Paula Begoun/The Cosmetics Cop

I first came across consumer advocate Paula Begoun about fifteen years ago; she focuses her attention on “beauty products”, including skin care, makeup, and hair care.  She started out by writing books such as, “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me”, and “The Beauty Bible”, and has expanded to web sites like Cosmetics Cop and Beautypedia, a PBS series, speaking engagements, and radio programmes.  I’ve saved a lot of money by reading her books, and combing her web sites for information.

In some ways, I do find it rather off-putting that she is now sporting her own line of cosmetics and skin care, however, her consumer advocacy does not seem to have suffered as a result, and she uses legitimate scientific research sources, not “claims” and anecdotal nonsense to back up the information she shares.  I have actually purchased a few of her Paula’s Choice skincare products, and have been extremely happy with them; I am a huge fan of her 2% BHA exfoliating liquid.

Beautypedia is now offered for free, and has reviews of thousands of products.  Cosmetics Cop has myriad articles for information, and is the place to purchase “Paula’s Choice” products.

Vaishali’s Super Store: Indian Grocer

Finally found an Indian grocer that has all the ingredients for the cooking that I want to do (and more)! I’d just about given up. Vaishali’s Super Store is located in the west end of Ottawa, at 62 Wylie Avenue, in a little strip mall, perpendicular to Carling Avenue. You’ll miss it if you blink while driving past; it’s just across the street from the big Famous Players Theatre complex, near Bayshore.

The variety of spices and herbs is mind boggling, as are the legumes, pulses, and rice. Fridges and freezers contain a small number of fresh vegetables/fruits/peppers, curry leaves and fresh herbs, as well as a large selection of prepared foods and meals, condiments and ingredients. Rows of shelves contain jarred, canned, dried, and powdered pickles, condiments, sauces, and other ingredients and foods. I was especially pleased to find Surati Sweet Mart treats at a very good price (half the price of my local health food store)! In addition to food items, one can find cooking utensils, incense, movies, and cosmetic products.

The owner was particularly helpful and kind in helping me find the items that I was having trouble locating. I appreciated that he expained the proper pronunciation of the words that I pointed to on the shopping list that my friend had written out for me, and that he told me a little about the products (especially spices) that he was helping me find.

I enjoyed our trip to this store very much, and we will make it a part of our regular shopping!

UPDATE: On our most recent visit, we purchased freshly made pakoras, samosas, and kachoris from the front counter display — absolutely delicious!  We didn’t even get as far as home to eat them with condiments 🙂  They smelled so incredibly  divine that we ate the pakoras while sitting in the car in the parking lot, then had to go back into the store to buy some more!

Arghand Soaps

soaps1g.jpgArghand soaps are gorgeous to look at, beautifully scented, heavenly to use, and are carefully created by hand at a co-operative formed in Afghanistan to try and rebuild this war torn country. The artisan soaps resemble stones, and feel lovely in the hand. The lather is rich, creamy, and profuse. Update: This soap is incredibly long lasting! It does not disappear or dissolve quickly like so many handmade soaps tend to do, making it very economical.

Sarah Chayes, a former war correspondent for American national public radio, is the founder of the co-op. One of the co-operative’s main goals is to wean dependence on the opium poppy onto local licit crops which are used in the production of Arghand Soap. In a Guardian interview, Chayes is quoted:

in the long run, “this is the only way to beat heroin,” she says. “We have to re-weave the economic fabric of the country … so that people will have too much to lose from a return to war.”

“The Power of One: Making a Difference in Afghanistan“, World Vision’s page dedicated to Chayes and Arghand includes audio interviews. “Life After War” is a documentary film, shown on CBC Newsworld which chronicles Chaye’s journey.

The Arghand web site has a list of retailers in Canada, and the USA. I purchased my first order of Arghand soap via mail order from Planete Monde, a company in Montreal which has just begun to sell via their bilingual web site. My order arrived extremely quickly, it was well packaged, and the customer service was superb. I found it interesting to note that Planete Monde’s business partners opened their brick and mortar store after hearing Sarah Chayes being interviewed on CBC radio! Oresta’s Organic Confectionary in Ottawa also sells Arghand soaps via their web site. Oresta’s packaging includes a lovely little tag describing the Arghand Co-op and the ingredients, as well as a colourful photographic bookmark with the same (which makes for nice gift giving). Oresta’s service is extremely quick and friendly; I will be a repeat customer!

The New York Times has a blog written by Sarah Chayes: A Voice From Kandahar. At the time of this writing, the most recent post was dated August 1, 2006. The updated Arghand web site offers the writings of Cheyes from May 5, 2005 up to the present in a link entitled “Notes from the Field”; it is incredibly worthwhile and enlightening reading.  Update: Ms. Chayes now has a web site that consolidates much of her writing (unfortunately as of August 2011, the site seems to be gone).

Bhusu and other delicious stuff

60 year old Surati Sweet Mart (Surati International Food) makes the most addictive, delicious Oriental/Indian snack food I’ve eaten. I crave it.

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My favourite is Bhusu, which is a spicy, crunchy mix of chickpea twigs, crispy rice, nuts, raisins, and other bits and shapes. You’ll even find the odd hot pepper. They recommend it for a morning or evening snack, but I will eat it at any time!The parent company makes a wide range of other products. Their organic whole foods are made from traditional family recipes using natural ingredients, with no preservatives, no artificial flavours, colours, or MSG.

Western Creamery

Delicious, “back to basics” cultured dairy products! Pressed cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, baking cheese, and maslanka buttermilk.

creamcheese.jpgThe cream cheese tastes exactly like the homemade stuff that I used to buy at the kosher bakery near my apartment in Toronto (actually, all of Western Creamery’s products are certified kosher). Their cream cheeses are natural cheese products, made without stabilizers and gums, and the sour cream is made without additives and preservatives — the taste and texture is noticeably different from all other brands we’ve tried.

The Western Creamery website has nutritional information as well as recipes and other information.