Monthly Archives: March 2012

Making cheese!

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Cost: $1.70
Success:  3/5

Making my own butter got me pretty excited about the other things I could make on my own. The next thing on my list was cheese! I followed this article on Wikihow, which produces a cheese that looks absolutely nothing like the one in their photo.

What excited me most is that I could make the cheese using things I had around the house anyway; whole milk, butter, sugar, salt and lemon juice. The process was simple. I boiled the milk with some butter and sugar. Once it was bubbling, I put in a bit of lemon juice, then let it sit on the burner contemplating its fate. The acid in the lemon juice separates the curds from the whey, so when I poured it through the dish towel above a strainer, I had little clumps of cheese!

It smells very good at this point.

I let the water drain…

And was left with a miniscule amount of cheese! For scale, this is a teaspoon.

I mixed in a bunch of salt to give it some character, then put it in the fridge.

It was similar to feta, but softer. It was not as smooth as cream cheese or as disgusting as goat cheese. It mostly tastes like lemon. I could have also used vinegar to separate the curds from the whey. I imagine that would have been disgusting!

I made myself some potatoes with onions and garden herbs, and put the cheese on top with liberal amounts of salt. It was not really that exciting or tasty.

I’m curious what would happen if I used heavy cream instead…

Living in an Amish paradise…

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Cost: Around $2
Success: 4/5 (The butter was great, but not much cheaper.)

When I found out I could easily make butter in a canning jar, I was pretty excited. I have a bunch of unused canning jars from my brief stint in perfume-making (honestly, can I stick to anything???) and the only other thing I needed was some heavy cream. The idea is that you put the cream into a canning  jar and  shake until something happens. On the site it said this would take about 25 minutes. In practice, it was closer to 45.

I shook and I shook and I shook. I updated my Facebook status with my phone using only one hand. That was tricky. I wandered around. Sometimes I felt like I was using a shake-weight, and I probably was getting a similar workout. The mixture got foamier, which I later realized was the ‘whipping cream’ stage. I had to pour out some liquid (conveniently, into my coffee) so the cream had enough room to move around.

I called my Mom to ask for her expertise, because my Mom knows almost everything. She told me about the time my sister’s first husband was making whipping cream and he whipped too long and ended up with butter. While I was shaking and talking to her, suddenly there was a thump, and my solids had separated from the liquids!

It’s a magical moment when that happens. After oh-so-much shaking, there is one final shake where the fats clump on one side of the jar, separating from the liquids. From there on, it’s only a couple more minutes of shaking and draining until you have some lovely butter!

It was soft, and I easily mixed in some herbs (which were in full effect a few days later, after the flavour had worked in.).

I wanted to give it another try with my hand mixer. I filled the cup about 3/8 of the way. That’s the number my Mom gave me, and she was right on. Any more and it would have flown out when I mixed it.

There was a little incident when I absent-mindedly let go of the cup though. Whoopsie!

I mixed for about five minutes, then poured it into a canning jar and shook for a short while until it started to clump. The result was a much harder butter. I mixed it with some salt.

After refrigerating, both butters were hard. On the first day, the butter didn’t have any character, and it was obvious that I was eating pure fat. Once the flavours sunk in, it tasted like fresh store-bought butter.

After two weeks, the unsalted butter started to smell funny. I’m not sure if this is because it didn’t have any salt to keep it fresh, or because there was a bit of old liquid still in the jar.

Jen’s quest for free samples – Burt’s Bees edition

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Cost: Freeeee
Success: 4/5

Quite a few years ago, I signed up for something called BzzAgent. The idea is that people try out products sent to them by BzzAgent and spread word of mouth about the products. The word of mouth doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be honest. Generally the companies behind the campaigns have a lot of faith in their products, so they tend to be good.

I think BzzAgent had me of their ‘slacker list’ for a while because I signed up for an e-book campaign, then didn’t read and review it. I was kind of surprised they would re-appear with such a generous campaign. I filled out the survey, found out I was eligible, and not too long later I got a surprisingly generous parcel with two full-sized bottles and several little samples of moisturizer to give to my friends. The cleanser and moisturizer are worth about $45 together – score! All I have to do is tell people about my experience, which I’m doing right now. (Sneaky, eh??)

So I went into this with high hopes. Both skincare products boast as 99% natural, and neither contains fragrance. I am surprised and intrigued by the lack of parabens, because any cosmetic that contains water (as these do) needs a preservative (you wouldn’t believe how quickly germies breed in water). From skimming the list it looks like phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative, which has a moderate toxicity score according to the Cosmetics Database.  It gets score of 3-4 , while parabens get about 5/10. I would recommend that anyone who’s concerned about the safety of their cosmetics take a look through the Cosmetics Database and evaluate each ingredient – including the natural ones. There are natural ingredients that are dangerous as well. If you are curious, the Cosmetics Database gives the moisturizing cream a toxicity score of 3/10, which is pretty good I guess.

I started using the facial cleanser and moisturizer about a month ago. I found the cleanser very oily, and I had to rub my face with a wash cloth after I left the shower. The moisturizer is quite nice. It has a pleasant natural smell.  It’s light and makes my skin fairly smooth. Sometimes it almost seems like it makes my skin shinier rather than more moisturized.

My skin changes throughout the month, so there are times I’m more prone to acne than others. I think it may have contributed to slightly more acne than usual.

Overall it was okay, but I wouldn’t buy it for myself. I prefer the stuff I usually use – 9 to 5 cleansing lotion from Lush, and a Vichy moisturizer, which leaves my skin glowing in an oh-so-healthy European way (when I remember to use it).

I do appreciate the effort, though. It’s harder and more expensive to formulate an effective cosmetic without using the regular junk, and hopefully Burt’s Bees will perfect the formula over the years.

BzzAgent wants me to include this:

Plants vs. bouquets

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Cost: $3-$10
Success:  Depends on the recipient, but 5/5 for me!

A friend of mine got me a plant for my housewarming. I thought it was a great present. Bouquets are very pretty, and I like those too, but they cost a lot and die after a few days.

Plants on the other hand, can live for years. They’re great markers of important events, and you can watch them grow throughout the years. My parents have a gigantic spruce (or fir?) tree  in their back yard that they got when I was about 8. It started out my size, but it grew up to probably 25 feet. One year for Christmas, my dad took a big ladder and chopped off the top so we could use it as a Christmas tree. (Yeeehawwwww!)

I haven’t taken any photos of my new plant yet, so here are photos of the Oehler Family Christmas Tree 2007.

Crumby

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Cost: Free (with old bread and crackers)
Success: 4/5

During my housewarming party, I was in such a rush to get the food out that I shoved the crackers back into their boxes without closing the bags properly. A week later I realized this, and now the crackers are stale.

But that’s fine, because they were in the perfect condition for making bread crumbs!

I put some bread and several crackers in a pie tray, mostly because my baking trays were in use. I took the bread out once in a while and squished it flat with a cleaver. If there is any moisture left in the bread, it squishes flat without making many crumbs.

It’s a delicate balance, because the bread will also burn if it’s in there too long. Baking it takes away most of the stale taste.

The crumbs made from bread turned out quite well, and I used most of them in my chicken parmesan.

The crackers were not quite as successful. I had them in for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees, and some of them burnt and got that funny smell. I broke off the dark parts, and squished them anyway. They’re sitting in a Saskatchewan Tupperware container in my cupboard.

Full of promise:

Ah, crap. They’re burnt already:

Dips on the cheap

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Cost: varies
Success: 5/5

If there is one thing I learned from making those really lame chicken fingers some weeks ago, it’s that dipping sauces are ridiculously easy to make. Memorize this cheat sheet.

Dipping sauce formula
Mayonnaise + flavour

Chip dip formula
Sour cream + mayonnaise + flavour

For the chicken nuggets I served at my housewarming, I mixed mayonnaise, honey mustard sauce and pepper together. It took 30 seconds and it tasted amazing.

For the vegetables, I made two dips, including one that was made of sour cream, mayonnaise, a dash of curry, and pear ginger chutney. It was a loose adaptation of this recipe. When mayonnaise and curry get together, something happens that is just too amazing to describe.

The advantage to this, besides the total creative control, is that you can mix as little as you need with ingredients you already have. It’s cheaper, and there are fewer preservatives.