Monday, June 4, 2012

Food Coloring Is Bad For You....

Now that that's been said, it's also really, really cool. I don't consume a lot of really nasty things for my health partially so I can have vices like $1.99 neon food coloring. I decided to celebrate the season finale of Game of Thrones with a cake.

And it was pretty darn sweet if you ask me....

I made cake. I don't want to do a recipe tutorial, but the basic thing is I made cake batter and separated it roughly into 4 bowls. I squired some neon food coloring into each bowl and mixed it well. Then I alternated pouring the colored batter into the greased pan, keeping them in big lumps. Before putting it in the oven, I took a chopstick and stuck it to the bottom, making swirls. I alternated depth, size of swirl, and angle to get it all swished around.

The results of such swirly goodness

I baked the cake, let it cool, and frosted it with cream cheese frosting. Then I put 3 drops of each sort of food coloring around the border, took a toothpick, and swirled that around. Every time you run a toothpick through some color, it makes a really neat design.

The pretty, pretty outside.

All of the extra pouring, coloring, and playing around probably took 5-10 minutes and made an extra 4 dirty dishes and a toothpick, but it was so much more fun than white frosting on white cake. I think I've found what kind of wedding cake I want to make when I get married.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Build a better sunscreen.

Most sunscreen and I have a bit of an issue with each other. I don't do heat well, and most sunscreens out there are sweat and water-proof. Not only does this mean that sweat and water won't wash it away, but I can't really sweat THROUGH it, and it makes me overheat quickly. I'll be experimenting over the summer to find a good sunscreen, and keep you all posted when I find one worth selling.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Brace yourselves, summer is coming!

Summer is here! Well, the weather almost is.  I'm excited enough to jump the gun, and I'm having to water every day. Every. Day. While my knee recovers from whatever I did to offend it, I'm taking the loooonnnng bus ride to the garden daily to water. Bah, it is beautiful, though! My cabbages have gotten huge in the last few weeks.

Lovely herb garden starting up

I'm experimenting with the broccoli for seed saving. 2 plants are isolated at home, and I bring flowers from the main garden to pollinate from a vase. The experiment will be tested over winter this year in the main garden.
The whole garden. The yellow patches you see are all
seeds that will cross with broccoli. Blerg.

The tomatoes are doing well enough so far, and the onions have finally decided to be more than slivers. I'll be curious to see what varieties made it through slugpacolypse.

My beautiful onions in need of weeding.
That's on tomorrow's to-do list.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fragrance-Free is delicious?

I'm starting up a line of fragrance-free things such as hand lotions, soaps, and lip balms. I'm still working on perfecting the lotion and soap, but I'm pretty sure I've nailed the lip balm. Most fragrance-free things smell terrible since the lack of fragrance lets the terrible smell of the ingredients come through, and I always catch a slightly chemical-like odor. I've always hated them, and since my mother's allergic to fragrances, I was exposed to them a LOT as a child.

I decided if I was going to do fragrance-free right, I'd have to make the ingredients smell INCREDIBLE. So I did it! I used cocoa butter which naturally smells like chocolate, beeswax, which smells like honey, and the biggie that flavors and scents the whole thing is locally produced hazelnut oil, which is just plain incredible. The fact that the scent comes from the hazelnut oil and cocoa butter also meant that I had to make it mostly FROM those things, which makes it about as intensely powerful as possible.

Yeah. It's as amazing as it sounds.
I'm completely addicted to this stuff, now, and my allergic to fragrances mother approves heartily. I can't decide if it smells more like a really good cup of coffee, hazelnut hot cocoa, or honey caramels. How do you get something so incredible, you ask? Right here! The honey caramels are also as amazing as they come. Just so ya know.

Incredible Vanilla Soda!

I'll admit, I spend more money than I should in my co-op's soda aisle. I don't consume high-fructose corn syrup except at restaurants in things like ketchup, and I kind of want to bring my own. Good sodas based on sugar or agave nectar tend to be more expensive and not come in 2L bottles. I brew my own soda, but that takes time and has an herbal flavor and takes a lot of tweaking.

My vanilla and agave soda tastes like a complex and high-end cream soda, but works out to 20-30 cents a glass, and less if you have a soda machine like sodastream. It also has 3 ingredients. Seriously... three. Maybe four if you count the Co2 in the water. Way better than most sodas you can get for cheap, and you know what it all is. I've been working on a way of making a vanilla and agave... syrup I can keep in a tiny bottle and take to restaurants, since most restaurants don't have HFCS soda, but will give you a free soda water. I'll post when I figure this out.

Add agave nectar to a glass. This is as much as I used for a pretty sweet glass of soda, but you can put more or less in, to taste. It's pretty cheap in bulk or at costco.

Next, put in a bit of vanilla. About a teaspoon will do. I always get my vanilla at the co-op by the pound or at costco. The tiny bottles cost about as much as the 16 ounce bottle at costco ($6) and the quality's the same. You can also make vanilla extract with vodka and vanilla beans, but I have yet to do that. There are options that allow use of the real stuff. If this is for a special occasion I use Mexican vanilla shipped to me by a friend in Mexico. It's about $5-10/pound for premium stuff, as opposed to the $16-25 we pay in the states for the same stuff in bulk bins.

Next, fill the rest of it with soda water, then stir it up and drink.

 Cost? I have a soda stream because I'm car-free and hauling soda around is a pain, and it's about 15 cents for the glass of soda water. I used to buy 2-liter bottles for cheap, and maybe some cans to have sitting around, just in case.  

REAL Popcorn!

There is nothing like REAL popcorn. The bagged stuff gags me now. I'll warn you about that danger first.

In my big spaghetti pot with the very thick bottom, I put butter and canola oil, heating it up on high. I also add my salt now. Heat it up until it sizzles.

Add popcorn. A little will do you!

Put the lid on and move it back and forth or in a circle so the popcorn rolls around in the hot oil, not sticking and burning. You'll hear some popping soon, and that's when you REALLY shake! Shake it GOOD until you stop hearing pops, not letting any of it settle on the bottom for long, or it'll burn. The butter and salt is coating it as it pops. When the popping slows, turn the heat off, and remove it entirely once it stops, shaking for a few more seconds up and down to keep the butter moving around.

Mmmmm... Open her up and serve! Delicious!

Frugal Tricks

I'm reworking my recipe walkthroughs and have two things I think should be mentioned about frugality.

Yeast is a really big one. At the grocery store for $1.50-2, you can get yeast the way most people do. It's a little strip of three packets, 7 grams each, so 21 grams total. Next to it on the shelf are little glass jars for $4-5. Most people pass these over, since they don't see how they'll ever use that much yeast. It's 113 grams, though. Instead of getting 21 grams for $1.50-2, there are 28 grams in there. It's a smart thing to get, especially because it limits trips to the grocery store, but arguably frugal.

Enter the 2 pound brick.

908 grams of yeast for $3-4. I urge people to buy the little jar once for a small container you open and close and store the rest in a jar or bag in the freezer, airtight. I store all my yeast in the freezer, actually, and give it an extra minute in the warm water to activate. At $3 for the 908 grams, I get 302 grams per dollar. Even if you don't use the whole 2 pounds in the year or so yeast is good for (I'm still getting good results a year and a half after buying my 2 pounds) it's frugal if you would use at least 2-3 of the packet strips a year, which most people do in the holidays alone. Split it with your family, neighbors, or anyone else and you can not only get a year's worth of yeast for a few dollars, but also cut down on waste. The packaging used for the brick of yeast is negligible compared to that used for packets, and is easier to measure out of compared to the clingy packets that spill everywhere.

The bottom line? You can get 130 packets of yeast from one 2 pound block. That's about $62 saved per 2 pound block.

The other thing I found interesting was a problem I have with my green onions. While I grow them myself in the warmer months, the growth slows too much in winter to keep up with me. In order to supply myself with large, healthy ones I'd have to take up my whole deck with them from midsummer onwards, since I don't want to drive to my garden plot all the time for onions, and the rain and weather there would destroy them.

However, ones bought from the store tend to go bad in a few days in my fridge, even when put into water. The 50 cents for a bunch isn't the issue as much as the need to run to the store whenever my lust for them rises, which it does more often than not. I prefer to go to the grocery store once a week or less, and a special trip for green onions seems silly. I buy my 5-6 onions for 50 cents and use what I want that day, and stick them outside in a pot. They're large, beautiful onions like I'd get in summer without the months and months of waiting in winter, and fresh and lovely. My first group of onions outside was wilted and almost asking to be composted when I put them out. The life came back into them in a way that the jar of water couldn't provide, even in similar temperatures. I have my pots under floating row covers over winter, and the onions have regrown their tiny roots within a few days. I'm also experimenting with the roots cut off from using them, but no data just yet on that.

*update on onions* Onions I put in the ground in early December are still alive, despite a deep (12 degree Fahrenheit) freeze that even killed some of my peas. They lasted all winter!