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.