Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Carrot Cake for People Who Don't Like Carrot Cake

I know I promised you Cleansing Bars in my last post, but I just made this cake again and realized that I hadn't blogged about it yet. I forget sometimes that I've been a little absent around here for the last couple years. I'm working on that though.

So, on to the cake. I've actually made this cake at least four times, maybe five, in the past two years... and it has, along the way, become my "go-to" cake. The kind of cake that still turns out and tastes great even when you are sure you've blown it somehow. I like that kind of cake. I like it a lot. And more importantly, everyone who's tasted it seems to like it a lot too.

Some people don't like carrot cakes, probably because they tend to be quite dense, rich, and are packed heavily with carrots, nuts, and raisins. I quite like those cakes actually. But this cake... this cake might make converts of the carrot-cake-hating folks. This one is light, flavorful, not too sweet, and there isn't a walnut or raisin to be found within it's sweet confines.

The frosting I like to use with this cake is good and easy, maple-y sweet, and can optionally be loaded with chopped walnuts or pecans. Just don't do what I did the other day and try to use YouTube-inspired DIY powdered-sugar in your frosting. Just don't. Please promise me you won't.

I'm giving links to the recipes here because I didn't change a dang thing in either of them. They are perfect as is (and I am grateful to these ladies for sharing these tasty treats with us)!

Sigrid's Carrot Cake
from page 110-111 of The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year Of Holidays by Ree Drummond
And you can also find her recipe at the other end of this link on FoodNetwork.com

Maple Pecan Frosting
from Darla at her sweet blog Bakingdom
The frosting that goes with the carrot cake is very similar to this one but calls for cream cheese which I don't always have on hand. Also, I think the maple tastes really really good with this particular cake!

...a coffee-flavored icing might be nice too.... hmm...

Note: The recipe for calls for baking this cake in a Bundt pan but you can do it in classic layers, sheet pan or muffin tin even. If you use any other shaped pan, just be aware of the baking time and check it before you think it'll be done. A shallower pan will take less time to bake than a Bundt; so will cupcakes.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Losing My Lipid Layer (and how I got it back)


So far, 2017there just isn't another word for itsucks. I spent the entire month of January battling one ailment or another, which is pretty unusual for me. I'm wondering how much had to do with stress and how much was due to being off my kefir? I gave it a rest last September and it's somewhere in the back of my fridge, dead more than likely, and doing me no good, regardless. But that's another story. This one— I'll warn you now— is long enough.

In addition to the afore-hinted-at ailments, my face and neck were under constant siege: hot, red, swollen, rough, dry, and itchy. So. Very. Itchy. Itching like a thousand burning ants were dancing under the surface. All of my frantic "research" online just seemed to spin me in circles until ultimately I chanced upon what was going on. So with that, and after spending most of January with various oils and unguents on my face, I've listed a few things below that I, and anyone else suffering with dry, dehydrated, and otherwise distressed facial skin, might do well to keep in mind.

Great Barrier Grief...
Though I may never figure out why it happened, the moisture-barrier (or lipid layer) on my face and neck was compromised. My skin was no longer retaining moisture and was, as a result, severely dehydrated and in great hot gobs of distress. How do our bodies usually react to distress... with inflammation. I could tell that something was seriously wrong when, in addition to everything else, my face was so puffy that I could no longer see the creases around my eyes. I've never been so happy to see my wrinkles than when it meant that my face was returning to normal. Welcome back, little friends!

So how can skin heal itself when it's in a constant state of panic and can no longer hold moisture?
It can't. If the barrier is gone, it is defenseless. I figured that if my skin no longer had a barrier, I would have to provide it one until it could heal and take over again. For the record, I didn't exactly figure this out right away. I wish I had. Over the days and weeks though, I naturally began to turn to things that were, under normal situations, much too heavy/greasy to use on my face. Lo and behold, the heavier and slower to absorb it was, the better my skin felt.

Occasionally I needed to exfoliate. Now the last thing I wanted to do was scrub my stressed-out face, but there comes a point when there's no point in slathering glops of good stuff over layers of dead skin cells. Extreme caution was in order though; it needed to be super gentle. I started with powdered milk and later used finely ground oats. Both worked well without being aggressive. After gently removing with a wet washcloth, I patted aloe all over and followed with straight shea butter or coconut oil. Whenever things started to itch, I would glide my homemade lotion-bar over the itchy areas.

Yeah, I said lotion bar. The biggest surprise of all! There I was, rubbing it on my poor chapped nose (2+ weeks of cold/flu) when my face started itching to distraction at the same time. I absently rubbed the bar on the itchy spots and the itching subsided right away. Like a miracle. What's in it? Shea butter, coconut oil, and beeswax. Hallelujah! I had inadvertently stumbled on the perfect thing. I am convinced that it was the beeswax in the lotion bar acting as temporary moisture barrier that did the trick.

It still took time for my face to heal, but with my lotion bar at hand, I was able to keep the line of defense in place (and quiet the itching) while my skin repaired itself. Seal it to heal it! (I just made that up.) Here is a great big ginormous list of...

Things that worked for me, things that didn't, and things to avoid...

(in alphabetical order)

Aloe Vera
100% pure aloe, liquid or gel, keep it in the fridge and it will feel amazing when you put it on. Healing and important. I used this after oil-cleansing, before moisturizing.

Tried a couple different OTC types early on in case it was due to allergies, but didn't get any noticeable relief. Ended up taking "drowsy" one. It helped me not notice the itching at night. It's hard to sleep when your skin
just won't shut up already.

Chamomile Tea Compress
Make a cup of chamomile tea, let it cool, dip cloth in tea and dab it at the hot spots. Can also use the wet tea bag itself to dab with. While you're at it, make another cup to drink. It's good for calming, and calming is good.

Soap equals dryness. Just don't. This is not the time to strip your face. You do not need soap to get your face clean... especially now.

Cleansing Bar

This felt really great and worked great too. A combination of nourishing oils, butters, clay, oats, and ground flower petals... it had everything I needed to cleanse and gently scrub my sad face. I promise in my next post to tell you all about them... 'cause you're gonna wanna make some!

Coconut Oil
I have never used this on my face. Ever. On my bod, yes (it's great!)... face, never. Most sources say not to, as it can be comedogenic (cause breakouts). I reached for it in desperation and it worked awesomely. Go figure.

Commercial Beauty/Skin-Care Products
These tended to sting my already irritated skin so I stopped using them right away and chose to go with simple natural ingredients only. Most commercial creams and lotions have fragrances, dyes, alcohols and other unnecessary stuff.

Cool Compress
Cool washcloth compresses just felt really nice. They left my face feeling a little tight afterward so I reapplied more moisturizer after using one.

A classic de-puffer, like chamomile. I just peeled it, sliced it, and rubbed the slices over my face. Felt nice and refreshing (especially from the fridge) and after I had used a few up that way, I followed with a moisturizing oil over the top.

Fish Oil Capsules
We take Cod Liver Oil caps daily. I increased my dosage (still within recommended amount) during this time.  Wanted to support those important lipids from the inside too.

Glycerin (vegetable glycerin, specifically)
Tried this full strength (what did I know?) and while it felt fine, the stickiness was awful. Better to add a few drops of this natural humectant to other treatments before using.

Honey (raw honey, specifically)
Wonderful as a mask or cleanser. Full of fantastic healing properties for your skin. Pasteurized honey is still a great humectant but doesn't have the beneficial properties that raw has.

Hot Water
Avoid this completely! This should have been obvious, but some things I learn the hard way. I used hot water to steam and remove my oil cleanse... felt great for a minute and then all hell broke loose. My face, if it could have, screamed.

Ice Pack
During the worst of the hot-inflamed-puffy-itchies... I wrapped a gel ice pack in a dish towel and held it to my face for a few minutes in each area (left, right, forehead, neck).
It stopped the burning and itching during the worst of it. A little window of cool blessed relief. Do not apply ice directly to skin. 

Jojoba Oil
I love jojoba oil and use it all the time as a daily moisturizer. In this situation though, it absorbed too quickly to do me any good. As one of my favorite bands from the 80's used to sing: Save it for later.

Lotion Bar
(see main text above)
I made these a couple of years ago and keep one in my purse because I don't like carrying around tubes of hand lotion. What's in it? Just shea butter, coconut oil, and beeswax. I'll try and track down the recipe I used (though I think it's just equal parts melted together), and maybe do a future post on it. I don't want to ever be without one now.

Old fashioned rolled oats ground up in a coffee grinder to a super-fine powder. You can buy colloidal oats, but this is basically the same thing (great tutorial here). I used this as a scrub no more than once a week. I put a teaspoon of oat powder in one hand and added enough water (and sometimes honey) to make a paste. Applied it to my face and gently worked it in circular massaging motions, then removed it with a cloth soaked in tepid water. Followed with aloe, then moisturizer.

Olive Oil (Extra Virgin, cold pressed)
When I wanted to cleanse my distressed face, I reached for this oil. My usual oil-cleansing blend is lovely, but I created it to use on my "normal" skin (which this was not). In this situation I just wanted simple, basic, easy and nourishing. Some say this is comedogenic, but I was cleansing with it, not leaving it on my skin.

Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline)
I cannot abide the feel of this on my face. It will work well, however. If ever you need something to prevent water from entering or exiting your skin... this is the stuff. Pure petrochemical. Your choice. I'll stick with my beeswax.  

Powdered Milk
Another mild "scrub". I put a teaspoon of powdered milk in one hand and added enough drops of water to make a paste. Applied it to my face and worked it gently in small circular massaging motions, then removed it with a cloth soaked in tepid water. Followed with aloe, then moisturizer. Personally, I don't care for the smell of this, but it works well and my skin always feels nice afterward.

Rosewater Mist
Even if all this does is just feel really lovely when spritzed on.... that's enough. Anything that brings your stress level down right now is a good thing.

Another thing to avoid 100% completely! Scratch your distressed face and you can get an infection. You do not want that! But it itches SO MUCH! I used my fingertips to make little circle motions wherever it itched. If that didn't do it, I pressed or lightly raked the back of my fingernails across the area.

Shea Butter
I use this straight when regular ol' excessive winter dryness makes my usual moisturizer inadequate. For this particular situation... it was fantastic.

A natural anti-inflammatory (see my post for more info). I take a turmeric cap daily. During the hot red puffy stages of this affliction I took one every 4-6 hours.

Vitamin E Oil
I happened to have a bottle of vitamin-E in a carrier base of soy oil. While I wouldn't normally buy this or use it all over my face, I was desperate... and my face felt better after using it.

Water (filtered)
Drank it. Lots and lots of it. Hydration is the name of the game here.

Witch Hazel
My usual toner/astringent of choice (because it's simple, seems gentle, and does the job). It was much much too harsh in this situation! Used it twice and then put it away for later... much later. Witch hazel is extracted with alcohol, and this is not the time to use anything with alcohol on your face.

The Moral Of My Story...
I did warn you that this was going to be long. Here it is in a nutshell though: Listen to your face! Really listen. If you try something and it stings, don't do that anymore! If it feels better afterward, (yay!) do that more! It can take a few weeks to repair/rebuild this very important barrier layer. Yes, I said weeks. There are no shortcuts! Treat your face gently, pamper it, and be patient with it.

What does your face love during the best of times (and the worst of times)?


The Fine Print:
Don't do something just because I did it. Do your own research. Think of this as a place to start. Obviously if you have the money, you can go to the store and buy specialty products or go to an esthetician. If you have medical insurance, then by all means get thee to a dermatologist! I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on the internet. This is simply me sharing my personal experience and observations within my own limitations and preferences. Always remember to say: yes please, no thank you, you are too kind, and you're welcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Perfectly Pretty Summer Plum Sorbet

The Vivid Pink of a Fresh Plum Sorbet
Sometimes plums are sweet and sometimes they can be tart, but most of the plums I get tend to be a little of both. Occasionally they can even be bitter. Like that time I had to dump an entire pan of plum cobbler because some of the plums were so bitter that, even after mixing with sugar and baking with a nice sweet biscuit-y topping... the whole thing was inedible.

Faced with less than perfectly sweet fruits, sorbets are an easy way to control the sweet/tart balance and come out with something delicious in spite of their random ripeness. And I can think of no better way to celebrate the essential flavor of a lovely seasonal fruit than to feature it in a clean, direct, super-intense sorbet. Fresh and refreshing, it's nothing short of cool perfection on a warm summer evening.

Of course, I don't think making a sorbet from those horrid plums I had four years ago could have tamed their bitterness, but I would've realized the fact sooner (and saved a whole lot of effort, ingredients, and disappointment). And of course, tasting it as I went along would have also saved me from all that, but some lessons (cough) are best learned the hard way.

Pretty Plum (Sorta) Sorbet 
Start this a day or even two before you "need" it... and make sure your ice cream maker insert is pre-frozen. Though not traditional in a sorbet, adding milk will give it a creamier texture and increase the yield... which incidentally, is about 2 pints.


1 cup water
1 cup cane sugar
1 pound ripe plums (9-10), pitted and roughly chopped.
1 pinch of sea salt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp liqueur or spirit of choice (see Notes)
1 cup cold whole milk

  1. Put sugar, water, plums, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. All the sugar should be dissolved and the fruit should be soft. Carefully pour into a wide-mouth quart mason jar. Let cool, then cap it and put it in the fridge overnight.
  2. Next day, blend the cold plum mixture thoroughly with a stick blender, right in the jar. 
  3. Add the lemon juice and liqueur and blend well. Then add the milk and give it another good blending.
  4. Turn on your machine and add the plum mixture according to your machine directions. Churn until the texture is where you want it (mine took about 30 minutes, yours may take more or less time).
  5. Transfer finished sorbet into freezer containers and store in freezer. Some say it's best to serve sorbets immediately, but I like the texture better the following day, especially if the weather is warm.
Notes: Depending on the intensity of your fruit, you may, or may not, taste the tiny bit of booze in the finished sorbet. Use something like vodka or white rum for less intrusion, or try one that has a flavor which is complementary to the fruit(s) you're using. I used Cointreau (orange liqueur) as I thought it would go well with plums (and I was right!). Whether you taste it in the end product or not, don't leave it out! It's there for a reason: it prevents the sorbet from freezing rock hard. And that really is what it looks like when it's finished! Leaving the skins on the plums gives it that amazing color.

My recipe is adapted from the following delicious sources...
  • Sweet Plum Sorbet from Joy The Baker 
  • Here's a twist on the JTB recipe above: Muscavado Blueberry Plum Sorbet from Simple Bites
  • There's a lovely recipe in the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook for Plum Sorbet (page 425). Don't have that book? Here's a similar recipe รก la Martha that's online: Plum Sorbet
  • Mark Bittman's original big yellow book, "How To Cook Everything" has a bunch of great tips for making sorbets (pages 669-670).
Bonus Link! ('cuz summer ain't over yet, and neither is plum season!)...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Good To The Last: Chard Pesto on Toast

Using every last bit of the chard...
This may not be the prettiest thing to ever come out of my kitchen... but it's definitely one of the cheapest... and best tasting!

Today I have a couple of questions for you:
  1. Do you sometimes find yourself with a boatload of Swiss Chard?
  2. Are you left wondering what to do with all the thick stems from that chard?
I've been in that boat on more than one occasion. I used to just toss them into the freezer and add them to the pot when I made stock, but now I have another trick up my sleeve... Chard Pesto.

I first read about this simple and delicious stuff a few years ago in the book, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler... and I haven't tossed a single stem in my stockpot ever since. 

Chard Pesto
Not really a recipe, more like just a thing you do when you have a big bunch of chard stems...
  1. Cut them up, then throw them in a pan with some butter or oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.
  2. Cook them down a fair bit, adding a little water and a lid in the beginning.
  3. Check and give it a stir now and then to see how it's coming along, removing the lid when mostly done.
  4. Take it off the heat once "they" become an "it" (soft and mushy and thick enough to stand on its own)
  5. Let cool it down some (too hot and it will steam the toast, making it soggy).
  6. Pile it onto pieces of toast made from good sturdy bread and grate some Romano or Parm over the top.
It's the kind of thing that is so lacking in attractiveness that you won't want to make it for guests. Once you taste it though, you really won't want to share anyway... so it's just as well. I should also add that it makes a mighty fine dinner on a day when you don't want to spend a lot of time cooking.