Sunday, August 14, 2011

This is your brain on soap...

Some Seriously Pink Soap!

I've been trying to figure out a way to show you the different stages of cooking a batch of soap because it is some pretty fascinating stuff, but my main problem was that I don't usually like to color my soap (I get a thrill out of seeing the natural variations in color that the soap produces on its own based on the ingredients in it) and I figured it'd be harder to see the action on "blank" soap.  Because I had been wanting to make some watermelon-scented soap for a while, I figured that by coloring the soap pink it would make it easier to see all the crazy things that the soap does at the various stages of the cooking process.

I decided I was going to make some Agua de Sandia soap.  Those of you who are familiar with aguas frescas have already started drooling, I guar-ohn--teee!  Agua de sandia literally translates to "watermelon water" and is a tasty and super refreshing Mexican concotion.  All you do is blend watermelon, sugar, and water and serve it over ice.  That's the simple version - I'll get to the fancified version in a bit.

Some soapmakers use a little trick of adding sugar to their soap in order to make it lather more.  A spoonful of sugar not only helps the medicine go down, it also helps the bubbles go up!  This saves them from having to invest in pricey oils or additives that would boost the soap's lather.  I figured this was the perfect thing to do for this batch, since my recipe called for watermelon scent and water and all I needed was sugar in order to make it a true agua de sandia formula.  The problem?  I didn't have sugar in my pantry.  Technically.  What I DID have was a box of sugar cubes.  Sugar cubes make me happy because they're like tasty Legos.  Who can resist building sweet little structures out of those teensy squares??  I was a little nervous about how hard it would be to mix the cubes into the lye water, but thanks to my stick blender everything worked out juuuusssst fine.

Here I am thinking, "Hmmm, sugar cubes....  Should IIIII or shouldn't I?" 
(Yes, I am aware of the fact that I am sweating profusely.  Monsoon season makes for one very muggy environment and my little swamp cooler is useless at providing any sort of relief.  Useless!!!)
After beating the living tar out of the sugar cubes in the lye water, I poured the mixture into the oils.  This is when the saponification process begins. Here's my stick blender whirring away and mixing everything together.   It looks almost celestial, kind of like the stick blender is the center of a pink nebula.

Stick blending the oils and lye
After blending for a bit, the soap thickens up and gets to what is called the "trace" stage.  This is where it leaves a pattern behind when you pick up the spoon or blender.  There are different stages of trace and each one serves a different purpose.  For example, if you want to make those awesome swirls in the column swirl video I shared, you take your soap to a really light trace.  I take mine to a really thick trace before setting the crock pot on and starting the cooking process.  See:

Pink Pudding!!
(Or soap at thick trace, if you wanna get all technical on me!)
Once you start cooking the soap, the first thing it does is start to "turn" on itself.  The edges start rising up and curling over, like so:

Run for yer liiiiives!  It's a Pepto Bismol tidal wave!  :O
After some more cooking time, the wave gets bigger and bigger....  This is actually my favorite part because when you look in the middle you can see a little pool of glycerine forming.  This is part of the magic of making your own soap.  The chemical reaction between lye and oil magically creates glycerine.  Glycerine is really good for your skin because it helps to moisturize it.  When commercial soap manufacturers make their soap, they take out the glycerine and sell it seperately because the glycerine is worth more than the soap.  Who do they sell it to?  To companies that make lotion!  Those brilliant bastards!  When you take the glycerine out of the soap it leaves you dry and itchy, so you go running for lotion for relief.  Sneaky sneaky!!

*cue "Glycerine" by Bush (...the band, not Sr. or W.)*  
It's starting to look like a half-brain, dontcha think?
After some more cooking time, the soap wave completely takes over.  If you get the soap too hot, it foams right up and can crawl right out of the crockpot and attack everything around it.  Think of the movie, "The Blob."  EEEK!!!

What do you see in this "cloud" of soap batter? 
I see that the poor Cheshire cat suffered a tragic accident involving an acid peel and a garbage disposal, resulting in his face looking like a chewed wad of bubble gum... 

Once the soap has finished cooking, you let it cool down a little bit and then mix in your scent and whatever additives you might have set aside.  You stir stir stir, and then glop your smelly taters into your mold.

Ooooh, pink mashed potatoes! Nom nom nom!!!

Once the soap has cooled down and hardened, you pop it out of the mold and cut it into bars.  I like to let mine sit for a week or two in order to harden and dry a bit more, but the nice thing about hot process soap is that it's ready to use as soon as it comes out of the mold.  Sweeet.

How many of you remember the Log jingle on Ren & Stimpy?  Good times.

Hope you enjoyed seeing the different stages of soap!  I was honestly surprised at how pink this batch turned out.  Holy hot pink, Batman!!   Next time I'll tone it down a little.  As it was cooking and bubbling away, it looked like a big throbbing brain.  Mojo Jojo immediately came to mind, although I also couldn't help but think of Pinky and the Brain...  hmm, guess I had cartoons on the brain and it wasn't even Saturday morning! I'm already plotting my next batch of Agua de Sandia soap based on a fancy version of the drink that I found online.  It calls for agave nectar and mint, both of which I happen to have handy.  I have packets of peppermint tea sitting around begging to be used, and I think the contents of them will look nice swirled into the soap because the tea leaf flecks are dark, so it'll make them look like watermelon seeds.  AY CARAMBA, I can't wait!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jason's Birthday Buzz beer soap

Beer Soap for Jason

Every Sunday, a group of us gather to play volleyball.  The official name varies between Bisbee Extreme Volleyball (with a side of Extreme Bocce Ball) and Drunk Volleyball, depending on who you ask.  I look forward to Sundays because I get to spend time with people I really like and I get to showcase my utter lack of 1) athleticism, 2) coordination, and 3) shame.  I have a ball being terrible at volleyball, and I'm actually pretty surprised that they haven't asked me to stop showing up yet.  Bless their kind and mostly patient and okay-with-losing-if-they're-on-my-team hearts.  I'm terrified of the ball, as you can see in this pic of Melissa getting all Randy "Macho Man" Savage on Jason's arse. 

Jason is the mastermind behind the weekly volleyball gathering.  Each year there is a lot of buzz surrounding his birthday because he throws himself one hell of a bash, and each year a lot of people get buzzed at said partay.  :P  This was my first year attending the party, and I was amazed at the number of tents that people set up for the night.  This is how epic the party is, people actually camp out!  Being the wild and crazy party animal that I am, the highlight of my night was having a 3-year-old little boy show me how to roast marshmallows; I was back home and in bed by 10 PM.  The next day at volleyball, I was chatting with Jason's 13-year-old daughter, Eva, and she said she went to bed around 2 AM.  I think I need to get out more. 

My tradition is to give people soap for their birthdays.  I'm waiting for someone to get insulted by my present one of these days by thinking that I'm hinting that they need to bathe more.  ;)  Because I knew how big Jason's party was going to be, I hatched an idea that instead of giving him soap the night of his birthday, I'd instead make soap for him from the leftover beer that flowed freely at his party.  Call it a sort of sentimental souvenier, if you will.  I'm all about that. 

Those of you that haven't tried beer soap yet are totally missing out.  Beer makes awesome soap.  It adds to the lathery magic of soap and imparts color to it as well as the slightest hint of nutty scent (unless you drown it out with other scents).  I think this is entirely appropriate, since beer makes people slightly nutty too.  Slightly.  ;)  Stout beer makes dark bars of soap and light beer makes light colored soap.  Jason had kegs of locally brewed beer on tap at his party.  If you're not familiar with Dave's Electric Beer, check out the info and cool pics of his Bisbee brewery here.  If you're not familiar with Bisbee itself, let me just tell you that we take beer pretty seriously around these here parts.  Case in point:  our Brewery Gulch.  Google that shiz, people! 

Anyways, the day after his bday Jason rolls up to the volleyball court like a badass with a keg in the back of his truck.  I had a little Tupperware bowl ready to go.  Feeling very much like Oliver Twist and trying very hard not to say "Please, sir, I want some more" in my best orphaney accent, I approached Jason with my idea of stealing some of his beer to make him some soap.  Lucky for me, none of the men there chased me away for trying to commite the sacrilege of using beer for something other than drinking.  I reassured Jason that Eva wouldn't smell like beer if she used my soap.  That would likely be frowned upon by her teachers at Lowell Junior High.  :P  His son Roman (the fastest volleyball retriever in the west), however, is in high school and would probably earn street cred points amongst his peers for smelling like a brewery.  ;) 

The magic's in the mix:
beer and agave.
(I love that they're the same color!)

I decided to throw some agave nectar into the batch  because it's only natural to pair beer and tequila.   Call it a crazy hunch, but I'm thinking people at the party partook in the imbibing of tequila along with the beer.  The natural sugars in agave pump up the volume of the soap's lather as well, so why the heck not add it?! In case you haven't noticed, I happen to live in the southwest and agave plants grow wild around here, so why not use local stuff in locally made soap?  Represent!!

Nope, you're not looking into a glass of beer. 
This is what the "batter" of beer soap looked like
as it went into the crock pot to do its saponification thang!

Broke-ass soapers out there, if you can get your hands on some free beer, try brewing up a batch of beer soap!  If someone is ready to toss out some old beer that went flat or is no longer drinkable, snatch it up and use it in soap!  Consider it the best kind of recycling there is and go around bragging about how green and earth friendly AND skin friendly you are by making beer soap.  Let me warn you, though: because you are replacing all of your water in the batch with beer, you have to be extra careful when mixing the lye into it because it gets very hot and very angry and can volcano all over you if you're not careful and take the proper precautions.  It also stinks like a mofo until you incorporate the oils, after which it instantly smells nice and nutty and hoppy.  Making beer soap is definitely an adventure and definitely worth the extra effort, though, so try it out!!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Decorating on the cheap (a.k.a. dollar store magic)...

My Labeled Ladies
(plus a dude soap)

Let me start off by saying that I'm no photographer.  I use a crappy, tempermental, I-wish-I-could-give-it-Midol-so-it-would-play-nice camera that I bought used.  It was a floor model that people would pick up and play with at the store and I was mighty proud of myself for buying it so cheap instead of having it thrown away when it was done being abused.  As a result, I take crappy pics with my crap cam.  It might help if I signed up for photography classes or at least read the owner's manual, but I'm far too stubborn for such nonsense.  Pshaw, I say! 

Today I wanna talk about my dollar store finds.  I love going on the prowl in dollar stores for stuff I can use in soapmaking.  The last trip I took there was to find stuff to dress up my soaps with.  I had a bunch of naked soap laying around that I needed to give to some friends for their birthdays (several real birthdays and one fake birthday because the fake birthday girl was eager to try my soap but her real bday was over a month away.  I'm looking at you, Charlene!!  ;)  Happy fake birthday to ya, and many mooooooore!!!!  *jazz hands*).  Some people make soaps that look absolutely fabulous in all their naked glory.  Not this chick.  My soaps are modest and like to cover up.  They're ladies.  They don't go prancing around in their birthday suits showing off their goods to anyone who will look at them.  They wait for that one special person who is going to unwrap them... and rub themselves all over them... and use them until they've wasted away after giving all that they could give.  It always starts off so sweet and romantic-like and ends up tragically, doesn't it?  But I'm not bitter or anything.  *sigh* 

So anyways, I was very excited to find decorative paper for only a buck at, you guessed it, the DOLLAR store!  Imagine that?!  For one little dollar, you get a pack of 40 sheets of fancy paper.  Each sheet gives you several strips of papers (us soapers like to call them cigar bands) that you can wrap your soap with.  So for less than a penny, you can make yer soap purty.  Momma liiiike!

Pile o' Papery Goodness

Back in the day, I tried my hand at rubber stamping and failed miserably.  A stamper I am not, alas. It just wasn't in the cards for me.  Or should I say, it just wasn't in the handmade cards for me.  Boo hoo.  However, one of the best things to come out of that fiasco was that I found the world's coolest little paper cutter.  No, it doesn't cut little papers.  It's little and it cuts paper.  Check it out:

My cutter. 
Noooo, it's not emo.  It's not that kinda cutter!!

Before finding this little gadget, I had to use those big scary paper cutters at school that could cut your paper into nice, straight strips but could also cut your entire hand off in the process.  This little guy won't even give me a paper cut.  So nice!  You just slip your paper in under the clear thingy and then push down on the orange thingy and then slide that thingy down to the other end of the thingy and VIOLA, a perfectly cut paper!  I give great directions, don't I??  :D

Cutter In Action.
(No blood was shed in the making of this strip.)

Pretty Paper Strips
a.k.a. cigar bands
(Heyyyy, wouldn't it be cool to start a band named Cigar?? Cigar band?  Get it??)

Once you have your strip of paper cut and ready, you wrap it around the soap and then tape it together.  I like to use double-stick tape because I consider it the ninja of tapes, which automatically makes it awesome, because I really like that it hides between the layers of paper instead of being out in plain sight.  Once the band is taped in place, I write whatever I want on the labels so that people know what kind of soap they're getting.  Pretty darn cool, eh?  The labels instantly jazz up the soap and make them more presentable.  Hope this inspires you soapmakers out there to check out the dollar stores in search of soap "clothes."  I'd love to see what you come up with!  :)

My Soap Labeling Tools
(all dollar store items except for my snazzy cutter)
((...the markers are washable, just like my soaps!  teeheee))