Product Spotlight: Mode de Vie Vanilla Lip Balm

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When I was working at Bare Escentuals in the late 90’s they sold a yummy shea butter-based lip balm. It came in a giant tube and was the perfect Tahitian vanilla. I loved it–it was my Holy Grail lip balm.

A few later when I started working natural foods stores I realized that the lip balm was made by Mode de Vie and must have been private labelled for Bare Escentuals. I was happy to have it readily available again, and it was still in the giant tube.

Now they have downsized to a regular tube, but the creamy shea butter balm is the same. And I don’t care what the packaging is like, I am just still happy that I can get this delicious, soothing, hydrating lip balm.

It’s available at Whole Foods and other natural markets, and online.

It also comes in red tango: a slightly tinted berry balm, and cappuccino–a warm espresso flavor. I like to use red tango in place of lipstick with just a bit of mascara and brow pencil on casual makeup days.

*Here is what the color of the tint in red tango looks like.

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Cost: About $7

What is your favorite lip balm?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Going Rogue–The Great Brookster Experiment

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We were supposed to make a Simple Chocolate Whiskey Tart with Whiskey Whipped Cream over at Baked Sunday Mornings this time around. So I guess now is where I need to tell you that I don’t usually like mixing baked goods with alcohol. I like to keep dessert time and drinky time separate. 😉 I did make the Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake when it was assigned to us and tried hard to like it, but I just kept thinking that the whiskey was interfering with the delicate cake and juicy peaches.

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So I decided to take the plunge and attempt to make a recipe that I had wanted to try for a while: the Brookster. (cookie+brownie!) My fellow bakers tackled this recipe in September 2012, way before I joined.

Sometimes when I am going to make something new, especially if I think it might be difficult I like to google it so I can see photos from other bakers who have already made it and blogged about it. I have to say that may have not been a good idea in this case because it almost made me not want to attempt this recipe because the success rate seemed to be pretty low, and the people who DID succeed with it seemed to be meh about the outcome and prefer either a chocolate chip cookie OR a brownie separately.

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I decided to approach this from every possible angle. I knew that the recipe made almost double the amount of chocolate chip cookie dough as it did brownie batter, so I doubled the brownie recipe. I thought that would give me enough to work with so I could make muffin-size Brooksters, larger mini tart pan Brooksters, plus individual cookies and brownies for comparison. (to see if they were, in fact better separately)

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The recipe was straight forward: make the dough and batter and chill for 3 hours. But have you met me? I don’t chill for 3 hours. I’m cool with chilling overnight but if I want to make something same day I usually put it in the freezer to expedite the action. I chilled each in the freezer for an hour and a half. The cookie dough was still in the bowl, one muffin tin had cups half-filled with brownie batter and the remainder of the brownie batter was chilling in the bowl. I also half filled two mini tart pans with brownie batter to make Brooksters and filled 2 other 3/4 of the way full to make plain brownies.

I haven’t been this tense and nervous making anything since I screwed up a buttercream for a cake a few months ago. I was fully prepared for failure, at least for part of the experiment. Maybe the muffin tin Brooksters would be raw in the middle. Maybe the tart pan Brooksters would overflow and splatter all over my oven.

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After I pulled everything from the freezer I assembled the Brooksters. A circle of cookie dough roughly the size of a 50 cent piece was rolled and smooshed into a flat disc, then placed on top of the chilled brownies in the muffin tin. I pushed the discs into the batter slightly. I realized that my little cookie dough hats were fully covering the brownies so I made them a little smaller to see if that made any difference at all in comparison. (it didn’t)

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When the first pan of muffin-tin Brooksters were in the oven I scooped out a quarter sheet pan of plain chocolate chip cookies. I kept a close eye on the first Brookster batch as they cooked. Ten minutes on one side, pan rotated and timer set for ten more minutes. After twenty minutes I had to make a judgement call. If I was making regular cookies, I would have pulled them before they got as dark at the cookie part was on my Brooksters, but I had to remind myself that I usually underbake my cookies. I touched the tops and they seemed like they could safely bake a few more minutes so I set the timer for three more minutes.

I let them cool completely in the pan, except for one test Brookster that I broke in half. It was hard to tell when warm if the brownie was totally done but the cookie was definitely cooked through. I put one half in the fridge to cool for further observation. The plain cookies went in next and the mini tart pans went in after that. By that time the original batch had cooled enough for me to realize that I had achieved Brookster success! They were not raw or weird at all. I pulled the muffin liners off of that batch because they were really greasy and looked kind of gross. They peeled away easily and I set the Brooksters aside to further cool.

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The batch of cookies browned pretty quick and got a l lot darker than I would have liked before I had the chance to pull them. I was a little disappointed and just set them aside.

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By the time I decided to make a second batch of muffin tin Brooksters (since the first batch was fine) the tart-pan Brooksters were cooled and I took them out of their pans. I had been really worried about the tart-pan Brooksters because they were really buttery-bubbly. When I looked at them butter was oozing around them in the pan. It looked gross/weird and I was terrified that that meant certain failure. It turns out that by the time I pulled them the butter had burned off and by the time I took them out of the pan they were totally fine and not weird/greasy at all. Phew.

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I had originally thought: ok if the first batch of muffin Brooksters tanked then I could still take the second half of the brownie batter (chilled in a bowl, not a pan) and make plain brownies, and make regular cookies with the remaining cookie dough and all will not be lost. But since everything was going pretty well I just made a second Brookster batch. I was confident in baking times at that point and replicated the 10 on one side, 13 on the other and they were great.

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Amazingly enough, I still had enough leftover cookie dough to make 7 more cookies and this was after liberal raw-dough eating.
By the time everything was all said and done I had 24 muffin-sized Brooksters, 2 4″ tart Brooksters, 2 4″ brownies and 13 cookies. So obviously, I had plenty of product to work with to compare and choose a favorite. I have to say: I love warm cookies, but prefer brownies the second day, so after testing a couple of muffin Brooksters I put all the rest aside to rest overnight.

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I left the liners on the second batch of muffin-pan Brooksters and so the next morning I had half with and half without. The 4″ Brooksters unmolded from their pans with no problems at all.

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So here was my overall assessment: the muffin tin Brooksters were by far the crowd favorite. They were great in my boys’ lunches, they were perfect for a very satisfying dessert treat. Even though the cookie SEEMED too dark at first, it was not burned or overcooked. The brownie part was fudgy and dense and pretty much the best brownie on the planet. It didn’t rise, but the cookie did so the layers ended up being equals, which really surprised me because the disc seemed so small and thin and unsubstantial.

The buttery, chewy cookie was a great compliment to the super dense over-the-top fudgy brownie, and I really did prefer them together. I love brownies but sometimes the fudginess is just TOO much. The texture and buttery flavor of the cookie and the little burst of semisweet chocolate chips really did enhance the brownie for me. The Brooksters that still had the liners turned out to be the better choice because the liners kept them from drying out. The ones with the liners removed were a bit dry after a couple of days.

The cookies were good and you know…just chocolate chip cookies. They could have used a sprinkle of salt on the tops, but they were great/fine and although the color was dark, they stayed chewy and soft even days later.

The giant brownie was tasty and perfect but….the giant Brookster for me tasted so much better. (even though that size is a bit insane and I can NEVER make a dessert that only yields 6 in a family of 5 )

Next time I think I will stick to the recipe as is and make 12 Brooksters and freeze the rest of the cookie dough either for more Brooksters later or an emergency batch of cookies. (cookie emergencies happen!) 24 Brooksters, as glorious as that is–is just too many to have on hand at once.

Don’t get me wrong, we ate them ALL, and after they were gone my boys were like ‘where are the Brooksters?’ They had them after school and in lunches a few days and they said that ALL of their friends wanted one, which is a huge compliment.

I have to say–I have not been more proud of a baking success in a LONG time. I was so happy and surprised with the way everything turned out and I really think the reason I was able to do so well was because I was able to see ahead of time what some of the potential problems could be. I think smooshing the dough discs pretty thin was the way to go, I can see how a thicker disc would not have gotten cooked through and I can definitely understand the inclination to want to add more cookie dough on top of that huge mound of brownie batter. But truly, the layers end up almost the same, which is awesome.

I hope that if any other would-be Brookster bakers read this it is helpful for their own successful batch. Truly, this dessert was so so so good and I can totally see why the Baked boys sell so many at their bakery.

Next up: Bale bars! (I have no idea what that is, I’m off to check out the recipe!)

Share the Scoby Love

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With every batch of kombucha that is made, the scoby starts to get a bit thicker. Translucent gummy goodness is a sign that the scoby is having a baby. I hadn’t separated my fused mama/baby scoby until this last batch. I realized that as the holidays approach maybe a little starter kit with a scoby (swimming in the brew it was born in) directions and helpful hints (handwritten for a personal touch) and a bottle of my latest batch may be a fun gift for one of the kombucha lovers in my life.

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I know so many people who enjoy a bottle of store bought kombucha, and most probably don’t enjoy the $4 price tag. Just like anything else, it’s so cheap to make and I achieved success with my very first batch with zero experience or knowledge prior to giving it a shot. I have read a lot of blogs and websites discussing methods and equipment and was able to get a pretty solid working technique down quickly. (although I did use a spicy tea last time without realizing the essential oils may be harmful to my scoby, I guess we’ll see if it is ok by how my current batch pans out)

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Williams-Sonoma sells this kit online for $70 and even though the glass jar is cool, I think it’s a total scam. I don’t think I’ve spent $20 on supplies and I’m on my 5th batch.

I think I have a recipient in mind for my first little kit, if I get a good response I may continue to spread the scoby love around.

What are your favorite DIY gifts to give this time of year?

Kombucha Files: Batch 3

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So far so good with my kombucha! The latest batch is currently fermenting and I think it’s going to be a good one. Batch one and two were made with organic honeycrisp apple juice and ginger. The last batch had a far more pronounced ginger flavor because I used peeled and sliced ginger instead of just a chunk of peeled ginger.

The second batch used organic black tea bags and organic hibiscus/mint tea bags, this new batch I used organic herbal spice tea and black tea. I plan on adding a lot of ginger to this batch as well, because I really like the flavor and the tummy benefits. I decided to branch out with the juice as well and use organic pear instead of apple.

The glass jar I have been using for the second ferment is not at all right. I love that it has a spigot but the top does not allow for proper carbonation to build up. I really need screw top jars for that to happen, so I’ve been saving bottles to use for this third batch. I have the two apple juice jars and a few store-bought kombucha bottles.

I really want to go to the local homebrew supply store to get these awesome bottles. One case of 12 would be perfect for ongoing batches of kombucha. My whole family loves it and the bottles are really ideal for individual servings. Of course I also fantasize about getting snazzy labels and coming up with some sort of snappy name for my brew. Not to sell, the Austin kombucha market is getting pretty saturated–mostly just because I like the idea of sipping my kombucha out of cute personalized bottles.

Have you made kombucha yet?

Pumpkinpalooza Continues: Vegan Pumpkin Ice Cream

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I knew my first pie pumpkin would go fast. I made pumpkin seed brittle, pumpkin butter, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cinnamon rolls and used up the last of it last night making vegan pumpkin ice cream. It was super quick and easy and very, very yummy.

I had a second pie pumpkin on deck ready to go, and I roasted it a few days ago, in anticipation of using up the first one. But the weirdest thing happened. After hours (4 or 5) of roasting, it remained hard as a rock. AND it turned really brown/charred. I tossed it, I guess I got a bum pumpkin? But now, sadly I am pumpkin-less. (until I buy a new one)

Vegan Pumpkin Ice Cream:

2 cans chilled coconut milk (canned, full fat)
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
Pie spices: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves to taste

Mix everything up, then freeze according to your manufacturer’s instructions. I have the kitchenaid ice cream attachment, so I just pop the chilled bowl on there and churn for about 15 minutes. We ate a bit, then I froze the rest. Initially the consistency is like soft-serve, but freezing it turns it a bit harder like traditional ice cream.

What is YOUR favorite pumpkin recipe? I think I need to make cookies and maybe a bundt cake next.

Spooky Saturday Night

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It was hard to narrow down what to do over the weekend to celebrate the Halloween season. Haunted hay ride? Zoo trip? Museum event? Pumpkin patch? I had a few ideas, then a friend on Facebook let me know that R.L Stine, one of my boys’ favorite authors was speaking at the Texas State Cemetery after dark.

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I am eternally grateful to R.L Stine and authors like him for creating books that capture my boys’ imagination. When they were learning to read, all of the early readers were boooooring to them and I was worried that they would not learn to love books the way I do. I spent hours googling early readers, graphic novels and chapter books that were more on the gory exciting side for them. Of course R.L Stine came up.

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Before R.L (“Bob”) went on, a man named James Preller read from one of his newer books. I’ll definitely add him to our list of spooky, boy-friendly authors.

After the reading Mr. Stine walked past me and I said hi. He told me that Griffin was cute. I wanted to thank him for helping my boys become book lovers, but all I managed was a smile. I think he got it. Authors have always made me far more starstruck than movie stars. The line for autographs was super long, and most of the people there were adults, oddly enough. My boys didn’t have the patience to wait, the three of them wanted to shine their flashlights at the headstones instead.

What spooky things have YOU done so far for Halloween?

The Scobe: Adventures in Kombuchaland

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I inherited a scoby from a friend last week and decided to bite the bullet and finally give DIY kombucha a whirl. I had no clue what to do with her when I brought her home in a glass pint jar, swimming in the brew she was born in, so I did a lot of internet reading to prepare. After a couple of days I shrugged and tossed the scobe in with a fresh batch of sweet tea into a glass jar with a spigot (that I had just bought) I saw the scoby sink to the bottom. I had no idea if I had killed it or what was going on.

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The next day I took the kombucha down from the shelf above my dryer in the laundry room and peeked under the coffee filters (used to help the ‘booch breathe and keep bugs and fruit flies out) The scoby had floated to the top and it smelled happy and very kombucha-y in there. I tasted it in day three (I slipped a straw under the scobe and took a sip) and it seemed like it was going to be good.

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After it brewed for 7 days I used a pair of tongs to fish out the scoby (my oldest boy insisted on putting on a pair of plastic gloves so he could feel it’s slimy squishiness) and let it swim in some of the kombucha in the pint jar I brought it home in. I tossed in a chunk of peeled fresh ginger and added 32 oz. of organic honeycrisp apple juice. I used the scoby (fused with it’s baby, I didn’t separate them yet) to start a fresh batch and put the first batch back on the shelf to do a second ferment and hopefully create some yummy bubbles in there. (like what I’m used to in store-bought)

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This morning I poured a glass to sample and really loved the way it tasted. It was definitely “real kombucha.” I put it back on the shelf and was excited to see lots of bubbles forming on the top. I tasted it again tonight and the flavor is definitely deeper and more complex. I’ll taste it again tomorrow and if it seems to be where I like it then I’ll toss it in the fridge. I don’t plan on straining it, the spigot seems to be catching the bigger chunks and I don’t want to mess up the carbonation. Plus it will be gone probably before the second batch is finished with the first fermentation.

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I let my older boys have some with dinner and they loved it. I think we’ll need a bigger jar! I feel bad because my sweet husband wanted to get a 2 gallon screw top (looked like a giant mason jar!) container the first time but I was hesitant to go bigger than a gallon or so in case it didn’t work out. (the one he wanted was twice as much as the one I wanted) I want to get a case of flip top bottles and a few jugs and another bigger container with a spigot. I found a few online, but I will probably end up investing in real homebrew supplies as time goes on. I can’t wait to experiment with different flavors!

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Have you made kombucha before? What are YOUR favorite flavor combinations?