Monday, March 22, 2010

Rebatching (soap)

My friend, Kathleen, reminded me that you can rebatch soap. I should have researched it a little more before doing it, but I figured it was a already a loss and a little expiramenting wouldn't do any harm. I expected it to turn to liquid when I "melted" it down, but it never did. I later read that that was normal. I finally gave up and, in my impatience, added the olive oil that I had left out when originally batching the soap. I stirred it until I was confident it had chemically reacted with the lye (large amounts of smoky fumes poured out of the pot) and put the lumpy mixture back in the mold.

Today I took it out and cut it. The residual that I washed off of my hands lathered well and didn't melt my hands off, so I figure it must have worked :D Now that it's cut I'm going to let it finish curing (another three weeks) and see how it acts. If all else fails, I can still use it in my homemade laundry detergent recipe. I'm really excited that it's working out afterall!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What I Learned About Making Bar Soap

So here's what I learned about making bar soap today:

#1. Don't mess it up

While this step may seem obvious to many of you, I apparently missed the memo. I was so satisfied with myself for getting past my feelings of intimidation enough to try making bar soap today and I mentally congratulated myself several times as I put away the ingredients. Then I noticed that my bottle of olive oil looked full. Surprisingly full. I never added it to the soap that was curing on the top shelf of my closet. That's a big mistake - I'd advise against it.

#2. Safety, safety, safety!

I felt like a big nerd putting on my goggles, HUGE rubber gloves, heavy apron, and later, a surgical mask...until I splashed a few drops of lye in my face. No matter how over the top you think you look, WEAR APPROPRIATE SAFETY GEAR! And keep your safety gear on until everything is completely cleaned up and put away.

#3. Try, try again

The only thing I regret about my experience today was the $$ I lost out on by making such a big mistake and ruining my soap - luckily it was a half batch! It was really fun to watch the chemical processes of making soap and I learned a lot! I'm also glad to have gotten past the unknown - I will definitely try again (probably mid-April) and I feel like I have a much better idea of what to do and what to expect.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
~ Thomas Alva Edison

Friday, March 19, 2010

Homemade Dishwashing Detergent

FINALLY! I first started trying to make homemade laundry detergent late last summer, but with no success. My worst recipe resulted in pitting on my metal dishes and my best recipe left a heavy white residue on my glassware. I knew that I needed something with enzymatic action (commercial dishwashing detergent generally contains digestive enzymes from cow and pig stomachs) but I couldn't think of a vegetarian source that was economically practical - everything I could think of, I would have to order online (and pay more in shipping than the product cost).

Then I had a "duh" moment and realized I could use citric acid! I found it at my local health food store for $2.10/four ounce bag (1/2 Cup) - I dare say it works better than the commercial detergent I was using! I haven't broken down the total cost, but I'm pretty confident that it works out to be around around $5 for 100 loads (about $0.05 per load). I will post the actual breakdown and the price comparison to what I was paying for my generic commercial detergent later.

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
  • 1 Cup Borax
  • 1 Cup Washing Soda (sodium carbonate)

  • 1/2 Cup Citric Acid

  • 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt

Add one tablespoon to the detergent cup.

I put the detergent into an empty Vegenaise jar (like a mayonaise jar) but any plastic, glass, or cardboard container will do. I also keep a tablespoon measurer in there that I got as part of a set from the dollar store - that way I never have to search for a proper measuring spoon and I don't have to worry about reusing it for a food item. If you are unsure of what washing soda is or where to find it, please refer to my post about homemade laundry detergent here.

I also refilled my rinse aid compartment with vinegar, which really seems to help prevent spotting on the dishes (I have really hard water).
*This detergent will clump, but you don't have to break the clumps up or anything - just use "as is"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cookie Dough Cravings

I love cookie dough. Part of me wonders why we ruin something so wonderful by baking it - the only reason I bake mine is to prevent me from eating it all in one sitting! Turbinado sugar is vegan and slightly healthier than white sugar, and I always use whole wheat flour, vegan Earth's Balance buttery sticks, and natural peanut butter, but really...cookie dough is just not a health food - no matter how I try to fool myself otherwise.

I like LaraBars (especially their cherry pie bar!) and I recently made some flourless PB cookies for my friend with Celiac's disease. Thinking about those two things kind of opened my mind to the idea that I don't necessarily need flour (flourless cookies) or refined sugars (LaraBars) to make a great dessert. So I did a little mixing and even my (VERY picky) little ones gobbled the "cookie dough" right up. Mmm...

Healthy Cookie Dough Alternative
  • 3 ounces (about 12) Dates, dried and pitted
  • 1/3 C. rolled oats
  • 1 - 1 1/2 Tbs. Natural Peanut Butter
  • splash of almond or soy milk

I put the dates in a food processor (after failing to adequately mash them by hand or with a hand blender) until they were mashed and sticky with no large chunks. Then I mixed in the oats and peanut butter but they weren't sticking together very well, so I added a splash of almond milk and that did the trick!

My 3 year old barely glanced at my concoction before refusing it and my 6 year old agreed to take a bite if I tried it first. Once she tried it, she couldn't get enough. When my 3 year old witnessed her enthusiasm, he decided to give it a try and the two of them polished off everything I hadn't already put in my mouth. I couldn't believe how much it tasted like my favorite cookie dough (peanut butter, oatmeal, chocolate chip)! Not low calorie, but definitely a healthier, more natural alternative to most cookie doughs.

Agave Nectar = High Fructose Corn Syrup

Though I use agave nectar (or at least I did until a week or so ago), the fact that it's dietary use for diabetics is so controversial didn't sit right with me. It didn't make sense - how could a natural, minimally processed food with a glycemic index score as low as 27 cause blood sugar increases significant enough to make it questionable or even downright unsafe for diabetics? So I kept digging. Below is an excerpt from one of the many articles I found comparing agave nectar to high fructose corn syrup (the top offending chemically altered sweetener). For the complete article, click HERE.

The Big Dirty Secret About Agave
In spite of manufacturers’ claims, agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-like, root bulb. The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules.Technically a highly indigestible fiber, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave.34

The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into “nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS.35 The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites. 36 (One agave manufacturer claims that his product is made with “natural” enzymes.) That’s right, the refined fructose in agave nectar is much more concentrated than the fructose in HFCS. For comparison, the high fructose corn syrup used in sodas is 55 percent refined fructose. (A natural agave product does exist in Mexico, a molasses type of syrup from concentrated plant nectar, but availability is limited and it is expensive to produce.)

According to Bianchi, agave “nectar” and HFCS “are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes. They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches.” The result is a high level of highly refined fructose in the remaining syrup, along with some remaining inulin.

In a confidential FDA letter, Dr. Martin Stutsman of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Labeling Enforcement, explains the FDA’s food labeling laws related to agave nectar: “Corn syrup treated with enzymes to enhance the fructose levels is to be labeled ‘High Fructose Corn Syrup.’” According to Mr. Stutsman, agave requires the label “hydrolyzed inulin syrup.”37 Even though, like corn, agave is a starch and fiber food processed with enzymes, it does not require the label “High Fructose Agave Syrup.” Agave “nectar” is a misnomer; at the very least, it should be labeled “agave syrup.”

Agave syrup comes in two colors: clear or light, and amber. What is this difference? Mr. Bianchi explains: “Due to poor quality control in the agave processing plants in Mexico, sometimes the fructose gets burned after being heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, thus creating a darker, or amber color.” However, the labels create the impression of an artisan product—like light or amber beer. As consumers are learning about problems with agave syrup, the label “chicory syrup” is beginning to appear as a non-conforming word for the product. Consumer beware!

Collard Greens Salad

Despite my initial aversion to collard greens, I have been drawn to make this salad over and over again. For collard green lovers or those of you willing to give this a try, I thought I'd share the recipe. This recipe is slightly modified from Alicia Silverstone's recipe in her book called The Kind Diet - love the title, by the way - wish I'd thought of it first ;)

Collard Green Salad
  • 1 bunch collard greens, ribs and stems cut out

  • 2 Tbs. Pine Nuts or Crushed Almonds

  • 3 cloves Garlic, minced

  • 1 Tbs. Olive Oil

  • 3 Tbs. Raisins or Chopped Dates

  • 2 Tbs. Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar

Rinse collard greens in cold water (let some water remain on the leaves). Set aside.

Toast nuts in dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown (about 5 minutes). Set aside.

Put garlic and oil into large skillet and saute over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant (about 1 minute). Stir in damp collards. Cover and cook for 2 minutes longer. Stir in nuts and raisins or dates. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in vinegar and cook for 1-2 minutes. Best eaten while still warm (reheats well in the microwave, too).

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gathering my Soap Making Courage

I was planning on making liquid castile soap last weekend but when I got out my supplies I realized that I had accidentally ordered sodium hydroxide (lye for making bar soap) instead of potassium hydroxide (lye for making liquid soap). No problem, I thought, I'll just learn how to make bar soap!
*shaking head and laughing at my own naivety* After reading up on it all week, I have to admit that I'm VERY intimidated. I was hoping to give my first batch a try this weekend, but I'm still waiting on more supplies I ordered from I am really excited and I will definitely let you know how it turns out!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Most mornings I have a green smoothie for breakfast - they're fast, healthy, and I can drink them on the run. The only thing that's inconvenient about it is having to make sure my blender is always clean so I can use it in the morning. If I weren't a full-time student (aka dirt poor) it would probably be worth it to me to spend another $60 to have a couple more around so that I didn't have to wash them so regularly (lazy, I know). Thanks to the recipe my mom gave me, I now alternate breakfasts between green smoothies and hearty steel cut oats (in the crock pot). Thanks, mom!

Hearty Steel Cut Oats

2 Cups milk (almond milk, soymilk, rice milk, etc)

1 Cup Steel Cut Oats

1 Apple, chopped

1/2 Cup walnuts or almonds, chopped

1 Tbs. Earth's Balance Buttery Spread

1/4 Cup sweetener (molasses or pure maple syrup)

3/4 tsp. Cinnamon

1/4 tsp. Sea Salt

1/2 Cup Raisins (optional)

Mix ingredients well and add to greased crock pot. Cover. Before bed, turn crock pot on low setting. Serves 4

*I like to pour almond milk over my oats when I eat them

Unlike quick oats, steel cut oats don't get "gluey" if you store them as leftovers. I make this once a week or so and then I can reheat it for four of my breakfasts! I love that I don't get hungry again until close to lunch time.

Green Smoothies

  • heaping 1/4 Cup Peaceful Planet Supreme Meal soy-free vegan protein shake
  • 1 Cup Almond Milk

  • 1/2 Cup Mixed Berries, frozen

  • 1 Banana

  • large handful Fresh Spinach

  • 1 tsp. psyllium fiber

  • 1 tsp. sweetener (pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc)

Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Drink soon after blending, especially if you add psyllium fiber because it thickens if it sits too long. I know the spinach sounds gross, but you can't even taste it - what an easy way to get more greens!

*I'd had smoothies from the health food store or the gym that had spinach in them, but it hadn't occurred to me to add spinach into my shakes at home until my friend posted about smoothies on her blog - and I'm lovin' it! Thanks, Dara :D