Monday, November 16, 2009

What to Make for Dinner When all you have is cabbage and eggs and leftover chicken?

I made pancit for my kids today. Pancit is one of the national dishes of the phillipines, and I discovered it one day on one of my favourite websites: is an ingredient search engine. You tell the supercomputer what you have in your kitchen, and it will tell you what you can make with it.

One day I was trying to think of what I could make for my kids that would be a popular, healthy meal, that would use up some cabbage and chicken I had lying around. Answer? pancit!

When I told my philipino friend, Mary Jane, she was very excited to discover that I'd made pancit for my kids.

And my son wanted to know could I make this every day? I just pan-fried some noodles and chicken and strips of cabbage with a little soy sauce and garlic and voila! I was a culinary hero to my children.

I recommend you go and try it right now. Nothing but pumpkins and rice flour in the house? No problem, you can whip up a batch of korean pumpkin soup.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Personal Trainer for Cheap -- or FREE

I'm working from home this month. Which means I have some more time in the mornings that I'm not spending commuting.

Am I using those extra few precious minutes to have a lie-in in the mornings? Oh no, dear reader. I'm putting the time to much better use.

I'm Using it to Drag My Butt Off My Couch

I was at a conference in France last month, and expressed my admiration to one of my coworkers who went out each morning jogging through the countryside. I always wanted to be a runner. Burns calories like crazy, and it's my favourite kind of budget activity -- free.

My coworker clued me in to Couch to 5K. This is a 9 week program that takes you through an easy progression from couch potato to running 5k three times a week (that's about 3 miles for you Americans).

I first went and checked out the originators of the program at They sell a complete program for a very reasonable price.

But I, of course, prefer FREE. So I did a little search online and found a few people who had put together podcasts that take you through the running progression. One in particular, which I'm using is from Robert Ullrey. His music is paced to keep me running. His voiceovers help me to keep track of where I'm at in my run, and what I have ahead of me. It's like have a personal training jogging alongside every morning.

I've just completed week three of the program, so It's early days. That's 9 runs in, out of 27 to get to 5k. And I find I look forward to the runs every morning.

Looking forward to my workouts is a big improvement over the personal trainer I hired a few months ago to come over and torture me in the mornings.

I know what you're thinkging. This website - and my lifestyle - are supposed to be about all things frugal.

But I say no. It's about how to enjoy the little luxuries frugally. And living here in Argentina, a Personal Trainer is a bargain. My trainer comes out to the house and works out with me for an hour, and charges me a total of about $9.00.

For those of you living in places where the going rate for a personal trainer is NOT under $10.00 an hour, I recommend the following: look for a workout buddy, or place an ad at your local college to find a phys. ed. student willing to work out with you for a discount.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Can You Make Quiche With Milk?

I've been getting a lot of traffic to my blog from people looking for healthier quiche recipes replacing cream with milk.  So I'm just doing a quickie post on the subject.

I posted my frugal quiche recipe here.

I recommend against using cream in your quiche.  Use milk only.  If you prefer, you can even make it with powdered milk.  

The creamy, custardy texture that you get in a really good quiche does not come from cream.  It comes from the right proportion of milk to eggs.  Generally more milk and less eggs than what is called for in most recipes.  The objective is to make a smoothly textured cheesy custard (much like a creme caramel).

To make sure the custard sets properly during baking, you can just add a teaspoon of cornstarch to the milk/egg mixture before pouring it in to the crust.

Simplifying My Homemade Bread

I've been making Jim Lahey's artisan bread lately.  It is as good as any crusty fresh artisan bread I have ever tasted from a high-end bakery.  It costs almosts nothing to make, and requires almost no effort.

I just mix 

3 cups of flour
1.5 cups of warm water (straight out of the tap)
1.5 tsp of salt
.25 tsp of yeast

I mix it for a few seconds with clean hands...then walk away for 12 hours or so.

In Lahey's video, he cooks the loaves in a HOT oven in VERY EXPENSIVE cast iron pots.

I looked into buying one of these...and I still might.  But for the sake of frugality...I've been making mine in terra cotta planters.  

I went to my local garden center and picked up a shallow clay saucer (the kind used for catching the water that drains out the hole in the bottom of the pot), and a mid-sized planter pot that had no hole in the bottom. 

The pots stand up to the extreme heat and are a good container for bread baking.  The bottom saucer also works perfectly as a pizza stone.  I can use it easily in my oven or on my barbecue.

Harvesting Yeast From The Air

Sure, you can buy yeast in little packets and use it to make your bread.

Or you can harvest wild yeast from the air.

My next loaf of Artisan bread will be made with my own sourdough starter.  I've just poured some flour and warm water in a cloth-covered jar and set it out to harvest yeast and bacteria that feed on the flour.   It takes time....a few days to a week to get your starter ready, but very little effort.  I just feed my starter morning and evening at the same time I water my sprouts and brew myself a pot of green tea (for drinkingor as an antibacterial flouride mouthwash).

The yeast and bacteria are actually quite difficult to kill once you have established your colony.  You just feed them once a week or so with more flour and water.  As the volume of the starter increases, you just pour some off, and use it to whip up a loaf of fresh crusty homemade bread, using this recipe from

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Seeking Solutions for Bloodshot Eyes

As I've gotten older, all kinds of minor health complaints present themselves.  One of them is bloodshot eyes.

Could be the late nights, the early mornings, the hours in front of a computer, some kind of dietary deficiency...or just old age.  But whatever the cause, I am no longer able to spring out of bed after a few hours sleep looking fresh as a daisy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. an extension to my beauty products research, Ive started experimenting with home remedies for bloodshot eyes.  

It all started with a call to the vet.

I adopted a kitten recently, and she came to us with a winky eye.  When I asked the vet what I should do about it, he first recommended that I get an eyedropper and put drops of...cold tea.

Cold tea in my cat's eyes?  
According to various sources on the Internet, cold tea is a good remedy for itchy red eyes. 

But is it good for your eyes?

If you've read any of my posts on green tea, you know I have lots of it lying around.  I drink it for its antioxidant properties, use it as an antibacterial mouthwash (rich in flouride), and then sprinkle the dried leaves into my kitty's litter box to control odours.

So starting now I'm also going to put a few drops in my eyes.

Ocular Rosacea?

One possibility is that I suffer from a condition known as ocular rosacea.  Rosacea affects something like 14 million individuals in the United States.  It's characterized by red, blotchy skin.  Itchy flaky patches.  Fine capilliaries on the surface, and a tendency to flush easily.

The reason I think maybe I am suffering from ocular rosacea is that I have a chronic dry, ithy patch of skin on my face.  If left alone, it gets rough and patchy and itchy.  Apparently sufferers sometimes also get this chronic ailment in their eyes.

I've read a lot about the causes and cures for ocular rosacea.  The prognosis is mostly...unexplained, progressive and incurable.  Great.

For years I used a hydrocortizone cream to try to control the patchy skin problem.  It helps, but I don't really like to use it.   So lately I've been sourcing home remedies.  I suspect that years of loading my body with "toxic" beauty products has caused or worsened the skin condition.  

So I began experimenting with:

baking soda to gently exfoliate my skin once a week or so
a solution of borax for gentle cleansing daily
green tea and glycerine to moisturize, and heal 
zinc oxide cream (diaper rash cream) to soothe, and protect from further sun damage

The results?  The skin is smoother, the flaky patches are gone, and the itching is much better (but still present).  The texture and the pigmentation are more even. 

Not a miracle cure...but a HUGE improvement....and all of this using stuff I have lying around my house.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Quickie Post: Check Out This Gorgeous Garden

I just wanted to take a moment to share this.

This was posted on Suzanne Forsling's fabulous vertical garden from reclaimed gutters.

I don't have any gutters to reclaim, but boy would I like to try this.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Budget Science Projects: What I'm Working On

an 'almost' geodesic fort... shrink-plastic crafts from recycled takeout bag 'fabric' fusing...geometry fun with toothpicks and jujubies.

I am addicted to a website called Instructables. A place where people go and post instructions on how to make stuff.

Yesterday my kids and I made shrinky-dink jewellery from recycled take-out containers. Turns out they are made from the same kind of plastic as the Shrinkydink sheets they used to sell when I was a kid. I'm tempted to say polypropelyne...but it might be polyethylene. I spent quite a bit of time in the grocery stores reading the recycling symbols on the back of packages as I was doing my food shop. You need a number 6 or higher to get good shrinkage.

We made an assortment of beads that my daughter will turn in to necklaces.

The rest of the day was spent on building them a playhouse from recycled materials.

The Geodesic Fort Saga

Speaking of recycled plastic, I now am finely attuned to the different kinds of plastic used in plastic bags (mostly number 2 plastic...LPED).

Why, you ask? Well, because today I spent the day assembling large tarp-like sheets of plastic by heat-fusing plastic bags (in a well-ventilated area). All part of my recycled materials kiddie fort....inspired by a post on Instructables.

The basic framework is a geodesic dome made of rolled up newspaper struts. After some research, I decided to make the wall panels out of fused plastic bags. I got a little carried away collaging, and fusing on little hearts here and there. I also invited my kids to cut out shapes to fuse on to the plastic, as a way to engage them while keeping little fingers away from the hot iron, and melty plastic.

If you decide to do this project: don't make the same mistake I did. At one point, the instructions read as follows:
The topmost layer now has ten points. You now need to arrange tubes in an alternating fashion - two green from the first point, then one red, two green, then one red - all the way around.
It DOES matter which point gets the two green (long), and which point gets the one red (short).

I had a 50/50 chance...and guessed wrong...and the result is a FAR less stable structure, as the load is not carried to the floor without interruption. I have diagrams to show you what I mean. I'll try posting them below.

This is the right way to do it. The longer struts run in an uninterrupted arch from floor, across the top, and back to the floor. Yellow points represent the load.

And this is how I screwed it up. I attached the long structs to the short ones from the previous layer. The yellow dots represent stresspoints in the dome.

I'll have to go back and fix those.

A Play Fort For Less Than A Buck!

The fort is almost 8 feet in diameter, and could comfortably house both my kids and a couple of friends. Plus I got to teach my kids some lessons in geometry and save about a zillion plastic bags from the landfill.

This whole project cost me only $3.50 pesos...less than a dollar which I spent buying a copy of the Saturday National Newspaper, La Nacion to use in making the struts.

Oh, and $700.00 bucks for a new camera to replace the one my daughter dropped on the flagstones when I suggested she might like to document the building of the fort.

Right now I'm hoping that if I just put it away, the camera will miraculously heal itself-- or that it can at least be fixed.

Start with a Miniature Model

My children are 4 and 6 years old. To get them engaged in the project and help them visualize what we were going to build, we built a miniature model before we got started -- with toothpicks.

I gave them a pile of 65 toothpicks and a bag of jujubes to use to join the 'struts', and we laid out a mini model of the dome/fort on the kitchen table before we started assembling the real deal. It got them enthusiastic about helping me to build it...(ok, mostly about getting to eat the jujubes).

Let me know if you tried this.

This has been (and continues to be) a really fun and worthwhile project...and the kids will have a really great fort to play in when its all done. They're already asking me if they can sleep in it.

I'd love to know if anyone else tries building one of these, or a variation on the theme.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Green Tea: An Addition to My Home-Grown Oral Hygiene Regimen

I have an appointment with the dentist next Tuesday to blow $200.00 on tooth bleaching. But I'm having second thoughts. For me, a frugal lifestyle means having my priorities clear.

As I wrote a few days ago, the dentist checked my teeth - which I've been brushing with baking soda for the last few weeks, and said they look great. But I'd sure like them to be a little more sparkling white. My husband, who smokes, got his teeth bleached a few years ago, and they looked great.

So, do I spend the $200? Or try out a few other things first? I'm thinking maybe I could just use hydrogen peroxide at home to whiten my teeth. The thing that's stopping me is that hydrogen peroxide can make your teeth more sensitive.

When I was at the dentist, she gave me a flouride treatment. She mentioned, as she was slathering my mouth with the foul-tasting supercherry flavour that the flouride helps "remineralize" tooth enamel, and reduce sensitivity.

So when I read about the hydrogen peroxide causing tooth sensitivity I started wondering about flouride.

Enter the Internet. A couple of Google searches later, I stumbled across a potential solution.

Green Tea.

Apparently, in addition to having cancer-fighting antioxidants, green tea is chock full of FLOURIDE. Weird, huh? According to researchers at Oregon State University, " fluoride levels in green, oolong, and black teas are generally comparable to those recommended for the prevention of dental caries (cavities)."

Also, tea contains compounds called polyphenols that are powerful antioxidants, that have been shown to improve oral health, and kill the bacteria that can cause bad breath, according to an article in Scientific American.

And finally, a study at Pace University reported in American Society For Microbiology (May 2008) found tea extracts effective at treating bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, pneumonia and dental caries.[35] (thought they claim white tea is more effective than green tea).

Sounds like 3 reputable sources to me.

Of tea is touted as a cure for everything from arthritis to athlete's foot, which makes me suspicious.

But I'm definitely going to incorporate it into my experiments. I'll keep you posted.

And I probably will sprinkle the dried tea leaves in my cat's litterbox to see if it really does absorb litterbox odours as they suggest over at

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The No Shampoo Challenge - Not for the Faint of Heart

Wow. People are really up in arms over the idea of giving up shampoo.

Someone over at MSN Money spotted my post on the subject, and posted an article about it. And the comments are flying. People sound absolutely outraged. One poster had the following to say

That is seriously disgusting.

I am an exercise junkie and I'm at the gym at least once a day, and there is no way I will go to work or to bed without washing the sweat and oil out of my hair with shampoo. My hair is perfectly healthy and split-end free, plus I don't smell like stale oil and BO like the anti-shampoo people do.

In response to that I'll just repeat - water does an excellent job of cleaning hair. It washes out dirt, sweat and oil, and leaves hair looking and smelling clean. But sure, it's hard to believe. The beauty industry spends billions of dollars a year telling us all we NEED what they offer.

I'd be surprised if a whole bunch of people stopped shampooing after reading this. I'm not advocating it. I'm simply sharing the fact that I did it, and my hair looks and is healthier as a result.

I'm also curious to know if other people have tried it, and what their experience was.

I work as a marketing director, and I've done some consulting work for a couple of beauty products manufacturers - mostly skincare and anti-aging products. My work with them got me thinking about all the chemicals I use as beauty aids. Especially when I talked to the chemists who formulated the products.

I started reading labels. I started asking around. I also stumbled across a copy of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me".
What a disappointment to discover that most of the ingredients listed on the labels aren't actually designed to do deliver the benefit they're selling me.

Mostly its 'stabilizers', thickeners, sweeteners, dyes and perfumes, lubricants, preservatives, emulsifiers....stuff to make the product foam when you apply it. Stuff to stop if from going rancid. Stuff to make it feel slippery and slick when you put it on. Stuff to keep it from curdling. Stuff to make your skin tingle so you think it's working.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Perfect Frugal Quiche

When I have cheese in my fridge that is threatening to dry out or go mouldy, I pop it into the freezer for a future quiche.

My mom, who is my mentor in the lazy-gourmet-cookery department, taught me to make blender quiche, and I never make it any other way.

Quiche is a great way to use up leftovers. It freezes well, and plus I love it. I usually make a couple at a time. One to eat, and one to freeze.

But there are a couple of things that you need to do to make a really good quiche.

Prune Danish's 3 Rules of Quiche-making

1. Don't use too many eggs. If you put in too many eggs, your quiche will turn out rubbery, instead of creamy.

2. Precook your crust before pouring the quiche mixture in. It keeps the crust from getting soggy.

3. Do not use cream in your quiche. Use regular milk. The cream will make your quiche heavy, sometimes waxy tasting, and adds too much fat.

Perfect, Frugal Blender Quiche


3 cups milk (about) use as much as you need to fill your crust
2 eggs (3 if you use 4 cups of milk)
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup of cheese - feel free to experiment - I usually use leftover bits
1 onion, diced and cooked until soft
1/2 cup of whatever vegetables you like in your quiche (I like brocoli, spinach, mushrooms, cauliflower, asparagus)
leftover cooked bacon ham or chicken cubed or crumbled (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

For the Crust

When I lived in Canada, I used to buy prepared pie shells. They are not available here in Argentina as far as I know. Now I use a quiche crust recipe from Recipezaar, which is much less expensive, and WAY yummier.

Making the quiche

1. Put the prepared quiche crust in to a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. (you can prepare and freeze the uncooked crust for later use).

2. Toss the milk, eggs cheese and cornstarch plus salt and pepper to taste into your blender and process for a few seconds. No need to grate the cheese. The blender will handle this for you.

3. In a pot or frying pan, cook the onions, and any vegetables that should be cooked until tender (like cauliflower, asparagus or broccoli) in a little butter, oil or leftover bacon fat.

NOTE: DO NOT use more than 3 eggs for this recipe or your quiche will turn rubbery. The addition of cornstarch will keep the mixture from separating and getting watery. You do not need to use cream or even full fat milk to make a creamy gourmet quiche. The right proportion of eggs and milk will make it creamy- and much healthier than many quiche recipes.
4. Once you have prepared and baked your crust, pour the onions and vegetables into the bottom of the crust, then pour the milk mixture from the blender over top.

5. Put it in to a 350 degree oven and bake until the top is golden.

Delicious warm or cold.

Freezer tip: Quiche freezes very well. If you cut the quiche before freezing, you can separate the pieces with a little waxed paper so you can take out individual servings as you need them. Be sure to wrap the quiche well before freezing.

Give Up Toothpaste? My Trip to the Dentist Today

I visited the dentist today for the first time in ....gosh about 3 or 4 years.

Now, this is not an example of much as poor organization. I've made 2 international moves in the last couple of years. New homes, new schools, new jobs, new pediatricians, new Internet service provider. You get the idea.

The dentist wasn't something I had gotten around to organizing.

But now my daughter has started losing her teeth. And the new ones are coming in.

And yup, she's gonna need braces.

So I figured it was time.

A trip to the dentist here in Buenos Aires, with teeth cleaning, and flouride treatment runs less than $50.00. My dentist has office hours only 3 days a week. The other two she teaches dentistry at the local university. I'm not sure if that means she's a good dentist....but it makes me feel like she is.

I posted last week that I've started brushing with baking soda instead of toothpaste. My teeth are feeling cleaner that they have in years.

I waited to see if she'd make any comment. I was a little embarrassed to tell her how long it had been since I'd been to a dentist. She told me my teeth look great.

So far so good.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

a Quickie Post: Had to Share this Website

I have spent the last several days trying to track down RENNET here in Buenos Aires to make cheese.

Of course, in Buenos Aires, I can't just walk into a store and ask for rennet. First I need to know how to say rennet in spanish. The jury is still out on that. Based on my research, it's either:

When I ask for cuajo, I am sometimes offered the stomach of an animal.
When I ask for cuajada I am sometimes told I should just buy yogourt.
I can apparently buy quimosina and have it delivered to my manufacturing facility, as long as I purchase a minimum of 20 kilos.

So, of course, I thought that if I can't buy it, perhaps I can make it. Back to the Internet...which we should all take a moment to appreciate as the greatest frugal luxury ever. Access to the expertise of every like-minded, half-crazy, making-cheese-in-the-backyard-with-my-own-goat-milk genius on the planet.

And I stumbled across this:

And I stopped to do a little happy dance.

On the one hand, it's not good news, because the one stinging nettle that cropped up in our garden last year died from a failed transplant. My husband tried to re-pot it (long story).

On the other's not good news because I now live in a subtropical climate and have fig trees...but no one can tell me how to successfully make rennet from figs.

Still, it has given me hope. A boost to my obsessive need to track down the solution to homemade feta.

Many thanks to Garlic Breath and all you geniuses out there who are guiding me through the process of making my own smoked salmon, cured ham, yogurt, beef jerky, pizza dough, pasta, etc.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

7 Great Ways to Use Baking Soda

My mother is a forgetful cook. She subscribes to the 'set it and forget it' school of cookery whose principal philosophy is...low heat plus water should stop this from burning while I just go finish the laundry, reorganize my bookshelves and photo albums and clean out my closets...hmm...I wonder if these shoes still fit...

We sat down to a lot of smokey carrots and charred rice. My mother would try to pick out the really black ones and then feign innocence when people started to sniff at them suspiciously.

And the POTS. Any sane person would have just thrown them away they were so bad.

But since my mother really does make a regular habit of forgetting things on the stove, she's had to develop coping mechanisms over the years. I'm going to share a good one with you here today on my list of Top 7 uses for Baking Soda.

Top 7 Uses for Baking Soda

1. Use it to clean charred food off of pots. If you have a pot so badly encrusted with burnt foods that you're tempted to throw it away:
  • sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda over the burn,
  • let it sit for a minute or two with enough water just to moisten,
  • then top the put up with a little more water
  • and put it back on the stove on low heat (no walking away and forgetting about it this time)
In a few minutes, the charred food will begin to loosen, and you'll be able to clean it away with only about 10% of the elbow grease otherwise required.

Try this. You'll be amazed how well it works. When my mother first suggested it I thought she was trying to get me to use the baking soda as some kind of abrasive cleanser. But the low heat/baking soda combination actually removes the charred remains that have fused themselves to the bottom of your pan.

2. Use it to brush your teeth. Baking soda will not only gently polish your teeth to a shine, it will help to neutralize bad breath, and kill the bacteria in your mouth.

You can read more about the antibacterial properties of baking soda here:

I'm currently experimenting with replacing my usual dental hygiene program with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. I'm scheduled to visit the dentist next week, so I'll let you know what they think.

3. Use it as a gentle exfoliant to keep your skin soft. Know how marketers are always hawking ancient Egyptian beauty secrets? Well, this REALLY is one. The Egyptians first used natural deposits of natron, a mixture consisting mostly of sodium carbonate decahydrate and sodium bicarbonate. The natron was used as a cleansing agent like soap, according to Wikipedia.

You can either add baking soda to your bathwater, or mix a little in your palm to form a paste for gently exfoliating your skin. You can read about this and a few other DIY beauty potions here.

4. Use it to make your own Baking Powder. Substitutions are a key component of my cooking regimen. I often get a sudden impulse to cook, and I don't always have all the ingredients on hand.

If you find yourself short on baking powder, you can make your own. I got this recipe from

1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar

  • Baking Soda is a leavening agent, but it needs to be combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient (like yogurt or honey) to produce the bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand in the oven. That's why the Raincoast Crisp recipe I posted earlier uses baking soda instead of baking powder. The buttermilk and honey provide the necessary acidity to activate it.
Baking powder contains cream of tartar (the acidic component to activate the baking soda), and corn starch (a drying agent to keep the other 2 ingredients from being activated before you are ready to use them).

5. Use it to Polish Your Silver without having to Scrub. This is particularly useful if you have silverware with detailed surface ornamentation. Just line your sink with a sheet of aluminum foil, top it up with hot water, and a little baking soda, and drop your silver into it for no-effort polishing.

Isn't chemistry fun?

Want to know why it works? Read all about it here at

6. Mix it With Vinegar and a little Food Colouring for Hours of Chemistry Set Fun with your Kids. Speaking of chemistry. Did you ever make a papier-mache volcano for your science fair project when you were a kid? I think that has to be the all-time, number one most popular science fair craft. The magic, of course, was in creating an erruption, complete with lava flow.

To create your own lava erruptions, just ad vinegar to baking soda. Detailed instructions are here:

6. Use it to lower the PH in your pool. Baking soda neutralizes acids in your pool. You can replace any alkalinity increaser with baking soda 1:1.

7. Use it to remove pesticides from fruits and vegetables. When I get home from the grocery store, fruits like apple, pears or grapes go straight to the sink for washing before the fruit bowl or the refrigerator. That way my kids can just help themselves to a piece of fresh fruit when they want. According to adding a teaspoon of baking soda to 20 litres of water and soaking for 15 minutes will remove up to 95% of pesticide residues from fruit.

....and 1 thing baking soda maybe CAN'T do....

Baking Soda Does NOT Absorb odours from your fridge and freezer.

For years, Arm and Hammer has promoted its baking soda for absorbing fridge odours. In fact, this is one thing that baking soda does not do particularly well, according to the United Stats Department of Energy's "Ask A Scientist" website.

In Buenos Aires, baking soda is sold in tiny packets. I've been searching for a source where I can purchase it in bulk. The next time you're at the grocery store, pick yourself up a couple of boxes...but don't bother to put them in your fridge or freezer. Keep one in your kitchen, and one in your bathroom...and one out with the pool chemicals if you have a pool.

But make sure to keep them dry to maintain its effectiveness.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Free Resources: Learn a New Language With LiveMocha

I've been living in Argentina now for about 2 years. I spoke pretty good Portuguese when I arrived, and had a year of introductory Spanish under my belt.

During my time here my comprehension has improved tremendously. My grammar...not so much. Especially the written word. I struggle with spelling, mixing Portuguese and Spanish words, confuse pronoun four and six year old children are leaving me in the dust.

They spend all day at school studying in Spanish while I go to an office and hang out with Americans.

Today I stumbled across a great free resource for improving my's called

Registration is free and there is a broad range of languages you can register to learn. The site allows you to self-select your language level and complete lessons that help you to expand your vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and reading comprehension. It combines audio video and text.

LiveMocha is a community-based site where people who want to learn new languages connect to each other to study pre-set lessons, comment on each other's writing exercises and practise conversation.

The site allows you to befriend people who are looking to learn your mother tongue, and who are willing to coach you in exchange. Tonight I completed two lessons online, and submitted two writing exercises. Within minutes, I had feedback on the writing exercises in my inbox, complete with scores and comments.

All my coworkers pay around $50.00 pesos an hour for private lessons, plus the cost of text books. I'd been thinking of doing the same.

Interested in learning English, or practising your Spanish or Portuguese online? I recommend you give LiveMocha a try. Look for me (Prune Danish) on there, and add me to your friendlist.

Bonus Language Tool

For a quick vocab workout, you can subscribe to the Spanish Word A Day rss feed widget at

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More on "Self-Cleaning" Hair

So, apparently this is what they're calling it. "Self-cleaning" hair.

And perhaps the idea is catching on....which kind of shocks me. Most people look pretty horrified when I tell them that I haven't used shampoo in since February of 2007. Wait, don't stop reading.... I DO wash my hair. I just don't shampoo it. Water only. And no one in all that time has ever noticed, except my hairdresser.

One of my hairdressers in Rio told me she might try it herself, after seeing how silky and healthy my tresses now are.

As I posted last month, I have had "self-cleaning" hair for over 2 years. After living near the beach in Brazil for over a year, my hair was a total disaster. The sun, salt and humidity had me constantly looking like the 'before' shots in all those shampoo commercials.

With Apologies to Leslie Stowe

For those of you who are not familiar with her name, Leslie Stowe is, in my opinion, the Doyenne of canape crackers. She is the inventor of Raincoast Crisps.

Unfortunately for me Raincoast Crisps are not available where I live...I moved to South America several years ago. When I lived in Canada, I occasionally indulged myself in a box...Actually, only twice. They're about $7.00 for a 170g box. Yikes.

So, for those of you who know and love Leslie Stowe's Raincoast Crisps, but don't necessarily want to fork over $7.00 a box...and also for those of you who have yet to be smitten, here's a pretty close facsimile that you can make at home. It yeilds about 8 dozen crackers.

The batter will take you just a few minutes to whip up. The biggest job is slicing them super-thin so that you can toast them. For this, make sure you let them cool...which is tough if you're anxious to try them like I always am.

Rosemary Pecan Raisin Crisps



  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir a few strokes. Add the raisins, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed and rosemary and stir just until blended.
  3. Pour the batter into two 4x 8-inch loaf pans that have been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake for about 45 minutes until golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack.
  4. The cooler the bread, the easier it is to slice really thin. You can leave it until the next day or pop it in the freezer. Slice the loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Try slicing and baking one loaf and popping the other in the freezer for later. Reduce the oven heat to 300°F and bake them for about 15 minutes then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Try not to eat them all at once!
A few notes on substitutions

I've done a fair bit of substituting with these crisps when I make them at home, always with good results.

buttermilk: I don't even know how to SAY buttermilk in spanish, so I usually just use milk soured with a little lemon juice or vinegar.

pumpkin seeds: I've replaced these with sunflower seeds successfully

ground flax: I've also used whole flax.

brown sugar: You can easily make your own brown sugar far less expensively than buying it by adding 2 tbl. of molasses to regular white sugar and mixing thoroughly.

honey: These are equally delicious with molasses instead of honey.

rosemary: I once FORGOT to add the rosemary-- they were still totally addictive. My husband snarfed down about 3 dozen at a sitting last time I made a batch.

I posted the recipe on recipezaar. You can read what others had to say about the recipe there.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fabulous Home-Made Smoked Chicken Liver Pate

I've been experimenting with this recipe a lot lately. 

The inspiration for the recipe is this one that I found at

I use it as a basic guide, but each time play around, adding what I have handy.  Smoking the chicken livers instead of frying them creates a more delicate texture, and complex flavour.  

It costs almost nothing to make. Takes almost no time. It's a lot leaner than most pates, it's delicious, and it looks fancy to serve at parties. I sometimes take it for my lunch, or to share with my coworkers.

1 pound of smoked chicken livers (you can read the instructions on how to make these here. It is truly a one-step recipe. Just put 'em in the smoker on a pie plate.)
1 onion
one clove garlic
2 tbsp butter
fresh herbs (Ive used thyme, rosemary, tarragon) plus salt and pepper to taste

Toss the onion, garlic, herbs and butter into a pot over low heat and allow them to simmer until soft...or slightly golden if you prefer. I've added mushrooms to this mix also, and an occasional splash of red wine or brandy just at the end. Feel free to experiment.

Once they are cooked, toss them into a blender or food processor along with the smoked livers. You can also toss in a boiled egg or two (makes the pate fantastically light-tasting).  You could add olives, splash of wine, brandy or whatever at this point.

Process for a couple of seconds. Not too long.

Scoop into some decorative little dishes and allow to set in your fridge, covered. Done.

a couple of mushrooms
a boiled egg or two
a splash of brandy or red wine
a few chopped almonds or pistachios
some orange zest
roll it in dried parsley

For Homemade Melba Toasts

Take a leftover stale baguette, and slice it paper thin on a diagonal, and spread the slices on a cookie sheet to toast in your oven on the lowest setting. Store in an airtight container to serve with your Smoked Chicken Liver Pate.

This recipe freezes very well.

Frugal Gourmet: Recipes for a Whole Chicken

We picked up a whole chicken from the butcher on Saturday, with plans to use it as part of our sunday barbecue. I'll use it to make:

Succulent Smoked Chicken
Herbed Chicken Liver Pate
Curried Chicken Empanadas
Carrot Orange Ginger Soup

How to Smoke a Chicken

Every Sunday at my house we have a barbecue. It's a feast for the whole family, plus whoever wants to drop by, and we do most of the cooking for the week ahead.

A little after lunch on Sunday afternoon, I extracted the innards neatly packaged in the belly of the chicken I'd bought for this week.

I separated the liver from the rest, and set it aside. The neck, heart and whatever other stuff was in there went into a small pot with an onion and some celery, a bay leaf and a few herbs to make stock. I can either turn that in to gravy, or freeze it for later use.

I always keep the livers from roasting chickens in my freezer for making pate. This week I picked up an extra couple of pounds of them from the butcher. They run about eighty cents a pound on special around here.

Next I dumped the bird in a bucket of water for about an hour. About 1.5 gallons, with a cup of sugar, a cup of salt and fresh herbs from the garden (I used tarragon and rosemary this week). This is called brining. It's a quick, easy, cheap way to boost the flavour of your bird that I learned about here:

I never leave my chickens to brine as long as they recommend. I don't want the flavouring to be overpowering, plus I tend to leave things to the last minute. An hour or even 30 minutes has worked out well for me in the past.

Once we were ready to start cooking, I dropped the whole bird in to our smoker, and left it to slow roast.

The term "smoker" really makes this contraption sound a lot more sophisticated than it actually is. In reality, it's a galvanized can I bought at a local market, with a couple of wires strung from the lid to form a harness to hold the bird over the fire. It stand about 2 feet high. It's rustic, but turns out a perfect, deep golden, succulent smoked bird every time.

Underneath I slipped in a pie plate with a pound of chicken livers to smoke alongside. This is the secret to truly fantastic home-made chicken liver pate.

In total, It took me about 15 minutes of actual effort to set all this up. Fill the bucket with water, dump in salt sugar and herbs I snipped from a nearby plant, pluck the chicken from the bucket and put it in the sling, then add the pie-plate of livers over the smoking coals and wood chips.

My husband hangs out in the back yard and reads the paper or hops in to the pool with the kids most Sunday afternoons, or has a few friends over for a beer. He'll check the bird once in a while, and ad a few fresh wood chips or embers to the little can we have for that purpose at the bottom of the "smoker". All in all, it requires very little babysitting, and comes out looking picture perfect and tasting even better.

About an hour into the process, he'll pass me the pie plate with the smoked chicken livers, and I'll spend a few minutes whipping up some delicious Smoked Chicken Liver Pate, which we serve with homemade melba toast rounds and chutney or sour pickles, for people to enjoy while they wait for the main event.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's In My Freezer?

To me, a freezer is an essential tool in frugal cooking. It's also an essential tool in getting out of the house in the morning in a hurry.

I'm a confirmed foodie. Frugal cooking doesn't mean tasteless cooking. I have tons of lunch-sized treats waiting in there for me. Homemade peppercorn pates, the pierogies my kids and I made a couple of weeks ago, chicken and olive empanadas, stacks of pancakes and muffins....

For tomorrow's lunch I'll be packing a slice of quiche lorraine, and a green salad with roquefort, pears and walnuts (the crumbled roquefort, diced dried pears and toasted walnuts are in a bundle in the freezer alongside the pre-sliced quiche. I'll move both to the fridge tonight after I finish typing.)

Other salad topping bundles might include bacon and croutons, sunflower seeds, nuts, raisins, or sliced hard boiled eggs. I go assembling these in little tubs or baggies in the freezer, when I have something left over, then grab them as the mood takes me.

My freezer space is always at a premium. And its easy for stuff to get lost in there. So its important to plan what goes in. And to take stock. I do that on Saturdays before I go shopping.

That way, I go to the grocery store with a plan of attack. Saves me from impulse buying things that are more processed or expensive than I want. And saves my fresh produce from ending up in the garbage due to spoilage.

Here's what I usually have in my freezer on any given day. These are the basics.

Fresh Herbs and flavourings
basil and sage that I can use to whip up a pesto, stuffing or soup in a hurry
frozen chopped chives to sprinkle on pierogies, baked potatoes (these freeze really well if you chop them in bits and store in an airtight container)
orange and lemon peel and zest
chopped onions and celery for soup making (whenever I have a leftover little piece, I just chop it and toss it in to the container for future soups, stuffings or whatever).

Overripe Bananas
Plus cooked apples and other fruit waiting for me to whip up a batch of muffins or dessert.

Fresh Baguettes and Stale Bread.
I buy bread in bulk on sale. When I bring it home from the store, some of the fresh stuff goes straight to the freezer. I can defrost it later on a low oven and it still tastes almost as fresh as when I brought it home, if I get it in quickly. The stale stuff goes in until I have an afternoon when I can turn it in to french toast, bread pudding, or some other food for the family. I'll be posting on leftovers in another article soon.

Grated Cheese
Any time I have leftover bits of cheese that are starting to get hard, bits that got grated but not used or any other extra, I grate it and freeze it. Later I can use this grated cheese to make quiche, cheese sauces, toppings for pizza or casseroles or in baking breads.

Cheese is much too expensive to let it go mouldy, so at the first hint that it's not going to get eaten fast enough, into the freezer it goes. If I don't have the energy to grate it first, I'll just toss it in whole. Later I can throw it into the blender for some quick and easy quiche, like the one I'm taking for lunch tomorrow.

Wheat Germ, Bran, Linseeds...
I like to make my own muffins, breads, granola bars and cereal. Most of these ingredients are expensive where I live, but cheaper in bulk. If I leave them in my cupboards, they can get rancid or buggy. This way I always have some fresh on hand.

Frozen Meats pre-divided in single serving portions
One thing I've learned about myself over the years. If I put meat in the freezer whole the way I bought's going to be there for a long time. I get overwhelmed at the thought of having to wrestle to thaw it all out. So I divide it up before it goes in.

When I buy from the butcher, I ask him to put it into serving sized portions for me.

Pre-cooked Frozen Pancakes, Muffins and French Toast
for quick breakfasts

I just make extra whenever I am cooking up a breakfast for the family on the weekend, and freeze it in an empty bread bag. Both pancakes and french toast (and even waffles) are easy to pop in the toaster to heat, just like Eggos...but way tastier and cheaper.

Single serving and Family serving containers of
chile, stew, baked beans or lentil soup. These make fantastic single-serving lunches or dinners when I get home late from work.

Cooked Ground Beef
for spaghetti sauces, empanadas, tacos, chile and casseroles. I just fry it up with just a bit of onion and some salt on a back burner when I'm busy cooking something else. That way it's ready for whatever I decide I want to make with it.

Chicken Stock
I almost always have frozen chicken stock.

Whever I cook a chicken, the carcass gets turned into stock. I just toss it into a pot with a whole onion, some celery greens, a bay leaf, and a couple of cloves and peppercorns, and let it simmer away on low heat until a convenient moment presents itself to pour it off and store it. I cook it until the bones have basically collapsed into a pile.

I use every part of the chicken.
The livers get tossed into the freezer waiting to have enough to make a smoked chicken liver pate.
The gizards and the rest of the innards are cooked up for stock or gravy.
Whatever meat comes off the bones of the carcass in the stock-making are diced and prozen to make stuffing for empanadas.

Vegetable Soups
On Saturdays when I clean out the fridge, I'll grab a soup stock from the freezer, and turn it into a bean or vegetable soup to use up whatever's left in the kitchen. The kids are particularly fond of my carrot orange ginger, vegetable and cheese chowder and Ukranian borscht with a dollop of home-made yogurt. My husband's favourite is stilton and celery. These are all pretty low-effort, inexpensive when made with leftovers, and better than most of the soups you'll get in a restaurant.

Frozen Cookie Dough in a roll.
I can quickly slice off a few cookies when my kids invite a friend over after school, or to take to friends or have with tea. Makes it easier to convince my kids and husband to skip the packs of oreos they get all puppydog-eyed over in the grocery store, when I have something yummier to promise them warm out of the oven.

Quick and Easy "No Recipe" Plum Jam

I bought 4 pounds of plums at the market 2 weeks ago. They were on sale for 25 cents a pound.

My husband just shook his head when he saw me come in with them.

"The kids are never going to eat those," he insisted.

No problem. I made them into jam. And the kids loved it so much they've gobbled it all up already!

The great thing about fruits and vegetables is that they tend to be cheapest when they're at their peak. So it pays to find ways to buy in bulk and save for future use.

Quick and Easy "No Recipe" Plum Jam


A couple of pounds of plums (I used 2 pounds last time)
a few cups of sugar (I used about 3 cups)
some fresh lemon juice (optional)
glass jars for storage

The traditional ratio of fruit to sugar in jam is 1:1. Equal weight or volume of sugar and fruit. For me, that' much too sweet, so I make mine with half sugar. 2 cups cooked fruit for each cup of sugar.

To make impromptu plum jam, just wash the fruit, cut it in to rough chunks and throw it into a pot...pits skins and all, and cook it over low heat with a splash of water, stirring occasionally.

Once the fruit is softened, eyeball the volume, and add about half as much sugar, along with a bit of lemon juice for tartness and pectin if you like (once again, including seeds if they slip in...they're a great source of pectin). Then just let it cook away, stirring occasionally.

When I thought the jam was probably ready, the skins had become soft, and the mixture had thickened, I took a spoonful and set it out in a dish to cool, to see if it was thick enough. The first time I did this, it was still a little runny, so I left it to cook a while longer. I could also have added more sugar to reduce the cooking time a little, but I prefer less sugar.

In total it took 3 or 4 hours. Meanwhile I was free to enjoy the day with my kids, just checking in on it briefly once in a while.

I always save glass jars when I finish with them, so I grabbed a few, and set them out on the counter.

When I decided my jam was ready, I took a couple of minutes and fished the pits out and let it cool down some. Then I poured it into the clean jars. As the jam cools, it contracts, and activates the seal on the lids to help preserve your efforts.

Sugar acts as a preservative. Because this jam has less sugar, it needs to be kept refrigerated, and won't last as long as more traditional jams.

I can't actually tell you how long, because my family always gobbles it all up on toast, or as a topping for yoghurt or ice cream WAY before it has a chance to spoil.

If you're feeling like adding a gourmet touch, you can also toss in a few cloves, or some almond slivers into your jam as its cooking, to give it a distinct flavour. Have fun with it, enjoy, and write to let me know what you tried.

For More Money Saving Ideas, Check out the Carnival of Pecuniary Delights, where this article was recently featured:

Quick Easy Breakfasts All Month Long

It's Sunday today. My family and I just sat down to a lovely breakfast of french toast and bacon, with fresh fruit and pure maple syrup.

While I was whipping up the french toast, I fried up a whole loaf extra for later in the month. When I'm done cooking it, and letting it cool, I just slip it back into the bread bag it came from and pop it in the freezer. With about 7 eggs and roughly a half cup of milk I can do a whole loaf of bread. I add a splash of real vanilla to the mix, a sprinkle of salt, and sometimes some cinnamon or orange zest.

French toast freezes very well, and can be heated easily in the toaster. That way, I can quickly give my kids the added nutritional benefits of eggs and milk with their morning toast. Plus they like it better than plain toast. Sometimes I make it with whole wheat toast for extra fiber.

Freezer french toast really cuts down on the morning rush. And cuts down on the mess too. when I cook in bulk.

This also works very well for pancakes too.

Breakfast is a great place to start with Whole Month Cooking. If you'd like to find out more great ideas for ways to cut down on your time in the kitchen check out these resources:

Once a Month Cooking World

A post on once a month cooking over at Get Rich Slowly

Friday, March 20, 2009

Stop Buying Expensive Bottled Water

When I heard that prominent environmental activist David Suzuki had come out against bottled water, I had to stop and do a little happy dance.  I was always bothered by the fact that some bottled water companies try and market themselves as "green".

Suzuki makes the following very good arguements
  • the plastic bottles are wasteful, contribute to pollution and are potentially dangerous to human health
  • the fossil fuels used to ship bottled water from overseas are environmentally destructive
Amen to that.  Plus it's expensive, and the stuff flows out of my taps practically free, straight from the water purifying plant.

I've been battling with my husband over this one for years.  Frankly, it pisses me off when he goes out and spends our hard-earned cash on little stupid bottles of designer water.  He says it tastes better than the stuff you get out of the taps.  Maybe I should do a little blind taste test and see if he can really tell.

Anyways,  here are a couple of things to do to make sure the water that comes out of your taps is safe to drink, if you're really worried.

Worried about parasites? Boil It.

If you're worried about parasites in your treated tapwater, first of probably don't need to be.  There have been a couple of highly publicized cases of tapwater making people sick but it hardly ever happens.  It's kind of like shark attacks and plane crashes...newsworthy but much less of a threat than slipping in the bathtub.

But if you persist in being nervous, here are some helpful instructions according to a post I found on Yahoo Answers

The main parasites which need to be eradicated are the cysts which cause Giardia and amoebic dysentery. Small amounts will not affect the body, but in large numbers these pathogens can take effect. They can survive in cold, even freezing water for several months because of their hard protective shells. Chemicals are generally needed to break through these shells, however boiling the water will automatically kill them...

The general advice is to boil all water for 5-10 minutes plus 1 minute for every 300m above sea level, up to around 5500m where boiling becomes ineffective
Sorry if I just fed your paranoia by talking about the hard, protective shells on creepy crawly cysts living in your drinking water :)

Hate the Taste of Chlorine in Your Water?

Anyone who struggles to keep their swimming pool from turning green all summer knows that chlorine evaporates pretty quickly.  Want to get rid of the taste of chlorine in your tap water?  Here's a quick and easy way to do it for free.  Let it sit out in a jug for a few hours.

I keep two glass jugs of water on hand at home; one on the counter, one in the fridge.  

What about those water filters? 

I bought one of those once.  Well, the first question you have lead pipes?  A water filter..whether mounted on the tap, or in a jug, is primarily useful for filtering out heavy metals, according to an article on

The benefit of a water filter lays in its ability to filter out heavy metals and other impurities, such as lead, which are most likely not in your tap, but may be due to poor plumbing.

The article then goes on to warn that poorly maintained filters can actually be dangerous.

Water filters trap, but does not kill bacteria. Because the filter cannot kill bacteria, it actually becomes a breeding ground for the microorganisms if not changed regularly. An old, unchanged filter can be dangerous because its use may add bacteria, which had been killed in the tap by chlorine, back into water.

Want to Join the Fight to Protect Our Access to Safe, Clean Water?

A good cause fit for a tightwad like me.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Beauty Products You Could Probably Do Without

You can see this post, along with Many others in the weekly carnival of pecuniary delights.

I remember when "buff puffs" first hit the market right around when I was in puberty...and desperately in need of skincare miracles.

It was followed by a bunch of high priced, and not so high priced (but often harsh) exfoliating cleansers.

I just wanted to share my 2 standard home recipes for keeping my skin exfoliated, soft and smooth. They share two of my favorite and easy to make.

Gentle face-cleansing exfoliant

1 tbl. of baking soda
enough water to form a paste.

That's it. Use the paste to gently scrub away layers of dead skin using the pads of your fingers.

Cheap and easy. No harsh detergents.

Moisturizing exfoliant for hands and feet

I hate callouses on my feet. A few years ago a pharmacist sold me a "miracle foot scrub" that really was miraculous. It left my feet feeling smooth and moisturized. Sloughed off foot callouses with ease...and also did a great job of preventing little bumps from ingrown hairs from leg shaving.

It contained some kind of essential oil that left my skin feeling tingly. It moisturized and imparted a healthy sheen.

It cost me $25.00 for a small jar. I bought it on one of those days when I was looking for a shopping "pick me up". The kind that always had me living from paycheck to paycheck.

And pretty soon I had used the jar up. I decided to have a look at the label to figure out where I could get more...and stumbled across the ingredients list. Turns out is was basically oil, salt and some kind of menthol.

So of course I had to make my own. I started out by going online and looking for basic recipes as a guide, like these ones

Then ended up formulating my own based on what I read. Here's the recipe.

1/2 cup of iodized salt
1 tbsp of honey (optional)
enough olive oil to hold the salt together (feel free to experiment with other types of oils).

Use a small amount of the salt scrub in the palm of your hand, and rub it in to your feet for 1 minute before rinsing (the water from the shower will dissolve the salts, and leave the oils behind to moisturize your skin). You can also use it as a body scrub to gently polish away dead skin cells and leave your skin smooth and glowing.

***Please note. Don't make too much of this in advance. If you do, it will go rancid before you get a chance to use it all up. Also make sure not to get it wet, as the water will dissolve the salt, and make it useless.

Because I am somewhat lazy, as well as cheap, nowadays I generally just keep a box of baking soda, a box of salt and a bottle of olive oil on hand in the bathroom, and mix it up as I need it at shower time.

Movies, books and Music all for FREE

When people talk, these days about downloading music or movies for free, they are often referring to sites like Pirate Bay, where people copy and post media, often in contravention of copyright laws.

When you download from there, you often also risk infecting your computer with viruses.

As an alternative, how about rediscovering the library?

Get to Know Your Local Library

I grew up in a community with a library close by.  Always lived within walking distance of the library.  When considering moving to a new neighborhood, it was one of the first things I looked for...neighborhood pub, a good bakery...a library I could walk to.

it's one of my favourite hangouts. 

They have books, magazines, cds, dvds, cassette tapes, music, movies.  Every kind of entertainment I could hope to put my fingers on.  All free.

If you're looking for a way to enrich your life without spending a lot, I recommend you rediscover the library.

Most libraries have their collections available to search online, so you can find and reserve your books before going down there.  

But for me part of the excitement is just heading down and wandering the stacks to see what catches my interest.  If a book I'm looking for isn't in, they'll usually bring it to my branch free of charge, and even call to tell me when it's arrived.

Many now even offer audiobooks for download from home.  So if I'm travelling, I don't need to take the books with me or plan ahead.  I can just go online and make my choices, download and listen to them on my computer.  All free of charge.

Where else could you hope to get that kind of service?

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Beauty Products Do You Really Need?

OK. This is where I go out on a limb.

I realize what I'm about to say is going to sound pretty extreme. It's not something I generally tell the people I meet. And fortunately they can't tell to look at me.

But some of you may want to try it. Write and let me know how it turns out if you do.

I Stopped Using Shampoo

About 2 years ago I was hanging out in a lovely country house with my sister-in-law. She told me she'd seen a woman on t.v. who claimed not to have shampooed her hair in years. She told me the woman's hair looked great. I was intrigued.

I decided to try it.

As with most things, I went on to the Internet to get a second opinion, while I was toughing out the first few days while my hair readjusted. For the most part, the opinion was that you need to shampoo your hair:

But I also came across a few accounts of people who, like me, stopped shampooing.

So I stopped shampooing my hair. More than 700 days ago. I still wash it daily with water. But no shampoo. I swear. And no one has any idea.

My hair is healthier than ever. Whereas before I struggled to tame the frizz and breakage from sun, blow drying, and chlorine, my hair is now healthy, silkey and shiny. And you'd never know to look at me that I haven't shampooed in over 2 years. My hair looks and feels clean (and smells clean too I'm told by the few people I have openly admitted this to).

Oh, it was pretty oily for the first couple of weeks. For about a month it looked kind of ....stringy. But now it looks totally normal. A little less frizzy on humid days maybe. A little more body perhaps. Nothing dramatic. Just good.

Better Than Those High-end Shampoos and Conditioners

After almost 40 years I moved to a new climate. My hair was a disaster. It's a lot sunnier and more humid here than where I grew up. I'd always had pin-straight hair. Now I had FRIZZ.

Every salon I went to, I polled them for solutions. They sold me lots of them. Kerastase worked a little. But I suddenly found myself spending $30.00 or more on a bottle of shampoo or conditioner.

Then my stylist introduced me to hair straightening treatments. Kach-ing. For $70.00 or so I could douse my head with harsh chemicals that would render my straight hair even straighter for about 30 days. I was told that formaldehyde was a key component.

Doesn't that cause cancer?

So finally, after that chat with my sister-in-law, I just gave it up. Cold turkey, baby. No shampoo. Ever. The last time we got together she told me she'd kicked the shampoo habit too.


The No Shampoo Challenge - Not for the Faint of Heart

OK, so yesterday I went public with my "stop buying shampoo" message, by posting it to a blog carnival. Turns out there are a lot of people out there mulling over this question. I got the biggest traffic spike I've had in the short life of this blog.

It also turns out that the idea of not shampooing is gaining traction in other circles. I "stumbled" across an article on the subject recently (I'm a huge fan of You can access a link to that article here:

Other Beauty Products You Can Maybe Give the Boot:

More Beauty Products You Could Probably Do Without

Give Up Toothpaste? My Trip to the Dentist Today

This article was included in this week's Festival of Frugality. Read more here.

Insane Lengths in Hair Care, or an easy way to save $1200.00 this year

I get edgy when I go to the hairdresser.

I sit in the chair and stare in the mirror and hope against hope that the person I am paying will turn out to be a sorcerer, instead of a person with scissors.  

I've gone clutching pictures of nubile young celebrities, in hopes that I can pay to be transformed into a Hollywood Starlet with a few well-placed snips.  I've tried turning myself over to the care and artistic vision of the professional.  Hoping all that is required is a clearer vision to transform me into someone else.

I've gone to fancy award-winning salons, and budget hair dressers.

I always come out looking like me.  But with stiffer hair.  No taller, no thinner, no younger.

It usually sets me back about $100.00 with the cut, style and occasional highlights.

Sometimes I spend days researching to find just the right hairstyle.  Sometimes I just show up there on a whim, after catching sight of myself looking bedraggled in an elevator mirror.  

I do this about 5 times a year.  Plus the home dye kits, highlights, gel, mousse and other products, shampoo and conditioner, and a couple of hairstyle magazines.  All in all, I spend about $900.00 a year on my hair plus another $600.00 or so on the rest of the family.

Or at least I used to.

This year I'm taking $1200.00 of my haircutting money and putting it to better use.

A Salon Style Cut May Be Easier Than You Think
Which Beauty Products Does Your Hair Really Need?

I Stopped Dying My Hair

OK, so now my hair was less frizzy and damaged from the pool and the sun, since I'd stopped stripping it with detergents.  But the colour was still looking processed because I was dying it all the time to cover the grey.

So I decided five months ago to stop dyeing it.  

My natural colour is somewhere between field mouse and bark.... at least that's how I remember it, though I've been dying it so long it's hard to tell.  I started in my twenties.

I always wanted something more dramatic.  I'd watch Aeon Flux or that girl from the 5th Element and rush out to dye my hair fire engine red or jet black or platinum blond. 

The result? My complexion usually looked pale in comparison to the new unnaturally vivid hair.  Then after a few weeks it would start looking dull or brassy.  The roots would start to show.  

In reality the died colour is only better for about a week before it starts to  And I got trapped into the cycle because of the roots.  But now I'm biting the bullet and letting it grow out. 

And I'm discovering that my natural colour suits my skin tone, and the sun brings out natural highlights.  

I Started Cutting My Children's Hair

I went out last month and bought a pair of clippers and used it to crop my son's and my husband's hair short.   The clipper cost me less that the price of two haircuts, and my son loves it.  He's 4, and thrilled to have the same hair as daddy.  He thinks being able to towel-dry it in 2 seconds is magic, and shows off like it's a newly acquired skill.  

Also, He no longer has to worry when they send home notices about lice outbreaks at school.  

With their new cropped locks, they've both jumped on the no-shampoo bandwagon.

I Let My Husband Cut My Hair

I have pin straight hair.  My daughter has blond curls like an angel.

It always makes me smile to hear her complain about her natural curls, remembering the hours and dollars I spent trying to get mine to curl.  Perms.  Velcro rollers.  Curling irons.  Hot rollers.

Today We have matching hairstyles.  A blunt-cut bob, angled downwards toward the front.  But because we have totally different hair, the cut suits each of us in our own way.  Hers floats around her cherub face like a saucy blond cloud, hig at the back, with ringlets at the nape.  Mine hangs like a curtain, cuts sharply forward framing my features.

My husband cuts it for both of us with a pair of scissors that came as a free gift with the clippers he bought for himself.  

For a basic description of how to cut this style, see the link below:

So, that's about $1200.00 a year I'll be saving.  I'll put $600.00 of it away for a rainy day, and treat myself to something with the other $600.00