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
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.