Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sloppy Joe

Earlier this year I had been having trouble with some of my soap batches. It seemed that even though I was doing everything exactly the same, using the exact same ingredients, from the same suppliers, etc., the batches were often coming out white and streaky instead of the usual translucent, glistening perfection I was used to. It wasn't bad soap, just ugly. I was actually tearing my hair out and having to work overtime, trying to re-make batches that I thought I wouldn't be able to sell.

I insulated them a little more, which seemed to help. So I kind of chalked it up to a cold kitchen, the planets out of alignment, a bit of bad something or other that would be eventually used up . . . and trudged on. As spring warmed up and turned to summer, the batches seemed to be coming out just fine again. And then I realized that I had been getting a little sloppy with the measuring. I do that in cooking too -- I don't use recipes, and just measure stuff by eye and hand, substitute ingredients if I don't have something on hand, and toss it all together. Soap making was the same. I had a basic recipe that I took a year to work on -- adjusting little by little. I had finally gotten to one where I had removed just a smidgen of the water ingredient, because the bars seemed to get harder and cure more quickly. I still had a portion of oils that didn't saponify, so I was perking along thinking that I had a "super-fatted" bar, the cure time was quick, and life was grand. That was all great for the last eight or more years, until the rough patch this past winter.

I'm not sure in what order, or how it happened, or timing or anything like that . . . but within the last month or so I started upping the water again and getting a little more careful with the lye measuring. The bars were perfection in appearance, the soap was rich and thick and glossy, the colors vivid and translucent for a cold-process soap. I was thrilled. Problem solved.

And then I was discussing soap making techniques with some other soapmakers from New Mexico, and they talked about their "super-fatted" bars. They insisted the term could only be used when adding nutrient oils to the batch at trace, and not just because there was a higher oil content in the recipe. When I got home I looked it up. And we're both right. Super-fatting means a certain portion of oils that are unsaponified in the recipe, leaving a teeny trace bit of oil in the bar that acts as a moisturizer when using the soap. Mine are the actual base oils, and that was by design. Theirs are all kinds of extra oils, like avocado and shea butter. Last night I was reading up on all the nutrient oils and had decided that I need to try a few batches to see what they felt like, and if it was noticeably different, depending on which oil was used. I want to try shea butter, avocado oil and jojoba oil -- each of them being the top of the pops for absorbing into human skin, adding vitamins, and their rich feel.

Of course, I don't have any of those in the house right now. So it entails a supply order (which I don't need to do right now) or a run to Zenith Supplies (which I also don't want to spend the time road-tripping up north to do). So today it's all a good idea, but will have to wait a few days.

Tomorrow is the Tacoma Farmer's Market and it's Kid's Day. All kinds of fun, activities and music performances for the kiddies by Dance Theatre Northwest. Just in case the kids are getting bored of summer right about now and need something new to do.

I will NOT be at the Tacoma Market the following two weeks (7/27 and 8/3) because with both the 3-day Bellevue and Anacortes arts shows on the weekend, it's just not enough time to prepare for what are the biggest shows of summer for me. Plus I've got a birthday in there, and want to at least have a few hours off to eat cake. I'll be at the market for the remaining weeks in August and then I am done. The market officially goes through Sept to mid Oct, but I am off doing the Puyallup Fair in Sept and starting fall craft shows, and can't be in both places. Plus the market shrinks to a skeleton crew as kids go back to school, and it's not profitable enough to warrant the drive down there, for me anyway. I've updated the calendar on the web site, and will always keep that current -- up to the minute. So stay tuned.