March 18, 2012

My First Request: JJ's Lemon and Basil Soap

A rather long story on how the soap came to be.

JJ is a driver I work with at Grayline. He's one of my favorites. We always have a lot of fun—even if we've got a bus load of arrogant Italians that won't shut up or cheap Americans that won't tip.  He's from the Islands, so he's very laid back.
When I mentioned that I'd started making soap, he told me that he used to buy this great Lemon and Basil Soap from a woman at the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, but she's not there all the time.
"I'll make you some soap," I said.
"How much should I give you for the ingredients?" he asked.
"First bar is free," I said, knowing that this is exactly how drug dealers operate.  And soap is kind of a drug. "You just have to let me pick up some shea butter when we stop in Harlem."
There's a guy that sells fragrance oils of knock-off perfumes, shea butter ($10 for a whole pound), cocoa butter and black African soap on 125th Street right next to our stop. I always try to get tourists to get off there—not just for the shea butter guy, but for everything in Harlem. Most of them don't get off. I think they're afraid—the 1970's Harlem is still in their collective memories.
So, I jumped off when we got to the stop and bought some shea in less than 30 seconds.
Then I had to come up with a real great recipe. The basil part was easy. I bought a big bag of dried basil from this market near Port Authority. I only had a smidge of Thai basil that I had grown last summer left and I wanted an infusion that would be really basil-ed out.
The lemon however was going to be tricky. Lemon juice and lye don't mix. Lemon juice neutralizes lye, so you end up with a pot full of oils. I didn't want to do lemon peels either, so decided to rebatch. I found this lemon juice that's ironically from Italy (and I should say that any generalizations I make about any nationalities are based on my experience with tourists—and people on vacation—no matter where they're from are always on their worst behavior) and it actually contains lemon essential oil. Bonus.

If you see this in the store--buy it!

Last problem was fragrance. Citrus is fleeting. I'd been reading about how may chang works as an anchor and a boost on citruses. My normal fragrance guys (Exotic Fragrances, Scents Elate, and Gold Star Fragrances) didn't stock it—and hadn't even heard of it. I really don't like ordering things online. I don't have a doorman, so I have to have stuff shipped to my local bar, Perdition. PLUS, I live in the center of the center of the universe. I believe everything I need or want can be found somewhere in the five boroughs.

After some internet sleuthing, I found Enfleurage in the West Village. They have a ton of amazing essential oils. Some I didn't even know existed. Shell oil, rice paddy herb, artichoke, mak nhieu. I ended up spending about $60—but have got some very fun essentials to play with.
So, basil-infused olive oil was rebatched using the lemon juice and scented with holy basil, sage (to green up the spiciness of the holy basil), may chang, bergamot and lemon essential oils. Then a top layer with a little more shea that added a light lemony color. And some corn meal for scrubbiness.

When I gave a bar to JJ, I told him he had to wait about a month before he could use it since it was still curing.

He looked pretty disappointed, but then held it up to his nose and sniffed. "This smells so good," he said.
olive oil infused with basil and Thai basil
shea butter
palm kernel oil
cottonseed oil
soybean oil
castor oil
distilled water infused with basil
Polenghi lemon juice
powdered basil