09 December 2008
Secrets to spill
My friend S owns a salon. I found her in the phone book, but in yet another demonstration of how small my hometown really is, S was close friends with my cousin J when they were both in high school. J wasn't really one for having her nails/hair done, but before she passed away, she used to spend time hanging out at the salon. I didn't discover this until I'd been going to S's place for a couple of years, hilariously.
After going there for more than 10 years, I consider S a good friend. She teases me during the holiday season, because I bring cookies and other hand-made gifts to her and her staff; she tells me all the time: "You're so crafty!" and I snark back: "Martha Stewart is crafty. I'm creative, which is way cooler than 'crafty'!"
But I've never thought that the stuff I make for holiday giving is all that difficult. Bath salts, hand lotion, sometimes vanilla sugar, always cookies, usually one or two knit things. Nothing that requires a degree in food science, chemistry, or really, a high skill level.
I don't know where I got the idea for the bath salts. Can't remember. I've been doing it for about 9 years now, and it couldn't be easier. The ingredients are 4 things. Yeah, seriously.
1. Epsom salts (from any big box retailer or drugstore)
2. Sea salts (from an online supplier, or sometimes the health food store)
4. Water-soluble colorant (totally optional, but fun. From the same place as the sea salts.)
2 buckets, 5-gallon size work well for me
a large spoon, like they used in your elementary school cafeteria for serving food (one you don't care about, because really, you don't want to use it for food after making bath salts)
about a half-hour of time
jars to put the finished product into
a funnel to get the salts into the jars (one of these works best if your jars have a wide enough mouth)
I don't really use a recipe; I've just done it long enough that I don't need directions. You can Google "making bath salts" but many of the recipes call for glycerine (so not necessary) or baking soda or obscure soap-making ingredients like rhassoul clay....I call all of that "trying to re-invent the wheel" because they're making it so much harder than it needs to be.
I mix the two kinds of salts one bucket. I should probably note here that I use equal amounts of sea salts and epsom salts. That's an important detail, sorry. I measure out the required amount of lavender. Which really is a personal preference kind of thing. For roughly 20 pounds of salt, I use about an ounce or an ounce and a half of essential oil. Yes, it is strong. Yes, it makes the whole house smell like lavender (and that's a problem....why, exactly?).
No one has ever complained to me that hey, Luce, the bath salts are great, but couldja scale back the lavender? Ever.
The next step almost requires three hands, but I manage OK by myself. I pour the salts in a steady stream from one bucket to the other, and pour the lavender oil into that stream of salts. Of course this results in clumps of heavily-saturated salts, so that's where the spoon comes in. You stir. And stir. And stir some more. When the oil is fairly evenly distributed, I use the same process to add the colorant, pouring carefully and slowly, and then stirring some more.
So your spoon ends up purple-ish, and smelling like a perfumery. I strongly suggest washing it by hand several times before putting into your dishwasher, or all of your dishes will end up with a soupcon of lavender-scent. But it has taken me longer to type this out than it does to make the salts.
The vanilla sugar is even easier; plain old white granulated sugar and a couple of vanilla beans are the ingredients; cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, combine the sugar and vanilla in the food processor, pulse to combine, put into clear glass jars. Whoa, rocket science, eh? This year I used half-pint mason jars, which hold about 2/3 of a cup of sugar; I used 4 vanilla beans and using a measuring cup that is a 2/3 cup, scooped eight of those 2/3 cups into the food processor's working bowl. Somehow, though, I ended up with 9 half pint jars. Maybe I can't count. I wanted 12, but the food processor wouldn't hold that much, and the food processor is very noisy, so because I finished the first batch after 9 PM and DH was trying to sleep, I decided to make the rest another night.
The funny thing to me is that people are so impressed with this stuff; the vanilla sugar takes maybe 10 minutes to put together, and that's if you're slow cutting the vanilla beans. The bath salts take a few minutes longer, but the ingredients are cheap, easy to come by, and folks, this is simple.
The hand lotion is easy too, and I wish I could claim that as an original idea. Nope. I buy a kit from the same online supplier, although whilst searching for the kit today, I can't find it on her site; good thing I bought two of the kits when she had a sale this summer! I don't make it exactly per the directions (oooh, shocker, right?) I add Shea butter, usually purchased on eBay, and lavender. Thematic, anyone? But the incredibly cool thing about this stuff is that it is solid at room temperature, which means that it will never spill. It can melt, but doesn't spill because the kit comes with little tubes, slightly larger than a chapstick tube, with a solidly-closing cap. So very very clever. Also takes about a half hour to make.
Most of my holiday gift-giving secrets, shared with teh interwebs. I'm just not telling you about my re-gifting plans.