Friday, July 21, 2017

July Canning

Since I'm taking a small break from soapmaking, I've turned my attention back to the kitchen. Tomatoes are coming in, so it's time to get busy!

This week I've made Annie's Salsa, Dill Pickles, Crushed Tomatoes, and some Sour Cherry Jam. I also whipped up a batch of Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread, which was pretty amazing!

Plus, it's too damn hot to be outside!

It's been a busy week in the kitchen!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Garden in July

I'm not going to have a Soapy Friday post this week, as I'm waiting to see how some of my latest samples perform, so it's back to our regularly, scheduled broadcast. :-)

This has been the driest summer that we've had to date. Even 2015, as bloody hot as it was, had more rain than this summer (according to my records). And with temperatures regularly in the 90's with the heat index into the 100's, everything is suffering. My rain barrels have only filled up once, and have been completely drained. This has never happened. I've never been able to completely drain my rain barrels before a rain shower comes along and refills.

Even the turtles, which we spot on our property every year, have retreated to the cooler, damper areas of the woods. We haven't seen a turtle on our property at all this year.

And so it goes.

I've managed to keep the flower beds, hosta beds, and vegetable garden watered and alive. I've started installing Mister Landscaper micro-irrigation around the property where I can and it's made a big impact on my watering chores.

The lawn has only been cut once in the past 6 weeks as well. We found that keeping the grass taller has helped preserve it during hot-spells like this, as we don't have an irrigation system, nor do we water.

The tomatoes are starting to come in heavy. We had our first BLT last night for dinner, and I'm canning crushed tomatoes in the kitchen as I type. :-)

The back perennial bed is filling-out. I'm still getting used to the whole "The 1st year they sleep, the 2nd year they creep, and the 3rd year they leap" gardening concept up here. In Florida, it was growing season ALL year-long, so plants matured and filled-out quicker.

Even the perennial beds in the front of the house look dreamy. I need to thin and divide much of these plants over this fall.

I was mentioning to my friend Mary, how summer bums me out. I just can't wait for it to be over and I hate the heat, although I love the fresh produce! I live for the fall, winter, and spring.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Soapy Friday - Fall Leaves and Citrus Energy

Happy Friday everyone!

There wasn't much going on this week due to me waiting to see how my last couple of batches of soap perform after they cure...

But first, fall leaves in July! Can you believe this?

October in July?
It's been so dang hot and dry that our tulip poplar trees have already shed 10-15% of their leaves due to heat stress and lack of water. Usually, they start to drop a few leaves here-and-there in July, but I've never seen this much!

The veggie garden is starting to pick up, so I guess it's a good thing that I'm taking a small break from soap (sort of).

Maters are coming it
On to soap, shall we?

Like I said, not much happened this week, but I did manage to make a double batch of what I am calling "Citrus Energy" olive oil soap. I usually make my olive oil soaps 100% natural and only use essential oils, but I didn't have enough orange and grapefruit essential oils to make this batch, so I subbed in some "Energy" fragrance oil from It smells just like orange essential oil.

Waiting for release
I usually can unmold in a day, maybe two, but when I tried to unmold this morning, the bottoms were still a little soft, so I am going to let it sit for another day or two. I might have used too much fragrance oil, which upped my total liquid amount and is making the soap a little softer.

I did try another lotion recipe that contained only 7 ingredients: water, olive oil, emulsifying wax, vegetable glycerin, vitamin-e oil, a preservative, and fragrance oil. I liked how it turned out and made 5 sample bottles, which were given away to friends. I've been using the one bottle and I really like it. I made it with an "Anjou Pear and Lime" fragrance oil blend, which makes me think of summer and fall at the same time.

Of all the soapy things I make, lotion is the easiest and gives me the fastest gratification...basically it's ready to use right after you mix it and put it in the bottle (after cooling).

That's all for this week, friends!

Friday, July 07, 2017

Soapy Friday - Summer Veggies and Soap Trials

Happy Friday everyone! It's a short week for many, but they always feel longer to me as you have to try to fit 5 days of work into 3.

But first, a peek at the first summer tomatoes and eggplant from my veggie garden...

Future dinner
I didn't quite make my July 4th deadline for a ripe tomato, but that's okay. This little plate of loveliness will be grilled up and made into some yummy bruschetta for dinner tonight.

On to soap, shall we?

I gave my first shot at coffin bombs and they turned out pretty cute. The rose petals made the sides crumble off a little, but otherwise, I think it's a good start. I'm going to take them to my UPS lady today; I'm sure she'll be thrilled!

Coffin bombs...for people dying to take a bath!
I made some more 100% Olive Oil soap in "Peppermint Patchouli". I love to use peppermint soap in the summertime; it's so refreshing and cooling after a hot day outside. I'm pretty set on my Olive Oil soap ingredients and process and it's one of the most favorited soaps from my friends and family.

"Savon de la Bonne Mere Marseille" means "Soap of the Good Mother from Marseille" LOL!
I tried another batch of my "Old Faithful" 5-oil soap recipe with the 15% water discount to see if it would give me the same results and it did. I made a "Summer Melon" soap using a melon/peach blend of Fragrance Oil (FO). It turned out nice, but has a little soda ash on top.

"Summer" Melon soap
Making soap is a lot like making pickles: you don't know what you've got until they're ready, and that can take a while. So, I think I am going to hold off making more of my "Old Faithful" soaps for a while until some of the newer soaps cure and I can try them out in the shower/bath.

Need to test drive some of these soaps!
My earlier batches of soap over the past months had a tendency to be scratchy, even when I didn't add any exfoliating clays or charcoals. I think that was due to me not knowing about melting my solid oils down enough and the stearic acid within the oils wasn't dissolving.

I want to see how my newer soaps, where I've melted my oils clear, perform and feel in the shower/bath and I need to let them cure. I don't want to waste expensive ingredients on soap that doesn't measure-up.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Soapy Friday - Foxes, Fireworks, and Coffins

Happy 4th of July weekend everyone!

But first, a continuation of last week's groundhog saga...

Earlier this week, about 4 days ago, we spotted a very large, adult fox trotting across our front lawn and into the woods. This is very exciting! I think foxes are so beautiful.

Mr. or Mrs. Fox is welcome!
We have also NOT seen John G. Kennedy groundhog since last week. Coincidence? Maybe. Mr. or Mrs. fox is welcome to stay and keep the critters away, but I worry about our neighbor's cat that is let outside and wanders over here from time-to-time. :-(

Next, since it is a holiday weekend, how about some fireworks from Mother Nature? Say hello to "Ruby Spider" daylily ....isn't she gorgeous?

"Ruby Spider"

I'm ready for my close-up! 
There is a man at one of our local farmer's markets that sells the most amazeballs plants. It's hard for me to not buy from him...I've already purchased 5 daylilies (4 last year), an echinacea, and a coneflower. I'd buy more, but I need to do some garden-bed prepping first.

"Lavender Stardust"
On to soap, shall we?

This week, I received some wonderful goodies in the mail. There is a lady at my UPS store who has been begging for me to make some coffin shaped bath bombs (she likes things "goth/emo") that look like this:

Photo courtesy from The Madbombers
So, I bought this cake mold and will play around with it this week. I also bought the pink "faux bois" wood grain silicone mat to line the bottom of my soap mold for some future sandlewood-type soap.

Coffin bombs coming soon! had a sale on their large 6.5 lb. silicone soap molds, so I bought 2 for future loaves when I am comfortable with my recipe and process. Messing up a small 3 lb. loaf of soap (on left) is MUCH cheaper and less painful than it would be if it were almost 7 lbs.!

3 lb. mold on left (it's dirty in this pic) and 6.5 lb. mold on right
For example, I made a "White Tea and Ginger" soap that at 24-hours was still a little too soft to take out of the mold and it tore in the corners. I had a hunch that I needed to do a water discount, so I made another similar batch with a FO blend the next day, but with a 15% water discount.

Looks like something took a bite out of my soap!
The 2nd soap was the perfect consistency at 24 hours, BUT when I made the soap, one of the FOs that I used caused my batter to "rice" and so, the soap wasn't perfect.

Better consistency, but a naughty Fragrance Oil
I'm aiming for consistency and I'm close, but when dealing with unknown fragrance oils (FOs), always, always, ALWAYS do your research to see how it will perform. This is why I am working my craft every week.

All of these "imperfect" but perfectly usable and wonderful soaps will be shared among friends, coworkers, family, and anyone who takes a bath!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Soapy Friday - Groundhogs and Lovespell

But first...GROUNDHOG!!!!

I always say nature abhors a vacuum. Yesterday morning, I was silently musing that I hadn't had to put up my electrical wire around my tomatoes yet. Usually, by this time of year, I start to spot pecked-at green tomatoes on the ground, so up-goes-the-wire. I wondered if the evil crows who frequent this area had figured out over the years that it just wasn't worth it.

That was until I went out later that afternoon to snip some basil for the lasagna I was making for dinner. I came out the garage door to the side of the yard and went through the gate. I immediately spotted something brown darting away from the vegetable beds. At first, I thought it was a squirrel, and then a cat, but it didn't take me long to recognize the new evil that had decided to visit my garden. A GROUNDHOG!

I don't think it was there long, as nothing had been chewed on, and I don't think it came under the fence, as it was frantically ramming itself into the chainlink to find a weak spot to scamper under. It worked its way down the fenceline - ram, ram, ram - and eventually found enough giveway to squeeze under it and take off.

I just stood there, about 6-feet away, trying to decide whether to grab my pitchfork and impale the Satan's spawn on the end of it. If I had a gun with me, I would have shot it! I'm hoping that my appearance at such an impressionable moment scared the shit out of him and he wont be back. Nothing had been damaged, and I think he just got there.

Anyway, I've decided to name him John G. Kennedy (G. for groundhog), because if he makes another appearance, he's gonna get shot!

John G.'s last fatal appearance if he shows his fuzzy butt again!!!!

On to soap, shall we??

This week I had a breakthrough. The quality and consistency of my past soaps wasn't as reliable and I didn't know what I was doing wrong. I had a hunch that my process of submerging my small quarts of solid coconut oil and palm oil in hot water to melt the oils wasn't hot enough to completely melt and emulsify all of the ingredients within the oils.

The oils were melting that way, but the palm oil never melted clear. It was always a milky, creamy texture, and I had heard that you needed to melt it hot enough to make it clear for the stearic acids to completely emulsify.

So I melted my solid oils in the microwave, and viola! Clear oils that make beautiful soap!

Just Soap
This is the prettiest soap I've made to date, but the funny thing was that I was not paying attention and I forgot to add the Fragrance Oil! So, it's "Just Soap". No fragrance at all....just smells like soap.

Still, it turned out beautifully saturated and no soda ash! Sorry for the blurry soap in the front, but I wanted to show how gorgeous the rest of the loaf turned out.

Thinking I was on to something, I gave a shot at a "Lovespell" soap I had seen made on Youtube by Soapish. She's a truly gifted soaper and her version is just gorgeous.

I used a melt-and-pour, premade glycerin soap to make the heart embeds and forgot that glycerin soaps weep when it's humid. So, next time I will try again with true, cold process embeds.

Turned out pretty for the first try!

Glycerin weeping on the embed...oh well.
Also, the recipe went a little wonky on me when I realized I didn't have enough of certain oils during mixing, so I had to improvise with other oils and hope for the best. Still, it came out beautifully and I even made some bath bombs to go with it!

I will definitely give this soap another try.

Bath bombs shrink-wrapped for their protection!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Whelp, we're back to reintroduction. I had to take Chaz to to the vet last week, which turned into a $1,200 odyssey and that of course made him SMELL differently when I brought him home.

What happened was Chaz had a very bad stomach/digestive reaction to a new hairball ointment we gave him...basically he had what we would describe as food poisoning or a "bad dish of whatever..." You know, when you eat something bad and you're hating life for several hours/days.

When that happens to a kitteh, it basically shuts down their whole digestive system. They won't eat, they won't drink, they won't pee/poop, which can be very dangerous and damaging if it goes on for days. So, we had to take him to the vet, have several x-rays done, IV fluids, medicine, and even kept at the vet's office overnight for observation.

Miss Thang was having NONE OF IT when he came back...

I tried rubbing both cats down with vanilla extract and separated them for a few days, but she is still hissy/growley and wants to lunge at him in open spaces. She's afraid of him because he smells and is acting differently and her instinct is to act out aggressively. We decided to put her back on Prozac again, as we've noticed over the past few months that she has been ramping up her aggression reactions to anything that scares her or makes her feel anxious....a loud noise, me running to grab my phone when it's ringing, Chaz behaving differently.

Chaz is not out of the woods yet. He hasn't pooped in almost a week, so will need to take him back to the vet today. He's not going to like what they are going to do to him!

Sigh. Too. Much. Drama.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Soapy Friday - Zucchinis and Honey Soap

Happy Friday everyone!

First, here's a huge zuke I picked from the garden. I swear, you turn your back on these things for a minute and they turn into monsters...

Monster zuke...coming to a garden near you!
Second, I am so excited to have received my first, official soap cutter from Bud's Woodshop on Etsy. This handcrafted work of art has GREATLY replaced the embarrassing cheese slicer I was using to cut loaves of soap, LOL!

My new soap cutter!
Third, I reworked my Honey Soap recipe....AGAIN. The last batch I made where I discounted the water amount and included pink sea salt to get a harder bar did not turn out the way I had hoped. It still did not have that smooth, creamy, hard bar look I was aiming for.

Honey soap don't care!
In fact, this and many of my past batches came out with a sort of grainy look to them and I suspected the large amount of sunflower oil was the culprit. It's still amazingly luxurious to use, but not what I want my final product to look like.

So, I tried another batch and replaced half of that sunflower oil with cocoa butter. Cocoa butter contributes to a harder bar of soap, while also contributing to its moisturizing benefits without decreasing lather, unlike shea butter. It also helps with eliminating soda ash.

I immediately liked how this loaf looked compared to my other batches. It had a nice, consistent creamy-smooth appearance and I was able to unmold it and cut at 24-hours. Usually, I have to wait 48-hours with my previous, more sunflower oil, batches.

My new soap cutter is a dream! No more uneven bars of soap.

Cutting the soap
So, we will see in 4-6 weeks how this turned out, but I have a feeling I'm on to something!

All perfect and straight!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Garden in June

This is my most favorite time of year! Things are thriving in the garden, the bugs have yet to make their onslaught, any diseases have yet to make an appearance, and everything just looks nice!

For the first time since living here, I feel like I am "caught up" with getting ready for the growing season. Usually by this time of year, I am overwhelmed and don't have much time to enjoy what's going on, but I think having our "staycation" earlier really helped get things caught up.

The weather has been GORGEOUS and that has really helped things out too. The back porch perennial garden is coming along very nicely. I love my new Japanese Maple!

Irises! My irises really bloomed this year!

The new iris bed in the back gave me some nice blooms and I'm betting that next year will be even better. About 4-7 of them didn't bloom at all, but I've read that some irises need a good 2-3 years to get established. Since I basically dug all these up last year and had to cut out iris borer worms, they really are new plants.

My hosta garden is really coming along, ya'll! They are doing great in their "chain mail" wire baskets in the ground and I've since added a few more hostas as well as astilbe, huchera, and Japanese painted fern. So far, no sign of Hosta Virus X and no more buying hostas from retail stores for me!

I can't wait to add more and see this all fill in.

The veggie garden is thriving! The lettuce greens are at the end of their time and the tomatoes are staring to set fruit. Every year, I try to see if I can get a ripe tomato by Fourth of July and it looks like it will be close this year. The weather has been so temperate that I've yet to see a squash bug or squash vine borer moth (knock-on-wood). By this time last year, I was fighting them both.

The new mulch around the beds has made such a HUGE difference out there. No more mucking through the mud or fighting weeds as hard. Although there are still one or two voles burrowing around the beds and it's really irritating me!

I already have a huge zucchini ready to pick and I've been snacking on my Mammoth Melting Sugar Peas every time I'm out there. I love those things...they are great when they are young and can be added into stir-fries as whole pods, or if you let them grow into "peas," they are great snacks.

This and my black raspberries make a great breakfast.

Can you tell I am happy? So. Many. Exclamation. Points!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Soapy Friday - Pickles and Gardner's Soap

The soaping and bath product experimenting continues, but first there are pickles to be made...

The first of this year's pickles have been canned and I'm pretty confident about my recipe and method, which I plan to share in another post.

The heat and humidity have started to pick up for the summer, although it's been MUCH cooler and wetter than what we've had for the past 2 years, for which I am thankful. However, my bath bombs have certainly NOT liked it, as they will absorb moisture from the air if left unprotected in some way. I prefer to shrink-wrap mine, but even that is not 100% fool-proof.

As a hunch, I made 2, sample Lavender bath bombs and set them out to dry over night. Yep, the next day, they started to have what's called "warting" where little wart-like bumps appear on the surface of the bath bomb as particles within the bomb react to the humidity.

You can't see it in this pic, but they were there on the bottom. Those are organic lavender flower buds on the top...

So, I dragged out this beastly relic from Florida days gone by...

It's our dehumidifier, and since we've moved up here, we haven't had to use it. For years, I debated on selling it, but I'm damn glad I didn't now! I set it up to run continuous for 2 days, and now have it set to a happy 45% relative humidity for the basement. You can definitely tell a difference when you go downstairs now.

In other news, I made some Gardner's Scrub Soap a few weeks ago. It has ground walnut shells, ground loofah, dried orange peels, poppy seeds, and is scented with orange/lemongrass/citrus essential oils. Those are dried calendula flower petals on top...

I've been having an issue with soda ash (harmless) residue on top of my soaps, which is why the top is whiter than the bottom and sides. Soda ash is basically what happens when unsaponified lye is exposed to air during initial soapmaking.

It's harmless, but an aesthetic irritant to me. I've been getting around it by steaming my bars for a nice, saturated, lacquered look, but I need to keep experimenting to see if there is a better way to prevent it.
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