Gluten-Free, Vegan Donuts

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Being gluten, dairy and egg-free makes it difficult to find donuts (or any baked goods!) that I can actually eat.  Before eating free of those ingredients, donuts were one of those fun treats that we would indulge in once or twice a year.  If they weren’t so unhealthy, I would have had them way more often!  Several months back, I had such a craving for donuts that my husband went to the store and came back with a box of frozen gluten-free donuts, but they contained egg and tasted like they were frozen donuts.  So I was really excited when I came across this recipe from Fork and Beans.  I already had all the ingredients, so I tested it out this weekend.
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I don’t have a donut pan so I used a mini muffin pan, making an indenture in the center of each dollop of batter so it would bake evenly (same concept as burger patties).  It was an easy batter to mix up, especially if you’re used to gluten-free recipes that call for multiple flours and starches.  The bake time was short at 8-9 minutes, but you do have to wait for them to cool before coating.  I opted to make three different coatings – chocolate, powdered sugar and cinnamon powdered sugar.  Surprisingly, the plain powdered sugar ended up being my favorite.  The chocolate was a bit too rich and was my least favorite, but that could be because I was expecting it to taste like Hostess donettes chocolate frosting, and melted chocolate chips just don’t taste as good.  The instructions call to dip the donuts in melted non-dairy butter before coating with powdered sugar.  In my opinion, that took away from the sweetness of the powdered sugar, so I would try melted coconut oil next time.  The donuts themselves were pretty good, but not as light and fluffy as I would have like them to be.  If I were to make them again, I would try using white instead of brown rice flour in an effort to lighten up the dough.
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Overall, the donuts were pretty good.  Not something I’d make often because it’s still an unhealthy treat, but it is a good recipe to file away for the next time I have a donut craving.  And as you can see, they’re literally finger licking good!

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2014 Book List: Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt

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I loved this book!  It was loaned to me by a friend who thought I might like it and she was right!  So here’s the scoop…
Official title:  Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage
Author:  Allison Vesterfelt
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Vesterfelt takes the reader on an interesting and funny, yet profound, journey as she sells most of her possessions to road trip through every state with someone she just met in an effort to figure out what she’s supposed to do with her life.  Her travel companion, a free spirit and aspiring singer, is constantly encouraging her to just do what she wants…be a writer!  Through the sales of their possessions and merchandise sales at gigs, the two women meander their way through the US with their remaining possessions filling the car, living as frugally as possible.  Starting out neat & tidy like most road trips, they quickly come to realize that they don’t need half the stuff they brought so they lighten their load by getting rid of what’s become burdensome.  In addition to learning that she can easily survive without so much physical “stuff,” Vesterfelt also learned to let go of some of the mental and emotional things that had been holding her back.  She learned that all her expectations and all the things she thought she was entitled to – a good job, a nice place to live, the perfect man to marry – weren’t really things she was in control of, that God was and He would provide what she needed, when she needed it.
The book appealed to me for a couple of reasons.  First, I love road trips and have always wanted to drive through every state.  There’s no denying we live in an amazing, unique world and I love to explore it by car, with the freedom to stop whenever you want to look or photograph or explore on foot.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked my husband if we can just buy an RV already!
Second, I’ve been in a “stuff purging” phase for a long time now.  When we got married, I was amazed at the amount of stuff two people had individually collected over the years.  Trying to fit everything we each owned into one house was hard.  Not to mention several of my husband’s former roommates had left quite a bit of their own stuff behind.  It seemed our only options were to become hoarders or purgers.  Being someone who prefers an organized, neat, clutter-free home, I decided to purge.  It felt good to get rid of as much as we did, but then we threw a home remodel into the mix.  We shifted things from one room to the other in order to work on particular projects or spaces.  And we shifted and shifted, until most of the remodel was done and it was time to find homes for all that stuff.  But we still had too much!  So another purge, then another, and another.  I think we’ve averaged at least one major clean out every year for the last 5 years.  Part of the problem is that my husband and I are both emotional packrats.  We keep things that have memories attached…some of them valuable and worth keeping, some of them silly where taking a simple picture of the object would suffice to preserve the memory.
We’ve learned a few things over the years though.  Something we’ve become good at is paying attention to how often things get used.  We’ve adopted the rule that if something hasn’t been used or worn or fixed or whatever in a year, then we must not really need or want it that bad, so it’s gone.  And something that we’re great at is not buying knick knacks and decorations for our house.  We try to use things we already own…my husband’s musical instruments along with framed photographs I took during an epic road trip adorn living room walls, a nautical naval map of waters my husband navigated during his time in the Navy hangs in the hallway, antiques from grandparents are proudly displayed on shelves.  That’s the type of “stuff” we want to be surrounded by, not stuff that we bought on a whim because it was trendy at the time, or trinkets that have no meaning.  I admit I do have a few knick knacks like that, but now, when I’m in a store and that “I want that!” feeling comes over me, I stop and think about it.  Where’s it made?  Is it good quality?  Does it serve a purpose?  Will I do anything with it over the next year?  Is that really how I want to spend my money today?  Or when it comes to clothes, do I really need another blue shirt?  (Seriously, you should see the rainbow of blue shirts hanging in my closet.  Ridiculous.)
And, like the author, beyond physical stuff I’ve learned what some of my mental roadblocks are.  I totally buy into the reward system idea.  It’s hard to do the right thing or work hard, and not expect great things to happen.  I mean, you should get rewarded, right?  It’s what you’re taught as a child by your parents, or what you’re taught in school – if you work hard, behave well, etc., then you get a reward whether it be a prize, a good grade, or verbal recognition.  Well, that doesn’t necessarily carry over into adulthood and that’s okay, but it can definitely be frustrating at times.  I’m human, I’m selfish, and I want things to be fair.  So if that person gets a reward for doing the same thing I did, then why don’t I get a reward too?  This book helped serve as a reminder that life isn’t always about stuff and fairness.  And while this concept may be fresh in my mind for now, I have no doubt that I’ll slip into that thinking again in the future…that, hey-where’s-my-reward attitude when I see others around me seemingly being rewarded for the same action.  But when the next attitude adjustment reminder comes along (and it will), hopefully it’ll be an even greater length of time before the next slip-up and that the reminders will happen less frequently.  It’s a good thing to continually learn and grow, even if we have to re-learn from time to time.  We’re fallible humans so we’ll never be perfect, but maybe, if we learn to lighten our load, to get rid of our “stuff” along our own personal journey, we’ll find that we discover what’s really important and gain a better perspective where earthly rewards aren’t so appealing.
There were quite a few parts of the book that really resonated with me, and I wanted to share a couple that made me stop and think.
“…when I don’t have resources, I’m learning God often gives them to me.  The lighter I pack, the more I realize He knows what I need even more than I do, and He is more generous than I ever imagined.  Sometimes He even meets needs I didn’t know I had.”
“Maybe sometimes it’s best to make decisions like this – without overanalyzing or overthinking.  Some of our best decisions are made on the fly, on instinct – without too much deliberation, without an elaborate pro/con list.  I’m not saying it’s bad to think through things, but if we thought through all the potential hangups and holdups, if we pondered all the mistakes that we could possibly make, maybe it would prevent us from moving forward in our journey.  And perhaps that would be the worst mistake of all.”
My rating:  5 out of 5
Books read to date:  4

DIY Drain Cleaner (+ Elbow Grease!)

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When your shower or sink drains start to back up, what’s your first instinct?  Clean it out manually?  Grab a bottle of commercial cleaner that’s supposed to unclog it for you?  Admittedly, there’s a lot of appeal in how the commercial cleaners work.  Just pour some into the sink or shower or toilet and let it do its thing.  We live in a world where time is valuable, so why not go for the easy fix, right?  Well, you might want to rethink that.  Did you know commercial drain cleaners are considered one of the most caustic “cleaners” you can have in your home?  According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website:
  • Drain cleaners contain very dangerous chemicals – Sodium Hydroxide being one of the most common
  • If inhaled, ingested, or comes in contact with your skin, you can expect symptoms of difficulty breathing, loss of vision, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, severe burns and tissue damage, among others
  • With severe cases, ER treatments can include endoscopy to pinpoint burns in the stomach and esophagus, IV fluids, pain meds, and potential surgery to remove burned tissue
  • If swallowed, possible long-term risks include continuous damage to esophagus and stomach for several weeks, and death occurring up to 1 month after incident
Now, I’m not one to create hysteria, and I think the majority of the time people follow instructions properly, but why would you even want to risk an accident, especially if you have kids or pets?  What if the lid wasn’t put back on tight, or the bottle gets knocked over while open, or it splashes on you while pouring?  Personally, any type of cleaner that suggests you don gloves and protective goggles to use, isn’t one I want in my house.
In researching drain cleaner toxicity, I came across a plumbing company’s blog post that recommends NOT using caustic drain cleaners.  I found that to be especially interesting coming from a plumbing company!  They point out that not only are chemical drain cleaners harmful to humans, but they’re also harmful to your plumbing fixtures and pipes.  While those chemicals are sitting there trying to eat through the clog, they’re also eating away at the pipes.  Talk about an expensive repair down the road if you use these cleaners often.  So according to this company, if you’re going to go with something commercial, try enzymatic cleaners instead.  They’re much safer, although they generally take longer to unclog, and additional applications are needed.  They also recommend the same things I do, make your own natural, safe cleaner and use a little bit of elbow grease!

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So what did I do when our shower drain started backing up?  I grabbed a metal coat hanger, some baking soda, vinegar and doTERRA Lemon essential oil.  It was an easy process…a little on the gross and smelly side, but easy.  After taking off the shower drain cover, I used the hanger to pull out the clog.  I added about 1 cup of baking soda, then a few drops of the oil, followed by about 1 1/2 cups of vinegar.  There will be lots of bubbles and fizzing!  It’s recommended that you place a bowl or plate over the drain opening to keep that reaction working on the drain itself.  I found it wasn’t necessary, but that could be because I had already pulled the clog out.  Just have something on hand and you’ll know if you need it.  I let the mixture sit for about half an hour before flushing it with warm water.  The lemon oil, in addition to being a natural disinfectant, neutralized all the odor.  As you can see in the “Before” photo, there’s lots of gunky buildup from soap, shampoo, shaving cream, etc.  Not pretty, and I really hate to show it, but if you have a sparkling “After” photo, you have to show the yucky “Before” photo.  The baking soda & vinegar mix didn’t take away all the gunk, so I simply used the coat hanger to scrape it off.  It flaked off pretty easily and probably would have gone much quicker if I had something better than a hanger.  I finished up by flushing with warm water again, and the drain pipe looks great!

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There are other DIY drain cleaner recipes out there.  I encourage you to give one a try and help cut down on chemical usage.  Remember, what you put down the drain can make its way into water supplies, rivers and oceans, affecting humans and wildlife!

2014 Book List: Divergent Series

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I love to read.  I used to do a lot more of it and I miss it.  To remedy that, at the beginning of the year, I made a “resolution” of sorts to read a book a month.  Sounded really easy at the time, but somehow I haven’t managed to keep that pace, slow as it is.  And as much as I love reading books, I tend to forget details pretty quick, so I want to keep track of what I’ve read in more detail than what I use Goodreads for.  So here I am, starting my 2014 Book List Series, with the oh-so-profound, much-too-young-for-someone-my-age Divergent series.

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I resisted reading these books for a long time because I didn’t want to get suckered into another Young Adult genre series and face the ridicule of my more mature-minded friends and husband.  But then I saw one of those friends mark all three books of the series as “Read” on her Goodreads page and thought, “Why not?”  For months I’ve been reading a fascinating biography about Harry Truman by one of my favorite authors, David McCullough.  (That’s not sarcasm, by the way, I have a History degree.)  While it may be fascinating, it’s also about 1100 pages, and I tend to take “light read” breaks from books of that length.
So what did I think?  Well, I hate to admit it, but I loved the first book, the title book of the series.  I really didn’t think I would, but it was entertaining and well-written for its genre (and, considering Veronica Roth was in college when she started writing the series).  The story line was interesting and I found myself wondering which of the five factions I would best fit into (it’s a toss up between Candor – because I say what I think – and Erudite – because I love to be right).  Nothing original about dystopian literature, but it was a fun read with interesting characters – Tris and Four, definitely badass for their age.  There was enough action in the second half of the book to hold most people’s attention.  I mean, what’s not captivating about mind-controlled human soldiers and their resistant counterparts?  Divergent is wrapped up nicely at the end, but it does set the reader up well for the second book.
With conspiracies emerging and doubts of who to trust, Insurgent continues with lots of action – rescues, fighting, killing, more fighting – and leads to another major battle at the end of the book.  In the aftermath, a new factionless leader emerges and a hidden video is revealed which shocks everyone.  Book Three, Allegiant, begins with yet another rescue and a new journey and escape to the world beyond The Fence of the city.  Tris, Four and gang slowly learn about life outside their city, why they were unknowingly part of a large experiment and what The Bureau really is.  Alliances form, relationships are tested, and trust remains a difficult thing.  There’s lots of action at the end of the book as Four returns to the city to carry out his part of the fight, and Tris remains at The Bureau for her part.  When the dust settles after the battle and loose ends are tied up, the book jumps 2 1/2 years into the future for a look into the characters’ lives.  I wasn’t a big fan of the third book.  It didn’t hold my attention as well as the first two and I didn’t care for the ending.
Overall, the series was a fun, easy read…and definitely a quick way to add 3 tic marks to the amount of books read in 2014!  Also, I must admit that I made the hubby take me to see the Divergent movie.  It was really well done and stayed pretty true to the book.  So nice when that actually happens!
My ratings:
  • Divergent:  4 out of 5
  • Insurgent:  4 out of 5
  • Allegiant:  3 out of 5
I’d recommend the series if you’re looking for something like I was…a break from a heavy book or string of heavy books, something fun to escape with, or just something to make you feel young & hip 😉
Books read to date: 3