Friday, September 15, 2017

Soapy Friday - Skulltastic!

Happy Friday everyone!

It's really been a tough week for many in Florida, including some of my own family members who were affected my hurricane Irma. I wanted to lighten the mood a little, so I used my skull(s) to bring in some fun!

Apple-Pear and Cinnamon Skull Soap
The thing about making seasonally inspired bath products, you have to start preparing a few months ahead of each holiday. Especially with soap, which can take 4-6 weeks to cure. Also, trends change. so it's good to see how things will look or behave before you sell or give them to friends & family.

Plus it's just fun to play around!

Skull Bath Bomb...waiting for testing.
In addition to making some fun stuff, I had to use my real skull and start this jewelweed and plantain leaf hot olive oil infusion. I went and picked some jewelweed and plantain leaves this week to make this. After it was done, I strained it and put in in the refrigerator.

Next, I'd like to make a jewelweed tea, which will happen next week, and go from there. I plan to make some awesome, anti-itch soap and salve with these infused oils and liquid. Can't wait!

Jewelweed & Plaintain Olive Oil Infusion

Friday, September 08, 2017

Hang in there Florida!

Boy, this has been a stressful couple of weeks for our family. We have family in Houston affected by hurricane Harvey, and of course most of our family is in Florida, including Key West and on the east coast.

Some of my dearest friends, like Mary, are near or in Orlando and they are going to be raked right up the center of the state. Hang in there everyone!

My heart and prayers are with you all.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Garden in September

September is usually a busy month for us, as it has us aerating, fertilizing, liming, and overseeding the lawn. In addition, I have quite a bit of plants to relocate and we need to rebuild our fire pit too.

We've finally gotten a reprieve from this summer's brutal heat and lack of rain. August started out rough, but turned out to be actually "normal-ish" as far as what to expect weather-wise. So far for this month, it's been a dream and almost "fall-ish" with rainy days and temps even into the 40's at nighttime.

It's a big difference from last September, which was still very hot at this time.

The veggie garden is dwindling down. Most of the tomatoes were taken down and the bush beans are still putting out an impressive harvest. I'm not a fall veggie gardener, with the exception of planting garlic when we want it the following year. It's tempting though, especially when the weather is as nice as it's been these past few weeks.

In fact, I might not grow a veggie garden at all next year, as I would like to focus on developing the perennial gardens on the property.

The back perennial bed has gone rogue with milkweed, which I love. I planted some years ago and it reseeds each spring.

I was tickled to death to see about 10 of these cuties munching away on the milkweed. They are Monarch caterpillars, and by the looks of it, they will be pupating in the next few days. As much as it is important to grow nectar plants for the butterflies, it's even more important to grow host plants for the caterpillars. Without them, the butterflies won't survive. Sadly, Monarch butterflies are now endangered.

I consider my little milkweed patch to be an oasis in a desert. It takes a while for Monarch butterflies to find your "patch" and remember to come back to it each year. Hopefully, this means we will have even more next year!

The hummingbirds have been fierce this year! There must have been 7-10 "squeakers" buzzing around the property this summer. I had to put up 2 extra feeders to lesson the fighting and tension. Let no one tell you these little birds are sweet and timid; they are not! They will fiercely guard food sources and the "hummer wars" can be intense to watch.

They are boldly curious too. Whenever I go out in the yard, it's not uncommon for one of them to come over and check me out by hovering about 2 feet away from me for a few minutes. They are smart and can recognize familiar faces, just like crows and ravens. I think they know I'm the one that brings the good stuff!

Every August/September I look forward to my big patch of perennial begonia blooming. The bees simply adore the flowers and I think they look almost like cherry blossoms.

One thing I am THRILLED to have found recently - not on my property, but down the road from where I live - is Jewelweed. Jewelweed is a plant that is very well known for it's natural ability to lesson the effects of poison ivy, psoriasis, and eczema itching. In fact, it's called "nature's poison ivy remedy".

I've been reading about it recently and how people use it to make soap and salves. It is known to grow all along the east coast and I've desperately wanted to get my hands on some seeds. Imagine how ecstatic I was to have spotted this growing along side a country road on my way to the grocery store last weekend!

I definitely plan to come back with my tick repellent clothes on and harvest some of this for soap and salves.

Elsewhere on our property, we had our tree guys out last weekend to grind-up about 8 tree stumps in the yard. These areas will either be turned into perennial beds or overseeded with grass. It's nice not having to mow around them now.

Summer is over and I am glad. Every fall I look forward to the last mow and tucking everything away for the season. I look forward to having the break and turning my energy elsewhere, which will now be making itch remedy soap!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Soapy Friday - Soap Behaving Badly

Happy Friday everyone! I'm sooooo glad this is a holiday weekend; it's been a long week and my heart goes out to the people affected my hurricane Harvey in Texas. My brother-in-law lives in northeast Houston, but fortunately lives on a higher bluff and has only had very little damage and is currently without power. He is one of the lucky ones.

This week, I am going to be talking about naughty soap, but really, this should post should be titled, "SOAP: WHY DID IT DO THAT?"

I've had more inconsistencies on my soap journey than not and it's frustrating. To be fair, half of my frustration comes from my own inexperience and errors, and in those cases I know what I did wrong. However, the other times I'm like, "WTH ?!!!"

Example #1 - Colors aren't always what they seem. 

I made a gorgeous lavender essential oil soap this week and I wanted purple in the design. You would think I would use a purple colored natural pigment (mica) right? Well my friends, this is an example of how colors can morph during saponification and using it to your advantage.

In this case, I knew this BLUE color would turn PURPLE, as it happened to me by accident in another batch. This is why it is so important to take good notes!

When blue = purple

Example #2 - What are those white splotches/streaks?

This one has been wracking my brain for a while. What is it? Aesthetically annoying soda ash? Stearic streaks? Lye pockets? Every once in a while I get a batch of soap that has these in them and it forces me to do a "what did I do differently" run-down of my process and ingredients in my head.

Mystery streaks

What is it?
Finally I bought some pH testing strips to at least eliminate the possibility of my soap being lye-heavy. It is not.

Cold process soap is naturally alkaline with a pH of around 9-10. This pH helps to gently clean the skin. All of my soaps average around 9.5 to 10.5, which is awesome!

Perfect pH
So, what are those streaks/splotches? This particular batch of soap was a larger, 5 lb. batch and I believe that when I poured the hot oils into the cold oils there was a sort of "thermodynamic shock" that happened. Both soda ash and stearic spots are both caused by inconsistencies in temperature, so that could very well be the case. There are a few things that I can do that can ensure consistent temps, such as heating all my oils in larger batches. Another theory is that I need to mix my batter a bit more and bring it to a good solid, medium trace.

Example #3 - What are those bumps?

These are some 100% olive oil soaps that I made in my cube mold. After a while, these bumps appeared on only one side of the bars; what are they? Again, I pH tested the cubes to be sure they were not lye-heavy. They were a perfect 10 for pH.

Weird bumps on soap
So, after some thought, I realized that when I umolded these cubes, the soap was still very soft. When they came out of the mold, the bottoms of the soap sort of stuck to the mold and then released. Those bumps are the equivalent of sticking your finger in a perfectly frosted cake and then lifting it up!

I can simply use a planer to plane off the bumps or give them a wash to make them pretty.

These cubes were super soft

Friday, August 25, 2017

10 Year Anniversary

Ten years ago today, I married the love of my life. Although we've been together for almost 15 years, it seems like it has flown by in a flash.

The perfect day!
I've never shared how we met, and it's adorably nerdy.

I think this is the first picture I have of us together. We had only been dating a few months here, and we met at a Technical Writing professional organization meeting that previous fall. Both of us were SO serious and into what we were doing at the time. I joke and say we were Tech Writers in love!

Tech Writers in love...silently judging your grammar since 2002
It seems fitting this month has been extremely hectic, as 10 years ago, the month of August 2007 was a crazy month too. We finished our grad school program finals earlier in the month (Univ. Central Florida...go Knights!), then hubby-to-be went on a business trip for a few days to come back just in time for the wedding.

MAs with an attitude!
While he was gone, I worked and continued to wrap-up all the wedding and honeymoon details, including making our amazing Carrot Cake wedding cake. It's all a blur now.

Our wedding was very small and it was a perfect day in every way. Even the typical Florida summer afternoon rain showers held off until after we had finished the ceremony and had pictures taken. I know this is cliche to say, but it truly was one of the happiest days of my life. We were just so darn happy and full of joy, love, and relief that day.

They tossed bird seed instead of rice
These past 10 years have been amazing, and I'm so grateful to say that we've been very graced to have had many more good times than bad. We've had so much fun on this journey together, which is truly a lucky gift to have in another person.

Now, we're a little bit grayer, and a little bit fatter, but we still count the laughter more than the years. Happy anniversary to the most adorable, caring, handsome, and loving husband in the whole wide world!

Still laughing and loving a decade later

Friday, August 18, 2017

Soapy Friday - Espresso and Another Honey Soap

Happy Friday everyone! This week I've been getting my groove back on in cold processing soapmaking and I think I've found my sweet spot.

I was SO happy to get back after my last curing wait period and crazy lye mix-up Frankensoap. BTW, all of the soaps I've made since implementing my fully melted oils have turned out spectacular. I've tried them all out in the shower and they've all been silky smooth with a great, bubbly lather. Even the rebatched Honey soap from last week was a hit! I tried it this week and it's amazing.

So, with all my new-found knowledge of oil melting practices and lye concentration, I wanted to try out my Espresso fragrance oil from to make an espresso soap.

Look how daggone cute it turned out! I wanted it to look like a cup of latte, with foam on top, and it smells AMAZEBALLS....sort of like a hazelnut espresso.

Espresso Soap...drink it up!

I also wanted to try out ye-old Honey Soap for the hundredth time (if nothing else I'm tenacious) using different water amounts and lye concentration and I feel really good about it. I was able to unmold in LESS than 24 hours and I'm very confident this will feel amazing once it's cured.

Still, I used my original recipe and would like to incorporate another hard oil like cocoa butter in it, so it may evolve even more.

I just unmolded and cut this yesterday, which is why it has such a light color to it:

Honey Soap...batch #27

Friday, August 11, 2017

Soapy Friday - Rebatching Soap

So what do you do while you are waiting for your shipment of Sodium Hydroxide (lye) to come in and you want to make soap? Why, you rebatch some of your older soap into something new!

New old soap
I'm practically chomping at the bit to get back into real soap making. With my last Frankensoap disaster, I've had to reorder the correct lye and wait, wait, wait. I ordered from, which is an AMAZING supply company, but dang it takes FOR EVER to receive their orders. It averages anywhere from 10-14 days for me to get my orders from them, as they are on the West coast in Washington state. For this reason, I normally don't order from them unless I want something specific and even then I wait till I have a big enough order to make it worth the wait.

ANYWHO, so I'm rebatching some of my previous batches of soap where I didn't like how they turned out. Rebatching (also sometimes called milling) is where you shred-up hard soap, melt it back down using a cooking method, add a new color or fragrance if desired, and then remold it. Most home soapers use soap-only crockpots to rebatch or hot process soap.

So, if you buy soap that's been "triple milled" it means that it was made, shredded-up, remelted, and remolded three times. Milling soap is said to make it a more solid and creamier soap, but I'm no expert.

Shreddings ready for rebirth
Rebatching soap has many benefits of being able to reuse soap that didn't turn out as expected, or if you forgot to add an ingredient, or even if you'd like to add finicky fragrances that react badly during the traditional lye/oil/water saponification process. Since rebatched soap has already saponified, fragrances won't behave badly or fade like some are prone to do in cold or hot process soap methods. Some soapers do nothing but rebatched soap for this very reason. They buy bulk orders of unscented and uncolored soap and turn it into what they want.

Another plus is rebatched soap can be used right away, but does benefit from a few days-to-a-week of drying time. The only downside that I can see to rebatching soap is that it often is more difficult to make into pretty designs and it looks more "rustic".

So, I decided to rebatch some of my old Honey Soap where I didn't melt the oils down hot enough during initial processing and the soaps felt a little scratchy when used. I added just a touch more Pure Honey fragrance oil to the melted batter before molding.

Honey Soap reborn
I think they turned out surprisingly well and from the sample sliver I tried in the sink to wash my hands, they are silky smooth to use! I will know for sure in a few days.

Yesterday, I shred-up and rebatched my old Pear Lime and Cucumber Melon soaps that didn't turn out the way I wanted. I was hoping the shreds would melt down to a very light green and I wanted to rescent with "Apple Sage" fragrance oil.

They turned out adorable and I even stamped them with a generic soap stamp.

Rebatched as "Apple Sage" for fall
Rebatching is a lot of fun; I shredded, melted/cooked, molded, unmolded, and cut that "Apple Sage" soap in a single day! The good news is my lye order came in yesterday so I'm back on track...I have a lot of catching up to do.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Black Krim, Green Zebra and Gold Medal Tomatoes

It's that time of year again to taste-test and compare some of the heirloom tomatoes I've grown in the garden. Every year I like to grow different varieties to see what's-what, but very few actually make it back to take up valuable space in the garden beds.

This year, I grew "Black Krim," "Green Zebra," and "Gold Medal" along with my standby ultimate favorite heirloom "Brandywine Sudduth's Strain".

Black Krim
"Black Krim" is a deep purple beefsteak tomato that is supposed to have a deep, rich, almost smoky flavor. This heirloom wins tomato-tasting contests all the time, so I had to give it a try.

"Black Krim" tomato
The plants were productive and the fruit beautiful; however, I wasn't impressed. I found it to be mild, slightly sweet, lightly acidic, and it did have a very slight smokiness to it. This is a good tomato if you have issues with eating acidic foods. I think "Black From Tula" is a better-tasting purple beefsteak.

Green Zebra
"Green Zebra" was a wonderful surprise this year!. It's a small, plum-sized, green-striped tomato that is said to have a bright, high-acid, almost "citrusy" flavor profile. I've read that this tomato is amazing sliced on top of a crab-cake sandwich.

"Green Zebra" tomato
It's flavor description is spot-on, as well as having a nice depth of all-over-tomato-flavor. Since this is a green tomato, I was confused/concerned as to when to know when to pick it. Luckily for me, the variety that I grew turned its stripes yellow when it was ripe.

The only issue with this tomato was I noticed it had a tendency towards blossom-end rot, even when given bone meal at planting. I've never had this issue w/my other tomatoes, so it's something to keep in mind. The 2-3 plants I had only had a few fruit that got BER, so it wasn't too bad.

This is a keeper tom for sure. We loved it.

Gold Medal
"Gold Medal" tomato is a hearty, yellow/blush, beefsteak tomato that is quoted to be "the sweetest tomato you've ever tasted," and boy were they right! It's definitely sweet...almost too sweet and I prefer my tomatoes to be on the more savory/acidic side. It's a mild (almost watered down, IMO) tomato, lightly acidic, and would be great for people who are watching their acid intake.

But talk about being super fun to grow! Check out this 2 lb. monster I picked from one of my plants!

A 2 lb. Monster Tom

2 lbs and counting...
Almost all of the fruit from this plant were this size. In fact, I'm going to enter my tomato in our local paper as the largest tom and see if I win!

As far as yellow beefsteaks go, I much preferred last year's "Mr. Stripey" for flavor.

More and More Tomatoes
This summer has definitely kept us busy. Our late, cool spring allowed our plants to set extra fruit and I think we are at about 150 lbs picked so far. I'm done with canning tomatoes for the season. No more!

After this, it will be Herbed Roasted Tomatoes, Tomato Basil Butter, and giving what's left away to friends and neighbors.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

It's blissfully raining this Monday morning, with the occasional thunder. That means both cats have disappeared and are hiding - they hate thunderstorms and Chaz doesn't even like the sound of rain.

It's been a while since I wrote a GKM post, as life has been hectic, but fortunately the kitteh life has been mostly boring...

I'm cute and I know it!
Miss Thang is still on Prozac, although just the tiniest amount possible (2.5 mg). We have found it's just enough to help her manage stress/anxiety, but not be a recluse. She seems happy and balanced. Time will tell if we will keep her on it.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Soapy Friday - The Story of Frankensoap

I'm convinced that if you think you've figured something out and get a little cocky, God says, "Here, hold my beer. Watch this!"

Well, do I have a doozy for you! Please, sit down and pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea...

So last week, I was pretty sure I had this whole lye concentration, oil, and water thing figured out and I was anxious to get back to my trials. I wanted to make my friend Mary a batch of Patchouli soap because I know she loves Patchouli.

Well to make a very long story short and after making a big-ol' hot mess (literally), I present to you the first batch of soap that I had to throw away...Frankensoap:

A big log of sticky gunk

Ultimately, what happened was instead of ordering and using Sodium Hydroxide, which is used to make HARD soap, I accidentally ordered Potassium Hydroxide, which is used to make LIQUID soap. Both containers look the same and I did not check the label.

I didn't realize this HUGE, HUGE, HUGE screw-up until after I had wrangled with this once cold-process, then hot-processed to save, rebatched and whipped soap into the mold. After cleaning up, I sat down on the couch and was wracking my brain to figure out what I had done wrong.

I scrolled through all my Pinterest pins and blogs and websites for info and something stood out...earlier I was reading about how to make shaving soap, which is made with both Sodium and Potassium Hydroxide, and I thought, "WAIT A MINUTE....did I? NOOOO!"

Yep, I used the wrong lye and ended up with a big log of sticky gunk. So, the moral of the story is...

Yes, a bitch indeed.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Soapy Friday - More Tomatoes and Masterbatching Math

Happy Friday everyone! We're finally going to get some rain today, but first, a tomato windfall.

I went outside this morning to pick "Oh, 12-or-so tomatoes" and this is what I came back with...

Oh well, no rest for the weary or wicked.

On to soap, shall we?

It’s been an exciting week of sorts in the soap department. First, I finally was able to try out my “Summer Melon” soap and it was perfectly smooth and silky to use…no grit or scratchiness at all and it smelled wonderful! This is the green light I was waiting for to go forward.

"Summer Melon" measured up 
I’ve also been using my “Lovespell” soap and it is amazeballs; I’m so happy!

"Lovespell" soap and bath bombs...coming to a friends and family soon!
Secondly, I am going to geek out a little and talk about science. Specifically, soap science. So, if your eyes start to glaze over, you won't offend me. :-)

I’ve been curious about what is called “masterbatching” in soapmaking, which is not to be confused with Masterblaster from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”. But wouldn’t it be fun if these two made soap?

Let's go make soap!
Anywho, masterbatching is where you pre-mix large amounts of your lye water solution and oils in separate containers and set them aside for when you need to make soap. If, say, you want to make soap, instead of individually weighing and combining all your ingredients each time, you’d have them all pre-mixed in separate “masterbatches”. All you’d need to do is scoop/measure out what you’d need from each and be on your merry-little-way. This saves a TON of time in prep-work!

Specifically, I wanted to learn about masterbatching lye water. I didn’t really know you could do this and could set it aside at room temperature. Traditionally, when you mix lye with water, it heats up to about 180°, and then you have to wait till it cools down to around 100° before you can make soap. This can take about an hour or more. I often mix my lye water solution first and then I have to go find something else to do until it’s ready.

If you masterbatch your lye water, it’s always ready when YOU ARE, instead the other way around. The tricky part about this is you often have to calculate, based on your recipe, how much lye water solution to add to your oils to make soap, as the lye and water are no longer two separately measurable ingredients.

For example, if you make a 50/50 masterbatched lye water solution (meaning 50% of that solution is lye and 50% is water) and your recipe calls for 4.61 oz. of lye and 9.15 oz. of water, how much of the concentrated lye water solution would you need instead of the 2, separate ingredients?

To go even deeper, if you needed to add MORE liquid to that 50/50 lye solution to make your recipe, how much would you need to add?


This is me in real life
IKR? It sounds like one of those annoying math word problems on a test. And believe me, I've been banging my head around trying to understand this, BUT I'm pretty confident I've got a handle on it. 

You see,  through this I've learned there are two types of people in the soapmaking world: Those who calculate their recipes based on water as a % of oils and those who calculate their recipes based on the lye concentration requirements for each recipe. 

Most "newbies" (including myself) and casual crafters have used the former. In fact, most DIY and craft websites use the "water as a % of oils" approach to calculate a soap formula. It's the easiest and most forgiving to understand and grasp, but it's not consistent and leaves room for error, as it assumes that ALL oils are the same and saponify at the same rate.

You see, each oil has it's own separate saponification requirements...some oils (such as olive oil) need more lye to turn them into soap, and some oils (such as coconut) need less. When calculating a recipe basing the water requirements as a % of  the total amount of oils, it assumes that all oils in the recipe, regardless of what they are, need the same amount of water/lye amount. 

If you are calculating your recipe based on the lye concentration requirements necessary for all the different oils in the recipe, it's more precise and reliable. I REALLY could go into nerdom and talk to the different percentages of lye concentration mixes and how they perform in soapmaking, but I think this is enough for now.  In fact, I'm probably not explaining what I have explained exactly's complicated.

I've run some of my previous recipes back thru using the lye concentration vs. water as a % of oils approach and have been shocked and validated on the results and my hunches. This is why some of my recipes haven't been doing what I've wanted them to do and I'm confident that things will be going in a MUCH different direction from here on.

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