Lemon Curd (sugar-free and low carb)

 

Yesterday I was reminded of my favorite lemon cake. It’s a lemon pound cake, made with lemon curd in the batter, which gives it not only a decadent lemony moisture, but a lovely yellow color.

But not only that, the whole thing is then drenched in lemon syrup which will seep into the cake and moisten it further. When you leave it out for a bit, a tiny little crackly sugar crust will form on top of it, adding to the whole experience.

 

So, of course by then I had already decided that I want to see if I can make the whole thing low carb Smile And it occurred to me that really, lemon curd is the perfect low carb spread/ filling/ frosting  or ingredient to so many other yummy things (tarts, pies, fillings, bars, ice cream etc.) – once you work around the sugar and maybe reduce the amount of lemon juice a little!

 

The first step was the Lemon Curd.

You can make this several ways to achieve the intensity of lemon flavor you desire, as long as you observe the basic liquid to thickening agents ratio.

 

Here’s the way I like it best. It’s pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing, especially in baked goods!

 

Sugar-free Lemon Curd

 

Ingredients:

  • 4 whole eggs (for a richer Lemon Curd, use 6 egg yolks)
  • 1/4 cup erythritol, powdered or granular
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, strained
  • 1/2 cup (-2 tbsp.) of water (or use 1/4 cup of Monin*** unflavored sweetener and omit the liquid sweetener later)
  • 1/2 tsp. unsweetened Cool Aid Lemonade powder *     **
  • sweetener of choice (I used 1/4 tsp. of liquid stevia)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (COLD and cut into small pieces to melt faster )
  • 1 tablespoon lemon rind, VERY finely grated (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. Glucomannan (can be replaced with guar gum, or xanthan gum, but glucomannan gives a more authentic mouth feel)

Directions:

  1. Beat the eggs until well blended and light  yellow in color.
  2. In a 1/2 cup measuring cup, add the 2 tbsp of lemon juice, then fill up to make the 1/2 cup.
  3. Add the erythritol, and lemon juice, water, lemonade powder, liquid sweetener and glucomannan and whisk to combine, and cook in a double boiler until the mixture gets thick and coats the back of a spoon. Do this slowly and under constant stirring so you don’t get scrambled lemony eggs!
  4. Pass through a sieve straight away. This is the secret to silky smooth lemon curd – removing any lumps, shells and “scrambles”!
  5. Pour into a heat proof 4 cup measuring cup and stir in the cold butter pieces, which cools down the mixture quickly and will thicken it some more. Stir in the lemon rind.                       I find that lemon rind gets a tad bitter, even with the white stuff removed when cooked with the rest of the ingredients. When you add it later however, it permeates your lemon curd with a truly luscious lemon flavor.
  6. Transfer to whatever storage container you want. I tend to use small jam jars, as it only opens a small amount at the time!
  7. This MUST BE REFRIGERATED! Keeps 2 weeks.

 

* Depending on how lemony you like your Lemon Curd, adjust the lemonade powder.

** Could also use 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice (omit water/syrup and up the liquid sweetener) but it does up the carb count of course!

*** Monin syrups have a thicker consistency than other sugar-free syrups. If you are using any other unflavored sugar free syrup, you may have to up the thickening agent (Glucomannan, or guar gum, or xanthan gum) to get the same consistency

 

If you would rather not use Cool Aid powder, you could also use Ascorbic Acid powder (Vit C ) and Lemon Oil to taste.

 

Nutritional Info for recipe as stated:

Whole recipe makes about 17 tbsp.

1 tbsp. @ 0.35 g net carbs , 69 calories, 7.2 g fat, 1 g protein

 

Lemon Curd made with 1/2 cup of lemon juice:

1 tbsp. @ 0.7  g net carbs, 76 calories, 7.2g  fat, 2 g protein

Posted in Recipe, low carb | Leave a comment

The best low -carb, sugar-free Cinnamon Rolls yet!

As some of you might know, I have in previous years and now do again, eat the low-carb and sugar free way. Not just for weight loss, but also for general health. As carbs are out, this sometimes involves a whole lot of tweaking and some "franken ingredients" to accomplish some faux favorites.

At times it also seems that cooking and baking is more involved because you have to mix this, that and the other to get the taste, mouth feel or synergy of what is usually just ONE ingredient, like flour or sugar. But I love to cook, I love to bake and I love to experiment. And my kids are willing taste testers!

And every once in a while I come up with a winner and I’ll share it on this blog too :) Most of the ingredients I  use are not locally available, but they are available at Netrition.com and I will not otherwise where else I get them.

So, now to the Cinnamon Rolls!

These might look involved, but really they aren’t all that much. And if you are like me more about the quality of what you’re eating, rather than the quantity, I think it’s worth every minute spent on it.

Now granted, It’s been at least 6 months since I’ve had a cinnamon roll, but to my taste buds and my brain, they tasted EXACTLY like this! So yummy!

And let me say up front that I tend to have wordy instructions. That doesn’t mean the recipes are complicated. It just means I’m trying to anticipate all sorts of questions about the recipe and try and be as precise as possible

And no, I was just kidding with the fork. These are the "pick it up and sink your teeth into warm yummy gooey goodness" kind of buns. No fork required Smile

 

Cinnamon Rolls

 

1 cup Whole Calorie Coutndown Milk (or 1/2 cup of cream with 1/2 cup water)
1/4 cup light EVOO (or oil of choice)
1/4 cup erythritol
2 1/2 tsp rapid rise yeast
1 tsp sugar (for the yeast)
Flour mix:
1 1/4 cups carbalose
1/2 + 1/8 cup wheat protein isolate 5000
2.5 Tbs wheat protein isolate 8000
3.75 Tbs almond flour
3 Tbs resistant wheat starch
3 Tbs Oat fiber
1/2 tsp acacia gum
2 tsp cake enhancer (SO worth the two carbs! – from King Arthur Flour)
————
1/4 tsp sweet dough flavoring (also from King Arthur Flour)
1/4 teaspoon (heaping) Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/8 tsp Salt
1 tbsp SF Vanilla Syrup
FILLING and frosting (partially):
1 stick of butter melted (-1 tbsp for buttering the pan, -1 tbsp for frosting)
1/2 cup eryth powdered,
1/4 sugar not,
1 capsule glucomannan
1 1/4 tsp Of Cinnamon, ground

FROSTING:
1/4 of the filling mix above
3 drops Maple Flavoring Oil (King Arthur Flour)
2 oz cream cheese, softened
pinch Salt

Preparation:

Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. Warm it until just a before hot. You should still be able to stick your finger in comfortably, even though it feels hotter than room temp. sprinkle in the yeast, stir and let it sit for 5 min. There will be a little bit of frothing action.

I leave it about as long as it takes me to measure out all the flour mix stuff.

In a separate bowl mix together all the flour mix ingredients, as well as the baking powder, baking soda and salt.

I used my bread machine for this step. I added the liquid, then the flour mix, then 1 tbsp of torani vanilla and the buttery sweet dough flavoring. I let the bread machine do all the mixing, helping it along a bit with a spatula in the beginning to incorporate all the flour in the corners.

Much to my amazement the dough that formed in there after about 10 minutes of mixing and kneading was pretty much exactly like a regular yeast dough.

A little puffy, not at all sticky, nice and elastic and I was able to roll it out on the counter top like any other dough (no extra flour or plastic mat needed.)

Actually it involved very little rolling. I could easily stretch the dough into the basic shape I wanted with my fingers, then just rolled it to even it out a little. Don’t press down too hard with your rolling pin – we want to maintain as much "puff" as possible

Form a rough rectangle. Then roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness maintaining a general rectangular shape (about 10" x 6".)

Melt the butter in the microwave, then take out about 1 tbsp for the pan and place another tablespoon full in a separate bowl (for the frosting.)

Then mix the melted butter with the erythritol, sugar-not, gluccomannan and cinnamon. It will thicken a little when you stir it in while the butter is warm. Spread 3/4 of the melted butter/sugar mix evenly over the dough regtangle with a spatula or palette knife.

Now, starting at the opposite end, begin rolling the dough in a neat line toward you. Pinch the seam of the roll to seal it.

Spread 1 tablespoon of melted butter in a nine inch round foil cake or pie pan. Then begin cutting the rolls into 10 equal sized pieces (about 1 inch) and lay them in the buttered pan. I actually had trouble fitting them all, so I baked two in a separate pan.

Cover with a plastic bag and let them rise until they about doubled in size. In our climate that’s 90+ degree out on the porch in a shady spot for 1/2 hour. Adjust as needed to your circumstances. Don’t let it go longer than 40 min though as they have a tendency to collapse!

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Once risen, bake the rolls on the middle rack until dark golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. The middle part of the center roll should be more "springy" than "spongy" as in it comes back up when you gently push it down a bit.

For the frosting, mix together the 1 tbsp of melted butter, the cream cheese, the remainder of the cinnamon mix, the maple flavoring and the salt and stir well until smooth. Taste and adjust as needed. Generously drizzle over the warm (but no longer hot) rolls.

Enjoy! Rolling on the floor laughing

 

I have to do the final count on these, but from a rough count, they are about 4 carbs each.

Posted in Baking, low carb, sugar free | Leave a comment

Our Spring Garden

So the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in our yard/garden.

Planting, sowing, potting, transplanting, feeding, tieing, weeding and setting up the automatic watering system (well, that’s mostly my hubby though!)

I tell you an automatic watering system is the cure to a brown thumb in Phoenix! You have to be so much more careful though when to set the system to go on, so you’re not pumping boiling water to your plants from any hoses that might have been heating up etc. So we have hoses and timers and custom spray nossels on every plant, designed just for the amount of water they need.

So far so good though! Even with last week’s record heat, our plants not only survived but seem to be thriving (with some extra waterings to counteract the first tripple digits of the year – in March … crazy!!!)

Everything has at least doubled in size, most plants have tripled and quadrupled however! Yay!

The Honeysuckles have also started to burst into bloom, bringing back many a butterfly and humming bird into our yard!

I also want to plant some edibles this year, so we have not only my stand by herbs of rosemary, chives, oregano, thyme, basil, mint, sage, dill and marjoram, but tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, oranges and containers of strawberries. 

 

Our little lime tree didn’t survive last years second hard frost and snow unfortunately Sad smile

But since we have so much more room left, and I am quite eager to cover the ugly walls on other sides of the property too, I’m contemplating building some Earthtainers and taking the growing vegetables a little further still!

I would love to grow lettuce, corn and a few other things, but I fear that it may not work so well for us as it does get REALLY REALLY hot around here during the summer months and the (any) containers may just heat up too much.

By moving to containers, I could not only use a lot of the  space in the yard, that doesn’t have a raised bed, but also grow so much more organic veggies for the family. When living in the city with small children, the organic part as well as the getting the children familiar where the food comes from part seems so much more important!

I might try it in fall … when temperatures go down a bit more again here! We get a whole 2nd and sometimes 3rd growing season for certain things in Phoenix anyway.

For now I leave you with this though:

Yes, that’s what most of our lawn looks like now. This is hubby’s masterpiece again. A lawn like this doesn’t come naturally in Phoenix, I can tell you that, and this is not from sod. He turned the  remnants of the lawn from when we first moved in (you may remember this photo from another yard post)

 

into this, with sheer obstinacy and hard work!

It’s the best feeling to go out there barefoot in the early morning when it’s still cool and slightly moist from the night time watering. So plush and soft between the toes! Ahhhh!

 

Have a great day everyone!

Posted in Before And After, our house | Leave a comment

Back again! Finally!

And I am back! I didn’t really mean to be absent, but it just happened.

 

Several weeks ago I was looking at some photos of a friends new baby, when my computer showed for a split second the blue screen of death and shut down. Bewildered I tried to boot up again and I got a virus warning just long enough for me to read “trojan” and “severe attack” before the blue screen of death happened again.

 

After that I was unable to get to the desktop anymore and well, long story short, it took me a few days of trying to anyway until I finally admitted defeat and took the computer in to be repaired. The verdict was that it would take 10 days for them to get to my computer and that they will be able to pull most of  my data off the hard drive and would just reinstall it. Since I am pretty well backed up, I wasn’t really all that worried about data loss beyond a few preferences which would be a pain to redo but not much else.

 

So the time passes, we get the computer back and fork out a shameful amount of money for the privilege of a now newly installed computer. I brace for the task of reinstalling everything, downloading endless hours of backed up data etc. But, it’s a no go!

 

Turns out – but it took me a while to figure it out – that the repair shop installed a 32-bit windows version on my 64-bit machine and well things were just not meshing! So I call the computer guys who essentially refuse to admit any fault, even going as far as saying that the windows key we provided for the machine would only work for a 32-bit version.

Looooooooooong story short … after much discussion, several calls for a supervisor/manager and printed out confirmations from Microsoft that basically they are talking rubbish, they proceeded to install the RIGHT version of windows.

Then followed several days of reinstalling, updating, re-updating, restoring back ups and what not. It’s amazing how long that takes now that hard drives are in TBs and not 1 GB anymore!

But here I am. Mostly back! Only one program did not accept the database backup I had for it and of course it’s one of the most work intensive, so it’ll take me a few weeks to be back where I was there. Good thing I am currently on a sabbatical work-wise, otherwise this would be quite a setback.

 

During all this time my father and his wife also came to visit from Germany. We had a great week! The weather was perfect, the kids were thrilled and a good time was had by all! They haven’t seen the kids since they were just over a year old, so this visit was really special!

 

 

 

So, that’s the main events of the last four weeks or so around here! What about you guys? Have you been up to anything fun?

Posted in My Kids, Personal, Wordy Posts | Leave a comment

How to “solar” – Part II: Doing The Math


Hi, solar energy fans. Thanks to everyone who read my Location, Location, Location blog post.

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Now that you’ve had a chance to consider whether you have a good place to put solar panels, I wanted to begin to answer the questions all of you have on your minds: How much money can I save?

I’m going to express my “savings” answer like a banker or an investment advisor: as an annualized rate of return on investment (ROI). I do this not just because I’m an accountant, but because going solar is a long-term investment. Defining money savings in terms of ROI lets you compare your solar savings apples-to-apples against all other long-term investment options. It also helps you determine how big a system would be right for you. Furthermore, there are a number of ways to finance your solar electric project, and your ROI number will help you distinguish the good from the bad.

ROI and interest rate are not the same thing. For instance, at the time of my writing, you could buy a 30-year US government bond and receive a 4.69% interest rate. So, for every $1000 invested, you’d get $46.90 in interest per year. If you’re in the 15% Federal Tax bracket and your state income tax rate is 3%, your governments will take away about $8.45, leaving you $38.45 and an ROI of 3.845%.

Return On Investment: A Sample Solar Electric System

Suppose you were able to buy the following solar electric system under the following terms (the system we purchase was slightly larger and at a lower overall price, but at a time when local utility incentives were about 10% higher than they are now):

· Rated capacity: 6000 watts DC

· Out of pocket cost after all tax breaks and utility incentives: $12000

· Warranty on solar panels: 25 years

While your solar panels usually will have a 25 year warranty (some have just 20 years), a key component will NOT. The inverter (the device that converts DC energy from the solar panels into AC electricity you can use in your home or, if/when you produce more than you use, put to the grid) usually will carry a 10-year or 15-year warranty. Out of the desire to be conservative, I’m going to assume you’ll need to replace this during the 13th year of your solar array for $5000 (in year 2023 dollars).

Also, one negative feature of solar panels is that each year they’re less-effective than the last. The solar panels’ 20/25-year warranty usually provides for the panel to be producing at least 80% of the power on the last day of the warranty as it did on the day it was installed.

The ROI on this system depends upon 3 other things:

1. the current all-inclusive price of electricity during daylight hours,

2. your “noon-equivalent cloud-free sunshine” (also known as your Solar Resource)

3. the expected rate of electricity inflation.

In order to simplify things, my calculations are going to assume a 3.5% electricity inflation rate over the next 25 years. Relative to US electricity inflation since the 1980s, this inflation figure is moderately conservative. Actual inflation has varied from state to state; Arizona’s has been lower & the northeast US has been higher (as they say on CNBC: past performance is not an indicator of future results).

So that leaves two variables, electricity prices and Solar Resource.

In my bullet point above, I expressed the price variable as “all-inclusive daytime” price of electricity. Electricity is often subject to sales tax. In Phoenix, state and city sales taxes (plus fees that act like sales taxes) apply, totaling more than 12.5%. Under this scheme, daytime electricity nominally priced at about 14.5 cents per kWh actually costs me about 16.3 cents per kWh at the bottom line of my electric bill.

In my previous blog post, I gave you a link to a map that would help you determine your Solar Resource. Below is a listing of select cities and their approximate Solar Resource values (+/- 0.1).

City

Solar
Resource

 

City

Solar
Resource

Milwaukee WI

4.2

 

Dallas TX

5.2

Cleveland OH

 

Miami FL

Boston MA

 

San Francisco CA

Washington DC

4.7

 

Salt Lake City UT

Louisville KY

 

Boise ID

Chicago IL

 

Las Vegas NV

6.2

Minneapolis MN

 

Phoenix AZ

 

 

 

El Paso TX

 

 

 

Palm Springs CA

Below is a chart showing the estimated 25-year ROI at various Solar Resource points (corresponding to the cities above) and various electricity rates that might be in effect at the installation date.

Solar Resource

Price of Daytime Electricity (US cents per kWh)

(kWh/m2/avg. day)

8

10

12

14

16

4.2

 

 

5.8%

7.9%

9.8%

4.7

 

 

7.3%

9.5%

11.6%

5.2

 

6.2%

8.7%

11.1%

13.4%

6.2

5.6%

8.6%

11.4%

14.2%

16.9%


The table above has some conservative assumptions built into it. Your actual ROI would go up if:

1. The out-of-pocket cost of the system was lower either due to

a. Lower pre-incentive prices OR

b. More-generous tax or utility incentives.

2. The solar panels last longer than the warranty.

3. The solar panels perform better over time than indicated by the warranty.

4. The initial inverter lasts significantly longer than warranty.

5. Electricity inflation is higher than estimated.

Implications of Solar Power ROI

Investment Implications

First, let’s compare solar energy to the 30-year bond example I gave earlier.

· Where sunshine, electricity prices, and financial incentives are ample, solar energy’s ROI can be substantially higher than the ROI for government bonds.

· You pay taxes on bond interest, but not on your lower electric bill.

· The investment risk is comparable. Since the USA has existed, (a) the government has paid its debts every day and (b) the sun has risen in the east every day. Reputable manufacturers generally put out products to a quality level that vastly exceeds their warranties, and in the rare cases when the products fail, they make good on their warranty claims.

The fact that solar energy often pays a higher return than government bonds isn’t reason enough to go forward unless you have absolutely no debt and want a relatively risk-free place to put your money. Most of us have debt and many of us couldn’t fund a solar energy project without some debt. The values in the ROI table will help us determine whether solar power makes enough sense to go into debt (or to stay in debt).

If you plan to get a home equity loan, it makes sense if the term of the loan is less than or equal to the warranty life of your solar panels AND in the following scenarios:

1. Your interest rate is lower than your Solar ROI AND

a. The loan is a fixed rate loan OR a variable rate loan capped at or under your Solar ROI.

b. Every dollar of interest is tax deductible (consult your tax advisor)

2. Your interest rate is more than 3% lower than your Solar ROI AND either

a. The loan is a fixed rate loan

b. The loan is a variable rate loan capped at or under 3% less than your Solar ROI.

As for credit cards… in a word: DON’T. Your ROI is almost never as big as your credit card interest rate. The only exception to my credit card rule: it would be OK to use a credit card a bridge to a tax refund. And then, I only condone using a credit card for the portion of the cost you will recover within the next 15 months from credits on your federal or state tax returns (consult your tax advisor for more information).

In fact, if you have more than $2500 in outstanding credit card debt, don’t buy a solar power system now. Instead, pay your credit card debt down THEN go solar. That goes for any other debt over $2500 where the interest rate is higher than the ROI.

“Buy or Lease” Implications

So far, my post has focused on the purchase of a solar electric system. There are companies that will lease systems to you. Most leasing companies will charge you little or no up-front cost (especially if your credit is good). You won’t get any tax credits or utility assistance (because it wouldn’t be YOUR system).

The reasons I chose a purchase over a lease when I opted for solar power were

· the initial monthly lease payment quoted me were as high as 90% of the cost of the electricity the system would replace (where’s the ROI?)

· the lease also included an “escalator” clause, which would have increased my payment 5% or 6% per year (remember, in Arizona, electricity inflation has been about 2.5% in the past 20+ years).

· I would need to concern myself with replacing the leased system (or renewing the lease) in 15 years

· a purchased system has the possible upside of lasting much longer than the warranty and I wanted to capture that upside.

Sizing Implications

It isn’t worth it to build a system that will produce substantially more electricity than you use long-term.

Right-sizing one’s solar array is a topic unto itself, so I’ll reserve that for my next post.

Thanks for sticking with me.

 

You can read How to “solar” – Part I here.

Posted in Wordy Posts, energy efficiency, guest post | 3 Comments

Making Real Bavarian Pretzels (Laugen Brezen)

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To a Bavarian like me who lives a Brezen-less life outside of Bavaria, this is a sight for sore eyes.

Actually, I’m quite lucky that I took this photo. It’s a little fuzzy, and I wanted to take another, but the phone rang. When I came back from my phone call there were no Pretzels left to photograph!! My 5-year-old ate them all!! And yes, I do feed the boy LOL

 

He did leave us the Laugensemmeln (lye rolls) and the Domspatzen (little birds made from this dough) – but all the Pretzels were gone. Except for the one I snagged fresh out of the oven for myself! YUM!!

His father then finished off the rest LOL

 

Both my men, but especially the boy just love, love, love fresh bread of any kind and the Bavarian Brezen rank right up there with his most favorite. He had been camping out in front of the oven when he realized what I was baking!

 

Anyway, here is how I made them.

 

First let me say that the dough itself is nothing terribly special. The huge difference to other recipes and what makes this as delectable as it is, is the lye bath. And it is the lye bath that will never compare  Bavarian Brezen to other soft pretzels. Even the hot baking soda bath methods used in American recipes don’t quite compare. They make nice Pretzels, don’t get me wrong, but they are NOT like these! This is the real deal!

 

It’s not just the difference in color. The lye bath imparts a subtle, very thin crunch and a very particular cracking of the crust, as well as a subtle but very distinctive taste. As well as a slight sheen.

 

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So, first of all, get yourself some Food Grade Sodium Hydroxide Lye. I got this one – it works well and it will last me a good long time!

Now let’s get down to it!

 

This recipe makes about 8 Pretzels.

For the dough:

1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 oz granulated yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp shortening (I use Spectrum Organic Shortening
2.5 – 3 cups flour (I use King Arthur Bread Flour)
Pretzel or kosher salt for sprinkling

 

For the lye bath:

2 quarts of water

2 tbsp  Food Grade Sodium Hydroxide Lye 

To prepare it, get a sealable container, a thick tupperware type bowl like mine for example, and fill it with 1/2 a gallon of cold water. Do NOT use a metal bowl! Glass is ok though!  You need it to be wider than it’s deep so you can easily and quickly dip the dough.

 

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Wearing latex gloves and protective eye gear, add the pellets, stirring carefully with a metal spoon until the pellets are dissolved.

 

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They have a tendency to form this crystalized structure at the bottom. Break it up and keep stirring until it is all dissolved.

 

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Careful, the contents can get HOT!
Seal the container until you are ready to use it. 

 

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BEWARE: 

This stuff is not only poisonous, it is very caustic.
So, please be extra careful and take precautions! PLEASE keep it far away from children!  Flush any unintentional contact with plenty of water.

 

You soap makers and olive picklers out there know the drill, but it can never be said enough – be careful around this stuff!

 

Now let’s get started:

 

1.  Warm the milk a little (30-40 seconds in the microwave usually does the job) and dissolve the sugar and yeast into it. Allow it to sit for a few minutes and see if bubbles form. It confirms that your yeast is active.

 

2. Add the liquids to a mixer with a kneading hook if you have one.  Or add to a big bowl with a wooden spoon and give it some elbow grease.

Add salt, shortening and 2 cups of flour. Start the mixer and let it all knead together. Add enough flour to form a dough that doesn’t stick to the sides anymore and is nice, uniform and elastic. It can take a total of anywhere from 2.5  cups to 3 cups.

 

3. In the microwave, boil a small bowl of water. Or if you prefer, boil some water on the stove top, place a lid on your boiling pot until the lid is nice and hot and wet on the underside. Remove the mixer bowl from the mix and place the hot, wet lid on top. Let the dough rest for a few minutes.

Or, back to the microwave method. Quickly open the microwave, place the bowl of dough in and shut the door. Again, let the dough rest for a few minutes in the warm, moist environment. It relaxes the gluten and will make forming the pretzels much easier.

4. Remove the dough, knead through one more time by hand. The dough shouldn’t stick to your counter top. Divide into 8 equal pieces.

5. Roll a long snake, thicker in the middle than on the ends. This needs to be MUCH longer though before you form the pretzel shape.

 

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I forgot to take a photo of the shape and length of dough , so here’s a photo from a bakery, courtesy of google images It gives you an idea where you need to be :

 

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Then form a Pretzel shape.

 

If you’d like to make some little lye birds, here is how.

 

Roll a snake, like before, even though this time you’re keeping the thick part more towards the front. Like so:

 

P2166711[1] This one doesn’t actually have to be very long. Just long enough so you can make a knot in the dough and have a little bit left for the head and the tail.

Then you make an actual knot in the dough.

 

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Now pinch the head part into a beak and make a cut in the tail and separate it a little.

 

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6. Let the Pretzels rise for about 1/2 hr in a warm, moist place. I usually turn on the oven to it’s lowest setting, turn it off and place a bowl of water in there with the Pretzels.

 

7. If you haven’t made your lye bath yet, do it now!

 

8. When the half hour is up, remove the Pretzels from the oven and preheat to 400 F.

 

9. Make sure your baking sheets are either lined with silicon or baking parchment. Once the dough is dipped, it wants to stick to anything and everything! Put on your safety gear, especially the gloves!

 

10. Dip your risen dough shapes quickly but carefully into the lye bath. I find that it works best to never quite let go of them. Dip them top down first, let them be for about 2 seconds, turn them around briefly and scoop them out, placing them immediately on the baking tray. These are going to be REALLY fragile, so  be gentle.

 

11. Sprinkle them all with pretzel salt. 

12. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes or until you get that deep brown color.

Remove  from oven, place on cooling rack, wait as long as you possibly can and until you basically you don’t burn your mouth anymore eating them.

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 Untitled-1[1] Enjoy with fresh,cold butter! Yum!

Let the feeding commence:

 

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That’s Max on #4 … he slowed down some I guess Open-mouthed

Posted in My Kids, Recipe | 9 Comments

Easiest, creamiest, low-cal rice pudding ever!

 

Just put it in your crock pot and forget about it until the last 10 min or so.

 

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Ingredients:

32 fl oz fat free half and half (or fat free milk, even though it doesn’t get quite as creamy)

32 fl oz fat free or 1% milk

3/4 cup sugar or sugar substitute of choice ( I use truvia)

1 pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract, or the scrapings of a vanilla bean,  or  Vanilla Bean Paste

1 cup white long-grain rice (I prefer brown these days, which works well too!)

2 eggs, set out at room temp when cooking begins, then  lightly beaten just before use

 

Preparation:

Add half and half, milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and rice to your crock pot.

Set to cook on high for about 3  hrs. You might want to go and stir it once or twice during that cooking time. If your crock pot runs a little hot, reduce the heat to low after 2 hrs.

 

Once your cooking time is done, temper your eggs. This means that you add about 1/4 of a cup of your hot rice pudding to the beaten eggs, and mix thoroughly. Then you add another 1/4 c, mix, then another. This ensures that the eggs are being cooked slowly and you won’t get scrambled eggs when you add them to your rice pudding.

 

Now add the tempered egg mix to your pot of rice pudding and stir well for about 2-3 minutes, to distribute and cook the eggs evenly. Give it a few minutes more in the pot, then check for consistency. Your rice pudding will thicken up quite a bit more with the eggs.

 

This rice pudding doesn’t thicken significantly in the refrigerator. What you see in thickness in the crock pot is where it will stay, so make sure you cook it long enough to the thickness you desire!

 

And that’s it! 

 

If you like your rice pudding hot, go for it. If not, transfer the pudding into a covered container/dish and let it cool, making sure that the lid has at least a corner open for steam to escape. You could also cover the dish with plastic wrap, folding over the corners. Once cooled down some, cover fully and refrigerate!

 

Serve as is or with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or some fresh fruit, or fruit compote, or jam, or whatever your heart desires!

 

Note: When using fat free milk and half & half, no calorie sugar substitute, a 3/4 cup serving of this rice pudding is around 100 calories! Love Struck

This makes about 15 servings or so.

Posted in Recipe, gluten free | 6 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I hope you’re having a great and loving day with all your big and little loves!

This year is the first year that I actually “got” my children something for Valentine’s day!

Usually I just do cards and little love notes all over the place, heart shaped sandwiches and some love/heart type of dessert.

But this year I wanted to do one of those Hallmark Recordable Books for each of them. I just love the idea that they can hear me read to them even when I’m not there, or when they wake up at night or when they need a bit of extra comfort, or or or

And even though Max can read perfectly fine for himself, it’s still different when Mommy or Mommy’s voice does it!

So I got them a book each. “Guess how much I love you” for Anna and “All the ways I love you” for Max.

 

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They were rather pricey and I was kind of shocked, but I had my heart set on it, so I went for it anyway.

The recording went fine, even though I find that the volume is a little high and you can’t adjust it. Even speaking quietly, produces a pretty loud end result. But ok, it’s not like my kids mind loud things Winking It’s probably just a little loud by Mommy’s standards.

 

Anyway, so this morning they got their books … and they absolutely LOVED them. Well they loved the idea once they got to a page that would actually play it back to them.

 

Seriously guys, even though every single page played back to me perfectly well when I was recording the book, it just wouldn’t do it once the kids opened them. At wits end

I opened it for them, turned the pages this way and that way etc … Max thought that maybe one had to push on the page to make it work, Anna kept on pressing the buttons (disabled by the lock position) etc and hardly anything would work. So I thought it was the batteries. Changed all 6 batteries – no change!

 

LONG story short … I figured out that the book works on light sensors. And apparently it needs a fair bit of light to figure out that it’s supposed to play something. A dimly lit room at 6 AM isn’t going to do it! At least not unless you sit right beside that bedside lamp and hold the book half under it.

 

I was recording them during the daytime – in front of a window, ergo, bright light … instant great playback. *sigh*

 

So, dear Hallmark, don’t you think it would be helpful if that was stated somewhere? It never even occurred to me that light sensors would be involved!

It does somewhat defeat the purpose for us, because the last thing I want the children to do in the middle of the night, is to get up, turn on every light in the room, so they can hear mommy’s voice read them a story to go back to sleep. Yeah, that’s going to work really well!

The kids love it, so it’s not an entire waste of money, but I feel like I got duped somehow, especially for the price! It’s not like they need a mechanical device to have a story read during the day time while everyone is awake!

I guess it may be different when an absent parent or grandparent reads the book, then it doesn’t matter so much if it’s day or night, but for my intended purpose … not so much! Sad

I don’t entirely remember the commercials for these books, but don’t they show kids at bedtime too? I would hazard a guess that the chances of both of our books, from two different stores, being defective are pretty slim!

 

I still love the idea of those books though … not so much the execution in our case!

Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know of  our experiences there!

 

Now I better get back to the kitchen! I’m making greek Moussaka for dinner …  the real from-scratch kind that is totally to-die for, even though a little work intensive! And then I think I’ll make some Valentine’s day brownies as a treat for dessert!

Have a great day everyone!

Posted in Personal, Products, Wordy Posts, review | Leave a comment

How to “solar!” – Part 1

So, as many of you are aware, we recently went “solar.” I talked about it a little in this post. I don’t think we showed you the finished result up on the roof though! So here it is.

 

Prior to the installation, but after our addition and extended roof line:

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And here we are after the panels went up:

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{Please ignore the dead plants … that’s what several nights of  hard frosts in the dessert do to new-ish landscaping!}

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I had visions of ugly huge panels, sticking out like a sore thumb! To be honest I was quite surprised how little we notice them. In fact, they don’t seem to “stick” out at all!

Of course it helped to have the roof built pretty much to specification angle and size wise, so no “scaffolding” was necessary, but more about that later. Suffice it to say that it sure helps the aesthetics that they are as flat to the roof as possible!

 

We are two months into it now and whenever my husband or I randomly post how much we generated this month/week/day and what that means for our electricity bill, we have an onslaught of questions in our inboxes from folks interested in this.

 

Since the majority of the research and the process was done by Ian, my husband, I finally twisted his arm enough to write a blog post about our process, what steps we had to take when, what the important things to watch out for are, where the pitfalls were and how we ended up where we are now.

 

Where are you now, you ask?

In the last 30 days we generated 921 kwh of solar power. Bear in mind that this is winter and the days are shorter and often overcast, even here in Phoenix!
Our latest electric bill was $32 ($1.23/day) plus credits for ~$35 future electrical use. So essentially the electric company is at this point paying US!
Same electric bill last year: $147 ($4.35/day) – and it was warmer too last year which means we used less electricity then as the heating barely had to kick in, but this year we had several hard frosts, which means that the heating did come on a fair bit!

 

Not too shabby, right?

Well, without further ado … here is Ian with the details!

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Hi everyone!

I’m amazed… amazed that a repost of my 3 line Facebook post would command so much interest and attention.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be amazed. I suppose if I knew very little about solar power and if an acquaintance was saving serious money with it, I’d want to know how he did it too.

At any rate, I’m flattered and humbled by your interest.

I’d like to show my thanks for your interest by embarking on a series of blog posts about my experience with solar power and other home energy topics.

Starting a series of blog posts about home energy with the topic of solar electricity is sort of like how George Lucas must have felt when he began producing the Star Wars movie series… the first film in the theaters was the fourth story in his saga.

Installing solar panels was only my most recent home energy project. I can’t promise you my words will be nearly as exciting as seeing Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star, but maybe they’ll help you blow a hole in your electric bills.

Before I proceed, let me first warn you that I am from the United States. My terminology, units of measure and cultural references likely will be USA-centric. I hope people in other countries will find some of the concepts useful too.

 

Let me start my blog post in earnest with the 3 most important planning considerations for a cost-effective solar electric system.

They are:  Location, Location, Location

I say this because there are 3 elements of location that play a huge role in the determining the costs and benefits of a solar electric system, also known as a photovoltaic system.

 

The most-important location element is geography. The dot on Google Earth (or for middle-aged guys like me, the dot on “the map”) that represents your house is significant for several reasons.

  • It indicates how much sun you get. Sunlight is your fuel source in this equation. To see how much sunlight would hit your solar panels, view this map at the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) solar map site
    The units on the map are best understood as the average daily hours of “noon-equivalent cloud-free sunshine” received in a location. Most of the continental USA gets between 4 hours (olive green) and 6. 5 hours (reddish-brown).

  • It indicates what state you live in. The Federal Government offers a 30% tax credit to most taxpayers who install a solar electric system. This credit, unto itself, is not yet beneficial enough to make solar power economical to most homeowners. Some states offer a tax credit in addition to the federal tax credit. Some states also waive their Sales Tax on purchases of renewable energy systems.
  • It also indicates (roughly) how much you pay for electricity and to whom. If your electricity is relatively expensive, you’ll get payback sooner. Also, individual utilities (typically under pressure from State & Federal regulators) also provide financial incentives to install solar power systems. In my experience, my electric utility’s contribution to the construction of my system was larger than my Federal Tax Credit. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is a good resource for indicating State-sponsored and utility-sponsored programs, as well as links to the relevant state agencies and the utilities’ renewable-energy program websites.
  • Your location also indicates your place in the solar-power supply-and-demand scheme. Locations where solar installations are rare might suffer from a relative scarcity of contractors qualified to install photovoltaic systems (a licensed contractor must install your solar system in order to ensure you’re getting the same quality of electricity as you would from your electric utility {the grid} AND in order that you qualify for all tax credits and utility incentives).

    Also, you might be stuck far from a facility that makes solar panels. The manufacturers will charge higher shipping costs to your contractor, who WILL pass along the shipping cost to you.

  • No one geographic consideration trumps the others. For instance, if you looked at the NREL map alone, there doesn’t appear to be much cause for a photovoltaic system in Connecticut, but electricity rates in Connecticut are among the highest in the USA, and according to the DSIRE site, the state-sponsored incentives are decent. So, take heart; it still might be worthwhile to put the sun to work for you!

 

The second location consideration is a suitable place on your property for the solar panels. The ideal place for a photovoltaic system is your own home’s roof IF

(a) part of the roof faces south or nearly south
(b) the slope of that roof is about equal to or a bit less than your location’s latitude (for Phoenix: 20-35 degrees is best; 35-50 degrees for New York City).

Building an additional structure specifically for your solar panels probably isn’t worthwhile. You’ll lose the use of the land underneath the structure. You’ll need to build the structure strong enough to withstand the same wind, rain, snow and earthquakes for which the roof on your main house already has been built. Most importantly, it adds to the total cost of the system… and you cannot get a tax credit or a utility subsidy for building a structure to support your solar panels.

Stationary solar panels will capture sunlight the best when facing south and when tilted at your latitude’s angle. Panels that face due east or due west will generate 20-25% less energy than if they face south. A tilt of +/- 15 degrees from your latitude costs you 3-6% in power output. However, there are a few strategic reasons you might intentionally stray from the highest absolute power output.

1.) Time of use electrical pricing.

If you pay substantially more for electricity in the afternoon than in the morning, southwest- or west-facing panels are much more favorable than east-facing panels… and may prove a bigger cost-saver than south-facing panels.

2.) Seasonal differences in electrical usage or price.

If you use a lot more electricity in the summer than in the winter and/or the price of electricity is higher in the summer than the winter (a la Phoenix AZ), panels with a tilt of 10-to-15 degrees less than latitude {tilting toward the summer sun} is financially favorable to an “at latitude” tilt.

There are mounting systems that let your solar panels track the sun, but they add at least 50% to the cost of the system and only allow you to collect, at most, 40% more power. Also, you can’t attach them to the roof of your house (ground mount only) and sun-tracking systems, because of their moving parts, are more expensive to maintain than fixed systems.

 

I’ll describe the cost structure of a solar electric system in a later post, but for now, I’ll say there are fixed costs (like the building permit) and costs that vary according to the size of the system (like the solar panels).

Because of the fixed costs of the system, it is almost never worth building a rooftop system unless you have at least 300 square feet (27 m2) of usable roof space… and I don’t think you’ll get attractive returns on a system of less than 400 sq. ft. (36 m2).

 

What constitutes usable roof space?

That brings me to my third location consideration: where are your sources and potential sources of shade?

 

Shade is a killer for solar panels, partially because of the way they’re engineered. A solar panel is made up of 30+ individual cells. Due to the way they’re wired together, if any one of the individual cells is in full shade, the productivity of the whole panel goes to zero. If half of a cell is in full shade, and the rest of the panel is in full sun, the panel will produce only half of its potential energy (thus half of its potential payback).

 

Not all shade is equal. Full shade or hard shade is cast by solid, opaque objects, like your neighbor’s house, block wall, or any protrusion of earth (embankment, hill, cliff). The hardness of their shadows does not vary with the distance of the object. Avoid hard shade at all costs. Soft shade is cast by things like tree trunks and power poles, and less so by tree branches, wires and flags. The hardness of these objects’ shadows varies with their distance. Also, branches of deciduous trees cast harder shadows than branches of conifers.

 

That said, any part of your roof that’s in hard shade when it’s 2 hours after sunrise or 2 hours before sunset on Christmas should not be considered usable. Following this rule would give a system a minimum of 6 hours of potential sun exposure in Phoenix (or 5 hours on Long Island, NY) on even the shortest day of the year.

 

As for soft shade, it’s a little harder to generalize, but I’d avoid any area where there is a source of soft shade (excluding power lines or other wires) less than 15 feet (4.5m) away from your prospective panel space. If it’s especially tall shade or dense shade, you’ll need to put even more distance between it and your panels.

 

Also consider potential shade from the neighbor to the south. Does your neighbor plan to plant an oak tree or build a second story? If you live next to commercial property (especially vacant commercial property) or land that sits on fuel or mineral wealth, what could be built there and how high?

 

Particularly in the wetter parts of the country, some homeowners will be presented with the conflict of choosing between their 100 year old Oak Tree and their ideal solar site. If that old Oak has sentimental value for you, it will be a very tough decision no doubt. 

 

However, if your only obstacle is the thought of "I don’t want to reduce my carbon footprint with solar panels only to raise it by chopping down some trees," consider this: you can donate $200 to the Arbor Day foundation for them to protect more than an acre (50000 sq. ft. or 4650 m2) of tropical rainforest.

That’ll do more for the planet’s carbon profile than any dozen trees in the temperate zone… and a cost-effective solar electric system would pay you back that $200 and then some.

 

To be continued …

Posted in Before And After, DIY, Ian, Wordy Posts, energy efficiency, guest post, our house | 1 Comment

Etched Valentine Plates

The other day I found some square glass plates in the close-out section of our local grocery store. The large ones were $1, the smaller ones were $0.50.

Of course I had to get them – I knew I was going to do something with them, even though at the time I wasn’t quite sure what yet.

 

This is what I ended up doing!

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Please excuse the wonky photos. I had the hardest time capturing the delicate edged heart against the light of the glass reflection on camera!

And it was really simple to do too!

 

First I created my heart in photoshop, imported it in my silhouette craft cutter, then cut it on some scrap vinyl.

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If you don’t have a craft cutter, this simple kind of shape is easily cut from vinyl with a craft knife or sharp nail scissors!

 

Next I applied the vinyl to the BACKSIDE of the glass plate. If you are intending to use your finished product for decorative purposes only, feel free to apply it to the front, but I would like to use them for desserts, cookies etc, so I etched the back of the plate.

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Don’t worry about the vinyl wrinkling on the large piece. It is hard to apply, so just go section by section, smoothing it out. You really only need to worry about the actual heart outlines being tacked down well with no wrinkles and bubbles, as the etching cream will seep under it and mess up the design. But the bubbles and wrinkles for the rest of the vinyl don’t matter at all!

For the heart outline only, you really need to be quite precise! No bubbles and no wrinkles on that one! It is much easier to apply than the larger piece however, so it’s not really a problem!

 

I applied the Glass Etching Creamliberally and let it set for about 5 minutes or so.

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I washed the cream off, dried the plate, and voila! That’s it!

As you can see above I did two plates, the larger ones with the etched heart and the smaller ones with the entire plate etched, only leaving the heart clear. However, I wasn’t quite liberal enough with the etching cream on the smaller plate and it turned out a little streaky.

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So, I have to go over it again to even out the etching around the heart! So remember, the etching cream really does have to be applied very liberally to get an even result!

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I can see this being a decorative item, a dessert plate, or a plate for treats, even an inexpensive way to make a hostess gift more lasting by piling on some yummy goodies, wrapping it in cellophane with some ribbons etc Then once the goodies are eaten, there will still be a sweet reminder!

I intend to make a set of these for Valentine’s day and beyond Happy

Posted in Holidays, Home Decor, Silhouette Craft Cutter, Tutorial | 7 Comments