Monday, 30 September 2013

Chilled Cauliflower Purée

I recently inherited a copy of the book Clean and Lean recently, which is a really interesting read (thanks Cait).  Great recipes too, although taking the next step and actually doing the clean and lean program isn't quite on the radar just yet! Maybe one day... (or not - I just could not imagine giving up wine and bread for 2 weeks)

Reading the book combined with eating a chocolate cake make out of black beans led me to think about sauces, mayonnaises etc and whether there was a way to make them healthier (there's the tie in). The preservatives in a classic mayo must be verging on out of control. Also I'm becoming suspect of eating things where I can't tell what is in them (like tomato sauce...there are definitely no tomatoes in that stuff!) Anyway, back on to the topic, a while ago I made a pasta sauce that was mainly peas puréed and it was delicious. Tonight we had a bowl of cooked cold cauliflower in the fridge left over from the AFL BBQ (where my salad only made it to the half finished stage) and I thought it could be a chance to get out the stick mixer again for some more pureeing. 

Quantities could be varied and if you don't want a garlicky flavour you could cook the garlic first (or use less):

3/4 cup cauliflower cooked (boiled/steamed) and chilled 
1 clove of raw garlic crushed 
20 g butter melted 
Squeeze of lemon juice
Milk (a few dashes as required) to get  creamy texture
S & P to season 

Place all ingredients apart from the milk in food processor or in a bowl if stick mixing and blend. Add milk slowly until you get a thick slightly creamy texture. 


Suggested tips: do not use the same fork/spoon that you use to scoop up the garlic to taste test. A big dose of raw garlic is a bit of a challenge! 

We had it with a plate of stir fried veges and leftover chicken. The veges were stir fried with just olive oil and some salt and pepper (chicken not so healthy but whatever) and the CCP on the side (chilled). I tried and failed to do the swishing down the side of the plate so it just looked like a random cream coloured blobby sauce snaking around the plate. Tasted good though. 

Suggested uses for the Chilled Cauliflower Puree (CCP): 
1. Heated as a sauce (pasta, gnocchi maybe with veg?) although WB has clarified that it wouldn't be like a regular pasta sauce since it's not as creamy - buyer beware. 
2. On salad as a dressing
3. Heated on its own as a mashed potato replacement. 
4. Topping to a steak - replacement for something like mushroom sauce 
5. A layer in a lasagne 
6. As a dip with Kale chips (Gwyneth Paltrow-esque)
7. With crackers and cheese... 

Of course we taste tested the crackers and cheese with CCP combo (right) and although it doesn't have much going for it in the looks department it was delicious.  Rated a "very good" from WB.  I reckon with a bit of chopped parsley stirred through that would be a winner.

The Kale chips and CCP dip would definitely be a good combo.  With the raw garlic, cauli and Kale you would basically be getting healthier just by eating it.  Funnily enough a search of Gwyneth Paltrow (to see how her name was spelt) brings up a recipe for Gwynnie's Kale chips. 

So that's it. The best thing about this is that it would be super cheap to make in bulk - if you can get a cauliflower for under $2 the rest of the ingreds will probably be around the kitchen so that's a $2.00 sauce if you used it as a pasta sauce (noting creaminess comment above) with 0% preservatives - Jamie Oliver would be proud.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Allergic to lipstick

One of the worst allergic reactions I've had (after a particularly bad firewood episode) was to a bright pick cheap lipstick that we bought to wear to the Sevens in Wellington. After wearing it for two days  my lips tripled in size and I looked like I had gone out to get extreme lip fillers. Because of the nature of the reaction I was also putting papaw cream on it so my lips were super shiny as well. Needless to say it was not only horrible but looked ridiculous as well. My workmates thought it was hilarious (you can't really call in sick for blown up lips) and it lasted for about a week.

Surely after that you'd think after that I'd cut my losses and ditch lipstick? Not quite. First I thought that it was just that type - it only cost NZ$10 and was very cheap brand. When that wasn't the case I've managed to keep it almost under control by applying lip balm first and then the lipstick over top. This reduces the skin exposure but means that the lipstick lasts for about 10 minutes (or slightly longer if you just sit around, don't smile, talk, eat or drink). I don't wear it often but you can't turn up at a wedding (or the races, or a dress up party) with a face full of make-up and bare lips.

Source: tumblr

  Anyway, I presumed that the reaction that I have was because there was rosin in lipstick. And, for the most part, I was right. DermNet NZ does really great fact sheets about allergies. There is a long list of irritants that are known to cause reactions in lipstick including:.
  • Nickel
  • Perfume and flavouring
  • Emollients including this unpronounceable one: isopalmityl diglyceryl sebacate that was used as a replacement for castor oil in Japan but is now being withdrawn from lipsticks and lipgloss.
  • Gloss - this is where the rosin/colophonium comes in
  • Anti-irritant agent’ – bisabolol (main active ingredient in chamomile)
  • Sealant – shellac
  • Cushioning/texture – di-isostearyl malate (fatty ester) 
The list is pretty interesting . I like that one of the listed irritants is 'Anti-irritant agent’ – bisabolol (main active ingredient in chamomile).  
 When you read the list of the common irritants that cause allergies to lipstick, it is easy to be concerned as to why these things are in the lipstick at all. Shellac, nickel, the various chemicals, rosin, preservatives and chemical colouring. Would you eat any of that stuff on its own?? 
Even though Snopes has claimed that women do not eat a couple of kilos of lipstick in a lifetime, I'm not so sure I want to be eating any chemicalised tree sap...

Bare Minerals lipstick - great find

So, where to from here? I've found a couple of brands that appear to be mostly natural. Bare Minerals does a great natural lipstick. I've used it with no problems. Inika is an Australian brand of organic make-up that also does a great lipstick. So there are alternatives out there, it's just a matter of trying to find them! 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Sukin, organic or not?

We recently came across the Australian brand Sukin Organics, a natural skin care brand. It is not certified organic but, at first glance seems to be fairly natural.  It was on sale at the Chemist Warehouse this weekend so I bought the body wash, shampoo, conditioner, a couple of skin creams and cleanser and thought I'd give it a go.

This morning I was feeling quite virtuous - I did Pilates, watered the plants, ground my own coffee, did the washing, cleaned and then used the Sukin products.  I've seen differing reviews on the internet so decided to do my own research, is Sukin fine even though its not certified organic? Or, are we being Suk-ed in?

The chemical low-down 

Sukin isn't certified organic and there are still some chemical ingredients in their products, including (from the body wash and hand wash):

The links are to each ingredient's info page on EWG's Skin Deep - Cosmetic Database a really useful page that has loads of information about different brands, products and the ingredients in various cosmetic products.  Go on it, type in the names of the products that you use on a regular basis and start freaking out about how bad they are! haha.  The last two ingredients listed (Phenoxyethanol and Benzyl Alcohol) also make the Green Beauty Guide's list of 100 ingredients to avoid.

This could be completely wrong, and is based on my very limited chemistry knowledge (ie high school), but I wonder if the two skin conditioning agents are required because the alcohol products that are used as a preservative are drying?  I think this a way too over simplification (ignoring the solvent and binding agents) but just a thought.

However, from what I understand, these products although chemicals may be a better alternative to other chemicals that are used.  So the best of a bad bunch maybe??  Also Sukin says on its website that where preservatives are used they are "within the recommended usage levels as outlined by the relevant parties in Australia, the US, EU and Japan".  The EU and Japan consistently seem to have high safety standards and ban many products that are considered safe in the US so this is comforting.  Sukin also discloses all the ingredients that they use here.

But... on the plus side

On the plus side, Sukin products have no sodium lauryl sulphate, synthetic fragrances, animal derivatives, harsh detergents, propylene glycol, artificial colours or parabens and they are 100% vegan and 100% carbon neutral.  So they are a LOT better than your average cosmetic product.  The other advantage is that the products are well priced.  From what I understand, being certified organic is an expensive process, if Sukin became certified organic the prices would probably increase as well.

I used the shampoo and conditioner this morning and loved them.  The shampoo did seem a bit drying on my hair (with its 12 year build up of blonde dye) but the conditioner sorted it out fine.  The body wash was also really good.  Great fragrance and it still felt like normal body wash.  Maybe it was also reassuring to have something a bit more natural after looking at the long list of chemicals in the shower for the last few weeks.  Love the Rose Hip Oil and Rose Hip Hydrating Day Cream as well.  And the Rose Hip Oil is certified organic so no complaints there!

Also, remember that the four ingredients listed above are just four out of maybe 20 ingredients and the rest of them look fine (I may be wrong on this as well, but I'm in no way an expert at nasty ingredient spotting).  So if you're walking through Chemist Warehouse (as an aside, have you noticed how, on the sign, just before the words "Australia's Cheapest Chemist" it says "is this?" in VERY small letters.  Like as if they may have got done for misleading advertising once...?) and tossing up between Sukin and another brand, 95% of the time Sukin would be the way to go (the 5% is in case you come across a certified organic brand).

Maybe its a gradual process and in a few months/years I won't be happy with any potentially harmful ingredients but for now Sukin is a whole lot better than what we previously had (Palmolive and St Ives body wash and a collection of different shampoo/conditioners) so I think the change is only positive!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Nut free pesto

One of the foods I was most annoyed about missing out on after becoming allergic to nuts was pesto.  Not so annoyed about feeling compelled to consider raw almonds as a healthy alternative snack when hungry.  The skin prick tests unfortunately showed positive for pine-nuts so, even though I think they are considered a seed, they are off the list which is where the issues with pesto arise!

I had a big bunch of silverbeet to use up today and saw online that some people had used it to make pesto so I've had a crack at making my own pesto without pine-nuts and... it was delicious!  I was a bit sceptical at first but was is actually really good, didn't taste like silverbeet at all. Definitely better than steaming it. And a much better option than plain boiled silverbeet.

I don't have a food processor so made it with the stick mixer which seemed to work pretty well.  I also partially steamed the first lot of silverbeet but didn't bother with the second lot and it didn't seem to make any difference. I also didn't really drain/dry the steamed silverbeet and didn't get any excess liquid (a common concern of the online recipe writers).

  • A bunch of silverbeet (I used about 6-7 stems)
  • Bunch of parsley (maybe a cup or so)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 120 g feta
  • 50 g Parmesan
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
Put the silverbeet and parsley in a bowl (or food processor) with the feta and some Parmesan.  Whizz it up until all the silverbeet has been fully mulched up, it will go this really amazing green colour.  Drizzle in the olive oil during the food processing (or if stick mixing, just stir it through at the end).  

Pesto and peas
I mixed in some more Parmesan at the end with some of the olive oil and gave it a final mix with the stick mixer.  

I actually found that I liked it better with less oil.  A lot of the recipes call for about a cup of oil (250ml), I didn't use anywhere near that much.  It was actually really tasty with no oil as well so that's a healthy option to consider if you're really keen. 

And no nuts? Well I thought it was fine, but good to road test with a peanut-butter-nutter:
Me: so how did you like the pesto?
WB: yeah it was good.
Me: did you miss the nuts?
WB: no.
Me: so it was fine with no nuts?
WB: yeah didn't think about it.

Good chat.  But it appears its fine without the pine-nuts.

I like coriander pesto so might make the same recipe with coriander next time (WB thinks coriander tastes metallic so will be an interesting road test with that one).  Also the pesto could be good with some lemon juice squeezed through.   Apparently you can also turn it into a dip by adding sour cream.  Could be an idea for the weekend - I even remembered to buy sour cream at the supermarket so good to go. 

Its also great as a pasta sauce - fettuccine, pesto, peas mushrooms and chorizo made for a pretty easy mid week dinner.  Slightly better photo than the kale and quinoa salad below. 
Pasta with pesto, mushrooms and chorizo

Monday, 22 July 2013

Kale and quinoa salad

I got a market vege bag from Erin at work today - filled with loads of things I never usually cook so a good opportunity to experiment... and a good opportunity to look at recipes online and update my Pinterest recipe board. Tonight I decided to start off with the kale (fennel or radish seemed a bit too much for a Monday), I've never cooked it before, or eaten it for that matter, so did a bit of googling on the way home. I found this recipe from Runner's World. Quinoa and kale salad with avocado and egg. Very healthy option for a rainy Monday night.. must have been the post spin endorphins kicking in!

I changed the recipe slightly and mixed fresh chopped flat leaf parsley in with the quinoa and sprinkled some spring onions over the quinoa and added cottage cheese, yum.   

  • A few stems of kale, leaves roughly town off the stems, mixed with sea salt and, olive oil and pepper on a baking tray, per heat oven to 175 deg 
  • Enough quinoa (I did just under a cup - and have leftovers for lunch), cooked to packed directions, then with finely chopped parsley mixed through it with olive oil and sea salt/pepper
  • One egg per person, I filled a frying pan with a few cm of water and did a half poach, half fry egg cook. 
  • Half an avocado, roughly chopped
  • One stem of spring onion, diced
  • Couple teaspoons cottage cheese (optional) 
Cook the kale for 15 mins in the oven, turning once.  At the same time, cook the quinoa.  While the quinoa is cooking prepare the spring onion, parsley and avocado.  Heat water in frying pan and cook the egg(s).  Once the quinoa has cooked stir through the chopped parsley. 

Assemble on plate: kale, quinoa, spring onion then place the egg on top and cottage cheese and avo on the side. Season with salt and pepper. Delish! 

Next up, fennel...  (and excuse the average photography, too hungry!)

Thursday, 13 June 2013

An allergic reaction to mascara

This blog has come about because I have been doing a lot of internet based, non scientific research into products that I use on a regular basis.

I have recently had a few bad allergic reactions to make-up that I had used. I've always reacted to lipstick in one way or another and have just avoided wearing it unless I have lip balm underneath. However, I recently bought new mascara and a week later had a reaction to that.

Because I've never reacted to mascara before I was interested to see what the ingredients were to see what I could have reacted to.

I am allergic to rosin or colophony (and all the similar products with various other  names  - hydrogenated rosinate, colophonium, tall oil, abietic acid, methyl abietiate alcohol and pentaerythrityl hydrogenated rosinate) but until then had not known that rosin would be used in mascara.

Rosin, in its natural form is a sap that is in trees.  I appear to be allergic to it in its natural and synthetic form.  It is found in numerous products including plasters, sunscreen, waxes, face paint, fake tattoos, ink and various cosmetics (DermNet NZ has a really good fact sheet about the allergy and what products include it).

It is surprising that it has taken me this long to get around to looking at what it is that I react to and finding out its chemical names so I can identify it.  But I think that may be because when you look at the list of names above it is a pretty hard task to remember them all and read the back of the ingredients list each time at the supermarket.  Unhelpfully they don't just say "rosin or a derivative".  The trial and error approach works 90% of the time.  Companies also change the formula of products and do not have to warn us.  So a risk is that something that I may have used for years will suddenly become infected with rosin and I'll end up with a hideous reaction to it.

Back to the mascara, while I was waiting for L'Oreal to send me the ingredients list I did some google searching to see if anyone else had a similar reaction to mascara.  The main reaction that was documented was an allergic reaction to shellac (see here).  This was a surprise - I knew shellac as a extremely long lasting nail polish and had heard it was used in wood glaze or floorboards.  I had not heard of it being in make-up.

This was the point when I started wondering what else was in make-up. If shellac is in make-up and no one bats an eye lash (ha ha) then what else is hiding in these products that we slap on our faces every day.  I decided I may as well write down these findings in case anyone else is interested, and for my own benefit as well.  So, that's the premise for the blog so far.  You never know, I may get sidetracked and begin blogging about cats. But for now it is a "What's Really in our Food" style blog about chemicals and household/make-up products.

From what I have discovered so far I think it is almost better to be in the dark about this! So read the posts at your own peril.  There are a number of products that I either thought were natural, or generally safe, but aren't really.  It is also interesting to see how much (read: not much) testing is actually done.  Websites that focus on the safety out ingredients (EWG's Skin Deep is a great one) don't often have much information about the products.  Considering the same websites also publish full studies when they have them I doubt it is for lack of trying to get the information.

Oh, and it turned out that the mascara that I used (Maybellene Great Lash, black, waterproof) contained hydrogenated rosinate so no surprises that I had reacted to it!

Photo credit: pumpkincat210 / / CC BY

Monday, 3 June 2013

Lucas Papaw v Vaseline

I've used Lucas Papaw cream for years so I was gutted to find out recently that it isn't actually all papaw.  Shouldn't be too surprising since it is labeled on the front of the tube: contains fermented papaw 39 mg/g. Which means 4%. That's right, there are 1000 mg in a gram...

So, if there is only 4% papaw, what makes up the other 96%? Petroleum jelly. It is interesting, the Lucas Papaw website only has papaya and petroleum jelly listed on its ingredients page (see here). However,  other websites have a longer list. The wellness warrior publishes a full list of ingredients which includes:

Fermented Fresh PawPaw Fruit, Rhus Succedanea Wax, Glycerine, Petrolatum, Canola Oil, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Beeswax, Corn Starch, Potassium Sorbate (0.1 mg/g).

Apparently it is mostly petroleum based, which means that it is basically Vaseline... What's the problem with that?, you might ask. Well a few things.

First, knowing it is mostly petroleum jelly means it is a bit of a rip off. In Australia you pay on average $4.00 for a tube, NZ it can get up to $8.00 a tube. Vaseline on the other hand costs around $3.50 for 100g.  Remember that the standard red tube of papaw is 25g.  

Also, petroleum jelly may not be that good for our skin. Wikipedia has an interesting summary of the history of petroleum jelly (paraphrased below):

A chemist called Robert Chesebrough was given a block of black rod wax and took it to his lab to refine it. He discovered he could make a light coloured gel by distilling some of the lighter coloured oil and he later patented this product as petroleum jelly.  Chesebrough, a fairly determined guy it appears, travelled to New York and (this is my favourite part) "demonstrating the product to encourage sales by burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle product" (Wikipedia).  

If the fact that it comes from an oil rig doesn't faze you, maybe the fact that the EU has banned all but cosmetic grade brands of petroleum jelly might. This article by Article Base is interesting. It sounds as though the reason many types of petroleum jelly were banned is because they were so unrefined that they were yellow/brown and contained a whole bunch of carcinogenics that are known to cause cancers. I haven't looked into what Australia/New Zealand allow but in the US pretty much anything goes and you can find lip balms that smell like petrol(!!) (check out this blog).

The end result is, I guess, that petroleum jelly isn't necessarily bad for you, but you should be careful. Lucas Papaw only uses pharmaceutical grade certified petroleum jelly, which is reassuring.

The interesting thing about petroleum jelly is that, although it feels like it is moisturising, it is actually a sealant.  So it creates a seal over the skin and moisture is trapped underneath rather than evaporating off skin.  This is why it feels like it is moisterising when instead, it is reducing moisture loss.  

Petroleum jelly is also not soluble in water.  Wikipedia recommends paint thinner or acetone as a method of dissolving it.  That's actually another thing that has put me off the Lucas.  Something that is only slightly soluble in alcohol probably shouldn't be used regularly on our skin!

After finding out about all of this, I have stopped using Lucas Papaw on such a regular basis and have purchased an organic lip balm - Suvana Paw Paw and Honey Organic Lip Balm. I highly recommend it, same effectiveness as Lucas, same size tube (just yellow) and its certified organic so you don't need to worry about any hidden chemicals.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Watch this space

This (soon to be) blog is about allergies, make-up, chemicals and other stuff that is in the products that we use on a day-to-day basis.

It is based on the experiences I have had along with information that I have found out thanks to Google and the internet.  While I've tried to find out accurate information, considering I don't actually do any real research myself, there is a chance that not everything will be correct.

So, watch this space... posts coming soon...