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Thursday, February 28, 2013

milk wash

I like to oil cleanse my face at night. Castor oil 60/40 with another lighter oil or blend of oils, a good massage to loosen any debris or makeup, and a hot face cloth to sweat my pores clean... It's lovely. I'll have to post about it separately!

But I cut myself a fringe a few weeks ago. I haven't had a fringe, or "bangs" as my American friends call it, since I was a kid, basically, but I watched the 2012 The Amazing Spiderman movie recently with my husband and got inspired by the heroine's gorgeous heavily-fringed look. Got the scissors out the very next morning. Anyway, oil cleansing was all well and good until I had a fringe. And then, I suddenly discovered that oil cleansing in the morning was a bit of an impediment to my usual regime. I have very dry skin, you see, in part just because I do, and in part because I suffered through several years' worth of acne medications as a young adult. Living in the desert doesn't exactly help matters. Unlike most people, I don't have to worry anymore about the skin on my forehead being too oily with a fringe. In fact, it's quite nice not to have peeling dry skin there anymore! My hair protects it. Not what I had expected, but there you go. However, oil cleansing, while at night still a great idea, in the morning leaves just a little too heavy a residue on my forehead for me to then go fix my hair right away. Most days I don't wear makeup, nor use products in my hair, and I like to get dressed, quick scrub up, and get on with my day. I don't have time to faff around in front of the mirror as I did during my teens.

Solution? Milk wash! There are several places online you can find a version of this recipe, so I'll just give you my simple recipe and you can credit it to whomsoever you like.

Milk Wash
1/4 c plain, full fat yogurt
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grapeseed oil, or any other light oil

To use, clip hair away from face. Massage wash into skin, in any quantity you like, and leave on for about 5 minutes. Rinse clean. Pat dry. No need for any further steps unless you feel you must have moisturizer, but it's easy enough to reduce the lemon or add more oil to the wash for whatever balance of skin you have.

Store Milk Wash in the refrigerator for up to a week. Discard any leftovers after one week and remake fresh. The above amount is just about right for me alone to use every morning for a week.

If you suffer from skin blemishes, don't shy away from using this wash. Use plain old yogurt and nothing else if you feel you must. The probiotics in good quality yogurt will help to combat acne infections without disturbing the natural ph of your skin. Lemon is astringent and will help cleanse and purify pores, while also offering antibacterial qualities to, once again, fight infections. You can use any oil you prefer. Raw coconut oil has a lot to offer, but I have opted for grapeseed oil as something lighter for the mornings. Other light oils you might want to use are sweet almond or apricot kernel oils. You may add a drop of vitamin E oil if you wish. For an even better punch of health, have a look at my directions for making your own yogurt. It's surprisingly easy, tastes great, and if this milk wash were not cheap enough already using homemade yogurt will help you even further stretch your budget. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

homemade deodorant

Natural Deodorant

Scary sounding? It isn't. This recipe is surprisingly simple, and cheap, and best of all effective. As you know, I LOVE finding ways to cut corners and tighten down my budget for other things, and I also LOVE to know exactly what is in the things I put in and on my body. With cooking, the easy solution is to make it myself. But that isn't so daunting for most people out there because cookbooks and the Food Channel bring chefs, along with their tips and tricks, almost into one's own home with very little effort. When it comes to personal care and hygiene, house cleaning, it is generally far simpler to reach for products on the grocery store shelf.

I was a deodorant junkie for quite a few years. I don't like sweat. I really don't like sweat. I hate the stains on my white shirts after several summers of wear. I especially hated moving back to Arizona as a new bride and having to relearn heat all over again. I sweated constantly. And so I used antiperspirant constantly, too, and not just in my armpits! I would rub a little under my boobs before putting on my bra, so that I would sweat less and feel fresher while spending all day at work caring for children in a daycare that only had swamp cooling during the AZ August monsoons. I refused to even think about what I was potentially doing to my body by using antiperspirants thus.

While pregnant, my nose was, as we called it, "twitchy". I could smell everything. And so, again, I reached for the antiperspirant a lot, scent-free this time, as I simply couldn't handle smelling my own body odor, and the scents of baby powder deo, even the vinegar rinse I had used on my hair for years, would make me vomit. Anyone who has endured morning sickness, or lived with a woman during such a time, will appreciate the overwhelming desire to just avoid anything that could possibly make the puking feeling worse. I wish I'd had this homemade recipe back then. I could have made my own anti-nausea-scented deodorant!

Well, once my son was born, I finally made the switch. I stopped using junk-filled, metal-heavy antiperspirant with aluminum, and I bought a stick of Tom's brand deodorant. "All-natural", metal-free. It smelled pretty good, actually. I've been using Tom's for over a year now and it's worked reasonably well. At first, I found that I sweated more. I suspect my body had been trying hard for years to sweat in natural, normal places and had been blocked by the chemicals with which I was saturating my glands and delicate skin, and, unaccustomed to actually being allowed to sweat, was going a bit overboard. It took about 5 or 6 weeks before I felt that I was sweating a normal amount again. This was with spring approaching, might I add, so time of year was not working in my favor weather-wise, which I feel makes my assessment of improved sweat measurements more accurate if not a little understated.

But one thing bothers me about Tom's. "All-natural" still includes several ingredients I have a hard time pronouncing, let alone spelling, and I couldn't for the life of me tell you what they are or why they are in the stuff. This bothers me. My skin is the largest organ of  my body, and already takes a lot of hits daily due to traffic exhaust, occasional sunlight overexposure, makeup and chemicals I wear to feel pretty, regular use of my cellphone and kitchen microwave, to name only a few. Some things I will continue to use. Never fear, I'm not about to quit the western world and ditch global communications! But where I can make small changes, I feel I really ought to try, for the sake of my body, my budget, and the planet for which mankind has been entrusted to care by God himself. So, I made my own deodorant.

If you would like to read more about why certain ingredients, including aluminum, are unhealthy on the skin, this makes a good starting point.

The recipe I used, found in the Bulk Herb Store articles, and the video of Shoshanna showing the recipe in action, only needed a small amount of tweaking. My slight adaptation is the below recipe. As you can see from the photo above, the single recipe made enough for a full tube (white) of deodorant in a recycled twist-up tube, a full pot (brown) of finger application deodorant to toss into my diaper bag as a just-in-case, and another third (blue) in a second twist-up tube. My guess is the single recipe would comfortably make two full tubes of deodorant, one of which will normally last an average user at least a couple of months, or if you use a recycled toilet paper tube to make a push-up deodorant stick I imagine it would fill one tube. My husband and I are both wearing this deodorant today. Thus far, it has worked better than any other deodorant or antiperspirant that I can remember ever wearing. It does not block wetness, but I've done workouts and "played" with my husband and worked in the garden and done chores while running around with a toddler, and through the entire weekend I did not smell funky once. I fully expect that my good impression of this homemade, truly all natural product will not lessen as we head into a typical sweaty summer. Also reassuring, if my son were to ever taste this, given that most new things still make their way into his mouth for exploration, there is absolutely nothing in the recipe that would harm him internally. It probably wouldn't taste that great, but if he were to bizarrely eat the tube I would be laughing rather than freaking out and dialling 911. So, give it a go! Try the stuff and see how it works for you. I have no doubts that it will, and the recipe is easily adaptable, too, so if you find the texture not quite to your liking then it is easily changed by melting down the deodorant and tweaking it slightly.

Homemade Natural Deodorant

1/2 c raw coconut oil
2 Tb beeswax pastilles
(original recipe calls for 1)
optional 30 to 40 drops of essential oil(s), or have a look at my post on deodorant roller balls

2 Tb baking soda
1 Tb Celtic sea salt

2 Tb arrowroot powder (original recipe calls for 1)
2 Tb bentonite clay  (optional, as it may stain whites over time, so if you leave it out you may want to add more arrowroot and beeswax to form a thicker texture of deodorant)

Place coconut oil and beeswax pastilles in a Pyrex glass dish, within a pot of water on the stove to create a makeshift double boiler. Since the recipe contains bentonite clay, it would be very bad to bring any part of the clay into contact with a metal. Bentonite draws out toxins, especially metals, from the body, which makes it great to include in a natural deodorant for one who has used a lot of aluminum products in their armpits in the past. So use a glass dish to mix in, and a wooden spoon or popsicle stick to stir. If you want to use a different type of oil than coconut, you will need to add 3 Tb of beeswax pastilles, not 2, as coconut oil has a higher melting point than most oils and thus sets more firmly. I do recommend coconut oil, however, as the list of healthful benefits is quite long and it is especially known to be anti-microbial, thus aiding in the battle against body odor.

Melt oil and wax together until fully blended, and then remove from heat. Add essential oils and stir in well. The batch I am currently wearing contains 20 drops each of orange and lemon e.o., which smells beautifully fresh without being overbearing or girly. You can use pretty much any scent that pleases you. You can also infuse your coconut oil with herbs ahead of time, as the original recipe describes, which can often be cheaper, but does take an extra 3 days of mental energy. The essential oils were quick and effective for my initial trial batches.

Place baking soda and Celtic sea salt in Magic Bullet with grinder attachment, and break down to as smooth a powder as you possibly can.
Arrowroot is already very finely powdered and I did not find that it needed any further attention. My first batch was using fine ground salt and regular soda, and I found the finished texture to still be a little rough for my liking. Powdered well, the deodorant feels silky smooth and comfortable.

Mix all the dry ingredients together, and then, stirring well, add them to the wet and stir hard into a smooth paste. Let partially cool, stir hard again to ensure no possible settling, and pour into your mold of choice. Recycled deodorant tubes are great. You can make a push pop out of a TP cardboard roll. You can pour it simply into a non-metal container and use by finger application. You could reuse an empty chapstick tube if you want a really little deodorant for travel.

Further feedback!
Having used this deodorant recipe for several months now, I can report superb odor control. It's wonderful! It's now mid-July, which means we are in the midst of central Arizona's monsoons, and it's not only very hot but very muggy. The worst time is always shortly before the rains finally break, as the heat is easily over 100F daily and the atmospheric pressure makes me sweat like a dog all day long.

(Funny phrase, that. Sweat like a dog. I might be more comfy if all I had to do is stick out my tongue to cool off... Do dogs actually perspire as we do?)

Anyway... I have continued to wear this homemade deodorant. Marvelous stuff. I have worn it day in and day out, to church, in the garden, out for drinks, everywhere. The only time I thought twice about going natural was while getting dressed for an outdoor wedding in May. I had a small amount of gross stuff left in the cupboard, as I've been saving the container, and for a brief moment debated the sins of aluminum versus sweat stains in wedding photos before picking up my usual natural product and happily applying the good stuff. It complements my perfume fragrance best, I said!

Well, I sweated. Oh, yes. However, even in the heat of outdoors May, my body has adjusted so much that I did not sweat as much as in cooler January, believe it or not. Even after chasing a very energetic toddler by myself (as my honey was in the wedding party and couldn't help me) all afternoon, dancing with the boy and running around seeing everybody, I did NOT come home with sweat stains on my dress, nor did I smell at all sweaty! Damp, sure. But not smelling or appearing so. How great it that?!

I also find that the duration of odor control is typically a good 12 hours long, even through workouts, which means that I can apply the lovely paste after my evening shower and not have to worry about it the next morning or all through the day. Brilliant.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

coconut chicken Indian curry for beginners, plus curry powder recipe

We love curry. My husband and my son (age 16 months at the time of writing) just as much as me. I make Indian curries in different heats, creamy, coconutty, some plain, some with ground nuts, some vegetarian... We like to eat curry almost weekly. There are so many ways to make it!

But I discovered something appalling when I moved back to Arizona as a new bride. These people here are not just gun-happy. They actually don't even know what curry spices really are! I could walk into my local Safeway and leave with a product labeled, "curry powder", that neither smells nor tastes like any proper good Indian blend, and I have actually seen it used as a sprinkled condiment, akin to salt or ground black pepper, on top of a mayonnaise and cold potato salad. It is just not right.

So here is a little education for you. There are SO many things you can do with good spices, but you need a good starting point, I suppose, so first you need to put together my Indian spice blend.

Indian Curry Powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp fenugreek
2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp poppy seed
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp hottest cayenne chili
 1/2 tsp black peppercorns

This recipe makes a little bottle of curry powder, enough for 2-4 curries, depending on your family size. It is mild enough as is to be totally not hot, not offensive to my son when he was 10 months old. So, add more ground cayenne chili to match your preference of heat when you add the curry powder to the pan. Don't add it afterwards. It just doesn't turn out the same, and may be unpredictable as it will get hotter and hotter when stored as leftovers.

I am going to show you a creamy based curry, made with coconut milk as a gravy base, that has always gone over really well with family and guests, even potlucks. This one is best with chicken or a white meat, but by all means, get creative with the vegetables! Just be aware that cooking times will increase if you have larger chunks of one veg than another, so to avoid simmering all the fun out of your plants, take care in advance to chop or dice it all into somewhat similar sizes. Just last night I added shredded raw cabbage to a Malaysian shrimp curry, and my watching husband said, "What??! What are you doing?!" It was delicious, actually. Curry is a fantastic way to use up veg and disguise the flavors of vegetables your kids don't like. Some vegetables I like to curry include:

green peas
green beans
sweet peppers of any variety
kale, chard, and other leafy greens
summer squash
courgette (also called zucchini)
pumpkin or butternut squash
 There are few vegetables I will not curry. Right now, none come to mind.

So, you will need a few things for my little demo. The photos show these following ingredients, so mix up the veg according to your current fridge offerings and have fun! Let me know how it turns out.

2 chicken breasts, cleaned and diced
2 onions
4-6 cloves garlic
roughly 4 Tbs olive oil
4 Tbs curry powder mix
2 Tb tomato paste
1 cauliflower head, diced
1 c frozen green peas
1 can coconut milk

First, chop each halved onion into long, thin slices. The texture is so much nicer this way than diced. Flatten garlic with knife blade to remove papers, and thinly slice. I never bother to use a garlic crusher. Takes wayhaaaaaay too much time and is yet another thing to clean. Add onion and garlic to the warmed olive oil in a large pan, and simmer on high until mostly clarified. The proper thing to use would be ghee, clarified Indian butter, but that's rather tricky to come by in Arizona.

Next, add spices. Yes, right into the hot oil. You should have enough oil to absorb the spices, so if it looks a little dry then add another glug. Cook the spices, stirring slowly but constantly over a high flame, for about a minute.

Add diced chicken. Still over high heat, as you want the meat to sear nicely to retain tenderness, stir it around until it appears to be mostly cooked.

Add tomato paste to the cooked chicken mixture. Stir it around for a minute, and then add cauliflower. With lid on, simmer until cauliflower is al dente soft. I don't like mushy veg. At this point, add the frozen peas, as they only take a minute or two to defrost in the hot pan, and pour over the coconut milk. Lid on, simmer on a medium low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. The curry should be very aromatic in your house by now, so just allow the flavors you smell to fully penetrate all the veg you've added without overcooking them.

This is your finished curry. Serve over rice, with fresh salad greens on top. Happy eating!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

hearty soup stock -- pot or pressure cooker

Soup stock. Basic pantry item. But if you are at all health-conscious or budget-conscious, or, as I try to be, both, then you are probably familiar with making your own soup stock. Yes? No? Well, let me show you how easy it is! The results will make your house smell better than Betty Crocker's, and your body and savings piggy will thank you for the efforts. There's even less trash to rinse and recycle! Some purists would argue that there is a difference between stock and broth. For more on that, see here.

You can make this soup stock vegetarian by simply leaving out the meat products and doubling the veg. I don't know why you would when the chicken tastes so excellent, but you can.  

1 large onion OR or one onion and one leek
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
2 carrots
2 ribs celery
1 sets of bones from whole chickens OR 3 lbs beef bones, plus extra carrots
1 eggshell, either free-range or organic
1 Tb apple cider vinegar per pint of water = 4 Tbs acv
2 quarts water

optional small bunch fresh herbs 

I buy a lot of whole chickens. They are cheaper than beef on the bone, for a start, and as I'm re-purposing them towards stock it doesn't work out to be more expensive than plain old breast, sometimes much cheaper. I simply save the leftover carcass from a roast, once the meat is pulled off, and toss it in whole. I also save any drippings and the neck joint from the roasting pan and add those. Often, valuable gelatin drips into the pan during cooking and is fabulous nutrition for healthy bones when added back to the stock. A mark of a well made bone stock is that it gels like loose jello once cooled and set in the fridge -- if your stock does not gel when cooled, you can add powdered unflavored gelatin if you wish, for the health benefits.

If you are concerned for fat, skim off AFTER making stock, but don't omit all fatty parts of the bird when making the stock. This is easiest if you first chill the stock, letting the fat rise and harden into a disc at the top which you can then gently lift out. I tend to use this fat, rather than discard it, in a rue with flour for thickening stock gravies.

The eggshells are included because they contain valuable trace minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, glycine, gelatin, collagen, among others), which are then broken down and released into the stock. The bones release nutrients from the marrow which are beneficial to maintaining and healing joints, nails, skin, and teeth. Apple cider vinegar aids in breaking down the goodness from the veg, but especially from the bones.

Fresh herbs are up to you. Dried are acceptable, too, but my favorite is to snip 8 or 10 stems of thyme and oregano from the garden and toss them right in. They both adds antiviral properties to my stocks during cold and flu season, which I love. Other cooking herbs add many health benefits, too, but some alternate variations that you may not have considered are dried eleuthero root or astragalus root "tongue depressors" or chopped wild yam. Just please do your research ahead of time on these herbs.

Chop all veg. Toss all veg plus meat parts into pressure cooker, and cover with water. It will take roughly 2 quarts. Don't add salt until you actually use the stock in creating something else, like soup, or Indian dahl, so that you are not overloading your body with excess sodium.

Pressure cook for 45 minutes at 15 lbs of pressure. Let cool until pressure is released. Strain by pouring through a colander, and either freeze or refrigerate. If you want to go the old-fashioned way in a pot on the stove, you will basically just need to add all the same things to a stainless steel pot with a lid and simmer covered for about 6 to 8 hours. Can you see why I love my pressure cooker?

I have been making my own soup stocks for years. I've typically done the all-day method on the stove, in a too-small pot brimming full of goodness, and while it has worked much better than buying expensive and unhealthy boxes of stock it has not been the most efficient method of my time. I recently discovered this pressure cooker way and am in love! It is a wonderfully freeing notion to be able to make the healthiest homemade stocks in about a quarter of the time they once required. Who among us is not so busy that a little extra time discovered would go amiss? Also worth a read is the Bulk Herb Store article, giving recipes for chicken, beef, and fish stock. They detail the arduously long way...but I did add ACV and eggshells to my traditional chicken stock recipe following their advice, and I have to say I am loving the knowledge that I am feeding my family full of even more goodness than before.

Since originally writing the above article,
I sold some spare books over the summer and bought myself new ones for the herbal and health care shelf, including a book entitled, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. Fabulous addition to the household and well worth my investment. It covers not only a wide variety of delicious and not too complicated recipes, but also information and citations regarding cultured dairy, fermented produce, whole grains and alternative grains, meats, natural sweeteners, and healthy stocks. These excerpts are taken from the chapter on preparing stocks and sauces on pages 116 to 118 of the revised second edition.

"Properly prepared, meat stocks are extremely nutritious, containing the minerals of bone, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate. Acidic wine or vinegar added during cooking helps to draw minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and potassium, into the broth. Dr. Francis Pottenger, author of the famous cat studies as well as articles on the benefits of gelatin in broth, taught that the stockpot was the most important piece of equipment to have in the kitchen.

"It was Dr. Pottenger who pointed out that stock is also of great value because it supplies hydrophillic colloids to the diet. Raw food compounds are colloidal and tend to be hydrophillic, meaning that they attract liquids. Thus, when we eat a salad or some other raw food, they hydrophilic colloids attract digestive juices for rapid and effective digestion. Colloids that have been heated are generally hydrophobic -- they repel liquids, making cooked foods harder to digest. However, the proteinaceous gelatin in meat broths has the unusual property of attracting liquids -- it is hydrophillic -- even after it has been heated. The same property by which gelatin attracts water to form desserts, like Jello, allows it to attract digestive juices to the surface of cooked food particles.

...Although gelatin is by no means a complete protein, containing only the amino acids arginine and glycine in large amounts, it acts as a protein sparer, allowing the body to more fully utilize the complete proteins that are taken in. Thus, gelatin-rich broths are a must for those who cannot afford large amounts of meat in their diets. Gelatin also seems to be of use in the treatment of many chronic disorders, including anemia and other diseases of the blood, diabetes, muscular dystrophy and even cancer.

Other important ingredients that go into broth are the components of cartilage, which recently have been used with remarkable results in the treatment of cancer and bone disorders, and of collagen, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments."