how to · mental health · self care · tutorial · Uncategorized

Emergency Self-Care Kit

I’ve lived with mental illness almost all of my life. It started out as depression and anxiety and bloomed into something much larger as I confronted my past. Currently, my diagnoses include depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, trichotillomania, dermatillomania, and complex PTSD. I’ve been in mental health care for about 5 years now and, needless to say, I’ve developed a multitude of ways of dealing with my mental illnesses.

When you have major mental illness, crises will almost always come at some point in your life. When these crises do come, there are tons of ways to help combat them! You can call your local mental health hospital, contact your therapist or psychiatrist, contact a loved one, etc. But here is my favorite way of combating a crisis: an emergency self-care kit.

This emergency self-care kit can help you ride the wave of a crisis until it passes. It contains things to help ground or distract you from the impending doom rising in your head. I have used this kit many, many times, especially when the urge for self-harm arises. I’ve been battling self-harm for 8 years now and it’s never easy to contain the urges. The kit can contain anything you want but here are my ideas for the kit!

  • Lush bath bomb
  • Calming essential oils to put in a diffuser
  • A coloring book and colored pencils
  • Silly putty to keep hands busy
  • Temporary tattoos to put on spots you would normally self-harm
  • A stuffed animal to cuddle
  • A book to read
  • Letter from a loved one telling you why you should keep on living

Lush bath bombs are a great way to relax! I tend to put on some calming essential oils in a diffuser, such as Blues Buster from Plant Therapy. I also will put on some classical music or calming music from YouTube.

Coloring books are a great way to keep your hands busy and your mind focused if you’re a self-harmer like myself. I like the adult coloring books from Michael’s but they sell tons on Amazon as well!

I have found that, for me, silly putty is the best way to keep my hands busy. In a crisis, I’ll put on my favorite YouTube channel that always makes me laugh, Achievement Hunter, and play with silly putty. This takes my mind off of the chaos and keeps my hands working so I don’t self-harm.

I buy temporary tattoos from the dollar store and tend to get butterflies or hearts to remind me to stay safe. But there are temporary tattoos on Etsy that are made specifically to combat self-harm. (MentalHealthMagic on Etsy.)

One way I can be comforted if my loved ones are not accessible is to lay under my weighted blanket and cuddle my favorite stuffed animal. I can have a good cry there and let out all the emotions swirling around in my head. I got my weighted blanket from Lifetime Sensory Solutions on Amazon for much cheaper than the average weighted blanket and the quality is great! They also frequently give away weighted blankets on Facebook so it’s worth a like. My favorite stuffed animal right now is this angry llama I got from a comic con.

Books have always been my escape. Since I was a teenager, I have read fiction books to escape my life. I can imagine myself as the main character that has none of the problems I do and forget about whatever has been troubling me lately.

Letters from a loved one is probably my favorite thing in this kit. Though I don’t have letters, I save sweet text messages from my fiancé to look at when I need reassurance that life is worth living.
So, my process using this mental health kit is to first take a Lush bath while diffusing essential oils. Then, I will put on temporary tattoos to deter myself from self-harming and either color or read a book. Normally, when I color or read, I’ll do so under my weighted blanket with my stuffed animal close by. Finally, when the chaos has subsided a little bit, I’ll turn on my favorite YouTube channel, still under my weighted blanket, and have some silly putty to play with.

I hope this helps you next time you’re in a crisis. Stay safe everyone!

cooking · how to · recipe · tutorial

Cooking sugar like a pro

What do candy, caramel, italian meringue, italian and french buttercreams, and nougat all have in common? They all require you to cook sugar to make them. It’s a process that needs precision but is pretty simple and straightforward, so you don’t need to feel intimidated.

All you will need is a pot, sugar, water, and a thermometer or a big bowl of icy water. A brush is also recommended.

Now, the easiest and safest way to do this is to use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the boiling syrup. If you don’t have one or you can’t find it because it’s hiding somewhere in those drawers, don’t panic. It will be okay.

The thermometer-less method

When I was studying baking, my teachers deemed it unnecessary to give us thermometers because, after all, ‘’ real bakers don’t use thermometers.’’ They wanted us to learn to tell the temperature of our preparations by the look and feel of them. It is true that I never saw a thermometer used in the professional bakery that I worked at and it did come in pretty handy a few times in my home cooking to be able to do without the thermometer.

Before starting, you might take a moment to wonder : ‘Why am I doing this? Am I insane? This doesn’t sound like something someone with a sound mind would be doing…’

Alright, now that you have gathered up your nerves, stand in front of your boiling syrup. You will have beside you a bowl of really really cold water (even better if you have ice cubes in it!). Dip your fingers in the water until they feel really cold and then very quickly pinch the syrup with your iced fingers and plunge them back into the bowl of water. Crazy, right? You should now have cooled syrup between your fingers. Its texture will tell you how hot the syrup is. If you do this right, it will not hurt at all. You can also use a spoon to scoop up a little bit of the syrup and dump it in the water, for a much less scary experience, and possibly safer, depending on your level of clumsiness.

Nowadays, if I do have a thermometer, I’ll use it. Why go to the trouble if you have a perfectly good, easier way to do something?

Cooking sugar

First, you need to select a pot. It needs to be big enough that you’ll have plenty of room at the top because once the syrup is bubbling, it rises some. However, don’t choose a giant pot for a small amount of syrup or you won’t be able to stick your thermometer in it and it might cook too fast.

The quantities of sugar and water you’ll use depend on your recipe but a good ratio to follow is 1.35kg of sugar (3 pounds) for every liter of water used (34oz). More water will take longer to cook, as it needs to evaporate first. Less water will cook faster, but if there’s not enough water to make all the sugar wet, you might burn some of it. Put the water into the pot first and then add the sugar. You may gently stir to make sure that all the sugar is wet, but as long as you put the sugar in the water and not the other way around, you should be good.

Sugar is a bit capricious; if you mix it while it’s cooking, you risk having the whole batch crystallize and clump on you. At that point, there’s nothing to do; you’ll need to start over. That’s why you should never mix it and, whether you use a spoon or thermometer (or your fingers for that matter), make sure your implements are clean and free of sugar crystals or impurities.

Once you start heating your syrup you may find that you have a few crystals that are clinging to the side of your pot. You can use a wet brush to clean them off. If you don’t, there’s a risk that you might knock some off in your syrup later on and cause clumping.

Temperature guide

105°C (221°F) – Lissé

At this temperature, if you separate your fingers, the sugar will form a thread between them and then will break. If you followed the proportions of sugar I mentioned above you will end up with a simple syrup or what is called sometimes ‘sirop à 30’. 30 Here means 30° Baumé,  which is a measure of density. This syrup keeps pretty well and can be flavored to soak cakes or help liquefy  an apricot glaze that has gotten too thick.

107.5°C (225.5°F) – Filet

You will still get a thread between your fingers, but it won’t break.

111°C (232°F) – Morve or Soufflé

Morve means ‘snot’ in English. Now if that doesn’t whet your appetite… At this stage the syrup would leave a sticky coating to your fingers but won’t form a thread.

115°C (239°F) – Petit boulé (Soft ball)

If your roll the syrup between your fingers, it will start making a very soft ball that will lose its shape if you let it go.

117°C (242.6°F) – Boulé (Firm ball)

The ball now hold its shape if you let it go, but you can still squish it really easily.

120°C (248°F) – Gros boulé (Hard ball)

The ball is much firmer now and you can still change its shape, but it will resist a lot more.

The ball stages are what you’ll use in the making of fondants, nougats, buttercreams, caramels (the candy kind, not the cooked sugar stage kind), and italian meringue among other things. It will give you an end product that behaves like the syrup itself, in a way. It’s firm and can hold a shape, but malleable and soft still.

125/135°C (257/275°F) – Petit cassé (Soft crack)

The sugar is now forming a brittle layer, that can’t be shaped, but will stick to your teeth if you bite into it.

145/146°C (293°F) – Grand cassé (Hard crack)

The sugar forms a hard layer that you can break and won’t stick to your teeth.

This is the stage used to make decorations out of sugar (blown sugar, pulled sugar, spun sugar, etc.)

150°C (302°F) – Light Caramel

You should see your sugar starting to change color and turn a light golden (if you started with white sugar).

165°C (329°F) – Caramel

The sugar is now becoming a nice brown. You don’t want to cook it too long or it will turn bitter! If you are using the caramel for something that will cook again (for example, crème caramel) it is better to leave it a tad lighter than you want it to be in the end, as it might darken some more.

The caramel stages are used for crème caramels, nougatines, and as glue in croquembouche, for example.

190°C (374°F) – Dark Caramel

Well now you did it. Your sugar is turning black and your kitchen is starting to fill with an acrid smoke. The taste is super bitter. This kind of caramel is only used in small quantities as a food coloring.

Cleaning

Cooked sugar can seem pretty hard to clean up, once you are done, but just fill your pot with some water and bring it to a boil and it should dissolve all the sticky mess.