Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Abbott Bar

I was recently lying awake at night thinking about my next soap adventures, my day, and my best friend Erica. Erica was a roommate in college, a neighbor in Brooklyn, a Godmother to my first son, and a best friend.

(College Roommates) 

(Brooklyn Neighbors)

(Luke's Godmother)

(Best friend. Erica and I are both wearing the friendship bracelet she made me -- it was awesome but she overshot my size and made it super huge!)

Unfortunately for the world, Erica's life was cut short. Erica was struck while riding her bike in Bushwick, Brooklyn and did not survive.

(Luke and Erica's father lighting candles next to her ghost bike.)

She was 29. I remember this distinctly because the last time I saw her was days before at a friend's wedding and she and I, as weddings go, were rolling pretty deep. Erica kept saying, "I'm 30 years old!" to which I would say, "You JUST turned 29!" In our wedding-induced state, I'm not sure she was listening.

(The last night Erica and I were together -- our good friend's wedding!)

Erica was born a Catholic but had taken a vow of Buddhism about six months before she passed.

(A Memorial for Erica at her Buddhist Temple. Picture of her holding Luke top left.)

When I asked her to be the Godmother to my son, a role which she took VERY seriously, she consulted with one of her spiritual leaders on how to balance Catholicism and Buddhism. He told her to think of herself as Luke's spiritual guide, whatever denomination that meant. This juxtaposition can be clearly seen in her gift choices for Luke's Christening. One, a book called Namaste, in which she inscribed the following:

And a vintage record and Jesus paper doll set. Erica started thinking that she better start to save up for Luke's graduation because as a Godmother, she would have to give him a fat check in 18 years. We told her this was not the case and our smarty will likely be a regular Doogie Howser so that graduation might come in a tender 15 years. Cutting him a slice of his sugary cake at the graduation party would be more than sufficient.

On the day that Erica died, she had called her mother and called me as well. I would have been at work but my school was closed from the damage of hurricane Irene. I'm always grateful that I was home for that call instead of a message on the machine when I got home. It might have been too late to call hr back at that point. We looked at wedding dresses together, me on my computer in the Catskills and she on hers in Brooklyn. We made plans for the upcoming weekend (my birthday, and maybe wedding dress shopping -- who knows?) and left it at that.

(Erica and I sharing a drink The Lady & The Tramp style sometime in college)

(On our way to see the Martha Stewart show - whaaaatt!)

(Taking a picture with the stranger next to us in a fancy restaurant)

Erica was on her way to a meeting with her Buddhist companions to plan an upcoming charity to benefit others in need. Erica didn't make it to that meeting. She had a helmet on and was not a risk-taker. So I am sure she was riding at a reasonable speed.

After someone passes dreams can be very kind or horrendous. I've had both very upsetting dreams about the details of Erica's death and also very comforting dreams where Erica has told me, "Don't worry, we can always hang out in your dreams," and, "I am ALWAYS with you."

As time passed, these dreams -- both the good and bad -- lessened and lessened. I remember a poignant dream at this time when Erica's mom was with me and we were taking the pictures off of the walls of her apartment. I really, really didn't want to but if Erica's mom felt it was time then I would help her take the pictures down. This was really symbolic to me about accepting that Erica no longer lives in that East Williamsburg apartment.

(The only picture I could find inside of Erica's apartment. I guess we went out a lot. This was Halloween.)

Erica's apartment was a haven for fun and adventure. She always had a healthy, adventurous meal prepared when I came over with it chosen specifically to my tastes and preferences. Sometimes the meals were a little out-there (bone marrow, anyone?) but there was certainly not a Kraft Mac-and-Cheese box in sight.

(Erica and I working on a "fancy Christmas dinner" for eleven of our friends in college)

Back to the present night when I was lying awake thinking of whatever entered my mind, I started thinking about Erica's apartment. I also started to think of my previous post about scent and memory. I thought about how Erica liked to wear Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel and how her apartment always smelled lively. I wanted to try to make a scent combination that would transport me to that apartment with Erica. Making chocolate chip cookies from scratch and mixing them by hand because Erica swore that, "It tastes better that way." Whiffs of the Coco Mademoiselle and Erica's dried flowers she kept in jars behind her stove.

At this time of year, if Erica was still with us I would likely be baking a cake for her 33rd birthday. I wanted to honor her life somehow in the present. Although my dreams have made me take the pictures down in her apartment in my mind, that she is still very present here on Earth.

(Erica and her pops)

Making this soap was very meditative and personal. The scent is a combination of earthy vanilla, floral lavender and rose, and bright, lively lemon.

The top is dotted with dried flowers, just like the ones Erica had in jars behind her stove: lavender, rose, and calendula.

Inside are layers to mimic a mountainous skyline. The Himalayan mountains was a spot that Erica was planning to travel to but never got the opportunity. This was all in my mind while making this soap. Lastly, I stamped the soap with a gold A. Erica had this tattooed on her arm and after she passed, many got this tattoo in honor of her.

Each package will come with a tag explaining that the cost of this bar will go to Free Tibet and a the quote that Erica wrote in my son's book that she gave to him for his Christening.

The will be available on her birthday: June 28th.

Best Friends Never End.

Donate to Free Tibet while receiving an Abbott Bar:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Smell and Emotion

Recently at a market, a woman smelled all of my soaps in a typical fashion but paused when she got to my Oatmeal, Milk & Honey bar. To me, and many others, this soap smells a bit like an oatmeal cookie with slight almond notes. This woman, I'd guess around 60, was transported to somewhere far away for a few seconds. When her mind returned to the present, she said that smell, for whatever reason, reminded her deeply of her times in a Catholic school as a young girl. The psychologist in me wanted to reply with, "Tell me more about that," but I realized it was a weekend and I wasn't at that job. So instead I decided on, "Did your Catholic school bake a lot of oatmeal cookies?"

Smell is often overlooked as an important sense. If you'd have to lose one as an adult, well, smell seems to pose the lease impact on daily living. This decision makes sense. However, without smell the evocation of strong emotions and memories linked with certain smells, will obviously no longer happen. Eating foods will  be abysmal as well. Functionality is intact as to not create major dfficulties in getting through the day but the question then becomes, what happens to the extras?

The olfactory bulbs in our brain are right next to our limbic system. Of all the senses, smell has the closest and fastest access to this part of our brain. Why is this important? The limbic system is the place where we store many memories and emotions. Because of this, scent can create a warm, comforting emotion within milliseconds, or it can be quite repelling.

"The linkup between nose and brain likewise holds considerable interest. The olfactory bulbs extend some of their axons directly into the limbic system of the brain, the celebrated seat of emotions, sexuality and drive. Odor information thus goes from nose to bulbs to limbic system, a much more direct route than that traversed by visual and auditory input. Olfaction may be an ancient sense, perhaps the hoariest of them all; but its wiring to the brain is sweet and pithy."

The scents we use in our soaps and bath products are largely plant based. Fresh air, foliage, flowers, citruses, these are generally scents that evoke euphoric feelings in all of us. Our soaps are scented lightly so that they aren't overpowering. I have been known to get a headache if someone in the room is wearing too much perfume. With that in mind, our scents are light, refreshing, and comforting.

The best ingredients in the world end up in our products. Shop at:

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Making of Coconut and Lemongrass Soap

I recently did a market on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore and it was an amazing time! I love meeting other creative people and learning their business models. One patron at this market came up to my booth and said, "Yep, soap. I made soap with my boy scout troop a few years ago." To which I said, "Really? That's daring! How old were the boy scouts?" Low and behold he made melt-and-pour soap. MP soap is great for people who are nervous to handle lye or for those who prefer a glycerin-based soap. There are many people doing amazing things with MP soap. However, that is not what we do. We do cold-processed soap which means oils are saponified using lye. This is a lot of fun, and a bit scary, and you get to control all of the ingredients in your soap.
This post is to answer the question we get a lot which is, "How do you make soap?"

The following is an adaptation of Kenna from Modern Soapmaking's recipe for Coconut Milk Soap.

This is in no way meant to be an instructional for first-time cold processed soap makers. There is a lot to know about how to handle lye safely that is not covered in this post. 

For this recipe, the first step was to weigh out the coconut milk: 

Because this soap was going to be scented with Lemongrass Essential Oil, I thought the soap will be more appealing with the lovely lemongrass shades. 

To keep with the all-natural vibe, this recipe used micas and oxides as colorants. (The gold mica was not pictured below because it was a last-minute addition!) A bit dispersed in sweet almond oil and we are ready to go!

If I ever have that bag of titanium dioxide in my car and I get pulled over, the police officer is going to have a few questions for me, I'm sure...

Now that the additives (coconut milk) and colors are prepped, I measure out my essential oils (not pictured) and my soaping oils. For this recipe, a mixture of coconut oil (A LOT of coconut oil - it is a coconut soap), rice bran oil, avocado oil, castor oil, and shea butter are used. This recipe is palm-free and vegan.

This bad boy then goes on a double-boiler to melt all of the oils and butters. At Esopus Botanicals, we always take the time to gently warm our oils, butters, and waxes over a double-boiler as opposed to microwaving it. I mean, we've all read that kid's science project where his plants fed microwaved, cooled water died while the ones with the non-microwaved, cooled water were flourishing. So why not double-boil?

All of the beautiful oils and butters are melted. 

Now it is time to suit-up Walter White style! Protective gear, deep breaths, no children or pets. 

Most soap makers make the lye water first and then while that cools, measure and melt the oils. I don't like to leave the lye water unsaponified for any longer than necessary. I measure and melt the oils while my kids are roaming the house and then gate them in the living room when the lye comes out. So the reversed process works for me. 

Lye (or sodium hydroxide in the case of making bars of soap) is pretty amazing. It has a Ph of 14 so it is as basic as you can get. (insert Kim Kardashian joke here.) Original soap makers made lye water by flushing water through wood ash from their fires. Although it is natural, it is extremely dangerous. The only picture I got of the lye was a bit blurry because no matter how many times I use it, I always get a little nervous when it comes out.

These lye flakes are added to distilled water that's container sits in an ice-bath. That is because temperatures easily rise above 200 degrees. It is not dangerous, so long as you are using the right containers, but you don't want to add your lye water to your melted oils until it is under 120 degrees. So the ice bath helps lessen the time of me shaking in my boots stirring the lye water.

I have no pictures of the lye water or when I added that to the oils. That is serious time and I didn't want to mess around with my phone. But I do have a picture of when I added the coconut milk to the oils (before the lye water was added). The process looks exactly the same:

When the lye water was added to the oil/coconut milk mixture, it was stick blended briefly with the lemongrass EO. Then the batter was divided into two parts, one with most of the soap and one with a little bit. The main batch was given a dash of titanium dioxide/sweet almond oil to maintain a nice white color and the other was given a dash of the green oxide/sweet almond oil. Just a tad to mimic the lemongrass color.

Then it's pouring time! I used the 10 inch silicone mold from for this recipe. Layers of white and light green soap went in. This is what the top looked like:

Not super beautiful just yet. I have been obsessed with adding gold mica/sweet almond oil drops to the top of my soap before swirling, Zahida from Handmade in Florida style.

Because of the natural sugars in the coconut milk, this batch accellerated on me a bit more quickly than I had hoped. I had visions of lovely swirls but when the batter thickened rapidly, I went to plan B: Peaks and texture!

This loaf went directly into the freezer. I don't do that with all of my soaps but the sugars in the coconut milk were causing the soap to get very hot and crack on the top. That is no good so to the freezer it went!

About 10 hours later I sliced this puppy up. I love the how the color turned out exactly in a lemongrass hue. Now to the curing racks to hang out for a month. Every now and again I will rotate the soaps to make sure they all get air to all 6 sides.

Put the lemongrass in the coconut and make a dank soap.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Custom Lace Mold

Browsing Pinterest provided inspiration to make a custom lace mold for our cold-processed soap. We were afraid it would have been a disaster and complete waste of money (silicone is expensive!!) but despite our no-can-do-it-attitudes, we killed it!

Below is a step-by-step tutorial and you can do it too.

First we selected the lace swatch we wanted to do. This lace was bought off of amazon for about $6. We searched, "Plastic Lace," but this is also called, "Mexican Lace." I don't know, seemed racist so we googled plastic lace. It worked!

The lace was then fused to a rectangular piece of firm cardboard using iron-on fabric fusing with the decorative side facing up. 

Next we put the cardboard, lace creation face-up into our container. We used a silicone soap mold, although this would not be recommended. Instead, use a cardboard box that match the dimensions of your mold. Cleaning this was quite the to-do!

Next we mixed the catalyst to the powder. Make sure to be in a well-ventilated area and to wear gloves! Don't be a total bone head like we were and use utensils and containers you really like. Cleaning dried silicone off of these things was darn near impossible!

Time to pour! Go slowly as to not trap air bubbles into your design

Lightly tap down the container to have all of the air bubbles rise to the top. As it dries, they come out, making the top smooth like a skating rink (not pictured.. below is before it was set.)

Put this in a safe place to set for at least 24 hours. Some silicone mixes are different so do whatever the label says. We left ours overnight. 

Boom! Mold made! Now flip that sucker over (carefully) and discard the cardboard and lace. With the design of the mold facing up, fill it with the soap of your desired recipe and color. Using a soap heavy on soft oils (e.g. castille soap) would not be recommended. You need something with a higher percentage of hard oils so it unmolds nicely. For this recipe a blend of olive, coconut, palm, sweet almond, and avocado oils was used. Some people suggest brushing your mold with a mineral-based oil (which we avoid obviously) or if you don't use petroleum based oils some have had success brushing molds with rice bran oil. We didn't brush it with anything and it was fine!

At first, pile a lot of the soap on the mold to ensure it gets into every nook and cranny.

Then, every five minutes or so, scrape the excess soap off and either discard or, as we do (because we love our soaps and never waste them) put into a side mold. We used these lego dude molds.

As you progressively scrape off the top soap you will have something more like this. Set this aside and let it dry for a minimum of 24 hours.

After you slept (if you slept at all with the anticipation of how your soap is going to turn out) place the silicone mold with the dried soap at the bottom of your soap mold. The design side needs to face up (the bottom of the mold will ultimately be the top of your soap.)

Then make a batch of soap with the same recipe as the soap in the lace mold. If the oil/lye water ratio is different, you risk the soap in the lace mold not properly sticking to the soap poured on top.

To emphasize the details in the lace design, make your second batch of soap a different color. You can use micas, oxides, cocoa power, clays, or even paprika if you want to keep with the all-natural vibe.

Pour the new soap on top of the lace soap.

This shot looks extremely green (one might even call it Nickelodeon-esque) but as this soap cures it is much more subtle. It is important to play around with your colorants because some become more saturated as they cure while others soften.

After a few days of sitting in the mold, pop that soap out by turning the mold upside down and then carefully peeling the lace silicone off. You can see how muted the green color became!

Cut into whatever dimensions your little heart desires and you will have this lovely soap that everyone will go ape for! 

In the group below you can see our Herb Garden Lace soap (also pictured in the large block above) and our Rosemary, Mint & Vanilla Lace Soap with their buddies.

Now that's soapTASTIC!

Make them yourself or go ahead and order some lace soaps from our Etsy site. You won't regret it!