Thursday, April 30, 2009

consumer abuse

Have any of y'all ever worn out a Microplane? Because I have, and now I have to order another one, and what do I do until it gets here? Shouldn't they be a lifetime purchase? Is it the fault of my magnetic knife strip? Did it bend the little teeth in so they wouldn't work anymore? Because I can't go back to the old way of storing knives. I won't! I won't put them back in the drawer (except for you, paring knives . . . mommy loves you, I promise), and I will NOT allow a knife block in my house. I moved that magnetic strip here from our last house, and it's now mounted on a plaster wall, if that gives you an idea of the level of commitment the magnetic knife strip and I have reached. We are exclusively dating.

abandon hope, all ye who care not for soapmaking

I've got four batches of soap chillaxing on my buffet, two of which are dubious fragrances. The batch I made on Monday--remember, the one I wanted to name "Cough Drop?" Well, now I think it would be more aptly named "Urinal Cake." Or "Gas Station Bathroom." It smells clean, but sort of a scary clean. Then Emily came over and we made some of what I think I'll call "Angry Lemon." So then we decided we'd better play it safe and do some lavender and cinnamon.

Holy crap, this is a lot of pictures. It's quite an involved process, and the pictures SUH-HUCK (sing-song voice), because my camera is being naughty.

But here is the soap tutorial! Note: I am not a soap expert, nor do I wish to become so. I just want a good, easy recipe that is easily adapted for different fragrances. I refuse to accept any responsibility for losses financial, physical or emotional incurred by the concoction or use of this soap. There are many sources on the web for other soap recipes, but this one is all I need. A good site for any of you who want to be brown-nosers is, where they have recipes, ingredient descriptions, and a lye calculator so you don't atomize your home and family in a moment of carelessness. Or you can visit Their prices are not as good, but you can purchase your lye online, after you've signed and mailed them the form promising not to be a domestic terrorist.

Hot Process Soap
crock pot
heat-resistant measuring bowl
heat-resistant spatula
soap mold
scale that measures to within 1/8 oz.
safety goggles
face mask/train robber bandana
gloves (the kind the doctor uses to palpate your strangulated hernias)
hand blender
wooden skewer for stirring the lye

Ingredients (you can be 1/8 oz. off of the amounts, but NO MORE OR EVERYONE WILL DIE I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING YOU RIGHT NOW:
8 oz. olive/canola oil
10 oz. lard
8 oz. palm oil
6 oz. coconut oil
1 oz. beeswax
8-12 oz. liquid of choice (water, milk, juice, etc.)
4.39-4.54 oz. lye (olive oil recipe) OR 4.41-4.55 oz. lye (canola oil recipe)
1/2 oz. carrier oil (grapeseed, apricot kernel, etc.)
1/4 oz. essential oil for fragrance

Protect your work surface with parchment paper or a garbage bag or something, just in case you spill some lye later on, which of course you will not. Put your measuring bowl on the scale and tare it. Emily is pouring the canola oil, because I lost my olive oil and decided to use this so I can get rid of it, since it will KILL US anyway, just like it did those turkeys in Canada!

Tare the scale, then add the lard. It smells like bacon, but I promise it dissipates.

Tare it again. TARE IT. Don't pretend that you can do that higher math, just mentally adding the amounts together and keeping track. Liar. You are a product of our public school system, and the only math you know how to do is type BOOBLESS on your calculator.

Add the palm oil.

Tare, then add the coconut oil.

Tare, then add the beeswax.

Lookit all the yummy fat!

Pop it into the microwave for 1 minute, stir, then microwave another minute, stir, then cook it 30 seconds at a time until all the fat is melted, including the beeswax.

Stirring. Sorry about my stupid hair.

The beeswax takes the longest to melt.

Then pour it into your crockpot. I like to turn mine on while I'm measuring the fats, so it will be nice and warm. Turn it off once you add the fat.

Measuring the lemon juice with which we replaced some of the water.

Rounding it out with ice cubes. I always use frozen cubes of whatever liquid I'm using, otherwise the lye smokes and fumes something shocking, and it makes me feel like I'm getting black lung.

When you're ready to measure the lye, put on your gloves, mask and goggles. I measure it from the container with a small paper cup into a larger paper cup on the tared scale, since paper doesn't get staticky like plastic.

Lye all ready to pour into the liquid.

Always pour the lye into the liquid, not vice versa, or it will create one of those cool science fair volcanoes, only this one will actually burn, not unlike real lava. Stir continuously while you're adding the lye, but not vigorously, because you don't want splashies.

See, even with the ice cubes it gets super hot and cooks the lemon juice.

It even turns it red, don't ask me why, and it doesn't turn the soap red, which is sad. Red is a hard color to come by naturally.

Once the lye is completely dissolved, you can add the mixture to the fats in the crock pot. Again, a slow, steady stream, stirring gently.

As I get done with the various things that have touched the lye, I put them into a dishpan full of water, just in case. You don't want any lye crystals running around in your shoes-optional kitchen.

Then get out your stick blender and start blending. No splashing!

Keep stirring . . .

. . . and stirring . . .

. . . and stirring until the mixture is quite thick, like thick pudding. If you lift up the blender and glop some of the mixture onto the surface, it should remain on top and not absorb back in. Like, way past the point that you would have stopped with your lemon curd.

Then you'll turn your crock pot on to "low," put the lid on it, and wait a couple of minutes.

Almost instantly this happens to it, and you will think, "HOLY FREAKING CRAP! I've just ruined all that soap!" You haven't. Stir it a little and put the lid back on. Let it sit for another minute or two.

It's super thick, like the worst mashed potatoes you could ever hope to eat.

But then, as you keep checking it every couple of minutes, you will see little clear patches start to appear that look sort of like petroleum jelly. If you USE petroleum jelly, Earth-murderer.

While you're waiting, measure out your carrier oil and add the fragrance oil.

Almost there . . .

I added some lemon zest, and vanilla at the last minute to calm it down. It's a good thing, or this batch of soap would be playing Texas Hold 'Em on my dining room table.

Okay, it's all Vaseliney, so we can add the fragrance.

Stir it in well, then scoop it into your mold.

This is my high-concept soap mold, a child's shoebox lined with plastic wrap. It works just fine.

Like I said, I didn't realize that I had Deliverance hair--I promise I really do wash it every day. Once the soap is cool and firm--a couple of hours--you can cut it into the size of bars you want.

Let them dry, and use them the next day when they've finished hardening.

How about that? Don't you feel so empowered? I like that I can make whatever fragrance I want, and that none of it is going to render alligators incapable of breeding. Then I can feel superior about my groceries AND my health and beauty products.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Hey! Who wants a soap tutorial?
Because you're getting one. Emily is coming over later this morning, and we'll take all kinds of wacky and helpful pictures. I'm not promising wackiness for real, because "wacky" might mean "lye burns," and nobody wants that.
Keep a weather eye on the horizon.

Monday, April 27, 2009

this is why you get fancy chickens

Here is the comparison between a Wyandotte egg and a Marans egg:
Toupee is a nasty old bag of bones, and her eggs are only about half as dark as when we bought her, but they used to be a deep reddish brown, like milk chocolate.

They don't taste like chocolate, and does it really matter what they look like? Probably not, but I like to spend my money on stupid stuff.

why don't you name it, if you're so smart?

I just invented a new fragrance of soap that I think I'll call "Cough Drop." I told John, and he said that didn't sound like a kind of soap he would want to use.

Well, a jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build it.

And it really does smell good, and it really does smell like a cough drop. Sort of invigorating and fresh, and like a dude. A clean dude. But you can't name it "Smells Like Dude," or nobody would want to smell it. You may as well call it "Smells Like Dirty Animals."

malory's got nothing on me

Whoso pulleth out this cook's knife of this squash and countertop is rightwise cooking mayor born of all the greater Intermountain West

look upon this and weep

You guys know how I'm housework-challenged, so you'll be delighted to see the pristine innards of my microwave. I read somewhere . . . Cook's Illustrated maybe? Though that seems wrong . . . anyway, if you microwave a cup of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice until it boils for a bit, it makes the inside of the microwave all nice and steamy and it's super easy to clean.

Jealous much?

Now, I did this on Sunday, so I'll probably have to smear the gunge back onto the microwave with my nose in heaven.

Right now my 4-year-old and almost-2-year-old are grooving to Joan Jett. I am such a good mom.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

some thoughts

  1. my mental state is not optimal
  2. my children are not really safe with me
  3. or were not, until I made some Irish oatmeal
  4. we are all thankful for Irish oatmeal

skeksis rescue project

They're all hopped up on goofballs because I cleaned their filthpit, and they can't stand to not be surrounded by mounds of their own feces. We have to keep the door to the office closed, which sort of concentrates and weaponizes their stink, but if we forget and leave the door open, Pinga is in there dropping feminine hygiene products into the box, or grabbing the chicks and walking around the house with them.

Friday, April 24, 2009

of elementary particles

Here is what I'm having for second breakfast this morning.
I call it Quarkenberry. And it is good. Quark is an interesting soft cheese. It looks and feels like yogurt, but it is milder, and instead of the sour tang of yogurt it has a fizzy taste, which makes it a fun change. It's sort of like creme fraiche, but milder even than that. Throw a dash of sugar in there, pour it over some berries, and it is heavenly. Listen to me! HEAVENLY. I think mine was a lot wetter than normal, because my pan isn't deep enough for all the whey to drain off, but I can't say I'm sad about it. It may also be that my buttermilk starter was a little past its prime, and that's why this ended up so mild, but again: not sorry. I could drink it straight from the jar. Here's a recipe, the results for which I cannot vouch, but it doesn't require you to buy any starter cultures.

Do you sort of hate Belle in Beauty and the Beast? Boy, I sure do. What a twit, and my word! What a God complex she has! That ridiculous song where she's bagging on their village, and the villagers are going on and on about how beautiful and strange and special she is? Pffft. She ain't no thing. And they need to stop enabling her. Wow. She can read. Katie bar the door!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

you're starting your own paper company? in this climate?

I sometimes worry about what I'm going to do after the kids are gone. After they're grown up, I mean--what did you think I meant? Because I'll have to get a job, right? I'm doing my darnedest to contrive a way of turning one or more of my hobbies into employment, but it looks like the only work of that kind available is as a volunteer in some Colonial Town carnival attraction. And I know that being a carny would be the best ever, but maybe I need a few more drunk-and-disorderly convictions under my belt first.

But I don't want a job. I'm not good at jobs. I used to have one and it sucked. Not the work itself, but the whole "be in a place at a time" thing that is my eternal bugaboo. I loved my coworkers, in fact. I spent a whole lot of time over in the art department, and I'll be honest, I didn't always give my employer an honest day's work. Once I was over chatting with the artists, and we got started talking about that LAME part in Jurassic Park 2 where Jeff Goldblum's gymnast daughter subdues a velociraptor with some parallel bar routine, and how impossibly shark-jumping it was, even for a movie about re-engineered dinosaurs. So we started drawing climactic scenes from classic movies on the white board, inserting the gymnast daughter into all of them. Jaws, King Kong, Citizen Kane . . . everybody was getting a boot to the head. This went on for months, until we had exhausted our supply of shared cinematic heritage. I also remember that one of the artists had Pez dispensers of all the Star Wars characters, and the Darth Vader one had been dressed in a little paper t-shirt that said, "I Nearly Conquered the Galaxy and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt." Good times.

But thinking of going back to working for The Man is a real drag! I got my tech writing degree so I could work from home, but tech writing is BORING, y'all! It would be different if I got to edit enjoyable novels or cookbooks, but with my luck it would be all internal medicine textbooks and Rotato user manuals.

Speaking of novels, in case you haven't already read it, the Pioneer Woman has for some time been posting her husband's and her love story chapter by chapter, and it is a lot of steamy, clean fun. I like me a romance once in a while, and the boring, nervous person in me is thankful when I know it's going to end happily.

And maybe I don't have to worry too much about polishing off my resume, since the world economy will have undoubtedly supernovaed by the time my kids are grown. Maybe by then I can actually get paid for my knowledge of how to churn butter (note: I do not know how to do this). I know this: if English speech and writing continues on its current trajectory, the skills of a tech writer will be worthless, as there will be no one remaining, aside from the tech writers themselves, who cares about using were in an if clause.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

and the winner is . . .

I had John draw the winning name, because all the kids are in bed. The terms and conditions, once again: ONE bar of soap for each and every commenter, and for one lucky winner, FIVE bars of soap. It is a heady elixir.
The Grand Prize Winner of this, the second Baba Capra Giveaway, is
TIPSY BAKER! (sounds of audience cheering)
A round of applause, if you will, for all the contestants who fought so hard to get here. (clapping)

Thank you everyone for playing. I will deliver soap to locals/relatives myself, and foreigners can email their mailing addresses to me at babacapra at gmail dot com. Or come to Utah and get it from me.

Roll on, eighteen wheeler. Roll on.

tigerlily loves the dandelion in the golden afternoon

I am celebrating the tarnation out of Earth Day, which I'm thankful to the mainstream media for reminding me is today. Where, oh where would we be without the industrial news complex to browbeat us into feeling guilty about our pillaging?

Here is the story of the Quark and the Dandelion Bread. This is the cupboard where I culture my cheese. It's right above a heater vent, so it stays nice and warm.
This is the Quark I cultured in the cupboard where I culture my cheese. Quark is a German cheese, soft and yogurty, very mild and tasty. Also way, way easy to make. I use our raw milk and a buttermilk starter, but the webernets claim that plain old buttermilk can also be used.

I tried to take a picture of what the curd looks like when it's ready, but I had the DTs and couldn't get it to work.
Here is the curd I took from the pot of Quark I cultured in the cupboard where I culture my cheese.
Here is the cream risen to the top of the curd of the Quark I cultured in the cupboard where I culture my cheese. That's what happens when you use raw, unhomogenized milk.
This is some of the Quark I reserved from the pot of Quark I cultured in the cupboard where I culture my cheese. I'm going to eat it like yogurt.
This is rest of the curd I took from the pot of Quark I cultured in the cupboard where I culture my cheese. I love that Pinga is pulling a Monty Python page turn in the corner.
This is how you drain the Quark you make and culture in your cupboard. It goes in the fridge and drains overnight.

Now! On to the Dandelion Bread. It sounded like a fun and crazy spring recipe, so out I went into the wilds of my yard to court ridicule and pluck dandelion heads.
A bowl full of dandelions takes a surprisingly long time to collect. It turns out you get all picky and exclusionist when you know you're going to be eating them.
A Senate term later I had a cup full of petals.
Here's the batter, which looks really pretty, methinks.
The bread when it FINALLY got cooked, ten minutes longer than called for in the recipe.
I just think this looks really cool.
It exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly low. I was afraid that it would taste like aspirin, but instead it's sort of soft and muffiny, moist, with a very delicate floral note that you really have to pay attention to detect.

It's a lot of effort for just a plain old quick bread, but it looks so interesting and is tasty enough that I will totally make this again. Here's the recipe, courtesy of Fat of the Land.