Sunday, December 13, 2009

Custom Gifts

I love it when customers come up with great ways to showcase my soap!

I did two custom orders this week that were lots of fun. One gentleman sent me the awesome artwork that you see here. The expressive line drawing of his dad makes the perfect label for special fishing soaps that can be handed out to friends and family. I hope his dad likes them!

Another order was for a woman needing office gifts for the holidays. She liked the idea of giving a corporate gift with a memorable message. The company logo was used on the tins...along with the tag line at the bottom "Everyone Else Stinks". Perfect! I'm sure all of her co-workers will love them!

Ahhh much room for humor.

Meylah Intereview

A few weeks ago when I was doing the EtsyRain winter show, I met a lovely couple here in Seattle who have put together a terrific resource for artisans and small business people. Their website is called Meylah, and it contains all sorts of useful information about starting and maintaining an arts and craft business. If you don't already have it on your blogroll, you should. Plus, they thought that my soapmaking company and experience was worthy of an interview. So, now I'm famous...or at least, less un-famous.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Phinney Winter Festival

I will have a booth (with the help of my Mom...thanks Mom!) this weekend at the 29th annual Phinney Winter Festival at the Phinney Neighborhood Center in Seattle. The event runs from 10-5 on Saturday & Sunday (12/5 & 12/6). We will be located in the lower building in the Dragon room. I will also have a selection of awesome razors available from RetroRazor, a great company here in Seattle. Come on down and check it out!

SheGyver Tip #1

I came up with a word to describe a lady who is resourceful and uses a multitude of materials and methods (sometimes off-beat) to accomplish a task...SheGyver. Do you all remember watching McGyver on TV in the 80s? I do. I was always impressed with his ability to come up with a creative way to make things work.

My first SheGyver Tip: If you're away on vacation and staying in a condo or rental house that has a washer and dryer, and you need to do just ONE load of laundry, but can't (or don't want to) buy a whole box of laundry detergent, what can you do? Use a cheese grater to shred one of the little bars of guest soap! Before synthetic detergents, all laundry was done using soap. I use shredded soap all the time for our family's laundry because I have such a plentiful supply of soap pieces. It works great and is also biodegradable!

Do you have a SheGyver tip to share?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to: Æbleskivers

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. In my family, we make many different sorts of breakfast foods, especially of the cake variety. Of all those foods, my favorite is a Danish dish called æbleskivers. They are basically round (like a golf ball) buttermilk pancakes that are eaten dipped in sugar or jam. They're made in a special pan that makes seven æbleskivers at a time. Supposedly, my great grandfather used to eat four pans in one sitting...that's 28 æbleskivers!

Here's how they're made:

2 cups buttermilk (the higher the fat content, the better)
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
Shortening (Crisco) for pan
Start heating up the æbleskiver pan on a medium heat. Separate the eggs, putting yolks and whites in separate mixing bowls. Beat the white until very stiff. Mix egg yolks and buttermilk until well blended. Sift the baking soda and baking powder into the buttermilk/yolk mixture along with the flour. Once the wet ingredients are thoroughly mixed, and the sides of the bowl have been scraped down, pour it into the egg white bowl and gently fold with a spatula or large spoon until incorporated.

In the heated (medium-high) pan, place a small portion (1/2 teaspoon each) of vegetable shortening in the depressions for each æbleskiver. Butter doesn't really work for this, as it scorches too easily and doesn't make the outside of the æbleskiver crispy. Spoon some of the batter into each depression, so that it barely reaches the top edge. It will expand slightly as it cooks, so you don't want to over fill. After 1-2 minutes, use a wooden skewer or a fork to turn the æbleskivers. This is done by inserting the skewer or fork into the middle and rolling it onto the other just takes a little practice. Let the other side cook for 1-2 minutes and serve hot, with sugar or jam. So good!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Suds to Love

Wedding favors are a bit like bridesmaids dresses. Prospective brides (and grooms) often try to choose something that will actually be used again once their guests walk out the door. But like in the movie 27 Dresses, the couple's good intentions often miss the mark. Food is good: chocolates, petit fours, or candy, but those are gone in one or two bites. Even better is to choose a wedding favor that your guests will use over and over again...reminding them of the lovely time that they had at your event and all the care that went into planning it.

Give soap a chance. Think about it: everybody uses it, it lasts
much longer than a piece of candy or cake, it smells good, it's customizable, and it's symbolically wholesome. Nothing says purity and clean living like soap. Even if it's not your first marriage, soap is the perfect wedding favor because it says 'we're making a fresh start'. Soap can come in so many shapes, sizes, colors and packages...the possibilities are endless. Soap: the suds to love.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Manly Man

My Dad is a manly man. There's very little on the ranch that he can't fix, build or do. I think, even though he's now approaching the age of 70, he's still probably the strongest person I know. When I was growing up I remember him stacking hay bales, one in each hand, like they were grocery bags. He could split wood with one easy swipe and could push a horse across a corral if he needed to.

His poor hands have taken a real beating over the years, as has the rest of his body. He's broken bones many times, has knee problems from horseback riding injuries and heavy lifting, has frequent pulled muscles, bruises and cuts. To help alleviate the discomfort from all of these things, and because he likes the quiet of it, my Dad likes to take baths. He's not a shower guy.
My Dad clearly deserves a nice Manly Man Soap. I have to say though, that when I was trying to decide on the actual scent for this soap, I had to diverge a bit from what my Dad would probably prefer. You see, even with all of his manly toughness, he's really a flower guy.

That's the other side to my childhood memories about him. He would take me on walks frequently to a place we call Flower Mountain. It's really just a hillside on the ranch, but it always had the best collection of spring wildflowers: Queen Anne's Lace, Yellow Bells, Spring Beauties and Dogtooth Violets. We would go and pick flowers for my Mom or my Grandma Evie. I remember my Dad's gnarly working hands holding the scissors to trim the stems before putting the wildflower bouquet in a jelly jar "vase" to be placed on my Grandma's Formica table.

If I had been choosing a scent just for him, it would probably be more of a Girlie Man scent than Manly Man, but that's an idea for a different day. Instead, I decided to use the traditional oils of clary sage, vetiver and lime. All of these essential oils were commonly used in men's fragrances before the age of synthetic smells and Irish Spring. It's a classic manly smell, hearkening back to an earlier time. It makes me think of my there was another Manly Man...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Don't Smell Like Sasquatch

When I was growing up in Idaho, my stepfather taught college literature and creative writing...and dabbled in cryptozoology. Huh? What's that, you say? crypto=from the Greek meaning hidden, and zoology=the study of animal life. Now, before you think 'that man sounds like a total kook!', let me also say that he was very involved in studying local folklore, which is integrally tied to the study of mysterious creatures. Most communities have local legends about some strange sighting and his crypto group went out to investigate. I learned all the scientific and unscientific 'facts' about Ogopogo, the Pend Orielle Paddler, and of course...Bigfoot. I wouldn't say that I'm a true believer, but there's some very interesting evidence out there to support the existence of Sasquatch. And rumor has it that s/he's very SMELLY.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I'm sitting around the kitchen table discussing new soap ideas with my brothers. The general consensus was that if Sasquatch existed, s/he would definitely need some soap. Sasquatch Soap was born! I decided that, in keeping with the theme, it should be brown and contain woodsy essential oils (tea tree and cedarwood) and ingredients (black walnut hull powder) that would help protect from insects and to heal the cuts and bruises that would inevitably come from tromping around in the forest all day. And it is, of course, all-natural because Bigfoot cares about the earth too.

Now this isn't all to say that if you use the soap you necessarily started out smelling like Sasquatch. It's great for anyone who likes that woodsy scent and values the properties of tea tree and cedarwood oils. Who knows...maybe it actually helps keep the real Sasquatch at bay when you're adventuring in the great outdoors?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

North Beach Arts & Crafts Fair

Next Saturday, October 10th is the 30th annual North Beach Arts & Crafts Fair here in Ballard. It's a great event. This year, in addition to the craft booths, there will be a raffle, hot kettle corn, a bake sale, a kids' carnival with a bouncy house, and great food vendors: Gabriel's Fire BBQ, Dante's Dogs & Skillet Street Food.

I will have a booth selling soap in the lunchroom, near the stage and our 4-H club will be right next to me selling dog biscuits, book marks, greeting cards and...wait for it...soap! All items were made by the young entrepreneurs themselves. The club is raising money to donate to charity (last year we donated half of our profits to the Seattle Animal Shelter) and to support club activities like our summer camping trip. Come out and join the festivities!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to: Butter

This summer, when our 4H club went on our big camping trip to the ranch in Idaho, we used my great-grandmother's old wooden butter churner to make our own butter. It hadn't been used in over 50 years and had been serving as a decorative flower holder for quite a while. We cleaned it out, sterilized it, and put it to work. It was great for the kids to see the butter forming in the churner and they loved tasting the end result. Here is a recipe for making your own butter at home under more modern conditions.

Ingredients: one gallon of heavy whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, ice water, salt (optional)

Tools: large bowl, plastic wrap or bowl cover, spatula, wooden spoon, hand or stand mixer

Mix the whipping cream and buttermilk. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 12 to 36 hours, or until the cream starts to thicken and becomes slightly tangy. Check the temperature of the cream. It needs to be around 60 degrees Fahrenheit to move on to the next step.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip cream on high (like you would if you were making regular whipped cream). Beat until it reaches the 'stiff peaks" stage, then reduce the speed to low and continue mixing.

The cream will start to look grainy and yellowish as the butterfat starts to separate from the whey. When the butterfat has formed large curdles, stop beating and drain away as much of the whey as possible.

Pour 1/2-1 cup of ice water over the butterfat mixture to further harden the curdles and to begin washing away the excess whey. Using a wooden spoon, knead the butterfat against the side of the bowl to thoroughly wash it.

Drain the cloudy water. Repeat this process three or four times until the whey is completely rinsed away from the butterfat. Continue kneading the butter in the bowl for another minute or two to remove and bubbles of rinsewater that may have gotten trapped inside the butter. If you're adding salt, this is the time to do it.

Spoon into a storage container and refrigerate. One gallon of whipping cream makes approximately 3 1/4 pounds of butter. And for a slightly different method, check out my friend Deanna's technique...
great for energetic kids!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soap Scents

I'm going to be trying out some new scent combinations today in a batch of soap and I've been thinking about how I've learned some things over the past 17+ years regarding soap scents.

When I started in the early 1990s, I used fragrance (synthetic) oils for scent because they were so much cheaper than true essential oils and had a very strong and lasting aroma. I would use fragrances like cucumber or gardenia...copies of smells that I loved in nature. After a while, though, I found that being around the fragrance oils really started to bother me. I would get headaches if I was in a room with them for too long. It occurred to me that whatever my body was reacting negatively to from smelling the synthetic oils, would not be something I would want to keep rubbing on my skin...or have somebody else rub on their skin. And let me just say, I am NOT someone who is particularly sensitive to chemicals or allergic to things so if they bothered me they would surely bother others.

At that point I started using natural essential oils exclusively in my soaps. True essential oils come from the plants they smell like and can sometimes be VERY hard to extract. For that reason, they tend to be much more expensive than fragrance (synthetic) oils and can be more fragile when mixed with the sodium hydroxide (lye) used to make cold process soap. I found over the years that some essential oils are much sturdier than others (like patchouli), and can help to strengthen more fragile oils (like citrus or florals). I love the clean, fresh scent of orange, lemon and lime, but none of those oils fare well on their own against the lye so I always mix citrus with another oil.

I've also learned that adding a small amount of Castor oil to my essential oils before mixing them with the batch of soap will improve scent longevity. Castor oil acts as a natural scent fixative and is also a great moisturizing oil for your skin. Other natural additives like clays or herbs that are added for color can also help to soak up the essential oils and help them to hold strong against the lye during the saponification process.

The last step for me in improving the staying power of essential oils has to do with storage. Sunlight and open air can dramatically shorten the scent life of soaps. If you have purchased handcrafted soaps made with essential oils, be sure to store them (wrapped in tissue paper) in an airtight container or ziplock bag in a dark place when not in use.

Time to get to work!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

4-H Dog Treats Extraordinaire

We had another great 4-H club meeting yesterday, once again making dog biscuits to sell as a club fundraiser at the North Beach Arts and Crafts Fair on October 10th. Last year they sold like hot cakes and were a huge success, so we decided to try it again. The kids did a great job with measuring, stirring, kneading, rolling and cutting out the dough. Luckily we were outside for the whole endeavor...

4-H Dog Treats Extraordinaire!!
1/2 cup dry milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 small (2.5 oz) jar beef baby food
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 cup rye flour
1 cup cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cracked wheat

Directions:Preheat oven to 325 ° F (165 ° C).
In a large bowl, combine the dry milk, egg, parsley, oil, honey, baby food, and broth. Gradually blend in the flours and cracked wheat. Add enough wheat flour to form a stiff dough.
Transfer to a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 3-5 minutes). Shape the dough into a ball, and roll to 1/2-inch (12 mm) thick. Using bone-shaped cookie cutters, make biscuits! Transfer to ungreased baking sheets, spacing them about 1/4 inch (6 mm) apart. Gather up the scraps, roll out again, and cut additional biscuits.
Bake for 30 minutes. Whisk together the egg and broth for the glaze. Brush biscuits with the glaze on both sides. Return to oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Let cool overnight.
Makes several dozen small bones that freeze well. Or 2 1/2 to 3 dozen large bones, depending on the size of cookie cutter you use.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How to: Fruit Fly Carnage

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Naughty Nellie: Brothels, Baths and Beer

Nellie Curtis was an interesting woman. She ran a brothel out of the LaSalle Hotel in Pike Place Market for about 10 years during and after WWII. It was reportedly visited by some pretty important public figures from the Seattle of that time, along with a multitude of lonely sailors who walked up to the Market from the waterfront. During her lifetime, Nellie Curtis had 13 aliases and ran a number of different hotels that were mysteriously profitable.

The Pike Brewing Company was later established on the site of the old LaSalle Hotel. Its owners were taken with the story of Nellie Curtis and named one of their fine artisan beers after her: Naughty Nellie Ale. I use this lovely golden brew to make my Naughty Nellie Soap. Why beer in soap? It makes the lather more frothy and creamy and adds complexity to the scent. My Naughty Nellie Soap is scented with the rich floral essential oils blue lavender and palmarosa, mixed with the hoppy scent of the beer. It's a very nice soap...appealing to both men and women. It makes a nice shaving soap, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Piobaireachd is ancient, classical bagpiping music. It's not the type of music that you would hear in a pub, or probably tap your foot to. It's the type of music that would make you cry and remember your Scottish ancestors...even if you have no Scottish ancestors, like me. Any lucky traveler who happens upon a piper playing Piobaireachd on a foggy Scottish hillside might think they've died and gone to heaven. Literally. It's very haunting.

Like much of jazz, Piobaireachd is a variation on a musical theme. It starts with a relatively simple melody line (the ground) and then adds new and more complex embellishments and variations with each repetition. The number of repetitions can go as high as 20 in some cases, which makes Piobaireachd pieces quite long, compared to other pipe tunes.

The word Piobaireachd means "piping music" in Scots Gaelic. The Gaelic term preferred by most pipers is Ceòl Mòr, which literally means "big music" opposed to Ceòl Beag (little music), which describes most tunes you may have heard played on the pipes. Piobaireachd is kind of a hard word to pronounce. It sounds something like peebrokd, with some fancy back of the throat noises going on.

I grew up as the stepdaughter of a McLeod. The MacCrimmons were hereditary pipers to the chief of Clan McLeod of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye and were considered to be the preeminent practitioners of Piobaireachd (couldn't resist) in Scotland for many generations. There's even a great children's book all about the beginning of the MacCrimmon line of Pipers to the Chief. When I was young, my stepfather was the director of the Coeur d'Alene Summer School of Piping and Drumming, and Piobaireachd which was sponsored at the time by the Spokane Piobaireachd Society. I spent a part of most of my summers growing up listening to world class pipers and high quality Piobaireachd. I loved it and was marked indelibly by my experiences there.

All of this is the intro to the fact that my friend and bandmate Tyrone Heade just won the World Amateur Solo Piobaireachd competition in Scotland this past week!! It's no small feat, and we're quite proud of him!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cozy Soap

"Does soap get cold?" I was asked this recently at a craft fair. Valid question, since I do sell Soap Sweaters that fit my round bars. Maybe the name 'soap saver' would be more accurate. My Soap Sweaters are beautifully crocheted by my friend Dawn of Scary White Girl Designs, here in Seattle. Don't let her shop name fool you...the only thing scary about Dawn is how scary fast she seems to crochet. She also commutes to work on the bus (awesome!) and has lots of time to keep her hands busy crocheting crafty creations.

Soap Sweaters are a variation on a soap saving method that my grandmother used. She would put the ends and pieces of soap bars into and old sock and hang it in the shower. The sock acted as a washcloth, of sorts, and allowed all the little pieces to get used and not wasted. That's what a Soap Sweater does. It also helps to exfoliate the skin and hangs nicely on a hook in the tub or shower. And the soap never gets cold...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Head, Heart, Hands & Health

I love 4-H. Most people mistakenly assume that the organization is only about animals and farming and can only be found in rural areas. Historically, it's been true that the vast majority of clubs were organized in small towns around themes that were agricultural in nature, but the 4-H umbrella is MUCH larger than that. At its heart, 4-H is really about giving young people the chance to learn through hands-on experience about topics that are practical and engaging.

Many clubs around the world (yes, 4-H is a HUGE organization with clubs in over 80 countries) give young people the opportunity to learn how to raise animals, grow food, sew, cook, do mechanics, work with electricity, protect the environment, and build name just a few. The 4-H Pledge which is spoken at the beginning of each meeting goes like this: "I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world." Service and stewardship are important components of 4-H. Through the structure of the organization, kids hone their public speaking skills, learn how to organize information and make connections with others around the world.

My father participated in 4-H throughout his school years, traveling to state and national fairs to show projects that he'd done on electricity and forestry. I have another friend who participated in 4-H all the way through college and actually did an exchange to South America when she was just out of high school.

We started a new 4-H club three years ago when my kids entered elementary school. We call our club 4-H F.A.S.T. (Frontier Arts, Skills & Technologies). We don't specialize in any one topic, we sample. So far we've tried gardening, woodworking, sewing, baking, the science of sound and hearing; and small business. We also take a camping trip to Idaho each summer. This year we built a survival shelter, learned how to make butter, planted 150 willow trees to help reclaim a creek bed from overgrazing and erosion, fished, swam, cooked and learned how to build a proper campfire. It was great!

Having grown up on a ranch in a family that knew how to 'do stuff', I think that it's terribly important for my kids...all kids, city kids in particular, to be more in touch with the land and have the knowledge and the confidence to do things for themselves. They should know how to grow food, how to care for animals, how to fix machines, how to cook, sew and most importantly... how to ask questions, learn through trial and error and go through the critical thinking process it takes to master a new skill.

Support 4-H... join a club, be an "expert" who teaches a lesson, give money, give time, or start your own club. You won't regret it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Caught in the Act!

A follow-up in our mountain beaver saga...

The kids and I were outside today hanging out in the yard (not very quietly, I might add) when we heard a rustling in the bushes behind the raspberries. I looked down into the hedge and saw a tiny little clawed hand clutching a laurel branch and the beady-eyed creature attached to it. A real, live mountain beaver sighting! The kids were thrilled.

I ran to fetch the camera and didn't have to wait long for the chance to snap a few shots...the Mountain Beaver (who I call Butt Head) seems to have no fear of people...or regard for their ownership of prized fruit plants. He can't get at the raspberries now because of my elaborate electric fence shield.

Latest update: Summer 2011


Make your own Fizzy Milk Bath Bombs

My kids love taking baths and they love using fizzy bath bombs when they do. Here is a quick tutorial on how to make them yourself...

Materials: 1 cup baking soda, ½ cup citric acid, ½ cup corn starch, ¼ cup fine sea salts, ¼ cup powdered cow or goat milk, 2 teaspoons apricot oil, 1 teaspoon melted shea butter, 1 teaspoon essential oil (scent of your choosing), 3-5 teaspoons witch hazel, dried flower petals or food coloring (optional), molds…just about anything rigid will work (Dixie cups, plastic Easter eggs, small silicone baking or ice cube molds, yoghurt cups, etc.)

Mix all dry ingredients together well with a spoon or mixer on low speed.

Mix the apricot oil, melted shea butter and essential oil together and drizzle over the dry ingredients, while mixing on low speed.

Gradually add the witch hazel (plus a few drops of food coloring). The best way to do this is to put the witch hazel into a spray bottle and squirt it into the other ingredients while constantly stirring. This is because too much added at once will activate the fizzing action and make hard, clumpy bits in your bath bomb.

It has reached the right consistency when the mixture holds its shape like dry snow.

At this point, pack it into a mold as tightly as possible.

Wait 5-10 minutes then tap out the bath bombs onto a flat surface.

Let them dry overnight and store in an airtight container to protect them from moisture until they are ready to be used.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pity the Poor Pipers

This weekend is the 63rd annual Northwest Scottish Highland Games in Enumclaw (the "Claw"), Washington. There will be over 25 pipe bands in attendance from all over the western US and Canada, in addition to highland dancers, athletic competitors and herding dog demonstrations. It's a two day tartan extravaganza that also includes many vendors and lots of greasy food. If you are an Irn-Bru lover, you can come and get your fix here. At the beginning and end of the pipe band competition each day there is a "massed bands" ceremony in which all pipers and drummers play at the same time on the main competition field. It's quite a site and sound!

The pity part comes in as a result of the weather. You see, traditional Scottish dress includes a wool kilt made from 7 yards of fabric, wool socks (hose), black leather shoes (ghillie brogues), a black wool vest (waistcoat) and a black wool jacket (Braemar or Prince Charlie, usually). Remember that the climate in Scotland is considerably different from that of the Pacific Northwest. The forecast for this weekend is for the low 90s in the greater Seattle area, which probably means in the high 90s for Enumclaw. Imagine wearing all that wool, standing in the hot sun (no shade at the King County Fairgrounds) and blowing and squeezing like crazy on a set of pipes or carrying and marching with a heavy drum...that's a recipe for heat stroke if there ever was one. Wish us luck, and come out to hear the music and see us drop like flies in the heat.