March 2010


Whoopie — check out our real feathers on our wings!

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Chloe is showing off her pretty wing feathers by flapping — or is she dreaming of flying!   

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In researching soap for a long time and worrying about using the dreaded ‘lye’ I found a funny saying that says:

“No Lye, No Soap, No Lie”

And, it is true.  You cannot have soap without lye.  Apparently, even the melt and pour soaps have lye — it’s just that the lye part has already been done for you so you don’t have to worry with it.

Actually, if you follow proper safety precautions, making soap with lye is no more dangerous than frying chicken or cutting a bagel in two (long known as one of the top emergency room visits!).  I found it therapeutic in deciding what qualities I wanted in my soap.  Besides, it was also a fun and enjoyable process.  I have only made soap using the cold process (which doesn’t mean that it is made without heat — just without any additional heat like from a crockpot or oven).  There is a waiting time before the soap has hardened enough before actually using it with the cold process.  Although, from what I’ve learned so far, two weeks is the least amount to wait and four weeks is what most recommend.  I’ve decided to wait two weeks before testing out the first bar.  I’m going to also try out the crockpot (hot process) method too.  Apparently, you can use the soap as soon as it has hardened in the mold.  However, I have read that waiting a few weeks even makes hot process soaps better. 

I love the creaminess of the soap.  I hope you can see that the soap is nearly white and delicate looking.  I used coconut oil, olive oil, and shea butter and just a smidgen of a scent called neroli oil (from an orange blossom grown in Tunisia).  The smell is incredibly light and calming. It is also believed that neroli oil helps those with hormonal changes during menopause and PMS.  Now that’s a scent that I think all women should know about!

Prep work: (Note:  eye safety (wear goggles), long gloves, and I decided to also wear a mask to help avoid the fumes when the lye is mixed into the water).

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This is where I measured out all of the oils and butters.  Newspaper protected my surfaces and made cleanup easy.

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Mixing the oils and water/lye mixture:  (Note:  gloves and long sleeves worn — SAFETY first!)

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Unveiling the mold after 36 hours.  I used a quart sized half ‘n half milk cartoon.  The smell is wonderful. (NOTE:  I put my gloves back on to unmold and to test the ph level.  Safety again.)

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Time to test the PH level, which was great!  (should be anywhere from 7 to 10)  Mine is between 8 and 9 and will continue to improve during the drying period.

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Time to remove gloves and cut into bars.  The bars feel incredible in my hands even at this stage.

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Here they are drying on a rack so that bottom and tops dry evenly. 

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Now the hardest part — waiting to lather up!

Don’t forget to get in some creative time today!

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Sorry if you were hoping for the different kind of MOJO!  LOL  :)

I was so looking forward to 2010 and when it arrived a number of things happened that stressed out my family and sucked all of the joy and creativeness right out of me.  It’s tough to work in a creative field when your tired and feeling like there is never enough time to get everything done.  Add in the economy and allowing worry to creep in and well — my want to do was there but my desire to start was severely lacking.

Starting an online Bible study class helped immensely and led me to a more contented spirit.  Amazing how the Lord works in us when we allow it!  I’m convinced now that my peace and happiness I have right now are a direct result of my releasing of control which fast forward to today has changed the way I think and feel.  First, my back to the basics has shown me that there is joy in being able to do for yourself…whether that be in creating healthy meals from scratch to making your own soap to raising your own chickens.  My thinking is that the more we ’s.l.o.w’ down our pace, the happier we can be.  I’m sure Tracy, my soulmate of 30 years, has wondered if I’ve been partaking of a special clear spirit but he indulges me and seems to be enjoying the process as much as I. 

What I have learned is that slowing down the clock and taking time to enjoy each other has increased my creative MOJO juice and allowed me to get back on track with business and personal goals.  

I hope you enjoy following my quest to live a more natural life and provide for my family.  Perhaps something will spur you on to your own natural adventures which will lead to a healthier and happier you! 

Be creative, enjoy life, love your family, and praise God for another blessed day.  Today is only here once.

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Can you tell that the girls love SweetPeaz’s catalogs from last year?  I knew I’d find something to do with them instead of recyling this year.

From left to right: 

  • Black with white spot on head:  Plymouth Rock (brown eggs) [her name is PHOEBE]
  • Red: New Hampshire Red (brown eggs) [couldn't resist calling her ROSIE]
  • Black with Golden Stripes down each back and already a little sassy:  Golden Laced Wyandotte (brown eggs) [SADIE]
  • Creamy Peach and already a lover:  Araucana (green & blue eggs) [CHLOE]

The ladies will look like these.  (Actually they are still little girls right now.)

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The house (which is way too big for the girls right now).  Brainstorming now about paint colors for the house and contemplating that first fresh EGG!

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biscuits

Oh my goodness.  In over 40 years of baking, I have never, ever tasted biscuits this good.  I kid you not.  My husband who likes (not loves) biscuits and I (who loves biscuits with jelly) ate a few with nothing on them.  That’s how good they were.  The texture of the dough was so different that I found myself really enjoying working with it.  All we have left is one small ball of a biscuit.  I had several small pieces of the dough left and just couldn’t toss it so crammed it into the cast iron pan with the big ones.  They were like candy!

Making biscuits with butter or any other fat does not compare!  Truly, you must try this for yourself.

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WARNING:  If you are a vegetarian or vegan – STOP READING NOW and quickly hit the back button or better yet exit the internet now and do not read any further.

Are you still there?  Okay—good, at least I didn’t scare everyone away.  LOL Join me in an in-depth look at my recent adventure into rendering homemade lard.  

If you are under 40 years of age, you most likely are cringing now at the mere mentioning of the word lard.  The word itself does sound pretty icky I admit.  And, we all keep hearing from everyone that to be healthier we should focus on low-fat options.  Home rendered lard and its poor unappealing name actually is good for you and is an excellent source of vitamin D.  It has no trans-fat which are truly the fats that everyone needs to avoid.  But, don’t believe anything unless you do the research yourself which I hope everyone will do.   Just make sure that your research is on home-rendered lard not the toxic stuff you buy at the grocery that has been zapped with who knows what in order to be able to stay on the shelves indefinitely.

Finding quality pork fat was harder than I had anticipated however.  I actually felt a little silly calling around to butchers and asking for pork fat and then saying that I needed either the back fat only or leaf fat.  I was afraid that they wouldn’t know what I was talking about or worse – some crazy lady wants to buy fat (as all the workers are laughing uncontrollable).   The first place I called said they had it and I drove down all excited.  When the butcher brought it out, I noticed that there was an awful lot of meat on it and it made me pause.  I asked him “is this pork fat that is from the back only?”  His reply was no, it is just fat that we cut off the meat.  But what meat I asked?  All meat was his reply to which I politely said no thank you that I needed it to be from one animal and it needed to be from the back of the pig.

Quite disappointed I turned to Google which has never let me down and searched for butchers in Oregon.  I ended up at Gartner’s Country Meat Market in Portland which was a fabulous place with very friendly staff.  I was amazed at how big the place was and how much beautiful meat they had.  I could have easily bought one of everything it looked so good.  I asked for the pork fat and the young man came back with a 5.5 pound of the most beautiful, white fat that I’ve ever seen.  I asked him are you sure this is just pork fat and that it is from the back.  He simply smiled and said absolutely and that they keep it on hand all of the time because it is very popular.  YEA…I’m not weird after all.  Other people buy it too!

Note:  If you are able to get leaf lard, it is your first choice for the pork fat.  It is the fat that surrounds only the kidneys.

Now on to the fun part!

My lard was frozen when I got it.  By the time I got back home it had thawed just enough that I could break it apart with a strong knife.  Be careful as you continue to do this because as the fat thaws it gets slippery.  If it starts to get too much at room temperature, just put in into the freezer for 20 minutes or so while you continue on with the still frozen pieces.

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Ingredients:  3 to 6 pounds of pork fat (back or leaf)

Prep Work: 

  • In large pot, fill it up with water and insert ball jars.  You will want to boil the jars and then keep them hot.  Never put hot liquid into a cool jar or the jar may break!
  • I used two glass measuring jars and cheese cloth and one mesh strainer

Steps:

  1. Cut fat into ½ to 1 inch strips.  (if you have a meat grinder, you could also grind the fat).  The smaller pieces you start with, the faster the process will be.

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  2. Add fat to your stock pot (I used my 8 quart stock pot).

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  3. Add water to pan.  This part is just to help keep the fat from sticking to the pan and to aid in the initial melting process.  I added enough water to bring it up about ½ to 1 inch of the pan.
  4. Turn heat on.  Initially, I put the burner on medium until it started bubbling a little and then I turned it down to low.  You could probably melt the fat faster but I didn’t want to chance scorching the fat so I left it on low.

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  5. Stir fat often.  I probably did this more than I needed to but it was fun to watch the process.
  6. As the fat begins to melt, the water will evaporate and you will be left with pure fat.During the melting process, I used my potato masher and squished the fat every so often to help in the melting and then I got an idea to try out my stick blender.  I put the blender into the fat and slowly and with short bursts chopped up the remaining fat.  It worked beautifully.  This sped up the process a lot.
  7. Once you get a clear, pretty liquid on top you can start removing the fat and putting it in the jars that you have already simmering in hot water.   I removed one jar and used a paper towel to dry the inside of the jar.

     
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  8. Dip the clear fat from the pan and into the first glass measuring jar that has the strainer on top and cheese cloth lining the strainer.  I strained the liquid twice because I wanted to eliminate anything getting into the jars but pure fat, but you don’t have to do the second straining if you don’t want to.  The spoon I used held ¼ cup so I was able to fill my jar pretty quickly.  I think it took only 4 dips.

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  9. Put the jar into the freezer for about 30 minutes.  You will want to cool the fat as quickly as possible.  This makes the lard better and smoother.  As it hardens the liquid will turn a beautiful white.  I numbered my jars so that I would be able to tell which jar would be the purest for baking.  I ended up getting 5 jars plus just a smidge more (three that were nearly pure white and the last 1 1/4 jars were a savory golden that will be great for non-baking recipes.

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  10. When all of the fat has been removed from the pan, you will end up with crumbly bits that are called cracklings.  DON’T THROW THESE AWAY!  Allow them to cool and put in a freezer bag.  These are great to use just like the dried onion bits that you put in green bean casserole or they are also excellent in cornbread.  Now, believe it or not they are NOT salty.  I couldn’t help it and put one in my mouth and was shocked that it was not salty at all.  You actually would need to salt the cracklings which allow you to control your salt intake.

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  11. Keep one jar of lard in the fridge and freeze the others.  Lard will last a really long time (a year or more) in the freezer.

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Lastly, I wanted to also say that before I started I worried that the whole house would smell like pig.  You know how bacon can really smell up the house.  Instead, the smell was kind of a warm, meaty smell – not bad at all.  The smell did increase at the end of the process but dissipated very quickly.  It was late in the evening (past 10 p.m.) when I finished and by 5 a.m. the next morning, you couldn’t tell I had cooked anything.

I hope you enjoyed following my lard rendering adventure and hope you will start up your own.

Bk2Basics

Many of you know that our baby dog, Dillan has had a rough 2010.  I give many thanks to the Lord for hearing all of the prayers going up to heaven on behalf of Dillan.  A huge thanks goes out to all of you too for the many personal emails received during this difficult time.  Dillan is continuing to improve and we have very high hopes that the disease will go into remission.  Just yesterday, his medication was reduced to a half a pill twice a day.  Yippee!! 

I have always had a deep-seated desire to create with my hands, heart, and mind.  Cooking began at a very young age and from there quilting, sewing, weaving, spinning, and not to forget embroidery which is my love and how I make a living.  There are many other artistic venues included in my life toolbox and I’m always growing and learning more.  It’s important for me to have my toolbox full and varied but at the same time it can sometimes create overload because I usually have several artistic creations going on at the exact same time.  This means that it takes me longer to completion but that’s okay because I love the process as much as the finished projects.

Lately, I have really stripped down to doing what most would scratch their head and wonder why.  Things like making homemade butter and bread and learning how to make my own natural soap.  For me this process has been very fulfilling and brings me closer to my grandparents’ days.  It’s also a very natural, earthly feeling which I find intoxicating and irresistible.  It’s also less expensive.  The older I get the closer I am drawn to nature and a more natural way to living.  And if you’ve followed any news these past many years, you have learned right along with me that what is available to purchase is not always the safest.  It doesn’t stop with our food, but other products have so many safety issues that it seems only normal to learn how to do as much as you are comfortable with in providing for your family.  For me, I want safer foods with fewer artificial ingredients, soaps that actually contain soap and lanolin.  Many manufacturers strip out the lanolin and sell it separately.  Please!  That’s an important part of soap — well besides actual soap that is.  I have a whole lot of information on soap that I plan on sharing later this year.

My back to basics with quilting started with pulling out my oldest hand pieced project.  I’ve since put all of the blocks together, added borders, and am nearly finished with the top.  I just finished all of the flying geese for the last border and need to attach it and then it’s ready to quilt.  Tracy, my husband and best friend, gave me a new hoop for quilting at Christmas and I can hardly wait to get it hooped so I can sit and handstitch with him and Dillan in the evenings while watching tv. 

After this top is in the hoop, my free time will be devoted to working on The Lady again.  She’s been very patient waiting for her turn again.  I love looking at her on the design wall.  She almost looks like she’s looking at me and smiling.  This is my first artistic quilt that I’ve designed and it really has been a satisfying experience working on her.  Am I the only one that actually starts to talk about a creation as if it were living being?  Bizarre I’m sure to some.

Don’t forget to spend a little time on something creative today.  It’s good for the soul.