Sunday, July 24, 2016

SIMPLE GIFTS

One of the things that drew Ivaan and me together was our preference for simple living.  He was a creature of habit.  He had his favourite foods, his favourite meals, his favourite brands, and they were almost never what everyone else coveted.  Almost always, they were characterized by permanence and simplicity.

Ivaan and his sister would have endless discussions about where to get the best cheese danish pastries.  It wasn't just the right flavour of cheese filling, it was the proportion of filling to dough, the sweetness of the dough (not sweet), and a well-developed outer crust.  It couldn't be oily, it couldn't be puffy, it couldn't be doughy, it couldn't be pale in colour, and - don't even think about it - it couldn't be other than perfectly fresh.  He didn't like to eat things just out of the oven; they needed to have cooled down, but after that it was basically from the cooling rack straight to his lips. Three hours old was basically the outer limit of his tolerance.

I used to watch them have this discussion in a kind of disbelief: is this something people actually spend time debating? But food was really important to both of them. Ivaan's favourite soup was potage parmentier, a very simple leek and potato soup. His second favourite was his sister's borsch.

This morning I noticed I was running low on laundry detergent. I've been making my own laundry detergent for a few years, and I suddenly realized that this was something that would have met with Ivaan's total approval. My sister and brother do the same,  and our friends Iain and Emily are also converts to the practice.  It's quick and easy, it's environmentally preferable, it's economical, it doesn't smell like perfume or chemicals and it's excellent as a general cleaning product.  So today I decided to blog about how to make laundry detergent.

I'll bet you thought I was going to blog about how to make a good cheese danish, right?  Sorry to disappoint you, but this will be much better for your waistline.

Here's what it looks like when it's finished (most people don't keep it in a mason jar but this is the last of my current batch, reserved for emergencies). Don't you like how the grout on my backsplash coordinates with my kitchen counter?


Here are the only ingredients you'll need, except for water:
First, you take that bar of health-food store vegetable-based soap (don't use a coloured bar) and grate it on the box grater.  Use the blades you see in the photo. Pour about 3 quarts of water into a large pot and put the grated soap into it.  Bring it to a boil until all the grated soap is thoroughly dissolved.

Measure about a cup of Borax and a cup of Washing Soda (not baking soda),  pour them both into the soap solution and boil gently until they are also thoroughly dissolved.  You might want to add more water.  When it's completely dissolved, add more cold water till the pot is pretty full, stir the mixture, put the lid on the pot (very important) and leave it to cool.  When it's reasonably cool, I like to run an immersion blender through it to achieve a uniform consistency.  Depending on how much water you've added, it will either be like a cream soup or a bowl of pudding.
And voila!  For about three dollars, you've made enough laundry detergent to last you  for a very long time.  You can keep it in a covered bucket, as Iain and Emily do, or you can re-use your old laundry detergent jugs, or you can keep it in the same pot you cooked it in.

I love to stick my hands in a newly made batch and sort of squish it through my fingers.  The smell is very clean and neutral, my hands come out looking clean, and it's not harsh on the skin. Some people find it very disconcerting that it doesn't foam, believing that bubbles are essential for cleaning something.  They're not.  Bubbles are produced by surfactants, which break the surface tension of liquids and pollute the environment.  They are an additive to laundry detergent that you don't need.

If there's a downside to using this homemade detergent, it is that you very quickly become hyper aware of the smell of commercial laundry products  - even 'unscented' ones - on other people's clothing.  Unscented has a whole new meaning these days.  And now, back to grating soap.

And here's the final product.  I remember the first time I made my own detergent, it seemed like a slightly dangerous, subversive endeavour.  And I thought it would take hours.  Actually, the whole procedure takes less than 15 minutes.

HOME MADE LAUNDRY DETERGENT.

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