Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If Dad can do it, I can do it: Artisan Soap with Printable Labels

When I was a little girl, my dad started collecting the leftover fat from cooking bacon in tin cans and keeping it in the refrigerator. When he had stored up at least a couple of years worth he took the whole lot, some olive oil, and some lye, and he made soap on the kitchen stove. I, who had only ever seen soap that came from the store, thought this was pretty fantastic. Of course, it smelled like bacon, and washing your hands with it made you smell like bacon. But, he made something from nothing.

As I cruised the internet in search of appropriate hand-made crafts for men this Christmas I found this article about how to make "manly soap." Now there's a mess I'd never made! Soap. Naturally, by week's end I had stocked up on three different oils, lye, and distilled water, and set my mind to making soap.

I read a number of different blogs with a number of different methods and recipes, but decided to start with something small and low risk. The basic recipe I found on Orthogonal Thought's blog called for:

6 oz distilled water
2.25 oz lye (sodium hydroxide)
10 oz olive oil
6 oz coconut oil
1 tbl/0.45oz castor oil
(Note: these are weight, not volume measurements)

Original Source: Everything Soapmaking Book by Alicia Grosso

So, I pulled out my food scale from a time when I used to weigh food (ugh), my thermometer from that time I tried to make beer (eek) and my protective eye wear for when I etch glass (yep), and cleared off the counters. The lye wasn't nearly as scary or dangerous as I expected. Yes, it got the water hot, but no, it didn't really seem all that hazardous. Not like melt your face off dangerous or anything. For the first batch I pulled out a big stainless steel pot to heat the oils in, but quickly realized that was complete overkill. So, for my second batch I just mixed it all up in a batter bowl and stuck it in the microwave for 2 minutes.

My poor hand blender really got a good work out getting the mixture to "trace" (the fancy soap-making word for thicken), but that may be at least in part due to the fact that I tried to mix in the (exfoliate and aromatic) coffee grounds too soon. As it turns out tracing takes about 10 minutes and they don't need to be in there at the very beginning, clogging up your blender.

Since I was aiming for low risk, I poured the soap-like concoction into empty milk cartons and wrapped them in the cat's favorite quilt for insulation while they had a "gel phase" (perhaps the whole process was worth it for the look on my cat's face when I stole her blanket to swaddle a milk carton). Two days later, voila, man soap. The whole process took about an hour (maybe less), but made for a rather impressive story.

In my second attempt I wanted something more gender neutral. So, I omitted the coffee grounds and instead included about 4 ml of cinnamon essential oil and a tablespoon of ground cinnamon. Mixed with the sweet scent of coconut oil it smelled just like eggnog.

This is what my second batch looked like when I unpeeled the milk carton from around the soap after 2 days to solidify.

This is what the man soap looked like sliced up and left on wire racks to cure for about 2 weeks. This is a double batch, by the way. The recipe makes about 5 bars of soap.  

And this is what it looked like after I printed labels on kraft paper and wrapped them around each bar. Someone even told me they looked Artisan.

Like the labels? Want the labels? Here is the pdf for printable "man soap" labels. And here is the pdf for printable "eggnog soap" labels. Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Marmie and Me Panda Hats

The Giants did it again. This was our second World Series win in 3 years, and we were excited. I think it's fair to say just about everyone who lives north of San Luis Obispo was excited. Pablo Sandoval, The Panda, slammed home run after home run in the post season, and won MVP.
Just after the game that sent them to the series I got note from my Godmother with this image of a panda hat, wondering if I could make her one.
While I know that I have already made some Pablo Sandoval panda hats, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try something a little different. The problem is that I couldn't tell if she wanted one for herself (a completely appropriate request in my opinion, I wear my panda hat proudly) or if she meant that she wanted one for her darling grand girl. So, I figured the easiest solution was to make two, one for each of them.
For these caps I started with the most basic knit beanie pattern I know, starting and ending with two rows of orange. From there, I just stitched on a set of black eyes and a nose. Next, I made a pair of black ears and doubled them over and filled them with cotton balls.
For a final touch I added their names (well, Marmie is a "grandmother" name, but the spirit is there) to the back and mailed them off for Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Aunt Ellie Cake with Minty Trees

Every birthday and holiday, as I was growing up, we could count on my Aunt Ellie to show up with a spectacular cake. These weren't just your ordinary, out of the box, chocolate birthday cakes; they were fancy "from scratch" creations. Around the time my brother reached high school he developed an affinity for one cake in particular that the rest of the world would call a flourless chocolate cake. It quickly became the cake for his celebrations. As a family, we dubbed this particular delicacy "Aunt Ellie Cake."

When I was 15 and Aunt Ellie moved out of state, she gave her recipe to me so that I could keep the tradition alive around our house. After years of careful practice, the Aunt Ellie Cake is now my go-to dessert to impress friends. So, when asked to bring a dessert to a fancy holiday dinner party, I knew exactly what to make. And, because I simply don't believe in "secret family recipes" (I think food is supposed to be shared and loved), here is the recipe:

Cocoa powder for dusting
2 sticks butter
12oz bittersweet chocolate
6 large eggs
1 c sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line the bottom of a 9" round cake pan with round of wax paper. Dust the paper with cocoa powder. Cut the butter and chocolate into small pieces and melt over a double boiler, whisking occasionally. When melted, stir in the vanilla. Remove the mixture from heat and set aside.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until well combined. Add a small amount of the chocolate mixture to the eggs to temper the mixture. Slowly w
hisk in the melted chocolate and butter mixture until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, forming a batter. 

Pour the batter in the cake pan and set in a water bath. Cover tightly with foil and bake until the cake has set, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. When you touch the center your finger should come away clean. Remove the cake from the water bath and cool completely. Invert cake onto serving plate.

Of course, anyone who uses pinterest has seen the image of the little chocolate trees on a cake. For added effect, since it was a fancy dinner party, after all, I wanted to add trees. This is where the mess of the day began...

I still had about half a bag of white chocolate mint candy melts kicking around from peppermint bark, so I microwaved them for about 2 minutes until it was good and melty, put it in a plastic bag, and tried to draw trees on waxed paper. But, even melted the candy was too thick. It broke open the side of the bag and oozed a thick green goo all over the waxed paper. I tried to salvage it by making trees with a spoon, but the result looked more like an outtake from Ghostbusters than a Christmas decoration (I may have to remember this for Halloween, instant slime).
When the ugly trees had hardened, I took a handful of them and the rest of my mint chips and tried again, this time including about a teaspoon of canola oil to loosen up the mixture after it was microwaved. That's the trick. Pretty trees in about 5 minutes. I used a little extra melted chocolate to attach the trees to the cake, and shockingly they survived the hour long drive to Long Beach with no problem.

I think Aunt Ellie will be proud.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chalkboard Wine Glasses Gift Set

Some friends had the terrific idea this Christmas to avoid the whole "presents for everyone" debacle by doing a Secret Santa instead. Of course, we're crafty ladies, so of course, ordinary Secret Santa would not do. We needed crafty Secret Santa. The gift cannot cost more than $20 in materials, and has to be homemade.

My friend Kelly has an affinity for turquoise and chevrons. And well, I've got an affinity for wine and chalkboards. So, inspired by a little balsa wood box (yes, this whole thing started because of the little box...) I made a set of coasters with silver and turquoise chevrons on them. The real challenge here, buy the way, was that I couldn't find those cork coasters at Michael's, and they didn't have any wood coasters small enough to fit in the box. So, I had to hand made my own coasters. There was sawdust all over my apartment.

But, coasters are pretty lame gift on their own. Coasters need glasses to put on them! Back to the dollar store, of course, for wine glasses. Using the same sparkly turquoise paint that Martha Stewart claims is dishwasher safe when used on glass, I painted a chevron pattern on the glasses as well. And, taking a hint from pinterest, I decided I would dip the bases in chalkboard paint. Terrific idea, Veronica. You're so clever!

Now this was really where the wheels began to fall off of the craft wagon. First, I baked the glasses, because that's supposed to cure the sparkly paint to make it dishwasher safe. When I did this it turned green.

Then, I dipped the bases in chalkboard paint and carefully held each one for about 15 minutes (while grading papers with my other hand) to let the excess paint drip off of them. I tried a few different strategies suggested by various blogs for how to make this work. When dried them upside-down, the paint dripped up the stem. When I dried them right side up they ended up fused to the waxed paper and needed to be scraped from it with a razor blade. The best part: 2 days later and the paint was still a little mushy. So, when I tried to "prime" the chalkboard with a little chalk, it just left big gouges in the paint.

Then, I tried to put the coasters (that I had so carefully cut by hand with my Dremel to fit) back in the box. They wouldn't fit. Too much paint, I suppose. So, with a coarse sanding head on the Dremel I shaved off a bit from the inside of the box.

Essentially, nothing turned out right. Nothing. The whole project was a total mess.

Needless to say, I wrapped up the whole lot and gave it to her anyway. It's the thought that counts, right?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas Ornament Wreaths

For weeks I've been eyeing those sparkly Christmas wreaths on pinterest made out of ornaments and wishing that I had the time to try my hand at making one. I had even gone so far as to start stockpiling dollar store ornaments in the crafting corner before Thanksgiving. So, when my mom and my sister came to visit last weekend, and both sat on my couch with their ipads, oooing and ahhing over the wreaths as well, it was decided. Forget going out, we were going to have a craft night.

My personal inspiration came from this shiny little number made of vintage glass ornaments from Of course, I would no more use vintage glass ornaments on a wreath than I would use them for cat toys. No, the plastic balls that go for 10 cents a piece at the dollar store work fine for me.

After pretty much buying out the 99 cents only store's ornament selection, and stopping for 3 styrofoam wreaths and the biggest bag of hot glue that Micheal's sells, we set up my apartment for some serious crafting. Beers were opened, glue was flowing, and Pandora played us Christmas carols to get us in the spirit.

It took about 5 minutes of planning for us to realize that we simply didn't have enough ornaments. So, back to the dollar store for more glitter we went! My mom stayed back to read instruction from a number of different bloggers on how best to go about creating these things. Some had very methodical approaches the involved organized concentric circles of ornaments, others focused on developing "clusters" of ornaments and working around the wreath that way. We, of course, took a more free-form approach.

Armed with upwards of 300 ornaments, we dug into our projects. My sister and I started by covering the perimeter of our wreaths with the largest size ornaments, spaced about 1 inch apart, then built up and in from there. Mom started in the center, with larger ornaments around the inside of the wreath, and worked outwards from there.

A few hours, a few beers, and few burns later we took some photos and spent the rest of the evening just basking the reflected glory of how lovely they turned out.

Origami Christmas Cards

Most of my Christmas cards are finally in the mail, so after much anticipation, I finally get to write about my noble kick off to the holiday crafting season.

One night while avoiding the grading that needs to be done, I saw some directions on pinterest for origami bows. Of course, the directions were not in English. So a few hours later I had found the directions elsewhere and finally found a good use for that stack of Real Simple Magazines that I keep saying I'm going to get around to going through.
The inspiration
About 6 episodes of Big Bang Theory later, I was surrounded by beautiful origami bows. Unfortunately, what seemed like a terrific use of my old magazines had quickly turned into something else I had no use for. 
Then I had a brilliant idea. Christmas cards! I printed a holiday message on a stack of neutral colored cards from Micheal's, then played around with different ways of attaching yarn to look like a bow. In the end I wound up punching a small hole on the crease, and wrapping the front cover like a present, then affixing the bow right on top of the tiny knot on the front with a scrapbooking glue runner.
Probably the prettiest Christmas cards I've ever sent.