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.
- 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
- 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)
- Rubber gloves
- Old towels and newspapers
- Goggles and a mask (seriously, I’m not joking)
- A 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 post will cover our actual soap-making experience. So, stay tuned!
Posted in Family, Green household tips, Home craft, sustainability, Traditional crafts | 11 Comments »
They 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.
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.
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
Posted in Home craft, local food, Nature, Seasonal foods, Wild food | Tagged change, foraging, gorse flowers, hawthorn berry rum, recipe | 4 Comments »
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.
Posted in Awards | 17 Comments »
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!
Posted in Gardening, local food, Seasonal foods, Smallholding | Tagged plum tree, recipe | 10 Comments »
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.
- 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.
Posted in Family, Home craft, Seasonal foods, Wild food | Tagged blackberries, buckwheat, gluten-free, Pancakes | 11 Comments »
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.
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 piece by James Capper
Giant Mosaic Octopus by Marialuisa Tadei
Posted in Art, Awards, Family, Nature | Tagged Ai Weiwei, Anthony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth, British sculpture, Henry Moore, James Capper, Marialuisa Tadei, Yorkshire day, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, YSP | Leave a Comment »
So many people have no time for gooseberries. They remind me of carefree times. Of summers, off-school and earning a few bob with pals at the local fruit farm. We spent many hours huddled around gooseberry, blackcurrant and strawberry plants, giggling and gossiping, pegging fruit at the boys on the next row. We came away with scratched arms, berry-stained clothes and not a whole lot of pocket money. It was fun.
Is it the battling with treacherous thorny branches to retrieve the berries that puts folk off? It could it be the bristly texture of the fruit but I suspect it’s the lip-puckering sourness that people most object to. Gooseberries need a lot of sugar to make them palatable which makes them just perfect for jam making.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a bowl of gooseberries. Some of them were used for a crumble and the rest were popped in the freezer for a later date. When my tiny, single, solitary blackcurrant bush started to produce ripe fruit I immediately thought of my frozen loot. I’d come across the gooseberry / bay leaf combination before and was keen to give it a go. As well as adding an interesting flavour bay leaves can help in the relief of respiratory infections, joint pain and indigestion. The berrries were topped and tailed- another lovely childhood memory evoked of around the kitchen table with my mum- washed and placed in a saucepan. To make the jam I brought all the above ingredients to a rolling boil stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. It’s always best to do a “is-it-set-yet” test. Letting it cool down to a handling temperature I then poured the jam into sterilised jars and screwed the lids on while still warm. I look forward to cracking open a jar and being transported back to the carefree summer days of my misspent youth!
Posted in Family, Gardening, Home craft, local food, Seasonal foods | Tagged blackcurrant, fruit picking, gooseberry. bay leaf, jam | 7 Comments »