July 26, 2009

What are Phthalates?

There has been a lot of talk about phthalates in the news lately and most of us probably never heard of them until now. Phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products like toys, medical supplies, vinyl flooring, food packaging and cosmetics. In cosmetics they are employed as solvents or plasticizers in products like perfume, nail polish and hairspray.

According to the FDA it is not clear what dangers phthalates may pose. In a study by the National Toxicology Program concluded that reproductive risks from exposure to phthalate esters were minimal to negligible in most cases. There are many reports and commentaries that link use of phthalates to reproductive damage due to exposure during fetal development, premature puberty and other endocrine disorders.

Because of the concerns many cosmetic and fragrance manufacturers are discontinuing the use of phthalates in their products, Bidwell Botanicals included. Though there is no conclusive research that definitively states the dangers we feel it is best for our customers to use fragrances and ingredients that are phthalate-free.

For more information about phthalates please visit the following web sites:

- Phthalates and Cosmetic Products
Consumer Product Safety Commission - Guidance For Complying With Phthalates Requirements
P&G Beauty and Grooming - Phthalates Safety in Cosmetics
PCPC - Phthalates

July 15, 2009

The Summer Harvest Series - Part II

Let's continue talking about the things you can do with your backyard harvest of fruits and veggies as previously mentioned in the blog post: An Overabundance of Produce . There are numerous choices for pickling, canning and fresh use, as well as fresh skin care you can DIY. Skin care? With fruit and vegetables? Absolutely! Strawberries are astringent and wonderful for facial masques when mixed with, what else, cream or honey. Cucumbers are soothing and cooling and help to reduce redness and irritation. Oh, and figs are not just for jams and Fig Newtons! You can even use tomato and garlic for oily skin care. No really - you can!

Host a Girls Spa Night or have fun with your kids whipping up a bevy of delicious recipes for your skin. Here are a few easy DIY formulas to get you started.
  • Strawberry Cucumber Smoothie Facial Masque:
    (makes 1-2 applications)
    You will need:
    Fresh ripe strawberries - 3-4 large
    2-4 Cucumber Slices
    Honey - 1/2 tsp
    Cream or Half & Half - 1/2 tsp
    Olive Oil or Sweet Almond Oil (Optional - skip if your skin is oily)
    Glass or Plastic bowl
    Small, clean paint brush with soft bristles (Optional)
    Wash and dry face or area to be treated prior to application.

    Cut off the stem and cut up the strawberries and place them in a bowl. Smash with a fork until smooth. Add the honey, cream and oil (if using) and blend together.

    Now for the fun part! It's easier, and more fun, if you have a partner for this procedure. Have them lie back and close their eyes. Place cool cuke slices on over their eyes to soothe and rejuvenate - it also helps to keep the masque out of their eyes especially when kids are doing this. Using your clean paint brush or clean fingers apply a thin layer of the strawberry mixture to the face avoiding the eye area. Relax for 5 - 15 minutes. Remove cucumber slices and wash face thoroughly, pat dry and use a moisturizer if desired. Discard any left over mixture.

  • Guacomole Hair Conditioner (makes 1 application)
    1 Ripe Avocado
    1/2 - 1 Cup Mayonnaise (depending on length of hair)
    Skin and remove the pit from the avocado. Place in a bowl with the mayonnaise mash and mix thoroughly until you have a creamy paste.
    Apply to scalp and hair and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap or a shower cap if you have one. Let the mixture sit on your hair for about 20-30 minutes. If you're doing this with youngsters you might have to cut that short but it will still help.

    When time is up remove covering from hair and wash as usual, making sure all of the product is rinsed out. Typically you don't need a conditioner as the treatment should suffice. Kids love this treatment because they get to put "Gak", as my kids called it, in each others' hair and they don't get yelled at for it! Discard any left over mixture.
More Quick Ideas:
  • Use the same method as the Guacamole conditioner and substitute ripe bananas or mango and plain yogurt for the avocado and mayo.
  • For a soothing moisture masque mix an envelope of plain Aveeno oatmeal and enough honey to make a paste. Pat onto clean face, very gently rub in a circular motion without tugging at your skin for about 5 minutes and rinse off with warm water.
  • For oily and blemish prone skin make a garlic and tomato masque. I know it sounds ridiculous, but trust me it works! If you can get deodorized garlic puree at a health food store that's best for obvious reasons. If not, well you'll keep the vampires at bay, but it might leave you craving lasagna. Mix into 1/2 cup of tomato puree or tomato juice - 1 tsp honey or glycerin, 1 tsp garlic puree. If using tomato puree you might want to add a little water to thin it just a bit. Smooth mixture over face and allow to set for 5-10 minutes, rinse clean with warm water.
Have fun being creative. Your kids and/or girlfriends will love you for it, and so will your skin!

July 13, 2009

An Overabundance of Produce

Every so often our gardens gift us with an overabundant harvest. This year it looks like it's going to be tomatoes and peppers. I'm not complaining. It's just that I have this really strong aversion to wasting things and I can only give away so many fruit and veggies to friends and family before they start running when they see me coming.

I am going to attempt to can salsa this year because we love it and I'll have all of the components readily available. I make it fresh all the time, but to put it up will be a new experience. I have been searching applicable recipes and thought I'd share a few with you. Salsa, it seems, can be made from almost any fruit or vegetable or a combination thereof.

Tomato Tips: There are a few guidelines to ensure the best quality salsa when canning. The type of tomato you use in important. Meatier, firmer tomatoes, such as Roma or other paste varieties hold up better than your average salad tomato. Don't use overripe or spoiled tomatoes for canning recipes. It's a "recipe" for disaster and the flavor will be undesirable to say the least. Green tomatoes and or tomatillo are also a good choice and can be substituted for all or part of the tomatoes. For recipes that call for peeled tomatoes you can easily skin them by dipping them in boiling water for about 30-60 seconds and drop them in a bowl or sink full of ice water. The skins will easily slip off.

Chile Tips: Peppers use in salsas can be anywhere from mild to super hot depending on your personal preferences. If you're using hot peppers do yourself a favor and wear rubber gloves while cutting them and for God's sake do NOT touch your eyes or any other part of your body until you remove the gloves and wash your hands as the result of not following this tip is not pretty - believe me!

Generally speaking the smaller the pepper the hotter it will be. Leaving the seeds in the recipe will increase this heat as the capsicum is concentrated in the seeds and pith of the peppers. You may sub out any chile for another, just keep in mind that the end result should be edible and not burn the skin off your tongue.

Some suggested milder varieties include Anaheim, Ancho, New Mexico 6-4, Big Jim, Chimayo, and Hungarian Yellow Wax. You can also sub in mild peppers such as sweet red, green or any other color bell peppers, Giant Marconi or the new varieties of mild jalapeno.

To take your salsa up a notch add any of the following chiles for a bit of fire: Serrano, Cayenne, Habanero, Chile Piquin, and Tabasco. Use sparingly unless you like to set your mouth on fire. Jalapeno peppers are a common choice as they add a bit of heat and unique tang to salsas and are readily available. If you don't grow peppers or can't find them fresh locally you can use canned chiles instead. For a change of pace try roasting your peppers and tomatoes (whole) on the grill to char the skin and place in a brown paper bag until cool enough to handle. The skins will just slide off leaving delicious roasted flavor to add to your salsa.

I won't go through the entire method for canning but suffice it to say for safety's sake follow the manufacturer's directions. Fill hot clean jars with the hot salsa, being careful not to leave any salsa on the rims. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp paper towel. Put on lids and screw on metal bands. Process according to directions and test for seals when jars are cooled. Anything that is not completely sealed should be refrigerated and used within a few days. Do not - I repeat - DO NOT take any chances when it comes to canning. Botchulism is just not worth the risk!

Tomatillo Green Salsa

Yield: 5 pints

5 cups chopped tomatillos
1 1/2 cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
1/2 cup seeded finely chopped jalapeƱos
4 cups chopped onions
1 cup bottled lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin*
3 Tbsp oregano leaves *
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and stir frequently over high heat until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner 15 minutes at 0-1,000 feet altitude; 20 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.

You may use green tomatoes in this recipe instead of tomatillos.


Chile Salsa

Yield: 7 to 9 pints

10 cups peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes
4 cups chopped onions
1 cup vinegar
6 cups seeded, chopped chiles*
3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner: 15 minutes at 0-1,000 feet altitude, 20 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.

*Use mixture of mild and hot chiles.

NOTE: The only changes you can safely make in these salsa recipes are to substitute bottled lemon juice for vinegar and to decrease the amount of spices and herbs. Do not alter the proportions of vegetables to acid and tomatoes because it might make the salsa unsafe.

A few links to spark your creativity:
One Particular Kitchen: Salsa Roja
Karina's Kitchen
How to can anything!

Have fun making delicious salsas to enjoy all year long