Thursday, January 26, 2012

My 366 Photo Project, Snap Thursday: week 4

Knitty Baker's Snap Thursday
It's Snap Thursday again! Below are the next seven pictures from my 366 Photo Project: week 4, January 20-26, 2012. 

See previous weeks here:
one & two

January 20: paperwhite narcissus starting to bloom

January 21: pretty lights on a tree

January 22: I love birch trees

January 23: the serene after the snow

January 24: a rock garden

January 25: a secret garden

January 26: the banks of the Charles River

Bye for now...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My 366 Photo Project, Snap Thursday: week 3

Knitty Baker's Snap Thursday It's Snap Thursday again! Below are the next seven pictures from my 366 Photo Project: week 3, January 13-19, 2012. 

See weeks 1 & 2 here.

January 13: "forcing" paperwhite narcissus...trying to bring a bit of spring indoors

January 14: three geese take flight

January 15: a dried seedhead basking in the sun

January 16: clementines...yum!

January 17: ivy creeps skyward

January 18: winter tree branches reaching for the moon

January 19: Baker Library | Bloomberg Center at Harvard Business School

Bye for now...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My 366 Photo Project, Snap Thursday: weeks 1 & 2

Knitty Baker's Snap Thursday This year my husband and I decided to take a photo a day for one year and post them on our blogs. He blogs at My Amateur Photography Blog and has already taken some really great pictures. With this being a leap-year, it will be 366 pictures in 2012 and my plan is to join in with a couple of fellow bakers - lead by Knitty Baker and ButterYum - and post on Snap Thursday. Of course I am getting a bit of a late start both in getting my first two weeks posted and posting on Thursday.

So, without further ado, here is my first set of pictures from weeks 1 & 2, January 1-12, 2012.

January 1: happy new year

January 2: a mural on the side of a cafe

January 3: rolling out pie crust

January 4: sleepy kitty

January 5: eucalyptus branches

January 6: almost time to take down the Christmas decorations

January 7: a small plaque in the sidewalk: laid by Simpson Bros.

January 8: Christmas trees out for recycling...bye bye Christmas 2011

January 9: the John Hancock building and a bit of the Boston skyline
(full disclosure: I somehow missed a photo for January 9, so this one is from January 11)

January 10: it snowed last night!
This has been such an odd winter - warm temps and only one (early season) snow storm.
This overnight dusting was gone by 9am.

January 11: adorable clematis seed pods from my mom's garden.
They look like a cross between an alien life form and something from a Dr. Seuss story. So cute!

January 12: fresh from getting my hair cut. Curly curly curly!

Bye for now...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Homemade Christmas 2011, part 4: Aromatherapy Body Butters & Scrubs

This is the final post in my four-part series detailing a Homemade Christmas 2011. As I mentioned in part one of this series (vanilla extract), I decided to give lots of homemade gifts this year and wanted to document all of these different "crafty" projects. Parts two and three detailed my hand-sewn lavender eye pillows and decorated Christmas cookies. This final post covers Aromatherapy Body Butters & Salt/Sugar Scrubs.

I took a class in November on making your own body butters and scrubs and was hooked! I love giving myself facials and slathering on sweet-smelling lotions, creams and scrubs - anything to help me recreate a spa experience at home. So, this class gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies inside and I knew right away that I'd be adding this to my Christmas gift-giving list.

The class I took was just 1-hour so we only had time to learn about creating the scrubs and bodybutter bases; sadly there wasn't very much time to get into the aromatherapy side of things. The teacher did recommend some combinations of essential oils that blended well together, and had a bunch of oils for us to try, but the first thing I felt I had to do was learn more about aromatherapy and combining and blending of essential oils.

I felt like an alchemist, hunched over my table, mixing the different combinations of essential oils with droppers. It was really fun to try recipes I found online and also of my own imagination and then smell them a few days alter to see how they had melded together...or not. I definitely found some scents that did not play nice with each other! I love using different fonts for things so each different "flavor" of butter/scrub got its own cute font that went with the scent and type of cream ("sharper" fonts for citrusy scents vs more flowing, "softer" fonts for more romantic scents such as ylang ylang or bergamot).

I will share the nice recipes I created myself and the ones I used and liked from other websites in a separate post.

Next up: homemade lip balm! I wanted to make these for Christmas but didn't have enough time so this is next on my list. I ordered some lip balm tubes and tins from Mountain Rose Herbs, I've got all the ingredients and a few recipes to try...can't wait.

Links to websites where I got my supplies, recipes and ideas are below.

essential oils and carrier oils

shea butter (on left), oils and salt and sugar for the scrubs

my essential oil mixtures. I gave each a number and kept a spreadsheet
so I could track the ingredients and see which combinations worked and which didn't

the finished butters. The letters on the label corresponds to my scent spreadsheet

the ones in the round jars were whipped longer so they had a really firm texture and were whiter in color

the top two jars here are sugar scrubs with grapeseed oil. This was one of my favorites!

salt scrubs with a citrus scent

spray bottles filled with herbal aftershave and aromatherapy spritzers

I left the letter identification on each jar while adding the final label,
to make sure they all got the correct tag

more finished jars

this is so fun!

finished spritzers and mists

I felt like I was running an old-timey apothecary when I was done

all of the labels included the ingredients and the date made

Sources for butters, carrier oils, essential oils and containers:
Mountain Rose Herbs - a wonderful site for organic essential oils and carrier oils (amongst many other items including lip balm tubes and tins). The customer service was excellent too!
Brambleberry - for shea butter and disposable droppers. They are primarily are a soap-making supplier but have lots of other fun products.
Specialty Bottle - for glass jars and spritzer bottles. A fabulous site with really cheap prices for bottles, jars, and other containers.

Recommended sites for learning about essential oils and aromatherapy, combining different oils and recipes for body butters, scrubs, lip balms and other homemade body products:
Aura Cacia - a great resource for learning the properties of different essential oils, recipes and suggestions on combining essential oils. They also sell many different products (you can find their essential oils in Whole Foods and other health stores).
AromaWeb - a wonderful site to learn about aromatherapy. There are many, many articles to teach you about blending oils and the properties of different oils. Also has lots of links to books and other websites.
eHow -  found some vegan lip balm recipes here.
Make Your Own Cosmetics - a site with user-created recipes for all kinds of creams, butters, scrubs, lip balms and soaps. A really fun place to look around and get ideas.
Mountain Rose Herbs lip balm recipes - in addition to buying oils from this site, I also found an old newsletter detailing several lip balm recipes.

Bye for now...

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Homemade Christmas 2011, part 3: It's a Cookie Decorating Party!

This post is part three of four in my Homemade Christmas 2011 series. It's time for Christmas cookies! These weren't gifts, per se (although I did give some away to work colleagues), but really just a fun time for everyone to get together and make something by hand. Part one was about yummy vanilla extract, part two was about lavender eye pillows and part four was about body butters and scrubs.

In addition to cookies, we also studded some oranges with cloves (no pictures, sorry!). I used to make these as a child with a family friend so it was a fun activity that brought back some happy memories. It makes the house smell amazing too, even if you are left with a really sore thumb from pressing in the cloves. I ordered some bulk cloves from Mountain Rose Herbs and got some large navel oranges and that project was ready to go.

The main project of the night though was to decorate cookies. Last year we had about a dozen friends come over for a gingerbread house (and cookie) decorating party. It was great fun and all of our friends made some really outrageous houses. The amount of candy on the table was insane! This year is was a little more low-key. Not as many people and not so many candy decorations since we were just going to work on cookies.

Decorating sugar cookies with piped and flooded icing is something I want to work on. I never feel very confident about my drawing skills so trying to reproduce a real image on a cookie would probably just stress me out. However, I was easily able to manage drawing on snowflake shaped cookies and simple decorations on other shapes. I even managed to make some really adorable snowmen as well. So maybe I'm better than I think!

we haven't had any snow yet this year but I still managed to make some snowmen

My favorite recipe for rolled sugar cookies comes from this little book I got on, Cookie Craft: From Baking to Luster Dust, Designs and Techniques for Creative Cookie Occasions by Janice Fryer and Valerie Peterson. The cookies they've decorated in this book are insanely adorable and very intricate. I don't think I've quite got the patience to make such fancy cookies, however, the book provides several excellent "base" cookie recipes and royal icing recipes for both piping and flooding. The book also contains lots of inspiring decorating ideas, gorgeous pictures and lots of really helpful tips from rolling out your dough to learning to pipe icing.

The Cookie Craft recipe for Rolled Sugar Cookies (which has lemon undertones) has been my go-to favorite for a while and now I can add the Rolled Nutty Cookie recipe, which I made for the first time, to this list as well. The Nutty Cookies are so delicious! Nuts are toasted first (I used pecans) and then finely ground and incorporated into the dough and the flavor is just wonderful. They are like sugar cookies taken to a whole new level. And - both types of cookies - are just as delicious without any icing at all.

Besides the taste and texture of the cookies (which is almost like a shortbread), the recipes in this book are very simple (you probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry right now) and the doughs are incredibly easy to work with and they roll out like a dream! I also love that you don't need to chill the dough before you roll it out. So it makes the whole process much faster than other recipes that I've used. And, finally - and most importantly - the cookies keep their shapes when baked, which is awesome. They don't spread or lose their sharp corners so if you are using a detailed cookie cutter, you won't lose any detail after they're baked.

mise en place for the sugar cookies

and for the nutty cookies

I think I could actually just eat this dough on its own. It is that good.

rolling between parchment paper keeps your dough from sticking
and avoids having to use flour which will toughen your dough

how gorgeous is this dough?!

the rolled (sugar cookie) dough has chilled and now I can cut the shapes

no spreading or loss of detail when the cookies bake

the amount of cookies I got from 1 batch of sugar and 1 batch of nutty cookies
...that's one heck of a lot of cookies!

One last thing is that the iced cookies stay fresh for quite a while so you can make them several days ahead of gifting or eating them. I just stored them in a ziplock baggie on the counter-top. I will admit though that after about one week I was so sick of so much sugar that I just threw the rest away. Next year I think I'll make them as office gifts since I know I can do them over the course of a week without any loss in taste or freshness.

I also froze some un-iced ones. They are so thin that they only need to defrost at room temperature for about 5-7 minutes and then...munch away. Very convenient!

Here are some of my decorated cookies...

reindeers pulling Santa's sleigh

sparkly little snowmen with silver scarves

ready to head off to work...?

look, it's snowing!

these were easy to decorate - pipe some icing and then spoon some sprinkles over the top

so cute

and delicious...yum!

my husband got me an espresso machine for Christmas

we christened the machine with a cappuccino and cookie

Bye for now...