Natural Shampoo.

I’ve been trying, over the last few months, to remove sodium laureth sulphate from my life. This was actually surprisingly easy – toothpaste, body wash and face cleanser were all replaced with natural options, without any real fuss. Shampoo, however, was a problem. I had tried baking soda as an option for deodorant but it burned my skin, so i didn’t want to try it as a shampoo. Honey made my already-thick hair too voluminous to handle. Then I read this post, and decided to give the castile soap mixture a go. This is a soap made from olive oil. I’m too cautious to try to make soap myself (lye and me would not be friends, i can just tell) but this stuff seems pretty natural. How’s that for endorsement? Anyway there’s no SLS in it so that’s a big step in the right direction. 

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I took an old soap pump bottle that I’d saved from the rubbish bin, filled it as shown above with a centimetre or two of liquid castile soap, with about 20 drops of ylang ylang essential oil and 10 of sandalwood oil, a half teaspoon of olive oil (you could use apricot, avocado, almond or sunflower oil instead). I filled it the rest of the way with water and gave it a mix (don’t shake too hard, it will foam up out of the spout!). So I’m testing it out – so far so good. A pump or two directly into my hair in the shower and it lathers up like store-bought shampoos. Oh and i tried to hand-letter the label but it turns out I need to work out how to print labels properly.

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I’ll follow with a photo of my hair in the not-too-distant future, if it works out well! OK, if it doesn’t, too… maybe… At the very least, i love having scented hair!

Do you have any DIY hair care tips? Any advice for me? I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers,

Luci

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Pho Bo – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup.

AKA completing my New Year’s Resolution on January 4th! Maybe I should have set a larger resolution, but this one sure was tasty.

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This is a recipe I made once, years ago, when I was living with someone who only ate cheese and bread and fried potato. This meant I was the only one who tasted it and so I wasn’t sure if it was any good. Being that I used beef broth from a packet, it wasn’t as authentic as this version, that’s for sure. This time I made the broth myself, boiling bones and all that fun stuff. I worked using a combination of the recipe I had stored in my head from last time, and this recipe I found through my trusty friend Google. 

There are two main stages to this recipe: making the broth and assembling the soup. I say assembling because once you have your broth there’s no cooking to speak of, just adding all the fresh items to the bowls (OK, you have to cook the noodles first, unless you’ve bought them fresh), and pouring the broth over. Then adding a few fresh items on top and yumming it up with a combination of chopsticks and a spoon.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the ingredients. If you’re making this please scroll all the way down to get the other ingredients sections so you don’t have to go to the shops twice!

Broth Ingredients:
2 large brown onions

10cm piece ginger

2.5kg beef soup bones (including marrow, that’s where most of the flavour comes from!)

5 whole star anise

6 cloves

1 cinnamon stick, ~10cm

500g beef chuck steak

1.5 tablespoons salt

4 tablespoons fish sauce

Palm sugar – I used 2x 2cm cubes

Making the Broth:

Put the bones in a large pot (I used my largest pot which is about 6 litres, but if you’ve got bigger use that! I had to add extra water at the end to get the concentration right).

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Cover with water and bring to the boil. Allow to boil only a minute or two then dump all into the sink, scrub the pot clean and return the bones to it. This step removes impurities from the bones.

While water is heating in the above step, cut the onion and ginger in half (lengthways for ginger). Put under the grill on the highest setting and as close to the heat as possible without touching it. Let roast for 15 minutes then pull out, remove blackened parts under cool running water, skin the ginger carefully and set aside. 

Add 6 litres of water to the bones (I could only add 4 so I put two litres in later once the bones were removed). Bring to the boil them reduce heat and simmer. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Add other broth ingredients and simmer for 1.5 hours.

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(assembled broth ingredients)

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(scum on surface. Skim off with a spoon and discard, being careful not to scoop up any cloves or star anise when you do!)

After 1.5 hours, remove the chuck steak pieces, put in a bowl of cool water for 10 minutes, drain and put in fridge. This will go into out soup at the end and the cooling with water stops the meat drying out and becoming discoloured.

Let remaining soup simmer for a further 1.5 hours (3 hours total cooking time). 

Strain the pho broth through fine strainer. If desired, remove any bits of gelatinous tendon from bones to add to your pho bowl. Store tendon with cooked beef. Discard bones and other solids. At this point I added the two extra litres of water that didn’t fit in the pot at the start.

Use ladle to skim as much fat from top of the pho broth as you like – I removed some but by no means all – fat is where the flavour is! (Cool it and refrigerate it overnight to make this task easier; reheat befofe continuing.) Taste and adjust flavor with additional salt, fish sauce and yellow rock sugar. The pho broth should taste slightly too strong because the noodles and other ingredients are not salted. 

You will end up with about 4-5 litres of soup stock. 

Bowls Ingredients:

(this was to make enough for two hungry people, not to use up all the broth. Adjust quantities as needed!)

About half a pack of rice stick noodles, fresh or dried.

100g raw beef filet. I used sirloin. Use anything good enough quality that it will taste good when served very rare.

Spring onions, white and green sections, cut very thinly. I used about two whole stalks.

Sliced fresh bok choy.

A handful of fresh coriander leaves.

Ground black pepper to taste.

Preparing the bowls:

The key is to be organized and have everything ready to go.

Cook noodles if using dried. Set aside and keep warm while preparing the other ingredients. 

Slice the filet very thinly. Slice cooked beef and tendons (if using), also thinly. 

Add a scoop of noodles to each bowl. Add slices spring onions and bok choy. Arrange a mixture of cooked and raw beef and tendons on top of the greens. Pour boiling hot broth over the top, carefully. It is important that the broth is boiling hot at this stage as it slightly cooks the raw beef. This looks cool as it’s happening, by the way. Sprinkle coriander leaves and black pepper over the top. 

Optional ingredients, to be arranged on a plate and placed at the table:

(I used all of these!)

Sprigs of spearmint and/or Thai basil 

Bean sprouts (about 1/2 pound)

Red hot chillies, thinly sliced

Lime wedges

Serving and eating:

Add as much of the above optional items as desired. The chillies we bought were pretty fiery so we didn’t need too much! Squeeze the lime wedges over the top and enjoy. Dom was super-impressed with this one and I think it will be oft-requested 🙂

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and have also had a successful start to the new year, or at least a happy start!

Cheers,

Luci

White Chocolate and Nutella Pralines.

This is a recipe I found over at A Beautiful Mess recently, and I decided to take them along to my work Christmas party. Long story short: They were gone in record time. 

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I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth (I also made and brought some Rosemary Crispbread to the party) but I know that many of the lovely ladies at work do indeed like the sweet stuff. The recipe goes thus:

200g dark chocolate

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup Nutella

200g White Chocolate

chocolate sprinkles (optional) 

Melt dark chocolate, butter, cream and Nutella in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Let cool to room temperature (pop it in the fridge to speed things up a bit if needs be). Once it’s fairly solid but still soft enough to shape, roll little bite-sized balls of the mixture. Spread on a tray and put in the freezer for about half an hour. 

While those are getting nicely solid, melt the white chocolate over simmering water. Spoon the white chocolate over the balls (or roll them in the white chocolate – but you might end up with little melty bits of dark chic in with your white like I did…). Add sprinkles to the top as you go, before the white chocolate has time to set. Put your pralines in the fridge to really set the chocolate, and eat at will! They’re really rich so you might only need one, or two. Or more. 

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I ran out of white chocolate on the last few so that’s why there’s a brown one in the middle. They’re yummy like that, too.

Cheers,

Luci

Sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is one of those German dishes that always seems like you should make it yourself, and I had decided a long time ago to give it a try – but I must admit I was a bit intimidated to try it out on actual real Germans. I managed to get up the courage a few weeks ago though and got it started. It’s pretty simple – cabbage, salt, vinegar, sugar – it just takes some time to get it ready to eat.

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You can use any type of cabbage, but the traditional ones are the plain green ones sold here (and maybe everywhere?) as white cabbage. I had also stored in my mind a long time ago the very useful advice that caraway seeds are a necessary addition to the fermenting process of sauerkraut making – they remove the, ahem, bubble-forming process in one’s belly after you eat it. Good to know, right? So I chopped up my cabbage into thinnish strips and sprinkled caraway seeds through – I used about 3 tablespoons to a one kilogram cabbage which was probably a bit too much, one to two would have been sufficient. I sprinkled through a good couple of tablespoons of salt, too, a tablespoon of sugar, and poured about half a cup of vinegar through and mixed it all together. I got some good open-topped glass containers and split the mix through them. The trick with sauerkraut, I’ve learned, is that you need to have liquid covering the whole mixture to allow the fermenting process to get going. This means having a weight on top of the cabbage mix to push out the air. I had some big jars of fruit which were only slightly narrower than the opening of my jars and squished them down. Weight and container should both be glass or ceramic, or at least not metal.

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I’d been told that the liquid will seep out of the cabbage a bit and you just have to check it a few times in the first 24 hours. After then, top it up with salt water if needed, to cover all the cabbage. Then wander off for two or three weeks. Well, actually you should check it every couple of days to make sure it’s not drying out. It should therefore be stored somewhere you’ll see it but that it won’t be in your way. I had mine up on a shelf in my kitchen. Keep it out of the sun, too.

After a few weeks (actually it ended up being three and a half weeks, oops I almost forgot it…) I opened up the kraut and cooked some up. There is TONS of this from one cabbage, so I put the rest in the fridge in a airtight container and I’m assured that it will be fine for months there.

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I cooked it up and served it alongside potatoes and schnitzel in a super-German traditional meal. Dom loved it! Me too, to be honest 🙂

Fermented vegetable meals are supposed to be amazing for the digestive system, so that’s a plus, too. Yummy and good for you is my favourite combination. Sauerkraut is tangy, salty, crunchy tastiness. If I do say so myself. Lecker, as they say here. Tasty.

OK that’s enough self-congratulation for now, sorry about that! Have you ever made homemade sauerkraut, or other traditional foods? How did it go? Got any tips for me?

Cheers,

Luci

Spiced Apple Oats.

I’m still home sick this week, and combining that with the dreary wintery weather means I’m constantly in the mood for comfort food. This morning I decided to make a big bowl of warm oats for breakfast. Noticing my full fruit bowl, I (as happens when I plan meals while hungry) ended up elaborating on the original plan. 

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I put a cup or so of water in a small pot and put it on the stove to heat. I added a teaspoon of raw sugar, a tablespoon of maple syrup, a few good shakes of cinnamon powder and a dash of nutmeg. While this was coming to the boil, I chopped an apple – a nice tart one from Dom’s dad and step-mum’s tree – into cubes.

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While that was cooking down a bit I chopped up the other fruits I wanted in my breakfast. I had a mango, so that went in, and a banana too. You could add any other fruits you like – berries would be yummy! I put the extra fruit in my bowl and added a good dollop of plain yoghurt on top.

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The oats need regular stirring as they cook, and once they have absorbed all the water, they’re ready to go. It takes only a few minutes. Don’t let it get too dry though or it will have the consistency of paste. Not what you want. Mine was just right though as I added it to the fruit/yoghurt bowl, and I was ready to go.

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This was a huge meal, but I managed to finish it. 🙂 Once it’s all mixed through together it looks somewhat less pretty but I reccommend it for those cold winter days, or times when you just want comfort breakfast. The smell of the cinnamon and maple syrup are so warm and reassuring to me. 

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What’s your favourite comfort food? 

I hope you’re somewhere warm.

Cheers,

Luci

A Little Denim Bag.

Christmas is looming and I feel as if I should hand-make every christmas present. This is definitely not going to be possible, but I will make some and today I finished off one. This is another creation from old pairs of jeans from Dom, and I’m quite satisfied with it. I love the colour variations that old denim gets, and the softness of the material. 

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I didn’t get too many progress photos, but I’ll describe what I did as best as possible. I cut two equal sized rectangles of jeans leg, making sure to keep the seam in the middle as shown. The rectangles were about 20cm by 30cm. I sewed one long edge of each together, and made a rectangle of lining material the same size.

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I pinned two darts per side at what will become the top edge, and added a covering piece of denim slightly longer than the darted edge. Then I sewed it all down.

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I wasn’t exactly sure how to finish it off (I’d seen a tutorial on how to make this bag but I’d lost the link and only remembered up to this point). I ended up sewing a few pieces of jeans leg together to make a piece about 80cm long and 12cm or so wide. Then I ironed it flat, then in half, opened it up and ironed the raw edges to the middle, then back in half again to make a nice casing. I sewed the remaining raw edges of the bag into the new casing strap, with the ends at the base of the bag and a good length of handle left above. 

A funky old button and a loop of elastic to hold the top closed, and it’s all done!  I think it worked out nicely and I hope it will be well received in a couple of weeks (eek! So little time!) at christmas.

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I hope your festive plans are going well! Are you hand-making any presents this year (and want to give me some ideas)?

Cheers,

Luci

Honeygar.

I have a cold, so I’m home on the couch feeling sorry for myself and I decided I should share this cold remedy with you. I have mentioned it as part of a previous post but since I’ve been living off the stuff today, I thought I’d mention it again.

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This is something my parents introduced me to when I was so young i can’t remember. The taste is therefore so familiar and comforting to me, that the psychological effects are also beneficial. For those who didn’t grow up with it though, it’s great for soothing a sore throat and relieving the sinuses, I find.

Simply find a jar with a good tight-fitting lid, and fill about halfway with honey, then top up with apple cider vinegar. I don’t like mine too sweet so I tend to add a tiny bit more vinegar than honey, but each to their own.

Put the lid on the jar, and even tape it on if you’re worried about leaks. Then mix well. Shake and shake until all the globs of honey are dissolved into the vinegar. If you’re using particularly thick honey, you might want to sit the jar in some warm water to soften the honey a little to speed things up. 

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Ignore my messy kitchen (that’s an important step…). Pour a small amount of the mixture as shown into a glass, then top up with either plain water or my favourite – soda water. It bubbles like crazy so pour slowly!

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I tend to just sip at it throughout the day. It really helps to keep the scratchy-throat feeling down!

Cheers,

Luci