Saturday, February 26, 2011

First Kindle post

Now that I am fairly confident I have a job coming, I decided to get on with it and use the money from selling my Xbox to buy a Kindle a bit earlier than I had been planning. I have never before owned a 3G device of any kind so it's fairly novel for me to be writing this post from a mall. It's slow, and formatting I can see taking a great deal more concentration when copy-paste is not an option. That is okay with me, though. The careful typing is soothing. I imagine it would be even moreso by headlight in my tent at night - I am looking forward to that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lip balm and Sunblock

Lip Balm

Even the ubiquitous tub of carmex may do more harm than good to windburned or chapped lips, due to ingredients such as Phenol which can actually damage your skin - requiring, of course, more lip balm to correct! See how that works? Here is a very basic recipe for a safe, gentle lip balm:

Restorative Lip Balm
  • 1 Tbsp beeswax
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 capsules Vitamin E
Grate beeswax if using a solid block. Combined and melt beeswax and oil in a double broiler, microwave, or carefully in a saucepan, over low heat. Add Vitamin E capsules, mix well, and pour into a shallow container.

The recipe above is one of the most basic and effective balms for chapped or windburned lips. Forgo the Vitamin E capsules for a simple lip gloss. Add a few drops of peppermint oil for the refreshing, tingly sensation you get from many commercial lip balms. Look here for more ideas. Beware that honey in some recipes may crystalize and harden.


Unlike chemical sunscreen, Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide based sunblocks physically block UV radiation. Zinc Oxide is widely regarded to be healthier, safer, and more effective across a broader spectrum. Gloves and face protection is recommended while working with either - they are safe to use topically, but inhalation is another matter. Sesame and coconut have also been proven to have sun blocking properties, as well. Below is one of many recipes I found, requiring few ingredients and no special equipment.

Sesame-Coconut Oil Sunblock
  • 3 oz Sesame Oil
  • 2 oz Coconut Oil
  • 2 oz Beeswax
  • 2/3 cup Water
  • 2 Tbsp Zinc Oxide
  • 5 tsp Wheat Germ or Jojoba oil
Carefully warm the oils and wax in a double boiler, stirring until wax is fully melted. Remove from heat, stir in water and zinc, then store in an airtight container.

Zinc based sunblock ointments have largely fallen out of favour, but I'm hoping that using nanosized Zinc Oxide powder and oils, it may be easier to wear and apply then the traditionally sticky cream. We'll see this spring, once I try it out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Snow storm

By mid August or so, I'll be looking back in wonder at how warm 45 degrees felt in February. It was nice while it lasted, but now the cold and snow are back.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ghee Making

As a person who rather enjoys good food and cooking, I've had a few worries about preparing food on the road - largely revolving around how to carry butter or cooking oil. Butters spoils too quickly unprotected from the head, vegetable oil is not economical to carry.

I had imagined shortening to be the best compromise, as it is relatively cheap, light, and travels well. Of course, it's also considered to be a pretty shoddy thing to be consuming on a daily basis. Fortunately, while reading about what a unpleasant substance shortening is, I came across a mention of ghee.

Melting butter for ghee

I'd heard of ghee before, and vaguely knew what it was. What I learned was that it, and it's close relative, clarified butter, do not require refrigeration, and in cool, stable conditions can last several months. I would therefore assume that under less ideal conditions, it would still last well past long enough to be eaten.

Spitting, hissing butter-froth.

Making good news better, ghee is simple to make. It requires nothing but unsalted butter, a steady heat source, a deep pot, and a filter of some sort. I made it over the stove today, but with careful observation it could be done over hot embers in a fire pit.

With the upper layer of froth skimmed off, the slightly browned milk solids and golden ghee are visible.

The solids are removed by use of a coffee filtered placed in a colander.

It remains to be seen if I hit the sweet spot between "too much water content" and "burned butter" correctly. I divided the final product into two jars - one to use, the other to set near my heater, which I will observe over the next few months. If it turns all fuzzy, I'll have to amend this entry, but I'm feeling rather optimistic that I got it right.

Ghee, freshly strained and still in liquid form.


Materials needed:
Unsalted butter(Organic if available), a deep pot, coffee filters or cheesecloth, and some means of securing it over the container for the finished ghee.
  • Make sure the pot, jar, and any utensils which will come into contact with the butter or finished ghee are completely dry.
  • Melt butter over low heat.
  • Once melted, the butter will begin to hiss, splutter, and form a thick white froth. Maintain the heat so that it simmers steadily. Keep the bubbles small.
  • Depending on the heat and thickness of the pot, the butter will continue to foam for 30 to 45 minutes. Small nuggets of milk solids will form at the bottom later, visible if the foam is pushed aside.
  • Watch and listen closely. The bubbling and foaming will lessen, the audible sizzling will become irregular, and the milk solids may turn golden brown. When any of these occur, remove from heat and cool for a few minutes. Between the solids and foam, the ghee should be clear golden.
  • Skim as much of the foam as possible off the top. Pour the remaining liquid through your filter. It may be necessary to replace the filter, or rewarm the ghee if it stops dripping, so don't wash your pot until completely finished.
Note: to make clarified butter, which retains a more buttery flavour but does not keep as long, you would have stopped simmering the butter at an earlier stage and left more water content.

Update: After weeks of being stored next to my heater, the clear glass jar of ghee shows no signs of spoiling. I'm therefore going to declare it "good enough", and use it to saute some taters.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap

On the longer of my tours last year, I brought along a bottle of Dr Bronners castile soap to use for cleaning myself and my clothing. I used it in my hair a few days before, but but long enough to really judge it's effectiveness, and I was still using conditioner. The tiny travel-sized bottle ran out after a week, and I went back to using dish liquid for all my chores.

A while back, after drinking a cup of nettle tea and subsequently wandering down a trail of links, I came across a recipe for castile-soap-and-nettle shampoo, along with a rather compelling damnation of name brand shampoos and the damaging chemicals they contain.

Now I'm looking at my store-brand dandruff shampoo, fruity-smelling conditioner, skin cleansers, astringents, and lotions in a whole new light. It sure would be convenient to replace all these things with some diluted Dr. Bronner's...

It may look a bit swampy, but you can bet it smells fantastic.

So, in the usual fit-of-motivation way I have of doing things, I picked up a 32oz bottle of Dr. Bronners, in peppermint, about two hours later. Here is the recipe I used for my shampoo and bodywash:

  • 7oz distilled water. Spring water can also be used. I ended up using filtered, melted snow, having neither of the above on hand nor the patience to distill 7oz of water on the lid of a saucepan.
  • 3 to 5 Tbsp various dried herbs. My selections where nettle, rosemary, lavender, and chamomile, in a peppermint soap base.
  • 4 Tbsp pure castile soap.

Bring the water to boil, and add the herbs. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for up to 30mins. Strain water through a coffee filter into container suitable for storage, and add soap. The color will change from murky green to brown overnight.