Thursday, November 13, 2014

Remember me?

I think I need to start attempting to blog again (see how non-commital I'm being about it?). I think my family is getting really fed up with my ranting and it's been particularly rough so I've been particularly ranty... yup, let's call that a word.

Anyway, things have been, well, shitty. Very shitty. My mitral valve prolapse shit has decided to have a wild party in my chest and I think it's invited the hiatal hernia to join it. Pain all around. I love that when someone tells the hospital "hey, this patient needs cardiac testing," they're all like "oh sure, how's late next month?" So here I am, waiting until my appointment for a cardiac ultrasound and a 24-hour holter monitor, both of which I've done before. They both suck. Nothing says fun like 10 minutes of having an ultrasound probe jammed between your boobs onto your already-sensitive sternum while you're turned away from the monitor so you can't even watch, and then having electrodes stuck to you and being told not to get wet for 24 hours or you wreck the equipment (or turn into a Gremlin, I don't know, I didn't ask).

So it's been shitty. Yeah, getting nothing done because after standing still for about 5 minutes I get major palpitations and feel like I'm going to pass out. Walking seems to be fine, it's just the standing still, which I really don't get, but I'd rather sit on my ass than deal with my heart racing to 140 just to get a few dishes washed... so you can imagine what that's doing to my house AND to my marriage, since I'm home all day to begin with. Looking forward to the test results where they tell me it's nothing, you'll be fine, off you go.

Oh, and there's that whole not sleeping thing to deal with. I mean, I get to sleep OK, eventually, but once I'm asleep, I'm awake in 3-4 hours... again, and again... I don't think I remember what "rested" feels like anymore.

Life is shitty right now.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Awesome Whole Wheat Bread for Stand Mixers

I adapted this from a recipe I found online a little while ago, which was for a white bread.  Well, we're not really white bread people.  Of course, using whole wheat flour makes for such a dense bread.   I wasn't going to let a bag of flour tell me how my bread should feel!
This bread is so easy to make.  I mix up the flour mix ahead of time so I can just dump it into my KitchenAid and get to the yeast/water part.  I've tried doing this by weight but I just find measuring to be more accurate.  If you want to weigh, the 5 cups of flour should come to about 650g, if you're measuring properly (I'm talking about you dip-and-dump flour scoopers).  While it's mixing, the amount of flour you need to add to get the texture right will vary depending on how humid it is in your kitchen.  Bench proofing will also vary depending on the temperature.  Anyway, enough talk.

  • 5 cups (650g or so) plus 3 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 5 tbsp vital wheat gluten
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 cups warm water (110°F)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp yeast
  • 1/4 cup oil or melted margarine
Put the flour, gluten, and salt into the bowl of your mixer (with the dough hook attached).  Give it a stir to get everything distributed.  Get a good-sized container - something that will hold 3-4 cups would be ideal.  Pour in your water and stir the sugar and honey in until it dissolves.  Dump the yeast in and let it sit for 5-10 minutes to let it wake up.  This is why you need a big container - I used a 600mL jar and just about had yeast foam everywhere. 
Foamy!
Once your yeast is foamy, dump it into the flour along with the oil.  Set your mixer to STIR and let it go for 1-2 minutes, until everything is mixed together.  Now turn it off and walk away for 20-30 minutes (or, if you're like me, one episode of Arrested Development).

Just walk away.  Really.
 Fill the kettle and put it on.  Find an old baking pan or a casserole dish and keep it on standby.  Grease a large bowl or whatever you're going to rise your dough in.  Now back to the dough itself.  Turn the mixer to 2 and let it go for 3 minutes, adding flour a spoonful at a time until it pulls away from the sides and bottom of the bowl as it kneads.  Sometimes this is one spoonful, sometimes it's 5-6, sometimes more.  It should still be sticky, just not so sticky that it can't hold together.

Sticky, stretchy, but willing to let go.
Turn it out and form it into a ball, turning the bottom in so that the top gets fairly smooth.  Drop it into your greased bowl.  Fill that old baking pan with your boiling water, about halfway, and put it on the bottom rack of the oven.  Put the bowl on the top rack (make sure there's clearance in case it rises above the edge of the bowl) and close the door.  Let it rise in there until it doubles, which could be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Before...
After!

When it has doubled, take it out and dump it onto a lightly floured surface.  Pat and poke it to redistribute the larger bubbles, and divide it in half.  Shape the halves into balls, turning under again to get the surface nice and tight, then shape into loafy shapes.
Loafy shape on the right, for reference.
Drop them into ungreased loaf pans and cover with a tea towel.  Let them sit until they double.  I leave them until they're about an inch out of the pan.  When they're almost ready, set the oven to 375°F.

Before...

After!
Once they've risen enough, slash the tops diagonally with a knife and pop them in the oven - remember that pan of water?  Leave it in there.
Slashed and ready for the oven.

Let the bread bake for 30-40 minutes, until the bread reads between 205-210°F with a probe thermometer.  Don't go over that or you'll have icky dry tough bread.
Close enough.
When it's ready, take it out of the pans and put it on a rack.  You could leave it like this, if you like a crisp chewy crust.  I don't.  If you want a softer crust, dampen some paper towels or napkins and drape them on top of the bread, then put a tea towel on top.

Cozy.

Whichever way you like your crust, leave the bread alone for 30 minutes - don't cut it or tear a piece off or anything.  Avoid the temptation; it's worth it to let the starch set.

If you want to turn this into raisin bread, add an extra 2 tbsp of brown sugar and 2 tsp of cinnamon to the flour at the beginning.  Soak some raisins in hot water while the dough is rising.  When it comes out, cut it in half and stretch each half into a long rectangle.
Did I say sprinkle?  I meant meticulously arrange.
Sprinkle the raisins and just a little cinnamon sugar evenly over the top, and roll it up from the short side like a jelly roll.  I usually give it half a roll, then stretch it a little before rolling some more.  Pinch to seal it up, and pinch the ends too, and drop it in your loaf pans.
Let's see that again...

I haven't tried making this bread into rolls of any kind yet.  That's next on my list.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dairy-Free Ice Cream -- Mint Chocolate Chip

So, I finally got an ice cream maker - even though it's July and we're a couple of months early, it's being considered an early birthday gift from my mom.  My motivation?  Dairy-free ice cream is freaking expensive and, most of the time, not that good.  I think I can do better.

Now before I get into this, let it be known that this is not my first adventure into DIY dairy-free ice cream (to be honest, it's my third).  The first one was a tofu-based chocolate ice cream.  Super-tasty but rock-hard.  The second was jam ice cream (via Hannah Kaminsky's discontinued vegan ice cream e-book - I think it's in her print book now).  It was OK, tasted great, but still pretty hard, and rather icy.  It's more like a slightly creamy sorbet.

These things are all fine, but they don't compare to my favourite ice cream - mint chocolate chip.  The only minty dairy-free offering I've tried is the So Delicious Mint Marble Fudge ice cream.  Not bad, but it goes all nasty and watery when it melts.  Not too tasty in its liquid state, plus it tends to leave me feeling a bit oogy.

So, I think I can do better.  I've experimented, I've researched, and I think I've come up with a darn good dairy-free ice cream.  It's creamy, tasty, and churns up beautifully in just 20 minutes in my little Kitchenaid.  It hasn't completely finished freezing but I am confident it will remain scoopable without partial thawing or microwaving (and I'm guilty of both of those ones).  I have a feeling I'll be using this base frequently in the future.

So anyway, here's what I did.

In a pot, whisk together:
  • 1 can of coconut milk (organic, just to avoid any nasty add-ins)
  • 1 coconut milk can of soy milk
  • 2 tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 3/8 cup sugar (that's 6 tbsp)
  • 2 tbsp aroma-free coconut oil (like Omega Nutrition)
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt (why do so many dairy-free ice creams leave this out?)
  • 1 tbsp lecithin granules (attempt to grind it up fine - still tweaking this part)
  • 1/8 tsp xanthan gum

Whisk everything but the xanthan gum together in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly (if you can't devote a good 10 minutes to this, don't make it).  Bring it to a boil and let it bubble up for about a minute - I didn't time this but it took about a minute for it to boil up to the top of the pot, at which point I cursed at it and whipped it off the burner, which brings us to the next step.  Remove from heat.  Whisk it for another couple of minutes just to keep the starch from going weird on you as it settles down.

Next, add the xanthan gum.  This is weird stuff, but it makes the ice cream taste a lot creamier than it is.  Sprinkle it in slowly while you whisk, or it'll clump up on you.

Now, I suppose at this point you could stir in some vanilla and chill it as-is, but I think as a vanilla ice cream, this would be pretty boring.  So keep adding...  I added this:
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp peppermint extract - you know what, just add this to taste.  It takes a lot.
  • a few drops green food colouring, if you like.
Now, I didn't measure my peppermint extract.  I just added 1/2-capfuls until it tasted like melted peppermint ice cream... then I added a little more.  Cold mutes flavours and I wanted this to be nice and minty.  Now, let the mixture cool, whisking periodically, until it's cool enough to pour into your chilling vessel of choice (I use an old quart jar that I think once had homemade pickles in it).  Pop it in the fridge for a good 4 hours - I deliberately made my base at night so it could sit overnight.  Make sure your ice cream bowl is well on its way to being frozen too - again, overnight can't hurt.  Just to make sure things go super-well, I've got a button on my freezer called "Superfreeze," which makes everything extra-extra-cold.  I let that run for an hour before it was ice cream time, then I set up and churned away.  You know how your ice cream maker works, so I won't get into it, just do it like it says in the book.  While that's churning...

1/3 cup chocolate chips go into a medium freezer bag.  Seal them in and drop the bag into a bowl of hot water; whatever comes from the tap is fine.  Let it sit, squishing now and then, until the chocolate is all melted.  Work it into one corner of the bag and let it sit in the water until we need it.

Once the ice cream is ready (mine took about 20 minutes), get your container of choice and put a thin layer of ice cream in the bottom - maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  Snip the corner off the freezer bag and pipe a thin drizzle of chocolate over the surface of the ice cream.  Smooth in another layer and repeat, and repeat, until all of the ice cream is in the container.  Pop on your lid and toss it in the freezer.  Wait a few hours, if you can.  A half hour at least, for the chocolate to get good and solid.  Then just dig in.

Mine is still solidifying (it's been an hour now), and I'm resisting it for a couple more hours.  OK well I snuck a taste a little while ago and around the edges the ice cream is nice and solid but still scoopable.  After lunch, I'll post an update and let you know how it hardened.  For now, we wait...

Update - 3 hours later
Well, even around the edges where it's good and firm, this ice cream is still scoopable.  The texture is wonderfully creamy and the flavour.. well... I haven't found anything nearly this tasty since I had to give up dairy.  Yep, I'm happy.

The 6-year-old's opinion: "It's really yummy, and not too minty, and the little wiry chocolate bits are fun.  This is the best ice cream you ever put chocolate in." 

 

Update - 2 years later 
March 31, 2014
I haven't had the ambition to post here for a while but I wanted to update this recipe. I've amended it to the changes I've made - more starch and the addition of lecithin. Really improved the texture. I also put my jar of unfrozen base into the freezer, stirring every 20 minutes, until it got to be about 36 degrees F and freezing slightly around the edges. Anyway with these changes, the base came out much, much thicker - more like melted ice cream.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Experience With No-Poo

Here I am, doing another occasional blog about something totally random.

So, 8 weeks ago, after much reading and a gradual move towards more natural crunchy things, I decided to try going no-poo (you know, the whole quitting shampoo thing).  I thought I'd write about my experience in case someone comes looking for as many opinions as they can get.  I'm also going to explain what works for me and my greasy hair.

So, I started as most do, with the 1 tbsp baking soda, 1 tbsp cider vinegar thing.  I dissolved my baking soda in a cup of water right in the shower, and dumped it on my head, and massaged for a bit.  My hair felt awful.  I rinsed with the vinegar, diluting it with my shower water in a bigger cup.  Felt slightly better.  So I got out, towel-dried a bit, and as I combed it out I realized that it felt... how do I describe this... gluey.  It was slightly sticky and if I squeezed it, it stuck together in a solid mass.  It was as if I had rinsed not with vinegar, but with soft beeswax.  For three weeks I played with the ratio of baking soda and vinegar (which was almost certainly what was causing the icky feel), and feeling like a greaseball.  My hair was  stringy, greasy, gross... my hands were gross and sticky after touching it. 

I started reading about using castile, so I bought some castile bar soap.  It still made my hair feel icky, but a different kind of icky.  I then decided to stop messing with the "cleaning" part, and start experimenting with the "rinsing" part.  Now, I have an overabundance of sage in my backyard - apparently, if you don't cut it back in the fall, it grows back on all the old wood.  So I took a bunch of it and steeped it in boiling water, and ended up with a strong sage tea.  I washed with baking soda and rinsed with sage tea and my hair felt better.  The clumpy waxy feeling was gone... though this may have also been due to my increased vigor with the baking soda part.  Next step achieved.

So enough back story.  Today, after what I've learned, here's what I do when I wash my hair.
  • I brew enough tea for a 2-pint mason jar (usually a handful of sage and a spoonful of some kind of loose tea). To this I add 1/2 tbsp of cider vinegar.  When I shower I pour enough of this into my cup to fill it halfway (I think it's a 16 oz cup).
  • I take a small cup and I mix together 1 tbsp each: baking soda, liquid castile (made from bar soap and water), and water.  I add a couple of drops of essential oil - lavender, bergamot, lemon, rosemary, whatever.  If my hair is feeling particularly bad or I've waited too long, I add 1 tsp of borax.  
  • When I get in the shower and get the water good and hot, I add a little more water to my baking soda mixture and pour it on my head.  I scrub my whole scalp thoroughly for a minute or two.  With this mixture still in my hair, I take a wide-toothed comb that I keep in the shower and I comb my hair out.  This is easier than it sounds, I assure you - this mixture makes tangles fall out no problem.  This ensures that the length gets clean too.
  • I rinse this out, then top up my tea cup with shower water.  If I'm in the mood I add oils to this too just to add scent, sometimes palmarosa or ylang ylang, or sweet orange - just a drop or two of anything.  I pour this slowly around my whole scalp, work it in slightly, then rinse out.  That's it.
I know it seems lengthy and involved, but really other than making the tea, it takes next to no time at all, even for the washing.  Prep takes about 2 minutes, and the whole washing-rinsing process takes about 7 minutes, or however long two songs are, because by the time I'm done, the music I've put on is only on the third song (current shower music is selections from Avalon by Sully Erna).  Anyway, I know a lot of people advise using a boar bristle brush, but I find this makes my hair look greasier.  I prefer a comb or a plastic brush these days, with the BBB for smoothing out the top.  It's been 8 weeks and my scalp has accepted the new routine and is easing up on the oil.  I can now easily go 4 days between washing.  Really, when you work it out, 7 minutes every 4 days versus 5-10 minutes every day or two?  It's actually a huge time-saver.  It also means I can take fewer showers and more baths, which is preferable to me.   My hair isn't as fluffy as it used to be, but I like it that way.  It looks healthy and shiny.

So, to anyone who's iffy about trying the whole no-poo thing, what have you got to lose?  A whole lot of chemicals and a few weeks of your life while your head adjusts.  It's such a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things.  I know it feels awful and you think you look awful, but honestly nobody is going to remember your hair.  From a distance, it just looks like hair.  It's greasy, but it's clean, and that sounds so weird.  I looked back at photos I took during the worst of it, and it just looks like hair.  I got through it and nobody said a word or gave me a funny look.  No hats, no buns, just me and my hair.  So..  yeah, it can't hurt to give it a try.  I did and I'm not looking back.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Disillusioned

I wish I had something positive and interesting to write about but I just don't.  As I try to take on a more natural lifestyle - we've been cutting a lot of chemicals out of our lives - I find myself so disappointed with society. 
Grocery day always makes this worse.  Watching people park in no-parking areas because they're too lazy to walk the extra 10 feet from an actual parking spot...  Single guys in their 20's who park in the "Reserved for Mothers" spots... People who can't be bothered to  bring their carts to the cart corrals, and instead leave them in the middle of the lot... People walking through the grocery store, with little fat children alongside, and their cart full of potato chips, sugary cereals, red meat, white bread, sugary drinks, and not a single piece of fresh produce in the whole thing.   These are the things that make me sad.

I truly believe that the downfall of humanity is going to be caused by the few huge corporations that sadly dictate our lives.  Did anyone see  Wall-E?  Remember how the one big corporation ended up ruining the planet?  Yeah, something like that, except I'm sure that it'll be more than just Wal-Mart and garbage.  It's going to be big companies like Monsanto, who mess with the wrong piece of genetic information; or Pfizer, who cause a mutation in the wrong virus.  There are too few people out there telling us how to run our lives - what to buy, what to eat, how to live. 

Unfortunately, we're going to go along with it because we always have.  Like lemmings, society has always done what these big corporations have told them.  Several decages ago, Dow told us we needed harsh chemicals to be clean, and now we fill our homes with them - who doesn't have a cabinet full of nasty cleaners under their sink?  Today, big corporations are telling us we need white flour, white sugar, and artificially fattened meats.  And like lemmings, we're listening.
If you ever doubt the saying "you are what you eat," look around at all of the fat, lazy people in the world.  You can bet they've all been fed on malnourished, mistreated livestock who never see the light of day.

...I'm not done ranting, but I'm done typing.  I think it's time for a beer...  and not a word about the GMO grains it's probably made of.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I figured as much.

You see? 

This is what happens when I start a blog.  I plan on writing about something, ANYTHING... and then a whole lot of nothing happens.  I don't imagine anyone is interested in hearing "the children went to school today and brought home another heap of useless, unwanted papers."  I think that's pretty much been the only thing to happen in a while.  As it is, right this moment, I'm sitting on the couch, listening to the children argue in the play room, and contemplating how long I can put off making lunch.  I didn't sleep well last night and so I'm feeling exhausted today, and not in any mindset to deal with snarky kids (seriously, what is WITH them these last few days...).  I wish I had something more interesting to say but I really don't right now.   The one time I thought I might have something to write about, I wasn't at my computer, and had forgotten about it by the time I was.
I'm sure something will come to me... eventually.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Blueberries

I'm sorry, world.  I know you're obsessed with those little blue gems - sticking them into drinks, baked goods, fruit bowls, salads, cereals...  but I just can't love them like you do.  That's right, I hate blueberries.  They're weird and sour and their skin is leathery and tough.  Every year, when they're in season, I buy them for my kids.  Every year I tell myself they're not so bad.  Every year, I try one, and it's just as gross as it was last year. Either it's icky and sour, or completely tasteless.  Either way, I just can't appreciate them the way the world seems to.  So please, stop suggesting I put them in my smoothies, pies, and muffins.  Also, you can keep your blackberries.  They smell amazing, and I like the juice, but they are so seedy that I just can't stand to eat them.  Avocados, artichokes, tofu - these things I can handle; when it comes to tiny dark berries, I just can't do it.