Homemade Sugar Cubes

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This quick DIY comes from nifty thrifty things and would make a great last-minute gift for someone who likes a little bit of sweet in their tea. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s something you can customize with your own flair, and, my favourite: it’s as cheap as you want it to be.

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The basic ingredients you need for this are crystallized sugar and water, though you can dress the sugar and water up as much as you want. Here I have an organic coconut sugar, which adds a bit of flavour to things you sweeten.

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Grab your sugar, a small bowl of water, another small bowl for mixing, and a pretty ice cube tray or candy mold. And some wee tea spoons.

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Pour about 1/2 cup of the sugar into the mixing bowl, and use one of the tea spoons to dribble a little bit of water onto the sugar. Like, very little. Mix it in with the other spoon. Keep adding a little bit more at a time, a few drops here and there, until you kind of have a sugar paste, but the sugar has not yet dissolved. If you get that far, then you’ve gone too far.

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Spoon the sugar paste into the ice cube tray or candy mold and press it down with your fingers to compact it. Then do the whole thing again until you’ve filled up the entire tray.

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I spritzed a bit of water on the top of this tray to tamp things down a bit.

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Leave that to dry overnight, then pop the cubes out and enjoy! Make sure they’re totally dry before you remove them, or they will crumble …

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Other options: if you’ve ever made vanilla sugar before, by whazzing a dried vanilla bean with granulated sugar in a food processor and leaving it to “steep” for a week or so, then I’m sure you’d love the option of making vanilla sugar into cubes.

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Another idea would be lavender sugar, which you make the same way as vanilla sugar (but with lavender flowers, silly, not vanilla beans). I added 2 drops pink and 2 drops blue food colouring to make it purply.

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You could also do this with brown sugar, as opposed to white sugar, though the darker the sugar is the less water I would use, as it’s already pretty sticky with molasses.

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Finally, what about changing up the water options? You can use rose water or orange blossom water instead of regular water to add a lovely aroma to your sugar cubes. I added a drop of food colouring to the rose water to add a tint to the cubes.

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Big Beauty Box

Happy New Year!

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For Christmas, Teedz requested a repeat of the Beauty and the Beets package she received last year, namely, another couple jars of those luxurious shower scrubs.  So in addition to some more coffee sugar scrub and salty citrus scrub, I made a big beauty box with more aids to relaxation in it: bubble bath, bath tea, and a crowning achievement, homemade LOTION.  I’m not even kidding.  My major regret was that while every woman in my family got a jar of the luscious stuff, there wasn’t enough left over for ME.  I guess I’ll have to make some more.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Rose-Lavender Bubble Bath

We’ll start with the easiest one and get trickier, okay?

For a bubble bath, you need to start with a soap base.  You can use unscented dishwashing liquid, which is super cheap, but I like castile soap because it’s so cool and old-fashioned.  I bought a rose-scented one to use as my base.  Then you need some glycerine for slipperiness and good bubble staying-power.  I picked this vegetable glycerine up at a health food store in the beauty section, but you can also find it in the first aid aisle of your local pharmacy.  To get the lavender part of the rose-lavender scent, I also got some lavender essential oil and some dried lavender, both from the health food store.  And of course you need a container for mixing.

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Pour 1 cup castile soap and 2/3 cup glycerine into your container (I doubled this recipe because it was going to two people).

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Give those a stir, because they won’t automatically mix.

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Next, add a few drops of essential oil and stir again.

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For visual variety, add a few teaspoons dried lavender to the mix.

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Give that a stir and let it sit for a few days.  The lavender pieces will start to break down in the liquid, infusing it with more lavendery goodness.

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I decanted the resulting emulsion (you will have to shake it up a bit before using) into two glass bottles.  This is them sitting next to the new batch of salt and sugar shower scrubs.

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Bath Teas / Foot Soaks 

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These little sachets of salt are great for their versatility.  You can toss them in the tub, hang them from the faucet while it’s filling, or plop them in a little foot bath for whenever you have a few extra minutes to relax.  The epsom salts are a good healing soak for new mothers and the oatmeal and sea salt make for a skin-smoothing experience.

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I made two different flavours of these.  In the first, I started with a base of 3 cups epsom salts and 1 cup coarse sea salt.  Then a few drops lavender essential oil.

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To that I added 1 cup dried chamomile flowers and 3/4 cup dried lavender flowers.

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All stirred up!

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To the other one I started with the same 3:1 ratio of epsom salts to sea salt.

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Then I added in 3/4 cup dried peppermint leaves and 2 cups ground oatmeal.

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(To make the oat stuff simply chuck some rolled oats — not instant — into a food processor and give it a good whaz.)

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All stirred up too!

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Then I set up an assembly line.  I used some organza we’d rejected from our screen printing exercises, some hemp twine, and an old plastic easter egg as my container-holder.

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I scooped 3-4 tablespoons of the salt mixture into each little pouch and tied it tightly with the string, making a loop so that it can be hung from the faucet.  I used green twine for the peppermint ones and blue for the lavender.

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Luxury Lotion 

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This is probably one of the greatest things I’ve made.  I played around a bit with the original recipe from Girls’ Guide to Guns and Butter and came up with two separate flavours.  With the ratios I used, the resulting lotion is thick and creamy.  It will leave a bit of grease on your hands that absorbs relatively quickly, and the best part about it is that it doesn’t wash off very easily, which, during cold season when you’re washing your hands constantly, is a very good thing.  Anyway, I suggest you give the above post a bit of a read, just to understand the science of the whole thing a bit more.  I’m just going to plunge right in.

The below proportions make about three cups of lotion each, which makes them ideal sizes to give away as gifts.  If you’d like to be selfish and just make some for yourself, then adjust the amounts accordingly.

Rose Water Lotion:

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For this one I cut up a bunch of beeswax.  This is the emulsion that holds everything together.  You’ll need about 4 tablespoons beeswax.

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Plop the beeswax in a double boiler or a microwave-safe container (you can do it either way) and start adding in your other liquids.  Here I’m adding about 2 squirts of vegetable glycerine.  This is what makes the lotion all slippery-feeling.  Don’t add too much or it will be too slippery.

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Scoop out 3 tablespoons shea butter, which I didn’t realize was powdered until it got EVERYWHERE.

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Then 12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) sweet almond oil and 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) avocado oil.

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And then 3 squirts of vitamin E oil.  Not only is this good for damaged skin but it will also extend the shelf life of your lotion.

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Melt the beeswax/oil mixture in your microwave or double boiler until there is nothing solid left in it and it’s all mixed together.  Pour it into a tall narrow container (like a wide-mouthed mason jar) that will fit an immersion blender and leave it to cool for a bit.

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Basically, lotion is an emulsion of oil and water, and the beeswax is what freezes it into its emulsified state.  So now we need water for this to work.  For this first one I used 1 1/2 cups rose water (you can get this at the grocery store) and 1/2 cup filtered water (if you’re on a chlorinated city water system you’ll want to use filtered or distilled water).  The water and the oil have to be the same temperature in order to mix properly, so what I did was heat up the water to the same temperature as the cooling oil, which was about 130°F.  It just meant that I didn’t have to wait as long for everything to cool properly.  I’m not a patient person.

Now you stick your immersion blender in the oil mix and start whizzing it up until it gets light and foamy.  It will fly everywhere, which is why you should use something narrow to mix it in like a jar.  I used a bowl and things got messy.  I’ll show you a picture in a minute.  Anyway.  As you’re mixing, ever so slowly trickle in water and get it mixed in, a little bit at a time.  If you put them in at the same temperature, you can get all the water mixed in perfectly, though towards the end you’ll have to mix a bit harder to get it all combined.  I wish I had more pictures of this part to show you how cool it is, but I only have so many hands.

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It will look like rich, thick icing.  It looked so much like icing, in fact, that my mother walked past it and though that’s what it was.  So she stuck her finger in it and tasted it.  BAD IDEA.  Apparently it tastes awful.  So resist the urge to eat it.

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This is the still-warm lotion spread on my hand, so you can see the texture.

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Plop it into little jars for storage, or leave it in the jar in which you mixed it, if you’re that clever.

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But here is a dobble of the stuff after it’s cooled, and you can see how thick and rich it is.

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Orange Whip Lotion:

Here’s the mess I left after the second mixing session.  There’s lotion and oil everywhere.

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I didn’t take pictures of the mixing process for the second batch, but I’ll give you the ingredients here and you can go to town.  Just remember that the water and the oil have to be the same temperature (not exactly, but close) in order for the whole science thing to work.

In a heat-proof container, mix together and melt 4 tablespoons chopped beeswax, 2 squirts vegetable glycerine, 3 tablespoons shea butter, 8 tablespoons coconut oil, 4 tablespoons avocado oil, 4 tablespoons sweet almond oil, and 3 squirts vitamin E oil.

Add 8 drops sweet orange essential oil to 2 cups hot distilled or filtered water and drizzle into hot oil mix, blending to emulsify.

Store your lotion in a cool place, maybe in the fridge to be on the safe side.  I’m not sure how long this stuff lasts, with the antibacterial beeswax and vitamin E in it, but you’ll probably use it all right away because it’s awesome, anyway.

It’s relatively easy to clean up, as long as you wipe out your oily-waxy containers with paper towel before washing them in soapy water.

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Quick and Easy Air Freshener

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I love fresh air.  I’d rather be cold and have the windows open than be boxed in a stuffy house.  And commercial perfumes tend to aggravate my asthma, so if I can avoid them I will.

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Spring is ALMOST at hand in Newfoundland, but the days when I can justify turning off the heat and leaving the windows wide open have yet to come.  And having an active dog and an active man in the house, coupled with the variety of things I cook, means our house could use a bit of fresh air during the winter months.

I saw this post from Smashed Peas and Carrots a while back and I thought it might be worth a try.

Basically all you need is a small jar, some baking soda, and some essential oils.  The original post required a mason-jar style lid, where the lid itself could be replaced with perforated scrapbook paper, a great way to personalize the jar.  I don’t have any scrapbook paper, so I decided to use fabric and elastics instead.

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I also didn’t have any spare jars at the moment, but I had some large ramekins that were sitting around so I thought I’d use those instead.

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So it’s simple: take about 1/2 cup baking soda and plop it in your jar.  Or bowl.  Or whatever.

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Shake about 8-12 drops essential oil of your choice onto the baking soda.

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Affix your lid, which could really be anything, provided it has holes for air to flow through.  I have a small patch of fabric here (charming thrifted vintage handkerchiefs) that I fixed in place with an elastic band.  Give the contents a gentle shake to mix them up a bit.

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I made four separate bowls, for the main activity rooms in our house: tea tree for the bathroom, lavender for the bedroom, and orange for the living room.

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As an experiment, I also tried some rose water in baking soda and put that in my office.  I doubt it will last as long as the ones with the essential oils in it, but it still smells lovely!

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Keep the jars or bowls out of the sun in a place that gets good air circulation and I think they’ll probably last you at least a month, maybe two!

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This one is on the table by the entrance to the dining room. We walk past this all the time, wafting air to and fro.