Monday, February 22, 2010

Handmade Soaps

My mother is an avid bather. She loves to sit in a nice hot bath every morning and read books (she's very careful with them!) or magazines. She's already an easy person to shop for, but if you're ever at a loss as to what to get her for any gift-giving occasion, anything highly scented and bath-related will most certainly be a hit. Sadly, I did not inherit my mother's love of the bath, but rather my father's love of the shower. But my mom did manage to pass on her love of soap. I love how beautiful soap looks, smells, and feels. A good bar of soap can make tub and shower time quite the sensory experience!

grapefruit oil with grapefruit zest and dried organic peppermint; poured into a 1-quart milk carton

About a year and a half ago, I decided to try making my own soap. After reading lots of books about it, I finally gathered all of the supplies and jumped in. And you know what? It was fun and surprisingly easy! To date, I have made four batches of soap. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but it adds up to about 36 bars, and you can only use a bar of soap up so quickly! I know a lot of people think it sounds scary, but as long as you use common sense and proper safety precautions, making your own soap is amazing!

poppy seed and sweet orange oil with chopped clementine peel; poured into a small loaf pan

Now that I'm a seasoned soap-maker (har har), here are some of my tips:
  • Read, read, read up on making soap before you try it. You can probably find recipes on the internet, but I prefer books for stuff like that (you know, dangerous stuff and what-not). Two books I highly recommend are The Soapmaker's Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch and The Everything Soapmaking Book by Alicia Grosso. There are a lot of others, but these are two that are particularly helpful if you're just getting started.
  • The books will tell you and I will too: keep a journal! You don't have to get philosophical or anything, just write down the date, what base recipe you used, what additives you threw in and how much of each, what kind of container you poured your soap into, how many bars it yielded, etc. Because you will not remember it on your own, and it helps to know what you liked and what you didn't.
  • Have everything in place before you start, and maybe even do a dry run to double check. When you are making soap, timing is everything, and the last thing you need is to realize you left a key piece of equipment in the garage when you're in the middle of a step.
  • Be safe: wear the dorky lab goggles; wear serious rubber gloves; wear old clothes that don't matter too much; wear close-toed shoes; pull your hair back.
  • Keep your kids and pets and husbands safe. I have kids, and you know what? I don't make soap when they're around. I either do it when they are sleeping or when my husband has taken them out for a few hours. And we all survive.
  • Don't buy an expensive, hand-carved soap mold on ebay, especially before you've even made your first batch of soap (does it sound like I'm speaking from experience here, because I am). They are very pretty, it is true, but a shoe box works just as well and doesn't cost anything.
  • Just do it! It really isn't scary, and it really isn't hard. After I made my first batch, I said to my husband, "That wasn't any harder than making a batch of cookies." And it really isn't.

oatmeal, milk, and honey bar; poured into a mailing tube

All of the soaps pictured in this post started with the same base recipe from The Everything Soapmaking Book. It uses coconut oil, olive oil, and palm kernel oil, with castor oil for superfatting. I love it and definitely recommend it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Organic vs. Conventional (and how is anyone supposed to remember?)

I don't consider us a very "organic" family. Sure, we eat Annie's Mac and Cheese made with mostly organic pasta, and I used to buy to little boxes of Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk when they had it at Costco (cuz that stuff was goooooood), but other than that, we don't do much. The thing is, I want to do more, I really do. Part of the problem is that I just can't buy all organic all the time. It can get really expensive, and our closest grocery store has the world's tiniest organic section. But I can start small. According to the Environmental Working Group (or EWG), you can reduce your exposure to nasty pesticides a lot (we're talking 80%!) by going organic on just a few fruits and vegetables. The rest of your produce can still be conventional.

I am happy to do this. My problem is that I don't have the world's greatest memory anymore, and I can't remember which fruits and veggies are on the naughty list and which are on the nice list. For those of you lucky-ducks with an iPhone, EWG offers an iPhone app with a list of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. They also offer a little card that you can download and print out in case you don't have an iPhone. I didn't think it was that cute (sorry EWG), so I made up my own. It is about the size of a credit card and fits in my wallet, and it is kind of cute!

If you'd like a card too, just click on the picture below. Print it, crop it along the crop marks, and fold. You can even laminate it for extra durability! Happy Wednesday, or as I like to call it, Happy Organic Produce Shopping Day!

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Cannot Tell a Lie...I Love Sour Cherry Pie (with Pistachio Crumble)

I love holidays for many reasons, not the least of which is food. I'll take any excuse to bake and/or cook something a little more special than the average weeknight fare. This Sour Cherry Pie with Pistachio Crumble from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book would be the perfect ending to any Presidents' Day feast. I'm not a cherry pie fan, and I think it is superb! Eat some; I'm sure George would approve.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Last Minute Lovelies and Excitement on the Horizon!

Love is in the air,
Everywhere I look around.
Love is in the air,

Every sight and every sound.

Does anyone out there love Strictly Ballroom as much as I do? Just wondering. With Valentine's Day coming up in less than a week, hearts and cards and candy are certainly on the brain.

We have one preschool Valentine's Day party to go to this week, and we found the absolute perfect preschool valentines on The Long Thread. They call for card stock, a printer, and crayons, and they were super fun to make. And, just in case these aren't as perfect for you as they were for us, Ellen at The Long Thread has a huge list of printable valentines.

{photo used with permission from The Long Thread}

In our household, it isn't a holiday without taking treats to friends. We plan on making Sweetie Pies using the directions from Serena at Farm Chicks. We'll probably have to make lots and lots, because I plan on eating several dozen all by myself!

{photo used with permission from The Farm Chicks}

I've been in love with everything at EmersonMade for a while now. I check the blog constantly to see what new lovelies they have stitched up (if only my husband would let me pin little fabric flower boutonnieres or tie tacks on him). Yet somehow, no pretty handcrafted flowers have made their way into my hands. Boo. However, as a Valentine's treat to myself, I plan on making a budget-friendly, time-friendly rendition using this fantastic tutorial from 100 Layer Cake. Will it looks as good as the original? It is probably safe to say "No", but if I squint my eyes and stand back from the mirror, I might even fool myself!

{photo used with permission from 100 Layer Cake}

Call me crazy, but I like to have eyes on my kids at pretty much all times. If they're playing in the backyard--which, luckily, is the size of a postage stamp--I keep the door open and check on them constantly. If I am downstairs, I expect them to play downstairs. If they want to play upstairs, I usually try to find something to do upstairs too. There's not much for a mom to do upstairs. Sometimes I straighten up, sometimes I drag the ironing board upstairs and iron (I'm a wild woman!), sometimes I sit in the rocking chair and knit or read. Last week, I decided to grab a piece of paper and a pen and doodle, a pastime to which I could devote hours upon hours. My theme was love. Here's what I came up with; feel free to borrow them if you want to. Just let me know.


And in completely different yet wildly exciting news, Max and Ellie is lucky enough to be involved in the "blog it forward" mashup organized by Victoria of sfgirlbybay, an awesomely inspiring design blog. Usually, we find out about cool things after they happen. Every once in a while, however, fate gives us a break, and we get to be involved in something cool. The blog it forward mashup is basically a bunch of amazing blogs that will all be doing a post on what inspires them, and then linking to each other. Everybody gets assigned a day to post their little essay, and everybody gets linked up. That's a pretty poor explanation of the whole process, but it promises to be fun. And, as alphabetical luck would have it, we follow Nicole of Making It Lovely, a fabulous blog that is so amazing it was involved in Altitude Design Summit last month. I tell you, the stars are lining up for us this year! We've been considering a blog remodel for a while now, and what better time to give this place a face-lift than when lots and lots of people (that's the hope) will be stopping by?! So expect a few changes over the next few weeks (our assigned blog it forward date isn't until March), and if there are growing pains, bear with us!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Give-Away Winner and New in the Store

Congratulations to the winner of Let's Make Cute Stuff by Aranzi Aranzo: Beth! Beth, you can expect an email from me shortly to get your address. Thanks to everyone for playing!

We have more lovely, new items in the Max and Ellie shop. Our cute button bobby pins feature a 7/8" handmade, fabric-covered button on a 2" silver bobby pin. Stripes, fruit, flowers, polka dots...there's a set to please any little princess or hot mama. And at only $5 a set, they'd make the perfect little Valentine's Day treat. Click HERE to go to the store!