Monday, December 12, 2011


So, apparently there is already a slang term for smoking e-cigarettes.  "Vaping."  Huh... Who'd have thought that our entire existence would become so digital that we send e-mails, read e-books (I have a terror of all the real books disappearing and being forced to read e-books.  I find it a particularly gross form of blasphemy), have e-dating, keep e-journals, and now there are e-cigarettes.  No smoke, no tar, no solids, no second hand stuff, just water vapor with nicotine and flavoring.  Yes, nicotine is still technically bad for us, but the carcinogens actually come from the burning leaves, not the chemical we crave.   Technically speaking, I quit smoking today.

Just like so much else, the electronic and technological world is taking over and making smoking obsolete.  Not that that is a bad thing, in all honestly.  I would rather not have cancer, but quitting is a real bitch.  If any of you have ever tried (and hopefully succeeded) then you know what I'm talking about.
 Meet Blu.  No, I am not getting paid for this.  I wish I was!  Blu cigs were recommended to me by a cousin whose college campus banned all forms of tobacco.  If I hadn't gotten a solid recommend from someone I know and trust, I never would've really considered e-cigs, but I trust Ivy with more than just product recommendations.  So B and I decided to order a couple of starter packs and see what happened.  B actually got a nicotine buzz off of his, so we might should've gotten lights instead of full strength.  They actually taste good.  Have you ever smelled pipe smoke?  They taste like that smell.  Granted, it isn't what you're used to, but it really was a pleasant surprise.  There's no stink either.  No messy ash trays, or butts to dump.  Yes, this is only the first day.  We still haven't gotten over the pleasant surprise of them being both satisfying and palatable.  There may possibly be drawbacks we haven't encountered yet.
We'll see how it goes.

An Update: Make Your Own Laundry Soap

So, I finally ran out of the laundry detergent that was given to us when our neighbors down the way moved out.  The same ones that gave us the couches and a grill.  I may not run out of dryer sheets until the middle of next year.

I rinsed out the cap from the empty bottle of detergent and decided to use that as my scoop for my homemade detergent.  I wrestled with the lid of the bucket, trying really hard not to accidentally tip the darn thing over.  Why do they make those lids so flippin tight?  I needn't have bothered.  When I finally got the lid off my bucket, I was looking at dry bubbles.  You know, like you see in the top of your pancakes when it's time to flip them?  Dry.  Dry??  My liquid detergent had turned into something solid.  I was dumbfounded.  Immediately, I sent a text over to my friend Rey asking if that was supposed to happen.  She says it happens to hers all the time, but seems to be worst when it's chilly out.  Just stir it.

So I stirred, and I stirred, and I was up to my wrists in the stuff because it had solidified all the way to the bottom of the bucket.  Kind of like magic, water seemed to return to the bucket.  I never got all the lumps out of it, but it returned to something resembling a sort of oozy liquid.  So, if anyone out there is thinking of giving it a go and you open your bucket to find jello where detergent once was, it's ok.  Just stir.... a LOT.

Now, I need to go out in the yard and finder a stronger stick, because the one I have is apparently just not going to hack it much longer.  On the bright side, I had my hand in that soap for quite a while, and the worst I can say is my skin is a bit dry feeling.  No itching, no burning, so strange slimy residue that refuses to come off no matter how long I rinsed.  Pretty awesome :-)  And Rey usually breaks out from laundry soap, but she's been using this stuff for months now (she's on her second batch), and no one in her sensitive skinned family has had any issues with it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's that time of year: Pictures, Recipes, and Suggested Sneaky Snacks

 Yep, it's the time when we start dragging out the trees, putting up baubles, lighting the lights, and remembering to be nice a little more often.  I've not been doing such a great job of the "nice" part.  I've been a bit grouchy the past few days, but I've been super excited for almost the past solid month.  I haven't been on my blog nearly as much lately as I generally try to be, but I do have a valid excuse!  Really!  Just keep reading... or scrolling at least.

 Li'l bit lurking under the tree.  She has a new set of catnip toys under there.  And B and I.  Fin was nice enough to come take a picture for us.  :-)
 But THIS is the reason I've really been so absent.  Yes, wax is the culprit.  See, if you take 1/3 of one of those bars of paraffin, and 12 oz of chocolate (either chips or chunked up bars), and you use it to dip stuff in... magic happens!!!

 Like peanut butter balls!!  Graham cracker crumbs, peanut butter, and powdered sugar, rolled into balls, chilled, and then dipped in chocolate/wax goodness.  Oh yes....  I'm sorry, I can't be more specific.  This recipe isn't mine to give away.  It's my Great Aunt D's, and my cousin (her granddaughter) was generous enough to share it with me, along with a very special recipe for hard candy.
 This hard candy brings back so many childhood memories.  Unfortunately, I didn't use the right type of flavoring, so it's on the bland side.  It also appears that using a non-stick pot is bad news bears for hard candy.  Maybe it doesn't heat as even?  I don't know, but it doesn't taste quite right.  Ivy is reporting recipe tweakings to me, so that we can continue the tradition of Aunt D's famous hard candy.  :-D  My cousin ROCKS!

I don't think the paraffin/chocolate idea is proprietary, though.  And once I realized how easy it was to make dipping chocolate that would harden right... well... here's what happened!  To make anything you see below, just melt the chocolate and the paraffin wax together over low heat.  Once it's melted, just dip whatever you want.  A fork works best to retrieve things you dipped in all the way (like the cracker/peanut butter goodies).  A slotted spoon messed up the chocolate coating on the bottom.  The treats just slide right off the fork no problem.

For the drizzles, I used the same chocolate and wax mixture.  I just dipped a fork in and sort of slung chocolate onto the treats.  Amazingly, I didn't wind up with chocolate on the ceiling ;-)
Chocolate dipped pretzels, and peanut butter and ritz cracker sandwiches:  The white chocolate edition. 

 Dark chocolate dipped pretzels with sprinkles!

White and milk chocolate mixed together became a drizzle, and a medium for dipping broken up bits of the pretzel rods.  And graham crackers got dipped and drizzled, sprinkled and coated.  

The milk chocolate edition of the peanut butter and crackers, and the fully dipped grahams.

And then, of course, the Pup's present.  I turned the graham cracker box inside out and decorated all four sides.  It's got a sampling of the chocolate dipped goodies, and some smaller bite sized bits that I tried to mix together to look like kibbles and bits or puppy chow.  I also made a batch of puppy chow.

Puppy Chow
Chex (or chex like) cereal
1/2 c peanut butter
1/2 stick butter
1 c chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
Powdered sugar

Melt the butter, peanut butter, and chocolate.  Mix in the vanilla after everything has melted.  Toss the cereal in it, and then toss the cereal in powdered sugar.  Ta da!  Puppy Chow.  Soooooo good!

And he had to have something to eat all his goodies out of.  I doodled all over the sides.  Yes, he will actually play with the squeaky bone, if for no other reason than to aggravate B LOL :)

And of course we had to have cookies.  Unfortunately, the icing job was pretty shoddy.  I was experimenting with my own icing.  It's just milk and powdered sugar mixed together till it's the right consistency.  I apparently didn't have it quite right, because it sort of oozed off the cookies.  But, now I know better for next time, and it still hardened up just like it was supposed to once it sat.  


The cookies are Spiced Sugar Cookies.   I found the recipe HERE.  They were really easy, and taste similar to snickerdoodles.

Last, but Oh -- Em -- Gee not least:  Peanut Butter FUDGE!  Oh boy, that stuff is awesome.  It didn't turn out *quite* right.

4c Sugar
1c Milk
1/2 c Butter (1 stick)
7 oz Marshmallow Creme
12 oz Peanut Butter
2/3 c All Purpose Flour

Ok... when I read that recipe, I was thinking that there are 8 oz in a cup, so that is a cup and a half of regular peanut butter.  The fudge didn't quite set up.  It's very soft and squishy, so I am thinking that should be peanut butter chips.  However, it doesn't matter that the fudge is squishy, it is Amazing!  Yes, capital A.  So good!  I'd never made fudge that worked before.  This was too easy, and too yummy.

Sugar, milk, butter goes in the pot.  Melt the sugar and bring it to a boil.  Stir constantly while the sugar is melting, but then don't stir it anymore.

Let it boil for five minutes.  Then remove it from the heat and mix in the marshmallow creme and the peanut butter or peanut butter chips.  Very slowly stir in the flour, and pour it into a buttered 9x13 baking dish to cool.  This stuff is so good, I am only allowed to make it at Yule from now on.  We can't walk by without grabbing a piece.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chicken n' Dumplings: This is for you cuz!

My cousin got to come visit a couple three years ago, and while she was staying I decided I should make chicken and dumplings.  It's cheap, easy, and oh so yummy.  She recently asked me how I make chicken and dumplings.  I gave her a brief rundown via a social networking site, but there's nothing like a good old tutorial if you've never done something before.

Here's what you'll need:

A chicken
A pot big enough to hold the chicken and plenty of water
2c flour (plus some extra for fiddling)
1c water (for the dumplings)
Spices - whatever makes you happy.

Things I have learned through trial and error:

  • The more tender your chicken is, the easier it is to get the meat off the bones. 
  • It really doesn't matter what kind of flour you use, what matters is how you want your dumplings. 
    • All purpose flour gives a chewier, firmer dumpling. 
    • Self-rising flour gives a fluffier dumpling and provides a little salt.

  • There is no wrong way to make a dumpling, drop, tear and squish, roll and cut - it's just a matter of preference. 
  • It's REALLY hard to season your chicken and dumplings "wrong".  You're working with a chicken and flour.  That's about as blank slate as you can get in the world of dinner.  
  • It's really hard to cook your chicken "too long".  
  • You CAN cook your dumplings too long.  They proceed to fall apart.
  • You can freeze this, but the dumplings might change texture a bit (get softer), especially if you have soft fluffy dumplings. 
    • If you want to freeze it, freeze your dumplings raw, and freeze your chicken and broth separate.  Then just bring to a boil, drop in your dumplings, and your done. 

So you got a bird, and you got a pot.  Put the bird in the pot.  ;-)

Now get out those spices.  Whatever you want, really.  Take it tex-mex and add chili and cilantro.  Go for old world and put is caraway.  Give it a Caribbean flair with some allspice and ginger.  Do what ya do!  For an old-school Grandma's style, just put in some salt and pepper and call it good.

Me? I'm a spice fiend.  I love the stuff.  You might be wondering what all you're looking at here.  And no, this isn't all necessary, but I've been told I make fabulous chicken and dumplings :-P

What you see: 

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chili Pepper
  • Old Bay style seasoning
  • Garlic Powder 
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Allspice
  • Sage
  • Paprika
  • Rosemary 
  • Tony Chechere's Creole Seasoning
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Bay Leaves
What you don't see:

  • Worcestershire Sauce
How do I know how much to use?  Well... really?  I don't.  I'm guessing about 1/2 tsp of everything, except salt and pepper.  I start off with a teaspoon of each of those.  Salt is by guess and by gosh.  The amount of salt you need kind of depends on how much flour makes it into your broth with your dumplings.  So, keep it out and handy.

I use a general rule of thumb about all my spices:  Dust the bird's back (because I usually put it in the pot breast down) with each spice, twice with salt and pepper.  By the time I'm done, I can't see the bird anymore.
This usually works out well for everything except salt.  I usually end up adding a little more salt after I add the dumplings.  But, it's easier to add than to take out.  The Worcestershire sauce is usually a couple good shakes from the bottle.

No, potatoes aren't necessary.  I wanted to use these up because they were starting to get a little soft and sprout.  The onions are a good idea, but also not necessary.  Some people put carrots, peas, and other veggies in their chicken and dumplings.  At that point it seems to be to be more like rustic chicken soup than chicken and dumplings.  Yes, I know that is splitting hairs.  I am a purist.  Hush!

I prefer to put my onions in from the very beginning so they cook down really soft, add flavor, and somewhat disappear in the cooking.  The potatoes sort of helped thicken the broth.  My chicken and dumplings have more of a broth-like sauce than a gravy.  If you want gravy style, I'll get to that in a minute.

Cover it with water.  Clap a lid on it, turn it up to med-high and forget about it for a little while.  It's going to take that bad boy a while to reach a boil.  Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat so it won't boil over and forget about it again for a couple hours.  When you check on it, take a fork or something and move the bird around by it's leg.  If the bone slides out, it is safe to say the bird is fully cooked and ready to be deboned.  You don't have to technically cook it that long, but it makes the broth richer.  It is also easier to pull the meat off the bones if it's falling off on its own.

Use whatever means is necessary to get the chicken out of the pot and into a bowl where it can cool.  Turn the heat off for now.  You don't want your broth boiling down too far.
Let the bird cool enough to handle safely, then pull the meat off and put it back in the pot.  The bones and skin can be saved to make stock out of.

Now comes the dumplings.

Mix your cup of water with your two cups of flour and squish.  The more you squish, the chewier your dumplings are.  If you want them light and fluffy, don't squish them much after the flour and water are incorporated.  If you want them chewy, work in more flour and knead it till it's starts to feel rubbery and dry.  (That's how I like mine.)

Bring your pot of broth and meat back to a rapid boil.

Remember, the dumplings will swell when they cook, so don't make them too big.  If you decide to drop them, just pull off balls of dough and drop it in the boiling broth.  If you want classic square dumplings, roll them out and cut them into rectangles or squares.

Today, I pinched dough off in balls and just squished it out in my hands.  It's way less messy than rolling them out on a floured counter top.
I don't have very large hands.  I guess they're average.  But anyway, that gives you an idea of about the size of the dumpling before being cooked.

It only takes them a few seconds to cook, so about the time you've dropped it in it's done.  Drop them in one by one so they don't stick together.
When you've dropped the last one in, you can turn the heat off and it's ready to eat.

If you want thicker gravy style broth, BEFORE you put in your dumplings, get a small bowl and put a few tablespoons of flour in it.  (I say a few, 3-5, possibly even more depending on how thick you want your broth.)  Get some of the hot broth and mix it into the flour until it is a thin paste.  Pour the flour paste into the pot and stir it around well.  It will thicken up as it boils.  Now you can add your dumplings.


Make your own: Laundry Soap

I snagged this from Rey at The Peasant and the Pea.  So, it's been tried out by someone I personally know and trust.  She got the recipe originally from Tip Nut, I believe.  Anyways, all the  materials cost about $8 (give or take depending on where you shop and what you buy.)  

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

2 quarts of water
4 cups grated bar soap  
4 cups Borax
4 cups Washing Soda *washing NOT baking*
4 gallons of water
A clean 5 gallon bucket with a lid.

That does not say four bars of grated soap.  It says four cups of grated bar soap.  There is a fundamental difference.  It only took me  two and a half bars of Ivory to get my four cups of grated soap.  I grated it with a very fine cheese grater.  

My first question to Rey was:  What the hell is washing soda and where the hell do you find it?  Wal-mart apparently, and possibly the drug store, or you might have to check online.  Wal-mart had it where I live in Central Texas, but they only had Arm & Hammer.  I would've rather had an off label, but such is life.  Borax is also something that you don't always encounter, but at least I knew what that was from my Gramma.  I was also able to find it at Wal-mart.  You usually find both of these ingredients near the Oxy-Clean or other laundry boosters.  

I still have a good portion of each box left, though I am not sure if I have quite enough for a full second batch.  I would say you can get at least one and a half batches out of each box, thus reducing the actual total cost of each batch.  

Heat your 2 quarts of water to a simmer, and slowly --- very slowly --- add in your grated soap.  I was using a rubber spatula to stir, and I used the rubber spatula to scoop up some soap and stir it in.  Once all the first scoop of soap was dissolved, then I got another scoop.  Rey discovered the hard way that if you dump all the soap in at once it melts into a lump, and you have to stir forever to melt it down.  I think the total scoop/stir/melt process only took about 20 minutes.  If that.  

Dump your hot soapy water into your bucket, and add the Borax and Soda.  Stir until it is as dissolved as it is going to get.  The 4 gallons of water I added in 2 quart batches.  The water needs to be hot-ish in order to dissolve everything, so I used my sauce pot and heated it up on the stove while I stirred what was already in the bucket.  Not to boiling, just hotter than tap water.  Stir, stir, stir.  Everything will eventually get mostly dissolved.  Clap the lid on it and put it by your washer.  Use 1/4 c per load.  Stir before each time you use it, because even though we stirred it well, solids will settle.  

I got a stick from the yard for a stirrer after the water got too deep for my spatula, that way I wouldn't have to dedicate a kitchen utensil to the laundry.  

Five gallons of laundry soap for less than $8.  It lasted Rey (who has a family of four) for several months.  She crunched the numbers over on her blog, and the results were about half as much as buying Sun laundry detergent, which is one of the cheapest ones.  You can make it smell prettier by adding essential oils or soap scents (purchasable from most hobby and craft shops) if you like.  

You can use the same recipe, only without the water, for a powdered detergent, but I like liquid for rinsing cleaner.