Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Saturday Bath on Tuesday--Minding my own beeswax

Ever since I rediscovered soapmaking a few years ago, one of my goals has been to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. In spite of living in a largely rural area, finding beeswax that I use in my sugar scrubs and lip balms hasn't been so easy.

However, a beekeeping friend of mine is learning how to render beeswax. Since she says she is "practicing," she sold it to me cheaply until she is happier with her rendering results. She recently delivered a box of it to me while I was at the farmer's market recently. I've always liked the smell of beeswax, but Cindy's is stronger than any other beeswax I've sniffed. Lucky for me and my customers, the rich honey fragrance was so strong that I wasn't compelled to sit with my face buried in the box for the next few hours.

Here are a few yellow jackets who couldn't resist the scent of cooling beeswax and happily floated themselves to their eternal rest...

I decided to just go with the little non-insect "impurities" (which I thought only added to its natural, rustic charm). But they took care of themselves and sunk to the bottom of my mixing cup.

Here are some lip balms I made. Both were made with yellow beeswax but the one on the right has the local beeswax and the honey scent comes through. Sweet! Because of the quantity, I have enough to play with. Beeswax candles, coming up? I can't wait to try them.
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Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Saturday Bath--a soapy hodgepodge

It's been a long time since I did a Saturday Bath post! But it's not for lack of soap around here. It's been a little hard keeping up with my inventory at the farmer's market at times so I haven't been good about giving my soaps proper photo sessions. But here is a sampling: Australian Bamboo Grass, with parsley, cocoa, and green oxide-- Raspberry Porter, that contains a few alarming faces. This one reminds me of The Scream painting. Black Raspberry-Vanilla with a purple-black swirl--

I call this one Summer Berry Punch. The colors came out so zippy! I know that fall is quickly approaching, but the first batch went so fast that I think this one will be just as popular when it's cured.
And finally, my newest favorite technique--the wispy swirl, I call it. When I can keep the soap to a thin trace, it comes out beautifully!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Berry Ambrosia

The inspiration for this recipe came from my Good Housekeeping Cook Book, written in 1955. I found it in the "dessert" section, but like all good desserts, it doubles beautifully as a breakfast. Ahem.

It's one of those "no recipe" dishes that you can toss together when you haven't thought ahead, y'know, like today, for instance. Sometimes I think we make food more complicated than it needs to be. I most often use a variety of summer berries, sometimes out of the freezer and partially frozen. It's nothing revolutionary, as you can see, but the best part is the creamy, tangy, slightly sweet topping.

Here is the "recipe":
sour cream
powdered sugar or honey
vanilla, all mixed to taste. 100_1135 The original recipe includes grapes with coconut flakes sprinkled on top as well. I usually make up individual bowls, but you could also do as the recipe suggests, "Serve buffet style, in pretty bowl; top with small blobs of sour cream." (I subscribe to the "big blob will do ya" school myself...)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

radish overload

As far as I can tell, there were two reasons God created the radish.

The first was to help gardeners mark rows of carrots.  The second was to prepare us all for zucchini season.  Radishes all seem to be ready at the same time and in great quantities if you've planted lots of carrots.  Besides that, they aren't especially versatile.

So there I was this spring, thinking that everything was peachy in the radish department until Captain Awesome came home one afternoon and dropped the bombshell that he was growing weary of golf ball-sized radishes in his lunch every day.  Too many fresh vegetables make him feel like a cow, he says, and his jaw gets tired of frantic munching on his short lunch break.  I had already been making regular radish deliveries to the neighbor, so what to do next?

Why, radish jam to the rescue.  I ran across the recipe in one of my cookbooks years ago and it so intrigued me that I had to try it.  And this year was time for another round.  Does radish jam sound a little too weird for you?  Well, it's nothing you'd want to put on a peanut butter sandwich, but it does make an excellent little appetizer/snack when you top a cream cheesed cracker with it.  It's a bit of sweet horseradishy zing.

gorgeous natural color!

Radish Jam

2 c. shredded radishes
2 1/2 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
2 t. prepared horseradish
3/4 c. water
1 3/4 oz. package pectin

In a saucepan combine radishes, cane juice and water and stir over medium high heat until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a rolling boil and add the package of pectin, stirring until dissolved.  Bring to a rolling boil again and boil 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and skim off foam.  Stir in horseradish, pour into sterilized jars and seal.  Makes 3-4 8 oz. jars.

This post shared at Simple Lives Thursday.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Winging it in the kitchen

Have you ever looked at old cookbooks--the really old ones?  Many of the really old ones are dainty and rather sparse compared to the encyclopedic modern cookbooks.  And the recipes are generally only special occasion recipes.  How did they do everyday cooking?

I know an older woman--Seasoned Housewife, I'll call her--who took over the cooking in her family, which included 9 siblings, when she was 11 years old.  She rattles off recipes for homemade lasagna, (with from-scratch ricotta cheese and homemade noodles, naturally), doughnuts, and stroganoff from memory the same way the rest of us can recite instructions for making a tuna sandwich.  And she makes them all sound just as effortless. 

I recently asked her if she used a cookbook when she cooked.  She scoffed and said she only follows recipes when she makes a cake.  She thinks too many people just follow a recipe and aren't truly cooking--they don't know their ingredients or what combines well with other ingredients.  And, she emphasized, they don't taste enough along the way and show any intuition.

It made me wonder how much time I waste poring over a recipe, double checking to see if the recipe called for 1/2 t. or 1/4 t. of basil.   Seasoned Housewife explained to me how she uses her palm to estimate a teaspoon and a scoop of her hand to measure out flour and suggested I learn what different measurements look like in my own hand.  Although I have good kitchen sense, substitute ingredients when needed, and don't carefully level off measuring cups and spoons, this is a whole new angle.

A few weeks later I had my chance to try out this revolutionary (to me) technique when I called my mother-in-law for her sloppy joe recipe.  She hesitated, and said that she really didn't have a recipe, but could tell me the ingredients she used.  I winged my way through her vague recipe:

ground beef, fried with some chopped onion
ketchup, with a little water (enough to make the mixture "sloppy")
a squirt of mustard
brown sugar (I used sucanat)
a splash of vinegar

It worked!

No cans of sloppy joe sauce, no measuring cups, not even one measuring spoon.  I could get used to this.

This post has been linked to Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

And there went May

The fact that it is the 4th of June and I am finally noticing the end of the past month should say something, I think.

A few things I've learned in the past month:

One cannot clean the house from top to bottom and do a massive de-clutter that concludes with a garage sale and keep up on blogging consistently.
One can have scads of blog ideas rolling around in one's head, but they can't be recorded during wedding cake and graduation cake season.

One cannot undertake the task of managing and coordinating a growing farmer's market and still blog.

And one can most definitely not plant two gardens, keep up with soap production, and blog with proper frequency.

Whew.  What a spring.  But I am back now.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I made my own pop!

Or soda, if you're one of those more refined types.  I am Super Excited.  I started a little experiment about 10 days ago, and I finally know that it worked.  My experiment?  Making my own fruit juice pop without carbonated water or even yeast.

I've run across articles here and there on the internet for directions on making something called a ginger bug.  After reading enough that I felt a little ginger buggy myself, I just tried it.  And this is how I did it.

I started with fresh ginger that was really fresh looking, not wilted or wrinkled.  I peeled and minced it and added it to a jar with water and a little sugar.

Ginger Bug

2 t. minced fresh ginger
2 t. sugar (I used refined white)
3 c. water

Every day I added 2 more teaspoons of ginger and 2 more teaspoons of sugar.  I covered the jar tightly with a canning lid and screw top, but I think I should have covered it loosely, with a cloth and a rubber band. Regardless, it worked, even without proper airflow. (It probably worked because I opened it up and checked it 24,000 times a day for bubbles.) 

After a week or when you notice bubbles, strain out the ginger bug and add it to fruit juice or sweetened tea.  (As I understand it, sugar is essential. Some of it is "eaten up" in the fermentation process so you're not drinking all the sugar.)  Use a ratio of 1/4 c. ginger bug to 1 c. juice/tea.
ginger bug--ready to use

grape juice

For my first try, I used my home canned grape juice.  (It's cloudy because I never strained it.)  I mixed the two, closed the jar tightly and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours.  And just like the different directions I read, the mixture didn't look fizzy or anything at that time.  I transferred it to the fridge for another 24 hours-whew-and finally tried a sip last night.  It's Really Pop!  And it's fizzy!  And it tastes real!  I tried another sip at breakfast this morning and it's even fizzier, much like sparkling grape juice.

Captain Awesome has his own rating scale for my experiments.  He's not conscious of it, but I've learned the subtleties of his compliments.  "It's all right" is a polite non-compliment.   I have to ask questions and decipher anything labeled "OK."  "Not too bad" means the recipe is a keeper.  But this experiment got a "that's pretty darn good."  That's wildly successful.  I'm not sure if it's replace-Pepsi successful, but I'm on the right track.

You can't see much of the fizziness, but it's there!
I know it's significantly healthier than regular pop, but I'm going to look into this a little more to see how much sugar is used in the process.  I saw some warnings about not letting it sit on the counter too long, because it could turn wine-like, so the sugar does get eaten up.   Honey should not be used, I learned, because the antibacterial qualities of honey retard the fermentation.

It's also much, much cheaper.  I think I've used about $.25 worth of ginger and probably the equivalent in sugar.  And the juice was from my own grapes, so that cost is negligible.

This is only the beginning.  I want to try this with many more fruit juices and teas and of course, figure out the biggie--root beer.  So stay tuned!