Happy Friday, friends! As I type this, a warm wind is whipping around outside. The wind is so eerily warm, in fact, that I’ve got the windows in the kitchen open, my mom (who is upstairs laying out wooden train tracks with Huxley, God love her) is wearing a short sleeve top, the wood stove is cold, and I’m thinking about icy beverages to drink. The respite from frosty weather is seriously appreciated, just oddly placed. When you consider that this weather is going to pass tonight and usher in 48 degrees as a high tomorrow for what promises to be a very well-attended cookie exchange here, it’s a bit frustrating, too. I was kind of crossing my fingers for a day warm enough for the crowd to mingle comfortably outdoors around the fire ring, if they were so inclined. We might still, but there’ll definitely be a noticeable nip in the air then that’s conspicuously absent now. Oh, weather, you vexing, fickle muse, you!!!
I’ve got a new post up over at Verve. I’m sharing my love of all things cinders and ashes there, as it seems so many of us invite and celebrate the presence of fire to a greater degree this time of year than at any other.
In other news, here’s a smattering of this and thats that caught my attention this week:
*Hannah, the youngest daughter of Lynne Harty, the photographer I had the pleasure of working with on all five of my books with Lark, has started a college dorm-based cooking blog. Such creative ideas for taking dorm taking to a whole new level.
*Great ideas for simple, homemade holiday gifts.
*Thinking this might just be the year the Geodesic Gingerbread House comes to life, chez English.
*Marisa’s got the 411 on canning turkey stock.
*Love hellebores, those stunning flowers that pop up when snow blankets the ground, offering silent testament that hope really does spring eternal (I do!)? Here’s how to grow them.
*The story of Charlotte & Jonathan is a great reminder that we must always, always, ALWAYS take great care not to judge people based on appearances (I wept both times I watched this).
*Bourbon salted caramels, for the win!
*I’m teaching a class on homemade body care products at a local library this Sunday. Folks attending will learn how to make (and take home samples of!) my lip balm, bath salts, and honey foot scrub, all great, simple items that also make wonderful gifts!
So, my weekend promises to be full and merry, what with ladies, cookies, body care product-making, and merriment in general. This stretch of days through the holiday season is one I look forward to all year long. We three are enjoying it to the fullest!
Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!
*I post a photo of Huxley here each Friday because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most. This image of the two of us is from yesterday. Hominy Creek flows along the entrance to our road (we live in Hominy Valley), and faces our mailbox. Huxley and I love to toss rocks in the creek each time we walk down our dirt road to get the mail. Teaching him to skip them is up next!
I met Jessica Smith this past June. She and her lovely family had the same mind that we did to gorge ourselves on pie at Barbara Swell’s annual Retro Pie Contest. Not only did we share a love of things enrobed in flaky dough, it turned out Jessica was also a small measure reader. We ran into one another again in October at the True Nature Country Fair. Since it seemed the universe wanted us to know each other, I invited her and her insanely adorable toddler daughter Iris to Huxley’s birthday party. When they arrived, Jessica brought both birthday presents for Huxley and a gift for me, too.
She’d made a jar of of homemade body butter, and told me I deserved a treat, too, for my hard work. What a lady, right? Not only does her orange & patchouli body butter smell divine, it’s amazingly rich and thick and creamy and has proven to be exactly what my skin needs right now. About two months after Huxley was born, I developed what I can only think of as hormone-induced eczema on my calves and thighs. Without fail now, come cold, dry weather, my lower body gets red, dry, crackled spots. Jessica’s body butter has been taking care of these sore spots with amazing effectiveness, though.
I loved her creation so much I asked if she’d be willing to share it here. Seemed like the right thing to do, given that she was already a regular reader. She doesn’t have a blog or business that I can promote in return, so all I can do to show my gratitude is to tell you that she is an intelligent, beautiful, elegant, gracious, thoughtful, empathic person and we’d all do well to take a page from her book on how to live well. Thank you SO much, Jessica! Here’s her tutorial on making the most scrumptious body butter of your life, right in time for gifting!
Winter is upon us. It is the time of hot chocolate, blazing fires, woolen socks and some of our most beloved holidays. Unfortunately, it is also the time of cold, drying winds and hot, drying furnaces. This would usually be the time for battling chapped, cracked, flaking skin. But that won’t be an issue this year, because today you will be learning to make your own super luscious body butter. You’ll be in heaven after trying this. First of all, it’s absolutely luxurious. Like rubbing buttercream frosting all over your body. Secondly, not only does this body butter feel so much better than what you can buy at the store, it’s also way better for you.
Many commercial body butters contain harmful and irritating ingredients such as cyclopentasiloxane (suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant; environmental pollutant) and dimethicone (long usage dehydrates skin; non-biodegradable eco-pollutant). Conversely, this recipe for homemade body butter is all-natural and can even be organic if you want it to be. You could probably eat this stuff (not that I recommend it). Third, compared to the price of commercially available body butters, especially the high-quality natural ones, this is very inexpensive to make. And finally, this body butter is easy to make. If you’ve ever made mayonnaise, you can make this. In fact, I would say body butter is easier than mayonnaise. I’ve never had body butter break.
So give it a try. It really is amazing stuff. Shortly after I finished this batch my neighbor’s daughter came by my house. I gave her a bit to try and she immediately began slathering it on, exclaiming, “it just feels so good!” And be sure to play around with this and make it your own. Don’t think you have to follow the recipe slavishly; think of it more as a guideline. In fact, the only real “rule” about this body butter is the one Rosemary Gladstar has for her face cream: it can never be used with any negative thoughts about the body it’s being used on.
You’ll need a few pieces of equipment to make body butter. First, a scale is very handy. All of the oils, waxes and butters are measured by weight. I use a digital scale, but an analog scale would be just as good. This doesn’t have to be exact, like soap making. In fact, this recipe is forgiving enough that you could measure everything with measuring cups and it would still turn out fine. For melting the oils, butters and beeswax together you will need a double boiler or something that approximates one. My saucepans nest together nicely so I use one inside another, slightly larger, one. Another popular double boiler substitute is to place a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup into a small pan of water.
For mixing the oils/butters/wax with the liquid portion you will need either your standard blender or an immersion blender. I suppose you could also vigorously whip them together with a balloon whisk, but I’ve always been too daunted to try this method. Finally, you will need something in which to package your body butter. Mason and Weck canning jars both work well or you could use recycled jars, tubs, or tins (if the lid has a cardboard liner be sure to get it out). Basically, the sky’s the limit; just make sure it’s clean and that you will be able to get the body butter back out again. And if you’re making body butter as a gift, you may want to give some consideration to the attractiveness of the container you choose.
Our ingredients fall into two categories: oils, waxes and butters, which will be melted together and liquids, which will be blended in at the end. All of the ingredients should be available at a well-stocked health food store or they can be purchased online at Mountain Rose Herbs. As the oils, waxes and butters form the bulk of the body butter, let’s take a look at them first.
Shea butter, our main ingredient, is a soft butter pressed from the nut of the Karite tree. It is incredibly nourishing to the skin and is one of the best natural moisturizers. It is pressed by hand in a labor-intensive process performed by African women, so be sure to buy from a source that pays these women a fair wage. Mango butter is a semi-hard butter pressed from the seed of the mango tree. It is a good source of many essential fatty acids and is wonderfully rejuvenating. It is very similar in color and texture to cocoa butter so, although I have not tried it, I imagine that you could substitute one for the other. Cocoa butter should give your body butter a slight chocolaty aroma. (Note: As both mango and cocoa butter have a fairly hard consistency, if you include too much in your recipe or the storage area is particularly cold, there will be small granules in your body butter. These will quickly melt at body temperature, so it’s nothing to get too worked up over.)Coconut oil, pressed from coconuts, is a light, moisturizing oil with a scent to transport you to a tropical beach.
You have many options for your liquid oil. Grapeseed, almond, apricot kernel and jojoba are all good choices. Olive oil is not recommended for cosmetic applications as it is quite heavy and will give your body butter a greasy feel. I like grapeseed oil because it is particularly light and non-greasy, but if you have mature or damaged skin, you may like to try apricot kernel or almond oil. Beeswax firms your body butter up to a nice consistency. I find the beeswax pastilles available from Mountain Rose Herbs to be exceptionally easy to work with, but beeswax grated from a block will do just as well. And if you have local beeswax available, by all means use that.
Our liquids are water and aloe vera gel. I used to think the water in lotions, creams and body butters was just filler, but then I learned that they actually perform a vital role. Usually the oils in a recipe are too heavy to penetrate very deeply into your skin and will just sit on top of the skin. So while the oils are forming a protective barrier to seal in moisture, the water and aloe vera gel are small enough molecularly to permeate and rehydrate your cells. Distilled water is preferred in body butter as tap water can contain bacteria that may shorten the shelf life of your body butter. (Note: If mold grows on your body butter, discard.)
You can also get fancy and use a hydrosol in place of distilled water. A hydrosol, also known as floral water (rose-water is one) is produced by steam-distilling plant material and contains all the beneficial properties of the plant. Calendula, lavender and rose are all especially good for one’s skin. Aloe vera gel soothes dry and inflamed skin. Purchased aloe vera gel is the most convenient to use in this recipe. You can, of course, use raw gel scraped from your aloe plant but know that the shelf life of your body butter will be quite short.
You may also include essential oils to add fragrance to your body butter. One of the nicest things about making your own body butter is that you are free to craft your own fragrance blends. Blend therapeutic grade essential oils to create your own signature fragrance. Or use just a single oil for a fresh, uncomplicated scent.
Here is the recipe (adapted from Mountain Rose Herbs):
The butters, oils and wax (by weight):
-3 oz shea butter
-2 oz mango butter
-1 oz coconut oil
-3 oz grapeseed oil (or other liquid oil of choice)
-½ oz beeswax
The liquids (by volume):
-2 oz distilled water or hydrosol
-2 oz aloe vera gel
Essential oils of choice
1. Combine all butters, oils and wax in the double boiler and heat until melted, stirring occasionally.
2. When the oils, butters, and wax have melted, pour into your blender or, if using an immersion blender, into the container in which you will be blending everything and allow to come to room temperature.
3. Measure out the distilled water and aloe vera gel (into the same container is fine) and allow to come to room temperature.
4. When the butter/oil/wax mixture has cooled sufficiently (it will become thick and opaque) turn on the blender and very slowly pour in the water/aloe vera gel. The color will lighten significantly and the mixture will be one homogenous consistency. Scrape down the sides and continue blending if necessary to achieve this.
5. When the body butter is fully blended, add essential oils if you wish. For this batch, I used 50 drops of sweet orange, 50 drops of patchouli and, just to mix it up, 15 drops of lavender. This resulted in a very lightly scented body butter. Normally, I would never count drops, but just add until I get what I want. Play around with it.
6. When the body butter is exactly how you like it, pour it into your jars, cap and label. The body butter will firm up as it cools. I keep my body butter at room temperature and I’ve never had a batch go bad, but if you think you’ll be storing it for longer than six months, you may want to refrigerate it.
Body butter can be a bit of a pain to clean up after. What I have found to be very helpful is to use paper towels to wipe as much as possible off of everything before I try washing. You can then compost the paper towels.
Good luck with all your body butter endeavors, folks. Here’s to soft skin all winter long!
You know how sometimes you’re just doing your thing online, jumping from one site to the next, following a link suggested on a blog you like or checking on what folks you’re following on Instagram have liked and then, boom. Out of nowhere, you find a website or blog that really, really resonates with you. Maybe it’s the writing, or perhaps it’s the way the shop is curated that speaks to you. That’s just what happened to me with Otherwild.
In their own words: OTHERWILD GOODS & SERVICES is a hybrid retail store and graphic design studio in Los Angeles, CA dedicated to design in its many facets. As graphic designers, we are inspired by the multidisciplinary talent that surrounds us, and are interested in a synthesis which merges the fine and applied arts. OTHERWILD’s design vision is distinctly cross-disciplinary. As graphic designers, we incorporate our passion and respect for the handmade into our design work. Our studio is filled with beautifully designed objects of all incarnations, many of which are handmade and one-of-a-kind. Within our retail space we offer a curated selection of goods from jewelers, ceramicists, perfumers, artists, designers, herbalists, quilters, fabricators, musicians, witches, picklers, woodworkers, curators, photographers, dancers and publishers. This carefully curated selection expresses our aesthetic sensibility as designers. We are absolutely dedicated to showcasing goods made with care by individual artists + designers rather than products that are mass produced.
What specifically caught my eye was a gorgeously rendered lunar cycle calendar for 2013. I liked it so much I included it in a “What I’m Digging” round-up. Shortly after my mention, Rachel from Otherwild wrote me directly, thanking me for the love and offering a version of the 2014 once it was ready.
That time has come! Not only has Rachel generously offered to give me a complimentary calendar, she’s offering the same to one lucky small measure reader! The calendar was designed by Alma Reyes Evans for Holy Sponge. It’s 8.5″ x 11″ and shows what phase the moon is in every day of 2014. For those unfamiliar with lunar cycles and why one might want a calendar of them (aside from the sheer beauty factor), Rachel provided this information:
Anyone can use a lunar calendar to learn and pay attention to the cycles of life, death and rebirth. The new moon, or the dark moon, is symbolic of new soil- a time to plant seeds and intentions for the 28 day cycle ahead, and as the moon grows (waxes), the seeds grow and our intentions begin to manifest in some way. The full moon represents the fullness or completion of whatever was planted during the new moon- a time to celebrate or notice what has peaked. As the moon wanes and her light diminishes, the cycle comes to a close and we let go of the current cycle to prepare for the next. Our ancestors have used the moon as a guide in this way for thousands of years.
Cool, right? And beautiful, too. Win, win! To enter the giveaway, simply click on this link. It’ll take you to a space for signing up for Otherwild’s newsletter, which in turn enters you in the giveaway. Trust me, you want to be included in that newsletter! We’ll run the giveaway for one week, concluding next Wednesday, December 11th, midnight EST.
Even if you don’t win, do be sure to visit Otherwild. They’ve got an expert selection of items in a wide range of prices. Thanks, Rachel, and best of luck to you all!
My buddy Karie Reinertson is some kind of wonderful. She was here for Huxley’s birthday and my mom met her and her partner/fiance Rob Maddox, the duo behind Shelter (I wrote this piece about Karie and Shelter for Madesmith). When I was chatting the next day with mom, she spoke about Karie, saying “She’s so humble.” I realized recently the older I get that one characteristic (along with niceness) is the one trait I look for most in people. Humility is golden, friends. Truly.
If you live in the Asheville area, you’re one lucky individual, as Karie and Rob are putting on what promises to be one epic holiday Pop-Up shop, entitled Hearth. Details are in the image above. I know many of the purveyors personally, and know of the others. Owing to that, I can guarantee there will be some creative, gorgeous, quality items to be had at this event. Don’t miss out!
It’s the season of feasting, isn’t it? Even before this past Thursday’s Thanksgiving here in the States, folks have been swilling eggnog (I know I have!), sipping hot chocolate (it’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all), and otherwise nibbling and noshing and sipping and imbibing. Something about these shorter, colder days seems to invoke a seemingly unconscious desire to store up calories for the harsher weather to come. We tend to move a bit less, and eat a bit more.
I’m certainly not immune to this, and have begun my December tradition of starting the mornings off with a little sweet something, in the form of scones, stollen, or panettone. A little chunk of one of that holy trinity and a mug of hot coffee (typically laced with freshly ground cardamom seeds) gives me the added pep to great the dawn with a breath of fresh air. And when there’s a bit of snow kissing the cove out here, as was the case last Wednesday, I get an extra kick in my step.
Many folks look at winter with either outright contempt or irksome annoyance. I couldn’t feel more differently. When the mercury dips, I thrive. Give me some plaid flannel p.j.s and plaid flannel sheets (it’s like a plaid Tuxedo, for your bed!), or a plaid flannel shirt and a cardigan and I’m golden (those that know me well know my abiding love of all things plaid-I think my memoir will be called “Wrap Me In Plaid Flannel And Tell Me That You Love Me”, or something akin….).
Accordingly, this past weekend was all about feasting. From a buffet of splendor at Deerpark on Thanksgiving Day (after authoring two cookbooks this past year, Glenn and I decided it was time to treat ourselves-”Treat Yo’Self!”- and let someone else do all the cooking and cleanup-big shout out to Marissa Jamison for hooking us up with a reservation when the restaurant was completely booked solid!), to a truly stellar meal at the newly opened Rhubarb downtown, to seeing my Triple Berry Lattice Top Pie grace this cover of this past week’s Mountain Xpress, it was all food, all weekend.
I also had the exquisite pleasure of getting to hang out with Sara Bercholz, founder of Roost Books (who is publishing my two books coming up in 2014), last week. She and her partner Dave and little guy Milo were visiting Dave’s folks, who live about 1 1/2 hours north. We only just met in September, but we connected on what I feel was a “heart” level, and having her around was like having a missing piece in place. She treated us to Thanksgiving dessert (yes, we drove north after one feast to enjoy another!) and to lunch at Rhubarb. Love that lady and am grateful beyond words to have met her and her sweet family. Now, if I can only convince her to relocate Roost and its parent company Shambhala to Asheville (a lady can dream, right?)…..
It’s still all food, really, as I shift gears to planning the menu for my 6th annual Ladies Cookie Exchange this coming Saturday. Myself and around 30 other ladies will spread their tastiest dozens of cookies across my dining room table while we swap and snack on savory appetizers and punch. If there’s interest and, well, room (30 ladies plus kids in my petite house makes for cozy socializing!), I’ve got a mind to initiate a game of holiday-themed charades (can YOU act out “The Nutcracker” with, um, “grace”?). Should be a good time.
I’m also crafting my holiday gifting list. Local friends will be getting something for their kitchens, while family members far away will receive boxes filled with edibles, both homemade and locally obtained. Huxley is pretty pumped about these darker, cooler days, too, as he’s now savvy to their parallel association with the presence of chocolate and treats and other sweet goodness (the concession, of course, is that his teeth are getting brushed a lot!).
What about you? What’s brewing in your kitchen? Or where are you hoping to dine in your neck of the woods? ‘Tis the season of feasting, and I want to know what you’ve got simmering!
Here’s wishing you a week filled with health, happiness, and love, from my home to yours!
*That title is not a typo. I’m totally owning “Feastivus!”