Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Halloween Goodies!

Happy Halloween, it's coming so quickly! I am, of course, having a sale in my soap shop, 15% off everything, and coupons are still good.

Now, to the important thing. I have made something new and different with pumpkin, I am very happy to share! Pumpkin sweet rolls. I use a bread machine to make all my bread doughs these days, but if you're doing it the hard way, you probably have the skills to make this recipe without me telling you how. These are instructions for us lazy folk!

Pumpkin Sweet Rolls

1/2 cup milk
1-1/4 cups cooked pumpkin (can be home canned/drained, which is what I used, or freshly cooked, or frozen, or from a can from the store. Or any winter squash)
1/4 cup water
5 Tbs. butter, cut up into bits
3 Tbs dark brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
4-1/2 cups all purpose flour (you can sub in up to 2 cups white whole wheat for more whole grains. But seriously, if you're trying to eat healthy, perhaps this is not your recipe)
2 tsp. salt
2-1/2 tsp bread machine yeast, instant yeast, or quick acting yeast

1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbs. Softened butter
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries

4 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbs. butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-4 Tbs. milk

First off, blend your pumpkin, milk, and water thoroughly in a blender, with a stick blender, or in a food processor until it's smooth. Add this puree and the rest of the ingredients for the rolls to your bread machine, according to its instructions, and set it to "DOUGH". When it is complete, roll the dough out into a 12" x 18" rectangle. Spread the butter across the rectangle, and then sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, nuts and dried fruit, leaving at least a 2" margin along one of the long sides with no fillings. Roll up the rectangle so that the blank long edge is along the top, and pinch it to seal the roll along that edge. You should have a tube 18" long. Cut into 12 rolls, place in a buttered cookie sheet or large baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let rise 15-30 minutes. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25-27 minutes. For the frosting, mix the butter and cream cheese, add sugar, vanilla, and mix until it's obvious that you need to add some milk. Add the milk a little at a time until you get the consistency you like. I like it thick, so I use just about 2-1/2 Tbs of the milk. Spread frosting and eat, makes 12 huge rolls. Happy Halloween!

Monday, September 03, 2012

I Am Better Off Now Than 4 Years Ago

This is normally where I share my new soapy stuff, and sometimes recipes. It hasn't been political here for years, but it is still my soapbox.

As the campaign season swings into high gear, many pundits are asking Reagan's old question, "Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago." A lot of political folk are having trouble saying yes to that question. I found this very surprising. The Great Recession began in December of 2007, and did not officially end until June of 2009. Four years ago, we were just coming off of a Summer when gas prices spiked at over $4.00/gallon, with crude oil prices hitting a record of $147/barrel. In September of 2008, we lost a quarter of a million jobs in this country, and we lost a total of 2.6 million jobs that year. In September 2008, Lehman Brothers went tits up, and the economy went into free fall. For the first time since 1928, we were actually in danger of a collapse of our banking system. Four years ago our economy, as a whole, was - to use a technical term, in the shitter.

So for the generic American, the question of "Are you better off?" has an obvious and emphatic answer - Yes. Of course. DUH.

I understand that the current progress of our economy is not like the artificial boom years that we experienced in the past, but only a complete moron would say that "slow progress" is worse than "financial meltdown and collapse". I am disgusted at the willful stupidity of people who say things are worse now than they were four years ago.

For this specific American, the question of being better off also has a simple answer, Hell YES! I was able to start my own business, and as the economy has recovered, my business has grown. I started selling my soaps and whatnot two years ago. The business has grown to the extent that I am not seeking another job. I made a job for myself. And, unlike all the small business people that the RNC brought out for their convention, I actually did it without any government loans. But I would never say that I did it without government help, and it would be the height of arrogance to say I did it all alone, to say "I built that." I depend heavily on the low shipping prices and excellent service that I get from the USPS. OUR postal service, not owned by any stockholders or individual. WE built that. I also depend upon our transportation infrastructure, which allows me to obtain quality supplies from around the globe. I'm also able to do this only because of the science degree that was paid for, in large part, with a Pell grant. And without the current growth in our economy, I wouldn't have anything. I sell a luxury product - a small luxury to be sure, but one that sells better with people who have a bit of extra cash for something special. Without a doubt, more people have that extra cash now than four years ago. I have a job that is secure, one that I can never have taken from me by a boss looking for a bonus, and one that pays more, every day.

The fact that the economy is better than it was in 2008 is obvious to me, but there are still many people who don't feel the recovery just yet. They're still drowning in debt that was piled up over the last decade of declining wages. They're still unemployed, or under employed. They still suffer. There will always be work to be done, always ways to improve our current situation. But the answer to those problems is not to return to the suck-fest that we were living in four years ago. I am better off than I was four years ago and the country is better off. I want every individual to be better off, and not just the ones who already have theirs. I want opportunity not just for people who start a business, but for people who work for a business, and people who work for all of us, as teachers, fire fighters, and even the bitches at the DMV. I look forward to another four years of progress.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Harvest is Coming!!

Today is Lugnasadh Eve, the festival of First Harvest! I have already been harvesting, many radishes, carrots, and lettuces, but my tomatoes are still on the vine. A quick shop update - this month is my second anniversary selling to folks online, and the official start of my business. So, in honor of the occasion, as well as harvest & my birthday (I am super duper old), everything in my shop is marked down 25% until 8/21. I'm also making new soaps daily, and rebatching things that have sold out. Also, the new whipped soaps will be ready in September. I've tweaked my formula yet again, I just love the lather that my shaving soaps make, so I've changed the whipped soap so it produces a more foamy lather, good for bathing or shaving.

Since it's First Harvest, I wanted to share a recipe as well! We've been enjoying some wonderful veggies from the garden and the market, and I've made up some new ways to make them quickly. Here's our favorite so far, which is pretty quick, hearty, and vegetarian!

Easy Lentil Stew (goes great with fresh crusty bread or biscuits)

1 lb. dried brown lentils, cooked and drained (reserve 1/2 for tacos later)
5 carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, medium dice
1 green bell pepper, diced
5 stalks celery, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced (or more, as desired)
6 fresh diced tomatoes, or two cans diced tomatoes, or one quart home canned tomatoes
1 quart water
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground turmeric
2 Knorr vegetable bouillon cubes
1 Knorr garlic bouillon cube
1 Knorr cilantro bouillon cube
and/or 3 Tbs. fresh minced cilantro
2 Tbs oil of choice (butter, olive oil, or coconut oil work great)
Any vegetables you desire can be added with the tomatoes - if you have kale, chard, chard stems, turnips, daikon, potatoes, or any other fab farmer's market find, just chop it and throw it in :)

In a medium stock pot, heat oil until it is melted and hot. Add ground cumin, stir to incorporate, until it smells awesome. Add carrots, bell pepper, and celery. Stir and fry on medium high heat until onions are translucent. Add garlic, stir & fry one more minute. Add 1/2 the cooked lentils, tomatoes, water, bouillon cubes, and turmeric. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low, cover, and simmer for 1-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Add fresh cilantro if desired just before serving, serves 6.

Monday, April 30, 2012

New Things to Come

I love Spring, it's my most creative time of the year! I do actually get most of my new ideas in the Springtime, and save them up for the rest of the year. I've been fiddling about for something to replace my whipped body butters, as they can't ship in the Summer - too melty. So I made a thing for you. And for me too.
It's a new all purpose balm. Seriously, all purposes. Lips, hella yeah. Dry heels, yep. Need to grease a cake pan, okay then, but it's a little pricy. It's a rich balm with hemp seed oil, jojoba, cocoa butter & shea butter, with a blend of tea tree, lavender, rosemary, and chamomile essential oils - the scent is very mild, and mostly chamomile. Safe for use on babies, mommies, and cakes. It will probably still melt, but since it's not whippy, when it cools back down, it will be exactly the same as when I shipped it, so yay for no heat damage.
And - new soaps on the rack to be released this month (from left to right in the pic):

Sweet Pipe Tobacco - sweet and masculine, this is a scent exactly like my Dad's pipe tobacco (my Mom used to keep her sewing notions in his empty Borkum Riff cans, so to me, this soap smells like buttons) .

Honey Bear - made with 100% natural ingredients, including honey, natural honey fragrance, and just a bit 'o beeswax up top.

Babylon - a blend of honeyed figs, pomegranate, frankincense, myrrh, and just a bit of musk and patchouli. This scent will also be available as a perfume oil, body spray, and body cream. .

Poached Pear - sweet juicy pear with a little vanilla glaze.

The Sweet Pipe Tobacco and Honey Bear have been on the rack for a couple of weeks, so they'll be available by the 11th, and Babylon and Poached Pear will follow on the 18th. I'll also be introducing a limited group of Supernatural All Natural Lip Balms, in a slide tin, and a few more colors for the lip glosses. And there will be golden beets and dragon (red) carrots in my garden, Spring is AWESOME!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The New Stuff

I have lots of new things planned for the shop this Summer. I have new Summer hats in my knitting shop, KnitHabit, made with acrylic or cotton yarns, your choice. The visor hats have a good shade, and are really lightweight. And a million times cuter than a trucker hat :)
And, in the soap shop, there's lots of new things coming, and here's some of the scheduled releases:
4/19 - All Natural Facial Scrub with ground walnut and apricot shells - made with tea tree oil and lavender essential oil, good for all skin types. A gentle exfoliator that won't dry you out or leave you greasy.
4/23 - Cherry Blossom Sea Salt Soap
5/5 - All Natural Citrus Soap and Fruit Loops Soap: Both of these are new cold process soaps, the citrus is all natural with pink grapefruit, sweet orange, and blood orange essential oils, and the Fruit Loops is a fun soap with bright colors, and the scent of MY FAVORITE BREAKFAST EVER.

I'm also working on a formula for a great vegan shaving soap, and hoping for success by June. And, I have a dozen vintage double edged razors that I'm still restoring to add to the shop for Father's Day. I'll have a couple of gift sets available, full of handmade and vintage goodies for Dad :)

Friday, March 09, 2012

I Stepped in a Big Pile of Sh..

SHAVING CREAM!! I always loved the shaving cream song. I also have to admit, that even though I don't shave (being a lady), I love shaving cream. I love coating the neighbor's car with the stuff, spraying it on strangers, and making Devil's Tower sculptures with the stuff, it's a miracle in a can. Several months ago, I had a customer ask if I knew about shaving soaps, and could I make some. And I had to tell him, I know nothing about shaving. Nothing. Most of the men in my family are too lazy to use anything but Norelco to defur their faces, if they even bother with that. I do have two sons of hair growing age, and since they have to do what I tell them, they've been my guinea pigs. I made them after all.
I started off with what I already had on hand - testing all of my soap formulas, cream soaps, and shampoo bars. My old cream soap formula did really well - I had abandoned it as a cream soap because most people want a more bubbly lather. Shavers like the creamy foam. Also a good performer, my shampoo bars, but the lather tended to dry quickly, so you have to add more water for 2nd or 3rd pass. A slick shave, but a lot of work - you basically have to build a new lather for each pass. And, it didn't do as well for making whiskers stand up, so I needed more backbone.
Then off to the research - there's a community online for every hobby, and shaving appears to be a big one. I think I read every post on a couple of the bigger forums, that was a lot of reading. I identified oils that weren't previously part of my starring lineup, but are must haves for super awesome shaving soap - stearic acid, tallow, and palm oil. I also had a chance to look at some antique soap making books, and I had to take a look at the ingredients being used in the most awesome shaving soaps. And then I figured out how to get all that stuff into one bar :)
The scents that I picked for the shaving soaps were either 1)requested by customers (pineapple & patchouli)2)super popular with lots of guys on the shaving forums (lavender & sandalwood) or 3)my favorite smell ever(caramel hazelnut).
My sons are happy with the results - they work better than canned shaving cream (duh), and seem to do a great job preventing nicks. Also, teenaged son is experiencing less acne, so yay!
I'll be selling these with a jar and also without. The jar makes a nice shaving bowl, safe in the shower, and has a metal lid so it's great for traveling. Happy shaving!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Great Salt Bar Experiment

Since the day after Christmas, I've been involved in what I think of as "The Great Salt Bar Experiment". I don't know if you've ever heard of salt bars, or salt soap, but I've been intrigued by them for years. I started off with a pretty basic recipe, just coconut oil, sea salt, and lye. I did the first attempt with 15% superfat, and hot processed the soap with a full 40% water usage. I added the salt (equal to the weight of coconut oil) after cooking the soap. Interesting, and very nice results! I expected it to either be greasy from the extra oils, or drying, because coconut + salt. What a surprise for me! I unmolded & sliced that first batch after just an hour in the mold, when it was cool enough to handle. It was already very, very hard, and crumbled a bit. The lather wasn't the normal bubbles - more of a creamy foam. It left my skin very soft, but not greasy. After the first use, the bar was very smooth, and rock like. When I used it a second time, I was about to be disappointed, no lather! But then it suddenly burst into foam, yay! I tweaked my formula, adding castor oil, rice bran oil, and cocoa butter, and made several loaves, some hot process and some cold process, and a couple of CPOP. While the soap itself is the same regardless of the process, my favorites were the cold process soaps - they looked the prettiest, but did have to go through four weeks of cure time.
I also tried these out as a shampoo bar - with the high coconut content, I thought they might be a winner on hair. Too much coconut for my hair, which is really fine. After washing with one of the caramel bars, I could tell immediately it was a fail for me, a little oily. So, I lathered up with one of my normal shampoo bars (lemon rosemary), and rinsed. OMG - it felt like I had used a conditioner, even though I hadn't even spritzed with vinegar, very soft, no frizz :) Kind of a weird thing, to use conditioner before shampoo, but it works! I've made more of these since the initial experiments, so there will be more variety in the shop in the coming month(s), but the first ten varieties are ready and available now. On the curing rack, I have blueberry, mango and bay rum that will be ready after Valentine's, and will be adding new scents throughout the Spring.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cool New Stuff

I'm always busy making new stuff, but I also bought a bunch of wonderful things this year, and I wanted to share the awesomeness of my loot!

DancingWithFairies - I love bath bombs, but I completely fail at making them. I purchased several this year, but this last one was my favorite! I bought the "Pocket Full of Sunshine" ball, and it made me completely happy. About the size of a tennis ball, this bath bomb was full of nice oils, and plenty of fizz. The bomb's scent was mild and fresh, and it didn't leave my tub greasy. It did leave my skin completely soft. I love the glitter too, I could see it in the bath, but it didn't adhere to my skin. She also included a beautiful tin of bath salts as a freebie, but I didn't get a chance to try them, my evil daughter ganked them. It was a nice smelling tin though, and very pretty.

ThePoisonedApples - I bought two things from this shop, a caramel apple for Halloween, and then some bars of pumpkin caramel. I am proud to say, I was able to hoard these all for myself, and I did not share with my heathen children. This caramel is just too good to share! So buttery, chewy, and delicious. I can't wait to shop there again!

theHouseAcrosstheBay - I bought several digital collage sheets from this shop, and I couldn't be happier. These are beautiful images that I've used in most of my new labels, ad the shop owner is so nice! I received my PDF's within just a couple of hours, and they've been really easy to work with. I was actually motivated to make new soaps just to go with the images, so really, I received more than just pics, she sells inspiration.

I love buying handmade of all kinds, if you have any suggestions I would love to hear about your favorite shops!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Recovering From the Holidays

I'm finally getting caught up after the holidays! All the decorations are put away, and I'm managed to reorder the supplies I was low on, as well as finally finish some projects I started back in October. I only have three knitting WIPs on my desk to haunt me, which is kind of an all time low for me :)
Before the big holiday rush, NPR did a segment on the ten greatest songs ever. I didn't agree with most of their choices, but one made my personal top ten, Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. I listened to that one again for the first time in many moons, and I wanted to make a fragrance that smelled like that. I am not a huge fan of patchouli, but this song really smells like patchouli. I added sandalwood, cannabis, and just a bit of smoke. There's a few other things I added over the following weeks, until it was perfect. Then it sat in the cupboard for months. I was able to make some whipped soap with it last month, yummy! I finally returned to it this week, and made a hot process soap. When I have a really awesome fragrance, I like to use it in hot process, so the fragrance doesn't burn off during the cure, or morph from the lye.
I'll be introducing several new shampoo fragrances this spring, as well as "The Ladies Who Dance" line of burlesque inspired fragrances. While the names are all reminiscent of strippers, only one smells like coconut! And now, for your viewing pleasure, Led Zeppelin: