Sunday, December 4, 2016

Easy Peasy Rustic Glitter Dusted Gingerbread House Cookies...

Making an actual Gingerbread House is beyond me at this time of the year, but these I can do!
They're cute. They have sparkly stuff on them. They're rustic and forgiving. They look fab packaged as a gift, or displayed on the Christmas table as a treat. A 3 year old could make them, so you can too!
Use your favourite Gingerbread cookie recipe or use mine. My cookies are soft and cake-like because I use Gluten Free flour. If you prefer a crisper cookie, maybe do a Google search first.
Mimi's Gingerbread Cookie Dough
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
2 cups sifted plain (all purpose) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Allspice
1 teaspoon ground Ginger
Generous grating of whole Nutmeg
You also need Edible Pearl Dust or Edible Glitter to dust the windows and roofs of your little houses. You can make your own, and I have a recipe here, but for Christmas, I prefer to use the real McCoy.
A tiny paintbrush with a pointed end for applying the Pearl Dust.
NB: This is a very forgiving recipe. Use margarine instead of butter, any kind of sugar, replace the  honey with molasses, treacle or golden syrup, gluten free flour is fine, use ground Cloves instead of the Allspice and ground Nutmeg if you don't have whole ones to grate. You can also add a tablespoon of Cocoa powder or a pinch of Chilli Powder to give them a bit of depth and kick, if you like.
Cream the butter and sugar with electric beaters till soft and pale. Add the honey and the egg and beat until combined. Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl and stir the dough until mixed well. Pop onto a large square of cling wrap, wrap firmly and chill for at least 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 165C fan forced, and line a large cookie tray with baking paper.
Take the chilled dough, put the whole ball of dough on your lined tray, and top it with another sheet of baking paper. Put a teatowel (kitchen towel) on the bench to stop the tray from slipping around, and roll your dough between the sheets of baking paper, to make it fit the tray as much as possible. I can never quite get it neat enough or large enough to fill the tray, and always end up with some rustic edges, but I like that. Depending upon the size of your tray, you might get a nice neat rectangle, but if it were me, I'd aim for the rustic edges. They look much cuter. Cut any excess that extends beyond the tray. You can re-roll this and cut out stars to add to your display as I have, if you wish.
Take a paring knife or kitchen skewer, and mark out your long rectangles. Vary the lengths and widths to make them look interesting. Then very roughly, mark out little houses on them with the knife or skewer. Don't aim for perfection. These really do look better if they're imperfect.
I neglected to take a photo at this stage, but you then bake your cookies for 8-12 minutes, or until firm to the touch in the very centre. Remove them from the oven, and immediately cut along your marked edges with a sharp pointed knife, to separate them. A pizza cutter works too, but I couldn't find mine!

Now take the brush, dip it into the Pearl Dust, and apply to the roofs, windows and doors of your little houses.
Add some to your stars if you cut some from the dough.

 Cute, huh?
I'm packaging these in cellophane bags for teachers.

I like them.

I hope they do too.

Will you try them?

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Friday, December 2, 2016

e e cummings....Little Tree....a Christmas verse....

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Happy December 2nd to all my blogging
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Homespun Year....Home Made Goats Milk Soap De-Mystified....

Home made Goats Milk Soap is the most divine thing, and it's not that hard to make. If like me, you're a bit shy when it comes to soap making, and you've been putting it off for years for fear of failure, this is for you.
I decided that if I was going to make soap, I wasn't going to just make utilitarian stuff, that looks and smells like laundry soap. If I was going to invest in the equipment, and perfect a recipe, it was going to be for something that made showering and bathing a luxury experience. You know me....Champagne taste on a Beer budget...sigh.
This recipe is hands down THE best soap recipe ever. I was introduced to it by an online friend about five years ago, and I wonder if she even realises that I make her soap to this day.
Here is the link to her blog, and the recipe... Janine's Goats Milk Soap Recipe.
Here's my latest version. I've made it for Christmas gifts. Home made soap actually takes about six weeks to cure. Curing allows the chemical reaction that turns oil and Lye into something lovely, to complete it's cycle, giving you soap to-die-for. So my soap will be packaged with a warning for my recipients to store the soap until January 15, before use.
I know...look at this lusciousness. It's gonna be hard to wait. But the reward will be a creamy, moisturising soap, that has no equal as a body soap, facial soap, and all round fabbo cleanser. I promise.

So, you've seen the pretty photos. Now on to the boring ones. It's a long read, but hang in there with me. This is what you're going to need to make this long bar of whipped cream looking soapy goodness.
Please read all the way to then end, re-read, and make sure you have everything ready before you start your soapmaking session. I know it's tiresome, but it will ensure success.
The process is simple really.
Melt a combination of oil and allow it to cool to a bit above body temperature, add a combination of Milk and Caustic Soda (Lye) of a similar temperature, mix well, pour into a mould. That's it. It's the preparation that takes all the time.
Here is the list of equipment you'll need before you can start. These are the bare essentials. I'll give you the list, then I'll elaborate on each one.
A mould or several moulds for your fresh soap
Clean teatowels (kitchen towels) or cling wrap with which to line your mould
A large glass or ceramic or stainless steel bowl, not plastic
A small glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl
2 Ice bricks...the sort you take on picnics to keep the food cold
A large saucepan
A medicine measuring glass
A wooden spoon
2 shallow containers to freeze the milk in
A stick mixer
Digital kitchen scales
Rubber gloves
Safety goggles
White vinegar to neutralise the lye should you accidentally splash yourself
Optional: a craft stamp or any other shape you like, with which to emboss your soaps to personalise them and make them look really upmarket. I actually stamp the side surface of my this...
Once the soap has hardened, you can brush off the little 'crumbs' seen on the surface above. Then your stamped impression looks very neat and professional. Mine is just a craft stamp that says ' Life is Beautiful'.
Ingredients for one batch (about 1.3kgs or 3lbs of soap)
170gms (6ozs) Rice Bran Oil
580gms (20.5ozs) Blended Vegetable Oil
250gms (9ozs) Copha (Vegetable Shortening)
500gms (18ozs) Solidified Oil (I used Beef Tallow)
218gms (7.8ozs) Caustic Soda (Lye)
570gms/20ozs Goats Milk. As per Janines instructions I divide my 1 litre/2 pint carton, into two batches of 500mls/1 pint each (just under a pint actually, so weigh yours and see what the most economical way is to use it), and add 70gms/2.5ozs of water to each to achieve the 570gms. This way I get two batches of soap from each carton of goats milk.
7.5mls/1 1/2 teaspoons scented fragrance oil or leave it unscented if you prefer
Optional, but lovely: Botanicals like dried flower petals (rose, lavender, chamomile), spices (crushed cinnamon stick, ground nutmeg, green or herbal tealeaves, dried and shredded citrus zest), or organic themed pantry items (oats, oatmeal, coffee grounds, poppyseeds) to either add to your soap at the last minute, or to embellish the top as I have....
Now, a couple of things to be aware of before you even start.
1. Yes, you must freeze the milk first. The Caustic Soda (Lye) heats the milk very quickly and fiercely, and if you do not freeze the milk, it will scorch and be useless. Chilling it alone is not enough. Play safe and freeze your milk overnight, the day before you want to make your soap. Be patient. It will be worth it.
2. Add the Caustic Soda (Lye), one teaspoon at a time, and stir well to dissolve it before adding more. You might think it's all dissolved, but it's hard to see the white Lye in the white milk. Just stir and stir, and stir some more. It's a bit like making an authentic stirred risotto, ok? Patience. Did I already say that? Imagine it's sugar in cold milk and stir for as long as you think that would take to completely dissolve. If you have any undissolved Lye in the milk, it will form beads in your soap, and you will have to discard the whole batch. So it's worth spending longer than you think you need to, on this bit. But please don't let that discourage you. It's a simple enough task, and if you have some music playing, it can be a peaceful distraction. It takes about ten or fifteen minutes to incorporate the Caustic Soda into the milk, without burning the milk in the process.
3. Soap making of any kind, is not an activity you'll want to indulge in when you have small children or pets around. Do this on a day when the children are absent, and make sure your pets are out of the way. You do NOT want a spill of Caustic Soda and Goats Milk, trust me.
4. Do NOT use your soap before it has cured. Let it sit somewhere undisturbed for six weeks from the date you make it. Otherwise it may still have live Lye in it, and that will sting in a most unpleasant fashion. NOT the result you want when you've worked so hard for something lovely.
5. Making soap at home is an inexact science. Be patient. I know. I'm harping on this bit, but it's well worth your while. You will sometimes get a batch that is less than perfect. Always Google and read Soap making Forums or blogs to find out why your batch hasn't quite turned out as you would have liked, and make sure you take steps to remedy that fault next time. I've been making soap for about 6 years, and I've never had to bin a batch yet. I've had fat pockets, air bubbles, discolouration, bumps and blotches...they've all been useable.
So if you're still with me, let's discuss the equipment and the process. Make sure you have everything measured and ready to go before you start so that things go smoothly.
You have to start the process the day before your soapmaking session, because you need the frozen milk to make your soap.
Freeze the milk
Freeze the milk, weighed on the digital scale, in shallow containers. This just makes it easier to remove it when you come to make your soap.
Put the container on the digital scales, and measure 500gms(8ozs) by weight, of milk, and add 70gms of water, by weight, to bring it up to the 570gms. Repeat with the remainder of the milk. Set in the freezer until tomorrow.
You'll need something into which to pour your soap, to use as a mould. I had this broken tray from the inside of the door of my old refrigerator, which we use as a spare at this time of year. This long tray has a crack at one end, and could no longer take the weight of our milk and juice. It is however, the perfect size, width, and depth to create loooooooong bars of soap, which I then cut into useable 'soap bar' size slices. This makes a 66cm (26 inch) long cake of soap, which will yield 22 bars of soap, 3cm thick. Perfect hand sized bars for gifting. You can use anything as a mould though. The only suggestion I make is that you choose something that will allow you to pour the soap mixture from your saucepan easily. You have to work quickly at this stage, and fiddling with difficult moulds is the last thing you need. That's why I choose large shallow containers, which just allow me to dump the whole batch in one go. Cake tins are great and can give you wedge shaped soaps or bars depending upon whether they're round or loaf tins, washed milk cartons will give neat squares (lay them on their sides though so they look more like my mould below, and tape the opening end together securely), silicone muffin moulds will give muffin shaped ones, but are harder to fill quickly, so bear that in mind. Line your mould to make removing the soap easier. I swear by clean teatowels (kitchen towels), which are easy to use, wash clean, and give the soap an interesting, rustic textured edge. You can use cling wrap or baking paper too.

Another way to do it, is to buy fancy silicon moulds. I see these at thrift stores all the time for under $2. Wendy over at My Abundant Life, makes gorgeous soaps in the shape of roses and leaves, and Annabel over at The Bluebirds are Nesting creates roses in different shades of pink, that are to be envied!
The large saucepan is to melt your oils, and to mix the soap once you've added the Caustic Soda/Milk mixture. So make it a big one. This is the one I usually use to make large batches of Spaghetti Bolognaise. No need to buy something humongous.
About an hour before you want to make your soap, melt the solid oils over a gentle heat, removing as soon as they are completely melted. Add the liquid oils, and set it all aside to cool. I don't use a thermometer.
Here is the list of oils you're using again....
250gms Copha (vegetable shortening) melted with 500gms Solidified Oil
Add 170gms Rice Bran Oil and 580gms Blended Vegetable Oil
Set it aside and allow it to cool. I just wait until the outside of the saucepan is touch safe, as suggested by Janine. The oils and the Lye/Milk mixture, need to be a similar temperature. You can use thermometers if you have them, but I don't and using Janines method, I don't need them.

So, you need the melted and combined oils, to be a bit above body temperature, still warm to touch, but comfortable to hold your hand on the outside of the saucepan. Be sensible folks. Don't touch for at least half an hour after you've removed the pan from the heat.
While that's cooling, get the rest of your equipment and ingredients ready.
Large glass bowl and two ice bricks.
The large bowl is for you to mix your frozen goats milk and Caustic Soda (Lye). The frozen slabs of milk will take up a lot of space initially so you need something that will accommodate that. The ice bricks are to maintain the temperature of the cold water in your sink, where your bowl will sit while you mix the milk and Caustic Soda. You need to keep that mixture as cool as possible to avoid that scorching I mentioned earlier.

Measure out your fragrance oil if you're using it, and set it aside so it's within easy reach of your mixing area.

Put on your gloves, apron, and safety goggles, and weigh your Caustic soda/Lye if you haven't already. Set it aside with a teaspoon for spooning, near your bowl in the chilled water in the sink, so you can start mixing once you've got your frozen milk organised.
  Get your frozen milk out. It will look something like this picture below.
Pull the edges of the plastic container away from the frozen milk to free it up, and use a butter knife to lever it out in large chunks.
Put the chunks into your chilled bowl, in the water with the ice bricks, in your kitchen sink.

Start spooning your Caustic Soda/Lye into the bowl of frozen milk. Use your wooden spoon, turn the frozen chunks of milk over to start the melting/heating process. Do this gently, allowing a good 30 seconds for each teaspoon full of Caustic Soda to dissolve, and be absorbed into the milk. Keep going, one teaspoonful at a time. Remember that this bit will take 10-15 minutes, and is slow, but is worth it for a good result.

Eventually, it will look like this...
Plug in your stick mixer....
...and very carefully pour the Milk/Caustic Soda mixture, into your saucepan of cooled oils. The milk mixture will sink to the bottom, and the oils will rise to the top.
Start mixing. Keep the stick mixer immersed, and let it do all the work for you. I find it takes about five minutes of mixing to achieve what's called 'trace'. That's when your soap is ready, and you can tell because your mixer will start to leave a trail in the soap mixture, a bit like dragging a spoon through cake batter or pudding or custard.
So you start off like this...

...after a couple of minutes, it will start to look like a B├ęchamel Sauce...

...but keep mixing, until it looks like this picture below...

Tip in your pre-measured fragrance oil, and mix again with the stick mixer for about 30-45 seconds to ensure it's well combined.
Pour the mixture into your mould or moulds, and either flatten the top, or make it look 'whipped' like I have, by swirling the back of a spoon over the surface.

Add decorative elements if you like. I adore rose petals and always have dried petals on hand, so I sprinkled those on my soap. When I slice it into bars, each will have a feature of rose petals on the top edge, which will look very pretty.

Congratulations! You've just made Goats Milk Soap. You'll be hooked! Once you use this gorgeous, creamy, lather, you'll never go back.
Set your soap aside for 24 hours to set. It may change colour to light brown or orange or tan. That's okay. It's still useable.
After 24 hours, it's ready to be sliced or un-moulded. While it's still soft and fresh, take this opportunity to personalise it with stamping. Any craft stamp will do, or try using the base of small vintage crystal vases, leather embossing stamps or any shape that can be impressed into the soft soap surface. Check underneath household knick knacks until you find something that will give you a pretty shape! A smiley, a star, a leaf, a flower petal, a favourite brooch, ring or pendant...anything will do.
 Once sliced, and stamped, set it aside in a cool spot to cure for six weeks. Mark that date on the calendar, and enjoy!!
Let me know how you go!

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Orchids on Your Budget Christmas Series....Solid perfume in a locket...

These solid perfumes in a locket are the most ridiculously easy and inexpensive gifts to make. As Marjorie Hillis says in her gorgeous book, Orchids on Your Budget, 'things must be dire indeed if you cannot afford to gift SOMETHING at Christmas'.
All you need to make these is:
Beeswax pellets
Oil (Olive, Jojoba, Sweet Almond, Vegetable)
Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil in your chosen scent
Vessels for your perfume eg. lockets (vintage, chain store, heirloom) or lip balm containers, hand made clay pots or shapes like my clay leaf, or empty compacts, which make gorgeous containers if you have them.

You only need the tiniest amount of everything to make an enormous number of gifts. These two lockets and three lip balm containers of solid perfume were made with 2 dessertspoons each of beeswax pellets, jojoba oil, and a teaspoon of Chanel No 5 copycat fragrance oil.

Melt the beeswax pellets in a microwave safe jug. On High, they'll take 3-4 minutes to liquefy. Melt them in a tiny saucepan or frypan if you don't have a microwave. This is all it took to make the five gifts you see above.

Add the liquid carrier oil, and your fragrance oil. Work quickly so it doesn't solidify. Spoon or pour into your containers, compacts or lockets. I use tiny souvenir teaspoons to spoon my perfume into the lockets. They usually have a more pointed end that funnels the liquid into the tiny space.

Allow the perfume to cool and solidify, and you're done.

Gorgeous gifts, for mere scents....sorry...cents!
Five Star Frou-Frou is a neverending linkup with a featured blogging friend each time I post.
Todays featured blogger is Fiona at Saw It, Pinned It, Did It, who made some drifty, floaty dreamcatchers....
Beautifully done, Fiona!
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