Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Joy's Chocolate Bundt Cake

Joy's Chocolate Bundt Cake
Here's another yummie I made a while back but never posted. It just looks like Easter doesn't it? It looks like spring. But I didn't bake it in spring or for Easter. Actually, I think I might have. But I never got it onto the blog though, did I?

If I miss the window for posting something, I have to wait until its time comes back around. If I miss it again (and again)... and then take a break from blogging... well, here we are...years later, talking about this cake as if I made it yesterday (don't I wish!)

Now, a chocolate cake is fine any time of the year. Seriously, it just is. But once I sprinkled those candied sunflower seeds on top (to distract from my weird icing technique), it just plants itself firmly at Easter or the weeks surrounding it. 

There was of course a frosting fail on this one. It's always something, and this time it was the frosting.* There's a whole back-story about how I contacted Joy (The Baker, herself) regarding the frosting issue I was having and how very very gracious she was with her replies. It was so long ago now, that the details aren't important. What matters is how delicious this cake is (frosted or not), and how lovely she was about taking the time to listen and respond to my questions. She is the real deal, and her recipes rock.

[also on page 179 of the (awesome) Joy the Baker Cookbook]

My Notes: As I mentioned above, I had issues with the glaze and ended up whipping it in the mixer which turned it into the fluffy gargantuan mass of frosting you see in the photo. I have never frosted a bundt cake in my life, and hadn't a clue what to do with it all. I had no choice but to just wing it since I was taking it to an event. Weird but delicious.

*Actually a lot of the time it's the frosting that gives me the most problems. Apparently it's a "thing" with me. Which then obviously is why I don't do a lot of frosted cakes! The fact that this scrumptious cake is supposed to be GLAZED and not frosted should tell you something.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Little Ginger Cookies (and early spring flours)

These little Ginger Cookies are small in size but big on flavor!
Confession time... The photo above was taken five years ago. It's true. I always meant to write about these awesome cookies but never did. Lately I've been doing some digital-decluttering and I saw this picture and remembered those tiny cookies packed with two kinds of ginger, dried apricots, and dark chocolate. Well, you probably guessed what happened next: I had to make the cookies again because I couldn't stop thinking about them! It helped that I happened to have nearly all the ingredients on hand too.

Whole wheat pastry flour... I had none. Not to be deterred by a single ingredient, but also not wanting to ruin the cookies (and risk wasting the other ingredients), I found a possible substitution. The good news is it works!* You do need cake flour to make it work though, which is not something I always have on hand either. I did have some this time though, thanks to a friend who gave up gluten last year. So here's how to fake it:
For every cup of whole wheat pastry flour needed:
Use a half cup of white whole wheat flour and a half cup of cake flour.
Of course, having found the photo and baked up the cookies, I needed to share them with you. I know it's nearly spring and these seem more of an autumn/winter cookie, but I didn't want to wait any longer. When you're decluttering, once you decide to let go of something, you have to get it out of the house or you haven't really gotten rid of it, right? It's still there, in your space, hanging over your head unfinished. This is like that. I needed to free up space, clear the decks and sweep away some cobwebs. Got to move forward.

Only ever-so-slightly out of season. So while our thoughts and taste buds are rushing toward everything fresh, bright, light and spring-y, I give you these little gingery, chocolate-y, crisp and chewy cookies. Spring hasn't sprung everywhere yet–and even where it has, I'm betting the evenings are still chilly–and these little cookies go great with a mug of hot tea or coffee. They're tiny cookies (maybe an inch and a half across) that are perfect when you want a little sweet-but-not-too-sweet something.

Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies from Heidi Swanson's blog: 101 Cookbooks
(recipe can also be found on page 197 of her book: Super Natural Every Day)

According to the recipe, you could also make these with all-purpose flour or even spelt flour. Yes, all-purpose. Of course, I didn't notice that part until later (cough, cough)... but if I had, I wouldn't have found the awesome whole wheat pastry flour substitution! Yea! So if you are out of whole wheat pastry flour and cake flour too, reach for good ol' all-purpose flour (unless, of course, you happen to have spelt flour on hand...

My Notes: The batch in the photo are flatter than they usually turn out. Possibly because I baked them right after mixing the dough. Usually I will shape all the cookies and then refrigerate or freeze them for later. Then, just before baking, I'll roll them in the sugar. So, most of the time the cookies are more domed with cracks across them... which is how they are supposed to look. They're uncommonly delicious, domed or not. Another substitution I made on these was the use of semi-sweet chocolate chips. It was the only chocolate in the pantry, and yes, I chopped them with a knife. Next time I might try the food processor... or a hammer (only semi-kidding about the hammer). The cookies are so small that to leave the chocolate chips whole would throw the flavor/texture off completely. Chop, chop!

*Regarding the whole wheat pastry flour substitution: Just because it worked in this recipe, doesn't necessarily mean it will work in other recipes calling for whole wheat pastry flour. However, in a pinch and if I'm desperate, I'll give it a go. I just won't hang all my hopes and dreams on it working and it should be fine. :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Summer Garden Facial Cleansing Bar (for any time of year)


This is what friends do, they tell each other about neat stuff they find... like a shoe sale, a cool band, or a great recipe. Well, I've been remiss in telling you about the Cleansing Bars I made from LisaLise Natural Skin Care. Please forgive me! Lise's blog is full of recipes for making all sorts of your own natural skin care and cosmetics at home, but it was her soap-less facial cleansing bars that were on my mind (and my to-do list) for a long time. I knew I wanted to make one, it just took me a while to get around to it. 

Curious about cleansing bars.
If you're unfamiliar with the idea of a Cleansing Bar, it's a semi-solid blend of butters, oils, clays and more, that cleanse and moisturize your face in one easy step. Absolutely brilliant, right? ...but I didn't need another face cleansing method. After all, I was content with what I'd been using.

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.
I am the type of person that will happily stick with something for a long long time... so long as everything is running smoothly. I've been using the Oil Cleansing Method for quite a few years now and couldn't be happier with it. Occasionally I will do a honey-wash, just to change things up, but then it's right back to the OCM. It works great for me, but....

Change when there is a need.
The one thing that the OCM doesn't do is exfoliate, and whenever my face is in Seasonal Transition Mode, it can get dry and flaky (or apparently worse). That's when I need some mild exfoliation and a heavy dose of moisturization. Rather than adding another step to my routine, Lise's Cleansing Bars are a one-step wonder: they cleanse, gently exfoliate, and moisturize.

Late last fall, I finally made Lise's Rose Clay & Oat Cleansing Bar. A version of it anyway. A few ingredient substitutions were necessary (only because once I had decided to make it, I wanted to make it right away... no time to stop and shop first). The result? I absolutely loved it!

I call my version "Summer Garden" because the lavender and rose remind me of just that...  even though they're dried and you can make this (and use it) at any time of year...

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
by Ree Drummond on Food Network
...and also on page 110-111 of The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year Of Holidays 

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