Soap Making Down on the Farm

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 weavingcalligraphysewingbutter making, knitting, and sushi making. I feel like a nonfelonious Martha Stewart.

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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.

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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”).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The lye tends to sink to the bottom of the oil, so I gave it a quick swish before mixing it.

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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.

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Then it was time to add the fragrance, oatmeal, buckwheat, and clover honey.

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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.

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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.

Making A Gingerbread House

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Butter Making & 11 Delicious Recipes to Make Your Own

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We made 11 types of butter, all ingredients are to-taste, so add as much of each as you like:

  • Lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • Basil, lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • Brie, roasted garlic, and salt
  • Rosemary, roasted garlic, salt, and pepper (delicious)
  • Organic basil, espresso sea salt, and pepper (my favorite)
  • Honey, honey goat cheese, blue cheese, and salt
  • White wine, thyme, honey, and salt
  • Peach brandy jam
  • Nutella (life changing)
  • Maple peanut butter
  • Pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and all spice

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.

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