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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Birth of the Bison Bar

Have you ever eaten a bison burger?  I practically lived on them at the Handcrafted Soap Makers Conference in Denver this year.  They're lean and mean and oh so tasty. And as long as I'm going to eat meat, I like the idea of using the whole animal, don't you?  Here's what we came up with to help do just that.

Introducing our bison bar....of soap I mean.  It's made from, you guessed it, buffalo fat.  Rendering tallow is not something I'm particularly fond of, so I recommend cooking this stuff up outdoors because the distinct aroma of simmering bison fat isn't all that great.  Luckily, it pretty much disappears by the time it turns into soap.  (whew)

They're finding now that animal fats are actually good for you too by the way, but that's not the focus of this blog post.

Thanks to my friend David Fisher at for the expert advice on rendering tallow and a very special thanks to Hugh Fitzsimons, the owner of humanely raised grass-fed Thunder Heart Bison for providing us with the main ingredient.  We dedicated this whole process to Hugh because he's the one that first put this bug in our ear.  Now here's how we turned 44 lbs. of bison fat into 11 lbs. of pure bison tallow.

After trimming off all the meat we could, we cut up the fat into small chunks.  We'd planned on using a grinder but of course ours decided to go on the blink that day.  Of course.  Much of this appeared to be kidney fat, which is the cream of the crop.  How did I know that?  My husband was a butcher long ago.  We covered the chunks with water and brought them to a boil over a low flame.  What you want is a nice slow simmering boil.  We kept ours gently bubbling for about 3 hours, stirring and mashing it all up from time to time.

Finally it was time to scoop out the big chunks of cooked meat & gristle.  Then we strained out the smaller pieces.  And then we strained the whole thing one more time, this time covering the strainer with panty hose (which by the way, is about ALL that panty hose are good for).  As you can see, we could have used a bigger strainer throughout this whole process.  *note to self for next time*

Be careful now, it's hot!  Real hot!!!

 I guess these are called cracklins, although they weren't crispy.  I wont show you the picture of my husband actually sampling them.  Ewwww!  How could he?  We probably should have cooked them longer, but it was 95 degrees in the shade and we were tired.  Sometimes enough is enough.  Jory said it looked good.

The last step was to pour the golden hot liquid into smaller containers and let them cool in the fridge overnight.  The clean tallow rises to the top and congeals into a solid mass and the watery stuff is left below.   After prying a knife under the slippery blocks to pick them up, we ran them under cool water to wash them off, patted them dry, chunked them up, and voila...pristine rendered bison tallow baby! 

And that's how this unscented 100% Bison Bar was born.

Simple.  Pioneer.  Spirit. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What Grass? Wheat Grass!

Look what we just poured into a soap mold?  Anything that gives THIS much green color to soap has GOT to be good for you, right?  But don't take my word for it.  Over 75 years of research has shown that wheat grass is packed full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, phytonutrients and carotenoids to promote optimal health when ingested daily as a green superfood.  That's all fine and dandy.   But what can it do for you in a bar of soap?  I don't really know, but I figure it can't hurt!

I do know that wheat grass contains large amounts of chlorophyll (thus the rich green color), which is amazingly similar to hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in our blood.  And there is evidence that chlorophyll can easily be absorbed into our blood.  And since chlorophyll is also soluble in fat particles.... and soap is made up of fatty acids, well....who knows.  I'd like to think that wheat grass soap penetrates our skin and does a body good.

What do you think?

Update:  Here's what the soap looks like about a week later.  It's been in our dark curing room.  You can see that the gelled soap is darker than the non-gelled soap around the edges.  So far so good!  I'm going to put a little piece in a north facing windowsill next to see how it fares.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Antibacterial Triclosan Produces Toxic Dioxins

Besides contributing to resistant strains of bacteria, a new study just published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology reveals that the pervasive chemical triclosan, found in many commercial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, dishwashing liquids, and a host of other household products, produces toxic dioxins when released into the environment.  According to the World Health Organization, exposure to dioxins can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and can also cause cancer!  So why on earth are we using these harmful products when simple natural handmade soaps and crystal deodorant stones are just as effective?  If you're still using antibacterial soaps and other antibacterial products that contain triclosan, you're flushing these harmful toxins right into our water supply!  Doh!

Despite the unfavorable research, Triclosan (also known as triclocarbon, Microban and Biofresh) is used in many common household products, including Clearasil Daily Face Wash, Dentyl mouthwash, Dawn dishwashing liquid, the Colgate Total range, Crest Cavity Protection, Softsoap, Dial soaps, Right Guard deodorant, Sensodyn Total Care, Old Spice, Mentadent, and Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers, just to name a few.  Why take a chance when there are safer alternatives?  Read the full story here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Scenic Route

Remind me NEVER to power walk at 10:00 am in central Texas in mid June again!  I mean, who needs a sauna when I've got temps in the upper 80's and 75% humidity?  ughhh

But I did want to give you a glimpse of the scenic route I take.  Plains coreopsis line the path that, with all the rains we've been having, is almost overgrown.  They still let me scoot by each weekday morning, nodding their cheerful faces in the breeze as I quietly brush by.  I like walking outdoors on dirt, as opposed to asphalt or on a treadmill.  I especially like all the flora and fauna that I encounter along the way, not to mention the fresh air that fills my lungs and the solitude that clears my brain.  There are other benefits to exercising in nature that I just can't get at the gym either... like plenty of vitamin D and a greater appreciation of the natural world around me.  I always return feeling refreshed and renewed.  Life is good out here.

Do you have a special wild place that you like to walk through?  What do you encounter along the way?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mexican Cactus Salad Recipe

I've been vacationing in beautiful Colorado and Wyoming (more on that later), so haven't had time to post.  But I ran across this recipe for Mexican Cactus Salad today that sounded pretty tasty.  I suggest using freshly cooked young wild nopalitos (spines burned off, then steamed or boiled) if you can get them.  ¡buen provecho!