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Monday, December 28, 2015

Homemade Bread, yummmm

Thanks to my wonderful son, I received this for Christmas:

Since I had the weekend off, I naturally decided to make some bread!  I spent about an hour reading the book and felt I was well prepared to try my hand at making Ciabatta bread.  Bread-making is a lot like soap-making; it requires patience.  The end product is not produced within minutes, or even hours.

In this case I began by  making a poolish starter (pictured), a wet sponge-like dough that ferments for at least a day.
Using a starter for bread-making creates better flavor and texture. A biga is anther type of starter; it is not as wet as the poolish.

The next day, I made the bread dough and added the poolish to the dough.  This dough needed a couple more hours to rise then I created a cloche with a large white dishtowel and allowed the dough to rise again for at least an hour.

Baking the bread was quite the experience.  I purchased this Emile Henry Rectangular Baking Stone, Black
I heated the stone, a cast iron pan, and the oven to 500 degrees and placed the dough on the stone.  Immediately after doing this I added hot water to the cast iron pan which created a steam in the oven.  Apparently, professional baking ovens have a push button that will send steam into the oven!  

I closed the oven door and every 30 seconds I would open the door and spray water against the back and sides of the oven to create more steam.  This was repeated 3 times, then I lowered the oven temperature to  450 degrees and the bread was allowed to bake for 20 minutes.

The finished product was not bad for a first time but room for improvement.  The bread crust was crisp, not too tough, and the flavor was very good! Needless to say, I'll be baking more bread very soon!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Beeswax Candles

A year or so ago, a friend at work gave me a giant block of beeswax for my soap making.  I haven't used beeswax in soap before and still haven't, although I am going to try it soon.  Regardless, the amount of beeswax he gave me was WAY more than I'd use in soap so I figured I'd make candles with it.  How hard could that be, really?  You just melt the wax put a wick in and let it dry....

Well, it was a MESS, and a slight disaster.  The candles never really burned well; they'd create this pit as they burned then burn themselves out.  All in all, it was a failure.

Not to be deterred I decided to give it another go and remelt the wax.  This time I did a little research and discovered I used too flimsy of a wick.  Beeswax is slow burning and therefore you need a sturdier wick.

I purchased these CandleScience 50 Piece Natural Candle Wick, Medium
with a wick clip on the bottom from Amazon.  I set my containers on a paper towel, cut a hole in a piece of masking tape that I taped to the top, and slipped the wick though the tape.  This secured the wick as I poured the wax into the container.

I also learned, as I was researching my previous failure, that beeswax burns really hot and can sometimes crack the container it's in.  Blending the wax with a 'cooler' oil helps keep the temperature down.  Because of this I added one cup of coconut oil to a pound of wax as it was melting.

*Helpful Hint*  Do not melt the wax in any container you plan to keep.  You will NOT be able to clean the container.  I find it's easier to use an old coffee can, or in this case metal cookie can, as a double boiler,

Before I poured the wax into the containers, I added a little grapefruit fragrance oil for a nice natural scent that would complement the scent of the beeswax. 

With just these couple of changes, I'm happy to report, my candles now burn steadily, without pits, and smell fresh, not overpowering.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Swing Arm Vanity Makeover

Here's hoping everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a great one!  Before I get started on my latest sidewalk find, I want to re-share an article I read this morning that once again explains how everyday  products, including skincare products, are contaminating our bodies.  Many chemicals found in these products have been linked to cancer and birth defects.  On that note, all of Lora's Beauty soaps and skincare products are free from toxic chemicals.  They are made the old-fashion way, by hand and with ingredients you can pronounce.  I've just replenished the Patchouli Cedar Sage Bar in the online store as well.

Now, on to another furniture redo.

This little table I saw on the sidewalk on my way home from work a couple weeks ago.  I liked the shape of it and the fact that it had drawers and stood on skinny legs.  I had no idea why it had  arms that swung out from each side, however.  When I explained my find to my mom, she knew instantly what it was, a swing arm vanity.

Apparently, back in the day when multiple people shared a bathroom in a house, women used these tables to apply and store makeup.  From the swinging arms a skirt would be hung which would conceal a stool for sitting and the drawers when not in use.

Here's the vanity after I re-glued the top, repainted it and added new pulls.

I used milk paint and distressed the legs and the edges of the piece.

The arms still swing readily and will soon sport a new skirt.

It's always nice to give an old, discarded piece new life and learn something new at the same time.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Blackberry Jam No Pectin

I tried something new this weekend.  Last summer was the best summer EVER for blackberry picking.  We went 4 or 5 times and came home with at least 3 pounds of berries each time.  I ended up freezing almost all of them, except the ones I pickled or made into jam using pectin.  Well this weekend I ran out of jam AND I had no more pectin!  I really didn't want to go to the store (it's kinda cold outside) so I started researching how to make blackberry freezer jam with out pectin.  Come to find out, it's not that hard at all; it's also better as in you don't need as much sugar.  Pectin imparts a sour taste in your jam, to get around that people add more sugar, twice as much as you'd need if you didn't use it.

To begin with, gather up 9-11 1/2 pint sized jars and lids.  I used glass jars although you might want to use the plastic ones if you have them since you will be freezing the jam.

Next heat 1 pound of blackerries over medium hear until they are soupy.

Once soupy, add 2-3 cups of sugar (or honey if you'd prefer).  Bring this mixture to boil and continue to stir for 20 minutes while berries are boiling.  This release the natural pectin all berries have.

Allow the berries to cool slightly before transferring them to your containers.  You should notice the berries have thickened.
Once completely cool, add lids and freeze!

It's really that simple.  You can do this with any berry really.  There is no need to add pectin or unnecessary sugar.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Gift Ideas

Every Christmas my son asks me what I would like for a gift.  Once put on the spot, my mind goes blank; so this year I'm going to try something different and make a blog post of what I consider to be AWESOME gifts for anyone (and if, by chance, anyone I know looks at it....all the better!)

*Warning*  This list is weighted with food and drinks, books about food and drinks, and gadgets to help eat  or make food and drink;  because well, food and drinks are AWESOME.  Also, *Warning* I'm going to practice using semicolons in this post because I read this recently on how to use them and  I'm all now like, why didn't I use this awesome punctuation before!?

Ok, so let's begin; in no particular order here are some FABULOUS gifts:

  1. Pizza Rocker -- This gets bonus points because it's also a really cool knife and I have this soft spot for knives and that does NOT make me weird, thank you.  Lately, we've been making homemade pizza every week and this cutter would be just the item to make our pizza experience even better!
  2. Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again
  3.  Ok, I'm a little late to this fan club but I read this article about Ina Garten (THE Barefoot Contessa) and thought, hmmm, she's kinda awesome; so naturally, I need a book of hers!
  4. Plant Hanger  This isn't technically food or drink related on the surface; look a little deeper though.  Can't you picture a couple or three bowls of herbs growing on it?  I thought so.
  5. Chocolate Whiskey; enough said.
  6. IMUSA, A417-82501, Electric Pressure Cooker, 5-Quart
  7.  This was on my Amazon wish list and I don't remember exactly why.  I'm going to trust my instinct and figure I had a good reason for putting it there and it probably had to do with chocolate cake.  Speaking of which, I overheard this conversation at work about someone making chocolate cake in a slow cooker!  Seriously!  Well, I'm not putting slow cooker on the list this year.
  8. Wine from Shallon Winery in Astoria, Oregon.  Unfortunately the only way to get this wine is to visit the winery, but lucky for you, the trip is so worth it!  This winery is a one man operation and he's about 80 years old.  The first thing he'll do when you walk in is lock the door.  Don't be alarmed, he just wants to devote all his attention to you and not be bothered by any other pesky customers.  Allow at least 30 minutes to listen to his spiel and taste his wines.  This will not be a quick 'run in for some chocolate wine' kind of trip.  WHOA!  Did she just say CHOLOCOLATE WINE!?  Yes I did and it is fabulous!!!
Here's a picture of my bottle from my last trip (in the pretty blue wrapping) and my bottle of spiced apple wine which I'll be serving with Thanksgiving dinner, thank you.
  1. 9. Soap from Lora's Beauty -- Ok, this is just obvious promotion of my wonderful, artisan soaps and no, I don't expect my son to give me these for a gift as I have all I want!  However, for those of you who haven't tried the awesomeness that is artisan soap, may I recommend a few.  My favorite is probably the Cocoa Butter Cream and you can't go wrong with tossing in a Mug-o-Beer Bar with your gift and a couple bars of Himalayan Salt Soap would round out a perfect gift to be loved and used by anyone!
Well, that's all I have for now but I think this may be the best gift guide this year as well as the best post with semi colons!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pickled Blackberries?!

It does seem like we've had a bumper crop of blackberries this season in the Pacific Northwest.  We've gone picking four times already this year and may go again in a couple weeks. Our favorite spot needs time for the new berries to ripen.

Along with my daily blackberry smoothies, a couple of blackberry cobblers,  and the blackberry freezer jam I made, I tried a new recipe, pickled blackberries.  This was my first time pickling anything and I was a little nervous about wasting my precious blackberries so I only made a few small jars to see if  we'd like them.

The recipe I used is as follows:

  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 3 allspice berries
  • ½-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 small fresh bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1/4 onion, chopped into big pieces
  • 6 tbsps sugar
  • 3 tbsps kosher salt
  • 2 cups red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 18 oz. fresh blackberries (about 4 cups), washed and shaken of excess water

  1. Roughly crush the peppercorns, allspice, and juniper berries together with a mortar and pestle (or however you like to crush hard round spices). Place the crushed spices, ginger, bay leaf, sprig of thyme, shallot, sugar, kosher salt, red wine vinegar, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the brine to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.
  2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the liquid. Let the liquid cool completely or you’ll cook your berries. Discard the spices and aromatics.
  3. Place the berries in a clean canning jars. Pour the cooled pickling liquid over the berries. Cover the jar tightly and refrigerate for at least a week before serving, but 2 or more weeks is preferred. Keeps for up to 3 months refrigerated. Makes 4 cups of pickled blackberries.

The hardest part was waiting for the brine to cool.
Once cool, I poured the brine over the waiting blackberries.

These blackberries will taste great with some soft cheese and crackers.

Or, perhaps replacing pickled cucumbers on burgers or mushrooms burgers.  Yummm!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Outside our house we have two large English Walnut trees.  Growing up I lived in a house that had a English Walnut tree as well.  I wouldn't say these are overly beautiful trees.  They don't turn a vibrant yellow or red in the Fall, more of a mud yellow.  They're also quite messy.  They drop their leaves late in the Fall, usually the first week in December.  This means I'm usually out raking leaves in the cold and rain.  In the summer they drop walnuts with the help of squirrels, who take up permanent residence in the trees in mid summer.

I am, however, a firm believer in never harming a mature tree.  So I rake the leaves in the cold and I sweep the walnut shells up in the heat.  This year I decided to do more with my trees, I decided to make Nocino.  

Nocino is an Italian liquor made with unripe, green walnuts.  

Begin by cutting green walnuts into quarters.  It's best to use a hammer and a flat head screw driver for this.

Next add sugar and warm spices (think cinnamon, allspice, cloves, vanilla,etc) to a seal-able jar.  I added about 1/3 a cup sugar to a pint size jar.

Then fill the container with the quartered walnuts and fill with vodka.  Store for 5-6 months, or at least until the holidays when you can gift your creations to friends!

One thing to note, walnuts will stain your hands and cutting boards so if you care, wear gloves and use a cutting board you don't care about or quarter the nuts outside.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Another Furniture Redo

I know, it's been a while.  I've still got some great soap on the website and I'm still busy making it.  I've also been busy picking up free furniture on the side of the streets and redoing them!  I've got another furniture redo I finished last week.

This armoire was mine that I purchased years ago, when TVs fit inside pieces of furniture, you know, before HD, 20 years ago.  You see a lot of these pieces of furniture at garage sales now days.  I never got around to selling mine at a garage sale and I'm glad I didn't.

Here it is back in the day it had a TV in it.  This is the only "before" picture I have and I had to crop myself out of it.  I need to do a better job with "before" pictures.  I'm just so anxious to get started on refinishing the pieces that I neglect to take any photos.

For this piece I wanted a country-vintage look.  I pictured an old pie cupboard.  The type that would sit on a covered back porch and hold pies to cool.

To accomplish this, I removed the panels on the doors and stapled chicken wire to them.  I then added wheels, because everything is better with wheels!  I finished by painting it in Mustard Seed Yellow milk paint on the outside and Grain Sack milk paint on the inside.

And here's the final product!  I'm quite pleased with it, even if it's holding blankets and not pies!

One more look from the side.  Love the wheels!

I have a desk I'm working on now that was a free find on the street.  I hope to have that finished in a week or so.

For luxurious artisan soaps checkout Lora's Beauty!

I was featured at DIY Furniture Makeovers

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Non-Soap Related Post

Several weeks ago, as I was on my way to work, I came across this dresser on the side of the road with a "Free" sign on it.  As I was on my bike and had to get to work, there was nothing I could do about it but sigh and ride on.  I got a couple more blocks away and thought, "I could call Jeff and have him go get it!"

So I pulled to the side of the road, dug out my phone and placed the call.

Me:  "Are you busy?"
Jeff somewhat warily:  "I guess."  Knowing that even if he were EXTREMELY busy, I would still ask him to do something.
Me:  "So, there's this really cool dresser a couple blocks from the house with a "Free" sign on it.  Will you take my car and go get it?"
Jeff: "I guess."

Here's what I found when I came home later that day!  Another project!

I quickly ordered some milk paint, wheels for the bottom, and new pulls.  And then I waited for everything to arrive, patiently.

Finally this past weekend I had everything I needed to begin working on the dresser.  I figured I would devote all of Saturday and maybe Sunday to painting it and stripping the top.

Here it is pictured without the drawers and before I did anything to it other than put on the new wheels.

Here's the top of the dresser before I started stripping it.  Looks promising....

As it turned out, this project went really smooth and I was pretty much finished with it, other than adding more coats of Minwax to the top, after a couple hours.

Here's what the top of the dresser looked like once I finished it.

Pretty nice!  I believe it's burled maple.

I painted the base of the dresser in Miss Mustard Seed Shutter Gray milk paint and distressed it a little.

I also added the new glass pulls that I purchased off of Etsy.

I'm quite pleased with the result especially since it was free!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sharpologist Review!

We here at Lora's Beauty and LB-Equipment love reviews of our products!  Check out the latest review from Sharpologist of LB-Equipment's Beard OilMug-o-Beer Bar, and Shaving Soap.

"it is safe to say that I liked the products offered here, especially in light of the quality stuff you’ll be putting on to your skin."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Lovely Soap

If you will die for me,
I will die for you and our graves will be like two lovers washing their clothes together in a laundromat If you will bring the soap I will bring the bleach.

~Richard Brautigan

Pictured: Himalayan Salt Bar Soap. Just $5 per artisan bar!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Yoga Mat Spray

What's a new year without a new year's fitness routine?  Not one to be left behind, I too started a new fitness routine, albeit I started it in October.  

Hot Yoga is the fitness routine of my new year and with it brings a lot of sweaty shorts, tops, towels, and yoga mat.  All of which can be thrown in the washing machine and washed with my homemade laundry soap, except the yoga mat.  Enter my latest homemade cleanser, aptly named, Yoga Mat Spray.

To make this yourself simply combine in a spray bottle: 

  • 2/3 the container of witch hazel
  • a little less than 1/3 the container of water 
  • a few drops of essential oils-- I like lavender, lemongrass, and grapefruit. 
Spray on both sides of mat after work outs and allow the mat to dry flat.