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By now you should have all the hardware and equipment to hand to make your first batch of cold-process soap. Next you need to pinpoint a recipe and source all your ingredients. There are zillions of recipe ideas to be found online but the basic elements will consist of  fat, lye and some “flavour” ie. nice smelling stuff.. You may also want to add some texture that will allow for some gentle exfoliation while you wash, such as poppy seeds, oats…etc.. You can also use clays to add colour but we haven’t progressed to that level yet!

Often it is the use of lye that cause folk to shy away from making their own soap. Lye is a strong alkaline called sodium hydroxide or caustic soda (bit confusing as it has highly corrosive acid-like qualities, but that’s chemistry for you!) which is added to water. This is then combined with the oil/fat ingredients (the actual acid in the equation) to produce a chemical reaction known as saponification. And that is how a hard bar of soap is formed. Extreme caution is needed when handling and preparing the lye – protect your skin against any contact and avoid inhalation of fumes. It is worth noting that all the sodium hydroxide evaporates from your soap and will not be present in your end product- it is just needed to instigate the saponification process.

Soap_recipe-packaging
Our soaps are based on the following basic recipe with variations in the herbal tea and essential oil ingredients :

  • 400gr Spring Water or Herbal Tea
  • 150gr Caustic Soda
  • 550gr Solid Fats: 300gr Coconut Oil, 200gr Beef Tallow, 50gr Cocoa Butter
  • 500gr Liquid Oils: 250ml Olive Oil, 250gr Almond Oil
  • 25ml Essential Oil

When devising your own recipes you need to work out the water/caustic soda/oils/fat ratio. Consult a Lye Calculator to get exact measurements- there are many more online to help you. Alternatively you can follow our basic recipe with some personal variations. Most recipes beyond the most basic ones call for a mixture of both oils (liquids) and fats (solids). Many oils have unique properties that when combined form a well balanced soap. This link provides information on the differing qualities of each. For instance, coconut oil makes fluffy suds and olive oil is very moisturising.

When it comes to the addition of fat there is much debate over the use, or not, of animal fat. Palm oil is commonly used as it ensures a hard, creamy soap bar. Recently, however, it has fallen out of favour due to it’s extensive, monoculture cultivation. This in turn leads to widespread deforestation of valuable rainforest and the destruction of Orangutang habitat in SE Asia. Not wanting to take any chances we opted to use animal fat. It is available locally and a by-product of the meat industry- more good reasons to use it. I assured my butcher he was doing his bit for the conservation of Orangutangs when he handed over the beef “dripping”. He still smiles nervously when I go into his shop…. Before I get too side tracked by the ethics of palm oil- I just want to add that some palm oil is actually sustainable produced and is a valuable income for small farmers in Brazil, Africa and Asia so I am not endorsing a total boycott. More of check-the-label-first tactic. It it doesn’t say sustainably produced then it probably isn’t…

Essential oils not only add gorgeous scent to your soap but have therapeutic benefits. For instance we used lavendin for it’s calming effect. It helps ease aches and pains and has a positive effect on the respiratory system. Lemon aids the removal of dead skin while eucalyptus is mildly antibacterial. We combined both with some scrubby poppy seeds for a more invigorating morning wash. You’ll find a lot of ingredients in your local health food shop. For the more specialised products there are many online providers. Have fun tailor choosing your ingredients and drop back soon for the finale….deh,deh,dehhhhhhhhhhh….Soap-making part 3 – the METHOD!

Last year my friend Sharon and I completed a very informative soap-making workshop run by Natasha and Martin of Sun Rose Garden. Since then we’ve been plotting a soap-making Saturday where we could make enough soap to keep us and our families squeaky clean and fragrant the whole year round. Commercial soap brands can contain nasty chemicals and additives under the guise of perfume and colorants so our homemade suds would, first and foremost, be made of natural ingredients. The skin is the largest organ of the human body. Whatever it comes in contact with is absorbed into our bloodstream and other organs so it pays to be picky. A good general rule of thumb is: don’t rub anything on your skin that you wouldn’t feel safe eating. If the list of ingredients on your shop-bought soap reads like a pharmaceutical bunfest then chances are it’s not the healthiest option for you.

First time soap-making requires much planning. There are gadgets to gather. A multitude of containers are needed. For the inexperienced it’s useful to work out a system. Sharon made a spreadsheet. I scribbled all over it. Between us it took about 3 weeks to gather enough paraphernalia and bravado to make our first batch of soap. You’ll need a free afternoon and access to a well ventilated kitchen. As you’ll be handling sodium hydroxide, aka caustic soda, you’ll need to declare your space off-limits to kiddies and pets for the few hours. Once your equipment, ingredients and head are all in place then the process moves along quite quickly. But the prep work is key. For that reason this post is dedicated to the bits and bobs you need to gather before you touch on the fun part- recipes, ingredients and the endless possibilities for smelly, scrubby or colouredy combinations.

Soap-Prep illustration

Containers

  • Moulds in which to pour your soap- the easiest ones are silicone cup cake moulds or loaf tins. Used plastic take-away containers are also fine. You can buy specific soap making moulds but hey- you’re a beginner! Save the fancy pants stuff for later.
  • A glass or heavy plastic container for measuring the dry caustic soda granules
  • A Bain Marie to melt the fats: A large saucepan and a pyrex bowl to fit over the top
  • A glass/stainless steel bowl to mix the caustic soda and water

Gadgets

  • A whisk to mix the caustic soda and water
  • A thermometer (without plastic or aluminium fixtures)
  • A digital weighing scales
  • A hand blender (a cheap and cheerful one is just fine)
  • A scraper (silicon or tough plastic)

Protective ware

  • Rubber gloves
  • Old towels and newspapers
  • Goggles and a mask (seriously, I’m not joking)
  • Geiger counter (ok – now I’m joking…)

You have now assembled all the equipment for your first soap batch, and all the other batches from here on in. Well done! The next time will be a less stressful experience….provided you remember where you have stashed away your dedicated soap-making-equipment-box……

My next posts will cover ingredients and our actual soap-making experience. So, stay tuned!

Gathering Haws

Frosty_MorningThey say it’s best to wait til after the first frost to gather haws. The cold both softens and sweetens them. Just over a week ago we had our first frost of the winter. I woke to a white blanket of ice crystals twinkling in the morning sun. Donning hat and gloves I braved the chill to gather fruit from a hawthorn tree in our boundary hedge. There is very little wild food to be found at this time of year so, if the birds haven’t already savaged them, those little red baubles are foraging gold-dust. Haws are full of vitamins and minerals and can be used to make jelly, chutney and even a kind of fruit jerky/leather. The hawthorn fruit is also a useful heart medicine, healing on both a physical and an emotional level. It is used to regulate blood pressure and, as with other members of the rose family, to mend broken hearts. Not wanting to totally strip our garden of winter nourishment for the birds I decided to pick some more haws on my usual dog-walking route. The route that I have been frequenting for many years was home to several hawthorn bushes. As luck would have it they were also still bearing berries and flanked by some flowering gorse bushes. The bright yellow blossoms caught my attention (more foraging gold-dust) so I helped myself to a handful.

 

Hawthorn_berries

After rinsing the berries I placed them in a kilner jar with about half their weight of sugar, added the gorse flowers and covered the lot in rum. I would have used brandy but for the addition of the gorse flowers. Their lovely coconutty scent would have been completely overpowered. I placed the jar on a shelf in the kitchen to be shaken daily.

 

HawBerry&GorseBlossom_Rum_SM

A few days later, dog and me ambled down our familiar track. We rounded the corner to the spot where we had gathered our berries and blossoms only to be greeted with a bare ditch. One side of the half mile stretch had been mechanically removed of all the plant life that I had become acquainted with over the course of many years. My heart sank. I know, in time, the wild carrot, thistles, hemp-agrimony, fleabane and many, many others will return but how long will it take for the bigger shrubs and trees to become established- if they are allowed? Well, I shall certainly savour my rum, even if its flavour will be tinged with little sadness. Perhaps the hawthorn will mend that.

“Things do not change; we do” Henry David Thoreau

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I’m very chuffed to have received a 2014 Irish Blog Award in the Green/Eco Blog category. Yay! It’s always nice to be appreciated. The competition was fierce which makes me even more honoured. Check out the other worthy finalists here and you’ll see what I mean.

plum sauce
We planted a plum tree about 8 years ago. Each summer he delivers a meagre handful of fruit which usually becomes wasp fodder. I don’t think we had ever actually had the chance to eat one. It’s not a particularly attractive specimen and earlier in the spring I questioned the viability of keeping it. Aloud in a tut-tut tone. Within earshot of the under-productive tree.
Well, it seems our tree has taken my criticism on board. Feeling the pressure to perform, he has gone all out this year to prove his worth. His branches, dipping to the ground, were full with fruit like we had never seen before. I gave lots away, ate even more and still had some left to make plum sauce.
We don’t eat a ton of chutney so I thought this chilli- plum combination would have more uses in the kitchen. And so it does. Sweet with a spicy kick it’s great with cheese. It also works well in stir fries and sweet and sour dishes. The flavour matures with time so It should taste even zingier after a few weeks.

Plum chilli sauce
1k plums destoned
3 whole red chillis
1 large red onion
2 garlic cloves
Small nub of fresh ginger – approx 5g
250ml vinegar (apple cider or balsamic- I used a mixture)
1 tblsp Tamari sauce (soya sauce will do fine)
1 tblsp sherry
Half teasp cinnamon
Half teasp salt
450g sugar (150g of which was brown sugar)

Finely chop the chillis, onion, garlic and ginger. Add to a pot with the de-stoned plums and cook for about 20 minutes. Add all the other ingredients. Stir well and bring to a rolling boil for another 20 mins approx. I prefer it to be of pouring consistency and not as thick set as jam. You may prefer a thicker, more chutney vibe in which case it may need more boiling. When you feel you have reached your ideal thickness (do the cold saucer test) then pour into sterilised jars and lid them when still warm.

So, thanks plum tree for the surprise bumper harvest. From here on in I promise, no more talk of relocation!

Pancakes_American-web

My small nieces love to play tag with the dog. The dog loves to be chased by two squealing six-year olds. It’s a happy relay that provides both parties with much entertainment. This morning, after several laps of the garden, all three arrived into the kitchen with food on their minds having run up a hefty appetite. Since their mum is steering clear of gluten, pancakes were the easiest and quickest way to whip up a snack for the whole family. Plus they would be great partnered with the berries I had picked earlier. I prefer to make American style pancakes – not the more traditional crepes that we used to eat as children. Today I used gluten-free flour but when little folk with suspicious taste buds aren’t about I use buckwheat flour. Buckwheat is an acquired taste, much in the way of Guinness or anchovies- either loved or hated. We belong in the first camp. As soon as the the girls had refueled on nutella and jam-smeared pancakes it was back to the garden. Meanwhile, the adults enjoyed theirs with freshly picked blackberries and honey. Delicious. My sister asked me for the recipe so here it is.

Gluten-Free Pancakes

  • 1 cup of gluten-free flour (or buckwheat of you are a lover)
  • 1 teasp baking powder (check to make sure it’s gluten free- most are)
  • 1 teasp cinnamon
  • 1 teasp sugar (or apple concentrate/rice syrup)
  • half cup water
  • half cup of milk (soya or almond can also be used. I used kefir milk)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp oil (olive or sunflower)
  • half teasp vanilla extract

First combine all the ingredients in the order they are listed. Mix well. You can leave to sit for half an hour but really it doesn’t appear to make much difference if you make your pancakes straight away. Pour a third of a cup of the mixture on an oiled, heated pan. Cook on a medium heat for about 3-4 minutes a side. Continue until mixture is gone and devour warm with chopped fruit, maple syrup, nutella ……. or whatever takes your fancy! They are just perfect for foraged hedgerow blackberries that are now coming into their prime.

Apparently today is Yorkshire Day which is fortuitous as that’s exactly where I am. Sitting at the cafe in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park gazing out onto the Peak District with a brass band thumping out jolly tunes behind me. I’m sipping a well earned cuppa after a few hours meandering through curvatous Henry Moores, a stately Anthony Gormley and several totem-pole inspired Barbara Hepworths. Hepworth was born locally and is in so many ways the star of the show. I imagine her life and work initiated the idea of a park.

Map of Yorkshire sculpture park

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

One of many Henry Moore's bronze sculptures

One of many Henry Moore’s bronze sculptures

The park, known as YSP, won the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2014. It’s easy to see why. Located in the 500-acre Bretton Estate it houses over 60 sculptures throughout its grounds where sheep and geese are free to roam.

Many of the pieces are huge installations that nestle at ease in their wide, open-air positions. There are also several indoor galleries exhibiting art which has a connection to the natural world. Even though the Yorkshire populace have come here to celebrate their special day I still managed a secluded woodland walk by the lake before rejoining the crowds back at the YSP centre. Now that I’ve have my caffeine fix I’m off to find the work of Chinese sculptor Ai Weiwei on exhibition in the chapel. Spoilt for choice, the variety has given me food for thought on how to work with my substantially smaller patch of green at home. Hmmmm…..

 

Sculpture by Ai Weiwei

Sculpture by Ai Weiwei

Sculpture piece by James Capper

Sculpture piece by James Capper

Giant Mosaic Octopus by Marialuisa Tadei

Giant Mosaic Octopus by Marialuisa Tadei

Balcony D8

Failing better at our balcony garden in sunny Dublin 8

James Kennedy

VCE Chemistry Teacher at Haileybury, Australia

The Zero-Waste Chef

No packaging. Nothing processed. No waste.

Simply Homemade

Hi there, welcome to Simply Homemade. I am Nicola, wife to one, Mammy to five. We, my family and I, love food and every occasion is celebrated with food. I also have a slight obsession with cookbooks and cupcakes. Well, you cannot have a party without cupcakes, tea without cupcakes, life without cupcakes. It simply wouldn't be right. I hope you enjoy my blog, sit & stay awhile; and enjoy some cake!

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architects ballymena antrim northern ireland

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food, life & travel through photography

TwistedSifter

The Best of the visual Web, sifted, sorted and summarized

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Upstairs Downstairs

Home, Garden & Lifestyle Magazine

Green Bee

Living A Greener Life; Home, Health, Food and fitness without being labelled a Hippie.

Sustainable Rhythms

Insights on Urban Sustainability issues in modern day Ireland

My Life is really in the Garden

Enjoying and sharing the daily discoveries of the beautiful nature that surrounds me in my lovely garden and everywhere else!

Wild Food Mary

Foraging, preserving, recipes, resources

Mel Healy

crime fiction & the kitchen

Pat's Blog

Pat's thoughts on living comfortably

visitwexford

Looking forward to seeing you!

Balcony D8

Failing better at our balcony garden in sunny Dublin 8

James Kennedy

VCE Chemistry Teacher at Haileybury, Australia

The Zero-Waste Chef

No packaging. Nothing processed. No waste.

Simply Homemade

Hi there, welcome to Simply Homemade. I am Nicola, wife to one, Mammy to five. We, my family and I, love food and every occasion is celebrated with food. I also have a slight obsession with cookbooks and cupcakes. Well, you cannot have a party without cupcakes, tea without cupcakes, life without cupcakes. It simply wouldn't be right. I hope you enjoy my blog, sit & stay awhile; and enjoy some cake!

slemish design studio architects Blog

architects ballymena antrim northern ireland

loaf story

food, life & travel through photography

TwistedSifter

The Best of the visual Web, sifted, sorted and summarized

wisdomshack

NaturesWisdom

Dove Step 2

A 700 mile journey for Turtle Doves!

Luci Paints

Step by Step Painting Tutorials

Upstairs Downstairs

Home, Garden & Lifestyle Magazine

Green Bee

Living A Greener Life; Home, Health, Food and fitness without being labelled a Hippie.

Sustainable Rhythms

Insights on Urban Sustainability issues in modern day Ireland

My Life is really in the Garden

Enjoying and sharing the daily discoveries of the beautiful nature that surrounds me in my lovely garden and everywhere else!

Wild Food Mary

Foraging, preserving, recipes, resources

Mel Healy

crime fiction & the kitchen

Pat's Blog

Pat's thoughts on living comfortably

visitwexford

Looking forward to seeing you!

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