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Thaddeus and an Allergy-friendly Chocolate Cake Recipe

Thaddeus, my baby, turned four today. Up until yesterday, he wanted a giant cookie cake decorated with frosting that said “Happy Birthday Thaddeus!” I planned to use my gluten-free chocolate chip cookie recipe, make some homemade “butter” cream frosting and dream about Great American Cookies’ cookie cakes from my pre-gf days. Yesterday, though, he changed to chocolate cake decorated with Dog Man.

Luckily, I have a one bowl chocolate cake recipe that is so easy there is no reason for boxed chocolate cake mix. It’s one that my mom made, my grandma made and I don’t know how many people before her. The original recipe used regular flour, so I substitute gluten free flour. It was already dairy free, nut-free and egg-free, so, as long as you’re careful with the toppings it is a handy dessert if you have those dietary restrictions. 

Decorating the cake was another matter. If you’re not familiar with the Dog Man book series, here’s what Dog Man and his sidekick Cat Kid look like:

Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild
Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild

 

He only wanted the heads on his cake, so that made it a little easier. They have that deceptively simple look, though, so I was still nervous. The end result was recognizable, even with constant interruptions and my never having painted on frosting before. I really couldn’t have hoped for anything more.

Chocolate Cake
Chocolate cake with Dog Man and Cat Kid frosting for Thadd’s fourth birthday.

Chocolate Cake Recipe

Chocolate Cake

This is a simple chocolate cake recipe that is super easy. It is dairy-free, egg-free, and if you swap the wheat flour for a gluten-free flour blend, it's gluten-free, too! To make it gluten free, I like Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free blend because it already contains xanthan gum. If you use a different gluten-free flour without xanthan gum, I would add about 1-1.5 teaspoons of xanthan gum.
To top, make a simple buttercream (with shortening and non-dairy milk to keep it non-dairy) or use your favorite store bought frosting. You could also sprinkle the warm cake with dairy-free chocolate chips, let them melt a little, then spread across the top for a rich, chocolaty treat.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Course: Dessert
Keyword: 9 x 13, cake, chocolate, dairy free, easy, egg free, gluten free, one bowl, simple
Servings: 29 2x2 inch servings

Equipment

  • 9 x 13 rectangle pan

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups Flour see recipe summary for gluten-free adjustment
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil any light flavored liquid vegetable oil is fine
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Grease the 9 x 13 inch pan, either with shortening, butter, or cooking spray
  • Combine the first five (dry) ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix until evenly blended. Alternatively, sift them together into the bowl.
  • Add the remaining (wet) ingredients and mix until thoroughly blended. You can use a spoon or an electric mixer.
  • Pour the batter into the greased 9 x 13 inch pan.
  • Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.

Notes

I frosted this cake with buttercream tinted blue, then used gel food coloring to paint the faces. I then piped buttercream for the eyes, facial features, outlines, writing and trim. I clearly am not a trained cake decorator, so I can't really say which tips I used or any other details.
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Cupcakes

Sometimes after binge watching baking shows, you just have to bake cupcakes.

Lots of cupcakes

I substituted a 1 to 1 gluten free flour blend for the flour in the yellow cake recipe out of my favorite Better Homes cookbook. The cupcakes turned out a little dense, but not bad. Most gluten free cakes are a little dense, so I’m not sure there’s a good solution.

My favorite part of any cake is the butter cream frosting.  A slightly dense cupcake doesn’t bother me, as long as the frosting is good. My frosting recipe also came from my Better Homes cookbook. Some of my family can’t have dairy, so I substituted shortening for the butter and almond milk for the milk.

My Sunbeam Mixmaster worked beautifully for both the cake batter and butter cream frosting. I’ve had it for over a year and a half now, and the only problem I’ve had was with the beaters.Those were cheap and easy to replace, and it’s been going strong ever since.

Frosting delivery device

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Easy Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

My kitchen is getting overrun with recipes needing organized. To help, I’m typing them here where they are easy to find and print, if needed. First up is a super simple chicken and vegetable quinoa recipe for an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker.

Chicken and vegetable quinoa

Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick, last minute dish that is great hot or cold. Customize it by swapping out the protein or vegetables depending on what you have on hand.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 min
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Servings: 6 people
Author: Charity

Equipment

  • Electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp oil olive oil, coconut oil or preferred cooking oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces Could also use pre-cooked, shredded chicken
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Turn the pressure cooker to "Saute" and add oil.
  • Add the onion and chicken if you are not using pre-cooked chicken.
  • Saute until the onion is translucent and chicken is browned.
    Sauteing Chicken and Onion
  • Press "Cancel" to stop sauteing.
  • Add broth, quinoa and vegetables to pot and stir.
  • Add salt and pepper, if desired.
  • Lock the lid and set cooker to one minute on high pressure.
  • Allow pressure to release naturally when done.
  • Fluff with fork and serve.

Notes

The great thing about this recipe is it is easy to customize. Try it with beef, sausage, tofu, or skip the protein and add more vegetables. If you have leftover chicken, shred it and use it instead of raw chicken breasts.
Clean out the veggie drawer and use whatever you have on hand.
Change up the flavor by adding soy sauce, hot sauce or your favorite seasonings.
It's easy to pack for lunches or take on picnics, too.

Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick, last minute dish that is great hot or cold. Customize it by swapping out the protein or vegetables depending on what you have on hand.

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Goodwill Finds and Refashion Ideas

Pink tunic after removing the lining.

This weekend, we visited a local Goodwill store. Unlike the other Goodwill’s in our area, this one has everything in big bins and they charge a flat, by-the-pound fee. Thrift stores always have unique items, but this one seems to have some really good finds, if you’re willing to dig.

In addition to a few household odds and ends, I found a couple of dresses and a shirt that need a little bit of refashioning, and a pair of skinny boyfriend cut jeans that are like new and fit perfectly. I also found a pretty floral vintage bed sheet. Vintage linens are somewhat in demand among crafters, and I rarely have luck finding them, so it was a nice surprise. 

 

Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet
Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet

Green Dress

The first dress is a casual, green knit dress with interesting cutwork and stitching at the neckline and hem.

Green knit dress
Green knit dress

Pros: It’s comfortable, easy to wear and chase after kiddos, and I like the color and detailing. Cons: It’s a size or two too big. This makes the underarms gappy and the waistline droopy. It’s too short to be a maxi dress, but not short enough to not be frumpy. I could wear it as is around the house, but I think I can make it into something better.

My plan: Separate it at the waist into the bodice and skirt. Tighten the bodice at the side seams. Reattach the skirt to the bodice after removing a few inches from the top of the skirt to make it somewhere between tunic and knee length. Add new, tighter elastic at the waist.

Long, Floral Shirtdress

The pretty blue and floral pattern is what caught my attention with this dress.

Blue, long floral shirtdress
Blue, long floral shirtdress

Pros: The print is very pretty, and there is a lot of fabric to work with. Cons: The fabric is a stiff, non-breathing 100% polyester. It’s a size too small through the middle.

My plan: I have a few ideas for this one. The top (bodice) fits pretty well. The only fit issue is right through the middle. I could separate the bodice from the skirt, raise the skirt so that a wider section that fits me better is at the waist and reattach. Factoring in the button placket might make it tricky, but not that difficult.

I’m not sure I would wear it enough to go through that trouble, though. Option two is to use the skirt portion to make a slip-style nightgown by shaping a neckline and cutouts for armholes, then adding bias tape trim and snaps. I would probably use it more this way, but I still worry about the feel of the fabric. I usually avoid things without at least some natural fiber content. Texas is hot and I need my clothes to breathe.

My final idea is to salvage the buttons and use the fabric for things like bag linings, makeup pouches or other accessories. I will probably try one of my first two ideas before this one. I can always use option three if one or two don’t work out.

Pink Tunic Shirt

I think the flowiness of the outer layer and the stitching around the neckline is what made me grab this tunic shirt from the bin.

Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt
Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt

Pros: Flowy, comfortable fit. Detailing at the neckline keeps it from being too plain. Nice, bright color. Cons: The top layer seems to have shrunk, exposing the lining layer. The lining is 100% polyester knit, which is stretchy and comfortable, but doesn’t breathe.

My plan: This one was so simple, I actually did it in about five minutes this morning. I thought about shortening the lining by a few inches. The top, gauzy layer didn’t really have to have a lining, though, so I decided to remove the lining altogether by simply cutting it out. This made it super easy, and now the tunic is lighter and more suitable to Texas summers.

Pink tunic after removing the lining.
Pink tunic after removing the lining.

It’s not the most dramatic refashion, but it fixed a problem and made it so much more comfortable to wear. I wore it Sunday over my new-to-me Goodwill blue jeans to The Modern art museum and then to Central Market with the family for a treat and playtime on their playground. Without the lining, the tunic was lightweight, and the drapiness of the fabric kept it from feeling frumpy. I totally see it becoming one of my new favorites.

Speaking of The Modern, if you’re on Instagram, I’ve shared a video to @subearthancottage of Thadd and Beckett having fun with the crazy acoustics inside the Vortex sculpture out front. It was so much fun to watch them play, as well as just about anyone walking by. Few people passed without stepping inside to stomp their feet or shout.

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How to make powdered laundry detergent

Laundry detergents have always been problematic for me. Certain brands irritate my skin, and I’ve never been able to pinpoint what ingredient is the problem. Even if I knew, most laundry detergents don’t exactly provide a list of ingredients I could check. Luckily, laundry detergent is easy to make. Doing it yourself not only allows you to control what ingredients are in your detergent, it also saves a ton of money.

My recipe uses four basic ingredients stocked by many supermarkets now, and one optional ingredient.

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts Borax
  • 2 parts Washing Soda
  • 1 part Grated Bar Soap
  • 0.25 part Baking Soda
  • Optional Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil  

Prep:

You’ll want a clean, dry, lidded container or bag to store your homemade laundry detergent. If the container isn’t air-tight, the detergent may clump from moisture in the air. Usually it’s easy to break it up, so this isn’t a big problem. If you don’t do laundry very often, though, you probably want to store it in something with a good seal.

The soap can be anything. Most people start out using a laundry soap like Fels Naptha. Once I started making my own soap, I switched to using whatever basic recipe soap I had on hand. You can grate it by hand with a cheese grater or with a shredding disk on a food processor. 

Make it:

Combine the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl. If you’re not familiar with the “parts” measurement, it’s a simple way of making a recipe fit whatever amount you need by giving the amounts as a ratio instead of a specific measurement. You could substitute “cup” for “parts” if that makes it easier.  

Options:

Leave it unscented, use a scented bar of soap, or add your choice of fragrance or essential oil to the combined ingredients and stir to combine. I usually use about half an ounce of fragrance oil per batch. With essential oils, I usually start with 15 drops or so and see how it smells before adding any more. I’ve heard you could use your favorite cologne or perfume, but I haven’t personally tried it. 

Use it:

I use about two tablespoons per load in my top loading machine. You can use one tablespoon for lightly soiled loads, but with my family, every load is a two tablespoon load.

Laundry Detergent
DIY Powdered Laundry Detergent