Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: Burt's Bees Radiance Night Creme

Stephanie persuaded me to buy this moisturizer on the basis that she'd review the day cream and I could review the night cream. So hopefully she'll come through with that review soon!

It costs $14.99 or thereabouts for 2oz, so it definitely fits within my budget. However, at first I hated it. It seemed too thin, I didn't think it moisturized enough, and I wasn't happy at all. I was ready to write a review of how me and Burt's Bees just don't get along (apart from their lip balm) and that I'd never waste my money on their stuff again.

But I kept using it, just to give it a fair trial. And something strange started happening...I started liking it. I still would like it to be a bit thicker. I still probably use a bit too much because I want a bit of extra moisturization around my eyes, but it has definitely grown on me. It is slightly sticky when first applied, but sinks in well. It has a very pleasant apple scent (at least, to my nose - it doesn't list apple on the ingredient list, so perhaps it's supposed to smell of something else). It leaves my skin feeling soft and nourished, and, yes, plump and not too lined and wrinkly. It must be the royal jelly or something in there that my skin is enjoying, but I definitely feel like something is working.

Three and a half stars.

Update: I'm revising my opinion of this cream upwards. I've just bought my second jar because my skin has been feeling silky smooth, and well, moistened. So I'm going to go for four stars.
Update #2: I'm revising this upward again, to 5 stars. See also this post. This is really working well for me. I've also got very used to the consistency so I don't mind that it's a bit thinner than the moisturizers I previously liked. I am hooked!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: Kashi Garden Vegetable Pasta

I've reviewed a Kashi frozen meal before so I thought I may as well do another one. But I'll just reiterate my reasons for liking them - although these food items are not organic, which is a shame, they are not chock-full of chemicals and preservatives, are easily available and are relatively cheap for a prepared meal. They are retailing at $3.59 at most places that I shop at.

I've had the Kashi pesto primavera pasta (or whatever it's called), and despite my general love for all things pasta-related, and especially pesto, there's something about it that just isn't quite right. No such problems with the garden vegetable pasta, which I really like. First of all, it's vegan, getting its protein from the mixed whole-grain pasta, and beans. So many prepared pasta dishes rely on cheese to do the job, that this makes for a very welcome change. I'm always on the lookout for easy vegan meals, and this fits the bill nicely.

The sauce is a rich tomato-based sauce with just the faintest hint of a spicy kick. And by "faintest hint" I really mean it is super mild, but I think with beans, tomato and pasta you need a bit of a kick otherwise it is all too bland, and this is just enough to give a nice little boost to the flavor. There aren't quite as many veggies as the picture on the box would imply, but those that are there are well chosen and survive the freezing and nuking process well.

This seems to be a great addition to the Kashi line. I think I'll be buying it regularly!

Four stars.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: Nature's Gate Hemp Nourishing Conditioner

I think I've mentioned before that I have dry, frizzy hair, so every time I see a product that claims to be able to help, I always seem to end up trying it. I've been looking for that holy grail product for a very long time.
Nature's Gate Hemp Nourishing Conditioner comes awfully close to the holy grail. I really like it. It doesn't seem to have much of a scent at all, and if it didn't list fragrance in the ingredients I'd be prepared to believe that it was unscented. It mostly smells wholesome if that's even a smell - like a generic, but not unpleasant, natural product. Perhaps a very faint floral - or is it citrus - smell. It's hard to identify. It has a great, thick consistency - just as I like a conditioner to be. More importantly, it has left my hair very soft and nourished. I mean, OK, I could get slightly better results to start with if I used Pantene, but as that leaves a deposit on your hair eventually I would have to stop using it anyway. I am more than satisfied with the results I am getting from the Nature's Gate.
It's quite reasonably priced - I think I paid around $4.99 for this, for 18 ounces, which compares very favorably with the usual organic conditioners which are about $8 for 8 ounces. However, therein lies the rub - this isn't organic. It's mostly natural, doesn't have any parabens or other nasty chemicals that I can see, and contains lots of oils and herbs. But not an organic one among them, it seems, which presumably explains the price. I think I will keep buying it, though, and use it in rotation with some of the organic products, just to try to keep costs down.
Four stars. It would have been higher if only it was organic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: Ecover Automatic Dishwashing Tablets

Have you looked lately for a green automatic dishwasher detergent? They are hard to find. I don't know if we're all supposed to be handwashing dishes in a mountain stream or something, but I'm sorry, I don't do that.

I had been using the Mrs. Meyer's dishwashing powder, which I loved - it worked well, it was a loose powder so I could choose how much to use, and it had a nice smell. The only problem was that it came in a plain cardboard box, so the humidity had turned it into a solid brick. I had to rip the box apart, put the brick into some large ziploc bags and hammer it apart. Oh, and the other problem was that I was concerned that it wasn't especially frugal.

I decided to try the Ecover tablets, even though I think tablets are a bit wasteful. After all, they come individually wrapped in plastic which surely adds to the waste stream. And you might end up using more detergent than you need, especially if you have a small dishwasher like I do, or you are washing things that aren't heavily soiled.

These are available for about $6.99, so they're not especially frugal either, but I'd got to the point where the Mrs. Meyers had run out and I was getting desperate!

I really don't like them. I have had to run everything through the dishwasher at least twice, and even then had to carefully pick out the dishes that were clean enough to put away (though not as clean as I'd like), in order to try to start washing some other things. I even had to (gasp!) do some hand washing to keep up.

I'm going back to the Mrs. Meyers for now. One star for Ecover.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review: Kitchen cleaner comparison

I have a bad habit of forgetting that I have plenty of kitchen surface cleaner, and buying more.  Or something new and sparkly catches my eye in the store and it goes into the shopping cart before I've even really thought if I need it. I vow to be better at this, and actually organize my cleaning supplies to prevent overbuying in the future, I promise! However, my poor shopping habits meant that I have ended up with several different cleaning products at home, so in the interests of science I decided to conduct a cleaning experiment. Yesterday, therefore, I carefully spread a greasy concoction of salad dressings, mustard and marinade over my granite kitchen countertops and left it to dry, then set to it to see which cleaners worked better. I also ended up trying them all out on my stainless steel stove hood/extractor fan thingie, to see how well they performed on metal. 

The contenders were:

1. Ecover Glass & Surface Cleaner. This is not a very frugal choice. It retails for about $4.50 for 16 ounces, and I haven't come across a refill for it, though I hope one exists - there's a lot of plastic in those spray heads that we don't need to be using up every time. I have seen a refill of their all-purpose cleaner, but I'm not sure if there is one to the glass & surface cleaner. It has a light, fresh and vaguely citrusy scent that is hard to place but is pleasant enough. I'd originally bought this one just to use as a glass cleaner, and hadn't previously tried it on kitchen grease.

2. Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Countertop Spray in geranium scent. Again, not a frugal choice as it retails for about $4.99 for 16 ounces. A large refill bottle is available of the general purpose cleaner, but not the countertop spray - the bottle says the countertop spray contains an additional vegetable protein extract to remove odors from kitchen and bath. I bought this one for the scent, which is a lovely lemony-floral, rosy-minty geranium. I have several products from the Mrs. Meyer's range, and they do make the kitchen and bathroom smell lovely, so it definitely helps me get on with the cleaning chores that I might otherwise be reluctant to tackle. The bottle includes a "common sense caution" to avoid eye contact. 

3. Clorox GreenWorks Natural All-Purpose Cleaner. I decided to try this one as I felt guilty about the amount of money I was spending on products. I worry about how green it is, as it is first of all made by Clorox, and secondly has "CAUTION: EYE IRRITANT" on it although it is endorsed by the Sierra Club. The bottle is about $3.29 for 32 ounces, though I have spotted it in Walmart and Target, so I am sure it is cheaper there. I have also seen a large refill bottle available. The scent of this cleaner is quite lemony, and it has a light green color.

4. Arm & Hammer Essentials Multi-Surface cleaner.  This caught my eye as it is sold as an empty 32 oz spray bottle, with a mini bottle of concentrate attached to it. You fill the bottle up with water when you get home, add the concentrate and voila. This is a pretty darn good idea for transport purposes, as it costs less to transport lighter weight products.  The "starter kit" was $2.99, and refills are available as a package of the two mini bottles for $3.99. It is a shockingly deep green color, so they went completely overboard on the colorant. I also tried to find the ingredients of this online yesterday but failed miserably, so I don't know how environmentally friendly it really is. This bottle has several cautions in large letters - the front says "CAUTION: EYE IRRITANT, MAY BE HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED" and the back says "CAUTION: CONCENTRATE IS COMBUSTIBLE". The cautions do not give me the warm fuzzies on this one, I have to say.  This one smells the most ammoniacal - I can't place the scent as it mostly just smells of cleaning fluid to me.  This is clearly the least "green" of the cleaners I tried.

I also initially tried a Seventh Generation bathroom cleaner, but quickly took it out of contention because bathroom cleaners don't typically have degreasers, and as I'd created a big ole greasy mess that it was struggling with, I didn't think it was a fair comparison. 

First test - grease fighting. All four cleaners were surprisingly close in how well they performed on my greasy, dried up lake o' salad dressings.  The Clorox cleaner got more sudsy than the others, so required an extra wipe or two to clean up the suds. But it was very hard to declare a winner on this test. The Ecover particularly surprised me, as I'd never even tried it in the kitchen before, and had it pegged as a lightweight, but it definitely kept up with the big boys. If I had to put it in order of efficacy, I'd say the Ecover and the Arm & Hammer came out top, the Clorox was next (but only marked down due to having to do an extra wipe to clear off the suds) and the Mrs. Meyers was last. I want to stress, though, that these are marginal differences - all performed admirably and I'd be happy to use any of them.

Second test - cleaning greasy stainless steel. I admit, I don't get up on a chair and clean the stove hood very often. This was therefore a tough test, with grease and dust to shift. Again, all four products cleaned admirably. If I had to declare winners, it comes down to the lack of streaks left behind, and the Ecover and Mrs. Meyers seemed better on that score. I double-checked streakiness on the front of the fridge, which is a brushed stainless steel, and there again the Ecover and Mrs. Meyers worked the best - Ecover being slightly better.

All in all, I feel I have to declare Ecover the winner, which I found quite surprising as I expected it to be the least efficacious. Part of this is due to the fact that one product will work well on kitchen countertops, stainless steel, AND glass (I've used it on the shower door several times and it does OK there too) - there shouldn't be a need to have several different spray bottles at one time. It's also vegan and seems the most environmentally sound product of all four - no scary warnings on this label! My concern is in the cost, but if I can find a refill bottle I think I will switch to using this one all the time.

Second place goes to the Clorox because of the price. It worked well on the kitchen counter mess, but I don't think I'd want to use it on metal or glass.

Third place (though it was very nearly a tie for second with Clorox) goes to Mrs. Meyer's. I do love the scent, and it did well in the streakiness stakes. In the end, the higher cost marked it down.

Fourth place goes to Arm & Hammer. It worked great on the greasy mess, but alas, all those warnings and the crazy color are off-putting because they imply that this contains lots of chemicals. I wish they'd have put the ingredients on the web, too. The price is good, and I like the concept of selling just the concentrate, but it just doesn't seem green enough.

Of course, if I was being uber frugal and green, I'd make my own cleaning products, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet - maybe one day, eh?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review: Kashi Ranchero Beans

I did have something to review today after all!
Strictly, I suppose, a frozen meal is neither green nor frugal. We should all be making our own organic meals, preferably from vegetables that we grew ourselves. But then again, I've never pretended that this blog is about being uber-green. It's more about buying smarter products to make your life greener as you either learn about taking the green life one step further or decide that light green is just far enough, thanks.
So, this is what I'd call a "light green" product. It isn't organic, but I wish it was. It is a frozen meal, yes, but it isn't chock-a-block full of unpronounceable preservatives. Kashi as a whole are a reputable company, I think, who do seem to care about the environment. They've reduced their packaging, as an example. They seem to care about producing healthy food. All in all, I think it's a fair choice for those times when you just don't have the time or energy to make something yourself. And, more to the frugal side of my nature, the Kashi meals are a lot cheaper than Amy's Kitchen or similar products. And they are easily found in most supermarkets, which is not true of many other products. I picked this up at my local Publix for $3.59, when most of the Amy's meals were retailing at $5.69 or so. That difference sure adds up over time.
Kashi has had a small selection of frozen meals for a while, and they've just expanded them, adding two new vegetarian options. Sorry, I don't know how many non-vegetarian ones they've added as I don't pay that much attention to non-vegetarian items. But the first of the new meals that I've tried is the Ranchero Beans, which is vegan. It's a southwest-themed meal, with roast corn, pinto beans, and red peppers in a chipotle sauce. The base is Kashi's usual 7-grain pilaf.
The bean mixture has a nice kick to it, but not so much that it is painful or in any way overbearing. It may not be enough if you're a true spice lover, but for the average Joe or Jane, I think they got the level of spice just about right. This is unlike the Black Bean Mango meal, which I do like but I find a bit too spicy on occasion. I have to admit, there's also something about the Kashi pilaf blend that I don't quite dig - perhaps the texture of the wheat berries - but I am getting more used to it as time goes by. I wouldn't say this is my favorite frozen meal but I liked it, and it's going to go straight into the rotation as something I will buy regularly for quick lunches at work, because it was tasty, seemed healthy and more importantly, fits into the budget.
3 stars.

Posting drought

Sorry for the lack of posting. You know when you get in those modes where you just don't have the need or opportunity to buy or try anything new because your shelves are groaning with so many products that need to be used up? Well, maybe not, but I'm in one right now. I was going to switch my attention to reviewing cleaning products, but I'm finding that I have a mental block on how to review them - I mean, seriously, when was the last time you picked up a counter spray type cleaner and have it not work? But I will find a way, I promise! I will definitely have more reviews up by the end of the week.