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Monday, December 24, 2012

bath salts and scrubs

Bath Salts
baking soda, Epsom salts, ground dried lavender buds, lavender and tea tree essential oils, olive oil
Recently, a conversation piqued my interest and I had to do some more reading to follow up on it. I'm not one to avidly follow the news, even while an election is taking place, so much of this passed me by at the time. It seems that stupid people can't find enough stupid ways to mess their stupid brains and bodies up with drugs that make them even more stupid. The latest craze? Bath salts. Different articles purport slightly different information about what these "bath salts" really are and where they may be found. Some sources imply that regular old bath salts one might find in the grocery store are dangerous, high classed drugs if used the right way. I'm not entirely sure I believe that claim.

At any rate, all this got me thinking. I make my own bath body scrubs, and although I generally tend to prefer clear water in my bath there are some times when a beautifully scented cup of salts added to the hot water is incredibly appealing. Would you like to give my recipes a try? They really are ridiculously easy ... and cheap, and healthy, and the results on the skin are decadence worthy of a fancy spa treatment.

Citrus Spice Bath Scrub
1 cup white or brown sugar 
olive oil 
vitamin E oil 
5 drops cinnamon essential oil 
15 drops orange essential oil 
5 drops chamomile essential oil 
fresh peeled rind of one orange
1 cinnamon stick 

Fill a pint jar part-way with desired sugar. White sugar tends to be the cheapest. Brown sugar feels a little silkier on the skin and is gentler on delicate facial skin.

Now, add your oil. I prefer extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of vitamin E oil, both to preserve the scrub for a good long shelf life in damp bathrooms and to really punch up the beautification on your skin. Poke things around in the jar with a knife a bit to fully saturate the sugar.

Add essential oils now. You can play around with them a bit, and you can very easily make your own combinations of scents. Essential oils, like the herbs they come from, bear huge healing properties that can be very beneficial to the body in the right combinations and uses. For this Citrus Spice blend, add 15 drops of orange, 5 drops of cinnamon, and 5 drops of chamomile. Orange helps brighten the skin and reduce varicose veins. Cinnamon increases circulation. Chamomile is very soothing to delicate skin areas and will calm redness. Once you have all the oils and sugar mixed up beautifully, push in some orange rind that you have peeled from a fresh, clean orange with a vegetable peeler -- only the colored part is beneficial here. The white pith is bitter and doesn't look pretty. I like to push orange rind in long strips down the sides of the glass. Add a cinnamon stick, as well. Fill up the jar to the top with more olive oil, and cap.

Use this scrub on face and body, all over, any time your skin needs a pick-me-up brightening, softening, and smoothing treatment. You can use this daily if you like. Rub in circular motions over damp skin, rinse off, and pat dry. There will be little need for extra lotion, and your skin will thank you for the kindness!

Bath Salts
6 cups epsom salts or rock sea salt, or a blend of both
1 cup baking soda
30-40 drops of essential oils
1 cup herbs

You need a large jar or tupperware for this recipe. It is worth making a lot! If you put the effort in this Christmas season and gift some homemade herbal bath salts to family and friends, you will know the bigger payout of your efforts in following weeks and months as you hear back from their improved bathing and pampering experiences. It is so simple to whip up a batch of something beautiful and healthy for a tired mom or lonely grandma, package it in something recyclable and pleasing, and if you are careful with your scents then a lot of men adore bath salts, too, for aching muscles and sore feet.

In a large bowl, mix up salts and baking soda. Epsom salts are readily available in large bags from most pharmacies. Baking soda is cheap almost everywhere, but I find that Cosco and other bulk buy stores sell extra big bags for a very reasonable price. Rock sea salt is more expensive, but again, still not much compared to bought bath salts and efforts in bulk buying will save you a lot of money.

Add essential oils and stir well with a wooden stick before tossing in herbs and transferring the mix to a beautiful jar.

Make a Citrus Spice blend to complement the scrub you made, using 20 drops orange, 10 drops cinnamon, 10 drops chamomile essential oils. Toss in a handful of cinnamon sticks lightly bashed in half with a hammer, 1/2 cup dried orange peel, 1/2 cup dried lemon peel, 1/2 cup chamomile flowers.

Make an uplifting mint blend to tingle tired nerves and clear the mind. This is especially great for tired feet, and for men. Use essential oils of peppermint or spearmint, eucalyptus, rosemary. Add 1 cup of mixed rosemary and sweet mint dried herbs.

Make a more womanly blend, using scents more often favored by girls and women, and herbs that heal delicate areas after childbirth or soothe an infant's tender skin. Use rose and jasmine essential oils, with rose petals, rose hips for vitamin C, and calendula flowers and chickweed herb for healing tears and skin abrasions. If preparing a bath salt for a postpartum mother, you may prefer to stick with sea salts and go heavy on the healing herbs.

You may, of course, leave out the herbs if you like, but where's the fun in that? Bath salts may be added directly under running water in the bath, and larger herbs are easily scooped out with a kitchen sieve before draining the tub. Alternatively, you may tie up bath salts with herbs as possets bound in cheesecloth and ribbon, like giant tea bags, which are then easily removed. The cloths may be reused many times once you shake out the old tea, rinse and let dry. 

knitted woven mug warmer

 A couple of days ago, I typed "mug cosy knitted pattern" into Google search and took a look at the images. I found one that I really liked, but all the links for the pattern were expired. Couldn't find it. Found where I could buy the pattern, but I thought to myself, "really, this is a simple pattern, I bet I could copy it easily myself!" And I did.

I prefer mine, but if you would like to buy the actual, proper, original pattern you can find it on this link.

If you would like to see how ridiculously simple it really is, read on!

Knitted woven mug warmer

Use heavy weight yarn that is easily washable. Sounds obvious but I still find it's worth saying, "easily washable", on the off-chance that you knit this up out of white angora and then spill mulled wine down the side of your mug and cry. It may be a quick, easy pattern but it's still not worth the frustration of stains.

Use straight needles in US size 3.

Cast on 15 stitches.

Row 1: k5, p5, k5
Row 2: p5, k5, p5
Rows 3-6: repeat rows 1 and 2 twice

Row 7: p5, k5, p5
Row 8: k5, p5, k5
Rows 9-12: repeats rows 7 and 8 twice

What you have knitted now forms 6 squares in two rows of 3. (I hope that makes sense to you!) Repeat what you have done 4 more times, until you have 10 rows of 3 squares each. It will be approximately 22 cm (or 9 inches) long by 8 cm (3 to 3 1/4 inches) wide.

(Let me try to explain this next as clearly as I can, for any knitting novices that might be reading, so I will go tiny step by tiny step now.)

You have 15 stitches on the needle. Numbering them from right to left, as you work them, I start with stitch number 1.
1 - k
2 - knit. Pull first stitch over the 2nd stitch and drop it off the needle to bind it, or cast it, off.
3 - k. Cast off again.
4 - k. Cast off again.
5 and 6 - k as normal
(You have now 3 stitches on your right needle.)
7 - k
8 - k, and cast off
9 - k, and cast off
10 - k, and cast off again
11 and 12 - k 
13 - k
14 - k, and cast off
15 - k, and cast off. Leaving a tail, break the yarn and thread it through this last stitch to cast it off.

You should now have 6 stitches remaining on your needle, in 2 groups of 3 with a gap between. Use a stitch holder to keep the 3 stitches on the right safe for you, while you work the left into an I-cord.

Transfer stitches to double pointed needles. Keep the work facing the same way throughout the I-cord knitting: do not flip front and back as you normally would work between knit and pearl sides.
Reattach yarn and K3
You are now holding your work on the needle in your right hand. Keeping it facing the same way towards you, slide the work from the left end of the needle to the right end of the needle, and K3 again. Keep doing this until you have about 10-12 rows of I-cord, or 6 cm (2 1/2 inches) length. Cast off as you usually would, knitting 2 and dropping the first stitch over the second and off the needle. Pull yarn tail through the final stitch.

Repeat the above with the final 3 stitches you had placed on the stitch holder, knitting I-cord, casting off and securing.

Now, all you need to do it weave in the yarn tails in your work, using the I-cord tails to secure the cords to each other forming a loop. Sew on a button.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

pineapple fruit cake

I received this recipe from a lovely lady by the name of Rosie, from my mother's "Monkey Group" of prayer warriors in England, to use for my wedding cake. It turned out amazingly well.

Pineapple Fruit Cake

Mix together:
4 oz glace cherries, cut in half
14 oz self-raising flour

(To make self-raising flour, add 1 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1/8 tsp salt per measured cup of plain flour.)

Add and mix in:
24 oz dried fruit
You may vary the types and quantities of dried fruit, and nuts if you like, according to your preferences. Some dried fruits that work well include raisins, sultanas, currents, blueberries, cranberries, cherries.

Beat together in a separate bowl:
10 oz butter
9 oz dark brown sugar

Add and beat again:
4 eggs, whisked

Slowly stir together into the butter/eggs mixture:
large can of crushed pineapple (420 grams)

Slowly stir the fruit and flour mix into the pineapple mixture.
Spread into a well-greased tin that is lined on the bottom with greased parchment paper. I like to grease the whole tin, place the paper down, and it sticks in place as I grease the top of it again lightly. Spread the mix towards the edges, leaving a dip in the center, so that it comes out flat once cooked.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven at 325F/160C/gas mark 3 for approximately 2 hours. Times will vary according to the size of the cake -- you may double or triple this cake and spread in various sizes of tins, as I did for my wedding cake, and you then just need to keep an eye on the cake. It will be done when a toothpick comes out cleanly from the center of the cake.

The quantity of this recipe is large. You will want one deep, large spring form pan, the type you would make cheesecake in, or another cake tin with 3 inch high sides. I tripled the above recipe and had 3 sizes of cake.

To repeat what I did for my wedding cake, continue on with these instructions. To ice more simply, a sugar and lemon glaze poured on thickly is lovely.

I made my cakes 9 weeks ahead of my wedding day date. It sat in the cool (in March in England, all I had to do was keep them covered in boxes in the porch outside my mother's kitchen, but you may use the fridge) for a week. Then, each weekend, I turned the cakes over, poked holes all over the top with a toothpick, and poured over approximately 1/2 c good quality brandy. 3 weeks before the wedding, I brushed warmed apricot jam over the top and sides of each cake and spread a layer of marzipan smoothly over it. 1 and half weeks before the wedding, I covered each cake with a ready-roll white royal icing. The marzipan layer underneath protects the royal icing from discoloration. The apricot jam glues the marzipan to the cake. This week, I also shaped butterfly cutouts and roses from marzipan to place on top of cake a few days before the wedding. They only needed a light dip of water on the bottoms to properly stick to the royal icing top.