Better Choices, Better Results

Archive for November, 2011

Making Soap – A Tutorial

In my last post, I told you I was making soap.  I’ve been making a LOT of soap.  People will be getting soap for Christmas this year. 

I like making soap because you take ingredients that you recognize and do a little magic, and get a completely different product.  It’s quite amazing.

Most store-bought “soap” isn’t really soap at all.  It’s detergent made from different chemicals.  True soap is created through a process called saponification and happens when fats and lye are combined.  “The term saponification is the name given to the chemical reaction that occurs when a vegetable oil or animal fat is mixed with a strong alkali. The products of the reaction are two: soap and glycerin.” –

While soaps of the past got a bad reputation for being harsh and caustic, today’s soaps are gentle and natural, and not caustic at all due to proper measuring and processing techniques.  In fact, once the saponification is complete, no lye remains in the finished product…only soap and glycerin.

Be sure to use a soap calculator like for creating soap recipes.

Now that our little science lecture is over, let’s take a look at how I’ve been making my soap…in the crock pot!

Gather your ingredients and make sure everything is ready to go before you start the process.


Almost any kind of fat can be used. I've even seen recipes using chicken fat!


I have vinegar pictured with the lye because vinegar neutralizes lye. So, always have some vinegar is a spray bottle around in case of splashes or lye spills.


I order essential oils to scent my soaps. I prefer oils to artificial scents.


You must have safety equipment! Long gloves and safety glasses are a must. You'll also need a digital scale, a plastic cup and spoon devoted solely to soap-making, and a plastic or stainless steel stick blender is very helpful.



You’ll also need a mold for your soap. I use Pringles cans and this wooden mold that my dad made me. Most molds need to be lined with freezer paper first. Pringles cans don’t, as they come with a waxy lining. I haven’t tried the plastic molds yet.
The first thing you do is measure out your fats and put them into your crock pot on low.  Once the fats have almost completely melted, you’ll want to start mixing your lye.

Almost melted...time to mix the lye.


You must take precautions when mixing lye!  Wear gloves and safety glasses!


Always! Be! Safe!


Carefully add lye to your liquid - not the other way around. Adding liquid to the lye will create a volcanic explosion!

Add your lye mixture to your melted fats.

Don't splash! Lye is caustic until it cooks with the fats.

Using a stainless steel or plastic stick blender, blend the mixture until it starts to thicken.

Splashes happen, but try hard to minimize them by blending in spurts. Keep your vinegar nearby and spray anything that gets splashed.


Once it starts looking like pudding, test it for “trace”.  Trace has occurred when you can run your blender across the top of the mixture (turned off) and it leaves a trail.

See the trail that the blender has left behind it? That's trace.


Put the lid on the crock pot and cook until it looks like waxy mashed potatoes.

You want to cook the mixture on low until it looks like this.


Time to stir it up and test it.  You can purchase a chemical to test your soap, and I recommend doing so.  However, I forgot to order this chemical and didn’t want to wait, so I have been testing the old-fashioned way…by touching it to my tongue.  I’ve been told by an experienced soap maker that if saponification hasn’t completely happened, the soap mixture will shock the tongue.

I get nervous each time, but I've never been shocked. It tastes like soap. Blech!


Let it cool just a bit, then add your scents and any add-ins like honey, oatmeal, powdered milk, dried flower petals, etc.

This batch was scented with "Fresh Snow" essential oil.


Then you put it in your mold.  I used my wooden mold, lined with freezer paper.

Plop it into the mold, then shake and jiggle it to get air bubbles worked out.


At this point, you have soap, and your crock pot will be really easy to clean.
Let your soap dry several hours or overnight.  Remove the soap from the mold, then remove the paper (because the paper makes it harder to slice), then cut your soap into bars.
Very pretty and smells so nice!


You can use your soap right away, but as you let your bars air-dry, they will become harder and won’t melt in the shower as quickly.

Are you ready to make your own soap now?


Making Soap!

I’ve been making my own homemade soap for the past couple of days.  It’s amazingly easy, once you get over the fact that yes, lye is dangerous, but you can mix it properly, with respect to the danger, and come out just fine.

I’ve neglected to take photos.

I’ll prepare better for the next batch, and will take photos of each step.  Until then…take my word that it’s magical and smells divine!


A Gadget that Pays You Back!

I love gadgets.  New gadgets make everything more fun.  Especially kitchen gadgets.  However, today I want to tell you about a new gadget that I heard about last night. Intrigued, I looked up the link as soon as I got by myself so I could pull out the smart phone.

Switch2Health is a company that offers gift cards and retailer discounts as a reward for physical activity. 

Their link is .  I pulled this from their “About Us” page:

Switch2Health is on a Mission

The Activity Revolution Has Started

Switch2Health® (S2H) has launched S2H.COM to motivate and reward people for physical activity; while enabling businesses to acquire customers for the rewards redeemed. By integrating products based on patent pending S2H technology and other activity-based tracking tools, S2H.COM allows users to earn rewards for their physical activity and share their progress with the online community.

Finding the Right Motivation

S2H is creating a culture where physical activity is not only healthy, but fun and socially desirable. By increasing participation in physical activity, S2H will change the behavior and improve the health of individuals. The overweight and obesity epidemic is of growing concern in the U.S. and around the world. The real challenge is creating incentive and motivation for individuals to be physically active. S2H offers an innovative solution for consumers and businesses.


Basically, you purchase a pedometer or wristwatch from their site ($24.95) and wear them daily to track activity.  You upload your activity into their tracking program, and you accumulate points based on steps or the amount of time you exercised.  Once you get enough points, you can redeem them for gift cards from Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Netflix, Amazon, and more!

This version tells time and tracks activities that require a lot of arm movement.

Of course – I just had to buy one.  I ordered green and hope it gets here soon!

The pedometer is great for walkers and runners.

Lemons or Opportunties? You Decide.

Everyone has been told, at least once in their lives, to take those “lemons of life” and make lemonade out of them.  What does that really mean?

Just lemons?


Here are my thoughts on that subject.  Be forewarned – I’m not accused of having inner-bubblessence for nothing!


I believe that we are all lead down paths that are intended to make us better and stronger people…if we stay on that path and refuse to be lead astray.  We are all placed into situations the force us to grow or run away.  Not many of us can say, with no hesitation, that our lives are perfect in every way.  And those that do are probably lying…or making lemonade!

Could this be the beginning of something great?


Recently, my path in life took a much unexpected turn.  I was thrown completely off-balance and as a result, I had to re-evaluate everything, it seemed.  (Isn’t it funny how an event in one area of your life can affect other areas?)  I had to make a choice; run away, or make lemonade.


I chose to make lemonade, and here’s how I did it:

Take away the good.


I looked at all areas of my life and realized that as a whole, I am blessed beyond measure.  (Sweet!) 


I made the decision to find the positive, even when it’s hard to see that side. (Sweet!)


I realized that I had the power to make a less-than-ideal situation work for me! (Sweet!)


Leave behind what isn't useful.

As a result, I’ve been able to combine all that sweetness with the lemon I was dealt, and I’m enjoying some very nice lemonade.  I’m branching into some very exciting avenues that I might not have ever gotten to enjoy.  I’m learning new things each day.


Now I have to ask myself, “Was I really dealt a lemon?”  Or, was I given an opportunity to grow and learn and make positive changes in my life?


Add what you need to make it work for you.

Enjoy the lemonade every chance you get.


A Comfort Salad?

The Salad Artist Strikes again!  I found this recipe on a few years ago.   I absolutely fell in love with it, and made it quite a few times.  It’s like comfort food to me with the spices and creamy beans and delicious vegetables.

Then, as new recipes found me, I kind of forgot about this dish.  You know how it goes.

A few days ago, I remembered this salad and how good this was, and went looking for the recipe.  You can link to the original recipe here, but I’m going to share the recipe with my changes.

I apologize for not taking photos the whole way through; I guess I was too excited about eating it to think about grabbing my camera!

This recipe makes a lot, but if you are like me and don’t mind eating leftovers, you can enjoy this for days!

Ingredients – Joann’s Version

    • 2 lbs ground beef (very lean)
    • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
    • 2 cups diced bell peppers – I used red, yellow and green
    • 1 1/2 cups diced yellow onions
    • 5 minced fresh garlic cloves
    • 1 1/3 cups salsa picante sauce
    • 2 tablespoons dried basil
    • 2 tablespoons dried dill
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1 dash turmeric
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • hot sauce, of choice, added at table (optional)
    • 16 -20 cups torn salad greens ( bagged salad is fine)
    • 8 -10 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
    • 8 -10 ounces shredded low-fat cheddar cheese


  1. Sauté all the veggies and spices together.
  2. Add the beef and cook until it browns and gives up the fat.
  3. Drain it thoroughly!
  4. Return to pan or pot; add the salsa and the black beans.
  5. Cook until really hot.
  6. Add salt and pepper, and hot sauce if desired.
  7. Serve over mixed salad greens (suggested one cup of beef/bean mixture) with a tablespoon of low-fat sour cream and/or shredded low-fat cheddar cheese.


And now…for some visual stimulation…


So Good!


Try it!  You won’t believe how good it is until you taste it!


I did my official weigh-in last night…the first in 3 weeks.  Let me tell you – I was terrified at I’d gained at least 5 pounds.  To be honest, I was preparing myself for a 10-pound gain.  If the number turned out to be more than 10 pounds, I knew I’d probably cry.

I didn’t go hog-wild.  I had days in that 3-week span where I’d done OK.  Then again, I had days where I didn’t care what I ate at all – or how much I ate.

I haven’t exercised since October 12th.

I was in a serious funk.


I weighed in and was completely thrilled at what I saw.  Yes, I had gained weight, but it was less than 2 pounds!  I know that I can work that back off within a couple of weeks, and move forward in meeting my goal.

I was so happy that I went out to celebrate.  No, I didn’t go out to eat!  I did spend money, though…on shoes!  And by doing so, I realized that I’ve accomplished something very cool.

Last December, I sent an e-mail to my friend telling her that I was going to make some lifestyle changes.  I was going to eat less, eat better, move more and make better choices.  Like me, she struggles with extra weight, and she told me that she was having trouble
finding her motivation.  I told her to write down her Top Ten List of Good Consequences from Losing Weight, and that I’d share mine with her.

We had some similar items: being healthier, less back pain, avoiding health conditions like diabetes.  I had an item on my list that isn’t common, though.  I wanted to be able to wear more styles of shoes!

See, I have “Fred Flintstone Feet.”  You’re picturing Fred’s feet propelling his and Wilma’s car to the Drive-In Movie, aren’t you?  My feet are just like his: short, fat, wide in the front and narrow at the heel.  My feet have measured in at 7 ½ EEEE since high school.

It's not me, but it could be!

A pedicurist once told me, “Oh, you have meaty feet.  So pretty!  Not skin and bone, like mine!”  Was that a compliment?

Because of my meaty Fred Flintstone feet, I usually had to buy 9-Wides just to be able to get my feet in them!  My shoes were always too long and loose at the heel, but I had little choice.  Forget about peep-toes and sling-backs!  If I wanted to wear shoes (and I’m sure my coworkers appreciate that I do), I had to buy 9-Wides.

I’ve heard that people lose weight in their feet, especially if they have more than just a few pounds to lose.  I found that to be true in my case, as well.  I had noticed that my old shoes
were getting looser.  In fact, I have a couple pairs that I had to stop wearing because they’d fall off my feet as I was walking!

Tonight, however, I was able to purchase shoes in size 8½.  REGULAR!  Maybe I’m just a 7 ½ EE now.

My feet are still wide in the front.  They are still narrow at the heel.  They are still short.  I will always have Fred Flintstone Feet.

But…being able to find shoes that fit without having to settle for whatever they had in a 9-Wide?  Experiencing the thrill of shopping in the clearance section, which never has wide shoes?  Not having to order online because that’s where the best selection of wide-widths is found…and then not having to send them back because they still don’t fit right?


Dreams of Being Wonder Woman

I love those days when I feel like Wonder Woman; it feels like I can’t fail at anything and everything I touch turns to gold. feel like Wonder Woman ALL the time.....

I haven’t felt like Wonder Woman for a few weeks now.  I’m in a funk that has made me doubt a lot of what I do.  It feels like nothing gets accomplished or completed, and as a result, my eating habits have suffered. 

I’ve not been focused.  I’ve not been planning.  And…as you might have guessed, I’ve not been losing weight.  In fact, I’ve gained a few pounds.

So, in an effort to get my caboose back on track, I started thinking about Wonder Woman and her gadgets.  You know what I’m talking about: the Lasso of Truth, her Invisible Plane (transportation), her Bracelets of Victory (deflects projectiles), her Royal Tiara (razor sharp and boomerang-like), her Sandals of Hermes (speed) and her Battle Armor.  She uses all these weapons to declare victory over her opponent.

This train of thought continued on to my super hero/alter ego, and what my weapons and abilities would be.  Since Wonder Woman is taken, I have to be someone else.  Since my natural abilities are not athletic, I should probably center my alter ego on something I’m good at, like cooking or canning or crafting.  And, since the Bracelets of Victory are taken, I will have to have something else, like the Knife of Knowledge.

So, after some serious thought, consideration, and the input from some friends, I have decided to be:

Joann, Queen of the Kitchen

My super powers:

  • The ability to alter recipes so they are less fattening
  • Finding physical activity on really busy days
  • Packing healthy and nutritious lunches
  • Preserving the harvest
  • Stealing the best ideas and putting them to use

My Weapons:

  • With my Knife of Knowledge, I will cut away the unhealthy habits in my life.
  • I will use the Colander of Creativity to wash away the filth of a busy life and to retain what’s most important.
  • The Internet of Endless Ideas will allow me to see what other successful people are doing to reach and maintain their weight loss and activity goals.
  • My Fork of Fun allows me to enjoy myself when the opportunity arises, and
  • The Apron of Awesomeness just tells everyone how great I am!

    Joann - Queen of the Kitchen

With the blessings of my super-natural powers and the use of my weapons, I will slay the Dragon of Funk to get back on track and on my way to meeting my goals!