Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scents and Sensibility

A potential customer emailed me this morning asking about the scent of my soaps and needing more description before she could choose. That's the downside of selling online...the sniff test is important. The only issue with smell is that it's so subjective. I don't know how many times I've had two people (husband/wife, mother/daughter, BFFs) walk up to my booth at a fair where one picks up a soap, smells it and swoons in delight, then hands it to the other person to sniff and gets a rodent-like expression in return. People's opinions about smell differ widely. For this reason, I have hesitated to include too much of a scent description with each of my soaps. I don't want people to get them in the mail and say "Hey! That's not what it's supposed to smell like!" However, I completely understand this customer's need to, here's MY opinion of what each of my soaps smells like:

Backwoods~strong pine overtones with a lighter, fresh citrus underneath.

Bitchin" Kitchen~spicy cinnamon leaf. This is different than cinnamon stick, which most people are familiar with. Often customers think that it smells more like nutmeg than cinnamon.

Buck Naked~completely, truly unscented.

Cowpoke~fresh herbal with a little woodsy thrown in. The eucalyptus lemon and the lemon essential oils are the most dominant scent, but there's a noticeable undertone of cedarwood as well.

Fish Tale~anise, spicy black licorice. I've also added tea tree to this soap because it tones down and rounds out the smell of the anise, but it's got a very dominant black licorice smell.

Gardeners Gold~fresh citrus with floral undertones. You quickly notice the grapefruit smell in this soap, but the overall smell is really more fresh floral. Lavender and geranium are not very sweet flowers (like rose or jasmine), so I would put it in a more herbal/fresh category of floral.

Gender Neutral~sweet with spicy undertones. This soap smells like root beer. The dominant scent is vanilla, but the sweet birch essential oil (which is like wintergreen) adds a distinctive spice.

Hard Working Hand~ fresh and slightly herbal spiciness. This one's a little hard to categorize. It's not a heavy scent at all...mostly fresh and light herbal.

Haute Goat~unscented, but the goat's milk has a natural sweetness to it that comes through in the soap. Someone with a good sense of smell would notice it, but others might not. If you put it right next to the Buck Naked, you could definitely smell the sweetness.

Highland Fling~sweet like brown sugar, but not in a cloying way. The honey gets a bit caramelized during the soapmaking process, and combines with the natural sweetness of the beeswax. Love it.

Lap of Luxury~minty with citrus undertones. The dominant smell is spearmint, which is a more sweet herbal scent than peppermint. Tangerine lightens the mint smell and gives it more depth.

Lavender Lover~straight-up, high quality lavender essential oil. Good stuff.

Manly Man~musky and smokey with fresh citrus undertones. This is probably the hardest one to describe. Clary sage has a very herbal smell and vetiver is quite smokey on its own. I add lime to lighten and give complexity to both of those oils. Many people who smell this soap say that it reminds them of their grandfather or some older gentleman. Clary sage and vetiver were both commonly used in men's products a couple generations ago.

Naughty Nellie~floral, with herbal undertones. This has a sweet, slightly herbal floral smell, with some extra hoppiness from the ale that the soap is made with.

Rejuvenation~heavy, sweet floral. I would call this one almost Victorian in its smell. Very girlie.

Road Trip~patchouli, but lighter...not the heavy hippie smell often associated with that essential oil. I add orange to soften the sometimes overwhelming scent of patchouli. Often customers will smell this soap and say "I usually don't like patchouli, but this is really nice!"

Sasquatch~ woodsy and herbal. Cedarwood and tea tree are both very distinctive person described them as smelling like shoe polish. The lemon essential oil lightens and freshens the scent. This soap always makes me think of mossy bark, and being in the forest.

Smooth Shave~ fresh with herbal undertones. Coriander and cilantro are the same plant. Think of cilantro salad with a citrus dressing.

Summer Slacker~ sage and lavender with a fresh kick of light citrus. This soap has a dominant herbal smell. If you like sage, you'll love this. It reminds me of summer...hence the name.

Hope that helps!!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

4-H Field Trip

We took a great 4-H field trip recently to the University of Washington Greenhouse and Insect Lab. We got to see poisonous frogs, carnivorous plants & the worlds biggest seed. Here it is. It comes from a palm. Crazy.

We reviewed how plants reproduce using pollination. We talked about what a fruit is. We saw lily pads big enough to hold small children.

We saw lots and lots of incredibly gorgeous plants. It almost made me want to keep all of my orchids instead of giving them away because I forget to water them. Maybe.

Here is a picture of the kids getting to touch a Venus Fly Trap to make it close. We got to watch as our guide fed a little squirming caterpillar to the plant. The kids loved that part!

After seeing all of the plants in the greenhouse, we went to the Insect Lab and learned about research being done on giant moths and how they fly. We got to watch a moth flying in a wind tunnel where scientists study their shape and aerodynamics in the hopes of applying what they learn to robotics and engineering. Very cool. A soon-to-be moth...

This was a wriggling pupae that we got to hold. Apparently, one researcher made a mold of one of these and now periodically fills the mold with chocolate...which he then leaves out on the counters in the lab for people to munch on during the day. Hee hee. I like a good sense of humor.

Thanks University of Washington scientists!!! We had a great time!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yum, Lovely, Yum, Fun

I had a wonderful dining experience last weekend at Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island, Washington. A cousin who appreciates good food took my husband and me out to celebrate our recent significant (ending in zero) birthdays.

It was a beautiful spring day and we took the ferry from West Seattle to Vashon and arrived at the farm just before dinner. We had time to walk around and check out the grounds, peek at the animals and ogle the raised vegetable beds (poured concrete, nice!).

Kurtwood Farms is run by Kurt Timmermeister, a very friendly, informative and congenial fellow who obviously works his butt off on a regular basis. He has a 13 acre farm on which he raises Jersey cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and lots of fruits and vegetables. He does most of the farming himself, with only one part-time farm hand to help out. His is more than a full-time job, and an obvious labor of love.

On many Sunday nights he hosts a dinner for 20 (or so) people where guests are served from the bounty of those 13 acres.

In fact, we ate food produced there exclusively...the only items that Kurt serves that are made off of the farm are salt, pepper, sugar, flour, coffee and wine.

When my husband asked him about olive oil, Kurt's response was "We don't use it. We only use butter." Works for me. I'm not afraid of butter. And oh, what good butter it is! When I first saw the crock of it sitting on our dinner table I remarked at its yellowness. Kurt explained that Jersey cows don't absorb carotene from their fresh diet and, therefore, pass it along into the cream and other dairy products that he makes. This makes the butter a beautiful color. It was also super yummy.

Visiting chef Tyler Palagi did the food preparation as Kurt assisted and got things ready for our group to be seated. We sipped wine and sampled incredibly flavorful flat bread pizzas made with ingredients like Kurtwood Farms cheese, caramelized onions, and cured pork belly. The pizzas were cooked in the outdoor wood-fire oven near the main kitchen and dining area. Tasty!

Once seated at the table, we were served sweet tomato soup with homemade bread and the aforementioned butter. The tomatoes were canned last fall and tasted as fresh as...well...fresh tomatoes.

Here is where my photo record stopped. I was too busy eating to take any more pictures. We continued our meal with an antipasti plate of cheeses, prosciutto, and tomato jam. Next came slices of cured pork belly, fresh pasta, broccoli with cider vinegar and bacon, beef with sauteed leeks, cauliflower with red currants and dried chilis. There were eight courses in all, served over three and a half hours. No dish had more than four or five ingredients. It was all incredibly fresh, flavorful and simple fare.

During all of this, we chatted with the people sitting next to us at the long, wooden table. I had the pleasure of visiting with a couple from Vashon who knows Kurt and have been for dinner there before. Conversation was lively. We finished up with a butter cake served with fresh cream and rhubarb sauce.

Kurt has an email list of folks who he sends alerts to periodically, announcing upcoming dates to reserve your spot at the table. It's harder to get in during the summer and harvest months, but would be very much worth it. I hope to go back again soon and bring some friends!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ree & Me

Today I got to meet Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) in person. She was doing a book signing nearby for her recently released cookbook. I stood in line with hundreds of other people...OK, women...and maybe two guys. I was amazed at the whole book signing process and how organized the store was that hosted. Third Place Books had some well-established systems to move large numbers of people through the line very quickly. I wasn't nervous at all until I got up to the "next" spot, then suddenly my adrenaline surged and my heart started beating and I felt like I was at a junior high dance or something. My lips twitched when I tried to smile for the pictures that were taken of the two of us. I won't show you one of them because I look like I'm in pain, and I wasn't. Just nervous. Ree was really friendly and remembered my soaps and my company right away. That was very nice for me.

A month or so ago I made up some custom bars to send to her as a thank you gift for the lovely blog post that she did in February about my business. I was planning to send them in the mail to her, then I found out she was coming to Seattle. I decided to wait and give them to her in person. I got to hand her a little bag with the gift soaps (actually just four of them, I sent the others by mail) when I met her. I hope she likes them. They were fun for me to make...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How To: Easter Eggs

How did you dye eggs growing up? I remember using melted batik wax and making some of the coolest creations imaginable with my Mom. She set the bar pretty high for me, I'm afraid.

We tried out a new method today, which we I decided to share. I can't take credit for the initial idea, but we did mix things up a bit in terms of materials and technique to make it as kid-friendly as possible.

You need to have contact paper (we used the clear kind that I always have around for miscellaneous projects), scissors (a variety of styles with fancy edges are good, but plain ones work just fine too), fancy shaped hole punches (the sort that can be found in scrapbook shops or craft stores), hard boiled eggs, food coloring, water, vinegar.

Prepare your bowls of dye the way you would for most Easter egg projects: warm water, a tablespoon of vinegar, 10-15 drops of food coloring.

Using your scissors or fancy hole punches, cut shapes out of the contact paper (with the paper backing still in place). You don't want the shapes to be too large in diameter because they won't bend enough to adhere to the convex surface of the egg. Small shapes (1/2 inch or less), or long narrow strips work best. Peel off the paper backing and apply the shape to your clean egg like a sticker.

Important: use your finger nail to gently rub the contact paper shape onto the egg's surface to make sure that it's completely stuck on. If there are bubbles or edges that have not made contact, the process won't work.

Now, dip your egg in the dye bath to add your first color. Let it sit in the dye bath until it reaches your desired hue, remove it, and dry it off with a towel. It also helps to wear a white velvet ballerina costume while you do it...not sure why.

Once the egg is completely dry, you can experiment with overlapping images and layered colors by removing the contact paper shapes and adding new ones in whatever fashion tickles your fancy.

If you're doing this project with young children, I would recommend starting out with at least some of the shapes pre-cut, as the contact paper can get a little tricky for small fingers and hole punches. My daughter was very proud of this snazzy coyote egg that she created. The detail that you can get is truly amazing.

Have fun!