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Dangerously Easy Chocolate Syrup Recipe

Chocolate syrup is deliciously versatile. Stir it in hot or cold milk or coffee for a treat or pour over ice cream to make it even more decadent. Then there’s old fashioned sodas and baked goods made with chocolate syrup. With this chocolate syrup recipe, you can make delicious chocolate syrup with just a few basic pantry staples whenever you need it.

Sure, it’s easy to pick up a bottle from the supermarket, but with this easy chocolate syrup recipe, you can make it for a fraction of the cost and without a trip to the store. By making it, you also have control over the ingredients. Use your favorite cocoa powder, experiment with the type and amount of sugar or swap out the vanilla extract for something a little more creative to make it your own. I can totally see using peppermint extract to mimic the flavor of Andes mints. Or, if you’re a fan of Terry’s Chocolate Orange chocolates, add orange extract.

Like most of my recipes, this chocolate syrup is gluten free and dairy free.

Dangerously Easy Chocolate Syrup Recipe

This chocolate syrup recipe is so easy and delicious. With only a few pantry-staple ingredients needed, you'll never have an excuse not to make it. Should be good for at least a month when stored properly. I usually find plenty of ways to use it up before then.
Prep Time2 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or to taste

Instructions

  • Mix the sugar and cocoa together in a saucepan until thoroughly combined.
  • Add the water and half of the salt (1/4 teaspoon). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  • Continue to boil while constantly stirring until the mixture thickens a little. (It will thicken more as it cools) This should take around 3 or 4 minutes.
  • Carefully taste and add the rest of the salt, if desired.
  • Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.
  • Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I like using a glass jar.

Notes

The vanilla extract and salt amount can be adjusted according to taste. I can also see swapping out the vanilla for peppermint or orange extract.

While I try to write recipes as clearly as possible, it’s easy to miss a step or make assumptions. If anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions. If you make this recipe, please let me know what you think.

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OMG! There’s lye in handmade soap!

For those unfamiliar with making soap, seeing lye, aka sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide as an ingredient in handmade soap can be a little scary. Today I thought I’d share why it’s in there and why it’s nothing to scare you away from handmade soap.

The basic chemistry of soapmaking

From the Wikipedia page on Saponification:
Saponification is the hydrolysis of an ester under basic conditions to form an alcohol and the salt of a carboxylic acid (carboxylates). Saponification is commonly used to refer to the reaction of a metallic alkali (base) with a fat or oil to form soap. Saponifiable substances are those that can be converted into soap. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saponification

The basic soapmaking process involves adding a solution of lye and water or some other liquid to oils. The lye reacts with the oils to make soap (saponification). Lye is necessary for saponification to occur and is therefore used in making all soap. In other words, if there wasn’t sodium hydroxide (potassium hydroxide for liquid soap) , aka. lye involved in making a product, it’s not soap.

Is there lye in the finished soap?

Short answer: No, absolutely not. Assuming the maker’s calculations are correct, all of the lye reacts with the oil, thus leaving no trace of the lye in the final product. Because of this, you will often see terms such as “Saponified Coconut Oil” or “Sodium Cocoate”. Both terms refer to coconut oil that has reacted with lye to saponify.

Many soap makers, including myself, also take a small discount in the amount of lye used. This adds a cushion to further ensure that there are no traces of lye in the final product. It also produces a milder bar without sacrificing the cleaning properties of the soap.

tea tree oil soap: no more lye

A word about labeling

When labeling soap, you can either list the starting ingredients or list the end products. So, some soapmakers’ labels will list things like “lye (or sodium hydroxide), olive oil, coconut oil,” etc. Some will list “saponified coconut oil, saponified olive oil,” etc. Others choose to list ingredients as “Sodium Olivate, Sodium Cocoate,” etc. All mean the same thing.

Personally, I find listing the starting ingredients simpler and more easily understandable. It does mean that my labels list lye or sodium hydroxide, which might seem scary if you don’t know that there are no longer traces of it in the finished product.

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Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots

Mushrooms are one of those foods that you either love or hate. I love them and try to incorporate them into once in awhile in hopes of swaying my kids to the “love” side. Finn is already there and Thadd is interested but skeptical that something with that texture can be delicious. I’m not giving up on Beckett, but I think he may have inherited his dad’s and grandma’s mushroom dislike. 

This mushroom brown rice dish is rich but mild, with the brown rice adding a little nutty flavor. Because the mushrooms are sliced and not chopped, they are large enough for little mushroom skeptics to remove them and eat the rice.

Not a fan of brown rice?

The brown rice adds to the flavor, but takes a lot longer to cook than white rice. With an electric pressure cooker, it’s only about 15 minutes of active prep time. After that, the pressure cooker does all the work. If you’re in a hurry to eat, though, swap it out in favor of a long grain white rice. I like basmati and jasmine rice the best for white rice. 

Dietary Restrictions?

As written, this recipe is plant-based, gluten free and dairy free. If you choose to use broth instead of water, that could change depending on the type of broth you use.

One thing I like to keep on hand is a broth base called “Better than Bouillon“.  It’s a paste that comes in a small jar. You mix a bit of the paste into water to make broth like you would with bouillon. To me, it really does have a better flavor, and a little goes a long way. I usually have the vegetable version on hand and would have added a bit to this recipe, but I used my last bit up yesterday. They also have a mushroom version that would compliment this recipe as well. Between the onion, garlic, mushrooms and brown rice, though, it’s really not necessary. 

All electric pressure cookers welcome.

I’ve titled this post “Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots” because Instant Pot has become the most popular brand and is now synonymous with electric pressure cooker. The recipe should work in any similar electric pressure cooker. Personally, I use a GoWise brand 8 quart electric pressure cooker.

Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots or other Electric Pressure Cookers

Rich, earthy mushrooms in nutty brown rice make this work as a side dish or, serve with a salad to make it a meatless main course. Makes 6-8 servings.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time22 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Keyword: gluten free, mushroom, rice, vegan
Servings: 8 people

Equipment

  • Electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • 1 T coconut or other oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups mushrooms, sliced White, bella or similar.
  • 1.5 tsp salt Can use less if preferred.
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 2 cups long grain brown rice
  • 1 squeeze lemon juice optional
  • 1 dash black pepper Adjust to taste.

Instructions

  • Select "Saute" on the pressure cooker and add the coconut oil.
  • Add the diced onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the minced garlic and saute for about a minute more.
  • Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Continue to saute until onions are lightly browned and mushrooms begin to get some color.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of water or preferred broth and stir up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the rice, remaining 2 1/2 cups of water, lemon juice and pepper.
  • Turn off the "Saute" function and set the pressure cooker manually to 22 minutes or follow your pressure cooker's instructions for brown rice. Most require longer than the "Rice" setting allows.
  • Allow the pressure to release naturally for at least 10 minutes before doing a quick release. I think it's best to let it naturally release completely if you have the time.
  • Fluff rice and serve.

Notes

This recipe has tons of flavor with just water, but you can use broth (vegetable broth to keep it vegan) if you prefer. Unless the broth is low sodium, you probably want to reduce the amount of salt.
I like coconut oil, but feel free to use olive or your preferred cooking oil.
Brown rice adds an earthy, nutty flavor, but it takes a long time to cook compared to white rice. If you’re in a hurry, substitute a long grain white rice and reduce the cooking time to 8 minutes or use the “Rice” setting. Basmati is my favorite long grain white rice.

While I try to write recipes as clearly as possible, it’s easy to miss a step or make assumptions. If anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions. If you make this recipe, please let me know what you think.

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This post contains affiliate links. If you click through any of the Amazon links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. There is no added cost to you.

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7 Amazing Uses for Aloe Vera Gel

I’m always on the lookout for simple, natural products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s especially important when it comes to products that I use on my skin. Skin absorbs so much. One product I’ve found that is natural, inexpensive and a great multitasker is aloe vera gel.

Aloe Vera Plant

Skin irritations

When you think of using aloe topically, you probably think of soothing a sunburn. You can also use it to sooth other burns as well as minor cuts and scrapes.

Aloe vera hand sanitizer

There are tons of recipes online for diy hand sanitizers using aloe vera as one of the base ingredients. I’m not a big hand sanitizer fan, but I like the look of these recipes from Wellness Mama. She has two different formulas. One is a gentle aloe and essential oil only recipe for home or children to use, and one is a stronger formula for when something more potent is needed.

Hair gel

Aloe gel can be used as a hair gel, too. In my experience, it provides a light hold, and isn’t stiff or sticky as long as you don’t overdo it. It also leaves your hair soft and silky afterward, unlike most hair gels which contain alcohol or other ingredients that dry your hair. To tame flyaways, I like to rub a drop of aloe between my palms and smooth over the ends of my hair.

Brows

Try aloe on your brows to keep them in shape. Since aloe gel is clear, you don’t have to worry about finding the right color to match. Dip an old, cleaned mascara wand, eyebrow brush or toothbrush in aloe and brush your eyebrows into shape. It’s also great for soothing your skin after plucking or waxing your brows.

Hair conditioner

If the ends of your hair dry, rub a little aloe on them to help smooth and condition them. I’ve also heard you can use aloe gel in place of a regular, rinse out conditioner, although I haven’t tried it yet.

Moisturizer

Aloe is a great moisturizer for your skin. It leaves your skin feeling soft but not greasy.

Skin refresher

I’ve heard that aloe gel works well to refresh your skin in situations where you may not be able to wash your face regularly like camping and traveling. Just massage it on and gently wipe off the excess.

Exfoliating with aloe vera

Mix aloe with salt or sugar for a great exfoliating scrub. When making scrubs, sugar tends to be a little more gentle, but salt is more antibacterial.

Which aloe vera gel is best?

The way to get the freshest aloe gel, of course, is to grow your own aloe plant. If you’re like me and have a hard time keeping plants alive, or you just want to pick up a bottle or two so you’ll have plenty on hand, spring and summer are good times to get it. Specialty health stores will stock it year round, but right now it’s easier to find in discount stores and supermarkets with their seasonal products.

The most important thing to look for is 100% pure aloe. Pure aloe will be clear. Steer clear of the blue and green aloe gels. They contain added ingredients to help “cool” a sunburn. These ingredients are okay (although unnecessary) for sunburns, but you don’t want to use these aloe blends for anything other than soothing a sunburn.

One brand that’s fairly easy for me to find is Fruit of the Earth. I think I paid around $5-$7 for a 24 ounce bottle. Not bad when you compare it to a comparably-sized bottle of lotion, or conditioner, or moisturizer, or hair gel, all of which can be replaced with aloe.

What aloe tips have I left out? Share yours with me.

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Drafting a Pants (Trousers) Pattern from RTW Shorts

Pants pattern drafting

Lately Christopher and I have been talking a lot about fashion. It started as a discussion about not being able to find comfortable clothes, especially pants (trousers for British English speakers) and how hard it is to find clothing that goes against the trends. Being crafty, we explored making our own clothing. The cost of fabric, supplies, time it takes to cut and sew all highlighted how impossible it is to produce clothing ethically at the low prices charged for much ready-to-wear clothing. That doesn’t even take into account the raw materials that are used to make the fabric and problems with content, pesticides, sustainability, etc.

At the same time, like many, our budget, doesn’t allow us to spend a ton on clothes. We try to make the most of our clothing budget guilt-free by shopping thrift stores and second hand shops. That way we aren’t adding to the problem by purchasing new. Most thrift shops are charity-based, so our purchases help others. We often find better quality items than what we would otherwise be able to afford this way, too.

With thrift shopping, you’re not as limited by trends. If you’re looking for something in particular, unless it’s a common item, you’re still likely to come up empty handed. That has been our problem when it comes to comfortable men’s and boy’s pants. Both Finn and Christopher would prefer something a little roomier, like karate gi pants. Unfortunately, nothing like that has been in fashion since M.C. Hammer. That means it’s time to put my sewing machines to use.

Making a Pattern from Shorts

This summer, I started by trying to copy a pair of the cotton knit gym shorts they practically lived in, adding a gusset for comfort and mobility. I used to buy bulk bags of t-shirts from Thrift Town before they closed, so instead of using new fabric, I used some XL t-shirts I had on hand. That way, if things went horribly wrong I wouldn’t feel as bad.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember seeing this photo with some enticing caption like, “Working on a new project!” Then, nothing else was said. Sorry.

I have zero experience with pattern making, so this was a learning experience. Here’s a brief overview of how I did it.

shorts pattern

I laid the shorts inside out and folded in half, front to the inside, smoothing them as flat as possible. Then I traced them, adding about an inch all around. The inch is for seam allowance and to account for the fact that it’s impossible to get finished shorts to lay flat. I always err on the side of too big, because that is much easier to fix.

At the waistband, I measured the waistband and extended the pattern by that amount plus seam allowance above the waistband. This allows it to be folded down for elastic and a drawstring casing. At the hem, I extended the lines two times the width of the hem to allow enough fabric to fold and hem. On the pattern, I drew lines straight across to show where the finished hem and waistband hit on the original shorts for reference.

Then I folded them in half , backs to the inside and repeated the above steps since the back is cut differently than the front.

Drafting the Gusset

For the gusset, I drew kind of a triangle with the top point cut off. To do this evenly, I folded a piece of paper in half, drew a half inch line perpendicular to the fold, moved over about four inches and drew another perpendicular line measuring one and a half inches. Then I drew a straight line connecting the tops of the lines.  I cut along the lines and opened it up to get my gusset pattern. Sewing the gusset in with the wider part at the crotch seam and using a half inch seam allowance results the gusset tapering down to a point.

Shorts to Pants

Shorts work for summer, but I needed to come up with a pants pattern for fall and winter. Chris suggested just making the shorts pattern longer, so I did by measuring the waist to floor measurement and extending my pattern the needed amount, including seam allowances.

pants pattern drafting

I did this by taping the bottom of the pattern to a big piece of paper, sketching out the needed length and side seams and cutting it out.

Final Pants Result

My pattern isn’t perfect. I think I’ve tweaked it each time I’ve used it. Since the pants are made to be loose and flowy it hides the imperfections.

These are my first attempt. I made them with a linen blend, elastic and drawstring combo waistband and no pockets. I added side-seam pockets later.

Pants

My goal is to find or draft a few more basic, customizable patterns for pants and shirts that can be made in linen or a similar material. Then I can buy a bulk amount of undyed fabric and dye it as needed.

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Tips for Buying Your First Sewing Machine

Whether you want to make your own clothes or home decor or just be able to mend and tailor the things you already have, a sewing machine makes it much easier. If you don’t have much experience with sewing on a machine, though, it can be daunting looking at all of the choices out there. While it really is up to personal preference, there are a few guidelines that will help you to find a solid sewing machine that meets your needs.

Determine your stitch needs

What are you planning to do with your sewing machine? For most sewing, you really don’t need a huge variety of stitches. Almost everything can be done with a machine that sews straight and zig-zag stitches, and has a button hole option. A blind hem stitch, an overedge stitch and a smocking stitch round it out nicely for garments and decor construction. If you plan to do decorative top stitching, then look for a sewing machine with decorative stitches you like.

Computerized sewing machine?

Honestly, I avoid computerized machines. A sewing and embroidery combo machine like my Brother SE400 (this is the updated version) is the exception. If you really want to do machine embroidery you will need a computerized embroidery machine. Otherwise, a purely mechanical machine is my recommendation. Even though my embroidery machine is also a regular sewing machine, I prefer to keep my embroidery machine for embroidery only and use another sewing machine for standard sewing. Computerized machines have more things that can go wrong, and I like to keep things simple.

Sewing and Embroidery Machine
This is my model of embroidery machine. It is computerized and scary, lol.

Presser feet

To me, having a variety of presser feet is more valuable than having a variety of stitches. While most things can be done with a standard zig-zag foot, a zipper foot makes sewing in zippers a lot easier. A rolled hem foot makes it easier to sew tiny narrow hems. Button hole and button feet round out the basic feet that make sewing garments easier and with more professional looking results. Those are many other presser feet available, and, while usually not required, they each make their specific task easier.

Most new sewing machines use a universal snap-on presser foot system, so it’s not hard to add more presser feet to your collection. Older machines use a thumb screw to attach the feet, but you can usually screw on a snap on adapter and use snap on feet on them, too. This page gives a good rundown on how to know if a presser foot works for your machine.

Vintage Sewing Machine knit foot
Vintage foot. I think it is a knit foot.

Construction

For a long-lasting machine, the less plastic the better. I prefer vintage machines for this reason. A good metal vintage machine will last forever if maintained properly, whereas machines with internal plastic gears and other mechanisms is more likely to break. If you buy a new machine, it’s more likely to have a lot of plastic components, but you can still look for quality. Check out the display model, if possible. Is there anything already broken just while on display? While the break may have just been a previous too-rough customer, it’s also likely a weak point. Do the knobs, levers and buttons operate smoothly and feel solid? How heavy is the machine? I personally would lean toward a heavier machine.

Used or vintage sewing machine

It’s not hard to find used sewing machines at thrift stores, garage sales or on sites like craigslist in the $20-$75 range. If shopping for a used machine, see if you can test it before buying. If not, gently turn the hand wheel to see if it moves smoothly. They usually turn towards the front. Don’t force it if it feels stiff or resistant. If it turns, are there any weird sounds like something hitting or rubbing that shouldn’t. Are the plug and visible wiring in good shape? Does it pass the construction tests previously mentioned?

With a used machine, you may not have the manual or attachments for the machine. Most manuals can be found online, but if you can, do a quick search for it before buying it. Things like presser feet and bobbins are easy to replace, unless it is a really old machine. Even then, there are still parts out there on ebay and similar sites, but try to check first.

It’s a good idea to get a used machine tuned up at a repair shop, especially if you’re not familiar with sewing machine maintenance. On average, a tune up runs $75-$100. If it turns out further repair is needed, then that will add to the cost. Depending on the purchase price and the solidness of the machine, though, even with the tune up cost, you may spend about the same as a lower end new model, but the machine will last a lot longer.

A word about Singer sewing machines

I personally haven’t owned a Singer. All of mine are either Signatures (Montgomery Ward brand), a Kenmore (Sears brand) or my new Brother embroidery machine. They all are low shank machines, so the feet are interchangeable, and, except for the Brother, the bobbins are the same. Older Singers have either a Singer-exclusive slant shank or, if I’m not mistaken, a high shank, which has deterred me from owning one. The older Singers are good, solid machines, though, so if you aren’t worried about being able to use the same feet on another machine, they are a good choice.

Newer Singers are another matter. I’ve had friends purchase a brand new Singer that had it break just after the warranty ran out. The cost of repair made it better to replace the machine. Looking online, the general consensus is that Singers aren’t made to last anymore. For low-cost, entry-level machines, Brother tends to have a better reputation. Again, I haven’t owned a Singer, but, from what I’ve heard, I would stick with vintage models and avoid the new ones.

Questions?

These are just a few basic guidelines. If you have any other questions relating to sewing machines, ask in the comments and I will answer them as best as I can. If you have your own guidelines to add, feel free to comment those as well.

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Easy Homemade Chicken Broth in an Electric Pressure Cooker

If you have an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker, delicious homemade chicken broth takes just a few minutes of prep. This technique can easily be applied to other types of broth as well.

The ingredients

When I make chicken broth, I prefer to use bones from a cooked chicken. It’s easy to cook a whole chicken in an electric pressure cooker, or use an oven-roasted or rotisserie chicken. Save the bones for broth to make a chicken stretch farther meal-wise. You can make the broth immediately after de-boning a cooked chicken. If you’re short on time, store the bones in the freezer until you’re ready.

To flavor the broth, I like to add some combination of carrots, celery, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I usually use:

  • one onion peeled and cut into chunks
  • one or two carrots
  • two to three celery stalks broken into two or three pieces each
  • two to three cloves of peeled garlic
  • a few peppercorns
  • about 2 teaspoons of salt.

It’s easy to add salt and pepper to taste to the finished broth, so I lean toward adding less at the beginning.

Herbs like sage, bay leaf, parsley, basil and oregano are great additions, too. You could also add jalapeno to give it some spice.

Making the Chicken Broth

To make the chicken broth, put the bones, chosen vegetables and seasonings into the pot of your electric pressure cooker. Add enough water to cover the ingredients by 1-2 inches. Lock the lid and manually set the pressure cooker to cook on high pressure for 2 hours. When it’s done, depressurize naturally.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, I like to pour it through a mesh strainer to get all the small bones and vegetable remnants out. If not using the broth within a few days, it’s best to store it in the freezer.

That’s it. With a just few minutes of prep to assemble the ingredients, an electric pressure cooker makes flavorful chicken broth that tastes like it was simmered on the stove all day long. Unlike on the stovetop, though, there’s no worry about it boiling over, and the time is dramatically reduced.

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