Zen Garden Soap and the Zen of Soap Making

The Japanese gardening tradition has a long rich history tracing back to as early as the 6th century. The concept of meditative gardening and the development of the Zen garden first appear in the 13th century after Japanese monks were introduced to Zen Buddhism. One of the most important aspects of Zen is that of the meditation-practice. Other contemplative arts in Japan, like Ikebana (flower arrangment), Kyudo (Zen archery) and Chanoyu (Tea Ceremony), are also rooted in this aspect of Zen.

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I first started collecting rocks when I was about 8 or 9 years old and it was also at this age that I first visited Japan. I’ve been surrounded by Japanese culture most of my life, so the idea to make a Zen garden soap came about pretty naturally, once I decided to make soap stones. When making the Basalt Porphyry soap stones I set aside a small amount to make the pebbles with later. About the same time last year I made another gardening soap that turned our really well, so I decided to merge these two ideas and make a Japanese themed version of it. In this way was my soapy Zen garden was born.

 

During the process of planning this soap I got to thinking a lot about the idea of meditative gardening, and about how soap-making can also be a meditative practice.

In the Zen tradition, the art of gardening is not simply about gardens or even about artistry. This, I believe, is what makes the Japanese aesthetic approach so appealing. From wabi-sabi to shibui the Japanese aesthetic isn’t so much a principle, or even a philosophy, as it is a way of being in the natural world. So while the garden is indeed a visual poem – the raked sand is often a metaphor for waves and the stones, mountains – underlying these metaphors is the desire to reflect nature as it truly is, not as static but in motion. Even if the desire to represent and the act of reflecting both are, in a sense, artificial, the impulse is not to fix nature’s “imperfections” or exact your power over nature itself à la Versailles (with its square trees and geometric landscapes), but rather to create a microcosm of nature. This means choosing (or in my case, making) rocks and stones with imperfections, creating asymmetrical compositions and then allowing time and weather to effect these compositions.

The meditative-practice is an experience and a process. The sand is not raked and then cemented in place, it is raked over and over again, and this process is in itself a meditation. Any soap maker or any crafts person will recognize themselves in this practice: recreating the same soap, or kneading the clay, or the repetitive practice of knitting: you do it over and over, and yet it is never the same and eventually it comes to mean something else to you. It becomes ritual.

Part of this sentiment is also found in the west in the oft quoted “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” But it really is more significant than that, because the practice is a journey that never ends. Tea ceremony, flower arranging, raking sand in your garden, what these have in common is that through repeated ceremony of practice the common or natural world becomes transcendental. Rather than looking for that transcendental journey without a destination, you position yourself to never quite understanding the journey at all and to accepting that nothing is permanent. But you proceed nonetheless.

 

 

Keeping in line with the principle of asymmetry, I didn’t plan the placement of the soap rocks. While making the rake was easy, using it wasn’t! Raking the soap around the rocks turned out to be really difficult.

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Raking the soap turned out to be more complicated that I anticipated, and was extremely frustrating at times. But I managed to keep calm and tried hard to accept the “imperfections” as simply part of theme of the soap. It’s all a learning process!

By seeing things for what they are and opening ourselves a unique moment in time that will never be had again (Ichigo ichi-e, one time, one meeting), we are reminded to give thanks, to savor things and beings for their own essence: to observe the beauty of a rock, the scent of spring blossoms, or even perhaps, something as mundane as a well made bowl of tea, or why not, a bar of soap.

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Making soap as a zen garden practice.

There’s something about soap making that makes me think of these meditative practices. Perhaps because when I make soap I am typically alone, or at least, quiet, engaging in a repetitive process that requires my full attention. It demands that you be mindful. Each handmade batch of soap and sometimes each bar is unique: it is a reflection of you and your thoughts, but like a zen garden or a flower arrangement, we then let it go. Soap is not a piece of art that you make and then enshrine. There is nothing sadder to a soap maker to see your soaps sit unused, and this is why I love crafting so much. It has little pretense, and is very practical. There is always a use for it, no matter how pretty they may be, or how well they are made and how much thought we put into them: we want them to be used. And we want to make more.

Not all soaps are made this way, or as a practice. For some the soap is all about the final product, and there is nothing wrong with that and it started this way for me as well. But the more I do it, the more it fascinates me, and I’ve come to cherish all the processes of the soap making: folding the parchment lining, stirring the oils, the moment of saponification, cutting and trimming each bar. I also enjoy working with natural materials that contain in them – like soap itself does – an element of unpredictability. Just like nature, all things of nature change, morph, fade, die, transform, and transcend. The surprise issued by the process of transformation is probably what soap makers love the most. There’s an alchemical element to this process. Just like there is in nature.

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Zen Garden Soap: A gardener’s soap with three grades of cleansing grit – bentonite clay, pumice powder and jojoba seed powder – all set in a creamy base of organic fair-trade palm oil, organic coconut oil, organic unrefined shea butter, olive oil and organic cold pressed hemp seed oil. Scented with a woodsy blend of essential oils inspired by classical Japanese incense: organic Atlas cedar, Scotch pine, sandalwood aromatic essence, myrrh resin and eucalyptus globulus.

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Shopping Locally for Christmas: Plateau, Montréal.

Shopping local can mean two things: shopping from locally owned businesses and shopping for things made locally. Ideally, both. For this season I decided to try to do this for all my Christmas shopping. I live in Montreal in an area called Plateau Mont-Royal and both the city and the borough are known for their artists and artisans, so perhaps this is not such a challenge.

At this point I am about halfway through my Christmas shopping, so this post is as much about the things I have already purchased as about the places I like to frequent regularly, as well as where I intend to purchase some of my Christmas gifts this year. I also wanted to pay tribute and give props to all the entrepreneurs out there: to the artisans and to the local businesses that support them,  many of whom started out and hang on by a thread of crazy passion. Passion for the craft, for innovation, and for the rediscovery of forgotten traditions. And lets not forget the sheer tactile delight of a thing well made. So here’s to all of you, and here are a few of my favourite (handmade) things:

  1. La Bobineuse de LaineA Plateau institution that has existed in various locations and incarnations for over 60 years. This store is a mecca for anyone with the knitting bug as they specialize in yarn – Bobineuse de Laine literally means wool winder. Its current owner has taken the store to a new level of community presence and commitment by broadening the inventory to include things like macramé twine and giant wool roving; opening up the store to local artisans (including yours truly) and their products; offering lots of workshops and participating in fairs and events. They also have an online store. This year I purchased (who’s getting it is a secret…) a skein of naturally hand-dyed yarn by Bleu Poussière. Such a perfect trinity of local-ness, with the wool being a Québec Dorset. Beautiful!Bleu-Poussiere-Taiga-laine-picby-CMars
  2. Les Petits MonstresA children’s clothing store owned and operated by the delightful Galina, who aimed right from the very beginning to fill the store with locally handcrafted products. Here you will find everything from hand-made cloth bibs to toques and baby safe soaps and cosmetics. Les Petits Monstres currently carries five of my baby safe products. This store is soon closing however, so if you want to take advantage of some amazing 50% off deals, hurry! The store closes on December 22, 2017.
  3. La Grande Ourse. This store is owned and operated a gentle grande dame and retired Rudolf Steiner teacher. Although most of their finished products are imported from Europe, they also carry toys and items made locally, as well as materials to make your own Waldorf inspired crafts with. As the owner herself once told me: “there is one thing in this store you can steal: ideas.” If you would like to read about something I have made with their craft supplies click here.
  4. Boulangerie Les Co’Pains d’abord. With three locations in the Plateau, this is the perfect place to get some tasty stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, or even your Christmas bûche (order early!). Anyone who wishes to argue with me, ask me what I mailed across the ocean to my mother last Christmas (answer: their fruitcake). This is also a great place to stop at during your Christmas shopping and take a load off. Recommended favourites: the chocolate truffles, tarte choco-amande framboises (I have one of these EVERY week!), and the hot chocolate, which is particularly good with a croissant or a palmier, each a little masterpiece of crunch, flake and buttery goodness.
  5. La Maison des BièresIf you happen to know a beer enthusiast, or be one yourself, this is the place to go. They not only carry an extensive inventory of locally made beers, but a wide variety of small batch artisan brews to suit every taste. They have a great selection of stouts and dark beers, which are great for making dark rye breads, and other Christmas type breads. Pictured below: Oat Stout soap (made with an oat stout from Québec brewers Microbrasserie du Lièvre), and the prop beer which I will be using to make my next beer soap with: Mille Iles Oat Stout. Both equally delicious by the way. oat-stout-soap-flora-&-pomona (29).JPG
  6. Rose Café MontréalThis is another operation that looks to support local artisans and the local crafting community, by providing a meeting space, a retail section as well as venue for various events and workshops. Some of the products sold here are by artisan-entrepreneurs and some local hobby crafters who sew or crochet at home on their spare time. This year I bought two things from some of these crafty local ladies: a fabric case (perfect for pens, makeup or knitting and crochet needles) and a set of croched necklace and bracelet, appropriately, rose colored! Rose-Cafe-Montreal-crafts-picby-CMars
  7. Craft Markets. Every year there are more and more craft markets. There are the huge classic blockbuster ones like the Salon des Métiers d’art, and the smaller markets of non-profits like On Sème’s November Market, or even fundraising markets like the Rudolf Steiner’s Christmas market. No matter where you go there are a few obvious benefits to shopping at craft markets: you get to meet the artisans themselves, the artisan’s and crafters often bring their best selection and a wider selection and at a better price than what you might find in retail outlets. Here are my market purchases this year:

From On Sème Marché du Novembre:

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Close up of Ceramic Bowl by Élise Rubin:Elise-Rubin-ceramic-bowl-picbyCMars

From Rudolf Steiner’s Christmas market.

  • All natural artisan soap by Blue Moose Soap. I might as well admit, that this is a gift to myself.
  • Stuffed animal in the shape of a Dalahäst for my toddler, by the mother and daughter team Almonte-Bravo.
  • Knitted sheep’s wool toque for children. This hat is seriously soft, wellmade and even has a liner along the brim (I will try and find the maker of this hat and will edit it in).

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How about you? Do you have a favourite craft market, artisan or store that offers artisan wares? Let me know in the comments below. Thank you so much for stopping by and remember, handmade is best made 😉

Natural Green Soap Colorants: part 2

Last year I tested six natural green colorants in cold process soap – you can read about it here – and no sooner had I completed the experiment than I thought of all the other natural green colorants I could have tested. I decided almost immediately to make a second experiment… and it only took me another year to do it 😉 but here it is! In this experiment I will test six more natural green colorants or additives in cold process soap: liquid chlorophyll, comfrey leaf powder, cold pressed hemp seed oil, neem leaf powder, nettle leaf powder, and sea weed extract/powder.

Parameters

After my first experiment, I realized that there were variables that left some questions unanswered. So I did three things differently this time:

  1. A control: I left some of the batter uncolored. In the first experiment the green clay was so pale it was difficult to see any color effect at all. Since I knew my soap recipe yielded a white soap, I could confirm that the clay did effect the color of my soap, if only slightly. But I couldn’t prove or show you this because I didn’t leave any of the batch uncolored. This time the control will make the effects of the colorants obvious.
  2. Gelling: this can have a big effect on your soap colorants and this was something I was left wondering about last time. So this time I decided to split each colorant into two separate molds, oven process one of them and leave the other one out, uncovered, at room temperature.
  3. Weight and equalizing each batch: Last time I measured my dissolving oil out by volume, and this time I did it by weight. Since I was also using hemp seed as an actual colorant, I needed to even that out to make sure that each test got the same amount of extra oil. I decided to add 5 grams of extra oil to each test, including the chlorophyll which is a water based liquid, essentially mixing the oil and the liquid chlorophyll.

The Additives

After my last experiment I received several suggestions for other green colorants to try: alfalfa, avocado, cucumber juice, chlorophyll, and other powdered botanicals. While I was game to try anything, I left some out because either I couldn’t find them, or because it would have been too difficult to test in such a small quantity, and to compare to the other additives. I really wanted to try avocado purée but there was no way I could have done it on such a small scale and account for the added volume and unknown amount of water.

Here are a few details on each of the additives I ended up choosing. Natural-green-colorants-test-F-and-P (7)Top to bottom, from left to right:

  1. Chlorophyll, liquid. Trophic Chlorophyll (Super Concentrate) extracted from Mulberry leaves in a distilled water base. I used a quarter of a tea spoon and it wasn’t enough to even register as a gram on my scale, which is why I didn’t bother adding the same amount of water to the other colorants. 
  2. Comfrey leaf powder. Hand harvested, dried and powdered a month prior to the experiment.
  3. Hemp seed oil: Manitoba Harvest brand, cold pressed organic. The hemp oil was the palest of the colorants, and I was glad to have the control to show that while it is pale, hemp oil can color your soap.
  4. Neem powder. Purchased at a health food/ethnic grocery store. Used typically in hair care. Dull greyish green color, but the fine powder is always nice if you want a less speckled look.
  5. Nettle leaf powder. Hand harvested, dried and powdered a month prior to the experiment. I choose nettle because it contains a lot of chlorophyll.
  6. Sea weed extract. Cosmetic extract made for skin and hair care applications that I purchased at a soap supply store. I guess it is basically powdered seaweed.

I started by weighing out the additives at a gram each. I came to this weight by starting at the most common ratio for any colorant, 1tsp / LB of soap, which is about 0.7 grams of botanicals, and then rounding up to 1 gram, my scale’s smallest unit. I added 5 grams of extra virgin olive oil to each colorant, except the hemp oil. I used the hemp oil as a colorant, adding it in at 6 grams, to replace the olive oil and 1 gram of powdered additive.

The Soap

For the soap recipe, I used the same bastille recipe I had used the first time around, but increased the batch size to account for the control and the oven processed control. The recipe is a basic bastille soap with olive oil, coconut oil and castor oil. Lye concentration at 38%. Superfat at 4%, and with the added 5 grams of oil in each colorant this gets bumped up to a 7% superfat.

I mixed the soap to emulsion them poured out a predetermined amount for each color  and mixed in the green colorants and oil. Then I poured half of the colored batter into a 6 cavity muffin mold – destined for the 170 F oven – and the other half into a crimped cupcake mold destined to sit uncovered in a cool room. The smooth soaps were left in the warmed oven for 4 hours, to try and force gel (although, to be honest, not sure they did gel) and the crimped cupcake soaps were left uncovered on a tray in a cool room. I unmolded two days later, and here are the results!

Results

This time I made more of an effort to take good pictures of the soaps at different times in the cure. Et voilà!

Freshly unmolded:

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Not bad at the unmold! My biggest surprise was the lack of difference between the oven batch and the room temp batch. The only one that is obviously different is the hemp seed oil, and it seems the cooler the soap, the more obvious the color. I guess it makes sense since it is cold pressed oil, perhaps heating destroys something in it.

Ok now, at two weeks, here also with the control peeking in on the right.

2 week cure:

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I find that at the two week mark you can really see that the oven processed soaps are yellowing and browning faster. Kind of like leaves in the autumn.

6 week cure:

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Not bad at full cure. Some blotches (soap from other tests) have appeared on the soaps, and that means I should wipe my spatulas better 😉

Normally, this is where most colorant tests end – at the 6 week cure. At this point most soaps are not only fully saponified but fully cured. If the color stays until the six week mark this is considered a good colorant, and in fact, this is where I was going to publish my results. But as life should have it, that didn’t happen and another 12 weeks passed before I sat down to write this. And I’m glad it happened that way, because here is a pic of the soaps 5 months into the cure…

20 week cure:

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Thoughts on the Results:

My feeling is that natural greens are particularly difficult because as we know, leaves brown easily. They get brown and yellow at the onset of cold weather, when they are picked, when they are cooked or otherwise broken down. And this explains also why the oven processed soaps yellowed faster. From the beginning and throughout the process chlorohyll was the most impressive colorant. It packs a real punch with the clear bright ocean green, but as you can see, it ages the least well. The chlorophyll is extracted so it’s not bound by leafy cell walls, which explains both why it is greener at first and then fades quicker. I also noted that the chlorophyll resembled the spirulina and chlorella I used in my first experiment, and that’s because sea weeds contain high amounts of chlorophyll.

I believe the reason the nettle and comfrey have held up the best is because they were 1) fresher and 2) more intact – ground in a coffee grinder – meaning the chlorophyll is still bound in the cell walls. The more you break botanicals up, the faster the cell walls will break down in a challenging environment: like alkaline soap, a hot stew, an infusion, or a tincture. So, if you can stand the speckled look, grinding your botanicals yourself might be the way to go. Although, these too will end up yellowed and faded too. The reason the neem has stayed the same color is probably because it already did its yellowing on the store shelf. When I bought it it was already yellowish brown. But I bet fresh neem leaves are green too.

As for the hemp oil, I really should have used more of it to know for sure. But I do believe that hemp would be no different than any other leafy botanical. Unless the green color comes from something other than chlorophyll.

Conclusions:

I realized a while ago, that the only botanicals that seem to really hold true and stay fast, are roots or botanical extracts, like indigo. Extracts make sense, because they are no longer tied to/in the cellulose of the plant. But does anyone know why this is for the roots – alkanet root, tumeric root, madder root? I have a feeling it’s because chlorophyll is kind of the problem, because its purpose is to be reactive to sunlight.

I now feel that I don’t need to test any more green colorants. But if you have any other ideas for other natural colorants I could try, let me know! And please share any comments, suggestions or questions you might have on the subject. Let me know if you want close ups of the different soaps, I could add those in after if you want. Thank you so much for stopping by 😀

Antique Teacup Aromatherapy Candles

 

What are they?

Antique teacup aromatherapy candles are a beautiful way to enjoy the benefits of essential oils, especially now that the colder months are upon us. Right now I have three different aromatherapy blends – Calm, Happy and Relax – in three different cups: a dark rose pattern, a dusty pink rose pattern and a blue flowers and vines pattern.

What are they made of?

These all-natural soy candles are made with 100% EcoSoy, a wax made from non-GMO soy and a cleaner alternative to paraffin. Most commercially available candles are still made with paraffin wax, derived from petroleum oil, which releases the carcinogens benzene and toluene when burned. As an added bonus soywax is also biodegradable, non-staining and easy to remove! The wicks are made of 100% cotton and also primed in soywax. To the wax I add my own blend of pure essential oils and then this is poured into an antique tea cup and left to set.

Why teacups?

I select teacups that are made with fine china, have distinct features that I enjoy, like gold rims or interesting handles and that have a feeling of  history to them. Some have matching plates and some I have matched with plates from other sets. In the end each candle is unique. While it is cute to set a candle on a plate it also serves a function to catch possible spills and make it easier to transport a lit candle with hot wax in it.

Aromatherapy?

The aromatherapy blends were designed to create specific “odorous” ambiance and give relief to the stresses of the daily grind. I imagined the candles being used at the end of the day, while having a nice bath, or having a warm cup of tea and reading a book. As a mom I know that these moments are few and far between but much needed and can do wonders to the tired worn mamas and papas out there. So here are the blends:

1. This is a woods blend I call Relax. It is a blend of Siberian pine, cedar wood and ho wood. Ho wood is an ecological alternative to rose wood which is now a restricted  and endangered species. Pine, cedar and ho wood all have stress reducing properties, and this blend is designed to reduce nervous stress especially. If you can’t take a walk in the woods, this candle will give you a little “forest bath” in the comfort of your own home.

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Aromatherapy Candle in Antique Teacup: a woodsy blend of pine and cedar to help you relax

2. A rose blend called Calm made of palmarosa essential oil, ho wood and Victorian rose aromatic essence. An aromatic essence is 100% natural but is not an essential oil. It is derived or extracted from plant material through alcohol distillation and mixed with organic vegetable oil. Palmarosa, ho wood (known as the peace oil) and rose are both calming and soothing, perfect if you are feeling wound up, irritable and in need of a bit of peace. It also smells really nice 🙂

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Aromatherapy Candle in an Antique Teacup: a rosy blend of palmarosa, ho wood and rose creates a calming atmosphere.

A. A citrus blend called Joy made of lemon, grapefruit, lemongrass and bergamot essential oils. Research shows that the smell of citrus can lessen stress and makes people feel happy. Remember that perfume from the 90’s, Happy? It is mostly citrus. The smell of citrus can lift your mood, brighten your day, and take the edge off frayed nerves. So a citrus candle might just be what the doctor ordered for those long dark and cold winter months: brightening in both senses.

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Aromatherapy Candle in an Antique Teacup: a blend of citrus essential oils to brighten smiles and lift frowns.

Presenting … Flora & Pomona!

Hello Dear Readers,

Flora and Pomona is the name I have chosen for my soap company! Flora and you may know is the goddess of spring and flowers. Pomona, her less known sister, is the goddess of the orchard, the flowering fruit trees. When I was searching for a new name to best represent my budding business I thought of all the ingredients I use and the direction I want to take. It was clear in my mind that botanicals play an important role in my products, and my increasing interest in herbalism would continue to influence how I create my recipes. The soaps and bath products I make are made with the flowers and fruits of the earth: from sweet almond oil I use in most my soaps, to chamomile infusion in my latest shampoo bar. I have decided to keep the name Marsbalms for this blog, at least, for now, and I will continue to post updates on my latest developments. I will be building a website with a online store, and in the meantime will keep a webpage up with the essential information available. I am participating in this year’s Marché Angus, on October 7 and 14. Hope to see you there!

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Handmade wooden teething spoon

Baby Crafts: How I made my own Baby Toys. A series in parts…

This time last year I was pregnant with my first baby. I wasn’t working and since it was winter – and it was a brutal winter – I spent most of my time indoors, watching youtube videos on how to cloth diaper, and reading babycenter.com threads on morning sickness. I watched the blowing snow bend the two pines in the backyard. A peregrine falcon visited us a couple of times – eating his fresh caught prey on the pine branches. It was too soon to set up the crib. I wanted to paint, but had to wait until we could open the windows. There wasn’t really much I could do. I had started to visit a Waldorf store on Duluth street called “Grande Ourse: jouets pour la vie” meaning, toys for life. I love the toys in that store but I couldn’t really afford most of them. One day I picked up a piece of wood I had found on the mountain (In Montreal we are blessed to have a forested mountain in the middle of our city) and I started to whittle. This was the first baby item I made myself. It became a teething spoon. The two days it took to make it went really fast and as soon as it was done I thought: what else can I make? Here is a series on how I spent last winter, crafting baby items for my growing bump. Hope you like it!

PART 1: The Wooden Teething Spoon

So,  I found a piece of wood on the mountain. I think it’s probably maple, because the mountain (well, all of Montreal, and Quebec) is covered in maple. I’m a gatherer by nature so I have a lot of odds and ends around, and this time it proved really useful. As a small baby myself, I bit up a whole wooden dining room table so I knew teething toys might come handy. I watched a couple of videos on whittling and got busy. The first thing I did was saw off a manageable piece, about the length I wanted the spoon to be. I was lucky enough that the stick was already split in half. If it hadn’t been I would have had to split it by hammering in a knife point down the middle, if that makes sense. Next I roughly sketched the spoon out with a pen and “sketched” the outlines with a Swiss army knife.

Sketching out the wooden teething spoon

After that, I whittled away, making sure to whittle the handle away from the bowl of the spoon so that I wouldn’t slip and take away part of the bowl. I didn’t have proper spoon carving tools, but I did have a small whittle knife with a v-shaped blade and I used that to dig out the bowl. Sometimes I would stick the blade of the Swiss Army knife down the sides, but other than that a knife is pretty useless when you’re carving a bowl. SAM_2874

The spoon took the shape that felt comfortable in my hands, and I had to do it one small slice at a time. Glad I have a vacuum cleaner…

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Starting to look like something!

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After this I started sanding the spoon with coarse grit sandpaper, slimming it down and getting more elegant lines.

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Then, a finer grit sandpaper…and voila! A teething spoon! I finished it all off with a baby safe wood-finish I made myself, using beeswax, linseed oil (boiled flax seed oil) and olive oil. This kind of coating is often used on wooden Waldorf toys btw.

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Wooden teething spoon, done!

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Side view, showing the grain of the wood.

Whittling proved pretty fun, if tiring on the fingers. And messy! Especially if you don’t have the proper tools. But I was happy to find out that you can make cool things with so little: a Swiss army knife, some Dollarstore sandpaper and a couple small wood working tools I got in Chinatown for under 5$. It kept me busy for a few days, then I had to find something else to do! Next part: how I made a felt cat rattle!

Easy and Delicious: Apple Crumble

Happy Autumnal Equinox! Yesterday we officially entered autumn: the leaves have started to turn and harvest is in full swing. In other words, it’s the perfect time to make apple crumble!! Last weekend my boyfriend and I went out to orchard country, south of Montreal to a region called the Monteregie, where we stayed at a 200-year old orchard inn at the foothill of Mont Saint Hilaire. SAM_9847It was a beautiful getaway, and we came back with the most deliciously sweet Galas. One of my most favourite things to make with apples is crumble. It is simple, quick and always amazing. It also keeps really well in the freezer, and is easy to defrost in the oven.

Making a crumble crust only really requires 3 ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. With those 3 ingredients you can make a whole slew of crumble varieties: delicate sandy crumbles, caramel-y crumble, spiced crumble, gluten-free crumble. My personal favourite is a crunchy oat crust. Here is a fool-proof recipe I have used for years that is sure to impress, but that you can whip up in ten minutes.

This recipe is enough for two eight inch pans of crumble. You can use apples, pears (or a mix of both as I did here), rhubarb (always sugar the ‘barb first though), blueberries, strawberries, cherries etc. etc. Mixing berries is always good.

The Crumble:

  • 3/4 Cup oats. Try to use old fashioned oats, not quick oats.
  • 3/4 Cup flour. You can use gluten-free flour. Ideally use unbleached flour.
  • 1 Cup brown sugar. This seems like a lot of sugar, but it is what makes the crumble a crunchy shell.
  • 1/2 Cup cold butter, cut into cubes. If you are using un-salted butter, add 1 Tsp salt as well.
  • Cinnamon to taste. About 1/2-1 Tsp.SAM_0030 - Copy

Mix the dry ingredients quickly before adding the cubed butter and then work with your pastry blender or by scissoring two knives, like this:SAM_0032 - Copyuntil the butter is well integrated and pea-sized crumbs appear, about 5-10 minutes. Don’t worry if it appears a bit dry, moisture from the fruit and butter will mix through the crumble and the sugar will caramelize. Put the crumble into the fridge while you prepare your filling.

The Filling:

You will need 3-4  apples and/or pears for each pan, depending on how thick you want your filling. If you are using organic fruits, you can keep the skins on. SAM_0028 - Copy

Core and slice your fruit thinly, toss directly in the pan with a bit of sugar and a dash of cinnamon.

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Pour the crumble over the fruit, and spread it loosely over your filling. Don’t pack it down.

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Bake for 30 min at 350 F (180 C), preheated of course. If you don’t have a convection oven, put the broil on for the last 5 minutes, until golden brown.SAM_0042 - Copy

Don’t feel bad if you end up eating the whole pie 😉

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