposedly the most moisturizing antiperspirant on the market.  All of those problems have been completely eliminated.


I think that's about it at the moment.  I also tried a toothpaste recipe but didn't like it, though the natural product bloggers sure rave about their homemade toothpaste so I'm going to give it another shot and add a lot more flavouring/sweetener to mask the salty baking soda taste.  I did like how it made my teeth feel but it was just too gross tasting.

I'd highly recommend trying some or any of these things!  They may not work for all skin or hair types, but really you have nothing to lose by trying them out, and the overhead costs are very minimal.  My skin and hair are now both so happy, and not having to spend a couple hundred bucks a year on all of these products will be fairly significant over time.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


We got KITTENS about a month ago!  I have never had a good pet before (only things like gerbils, turtles, and the most exciting one that wasn't actually exciting: a hedgehog) so I have just been blown away over the last month at how much you can actually like a good pet (e.g. a cat or dog).  They are the greatest little things even though they are sometimes bad and ALWAYS want to touch your technology when you're trying to do something important:

They are also fun to mess with:

We named the orange/brown one Biter and the black one Jaypeg, because if you have known us for any length of time we have been wanting to name a pet (or someone to name their baby, preferably) Jaypeg for a long time.  And it finally happened!

My mom doesn't like the names so she decided to rename Biter "Jangles" and Jaypeg "Mittens."  This led to maybe the best Text from my Mom of all time the other day.  She asked how the cats were doing and I said that they had destroyed the strings on a bunnyhug (HOODIE FOR THE JERKS) that Brahm had left out on the stairs.  She replied:

"Haha they were prob hmmm whats this said the black cat them she told the jangles cat that its their own fault if brahm left a toy for them"
"And it gets wrecked Haha"

They are so bad!  But we love them.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Ultimate Beet Borscht

When I was a kid my grandparents used to make an amazing beet borscht.  If you are the kind of person who thinks beet borscht should basically just be beets and maybe onions or something and only the teensiest smattering of dill, go home now please.  Sometimes at work there is beet borscht and everyone is all "this is just the deadliest beet borscht ever" and I'm like "you guys, no" because you haven't had beet borscht until you've had the kind that uses the whole beet and also ALL THE VEGETABLES.  And no meat, please.  Let the vegetables shine on their own.

My grandma stopped making borscht a few years ago because it is too much work for her to tackle anymore so I've been getting my borscht fix from the Farmers' Market - one of the vendors makes a good one that is pretty close to what I remember eating and loving as a kid.

We got a bag of beets in our latest PayDirt Farms CSA box and Brahm said "we should make borscht" and by "we" he meant "Robyn".  My mom had a couple of different recipes from an old Ukranian cookbook that she said she thought was close to what my grandparents used, but just to try and combine the recipes and use trial and error.

These instructions might sound daunting to some ("sort of combine these two recipes and use trial and error") but I consider myself to be a fairly talented soup-maker so I gave it a shot.  And it WORKED. 

I wasn't totally sure what was going to happen but as soon as I tried the first spoonful out of the stock pot and the familiar flavour I had been missing for so long came back to me, it was possibly the highlight of my week.

Knowing you can create something that you thought might be lost forever is kind of amazing. 

And now, the recipe for the ultimate beet borscht.  Try this and you'll never go back to your wimpy "beets only" borscht.

Please note that quantities are EXTREMELY APPROXIMATE.

1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
10 cups of weak chicken stock (or 5 cups water, 5 cups regular strength stock)
~15 young (small) beets, including leaves and stems (not optional)
  •  Chop the beets, stems, and leaves but keep each section separate
3 medium potatoes, cubed
4 carrots, chopped small
~1/2 cup fresh peas
1 lb green or yellow beans, cut into bite sized lengths
1 can navy beans, drained and rinsed (I forgot to include these but good idea for protein)
~1/2 cup of fresh dill, chopped but not too small (or even more if you want but don't skimp on the dill)
~1.5 cups of diced tomatoes (canned is okay)

Heat oil in a large stockpot and add onions and garlic.  Cook for about 3 minutes, add the cabbage and stir until cabbage is starting to get cooked.  Add the water/stock and bring to a boil.  Add beets, turn heat down to medium-high.  After about 5 minutes, add the carrots.  After another 5 minutes, add the beans, peas, potatoes, beet stems, and tomatoes.  When the potatoes are basically done, add the dill and beet leaves.  Cook for a few more minutes until everything you try is cooked through.  Salt and pepper to taste if desired.  This makes about 4-5 litres of soup.

As long as you understand cooking times and stuff, you really can't go wrong.  Use the whole beet and use a ton of dill and dump in every vegetable you can find and you'll have yourself a bowl of amazing beet borscht.  The cooking time of this soup was really quick but the prep (working alone) took a couple hours.  Worth it though!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

XTREME Hardening

If you have ever started seedlings indoors, you may be familiar with the concept of "hardening off" the plants.  Or maybe not.  Hardening off means basically "training" the plants to live outside, by doing small things like brushing the baby plants with your fingers to simulate wind and encourage strong stems, putting them outside for a bit longer every day, etc.

The first year I planted tomatoes I did zero hardening off.  I just planted them outside on a warm day and they all did splendidly.  Last year I did some hardening off but quite honestly it didn't seem to make a difference.

This was the year of XTREME hardening off.

I accidentally started my tomatoes almost a month late, at the end of April.  Once the seedlings were about 2 weeks old and the sun was getting too high in the sky to really provide much light into my kitchen window, I decided to do an experiment.  I put them in a mini-greenhouse (basically just a metal frame with a clear tarp overtop), inside which pretty much all of the plants got scorched and a few completely burned to a crisp.  Okay, 2 down.

Within about a week it got too hot to even have a greenhouse at all so I just started leaving them outside 24/7.  It wasn't freezing anymore and even if it got a bit too cold, this was going to be the tomato year for survival of the fittest.

Nobody froze thankfully, however they did all blow out into the yard during a particularly windy day and another couple of plants were lost.

After I potted them into their grownup homes, it rained HARD for pretty much a solid week and ended with a magnificent hailstorm.  I sat in my living room, helpless, as they got pummeled.  After the storm I went outside and discovered that while they were all quite mangled, nobody had died.  And a week later, those mangled plants had developed ridiculously thick, strong stems and branches, at least tripling in size.

I was discussing my accidental method of hardening off with a plant scientist friend, who confirmed the hardening off myth:  "I have always figured if they aren't tough enough to handle the elements, I don't want them anyway." 

So there you go, Saskatchewan home gardeners.  My XTREME hardening experiment of 2013 has appeared to be very successful.  Don't be afraid to throw those babies outside in a thunderstorm; it'll only make them stronger.