Sunday, March 31, 2013

Six Months of Soap


Let's start with the dirt this time. I started my indoor seeds last week under fluorescent lights, along with a heating mat to keep warm during Ohio spring nights and facilitate sprouting. Other than a few reluctant cells, most are up, marking the beginning of their life dedicated to feeding my family or as additives to my soap. While our winter wasn't so bad, just nice metered out snow and cold, spring has been reluctant. Yesterday was the first day the family could get out and clean up the beds. I started a lasagna garden last spring, and yes, it will include vegetables meant for lasagna, but refers to how it was created alternating layers of mulch, compost, and grass right over the grass and hard clay Ohio soil. No digging required. All last summer it cooked and compressed and now it's a thing of beauty...dark, rich, and loaded with worms, but still too wet for cool crop planting.


Instead of an exhaustive blow by blow of every soap I've made in the last 6 months, I'll give a brief overview. I started with small one and two pound batches. A coworker, Maria, was learning how to make soap too. Right away it was clear we had very different soap making personalities and objectives. She was all about production. No kidding, she started with 4 pound batches scenting with different fragrance oils, but otherwise using the same recipe. Unfortunately, she lost a few batches. I wanted to experiment with different recipes and oils, so stayed small in case I did ruin a batch.  I prefer essential oils since they smell REAL and behave better. I've used several citrus oils, peppermint, spearmint, cedarwood, lavender, patchouli, ylang-ylang, marjoram, palmarosa, and carrot seed.  I'm by nature, a nervous Nelly and fast accelerating fragrance oils stress me out. One fragrance I do like is Brambleberry's oatmeal, milk, and honey fragrance. I used just a touch in a shea  oatmeal soap which was real popular with my friends and family, so I suppose, they have their place, but not my preference.

Here's a list of the oils I've used so far: coconut oil, olive oil, castor, canola, apricot kernel, avocado, rose hip seed oil, hazelnut, sunflower, cocoa butter, mango butter, and shea butter. I've tried a number of swirl techniques including, faux funnel, in the pot swirl, hangar swirl, impressionistic style, droplet effect, peacock swirl, dream catcher technique, two and 3 color mantra, layering, peacock swirl. I've played with a number of different colorants including natural colorants like paprika, turmeric, activated charcoal, and cocoa and oxide colorants.  I've used slab molds, loaf molds, and PVC tubes for round soaps. I've made milk soaps, carrot milk soaps and soaps using green tea, coffee and chocolate. It seems like a lot, but there is so much I still want to try and I guess, the reason I felt compelled to start a blog. Here's a picture of my two last batches.
The one on the right was the dream catcher soap scented with lavender, litsea, grapefruit and a wee bit of peppermint. I used cold process, oven  process on both of these. The only flaw, a slight pimpled surface from soap bubbles, I take, Once dried sufficiently, I had to spiff them up with my dedicated vegetable peeler. The one on the left was a patchouli, orange, spice soap. l threw in some soap balls from a previous Christmas soap that refused to come out of the mold. I love soap. I probably have 5 bars at a time in my shower so I choose something to wake up or wind down.

I'm in hot pursuit of the fancy soap top. I have yet to accomplish this. My last batch was nice and thick, but still, the top flattened out. What is the secret? Should I stick it in the freezer a bit? It seems counter intuitive since I'm later going to throw it in the oven, as I loved a gelled soap.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Blog-Dirt and Soap


It's been a long time since I've blogged. This is my third blog, Soap & Dirt, to ramble about my latest passions. The soapmaking is a new bug that hit about last August. My grandmother was a utilitarian soap maker, making just enough of the beige-colored rough-hewn chunks made from pork lard to keep her family in the clean. She used to store it under her bathroom sink in the large round plastic container, an old hospital wash basin, I suspect, and probably the same container used to mold it. My goodness, when it was done, she must have taken a sledge hammer to it to break it up. I thought it was beautiful. I loved the smell. When I was little, I'd crawl under the sink and dig em out and admire them. She passed away a few years ago and the last of her soap has been used up. My sister suggested we learn how to do it, but frankly, the thought of using lye terrified us, and there it remained--something on the bucket list yet to be done.

Last September my husband and I dragged the kids out to the Yankee Peddler Festival. Over a huge area, vendors sprawled over meadows or nestled within tiny forest clusters selling their wares--lots of jewelry and gorgeous wood work, mostly.  I stopped at a soap vendor whose specialty was olive oil and beeswax formulas for lotion, creams, lotion bars and soaps, while my teenagers and my husband stood back and waited for me to sniff my way through the little hut. A wholesome middle-aged woman, decked out in period prairie gear, and holding a basket smiled, and gave her pitch. What hit me was this women had flawless skin!--and so did the four or five other ladies working the booth. Now, certainly, this humble small company, Morning Song Gardens, didn't import face models holding baskets to work their shows. I bought a sheer green organza bag filled with an all natural soap, a pomegranate/calendula cream, and a small lotion bar. Now, while my skin isn't too bad in that I don't have a ton of wrinkles--it's come at the expense of a lifetime of oil slick skin, clogged pores,  pores visible from 6 feet, and zits. Shame on me for not expecting much, but this stuff was fabulous. I wrote raving testimonials on their website and ordered more. My skin wasn't oily anymore. I didn't have to use 6 grease absorbing blotter things to get through a work day, nor was my skin dry. It was Mama Bear just right and was just the shot of motivation I needed to make this stuff myself! And there you have obsession with all things soap, oil, and essential oils was born.

Two of my other passions are quite dirty--gardening and trail running. I blogged myself silly for several years about the running, but got tired of it. I still run, max a half-marathon, a few times a year. My gardening started many years ago, when my two children were just babies, but back then, didn't have the Internet or cool things like blogs to chronicle the adventures. Now, since I've discovered soap, I want to expand my gardening to include things in my soaps or cosmetic preparations. With gardening, there is dirt, and when dirty, one needs a bath, which requires soap. So, there you have it--practically like yin and yang--only with soap and dirt.

By day, I work full-time as a Career Development Specialist for a university. So, in between writing resumes and preparing my students for the job search, I dream of my next batch of soap.