Posted on March 7, 2017
As I have mentioned multiple times before, taking classes and learning new skills is one of my favorite things. In just the past year I have learned or taken classes for pearl knotting, flower crown making, basket weaving, calligraphy, sewing, butter making, knitting, and sushi making. I feel like a nonfelonious Martha Stewart.
I’ve wanted to cross soap making off of the list for a long time, but it has been difficult to find a class that was hands-on rather than demonstration only. You learn a lot more (and have more fun) when you get to do things yourself. Fortunately, I found a class at Three Creeks Farm where not only could I get my hands dirty, but I could design my own soap.
We started with mixing the lye. This was the only part of the process we didn’t get to do on our own and our instructor, Seth, did it for us. Lye can be very dangerous and can burn your skin, blind you, and even kill you if ingested. Once it is combined with water it almost instantly reaches 180 degrees and therefore should not be handled indelicately. However, it is a vital part of soap making as its chemical reaction with the oils is what produces a solid soap (a process called “saponification”).
The first step was deciding what to put in our soap. I opted for coconut lemongrass for the fragrance oil, ground oatmeal and buckwheat for exfoliants, and a little bit of clover honey just for fun. Everything requires very exact measurements. After all, science.
Once we selected our special ingredients (and set them aside to use later) we started to mix our oils. Our soap included 7 oz of olive oil, 6 oz of coconut oil (yum), and 1 oz of canola oil.
Once the oils were mixed it was time to put on my sexy safety goggles and add the lye and water to the oil mixture.
The lye tends to sink to the bottom of the oil, so I gave it a quick swish before mixing it.
To thicken the mixture and help it along its journey to magnificent soapiness, we used an immersion blender to save time. It did not take long for the consistency of the oil and lye to start to change and become custard-like.
Then it was time to add the fragrance, oatmeal, buckwheat, and clover honey.
After some more blending, I poured the mix into a one pound mold where the soap began to harden over the next few hours. I was supposed to wait a week before removing the soap from the mold . . . I waited approximately 24 hours. I have never been accused of being patient. Fortunately it turned out ok.
I wanted a soap that was earthy, but sweet, and with a nice texture. I think I accomplished that. I still need to wait 2-3 weeks for the soap to cure through the saponification process before I can actually use it. (Waiting will be torture). Until then, every time I walk by the soap I pick it up and smell it. Mmmm!
Three Creeks Farm has an array of interesting class offerings including blacksmithing. Plus, they have a farm filled with alpacas, llamas, fainting goats, sheep, pigs, peacocks, guineafowl, and a very large mastiff named Hugo that you can pet and snuggle on . . . so you know I’ll be back.
Posted on December 19, 2016
Knitting a scarf has been one of the most arduous experiences of my life. Not law school. Not the bar exam. Not the Tennessee Vols’ 2016 football season. Knitting a stupid scarf. Why? Because the yarn never, ever ends. Just when you think that you are nearing the end of your project, the yarn ball just keeps on going. There were times I honestly questioned whether the yarn was reproducing and creating more baby yarn for the sole purpose of mocking me.
I started my scarf the Tuesday before Thanksgiving thinking I would have a fun little weekend project. Perhaps my hopes were unrealistically raised by being told one skein of yarn would magically transform into a fully knitted scarf with about 5 hours of work. Wrong.
I spent days and days working on the scarf. Part of me wishes I timed it so I knew just how much I invested in the process. Part of me is glad I don’t know the answer to that question.
I took a class at Craft South to get me started with my first project. I am really glad I took a course because I had Jenn, the instructor, there to give me guidance as I went along and got into trouble. I think I would have become too frustrated with the process if I started on my own and did not know how to fix my mistakes.
After a bit of hard work I finally finished. I went through the entire skein and ended up with a scarf that is taller than me. I finished it just in time for Nashville’s first first “snow” of the season and I am sure it will keep me warm and toasty on my New Years ski trip.
I know I seem rather annoyed by the process in this post, but it is really all in jest because I actually loved my knitting class and the finished project. And, believe it or not, I will probably keep knitting. Now that my expectations have been properly lowered, I am ready to forge ahead and try another project. It is actually a pretty great thing to do to quiet your mind, keep yourself busy while watching TV, or enjoy on a ‘knitting date’ with a friend.
Posted on December 6, 2016
My mom was obsessed with Christmas. Absolutely obsessed. The woman had a different Christmas sweater for every day of December. This is not an exaggeration, and may in fact be a gross underestimate of the number of Christmas sweaters she owned. Many of these sweaters lit up, played music, or most often, both. After I reached a certain age, she promised to stop wearing the ones that lit up or made noise when I was around, which came after years of my embarrassed teenage protests.
That said, the one thing, and perhaps the only thing, we never did at Christmas was make gingerbread houses. I assume that is because making a gingerbread house is incredibly messy, time consuming, and you end up eating more candy than you put on the house. Me + sugar is still a bad idea to this day.
It felt like it was finally time for me to rectify this injustice and make my first gingerbread house. The kits can be purchased most anywhere this time of year, but I got mine at Michaels for under 10 bucks. There is also an adorable one for sale at Starbucks which I almost grabbed during one of my daily coffee runs.
The key to making a gingerbread house is patience. Once you use the frosting to construct the four walls, you have to let it set and harden. The same goes for the roof. So, if you want to make your own house, plan to assemble it about 4 hours before you actually want to decorate it. Otherwise, your house is going to completely cave in upon itself.
I cheated a little and did the lines on the roof before I added those panels because I figured drawing with frosting would be hard enough without trying to do it on an angle. Once the house was ready I added candy christmas lights, frosting windows, a fondant door, an icing christmas tree, gumdrop shrubbery, and tiny gingerbread kids. I even constructed my own candy chimney.
I definitely think I consumed as much, if not more, icing and candy as what actually went on the house. In fact, as I write this, I am finishing up the left over gumdrops. And to answer what is turning into a fairly common question, no you cannot eat my gingerbread house. Build your own.
Posted on November 17, 2016
The holidays are approaching and that means endless meals with friends and family. To kick off the season of eating I got together with some girlfriends for an old fashioned day of making butter. Except instead of churns, we had mixers. And wine. We had a lot of wine.
Butter making is simple and you only need a few items: heavy whipping cream (1 pint will produce about 1/2 pound of butter); cheesecloth; a food processor with a mixing or paddle blade; plenty of bowls and forks to stir in ingredients; containers for the butter (4oz mason jars work well); and salt and other ingredients as desired.
The process is easy. You start by pouring the cream into the mixer. Lower the whisk into the cream and turn it to about half speed. Mixing typically takes 3 to 10 minutes. You can also make butter by shaking the cream in a sealed container (read about that process here). Shaking takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes (and results in a super tired arm).
As the cream is processed it will separate into butter and buttermilk. (You can save the buttermilk for other cooking projects if you so desire). Once this happens, pour the buttermilk and butter into a bowl with a colander or cheesecloth.
Use the cheesecloth to squeeze out any liquid and then rinse the butter. This process feels really weird and you get your hands covered in butter.
If you don’t press out all of the buttermilk the butter will spoil faster. Homemade butter will last in the refrigerator for 1-3 weeks, depending on how well you squeeze the buttermilk out. If you store the butter in the freezer, unsalted butter will stay good for 5-6 months but salted butter can last up to 9 months.
Once the butter has been pressed and washed you are ready to add your ingredients. You can just add salt for simple plain butter, or you can add fresh herbs, spices, garlic, cheeses, wine, lemon/lime, peppers, jam, and the list goes on. Each ingredient adds its own unique flavor and flair.
We made 11 types of butter, all ingredients are to-taste, so add as much of each as you like:
If you have any recipes you like add them in the comments below! It looks like this may be an annual tradition so they could make their way on to the menu next year.
Posted on October 24, 2016
I grew up with my mom sewing little outfits, stuffed animals, and all of my Halloween costumes for me. She always had a project going, usually for my benefit. I, however, never picked up the craft. It was probably a good idea to not let my tiny fingers near the machine. However, now that I’ve grown, I thought it would be fun to take a sewing class so that perhaps one day I could use the sewing machine I inherited from my mom.
Craft South has a variety of sewing, knitting, and other crafty classes. For my first foray into sewing, I signed up for their pajama pants making class (sample above). Fortunately, Craft South also offers sewing machine lessons for those talent-challenged folks out there like me. Otherwise, by final product would result in something like this:
I was the only person there for my sewing machine intro class so I managed to get the benefit of a private lesson. The first class got me acquainted with how to use a sewing machine, the different types of stitches and techniques, and, most importantly, how to sew in a straight line. The class also got me excited about getting to try the real thing.
Two days later I got to take my first practical sewing class. We started by selecting the right size pattern and cutting out the fabric. This part was easy enough, but when you have plaid or another patterned fabric it takes a little extra work to make sure the design lines up.
I am really glad I took the sewing intro course because after Lauren, our instructor, set up the sewing machine, I was able to just run with what I needed to do. I would have been pretty lost had it been my first time using the machine.
The first thing we sewed was the button holes. These look complicated, but they are created with literally just the push of a button. All you have to do is hold the fabric still. Next, we moved on to sewing the leg of the inseam on each side, which was basically just a straight line. Check. I had that under control. Then we combined the left and right sides of the pants by sewing the rest of the inseam. This was a little more complicated because the fabric curves. While I am sure this part will get easier with the more experience I get, but for now, sewing on an angle is a little tough to do smoothly. After that we sewed up the outer legs, which was the easiest part of the sewing process (more straight lines).
We finished up the pajamas by folding over the waist, stringing through the elastic and drawstring, and hemming the legs. Voilà! Adorable pajama bottoms!
After I finished the class I went home, slipped on my newly made PJs, and watched some baseball. Life is about balance right? I can do sewing and sports in one night. I made the pants a little bit long because the fabric will shrink when washed and because the longer pants keep my feet nice and toasty.
I absolutely loved my sewing class. While my obnoxious need to do everything perfectly was tested, the class was actually relaxing and I loved being able to have a finished product within just a few hours. I can’t wait to take another class and and eventually get to use my mother’s sewing machine for my own creations.
Posted on June 20, 2016
If you are itching for something new and crafty to do, I highly recommend a basket weaving class. In just a few hours you can create something completely unique.
I went to Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary for my class with basket weaver Janet Lanier. Owl’s Hill is an 160-acre nature and animal preserve in Brentwood, Tennessee. I didn’t have time to explore the property, but I did see a beautiful deer grazing right outside of the window as I made my basket. It was a very peaceful afternoon.
We started out with a wooden handle and the spokes that would make the frame of the basket.
The base of the basket was formed by interweaving the wooden spokes.
Once the base was formed, round reed was woven through the spokes to secure the frame. The wooden reed had to be kept wet to make it flexible and easy to manipulate without breaking.
I decided to add in a little color to the basket, so every few rows I added maroon reed and seagrass. Seagrass is actually a grass that is hand twisted into cord.
The alternating over-under weaving process was repeated until I reached the desired height. Or, more accurately, I ran out of time and had to make it to a hair appointment.
Eventually the shorter spokes at the bottom were trimmed and tucked into the weave to finish the bottom of the basket.
The top of the basket was finished with half round weed lining the rim and smaller reed was wrapped through the open holes in the basket. To get it a little extra flair, I added some of the maroon seagrass to the top.
Voilà! A completed wine basket! It took a few hours and a little hard work, but I am pretty happy with the final product. Plus, I am now ready for life on the prairie. I can’t wait to return to Owl’s Hill for another class or for when I have some time to explore.
Posted on June 7, 2016
I constantly hunt event calendars for ideas of New Things to do. It is much easier showing up at a pre-organized event than creating your own adventure every week. While perusing Eventbrite I came across a flower crown workshop and photoshoot. I was never particularly “girly” as a child (or now), so making a flower crown was definitely something new for me.
Making a flower crown is pretty simple. First, select the flowers you want. To make one like mine, choose a mix of small and large flowers and an array of colors. I was lucky; they actually had flowers that matched my new favorite dress.
Once you pick your flowers (pun slightly intended) get a bit of wire and measure the size of your head. It is better to have it be a little too big than too small because you can always tighten it at the end. Then take three pieces of wire and braid them together until you reach the appropriate length.
Now you can start adding your flowers. Trim the stems on the flower to 1/2 to 2 inches and insert the stems into the holes of the braid. If you need extra help securing the stems, just wrap them tightly with green floral tape.
Just keep adding flowers until you are done. When you are finished wearing your crown, you can dry the flowers by hanging them upside down in a warm, dry place.
When we were done making the crown we had an awesome little photo session. Here are some of the results:
These are the unedited raw images (that is how awesome Miss Mayter is). Once I get the final shots I will upload those instead.