The Soap Dish

Holiday Specials December 11, 2018 15:22

Who doesn't love a deal? Truth be told, it can be hard for small makers to offer the same kinds of deals as Amazon. But we don't want to be like Amazon so we're cool with that. So what can Amani offer as a holiday special? Plenty! From now through December 18 (or later if you're local and can pick up) we have these great deals:

  • Free 7 oz wood wick candle with $50 purchase. Scent selection is limited (as is quantity) so act quickly.
  • Buy 5 full price soaps, get one free. We will do our best to accommodate your scent preference.
  • Free shipping on all orders over $75. 

Plus, just like every day, you'll get personalized service, speedy shipping and free samples with all orders.

Yay!!

 

 


Zanzibar Spice cookies December 04, 2018 13:45

My sweet friend Yajaira has a cookie party every year. Folks bring 3 dozen cookies, everyone pigs out on cookies, then votes on their favorite from a bunch of different categories. I haven't been able to go for the past several years because it conflicts with a craft show that is always the same day. However, by the luck of the stars the craft show this year is a week later so I was able to go. Hooray! 

I wanted to make a cookie that was reminiscent of my favorite place in the world Zanzibar. This little island off Tanzania is also the inspiration for my Zanzibar Spice candle. It's known as the spice island because so many are grown there. They have cloves, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla as well as a bunch of yummy exotic fruit. I wanted something that was similar to a ginger snap but softer and with more complex spices. My son's friend Jack has a nice ginger cookie recipe which I used as the starting point for mine. I decreased the amount of ginger in his recipe, increased the vanilla and cardamom and made it a flat cookie because I wanted to decorate them to look like the henna designs that women in Zanzibar use on special occasions. I used royal icing flavored with lime (also popular in Zanzibari cooking) to cover the whole cookie a pretty blue then piped a henna design on top of the blue. I'd never used royal icing before so I was pretty pleased with how they came out. And I won the "most child enticing" category. LOL

 Zanzibar Spice Cookies

Ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking soda
2 stick butter (softened)
2/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup caster or powdered sugar

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 °F
2. Measure all of the dry ingredients except the brown sugar into a medium bowl and mix
3. In an electric mixer cream the butter, brown sugar, and molasses.
4. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients.
5. Shape the dough into a log, wrap with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
6. Roll out a section of the dough to 1/4" thick using powdered sugar to keep it from sticking to your rolling pin. Cut the cookie's out using a 2" circle cutter (or whatever shape you like).
7. Bake on a parchment lined sheet for 8 minutes. 
8. Let cookies cool for a few minutes before removing them from the sheet. Place on a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
9. Ice the cookies with royal icing if desired. I used a pre-made royal icing mix which I thinned with lime juice.

 


Our Charitable Partnership--Kate's Club November 27, 2018 09:02

Following the death of my husband from cancer, my young children and I became involved in Kate's Club, a non-profit organization in Atlanta that serves children who are grieving the loss of a parent or sibling. Kate's Club ended up being a lifesaver, for so many reasons.

The Science of Scent October 22, 2018 08:55

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.” 
― Hellen Keller

Have you ever noticed that if you get a whiff of a particular scent it can have an incredibly powerful impact? Perhaps it reminds you of a specific time and event or maybe just influences your mood. How is it that scent can cause such a visceral response, much more than our other senses? 

Let's start with how scent works. When you smell something, the odor molecules travel to your nose where they are filtered by tiny cilia, which remove any dust and dirt. Then the scent travels through the nasal passage to the olfactory bulb, where the molecules bind to olfactory nerve cells. From a more technical perspective, the act of smelling is referred to as orthonasal olfaction or retronasal olfaction. The difference between orthonasal and retronasal has to do with the direction from which the scent enters. Orthonasal olfaction comes to the receptors via the front of the nose (how you typically think of smelling) whereas retronasal olfaction comes from the back (by means of the palate). Once the scent has bound to the olfactory nerves, it travels to the brain where it is interpreted as a specific scent.

However, it's a bit more complicated than that. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, a complex group of structures that are critical to behavior, mood, and memory. Two structures in the limbic system are the amygdala and hippocampus, the parts of the brain which are respectively associated with emotion and memory. Our other senses are "wired" differently and do not have the same strong association with emotion and memory. Because of this, the science of scent is of interest to researchers in many fields including neuroscience, behavioral science, and even advertising.

The Swedish researcher Maria Larsson has studied the relationship between scent and autobiographical memories. She based her work on the research of others who had studied autobiographical memories.  Previous research had shown that autobiographical memories peaked between the ages of 15-30 and were based on visual or verbal cues. However, when it came to smells, the memories peaked around the age 5 and were more emotional and more vivid. Another interesting observation is that memories from scent aren't susceptible to retroactive interference, the phenomena whereby memories are changed when new ones mix with older ones.

But why is scent so powerful? Some researchers believe that scent is tied to a much more primordial part of our evolutionary past because it can warn us about things that are dangerous.  Scent is the first sense that is activated after we are born. However, another interesting branch of scent research has found that babies learn about scents even before they are born. This has been studied in numerous ways over the past 20 years. In one experiment, researchers gave pregnant women who were about to undergo an amniocentesis a garlic pill shortly before the test. Samples of the fluid were compared with samples from control subjects who had taken a placebo. Volunteers were able to distinguish which samples smelled of garlic and which did not. Several other studies have examined the diet of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and found that those who had eaten a particular food in their last trimester or shortly after birth when they were nursing later had babies who either reacted strongly to the scent of that food or showed a preference for it over other foods. At the other end of the lifespan, researchers have also noted that people who have cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's also often have a dull sense of smell.

So the next time the smell of dried leaves makes you feel nostalgic but you aren't sure why just remember your nose knows.

~*~*~*

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Repost ICYMI--Properties of Soap Making Oils September 20, 2018 09:50

An oldie but goodie all about the oils used to make soap.

***

Soap is a bit like curry. Sure you can buy straight yellow curry powder but most chefs will tell you that the very best curry is made by carefully combining lots of different spices. The end result is a dish where all the spices work to create something greater than the sum of its parts. But…it pays to know your ingredients. Too much of something in your curry (usually chili) and you’ve got a flop.

Soap making (saponification) is a chemical reaction between a base and an acid. Generallythe base is sodium hydroxide while the acid is one or more oils or fats. Common soap making oils include olive oil, coconut oil, tallow, palm oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter. Each different kind of oil will bring different properties to the soap. Every oil will have a (usually) small portion of “unsaponifiables”, that is components that do not become soap. These can nourish the skin or provide other benefits. 

Soap properties are usually described in terms of hardness, cleansing, conditioning, and lather (bubbly and/or creamy). When a soap maker develops a recipe they will carefully choose the ingredients and quantities based on what they hope to achieve in the finished bar.  It’s a process that is usually tweaked and refined many many times and is why most soap makers don’t share their secret recipes!

Without getting too technical, the primary reason oils contribute different qualities is due to their chemical makeup, specifically their fatty acid profile. Here are some common soap making oils and their properties in soap:

Avocado—Makes a soft bar of soap that is rich in Vitamin E, B, D, and E. It makes a creamy and conditioning soap that is gentle and mild.

Apricot Kernel—This lightweight oil is conditioning and easily absorbed into the skin. It is also great for lotion.

Castor—makes a rich creamy lather. Too much can make a bar feel sticky.

Cocoa Butter—makes a hard bar with a stable creamy lather that is moisturizing.

Coconut—makes big fluffy bubbles, cleans really well, and creates a very white bar of soap. Too much can make a soap that is drying.

Lard (pork)—Similar to tallow. Makes a very hard white bar with a stable, creamy and moisturizing lather. Some makers choose not to use it for environmental and ethical reasons or because their customers prefer plant-based products.

Mango Butter—conditioning with a rich creamy lather.

Olive—considered by many to be the “king” of soap making oils. Olive oil contributes to a soap that is creamy and mild. It does not make big bubbles and can take a long time to cure (the drying time whereby the water evaporates) but will eventually make a very hard bar of amazing soap. 100% olive oil soap is called Castile soap.

Palm—makes a very hard bar which lathers well. Some people (including myself) choose not to use palm oil because of the documented environmental impact the plantations have on air quality (burning peat bogs for planting) and orangutan communities (devastating habitat loss). There is palm oil that is supposed to be sustainably sourced but enforcement is weak.

Rice Bran—Rich in Vitamin E and anti-oxidants. Makes a mild soap with small bubbles. Similar to (and often subbed for) olive oil.

Shea Butter—Shea butter is conditioning, moisturizing and gives a silky feel to soap.

Tallow (beef)—Makes a hard white bar with a stable, creamy and moisturizing lather. Some makers choose not to use it for environmental and ethical reasons or because their customers prefer plant-based products.

 

So, what do you do with all of this information???

Just like at the grocery store, read the labels of your soap! There are many other soap making oils; I have tried to list the most common ones here but you may also see canola oil, meadowfoam oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. Like a food label, the oils should be listed in descending order. Some soap makers will list ingredients using their Latin names, which is not required by law but hopefullythey’ll have the common name in parentheses. You may also see labels written as "sodium XYZ-ate" such as "sodium cocoate". This simply translates to "soap from coconut oil". Businesses will do this if they don't want to use the words lye or sodium hydroxide on their label. It's correct but a bit of a cop-out.

Most handcrafted soap is suitable for many skin types. Folks with sensitive skin might prefer a soap with a high percentage of olive oil or rice bran oil. People with oily skin might do better with slightly more coconut oil. If environmental impact is important to you, look for palm-free vegetarian bars.

 

Sourced from:

http://www.lovinsoap.com/oils-chart/  http://www.naturesgardencandles.com/mas_assets/theme/ngc/pdf/soapoils.pdf http://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/free-beginners-guide-to-soapmaking-common-soapmaking-oils/


Behind the scenes at Amani: Lotion August 27, 2018 13:00

Lotion making feels like a mix of chemistry with a bit of magic. Shout out to Dr. Collins, my college professor and advisor for instilling in me a love for all things chemistry. 

A lotion is comprised broadly of four general ingredients: water, oil, an emulsifier, and a preservative. Before we go any further, let me just state for the record that a preservative is an absolute necessity for a traditional lotion. Here's why: bacteria love water. Every lotion without a preservative will eventually grow bacteria, mold and all sorts of nasty things. And, just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there. Something "natural" does not automatically equal "safe".

Some folks get around this by making a "lotion bar", which is a solid moisturizer without any water or water-based product (for example, aloe vera juice). A lotion bar is usually made with a combination of solid oils and butters plus beeswax as a hardener. I personally don't like them because they tend to be heavy and greasy. The cosmetic giant Lush makes a preservative-free lotion but (and this is a big but) it MUST be refrigerated at all times AND it still has a very short shelf life. That's just a bit too iffy for my likes; I can easily see myself forgetting to put it back in the fridge (plus that's just weird) or forgetting how long I've had it. So, if having a preservative-free product is important to you, then I would recommend sticking with a lotion bar.

Back to the post...A lotion is made with water, oil, an emulsifier and a preservative. I suggest looking lotions that have a combination of several oils/butters as this will help to maximize the beneficial properties of each individual component. Over the past several years, I have formulated a recipe that uses a combination of oils and butters which together make a light, non-greasy lotion. I start with a base of mango butter which is both moisturizing and occluding (keeps water from evaporating) and has great polyphenols (but I'll spare y'all the explanation of all that). I then use two different oils, one which is lightweight and another which is a medium weight. Apricot kernel oil is light and well absorbed by the skin. It has softening, regenerating, and moisturizing properties. Rice bran oil is a medium weight oil with lots of Vitamin E. It also penetrates well to moisturize and soften skin. The combination of both light and medium weight oils ensures that it will absorb quickly (apricot oil) and also have a "staying power" (rice bran oil) over time.

The water component of a lotion frequently contains more than water! Who knew? In our case, it also includes glycerin and sodium lactate. Both of these ingredients are great humectants, which means they draw in water from the atmosphere. The glycerin I use is derived from soy. Sodium lactate is a salt dissolved in water; it comes from the fermentation of corn and beets.

The emulsifier breaks the surface tension between oil and water so that the oil droplets become suspended in water. The emulsifying wax I use is made from Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Ceteareth-20, two chemicals which are derived from coconut oil. I also use cetyl alcohol which helps to emulsify and thicken the lotion. 

Like I said, I do use a preservative. I have chosen Liquid Germall Plus, which is effective, reliable and heat-stable. There are other preservatives on the market, however, many of them can cause your lotion to separate so they are very tricky to use. My personal feeling is that the risk from an un or under-preserved lotion is more than from one that is properly preserved.

In case you're wondering, soap (liquid or bar) does not need a preservative because it has a higher pH. Lip balm also does not need a preservative because it does not contain water. Products such as salt or sugar scrubs are a bit more complicated as there are some that are emulsified (meaning they contain water and therefore need a preservative) or they can be water-free. The problem is when you use the scrub, you run the risk of introducing water if your hands are wet. Therefore, I'd suggest using an emulsified scrub with a preservative or keeping your scrub away from the shower and making sure your hands are dry when you reach in to scoop out the product. 

So...how does all this magic come together? It's not nearly as hard as you might think but you must make sure to measure accurately and follow proper sanitation guidelines to avoid introducing contaminants into your lotion. Two separate components are made: a water phase and an oil phase. You water phase will contain water, sodium lactate, and glycerine. Your oil phase will contain all oil-based components: oils, butters, emulsifying waxes, and alcohols plus Vitamin E oil (a teeny tiny bit is all you need). Each of these components is then heated on the stove until they reach a minimum of 165F and then held at that temperature for 20 minutes. This "heat and hold" process serves two functions. First, it reduces microbial levels by killing most bacteria in the water (the preservative will take care of the rest). Second, it makes it easier for the oil phase to break into very small droplets called micelles. The smaller the particle size, the more stable the lotion. After 20 minutes of heating, the two phases (oil and water) are combined and mixed at high speeds until emulsified. Then the lotion is slowly cooled. As it cools it will thicken more. Once it reaches the right temperature, the preservative and fragrance are mixed in. After that, you only have to bottle your lotion and it is ready to use!

Do you have questions about lotions? Post them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them!

Lotion with mango butter

 


New Product Spotlight: White Quartz Soap Stone Dish July 25, 2018 21:59

Stylish white soap dishes now available.

Washindi Naturals Training Kenya June 12, 2018 11:14 1 Comment

The Washindi Victory Center in Nairobi requested assistance with a soap making training. They are a small community-based organization serving the people living in the Kibera slums through economic empowerment. We led a two-week training there in May 2018 focusing on soap making and business skills.

Retailer Profile: VintageMod March 21, 2018 18:55

A new retailer reached out to me recently to carry some soap and candles. I went to drop them off and fell in love with their store. VintageMod is located in the North DeKalb area of Decatur. It can be easy to miss but is well worth the effort! Previously they were located in Avondale but moved to North Druid Hills in February. The store is owned by Essie and Simone, two sisters from Trinidad. As the store name suggests, they carry a well-curated selection of mid-century furniture and home accessories. Essie also refinishes furniture and paints them with pretty pops of pink, blue and gold. You can see lovely pictures of their products on Instagram or Facebook. If you're looking for something special for your home, stop by and see what they have to offer. Except for the blue lamp. I call dibs on that!

3845 N. Druid Hills Road, Suite 204
Decatur, Georgia 30033

mid-century blue chair Gorgeous mid-century hutch 


Strawberry Rhubarb Pie March 12, 2018 15:19

We haven't had a pie recipe in a while. That's no bueno. 

This is my father's favorite pie to have in spring and early summer. If you don't want to use a store-bought crust, I totally get it--they are better.  However, they aren't happening in my world; I can live with that.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

 

 

 

 

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 1/2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices trimmed rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds untrimmed)
  • 1 16-ounce container strawberries, hulled, halved (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)
  • Two refrigerated pie crusts (the rolled up kind)

 PREPARATION

    1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
    2. Combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Toss gently to blend.
    3. Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.
    4. Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.
    5. Brush glaze over crust. transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

Modified from Epicurious.


Spotlight on Earl Gray March 01, 2018 04:00

Learn all about one of our popular fragrances, Earl Gray.

The trick to staying motivated February 23, 2018 19:21

This isn’t going to be the definitive list of ways to stay on track with goals because I don’t have all the answers. Sorry, folks. ;) With that said, I will share a few of the things that are working.

Read on for more...


Nine ideas for empty candle containers January 07, 2018 00:00 1 Comment

You've burned your fabulous new candle, but, what do you do with the empty tumbler? Good question. The easy answer: don't throw it away! First, you should clean it. Burn it as far as can possibly go. There will be a small amount of wax in the bottom but you'll be able to see the little metal clip that secures the wood wick. Grab a pair of pliers and carefully pull the clip out. Pop the tumbler into the microwave for a minute and pour off the remaining wax into a paper cup. Let the wax in the cup solidify then throw that away. In the meantime, give the tumbler a quick scrub with a sponge and dish soap. Because our candles aren't made with paraffin, they will clean up quickly and easily. That's it! Now, what can you do with your squeaky clean tumbler? Here are nine suggestions:

Drink out of it!

Bourbon, wine or juice, this glass is a perfect size. Over time, you can have a matched set too!

 

 

Corral loose change

Save up enough for a night at the movies.

 

 

Organize your bathroom counter

Store Q-tips, cotton balls, toothbrushes or toothpaste...

 

 

Make a sweet vase

Make use of all the flowers with short stems.

 

 

Store paper clips

Organize your desk. Or organize my desk, thank you very much.

 

 

Create a mini succulent planter

Put gravel at the bottom so that your plants don't get waterlogged. Or mix in some sand and plant mini cacti.

 

  

Hold pens or pencils

More ways to organize your desk...

 

 

Create a pretty tablescape

Drop in tea lights from the dollar store to make a quick decoration for a patio table.

 

 

If all else fails, recycle it!

 

Do you have suggestions for other ways to use an empty candle jar? Add them in the comment section!

 


New packaging January 05, 2018 12:43

Rosemary Mint Soap Our values

Our new packaging isn't exactly new since we began using it in July 2017. However, we haven't yet told the story of our packaging, which is a bit more involved. Granted, telling the story of a box isn't exactly riveting but I think it speaks to who we are as a company so it is worth some time and effort.

Our packaging is actually only one piece of a larger rebranding process which I started in early 2016. You read that right: two years ago. I hired a graphic designer to help me create a new logo, typography, brand colors as well as packaging. The entire process took quite a bit longer (and cost a lot more) than I anticipated but I am very happy with the end result. My goal was to create a clean, minimalistic aesthetic with a muted color palette of gray and blue. I felt this was necessary since many of my products are colorful. I wanted my logo to be casual and handwritten to mimic the swirls in my soap. The flower design is a nod to the gorgeous plasterwork seen in the architecture of Zanzibar, a place that is near and dear to my heart.

The heart of what I believe in as a person and a company is printed on my boxes and bottles. Many people know that I was widowed when I was only 39 years old (pancreatic cancer). It was a life-changing event and although it has been 10 years, it continues to shape my life, as well the lives of my children and my husband's family. Although it is terribly cliche, through this I have learned to value every day we have on this planet. And inside each day we have so many things to embrace and be thankful for. The packaging on my soap lists just a few of the things that matter. They aren't weddings, holidays or vacations but are instead the mundane and ordinary because, as the saying goes "the little things are really the big things".


World's Greatest Pie November 14, 2017 18:53

Pecan Pumpkin Pie

This pie is insanely good. And easy too. Do not leave out the orange zest.
Credit to AllRecipes.com
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I used a bit less, around 1/3 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups solid pack pumpkin puree
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Combine eggs, sugars, flour, spices and salt. Blend in pumpkin. Gradually add milk; mix well.
  2. Pour into 9-inch pie shell. Bake in 450 degree F (230 degrees C) oven 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and bake 40 to 50 minutes longer.
  3. Sprinkle pecan mixture over pie the last 10 minutes before removing from the oven.
  4. To Make Topping: Combine 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon grated orange rind, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup pecans.

Tips for handmade soap October 18, 2017 17:38

People frequently ask me about the best way to get the most life out of their handmade soap. In the interest of folks who may not want all the detailed reasons for my suggestions, I will skip to the end first, then go back and explain everything.

  • The most important “rule” with handmade soap: keep it soap dry! Use a soap dish! Your soap dissolve quickly if it is sitting in a puddle of water.
  • Cut your soap in half. Use one half and put the other in a dresser drawer. Your soap will last longer and your clothes will smell nice.
  • A bath poof will help to get a lot of lather without wasting soap.
  • Put soap scraps in a soap saver bag. These hang in the shower and you use them like a washcloth. There are many different options on Amazon: plastic mesh, natural sisal fibers or terrycloth. 

Now for the long explanation; skip if you aren’t interested in all the details--but, really, who wouldn’t want to know all this? Exactly.

First, a little bit of chemistry: not all soaps are actually soap. Huh? Many of the big name products you see at stores are actually detergents. Soaps and detergents are both surfactants (surface active agents), an ingredient with two primary roles: to reduce the surface tension of water so that it can more uniformly penetrate a surface and a chemical structure with one end that attracts water and another that attracts dirt and grease. The basic difference between the two is that soap is made with natural ingredients while detergents are made from synthetic sources. Natural ingredients mean fats (animal or vegetable) or oils (generally plant based) and an alkali (sodium hydroxide for solid soap or potassium hydroxide for a liquid soap). This reaction is called saponification.

Detergents are in countless products we use every day (dish “soap”, laundry detergent, household cleaners) and the do have some advantages over soap in some applications. Detergents work well in any temperature (good for laundry) and do not leave a film which needs rinsing (this “film” is actually glycerin and it’s great for your skin but not necessarily what you want on your clothes). It’s easy to end up in the weeds of soap making chemistry so I’ll just leave you with this, the chemical “equation” for saponification in its most basic form looks something like this: oil or fat + an alkali = soap + glycerin.

So what does this all actually mean? There’s the fundamental difference between using a natural vs a synthetic product. I would argue that a natural soap is better for your body and the environment but there’s also a practical difference between the two. Saponification results in soap plus glycerin. Commercial products extract the glycerin and use it for other purposes whereas a handcrafted soap still contains glycerin. This natural byproduct is terrific because it helps soften and moisturize skin. (A small tangent: the irony here is that some commercial products take the glycerin out then put it back in! Try to figure that one out). However, glycerin attracts water which is why a handmade soap can dissolve more quickly and why you need to keep your soap dry.

Finally, a bit of unsolicited advice: Take a moment to appreciate your handmade soap--the color, scent, the moment to yourself (hopefully). In our hectic busy world, it's sometimes easy to forget to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. But I think we can all agree that life is better when we do.



Wick Tips for Candles August 30, 2017 11:24

Wick Tips for Candles

To get the best performance from your wood wick candle, be sure to trim the wick after every use (once it is cooled). Wood wick candles prefer a shorter wick; trim them to approximately 1/8-3/16”. You can trim your wick with regular scissors or get a wick trimming tool such as this Wickman trimmer from Amazon.  The advantage to a wick trimmer is it can easily reach down to the bottom of taller containers plus it has a little “tray” that catches the trimmings so they don’t fall down in the wax. The Wickman brand shown is $10 and is nice and sharp. If you find that your candle is making soot or has a weak flame, then try trimming the wick slightly.


Ingredient Spotlight: Castor Oil April 20, 2017 14:16

Castor oil is a common ingredient in most handcrafted soaps. It is pressed from the seed of the castor plant (Ricinus communis), which is native to the Mediterranean basin, East Africa, and India but has spread to tropical regions around the globe. The castor plant is a fast-growing shrub which can reach the size of a small tree (30 feet).  Castor oil is clear, colorless and extremely thick. The oil is also used in the food industry, medicine, a commercial lubricant, and in some biodiesel.

When it comes to soap making castor oil is a unique ingredient. In fact, you really can't substitute another oil for it because it is almost entirely composed of ricinoleic acid (85-95%), a monounsaturated, 18-carbon fatty acid. Among fatty acids, ricinoleic acid is unusual in that it has a hydroxyl functional group on the 12th carbon. This functional group causes ricinoleic acid (and castor oil) to be more polar than most fats. The chemical reactivity of the alcohol group also allows chemical derivatization that is not possible with most other seed oils. Say what??? Translation: i

Say what??? Translation: in cold process soap, castor oil contributes to large bubbles and is known for its cleansing properties. Castor oil can also work to draw moisture into your skin. I only use a small amount of it in my soap. If you use more than 10% in soap the resulting bar will have a sticky feel.

Sources: Wikipedia, SoapQueen.com. If you really want to get your soap geek on be sure to check out Kevin Dunn's "Scientific Soapmaking". 

 


A Mediocre Life March 23, 2017 11:03

Recently, I read the article "What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?" at No Side Bar, a website dedicated to living a simpler life. While I'm not too keen on the word "mediocre" because it has negative connotations, the message still spoke to me as a person, parent, and business owner.  So much of our existence is focused on doing more, being more. Just Do It. Be All You Can Be. Hustle. When you throw in parenting (especially for moms) or having your own business, the push to excel is even stronger. And the truth is, I don't really want anything other than what I have. Sometimes I'm a good mom and sometimes I'm a shitty mom. Sometimes I work really hard at my business and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I run 4 miles and sometimes I take a nap. Posterity won't remember me as someone who changed the world but, hopefully, my family will remember me as someone who went to a lot of soccer games, listened to stories of office drama, drove to the store at 9 PM to buy glue sticks, and was their most loyal cheerleader. To me, that's success.


What's for Dinner Wednesday? March 22, 2017 16:38

Yummy fast recipesI've said many times that one of the most annoying chores I face on a regular basis is figuring out what to make for dinner. With that in mind, I will try to post regular recipes that are taste-tested and approved by my clan. Today's recipes are Rice with Cauliflower and Pomegranate and Chick Peas with Garlic and a Bunch of Other Stuff (TM).  Both of these recipes come from the "Complete Mediterranean Cookbook". The impetus for making these the first time was to use up a bunch of stuff in my fridge and pantry (with the exception of the pomegranate, which I had to go buy because I don't just have those laying around). I threw in a bunch of spinach that was sitting in our rotter (aka, the vegetable bin) because I didn't want to have to pitch it and I felt like I should give my kids some kind of vegetable. Speaking of my kids, they truly loved these dishes. I was a bit amazed but who am I to question the little victories?

Spiced Basmati Rice with Cauliflower and Pomegranate

1 head cauliflower cut into 3/4" florets

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

1/2 t ground cumin

1 onion, chopped (pro tip: swim goggles)

1 1/2 cups basmati rice

4 cloves of garlic, minced (I've been known to use garlic paste. So sue me)

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 turmeric

2 1/4 cups water (I use veggie broth if I have any)

1/2 pomegranate seeds

2 T chopped cilantro (critical IMO, but I know others hate it)

2 T chopped mint

1. Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and heat oven to 475 (forewarned, we set off the smoke alarm). Toss cauliflower with 2 T of oil, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, and 1/4 t cumin. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast until just tender, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.

2. Heat remaining 2 T of oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and 1/4 t salt and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add rice, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, and remaining 1/4 t cumin and cook, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes.

3. Stir in water (or broth) and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently for about 16-18 minutes.

4. Off heat, lay a clean dish towel underneath the lid of the rice and let it sit for 10 minutes. Why? I have no idea. Add roasted cauliflower and fluff gently. Transfer to a serving platter (first time for everything) and sprinkle with pomegranate, cilantro (yum) and mint. 

Chickpeas with Garlic and Parsley (plus some spinach which I threw in for good measure)

1/4 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, sliced thin (confession: mine were not)

1/8 t red pepper flakes

1 onion, chopped fine

salt and pepper

2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas, rinsed

1 cup veggie or chicken broth

2 T fresh minced parsley

2 t lemon juice

big handful of spinach 

1. Cook 3 T of olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes. Stir in onion and 1/4 t salt and cook until onions are softened about 5-7 minutes. Stir in chickpeas, spinach, and broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until chickpeas are heated through and spinach wilts into nothing about 7 minutes. and continue to cook until nearly all liquid has evaporated about 3 minutes. 

2, Uncover, increase heat to high and continue to cook until nearly all liquid has evaporated about 3 minutes.  Off heat stir in parsley and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with remaining 1 T olive oil.

Dig in. Let me know if you try it.

 


Fun Project Idea: DIY Sugar Cube Scrub February 28, 2017 09:12

One of the suppliers I work with sent this really easy tutorial for a sugar cube scrub. This would be a fun project with kids or for a girlfriend's evening or you could make a bunch as gifts for friends or family. Brambleberry sells the kit at their website but you could likely get similar ingredients at Michaels or other online cosmetic suppliers. If you aren't sure which suppliers are good, drop me a note in the comments and I can offer suggestions. A few pieces of advice: 

  • Please don't use food color to color your cubes. They will stain you and your bathtub! Get a bath and body approved colorant. The same for fragrance; products such as vanilla extract might smell nice but they are not intended for this use. 
  • This calls for using a lidded soap mold, however, that doesn't seem necessary. Most any rectangular plastic container should work fine. You could also double or triple the recipe and use a silicone brownie pan.
  • Any light oil will be fine and you can get many of them at a larger local grocery store. This uses sweet almond oil, which is great but avocado, grapeseed or apricot kernel oil will work just as well.
  • There is a video tutorial in the link below if you want to watch.

***

https://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/soaks-and-scrubs/diy-sugar-scrub-cubes/

DIY Sugar Scrub Cubes

DIY Sugar Scrub Cubes
Prep time: 
Total time: 10 mins

These Sugar Scrub Cubes are so easy to make! They exfoliate, cleanse and moisturize.

Author:
Recipe type: Sugar Scrub
Serves: 12 cubes per batch

 

Ingredients
  • 2 Rectangle Molds with Lids
  • 2 oz. Clear Melt & Pour Soap Base
  • 2 oz. Sweet Almond Oil
  • 2 mL Fresh Bamboo Fragrance Oil
  • 6 oz. White Granulated Sugar
  • Fired Up Fuchsia Colorant
  • Fizzy Lemonade Colorant
Instructions
  1. Chop 2 ounces of Clear Melt and Pour Soap into small, even pieces. Place into a heat safe container. Measure 6 ounces of granulated sugar into a separate container. Have two Rectangle Molds with Lids ready to go, with the lids off.
  2. Chop off a hunk of the Fizzy Lemonade Color Block or Fired Up Fuchsia Color Block (depending on what color you'd like to make) and place it into the container with the melt and pour soap. Add 2 mL of Fresh Bamboo Fragrance Oil.
  3. Place the container in the microwave for about 35 seconds, or until the soap is completely melted but not boiling. Remove from the microwave and stir to thoroughly mix together the soap, colorant and fragrance oil.
  4. Pour the sugar into the mixture and stir very quickly and rigorously for about 10 seconds. Quickly pour the mixture into the 2 molds. If it becomes too thick to pour, place the mixture into the microwave using 5-10 seconds to loosen the mixture. Don't microwave for too long, or the sugar can melt.
  5. Allow the cubes to harden in the mold for several hours until completely cool and firm. Release from the mold and cut into 6 cubes. Store the cubes in an airtight package to prevent glycerin dew.
  6. To use, break up the scrub slightly with your hand along with warm water, and apply to skin. These scrubs are great for the body, but may be a little harsh on the face. Enjoy!

Behind the scenes at Amani February 22, 2017 14:38

Having your own soap making business might seem like fun, especially making beautiful swirly soaps, but the truth is it is a LOT of work and much of it is pretty mundane. Take today's task: measuring oils. In order to make the best use of my time when I DO get to make soap, I prepare ahead by master batching my oils. That's just a fancy way of saying I measure and mix big batches ahead of time.I order all of my base oils and butters in 25-50 pound containers which is significantly more economical though not necessarily easy on my back.

First I thoroughly cleaned all my buckets.

buckets ready for soapmaking

Then I start weighing ingredients. Here's a 25# bucket of organic unrefined shea butter.

organic unrefined shea butter

And here's 50# of coconut oil. It's solid at room temperature so you have to cut it out with a big knife.

coconut oil for soap making

And....here's the knife after I broke it.

broken knife

Here's what happens when you start to get tired and try to rush. Spilled semi-solid coconut oil. #notfuntocleanup

Crying over spilled oils

Five hours later, 1,500 # of base oils measured out... 

1500# of blended oils for soap making

And ready for soap making.

Even more measured oils

The next picture needs to be me asleep on the couch.


Sneak peek of Amani's rebrand February 14, 2017 12:59

I have been working for months with a design team to create a new logo and packaging.

Lesson #1--it will take twice as long as you plan

Lesson #2--it will cost twice as much as you plan

Lesson #3--the results will be worth it.

Beautiful New Soap Box Packaging


Pisto: Spanish Ratatouille May 31, 2016 14:00

We had a wonderful Spanish college student stay with us for three months this spring. The whole family loves her; she's become a big sister to all our kids. She recently went back to Madrid and we miss her so much! One thing she has taught us is how to make the wonderful dish pisto. It is incredibly easy, cheap and healthy. The only drawback is it takes a long time to cook however, it isn't complicated. Below is the traditional version she taught me. I am going to experiment with making this in a slow cooker and report back.

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 medium onions, chopped

2 green peppers, diced

2 red peppers, diced

1 half large eggplant, diced

2 large zucchini, diced

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

Salt to taste, at least 1 teaspoon

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

 

1.5 cups rice, rinsed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

3 cups water or water + broth

6 eggs

Head's up: the total cook time for this is well over 60 minutes!

In a large pan, heat half the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and continue to cook the onion until very soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pisto: Easy cheap dinner recipe

 

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, cook the green peppers in the remaining olive oil for about 20 minutes then add the red peppers and continue to cook another 20 minutes.

 Pisto: Easy cheap dinner recipe Pisto: Easy cheap dinner recipe

Add the eggplant to the onions and cook about 15 minutes. Then add the zucchini and cook about 10 minutes more. Combine both pans together (you might need a larger pot) add the crushed tomatoes and cook another 10-15 minutes.

 Pisto: Easy cheap dinner recipe Pisto: Easy cheap dinner recipe

While the vegetables are cooking (maybe halfway through), make the rice. You can make it however you like but here's the way Maria made it for us. Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot. Add the rice and cook for a few minutes. If you like you can sprinkle in a little minced garlic--just don't let it burn (that makes it bitter). Add water or broth and stir well. You can cover and cook on low heat until the water is absorbed or cook it with the lid off stirring well and very frequently. This was new to me, it was almost like making risotto. I did have to add some additional water since the lid was off it evaporated. It was a bit more work but the rice came out nicely and wasn't sticky.

When the vegetables are nearly finished, fry up an egg for each person. Ideally the yolk should still be a little runny. Serve the vegetables on top of the rice and top each serving with a fried egg. 

Pisto: Easy cheap dinner recipe Pisto: Easy cheap dinner recipe