Monday, 28 January 2008

Simple Soap Making

I've had a couple of goes at making soap now. The first time I used a recipe from a book; it was a huge mission - I gathered all the equipment, waited for a time when everyone was out of the house, and donned apron, special chemical-spill gloves and goggles.
The goggles fogged up so I couldn't see what I was doing; I had to duck out mid-way through to buy more olive oil as I had underestimated the amount required, and finally - the soap mysteriously disappeared while I had left it to 'cure' on the back verandah. (I later found some of it in the garden; apparently the possums had mistaken it for coconut ice)!! All in all, not exactly a cheap, simple or enjoyable pursuit.

Determined not to let it get the better of me (and due to the fact that we had completely run out of soap and I stubbornly refused to buy any more after spending all that money on my equipment...) I set to and had another attempt. This time I used a recipe from
'The Self-Sufficiency Shoppe'
with considerably more success I might add, and I quite enjoyed the process. We now have enough to last several months. Not only does each piece last a long time, but it is very moisturising and smells wonderful with a special blend of essential oils. It's far better for your skin than bought soap - which has all sorts of extra chemicals added and then has the moisurising component removed (sold seperately as glycerine to maximise profits).

I would still advise that you read the basics of soap-making first though - as there are safety issues to take into account; but certainly don't let this put you off. The library has some good books, or there's a great tutorial on the Aussie Soap Supplies Website.
Anyway - for that quick basic soap recipe...
You need;- half a cup of distilled water, 2 rounded tablespoons of caustic soda, 1 cup melted fat (or 3/4 cup of fat and 1/4 cup olive oil or other oil). A soap mould.
I use 'Frymaster' - vegetable fat from the butter section of the supermarket - $2.50 for 500g and cheap olive oil. For the mould - I use a 'pringles' chip container; or similar round tube. Caustic Soda is readily available from the supermarket - but keep it locked in a cupboard or out of reach of young children.
This recipe is enough to make about 3 - 4 bars of soap; so if it doesn't work out at least you haven't wasted too much stuff, as you would with some of the other recipes.
You; assemble all your things first. Pour the distilled water into a glass or earthenware mixing bowl. PLACE THIS BOWL INTO THE SINK. It will get hot & steamy when you add the caustic soda so use caution. Gloves & goggles don't cost much from the hardware store. Add the caustic soda - STIR CONSTANTLY UNTIL DISSOLVED. Cover with a piece of cardboard and don't let anyone into the kitchen.
While this solution is cooling - melt your fat in the microwave. Add your olive or special oil (there's some great ones to try with different skin/moisturising properties such as emu/coconut/macadamia/avocado etc). Stir together slowly.
Test the temperature of your caustic soda solution with a thermometer if you have one - if not, it's quite OK to get a rough gauge of the temperature by touching the outside of the container. When both containers feel approx the same temperature (ie. lukewarm) remove the cardboard cover from the caustic soda solution in the sink and SLOWLY pour the melted fat in. Stir slowly - it should start to thicken and turn opaque. It's handy to use a stick blender at this stage to speed things along. Add any colours/essential oils/exfollient mixes such as rolled oats/herbs etc. to make your batch extra special, then pour it into your mould.
Allow it to set overnight; wrapped in an old towel. Turn out; cut it into bars, store in a well-aired but dry place for 4-6 weeks. Do a skin test before using; such as the inside of your arm - just to make sure the caustic soda has cured sufficiently. Bec used some of my first batch without testing it first, and got a rash all over her tummy! A bit of vinegar soon cured it although it took a bit of convincing for her to try my second batch of soap!!
The first batch above has lavender added which makes a great exfoliating bar - as well as lavender essential oil, and half of it has pink food colouring mixed in. The second batch just has pink food colouring and an essenial oil blend added; although it came out quite hard and broke apart when I tried to cut it - still great to use though. The third batch pictured above also has an essential oil blend added as well as some LSA mix (bread making section of supermarket) as an exfolient, some rolled oats and a tablespoon of honey. This bar cut very nicely into four pieces using the recipe above. You can use eucalyptus oil to make an antiseptic type soap; or a herbal infusion (3 tspns dried herbs to 250ml boiling water, cooled and strained) in place of the distilled water. Don't overdo the additives until you've had a bit of practise, as this could affect the soap's ability to reach trace. (When it thickens and sets). Have fun!!

Awesome Chocolate Muffins

I've been making this one for so long I can't remember where I got the recipe from. Muffins are one of the quickest recipes to throw together and it's also one of the most popular with the kids. We just dolloped some of the butter icing on top, but they're fine without.
You need;- 1 and a qrter cups plain flour, 3 tbspns cocoa, 2 tspns baking powder, half cup soft brown sugar, 100g butter, 2 eggs, half cup milk, 1 cup choc chips.
You;- sift the flour, cocoa & baking powder into a bowl. (or not!) Stir in sugar. Melt the butter in the microwave. Beat the eggs & milk until combined. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add butter, egg mixture and chocolate chips. Mix to just moisten only - this is the key to making great muffins - and to get them in to the pre-heated oven straight away. Bake at 190 degrees celcius for approx 20 mins. Makes about 12. Use muffin cases if you have them - otherwise just put mixture straight into greased muffin tin.
And for more great 'back to school' baking recipes; check out some of my previous recipes; such as banana cake; anzac biscuits; shortbread; scones; choc-caramel slice and brownies.

Simple Chocolate/Coffee Cake

You place the following, in order, into a mixing bowl;- 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, half cup milk, half cup melted butter, 4 tspns cocoa or coffee, 1 tspn baking powder, 1 tspn baking soda, 1 tspn vanilla essence, 1 and a half cups plain flour, half cup boiling water.
You;- beat hard for 3 mins with electric mixer. Bake in greased and lined tin - good in loaf tin if cutting into slices for freezing. The cake mix is quite runny - this is fine; it turns our perfect every time. (180 degrees celcius for 35-40 mins approx). Cool, and ice with butter icing.
We also made Vanilla Cup Cakes; it's quite easy then to make up a double batch of butter icing and just add coffee/cocoa to one half.
Another good one to try is Caramel Cup Cakes.

Tons of Choc-Chip Cookies

This is a brilliant recipe that I got from the 'Simple Savings' website. Well worth joining if you're not already a member - the newsletters are filled with helpful hints and tips to save dollars. It is supposed to make around 120 cookies - but we made our's pretty big so we got around half that amount. Of course you can make the dough and leave it in the fridge, then just make up a trayful as you need them - just like that mega-expensive cookie-dough you can get at the supermarket.
You need;- 500g butter or margarine, 1 tin of condensed milk, 1 cup sugar, 5 cups Self-Raising Flour.
You;- Heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Cream the (softened) butter and sugar. We just used raw sugar and I refuse to ever use margarine - butter isn't that expensive; and better to have 1 incredible tasting cookie than a dozen filled with 'reduced-fat' chemicals. Add the tin of condensed milk and the flour. Roll into equal-sized balls, place on baking sheet, flatten with fork or bottom of a glass. Press choc-chips into the top (this makes them go much further than throwing them in the dough mixture). Bake for 10-15 mins. Fills the house with the most incredible aroma - hurry up and hide or they won't last until it's back to school time...

Back to School Time

Yep - it's that time again.... 'relief for parents'.. whoops I mean - 'Back to School' time.
I reckon Aussie parents have it particularly tough; there's the silly season with over-hyped kids and Christmas expenses; Summer holidays - all 6-8 weeks to keep them occupied & entertained; and for those working parents without extended family (who aren't teachers) - the dilemma of how to juggle working hours and child-care and still have enough left over (cash and energy that is) to take them to Big W when the 'back to school' flyers start arriving in the mail box and announce (cause your too worn out to do anything else) 'OK guys - just take the trolley and get what you need'. Oh yeah...BIG mistake!! So, what do you do? Spend the next 2 days in the kitchen cooking up a storm so there's actually something to put in that expensive-'but its really cool mum'-lunchbox that they managed to sneak into the Big W trolley.... and you wonder why you're so stressed and it's still only January??
.....Well, have I got the best tried-and-tested recipes for you!
And if you put everything in portions - ie. 2 x cookies/1 x slice of cake/ 1 muffin or cupcake etc. wrapped in Gladwrap in the freezer - there's a good chance you won't have to do any more baking for at our house - 2 days!!

Last of the Summer Garden....

.....reminds me of these guys - used to love 'Last of the Summer Wine'!! If you ever go to the UK you must visit Yorkshire - a place called 'Holmfirth' where the series is made. You can even have a cuppa in the actual cafe - which closes temporarily when they're filming. (I bought mum a pair of Nora Batty's stockings from there!!) He's a couple of great links if you also love the show;-
Holmfirth, UK
Traditional Yorkshire Recipes

I've never laughed so much as when Compo had a go at water ski-ing - his faithful buddies pulling him alongside the creek on a motorbike...!!

I'm getting side-tracked here....!!
The kids were keen to pick the sweetcorn and try it. It wasn't exactly a great success though - I think we had left it too long. I will use this space for something more productive next time. I cleared alot of the Summer stuff out that had gone to seed this weekend and dug over the beds. I added lots of worm castings from my worm farm which is going great - they have multiplied and plough there way through just about all of my kitchen waste each week to make lots of rich compost; and the liquid is great as a weekly booster for all the plants.

The strawberries have been lovely though - just not enough of them...

..And the tomatoes have been sensational. I'll remove the last of the vines in another couple of weeks and plant something else in there. Wished I'd planted a few more though as there's still only just enough to make salads with - I'd like to have tried some preserving and sun-drying; guess there's always next year!

....must be time for a glass of that wine!

Home-made Lemonade

Bec & I have found a great recipe for fresh lemonade and there's nothing better on a hot day - it's very quick too; we started making this just as the barbie was fired up.

You need;- 2 lemons - halved, 2 limes - halved, half a cup of caster sugar, a few basil sprigs and plenty of ice cubes. It's very refreshing just with cold water added, but you could also add sparkling mineral or soda water.
You;- squeeze the juice from the lemons & limes (zap them in the microwave first for 30 secs to help release the juice). Strain into large jug. Tip in sugar and stir well until it's dissolved. Put some of spent citrus skins into jug - or freshly cut slices, along with the basil and fill with ice cubes. Top up with the cold water to taste.
Now all that's left is to pour a glass for the chef, slaving over a hot barbie!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Summer Garden Pt 2 - Harvest Festival

We're now picking lots of different kinds of tomatoes every day, capsicums, chillies, strawberries and beans galore - Bec & I usually just eat them straight from the garden! The beans are delicious raw.

Welcome Visitors...

We should have some lemons & limes ready soon for the first time.


Lots of lovely rain over the last few days...

The herbs are going insane - most of it goes in the compost as they grow so fast. The thai basil and apple mint both smell wonderful.

Lavender - still one of my cottage garden favourites.

Summer Garden Pt 1

I've been having a lovely time with my new camera snapping away at everything in the garden - it's got a real 'wild' look happening at the moment and new things to discover every few days.

Home Preserves

I decided this was the year to have a go at preserving, and with all the lovely Summer fruit at the moment I found a couple of recipes and gave it a shot.

I started with mango chutney, as I got a whole tray of them from the Fruit Barn quite cheap.

Next it was strawberry and nectarine jam. I got a big preserving pot from a garage sale last year and have been saving lots of jars.

I washed them well, let them dry in a hot oven and boiled the lids for a while. I got a roll of waxed paper and just cut circles the same size as the lids and placed them on top before screwing the lid on tight. As they cooled - the bumps in the lid went in so I knew they had sealed correctly. Even so - I'll keep the jam in the fridge just to be sure although the chutney should be fine for up to a year in the store-cupboard. It's worth getting a good book or doing some reading on this though before having a go yourself; although there's no reason to be put-off; hey, if I can do it...
Mango Chutney - you need; 6-8 firm mangoes, 2 cups ripe sliced tomatoes, 4 cups sliced onions, 3 cups raisins, 3 cups brown sugar, 3 cups malt vinegar, 2 chillies, handful of salt.
You;- mix everything together in the preserving pan and boil for one hour. (Medium heat - stir occasionally). Pour into sterilized jars. Keep for one month to mature before using.
Summer Jam - (from 'Marie Claire - Comfort') - you need;- 200g or 1 1/3 cups strawberries, rinsed & hulled, 2 ripe peaches/nectarines (300g in total), 400g or 1 3/4 cups sugar.
You;- Slice strawberries in half and put them in a bowl. Remove skin from peaches/nectarines and roughly slice the flesh into the bowl. Pour the sugar over the fruit, stir, cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate for 2 hours. Then place it in a saucepan and bring to boil before reducing to a low simmer. Remove any frothy scum that may come to the surface. Simmer for 40 mins, stirring occasionally. Test that it's ready by dropping a little onto a cold saucer and placing in freezer for 1 min. When it begins to form a skin it's ready. Pour into sterilized jar and allow to cool before sealing with a lid, and refridgerating until ready to use. It will keep for several weeks. I actually added heaps more fruit, alot less sugar and a packet of 'Jam-Setta' to this recipe; although I haven't actually tried it yet! I'll save it for the scones...

Folk 'n Blues

I knew I'd be wasting my breath trying to get them to give me a go with their magnificent flying machines; 'girls germs' and all that, so I came home to do some guitar practice - just started having lessons with a very inspiring teacher and folk musician, Nigel Foote. He's got a fascinating biography on his website - well worth a read.

I can now play 'happy birthday', 'silent night', 'house of the rising sun' and 'a-soulin' with the melody and base; - To quote Nigel from his biography '1963-64 Went to Peter, Paul & Mary concert at Rushcutter's Bay, Sydney. Hooked! Gave up the piano... fell in love with Mary!' They played a brilliant version of 'a-soulin' at the concert which he's given me on cassette; and although I'm playing it much slower it really feels like you're getting somewhere with it; chillin' out and having fun all at the same time, even after just a few lessons. Practising certainly isn't a chore as I remember piano used to be in my younger days.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

*#$^LUNA PARK@#**

We went along to the 'Friday Night Lunacy' at Luna Park - Sydney last week. Awesome fun!!Whats awesome about it is the old & the new combined - part's of it - like 'Coney Island' are unchanged from the 1930's when it first opened to the public. And the setting - right next to Sydney Harbour is spectacular.

Some great photo opportunities....

Sydney really is a stunning City.... well, it is when you only visit it once every couple of years!!

Dan and I went on the ferris wheel and enjoyed the best views of the harbour.

The Old and the New...

Coney Island is the original old-fashioned fun house, and the kids had just as much fun in here as on all the new rides (... except I don't know why they kept saying to me 'this is so cool mum... can't believe this is all they had when you were young...) !! Hello - the 1930's!!!
So that's why they made me go on all the new rides - they wanted me to know what I'd been missing out on...

Don't you just hate those girls walking around with big buff boyfriends and the biggest stuffed toys of all... well they didn't have 'hook-a-duck' so I couldn't impress the kids...

Right - those new rides I mentioned; this was one of them. I tried escaping at the last minute but to no avail. We weren't even strapped in - just standing up holding onto these bars infront of us; no worries though, we were pinned in place due to the centrifugal force.... I think some of these ride designers were recruited from the special forces - 'we have ways to make you talk' unit. OK...feeling slightly queasy by now... but only 4 more hours to go...

We're just working out who's birthday it is next so we can go back and do it all over again......!!

Vanilla Cup Cakes/Birthday Cakes

You can get some really nice cup cake cases now from shops that specialise in kitchen stuff- it's worth putting some away for the odd special occasion as they really do add the finishing touch. I just had to buy them 'cause they were so cute!

Here's the recipe;-
You need:- 125 g butter, softened; 2 eggs; 3/4 cup caster sugar; 2 tspns vanilla extract; 1.5 cups Self Raising Flour; half cup milk. (for chocolate cakes just substitute 2 tbspns flour with cocoa).
You:- Beat butter, sugar & vanilla together until pale. Beat in eggs one at a time. Sift the flour over the mixture and milk and continue mixing until all is well combined. Spoon into cup cases, in muffin size tin. Bake at 190 degree's celcius for approx 15 mins. For vanilla cakes - you can cut a shallow cone from the top of each cake and fill with vanilla butter icing; for these cup cakes just make up some basic butter icing (1 cup icing sugar, 1 tspn butter, 2-3 tbspns milk or enough to make correct consistency, pink food colouring or cocoa - mixed together with wooden spoon). Decorate with icing and lollies when cakes have cooled. This recipe is great as it can be adapted in so many different ways - just check out some of the 'cup-cake' recipe books to get some idea's.