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Draconia Occidenta Medialae Lithocorpus Tephradae
Otherwise known as Tephra's Journal
Recent Entries 
2nd-Jun-2016 02:33 pm - More adventures in sugarless cakes
Looking back it seems I completely did not blog about the two cakes I made in March and May.

March was an attempt on German Chocolate Cake without sugar. It was not terribly successful and became less so recently when I realized the likely fall out.

The cake itself was too dry. This a failure of recipe and not so much the sugar/stevia switch. I started with an "intense chocolate bread" recipe, trying to start with a dense product so the lack of structure from the sugar would be less of an issue. It was, unsurprisingly in hindsight, rather dry and could have been sweeter. It did give me ideas about future from scratch cake making, largely with Greek yogurt I replaced the sour cream with. Stevia makes a much stiffer batter than sugar does so it also required a bit more liquid to get it to even consider spreading into the pan.

Next time I will try taking my favorite chocolate cake recipe (the one that has more sugar than flour in it) and try that with stevia or Splenda with added Greek yogurt. Perhaps just a straight out Splenda for sugar switch for one attempt and stevia and yogurt for another.

The frosting was really tasty! And I should never, ever make it again.

For the coconut pecan frosting I used unsweetened flaked coconut, chopped pecans, and a jar of Smucker's Sugar Free Caramel Topping. Basically just stir in coconut and pecans until the texture is right. This was surprisingly similar to the completely from scratch with sugar and corn syrup frosting I used to make when I was a teenager.

So why should I never, ever make this frosting again? Sorbitol. It's just a theory right now, but I had a pretty rough month from the intestinal point of view and no idea what it was causing it. I had been eating things with sugar alcohols for a couple years and didn't have any problems so it just did not occur to me until this week to put the observations of the last few months through some hard study. The lovely chocolates and ice creams I have been enjoying all use malitol. Smucker's uses malitol and sorbitol in their sugar free caramel and hot fudge toppings. Which I started eating just before my intestines decided to stage a revolt. So I am going to avoid sorbitol for a while and then conduct a potentially unpleasant experiment involving a caramel hot fudge sundae or two.

May was another stab at doctoring up a box mix, this time Pillsbury Sugar Free Yellow Cake Mix. I did this one up as a lemon cake with straight from the can Pillsbury Sugar Free Vanilla Frosting.

Success! I added an egg, a box of cook and serve sugar free vanilla pudding powder, and lemon extract to the box mix instructions. It was still a bit fragile but much more like a boxed mix with sugar would be so I am happy with it. I will say that Watkins lemon extract is not as nice as it was 30 years ago and I will search out a more concentrated flavoring when this bottle is gone.
2nd-Jun-2016 01:46 pm - Easy Cheaty "Spanish" Rice
Once again I am basically posting this so I don't forget how I did it.

Note that I have a microwave rice cooker that I am using for this. It is now stained orange inside but it's getting close to needing replacement so I'm not concerned about it. Use whatever rice cooking procedure works for you with the generalized version if you want to try it.

1 ½ cups white rice
2 ½ cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp dried minced onion
1 cup thick and chunky salsa

Microwave on high for 15 minutes.

To make it more general, you want to take your normal amounts of rice and water with your usual cooking method and make these changes:
  • 1 tsp dried minced onion per 1/2 cup of rice

  • 1/3rd of your normal water amount of salsa

  • use chicken broth instead of water and discount it by half the salsa amount
And accept the fact that tomato products heated in plastic will stain.
20th-Feb-2016 06:57 pm - Pickled Eggs & Onions
Back in December I tried out an Amish mustard eggs recipe, with a couple modifications. The primary change being the omission of sugar since I can't eat it anymore and, more importantly, I hate sweet pickled things. They ended up pretty tasty and I grew to like having eggs to snack on since I should be cutting out more carbs than I am. (I swear the medical professionals think people need to live off water and air with the occasional poached chicken breast.) As a result of this new-found self-knowledge I am working on collecting/inventing a variety of pickled egg recipes. At the moment I only have two, and some pickled onions, but expect more eventually, such as the classic pickled-with-beets since Hafoc turns out not to be a fan of pickled eggs and his dislike of beets is therefore irrelevant.

Because you cannot be certain you have heated the eggs all the way through to the proper temperature, the USDA does not recommend home canning eggs. Botulism is not your friend so these are "refrigerator pickle" recipes.

Since you aren't canning the eggs you can use saved jars or bowls, whatever works in your fridge and keeps the eggs submerged in the brine. One dozen small to medium eggs should fit in a quart jar. I can get 8-10 large eggs in my saved not-quite-a-quart pickle jars so I don't usually make a full dozen eggs and dispose of my extra brine (or save it to make salad dressing).


Amish Mustard Eggs (unsweetened version)

2 cups white vinegar
2 Tbsp prepared mustard
1 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp pickling salt
1 Tbsp celery seed
1 tsp ground mustard seed (or 1 Tbsp whole seed, I couldn't find any locally)
6 whole cloves
1/8 tsp turmeric (for color mostly)
2 onions, sliced thin
12 hard boiled eggs

Pack the onions and eggs into a wide mouth jar or two.

Combine the brine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer. Simmer 10 minutes and then carefully pour over your eggs. Let cool and then refrigerate for at least three days for best flavor.

The onions from the mustard eggs were really tasty on burgers and in sandwiches.


Five Spice Eggs

1 cup water
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup vinegar (I used 50/50 white and seasoned rice)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp five spice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 onion, thinly sliced
1-2 Tbsp minced garlic
12 hard boiled eggs

Use the same method as the Amish eggs, but add the garlic to the eggs and onions. I just heaped it on top and let the brine carry it down through them when I added it.

These are not as pretty as the mustard eggs, but very tasty! It's my own recipe and I'm not 100% sold on five spice, I'm not a huge fan of anise, so I expect I will be trying other seasonings. The soy sauce adds all the salt you want for a pickled egg, so salted flavorings are not suggested.


Sometimes Hafoc comes home with a new things from the supermarket to try. One of his recent finds was Tajin, a blend of dried chilies, salt, and dehydrated lime juice. It is very, very lime and not that spicy. We're not sure what we're going to use it all for, it's strong, but I thought it would make tasty chili-lime pickled onions. I was right, and I expect I will make other chili-lime pickled veggies in the future.

Tajin Pickled Onions

2 Tbsp Tajin Clasico seasoning
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup boiling water
2 onions, thinly sliced

Pack the onions into a jar and add the Tajin seasoning on top. Pour in the vinegar and then top off with boiling water. Seal, shake the jar to distribute the chili flakes, and refrigerate for a few days before eating.

You want to have the vinegar be about 1/3rd of the liquid in the jar, the powdered lime juice in the Tajin makes up the rest of the acid for the pickles. My jar needed 3/4 cup of water, so in practice it worked out to 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup lime juice (from the Tajin and water), and 1/2 cup water.

There is enough acid in these pickles that you could can them and not have to refrigerate them until after you opened a jar. They are so quick to make that I wouldn't bother though since they are perfectly edible in a few hours and just improve with time.
28th-Jan-2016 05:04 pm - Improving Sugar-Free Chocolate Cake
Sugar-free products have come a long way since the early 1980s when I first tasted them, and these days most of the sugar-free and no sugar added things we can buy are pretty awesome (go get yourself some Russel Stover sugar-free chocolates, the dark chocolate pecan delights are my favorite) but the baked goods are definitely lagging behind. It's not really a taste thing with most of them, it's texture and depth of flavor that's a problem, cookies tend toward crisp rather than chewy and cakes can be fragile. This is because of the things that sugar does other than make things sweet, like keep them moist and add structure.

Now, I will say, there is nothing I would do to improve Pillsbury's Fudge Brownie Mix, if you like a heavy fudge brownie they have you covered. Their Devil's Food cake mix though... it's tasty, and when you haven't had cake in ages due to sugar it's pretty freaking awesome, but it's merely a mediocre chocolate cake. It's light and fragile and not really that chocolate-y. So today I am experimenting.

After doing a bit a research on what to do to a boxed cake mix to make it taste more like "bakery" cake (from what I see, people mean "from scratch") I have decided to do the following:

1. Add an egg. Every site I found on the subject says to add an egg, so I am. The box says use three so I'm using four. The egg should help with the texture and fragility issue. They also say use melted butter rather than oil but I'm sticking with oil this time.

2. Add flavorings. I'm adding one third cup of cocoa powder. Sites suggest adding coffee; brewed, instant, or espresso powder depending on the site. I'm skipping that for now and sticking with the cocoa.

3. Use boiling water rather than whatever temperature you get it from the tap. Boiling water makes the cocoa powder bloom for fuller flavor. I have to say it's always made my favorite from scratch chocolate cake extra awesome so I figure it's a good bet on improving the box.

So the cake is in the oven now and I'm going to hold off on messing with the frosting until it's out and cooled.

Frosting. This is where Pillsbury has failed me. I'm really not fond of the canned Chocolate Fudge Frosting they make. The flavor is weak and chemical. It's bad snack food chocolate frosting is what I am saying, edible but not really enjoyable and cake should be joyful.

Sites were a bit less useful for fixing up frosting, at least if you are avoiding sugar. I can't do the one thing they all say to do, which is to beat in powdered sugar. The reasoning behind doing that seems to be mostly for fixing texture though, and since the flavor also needs help this is my plan:

1. Add cocoa powder. This should take care of the texture part of what the powdered sugar was doing and also help with the weak chemical chocolate thing.

1a. If it needs more sweetening to deal with the cocoa I will add a bit of liquid stevia. I have vanilla and English toffee flavors as well as plain which goes well with the next step.

2. Add flavoring. A bit of vanilla couldn't hurt.

Another suggestion I saw was to add peanut butter, which is something I will save for another day.

I may have to try the vanilla sugar-free frosting Pillsbury also has (they have yellow cake mix too, which is fragile but tasty). I can make that into a peanut butter or cream cheese frosting, or just add flavor for things like lemon. The yellow cake mix is bound to be made into a lemon cake here someday.

Another idea I have for frosting experiments involves Smuckers Sugar-Free Caramel Sauce, flaked (unsweetened) coconut, and pecans. German Chocolate Cake is one of my favorites. :)

I will update with the taste results after thorough sampling.

Update: Added 2 Tbsp cocoa powder and 1 tsp vanilla to the frosting. It's better but still has that sharp chemical after taste. If I want chocolate frosting that I actually like I will have to come up with something else. I'm leaning toward making ganache at this point. It won't be sugar-free due to the cream having natural sugars, but it will be at least low sugar.

As for the cake, the egg did help a bit on the fragility. I think next time I will do still more cocoa powder and maybe try the butter instead of oil thing. I like a dark dense chocolate cake and I think I will have to just allow this box mix to be its own thing.
9th-Nov-2015 05:16 pm - Doing NaNoWriMo
Though the lack of energy and sheer don't wanna I am fighting is saying I really shouldn't have. Last year had extenuating circumstances to keep me from trying but really, my last several NaNo attempts, though "successful", were fairly joyless slogs and maybe I should just stop. I don't like thinking that I only had about five novels in me, and not even completed ones, but maybe that's just it. I still generate characters at the drop of a hat, at least when not in the worst of my emotional lows, but they don't seem to have stories attached.

Anyway, I finally started to get a handle on this year. Not a great one, but I knocked around the edges, flipped things over and inside out then shook it until I might have found a point to grab and start hauling in the direction of a plot. So of course my hands have chosen now to start aching like hell when I type.
15th-Oct-2015 03:28 pm - That big brown shawl
I managed to get a shot of it today between spats of rain. This one is a full sized shawl on me, though at 80" across and 40" down the spine I know that's a large shawl on most people. I could drape is over my shoulders and catch the points in a belt, the sides rest on my elbows worn that way.

Forget Me Not shawl

Strictly speaking, this has not been blocked. It's acrylic so as long as the lace doesn't distort the fabric much you can get away with just tossing it in the washer and dryer, so that's what I did. If I figured out somewhere I could pin it out to a larger size and steam it I could make it a bit larger still, but it's big enough and flat enough that I'm happy with it as it is.

So other than works in progress and that even older shawl that does need to be blocked (OMG, where??) I think the only things left needing photographing are the assorted balls of yarn I reconstructed and the spinning wheel that is still wood bits and bolts in the back of my Jeep.
14th-Oct-2015 09:43 pm - I am not a photographer
So this is definitely not all that I have done since the last update, but at least I got some pictures of some much older projects for a change.

First, my best shot with my iPad mini and Mom's afghan out on her lawn:

Circle Dance

The grass did not allow me to get it all nice and squared up, especially after the wind kicked up and blew on corner over and made me have to lay it out again. Trust me though, it's all nicely straight and rectangular. I had to so some easing on the first round to get everything smooth but I did manage it.

Now onto the older stuff! Newest to oldest for a change.Collapse )

Things I do not have photographs for:
  • The big brown shawl.

  • Lots of re-plied yarn.

  • The wood and parts for my spinning wheel (I bought them Monday).

27th-Jun-2015 04:51 pm - The Crafty Report
The craft output of the last year has not been up to the usual level due to life events. I know I mentioned my mother's valve replacement surgery that was scheduled for last summer and ended up being last fall. What I didn't mention is the reason for the delay; my Dad died. I spent late summer and fall with Mom and my brother and didn't get home until early November, which is also why you didn't see any hints of NaNoWriMo last year. I wanted to do NaNo but there was just nothing for me to work with, not even enough to really get a character or setting started, and absolutely no energy to write with, especially not with nearly a third of the month passed already. It hurt a bit to skip a year but not as much as trying and failing would have.

Anyway, I did actually get some crafty things done in the second half of last year. Many photos behind the cut.Collapse )
19th-Jun-2015 06:47 pm - Crock Pot Mediterranean Chicken
I found this on Pinterest; the original recipe is over here. I made a couple small changes and will add another when I make it again.

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
28 oz canned whole tomatoes, do not drain, chop very roughly (or use sliced)
28 oz canned artichoke hearts, cut in half (or buy them pre-cut)
2 large sweet onions, chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted, chopped roughly (about 28 olives)
1/4 cup rice vinegar (originally white wine vinegar)
1 Tbsp tomato chicken bouillon powder
1 Tbsp (heaping) curry powder
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp (or more) minced garlic [addition for next time]

Put the onion in the bottom of you crock and top with chicken and then the other ingredients. Cook on high for 6 hours.

When you stir it the chicken should fall to shreds with minimal prodding. Serve over whatever seems appealing (rice, couscous, pasta...).

Note that I tend to leave out salt and pepper when I cook things in the crock if it seems like they might already be in other ingredients (in this case the bouillon and the curry powder) so season to taste.
16th-May-2015 09:56 am - Slow Cooked Steel Cut Oats
I tried a recipe for this before and it was rather disappointing, too wet and not enough flavor. This time I made it up on my own and it turned out pretty nice, though if you don't want to have to practically cut your oatmeal you might want a bit more liquid in the mix.

Only our big slow cooker (6qt) has a timer so I mixed everything in a 1.5qt Corningware casserole dish and set that in the slow cooker to effectively bake the oatmeal. The slow cooker cooks for the set time and then holds the food on warm for several hours so in this case it held it on warm for about 2 hours, which probably contributed to the solidness.

1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (I may reduce this to 1/4 tsp next time)
1/4 tsp salt

Mix it all up and cook on low for 8 hours.

If you are cooking direct in the crock you will probably want to coat the inside with cooking spray or butter, and possibly risk burning it unless you add more liquid. Normally you want four parts liquid to one part oats.

As I mentioned it turns out very solid, so you will have to work a bit to stir the spices that floated to the top back down into it when it's done. The oats end up nice and chewy and while I don't normally add milk to my oatmeal I did with this and it was very tasty with bit of milk and a drizzle of sugar free maple syrup over it. I honestly do not know if I will add more liquid next time I make it.

It's not very sweet, and there really isn't a detectable apple flavor. If you want more apple and you want it wetter try adding a second cup of apple sauce. If you don't want it much wetter try chopping up some dried apples to stir in, though you might need a bit more water with that just because it does turn out so dry as it is.

Future experiments may involve other dried fruits.

6/13 - Tried it with an additional cup of applesauce, without reducing the milk or water. There is more apple flavor of course but it makes the oatmeal too wet for my taste. If you prefer creamier oatmeal over chewier oatmeal by all means go for the extra applesauce but I will stick to less liquid for myself.
12th-May-2015 05:08 pm - Just when you thought it was safe....
Or rather, when you thought it was safe for years.

I went into Payless to look at shoes today. Not because I actually needed a pair of shoes mind you, though I could use a pair of beige/bone/taupe/not too orange- medium or light brown low heels, but because I was feeling like I was dressed nice. I had an appointment that ended up only taking half an hour tops and getting a box of haircolor at Wal-Mart after that seemed a poor use of looking nice. So I went and sniffed things at Bath & Body (and everything was too sweet to consider actually putting on my body) and went into Payless.

Now, to fully understand what happened you have to know a couple things. One, I have always, always, had big feet, we're not talking "oh she needs a size 10" we're talking "we have nothing in the store that you get get your foot into, except this narrow rack of mens shoes". Two, I have lost a lot of weight over the past few years. Somewhere between 50 and 70 pounds, I don't know precisely because the scale only marked to 350 and I weighed more than that. People do not consider, and some do not believe, that you can and do "lose weight" from your feet. It's not just fat but fact that you aren't putting as much weight on them and they aren't spreading out as much when you stand. So I wander in, ask if they have any 12s or 13s and figure I will try on a couple of pairs of 13, wide if they have any, and find they do not fit and then go home.

Yeah. It didn't go that way.

I tried on at least half a dozen pairs, they all fit. Even the ankle strap sandals that zipped up the back of the heel! And I have the least delicate ankles you are likely to find. I made myself only buy the two cheapest pairs, some "nude" colored flats because I really could use some casual, and suitable for wear with skirts, shoes that aren't black, and some black suede wedges because I discovered last summer that my black heels that I wear with suits are now really freaking loose. The flats are size 13 and a bit loose but the 12s were a bit too snug. The wedges are 12W. I even walked around the store in those for a while to be sure they fit, they're actually a bit loose in the heel.

I am in a state of WTF.

If I weren't so used to being tight fisted with money I would have come home with at least the casual grey flats I also tried on if not the sandals. I haven't worn sandals in at least 20 years but those tempted me, even if my short little toes look kinda silly on display.

Payless is not safe for browsing anymore.
25th-Oct-2014 12:32 pm - Creamy Tomato Spinach Chicken Pasta
More adventures in low sodium cooking.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about two pounds I think)
Garlic and Herb Mrs Dash
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp no sodium chicken buoillon powder
1 can (15oz) no salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 box frozen chopped spinach (I forgot to check the size, but in the US it's the stadard box)
8 oz cream cheese

16 oz dry pasta of your choice, cooked

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and season liberally with Mrs Dash.

In a heavy 2.5 quart saucepan, melt butter and cook onions until soft and golden brown. Add chicken and cook until no longer pink. Dissolve bouillon powder in water and add to the saucepan with the tomatoes and frozen spinach. When spinach is thawed and sauce is simmering add the cream cheese in chunks, stirring until melted. Serve over pasta.

For a thicker sauce, thaw the spinach and squeeze out the water before adding it to the sauce pan.
19th-Oct-2014 08:46 pm - Slow Cooker Corn Chowder
Mom's on a reduced sodium diet while recovering from her valve replacement surgery so I adapted a recipe I found online to fit her diet better.

And I basically doubled it.

1 32oz bag frozen hash brown potatoes
2 32oz bags frozen corn
2 cups boiling water
3 tsp no sodium chicken bouillon powder
1 pound turkey bacon (check the labels for sodium, it varies a lot!)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1 12oz can evaporated milk
2/3 cup nonfat powdered milk
3/4 cup water
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (low sodium)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Mix the bouillon and boiling water until dissolved. Pour hot broth over one bag of corn in your slow cooker and use an immersion blender to basically make it into creamed corn (if you prefer, you an put the corn and broth into a food processor or blender for this and then put it into the crock). Add the hash brown potatoes and the second bag of corn.

Fry the turkey bacon until crisp and cut/break into small pieces; add to the crock.

Brown the onions with some of the butter in the bacon pan and add them to the crock. Deglaze the pan with a bit of water and add that to the crock with the remaining butter.

Mix milk powder and water; stir in the evaporated milk, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper. Add the mixture to the crock.

Cover and cook on high for about 6 hours. The potatoes will mostly break apart and make the chowder very thick.
29th-Sep-2014 06:46 pm - Tasty spice rub
I mixed this up the other day for use on some pork chops. Tonight I used the remainder on a slow cooked pork roast with the addition of a packet of onion soup mix. Given that both turned out super tasty I'm saving the recipe for the future.

1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

The coriander I have here is roasted. The chili powder is the bog standard mix you get from McCormick. When I am home again I'll try this blend with regular ground coriander and chipotle chili powder (which will make the mix hotter).
2nd-Aug-2014 03:41 pm - The elf with no face...
Is faceless no longer!

Talar - New Face 1 Talar - New Face 2

My first, and so far only, attempt to give a doll a face.

I did a layer of pastel shading (which the camera mostly ate) to contour her nose/eye sockets and the sides of her face/behind her ears. Then, in a move I almost regretted, I did her lips with a pastel that looked like a good lip color and painted it on damp rather than dry.

Hello lipstick. I wasn't sure Talar was actually a dark lipstick sort of girl though, hence the near regret. I decided to keep on with it though, and gave the pastels a coat of sealer.

Then it was onto the tubes of water color, raw umber and burnt sienna, for her brows and eye liner. The brows, those were a major pain. I tried sketching them on with powdered pastel... nope, not enough color stuck for me to see it and it was way too imprecise. I tried with an orange pastel pencil about a half dozen times each and was only managing to polish the brown bone as I erased them to redo (and tinted the area orange as well). Eventually I said "screw it" and grabbed a dark brown pastel stick and sketched them in with the corner, it only took about three tries to get her right to match her left close enough. :P Then I attempted to brush the paint on like individual hairs and the 10/0 brush immediately showed that it was not fine enough for that, but it gave a reasonable brow texture so I went with it.

After all that the eye liner was almost a let down for how easy it was.

The lower lashes made up for that.

I then tackled the lips. My paint set has a tube of "flesh tone" paint, it's basically an opaque pale peach color, so I did a wash of that over the lips to tone down the color. Getting that to the point of "not too streaky" was a whole lot of fiddling and frustration. Then the crease between her lips was too pale, so I had to go in with the 10/0 liner and some of the raw umber to darken that up again, and then fiddle with the lower lip and the streakiness again to blend that in. Finally I felt enough was enough and I patted on some powdered terracotta pastel to even out the lower lip and called it good.

I really like the color I ended up making there.

Fingers were crossed when I sealed it; I was told, after I was in the middle of all this, that applying sealer over tube watercolor can make the watercolor blur.

After all that I figured "why the hell not?" and glued in some orange lashes I bought ages ago for her and my other redheads and had never got around to sticking in their eyes.

Now I just need to get my hands on a small bottle of acrylic gloss to add a hint of shine to her lips, but I'm happy enough with the matte look that I'm not going to worry about it.
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