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Feeling hot hot hot! (Pepper sauce and dried chilis!)

peppersaucepowderSince this year for the first time ever my pepper patch sort of exploded, it was time to brave another of those recipes for “things I know get made somehow but I never quite really thought about it”–two, actually. This week I made hot pepper sauce and dried chili powder, both for the first time. Both ridiculously easy, if a little time-consuming–and it’s low-maintenance time, so no problem there.

Yes, I’m supposed to be writing my dissertation now, but I wanted to write this down before I lose the links and/or forget how, as easy as it was:

Hot Pepper Sauce

  • In a blender, cut up a bunch of hot peppers, preferably several varieties at varying levels of hotness, but it’s up to you. Take out the stems, but leave everything else. Use gloves, or a baggie over your hands. If you ignore this last piece of advice, whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes or pick your nose for several hours and washings afterward.
  • Pour some white vinegar over the peppers in the blender. Recipes I found say to pour enough to cover the peppers, but I didn’t; I maybe half-covered them. Also toss in a small handful of salt. (I did maybe a teaspoon for what amounted to a cup and a half of sauce. It’s up to you.)
  • (Next time I’m going to throw a couple of garlic cloves in there as well…)
  • Blend on high speed till smooth. Or as smooth as you’d like, anyway.
  • Transfer pepper puree into a saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. At no time between opening the blender and boiling the liquid should you put your face in range of the fumes. This stuff is serious.
  • After the liquid boils, turn off the heat and let cool, covered, for an hour or two. Transfer to a mason jar and refrigerate for several days.
  • After a few days, you should see the pepper sauce settling into two layers; the vinegar floats to the top, and the peppers sink to the bottom. This is good. Skim off as much of the vinegar layer as you can, and re-refrigerate. Taste cautiously, and then use to your heart’s content.

This stuff should keep a really long time, but I leave others to do their own research on that. My very first batch is ugly as sin (mostly because the peppers in it were a good mixture of green and red, thus the sauce is sort of sludge-colored), but it’s delicious.

Dried Ground Chilis

This took a little more work but was also really easy…

  • De-stem and cut up a bunch of chili peppers of varying varieties; we mixed the hot skinny mystery peppers from the garden with some basic ordinary jalapenos; next time I’m going to add banana peppers and poblanos to the mix for more flavors and less heat…(Wear gloves. See above.)
  • Scatter loosely on a cookie sheet on parchment paper so there is plenty of room to circulate; set oven on its lowest setting and put the peppers in for a total of 24 hours or so. Ideally you want something between 120 and 140 degrees; my oven only goes as low as 175, so I alternated on and off–5 hours on, 5 hours off, overnight on, morning off, and so on. The key is to dry them, not to cook them.
  • At the end of this time, carefully check the peppers; if they are absolutely solid and brittle, without a hint of flexibility, they are ready. If they have any bend to them, put them back for another 10-12 hours. You want every bit of moisture pulled out.
  • Once they are ready, you have options: You can store them almost indefinitely in their chunky dried form and grind them later, or you can put them into a blender or food processor or, I guess, spice grinder and pulverize them as much as you want–you can stop at “red pepper flakes” for sprinkling onto pizza or take it all the way to “chili powder.” This would also be a good time to add other spices, like cumin or garlic or oregano, so you’ll just have an awesome mixture to toss into your chili whenever you make it. (You can do your own internet search for that!)

So…that’s it! Really easy, and pretty seriously yummy, and I can’t wait to keep going with the dozen or so peppers still out there doing their peppery thing in the garden…


My new weight loss plan…crochet? (check out my new hoodie scarf, with instructions!!)

Yeah, it’s true. It’s the middle of winter, and an insanely stressful one at that.  I have been stress-eating, too often, too much, and not on good foods. My belly poodgeth. My thighs doth stretch the fabric of my jeans. My back-fat appeareth over my bra strap.

So I’ve pulled out one of my old stop-snacking tricks: a crochet hook and a few balls of yarn.  The thing is, along with stress-eating I also do a good bit of stress-sitting-like-a-vegetable-in-front-of-the-tv, and when I do that, I am especially prone to snacking mindlessly. So when I start crocheting in front of the tv, I am able to produce something useful, keep my hands busy, and have a reason to not want anything messy around my project. And even when I feel that urge to snack, this is where my innate procrastinator sense kicks in–I go, “Okay, I’ll finish this row and then I’ll go get some popcorn…okay, maybe this row. Or in a little while,” and usually the urge passes before I’ve gotten off my rear to do anything.

Now of course healthy self-discipline and a little more exercise (“I will treat my body well! Instead of snacking, I shall do 20 minutes of Zumba and then another half hour on the Wii Fit!”) would be preferable to using one’s innate laziness to justify sitting there some more…but hell, whatever works, right? Once spring comes, I usually gain a little more get up and go, but I’m one of those winter folks who gets the exact opposite of cabinfever–I would happily hibernate quietly in a little room under a quilt till the pussywillows come out and I can start my garden.

Anyway, check out my latest project! I had been wanting a hoodie-scarf (I’m told it’s called a “scoodie”–I think that’s just, um, weird.) for some time, and finally discovered how easy they are to make. (They keep heads and necks warm without messing up your hair; I’m all about that!)

First I crocheted just an ordinary scarf–about a foot wide and 6 feet long. I used two skeins of Lion Brand Homespun, with an N hook (this crochets up faster but also leaves a lot of holes–but my wrists always start hurting if I crochet with small hooks), in a fairly simple stitch pattern whose name I don’t know, but honestly what kind of stitch you use is irrelevant. Any crochet or knit pattern for a basic rectangular scarf will work. I did a fringe on the ends, but it wasn’t really necessary.

I folded it in half at the 3-foot point, and then single-crocheted the two halves together for about ten inches down one side, forming the hood.  I turned it right-side out so the crochet-seam didn’t show, and bingo, I was done.

I really like it! And I think I want to make more…but out of warmer yarn, because this really isn’t warm enough for a Chicago winter.

Obviously, if what you want is just a scoodie, this could be easily just sewn out of fabric or fleece–check out some good instructions here. This could also be a good use for repurposed wool felt sweaters…but that won’t help with the snacking urge, unless you sew by hand or have the tv in your sewing room.

What should I make next?

Spice Blend–for Sweet Stuff

This is not a big deal at all, just one of the little things I’ve started doing that’s turned out to be awesome, so I’m passing it along…

First of all, whenever I empty a glass spice jar, I never ever toss it out.  Those are handy little suckers, and they don’t take up much space. (Note: the jars are infinitely reusable, but the plastic lids tend to take on the odor of whatever spice lived in there before. Please do not try this spice blend and store it in a jar that used to hold garlic powder, okay?)

Last time I ran out of cinnamon, I held onto the jar. Having gotten tired of, every time I made oatmeal or pie or anything of that nature, getting out 5 little jars and putting in a little of each spice, I made up a blend that basically matches what I’d end up doing if I got out all the little jars, and stored it in that jar-formerly-known-as-cinnamon:

“Sweet” Spice Blend:

In a spice jar, put (by the way, really anything beyond the first three or four is optional, just seriously yummy):

  • 6 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground anise seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Put the lid on, shake well. That’s it. Makes just under half a bottle, with the ones I have. I use this all the time. I sprinkle a little on my ground coffee before pouring the water over it.  I put it on oatmeal.  I put it in cakes. I put it in pies. I put it in rice pudding. Pretty much any cinnamony-winter-spicy dish or beverage I can think of, this is a great addition. (Like hot milk, with a little vanilla and sugar and some of this sprinkled on top…a lovely before-bed not-very-high-calorie drink…)  And it’s incredibly easy.  Using it means I crave less sugar in whatever the recipe is, too, because it adds so much really deep and layered flavor to whatever it is…

So–like I say, not a big deal–but do let me know if this works for you, or if you have any similar-type blends with more or less ingredients!

Homemade Hand Sanitizer (Spray or Gel)

This has been a heckuva week. Concerts, CD sales, car died and needed a new fuel pump, oh yeah, and there’s this big looming holiday where I professionally must produce at the absolute highest level all year for three straight days of insanity while honoring the magical Holiday Family Warmth Imperative at home…

I’m a choir director, among other things. And my choirs are all getting sick. Sneezing, coughs, laryngitis, people with 2-week sore throats. I don’t want to get sick myself (choir directors do not get sick days in December), so I’m staying away from folks, not touching anyone except my family, and trying to wash my hands rabidly. I hate most commercial hand sanitizers; even the allegedly unscented ones give me headaches. So I looked up some recipes online for homemade hand sanitizers. They are basically pretty simple, and boil down to some easy-to-find ingredients (though not everyone has aloe gel in the house, it’s easy to buy, I got a big bottle at Trader Joe’s a year or two ago to put on burns) and about 5 minutes of effort.


Homemade Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

In a glass (pyrex?) bowl or measuring cup, mix together:

  • 1/4 cup aloe vera gel
  • 1/2 cup grain alcohol (er…okay, I guess not everyone has this in the house either…it’s for medicinal uses, really!)
  • 10-20 drops antibacterial essential oils

Mix well, funnel into a spray or squeegee bottle.  Shake well before using.


That’s it. Easy as pie.

The nuances: if it’s too thick to spray well (though I have no problems with it), you could add a little distilled water, but not much or you’ll dilute the alcohol too much.  And your choice of essential oils will have a fairly significant effect both on its odor and its efficaciousness. Some favorites:

  • Tea tree oil--this is the heavy-hitter, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal.  Good stuff all around.
  • Manuka oil–similar to tea tree, but some say it’s even better at what it does.
  • Lemon oil–this can cause skin sensitivity, so use with caution and discontinue if your skin doesn’t like it, but this is a great germ-killer. Orange too, which is a little gentler
  • Lavender oil–I know, it smells all gentle and flowery, but it’s a hugely important medicinal oil. I use it liberally in almost everything I make–besides being antibacterial itself, it’s one of the gentler essential oils, which means you can get away with using more of it in a blend without it becoming too harsh.
  • Eucalyptus oil–blah blah blah antibacterial antiviral see above. Yet another. (There are lots of these!)
  • Rose Geranium–a very powerful medicinal oil, but honestly I find its flowery scent too strong to use for much. On the other hand, a drop or two of this added to a blend you find too medicinally smelling could gentle it up a bit.

My personal blend of choice is probably not the antibacterial heavy hitter it could be, but I use 9 drops lavender, 6 drops clary sage, and 3 drops lemon oil in mine. Mostly because I love this smell, it’s sort of my own personal antidepressant/antistress blend. Which, given my month, is probably going to be as key to avoiding illness as anything else. Tea tree and lavender together would be a good cheap effective blend.

So use it. Or something like it.  And don’t get sick.  And if you get sick, don’t come anywhere near me.

Posts may become a little more sporadic in the coming weeks, and instead of blogging about cool things to do for the holidays I’ll have to actually be doing them. Or I’ll link back to some of last year’s posts–as I recall, last January I had some slightly intelligent things to say…

Oy. God, I’m tired.

Communal Cooking–I love this article!

This article is just lovely, and fun, and makes me want to try out something like this.  Maybe without the clay oven, and maybe without the whole dismembered goat, but just the idea of all these people cooking together is so cool…and Michael Pollan is such a fun writer, it’s just a very pleasant read:

The 36-hour Dinner Party (from the New York Times Magazine)

(Okay, I thought of titling this post something like “Michael Pollan can roast his root vegetables in my oven any time,” but it was just a little TOO much, considering the sick minds my friends all seem to have…) (And by most accounts, except for his, the root vegetable experiment was one of the weekend’s less successful endeavors anyhow…)

Wrap Shorts! (a tutorial)

Okay, I am sitting here wearing the absolute most comfy shorts ever. And I made them myself the other day, in literally about 40 minutes which included a couple of breaks to answer the phone, greet the kids, and feed the dogs.

The basic tutorial you can find in all kinds of places with a google search of “how to make wrap pants.”  They are incredibly, amazingly, easy.  If my instructions here are not complete enough, definitely check out places like Indietutes, Crafty Tutorials (who make them look almost sexy, which they don’t on me), or Laupre, who all have instructions and photos for how to make and wear the things.  You can make them in almost any length–floor length, capri, or even shorts. Which is what I did this time, since I love my long ones so much.

You need a sewing machine and fabric.  How much fabric kinda depends on how big you are.  For me, it took about a yard and a quarter to make shorts.  It would take more like two and a half yards to make long pants. It’s also your call what kind of fabric to use–I have a bunch of really lovely light cool batik stuff I got on sale probably 4 years ago that’s been sitting in my stash all this time…it works beautifully for this kind of garment.

Measuring Fabric

This is, honestly, the trickiest part.  you are going to make two identical rectangles.  The “length” measurement is easy–measure from your waist to wherever you want the pants or shorts to come on you, add about an inch for hemming (1/2 inch each top and bottom, or more if you make bigger hems), and there you go.  That’s your “length.”

The “width” of each rectangle is slightly trickier.  There are different formulas to use, but the one that works best for me is something like this:

Take your waist (or hip, depending on where you want the pants to sit) measurement. =A

Divide your hip measurement by 4=B

Add an inch or however much you want for hem=C

Add together measurement A+B+C=width of each panel.

For example, say you have a hip measurement of 40″. Divided by 8 that’s 5″.  You’ll do an inch of hem. 40+5+1=46″ wide. Cut two of these. (Hint: If you are using 44″ wide fabric and your number comes anywhere in the vicinity of 44″ one way or the other, you can get away with not having to hem the sides of your pants, and just use the selvedge, which is usually nice and clean! Ditto if, like me, you need 45″ long pants, you can avoid the bottom hem.)


Fold the two rectangles so that what will be the inseam of the pants/shorts is on the fold. (That is, fold across the width, not the length.)  Here you need to cut your crotch curve, which will represent the only real seam in the pants at all. And here we need another formula:

Crotch depth: measure from where the pants will lie on your hip/waist, down to the center crotch.  Add 3 (or so) to this number. (Alternatively, if you have a good pair of pants that fit really well, you can take your crotch curve from them.) Measure this many inches down the fold and mark.

Crotch width: take your hip measurement divided by 8. (Remember? Measurement B from above, halved because it’s now folded?) Measure that many inches away from the fold and mark.

Then you just cut the curve.  How curvy to make it is up to you–you don’t want an absolute square, but you don’t want to undercut either.  Trust your judgement. 🙂


With right sides of the fabric together, sew the two pieces together along the crotch curves.  Make this seam really strong–I usually sew it twice and then zigzag the edges just to be safe.  Try the pants on at this point to make sure they fit right, that you like the way the curve you just sewed fits, that your fabric isn’t too long or short or wide or narrow. (if  it’s too narrow…you’re kinda out of luck.  If it’s too wide, you can cut off the sides a little more, or if it’s too long you can shorten them. If you’re kinda close and wish you’d cut something an extra inch bigger, this is when you decide you’re going to do really narrow hems.


You can make the ties either out of ribbons or by sewing tubes of the actual fabric, right sides together, and then turning them right-side out.  Fabric ties tend to be sturdiest, but they also are bulkier and can make odd lumps.  Grosgrain ribbon is excellent and doesn’t slip after you tie the bow. Cut four ribbons or ties of whatever length you prefer, and sew them onto the four top corners of the pants. (Check and double-check this–it’s really easy at this point to sew something onto the wrong corner, or on the outside instead of the inside. Finish all the edges, top, bottom, and sides, using whatever kind of hem you wish.

Then go put ’em on! (the tutorials I listed above all have directions.  And I can just tell you now–there’s no dignified way to get them between your legs to tie the second bow. You’ll feel like an idiot, probably, but that’s okay, because how often do you put on pants when other people are there to see?) Like I say, they are comfy and lightweight, the perfect summer pants.  I’m planning on making a couple pairs of linen ones for work, since it can get muggy there, and hopefully a few more pairs of shorts.

And you, my friends who have sewing machines but are non-sewers…this project is TOTALLY for you!

Girls Scream Loudly (magic wands, tiaras, and princess capes)

Okay, I just survived another in-home children’s birthday party–once again reminded of why it’s so nice to hire one of those places to do it for you, on their own turf. But here we were able to save a huge amount of money and prevent a huge amount of garbage-generation. And my daughter had fun.

All in all, this was pretty okay.  8 girls total, ages 4-5, for a “Princess Pajama Party.”  They came in their jammies, we made pizzas and decorated and iced our own cupcakes, we made princess tiaras and magic wands, and I made them each a little princess cape.  We used disposable cups because we honestly don’t have enough real cups to serve all these girls (plus I have a stock leftover from pre-greenness, so I didn’t go out and buy anything at least), but the flatware and plates were all real–and when all was said and done, we were able to save the “disposable” cups anyway, because they were that hard plastic that washes really easily. (The kind of thing I would never buy now, but they are in my house, so the footprint for them is mine whether I want it or not–might as well make the most of it.) I lamented to a friend today that the cupcakes were a little overbaked, but she wisely said, “who cares? They won’t eat the cupcakes anyway; they’ll ice and decorate them, and then they’ll eat all the icing and decorations off them, and then they’ll say they’re full.”  She was absolutely correct.   And between crafts and foodstuffs we played a couple of games, and they ran around the house a bit, they screamed at the top of their lungs a bit, and in the end we got them settled in front of a princess movie munching popcorn for the last 20 minutes till their parents arrived.

I was fairly proud of the crafts too, though they in hindsight might have been better for girls maybe age 6-7, requiring a little more dexterity than these kids could handle. The basic tiara directions I found here–you use pipe cleaners and beads to make a really nice sparkly crown thing.  The magic wands were pretty much my own creation: you get wooden dowels about a foot long and a quarter inch thick, and either cut out cardboard stars to glue onto the end or, in my case, little spheres with the right size hole in them to fit into the dowels.  Roll the dowel part in aluminum foil, put a little square over the tip (or star if that’s what you’re using), and it’s silver-colored. (no toxic paint fumes.) Tie three different colored ribbons around the tip–I strung a jingle bell on one of the ribbons too, so it made a nice jingle. If we’d been outside I would have done glitter glue instead of foil. Easy and quick,  and I was basically thinking to send kids home with things that they would actually play with, not throw away.

The princess capes were fun too, and surprisingly easy,though of course I did those myself.  Two words: panne velvet.  ($4.99/yard at JoAnn’s, I got 9 capes out of 2.5 yards.) It has this nice quality of sort of curling around the cut edges, so you can get away without hemming it or finishing any of the edges.  I made these little capes by gathering the cloth onto a band and sewing ribbons onto either end; if I were doing it again, I’d probably just buy double fold bias tape, extra wide, and just enclose the gathers onto that. But these were really easy; making 9 of the things only took a couple of hours, if that–and that included a lot of trial and error and figuring out the easiest way to do it; I could probably do it in half the time now that I have the hang of it.  Each princess got her cape as she came in the door.

I was slightly aghast that two of the girls, before leaving, stood there in front of me with their capes and crowns and wands and asked where the goodie bags were. Sigh.  You can’t win.

But my daughter is happy.  That’s what matters.

Preparation Ouch

Okay, every woman who’s ever been pregnant knows about this.  People who suffer from a chronic lack of eating fiber know too.  A friend of mine who shall remain nameless also knows about it.  And it is for her that I’m posting this. It’s a recipe I developed some time ago and have (cough cough) had reason to refine over the years and pregnancies.  One of those things they don’t tell you before you have the baby. (And for God’s sake, who has time for a “sitz bath”??)

(And if you’re the woman who’s done pregnancy and childbirth who didn’t get hemorrhoids, don’t even tell me, because I’d have to resent you thoroughly.)

Okay, I’m not going to go through the whole diagnosis/pile types/descriptions/various ickiness here; you can do your own bloody Google search. (Er…no pun intended.)

This post is for my easy do-it-yourself recipe to relieve and/or shrink the dreaded horrid things.  Recipes, actually–two different ones, both pretty good. In my unfortunately informed opinion.  I call them both “Preparation Ouch.”

Recipe I (liniment):

In a small clean bottle, combine about 4 oz. witch hazel, 40 drops lavender essential oil, 20-30 drops cypress essential oil, and 20 drops roman chamomile essential oil.  Shake well. As needed, soak a cotton pad and…well…apply. (The witch hazel, which you can get from any pharmacy, and the cypress oil, will shrink the blood vessels and make the things back off.  The lavender and chamomile are very soothing and will help with pain relief.) Always shake before use!

Recipe II (salve):

In a pyrex measuring cup, measure about 2 tbs. of some solid oil or oils–any combination of beeswax, coconut oil, cocoa or shea butter, something like that. Add some liquid oil, preferably olive oil, to make a total of 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz.). Melt over double boiler or very carefully microwave until the solids are melted.  Stir well with a chopstick until it’s well mixed. Add 40 drops lavender essential oil, 20-30 drops cypress essential oil, and 20 drops roman chamomile essential oil.  Stir very well till fully mixed.  Pour into small clean container (tupperware even works fine for this, or little jars leftover from something else you already used) and refrigerate until solid.

That’s it! Really very easy.  The liniment (witch hazel) version is quicker and good for more immediate relief; the salve lasts longer and has more time to do its thing.  Wouldn’t hurt to have both of them around.

Regarding the essential oils–you can buy them in a lot of places, including probably your local Whole Foodsy kind of place.  If not there, Mountain Rose Herbs and Natures Gift sell really good essential oils.  Lavender oil is one that’s just good to have around anyway, since it’s good for so many things; for this recipe the cypress oil is the key ingredient, and the others are just for added effect, so if you don’t feel like springing for the chamomile, it’ll still work.  And while cypress isn’t exactly one of the cheapest of the oils, you can get a small container of it–remember you use these things by the drop, so even half an ounce goes a really long way!

So…sit well and prosper.

Melt and Pour Soap Adventures

My “day job,” though it’s as much about evenings as days, is as a full time church musician.  (I work in a church big enough to pay me a living wage at it. (However, if you check out this article on, at number 4, that should tell you something…)  This time of year is incredibly intense, and everyone is overworked and a little crabby, and there’s generally very little time for pleasant little holiday family rituals. For that matter, there’s very little time for family, period.  Every year somewhere in the first week of December,  my husband and I give each other a kiss and say, only semi-jokingly,  “good night, honey, see you on the 26th or so.”

Today is sort of the last hurrah.  It’s a Saturday, I have no morning meetings, I have no weddings to play, I just have to show up at about 4pm and I have nothing on the calendar prior to that.  So even though it is nearly 11:00am, the kids and I are still in our jammies.  We are watching “The Nutcracker” while the second batch of melt-and-pour soap is melting over the double boiler.  This morning is the last shot at regaining any sense of serenity and holiday peace before the insanity hits full force on Monday, when the final shove of choir rehearsals and booklet printing and making sure the cast of thousands knows what it’s supposed to be up to…

I discovered melt-and-pour soaps a couple Christmases ago at teacher gift time; there was a bit of a learning curve, but we’re much better at it now.  And both kids have different teachers from last year,  so I feel okay about doing it again. Since the early experiments I’ve bought soap molds and experienced a lot of trial and error, and I have something like six pounds of unmelted soap block sitting in the closet.  It’s a great project for kids, as long as the adult does the melting, because they can pour and stir and color and blend themselves.

So…off we go.  
This is a really good site for basic instructions, and here’s my own experiences:

Melt and pour soap base is available in a lot of places, but if you get it from, say, Michaels, it is a lot more expensive. (I’m still glad I did that for my first pound–it was a good way to ease into the process.) I think I paid about $10 for a pound-size soap block, which makes maybe 4 bars of soap depending on the size you use, which isn’t that much less than buying nice glycerin soap somewhere else. 

I honestly can’t remember where I bought the 6 lbs I have in my closet, but any internet search for “melt and pour soap” will give more hits than anyone can possibly need. has some good-looking prices and products; I’ll probably try them next. 

Just a few hints, after one has read the basic falling-off-a-log instructions:

Color: I bought three little bottles of soap coloring from Michaels, in the three primary colors, and I’ve managed to work within that palette so far.  One would think there’s a whole lot of variety to be found from mixing red, blue, and yellow, but somehow in practice…not so much. Probably with better colors I could get better results, but our first few bars of soap looked a bit like radioactive waste…

This batch, for 12 ounces of soap, we used 3 drops of red and 4 drops of yellow, which gave a fairly nice coral-pink.  The next batch Bear wants to be green, which unfortunately was the hue we never managed last time and wound up with the radioactive waste look, but we’ll give it a try…

Fragrance: Some websites have suggested about 1.5 tsp of essential oil per pound of soap, but in reality that’s going to depend a lot on what oils you use.  Peppermint overpowers almost anything, as does Tea tree…Lavender blends too quickly into the background, as does Clary, but Geranium Rose leaps to the forefront. They seem, to me, to be behaving differently in soaps than they do in ordinary aromatherapy blends, but that could be just my own impression.   Also, as nice as the spices and citruses may smell, it’s not a good idea to use them in skin care products, because they are sensitizing. (Sweet Orange in small amounts I admit i do use…but I also want to be clear when I say that that I know I’m going against other advice, and no way would I advise anyone else in that direction.)

For this batch, I went the easy route and am trying to use up some of a much too old bottle of “Peace and Calming” from Young Living Oils. (Note: the Young Living company has been at the center of a lot of controversy in the aromatherapy community, regarding questionable business practices and irresponsible medical advice that flies in the face of the research of the aromatherapy community at large–advice which, incidentally, involves the use of way larger amounts of the oils than is widely deemed safe. Every shopper must make his or her own choice, but I have chosen not to continue purchasing their oils and once what I have is gone I won’t be buying any more.)  I don’t know about its theraputic value, but this blend does smell very nice and ought to make a lovely soap.

Molds: Pretty much anywhere you can get soap base, you can probably also get molds.  but molds aren’t absolutely necessary, especially if you want to really go for the “natural handmade” look.  A loaf pan or square baking dish can work just as well, although you’ll want to test out quantity to make sure you have the right container for whatever amount of soap you’re using. (If you melt your soap in a Pyrex measuring container, you can then use a different cup to measure that same amount of water into the container you want to use and find out exactly how high your soap will come and thus how thick your bars will be.)

I swear by silicone baking dishes, and using silicone for soap molds is just as easy and wonderful.  Sometimes in hard containers the soap gets stuck and is hard to unmold (though usually a quick immersion of the mold part into hot water loosens it enough to get it out), but silicone is really easy.

Additives: One word; beware.  I had this lovely idea of bars of soap with lavender blossoms scattered through it, or oatmeal, or whatever…but unless one gets the soap base that’s designed to suspend things in it, it all falls to the bottom of the mold.  Which, actually, gives a very nice exfoliating thing on one side, but not the effect I was looking for. 

Final product:

My oval mold holds 3 4oz bars, so we made 4 different batches:
1. coral-colored shea butter soap base with “Peace and Calming”
2. green goats-milk soap base (sort of a nice green this time!) with lavender and roman chamomile
3. lavender goats-milk soap base with lavender and just a touch of sweet orange
4. yellow clear glycerin with lemongrass and a teeny bit of lemon and orange (I know, the citrus thing, but I couldn’t resist)
5. orange clear glycerin with bergamot mint and sweet orange

Our final experiment, made in a loaf pan, is single layers of the 6 (okay, yes, I know there are seven, but whatever) colors of the rainbow each with a different scent; you put in one layer, let it harden, then go to the second layer, and so forth.  Takes a while, but it should be very cool…

This makes for a really fun kid project–I love giving teachers things that the kids can actually participate in.  Plus we always make a couple extra bars for us, and the kids like washing with the soap they helped make.  So it’s a win-win all around.

Furoshiki–Japanese fabric wrapping

Last week I posted an entry about creative gift wrap ideas; sometime a couple of days later I happened upon the actual name of the Japanese tradition whereby one wraps gifts in big fabric squares: Furoshiki. Armed with a new Google search word, I went after more information…

My highly educated and researched conclusion: this is WAY COOL!

I’ve found several sites with basic info and easy to follow video tutorials for using a fabric square to wrap a box, or two bottles, or two books, or to make a simple purse or grocery-type bag–this site has all of the above on one page. And here you can find a simple diagram (saveable as a pdf file) with the largest number of different wraps I’ve seen anywhere…(That diagram is below, but the source site is the one I’ve linked to above.) Sites that sell furoshiki also often have instructions on the sites–not as sexy as the videos, but perfectly good as far as I can tell. (The one I’ve linked to above has a whole lot of different options…)

I mean, think about it…how much money have I spent on those ridiculous overpriced gift bags over the years?  Buying a yard of sale fabric and taking the time to hem it (and, though this hardly fits the Japanese model, finding a nice knit or something that won’t even need hemming would save even more time) would save a good bit of money over time and also mean the recipient would gain a nice piece of fabric; especially for children gifts; it’s amazing to me what my kids can do with a piece of cloth and how much mileage they get out of it.

So: gift wrap and gift bags out: Furoshiki fabric squares in.  Easy trade, in my opinion.