Thursday, December 18, 2014

Never Too Many Portland Restaurants!

Dana Street, owner of the venerable Street & Co, and Fore Street restaurants in Portland, plans to open a new one on Portland's Maine Wharf.

Portland is fast becoming one the country''s foodiest cities ("Foodiest."Foodiest." Say it a bunch of times, it will start to sound funny.) The city already has more restaurants per capita than any other in the USA, but that isn't the part that matters; what matters is if they are good restaurants. If past history is any indicator, this will be.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Street confirmed that the deal was inked recently to lease the space at 68-72 Commercial St., which is physically located on Maine Wharf, in the city’s central waterfront district and adjacent to the Casco Bay Terminal.  The two-story building now under renovation will accommodate the restaurant’s approximately 7,000 square foot ground level space with offices above. The dramatic interior has towering ceilings flanked by large casement-style windows overlooking both sides of the wharf with easterly and westerly views. It will seat 144, making it one of the largest restaurants in the city.

Maine Wharf, before and then during renovations.
Street described his new venture as "a classic New England seafood house reminiscent of the way fish houses were in the early part of the 20th century." Look for a grand opening sometime next summer.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tide Pool and Cairn, Ogunquit, Maine

A gray November day, but not too cold; thought we'd get out before winter closes in.
This was taken on the Marginal way in Ogunquit, a lovely walk on classic stretch of Maine's rocky coast. The walk is about a mile and a quarter; you can download a .pdf map here.

If you're in Ogunquit, go see my friend Rick and Rick at On the Main! They sell pottery and other fine handmade items.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Apple Picking Time!

October in Maine is apple picking season. Local fruit can be had for a pittance at stands and grocery stores, and many people go apple picking as a fun family activity. The benefits of picking your own apples are obvious: being outside, enjoying the weather while you can, getting some excercies and a break from the ordinary. The trouble is you end up with alot more apples than you likely need before they start to get soft. Frugalistas will turn that into a plus, however: though raw apples don't freeze well, and preserving is a pain in the ass, it's easy to bake sliced apples for freezing. Like so:

3 small Mac Apples
3 tbsp honey
1/4 cup brown suggar
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter

Slice the apples in 1" bits and place in 2-quart covered casserole. (Pyrex or commercial stoneware would work but handmade is always best. Anyway I think so, but I am biased.) Dump the honey, sugar, and spices in; cut the butter into pats and dot the top. Bake for 20 minutes at 350°. Remove, uncover, and stir contects of casserole; replace in oven and bake for 10 minutes more.

Allow to cool before spooning into freezer bags. Or enjoy right away!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A New Dome for the Statehouse!

I have been following the progress from my front yard. Look how it gleams in the October sun! The Lady of Wisdom, who stands atop the dome - you can just about make her out in this photo - has been re-gilded as well. According to the Bangor Daily News:
Once complete, the statute will be be noticeably brighter from below, and the exquisite detail on the statue will be preserved, Boulter said, although at 200 feet above the ground, it’s difficult for visitors to appreciate the artwork.
Boulter said weather and strikes from hail have damaged the copper, especially on the topmost portions that are more exposed, and holes have developed, causing leaks into the building.
The seams between the copper sheets, which were first installed when the building was expanded and renovated in 1909 and 1910, also have caused problems for the underlying steel and concrete structure of the dome.
And while other parts of the building have been renovated over the past two decades, including a full restoration of the interior of the State House and portions of the exterior from 1998 to 2001, the exterior renovation of the dome is the most visible work on the building since it was expanded more than 100 years ago.
The building was expanded in the early 1900s to replicate the U.S. Capitol, in a move that was sweeping state capitols across the country.
But Maine, unlike many other states, decided not to gild its dome with gold. Boulter said historical renderings of the building show it both with a golden dome and a brownish, copper-colored dome, but none of the earliest renderings show the greenish color of oxidized copper.
Boulter said he was unsure whether the color was ever an intended effect or just the result of time.
What is certain is that the building, once the staging starts to come down later this year, will not look the same again for at least 30 years.
Read more here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Maine Craft Weekend!

In conjunction with American Craft Week, this coming weekend is Maine Craft Weekend! Click here for a list of events and participating studios and breweries.

So far we've had a fabulous autumn, and this weekend looks great as well. Meet the artists, have a brew, get a jump on Christmas shopping, and peep at some leaves, while you're at it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Baby Hawk Wing Moth

That's how I prefer to think of this ginormous Tomato Horn Worm, happily munching away on Sun Gold foliage. My hubby has created a sort of Hornworm refuge in our one raised bed that is a little too shady to produce much fruit. They are hungry little bastards, but osrt of pretty, as well; and when they finish demolishing plants, they will go away for a while and come back like this:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Black-eyed Susan and Sweet WIlliam

 As summer winds down in Maine, my garden starts to look a little ragtag. The daylilies are just brown straws with fading foliage, peonies are long gone and asters yet to come. One bright flower marches straight through from jUly, however: Black-eyed Susan. 

It can be hard to get this plant to "take," it has shallow roots and will die after transplant unless you get a good rootball and water it frequently. Once established, however, it will thrive, even in poor soil. I got to wondering about the name. The Black-Eyed" part is pretty obvious, but is there any special reason why Susan and not Anne or Jennifer or Inez? 
Susan, it turns out, all black-eyed from crying, is the star of an eighteenth century ballard by John Gay, co-starring Sweet William, a popular name for lovelorn fellows in ballards; the famous Barbara Allen scorned her own Sweet William, to her regret. The John Gay ballard begins: 

 ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’

Another beloved garden flower is named for him: Sweet William the plant blooms about the same time as Black-eyed Susan.  There's only one Sweet William in this house, however:

Here's the whole thing:

Sweet William's Farewell to Black-eyed Susan
ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
  The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
  ‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’
William, who high upon the yard
  Rock’d with the billow to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard
  He sigh’d, and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning on the deck he stands.
So the sweet lark, high poised in air,
  Shuts close his pinions to his breast
If chance his mate’s shrill call he hear,
  And drops at once into her nest:—
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William’s lip those kisses sweet.
‘O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
  My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear;
  We only part to meet again.
Change as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee.
‘Believe not what the landmen say
  Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind:
They’ll tell thee, sailors, when away,
  In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For Thou art present wheresoe’er I go.
‘If to fair India’s coast we sail,
  Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
Thy breath is Afric’s spicy gale,
  Thy skin is ivory so white.
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.
‘Though battle call me from thy arms
  Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms
  William shall to his Dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan’s eye:
The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
  The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer must she stay aboard;
  They kiss’d, she sigh’d, he hung his head.
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land;
  ‘Adieu!’ she cries; and waved her lily hand.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Toddy Song

A real Maine song. Lyrics NSFW!

The denizens of Central Maine are, among other things, an earthy lot. Or maybe salty is the better word. I first heard this song a couple of years ago at a party at disc golf course in Sidney, when a stranger picked up my husband's acoustic guitar and just sat down and started playing. I couldn't quit laughing, because it's so much like so many stories I have heard here, in language and detail. It stuck with me, so finally I went searching YouTube for it. I thought it was hopeless, but everything is on YouTube these days. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bon Appetit Recognizes Central Provisions

The foodie mag Bon Appetit has named Portland eatery Central Provisions as one of the top ten restaurants in the country. Coming in at #6,  the very new Central Provisions - which opened only six months ago at 414 Fore Street - was particularly commended for its crudo, a raw fish dish with sweet and tangy seasoning.

Portland has an ever-growing reputation as a foodie town, having more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. Central Provisions is a welcome addition to the mix. Despite my low-rent predilection for diners and pubs, might have to give them a try.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Check Out Quench!!

Belfast, Maine is an adorable little town. Many unusual stores, restaurants, and pubs, and right on the water. It's a great destination for a day trip, and it just got a tiny bit better. Jeweler Jennifer Lisa, of Quench Metalworks, has opened a retail space of fine and unusual handmade wares. Let's check it out!
We found it! Quench is at 9 Beaver Street, in Belfast.
Peeking in the window...

...And lots more! Worth a visit to see for yourself.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What to do with all those CUKES!
When they come, they come by the dozens! Cucumbers are in season in Maine. Even if you don't have a garden, chances are someone is trying to give you cucumbers. Take them! Great for salads and sandwiches, and now salsa! try this one.

Crisp Cucumber Salsa:

2 cups finely chopped seeded peeled cucumber
1/2 cup finely chopped seeded tomato
... 1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4-1/2 tsp minced fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 c reduced-fat sour cream
1-1/2 tsp lemon juice
1-1/2 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp seasoned salt
Tortilla chips

In a small bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. In another bowl, combine the sour cream, lemon juice, lime juice, cumin and seasoned salt. Pour over cucumber mixture and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately with chips.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tomatoes and Zucchini, Made for Each Other

Pretty sure it's a sign from God that all of these things are in season at the same time.

1 Medium Tomato
1 Medium Zucchini
1 Medium Summer Squash
1 T snipped garlic greens
1 T snipped chives
3 T olive oil
Parmesan cheese

I chop all the vegetables into 1 to 2 inch chunks, toss everything together, and then place it on some foil. I use enough foil that I can crumple the sides into a makeshift bowl which will then go on the grill. I cover the top with more foil to hold the moisture in, and let the lot steam in its own juice.

I admit, unfashionable as it may be, I like my grilled vegetables cooked; hot-raw just doesn't do it for me. So I put them over a medium-high flame for about 12 -15 minutes. So fresh! I want to take a mental sanpshot of the taste and remember it in January.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fireworks Over Augusta

It rained in Maine on Independence Day this year. Because it landed on a Friday, most municipalities rescheduled their fireworks for Saturday, but not Augusta. Ours was rescheduled for Augusta 2 - today.

Fireworks displays are sort of like small-town parades - or parades of any kind, actually - if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. This year they were  little more fun, because I got out the camera and started trying to click the shutter at the instant that would catch the explosion. If I waited until I could see the explosion, that was too late, and the shape would be disintegrating. Click too early and I'd just get empty sky.

This little game would not have been possible - not for me, anyway - prior to digital photography. Hooray for technology. And Independence, too, of course.

A Tale of Two Coneflowers

Echinacea purpurea
I once thought I'd try to have a garden strictly of native plants. Yeah, I once thought a lot of things. I found it far too limiting given the vast variety of beauty available to the gardener, but one plant that has stayed with me from that period is Purple Coneflower. Funnily enough, I was mistaken; coneflower is native to North America, but not to Maine, where it migrated from the midwestern states.

Echinacea pallida
Did I say one plant? I meant two. Coneflower comes in two varieties. Echinacea pallida is a paler purple, and a taller, leggier plant; echinacea purpurea is a deeper pink-purple color, and more compact.

Both are bee-friendly plants, but let me suggest that you get your coneflowers from a neighbor who's dividing, or from a small garden center like Longfellow's. A recent study (.pdf) found that more than 50% of perennials sold at the large retailers like Lowe's and Home Depot had been treated with pesticides called neonicotinoids that make plants poisonous to bees! It's important to note that it was a small sample, and more study is needed; however, I err on the side of caution, since the bees are having a rough go as it is. If you transplant, get a good root ball, and get it in the ground - full sun if possible - as soon as you can.

Echinacea is thought by some to have medicinal properties, including boosting the immune system; this has yet to be proven, and collection of the roots for this purpose, along with habitat loss, has put echinacea on the endangered list in some states.

Coneflowers attract butterflies, and after the flowers pass, goldfinches will perch on the dried seedheads to feed. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blueberry Banana Smoothie

I spent great chunks of my childhood summers in Cherryfield, Maine, the blueberry capital of the world. My grandparents had some blueberry barrens; in their high school years, my mother and her cousin worked at the Wyman's factory, picking the sticks and bugs out of the harvested fruit. My mother was even the Maine Blueberry Queen of 1950!

Wyman's is still there, and they process all sorts of fruit - dried, canned, or frozen. That's great for winter, but in August, there's no shortage of fresh blueberries anywhere in Maine. Fresh berries make everything better! Think of pancakes; and then think of blueberry pancakes. See what I mean?

In the summer heat, there's no better way to enjoy blueberries than a cold smoothie. Banana makes it thick and creamy, ice makes it frosty-cool.

Fresh Maine Blueberry Smoothie

1 cup blueberries
1 banana, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 cup orange juice
2 ice cubes

Place all in blender and pulse-blend until smooth. Enjoy immediately, Makes enough for two.
Want to pick your own? Check out picking farms here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Periwinkles for Dinner?

I bet you didn't know periwinkles are edible! They are a bit of work, since each provides only a tiney morsel, but have a delicate flavor somewhat like mussels. It makes for a fun day, collecting periwinkles to bring home for dinner.

Here's how to prepare them, from
Steamed Periwinkles
1/2 c. salted water

1/4 tsp. thyme
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/2 c. beef bouillon or dry white wine
4 dozen well-scrubbed periwinkles
4 tbsp. butter 
Rinse the periwinkles thoroughly; put all ingredients in pot and bring to a boil; add periwinkles and steam until they can be easily extracted from the shell, about 4 minutes. Serve with melted butter.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ringo Monogatari

A Tale of Apples

A folkloric tale with modern sly wit. Ringoko must help Henji recover his heart, lost to a mountain witch, if he is to live - but first she must persuade him he wants it back! This adventure story with the faintest blush of romance winds through Japanese mythology in a charming narrative.

I had the good fortune to meet the author, Rebecca Silverman, at her home on North Haven. I first took her for a college student; when she told me she is in fact a professor, I looked again to see that she is older than I thought, well and truly a grown up. She has an ethereal quality which I credit for my first impression, an innocence, as one whose heart is too tender for this world. This was reinforced as I met several of her cats, all rescues of one stripe or another. Rebecca has spent a lot of time in Japan, soaking up the legends. Ringoko, her heroine, though kind, is not tender!

Her sister, Jennifer, illustrated the book - also a magnet for cats in need of love! Jennifer is gregarious and open, a painter as well as an illustrator. In fact the whole family are creatives - their mother is a weaver; their father a potter; another sister, Marjorie Skiva, is the author of Seeking Shelter (and another cat lover!)

This is a unique book by a Maine author, engaging but light, a great summer read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Day on the East End

Confession: Portland, Maine, is probably my favorite city in the world. I feel a pinch of guilt saying that, because Augusta is my home, and I'm committed to making Augusta the vibrant city it ought to be, but the truth is it's not there yet. Portland, to me, is the perfect size: large enough to have all the benefits of city living, small enough that you'll always meet someone you know downtown.
When I was growing up in Scarborough, a couple of towns over, the East End - Munjoy Hill especially -  was a thoroughly disreputable place. Well, things change! But slowly.

Luckily my work frequently takes me to Portland, usually to the East End. Though adjacent to the Old Port, a shopping and nightlife district wildly popular with tourists and locals alike, Portland's East End remains largely a haunt of townies. The shops there are less tourist-oriented: there are salons and second-hand stores, artists' studio-storefronts, and tiny cafes, and even a couple of little grocery stores.

My day started at Hilltop Coffee, one of several choices I had for my morning java.I could also have chosen either of 2 Coffee by Designs, or the Portland Pottery Cafe. Then I went shopping!

Artists are the earthworms of an economy, going where the conditions are less fertile, preparing the soil so other businesses can thrive. Unfortunately, once an area is thriving, artists are often priced out! The East End is still at that stage where artists can afford to do business there, so I visited several studios.

Willa Wirth Silversmith
Jen Burrell Designs
Laura Fuller Stained Glass
Because it's geared more towards locals, shops on the East End tend to be less spendy than those in the Old Port. I adore second-hand stores: they appeal to the treasure hunter in me, as well as my frugal nature. I visited Cobwebs, Circa Vintage, Carlson and Turner, and two secondhand clothing stores that are recent arrivals: Frock and Urban Vogue.

Urban Vogue
Lunchtime! Though there are lots of good choices, for me it was always gonna be the Portland Pottery Cafe: I know those folks well, as I teach classes at Portland Pottery, the studio next door. What's on offer today?
I had the Strawberry Bliss Salad, from the regular summer menu.

The cafe also sells handmade pottery, including mine
After lunch it's time to visit the real gem of the East End: how many places can boast a neighborhood beach? East End Beach is exactly that. It's a pocket beach on Casco Bay, not large enough to attract the attention of most out-of-state visitors, but Munjoy residents can just wander down the hill for a swim. This was a hot day in July:

Kayakers departing from East End Beach for their Casco Bay adventure

The view from the East End
Artists painting the view

Feeling thirsty after our day in the sun? Well, there's the Hilltop Suprette, or the Rosemont Market, if you're looking for a lemonade. Oh, wait, you were thinking of a libation? The Crow Bar is a fun little dive of a neighborhood bar, or maybe The Snug if you'd rather go a little more upscale. I used to live on the East End, and sometimes I wish I still did. (Only sometimes, Augusta!)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Go Ahead and Eat the Daylilies!

July is when I am most satisfied with my garden. Monarda is blooming, brilliant red; also Black-Eyed Susan, Echinachea, and the ubiquitous daylily. I have several different hybrid varieties, but I think my favorite is the classic orange tiger lily, for its exuberant abundance.

I learned something new this season: daylilies are edible! My friend Kim, an artist with Carriage House Arts & Design in Norridgewock, makes daylily jam! You can also sauté the blossoms for a nutritious side dish. Here are a couple of recipes to try.

Daylily Stir Fry (from

  • A 1 inch piece of ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons of corn oil
  • 1 small can of water chestnuts
  • 2-3 cups daylily buds
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons of water

  1. Peel and grate ginger.
  2. Mix sugar, corn starch and water. Set aside.
  3. Warm pan and add the oil. Get the oil quite hot; a haze will appear.
  4. Add ginger. Sauté about 30 seconds; don't let it oil brown.
  5. Add water chestnuts and daylily buds. Stir fry!
  6. Pour the mixture over the lily buds and turn quickly but gently until all the flower buds are coated with a sauce.
  7. Serve immediately with rice or as a side dish. 
Or, if you've a sweet tooth, try this Daylily Jam, from
  • 2 1/2 cups apple juice or white wine
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 oz. liquid pectin (Certo-1 pack)
  • 1 cup fresh petals or buds. Cut off the stems and take out the stamens and pistils
Bring juice to a boil and pour over petals, cover and steep until liquid has cooked. Strain out petals, leaving only liquid. Combine 2 cups of the flower infusion with the sugar, lemon juice and food coloring. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as sugar is dissolved, stir in pectin. Return to a rolling boil stirring and boiling for 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim off foam. Let cool slightly and add more flower petals.Pour into sterilized jars. If flowers don’t stay suspended, stir jelly as it cools until petals stay in place. Process in hot water bath (5 minutes) or seal with paraffin.

Monday, July 14, 2014

SAVEUR Discovers Maine Oysters

This will not be news to anyone who lives here, but Sophie Nelson of SAVEUR has discovered, and delighted in, the many varieties of Maine oysters.
pemaquidsYes, oysters taste like the ocean, but the range in flavor produced by unique aquacultures up and down this stretch of coast is a wonderful thing; this is never more clear to me than when I’m eating at Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co., with a craft cocktail in hand, and an icy platter of a dozen Maine oysters before me.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Luck Flower, Liver-Friend

In the untended places, chicory is blooming in Maine.

I name it a weed, but of course a weed is only a plant out of its proper place. (Grass, for example, is the most noxious weed in my perennial bed.) Chicory has been cultivated since antiquity for medicinal uses: it was said to be a "friend of the liver" by the Romans and later used to treat insomnia, eye inflammations, and "passions of the heart." A brew of mashed chicory and honey was used topically (and rather optimistically) to make breast round and firm.

Stuff like that always make me wonder: surely someone would have noticed when their breasts sagged no less as a result of smearing on some poultice. And then I think, "Oh, right, confirmation bias:" the same thing that accounts for continued belief in horoscopes and hauntings. (That, and it's more fun than rational thought...)

Chicory is also likely the Luck-Flower of German mythology, which allowed the bearer to cause mountains to open, in which there were always gold and treasures. The hapless fools in the tales always seem to forget or lose their luck-flower on the way out, but that's not chicory's fault. The plant was also believed to confer on the bearer invisibility, if a number of specific conditions were observed during its cutting.

If your liver needs a friend, or you heart contains passions that need healing, try Chicory leaves boiled for five minutes (to remove bitterness), and then sautéed like spinach, with chopped garlic.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fresh Berries Are Here!

Strawberries peaked early this year, but we still have wild berries growing our yard. They are tiny but abundantly sweet, and grow with no care at all. Berry-picking is a summer tradition here, and pick-your-own farms abound. Here are a few nearby:
You can find lots more at this link.

Nothing beats berries, all by themselves, but sometimes I dress them up a bit for special occasions.  This cool dessert makes a sweet and healthy treat for your summer entertaining.

It's best to assemble this dessert just before serving. You'll need:

2 32 ounce tubs of vanilla yogurt
1 pint of strawberries
1 squirt can or about 3 cups of whipped cream
Package of vanilla Pizzelle cookies

Rinse and slice your berries. Scoop about a cup of vanilla yogurt into some pretty dessert bowls (like these!) layer sliced berries on top, about 1/2 a cup per serving. Squirt or spoon whipped cream over top.

Break four Pizzelle wafer cookies in half, and tuck two halves side by side into each bowl. Place them points down for a leaf-like decorative shape. Serve immediately. Yummy, healthy, couldn't be better!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cedar Waxwings are in Town!

At least once a winter, usually in February, I encounter an enormous flock of Cedar Waxwings, numbering in the hundreds. These I observed in the trees lining the Hannaford parking lot, some of which featured berries still clinging, even this late into the season. Waxwings rely on such trees in winter, as their other food sources - insects and tree sap - are unavailable. (They do also feed on cedar cones.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Yeti Sighting Reported in Litchfield

According to the KJ: a Litchfield man has reported seeing a "white bigfoot," sometimes called a Yeti, near his home.
A single man identified only as “M.P.” told Cryptozoology News that he was walking his dog outside his Litchfield home in December when the dog started barking and pulling him as he had never done before.
He said he looked up and saw a huge, fat, white-haired beast, which stopped in
Not the Litchfield Yeti
front of them, looked at them and growled before screaming and running away into the woods.

“I couldn’t see his eyes well, but they looked brown to me, but very, very dark, almost black,” M.P. told the website. “Big mouth, like a monkey, with big sharp teeth. I tell you, a freak. I’ve always laughed at all these bigfoot nuts. Now I guess I’m the crazy one here. Unless it was a very good hoax played on me, that could be, but I tell you again it ain’t easy for a man to make those kinds of moves. That didn’t look human to me.”
Well. Hard tellin not knowin, I guess.

Monday, January 27, 2014

An Old Craft is New Again: Making Soap

Not me, thank goodness!
In the Colonial era, when the Province of Maine was a part of Massachusetts, the making of soap was a household chore and thus a commonly known skill. Soap was made by boiling animal fats with lye obtained from wood ash to produce the saponification reaction. Women, mostly, were the producers if soap for their families; there were also tradesmen called chandlers (because they also made candles) or soapboilers from whom one could purchase pre-made bars.

These days, of course, soap is readily available and affordable, but handmade soap is, for some a creative hobby or business, and for others a delightful luxury. We can luckily skip the smelly and unpleasant boiling of wood ash step, and just purchase lye at the hardware store, or online. What happens next looks different but is essentially the same process that the colonial inhabitants of Maine utilized.

Winter is soaping time for me, since gardening is out!

I make soap in a slow cooker, purchased at Goodwill for the purpose. I needed a number of smaller tools as well: a metal spoon and a wooden one; an immersion mixer, to blend the lye mixture without splashing it; and a big measuring cup - glass, not plastic.

Here's my recipe for Cold Process Soap. If you want to try it, you'll also need rubber gloves, protective goggles, and a soap mold lined with freezer paper.

Crisco 272 oz
Canola Oil 272 oz
Lard 181 g
Coconut Oil 181 g
Water 345 g

Lye 126 g

Weigh out the fats & oils and place them in the slow cooker on Low. When they have fully melted, turn slow cooker to Warm.
Weigh out the water and put it in a glass container. Put on your gloves and goggles and weigh out the lye. I go outside for the next bit, to release the fumes there. Always add the lye to the water, not the other way around. Slowly and carefully pour the lye into the water. The mixture will turn cloudy and get hot. Still with a metal spoon until it clears - should be just a couple minutes.

Still wearing your gloves and goggles, slowly pour the lye solution into the melted fats in the slow cooker. Stir briefly with a spoon and then begin using the immersion blender. Blend for a few minutes, and then stop, to keep from burning out the tool. Keep this up until the mixture reaches trace.

Wait, what's that mean? you may be thinking. Trace is a state of the lye/fat mixture in which the material thickens to the point that your stir marks will remain on the surface for a few seconds. If you dribble a bit of the mixture onto its surface, it will take a few seconds to sink back to level. Once the mixture reaches trace, you can be confident that your fats and lye mixture will not separate.
Soap at trace

At trace, I add the fragrance and colorants.This batch is called Stormy Night, for which I used a purple soap colorant, in two different concentrations, for a lighter and a darker shade. I poured the two together, but just barely mixed the batch, because I wanted the two colors swirled together. This batch I layered with some gold mica - sorry, not enough hands to take a photo of the layering process! 

A dusting of mica on top, and then the mold is covered and wrapped in towels to hold the heat in, aiding the saponification process.
The following morning, the soap can be unmolded and sliced, but it will still be a few weeks - at least four - before it is usable. The longer it cures, the harder and longer lasting your soap will be.