October 5, 2016

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Soap

Nobody loves my soap more than Jennifer (our daughter) . . . and since she's coming to spend a few days with us next week to celebrate her 28th birthday and our 30th wedding anniversary, I figured it was the perfect time to make her some fall pumpkin soap.

When I say cold-process soap making is easy, I mean it is REALLY EASY ~ and that's coming from a woman who does not enjoy cooking on any level (but I sure do love to eat!).

The first thing I do when I get the urge to whip up a batch of soap is to set out everything I need.  I keep all my soap making supplies together so it takes me just a few minutes.  Then I decide what kind of fats (oils and or butters) I have on hand.  Normally I have infused oils left over from a previous balm or salve recipe, but not this time (although I do have a half dozen mason jars infusing on the patio right now).   For this batch though I'm using 10 ounces each of coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and canola oil.  I skipped olive oil, which I almost always use, because I'm hoping to get a different color with this recipe (olive oil gives you a greenish tint and I want orange - hint the carrot juice).

So once I've picked my fats, I plug them into my lye calculator to determine the amount of liquid and lye I will need.  This is my go-to calculator that I love:  Lye Calculator from thesage.com

Now that I have my calculations ~ aka how much liquid and lye I need ~ I start to measure out my ingredients.  Starting with my fats . . .

. . . liquids (in this case 50% distilled water and 50% organic carrot juice) and lye ~

. . . and lastly my scent.  Sometimes I use pure essential oils and other times, like today, I'll use a phthalate free fragrance oil from Brambleberry (pumpkin spice).  The fragrance oils provide a stronger, longer lasting scent than the essential oils - but of course they are not organic or pure.

If I'm going to blend anything into the soap or use a topper, I'll get that ready also.  Today I am using ground organic juniper berries to top the soap.  These smell so fresh and, I don't know, earthy.  I love them!  Oh - and I included that magazine in the photo because it is a great DIY, ad-free magazine with fantastic photos and great ideas.  One of my favorites.

Okay, now that I have everything measured out, I set it aside and put back all my ingredients (that's my OCD coming into play).  Then I mix the lye and liquid and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.  Once the temperature falls to about 130 degrees (about 10-15 minutes), I'll start to melt my fats.  I don't use the microwave for balms and salves, but I do for making soap.  I have an obnoxiously powerful microwave and it only takes two one minute bursts to melt my fats to 120-125 degrees (you want your lye mixture and fats to be within 10 degrees of one another).

So once my lye mixture and fats are both between 120 and 130 degrees, I combine them (slowly).

I then mix off and on for about 15 minutes with a stick blender until my soap forms a pudding like mixture (looks good enough to eat, doesn't it?).  This is called "trace" and it's when I add my fragrance.  I blend well and then . . .

. . . pour into my molds.  I know from experience that 30 ounces of fat will fill my loaf mold and two "specialty molds".  Once I'm done pouring and topping, I cover with parchment paper and wrap in a towel.

Within 24 hours the soap will have cured enough to come out of the molds and will be ready for slicing ~ this is my favorite part by far!

The bars are then set on a wire rack and placed in a cool, dry spot to finish curing for another 4-6 weeks.  Jen will take hers home next week to finish curing.  :-)

So, so easy . . . and not to toot my own horn, but that is some pretty pumpkin spice soap ~ and it smells A-MAZING!

Since I have been making soap, and I've made a LOT of soap, I've done plenty of experimenting.  I've used all kinds of oils and butters - beeswax even.  I've had batches that reached trace super fast (not good) and batches that took nearly 30 minutes (very tiring) . . . but never have I had a batch turn out bad.  I did throw one batch out recently though.  Had nothing to do with the quality of the soap.  It was great  . . . but the scent.  What was I thinking?  I buy Nag Champa incense from Chamberlin's Natural Foods all the time - absolutely love the way they smell.  So when I saw this scent available at Brambleberry I thought it was a no-brainer.  What it was was no bueno.  Every time Philip used it, it made my stomach hurt or gave me a headache - can't really remember which now.  I just remember I couldn't stand the smell and trashed the remaining bars.  But that was my only bad experience in soap making, and really it wasn't all that bad.  Philip loved the way it smelled ~ or so he said as I was tossing it in the garbage.  I say this only to encourage those of you who want to try soap making but might be hesitant.  The hardest part is waiting for the lye to cool . . . and then waiting for the bars to cure.  I promise!

October 4, 2016

Homegrown cherries (and grapes?) ~

I am convinced Mother Nature has a really twisted sense of humor.  When I try to grow something for our family to eat, it becomes such a battle with the bugs and diseases that it's nearly impossible to do so organically (impossible and not fun).  But the minute I "let go" and simply grow for wildlife:

BOOM ~ an explosion of endless goodies!

I stopped trying to keep the bugs off these cherries in early spring and this Barbados cherry tree has been producing like crazy ever since.  The birds are attracted to the cherries and the bugs.  Lucky me.

I think I'm on to Mother Nature's plan. Everything I plant grows better when grown for wildlife . . . so I planted two fry muscadine grape vines specifically for the birds.


There . . .  maybe now they have a fighting chance.  :-)