Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peppermint Patty Lotion Bars

Lately I've been crafting up a variety of soaps and lotions to give as Christmas gifts and I decided to include some solid lotion bars this year. I posted a lotion bar recipe a while ago, but since I wanted to experiment with some new molds I picked up at the thrift store I made up a new and slightly different recipe. Most of the ingredients are the same, just a little simplified with a lighter scent and a firmer texture. This recipe makes a fairly small batch, so go ahead and double or triple it if you have lots of friends with dry winter skin!

If you're trying to craft up some last minute holiday gifts, lotion bars are a great choice: they're easy, don't require many fancy ingredients or tools, and they take less than an hour to make (although they do need several hours to cool down and solidify, but you can work on other projects while that happens).

You will need:

2 ounces beeswax
2 ounces cocoa butter
1 ounce coconut oil
1 ounce avocado oil
20 drops vitamin E oil
15 drops peppermint essential oil

Makes 3 lotions bars (approx. 2 oz each)

1. Using a double boiler (a glass or ceramic bowl over a saucepan of water works just as well) begin melting the beeswax. If your beeswax is in a large piece, chop it into small bits first.

2. Once the beeswax is mostly melted add the cocoa butter and allow it to melt into the wax. Next add the coconut oil, and let it melt down before adding the avocado oil. Stir until all the wax and oils are melted and incorporated. Remove from heat.

3.  Quickly stir in the vitamin E oil and essential oil and blend well. Pour into molds (I used silicon baking trays) and let the bars rest undisturbed for several hours or overnight.

4. When the bars are completely cool and have fully solidified, remove from the molds and enjoy! Store in a tin or wrap in wax paper to give as gifts. I keep one on a vintage teacup saucer on my nightstand to use before I go to sleep, and my hands thank me for it!  To apply, just rub between your hands like a bar of soap, then massage into skin. Your skin might feel a little greasy until the oils are fully absorbed but after a few minutes your hands should feel supple and nourished. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chocolate Vegan Fudge with Peanut Butter Chips

Here's the perfect thing to bring to a Christmas party, solstice celebration, game night, slumber party, holiday potluck at the office, ugly sweater 'n' cocktail get together, murder mystery dinner, or just for a cozy movie night at home. It doesn't really matter why you are making fudge; you don't need an excuse because it's delicious. I came across the basis for this recipe when I was looking for something to bring to Thanksgiving dinner and it sounded like just the thing. I knew that other people were already bringing various pies and crisps, so I thought fudge would be a good (chocolately) addition to the spread. It's great to make for a crowd because it's cut into little bite-sized squares that folks can easily munch on during the evening's festivities, whatever they may be.

1 cup coconut milk (the thick kind from the can, not the "lite" stuff here)
3 cups semisweet vegan chocolate chips
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegan peanut butter chips

Before you begin, line an 8 inch square pan with foil so that it hangs over the edge.

Combine the powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a standing mixer. Set aside.

Heat coconut milk in a saucepan until it just begins to boil. Add the chocolate chips, and stir until smooth. If at any point it starts to boil, turn down the heat or pull the pan away from the burner for a moment. When the chocolate chips have melted, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour the chocolate and coconut mixture into the bowl of your standing mixer and beat until everything is combined and smooth. Gently fold in the peanut butter chips.

Pour the fudge into the lined baking pan. Fold over the edges of the foil to cover the fudge completely. Place in the fridge for several hours or overnight before cutting and serving.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Break Room Couscous Soup

This isn't much of a recipe; it's just putting some stuff in a jar. But I decided it's worth posting because I couldn't find a similar recipe online. What I wanted to replicate are those tasty but expensive paper cups of instant couscous soup. You know the ones? Well, I've loved them since I was a little kid but I knew there had to be a better way. A way that would be cheaper and wouldn't require disposable packaging. So after a few test runs, I've come up with a basic recipe that can easily be adapted to different seasoning variations (I want to try a curry blend next). They're great to keep at work or in your pantry for those rushed mornings when you're running late and don't have time to pack a lunch.

All these ingredients should be pretty easy to secure at a grocery store. I found an organic dehydrated veggie mix and vegetarian broth powder (MSG-free) from the bulk spice and herb section of my local grocery store. Keep in mind that broth powders will have varying amounts of salt, so if yours is super salty, start with less than a tablespoon. You can always add more.

Basic Vegetable Couscous Soup Mix:
1/4 cup couscous
1 tablespoon dehydrated vegetables (peas, celery, carrots, onions)
1 tablespoon vegetable broth powder
1/4 teaspoon each: dried parsley, garlic powder, onion powder
Pinch of dried basil, oregano, thyme, black pepper, red pepper flakes
Additional salt if desired (depends on how salty your broth powder is)

Put everything in a jar, and seal tightly until ready to use. To prepare, add about 1 cup of boiling water, cover jar, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir and chow.

Makes one serving

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Afternoon Goldsmiths

How We Made Our Own Wedding Rings With Practically No Metalworking Skills or Know-how

It might seem like a bad idea to try out your first metal working project with something you plan to wear on your body every day for the rest of your life. It also might seem really expensive to practice soldering with gold. And if you are going to undertake such a task, it's probably a good idea to start working on your ring more than a couple weeks before your wedding. But I didn't follow any of that advice and everything turned out just fine.

When my husband and I got engaged in the spring, we decided it would be really great to make our own rings. There are a few reasons for this. Like for one, bragging rights 'cause it's pretty badass. But more importantly because we don't have much money and buying gold is much cheaper than buying rings, we both love learning new skills and working with our hands, and his parents made their rings when they were engaged. We felt it would be a meaningful family tradition to carry on.

Sam's done a little metal working over the years, but not enough to know how to make the rings. And I've never done any. Ever. But since my father in law knew how to do it and had the tools, I decided it was worth trying. So we bought some gold and went out to the in laws' house.

Above is a picture of what the gold looked like when we bought it. We cheated a little in that we bought the gold in sticks roughly the length we thought we'd need for our respective fingers. All that we had to do was shape it into circles, fit them to the right size, cut off any excess, solder the ends together, then file and polish away the seam. Sounds easy enough, right?

First, we used a rawhide hammer to begin shaping our rings, a process called work hardening or cold working. We put a steel mandrel in a vice and hammered away, slowly forming an arc and then a circle against the curve of the mandrel.

As you hammer, the metal hardens and becomes brittle. As I understand it (and remember, I am a metallurgy noob) bending and working a metal such as gold or copper will change its internal structure by forcing the atoms tighter together. It becomes brittle and difficult to bend or form. To coax the metal back to a pliable state, we would use an oxygen acetylene torch to anneal it. This is done by heating the gold until it is red hot and thus altering its internal structure again so that it is soft and malleable. So we would alternate between work hardening and annealing the metal with a torch to shape our rings.

As you can see from the picture above, cold working is slow going. It took quite a bit of beating to get even a noticeable bend in my gold!

After annealing the gold, my ring started to take shape. I was pretty excited, but the scary part was still ahead.

After I beat the gold into a circle roughly the size of my finger, it was time to cut off the excess material on the ends.

There's not any special trick to cutting off the extra bits... it just required a saw and a steady hand to hold the ring in place.

It only took a few minutes to saw through the band. I was really nervous about cutting off too much gold, but luckily it was just right!

After that crucial step, it was time to anneal the rings again, and go back to the mandrel with the rawhide hammer.

The ends of the rings need to push past each other, then bend back to meet end to end. This way, there is tension holding the ends together and the solder can seep through the cracks and create a solid ring.

So the next step was soldering. We carefully placed a small piece of gold solder on the seam and heated it with a torch until it turned molten, but (this is really important) not long enough that the ring gets molten too!

This was the fussiest step: the gold solder would fall off the ring or wouldn't fill in the seam right. Sam and I both had to make multiple attempts. At last, we were successful and our rings were almost ready.

The last step was to sit down with a beer and file away the excess solder around the seam, then buff and polish until the rings shone. We used files first to remove the obvious bumps, then gradually smoothed out the surface of the rings with various grits of sandpaper.

The things in the picture below that look like a piece of red chalk and a small brick are polishing agents called jeweler's rouge (iron oxide) and tripoli (also known as rotten stone). They are rubbed onto cloth then used to buff the ring after filing and sanding. They are pretty exciting to use because they make the gold exceptionally shiny and gorgeous. Also exciting is the fact that this is the last step!

So that's how we made our own wedding rings. They might not be perfect circles, but neither are our fingers. I love the symbolism of creating our rings together. When I look at my finger I can think of the work, love, and learning that went into the creation of our rings: good foundations for a marriage.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Breaking the Silence

Was my last post really in MAY!? Gosh, how did that happen? 

Sorry about disappearing on you all spring... 
and summer...
 and now we're well into fall. 
Well that's just embarrassing.

Time to turn over a new leaf! I've missed sharing and posting and chatting with you guys. I have to admit that I don't even have a project post ready for you, but I just wanted to break the silence and let you know that I will be back with some fun or yummy or crafty stuff soon. 

I got a new job, and a new (century old) rental house, and then I went and got married too! So I've been a little distracted. But enough of these excuses.

Hello there, I've missed you, let's visit again soon. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Whipped Cocoa and Shea Body Butter

I first got the idea to make a whipped coconut moisturizer from Juliana (thanks for the inspiration!) then from a mashup of whipped coconut and/or shea butter recipes that I found hanging around the internet. Not that there was too much to modify, cause this recipe is so simple! If you're not feeling the shea butter, go ahead and try mango butter instead.

This recipe makes for a wonderfully light and airy body butter that soaks right into your skin. Kukui nut oil is rich in linoleic and alpha-linoleic essential fatty acids. It is used not only to moisturize and nourish dry skin but can also help ameliorate sunburns, eczema, and acne. Macadamia nut oil absorbs readily into the skin because it closely resembles the chemical makeup of sebum and is used to heal scars, minor wounds, and environmentally damaged skin. It also contributes a wonderful nutty aroma to the body butter, and combined with the cocoa butter and coconut oil, this stuff smells good enough to eat with a fork.

It's a body butter, so feel free to slather it on. You'll find that a little bit goes a long way. I've been using it as an all purpose moisturizer: lip balm, hand cream, night time facial moisturizer, and a sunburn soother. It's good at everything! If you would like to add some essential oils, add 10 to 30 drops halfway through the whipping process, but as I mentioned before it smells pretty delicious as is.

½ cup shea butter
½ cup cocoa butter or mango butter
½ cup coconut oil
¼ cup macadamia nut oil
¼  cup kukui nut oil (also known as candlenut oil)

1. Melt all the oils using a double boiler, making sure to stir as they heat up. When everything liquefies and blends together, remove from heat and let sit for about 15 minutes to cool.

2. Put the bowl of oils in the fridge and cool completely. This will take about an hour.

3. Remove from fridge and whip with a hand mixer until it's all nice and fluffy.

4. Put it back in the fridge for 15 minutes to set.

5. Transfer the whipped butter to glass jars for storage and enjoy. If you live in a warm climate you might need to keep it in the fridge to prevent melting and resulting negation of whipped goodness.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Butternut Squash and Tamari Roasted Pumpkin Seed Spring Rolls

I know it's a mouthful but I could have gone the even more descriptive route and called them Caramelized Butternut Squash and Tamari Roasted Pumpkin Seed Fresh Spring Rolls with Hot Chile and Sesame Dipping Sauce. Or just Squashy Seedy Rolls, but I think that's underselling them. Whatever you want to call them, they are a delicious and refreshing variation on traditional tofu and beansprout spring rolls. The roasted squash is sweet and smooth and the pumpkin seeds add a nice crunch, while the vermicelli and cilantro keep it recognizable as a spring roll. Plus, they are colorful and gorgeous! I made them for a masquerade ball birthday party last weekend and they were gobbled up, which part of me found disappointing. I was looking forward to enjoying the leftovers.

Note: I altered some things, but the original recipe is from Isa Chandra Moskovitz and Terry Hope Romero's Veganomicon: the Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. I like big fat spring rolls, so I increased the amounts of everything that goes in the rolls, the sauce recipe I left as is. Roasting your own raw seeds with tamari was my idea, but you can simply use roasted and salted pumpkin seeds if you like.

For the Rolls:
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
tamari or Bragg's Amino Acid to taste
1 small butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 round rice paper wrappers
12 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1 bunch cilantro, large stems removed

For the dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon hot chile oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat your oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the pumpkin seeds in a small bowl, drizzle with tamari and stir to coat all the seeds. You can use more or less tamari or Bragg's but I probably used a couple teaspoons. Sprinkle the seeds in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for about 10 minutes, stirring once to ensure they roast evenly. When they are beginning to brown remove them from the oven and set aside in a bowl to cool. Save the parchment paper to reuse for the butternut squash.

While the pumpkin seeds are in the oven, peel the squash and dice into ¼ inch cubes. Just don't get so caught up in dicing that you let the pumpkin seeds burn like I almost did! Place the diced squash in a bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat. Lay the squash in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, stir the squash, then bake for another 15 minutes or until it begins to caramelize. Remove from oven, and place in a bowl to cool.  

While the squash roasts, prepare the remaining ingredients and set up a work area. Cook the vermicelli noodles, then rinse in cold water to cool. Rinse the cilantro and remove the large stems and maybe the small ones too if you really don't like them. Fill a large pie pan or other dish big enough to hold the rice paper wrappers with hot tap water. Once everything is ready to go, arrange it all within reach and get ready to roll!

Place one or two wrappers in the pie pan of water and let sit for 30 seconds to a minute. The wrappers will soften and turn translucent when they are ready. Gently lift one out of the water and lay it down flat on a clean counter top or other work surface. Place about ¼ cup of noodles on the lower third of the wrapper, leaving about an inch and a half clear on the sides of the wrapper. Scoop the roasted squash above the noodles and top with cilantro and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds (use a spoon for the pumpkin seeds so that they don't annoyingly cling to your wet fingers). To roll them up just fold in the sides of the wrapper, then pull the bottom up over the filling and do your best to tuck it under the filling. Then firmly roll it up. Set aside and repeat until you run out of ingredients. You might end up with about a dozen, but it depends on how generous you are with the filling, I think I only had nine big ones.  

To make the sauce, just put all the ingredients in a jar and shake to combine and serve with the rolls.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the strong, beautiful, brave, and loving mothers out there. But to my mom especially, I love you and am so lucky every day to have you as mine! Thank you for being an incredible and inspiring mom for 27 years and counting!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Pepper Crusted (Vegan) Maple Bacon

I know there are a lot of vegan bacon recipes floating around the internet, but I'll admit that they just don't do it for me. Things like bacon mushrooms or bacon coconut flakes are salty and smoky but they don't have the visual reference I'm looking for in my "B"LT or nestled up next to a breakfast scramble. My childhood definition of bacon is a particular brand of frozen vegetarian bacon that has an adorably exaggerated Bacon Appearance. It's like a cartoon version of bacon, perfectly rectangular with bright red and creamy white coloring. You'd never mistake it for actual pork, yet it is my gold standard of bacon-y-ness. What can I say, I was raised by a vegetarian.

This recipe is actually a bit more realistic looking than my nostalgic veggie bacon. Encrusting it in black pepper elevates it to Grown Up Bacon and its thick slices make it completely sandwich worthy. It's just a little more advanced than your standard homemade seitan recipe because it does require mixing up two different colors of dough. But the extra steps aren't difficult, they're just a little time consuming. As long as you've made seitan at least once before this should be a breeze. You bake it all together in one loaf then slice it into strips and fry to your heart's content. It stores well in the freezer, so I like to keep a batch stashed away for breakfasts or split pea soup or sprinkling over a baked potato.

Red dough

Adapted just a tiny bit from peacefultable.net

Red Seitan Ingredients
1 cup wheat gluten
1/4 cup chickpea flour
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup water
3 tablespoons tamari
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 tablespoons oil

White Seitan Ingredients
1/2 cup wheat gluten
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon oil

lots of freshly cracked black pepper

The first step is to separately mix together a red dough and a white dough. We'll start with the red one. In a medium mixing bowl combine the wheat gluten, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, and spices. In a separate container, like a liquid measuring cup, stir together the water, tamari, maple syrup, tomato paste, liquid smoke and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until well combined. It should form a ball and turn a nice red color due to all the paprika and the tomato paste.

White dough

Next, do the same thing with the ingredients for the white dough. Mix together the dry ingredients and the wet, then combine them and stir. It should look a little like the picture above. Sorry to be confusing and use a white bowl for the red seitan and a red bowl for the white, I was shooting for contrast!

Now you are going to divide up the dough and start assembling the layers of bacon. Separate the red dough into three equal pieces and the white dough into two, then shape them into balls. Use a rolling pin or your hands to flatten a red ball into a rectangle, roughly 4 by 6 inches. You don't need to be precise, in fact being less exact will give you more natural looking results. Flatten out a ball of white dough into a slab and place it on top of the red one, as pictured below. Repeat this process alternating between the red and white dough and stacking them on top of each other. You should start and end with a slab of red dough.

Assembling the bacon

Carefully transfer the dough to a piece of foil that is large enough to wrap the dough in. Don't wrap it yet, just place it in the middle of the foil. Cover the stacked seitan with a piece of plastic wrap and rest a large book on top of it. Let the dough rest under the pressure of the book for about 10 or 15 minutes. While it rests, preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Pressing the stacked dough

Remove the book and plastic wrap and generously sprinkle the top of the dough with black pepper. Wrap the dough up in the foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes.

Pressed and peppered

When the seitan is finished baking, let it rest in the foil to cool. The seitan will be a little soft and slightly under cooked, which is good because it will slice better and then be completely cooked after frying.
When it's cooled to room temperature just slice, fry and eat! You can slice and freeze the bacon to fry later too.

Slab o' bacon after baking. Ready to slice up and fry!