March 16, 2012

How To Make Soap

This is not my tub.
This tub is in Oasis Community Garden.
It houses fish.

My writing teacher/guru/mentor, Elaine Edelman is a bit concerned that I'm spending too much time making soap and not enough time applying pen to paper.
And she's right. I'm not writing much new material at all, but I don't feel like writing either. A lot of it has to do with publishing You Are Here last April. It's a post-partum thing.
And I'm still convinced that eventually making soap will tie into my writing and somehow inspire me to write some great fiction.
Anyway, after submitting a very short story to my mother washing my mouth out with soap (that I plan to embed in some soap as a Mother's Day gift), Elaine asked me to scribble her a note about how to make soap. So here it is—written with tongue firmly placed in cheek.
1. Check out every book about soapmaking from NYPL. Read them.
2.       Do search for 'soapmaking' on the net. Discover thousands of websites, forums and blogs. Realize there are millions of soapmakers—most of them women. Some of these women make soap that looks like cupcakes and smells like chocolate fudge. You picture these women living in the Midwest or the South. They shop at Walmart and share their lye supply with their husbands who have a crystal meth lab in the basement. Vow never to make soap that looks like a cupcake.
3.       Buy olive oil and start infusing it with herbs.
4.       Re-read books from the library.
5.       Order organic palm kernel oil, castor oil and some essential oils from Mountain Rose Herbs who only sell palm kernel oil that is sustainable and doesn't kill orangutans. Use birthday money from your mother given to you with the strict order to "buy something fun—don't use it for bills."
6.       Shake oils being infused daily. Marvel at the colors and fragrances—especially the mint.
7.       Begin to gather equipment you'll need. Try to buy it used from Housing Works to save the planet and money. End up at Bed, Bath and Beyond feeling guilty.
8.       Compare prices of coconut oil at Whole Foods vs. Westerly. Find Westerly is less expensive. While in Westerly, look at all the teas, herbs, oils and vegetables with a new understanding that they can all be used in soap.
9.       Start a soap making journal.
10.   Re-new soapmaking books from library. Re-read chapters on how you actually make soap. Take copious notes in your journal.
11.   Surf the internet some more. Look at photos of soap with so much glitter, mica and dried rose buds on top that you wonder how people can actually use the soap to get clean. Vow never to make soap like this.
12.   Read Fight Club. Wonder if it's possible to make soap from liposuction-ed  fat. Vow never to make soap like that either.
13.   Decide it's time to actually do it.
14.   Weigh out oils. Put them into the crockpot you found on street to melt them.
15.   Put on goggles and rubber gloves.
16.   Weigh out lye. Be super careful.
17.   Weigh out water.
18.   Sprinkle lye into water. NEVER EVER pour water into lye. Horrible, terrible things could happen.
19.    Stir until lye is dissolved. Note that the stainless steel spoon makes an awful scratching/scraping/nails-on-a-chalkboard sound against the Pyrex measuring cup.
20.   Let lye mixture and oils cool. Re-read chapter on making soap while waiting.
21.   Slowly pour lye mixture into oils. Watch how the mixtures changes color and begins to thicken up.
22.   Insert stick blender into mixture. Turn it on and stand in awe as the mixture begins to saponify. Notice the incredible soap smell filling the kitchen.
23.   Keep stirring and using the hand blender until you reach trace (what a lovely word).When this happens, squeal with joy.
24.   Add essential oils and some powdered herbs for texture.
25.   Pour the batch into your silicon mold from Bed, Bath and Beyond, cover it with an old towel and set it on a radiator for 24 hours.
26.   Unmold the soap. Marvel how beautiful it is. Touch it even though you know it's still caustic from the lye. Smell it. Resist urge to kiss it.
27.   Lather. Rinse. Repeat.