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Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Hate Winter

Did I ever mention that?  I'm not sure that I did.  Winter here is quite all right up until New Year's day. Then it gets really depressing.  Even if it starts to get lighter, the weather is miserable and I think it's worse with the light.   In the deep darkness of winter it makes sense to crawl into bed, light some candles and just snuggle and then put up Christmas decorations and celebrate.  But you kind of expect the lighter evenings to turn into warmer days.  But... No!  It's not happening.  Not in March. Winter here doesn't leave until mid to late May or like last summer, June.  We had frost almost into the middle of June and after that it just rained.

The old Icelandic calendar only had two seasons, Winter and Summer.  It makes sense in this climate since there really isn't any spring or fall.  There is just that small window of opportunity when growth bursts forward and desperately tries to set seed.   It hardly deserves the name summer.

The best way to ignore the miserable weather is to draw the curtains, light a few candles and knit.  I have been working on this triangular lace shawl.  It's a fairly well known traditional pattern, called Þórdís, and is available for free on Knitting Daily.  I had originally intended to make a shawl called Halldóra, from a wonderful book, Icelandic Handknits but after frogging that from the 19th row about 6 times, I gave that up.  The pattern just didn't seem to stick in my mind.  I was getting so frustrated that my daughter suggested this other one and I like it even better than the first one.  Both are very much traditional Icelandic shawls.

In the olden days all women used shawls instead of sweaters.  They were most commonly triangular and quite big.  Not always as delicate as the one I am making, the daywear would have been quite plain and the women would wrap them around themselves and tie the ends at the back.  Sunday best, would have been spun from the silky tog, or the soft þel into very delicate creations.  The finest of which one could draw through a finger ring.  Or so the stories tell.  I saw a few of them hanging in a museum last summer and they looked so etherial.  I especially loved the green colour and knew I wanted to dye the yarn myself.  And I knew that I wanted light and delicate colours for my shawl, even if I have seen some really beautiful ones in the natural sheep colours, both greys and browns.

I haven't knitted much lace patterns before and I have to say that it does make sense to use lifelines and A LOT of stitch markers.  I didn't at first and that resulted in some frogging.  So I have learned my lesson.  The yarn I used is Love Story, a lovely single spun Icelandic wool made by a lovely french woman who now lives in Iceland. It is a combination of the þel and tog and is such a lovely, lovely soft and delicate yarn that it is a plesure to touch it.  Helene, a former lawyer, is a textile designer and has done great things with the Icelandic wool.  She has a blog, The Icelandic knitter and a webstore.  I love everything she does.

I did dye the yarn myself and I have to admit that I am absolutely in love with the colours.  I used cochineal for the pink, woad for the blue and green (with weld) and then Parmelia saxatilis for the yellows.  That yarn has the wonderful smell which I love.  That is the main reason  used that colour.  Just to get a small whiff that will last as long as the garment.  I dyed this yarn at the same time I dyed the silk for my embroidery.  I had plenty of dye left over from those tiny amounts so it made sense to do that at the same time.  I was really pleased with the outcome.  The colours just make me smile and give me the promise of a spring that will surely be here soon.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Day of the Woman - First Day of Góa

Today is the first day of the old Nordic month Góa.  Góa is thought to have been a goddess is the old Nordic religion, but nothing is known of her other than the first day of her month is dedicated to women.
The name is konudagur in Icelandic, but kona is the word used for both woman and wife.

Similarily, the first day of Þorri, the previous month, is dedicated to men or husbands.  The name is bóndadagur, and bóndi means farmer or man as in the ending of the Icelandic word for husband, húsbóndi.

Those days are still celebrated here and they are much more traditional than Valentines day, mothers day and fathers day, all of which are imports by flower merchants.  Both days are celebrated gratulating the wife or the husband on the occasion of the day and it is now traditional to give flowers as a present.  In the olden day the husbands were supposed to hop around the farm on one leg, wearing only their shirt, but dressed in one pant leg, draging the other behind.  No similar feat was required of the women, as far as I know.  Not surprisingly, few (if any) men keep to this tradition today.

But anyway, today I get flowers from my hubby and a cake from the bakery.  All of which I am grateful for.  But I have to admit that I am a bit more excited about the flowers that I am in the process of making myself.  The wonderful flower borders for the national costume.  I had a hard time deciding on a pattern and ended up drawing my own, using elements from older patterns.

I really wanted to have flowers that I know and like and most of the patterns were too stylized to be recognizable.  Haveing been brought up by my biologist parents and taught about plants from an early age, I didn't want that.  So I searched for flower patterns that were recognizable and made a sketch of those.  The flowers I chose were Eyrarrós / Dwarf fireweed (Epilobium latifolium) at the top.  It is a member of the Evening primrose family and the national flower of Greenland.  It is quite magenta in colour and I used Cochineal to dye the embroidery silk pink.   I also love the tiny blue flowers of Gleym-mér-ey / Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis) and Woad blue captures the hue of those beautiful little flowers perfectly.

I also wanted to use Holtasóley /Mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) a member of the rose family, with eight white petals and a fairly large yellow middle.  It is the national flower of Iceland, but since white is never used in the special embroidery, that posed a problem.  I toyed with the idea of making it yellow, but gave that up altogether.  Instead I settled for two indistinct half opened buds from and old pattern.  That could be the common buttercup and I dyed a strong yellow with Weld and a darker one using lichen.  And at the bottom I put a half opened Eyrarrós again to repeat the pink.  The flowers are emerging from a flower pot, a well used symbol of the 18th century and a very common feature in many of the older patterns.  For the flower pot I intend to use both gold embroidery and the lovely golden yellow from the lichen Parmelia saxatilis (Shield lichen, or Litunarskóf in Icelandic).  It is the one that gives the lovely aroma.

I really like the outcome and look forward to starting to embroider this.  Dyeing all the colors wasn't as much trouble as I had feared and I love the outcome.  They are just gorgeous.  And since I also plan to knit a traditional triangular woolen shawl, I used the opportunity to dye the very fine wool for that, since the tiny amount of embroidery silk left me with plenty of dyeing liquor left to use.  Those colours also came out beautifully.  I have to admit that now I am getting really impatient to get the full costume.

The process of embroidering is the same as is used in Gold embroidery.  The Icelandic tradition uses both silk and silver and gilded silver thread.  I love the colorful silk and it was used on the older types of costumes and it really pops with the background of black velvet.  I have been attending a course in learning to embroider in this way and it does take a lot of time and practice.  The process of making the flower borders is also quite involved and laborious.  But hopefully well worth it once it's all done.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Milk Paint - How Cool Is That!

I heard about milk paint a few years ago and was really excited.  Paint made from milk!  Wow!

I immediately made plans to make some and test it out.  However I lacked some of the material and the plans were put on hold until I had gotten hold of them.

I ended up ordering some stuff from Kramer pigments in Germany (they apparently also have a shop in the US), but never really did anything with it.  But the other day I got an excuse to start that process again and made some paint.

I want to refinish some dining chairs that I got for little money in a thrift store.  I have plucked away the old and ugly fabric that covers them and am working on sanding the frames.  I want to paint them with milk paint in an ivory or creamy colour and upholster them in linen.  I have a thing for linen these days.

Milk paint is made from milk, lime and pigment, sometimes with the addition of Borax.  The Borax helps the lime dissolve the casein protein in the milk so it makes for a smoother paint as well as provide some preservative qualities to it.  But milk paint spoils easily so it should be used within a few days once it is mixed. Store it in the fridge in between uses, but let it reach room temperature before painting with it.

Milk paint adheres well to fresh wood and will give a strong and durable finish.  It is a very good alternative to the plastic water based paints that are available.  

For this recipe use 1 liter non-fat milk, ½ cup vinegar. 1 tsp borax and 1 cup of lime putty.

Let the milk and vinegar be at room temperature before your start.

Stir ½ cup of white vinegar into 1 liter (about a quart).  Stir to mix the two liquids, but do not stir for long.

Let it sit still at room temperature overnight so that the milk protein curdles and separates from the whey.  This is very similar to making cheese btw.  

The next day the curds should have formed and separated from the whey.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth and strain the whole lumpy mess.

After the whey has been separated then from the whey (which is discarded in this instance) the curds are given a good wash in cold water to wash away all the whey.


Do this three times in oder to remove all vinegar and whey from the curds.

After a thorough washing the clean curds are strained well.

I did this by tying the cheesecloth (ok, I used a cloth nappy) above the sink until only a few drops are dripping from the cloth.

Scrape the curds into a bowl.

Now take a stick blender to mix in 1 tsp of Borax.  This helps to get a smoother mix and also acts as a preservative.

Add the lime putty and stir with the stick blender.

Now measure out the pigment.  I split the milk paint mixture into 4 parts and measured 1 tbs of pigment for each part.

The pigments needs to be mixed with water prior to mixing into the milk paint mixture in order for it to disperse properly.

Mix it with equal amounts of water and let it sit for a bit before adding it to the paint.

My colors came from Kramer pigments as did the lime putty.

I used a lovely earthy red, yellow, green and gray.  All natural and sumptuous colours.

Let the paint sit for 15-20 minutes and then start to paint.

It is best to use milk paint on a freshly sanded surface, where it will adhere well.

It dries very quickly, so one can paint several layers without having to wait forever for it to dry in-between.

The amount of pigment does matter to the saturation of colour.  They will dry lighter than they look, but the colour can be adjusted by the addition of more pigment.

The colors do tend to be soft and old fashioned, which is part of the charm.

To finish off the painted surface, it can be waxed with beeswax or furniture wax or alternatively given a final coat of a transparent glaze made of milk curds and linseed oil.

To make the glaze, make the curds as above, but do not add borax or lime.  Instead drizzle linseed oil into the glaze as you use the stick blender to mix.  Add pigment if you wish to tone the glaze.  The pigment always needs to be slaked, which means: Measure equal amounts of water and pigment and let sit for an hour.  Use this to glaze over the paint.  Let dry.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Nut Crispbread

I went on the GAPS diet just over a year ago.  I did it mostly because I was disgusted with arthritis drugs and decided to do something myself to get rid of the pain in my body.  I have osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, the former causes pretty constant pain in my hands and the latter makes me feel, on occasion, like I was hit by a truck.  The drugs that are used to treat those pretty much all have in common the danger of the patient's heart stopping or the patient having a stroke.  Neither of those is preferable in my opinion.  So I did GAPS by the book, intro and all.  I planed to be on the diet for the prescribed 1.5 years and then, hopefully, I would be in less pain.

I loved the diet.  It really is very much like the traditional Icelandic diet used to be for centuries.  Lots of meat, some vegetables, fermented dairy and pretty much fermented everything. Fermentation by whey was one of the best preservation of food possible here.  So I felt great.  I lost weight rapidly and noticeably a lot of water weight, which I could feel, made my joints much easier to move.  So I was very happy on that diet.  I ate so much good food and I was never hungry.  People felt sorry for me, but I was happy as a lark.  Yumm!

Then hubby and I went on a vacation and I started cheat and eat bread when we were in Italy.  Two days later I realized, that the pain had returned.  Returned!  I hadn't even consciously noticed that I had had no pain in my hands for weeks.  I had just noticed that I felt great.  Anyway, for those who are interested in trying this diet there are many books on the subject as well as websites.  Here are some of the ones I found useful: The Nourishing Gourmet, Keeper of the Home, The Healthy Home Economist, Gaps Diet Journey and of course this:

There was only on thing that I found incredibly difficult on this diet and that is not eating bread.  I love bread with butter and cheese.  Especially my own fresh baked sourdough.  But that isn't allowed on the GAPS diet and I was doing it correctly.  By the book.  So no bread.  No toast.  And I missed my toast.

But then I discovered that one can make crisp bread with nuts.  And it's very easy.

I use a variety of nuts, just depending on what I have in the cupboards.  I also like to include seeds, like sesame and pumpkins seeds.  I just eyeball it into my food processor, but a typical recipe might look something like this:

½ cup Almonds
½ cup Pecans
¼ cup Hazelnuts
¼ cup Sesame seeds
¼ cup Pumpkins seeds
1 TBS Salt
2 large (3 small) Eggs

Put the nuts, seeds and salt into the food processor and pulse until the mix is very fine.  I usually mix the eggs into this in a bowl by hand because the mix is fairly dry and I have a very small food processor.  I put half of this mix on a silicone sheet and roll it out using baking paper on top.  I roll it out to make it pretty thin, but it is a matter of taste.  This amount of nuts will make two sheets for me.

Bake at 180°C /360°F for about 20 minutes (depending on thickness) until the edges are golden.
Cut while still hot into the size that suits you.

This will keep for at least 2 weeks on my countertop, but I usually eat this within the week :)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lavender - Last One of the Year

I just had to make a Lavender soap if only for the Grandmothers.  I don't dislike Lavender, but it's not a great personal favorite, but I know that many people really love it.  That includes the family's grandmothers.

I continued with a similar recipe to the ones I had already made, determined to use both Lanolin and Jojoba, but this time I also remembered the Cocoa Butter that is sitting on a shelf in kitchen.  Since I don't have steady supply of lard, I thought it would be a great addition to the recipe to make the soap harder.  I also had some Shea butter that I added to it.  One of the grandmothers loves that.

For colour I turned to the Alkanet infused oil that I have, lovely and dark red, ready to give it's blue to purple colour as soon as it comes in touch with the alkaline caustic soda. I never tire of the colour magic that soap making is.

I made these big generous chunks of soaps and the recipe turned out to be:

Olive Oil - 40% - 7oz / 200g (80g of that was Alkanet infused)
Coconut Oil - 30% - 5.3oz / 150g
Cocoa Butter - 10% - 1.8oz / 50g
Shea Butter - 10% 1.8oz / 50g
Sunflower Oil - 5% - 0.9ox / 25g
Lanolin - 2.5% - 0.45oz / 12.5g
Jojoba Oil - 2.5% - 0.45oz / 12.5g

I used water with a teaspoon of sugar.  And to continue the theme I decorated with Achillea flowers, Lavender flowers and Birch leaves.

The grandmothers got their soaps for Christmas. One of them remarked that the saves hers for special occasions and was just running out.  It pleased me that she would get a new one.  But this year, rather than give soaps as presents for christmas, I had people choose some to take with them when they left the Christmas dinner.  I still have enough left for me and plenty of soaps begging to be created in the New Year, among them a Vanilla soap and there is is definitely a Yellow one on the horizon.

Happy New Year and very best thanks for the one about to pass.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Cream of the Crop

I had a vision of the lightest creamiest soap since I knew I had some whipping cream in the freezer. I had put it there a long time ago, anticipating a soap making session in a distant future.  When making milk soaps one needs the milk/cream/yoghurt to be frozen, so when I had some cream that I didn't need, I threw it in the freezer knowing that one day I would be grateful for my foresight.

I decided that it would smell soft and gentle.  The inspiration was a soap that I made some time ago, but that was unscented and now I had vanilla in mind.  Since vanilla makes soap brown I couldn't use that. Bensoin resin is a favorite of mine and an acceptable substitute because it is quite a sweet scent.  I also thought of Ylang Ylang.

I have used Titanium Dioxide in my milk soaps before, but decided to do without that this time and take my chances with the colour.  I was careful to mix just a little bit of the Caustic Soda with the frozen cream, using a quarter at a time, and throwing the whole thing into the freezer in-between.  As expected the whole thing turned a strong yellow colour and that made me reach for the dried yellow rose petals to use for decoration.
This was a pretty complicated mixture of oils and waxes. I'm still intrigued by lanolin in soap and wanted to test that better.  I also really like to have some castor oil so that it doubles as a shampoo bar.  And the Jojoba... Well, I had some.

Olive Oil            40% - 7oz / 200 g.
Coconut Oil       35% - 6.2oz / 175 g.
Cocoa Butter     10% - 1.8oz / 50 g.
Sunflower Oil    10% - 1.8oz / 50 g.
Jojoba Oil            2% - 0.35oz / 10 g.
Castor Oil            2% -  0.35oz / 10 g.
Lanolin                1% - 0.18oz / 5 g.

Water  5.8oz / 200 g.
Caustic soda 2.4oz / 68 g.
10% superfat

I mixed Bensoin, Neroli and Ylang Ylang with a little bit of Sweet Orange and Sandalwood Amyris. Decorated with yellow Rose petals, Chamomile, Achilla and Birch leaves.  The soap started to seize pretty quickly so I jammed it into the mold and then I put it in the freezer to prevent it from overheating.  I smells wonderful.  It doesn't look as good, some strange thing going on in the middle, but I look forward to testing.  This one will probably also only be for me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

This One's Just for Me

I made this very strange recipe.  I have no idea how it will turn out at all.  I knew I wanted to use lard.  I don't use palm oil mostly because I can't find it here and lard makes for very good hard soaps.

I also wanted to use up some oils that I had a little bit left of. Additonally I wanted to make soap just for myself.   Something luxurious and pretty.   A soap that I would use on my face, and therefore I wanted all those exotic oils that I normally would use in face creams rather than soap.

So it became quite a cocktail.  I'm still waiting to see how it will turn out.  It just might be an almighty flop.  But it could also become my new favorite soap.

I know this is a crazy recipe. It's not supposed to be very conditioning, but since I used both jojoba oil and lanolin, both of which really are waxes rather that oils, I'm counting on them to do the job. Plus this is more superfatted than I usually do.

The thought with this soap (if there was any, I did this pretty instinctively) was to make something similar to my old facial soap that I did ages ago. That soap seemed to take forever to cure, but turned out to be one of my all time favorite soaps. And that one aged quite well too.

Coconut Oil - 36% - 5 oz / 160 g
Lard - 30% - 4.7 oz / 134g
Almond Oil - 17% - 2.6oz / 73g
Avocado Oil - 10% - 1.6oz - 45g
Olive oil (Rubarb root infused) - 3.5% - 0.5oz / 15g
Castor Oil - 1.8% - 0.3oz / 8g
Jojoba Oil - 1.6%% - 0.25oz / 7g
Lanoline - 0.5% - 0.1oz / 2g

Water - 5.2oz / 66g

Lye - 2oz / 58g which makes it 15% super fatted, but always check a lye calculator (I always use Soapcalc myself).

For fragrance I used Neroli, Ylang Ylang and Benzoin, with a dash of Rosewood, Sweet Orange and a dash of Geranium, Vetiver, Sandalwood Amyris and Cubea Litsea.   I put it in this silicone cake form that I got in a thrift store (and have never used for cake) as well as my heart shaped ice cube mold from Ikea.   I like to have small soaps for the bathrooms.

The scent is nice and fresh and the colour also turned out to be a very nicely pink.   But this soap is also going to take a lot of curing.   Oh, well. Patience is the mother of all virtues, as they say.   I need more of that, and as they also say: Practice makes perfect.  So it's all good.

Update: Like I expected, this soap took some time to cure, but once it did it does make for a nice very creamy lathered soap that feels quite gentle on my skin.  I have also used it as a shampoo bar and my hair likes it.  The fragrance didn't hold up as well as I hoped.  It turned into a kind of indistinct something.  So even if I like that Neroli, Ylang Ylang and Benzoin combination I should probably have skipped the others or made one of them dominant.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Making Soap My Way - A Tutorial Of Sorts

I made soap again.  Just suddenly got the urge and then I thought I should document my process.  I never did a tutorial before.  Mostly because when I started this blog I was a complete beginner in soap making and I was reading other peoples tutorial to learn from them, not ready to teach others.  But now that I have become pretty seasoned in soap making, I thought I should write down my steps.

I have always made soap in the kitchen using my regular pots and kitchen stuff.  I have read a lot of books about making soaps and most of them are very good and thorough, but sometimes I feel that they make it sound so difficult and complicated.  I like things to be easy and simple.  So my favorite book about making soap is by Anne Watson "Smart Soapmaking" (even if the subtitle is a bit more complicated: "The simple guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap Quickly, Safely, and Reliably, or How to Make Luxurious Handcrafted Soaps for Family, Friends, and Yourself".  I love the humor in that).  She gave me the courage to go ahead and try it.

Over time I have developed my own way to do things and I have gotten pretty set in my ways.  I always use the same equipment: same pot, same glass measuring jugs, same spoons, same everything.   Except the recipes.  I just can't make the same recipes again and again.  I always need to tweak them a little bit, at least.  And now suddenly, I have a need to make soaps.  There are a few that are asking to be made.  I have sometimes wondered what kind of soap I would make first.  Once I started again.  It was Rhubarb oil soap.  A very strange recipe, if I'm honest.  I have no idea how it will turn out.  Might be a total failure, although I thought of it as a luxurious face soap.  But that is another post.  This one is about the process.

My equipment consists of:
  • A pot - I use that for the water/liquid and to dissolve the caustic soda
  • A large pyrex class measuring jug with a handle - That is for the oils
  • A small pyrex class measuring jug with a handle - This one is for the caustic soda
  • ---I do not use the measuring jugs to measure, just as containers---
  • A slotted spoon - to stir the caustic soda solution
  • Two thermometers - one for the soda and one for the oils
  • A digital scale - to measure everything
  • A stick blender - to mix everything
  • Moulds
  • And the most important equipment of all is my computer... and SoapCalc  I use that for every single recipe and save them as pdf.  
  • And then there is the camera, or the phone these days.  (Which I know isn't good because the photos are not nearly as good as on a proper camera.  But I have gotten a bit lazy.  I need to change that.)
I put my recipes straight into SoapCalc as I work.  I usually make either 500g or 700g depending on which mould I'm using.  I put in the total weight and my preferred water ratio (usually about 33% these days) and super fat % (varies from 5-10% usually).  I would recommend that beginners stick to the default setting in the beginning.

I would also recommend goggles and gloves and an apron.  Lye is very caustic and it does burn.  The raw soap is also very caustic and it does burn.  You do not want to splash this stuff on yourself and definitely not get it into your eyes.  Having said that, I have to admit that the hazmat-like outfit that I wore in the beginning has given way to a bit lighter safety gear.

Before I do anything else I get my mould ready.  I like the wooden moulds with freezer paper. But one can use silicone moulds (for baking) and just about anything that has a shape resembling soap.  In the beginning I used milk cartons and yoghurt pots.

Then I start measuring the oils one by one, resetting the scale after each time.

Sometimes I pour a little bit more than I intended and then I go back to SoapCalc and adjust accordingly.

I melt the oils in the microwave.  About a minute at a time and I stir in-between.  

Next I measure the caustic soda.

I prefer not to store it among the foodstuff in the kitchen so
I keep it in the garage.

I take the small pyrex jug and the scale and measure out there and bring it back to the kitchen.

I then measure out the liquid into the pot.  I usually just put the pot on the scale and pour in whatever liquid I'm using.

Then I put the pot on the stove and turn the exhaust on full while I slowly pour the caustic soda into the liquid.

The liquid gets very hot so I let it sit and cool down.

If I need to hasten the cooling I'll simply let some cold water run on the outside of the stainless steel pot.  That cools it pretty quickly.
Once everything is the same temperature I pour the liquid into the oils.

I try not to heat the oils too much and often leave a little bit of the solid oils to melt on their own while the oils cool down to the correct soaping temperature.  Or even have some solid bits still floating like here.  The stick blender takes care of it.

I prefer to soap at about 40°C / 100°F, so I let both oils and water cool to around that temperature.

Here is why I love to make soaps.  The Rhubarb oil is yellow with a strange greenish, almost iridescent cast to it.  But once the lye hits it, it turns red.

I love that.

I use an old Bamix stick blender that I got in a thrift shop.  I really like it.  It's very sold and rather quiet.
Next is the fun bit: Turn on the stick blender and watch the swirls.

I don't really mix for very long.  I'm not too bothered about trace.  The soap mixture will reach trace on it's own if it is properly blended.  At least I have never had any problems with that.

I then pour in my essential oils, which I have already poured into a small bowl.  I do not have a scale that is sensitive enough to measure essential oil blends.

Since my recipes are small, I may use only a few drops of this and a dash of that.  My scale can measure down to +/- 2 g (that's around 0.07 oz) and that isn't enough accuracy to use it for fragrance.  So I just make my fragrance blends on instinct.

I usually try to avoid using the stick blender too much for the essential oils, since they are so volatile.

Once all the ingredients are blended, I pour the soap into moulds.  I have wooden log moulds and I like those.

I'm usually not concerned if they gel or not.  I just let it happen.

But, if I do not want them to gel I'll put the moulds into the fridge or even freezer overnight.

Or sometimes I use smaller mould to avoid gelling, but that doesn't always work. 

I always use a small pin (knitting needle, the end of a thermometer or a chopstick) to make swirls in my soaps to decorate the tops.  I studied the way other peoples soaps look like and I tried to get different looks.  But mine always looked the same.  The funny thing is that when my cousin and I were doing this together and she would use the same implement and the same type of movement we could easily tell our soaps apart.  So I guess this is my look.

I added dried flowers.  That may be too cutesy for some, but when I was looking through my old photos as I uploaded them to Flickr I really loved the look of them.  So even if they get spoiled when they get wet I still like them like that.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Peppermint Potato Candy

It sounds like an oxymoron.  How can a potato make a delicious candy?  I wish I could say that this is an old family recipe and my grandmothers have used potatoes in candy for generations.  But I'd be lying.  The truth is that I had agreed to give a talk about potatoes on "The Day of the Potato".  This is a part of a series of happenings that the Agricultural college of Iceland hosts to increase awareness of the importance of preserving genetic variety.

I happen to be the foreman of the vegetable club of the Horticultural Society and I had also given a talk on Rhubarb a few years ago.  So I was asked to do this and I said no.  So a few weeks later they talked to me again and said that no one had wanted to take this on.  So I said yes.

Then I sat down at the computer and looked for interesting recipes.  Because unlike Rhubarb, on which I had been collecting recipes, I just boil and bake potatoes and that would be a very boring talk.  So I concentrated on finding unusual recipes with potatoes.  And much to my surprise I found them in droves.  Apparently, making candy with potatoes was quite common in the 40's and 50's.  So I had to try pretty much every recipe I found.  Some were better than others and this one was a favorite.  All of them used boiled and mashed potatoes and combine it with powdered sugar.  I always have some leftover from dinner.  It's nice to be able to use them for something fun like candy.

¾ cup Mashed boiled potato
2 tsp Soft butter
1 tsp Peppermint extract

Whip all those together (a machine is best for that)

Add a little at a time:
7-8 cups Powdered sugar.
It will, and should be, a pretty stiff dough.
Push into a square form (I line mine with baking paper)

Melt together over a bain marie:
2 cups of a Dark chocolate
1 tsp Butter

Pour over the peppermint dough.
Put into a refrigerator  and let it get cool.
Remove from the form from the fridge and cut into squares.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Washing Icelandic Wool Fleece

There is something incredibly cool about being knowing how to work wool from being a heap of freshly shorn fleece to a finished garment.  After I learned to spin I was only missing the first link (apart from the actual sheering).  I bought fleece from two sheep this spring when I was  doing the course on spinning.

I knew they would be rather smelly and dirty and that washing it would require the bathtub for a couple of days at least.  So it's been sitting in a plastic bag (not the best storage) in the garage because hubby wouldn't like it at all if I barred him from the bathtub for days.  But this weekend I found myself alone in the house and out came the fleece.

I don't mind the smell.  It's actually kind of nice.  Very farm-y, if you know what I mean.  But perhaps not a smell one would want on a garment.

The fleece was even dirtier than I expected and didn't really know if I could get it white nor was I hopeful that I could get rid of that farm-y smell using only water.

I had only gotten verbal instructions from my spinning teacher about how to wash the wool, so I searched the internet to get some more viewpoints.

Most people seem to use soap or detergent, but since my teacher only uses hot water, I decided to stick to her method and see if that worked.  I do have to admit that using stale urine sounds awsom and it probably is the best method.  It was used traditionally here, as well as in many (if not most) other countries, to get the wool really nice and soft.  It does make sense to a soapmaker that an alkali (the stale urine) and oil (the lanolin, although it is more of a wax than an oil) would make some sort of soap and therefor it should work quite nicely.  Something that I'm sure to try at some point.  Right now the collection and storage is a bit of a problem.  I need to negotiate with hubby about where I might put a collection container.

My biggest worry was that the wool would become felted by too much movement, but since I wasn't using soap I just decided to go for it.  Wool can take quite a bit of heat without felting, it just doesn't like sudden changes in temperature.

The washing is quite straight forward, but takes a bit of effort and time.

I filled the bathtub with 50°C / 120°F hot water and gently pushed a big chunk of fleece into the water.  I let it sit for about 30 minutes and then drained the filthy water.  I found it easiest to do that by putting the wool on a wooden thingy (it used to be a playpen, but I made a dog-gate with one part of it).  Then I filled the bathtub again with some more hot water, slightly cooler this time.  I think I did this four times in all or until the water was running pretty clear.  I let the wool sit overnight to drain and dry.

By the next morning it was quite dry, at least it was far from dripping.  So I hung it up on a coat hanger to dry completely.  It made a nice sculpture by the stairs for a while.  It seemed a shame to take it down.  I had some more hanging in the garage.  That was quite a lot of wool, and I only washed the cleanest bits from the middle.  So I still have quite a bit of wool in a black plastic bag in the garage, ready for the next time hubby is away overnight.

After drying the wool, I needed to separate the coarse outer hairs (tog) from the softer undercoat (þel) and that is done simply by pulling the long silky hairs from the coat.  The texture of the two is quite different, the outer hairs are very long and shiny, almost like human hair.  While the softer inner wool is lovely and nice and soft.

Since I didn't use soap there is still quite a bit of lanolin left in the wool and that makes it very nice to touch and lovely to spin.  I intend to spin some of it like that and leave it un dyed and make something nice out of it.  Preferably something that I would wear next to my skin.  The lanolin really is the nicest moisturizer and to imagine wearing a garment that contains a natural moisturizer.  What could be more luxurious.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Old Fashioned Ice Cream

I bought an old fashioned Ice cream maker a few years ago.  I didn't really know what it was, but the colour was adorable and whatever it was intrigued me.  The people at the thrift store were excited that I bought it and asked me what it was because they had no idea either.  These are not at all common here and I assume that it was bought in the States by some seaman who thought his wife would enjoy using it.  Since it is practically unused and mint condition, I'm assuming the wife didn't really think it was such a hot idea.

But I love it and I have so often planned to use it, but never taken the plunge.  It's so funny how doing something that I haven't done before is so impossibly difficult.  And then once I do it, it's really easy.  So I decided to make Rhubarb Ice cream in it.

I love Rhubarb ice cream.  Nobody else seems to, which I find very strange.  But I had some rhubarb and there was a family party and I offered to bring dessert.  The family was a bit skeptical.  My daughter confessed to having serious doubts beforehand, but once they tasted, they were converted.  Or at least that is what they told me.

The recipe for the ice cream is very easy, I posted it before here.  Except this time I used a whole Vanilla pod for the ice cream instead of the vanilla sugar/essence that is specified in the recipe.  It's not a lot of ice cream, probably about a quart (or 1 liter).  There were 8 of us and all had a nice portion each, but it was also served with Rhubarb soup and whipped cream.  I actually like smaller recipes of ice cream since I like to make more flavors rather than a huge amount.  Coffee ice cream is probably my favorite, along with the Rhubarb and of course real Vanilla.  The taste is just so much better.

Making ice cream from scratch is very easy.  I started with two egg yolks, one tablespoon  powdered sugar, seeds from half a vanilla pod and mixed it together with a fork.

Five stalks of  rhubarb are chopped into little pieces and boiled with a little bit of water and 3,5 oz sugar.  Or one can use rhubarb mash from making the rhubarb soup.  The rhubarb is cooled while 1 and 1/4 cup of whipping cream is whipped.  Once the rhubarb has cooled, it is folded together and poured into the ice cream maker.

I had never used this old fashioned ice cream maker before, so I had little idea how much salt would be needed, but I bought 4 kilos (8punds) of rock salt.  I used about half of that, 2 kilos (4 pounds) and all the ice I had, alternating a dash of salt and a smattering of ice.  But I did make this recipe twice, and could churn it with that amount of salt and ice.  (This meant that I had some ice cream that was for me only after the party.  Oh, joy.)

Then churning by hand.  The mechanism of this is really interesting and I would actually love to have a smaller unit to use.  This large bucket is just a bit too big for the kitchen and so it has to reside in the garage, even if the turquoise  colour is just fantastic.

I didn't really know how long it would take to churn the ice cream.  It actually took shorter time than I thought, but then the amount of ice cream was only about half of the capacity of the ice cream maker.  I think it only took 15-20 minutes to churn the ice cream.  I loved peering into the ice cream  maker and watch how it moves the ice cream so slowly.  It all looks a bit weird, but then suddenly everything starts to flow smoothly.  I took the thing apart, emptied out the container and put the ice cream into the freezer to store it until it was time to go to the party.

I served the rhubarb ice cream with the fabulous rhubarb soup and lots of whipped cream.

There is nothing in this world that doesn't taste better with lots of whipped cream.  And then it was sprinkled with dark chocolate.  Although some cocoa nibs are also very good with this.  As is chopped dark Toblerone.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lupine dyeing - Lupinus nootkatensis

The Alaskan Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis) is one of those invasive species that are impossible to eradicate.  But it is pretty with it's blue and violet flowers and it does give great colour as a dye plant.  The leaves will give a good yellow, but it is the flowers that are more interesting because they give very bright and beautiful greens.  Most of the time lime green.

I got some pretty amazing colours this summer.  I went with my daughter to pick them down by the river where they grow in frightening abundance.  We picked the darkest coloured flowers that we could find and stripped them from the stalks.  We were careful to remove all leaves, because we didn't want too much of the yellow colour.   After picking a few full plastic bags we went home and dumped them into a large pot and filled it up with water.  The flowers simmered for over an hour and then was left to cool a bit before squeezing all the liquid from the flowers.

The liquid is a very deep wine colour, but the most common colour that comes out of the dyeing in a strong lime green.  It never ceases to amaze me, the tricks that colour plays in this process.  I used alpaca yarn to dye, skeins of 50g /1,8oz.  I've been using that for most of my dyeing lately, since I want to knit a soft and comfy sweater.  The Icelandic wool isn't necessarily what one wants next to the skin.

Since I didn't have any pre-mordanted yarn, I decided to mordant simultaneously with the dyeing, something which I haven't done before.  And because I am forgetful I first dumped wetted yarn into the pot and started to heat it up gently (it's important to take at least an hour to heat wool up to the 80-90°C / 180-200°F or so that is needed to dye) only to realize that I had completely forgotten to put in the mordant.

I added 10% (5 gr.) alum and 2% (1 gr.) cream of tartar, which I dissolved in hot water.  And then proceeded to heat up the liquid to about 85°C / 190°F.  I kept that temperature for an hour.  When I lifted the yarn out of the pot, I was floored by the turquoise colour that I got.  I have never seen a  colour like that from Lupine, so I wasn't about to chance loosing by letting it stay in the dye liquid any longer.  Therefore I didn't let the yarn sit and cool, but took it up and let it air cool before washing it out in clear water and some detergent.  The second skein I put into the dye liquid turned a very pretty green, I added the same amount of mordant to the dye liquid.  And finally I put in a third skein and got a lighter green.

Now I had to repeat this to see if I could replicate the colour.  I was a bit nervous since I had not really been careful to write everything down as soon as I did it.  That is a big mistake in dyeing.  Really, seriously.  One needs to take very careful notes and write everything that one does, times, tempertures, any deviations from the norm.  Just write everything down.

I had to try to replicate what I had done and write down every step of the way and lo and behold, I did manage to get almost the same colour.  I haven't tested it to see how lightfast it is.  I guess I should do that.  I did however see a shawl that someone had done with beautiful yellows from lupine and greens from lupine overdyed with indigo.  And there was no sign of fading in that.  However, I realize that the flower colours are the ones that are the most likely to fade in strong sunlight.  But on the bright side, there has been very little sun here this summer, so that isn't such a huge problem anyway.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I usually make yoghurt for breakfast, but the other day decided to make the traditional Icelandic skyr.  I used to have skyr for breakfast and lunch when I was a kid, long before I had heard about something called yoghurt.

Skyr is really good and it's good for you.  Skyr is really a cheese, although we are used to it as a sweet dish.  It's always made from skim milk which we call "undanrenna" and has a fat content of 0,1%.  Which is practically no fat.  Not that I avoid fat.  We eat skyr with a mixture of cream and full fat milk, sugar and blueberries.  Which of course are only available in the autumn, but it seems that we always had them when I was young.  Now they are imported all year round, so I can have my skyr with blueberries, even if the imported berries taste a bit more watery than the small local variety of wild blueberries.

I haven't made skyr before, but it is surprisingly easy, although a bit more involved than making yoghurt.

I started with 2 liters (2 quarts) of skim milk and heated that up to 90°C / 195°F and held it for more than 3 minutes.  Then I cooled it down to 42°C / 108°F.

Next add fresh skyr (or skyr culture at 1% of the milk volume, if that is available).  I used fresh skyr with live cultures, about 1/2 cup for my 2 liters.  Yoghurt can be used instead of skyr.

Then add Rennet, only 1 drop per liter and stir it gently for a minute.

This needs to sit still for about 4-5 hours.  I put it in the oven and turned the heat to as close to 42°C / 108°F as I could.

By now the milk looks like a jelly (pretty much like cheese does at this stage) and now it needs to be sieved at room temperature.

I did that using cheesecloth and let it sit for a few hours.  My instructions said 10 hours, but that wasn't necessary.  The whey drained very quickly.

I spooned the skyr into a jar and put it in the fridge to cool to below 10°C / 50°F at least.

At this stage the skyr is realy to eat and now one can add all sorts of flavors, sweet or savory.

My preference is to stir the skyr with some half and half and a little bit of honey.  I then store it and spoon it out for breakfast, pour some milk (or half and half) over it and add fruit.  Eat it with a tablespoon, a bit of skyr, some milk and a few berries.  Yumm.

Out of the 2 liters of skim milk I got 1/2 liter of skyr and a lot of whey.  The whey (called Mysa) used to be drunk as a refreshing drink in the olden days, tasting a bit sour.  My whey wasn't very sour since I only let it sit for 4-5 hours in the oven, but I have mixed it with Rhubarb syrup and some lemon juice as drink.  There is a bit of taste, that I need to get used to, but it's very healthy, full og nice gut loving bacteria.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Peasant Shirt - Sewing Instructions

The shirt that goes with the 19th century Upphlutur is a very simple peasant shirt. All the pattern pieces are rectangles and it's very easy to make adjustments to fit different sizes. This is a size L / 12 US / 14 UK / 42 European.

To make the shirt you need two shirt lengths of 150 cm / 60" wide fabric. Measure from mid shoulder and as far down as you would like the shirt to be long.  In my case it is about 80 cm /39,5".  So I would need 160 cm or 63" of fabric. My fabric is a fine bleached linen, but fine cotton is also used and even a blend of wool and cotton.

I hand sewed my shirt, using a combination of running stitch and back stitch, three running stitches and one back stitch.  The seams are first sewn together on the right side and then again on the back, so that the edges are hidden and there is no need to zik-zak. But it is perfectly acceptable to sew the shirt on a sewing machine and use zik-zak if one want to do that.  The pattern is in centimeters, but I have also included inches, but those are slightly rounded off.

Now cut two pattern pieces for the sleeves.  These measure 50 cm by 60 cm.

One one side you should mark 15 cm /6" from the center.  This is where you put small gathers on the sleeve.  On the same side mark 10 cm / 4"at the edge on both sides, this is where the square pieces will be fitted under the arms.

The main pattern piece is one long piece that is both front and back, so that there are no shoulder seams.  Mine was 55/22" cm wide by 155/62". I added about 2 cm (slightly less than an inch) in seam allowance all the way around.  Check a favorite shirt and measure it's with to see how wide you want your shirt to be.  Be aware that the wider the shirt body is, the lower on the shoulder the sleeves are going to be.

The shirt should be about 5 cm /2" shorter in the front, than in the back and have slits in the sides.   Mark for the slit on both sides of the front about 10 cm/ 4" up (12 with seam allowance) and on the back mark for the slit about 15 cm (17 cm) on both sides.

Also mark about 10 cm on either side of the mid shoulder line (see drawing).  This is where the gathered part of the sleeve is going to be.  Note that the shoulder seam is 80 cm from the bottom of the back and 75 cm from the bottom of the front.

Also, cut a neck lining. In my case a rectangle measuring 7 cm /3" by 43 cm /17".

Now comes the only tricky part.  You need to draw the neckline and cut that.  It's not hard, but cutting into fabric like that can be daunting.
Mark the center of the fabric and the shoulder seam.  From there measure 3 cm / 1 1/4"towards the back and 12,5 cm / 5" fowards the front.  Then measure 7,5 cm / 3" to either side (see drawing).
Then draw the rounded out shape as you see in the picture. Also measure 17,5 cm/ 7" down from the front of the neck opening, for the slit in the front and cut that.
You can adjust these measurements slightly to fit your size, although I have a very average size head and neck so it should fit most sizes.

Now cut the pattern pieces for the sleeves.  Two pieces that measure 50 cm/20" by 60/24" cm plus seam allowance.  On one end, measure 15 cm from the center on either side to mark for gathers.  On the other mark for the slits, 11/4,3" cm.

Also cut the lining for the sleeves, 7 cm by 25 cm plus seam allowance.

Also cut two square pieces, 10 by 10 cm/4" by 4" plus seam allowance.  This will be inset under the arms so that the arms are not too tight.
To start sowing it's best to begin to sew all the slits.  Start with the slits in the large piece. There's two in the front and two in the back. Then do the sleeve slits.

I rolled them twice, 1 cm wide,  and then stitched them down using tiny stitches so that there is no need for zik-zak. 
Then do the opening at the neck.  Do not worry about the very bottom, it will be hidden with a fold that is put in at the end.

Here is a detail of the bottom of the neck opening.  The seam is tapered to the bottom.  I stitched this in place with small stitches using linen thread.  This can also be sewn in machine close to the edge. 

Here is a detail of the slits which shows how they are tapered on one end.  Now sew the sleeves together leaving 10 cm /4" at the top. This is where the small square piece is sewn in.

Next sew in the two small square pieces one to each sleeve.  They are placed like a diamond between the seams in the sleeves.  The other two sides are eventually sewn to the large piece as a part of the sleeve.  Note how this square piece is sewn in place so that the seam tapers towards the edge.

Now the sleeves need to be gathered to fit the main pattern piece.  There are 30 sm that need to be gathered down to 20 cm.
Since I wasn't using a machine I made tiny folds instead of gathers and pinned them down, but gathering by machine is also very acceptable.

Once this is the correct measurement the sleeves can be sewn to the main piece.  And then finally the long side seam and 

Now the linings at the neck and the sleeves are sewn.  First attach one long side and stitch in place.  Then fold over and fold the seam in and stitch the lining in place (hiding the seam) and make the edges flush with the slits.

At the wrists the fabric is folded a few times to fit the lining.  There is no specific measurement because the width of the sleeve and the wrists varies, but on my shirt there were 8 folds on the front of the sleeve and 1 towards the back.
Almost finished!
First sew buttons onto the lining of the sleeves.  These come on the front of the sleeve and the buttonhole, which is towards the back.

I find it easier to do buttonholes by hand, but some machines also do a great job of it.

Lastly, sew a small fold into the bottom of the neck slit.  I stiched a small heart, but it can be a simple square.

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I’m a fun loving person who loves to do things, make things, grow things, repair things. I love it when my husband gives me power tools as presents! The next best thing is getting ingredients. Any type of ingredients, oils, pigments, building materials, old pieces of wood or used textiles, especially. I love the fact that anything can be made. Need glue? Well, go to the kitchen and make some! Don’t have a recipe for glue? Google it! (Isn’t the internet a fantastic invention) Need lettuce? Grow it! On a window sill if you don’t have a garden . I have two daughters, two dogs, one son in law and one husband. Born and bred in Iceland (I think that was a horrible mistake, I like warm weather and sun). Still live there though and of course I like it, really. But the weather could be better. I read a lot. Some fiction, but mostly factual books. I have an oppinion about most things. They may not be the right opinions, but I’ll stick to them unless you convince me otherwise. And I will change my mind give new facts and strong logic! I generally like my life. I like most people and love the fact that nothing that really matters to me can be taken away.