Sunday, November 9, 2014

Minding my Beeswax

I bought some beeswax....awhile ago.  As in a year ago.  A friend of mine in the honey business was learning how to take care of the beeswax and had lots of extra.  Local beeswax?  At a good price with no shipping charges?  I was in.  As it turned out, she had done for the first step in cleaning it, but to get the best quality, cleanest beeswax, it needed a second step.  I finally got around to doing it this fall, as I'd run out of my previous stash and all the cleaner pieces I had.

Yellow jackets that died a waxy death.
Cleaning beeswax isn't hard, but it does take a lot of waiting.  The first step for me was cutting it into smaller chunks to melt it down.

Wrenching off pieces of beeswax with a butcher knife is a workout like no other.

My "double boiler"--a #10 can in an old saucepan
Melting the beeswax down took awhile in my makeshift double boiler.  When melted, the pure beeswax stays on the top while the junk and bugs sink to the bottom.  I could then pour out the wax into silicone mold shapes and it wasn't long before I could pop them out.
For clean-up, I found a heat gun to be the handiest thing ever.  It was easier to wipe up melted beeswax than scrape it off the counter, floor, and stovetop.  I also used it to melt bits of beeswax off the blade and handle of my butcher knife, one of the few pieces of equipment that I've re-used.  On the plus side, I think the handle is permanently waterproofed!
Now I have a couple of bags of beautiful, dark golden beeswax in smaller, more manageable chunks.  (The honey scent is incredible, by the way.)  So what do I use beeswax for?  Several products--lotion sticks, lip balms, and sugar scrubs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cheese Days...and Cheese Soap

Every two years in late September my town of Monroe, WI, celebrates Cheese Days.  Regular life comes to a halt as all attention is focused on the festival, celebrating the heritage of the area with all things Swiss-- polka, alphorns, beer, and copious quantities of cheese.  And it is a Big Deal; the population grows from 10,000 to over 200,000. Happily, most of the action occurs within walking distance of my house. (Ha!  As if there would be any place to park a car anyway!)

Since it occurs over the weekend, there is, of course, a farmer's market.  It's moved a few blocks from its regular spot on the downtown square, but there is no lack of customers.  After the craziness of getting all the market vendors and their wares squeezed in and set up, I enjoy the excitement of the change of pace, meeting people from all over, and the party atmosphere.

So what makes a party in Wisconsin?  Beer and cheese.  (Well, bratwurst, too, but I have to draw the line somewhere.)  So, I thought I would highlight them--with a soapy twist--in my booth.

My beer soap scents included Oatmeal Stout, Honey Ale, CranApple Cherry, Pumpkin Lager, and Raspberry Cordial--some classic standbys, some new for me, but all of them perfect for the fall.
Why would you drink beer when you can bathe with it?

But I had to try something new in honor of Cheese Days.  Cheese Days=cheese soap?  I looked around for a cheese fragrance for soap with no success, but really....who wants to smell like an aged milk product, anyway?  The sweetgrass scent I used went over well.  In a nod to soapmaking tradition, however, I colored the soap with infused annatto seed, the same colorant used in many yellow cheeses, like cheddar.

Market shoppers were amazed by how realistic it looked and many had to come pick it up and smell it.  I am happy to say that no one tried to nibble it.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Plain Ol' Brown Soap

Confession: I made my first batch of soap about 14 years ago and in all the years since, I have never once made a batch of vanilla soap.  Sure, I've accidentally bought the occasional fragrance that contained more vanilla than I realized, like my lovely yellow lemon poppyseed soap that magically tuned to bland brown in mere hours.  But I've avoided the straight vanilla fragrance, as much as I like it.

However, I recently bought a bottle of the most amazing vanilla fragrance.  It is incomparable in sugar scrubs and the sort of scent that you almost have to take the teeniest lick, just to convince yourself that it's really not edible. But I figured it was high time for some vanilla soap.

When working with vanilla-based fragrances, I've found that it just doesn't work to fight it.  Titanium dioxide, vanilla stabilizer--the effects only last so long, if at all.  Brown soap is just so....brown. And boring. I wanted to make a vanilla soap that popped. Day one of the batch consisted of unscented white and brown-striped embeds.  Day two--the vanilla scented base.

I sliced the batch literally minutes before leaving for vacation.  (Priorities...) This is how the bars looked right after slicing. I was excited and optimistic.

I couldn't wait to see what they looked like a week later.  I think I nailed the "pop."  And the scent is perfectly vanilla.  Why did I wait so long?!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Endeavor to Persevere!

Thus would my former supervisor cheerily call out to me during our busiest, most frantic season.  Or to put it more simply, "Try to try."  And some days, what more can you do?  I've noticed a definite pattern: the quieter my blog, the busier my "real life." I'm not sure if the answer is better time management or a slower-paced life--either would come in handy.

As it has been April since I last posted, you can be assured that things are been moving at warp speed around here.  But such exciting stuff!  Here are a couple items on the business side of things:

I was contacted by Milwaukee Public Television this spring and asked to recommend an outstanding vendor from the farmer's market I manage for a segment on an upcoming show on my town, Monroe, Wisconsin.  I immediately named a favorite produce vendor but because of scheduling and produce availability conflicts, the next day I found myself and my soap business on the interview roster.  Eeep.

Showing off my little bitty loofah plants
Fast forward two months to earlier this month, when the interview took place.  I had NO idea what to expect, but I had a wonderful time chatting with the host, director, camera and sound staff who were intrigued by my soapmaking and loofah growing adventures.  Of course, I enjoyed the moments when the camera wasn't pointed my way most of all, but still...  All in all, it was a super fun experience.  Now I'd like to find out what I actually said during my blur of an interview, but that won't be for several months yet.

A little side note: Over the weekend, I watched The Princess Diaries--remember that movie with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway?  Well, the man who hosts the show is the very same John McGivern who appeared as trolley driver in the movie. How my little sis knew and remembered that bit of trivia I'll never know.

Also, I've begun a re-vamp of sorts, testing new fragrances and changing some things up as I streamline my product line.  Really, it's a continuous task but I'm taking a more focused approach as I analyze what my customers buy.  I feel a little heartless cutting some favorites, but that just means more of certain ones for me. :)

Geisha--an oriental, citrusy scent with green notes 
I've also been playing around with the looks of my soaps--here is my first attempt at a method of adding embeds.  I see potential for a lot of variation with this technique, so expect some changes in my online shop throughout the summer. (And if you are close enough to come to see me at the market, please do!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring time soaps

Spring will be coming soon or maybe it's already here....I'm not quite sure yet.  I enjoyed a beautiful weekend with temperatures in the 70s and woke up to snow and temperatures in the teens on Monday morning.  But with daffodils and hyacinths popping up and Easter only a few days away, this girl's fancy has turned to spring time soaps.  Here are a few that will be at the upcoming market here in Monroe and listed soon in my Zibbet shop.

A new fragrance in my line-up, but I'm certain it will be well-received.  And I'm already looking forward to making another batch, because it soaped beautifully!
Cucumber Melon
I was getting requests for this scent way back in February!  This spring's batch came out just as I'd pictured it in my mind.

It's a rare, sad day that I don't have this soap in stock--Lemon Poppyseed Scrub.  I'm glad other people like it as much as I do.  I add a bit of rosemary essential oil with the lemon scent to give it a little bit of zest.

 I use poppyseeds, cornmeal and oatmeal to make it good and scrubby!

And for one more--I call this one South Pacific.  It's a fresh, clean, soapy scent that many guys like, especially my Mister.  As you may have guessed, I thought my first version, a simple blue soap with some white swirls, was a little bland, so I gave it a much more beautiful existence in a new white and aqua batch.

Happiness is spring soaping.  And spring just wouldn't be right without fresh floral and fruity scents after the cozy, rich winter scents.  Do you have a favorite spring scent?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Loofah--from vine to soap

If you've followed my blog for a long time, you've already seen a post on one of my favorite things to grow--loofah, but I think it's time for another one.  People are often surprised when they learn that loofahs are grown.  No, a loofah isn't a sea sponge, but the mature "skeleton" of a zucchini-like plant.  Everyone knows they are good for the bath but they also make great natural pan scrubbers in the kitchen.  They are so popular that I have to remember to tuck away any that I want to keep myself.

I raise three or four plants every year.  Like a zucchini or a cucumber, it likes to spread out with little regard to another plant's personal space.  Here is last year's crop.

Early in the summer, the loofahs remained neatly on the trellis:

But then they wandered over to the basil:

Cozied among the tomatillos:

And hung out with the butternut squash:

Harvest time was a regular treasure hunt.  But I ended up with about 20 loofahs from my four plants.

This is what they looked like late in the summer.  I peeled back some of the rind so you can see that it is, indeed, loofah.

After a frost, I could more easily peel the rind off the loofahs.  I let them dry, then cut the loofahs into smaller lengths and shook out the seeds.

It's completely optional, but I like to soak the loofahs in a bucket of water with a splash of bleach to even out the color.

Everyone who makes loofah soaps has his own method, but I prefer to slice the loofah for individual soaps. And, I found that a serrated knife works much more smoothly than wrenching through the sponge with scissors, especially after I wound up snapping the handle off.

And finally, here is the finished soap.  I'm calling it Garden Fresh.  It is a blend of tomato leaf and lettuce fragrance oils, colored with a touch of chrome oxide and tomato paste.  My loofah soaps are always a little more "rustic" looking, partly because it can be hard to get the soap into every little bit of loofah and partly because I want the loofah inside to be visible.

I'm already starting loofah plants in the house with some of my saved seeds and in another month, the cycle will go around again.  Whew.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Farmer's market soap--pumpkin kale

Last spring, I had the idea of creating a soap that represented some of the variety in my town's farmer's market.  The more I looked around, the more overwhelming the possible combinations--herbs, vegetables, dairy, fruits, even fats.  I could come up with a new combination every week as I looked around.  Maybe it was because my choices kept changing that I never settled on a set of ingredients and just did it.

Dehydrated ground pumpkin--it makes a wonderful addition to angel food cake

I recently narrowed down some of the abundance into my first version.  It may be March, but with the snow of the last two days (and still falling as I write), fresh vegetables are just a dream of the future.  So I used honey, dehydrated pumpkin and egg--all from the market--and dried kale.  (I used my own kale in this batch, not because it wasn't available in abundance at the market last summer, but I really couldn't justify buying anyone else's with a dozen fruitful plants of my own.)

Another decision dilemma--how to scent it? With an FO?  A vegetable-type fragrance, like cucumber, lettuce, or tomato leaf?  A grassy one? A clean ozone type?  Or maybe an EO? herbal? citrusy?  This time I used an essential oil blend of basil, rosemary, and litsea.

Layers of kale-speckled soap separated by layers of pumpkin-speckled soap

Layers separated by vanilla bean powder pencil lines

A slice of soap, representing the agriculturally rich region of the American Midwest.  I expect this to be a regular market offering this coming season, made in ever-changing versions to reflect the seasonality of ingredients.