Friday, September 28, 2012

Make Your Own Soap, Part III

This is the third post in the series on making your own soap. If you would like to read this series in its entirety from the first post, start here.

We are now ready to combine the lye water and oils together. This part is dangerous because the lye water is involve. As I mentioned in Part I,  it is best to do this when you are home alone. If that is not possible, mix the soap in a room where you can lock the door and not be disturbed.  ALWAYS think safety first.

I mix my soap on my kitchen floor to limit any damage if I spill it. I never have spilled it in 20 years but since this is one of my safety practices, I continue to do it this way.  Here is a picture of my kitchen floor on a normal day at my house.

Here is a picture of the kitchen floor when I am getting ready to mix up the soap.

The first thing I do is lay down some plastic. Then over the plastic goes newspaper. Only then do I layout the equipment and supplies. The pot in the picture is my pot of oils. The scented oil is in the glass measuring container next to it. The soap mold is on the right. Notice in the back that I have a hand stick blender. This tool is critical if you don't want to stir the soap for 4 or more hours. (I do feel guilty using it because it uses electricity, but I really don't want to spend 4 hours stirring soap!) I also have it sitting on a piece of freezer paper because the key to using the stick blender is to do it in spurts. So I put it back on the freezer paper between uses - I don't leave it in the pot.

At this point in the process, I am ready to go get the lye water from the garage. Be sure to put your rubber gloves back on (and the goggles too) before you pick up the container of lye water. Pour the entire contents of the lye water into the oils.  Pour slowly or it will splash. Now, stir the pot with a plastic spoon for a few minutes.

Notice I have two spoons in my hand? One of the spoons is from the lye water and the other is from the oil pot. The same with the thermometers. After a few stirs, (and when the spoon stops dripping), I place one of the spoons back into the lye water container because two  spoons aren't necessary.  When the thermometers stop dripping, they go into the lye water container as well. I follow this process to prevent drips from spilling either on the newspaper or any part of the floor not covered. At this point, I set the lye water container aside and concentrate on the soap pot.

After stirring for a few minutes, it is time to use the stick blender.

I normally don't hold the spoon and stick blender in the same hand but to take the picture I had to hold the camera too!  My experience with the stick blender is that it has a lot of potential to splash the soap around the pot (and onto your face) if you don't submerge the entire blade and blade cover into the pot first. Three or four short 5 second bursts are all that is needed here.  Then stir with the spoon for one more minute. Three or four more blasts on the stick blender again and it is time to add the scented oil. If you wanted to add color, now is the time to do that as well. I also add the super fat oil now.

Stir with the spoon for one more minute. Use the stick blender again for one to two minutes until the soap traces. Trace is the stage of the process that tells you the soap is ready to go into the mold. The soap will get thick like you are making instant pudding but before it sets. When a spoonful of soap dribbles back into the pot and you can see where it landed, you are at trace.  Depending on the recipe and the scented oils, it could take three or four minutes to trace. If it takes longer then a minute or two, I usually stop and stir again with the spoon but it really isn't necessary.  You can use the stick blender until it traces. Here is a picture of my soap at the trace stage.

Pour it into the soap mold. Pour slowly so it doesn't spill or splatter. Once in the soap mold, I usually even the soap out, similar to what you would do with cake batter when you pour it into the pan.

At this point, I cover the soap with some plastic saran wrap. This will help keep air off of the soap and prevent white ash marks from forming on the soap.  I haven't had a problem with ash forming on my soap in many years but I still use the saran wrap.  Here is a picture of the soap with the saran wrap on it.

 Now, it is time to cover the soap up and let it sit to finish the chemical process. Insulate it well to keep the heat in. It should get good and hot - it needs to or you won't get soap. I insulate with newspaper and then old towels.  Once the top of the mold is slid on, wrap it in newspaper. I use scotch tape to hold it together.

Depending on who is home or coming home soon or if it is almost dinner time, I may place the mold in the oven. Most times, I put it on the counter. First put down a few towels on the counter, then the mold, then wrap with additional towels.

Now that the soap is set in the mold, it is time to wash the soap pot and lye water container. I usually wash the lye water container in my sink in the laundry room. Same with all the other utensils and containers.  Sometimes, I will let the soap pot sit until the next day and wash it then.  If I do that, I lock it in the garage overnight so no one can get to it.  Then I just wash it in the kitchen sink.

The soap needs to sit undisturbed for about 24 hours. Remember, it needs to complete the chemical process of making the soap. To do this, it must heat up. If you interrupt the process and take the soap out of the mold while it is still warm, the chemical process isn't finished and there could still be lye in the soap. (If you weighed all the ingredients correctly and waited for the soap to completely cool before taking it out of the mold, the lye isn't there any more.)

My rule of thumb is if the newspaper is still warm, the soap isn't ready. Wait until the newspaper is completely cool before you unwrap the soap.  I stick my hand under the towels to see if the newspaper is warm.  I usually make my soap in the afternoon. Then the soap can heat up all night.  I check it at lunch the next day and take it out of the mold after lunch. This gives the soap about 22 hours to complete the chemical process. It comes out perfect every time!

Next, I will cut the soap and share some of my recipes!

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Final Thoughts About Your Summer Garden

Fall has officially arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. Most people have dismissed the summer garden and turn their thoughts to fall festivals, county fairs, Halloween and maybe planting a fall garden. 

I would like to give you some additional points to consider about your summer garden before you put those thoughts away until spring.

  • If the first frost has not arrived yet, consider leaving the summer plants in the ground for a little longer. You may get some additional leaves and flowers before the frost comes. And with those flowers come the fruit of the plant. Depending on how much time you have before frost (in reality, this late in the year this idea only works for those who live in more moderate climates but it is something everyone can consider next year before you pull your garden out) you may get more from your garden.  Let me give you an example, here is one of my green bean plants as it stands today in my garden. 

  • One of the things I don't like about green beans is how frequently they shed their leaves.  I am constantly cleaning them up.  But I digress. This plant looks dead, doesn't it?  It isn't!  As long as the stems of the plant stay green, it will grow additional leaves. Here is a close up of the same plant.
  • See the new green leaves? This new growth will flower and produce additional green beans. Beans are one of the plants that will keep growing until frost. But there are others: peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, pumpkins and more. The key to harvesting late in the year is to get the fruit to a point where it can continue to ripen in the house or root cellar if frost makes that necessary. I routinely bring in green tomatoes and green pumpkins each fall to finish ripening in the house. I usually can the last of the tomatoes in November.
  • Try saving your own seeds. It it is too late for you to save the seeds this year, make it a goal for next year. When browsing the catalogs in the spring, consider heirloom varieties. They will grow true to the parent plant. Let me also add here that you can save seeds from almost all garden plants, even (contrary to popular opinion) hybrids. The problems arises when you expect the seeds from a hybrid to act exactly like the parent plant. They probably will not. However, I know someone who routinely saves seeds from the hybrid varieties she grows. Sometimes the plant doesn't produce well, but sometimes she is extremely pleased with the results. The key to saving seeds is to let the fruit fully ripen on the vine. Some seeds, like beans, can stay on the plant until they dry. However, this is a double edged sword because if the bean stays on the plant, the plant won't make more and thinking it's job done (because it set seed), will die. You can pick them when fully mature and dry in the house as well.
  • After the first frost of the year, be sure to clean the garden by removing all leaves, dead plants and other debris. To help keep the bugs down next summer, it is critical that you perform these tasks now, in the fall. While generally, items you clean up can go into the compost pile, it is best not the add the remains of diseased plants. Also, if your plants were overrun with bugs this year, put the debris into the trash and not the compost pile. Unless your compost pile will heat up to 135 degrees over the winter, your compost has the possibility of being a nice home for those bug eggs to overwinter and you will see the bugs in great numbers next summer.
  • Now is a great time to add compost or manure to the soil for next year. Yes, you can add this in the spring as well. But, for best results next year, add it now and in the spring.
  • After a hard freeze, turn the garden soil over if you can. This is easier to do if you have a late warm spell where you can dig in the soil. It will work in the spring too if you have a warm spell and then another hard freeze. What you are doing by turning over the garden is killing the bugs that overwinter deep into the soil. Bring them up to the top of the soil and they will die with the next hard freeze. This doesn't require tons of effort. You can do a very large garden in 45 minutes to one hour. I do mine in sections and it never takes longer than 15 minutes at a time. I combine this task with exercising my dog in the yard. You will be pleased with the results of this task next summer when you find few bugs in your garden.

Whether you caned your summer harvest or froze it, I hope your summer garden was bountiful! 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cooking with Food Storage: Easy Apple Crisp

This is one of my favorite food storage desserts.  It is quick and very easy to make, uses shelf stable ingredients and bakes really well in the Sun Oven as well as a Cardboard Box Oven.  If you would like to see how to cook with a Sun Oven or a Cardboard Box Oven, click on the links.

Here is the recipe for Apple Crisp:
1 cup oats (I have used oat groats  - I grind them myself, I have also used quick cook oats.)
1/3 cup flour (Whole wheat flour works well here.)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves or all spice. (Sometimes I use apple pie spice instead.)
1/3 cup butter (You can learn how to make your own butter here.  You can also use Red Feather Canned Butter. Of course, it is just as good with fresh butter from the store!)

1 - 2 cans Apple Pie Filling. (The amount you use depends on weather you like your apple crisp top heavy or bottom heavy.  I like mine bottom heavy so I usually use two jars - I can my own.)
1 tsp cinnamon (I don't add this.)

Prepare the Filling
Grease the bottom of a nine inch square pan.  I use Pam cooking spray. Put the cans of apple pie filling in the bottom of the pan. If you are using the cinnamon, sprinkle it on top of the filling.

Prepare the Topping
Mixing the topping ingredients together works better if the butter is soft and close to room temperature. Place all the topping ingredients into a bowl.  Mix well. Sometimes I use two knives and cut the butter into the other ingredients.  Sometimes I just use a fork. The topping should look crumbly when it is ready.

Spread the topping evenly over the apple pie filling. At this point, I usually add a bit more cinnamon sprinkled on top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes and it's done!  If you use a Sun Oven (or a cardboard box oven), try baking it at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes or until bubbly. 

I must apologize for not having a picture of the finished product. Dinner was ready and I got busy setting the table. I forgot about the picture until after dinner. By that time, the finished apple crisp was just a happy memory!

You can take it from me, it was really good!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Make Your Own Soap, Part II

This is the second post in the series Make Your Own Soap. The first post covered tools in the soapmaking process, how to make the lye water and safety precautions you should take when making soap. If you haven't read Part I, you can do so here. This post will focus on the base oils used in the soapmaking process. The third post in the series will focus on combining the oils and lye water together and how to prepare the soap molds. The fourth post will show how I cut the soap and give you some of the recipes I have been using for 20 years as well as the names of some suppliers I use.  

Different oils contribute different properties to a bar of soap. For example, tallow (rendered beef fat) makes a nice hard white bar of soap. This is a good property to have because hard soap lasts longer. Coconut oil can dry the skin but if used in combination with other oils that are more moisturizing, it will give the soap a lot of fluffy lather and be moisturizing.  Here is a list of the most common types of fat/oils used in soapmaking and the properties they contribute to the bar of soap.
  • Olive oil - moisturizing
  • Canola - moisturizing but not as good as olive oil, when combined with olive oil it can reduce the overall cost of the oils.
  • Tallow - hard bar of soap, medium lather, cheap fat to use, doesn't moisturize well, used a lot in commercial soap products.
  • Lard - somewhat moisturizing, helps to make a white bar, makes a soft bar of soap so it is best when used with other oils.
  • Palm Oil - makes a hard bar of soap, doesn't make nice lather nor does it moisturize so it is best used with other oils.
  • Coconut - coconut is THE oil to use if you want fluffy lather.  No other oil does it better. Best when used with a combination of other oils.
  • Cocoa Butter - this is one of my favorite base oils! This is so moisturizing, makes a hard bar of soap and smells good enough to eat!  Because it is so expensive, it is best used in combination with other oils.
Here are a couple of links to soap sites on the Internet that have good information about the properties of oil in soap and what each oil contributes to the bar of soap:
There is a lot of information on the Internet about the properties of soapmaking oils. Do some Internet searches and I am sure you can find plenty of additional information. 

Most of my soaps use a combination of oils. I use one combination for laundry soap, a different one for bath soaps, and a third combination for facial and moisturizing soaps. Today, we are going to make a bath soap. For bath soaps I use a combination of:
  • Palm Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
I usually superfat with shea butter, cocoa butter or sweet almond oil. As I mentioned in Part I of this series, superfatting soap is adding additional moisturizing oils that are not needed in the chemical soapmaking process. This leaves these fats suspended in the bar of soap readily available to moisturize your skin. I usually superfat bath soaps at a 5% level. My moisturizing and facial soaps are superfatted at 8%. I don't superfat the laundry soap at all. In handcrafted soap businesses, standard superfatting adds between 1% - 5% additional oils to the soap.

Mixing the Base Oils

It is time to melt the oils. Oils are measured by weight. For example, if you use 5 lbs. of oils in any combination, you have a 5 lb batch of soap. The rest of the ingredients are not counted in the weight of the soap.  Generally, I make my soap in 5 lb and 8 lb batches. If you search, I am sure you can find recipes on the Internet that measure by volume.  My recommendation is to stick with a recipe that measures by weight.  You are more likely to have a successful batch the first time if you measure by weight.

In order to combine all the oils together, you have to melt the ones that are solid at room temperature.  For my soap, that means melting the palm oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter together first.

I purchase my coconut oil and palm oil in five gallon buckets because I use a lot of it. I purchase cocoa butter in 1 lb packages.

To prepare for melting, simply spoon out and place in a container.  Weigh the container and continue adding oil until you have the correct weight for that type of oil. These are the pictures I took when measuring the palm oil. I don't wear my rubber gloves or goggles when measuring the base oils.  They aren't needed when you are working with just the base oils.

Add the rest of the solid oils. Heat on low or medium low heat. When the oils have melted, stir well. This is what mine looked like.

Remove from the heat and let it cool a bit. I usually let mine cool between 30 minutes and one hour. Then I add the olive and canola oil. Since the olive and canola oils are already liquid at room temperature, there's no need to heat them. Place the container on the scale and pour the oil in until the scale reads the correct weight.  Once I weigh the olive oil, I usually zero out the scale and add the canola to the same container. The picture below shows the container with both the olive and canola oil in it.

 While the oils are cooling, weigh the scented oils. There are two types of oils you can use to scent soap.  Essential oils are all natural and made from plants. There are many wonderful essential oils you can use, however, they can be a bit expensive. There are also many synthetic scented oils that are specifically manufactured for soapmaking. The synthetic scented oils can be more reasonable in price. In the years I have been making soap, I have purchased scented oils from many different suppliers, some good, some not so good.  I highly recommend you find and use a supplier with a reputation for testing their scented oils in handcrafted soaps.  Some suppliers go so far as to test their scents in both hot process made soaps and cold process made soaps. Don't purchase scented oils on price alone, you will be disappointed in the results.  

For today's batch of soap, I am using an Almond scent. (This stuff is one of my favorite scents and smells fabulous!) Like the base oils, scent is added by weight. All I can give you is a rule of thumb because scent is so personal. I tend to scent on the heavy side.  When I walk by my bathroom, I want to smell the bar of soap.  I add one ounce of scented oil per pound of base oil.  If I am making a 5 lb batch of soap, I will use 5 ounces of scented oil. If you would prefer not to smell the soap every time you walk by the bathroom door, you may want to use .5 ounces per pound of oil. In that case, for a 5 lb batch of soap you would add 2 1/2 ounces of scented oils. The synthetic scented oils and some of the essential oils can ruin the finish on your counter tops and are not good for your skin straight out of the bottle. You should cover the counter with some freezer paper and wear your rubber gloves when measuring the scented oils.

 Once you weigh the scented oil, put it off to the side. You are not going to add it to the soapmaking pot until you add the lye water.  If you want to add color, prepare the color now. That will be added after the lye water as well. I didn't add any color to this batch of soap.

It is also time to prepare the mold. I have two main molds I use.  I have one for 5 lb batches and one for 8 lb batches. Tupperware makes an excellent soap mold. Be sure to get a container big enough to hold the entire batch. Don't split the soap batch between 2 or 3 different molds. Wood makes a nice mold too.  I use the wood mold for 5 lb batches and the Tupperware mold for 8 lb batches. Both molds must be properly prepared to take the soap.

When I use the Tupperware mold, I grease it heavily with lard or Crisco oil (the solid Crisco oil). This works really well. When the soap is ready to cut, just a few pushes on the bottom of the Tupperware container will pop out the block of soap.

If you would like to use individual personal size molds, it would be best to cook the soap with the hot process method. Individual personal size molds don't work well with the cold process method I am demonstrating here. That is because for the cold processed soap to heat up sufficiently to have the chemical process turn it into soap, it needs a certain amout of mass. You can only get that if you put the entire batch in one mold. 

Since I am making a 5 lb batch of soap, I will use my wood mold. It is best not to pour the soap directly into this mold. Over time, the lye will slowly eat at the wood. Also, since the mold isn't flexible enough to easily pop the soap out, I line my mold with freezer paper. The block of soap is is a breeze to remove when using the freezer paper.

Once the mold is prepared, check the temperatures of the oil and lye water.  When they are both between 90 - 95 degrees, they are ready to mix. 

You can see how that is done in Part III.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Do You Do With the Cold Food When the Power Goes Out?

This is another post in support of Emergency Preparedness Month here in the US. In addition to all the other emergencies that can occur, hurricane season is well upon us in this part of the world.  In the northern hemisphere, winter is around the corner. At some point one of these events (or something similar) will result in massive power outages that will affect thousands of people . Are you prepared to deal with a long term power outage? If the electricity is off for a few days (or longer) what will you do with the food in your refrigerator and/or freezer? 

I bet almost everyone has food in their freezer. If you only have a few items, you can probably eat them during your power outage and not lose any of the money you've spent on the food. If you have a very large freezer or a stand alone freezer that is full, you risk losing all your food unless you have a plan to deal with it when the power goes out. This post is designed to give you some ideas on how to minimize your potential food losses.
  • When the power first goes off, be sure to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. Unopened, your refrigerator/freezer will keep your food colder, longer than if you keep opening the doors. If possible, wrap the entire refrigerator or freezer in blankets to keep the cold in. I will admit this is easier for smaller units than the larger ones.
  • Use alternative sources to refrigerate/freeze your food. This is easy to do if it is winter outside. Anything that is in the freezer can be buried in the snow in your back yard to keep it frozen. You can also use the cold weather for a refrigerator.  Put the milk, butter and cheese in an ice chest and put that outside too. The ice chest will help protect the items inside from freezing, yet they will still remain cold. Don't forget to protect any food outside from animals (domestic or wild) that might live in your area. If you'd prefer to keep your food inside, you can always pack snow in gallon size plastic bags, put those bags in the ice chest and keep the chest inside the house with you. In the summer, if the power outage area is small, and you have friends who still have electricity, take the critical stuff to their house.
  • Get in the habit of filling jugs with water and placing them in the freezer as space allows.  This is especially important in summer. It is a standard practice at our house. When the power is out, a full freezer will stay colder longer than a half empty one. Also, you can place those frozen jugs of water in the refrigerator to turn it into an ice box like your great-grandmother most likely used. This will give you some additional time to implement Plan B. My Plan B is a massive canning effort so the food won't go to waste. As an extra bonus, those jugs will provide you some nice cold water to drink when it thaws!
  • Do you know that you can make ice in the summer with a Sun Oven?  I admit I haven't tried this yet. The idea is to use radiational cooling at night to make the ice. I read this from a research paper posted on a BYU website a few years ago. Point the Sun Oven at a clear section of the sky - no trees or other objects in the way. Place the water in the Sun Oven and leave it overnight. Check on it very early in the morning - like 4:00 am. Depending on the size of the water container, the water should be frozen or have a layer of ice on it and the rest of the water should be very cold.  I am definitely going to have to try this sometime. It may add another tool to my emergency preparedness plans.

In addition to the practical tips above, I have a few 'unconventional' ideas in my emergency plans to keep things cool. I plan on using these ideas if the power is out for a very long time - a few weeks or longer.
  • Dig a hole and bury your ice chest as a temporary cool storage area. Dig a rectangular hole just big enough for the ice chest. The entire chest should be under ground. Line the hole with some garbage bags or heavy duty plastic to keep the dirt out of the chest. Back fill with dirt if necessary to close any voids - you won't be removing the ice chest until the power comes back on. When the ice chest is closed, cover the top of it with a plastic tarp and hay, straw or other mulch to keep it cool. This idea is more like 'root cellar' cool not refrigerator cold. So in that sense, it won't keep leftovers from last night's dinner. It will work for short term storage for things like eggs (cover them with mineral oil first!) cheeses, and other foods that do well at 55 degrees. Don't dig your hole in a sunny area. The north side of a building works best for this idea (in the northern hemisphere)  - you want it in the shade full time. Also if possible, dig the hole under cover so when it rains, the hole doesn't fill with water.
  • Make a zeer pot.  A zeer pot is an idea from Africa. It's used to keep vegetables cool in the hot dry African climate. Here is a link on how to make one.  You can search the Internet for more information on zeer pots - there is a lot of info out there. I have seen YouTube videos on these as well.  I made one a few years ago and I can tell you for a fact they work. The only trick needed here in the humid southeast US is to keep the pot inside the house or garage - not outside. Mine cooled down to 50 degrees in the middle of the summer while the pot was in my garage. Again, this is to keep things cool not cold.  It won't work for leftovers from dinner.
  • Do you have access to a stream or river?  If so, you can do what our ancestors did and that was to submerge food in the stream to keep it cold.  This works especially well if you have access to a spring or spring fed stream where the water can be very cold.  If not, it will still be colder then the outside temperature.  Additionally, don't forget that the water in the bottom of the stream will be colder than the water at the top. Be sure to wrap the food well and place it in plastic containers so it does not get wet. You don't want the food to come in contact with non-treated water that can make you sick.

These are just some ideas I have in my emergency plans for when the power goes out at my house. I consider these ideas a 'first line of defense'.  I also have plans to can as much of the meat as possible in the first 3 or 4 days if the outage is expected to last a long time. 

Some of you may be thinking "Why don't you just can the meat now and save yourself the trouble later?" The answer is simple. While we do eat meat I have canned, it is not my most favorite method of preserving meat.  I don't enjoy the flavor. I consider the taste/texture 'okay' -  I will eat canned meat if I have to and on occasion when I am cooking with food storage I do choose to eat it.  Still, I do not eat it everyday. I will save the massive canning effort for when I have to do it.

Here are some other ideas on food safety when the power goes out from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). What do you need to know when the power goes out?

What are your plans to deal with your frozen foods in a power outage?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Emergency Preparedness: Make a 72 Hour Kit

As I have mentioned before, September is Emergency Preparedness Month, This is the month to plan for emergencies you may face in the coming year. Since everyone's circumstances are different, only you know what kinds of risks you face. It's up to you to weigh each risk and create a plan to minimize those risks. You can see more information on potential risks to consider as you create your plans here.

One of the items usually included in a preparedness plan is the 72 hour kit. On the Internet, this kit is also called a G.O.O.D. bag or 'Get Out Of Dodge' bag. I call mine a 72 hour kit because it is designed to provide for all your needs for the first 72 hours of an emergency.

This kit is critical in earthquake, tornado or hurricane country. However, it is equally important in other areas as well.  Do you live near a chemical or some other industrial plant? How about near a nuclear power plant? Now we are not talking about living right next door, but say within 30 to 50 miles. What would you do if there was an accident at one of these plants?  In today's complex world, it's not rare at all to hear about the authorities evacuating large areas in response to some type of industrial accident. Often these evacuations happen fast, with little notice to those being evacuated. What about nuclear plant accidents? While governments do their best to minimize the risk, we all know that accidents have happen in the past. Like industrial accidents, when they do happen, citizens usually have to evacuate without much notice.

For many, such an evacuation is a stressful crisis, but the prepared family should be able to leave within 5 minutes of notification of such an evacuation. The key to being able to move so fast is the 72 hour kit. Everyone in the family should have their own kit. Packing items for the entire family in one box or bag would make it too heavy (and big) to lift and carry in an emergency.  A bag with wheels for each person helps out a lot.

Here is a picture of my 72 hour kit and all the items we have packed in it. My husband and I put all of our items into one large bag (with wheels) because for us, it is easier to store it this way. Our closet space is at a premium. However, this just wouldn't work for a family with several children, especially if they are of different ages and genders.  

A 72 hour kit will include obvious things like clothes, food and needed medications. It should include other things too. Here is what I put in my 72 hour kits:
  • A box or bag to put everything in. For small children, this can be a back pack. 
  • A complete change of clothing.  This includes socks and shoes (or better yet sneakers). No sandals or flip flops!
  • A flashlight  - one for each family member in their individual bag.
  • A pocket knife - there could be dozen of uses for this.  We have para cord in our kit too.
  • A small first aid kit. This can go in your bag for the entire family.
  • Personal documents - copies of anything you think you might need. Passports, driver's license and such, You don't necessarily have to keep these in the kit, but do know where they are and have a plan to get them into the bag at the time needed. Or, you could make a copy and keep the copy in your kit.
  • Water and Food - not just snacks but real food - breakfast, lunch and dinner.  You will need to live on this for 72 hours. Freezed dried meals work well here. We pack bottled water. You may get tired of drinking plain water so add some flavored packets too. I also have sport water filter bottles if I need to get water from an unclean source.
  • Knives, spoons, forks, can opener, paper plates and other kitchen items needed to support the food you have in your kit. The meals in our 72 hour kits are the kind you can eat out of the bag.  I only need a few plates and bowls for the breakfast items. I also have plastic utensils, napkins and other support items needed to be comfortable. Don't forget a garbage bag or two.
  • A heat source to heat the water or food. Now, you don't need to pack a stove if you don't want to (I do know some people who have a volcano stove in their kit.) You can see what I use here. I bought mine at a big box store.
  • Personal Care Items - toothbrush, soap, shampoo, hair brush, necessary medications as well as anything else you need. We carry mosquito repellent and sunscreen. Also, don't forget the toilet paper. That's important too.
  • Matches and Candles - The matches should be considered essential, you may need to start a fire. The candles can be considered more of a convenience item-don't add them if you are storing your kits in an area that isn't climate controlled.
  • Food and supplies for your pet.  Don't forget they are part of your family too. For my husband and me, we will not leave our home without Molly.  And we would never consider going to a government shelter if she couldn't come too.  My plan is to carry everything I need so I do not need to go to a government shelter and that plan includes my dog.
  • Rain gear - we have some inexpensive fold up rain ponchos - just in case we have to be out in the elements.
  • Emergency cash - how much depends on how many people you have in your family. I would suggest at least $100 (or the equivalent in your own currency) as a minimum.
  • Scriptures or books to read. If you are blocked from going home because of a local emergency, expect to do a lot of sitting around. Add some family games too - and extra batteries if necessary.
There are some other items I consider part of my 72 hour kit but do not store in my kit. Our suitcase is full now and they won't fit.  Besides, we use these items frequently - we like to go camping. In my kit, I keep a list of all the items I want that are not stored in the kit. In an emergency, all I have to do is grab the list and get the rest of the items. This works best if you know where these are stored and have a plan for adding them quickly in an emergency. You may even want to practice getting all your items together and out the door. Try timing how long it takes. If you get good at that, try it at night, without the power.

Here's a list of things I would take with me if I ever had to leave my home that are currently not stored in my 72 hour kit:
  • Sleeping bags - If you want, you could purchase extra sleeping bags just for your 72 hour kit.  I choose not to do this - I think it is a waste of money. Our sleeping bags are perfectly acceptable, they just are not stored in our kits.
  • Tent - this one is important for us because we don't expect to go to a shelter if there isn't one that will take dogs.
  • Small emergency radio
Once you create your kit, be sure to update it twice a year. Check your food and change out anything that has an expiration date before your next update. For example, this fall I will remove anything that has an expiration date before April of next year. Once the food is removed from our kit, it goes in the pantry to eat before the actual expiration date. I will replace it with food that has an expiration date no earlier than summer of next year. Also, change out season-specific equipment and supplies such as summer clothes for winter. By the way, asking your children to update their kits is a great way to build responsibility and to help them better buy in to staying prepared.  You can have all family members gather their kits in one room and change them out together.

To keep track of when it's time to update the kit, try using a recurring event. I usually update my kit at General Conference time (for LDS readers). You might time your update with changes in daylight saving time, or recurring holidays such as Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Take it from me, you sleep better knowing you have planned for any emergency that may come your way!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Make Your Own Soap, Part I

This is the first in a four part series on how to make your own soap. In order to avoid an exceptionally long (and potentially boring) post on the entire soapmaking process all at once, I thought it would be a little more interesting to divide it into four separate posts.  So, for the next four Fridays, I will post about how to make your own soap at home. 

Today's post will concentrate on mixing the lye water. Part II will show you how to determine what base oils to use, discuss the properties of different base oils and how they contribute to the soap. The third post will show you how to combine the lye and base oils, how to determine when it is ready to go into the mold, and how I prepare the molds. In Part IV, I will share some of my favorite recipes. I have been using these recipes for over 20 years to make laundry soap and bath soap. I will also tell you where I get my supplies and share some soapmaking links that will help you to make your own!

Let me start by saying that I would not call soap making anywhere near frugal living.  Making your own soap is more expensive than purchasing it at the store.  However, homemade soap is far superior to anything you find in a store!

Without going into detail about the natural chemical process that takes place when you mix up a batch of soap, let me just say that home made soap contains natural glycerin. The glycerin makes it moisturizing. Commercial soap products have the natural glycerin removed and as we all know, they are anything but moisturizing. When you make your own soap, you can also control the ingredients in order to make the soap even more moisturizing.  For example, I sometimes 'super fat' my soap by adding additional cocoa butter to make it more moisturizing.  'Super fatting' is a term that means adding additional fats/oils above and beyond what is needed by the chemical process to make the soap.

Today's homemade soap is not like your great-grandmother's lye soap. While all soap (even the commercial stuff at the store) is made with lye, I weigh and measure all ingredients, your great-grandmother did not. Go back in time a few hundred years and those women didn't know how or why the ingredients worked together to make soap. Today we have the benefit of modern science and it has definitely improved the quality of homemade soap.

My posts on soapmaking are an overview of the soapmaking process.  My goal here is to show you that you can do it yourself and let you know it isn't difficult. However, it would take way too many words and pages to provide you all the details. In addition, the details can and will change depending on the fats (oils) you will use. If you use tallow and lard to make your soap, you will need a different amount of lye then if you use coconut and palm oil. To find out the additional details you need, there are many good soapmaking books on the market.  You can find many of them at your local library - no need to purchase one.

Now, let's make some soap. In this day and age, there are two popular ways to make soap, one called the 'hot process' and one called the 'cold process'. Your great-grandmothers probably cooked their soap over the stove until the chemical process was complete- that is the 'hot process' method.  While I have used the hot process method in the past, I prefer the 'cold process' method.  The soap isn't cooked, just poured into a mold and insulated until the chemical process is finished on its own, usually overnight. That is what I am going to show you here.

Soapmaking starts with the correct tools.  As a minimum, you need a pot and some spoons. I recommend that you do not use the same kitchenware that you cook in.  I know people who do. However, for safety sake, I do not. Here is a picture and list of all the tools I use to make soap:

  • Two pots - the large one is used to mix the soap, the small one to help with the lye water.
  • Various spoons - When I first started making soap over 20 years ago, I used wood utensils.  However, it didn't take me long to understand that the lye water eventually eats the wood and you will get splinters in the soap.  So, I switched to plastic and have used the spoons shown here for about 18 years.
  • Scale - this is important. If you are weighing your ingredients for accuracy, you will need a good scale. Your soap can fail because you don't have the correct ingredients in the correct portions. This is my second scale.  My first scale lasted about 15 years. I think I bought this one about 6 years ago. I got it at an office supply store. I verify its accuracy a few times each year by placing five quarters on the scale and checking to make sure the weight states one ounce.
  • Plastic and glass measuring containers- to measure out the lye, water, oils and soap scents (if using).  These containers are also only used for soapmaking, never for the beverages we drink.
  • Stick blender - this is about the only electric appliance I will hate giving up if had to do this without electricity! While it is possible to stir the soap with just a spoon (I have done it many times), you will be stirring and stirring for about four hours.  Using a stick blender, you will only be stirring the soap about 5 minutes!
  • Thermometer - I have two.  One to check the temperature of the lye water and one to check the temperature of the oils. I combine them when they are both at 90 - 95 degrees.  (The trick is to get them both at the same temperature at the same time!)
  • A small mixing cup to add color (if I am using it). Sometimes I do add color and sometimes I don't.
  • Tools to cut the soap. I have various tools - only some are in the picture. I will go into more detail on the tools I use to cut the soap in the last post of the series.
  • Soap molds  - (not shown) I have a few different molds I use and I will discuss them in the next soapmaking post.
  • Rubber Gloves and Goggles - (not shown) very important safety equipment.You should always wear safety glasses and rubber gloves when making soap. Some of the chemicals are extremely harmful if they get on your skin or in your eyes. If you make soap frequently, lye water or soap will splash on your face and hands - it has happened to me!  You don't want to suffer a bad burn or loose your eyesight because you made a batch of homemade soap. 
I would like to say one more word about safety with the lye water. I have read on many web sites to have vinegar handy to wipe the lye water off of your skin if you should accidentally splash it on you.  This is WRONG!!  If you get lye water on your skin the very best thing you can do is rinse with water.  Lots of water.  Nothing will dilute the lye from your skin like water can. If I get splashed with the lye water, I calmly (but quickly) put everything down and go directly to the sink to rinse off my skin. The soap will wait, your skin will not.

Mixing the Lye Water

To make the lye available to the oils, you need to mix it in water. Start with the water -measure out the amount you need. Notice there is ice in the water in the picture? I usually start with ice water to help keep the temperature of the lye water as low as possible. Otherwise you must wait longer for the lye water to cool before you can use it.

 I mix my lye water in the garage.  I do this for safety reasons. If something happened and I spilled it, I don't want lye water all over my hardwood floors or kitchen counters. Here is a picture of how I mix the lye and water. This is all laid out on the concrete garage floor, covered with newspaper in case I spill the dry lye crystals. Before I took this picture, I transferred the water to the glass container I use to mix the lye water.

The glass measuring cup on the scale is used to measure and weigh the dry lye crystals. If this is the same glass measuring cup you used to measure the water, be sure to dry it well before measuring the lye.  (Since I have two, I use one for the water and one to measure out the lye.)  I put the glass container where I mix the lye and water together in a small pot because when lye is mixed with water it gets extremely hot extremely fast. Using ice water does lend itself to a potential problem here, when the water temperature goes between the two extremes, it can stress the glass container. If the glass ever gets a small crack that I can't see, the container could burst when used.  I don't want lye water all over my garage either so if the container ever bursts, it will do so in the pot. Now let me say that I have been mixing my lye water in the same glass container for over 20 years. I have never had a container break on me. However, I do know people who did have their lye water container break and I ALWAYS practice safety first. I also use this smaller pot to make hand lotion so this isn't its only function.

Pour the lye crystals into the water, not the other way around.  This is also done for safety. Stir until the crystals dissolve.

Leave the lye water to cool. I never remove the glass container from the pot to cool faster- just in case it got a new stress crack while mixing.

Another reason to mix the lye water in the garage is to allow it to cool undisturbed.  The lye water is dangerous at this stage and I don't want anyone in the house to touch it.  No one is allowed in my garage while the lye water is in there cooling. It takes a few hours to cool to the proper temperature. It is well over 130 degrees when first mixed and I usually cool it down to between 90 - 95 degrees before mixing with the oils.

There are times when you may need the lye water to cool faster.  If that is the case, you can fill the sink with four or five inches of water and ice and place the glass container holding your lye water into the sink full of water.  Stir the lye water constantly and measure the temperature every few minutes or so. It will cool much quicker this way. I have done this in the past a few times. On those occasions, the oils were cooling much faster then the lye water and I would either have to reheat the oils or cool the lye water so they could be combined. So, I decided to cool the lye water. Please remember though, the more you handle the lye water container, the greater your risk of spilling it.  The lye water is extremely caustic at this stage and not only will it burn your skin as mentioned above, it wil also  damage the finish on your home furnishings if you are not careful. For this reason, I try to limit my handling of the lye water container.  If faced with this situation, I do think it is easier to reheat the oils again, if necessary, to get everything to the proper temperature to combine them. 

I like to make soap when no one else is home.  I have heard from other people who make soap that family members have touched the lye water and burned themselves. I read on a soapmaking forum once about a lady whose husband drank the lye water by mistake and had to go to the hospital. I can't stress enough that safety must come first here. That doesn't go just for the two legged family members but it is equally important for the four legged ones too.  If you want to make soap when others are at home with you, lock the door to the room where the lye water is cooling and put a sign on the door to keep others out.

While the lye water is cooling, you can turn your attention to the base oils.  The base oils are covered in the next post!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cooking with Food Storage: Make Your Own Beef Stroganoff

This is one of my most favorite dishes to make from food storage.  The best thing about this beef stroganoff recipe is it's also cheaper then purchasing the box helper variety from the grocery store. Not only is it cheaper, but I think it tastes better than the store bought box!

I first got this recipe from the blog Chef Tess Bakeresse.  Stephanie has many different food storage recipes on her blog.  I have tried many of them and every one I tried was delicious.  I believe I can say that all her recipes are delicious but perhaps I am a little biased.  Stephanie and I have been emailing each other on occasion for over a year now and although we have never met in person, I consider her a friend.

Stephanie has two versions of this recipe on her blog.  One is a meal-in-a-jar using all shelf stable ingredients.  I have listed that recipe (and link) at the bottom of this post.   In my post today, I will show you my interpretation of this recipe using mostly food storage ingredients with a few fresh ingredients as well.  You can see Stephanie's original post using a few fresh ingredients here.

Start with some ground beef or turkey.  If I am using fresh meat, I like to use ground turkey. If using food storage, ground beef that you have canned yourself works well. In addition, I have used freeze dried ground beef and thought that was tasty. I bet freezed dried TVP would work too. What ever type of meat you are using, heat (or cook) the meat in a skillet pan.

When the meat is ready, add the following:
  • 2 cups noodles (I usually make my own but whole wheat noodles from the store work too.)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/4 cups milk (this is a great way to use and rotate powdered milk - reconstitute the powdered milk before adding to the skillet pan. Stephanie's original recipe calls for 2 cups of milk.)
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated mushroom slices (I don't add this - my husband doesn't like mushrooms)
  • 1/2 cup stroganoff skillet mix (Stephanie's original recipe calls for 1/3 cup mix but my husband and I like the flavor better when we add 1/2 cup.)
Stroganoff Skillet Mix
1 cup powdered milk (I have used both fat free and powdered whole milk, both taste good.)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup dry minced onions
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS parsley
2 TBS salt (I usually add less than this)
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp black pepper (Pepper doesn't like me so I never add it - my husband doesn't seem to mind.)

I usually store my skillet mix in a canning jar.  I vacuum seal it and store it with the spices.  Here is a picture of all my ingredients added to the skillet pan. Stir well until everything is mixed together.

Cover the skillet and let it simmer for eight to ten minutes. You can stir once or twice during this time but always replace the cover.

Here is a picture of mine at about 5 minutes time. 

When it has simmered for ten minutes and the noodles are tender, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup cream cheese and stir in well. You can use store bought cream cheese if you would like.  I make my own.  You can see how to make your own cream cheese here.

Once you have mixed in the cream cheese, it is ready to serve!  Here is a picture of mine.

If you would like to make this as a meal-in-a-jar, you can see Stephanie's recipe here.  There are a few meal-in-a-jar recipes on this page so scroll a bit to see the one for stroganoff. I have repeated the recipe (sans instructions) below. Please visit her site to see the instructions for how to package it in the jar.

Stroganoff Meal Mix in a Jar Recipe
1/2 cup powdered buttermilk
1/2 cup powdered sour cream
1 cup flour
1/3 cup gravy mix
1/2 cup dehydrated sliced onions
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS parsley
2 TBS salt 
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp black pepper

Mmmmm! It is delicious! Serve with a salad and some garlic bread sticks and you have a perfect inexpensive meal!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What is Emergency Preparedness?

As you may know, September is Emergency Preparedness month in the US.  If you live in the US, you are probably hearing FEMA commercials on the radio telling you to have 3 or more days food and water put aside for an emergency.  You may be thinking that you don't live in hurricane or tornado country so what do you have to worry about.

For a moment lets also put aside snow and ice storms. Ditto on chemical spills or wild fires.  For the sake of argument, let's say that you live in an area where neither natural disasters nor man-made disasters could ever happen. 

Even if this is the case, you should still have emergency preparedness plans.

Why?  Have you ever been laid off?  Has anyone in your family every been too sick to work? Have you ever been in an auto accident, left without a car and not have the money to purchase a new one? Have you ever had a flat tire on the side of the road?

Emergency preparedness plans are for when the unexpected happens to you.  It really doesn't matter what 'the unexpected' is. When it happens, most people are caught off guard.  That is when you reach for your emergency preparedness plans.

Emergency preparedness is more than food and water.  It is also having some money in an emergency savings account, having the physical stamina needed to deal with an emergency and/or having the mental stamina needed to deal with an emergency, among other things. While supplies give you the resources you need in an emergency, plans give you the flexibility needed to act when the emergency happens and time is tight.

I talk about food and water storage quite a bit here at Whispers From Elizabeth so for this post, we will put those two aside and talk about the plan instead. Here are some other things you should consider adding to your emergency preparedness plans:
  • Emergency car kits - (For that flat tire or mechanical failure by the side of the road.) You can read about what to put into your emergency car kit here.
  • 72 Hour kits - (In case you have to go anywhere in a hurry.) Some people call these G.O.O.D. bags or 'get out of Dodge' bags. Next week I will post about what I have in my 72 hour kit. These are stored at home, rather than in your car.
  • Emergency funds - This one is extremely important. You don't want to have to go into debt to fix the air conditioner or furnace if it happens to break.  Start small - just a few dollars or even small change every week will add up. This is a journey not a destination.  When an emergency happens to you and you use up the funds, you will have to start over saving up again.
  • Physical stamina - While it would be great if we were all in top athletic condition, what is really important is your ability to face the emergency.  Do you have the stamina to walk if your car broke down on a deserted section of the highway? Can you lift something heavy if you had to move debris to get to one of your family members?
  • Mental stamina - I think this one is the most critical of all.  All of us face burdens of some kind in this life and what is really important is how you react to them. You will react better if you are mentally prepared. Think about what risks you and your family face. Then, think about how you would handle it.  If you fall apart at the moment the emergency happens, you won't be able to help anyone!
Take the opportunity this month and start work on your emergency preparedness plans!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Garden Update

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, our summer gardens are winding down.  In the southeast US, we are getting ready to start our fall gardens.  I have quite a few items I am going to plant in my garden this fall: carrots, broccoli, garlic, spinach, and peas.  The spot for the carrots is ready now, I expect to put them in during the next week. The broccoli will go in when the green beans are finished.  The spinach will go in when the squash and pumpkins are done.

I expect my summer garden to be wrapped up in about 4 weeks.  I am picking green beans two to three times a week now.  I expect to hit my goal of 52 quarts for the year.  While some squash plants have died, I still have two that I expect to produce until October. Not sure if I will hit the 120 mark but I still may make 100 squash for the year. 

My pumpkins are producing but not as well as last year.  I expect that is because I planted corn and pole beans (in my attempt to grow a three sister garden) and had to fertilize them so they would do well.  The pumpkins have great leaves, strong growth, and only a few pumpkins.  Next year, I will better prepare the planting bed for the corn and be mindful to keep the fertilizer out of the pumpkins so I will get more fruit. BTW, the corn did make a few ears (I only planted nine plants) and the pole beans are flowering now.  We don't care for pole beans because they make strings and I usually miss pulling out a few of them, but Molly doesn't mind so I will can them up for her dinners.

I have also been harvesting the herbs. I went out to check on them a few weeks ago and found all doing well but the parsley.  This is what greeted me on the parsley plants.

He was helping himself to all my parsley.  Now, I must explain that the parsley is in the front yard.  It is not protected behind my fence, in the back yard.  My neighborhood has rabbits. On their romp through the neighborhood, they visit my yard every night. Rabbits love parsley.  So, to keep the rabbits from eating my parsley, I went out almost every evening this summer and sprinkled the leaves with chili pepper powder. Twice a day if it rained!  After all that work, there was no way I was sharing my parsley with this caterpillar! 
However, I couldn't kill the caterpillar either.  This is a parsley worm and it will turn into the Monarch Butterfly next year.  I like the butterflies, I just don't like the caterpillar stage eating my hard work.  Anyway, I cut off each leaf stem I could and left the crown to grow more.  I took the stem the caterpillar was on and placed it in the grass far enough away that he wouldn't crawl back to the parsley plants.  He may turn into food for the neighborhood birds, I don't know.  I do know I wasn't sharing the parsley!
I dried some of the parsley in brown paper bags.  You can see here how to do that.  I also dried some in the microwave.  I now have some of my own parsley to use in soups and stews this winter. I also am currently drying oregano, basil, sage, savory, tarragon, rosemary, and stevia.
I am still drying tobacco leaves AND I am eagerly anticipating the seeds for next year's crop! Here is a picture of the tobacco flowers. These flowers are as tall as me. You can see the pumpkins on the left along the fence in the back of the picture. The corn is along the fence as well, directly behind the tobacco flower.

I have also picked quite a few figs.  I am drying them.  Some time this winter, I am going to make my own fig newtons!  In case you are wondering, fresh figs are quite sweet with a very mild flavor.

Tomatoes are still ripening and I am canning a lot of tomato sauce.  I had a bit of a fungus problem (leaf spot) on the tomatoes a few weeks ago.  I don't often get diseases on my tomato plants, but with the mild winter we had last year and all the rain this summer, diseases have been quite common in our area this year .

The only crop with no update is the peanuts.  They are doing fine and still flowering although the peanuts that form off of the current flowers will not have time enough to fully develop.  I won't know how successful the crop is for another month.

Are you planning a fall garden?  Tell us what you are planting in the comments!