Thursday, September 6, 2012

Autumn and Pumpkin Spice Soap

Ah, Autumn. 

Vivaldi's Autumn.

It is just arriving... the oak tree's leaves are just starting to leave its verdant shade of green, now tipped with the faintest hue of gold. Autumn has been my favorite season since I can remember. The beautiful colors are a visual wonder, but Autumn brings other sensory delights: Crisp air, flavorful apples, and various culinary delights made of pumpkin and spices. 

I welcomed the arrival of September by making Pumpkin Spice Soap, which smells exactly like Pumpkin pie. Made with an essential oil blend of cinnamon leaf, nutmeg, sweet orange, and vanilla, it is definitely one of my best batches to date. 

All natural Pumpkin Spice Soap.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Zelda cookies

In 1987, a game was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System that would change gaming history and spark a passion for countless people worldwide: The Legend of Zelda. It remains one of the best -- if not the best -- gaming series of all time.

I was introduced to the original Zelda game as a child in the 1980s; I grew up a tomboy and played video games with my older brothers and childhood neighbors. While my family had Sega consoles (Master System and Genesis), our neighbors had the NES and SNES, and it was through my neighbor's NES that I was introduced to the magic of the original Zelda.

That game, the original, evolved into an epic series since, with Skyward Sword as the latest Zelda game for the Nintendo Wii. Many Zelda fans have a particular favorite in the series that ignited their Zelda obsession. The game that did it for me, personally, was Ocarina of Time. The music, the storyline, the game play... every aspect of the game is mind-blowing.

Ocarina of Time poster

Magic potions? Yes, please.
From the Triforce Tribute, Portland, Oregon. 

There is so much creativity expressed by Zelda fans:  Doujinshi, countless and beautiful artwork, music, and inspired culinary ideas are a few of the many examples. Wanting to express my love of the series, too, I've yet to make the insanely awesome Link pixel cookies, but I've made my own (albeit far less beautiful and sophisticated) Ocarina of Time themed-cookies. To make these easy-schmeezy Zelda cookies, you need a shortbread recipe (if you're gluten-intolerant like me, click here for a recipe, or you can do the not-from-scratch-shortcut and buy Bob's Red Mill shortbread mix), a little food coloring, and some cookie cutters (party hat and heart).

Zelda cookies. Omnomnom.

For Link hats: Separate the dough in half and add green food coloring. Mix well to blend. Roll out and use the party hat cutters. Slice the top edge of the party hat cut-outs with a knife, to give it less of a clownish look and more of a "Link hat" appearance. If you want to create stitches -- totally optional as Link's hat stitches aren't as visible in Ocarina as they are in, say, Twilight Princess -- take chocolate sprinkles and line them up to create stitches.

Ocarina of Time heart containers: Use a little bit of blue food coloring, mix well, roll out the dough, and use a heart cookie-cutter. After baking, use a little decorating gel coloring to draw the inner red heart.

Follow the recipe's directions for baking time and temperature.

More Zelda stuff to come, but in the meanwhile get your Zelda creativity fix from these sites:

The Geeky Chef blog
Zelda Party Channel

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Oregon Grape

Okay so I'm broke. But I need jam for my toast! Hey, Oregon Grape bush, I'm gonna pick ya.

So, for real, Oregon Grape -- Oregon's State flower -- is currently ripe, and it makes a decent jelly when made with an ample amount of sugar. While Oregon Grape isn't a true grape, they resemble grapes, and the jelly tastes like concord grape juice.

Oregon Grape, of the Mahonia species and Barberry family, has several varieties that grow in the Pacific Northwest. Cascade Oregon Grape (M. nervosa) and Tall Oregon Grape (M. aquifolium) were discovered by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. The fruit is high in vitamin C, and is an important food source for wildlife. Many people are surprised to learn that Oregon Grape is edible for humans as well, but they're not exactly palatable as they're very sour fresh off the bush. Herbalists love Oregon Grape as it has medicinal qualities as well. Used as an alternative to Goldenseal -- a wonderful herb that is threatened -- Oregon Grape root can be used to aid a variety of ailments, including  digestive issues. It is also claimed to aid skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis in the form of salves and soaps. (I can personally attest to this, as I have infused Oregon Grape root in oil, which I used in my soaps with positive results.)

Anyway, I went picking in a wooded park and brought home about two cups of berries. Before getting started, be sure to soak them in a salt water mix to draw any critters out.

Oregon Grape Jelly:

2 - 3 cups Oregon Grape berries
1 box pectin
2 - 3 cups water (or apple juice, if desired)
Sugar (I used about two cups but you can use more, if desired... it all depends on how sweet or tangy you want your preserves)
1 tablespoon honey

This recipe is easy to adjust if you're making a larger batch, increase the water to just cover the berries. But before you get started, rinse the berries well of the saline solution. Cook about five minutes in a pot or saucepan to soften them.

Now, some folks don't mash/crush the berries when making Oregon Grape preserves, but I crushed the berries a bit to release the juices and let them cook more. I strained the mix using a sieve  -- removing the seeds and skins, some of the pulp gets through the sieve but it's mostly juice -- and continued to cook the juice, where I added an equal amount of sugar (give or take, depending on your taste... for two cups of berries I added two cups of sugar and some honey). Add the pectin, bring the juice to a boil, and cook for another few minutes before pouring into jars.

Oregon Grape Jelly.

Toooooooast! Omnomnom.

My opinion of Oregon Grape jelly?

For more information, please see:

Wild Berries of the West by Betty Derig and Margaret C. Fuller
Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory L. Tilford
Oregon Grape: Gentle Protector at thepracticalherbalist.com

This post was written for educational purposes only. The information in this post is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any disease. Please see disclaimer: Not all berries are edible, and many are poisonous, so do not consume any berry/plant without being 100 percent positive of identification. Consult a physician, Naturopathic doctor, or herbalist before using Oregon Grape for medicinal purposes. Do NOT use Oregon Grape while pregnant.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rubus Jam

After my disappointing experience with the meh-ness of wild Salmonberry jam, I decided to give the berry another chance. I want to love Salmonberries so badly; they're beautiful, are nutritious, and this time of year, they're everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. So, rather than return to Dabney State Park and avoid falling into Stinging Nettle (like the last time), I went back to the grove  I discovered locally, and began to pick.

As an excited forager, perhaps I was too hasty in my previous Salmonberry-picking. The berries I picked in the grove seemed a little more palatable... perhaps they were a little more ripe... although they're still not in the same league as the sole ripe Thimbleberry I was able to get my hands on. I picked a mug full of the golden beauties, and then returned home to make jam. Only, instead of having a 100 percent Salmonberry jam, I mixed it with another member -- albeit a more famous member of the Rubus genus -- tasty raspberries! I planted raspberry bushes in the garden a couple of years ago; best gardening decision I've ever made.

My recipe:

1 1/2 cups Raspberries
1 cup Salmonberries
some lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of honey
a bit of pectin, if desired

Gently wash and pick over berries, and mash them in a saucepan. As they cook, add a bit of lemon juice (I added about half of a lemon's juice) and then I added 1 cup of sugar. Add a bit of pectin if desired, about two tablespoons or so. Bring the jam to a boil for several minutes. Turn off the surface, and allow the jam to cool before storing.

This jam works; there's no strange aftertaste, and it has just the right amount of tart.The end result of Rubus jam yields an absolutely delicious and fantastic jam. Booyakasha!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shea Lemon Soap

"Science. What is it all about? Technology, what is that all about? Is it good, or is it whack?"

Science rocks. In college I always loved lab work particularly, as it's so fun to get down and "do" science. "Makin' soap is classic chemistry, yo!"  (Said in my best Ali G voice with a hand flick.) After studying soapmaking books for months and especially learning from the great "Soap Queen" Anne-Marie Faiola (owner of the fabulous Brambleberry.com where you can get alllllllll your soapmaking supplies and then some), I made my very first soap! The experimental batch I made is a lovely pale yellow soap made with shea butter and lemon. Natural, toxic-free, healthy soaps FTW!

My Shea Lemon soap. It's alllllll natural, baby.

My recipe, using metric units... yes, metric:

136 grams extra virgin olive oil
136 grams organic coconut oil
90 grams organic shea butter
90 grams "rainforest friendly" palm oil
170 grams water
62 grams lye

After the soap traced, I added lemon and lemongrass essential oils to the batch. In future batches with this specific recipe, I'll be adding d-alpha-tocopherol (natural Vitamin E) as a slight natural preservative, and also lemon butter.

Success with another arrow in the quiver!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Salmonberry Jam

After visiting Dabney state park for a hike, and seeing the golden Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) dispersed throughout the Sandy River's landscape, I was really excited to get my jam-making groove on and make a batch. The berries are simply beautiful with colors ranging from gold to salmon to scarlet.  Salmonberries were an important food source for northwest Tribes; historically, Native Americans ate the sprouts peeled, or steam cooked the sprouts with dried salmon. Rubus spectabilis served medicinal purposes as well for Native Americans.

For two days I hiked around the area to pick them -- carefully avoiding Stinging Nettle and spiders -- and after all that foraging, I couldn't wait to turn the berries into a jam, and spread the stuff on my toast.

Salmonberry at Dabney State Park, Oregon.

As for the flavor of Salmonberries, well, they vary in taste, and can be described as "insipid." While they've never had that "wow" factor for me, I never thought they were flavorless (in my experience, the taste can range from semi-sweet to "woodsy", but they can have a strange aftertaste).

Once picked, Salmonberries can get mushy. While not as delicate as Thimbleberries, they're best eaten right away, and I've read berry books (Janie Hibler's The Berry Bible) that state making a jam with them isn't recommended. Contrary to this, though, others have had success. I don't often use pectin when making jam, but I did use it while using this recipe.

Fresh Salmonberries, ready for jam-making.

Well, I finally made a batch, and as I tasted it, I felt a little disappointed. The flavor isn't bad per se, but it's  just.. meh. As with their fresh form, the jam likewise has that same interesting aftertaste... something I can't really pinpoint, but it's a bit of a bitter taste that sugar can't completely conceal. A different batch may yield a better flavor, but my culinary conclusion is that, while aesthetically appealing and also edible, Salmonberries don't make the best jam. Perhaps mixing the Salmonberries with another member of the Rubus genus (e.g., raspberries) would aid in making a better and tastier jam.

And yet, the soon-to-ripen Thimbleberry will be available (and those berries are simply delicious), so I'm starting to feel excited to forage once again.

For more information, please check out the book, Wild Berries of the West by Betty B. Derig and Margaret C. Fuller.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What's in your beauty products?

Looooong story ahead.

In 2004, I spent some time in Alaska, going to college at UAA studying archaeology. An Irish person such as myself does not have the skin meant for arctic weather, because my skin changed for the worse: my hands were itchy, and my skin cracked and bled. My hands looked so bad that I was wearing cloth mittens everywhere, even indoors. I was suffering and it sucked. I actually thought I had some kind of flesh-eating bacteria. A visit to the dermatologist allowed a diagnosis: eczema, but she just prescribed corticosteroids and sent me on my (unmerry) way (thanks, doctor whomever, for prescribing Prednisone, as that stuff IS POISON). Ahem, anyway. The air is very dry in Alaska, and the prescribed Prednisone, as well as skin lotions, wasn't helping, either.

When I returned home to Oregon, my eczema greatly regressed but it was still bothersome from time to time. I then visited an excellent dermatologist and this doctor helped me understand eczema (and my many allergies). Through my own research and managing the eczema, I came to the understanding that while I always had slight eczema  I have very sensitive skin, and that most soap products bother me.  Any soap product with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate notably causes my eczema to flare up with a vengeance. Therefore, my shampoos and soaps are, of course, free of sulfates. I can't do the dishes without rubber gloves, as dish-washing liquid is murder on my hands. My SLS-free soaps are purchased from soapmakers, and from Trader Joe's.

My experiences eventually led me to the million-dollar question: what's with all the "questionable ingredients" in consumer products, anyway? What's with the labels that scream "Sulfate free" and "Free of parabens" and "Phosphate-free"? A visit to the Environmental Working Group website yields answers to what these ingredients are and informs you of what's in your own products.

Some of the basics:

Sulfates (i.e., the above mentioned Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) are found in just about every cleaner, from garage-floor cleaners to shampoos to soaps to toothpaste. (Yes, you read that correctly: stuff that is used to clean garage floors is also put into your toothpaste and shampoo.) This is the stuff that creates lather in a soap, and as a surfactant, it's good at removing oils from your hair and body. It is also known to be a skin irritant, especially for those who have sensitive skin and eczema. According to Bonnie Rochman's Time  Health article Ingredient Anxiety, another concern regarding Sulfates is that "some of these foaming agents are skin irritants; others combine with petrochemicals to form 1,4-dioxane, which is a probable human carcinogen."

Parabens are found in many beauty products, including cosmetics, deodorants, shampoos, and hair products, and is used as a preservative and anti-fungal agent. Have a look at the label on the back of a hair product, perhaps one that you own and use. Do you see "methyparaben", perhaps? The problem with parabens is that they mimic estrogen; lab tests have indicated endocrine-disrupting compounds. According to the Environmental Working Group, parabens "were found in breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied." Scary.

Phthalates are found in a variety of products, including fragrances, cosmetics such as eyeshadow, liquid soaps, nail polish, shower curtains, and more. The Environmental Working Group website states, "Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system" by affecting sperm counts and reproductive systems in male animals, and studies indicate (U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals) it is also linked to liver cancer. Also frightening is that most personal care products don't list phthalates on labels, according to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Other nasty ingredients include but isn't limited to Bisphenol A (BPA),  DMDM hydantoin, Phosphates, and 1,4-dioxane.

Consumers are unknowingly spending money (sometimes, a lot of money) on products containing these harsh ingredients.

Due to my own need for soaps without SLS, I've decided to jump on the soap-making bandwagon. I'll be updating subsequent blog posts with my soap-making experiences. Eventually, the soaps that I'll make (and those that turn out decently enough) will be available for sale through my Etsy page. W00t.

For more information, please see:

Ingredient Anxiety written by Bonnie Rochman
The Environmental Working Group
The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics

All natural soooooap: including Triforce soap! W00t!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Herbal Aphrodisiacs

Ah, Eros. Love has many forms, but romantic love... well, when it's right... is pretty nice. And even though I'm a single person I'm going to teach you how to get your mojo on. (Hey! I know this stuff from books, okay?)

Anyway, ahem, for all the love birds out there: roses, chocolates, and candlelight dinners are classic tools for romance. There's also aphrodisiacs: "love-inducing" foods or substances. Most have surely heard of popular food aphrodisiacs, such as chocolate, oysters, and tomatoes. What's interesting is that among desire-inducing foods, are herbs. Some people are skeptical as many aphrodisiac "claims" are not scientifically proven -- and this is true -- but just as food and herbs nourish us, they also affect our bodies (e.g., Dandelion as a diuretic).  Herbs are a delight to our senses, and they heal us, but many throughout history relied on certain herbs to enhance...well... passion. The most ancient love potions were derived from herbs and flowers (and, according to Folklore, were usually gathered on Midsummer's Eve).

Not sure how to get your mojo on with herbs? Well, there are many known herbal aphrodisiacs, but the most common ones will be mentioned. Don't be so shy and read on, this is knowledge!

Garlic and Asparagus. 

Garlic (Allium sativum): Now, you wouldn't think "garlic breath" to be a turn-on, but garlic has gained quite the reputation for being a passion-inducing herb. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed it, anyway.

Parsley (Petroselinum hortense): Google "parsley aphrodisiac" and the results speak for itself! Indeed, Parsley is a known herbal Aphrodisiac, as the seeds are claimed to stimulate sexual glands and fertility. Some websites recommend Parsley as an aphrodisiac for women, specifically. (Caution: pregnant women should not use parsley and parsley products, especially the essential oils. Consult a doctor.)

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis):  It makes your urine stink, but eating asparagus is not only very tasty and good for you, it's a known aphrodisiac, too. Nicholas Culpeper, an herbalist from the 17th century, wrote that the tasty asparagus "stirs up lust in man and woman."  Some websites claim asparagus boosts histamine production, which aids the ability to um, well, just see this website.

Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Its fresh scent is intoxicating, and apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so, because it was said to "drive men wild" to the point that women would sprinkle their bosoms with it! Often used in pasta dishes, it has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. Basil is another herb claimed as a "love food"; in ancient Rome, basil was a symbol of love.

For more information, check it!

Herbal Aphrodisiacs From World Sources by Clarence Meyer

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dandy Dandelions

My affinity for nature began when I was a child. It was during my childhood that love for certain bright yellow wildflowers began; those happy flowers you could twist into crowns, and wear in your hair. A member of the Asteraceae (Sunflower) family, the perennial wildflower commonly known as Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) -- strangely hated as it is abused and poisoned by gardeners every Spring -- has fabulous medicinal properties.

Dandelion in my garden. 

Honeybee on a Dandelion in my garden. 

Dandelions are an important food source for honeybees, and as mentioned, herbalists regard Dandelions as having excellent medicinal properties. Notably, it has a reputation as a diuretic and was used historically as such (with names such as "pis-en-lit" - lol), and is also used to treat bile and liver problems. Dandelions also have culinary uses, as young greens -- packed with vitamin A -- are added to salads. Its roots can be ground and used as a coffee substitute, too.

Caution is advised here, see disclaimer. Dandelions closely resemble other plants, so it's very important to identify correctly. Dandelions have no branches or central stalk and the leaves are not fuzzy. Consult an expert (i.e., herbalist, or Naturopath) before consuming this plant. Teas are available at health stores and online.

For more information, please see:

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory Tilford
Dandelion info at Alternative Nature Online Herbal

Saturday, March 17, 2012


An unusual plant was growing in my garden. It wasn't until last summer, though, that it became interesting; I had never seen a plant like it before. It grew into a very tall plant, was single-stemmed, and had large, fuzzy leaves. Its curious flowers were yellow in color, clustered around the tip of the plant.

File:Starr 040723-0030 Verbascum thapsus.jpg
Photo Source Wikipedia.

After it flowered, though, the plant died, which meant it was a biennial.

One evening, as I read Gregory L. Tilford's Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, I was surprised to see the plant on page 102. Its actual name is Mullein (Verbascum thapus), and it is a medicinal plant used by herbalists (and by Native Americans, historically). When I was sick a month ago, I was also surprised that Mullein is one of the ingredients in Quantum Health's Elderberry Syrup.

Mullein is said to possess strong antimicrobial properties, and is used to treat ear infections, as well. It is also used to relieve congestion, and teas can be purchased online. An infusion of Mullein can be used as a brightening hair rinse for fellow blondes (future self-experiment and blog post!).

According to Tilford's book, while adverse side-effects haven't been noted with Mullein, the seeds are toxic and should never be consumed under any circumstances. In large enough doses the plant can prove to be toxic due to the substances oumarin and rotenone. Don't mess around with this plant without the consultation of an expert, mmmkay?

This post was written for educational purposes only, please see my disclaimer. Consult a doctor before using any herb.

For more reading, see Gregory L. Tilford's Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West
Mullein info at Drugs.com
Mullein info at Alternative Nature Online Herbal

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dragons ♥

Dragons! I love dragons.

My ancestors, the Celts, revered them. I cried at the end of Dragonheart. The Dragonriders of Pern is next on my reading list. And I enjoy making dragon-oriented jewelry:

Photos (c) S. Waters. 
Please contact me via email if you'd
like a specialty pair.

Oh, and to set the record straight: Dragons aren't evil. They're just misunderstood!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fight a Cold with Herbs

Warning: Excessive whining ahead.


This last week, I was really sick. The congestion led to sinusitis. Needless to say, I was miserable. Boohoo! Finally after arming myself with herbs, after a week my energy is returning and I'm starting to feel better.

Indeed, I fought through the illness using some herbal treatments. Tea tree essential oil steam inhalations proved to help tremendously, but herbs that I consumed in the form of syrups, teas, and in soups helped me the most. Fascinated, I researched certain herbs that are known or believed to fight the Common Cold -- there's quite a few of them -- and I'm sharing the knowledge of some of the herbs I researched.

Garlic: This tasty herb -- Allium sativum -- believed to ward off vampires in folkloric tales (and make your breath stinky), is known to have powerful antimicrobial (bacterial, viral, fungal) properties for a variety of illnesses. In controlled placebo studies, Garlic proved to prevent the Common Cold, as well as reducing recovery time and symptom duration for the famed group of rhino viruses. In studies, Garlic tablets also enhanced Natural Killer cells -- a type of Lymphocyte --  in battles against pathogens.

Onion: Although its medicinal uses are unproven, Onion -- Allium cepa -- is used in folk medicine, Chinese medicine, and Indian medicine. It is used to treat the Common Cold, as well as many other illnesses due to believed antimicrobial properties.

Echinacea: Used by Native Americans, Echinacea is a popular herb used in the prevention and treatment of colds and flus, however, Echinacea has also been exploited in commercial use. Three species of Echinacea are used medicinally: Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea. It is important to note that there are differences in the three species, and Echinacea purpurea is considered to be the most potent. However, the plant is not a cure-all, nor does it work miracles. That said, I can personally attest that in my experience, I've found Echinacea to be a reliable herb. I've taken it in bottled extracts and teas. The good Echinacea extracts, taken in droplets, produces a tingling sensation on the tongue. Some people experience side effects to Echinacea (allergic and gastrointestinal).

Elderberry: I have a personal interest and passion for Elderberry, and I'm currently studying it. Oregon has its own wonderful native variety of Elder (Sambucus Cerulea) but Sambucus Nigra (the European Elder) is used in many commercial syrups. Actually, the syrup I used while ill -- Quantum Health Elderberry Syrup -- contains Sambucus Nigra. Elderberry is known to aid sore throats, coughs, and sinus infections. There's some caution to be advised here. Never, ever eat Red elderberries as they are considered toxic. Don't eat unripe berries of the blue Elderberries, either, and don't consume the leaves and stems, as they are also considered toxic. Please be careful when messing with this plant. If you want to use it medicinally, go to the store to buy the syrup or, better yet, see a doctor or nautropath beforehand. Don't try to treat yourself by berry picking.

Anise: The dried fruit parts of Pimpinella anisum is used to treat the Common Cold, Fevers, and inflamations of the mouth. It was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and the Romans would use Anise in cakes called Mustacae, eaten after meals to prevent indigestion. Anise can be taken in teas. It is not to be used during pregnancy. According to naturalist William Turner in 1551, "Anyse maketh the breth sweter and swageth payne" (Source). Great teas can be purchased online.



This post was written for educational purposes only.

Some sources:

Ct. PDR for Herbal Medicines. June 2006 pNA.
"Top 5 herbs to battle cold and flu viruses" from Examiner.com