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.

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