Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ode to a Fellow Female MacGyver (and to Honey!)

So this post is about another amazing Female MacGyver that lives and walks amongst us. It's also about one of my favorite things in the whole world: Honey.

Let's start by talking about that.

Honey is amazingly delicious and makes a great sweetener for tea, milkshakes, and...okay just about anything. I prefer to use honey to sweeten things over sugar whenever I can. I'm especially fond of trying different types of honeys...especially at farmer's markets.

Honey also brags of several health benefits. It's comprised of several different kinds of sugars (fructose and glucose mostly, but also maltose and sucrose). It also contains antioxidants, which clean up damaging free radicals. Honey is fairly acidic with a pH ranging between 3.2 and 4.5. This helps it to prevent the growth of bacteria (which is one reason it doesn't ever spoil). When mixed into a hot green tea or a hot toddy (honey, lemon juice, and whiskey), this powerful ingredient can do a number on the bacteria that cause sore throats. (I know this from personal experience!!)

These antibiotic properties aren't exclusively internal. In fact, there actually exists MEDICAL GRADE HONEY!!! This grade of honey has been used to treat burns and chronic wound infections. Three years ago, scientists discovered that honey's antibacterial properties derived from more than just its acidity. Apparently, a protein called "defensin-1" helps it to actually kill bacteria by destroying bacterial proteins. There are also many scientific papers describing the effectiveness of treating wounds with Manuka honey (the honey typically used for medical purposes). People have even begun to discover that honey can fight MRSA, prevent radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients undergoing treatment, and may even be able to reverse bacterial resistance to antibiotics!

Now as we talk of this honey, let me be very clear about two things. One, keep in mind that research into the pros and cons of honey are on-going and that what we know to be true now may not be true tomorrow. And two, we are talking about natural honey, not artificially honey. An article in Nature revealed that natural honey was three times better at killing bacteria than artificial honey is. This means that you want honey made by bees...not the busy kinds that wear lab coats, but the kind that buzz about collecting pollen and vomiting sweet, delicious, viscous-y goodness that is jam-packed with antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

Going way back, even the Greeks and the Romans praised the healing properties of honey. They claimed it made you live longer...and why shouldn't they? The Egyptians were believing the same thing long before that. Medical recipes containing honey date back 5 millennia. It has been used on the battle fields for thousands of years to treat wounded soldiers knowing it helped to prevent infections even before people understood what caused infections. The history of honey is fascinating and well-worth the read, but I'll spare you the stories for this particular blogpost.

Given all of this wonderfulness, you can imagine how proud I was when my roommate remembered our conversations about honey and applied them. As you may or may not know, she tragically cut her thumb badly a few days ago. She went to use our Neosporin only to find out it expired...let's just say...a long time ago. In true MacGyver fashion, she applied some raw honey to her wound and after only a day the wound had already begun to heal more rapidly than expected and the bruising/swelling had gone down a LOT.
I don't have a "before",
but here's the after and trust me,
it looked MUCH worse prior to the honey!

Earlier today, she again used honey to make these amazing impromptu candies with honey, roasted peanuts, butter, and brown sugar. That's right...she totally just made up a recipe for candy! (I've been trying to tell her that she needs to blog about them to share her creation with the world! They are delicious!)

The moral of the story is that honey is delicious, nutritious, medicinal, and good for fixing your thumb right up so you can get back to making amazing sweets for the holidays! :D

Happy Roommate = Candy --> More Happy Roommates!!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Fond Farewell to my Dear, Sweet Basil

Terribly sad news: a fungus got into my tiny herb garden and killed what was left of my chives, mutilated my mint, and was about to decimate my sweet basil. The basil held out until the last moment, when I decided to cut my losses and harvest what was left of its sad, wilted leaves.

Here's a true statement: I don't really cook much with basil.

There, I said it!

So why did I have a basil plant to begin with? You ask.

Because: (1) I like growing things. (2) I like the smell of basil. (3) Basil is easy to grow. (4) My roommate does cook with basil. So there!

Anyway, I wanted the basil leaves to be useful, but I wasn't sure what was the best way to preserve them. Drying? Freezing? Just make a soup and use it all, already!?

Then I remembered a Pintrest pin from a long while back. A person chopped up herbs and then froze them in ice cubes. When they wanted to cook with them, they simply popped out a cube and added it to a soup or skillet to be sauteed along with veggies. BRILLIANT!

And I was off...

I started by harvesting the usable parts that were left and washing them in water.

I pulled out my trusty Magic Bullet and added just a little water to the leaves before pulsing it all.


Then I poured the liquid-suspended leaf bits into a fun little star-shaped mold and popped the mold into the freezer. There was some foamy stuff that I didn't like, so I scooped those bits out and plopped them into the sink...because I'm classy like that.... (Don't worry, I cleaned up my mess!)

Voila! My roomie now has basil ice to use in her...whatever! :) Hopefully I can get a new set of plants going again soon and I can use this same technique to make herb cubes that I'll use myself! :p

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A New (Healthier?) Spin on SOS

Some of my favorite nights growing up were the nights that Momma would make French Dip. She typically made fluffy, buttery homemade bread for our savory roast beef sandwiches that we dipped in that perfectly delectable au jus. This made each bite a scrumptious mouthful of heavenly splendor.

Another wonderful thing about Momma making that amazingly delicious dinner in our crockpot was that there were always lots of leftovers. Left over roast beef is great for lots of things, but one of the best meals to follow French Dip was surely S*O*S*. (This stands for eh-hemmm.... "stuff" on shingles.) This classic leftovers meal was comprised of toasted bread topped with homemade gravy full of bits of roast beef from last night's supper.

Which brings us to last night. I was trying to find something quick to throw together for dinner and for whatever reason wishing we had roast beef for SOS. I decided to try something a little different using what we had available.

First, I poured some olive oil in a bowl with a little garlic powder and a little less onion powder. After stirring these ingredients with my basting brush, I brushed the oil onto six pieced of honey wheat bread. I broiled the bread in the oven until they were lightly toasted.
While the bread was toasting, I shredded some honey-smoked turkey (sandwhich meat) into a pot and poured in the last of our shredded cabbage mix. I drizzled these with olive oil and seasoned with garlic powder and paprika. I simmered these for a bit, stirring occasionally, until the veggies were done, but still a had a good crunch to them. (I love for things to still be crunchy!)
When the meat and veggies seemed ready, I poured in a can of cream of mushroom soup and added a can's worth of milk. I mixed the ingredients well and heated through so that everything was hot and a little bubbly.  I think I ended up adding a little more paprika in this step as well.
I arranged three pieces of toast on each plate and topped them with the soup mixture. Voila! A new spin on the classic that is SOS! My husband was a pretty big fan of this one despite the fact that he was feeling a bit sick most of the day yesterday.

 Sure, turkey isn't roast beef and mushroom soup isn't gravy, but nevertheless, this was pretty tasty! (And I can't confirm this, but it might even be slightly healthier for you!) It was also good to have the veggies in that you wouldn't normally get with classic SOS. I thought about adding frozen peas to this, but I had already began cooking by the time the idea came to me. That didn't really give me time to get them cooked before the other bits were ready. Next time, I might try it with peas or possibly green beans...maybe even carrots?! Anyway, the veggies were pretty good mixed in, so that has to make it healthier than the classic one, right?!?!

Don't let this scare you! It was delicious! Hope you get the chance to give it a try! Happy eating! :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DIY Dry Doggie Shampoo

Ninja questions why Mom
thinks he smells like corn chips.
So my roommates' dog, Ninja, a dog. (Or if you are Airicca, you swear he smells like corn chips.) With the cold weather bathing Ninja isn't fun for anyone...especially him! It's much too cold in this drafty house for that kind of nonsense!

I was browsing online the other day and ran across a recipe for a dry doggie shampoo. The site was talking about how excessive bathing can dry out skin and how this dry shampoo was one alternative to frequent bathing. This caught my attention for more than the fact that Ninja puts off a corn chip-like odor...the poor little guy has also been struggling with dry skin here in the midwest winter since he was born in and spent most of his life in Texas. His parents have been putting olive oil in his food to help, and it has helped tremendously, but he still has a bit of a dry coat some days. Can you see where this is going?

I thought about making this dry doggie shampoo for Ninja for Christmas, but this morning he was being particularly needy and pungent (not like wet-dog bad or anything, but certainly noticeable when he'd come up close to you in search of lovins). I asked Airicca if I could make some for him, and after getting her permission I set to work.

Three simple ingredients.
First, I put a cup of oats in my magic bullet and made them into a powder. I combined the powdered oats with one cup of baking soda as the recipe suggested. The recipe I found said one part oats and one part either baking soda or cornstarch was to be pulverized in a food processor. I decided that I would do 1/2 cup of corn starch in addition to the baking soda and oat powder.

Serendipitous Saving
Here's my reasoning: The oats will be good for the dry skin. The baking soda is the cleanser. That should be all you need. However, when I was in FFA back years and years ago (say elementary or junior high), cornstarch was used on show rabbits to improve the look of their coats. Now, I'm not sure if it ACTUALLY has any benefits for mammal coats, but it might do something. For that reason, I added in a little cornstarch to the mix.

Great doggie Christmas gift!
I even had the perfect container for dry doggie shampoo. Before money got quite so tight, I used to by these awesome fabric softener pellets from downy. (Thank you Linden Reid! Those things are awesome!) They make your clothes soft and they smell like heaven when they are finished.  I saved the last two containers from these pellets because they looked perfect for some sort of homemade beauty product. (I thought I might make more for Christmas this year.) They were perfect for this homemade product because they have a wide opening with a flip top and even a little measuring cup that clips on.

After getting the product into the reused containers, it was time for a test run. I took Ninja outside and sprinkled on the dry shampoo. I then rubbed it all over and into his coat adding a little more here and there until he was well covered. (He really hated me getting his face and at one point he tried to eat the shampoo, but other than that, he seemed to enjoy it!) We ran back inside and waited a few minutes before inspecting him for smell.

Success! No more doggie body odor for this pup! I hope that we will see an improvement in his dry skin as well, but we won't know for a bit whether or not the shampoo is holding to that part of its purpose. This is a great recipe either way! It is cheap, easy, and if you are anything like me, you already have all of the ingredients in your kitchen right now. Make some for your doggie or as a gift for friends' doggies this Christmas! Happy (dry) bathing! :p

A very happy just dry-bathed Ninja!

Hearty Vegetarian Mac and Cheese

I got this craving for mac and cheese last night that I couldn't shake. I put on the meal plan for this week to make cheeseburger mac last night, but as we put off grocery shopping for another week, I had no ground beef. So I started looking around for a way to make something that would satisfy my craving and would fill me up. This is what I came up with.

Looks pretty good, huh?! (It totally was!) To make this dish, I started by boiling some water in a pot for cooking my whole wheat elbow pasta. While that was going, I put frozen broccoli in a skillet with a lid, drizzled olive oil over the pieces, covered the skillet, and cooked the veggies for a few minutes while I pulled out the other ingredients. I would occasionally stir the broccoli and add more olive oil as it was needed.

Next, I added frozen corn kernels to the skillet and continued to cook the vegetables. At this point, I started adding spices. I put in a fair amount of garlic powder followed by a  little bit of onion powder. I didn't want too much onion powder as that can get overpowering quickly. Then I added some jalapeno seasoned salt, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper. I drizzled on a bit more olive oil and stirred the skillet to make sure all of the spices were getting distributed relatively evenly. While the veggies were cooking, I opened a can of kidney beans and a can of diced tomatoes and rinsed/drained the cans so that they would be ready to go when I needed them. When the broccoli and corn were cooked all the way through (check the big pieces of broccoli to be sure they are all done), I poured in the tomatoes and beans. I stirred the contents of the skillet and added a little more cumin and garlic powder, as one can never have enough of either of those ingredients! This is the time you want to play around with the seasonings to make sure you get the flavor that you want.

About that time, I strained the pasta as it had reached al dente and was what I deemed to be ready. I added the noodles back into the pot and stirred in the vegetable mixture from the skillet once everything had been heated through. I ended with a few large handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese and stirred until the cheese was melted throughout. Looking back, I probably could have added butter and milk or made a cheese sauce to go on top, but just adding in the cheese and letting it melt worked just fine. It saved me time and dishes while simultaneously tasting delicious, so I don't really regret doing it the way that I did it. Plus, my husband is lactose-intolerant so I try to keep the dairy to a minimum if I'm sharing whatever I'm making with him.

If you are vegetarian, this is very filling and tasty! (Even if you aren't it makes for a great meatless entree.) I suppose if you were vegan, you could use vegan cheese and this would be a dish for you! If you don't like the tex-mex flavors, this would be an easy meal to adapt to your own liking by switching up the spice combinations. Get in that kitchen and get creative! :D Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Wreath on a Snow-Filled Monday

Greetings all! My class was cancelled this morning due to the weather. My term paper is pretty much finished. (I have a few questions for my advisor before I can call it completely done.) I have done all that I can do on the grant proposal until I hear from our microscope guy and I have finished all of my work for my grant writing class. I find myself at a standstill and what do I do? I make a winter wreath for our door since we talked about how we didn't have one! (Don't worry, I watched a little TV while I worked on it so I did do something that wasn't entirely productive! :p)

So about this wreath...

Like one of my favorite professors used to always say, "You work with what you've got." He was referring to the anatomical structures of various vertebrates, but it is still true for this situation. Money, as usual, has been pretty tight and I've had to get creative with cooking. (Last year I got pretty creative with Christmas gifts, but this year we've bought most things because I found some great bargains.) Faced with the desire to have a wreath on our door but lacking the funds to go buy one or to purchase materials to make one, I started looking around at what I had to work with. 

I found yarn...lots of yarn. None of it red and only a small amount of green. Hummmm. I did have lots of white and lots of royal blue. Idea! I'll make it wintery rather than Christmas-y. (My sweet roommie pointed out that we could leave it up longer that way anyway.) So I set about the task of making a winter wreath for our front door.

I started by making pom-poms using the technique from this site. I made 8 relatively similar in size pom-poms using the blue and white yarn. These were so fun to play with!

Next, I needed something to actually make the wreath out of. I knew I didn't have any Styrofoam rings or wreath bases in my project box. I read somewhere that you could roll up newspaper, form it into a ring, and then cover it with ribbon, but I wanted something more sturdy to work with for this project. I started looking around, and found a white, wire hanger. I played around with it for a bit and realized I could shape it into a circle and the hook was already made for me! I used the blue and white yarn from making the pom-poms to wrap the rounded out hanger tightly.

After the base was ready, I used one of the pieces of yarn from each pom-pom to tie the pom-poms onto the hanger. I realized I should have made more pom-poms. I almost started to make more, but then I decided I kind of liked them having a little space in between left room for me to tie ribbons! I attached some shiny blue ribbon with silver polka dots into the blank spaces and made them curly using scissors. I also found a fluffy white bow that I thought would look nice on the top, so I affixed that as well.

Ta-da! Here is the wreath in all of its glory! Made from scratch with things I happened to have lying around the extraneous spending required! :D

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tasty Asian-Inspired Rice and Cabbage Soup

There's nothing quite like
hot soup on a cold day!
Just in time for the falling of the first snows of this winter comes a new soup recipe! This soup is hearty and delicious melding the sour and umami flavors characteristic of Asian soups. I came up with this gem trying to use up a package of shredded cabbage mix before it started to turn. It is a simple recipe that could easily be made vegan if one so desired. The best thing about this soup is that making it...making a LOT of super cheap. If you are anything like me, you probably have most of the ingredients in your house right now. Unfortunately, I didn't get any great photos of the process since I sort of made it up on the fly, but trust me, you'll love it! After all, it's cheap, quick, easy, healthy, hearty, and delicious, what's not to love?

Ingredients: white rice, shredded coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage if you don't want carrots in your soup, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, black pepper, water, and beef bullion.

Methods: I began with a partial package of shredded coleslaw had both red and green cabbage along with carrots. I placed this into a large pot and drizzled on some olive oil to get it started cooking. Next, I added in soy sauce and a good amount of rice wine vinegar as well as some spices (garlic powder, onion powder, a little ginger, and black pepper). I let the veggies simmer stirring occasionally. We had some leftover boiled white rice that I used later, but if you don't already have cooked rice, now would be a good time to start.

The best bullion award goes to...
Once the cabbage became limp, I played around with the proportions of the seasonings, soy sauce, and vinegar a bit to make sure I liked the smell and taste of my soup base. I then dropped in two cubes of beef bullion (Knorr is my favorite brand...the blocks are a bit larger, tend to dissolve faster, and have a better flavor than other brands.) and added water to almost completely fill the pot. I let this cook for about 15-20 minutes stirring ever so often and adjusting the flavor until it had the right balance. The cabbage pieces were cooked well, but still retained a bit of a crunch, which made me especially happy. The last thing I did was break several eggs into a mug and scramble them with a fork. Then I slowly poured the egg into the boiling soup as I stirred the liquid constantly. This produced thin strips of cooked egg as the soup continued to cook. From time to time, I would switch directions as I stirred to further break up the egg bits as they cooked. I continued cooking for several minutes until the eggs were properly cooked in the hot liquid.

To serve, I filled a bowl halfway with rice and then poured the soup on top, taking care to get more than just the liquid from the pot. (I didn't even bother employ my immersion blender at all for this one, which might just destroy Airicca's perception of how I make soups.) The husband rated this one highly and we ended up pouring all of the soup over all of the rice to store in the refrigerator. This pseudorecipe makes a lot of soup, so there have been plenty of leftovers! (It reheats really well and the rice soaks in the flavors over time!)

Future Modifications: I plan on remaking this soup again and again, especially when money is particularly tight. If you are a vegan, you could easily forgo using the eggs, but they sure are tasty if your diet allows for them! If you have beef broth readily available, you could easily replace the bullion cubes. If I had the ingredients, I would have added mushrooms and possibly red bell peppers to this. You could also use onions and garlic as opposed to the powdered seasonings. You might even have green onions lying around, which would make additions! It would have also been nice to have more shredded carrots as I LOVE carrots, especially in soups. Alas, we work with what we have and we are glad when our experiments yield success!

If you are looking for something different and you love Asian soups, I would definitely give this bad boy a try! Happy eating! :)
This isn't the soup that I made, but it looks similar save for the green onions.
This could be a glimpse of what your soup will like! :p

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Avocado Pasta

It feels good to get the creative juices flowing again in my kitchen! In this experiment, I'd have to credit the lime juice with being the particular flavor flowing in this tasty almost-vegan dish.  On a whim one day I decided to figure out how to make avocados into a pasta sauce.  With only minimal instruction from the internet, I came up with this! I hope you guys like it! :)

Avocado Pasta

Simmering veggies!
1) I started by boiling a pot of water.  Once the water is boiling, I added in a box of whole wheat rotini-style pasta.  While the pasta was cooking, I prepared the veggies and the sauce.  After the pasta reached al dente (about 10-12 minutes), I strained the pasta and mixed it with the veggies and sauce.  But we will get to that in a moment!

2) To prepare the veggies, I started by sauteing sliced mushrooms in butter in a fairly deep skillet.  As they started  to brown, I added paprika and some olive oil. When they started to begin looking cooked, I added in a few cups of frozen peas and some lime juice.  As the veggies cooked, I added in some more olive oil and stirred the skillet to get everything coated and cooking evenly. After several minutes, I added in about 1/4 cup of pico de gallo and seasoned with chili powder and cumin.  I stirred everything one last time before covering the skillet and reducing the heat to low.  I left this to simmer while the pasta finished cooking.

Preparing the pasta sauce.
All hail the Magic Bullet!
 3) While stuff was boiling and simmering, I prepared the avocado pasta sauce.  I peeled and coarsely chopped two garlic cloves.  I placed the pieces in my handy-dandy Magic Bullet (I used the bigger cup with the four-prong, raised blade) along with a few tablespoons each of olive oil and lime juice.  I cut open an avocado and scooped the flesh into the blender cup.  I also happened to have an extra 1/2 of an avocado lying around, so I scooped the flesh of that one into the blender cup as well.  I added a little salt before blending.  I blended for about 30 seconds and saw that the sauce was a little too thick, so I added in some milk to thin it out.  
Veggies and pasta before adding sauce.
Probably shouldn't have used that extra 1/2 of an avocado!  You don't want the sauce to be watery, but you also don't want it so thick that it won't adequately cover your pasta and veggies.  Play around with the consistency until you like it! :p

4) After the pasta, veggies, and sauce were all ready, I mixed them all together in the pasta pot.  I ended up adding more chili powder and cumin as well as some jalapeno seasoned salt to the pasta before serving. I served it with shredded cheddar/monterey jack/colby cheese blend.  

Veggies and pasta covered in avocado sauce.

This pasta was great! It was vegetarian friendly and almost vegan friendly other than the butter for the mushrooms and the milk for the sauce. (Which could easily be modified if you so desired.) It also reheated very well the next day! The best part was that this dish got an Airicca's Yummy Rating of 7 despite the fact that she doesn't like peas.  She said with other veggies she would have given it an 8! (For those of you who don't know, Airicca is one of my best friends and my roommate...she's also pretty picky and quite the health-nut.  Getting a high rating from her is pretty impressive! :p Did I mention this is a 10pt scale? Well it is, and 10 is the high!)

Yummy avocado pasta with cheese on top!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Magic Bullet Milkshakes

So I decided I needed to post something since it has been so long, but I've been busy with school so I haven't really done much out of the ordinary lately.  However, I don't know that I've ever blogged about my love for my Magic Bullet, so here we go!
The Ultimate in Milkshake Making Technology!

This is probably one of my all-time favorite kitchen appliances (right next to my immersion blender and my stand mixer).  This single-serving blender is great for making shakes and sauces because it cleans up quickly and isn't very bulky.  I often make healthy shakes for breakfast or a snack using this awesome device.

If you have one of these, keep reading to see some of my basic recipes for tasty shakes.  If you don't own one, drop what you are doing, and go get one! (Or be sure to ask for one for Christmas this year!)

I like to make my milkshakes with four basic ingredients: a banana, milk, frozen berries, and honey.  These four ingredients give you the sweetness and the proper consistency every time.  Using the honey and berries keeps you from needing to add sugar, which is great since sugar is something we should all be cutting back on if possible.  I start with the standard size handled cup and the raised, four-pronged blade.  I typically add the banana first (in two pieces to fit in nicely), then add my frozen fruit (enough to fill the cup about halfway if the banana is already in), top with milk up to just below the lid-line, and squeeze in honey (probably a few teaspoons...I never really measure this).  You can always add more honey if it doesn't seem sweet enough!  I blend for about 20-30 seconds...maybe a little more, but not usually more than 2 minutes is needed to get everything blended.
So many variations, so little time!

And there you have it! A yummy, healthy, on-the-go breakfast or snack!

I've also played around with lots of variations on this basic recipe.  I often add a teaspoon of cocoa powder and a tablespoon or so of coconut flakes.  You can also add various extracts such as vanilla, cherry, coconut, or almond.  From time to time, I even add in pecans or almonds (if you do this, be sure to blend it a little longer, and be prepared for a crunchy consistency!).  I'm a big fan of adding nuts, but my husband hates the little pieces, so I don't do that when I'm making a Matt-shake.  Once I even did milk, banana, and a packet of hot chocolate mix.  It was yummy, but probably not as good for you, haha!  In terms of frozen fruit, I tend to use either blueberries or strawberries.  I've also used berry blends with raspberries and blackberries.  I haven't tried using tropical blends (i.e. those with mango, pineapple, honey dew, etc.), but I would imagine those would be just as tasty!

If you are into protein powder, this is probably a way to get that in more pleasantly.  I could also see adding or substituting in yogurt if you are concerned about your gut fauna.  Many people also add things like flaxseed and wheatgerm for health reasons, but I can't say I've done that myself.  I have added in peanut butter when I needed a protein boost. I've also added in Nutella on days I felt like being bad! ;)

The Magic Bullet has a ton of other great uses, but for now, I hope this will get you started in learning to love this device that can only be described as wonderfully magical!  If you have any super awesome milkshakes you already make in your Magic Bullet that differ from what you read above, shoot me a comment or two! I'd love to hear new ideas!  Until next time, happy blending! :)

Okay, maybe not all the boys, but at least it brings my husband to the kitchen! ;)

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Second Life: A List of Writing Works in Progress

I realized today that I haven't posted anything to this blog since April.  For those who don't know, I took a summer job working at a biological field station, and I haven't had much time for writing, much less for projects. I'm also not on the kitchen staff here, so I've done almost no cooking all summer.  However, I do have several small writing projects I've done a little work on here and there, so I thought it would be good to give you guys a little sneak peek of my future work.

1) I'm in the final stages of finishing up my NaNoWriMo novel, Rise of the Wobanzi. I haven't
managed to get a literary agent despite 20+ queries, so I'm thinking I will self-publish this guy soon.

I have to say, I'm pretty proud to be one of last year's winners.
2) Speaking of NaNoWriMo, I'm planning a sequel to my first book with the title Fall of the Wobanzi. This will be my insanity project for the month of November, so I really need to get the first book published by the end of October. I'm also planning a third and final book for the wobanzi series called Wobanzi Nation, which will be written in November 2014 for NaNoWriMo. (I'd hate to mess with tradition and write it outside of that time frame! :p)

3) Even though Homophobe: A Logical Response to an Ignorant Ideology has already been published, I'm thinking about working on a second edition with more extensive discussions of the topic. I've also kicked around the idea of writing a second book on a similar subject that includes a religious component, but those ideas haven't coalesced into anything tangible at the moment.

4) I'm mostly finished with a wedding planning book that I'm writing titled Aisle Aspirations: A Guide to Planning an Amazing Non-Traditional Wedding. It lacks a few more sections, but I've already sent it to one of my editors (i.e. a friend who is awesome enough to read through it even though it's not quite finished yet) and have gotten back some good comments.  Hopefully that will be finished by early-mid fall if I stay on top of things.

I think one of my biggest fears is hearing this from one of my readers.
5) I am also thinking about publishing all of my poetry from high school into a single work.  This wouldn't be very mind-consuming, it would just be a matter of getting it all in one place. I used to have all of my poems in soft copies, but that laptop crashed. I have the hard drive, so if I could get everything off, that would make this publication very easy.  If not, it would just be a matter of typing it all up and then stitching it all together...which is a doable Sunday-off sort of project. The title for this work would be Serendipity: A Poetic Journey Through My Adolescence.

6) I've written a few paragraphs for a children's book called The Essence of Life, which is about clouds discussing the meaning of life.  This could be good, but it has a long way to go. I have three  other books that are in this same state of just-getting-started. One is going to be a memoir titled Kissing Frogs and another is going to be a narrative non-fiction about balancing your career with your spirituality that I'm planning to call Soular Symbiosis.  The last one is titled Skyward Deflation and is about how important blows to our ego are in making us better, more confident people even though that sounds counter-intuitive. We will see how those turn out once inspiration strikes me to put more time into them.

I'm gonna need you to write more on Saaaturdays. Yeah.

7) My latest writing project was started last night (as my writing muse has no regard for my need to sleep).  It is tentatively titled Stationed: The Ups and Downs of Life at a Field Station. I'm on the fence about whether to make this a narrative non-fiction with names/places changed to protect the innocent (or the not so innocent), but I've also thought about just fictionalizing the whole thing and drawing off of my experiences here. If I fictionalize it, I don't know if I'll only slightly fictionalize it, or if I'll turn it into a monster-horror sort of thing. (That later sounds super fun!)

I'm really hoping to get some of these out by the end of the year.  With a little luck and a lot of work, you can expect to see a number of these available via Smashwords in the next year. Keep a look out for me! If you have any opinions on what you think would be best to get published first, I'd love to hear your comments. :) (Also, your opinions might spur my writing muse...and he's kind of a slave-driver these days!)
Sometimes, I really do think Bender might actually
be behind my inspiration kicks. What a troll!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Using Kool-Aid to Make Lip Gloss

Upon looking through some old phone pictures, I realized I never posted about this!  For my Christmas-is-Possible quest this year, I made some people lip glosses using kool-aid as a means to flavor the glosses!  It wasn't difficult, but I did learn to work quickly with hot petroleum jelly...otherwise it starts to solidify and will coat the bowls/jars you are using to prepare the gloss before getting it into your desired containers. (Such a bummer to clean!)

Some of my finished products!
Left to Right: Blue Raspberry Lemonade, Sweet Orange,
Pineapple/Orange/Banana ("Tropical"), and Cherry Watermelon.
The recipe below just requires that you use kool-aid packets, but I like to add a little something extra to mine most of the time.  For instance, I made a blue raspberry lemonade gloss so I added a little lemon juice.  This helps to dissolve the powders/sugar and also slows the solidifying process so you don't have to work as fast.  I also used lime juice for a lime-flavored gloss and a few different extracts to compliment various flavors, such as cherry extract with a cherry kool-aid.  Again, these additions are completely optional, but I would recommend them to make your life easier! Also, I like to add some sugar to keep it from being so bitter (remember, kool-aid doesn't already have sugar in it).

Speaking of sugar, one good reason to add this ingredient is because it contains natural alpha hydroxy/glycolic acid.  This helps to exfoliate, moisturize, and to stimulate collagen production, which helps to reduce aging.

Citrus juices (lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, tangerine juice...I could keep going...) have good amounts of vitamin C, which help to brighten skin and stimulate collagen production (anti-aging properties).

Extracts have various benefits depending on what type of extract you use.  Cherry extract also has vitamin C in addition to antioxidants that reduce pain and inflammation.  It also increases the skin's ability to retain moisture, which is important for your lips.  Coconut extract has similar moisturizing properties and is good for sensitive skin. Vanilla extract has antioxidants that promote the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles.

I've never tried it, but I would think that adding small amounts of essential oils could be done as well. Vitamin E oil would probably be excellent for adding into a lip gloss because it heals dry skin and prevents further drying as well as scarring. I would think this would be great for lips, but again, I've never actually done it...yet. :p

And finally, a quick note about petroleum jelly.  As you may already know from previous posts, this ingredient soothes dry, chapped skin and can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.  It not only seals in moisture, it also helps skin to retain that moisture.  This makes it ideal as a base for lip products.

Okay everyone, here is the recipe:

Kool-Aid Flavored Lip Gloss
1 cup Petroleum Jelly
1 pkg. Kool-Aid (Any flavor you like)
1 Tbsp. Sugar or Other Sweetener (optional)
A few tsp. fruit juices/extracts to compliment flavor (optional)

1) Melt the petroleum jelly in a microwave-safe bowl for about 2 minutes or until it is completely liquid.

2) Stir in other ingredients mixing well to avoid your gloss being too gritty. You may want to pre-grind raw sugar if using to prevent this phenomenon. You also may want to pour this into a jar and shake to mix, but if you do this you must be fast because it will begin to solidify if it has the chance to cool.

3) Pour into desired containers such as cosmetic pots, empty lip gloss tubes, small Altoids™ tins, or my favorite, cleaned contact cases that I get free when I order new contacts. 

*~*Note: This makes a LOT of gloss, so be prepared to fill MANY containers!*~*

4) Allow gloss to set for 2 hours, then seal with lids and enjoy at will!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

(Virtual) Paperback Writer

Hey All!

Just thought I would toss up a link on here for one of my latest endeavors. I'm a newly-published author!  I wrote a book about an encounter I had with man in a coffee shop a few weeks ago.  I didn't actually write it with the intention to publish it, but I got lots of encouragement and now I am the proud creator of an ebook!  The subject matter is something that I think is important in a world full of discrimination borne from what can only be described as ignorance.  People aren't innately's something we learn to be.  Which means it is also something we can learn not to be if we critically analyze our motives and give logic and human decency a chance to make us better people today than what we were yesterday.  I suppose that when people say things that are factually incorrect to support their ideologies, they don't say things knowing that they are wrong, they say them assuming that they are correct.  They have probably heard others make the same claims over and over again and assume that those people knew what they were talking about.  (What's that saying about making an a$$ out of "u" and "me"???) So I believe it's not so much a matter of people knowingly spreading misinformation as it is a matter of people ignorantly spreading misinformation. That can be fixed! Spreading correct information to combat the ignorance isn't just a good idea, it's essential for the creation of a better society.  This concept of an educated or at least well-informed general public transcends the message of this book and is a concept that I think we can all get behind.

For anyone who would like to purchase a copy of my ebook, Homophobe: A Logical Response to an Ignorant Ideology, please click the link below.

Happy Reading! :D 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Black Bean Casserole (a.k.a. "Mexican Lasagna")

Hey all! I've made this several times and I'm always adding and subtracting ingredients based on what I have on-hand at the time.  It's a great "base" sort of recipe and as a result is perfect for adapting to your own taste.  The first time I made it, it was meatless, so I called it a black bean-tortilla casserole, but my husband prefers the term "Mexican Lasagna"...probably because I don't like real lasagna so this is the closest he comes to it!

First, I preheat the oven to 350 degrees and layer 6 corn tortillas in a 9 X 13 baking dish. (I let the tortillas overlap a bit, but I make sure to cover as much of the bottom of the dish as possible.

While the oven is warming up, I saute diced red onions, minced garlic (or garlic powder if I'm out of the good stuff), and a FEW diced jalapenos (these bad boys go a long way...especially if you are using the kind that come in a jar like pickles and get hotter the longer they sit unused but opened in your refrigerator) in some olive oil for a few minutes. As the veggies are cooking, I usually add wedding seasoning blend (See What's In My Pantry?) along with some paprika.

Here I usually add corn (frozen or canned and drained) and black beans (cooked previously from a dry bag, or canned and drained) before adding more seasonings to taste. Next I add my husband's famous Morrow Family Salsa ("Hot Sauce" as they call it) if we have any or I add some tomatoes (either a few fresh ones or about half a can of the diced ones that has been well-drained).

This is great without meat, but when available, it's much more filling to have the extra protein.  Sometimes I throw in handfuls of shredded rotisserie style chicken, or I'll cook up some ground beef to add to the mix.  I haven't tried any seafood, but I'm sure tuna or even shrimp would still taste great in this recipe!

Once everything has been cooked and seasoned adequately, I layer half of the sauteed mixture on top of the tortillas in the baking dish. I then sprinkle on a layer of cheese. Cheddar works great, but sometimes I mix it up with colby-jack or mozzerella (or a combo!).  I would think pepper jack would be good if you were wanting to kick it up a notch.

Then I add a second layer of tortillas on top of the cheese, followed by the other half of the sauteed mixture, and finish with another layer of cheese. I pop the whole thing in the oven for 15 minutes or so and voila! Dinner!

The meatless version.

I usually serve this with sour cream for me and salsa or Louisiana hot sauce for my hubby. Sometimes I mix the sour cream in with the sauteed mixture to make the whole thing a little creamier, but I have to be careful because my husband is lactose-intolerant and he insists that I not skip the cheese for this one.

It would be easy to add other veggies like broccoli or shredded potatoes to this dish if you so chose. You could also replace the black beans with kidney beans or chili beans. I love the versatility of this dish!

The first time I made this, it was meatless and my husband gave it an 8.2 out of ten on our yummy scale. Coming from a guy who loves meat, that's pretty high! He upped the rating for the chicken version, but I didn't write that one into my dinner log, so I have no clue what his actual rating was for that version. :p

This dish is super easy and straight forward...great for people just learning how to cook or wanting to do more experimenting in the kitchen without wasting money on failed attempts. Seriously, even if you burn some of the veggies, this will usually still turn out great! Best of luck, and happy eating! :)

Happy Husband is Happy. :)