The Vinegar Trick and Some Magic

Hi, folks. Been a while!

I decided to update this thing because I have discovered a really cool trick to help keep dishwashers (and your dishes) from smelling funky, and it’s too good not to share with the tens of readers who follow this blog. (And just a quick note, everything here is solely my personal opinion and I was not asked to plug any specific product.)

You know how your dishes can be “clean” right from the dishwasher but they smell disgusting? Like someone blow-dried on some nasty invisible funk smell? Well, that wet dog, “earthworm” smell indicates that your dishwasher itself needs a really thorough cleansing in the crevices you can’t reach. Think about if you dipped your toothbrush in the toilet–you wouldn’t want to put it back in your mouth, right? Well, that odor tells you that your dishes have gone in the toilet.

Okay, now that we’re all grossed out, I’m going to recommend a product called Dishwasher Magic.

dishwasher-magic

That stuff is the bees’ knees. We use it every 3-6 months in our household to clean the mechanisms in the dishwasher which do the actual cleaning of the dishes. It not only gets rid of calcium buildup but it disinfects; it claims to get rid of both salmonella and e.coli. That’s a winner right there.

But the second thing you can do, and the trick that inspired this post, is to use good old-fashioned white distilled vinegar as an in-between rinse. I do two things with this: I fill the rinse-aid container with vinegar instead of Jet Dry, which helps with spots and overall cleanliness; I also use a “vinegar rinse” every few cycles (or when I start to smell funk) and pair it with the light or delicate cycle. What that means is, I take a tall glass and fill it halfway with white distilled vinegar, place it securely on the bottom rack where it sits flat, and turn the dishwasher on the delicate cycle.

That’s it!

Seriously, that’s all it takes. I’ve even tested it by putting some “clean” dishes that smell like wet dog in the upper rack of the dishwasher with the cup of vinegar sitting on the bottom, and they come out smelling fresh (read: like clean glass and nothing else).

It saves your sanity, a little money, and you don’t have to actually scrub out the dishwasher itself.

It seriously works and, if you’re like me who has strong smell aversions, you will want to start doing this right away.

Hope this helps anyone out there who is washing everything by hand because the inside of the dishwasher smells like a garbage heap. Let me know if you try the Dishwasher Magic or the vinegar trick and what you think!

 

Lit’rally the Best Brownies Ever

Brownies_zoesays

Hello, lovely readers!

We’ve been having gorgeous weather lately and last weekend, it was wonderful to throw open all the windows and let in fresh air, sunshine, and the sounds of birds chirping. For some reason, the pacifying gorgeous weather struck a baking chord within me. (I bet you were wondering how I would segue into brownies from pretty weather, huh?)

So, let’s get to the meat of things–or the chocolate of things, as the case may be.

I know there are a gazillion recipes out there for brownies. I mean, if you type in “brownies” on Pinterest, your Pinterest will hang for five minutes while it tries to deliver the search results.

A good friend of mine and I had a discussion about this treat not too long ago, which ended up being the catalyst for my search. I have yet to find a brownie at any bakery in my town that is what I dub a “Zoe brownie.” Frankly, it’s been a long while since I’ve consumed a brownie in a commercial or retail setting that was memorable.

Probably not a shock to those who know me but I am very picky about how brownies should look and taste.

My opinion is that they should be rich, not too sweet, very chocolatey, dense, chewy on the edges, and have nothing to distract from these qualities, e.g. nuts, peanut butter, chips, icing, etc.

When I conducted my aforementioned Pinterest search, the results returned were all brownie recipes that had a whole bunch of stuff on or in them. So I scrapped that, went back to good old Google, and narrowed my findings down to four solid looking recipes. After reading through them, I was able to narrow down the possible winners to two, both of which claimed to be the BEST brownies.

It then came down to ingredients and preparation. Based on that, I decided to go with one posted on Cravings of a Lunatic, entitled, “The Best Brownies in the WORLD!!!” I was ready and willing to prove whether this claim was, in fact, true.

Well.

There’s only one thing I have to say about that. Using the inflection of Chris Traeger’s character from Parks and Rec, I can say with no exaggeration that they were LIT’RALLY? the best brownies I’ve ever had. I have no idea how the original author came up with this outstanding recipe, but it is nothing short of divine.

Here is the ingredients list and also my very minor tweaks in parentheses. (Please note that these amounts will yield a double batch, which fits into one 9×13 pan of brownies. A single batch is meant to go in an 8×8 pan but honestly, do yourself a favor and make the double batch.)

  • Two sticks of butter (I did one stick of unsalted and one stick of salted)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (We happened to have Scharffen Berger 99% unsweetened dark chocolate on hand.)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten (Really beat the eggs with a fork–get the stress out!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla salt (you can use regular salt for this–I used fine sea salt)

Here are the easy peasy lemon squeezy preparation instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Line your pan with parchment paper. (I used Kim’s tip to wet the parchment paper to get it to stick to the pan.)
  • Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together over medium heat in a medium saucepan; I strongly suggest using a double boiler. (Kim suggests a wooden spoon–I recommend a rubber spatula for most of this process.)
  • Remove from heat and add the sugar. Stir well.
  • Now add your eggs and vanilla, stirring until it’s smooth. (Here is where you may want to switch out your rubber spatula for a minute and use a whisk.)
  • Add chocolate chips, flour, and salt. Stir until well blended. (Back to the rubber spatula we go.)
  • Pour into pan and place in oven. (Tapping the pan on the counter to settle the batter works and pops any lingering bubbles.)
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, toothpick inserted should come out clean (or mostly clean) when done.
  • Remove and cool on a rack.
  • Serve and consume!

These brownies taste unbelievable after cooling a bit but are still warm, with or without a scoop of ice cream. They definitely require milk or coffee to accompany them.

They also keep! Boxed brownies, while they can bake up decently, usually just taste like hardened chemicals the next day, which makes me gag.

Not these babies. Granted, they don’t last very long because you can’t believe how good they smell and taste, and so you and your family eat them pretty quickly, but they DO keep. Breakfast, snacks, dessert, just because, whatever. If you’re a gym goer or don’t indulge often, I promise it’s worth the extra gym session or having a cheat.

These brownies are super rich and chocolatey, moist, fudgey, smell like a chocolate shop and everything good in the world, and come out of the oven with a delicious glossy crust. The edges are perfectly chewy and add a lovely bit of texture.

Make some for your office mates and share if you don’t want to end up eating half a pan of these sinful things.

What’s a blog post about brownies without photos? Here are a handful. I honestly didn’t get a lot because we pounced on them like rabid hyenas.

It goes without saying but here it is anyway: this is totally a Zoe Recommends!

 

Dark ChocolateChopped Chocolate Brownie pan

 

Brownies 2_zoesays

 

Spring Fling and Easter Critters

IMG_0190-Edit

Is it too early to celebrate? No? Happy Spring!!!

I sincerely hope the weather is springlike where you are. I think we can all agree winter was frigid, to say the least, and I know more than a few states in the good old U.S. of A were walloped with weather they almost never have to worry about. Illinois has allllll the seasons, and while I prefer it that way, Old Man Winter was extra cranky this year, resulting in getting more than our fair share of snow, ice, wind, and crazy sub-zero temperatures.

As some of you may have seen already, I have been diligently working on my side hobbies quite ardently in the last few months–namely crocheting cute little things and posting them in my relatively new Etsy shop.

Soooo to celebrate the arrival of what is hopefully better weather and warmer temperatures, in addition to Easter coming up, oh and just ’cause you guys are awesome, I am offering my readers a “Zoe Says” discount in the Etsy shop. Just enter the coupon code SPRINGFLING14 at checkout, and you automatically shave off 10% from your order. There is no minimum purchase required (really!) and I have items for sale for a variety of budgets, big or small.

For those who haven’t visited the shop yet, I sell both crocheted items (little amigurumi creatures and a few wearables) plus photographic prints and canvasses.

And! Pretty much everything is customizable, so if you see something you like but want a different color, just send me a message.

If you want a print but don’t see the size you want, hit me up.

If you are buying an “in stock” item and want more than one, we can do that.

If you have something specific in mind and don’t see it listed, just ask if it’s possible for me to make it. The possibilities are endless and the discount will still apply!

Etsy makes it easy to contact me; just click one of the links on the sidebar in the area that looks like this:

Custom Order

I have had several custom requests from friends and acquaintances and it’s always fun to try something new and give someone exactly what they want. This Spring Fling/Easter sale/Zoe Says “thanks!” coupon code doesn’t expire until April 20, 2014 but order early if you want something in time for Easter, since I like, have to make it and ship it.

To sum up:

It’s Spring. We’re overjoyed.

Easter is a month away and we love pastels and eggs and chocolate and cute little critters.

I’m grateful for you, my readers.

I’m offering a special thank you code through Easter, which is April 20. SPRINGFLING14 gets you 10% off any order, big or small! Just hit up the shop.

Here are some cuteness overload photos, in case you’re still on the fence. Every single thing in these photos is available for sale! Thanks so much, everyone, and enjoy this first month of spring!

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Zoe Recommends: Dash and Bella Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know it’s a new year and some of us are three weeks into a new health regime. If you’re on any kind of kick where a delicious cookie would “ruin” anything, just pass this post right on by. However, if you’re like me and still try the occasional “best ever” chocolate chip cookie recipe, read on.

I skipped making Christmas cookies this year. To atone for that, coupled with several weekends of unsubtle nudging from my better half, I made this chocolate chip cookie recipe, courtesy of Dash and Bella.

What makes them different?

Less flour, a ratio of double the brown sugar to white sugar, and lots of STUFF in the cookies, namely extra chocolate chips and nuts.

I usually don’t like my cookies with nuts, but since I was trying something new, I decided to go all in. I used chopped pecans instead of walnuts, and instead of using 1.5C of them, as the recipe calls for, I only put in 3/4C. For my taste preferences, that seemed to be the right amount of crunch and texture to add to a cookie. We only had semi-sweet chips so I wasn’t able to try the large bittersweet chips, but that’s for next time.

Otherwise, I followed the recipe to a T and they really came out…..well, indescribably good.

One of the more unique tips is making larger cookies that brown on the edges and you pull them out whilst still raw in the center. The idea is you let them cook on the sheet outside of the oven for two to three more minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

It’s HARD not to want to eat these when they’re still gooey, but they do require a little extra time to firm up. Then you get that delicious light crunch from the browned edge and the soft, oozing-chocolate middle. I need a glass of milk just describing them.

Speaking of milk, we managed to kill half a gallon of it as we ate the cookies over the next few days day and a half. (It’s hard to keep cookies around with my fiance.)

My results yielded fewer than two dozen large cookies, courtesy of a quarter-cup measure.

The parchment paper is a must and makes cleanup a breeze.

The recipe/author encourages tweaking this to make it your own, so you, too, also, as well have the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Evar.

Now away with thee so you can try them!

Cookies 1

cookies 2

cookies 3

Year One of Not Owning a Microwave

retro microwave-1

I am not a “hipster.” I am not “retro.” And I’m not one of those people who can make doing things that aren’t mainstream look cool.

That said, I would like to tell you the story of how we came to get rid of our microwave and the ensuing results.

A year ago, we moved. We downsized from a very nicely sized kitchen to a small apartment kitchen, where it took real creative genius to figure out how to fit everything into the cupboards.

One of the most arduous challenges we had on our hands was prioritizing which appliances would sit out on the very limited real estate of counter top. Anything heavy or bulky wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere, and unfortunately, that pretty much meant all of the appliances needed to stay out by default.

Our microwave was one of them.

No matter where we plugged it in around our little U-shaped kitchen, it was butt ugly and/or forced out other appliances we used much more often. The situation became so dire, that I looked at Kevin and said, “What if….we got rid of the microwave?” Kevin didn’t hesitate for a second. He promptly unplugged it and put it on the dining room table right before he put it up for sale on Craigslist.

In my twenties, this decision would have been unfathomable. College alone is four years of living out of the microwave. Two previous boyfriends I have lived with heavily relied on the microwave for sustenance. I think my brother would actually starve if he didn’t own one.

In spite of my dependence on my microwave lessening as I got older (though I went through a fairly serious Hot Pocket phase between 2008 and 2010), I still liked having one around with which to zap too cold ice cream and the occasional butter or cream cheese when I was baking. (Not a frequent occasion.) Note: some people are avid beverage makers in the microwave. Not I. Microwaved coffee has an abhorrent “flat” taste, and anything else I would make, e.g. hot cocoa, I make from scratch.

Popcorn addicts, I haven’t forgotten about your sputtering objection to getting rid of a microwave. There are probably people who subsist solely on the varieties of microwavable popcorn out there. I, too, love a good bucket of buttery popcorn. Once upon a time, I used to consume the stuff like it was Twinkies being taken off the shelves.

When we traded in our microwave, we bought an air popper that we were able to put away, so we can still make popcorn whenever we want. It’s probably been a good year since we’ve made any, however. The best way I enjoy it is overpriced and “buttery” at the movie theater, with getting freshly made kettle corn at a fair being a close second. I think most people forget that you can still make Jiffy Pop on the stove, too.

So here are the ten pros, as I see them, to ditching the microwave oven:

  • Gaining back primo counter space.
  • Becoming closer with my stove and oven. While softening butter in ten seconds is certainly faster and easier in a microwave, the two times a year I would need to do so don’t merit owning one.
  • I can stop worrying that what I’m reheating is putting cancerous toxins in my body (word to the wise: microwaving anything plastic is BAD).
  • I don’t have to clean up splattered food that has gone everywhere inside the damn thing. Huge pro.
  • I don’t have to be afraid that heating up a cup of soup or anything else mostly liquid is going to explode in my face.

    microwave explosion

    Seriously. Gross.

  • I don’t have to eat rubbery, microwaved food. Anything worth reheating is worth taking an extra ten minutes in the actual oven to warm up.
  • Funky smells will no longer assail my nose in my own home.
  • I don’t have to hear that infernal beeping noise when it’s done heating.
  • I don’t have to walk into the kitchen and obsessively/compulsively click “Stop/Clear” to get it to go back to the clock, since I’ve found that most of the population opens the door before the beep but doesn’t bother to clear the timer.
  • No more wondering whether I’m standing too close to the door and making myself sterile while it’s on.

I’m not on a crusade to get others to join me but I will laud the ditching of the microwave. In a year of not having one, neither of us have said we miss it or even thought about getting another one. It really is a beautiful thing.

**Update:** It’s been 2.5 years since we’ve lived without a microwave; life is still good and we have never wavered with our decision. We do get a kick from weirding people out when they realize there is no microwave to be had in our wee kitchen.

The Virtues of Cleaning Makeup Brushes

Like exercise or flossing, cleaning one’s makeup brushes is something makeup bloggers and aestheticians strongly recommend doing if you regularly beat your mug with all kinds of pretty products, as I am wont to do.

Like exercise or flossing, I need to do it way more often than I actually do.

I think the pros do this multiple times a week. Bravo to them. I don’t make the time to do it, though I know it’s much more hygienic to do it that often.

Gross consequences of never washing your brushes are things like big old clogged pores and eye infections. Conversely, if you buy super cheapy brushes that don’t last longer than a few months, you can always just keep buying new ones every so often.

However, if you are serious about makeup, you know the importance of investing in at least one or two key brushes. I’ve been given several sets over the years and have plunked down more money than I care to say on a couple of really solid brushes that have lasted me a long time.

Cleaning one’s brushes also increases their longevity, so it’s a good payback system.

There are dozens of suggestions out there for how to clean your brushes and with what. I find that a few drops of tea tree oil and a little gentle shampoo (or even something like Dawn) works really well. Tea tree oil kills the germs and the Dawn or the shampoo sudses out the oils and dirt. (Not sure if “sudses” is a verb but I’m going with it.)

I took the liberty of taking some photos of my process today. You can see that I was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay overdue with cleaning mine. They all needed to soak for quite a bit and be rinsed out really thoroughly before they were clean. I went through at least three bowls of pink, dirty makeup water.

So don’t be like me and literally let dust build up on the tips of your brushes. Soak those suckers as often as you can make time for it. Your face will thank you for it!

Assemble your soaking bowl, cleansing soap or shampoo, and your tea tree oil.

Assemble your soaking bowl, cleansing soap or shampoo, and your tea tree oil.

zoe says 060213-2

Get those babies in there, letting the tea tree oil disinfect.

Second set of brushes...

Second set of brushes…

Rinse THOROUGHLY, gently squeeze out the excess water, and lay on paper towels.

Rinse THOROUGHLY, gently squeeze out the excess water, reshape, and lay on paper towels.

Pretty maids all in a row...

Pretty maids all in a row…

Be sure not to put them back in their containers right away, since you want any excess water to drip onto the paper towels. If too much water sits at the base, it’ll get mildewy and disgusting. Nobody wants that.

Lastly, you can help the drying process along by gently blowdrying them when they’ve air dried for a while. Then you’ve got nice, clean, fluffy brushes to help you look your best again.

Lickety Split Recommendation

Naturally FreshI’m making this super fast this morning. As a follow-up to my long ago post about B.O., I wanted to put forth a recommendation to anyone out there who wants to try or has tried natural deodorants but wasn’t sure if anything really worked.

I personally did not enjoy using the Crystal brand, as it stung too much using it on shaved underarms. To each her own, though.

However, I decided not to give up on my au naturel journey and started using the brand above: Naturally Fresh. (I find it at Wal-Mart but I am sure Drugstore.com or Amazon has it.)

Previous to using this kind, I had never ever ever been a roll-on type girl. I always stuck with the invisible deodorant sticks, like Secret or Dove. (I actually do love me some Dove but I love not using chemicals on my body more.)

This has a very clean smell to it and lasts all day, providing you roll on enough. Translation: you do have to roll on more of this than you would regular deodorant/antiperspirant, which only takes a few swipes. It takes a while to get used to having wet underarms in the morning before going to work but I find the following pros have helped me stick with this:

  • No white residue on clothing, ever. And I wear a LOT of black.
  • My white shirts no longer get the yellowish stains in the pits, ruining their wear long before I’m ready to give the shirt up.
  • Paraben free! (Parabens are bad, y’all. Look it up.)
  • It’s inexpensive. I buy two of these at a time just so I don’t run out unexpectedly.
  • It doesn’t sting on freshly shaven underarms.
  • It works.

In sum, Zoe Recommends Naturally Fresh roll-on natural deodorant. As always, with anything, do your research before you buy and make sure you aren’t allergic to anything in the ingredients list.

Let me know if you’ve tried it and what you think!

Prognosticator of Prognosticators

Punxsutawney Phil: Prognosticator

Hallo everybody!

I know I disappeared there for a little while. Right after my last post, life got kuh-razy and all the posts I had planned fell to the wayside.

I do apologize.

I was experiencing one of those major life changes that just sucks you into its vortex and there is nothing you can do about it but ride the wave and come out the other side. I think I just mixed a few analogies and metaphors there.

Anyway, in honor of one of my favorite days of the year and favorite movies of all time, today’s little comeback post is all about the genius of Groundhog Day, the early 90s runaway hit (and now cult classic) with Bill Murray. There’s really not much, if anything, to dislike about this movie.

  • Great acting? Check.
  • Fantastic cinematography? Check.
  • Kickass soundtrack? Check.
  • Spot on directing? Check.
  • Memorable quotes to last a lifetime? Check. (Also see: Jokes That Never Get Old? Check.)

(Am I right or am I right or am I right? Right! Right! Right!)

Furthermore, now that I live back in the Middle States, it makes it that much easier to fulfill my dream of taking the grand tour of the set of Groundhog Day, located in the fine town Woodstock, Illinois. I can’t even tell you how excited I would be if I actually had plans to take a small road trip to go visit and get my tourism on. Someday…

Do you love Groundhog Day (the holiday)? Do you love or hate the movie? Because there are only two options. You can’t “kind of” love the movie because either the repetition bothers you or it doesn’t. Either the brilliance of the movie kicks you in the crotch and laughs or it doesn’t.

And so, in honor of this fine day and even finer film, I give you some of my favoritest quotes. (Though Ned Ryerson’s “Right! Right! Right!” quote is up there.)

******

Ned Ryerson: Ned Ryerson, got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn’t graduate…?

Rita: He’s not afraid to cry in front of me.
Phil: This is a man we’re talking about, right?

Phil: Do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?
Mrs. Lancaster: I don’t think so but I could check with the kitchen.

Ralph: (after a shot is taken) That about sums it up for me.

Phil: Too early for flapjacks?

Rita: You’re missing all the fun. These people are great! Some of them have been partying all night long. They sing songs til they get too cold and then they go sit by the fire and get warm and then they come back and sing some more.
Phil: Yeah, they’re HICKS Rita.

Phil: Well what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.

Phil: Once again the eyes of the nation have turned here to this (sarcastically) tiny village in Western Pennsylvannia blah, blah, blah, blah. There is no WAY that this winter is EVER going to end…as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped…and I have to stop him.

Man in hall: Do you think it’s going to be an early spring?
Phil: I’m predicting March 21st.
Man in hall: Heh, good guess! I think that actually is the….first day of spring.

Buster: (Holding Phil the groundhog) He just smiled at me, did you see that?

Larry: No no no…nobody honks this horn but me, m’kay pal?

Phil: Ned, I would love to stand here and talk with you…but I’m not going to.