Monday, April 16, 2018

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday


Ugh. This is the quiet before the storm.

Chaz is taking a moment of solitude in an afternoon sunbeam…

Meditating Kitteh
We loaded and unloaded 2, 15 ft. U-Haul truckloads of “stuff” this weekend into the new place and we are both incredibly SORE today. We are positively out-of-shape. There is certainly a huge yard-sale on the horizon once we are back in a real neighborhood.

Our “big move” isn’t until May 12th, but I’m in L.A. next week, so there’s a week lost out of that time. Our goal is to only have the movers move the big stuff and packed boxes, so we are taking care of all the loose odds-n-ends, most of the basement, and the garage, plus all the packing.

This is certainly better than the 4-day packing blitz we did in Florida for sure, but it still sucks.

“I LOVE MOVING”…said no one ever!

New digs

Beautiful, big kitchen...a must have!
The house we are moving too is really nice and it’s practically brand new (3 yrs. old), but we have found upon closer inspection and from talking with the neighbors, the owners had 3 dogs (golden retrievers) and a cat. There is HAIR EVERYWHERE! They did not do a post, move-out clean and the floors are disgusting, not to mention a suspicious odor is coming from one of the spare bedrooms upstairs. So, a total house clean, with professional carpet cleaning is being done this week. There are other things that need to be addressed as well, but I’m too tired to go into it.

I’ve never understood why people buy homes and then not take care of them. Why spend so much money and then watch your property values go down the drain?

Anyway, as usual, we will leave this house in better condition than we found it.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Soapy Friday: I'm Gelling (Sort of), Are You?

Happy Friday everyone. Posts for Ye' Olde Blog will most likely be a once-a-week thing for the next couple of months due to all the chaos of moving. We start packing this weekend.

Miss Thang is being chill, though. I know they know something is going on.

Chillin' Thang
It's Cherry Blossom time here up in D.C.! The trees are at their "peak" over today and the next day or two. It's fun to go see this amazing display of beauty....once. In order to make the most of it and the crowds, you really need to get there before sunrise. We did this the first year we moved up here.

Cherry Blossoms in D.C.
Getting excited about prospects for our new "home". It's a rental, but has very high potential for us to buy if we decide we like it and the neighborhood down the road. I mean, look at this basement! It's finished and it's ALL MINE! No carpets = a perfect soaping studio.

So many possibilities!
Speaking of soap...

I remade some of my 100% olive oil soap (aka Castille soap) and used tumeric to color it. I try to keep my olive oil soaps all natural using only essential oils (EOs) and natural colorants.

The EO blend I mixed as called "Sunset" and was a beautiful blend of grapefruit, tangerine, ylang ylang, litsea cubeba, and rose geranium. I wanted to color the soap a sort of orange/rust to compliment the citrus notes in the EO blend and look what happened:

I'm gelling...sort of
This is called a gel ring. When a soap "gels" after it is made, it heats-up either naturally or is forced to heat-up using a heating pad, insulation, or even an oven. "Gelling" a soap contributes to more saturated colors and less chance for soda ash. Soap crafters either prefer to gel all the way or not at all, as a partial gel (like in my soap) can be distracting and take away from a beautiful soap design.

Neither a good mother, nor from Marseille
In my case, I think it contributes and makes it more interesting. I tried to gel this soap by putting it on a pre-heated heating pad and then turned it off, as I was afraid it would overheat. I guess I should have left it on.

BTW, "Savon de la Bonne Mere Marseille" means "Soap from the Good Mother of Marseille" which I am neither. I need to make my own stamp.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Soapy Friday: Soaping to Relieve Stress

Happy Good Friday everyone! Easter is the farthest thing from my mind right now as I have bigger fish to fry:

Bye bye big country house
Yup. We had a contract in less than 4 days! And between all the inspections, repairs, more inspections, more repairs, work and travel for work, all I've wanted to do to relieve the stress is make soap. It really calms me down and helps channel my nervous/anxious energy.

But a couple of these help too. This is the only pic I grabbed from Fort Worth, TX...an awesome margarita. In a few weeks, I'm off to L.A.

Fort Worth Margarita
We DO have a place picked out to rent that is exactly 2.7 miles from hubby's office and it's practically perfect. So much so, we may even consider buying it if we like renting there and the community it's in. I'm not going to jinx anything though, as we are still waiting for our appraisal to come back.

If our appraisal comes back low and we have to go back to the table and renegotiate, then things could get sticky.

So, I make soap.

I've made more soap than I've taken pictures of, but I did feel confident enough about my current luxury bar recipe to remake a large, 7 lb. batch of "My BFF Rosie". It's one of my most popular bars and it's a keeper.

Big BFF Rosie
My 7 lb loaf gives me just shy of 20 bars at a time. In the future, I will be making this at 100 bars at a time or more...mark my words.

In SUPER exciting news, I've received the first logo and branding concepts from the graphic designer I hired to help me with design. I am in love. I'm not going to give anything away, but it's going to be pretty awesome; I have a gut feeling about this.

So, now I need to reorder almost ALL my supplies as I've run out. Keep soaping!

Beautiful BFF Rosies


Friday, March 16, 2018

Soapy Friday: My Little Hooters

Happy Soapy Friday everyone! Hope you are getting ready to drink some green beer tomorrow and enjoy the weekend. There will definitely be wine enjoyed somewhere, SOMETIME for me. 


Ugh. I can't even begin to explain the chaos that is going on in my life right now. Long story short, we listed our house for sale and have had a bidding war going on. So, we will be moving soon, hopefully it will be into another home that we own, but the market is so HOT right now who knows. If not, then we will rent again.

On top of that, my job wants to send me on a traveling odyssey for the rest of the year...just really bad timing. Next week, I'm in Fort Worth, TX.

Anywho, on to soap, shall we?

First, I tried to rebatch some old soap that I didn't like. I "tried" to go for a turquoise stone look that is so hot right now, but ended up with soap that looks like 1950's terrazzo tile. LOL!

Ugly soap only a mother could love...

Ugly terrazzo tile soap
Second, I wanted to retest a few theories about a certain fragrance oil (Rosemary Mint) and using mango butter in my soap. About 2 months ago, I made a beautiful green soap using this fragrance and my usual recipe that contains mango butter.

This soap smelled off after cure
When it cured and we tested it, the soap weirdly lost it's scent in the shower (but smelled great dry!) and had a more waxy, crayon scent. This has never happened before and I figured it was either two things: One, the mango butter I was using was right at its expiration date and it went bad I think, and two, the fragrance oil may not be sticking.

So I made another test batch. Both with the same fragrance (Rosemary Mint) but only one containing fresh mango butter. I wanted to test if it was the fragrance, the expired mango butter, or just mango butter itself.

Two soaps, one scent - with mango butter and one without
The conclusion: I think it is a little of all three! The fragrance really has toned down, which has allowed the "natural" soap scent to come thru. I CAN smell a difference between the non-mango butter bar and the one containing mango butter, BUT, it's not anywhere near the scent I had from my very first batch using old mango butter. In other soaps that have mango butter, I can't smell it at all.

Note to self - Use fresh mango butter always and don't use that fragrance again.

Now, finally my little hooters! Aren't these just the cutest things ever? They are perfect for medium-sized bars of soap. These were made with Lavender Lemongrass essential oils. Heaven!

Hello little hooters!


Friday, February 23, 2018

Soapy Friday: Time Waits For No One

Happy Friday everyone! There hasn't been much excitement in the soap-making department lately, as I am STILL narrowing down my "master recipe". So, you know that takes time for newly made soaps to cure and sample. Right now, I'm trying to decide if I want to include mango butter into my recipe or not.

I have; however, been having a huge LOVE affair with a fragrance oil I'm using called "Burmese Woods" from Wholesale Supplies Plus. It smells like sandalwood, cedarwood, patchouli, tobacco, and all things exotic. It initially smells like it would be a masculine scent, but no...it's definitely unisex.

I can't WAIT for this to finish curing so I can use it. This soap design reminds me of a kitteh cat...maybe I should name it "Tabby" ?!

RAWR! "Burmese Woods"
Other than that, I'm STILL making and testing bath bombs several times a week. I'm soooo close to getting that to exactly where I want it.

All of this boils down to tweaking just one or two ingredients.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Zydeco Gumbo

Laissez les bon temps rouler everyone!

Happy Fat Tuesday! I have my Cajun Zydeco music playing right now and I have a big ol' pot of gumbo simmering away on the stove. Hurricanes later? Maybe.

Photo courtesy Chowhound.com
 Not too many people know this about me, but I adore anything Cajun or Zydeco. I have ever since I first I saw "The Big Easy" when I was 17 and then bought the soundtrack ON CASSETTE TAPE. That was shoot...30 years ago. Dang!

There's a part of me that still want's to learn how to play Zydeco music on an accordion, and I just might someday! I fantasize about moving to New Orleans; I just might do that someday too.

Anyway, if you are going to pass a good time today, you gotta have some gumbo! This is my most favorite recipe and it's a little of this, and a little of that I've gathered along the way.

So gather up your holy trinity Cher, make some roux, and fais-do-do till this delicious gumbo is ready!

Photo courtesy Cook's Country
Kathy's Zydeco Gumbo
Recipe inspiration: Cook's Country

Roux:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Gumbo:
1 onion, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
1 celery stalk, minced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 T Cajun seasoning (I love Penzey's)
1 T flour
1, 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (undrained)
3 3/4 cups chicken broth
2 T fish sauce
2 pounds, bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
Pepper
6 oz. andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 cups frozen slice okra
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled & deveined (fresh or frozen)

To make the roux: Preheat the oven to 350°. In a heavy, cast-iron pot (Le Creuset or similar), start toasting the flour over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until the flour starts to turn dark blond. Take the pot off the heat and add the vegetable oil to the flour, whisk until smooth. Cover the pot and place in the oven to cook for 45 minutes. The roux should be the color of peanut butter, or even a little darker.

To make the gumbo: Transfer pot to the stove (careful, it is HOT!) and over medium-high heat, add the onion, pepper, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently 8-10 minutes until the softened. Add the garlic, thyme, cayenne, Cajun seasoning, flour and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their liquid and cook until dry, about 1 minute. Stir in the chicken broth and fish sauce. Season chicken thighs with pepper and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and let simmer for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Remove chicken and cut meat off the bones into small, bite-sized pieces. Return chicken meat to pot & throw away the bones. Stir in sausage and okra and simmer 5 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer till cooked through and bright pink (frozen shrimp may take longer). If gumbo is too thick, add about 1/4 cup water. Season with salt or pepper. Serve with cooked, white rice.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

I’ve been having a love affair with “Cooking at Home with Bridget & Julia” lately. At Christmas-time while shopping for gifts, I happened to pick this book-up just for me. Let me tell you…WOW WOW WOW!

My new favorite cookbook!
Everything I’ve made so far, which is about 8 different recipes, have been nothing short of amazeballs. Last night, I made the Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas) and man-oh-man it was sooooo good. I could have eaten at least 2-servings. In fact I ate it leftover for breakfast today.

I was originally inspired to buy this book based on a video I watched of Bridget & Julia making “Korean Fried Chicken Wings”. I thought to myself, “I need to make these.” And when I spotted this book and the recipe was in it, BOOM! Best decision.

In fact I DID make the “Korean Fried Chicken Wings” and both me and my husband have declared them to be the best chicken wings we’ve ever eaten in our lives! I even ordered a large, electric deep fryer just for this occasion, as I hate frying anything indoors. I can make these out on the porch with an electric fryer now!

But back to the Pasta e Ceci (pronounced PASTA CHEECH). Again we’ve been pointing ourselves away from carbs this year, but man…sometimes you just gotta have it! I could not have asked for something more perfect as pasta cravings go.

Pasta e Ceci - Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen
Even better, this is pretty easy to throw together and quick to make. Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top with a drizzle of olive oil = Heaven!

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)
Recipe Source: "Cooking at Home with Bridget & Julia"

2 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 small celery rib, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium onion, halved and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 (14.5 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 anchovy fillet, rinsed and minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsps minced fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
2 (15 oz.) cans chickpeas (do not drain) - I only used one
2 cups water
Salt and pepper
8 oz. (1 1/2 cups) ditalini pasta
1 T lemon juice
1 T minced fresh parsley
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

Process pancetta in a food processor until ground to a paste, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add carrot, celery, garlic, and onion to pancetta and process until ground into a paste, scraping down processor sides as needed. Preheat Dutch oven over medium/high heat with olive oil, add pancetta mixture, and cook, stirring frequently, until fond starts to form on bottom of the pot. 

In the meantime, process tomatoes in food processor until coarsely chopped, set aside. Add anchovy, pepper flakes, and rosemary to pancetta mixture, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Be sure to mash the anchovy while cooking. Stir in tomatoes, chickpeas (and their liquid), water, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, scraping any browned bits, then lower to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes, until pasta is cooked al dente. Stir in lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil on top. 

Friday, February 02, 2018

Soapy Friday - Messing-Up and Oddities

Boy, things have been laugh-out-loud funny around here lately. For example, check out my broken heart bath bomb:

My heart is broken!
I was playing around with my recipe and felt my mixture was a "tad" too moist. This is what I had the next morning. LOL!

This morning, I went to unmold and cut my "Honey Soap" (version #10) and realized that I accidentally did not put the bubble wrap on with the bubble part facing DOWN!

LOL...insert sad trombone sound. The bubble wrap gives my honey soap that cool, honeycomb look, but it doesn't work if I put it on my raw soap the wrong way!!!

#sadtrombone

What's wrong with this picture?
The gel ring from my "Ravishing Citrus" soap mysteriously disappeared. I don't know why, but I'll take it!

Where did that gel ring go?


My "Rosemary Mint" soap smells AMAZING, but the minute you take it in the shower, the smell goes away. I don't know why this is either. Even my husband commented on this...hmmm.

Disappearing scent...why?
BUT, on a good note, I was experimenting with a tropical-beachy-type scent and made these cutie patootie Sea Shell Soaps. Love. The only thing I would differently next time is to have the bottom part blue instead of white in order to make it look more like water.

She sells sea shell soaps by the seashore...

Take me to the beach!

Beachy beauties

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 here 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




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