Thompson Street Farm LLC has spun off its soap / bath and gift products to a new website and store. We now have a new look, and store.
I will be doing business as Farm to Bath and the new website is www.farmtobath.com. There will be new products added going forward, so make sure you comeback and check out the site. With this new site I can now offer reasonable shipping fees, special promotions and best of all SALES! I am very excited.
Please check out my new store and let me know what you think!
I’m always humbled and grateful when asked to speak about what I do here on Thompson Street Farm. This week I was the speaker at a local garden club here in town and I have to say what a wonderful group of ladies! I understand there are 5 garden clubs in town, and this particular club has been together for over 30 years. Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience there was sitting in that room! How cool!
After my presentation on growing micro-greens, a sweet woman asked about how I made my soaps. She identifies handmade soap to her childhood elderly neighbor, Mrs. Jones, peddling her soap door to door. Apparently her soap was extremely harsh that one lost a few layers of skin when using it. I’m guessing from the age of my new friend, “Mrs. Jones” learned how to make soap between World War I and the Depression. In those days, there weren’t a lot of choices for oils other than animal fats and other moisturizing ingredients – which explains the harshness of her soap.
Today there is a world of difference between commercial soaps and handmade. Technically commercial soap is not real soap but a detergent that is created from petroleum based products . Yes, the base ingredient in commercial soap is petroleum oil!
My Decision to make Handmade Soap
(Lavender Soap made with lavender grown on our property)
When I began researching how to make soap it was out of necessity. I had been purchasing a goat’s milk soap from an independently owned health food store for my daughter. My daughter had a stroke before she was born and as a result she is missing 80% of her right brain, so we had many health issues to deal with. She is also a beautiful redhead with extremely sensitive skin. It didn’t matter which commercial soap I used, her skin was as red as her hair and irritated – similar to the reaction to Mrs. Jones soap!
Perfumes were also a huge problem for my daughter. It is not uncommon for children that have severe brain damage to have an over-reactive sensory system. I can only explain it as standing in front of a speaker at rock concert 24 /7. The brain’s sensory system is on overload it can’t filter out and dial down what’s going on around them. If you stop and think about it, our world is pretty noisy. For Katie as a baby, sound, smell and textures was magnified a billion times over.
Its an understatement that the early days for Katie were painful – everything bothered her. For example, my husband loved Irish Spring Soap, but when he came near her she would become overwhelmed and started to scream and cry. We went through a period of time when I dumped every commercially made product including the toothpaste and toilet paper and we went O-Natural! Thankfully, Katie is much better thanks to years of therapy.
The Decision to Make My Own Soap:
(Pine Soap – pine needles are harvested from our own pine trees and now that I’m becoming a herbalist, I’m adding my own pine infused olive oil to this soap!)
When Wholefoods moved to town our small independent health food store went out of business and that ended my source for handcrafted goat’s milk soap. The good news is soap making had become popular and with YouTube at my fingertips, I decided it was time to take control of our soap supply and learn how to make soap.
When I started my research I had a basic list of requirements:
The soap had to be moisturizing, have a great lather but be a firm enough that didn’t melt into a pile of goo in the shower.
Ingredients had to be mild enough for daughter’s sensitive skin.
Oils for the soap had to be found in the grocery store and had to come from the plant world.
Scents need to be from the plant world (correction/clarification from original posting: I do use fragrance oils if essential oils are not available, too expensive, or I happen to like the scent!).
I knew I wanted my soap to have at lease 2 oils that were great for skin, olive oil and coconut oil. After weeks of research, my first generation master soap recipe was born and it was a Mediterranean inspired blend using 4 oils and raw goats’ milk.
Olive oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
Coconut oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
Canola Oil – creates a stable lather and a great skin conditioner.
Safflower Oil – creates a wonderful lather and is a great skin conditioner.
Herbs, flowers, vegetables and goats milk had to be either grown by me or acquired by a local farmer that shared my socially responsible beliefs.
During my research, I learned there is a minefield related to certain common ingredients in soap making. The biggest one is palm oil, and the atrocities associated to the destruction of rainforests to meet the worlds demand for palm oil.
I admit, my soaps are not for everyone, but I can honestly say I try to be socially conscious and intentional on where my ingredients are sourced. It is important to my daughter’s wellbeing and to me. I want to create a product that is safe; with no chemicals or preservatives.
New Sea Salt and Mineral Clay Inspired Soap with Avocado Oil
I have to say I have the best customers! They are intelligent, well-traveled and socially conscious and they are challenging me to take my social responsibility even further! Over the summer I heard a few concerns expressed about how canola oil is grown and processed. Canola oil comes from a plant called rapeseed and most of the crop grown in the world is from GMO seed. Since I refuse to use GMO vegetable seeds on my farm it was an easy decision to do the right thing and switch out that oil and substitute it for sunflower oil.
In addition, I did some more research on the benefits of sea salt and mineral clays in soap. Out of that research I created a new 4 oil sea salt soap using avocado oil. Avocado oil is rich in vitamins A, B, D, and E. Sea salt is known for its relaxing properties and is a natural detoxifier as well as some of the mineral clays that I use – Dead Sea Clay, French Green Clay, Bentonite Clay and Moroccan Clay.
So I say to my new” Garden Club Friend” – try my soaps, I think you will be pleasantly surprised just how good you will feel! Please check out my entire line of soap on website online store.
(Honey, Cinnamon and Carrot Soap – I purchase my honey from a local farmer. Although I might get brave and purchase a hive in the coming year.)
If you have cabin fever from all this snow and extremely cold weather come on down to the CT Flower Show and warm up by thinking about spring! Starting today through Sunday I will be at the CT Flower & Garden Show. I will have a sampling of my best selling soaps plus, lavender sugar scrubs, lavender body sprays and herbal salves.
PLUS! Show offer only! Interested in turning your backyard or small plot of land into cash? Off is only good during the show get $50.00 off my next full day SPIN Farming workshop March 14th from 9 – 4 in South Glastonbury. Show price $150.00 normally $200.00.
As a child growing up in California, I loved to hear the breeze through the Ponderosa pines. Because these trees are so tall (over 230 feet high), there is a distinct sound that I’ve not heard in any other forest that I’ve walked through. That airy sound of the breeze through the trees is what I miss most about my home state. Then there is the smell of pine, which makes me feel refreshed, calm and at peace.
Until recently I didn’t know that pine (all species) have medicinal properties which have been used for centuries by Native American tribes.
Native American’s have been using Pine Medicinally for Centuries
Native American tribes in this region used all parts of the tree for medicinal purposes. A bark decoction for coughs and colds was used by the Abanaki, Iroquois, Micmac, Mohegan and Shinnecock tribes. Bark was also used as a poultice for colds by the Algonquin and for cuts and wounds by the Chippewa. A pitch pine drawing salve was made by the Delaware and Ontario people just to name a few of its many medicinal uses. (HANE: Herbarium, pinus strobus L.)
Here in Connecticut we have White Pine which is a shorter scruffier tree than its cousin the Ponderosa. And, today, pine needles and bark are harvested and dried for use in teas, tinctures and infused oils. Pine resin is the golden jewel of the tree as it has incredible healing properties. White Pine has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant, diuretic, antibacterial, stimulant, antispasmodic and astringent properties.
Eating my first Pine Needles
Have you ever tasted a pine needle? After our last big snow fall, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day to go out for a walk through our woods to harvest pine needles for my pine soap and salve. I decided to try a needle. Honestly, it was nothing to write home about. It tasted like a pine needle. I had read pine needles are high in Vitamin C and boosts the immune system. I read that not every pine tree species tastes the same. The author encouraged readers to try different trees and go with the one you liked best. However, since I only have one species of trees on our property, what I tasted was what I tasted – pine and I’ll have to take her word that not all pine trees taste the same…
Making my First Batch of Infused Pine Oil
This was the fun part – after harvesting enough pine needles, I loaded up my crock pot and added my oil. As I turned on my crock pot, I was struck by a thought! How would a pine marinade work for chicken. I decided to adapt a recipe for pine needle salad dressing into a marinade. My husband is such a good sport about this stuff – I knew it wouldn’t faze him in the least. I was right – after 20 years of eating my “experiments” what’s a few pine needles with dinner.
The final results were OK – I think I would prefer the chicken barbequed to add a little natural smoky flavor with the pine marinade rather than baked. So I will try this recipe again when the weather gets warmer. However, my husband thought the chicken tasted great.
White Pine makes wonderful Soaps and Salves
I love working with pine. I’ve perfected my drying technique so the pine needles keep their beautiful green color in my soap. The needles also add a great natural exfoliatant, which is another plus. All the benefits of pine, plus a four oil soap recipe make a well balanced soap.
The pine infused oil is another bonus as it can be used in many applications such as salves which is moisturizing for extremely dry skin. The pine salve will also promote healing of small scratches, cuts, burns and other minor skin irritations. During these bitter cold winter months I need something like this as my hands take a beating. They get so dry and cracked (sometimes bleed) that the salve had been a perfect remedy.
As a Christmas gift to myself, I enrolled in the Herbal Academy of New England, an online educational program for those who want to become herbalists and/or anyone who is interested in herbs. I am thrilled and excited to add an academic understanding of herbs and how they interact in their various forms.
I’ve discovered that ideas of how and where you can use herbs are limitless! We can create teas, tinctures, poultices, essential oils, soaps, creams, syrups, and salves. We can also use them in our cooking, baking, jams, jellies, vinegars, oils, honey, salts, mix them with other herbs or simply munch on a sprig right off the plant.
Until now, my education was limited to reading books, the Internet and talking to my Naturopathic doctor. Once 20 years ago, I also took a guided hike on identifying wild edible plants. All I can remember from that day was the ability to identify Yarrow (a popular flower used for medicinal purposes) and tasting some uninspiring grassy, sometimes bitter tasting weeds. Ick!
The first lesson in my program involves making a medicinal tea from whatever I have on hand. Since I grow a lot of herbs on my small farm, I have many options. Needing an herb to test, I grabbed one of the many large paper grocery bags on my counter filled with herbs, opened it and discovered that I picked lemongrass. I had never used this herb before so I decided to try it.
Back-story on my poor little Lemongrass plant – It’s a Miracle!
Lemongrass is a new herb on my farm. Last winter, I found a catalog company that had a sale on plants and, at the time; it seemed to be a good deal. Who can resist a sale! The plant arrived on life support (obviously the reason for the sale) and it was clear that the plant didn’t have much, if any, time left. However, deep in the core of this dried up grassy blob; I found a little green stem. Since maybe there was some hope, I figured I’d plant it vs. tossing it into the compost pile. I placed it into a corner of a raised bed already pretty full of mints, sage and oregano, blessed the little plant and left it at that.
During the summer, it got watered (when I remembered…) and to my surprise that scraggly dried up little grassy thing started to grow! By the end of summer, it had shot up over 36 inches and was taking over the corner of its raised bed.
Before the first freeze, I cut the plant back down to its original size (a few inches tall) bound the cut grass into bunches and stuffed it into a grocery store paper bag to dry. I tossed the bag on my kitchen counter where it’s been since fall. I honestly had no clue as to what I was going to do with the grass. A couple of thoughts surfaced
(possibly soap or a seasoned salt) but no decision.
My Research on Lemongrass
(Disclaimer: I am not a health expert and have no medical training. The purpose of this article is not to diagnose and/or treat medical issues. This is for informational purposes only. If you have questions regarding your health, please consult with a medical physician)
According to Healthers.org lemongrass has some great medicinal properties. Here is an excerpt from their website:
Powerful pain relieving properties. It helps to alleviate muscle spasms by relaxing the muscles thereby leading to the reduction of pain-related symptoms.
Is useful for all types of pain including abdominal pain, headaches, joint pains, muscle pains, digestive tract spasms, muscle cramps, stomach ache and others.
Can be linked to increasing the body’s ability to repair damaged connective tissue such as cartilage, ligaments and tendons and is thus recommended for these types of injuries.
Improvements in blood circulation.
Its antifungal and antibacterial, lemongrass inhibits bacteria and yeast growth.
It is useful for gastrointestinal infections and may also be applied externally to wounds as it fights germs.
As an antioxidant, lemongrass contributes to liver and pancreatic health by helping the body to more quickly remove toxins.
It has also being linked to lowered or normalized cholesterol levels.
It also treats digestive issues including gastro-enteritis and may be helpful in relieving constipation.
Some sources suggest that lemongrass has antidepressant properties and is thus beneficial for nervous and stress-related conditions.
It is said to be helpful in alleviating anxiety and depressive symptoms. It helps to strengthen the nervous system and may thus be useful for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
The presence of Vitamin A in lemongrass makes it helpful for skin issues such as acne pimples.
It helps to brighten the skin and eyes and clear up oily skin, thus improving acne.
Its antibacterial property is also valuable for skin infections. Lemongrass may improve poor body odor by controlling excessive sweating.
One research study conducted at Ben Gurion University in Israel found that the citral found in lemongrass has possible benefits in inhibiting cancer. It revealed that this compound may contribute to the death of cancer cells with no noted negative effect on normal cells.
In herbal basic training, one must know how to make medicinal teas. I learned that medicinal teas have a higher tea to water ratio. In addition, commercial teas in tea bags have little to no medicinal value because there isn’t enough of the herb in the tea bag to make a difference. If you are looking for a health benefit from commercial tea, buy loose leaf.
I discovered that lemongrass tea has a wonderful strong lemony taste with a back note of grass and I was surprised how much I liked it. As I sipped my cup of tea, I began to think about the possibility of using this tea in a soap recipe along with the dried lemongrass. I already make herbal soaps using dried herbs and essential oils and wondered what would happen if I added tea to my recipe?
Not wanting to waste time, I dried the steeped lemongrass from my pot of tea, measured out enough tea for my soap recipe and began measuring / mixing the rest of my ingredients. My house smelled like the lemon groves I used to visit not far from my childhood home in Southern California. It was invigorating!
The soap is now curing and, as it will be a few weeks before I can test it, I’ll post an update in the coming weeks.
Lemongrass Tea Shrimp Scampi
Here I go again…. While cooking dinner that night, I was hit with another inspiration! My recipe for Shrimp Scampi called for lemon juice so I thought I would add the remaining lemongrass tea to my pan instead of lemon juice. It worked great and my husband, who is my official taste tester, gave me thumbs up!!
(Replaced the lemon juice with the tea)
The success of my experiments will result in my ordering more plants this spring so I can use lemongrass in even more products.
Yes, I admit it. I’ve been having a love affair with chocolate for a very long time. My earliest memories are when I was a young girl sitting around the campfire somewhere in northern California burning my marshmallows into a charcoal stage and smashing it between a piece of Hershey’s chocolate bar and graham cracker squares. Life didn’t get better than that!
At that time, I was naïve about all the things you can do with chocolate. In our house, we had chocolate candy bars and other pure chocolate candies (kisses etc.). On occasion when fondue became a big rage in the 1970’s, I stepped out of the ordinary and had my first chocolate dipped fruit and bread. It was a learning experience for me and opened a few new doors of possibilities.
Then, one day, I got a real education on the coolest use of chocolate when a new girl in my neighborhood who had just moved here from Sweden invited me home for lunch. Her mother served me a chocolate sandwich! Did I hit the jackpot on that lunch! These Swedish kids certainly knew how to live! What is a nine year old supposed to do but eat what’s served to her and compliment the cook by asking for seconds? I thought it best not to tell my Mother what I ate for lunch that day and I never did.
Today, nothing surprises me anymore as everything is covered in chocolate. I still consider myself a chocolate purest and haven’t yet jumped off that cliff to taste all the wacky things dipped, mixed or fried with chocolate. Eating chocolate sandwiches is one thing but I draw the line at chocolate covered bugs! No thank you. I’m good with what I know and love…honestly.
Everyone has their “go to” chocolate, whether it is the high-end stuff or shall I say the “economically” priced stuff. Personally, I have no complaints with high-end chocolate. However, if I really need a hit of chocolate, a plain Hershey’s Kiss or a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar does the trick. No fancy added stuff other than slipping in an almond.
On the other hand, if you ask my Mother what her all-time “go to” favorite brand of chocolate is, she will tell you its Sanders. She grew up in Detroit and Sanders was a local chocolate and ice cream shop that was known for its unbelievably delicious chocolates. If you mention any other brand, she will argue with you until the cows come home that Sanders IS THE ONLY CHOCOLATE WORTH EATING. There is no other company in the world that meets her chocolate standards other than Sanders!
Sanders was founded by German-born Frederick Sanders Schmidt on June 17, 1875, when he opened a candy store on Woodward Avenue at Gratiot in downtown Detroit. (For more information about the Sanders chocolate company click on this link.)
I agree that, for the most part, Sanders does make a wonderful milk chocolate fudge sauce. It’s light years better than that canned liquid syrupy stuff that Hershey’s makes, which I refuse to touch. However, while we waited for a few coveted jars of Sanders chocolate to arrive from our Detroit relatives, my Mother would often make a homemade chocolate sauce that was a lot better than any store bought version we could buy in our dusty high desert town. In fact, I prefer this sauce over Sanders (shh, don’t let my Mother hear this).
Yes, I realize I’m talking heresy and could be disinherited. Sander’s chocolate is close to a religion in my family. But seriously, Grandma’s homemade recipe is pretty darn good. It’s easy to make, the ingredients are simple. I’ve even tried swapping out the evaporated milk for high quality heavy cream, and it’s not the same. You can’t mess with perfection! The evaporated milk just works for some reason.
So my gift to you is share with you my Grandmother’s Homemade Chocolate Sauce Recipe. I think you will enjoy the simple taste of chocolate as much as I do.
Grandma’s Homemade Chocolate Sauce
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup or 1 small can of evaporated milk
Mix all ingredients together and cook over medium to low heat for about 2 – 3 minutes. Just to low boil and stir constantly. It will burn if you let it boil too long.
Serve hot immediately or let it cool and it will set up to a nice thick spreadable fudge.
A New Spin on Grandma’s Recipe – Vegan Style
I have also created a vegan version of this recipe out of necessity. I’m now allergic to dairy products and I’m sad to say I have to limit my consumption of grandma’s chocolate sauce. I created the next best thing. A coconut, chocolate, almond version which I think it tastes pretty good.
Brenda’s Vegan Chocolate Sauce
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons liquid coconut oil (see note below)
½ cup Almond milk unsweetened
Mix all ingredients together and cook over medium to low heat for about 2 – 3 minutes. Just to low boil and stir constantly. It will burn if you let it boil too long.
This sauce is not as thick as the other sauce but it still is pretty nice.
Note: I purchase this oil from Amazon.com
Expanding Chocolate into an Out of Body Experience …
Do you love to bathe in chocolate? I do! Well… not like the woman in the picture above. To bathe in a tub of chocolate is more of a fantasy of mine. However, the next best thing to being in a bath of chocolate is to wash with a nice decadent bar of chocolate soap!
I worked hard on creating this chocolate soap recipe. It had to have that wonderful chocolate smell and feel, plus have the health benefits of leaving your skin moisturized. I use a high quality organic fair trade cocoa powder (70% + cacao) along with fresh local goat’s milk and 3 different oils, which I call my Mediterranean recipe. Nothing is more decadent than bathing with a bar of solid chocolate – you won’t be disappointed! Oh my! Oh my! The smell, the feel! Mmmm – pure heaven.
In addition to washing with a bar of chocolate, try giving yourself a chocolate moisturizing mask. According to Discovery Health and Fitness website they state chocolate is very healthy for your skin.
It may seem counterintuitive, but using a chocolate face mask can help keep skin clear and hydrated, according to Jessica Wu, M.D., a Los Angeles-based dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. The key is using the right ingredients. “Since prepackaged face masks may contain salt or sugar particles with jagged edges that can scratch your skin, I recommend making your own chocolate face mask at home,” says Wu. “They’re cheap to make and all natural so if you accidentally lick your lips, you know its safe enough to eat.”
So here is their recipe for a chocolate face mask. However, I would recommend that you use locally produced honey and organic yogurt from a local farmer instead of using commercial brands. Most large commercial brands contain additional ingredients to prolong shelf life, which may affect your desired results. Check your local co-ops they always have these ingredients in stock.
Chocolate Face Mask
2 – 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (70% cacao or more)
2 – 3 tablespoons of local organic yogurt (add more or less to get the right consistency of a brownie batter)
1 teaspoon of local honey (to keep skin hydrated)
1 teaspoon of olive oil (for really dry skin)
Apply with fingertips to clean, dry skin and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes; rinse with lukewarm water.
Winter is a time for me to regroup, do research and experiment with new ideas. This winter is no exception. Since the first of the year, I’ve been testing all kind of things for possible new product lines and launching new projects (this blog is one of those projects!).
The biggest project is the renovation and conversion of my green house into a commercial aquaponic operation. I’ve hired a start up company call Fresh Farm Aquaponics to install the system and teach me how to use it. More on them and the new system in upcoming posts.
My other projects include expanding my all natural herbal soap line and developing a new specialty line of spa soaps using minerals from around the world. I’m really excited about my new line and will be rolling that out soon. Finally, with the help of my friend Elyse, we are busy testing and developing recipes using micro greens, herbs and other produce that I grown here on the farm with the hopes of publishing a cookbook in the coming year. Just make me another pot of coffee please, I need something to keep me afloat….AHHH!
I recently purchased Giada De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook “Giada Feel Good: My healthy recipes and secrets” While looking through her cookbook, I came across the section about hair (page 198). She talks about home natural beauty treatments for her dry hair. She discusses several of her treatments but one caught my eye and I had to give it a try…on my daughter.
For those of you that don’t know, my daughter Katie has severe Cerebral Palsy. She suffered a stroke the last few weeks of our pregnancy and no one knew it until 3 months later when her Pediatrician, on a hunch that something wasn’t right, referred us to a specialist for an evaluation – our world was changed forever. Needless to say, the news that our beautiful daughter had significant brain damage was devastating for our family.
She is now seventeen years old and years of harsh medications and several major surgeries have taken their toll on her body. Katie is currently on a cocktail of seizure drugs and a few other medications for other organ problems and it’s affecting her hair. Her hair is dry as a bone and she has serious split ends. One drug side effect makes her hair thin out, which is a problem. So when I saw Giada’s home recipes for dry hair I got excited and knew I had to try it on my Katie!
Just two ingredients are needed – 1 small avocado and a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil. Since Katie’s hair was so dry, I used 1/2 cup.
I cut the avocado into pieces, added the olive oil into my blender…
I blended it into a nice green paste. It will be thick and I thought about adding more oil (or water) to thin it out but decided not to. I didn’t want to change anything and follow Giada’s recipe as written in her book.
I started on the top of Katie’s head and scalp and worked it in all the way to the ends of her hair using the entire mixture.
Giada then puts a shower cap over her hair and leaves it in for 10 – 20 minutes. I didn’t have a shower cap so I used plastic wrap instead – worked like a charm. She also states that you may need to wash your hair more than once to get all the oil and avocado residue out.
So I set the timer for 10 minutes, put Katie in the bath tub and gave her a bath. After 10 minutes, I rinsed and washed her hair like I normally do, including adding conditioner. I was surprised only 1 washing was needed – that told me Katie’s hair was really dry and absorbed all those good nutrients. After the final rinse, I could tell right away Katie’s hair FELT softer and healthier. I was getting excited but still needed to hold my enthusiasm for the final test – combing out her hair (her hair is always full of tangles) and seeing how it felt when dry. Would it feel greasy because I didn’t wash all the oily residue out?
A few hours later, her hair was dry and what a difference! It felt so soft, it felt moisturized and healthy and what a shine! I also noticed her split ends looked pretty good.
Here is the before and after pictures – the lighting isn’t exactly the same but either way you can definitely see a difference. Even combing her hair out a day later was easier and tangles were easier to manage than before.
I give this natural home spa treatment my highest rating – Three Happy Faces!!!!! It was easy to create and the results were far beyond my expectations! I will be giving Katie this treatment once a month going forward. Thank you Giada for sharing your hair secrets with us. This recipe really works!