Every year Mother’s Day provides us with an opportunity to show our mothers how much we appreciate them. Expensive store-bought gifts aren’t necessary for this special holiday. Instead, surprise your mom with something you’ve made yourself.
Here are three great gifts to make for Mother’s Day - or any other occasion. The projects are easy, but you wouldn’t guess it from the lovely results.
Kitchen supplies and plain, clear soap are all you need to make these luminous bars of soap. They can be any color you like. (The palest, translucent hues are my favorites.) Colors can also be layered together in one bar.
Natural additions make unusual, beautiful soaps. Try poppy seeds, a spiral of citrus peel, oatmeal, fragrant dried herbs or a fern sprig.
For molds, use the bottom of a milk carton to make square soaps, and try smooth-sided tomato-paste cans for cylindrical soaps. Plastic chocolate molds, which come in many shapes and sizes, also work well.
1. Chop bars of unscented glycerin soap (Pure Pleasure is one brand that works well) to yield 2 cups of 1/2-inch chunks. Melt soap in a double boiler or microwave on high for one minute, until melted completely. Skim froth from top. Mix in tiny amounts of liquid food coloring. Blend colors as desired.
For scented soap, add essential oil. (Essentials oils are concentrated, natural, scented oils - the “essence” of the plant from which they are derived. They are available in a vast range of scents, such as lavender, peppermint, lemon, chamomile, coconut and eucalyptus. Look for essential oils at stores that specialize in herbs - often called herbal pharmacies - and specialty bath and beauty shops.)
2. Brush your chosen molds with more essential oil or with vegetable oil. Pour melted soap into the mold and let stand until hardened, about two hours.
To make layers, pour one colored soap into a mold and let it harden for about 20 minutes. Skim off any bubbles, then pour another layer into the mold and let stand until hardened.
The natural additions can be mixed into the melted soap or placed on top of one layer before adding another.
3. Remove the soap from the mold by ripping away the milk carton, opening the can at the bottom and pushing out the soap or inverting the plastic mold and tapping the bottom.
Hardened soaps can be cut into smaller bars.
4. Wrap the soaps in parchment paper or cellophane and tie with a ribbon.
(Molds, soap, dyes and an instruction booklet are also available in a soap-making kit from my mail-order company, Martha By Mail, for $32 plus postage and handling; call (800) 950-7130 for details.)
Scented bath oils
Luxurious bath oils are amazingly simple to make.
They start with plain, inexpensive castor oil, which is available at drugstores. Just pour the oil into a pretty or unusual-looking glass bottle. (Housewares stores carry pretty new bottles, or you can use a vintage one that’s been thoroughly cleaned.)
Next, add essential oil in a favorite scent, or try mixing more than one oil for a custom fragrance.
Use a new cork to stop the bottle. Tie on a tag, or draw a label on self-adhesive paper and stick it to the front of the bottle.
A bottle of this syrup makes a sweet gift. It is delicious over fruit, ice cream and sorbet, and it can also be used to sweeten hot and cold drinks.
The syrup will keep, refrigerated, for up to three months, so it can be made in advance. Here’s the recipe for one quart of syrup:
2 cups blanched whole almonds (10-1/2 ounces)
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Place almonds in a medium bowl and add 2 cups of warm water. Let stand at room temperature for two hours.
Transfer the soaked almonds and the water to a food processor and puree. Pour the puree into a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl; press hard to extract as much liquid as possible.
Pour 2 more cups warm water over the almonds and press again to extract more liquid. Discard solids.
Pour the almond milk through a fine sieve into a saucepan, add the sugar and stir to combine. Simmer over low heat until the mixture reaches about 180 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer (about 1 hour).
Stir in almond extract.
Pour syrup into a clean, 1-quart glass bottle or jar, let cool and cover.
Keep syrup refrigerated and use within three months.
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