Sunday, 19 October 2008

Laser Hair Removal Update

I've been having laser hair removal reduction on my stomach, lower back and legs over several months (not continually, by the way, in case you think I'm sitting here with a beauty therapist zapping by gorilla back). I'm really pleased with the results so far but I've recently swapped to a different clinic.

The clinic I was going to charged a bank balance chomping £395 for just one treatment on full legs; being the bargain hunter I am I got a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer for the two treatments I had there. The problem was they used an Nd:Yag machine that only zapped one hair at a time; it took three hours to do my legs, and don't think that must be because my legs appear in the Guiness Book of Records due to their abnormal size. Nope, that's the average time it takes for a perfectly normal pair of pins.

A month or so ago, I happened to be passing the Skin and Laser Clinic in Canterbury and decided to pop in for their prices. They charge £400 for full leg treatment, but with a doctor. It's a mere £250 for the therapist. I booked up for a test patch and was surprised and slightly horrified that the therapist didn't freeze my skin before hand; she explained that doing this reduced the effectiveness of the laser as it relies on heat to destroy the root. Gulp. She quickly added it might be different for the Nd:Yag, but I don't see why. I winced during the treatment; partly due to the pain and partly because I wondered if I had wasted hundreds of pounds on treatments that were nullified by a frozen bag of vegetables?

I think so, yes. My full legs were treated in Canterbury three weeks ago and there is fairly insignificant regrowth at the moment. There are a few dead hairs that I'm still waiting to fall out. My treatments at the other clinic (which I'm so glad I've not named!!) resulted in faster regrowth than this. Hmm. I don't really know if this is because the Alexandrite is a superior laser or if Nd:Yag's efforts were hampered by the frozen peas. A quick on the net suggests that Alexandrite is more effective than the Nd:Yag. click here for a conclusion that summarises various comparisons I've read on the web.


For now I'm sticking with the Alexandrite; cheaper, quicker, most definitely painful, but the most important thing is it's effective.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Hopeless Baker's Guide to Perfect Cakes

If you've not been too successful at baking, hopefully this recipe will help; I've given thorough explanations for each stage. The advantages of home baking are:

1) you can get round intolerances/allergies without wasting time scouring supermarket shelves for expensive alternatives;

2) it's generally cheaper. The ingredients for these cakes will cost as little as 47p using: tesco savers self-raising flour, silver spoon granulated sugar (can be made into caster sugar), stork margarine (in a tub) and tesco value eggs ;

3) they're healthier than shop bought cakes, which will contain preservatives and other nasties;

4) your kitchen smells wonderful after a bit of home baking ;

5) home baked cakes taste so much nicer than shop bought.

I've chosen fairy cakes as I think they're the easist the make; no messing around trying to extract stubborn sponges from tins, only for the whole thing to fall apart thereby ruining your hard work. Also you can freeze them (uniced) and pop a couple in the kids' lunch boxes every morning.

Ingredients for about sixteen cakes: (DO NOT estimate quantities, measure everything!)

  • 4 oz caster sugar OR 4 oz xylitol OR 2 oz xylitol and equal volume (not weight) of artificial sweetener (eg Silver Spoon's sweetness and light - something maltodextrin/aspartame based). I'd recommend trying not to use maltodextrin/aspartame as there is considerable controversy about their safety, but if the xylitol may not be sweet enough for you. If you have a mini-chopper, use it to make caster sugar (since shop-bought caster sugar is just expensive, chopped up granulated sugar.) Granulated sugar will work instead, but in my experience isn't quite as good as caster sugar.
  • 4.5oz soft spread (such as Stork or Pure - dairy free - spread). Make sure whatever spread you use is suitable for baking (I once had a very unpleasant result with some spread not designed for baking. It was a little like eating one of those sponge tennis balls.) You can also use hard margarine, but results are better using soft spread in a tub.
  • 5oz self raising flour. You can instead use plain flour and add baking powder to make self-raising flour. (Tip: don't forget the baking powder!!)
  • 2 eggs (medium sized or large, doesn't matter too much)
  • possibly a splash or two of milk (or rice/soya milk)

Equipment you'll need:

  • An oven, set to 190 degrees celcius/ 375 degreed farenheit / gas mark 5
  • A radio/CD player (nothing like a bit of music when baking)
  • A mixing bowl (a smallish one will do, you don't want a large mixing bowl - it'll be too hard beating up the fat & sugar properly)
  • Something to mix the ingredients, like a wooden spoon or a stiff spatula. Also a teaspoon, a fork and a knife (an ordinary cutlery knife for eating dinner with)
  • Scales (very important. Baking is a scientific process and requires ingredients to be in accurate proportions)
  • Two fairy cake tins (or if you only have one, cook the cakes in batches)
  • Fairy cake paper cases
  • A sieve (the purpose of a sieve is to incorporate air into the flour. If you don't have a sieve, try shaking the flour into the mixing bowl from a height of about a foot so that some air gets in there)

Method:

1. Measure out the sugar and fat, mix them up and give them a good beating till the texture becomes fluffy and light and the colour pales. This is the most important stage in cake making; whereas cooking (eg soups, main meals etc) is a process of combining flavours and achieving palatable textures, baking involves reordering the tiny molecules of each ingredient (I'll spare you the scientific detail. If the "all in one method" has failed for you, this is probably why; the ingredients can't combine properly.) Beating the sugar and fat at this stage not only combines the molecules but also incorpororates a lot of air. Therefore you need to go nuts beating the sugar and fat together till your arms ache; stop occasionally to get other ingredients ready, set the oven temperature, put the paper cases in the baking tins etc. It is hard work, but worth it. Also it burns off lots of calories, thereby enabling you to enjoy the cakes guilt free.

2. Break the two eggs into a mug/cug and give them a brisk beating with a fork (just a few seconds till the white and yolk is mixed together). Pour about half into the sugar/fat mixture and briskly stir it in. You can't be too forceful as the mixture will be fairly runny at this point and you don't want cake mix splattered all over your kitchen. (I imagine you don't anyway.) Then stir in the other half of the mixture. The mixture might curdle at this stage (it'll go all lumpy). This doesn't matter too much as the flour will stop this in the next stage.

3. Sieve in the flour (and baking powder if you're using plain flour). At this point the mixture has a sex change and where it used to be a bloke and you could beat it around and it was great, now it's a delicate lady and you should touch the mixture as little as possible. This is because in the previous two stages, lots of air was incorporated into the mixture and we don't want to lose it. Fold in the flour till it's just mixed. "Folding" definition; the best way is to slide your spoon/spatula deep into the mixture and keeping it as flat as possible, draw it up to the top of the mixture and then turn it upside down. This will bring up the ingredients lying up the bottom of the bowl and put them on top. Since the mixture's quite liquid, it all slops together naturally and becomes combined (you'll have to scrape round the sides of the bowl a few times though). DO NOT beat the mixture at this stage; doing so will get rid of all the air you incorporated in stage one. DO NOT over stir the mixture. As soon as the flour is mixed in, move onto stage 4. If the mixture is too stiff and you can't fold it in properly, you'll need to move on to stage 4 to help.

4. You will most likely need to fold in a splash or two of milk at this stage. The mixture should be slightly sloppy, a spoon should NOT be able to stand up rigidly in it (it should slowly fall over). On the other hand, it should NOT be liquid enough to slide off a spoon easily. It should be gloopy and slowly slide off a spoon.

5. Put the mixture into the fairy cake cases in the muffin tins. The easiest way is to use a teaspoon to scoop up a big dollop and use a knife to push it into the cake cases. There is no need to level off the mixture; since it's slightly liquid, this will automatically happen when you put the cakes in the oven. Do not fill each case to the brim; there needs to be space for them to rise. Dividing the mixture between 16 cases should be the right number.

6. Put trays in oven and bake for 15 (possibly 20) minutes. How to tell when they're done; sponge will darken to a light tan colour and if you press it lightly with your finger, it will bounce back. If you insert a sharp knife/cocktail stick into one of the cakes, it should come out clean(ish); this means there's no soggy, uncooked mixture hiding under the surface. Let the cakes cool on a wire rack. Should they still be there when they've cooled, you can ice them (tip: use hot water to make glace icing to prevent lumpy icing). Icing suggestions: any sweets (eg minstrels, M&Ms, jelly babies, smarties, chopped flake bars), grated/curled chocolate, silver balls, coloured piped icing, cherries, hundreds and thousands*. Or freeze cakes un-iced.

7. Bribe kids/spouse/flat-mate into clearing and washing up for you. Suggested conversation:

You: I've just made some cakes for us, I'm exhausted after all that hard work, could you do the washing up please?
Your bus boy/girl: No.
You: Fine, you don't get any cakes then.
Your bus boy/girl (on smelling beautiful aroma eminating from the oven): Where's the washing up liquid?

Variations on the above recipe:
  • Replace 1 oz of flour with 1 oz of cocoa for chocolate cakes. Chocolate cakes taste great when covered with Supercook's chocolate cake covering.
  • Add 1 oz of sultanas or raisins to stage 4.
  • Replace 1 oz of flour with desiccated coconut (and a bit of grated lemon rind if you fancy). This helps to sweeten the cakes, particularly good if you're using xylitol.

* Apologies to any fellow Candida sufferers who I just forced to read that list of sugar infested yumminess.

Have fun baking, let me know how it goes :)

Money saving advice

It seems everywhere you turn at the moment, everyone's talking about the credit crunch ... so I've decided to jump on the bandwagon (after ensuring I got a good deal on the fare) and share my money saving tips. Hope you find them useful:

1. Don't wait till you run out of something before buying a replacement. This goes for all toiletries (I can't remember the last time I paid full price for toiletires or cosmetics) and food items with long expiration dates on them (such as confectionery, crisps, condiments, jams, frozen food). A few weeks (or even a good month) before running out of something, start comparing prices in different shops and if something's on a good offer, stock up!!

2. Don't do your weekly shop in the same supermarket. You'll only benefit from one set of offers. Go to a different supermarket every week and keep your eyes peeled for their offers. Even if you don't need something yet but it's on a good offer and you've got room to store it, take advantage. Take note of what supermarket has the lowest price on your weekly essentials (eg milk, bread, fruit/veg)

3. Compare prices and work out the cheapest option. (You might need a calculator for this, or use the calculator on your mobile. That way people will just think you're texting your friends and organising your hectic social life). For example, would buying loose apples be cheaper than buying bags? Or would buying a better quality loo/kitchen roll or cleaning solution mean you use less and make the product last longer?

4. Only buy what you can use. Don't get suckered in with every 'special offer' sign you see. It's all very well for supermarkets to coax you into buying two bags of apples so that you save 50p, but will you actually eat them all before they go off? Also, if you spot a giant tub of chocolate muffins reduced half price because of a short expiration date, will you eat them all before they go stale or you throw up, or would it be cheaper to buy a smaller pack? It can be cheaper (not always) to buy in bulk; see if you can split goods (and therefore costs) with a friend.

5. Only buy what you need (or really, really want). When it comes to apparent bargains, ask yourself if you'd consider buying the item (this goes for food, household goods, clothes etc) at full price. If not, perhaps you'd be better off not shelling out £2.99 for that bargain basement DVD if you're not that interested in seeing an early performance in Nicole Kidman's career anyway. Regarding clothes, Primark do sell incredibly cheap clothes. But do you really need all five different colours of a t-shirt? They might be only £2 each ... but you'd save even more money (and space in your wardrobe) if you only bought a couple.

6. If you have the time, cook/bake at home rather than buy ready meals. Shop bought cakes/biscuits are absurdly expensive and can't compare to home-made. (If you've not had any luck in home baking, my next blog entry will be a thorough guide to baking good cakes.) Cook in bulk and freeze meals. Don't cook more than you'll eat and don't throw away left overs, either freeze it or heat it up the next day (probably not advisable for previously frozen food, especially meat). I've heard that a left over roast dinner tastes great fried up for breakfast. If you get through a lot of bread, buying a bread maker could save you money.

7. Focus on quality, not quantity. If you're after goods to last several years (from clothes to household appliances), it may be cheaper in the long run to buy something more expensive that will last longer. eg if you're after a plain black cardigan as a wardrobe staple, buying one every winter from a cheapie shop for £10 is more expensive in the long run than buying a £25-£30 cardi that will last several years. Make sure you follow washing instructions to make your clothes last longer too.

8. Buy second hand, eg books, DVDs, CDs, clothes - all cheaper when someone else has broken them in first. eBay's great for this, but do be cautious of pirate DVDs/CDs; you can search for 'used' items only which can eliminate the more expensive new items and possible pirate items. I use auctionsniper.com, which bids on your behalf in the last few seconds of an auction. Great if you're not at your computer when an auction's ending or if you're a total scatter brain. Sellers won't see your payment details either; credit card payments are handled by paypal, a company that passes on your payment to the seller, minus commission. Paypal is free for buyers.

9. Home electric/gas; wear another jumper and turn that heating down. Turn lights off when you leave the room. Don't boil enough water for an imaginary group of tea addicts, just boil what you need. Put lids on saucepans to retain the heat. Don't leave the fridge/freezer door open (also helps prevent it frosting up). Don't leave things on stand-by (microwaves, computers, hi-fis, DVD players, TVs...incidentally, I used to live next door to a fireman who told me a major cause of household fire is faulty TVs left on stand-by. Unplug appliances instead). Turn the heating off overnight and get a big, thick duvet instead.

10. Loyalty cards eg tesco clubcard, boots advantage, nectar. They're great as the more you spend, the more points you earn ... which is exactly the myth shops want you to think so you are loyal to their shop only. Loyalty cards can certainly give you great bargains (I paid for my RAC membership with Tesco's clubcard points), but don't limit your cash splashing to just Tescos or Boots thinking it'll be cheaper because of the loyalty card. For example, Tesco gives you a point (=1p) for every £1 you spend in their shop. That's basically 1% off your shopping, so if you spend £100 in Tesco on your weekly shop, they give you a £1 off in clubcard points. Not exactly generous. You could save a whole lot more than a £1 by testing out other supermarkets for good offers/lower prices. Also, don't equate bonus points with saving money if you'll spend the points on things you wouldn't normally buy.

11. Don't think that the above advice will only save you a few pennies here and there and isn't worth following; when you think of all the items you buy (including groceries), saving a few pennies on each item will soon add up to several pounds, a lot more if you have a big family. Something as simple as going to a different supermarket every week won't take up much (if any) extra time (once you get used to where everything is!)

12. For extra income, if you have a spare room consider letting it for a week or two to a student (enquire at local colleges that run English language courses). A colleague does this and it fits around her family life very well.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Light at the end of the Tunnel

It's been over four months since my last blog (oops) and I have to admit I'm feeling a lot better than before. The laser treatment is working (hurray!) and I've found the cause of the arthritic pains I've been getting (double hurray!).

About 8 weeks ago, I went for a check up to my vega testing lady. The candida didn't show up so she said to start introducing yeast in small amounts into my diet. I was absolutely thrilled; bread's the thing I've been missing most of all on this diet. I was literally dreaming of eating toast. I was so pleased though that I'd been able to stick to the diet - it worked in the end. If anyone's reading this who is on a restrictive diet for health reasons, please, please keep to it - you really will feel so much better for it! I can't believe how much more energy I have now than before the diet. I want to go out and socialise which I could never be bothered to do, I felt shattered all the time.

However, because my joints were no better, my therapist re-checked some intolerances. She said that sometimes if you have a strong intolerance to some foods (as I was when I was full of candida), it masks other intolerances. She explained that arthritic pains could be down to either grains or milk intolerance. The vega machine showed up a milk tolerance. So I went to Sainsbury's and emerged an hour later with soya milk, dairy free spread and a much lusted after loaf of bread.

Now, I rarely get pains in my joints. I've been having small amounts of sugar too which I think I'm getting away with. I might have tomato ketchup on my chips for example. When I'm in a particularly reckless mood I'll have a chocolate bar.

Re the laser treatment, I've now had four treatments on my stomach and there's a marked improvement. I've just started on my legs - the most expensive area!! But maybe by next year, I'll be hair free and brave enough to wear a bikini on the beach. That's my goal anyway!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

How the Candida came to be - An Aesop's (sort of) tale

About ten years ago, I had a friend who had candida and I recognised a lot of the symptons, like dandruff, tiredness, infections "down there" ... Anyway, I went to my GP about it who basically said, "Bah humbug" and sent me packing. At the time, I was a total sugar addict and didn't want to give up my yummy diet of bread and chocolate without sound, scientific evidence that it would help. So I did naff all.

Fast forward a few years and my health conscious colleagues drum it into me that eating 2+ chocolate bars a day is not good for my health, so I started to wean myself off all the processed junk I was eating. I gradually replaced the cake, biscuits, chocolate bars and crisps with nuts, yogurt, cereal bars and fruit. I even started eating wholemeal bread (on occasion).

My scalp got a lot better - still flakey but I could now walk into work without people looking at my shoulders and thinking it had been snowing outside. The frequency of the UTIs decreased and my spotty face got a lot better. (Aren't I just painting a glamourous picture of myself!?)

However, the problem that did remain and has been getting steadily worse over the years is my bones. I have athritic like pain in my joints - mainly my hips. I went to the doctor and had some blood tests for virtually every condition under the sun and they came back normal.

Someone I worked with had had vega testing done which uncovered her lactose intolerance amongst other things and she suggested I have it done too. A couple of other friends/colleagues also went to the same lady and eventually, I plucked up enough courage to go too.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I was half expecting her to say 'you're fine' or that I shouldn't eat bread or milk, two things I live on! First of all, she tested my organs and I was astounded. She said that my spleen, bladder and urethra weren't perfect and I had joint inflamation. The bladder/urethra thing made perfect sense; when I was little, I was on antibiotics for three/four years due to recurring urine infections and I've been getting infections thoughout my life. It has since been discovered that the medication I was on damages the body's ability to make white blood cells. Perhaps this is connected with the inefficiency of my spleen, since this organ hosts a lot of white blood cells to fight infection.

Next she tested for food allergies. Yeast came up first, which depressed me because I wondered if I'd be sensitive to bread! Fortunately wheat and dairy were okay, but sugar, ethanol, monosodium glutamate and oranges came up. Basically everything that I'd have to avoid on a candida diet. The therapist explained that the antibiotics I was on for so many years may have been the cause for the candida.

She gave me some info about what I could/couldn't eat and suggested I buy some candigest, which helps to kill off the candida and reduces the die back reaction. She said I might get 'flu like symptoms during the die off.

I've been on the diet and taking candigest for three weeks, I'll explain more in my next blog...

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Hair and tears

I'm not sure the laser hair reduction treatment is working as well as I thought. My first treatment was at the end of January; by my next treatment four weeks later, I had bald patches where the zapped hair had fallen out. Now there's new, strong hair breaking through the skin. It could just be hair that wasn't in its growth cycle at the end of January. It's so frustrating. I've cried so much about the hair on my body ... it's ugly and disgusting. Everyone jokes about hairy women, how foul it is but until you've been in that situation, you've no idea how much it destroys your self confidence.

People tell me I'm lucky to have a slim figure. They say I'm lucky to have such beautiful hair ... referring to my head, of course. What they don't get is that my lovely, beautiful hair is just as thick and beautiful every where else, which means I daren't reveal an inch of skin of my not too bad figure. Bikinis are a no-no. Mystified women I've talked to about this problem simply suggest I wax ( which gives me ingrowing hairs and spots, which don't go away by exfoliating or using medicated lotions), shave (hair grows back within a day), use depilatory creams (not strong enough) and the most laughable from a blonde friend ... have I tried bleeching? No. Looking like an albino gorilla will not make me feel better. I've been to my doctor, my hormones are normal so there's no chance of taking a magic pill.

So I've turned to laser hair treatment. I've paid for four treatments up front as there was a special offer of getting four treatments for the price of three. I guess I should be patient and wait till the fourth treatment is complete before passing judgement, but I'm not feeling very patient any more.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Diving In

I used to be quite content (at least that's what I'd convinced myself) with my well practised ability of never making decisions. For whatever reason, I realised that I was bored with just floating along in life and I needed to make some changes. So I've dived in and made some decisions ...

In January, I started laser hair reduction surgery after debating it for at least five years. I'm having my stomach done at the moment (as it's a relatively cheap area to treat) and if I like the results I'm going to move on to every else. I've had two treatments using an nd-yag machine and so far, I'm impressed with the results.

In February, I went for allergy testing and discovered I have Candida, meaning I have yeast overgrowth in my body (yuk). The incredibly annoying thing is I suspected I had Candida ten years ago and in an uncharacteristically (there's a long word) bold move went to my GP about it, who basically said "Bah hum bug" and sent me packing. It turns out GPs don't recognise Candida except in rare and extreme circumstances.

And in this month, March, I've started this blog. Probably not the craziest, most wild thing anyone's decided to do but hey, it's sort of an impulse and I never act on impulse. (Just ask my old house mate. Suggesting to me we get a spur of the moment take away used to scare me. I'm not that bad anymore!)

That's enough for now ... I'll fill you in more in my next blogs.