What are the benefits of chemical free soaps?

It’s funny how invisible ingredient labels have become in our modern lifestyle. We take for granted that there are lots of words, chemicals, compounds, and numbers that we don’t recognize. The dynamic journey that I’m on with my daughter means delving into those labels to find out more.

I posted recently about glycerin and how it’s found in many body and beauty products. The difficulty for me is that it’s often soy derived (and Miss 2 is allergic to soy). My options are to either exhaustively ring manufacturers every time I buy a product (to check if they know their source / that their source hasn’t changed) or aim to eliminate glycerin from our home so that the risk simply doesn’t exist.

Looking into bathroom & beauty products also found me reading articles about other commonly used additives. Wider scientific debates aside, some people are sensitive to parabens and/or sulfates (SLS = Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate). If you have a child with sensitive skin or eczema then it’s worth considering a natural soap.

So I set off on a search to see if I could find a soap that was free of glycerin, parabens, and sulfates. This pretty much excludes anything made on a large commercial scale, it means that you’re looking for small batch soaps (although that doesn’t preclude them being sold in stores).

This turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought it would be!

The two companies that I narrowed my search down to were Blue Earth (based in Ashburton, NZ) and Natural Us (based in Christchurch, NZ).  Both have a great range of products! My decision to go with Blue Earth is that they are available in over 65 stores throughout New Zealand so I was able to avoid paying for shipping. I still have products that I’d like to order from Natural Us – like their Goats Milk soap and their natural tooth powder! For international readers,  both companies ship internationally!

The first soap we’re trying is Blue Earth’s Carrot and Orange Cake.

Ingredients: Olive, coconut and rice bran oils, cocoa butter, rain water, soda lye, and carrot, sweet almond, hempseed and wheat germ oils, benzoin tree resin and essential oils of orange and cinnamon leaf.

It smells delicious and Miss 2 thinks it’s so awesome that she now actively asks to wash her hands!

What is glycerin and is it good for me?

Glyercin in bathroom products

Glyercin in bathroom products

It’s funny how invisible ingredient labels have become in our modern lifestyle. We take for granted that there are lots of words, chemicals, compounds, and numbers that we don’t recognize. The dynamic journey that I’m on with my daughter means delving into those labels to find out more.

What is glycerin?

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is an organic compound that is commonly made of animal fat or vegetable oil. It’s clear, odourless, and has a sweet taste.

If you’re interested in it’s molecular formula, check out this post by Allan Robinson.

What is glycerin used for?

We can safely ignore some of its more explosive uses, like being used to make nitroglycerin (an active part of dynamite); we’re most likely to encounter it in food products or beauty products. It’s widely used because products often dissolve more easily into it (than water or alcohol) and because it’s believed to help moisturise skin.

Go have a look in your bathroom and you will find glycerin in many of your products including:

  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Skincare products.

In the kitchen, you can find it in foods but not as frequently. It’s often used in diet / low sugar products or as a base for things like ‘Peppermint Essence’.

Should I be concerned?

For most people, the answer is no. Glycerin is widely considered to have all kinds of benefits for skincare.

For some people, like those with eczema, glycerin is often an important component in moisturising treatments.

For some, for instance vegans, the source of glycerin may conflict with personal beliefs.

What is vegetable glycerin made from?

The main cause for concern about vegetable glycerin is if you have a soy allergy.

Vegetable glycerin is commonly made from soybean oil, palm oil, or coconut oil. If you’ve read my post about soybean oil then you’ll know it’s cheap, readily available, and widely used internationally in a variety of commercial products – which is a problem if you’re allergic.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find out if sufficient soy protein can transmit through the manufacturing process to remain present in the end product (glycerin). The reality is that I don’t know – I’m also not certain if it’s been particularly well studied. Soy lecithin and soybean oil are not FDA regulated because they are considered to be ‘generally safe’ – unless you’re allergic to them (like my daughter).

It’s certainly something to be aware of if you (or a family member) is allergic to soy and has symptoms that don’t seem to be going away. If you’ve eliminated all other sources of soy then try reconsidering your bathroom. It’s also possible that exposure through other means may be cumulative over time or result in a low grade reaction; you know your allergy symptoms best. It’s certainly food for thought!

Baked Meatballs (easy to make)

Baked Meatballs

Baked Meatballs & Onion Rings

I haven’t made meatballs in the past; for some reason I thought they would be really tricky to make. I found these to be super easy and have now made them both in passata and oven baked. The two cooking styles create different textures – if you cook in oven they will be drier and denser (good to dip in an accompanying sauce) whereas meatballs cooked in passata they will have a softer, moister mouthfeel. Both ways are great!

This recipe will make a big batch of meatballs so feel free to halve it if desired (or to cook half in oven and half in passata to enjoy both styles!)

Tip: Baked meatballs are really just little round sausages (a great way to market them to toddlers) so they are easy to play around with flavours. Why not try Lamb & Cumin, Chicken & Cranberry, or Pork & Apple instead of the traditional Beef & Onion!

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 150g breadcrumbs / gluten-free breadcrumbs / cooked quinoa
  • 3/4c milk / almond or rice milk
  • 600g beef mince (ground beef)
  • 1 small finely chopped onion
  • Optional: 1/2c parmesan cheese (powder or finely grated)
  • 1T ground chia seeds
  • Salt & pepper
  • Parsley (dried or finely chopped fresh)
  • Chives (dried or finely chopped fresh)
  • Garlic (dried granules or crushed fresh garlic)

Allergies: gluten free*, dairy free*, egg free, soy free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180’C.
  2. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk until the liquid has been absorbed.
    • If you’re using cooked quinoa instead: put the quinoa in the mixing bowl for the next step and add the milk after the other ingredients are roughly combined (you may not need to add all the milk).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, add all of the meatball ingredients (including the soaked breadcrumbs). Mix until combined. The mixture will be a little sticky but should be thick and not overly wet.
  4. Lightly oil your hands and roll meatballs; I like to do lots of small ones (approx. 2T of meat mix). Sit the rolled meatballs on a sheet of baking paper (on an oven tray).
  5. Bake for 18-25 minutes (or until no longer pink in the middle).
  6. Serve as a snack with a dipping sauce, or serve with pasta sauce and spaghetti, gluten-free pasta, or rice noodles.

Tender and delicious Italian American meatballs in tomato passata

Gluten Free Italian American Meatballs in Pasta Sauce

Gluten Free Italian American Meatballs in Pasta Sauce

I haven’t made meatballs in the past; for some reason I thought they would be really tricky to make. I found these to be super easy and have now made them both in passata and oven baked. The two cooking styles create different textures – if you cook in passata they will have a softer, moister mouthfeel whereas oven baked meatballs will be drier and denser (good to dip in an accompanying sauce). Both ways are great!

This recipe will make a big batch of meatballs so feel free to halve it if desired (or to cook half in passata and half in the oven to enjoy both styles!)

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 150g breadcrumbs / gluten-free breadcrumbs / cooked quinoa
  • 3/4c milk / almond or rice milk
  • 600g beef mince (ground beef)
  • 1 small finely chopped onion
  • Optional: 1/2c parmesan cheese (powder or finely grated)
  • 1T ground chia seeds
  • Salt & pepper
  • Parsley (dried or finely chopped fresh)
  • Chives (dried or finely chopped fresh)
  • Garlic (dried granules or crushed fresh garlic)

Tomato Passata

  • 2x 700g jar tomato passata
  • Fresh basil (finely chopped)
  • Sugar
  • Salt & Pepper

Allergies: gluten free*, dairy free*, egg free, soy free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk until the liquid has been absorbed.
    • If you’re using cooked quinoa instead: put the quinoa in the mixing bowl for the next step and add the milk after the other ingredients are roughly combined (you may not need to add all the milk).
    • You can do Steps 2 & 3 while the breadcrumbs are soaking. The pasta sauce will then simmer while you carry on making the meatballs.
  2. In a large pot (or electric wok), mix the tomato passata, basil, sugar, salt, pepper to your taste.
  3. Bring the sauce to a boil over a medium heat and then reduce to simmer.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add all of the meatball ingredients (including the soaked breadcrumbs). Mix until combined. The mixture will be a little sticky but should be thick and not overly wet.
  5. Lightly oil your hands and roll meatballs; I like to do lots of small ones (approx. 2T of meat mix). You can sit the rolled meatballs on a sheet of baking paper or a lightly oiled plate until you’re ready to cook them.
  6. Add the meatballs to the simmering sauce.
  7. Give a gentle stir after 5 minutes. Cover and simmer for another 35 minutes.
  8. Remove the lid and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  9. Serve with spaghetti, gluten-free pasta, or rice noodles.

 

Gluten Free Berry Muffins

Gluten Free Berry Muffins

Gluten Free Berry Muffins

I love experimenting with gluten free flours. This is a different recipe again from the gluten free Vanilla Cupcakes and moist Chocolate Cupcakes. I was really stoked as Miss 2 kept asking for more of the mini ones and her playdate didn’t notice they were gluten free!

Like most gluten free baking, these are best served same (or next day); I free flow the rest in the freezer and pull them out as needed.

Ingredients

Group 1

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil (like Rice Bran oil)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Generous pinch ground cinnamon

Group 2

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup superfine white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup garbanzo flour (also called chickpea flour)
  • 1/4 cup oat flour
  • 1T sweet (glutinous) rice flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch (cornflour)
  • 1/2 tsp guar gum
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2T Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Other ingredients

  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup frozen berries
    • I recommend raspberries and blueberries.
  • Raw unrefined coconut sugar

Allergies: dairy free, soy free, gluten free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C.
  2. Whisk together the ingredients in Group 1. This helps to aerate the mix. You can use a stick blender or I used the food processor (with a plastic mixing attachment, not a metal cutting blade!).
  3. Sift together the ingredients in Group 2.
  4. Mix the combined dry ingredients into the whisked liquid.
  5. Prepare the frozen berries and mix in gently.
    • Raspberries crush really easily into tiny teardrops (which provide a pretty pink speckled effect when baked); blueberries are already a good size; boysenberries are large enough to need cutting in half.
  6. Pour into cupcake / muffin trays.
    • I made 6 large and 12 mini cupcakes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 180’C. The mixture will thicken slightly while the oven heats.
    • The mix will appear very runny compared to a gluten mix – the rice flour and cornstarch will cause it to thicken as it cooks.
  8. Bake at 180’c for approx. 25-35 mins or until cooked.
    • I found the mini muffins took 25 mins and the normal ones took 35 mins.

 

Icing 

I liked these with dusted with coconut sugar. I pulled them out of the oven after approx. 15 minutes (once they had risen), dusted with coconut sugar, and then placed back in the oven to finish baking.

I also have recipes for other icings that don’t use any artificial colours, glycerin, additives etc.

Chocolate Buttercream Icing (allergy friendly)

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

This is a great frosting to use with Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes, the Crazy One Dish Chocolate Cake, or the Chocolate Irish Potato Cake (vegan).

Ingredients

  • 115g softened butter, or allergy friendly spread like Nuttelex
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch Cocoa Powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 – 3 Tbsp milk (dairy, rice, or coconut)
  • Optional: 1/2 tsp espresso powder

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free*, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Whip the butter.
  2. Sift in 1 cup icing sugar, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Add the vanilla and milk.
  3. Beat until smooth.
  4. Slowly beat in the rest of the icing sugar to give a good consistency for frosting.

How to make allergy free Peppermint icing

After Dinner Mint Chocolate Cupcakes (Gluten Free!)

After Dinner Mint Chocolate Cupcakes (Gluten Free!)

It continually amazes me how many products contain hidden sources of soy. I wanted to make a peppermint icing but Natural Peppermint Essence at the supermarket contains: Glycerine, Alcohol, Water, Peppermint Oil. That might not sound so bad but our lengthy food allergy journey had me wondering what Glycerine actually is.  Research shows it’s sometimes made from animal fat but mostly it’s made from vegetable oil..with soybean oil being extremely likely.

I liked this on the Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes 🙂

Ingredients

  • 100% Peppermint herbal tea bag
  • Boiling water
  • Icing sugar

Directions

  1. Steep the tea bag in 1/4 cup boiling water.
  2. Make your cupcakes. (This gives the peppermint time to steep and the water time to cool.)
  3. Slowly mix the peppermint water into icing sugar.
  4. Ice your cooled cupcakes. We like them on gluten free Chocolate Cupcakes.

Note: Herbal / fruit teas work to create other flavour icings as well. Check out this naturally pink icing on vanilla Gluten Free cupcakes.

Gluten Free Pina Colada Cookies

Gluten Free Pina Colada Cookies

Gluten Free Pina Colada Cookies!

These Gluten Free Pina Colada cookies (UK/USA)  are a light fluffy cookie that I don’t think most people realize are gluten free when eating them! They use the Gluten Free Vanilla Cookie recipe as a base but the variations make this a moister cookie (as well as tasting of the sunny tropics). These are very welcome to add a bit of sunshine to a cold winter day and also make a great tropical treat for birthday parties!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup superfine white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup Healtheries Gluten Free Bread Mix
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp butter or allergy-free spread (i.e. Nuttelex)
  • 1 egg (whisked) or egg replacement.
  • 2 Tbsp greek yoghurt / coconut yoghurt / coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
  • 1/4 cup pineapple (crushed and drained)

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free*, egg free*, soy free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Cream the ‘butter’ and sugar. Mix in the egg.
  2. Mix in the rice flour, GF bread mix, baking powder. baking soda, yoghurt, coconut, and pineapple.
  3. Spoon out onto lightly oiled baking tray and flatten slightly.
  4. Bake at 180’C for approx. 15-20 mins (or until golden brown).

Makes approximately 12 cookies.

Note: There are several reasons that I choose to use the Healtheries Gluten Free Bread Mix instead of the Healtheries Gluten Free Baking Mix.

I prefer to use guar gum in my recipes and avoid xanthan gum; the latter is artificially derived and is often grown on an allergenic base (such as corn, soy, or wheat).

I like to control the rising agents in my baking so that I can tailor them to each recipe.

Frugality! The Bread Mix can be used to make both Gluten Free Bread and Gluten Free Baking whereas their Baking Mix can only be used for baking.

Pan fried fish, coconut rice, seared mango, and stir fried green beans

Pan fried fish, coconut rice, seared mango, and stir fried green beans

Pan fried fish, coconut rice, seared mango, and stir fried green beans

This is the best coconut rice I’ve made and it turns out the secret was unrefined raw coconut sugar. I cooked basmati rice (in the rice cooker) with 200ml coconut milk + water, approx. 1T coconut sugar, and salt. This gave the rice a beautiful light brown colour and a lightly sweet coconut taste that paired well with the chilli.

I stir fried the fresh green runner beans in rice bran oil, garlic, and chilli. The slices of firm mango were next (picking up the rest of the chilli), followed by the ruby (fish) fillets.

Miss 2 loved this dish so much that she asked for more rice and ate it all up! An easy and tasty gluten free dish!

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free, egg free, soy free, nut free.

Featuring a great Autumn vegetable: What’s a choko (chayote)?

I grew up thinking chokos were some kind of wild New Zealand native – simply because I have fond memories of going for long winter walks with my Mum in the local park. We’d gather chokos from wild vines, pick up pine cones to paint, and kick oak leaves. In retrospect, that park didn’t have much in the way of NZ natives!

Note: In the wild, make sure that you don’t confuse chokos with Moth Plant – a noxious weed that grows in New Zealand and definitely should not be eaten. Check out this online information pamphlet from Auckland Council.

What is a choko?

The choko (or cheyote) actually originates from Mesomerica (i.e. Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras) but has been established in Australia and New Zealand for decades. It’s a member of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, which means it’s related to foods like cucumber, squash, and melon. Personally, I think it tastes a bit like a cross between a zucchini and cucumber but it’s commonly referred to as a pear squash. It’s a useful vegetable to try as it has loads of Vitamin C, amino acids, and fibre. It’s also low in natural food chemicals (amines, salicylates, and glutamates) which makes it suitable for sensitive guts, and those following a RPAH Failsafe diet (often useful for allergy sufferers).

Tip: This is a great food if you’re pregnant! It naturally contains folate, as well as many other vitamins; is easy to mix into meals, and the fibre can help with pesky constipation!

Note: Other names for choko include – chayote, sayote, labu siam, seemai kathrikai, Buddha’s Hand Melon, lóng xü.cài, ishkus, इस्कुस, স্কোয়াশ, Bangalore brinjal, chou chou, pipinola.

How do I cook choko?

It’s a really versatile vegetable! Miss 2 loves it in apple pie style Choko Pikelets.

  • It makes a great (neutral) filler in jams and chutneys.
  • It can be stewed and made into fruit crumble.
  • Boil or steam then serve with butter and salt.
  • Slice thinly into noodles, cook, and serve with ragu for a paleo meal.
  • Bake with roast vegetables.
  • Add to curries, stews, and soups.
  • Bread it and fry.
  • Bake it with a cheese sauce.
  • Thinly grate it and mix with pork to make Chinese dumplings, sausage rolls, or meatballs.
  • Young leaves can be used in salads and stir fries.
  • The root or tubers can be used just like a potato!

Tip: Peel the chokos under a stream of running water or wear gloves as the older chokos tend to have a sticky sap just under the skin which can irritate some hands. The smaller ones don’t seem to have this problem and you can cook them and eat them with the skin on.

Tip: Remove and discard the pithy core.

Note: Although I call this a winter vegetable, in New Zealand it tends to be available April-June. If your local supermarket doesn’t stock it, try Fruit & Vegetable stores or the local Chinese supermarket. It actually prefers warm climates but hot nights slow it flowering; in parts of Australia it’s available year round.

How can I grow choko?

I asked around a few garden stores and none of them carry it. Never fear, the easiest way to grow your own choko is to simply buy a healthy, fresh, firm and green choko while they’re in season. Leave it in a dark, well ventilated, space until it sprouts. Once the sprouts are about 7cm long, take it outside and plant it in a sunny spot. They are a climbing vine so against a fence or netting is ideal. You will need to wait until frosts have finished (so in some climates, plant in Spring).

They grow prolifically once they’re established so you’ll probably only need one vine per household.  Apparently they make great chicken feed so you may want a spare vine for the chooks!

In New Zealand, where they can often only be purchased until June, you will need to nurse these inside until late Spring. They will take a while to sprout anyway and then you can keep them in a pot on the windowsill until they’re a bit bigger and hardier. They will start to flower in the summer and can be harvested in Autumn.

For more information on growing them, check out this great post from Lady Rain.