Who really wants to talk about soap?  Can you imagine reading and chatting about soap for hours on end? No – me either. But I was introduced to making cold processed soap twice in my life.

The first time as a kid when my mom decided to make soap that seriously old fashioned way with lye and lard. All I can say from that experience is that I have a weak stomach for anything with a slimy texture.  All my soap nightmares were realized during that period of time.

Fast forward 20 years, here I am sitting on my couch with a good dose of Facebook friends with one of them introducing me to a soap page (thousands of people are making soaps – beautiful luscious soaps). OHHH, the beautiful fancy soap made with essential oils for scents, and luxury fats to do amazing things for the skin. And the designs – who knew.  So down the rabbit hole I jumped head first.  These weren’t the slimy goo of my mom’s kitchen.  My husband was out of town on business and with no one to complain about the state of the kitchen, I undertook making cold processed soap – Lye, Liquid, Fats, Digit Scale, Immersion Blender.  The reality is that is all you need and a lye calculator.  I liquid discount my soaps (use the same weight of liquid as lye).  This gives me a hard bar of soap that I can use within 2 days of making the soap.

My soaps aren’t the fancy spirals of colors, shapes, and textures that other people create. Mine are more utilitarian. I want a soap that holds up to two-shower days for a few weeks. I don’t want scent that will compete with my perfume, or even be noticeable when at work, or leave traces of colorant as it goes down the drain.  What I do want is clean skin without taking my skin off or leaving a film. This means for me – no essential oils, no scents, no colors, no clays…a nice superfat soap. My favorite fats are coconut, Crisco, sunflower, and avocado.  This combination gives me lots of lather and bubbles – my favorite character of soap – and a super hard bar that lasts more than a week.

My favorite soap molds are silicone.  I use candy, muffin, and cake pans all made of silicone. They are the easiest to get the soap out of it once it hardens and sets up.  I tried the cute plastic molds but had a terrible time removing the soap and getting it to retain the design of the mold.  Another good mold is paper cups.  Perfect round bars easy to cut through.

I could go on and on about all the different aspects of making your own soap. This is a hot topic with much debate on what is best: recipes, fats, brand of lyes, organic … the list goes on.  I say try making a batch, then tweak the heck out of it to see what you like best.


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EPIC FAIL – The Wrong Tomato

As I read, I find that many folks don’t talk about their fails.  This weekend was a good weekend for a tomato fail. Earlier in the month I made pickled green tomatoes using grape tomatoes. The perfect sized pickle to plop in your mouth.  The easiest to pack into 1/2 pint jars with different types of pickling spices. I found perfection…at least so I thought.

With my in-laws visiting and wanting to try my perfection, I gleamed from ear to ear while opening the jar.  What I didn’t take into account using grape tomatoes is that they are a seedy tomato without enough flesh to soak up the pickling liquid.  As my in-laws snagged a few tomatoes while sitting on the deck enjoying the weather, it became quite clear that the tomatoes were not the hit I was hoping for.  Not only did the liquid not soak into the flesh, but the texture of the grape tomato had changed into a nasty little blob that NO ONE wants to eat.  After all the hype, work, and waiting…4 jars were emptied to be filled with something more appetizing.

I don’t like to walk away from a fail without learning more than a few things from it.  This fail had some learning opportunities:  1. Know Your Produce.  I had used cherry tomatoes previously with good results.  I had never grown grape tomatoes before and thought they would be the “same.” Not so much. Hence them being called grape tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes.  2. Test Your Product. I should have tested my pickles before opening the jar for my guests.  Instead of being the pickle magician that I wanted, my in-laws will now be skeptical of anything that is opened from my canning closet.  3. Patience. Pickles need time to do their thing.  They need time to sit in the pickling juice and soak up all that wonderful flavor.  This does not happen over night or even in a few days.  Let jars of pickles soak for 8 weeks to get the best flavor.

Epic fails are necessary for the learning process and for the ego.

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Tomatoes, Onions, Peppers and Jelly

TomatoesToday is an excellent day for processing and canning things.  I started out getting tomatoes from the garden ready for canning.  I grew Amish Romas, Cherokee Purple, and Black Krims this year.  These are excellent for eating on sandwiches but my primary use is for a nice thick sauce.  After washing them, I quarter and put them through the food processor (the whole tomato minus the stem) to make a chunky puree, and into the crock pot they go to cook down for 12+ hours. This lets a lot of the juice cook off and leaves me with a super thick red sauce that I can up in pints.

While the tomatoes are in the crock pot, I made a 3-pepper onion jam. As the peppers (jalapeno and Hungarian wax) grew, there weren’t enough of to make jelly/jam all at once.  So, I seed and freeze them in a gallon bag until I have enough to make jellies. This morning, I combined jalapeno, wax, and a habanero with 1/2 onion to make a tasty Pepper Onion Jellysavory jam.  By freezing the peppers first, they didn’t froth when I put them through the food processor.  This makes it bearable to breathe.  I also like to use powder pectin the best. When I use the liquid pectin, I get more of a syrup than the nice firm jelly.  This particular jelly is great with fried or grilled fish, over cream cheese with crackers, and makes a fabulous glaze for chicken.  It is one of my favorite presents to give away because it’s an unexpected treat.  You can use any combination of peppers.  Red, yellow, orange and green peppers, hot and sweet, really make a show stopper for jellies.  Just don’t over process them in the food processor.  Small chunks of pepper not only look nice, but give a good texture to whatever you put it on. This was my second time steam canning.

I did as much research as a person can possibly do in 1 day on steam canning.  This is not a relatively new type of canning, just getting more coverage due to the internet.  This is a wonderful alternative to waterbath canning. Waterbath canning is great if you have unlimited water and energy.  I say this because for years I have waterbath canned.  It is hot, time consuming, and because I live in town now, raising my water bill substantially. I couldn’t find a steam canner locally. I do have a pressure cooker with a jiggler.

I thought how hard could it be to turn my pressure cooker into a steam canner. First, I do not can in quarts.  It’s just me and my husband. It is so much easier to can in pints and half pints for the two of us. So I took out my pressure cooker and removed the jiggler from the lid. You do not want to build up pressure in your pot to do this.  What you do want is about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of water in the pot, and your jars (pints, half pints, jelly jars) to fit in the cooker with room for the steam to get around the jars and the cooker lid to fit on snuggly. Once I fill my jars and get their lids on, into the cooker they go with the water. I put the cooker lid on turning up the heat. Once the steam comes out the lid with an 8-10 steam pike, I start timing.  This jelly took 15 minutes. The jars “popped” within a minute or so of taking out of the cooker. I am so pleased with it that I will never go back to waterbath canning.  (Side note – you still have to get your jars and lids hot prior to filling and canning.)





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In the recent months, I have had time away from “outside the home” work to focus on my true passions … all things domestic. You can call it nesting, homesteading, off-grid practices, reconnecting to my roots, whatever you want to call it, I have been focusing on it this year.  Facebook, Pinterest, Ravelry and other people’s articles have been fascinating rabbitholes that I have dived in with such force that it seems like a Jackson Pollock painting.

I’m originally from NE Ohio and lived on farms or out in the country most of my life.  When I moved to NW Iowa, I moved to town.  We purchased a house in town last year with the thoughts and goals of it being a starter home.  With that thought in mind, I thought this is the perfect place to practice all the things I want to do on a small scale to turn into a large scale later.  My husband and I both work fulltime and this is my little experiment before buying a larger piece of land.

I am going to write about all things domestic that I am doing, experimenting with, and if possible, will link you to other writers who have written about a topic.  All to share the passion of all things domestic.

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