white soap

white soap

I wanted to make this batch of soap as close to the archetype as possible: bright white, dense, and extremely cleansing. Most of the soap I’ve made has largely been comprised of liquid oils, which makes for a soft, silky bar without much longevity. Because the color of soap depends primarily on the color of the fats and oils used, the lightest I’d been able to achieve before now was a dull beige. Turns out if you want white soap, you can’t do much better than lard and coconut oil.

fats and oils

It’s certainly possible to make soap from just lard and coconut oil, but I decided to compromise some whiteness for a little extra moisturizing power by sneaking in a little castor oil. It made up for the coconut oil’s tendency to be drying, and contributed a super luxurious lather. This batch got a couple tablespoons of zinc oxide added at trace in an attempt to coax it a little whiter, but I always have trouble blending it in thoroughly and I’m not sure it did much. Of course, if I’m striving for exemplary soap, I gotta go with the most classic scent of all– so this batch got the last of my shaving cream fragrance oil.

This is the formula I went with:

34 oz lard
10.75 oz coconut oil
5.5 oz castor oil
19.10 oz water
7.10 oz sodium hydroxide
2 Tbsp zinc oxide

Because this was an experimental batch to begin with, this seemed like a good opportunity to test out a soap stamp. I sketched up a design and Nick 3D-printed it for me. After the soap cured for a day, it was sliced into 16 bars and each one got “childerhouse” pressed into the center of it. I’m really happy with this batch! Apart from the creamy, off-white color, it turned out exactly as I’d hoped. It’s less sumptuous than the soaps I’ve made in the past, but each bar lasts nearly twice as long, and the lather is just as rich.

Posted on by Jessica in Experiments, Soap | Leave a comment

recent developments

future strawberries

 

kombucha flavors

 

chocolate/matcha bundt

 

yellow silk moth

 

cat buds

In the fall, my mom gifted me several pots of strawberry plants, and because they do okay with little to no intervention, I have managed to keep them alive. They have started to produce tiny white blossoms, and if all goes well, in a month or so, they’ll be laden with strawberries. Apart from some herbs and a sad looking fennel plant, this will be the first edible thing I’ve grown, and a suitable test of my green thumb. I’m a halfway-decent plant caretaker, but I still do best with the ones that thrive on neglect, like succulents and peace lilies.

Recently, Nick and I have started brewing kombucha. It’s much less involved than I imagined, and all it requires is sweetened tea, a scoby, and a little time. A friend gave us our scoby and we it named Eunice, because that seemed fitting for something so languid and strange. We still need to tweak our recipe a bit, but our first few batches have been pretty close to perfect. I’ve been experimenting with the addition of different fruit purees, and I think the winner (by a slim margin) is raspberry.

Last week I made what was supposed to be a marbled chocolate and matcha bundt cake. In my haste to get it in the oven, I forgot to drag a butter knife through the batter– which meant it turned out more like a color-block bundt cake. I followed this recipe, stirring a few tablespoons of matcha into the white cake batter before spooning it into the pan. It’s not super sweet, which made the leftovers excellent for breakfast. If I were to make it again, it would definitely benefit from a drizzle of chocolate ganache.

I’ve started a new project which involves the use of butterflies, beetles, and moths. It turns out dead bugs are relatively inexpensive, which has made me pretty regretful about all the time I’ve wasted not having a collection of cool insects. The guy above is a yellow silk moth– and can you believe those antennae?! This project will be the closest to art-making I’ve come since graduating from college and I am really excited about it!

Lately I’ve been trying to come to terms with the fact that my beautiful green sofa is on its last leg. The corners are worn and frayed (no thanks to a certain orange cat), its striped velvet cushions have borne the brunt of several spills, and certain spots have become faded and discolored by years of sunlight. I’ll always remember how ecstatic I was to find it, and how lucky it seemed that it fit perfectly in the impossibly small living room of our second apartment. Because it’s handmade and likely one of a kind, there is little hope of finding a similar replacement (although I’ve spent a lot of time fruitlessly googling “green striped velvet upholstery fabric”). The plan is to dismantle it and refashion the usable pieces of fabric into some chair cushions, but I’ll always miss its first iteration.

Posted on by Jessica in Food, Home, Life | 2 Comments

spoon butter

spoon butter

I’ve amassed a decent collection of wooden kitchen implements– spoons, cutting boards, and a bowl or two– and as you can imagine, they receive a lot of use. When I’m in cooking mode, I’m not always mindful of how I treat them. My spoons see the worst abuse– they’re often left soaking in water, stained yellow with turmeric, their finish worn away with time and dish soap. Most are the ubiquitous bamboo spoons you can pick up at any grocery store, but my favorites were hand-carved by Nick out of fancy hardwoods, and they are the most-used and best-loved of the bunch. Luckily, I had everything I needed for some spoon butter on hand: a neutral, flavorless oil (I used sunflower oil), and beeswax.

beeswax

To make spoon butter, combine one ounce of beeswax and 4 oz by weight of a neutral oil in a double-boiler over some simmering water and heat until the beeswax is just melted. Alternatively, you can microwave in 30-second bursts until you achieve the same result. Pour the melted wax and oil into whatever container you’ll store it in (I used an old half-pint jar) and stir occasionally as it cools, until it’s creamy and semi-solid. It should keep for at least six months. To use, apply generously and buff off the excess with a clean cloth. Repeat once a month.

Here’s a dramatic before and after:

before and after

Also:

– Nothing quite like finding out your favorite living author has written three books under a pen name while you weren’t paying attention. I’m all caught up and dreading the long wait until the next one.
– I’ve got a bunch of bananas aging on the counter, awaiting their fate in a loaf of this.
– Re-watched this old favorite recently.

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hand bags

hand bag

Last month, I gave my mom and sisters some hand bags. I was only thinking about how much I like hand motifs when I decided to make these, and the pun was a bonus. They’re identical in construction to the potato-printed bags from a few years ago, but were printed with hand-carved rubber stamps instead of the root vegetable variety. I used a heavy canvas so they’re extra durable, and each bag was decked out with its own zipper pocket, complete with a tiny hand charm:

zipper detailInside each pocket was a jar of skin balm made by my lovely friend Eleanor. It’s magic for dry skin, and you can pick some up here.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Sewing | 1 Comment

shaving soap

shaving soap

This year, all the dudes in my life got some shaving soap for Christmas. I’d run across a few different recipes in my research, but what really clinched the deal was finding a fragrance oil that smelled like shaving cream (which, as everyone knows, is one of the best scents on earth). I used this recipe (but subbed shea butter for the cocoa butter) and poured the soap into thrifted mugs. It got a month-long cure, during which time my dining room was filled with the essence of barbasol. I was almost sad I had to give it away, but I’ve got plans in the works to make a batch of shaving-cream-scented soap just for me.

lathered up

Each mug was paired with a badger-hair brush for working up a rich, creamy lather.

More soon.

Posted on by Jessica in Soap | 2 Comments

things lately

handwoven towels

 

new leaves

 

organizing craft supplies

 

peanut butter cookies

 

new hat

 

soap stacks

After I finally finished weaving, serging, and hemming those dishtowels, I realized I forgot to account for how much the non-mercerized cotton would shrink in the wash. As soon as I took them out of the dryer, it was clear they’d turned out absurdly small. I haven’t decided if I’ll give any away or if I’ll keep my shamefully tiny dishtowels to myself, but they provided a good weaving refresher either way.

I love it when my umbrella plant sprouts new leaves. I think I can add this one to the short list of sad, clearance houseplants I’ve impulsively bought and successfully rescued.

Recently I spent an afternoon organizing all my notions, writing utensils, and other small craft items into an old slide file. There are mounds of fabric and teetering stacks of art supplies spilling over most of the surfaces in that room, but I can find a little relief from the chaos in those well-ordered rows of pencils and string.

Those salt-flecked cookies you see above are probably the closest you can get to eating peanut butter straight from the jar (but in cookie form). I was skeptical that a flourless cookie would have very much structure, but they are plump and moist, with craggy, bronzed edges that crisp as they bake. I think the next iteration will have to contain chocolate in some form.

As soon as the temperature dropped below 70, I dug a skein of chunky yarn out of my stash and knit myself this hat with a giant pom-pom. I also bought a few yards of wool fabric so I can sew myself a new winter coat, but I think that project will have to wait until after Christmas.

Those stacks of soap were wrapped in paper, labeled, and sent off to my sister, who’s selling them at the coffee shop where she works. Two are slightly improved versions of the soaps from last year, but the third is a new cascara/chamomile blend with a lovely mild fragrance. If you are in Houston and you want to pick up a bar, you can find them here.

That’s all for now.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Food, Home, Links, Soap, Weaving | Leave a comment

finally, a loom

the loomThis loom has actually been folded-up in the corner of the dining room for a little while, waiting for a warping board. It’s a second-hand Leclerc, and I find myself describing it with feminine pronouns and wondering if I should give her a name, as one might designate a boat or a car. I was happy for the delay that warping board construction afforded, because it’s been a few years since I had to load a warp on a loom, and it’s not very much fun. My preferred method of learning new things (or re-learning, in this case) is to just wing it and analyze the outcome, but weaving is too technical– it relies so much on math and precision, and there are too many factors that affect the end result. And, let’s be real– there’s no way I’m spending three hours stringing thread through heddles on a whim.

heddles and stringLuckily, it wasn’t too hard to pick back up, and there were only a couple times I had to guess and hope for the best. I decided to start with a striped warp of unmercerized cotton, which I’m weaving into dish towels. This way, even if it’s a terrible disaster, the finished product will be functional.

future dishtowelsNow that I’m done with the tedious part, I can enjoy the process of weaving. There is something deeply comforting about its repetition, and in creating something which will be handled and put to use. It’s been nice remembering the little things I forgot I missed, like the creaky heave of the pedals and the sigh of string through the reed. I’ve barely begun, and I’m already thinking about what I’ll weave next.

Also:

– I just finished this incredible book, and I wish it never had to end.
– Can’t wait until October 23rd.
– Today is the right kind of day for a batch of this.

Posted on by Jessica in Links, Weaving | Leave a comment

six years

year six branding iron

This year’s anniversary post is a little late because it required Nick’s input. Traditionally, year six calls for an iron present, but I decided to be less literal about it. This gift is totally non-ferrous, but it’s technically an iron, so I think it counts. Nick created a design (inspired by this) and I sent it off to a company that mills solid aluminum into a brand. He can use it on handmade furniture, art crates, or whatever else strikes his fancy. We have already tested its culinary applications.

Because most of our photos together are cell phone selfies featuring cats, we decided to break out the real camera. This had the dual purpose of capturing our portrait and working through the backlog of expired film taking up room in my freezer.

year sixThanks for being mine for six sweet years, bub.

For past anniversaries, click: five, four, three, two, one.

Posted on by Jessica in Life | 3 Comments

red, white, and blue macarons

red, white, and blue macaronsI made these macarons for a friend’s baby shower a few days ago, and it just so happened that the nautical-themed colors coincided perfectly with the July fourth holiday. Vanilla bean and red velvet are two flavors I’ve baked before, but the blueberry was a new one. I added a heaping tablespoon of blueberry powder (made by whirring some of these in a spice grinder) and each sandwich got a kiss of blueberry jam and a dollop of blue-tinted mascarpone frosting. Next time I’ll double the blueberry powder and up the jam so each bite is packed with a more intense blueberry flavor. Precisely ten minutes after I finished piping the last macaron, it dawned on me that parchment paper might be sold in sheets rather than in a roll, and it is! I don’t know how it took me so long to figure this out, but my macaron game is about to get a lot better now that I no longer have to fight the creeping edges of curly parchment. I wish I’d had this epiphany sooner!

Because these macarons served as party favors, I finally got some use out of this impulse buy from last year: macaron boxes!

macaron boxI’m always grateful to be an American, but this Independence Day is made much more poignant and meaningful after the recent and long-overdue supreme court ruling. I’m so proud to live in a country that champions equality. Happy birthday, America!

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 2 Comments

honeysuckle jelly

honeysuckle jelly
There are few things in the world that I love as much as the scent of honeysuckle. One whiff and I am seven years old, barefoot in the backyard with my brothers, pulling apart the wispy blossoms to find the single drop of nectar inside. Even if you’re not the nostalgic type, it’s impossible not to appreciate these tiny ombre flowers and the way their heady fragrance marks the end of spring. I decided to preserve this fleeting moment with a batch of honeysuckle jelly.

picking blossoms

 

basket of honeysucklesI followed this recipe, which calls for four cups of honeysuckle flowers. The vine by my house is particularly prolific, so I grabbed a basket and filled it with hundreds of the butter-yellow blossoms. The honeysuckle was then steeped in hot water, creating a really potent, aromatic infusion that’s used as the base of the jelly. I found that a lot of the delicate flavor cooked out as I boiled it to gel point, but the result is still delicious– sweet and faintly floral, with some brightness from the added lemon juice. So far, my favorite jelly application is to spread it on a piece of toast with some fresh ricotta. This batch yielded ten four ounce jars, but I have a feeling it won’t last long.

honeysuckle jelly on toast with ricotta

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 4 Comments