Category Archives: Recipes

Slippery History: How Soap Works

From ancient Babylon to Ma Perkins, soap has a rich and frothy past.

The basics of how soap works

5000 BC
Clay cylinders in ancient Babylon are inscribed
With instructions for boiling fats with ashes

4000 BC
Hebrews write on clay tablets about purifying of oils
Ash and lime-stone

1000 BC
Soap Gets the name from Mount Sapo, a sacred site where animals
were sacrificed during Roman rituals.
Women come from all around to bathe in melted animal fat and wood ash
Found in the Tiber river at the base of Mt. Sapo
Soap is formed when an acid, derived from the fats and oils of plants and animals, is combined with an alkali. Today most soapmakers use commercially available alkali such as sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) or potassium hydroxide (caustic potash). When the fats and the alkali are combined, a chemical reaction called saponification occurs. And there you have it: soap.
And how does it work? Water has a property called surface tension. This tension is created as water molecules at the surface are pulled toward molecules at the bottom. Soap molecules have a head that is attracted to water and a tail that is attracted to dirt. The tail embeds itself in the dirt, and the head pulls itself toward the water, breaking the surface tension. When you rinse off, you wash away the soap molecules along with the dirt their tails are clinging to.
Clean ingredients
Even though they aren’t required to list ingredients, natural soapmakers such as Joshua Onysko of Pangea Organics generally do because they’re proud of them. Pangea soaps, for example, are made from a base of olive oil, coconut oil, soybean oil, and hempseed oil; naturally formed glycerin, herbs, flowers and spices; and essential oils.
What you put on your skin could be absorbed into your body, so it’s important to read ingredients. Seeing the word “organic” in a soap manufacturer’s name doesn’t guarantee all the ingredients are organic. Many people in the personal care industry believe that unless an ingredient is certified organic in California or another state with strict certification standards, it doesn’t mean much. “Coconut oil can be certified organic in SriLanka, but they still use DDT there, so I’d be concerned,” Joshua says.
Soothing, simple soaps
To make this soap, first purchase a solid, translucent glycerin soap base (available from Sun-Feather Natural Soap, (315) 265-3648). Melt it gently in a double boiler over medium heat. Add soothing botanicals, fragrant oils, and any other ingredients that please you, and stir. Then pour the thick liquid into a plastic soap mold or a plastic food storage container and let it cool.
Lavender and Rosemary Soap
3 cups glycerin soap base
1/4 cup infusion* of lavender flowers and rosemary leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons lavender oil
1/2 teaspoon rosemary oil
1 teaspoon pulverized dried rosemary (optional)

1. Combine melted base and botanicals. Stir until blended, then pour into molds and cool.
*Make an infusion: Infusions are delicate teas made by pouring hot, steamy non-chlorinated water over fresh or dried plant parts. Three tablespoons of dried or fresh herb per cup of water, steeped 10 minutes, will suffice.
Reprinted with permission from Soothing Soaps by Sandy Maine (Interweave Press, 1997).


Holiday Entertaining for a Small Planet





How to reduce the footprint of your feast


How to reduce the footprint of your feastOne thing is certain: you don’t want to skimp on food. It’s a party after all.But you do want the food to be sustainable and the quantity to be appropriate for the number of guests you plan to have.

No need to skimp on decorations either. They underline the holiday theme and set a festive tone. Just choose decorations that are reusable and, in the case of lighting, energy-efficient.

Avoid disposable plates. If that’s not possible, buy a green brand. Ditto for cutlery and glasses.


Send electronic invitations and let any computer-averse guests know about the fete by phone.


Say “no gifts, please!” (except, perhaps, for the children). Or suggest a type of gift-giving that will keep the waste down.

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Those are the general guidelines. Now for specifics.

Portions. Nip the excess leftover problem in the bud by preparing the right amount of food for the company, taking into account the proportion of men, women and children. Keep in mind that the more dishes you serve, the more people will tend to eat overall. The length of time prior to the meal will affect the quantity of snacks and hors d’oeuvres required


Menu. Build your menu around local and seasonal foods. Granted, there isn’t that much available in December in colder areas, but see what you can get—if not from the immediate vicinity then from the region. It will be easier if you shop at a farmers’ market than the grocery store. New York City’s farmers’ markets typically have the following fruits and vegetables in December: apples, pears, shell beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, collard greens, leeks, onions, parsnips, potatoes, winter squash and turnips. The list sounds rather like the makings of a traditional holiday meal, doesn’t it?


As to meat and other animal products (including milk, cheese and eggs), the less you serve the better. I know that doesn’t sound very traditional, and may even seem inconceivable to some, but consider the idea if you care about the environment. Our nation’s meat-centric way of eating is unsustainable for a variety of reasons. 

How do you cut back on animal products at a holiday meal? Instead of a roast, which encourages heavy meat consumption, make a dish that mixes meat with plant foods, such as a stew with carrots, turnips and leeks or stuffed cabbage. Tempt the company with an elegant vegetarian entree, such as a goat cheese, beet and walnut tart.


Include some vegan preparations on the menu and use plant-based ingredients wherever possible, even in meat dishes. For example, substitute vegetable broth for chicken or meat broth and vegetable oil for butter. You never know—the result may be even better than the original recipe. One Hanukah, when I had a mixed-food crowd for dinner (vegan, vegetarian and meat-eating), I made two batches of latkes (potato pancakes). In one, I used oatmeal as the binder, which I’d never tried before, and in the other, the usual eggs. The vegan latkes turned out much crisper and everyone preferred them.


The Vegan Latkes

Serves 8-10

8 lg baking potatoes
2 med onions
1 c cooked oatmeal
1/2 c matzoh meal or flour
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying

Coarsely grate the potatoes and onions and put in a colander. Gently squeeze a handful at a time to rid of some of the excess liquid and put in a large bowl. (Do not squeeze too hard.)

Heat a couple of tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat while you finish preparing the potatoes. You want the oil nice and hot (but not burnt) when you are ready to fry.

Stir the potatoes and onions to mix. Add half the matzoh meal or flour and stir. If liquid is pooling in the bowl, add more. Then add half the oatmeal, season with salt and pepper and stir again. If the mixture isn’t holding together well enough to make patties, add more oatmeal.

To check if the oil is hot enough, drop a tiny bit of the potato mixture in the oil and see if it sizzles. If not, wait a couple of minutes and check again.

Shape the mixture into patties any size you like and drop in the pan. Do not crowd. Fry until crisp and golden-brown on both sides.

Before frying your next batch, add more oil to the pan and check to see if your potato mixture is too liquidy. If so, stir in more matzoh meal or flour.

Drain the latkes briefly on a couple of layers of old kitchen towels that you don’t mind getting stained with oil—or on paper towels made with recycled paper. Serve immediately on a platter warmed in the oven. If serving later, reheat in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve with apple sauce and/or vegan sour cream—

As always, organic food is better than non, unless it comes from the ends of the earth. Use your judgment.

Wine and Spirits.


As with food, so with drink: go local. Wine is made in all 50 states. Really! If you don’t like what your own state has to offer, expand your horizons without leaving the country. You need not import from Europe (or even California) to get fine wine. Locally brewed spirits are also increasingly available (in at least 40 states according to the American Distilleries Institute’s Directory of Craft Distillers). Local wines and spirits that are also organic or natural are best of all.

Leftovers. There are three things you can do with leftovers: keep them and eat them later, send them home with your guests or, if the quantity is truly large, give them to a food bank. Don’t assume food banks will be happy with anything you bring. Contact them in advance to see if they accept leftover foods and what requirements they have. If you’re going to want to give food to guests, get somenon-disposable containers in advance to pack the food in.

Plates, Glasses and Cutlery. Use the real thing, and resign yourself to washing up afterwards—perhaps with help from your guests. If you don’t have enough settings, borrow. When I was growing up, my mother would supplement her silverware with my grandmother’s for big holiday dinners. You can also buy what you need at a discount store. A very inexpensive option is PreserveEveryday reusable plastic tableware (BPA- and phthalate-free), made from 100 percent recycled plastic. If you must have disposables, get products made of recycled plastic, such as Preserve’s On the Go line, biodegradable bioplastics (made from plant ingredients instead of petroleum), bamboo or palm leaves.

Ritual Objects and Decorations.


If your celebration calls for candles, get ones made from beeswax or soy oil. If it calls for a tree, buy a real, cut tree rather than a synthetic one—and recycle it afterwards so it can be chopped up and turned into mulch. Even better, get a living, potted tree and plant it in your yard when the season is over—or donate it to your local park, school or church. (Call first to see if the gift will be welcome.) Instead of buying, folks in the Portland andSan Diego areas can rent living, potted trees. For lights, use energy-efficient LED bulbs. For ornaments, bake your own ormake them from natural objects, such as pine cones, cranberries, cinnamon sticks.

Have a Holiday full of blessings, Have a  Happy Holiday and a Healthy New Year.


Recyle Your Watermelon Rind With Watermelon Pickles


Grandma Dorothea’s Watermelon Rind Pickles

First cut and peel 7 lbs of watermelon rind into cubes. Cook in water until you can pierce rind easily with a fork.

I save the rind from the watermelon from a cook out or family picnic cutting off the inner part of the rind just to leave a little pink and peel it and keep it in the refrigerator in a zip lock bag until you have the rind from the watermelon.

Make a syrup Of .

1pt water

3 1/2 lbs of sugar (7 cups)

1/2  tsp. oil of cinnamon] (2or3) drops

1/2 tsp oil of cloves  (3 or 4 drops)

Pinch of sea salt

1 pint of distilled vinegar

Bring to a rolling Boil

Pour syrup over rind In a large bowl and cover with a large round platter. and let stand till the next morning.

In the morning drain syrup into a kettle and bring to a boil put the strained rind back in the bowl Bring the syrup to a boil and pour back over the rind and let stand until the next day. Do this two more times in a row. Then on the fourth  day add the rind to the syrup and heat the rind as well. Then bottle in clean sterilized jars and seal. Make sure the tops are screwed tight.

Let stand until cool checking each to be sure they are sealed.

This is one thing I could make easily when I was working you can boil the syrup while having breakfast and everyone oft to work and school or start it after work making all the steps after dinner until the last when you bottle them.

It is easy to sterilize the jars do it in the dishwasher bottling the pickles while the jars are still hot.