Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making Soap - A Tutorial

It was only a few years ago that I first discovered how to make soap at home.  I don't think I've purchased store bought soap since.  The entire process is so quick that I can easily whip up batch or two that will last me for months.  Around the holidays I tend to make a few extra batches to include into gift baskets.   There's nothing quite like pure, homemade soap.

Essentially, there are two different way that you can make soap at home.  The cold process method and the hot process method.   The cold process produces a lovely, smooth bar of soap that is pleasing to the eye.  The downside to this method is that it can take weeks for your soap to cure before you can use it.   Because I am impatient I use the hot process method in which you cook your soap, speeding up the curing time.  This process produces a quick bar of soap that can be used immediately.  The hot process soaps tend to look a little more rustic - which is okay with me.

After trying many different recipes I have settled on this simple one from the Holy Hen House.  Her recipe uses easy to find oils and produces a fairly smooth, white bar of soap.  The recipe can be easily modified to include scents, essential oils, and any other goodies like coffee grinds or oatmeal.

To start off with, your going to need a few supplies.   The most important piece of equipment is an old slow cooker.  I picked up a sweet vintage one for a few bucks at the thrift store.  Your also going to need a tempered glass bowl, a scale, a heat resistant spatula or wooden spoon, and a loaf pan (not pictured).

 
Ingredients:
9.4 Ounces of Crisco
6 Ounces of Olive Oil
6 Ounces of Coconut Oil
8 Ounces of water (or tea, coffee, goat's milk....)
3 Ounces of Lye
Any other goodies you might want to add (Oatmeal, Herbs, Essential Oils)
 
 
 
 
Its important to remember that all your ingredients need to be measured by weight.  If you modify the ingredients be sure to enter it into a soap calculator to insure that the oils to lye ratio will work out.  Sometimes a like to add an ounce or two of castor oil to my soap, it makes a nice hard bar that lathers well.

Start out measuring out the oils and adding them to the slow cooker.  While the oils are melting measure out your water and lye and slowly ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER.   Be extremely careful while handling the lye, it is very caustic.  The chemical reaction causes the water to heat up extremely fast and produces harmful vapours.  Remember to put your glass bowl on a heat resistant surface and to open up the windows for ventilation.  It can be difficult to find lye in the stores, it's usually located in the drain cleaner area.  I bought mine from Home Hardware. 




Once the oils are melted and your lye solution has cooled down a bit, turn off the slow cooker and slowly add your lye solution into the oils.    At this point you want to stir the oils and lye solution together until it comes to trace.  Trace is achieved when your oil solution has reached the consistency of pudding.   It can be really handy to use an immersion blender to bring the oil solution to trace.   Once trace has been reached, turn the slow cooker back on to low and let your soap cook for about an hour of so.   The soap will puff up and start to look like mashed potatoes when its finished.  Turn off your slow cooker, let your soap cool somewhat and feel free to stir any extras like ground oatmeal or essential oils.  

You can let your soap firm up in any shaped container that you like.  I like to use a silicone loaf pan.  The silicone makes it easy to pop the soap out once it has hardened, plus it has a nice design on the bottom of the pan.  If you use a metal or glass loaf pan, its advisable to line your container with parchment paper so that the soap doesn't stick to the sides.  

Scoop your soap into your pan and try to smooth out the top as much as you can.  Let the soap harden over night.  In the morning you can pop out your loaf of soap and easily cut it up into bars.  At this point, you can use the soap right away but I like to let mine dry out on the cooling rack for a week or so.  



My latest batch of soap: Plain, unscented.
 
In other news, things have been pretty quiet around the house.  We finally got our peacock stained glass window hung.   I bought it at a garage sale in the summer along with a pretty stained glass lamp for a few a few bucks.  The panel was built into a strange light box so we disassembled the entire thing, framed the glass, and antiqued it. We hung it in the kitchen window to hide the underside of the roof that overhangs our front door.  Eventually we want to do a small kitchen renovation and take out this window but in the mean time it provides some coverage.


A few weeks ago Little Dog had some sort of accident while I was at work.   A was away, working out of town, and in the middle of the night I was awoken by her distressed whining.  The vet thinks she had pinched a nerve and she lost the motor function of her back legs.   They sent us home with an anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxers, and strict orders of bed rest.   Slowly she has been gaining the use of her legs, but it's a long process and A and I have to be careful to constantly keep an eye on her.   When she goes out to do her business we have to support her back end with a towel under her hips.  My doctors have been kind enough to have her come into the office for chiropractic adjustments.  It will a frustrating next couple of months but we love our fur babe and would do anything for her.


 
The dog's lack of mobility has kept us all pretty close to home.  Walks in the bush just don't seem the same without her quick, short pace beside me.  Instead, we have been enjoying the comforts of home, cozy evenings close to the woodstove, comfort foods and baking.  I have a few crochet crafts and sewing projects on go to keep my hands from being idle.  We have been sampling the local craft beers in the evening.  I'm not a huge drinker these days, but a dark, malty ale is hard to resist. 
I plan on making a large pot of vegan chili for dinner tonight.   A has proclaimed this recipe to be the best chili he has ever had.  What type of comforts are you enjoying to stay cozy this winter?


 

 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn

The temperatures have been changing and this morning I spotted snow on hills surrounding our community.  With a forecasted low this evening I asked A to change over the summer mudders on the jeep to my studded winter tires.   Last year, it was just after Samhain that we got our first good snow, honestly though, I would not be surprised if I woke up to snow tomorrow morning.  

Witchy Little Dogs.

Surprisingly, the garden still seems to be going strong.  The swiss chard is growing like mad and I pulled a few of many remaining lettuce heads in anticipation for the frost.   Potatoes and garlic were planted a few weeks ago and carrots will remain in the ground until the frost goes deep.  Although the wild asparagus around town has already turned orange, the asparagus I planted in the garden in only now just starting to change colour at the tips.  Now is the time to mark wild asparagus for spring harvest.  The fern like foliage turns a vibrant shade of orange and is easily spotted along the roadside or in the fields.


In preparation for Samhain, A and I visited the historical Padova City, an old deserted, self sufficient community outside of Kamloops.  In recent years, the town has been bought up and slowly renovated back to its former glory.   The current owners have opened a farmers market and offer a corn maze and tunnel tours during the fall season.  A and I picked up a couple of pumpkins for carving and then wandered down the property line towards the river.  

 The old barn refinished. 
 


 

 

The roadside is overgrown with hundreds of crab apple trees.  We stopped briefly to collect a large bag full.  At home, the tiny apples were washed, trimmed, and frozen for future jelly making.



Amazing views from the property overlooking the river and mountains.

On the drive home we stopped at a light on the highway and looked up to see this guy.  He was perched atop the hillside surveying the passing traffic below.  His beautiful horns formed an almost full circle with the points ending just at his eyes. 



Once home again A focuses on the chicken coop.  It seems to be hanging in a state of 'almost finished' for the last few weeks.   The hardy board has almost been completed and there will only be finishing touches to add next spring.   I am excited to get some ladies next year and I hope they will appreciate all the hard work we've put into their home. 



Autumn has always been my favorite time of year and I try to put aside time to savour the things I enjoy about it.  Our farm fresh pumpkins have already been prepped for carving.  The seeds have been washed and roasted with a sprinkling of pink salt and a generous coating of nutritional yeast. 
The fridge has been stocked with pumpkin ales from various craft breweries.  I don't drink very often anymore but pumpkin ale comes but once a year and I've definitely been indulging in the rich, spiced beer.  As an experiment, I've been trying my hand and brewing my own hard apple cider.  I've always been interested in starting my own home brewing and when I happened upon a case of old amber glass swing top bottles at the thrift store, I knew I had to start.  Currently I have two small carboys fermenting in the basement pantry.  One is filled with cheap filtered juice from the grocery shelf and another with the expensive freshly pressed cider that comes in it's own glass jug.   We will see which yields a better drink.  I plan to document the entire process in a future posting.  Until then...





 

Monday, October 13, 2014

In Our Backyard

 
When we first moved to the country we spent a lot of time exploring the off roads.  We would pack a lunch, bundle up Little Dog, consult the back roads maps, and head off in the jeep.   After over a year of living here, I feel like I have a fairly good idea of where each path leads off to.   The other weekend, we decided to follow a new path that had been cleared for logging.   A short drive down the path and we came to a large clearing next to a small lake that we hadn't visited before.  Obviously a popular camping site, the area was set up with multiple campfire rings and a long rope swing strung up between two extremely large pines.   A wobbly dock led through the cattails towards the water for fishing.   The area was breath taking in itself but made that much more wonderful by the bright oranges and yellows of the autumn season.
 
Follow the dilapidated dock to deeper waters.
 
Dragonfly sunning herself as I passed by.




A week later I learned that the entire area has been marked for logging.  We often take for granted the beauty that is just beyond our back door.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rockface

 
 
It seems like it has been forever since we've had the chance to get out for a good hike.   This afternoon A, Little dog, and I drove a ways into the bush with the intention of climbing Rockface Mountain.  
 
 
 
With only a vague idea of where the trail might start, we parked the jeep and headed up the dry hill side.  Just off the trail we spotted this large mule doe.  The wind must have been in our favour because we were able to trail her a short distance before she sensed us.   She fled into the trees followed by two other large does. 
The trail itself was hard to navigate.  Slightly overgrown and only marked in a few spots by faded pieces of ribbon we fumbled our way up the hillside.  The path was steep dusty and littered with shale.  I found myself reaching for branches and grasping at tuffs of bunchgrass to pull myself up the mountain.   I half joked to A that it would be the perfect hike for our pack goat once we get her.


 
My small lakeside community in the distance.
 
The views from the top were pretty amazing and we wished we had packed a small lunch with us.  Although the sun was still quite hot it was obvious that fall is right around the corner.   The dry hill side was spotted with orange and yellow and smelled sweetly of tinder dry pine needles and grasses. 


 

Little dog was exhausted at the top and mostly 'skied' her way down the steep trail on our way home.

Tiny birds nest I was tempted to bring home with me. 

Grouse that narrowly escaped being dinner for a young boy and his father.
 
 
What signs of fall are happening in your part of the world?
 


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chicken Coop

When I picture rural living there are a few images that automatically come to mind.  Lush gardens filled with seasonal vegetables, a large stack of split wood next to a cast iron woodstove, and of course, chickens scratching at the raw land.   When we moved out to out little neighbourhood I knew immediately that I wanted hens.  Farm fresh eggs are a luxury that can cost you an arm and a leg in in the city.  Although there are many people around the neighbourhood that sell their extra eggs, I wanted to know that I am consuming a product that came from a well cared for bird.  Of course, there is also the amusement of keeping chickens that serves as a big draw.
Not being the types to throw something together, A and I have meticulously researched the style of coop we want.   I wanted to be certain that I would have a properly built home for my ladies.  I want them to be safe and warm, and I didn't want to be cursing myself while collecting eggs in the dark in the middle of winter.   It might seem silly to commit such effort and money towards a building to house chickens but we wanted to make sure that we were building something that would last.   We didn't want to be adding an eyesore to our home.
It has been a long process and it seems like it might never come to a finish but I figured I would share some of the progress we have made.


We decided on a Wichita style coop which has a raised hen house connected to a fully enclosed run.  The run will have a full height door which I will be able to gain access though.  The coop will have a pop style chicken door, larger entry door and overhanging nesting boxes which I will be able to access without going into the coop.   The rear of the coop will be closed off for storage of litter and food.   The extreme weather here has forced us to ensure the coop will stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.   As it is a fair ways away from the house, and I will be no doubt tending to birds in the dark, we have decided to hard wire it in so that I can have a light to see by also the option to add a heat lamp or heated water dish.  The coop will be finished with the same siding and trim as our own home and it has a matching tin roof has already been installed.


Here we you see the small chicken entry door and a smaller vent near the roof.   The coop will have 2 small vents that can be removed in the summertime and a larger opening window above the nesting boxes.  A is also installing a small window in the main door so that I may be able to peek in on the ladies without disturbing them.   Its not uncommon to get temperatures near 40 in the summer and minus 25 in the winter so we have taken care to fully insulate the house itself.

Looks like someone is slacking on the job....

The back of the coop with extended nesting boxes.  I will be able to collect eggs by lifting the lid to the nest.  When I want to clean the coop the entire side of the nesting boxes can be dropped down so that I can easily scoop old littler out. 


The rear of the coop was made into a fairly large storage area.   Here I will have ample space for extra litter and food.   As a last minute thought A installed an electrical outlet just inside the door in case I ever want to hang a light.


Back of the coop with the sliding window installed.


Inside the coop we put down lino flooring to make clean up an easy job.   You can see my 3 nesting boxes on the floor and a full length roost.  The shelf under the roost is called a droppings board and will be filled with a layer of sand.  The idea is that the majority of chicken poop happens at night when the hens are roosting.  The close proximity between the roost and the shelf ensures the poop has lesser chance of hitting the walls.   This way you can easily scoop the poop out of the sand and the shavings on the floor stays cleaner, thus needing a full cleaning less often. 


I painted the interior of the coop with a latex paint so that it would be easier to clean.  I also thought it might help brighten the area with our limited winter daylight hours.   Although I am opposed to artificial light throughout the winter, I do want to maximize what natural light we do get. 

A installed an exterior electrical box so that I can control an outside light.  There is also an electrical outlet and interior light switch just inside the door.


Roost, droppings shelf, vent, and pop door.   A line will be ran from the pop door to just outside the coop so that I can let the ladies in and out without actually entering the house itself.  I plan on hanging the ladies' water under the shelf during the winter months.   In the summer it will change locations to the underside of the cabin.   I'm leaning towards a tube style feeder to be attached to the inside of the coop.   This way the ladies can have a late night snack and it also helps deter catering to the local wildlife.


This is what happens when you tie a bun on the top of your head while painting the low ceiling of a hen house.   Fortunately I was able to scrub the majority of it out.  The rest of it I will have to learn to live with.




So close, we just need siding, trim and fencing.   Oh, and chickens. 

I haven't actually decided if I want to get chickens so late in the year.  It seems silly to feed and house them over the winter for little to no eggs.   I might just wait and purchase a few hens early next spring.  Until then, I will continue to update with our progress. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Thrifting

I've talked about my love of thrift before and one of my favourite things to hunt for are vintage kitchen items.   Last week, after a hectic week of running the office solo, I stopped in at one of the larger thrift shops in town.   I was able to score a couple of Le Parfait canisters to add to my collection in the pantry and stoneware pottery container stamped from the mid 70s, which currently houses my dishwasher tabs besides the sink.  I love the earthy design on the lid, it reminds me of a full moon behind the hills.    My best find, of course, must be the old cast iron skillet I picked up for a song.   I've had my eye out for a good quality cast iron pan for quite a long time now.   I was hoping to snag an old griswold (still kicking myself for not buying a griswold cast iron muffin tin that was terribly over priced at Value Village) but my General Steel Wares is a decent make too.  GSW is a Canadian company based out of Ontario that stopped producing in the 1950s.    I gave my pan a one time wash with soap a recoated it with oil to maintain its seasoning.    The inside is silky smooth and amazingly non stick.   From breakfast to dinner, it seems like I've been using it non stop since I've bought it.

Assorted rice and sprouting seeds.  These canisters make it easy to spot my goods in the pantry. 

Blue and brown designs reminiscent of the moon. 

Skillet cornbread with dandelion jelly to top.

I can already tell this baby is going to be a major workhorse in my kitchen.