Friday, March 22, 2013

Quick Chocolate Cake (Incidentally Dairy-free, Egg-free and Whole Wheat!

About 12 years ago, a local bakery generously shared a recipe with me. It was for a chocolate cake that they occasionally made. I don't know where the recipe originated, but it was one of those super-quick-company-is-coming recipes that doesn't need much in the way of ingredients. Because of this, it just so happens to be vegan! This is dairy-free and egg-free.It called for white flour, but I have been using whole wheat flour only in it with excellent results.
I love to top this off by smearing a luscious layer of red raspberry jam, freezing it for about 15 minutes and then topping it with homemade vanilla butter cream frosting. To die for! I love the combo of flavors.
I love that this is a great way to use up the end of the morning's coffee pot, as I hate to waste food. I will say that my husband loathes coffee, and he can't taste it in this cake.The chocolate prevents the coffee flavor from coming through.
This is a wonderfully moist cake. I always just make it in my 8 inch pyrex pan, because it has a lid that I can cover it with, but the bakery made this as a freestanding cake and it held up well. Also, this doubles well.
I have a new whisk that I am completely infatuated with. I swear I look for reasons to use it! I don't need the mixer to whip this up (except if I make frosting), I just get out my trusty whisk. It is from Rada cutlery and is made in the USA. It cleans so easily and makes the best gravies, sauces and batters. It is all metal, so I hope it will last a lifetime.

Lastly, this cake is a fun science/math project for kids. First we did the old baking soda/vinegar experiment. Then we talked about how cakes rise and how you can use different methods to achieve that. We noted the reaction between the vinegar and baking soda even in the presence of the other ingredients. We used the light in the oven and peered through the glass, watching the introduction of heat cause the batter to change forms from liquid to solid. Of course, the measuring of the ingredients was a good way to show fractions and capacity. The whole process is a good way to teach kitchen hygiene and how to complete a project by cleaning up afterwards. We could make this for a neighbor and learn about good citizenship. So much to learn from a super simple chocolate cake! But the most important thing to learn is:


Simply Delicious Chocolate Cake
(Incidentally Dairy-free, Egg-free and Whole Wheat!)

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold coffee
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. vinegar

~Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
~ Mix Dry ingredients thoroughly (sift, whisk or stir with fork): flour, cocoa, soda, salt, sugar.
~In a 2 cup measuring cup (or bowl if you don’t have one), place wet ingredients except vinegar: oil, coffee, and vanilla.
~ Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix with fork or whisk.
~Add vinegar and quickly stir until it is incorporated. You will see white swirls from the vinegar/baking soda reaction.
~quickly pour into an ungreased 8 inch square or 9 inch round cake pan.
~Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
~ Cool and top with favorite frosting or topping. Enjoy!

So, treat yo cake, and possibly a very nice whisk. You won't regret it!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

When life hands you lemons, make lemon vinegar!

We use a couple dozen lemons every week. That is a lot of lemon peels hanging around. I have already zested and dried them, used them to freshen my disposal, composted them and scrubbed my stainless steel sink with them (which is AMAZING!). Now I am also using them to make lemon vinegar for cleaning.
      I cannot express my love for this vinegar to you. I keep a squirt bottle of it mixed 50/50 with water in the kitchen and bathroom. This is a sparkle maker. Use it to clean counters, floors, appliances (inside and out), freshen glassware with water spots, clean windows, deodorize the air. What can't this do? um, give you cancer from a bunch of chemicals and phony fragrance that isn't even listed for you like with most cleaning products.

How To:
Get ready, this is hard (not) 

... you put the lemon rinds in a jar, cover with plain old vinegar and strain it off in 2 weeks. Easy-peasy, right? 

You then mix it 50/50 with water in a squirt bottle and try to stop wiping everything down that you own...cutting boards, that seal around your refrigerator, light switches, your toilet, your faucets (they will gleam if you dry them with a soft cloth), laundry stains, mirrors...and on and on.

A Week for Field Trips

(subscribers may need to click here to view video of awesome kids and stingrays) 

 First of all we visited the Aquarium with Grandma Jo for a little sting ray petting. They acted like a bunch of puppies (the rays and kids)! The boys really love rays and apparently Ollie does too!

A video of the kids and rays (subscribers may need to go to the blog to see) 
On Friday we went to a homeschool maple sugaring special at Rocky River Reservation. The naturalist did a great job and really kept up the kid's interest. They experienced sugaring from the viewpoint of Native Americans and pioneers,  popular current methods for sugaring and how it is done in large scale operations. Afterwards they sampled the syrup and had a piece of maple sugar candy.

Ew,  it looks like a tree colostomy bag. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday, Sonday

We woke up this morning "springing forward" in more ways than one. First of all,  it was the first morning of daylight savings time. Also, it got up to 70 degrees today,  which is crazy because it was snowing just a few days ago. Then Matt and the boys started talking about old school role - playing games like dungeons and dragons. Wolfie was so inspired that he sprang forth from the bed and raced downstairs to grab some paper and a pencil and started crafting a character and an adventure map.
      Right after breakfast we started playing our first RPG (role playing game), a homemade one at that, as a family. A completely nerdy family. We chose our characters : I am a rogue named Ruby that fights with a poisoned dart blow gun and a short sword. Vlad is a ninja named Diamond,  but goes by Gold for short. He battles with shuriken, nunchaku and sword. He is in love with Ruby and flirts with her (oh,  my little Oeddy. This has been a loooooong phase). Wolf is a warrior named Wolfie. His weapons are a sword and a hammer. He has chainmail armor. He also has a stone of rejuvenation. Dad is dungeon master, of course, and he rocks at it. He used Wolfie's map to create the story and gameplay, complete with dice. The game was named "Land of Heroes" by Wolfie.
     In this game,  we are 3 kids that make cereal in Millsville (named after Aldi's cereal brand). A caravan delivering cereal to Milksville is hijacked by hungry goblins and the caravan team is kidnapped,  except for Grandma Tourmaline. She escapes,  but is attacked by thieves in the Fantastic Forest. Luckily,  she is rescued by the three would-be heroes,  on the hunt for the cereal. She rewards them with 5 healing potions and it is game on! Many goblins are defeated,  as are skeleton kings and rock monsters. The trio work well together,  Making smart decisions and kicking major booty under the eye of the clever Dungeon Master. The caravan team (Grandpa Tourmaline and his dim-witted son,  Tony Tourmaline) is rescued and Milksville has cereal once again.
     Whew! We played after breakfast at a special gaming table set up by Wolfie. Then it was time to enjoy the sunshine at the park where we acted out as our characters. Back home to lunch,  and more gaming until supper! It was like a religious experience for Wolfie. He seemed to be born to this,  his soul clicked. It will be interesting to see if he wants to go on with this. At any rate,  it made for a fun and exciting day. Plus,  I was wooed by a ninja. Can't say that everyday.
The warrior goes hunting. 

The stealthy ninja,  Diamond. 

Battling goblins at the milky river's edge. 

Booty from the day's battles... River glass and a huge mussel shell. 

The aftermath. 

What a day to remember! 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

DIY Aftershave/Tonic

I have been making aftershave for my husband for a year or so. He has been enjoying them and I have enjoyed the fact that these are much safer and healthier for him than his old store-bought tonics. I started with a basic recipe that can be modified with different essential oils. The nice thing is that you can create these for aroma and medicinal properties by using the essential oils. So you can have a very personalized product. My husband likes a little "sting" in his aftershave, but one could easily reduce the alcohol and replace it with more witch hazel if you have very sensitive skin.  These recipes do not include water, which i prefer not to add to any of my beauty products, to decrease contamination.

I made him a Bay Rum cologne for Valentine's day that turned out really well and did not take long to make. Typically, one would use dried leaves and the mixture would have to age. My recipe does not need time to cure and can be used immediately.
     I find many of the things I need at one of three places online: --- A good place to start looking and comparison shopping. The reviews are helpful and I often get free shipping as an Amazon prime member. --- Located not far from where I live, they have great prices  and good products. -- Probably one of my favorite companies right now. I can find excellent prices on hard to find products. Most everything seems to be organic. The products are chosen for being of high quality and ethically grown, the packaging is beautiful and recyclable/compostable (and made of recycled paper) and generally knocks my socks off.

Here is my basic adaptable recipe:


Yield: ⅔ cup (FYI--will fit into cholula hot sauce bottle perfectly)


  • ⅛ cup rum (use white for a clear look, dark for an amber look)
  • witch hazel
  • ¼ cup alcohol (I use 91% for zing)
  • essential oils
  • ⅛ cup glycerin

Preparation:add rum and glycerin to the ¼ line on measuring cup. Add alcohol to the ½ cup line.  add witch hazel to almost the ⅔ cup line. Add oils.

I like to use lemongrass, lime and lemon for an Asian-citrus blend. I like our invigorating blend, "Wake up!", with spearmint, peppermint, eucalyptus and camphor. It is a nice muscle rub as well or to cool off in the heat. You are only limited by your imagination and essential oil budget! Please note that this will need to be shaken at each use, as the ingredients will separate.

Bay Rum Aftershave
1/4 cup Kraken spiced rum (left over from the holidays :)
1/8 cup glycerin
1/4 cup 91% isopropyl alcohol
1/8-1/4 cup witch hazel
12 drops of bay (west indies) essential oil, be sure it is pimenta racemosa
5 drops of allspice essential oil

Just mix the ingredients in a glass measuring cup and decant into a bottle. I keep an old glass measuring cup just for making my DIY beauty products. As for bottles, get creative. I enjoy finding new uses for old items such as vinegar and oil cruets, old glass syrup bottles, Cholula hot sauce bottles and anything else that catches my eye! I generally label them with a tag including which oils were used and advise to shake before using. These seem to age well without problems, even after a few months.

I would love to hear of any scent combinations you have tried and enjoyed! I am looking forward to making a black peppery/vanilla/clove combo. We will see how it turns out!

Friday, March 8, 2013

on our bookshelves...

I thought I would post what we have been reading lately. The boys have been really enjoying our reading times lately. We had been in a slump for awhile, not finding books that held their interest. Then Lemony Snickett came to our rescue. We had tried his Series of Unfortunate Events back about a year ago, but it just didn't catch on. We just finished up the 5th book in the series last night and will be starting the next one. Dad has been reading these at bed time and has great voices for all the characters.
A current favorite, despite how unfortunate it all is.

Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett has been another fun read, this one being a picture book. The illustrations are wonderful, done by Jon Klassen. Of course, I really enjoyed reading this because, well, I have a thing for yarn in a big way.

This was a treat for President's Day. This is written as a humorous poem that focuses on all of the many problems GW had with his teeth. It has a wonderful time line at the end which is historically accurate. You will feel for our founding father after this read.

Wolfie by Janet Chenery was a book that my husband brought back from the friends of the library sale. It is about a little boy that finds a wolf spider and keeps it as a pet. Since my son is named Wolfie, we were instantly interested. This is one of those books that uses a fictional story to teach real science facts. we used this to help us with a science project earlier today, so it has been fun and useful for us.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo is a great book with a surprise ending. We had a lot of fun reading this while it was snowing out and dreaming about having our own penguin.

 This is not my Hat by Jon Klassen is another gem By Mr. Klassen. Once again, a thieving animal gets it in the end. Why won't these animals learn to just get their own hat? Crime does not pay.

When You Were Small by Sara O'Leary is not what it seems when the main character asks for stories about when he was small. He receives stories not of his youth, but of the time when he was teeny tiny in size. A lot of fun to read aloud.

I adore Jan Brett's books. They have magical stories with illustrations that make you want to read them while wrapped in a quilt in a bed of hay in Grandpa's  mountain cabin. Check out any book by this author. Hedgehogs are ALWAYS good.

Kaspar, the Titanic Cat by Michael Morpurgo was another chapter book that I lucked upon while trying to download an ebook from the library. The kids never wanted me to stop reading this. I think we could have finished it in one sitting if I had the stamina to keep reading out loud. A fictional story about a boy and a cat that end up on the Titanic, this is an exciting read. At the end, the author lets the reader into how he came up with the story by being a detective looking for story clues This opens up discussion on writing other stories based on things you see and find around you. The kids really hated to see this one end.

I have read a few good craft books lately and will list them here:

Please feel free to comment on what you have been reading :)