Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eating Well: French-Canadian Split Pea Soup

Last weekend, whilst at Trader Joe's, I saw that they had already begun to stock 1/4- and 1/2 hams, and right then and there, decided I couldn't wait for Easter.
But now, Easter's not even here yet, and we've already had leftover ham sandwiches, and breakfast with eggs and leftover ham, and STILL have ham remaining.
What to do with the leftover-leftovers? I made use of every last morsel (including the ham bone), by making pea soup!

This is a SUPER-THICK, hearty, "stick-to-your-ribs" soup -- which will become very evident during the last 30-60 minutes of cooking.
If you prefer your soup a little thinner, just add more stock/water in 1/2-cup increments until the consistency is to your liking.
This also makes a LOT of soup, but it freezes well -- perfect for reheating on a cooler night, or whenever you want some comfort food.

If you prefer a meatless/vegan/vegetarian version, by all means, omit the ham (and replace the chicken stock with water or vegetable stock). I've made it both ways, and either way, it's scrumptious.

French Canadian Split Pea Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
3-5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (I prefer to have larger pieces of garlic)
1 ham bone, preferably with a good amount of meat still on it. (optional – omit for a meatless version)
2 cups dried split yellow (or green) peas
1/2 cup barley* (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 potatoes, diced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, minced (or 1 tsp dried)
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large pot over medium high heat, sauté the oil, onion, bay leaf, and garlic for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. 
Add the ham bone (if using), peas, barley, salt, and chicken/vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. 
 Remove the ham bone from the soup, let cool, and remove meat from the bone. Dice ham, and stir into the soup. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, parsley, basil, thyme, and pepper.
 Simmer for another hour, or until the peas and vegetables are tender.

*To my knowledge, barley isn't a traditional component of French-Canadian pea soup, but I looooooove it, especially in this soup.

Bon Appétit!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homemade Natural Laundry Soap

I've read about homemade laundry soap for a while now, but admittedly, I didn't think it would work very well. In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, I've tried several different environmentally friendly brands. They all failed miserably, and quickly ended up on the "free table" of our shared laundry room. So much for saving money or the environment. 
However, after trying (and loving) some other homemade household product recipes, I decided to at least give it a try.

Results: I was very pleasantly surprised (actually, thrilled), but the REAL test was with Mr. SugarBee. He can be quite discerning (persnickety, really - not a bad thing when it comes to DIY recipes, as I tend to be overly optimistic) when it comes to homemade substitutions, and I knew that if this recipe didn't pass muster, we'd go right back to store-bought laundry soap.

It passed with flying colors! Our laundry has NEVER been this clean before.

What a liberating feeling it is to not be dependent on mass-produced products, and this alternative in particular is a major deal to me.
Until I tried this recipe, I thought I was stuck shelling out mucho dinero for laundry detergent...

Well... not any more...

DIY Natural Laundry Soap
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 (3 oz.) bar soap (I used Ivory), finely grated*
  • 1 cup Washing Soda** (I've had the hardest time finding this, but converted Baking Soda [NaHCO3] to Washing Soda [Na2CO3] by baking it at 400F for an hour)
  • 20-30 drops Essential Oils (I used Lemongrass, Lemon, & Lavender).
Mix until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Store in an airtight container.

Use 2 Tbsp per load (I've used up to 1/4 cup for heavily soiled loads)

*I've found that if I unwrap my bars of soap, and leave them out for a day or two, the bar hardens/dries out a bit, which makes for much more finely-grated soap.

**When I first started experimenting with this recipe, I could not find washing soda locally. It is readily available online (i.e., but the cost of shipping increased the overall cost. After a bit of research (here, for example), I found that I could easily convert baking soda [NaHCO3] to washing soda [Na2CO3] by baking it at 400F for about an hour). Eventually, a friend found a source for washing soda, and since it was only $2.50 for a 55 oz. box (FAR cheaper than baking soda), I eagerly accepted her offer to pick up a few boxes for me.
In a pinch, I'd use the DIY method again, as it really did work to my satisfaction.

FUN FACT: You know that distinctive "Ivory Soap scent"? Guess what it is? Ginger root! Go ahead, sniff for yourself. :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Honey Bomb Lip Balm Recipe

If you've read some of my previous posts, you're probably aware that I've been an avid LUSH fan for years.

Among the many LUSH items that I considered to be "Holy Grail" items was their Lite Lip lip balm -- sadly, it seems this has been discontinued. Next, I tried the chocolatey Whipstick, but I found it to be a bit gritty. I moved onto LUSH Honey Trap, but was disappointed in how quickly it turned rancid.
In my frustration (and not wanting to continue paying over $7 for a 0.3 oz. container), I decided to come up with my own version of what I considered to be The Perfect Lip Balm.

After trial and error, I came up with a recipe for what I found to be a perfect culmination of all the things I liked best about all three of the aforementioned LUSH balms: hints of cocoa, the slight sweetness of honey (naturally antimicrobial, and a natural preservative), super-moisturizing, long-lasting, and neither greasy nor waxy. Here is the recipe for what I consider my *ideal* lip balm:

Honey Bomb Lip Balm

5 tsp Beeswax Pastilles
3 1/2 tsp Cocoa Butter
3 Tbsp Coconut Oil
2 Tbsp Oil (I use a combination of Sweet Almond Oil, Jojoba, Avocado Oil, Almond Kernel Oil)
1 Tbsp Honey
10 drops Sweet Orange EO (optional - I personally LOVE the honeyed-cocoa-orange flavor/scent)
1/8 tsp Vitamin E (optional - acts as a preservative)

In a double boiler (I use a Pyrex measuring cup in a pan of water), add beeswax, cocoa butter, and oils, and stir until beeswax and cocoa butter are fully melted. Remove from heat.

Add honey, and stir until honey dissolves (it may show as little "blobbies" within the mixture -- this is okay, and will be blended in further as it cools.

Remove from heat. Let cool for a few minutes, then add EO, and Vitamin E (if using), and stir until mixture is cool/thickened enough to emulsify honey into mixture.

Once thickened, scoop into containers.
[You can use whatever you happen to have on hand -- when I was just making lip balm for myself, I re-used clean, empty lip balm containers and even empty breath mint tins, but when I sold mine on Etsy, I bought lip balm containers with screw-on lids, like the ones shown here or here. They're readily available from several different suppliers.]

Mixture will continue to set until it has fully cooled -- if you're as impatient as I am, you can hasten the process by popping the filled containers into your refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Et voila!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Homemade Dish Soap

Over the past few years, I've been reading up on a LOT of articles/recipes about homemade cleaning products. When I first took an interest, it was primarily because I had small children, and wanted to lessen the amount of toxins in my household. But just 5 years ago, there was FAR less information or recipes available than there are now, and the few recipes I did try really weren't that great. I liked how I felt using vinegar and water on my windows, but I wasn't crazy about the smell. I make perfumes - I personally *need* things to smell pretty.  I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn't long before I reverted back to the store-bought cleaners.

Lately though, I've noticed an upsurge (Pinterest, most likely) in DIY recipes, a lot of which seem to have more favorable reviews than the ones I tried years ago. So, my interest has been piqued once more. I've been testing a few out here and there, and have found a few duds, but many surprising "wins". Which leads me to this particular article: of all the household cleaning products in my home, the one we go through more quickly than any other is dish soap.
We live in an apartment built in 1927 -- electrical outlets are few (with plenty of extension cords), and we have NO dishwasher... which is fine -- I don't mind doing dishes, really. But since we wash all of our dishes exclusively by hand (and we like to do a LOT of cooking), we tend to go through a bottle of dish soap every 2 weeks. That's about $80 per year!

I haven't found a recipe I love quite as much as I loved my Palmolive, but the following recipe is a natural alternative, smells nice, costs pennies to make, is SO EASY to make, and does the job. Oh -- and after sitting for a few hours/overnight, isn't too thin/watery, which is a HUGE plus for me (personal preference). I honestly think I'll be able to stick with it, this time.

Homemade Dish Soap

  • 1 ¾ cups boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp Borax
  • 1 Tbsp grated bar soap (I used Ivory, because I had plenty left over from making DIY Laundry Detergent -- but that will be in a later post)
  •  1 Tbsp liquid castile soap, optional (I used Dr. Bronner's in Almond)
  • 15-20 drops essential oils, optional (I used 8 drops Lemon, 8 drops Lavender, and 4-5 drops Eucalyptus)
Heat water to boiling.
Combine borax and grated bar soap in a Pyrex measuring cup (2 cup + capacity).
Pour hot water over the mixture til water level reaches 1 ¾ cup mark.
Whisk until the grated soap is completely melted.
Pour into empty squirt bottle (a funnel would help to avoid spills/splashes, but I didn't have one, so I poured reeeeeeallllly carefully).
Allow mixture to cool for a few hours, shaking occasionally. Dish soap will gel upon standing.
Transfer to a squirt bottle, and add essential oils (if using). Shake well to combine.

Tip: The dish soap continues to re-gel between uses, but if you give it a good shake prior to use, it seems to make it easier to distribute. I don't mind this *too* much, because for me, having to shake before use is far preferable to having to use thin, watery dish soap.
Also - pleeeease make sure all of the little grated soap bits completely dissolve before transferring to a squirt bottle. If any little bits remain undissolved, they will make their way to the dispensing cap mid-squeeze, clog your squirt bottle, and drive you batty. I'm speaking from experience.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lemon Lavender Bath Melt Recipe

As much as I love using my lotion bars, sometimes I get a little bit lazy, and want to get out of the tub already moisturized. I wanted to make bath melts that I could just throw in the tub and let them work their magic.
I tinkered with a few different recipes, but liked the outcome from the following one the best.
Added bonus:  it's really simple!

Oh! This is super-important --  If you've never tried bath melts, they make your tub slippery. Unless you actually want the person getting in the shower after you to suffer a concussion, one of the caveats of using oils/butters in the bath is that you have to clean the tub afterward. Not so relaxing, I know, but it's worth it.

Lemon Lavender Bath Melts

2 oz. cocoa butter
2 oz. shea butter
1/2 teaspoon beeswax or carnauba wax (vegan)
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds (optional)*
12 drops lavender essential oil
12 drops lemon essential oil
(I also added 1/2 tsp of Vaniglia de Madagascar fragrance oil, because it makes everything smell amazing.)

*In this particular recipe, I used dried lavender buds, but I think I'll leave the lavender buds out, from now on. I didn't care for them floating around the bathtub, and clinging to me when I got out.

First off, it really helps to have a digital scale for recipes like this. I picked mine up at the post office, for around $30.

Set a large Pyrex measuring cup on top of the scale, and hit "tare" (this sets the scale to zero). Add the cocoa and shea butters til the scale indicates 2 oz each, then the beeswax. Set inside a pan/pot with an inch or two of boiling water (don't let any water splash into the pyrex cup), and stir until everything is fully melted.

Remove from heat, let cool for a few minutes (but before it starts setting), and add the lavender buds, and essential oils.

Pour into molds - I used a flower-shaped ice cube mold from IKEA, but you can use whatever small mold you have on hand, including candy molds, or a regular ice cube tray.

Let set for an hour or so (or pop into the freezer for 15 minutes). Pop out of molds, and store in a cool location until ready for use.

Tip: I used 2 melts when I initially tried these out, thinking more was better, but honestly, one should suffice.
And... please be careful when getting out of the tub, as it can be quite slick.