Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christmastime and the Crafting is Easy.....

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Diwali or what have you, I find the rampant commercialism of major holidays here in North America depressing and annoying. Everywhere up to 2 months ahead of time you're inundated with commercials, advertising, music, etc., touting "Buy this and they'll love you!" or some such tripe. I don't know about you, but we seem to be more and more in a society of entitlement.

Being a crafty sort (in more ways than one), plus also frugal as all hell, I think a homemade gift speaks more about your gifting; it shows you put some time, effort and thought into making something special for someone. I would much rather have a jar of homemade jam from someone as a present versus a scarf or what have you.

This year, as in past years, I'm making all the gifts for family and friends for Christmas/Yule. Along with my large-ish collection of canned goods I made over the summer, and the batch of wine we make just before hand, I thought I would try my hand at something else: soap. Why soap? I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to soap, and have no problem paying extra for something really nice to make an ordinary shower extraordinary. (Anyone else wonder about that word, extraordinary? Funny how putting extra ordinary together makes it more than ordinary, but I digress). And with all the melt and pour stuff out there, I figured it couldn't be that hard, and I certainly wasn't going to start with making lye soap, being the klutz that I am and the nastiness of lye.

I decided the easiest method was a loaf soap, one that I could chop into even pieces, wrap up and give as presents. I used some essential oils, fragrance oils, natural spices and colours (and one synthetic colour) and an olive oil glycerine soap base and one goat's milk soap base. For molds, I went to the dollar store and bought aluminum loaf pans, 3 for a dollar. Here's how it went:

I bought a big glass measuring cup for melting the soap in. It came in 2 lb. slabs with grid marks for easy chopping in pieces. I melted it in the microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring in between each time, until I had it all melted down. I made 5 loaves (one a bit smaller than the rest, as I had just under a 2 lb. slab from years ago). Here's what they look like:

They came out of the aluminum molds (after hardening for a minimum of 8 hours) super easy, I just pulled the edges away from the soap, turned it upside down and popped them out.

Here's what each one looks like sliced up, and what I used to make it that way.

 This is my honey chamomile lavender soap. I chopped up some lavender glycerine soap into chunks (that I bought at the health food store) and put it in the bottom of the pan along with some bee pollen. To the melted olive oil soap base I added some liquid honey, some turmeric for colour and some chamomile essential oil for scent, then poured it into the mold.

This is my caramelized banana bread soap. I put a couple of heaping tablespoons of oats at the bottom of the pan. I pureed a banana with some lemon juice with my immersion blender and added that, along with some banana caramel fragrance oil, to the base.

I'm calling this one Sea Spray. I put some chunky sea salt in the pan first. To the base I added an aqua colour and essential oils of lavender, lemon, grapefruit and peppermint.

 This one is called Zen. To the melted base I added powdered cinnamon, cardamom and cocoa powder and some sandalwood essential oil. It has a warm, spicy woodsy smell that is just yummy.

This is using the goat's milk soap base, a Coffee and Cake soap. I added a couple of tablespoons of ground coffee to the base and some coffee cake and spice fragrance oil, stirring gently to get the coffee suspended throughout the soap. I could eat this, it smells so good!

They're all wrapped up in plastic wrap now, waiting to be prettied up with labels and ribbon. I'd like to get this as a Christmas gift, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Experiments in Summer

Well, my sausage making didn't turn out the way I had planned. My grinder plate was missing, so we used a different one which destroyed the sausage horn (tube that squishes the sausage into the casing), and seeing as small bits of aluminum were getting into the end product, we decided to call it a day. Put the marinated meat back in the freezer and went looking for parts. Apparently, our local supply for sausage making equipment has dried up (lack of interest), so now we have to drive an hour or so to another city and get some more, which hopefully we can do in the near future.

On another note, the balcony garden is doing mostly fabulous, and I've learned a few good things about gardening. We had a terrific wind storm which tortured my seedlings, which despite looking awful for a while came back to life. The tomatoes are doing really well, once I figured out the first few had blossom end rot caused by infrequent watering. I water them every day, but where we are it's been a super hot and dry summer, so I have to water twice a day. I've got some good looking heritage tomatoes:

This is my Black Krim tomato (very yummy), I'm still waiting for my Striped German (a Brandywine variety) to produce fruit. I'm using the upside down planters which seem to work well (and good for limited spaces), and on a suggestion from somewhere have also planted something different in the top:

One planter has nasturtiums (also edible), one has fuchsias which are just pretty (although some sources say they are edible too, but I haven't tried them yet). I also have some snapdragons (in a separate container) because I've always loved them; these again are apparently edible but I have yet to experiment with them. I adore the colour of these, they're just gorgeous!

Herbs this year are cilantro, spearmint, rosemary, oregano, lemon thyme, lemon balm, catnip and 2 kinds of basil. The basil really loves the sun and is doing quite well:

Hopefully there will be enough to make a few jars of pesto this year!

I'm also growing a few kinds of peppers (mostly hot, hubby loves those). My failed garden experiments include snow peas (planted them in too small of a container) and lettuce (my cat kept eating the sprouts!).

At this moment I'm drying tomatoes in the oven, we'll see how that goes. Now to fold laundry and watch a movie my hubby won't watch (Lady Chatterley). Ah, the secret pleasures of solitude!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Long time no see

Wow, it's been a long time since I've blogged. What can I say? Not only is life busy but I do tend to be a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to sitting down and relaxing. Funny that, I think it's a woman thing: lots of time to take care of everything and everybody else, cleaning, cooking, etc., but time for yourself is in short supply. Perhaps I should change that. The only problem is, I can't just sit down and write or read a good book knowing that things are messy, it would drive me crazy!

Tomorrow I'm going to make sausages from scratch. Why bother, you might ask? It's really not all that difficult to do, I get to control the ingredients and can make sure there are no fillers or other creepy ingredients in there. We've made them for a couple of years, usually doing a yearly "Sausage Making Party" with some friends. Initially we started off with lean ground pork and added our seasonings, but we found that you need fat in sausages in order to make it taste good. Lean pork sausages ended up tasting kind of  sandy and the spices didn't blend well into it.

The next year we used regular ground pork, marinated in spice mixtures overnight. This turned out way better flavour-wise, but we found in putting it through the grinder (old style metal hand cranked one, from my Mom) and into the casings (pork ones, soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes prior to stuffing), the consistency was more pasty than we liked.

So this year when I saw whole pork shoulder come on sale for 97 cents a pound, we bought 2 (about 32 pounds in total), stuck them in the freezer until we needed them. Given that we have a small freezer, and that I tend to stock up on stuff when it comes on sale like an East German during Communist times, I needed the space. Took one out, got my hubby to do the messy job of deboning it and chopping it up into cubes, ending up with close to 15 pounds of cubed pork meat. Most recipes for sausages I've come across use 5 pounds of meat, so we have about 3 batches to make. This time, at the request of my hon, I've made up 3 spicy marinade blends: one Thai Chiang Mai, one Indian Curry, and one Portuguese Chorizo. Although the spice blends all smell yummy, I have no idea how they are going to taste! If it all works out I'll post pictures and recipes of them. Right now they are marinating all day and overnight to fully blend the flavours before we start grinding and stuffing.

FYI: regarding one of my last posts about the raspberry liqueur (like Chambord) that I made in the summer, it turned out really yummy! The raspberry flavour comes through with hints of vanilla and orange peel. I'll try it again this summer, however I'm going to cut down the sugar by half because I'm just not a fan of sweet drinks. I shared it with friends one night, and they pretty much finished the bottle! I think I'll try doing the same with a variety of fruits as they come into season, along with all the jam and pickling that I'm going to do.