Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to: Butter

This summer, when our 4H club went on our big camping trip to the ranch in Idaho, we used my great-grandmother's old wooden butter churner to make our own butter. It hadn't been used in over 50 years and had been serving as a decorative flower holder for quite a while. We cleaned it out, sterilized it, and put it to work. It was great for the kids to see the butter forming in the churner and they loved tasting the end result. Here is a recipe for making your own butter at home under more modern conditions.

Ingredients: one gallon of heavy whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, ice water, salt (optional)

Tools: large bowl, plastic wrap or bowl cover, spatula, wooden spoon, hand or stand mixer

Mix the whipping cream and buttermilk. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 12 to 36 hours, or until the cream starts to thicken and becomes slightly tangy. Check the temperature of the cream. It needs to be around 60 degrees Fahrenheit to move on to the next step.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip cream on high (like you would if you were making regular whipped cream). Beat until it reaches the 'stiff peaks" stage, then reduce the speed to low and continue mixing.

The cream will start to look grainy and yellowish as the butterfat starts to separate from the whey. When the butterfat has formed large curdles, stop beating and drain away as much of the whey as possible.

Pour 1/2-1 cup of ice water over the butterfat mixture to further harden the curdles and to begin washing away the excess whey. Using a wooden spoon, knead the butterfat against the side of the bowl to thoroughly wash it.

Drain the cloudy water. Repeat this process three or four times until the whey is completely rinsed away from the butterfat. Continue kneading the butter in the bowl for another minute or two to remove and bubbles of rinsewater that may have gotten trapped inside the butter. If you're adding salt, this is the time to do it.

Spoon into a storage container and refrigerate. One gallon of whipping cream makes approximately 3 1/4 pounds of butter. And for a slightly different method, check out my friend Deanna's technique...
great for energetic kids!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soap Scents

I'm going to be trying out some new scent combinations today in a batch of soap and I've been thinking about how I've learned some things over the past 17+ years regarding soap scents.

When I started in the early 1990s, I used fragrance (synthetic) oils for scent because they were so much cheaper than true essential oils and had a very strong and lasting aroma. I would use fragrances like cucumber or gardenia...copies of smells that I loved in nature. After a while, though, I found that being around the fragrance oils really started to bother me. I would get headaches if I was in a room with them for too long. It occurred to me that whatever my body was reacting negatively to from smelling the synthetic oils, would not be something I would want to keep rubbing on my skin...or have somebody else rub on their skin. And let me just say, I am NOT someone who is particularly sensitive to chemicals or allergic to things so if they bothered me they would surely bother others.

At that point I started using natural essential oils exclusively in my soaps. True essential oils come from the plants they smell like and can sometimes be VERY hard to extract. For that reason, they tend to be much more expensive than fragrance (synthetic) oils and can be more fragile when mixed with the sodium hydroxide (lye) used to make cold process soap. I found over the years that some essential oils are much sturdier than others (like patchouli), and can help to strengthen more fragile oils (like citrus or florals). I love the clean, fresh scent of orange, lemon and lime, but none of those oils fare well on their own against the lye so I always mix citrus with another oil.

I've also learned that adding a small amount of Castor oil to my essential oils before mixing them with the batch of soap will improve scent longevity. Castor oil acts as a natural scent fixative and is also a great moisturizing oil for your skin. Other natural additives like clays or herbs that are added for color can also help to soak up the essential oils and help them to hold strong against the lye during the saponification process.

The last step for me in improving the staying power of essential oils has to do with storage. Sunlight and open air can dramatically shorten the scent life of soaps. If you have purchased handcrafted soaps made with essential oils, be sure to store them (wrapped in tissue paper) in an airtight container or ziplock bag in a dark place when not in use.

Time to get to work!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

4-H Dog Treats Extraordinaire

We had another great 4-H club meeting yesterday, once again making dog biscuits to sell as a club fundraiser at the North Beach Arts and Crafts Fair on October 10th. Last year they sold like hot cakes and were a huge success, so we decided to try it again. The kids did a great job with measuring, stirring, kneading, rolling and cutting out the dough. Luckily we were outside for the whole endeavor...

4-H Dog Treats Extraordinaire!!
1/2 cup dry milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 small (2.5 oz) jar beef baby food
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 cup rye flour
1 cup cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cracked wheat

Directions:Preheat oven to 325 ° F (165 ° C).
In a large bowl, combine the dry milk, egg, parsley, oil, honey, baby food, and broth. Gradually blend in the flours and cracked wheat. Add enough wheat flour to form a stiff dough.
Transfer to a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 3-5 minutes). Shape the dough into a ball, and roll to 1/2-inch (12 mm) thick. Using bone-shaped cookie cutters, make biscuits! Transfer to ungreased baking sheets, spacing them about 1/4 inch (6 mm) apart. Gather up the scraps, roll out again, and cut additional biscuits.
Bake for 30 minutes. Whisk together the egg and broth for the glaze. Brush biscuits with the glaze on both sides. Return to oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Let cool overnight.
Makes several dozen small bones that freeze well. Or 2 1/2 to 3 dozen large bones, depending on the size of cookie cutter you use.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How to: Fruit Fly Carnage

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How to: Fruit Fly Carnage

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