Friday, 29 August 2014

Holy pants, I made soap! (Beer&Bacon soap)

I make a lot of things that most people would buy in a store. I'm not just taking about baking and sewing projects, either, though I certainly do a lot of those. I make my own laundry detergent. I make a hair tonic we use in place of conditioner, the recipe for which I had to divulge to my mother-in-law so she could make it herself. I make deodorant not just for myself but also for my husband and my mother. I made a bug bite salve this summer that ACTUALLY WORKED.

Earlier this year I tried to explain to my father why I do these things; why I make it myself instead of doing the much simpler task of going to the store and giving them money in exchange for finished goods instead of ingredients. I'd like to say it's for environmental reasons, or ethical reasons, or health reasons. Those are part of it, sure. However, the real reason is twofold. 

The first part, unsurprisingly (as we are a young family and I am self-employed), is money. Making things myself is so much cheaper than buying in a store. The laundry detergent cost me $4 for close to 5 gallons. You just can't beat that. 

The second and major part was perfectly demonstrated to my family this afternoon, when I made some soap. I danced; I jumped up and down; I kept yelling "holy crap, I just made soap!" The basic reason I keep doing all these things? I get SO DAMN EXCITED when it works. When I can look at something and say "Hell YES, I made that!" That feeling is worth any amount of effort. 

The soap I made today has been in the works for literally years. We always collect bacon fat. There is always a can or jar on the stove to pour the pan into. I use it to cook sometimes, I made biscuits with it once, I grease the cornbread pan with it. A few years ago I decided I wanted to make soap. I researched it, I looked for lye everywhere I could think of, but always it stayed on the back burner: I'll admit it, I was mighty intimidated by the idea. Especially since the smallest bags of lye I could find were 10lbs!

Then, a couple of months ago, I discovered that I could, in fact, buy small amounts of lye from a couple of Canadian suppliers if I was willing to pay the dangerous goods shipping price. I decided I was. So now there was a jar of lye, sitting on a shelf in my workroom, staring at me. Disappointed in my seeming inability to pull up my big girl pants and just bloody do this!

Today was the day. I got out my bacon fat, gave it one more clean, and let it cool (this blog gives great instructions for cleaning the fat and is also where I got most of the instructions for this project). I poured a can of beer (Original 16 Copper, graciously donated to the cause by my lovely husband) into a bowl and made it go flat. There are lots of great lye calculators out there, I used this one to figure out my lye amount. 

Fat and lye, the basic bones of soap!
this beer took a ridiculous amount of time to go flat.
I melted my bacon fat in a stainless steel pot that I normally use as a dye bath, then set it in a warm place to stay at 88F. 

mmmmm.... melty bacon...

I was so nervous/excited about adding the lye to the beer that I completely forgot to wear my gloves. When I realized, I almost freaked out. Bad me! I wore them for the rest of the process, I promise you. I had to do this outside as there is nowhere in my house with the proper ventilation....

ahh! gloves! where are my gloves!!!

it begins to bubble...

lots o'bubbling now! it smelled very strange...

Once the lye had cooled to about 88F, I added it to the fat and used my immersion blender to blend it. 

can YOU use a thermometer?

THERE are my gloves!

a blender in a metal pot on a glass table = lots of noise

Using the stick blender makes the stirring stage go extremely fast. Once recipe I read basically said "Blend by hand for 2-4 hours, or blend with a stick blender for 2-4 minutes." Once it got to trace (like pudding or whipped cream. If you lift the blender, the shapes stay on the surface) I added some cedar essential oil and stirred that in by hand. I had read that using the blender at this point can make it set up too fast and figured I'd rather chance uneven scent. 

see the trace? i'm pretty sure i did this right

lots of drops.....

and stir. doesn't it look delicious? it's not.

I used a couple of milk cartons for molds because they were what it had on hand and I had read that they work well. My soap at this point looked like butterscotch pudding. It was seriously lovely and smelled pretty nice.

and gloves, again. 

big bars and little bars!

The soap is now sitting on top of my refrigerator (a warm place), wrapped in a towel. I'll unmold it in a day or two (and update this post) and then in 4-6 weeks it will be ready to use! (And I'll update again)

soap, concealed from predators 

Today is a proud day. 

UPDATE: I cut the soap up today. It looks lovely, smells interesting and has a texture like firm cheese. I put it on edge on a baking rack, covered it with a light tea towel to keep the dust off and put it in an out-of-the-way place. Now, we wait!

the milk cartons worked great!
it sliced so nicely....

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Snack time! (Puffed Rice)

This recipe came from Karen Solomon's fantastic book, "Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It." I'm a trifle obsessed with it right now; there are some truly amazing recipes in there. Plus so many "holy crap that's so easy, why am I not doing that every day??" recipes, which are my favourite kind. This one is great, it uses up leftover rice and is insanely delicious.

I think she sums it up really well in the intro to the recipe for corn flakes (the page before the puffed rice): "There come moments in kitchen projectry when one has to ask oneself, "Is this insane? Have I crossed the line from food-craftiness into utter madness, making my own cornflakes?" Search inside your gut and you will find the answer to that question yourself."

Yes, I am mad. But it's a pretty awesome madness, and my family seems to enjoy reaping the benefits.

Puffed rice

Cooked rice (long grain is better, but I've used short as well)

Once you've eaten whatever meal the rice was for, spread the leftover rice on a baking sheet. You can either leave it out for as long as it takes to dry completely, or put it in the oven at 180 with the door cracked. Stir it occasionally, breaking up clumps, until it is totally dry.

Line a baking sheet with paper towel and prepare your seasonings. We prefer cinnamon and sugar. 

Looks like it's uncooked again!

Heat a couple of inches of oil in a round-bottomed skillet (a wok is perfect) until smoking hot. Pour the rice in in no more than 1/2 batches and stir. Use a skimmer to scoop them out as they start to get brown, onto the paper towels to drain. 

Season. Eat!

A note on oil: I usually use peanut oil for these. It's a nice, light oil that leaves the rice fluffy. Tonight I discovered to my chagrin that I was out of peanut and I had to substitute canola. Though still good, I find them to be not AS good. The canola oil seems to have made the rice much crisper; almost to the point of painfully so. Also, I don't like the way it makes my house smell and the smoke from canola oil really bugs my eyes. I conclusion, not using that again. Definitely going back to peanut.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Meeting Noms (lime-coconut cupcakes)

We're having a production meeting at our house tonight and so, as I am wont to do, I did some baking. Astro makes this to-die-for lime yoghurt that I'm kind of obsessed with right now and I really wanted to try baking with it, so I decided to make up something that (in my head, at least) sounds divine: lime cupcakes with coconut frosting. All it needs is tequila, right?

I'm really into texture (fabric, food, anything) and I have to say the batter for these was possibly the sexiest cake batter I've ever seen. Like, wow. So excited to eat these!


I adapted a recipe from this awesome KitchenAid cookbook I have and the only problem I ran into is that the recipe yields 24 cupcakes but I only have tins for 18. This is only sort of a problem. See photo:

Oops. Oh well. 

The frosting was made using flour, which I've never tried before. It's delicious, but more of an icing. The coconut oil has such a low melting point that it's keeping the frosting rather liquid-ey. I put it in the fridge for a while before putting it on the cupcakes, then only frosted what we were going to eat right away.  The original recipe used butter and shortening; I think I'd like to try it that way next time, but this was still so good!

Recipe (adapted from KitchenAid's The Cakes & Cupcakes Book)

Lime Cupcakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup Astro Lime yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 tbsp lime juice or to taste
3 eggs

1) preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 standard muffin cups with paper liners
2) mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in electric mixer until well-blended. Add butter, beat at medium speed for 30 seconds. Add yoghurt, vanilla and lime juice; beat for 2 mins. Add eggs; beat 2 minutes. 
3) divide batter evenly among muffin cups.
4) bake 20 or until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 5 mins; remove to wire racks and cool completely.

Coconut Creamy Frosting

1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
Dash salt
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar

1) combine flour and salt in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in coconut milk until well-blended. Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, cool. 
2) beat coconut oil and butter with electric mixer at high speed until creamy. Add sugar, beat until light and fluffy. Add cooled flour mixture, beat till smooth. 
3) ice cupcakes, eat!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Free furniture rehab

When we took possession of our house, we discovered that the previous owners had left us a bunch of furniture. Thankfully, mostly nice stuff, but there were a few questionable pieces. This double deck chair, though useful, was badly painted and peeling, matched nothing an had two cushions that were probably made when I was 10.

We did not have a ton of money to spend on this project, so after sanding and scrubbing, I painted it using leftover paint from our bedroom topped with several coats of outdoor varathane. The cushions we found in the superstore end-of-season sale; don't you just love the colour?

Funny story: we went for a walk the other night and discovered that a house two blocks from us has a similar piece of outdoor furniture painted the same colour and with the same cushion. Great minds, amirite?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sneaky veggies (Coconut-carrot oatmeal cookies)

I have small children. This means I am forever trying to find ways that they will eat vegetables. I try not to be too sneaky, I want them to realize what they are eating when they enjoy it. Sometimes, though, I just want to be able to feed them something I know they will eat (i.e., cookies) and be happy in the knowledge that they are also eating something healthy (i.e., carrots). 

I toasted the coconut before putting it in. It makes my house smell so good and adds a nice nuttiness to the cookie.

tried to make the recipe as healthy as I could (cutting most of the sugar, swapping out most of the butter for applesauce...) but they are still cookies. 

They aren't a meal, but they're a reasonable snack. 


They would probably also be good spread in a 9" square baking pan and cut into bars, too....

Recipe: (adapted from Joy of Cooking oatmeal raisin cookies)

Preheat oven to 350, grease or line two cookie sheets.
Whisk together
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated or ground nutmeg

Beat together until well-blended
1 cup applesauce and butter (about 1-2 tblsp butter, the rest applesauce)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 tsp vanilla

Add flour mixture, stir. Mix in:
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 1/2 cups toasted unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Drop by tablespoon fulls about 2" apart on cookie sheets. Flatten to about 1/2" thickness. Bake until lightly browned, 12-14 minutes. Let stand briefly, then move to wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

I'm Really Rather Proud (recycling bag)

We have two cupboards for recycling, one for deposit returnables and one for regular recycling picked up by the city. For the last two years, we've been trying to decide how to contain the mass of paper and plastic in the regular cupboard. Particularly in the winter, we're not the best at taking it all out as often as we really should and so end up with a cupboard so full that you have to open the door, toss whatever you have in and slam it closed as fast as you can to avoid an avalanche. 

We've discussed boxes, sub-doors and all manner of hard-sided solutions, but the shape of the cupboard makes all those awkward. The best solution came down to a bag of some sort, so the other day I decided to just go for it.


I made the bag out of some light canvas that has been sitting around for years, and bound the top edge with some green bias tape.

I made a cutout in one side of the top edge as an opening for the recycling to go in, then added four webbing loops at the corners. 

I bought four heavy-duty cup hooks from Canadian Tire and screwed them into the corners of the cupboard. And viola! No more avalanches!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Found Fabrics - hiding from the heat vol. 2 (crib sheets)

Today, I decided to make some of my favourite things: crib sheets. I don't know why, but I just love making crib sheets. They're simple, pretty quick, and so weirdly rewarding. Ok,  guess I do know why. Anyway, I don't get to make them very often as they take a fair amount of fabric so they aren't really cost-effective to sell; I made so many when Rowan was born that I haven't needed to make more; and there are only so many you can give as gifts....

That being said, today I got to make a set. See, although we have a stack of fitted sheets for the crib, I only ever made one flat sheet and it's flannel. And it's hot here right now. Very hot. And poor Willow, who (like her mum) loves being tucked in at night, has been melting under a blanket. Poor wee thing. So, today, she got a nice set of cotton sheets so I can tuck her in!

No credit to me for the pillowcase (bought) or the quilt (a gift from a wonderful friend)

Tutorial Time!

You will need 3.6m (3.9 yards) of fabric, 1.2m (4') narrow elastic. 

Fitted Sheet:
Take a piece of fabric 70"x45". 45" is a pretty standard width for many fabrics, especially cottons, so this means you don't have to cut the long sides. Huzzah.
Cut 9" squares out of each corner. I do this by folding it in half and in half again, then cutting all the corners at once. 
New cutting mat! Thank you Fabricland Ultimate Sale!

Next, sew the two cut edges together with a 1/4" seam, creating a box corner

I serge my edges; you can zigzag them, pink them or leave them raw.

Finish the raw edges of the sheet. This should only be the two short sides, the long sides (if you had 45" fabric) are selvages and so don't really need to be finished.

Now cut 4 pieces of elastic at 1' each. Put the middle of each piece on the seam in each corner. Sew it down, stretching the elastic fully. 

I like to do this by sewing out from the centre of the elastic, but this means that you do have to sew one side of the elastic blind.


 You can also stretch the elastic out fully, then pin it in place.

And there you have it! A fitted sheet!
Because my elastic had no guts (it was crazy soft and stretchy),  I did my 2' on each end as one piece. If you are using regular braided elastic, you'll need to do the 1' pieces

Flat sheet:

Start with another piece of fabric 70"x45" 

Hem one end at 1" (folded in half)

Hem the other end at 3" (fold under 1/2")

And you're done!

Update: Willow is sleeping well tonight! Cotton is a wonderful thing...