Kitchen Magic – 10-6-2019

Several years ago, maybe 5, I wanted to learn to make soap. I have a friend that I met through knitting, Cat, and she made soap and had for years. One day while I was in Michael’s Arts and Crafts, I saw soap base, molds, and fragrances and I bought some. The soap base was a melt and pour variety, the fragrances were strong and artificial, not what I wanted as soap.

I guess I mentioned this at knitting, I don’t really remember, but Cat invited me over for a cup of tea and a soap making lesson. I was excited, but didn’t know what I was in for. When I arrived, her kitchen counters were covered with thick layers of newpaper, a big pot was out, more different oils than I knew existed, essential oils, molds of various kinds (though we stuck to silicone cake pans and loaf style molds that day), an immersion blender, and printed out copies of several of her favorite recipes and books to borrow. I had a total immersion lesson, making two different batches of soap with her standing at my side, guiding me, but letting me do the hands on part. She taught me that when a recipe says x ounces or grams, it is weighed measure, not liquid measure even with liquids. I came home with two pans of soap curing, part of each recipe made with safety tips, recipes, a thrift store pot and immersion blender, and books to borrow. I was hooked. She had previously given me a bar of her soap and it was so much nicer than anything I could buy in the store and certainly nicer than the melt and pour stuff I had tried.

Only once, after that lesson, but after a bit since I had plenty of soap to use, I goofed and measured by volume, not weight. That batch was a failure, but a lesson learned. As I got better, I experimented with essential oils for scents and soon was making way more soap than hubby and I could use up. Fortunately, one of our children and his family like my homemade soap as much as I and some could go to their home. But still I had too much.

Along the path, a couple friends asked me to teach them and believing in the each one teach one ideal, I had a similar lesson session in my kitchen with each of the ladies making a batch to take home along with a mold, instructions, and some supplies.

I was already environmentally aware, recycling, reusing, making food from scratch, shopping at the Farmers Market, but I wanted more. I wanted to not have unpronounceables in my body products and cleaning supplies and I started making lotion bars and salves, then beard oils, my own cleaning supplies, and laundry soap (after another failed batch that was too caustic due to forgetting an oil). I learned that you could use bar soap as shampoo, with the right lather it can be used as shaving soap as well, and then there was too much of all of it, and Cabin Crafted was born.

I opened an Etsy shop, there is a link at the top of the blog and started doing some smaller local craft shows. This December will mark the 4th year I have set up at the Farmers Market that I frequent on Saturday mornings, for three weekends of Holiday Markets. I have some soaps and salves at a local museum. I will be at Booker T. Washington Park in early November in costume demonstrating fiber prep and spinning and vending my yarn, soap, and salves there. There is one other craft event that I am awaiting a decision on whether I will be allowed to participate. A few others have been tried and not repeated as they were not worth my time and effort. To guarantee that there will be enough supplies for the potentially 5 markets, I embarked on a holiday soap making a couple days ago. Friend, Cat, loaned me some of her holiday shaped molds, I had purchased a couple of my own, and for the past two days, the kitchen has been dominated by soap making.

Once cured, it will be packaged, crated, and ready for the events. There are a couple more days of soap making to be done, I still need to make Lavender scented and a few batches of non holiday shapes.

It is magic to watch the warm oils and butters, the caustic sodium hydroxide (Lye) dissolved in water, tea, milk, or coffee, transform into a solid that was molded or cut into bars from a loaf. Once cured and hard, a rich lathering bar of soap with many purposes.

Autumn at last? – 10/4/2019

The fourth day of October and the first day in forever that it will finally be less than 90f (32+c) during the heat of the day. The last time this area hit 90 on October 1 was the October before Pearl Harbor. And though we have had two brief showers this week, it is still bone dry with full outdoor burn bans in effect. It has been hot, dry, and brittle here while other parts of our country have experienced record rain falls and flooding, and a record snowfall.

Our average first frost date is October 10. It has happened only once that early since I have lived here and I am certain it is going to be well after that this year. It has been too hot to put the garden to bed for the winter and too early to plant the garlic and potato onions that need to wait for much cooler weather.

Like in past years, I had put a Jade plant, a Dracena, and a hanging spider plant on the front, north facing porch for the summer.

The back of the house faces south so the kitchen and both baths have south facing windows that hold 2 small philodendron, three holiday cacti, an aloe, and a ponytail palm cluster.

Last winter, I bought the tiny succulent in the nobby glass candle holder in the above picture and this spring, I divided the aloe. Then fell prey to the outdoor display at the grocer of a concrete looking pot of succulents, realized that two tiny hen and chicks had survived the winter outdoors, was gifted a most gorgeous succulent dish garden in a hand thrown bowl, and bought a yellow flowering Kalanchoe. The second aloe pot was moved to the porch, the purchased and gifted succulents added to the same table, though the Kalanchoe was re-potted from the tacky plastic pot it came in to a ceramic one and a matching pot purchased to plant the hen and chicks.

The spider plant “babies” were potted in a second hanging pot and hung on the opposite side of the entry way and then a friend gifted me a different variety of already rooted “babies” so I added them to the new pot. Now I have two spider plants that will need to come inside when frost threatens. The jade plant and the Dracena have places that they overwinter indoors, but now there are succulents to bring in as well.

The area in front of the south facing doors to the back deck is where the big guy follows the sun on cool days. He has already taken to lying there for short periods of time now that the sun is beginning to move to the south of the house during the day and casting light in his spot. It gets too hot now and he doesn’t stay there long, but that is his spot.

The corner in front of the hutch, in “his spot” is where the jade usually goes, but that is the door that opens onto the deck that wasn’t usable for two years until this spring, so I can’t put the succulents there.

A some shuffling in my craft area, along with a bit of decluttering this summer cleared a small folding bookshelf that is about the same width as the kitchen cabinets on the opposite side of the french doors, so it was placed against the cabinet in front of the semi-fixed side of the doors. Though there is no frost in our near future, it is supposed to dip into the lower 40’s f (5 to 6c) at night later this week. The spider plants can withstand that, but I didn’t want to risk the succulents and Dracena, all tropical plants, so each pot was brought in, sprayed down with a water spray to rid them of stink bugs and spiders, thoroughly watered and put in their over winter spots.

In that spot, they will be warm, get sun for about half the day, and be where I can monitor the plants for mites and scale, a problem that the spider plants and aloe seem to suffer in the winter indoors. There are hanging hooks in the utility room window that will get the spider plants later. I will trim back any damaged foliage, most of the longer “babies,” spray them with a very strong stream of water outdoors before they are brought in and hung in the windows. I love my houseplants as much as my gardens.

Maybe with the cooler days, the spent plants in the garden can be trimmed back or pulled, the asparagus tops cut to the ground and mulched, and the bed for the garlic and onions prepared for planting in late November. I will continue to harvest peppers and beans as long as they provide and will bring in the pumpkins once I can find them in the vines, probably not until a frost kills back the growth.

Challenges – 10/3/2019

But these are the fun kind of challenges. Maybe still a bit stressful when you realize that if you fail, there is a lot of unknitting (tinking) to be done. I’m not a good enough knitter to bravely pull the needle out and unravel and then just pick up the live stitches again where you should have quit or not made the mistake, unless it is plain stockinette stitch. I never have gotten good at using lifelines to hold a row of stitches before a lace pattern.

My main current knit is Free Your Fade, a long basically triangular shawl by Andrea Mowry. The pattern comes in two yarn sizes, DK and Fingering. As I mentioned before, I purchased a lovely 788 yard skein of 97% Alpaca, 3% Blue Faced Leicester from Only the Finest fingering weight yarn at the Knotty Ladies Retreat in Black Mountain in August. The skein was actually 4 two ounce coordinating skeins and I had a pattern in mind which would have required more yarn, so I purchased a 4 ounce skein of a 5th coordinating color. The planned pattern called for worsted weight and made a wide generous trapezoid basically of triangles joined. I thought if I did it in fingering, I could create the same effect in a scarf. I started it, and didn’t like it. First challenge. I was probably only 70% through the first color, so off the needles and simple rewind the yarn. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the nearly $100 worth of soft loveliness then. A few days later, whilst I was reading a friend’s knitting blog, I noticed the photo in her header and it was gorgeous, but everything she knits is gorgeous. A few message exchanges and I purchased the pattern from the designer, it looked like the perfect solution for the lovely yarn.

Challenge 2: The pattern uses a 200 yard skein and two 400 yard skeins, I had plenty of yarn, but because mine was in four almost 200 yard skeins plus one almost 400 yard skein, it meant that the fade patterns from one color to the next would have to happen more frequently and not in the same place in the pattern after the first one. OK, that isn’t a big deal, she says in the intro that you can fade on any of the 20 row garter sections. The pattern forms the triangle by increasing 1 stitch every other row, so 10 stitches over 20 rows, followed by a 2 row eyelet lace with 1 more stitch increase. But each increase row started with a decrease and ends with a stitch that makes 2 new stitches, thus the 1 stitch increase and the triangle gets wider and wider. There was more than enough of the first color to follow the pattern and do the written fade into the second color.

Challenge 3: The second color in the pattern is a 400 yards skein which meant that I was going to have to use 2 of the 2 ounce skeins to achieve that part of the pattern and an extra fade. Remember, the fades have to be done on a 20 row garter section and I didn’t want to waste any of this precious yarn so I played chicken and continued knitting, hoping to have enough to finish the second fade, three garter stitch sections and another fade with the eyelet rows included. Well I finished with about 80 inches (200 cm) of that color as I started on the next color.

And then on to the variegated skein. Now the triangle is getting wider and there will certainly not be enough to do three garter stitch sections with two fades and eyelets so I shot for only two garter stitch sections with two fades and eyelets.

As you can see from the middle remnant, I played chicken again, though not quite as close, I had about 120 inches (300 cm) left and on to the last 2 ounce color. I guess there will only be enough for a fade, 1 garter stitch section, and a fade with leftovers, but I still have the last 4 ounce (almost 400 yard) darker Merlot color left to finish without worrying about running out. This shawl is going to be very long.

I have 181 stitches on the needles now and the pattern ends with 215 stitches when you start the picot bind off. Her general instructions say to can make it bigger if you wish by adding more sections. I doubt that I will, I will probably use the left over Merlot, lavender, gray (there was a bit of it left), and the remnants to make a matching hat or mitts. I have some lovely Romeldale CVM fiber I am spinning that would coordinate nicely with this for a hat or mitts and I will have a new ensemble to keep me warm and cozy this winter, if it ever drops below 90 degrees here. But there is no climate change, the deniers say so.