See that? No, it's not a cheese plate. It's a plate chock-full-of-brand-new soap. Mike jokes that I love soap, and it's true. I'm always buying it at the farmer's market, and can never seem to pass up a bar of handmade soap. I'd been toying with the idea of making it myself, so when my birthday rolled around, I asked for all the ingredients and tools to make soap.
Now, the craft stores sell something they call soap-making kits, but what you're really doing is melting down premade soaps, adding coloring and fragrance, then pouring it back into a mold. Which is cool, but I wanted to make soap from scratch - lye and all.
(Disclaimer: lye is pretty dangerous stuff if you're not careful with it. Always wear goggles, a face mask, gloves, and protective clothing. ALWAYS work in a well-ventilated area.)
Luckily, Utahns are pretty industrious people, and there are no fewer than three specialty shops around here that sell soap-making supplies. Two are dedicated to soap. We went to this one to pick up the ingredients and specialty tools, and picked up the rest of the equipment from Home Depot and Target.
I checked out every book in the library on making soap, and set out to make myself an expert before I began. Of course, book knowledge is way different than knowledge gained from experience.
My first batch of soap went really well, all things considered. I had a little trouble getting the temperatures of the lye and the oil to match, and getting the soap to trace was a chore until I got out the old stick blender. Probably the biggest issue, though, was cutting the new soap. I had a cool crinkle cutter, but when I first cut the soap it was too soft - like butter that's been sitting out on the counter all day. When I went back to cut it later, it was too hard, and ended up splintering a ton. Which is really o.k., since I was planning on hand-milling the soap anyways. (Hand-milling is where you grate the soap into little pieces, melt it with some new ingredients, and pour into molds.)
And - one thing I didn't know before - is that you have to age soap before it's ready. Soapy folks call it curing. New soap is still extremely caustic from all that lye, and it takes a while for it to mellow out and be safe for your skin. So that's what it's doing right now.
I'm just so proud of myself! Off to make another batch!