Saturday, October 15, 2016

Plain and Simple Cinnamon Oatmeal Honey Soap

I usually like to make soap that is packed with essential oils. They're fun to experiment with, have medicinal and therapeutic qualities, and just add to the pleasant experience of using handmade soap. But for a change of pace, I wanted to make a batch of soap that didn't rely on the presence of essential oils (which can be expensive) but still had a nice, subtle scent. These humble bars are a classic combination of skin soothing oatmeal, lightly exfoliating and warming cinnamon, and moisturizing honey- all things you can pick up at the grocery store without breaking the bank.

If you're new to making cold process soap, you can read about it in my basic how to post here. The base recipe in that tutorial post calls for vegetable shortening, which doesn't make the highest quality bars (they can be a little slimy) but does make the soap go to trace quicker and more obviously than other vegetable based fats. If you are just trying out soap making for the first time, I'd recommend going with the vegetable shortening version to get the hang of it first. If you've done this before, use the recipe below, as the lather is much nicer and the bars are harder.

Plain and Simple Cinnamon Oatmeal Honey Soap

200 grams sodium hydroxide (lye)
19 ounces distilled water
21 ounces olive oil
16 ounces coconut oil
14 ounces palm oil
1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Prepare your work area and weigh out all ingredients. Grind oatmeal to desired texture in a clean coffee grinder. Combine lye and water, and slowly melt the oils over low heat. Once the lye solution and the oil solution have cooled to 100 degrees (or as low as 90 degrees, as long as both are the same temperature), combine and stir until trace. At trace, add the oatmeal, cinnamon, and honey. Stir to combine and pour into mold. Follow remaining basic soapmaking steps, bars are ready to use after a month of curing and will continue to harden the longer you let them cure (a harder bar is a longer lasting bar!).

I've been using this soap for about a week now, and I love how it turned out! It has a very creamy lather and is very gentle on the skin. The scent is light, and smells like a warm pastry fresh from the oven. The oatmeal and cinnamon lend the bars a gentle exfoliating property and a rich golden color. Honey contains vitamins C, D, and E as well as a number of B vitamins and helps hydrate the skin without being greasy. Bear in mind that temperatures above 100 degrees will destroy many of the active ingredients in honey, so be sure to add it at trace when the soap has cooled down considerably.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Down Home Tempeh "Chicken" Salad Sandwiches

Oh man these are good. I made a batch last weekend and ate them for lunch three days straight. Then this weekend I went to four grocery stores and stocked up on ingredients for a few new recipes to try. But when I finally got home I wanted nothing other than more of these sandwiches! So made another batch and they were just as awesome. Something about hot summer weather makes this sandwich the ultimate comfort food solution.

The original recipe is from Ann Jackson's Cookin' Southern: Vegetarian Style published by the accurately named Book Publishing Company in 2000.  It's a book I checked out from the library so many times in a row that I decided to finally buy it. The book itself is fun to read just for Jackson's entertaining narratives about southern food, floral aprons, washing dishes, and cast iron pans. She says that you can bring an old and rusty cast iron back to life by dropping it in the middle of a bonfire and letting it glow red. Apparently, when you fish it out of the ashes the next day it'll be clean and ready for seasoning. If anyone's tried this, I'd love to hear how it worked!

You might want to start keeping tempeh in your freezer at all times so that you can whip these bad boys up when the craving strikes. Because when it does you'll need to be ready. The tempeh "chicken" salad is everything you'd want it to be: savory, rich and creamy but with crunchy little taste explosions of minced celery, onion and fresh parsley. I tweaked Jackson's original recipe here and there, but noticeably by dropping the 1/2 to 3/4 cup of mayo down to 3 tablespoons and adding a dab of mustard and parsley.

Down Home Tempeh "Chicken" Salad Sandwiches 
Makes 3

8 oz tempeh
1/2 medium minced red onion or a few green onions (about 1/2 cup)
2 stalks of celery, minced (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons vegan mayo
2 to 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon grainy mustard (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

To serve:
3 bagels, toasted (onion, garlic or sesame would all be good choices)
several leaves of lettuce
2 plum tomatoes, sliced
mustard, butter, or mayo for the bagels if you want

Steam the tempeh for 15 to 20 minutes and let cool to room temperature. While the tempeh steams, mix everything else (onion through black pepper) in a bowl and combine well. Stir in the cooled tempeh and refrigerate the whole thing until chilled. When it's nice and cool, assemble your sandwiches and go to town.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer Berry Vegan Muffins

The weather here has been cool and rainy, so I decided to seize the moment and do some baking before July heats up. These vegan muffins are on the light and sweet side, not like a dense bran or banana muffin and not as healthy either. But there is always time for healthy muffins later; while the summer berries are in season, make a batch of these!

Summer Berry Vegan Muffins
Makes a dozen regular or six giant muffins

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cups sugar
1 cup nondairy milk
1/3 cup canola or sunflower oil
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients (but not the berries yet). Gently stir the wet mixture into the dry until just combined. Fold in the berries so that they are evenly distributed in the batter.

Pour the batter into the muffin liners, about 3/4 full. I like my muffins to have a pretty big top, so I over filled mine and ended up with 11 instead of 12 muffins and they worked out just fine. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown for regular sized muffins or for about 26 minutes for six giant muffins.

When the muffins are done baking, let them cool in the tin for a while. Since they are packed with juicy berries, they tend to stick to the paper liner if you dig in while they are still hot. On the other hand, warm muffins straight out of the oven are pretty great so if you don't care how they look, go ahead and wolf them down as soon as you want!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Vegan Apple Sausages and Homemade Ale Mustard

Hi again! Sorry I've been away so much lately... I've been busy on the home front and the winter and spring just blew past me. My husband and I bought a fixer upper, then adopted a rescue dog, dug and planted a vegetable/flower garden, and raised a few chicks. We've been painting and sanding, building and planting as well as caring for six animals. It's been great/insane, but I've been really wanting two things this week: homemade veggie sausages and to finally post something here. So here I  am!

When we moved in, the house didn't have a kitchen floor but it did have an operational green house and chicken coop. We have our priorities. 
This is Buckley, he's the sweetest mystery mutt in the world and loves all 5 of his furry and feathered sisters.

Meet the girls: Chips, Peanut and Bernice

Hoping for eggs by Halloween

Now for the food!

I could have made that recipe title longer by including additional descriptors like Yakima Applewood Smoked Sea Salt, Maple Syrup and Ginger, or Brown Sugar and Homebrew but I think that it's plenty wordy as is. These sausages are chewy and savory with little explosions of sweetness from the dried apples. The smoked sea salt is key, if you can find some it's worth having in your spice rack. I thought about adding some hard cider to the dough when it was looking a little dry but didn't end up going for it. Next time I will, because it would add a little more depth of flavor and cooking with alcohol is fun.

Smoked Sea Salt, Sage and Apple Sausages
Makes 6 sausages

1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
3 teaspoons rubbed sage
2 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon coarse smoked sea salt*
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup peeled, cooked and smashed potatoes
1/3 cup dried apples, diced small
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2/3 cup veggie broth

To serve: some sort of bread product and Brown Sugar and Ale Mustard (recipe below)

Combine all the dry ingredients (wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, and spices) in a large mixing bowl. Add the potatoes and apples and mix together. Make a well in the center and pour in the olive oil, maple syrup, and broth. Mix well with a big spoon then knead with your hands in the bowl for a minute or two, adding a couple splashes of broth or cider if needed.

Separate the dough blob into 6 equal portions and roughly shape each portion into a log (it doesn't have to be perfect!). Roll each log up in aluminum foil like a tootsie roll. Place in a steamer basket and steam for about 40 minutes. Let them cool a bit before unwrapping and frying in a little oil for maximum taste satisfaction.

*If you don't have smoked sea salt around, go ahead and use the same amount of plain coarse sea salt plus 1 teaspoon liquid smoke. If you don't even have liquid smoke then I don't know, throw in some smoked paprika but it won't be the same!

Brown Sugar and Ale Mustard
Makes 1 3/4 cups

This mustard is of the spicy and complex variety. The better the beer, the better the mustard! I was lucky enough to have saved a homebrew that a buddy made and decided to sacrifice it to the mustard gods instead of chug it down like I wanted.

1/2 cup brown mustard seeds (or yellow if you don't want a spicy mustard)
1 cup ale
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Super easy directions: mix everything in a jar, cap it and let it sit on your kitchen counter for 2 days. Pour contents of jar into a blender and blend for a few minutes until it magically turns into mustard! You can either store the mustard in a glass jar in the fridge or let it sit on the counter for another week or two to let the flavors mellow, then when it hits the sweet spot, store in the fridge for up to a year.

Mustard recipe adapted from Miyoko Schinner's The Homemade Vegan Pantry

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

memory disc time capsule

Remembering is a branch of witchcraft;
its tool is incantation.
-Ruth Kluger

One cold afternoon during my first winter in Chicago I took a series of self portraits on my digital camera. It was during the blizzard of 2010, the city was shut down and I had no reason to leave my apartment. I played around with the limited manual controls on my relic of a camera, took the pictures and then stashed it in the back of a drawer. That was one of the last times I used that camera before it completely died. I soon replaced it and forgot about its contents entirely. Nothing became of those pictures; they weren't posted online, made into prints, or even looked at. For the last few years they've only lived the quiet life of data on a memory card.

I recently cleaned out my junk box of technology leftovers. I'm sure you have a similar one: a box or drawer filled with dead batteries and things that need batteries and anonymous tangled chargers that don't fit anything in your house. This is when I rediscovered that old camera and out of curiosity pulled out the memory card to see what it contained. Even though it's only been a handful of years, it felt like opening a time capsule from myself that I have no recollection of ever making.

Seeing these strange forgotten self portraits again got me thinking about how we store and carry our memories, art and culture. What is the legacy of our digital media and web-based selves? Will our granchildren unearth our Instagram accounts in lieu of a dusty photo album? Historically, literate traditions carried much of their cultural inheritance in physical objects: books, maps, recipe boxes, memorials, museums, photo albums. A faded photograph of a beloved family member is precious because of what it signifies and for the memories is preserves rather than the value of the object itself. But sentimentality aside, doesn't a digital picture on a screen serve the same function?

I took a class in art school called the History of Paper. The most memorable day of that class was when a fellow student asked us all to bring in a photograph of someone we care about. He began by showing us a picture of his grandmother, who had recently passed away. He told us about her life and what she meant to him, then he told us he was going to destroy the photograph of her. With a deep breath he tore it into tiny shreds. He then asked us all to go around the room and share our photographs and if we felt up to it, destroy them as well. It was a very emotionally charged day, and when class was over there was not a dry eye in the room.

The point of this exercise, our classmate explained to us, was to experience just how much we value objects, specifically paper ones. By choosing to destroy that photograph we were recommitting the memory of our loved one in our selves. It was a way to shift the memory and feelings the photograph gave us to an intimate and active place in our hearts and minds. It was incredibly revealing to feel how much power and importance physical objects can be and how closely they can be associated with "the real thing." 

So my classmate was talking about the power and significance of paper-based photographs, documents, and memorabilia and I'm talking about digital media. But both are still culturally relevant. I keep all my pictures backed up on my computer and an external hard drive and some are on CDs and the cloud. I also order prints of my favorite pictures and store them in heavy photo albums and in frames on the wall. I'm an object-oriented person. I work with my hands and when I look at art, I'm keenly interested in form and craftsmanship. But what moves me in a work of art is always its content. What a work of art teaches me or says to me is what counts, while its quality, intricacy, beauty, etc is secondary. 

A picture (digital or analog) is a reproduction but a memory is not. Memory is always in the present, an active process and construction each individual makes for herself.  Looking at a picture of my deceased dog is equally potent as a printed photograph or a jpeg viewed on a screen. Either way I see my dog just as vividly and the same memories flood in. And isn't that the magic of photography? To not only stop time but to preserve our memories, to hold them for us anytime we want to look.

What I found interesting about my accidental time capsule, was the encounter I had with these images. Because they were hiding on an old memory card, it was as if they appeared out of thin air. Had they been Polaroids, I would have at least known they existed; they'd be hanging out in a shoe box and I probably would have stumbled across them in a matter of months rather than years. The moment I saw these pictures on my computer screen, I was transported back to that day that otherwise I would probably never have recalled again. I could remember in great detail the apartment I spent a year in, how uncharacteristically quiet my building was that day, and what the snow covered street looked like from my 3rd story window.

Stumbling on these old photos makes me wonder in what other ways our digital selves might jump out at us unexpectedly? Since they aren't physical objects anymore they can go out into the world and replicate and transform and change hands and we'll probably never know. Appropriation and Found Art goes back to Dada and Duchamp's Readymades, but there is now such a wealth of intimate pictures and online personalities blurring the lines between private and public. When I publish this blog post, I will have no idea what future lives my digital portraits will take or how many people might view them in one form or another. And that's really just like keeping a blog, you write about your life, thoughts, fears, hobbies, pets, family, clothes, anything and everything to total strangers but never really know who's on the other side. No matter, whoever you are, I'm glad you're here.

So all this is making me think again about my online self with Arcadian Mermaid. I've been away from my little blog corner lately, and now I'm wondering what to do with it. I'd like to post more, I just need to keep a camera handy while I'm crafting and cooking! I think I'll have a bit more time this Spring, so I hope to talk to you again soon. And if not, then I guess my blog contents will still haunt the internet for years (lifetimes?) to come...

(but seriously, I'm not planning on abandoning it just yet)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

DIY Natural Deodorant Stick

Homemade deodorant isn't the flashiest thing to blog about, but it was way too good a recipe to keep to myself. Deodorant is something most people use daily, so why not learn how to make it yourself? It's way cheaper than buying fancy natural deodorants at the store and you can tailor it to your liking by using different essential oils.

I've looked at a good number of homemade deodorant recipes but many of them require hard to find ingredients, complicated steps, and make a product that is too soft to hold up in a stick applicator. Some of them even require you to apply an oil base first with your hands and then a powder, which just sounds like too much work when I'm trying to roll out of bed in the morning. So I finally tweaked this recipe to what I wanted and it actually works! I've been using it all week long with great results. Plus, it uses mostly cheap and easy to find ingredients, and is firm enough to apply in a classic deodorant stick applicator.

I suggest reusing an empty deodorant container for this, but you can also buy new ones online. Depending on the size of your container, you might end up with a little extra. I recommend pouring the leftovers into a small jar or tin and keeping it as a travel size deodorant.

Feel free to use more or less essential oil; if I didn't work in a "fragrance free" building I would increase the amount of essential oil because unrefined shea butter has a strong aroma. Some people describe it as nutty but to me it smells like a shoe store. I guess I'd rather have my pits smell a little bit like a Famous Footwear than what would happen if they were left to their own devices... Anyway, aside from the smell, shea butter is really wonderful. It is naturally rich in vitamins A and E and is very moisturizing and healing for you skin. The cornstarch absorbs a little moisture, but this isn't an anti-antiperspirant, so you will still sweat when your body wants you to sweat. And good old fashioned baking soda really keeps BO to a minimum. Give it a try and let me know how you like it!

Edit 11/12/15: It occurred to me that it is currently Fall and my house is pretty chilly (low 60's). If you live in a warm climate or you're just in the thick of a heat wave, you might want to omit the teaspoon of carrier oil in the recipe to make the final product firmer. Coconut oil melts at a mere 76 degrees F so if your house is warm, you're probably not going to have any luck with this recipe in stick form. Don't let that dissuade you from trying this though, it really works and is so easy to make! Just keep it in a jar and apply it with your hands. It will still work its magic.

Soothing Yet Effective Deodorant

2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons raw shea butter
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon carrier oil (olive, sweet almond, kukui, or macadamia oil)
10 drops lavender essential oil (cedar, lemongrass or rose would be good too)

You'll also need:
1 old plastic deodorant container, cleaned
1 travel size jar or tin

Stir all ingredients except the essential oil together in a bowl. Heat gently over a double boiler or incrementally in a microwave until just melted enough to fully blend into a smooth consistency. Shea butter turns gritty and unpleasant if it's exposed to high temps, so don't let the mixture get too hot. Stir in the essential oil, and pour into a container. Let it sit undisturbed at room temperature overnight to cool and solidify before using.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

3 Ingredient Vegan Body Lotion

This simple recipe makes a creamy yet lightweight all purpose lotion. I'm calling it a body lotion, since it has a lighter consistency than your usual homemade balm or cream but I've been using it as a daily facial moisturizer with excellent results. The floral-infused oil gives it a light scent as well as the soothing benefits of rose. The main ingredient is just water, which makes the lotion wonderfully hydrating and quick to sink into the skin without a lingering greasy film.

The oil and water blends together beautifully (and stays that way) thanks to the power of vegetable based emulsifying wax. I bought a sizable bag that will certainly last me a few years at Mountain Rose Herbs. It comes in a flaked form, which makes it really simple to measure and is quick to melt into your oil blend. You might notice that this recipe is similar to my Kukui Rose Moisturizing Cream, and it is the same general idea. However, I wanted to offer a vegan moisturizer for those of you who abstain from using animal byproducts as well as folks who are sensitive or allergic to beeswax. The emulsifying wax creates a thinner, lighter moisturizer than one with beeswax does so I recommend storing this in a squeezable plastic bottle or a glass bottle with a pump dispenser. I took the classy option and repurposed a plastic squeeze bottle that once contained my favorite Lebanese garlic sauce... well washed of course!
If you don't want to wait around for your rose petal oil to infuse, you can use plain old carrier oils and add a few drops of rose essential oil during the emulsion process. Or you can keep it at truly just 3 ingredients and go fragrance free.

3/4 cup rose petal infused oil*
1 cup distilled water
2 tablespoons vegetable based emulsifying wax

*Use one or more of the following oils to create your own personalized blend: avocado, olive, sweet almond, jojoba, kukui, and/or macadamia nut.

Combine the oil and wax in a double boiler over medium low heat until the wax melts. Meanwhile, pour water in the blender. Put the cap on the blender, but leave the little hole open so that you can pour in the oil with minimal splattering. Turn the blender on high and slowly pour the oil/wax mixture in and continue blending until the lotion turns an opaque white and is uniformly thickened. Using a funnel, pour into a lotion bottle and you're good to go.

Ruby photo bombing my lotion