I thought I would start the week by doing an update on recent projects I’ve been working on. And let me say that while we were fortunate to escape much of the snow that blanketed the U.S. last week, we did get some ice. The event was unusual in that we got snow first, then sleet and freezing rain. Normally the progression we get is from freezing rain to snow. Either way it makes for slick conditions, but it was pretty to look at.
With temperatures staying below freezing, the ice remained on things for several days. It was especially pretty and bright when the sun was shining.
So what do you do when you are snowed/iced in? How about making some soap! My wife and I made two batches last week, while continuing our testing of using natural materials to color them. One soap used madder root infused olive oil, while the other used alkanet root infused oil. Madder root is used to dye things in pink to red shades, while alkanet dyes them in blueish/purple shades, depending on the pH. The below photo was taken right after pouring the soap into the PVC molds.
The colors lightened up a bit after the first 24 hours of curing. We’ll let it sit for a few days to harden up before cutting. We’re pretty pleased with how the colors turned out, and I look forward to more experiments using natural soap colorants.
Another interesting project I had last week was a photography session. Recently my wife was asked to show some of her fabric dyeing art at the University of Evansville. She decided to invite her friend and fellow artist Evi Slaby to exhibit along with her. They needed a couple of photos to send to the UofE, and I volunteered to help.
Photographing two lovely ladies proved to be much easier than getting a good image of their art. We finally settled on a black cloth background, set up on the living room floor. Titled “Colorful Friendship: A Study in Fabric Surface Design”, their display at the Krannert Gallery on the campus of the University of Evansville will run from February 24th through April 1st. From what I’ve seen so far, it promises to be a real knockout.
I also found time to start some seeds while the snow and ice was coming down outside. Even though the outside temperature is 6°F as I write, and it is only 19°F in the greenhouse, it will be time to set out some early spring greens in a few weeks. At least I hope it will be warm enough! I started seeds for parsley, spinach, arugula, lettuce and kale. That’s spinach coming up in the below photo.
Speaking of seeds, I’ve ordered most of my seeds for 2014, and they are here and have been put up with the rest of my seed stash. I’m still working on my exact schedule, but you can visit my Seed Starting and Planting Schedule page to see my general guidelines on starting seeds for our area. If you are new to starting plants from seed, or have questions about the process, you can visit my Seed Starting 101 page for more information.
I’ve also been working lately on improving my photography skills. I just read Food Photography For Bloggers by Matt Armendariz, and it is chock full of great ideas. I would certainly recommend it for anyone who wants to make their online food photos look better. One thing I did after reading the book was buy a Lowel Ego tabletop fluorescent light unit. I’m still experimenting with it, but the results so far have been dramatic. I used it last week to capture the images for Patchouli Citrus Hand Soap. The below photo shows the setup I used to get this image of the soap bars. As you can see, I didn’t even have to clean off the kitchen counter for this one.
The light unit is set up to the left, while the bounce reflector card (included with the Lowel Ego unit) is set to the right to ‘bounce’ light back into the soap to help fill in the shadows. I struggle with lighting in our kitchen all the time, and this should help tremendously. I also used a tripod for the soap photos to make for sharper images. That definitely helped for the closeup photo of the pumice and orange peel powders, which used a macro lens to get up-close and personal. One teaspoon of pumice powder looks like a mountain using the macro lens.
I’ve also been enjoying some late-blooming Christmas cacti. This one in the below photo is a new one with peach colored blooms called Christmas Fantasy. It is adding a little color to this cold and mostly colorless time of year.
My next project involves chocolate and the rapidly approaching Valentines Day. That meant I had to buy a couple of bars of chocolate. Of course I had to taste them before I used them. I believe they will be okay for my project, but I might need to do some more taste-testing first. I probably should not be left alone with chocolate in the house!
I hope you have enjoyed this recap of things that are going on here. I’ll be back later this week with a recipe for something sweet for Valentines Day!