Wednesday, September 26, 2012

whatever looks good

At the tail end of my vacation last week, John and I decided to hit up the Farmer's Market on a whim -- we wanted garlic to plant, beeswax to turn into hand cream and lip balm, and whatever veggies looked good.  That's always the best policy when it comes to the Farmer's Market, don't you think?  Buy whatever looks good, and figure out a plan later.  :)

We came home and made brunch:

Poached eggs, sauteed kale, roasted potatoes, and sliced heirloom tomatoes.  All local, and all perfectly delicious!  I love that fresh produce needs so little to shine -- a little oil, a little salt, a little pepper, maybe a few herbs or a splash of vinegar or soy sauce . . . and that's it!  Yum.  If only I had the time this morning, I would make this breakfast again today!

Although I have been trying to cut back on desserts lately, I still feel the pull to bake delicious things.  Muffins to the rescue!

I made Buttermilk Granola Muffins from King Arthur Flour, and was delighted with the results!  Sweet, moist, tender, 100% whole-grain muffins for breakfasts and snacks this week have nodded to my sweet tooth without being too junky.  The granola topping seemed to scorch a little bit -- blame the tiny apartment oven?  Maybe it's time I finally invest in an oven thermometer.  :)

Do you have any favorite recipes that use cultured buttermilk?  I have been serially culturing buttermilk lately, (which, by the way, is crazy easy,) and have been looking for more uses for it.  Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

DIY: deodorant, hand cream, lip balm

I have been on a major DIY kick lately -- butter, yogurt, cheese, canning, drying, bread, you name it!  My DIY inclinations have even traveled into my medicine cabinet . . . and it all started with deodorant.

Historically, I have had a love-hate relationship with deodorant.  Why?  Well, I don't sweat much, but I sure do get stinky, and I've found most deodorants out there DON'T WORK.  I have tried practically every commercial brand known to man, and most natural brands, and every time I find something that works for me, the manufacturer STOPS MAKING IT.

Why????  (Wah!)

I figure, if I'm my own manufacturer, I won't do that.  :)  I found this recipe online, (via Facebook,) and fussed with it a little bit.  I ended up using 1/4 cup coconut oil, 2 tbsp each cornstarch and baking soda, and 1/16 tsp tea tree oil.  (My tea tree oil bottle doesn't have a built-in dropper, so I had to improvise.)

I'd give my first efforts a B+!  My main complaint is that the deodorant has a tendency to separate while it is cooling.  I found sticking the jar in the fridge and whisking every couple of minutes seemed to help, but this is far from an ideal situation.  :)  In the future, I may consider adding a little beeswax to the recipe, so it firms up faster and also could be poured into a stick.  (I don't mind applying the deodorant like lotion, but it would definitely be more convenient if it could be applied traditionally.)

After my deodorant-crafting experience, I figured, why can't I make more stuff?  Next up . . . hand cream!

I found so many recipes, and settled on this one to start with, as it seemed so simple and so easy.  I bought my first-ever brick of beeswax, and a cheap box grater with which to grate it up for use in these recipes.  (Note: beeswax smells SO good while grating!)  I figured it would be smart to have a dedicated non-food grater on hand, as I will need to grate soap in the future for upcoming planned projects.  :)  I did have a wee struggle finding beeswax, as my usual online retailer didn't carry it, nor did my co-op.  Farmer's Market to the rescue!  (Duh!)  Only one of the honey sellers had bricks of beeswax for sale, but I'm sure any beekeeper would sell you some beeswax if you asked.

The verdict on the hand cream?  Amazing.  Simple.  Smells great.  Greasy, but that's what you expect from a heavy, salve-like concoction.  And I could assume you could use just about any essential oil you wanted in this recipe -- infinitely customizable fragrances!

Last on the list . . . lip balm!

I have, what I would consider to be, a lip balm obsession.  I always have a tube in my pocket, in my purse, and on my nightstand.  (Hey, we all have our vices, right?)  ;)  I also always feel a little sad when I throw those empty tubes away . . . and now I don't have to!

I found this page online, which detailed three different recipes for what sounded like very different lip balms . . . what a fun place to start!  From left to right in my picture: Minty Chocolate, Coco-Rosey, and Luscious Lavender.  Reviews?

Minty Chocolate: smells AMAZING, and was super-easy to make.  I would make this one again and again and again and again . . .

Coco-Rosey: my first attempt at steeping the rose petals in the coconut oil resulted in . . . fried rose petals.  Ick.  Smelled awful.  Washed out the pot, started over, and this time thought I might just use more essential oil, and skip the steeping step.  And then I over-measured the cocoa butter.  Sigh.  Result?  The lip balm smells nothing like roses, only like cocoa butter, and is not my preferred texture, despite the extra cocoa butter.  I don't know that I need to make this one again, unfortunately.

Luscious Lavender: this one might be that perfect base that I'm looking for, come to think of it.  I'd skip the cocoa powder next time, (the author of the recipe suggests it is optional, and I think it gave the lip balm a weird color, as it isn't chocolate-flavored,) and be excited to play around with different essential oil fragrances.  This balm also has simple, relatively easy to find ingredients, if you skip the cocoa powder and lipstick!  :)  It's basically olive oil and beeswax, with some fragrance and vitamin E.  Score!

P.S. These recipes yield a LOT of lip balms.  I made all three last night, and have 10 tubes and 12 pots of lip balm total.  WOW!  I better give a couple away ASAP . . . and store the rest in the fridge!

I also want to share a couple of things I discovered in my lip-balm and hand cream making process, so hopefully you can avoid the same mistakes I did . . .

1. Don't make any of the balms or hand cream directly in a saucepan.  It's a bitch to pour.  I found making the balms and creams in my glass measuring cup, sitting in a pan of warm water, worked best.  I was then able to pour the balms and creams directly into the tubes and pots with much less mess.

2. Line your work area with something, as you will certainly spill.  Paper towel doesn't work; parchment paper and foil do!

3. Make sure all of your lip balm tubes are cranked all the way down to the bottom before filling.  (Duh!)

4. I tried filling one lip balm tube with a funnel, with disastrous results.  (The funnel obstructed my view into the tube, so I couldn't see how full it was getting . . . massive overflow!)  I had better luck pouring carefully from the measuring cup directly into the tube.

5. Definitely invest in a non-food grater.  There is still some beeswax crusted in my grater, despite lots of hot water and lots of soap.

Next up on my DIY list of new projects . . . laundry soap!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

goodbye, vacation!

My vacation is almost over!  I can't believe I've been away from work for an entire week, and it's already time to go back . . . I had a great week, though.  Saturday through Monday, John and I traveled to Wisconsin to visit my family, and we spent the rest of the week hanging out at his house.  (We even brought Oliver along -- and he did great!  He only hid in John's boxspring for the first day, and then spend the rest of the time trotting around, sniffing everything, and having "conversations" with John's roommate's cat through her closed bedroom door.  Ha!)  I did plenty of baking and cooking, we spent a day volunteering at the organic farm where John has been helping out this summer, spent plenty of time doing yard work, and made time for reading, watching movies, and relaxing.  :)

Of course, we did plenty of eating!  After a restaurant-marathon while visiting my family, we have been eating at home the rest of the week, trying to "recover."  Does anyone else feel just awful after eating out too many meals in a row?  I know I sure do.

We had lots of leftover beans, rice, and cheese, so ate plenty of Tex-Mex meals during the week:

After we ran out of tortillas, we finished almost everything up  in nacho form.  :)  Refried beans, cilantro rice, cheese, homemade tomatillo salsa, garden tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and homemade guacamole.  MMMMMM.  Kind of want this plate for breakfast right now!

We had a surplus of kale this week, which is definitely a good thing!  We left the farm on Tuesday with a huge bunch, and also had a nice-sized harvest waiting for us in the garden.  After more "Magic Kale Salad" with tempeh, I made soup!

Kale, vegetarian sausages, onions, garlic, white beans, tomatoes, olives, broth, and seasonings made for a spicy-delicious soup!  I ended up with the hugest pot of this stuff, so we are still eating leftovers, and they are still just as tasty!

One of my kitchen projects this week was my first foray into cheese-making:

The last time I made butter, I used the leftover liquid to make "buttermilk cheese."  This is seriously the simplest thing ever -- you let the true buttermilk sit out at room temperature for 24 hours, and then heat it slowly until it begins to curdle.  Strain for 4 hours, salt, and enjoy!  I would describe this cheese as a somewhat creamier, less tangy ricotta -- I think it would work nicely in a lasagna, or on top of a pizza, or pureed with herbs, pepper, and lemon juice to make a dip for crackers or veggies.  It was pretty tasty just on crackers!

No big plans for today, yet -- but we hope to have some fun on my last vacation day!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bad pancake gene?

I used to think I had a "bad pancake gene" - like my Dad, my pancakes often used to be over-brown on the outside, while not quite fully cooked in the center. :( Lately, I have been working on overcoming my issues with pancakes, always setting the burner lower than I think I should, and exercising incredible patience before flipping. Seems to be working!

We had "Carrot Cake Pancakes" from Cooking Light for breakfast this morning. They were fantastic - hearty and filling, but not heavy. The only change I made to the original recipe was subbing whole-wheat pastry flour for the AP flour, which worked beautifully. Double-bonus? These pancakes used up several carrots that have been lingering in the produce drawer ... and incorporated some homemade buttermilk. Woo!

Here's a link to the recipe:

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I've had the week off from work, which has been fantastic! After a short trip to visit the family over the weekend, I've been relaxing, helping John with yard work, and keeping myself busy in the kitchen. We had a sudden bumper crop of cherry tomatoes, which I oven-dried, and I FINALLY got around to my first-ever canning project! I made a batch of tomatillo salsa from "The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving." I think it worked! My jars seem to have sealed beautifully - no clicking when I push on the top, and I can pick the jar up by just the lid (after removing the rim.) Looks like a success!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


From the looks of this blog post, it would seem as though I didn't do much cooking over the weekend.  I promise we ate well, although not necessarily blog-worthy.  :)

Saturday night veggie burgers:

I really like the black bean burger recipe from Veganomicon, and we had 'em this weekend on toasted wholegrain buns with mayo, spinach, tomato, and some melted tilsit.  Roasted garden veggies (green beans, cherry tomatoes, and green onions,) and chips and guac on the side.

Sunday night soup:

I have been having good success focusing on one cookbook at a time when I do my meal planning, and this past weekend, it was Veganomicon.  The "Midsummer Corn Chowder" was a huge hit, with both John, myself, and his parents.  What's not to like, really -- it's basically a huge pot full of in-season produce!  Yum.

And a couple of baking projects . . .

First, I turned Pecan-Topped Pumpkin Bread into muffins:

I was really pleased with how this recipe turned out.  The only change I made to the original was subbing in half whole-wheat flour for some of the all-purpose, and I'd consider upping to even 3/4 whole-wheat next time, as well as reducing the amount of sugar called for.  However, these muffins are light and flavorful, without tasting too "healthy," you know?  They make great quick, portable snacks.

Second, I have been looking for more recipes lately that call for buttermilk, as I have been reculturing my own for a few weeks now.  Here's some Cinnamon Streusel Buttermilk Coffee Cake:

Not only is this recipe incredibly delicious, it's EASY.  You know how recipes that call for a streusel often require a lot of extra mixing and dirty bowls?  Not this recipe.  You make a base crumble with butter, flour, sugar, and some nutmeg, pull out a cup of it and add some nuts and cinnamon for the streusel, and add an egg, some buttermilk, and some leavening to the rest for the cake batter.  Easy!  I think I had this cake ready for the oven before it was preheated.  I might try baking it in a square pan next time, as I'm never a huge fan of springform pans.  (I just don't trust them not to leak.  Perhaps it's time to invest in a higher quality springform?  Eh.)

Busy week ahead . . . wish me luck!  Thankfully, I have plenty of leftovers.  :)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

mess o' veg

It's nearing the end of the week, and my grocery supplies are dwindling . . . what's a hungry girl to do?

Saute up a mess o' veg, and pile it on top of some spinach linguine:

Olive oil, garlic, oyster mushrooms, foraged chicken of the woods mushrooms, garden zucchini, garden chard, kalamata olives, garden tomatoes, pine nuts, and golden raisins.  It was one of those dinners that came to life by casually finding things in my fridge and cupboards that sounded good, and tossing them in a hot pan. I felt so virtuous after this meal, I just HAD to eat a brownie at church choir practice to even things out a little bit.  :)

Monday, September 03, 2012

daily bread

Lately, I've been rocking more and more homemade items in my kitchen, and have been back into the habit of making sandwich bread.  I have been loving this recipe from Cooking Light for "Irish Oatmeal Bread."

Although the recipe is slightly more complex than the average yeasted loaf, the extra time spent soaking the steel-cut oats for 30 minutes is well worth it!  The loaves are dense and substantial, but still soft enough to use for sandwiches.  (P.S. Amazing toast.)  I have also found that this bread lasts well through the week, not going as hard and stale as many homemade loaves I've tried in the past.  The recipe yields two 9-inch or three 8-inch loaves, and I highly recommend making the entire batch and freezing your leftovers -- either unbaked, well-wrapped lumps of dough, to be thawed, left to rise, and baked at a later date, or well-wrapped, fully-baked loaves.  Either way, you're saving yourself tons of prep in the future!

Do you make your own bread?  What do you look for in a homemade loaf of sandwich bread?

unplanned break

Well, here I am, black from a sort-of unplanned blogging break -- I guess I haven't been cooking much these past couple of weeks!  Come to think of it, I have been eating out much more than usual, using up leftovers, and eating very basic, non-photogenic meals.  :)  I did whip up a couple of nice meals this past weekend, though!

Beets, goat cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette over mixed greens:

Thai Lettuce Wraps:

These were phenomenal!  Sweet, spicy, salty, rich, and packed with healthy, crunchy veggies and herbs, most from our garden.  I've been on a quest lately to find and try more recipes for tempeh, as John likes tempeh a lot, but doesn't care for tofu as much.  This was definitely a winner!  Anyone have any favorite tempeh recipes they care to suggest?

Breakfast prepared by John:

Mixed berries, croissants from the Farmer's Market, chard from the garden, and scrambled Farmer's Market eggs with local Tilsit and green onions from the garden.

 Homemade pizza:

"Olive Oil Dough," from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, topped with olive oil, caramelized onions, mozzarella, four different kinds of mushrooms (including chicken of the woods, which we found while hiking yesterday!), Shepherd's Way "Super Blue" cheese, thyme, and black pepper.  Oh, yum.