Friday, January 19, 2018

Soapy Friday: Back at Bath Bombs

While I am waiting for my new formula cold-processed soap to cure for testing, I've gone back to tweaking my bath bomb recipe.

Every day I'm hustlin'...
I've mostly liked what I've been doing for the past year with them, but they still needed some more attention to get to that "Perfect Bath Bomb". Like that "Perfect Bar of Soap," it takes time with many, many, many experiments and testing in between. I'm SO close.

Anyway, I'm also SUPER excited to use my new biodegradable shrink wrap system I got for Christmas.

Upping my shrink wrap game from 10-to-1 million
I was able to wrap 100 bars of soap in less than an hour with this baby! In the past, this would have taken me hours...like an hour just to wrap 15 bars of soap! It's especially great for bath bombs which are notoriously a pain in the arse.

100 bars of soap in 15 minutes....DONE!
On top of all that, the shrink wrap I'm using is BIODEGRADABLE! How awesome, right? I always hated the thought of making such an amazing, natural product only to package it in environment-harming PVC. Ultimately, I will be putting my soaps in boxes and this will be primarily used for bath bombs and tamper-sealing lotions, body butters, etc.

Soaping responsively for the environment
Speaking of body butters. I made a Valentine's inspired citrus soap to go with my Bombalicious Body Butter. It smells out of this world!  I made it in the same pink grapefruit, tangerine, and lemon fragrance blend.

But a funny thing called a "gel ring" happened when it was setting up. You can see where the color morphed from the right-to-the-left . It went from grapefruit pink to a natural soap/yellow color. It's all good...it actually kind of looks cool!

Gel ring from right-to-left

What it's supposed to look like...oh well

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017 Garden in Review

2017 Veggie Garden 
Here we are again to take a look back on how things went in the yard and garden for the past year. This is a bittersweet moment, as it most likely will be the last yearly garden review I do for this house and property. We’ve absolutely decided to list and sell this spring.

We’ve gone round-and-round for reasons, pros, and cons to selling now. But it’s mostly come down to quality of life and property values. I could go on, but for now, let’s talk gardening!

This past year really was wonderful in many ways. I’m always surprised at how much we manage to get done.

Winter/Spring


We started out with my usual winter sowing project. I was not going to do any winter sowing this season, but I do need my parsley, so that will get started ASAP. Last year’s winter sowing actually did pretty well now that I am back to doing it in Styrofoam cups and using a soilless seed mix.

2017 Winter sowing

Winter sowing...too many weeds
This past spring’s bigger project was the re-mulching of the garden area. It made a HUUUGE difference in appearance, weed control, and cleanliness in the veggie garden. It was a lot of work, but worth every ounce of effort.

New mulch being hauled in...each wheel barrel at a time

A pile of mulch waiting to be shoveled

Late Spring/Early Summer


In April, we finally finished rescreening the porch. It was another big project that took a lot of time, effort, and planning. Not only did we rescreen the porch with better screens, we tilled down about  18” into the hard-packed clay of the perennial bed with compost, soil improvers, and shredded leaves. After everything was replanted, it took off and did SO, SO, SO, much better over the summer. I need to move one or two things, but I can’t wait to see how it does this year (if we’re still here).

A lot of work, but worth it

So pretty!
May brought us garden intruders! For the record, I first saw that groundhog, then that fox a week later. Neither one has been seen since!

Go away groundhog

Go get-'em foxy!
The garden, the yard, everything was just thriving and I got to finally have a decent bearded iris bloom. Tried to grow kale and chard in the veggie garden, but for some reason they were a fail. Other than that, this past year was the best it’s ever looked.

New mulch standing tall!

The hosta bed got some new plants last year

Beautiful front bearded irises

This year should be better!

Summer


After that blissful, beautiful minute of June, things turned bloody hot and dry in a New York minute! So much so, that our poplar trees started losing their leaves in July due to heat and drought stress. I think we went a good 6 weeks in July/Aug without rain. It was very hard on everything. I started installing Mister Landscaper micro irrigation around the property.

Tomatoes starting coming in as usual. Grew my usual hybrids and heirlooms. My favorite heirloom this year was "Green Zebra"! I found that pruning the tomato plants up a good 10-12” inches from the bottoms helped to really keep the fungus and blight in check.

The start of the harvest

Greed Zebra was a yummy, well-balanced tom
The veggie garden did wonderfully and I found that if I kept a good spraying schedule of spraying the zucchini squash with BT every 7-10 days, the Squash Vine Borers were kept enough at bay to get a decent harvest. My favorite squash this year was "Grey Zucchini" from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

2017 veggie garden was amazing
Elsewhere on the property – the Japanese Beetles were HORRIBLE last year and all about skeletonized my new, sweet, potted Japanese Maple. This year, I need to get this baby on a systemic program to protect it. Voles are still here and come in waves – they try their damdest to get to my hostas, but my chain mail planting cages have saved every one. I’m hoping this winter’s hard, hard freezes will control some of those bastards this year…as well as flies, mosquitoes, and ticks! We kept a regular fungicide program on the lawn and that made a HUGE difference – no brown spot.

I planted more daylilies, which have suddenly become my new bearded iris obsession! They’re so easy and carefree to grow, plus after a couple of years, they can be divided-up like crazy.

Beautiful spider lily

Late Summer/Early Fall


First, I grew a huge friggin’ 2 lb. tomato last year! I couldn’t believe it. It was an heirloom “Gold Medal” which despite its size, I wasn’t really impressed by the taste. Too sweet.

A 2 lb. monster
Hummers were super fierce this year. We had to put up 2 extra feeders to lessen the fighting. I often wonder what will happen to them when we leave.

Hummers needed more dining space
I was extremely tickled to find some wild Jewelweed growing right down the road from me. I made Jewelweed soap and anti-itch balm which work amazingly well on itchy spots. Can’t wait to make more this year!

Jewelweed jewels
The rest of the yard picked-up and breathed a collective sigh of relief with some rain and moderate temperatures. We actually had somewhat of a “normal” fall this year and regular respites into the 70’s in September.

Tomato windfall

Beautiful front perennial bed

Even more tomatoes!

Front begonias in bloom

Late Fall/Early Winter


We were so tickled to find the most PERFECT family-owned lawn-and-garden center near us this past year. There is a chain of garden center’s up hear called Meadow Farms that have a huge inventory of cool stuff, but they are 95% staffed by 16-year olds who couldn’t and don’t give a rat’s behind about gardening or landscaping. I can’t tell you how many frustrating times I’ve gone into one of their centers to ask a pest or lawn question that only meets me back with blank stares or “let me ask the much “more” experienced 18-year old manager…who doesn’t know and doesn’t give a shit either”.

GRR!

So, you can imagine my thrill to find an honest-to-god garden center with passionate, experienced, life-long garden and lawn enthusiasts that can actually discuss which strain of tall fescue works for our area or which brand of fungicide works for different types of fungus for your lawn…even if you can’t buy it there!

Roxbury Farm...the best lawn and garden center in NoVA!
Anyway, we aerated, limed, fertilized and overseeded the lawn again with a custom grass mixture we bought from them that was AMAZEBALLS reliable and gorgeous when it grew in. All those years we threw money away on friggin’ Pennington’s makes me nauseous.

This spring our lawn is going to look like Augusta National!

Thoughts for 2018:


Really, my plan for 2018 was to NOT have a veggie garden and to only focus on perennials in the yard, but I know if we list the house the veggie garden needs to stand tall and project that “ideal country life” image. Blah.

So, with that, here are some thoughts – Mostly this year will be about prevention and maintenance:
  • Finish removing that creeping jasmine from the property fence
  • Give those Grey Zucchinis another try! Not only were the plants beautiful, but they were good producers
  • Start the potted Japanese Maple on a systemic pest control before June when the Japanese Beetles come in
  • Hit the Japanese Walking Grass week with Roundup when they are sprouts – they are much easier to control that way
  • Consider putting in another Mister Landscaper drip irrigation in the front yard by the peonies
  • Keep up with the vole control




Friday, December 29, 2017

Soapy Friday: That Perfect Bar of Soap

Happy holidays everyone! I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year celebration this weekend. As for me? I'll most likely be bundled up by the fire waaay before midnight. It's friggin' cold outside!

What to do when the temps are frigid? Make soap!

Actually, I am dialing down-down on my soap formula to find "The One". From "Bonfire Bliss" (red/black/orange soap on the far right in pic), each one of these bars include one-tweak-to-another to get to my perfect bar of soap.

New soaps from right-to-left
What makes my "Perfect Bar of Soap"? I want it to be a high-quality, nice conditioning bar. I want it to be a hard bar that I can unmold in 24-hours or less. I want it to be flexible as far as design. I don't want to have to struggle with annoying soda ash afterwards.

What I've done is added some yummy butters like cocoa butter, Shea butter, and mango butter. I've increased what is called my "superfat" in my recipe - meaning I've increased the percentage of oils/butters in my recipe that WON'T saponify (turn to soap), so my bars have more free-floating conditioning-oils to make the skin feel super-soft. And, I've added just a smidge of beeswax to help control soda ash, which it has been doing spot-on. The colors are poppin!

"Beautiful Day" - Dig my glitter nails!

"Beautiful Day" LOVE THIS!
So, right now we wait and see. Since cold process soap takes 4-6 weeks to cure, it's a waiting game, and I don't want to get too far out in production to only find I don't like what I've made.

Rosemary Mint w/Gold accents colors - St. Patrick's Day?
So far, my "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner" soap that I am praying all others turn into is my "Rose Clay and Charcoal" soap that I've made several times before. This one is spot-on in everything I want and I'm hoping. In fact, I'm renaming it as "My BFF Rosie" because it's THAT GOOD. Leaves your skin feeling super soft and silky...good lather. Although this remake did not include beeswax, which I am on the fence about. We'll see...

"My BFF Rosie" - Are you THE ONE?
From right-to-left, here's what I've done:
  • "Bonfire Bliss" - my usual recipe plus cocoa butter (5% superfat)
  • "Swedish Dream Salt" - my usual recipe plus cocoa butter and shea butter (5% superfat)
  • "50 Shades of Grey" - my usual recipe plus cocoa butter and shea butter (5% superfat)
  • "My BFF Rosie" - my usual clay & charcoal recipe plus cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter and rice bran oil (5% superfat)
  • "Super Scrub" - my usual recipe plus cocoa butter and beeswax (9% superfat)
  • "Beautiful Day" - my usual recipe plus cocoa butter, mango butter, beeswax, and rice bran oil (9% superfat)
  • "Rosemary Mint" (not on shelf) - my usual recipe plus cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter, beeswax and rice bran oil (9% superfat)
So, it's really a "what if I add this and not that?" situation. Why not make all my bars just like "My BFF Rosie" then? Well, because I don't know if it's my oil/butter combination or the other ingredients in that bar that makes it so special. So, we make different combinations of ingredients to see what works and what doesn't. 

This is the fun part!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Favorite Christmas Cookies

Yesterday was Phase 2 of the great Christmas cookie bake off, where I baked cookies for neighbors, the mail person, local friends, etc.

More cookies!
I wanted to share some of my favorite, perennial Christmas cookie recipes that I've made over-and-over through the years. They're not particularly festive or colorful, but they taste out of this world!

So, if you want to bake some last-minute cookies this holiday season, give these a try! They won't disappoint!

Chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies
Recipe from: Annie from the Cooking Forum
Makes approximately 5-dozen

Note: This makes A LOT of cookie dough, enough for 5-dozen (at least, depending on size) cookies

3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup dark molasses
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup finely chopped candied ginger
Coarse or turbinado sugar for rolling

Cream shortening, butter, and both sugars. Add the eggs and molasses and mix until well combined. Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices and mix until well combined (I don't bother sifting). Add the chopped candied ginger and mix till incorporated. Chill the dough for at least one hour.

After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°. Roll tablespoon-sized balls of the dough in the coarse or turbinado sugar. Place dough balls an inch apart on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake approximately 10-14 minutes.

The cookies will puff-up and crack when baking. The cookies are done when the cracks should still look a little wet, but the outside looks dry. They'll "fall" as they cool. Don't over bake or they will be crunchy...but still good, though!

Chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies
White Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies
Recipe from: Me!
Makes 3 dozen

Note: These are BEST if made with Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips. Don't let the other impostors, such as Ghirardelli and Hershey's fool you...I've tried them all. So, if you see these in the store, grab-em! Grab a lot and stash them away, cause they're hard to find!

If you see these in the store, buy them ALL!

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 white, granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips
1 cup white chocolate baking chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream butter and sugars together. Add the egg and egg yolk, mixing for about 1 minute, then add the vanilla extract. Mix in well.

Add baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour (I don't sift) on low speed until combined. Add peppermint crunch and white chocolate chips and mix in until incorporated. If dough is too thick, add a little bit of milk (by tablespoon) to make it easier to handle.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake 10-12 minutes until sides slightly begin to brown. If making larger cookies, drop by 1/4 cup scoops and bake for approximately 18 minutes (that's how long mine take).

White Chocolate Peppermint Crunch cookies...very yummy and festive!

Superdoodles!
Recipe from: King Arthur Flour
Makes about 90 cookies

Note: If you love Snickerdoodles, then you will be hopelessly in LOVE with Superdoodles! Superdoodles are Snickerdoodles that have been elevated to angelic status through the addition of Hershey's Cinnamon Baking Chips. Again, if you see these in the store, BUY THEM ALL and stash them away - they're hard to find.
If you see these too...BUY THEM ALL
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups flour
2 cups Hershey's Cinnamon Baking Chips
Sugar
Ground cinnamon

Cream shortening and sugar together. Mix in eggs until well incorporated, then add vanilla extract. Add baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour (I don't sift) and mix on low speed until incorporated. Add the chips once the flour mixture is mixed in.

Preheat oven to 400°. In a shallow bowl, add about 1/4 cup sugar and about 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, then mix with a fork to make cinnamon sugar. If you'd like a stronger cinnamon-to-sugar ratio, then add 1 full tablespoon of cinnamon.

Drop dough by tablespoons and roll in the cinnamon sugar. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and slightly flatten with either your hand or the bottom of a glass. Bake cookies about 10-11 minutes, just until they start to turn golden. After removing from oven, lightly dust cookies with ground cinnamon (I don't bother). Try not to eat them all!

Post note: These make crunchy, rather than chewy Superdoodles. If you like chewy Snickerdoodles, try  substituting half or all of the shortening with butter. I haven't tried this yet, but someday I will.

Super Superdoodles...a new favorite!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Ugh, tis the season to be frantic. Chaz is enjoying all the boxes and goodies that are coming and going...

Chaz says, "Thanks for the box Mommy!"

This year's "Great Annual Cookie Bake" went off without a hitch and were sent out last week.

Cookies, cookies, and more cookies
We had SNOW! This is probably the earliest we've ever had a significant amount of snow before Christmas. It was just starting to snow in this pic, but we eventually got 3 inches...SIGH. I love snow over the holidays!

Let it snow, let is snow, let it snow
My house is a mess. At any given time, my dining room table is a staging area for packing and wrapping. But I love it all!

Can you believe that Christmas is in 7 days???

A Christmas mess

Monday, December 04, 2017

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Sorry for the radio silence. Life has been busy and we’re all now hurdling 1,000 miles an hour towards Christmas. ACK!

First, hubby and I took a well-needed 7-day trip back to our old stomping grounds in Orlando and then with family in St. Petersburg for Thanksgiving. It was a social tour for sure, but it was great to see all of our old friends and spent time with family over the holidays.

Hubby, me, Pete and Becky...miss my friends!
 Wish I had gotten more pics of everyone, but for some reason I forgot to whip out the camera. Guess that means we were having a good time!

Funny thing. I asked the hotel for a pic of Ryan Gosling placed in the room in the “special requests” section of our online reservation. This is always fun, because #1 I forget that I do this and I crack up when it actually happens, and #2 I like to see which companies actually do this and how they do it. FTR, Hampton Inn rules and Marriott drools.

Hey girl...no frame but enjoy the view!
Since we’ve been back. Chaz has been glued to my side. He’s such a needy kitteh.

Clingy kitteh missed me!
Decking the halls has been a priority, but it seems everything has had a roadblock: replace lights because the old ones burnt-out, repurchase garland because the lights-burnt out, can’t find things…grrr.

Choose your fonts wisely...LOL!
"The Great Cookie Bakeoff” will commence this coming weekend and I haven’t even made any cookie dough! This is the only exercise I feel like doing right now…

Workout routine for the holidays

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