Posts filed under ‘In the Home’

Care instructions for lace shawl gifts.

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How to care for your new shawl

Knitting lace seems to be addictive. Possibly it’s the jigsaw-like puzzle of lining up every stitch form a pattern, or perhaps it is the exhilaration of the butterfly-from-a-chrysalis moment of blocking your shawl and discovering what you’ve really been making over those many hours.

Whatever the reason, the reality is that each of us has only one neck, and you can, generally, only wear one shawl at a time.

What to do with the others? Frequently they become gifts.

Gifting them provides the ideal excuse to make more, and makes an excellent justification for indulging in more yarn shopping. 🙂 Not to mention cheering the recipient.

However, if you’ve ever given someone a lace shawl, they have probably asked you ‘how do I wash it?’ And you’ve probably noticed their eyes glaze over as you describe soaking and blocking. No one wants their gift to become a burden, after all.

Blocking is simple enough once you’ve done it a time or two, or seen a picture, but can seem daunting to the novice.

To make the first-time-blocking process less scary, I’ve made up a variety of little A6 cards which can be slipped in with your precious gift, and referred to at leisure by the lucky recipient.

You can download the PDF here, then print and share at will. 🙂

Please note some I’ve included some for silk, which requires more gentle blocking, some with the lazy clothesline method, and some which recommend a protective covering over the blocking surface (highly recommended for shawls which will either hold a lot of water, or which you found to be non-colourfast when you soaked them yourself). Please consider which card best suits the needs of your shawl.

You may like to include the yarn label with the gift too.

So now you’ve got the perfect excuse to knit more!

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November 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm 6 comments

Homemade toothpaste

homemade toothpaste

My kids would eat toothpaste on their toast if I let them. They dollop it on their toothbrushes like it’s chocolate topping, and spitting is a concept that makes no sense to them. Toothpaste is yummy. Why shouldn’t it have it’s own corner of the food pyramid?

Well, because commercial toothpaste may not be all that good for your teeth with. It’s often full of sugar, sulphates, sulphites, triclosan, artificial sweeteners and other synthetic dubiousness; aside from the fluoride debate, glyceryn, a common ingredient, is a sugar and therefore not an ideal choice for your daily tooth care, especially as it clings to the surface of the teeth.

Also because there is quite a bit of research on remineralising teeth, and several useful things can be put into your toothpaste (and diet) to help your teeth do their thing.

And because it’s fun to make, and gives a pleasantly self sufficient feeling.

The basic recipe I use is this:

1T Coconut oil, melted
1T Bi carb
1/4t Xanthan gum
3T Water
1T Xylitol
Mint oil, to taste
Chlorophyll – for fresh breath, and also makes a great natural green colouring. Brands vary in strength, so add to taste/visual preference. I use about 3 drops. (Interestingly Colgate used to add chlorophyll way back in the 50’s)

 

making toothpaste powder

Dry ingredients – Bicarb soda, xylitol and xanthan gum

Extras:

Cinnamon – adds a great flavour, but also has protective properties for the mouth.
Stevia if it needs to be really sweet, or you don’t have xylitol.
Some recipes use a pinch of salt as an antibacterial agent and preservative.
Clove oil or myrrh would both be beneficial, and add flavour.

Directions:

Mix the dry ingredients together. Breaking up lumps now will probably be easier than doing it later. Don’t ask me know I know this.

Add oil and water gradually.

Stir in colouring and flavouring, to taste.

This is definitely not the same as commercial toothpaste. It doesn’t contain anything detergenty so for better or worse, it doesn’t foam up into a big mouthful of froth. It creates a surprisingly clean feeling in mouth though – squeaky clean with a residual coconutty flavour – even the following morning.

homemade toothpaste1

After adding water, mint, coconut oil, and 3 drops of chlorophyll.

Notes:

  • Xanthan gum helps to make the consistency more stable. Before this I tried using coconut as the base, but it was runny in summer, and set hard at the first cool streak. Probably other types of gum would work too, but how often do you get to use to ingredients beginning with x in the same recipe?
  • This recipe is fairly sweet because normal toothpaste is also surprisingly sweet, so thats what the kids are used to. I plan to sneakily reduce the sweetness over time once they stop paying attention. Bicarb is has strong flavour, very salty and a little fizzy.
  • Some use either bicarb alone (as a tooth powder or mixed with water) or straight coconut oil to brush their teeth. The bicarb helps neutralise acidity in the mouth, and the antibacterial properties of coconut oil are thought to be useful.
  • Some add bentonite clay or charcoal, for polishing and toxin removal.
  • Find the best mint flavouring you can too. I used the el cheapo supermarket one and you can really tell.
  • The family informed me that fancy packaging was required to convince them to make the switch, so the little white tube in the frontisphoto was searched for and discovered here. Camping, outdoors and travel type shops often have similar stuff too.
  • I played with making stripes for the kids, layering in green, white, and cinnamon, but they liked the extra cinnamony recipe best, so now we have brown toothpaste here usually. It does look peculiar until you get used to it!
making toothpaste

All ready to go, after a good spin with the whisk. It will firm a little further once the coconut oil cools, so probably easier to decant at this stage.

And finally, I’m well aware that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I may be a researchoholic, but if you have doubts or questions about anything you read, that’s wonderful! Teeth are important. Do your own research, and then please come back and tell me because I’d really love to hear about it. I’m no expert, just perennially curious.

Also, note to self, never leave photography til a rainy day. Either that or practice all that f stop guff you learnt in highschool.

June 16, 2014 at 10:07 pm 6 comments

Why homemade deodorant?

make your own deodorant

An easy, rewarding DIY job.

Ever wanted to make your own deodorant?

That might sound like an odd question. However, if you’re an avid label reader with concerns about aluminium, parabens, or your sensitive skin absorbing mysterious substances with names you can’t pronounce, then it might not.

Or you might have trouble with chemical perfumes but don’t want to go completely unscented?

Or like me, maybe you just like tinkering with making things from scratch? Making things yourself is surpsiringly satisfying. And once you start, the temptation grows to try more and more!

 

making your own deodorant

A few simple ingredients.

Sweat itself is usually pretty much odourless, until it stews in your armpits where interesting bacteria lurk waiting to corrupt it. Antiperspirants usualy work by clogging pores and decreasing the amount of sweat released (which may or may not be a good idea), whereas deodorants are more in the perfume category, a cover up job. The recipes below won’t stop you sweating, but they make your armpits hostile to funk-creating bacteria, and they smell nice too.

The ingredients are simple and natural. Coconut oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties, baking soda makes your skin too alkaline for many bacteria (though it can be too strong by itself, see end note), arrowroot and cornflour help absorb sweat and keep you feeling dry, and there are a variety of antibacterial and or antifungal essential oils.

After some experimenting, I’ve settled on a summer and a winter recipe. Coconut oil melts at quite low temperatures, which means that unless you don’t mind applying it with a spatula, or keeping it in the fridge (which I confess is what I did – ‘Mum, can I eat that big lump of white chocolate in the container on the top shelf?’ ‘No!’) then it’s better to use a lower ratio of oil to dry ingredient in summer. In winter however, I found the summer recipe was a little crumbly, so I give you a choice.

Materials

Coconut oil
Cocoa butter
Bicarbonate of soda
Arrowroot powder or cornflour
A mould or empty twist up container, silicone muffin cases work too.

(Cocoa butter is a little firmer, and melts at a slightly higher temp, and smells nice, but if you don’t have it on hand, you could simply double the amount of coconut.)

deodorant ingredients 1

Clockwise from top left: cocoa butter, bicarb soda, coconut oil, arrowroot.

Smooth Winter Deodorant Block

25g bicarb soda
25g arrowroot (or try cornflour, though a few people have mentioned this seems to block their pores. Alternatively you could try double the amount of bicarb, if your skin tolerates it well.)
20 g coconut oil
20 g cocoa butter
2 ml essential oil (citrus, lavender, geranium and sandalwood are all antibacterial)
or 5ml of eau de cologne, hubby’s aftershave, or whatever you happen to have handy.

Dry Summer Deodorant

45 arrowroot – see note on arrowroot above
25 bicarb
15 cocoa butter
15 coconut oil
2 ml essential oil or 5ml of your preferred scent.

deodorant ingredients

If you’re more sensible than me, you might sift the baking soda first.

While melting the two oils together, mix the scent into the powders, then combine with oils and pour into mould while still warm. Bung it in the fridge or freezer if you wish to set it quickly

Tips

Tap the container periodically as you pour to remove air bubbles.
Mix the essential oil into your dry mix rather than the oils to avoid overheating it.
You could replace the cocoa butter with coconut if that’s what you have on hand.
Likewise you could replace the arrowroot with cornflour (as in cornstarch, not tortilla flour ok?)
Or swap the baking powder for either of the above, especially if you are sensitive to it.

These recipes are a starting point.cI don’t think there is a perfect recipe for all people of all skin types in all climates, so play around with it. The ratios for the two recipes above work out to 5:4 fat:powder for the summer recipe and 7:3 for the winter, which just goes to show how flexible this mix is. Another idea to throw into the mix is add a little beeswax to keep it solid in warmer climates.

DIY deodorant

Tapping the container as you pour/scoop in the mix helps get rid of any bubbles.

Any of the 4 main ingredients can be used independently too, but be cautious with the baking soda. For many it is fine, even used straight like talcum powder, but some find that if used in too high a concentration, especially directly after shaving, its high pH can cause issues. If you notice sensitivity, try substituting arrowroot or cornstarch.

So whether you have vague yearnings in the direction of self sufficiency, are perennially curious like myself, or looking for healthy, natural alternatives, it’s a fun project.

Next week maybe I’ll post my explorations into the world of toothpaste. (Sounds riveting, huh?)

May 18, 2014 at 10:45 pm 2 comments

Making vinegar from scraps (and growing your own mother)

making vinegar

Freshly strained vinegar

Continuing on from yoghurt and bread in the Counter Culture series, another interesting kitchen experiment is to make cider vinegar. It’s surprisingly easy and absurdly satisfying, turning fruit scraps into something with a truly amazing number of uses. And all it takes is fruit and a jar of water; air and time will do the rest.

Vinegar has a remarkably long history, extending back to the Sumerians and beyond, a good 8000 years and probably more. Many people swear by it for a myriad of wondrous health uses, and also as a remarkably versatile cleaner, especially when complemented with bi carb soda.

Cider vinegar is created when the sugar in fruit juice ferments, turning the sugar into alcohol. A group of bacteria called acetobacter then feed on the alcohol creating acetic acid, which gives vinegar its distinctive acidity.

During this process, the bacteria create a curious-looking layer of cellulose that floats on top of the vinegar, called a mother, or Mother of Vinegar. Most commercial vinegar has been pasteurised to kill off this bacteria and stop it growing more mothers at home (after all, most people would be a little uncomfortable finding a glob of gelatinous goo in their bottle of vinegar, and would assume it had gone off.) However it’s harmless, and chock full of live, good bacteria.

mother of vinegar

A 2 month old mother. The underside is coloured by the apple scraps on which it grew. Surprisingly reminiscent of a placenta

There are a number of ways to go about making cider vinegar, but the one I’ve been using is simple and doubly satisfying because it involves making something useful out of a waste product.

Materials

A large glass jar, preferably with a wide neck
A mesh lid, or a scrap of cloth that can be held on top with a rubber band
Apples*
Sugar or honey
Water
Vinegar, possibly

big mother of vinegar weird mother of vinegar

 

Method

Wash and peel your apples, reserving all peelings and cores. You could use the flesh of the apples too, but the larger the chunks, the longer it takes to convert. (This makes a great excuse to make apple crumble or applesauce with your skinned apples. This is usually my aim, but the kids almost invariably eat them before I get the chance!)

Cram your apple scraps into the wide necked jar, add a tablespoon or so of sugar to provide some immediately digestible sugars (or you could try honey or some other form of natural sweetening – this is said to slow the process down a bit, however this has not been the case with my own experiments.) Add warmish water until the skins are just covered, leaving a decent amount of air space in the jar. The greater the ratio of surface area to liquid, the sooner your vinegar should be ready.

Acetobacter are present in the air naturally, so inoculating your new culture is generally easy. Use a breathable lid such as cheesecloth, or even a normal lid that has not been done up tightly, to allow air circulation but prevent insects falling in and contaminating your brew. However you can help things along by adding a glug of vinegar to your jar.

Put your jar somewhere coolish and leave it to do its thing for a while. It can take anywhere from 1 – 3 months, depending on temperature and other factors, including how sharp you want it to be, relative to how patient you are. You can start taste testing it with a straw after about 3 weeks and when it reaches an acidity you are happy with, strain, bottle and use straight away or leave it to age further.

Notes

  • Keep all fruit submerged or it can go mouldy. Mould is unlikely to be really nasty, but it is not good either. Don’t consume anything you really don’t like the look or smell of.
  • To speed things up, try whisking your mix to aerate a few times in the first week. Or add more vinegar. Most sources say to add unpasteurised vinegar, but it worked for me using normal vinegar too, so it’s worth a shot if you don’t have the other sort on hand. Unpasteurised vinegar will add helpful live bacteria, but normal vinegar will at least help boost the acidity to get things moving in the right direction.
  • Vinegar bacteria are not fond of sunlight. Some houses are dark enough as is, but I find I have to keep mine in a cupboard.
  • Don’t be alarmed by the scum that begins to form on top of your vinegar. This is the beginnings of your mother. If you leave the jar undisturbed, this will gradually thicken and form a curious looking disc on the surface of your vinegar.
  • The mother will sink to the bottom if it gets wet on top, and another will begin to form on the surface. This process can continue until all the available sugars have been used up.
  • Unless you can test the acidity of your vinegar, it is not recommended to use it for pickling or preserving as it may not be acidic enough to kill off any invading nasties.
  • You can also use fresh apple juice, however I suspect it would be important to use some starter vinegar to get the conversion going quickly before it went off.
  • Consider writing the date on your jar or a calender somewhere. I can rarely remember what I was doing 2 days ago, let alone whether I peeled some apples two months ago or three.
  • Once you’ve grown your first mother, you can add it to future batches to get them going more quickly. Or you can feed it to the chooks.
  • The process is pretty forgiving. So far I’ve made maybe 10 batches, under a variety of conditions; adding vinegar (raw, pasteurised, and balsamic) or not; scraps versus apple chunks; summer and winter; daylight versus dark; filtering the fruit out after a month or leaving it in; short and long fermentation periods, and so on. They’ve all worked so far.

 

homemade ACV

Freshly strained vinegar to the left, the mother sitting atop the scraps on the right. Only a small batch this time. Both mother and vinegared apple dregs are great for chickens.

*Don’t like apples? Try some other fruit. There are endless variations to explore. Vinegar is often made from grapes, rice or other grains, pineapple is sometimes used as a starter, and raspberry vinegar is another common flavour. Consider the sweetness of the fruit and add more sugar if required. You can also make your own wine vinegar if you dilute it enough that the alcohol content wont kill off the vinegar making bacteria.

vinegar from apple peel

A little balsamic in the left, and the pink one? Um, maybe I put some red wine in there? Sometimes I forget to keep notes.

two mothers of vinegar

The white surface in the left is more common, but the pink one smelled right and tasted fine too.

I’m not an expert (in anything!), just an extremely curious researchaholic. If you have more experience, or have been experimenting with culturing, I’d love to hear about it.

May 10, 2014 at 8:31 pm Leave a comment

#9 Motherless

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Mum’s birthday today,
A void where something good was.
The first without her.

I dreamt last night
Of hard arms, and her warm scent,
The hug I’d wanted.

Not a void really –
A wealth of good memories.
But I still miss her.

 

April 23, 2014 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

Dyeing stained glass eggs with onion skins {tutorial}

onion dyed eggs

We had a low key easter this year, leaning more towards family get-togethers than large scale chocolate massacres, but the one traditionally eastery thing we did get up to was stained-glass eggs.

If you’ve never made them before, it’s worth it. It’s great fun, and unwrapping each egg to discover its decorative paint job is always exciting.

Materials:
Eggs
Onion skins
Foil

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Wrap each egg in a few scraps of onion skin, enclose in foil, and boil as usual, though using as little water as possible will result in deeper overall colour.

One layer of skin fives a pleasantly blotchy dye job with higher contrast, and two or more creates deeper golden/butterscotchy tones with intriguing mottles. The dry outer skins seem to have the darkest pigment, though the lighter inner layers sometimes dye up surprising acid yellows and greens.

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Red onion skins provide a nice variation too. Not as bright as I’d expected, but on closer inspection the red skin egg had some lovely subtle colours, including a touch of blue-green (perhaps created by some alkaline egg white seeping out of a crack that formed during the boiling stage?)

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The Unveiling. Bottom left had the red skins, and the odd one out had none at all.

As an experiment, I left one egg au naturel to see if it take on some colour, and it became a more even, brighter yellow hue. Looking at the remaining water this is not surprising. It is the one in the centre of the bowl in the top picture.

 

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Brown skins on the left, red on the right.

If you haven’t tried this before, I hope you’ll be inspired to give it a go and make your own one-of-a-kind masterpieces!

(And if you were wondering, none of the onion flavour carried over into the eggs, even the ones that cracked during cooking.)

April 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm Leave a comment

A vegetarian quandary

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Vegetarians eagerly waiting for their chickens to kick the bucket.

I’ve been vego more than half my life. Certainly long enough that I have developed a wide and varied repertoire of recipes and rarely miss meat.

Sometimes people ask if there are any circumstances under which I would eat meat. I usually jokingly answer ‘maybe if the animal had died of old age’. After all ethically* there is no objection surely? The animal has presumably lived a long and full life, and now rather than wasting its precious resources, wouldn’t it be sensible to make use of its protein? It was something to ponder in the small hours of insomnia. Would I?

Well I recently had opportunity to find out. Some of our chickens are getting a little geriatric, and in the heat of the summer, one poor girl decided she’d had enough.

Would I?

No.

No, it turns out I definitely would not. There was nothing appealing whatsoever about her slumped and sorry little form, moulded to the shape of the nest box. Without a second thought I carried her down the hill and laid her in a dense patch of undergrowth where she could either go back to earth by herself, or more likely, provide a meal for one of the local foxes, thereby saving some poor sitting duck out on the hillside, or better yet one of the local endangered bandicoots, from being dinner that night.

Oh, and RIP Flora, you were a lovely old girl.

*Not that I claim to be consistent in my ethics, however much I might try! I console myself with the reflection that paradox, inconsistency, and the spaces between what we believe and what we do are part of what makes humanity so interesting. There is almost inevitably logic to any sort of behaviour or belief, though it is often a convoluted and twisted path to trace!

April 10, 2014 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

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