Top 10 US Import Beauty Products

February 27, 2015

Top 10 US Import Beauty Buys

Being an expat is hard enough without also having to settle for crap European deodorant (raise your hand if you feel me on that one?) and lip balm that doesn't do much to un-chap your lips. Home may now be overseas and there may be a slew of great products to discover over here, but sometimes there's nothing quite like the staples you'd come to depend on. Both new and old, these are my favorites that I have come to depend on - and fill my suitcase with anytime I visit!

It's a 10 Miracle Leave In Product| As the name implies, it's a miracle for overly dry, damaged hair. My sad locks, parched from several journeys into various hair colors, soak this stuff up like a sponge. Now I'm wishing I had bought the bigger bottle last time...

Sally Hansen Nailgrowth Miracle| Ever since this product was recommended to me by a former colleague with some of the prettiest nails I'd ever seen (thanks, Ashley!), I have never been without it. Whenever I've tried something else, I've always been disappointed. I was thrilled to see Sally Hansen products show up in German drugstores, only this magic gold bottle is annoyingly absent from the lineup of nail treatments. Don't be fooled by the other offerings, this is the holy grail for strong, glossy nails. I always return home with multiple bottles for my dry, brittle nails.

eos Medicated Tangerine Lip Balm| Let me just be honest: I've always had super-dry lips. I would go through tubes and tubes of lip balm, trying every product on the market, stashing them in every pocket and in every bag. After my celiac diagnosis and realizing that vitamin E (which is often derived from wheat germ - who knew?!) is in pretty much every lip product, I feared I would be stuck with eternally chapped lips. Joy. No matter what products I tried that were safe, nothing gave the moisture I needed - until I found this. At first, it smells a bit medicine-y, but once it's on your lips, the tangerine takes over and all is fruity and yummy and super moisturized. Douglas just started carrying EOS balm, and it's available in the UK, but I've yet to see this particular version over here and frankly, the other flavors (I've tried five of them) just don't pack the same moisture punch. I've already blown through an entire little dome in just over a month - which while super cute, is a bit unwieldy in pockets and such - and have only one more from my last trip, so I'm plotting how to get more in bulk. Gluten-free and it works. Unglaublich.

Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Crème| This stuff is one of my ultimate beauty indulgences. It's not that expensive, but it's enough that even when I lived in the States, I only bought it every once in a while. Like so many of the products I covet, I love it because it works. Even better than that, it smells like a tropical vacation. The super-thick, goopy texture can be a bit off-putting, but one after night of slathering your feet in this stuff, leaving it to soak in under some thick socks and waking up with feet that feel like a baby's bottom, you'll be hooked. Lucky for us in Europe, it is available over here, but for a bit of a markup.

OPI Nail Polish| OPI has reigned supreme in the world of manicures for some time. It's reasonably priced considering the overwhelming color selection and top-notch formula - except in Germany. Here, a bottle of this stuff will set you back an ungodly $20. Even in the Netherlands it goes for much less! At around $8 stateside, I can't help myself from picking up a bottle or two whenever I'm back. Malaga Wine and Berlin There, Done That - surprise, surprise - will remain some of my all-time favorites.

Ion Color Brilliance Brights Semi-permanent Hair Color| For everyone who liked my recent foray into lavender hair, this is where it's at. After enjoying a brief stint with dark blue tips via Manic Panic a few years back, I was anxious to try out the whole pastel craze. I heard Ion has taken over as the semi-permanent color to use, so I bought tubes in both pastel pink and lavender. The results were mixed. The pink was beautifully subtle but definitely required longer developing time for more impact. So when I went for the lavender after the pink was gone in one wash, I was stunned to watch as the bright purple color cream on my head did not fade, no matter how much I rinsed. Almost two months later, it's faded, but still holding on for dear life. All that said, if you're looking for awesome 'temporary' color, this stuff is great. My hair was not damaged and the colors were lovely, with minimal weird tones as they faded, though they are recommended for use on hair that is already bleached so that they show up. The best part? You can find them for $5 a tube in the US, whereas I found only one color on Amazon Germany. And it went for €25.

Herbal Clear Sport Deodorant| Since jumping on the more natural deodorant bandwagon several years ago after discovering that what's in most of them in the US causes cancer and those gross yellow stains on your clothes (yeah, that's not just sweat), I've found that most of the more natural stuff is just not up to the task. Except this stuff. Even in the States, it's hard to find, but I promise you it's worth it. It's not super sticky, the smell is subtle and pleasant, but most of all, it just works. While I still have my pricey La Roche Posay one here to fall back on, I always make sure I've got a few sticks of this stocked up.

Aquaphor Healing Ointment| For serious moisture, this is the cream of the crop. Rough elbows, dry feet, even burns and cuts, this stuff completely heals. Eucerin is huge over here and Aquaphor can be found if you happen into the right Apotheke, but I've never come across the giant tubs like in the States. It's all purpose, can't-beat-it-product.

Burt's Bees Baby Bee Calming Lotion| Finding lotion that calms my irritable dry skin but manages to keep all the nasty parabens and unnecessary chemicals out of the equation can be tough. This Burt's Bees formulated for sensitive baby skin fits the bill nicely. Plus, it soaks in nicely and has a scent as soothing as the name implies.

Burt's Bees Baby Bee Dusting Powder| I am completely obsessed with this stuff. I don't have a baby, but you'd think I do by the stock of this I keep in my bathroom. If I'm not powering baby bottoms, what am I doing? Using this for dry shampoo! This 100% natural, talc-free, cornstarch-based powder has the most lovely soft smell (not really like a baby, so not to worry) and soaks up oil without making me look like I'm trying to bring back the powdered wig look. Not sure why Germany doesn't carry this product, but it needs to add this to it's Baby Bee lineup, stat!

What are your favorite US-based beauty products? Have you found any good substitutions when they are hard to find?

This Valentine's, wear your heart on your sleeve (or your shirt)

February 11, 2015

Wear your heart on your shirt this Valentine's

What better way to wear your heart on your sleeve for that upcoming holiday of love than to wear it right on your shirt? Some sweet, some funny, some just nice, simple design, these love-themed options are understated enough for wear well beyond Valentine's Day and just saccharine enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy without going overboard. Feel the love, people!

My Favorite Spots for Eating Gluten-Free in Portland, Oregon

February 6, 2015

Petunia's Pies and Pastries cupcakes cookies bars_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

Eating gluten-free in Portland is like spinning a fortune wheel and coming up a winner every time. Options are plentiful and far-and-away better than any of the GF options here in Berlin. On one hand, it made it seriously depressing to return home and remember, oh yeah, I can't just stop by fill-in-the-blank restaurant or cafe and grab something safe to eat. On the other hand, it was a great realization that my dietary restriction doesn't mean I'm cursed to settle for 'just OK' with every baked good I try.

While I feel I barely scratched the surface of this food allergy paradise that is Portland, I felt compelled to share the places that were so good, I felt little reason to explore beyond them. Things I figured I'd never be able to enjoy again - biscuits and gravy, beer and desserts just as good as 'the real thing' - can be found here in spades. So if you're heading to Portland and need to be gluten-free, or just want some really great food that doesn't make your gut feel like a ton of bricks, take a look at a few of my favorite spots for dedicated gluten-free eating...

New Cascadia Traditional Bakery

Challah French toast at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

This is one of those spots that based on the understated demeanor and its location in a rather industrial part of town, one might not expect the greatness that lies within. New Cascadia is a bakery in the true sense of the word: they excel in breads, bagels, pizzas, cookies and cakes. What I found most impressive about this place is not only that everything is totally delicious, but the texture is so right on. For everyone who has spat out a disappointing, grainy gluten-free cupcake, this place is for you. The pizza crusts are perfectly doughy and crispy, breads are appropriately fluffy in the middle (though do best when toasted, as do most GF breads) and the cupcakes somehow manage to avoid that can't-put-your-finger-on-it sense of wrongness that is experienced with most cakes masquerading as a gluten-filled treat but just not living up to their gluten-filled cousins. Texture is where New Cascadia shines.

Since I ate here on such a regular basis while I was in town, let me share the things that blew my mind: both the crispy, bubbly thin-crust and the plump cornmeal pizzas, those little cheesy biscuits, the chocolate-espresso-walnut cookie, the caramel-y nut bar, the pink champagne cupcake (January's special flavor). The vegan cupcake of the month - peanut butter and jelly - was also very good, but as a die-hard lover of buttercream, it didn't rate for me with the other option. The Sunday brunch was extraordinary. I ordered the Challah French toast (again, perfect bread texture) and my friend let me sneak a few bites of her biscuits and mushroom gravy, which knocked my socks off. I never thought I could enjoy biscuits that weren't pronounced in their wheat-based crumbliness or gravy that wasn't born from the large jar of bacon grease that stood constant watch over my grandmother's stove, let alone the fact that I don't even like mushrooms. So in short, this place rocks.

cornmeal crust pizza at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon pink champagne cupcake at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

New Cascadia Traditional thin crust pizza_ gluten free Portland Oregon

New Cascadia Traditional
1700 SE 6th Avenue
Tel: 503-546-4901
Open 7 days a week (brunch only on Sundays)
Also at the Portland Farmer's Market and several local groceries

Petunia's Pies and Pastries

Petunia's Pies and Pastries dessert case_ Portland Oregon gluten-free vegan

Petunia's is one of those sweet spots you can't help but want to go in. Classic bakery decor, an ample menu and a long glass case glittering with sugary baked goods... It's really only after you are intrigued by the magic of the place that you realize everything is gluten free and vegan. It only says it as a subheading on one of the signs outside and I'm not sure I even noticed it anywhere else. And that is the point. The food here is the star and stands for itself. The fact that us allergy-addled/dietary-restricted folks can dive in without thinking is the added bonus that makes folks like me stare saucer-eyed at the dessert case, mouth agape, muttering incredulously: 'I can eat any of this?!'.

My favorites here? The Cowgirl cookie, the salted caramel cookie bar (I die...), the chili with sweet molasses cornbread, the spicy blue corn veggie tacos and of course, the salted caramel apple pecan pie. Between the menu and the whole vibe of the place, never once do you feel like you're missing out. That said, as an adamant butter supporter, I think a few of the things I tried really could have benefited, especially texture-wise, from cream or butter. I do understand that gluten and dairy allergies so often go hand-in-hand, and I'm not sure you could find a place in the world that can cater to those needs better than Petunia's. Two thumbs way up. (I wonder if they'd ship internationally for Valentine's Day...?)

veggie chili and molasses cornbread at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon salted caramel apple pecan pie at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

blue corn veggie tacos at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

Petunia's Pies and Pastries
610 SW 12th Avenue
Tel: 503-841-5961
Open 7 days a week
Also at other retailers

Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub

beer sampler with menu at Ground Breaker Brewing_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

After my first experience with 'gluten-free' beer (violently ill), I resigned to the idea that our relationship was over. Then my husband stumbled across a brewery in Portland that was 100% gluten free, as in, the beer was sourced from non-gluten grains. None of this 'distilled out' nonsense, it was gluten-free right from the start. This brewery was in fact one of the reasons I encouraged my parents' move to Portland: so I could come visit. Selfless, I know.

On our first visit, it was burger night. Not that I could complain, since burgers were yet another pre-celiac favorite now relegated to concocting at home with some sort of bread product that could pass as a bun in some alternate universe. While I do admit Ground Breaker's bread left me a little wanting, the rest was very tasty. Such solid, soul-warming pub food that we decided to come again for its next special menu night: Christmas Eve fried chicken and biscuits. Fried chicken was always a staple in my family, with our mid-western roots, so my standards are a bit high. This lived up to the challenge and frankly, if you didn't know it was gluten-free, you would never have guessed.

So the food is pretty good at Ground Breaker, but let's be honest, you come here for one thing: the beer. If you've ever tried gluten-free beer you probably know that it's mostly crap. They've taken something that's all gluten and then distilled the hell out of it until some rancid muck not even resembling the brew you once enjoyed pre-diagnosis: (enter overly exuberant announcer's voice here) so now even you can enjoy beer like the rest of them! Nein, danke. Ground Breaker starts with ingredients like roasted lentils, chestnuts and buckwheat to create beers that while unlike 'regular' beers you might be used to, are something unique and delicious all their own. My favorites included the Corsa Rose Gold Ale (a little like a rosé wine), the IPA No.5 and the seasonal candy cane ale (with the perfect peppermint flavor at the finish).

Beer, it feels great to friends again.

burger night at Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub_ gluten-free Portland Oregon Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub no gluten sign_ Portland Oregon

Ground Breaker Brewing
2030 SE 7th Street
Tel: 503-928-4195
Open Tuesday-Sunday (Tues & Wed evenings only)
Find the beer at other locations

Portland, you truly are a dream come true for those of us with food allergies...