Saturday, November 29, 2014

Checking in post Thanksgiving

 Hope all who celebrated, had a great Thanksgiving!

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving feast and post Thanksgiving leftover dinner thanks to our amazing daughter-in-law Nicole's efforts and talent in the kitchen, and our son sharing some of the best of his cellared wines! Nic cooked for about 25 guests. So tonight Sean is taking the family to the country club for dinner and give Nic a well deserved kitchen break and the rest of us another treat.

All my interior Christmas decor is done, and the handyman is coming Sunday to do the outside lights for us. Neither Jim and I are in shape to get up on ladders these days, so we're ever grateful to George to help with that chore.

The family heads back to California tomorrow, so if the rest of my soap supply orders arrive I'll be making more soaps next week. I've ordered a shredding tool - meant for veggies, but great for grating and shredding soap, as well as more colors and fragrances. My soaping education continues thanks to the several soap forums, books and generous you tube videos.  My first cold process soap continues to cure and may be ready by the end of December. I used my own recipe and it needs a long cure because of the high percentage of soft oils. It still smells good from the Nag Champa fragrance oil.

I've been busy creating more recipes that I think will be suitable for us, friends and family. Other than our three grand kids, most of us are in the 50 and older range , so my recipes are geared to nourish dry, aging and aged skin. It's been fascinating learning about the chemistry of soap and I know there will be a lot to learn from future soap making wins and more from the failures. 

Originally I planned to do my soaping in the garage/studio area; but that necessitated keeping the soaping oils, butters and fragrances in the house. It would also kick up  our heating and cooling bills to a ridiculous level. So a couple of days ago I reorganized a couple of cabinets  in the kitchen  and moved  all the soaping tools and ingredients into the kitchen, which makes more sense. For safety sake, I'll only have to lock up curious, Bonnie kitty when I'm soaping. Another bonus is that our powerful kitchen range vent will also come in handy to exhaust the lye fumes.

Monday I have to call and find out why I haven't heard from my doctor or the surgeon and see if there's a fix for this post hernia surgery problem. It's been over two weeks since they sent the x-rays to the surgeon . Guess they've been on vacation or one office expected the other office to call me.  Meantime medication is cutting down symptoms. Ah the joys of aging!

Until I know what, if any plan there is to fix this post surgery, narrowing of my lower esophagus, I'm not doing any pottery for fear of making things worse. Fortunately, soaping and cooking are things I can still do to satisfy my creative urgings at the moment and I'm really enjoying it. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Suds and mud

Here's my first Cold  Process soap which is now in the curing stage for about a month. It's my own recipe (I've spent a lot of time the past few weeks studying the chemistry of soap making and I'm hooked!). The rose clay made it paler than I hoped and found out after the fact that the titanium dioxide I put in it tones down color. Always something new to learn.

The mangled bar on the far right was my impetuous self, forcing it out of the mold while it was still too soft after 48 hrs in the mold. Found out later that sticking the mold in the freezer for a half an hour to an hour, will make them pop out easily. It did it for 45 minutes and out they came with just a bit of gently pressure. I had a lot of soft oils in my recipe, because I wanted a recipe that would be slow to trace so I could have plenty of time to mix various colorants to do some more complex swirl techniques.

These smell great thanks to the Nag Champa fragrance oil I used. Some of these oils are amazing. I got a couple of new ones today -  Egyptian Musk (for soaps for the guys; but frankly, I think it's really a unisex scent. I cannot tell you how much I love this scent!  There were two other fragrance oils in this order - Blackberry Vanilla and Pomegranate - both, smelled good enough to eat. I also got cupcake soap molds which are for down the line when I have a lot more soap making experience under my belt.

Today was for cooking and some early tree decorating. I know, I know. It's early, but we had to have the handyman in yesterday to get all those heavy and bulky boxes of  lights and Christmas decorations down from the garage  rafters and help me take down all the tomato cages, beans poles, etc. and help with stage one vegetable garden cleanup. And since he has to come back at the end of the week to put the boxes back on the rafters, do some painting and finish up some other fixes, I promised to have the tree decorated by then. Soaping will have to wait an other couple of days which is fine, because I have an order coming with something to help harden my soft formula soap in these silicone molds, so I don't mangle any more bars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Green tomato popsicles

I peeked out at 6am and could see frozen eggplant leaves - so sad. :-(  Looks like I'll be starting post season garden cleanup in a few days after this Arctic cold front moves on. That freeze hit hard last night and I know there are a lot of big, green, tomato popsicles on the vine! I know you can make green tomato pickles, but not once they've been frozen.  I'll have to Google " green tomato recipes.". to see if there are any recipes for stewed green tomatoes.

This morning I downloaded the professional soap making software. That's going to keep me busy for a while, since I hear it's a bitch to learn. It has a lot of features that I probably won't be using unless I want to go into soap making as a business, but I will use the soap recipe calculations and inventory and costing features for sure.

After breakfast I'll be heading to the studio to tidy my pottery supplies, since I won't be doing any pottery until I know what they're going to do to fix this post hernia surgery problem. Until then, this is not a time for heavy lifting and throwing, so soap making and cooking will be it for a while.

Found out yesterday that my Nag Champa fragrance oil can be used to scent soap and that's the one I want to use for the first soap I make for Jim and I. We have always used Nag Champa incense for meditation, so it will be lovely to have it in our soap as well. This fragrance has vanilla in it so I will have to use the vanilla stabilizer that arrived the other day. It will prevent the vanilla in this and so many other fragrances, from turning the soap brown. This first batch of Cold Process soap will be a test for one of my theoretical slow tracing recipes. I need a base that will be slow to trace (thickening), so I can do more multi colored swirl techniques which necessitates a soap base that will allow you to mete out portions of the liquid soap, then add the various colorants that you will be layering before you begin creating the swirls; and it has to allow you the time to do all of this before the soap starts to thicken too much.

As you can tell, I'm very excited about soaping; and of course the whole family is eagerly awaiting home made soaps. Now I have to learn this new software enough to put in a couple of my theoretical recipes and see what kind of feedback I get from the software. As long as it doesn't kick up a photo of a skull and bones, or say na na na na na na, I think I should be able to start making my first batch of Cold Process soap by Friday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Been busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs

One of my emails this morning started with "I have been busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs y'all!!  That gave me a good chuckle, because that was so my day yesterday.

I had a smorgasbord "to do" list and managed to get it all done; but I was running all over the house and garden, and  by the end of the day  my arthritic hip had me limping badly, to the point that Jim said I should spent all day in bed today; but that isn't going to happen. I will spend a lot of time continuing my soaping studies, though, so I will get plenty of sit down time in between the few things I have to do today.

First thing yesterday morning, I fed my sourdough starter. After breakfast I got the last bit of melt and pour soap melted and poured and did the cleanup. There was email and snail mail to deal with and then mid morning I finally got a call about the results of the upper G.I. X rays. Seems that after the surgery, the lower part of my esophagus has narrowed, which my doctor says is probably the cause of the pain and acute gastritis symptoms I've been experiencing the past two months, so he's sending the xrays to the surgeon for his input. I'll have to wait to see what if anything can be done about it, other than keeping me on these two medications which I was able to stop taking after the surgery, or having to undergo another surgery. It will be what it will be - just have to keep moving forward no matter what life brings you.

After lunch I got my breakfast bread started, then went out to the garden to harvest what I could before the expected freeze (it was 32F at 6am); but don't think it lasted long because I didn't notice any wilting of the tender tomato leaves). I eked out a couple of cups of basil which had pretty much gone to seed, so I'll make a batch of pesto sauce after breakfast. After dinner I baked the breakfast bread and got into the studio and cleared the large section of the slab roller so I can move my soap making tools on there today and get it ready to make some Cold Process soap in a couple of days. My working day ended a 9pm and then I spent another hour on email before lights out.

In my down time I continued my soaping education. With Google's help, I finally found a site that lists the various acids and their  percentages in the many oils and butters used in soap making, as well as the positive and negative things they contribute. That information is a very good first step in learning to create my own soap recipes. At least now, I will understand some of those acid percentages that pop up in the free lye calculation software.

I've decided to bit the bullet and get the professional version of the soap software that some other soap makers have recommended. It will take a lot of time to set it up and learn. Before you can even start using it you have to spend a lot of time entering basic information. That will definitely give me plenty of time of rest this hip! 

This morning our son asked when to expect his first bar of home made soap. Jim naively said, maybe by Thanksgiving - maybe next Thanksgiving Jim, but definitely not this Thanksgiving for Cold Process soap which has to age about four weeks. Christmas is definitely possible; but first I have to create a recipe for slow tracing soap, and make sure the fragrance I use doesn't accelerate trace, so I can jump right in after a one lb test batch of soap to test how long it will take to trace with the fragrance oil I choose. If that goes well, then I'll bite the bullet with a three pound loaf and  try one of the two or three color swirling techniques. I figure there will be a lot of failures whether I go the easy route or  attempt a bit more challenging project - just have to be well prepared and go for it.  So after my days small "to do" list is complete, I'll be working on creating, I hope, a good starter, slow to trace recipe. I have a couple of slow to trace recipes to use as a starting point, and I have all the ingredients listed in some of the recipes, so that's my big, sit down job today.Wish me luck. There's a good chance I'm going to need it! :-)

Monday, November 10, 2014

BRRR Frost on the pumpkins

We got our first bit of frost last night, and there's a freeze warning for tonight, so I think we'll be having some fried green tomatoes tomorrow night with our leftover steak.

It was Jim's 81st birthday yesterday and our usual routine is for the birthday person to pick a place for dinner; but this year, with his back bothering him so, he said that what he would really like would be for me to just buy a couple of steaks. So I found some prime steaks at Costco, made a Caesar salad with home made garlic croutons, and stuffed baked potatoes with sauteed pieces of mushroom and onion mixed in. Those steaks were beautiful, melt in your mouth like butter quality, and had no taste, even though I rubbed them with garlic, and salt and peppered them. I hadn't tried their steaks in well over a decade, and sad to say they are still tasteless. Guess they just don't age them enough, or at all!

The rest of my day was busy with my new passion - soaping. I didn't make any soap, just spent a lot of time trying to create recipes, watching soap making videos, reading old messages on the soap making forum and putting away and cataloging two recent orders of colorants, oil, etc. I'm still waiting for the order with the vanilla stabilizer so I can make my first Cold Process soap.

I also, finally found a embed mold source for making those cute little embeds that are used as part of the inside of the soaps or as topping. That supplier had pages and pages of them; but I used a great deal of discipline and only ordered the smallest raspberry mold.

Watching those soaping videos on You tube is how I found the source for those molds, as well as the name of a soap software that I want to check into a bit more. They sell both hobby and pro versions.  The pro version will analyze your recipe; but the hobby one doesn't have that feature. You would think the hobbyist or newbie would need that more than the pros! The pro version also gives you a product cost breakdown/profit amount, inventory tracking, as well as lye and fragrance calculators, etc. etc. I just need to see if anyone on the soap making forum is using this or has a used copy for sale, or maybe some other software suggestions. My reasoning for purchasing this type of software, is that having a really good software that will analyze my theoretical recipes, can save me a lot of time and money spent on ingredients. It will also be a good learning source.

Meantime, first thing this morning I fed my sourdough starter so I can make some breakfast bread this afternoon, and then, I set up a folding table in the guest bedroom to hold my over wintering plants. Unfortunately, the window shade isn't working so after breakfast I'll have to move the table into the dining room. Then I want to re-melt my leftover melt and pour soap, and get that poured.

This afternoon I'll be out in the garden harvesting whatever I can, and bringing in the lemon grass, cilantro, etc.. If I have any energy left over, I may just get in the studio and get all those wadded soda pots back on the ware cart and clear the slab roller and move my Cold Process soaping tools to that table so I can make my first batch as soon as my other orders arrive.

Dinner is going to be easy, vegetarian Indian - a welcome change after some heavy eating yesterday. Jim says his weight is up two pounds this morning and I'm sure the Eggs Benedict birthday breakfast didn't help!  I didn't have Eggs Benedict, but I'm still not going to get on that scale today!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

If at first you don't succeed

Finally made a little bit of soap yesterday. Unfortunately this photo doesn't show the true color of the bar soaps, which is a lovely, pale turquoise/mint color; and I couldn't figure out how to adjust the color using photo shopping software.

My suspicion about the soap failure the day before, was that I just didn't get the soap hot enough, was correct,  because the re-melting worked fine when I got it hot enough.

I was hoping to make soap again today, but wound up dealing with computer stuff again. Either I need a new modem or a new Internet service. It's a pretty bad router (third one they've sent me in two years) that doesn't allow me to get a connection in my bedroom. Yet, I can pick up three or four neigbhors Internet service showing up on my Internet access list, in any part of the house; but not my own; and even when it does show up, it almost impossible to get it to connect on my iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad.

Tomorrow I'm off to the hospital to drink some barium so they can take some upper G.I. snapshots, so there won't be time to make soap because I want to take advantage of what is going to be the warmest (around 68F) day in the foreseeable future, to get some garden work done in the afternoon. We've yet to get a frost and some of the veggies are still producing, but I think it may be time to  think about harvesting some of those green tomatoes and bring my lemon grass and a few other things indoors for the winter.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Monday morning eye candy

I love starting my morning with my first cup of tea and watching someone like this Korean potter demonstrate his skills. Lovely.

Well, yesterday I finally got around to the soap project and my first effort was a disaster. The melt and pour soap just wouldn't work right. So after a few attempts, I high tailed it to the soap making support site that I joined a couple of days before, shared my plight, and within a couple of hours I had a lot of generous responses. Seems everything I did was correct, according to one member, but that sometimes melt and pours soaps can be a pain the arse! Who knew! Melt and Pour was supposed to the easy, no fail way to make soap.There were also several suggestions to use better quality melt and pour soaps instead of the ones I bought from Michaels. So next time I buy melt and pour soap it will be from Brambleberry, which got the most recommendations, or one of the other ones also recommended.

The problem I had was that soap was hardening, even before I got around to adding colorant, so it's possible I should have added those the minute the soap was melted. Someone suggested having a bowl of warm water to set the container of melted soap in, to keep it from solidifying so fast, so I will definitely follow that suggestion today and in the future.

I have a larger pack of Michael's melt and pour soap as well as the other pound from the first, smaller package, so I'll try again after breakfast.. Everything is set up - colors mixed with glycerin, scent mixed, soap re-cubed, etc. so I just have to see if I can get yesterday's soap re-melted. If not, I'll start with the other pound from that box. I'm glad that I was a bit timid and only used half of the soap.That was enough of a disaster to deal with. So disappointing!

After lunch I will either have a few bars of soap to enjoy, or I'll have to go back to square one. If that's the case, I'll just lick my wounds and keep at it with the Michaels soap I have on hand, until I get it, or till I have a lot of back soap to throw it in the trash.  In the future, I will definitely be buying a better quality melt and pour soap.

This melt and pour method was supposed to be the easy way to make soap which is why I started with it instead of the cold process which involves dealing with lye, and then there's a crucial timing thing related to the level of trace, which you have to learn to recognize in order to know when to safely stop mixing and get your colors and scents added and start pouring, before the soap get so firmed up that it can barely be poured.

So if this Melt and Pour works today, my next effort will be to take the plunge and try to make a batch of cold process soap when my other orders of colorants and vanilla stabilizer arrive. Seems that soap fragrances with a lot of vanilla will turn soaps brown, and after checking the vanilla percentage of some of my fragrances, I'd have a lot of brown soap on my hands in the future unless I use the stabilizer. So much to learn!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Post Halloween morning and question for soap makers

Good thing we bought a lot of candy. Jim figured we had about 200 trick or treaters last night. We had a lot of mummies and zombies (a lot of zombies and fake blood), lots of little princesses (one corrected me and said she was Rapunsel!), there was a butterfly, fireman, bat man and one mother came as bat lady, a lot of Harry Potters - male and female, bunnies, etc. etc. I thought one was a skinhead (shaved head, earring in ear), but no, he was Mr. Clean! It was a lot of fun and we should recover by lunch time!

Jim was the main greeter and candy distributor and I joined in for a bit. Most of the time I was in the bedroom trying to keep our dog Bodhi from freaking out, and our kitty Bonnie from sneaking out of the house. I also spent some time in the dining room seed saving, a job I'll finish at some point today.

Tonight's dinner party guests cancelled due to illness, so I'll have enough Beef Bourgignon for today and tomorrow. I've decided that after lunch I will delve in and made some Melt and pour soap. It dawned on me that I don't have to do a whole loaf. Instead, I'll just melt a pound of soap and add color and fragrance and pour it into some single bar and guest soap size molds I have. That will be a good beginning test of the fragrances hold, and colors. Now I just have to figure out what scents to use. Nag Champa was going to be my first choice but I found out that even a smallish percentage of vanilla content in fragrances turns the soap brown, so that fragrance will have to be set aside until the Vanilla Stabilizer arrives in another week or so.

Reading reviews of fragrances at the various soap supply sites has been very helpful. Now I just have to look up the reviews on the other fragrances I have on hand, and make a chart on the pros and cons, amount to use and other mixtures that soapers have tried that work.  A question for potters who are also soap makers.  Have you used the Titanium Dioxide and/or kaolin that you use in pottery in your soaps? I put off buying these from the soap companies since I already have them in the studio.

Time to get back to soap research with the Masters Semi-final tennis matches in the background. Looks like Raonic has learned to do much more than just serve. He just won the first set easily with Berdych, after beating Federer in straight sets yesterday. Very impressive!