Saturday, April 30, 2011

You're Not the Boss of Me!

My day job is no more! Our new area manager decided that the company had too many contractors, so most of us were laid off yesterday. Later they will decide which jobs need to be filled, and hire some new real employees instead of contractors. My former job was purchasing and warehousing, and I was the only person there doing that job. But in the meantime, I still have my bath and body business, and will be concentrating on this. I'm super excited to have this chance to devote my time to doing what I love. I'm also available to take on more wholesale accounts at this time. Thank you to everyone who has supported me thus far, and for your continued support.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Eat Yer Weeds!!

Kind of appropriate for 4-20! I always listen to NPR in the morning, on Monday, they had a story about urban foraging - finding weeds in vacant lots and eating them. Now, I currently have a crop of weeds going strong in my yard. I knew the dandelions are edible, but I just never thought of researching the others. Apparently, my yard isn't a weed infested eyesore, it's a garden of AWESOME!!! I have blue mustard everywhere, and also a bit of milkweed, which according to the link does not live in western states. Link is a liar. Just be careful when identifying your milkweed, dogbane sprouts look very similar, but are not edible. It's a perennial, and easier to identify the mature plant, so if you look for the sprouts where the big plant was last year, you can rest easier. Be sure to forage in an area free from traffic, pesticides, herbicides, and animal waste. Want a recipe for weeds? Here's TWO!!

Simple Milkweed Sprouts
3 cups milkweed sprouts, harvest sprouts 6" long or less, strip of all but the smallest leaves
two quarts water
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
butter, salt & pepper to taste

Prepare and wash milkweed sprouts, bring water to a full rolling boil. Carefully add sprouts to boiling water, boil for at least 10 minutes, 20 is fine too. Remove from heat, and stir in the vinegar. Then just drain, season with butter, salt and pepper, and eat up. Expect a flavor like asparagus + green beans. Makes 3-6 servings, depending on how ravenous you are.

Wild Blue Mustard Greens
8 cups of leaves from Blue Mustard, washed
one slice bacon, or 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. diced onion and red bell pepper
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

If using bacon, fry the bacon in a large skillet until it releases some grease, but not until crispy. Add olive oil, onion, and bell pepper. Saute until onion is translucent. Gradually add greens, stirring and adding until all are wilted. Sprinkle with vinegar and sugar, and if you're using liquid smoke, now is the time to add that. Cook for one more minute, remove from heat, and add salt and pepper to taste. Makes two decent servings.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Beginner's Soap

FIRST of all - if you are clumsy, prone to dropping things, or unable to bake a good cake from scratch, you may want to pass on making soap from scratch. You need steady hands, the ability to follow a recipe and measure accurately.

One of my good friends has really been wanting to learn how to make soap - and I've encouraged her to do more reading and research before she jumps in. I talked to her this week, and she's been reading everywhere that she should start with cold process. I disagree. Cold process gives you a lot more opportunities to make a mistake. You might have ash, you might have separation, your temps might be a little off, you can experience "seize" and not even be able to pour your soap into a mold. Your first time, you might not recognize "trace", and could mix your soap too little or too much. And if there's a real problem, like mis-measured ingredients, you might not know until a month later, when your soap has cured but is still too harsh for use. It takes a little longer to actually make hot process soap, but you will know what you have that day. For this recipe you will NEED to have:
Rubber gloves
Safety Glasses

An electronic scale (available at Walmart for $20.00)
A heavy plastic pitcher, at least one quart (at your dollar store, never use for beverages, mark it so that doesn't happen)
A stainless steel pot, 4-8 quarts (at the Family Dollar or Dollar General, ten bucks or less;, absolutely no aluminum for this, and this should also only be used for soap)
A sturdy long handled spoon (Plastic or stainless is best, if you use wood, it's only good for one use, the lye will eat it a bit, and you'll need to toss it after one use)
A plastic container, or a clean paper milk carton with the top cut off, to use as a mold. For your first soap, a square-ish disposable 4-6 cup plastic gladware container is fine.
Ingredients: A jug of distilled water.
One 17 oz. bottle of 100% olive oil(cheap, not the EVOO)
One can of Coconut Oil (at Walmart near the Pam, or at your health food store if you want to spend way more)
A small can of Crisco (needs to be Crisco brand, made with soy and palm oils)
A one pound bottle of 100% lye. Available at Ace Hardware as Rooto 100% lye drain cleaner, or sometimes at Lowe's. This ingredient will be the hardest to find - make sure that your lye is clearly labeled 100% lye or sodium hydroxide, most drain cleaners are not lye, and you may have to ask for it, provide ID, and sign for it. It can also be used for making meth, hence the security.
Fragrance - for this recipe, I recommend a pure essential oil, like lemon, lime, or orange, patchouli, lemongrass, eucalyptus, rosemary or sage. You can find these at a health food store, or sometimes in the soap section of your local craft store. For this recipe, you can also use a fragrance oil designed for Melt and Pour soap, because you will add the fragrance after the soap has processed. Unscented is also fine.

The Recipe:
12.5 ounces distilled water
4.7 ounces lye
14 ounces olive oil
10 ounces coconut oil
9 ounces crisco
.5-1.0 ounces fragrance

First, place the pitcher on your scale, and turn it on. It should read 0.0 oz. Carefully measure 12.5 ounces water into the pitcher. You can be as much as an ounce short on this, but do not go over 12.5 ounces. Set the pitcher to the side. Put on your rubber gloves and safety glasses. Place a disposable plastic cup, or other small plastic container that you don't mind disposing of on the scale. Press the "on" button again, so your scale reads 0.0 again. Carefully open the bottle of lye, and slowly measure 4.7 ounces of lye. You can use as little as 4.2 ounces and get nice soap, but do not go over 4.7. Get your spoon, and sprinkle a little lye into your water. Stir. Sprinkle, stir, sprinkle, stir, until the lye is completely mixed in. Your water will get very hot, and may produce steam and fumes. You need to do this in a well ventilated area, or even outside, and do not breathe the fumes. Do not spill, splash, or slosh the lye water, it is very caustic, and if you come in contact with the lye, rinse that area with cold water for at least 5 minutes, then wipe with a vinegar soaked cotton ball. Set your lye water aside in a super safe place, like the sink. You can now remove the gloves and glasses, for now.
Next, place a big plastic bowl on your scale, press "on" to zero it out, and measure 9 ounces of crisco, 10 ounces of coconut oil (scale reads 1 pound, 3 ounces after this addition), and 14 ounces olive oil (scale reads 2 pounds, 1 ounce after this addition). Place these oils into your stainless pan, and put it on the stove on low heat. Watch it carefully, and stir. Turn off the heat when it has mostly all melted, but not completely melted, but continue stirring until it's all liquid. Now, put back on your gloves and glasses. While stirring the oils, slowly add the lye water to the oils in the pan. Stir, stir, stir. This may take awhile, up to an hour, and if your arm gets tired, you can stop for a few minutes and come back to it. You will see your mixture become more cloudy, and then creamy. When your spoon leaves trails behind it, and your mixture is like pudding or gravy, this is called trace. You can speed this process by using a stick blender (not a hand mixer), and stirring like you would with the spoon, with occasional blasts with the blender. If you use a stick blender, you can't use it for food again, so I wouldn't advise using one on your first batch. Once your soap is well mixed and thick, or if your mixture becomes too thick to stir, you've done enough, and can cook the soap. Just put the lid on, place the pot in the oven at 175-200 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a timer for 30 minutes. Continue to wear your glasses when checking the soap until it is done. Check your soap every 30 minutes for the first hour or so, until you can stir it when it becomes completely gelled - no more solid white chunks. Then check and stir every 15 minutes until it looks and feels like mashed potatoes. It should hit this stage after 2-3 hours of cooking, but it can be done as soon as 1.5 hours. Stir it one last time, and let the soap on your spoon cool down. Touch it to make sure it's cool enough, and then touch it with your tongue. If it zaps you, like a 9V battery, or tastes SUPER bad, let it cook another 15 minutes. If it just tastes like soap, it's soap, and you're nearly done. Pull it out of the oven, and let it cool without the lid for 5 minutes. Pour in the essential oil - use an ounce of any citrus oil, but half as much of other oils, and as little as a quarter ounce of a fragrance oil. Too little is better than too much, so take it easy. Stir it super well, and then grease your mold with a little Pam, and then dollop a few spoons of soap into the mold. Bang it on the counter to release any air pockets, and spoon some more in, bang, spoon, bang, spoon, until all your soap is in the mold. Place that in your freezer for 2-3 hours, until it has completely cooled. It will not easily come out of the mold until it has cooled completely, you can even leave it in overnight. After you unmold it, you can slice it with a sharp knife into bars or squares for use, and set it on a rack to dry out for a week or so. You can slice off a bit to test now - or use it, but it will last longer if you wait until the water has completely evaporated out of it. And take care when cleaning up the mess, any uncooked soap residue or lye residue in your pitcher is still caustic.