Tuesday, December 28, 2010

South Padre Island

I just returned from a week's vacation at South Padre Island, Texas. The best parts of the trip were being able to spend a week away from home with my husband and son as well as my two sisters and their families. The weather was not the best, being quite windy for the most part. South Padre Island is just off the coast of Texas near the port city of Port Isabel. It has a rich history that includes Spanish shipwrecks and lost treasure.

Although a big tourist area, there miles and miles of undeveloped beach and dunes, a must see if you visit there. This is mostly the north end of the island. Plan on walking the beach and dunes for as long as you like.

Our condos were spacious and had a view of the gulf. The hot tubs were a highlight since the weather was a little cool.

As a big shrimping area be sure to eat shrimp. I advice buying fresh shrimp and other seafood at Dirty Al's market. The shrimp is large and inexpensive. For one dinner we boiled shrimp and fried flounder in our condo. It was better than any food we bought at the restaurants.

Sunset on the patio of one of the restaurants on the lagoon side is also worth doing.

We rode horses on the beach. Place like this should be sure to tell you that experienced riders need not go. There were over 30 people on the ride and they gave us a feeling of being 'herded' rather than going for a ride. Even though we were told that it was ok to trot the horses, I found that they meant for just a few short minutes. Much of the time was spent just sitting still on the horses while we waited for slower riders and picture taking.

December is a good time to visit South Padre because it is not crowded, but the weather is probably nicer later in winter. After the rush of the Christmas Season its great to enjoy some R & R before getting back to work though.

Happy New Year Everyone and thanks for a great year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eggplant Pepper Pizza

Homemade pizza is probably my favorite thing to make for dinner. There are so many variations of toppings for pizza and its a pretty quick meal to make. The dough needs to rise awhile but you can be wrapping presents while it rises. Making pizza is a good way to get the whole family involved too and we often make several for different tastes.
The toppings here are roasted eggplant, sweet peppers and feta cheese. To do this, slice the eggplant about 1/4 inch thick, sprinkle with a little salt and let set for at least 15 minutes to 'sweat'. After 15-20 minutes you will see liquid bubbled up on the eggplant; blot this off with a paper towel, put eggplant on an oiled baking sheet and cook at 375 for about 15 minutes or until soft. Be careful not to overcook and char the eggplant. The peppers get roasted in the oven at the same time. Roast these a little longer until the skin chars a little. Remove from oven and let cool enough to peel the skin off the peppers. Slice both the eggplant and the peppers and top your pizza with them followed by some feta cheese. I put some banana pepper rings on this pizza too.

Pizza Dough Recipe

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
3 cups white flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoons salt

Mix the water and yeast together, then add the rest and mix. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or so (times are only a guideline). Knead, split in two (or more) and roll dough out on a floured surface to the size/shape pizza you want.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Do You Saponify?

Do you saponify? Some of my best friends do. And although it can be quite dangerous without proper precautions and can be addicting, it is still good clean fun. I am proud to be a professional soapmaker and keep company with other soapmakers; they are among the nicest people I know!

Saponification is the base promoted hydroysis of an ester to produce an alcohol and the sodium salt of that acid. What?? OK, lets break it down. The ester used in soapmaking is a triglyceride, also called a triacylglyerol. This is a type of fat consisting of a glycerol (3 carbon sugar) which is attached to 3 fatty acids through a ester bond. The fatty acids in the picture are the 3 tails sticking out to the left and the glycerol is the 3 carbon backbone running vertically on the right. There are many different types of fatty acids and the three fatty acids found in any triglyceride will vary. The ester bonds are between the O (oxygen) on the glycerol and the C=O on the fatty acid.

When soap is made this bond between the fatty acids and glycerol is broken by the presence of a strong base or alkali, this means something with a very high pH. This strong base is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Yes, it is drain cleaner and a very dangerous substance when not handled properly. We soapmakers take proper precautions. And just to make sure you keep reading, I will tell you now that finished soap is completely safe because there is no lye left in the soap when done properly. We know alot today about this chemical reaction and can actually calculate the precise amount of lye necessary to react with various oils. Soapmakers generally use online calculators to determine the exact amount of lye to use in their individual recipe and then add little bit more oil to 'superfat' the soap making it more mild. Previous generations did not have this so many of 'Grandma's' soaps came out heavy on the lye and were quite harsh. Today handcrafted soaps are very mild and the soapmaker can vary characteristics of the soap by using different triglycerides or oils.

OK, back to the saponification reaction. The NaOH breaks the ester bond between the glycerol and fatty acids. The -OH (hydroxide) part of the NaOH chemically or covalently binds to the glycerol side while the Na (sodium) chemically binds to the fatty acids. Now instead of a triglyceride we have a free glycerol molecule and a sodium (Na) salt of the fatty acid. Wow! Chemistry in action. Small soapmakers will leave the glycerol (also called glycerin) in the soap and it makes a great moisturizer. Some large companies will remove the glycerin to use for other purposes. If you've never tried a bar of handcrafted soap, you don't know what you are missing. These are generally very mild and moisturizing cleansers compared to grocery store big brands, most of which are technically not soap.

Everybody makes soaps a little differently. Some people go for the latest bath and body scents, others go for the visual effect and make beautiful works of art from their soap. Being an herbalist, I am always looking for herbs that can benefit a bar of soap. Some of my favorites for soap include calendula, mint, lavender, rosemary.

While soapmaking has been around for sometime it recently has boomed as a cottage industry and soapmakers even have their own professional organization; the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild. If you are interested in soapmaking visit there to find out more. You can also find soapmakers there but you can also find plenty of handcrafted soap on my website. What is your favorite kind of soap?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pictures Around Here this Week

Rose Geranium Soap, Mountain Mist Hand and Body Lotion and a basket of dried calendula ready to put away.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Herbal Advent Wreath

After pulling my advent wreath out of the cupboard this weekend I realized it was time for a new one. I bought a clear glass bowl to display soaps in but it gave me the idea to use it to hold a fresh cut herb/greens wreath. After googling for ideas I realized it was not a completely unique idea but I did put my uniqueness to it. I put some florist's foam in the dish which is about 4 inches high. I pushed the 4 candles in the foam; it actually should be 3 purple to symbolize royalty and 1 pink that is lit the 3rd Sunday of Advent as a reminder that it is half over. For some reason I never seem to get the right candles. I then went outside to look for whatever I could find green or at least gray. I picked four small branches off a juniper bush, some thyme, rue, lavender, sage, hyssop and some beautiful red berries which I believe are from a cotoneaster bush. Following is the meaning of these herbs:

Lavender for purity, cleanliness and virtue
Sage branches represent immortality
Rue is an herb of grace used for driving away evil.
Thyme is an herb used for courage.
Hyssop is for purification

I started by putting the juniper branches into the foam and then filling in with the herbs. The berries worked great in the middle to hide the foam. I love the way it looks.


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