A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Kevin Stinehart, a South Carolina-based woodworking artist. Kevin salvages materials like old books and wood scraps and uses them to create works of art. He says, “I have found that in life some of the most striking beauty is found in the discarded and broken things. I strive to mirror that same hope in the art that I create. While the end result should be a thing of aesthetic pleasure, the ultimate goal is always redemption – something new from the old, something lovely from the rubbish, and in each of us, and in all things, another chance to be made beautiful.”
When the cold weather hits, you can almost always find me with a hot beverage in hand – cider, tea, hot chocolate and nearly any type of coffee concoction. One of my favorite wintertime treats is the peppermint mocha. It’s the perfect drink to kick off the Christmas season – chocolatey, minty and needlessly caloric. What more could you ask for?
There are a lot of things I miss about New Jersey. I miss being familiar with a place because I grew up there. I miss the weekly football gatherings at my dad’s house, having about 50 authentic Italian restaurants within a 5 mile radius, only being a few (traffic-filled) minutes away from Manhattan, the “accent” that I didn’t realize existed until I moved to Kentucky – and I miss the bagels.
Every deli in New Jersey sells bagels. I’m not sure which are better, New York bagels or New Jersey bagels, but I have to say the texture and flavor of both are something I haven’t found anywhere else. We have a Panera nearby and they definitely make a decent bagel – but the slightly dense, slightly sweet, slightly salty, steamy and rich bread encased in the chewy caramelized crust of a fresh New Jersey bagel just can’t be beat.
Fun fact about homemade soap: because of the “superfatting” (a small % of excess oils), homemade soaps are so much more moisturizing than typical store-bought soaps that you may never need to use a hand moisturizer again. I’m speaking from experience here. When the weather gets colder and flu season is in full swing, I become a compulsive hand washer. I’ve always been a little nuts about it, and though it has successfully prevented me from getting the flu, it’s also caused my hands to crack, peel, and take on practically every other form of hand discomfort – until I switched to homemade soap. Hand washing used to be a 3 step routine – wash, dry, moisturize. Now it’s wash, dry, point at my hand moisturizer and laugh mockingly. I can say the same for hubby, who rides a motorcycle to work even in extremely cold weather, causing his hands to be even MORE crack-worthy. He hasn’t needed hand moisturizer at all since we’ve started using our own soaps!
Speaking of men and soaps… did you know you can make soap with beer? When we had our soap party a week ago, we split into 2 soap-making teams. The ladies concocted the Cafe Soap made with real coffee and real coffee grounds (recipe here), and the guys created a Citrus Honey Scotch Ale Soap, made with a dark ale and ground malted barley as an exfoliant. You heard me right! Now I know what you’re thinking – kinda cool but why would anyone want to smell like beer? Yeah, I was thinking the same thing, but honestly the soaps smell more like an extremely rich caramel with a hint of citrus and honey. The guys absolutely LOVED the scent and these are going to make perfect gifts for the men (or beer enthusiasts) in your life.
We had a soap party last weekend! A few friends came over and we spent hours melting, mixing, pouring, and having a blast. Coming up with soap recipes and creating them with friends are probably the 2 most enjoyable things about soaping, other than using your very own homemade bar for the first time!
One of the new recipes we tried out was for a coffee soap with jojoba oil. This soap is made with a double-strength coffee base instead of water, used coffee grounds as an exfoliant, and jojoba oil for its great nutrients and skin conditioning properties. We cut the bars last night and now we’re impatiently counting the days until they’re finished curing. We’re really excited to gift these when they’re ready – that is if we don’t end up hoarding them all for ourselves…
About 2 years ago I went on a skincare health kick. I don’t remember exactly what set it off, but it was probably after watching some doomsday documentary about the monsters living in our moisturizers. I’m pretty gullible when it comes to stuff like that, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry! I started off by cross-checking almost every bath & body product I was using on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. This is a great resource if you have a favorite product and want to know its potential hazard rating. I only felt comfortable using products with a rating lower than 4. As helpful as this was, I started feeling less trusting of the companies behind the labels. The cosmetics industry does have certain standards to live up to, but you can never know for sure if a label is completely honest! I know this mindset can send me off the deep end where I move into a tree house and eat leaves for the rest of my life, so in the interest of REALISM, I decided to take on a new hobby: SOAP MAKING!
The idea of knowing exactly what was going into my most frequently used bath product was definitely appealing, to say the least. I set out on a mission to create a moisturizing, cleansing, fragrant, all natural soap with quality ingredients. It also doesn’t hurt that quality handmade soaps make WONDERFUL gifts!
There are a few different methods of soap making, but the one I ended up loving was Cold Process (CP). This method has a short prep time and a long cure time. The cure time (4-6 weeks) is frustrating if you’re in a hurry to use your soap, but a long cure is necessary to produce the best quality. Making a batch of Cold Process Soap takes 1-2 hours initially and then an additional 4-6 weeks before you should use or gift it. This is how long it takes for the water to completely evaporate, resulting in a harder, longer lasting bar of soap. One misconception about CP cure time is that the soap is unsafe to use within the 4-6 week time frame because it hasn’t “saponified” yet. Saponification is the chemical reaction between fats, lye & water that produces the substance we call soap! It actually only takes about 2 days for saponification to complete. So technically, you can use your soap after 2 days, but it will be very soft and will most likely fall apart in the shower. “Aging” your soap is definitely encouraged! The long wait was annoying at first, but it allowed me to walk away from the project for a while, thus avoiding burnout (which I am 100% prone to) AND giving me something to look forward to!
Researching a topic like this can be extremely tedious, so I’m hoping to save budding CP soapers a little bit of trouble by consolidating everything I learned into this post. By the end, you will be equipped to try your first batch of CP soap!