Chitika

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Wedding dresses.

How many of you have been married?  How many of you ever wore your dress again?  Why is it that we, as a society, insist on continuing to spend thousands of dollars (well, maybe not thousands in every case, but at least hundreds) on dresses that we will only wear once.  Worse yet, we keep them indefinitely for a purpose that I can't even fathom, taking up space that many of us don't have.  My mum still has her wedding dress and I wore it to my high school graduation (the girls all had to wear white, so that worked out well, and I just happened to be the exact same size as my mum), but really, other than very random instances like that, how many of us will ever use our wedding dresses again?

Still, when we're getting married, generally there are some things that are expected of us, i.e. that we will be beautiful or handsome, depending on our sex.  Men have this all figured out.  They rent their tuxedos.  Women, however, still feel compelled to spend all that money on a dress they'll never wear again.  I must admit, I also expected that this was an imperative, and I "bought" a brand new wedding dress (quotation marks used because I've paid for it and it hasn't arrived yet, so who knows if I'm actually going to receive it).  I'm getting married at the end of June and haven't seen the dress yet in real life.  Now that I'm a bit worried that it isn't going to arrive, I've had to figure out what I will do if it doesn't get here in time to have it altered, or if it simply doesn't arrive.

The best part about this rather unfortunate situation is that by sheer coincidence, I was at the Sustainable Living Expo and came across a booth for Pure Magnolia, which is a bridal shop which takes old wedding dresses and reuses the fabric to make new ones.  They have vegan silk dresses, cotton dresses, and everything in between.  They will also make you an entirely unique dress incorporating different aspects of a number of dresses in their store, if you would like.  Their prices are fairly competitive, being about $1200 for a long dress and $450 for a short dress.  If you want a completely custom dress, regardless of the complexity, the cost tops out at $3000. 

The fact that the dresses are reused is not, in itself, enough to suck me in, because I still don't particularly want to pay $1200 for a dress that I'm going to wear only once.  However... they rent.  Yes, you read that right.  They rent dresses.  They tailor them to fit you perfectly and they have them cleaned at an eco-friendly dry cleaner upon return.  All this for about $300.  Now THAT is worth paying money for.  I've made arrangements with the owner, Patty, to rent a dress in the event that mine doesn't arrive, so that at least I have a back-up option.  She has told me that it will take about 14 days for her to alter the dress, and my appointment is Saturday, June 11th. By then I should have a pretty good idea about what is going on with my other dress, but to be honest, I wish I had known about this option earlier, and I would have just rented a dress in the first place.  I have told Patty that if, in fact, my dress does come in, I am going to give it to her after the wedding, so at least it can be reused by others.  Either way, I'm looking forward to the wedding and whatever dress I will be wearing!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Meditation.

As you may remember, last week I went to my first silent meditation retreat.  I had an excellent time and really made a lot of progress with my meditation.  I've been meditating passively for years, but have always had a hard time with it and have never had much success on my own.  I am happy to say that I think that may have changed now.  I still enjoy group meditation because it causes you to be more structured, but I feel more capable of sitting down to meditate on my own now that I've received some instruction.  I would like to share a few things that I have learned about meditation that work for me, but I remind you: everyone is so different, try as many things as you can and I can guarantee you will find something that works well for you.

First of all, meditation is the ultimate eco-nomical activity, as it is both environmentally friendly and wallet-friendly.  Technically, if you are interested in pursuing a meditation practice, the only things you need are to be alive, to have a space to sit, and a pillow, block, or even a book to sit on in the event that you cannot sit comfortably without a bit of added support (more on this below).  There are infinite resources on the internet telling about various methods of meditation, including webpages, free podcasts, even some online books that are free.  There are free meditation classes available through many Buddhist groups, and they are very accepting and welcoming, even if you don't identify as Buddhist.  If you're willing to spend a little extra money, you can buy even more resources brand new, or try searching Craigslist for things you might be interested in that are second-hand.  In particular, meditation pillows or blocks to sit on or meditation benches are easily available.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Terrarium.

I fancy myself to be a pretty fantastic gift-giver, if I do say so myself.  Sometimes I am uninspired, which is never a reflection on the person that I am giving the gift to, but some people are hard to choose great presents for.  Tim, my very-soon-to-be-husband, is probably the person I most consistently buy awesome presents for, at least I like to think so.  As our three year anniversary is this coming Tuesday, and we're getting married at the end of next month, this is our last anniversary as an unmarried couple, so I wanted to get something special for him.

I was speaking to some friends just recently, and they were talking about a store in Vancouver called "Walrus", located at 18th and Cambie.  They were talking about these cool living walls that the store sold and also about some of the other interesting sustainable items.  One thing that was mentioned, which I immediately knew I had to get for Tim for our anniversary, were terrariums (most likely it should actually be "terraria", but that just looks wrong and I don't think anyone uses that word).  Tim loves plants.  Plants arranged in cool self-sustaining containers: even better.

So this morning after my shopping, I headed over to Walrus for a look around.  There were only three terrariums remaining from their most recent batch.  The woman who makes them apparently lives nearby and if anything happens to one of them, is happy to take it back and fix it.  There are two types: lidded and open-air.  Here is a link with some great pictures of the various types that were available.  I was pretty sure that Tim wouldn't be interested in any with figurines or fake toadstools in them, but the one I got him had a couple geodes and is really pretty.  It is at the back, left of the first picture in the link.  I brought it home and gave it to him right away because we're not big on ceremony and it also would have been hard to hide.  Here it is (I hope you can get an idea of how it looks, I took this picture with my iPhone and it isn't great quality):
I also purchased the cutting board today that the terrarium is sitting on, for two reasons: 1) we actually need a cutting board and it is a pretty green option, and 2) I couldn't stop laughing once I saw it and imagined bringing it home because it's just such a tree-hugger thing to get.  Really, it's bordering on being pretentious, but in a good way.  Anyhow, Tim loved the terrarium, he keeps going over and looking at it, and he also thought the cutting board was practical but also funny.  Success!

Red quinoa salad.

During the retreat last week, we were not fed any foods containing gluten.  I'm not sure if that was for religious reasons or because one of the guests had a gluten allergy, but either way, I felt really good while I was at the retreat, and really enjoyed the food, so I resolved that when I returned home I would try to incorporate a larger variety of grains other than rice and wheat into my diet.  I also want to try to eat even more vegetables.

So with this in mind, I had some red quinoa in my cupboard which I've been trying to come up with a use for for some time.  I looked through some recipes on the web (and figured out how to cook the quinoa, which it turns out is cooked exactly like rice, with the same ratio - 2:1 - of water to grains, and can be cooked in a rice cooker) and came up with one that looked great.  It also incorporated legumes, so I figured it was probably pretty close to a perfect recipe from a health standpoint, and it looked delicious!

Here are the ingredients I used for the salad:

  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked with two cups of water
  • 1 19 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed
For the dressing, I combined:
  • Juice of two limes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (can be done with just lime juice, my limes just didn't produce enough juice to give me the 4-5 tablespoons required for the recipe)
  • a few pinches of salt
  • 1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (I used freeze-dried, which is substituted 1:1 for fresh)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
Once you have cooked the quinoa, let it cool for about five minutes (or longer if you wish), but in the meantime whisk together the dressing ingredients in a large bowl.  When the quinoa has cooled a bit, transfer it into the bowl with the dressing, and toss.  Then add all of the vegetables and combine well.  The "real" recipe calls for 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cumin instead of the ground mustard and turmeric that I used, but I had already committed to making the recipe when I discovered I didn't have any cumin, so I improvised and it turned out great.  Tim and I had it at lunch and he really enjoyed it as well.  Quinoa is a great grain to use with a tangy and/or flavourful sauce.  I had smelled the sauce prior to adding the salad ingredients to it and I must say, I didn't anticipate that it was going to taste very good, but somehow everything combined in a way that is extremely pleasing to the palate.  I definitely predict there will be more quinoa salads in my future, particularly now that I have taught myself how to cook the quinoa!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Organics.

This is a huge topic, and one which I can only imagine that I will have to split up into a series of posts.  For this post, I think I would like to cover off the most obvious topic: the benefits of eating organic foods.  Other topics for another day will include the downside of organics, organic skin and personal care, and maybe a post about the foods that it is best to pay extra for so that you can ensure they are organic, and the ones that are less important.

Let me just start by saying that any blog that purports to focus on the intersection of eco-friendliness and affordability will have to deal with this topic sooner or later. One of the huge issues with anything organic is that generally they will be more expensive than their non-organic counterpart.  This being said, making choices that are are both eco- and wallet-friendly will have to come down to your own circumstance and how important each consideration is to you and your household.

When Tim and I shop for groceries, the gold standard for us is always to buy organic.  That being said, since I make all of our processed foods (ice cream, granola, buns, bread, cookies, cake, lemonade, butter, even some cheese now) by hand, we are only concerned with basic ingredients: flour, sugar, fruits, veggies and milk/cream.  We don't eat exclusively organic by any means, particularly during the winter when fresh produce is scarce and organics are nearly impossible to find in Canada.  Buying processed foods that are organic usually adds extra costs, I find, and, of course, inevitably invovles packaging (my arch enemy). Even if we were to buy something like organic bread, I would be concerned about the ingredients, because from my experience, there may still be non-organic ingredients.  The labelling of organic products is another topic I should tackle down the road.  For now, suffice it to say, there is no trust lost between myself and the food industry, and I don't have any particular faith that processed items contain what they say they do.  I also have a couple food allergies, which make eating processed foods a bit riskier for me than for the average person.

Apart from conspiracy theories about what is contained in food that we don't know about, there are many terrific benefits to eating organic foods, including benefits for your health, benefits for the environment and benefits to your community/society generally.  The most obvious health concern around non-organic produce is the pesticides used to grow most fruits and vegetables.  Technically, the pesticides aren't used to "grow" them, but to allow them to grow without interference from pests.  If you are a meat eater, the hormones and antibiotics injected into the animals you eat are in many cases absorbed by you when you eat them.  There are a lot of added "bonuses" in the foods we eat when we choose not to eat organic food.  The problem with so many of them is that they are recent creations and we really don't know the long term effects of exposure to them, either alone or in combination.  There are also risks that "safe" amounts of pesticides can accumulate in our bodies and eventually become toxic.

There are some claims that organic produce has more nutrients than non-organic produce, but I'm not going to dwell on that point as it seems that this is a controversial assertion and there is no definitive proof either way.  Here is a scholarly article that goes over the issue in depth, if you are interested.

The other obvious concern with respect to non-organic foods from a health standpoint is genetic modification.  In many countries, organic foods are not allowed to be genetically modified.  Genetic modification, although commonplace in North America, has been embraced far less warmly in Europe than it has here.  In fact, France has only allowed one form of GMO crop - a type of corn - and even that was highly controversial.  Although the concerns around GMO foods are widespread and not particularly well-articulated due to the recent nature of genetic modification, the concerns are enough to make me hesitate before buying potentially GMO foods. If you're interested in reading a more comprehensive summary of the major concerns, click here.

The environmental benefits of organic food are tremendous, as pesticides aren't used and therefore do not end up in the soil, aquifers, rivers and waterways, oceans, etc.  This in turn is beneficial for fish and wildlife.  Although organic production methods result in more spoilage or unusable produce, this can be used to make compost which is then capable of being returned to the earth.

As far as the societal and community impacts of eating organic, depending on the types of food that you are eating, you could support local farms, which may in turn benefit your community, as the farmers and their hired help can all be positively affected. Organic farms tend to also use more sustainable practices, support fair trade and may be more inclined to pay their workers a living wage.  By supporting organic farms, you in turn stop supporting non-organic farming, which will encourage farmers that do not produce organic foods to make the switch.  As organic foods become less cost-prohibitive due to increased production, we all benefit!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Shampoo - Day 19.

I thought it might be nice to provide you with an update on the hair situation, since it has been a few days, if not a week, since the last time I mentioned how it was doing.  As you may remember, I stopped using shampoo (this is called "no 'poo") almost three weeks ago.  It was a little dicey at first while I learned how to adjust, mostly mentally, to the lack of shampoo.  I had heard that this "adjustment period" can take anywhere from two to six weeks, and most people are simply referring to your scalp's period of adjustment while it gets used to you not stripping off the oils as frequently and therefore it stops producing as much oil.  I'm not sure if I'm just lucky or what, but that adjustment period has already passed, and I believe my hair is now normal.

There are a couple things that I would note about what qualifies as "normal" when you go no 'poo.  First of all, your hair never feels "normal" in the way that it did when you were using shampoo.  You have to remember that your hair will now not be stripped of oil, then conditioned, then had product added to it, so inevitably it does feel different.  This does not mean that it feels greasy, it just feels different.  My hair, which is super straight and fine, actually feels a little thicker and healthier.  I can also style it and not use any products in it (which of course I would not be able to use now anyhow, as I wouldn't be able to get them out if I did use them).  I really enjoy how my hair looks.  In my opinion, it has never looked better.  I'm not the hugest fan of the way that it feels to touch it, but I think I will likely get used to it with time.

Next, I think that the "adjustment period" no 'pooers go through should also refer to a mental adjustment period as well as the physical adjustment period.  I spent A LOT of time thinking about my hair, particularly in the first week.  Every day I debated whether I should use baking soda to take some of the oil out (speaking of which, I haven't used baking soda since two weeks ago, either, so it has just been water since then).  Every day was a struggle and every day was a debate.  I kept thinking I would wake up, or finish with my shower, and my hair would just look like a big grease trap, and I would have to get back in the shower and wash it with shampoo.  That never happened.  Part of the mental adjustment is just learning to take things slowly.  Even when I was at the retreat this past week and was using well water, my hair felt disgusting, but looked normal, so I just left it and told myself that after the retreat (which was five days), if it still felt the same way, I would use some baking soda.  It turned out that it was fine after I had a couple showers back at home with normal water.  I'm glad I didn't rush into washing it with anything.  The more you are able to resist that urge, the quicker and more permanent your scalp's adjustment will be, at least in my experience.

The no 'poo experiment has really been great for me.  Today I used a large round brush when I was blow drying my hair, which gave it a little extra body and that super-sleek look.  It looks like I just came from a salon.  The brush rolled through my hair much more smoothly than it ever did when I was using shampoo, conditioner and products (but not in a greasy way).  I have a few flyaways due to the fact that I can't use hairspray, but I am happy to trade those for all the products.  If I ever get hard-up, I guess I could acquire a natural, sugar-based hairspray, but to be honest, I'm not really interested because even through the one I am thinking of is completely natural and chemical-free, it is still in a plastic bottle, so still not really what I am looking for.  I am very happy with my decision to go no 'poo.  If you are considering it yourself, feel free to ask me any questions you may have.  I assume that what has worked for me would not necessarily work for you, but you never know, you will really just need to experiment a little until you find what works for you!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Retreat.

I just returned from my five day silent meditation and yoga retreat and I am very pleased to say that it was excellent!  It occurred at the Dharma Fellowship Hermitage on Denman Island (off the coast of Vancouver Island).  The retreat took place in a Buddhist Monastery.  I didn't really know what to expect, to be honest, but it met or surpassed my expectations completely.

I arrived at about 11:00 pm, after having terrible luck with the ferries on the way over.  I listened to many Buddhist podcasts in the car on the way over, which passed the time nicely.  When I arrived, there were still two gentlemen that were there and working on building a "yuti", or small hut, that retreat guests stay in.  I had a bit of a hard time locating the place, and even once I found the property, had a hard time finding the main building.  It was quite dark and the property is very large (60 acres).  Nonetheless, I did find it eventually, and I was taken to my own yuti, where I was to sleep during the retreat.  I met another one of the retreat guests that also arrived around the same time as I did as well as one woman that had been staying at the Hermitage for a couple months and meditating.
My hut

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Vacation.

For the eco-conscious and frugal people out there like myself, the topic of vacation has always been a bit of a challenge.  Don't get me wrong - I love getting away and taking a break from "normal" life - but I often choose not to because of how expensive it can be.  Until recently, I feel that the environment was an important consideration when it comes to vacation, but I'm starting to think otherwise.  Think of the waste inherent in resorts and hotels, the carbon footprint left behind from any air travel, the questionable practices used by the tourism industries in most vacation destinations and the low quality foods you would most likely be ingesting during your stay.  And this doesn't even take into account the quality of the alcohol in the place that you are visiting - if you drink - because in places like Mexico, the alcohol is of a much lower standard so has far more impurities than in the US or Canada.

There are a few ways to make your vacation more eco-friendly, and many ways to make it less expensive.  There is a movement towards eco-tourism, which is billed as responsible travel that can be educational, low impact and usually small scale.  I have not taken any eco-tours, so I can't say much about them, but they are an option.

Something I am more interested in is agri-tourism, which seems to be more along the lines of where my passions are.  There is something called WWOOF ("World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms") where you can go and work at a farm and in exchange receive food and lodging.  Some will charge a fee and some won't, depending on the amount of work that you are willing to do!  This is an invaluable way to learn more about how to grow your own food and feel more connected to the earth.  Many placed that you would visit are removed from city life and have the peaceful, relaxing feeling of a place you might visit on vacation, you just will do some work each day.  I figure since it's not the work I do for a living, it probably won't feel like real work.  Plus there is just so much to learn.

Another idea, if you are interested in meditation and/or yoga, is to escape to a Buddhist meditation retreat.  I am leaving for a five day silent meditation retreat on Denman Island today, which I am looking forward to immensely.  The accommodations are rustic (I will be staying in an 8' x 10' hut with no heat, water or electricity, but the main facilities have all of these things), but the purpose is to learn about meditation and yoga, which I think would be a terrific thing to do for a few days.  There is no requirement that you be a Buddhist to attend, and the retreat is by donation.  So you give what you can (and only at the end after you can properly evaluate the usefulness of the experience).  I love the idea and I'll let you know how it goes.

Finally, one last idea I've come across which I would love to do if I could get more time off work is to do a vacation where you go somewhere exotic and volunteer at a sanctuary of some sort.  For instance, in Costa Rica there is a sloth rescue where you can volunteer and for $30/day receive food and lodging.  You would work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and have one day off per week, so it is not a vacation for the unmotivated amongst us!  There is a minimum stay required of two weeks, but for $420 plus travel costs, you can have a truly rewarding trip!  I'm definitely keeping that one in mind for the next time I have some extra time off!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Granolas.

The day that I went to the screening of The Clean Bin Project, I had the opportunity to speak with Jen before the screening began.  We talked about the blog, the movie and some of the things that we both did, and some that one or the other of us hadn't been doing, or had never even thought of.  As I was explaining the possibility that I might start making my own deodorant, Jen looked at me and said, "You ARE a granola!  But you don't look like one."  This was a tremendous compliment, but to understand why, I should give you some background information on what it means (to me) to be a granola.

When I was in high school, I went through the first of my granola phases when I stopped doing anything with my hair, became vegetarian, stopped shaving and was frequently caught washing my hair with a bar of soap.  Oh, I also spent much of my time acquiring second hand clothes, and not nice-fitting, remotely flattering ones.  One day I was hanging around with a friend from California, who had another friend from his hometown visiting, and my friend asked his friend, "Doesn't she remind you of one of the dirty hippies from home?"  I asked for clarification and he said, "Our hometown is full of granola-crunching hippies."  So the expression was borne.  I am not 100% sure that most people would refer to another person as a granola, but I do find that if I refer to someone as one, people tend to get what I mean.

Skor chocolate chip cookies.

I make excellent homemade cookies.  Or maybe I just make homemade cookies and think they're excellent because they're so much better than store-bought cookies.  My very favourite type of cookies, which I have now perfected, are Skor chocolate chip cookies.  Things got taken to a whole new level this weekend with some simple tweaks to my favourite recipe.  Here are the ingredients I use:
  • two cups organic all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground sea salt
  • 3/4 cup homemade organic butter, melted
  • one cup organic dark brown sugar (the darkest you can find)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 organic egg
  • 1 organic egg yolk
  • 1 cup of Skor bits
  • 1/2 cup organic mini chocolate chips
Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl and set aside.  Melt the butter in a separate bowl and add both of the sugars.  Blend until light and fluffy.  Add egg and egg yolk and mix until the mixture is smooth.  Then blend in the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and blend until well incorporated.  Stir in the Skor bits and chocolate chips.  I sprayed the cookie sheet with olive oil using my Misto.  Put tablespoonfuls of dough on the cookie sheet two inches apart and bake for 15-18 minutes at 350 degrees fahrenheit.  Allow the cookies to cool for a few minutes before you transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.


I used the butter that I had made the weekend before and it was a bit stinky because I didn't manage to wash out all of the buttermilk, but I went ahead and used it anyway and the cookies honestly turned out perfect!  I'm definitely going to use that butter in recipes from now on.  

Facial scrub.

I'm always on the lookout for a recipe for a good facial scrub, and sometimes it gets me in trouble.  Yesterday I was looking around at some "no-poo" resources and came across someone that mentioned she uses honey for a facial wash.  I thought of that for a bit and it sounded like a good idea, so I did some searching to see if I could find any honey-based facial scrub recipes.  You see, honey is antibacterial, so is surprisingly good for the skin.  It is also apparently quite hydrating.



I came across the perfect recipe.  It used honey and baking soda.  I thought the baking soda was an excellent addition as it not only adds just the right amount of grittiness to the scrub, but baking soda has lots of beneficial effects on skin and can actually be used as a substitute either by itself or in combination with other substances in your skin care regime (check out this article for more information).  Two surprising conditions that can be treated by the use of baking soda are eczema and acne. Of course I'm sure that just like hair, everyone's skin is different and responds to a different regime.

Mango lassi ice cream.

Technically it is mango lassi ice buttermilk, but you get my point, I'm sure.  I bought a litre of cultured buttermilk this past weekend because we were going to make Indian food and I was craving a lassi.  Specifically, a mango lassi.  So I also obtained a mango and hoped for the best.  If you read my entries for Sunday, I was pretty busy with other things, so decided not to make lassis, but of course I still wanted to use up both the buttermilk and the mango, neither of which are popular in our home on their own (although I did enjoy the buttermilk ice cream I made.  I decided to Google mango lassi ice cream and lots of people liked it, but after checking out the various recipes, I thought I would just make a mango lassi, then freeze it into ice cream.  It is both simpler and I figured more "true" to the taste of a real lassi.

So here's what I used:

  • 1 ripe organic mango
  • 1 and 1/2 cups organic buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup organic cane sugar
I figured out how to get the flesh off of the mango (uggh), then pureed everything in a blender until it was very well blended.  I tasted it and it was delicious.  It could have had more mango and still been delicious, but I was quite happy with the results.
If only I had another mango, I could have made one lassi to drink and one to use for the ice cream!
I love the taste of mango lassis, they are both tangy and sweet, perfectly refreshing.  The ice cream version is much the same, but colder!

E-cloths.

At the Sustainable Living Expo this past weekend, one of the booths that we stopped to explore was for E-cloths.  E-cloths are micrifibre cleaning cloths that don't use any chemicals in order to clean.  We spoke at length to the person manning the booth.  To be honest, it all sounded like something that should have been on an infomercial late at night, but of course I couldn't help but be interested, because if you're reading this blog, chances are good that you know how I feel about chemicals and my somewhat optimistic goal of being able to minimize the chemicals that I use in my personal care regime and in my household.

There are some (perhaps many) things that probably cannot be cleaned properly without some sort of chemicals, and for all of those things I use Live for Tomorrow products.  These products are as natural as you can get, vegan, and biodegradable.  Not to mention they are sold in glass bottles that the company encourages to be returned to the place of purchase, where they are collected, rinsed and reused by the company.  They don't distribute outside of the Lower Mainland at the present time as they want to keep the environmental impact of distributing their products minimal.  They really have thought of everything, so I am happy to support them by using their products.  Their line of products is also focused mainly (but not exclusively) on the things that you would need to use products for: laundry and dishwashing, but they do also have multi-use cleaners.

As for the situations where you don't need to use a cleaning product, that is where the E-cloth comes in.  I've read many reviews of the products that they carry (I was particularly interested in the sponge cloth for the kitchen and the mop for all of our tiled and laminate flooring), I have been using the sponge cloth in the kitchen now and I must say, it works better than the cloths that we were previously using.  I have a hard time with kitchen cloths because they always start out nice and clean and they do a good job but then after a while they start to stink and even when you wash them they just never seem to get clean again.  I am hopeful that this will not happen with the E-cloth, but it is too early to tell.  On the bright side, none of the products were overly expensive, given how much of your cleaning regime you can give up once you start using them (this is particularly true with the mop pads, which will be discussed further below)

I do find that the sponge cloth picks up (as opposed to just smears around) a lot more of the stuff that ends up on our counters, even just with water.  I haven't used the mop yet, but I am optimistic that it will have a pretty similar effect.  You can either buy the entire mop assembly if you want, or if you already have something (I already had a Swiffer), I just used the one I already had and just bought a replacement pad.  The pad is too long, but can be folded over the top and I will find some way to secure it.  It sticks to the Velcro just fine.  I'm excited to use it, as I've been avoiding using my Swiffer because I don't want to throw away the used pad at the end.  Plus, the cleaning fluid smells so chemically, it's just not a pleasant experience.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Couponing.

Now, I'm as big a fan of saving a buck as the next person, but have any of you seen the show "Extreme Couponing"?  I have been watching the show since it started, and have certainly admired the subjects' abilities to save money.  I also love coupon books like the Entertainment book and GreenZebra (the eco-version of the Entertainment book).  However, things start to get a little warped once you take things to the extremes you see in Extreme Couponing.

First of all, there is just so much needless consumption.  The stockpiles that the subjects have is impressive, but also worrisome.  Do we really need all this stuff?  I've seen episodes where people will deliberately purchase sample sizes of things despite the fact that larger versions are available, which would have less of a detrimental impact on the environment.  Very rarely will you see bulk items purchased on this show.  Just seeing their carts full of things in plastic containers causes my environmental guilt to act up.

Although this is a very broad generalization, most manufacturer's coupons are given on processed and packaged foods (when was the last time you saw a coupon for kale?), and most in-store coupons are on food products that are old, stale or expired.  Therefore the nutritional quality of such foods is questionable.  Does this mean that you can't find coupons for anything that is nutritious?  Of course not.  But generally the coupons are for the items that have less nutritional quality overall.

Finally, as much as I like the thought of saving money, most of the subjects I've seen on the shows (almost exclusively women, with the exception of only two men), are resoundingly materialistic.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with acquisition, but sometimes when I see or talk to people that are so driven by the pursuit of buying things, it gives me some cause for concern.  Buying things never makes people happy, because that is not its purpose.  Buying or acquiring is meant to be done to provide security, make one's life easier, or ensure survival.  There are less purposeful reasons to acquire like for entertainment.  But if we are looking for satisfaction or happiness as a result of buying things, we will always be disappointed, because the cycle of desire-acquisition-satisfaction never ends.  It is best to work on being innately happy.  Then, acquire the things you do with a purpose, but never with the expectation that they will make you happy, whole or satisfied.

Consumerism, materialism and health repercussions aside, I do find the show has opened my eyes to the whole concept of using coupons.  Admittedly, I have to work reasonably hard to get my hands on the ones I would want, but I am particularly happy that we got the GreenZebra.  It only cost us $10 at the trade show (normally the book is $20), but I've already used one coupon and have about fifty dollars worth of savings just in groceries that I will end up using.  This is my very toned-down version of extreme couponing...

Whey lemonade.

This morning I wanted to get rid of the whey that was leftover from when I made paneer, so I decided to try something that is popular in India: whey lemonade.  Essentially you just make lemonade with whey instead of water.  When it comes to the whey leftover from making paneer there are fewer options for ways to use it up than the whey that is a by-product of other cheese production (due to the use of an acid to curdle the milk), so I'm really at the point where I'm willing to try anything.  I've heard that many people love this drink, so despite my trepidation, I thought I would give it a shot.

First things first: if you are a person that mentally can't adjust to the idea of drinking pretty much pure whey, don't even bother.  I'm fairly good with those sorts of things, but the thought of drinking goat whey (I had used goat milk to make my paneer) definitely started me out behind the eight ball. Still, I powered through.  If you're going to give this excess whey solution a go, here's what to expect... flat San Pellegrino Limonata Sparkling Beverage.  That's exactly what it tastes like to me.  It is not necessarily unpleasant, but as you are drinking (i.e. as the fluid is actually passing over your tongue), it seems very salty.  The smell and the aftertaste are both delicious.  But as you're drinking... salty.  I'm not sure I've ever had a drink that seemed salty like this (maybe Perrier, but you don't notice as much because of the bubbles).  It was interesting, and I'm glad that I tried it (particularly because I REALLY wanted to use up the rest of my whey before it went bad) but I think I'm going to keep searching for a better use for the leftover whey from my paneer.  Next time I make it I will definitely be using most of the whey in the making of the rice, as it can apparently be substituted for the water normally used.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Shampoo - Part VII.

I think that things are starting to become a little more normal with my hair now and that my scalp is officially transitioning to whatever follows the awkward phase of this shampoo-free lifestyle.  I used a baking soda rinse (1 tsp baking soda to 1 cup water) on Friday night, followed by a vinegar rinse (1 tbsp apple cider vinegar to 1/2 cup water), and it looked a little off, but I think that was from using too much vinegar (the effect of too much of it, particularly on your roots, is to make it look greasy).  However, yesterday and today I have used water only rinses and my hair looks completely normal.

I am coming to understand that perhaps my hair is never going to feel like it used to, and not because it's greasy, but just because it is now conditioned with natural oils instead of conditioner.  I know that it doesn't smell (I'm still asking Tim to check every day), but it just feels different.  Almost like each strand is thicker.  It feels very soft and most importantly, very healthy.  I find that with poker-straight hair, you really can't fake having clean or healthy hair, so I'm glad that it doesn't look like a grease trap.  I'm interested to see whether with time it will start to feel more like it used to, or if this is sort of how it is going to be from now on.  I'm very happy with the results of not using shampoo so far, it has cut down drastically on the length of my showers, and no one has commented on my hair looking anything but normal. It has been a good experiment so far!

Leftover whey.

One of the great trials for people making cheese by hand is that they have an awful lot of excess whey that they either have to come up with uses for or throw away.  I am not a fan of throwing things away, obviously, because it is wasteful.  If I want to take the time to make something by hand, then I would like to be able to do so efficiently.  This was a sizeable concern to me yesterday because I not only had leftover natural buttermilk from making butter, but also a bunch (about 0.7 of a litre) of leftover whey from making paneer.  With the natural buttermilk I made a granita that turned out excellent, so all I needed was a use for all the excess whey...

Yesterday I used some of the whey (a cup) in making the sauce for my butter paneer, which of course still left me with about two cups of whey to come up with uses for.  I had asked Tim to use the whey when he made the basmati rice, instead of water, because I've heard that works well and tastes great, but he misunderstood and didn't use it, so I can't say much about that solution (it seems like it might be messier than using water in the rice cooker, but I don't know).  Other potential uses I've read about are:
  • watering plants (for this type of whey, because it has had an acid added to it, you must make sure that the plants you water like acids)
  • for your pet's food, particularly if it is dry, to rehydrate the food
  • as a substitute for milk in recipes, particularly biscuits (I'm not sure that this type of whey - called "acid" or "acidic" whey can be substituted for all recipes due to the interaction of the acid and the leavening agents, but certainly anything that has lemon in it already should be fine)
  • lemonade (substitute the whey for water - apparently very delicious, and because the whey was made with acid already, it will not create any curdling issues - I might try this tonight to confirm)
  • for rehydrating things such as beans, or for cooking pasta to add nutritional value
  • in soups
The final use that I found for the whey was in smoothies.  As I've mentioned before, I have a smoothie every day for lunch, and the liquid that I had been using was orange juice.  I asked Tim today if he would instead use at least some of the leftover whey, and it turned out great!  You certainly can't taste it and of course it adds a lot of nutritional value to the smoothie (I don't add any protein powder or tofu, just fruits and the juice, so this is a great addition).  I don't know how long the whey is going to last in the fridge, so next time I make paneer we will definitely try to use up more of the whey by making the rice with it, but we have definitely found some good solutions to the excess whey problem so far.  Also, if it comes down to it, we can always give some to Loki (our dog) in his food, I'm sure he would love the variety!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Granita.

Oh, my dear, sweet God of all things tasty, I have come up with the most perfect use for leftover buttermilk produced from the making of butter!  And it is called a "granita", something I have never really understood until about twenty minutes ago.

I made butter today because I was baking and we were running out.  So of course I had the usual problem: what to do with the leftover buttermilk?  There was only about a cup and a little bit produced as a by-product of the butter I made, but still, I don't really see what the point of making butter is if you're going to just buy a lot of cream and then throw away a bunch of buttermilk. Well, after much searching on the internet (and trying to think of whether I would really consider making buttermilk biscuits with them, one of the most common suggestions), I came across this recipe for granita (scroll down to the heading "Buttermilk Sherbet").  Tim took the dog for a walk, so I thought I would give it a whirl.

I used the following ingredients:

  • about 1 cup plus 2 tbsp of natural buttermilk (by-product of butter making, not cultured buttermilk from a store)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 3 tbps lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
I mixed this with my hand blender for a minute and a half and threw it in my ice cream maker for ten minutes (there wasn't much of it so it froze quickly).  It is tangy and has a flavour that is indescribable, more like a sherbet than an ice cream.  I honestly think this was the best and most surprising recipe I've ever tried.  Tim loved it as well. I am pleased to tell you that I now know exactly what I'm going to do with the leftover buttermilk I'm going to produce when making butter!  By the way, if you don't have an ice cream maker, the recipe that I linked to describes how to make it without one.

Egg tarts.

This is going to be a post that doesn't have a very happy ending.  I am currently in the process of experimenting with the making of egg tarts.  They are a favourite of Tim's and a favourite of his mother's, and I thought it would be a special treat if I made them for her when she visits.  The first batch I made turned out well, but we didn't have small enough tart tins (I used the bigger ones used for meat pies), so they were the largest egg tarts ever, just way too much sweetness.

This time I had decided to do a few things differently.  First, I used my silicone cupcake liners and I baked the crust first for ten minutes because last time the crusts were undercooked.  I knew right away that this wasn't going to be a good solution because I only filled the bottoms of the cupcake liners and they poofed up when I baked them, so there was very little room for the filling.  Nevertheless, I gave it a shot.  When they came out of the oven, the crusts were very hard, but the filling was excellent.  This is a recipe I'm definitely going to have to try again and hopefully perfect before Tim's mum comes to visit next month!

On the bright side, because I couldn't use very much of the filling, I had a tonne of it leftover and it is pretty much just custard.  So I put it in some custard dishes I have and popped them in the oven at 350 degrees for half an hour.  They turned out perfect.  Here were the ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups of water
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 9 very small eggs
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp sweetened condensed milk 
  • 1/2 tbsp vanilla
I brought the sugar and water to a boil then removed them from the heat once the sugar had dissolved.  I let the mixture cool till close to room temperature.  I beat the eggs then poured them through a fine mesh strainer directly into the water and whisked to combine.  Then I added the condensed milk and the vanilla and whisked again until everything was combined.  I poured them through the fine mesh strainer one more time.

There is definitely a reason why this filling goes in egg tarts, it definitely tastes like eggs!  The custard tastes good, but egg-y.  At least it is a decent enough use of the extra filling.  If I could do it over again, I might only put it in for 25 minutes, because the custards were pretty well cooked.  I think the cream used in most custards usually keeps the custard from achieving this consistency when fully cooked, but since this is an Asian dish, the use of different methods means everything turns out a little different than what I'm used to.  In any event, I'm eating one of the finished custards as I'm typing this and it's not bad at all!

Butter paneer.

For dinner tonight Tim had butter chicken and I had butter paneer (I'm not sure if you would still call it that, but I'm going with it).  We had gotten three spice packets for Indian dishes that were made locally and were all natural from a company that had a booth at the sustainability expo the day before, and we were eager to try them!  The company was SpiceWorks and they use no MSG or gluten. They had samples at the expo that were amazing, so we were optimistic that our dinner would also be terrific.

The spice packet actually contained a second packet that was to be used to season the chicken or paneer before sauteing.  Then, we brought a cup of the whey that was leftover from the paneer I made earlier today to a boil (I had done some research to see what I could use this leftover whey for and that was a suggestion), then added the main flavour packet and stirred for a minute.  After the minute was up, we added a cup of whipping cream (no wonder it was so delicious!) and stirred.  In the meantime, we were sauteing the meat and paneer in separate frying pans.  Once the chicken had sealed and the paneer had started to get a nice golden crust, we poured the sauce over each of them, half on each.
We had also made some basmati rice to go with our dinner.  We poured the sauce and chicked/paneer over our respective dishes and we were good to go!
 Paneer
Chicken

Guess what?  It was excellent!  I can't vouch for the chicken, but the paneer was creamy and the perfect consistency.  The sauce was spicy but flavourful, and the whey was not noticeable at all.  I will definitely continue to use SpiceWorks products in the future (at least until I can figure out how to make these packets myself!), but absolutely worth the money we paid for them at the expo (3 for $10).

Homemade paneer.

I had the most amazing day.  First I went for coffee with my friend Jason and his girlfriend, Jen, whom I hadn't met till today, and she was fabulous, then I came home and did some baking.  First, I made paneer.  I'll post about the other things (some of them, at least) later.

Paneer is a soft-ish Indian cheese made without rennet, which makes it a true vegetarian cheese.  It has a creamy texture and a rather plain taste.  In Indian dishes it is usually accompanied by a tasty sauce that it absorbs lots of flavour from, much like tofu.  I really enjoy paneer, so was excited to try making it.

I picked up a litre of whole goat's milk (produced by Avalon Dairy, unsurprisingly, so in a glass bottle) this morning and brought it home after coffee with Jen and Jason, and made it immediately.  We were planning on making Indian food for dinner, so I wanted to get going on it ASAP.  I put the milk in a large pot and put it on medium high heat.  I kept a close eye on the pot because the goal is to get the milk to a boil, but you don't want to scald the milk because that will cause your pot to get caked with milk and I'm sure it will affect the taste of the paneer.  As soon as the milk was at a full (but not rolling) boil, I added two tablespoons of lemon juice (actual lemon juice, not Real Lemon, although that might not matter).  I stirred as I was pouring it in and then kept stirring until this happened, which was only about ten seconds:
This means that the curds have separated from the whey.  I took the pot off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes then put it through a fine mesh strainer lined with four layers of cheesecloth:
I chose to capture the whey because I planned to use it in the sauce that we were going to make to go with our dinner.  Then I wrapped the cheesecloth around the panner tightly to squeeze out as much whey as I could, then bundled it up with an elastic band.
I allowed it to hang and drip for a while, about an hour, then took the elastic off and laid the cheesecloth as flat as I could over it and put it in a container with another container on top of it and something heavy on top to press out even more of the liquid.  This was the final product:
It made about 2/3 of a cup of paneer, which later turned out to be the exact right amount for me for dinner!  It was creamy and delicious and much better than the paneer I've had at restaurants.  Brilliant!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Epic! Sustainable Living Expo - Part II.

For those of you that live in the Lower Mainland, I have a treat for you!  Today Tim and I went to "Epic! Sustainable Living Expo" at the Convention Centre downtown.  Tickets were $12 if purchased online (or $15 at the door), and the place was FULL of awesome stuff, even if you're not a complete granola like me. I took some pictures and will tell you about some of the really great stuff that was there.

Right when you walk in the door there are lots of eco-friendly-ish automobiles like Luxus, Toyota and some electric car manufacturers and even some converters.  At the end of the line up was Tesla, the most amazing electric car manufacturer, that had brought along both a Roadster and their prototype sedan.  I took a picture of the Roadster, because it's awesome and while the sedan was pretty, there is some debate whether it is ever going to go into production.  The Roadster, however, is in production and is amazing.  If you have about $120K for a new one (or I've seen second hand ones on Ebay for as low as $60K), this is the way to go.  They are California-based and have a normal 120V plug.
Around the corner there were booths for the Green party (I got a pin), some eco-oriented magazines that were giving out free copies (I got an issue of Common Ground featuring Dr. David Suzuki on the cover, so I knew it would be great), and some booths for organizations that promote everything from vegetarianism to fair trade to greening everything and anything you could think of (your office, your house, etc.).

Then there was the food.  Amazing food.  All locally produced.  Some was organic.  Some was free trade.  All of it was delicious.  There were two really great Indian food places (they make packages of seasoning to which you can add your own meat or paneer).  Lots of great balsamic vinegar booths for some reason.  Then, I came around the corner, and what did I see?:
The booth for Live for Tomorrow!  Across from me is Munu Hicken-Gaberria, whom I've mentioned before and who completely inspires me.  I knew that he would be there, so I went to introduce myself.  His products are brilliant, as is he.  I've already spoken at length about his products, so I won't repeat myself, but it was absolutely a thrill to meet him in person.  He was also kind enough to give me a handy bottle to dispense my Live for Tomorrow dishwashing liquid that is stainless steel (much better than what we were going to use which was an old gel bottle with a pump dispenser).

There were two other products that really stood out to Tim and I.  First was the MiSuny company's booth, which manufacture solar powered chargers for things, but the one we were entranced by was the iPhone charger.  It fits on the back of the iPhone and looks pretty good, all things considered.  It was even able to charge inside the Centre, despite there being no natural light.  I'm not sure how that works, but I was impressed.

Last, but certainly not least, was the display of a gentleman that makes purses and bags (including computer bags) out of reclaimed seatbelts.  They are really neat!  The company is called U.S.E.D. (it stands for Unlimited Supplies from Everyones Discards - the spelling is his mistake, not mine), and they make some funky stuff:
AND, they will make you any color combination in any pattern that you like.  Just go to their website and have a look around and you can contact them and let them know what you would like.  They are a completely family owned and operated shop from day one.

So that was Epic! Sustainable Living Expo.  I couldn't possibly tell you everything that was there, but it was great.  We walked around for about two and a half hours.  We also bought a book that is the green equivalent of the Entertainment Guide, which was $10 at the Expo, but what normally costs $20.  It has $10,000 worth of savings in it, and I can't wait to read through it!

Nutritional yeast salad dressing.

Some of you may be wondering why I am so excited about salad.  As I was writing my last post I was thinking I may have to further explain that.  It has been about a year or so that Tim and I have been eating a homemade smoothie and a salad for lunch every day.  Of course there are days that we don't, but by and large, we have tried to stick with this routine.  I find that a routine in the eating department really helps to eliminate waste, particularly when you eat as many fresh fruits and veggies as we do.  The danger of eating fruits and veggies has always been that you buy then and then don't use them before they go bad.  When you eat the same thing pretty much all the time, you get a very good sense of how much of it you need.

Anyhow, the thing that firmly entrenched me in the eating of a salad every day has been the discovery of my favourite salad dressing of all time: nutritional yeast salad dressing, a.k.a. "noosh" dressing.  It is fantastic!  I went to a retreat a few months ago and they had this dressing, made by hand as an option on the salad bar and I saw the name and thought "gross" and walked on by, taking ranch instead.  When I sat down and started eating, someone that had been to the retreat before recommended the nutritional yeast dressing, so the next day, I tried it and I've never looked back.  Nutritional yeast is very nutritious (as you would guess from the name), and adds a certain creamy texture to liquids and almost a cheese flavour.  It is entirely unlike brewers yeast or bread yeast.  It is reasonably easy to find in bulk (I get mine at Drive Organics), which is definitely a bonus.  I also use it to top my pastas and on dehydrated kale chips (I definitely should do a post about those).

I make a bottle of the dressing (and store it in one of the 1/2 litre Avalon milk bottles we have stockpiled) about once every two weeks or so.  It may seem like a lot of salad dressing to go through, but I assure you, when you eat a salad every day for lunch, it's not.  Plus, the ingredients are all healthy, so, at least in my mind, it doesn't matter.  Here's what goes into it:

  • 2/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes (can be bought from most health stores and natural food stores and can even be bought in bulk frequently)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tbsp pureed garlic (or to taste)
I blend all of the ingredients in my mini blender for a minute then transfer them to the bottle I plan to store it in.

The best part (besides how good it tastes): you know exactly what is going into your body and you are not ingesting stabilizers, preservatives, additives, trans fats, etc.  You also have complete control over the quality of the ingredients you choose: most of the ingredients are easily available in organic varieties, you can use more or less soy sauce (the recipe I found recommends 1/3 cup, I just use less because I don't eat much salt), you can determine how unrefined you want the olive oil to be, and you can even experiment with other types of oil (i.e. canola) or vinegar (balsamic, white balsamic, etc.).  

The other great thing about this dressing is that it is really an easy recipe, it turns out great every time, and it is a great starter to show you how you can start experimenting with the making of other dressings.  All oil based salad dressings contain oil, vinegar and flavourings.  From the most basic balsamic dressing to the most complicated Italian dressing, they all follow the same format.  Why we pay a lot of money for dressings that have a bunch of additives, I'm not sure.  Branch out and make your own, you'll be happy with the results!

Lettuce.

What could possibly be better than salad?  Salad in a pot that keeps regenerating itself!  I went to Superstore to do my grocery shopping for the weekend baking and they had this amazing salad pot with a few different types of lettuce in it for $9.00!
Sorry for the terrible picture, but hopefully you can get an idea of what I am excited about here.  It is actually a fairly large pot with an astounding amount of very good quality lettuce.  If we play our cards right and harvest it properly, the plants will continue providing us with much much more than $9.00 worth of lettuce over the coming months and will supplement our own lettuce crop that we're trying (unsuccessfully at the present time) to grow.  It also cuts down on the cost of the lettuce that we have to buy from the store, is way more convenient (i.e. much easier to clean, doesn't come in a plastic bag) than the lettuce from the store, and next year we can use the pot that it came in to grow some more lettuce!  A very good find this lovely Saturday morning.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Granola.

This post is dedicated to Q, the first person I've ever met that made their own granola (although the granola he makes sounds much more complicated - and delicious- than mine!).

Tonight Tim was watching basketball and I was bored, so I thought I would make some granola.  I had some organic quick oats (I know, I know, quick oats aren't as nutritious as regular oats) that I bought a long time ago and figured I might as well use up.  Here were the ingredients I used:

  • 2 tbsp butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 3 cups quick oats
  • 2 tbsp chia (aka Salba) seeds crushed
  • 1/2 cup crushed cashews
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
First I melted the butter and added the maple syrup.  In a large separate bowl, I combined the remaining ingredients.  I had to blend the cashews in a food processor because all I had was whole cashews (I pretty much just used all the things I needed to use up: granola, cashews, chia seeds).  Then I poured the butter/syrup mixture on the dry ingredients and mixed everything really well.  I spread the granola evenly      on a baking pan that I had buttered.  By the way, I don't know how the rest of you butter things, but I used to use paper towels to smear it on, but I've started just using my hands and find that actually works a lot better.

I heated the oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit and baked for about 40 minutes, taking the pan out of the oven every ten minutes to stir it around and make sure none of it burned or got too toasty.  It looks like it turned out great!  I snacked on a little of it while it was warm and it is very tasty indeed!

Mascara.

I am going to let you in on the most awesome discovery I've made lately: mascara!  Not just any mascara (and not the one to the left of this paragraph, although that one is far more widely available and much cheaper), but mascara that smells edible, is vegetarian, is completely natural, and mostly importantly, works.  I guess I get excited about a lot of things (I'm just that type of person), but really, this stuff is a good find.  Get a pen out... 


I went through an awful lot in order to find this stuff.  I read reviews.  I sent Tim to the Nature's Fare in Kamloops to try to look for another brand (Suncoat), before I read some terrible reviews and decided not to get that brand (it turned out they didn't have it in stock, so not an issue).  I had tried making my own mascara, which did not work out for me, so at that point I decided I would just have to buy the most natural mascara possible instead of making it, and I think that I have succeeded.


It is called 100% Pure Fruit Pigmented Mascara.  If you would like to read about what the company means when it says "100% Pure", read all about it here.  I had Tim pick me up a tube from Nature's Fare in Langley when he was out there today.  At $25 a tube, it doesn't come cheap, but it lives up to the hype, it lengthens, goes on exactly like the mainstream brands, smells divine (like berries!), and is going to last me a year or so, so it's worth it. There are Nature's Fares throughout the Interior of British Columbia, but Langley is the location that is the closest to the Lower Mainland.  If you live elsewhere, you can order from 100% Pure's website, and they have lots of things other than mascara so it's worth a look (including some really interesting makeup and body care sets under the "Gifts" tab).  I called the manufacturer to try to figure out where their mascara is sold in Canada and they were really unhelpful.  I know they have stores in California (in Berkeley and San Jose).  So are you interested in reading the ingredient list?  Here it is:




Shampoo - Part VI.

Well, today is definitely different than the previous five days.  Last Saturday was my last shampoo and today is Friday, so it has been a pretty good run.  I did use baking soda last Sunday, but it's been water only since then.  I curled my hair for photographs the day before yesterday, then it looked so great that I just touched it up yesterday morning (I didn't even wet it), but I knew today I would have to at least do a water only rinse.  This morning is when it all fell apart, I guess.  I'm okay with that, though, because it really doesn't look bad, it just feels very greasy when I touch it.  This is a picture I took yesterday before everything went wrong:



So I rinsed with water the same way I've been doing since Monday morning.  I could tell there was a bit of oil in it and I debated using a baking soda rinse, but thought it was worth at least seeing how bad it is when it feels that way.  As I was suspecting, after I blowed it dry, it was greasy.  I used a large barrel curling iron just to give it a little life and that made it tolerable.  I guess I'm firmly in the awkward adjustment phase and I'm not getting out of this as easily as I thought I might.  The positive spin on all of this is that everyone that I've read about that is doing this also went through a similar phase.  I haven't decided for sure whether I am going to use baking soda to rinse it tomorrow or if I'm just going to push through this phase.  I might continue with the water only rinses for the weekend and if it is unbearable by then, use a baking soda rinse followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse on Monday morning before returning to work.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Shampoo - Part V.

Well, I didn't give up and I pushed through.  Today I have to take some photographs for a group that I volunteer my time for, so I thought due to the sesame oil incident yesterday I might have to use baking soda today (it was definitely not bad enough to justify actually using shampoo).  But last night I did some experiments with hot rollers to see how my hair would look (and whether it would "take" without any gel or hairspray), and I was comfortable with the result.  So today I showered using a water only rinse, followed by the blast of cold water at the end, then blow dried my hair and put it in hot rollers for 25 minutes or so.  My hair turned out wavy, so not quite as curly as it would with gel and spray, but I am happy with it.  It actually looks like how I wish it looked naturally.  Toussled, perhaps, which is what I was hoping for.  It feels really nice as well.

Not that I'm so far removed from using hair products that I can afford to look back and remark on the error of my previous ways (you know where this is going), BUT I have realized a couple of interesting things about the whole messy process of using hair products.  First of all, think of how unnatural the whole process is: on a typical day, I would wake in the morning and shampoo my hair because it was greasy or had product in it.  Then, because the shampoo stripped all of the natural oils out of my hair, I would condition it.  Because my hair was both stripped cleaned and conditioned, it wouldn't hold a style, so then I would have to use gel so that it was easier to do things with.  And at the end, in a (somewhat desperate) attempt to get the style to stay in place, and get the little hairs that had broken off to do what I wanted them to do, I would hairspray it all into place.  Today I rinsed my hair with water and styled it and it looks fine.

The next matter that I have been reflecting on is how much I am coming to resent advertising.  I am not a fan of the fact that so many companies are trying to convince me that I "need" their products.  If a hundred years ago we didn't need their products, then what has changed?  Our needs? I doubt it.

Finally, the more I learn about being shampoo free (and hair-product free generally), the more I think that it is time to re-evaluate all of my personal care products and really establish what I need and what I'm just paying a bunch of money for that serves no practical purpose.  At this point I still use two cleansers (one for my face and one for my eyes) every day, body wash, a razor, two moisturizers (one for my face and one for my eyes) and toothpaste.  I think I would like to get down to a "man" routine (toothpaste, razor, body wash).  We'll see. Let's finish the hair saga first!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Environmental designations.

I don't know what happened to me, but I will admit that until about a year ago, I was a begrudging recycler, not to mention all the other things that I would never even have considered until fairly recently.  Being eco-conscious is one of those things... either you get it or you don't.  Or maybe you just start to get it a little too much and feel helpless/hopeless.  I think I used to be there.  I'm working on it.  Trying helps.

So I didn't use to be environmentally conscious, but I am so impressed to find that now that I am, I have so many amazing friends that have been this way (or even more proactive) for years.  I would like to give a shout out to my friend, Julie Gerhardt, who is one of those people.

Julie and I have known each other since being in the same sixth grade class.  We went to boarding school together for three of those years and have kept in touch since heading to college.  She is gorgeous, witty and brilliant, and so much so that I can't actually tell you which of those characteristics is the most impressive.  In other words, she is amazing in every way.  I'm sure I've left out a few of the incredible things about this woman.  All I can say is that I truly admire her and I am lucky to call her my friend.

I am so proud of Julie for many reasons, but today I am particularly proud of her as she just found out that she received her Environmental Professional designation in both Health and Safety and Policy and Legislation.  She is the first employee at the City of Calgary that has obtained this designation in Policy and Legislation.  You cannot receive this designation unless you have been working for eight years in the field.  So Julie has been dedicating her life since she was 22 to the environment.  Amazing. Truly inspirational.  Congratulations Julie!

Starbucks and recycling.

Well, I'm not one that casually complains about something then doesn't let people know when I am proven to be wrong, so this is a very happily-apologetic post about Starbucks.  I recently ranted about Starbucks' lack of corporate social responsibility due to the fact that it doesn't do enough to encourage recycling and take responsibility for its products' impact once they leave the store.  However, imagine my surprise when I went to meet my friend Vanessa at Starbucks on Sunday and saw this:
I am so happy about this development.  Congratulations Starbucks!  And all of you daily latte drinkers, now you can recycle your cups more easily.  And this is no small step, think of how many to-go cups can be recycled now!  It might not be quite as good as everyone buying travel mugs, but I'll take it!

Shampoo - Part IV.

Well. I don't stink (not yet anyhow).  It is now 72 hours since I have washed my hair with shampoo (48 hours since using the baking soda and water).  I don't know why I find this so surprising and impressive.  I guess it is because this "no poo" decision is just so unexpected and admittedly weird, I think I feel compelled to justify my decision by pointing to how "not bad" it is compulsively.

In any event, for someone that has never been able to go two days in a row without washing her hair (without pulling my hair into a ponytail and hoping no one came near it until I had a chance to wash it), three days in and everything is going remarkably well.  This morning I again massaged my scalp and hair under fairly hot water in the shower, then blasted my head with cold water at the end of the shower.  I made the mistake of exfoliating my legs with a mixture of sugar and sesame oil, and the oil was still on my hands a bit for my last massage of my scalp, so I could tell immediately that the oil had transferred.  Nevertheless, I didn't wash with baking soda, because I thought I might as well find out how it would be once it was dry.  I blow dried my hair, as usual, and ended with a cool shot.  My hair feels excellent, but I can feel a bit of the oil.  I am fairly sure it is not scalp oil, but the sesame oil.  It doesn't look or smell oily, though, and Tim gave it the smell-test and said it smelled fine.  Tomorrow after I give myself a scalp massage if the oil is still noticeable I will wash it with baking soda.

I'm not trying quite as many of the different options as some of the other "no poo-ers" out there in cyberspace (there are lots of resources available on the internet if you are thinking of kicking the habit but want to know everything to expect before you take the plunge, and believe me, there are many different ways to clean or condition your hair without any chemicals whatsoever).  I really would like to quickly move to "water only" (WO) washes (which I have done for the past two days) and I can't help but think that if I keep using things in my hair to clean it (such as water with baking soda) that it will slow down the process.  So for now I'm going to keep the baking soda rinses minimal, but trust me, the container I use to squirt the solution in my hair is sitting in the shower, waiting for its chance.  I guess the initial adjustment period is just about figuring out what works best for you individually.  Hopefully in the next couple weeks I will have it down to a science.  And no more using the exfoliator before I finish with my hair unless I wash my hands well first!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Handkerchiefs.

I have never once seen someone use a hanky and not thought the entire concept was weird.  I'm not going to lie to you and tell you otherwise.  However, eww-factor aside, facial tissue is incredibly eco-unfriendly, takes longer than toilet paper to biodegrade, and it is very hard to find tissue that has any post-consumer recycled content (although Seventh Generation makes some, I've read the quality is not even close to comparable to regular tissue paper).

This leaves me a bit torn.  I really want to be good to the environment, but I also want to pay for things that work the way I am expecting them to, if that makes sense.  I have never, ever blown my nose in anything but tissue paper (except for once, when I had a particularly ferocious cold, I had to blow my nose directly into the sink because the tissue was making my nose raw - very sad).  We use cloth napkins in our kitchen instead of paper towels, but I haven't been able to say goodbye to my tissue paper to date (not to mention I have four boxes left to use up).  However, as I become increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of paper products generally, I am questioning whether I can forego my prejudice towards hankies and find it in my heart to make the switch.

Just as I was in the process of debating this matter, I read about Hankettes, a Canadian company that makes hankies in a box, that look just like normal tissue paper boxes!  Well, enough like them that this might be a workable solution.  Of course, there are only eight hankies in a box, so you obviously can't go as long without cleaning the hankies as you could even use a normal box, but I think that's okay. The company has a really impressive commitment to the environment, sustainability and corporate social responsibility that makes you just want to support them.  Although the box of eight hankies costs about $45, I'm sure we will save lots of money as a result of this switch.  It will take some getting used to, but I really like the thought of breaking myself of the "disposable mindset" that I've developed throughout my life.

Shampoo - Part III.

I promise that this won't be the only subject of posts for too much longer.  I had a lot of territory to cover to bring readers up to speed, but now everything is going to happen very slowly (although I shouldn't say that too soon, because it could go wrong very quickly, it's hard to tell this early in the game).  Today I didn't want to use anything at all other than water on my hair in the shower, due to my suspicion that the baking soda I used yesterday may have done the exact same thing as a shampoo - minus the chemicals, of course.  Specifically, one of the benefits that being shampoo- and conditioner-free is supposed to bring is to allow your scalp's natural oils to rebalance, thereby removing the need to constantly be stripping them off with any sort of product.

Having this in mind, I washed my hair with only water today.  I got my hair thoroughly wet, then massaged my scalp with my fingertips (not my nails) for about a minute or two.  I then went about finishing up the rest of my shower routine and at the end raised the temperature of the water, massaged my scalp again for good measure, then finished off with a blast of cold water to seal the cuticles of the hair (particularly important if you are going to use the very hot method of water-only washing, I imagine).  Again, much like yesterday, my hair didn't feel particularly pleasant while it was wet.  When I got out of the shower I blowed my hair dry and gave it a shot of cool air from the blow dryer at the end once everything was dry.  Guess what?  My hair feels and looks just as good as it did yesterday.  This morning is 48 hours since my last shampoo... and counting!