DIY Laundry Detergent

Rye Humour -- DIY Laundry Detergent

A few years ago, I went through a major DIY craze, especially with regards to any sort of cleaning or toiletry product. Some of my efforts were failures from the get-go (mascara that attached large chunks of charcoal to some of my eyelashes and left others bare), and others took a little longer to go by the wayside (anything involving baking soda, which my skin apparently hates– my armpits turned dark brown!). But one or two of them stuck around and have since saved me piles of money and allowed me a more chemical-free lifestyle.

This laundry detergent is one of the winners.

Once you get the hang of it, it takes about as long to make as boiling a pot of water. And I’m still using the supplies I bought three years ago for a couple pounds.

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There are a million different recipes out there, and probably lots of science behind why each ingredient is important, but I keep it simple. I use washing soda (available at your local grocery store), soap flakes (available online, or buy the simplest bar of soap you can and grate it up), and whatever essential oils take my fancy on that particular day. Lately it’s been tea tree and jasmine, but that’s just because I ran out of pine.

Rye Humour -- DIY Laundry Detergent

Here’s how it goes: you bring some water almost to a boil, you whisk in the soap flakes and washing soda, you stir in the essential oils, and then you let it cool and pour it into whatever container you’re using (I save our old milk cartons and use those).

Rye Humour -- DIY Laundry Detergent

Just give it a little shake before using to make sure it’s not too clumpy. I use between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup for each load of laundry, depending on whether it’s tea towels or Geoff’s work clothes.

DIY Laundry Detergent
Makes 2 litres

1/4 cup washing soda
1/4 cup soap flakes
1 tsp essential oils (use one, or a mix)
2 litres water

  1. Bring water nearly to a boil.
  2. Whisk in washing soda and soap flakes until dissolved.
  3. Stir in essential oils.
  4. Leave to cool. Transfer to container for storage.
  5. Shake well before using. Add a little hot water if mixture is too thick.

Bonus: dab laundry detergent directly on stains before washing. I’ve gotten blackberry sauce stains out of cream-coloured wool cardigans with this stuff!

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Quick and Easy Broccoli Beef

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One pan, ingredients you just might have in the house already, and a delicious cheaper-than-takeout broccoli beef for dinner? Yes, please!

Here’s something I’ve been working on lately: having people over for dinner but NOT being a stressful mess when they arrive. Because actually, when people come to our house for dinner, it’s really because they want to spend time with us. If they wanted a gourmet feast and a cranky chef, they could go to any number of restaurants nearby. But I get myself all excited about cooking for people, and the menu grows and grows, and by the time they walk in the front door they’re confronted with Mrs. Patmore on her worst day.

That didn’t happen this time.

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Here’s how it goes: Whisk together a few odds and ends for a marinade/sauce.

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Slice up some thin steak. (Don’t break the bank here– this is your chance to cash in on the budget stuff. Save the fancy cuts for steak night.)

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Nestle your steak bits down into that sauce, cover, and marinate in the fridge for as much time as you have. Overnight is great, but all day is more than enough, 4 hours is fine, and 30 minutes will do the trick.

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30 minutes before dinner, toss that whole pile of steak and sauce into a hot wok and cook until the sauce is simmering and the steak is cooked through. At the same time, throw some rice into a rice cooker.

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Add a big old pile of broccoli. Toss and cook and toss and cook until the broccoli is soft and bright green.

Serve it over a nice pile of rice. I didn’t take pictures of that part because I was (gasp!) drinking wine and spending time with friends.

Quick and Easy Broccoli Beef
Serves 4

1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 lb (1/2 kg) thin steak, sliced into small strips
3 crowns broccoli, separated into florets

  1. Whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, dark brown sugar, chilli flakes, ginger, and garlic.
  2. Submerge steak in sauce mixture, cover, and chill. 4 hours is ideal, but overnight or all day is fine, and as little as 30 minutes will do in a pinch.
  3. 30 minutes before dinner, throw the whole steak-and-sauce mixture in a hot wok. Cook, stirring, for 5-7 minutes or until steak is cooked through and sauce is bubbling. (Start your rice at the same time!)
  4. Add broccoli and cook, stirring, until broccoli is tender and bright green.

Sourdough Pancakes (for Grandpa)

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I woke up feeling fragile this morning.

Some combination of aching muscles, impending goodbyes, recent grief, and a weird night’s sleep* left me feeling groggy and disorientated upon waking. Since my New Year’s resolution could best be summed up as “take care of myself,” I decided today was a chance for some radical self-love in the form of breakfast.

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*Nightmares always feel like such a cheap shot– how can I choose joy and peace if you’re picking on me in my sleep? How am I supposed to wake up and face the day with whales and wars and drowning still floating around in my brain?

I mentioned the other day that we lost my grandpa a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a hard and homesick season, with Christmas and loss and all of us so scattered across the globe. But we’ve been sharing memories back and forth over the internet like we would over a kitchen table, and I have loved welcoming each treasured one as it floats to the surface of my mind.

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Summers for me as a child were wild, Alaskan affairs, full of wandering and discovering and moose. My grandparents had a house in Anchorage and a cabin in Cooper Landing, and we would stay with them– sometimes as a family, sometimes just me. This particular memory has very little specificity to it, just shades of comfort and freedom and love. I’m a little girl, maybe seven or nine, and I’ve just woken up at the cabin, and Grandpa is standing at the stove making sourdough pancakes with a big old smile on his face.

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Since I’ve been bringing my sourdough starter back to life this week and it’s just about to overflow all over the counter, sourdough pancakes seemed like the right choice. Tangy and lighter than normal pancakes, these are decidedly still a treat.

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Sourdough Pancakes
Serves 1, generously

1/2 cup (113 ml) sourdough starter, fed the night before
1/4 cup (31 g) plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp oil

  1. Whisk all ingredients together thoroughly.
  2. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto a greased, medium hot griddle or skillet. Flip when batter looks dry around the edges and a few holes remain without filling in when bubbles pop.
  3. Cook another 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides. Don’t flip more than once.

Hello, 2016! (And bramble gin liqueur, continued…)

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Remember these guys? Waaaaaay back in September, at the very end of bramble season here in Scotland (blackberries, for the other 99% of the world), I fought off the urge to try to do everything and just did one thing: I jammed a few handfuls of fresh berries into a half-empty bottle of gin with some sugar, gave it a shake, and hid it in a dark cupboard.

You guys. It was worth it. Somewhere in the midst of all the craziness that has been the past two months (leaving my job, traveling to Copenhagen, having visitors, celebrating Christmas, our anniversary, and the new year, losing my grandpa, starting a business…) I remembered to welcome this bottle of berries back into the light, strain it twice for good measure, and re-bottle it.

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Geoff’s eyes popped wide open when I gave him a taste. “This tastes like home! This is blackberry pie!”

So we’ve been sipping away, enjoying a little taste of summer in the Pacific Northwest while we wait for these Scottish winter days to get a little longer and brighter.

And here I am again, faced with a million directions this day could go, just doing one thing. It’s good to be back.

Crostini: a little something for everyone

Rye Humour -- Crostini: a little something for everyone

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I catered an event this past weekend and thought I’d share the ideas and photos here. The goal was something simple that could be assembled quickly with a small team and would appeal to a wide variety of taste buds. I opted for crostini topped with an assortment of sweet and savoury toppings, and they were a hit! If you’re looking for something simple to set out ahead of a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, allow me to recommend the humble crostini.

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For the crostini themselves, I used par baked baguettes (which you can find at any grocery store). I sliced them diagonally in thin slices (about 1/4 inch or just less than 1 cm), arranged them on a baking tray, and baked at about 400°F (200°C) for 15-20 minutes, flipping halfway through. You want them to be crunchy and just turning brown. Underbake them and they’ll turn soggy; overbake them and your guests will break a tooth.

For the toppings, I chose five different flavour combinations:

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Gorgonzola with chopped dates

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Mascarpone with chilli jam

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Sundried tomato paste with prosciutto and rocket (arugula)

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Cream cheese with hot-smoked salmon and dill

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Goat cheese with honey and apples

I’ll admit that there were a few gorgonzola and date ones left over at the end of the night, but you can’t force people to understand blue cheese. All in all, they were a hit and will be making a repeat appearance at Thanksgiving this Thursday!

All photo credits in this post go to Christian Adams, for his heroic capturing of snacks in a crowded room with very little lighting!

Building Blocks: Chocolate Cake (and a cookbook review)

Rye Humour -- Building Blocks: Chocolate Cake

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I grew up spending summers in Alaska– first in Denali National Park and later on way out in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by bush plane. This was a fantastic childhood: running around in breathtaking wilderness all day with my brother, learning social skills by schmoozing the wide variety of guests staying at the backcountry lodges my dad managed, and coming inside at the end of the day to gourmet, wholesome, creative, beautiful meals cooked by an incredibly talented kitchen team. I also spent a lot of afternoons “helping” in the kitchen (don’t tell the food hygiene inspector) and even earned my own apron.

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Years later, one of the cooks (also a dear family friend, as many of my dad’s coworkers became) published a cookbook with her daughter. The taste of my childhood, wrapped up in hardcover and presented to me as a college graduation gift: priceless.

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The cookbook is called The Abundant Table and is available for purchase here. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s worth it. The recipes are creative, seasonally-inspired, whole-foods-based works of love and art, with plenty to keep vegetarians and omnivores alike happy for years. This is my number one go-to cookbook, as you may have inferred from the cocoa powder smudges all over this recipe for Black Magic Cake.

Speaking of which, from the first time I baked this particular cake, I have never tried another chocolate cake recipe. I’ve never needed to. Liz’s Black Magic Cake is impossibly moist, incomparably chocolaty, and impeccably adaptable. It veganizes well, it handles gluten free adaptations with grace, and pairs smoothly with any number of icing choices. Did I mention how all you need is two bowls and a whisk? Everyone needs a solid chocolate cake recipe in their arsenal, and this is mine.

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I made cupcakes and topped them with a simple vanilla buttercream and a dusting of cocoa powder this time, but I often pair this cake with a chocolate or salted caramel buttercream… use your imagination!

Liz’s Black Magic Cake
Makes 16-24 servings or approximately 3 dozen cupcakes

2 1/2 cups (500g) sugar
2 1/4 cups (281g) flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (94g) plus 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups (295ml) freshly brewed, strong coffee, cooled
1 1/4 cups (295ml) buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp (125 ml) vegetable oil
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10 by 15-inch Pyrex pan or two 9-inch round cake pans. Measure the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Sift the remaining dry ingredients into the bowl of sugar and whisk together. In another bowl, whisk together all of the wet ingredients until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until evenly incorporated and blended.
  2. Pour this batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan and the top of the cake springs back when it is lightly pressed with your hand. A toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before removing from the pan for further cooling.

My notes:

  • For a vegan cake, replace buttermilk with nondairy milk + a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir together and let sit 5 minutes to sour. Replace eggs with flax eggs: 1 tbsp ground flaxseed (linseed) + 2 tbsp water = 1 egg. Stir together and let sit 5 minutes until slightly gummy.
  • For a gluten-free cake, simply replace flour with your favorite gluten-free all purpose flour.
  • Baking time is for a 10 by 15-inch cake. Reduce time to about 30 minutes for 9-inch cakes, about 20 minutes for cupcakes.