Snakes and Soda Bombs

In our house, all the drains in all the sinks are screwy. The sinks are slightly tilted in the wrong direction or the bottoms of them are flat so the water doesn’t actually LEAVE the sink. And I suspect that most of the drains were partially clogged when we moved in, because getting water out of them has always taken a while. Now that we’ve been here over a year (and will shortly be leaving as quickly as possible), we’ve added our own mix of dog hair and muck to our drains and the two in our bathroom, the tub and sink respectively, need some TLC.

Remember when I cleaned our dishwasher and it was one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever done? Well this is way more gross. These pictures are going to be graphic so feel free to skip this post if you think you might lose your stomach contents. If it makes you feel better I gagged often while actually doing this thing. This is my bathtub drain. You can see the gunk surrounding it because it’s not draining fast enough to wash everything down so little bits of dirt get stuck, and nothing dries, so I get that lovely orange mildew line. Yummy. The pop-up plug thing that goes with the tub never worked so we pulled it off and bought a regular rubber plug. It’s somewhere around the house …

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When you’re first cleaning out a drain, before you reach for chemicals or solvents, grab one of these. This is a drain snake. It’s just a wee one. If you have some more serious drain issues than a bit of dog hair then you might want something more complex, but this one does the trick when you’re trying to navigate around funny-shaped plug bits jammed in your drain.

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So you take the snake, and you shove the brushy end down into the drain and scoop it around until you feel you’ve caught a bunch of stuff.

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Bring it up and clean it off. Try not to throw up. I would recommend wearing gloves. Because bleugh.

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This is all the gross hair I pulled out of the drain. Holy ew.

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Next, to make extra sure you’ve got everything in there, put a kettle of water on to boil and grab some vinegar and baking soda. Block off any other vents or drains that are attached to the one you’re trying to clear using tape or a rag.

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Tip about 1/2 cup of the baking soda down the drain.

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Then add in 1/2 cup of the vinegar and jam the plug down. Leave that for however long it takes your kettle to boil. I found it made a very satisfying noise throughout the house as it gurgled through the pipes. The chemical reaction that’s going on is breaking down all the fats and oils and stuff that cause that sludgy goo and getting rid of them.

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When the kettle is ready, empty it down the drain to flush all the now loose bits away.

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And the drain is now as good as new – or at least, as good as the day we moved in. Maybe slightly better. Who knows?

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My scary sink is a whole ‘nother kettle of stanky fish, because it has that stupid pop-up plug thing going on and I can’t get in there with even my wee snake. What I need to do is take the little pop-up thing out and do all sorts of horrible things. It will involve much swearing and probably some assistance from the Pie (because we make a good plumbing team). And you don’t need to see that (because I know it’s jammed with like a year of the Pie’s beard hair and that is GROSS). But if you have the same problem, I found an amazing video that lays out what to do much better than I ever could. You can access it on YouTube here.

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Apricot Oatmeal Loaf

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I’m always looking for new ways to put more fibre into my baking that don’t necessarily involve bran (I feel like that sentence alone puts me in the “grown-up” category.  And you know what’s good for you if you’re not getting enough fibre? APRICOTS. So I made an apricot loaf. And if you like apricots you can make one too.

Apricot Oatmeal Loaf 1

Preheat your oven to 350°F and spray or butter a loaf pan in preparation. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar. I don’t even have a picture of it because it’s just a bowl of white (and because maybe I forgot). Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon nutmeg for colour (and flavour).

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Because I forgot, you get a slightly more interesting picture of chopped apricots instead.

In a small bowl, scramble together 2 large eggs.

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Then tip in 1/2 cup melted butter, 1/2 cup plain yogurt (or fruity yogurt, maybe apricot yogurt, it’s up to you), 1/3-1/2 cup apricot jam, and 1/2 cup milk.

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Pour that wet stuff into the dry stuff and stir until combined. Then pour in 1 cup oats and 3/4 cup chopped dried apricots. Stir stir stir!

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Smooth that into your pan and then bake for about 1 hour, until a deep caramel brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let it mostly cool in the pan and tip it out onto a rack to cool completely.

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I’m really enjoying it toasted, with butter, for breakfast.

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Jammy Bran Muffins

These muffins are a little bit different from your usually brown bran muffins. As you may know, I have a love/hate relationship with bran, so I’m always looking for new ways to ingest fibre without feeling like I’m eating sawdust. It’s a never-ending challenge. The additional challenge of these is that for some reason I have four jars of jam in my fridge and neither the Pie nor I is eating a lot of toast at the moment. So I decided to use it as my sweetener in this shindig.

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Start by setting your oven to preheat at 350°F and spray a muffin tin or rub it with butter. If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, feel free to sour some milk by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice to every cup of regular milk. Give that a stir and leave it for 5 minutes.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 cup bran, 1/4 cup ground flax (because it’s good for you – make sure it’s partially ground before you add it in), and 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda.

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In a smaller bowl, scramble together 4 tablespoons melted butter3/4 cup of your favourite jam (this one is serviceberry), 1 large egg, and 2 cups buttermilk (or alternative).

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Now pour the liquids into the solids and gently whisk until only just combined.

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Dump in 1 cup raisins (or not, if you’re not a fan of raisins) and whisk until just combined again – never over-mix muffins. If you do they end up flat. And that’s lame.

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Divide the batter in your tin. Bake those puppies for 20-25 minutes, until the centre muffin tests clean when stabbed with a toothpick.

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Leave them in the pan for about 5 minutes to cool a little bit before digging them out and eating them or letting them cool completely.

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We always like our muffins hot, with butter. Because, well, butter.

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Ginger Molasses Cookie

So there’s a certain giant mega-corporation coffee chain near our office. I’m sure you know the one – it has a fishy logo. Because it’s the only place near our office, we go there ALL THE TIME. And I’m kind of in love with their giant ginger molasses cookies. But they’re a million dollars and I just KNOW that the reason they’re so chewy and amazing is because they’re filled with all sorts of ick. And there’s probably some form of addictive substance in them (other than sugar, I mean), because I don’t even LIKE cookies and I can’t resist these. And I just found out TWO DAYS AGO that the place near work has discontinued the darned things.

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So it’s been a quest of mine to re-create the recipe on my own. Turns out I’m not the only one who has tried. Most of the recipes I found seem to be taken from the same source and have mostly the same ingredients, so I picked this one from Food.com. Forgive my crappy photos – it’s a weeknight in the winter in Canada so it’s dark. Start by preheating your oven to 375°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Then grab your ingredients.

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Whisk together 2 1/4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves. Set that aside for a few minutes.

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Next, in the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together 3/4 cup butter and 1 cup dark brown sugar. I didn’t have dark brown so I went with regular brown. But the darker your sugar, the darker your cookie.

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Scrape down the mixing paddle and the sides of the bowl and crack in 1 large egg. Pour in as well 1/4 cup regular unsulphured molasses. I used fancy grade molasses, because that seems to be what you can get in Canada. Not sure what the difference is.

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Give that a good beating until it’s smooth.

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Now, slowly add in your flour mixture while beating on low speed. Keep mixing until the dough forms a cohesive mass – it’ll be super thick and you’ll have to scrape things down occasionally to ensure good mixage.

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Now grab your cookie dough, and your baking sheets, and a shallow dish or plate. Tip about 1/3 cup granulated sugar onto the plate and spread it around. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the dough (I’m not kidding, these things are huge), roll it into a ball, and roll it in the granulated sugar before placing it on the baking sheet.

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Do that five more times for the first sheet, spacing them far apart (they spread). Do the other six on the other baking sheet (yeah, this recipe only makes 12. If you’re not insane and you’d like a smaller cookie go ahead and do that).

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Next, wet your fingers and press down on each cookie ball to flatten it slightly and dampen the sugar coating. Shove one baking sheet in the fridge and the other in the oven.

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Bake each sheet, one at a time, for 12 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until the cookie is an even brown and is mostly solid in the middle. Let those giant suckers cool on the baking sheet.

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I’m not sure if they’re *quite* the recipe I was looking for – I might add more ginger and more molasses (or maybe my ginger is just a little old). But they’re really good nonetheless!

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Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: Redux

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Two years ago yesterday I made this post, and to date it’s my most popular post of all time. It didn’t garner a lot of attention when I stuck it up there, but daily it’s my most-visited, most-pinned item – by thousands. AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHY. My second-most popular post of all time? Wattle fencing. Third? Cleaning your dishwasher. What is WRONG with you guys? You have seriously weird tastes.

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So the Pie thought it would be fun for me to re-create the post to see if it’s just as good the second time, so here I go: but with way more pizzazz than the first time. HOLD ON TO YER BUTTS.

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Making this for a second time, I’m reminded of how stupidly easy it is, which might be part of its allure. I mean, it feels like I’m making it out of a box, it’s so simple. Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and spraying a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. I am doubling this recipe so don’t be alarmed by the sheer amount of pumpkin cake you see here.

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Grab a large bowl and dump in 1 15oz can of unsweetened pumpkin purée. Crack in 4 eggs,  tip in 1 cup vegetable oil, and plop in 1 cup sugar (I reduced this from the last recipe). Give it a thorough whirl with a whisk so it’s gloriously and uniformly orange. Next, in a whole other bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (that’s another small change from the last one).

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Dump that flour stuff carefully into the pumpkin stuff and be thorough with the mixing again.

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Smooth the batter (wasn’t that easy?) into your baking dish and shove it in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

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Set that glorious orange cake on a wire rack to cool completely. Now you can whip together your amazing cream cheese frosting. I’m doubling the icing amount on this one because I believe that cream cheese icing is the greatest thing in the world and everything needs more of it (this is also why I reduced the sugar in the batter).

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In the bowl of a mixer, plop 8oz/250g plain cream cheese that is room temperature (to avoid lumps) and 1/2 cup softened butter, with a few drops vanilla extract. Beat that smooth and then add in 2-4 cups icing sugar until it’s the consistency that you like.

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Spread that amazingness generously on your lovely dark orange cake and EAT IT.

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Thrifty me, I still had some cream cheese icing leftover from the General’s Spider-Man cake, so I used it on my second cake. It looks a little funny but it tastes just as good!

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Yet Another Spider-Man Cake

The Pie’s crowning achievement in life (in his mind) is having gotten the General addicted to Spider-Man (or “Pydermun” as the General says). So when Atlas asked me to make a cake for the General’s second birthday party, we all knew what the theme would be. I made a cake for the Pie a year back with an arachnid theme so I was pretty confident I could replicate my awesomeness. The resulting decoration, due to some recalcitrant icing, was a little underwhelming but boy the cake was good – it disappeared within about twenty minutes!

Spider-Man Strawberry Cake

The cake itself is pretty easy. I adapted a simple yellow cake out of the Joy of Cooking and decided to tip in a bunch of strawberries, too.

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So I washed and cut up about a pint of the little red gems, and made sure that they were in decently small pieces.

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Then I buttered and lined a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with parchment paper. This cake is very moist and fragile so you need some help tipping it out of the pan and the paper helps. You can preheat your oven to 350°F as well while you’re at it.

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If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, then whip up this quick substitute: add 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice to a 1 cup measuring cup and fill the rest with milk. Stir and leave for 5 minutes. Set that aside for now.

In a bowl, sift together 2 1/3 cups flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Set that aside and grab your mixer.

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In the bowl of your mixer, dump 3/4 cup softened butter and whip that into a pale fluffy frenzy for like three minutes.

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Now tip in 1 1/3 cup sugar and beat again until you have a fluffy amazing pile of salty sweet buttery goodness.

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Now add in 3 large eggs, one at a time, as well as 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and beat until fully combined and smooth.

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Grab your flour mixture and your 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute) and alternate adding them to the mix, stirring each time. Start with the flour, so you have three additions of flour and two of buttermilk, and go until it’s all smooth and batter-y.

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Dump in your 1 pint chopped strawberries and stir those in well.

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Smooth the batter into the pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Set that on a rack in the pan to cool completely.

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Make yourself some icing – your choice, but I prefer the standby cream cheese recipe of 1 cup butter:1 package cream cheese:3-4 cups icing sugar. I tipped in some almond extract to boost the strawberry flavour, and then dyed it appropriately with gel paste food colouring.

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I actually ran out of red colour so the background ended up a wee bit pink.

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And the black stuff got super wobby when I was piping it so it didn’t look so hot. However I did manage to get the floppy cake onto the lid of a tupperware container before decorating so it was a simple matter to simply jam the bottom on top for easy transport!

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Salted Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread

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Banana bread freezes really well, and so it’s a great thing to make in advance for something like my upcoming shindig. Because it’s a fancy shindig, I wanted to make it with a bit of a twist on my traditional recipe. And while I’m on the bourbon caramel theme this week, I figured I might as well make me some fancy banana bread! I used my original recipe (see link above), but instead of using very ripe (pre-frozen) bananas I used yellow ones, because I wanted a few chunks in my banana bread. And of course I made up a bourbon caramel sauce, which I borrowed from the Minimalist Baker. So first we’ll make up the sauce, and then we’ll re-make our old classic banana bread.

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This caramel sauce! I’m definitely of the Keep It Simple, Stupid school of thought, so I love the 4-ingredient easiness of this recipe. And now I want to drink the stuff. It’s amazing. I doubled the original recipe because I anticipated loving it and wanting to drink it, but it makes a decent amount for a generous swirl of caramel throughout the banana bread (if you leave like half a cup leftover for yourself to eat with a spoon).

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 19Start with 2 cups granulated sugar and plop that in a medium saucepan together with 1/2 cup water (in this 4-ingredient recipe, water does not count as an ingredient. It evaporates so technically it doesn’t exist!). Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 1

Heat that on medium high for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t stir: just swirl the pot occasionally.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 5You’ll get bored, but you can’t leave. So enjoy a glass of bourbon while you’re waiting. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 4

The sugar will begin to boil, and then, as the water evaporates, the bubbles will get smaller and smaller.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 12Eventually the mixture will turn a lovely amber colour and will only be kind of fizzy. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 13

At this point, remove it from the heat (turn off the burner) and, whisking the whole time, drizzle in 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream. Don’t freak out as it fizzes and foams up around you. Just keep whisking. I usually sing a song to a volcano god while I do this. I always feel like I’m summoning a creature from the depths when I do science-y things like make caramel.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 14When you’ve got the cream all whisked in and the whole thing has calmed down, put the pot back on the still-warm burner and tip in 2 tablespoons bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark). This time it will only fizz a little bit. Add in as well a few pinches of salt – I used fleur de sel. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 15

Pour into a heat-safe container and let cool before storing in the fridge. If you want to use this for other things then just warm it up a bit and then it will become pour-able again. I kind of like the finger-scoop-y texture of it when it’s cold though.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 17I’m having a hard time giving up even a little bit of this for banana bread. But I gotta do what I gotta do. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 18

So. Let’s do some banana bread. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two loaf pans with parchment paper.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 25Grab 5 bananas. You can use overripe or frozen bananas but this time I decided to use ones with a bit more substance to them – of course I waited too long to do the recipe and they’re a little spotty but whatever. Nobody ever said I was the proactive blogger. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 22

Mush, mush, mush ’em into a small bowl together with 1 tablespoon baking soda that has been “dissolved” in 3 tablespoons hot water. Put that bowl to one side for a minute.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 23Grab another, medium bowl and plop in 1 cup room temperature butter. Beat that silly with 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar until you get a serious case of the fluffy butters. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 24

Then crack in 2 eggs and beat that until it’s a coagulated mess. Mmmm … Line this bowl up with the banana bowl and leave those for a few minutes.

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In ANOTHER bowl (this time a decent-sized one), sift together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 29Now we put it all together. Beat the banana mixture into the egg mixture and then tip it into the flour mixture. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 31

Fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture until it’s all combined.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 33NOW, glop a bunch of your caramel sauce into the batter and kind of swirl it through gently. Don’t let it get too mixed in – you want streaks. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 34

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 35Tip the batter between the two loaf pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the loaves are cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 36

Use the parchment paper to lift the loaves out of the pans and let them cool completely on a cooling rack.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 39Freeze or cut and serve with butter. MMMMMMM!

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