Monday, August 31, 2009

Margarita Cupcakes

I baked these cupcakes after buying a rather disappointing margarita cupcake. It was not limey enough and the hint of salt I was hoping for on top turned out to be only sugar. I improvised these ones to have a slightly more intense flavour. The basic cake comes from, although your favorite vanilla cake recipe with a little lime zest mixed in would be great as well. The icing flavour is up to you; increase the lime juice and tequila for a stronger flavour and a runnier icing, or leave the icing thicker and milder. A drop of green food colouring would look good in the icing, but I left it out because I didn't have any natural food colouring and I try to avoid artificial ingredients. They look great uncoloured too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Letter Writing: Thrifty Foods, and Safeway

Last summer, I wrote to Thrifty Foods wondering why their meat has to be packaged in Styrofoam, which is notoriously difficult to recycle. I wasn’t sure what sort of response I was expecting. The next day I received a call on my cell phone from a number I didn’t know. The gentleman on the phone told me that he got my cell phone number from my Mother when he phoned me at home. He enthusiastically explained to me that he was in charge of researching alternatives to Styrofoam for meat trays. He told me they were looking into biodegradable plastics as well as paper-based trays and estimated that they would be using more eco friendly materials for meat trays sometime next year. He also reminded me about their new policy of not stocking plastic bags at any of their stores. I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and speed of this response. I was so impressed that I wanted to do it again. So I sent an email to my local Safeway, asking them to consider phasing out plastic bags from their stores. I received a form letter back saying that they received my email and then nothing after that. I sent my letter in August, so I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to write me back. I wanted to publish the results of my letters to show the difference in responses. I also hoped that readers might write similar letters. Companies receiving five or ten similarly themed and timed letters would feel more pressure than when receiving one. I didn’t save my emails for these two because I wrote them before I planned this blog, but in the future I will, so that if you want to send one you can feel free to copy mine (although I encourage you to put your own spin on your letter). Also, if you don’t live in Victoria, send letters to your own local grocery stores. 
Please let me know if you decide to write a letter, even if you send it to a different company or group than mine. 

Though it may seem unrelated, I wanted to mention another great thing I have noticed, packaging wise. In France the egg cartons have a label that says whether the hens were cage-raised or free-range. This may not seem like a big thing, but I think it is great. I am on a tight budget and try to save money on groceries. Even so, I cannot quite bring myself to buy the eggs that say "Oeufs de poules élevées en cage" right on them. It is a gentle reminder of factors other than price that go into our food choices. This system is not perfect: I have no idea just how free and happy the lives of the chickens "Élevée en plein air" really are. Also, I haven't seen similar labels on meat and other products. I would like to see labels of what cattle and poultry diets consisted of as well. Marketers naturally advertise the positive aspects of their products, such as grass-fed cattle, but companies should be required to let consumers know if their cattle ate animal protein, for instance. 

Moisturizer Bars

A few months ago I bought an expensive natural moisturizer bar. It was unscented and mild and very moisturizing. I looked at the ingredients and saw that all it contained was beeswax, coco butter and olive oil. This gave me the feeling I sometimes get when looking at certain works of Modern Art: I could do this myself, I thought, and it wouldn't be so expensive. When the bar was used up, I bought a few supplies, melted them on my stove, and mixed up a fast, easy, and very cheap moisturizer. I was awed by the ease, the low cost, and the effectiveness of the product that resulted. I use cocoa butter, beeswax and oil (olive, almond or any other base oil you like will work). The bars harden fast in the fridge, but leaving them at room temperature will harden them as well. I love this recipe because of the infinite possible variations. Changing the oil to avocado, or apricot kernel, or jojoba; adding essential oils—there are limitless possibilities. The cocoa butter can also be swapped based on preference and availability, for coconut oil or shea butter. I usually leave my bars unscented, because I have sensitive skin. I also use a glass mold to avoid heating up plastic containers (ceramic bowls, mugs or ramekins also work). I discovered that it is very difficult to get the bar out of the glass mold once it is hard, so the parchment portion of the recipe is important.